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Current Trends in the Mexican Novel

Author(s): George R. McMurray


Source: Hispania, Vol. 51, No. 3 (Sep., 1968), pp. 532-537
Published by: American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/338785
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532

HISPANIA

8Salvo Ram6n Vdlez Herrera que aparece en

la antologia de Menendez y Pelayo pero no en


la nacional cubana, todos los escogidos por don
Marcelino fueron tambien seleccionados por la
comisi6n cubana; ademais de ellos en la antologia de la comisi6n cubana aparecen los siguien-

tes: Juan Francisco Manzano, Francisco Iturrondo, Francisco Mufioz del Monte (incluido
por Menendez y Pelayo en la secci6n dominicana de su obra), Domingo del Monte (aparece
en la secci6n venezolana de la obra de Menendez

y Pelayo), Francisco Orgaz, Jose Maria de

Ram6n Jimenez de Le6n, Ricardo del Monte,


Martina Pierra de Poo, Mariano Ramiro, Andres
Diaz, Luisa Perez y Montes de Oca de Zam-

brana, Carlos Navarrete y Romay, Francisco

Sellen, Saturnino Martinez, Salvador Dominguez,


Julia P&ez y Montes de Oca, Aurelia Castillo de

Gonzilez, Pablo Hernaindez, Isaac Carrillo y


O'Firrill, Alfredo Torroella, Diego Vicente Tejera, Enrique Jose Varona, Juan Ignacio de
Armas, Jose Varela Zequeira, Justo Jose de
CQrdenas, Mercedes Matamoros, Enrique Her-

Cirdenas, Ram6n Zambrana, Narciso Foxai

nindez Miyares, Carlos Norefia, Nieves Xenes,


Aurelio Mitjains, Manuel Serafin Pichardo,

secci6n portorriquefia, pero no incluido en ella),

Borrero, Juana Borrero.

(mencionado por Menendez y Pelayo en la

Juliain del Casal, Federico Villoch, Esteban

CURRENT TRENDS IN THE MEXICAN NOVEL

GEORGE R. McMURRAY
Colorado State University
The publication of Agustin Yifiez' Al

filo del agua in 1947 marks a turning point


in the Mexican novel.' In this work

Yafiez broke away from traditional realism

by combining the social awareness of his

predecessors with renovating literary tech-

niques designed to probe the subconscious


of small town dwellers and achieve a

deeper penetration and a more artistic por-

trayal of Mexican, as well as universal,

reality. In spite of the appearance of

numerous conventional novels of social

protest in the two decades since 1947, the

better authors have continued-and indeed

strengthened-the tendency set by Yaifiez.

By the early 1960's urban centers with

their growing populations and increasingly

complex problems were receiving more

attention than the rural scenes so fre-

quently depicted heretofore. Moreover,

generally speaking, subjects typically Mexi-

can in setting and nature were being

abandoned for more universal themes.

In addition to Yifiez, such fine writers

half of 1967 a surprisingly large group of

younger novelists ranging in age from

twenty-three to thirty-five years has gained

ascendancy in the genre.2 The seven most


promising of these lesser known writers
and their works of the past two and onehalf years will be discussed here. While
in no way constituting a literary school,

they do reveal certain similarities and, due


to their talent and youth, indicate possible
future trends in Mexican letters. They in-

clude Vicente Lefiero, Tomis Mojarro,


Salvador Elizondo, Gustavo Sainz, Jos6

Agustin, Rartl Navarrete, and Fernando


del Paso.3
Probably the most widely known outside Mexico, Vicente Lefiero (b. 1933) has
published a book of short stories, La polvareda (1959), and four novels: La voz

adolorida (1961), Los albaiiles (1964),

Estudio Q (1965) and El garabato (1967).


