Testimony of a Witness
The word “trial” in this case is used in its legal sense. I do not propose to present a discourse on Peruvian literature, but only to testify in what I consider to be an open trial. It seems to me that so far in this trial the witnesses have been almost entirely for the defense and that it is time to call some witnesses for the prosecution. My testimony is admittedly partisan. Any critic, any witness, has a responsibility that he must consciously or unconsciously discharge. Despite dark suspicions to the contrary, I am positive and constructive by temperament and I condemn the iconoclastic and destructive bohemian as unethical; but my responsibility to the past compels me to vote against the defendant. I do not exempt myself from discharging it nor do I apologize for its partiality.
Piero Gobetti, with whom I feel great spiritual affinity, writes in one of his essays: “True realism is devoted to the forces that produce results and it has no use for results intellectually admired a priori. The realist knows that history is reform and that the process of reform is not limited to a diplomacy of the initiated but is carried out by individuals who operate as revolutionaries by setting different standards.”
I do not pretend to be an impartial or agnostic critic, which in any event I do not believe is possible. Any critic is influenced by philosophical, political, and moral concerns. Croce has proved that even the impressionistic and hedonistic criticism of Jules Lemaitre, which is supposed to be free of philosophical content, is related, no less than the criticism of Sainte Beuve, to the thought and philosophy of its times.
Man’s spirit is indivisible and it must be so to achieve plenitude and harmony. I declare without hesitation that I bring to literary exegesis all my political passions and ideas, although in view of the way this word has been misused, I should add that my politics are philosophy and religion.
This does not mean that I judge literature and art without reference to aesthetics, but that in the depths of my consciousness the aesthetic concept is so intimately linked to my political and religious ideas that, although it does not lose its identity, it cannot operate independently or differently.
Riva Agüero judged literature with the criterion of a civilista. His essay on “the nature of literature in independent Peru” is unmistakably colored, not only by political beliefs, but also by the sentiments of a class system. It is at the same time a piece of literary historiography and a political apologia.
The class system of the colonial encomendero underlies his opinions, which invariably are expressed in terms of Hispanism, colonialism, and social privilege. Riva Agüero departs from his political and social preoccupations only to the degree that he adopts the standards of a professor or a scholar, and then the departure is merely apparent, because never does his spirit move more securely in the academic and conservative sphere. Nor does Riva Agüero bother to conceal his political prejudices when his literary evaluations are mixed with anti-historical observations about the presumed error of the founders of independence in their choice of a republic over a monarchy or when he violently attacks the tendency to form parties around principles in opposition to the traditional oligarchical parties, on the grounds that such opposition would incite sectarian conflict and arouse social enmities.
Riva Agüero could not openly admit to the political bias of his exegesis: first, because it is only long after the time of his writing that we have learned to dispense with many obvious and useless deceptions; second, because, as a member of the aristocratic encomendero class, he was obliged to profess the principles and institutions of another class, the liberal bourgeoisie. Even though it felt itself to be monarchist, Hispanist, and traditionalist, that aristocracy had to reconcile its reactionary sentiment with the practice of a republican and capitalist policy and with respect for a democratic and bourgeois constitution.
With the end of uncontested civilista authority in the intellectual life of Peru, the scale of values established by Riva Agüero, together with all affiliated and related writings, has undergone revision. I confront his unacknowledged civilista and colonialist bias with my avowed revolutionary and socialist sympathies. I do not claim to be a temperate and impartial judge; I declare myself a passionate and belligerent adversary. Arbitrations and compromises take place in history, provided that the opponents engage in long, drawn-out disputes.
The Literature of the Colony
Language is the raw material that unites literature. The Spanish, Italian, and French literatures began with the first ballads and tales, artistic works of enduring value written in those languages. Directly derived from Latin and still not entirely differentiated from it, they were for a long time considered dialects. The national literature of the Latin peoples was born, historically, with the national language, which was the first element to delineate the general limits of a literature.
In the history of the West, the flowering of national literatures coincided with the political affirmation of the nation. It formed part of the movement which, through the Reformation and the Renaissance, created the ideological and spiritual factors of the liberal revolution and the capitalist order. The unity of European culture, maintained during the Middle Ages by Latin and by papal authority, was shattered by the nationalist movement, which individualized literature. “Nationalism” in literary historiography is therefore purely political in its origins and extraneous to the aesthetic concept of art. It was most vigorously defined in Germany, where the writings of the Schlegel brothers profoundly influenced literary criticism and historiography. In his justly celebrated Storia della letteratura italiana—praised by Brunetiere as a “history of Italian literature which I constantly quote and National literature in Peru, like Peruvian nationality itself, cannot renounce its Spanish ties. It is a literature written, thought, and felt in Spanish, although in many instances and to varying degrees the language is subject to indigenous influence in intonation and even in syntax and pronunciation. Indian civilization did not have a written language and therefore it did not acquire a literature; or rather, literature remained in the realm of ballads, legends, and choreography. Quechua writing and grammar are the work of the Spaniard, and Quechua literature belonged entirely to bilingual men of letters like El Luna-rejo until the appearance of Inocencio Mamani, the young author of Tucuipac Manashcan. The Spanish language, more or less Americanized, is the literary language and intellectual tool of Peru’s still undefined nationality.
In literary historiography, the concept of a national literature is neither timeless nor very precise. No systematization can keep up with changing events. The nation itself is an abstraction, an allegory, a myth that does not correspond to a reality that can be scientifically defined. Commenting on Hebrew literature as an exception, De Sanctis states: “The idea of a national literature is an illusion. Its people would have to be as isolated as the Chinese are supposed to be (although the English have also penetrated China). The imagination and style now known as orientalism are not peculiarly of the Orient but of all the East and of all barbaric, primitive literatures. Greek poetry has Asiatic elements, Latin poetry has Greek, and Italian poetry has both Greek and Latin.”
The Quechua-Spanish dualism in Peru, still unresolved, prevents our national literature from being studied with the methods used for literatures that were created and developed without the intervention of the conquest. Peru is different from other countries of Amaidca where dualism is absent or does not constitute a problem. The individuality of Argentine literature, for example, expresses a strongly defined national personality.
The first stage of Peruvian literature could not escape its Spanish origin, not because it was written in the Spanish language, but because it was conceived with Spanish spirit and sentiment. Here, I see no discrepancy. Galvez, high priest of the cult of the viceroyalty in literature, recognized as a critic that “the colonial period produced servile and inferior imitators of Spanish literature and especially of Gongora, from whom they took only the bombastic and the bad. They had no understanding of or feeling for the Peruvian scene, except Garcilaso [de la Vega, el Inca], who was moved by its natural beauty, and Caviedes, who in his acute observations of certain aspects of national life and in his criollo malice should be considered the forefather of Segura, Pardo, Palma, and Paz Soldan.”
The two exceptions, the first much more than the second, are indisputable. Garcilaso was a solitary figure in the literature of the colony. He was the meeting ground of two cultures and two eras. But he was more Inca than conquistador, more Quechua than Spaniard. It is this circumstance, also exceptional, that accounts for his originality and greatness.
Garcilaso was born of the first fruitful embrace of conquistador and Indian woman. He was historically the first Peruvian, if by “Peruvianness” we mean a social formation determined by the Spanish conquest and colonization. The name and work of Garcilaso fill an entire period of Peruvian literature. The first Peruvian, he nonetheless remained Spanish. From a historical-aesthetic standpoint his work belongs to the Spanish epic. It cannot be separated from Spain’s most heroic undertaking: the discovery and conquest of America.
The early period of Peruvian literature was colonial and Spanish even in style and subject matter. All literature normally begins with the lyric, as did the oral literature of the Peruvian Indian. The conquest transplanted to Peru, together with the Spanish language, an advanced literature that continued to evolve in the colony. The Spaniard had already developed the narrative from epic poem to novel. The novel is typical of the literary phase that begins with the Reformation and the Renaissance. It is basically the history of the individual in a bourgeois society and, from this point of view, Ortega y Gasset is not far ( wrong when he refers to the decline of the novel. The novel will be reborn, no doubt, as realistic art in the proletarian society. For the moment, however, the proletarian tale, as an expression of revolutionary deeds, is more epic than novel.
The medieval epic, which was disappearing from Europe at the time of the conquest, was revived in Peru. The conquistador could feel and describe the conquest in epic writing. The work of Garcilaso falls between epic and history. The epic, as De Sanc-tis remarks belongs to the heroic days. After Garcilaso, the hopelessly mediocre literature of the colony offers no original epic creation. Although the writers of the colony generally repeated or continued the themes of Spanish authors, they lagged behind because of distance. The titles in colonial literature betray the pedantry and outdated classicism of the authors. It is a list that collects and copies, when it does not plagiarize. The only personal voice is that of Caviedes, who expressed the limeno bent for mockery and mischief. El Lunarejo, despite his Indian blood, was above all an admirer of Gongora. This attitude is typical of an old literature which, having exhausted its renaissance, becomes baroque and overly cultivated. The Apologetico en favor de Gongora therefore follows the tradition of Spanish literature.
The Survival of Colonialism
Our literature did not cease being Spanish when the republic was founded. For many years it continued to be, if not Spanish, colonial—a tardy echo of the classicism and then of the romanticism of the mother country.
Because of the special character of Peruvian literature, it cannot be studied within the framework of classicism, romanticism, and modernism; nor of ancient, medieval, and modern; nor of popular and literary poetry, et cetera. I shall not use the Marxist classification of literature as feudal or aristocratic, bourgeois or proletarian. In order not to strengthen the impression that I have organized my case along political or class lines, I shall base it on aesthetic history and criticism. This will serve as a method of explanation rather than as a theory that a priori judges and interprets works and their authors.
A modern literary, not sociological, theory divides the literature of a country into three periods: colonial, cosmopolitan, and national. In the first period, the country, in a literary sense, is a colony dependent on its metropolis. In the second period, it simultaneously assimilates elements of various foreign literatures. In the third period, it shapes and expresses its own personality and feelings. Although this theory of literature does not go any farther, it is broad enough for our purposes.
The colonial cycle is clearly defined in Peruvian literature. Our literature is colonial not only because of its dependence on Spain but especially because of its subservience to the spiritual and material remnants of the colony. Felipe Pardo, arbitrarily designated by Galvez as one of the precursors of literary Peru-vianness, repudiated the republic and its institutions not simply out of aristocratic feelings but more out of royalist feelings. All his satire, second rate at best, reflects the mentality of a magistrate or encomendero who resents a revolution that, at least in theory, declares the mestizo and Indian to be his equals. His jeers are inspired by his class consciousness. Pardo y Aliaga does not speak as a Peruvian. He speaks as a man who feels Spanish in a country conquered by Spain for the descendants of its captains and educated class.
This same spirit, to a lesser degree but with the same results, characterizes almost all our literature until the colonida generation which, rebelling against the past and its values, declares its allegiance to Gonzalez Prada and Eguren, the two most liberal writers in Spanish literature.
What kept this nostalgia for the colony alive so long in our literature? It was not the individual writer’s attachment to the past. The reason must be sought in a world more complex than that usually glanced at by the critic.
The literature of a country is maintained by its economic and political substratum. In a country dominated by the descendants of encomenderos and magistrates of the viceroyalty, nothing could have been more natural than serenades under balconies. The mediocre writers of a republic that considered itself heir to the conquest could only labor to embellish the viceroyal heraldry. A few superior intellects—forerunners of future events in any country—were able to elude the fate imposed by history on the lackeys of the latifundium.
Without roots, our colonial literature was meager, sickly, and weak. Life, says Wilson, conies from the land. Art is nourished on the sap of tradition, history, and people. In Peru, literature did not grow out of the indigenous tradition, history, and people. It was created by the importation of Spanish literature and sustained by imitation of that literature. An unhealthy umbilical cord has kept it tied to the mother country.
For this reason, during the colonization we had nothing but baroque and pedantic clerics and magistrates whose great-grandchildren became the romantic troubadours of the republic.
Colonial literature, despite an occasional pale evocation of the empire, lacked any aptitude or imagination for reconstructing the Inca past. Its historiographer, Riva Agüero, precluded from criticizing this incapacity, hastens to justify it and cites in his support a writer of the metropolis. “The events of the Inca empire,” he writes, “according to a famous literary critic (Me-nendez y Pelayo), can be of no more interest to us than are the tales of the Turdetanos and the Sarpetanos to the Spaniards.” He ends his essay with these words:
There is a theory, which I find limited and unproductive, that literature can be Americanized by going back to before the conquest and bringing to life the Quechua and Inca civilizations with the ideas and feelings of the natives. Menendez y Pelayo, Rubio, and Juan Valera all agree that this is not to Americanize but to romanticize. Those civilizations and semi-civilizations are dead and extinct. There is no way to revive their tradition because they left no literature. For criollos of Spanish blood they are foreign and strange and nothing links us to them; they are just as foreign and strange to the mestizos and Indians who have been Europeanized by education. Garcilaso de la Vega is unique among the latter.
The mentality of Riva Agüero is typical of the descendants of the conquest, the heirs to the colony, for whom the views of the scholars of the Corte were articles of faith. In his opinion, “there is much more material to be found in the Spanish expeditions of the sixteenth century and in the adventures of the conquest.”
Even when the republic reached maturity, our writers never thought of Peru as anything but a Spanish colony. Their domesticated imagination sent them to Spain in search of models and even themes. The Elegia a la muerte de Alfonso XII, for example, was written by Luis Benjamin Cisneros, who was, nonetheless, within the graceless and heavy romantic style, one of the most liberal spirits of the 1800’s.
The Peruvian writer has almost never felt any ties with the common people. Even had he so desired, he was not capable of interpreting the arduous task of forming a new Peru. The new Peru was vague; only the Inca empire and the colony were clearly defined, and he chose the colony. And between this fledgling Peruvian literature and the Inca empire and the Indian came the conquest, isolating them from each other.
After Spain destroyed the Inca civilization, the conquistador established a new state that excluded and oppressed the Indian. With the native race enslaved, Peruvian literature had to become more criollo and coastal as it became less Spanish. For this reason, no vigorous literature could emerge in Peru. The mixture of invader and Indian did not produce a homogeneous type in Peru. To the Spanish and Quechua blood was added a torrent of African blood and later, with the importation of coolie labor, a little Asiatic blood. In addition, the tepid, bland climate of the lowland where these diverse ethnic elements were blended could not be expected to produce a strong personality.
It was inevitable that our motley ethnic composition should affect our literary process. Literature could not develop in Peru, as it did in Argentina, where the fusion of European and Indian produced the gaucho. The latter has permeated Argentine literature and made it the most individualistic in Spanish America. The best Argentine writers have found their themes and characters in folklore. Santos Vega, Martin Fierro, Anastasio el Polio were all folk heroes long before they became literary creations. Even today, Argentine literature, which is open to the most modern and cosmopolitan influences, reaffirms its gaucho heritage. Poets in the vanguard of the new generation proclaim their descendance from the gaucho Martin Fierro and from his bizarre family of folksingers. Jorge Luis Borges, saturated in western-ism and modernism, frequently adopts the accent of the countryside.
In independent Peru, writers like Listas and Hermosillas and their disciples almost invariably disdained the common people. Their fantasy of provincial nobility was impressed only by the Spanish, the viceroyal. But Spain was far away. Although the viceroyalty survived in the feudal regime established by the conquistadors, it belonged to the past. All the literature of these authors, therefore, appears to be flimsy and weak, dangling in the present. It is a literature of undeclared emigrants, nostalgic relics.
The few writers with vitality in this weary procession of wornout dignitaries of rhetoric are the ones who somehow portrayed the people. When it ignores the authentic, living Peru, Peruvian literature is a heavy, indigestible miscellany of Spanish literature. The “ay” of the Indian and the pirouette of the zambo are the only notes of animation and veracity in this flaccid literature. The fabric of Tradiciones sparkles with the thread of Lima’s gossipy lower class, which is one of the vital forces in traditionalist prose. Melgar, scorned by scholars, will outlive Althaus, Pardo, and Salaverry, because his melancholy songs will always give the people a glimpse of their sentimental tradition and genuine literary past.
Ricardo Palma, Lima, and the Colony
Colonialism—nostalgic evocation of the viceroyalty—seeks to appropriate the figure of Ricardo Palma. This servile, mawkish literature claims to be of the same substance as Tradiciones. The “futurist” generation, which I have often described as the most backward of our generations, has dedicated most of its eloquence to assuming the glory of Palma. Here, for once, it has maneuvered adroitly and Palma officially appears as the foremost representative of colonialism. But a serious examination of the work of Palma, comparing it with the political and social process of Peru and with the inspiration of the colonialist genre, reveals that this appropriation is completely artificial. To classify the writing of Palma as colonialist literature is to diminish if not to distort it. Tradiciones cannot be identified with a literature that, in a tone and spirit peculiar to the academic clientele of the feudal class, reverently exalts the colony and its events.
Felipe Pardo and Jose Antonio de Lavalle, both avowed conservatives, are unctuous in their recollections of the colony. Ricardo Palma, on the other hand, reconstructs it with rollicking realism and an irreverent and satiric imagination. Whereas the interpretation of Palma is rough and lively, that of the prose and poetry writers of the serenade under the balconies of the vice-royalty, so pleasing to the ears of the people of the ancien regime , is devout and lyrical. The two versions do not resemble each other either in substance or in approach.
The reason for their very different fates lies basically in a difference in quality, but also in a difference in spirit. Quality is always spirit. The heavy, academic work of Lavalle and other colonialists is forgotten because it cannot be popular; the work of Palma lives on because it can be and is popular.
The spirit of Tradidones is evidenced throughout the book. Riva Agüero, true to the interests of his group and class, identifies it with colonialism in his study of the literature of independent Peru. He recognizes that Palma, “belonging to the generation that broke with the mannerisms of the writers of the colony,” was an author who was “a liberal and a son of the republic.” But deep down, Riva Agüero is disturbed by the irreverent and unorthodox spirit of Palma.
Riva Agüero tries to subdue this feeling, but it emerges more than once in his study. He states that when Palma “speaks of the church, the Jesuits, the nobility, he smiles and he makes the reader smile.” He hastens to add that it is “a delicate smile that does not wound.” He says that he will not be the one to reproach Palma for his Voltairean attitude. But he ends by confessing his true feelings: “Sometimes the jests of Palma, no matter how kindly and gentle, destroy his historical sensibilities. We observe that, in freeing himself of the traditional pretensions, he has become unsympathetic and indifferent to his material.”
If a commentator and historiographer of Peruvian literature who manages to praise Palma and at the same time to defend the colony explicitly differentiates Palma from Pardo and Lavalle, how has it been possible to create and maintain the error of lumping them together? The explanation is easy. This error originated in the personal disagreement between Palma and Gonzalez Prada and it has been perpetuated by the conflicting attitudes of the “Palmistas” and the “Pradistas.” Haya de la Torre, in a letter on “Peruvian Mercutio” to the magazine Sagitario ’of La Plata, makes the following comment: “Between Palma, who mocked, and Prada, who lashed, the sons of that doubly censured past and social class preferred the razor edge to the whip.” Haya goes on to make a point is extremely well taken on the historical and political meaning of Tradiciones :
Personally, I believe that Palma was interested in but not attached to traditions. Palma sank his pen into the past in order to shake it on high and laugh at it. No institution or man of the colony or even of the republic escaped the unerring aim of the irony, the sarcasm, and, always, the ridicule of his witty criticisnAlt is well-known that Palma was the literary enemy of the Cathdfic clergy and that his Tradiciones was abhorred by monks and nuns. By a curious paradox, Palma found himself surrounded, adulated, and nullified by a troupe of distinguished intellectuals, Catholics, wealthy heirs, and highly placed admirers.
It should not be wondered at that this penetrating analysis of the meaning and affiliation of Tradiciones comes from a writer who has never practiced literary criticism. Mere literary erudition does not suffice for a profound interpretation of the spirit of literature. Political acumen and historical perspective are more important. The professional critic considers literature by itself without relating it to politics, economics, the totality of life. Therefore, his investigation does not reach the essence of literary events by exploring their beginnings and subconscious.
A history of Peruvian literature that takes into account its social and political roots will end the convention against which today only a vanguard protests. It will then be seen that Palma is closer to Gonzalez Prada than has appeared until now.
The Tradiciones of Palma is politically and socially democratic; Palma interprets the common people. His ridicule, which reflects the mocking discontent of the criollo demos, undermines the prestige of the viceroyalty and its aristocracy. The satire of Tradiciones does not probe very deeply nor does it hit very hard. Precisely for this reason it is identified with the sugar-coated humor of the bland, sensual demos. Lima could not produce any other kind of literature and Tradiciones exhausts and sometimes exceeds its possibilities.
