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Preferred Citation: Kirkpatrick, Gwen. The Dissonant Legacy of Modernismo: Lugones, Herrera y Reissig, and the Voices of Modern Spanish American Poetry. Berkeley: University of California Press, c1989 1989. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft8g5008qb/
The Dissonant Legacy of Modernismo
Lugones, Herrera y Reissig, and the Voices of Modern Spanish American Poetry
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS
Berkeley · Los Angeles · Oxford
© 1989 The Regents of the University of California
In memory of
Malinee Holmes Kirkpatrick
Preferred Citation: Kirkpatrick, Gwen. The Dissonant Legacy of Modernismo: Lugones, Herrera y Reissig, and the Voices of Modern Spanish American Poetry. Berkeley: University of California Press, c1989 1989. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft8g5008qb/
In memory of
Malinee Holmes Kirkpatrick
The writing of this book owes much to the advice and support of countless friends and colleagues. My studies on modernismo began at Princeton University. During that stage, and throughout the book's later phases, I am grateful to Sylvia Molloy, who has always been a thoughtful and generous reader. A turning point in the book's development was my opportunity to work with Roberto González Echevarría in two National Endowment for the Humanities Seminars at Yale University. The intellectual climate of these seminars fostered lively debate and feedback for my work, especially the chapters on Herrera y Reissig, López Velarde, and Vallejo. Among my colleagues at these seminars, Alicia Andreu stands out as a supportive friend and critic.
For the research on literary journalism, the family of Dr. Sergio Provenzano of Buenos Aires allowed me to consult materials in their extraordinary collection in Buenos Aires. In Montevideo, the staff of the Biblioteca Nacional shared my interest in the writings of Julio Herrera y Reissig and were helpful in every way possible. To the library's director, Enrique Fierro, and to Mireya Callejas, I am especially grateful.
During the book's final stages, I received assistance from Marta Morello-Frosch, who made valuable suggestions for the reorganization of the manuscript. Daniel Balderston, Emilie Bergmann, James E. Irby, Francine Masiello, and Eduardo Paz Leston gave careful readings and valuable advice. Other colleagues at Berkeley, especially Arthur Askins, Arnold Chapman, and José Durand, took the time to make important bibliographical suggestions.
The editorial help I received from graduate students at Berkeley was essential. Barbara De Marco was invaluable as a text editor, as was James Nicolopolus who, along with Steve Raulston and Ching-Ju Lee, helped in all aspects of manuscript preparation. Myrna García Calderón, Patricia Greene, and Steve Raulston showed real talent in their work as translators for the volume. Their interest and skill at the task are evident.
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As all final versions are my own, all errors and infelicities of translation are my responsibility.
Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the University of California Junior Faculty and Humanities Fellowships helped make my work possible. A travel grant from the Berkeley Center for Latin American Studies allowed me to consult libraries and archives in Argentina and Uruguay.
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The starting point of this book has been a study of the modernista poetry of Leopoldo Lugones within its historical and literary context. Literary criticism has found Lugones a literary figure of difficult classification, owing to the abundance and diversity of his work and, in addition, to the rapid shifts in his ideological and political stances. Yet the study of Lugones is made fascinating by the very reason of these changes and the contradictory nature of much of his work. The obvious asymmetries in his work give modern readers a clue to search for the fissures in the productions of modernismo as a total movement. They not only reveal the contradictions within the work of this Argentine writer but can lead us to see the less obvious similarities with writers of his epoch and subsequent generations. In the work of Lugones, one sees from the earliest writings of 1893 a push toward the breakup of models, including his inherited poetic tradition as well as social structures. The combination of unusual thematic elements with innovative technical procedures makes Lugones' work an especially fruitful field of study, while Lugones' drive toward authoritarianism and his reluctance to relinquish formal order in poetry are revealing elements for a study of the epoch's literature in transition. The topics of voyeurism, fetishism in language, and an analysis of the iconography of modernista poetry can serve as the basis for exploring the factors that make Lugones a true precursor of what might be called the dissonant trend in Spanish American poetry.
Lugones' poetry was met with enthusiastic acclaim by poets such as Rubén Darío, Amado Nervo, Ramón López Velarde, and even César Vallejo. More recently, Jorge Luis Borges has written of the paradoxes and importance of this literary father. Although Borges attacked Lugones in the 1920s, he later softened his early ultraísta criticism of Lugones' dogged adherence to rhyme. Borges stresses the Quevedian rather than Gongoran pattern of Lugones' poetry in order to highlight Lugones' abilities as craftsman, as a poet dedicated to the possibilities of the word as genera-
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tor of new ideas. Studies by Borges and other poets will show Lugones' impact on the succeeding generation of poets.
Following a survey of Lugones' work, this book examines subtle subversion in modernista poetry and studies some of its followers. Julio Herrera y Reissig, along with other modernista and postmodernista poets questioned the very bases of the conventions of modernismo . This perspective is available to us by examining the works of these poets in the light of the works of more recent poets, such as Ramón López Velarde, César Vallejo, and Alfonsina Storni. As innovators within late modernismo, both Lugones and Herrea y Reissig insert moments of the colloquial or the ridiculous in modernismo 's stylized scenes and, even more importantly, carry the imitation of their models (such as Albert Samain and Jules Laforgue) to heights of frenzy. Although this tendency has often been viewed more as imperfect imitation than innovation, this study will attempt to show that such tendencies represent a resistance to or a subversion of the received European tradition.
The resistance to previous models is an especially important topic in illuminating the course of poetry in Spanish American literature after modernismo . It can offer a way to recast the notion of dependence in modernismo, as well as showing a more direct link between the works of modernismo and vanguardismo . In this regard, Lugones' appropriation of Laforgue's work is an important case in point. Although it is clear that Lugones borrowed heavily from Laforgue, the most radical experiments in the volume Lunario sentimental (1909) are found where the poetry owes least to Laforgue—when Lugones ventures into poetic frontiers unexplored up to this point in Spanish American poetry, especially in regard to his treatment of the urban middle class and the image of the modern woman, transformed from inert femme fatale to working-class citizen. Herrera y Reissig's poetry provides a similar example, for he borrowed from stylized Parnassian pastoral scenes and gave them the rustic contours of a provincial setting (a method also apparent in parts of Los crepúsculos del jardín  by Lugones). In a sense both poets exaggerate and then naturalize the inherited conventions of European writing, and by doing so they change the very linguistic and ideological support base of its transmission.
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Using the visual images of the map, the landscape painting, the decorated body, and the city itself as metaphors for the discussions of poetry, this book will show how modernismo 's overload of sensory paraphernalia creates the gaps that serve as openings for new productions in Spanish American poetry. The discussion of the transmission and transformation of sign systems, of parody, of subversion, and of "minus devices" (using Yuri Lotman's terms) will shape these discussions of visual images. A combination of methods will allow us to see the ways thematic elements (such as eroticism and the urban and pastoral landscapes) are part of a mapped-out territory of poetic convention. The breaks of syntax, the eruption of the unintelligible, the "mysteriousness" of the much late modernista poetry prefigure the works of later vanguardista poets. Because external structures are dissolving (for example, the shifting and changing social-class alignments, a new role for the artistwriter, new economic structures due to industrialization), the structures of poetry (formal poetic meter, rhyme) also show rearrangement. Given these realignments, the position of the speaking subject in poetry must be shifting as well. We see the dispersal of the framing poetic voice, the fragmentation of landscape, and a heightened experimentation with conventions of rhyme, rhythm, and meter. Here the notions of voyeurism and fetishism in language aid us in establishing how these subversions in language are created. The breaks in logic and syntax in poetry resonate with the absence of former poetic patterns, making them even more haunting for the reader of today who can read with the tradition of modern poetry as well as the tradition of modernismo . The role of the reader must also be taken into account if we are to understand the changing evaluations of the impact of modernista poetry.
Any study of the historical context of modernismo must be attentive to the massive changes that took place in the late nineteenth century. A selection of statements by literary witnesses such as Rubén Darío, José Martí, Jaimes Freyre, Amado Nervo, as well as Lugones and Herrera y Reissig, shed light on their perception of their role as artists in a changing society. In addition, references to Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Wait Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, and other foreign writers who were models for the
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modernistas serve as testimony to the rapidity of change in literary exchange.
The late ninteenth century witnessed the loss of the dream of the organic hierarchies of romanticism that had held sway even though romanticism itself stressed personal and turbulent self-expression. In essence, the oneiric tendencies of romanticism were difficult to maintain in a context of rapid modernization and relativization of values. The mythopoetic vision of the organic hierarchy reemerges in modernista poetry in only fragmented form, and here the return to the visual metaphors of the map, the landscape, the spatial contours of the city or of the interior space aid us in seeing this process of dislocation. In modernismo one sees the increasing cult of the object, especially in the reification of the female figure and in the fascination with the machine (even in a work influenced so profoundly by romanticism as Las montañas del oro by Lugones). Within the late nineteenth-century matrix, we see poets such as Lugones and Herrera reasserting, often with violence, certain elements of heirarchy in their poetry, only to deflate subtly within the poetry itself any claims to former totalities. With their seemingly blind ingenuousness faced with imported and local models, they open the space for a playfulness and experimentation in modern poetry which later poets have used to full advantage. They recast the vision of the city, the woman, and provincial landscapes through the eyes of a poetic self that makes few claims to structure. Later poets would use the fragments left by these late modernistas as the building blocks for a new diction (often an incoherent diction) that make Spanish American poetry of this century so distinct from its earlier models.
