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KEITH ELLIS Literary Americanism and the Recent Poetry of Nicolas Guillen One of the distinguishing characteristics of Spanish American literature is its high degree of commitment to socio-political questions. I will attempt in this study to establish the origins of this feature, to show its ramifications in the evolving literary theories in Spanish America, and to examine the recent work of Nicolas Guillen in the light of these theories. The Spanish authorities undertook with great seriousness their task of colonizing America, and literature was from early in the sixteenth century one of the activities that came under their scrutiny. They attempted by two decrees, one of 1531 and another of 1543, to restrict the literature that was available to the population of Spanish America. Underlying this restriction was the idea that literature, particularly the fantastic literature that was in vogue in Spain at that time, could have a pernicious effect on its readers. The religious mission, for example, the determination to make Catholics of the indigenous American population, could be jeopardized through the proliferation of books which, by their emphasis on fantasy, would challenge, in the minds of the neophyte Indian readers, the credibility of the work of optimum importance for the colonizers, the Bible. Even though the controls put on the export of books to Spanish America were not effective, sympathy with their spirit served to inhibit the creation in the Spanish colonies of literature that was removed from the urgent tasks and realities of the region. Epic poetry, devoted primarily to relating great occurrences of the conquest and colonization , La araucana being the outstanding example, became a prestigious poetic mediumi and instead of novels that might focus on the unreal world of the novelas de caballerfa, the chronicles conveying facts about the new world and attitudes to it were produced in good quantity.1 When, in the seventeenth century, the colonies became securely established , cultural life in them became imitative of the metropolitan lifei and the difference between social classes became measurable by the degree of ease with which the transplanted complexities of Peninsular literary artifacts could be understood. Those who were most closely identified with Spain were, of course, the ones who found these complexities best suited to their tastes. When decadence settled in on Spain in the eighteenth century, the sector of the population of Spanish America that traditionally held fast to Peninsular values floundered in cultural uncertainty. Late in UTQ, Volume XLV, Number 1., Fall 1.975 2 KEITH ELLIS the century serious thinkers in Spain and in Spanish America set about the task of bringing their countries to cultural security in the broadest sense of this term. Both the metropolitan and the colonial groups were attracted by the currents of thought that emanated from the Enlightenment . They believed that the intellectual should be responsible to his society, should seek the means of remedying its ills, and that the remedies could not be found unless there were a proper insight into all the activities that constituted the life of the society. They aimed, then, at integrated thinking about their societies; and it was not unusual to find in both Spain and Spanish America intellectuals whose interests encompassed political science, economics, agriculture, literature, and grammar. At the same time those who did not themselves master several fields were often nevertheless aware of the contributions that might be made by the different fields. The movement in Spain led to liberal thought and to a struggle against political absolutism. Yet inevitably, because of the tenets that derived from the Enlightenment, the analyses made of their societies by Spanish Americans led to the conclusion that those societies would be better off without what was being represented more and more to be the yoke of Spain. And Spanish American thinkers became fixed in their determination that Spanish America should win its independence. Simon BoHvar, the essayist, enunciated more clearly than any other Spanish American intellectual the case for independence. Simon Bolivar, the military man, executed brilliantly his design for independence; and, in his triumph, he called upon a poet, the Ecuadorean Jose JoaquIn de Olmedo, to celebrate the victory in verse. But Olmedo as a thinker with a deep...


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