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CR: The New Centennial Review 3.1 (2003) 1-23
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Miranda and the Salvation of the Shipwreck
Lisa Block de Behar (Translated by David E. Johnson and Margarita Vargas )
Universidad de la República, Montevideo, Uruguay
It is this refusal that is important to us, and the involuntary, almost imperceptible trace of boredom, indifference, lack of attention, forgetfulness, that he leaves over an oeuvre apparently aspiring to a useless perfection, and which remains for us admirably imperfect and as it were absent from itself.
—G. Genette 1
The "Unread" Effect of Ariel:
the Parallel Flight of Two New Angels
One hundred and two years after the publication of Ariel, José Enrique Rodó's best known book, a publication that oriented Latin American thought for decades, we continue to celebrate as much as disregard it. Does it make sense, from this distance, to speak of an Arielian cycle with a nostalgia similar to the one with which, after centuries, we refer to the Arthurian cycle, narrating once more the heroic adventures of the king of the Britons? Should this century, which began under the sign of Ariel, have given place to an "American material" in the same way that the cycle of King Arthur gave [End Page 1] place to the "matière celtique"? If, only through the first two letters, a poet comes to discover the existence of gold in the east [oro en oriente], 2 the approximation between American and Celtic references, apparently so distant, could be justified only by the alliteration of ar- (Ariel, Arturo); beyond this alliteration, however, it would be interesting to compare the supreme project which, in both mythical figures, demands the aspiration to a higher spirituality. Between the mystical and the legendary, on the one hand, is the heroic search for the Holy Grail, and, on the other, the beauty of art associated with the noblest spirit; in both, the ideal of purity. Semiliterate and semi-divine characters, from their ambiguous state between fiction and conviction, profess a double faith that emblemizes the assumption of a transcendent mission, inspiring the foundations of national, continental, or cultural identity, and consolidating the most profound ground where imagination reserves and multiplies myths and legends.
Rodó wrote: "Hay veces en que las influencias contradictorias de lecturas igualmente intensas, que comparten la afición y el hábito, se entrecruzan en un espíritu, sin ceder las unas a las otras, y persisten en un vivo conflicto, determinando para la vida entera de aquél una especie de duplicidad [There are times in which the contradictory influences of equally intense readings, which share the same avocation and habit, interlace in a single spirit without ceding to the other, and persist in a living conflict, determining for its entire life a species of duplicity]." 3 As a matter of fact, interlacing the references, the voices resound beyond the texts of origin; facing that multiplicity in conflict, today one would speak of dialogism, polyphonies, transtextualities, or of other more or less rhetorical terms with which one recognizes the inevitability of a discourse on discussion, or of the dialogue, deliberate or not, unknown or not, that settles in the interiority of a discourse.
I don't know if I should ask myself, yet once more, if Ariel is still contemporary; if the book's force depends on who wants to read it or not, even though that distinction is no longer valid; if its principles have fallen into disuse or if its objectives had little credibility; if its success or its failure have fallen into the vicissitudes of the history of America. Was Rodó mistaken? Or were his readers? Ariel's apprehensions, however, remain: "la desunión crónica de América Latina, la creciente vulgarización de la vida democrática [End Page 2] en nuestros países, los males del mercantilismo como doctrina económica impuesta desde fuera de estas tierras [the chronic disunion of Latin America, the increasing vulgarization of democratic life in our countries, the evils of mercantilism as an...