His best work to date, Los albajiles was

awarded the coveted Premio Biblioteca

Breve, making him the only one of the

as Juan Rulfo, Jose Revueltas, Rosario

group to win an international prize. After

nandez, Juan Jose Arreola, and Carlos

scripts, Lefiero is at present the director of

Castellanos, Sergio Galindo, Sergio Fer-

Fuentes dominated Mexican prose fiction

during the years from 1947 through 1964.


Although Fuentes is the most outstanding

Mexican novelist actively publishing in


the 1960's and although more good literature can be anticipated from the others,

during the years 1965, 1966, and the first

spending several years writing television

Claudia, a magazine for women published


in Mexico City.
Notwithstanding the scant critical ac-

claim it received, Estudio Q is a deft

analysis of psychic disintegration and a

clever experiment in literary technique. A


satirical study of commercial television in

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FACT AND OPINION 533

the process of filming the fictionalized


biography of a popular actor, this novel
utilizes "nouveau roman" techniques to
relate the ironic drama of a human being
trapped within the narrow confines of the
role he plays. His loss of identity ultimately

brings about his suicide, but due to the


intricate interchange between the script
and reality, the reader is left wondering
whether the suicide is genuine or merely
the sensational ending of a mediocre tele-

desolation of its setting, accentuates the


characters' isolation, stagnation and des-

pair. Malafortuna effectively creates a state


of mind resembling an absurd nightmare-a

kind of purgatory or hell-from which


alienated, ill-fated mortals are both unwilling and unable to liberate themselves.

The novel's sombre, suggestive style, with

its minimal use of adjectives, and the

author's acute sense of the dramatic lurk-

ing beneath the surface of apparent reality

vision drama.

recall Juan Rulfo's prose.

El garabato, Lefiero's latest novelistic


endeavor, likewise leans heavily on struc-

one of the seven writers who has lived and

tural technique to illustrate a curious dichotomy in the psychic make-up of the protagonist. The latter, a literary critic limited
in talent but fired with ambition to write

memorable fiction, becomes further frus-

trated when his search for God conflicts


with the carnal desire and love he feels for

his mistress. The title represents the enig-

ma that confronts modem man as a result

of his inability to understand the true


relationship between himself and his en-

vironment. Lefiero views each of his novels

as a kind of puzzle requiring the reader's


active participation in order for it to be
appreciated. Although he may at times

seem overly concerned with technical pro-

cedures, this very aspect of his work as

well as his preoccupation with man's

Salvador Elizondo (b. 1932) is the only

traveled extensively abroad. Although he


resides in Mexico City, he is relatively

uninterested in things Mexican. Far better

versed in European and American than in

Latin American literature, he reads mainly


poetry and philosophy. Elizondo's principal
concern as an author is to experiment with

language, its mechanical complexities,

philosophical implications and psychologi-

cal effects. To date he has published a


novel entitled Farabeuf o la cr6nica de

un instante (1965) and a collection of


short stories, Narda o el verano (1966).
Although his short fiction demonstrates

superior structural technique and freshness


of style, it is his Farabeuf that makes him
one of the most distinctive writers to

appear on the Latin American scene in

struggle to survive as an integral being

the past decade. An artistic illustration of

After publishing a collection of short


stories, Caih6n de Juchipila (1960), and a
novel, Bramadero (1963), both classified

roman," this bizarre novel traces throughout its length the consummation of a sin-

places him among the most forward looking of the present-day Mexican writers.

under the broad heading of "realismo

costumbrista," Tomais Mojarro (b. 1932)


turned abruptly to allegorical fantasy in

Husserl's phenomenology and similar in


many respects to the French "nouveau

gle sex act. For the characters, a fictionalized version of Dr. Farabeuf (a famous

