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Irish Mexican, Latino Irlandés: Fountains of Literary Invention
By David Vela



[1] Gerald Martin in his work Journeys Through the Labyrinth: Latin American Fiction in the Twentieth Century (London: Verso, 1989), writes that 'it is arguable that [Fuentes] is the vertebral figure within the entire "boom" of the Latin American novel' (260). 

[2] Part of the problem being that Irish authors were for so long subsumed under the rubric of British authors.

[3] Modernism and modernist are tricky terms to begin with, but Modernismo in Spanish literature, particularly poetry, is associated with Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío (1867-1916) who ushers in formal, French Parnassian and Symbolist rhythms and images in Spanish language poetry. Modernism in the European sense as defined by Ricardo Quinones, Malcolm Bradbury and James McFarlane pertains to the Boom writers and even Jorge Luis Borges' earlier poetry, and certainly his short stories. See Quinones's Mapping Literary Modernism: Time and Development (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1985), and Modernism: A Guide to European Literature: 1890-1930 (London: Penguin, 1976, 1991); and finally Gerald Martin's work Journeys Through the Labyrinth: Latin American Fiction in the Twentieth Century (London: Verso, 1989), where he deftly handles the term in relation to Latin American poetry and prose).

[4] See the text 'Joyce's Influence on Borges: Fiction, Ficciones' (unpublished, David Vela).

[5] It is interesting that Samuel Beckett translated with Alfred Perón the Anna Livia Plurabelle section from Finnegans Wake in 1931. Borges and Beckett share literary influences, including Joyce, and as with Fuentes, are polyglots who could write in more than one language. (See Pascale Casanova's pellucid work Beckett l'abstracteur: Anatomie d'une revolution littéraire, (Paris: Editions Seuil, 1997), p. 58.)

[6] 'Introduction. Neruda’s Canto General, The Poetics of Betrayal.' Canto General. Trans. Jack Schmitt (Berkeley: University of  California Press, 1991). Professor González Echevarría’s work has been immensely helpful to me over the years. While I did not study with him at Yale (I was there from 1986-1990), his work helped immensely in my own studies of Latin American authors, which was  independent, for I was an English major, and aided by him and by people such as Master Robin Winks of Berkeley College - an Irish philosopher’s inspired colleague and friend of the Americas, Bishop George Berkeley.

[7] Ibid.

[8] T.S. Eliot is audible in both authors diverse works. Paz refined ideas in Spanish and related to French symbolist and surreal poets, influencing Spanish language poetry in the process. Chilean poet Pablo Neruda also read the American poet and borrowed a great deal during the 1930s from Eliot's poetry. Paz is the Mexican heir to Eliot in Spanish, for he was the quintessential philosopher, poet and essayist in Mexico for many years. Carlos Fuentes, novelist, sometimes playwright, short story writer, journalist and political commentator, would 'give all of his books for one line of Eliot, Yeats or Pound' (204, 'La Comedia Mexicana de Carlos Fuentes'. La Historia Cuenta Mexico, D.F.: Tusquets Editores, 1998. pp. 187-219). Why go to another language for influence? In T.S. Eliot's essay 'Yeats' he states: 'A very young man, who is himself stirred to write, is not primarily critical or even widely appreciative. He is looking for masters who will elicit his consciousness of what he wants to say himself, of the kind of poetry that is in him to write. … The kind of poetry that I needed, to teach me the use of my own voice, did not exist in English at all; it was only to be found in French' (248, 'Yeats' The Selected Prose of T.S. Eliot, ed. and introduced by Frank Kermode. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975). The same holds true for Borges, Fuentes, and for Neruda: the kind of poetry and prose they needed to teach them their own voices was not in Spanish, but in English - and the writers who share the greater degree of influence on them are Irish. Samuel Beckett is the writer who embodies this borrowing most explicitly by writing in French itself.

[9] Piedra de sol. Mexico: Tezontle, 1957.

[10] La región más transparente del aire. Mexico: Letras Mexicanas, 1958.

[11] First published in The Dial, 1923. Taken from Selected Prose of T.S. Eliot ed. and introduction by Frank Kermode. New York: (HBJ) Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1975. 175-178.

[12] Flaubert, Joyce and Becket: The Stoic Comedians (Boston: Beacon Press, 1962), p. 48. Kenner, who is the fines Becket scholar, composed these essays originally as lectures. Illuminating, humourous and dead-on, they bear reading if one is interested in literature in general, and Joyce, Beckett and Flaubert, specifically.

[13] The elided and slightly imperfect sonnet, 'Leda and the Swan' is just one example. I have compared the imagery of this poem with Neruda's 'El cóndor.' For plays, see Yeats Purgartory as an example.

[14] The term 'el Boom' was coined by Emir Rodríguez Monegal, Uruguayan, and professor of literature at Yale during the 1970s and early 1980s. Rodríguez Monegal noted that an extraordinary number of highly original works in prose were being produced in the 1960s and 1970s by a handful of Latin American novelists and short story writers, all literary descendants of Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986), the Argentine short story writer, essayist and poet. The principal Boom writers are Carlos Fuentes (b.1928), Gabriel García Márquez (b.1928), Mario Vargas Llosa (b.1936), Julio Cortázar (1914-1984), José Donoso (1924-1996), and Alejo Carpentier (1904-1979). Notably they hail from Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Chile and Cuba.