This book will attempt to show that an element of modernismo generated change in a way that has usually been credited to the more overtly political mundonovista inheritors of modernismo or to the vanguardista poets. While poets such as Lugones do not explicitly theorize on the Spanish American subject in their poetry (although Lugones does so abundantly in prose), the dislocations and questionings of the materials offered by the epoch combine to dissolve the very foundations of the assumptions of dependence in Spanish American modernista poetry.
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The Tradition of Modernismo
In La expresión americana José Lezama Lima speaks of "la tradición de las ausencias posibles" ("the tradition of possible absences") as the great activator of artistic creativity in the New World. His general remarks on Spanish American art may serve as shaping images for a study of modernismo 's high energy and voracity of consumption and transformation: "[E]l americano no recibe una tradición verbal, sino la pone en activo, con desconfianza, con encantamiento, con atractiva puericia. Martí, Darío, y Vallejo, lanzan su acto naciente verbal, rodeado de ineficacia y de palabras muertas." ("The American does not receive a verbal tradition, rather, he activates it, with mistrust, with enchantment, with attractive childishness. Martí, Darío, and Vallejo launch their nascent verbal act, surrounded by ineffectiveness and dead words.") The mixture of traditions that Lezama calls "ese protoplasmaincorporativo," which distinguishes the assimilative capacity of great art, is present as well in the generating elements of modernismo, a movement that opened new spaces for change in South American literature. Roland Barthes distinguishes in Writing Degree Zero what he calls the "Hunger of the Word," which "initiates a discourse full of gaps and full of lights, filled with absences and overnourishing signs, without foresight or stability of intention, and thereby so opposed to the social function of language that merely to have recourse to a discontinuous speech is to open the door to all that stands above Nature." Statements by both Barthes and Lezama Lima, two great observers and shapers of our contemporary way of studying literature in relation to its source, single out absences and gaps amidst overabundance as openings for new creation. modernismo 's proliferation of styles and its abundance of poetic experiments constitute the rich matrix from which modern poetry has emerged.
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Because modernismo does not highlight the social function of language, its contributions have been relegated often to the categories of verbal pyrotechnics and individual eccentricities. Such experiments have nevertheless been seeds of change for twentieth-century poetry. Why do contemporary readers dismiss modernismo as an ossified movement? Its impact would be easier to forget if its visions and rhythms were not still reverberating through a whole century of poetry celebrated for its novelties and distances from modernismo . Why is there so much suspicion of it as a movement? There seems to be a desire to collapse its multiplicity and subtleties into a single profile, despite the many fine studies on individual poets of the era. Inevitably, many discussions of modernismo are stereotypically describing a "rubenismo," the hackneyed copies of Rubén Darío's style, while forgetting the movement's audacity and its sweeping display of subject matter and styles.
By returning to a poet who fully participated in modernismo 's currents, but who at the same time maintained a skeptical questioning distance within his work, some fissures that vein the movement can come to light. Leopoldo Lugones exploded part of the masquerade of modernismo with Lunario sentimental, but only to the extent that he brought to the surface some of its latent questions. Suspicious, in the end, of a kind of urban modemism and of its dislocations, Lugones finally turned his back on change and sealed off the path toward the unknown with tight rhyme and patriotic melodies. This is surely not the direction foreseen by the modernistas, but Lugones' development gives us clues to a way certain ideologies speak through poetic form and poetic movements, and not only in their changing thematics. His voracious consumption of his epoch's poetic trends and his peculiar transformations of them are eloquent testimony of the constraints and possibilities of his cultural and social context.
Much of what seems tedious in modernista poetry for the modern reader is its overloading of rarefied objects, its jewel-studded interior spaces, the amethyst shafts of light that make vision difficult. We find it hard to move around these ornately furnished rooms and especially amidst the heavy-lidded goddesses
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who inhabit them. While modern taste prefers clean, spare lines, white walls, and open spaces, the modernistas work from a different set of culturally determined preferences. Just as they held a penchant for ornately decorated physical spaces, language itself had to be filled, decorated, and overburdened until it groaned under the excess of sensory paraphernalia. With rhyme, rhythm, and extended imagistic development, every inch of space was filled, inviting crowding, violence and, ultimately, parody. And this is precisely the process we see in several late modernista poets. Growing agitation, slicing through not only the images but the very contours of the poems themselves, carried modernista innovation to frenzies of linguistic activity.
Dealing with a set of culturally valued icons usually derived from a European, especially French, context, the Spanish American writer has often been seen in a position of dependence. The acceptance of codified images in modernismo (for example, the femme fatale, twilights, emphasis on luxury and sonority) usually implies acceptance of the whole cultural aura that surrounds these images. Because these writers do not counter these images or icons with an opposing set (as Neruda attempted in Alturas de Macchu Picchu ), nor make their questioning of these received images explicit, they are often seen as accepting all the implications of such patterns. One may look for a disruptive or questioning movement on other levels, however. A later poet, César Vallejo, offers a powerful example of a movement of disruption, of a dislocation of scenic elements, textual surface, and accustomed dialogue. Yet even in modernista poetry or prose that seems to have a fetishistic fascination with overloading itself with riches from a more highly ranked cultural order, a subversive movement is sometimes triggered by the overloading process, which calls attention to the overabundance within the closed circles of pleasure and excess by making stark contrast with the emptiness surrounding it.
In our desire to show temporal "progress" in poetic development, an anxiety to seek equations between social progression (or regression) and to see literature as its prophet or mirror, at times we exalt certain stages of poetry because of their explicit commentary on certain political or social movements. We judge
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them by their accessibility (direct communication between an assumed subject and object like poet and reader) and their innovations or revolutionary nature. It is interesting to note critical appraisals of modernismo and the polemics it has aroused. Our idea of modernismo often takes on the image of a closed space, an escapist, ivory-tower world or an old trunk full of faded costumes and photos. We see less often its disparity, its violence of language, its fetishistic insistence on the bodily form, and its legacy in more contemporary poetry. For instance, the female figure in modernismo is an object almost at one with the language, heavily decorated, distant and elusive, sometimes spiedon, while the veil of mystery surrounding her is like the web of musicality that encases the poetry. modernista poetry is not uniform in its enclosure and encasement. Mocking irony, the intrusive presence of deflation by social issues and discordant sounds and voices, even in gentle pastoral scenes, cannot be reconciled within this setting.
What is most striking in the production of these poets is their violence, a violence turned inward against the grain of language and outward against the usual signs of fulfillment, plenitude, and richness. In general, this plentitude is seen as treasure of physicality, often as stolen treasure. These poets insist on showing the physicality of the referent, shoving it to the forefront, as well as accentuating the physical nature of the words themselves. Like resistant yet malleable bodies, words are to be used and taken apart. Severo Sarduy, in Escrito sobre un cuerpo, states:
La casa es el lugar del Mismo, la ciudad el del Otro. Ambito de la búsqueda erótica; un cuerpo nos espera, pero el camino que conduce a él—nuestra palabra —es casi informulable en la codificación excesiva de la lengua urbana. Camino invadido, borrado en el momento mismo de su trazo, signo ciego en la repetición blanca, sin intersticios, de las calles.
Crear neuvos índices, concebir superficies de orientación, marcas totalmente artificiales: esa es nuestra actitud frente a la ciudad, esa la explicación de nuestro vértigo de señalización .
Sólo cuentan, pues, las percepciones visuales. Textos, luces, flechas, clavos, afiches, que surgen como presencias icónicas, autoritarias; fetiches: son nuestros índices naturales. Toda otra percepción—
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auditiva, olfativa, etc.—desaparece en la ciudad de hoy, cuya única práctica es rápida, motorizada.
(The home is the place of the Self, the city, [the place of] the Other. Arena of the erotic search; a body waits for us, but the road that leads to it—our word —is almost inexpressible in the excessive codification of city language . A road crowded, erased in the very act of its trace, blind sign on white repetition, without intervals, of the streets.
To create new indices, to conceive surfaces of orientation, completely artificial marks, this is our attitude in the face of the city, this is the explanation of our frenzy of signposting .
Only visual perceptions, then, are important. Texts, lights, arrows, keys, posters, that rise up like iconic, authoritative presences; fetishes: they are our natural indices. Every other perception: sight, sound, scent, etc.—disappears in the city of today, whose only method is rapid, motorized.)
