- The Censorship Files: Latin American Writers and Franco’s Spain
In this book, Alejandro Herrero explores the ways in which official Spanish censorship of the Franco period affected the creative process of those Latin American authors (they are many and important) who sought to publish their books in Spain, the most prestigious publishing market of the Hispanic world. There are a series of elements that make The Censorship Files worth reading.
First, it is based on impressive archival work since Alejandro Herrero has taken the time and trouble to patiently and thoroughly review the copious files that deal with censorship in Spain. He contrasts the original submissions of Latin American writers to the finished product and remains attentive to a complex web that articulates economic interests, cultural hegemony, professional prestige, political commitment and fights over aesthetic values and even the status of the Spanish language.
Second, the book neatly articulates the realms of artistic creation with the strictures of political necessity—revealing in this process how artistic creation is always already loaded with political anxieties and how political management cannot renounce the charm of the aesthetic as an ideological weapon. The form that this proposition takes in the book is that of a travel through different regions of the creative-publishing complex. Herrero takes his reader through the convoluted process of applying for a publishing permit in Franco’s Spain, and the many conflicting interests that were part and parcel of the publishing universe. The reader is rewarded with insight into the attitudes of the censors and their aesthetic, linguistic and moral preferences. Likewise, the book informs us about the strategies of the publishers and the different possible destinies of a censored publication. (They could be printed in Spain but not distributed there, for instance). When it comes to the writers, Herrero alerts us to the many changes—changes that he argues were not merely cosmetic in nature—that were a consequence of censorship in important novels as Vargas Llosa’s La ciudad y los perros, Cabrera Infante’s Tres Tristes Tigres or Manuel [End Page 427] Puig’s La traición de Rita Hayworth. The fact that the complexities of Herrero’s narrative are conveyed in amenable and entertaining prose is not a minor detail. The reader of The Censorship Files will appreciate the agile and slightly ironic style of the book. The chapter on Cabrera Infante is an adventurous mini-plot in its own right. In this chapter, Herrero takes the reader through the convoluted relationship between a pro-Cuban editor like Barral, his anti-Cuban protégé Cabrera Infante and the paranoid state apparatuses that persecuted Cabrera Infante in Cuba for being an agent of imperialism and in Spain for being an agent of Communism.
Finally, Herrero duly notices the tensions and contradictions that censorship created for both Franco’s Spain publishing industry and the left leaning avant-garde Latin American authors. While Franco’s regime sought to monopolize the book market as a means to preserve Spain’s economic and political influence in the Hispanic world, it had to do so by relying on authors whose work the state censors deemed subversive and morally dubious. The Latin American writers, meanwhile, has to submit more or less willingly to a censorship whose sheer banality added one more offense to the situation.
But Herrero’s book has the vices of its virtues. Fifty pages into the book it becomes plain that the author has opened more venues of research than he can manage. The book touches on the Boom and the expansion of Spain’s book market, but it doesn’t provide any insightful analysis of this conjunction from the perspective of the publishing industry. The activity of the censors, especially in their resemblance to the work of the literary critic or the professor of literature, is another interesting line suggested by the book but which is never really developed. It is only in the final chapter on Manuel Puig—the best chapter of the book in my opinion—that...