- Los poetas apócrifos de Max Aub by Maria Rosell
Max Aub, apocrypha, heteronyms, poetry, exile, Maria Rosell, Sebastiaan Faber
At least since the advent of modernism, the relationship between writers and historians of literature has been a complicated one, perhaps not unlike the relationship between the police and the Mafia. It is the critics who, in principle, control the authors' entry into, and place within, the canon. Yet writers tend to display a barely veiled disdain for the bean-counting bureaucrats of the academy, trying their best to mock and undermine the professors' much-too-neat categories and attempts at periodization. Fiction writers have plenty of tools at their disposal to confuse their readers, academic or not. The sprawling operating system that we call the novel comes with centuries' worth of open-source apps designed to throw readers off track, from gender-bending pseudonyms and unreliable narrators to found manuscripts and spurious footnotes. Lyrical poetry, on the other hand, appears to have less room—perhaps a lower tolerance—for this kind of masquerade-ball playfulness. If fiction is about inserting as many filters as possible between the author's self and the final text, readers of lyrical poetry have come to expect direct access to the poet's authentic core. As Maria Rosell points out in this short but at times thought-provoking book, even after modernism and postmodernism we continue anachronistically to impute to the artistic object an "aura casi religiosa" based on "la autenticidad y la originalidad" (132).
Naturally, to the mischievous-minded, the relative rigidity of these generic [End Page 113] expectations is a tempting invitation to mess with their underlying presuppositions. It is the very assumption of authenticity, after all, that allows for the creation of apocrypha in the first place. As Rosell writes, "para probar que alguien es un artista auténtico, necesita mostrar que es capaz de dominar la delicada operación de fabricar la inautenticidad" (132). Max Aub proved a master at this test. As if his literary, cultural, and linguistic profile wasn't kaleidoscopic enough—born in Paris in 1903 of German-Jewish parents, he moved to Valencia at age 11, worked as one of the Republic's cultural operators in Paris during the Civil War, and spent most of his adult life as an exiled Spanish writer in Mexico—he further multiplied his authorship through geography and time in Antología traducida (1963, 1972) and Imposible Sinaí, which he began to write in 1967 in response to the Six-Day War, and which was published posthumously in 1982. Similarly mischievous were his invented biographies Luis Álvarez Petreña (1934, 1965, 1971) and Jusep Torres Campalans (1958).
True to its subject matter, Los poetas apócrifos de Max Aub has a misleading title. For one thing, the book dedicates much more space to other poets' uses of apocrypha than to Aub's. Spanning Spanish, French, and Portuguese, we read about Fernando Pessoa, Prosper Mérimée, André Gide, Paul Valéry, Miguel de Unamuno, Valéry Larbaud, Antonio Machado, Federico García Lorca, Felipe Benítez Reyes, Agustín Delgado, Luis Mateo Díez, and José María Merino. For another thing, it uses Aub's and others' work as a springboard for a series of more general questions and reflections about authenticity, authorship, and literary history: "¿se puede considerar la existencia de una historia de lo falso en las letras hispánicas contemporáneas, definiendo claramente lo falso como toda práctica cuyo origen o autor difieran del pretendido?" Rosell wonders; "si consideramos que lo falso es lo no verdadero, todo el arte queda implicado en esta percepción que conlleva apreciaciones de tipo moral dirigidas al ámbito creativo" (15). The book's relative brevity and purposely unfocused, almost sprawling structure mean that Rosell rarely does more than scratch the surface of the texts and authors she deals with; in that sense, the book itself reads like a brief introduction or an anthology.
The first chapters provide a guided tour through sundry examples of apocryphal poets that...