- Carlos Mérida's "Goce Emocional"An Aesthetics Proposal Circumventing the Space of Catastrophe of Mexican Nationalism
Toward the outskirts of Mexico City, a kind of monolith, serving as a memorial to Carlos Mérida's muralist art, replicates what were once the artist's "Leyendas mexicanas" (1950–52; Mexican Legends): a series of plastic architectural plates designed for the social interest housing complex called the Unidad Habitacional Benito Juárez. With a magnitude of 8.1, the 1985 Mexico City earthquake destroyed the murals in the Benito Juárez complex—and thus, too, the very last of Mérida's public art in Mexico, which had already suffered for decades from governmental negligence and indifference. The monolith's square shape and its location at Fuentes Brotantes, a remote housing complex in the city, evokes the Mexican state's continued misunderstanding of Mérida's aesthetics and vision, which was based on the integration of different arts and traditions and on collaboration with other artists. Even though one of Mérida's own students, Alfonso Soto Soria, designed it, the monolith has nothing to do with his vision of art as an agent of "goce emocional" [emotional pleasure]. Mérida identified this concept as the aesthetic core of pre-Hispanic Mayan architecture, and I propose that it also lies at the center of Mérida's battles with state cultural policy. According to Mérida, if art could provoke goce emocional, it would be able to function as a social intervention in the city, compelling people to use and enjoy public space.
Drawing from a perspective on what the earthquake implied for Mérida's art, I want to develop the first reading that focuses exclusively on his writings on art and dance. These writings tell a story about the complex relationship between art, social space, and state cultural policies in Mexico. Although throughout my argument I will refer to the most prominent voices who have already examined Mérida's artwork, this essay will not engage in art criticism. My intention is to present Mérida as a public intellectual, that is, to understand the concepts he used to define a very particular vision of art, and to analyze how this vision entered into dialogue (and debate) with the Mexican Revolutionary state.
While many artists of his day felt eager or obliged to share a particular vision of what "the national arts" should be, as well as to express a certain kind of nationalism [End Page 41] that had emerged with the Mexican Revolutionary state during the 1920s, Mérida developed independent reflections that broke with some of the most prominent established binaries at the time: national/international, americanismo/internationalism, and authenticity/foreignness. I believe that Mérida's own complicated foreignness is at the center of his insistent questioning of these binaries: Always asserting his Maya heritage, he was a Guatemalan who spent his whole career in Mexico, contributed to the muralist movement, and played an active role in creating cultural institutions that could support the revolutionary state's system of representation. In this sense, Mérida sustained both insider and outsider perspectives; and this duality is what made him an exiled intellectual, as Edward Said described the individual who stood "between loneliness and alignment" (22). I argue that his dual position grounded his reflections—which addressed the obscure connections between art, emotion, rhythm, and the spirit—in social phenomena that announced changes in "structures of feeling," as Raymond Williams denominated "affective elements [such as impulse, restraint, and tone] of consciousness and relationships" in society and culture (132). By comparing Mérida's ideas on these elusive connections to notions advanced by other figures at the time, my study traces emotions in historical terms, analyzing the ways in which thinkers and artists have reflected about emotions in the Mexican context and in relation to a conception of the Hemispheric Americas and an international avant-garde scene.
While art critics have paid some attention to Mérida's writings on art and dance (Nelken; and Cardoza y Aragón), they have mostly read these texts in the interests of analyzing his artwork more thoroughly. In limiting...