Sarduy's remarks, here in the context of a comparison with the Renaissance city, may be set next to Jean Baudrillard's definition of the fetish. The fetish's power lies in the appeal of the fabricated, its artificial, "made" quality, which is related to its magical quality of enchantment. The attention is directed to the surface quality, to the construction process itself, not to the design as a whole. In other words, objects are emptied of their real (that is, tangible) information of representation, their physical density, and are presented in their signifying sense as signs, as emblems of the process of production. In this sense, their use is like that of objects in the baroque, not valuable for mimetic representation, but for their ability to be read as opposite signs, not straining to build bridges of relation between the objects of images themselves. In the same way modernismo is striking in its profusion of glittering sign—objects. Perhaps it is this almost fetishistic insistence of overloading signs which has closed it off to so many later readers.
modernismo, today, is seen as a closed space, a silent theater in which rituals, gestures, and erotic ceremonies are carried out, with the body of language itself sharing this endless rehearsal of the rites of self-enclosure. Yet these scenes are dismantled time
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and again by a distracting movement somewhere to the side, as if we were to see behind the stage. This distracting or subversive movement does not involve a confrontation of opposites. We simply see the workings of the backdrop of the machinery. A touch of decor is out of place—something prosaic wanders into a rarefied setting, or the clanking of the rhyme becomes overbearing, drawing too much of our attention. Thus our gaze is distracted by the distancing noise. These moments of hesitation, withdrawal, or suspension serve as equivalents of elision in a sentence, or, as described by Julia Kristeva, of an erasure of the real object of the speaking subject, similar to the process of desemanticization by obscene words or the fragmentation of syntax by rhythm.
With the passage of time we are given a new way to read modernista poems. While working within patches of this modernista discourse, later poets allow us to sense the absences, rather than the accumulations, which make us feel that we are in new territories. The received images that constitute our repertoire for viewing the productions of modernismo allow us to see them in a different light from their contemporaries. And it is precisely through the works of those poets who drew most heavily from them that the movement in modernismo itself can be felt. By postmodernista rejections, exaggerations, and parings-down of modernismo 's stock images and procedures, we can trace the shifting points of view that were already present in the construction of modernismo 's seemingly fixed scenes.
If we consider the procedures of enclosure or binding in modernista poetry to be part of the exaltation of objects, of landscape scenes, of the female figure, and of decorative form, then our reading must also take into account our own fetishization of this production. By freezing it in time, by surrounding it with rites of previous and current criticism, modernismo becomes a useful object, a museum piece or point of reference. Just as luxury can point out poverty, or monstrosity normality, a limited view of modernismo has restricted our sense of its power in our readings of later poets. modernismo 's enclosed scenes and clichés that turn back on themselves, exalting their stereotypical nature, may represent a freezing of motion, but with another purpose than stasis
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or regression. If order is a necessary precondition for transgression or for vice, these static landscapes and enclosed gardens, which seem to offer the reader a single, directed point of view, in effect are engineered for more possibilities. Their stillness contains a slight wayward movement or distracting gesture that destabilizes the entire backdrop. The metaphor of eroticism as one of the bases for inquiry is not merely a descriptive scheme. The body, as origin and object of desire, is constantly given to us, sometimes as a lavishly decorated spectacle, other times as a mutilated scrap heap. As one looks closer, this same insistence on dismantling the erotic image is reflected in the framing picture of these prized icons. Things will not stand still under the poetic gaze. Margins are always dissolving, and fin de siglo props are being undermined by the intrusion of off-key elements. As if engaged in a secret masked charade, Salomé laughs back. These poems are strategic, outflanking readers by beating them in the distancing game through means of more and more elaborate schemes and of towering lookout points of internal commentary.
The tear Lugones made in modernismo 's fabric of social and sexual dynamics is still being rewoven by contemporary poets. Lugones' intrusiveness created a lingering discordance, and no amount of dispassionate criticism can gloss over the uneasy spaces he created. Julio Herrera y Reissig, César Vallejo, Ramón López Velarde, Alfonsina Storni, to mention a few, are poets who have not let us forget this rupture. Marked by violence, eroticism, and the disturbing entrance of urban elements in a textual space, these poets struggle with an ambivalence against allowing easily mappable patterns of perspective, beauty, and poetic structure to frame their poetry. The subversive shifts and overt disavowals they make of a veiled authoritative order are the weapons they use in dismantling hierarchical form, including a realignment of the speaking subject. They are not simply naive consumers of European influences. Each in his own way plots a path to lead the reader to question even the poetic forms that tradition supplies.
Lugones' dramatic confrontation with the upheavals of his times, with the disintegration of accustomed literary exchange (the pact between writer and complicit initiated reader) is ech-
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oed more subtly by other writers. Unlike Rubén Darío who smiles at convention, with his flowing rhythms and often playful experiments with the brilliance of verse, Lugones rushes headlong into the crumbling hierarchies. Devouring several genres at once, lurching back and forth between extremes, Lugones dramatizes the conflict between modernismo 's formalism and the shift into the twentieth century's more private sense of poetic language. Still striving to preserve a mythic framework for poetry, which presupposes an underlying order or ultimate frame of reference, the dynamism of his work prefigures new rearrangements. Later poets find themselves with the task of reassembling fragments of symbolic structures, of a previous poetic heritage, now devalued as bearers of intention. Lugones' uneven experiments point the way for a revolution in poetic language.
The Heritage of Modernismo
In Cuadrivio, Octavio Paz states that works by two Spanish American modernista poets, Rubén Darío and Leopoldo Lugones, are the starting points of "all the experiences and experiments of modern poetry in the Spanish language." Paz speaks of Lugones as a forerunner of vanguardismo :
Todo lenguaje, sin excluir al de la libertad, termina por convertirse en una cárcel; y hay un punto en el que la velocidad se confunde con la inmovilidad. Los grandes poetas modernistas fueron los primeros en rebelarse y en su obra de madurez van más allá del lenguaje que ellos mismos habían creado. Preparan así, cada uno a su manera, la subversión de la vanguardia: Lugones es el antecedente inmediato de la nueva poesía mexicana (Ramón López Velarde) y argentina (Jorge Luis Borges); Juan Ramón Jiménez fue el maestro de la generación de Jorge Guillén y Federico García Lorca; Ramón del Valle-Inclán está presente en el teatro moderno y lo estará más cada día.
(All language, not excluding that of liberty, ends up becoming a prison, and there is a point at which velocity becomes confused with immobility. The great modernista poets were the first to rebel, and in their mature works they go beyond the language that they themselves have created. In this way they prepare, each one in his own
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way, for the avantgarde subversion. Lugones is the immediate antecedent of new Mexican [Ramón López Velarde] and Argentinian [Jorge Luis Borges] poetry. Juan Ramón Jiménez was the master of the generation of Jorge Guillén and Federico García Lorca; Ramón del Valle-Inclán is present in the modern theatre, and will be more present each day.)
Paz, in his now classic study of modern poetry, Los hijos del limo, continues his distinction between the two great poets of modernismo . Although Darío is the founder, it will be for others to introduce a greater self-questioning, or ironic stance, into modernista poetry:
La nota irónica, voluntariamente antipoética y por eso más intensamente poética, aparece precisamente en el momento de mediodía del modernismo (Cantos de vida y esperanza, 1905) y aparece casi siempre asociada a la imagen de la muerte. Pero no es Darío, sino Leopoldo Lugones, el que realmente inicia la segunda revolución modernista. Con Lugones penetra Laforgue en la poesía hispánica: el simbolismo en su momento antisimbolista.
(The ironic note, voluntarily antipoetic and therefore more intensely poetic, appears precisely in the noontime of modernismo [Cantos de vida y esperanza, 1905] and appears almost always associated with the image of death. But it is not Darío, but Leopoldo Lugones who really initiates the second modernista revolution. With Lugones, Laforgue penetrates Hispanic poetry: symbolism in its antisymbolist moment.)
Paz distinguishes two volumes of Lugones' poetry, Los crepúsculos del jardín (The Twilights of the Garden ) and Lunario sentimental as specific examples of "poesía con crítica de la poesía" ("poetry with criticism of poetry"). Along with poetic techniques, Paz also compares the natures of both poetic movements, modernismo and vanguardismo, in their initial stages. Although both movements were first tied to their European, especially French, models, each movement turned later toward native or American sources.
En su primer momento la vanguardia hispanoamericana dependió de la francesa, como antes los primeros modernistas habían seguido a los parnasianos y simbolistas. La rebelión contra el nuevo cosmopo-
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litismo asumió otra vez la forma de un nativismo o americanismo. El primer libro de César Vallejo (Los heraldos negros, 1918) prolongaba la línea poética de Lugones.
(In its first moment, the Spanish American vanguard depended on the French, just as before the first modernistas had followed the Parnassians and the Symbolists. The rebellion against the new cosmopolitanism assumed again the form of "nativism" or "Americanism." The first book of César Vallejo [Los heraldos negros, 1918] prolonged the poetic line of Lugones.)