19th century French anatomist) and a

mad woman of uncertain identity, intense

his second novel and most interesting work

pain and the final death spasm become

designates a desert community with an


adjacent air base where a gallery of frustrated individuals languishes in an atmosphere of moral and physical decay. Mojarro utilizes naturalistic background to expose adverse conditions on a typical military base-he himself served several years

orgasm. In his efforts to analyze the climactic moment, the author suppresses all
logical concepts of time and space, con-

to date, Malafortuna (1966). This title

as an air force mechanic-but more significant is the work's aura of mystery and time-

lessness which, together with the vast

synonomous with physical love and

stantly repeating in kaleidoscopic patterns

three basic scenes: (1) the torture of the

Chinese described in minute detail, (2)

the two characters strolling along a beach

and their carnal desire aroused by a

photograph, and (3) the couple's strange


reunion, probably many years later, in a

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534

HISPANIA

dilapidated apartment house in Paris. More

than once it is suggested that Farabeuf


dissects, has dissected, or will dissect the

woman alive.

This narrative of man's search for iden-

tity within a labyrinth of temporal involutions readily lends itself to multiple inter-

pretations and marks an unparalleled

attempt in contemporary Mexican letters


to establish new levels of contact with

reality, always variable and contradictory.

system of interacting, reflecting lenses

which, focused from different angles, un-

cover hidden layers of meaning and give

more depth and significance to events and


characters thus treated. The recordings also

serve as a kind of therapy by which the

youths unconsciously seek identity through


self-involvement in a world that seems to

be crumbling around them. The novel's


desultory, fragmentary dialogue together
with its ingenious blend of reality and

Farabeuf is noteworthy for its unusual

fantasy mirrors from deep within the un-

irrational, disquieting style, all of which

ever, equally important is the work's

theme, its structure and particularly for its

may confuse, discourage, disgust or fascinate the tenacious reader but will ultimately

arouse his esthetic appreciation.4


Gustavo Sainz (b. 1940) supports himself entirely by his literary production
which includes short stories, criticism,
film scripts and one novel entitled Gazapo
(1965). Soft-spoken and somewhat "beatnik" in appearance, this young writer in
certain respects strikes one as the most
professional of the authors discussed here.
Through omnivorous reading he has acquired a wide knowledge of contemporary

literature, both Mexican and foreign,


which he discusses with judgment and

authority.

Like Farabeuf, Gazapo also is a venture


in literary technique, obliging the reader
to interpret the plot from the soarse raw
materials provided by an invisible author.

stable psychic world of juveniles. How-

devastating indictment of social institutions' shortcomings or failures: the moral

bankruptcy and disintegration of the

family, the meaningless dogma taught by


the Church, and the substandard instruction provided by the schools. The ironic,

disrespectful tone of Gazapo, its frank real-

ism, and its imaginative analysis of adolescent psychology will leave few adult

readers indifferent.

Precocious and by nature somewhat


brash, Jose Agustin (b. 1944), might be

called the "enfant terrible" of contemporary

Mexican letters. If any two of the seven

writers were to be compared for the simi-

larities in their works, they would undoubtedly be Jose Agustin and Gustavo
Sainz, principally for their treatment of
post World War II youth and for their

exposure of what they consider outmoded,

It gradually becomes evident that the

hypocritical conventions and attitudes.

has left home following a quarrel with his

stepmother. His own mother's apartment,

the two. Whereas Sainz portrays a limited


segment of the lower middle class, Jose

absence from the Mexican capital, becomes

range of social strata-from upper middle

their middle class friends. The novel con-

Sainz reveals occasional flashes of humor,


Jose Agustin is infinitely funnier, more
satirical and spontaneous, and less preoccupied with structure. The latter's first
novel, La tumba (1966), describes in lineal
form the dissolute lives led by a group of
wealthy Mexican juveniles whose conduct

narrator, an adolescent named Menelao,

where he lives during her temporary

the rendezvous for him, his "novia," and

sists of a series of scenes, both real and


imagined, depicting the hedonistic existence of these amoral youths, i.e., their

fiestas, disputes, and above all, their

erotic escapades, the details of which they

record on tape in spontaneous language.

