Perhaps it is not unreasonable to suggest that Latin American literature has never been less Latin American as in recent times. This is not a new phenomenon, far from it. Literature in general moves like a contradictory animal with a thousand legs, advancing and retreating, questioning itself critically. This is the sign of a living literature. We’ve spent enough time talking about national literatures and texts read as political, social, or cultural documents. Possibly, in our countries, this way of understanding our literature doesn’t matter except as the subject of some literary conference or the focus of a Bolaño character. Our poets, novelists, playwrights, and essayists (and artists in general) are—undeniably—more than that. For some time, they have not needed to talk about Latin America in order to be considered Latin American authors. There are not united by a particular brand, but rather by geography, language, and maybe some certain way of relating to the world and its mysteries.
The past twelfth of April, we bid farewell, with a special dossier (LALT No. 5, 2018), to the great Mexican writer Sergio Pitol (Premio Cervantes 2005). Pitol was a parodist of Mexican society, a translator, and the master of an admirable form of writing. His passion for Henry James made him no less Latin American; on the contrary, we Latin American read James through Pitol’s Spanish prose, along with many other European writers. Pitol proved to us that Latin Americans are numerous and distinct, and that to restrict our literature to its “Latin American” surname is to forget that its first name is, plainly and simply, that of literature.
At any rate, in these digital pages of Latin American Literature Today (LALT) we are witnesses of this continuous movement we call (for want of a better term) Latin American literature. We are proud to publish not only all sorts of authors, but also criticism that proposes no less than to draw readers closer to the marvellous world of books. With this goal at heart, we set off on the adventure of publishing a new issue of LALT.
Let’s go step by step. What can we find in LALT No. 6?
At this point, no one can deny—besides the odd madman, of course—that the Latin American chronicle is a form of literature. Written by journalists and practiced as well by writers who make their livings from journalism, its results compete with the best fiction texts, despite the fact that the chronicle is nonfiction. Nevertheless, if we were to translate the word “chronicle” to “nonfiction,” we would run the risk of legitimizing a mistake and making this genre lose its Latin American specificity. The chronicle, as Juan Villoro rightly said, is a duck-billed platypus: that is, a baroque sum-of-its-parts, incorporating all the elements of fiction in order to produce a text faithful to reality. But a literary text nonetheless. This is well understood by Colombian writer Alberto Salcedo Ramos, whose chronicles always come down to literature. Alberto has a unique perspective; he is a photographer of reality, but just when you’re sure he is going to photograph the star of the moment, his camera captures a secondary character, someone who, seen through his eyes, through his particular gaze, is the true lead actor of the story. In this issue, we publish a dossier with three magnificent chronicles by this Colombian author, as well as a stupendous interview. We are thrilled to fill this space with a good friend of our house. Alberto passed through Norman, Oklahoma last year, and his visit only confirmed that he is an author who puts his elegant, controlled prose at the service of a perspective, very much his own, that humanizes everything his words touch.
Another friend of Latin American Literature Today is Mexican writer Alberto Chimal. Alberto visits in this issue as the curator of a dossier dedicated exclusively to Latin American speculative fiction. We are happy to continue supporting a literature whose history—apparently secret until now—has began emerging with unusual strength in recent years. The division between reality and imagination has always been, to a greater or lesser extent, a breaking point in human societies. Latin America, where realism has always been of colossal importance, has been no exception. It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that even today, we still mistrust the imagination: it is accused of being escapist, of not engaging with reality, of being apolitical (as if politics only took place in the present tense). Criticism is rich in platitudes, and this is not the place to debate these opinions; suffice it to say that Latin American speculative fiction—and, in reality, all of its derivatives and antecedents—now occupy a place of importance in our literature. In this dossier, Alberto has compiled a selection of short stories by Yoss, Liliana Colanzi, Javier González Cárdenas, Edmundo Paz Soldán, Gabriela Damian, and Martín Felipe Castagnet, as well as an article on Ecuadorian science fiction by Iván Rodrigo Mendizábal. We would like to recommend reading this dossier starting at the beginning, that is, with the introduction written by Chimal himself. Who better than Alberto to sum up what we publish here: “There can be seen in the texts presented here several possible ways of recomposing the speculative narratives and appropriating them to other contexts, and other needs, which are not recognized or represented by the production that comes to us from outside. That do not replace it, rather complement it.”