How can it be that modernismo, a movement first celebrated (as well as attacked) for its audacity and claims to spiritual transformation, now is seen as a series of artifacts in a museum, relics of a deadened, almost asocial language? How do avant-garde movements exhaust themselves, or gradually become accepted? The paradoxical nature of the claims of modernismo —its espousal of anarchic and egalitarian principles along with an aristocratic claim to power in language—are not so paradoxical as they seem. Although its poets often used the languages of both mysticism and politics, suppressing their inherent contradictions, their goals were generally directed toward a revolution of personal expression, seen in conflict with an authoritarian state of language itself.
Much of the attraction of the forbidden fruit of modernismo is lost to us now. As readers removed from the space of dangerous pleasure by the passage of time and the presence of new surprises, it is sometimes difficult to understand the uproar and scandal that moments of the poetic works of Leopoldo Lugones evoked. However, we can recreate some sense of understanding by following the traces of this poetry in works more accessible to us. The testimony of the impact of this writer on poets such as Julio Herrera y Reissig, Ramón López Velarde, Vicente Huidobro, César Vallejo, Jorge Luis Borges, Alfonsina Storni, Octavio Paz, and many others is found not only in their critical references to Lugones but in the works themselves, which reveal the mechanics of the process of perception and assimilation. Although the influence of Lugones (and of his contemporary Herrera y Reissig) is evident in these poets (and even in the
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sound plays of poets such as Mariano Brull and Luis Palés Matos), the icons they inherit are stripped of their message content and are endowed with intentionality of a different kind. For example, the excesses of accumulation—the jewels, exotic coloration, the chinoiserie, a fleeting glimpse of the femme fatale —implied for the modernistas the luxury of accumulation in a tangible and palpable sense while also determining what was left out of the closed circle of modernismo . The elements of rarefaction, the flaunting of excess and riches, as well as a heavily loaded surface of verbal texture were in great part a reaction to what they saw as the poverty of their circumstantial reality.
If the modernistas remain unforgiven, it is neither for their luxury nor their abundance. The extravagance of style, the heaping up of exotic detail, is surely no sin. It is the self-containment or exclusiveness that offends. The poets of modernismo shut the door to their garden of delights. Invited in were only the initiates, those who knew the secret codes to decipher the mysterious rites of the poetic process. Like the preceding generation who flaunted their wealth by the ritual trip to Europe, thereby making more visible the poverty of those left behind, so the modernistas, rich only in knowledge, separated themselves from others by their European voyage of reading and reworking the treasures they brought back. In the same way they viewed what surrounded them as an impoverished state. This is the true insult of the excesses of modernismo . modernismo seems to invite no antithesis within its confinement, and any conflicting movement is immobilized by being woven into the texture of the circle, redressed to appear in good company. The discordant element appears to be banished. Severo Sarduy described this same movement of excess and expulsion of dissonance in the Baroque:
El horror al vacío expulsa al sujeto de la superficie, de la extensión multiplicativa, para señalar en su lugar el código específico de una práctica simbólica. En el barroco, la poética es una Retórica: el lenguaje, código antónomo y tautológico, no admite en su densa red, cargada, la posibilidad de un yo generador, de un referente individ-
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ual, centrado, que se exprese—el barroco funciona al vacío—que oriente o detenga la crecida de signos.
(The horror of the vacuum expels the subject from the surface of the multiplying extension, to signal in its place the specific code of a symbolic practice. In the Baroque, poetry is a Rhetoric: language, the autonomous and tautological code, does not admit in its dense, loaded net the possibility of a generating I, of an individual, centered frequent referent, who may express himself—the baroque functions in a vacuum—who may orient or check the growth of signs.)
The fixed scene cannot afford dissenting or distracting movement within its confines, and the perspective of the viewer must remain fixed also.
modernismo then requires skilled readers, those who can sift through the layers of a codified image and take pleasure in its ancestry, exclaiming over the discovery of the presence of Hugo here and Verlaine there, as well as flowers from medieval paintings as in the case of Rubén Darío. Even more pleasurable is the recognition of a fragment from a text by D'Annunzio, signaling perversity and rarefaction not permitted to the masses, whose limitations (moral, social, or educational) prohibit them from penetrating into the inner sanctum. Just as the paintings of Gustave Moreau and the Pre-Raphaelites are made increasingly grotesque by later exaggerations and transformations (one thinks of the details in paintings by Klimt and the sadistic touches Munch added to his erotic goddesses), so the excesses of the forbidden fruit of modernismo are packed so closely together that they begin to decompose. The spirit of play takes on its darker side. Just as abundance creates poverty by contrast, so frivolity invites its lurking counterpart. Lost among the excesses of the textual surface, the speaking or acting subject reasserts itself with a gesture that draws our attention outside the static scene. The works of both Lugones and Herrera y Reissig show the marks of this intrusiveness into the enclosure of preciosity and abundance.
In an article entitled "Acotación del árbol en la lírica," Jorge Luis Borges offers an analogy between scenic and textual spaces, using an image that suggests the curving, botanical designs of the style of Art Nouveau with its "ramajes trabados."
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Borges points out the traits that separate the works of modernismo from the tastes of later readers:
Hasta aquí, empero, sólo se ha tratado del árbol como sujeto de descripción. En escritores ulteriores—en Armando Vasseur y paladinamente en Herrera y Reissig adquiere un don de ejemplaridad y los conceptos se entrelazan con un sentido semejante al de los ramajes trabados. El estilo mismo arborece y es hasta excesiva su fronda. A despecho de nuestra admiración ¿no es por ventura íntimamente ajena a nosotros, hombres de pampa y de derechas calles, esa hojarasca vehementísima que por Los parques abandonados campea?
(Up until now, however, the tree has only been treated as the subject of description. In later writers—in Armando Vasseur and openly in Herrera y Reissig—it acquires the gift of exemplar, and concepts intertwine like knitted branches. The style itself branches out and its foliage is even excessive. Despite our admiration, is not this vehement showiness which covers Los parques abandonados by chance intimately foreign to us, men of the pampa and straight paths?
In other writings of 1924, speaking during his ultraísta period, Borges gives clues to the subsequent rejection of the modernista movement by some of its more "modern" practitioners. Like many critics of his generation, he speaks of a dependency factor, a reliance on the exalted strands of symbolism and Parnassianism. Here he uses a graphic corporal analogy of wounding and scars:
El error del poeta (y de los simbolistas que se lo aconsejaron) estuvo en creer que las palabras ya prestigiosas constituyen por sí el hecho lírico. Son un atajo y nada más. El tiempo las cancela y la que antes brillaba como una herida se oscurece taciturna como una cicatriz.
(The mistake of the poet [and of the symbolists who counseled him] was in believing that already prestigious words constitute the lyric act in themselves. They are a short cut and nothing more. Time cancels them, and what shone before like a wound darkens quietly like a scar.)
Even more clearly for the discussion of modernismo at hand, Borges continues by pointing up the static pictorial quality of
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much of Herrera y Reissig's verse, a reference that might equally well be applied to the staging of many modernista scenes:
A ese empeño visual juntó una terca voluntad de aislamiento, un prejuicio de personalizarse. Remozó las imágenes; vedó a sus labios la dicción de la belleza antigua; puso crujientes pesadeces de oro en el mundo. Buscó en el verso preeminencia pictórica; hizo del soneto una escena para la apasionada dialogación de las carnes.
(This visual undertaking was joined to a stubborn desire for isolation, a prejudice against becoming personal. It polished up the images; it sealed its lips to the diction of ancient beauty; it put crushing weights of gold on the world. In verse it searched for pictorial preeminence, it made of the sonnet a scene for the passionate dialogue of the flesh.)
As it was then for Borges, it is the programmatic and derivative aspects of modernismo which still puzzle many readers. How could a movement that espoused the romantic principles of spiritual liberty, access to the sublime through synesthetic experiments of sound, color, and rhythm, be best known today for its formalism, for its sometimes grotesque exaggeration of the iconography of French Parnassian, symbolist, and decadent styles? The modernistas were seemingly shameless in the appropriation of the iconic symbols of all things exotic or distant. The very formalism of the verse form, enriched to saturation, distances the modern reader by its practiced theatricality.
Critics rarely treat the movement of modernismo for its intrinsic value. Its worth is measured instead by a series of resemblances—its differences from previous and subsequent changes in poetic practice. Yet modernismo is, quite distinctly, a movement, a self-identified and coherent esthetic program, despite its internal variations. Though the term avant-garde is applied to a later generation, the modernista quasi-militarist language and messianic claims for their work leave no doubt as to the movement's coherent purpose. Renato Poggioli discusses the militaristic and apocalyptic terminology adopted by avant-garde movements in The Theory of the Avant-Garde:
Avant-garde deformation, for all that the artists who practice it define it as antitraditional and anticonventional, also becomes a
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tradition and a stylistic convention, as has often enough been realized. . . . In this way, deformation fulfills not only a contrasting, but also a balancing, function in the face of the surviving conventions, academic and realistic, of traditional art. The deformation is determined by a stylistic drive, which inaugurates a new order as it denies the ancient order.
