*Cardoza y Aragón, Luis
Cardoza y Aragón, Luis
Better known in international literary circles for his poetry and his seminal works on Mexican mural painting, Luis Cardoza y Aragón left behind an important body of essays.
A constant search for innovation and a surrealist perspective characterize his extensive literary production. This experimentation with literary forms led him to conceptualize the essay as a “genre that has much of poetry and the most rigorous thought.” In his essays, Cardoza y Aragón blends poetic prose, chronicles, memoirs, and other literary forms to provide texture and depth to his analysis. He explores complex issues from several perspectives, allowing tension and doubt to emerge.
A lifetime radical, committed to the cause of socialism, freedom, and democracy, Cardoza y Aragón struggled against all forms of “isms” in the cultural and political arena.
In his essays on art production he staunchly defends artistic freedom and rejects any attempt to value the work of art on political or ideological merits. Throughout the years, Cardoza y Aragón openly debated with leftist intellectuals and artists on this question, while proclaiming the need to develop a Marxist aesthetics.
His best-known essay, Guatemala, las líneas de su mano (1955; Guatemala, the lines in her hand), exemplifies both Cardoza y Aragón’s political thought and his hybrid approach to the genre. The book is a mixture of memoirs, short stories, literary and cultural criticism, and political and historical analysis. Exiled in Mexico from 1932, Cardoza y Aragón returned to Guatemala in 1944 to participate in the revolutionary process that took place under the administrations of Juan José Arevalo (1944–51) and Jacobo Arbenz (1951–54). During those years Cardoza y Aragón began to write the essay, but had to finish it in Mexico shortly after the 1954 military coup that ended the Guatemalan democratic experiment. Regarded as a literary classic, Guatemala, las líneas de su mano is a detailed and vivid portrayal of the land and its people. The book is divided into three thematic sections: a nostalgic and poetic evocation of his childhood and the geography of his native land, an overview of Guatemala’s history from the Popol Vuh to the present, and, finally, a sociopolitical essay which portrays Guatemala as the “land of the eternal tyranny.” Using Marxist analysis, Cardoza y Aragón discusses those issues he considers key to understanding the crossroads facing Guatemala at that historical moment. He questions the idea of a Guatemalan national unity, while bringing the Indian question to the forefront. He also proposes the need for a sweeping revolution to bring about the consolidation of Guatemalan nationality as well as equality and freedom to all its people. Although decidedly anti-imperialist in tone, the essay also emphasizes the internal structure of class and racial oppression, thus breaking away from the nationalist interpretation of Guatemala’s socioeconomic plight that dominated the political discourse of the period.
Cardoza y Aragón further develops his thesis regarding the national question and the revolution in La revolución guatemalteca (1955; The Guatemalan revolution). Written during the last days of the Arbenz administration, this controversial essay discusses the external and internal conditions that brought about the 1954 military takeover. Although a rigorous analytical piece, the essay lacks the polished style displayed by Cardoza y Aragón in his previous work.
One of the most important themes of Guatemala, las líneas de su mano, which is further developed in Cardoza y Aragón’s subsequent essays, is the role of the indigenous element in the forging of Guatemala’s past, present, and future. Cardoza y Aragón sets the liberation and incorporation of this sector into the social, economic, political, and cultural life as a precondition for establishing Guatemalan nationality. While emphasizing the prevalence of the pre-Hispanic culture in contemporary Guatemala, Cardoza y Aragón, however, sharply criticizes the indigenista literary movement for its romantic and simplistic representation of the Indian experience. On the other hand, critics have found Cardoza y Aragón guilty of promoting a static view of the Indian population and culture. Still, Guatemala, las líneas de su mano remains one of the most penetrating and profound analyses of Guatemalan society, having laid the foundations for further discussion concerning the Guatemalan national question, specifically on the role of the indigenous population in the nation-building process.
Cardoza y Aragón’s essays on Mexican art are recognized as some of the most thought-provoking works on Mexican artistic trends and their main exponents. La nube y el reloj (1940; The cloud and the clock) is widely regarded as an indispensable work on Mexican painting. In this seminal essay, Cardoza y Aragón traces the historical evolution of Mexican painting, discusses the work of contemporary Mexican painters, and offers his thoughts concerning artistic creation. While recognizing Mexican mural painting as one of the highest expressions of the Mexican Revolution, he also stresses its universal character. In Orozco (1959) and México: Pintura de hoy (1964; Mexican Art Today), as well as in other full-length studies, Cardoza y Aragón offers illuminating insights into the work and personality of the major Mexican artists of this century. Guatemalan artists and writers such as Rafael Landivar and Miguel Ángel Asturias were also the object of Cardoza y Aragón’s inquisitive mind. His last major work, Miguel Angel Asturias: Casi novela (1991; Miguel Angel Asturias: almost a novel), is another fine example of his hybrid essay and poetic prose.