If the revolution of independence in Peru had been the undertaking of a relatively solid bourgeoisie, republican literature would have adopted another tone. The new ruling class would have expressed itself simultaneously in the work of its statesmen and in the words, style, and attitute of its poets, novelists, and critics. But in Peru the advent of the republic did not herald the advent of a new ruling class.
The revolution was continental in scope and barely Peruvian. There was only a handful of Peruvian liberals, Jacobins, and revolutionaries. The best blood and the greatest energy were expended in battles and in times of struggle. Because the republic was based on the army of the revolution, we had a stormy interim of military rule during which a revolutionary class could not consolidate itself and the conservative class automatically emerged again. The encomenderos and landholders, who during the revolution wavered between being patriots and being royalists, openly took charge of the republic. The colonial and monarchical aristocracy transformed itself officially into a republican bourgeoisie. Although the socio-economic system of the colony superficially adapted itself to the institutions created by the revolution, it was saturated in the colonial spirit. Underneath a coldly formal liberalism, this class yearned for the lost vice-royalty.
The criollo or, rather, demos of Lima was neither consistent nor original. From time to time he was aroused by the clarion call of some budding caudillo; but once the spasm had passed, he fell once again into voluptuous somnolence. All his impatience and rebelliousness were converted into a joke, an impertinent remark, or an epigram, which found their literary expression in the biting satire of Tradiciones.
Palma belongs to a middle-class elite which, by a complex combination of historical circumstances, was not permitted to turn into a bourgeoisie. Like this composite, larval class, Palma nursed a latent resentment against the oldtime, reactionary aristocracy. The satire of Tradiciones frequently sinks its sharp teeth into the men of the republic. But in contrast to the reactionary satire of Felipe Pardo y Aliaga, it does not attack the republic itself. Palma, together with the demos in Lima, is conquered by the anti-oligarchical oratory of Pierola. And, above all, he remains faithful to the liberal ideology of independence.
Colonialism or civilismo, using Riva Agüero and other intellectuals as its spokesmen, takes over Palma, not only because this appropriation presents no threat to its policies, but mainly because of the hopeless mediocrity of its own literary personnel. Critics from this class know that it is useless to try to inflate the work of Felipe Pardo or Jose Antonio Lavalle. The civilista literature has produced nothing but small, dry exercises in classicism or graceless, vulgar attempts at romanticism. Therefore, it needs to acquire Palma in order to display, rightfully or not, an authentic prestige.
But I should make clear that colonialism is not solely responsible for this error. It is partly due—as I have already said—to “Gonzalez-Pradism.” In an essay on the literature of Peru by Federico More, I find the following judgment on the author of Tradiciones: “Ricardo Palma, representative, exponent, and sentinel of colonialism, tells historical anecdotes and has a repertory of amusing stories. He writes with an eye to the Royal Academy and. in order to recount the nonsense and gossipy remarks of the little marchionesses with their kinky hair and thick lips, he tries to use the Spanish of the Golden Age.” More claims that only the “coarse snicker” of Palma will remain.
For some people this judgment is no more than a reflection of the notorious rancor of More, whose loves are not taken seriously but whose enmities cannot be discounted. For two reasons his views should be given consideration: first, the special belligerence with which More supports Gonzalez Prada; second, the thoughtfulness of the essay that contains these sentences.
In this essay More makes a conscientious effort to analyze the spirit of national literature. His argument, although not totally acceptable, deserves to be carefully examined. More starts from a premise that is shared by every profound criticism: “Literature,” he writes, “is only the translation of a political and social state.” The judgment on Palma, in brief, belongs to a study containing valuable ideas, not to an impoverished after-dinner dissertation. And this compels us to take notice of it and to comment on it. But, while doing so, the essential lines of More’s argument should be pointed out.
More looks for the elements of race and land in Peruvian literature. He studies its colors and outline, but he disregards its complementary tints and contours. This is a method that a pamphleteer, not a critic, would use. Whereas his argument gains emphasis, it loses flexibility, and it gives us a very static image of Peruvian literature.
Although his conclusions are not always correct, they are based on true concepts. More is aware of Peruvian dualism. He avers that in Peru “one is either colonial or Inca.” Having written over and over again that Peru is son of the conquest and creation of the coast, I must agree with More regarding the origin and process of the conflict between Incaism and colonialism. Like More, I am inclined to think that that conflict, that antagonism, is and will be for many years the decisive factor, sociologically and politically, in Peruvian life.
Peruvian dualism is reflected and expressed in literature.
Literature [More writes] presents a divided Peru, as is logical. A basic fact emerges: the Andean is rural, the limeno is urban. And the same is true of the two literatures. For those who act under the influence of Lima, everything has an Ibero-African flavor, everything is romantic and sensual. For those of us who act under the influence of Cuzco, the most beautiful and profound part of life is realized in mountains and valleys where everything has an indecipherable subjectivity and is touched with drama. The limeno is susceptible to color, the serrano to music. The heirs to the colony regard love as a challenge. The children of the fallen race hear in love a choir that transmits the voice of destiny.
But this literature of the sierra which More describes so vehemently, contrasting it with colonial or Lima literature, has only just begun to exist. It has no history and almost no tradition. The two outstanding writers of the republic, Palma and Gonzalez Prada, belong to Lima. I am a great admirer, as will be seen further on, of Abelardo Gamarra; but I think that More tends to overestimate him, although in one passage of his study he concedes that “Gamarra, unfortunately, was not a fully rounded, many-sided artist, clear and sparkling, the complete man of letters that is needed.”
More himself recognizes that the “Andean regions, Incaism, still have no great writer to synthesize in thundering, coruscating pages the anxieties, temper, and moods of the Inca soul.” He thereby confirms the thesis that until Palma and Gonzalez Prada, Peruvian literature is colonial or Spanish^ The literature of the sierra, with which More compares it, did not acquire a personality of its own before Palma and Gonzalez Prada. Lima imposed its models on the provinces. Worse yet, the provinces came to Lima for their models. The polemic prose of provincial regionalism and radicalism descends from Gonzalez Prada, whom More justifiably reproaches for his love of rhetoric.
More believes that Gamarra represents an integral Peru and that he opens a new chapter in our literature. In my opinion, the new chapter begins with Gonzalez Prada, who marks the transition from pure Hispanism to the beginning of a Europeanism that will have decisive consequences.
But Ricardo Palma, whom More mistakenly designates as “representative, exponent, and sentinel of colonialism,” is also, despite his limitations, of this integral Peru that begins to take shape in us. Palma interprets the criollo, the mestizo, and the middle-class elite of a republican Lima which, even if it is the one that acclaims Pierola—who is more of Arequipa than of Lima in temperament and style—is no less the one that in our time criticizes its own tradition, rejects its colonial lineage, denounces its centralism, supports the claims of the Indian, and extends both hands to the rebels of the provinces.
More sees only colonial Lima—conservative, somnolent, frivolous. “There is no ideological or emotional issue,” he says, “that has produced a reaction in Lima. Neither modernism in literature, nor Marxism in politics, nor symbolism in music, nor expressionism in painting has stirred the sons of this sedative city. Voluptuousness is the tomb of an inquiring mind.” But this is not correct. Lima, where the first nucleus of industrialism has been established, is the Lima where, in perfect accord with the historic development of the nation, the first resounding word of Marxism has been pronounced. More, somewhat disconcerted by his country, may not know this, but he can sense it. In Buenos Aires and La Plata there are many who are qualified to inform him of the protests of a vanguard that represents a new national spirit in Lima, as in Cuzco, Trujillo, and Jauja. The accusations against colonialism, or limenismo as More prefers to call it, have originated in Lima. Here in the capital we are putting the capital on trial—in open battle with what Luis Alberto Sanchez calls perricholismo and with a passion and severity that Sanchez himself finds alarming. In Lima some of us had evolved from the aesthetic values of D’Annunzio, imported by Valdelomar, to the social criticism of the journal Espana. Ten years ago we founded Nuestra Epoca, in which, without reservation and without compromising with any group or caudillo, we called to account the old politics. In Lima some student spokesmen for the new spirit created the popular universities five years ago and inscribed the name of Gonzalez Prada on their banner.
Henriquez Urefia says that there are two Americas: one good and one bad. The same can be said of Lima. Lima has no roots in an autochthonous past. Lima is daughter of the conquest. But from the moment that it intellectually and spiritually becomes less Spanish in order to become a little cosmopolitan, from the moment it shows concern for contemporary ideas and issues, Lima no longer appears exclusively as the home of colonialism and Hispanism.\The new Peruvianness will be created, using the Indian as its historic cement. Its axis will probably rest on Andean stone rather than on the clay of the coast. But Lima, restless and reformist, wants to participate in this creative work.
In our literature, Gonzalez Prada heralds the transition from the colonial to the cosmopolitan period. Ventura Garcia Calderon describes him to be “the least Peruvian” of our writers. But we have already seen that until Gonzalez Prada, the Peruvian element in this literature is still not Peruvian, but only colonial. The author of Pdginas libres appears as an author whose spirit is Western and whose culture is European. But within a Peruvianness that is not yet distinct and positive, why should he be considered the least Peruvian of the writers who interpret it? Because he is the least Spanish? Because he is not colonial? The reason turns out to be paradoxical. Because he is the least Spanish and because he is not colonial, his writing announces the possibility of a Peruvian literature. It represents liberation from the mother country and the final rupture with the viceroyalty.
This Parnassian, this Hellenist, marmorean and pagan, is historically and spiritually much more Peruvian than all those in our literary process who, before and after him, collected and repeated Spanish literature. In this generation there surely does not exist a single heart that feels that the bad-tempered and nostalgic disciple of Lista is more Peruvian than the pamphleteering iconoclast who attacked the past that commanded the loyalties of the former together with hack writers of the same stamp and ancestry.
Gonzalez Prada did not interpret this country; he did not examine its problems; he did not bequeath a program to the generation that followed. Nonetheless, he represents an instant, the first lucid instant, in the conscience of Peru. Federico More calls him a forerunner of the new Peru, of the integral Peru. But in this respect, Prada has been more than a forerunner. The devious and rhetorical prose of Pdginas libres contains the seed of the new national spirit. In his famous speech at the Politeama in 1888, Gonzalez Prada says: “The real Peru does not consist of the criollos and foreigners who live in the strip of land between the Pacific and the Andes; the nation is formed by the multitudes of Indians scattered along the eastern stretch of the cordillera.
Despite his grandiloquent style, Gonzalez Prada never scorned the common people. On the contrary, he always championed their humble cause. He warned his followers against the futility and sterility of a literature for the elite. “Plato,” he reminded them in a lecture at the Ateneo,” said that the populace was an excellent language teacher. Languages are invigorated and refreshed in the fount of popular speech, much more than in the dead rules of the grammarians and in the prehistoric exhumations of the erudite. Original words, graphic expressions, daring constructions spring from the songs and sayings of the common people. In the same way that infusorians change continents, the masses transform languages.” “The true poet,” he stated in another part of the same speech, “resembles a tree growing on a mountain top: with its branches, which are the imagination, it reaches toward the clouds; with its roots, which are the feelings, it clings to the earth.” And in his notes on language, he repeated the same thought in other words:
Masterpieces are noted for their accessibility; they are not the heritage of a chosen few but of all men of good sense. Homer and Cervantes are democratic geniuses: a child understands them. The talents that claim to be aristocratic and incomprehensible to the multitude use abstruse form to conceal emptiness. If Herodotus had written like Gracian, if Pindar had composed like Gongora, would they have been listened to and applauded at the Olympic games? Look at the great writers who shook men’s souls in the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, especially Voltaire, whose prose was as natural as breathing, as clear as distilled alcohol.
At the same time, Gonzalez Prada condemned colonialism. In the Ateneo conference, after making clear the consequences of silly, senile imitation of Spanish literature, he openly advocated breaking this bond. “Let us leave behind our childish ways and look to other literatures for new elements and inspirations. We prefer the free and democratic spirit of this century to the conservative spirit of monarchical nations. Let us study the masterpieces of Spanish authors and enrich their melodious language; but let us always remember that intellectual dependence on Spain will prolong our infancy.”
In the writing of Gonzalez Prada our literature begins to have contact with other literatures. Gonzalez Prada represents in particular the French influence. But in general he has the merit of having opened the way to various foreign influences. His poetry and prose show an intimate knowledge of Italian literature. His prose often rails against academicians and purists and unorthodoxly delights in neologisms and gallicisms. His verse found new moulds and exotic rhythms in other literatures.
Clearly perceiving the hidden although not unknown link between conservative ideology and academic literature, Gonzalez Prada attacked the one and denounced the other. Now that we are aware of the close relationship between the serenades to the viceroyalty in literature and the domination of the feudal class in economics and politics, this aspect of his thought acquires new significance.
As Gonzalez Prada declares, all literature attitudes, consciously or unconsciously, reflect political feelings and bias. Literature is not independent of other categories of history. Who does not recognize, for example, the political purpose behind the ostensibly literary definition of Gonzalez Prada as the “least Peruvian of our writers”? To deny Peruvianness to his personality is simply a way of denying the validity of his protest in Peru. It is a disguised attempt to disqualify his rebellion. The same label of exoticism is used today against the ideas of the vanguard.
Since the death of Prada, those who were not able to undermine his influence or his example have changed tactics. They have tried to distort and diminish his figure by praising him and claiming to be his heirs and disciples. Gonzalez Prada has run the risk of becoming an official academic figure. Fortunately, the new generation has been on guard against this strategem.
Youth distinguishes between what is topical and temporary in the writing of Gonzalez Prada and what is timeless and eternal. They know that in Prada it is the spirit, not the letter, that matters. The false Gonzalez-Pradists repeat the letter; the genuine ones repeat the spirit.
A study of Gonzalez Prada belongs to literary criticism rather than to political reporting. The fact that his work has greater political than literary significance does not contradict or conflict with the fact that, first and foremost, his work in itself was more literary than political.
Everyone considers Gonzalez Prada a man of words, not of action. But this is not what makes him more literary than political. It is the words themselves.
The word can be a program or a doctrine. No doctrines or programs as such are presented in Pdginas libres or in Horas de lucha. In the speeches and essays that compose these books, Gonzalez Prada does not use the language of a statesman or sociologist to try to define Peruvian reality. He only suggests it in the language of an author. He does not express his thought in concrete proposals or ideas; he envelopes them in phrases that are effective as propaganda and rhetoric but of little practical and scientific value. “Peru is a mountain crowned with a cemetery.” “Peru is a sick body: where a finger is pressed, pus bursts forth.” The most memorable phrases of Gonzalez Prada reveal the man of letters, not the statesman. They are an indictment, not a call to action.
The radical movement itself originated as a literary and not as a political phenomenon. The Union Nacional or Radical party began as a “Literary Circle” and turned into a political group, thereby obeying the mandate of its era. The biological process of Peru called for politicians rather than authors. Literature is not bread but a luxury. The writers around Gonzalez Prada vaguely felt the vital needs of this lacerated and impoverished nation. “The ’Literary Circle,’ a pacific society of poets and dreamers,” said Gonzalez Prada in his speech at the Olimpo in 1887, “is changing into a militant propaganda center. Where is the source of radicalism in literature? We receive gusts from the hurricanes that sweep over European capitals and echoes of the voice of a republican and free-thinking France. Our youth openly battles to put a violent end to what seems likely to die a lingering death; it is impatient to clear the way and raise the red flag over the crumbling towers of national literature.”
Gonzalez Prada did not resist the forces of history that drove him from tranquil Parnassian contemplation into harsh political combat. But he could not draw up a battle plan for his troops. His individualistic, anarchical, solitary spirit was not suited to the direction of a vast collective enterprise.
When the Radical movement is studied, it is said that Gonzalez Prada did not have the temperament of a leader, a cau-dillo. It should also be pointed out that his temperament was basically literary. If Gonzalez Prada had not been born in a country that urgently needed to be reorganized and revitalized both politically and socially, in which a strictly artistic work could not bear fruit, he would never have been tempted to form a party.
His culture, like his temperament, was mainly literary and philosophical. His speeches and articles reveal that he lacked any formal training in economics and politics. His judgments, imprecations, and aphorisms are unmistakably literary in inspiration. I have quoted some of the penetrating observations on sociology and history that are frequently discovered in the setting of his elegant and sparkling prose. But as a whole, his work is literary in style and structure.
Nourished on nationalism and positivism, Gonzalez Prada exalted the value of science. This attitude is peculiar to the modern literature of his time. Science, Reason, Progress were the myths of the nineteenth century. Gonzalez Prada, who followed the road of liberalism and Encyclopedism to arrive at the Utopia of anarchism, fervently adopted these myths. Even his verses express his rationalist spirit: “Down with foolish sentiment! Let us worship divine Reason!”
It fell to Gonzalez Prada to announce only what men of another generation ought to do. He preached realism. Denouncing the vaporous verbosity of tropical rhetoric, he urged his contemporaries to get their feet back on the ground. “Let us end our millenial trip through tenuous idealism and let us return to the seat of reality, recalling that outside Nature there is nothing but illusory symbolism, mythological fantasy, and metaphysical shadow. At these rarified heights, we are becoming nebulous and ethereal. Let us harden ourselves. It is better to be iron than mist.”
But he himself never succeeded in becoming a realist; in his time, realism was historical materialism. Although the beliefs of Gonzalez Prada never constrained his audacity or his freedom, he left to others the work of creating Peruvian socialism. After the Radical party failed, he gave his loyalty to the distant and abstract utopianism of Kropotkin. And in the dispute between Marxists and Bakuninists, he supported the latter. In this, as in all his conflicts with reality, he reacted according to his literary and aristocratic affinities.
Because the spirit and culture of Gonzalez Prada were literary, the Radical movement has not willed to us a series of even elementary studies on Peruvian reality or a body of specific ideas on the problems of Peru. The program of the Radical party, which in any event was not drawn up by Gonzalez Prada, is an exercise in the political prose of a “literary circle,” none other than that of the Union Nacional, as we have already seen.
Gonzalez Prada, although influenced by all the great myths of his time, is not uniformly positivist. He burns with the fire of the eighteenth-century rationalist. His Reason is passionate and revolutionary. The positivism and historical materialism of the nineteenth century represent a domesticated rationalism. They reflect the temper and the interests of a bourgeoisie which, with power, has turned conservative. The rational, scientific spirit of Gonzalez Prada is not satisfied with the mediocre, timid conclusions of bourgeois reason and science. In Gonzalez Prada the intrepid Jacobin lives on, intact.
Javier Prado, Garcia Calderon, and Riva Agüero reveal a conservative positivism as opposed to the revolutionary positivism of Gonzalez Prada. The ideologists of civilismo were true to their social prejudices when they submitted us to the authority of Taine. The ideologist of radicalism claimed always to have beliefs superior to and different from those which in France were identified with a movement of political reaction and which here in Peru were used by the educated oligarchies as an apologia.
Notwithstanding his rationalist and scientific affinities, Gonzalez Prada was saved from exaggerated intellectualism by his artistic sensibilities and his devotion to justice. Deep inside this Parnassian, there is a romantic who never despairs of the power of the spirit.
One of his penetrating opinions on Renan, who ne depasse pas le doute, proves to us that Gonzalez Prada was well aware of the risks of excessive criticism:
All the defects of Renan are explained by his overly critical spirit. His fear of being deceived and his preoccupation with keeping himself pure and passionless made him affirm everything with certain reservations or deny everything with certain limitations; that is, he did not affirm or deny and he even contradicted himself, for on occasion he would submit an idea and, immediately qualifying it, go on to defend the contrary. This accounts for his lack of popularity; the masses only understand and follow men who are frank and violent in their affirmation—with words, like Mirabeau, with deeds, like Napoleon.
Gonzalez Prada always prefers affirmation to negation or doubt. He is bold and courageous in thought and he shuns uncertainty. He feels acutely the need to depasser le doute. Vasconcelos has a phrase which could have been written by Gonzalez Prada: “pessimism regarding the realities, optimism regarding the ideal.” His words are frequently pessimistic, but they are almost never skeptical.
In his study of the ideology of Gonzalez Prada that forms part of his book El nuevo absolute, Mariano Iberico Rodriguez well defines the thinker of Pdginas libres in the following words:
In tune with his times, he has great faith in the efficacy of scientific work. He believes in the existence of inflexible and eternal universal laws, but his belief in science and determinism does not lead him to a narrow, moral eudaemonism or to Spinoza’s resigned acceptance of cosmic necessity. On the contrary, his restless, free spirit transcended the logical consequences of his ideas to advocate action and struggle, to affirm liberty and life. Prada’s anarchical declarations obviously recall some of Nietzsche’s vast philosophy, and, as in Nietzsche, the determinist concept of reality opposes the exultant drive of the inner force.
For these and other reasons, we feel close to Gonzalez Prada in spirit, if not in many of his ideas. Gonzalez Prada deceived himself, for example, when he preached anti-religion. Today much more is known than in his time about many matters, including religion. We know that a revolution is always religious. The word “religion” has a new value and it no longer serves only to designate a ritual or a church. It is of little importance that the Soviets write on their propaganda posters that “religion is the opium of the people.” Communism is essentially religious, but not in the old sense of the word, which still misleads so many. Gonzalez Prada preached the passing of all religious beliefs without realizing that he himself was the bearer of a faith. This rationalist is to be most admired for his passion; this atheist, almost pagan, must be respected for his moral asceticism. His atheism is religious, especially when it appears to be most vehement, most absolute. Gonzalez Prada is found in his creed of justice, in his doctrine of love, and not in the rather vulgar anti-clericalism of some pages of Horas de lucha.
The ideology of Pdginas libres and Horas de lucha is now largely out of date. But what is fundamental and enduring in Gonzalez Prada does not depend on the validity of his beliefs and judgments. His beliefs do not even characterize his work. As Iberico remarks, Gonzalez Prada is distinguished “not only by a rigid systemization of concepts—provisional symbols of a state of mind—but by a certain spirit, a resoluteness of the entire personality, which are expressed in his literary artistry and in his virile exaltation of effort and struggle.”
I have said that what endures in Gonzalez Prada is his spirit. We of the new generation admire his austere moral example and, above all, we respect his intellectual honesty and his noble and vigorous rebellion.
I myself feel that in the new Peruvian generation Gonzalez Prada would recognize as disciples and heirs only those men with the will and enterprise required to surpass his own work. He would disdain the mediocrity who repeated his phrases. He would cherish the youth who was capable of translating his ideas into action and he would be renewed and reborn in the man who could make a truly original and contemporary statement.
Gonzalez Prada can be described in the words that he used for Vigil in his Pdginas libres: “Few lives have been so pure, so full, so worthy of imitation. It is possible to attack the form and substance of his writings, to brand his books as old-fashioned and inadequate, to demolish his entire intellectual structure; but the man will remain standing, invulnerable.”
During the colonial period, Peruvian literature appears, in its most prominent incidents and figures, as a phenomenon of Lima. No matter that its catalog includes the provinces. The model, style, and direction have been set by the capital. And this is understandable. Literature is an urban product and all literary processes gravitate toward the city. In Peru, furthermore, Lima has not had to compete with other cities of similar rank. Its domination has been guaranteed by an extreme centralism.
Because of the absolute hegemony of Lima, our literature has not been able to nourish itself on indigenous soil. Lima has been first of all the Spanish capital and then the criollo capital. Its literature has reflected this.
Nevertheless, indigenous sentiment was not totally unexpressed in this period of our literary history. Its first worthwhile exponent was Mariano Melgar. The critics of Lima treat him rather scornfully. They consider him to be too popular and without elegance. They are bothered by the fact that his verses employ a rather colloquial syntax and slang expressions. Basically, these critics do not like the yaravi type of poetry and they prefer any soporific ode of Pando.
I do not react by overestimating Melgar as an artist. I judge him on a relative basis in the context of his time, when Peruvian literature was just beginning.
Melgar is a romantic not only in his art but also in his life. Romanticism had not officially reached our literature. In Melgar, therefore, romanticism was not an imitation, as it was to be later in others; it was a spontaneous outburst, indicating his artistic sensitivity. It has been said that part of his literary fame is due to his heroic death, but this opinion barely disguises the disdain that inspires it. Melgar died very young. Although it is always risky to speculate on the probable career of an artist cut off prematurely, it is not too much to suppose that a mature Melgar would have produced an art purged of rhetoric and classical mannerisms and, therefore, more native and pure. The rupture with the mother country would have had a special effect on his spirit and, in any case, a very different one from the effect it had on the spirit of the literary men of a city as Spanish and colonial as Lima. Mariano Melgar, following his romantic impulses, would have found his inspiration increasingly in the rural and indigenous.
Those who are offended by the coarseness of his speech and of his imagery suffer from the prejudices of the aristocrat and the academician. The artist who writes a poem of lasting emotion in the language of the people is, in any literature, infinitely superior to the poet who writes a refined piece in academic language fit for an anthology. Furthermore, as Carlos Octavio Bunge points out in his study of Argentine literature, popular poetry has always preceded artistic poetry. Some yaravíes of Melgar survive only as fragments of popular poetry and by this token they have achieved immortality.
Sometimes his simple imagery has a pastoral ingenuousness that reveals his indigenous strain and autochthonous background. Oriental poetry is characterized by its rustic pantheism in metaphor. Melgar is very Indian in his primitive, peasant imagination.
This romantic ended by devoting himself passionately to the revolution. For him the revolution was not the liberalism of the Encyclopedists; it was fundamentally a patriotic fervor. The revolutionary feeling of Melgar, like that of Pumacahua, was fed by our own blood and our own history.
For Riva Agüero, the poet of the yaravies was only “a singular moment in Peruvian literature.” Let us correct his judgment by saying that he was the Peruvian moment in this literature.
Abelardo Gamarra still has no place in the anthologies. Critics rank his work as secondary and relegate it to popular literature, which, for their refined tastes, is worthless. He is not even given a prominent place in criollo literature. The first name cited in any history of criollo literature is always that of Felipe Pardo, a confirmed colonialist.
Nevertheless, Gamarra is one of our most typical writers. Within the literature of the capital, he is the writer who gives the province its purest expression and who recalls the indigenous strain. Ricardo Palma is a criollo of Lima; El Tunante is a criollo of the sierra. The Indian race is alive in his jovial art.
El Tunante has the Indian’s stubbornness and resignation, his pantheistic unconcern with the hereafter, his bucolic gentleness, his rustic common sense, and his realistic and austere imagination. He has the criollo’s witty speech, his mocking laughter, his keen intelligence, and his adventurous and rollicking spirit. Coming from a village in the sierra, El Tunante adapted himself to the capital and coast without losing his integrity. The feeling and tone of his work make it the most authentically Peruvian in a half-century of imitations and babble.
It is also Peruvian in spirit. From his youth, Gamarra was in the vanguard. He participated in Radical protest with genuine devotion to its revolutionary patriotism. What was only an intellectual and literary attitude in other Radicalists was a profound and vital impulse in El Tunante. In flesh and spirit Gamarra was deeply repelled by the encomendero aristocracy and its corrupt and ignorant clientele. He always understood that these people did not represent Peru, that Peru was something else. He guarded this sentiment against civilismo and its intellectual and ideological expressions. His unerring instinct protected it from the “democratic” illusion. El Tunante was not deceived by Pierola. He perceived that the government of 1895 was not a democratic revolution but only a restoration of civilismo. Although he remained until his death a fervent admirer of Gonzalez Prada, whose Catilinarian rhetoric he translated into popular language, he could not conceal his longing for a more enterprising and constructive spirit. He sensed the historical lack of an Alberdi or a Sarmiento in Peru. Especially in his later years, he realized that idealistic and reformist politics must be solidly grounded in reality and history.
His work is not merely social satire. A generous political and social idealism underlies his lively portrayals of people and customs; and it is this idealism that distinguished his writing from Segura’s.
Furthermore, El Tunante’s criollo character is more complete, more profound than that of Segura. His interpretation of personalities and objects is more authentic and alive. Gamarra’s work—which is the most widely read in the provinces—is full of penetrating comments and triumphs of description. El Tunante is a Pancho Fierro of our literature. He is a popular genius, a spontaneous and intuitive writer.
Heir to the revolutionary spirit of independence, he logically had to feel different from and opposed to the heirs to the conquest and the colony. Therefore, no title or diploma has been conferred on his work by academic or literary authorities. (El Tunante, like Ruben Dario, must have thought, “Deliver us, O Lord, from academies.”) He is disdained for his syntax, his spelling, and, above all, for his spirit.
Life joyfully mocks the carpings of his critics by bestowing on Gamarra’s books the immortality it denies to books that have been officially honored. Although it is the people and not the critics who remember Gamarra, this suffices to assure for him his place in the history of our literature, even though it is formally disputed.
The work of Gamarra appears as a scattered collection of outlines and sketches. That it has no central theme and is not a refined artistic creation is not altogether the fault of the author, but is also the result of the inchoate literature it represents.
El Tunante wanted to record the language of the street as an art form. He was not mistaken in his intention, for this is the tradition that has produced the early classics of all literatures.
It is my belief that Jose Santos Chocano belongs to the colonial period of our literature. His grandiloquent poetry betrays its Spanish origins. Critics who present him as an interpreter of the autochthonous soul use a logic that is as simplistic as it is false: Chocano is exuberant; therefore, he is autochthonous. This is the principle on which critics incapable of understanding the autochthonous have based almost all their theory of the essential Americanism and tropicalism of the poet of Alma America.
This theory could not be contested when the authority of colonialism was absolute. Now an iconoclastic generation holds it up to the light of their disbelief. The first question posed is: Is the autochthonous really exuberant?
A critic as wise and as distinguished as Pedro Henriquez Urefia, on examining the matter of exuberance in Spanish American literature, observes that the greater part of this literature does not appear to be a product of the tropics. It proceeds, rather, from cities of a temperate and even autumnal climate. He very correctly points out that “in America we continued to respect intensity as long as it was prescribed for us from Europe; even today we have three or four ’vibrant poets,’ to use the term of the romantics. Are we not attributing to the influence of the tropic what is really the influence of Victor Hugo, or Byron, or Espronceda, or Quintana?” Henriquez Urena does not believe in the theory of a spontaneous exuberance in American literature. This literature is less exuberant than it appears, and verbosity is mistaken for exuberance. “If there is an abundance of words, it is because there is a paucity of culture and discipline, and not because of any exuberance peculiar to us.” Verbosity is not to be ascribed to geography or to environment.
To study the case of Chocano, we have to begin by locating it in Peru. In Peru, the autochthonous is the indigenous or, more precisely, the Inca; and the indigenous, the Inca, is basically austere. The art of the Indian is the antithesis and the contradiction of the art of Chocano. The Indian systematizes and stylizes everything according to a hieratic primitivism.
No one claims to find the emotion of the Andes in Chocano’s poetry. Critics like Riva Agüero, who pronounce his poetry autochthonous, think of it only as expressing the emotion of the montana, that is, the jungle. If, with no idea of what the montana really is, they rush to discover or recognize it in the bombast of Chocano, they only repeat the poet’s own assumption that he is “the bard of autochthonous and savage America.”
The montana is exuberance, plus many other things that do not appear in the poetry of Chocano. Chocano is merely an eloquent spectator of its landscapes and scenic pageantry. All his images represent an exterior fantasy. It is not the man of the tropical forest who is heard but, at most, an imaginative and ardent stranger who thinks he possesses and expresses the jungle.
This is understandable. The montana exists almost exclusively as nature, as landscape, as scenery. It still has not produced a people or a civilization. Chocano, in any case, has not been nourished on its soil. By race, mentality, and education the poet of Alma america belongs to the coast. He comes from a Spanish family. He was formed intellectually and spiritually in Lima. And his intensity, which in the final analysis is the only proof of his artistic and esthetic Americanism, descends directly from Spain.
The techniques of, and models for, Chocano’s eloquence are in Spanish literature. Stylistically he has been influenced by Quintana and spiritually by Espronceda. Byron and Hugo are cited by Chocano, but it is the poets of the Spanish language who have most directly influenced his writing. He has the romantic egoism, as well as the arrogance and conceit, of Diaz Miron; and his romanticism verges on a modernism and decadence that are derived from Ruben Dario.
These traits clearly define the artistic loyalties of Chocano, who, in spite of the successive waves of modernism that have reached his writing without essentially changing it, has preserved in his work the tone and temperament of a survivor of Spanish romanticism in all its grandiloquence. His spiritual loyalties, moreover, coincide with his artistic. The “bard of autochthonous and savage America” is the scion of conquistadors. He himself this in his poetry, which, although not lacking in literary and rhetorical admiration for the Incas, overflows with love for the heroes of the conquest and the magnates of the viceroyalty.
Unlike the specifically colonialist writers, Chocano is not a member of the Lima plutocracy. For example, he cannot be identified with Riva Agüero. He is a spiritual descendant of the conquest rather than of the viceroyalty. Socially and economically, the conquest and the viceroyalty are two phases of the same phenomenon, but spiritually they are not in the same category. The conquest was a heroic undertaking; the viceroyalty was a bureaucratic enterprise. The conquistadors belonged, as Blaise Cendrars would say, to a mighty race of adventurers; the viceroys and the magistrates came from a flabby nobility or an educated mediocrity.
In his early poetry the minstrel of Iras santas revealed his debt to Espronceda and to Byronic romanticism. As a youth, Chocano’s attitude was one of rebellion, sometimes suggesting anarchy, other times hinting at social protest, but always vague. He launched a delirious and bizarre offensive against the military government of the period, but it never became more than a literary gesture.
Chocano later appeared to be politically involved in Pierolism. His revolutionary beliefs acquiesced in the revolution of 1895, which abolished a military regime in order to restore a regime of civilismo under the provisional direction of Nicolas de Pierola. Afterwards, Chocano joined the intellectual clientele of the plutocracy. He did not abandon Pierola and his pseudo-democracy to associate himself with Gonzalez Prada but to hail Javier Prado y Ugarteche as the thinker of his generation.
The political direction of a writer is almost always his spiritual, if not his artistic, direction. Literature, on the other hand, is known to be permeated with politics, even when it seems most remote and estranged from political influences. At the moment, we do not want to classify Chocano as an artist; we want to ascertain his spiritual and ideological position. Because this position is not clearly indicated in his poetry, we must look for it in his prose, which is not only more explicit than his poetry but is neither contradicted nor weakened by it.
In the poetry of Chocano we find the heightened and self-centered individualism so typical of the romantic ranks. All of Chocano’s anarchism is summed up in this individualism, which in later years he reduces and limits. Although he does not absolutely renounce his sensual egoism, he does renounce much of his philosophical individualism. The cult of “I” is linked to the cult of “hierarchy.” The poet considers himself an individualist, not a liberal, and his individualism becomes a “hierarchical individualism” that, far from cherishing liberty, almost despises it. On the other hand, the hierarchy it respects is not the eternal hierarchy created by the Spirit; it is the precarious hierarchy imposed by might, money, and tradition in the mutable present. In the same way, the poet comes to dominate his early spiritual outbursts. At its peak, his art exhibits a rather pagan pantheism in its exalted although rhetorical love of nature. This pantheism, as reflected in his animistic imagery, sounds the only note of an “autochthonous and savage America.” (The Indian is pantheist, animist, materialist.) Chocano, nevertheless, has tacitly abandoned pantheism to adopt the principle of hierarchy, which has taken him back to the Roman Catholic Church. Ideologically, Rome is the historical citadel of reaction. Those who journey to its hills and shrines in search of the Christian faith return disillusioned. Those who are satisfied to find, instead, fascism and the Church—the authority and the hierarchy in the Roman sense—reach their goal and discover their truth. The poet of Alma america is one of the latter pilgrims. He who has never been a Christian finally turns Catholic. The weary romantic, the heretical convert, takes shelter in the secure fold of tradition and order which he once thought he had left forever in order to conquer the future.
Riva Agüero and His Influence on the “Futurist” Generation
The “futurist” generation—as it is paradoxically known—marks the restoration of colonialism and civilismo in the literary thought of Peru.
The emotional and ideological authority of the heirs to colonialism had been undermined by fifteen years of Radical teachings. After a period of military caudillos similar to the one that followed the wars of independence, the latifundium class had reestablished its political control but not its intellectual dominion. Radicalism had been strengthened by the moral reaction to defeat, for which the people blamed the plutocracy, and had found a favorable climate for spreading its revolutionary gospel. Its propaganda had especially stirred the provinces and a wave of progressive ideas had swept the republic.
The old guard of civilismo intellectuals had become elderly and enfeebled, and they could not react effectively against the Radical generation. The restoration had to be carried out by a regiment of young men. Civilismo was sure of the university and expected to recruit there an intellectual militia that would extend its action beyond the university to a total reconquest of intellect and emotion. One of its natural and primary objectives was to recover ground lost in literature; at that time, the work of a single popular writer, Gonzalez Prada’s disciple, El Tu-nante, was more widely read and understood than the work of all the university writers together.
Historical circumstances favored the restoration. Civilismo appeared to be firmly consolidated in the economic and political order—essentially a civilismo order—inaugurated by Pierola in 1895. Many professionals and men of letters who had been attracted to the Radical movement during the chaotic period following our war, now moved toward the civilismo camp. The Radical generation had dispersed. Gonzalez Prada had withdrawn into an aloof asceticism and had lost contact with his scattered disciples. So the “futurist” generation encountered almost no resistance.
Civilistas and Democrats, separated in the party struggle, were mingled in its ranks. Its advent, therefore, was welcomed by the leading newspapers of Lima. El Comercio and La Prensa sponsored the “new generation” that seemed destined to effect the reconciliation between civilistas and Democrats which the coalition of 1895 had barely initiated. Its leader and captain, Riva Agüero, who combined the tradition of civilismo and plutocracy with an almost filial devotion to the Democratic “caliph,” revealed this tendency from the beginning. Attacking radicalism in his study of “the literature of independent Peru,” he said that “the parties of principle not only do not produce goods but they do irreparable damage. In the present system, party differences are not very great nor are party divisions very deep. Alliances are easily formed and collaboration is frequent. Wise governments can, without much effort, invite the participation of all useful men.”
This opposition to parties of principle betrayed the class feelings and motives of Riva Agüero’s generation. He only too clearly announced his intention of strengthening and consolidating a class system. To deny principles and ideas the right to govern the country was to sanction rule by “decent people,” the “educated class.” In this respect as in others, Riva Agüero was in complete agreement with Javier Prado and Francisco Garcia Calderon, and this was because Prado and Garcia Calderon also represented restoration. Their ideology was basically the same conservative positivism. Idealistic and progressive phrases disguised traditional beliefs. As I have commented, Riva Agüero, Prado, and Garcia Calderon all revered Taine. In order to make clear his loyalties, Riva Agüero stated in his already cited study—which was undoubtedly the first political and literary manifesto of the “futurist” generation—that he was a follower of Brunetiere.
Riva Agüero began his political career with a revision of literary values that was absolutely in keeping with the aims of a restoration. He idealized and glorified the colony, attributing to it the origin of our nationality. He traced the roots of our nationality back to an idealized and glorified colony. He overrated colonialist literature by acclaiming its mediocrities. He was scornful of the romanticism of Mariano Melgar and he reproached Gonzalez Prada for the most valid and fruitful part of his work, which was his protest.
The “futurist” generation represented the university and was both academic and rhetorical. It made use of modernism only for the elements it needed to condemn the unrest of romanticism.
One of its most typical undertakings was its organization of a counterpart of the Academy of the Spanish Language. One of its most conspicuous artistic efforts was its return to Spain in prose and verse.
The most characteristic trait of the “futurist” generation was its pasadismo. From the outset, its writers dedicated themselves to idealizing the past. In his study, Riva Agüero stoutly defended established privileges and traditions.
For this generation, the past was neither very remote nor very near, but coincided precisely with the era of the viceroyalty, on which it lavished all its affection and tenderness. Riva Agüero was categorical in his belief that Peru was descended from the conquest and that its infancy was the colony. From this moment, Peruvian literature became markedly colonialist and produced a phenomenon that Luis Alberto Sanchez calls perricholismo and that still continues.
This phenomenon—in its origins, not in its consequences—combines two sentiments: love of Lima and love of the past. Translated into political terms, they were centralism and conservatism, because the pasadismo of Riva Agüero’s generation was not just a romantic gesture inspired by literature. This generation was traditionalist, not romantic, and its literature, tinged with “modernism,” was a reaction against the literature of romanticism. Romanticism condemned the present in the name of the past or the future. Riva Agüero and his contemporaries, on the other hand, accepted the present, although, in order to direct and govern it, they invoked and evoked the past. They were characterized, spiritually and ideologically, by a positivist conservatism, an opportunistic traditionalism.
Of course, there are various shades within this overall color. Individually, for example, Jose Galvez does not answer the above description. His pasadismo was essentially romantic. Haya calls him the “only sincere disciple of Pahna,” undoubtedly referring to the literary and sentimental nature of his pasadismo. This distinction is not clearly expressed, but it is based on an obvious fact. Galvez, whose poetry was a pale, attenuated repetition of Chocano’s verbosity, had a romantic streak. His pasadismo was therefore less localized in time than that of the rest of his generation; it was a total pasadismo. Although in love with the viceroyalty, he was not exclusively absorbed by that era. For him, “all the past was better.” On the other hand, his pasadismo was more localized in space. The scene of his evocations was almost always Lima. But I attribute this to his romantic streak.
Galvez, on the other hand, sometimes differs with the thesis of Riva Agüero. His opinions on the possibility of a genuinely national literature are unorthodox within the “futurist” movement. He declares himself, with a number of reservations and qualifications, in agreement with the leader of his generation and of his party about Americanism in literature. He is not convinced that it is impossible to revive poetically the ancient American civilizations.
No matter how remote the civilizations, the material itself has not disappeared; no matter how deep the Spanish influence, even those of us of purest Spanish descent feel bonds with that race whose golden tradition deserves recollection and whose majestic and mysterious ruins overawe us. Precisely because we are so intermingled and our historical roots so intertwined and because for those very reasons our culture is not as profound as it appears, we are impressed by the literary material of those dead epochs even though we do not consider it fundamental. If the tremulous yaravi music still can pierce our soul with a strange anguish, we must carry within us some residue of the Inca empire and of the struggle between the two races. Furthermore, our history cannot have begun with the Conquest and no matter how nebulous the psychic legacy we have received from the Indian, we have something of that conquered race whose living ruins wander disowned and neglected in our sierras, constituting a serious social problem that painfully throbs in our life. Why can this race not have a place in our literature, which has abounded in historical feelings for other races that are strange and foreign to us?
Galvez, however, is not correct in his definition of a national literature. “It is a matter of turning the soul toward the sound of the vibrations around us.” But in the next line he reduces its elements to “history, tradition, and nature.” Here reappears the lover of the past. In his concept, a really national literature should be nourished on history, legend, and tradition, all of the past. Although the present is also history, Galvez certainly did not think so when he chose the sources of our literature. For him, history was nothing but the past. Galvez does not demand that national literature should interpret Peru in its entirety or that it should perform a really creative function. He denies it the right to be a literature of the people. Arguing with El Tunante, he maintains that “the artist should scorn slang expressions, which are often useful in an article on popular customs but are far removed from the fine, aristocratic form that an artistic work should take.”
The “futurist” generation follows the ideas of Riva Agüero. When Galvez votes against or, rather, leaves his vote blank in these and other debates, his dissent has only an individual value. Meanwhile, the “futurist” generation makes use of his nostalgia and romanticism in the serenade under the balconies of the vice-royalty, which is intended politically to revive a legend indispensable to the supremacy of the heirs to the colony.
The feudal caste has no titles other than those of colonial tradition, nothing that advances its interests more than a traditionalist literary current. At the core of colonialist literature are found only the urgent requirements for the life force of a class, a “caste.” Any doubts about the basically political origin of the “futurist” movement may be dispelled by considering that when this group of lawyers, writers, men of letters, et cetera reached maturity, they were no longer satisfied with being only a movement and wanted to become a party.
Colonida and Valdelomar
Colonida represented not so much a revolution, which would exaggerate its importance, as an insurrection against academicism and its oligarchies, its emphasis on rhetoric, its conservative taste, its old-fashioned gallantry, and its tedious melancholy. The colonidos called for sincerity and naturalness. As a movement it was too irregular and anarchical to be condensed into a trend or defined in a formula. It expended its energy in iconoclastic shouting and spasms of snobbery.
A short-lived journal put out by Valdelomar gave its name to the movement. Colonida was not a group or a school, but an attitude and a mood; and colonidismo was produced by writers both within and outside the circle of Valdelomar. It was a fleeting literary meteor that had no precise outlines, no true aesthetic pattern to impose on its followers. Rather than an idea or a method, colonidismo was egocentrism, individualism, a vague iconoclasm, a hazy reformism. Colonida was not even an association of kindred temperaments or, strictly speaking, a generation. Its ranks included not only Valdelomar, More, and Gibson, but youthful writers like myself who were just beginning.
The colonidos coincided only in their revolt against all academic values, reputations, and temperaments. Their bond was protest, not affirmation. Nonetheless, as long as they participated in the same movement, they had some spiritual traits in common. They tended to have a rather morbid taste for the decadent, the elite, the aristocratic. Valdelomar brought the seeds of the D’Annunzio manner from Europe and sowed them in our voluptuous, rhetorical, and meridional soil.
Although the colonidos were eccentric, aggressive, unfair, and even immoderate, they were useful. They renewed and stirred up national literature, which they denounced as a vulgar imitation of second-rate Spanish literature. They attacked its fetishes and icons and proposed new and better models. They began what many writers referred to as “a revision of our literary values.” Colonida was a negative, disintegrative, belligerent force, expressing the opposition of those writers who objected to the domination of national reputation by an antiquated, official, and pretentious art.
On the other hand, the colonidos did not always behave correctly. They sympathized with all the heretical, unorthodox, solitary figures of our literature. They gathered around Gonzalez Prada, taking from him what they needed least. They cherished the aristocratic, Parnassian individualist in Gonzalez Prada and ignored the agitator and the revolutionary. More defined Gonzalez Prada as “a Greek born in a country of zambos.” However, they appreciated and esteemed Eguren, who was disdained by the undiscerning taste of the critics and public of that time.
Colonida was a brief phenomenon. After a series of polemics, colonidismo fades into obscurity. Each of the colonidos went his own way and the movement was liquidated. It is unimportant that some of its echoes remain and that more than one youth is still stirred by some of its ideas. As a spiritual attitude, colonidismo is not of our time. The appetite for renewal that generated the colonida movement could not be satisfied by small doses of decadence and exoticism. The disappearance of Colonida went unnoticed because it was never a faction, but only a temporary gesture.
Colonidismo ignored politics. Its individualism and elitism isolated it from the common people and insulated it against emotions. The colonidos regarded politics as a bourgeois function, bureaucratic and prosaic. The journal Colonida was written for the Palais Concert and the Union. Federico More was compulsively dedicated to conspiracy and to pamphleteering, but his political beliefs were anti-democratic, anti-social, and reactionary. More dreamed of an aristocracy of critics or even of writers. He had no experience with social reality and he despised the masses.
But once the experiment was over, the writers who had participated in it, especially the younger ones, became interested in new political currents. This interest has its origins in the political literature of Unamuno, Araquistain, Alomar, and other writers for the magazine Espana; in Wilson’s eloquent and professorial speeches advocating a new freedom; and in the philosophy of Victor M. Maiirtua, whose influence on the Socialist orientation of some of our intellectuals is almost unknown. It was marked by the appearance of Nuestra Epoca, a journal of even shorter duration than Colonida. Among contributors to Nuestra Epoca, which was published for the masses and not for the Palais Concert, were Felix del Valle, Cesar Falcon, Cesar Ugarte, Valdelomar, Percy Gibson, Cesar A. Rodriguez, Cesar Vallejo, and myself. Structurally very different from the Colonida writers, the group included a disciple of Maiirtua and future professor at the university, Ugarte, as well as a labor leader, Del Barzo. In this movement, more political than literary, Valdelomar took second place to writers younger and less famous than himself.
Valdelomar, nevertheless, had evolved. A great artist is almost always a man of great sensitivity. His preference for a tranquil, easy life prevented him from being an agitator; but, like Oscar Wilde, Valdelomar would have come to love socialism. Valdelomar was not locked up in an ivory tower. He did not deny his demagogic and stormy past as a supporter of Billinghurst nor was he ashamed of this episode. In spite of his aristocratic leanings, Valdelomar admired humble and simple people, as is evidenced in the civic conscience found in some of his writing. Valdelomar wrote his prayer to St. Martin for the school children of Huaura. During his lecture tours in the north, he spoke before an audience of workers in praise of labor. I recall that in our last talks together he listened with interest and respect to my early ramblings on socialism. In this moment of maximum maturity and promise, he was felled by death.
I understand why there has been no exact, clear, accurate definition of the art of Valdelomar. He died at thirty, before he had found or defined himself. His disorganized, versatile, and somewhat incoherent production contains only the constituents of the work that death frustrated. Although Valdelomar did not succeed in fully developing his vigorous and exuberant personality, he has nonetheless left us many magnificent pages.
His personality not only influenced a generation of writers, but it initiated a trend in our literature that has since intensified. Valdelomar, who brought cosmopolitan elements from abroad, was attracted by criollo and Inca elements. He relived his childhood in a fishing village and he discovered, albeit intuitively, the quarry of our autochthonous past.
One of the essential ingredients of the art of Valdelomar is his humor. Almost everything that the public took seriously, Valdelomar said in jest, pour epater le bourgeois. If the bourgeoisie had laughed with him about his egocentric poses, Valdelomar would not have been so determined to use them. His writing was imbued with an elegant, airy humor that was new to us, and his newspaper articles, his “maximum dialogues,” were full of wit. This prose, which could have been more refined and enduring if Valdelomar had had time to polish it, was improvised and journalistic.
There was nothing biting or vicious in Valdelomar’s humor. He caricatured men gently and he looked at life with a fond smile. Evaristo, employed in a village pharmacy and twin brother to a bilious, unhappy weeping willow tree, is one of those melancholy caricatures that Valdelomar liked to draw. In this Pirandellian novel one feels Valdelomar’s tenderness for his unlucky, pale, sickly character.
Valdelomar seems to fall into despair and pessimism. But these are passing moods and temporary depressions. He was too pantheistic and sensual to be a pessimist. Like D’Annunzio, he believed that “life is beautiful and worthy of being lived magnificently.” This spirit is revealed in his tales and vignettes of village life. Valdelomar always looked for happiness and pleasure and, on the rare occasions when he found them, he knew how to enjoy them fully.
In his “Confiteor,” which is possibly the most noble, pure, and beautiful erotic poetry of our literature, Valdelomar reaches the height of Dionysian exaltation. In the grip of erotic emotion, Valdelomar thinks that nature, the universe, cannot be indifferent to his love. His love is not egoistic: it has to feel itself surrounded by cosmic joy. Here is the supreme note of “Confiteor”:
My Love Will Animate the World
What will I do on the day that your eyes
look at me with love?
My soul will fill the world with joy,
Nature will vibrate with the beating of my heart,
all will be happy:
sky, sea, trees, the landscape … My passion
will sound divinely-colored notes of gladness
for the sad universe;
the birds will carol, the treetops
sing a song; the happiness in my soul
will reach the graveyard,
and the dead will feel the cool breeze of my love.
Is It Possible to Suffer?
Who says that life is sad?
Who speaks of pain? Who complains? Who suffers? Who weeps?
“Confiteor” is the naive, lyrical confessions of a lover exulting in his love and happiness. In the presence of his loved one, the poet “trembles like a frail reed,” and he is convinced that not everyone can understand his passion. The image of his loved one is Pre-Raphaelite, presented only for those who have “contemplated the angel of the Annunciation in the canvas by Burne-Jones.” This absolute lyricism in love had never been reached by any of our poets. There is something of the “allegro” of Beethoven in the above verses.
In spite of “El hermano ausente,” “Confiteor,” and other verses, Valdelomar is denied the title of poet that is granted, on the other hand, to Felipe Pardo. Valdelomar does not fit into the arbitrary classifications of old-fashioned criticism. The noblest nuances and the most delicate notes of this great lyricist’s temperament can never be grasped by those definitions. In tune with his times, Valdelomar was versatile and restless, “very modern, bold, and cosmopolitan.” His humor and his lyricism occasionally foreshadow modern avant-garde literature.
Valdelomar does not herald a new era in our literature because too many decadent influences acted on him. Together with Faith, the Sea, and Death, he places Twilight among the “ineffable and infinite” elements that entered into the development of his Inca legends. From his youth, his art was influenced by D’Annunzio. The twilight emotions of Il fuoco were intensified in Italy by the Roman dusk, the voluptuous sunset on the Janiculum, the autumn grape harvest, and amphibian Venice—maritime and malarial.
But his vivid and pure lyricism keeps Valdelomar from becoming poisoned by too much decadence. Humor saves him from the universe of D’Annunzio, as in his story of “Hebaristo, the willow who died of love.” This was a Pirandellian tale, although Valdelomar scarcely knew Pirandello, who was an unknown playwright at the time of his visit to Italy. His method was Pirandellian: the pantheistic paralleling of the lives of a pharmacist and a weeping willow tree. His characterization was Pirandellian: a slightly caricatured petit-bourgeois clerk. His drama was Pirandellian: an attempt to break out of a monotonous existence, which ends with a ridiculous snap.
A pantheistic, pagan sentiment drove Valdelomar to the village, to nature. The impressions of his childhood, which had been spent on a peaceful bay, sink melodiously into his subconscious. Valdelomar is unusually sensitive to rustic settings. The emotion of his childhood is composed of home, beach, and field. The “heavy, perfumed sea breeze” impregnated him with a briny melancholy: “And what it said to me remains in my soul; my father was silent and my mother was sad, and no one knew how to teach me happiness” (“Tristitia”).
Valdelomar, nevertheless, has the cosmopolitan feelings of the modern man who travels. New York and Times Square attract him just as much as the enchanted village and the “caramel-colored gamecock.” From the fifty-fourth floor of the Woolworth Building he passes effortlessly to the mint and purslane of the solitary paths of his childhood. His stories exhibit the kaleidoscopic mobility of his fantasy. The dandy-ism of his Yankee and cosmopolitan stories, the exotic flavor of his Chinese and oriental images (“my soul trembles like a frail reed”), the romanticism of his Inca legends, the impressionism of his criollo tales, follow one another like seasons and repeat and alternate in the author’s artistic journey without transitions and without spiritual ruptures.
His work is essentially fragmentary and reflects criollo exuberance and lack of discipline. Valdelomar combined to a high degree the qualities and defects of the coastal mestizo. He would go from an extreme of creative frenzy to an Asiatic and fatalistic renunciation of all desire. His mind would be simultaneously occupied by an essay on art, a humorous sketch, a pastoral tragedy (“Verdolaga”), and a romance (“La Mariscala”). He was so creative that any theme—the turkey buzzards of Marinete, the Plaza del Mercado, the cockfights—could kindle his imagination. Valdelomar was the first of our writers to perceive the tragic beauty of the bullfight and, at a time when this subject was relegated to the pedestrian prose of bullfight fans, he wrote Belmonte, el trdgico.
Valdelomar introduced the gregueria into our literature. I can testify that he delighted in the first books of Gomez de la Serna to reach Lima. Because he loved originality and investigation of the microcosm, he had a natural predilection for the gregueria. On the other hand, Valdelomar still did not suspect in Gomez de la Serna the discoverer of the dawn. His impressionist criollo retina was expert in enjoying voluptuously from the golden riverbank the ambiguous colors of twilight. It is impressionism, within its local variety, that most precisely defines his artistic affinities.
Outside the movements, the trends, and even the generations themselves, there has been no lack of more or less independent, solitary cases of literary vocation. But the literary process slowly erases the memory of the writer who does not leave descendants. He can work alone, but his work cannot escape oblivion if it does not have a message for posterity. Only the forerunner and the originator survive. For the purpose of my study, the intrinsic value of an individual lies not in himself but in his influence.
We have seen how a generation or rather a Radical movement that recognized Gonzalez Prada as its leader succeeded a neo-civilista or colonialist movement that proclaimed Palma as its patriarch; and we have seen how it was followed by a colonida movement, which was the precursor of a new generation. But this does not mean that all the literature of that long period necessarily belonged to the “futurist” or to the colonida movement.
We have the case of the poet Domingo Martinez Lujan, a bizarre specimen of the old romantic bohemian, some of whose verses will be cited in anthologies as the first to show the influence of Ruben Dario on our poetry. We have the case of Manuel Beingolea, who writes short stories of delicate humor and fantasy and who cultivates the decadence of the strange and singular. We have the case of Jose Maria Eguren, whose poetry will go down in our literary history as “pure” rather than symbolic.
Eguren, however, thanks to his exceptional influence, is a factor in the setting of trends. Although he makes his name outside of a generation, he later becomes a subject of controversy between two generations. Disdained by the “futurist” generation that acclaims Galvez as its poet, Eguren is discovered and adopted by the colonida movement.
Eguren first attracts attention in the journal Cantempordneos, about which I should say a few words. Contempordneos indisputably marks a date in our literary history. Founded by Enrique Bustamante y Ballivian together with Julio Alfonso Hernandez, this journal is the voice of a group of “independents” who feel the need to assert their autonomy from the colonialist. These “independents” are more opposed to the aesthetics than the spirit of Riva Agüero’s generation. Contempordneos mainly represents the progress of modernism in Peru; but even as a journal of purely literary reform, it is not sufficiently aggressive or passionate. Despite the Parnassian moderation of its director, Enrique Bustamante y Ballivian, some of its attitudes sound a note of protest. The seeking out of Gonzalez Prada, who at that time could find no other publisher for his articles than some obscure anarchist newspaper, is in itself a gesture of “secession.” So it was that the poet of Exoticas and the prose writer of Pdgi-nas libres reappeared in 1909 in the company of “independents” whose admiration, more for the aristocrat than for the rebel, nonetheless denoted a reaction.
Contempordneos disappeared after a few issues and Bustamante y Ballivian asked Valdelomar to join him in founding a new and more voluminous journal, Cultura. But before the appearance of the first issue, the codirectors fought and Cultura was published without Valdelomar. The first and only number gives the impression of a more eclectic, less representative journal than Contempordneos. The failure of this experiment paves the way to Colonida.
The above and similar undertakings demonstrate that although Biva Agüero’s generation never split into two antagonistic groups, it was far from uniform and unanimous. Like every other generation, Riva Agüero’s had its dissidents. Spiritually and ideologically, the most significant was Pedro S. Zulen. Zulen not only disliked the academicism and the rhetoric of the “futurists,” but he detested their conservative and traditionalist spirit. Confronted with a colonialist generation, Zulen declared himself pro-indigenous. The other “independents”—Enrique Bustamante y Ballivian, Alberto J. Ureta, et cetera—were satisfied with an implicit literary succession.
Jose Maria Eguren represents pure poetry in our literary history. This opinion is not in agreement with the thesis of Abbot Bremond. I contend that, unlike most Peruvian poetry, the poetry of Eguren does not pretend to be historical, or philosophical, or religious, but is simply poetry.
Although the poets of the republic did not inherit from the poets of the colony their fondness for theological poetry—wrongly called religious or mystic—they did inherit their predilection for courtly, dithyrambic poetry. Under the republic, the Peruvian Parnassus swells with new odes, some attenuated and some inflated. Their point of departure was always an event or a person, so that poetry became subordinate to chronology. Odes were written to American heroes and events,’ when not to the Spanish monarchs, and poetry commemorated a date or a ceremony rather than the feelings of an era. Satirical poetry, because of its role, was also tied to an event or a topic.
In other cases, poets cultivated the philosophical poem, which generally was neither poetry nor philosophy. This poetry degenerated into an exercise in rhetoric and metaphysics.
The art of Eguren is a reaction against this garrulous, declamatory art, almost exclusively composed of temporal and topical elements. As a pure poet, Eguren does not write a single verse on order or for an occasion; he does not worry about popular or critical taste; he does not celebrate Spain, or Alfonso XIII, or Saint Rosa of Lima; he does not even recite his verses at gatherings or parties. He is a poet who uses his verses only to transmit his divine message to mankind.
How does this poet protect his personality? How does he find and refine his writing skills in this turbid literary atmosphere?
Enrique Bustamante y Ballivian, who knows him intimately, has given us an interesting outline of his artistic development.
Two factors have been most important in the formation of this gifted poet: the impressions he received as an infant in the countryside around “Chuquitanta,” his family’s estate near Lima, and the Spanish classics that his brother Jorge read to him during his childhood. The former provided him not only with the landscapes that serve as background to many of his poems but also with a profound feeling for nature expressed in the symbols of the country people, who liven it with legends and fables and people it with elves, witches, monsters, and goblins. From the carefully chosen classic readings, he derived his love of literature, his rich vocabulary, and certain archaic phrases that give a special flavor to his very modern poetry. From his home, which was deeply, mystically Christian and of great moral rectitude, he obtained his purity of soul and his dreaminess. It may be added that through his sister Susana, who played the piano and sang, he became fond of music, which runs through many of his verses. As to color and descriptive powers, it should not be forgotten that Eguren is a good painter (although of lesser stature than as a poet) and that he began to paint before he wrote poetry. A critic has commented that Eguren’s chief virtue is as a children’s poet. Although we do not agree with the critic, he must have based his opinion on the early verses of the poet, which were written for his nieces, with childhood scenes in which they appear.
Although it is wrong to describe Eguren as a children’s poet, he is obviously a poet of childlike thoughts and feelings. All his poetry is an enchanted, fanciful version of life. His symbolism comes, first of all, from his childhood impressions and does not depend on literary influences or suggestions. It has its roots in the poet’s very soul. The poetry of Eguren is the prolongation of his childhood. Because Eguren keeps a child’s innocence and daydreams in his verses, the vision of his poetry is virginal. The entire explanation of the miracle is found in the eyes of this spellbound child.
This feature of Eguren’s art is not limited to what can be classified as children’s poetry. Eguren always expresses things and nature with images that are easily recognizable as the escapades of his childhood subconscious. The image of a “red king with a beard of steel”—one of the charming notes of Eroe, poetry with a Ruben Dario rhythm—can be imagined only by a child. “Los reyes rojos,” one of the most beautiful creations of Eguren’s symbolism, betrays a similar origin in its wierd chromatic composition:
two red kings have fought
with golden spears.
Their scowls vibrate
through the green woods
and on the purple hills.
The falcon kings
battle in a gold distance
tinged with blue.
Their black shapes
are small and wrathful
in the cadmium light.
and the red kings fight on,
staunch and frowning.
From his bewitched soul is also born Eguren’s taste for the wondrous and fabulous. His world is the indecipherable, Alad-dinesque world of “the little girl with the blue lamp.” One of the characteristics of this poetry is its exoticism. Simbolicas has a background of Scandinavian mythology and German medievalism. The Hellenic myths are never glimpsed in his Wagnerian and grotesque landscapes.
Eguren has no forebears in either Peruvian or Spanish poetry. Bustamante y Ballivian says that Gonzalez Prada “did not find the origin of Eguren’s symbolism in any literature,” and I too recall having heard more or less the same words from Gonzalez Prada.
I classify Eguren among the precursors of the cosmopolitan period of our literature. Eguren, as I have already said, cultivates the delicate and pale flower of symbolism on unreceptive soil. But this does not mean that I agree that French symbolism contains the key to Eguren’s art. It is claimed that there are traces of Rimbaud’s influence in Eguren. But Rimbaud was by temperament the antithesis of Eguren. Nietzschean and anguished, Rimbaud, like Guillen in his Deucalion, would have cried: “I must help the Devil conquer heaven.” Andre Rouveyre declares him “the prototype of demoniac sarcasm and scornful blasphemy.” A militant of the Commune, Rimbaud had the psychology of an adventurer and revolutionary. He believed that “one must be absolutely modern,” and to this end he left literature and Paris at the age of twenty to become a pioneer in Africa. He had too much vitality to accept an urban and decadent bohemian life as led by Verlaine. Rimbaud, in brief, was a rebellious angel, whereas Eguren was never satanic. Eguren’s torments and nightmares were the enchanted fairytales of a child. In “Los angeles tranquilos,” he expresses his style and his soul with crystalline clarity:
The seawind has passed, and now
the tranquil angels with pearls and beryls
sing of the dawn solitude.
They strum sacred songs
on sweet mandolins,
gazing at the fallen plants
in the fields and gardens.
While the sun shakes
its tinsel in the mist,
they kiss white death
in the cruel Saharas.
The tranquil angels
depart at break of day
with pearls and beryls
and with heaven’s light in their eyes.
The poet of Simbolicas and La cancion de las figuras represents symbolism in our poetry, but not a symbolism, and much less a symbolist school. No one can dispute his originality, for he has written lines as rigorously and absolutely original as those of “El duque”:
Duke Nut is marrying today;
the canon comes, and the judge,
and now, with its banners,
the florid scarlet cavalcade;
count to one, to two, to ten;
the excellent Duke is marrying
the daughter of Clove Spice.
There they are, with bison hides,
the horses of Wolf-of-the-Mountain,
and that jaundiced Gaul, Rodolfo Montante,
with a frown of triumph.
And the beauty is in the chapel,
but the Duke has not yet come;
the prostrate, adulating magnates
bow their plumes to the ground;
the humpbacks, the leapyears,
make their gestures, gestures, gestures;
and the bushyhaired crowd
sneezes, sneezes, sneezes.
And the bride gazes with ardor
at the porticoes and open spaces;
her eyes are two gleaming
And nobles as red as scorpions
cast angry looks;
the most Herculean, taking
a deep breath, shouts out:
Who is detaining the Duke? The mighty court is annoyed!
But the Duke does not come—
Paquita has eaten him.
Ruben Dario believed that he thought more easily in French than in Spanish, and he was probably right. His decadent, precious, Byzantine art belongs to the fin-de-siecle Paris of Ver-laine, of which the poet felt himself to be guest and lover. His barge “came from the divine shipyard of the divine Watteau,” and the gallicism of his spirit engendered the gallicism of his language. Eguren has neither of these traits. Even his style, which is Spanish in form, shows no French influence. As Bus-tamante y Ballivian remarks, archaic phrases are frequently found in his verse. In our literature Eguren represents reaction against Spanish influence, which still consisted of baroque rhetoric and grandiloquent romanticism.
In any case, Eguren is not, like Ruben Dario, a lover of eighteenth-century, rococo France. His spirit descends from the Middle Ages rather than from the 1700’s, and I find him more Gothic than Latin. I have already alluded to his fondness for Scandinavian and Germanic myths. I shall now state that in some of his early compositions like “Las bodas vienesas” and “Lis,” when he was slightly influenced by Ruben Dario, the imagination of Eguren always abandons the eighteenth-century world in search of a medieval color or tone:
their antique dances
and their polonaises.
And archers with long
to ward off the fierce
threats of puppets.
It seems to me that some elements of his poetry, such as the tenderness and candor of his fantasy, relate Eguren to Maeterlinck in his better days. This vague affinity is based on the mystery which Eguren reaches through a wonderland, a realm of dreams. But Eguren interprets the mystery with the innocence of a fanciful, visionary child, whereas in Maeterlinck the mystery is frequently the product of a literary alchemy.
In pointing out his gallicism and analyzing his symbolism, a secret door suddenly opens onto a genealogical interpretation of the spirit and temperament of Jose M. Eguren.
Eguren descends from the Middle Ages. He is a pure echo, strayed into the American tropics, of the medieval West. He comes not from Moorish but from Gothic Spain. With nothing Arabic and even very little Latin in his temperament and spirit, his tastes are rather Nordic. A pallid Van Dyck character, he sometimes peoples his poetry with Flemish and German images and evocations. French classicism would reproach him for his lack of Latin order and clarity and Maurras would find him too Teutonic and chaotic, because Eguren comes from the age of crusades and cathedrals rather than the rococo Europe of the Renaissance. Like the decorators of Gothic cathedrals, he loved the grotesque, which he delicately stylized with pre-Renaissance taste:
Two oblong choristers rave
and lift their rapid hands to heaven
and two blonde giantesses sigh
and ancient cretins play a prelude for the choir.
And, to the sweetness of virginal camellias,
the long-lived party follows the groom;
next, the strong, rigid Aunt Adelias;
and then, limping, limping, the bride.
(“Las bodas vieneses”)
The white vampires,
old and stilted
in their tight suits,
reach the shade of the stucco.
The aristocratic spirit, mildewed by the centuries, survives in Eguren. In Peru, the colonial aristocracy transformed itself into a republican bourgeoisie, and the encomendero outwardly replaced his feudal and aristocratic principles with the democratic-bourgeois principles of the war of independence. This simple exchange enabled him to keep his privileges as encomendero and latifundista. Thanks to this metamorphosis, the bourgeoisie under the republic was no more authentic than the aristocracy under the viceroyalty.
Eguren—the example would have to be a poet—is perhaps the only descendant of the genuine medieval and Gothic Europe. Great-grandson of the adventurous Spain that discovered America, Eguren steeped himself in the ancient aromas of legend in his family estate on the coast. His century and his environment did not completely stifle the medieval soul in him. (In Spain, Eguren, like Valle Inclan, would have loved the heroes and deeds of the Carlist Wars.) Too late to be a crusader, he is born a poet; and the adventurer’s soul is expressed in the adventurer’s fantasy.
Had he been born a half-century earlier, Eguren’s poetry would have been romantic, although no less deathless because of this. Born into the decadence of the early 1900’s, he had to be a symbolist. (Maurras is right when he sees in symbolism the end of romanticism.) Eguren would always have tried to escape the reality of his time. Art is an escape when the artist cannot accept or interpret the era and reality in which he lives. American artists of this type, within their dissimilar temperaments and epochs, have been Jose Asuncion Silva and Julio Herrera y Reissig.
The maturing and flowering of these artists has nothing to do with and is even at variance with the painful and harsh labor involved in their country’s growth. As Jorge Luis Borges would say, they are artists of a culture, not of a race. But these are the only artists that a country can possess, that a race can produce, during certain periods of its history. Valery Bryusov and Alek-sandr Blok, who were symbolists as well as aristocrats, represented Russian poetry in the years preceding the revolution. With the outbreak of the revolution, the two men descended from their ancestral tower to the bloody tumult below.
In Peru, Eguren does not understand or know the people. He is remote from the Indian’s history and alien to his history. He is spiritually too occidental and foreign to assimilate indigenous orientalism. But at the same time, Eguren does not understand or know capitalist, bourgeois, occidental civilization. He is interested only in its colossal playthings. Eguren may think of himself as modern because he admires the airplane, the submarine, and the automobile, the fantastic toys constructed by man to cross oceans and continents. Eguren sees man play with the machine; he does not, like Rabindranath Tagore, see the machine enslave man.
The bland, gray coast may have isolated him from the history and people of Peru. Perhaps the sierra would have made him different. A colorless, monotonous Nature is responsible, in any event, for his writing chamber poetry which, when spoken by a true poet, casts the same spell as chamber music and painting.
Alberto Hidalgo signified in our literature, from 1917 to 1918, the last throes and demise of the colonida experiment. Hidalgo carried to their extremes the megalomania, egoism, and belligerence of the colonida attitude. The bacilli of this fever, without which it would have been impossible to raise the temperature of our literature, reached their highest degree of virulence in Hidalgo, who was still provincial in Panoplia lirica. Valdelomar was already back from his adventures in the land of D’Annun-zio, where—perhaps because rustic Abruzzo and the Adriatic beach are next to Byzantine Venice in D’Annunzio—he discovered the coast of criollo-ness and glimpsed in the distance the continent of Inca-ism.
Valdelomar had kept his sense of humor throughout his most egocentric poses. Hidalgo, who was still a little stiff in his Are-quipa cutaway coat, did not have the same easy smile. He was pathetically unsuited to the colonida manner. Hidalgo, perhaps because of a rough provincialism unsoftened by urban life, brought to our literary reform a virile taste for the machine, mechanics, skyscrapers, speed, et cetera. If our sensibility, spoiled by the thick chocolate of scholasticism, incorporated D’Annunzio thanks to Valdelomar, it assimilated the explosive, vibrant, noisy Marinetti thanks to Hidalgo. Hidalgo, writer of pamphlets and slogans, followed the lead of Gonzalez Prada and More. He was too violent a person for a sedentary, rheumatic public. The centrifugal, secessionist force that drove him, swept him away from here in a whirlwind.
Today, Hidalgo, although he does not leave his home in Buenos Aires, is a poet of the Spanish language. Only as background can one speak of his adventures as a local poet. He has grown in stature until he has become a truly American poet, and his literature is circulated and sold all over the Spanish-speaking world. As always, his art is one of secession. The southern climate has tempered and strengthened his rather tropical nerves, which know all the degrees of literature and all the latitudes of imagination. But Hidalgo is, as he could not help but be, in the vanguard. In his own words, he is to the left of the left.
This means, first of all, that Hidalgo has visited the different way stations and has traveled the various roads of ultra-modern art. He is totally familiar with the vanguardist experience. This ceaseless exercise has given him a poetic technique cleansed of any suspicious leftovers. His expression is very clean, burnished, precise, and bare. The motto of his art is “simplicity.”
But Hidalgo, without desiring or knowing it, is spiritually at the last station of romanticism. In many of his verses we find the confession of an absolute individualism. Of all the contemporary literary tendencies, solidarity is least present in his poetry. His lyricism is most pure when he is least egocentric; for example, when he says, “I clasp the hand of every living thing—I fully possess the nearness of the world, the world as a neighbor.” With these lines he begins his poem “Envergadura del anarquista,” which is the most sincere and lyrical outpouring of his individualism. And from the second line, the idea of “the nearness of the world” reveals his feeling of withdrawal and solitude.
Romanticism, understood as a literary and artistic movement linked to the bourgeois revolution, becomes individualism in concept and sentiment. Symbolism and decadence have been only romantic stages, and this is also true of modernism in artists who cannot help being extremely subjective.
There is a symptom inherent in individualist art that indicates, better than any other, a process of dissolution: the determination with which every art and even every artistic element asserts its autonomy. Hidalgo is one of those who most tenaciously adheres to this determination, if we judge by his idea of the “many-sided poem”: “A poem in which each line, although subordinate to a central idea or emotion, is an independent entity.” We have here his proclamation of the autonomy, the individuality, of verse. The aesthetics of an anarchist could not be otherwise.
Politically and historically, anarchism is to the extreme left of liberalism; it therefore falls, despite all protestations to the contrary, within the bourgeois ideology. The anarchist in our time can be a “rebel,” but he is not historically a revolutionary.
Although he denies it, Hidalgo has not escaped the revolutionary fervor of our time in his writing of “Ubicacion de Lenin” and “Biografia de la palabra revolution.” Nevertheless, his subjectivity leads him to state in the preface to his last book, Description del cielo, that the former is “a poem of exaltation, of pure lyricism, and not of doctrine”; that “Lenin has served in the same way that a mountain, a river, or a machine could have served as a pretext for creating”; and that the “biography of the word ’revolution’ is a eulogy of pure revolution, of revolution as such, whatever may be the cause that originated it.” Pure revolution, revolution as such, my dear Hidalgo, does not exist in history and neither does it exist in poetry. Pure revolution is an abstraction. There are many revolutions, among them the liberal and the socialist. There is no pure revolution, either as a historical event or as a poetic theme.
Of the three main categories into which it is convenient, for purposes of classification and criticism, to divide contemporary poetry—pure lyricism, absolute nonsense, and revolutionary epic—Hidalgo feels the first most intensely; and therein lies the strength of his most beautiful poetry. The poem to Lenin is a lyric creation. (Hidalgo deceives himself only in his belief that he is not affected by the emotion of historical events.) This poem, which is technically perfect, is at the same time of great poetic purity. I would quote it in its entirety, but these lines are sufficient:
In the hearts of the workers his name rises before the sun.
The spools of thread bless him
from the high spindles
of all the sewing machines.
Typewriters, pianos of the period, play sonatas in his honor.
He is the automatic respite
that eases the peddler’s rounds.
He is the General Cooperative of hopes.
His message falls in the money box of the humble,
helping them pay the installments on their houses.
He is the horizon toward which the poor open their windows.
Hanging from the bellclapper of the sun
he beats against the metals of the afternoon
so that the workers may leave at five o’clock.
His lyricism saves Hidalgo from falling into an excessively cerebral, subjective, nihilistic art. It is impossible to have any doubts about someone who can so enjoy himself as in this “Dibujo de nino”:
Childhood, village of memories,
I take the streetcar to go there.
Running away from things begins with the stubbornness of scattered oil.
The ground is not here.
A cloud passes, and blots out the sky.
Air and light disappear and this is left empty.
Then you leap from the unreachable depths of my forgetfulness.
It was in the bend of an afternoon outlined by the light of your silhouette.
A nameless emotion bound our hands together.
Your glances summoned my kiss
but your laugh was a river running between us separating us, girl,
and I from my shore put you off until dreamtime.
Now thirty years are gone of those that were bestowed on me to give to you.
If you have died I keep this landscape of my heart, painted on you.
The element of nonsense, if we judge Hidalgo at present by his Description del cielo, disappears almost completely from his poetry. Although it is, in fact, one of the elements of his prose, it is never pure nonsense. It lacks hallucinatory incoherence and tends to be rational, logical nonsense. The revolutionary epic, which heralds a new romanticism untouched by the individualism of that preceding it, does not harmonize with his violently anarchical temperament and life.
His extreme individualism makes it difficult for Hidalgo to write short stories or novels, which require an extroverted author. His stories are written with introspection and his characters appear sketchy, artificial, mechanical. Even when his stories are most fanciful, they are still dominated by the intolerant, tyrannical presence of their author, who refuses to let his characters live in their own right because he puts too much of his individuality and purpose into all of them.
Cesar Vallejo’s first book, Los heraldos negros, ushers in the dawn of a new poetry in Peru. Antenor Orrego is not speaking out of fraternal enthusiasm when he states that “this man originates an epoch of poetic liberty and autonomy, of the vernacular in writing.”
Vallejo is a poet of race. In Vallejo, for the first time in our history, indigenous sentiment is given pristine expression. Mel-gar, stunted and frustrated, is still imprisoned by classical technique and enamored of Spanish rhetoric in his yaravies. Vallejo, on the other hand, creates a new style in his poetry. Indigenous sentiment has a melody of its own in his poetry and he has mastered its song. The poet, not satisfied with conveying a new message, also brings a new technique and language. His art does not tolerate the ambiguous and artificial dualism of substance and form. As Orrego observes, “to dismantle the old rhetorical scaffolding was not a caprice, but a vital necessity of the poet. When one begins to understand the writing of Vallejo, one begins to understand the need for an original and different technique.” In Melgar, indigenous sentiment is glimpsed only in the background of his verses; in Vallejo, it flowers in their very structure. In Melgar, it is the intonation; in Vallejo, the word. In Melgar, it is but an erotic lament; in Vallejo, a metaphysical undertaking. Vallejo is a creator; even if Los heraldos negros had been his only work, it still would have inaugurated a new epoch in our literary process. These initial lines of Los heraldos negros probably mark the beginning of Peruvian, in the sense of indigenous, poetry:
There are such heavy blows in life … I don’t know!
Blows like the hatred of God; as if, before them,
the backwash of everything suffered had drained into the soul … I don’t know!
The blows are few, but they fall … They open
dark furrows in the boldest face, the strongest shoulder.
Perhaps they are the ponies of barbarous Attilas,
or black heralds sent to us by Death.
They are the precipitous falls of the soul’s Christs,
of some adorable faith that Destiny blasphemes.
Those bloody blows are the crepitations
of some loaf of bread that burns in the oven’s door.
And man … Poor … poor man! He turns his eyes
as when somebody taps us on the shoulder;
he turns his mad eyes, and everything he lived
wells up, like a pool of guilt, in his gaze.
There are such heavy blows in life … I don’t know!
In world literature, Los heraldos negros would be classified, partly because of its title, as belonging to the symbolist school. But the symbolist style is better suited than any other to interpret the indigenous spirit. Being animist and rustic, the Indian tends to express himself in anthropomorphic or pastoral images. Vallejo, moreover, is not entirely symbolist. Especially his early poetry contains elements of symbolism, together with elements of expressionism, dadaism, and surrealism. Vallejo is essentially a creator, always in the process of developing his technique, a process which in his art reflects a mood. In the beginning, when Vallejo borrows his method from Herrera Reissig, he adapts it to his personal lyricism.
But the Indian is the fundamental, characteristic feature of his art. In Vallejo there is a genuine Americanism, not a descriptive or local Americanism. Vallejo does not exploit folklore. Quechua words and popular expressions are not artificially introduced into his language; they are spontaneous and an integral part of his writing. It might be said that Vallejo does not choose his vocabulary. He is not deliberately autochthonous. He does not delve into tradition and history in order to extract obscure emotions from its dark substratum. His poetry and language emanate from his flesh and spirit; he embodies his message. Indigenous sentiment operates in his art perhaps without his knowledge or desire.
One of the clearest and most precise indications of Vallejo’s indigenous bent is his frequent attitude of nostalgia. Valcarcel, who probably has most fully interpreted the autochthonous soul, says that the melancholy of the Indian is nothing but nostalgia. Very well, Vallejo is supremely nostalgic. He evokes the past with tenderness, but always subjectively. His nostalgia, conceived in lyric purity, should not be confused with the literary nostalgia of the pasadistas. Vallejo’s nostalgia is not merely retrospective. He does not yearn for the Inca empire in the way that pasadismo perricholesco yearns for the viceroyalty. His nostalgia is a sentimental or a metaphysical protest; a nostalgia of exile, of absence.
What might she be doing now, my sweet Andean Rita
of rush and fruit;
now that Bizancio suffocates me and my blood
dozes like flaccid cognac within me.
(“Idilio muerto,” Los heraldos negros)
Brother, today I am sitting on the stone bench in our house,
where we miss you endlessly!
I remember how we used to play together at this hour, and how mama
caressed us: “But sons …”
(“A mi hermano Miguel,” Los heraldos negros)
I have eaten alone today, and have had
no mother urging me, no “help yourself,” no water,
no father who, in the talkative family rite
of eating corn, would ask for the greater
clasps of sound to make its image memorable.
The stranger is finished with whom you came back,
late last night, chatting and chatting.
Now I will have no one to wait for me,
to keep my place, in good times and bad.
The hot afternoon is finished;
your great bay and your shouting;
finished, your chats with your mother,
who offered us a tea filled with afternoon.
At other times, Vallejo foresees or foretells the nostalgia that is to come:
Absent! The morning on which, like a mournful
bird, I go to the shore of the sea of shadow,
the shore of the silent empire,
the white cemetery will be your captivity.
(“Ausente,” Los heraldos negros)
Summer, I am leaving. And I am grieved
by the submissive little hands of your afternoons.
You arrive devoutly; you arrive old;
and now you will not meet anyone in my soul.
(“Verano,” Los heraldos negros)
Vallejo interprets the race at a moment when all its nostalgia, throbbing with a pain three centuries old, is intensified. But—and this also reveals a trait of the Indian soul—his recollections are full of that sweetness of tender corn which Vallejo savors with melancholy when he speaks to us of the “eloquent offertory of ears of corn.”
Vallejo has the pessimism of the Indian in his poetry. His hesitation, his questioning, his restlessness, are summed up skeptically in a “What for!” Piety always underlies this pessimism. There is nothing satanic or morbid in him. It is the pessimism of a spirit that endures and expiates “man’s affliction,” as Pierre Hamp says. This pessimism is not of literary origin. It does not reflect the romantic despair of the adolescent troubled by the voice-of Leopardi or Schopenhauer. He sums up the philosophical experience, he condenses the spiritual attitude, of a race and a people. There is no relationship or affinity between him and the nihilism or intellectual skepticism of the West. The pessimism of Vallejo, like the pessimism of the Indian, is not a belief or a feeling. It is tinged with an oriental fatalism that makes it closer to the Christian and mystic pessimism of the Slavs. But it can never be confused with the anguished neurosis that drove madmen like Andreyev and Artzybaskev to suicide. Therefore, in the same way that it is not a belief, it is not a neurosis.
This pessimism is full of tenderness and compassion, because it is not engendered by egocentricity and narcissism, disenchanted and exacerbated, as is the case almost throughout the romantic school. Vallejo feels all human suffering. His grief is not personal. His soul is “sad unto death” with the sorrow of all men, and with the sorrow of God, because for the poet it is not only men who are sad. In these lines he speaks to us of the grief of God:
I sense God, who walks within me
with the afternoon and with the sea.
We leave together with Him. Night falls.
We greet nightfall with Him, Orphanhood …
But I sense God. And it even seems
that He dictates to me I know not what good color.
He is kind and sad, like a Hospitaler;
He emanates a lover’s sweet disdain:
His heart must pain Him much.
Oh, my Lord, I have recently found myself,
today when I love so much in this afternoon: today
when, in the false balance of some breasts,
I see and weep for a fragile Creation.
And You, which will You weep for … You,
lover of such an enormous revolving bosom …
I consecrate You, Lord, because You love so much;
because You never smile; because always
Your heart must pain You much.
Other lines by Vallejo deny this divine intuition. In “Los dados eternos” the poet bitterly reproaches God: “You who have always been well, You feel nothing of Your creation.” But this is not the poet’s true feeling, which is always expressed with piety and love. When his lyricism, exempt from any rationalist repression, flows freely and generously, it is uttered in lines like the following, which ten years ago were the first to reveal to me Vallejo’s genius:
The lottery vendor who shouts “Win a thousand”
contains I know not what essence of God.
All lips pass by. The tedium
blunts his “No more” in a wrinkle.
The lottery vendor passes by, who, perhaps
nominal like God, treasures up,
among tantalizing loaves of bread, human
impotence of love.
I look at that rag of a man. And he
could give us his heart;
but the luck he carries in his hand,
shouting it at the top of his voice,
will fly off, like a cruel bird, to perch—
where, this bohemian god neither knows nor cares.
And I say on this warm Friday
that moves on sunlit shoulders:
Why has the will of God
dressed itself as a lottery vendor!
“The poet,” Orrego writes, “speaks individually, he particularizes the language; hut he thinks, feels, and loves individually.” This great poet, lyrical and subjective, acts as an interpreter of the universe, of mankind. There is nothing in his poetry reminiscent of the egoistic, narcissistic lament of romanticism. The romanticism of the nineteenth century was basically individualistic; the romanticism of the 1900’s is, on the other hand, spontaneous and logically socialist, unanimist. Vallejo, from this point of view, belongs not only to his race but also to his century, to his era.
His compassion is so great that sometimes he feels responsible for part of man’s suffering. And then he accuses himself. He is beset by the fear, the anguish, that he too is robbing others:
All of my bones are alien;
perhaps I stole them!
I took for my own what perhaps
was assigned to another;
and I think that if I had not been born
another poor man would be drinking this coffee!
I am a bad thief … Where shall I go!
And at this cold hour, when the earth
transcends human dust and is so sad,
I would like to knock on every door,
and beg I do not know whose pardon,
and bake him little pieces of fresh bread
here in the oven of my heart.
This is typical of the poetry of Los heraldos negros . Vallejo gives his entire soul to the sufferings of the poor:
Muledriver, you are fantastically glazed with sweat.
The Menocucho Hacienda charges
a thousand vexations a day in exchange for life.
This art announces the birth of a new sensitivity. It is a new, rebellious art that breaks with the courtly tradition of a literature of buffoons and lackeys. The great poet of Los heraldos negros and of Trilce—that great poet who has been ignored and disregarded in the streets of lima, where carnival mountebanks have been welcomed and praised—appears in his art as a precursor of the new spirit, the new conscience.
In his poetry, Vallejo is always avid for the infinite, thirsty for truth. Creation in him is at the same time indescribably painful and exultant. This artist aspires only to express himself purely and innocently. Therefore, he strips himself of all rhetorical ornament and of all literary vanity. In this way, he reaches the most austere, humble, and proud simplicity. He is a mystic of poverty who removes his shoes so that his bare feet will know the hardness and cruelty of his road.
Here is what he writes to Antenor Orrego after having published Trilce:
This book was born in a great void. I am responsible for it. I assume all responsibility for its aesthetics. Today and perhaps more than ever, I feel the weight, unknown until now, of man’s most sacred obligation: to be free! If I am not free today, I shall never be free. I feel that the curve of my forehead gathers its most heroic force. I give myself as freely as I can, and this is my greatest artistic contribution. Only God knows up to what point my freedom is sure and true. Only God knows how much I have suffered to prevent that freedom from degenerating into license. Only God knows what dreadful abysses I have gone to the edge of, filled with terror, fearful that everything is going to die so that my poor spirit may live.
This is unmistakably the voice of a true creator, an authentic artist. His confession of suffering is proof of his greatness.
Alberto Guillen inherited the iconoclastic and egocentric spirit of the colonida generation. His poetry carries the paranoid exaltation of the ego to an extreme. But, in keeping with the new mood that was already developing, his poetry was virile in tone. A stranger to the poisons of the city, Guillen, like a rustic Pan, roamed the pastoral roads of the countryside. Obsessed with individualism and Nietzscheism, he felt himself to be a superman. In Guillen, Peruvian poetry repudiated, not very elegantly but emphatically, its sources.
This is the time when Guillen wrote Belleza humilde and Promoteo, but it is in Deucalion that the poet fulfills himself. I number Deucalion among the books that most nobly and purely represent the Peruvian lyricism of the early century. In Deucalion there is no bard who declaims from a platform, no trouba-dor who sings a serenade. There is a man who suffers, exults, affirms, doubts, denies; a man bursting with passion, eagerness, longing; a man thirsty for truth, who knows that “our destiny is to find the road that leads to Paradise.” Deucalion is the song of embarkation:
No matter! Life hides
not yet discovered:
Heart, it is time to leave
for the worlds that sleep!
This new knight errant does not watch over his arms in any inn. He has no horse, no squire, no armor. He walks naked and serious, like Rodin’s John the Baptist.
Yesterday I went out naked
to challenge Fate:
for a shield, my pride;
for a helmet, Mambrino’s.
But the tension of waiting has been too hard on his youthful nerves. And his first adventure, like Don Quixote’s, has been unlucky and ridiculous. Furthermore, the poet reveals his weakness from that time on. He is not crazy enough to follow the path of Don Quixote, who was unaware of fate’s mockery. He carries the ironic Sancho crouched in his soul. He is not completely deluded or altogether mad. He sees the grotesque and comic side of his wanderings. Therefore, weary and undecided, he pauses to question all the sphinxes and all the enigmas:
For what do you give yourself, heart,
for what do you give yourself
if you are never to find your illusion?
But doubt, which gnaws at the poet’s heart, still cannot conquer his hope. The poem thirsts for the infinite. His illusion may be damaged, but it is still imperious. This sonnet summarizes the whole episode:
At the midpoint of my journey
I asked, like Dante,
“Traveler, do you know
my destiny, my route?”
Like an echo, a donkey
gleefully answered me,
but the good pilgrim
gestured me onward;
then a heroic voice
rose up within me,
telling me, “Keep on!”
And I cast off my doubt
and in my bare hand
I carry my determination!
The wanderer is not always so strong. The devil tempts him at every step. In spite of himself, doubt begins to work its way into his conscience, corrupting and weakening it. Guillen agrees with the devil that “we do not know who is right, Quixote or Panza.” A relativist and skeptical philosophy undermines his will. His actions become a little uncertain and mistrustful. Between Nothing and the Myth, his impulse is toward the Myth. But Guillen knows his relativity. Doubt is sterile and faith is fruitful. For this reason alone, Guillen chooses the road of faith. His quixotism has lost its candor and purity. It has become pragmatic. “Think that it is good for you not to lose hope.” To hope, to believe, is a question of what is desirable and convenient. It does not matter that this intuition should be defined later in more noble terms: “And better yet, do not reason; illusions are worth more than the strongest reasoning.”
But the poet still recovers, from time to time, his divine madness. His hallucination still burns. He is still capable of expressing himself with a superhuman passion:
In the same way that old Paul
was thrown to the ground
I have been struck by the spear
of infinite longing:
therefore, in what I say to you,
I put the desire for flight;
I must help the Devil
to conquer heaven.
And in this admirable sonnet, heavy with emotion and religious in tone, the poet states his creed:
Strip your heart
of all vanity
and bring your will
to where your illusion is;
oppose with your fist,
oppose with your freedom, the ancient alluvium
and let your thoughts,
like the elements,
destroy all restraints,
as the seed quickens
into life despite
the worm and the mire.
This poetry has roots in Nietzsche, Rodo, and Unamuno. But the flower is Guillen’s and there can be no argument about its ownership. Thought is totally identified with form in Deucalion. Form, like thought, is bare, tense, urgent, simultaneously angry and serene. (One of the things I admire most in Deucalion is precisely his rejection of any ornament, his deliberate refusal to use rhetoric.) Deucalion is a new dawn on the horizon. In Deucalion man sets out, still young and pure, in search of God and to conquer the world.
But along the way, Guillen is corrupted. He becomes vain and haughty. He loses his innocence and forgets the ingenuous goal of his youth. The spectacle and emotions of an urban, cosmopolitan civilization enervate and slacken his will. His poetry is infected by the negative, corrosive humor of the West. Guillen becomes sly, mocking, and cynical. And the sin carries its expiation. After Deucalion everything is inferior, lacking in human intensity as well as in artistic significance. El libro de las parabolas and Imitacion de nuestro sehor yo succeed in many ways, but they are hopelessly monotonous books. They seem to be products of an alembic in which the skepticism and egoism of Guillen are slowly distilled, drop by drop. So many drops make a page; so many drops, a preface; so many, a book.
The most interesting side of Guillen’s personality is his relativism. Guillen amuses himself by denying the reality of the individual. But his testimony is suspect, because Guillen may base his reasoning on personal experience: “My personality, as I dreamed of it, as I envisaged it, has not been realized; therefore, the personality does not exist.”
In Imitation de nuestro sehor yo, Guillen’s thought is Piran-dellian. Here are some examples: “He, she, all exist, but in you.” “I am all men in me.” “Are my contradictions not proof that I bear in me many men?” “False. They do not die: as we who die in them.” These lines contain strands of the philosophy of Pirandello’s One, None, and a Hundred Thousand.
Nevertheless, I do not believe that Guillen, if he continues in this direction, will ever be classified among the authors of humorous and cosmopolitan Western literature. Guillen, basically, is a rather rural and Franciscan poet. Do not take his blasphemies literally. Deep inside, he retains a little of his provincial romanticism. His psychology has many peasant roots. Underneath, he remains strange to the quintessence of the city. When reading Guillen, one notices immediately that he is not skilled in artifice.
The title of Guillen’s last book, Laureles, sums up the second phase of his literature and his life. In order to gain these and other laurels, which he himself secretly scorns, he has struggled, suffered, and fought. He has turned away from the road to heaven to take the road to laurels. In adolescence his ambition was more lofty; will it now be satisfied with some municipal or academic laurels?
I agree with Gabriel Alomar when he accuses Guillen of strangling the poet of Deucalion with his own hands. Because of his impatience, Guillen must have laurels at all cost. But laurels do not last. Glory is made of less ephemeral materials and it is reserved for those who refuse its fallacious and fictitious advance rewards. The duty of the artist is not to break faith with his destiny. Guillen resolves his impatience in abundance, and abundance is what most damages and diminishes the merit of his work. His recent verse, although avant-garde in style, is weary and jaded and repeats his early themes.
Magda Portal is important in our literary process. She is Peru’s first poetess as distinguished from mere women of letters, few of whom had artistic or, more specifically, literary temperament.
The term “poetess” should be explained. In the history of Western civilization, a poetess is to some extent a contemporary phenomenon. Previous eras produced only masculine poetry; even that written by women was only a variation of men’s lyric themes or philosophical ideas. There was also an asexual poetry lacking either virility or the stamp of a woman—virgin, female, mother. Today, women finally put their own flesh and spirit into their poetry. The poetess is now someone who creates a feminine poetry. And ever since women’s poetry became spiritually emancipated and differentiated from men’s, poetesses have occupied a high place in the catalog of all literatures.
In the poetry of Spanish America, two women, Gabriela Mistral and Juana de Ibarbourou, have for some time attracted more attention than any of their male colleagues. Delmira Agu-stini has founded a long and noble lineage in her country and in America. Blanca Luz Brum has brought her message to Peru. These are not solitary, exceptional cases but part of a widespread phenomenon common to all literatures. Poetry, grown old in man, is born again, rejuvenated, in woman.
A brilliantly intuitive writer, Felix del Valle, remarking on the large number of outstanding poetesses in the world, told me that the scepter of poetry had passed to women. With his natural wit, he put it this way: “Poetry is turning into a woman’s occupation.” This is an extreme statement; but poets certainly have a tendency to make of poetry a nihilistic, skeptical exercise, whereas poetesses tend to give it fresh roots and gleaming white flowers. Their poetry has more vitality and biological force.
Magda Portal is still not sufficiently known and appreciated either in Peru or in Spanish America. She has published only one book of prose, El derecho de matar (La Paz, 1926), and one book of verse, Una esperanza y el mar (Lima, 1927). El derecho de matar presents only one of her sides: the rebellious spirit and revolutionary messianism that in these times are indisputable evidence of an artist’s historical awareness. Furthermore, the prose of Magda Portal always contains something of her magnificent lyricism. “El poema de la carcel,” “La sonrisa de Cristo,” and “Circulos violeta”—three poems in this volume—have her charity, passion, and exalted tenderness. But El derecho de matar does not characterize or define her; even its title, which rings of anarchy and nihilism, does not represent her spirit.
Magda is essentially lyrical and she is compassionate in the same way Vallejo is compassionate. This is the only way she appears in the lines of “Anima absorta” and “Una esperanza y el mar,” and this certainly is the way she is. She is not tainted by the decadence of the 1900’s.
In her early verse, Magda Portal is almost always a poetess of tenderness. And in some of this verse may be seen her lyricism and humanity. Exempt from egoism, megalomania, or romantic narcissism, Magda Portal says to us: “I am small!”
In addition to the compassion and tenderness found in her poetry, there is the voice of a woman who lives passionately and intensely, glowing with love and longing, tormented by truth and hope.
Magda Portal has written on the frontispiece of one of her books these words by Leonardo da Vinci: “The soul, first source of life, is reflected in everything that it creates.” “The true work of art is like a mirror in which the soul of the artist is seen.” Magda’s ardent loyalty to these creative principles reveals an artistic sense that her poetry never contradicts and always ratifies.
In her poetry she gives us, above all, a clear image of herself. She never practices sleight of hand, nor does she mystify or idealize. Her poetry is her truth. Magda does not labor to dress up her soul for us. We can enter one of her books without ceremony, confident that we shall not encounter some sham or snare. The art of this profound and pure lyricist reduces to a minimum, almost to zero, the proportion of artifice that it requires in order to be art.
This is for me the best proof of Magda’s great value. In this era of social and, therefore, artistic decadence, the most urgent duty of the artist is the truth. The only works that will survive this crisis are those that constitute a confession and a testimony.
The eternal and dark contrast between the life and death principles that govern the world is always present in the poetry of Magda. At the same time that she longs for oblivion, she is eager to create and live. Magda’s soul is a soul in agony. And her art is a total translation of the two forces that lacerate and inspire her. Sometimes the life principle triumphs and sometimes the death principle prevails.
This dramatic conflict gives the poetry of Magda Portal a profound metaphysics, which her spirit easily reaches through her lyricism without the aid of any philosophy. It also gives her a psychological depth that enables her to record all the contradictory voices of her dialogue, her combat, her agony. The poetess expresses herself with extraordinary strength in the following lines:
Come, kiss me!
What does it matter if something dark
is gnawing at my soul
with its teeth?
I am yours and you are mine … kiss me! …
I do not weep today … I am drowned in joy,
a strange joy that comes from I know not where.
You are mine … You are mine? …
there is a door of ice
between you and me:
Those that beat upon your brain
and whose hammering escapes me …
Come, kiss me … What does it matter? …
My heart called to you all night long,
and now that you are here, your flesh and your soul,
why should I care about what you did yesterday? …
What does it matter!
What does it matter!
Come, kiss me … your lips,
your eyes, and your hands …
Then … nothing …
And your soul? And your soul!
This poetess of ours, whom we should hail as one of the foremost poetesses of Indo-America, does not descend from Ibarbourou, or Agustini, or even Mistral, whom she nonetheless resembles more than anyone else because of a certain similarity of tone. She has an original and autonomous temperament. Her secret, her word, her force were born with her and are in her.
In her poetry there is more pain than joy, more darkness than light. Magda is sad. Her life force moves her toward light and gaiety. And Magda feels herself powerless to enjoy them. This is her drama. But it does not embitter or worry her.
In “Vidrios de amor,” a poem in eighteen emotional stanzas, all Magda is in these lines:
With how many tears did you shape me?
I have so many times assumed
the attitude of the suicidal trees
along the dusty, lonesome roads—
secretly, without your knowing it,
everything must hurt you
for having made me thus, with no sweetness
for my acid hurts.
where did I come from with my fierce
desire to conform?
I have never known the merry-go-round happiness
of childhood, I have never dreamed of it.
I love happiness the way
bitter plants will love a sweet fruit.
do not answer today because you would be drowned,
do not answer today my almost
I bury my anguish inside me in order to watch
the lefthand branch of my life,
which has put only love
into the kneading of my daughter’s heart.
I would like to protect her from myself
as from a wild beast,
from these accusing eyes,
from this tattered voice
in which insomnia scoops caverns,
and, for her, to be happy, ingenuous, a child,
as if all the bells of happiness
rang out their everlasting Easter in my heart.
Is all of Magda here in these lines? No, because Magda is more than a mother, more than love. Who knows out of how many dark powers, out of how many conflicting truths, a soul like hers is made?
Contemporary Literary Currents—Indigenism
The “indigenous” current typical of the new Peruvian literature is spreading and probably will intensify, but not as a result of the extrinsic or fortuitous circumstances that usually determine a literary fashion. Its significance is more profound. The fact that it coincides and intimately relates with an ideological and social current that daily gathers support among youth is sufficient evidence that literary indigenism reflects a state of mind and of conscience in the new Peru.
This indigenism, which is in germination and still needs time to flower and bear fruit, might be compared—allowing for all differences in time and space—with the “muzhikism” of pre-revolutionary Russian literature. Muzhikism was bound up with the first phase of social unrest that prepared and incubated the Russian revolution. Muzhikist literature performed a historical mission by putting Russian feudalism on trial and condemning it with no possibility of appeal. The muzhikist novel and poetry were prodromes in the socialization of land as carried out by the Bolshevik revolution. It does not matter that the Russian novelist and poet had no thought of socialization when they portrayed the muzhik, nor does it matter whether they caricatured or idealized him.
In the same way, Russian “constructivism” and “futurism,” which delight in representing machines, skyscrapers, airplanes, factories, et cetera, belong to a period when the urban proletariat, after creating a regime that still chiefly benefits the farmer, work to westernize Russia through industrialization.
The indigenism of our contemporary literature is linked to recent developments. If the indigenous problem is part of politics, economics, and sociology, it cannot be absent from literature and art. One would be mistaken to think of it as an artificial issue simply because many of those who advance it are novices or opportunists.
Nor should one deny its vitality because it has so far failed to produce a masterpiece. A masterpiece can only flower in soil that has been amply fertilized by an anonymous multitude of mediocre works. The genius in art is usually not a beginning but the end result of a vast experience.
There is even less reason to be alarmed by sporadic outbursts and reported excesses. They do not contain the key to historical fact. Any affirmation must be carried to extremes. To speculate on anecdotes is to remain outside history.
This current, moreover, is encouraged by the elements of cosmopolitanism that have been assimilated into our literature. I have already pointed to the interest of the American avant-garde in autonomous and local themes. In the new Argentine literature, no one feels more native to Buenos Aires than Gi-rondo and Borges, or more gaucho than Guiraldes. On the other hand, those who, like Larreta, remain in bondage to Spanish classicism are basically incapable of interpreting their countries.
Some are stimulated by the exoticism that has invaded European literature as the symptoms of decadence in Western civilization intensify. Cesar Moro, Jorge Seoane and other recent emigrants to Paris are expected to employ native and indigenous motifs. The art of our sculptress, Carmen Saco, has found its most valid passport in her Indian statues and designs.
This last, and external, factor has influenced such “emigrant” writers as Ventura Garcia Calderon toward indigenism, although they are not numbered among the avant-garde or thought to have been infected by the ideals attributed to the young writers who work in their own countries.
Criolloism has not flourished as a nationalist current in our literature, mainly because the criollo still does not represent a nationality. It has long been accepted that our nationality is in the process of formation and now a dualism of race and spirit is observed. In any event, we have not even begun to fuse the racial elements that make up our population. The criollo is not clearly defined. Until now, the word “criollo” has been little more than a generic term to designate a many-shaded mestizo group. Our criollo lacks the distinctive character of the Argentine criollo, who, unlike the Peruvian, can be identified anywhere in the world. This confrontation proves precisely that there is an Argentine nationality, whereas there are no traits peculiar to a Peruvian nationality. Our criollo in the sierra is different from our coastal criollo. In the sierra, the mestizo is made more Indian by his terrestrial surroundings; on the coast, the spirit inherited from Spain is maintained by colonial tradition.
Nativist literature in Uruguay, born of a cosmopolitan experience like its counterpart in Argentina, has been criollo because the population of Uruguay has a unity which ours does not. Nativism in Uruguay, moreover, is essentially a literary phenomenon without the political and economic undertones of Peru’s indigenism. Zum Felde, who has promoted it as a critic, states that the time has come to liquidate it.
An autonomous native feeling was needed to oppose slavish imitation of the foreign. As a movement of literary emancipation, it achieved its end. The moment was ripe. Young poets turned toward national reality and saw that, in contrast with the European, it was more authentically American. But having completed its mission, traditionalism should yield to a lyrical Americanism more in tune with life’s imperative. Today’s sentiments feed on different realities and ideals. Rio de la Plata is no longer a gaucho domain. And gaucho folklore, having withdrawn to the most remote corners, is now being consigned to the silent cult of the museum. The advance of urban cosmopolitianism has completely transformed the customs and character of rural life in Uruguay.
In Peru, criollo-ism has not only been sporadic and superficial, but it has been nourished on colonial sentiment. It has not been an affirmation of autonomy. Until very recently, it has been content to describe local customs within the surviving colonial literature. Abelardo Gamarra is probably the only exception to this domesticated criollo-ism without native pride.
Our nativism, which is also necessary for revolution and emancipation, cannot be a simple criollo-ism. The Peruvian criollo has not yet liberated himself spiritually from Spain. His Europeanization, in reaction to which he must find his own personality, has been only partly completed. Once he is European-ized, today’s criollo will become aware of the drama of Peru, recognizing in himself a bastardized Spanish and in the Indian the cement of nationality. (Valdelomar, the coastal criollo who returned from Italy imbued with the teachings of D’Annunzio and with snobbishness, had his most enlightening experience when he discovered—or imagined—the Inca.) Whereas the pure criollo generally conserves his colonial spirit, the Europeanized criollo of our times rebels against that spirit, even if only as protest against its limitations and archaism.
Undoubtedly, the criollo, diverse and numerous, can be the source of an abundance of characters and plots in our literature—narrative, descriptive, social, folkloric, et cetera. But what the genuine indigenist current subconsciously seeks in the Indian is not just character and plot, much less picturesque character and plot. Indigenism is not essentially a literary phenomenon, as is the nativism of Uruguay. It is rooted in another historical soil. The authentic indigenists, who should not be confused with those who exploit indigenous themes out of mere love of the exotic, deliberately or unknowingly, collaborate in a task of redressing political and economic wrongs, not in a task of restoration or resurrection.
The Indian does not represent solely a type, a theme, a plot, a character; he represents a people, a race, a tradition, a spirit. It is impossible to consider and evaluate him from a purely literary standpoint, as though he were a national color or feature on the same plane as other ethnic elements in Peru.
On closer study, it becomes clear that the indigenist current is not based on simple literary factors, but on complex social and economic factors. Because of the conflict and contrast between his demographic predominance and his social and economic servitude, not just inferiority, the Indian deserves to be the focus of attention in present-day Peru. That three to four million people of autochthonous race occupy the mental panorama of a country of five million should not surprise anyone, especially in a period when this country is trying to find an equilibrium which to date has been denied it by history.
Indigenism in our literature, as may be gathered from my earlier statements, is basically aimed at repairing the injustices done to the Indian. Its role is not the purely sentimental one of, for example, criollo-ism. It would therefore be a mistake to judge indigenism as the equivalent of criollo-ism, which it neither replaces nor supplants.
The Indian is prominent in Peruvian literature and art, not because he is an interesting subject for a novel or a painting, but because the new forces and vital impulses of the nation are directed toward redeeming him. This tendency is more instinctive and biological than intellectual and theoretical. I repeat that the genuine indigenist does not concern himself with the Indian as a source of picturesque character and plot; if this were the case, the zambo would be as interesting as the Indian to the writer or artist. Moreover, the indigenist current is lyrical rather than naturalist or costumbrista in character, as is demonstrated in the beginnings of an Andean poetry.
In making reparation to the autochthonous race, it is necessary to separate the Indian from the Negro, mulatto, and zambo, who represent colonial elements in our past. The Spaniard imported the Negro when he realized that he could neither supplant nor assimilate the Indian. The slave came to Peru to serve the colonizing ambitions of Spain. The Negro race is one of the human alluvia deposited on the coast by Spain, one of the thin, weak strata of sediment that formed in the lowlands of Peru during the viceroyalty and the early period of the republic; and throughout this cycle, circumstances have conspired to maintain its solidarity with the colony. Because he has never been able to acclimatize himself physically or spiritually to the sierra, the Negro has always viewed it with distrust and hostility. When he has mixed with the Indian, he has corrupted him with his false servility and exhibitionist and morbid psychology.
Since emancipation, the Negro has become addicted to his status of liberated slave. Colonial society turned the Negro into a domestic servant, very seldom into an artisan or worker, and it absorbed and assimilated him until it became intoxicated by his hot, tropical blood. The Negro was as accessible and domesticated as the Indian was impenetrable and remote. Thus the very origin of slave importation created a subordination from which the Negro and mulatto can be redeemed only through a social and economic revolution that will turn them into workers and thereby gradually extirpate their slave mentality. The mulatto, still colonial in his attitudes, is subconsciously opposed to autochthonism. By nature he feels closer to Spain than to the Inca. Only socialism can awaken in him a class consciousness that will lead him to a definitive rupture with the last remnants of his colonial spirit.
The development of the indigenist current does not threaten or paralyze other vital elements of our literature. Indigenism does not aspire to preempt the literary scene by excluding or blocking other impulses and manifestations. It represents the trend and tone of an era because of its sympathy and close association with the spiritual orientation of new generations who, in turn, are sensitive to the imperative needs of our economic and social development.
A critic could commit no greater injustice than to condemn indigenist literature for its lack of autochthonous integrity or its use of artificial elements in interpretation and expression. Indigenist literature cannot give us a strictly authentic version of the Indian, for it must idealize and stylize him. Nor can it give us his soul. It is still a mestizo literature and as such is called indigenist rather than indigenous^ If an indigenous literature finally appears, it will be when the Indians themselves are able to produceTO
The present indigenist current cannot be equated with the old colonialist current. Colonialism, which reflected the feelings of a feudal class, indulged in nostalgic idealization of the past. Indigenism, on the other hand, has its roots in the present; it finds its inspiration in the protest of millions of men. The vice-royalty was; the Indian is. And whereas getting rid of the remains of colonial feudalism is a basic condition for progress, vindication of the Indian and of his history is inserted into a revolutionary program.
It is clear that we are concerned less with what is dead than with what has survived of the Inca civilization. Peru’s past interests us to the extent it can explain Peru’s present. Constructive generations think of the past as an origin, never as a program.
All that survives of Tawantinsuyo is the Indian. The civilization has perished, but not the race. After four centuries, the biological material of Tawantinsuyo has proved to be indestructible and, to a degree, immutable.
Man changes more slowly than might be imagined in this century of speed, when his transformation has broken all records. But this is a phenomenon peculiar to the West, which is, above all, a dynamic civilization and the one that, logically enough, has investigated the relativity of time. In Asiatic societies, which are kindred to the Inca society, there is a certain quietism and ecstasy, periods when history seems to be suspended and a single social structure endures, petrified, for centuries. It can therefore be assumed that in four centuries the Indian has undergone very little spiritual change. Servitude has undoubtedly depressed his flesh and his spirit. But the dark depths of his soul have hardly altered. In the steep sierra and the jagged horizons still untouched by the white man’s law, the Indian continues to abide by his ancestral code.
Enrique Lopez Albujar, spokesman for the Radical generation, has written a book, Cuentos andinos, which is the first to explore these paths. In its harsh sketches, Cuentos andinos grasps the elementary emotions of life in the sierra and charts the soul of the Indian. Lopez Albujar and Valcarcel both search in the Andes for the origin of the Quechua’s cosmic consciousness. “Los tres jircas” by Lopez Albujar and “Los hombres de piedra” by Valcarcel express the same mythology. The participants and settings of Lopez Albujar have the same backdrop as the theory and ideas of Valcarcel. This coincidence is especially interesting because it is the product of different temperaments and methods. Lopez Albujar wants to be a naturalist and to analyze, Valcarcel to be imaginative and to synthesize. Lopez Albujar looks at the Indian with the eyes and mind of a coastal man, Valcarcel with the eyes and mind of a sierra man. There is no spiritual kinship between the two writers, no similarity in the genre and style of the two books. Yet they listen to the same distant heartbeat of the Quechua soul.
Although the Indian was formally converted by the conquest to Catholicism, he has not really surrendered his old myths. His mysticism has been modified, but his animism remains. The Indian does not understand Catholic metaphysics. His pantheist and materialist philosophy has entered into a loveless marriage with the catechism. In his concept of life, it is not Reason but Nature that is interrogated. The three jircas, the three hills, of Huanuco weigh more heavily on the conscience of the Huanuco Indian than the Christian hereafter.
“Las tres jircas” and “Como habla la coca” are, in my opinion, the best chapters in Cuentos andinos, but neither is, strictly speaking, a story. “Ushanam Jampi,” on the other hand, has a strong narrative context and, moreover, is a valuable document on indigenous communism. This tale describes how popular justice operates in small Indian villages isolated from government law. Here we find an institution that survives from the autochthonous regime, an institution that categorically demonstrates that the Inca organization was a communist organization.
In an individualistist system, the administration of justice is bureaucratic and assigned to a magistrate. Liberalism, for example, fragmentizes justice and creates a caste, a bureaucracy, of judges of different hierarchies. In a communist system, the administration of justice is a function of society as a whole and, as in the Indian system, it is performed by the vayas, or elders.
According to current predictions, the future of Latin America depends on the fate of mestizaje. In contrast to the hostile pessimism of the Le Bon school of sociology, a messianic optimism has exalted the mestizo as the hope of the continent. In the forceful words of Vasconcelos, the tropics and mestizo are the setting and the protagonist of a new civilization. But the thesis of Vasconcelos, which outlines a Utopia—in the positive and philosophical meaning of the word—to the same extent that it attempts to predict the future, ignores the present. Nothing is more alien to his thought and purpose than a criticism of contemporary reality, to which he turns exclusively for elements to support his prophecy.
The mestizaje extolled by Vasconcelos is not precisely the mixture of Spanish, Indian, and African which has already taken place on the continent. It is a purifying fusion and re-fusion, from which the cosmic race will emerge centuries later. For Vasconcelos, the mestizo in his present form is not the prototype of a new race and a new culture, but only its promise. The reflections of a philosopher, of a Utopian, are not bound by limitations of time or space. In his ideal construction, centuries are only moments. The work of a critic, historiographer, or politician is another matter. They must concern themselves with immediate results and be satisfied with nearby landscapes. The object of their research and the subject of their program are the real mestizo history, not the ideal of prophecy.
In Peru, because of the imprint of different environments and the combination of many racial mixtures, the meaning of “mestizo” varies. Mestizaje has produced a complex species rather than a solution of the dualism of Spaniard and Indian.
Dr. Uriel Garcia discovers the neo-Indian in the mestizo. But this mestizo comes from the mixture of Spanish and indigenous races and is subject to the effects of Andean environment and ways of life. Dr. Uriel Garcia has conducted his research in a mountain medium that has assimilated the white invader. The crossing of the two races has engendered the New Indian, strongly influenced by regional tradition and setting.
This mestizo, who in the course of several generations and under the steady pressure of a single physical and cultural environment has acquired stable characteristics, is not the mestizo produced by the same races on the coast. The coast makes less impression; the Spanish factor is more active.
The Chinese and Negro complicate mestizaje on the coast. Neither of these two elements has so far contributed either cultural values or progressive energies to the formation of nationality. The Chinese coolie has been driven from his country by overpopulation and poverty. He introduces into Peru his race but not his culture. Chinese immigration has not brought us any of the basic elements of Chinese civilization, perhaps because these have lost their dynamism and generating power even at home. We have become acquainted with Lao Tse and Confucius through the West. Probably the only direct importation from the Orient of an intellectual order is Chinese medicine, and its arrival is undoubtedly due to practical and mechanical reasons, stimulated by the backwardness of a people who cling to all forms of folk remedies. The skill of the small Chinese farmer has flourished only in the valleys of Lima, where the proximity of an important market makes truck gardening profitable.
The Chinese, furthermore, appears to have inoculated his descendants with the fatalism, apathy, and defects of the decrepit Orient. Gambling, which is an element of immorality and indolence and is particularly harmful to people prone to rely more on chance than on effort, is mainly encouraged by Chinese immigration. Only since the Nationalist movement, which has had wide repercussions among the expatriate Chinese of this continent, has the Chinese colony shown signs of an active interest in culture and progress. The Chinese theater, almost exclusively reserved for the nocturnal amusement of people of that nationality, has made no impression on our literature except on the exotic and artificial tastes of the decadents. Valdelomar and the colonidas discovered it during their opium sessions, when they were infected by the orientalism of Loti and Farrere. The Chinese, in brief, does not transfer to the mestizo his moral discipline, his cultural and philosophical tradition, or his skill as farmer and artisan. His language, his immigrant status, and the criollo’s scorn for him combine to act as a barrier between his culture and the environment.
The contribution of the Negro, who came as a slave, almost as merchandise, appears to be even more worthless and negative. The Negro brought his sensualism, his superstition, and his primitivism. His condition not only did not permit him to help create culture, but the crude, vivid example of his barbarism was more likely to hamper such creation.
Racial prejudice has diminished; but the progress of sociology and history has broadened and strengthened the idea that there are differences and inequalities in the evolution of people. Although the inferiority of colored races is no longer one of the dogmas that sustain a battered white pride, all the relativism of today does not suffice to abolish cultural inferiority.
Race is only one of the elements that determine the structure of society. Vilfredo Pareto lists the following categories: (1) Soil and climate, flora and fauna, geological and mineralogical conditions, et cetera. (2) Other elements external to a given society at a given time; that is, the actions of other societies on it, which are external in space, and the consequences of the previous condition of that society, which are external in time. (3) Internal elements, of which the principal are race, the “residual” feelings that are manifested in propensities, interests, aptitudes for reasoning and observation, the state of knowledge, et cetera. Pareto argues that the structure of a society is determined by all the elements that operate on it and that once a society has been determined, it operates in turn on those elements, so that it may be said that the action is reciprocal.
What is important, therefore, in a sociological study of the Indian and mestizo strata is not the degree to which the mestizo inherits the qualities or defects of the progenitor races, but his ability to evolve with more ease than the Indian toward the white man’s social state or type of civilization. Mestizaje needs to be analyzed as a sociological rather than an ethnic question. The ethnic problem that has occupied the attention of untrained sociologists and ignorant analysts is altogether fictitious. It becomes disproportionately important to those who, abiding by the idea cherished by European civilization at its peak (and already discarded by that same civilization, which in its decline favors a relativist concept of history), attribute the achievements of Western society to the superiority of the white race. In the simplistic judgment of those who advise that the Indian be regenerated by cross-breeding, the intellectual and technical skills, the creative drive, and the moral discipline of the white race are reduced to mere zoological conditions.
Although the racial question—which has implications that lead superficial critics to improbable zoological reasoning—is artificial and does not merit the consideration of those who are engaged in a concrete and political study of the indigenous problem, the sociological question is another matter. The contrast in color will gradually disappear, but the rights of the mestizo are legitimized in his customs, feelings, and myths—the spiritual and formal elements of those phenomena that are called society and culture. In existing socio-economic conditions, mestizaje produces not only a new human and ethnic type but a new social type. The blurring of that type by a confused combination of races does not in itself imply any inferiority and may even presage, in certain ideal mixtures, the characteristics of the cosmic race. However, because of a murky predominance of negative sediments, the undefined or hybrid nature of the social type manifests itself in a sordid and unhealthy stagnation. Chinese and Negro admixtures have almost always had a destructive and aberrant effect on this mestizaje. Neither European nor Indian tradition is perpetuated in the mestizo; they sterilize each other.
In an urban, industrial, and dynamic environment, the mestizo rapidly catches up with the white man and assimilates Western culture together with its customs, motivations, and consequences. Usually he does not grasp the complex beliefs, myths, and feelings that underlie the material and intellectual creations of the European or white civilization; but the mechanics and discipline of the latter automatically impose its habits and ideas on him. When he comes in contact with a mechanized civilization that is amazingly equipped to dominate nature, he finds the idea of progress, for example, irresistible. But this process of assimilation and incorporation is quickly accomplished only within a vigorous industrial culture. In the lethargy of the feudal latifundium and the backwater town, the virtues and values of racial intermixture are nullified and replaced by debilitating superstitions.
To the man of the mestizo village—portrayed by Valcarcel with a pessimism and passion tinged with sociological preoccupations—Western civilization presents a confused spectacle. Everything in this civilization that is personal, essential, intrinsic, and dynamic is alien to his way of life. Despite some external imitations and subsidiary habits, this man does not move within the orbit of modern civilization. From this point of view, the Indian in his native environment, as long as emigration does not uproot or deform him, has nothing to envy the mestizo. It is evident that he is still not incorporated into this expanding, dynamic civilization that seeks to be universal. The Indian has a social existence that preserves his customs, his understanding of life, his attitude toward the universe. The “residual” feelings and derivations described to us in the sociology of Pareto, which continue to operate in him, are those of his own history. Indian life has a style. Notwithstanding the conquest, the latifundium, and the gamonal, the Indian of the sierra still follows his own traditions. The ayllu is a social structure deeply rooted in environment and race.
The Indian continues his old rural life. To this day, he keeps his native dress, his customs, and his handicrafts. The indigenous social community has not disappeared under the harshest feudalism. The indigenous society may appear to be primitive and retarded, but it is an organic type of society and culture. The experience of the Orient—in Japan, Turkey, and China itself—has proved to us that even after a long period of collapse, an autochthonous society can rapidly find its own way to modern civilization and translate into its own tongue the lessons of the West.
The first book of Alcides Spelucin includes the poetry that he read to me nine years ago in Lima when we were first introduced by Abraham Valdelomar in the office of the newspaper I worked on. Since then Alcides and I have seldom seen each other, but we have grown continually closer. Although outwardly dissimilar, our destinies are analogous. He and I belong not only to the same generation, but to the same time. We were born under the same sign. In our literary adolescence we were both nourished on decadence, modernism, aestheticism, individualism, and skepticism. Later, we both had the painful and difficult task of liberating ourselves from their unhealthy influence. We went abroad, not to learn the secret of others, but to learn the secret of ourselves. I discuss my trip in a book on politics and Spelucin describes his in a book of poetry. But this only indicates a difference in our attitudes or temperament, not in our adventures or spirit. The two of us set sail on “the golden boat in search of a good island” and in the course of our stormy expedition we discovered God and mankind. Alcides and I have chosen the future over the past. As survivors of a literary skirmish, we feel today like troops in a historical battle.
El libro de la nave dorada is a way station in the voyage and spirit of Alcides Spelucin. In the emotional preface Orrego has written for this book, he tells the reader:
It does not represent the aesthetic present of the creator. It is a book of adolescence, and initial poetic effort that barely opens the cloister of anonymous privacy. Since them, the poet has known anguish as well as success and pleasure. His spirit is now more refined; his vision more luminous; his expression richer, more flexible, and more powerful; his thought more enlightened with wisdom; his panorama broader and more valuable because of accumulated knowledge; his heart more religious, more sensitive, and more open to the world. This should be noted so that the reader will realize the painful precocity of a poet who was little more than a child when he wrote this book.
As a song of the sea and a ballad of the tropics, this book represents in the poetry of America something like an incanta-tory prolongation of “Sinfonia en gris mayor,” a melodious echo of the music of Ruben Dario. The mark of the Uruguayan poet Herrera y Reissig, who had already made his influence felt in Spanish-American lyricism, is splendidly vivid in lines like the following:
And, to the planetary awakening of the spikenard,
the divine vespertine leopards, roaring
sad lilacs, depart along the road to the east.
But the presence of Herrera y Reissig and even of Ruben Dario is noticeable only in technique and form. Spelucin has the expression but not the spirit of the decadents. He is completely healthy, with no morbid tendencies. Although Alcides has absorbed much of the poison of his epoch, his robust and fundamentally rustic soul has remained pure and wholesome. Therefore, he is more alive and personal in this prayer of immaculate lyricism:
Will you not give me clay from the rose-colored quarry
with which to shape my base for savoring Love?
Will you not give me a bit of melodious earth
with which to mould the fever of my dream, O Lord?
Like Vallejo, Alcides is compassionate, humble, and affectionate. At a time when the Byzantine egotism of D’Annunzio was fashionable, the poetry of Alcides is perfumed with the Franciscan parable. In substance, his soul is naturally Christian. His characteristic tone appears in another prayer, flavored with ears of wheat and the angelus, like some verses of Francis Jammes: “For this sweet little sister with gentle eyes.”
The clear innocence of Alcides is perceptible even in the “strong stuff,” derivative of Baudelaire, which, taking full responsibility for the poetry of his youth, he has included in El libro de la nave dorada. And this innocence may account for his socialism, which is an act of love rather than of protest.
Provisional Balance Sheet
I have not intended this very brief review of literary values to be a history or even a criticism, if criticism is understood to be limited to the field of writing techniques. My purpose has been to sketch the outlines or essential characteristics of our literature. I have tried to interpret its spirit, not to report its episodes; to present a theory, not an analysis.
This will explain the deliberate omission of certain works that undeniably would merit discussion in a history or criticism of our literature, but that are not significant to the literary process itself. In all literature, significance is measured by two criteria: the exceptional intrinsic value of the work or the historic value of its influence. The artist survives in literature either through his work or through his followers. Otherwise, he survives only in libraries and histories, where he may be of great interest to researchers and bibliographers but of almost no interest to an interpretation of the deeper meaning of literature.
The most recent generation, which is a movement well under way and still developing, cannot yet be studied in this manner. National literature is put on trial in the name of the new writers; and the past, not the present, is judged. The new writers, who belong more to the future than to the present, are judge, attorney, lawyer, witness, everything but the accused. Furthermore, a table of standards that seeks to establish present or potential values would be premature and hazardous.
The new generation signifies, above all, the definitive decline of colonialism. It is now that the spiritual and sentimental prestige of the viceroyalty, jealously cultivated by its heirs, sinks into oblivion. This literary and ideological phenomenon is naturally a facet of a much vaster phenomenon. The generation of Riva Agüero made a last attempt in politics and literature to save the colony. But the so-called futurism, which was only a neo-civilismo, has been liquidated in both areas because of the flight, abdication, and dispersal of its supporters.
In the history of our literature, it is not until this generation that the colony ends and Peru finally becomes independent of the mother country. Earlier writers had laid the groundwork. Gonzalez Prada was the precursor of cosmopolitan influences when forty years ago, from the platform of the Ateneo, he urged young intellectuals to rebel against Spain. In this century, the modernism of Ruben Dario, although attenuated and counteracted by the colonialism of the futurist generation, contributed innovations in style that have permeated our literature and given it a French cast. And then the colonida movement incited the generation of 1915, which was the first to heed the admonition of Gonzalez Prada to mutiny against Spanish academicism, which had been solemnly albeit precariously restored in Lima with the installation of the appropriate Academy. But colonialism, the intellectual and sentimental prestige of the vice-royalty, remained in spirit if not in form.
Today the rupture is complete. Indigenism, as we have seen, is gradually uprooting colonialism. And this movement does not originate exclusively in the sierra. Valdelomar and Falcon, both coastal criollos, are among those who have first turned their attention to race, whatever the success of their efforts. From abroad we simultaneously receive various international influences. Our literature has entered a period of cosmopolitanism. In Lima, this cosmopolitanism is reflected in the imitation of corrosive Western decadence and in the adoption of anarchical fin-de-siecle styles. But under this swirling current, a new feeling and revelation are perceived. The universal, ecumenical t roads we have chosen to travel, and for which we are reproached, take us ever closer to ourselves.
1. Piero Gobetti, Opera critica, I, 88. This idea is entirely in accord with Marxist dialectics and in no way excludes those a priori syntheses so cherished by intellectual opportunism. Outlining the personality of Domenico Giulotti, Papini’s companion in the cultural adventure of the Dizionario dell uomo salvatico, Gobetti writes: “Individuals must take clear-cut positions. Compromise is the work of history and of history alone; it is a result.” (ibid., p. 82). In the same book, concluding some observations about the Greek concept of life, he states: “The new test of truth is a task in harmony with the responsibility of each person. Ours is an era of struggle (struggle between men, between classes, between states) because only through struggle can abilities be tempered and can each person, by stubbornly defending his position, collaborate in the life process.”
2. Benedetto Croce, Nuovi saggi di estetica, pp. 205—207. With relentless logic, this same collection disqualifies the aestheticist and historicist trends in artistic historiography. It declares that “the true criticism of art is certainly aesthetic criticism, not because it scorns philosophy as a pseudo-aesthetic criticism, but because it functions as a philosophy or concept or art; and it is historical criticism, not because it is concerned with what is extrinsic to art, like pseudo-historical criticism, but because, having availed itself of historical data for an artistic reproduction (and at this point it is still not history), once the artistic reproduction is accomplished, history is made by deciding what has been reproduced, that is, by characterizing it according to the concept and establishing precisely what has happened. Therefore, the two trends that conflict in the undercurrents of criticism coincide in criticism; and historical criticism of art and aesthetic criticism of art are one and the same.”
3. Although or perhaps because it was written in his youth, Cardcter de la literatura del Peru independiente is a vivid and sincere reflection of Riva Agüero’s spirit and feelings. His later literary criticism does not basically alter this thesis. In its praise of the talented criollo and his Comentarios reales, his Elogio del Inca Garcilaso could have presaged a new attitude. But, in fact, neither his erudite curiosity about Inca history nor his ardent efforts to interpret the sierra landscape have diminished Riva Agüero’s loyalty to the colony. His stay in Spain, as we all know, has intensified his conservative and viceroyal sympathies. In a book written in Spain, El Peru historico y artistico: Influencia y descendencia de las montaneces en el (Santander, 1921), he shows a deeper concern with the Inca society, but this is only a sign of a scholarly interest that has been influenced by the opinions of Garcilaso and of the most objective and cultured of the chroniclers. Riva Agüero states that “at the time of the conquest, the social regime of Peru aroused enthusiasm in observers as scrupulous as Cieza de Leon and in men as learned as the Licenciado Polo de Ondegardo, the Oidor Santillan, the Jesuit author of Revelation anonima, and Father Jose de Acosta. The social content and agrarian regulations of the vagaries of the illustrious Mariana and of Pedro de Valencia (disciple of Arias Montano) may have been influenced not only by Platonic tradition but by the contemporary data of the Inca organization that made such an impression on all who studied it.” Riva Agüero does not try to excuse his mistakes, as when he acknowledges that in his early criticism of Ollantay he had greatly exaggerated the Spanish inspiration of the present version in his essay on the “character of literature in independent Peru” and that, in the light of recent studies, even if Ollantay still appears to have been reconstructed by a colonial writer, “it must be admitted that its design, poetic techniques, all its songs and many of its passages are in the Inca tradition and only slightly modified by the editor.” Nevertheless, none of these demonstrations of scholastic integrity nullifies the purpose and criteria of his work, which is intensely Spanish in tone and which pays homage to the motherland by championing the “deep-rooted” Spanish heritage of Peru.
4. I prefer to discuss and criticize Riva Agüero’s thesis because I consider it to be the most representative and predominant. Further proof of Riva Agüero’s pre-eminence and influence is the fact that later studies aspiring to critical impartiality and untouched by his political motives are attached to his opinions and evaluations. In the first volume of La literatura peruana , Luis Alberto Sanchez admits that Garcia Calderon wrote in Del roman ticismo al modernismo , dedicated to Riva Agüero, what is really a gloss of the latter’s book. Although years later Garcia Calderon was to do more research for his synthesis of La literatura peruana, he did not add much information to that already noted by his friend and colleague, the author of La historia en el Peru, nor did he attempt a new interpretation or go to the indispensable popular sources.
5. Francesco de Sanctis, Teoria e storia della letteratura, I, 186. Having already cited Croce’s Nuovi saggi di estetica, I should mention that in reproving Adolf Bartels and Richard M. Meyer for their preoccupation with nationalism and modernism respectively in their histories of literature, Croce asserts that “it is not true that poets and other artists are the expression of the national conscience, of the race, of the stock, of the class, or of anything similar.” Croce’s reaction against the inordinate nationalism that characterized the literary historiography of the nineteenth century—with the exception of the exemplary European, George Brandes—is, like all reactions, extreme; but the vigilant and generous universalism of Croce responds to a need to resist the exaggerations of works imitating the imperial German models.
6. See in nos. 12 and 14 of Amauta the news and comments of Gabriel Collazos and Jose Gabriel Cossio on the Quechua comedy by Inocencio Mamani, who had probably been exposed to the influence of Gamaliel Churata when he wrote it.
7. De Sanctis, Teoria e storia della letteratura, I, 186-187.
8. Jose Galvez, Posibilidad de una genuina literatura national, p. 7.
9. In his Teoria e storia della letteratura (p. 205), De Sanctis says: “In art as in science, man’s departure point is subjectivity and, therefore, lyricism is the earliest form of poetry. But subjectivity later turns into objectivity and subjective emotion in a narrative is secondary and incidental. Lyricism is the terrain of the ideal, narration is the terrain of the real. In the first, impression is purpose and action is occasion; in the second, the contrary is true. The first does not dissolve into prose except by destroying itself; the second is resolved in prose, which is its natural tendency.”
10. De Sanctis writes: “In times of struggle, mankind ascends from one idea to another and the intellect does not triumph unless fantasy is shaken. When an idea has prevailed and developed into a peaceful exercise, the epic is replaced by history. Epic poetry, therefore, can be defined as the ideal history of mankind in its passage from one idea to another.” (Ibid., p. 207.)
11. Jose de la Riva Agüero, Cardcter de la literatura del Peru independiente (Lima, 1905).
13. In Sagitario, no. 3 (1926), and in Por la emancipation de la America Latina (Buenos Aires, 1927): p. 139
14. Ibid., p. 139
15. In a letter to Amauta, no. 4, Haya, carried away by his enthusiasm, undoubtedly exaggerates this vindication.
16. Federico More, “De un ensayo sobre las literaturas del Peru” in El Diario de la Marina (Havana, 1924) and in El Norte (Trujillo, 1924).
17. See the essay “Regionalism and Centralism” in this book.
18. Only two issues of Nuestra Epoca (July, 1918) were published and they were rapidly sold out. Both issues followed a tendency strongly influenced by Espana, Araquistain’s journal, a tendency that was to reappear a year later in the short-lived newspaper La Razon, which is best remembered for its campaign for university reform.
19. Manuel Gonzalez Prada, Pdginas libres.
24. Mariano Iberico Rodriguez, El nuevo absoluto, p. 45.
25. Ibid., pp. 43-44.
26. Pedro Henriquez Urena, Seis ensayos en busca de nuestra expresion, pp. 45-47
27. Galvez, Posibilidad de una genuina literatura national, pp. 33-34.
28. Ibid., p. 90.
29. Valdelomar’s humor fed on vulgar pretentiousness. One evening in the Palais Concert, Valdelomar said to me: “Mariategui, they offend the light and fine dragonfly here by calling it a hummingbird.” At that time as decadent as he, I urged him to defend the noble and injured rights of the dragonfly. Valdelomar asked the waiter for some paper and in the midst of the mellifluous mumur of the cafe, he wrote on a table one of his “maximum dialogs.” His humor was always like this—innocent, childlike, lyrical. It was the reaction of a refined and pure soul against the vulgarians and a dull, provincial atmosphere. He disliked “fat, drunken men,” gold stickpins, detachable cuffs, and elasticized shoes.
30. In the Boletin Bibliogrdfico, no. 15 (December, 1915), University of Lima. A review of a selection of Eguren’s poetry made by the university librarian, Pedro S. Zulen, one of the first to appreciate the genius of the poet of Simbolicas.
31. There is no lack of Italianate words in Eguren’s poetry. His taste for Italian—which does not Latinize him—springs from his acquaintance with Italian poetry, introduced to him by the readings of his brother Jorge, who lived many years in that country.
32. Much of Eguren’s writing is romantic, not only in Simbolicas, but also in Sombra and even Rondinelas. his last two poetic works.
33. Antenor Orrego, Panoramas, essay on Cesar Vallejo.
35. Jorge Basadre believes that although Vallejo uses a new technique in Trilce, he continues to be romantic in his themes. However, as he observes in the case of Hidalgo, the newest of the “new poetry” is also romantic to the extent that it is subjective. Vallejo certainly conserves a great deal of the old romanticism and decadence up to Trilce, but the merit of his poetry is the way in which he transcends these residual influences. Moreover, it would be useful to come to an understanding about the meaning of the term “romanticism.”
36. Alberto Zum Felde, La cruz del sur (Montevideo).
37. Luis E. Valcarcel, De la vida inkaica (Lima, 1925).
38. Lopez Albujar sounds a note in his book that concurs with that of Valcarcel’s book when he speaks of the nostalgia of the Indian. The melancholy of the Indian, according to Valcarcel, is nothing but nostalgia: the nostalgia of the man who has been wrenched from his land and his home to serve the military or pacific enterprises of the state. In Ushanam Jampi, the hero is destroyed by his nostalgia. Conce Maille is condemned to exile by the elders of Chupan. But the longing to feel his roof overhead is stronger than his instinct for survival. He furtively steals back to his hut, although he knows that the death penalty may await him in his village.
This nostalgia defines the spirit of the people of the sun as agricultural and sedentary. The Quechuas are not and never have been adventurous or wanderers. Perhaps for this reason, their imagination is not and never has been adventurous or nomadic. Perhaps for this reason, the Indian makes his natural surroundings the object of his metaphysics. Perhaps for this reason, the jircas or household gods of his region govern his life. The Indian cannot be monotheist.
For four centuries the causes of indigenous nostalgia have multiplied. The Indian has frequently been an emigrant. And since he has not been able to learn to live as a nomad in those four centuries, because four centuries is very little time, his nostalgia has acquired the tone of despair that is heard in the wail of the Indian flutes.
Lopez Albujar looks deeply into the mute abyss of the Quechua soul. In his digression on coca, he writes: “The Indian, without knowing it, is a Schopenhauerist. Schopenhauer and the Indian have a point of contact, but with this difference: the pessimism of the philosopher is theory and vanity; the pessimism of the Indian is experience and disdain. If, for the former, life is evil, for the latter it is neither evil nor good, but a sad reality that he has the profound wisdom to accept as it is.”
Unamuno finds this to be a correct judgment. He also believes that the skepticism of the Indian is experience and disdain. But the historian and sociologist can perceive other things that the philosopher and the writer may scorn. Is this skepticism not partly a trait of Asiatic psychology? The Chinese, like the Indian, is materialistic and skeptical. In China, as in Tawantinsuyo, religion is more a moral code than a metaphysical concept.
39. In the prologue he wrote for Cuentos andinos, Ezequiel Ayllon explained indigenous popular justice in this way: “The substantive, common law, carried down from the most remote antiquity, establishes two penal substitutes that are aimed at the social rehabilitation of the delinquent and two punishments for murder and theft, which are the two crimes of greatest social significance. The Yachishum or Yachachishum is limited to warning the delinquent, making him understand the disadvantages of the crime and the advantages of mutual respect. The Alliyachishum is supposed to forestall personal vengeance by reconciling the delinquent with the injured party and his relatives, in the event that the Yachishum has not had a restraining effect. Application of the two substitutes, which are not unlike the procedures advocated by the penalists of the modern positivist school, is followed by the penalty of confinement or exile called Jitarishum, implying a definitive expatriation. It is the surgical removal of the diseased element that represents a threat to the security of people and property. If the one who has been warned, reconciled, and expelled, robs or kills again within the jurisdiction of the region, he receives the extreme penalty, with no hope of pardon, called Ushanam Jampi. This final solution is death, usually by beating, after which the body is quartered and thrown to the bottom of the river or to the dogs and birds of prey. This trial is held in a single session, orally and publicly, and it includes the accusation, defense, proof, sentence, and execution.”
40. Vilfredo Pareto, Trattato di sociologia generate, III, 265.
41. In this regard, the studies of Hildebrando Castro Pozo on the “indigenous community” contain extremely interesting information which I have already referred to elsewhere. This information absolutely agrees with the substance of Valcarcel’s statements in Tempestad en los Andes, which might be thought to be overly optimistic and apologetic if they were not confirmed by objective research. Furthermore, anyone can demonstrate the unity, style, and character of indigenous life. Sociologically, the survival of what Sorel calls “spiritual elements of work” in the community are of utmost value.
42. El libro de la nave dorada (Trujillo: Ediciones de “El Norte,” 1926).
43. I also recognize that this essay has omitted some ranking contemporaries whose writing must be considered as still continuing and developing. I repeat that my study is not complete.