If literature is a house—as Roberto Bolaño once imagined it—it is a house full of surprises. Not many years ago, many literature that have since begun to find a certain centrality in the panorama of Latin American literature were unknown to the general public. The explanation was simple: they had been marginalized, pushed to the side of the street such that “great literature” could walk down the main sidewalk. After the shake-up of postmodernism, the prejudice against popular culture received a mortal blow. Lettered culture ended up accepting—through gritted teeth—other literary expressions, admitting that literature could be much more impure, heterogeneous, and diverse, fearfully recognizing the margins. When the intellectual establishment wanted to come to terms with what had happened, it was too late: all sorts of strange guests had settled into the house’s living room. Some had been sighted before, from far away; others were the very neighbors we had never dared to look in the face. Today, we have gotten used to sleeping with the door open. This is the case with Latin American graphic narrative. He have read it for decades without thinking of it as a literary expression. We laughed at its stories, which depicted us, serving to critique our societies or challenge governments and their corrupt politicians. Its story is as long as the twentieth century (maybe longer). Today, it is a matter of academic study. This singular form of narrative has survived a long journey, from newsprint to color-printed novels. All these subjects and more are discussed in a dossier—the first in LALT—compiled by our friend and permanent collaborator, Lale Stefkova, who has selected three excellent essays about graphic narrative from Argentina (Jorge Claudio Morhain), Mexico (Esther Claudio), and Colombia (Iván Pérez Zayas), as well as two interviews, one with Mexican writer Bernardo Fernández Bef and another with the Brazilian graphic novelists Fabio Moon and Gabriel Bá. Through their collaboration in this dossier, all of these artists open a never-before-seen space in Latin American Literature Today, and we are happy to have them.
Indigenous literature continues to appear in our pages; it is missing from no issue. This time, thanks to the generous collaboration of Silvia Cristina Leirana Alcocer who, from Mexico, sends us a thorough and thoughtful dossier of poetry and prose written in Yucatec Maya (or “Peninsular Maya,” as Silvia Cristina clarifies in her introductory note). In this selection, we will find works by Gerardo Can Pat, Briceida Cuevas Cob, Ana Patricia Martínez Huchim, Marisol Ceh Moo, Feliciano Sánchez Chan, Miguel Ángel May May, and Isaac Esau Carrillo Can. Silvia Cristina reminds us of the selection criteria for this dossier: “I have chosen quality poets whose work seldom appears in anthologies.” For this very reason, we are proud that the digital platform of LALT can serve to display and diffuse this previously unpublished anthology.
We have not forgotten Venezuelan literature. Nor literature from Venezuela. Néstor Mendoza has compiled a selection of contemporary Venezuelan poetry for LALT No. 6. We know a great deal about the humanitarian disaster in Venezuela, but little about Venezuela’s literature and artists. We hope this work by Néstor Mendoza helps to draw readers to the poetry of the country that gave all Latin Americans the singular spirit who was Andrés Bello. Many other collaborations, stories, poems, and interviews remain unmentioned in this brief synthesis that imperfectly summarizes our sixth issue of Latin American Literature Today. Make yourselves at home, readers: we invite you to check this issue’s Table of Contents to continue discovering that Latin American literature whose reality, diversity, and complexity exceed all classifications and hurried academic explanations. Our literature, like all the world’s literatures, is a spiritual adventure whose mystery is unknown even to ourselves.
Translated by Arthur Dixon