[15] Two of the five, Julio Cortázar and José Donoso, are dead.

[16] Terra Nostra, originally published in 1975, (Mexico: Editorial Joaquin Mortiz, S.A. Grupo Editorial Planeta,) translated by Margaret Sayers Peden and published in 1976 (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux) with a sterling afterword by Fuentes's dear amigo Milan Kundera, undeniably borrows from Joyce's genius in a Latin guise. Fuentes adopts a medieval voice, demanding from his reader an intense scrutiny and attention span, for sentences sometimes run for pages. Though Fuentes in this novel takes a more historical approach - a sort of linear approach - his ultimate structure is eternal return, elliptical time, Vico and Joyce. He later utilises the Mexican indigenous sense of time in his novels, overlaying the European Spanish and French cultural influences on Mexico with his earlier ideas about time and humanity in works such as Aura and short stories such as 'Chac Mool' and the surreal or magical realist 'Por boca de los dioses'. One of Fuentes's more intensely syncretic stories, illustrates, as James Joyce does, the supremacy of elliptical time over a falsely 'modern' linear time: 'Tlactocatzine, del Jardín de Flandes' from the collection Burnt Water - Agua quemada is noteworthy.

[17] Cristóbal Nonato Fondo de Cultura Económica, Mexico, D.F., 1987. Where the Air is Clear, published originally as La Región Más Transparente, Mexico: Letras Mexicanas, 1958; trans. Sam Hileman, New York, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1960; Cambio de Piel. Mexico: Joaquín Mortiz, S.A., 1967; trans. Sam Hileman. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1968.

[18] Seer Carlos Fuentes's short piece on narrative and the novel Cervantes, o la crítica le la lectura, Mexico City, Joaquín Mortiz, 1976.

[19] See also Fuentes's historical study of Spain and the Americas The Buried Mirror (El Espejo Enterrado) New York, Houghton 1992 (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Economica, 1992). Fuentes writes of his interest in both Vico and Joyce, and as Joyce did, read Giambattista Vico's work in Italian. See also Cervantes, o la crítica de la lectura.

[20] Mario Vargas Llosa is the master of this, and Fuentes has praised the younger author for his technical brilliance.

[21] Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce. 1959 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), revised edition.

[22] Page 527 of the fiftieth anniversary edition of La región más transparente (Mexico City: Alfaguara, 1998). The letters at the end of the text between Fuentes and Cortázar are illuminating. My translation.

[23] Fuentes acknowledges explicitly and implicitly in his literature and essays the positive influences of Spain and France. Here I am acknowledging the rich and literary influences of Ireland. The connections between Spain, Ireland and France are complex, but resulted in many brilliant things, including literary and cultural creations.

[24] See Roberto González Echevarría's 'The Politics of Betrayal'. 1991. (Introduction to Canto General, Trans. Jack Schmidt, Berkeley, UC Press, 1993).

[25] Gerald Martin, one of the first to recognise James Joyce's monumental influence on Latin American authors. From his book Journeys Through the Labyrinth: Latin American Fiction in the Twentieth Century (London, Verso, 1989), p. 260.

[26] Mario Vargas Llosa fits into this category. See his review in the fine work La Verdad de las Mentiras, (Madrid: Alfaguara, 2002) - The Truth of the Lies - in which he reviews twentieth century authors, and where Vargas Llosa surprisingly chooses to review Dubliners over Joyce's other works. I have neglected a few of the Caribbean writers, namely the Cubans, but only for lack of space. Notably, the Brazilian authors are especially attuned to calembours and Joyce's work, but for the sake of space and economy here I cannot address so delightful a group of authors. I shall address Ireland and Cuba in a subsequent text. Guillermo Cabrera Infante (novelist), Heberto Padilla (poet) and the essayist, critic and novelist Alejo Carpentier bear noting. See p. 432, Emanuel Carballo: 19 Protagonistas de la literatura Mexicana del siglo XX, Mexico: Empresas Editoriales, S.A., 1965. (Nineteen Protagonists of Twentieth-Century Mexican literature). Vargas Llosa sits on the board that oversees the 'purity' of the Spanish language; in fact more Latin American than Spanish authors do. E. Anderson Imbert's two volumes, Historia de la Literatura Hispanoamericana (Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1954; reprinted 1970, and 1974 as Volumes I and II, respectively) grant hints of the Irish influences on a number of Latin American authors.

[27] Neruda was exiled during the 1950s to the Island of Capri; Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa live in London (self-exile, like James Joyce and Samuel Beckett), and Julio Cortázar lived most of his life in Paris. He, like Samuel Beckett, is buried in the Cimetière Montparnasse.

[28] Carlos Fuentes: Territorios del Tiempo: Antología de entrevistas.(Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1999), p. 79. My translation.


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Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2007

Online published: 1 March 2007
Edited: 07 May 2009

Vela, David, 'Irish Mexican, Latin Irish: Fountains of Literary Invention
' in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" 5:1 (March 2007), pp. 5-10. Available online (www.irlandeses.org), accessed .


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