An interesting book to read

Enrique Krauze, Redeemers: Ideas and Power in Latin America, reviewed by Jorge Volpi.

Krauze’s contradictions are not those of his contemporaries or his masters. Although he was immune to the Marxist virus, his ideological consistency is admirable. Yet his books, especially Redeemers, exhibit an intense fascination with people who burned with the passionate intensities of the twentieth century. In his political essays—starting with Por una democracia sin adjetivos (For a Democracy Without Adjectives), published in 1984—Krauze set himself the task of fighting this trend, whereas in his historical work he shows a certain approval bordering on admiration of men with impetuous and dyspeptic temperaments, so different from his own, such as José Martí, José Vasconcelos, José Carlos Mariátegui and even Paz. Perhaps this explains why his portraits of them are the most brilliant ones in Redeemers. It almost doesn’t matter that he then starts throwing darts at Che, Evita Perón, Subcomandante Marcos and even Hugo Chávez. After all, they are simply politicians: men, and one woman, with ideas, not of ideas, to use his rather tortured formulation.

Once again in the company of Aguilar Camín, the editor of Nexos, Krauze has become one of the last surviving members of his species. If someone were to write a sequel to “Four Seasons of Mexican Culture,” they would discover that contemporary writers are behaving quite differently. The traditional path to achieving recognition—by founding a magazine, forming an ideologically coherent group, being on good terms with various power players, publishing articles about current events and appearing frequently in the media—has become impractical and even irrelevant for the generations of 1985 and 2000. That Krauze’s Letras Libres and Aguilar Camín’s Nexos are currently the only journals of record in Mexico is the best proof of this change; nobody younger has founded a print or electronic publication that’s even remotely equivalent.

Starting with the transition to democracy in 2000, the Mexican cultural world began to break apart and lose the influence it enjoyed under the PRI. The job of political commentary has passed from intellectuals to political scientists and pundits, and the privilege of creating literary prestige has moved from magazines to blogs and social media networks. Within this chaotic and unstable scenario, Krauze and Aguilar Camín—and maybe one or two others—are survivors, living witnesses to an era in which intellectuals tried to be men of ideas as well as men of action. Redeemers is a lucid and moving homage—a swan song—to that tradition by one of its last protagonists.

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