Modernismo has most often been seen as a movement of dependence, as a group of poets who looked to Europe, especially France, as a source of inspiration. Many have even seen this movement as a trend based in imitation, as mere translation from one literary culture into another. An examination of the nature of information transmission from one culture to another, however, as well as from one language to another, can help in understanding the specific patterns of transmission of poetic traditions. Given the developments in linguistics and semiology in recent decades, the study of a phenomenon such as modernismo can find methods with which to examine this transposition of literary patterns from one culture to another, taking into account extraliterary codes as parallel ways of enlarging our perspectives. Even the simplest formulation as the dichotomy langue (code, grammar, system ) as opposed to parole (speech, usage ) is especially relevant to a study of poetic transmission. The use of these terms, along with other concepts, will provide a basis for examining the poetic language of modernismo in its transmission and transformations.
In modernismo we see the collision of several aesthetic codes at once. The transmission from emitter to receptor is not direct, however—the message does not necessarily remain intact in its transmission. Receptive factors, such as comprehension of a foreign language (accuracy of translation), completeness or incompleteness of texts, cultural factors (audience, possibilities for publication) are essential factors to consider in the reception of the emitted message. In the case of artistic texts, the transmission is even more complex. Literature is not an isolable commodity. It shares various functions in a given epoch and cul-
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ture. It is clear that differing opinions about modernistas are not rooted exclusively in the message content they bear nor even in the particular form (rhythm, meter, rhyme) that shapes content. Although the modernistas were first attacked for their audacity in breaking the traditional rules, within a decade they were scorned by vanguardista poets for their adherence to rigid form. Surely, cultural and artistic contexts alter not only the transmission of fixed message content but its recpetion as well. It is this reception (or reading) of texts in different contexts that produces "aberrant" texts or misreadings. These same variations of reception can be of profound importance for the generation of new texts.
A look at the pictorial qualities of modernista verse can clarify some puzzling issues. As Pierre Bourdieu suggests, the way we design our living spaces reflects and determines our ways of ordering the metaphors by which we live. In the modernistas ' eagerness to fill up space with the treasures of a more highly valued culture do they not also implant in these scenes a seed of doubt? At what point does gentle mocking of their borrowed wares become overt parody? Without falling into a simplistic criticism—singling out only "patriotic" elements in modernismo (such as those in the later poetry of Rubén Darío) and rejecting the rest, or assuming an aestheticized eulogy of the beautiful and spiritual nature of modernista poetry—we can read these modernista works without facile value judgments.
Criticism of Modernismo
Any history of the evaluation of poetic modernismo in Spanish America would constitute in itself a history of social and esthetic values of this century. As the contemporary Mexican poet and novelist José Emilio Pacheco has noted, however, the task of disentangling precursors, influences, and initiators has made many critics forget the works themselves and concentrate on previous critical evaluation. In the same manner, criticism with limited sociological vision "se ha limitado a darnos una visión acerca de lo que debió haber hecho el modernismo para redimir a nuestras sociedades, en vez de emplear los instrumentos de análisis a fin de explicarnos su carácter socialmente
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condicionado" ("has limited itself to giving us a vision about what modernismo should have done to redeem our societies, instead of using the instruments of analysis to explain to us its socially conditioned character"). Although the modern critic does not expect consensus on the relative worth of a particular work nor even dare to prescribe definitive standards for what constitutes an exclusively "literary" work, modernismo is still strongly associated with "dependence." And although there is no total agreement on the role of "authorship" in the production of a literary text, modernistas are generally seen as slavish individual imitators of foreign, especially French, texts.
Criticism can reflect a society's ideas about itself, and much recent criticism reflects modernismo 's own self-questioning. With the nineteenth century's emphasis on the idea of romantic "genius," of the specially selected transmitter of spiritual energy or revelations, the classical division of public and private languages breaks down. And to a large degree, the stability of genre is shaken. The late nineteenth century refuses even more the notion of writer as public spokesperson, either as legitimizer or adversary—critic of society. (One has only to think of the role of poet—statesman in early nineteenth-century Spanish America to see the contrast with the generation of modernistas .) The emphasis on interiority and personal expression even fragments the idea of the author or the book concept. The individual writer is seen on personal terms, and the concept of a coherent work gives way to fragmentary expression. As personal consciousness rather than social or ethical norms becomes increasingly the organizing principle, the individual style itself acquires new functions. If the frame of reference is personal consciousness and individuality, then style must allow for personal idiosyncrasy, even invention or destruction of genre. The highly self-conscious stylistics of modernista poetry (most notably that of Rubén Darío), with its highly personal thematics and expressiveness, have led many critics to focus heavily on biographical data rather than on external circumstances or more generalized literary influences.
Perhaps the most common criticism of modernismo is the attack on its lack of social commitment, with a few notable exceptions such as José Martí. If we read these works of modernismo as clues
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to a changing cultural consciousness, and not only as singular productions of individual talents, then our analysis must grow more complex. Except for the clearly defined stance of those who take the adversary role to a certain power group (as is the case in protest literature), even national literatures receive ongoing evaluations and reassimilations. A case in point is the recent revival of the figure of Rubén Darío as "patriot poet" of Nicaragua. Darío's case shows history's turns between rejection and canonization. From viewing Darío as the poet of the ivory tower to the newer category as poet—patriot is only one example of the flux of literary criticism. In this vein, a general tendency in Spanish American criticism has been to lump together all modernista writers under the label "rubenista" and to assume that the enclosure of the rich poetic forms of modernismo were prisons from which more recent poets have needed to liberate themselves. Although countless studies have pointed out the many styles, sources, and individual patterns of modernista poets, the survival of a facile critical grouping is difficult to overcome.
The Professional Writer
In "What Is an Author?" Michel Foucault finds an introduction to the historical analysis of discourse in the study of "transgressive discourses." In his study of the evolution of the concepts of ownership and codification of discourses, he states:
Texts, books, and discourses really begin to have authors (other than mythical, "sacralized" and "sacralizing" (figures) to the extent that authors became subject to punishment, that is, to the extent that discourses could be transgressive. (148)
Foucault also calls for a study of the author function and its modification:
Perhaps it is time to study discourses not only in terms of their expressive value or formal transformations, but according to their modes of existence. The modes of circulation, valorization, attribution, and appropriation of discourses vary with each culture and are modified within each. The manner in which they are articulated according to social relationships can be more readily understood, I
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believe, in the activity of the author-function and its modifications, than in the themes or concepts that discourses set in motion. . . . In short, it is a matter of depriving the subject (or its substitute) of its role as originator, and of analyzing the subject as a variable and complex function of discourse. (158)
The movement of modernismo, which is usually chronologically delineated between the years 1888 and 1910, has been credited with revitalizing the Spanish poetic idiom by means of three major contributions: (1) innovations in meter, rhyme, and syntax; (2) an expansion of subject matter; and (3) a change in the perception of the poetic function. modernismo has most often been examined in its derivative aspects, that is, its debt to the French Parnassians and symbolists, and to the Americans Edgar Allan Poe and Walt Whitman. This type of criticism centers on the rebellious aspects of the movement, its attempt to break away from the models and archetypes of Spain and the colonial heritage. Variously called torremarfilismo, cosmopolitismo, or decadentismo, the movement of modernismo has been criticized as an aberrant faction of escapist writers who would not accept their immediate environment nor reflect it in their poetry. Less attention has been focused on the reasons for the conscious attempt to join another order of writers, however, an order more far-reaching than their present one.
The innovations of modernismo are based on the modernistas ' widening awareness of their dependence, both economic and cultural, on traditional and European models and their decision to fill the cultural vacuum resulting from this dependence. Their innovations arose from a necessity of invention. Having become aware of the smaller sphere of action accorded to the writer, they sought to reclaim the lost importance and to develop a different role for the poet. The heavily loaded surfaces of modernista poetry, its amazing variety of revived and new poetic forms, the cult of the exotic and of the self, were all ways of filling a void. In the same manner, their rebellious attitude manifested itself in a willful transgression of the public norm and its tastes. Their rebellion united them in a common purpose, with an emphasis on virtuosity and individual expression. An important element in defining the goals of the modernistas is the examination of the
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reasons for their choices and for their conscious attempt to join another order of writers. A look at their social and economic position can clarify the reasons for their decisions.
During the last part of the nineteenth century the major cities in Spanish America, especially Buenos Aires and Mexico City, were assimilating European movements at an accelerated pace. The transmission was manifold and simultaneous, and the proliferation of new ideas and styles—in the sciences, in the arts, and in literature—constantly thrust a choice upon the intellectuals. In part, the adoption of a style inaccessible to a large public was a reaction against the narrow range of roles assigned to the writer. With the diversification of society, due in large part to massive European immigration and growing industrialization, there was no longer an absolute identification between the ruling classes and the intellectual.
New immigration, varying degrees of industrialization, and labor-oriented social movements changed the maps of Spanish American cities in the early twentieth century. Just as workers' movements disrupted previous patterns of political privilege, so frantic rhythms wrenched poets from pastoral contemplation and reveries of palatial interiors. As the poet was thrust into the marketplace (for example, journalism and adoption of new "marketing" techniques), so poetry would follow its poets into turbulent urban spaces.
