On “The ‘Boom’ Novel and the Cold War in Latin America”

I am refreshing my mind while clearing out my files, so I am taking notes on the printout of a 1992 article by Neil Larsen. This is from Modern Fiction Studies 38:3 (Autumn 1992): 771-84, and the article is now archived in JSTOR.

+ The dominant mode of apology for modernism was that it was the realism of its time: it was a reflection of or response to modern life. But is modernism a necessary product of modernity? And is postmodernism necessarily consubstantial with postmodernity?

+ Modernism has a politics insofar as it is or may be connected to the anticommunist politics of the Cold War (see the Lukács of the early 1950s, e.g. THE MEANING OF CONTEMPORARY REALISM and the epilogue to THE DESTRUCTION OF REASON). See also Serge Guibault, HOW NEW YORK STOLE THE IDEA OF MODERN ART (1983), according to which abstract expressionism was promoted to displace the Popular Front realism of the 1930s. Finally, see Lawrence H. Schwartz’ CREATING FAULKNER’S REPUTATION, according to which Faulkner was created as a superstar in the 1950s as part of the same Cold War campaign to delegitimize the left-leaning social and proletarian realism that thrived in the pre-Cold War U.S. through the creation of a new, distinctly “apolitical” and purportedly authenti “American” novelist.

+ Guibault and Schwartz emphasize the key role played in both instances by the intellectuals gathered around the PARTISAN REVIEW, and also, for Faulkner, by New Critics including Allen Tate and Cleanth Brooks.

+ The NY intellectualls were aggressively promodernist, and that is why the proletarian fiction of the 1930s is now neglected. See James Murphy, THE PROLETARIAN MOMENT, and Barbara Foley’s work on the North American proletarian novel. She has shown that the initial reception of works by authors including Erskine Caldwell, Richard Wright, and others was enthusiastic. But Cold War criticism promoted modernism instead (and an “apolitical” form of it), and now several generations have thought of modernism as consubstantial with modernity.

+ Does something similar happen in Latin America? Larsen says: the modernist novel is the ‘boom’ novel. The ‘boom’ is traditionally seen as more ‘political’ than some modernism because of ‘magic realism’ but is any of this accurate? The roots of the ‘boom’ are Borges, M. de Andrade, Asturias, Carpentier, Rulfo, G. Rosa, et al.; the ‘boom’ as Gerald Martin has put it is the “crisis and consummation” of Latin American modernism (Martin, JOURNEYS THROUGH THE LABYRINTH 239); but does idea this reduce the authors on the former list to the role of precursors?

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2 Responses to On “The ‘Boom’ Novel and the Cold War in Latin America”

  1. Hattie says:

    This makes me think of a lot of things. I do remember reading that abstract expressionism and seemingly non-political novels were touted as evidence that the U.S. had come of age culturally speaking. Even though the general public and even many of us who appreciate art and literature never really have cared much for American modernist works, they were the “high art” that one was to appreciate and aspire to. And we duly did, claiming to find much worth in Pollock and Faulkner.
    I think this could be quite an interesting article if you look at what Latin authors have been brought forward and what the political reasons were for that.

  2. Pingback: The “Boom” Novel and the Cold War (more from Neil Larsen) | Seminario Permanente de Teoría y Crítica

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