The Pendulum of Literature

by    /  October 25, 2012  / No comments

The swing from one generation of Latin American writers to the next

Foucault Pendulum from Tellus Science Museum, GA

Foucault Pendulum from Tellus Science Museum, GA. Photo: Daryl Clark.

The relationship between different literary generations often corresponds to a pendular motion: Each new generation moves toward the opposite extreme of the aesthetic and sometimes political positions taken up by the preceding generation. It is an almost natural movement, expressing a logic similar to the one that rules relationships between fathers and sons.

  1. Corkscrew, a column by Horacio Castellanos Moya
  2. Corkscrew is focused on Latin American issues. Literature, journalism and politics are the main concerns of this column. A corkscrew is useful only if it opens a bottle, hopefully full of something that would enlighten our spirits, but we could also set loose a cruel Genie or a rotten wine. The author will follow this principle: look for topics that open debates, new perspectives, and controversy. Cheers!
  3. Horacio Castellanos Moya
  4. Horacio Castellanos Moya is a writer and a journalist from El Salvador. For two decades he worked as a journalist in Mexico, Guatemala, and his own country. He has published ten novels, five short story collections and two books of essays. He was granted residencies in a program supported by the Frankfurt International Book Fair (2004-2006) and at City of Asylum/Pittsburgh (2006-2008). In 2009, he was a guest researcher at the University of Tokyo. Currently he teaches at the University of Iowa.

Roberto Bolaño used to say that writers born in the 1950s made up the last generation that lived the dream of revolution, the utopia of socialism as the remedy for the ills suffered by Latin American societies. I don’t know if this assertion is applicable to all of the writers born in the 1950s, which is the generation to which I belong, but I am sure that we were the last literary brood brought up in the context, or rather the clamor, of the Cold War.

That means many of us were formed as writers in the midst of a powerful contradiction: On one hand, we admired American literature, and on the other we felt revulsion toward the U.S. administrations that for decades propped up and supported the worst dictatorships and the most sinister political crimes and genocide in Latin America. Bolaño himself admired Jack Kerouac and the Beats, but those who imprisoned him in Chile in 1973 were the military criminals actively supported by Nixon and Kissinger, and the voters who put them in power.

The generations of writers who burst onto the literary scene when the Cold War was breathing its dying breaths weren’t affected by this contradiction, and focused their energies on distancing themselves and trying to differentiate themselves from the literary and political positions of the Boom, headed by Garcia Marquez and Vargas Llosa, as well as from the generation born in the 1950s who lived through the final moments of revolutionary utopia. One literary movement known as “Crack,” and another known as “McOndo,” made up of writers born in the 1960s, went to the other extreme of the pendulum. The first group insisted on its right to produce a non-Latin American literature, with works set in Europe and written as if the authors were European, while the second was formed at the very heart of the United States and appealed to the consumer values of that society.

Everything seems to indicate that another pendular movement has begun to take place among writers born after the 1970s, although it’s still too early to discern a dominant tendency. On the one hand, several of these writers have reclaimed a literature of intimacy that distances itself from social and political conflicts. On the other side are those who have taken this intimacy as a point of departure for looking back at the military dictatorships that Latin America endured during the period of their birth and early childhood.

Of course, observing literature through its pendular movements assumes a high level of schematicism. Almost every good writer tries to break the rules he or she has inherited and that condition him or her, and the best writers are almost always those who go against their own times and contemporaries.

Translation: Sam Cogdell and Maya Novak-Cogdell

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