Cardoza y Aragón also wrote an array of essays in journals and newspapers. Some of his most important essays, published in the influential journal Cuadernos Americanos (American notebooks), were later included in Guatemala con una piedra adentro (1983; Guatemala with a stone inside). Contrary to what the title seems to imply, the book is not exclusively dedicated to Guatemalan political and cultural themes; it also contains important essays on Mexican artistic life, including sketches of several major Mexican artists and writers, such as David Alfaro Siqueiros and Alfonso Reyes.
Born 21 June 1904 in Antigua, Guatemala. Self-taught. Lived in Paris and studied first medicine, then arts and politics, 1921–29. Lived in Mexico, 1932–44, 1954–92. Returned to Guatemala during the rebellion against Ubizo, 1944, and collaborated with the new president, Juan José Arevalo. Cofounder, Revista de Guatemala (Guatemala review), 1945–51. Founder, Casa de la Cultura y el Movimiento Guatemalteco por la Paz (House of culture and Guatemalan movement for peace). Diplomat in Sweden, Norway, and the Soviet Union; Guatemalan ambassador to Colombia and Chile. Married Lya Kostakowsky. Contributor to El Nacional Dominical and Los Suplementos de El Nacional (Supplements to The national). José Clemente Orozco professor, National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico City, from 1980.
Awards: Quetzal de Jade Award, 1979; Rubén Darío Prize, 1986. Order of Aguila Azteca, 1979. Died in Mexico City in 1992.
Essays and Related Prose
Carlos Mérida, 1927
Torre de Babel, 1930
Rufino Tamayo, 1934
La nube y el reloj, 1940
Apolo y Coatlicue: Ensayos mexicanos de espina y flor, 1944
El pueblo de Guatemala, la United Fruit y la protesta de Washington, 1954
Guatemala, las líneas de su mano, 1955
La revolución guatemalteca, 1955
Nuevo Mundo, 1960
José Guadalupe Posada, 1964
México: Pintura de hoy, 1964; as Mexican Art Today, 1966
Círculos concéntricos, 1967
Guatemala con una piedra adentro, 1983
Malevich: Apuntes sobre su aventura icárica, 1983
Antología (selections), 1987
Tierra de belleza conυulsiυa, edited by Alberto Enríquez Perea, 1991
Miguel Angel Asturias: Casi novela, 1991
Other writings: poetry, memoirs, exhibition catalogues, and books about travels in Russia (1946) and Mexican art and culture.
Albizúres Palma, Francisco, “Cardoza y Aragón,” in Diccionario de autores guatemaltecos, Guatemala City: Tipografia Nacional, Colección Guatemala, vol. 13, 1984
Arias, Arturo, “Consideraciones en torno al género y la génesis de Guatemala, las lineas de su mano,” Tragaluz 2, no. 15 (May 1987):24–28
Figueroa Ibarra, Carlos, “Luis Cardoza y Aragón: La redención del desterrado,” Plural 14, no. 160 (January 1985):26–31
Flores, Angel, “Luis Cardoza y Aragón,” in Spanish American Authors: The Twentieth Century, New York: Wilson, 1992
Mandujano Jacobo, Pilar, “Luis Cardoza y Aragón,” in Diccionario de escritores mexicanos, siglo XX, Mexico City: National Autonomous University of Mexico, 1988
Paz, Octavio, “Luis Cardoza y Aragón (1904–1992),” Vuelta 16, no. 191 (October 1992):50–51
Rodríguez, Francisco, “Luis Cardoza y Aragón: Las paradojas de la escritura,” Plural 22, no. 264 (September 1993):52–55
Salgado, María A., “Guatemala,” in Handbook of Latin American Literature, edited by David William Foster, New York: Garland, 1992:317–32
Talavera, Laura, “Luis Cardoza y Aragón: La última entrevista,” Nexos 15, no. 178 (October 92):5–7
Xirau, Ramón, “Review of Poesías completas y algunas prosas by Luis Cardoza y Aragón,” Vuelta 1, no. 6 (May 1977):32–33
Zimmerman, Marc, and Raúl Rojas, Guatemala: Voces desde el silencio: Un collage épico, Guatemala City: Oscar de León Palacios y Palo de Hormigo, 1993
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