At the same time that modernismo as a poetic movement is flowering, poets and intellectuals are calling for an upheaval of old traditions. Manuel Gonzélez Prada, a modernista poet better known for his role as essayist and political activist in late nineteenth-century Peru, reflects the dominant stamp of the organic metaphor in his analysis of Peru's need for revitalization. In his "Discurso en el Politeama" of 1888 he calls for the overthrow of the old order:
En esta obra de reconstitución y venganza no contemos con los hombres del pasado: los troncos añosos y carcomidos produjeron ya sus flores de aroma deletero y sus frutas de sabor amargo. ¡Que vengan árboles nuevos a dar flores nuevas y frutas nuevas! ¡Los viejos a la tumba, los jóvenes a la obra!
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(In this work of reconstitution and vengeance we cannot count on the men of the past: the aged and decayed stumps have already produced their evil-smelling flowers and their bitter-tasting fruits. We want new trees to give new flowers and fruit! Old ones to the tomb, young ones to the task!)
Modernismo 's emphasis on the ideal of an intellectual, and not necessarily an economic, aristocracy was part of a persistent search to create a new role for artists in a society whose hierarchies were being dissolved. The role of the intellectual was being questioned, for the intellectual or writer no longer acted as he did previously as a spokesman for the reigning social order. Nor was the status of writer now usually linked to an explicit social function or political activity, although the life of the poet and leader José Martí presents a striking exception. As professional roles became more specialized, the role of the intellectual was also being reduced. No longer a sideline activity in addition to other professional ones, writing was becoming a specialized occupation, although a financially precarious one.
Literary and social critics such as Walter Benjamin and Michel Foucault have provided cogent explanations for the elevation of art to a religious discipline in the latter half of the nineteenth century. They stress the historical situation as determining the particular stance of the artist. With the advent of photography and other means of reproduction, literature seemed to be losing its hold on the quasi-mystical role assigned to the artist. The rising demands of egalitarian social movements also threatened to displace the artist's rank. A cult of writing was aroused to restore confidence in literature as a separate reality, rather than as a range of styles, interchangeable and therefore dispensable. Poets were to be interpreters of a medium that offered mystical insights. Attention to the techniques of such a discipline was therefore of the highest importance.
Several studies in Spanish America have been especially influential in their examination of the changes in the writer's status and the impact of these changes of poetic practice. Angel Rama's Rubén Darío y el modernismo, Noé Jitrik's Contradicciones del modernismo and Producción literaria y producción social, and
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Françoise Perus' Literatura y sociedad en América Latina have opened the way for a specific discussion of modernismo within its system of social productions. Octavio Paz' Los hijos del limo and Cuadrivio, which include extensive discussions of modernismo within a Spanish American and Western poetic tradition, focus on constants and contrasts with Western poetic tradition.
Among the critics who have interpreted the nature of this artistic as well as social phenomenon, some have concentrated more on the socioeconomic aspect of its web, while others have sought its secrets in the rich texture of surging aesthetic theories and practices current in Europe at the time. The analyses of Rama and Paz point up the two complementary aspects. In his classic text on Rubén Darío, Rama establishes first the socioeconomic outlines of Darío's artistic context, with special attention to the market values that determined Darío's formation:
Hay aquí una comprobación primaria, tan general, que fue un lugar común de las dos últimas décadas del siglo: la deserción de los poetas es consecuencia de la nueva época maquinista, más exactamente, del sistema de relación económica que imponáa, la que además, transforma a los poetas en servidores de las necesidades económicas imperativas.
(There is here a primary proof, so general, that it was a commonplace of the last two decades of the century: the desertion of the poets is a consequence of the new machine age, more precisely, of the economic system which it imposed, which, in addition, transformed the poets into servants of imperative economic necessities.)
Rama's chapter, "Los poetas modernistas en el mercado económico" (49–80), clarifies the position of journalism in the formation of the new aesthetic, distinguishing also the different possibilities of the newspaper or journal according to public access (for example, literacy, affluence) in Spanish American countries of varying industrial development.
Yet even to speak of markets, machines, and modernization in terms of the artist hardly brings forth the image of the hurried businessman—writer. As Rama points out, "Por el momento, el 'mercado' literario no exist???a; los libros no tenían compradores y, por lo mismo, tampoco había editores" (For the moment, the literary 'market' didn't exist; there were no
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buyers for books, and by the same token, neither were there editors").
As Roberto J. Payró makes clear in a statement of 1894, periodicals were not accustomed to the idea of paying their national contributors for literary works. He sees the efforts of certain periodicals as being heroic ones in the "campaña" to create a national literature:
El mercado de libros está en plena paralización, lo que como es natural—viene a reflejarse en el movimiento literario, escasísimo, que ha tenido que refugiarse casi exclusivamente en la prensa. La Revista Nacional ha sido el primer periódico queen Buenos Aires haya pagado su colaboración, demostrando así que era hora de que las producciones del ingenio comenzaran a estimarse en lo que valen, para facilitar el advenimiento de los escritores de profesión, únicos que podrán dotarnos de una literatura propia.
(The book market is completely paralyzed, which naturally is reflected in literary activity, extremely scarce, which has had to take refuge almost exclusively in the press. La Revista Nacional has been the first periodical in Buenos Aires that has paid its contributors, thus demonstrating that it was time for productions of genius to be valued for what they were worth, to facilitate the advent of professional writers, the only ones who can give us our own literature.)
Rubén Darío also offers testimony to the difficult situation of the writer in Latin America when he speaks of the martyred condition of the writer and of the limited audience and chances for publication apart from periodicals. Darío, however, embraces journalism itself as a writing apprenticeship. Striking is his description of the magical practice involved in pushing out the daily passages, as if the heightened speed of' market rhythm increased the flow of' creative power. He not only explains the economic necessity of working with periodicals but praises it as a new source of' inspiration. Writing about commonplace events provides practice for less mundane efforts:
Tú sabes de la lucha del hombre de letras, en todos lugares atroz y martirizadora, pero en ninguna parte como en estas sociedades de la América Latina, donde el alma aún anda a tientas y la especulación del intelecto casi no tiene cabida. Has tenido un buen campo de experiencia y ése es el diaro. ¡El diario! Yo le oigo maltratar y sé
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que le pintan como la tumba de los poetas. Pues si el trabajo continuado sobre asuntos diversos no nos hace ágiles y flexibles en el pensar y en el decir, ¿qué nos hará entonces?
(You know about the struggle of the man of letters, everywhere atrocious or martyred, but nowhere as in these societies of Latin America, where even the soul feels its way about, and intellectual speculation has almost no place. You have had a good field for experience, and that is the daily newspaper. I have heard it maligned and depicted as the tomb of the poets. Well, if continued work on different topics doesn't make us agile and flexible in thought and in speech, what then will?
Despite the vision of Darío as romantic dreamer caught in the cogs of the modern machine, perhaps he is the poet who best shifted to catch its changing, quickening rhythm. It is clear, despite his attachment to the ideals of the superiority of beauty, that the changing sounds and rhythms entered his perception. Unlike many modernista poets, who chose an ironic, mocking stance toward modernity, Darío in effect used its power as counterforce, as measure against his own flowing rhythms.
The dependence on Europe by the financial and social elite had also led to a devaluing of local productions of all kinds. In the case of literary production and outlets for publication, the lack of faith in local writers resulted in little financial support for their efforts. In Argentina, for example, publishers cited the scarcity of national literary works of quality and the absence of a large reading public as reasons for promoting mostly foreign works. Paul Groussac, when introducing the influential journal La Biblioteca in 1896, describes the attitude he wished to counter with the creation of his new publication:
Se nos ha dicho, por una parte, que no hallaríamos en la Argentina la suma de colaboración bastante a llenar mensualmente las páginas de una gran revista, faltando a la par entre nosotros la preparación y el vagar indispensables; se agrega por la otra, que serán tanto más escasos los lectores de este linaje de producciones, cuanto más se alejen de la improvisación diaria y noticiosa.
(It has been said to us, on the one hand, that we will not find in Argentina the necessary amount of contributions to fill monthly the pages of a great journal, lacking among ourselves the necessary
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leisure and preparation; it is added, on the other hand, that readers of this kind of production will be ever scarcer, the farther we move from daily and newsworthy improvisation.)
The devaluing of local writers and of the public in general was heightened by the financial crisis of the last decade of the nineteenth century. Publishers found it more convenient and less costly to copy foreign works for which they did not have to pay royalties, and they were assured of a readership by the already established fame of major European writers:
Entre una obra extranjera que nada cuesta y cuyo éxito está asegurado con la popularidad del autor, y una obra nacional, por la que hay que ahorrar unos cuantos centenares de pesos, corriendo el azar que sea mal recibida por el público, la elección no es dudosa. . . . Como si hubiera formado empeño en ser constantes tributarios de Europa, nos mantenemos exclusivamente do lo que aquélla produce en artes, ciencia, industria y literatura. ¿Qué más? Hasta las obras que sirven de texto en las escuelas elementales, colegios nacionales y aún en las mismas Facultades, son, en mayor parte, extranjeras.
