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  • The Reading of Community in the Early Novels of Juan García Ponce
  • Carl Good (bio)

From at least the mid-twentieth century onward, writers in Mexico are often found directly or indirectly deliberating quetions about community that had been posed, at least in part, during the decades immediately following the revolution. Their responses often turn against the socio-political imperatives of the so-called Mexican School as iconized by the post-revolutionary muralists' efforts to establish a public space and function for art in which representation is subordinate to perceived social imperatives in the service of explicitly nationalist aims. Even when the Mexican School was at its height, dissent with, or at least suspicion toward, such a conception of art's social and nationalizing role was common, if marginal, as for example among the writers and visual artists associated with the Contemporáneos group. But around the middle of the century, that suspicion and dissent acquired greater clarity as writers and painters became increasingly drawn toward international currents such as abstract expressionism and the potential of more universalizing notions of myth beyond that of the national.1 These later modes, of course, never guaranteed that the socializing ideologies would not simply resurface through them in new [End Page 105] guise. In effect, even Octavio Paz, one of the principal writers associated with the innovations of the midcentury, can be found subtly turning toward the argument that art should be conditioned, if not by outright subordination to social ends, at least by an explicit imperative of ethico-subversive response to a world conceived as essentially social-historical.

In an essay originally published in an anthology of the work of Mexican poet Xavier Villaurrutia and later reprinted in the English translation of Villaurrutia's collection, Nostalgia for Death, Paz makes an almost categorical claim regarding literature's imperative in this sense, and the ghost of an objective, or historicized, notion of community surfaces in his remarks, albeit without the explicitly "Mexicanizing" or nationalizing emphasis of the muralists. Paz frames his comments with an appreciative assessment of Villaurrutia's work as a whole, citing him as his own most important precursor. However, he ultimately qualifies this praise by reproaching the lack of engagement with the world of others in the work of both Villaurrutia and the Contemporáneos. These writers, Paz asserts, "could no longer believe in the revolutionaries and their programs, so they isolated themselves in a private world, populated by the phantoms of eroticism, dreaming, and death. A world that was ruled by the word absence. . . . The stance of Xavier and his friends was what we now call interior exile" (Paz 1993, 104). Paz faults this "interior exile" of the Contemporáneos for reflecting a disregard for people, or "others," in their work, unfavorably comparing them in this regard to T. S. Eliot and Guillaume Appollinaire, in whose writing, by contrast, "the city is the double face of the people who inhabit it . . ." (105). Whether such a characterization of the Contemporáneos is tenable goes beyond the scope of this particular discussion, but it could at least be noted that the argument in question, independent of Paz's often quite good readings of the Contemporáneos in other respects, seems to be motivated by a certain intergenerational rivalry between different modes of surrealism, as indicated by the particularly marked, differentiating emphasis on "us" and "them" pronouns in the critic-poet's comparison of past and present "contemporaries."2 While Paz is not arguing that poetry is under a narrow obligation to represent actual, human personas, he does mandate that it should testify to a sense of shared historical awareness. And even if his [End Page 106] notion of such a "sharing" is agonistic—taking for granted literature's role as a subversion of any symbolic order that operates outside the realm of his own surrealist conception of art and politics—his argument, nonetheless, imposes a subtle burden of sociality on art through an opposition between visionary subversion and escapist aesthetics: "Surrealism was, for [the Contemporáneos], an exclusively aesthetic experience; for us, automatic writing and the world of dreams were at once a poetic and an ethic, a vision and...


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