Spanish-american literature as the successor to the romance

To understand Latin America is to accept that the proletarian races, the ragged masses, the descamisados, are political subjects to be respected and understood, rather than educated, directed or changed from outside, by virtue of some presumed superior ability to understand and act.
We tend to see different ways of living or thinking as a deficit, when in fact such differences are fertile. We should look with suspicion at attempts to make people aware of the other, and the expectation of knowing better than them what is best for them.
The oppressed, if they are really oppressed, are not aware of their oppression. Closed in a cultural cell, not only do they not appreciate the source of the violence to which they are subjected, but they do not even perceive it as violence. Routine renders oppression acceptable and normal. Only a re-reading of the routine can provoke a critical awareness and a perception of such violence.
The process of self-awareness can not be assisted by intellectuals who, coming from outside this world, presume to represent the desire for liberation.
But a key role in the process of growing awareness of oppression can be played by the storyteller, the itinerant, semi-professional narrator that continues to exist in many ‘peripheral’ areas of the world, including Latin America.
The storyteller has the ability and the social role of recounting the world in a form that is strictly linked to the culture of that world. Through his voice, within the recounted world, the audience can become aware of reality and therefore also of the routinely suffered oppression.
The great Spanish-American fiction of Arguedas, Asturias, Rulfo, García Márquez, Vargas Llosa, Cabrera Infante, Onetti and others can be seen to represent a continuation of the efforts of the storyteller, indeed as the oral narratives of the storyteller put for the first time on paper. People of the same country, accompanied by their storytellers and transformed into novelists by a process of authorial mirroring and confirmation of identity.
It is a confirmation that is the more significant when the routine socio-economic model is perceived as ‘poor’ or ‘marginal’ compared with the models imposed by the consumer culture of the metropolis. The author-mirroring narrative is a formidable antidote to the oppressive global normalisation of the media, particularly television.
As a consequence, the behaviour of Spanish-American authors who distance themselves from the oral tradition and take up the model of the ‘great European novel’ appears particularly debatable. By closing their content in the frame of the European novel they cease to speak to their own people. In fact the target of successful contemporary Latin American novelists is the metropolitan reader/consumer with exotic dreams and the market for the work of the successful Spanish-American writer is not his national market but the great globalised planetary market.
The result is that the Spanish-American novel loses its specific characteristic as a ‘mirror’: if in all his mature work, let’s say everything after Otoño del Patriarca, García Márquez forgets the echo of the tales told by his grandmother and if Vargas Llosa compares himself to Flaubert, García Márquez and Vargas Llosa are no more witness to their oppressed word. (Let it be clear that it is an unbridled appreciation for the work of García Márquez as the oral narrator/mirror that allows for criticism of his work written only for the big market. Furthermore, the same may be said of all the Latin American boom generation authors who established their reputations around the time of the Cuban revolution, few of whom managed to remain faithful to the role of the ‘oral narrator through writing’, and of the few of particular note is Guillermo Cabrera Infante. More recent examples, such as Luis Sepúlveda and Isabel Allende, mere imitators of a genre that has become standard, do not even merit consideration).
So, on the one hand, we have an author who wants to impose on the reader narrative worlds that are the fruit of his creative imagination while, on the other, we have an author who is a witness to a narrated world.
The first is the ‘modern’ author, the self-conscious artist, supporter of his own uniquely creative gift and owner of the rights to his work. It is an author whose history is well known to us: humanism, enlightenment, romanticism have all contributed to the creation of a social figure that we can call the ‘strong author’.
The second corresponds to what we might call the ‘weak author’.
The weak author ploughs the field of tradition. Tradition: the largely oral transmission of knowledge and practices, from the old to the young, from generation to generation, starting from a collective social interest. In the context of Spanish literature, we need here to make reference to the romances. The content of the romances is drawn from recent events or different types of literary source: in any case, what we find is a process of thematic simplification that isolates and episode or passage, or re-organises pre-existing material, through subsequent fusions or re-mixing. Every intervention on an inherited text, whether the author is known or not, has its own undeniable uniqueness. Nevertheless, the work remains in collective ownership, available for use and the participation of the whole community.
The author himself is aware. He doesn’t view the work as his property and invents only what he cannot remember well and re-writes what he does not like. The author’s creativity is manifested in this rapid and almost involuntary re-elaboration. Precisely like the romances authors of the 16th century who chose to remain anonymous and the early García Márquez who said that he never wrote anything that he hadn’t heard from his grandmother.
In a world that cries out to be witnessed, the ‘non-oppressive’ writer must accept the role of the humble servant. The ‘weak’ behaviour should not be seen as a self-castigating sign of self-denial, but rather as an example of a ‘systematic relationship’ between the parts and the whole; where the whole is a culturally defined world and the narrator is its voice.