restricted access Artemio de Valle-Arizpe y su visión del México colonial by Dolores E Rangel (review)
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Reviewed by
Rangel, Dolores E. Artemio de Valle-Arizpe y su visión del México colonial. Newark, Delaware: Juan de la Cuesta, 2011. 243 pp.

In his essay, “On the Utility and Liability of History for Life,” Nietzsche commented that “history pertains to the person who preserves and venerates, to him who looks back with loyalty and love on the origins through which he becomes what he is.” He continued to suggest that knowledge of the past is only valuable to society inasmuch as it inspires individuals to improve upon their current state. Overindulgence in memory, which he ascribes to an antiquarian mindset, leads to disengagement from the present and social atrophy. Thus Nietzsche warns against allowing reverence for bygone eras to overcome the utility of history for the present moment. With this thought in mind, I would like to briefly discuss Dolores E. Rangel’s book, Artemio de Valle-Arizpe y su visión del México colonial, a recent analysis of one of Mexico’s forgotten writers. Both Valle-Arizpe, in his writing about Mexico’s colonial period, and Rangel, in her recuperation of Valle-Arizpe, precariously and productively straddle this line.

Artemio de Valle-Arizpe was a central figure in the early-twentieth-century literary group known as the colonialistas, so called for their literary and historical investigations into the Baroque society in New Spain. Popular in their moment, they were soon discarded as nationalist culture in the 1920s increasingly centered on the Mexican Revolution as its focal point. Valle-Arizpe was a traditional historical novelist who, by his own admission, was overcome by history. When confronted with the destructive realities of the Revolution, he turned his back on the present and sought refuge in a colonial past that he considered to be the moment of cultural genesis for the nation. This turn to the past is reminiscent of the same gesture made by another conservative writer, Lucas Alamán, who wrote monumental pro- Hispanic histories of the colony during the ideological wars of the 1850s. Both men delved into the past when the disasters of the present seemed overwhelming. But unlike Alamán, for whom history was actualized by his political activity, Valle-Arizpe’s unwillingness to confront the present rendered his work obsolete as post-revolutionary institutions sought to redefine national culture vis-à-vis the social revolution that had ended a few years prior and was now transitioning into what would later come to be called the institutionalized revolution, or in other words, the bureaucratic and political realization of revolutionary ideals. Within this newly emerging political-aesthetic paradigm, promoted ironically enough by two colonialist writers (Julio Jiménez Rueda and Francisco Monterde), the backward glancing [End Page 364] texts of Valle-Arizpe seem anachronistic and escapist in their attempt to recapture the cultural splendor of the colony while trenchantly avoiding direct engagement with the present.

Following a somewhat perfunctory introduction, Rangel divides her book into four chapters that set out to restore some of the prestige of Valle-Arizpe’s work. The first briefly sketches the literary milieu of the early twentieth century, offers readers a general overview of the colonialist group and their affinities with their contemporaries of the Ateneo de la Juventud, and delves ever so slightly into a discussion of historical novel theory taking as main points of reference Noé Jitrik and Georg Lukács. The second chapter is a quick-paced analysis of five of Valle-Arizpe’s novels—Cosas tenedes (1922), Doña Leonor de Cáceres y Acevedo (1922), El Canillitas (1941), La movilidad inquieta (1945), and Deleite para indiscretos (1955)—where she argues that Valle-Arizpe’s irreverent sense of humor, penchant for the grotesque, and encyclopedic knowledge of the period grant readers important insights into the daily life and customs of the colony. The third chapter, unquestionably the longest at nearly eighty pages, tackles the leyendas and tradiciones that Rangel identifies as “cápsulas de ‘verdad’ que históricamente son valiosas” and which function as an alternate source of history that makes the past more accessible to non-academic readers (123). The fourth and final chapter turns our attention to the historical texts...