(Between a foreign work that costs nothing and whose success is assured by the popularity of the author, and a national work, for which one must set aside several hundred pesos, running the risk that it will be badly received by the public, the choice is clear. . . . As if we had made a pact to be constant tributaries of Europe, we maintain ourselves exclusively on what it produces in the arts, science, industry and literature. What's more, even the texts in elementary schools, high schools and even in the University are, for the most part, foreign ones.)
In Argentina the literary and social elite that immediately preceded Lugones and his generation was losing its sense of homogeneity and its all-encompassing directive role in the establishment of political and social values. This was due to the realignment of social and economic forces and to the increasing complexity of Argentine society. The Generations of 1837 and 1880 had seen their role as a political as well as an artistic one, and their task as the stabilizing and maintaining of the authority of their social class. The majority had defined their role as
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writers as a sideline activity to complement their roles as statesmen and defenders of their society. This is the environment to which the modernista grouping (including Darío and Lugones) reacted, an environment that they sought to invade and helped to dismantle.
José Juan Tablada, in a retrospective view, describes the consciousness of rebellion in matters of taste and the modernistas' attitude toward themselves as a displaced aristocracy:
El radicalismo de la religión del arte exigía el sincero desprecio hacia el burgués y el burgués era todo aquel que no pensaba como nosotros en asuntos estéticos, pues los sociales y económicos nos parecían muy secundarios. Era todo una dislocación de categorías que llegaba en su grotesca ingenuidad hasta hacernos creer que la sociedad ideal sería una integrada por poetas más o menos baudelarianos o en salmuera de ajenjo como Verlaine o doctorados en el claro oscuro satánico del acuarelista Rops o escenógrafos de misas negras como Huysmans.
(Radicalism of the religion of art required a sincere disdain for the bourgeoisie, and the bourgeois was anyone who did not think as we did on aesthetic issues, since social and economic issues were secondary to us. It was a complete dislocation of categories which, in its grotesque ingenuousness, led us to the point of believing that the ideal society would be composed of poets more or less Baudelairian, or pickled in absinth like Verlaine, or trained in the satanic chiaroscuro of the watercolorist Rops or in the theatre of black masses like Huysmans.)
The style of excess that Tablada stresses took the form of a rebellion in taste and personal behavior, which often led to an unconscious parody of the very codes the modernistas sought to follow. Slavish copying was an attempt to approximate as closely as possible the European mode, and much of Lugones' production strikes this note time after time.
The modernistas' cult of the exotic and of the self is in part a reaction to what they saw as their poverty. By striking a blow at the neo-realists among other writers, they were also objecting to diversification and compartmentalization. Their emphasis on virtuosity arose from the necessity of inventing a place for themselves.
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The Organic Metaphor and the Idea of Progress
Octavio Paz evaluates the movement's negations as a positive search for universals and for modernity:
Se ha dicho que el modernismo fue una evasión de la realidad americana. Más cierto sería decir que fue una fuga de la actualidad local—que era, a sus ojos un anacronismo—en busca de una actualidad universal, la única y verdadera actualidad.
(It has been said that modernismo was an evasion of the American reality. It would be truer to say that it was a flight from the local present reality—which was, in their eyes, an anachronism—in search of a universal reality, the only true reality.)
The search for universality was indeed a prime motive, with a keen desire for participation in a cosmopolitan world of modernity as much as for timeless universals. The goal of progress, so strong in nineteenth-century thought, was an important motivating factor, although it is a concept difficult to reconcile with a spiritual ideal of timeless unity, or with a cult of art. The idea of progress for the modernistas was not merely an abstract concept. Increased contact with other nations, growing industrialization, and new immigration from Europe brought an expanded network of communication. José Martí, the earliest poet of modernismo and a participant in both political and aesthetic battles, wrote of the changing nature of expression and the rapidity of its exchange:
Ahora los árboles de la selva no tienen más hojas que lenguas las ciudades; las ideas se maduran en la playa en que se enseñan, y andando mano a mano, y de pie en pie. El hablar no es pecado, sino gala; el oír no es herejía, sino gusto y hábito y moda. Se tienen el oído puesto a todo; los pensamientos no bien germinan, ya están cargados de flores y de frutos, y saltando en el papel, y entrándose, como polvo sutil, por todas las mentes; los ferrocarriles echan abajo la selva, los diarios la selva humana. Penetra el sol por las hendiduras de los árboles viejos. Todo es expansión, comunicación, florescencia, contagio, esparcimiento. El periódico desflora las ideas grandiosas. Las ideas no hacen familia en la mente, como antes, ni larga vida. Nacen a caballo, montadas en relámpago, con alas. No
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crecen en una menta sola, sino por el comercio de todas. No tardan en beneficiar, después de salida trabajosa, a número escaso de lectores; sino que, apenas nacidas, benefician.
(Now the trees of the forest have no more leaves than the cities have tongues; ideas mature on the beach where they are learned and, going hand in hand, and step by step. Speaking is not a sin, but a glory. Listening is not heresy, but taste and habit and custom. Everyone's ears are always open; thoughts barely germinate before they are loaded with flowers and fruits, and jumping onto the paper; they enter everyone's mind like fine powder; the railroads tear down the forest; the newspapers, the human forest. The sun penetrates the fissures of the old trees. Everything is expansion, communication, flowering, contagion, dispersement. The periodical deflowers grandiose ideas. Ideas don't create a family in the mind, as before, nor long life. They are born on horseback, mounted on lightning, with wings. They don't grow in a single mind but through the commerce of all minds. They don't delay in benefiting, after a difficult emergence, a small number of readers; rather, as soon as they are born, they show benefit.)
Martí favors the analogy with nature to show the changes brought about by the influx of new ideas and their rapid communication: "El hablar no es pecado, sino gala; el oír no es herejía, sino gusto y hábito y moda." The purpose of communication for Martí is not necessarily didactic, nor does it aspire to permanent meaning.
José Martí illustrates, with a metaphor drawn from nature, the quickening pace of the modern world and the resulting rapidity of communication. Like leaves falling from a tree, ideas are dispersed and lost even as they are born. It is notable that Martí would choose as the referent in his analogy the tree, which would seem to better fit with a romantic ideal of organic unity and with rootedness than with fluidity and dispersion. Yet such an analogy illustrates some of the paradoxical spirit of cosmopolitismo embraced by the poets of the moment. Although exalting a common language of beauty and universal rhythms, at the same time this mixed analogy rejects the rootedness of a national past profile and the boundaries imposed by strong national identity. Spiritual universalism and a mystical aestheticism combine con-
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trast with a cosmopolitanism, of varied strains, to produce an aesthetic difficult to define.
In 1899, about midpoint in modernismo, José Enrique Rodó gives his evaluation of Rubén Darío, a statement later edited and used by Darío as a prologue. He notes that Darío's apparent "anti-americanismo involuntario" ("involuntary anti-Americanism") arises in part from his "adversión a las ideas y las instituciones circundantes" ("dislike for the surrounding ideas and institutions") (83). He singles Darío out from other American poets, giving two images, one from the world of man-made treasures and the other from nature:
Joya, es esa, de estufa; vegetación extraña y mimosa que mal podía obtenerse de la explosión venal de savia salvaje en que han desbordado hasta ahora la juvenil vitalidad del pensamiento americano; algunas veces encauzada en toscos y robustos troncos que duraran como las formas brutales, pero dominadores de nuestra Naturaleza y otras muchas veces difusa en gárrula, lianas, cuyos despojos enriquecen el suelo de tierra vegetal, útil a las florescencias del futuro. (73–84)
(It is a hothouse flower, a strange and pampered vegetation that could scarcely arise from the venal explosion of wild sap which the youthful vitality of American thought has poured out until now, sometimes channeled into coarse and robust trunks that endure like brutal forms, but dominators of our Nature; and more often diffused in babbling, tropical vines, whose remains enrich the ground with vegetal earth, useful for future flowerings.)
Rodó and Martí both employ the tree metaphor to reinforce the idea of growth and systemic change in art itself. Rodó's tree is useful because of the rich subsoil that will grow from its fallen leaves. The image, in both the forms of Martí and Rodó, attempts to reconcile apparently wayward growth within a system of organic growth and change. It is balance and harmony for which Nature strives, allowing for the occasional orchid, ruby or diamond, swan or pheasant. Interestingly enough, women also are included by Rodó in this beauty, as if they too could be rare birds, populating the "crónicas de Gyps y cuentos de Mendes" (93).
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As they reject the referential emphasis on language and turn away from "realism" and civic poetry, the modernista poets idealize poetry as a striving toward beauty and the ideal. The cult of the exotic, the emphasis on sonority, the enrichment of poetic meter, the delight in verbal play for its own sake, helped create for the modernistas a self-containment for poetry, setting it off from the everyday, communicative functions of language.
