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According to Alejo Carpentier, Christopher Columbus rounded, rounded off and rounded up the planet. The cost was very high for the indigenous cultures of ‘nuestra América’ [our America]. Gradually, a new culture was founded made of all possible hybrids, that came from Europe, Africa and Asia. Carpentier himself also stated that, in order for the novel to exist, there must be a tradition of the novel; the first narrative manifestations were for domestic consumption: we would have to wait for the mid-twentieth century to begin what would soon become an avalanche. It was the return to Europe of the ships that once left Palos de Moguer, the carriers of another culture.
Several concomitant factors contributed to this reception in Europe. In post-war Europe, new curiosities were being awakened. André Malraux published his Musée imaginaire, thereby breaking the traditional Eurocentric hierarchy that gave Europe a civilizing mission in the face of the barbarism represented by the unfamiliar.
According to Carpentier, Columbus rounded, rounded off, and rounded up the planet at a very high cost for the Indigenous cultures of nuestra América (our America). Gradually, a new culture emerged from all the possible hybridizations of Europe, Africa, and Asia. Carpentier also stated that, in order for the novel to exist, there had to be a tradition: the first narratives were for domestic consumption, and it was not until the mid-twentieth century that the avalanche began with El reino de este mundo (The Kingdom of This World) and Los pasos perdidos (The Lost Steps). It was in effect the return to Europe of the galleons that once left Palos de Moguer in Spain, but now carrying another, different, culture. Several factors contributed to Carpentier’s awakening in postwar Europe: the dominance of fiction, somewhat exhausted by the weight of tradition and tired avant-garde formulas, was supplemented by a growing interest in the documentary, thanks to advances in photography and printing. Meanwhile, in Latin America a new approach to the novel was generated via storytelling, linking the particular to the universal. The historical novel was transformed and now demonstrated, alongside an only partially explored physical world, the questions that preoccupy all humankind.
This chapter examines the tensions between the supporters of two modes of writing Latin America – magical realism and testimonial writing – under the lens of the figures of the falcon and the tortoise, a simile employed by one of Cuba’s first and most prominent theorists of testimonio, Miguel Barnet. It explores how the hybrid mode of testimonio was conceptualized in the first two decades of the 1959 Cuban Revolution and, more generally, in Latin America, and how these concepts presented a challenge to the literary establishment in Latin America and beyond. Through examining the key positioning of Cuban testimonio in the first two decades of the Cuban Revolution, the chapter argues that the role assigned to testimonio in these early conceptual formulations shared many commonalities with the aims of magical realism, but also some important differences based on positionality and power. As such, the schism of 1971 represented not only a political fracture between Cuba and some Latin American nations but also a tipping point, or moment of transition, in terms of Latin American literatures’ potential in the world.
A series of wars and revolutions provide the fiery, unsettled bedrock for mid-twentieth-century Latin American literature: on a global scale, World War II and the Cold War mar political alliances; the Cuban Revolution, Peronist Argentina, and the 1968 student movements are some of the regional responses that develop from these international conflicts. Latching onto a transforming world, authors in this era appropriate the discomfort of transition to produce literary works of international acclaim. Mid-century Latin American literature has been framed as a market-driven phenomenon that opened the region up through an exoticization that captured international recognition. This volume takes a different approach, one that rests uncomfortably on a deep political instability – worldwide as well as regional – that is engaged aesthetically by literary authors. It argues that the literature of mid-century Latin America locates its strength within global and regional political conflicts, as well as from within the cultural and social tensions spurred on by economic disparities.
Latin American Literature in Transition 1930-1980 explores the literary landscape of the mid-twentieth-century and the texts that were produced during that period. It takes four core areas of thematic and conceptual focus – solidarity, aesthetics and innovation, war, revolution and dictatorship, metropolis and ruins – and employs them to explore the complexity, heterogeneity and hybridity of form, genre, subject matter and discipline that characterised literature from the period. In doing so, it uncovers the points of transition, connection, contradiction, and tension that shaped the work of many canonical and non-canonical authors. It illuminates the conversations between genres, literary movements, disciplines and modes of representation that underpin writing form this period. Lastly, by focusing on canon and beyond, the volume visibilizes the aesthetics, poetics, politics, and social projects of writing, incorporating established writers, but also writers whose work is yet to be examined in all its complexity.