These scenes, repeatedly set forth in

Still there are marked differences between

Agustin's characters encompass a wide

to the working classes. Moreover, although

derives at least in part from their de-

bauched parents. In contrast to the pessi-

slightly altered patterns, are played back


on the recorder, a mechanical device per-

mistic tone of La tumba, his second novel,

the future. This procedure resembles a

although tinged with malice and cynicism.

mitting frequent flashbacks and leaps into

De perfil (1966), seems amusing and gay,

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FACT AND OPrINON 535


This work portrays the family life of the

teen-age narrator as well as his drinking

bouts, sexual exploits, street fights, pseudo-

tions) lays the groundwork for modern


man's inquietude, God's sporadic appearance as a mere bystander in no way

intellectual bull sessions and his hilarious

counteracts the corrosive forces of environ-

initiation into politics at the "preparatoria."

ment.

fused psychic world of juveniles with its


intricate melange of reality and imagina-

depressing story, but its artistic evocation

Sainz's, illustrates the gulf between adults

avant-garde methods demonstrates rigorous


discipline and literary talent.

jected the obsolete code of ethics and con-

Fernando del Paso (b. 1935) spent seven


years writing Jose Trigo (1966), his only

Like Gazapo, De perfil depicts the con-

tion woven into its complex temporal


realm. Jos6 Agustin's novel, again like
and rebellious youths who, having re-

formity of their elders, seek new ideals and

modes of behavior. Jose Agustin has been

severely criticized, with some justification,

for his excessive use of slang and obscene


language. Nevertheless, his original and
dynamic presentation of what might be
termed "the universal youth crisis of the
1960's" makes De perfil the best Mexican
novel of 1966.

Rail Navarrete (b. 1942) is a musician

and poet as well as a novelist. His first and

only novel to date, Aqui, alld, en esos lugares (1966) relates in desultory fashion

the life of a bemused individual as he


roams the streets of Mexico City. A series
of flashbacks depicts the protagonist's child-

Aqui, alld, en esos lugares is a heavy,

of Mexican reality together with its universal themes and skillfully manipulated

novel and one of the most ambitious ever

published by a Mexican writer. Often

compared to Joyce's Ulysses, this complex

work chronicles the development of the

railroads in Mexico as well as tragic events

leading up to a labor dispute and work


stoppage in 1960. The principal action

occurs in Mexico City, more specifically in

the former Buenavista Station and the

adjacent rail workers' "barrio" known as


Nonoalco-Tlatelolco until its transformation into the beautiful Plaza de las Tres

Culturas. For Del Paso this setting seems

to reflect the evolution of the Mexican saga

which he captures in cyclical, symbolic


patterns. One episode depicted in detail

hood in a "pueblo," his unhappy youth


spent separated from his mother in the

relates to the "guerras cristeras," a series of

of a disoriented stranger thrust into the

and finally his present state of mind, that

by President Calles' attacks on the Church,


which are recalled through eyewitness accounts by some of the principal characters.

doomed to relive his past loneliness.

time sequence becomes evident when pres-

home of harshly unsympathetic relatives


midst of a teeming metropolis where he is
Navarrete, like the others, utilizes with

success temporal and spatial dislocations,


repetition of scenes in ambiguous, ever-

changing patterns, and blending of reality


and dreams. Although difficult and at times

uprisings in the late 1920's brought about

The almost total destruction of normal

ent moments, defined and nurtured by


echoes out of the past, acquire historic
dimensions. As it leads through a laby-

bordering on the tedious, the work is redeemed by its limpid, poetic style which
molds symbolic images from unsophisti-

rinth of seemingly unrelated occurrences,


the narrative thread is further complicated
by the fusion of legend with reality. Nevertheless, the novel's most notable quality is
not its structure but rather its rambling,

expressing themselves in vapid dialogue,

rich vocabulary, possibly unequaled in any


other Latin American novel. The author

cated language. The anonymous characters,


constantly moving from place to place and

exemplify the principal themes, i.e., man's


restless search for the unattainable and his
loss of identity effected by the dehumanizing stresses of a heartless society. More-

over, while the dramatic historic process


(evoked by scenes of vast human migra-

unpunctuated style and its fantastically

has attempted to revitalize the language


by the use of popular, foreign, archaic,

technical or invented terms, often totally


unfamiliar even to cultured native speakers

of Spanish. The end product is vast in

scope and rich in imagery with language

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536

HISPANIA

representing both a means and an end in

itself. In spite of its subject matter, Jose"

Trigo has few political or social implica-

tions; it is rather a bold linguistic venture

in novelistic technique, a valiant attempt


to create in Mexican fiction an entirely
unprecedented, original work of art.

Mexico's novel of the past two and onehalf years, continuing certain trends established previously by some of the older
generation of writers, utilizes the urban

center as its predominant setting and

examines thematically the complex relationship between the individual and his
environment. Always in search of new
subject matter, however, the young novel-

ists have turned increasingly to universal


questions such as the enigma of existence
and the spiritual rootlessness of modern

man who, upon being subjected to the

pressures of a mechanized society, sub-

merges his authentic self and becomes

what is imposed on him from without,


something alien to himself.

Nevertheless, universal themes such as


human alienation constitute only one facet

of the current Mexican novel. Most of the

young writers also express a deep concern


with the many serious problems afflicting
national life which they expose with unprecedented audacity. Their objective is
not to suggest remedies but rather to cast
doubt on traditional values, alter attitudes
and thus create an atmosphere conducive
to change. Underlying their works are a
tenor of pessimism and disillusionment
with existing conditions: Mexico's dynamic
growth and flamboyant prosperity on the
one hand, while on the other, the lot of
many of her less fortunate citizens remains
substantially unimproved; the country's
monolithic political structure and the PRI's
sterile, pompous slogans and cliches which
no longer impress or interest anybody; and
the failure of family, church and school to
fulfill their minimum obligations to Mexi-

can youth.n

The young writers' dissatisfaction with


the present-day situation seems to have
had two additional effects: their rejection
of rational reality-to them intolerably
grim-and their quest beneath its surface
for a more subjective, personal concept of

truth; and a greater preoccupation with


art-perhaps to some extent a means of
escape-which leads them to bold linguistic
innovations and "far out" technical pro-

cedures. Although they are willing to


acknowledge a certain debt to authors

such as Yaifiez, Rulfo and Fuentes (who in


turn reveal influences of twentieth-century

American and European literatures), the


young writers express a preference for
"nouveau roman" techniques and go be-

yond their Mexican predecessors in experiments with language, syntax and structure.
The previously mentioned "vanguardismo"

of Elizondo's Farabeuf, Del Paso's Josd


Trigo, Sainz's Gazapo and Lefiero's Estudio
Q best illustrates the point in question.6
One is greatly impressed by the young

writers' extensive knowledge of foreign as

well as Mexican authors, but even more


impressive is their fervent dedication to
literature. Their professional attitude can
be attributed to an expanding and more
sophisticated reading public, an increased

number of good publishing houses offering


greater remuneration for manuscripts ac-

cepted, the assistance provided by the

Centro Mexicano de Escritores,7 and the


stimulus injected into literary circles by

the recent publication of the autobio-

graphical series entitled "Nuevos escritores

mexicanos del siglo XX presentados por si

mismos," each with a prologue by the critic

Emmanuel Carballo.8 Perhaps an equally

important explanation of their professionalism is the fact that (with the exception of

Elizondo) these young "novelistas" are


middle-class, left-wing intellectuals of
modest means who view their chosen

genre as a visceral, cerebral and esthetic


confrontation with reality requiring their
total commitment.

The Mexican novel is presently going


through an experimental stage in which a
whole new generation of talented writers
is beginning to play an important role.9
Determined to break with the past, they
are striving to create original works of art
that will stimulate intellectual processes,
discredit antiquated modes of thinking,
and arouse new emotions. This dynamic
combination of talent, "engagement" and
dedication to artistic ideals augurs well for

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FACT AND OPINION 537

Mexican prose fiction of the immediate

future.10

NOTES

lJohn S. Brushwood treats this point at some


length in Mexico in its novel. Austin, Texas:
University of Texas Press, 1966, pp. 7-12.
2The only novel published between January
1965 and July 1967 by the older writers listed

above is Carlos Fuentes' Zona sagrada (1967),

considered mediocre by many critics.

3This report was facilitated by a research

grant from Colorado State University. Between


January and June 1967 this writer interviewed

all the young novelists discussed here except

Fernando del Paso.

4This' work has been discussed in more detail


in my review article "Salvador Elizondo's Fara-

SEmpresas Editoriales has already or will publish in the near future the autobiographies of
all the young writers discussed here.
9Other promising young but relatively unknown Mexican writers of prose fiction include

Juan Garcia Ponce, Sergio Pitol, Juan Tovar,


uan Vicente Melo, Jorge Arturo Ojeda, Julieta
Campos and Jos6 Ceballos Maldonado.

10The following bibliographical information

about the works mentioned in this report is pro-

vided for interested readers:

LERERO, VICENTE. La polvareda. Mexico:

Editorial Jus, 1959. 188 pp.; La voz adolorida.


Xalapa, Mexico: Ficci6n, Universidad Veracru-

zana, 1961. 146 pp.; Los albaihiles. Barcelona:

Editorial Seix Barral, 1964. 250 pp.; Estudio Q.


Mexico: Joaquin Mortiz, 1965. 301 pp.; El
garabato. Mexico: Joaquin Mortiz, 1967. 187 pp.
MoJARRlo, TOMAS. Caiidn de Juchipila. Mexi-

beuf." Hispania, L, 3 (September, 1967), 596-

co: Fondo de Cultura Econ6mica, 1960. 281 pp.;

5Like many of their contemporaries at home


and abroad, the young novelists tend to reject
the ideals (or lack thereof) and performance of
their elders. This attitude, especially evident in
the works of Gustavo Sainz and Jos6 Agustin,

mica, 1963. 221 pp.; Malafortuna. Mexico: Joaquin Mortiz, 1966. 187 pp.

601.

may be partially a pose, but it does help to

explain the present-day intellectual climate.

6Major foreign influences on contemporary


Mexican novelists include Franz Kafka, James
oyce, John Dos Passos, Virginia Woolf, William
aulkner, Edmund Husserl (for his phenomenology), Jean-Paul Sartre, and the exponents of
the French "new novel."
7Each of the seven writers has received at

least one scholarship from the Centro Mexicano


de Escritores. Elizondo and Agustin are current

"becarios."

Bramadero. Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Econ6-

Farabeuf
o la 1965.
cronica
de
unELIzolDO,
instante. SALVADOR.
Mexico: Joaquin
Mortiz,
179
pp.; Narda o el verano. Mexico: Ediciones Era,
S.A., 1966. 106 pp.
SAINZ, GUSTAVO. Gazapo. Mexico: Joaquin
Mortiz, 1965. 187 pp.
AGUSTiN, Jos. La tumba. Mexico: Editorial
Navaro, S.A., 1966. 141 pp.; De perfil. Mexico:
Joaquin Mortiz, 1966. 355 pp.
NAVARRETE, RAt'L. Aqui, alld, en esos lugares.

Mexico: Siglo XXI Editores, S.A., 1966. 245

pp.

DEL PASO, FERNANDO. Jose" Trigo. Mexico:


Siglo XXI Editores, S.A., 1966. 536 pp.

WILL YOUR ADDRESS BE CORRECT IN THE 1968 DIRECTORY!

Don't wait until fall to send your new address with your zip code to
Eugene Savaiano
Secretary-Treasurer, AATSP
Wichita State University
Wichita, Kansas 67203

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