By attributing conscious moral decisions to each artistic gesture of its practitioners, critics have either condemned, defended, or condoned the modernista production with its context of "modernization." Yet there is another way out of this dilemma. If we analyze modernity and modernismo not as separate and parallel systems, but as exchange systems, we may examine how such new systems of production are entwined with new systems of representation. In the midst of the shifting systems of representation and the fascination with the new products of science and industry, the modernistas encountered a perplexing situation. Exposed, by means of greater communication to the images of modernity, nevertheless, it is clearly apparent that the Spanish American did not share fully in the production of such novelties. Roberto González Echevarría gives us the kernel of this uneasy dilemma:
Si Hispanoamérica es nueva por autonomasia, ¿cómo puede fundarse una modernidad sin historia, sin la densidad de pasado y evolución requerida para la 'ruptura'? El carácter más sobresaliente de la modernidad en Hispanoamérica es la conciencia que ésta tiene de su falsedad. Si la modernidad, según Octavio Paz, es sinónimo de crítica y se identifica con el cambio, la modernidad en Hispanoamérica se caracteriza más por su fragilidad, de la cual tiene conocimiento.
(If Spanish America is new by autonomy, how can modernity be founded without history, without the density of the past and the evolution required for the "breakthrough"? The most striking characteristic of modernity in Spanish America is its awareness of its falseness. If modernity, according to Octavio Paz, is synonymous with criticism and is identified with change, then modernity in Spanish America is characterized more by its fragility, of which it is aware.)
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González Echevarría also notes the proliferation of sign—objects in modernismo:
El lenguaje modernista es moderno porque es un lenguaje que destaca su desconexión crítica del mundo de las cosas, e insiste en esa desconexión poniendo de manifiesto no ya los mecanismos de su propia producción, sino sobre todo el carácter de producto que el mismo tiene (de ahí la abundancia de lugares comunes en la poesía modernista). Las cosas proliferan, pero precisamente porque aparecen no en una red de relaciones que reflejan la realidad, sino en un código inmediato, poético, que las conjuga. La hipóstasis temática de este fenómeno se encuentra en la escandalosa artificialidad del ambiente creado por el modernismo. Todo artificio es producto, no naturaleza; producto, no proceso. (159)
(modernista language is modern because it is a language which highlights its lack of critical connection to the world of things, and insists upon this lack of connection, no longer making manifest the mechanisms of its own production, but above all its character of product [and thus the abundance of commonplaces in modernista poetry]. Things proliferate, but precisely because they appear not in a net of relations which reflect reality, but in an immediate, poetic code which joins them together. The thematic hypostasis of this phenomenon is found in the scandalous artificiality of setting created by modernismo . Every artifice is production, not nature; product, not process.)
modernity, then, enters as a reflection of the industrial world's fabricated nature. modernista art reflects a fascination with the possibility of the endless reproduction of an image. Machine power is certainly one of modernismo 's later topics, although references to it are often shrouded in another kind of language. However, the fascination with a new technological order took many stances, often ambivalent ones. Given concrete historical circumstances, it must be noted that such references to new technologies were often part of stylistics rather than a reflection of local realities, since the industrialization and modernization of Spanish America was by no means consistent in different countries. Saúl Yurkiévich in Celebración del modernismo has taken an innovative approach to this topic in modernista and postmodernista poetry, noting even the emergence of the
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modern tourist in late modernismo as an extension of its fascination with cosmopolitismo and the rapidly increasing possibilities of travel.
Aníbal González in "La escritura modernista y la filología" examines modernismo 's spirit of critical inquiry along with its cosmopolitanism and relationship to philology in the nineteenth century. As examples, he offers the works of José Martí and Rubén Darío to illustrate the highly self-conscious nature of modernismo 's productions. Far from being innocent consumers of a European series of productions (valued more highly because of their origin), these poets, sharing in the critical tradition of philology and science, offered up their own literary productions as an affirmation of this "Yo organizador" that sought to integrate, within a new aestheticism, the multiple strains of both mythic and scientific inheritance. Striving toward an eclecticism of several foreign cultures and literary movements, they also reordered scientific information. The critical stance of the modernistas was more encompassing than is generally believed. They sought to refound literature in its vital connection with the natural world and to discover its secret basic harmonies, its underlying organic structure. According to González, literature attempts to hide its mimesis of this scientificism, substituting the idea of the studio for the laboratory and the interior private space for the study. Although the fascination with new technologies is manifested by a new level of technical perfection and by the use of images from the industrial world, poetry seeks to disguise its presence with a veil of mysticism.
From all over Spanish America writers circulated ideas and formed a network of exchange by means of the many literary magazines founded during this period, in addition to those that combined political statement as well. The two most important centers of publications were Mexico City and Buenos Aires. Among the most important magazines were the Revista Azul and Revista moderna of Mexico, and Revista de América of Buenos Aires. Rubén Darío, who along with Jaimes Freyre founded
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the short-lived Revista de América, best exemplifies the lifelong commitment to the principles of art espoused by modernismo .
Selections from Revista de América illustrate the direction which the modernistas postulated for their production. "Nuestros propósitos" ("Our Purposes"), the opening statement of 1894, expressed a striving toward a pure form of art combined with more utilitarian goals. Though these ideals seem to be contradictory, they represent the special amalgam that modernismo formed from its European sources. Despite their insistence on being the enemies of utilitarianism and other manifestations of positivist thought, the manifesto clearly shows a dialectic between the ideals of an art striving toward pure form and an awareness of the role of the artist in society. Although the aim expressed is that of a quasi-religious striving toward ideal perfection in art, the terminology has a utilitarian and combative import: "ser el vínculo" ("to be the link"), "combatir" ("combat"), "levantar la bandera" ("raise the flag"), "visible esfuerzo" ("visible effort"). This crusade, despite its direction toward realms of art and regions or dream, retains a sense of place, time, and political motivation.
Although stressing the merits of innovation to revive poetic traditions deadened by lifeless imitation, the possibilities of the "Nuevo Mundo" are inextricably linked with a past, though partly buried, tradition. According to most of the modernista generation, the responsibility to develop or mine these treasures is in the hands of the intellectual aristocracy, the group formed within a strong poetic tradition. Instead of a break, this change in poetic process is to involve a new focus. Significantly, the direction of the crusading impulse is inward-turning, to better recover elements from a distant past, as well as the outward turning to exotic realms of legend and history.
The notions of mission and combat—the holy crusade—are constants in the poetic manifestoes of the modernistas . They view their role not as visionaries who have chosen isolation but as prophets who have been forcefully removed from certain spheres by their enemies, the forces of utilitarianism and bourgeois conservatism. Darío speaks of the need in America for spiritual and artistic concerns to combat these forces:
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En nuestras repúblicas latinas, el viento de la mediocridad sopla sobre el alma criolla. Nuestras sociedades recién formadas no se cuidan del alma; el Arte no puede tener vida en donde la Religión va perdiendo terreno, y en donde el Lucro y la Politíca hinchan cada día más sus enormes vientres.
(In our Latin republics, the wind of mediocrity blows over the Creole spirit. Our recently formed societies don't take care of the spirit; Art cannot have life where Religion is losing ground, and where Profit and Politics swell up their enormous bellies more every day.)
The Problematic Heritage of European Romanticism and Symbolism
Despite modernismo 's connections with the legacy of romanticism, a closer look shows a refusal of many of romanticism's values. This legacy is more in the spirit of the monstrosity of Victor Hugo, in the suspended time of Baudelaire, than in Wordsworth's or Coleridge's attempts to mingle mind and nature. It singles out oddity, distorts organic form, and exalts discontinuity.
The spatial dimensions of modernista scenes give an idea of the rearrangement of values that romanticism linked with organic form. The mountain and the abyss are more likely to appear in miniature form (perhaps enclosed in a Parnassian literary landscape painting with their scale reduced to manageable terms). Single figures draw the focus, rather than panoramic scenes. As scenic description highlights the fragment, it moves away from organic unities.
A distinguishing feature of modernista aesthetics is the inclusion of all the arts in theories of artistic creation. The creative function can express itself through music, the plastic arts, and literature, especially poetry. Creative power is bestowed on certain individuals as a mysterious gift, enabling them to perceive the series of concordances between nature, humanity, and divinity. From this concept arises the belief in the natural aristocracy of the artist. The modernista concept of the artist as one who is divinely inspired and who possesses the gift of perceiving the interrelationship of nature and spirit, has its roots in romanti-
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cism. Though the modernistas responded directly to many doctrines of the symbolists, they were responding at the same time to the influence of the romantics. Many of the social doctrines of romanticism, received quite differently in Spanish America at an earlier stage, were partially incorporated along with later doctrines.
The doctrines of romanticism were a primary factor in the later development of the concepts of the poet and poetic function, and the work of Victor Hugo was central to this development. René Wellek stresses the powerful influence of Hugo in European romanticism: