The “Boom” Novel and the Cold War (more from Neil Larsen)

This continues our earlier post, joyfully written at the Philz Coffee at 24th and Folsom, in San Francisco. Larsen says there are three standard theories of the ‘boom’:

1) Aestheticist. The ‘boom’ writers themselves said they were the discoverers of a new literary language. This claim of an immanent formal rupture is thin if one is aware of earlier writers like Borges, but the ‘boom’ writers claimed to have found at last a way to express L.A. reality with complete authenticity.

2) Marketing. Cf. Angel Rama, “El ‘boom’ en perspectiva.” It was an expansion into new markets, not so much a change in content or style; authors at this point became not just professionals but media stars. According to Larsen, these are good points but they do not account for the links between the “boom” novel and the global politics of the Cold War.

3. Revolutionary-historicist (this is the point of view Larsen prefers). It has been said that the “boom” is a response to the Cuban revolution (and remember Retamar’s criticism of the “boom” in “Caliban”); Larsen does not think the Cuban connection goes nearly far enough to explain the “revolutionary-historicist” theory of the “boom.”

3.a. Tulio Halperín’s essay “Nueva narrativa y ciencias sociales hispanoamericanas en la década del sesenta” points out that the “boom” writers are hardly all revolutionaries. The “boom” novel, he says, rests on a renunciation of a certain image of Latin American reality as historical. Note how the “boom” novels destroy time; the novels are neither militant nor escapist. Halperín says the readers of the “boom” novels were delusional: they thought Perón would save Argentina, and the Chilean bourgeoisie would accept Allende. The bloody 70s, of course, took away these illusions as well as any magic Latin America might have had earlier on.

3.b. So the “boom” is a modernism which is right wing in substance and left wing in appearance. Unlike the US analog of a decade earlier, this modernism does not embrace “political apoliticism” but rather enourages an image of itself as engaged.

3.b.1. Why does it do that? Because what it is trying to overcome is not engaged literature but Naturalism. In this context, formal experimentation and utopias of language are liberating. Actual liberation, Halperín appears to suggest, would be realism.

II (this section of the article starts on page 779)

But is it true L.A. has not had realism yet? No: look at Brazil, for instance, which has a whole set of truly great realist authors. (Larsen is a Jorge Amado fan.)

Amado went for “boom” techniques after Kruschev’s February 1956 denunciation of Stalin; this is when he publishes Gabriela, Cravo e Canela (1958) and takes the turn he did. And Larsen suggests THIS could be the first boom novel. Which of course would make the boom a response to the Kruschev speech, to disillusionment with Left politics.

Gabriela doesn’t tell history as a grand narrative, and rather retreats to farce, and isn’t as experimental formally as some texts, but it does retreat from Amado’s earlier realism. So perhaps what the Cuban revolution causes, really, isn’t a left turn but a deepening of nationalism, that supports various caudillos, not just Fidel. And the Boom writers are more like Existentialists, or more ambivalent generally, or liberal, or politically disengaged, than like straight-up leftists.

This article suggests that the Boom is a further search for Latin American essences, and it retreats from the objectives of realism and from open signs of political engagement. Larsen started out questioning the idea of modernism as realism; he wants to underline that question and emphasize the need to break with the myth of essence. Talking about Gabriela shows what was at stake at the moment in which it became important for “boom” novelists to claim that the boom was inevitable and that it was the expression of an essence.

These notes have not been very complete or completely articulate, but here they are.

This entry was posted in Modernities, Poetics, Rayuela, Vanguardias. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The “Boom” Novel and the Cold War (more from Neil Larsen)

  1. Z says:

    AY this is incomprehensible prose, sorry! I found out when I fixed it up for a class handout. But the article is interesting; I am not sure I agree with all of it but I like the way it addresses the fact of the Boom novels’ contradictoriness (ambivalence I find, more than ambiguity sometimes), and the point about the search for essences is very well taken.

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