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  • Chronicles, Fictions, Non-Fiction NovelsThe Power and Powerlessness of Literature against the Illegal Drug Trade
  • Florence Olivier (bio)

The present situation of contemporary Mexican literature regarding the violence that sprouted from the expansion of drug trafficking in the 1990s and 2000s seems akin to that during the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917), or slightly after it, when an epic and realist literature was being invented under the urgency to bear testimony. While a number of works linked to the narrative of the Revolution entered the literary canon while compiled in Bertha Gamboa and Antonio Castro Leal's influential anthology La novela de la revolución mexicana (1960)—in which the novel was not, by far, the only genre—the sum of diverse writings born from the Revolution—often partisan, often signed by generals assisted by their secretaries—constitutes, more than a literary corpus, a rich archival ore, useful [End Page 111] mainly for historians. We assume that as a whole, the avalanche of recent publications reacting to the illegal drug trade—reportages, journalistic investigations, essays, chronicles and fictions—will follow very much the same path. in 2011, Martín solares commented on the abundance of books on drug-related violence published in Mexico, specifically during the period of President Felipe Calderon's "War against drug trafficking" waged between 2006 and 2012:

Were we to pile them up, the books written by journalists that deal with current violence in Mexico with a certain literary dignity would reach up to our chin. Novels doing pretty much the same thing would reach waist level. Very well written novels and stories would arrive at one's ankle. All in all, more than two meters of books (Solares 2014, 189).

It comes as no surprise that in a universe in which information aspires to be instantaneous, in which media outlets and social networks have multiplied, the relationship between the actual and its written record has greatly altered itself, thus accentuating the difficulties of managing the time to ponder the event before converting it into discourse or—an even steeper path—to procure for oneself the necessary distance to create a fiction out of the appearances offered by reality and transmute those appearances into a valid artistic interpretation. In that very article, Martín solares stresses the challenge posed, even greater for literary fiction than for journalism, by that other strand of fiction constituted by the official communications of the "warring parties," being those of criminal cartels (of an often ghastly literality), or those of the various levels of political authorities that often take form in a denial of reality, often hide complicities with organized crime, and even more often, offer calculated misinformation. Stranded between one and the others, stand journalists, either menaced or bought, notably those in regional newspapers, tongue-tied and unable to produce exact and worthy information. To follow Martín Solares' reasoning—he concludes that there is a present state of crisis in literary fiction, a crisis which he traces to the stronghold on the public opinion by the concurrent fictions of criminals and authorities—one still has to differentiate between information and fictional invention, between elucidation and interpretation, between clarity of expression and stylistic intent. All that without [End Page 112] necessarily excluding, within the scale of literary values he establishes for the whole corpus of writing on drug-related violence, that both chronicles and investigative journalism might also be striving for an artistic effect in the form of persuasion. Another relevant fact he also mentions is the rather recent arrival—since the 1990s—of the narcotrafico themes in reputable literary fiction—for they were, before, the domain of popular culture, either in the oral and musical form of corridos or the visual one of B movies.

The migration of the themes of popular epic or crime news as conveyed by the corrido to ambitious literary forms are not new in Mexican literature. Once again, the Novela de la Revolución sets the pace. Nellie Campobello's Cartucho, not a novel but a burst of childhood memories and testimonies of the strife of the villistas in the city of Parral between 1915 and 1920, features both a verse corrido and...


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pp. 111-124
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