- El ocaso de los poetas intelectuales y “la generación del desencanto”
Malva Flores’s book El ocaso de los poetas intelectuales y “la generación del desencanto” examines the decline of the poet-intellectual in post-1968 Mexico. Disillusioned with government repression and overshadowed by an older generation of poets already functioning as prominent public intellectuals, Flores argues that the generation of poets born between 1943 and 1955 withdrew from the public domain and opted to focus solely on literary affairs. Their retreat marked an important change in Mexican literary and cultural history. For most of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Mexican poets led double lives as wordsmiths and engaged intellectuals. In her intriguing and informative essay, Flores assesses the cultural and political shifts that account for this remarkable transformation. By reconstructing and assessing the debates regarding the role of the intellectual in Mexico—that appeared in literary magazines, newspapers and anthologies of the era—Flores offers a convincing explanation for this “divorce” between poetry and civic action. Moreover, she crafts a probing interpretation of how this rift informed the poems of the “generación desencantada.”
The book is divided into two extensive essays: “El ocaso de los poetas intelectuales” and “La generación del desencanto.” The first reviews the history of the poet-intellectual in Mexico and is followed by a brief consideration of the socioeconomic, cultural and political circumstances that diminished their visibility in the public domain. Providing an overview of three distinct periods in the evolution of this figure, Flores argues that the Romantic ideal of forging poetry with life propelled poets in the nineteenth century to participate in the discussion of national problems. Poets like Ignacio Manuel Altamirano (1834–1893), conceived their writings—poetic or otherwise—as the critical conscience of the nation, thus setting a precedent for future bards to engage the world at large. After the Revolution of 1910, and under the auspices of José Vasconcelos’s government-sponsored cultural Renaissance, poets became part of state bureaucracy and held government posts. Participating in the construction of a new nation by day and writing poems by night, figures like Jaime Torres Bodet (1902–1974) and Manuel Maples Arce (1898–1981) are two examples of the post-revolutionary poet-bureaucrat.
However, the most important precedent at the heart of Flores’s argument is the example set forth by Jorge Cuesta (1903–1942). As many literary scholars have noted, the poet from Veracruz represented the emergence of the modern intellectual. In the 1930s, as the post-revolutionary government consolidated its authority, Cuesta distanced himself from official rhetoric and employed his literary skills to criticize state power. As Flores asserts, Cuesta established a new tradition of the independent intellectual. Although poets of subsequent generations, including Octavio Paz (1914–1998), Gabriel Zaid (1934) and José Emilio Pacheco (1939), repeated this model throughout the 1940s, 1950s and beyond, Flores observes that 1968 marked a significant change in this tradition. The student massacres at Tlatelolco in 1968 and on “Jueves de corpus” 1971, followed by the “Guerra Sucia” of the ’70s and the censorship of the independent newspaper Excélsior, obliged younger poets to critically reexamine their role as engaged intellectuals. Finding [End Page 579] little to no support among cultural institutions and doubting the very value and relevance of the tradition set forth by Jorge Cuesta, they vacated the public sphere and chose to concentrate on their poetic experiments.
According to Flores, this generation’s silence was further compounded by the arrival of specialized intellectuals whose presence limited the opportunity for work among younger poets. No longer the critical conscience of the nation, economists, sociologists and political scientists now fulfilled that role. Moreover, Flores also notes that in an effort to placate student activism, the Mexican government and other cultural institutions sponsored poetry contests and magazines, thereby further encouraging poets to focus their attention on their craft. Yet, these poets’ choice to do so was a rebellious affirmation of their belief in poetry. Flores writes:
Desencantados de esa proyección colectiva que, a...