Carlos Fuentes is one of Latin America’s greatest writers, remarkable as both a fiction writer and an intellectual. An enthusiastic participant in conferences and international forums, he has given countless interviews in which he talks about his life, literary ideas, world view, books, obsessions, and desires. He is cosmopolitan, sophisticated, and vigorous, as well as an assiduous inquirer and intense creator. Author of numerous essays, he also writes novels and stories, chronicles, articles, reviews, literary criticism, translations, plays, and movie scripts. Although he has published a dozen books of essays, many others are scattered in publications throughout the world. Of his writings his nonfiction prose is the least studied, but it is of enormous influence in political, literary, and cultural discussions.
Fuentes began his career as a critic when, along with Emmanuel Carballo and Octavio Paz, he founded the review Revista Mexicana de Literatura (Mexican review of literature) in 1954. He undertook this endeavor, he explains in an interview with Jonathan Tittler in 1980, “with the express purpose of combatting the narrowness of literary chauvinism, of opening our windows to the world, and particularly to the rest of Latin America.” Paris: La revolución de mayo (1968; Paris: the May revolution), his first nonfiction published as a brief book, best defined as a political chronicle, became famous and widely read among students and leftwing intellectuals. His first book of essays, La nueva novela hispanoamericana (1969; The new Hispanic American novel), in which he reflects on the new Latin American narrative, is one of his best-known works, and frequently considered the theoretical exposition of his own fiction. Fuentes writes about literature, especially the novel, constantly and extensively, but he also writes on political, social, and economic subjects, as well as history, culture, and life in Latin America. His essays are not limited to explicating his own writings: they are also part of the vast project that characterizes his creative effort. As in the novel, in the essay he seeks to formulate the many complex and interacting sides of history and culture, in which writing is conceived as a boundless verbal exploration arriving at knowledge only through the imagination.
Two books center on his own country: Tiempo mexicano (1971; Mexican time), and Nuevo tiempo mexicano (1994; New Mexican time). However, although Mexico is his main concern, Fuentes characteristically extends his perspective to all of Latin America, elaborating an intricate and expansive understanding of its many manifestations, often counterpointing its past and present and conjoining its Indian and Spanish inheritance. A good example of this is the long essay, El espejo enterrado (1992; The Buried Mirror), where Fuentes explores the 500 years of what he considers the life of the American continent torn between dream and reality, between the precious cultural inheritance ranging from the stones of Chichén Itzá and Machu Picchu to modern Indian influences, from the baroque of colonial times to contemporary literature, and the failure and crisis of its political and economic systems.
The variegation in Fuentes’ fictional prose also appears in his essays. He constantly rereads and rewrites his own tradition, dismantling old schemes in literary, historical, political, and ethnic fields. For Fuentes, there is a silence hidden behind the sterile rhetoric in Latin American literature that overshadows the vitality of language and creation, and of the history and identity of Latin America. In his work, this becomes an assertion of the American universalism expressed in an intense confluence of speeches and cultures, incessantly revolving in multiple shadings. His essay prose is not only lucid, dense, and subjugating, but also precise, erudite, and polemical. It follows a linearity in the development of thought, drawing together disparate elements and unfolding a multiple perspective with which he rejects the pretense of totality and sufficiency of closed systems.
Much of the innovation of his essays lies in their aesthetic texture. Fuentes writes in a characteristically autobiographical and anecdotal voice, but unlike the familiar essay, his themes are of an elevated nature. There is a constant essaying self, with attenuated variations (it almost disappears in La nueva novela hispanoamericana), which becomes an axis from which the tensions of his discourse are displaced and unfolded. Fuentes’ essays exhibit a breadth and depth of knowledge and assume an intelligent readership not willing to be guided by formulas. Fuentes does not accept the restrictions of genre; rather he favors their intermixture. He flouts univocal views and Cartesian continuity, claiming instead the plurality and convergence of language as a cognitive process which is able to grasp a reality that is multiform and plural. In this sense, language becomes one of his main themes (José Carlos González Boixo, 1988).
In his essays, Fuentes accumulates cultural information, displaying a vigorous process of comparisons, interactions, pronouncements, remarks, convergences, and divergences.
Counterpoints abound: “Desire in the western world decreases in inverse proportion to the increasing number of objects capable of satisfying it” (Tiempo mexicano); evocations: “Whoever has been in the city of Buenos Aires knows that the most fantastic flight of Borges was born in a backyard …” (La nueva novela hispanoamericand); counterpositions: “History is not an uninterrupted development, but a winding, spiralmovement…” (Valiente mundo nuevo [1990; Brave new world]).
Fuentes often freely combines serious, highly sophisticated language with humor and slang, as well as familiar and colloquial language. He sometimes mixes tragic and comic modes or interweaves high and popular culture. His tone may be refined but can quickly become visceral and ardent. Stylistically, Fuentes leads the reader along many tangents, resulting not in aimless thought but in an intensification of the vision he offers. For him this enriching use of language compensates for the many centuries of silence in Spanish American literature.
Polemical, courageous, and outspoken (politically he defines himself as center-left), Fuentes has become a controversial writer. Nevertheless, he is admired and highly respected, for he has given expression to deep Latin American feelings, defending their justice and freedom, and maintaining a characteristically critical attitude against oppressive political schemes throughout Latin America and the rest of the world. In his essays he is essentially critical, but also maintains what he calls the horizon of literature—that is, memory and desire as imagination in our own time, so that we can witness both the past and the future.
BLANCA M.GARCÍA MONSIVAIS
Born 11 November 1928 in Panama City. Parents were Mexican; he later became a Mexican citizen. Lived in the United States, Chile, and Argentina, then returned to Mexico at age 16. Studied at the Colegio Frances Morelos; National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico City, LL.B., 1948; Institut des Hautes Études Internationales, Geneva. Member, then secretary of the Mexican delegation, International Labor Organization, Geneva, 1950–52; assistant chief of press section, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mexico City, 1954; press secretary, United Nations Information Center, Mexico City, 1954. Editor, Revista Mexicana de Literatura, 1954–58, El Espectador
(The spectator), 1959–61, Siempre (Always), from 1960, and Política, from 1960.
Secretary, then assistant director of the Cultural Department, National Autonomous University of Mexico, 1955–56. Head of Department of Cultural Relations, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1957–59. Married Rita Macedo, 1959 (divorced, 1966): one daughter; married Sylvia Lemus, 1973: one son and one daughter. Mexican ambassador to France, 1974–77. Fellow or visiting lecturer/professor at various American and British universities, 1974–87; taught at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1978–83, and Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, from 1984. Awards: many, including Villaurrutia Prize, 1975; Gallegos Prize (Venezuela), 1977; Reyes Prize, 1979; Mexican National Award for Literature, 1984; Cervantes Prize, 1987; Darío Prize, 1988; New Order of Cultural Independence (Nicaragua), 1988; Prince of Asturias Prize (Spain),
1994; Grinzane Cavouch International Prize (Italy), 1994; National Order of Merit (France), 1997; honorary degrees from eight universities.
Essays and Related Prose
París: La revolución de mayo, 1968
El mundo de José Luis Cuevas, 1969
La nueva novela hispanoamericana, 1969
Casa con dos puertas, 1970
Tiempo mexicano, 1971
Cervantes, o, La crítica de la lectura, 1976; as Don Quixote; or, The Critique of Reading, translated anonymously, 1976
Myself with Others: Selected Essays, 1988
Valiente mundo nuevo, 1990
El espejo enterrado, 1992; as The Buried Mirror: Reflections on Spain and the New World, 1992
Geografía de la novela, 1993
Tres discursos para dos aldeas, 1993
Nuevo tiempo mexicano, 1994
Por un progreso incluyente, 1997
Other writings: 14 novels (including La region más transparente [Where the Air Is Clear], 1958; Las buenas conciencias [The Good Conscience], 1959; La muerte de Artemio Cruz [The Death of Artemio Cruz], 1962,; Aura, 1962; Cambio de piel [A Change of Skin], 1967; Terra nostra, 1975; La cabeza de la hidra [The Hydra Head], 1978; Una familia lejana [Distant Relations], 1980; Gringo viejo [The Old Gringo], 1985; Cristóbal nonato [Christopher Unborn], 1987; La campaña [The Campaign], 1990), eight collections of short stories, three plays, and books on Latin America.
Collected works edition: Obras completas, 3 vols., 1974–(in progress).
Dunn, Sandra L., “Carlos Fuentes: A Bibliography,” Review of Contetnporary Fiction 8 (1988)
Foster, David William, in Mexican Literature: A Bibliography of Secondary Sources, Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, 1992
Jackson, Richard L., “Hacia una bibliografía de y sobre Carlos Fuentes,” Revista Iberoamericana 31, no. 60 (July-December 1965):297–301
Reeve, Richard, “An Annotated Bibliography on Carlos Fuentes, 1949–1969,” Hispania 53, no. 4 (1970):595–652
Anthropos issue on Fuentes, 91 (December 1988)
Benítez, Fernando, Prologue to Obras completas by Fuentes, vol. 1, Mexico City: Aguilar, 1974:9–76
Blanco Aguinaga, Carlos, “Sobre la idea de la novela en Carlos Fuentes,” Cuadernos Políticos 23 (1974):73–108
Boschi, Liliana Befumo, and Elisa Calabrese, Nostalgia del futuro en la obra de Carlos Fuentes, Buenos Aires: García Cambeiro, 1974
Brody, Robert, and Charles Rossman, editors, Carlos Fuentes: A Critical View, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982
Brushwood, John S., The Spanish American Novel: A TwentiethCentury Survey, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1975
Durán, Gloria, The Archetypes of Carlos Fuentes: From Witch to Androgyne, Hamden, Connecticut: Archon, 1980 (original Spanish edition, 1976)
Durán, Manuel, “Carlos Fuentes,” Tríptico Mexicano (September 1973):51–133
Faris, Wendy D., Carlos Fuentes, New York: Ungar, 1983 García Gutiérrez, Georgina, Los disfraces: La obra mestiza de Carlos Fuentes, Mexico City: El Colegio de México, 1981
Giacoman, Helmy F., editor, Homenaje a Carlos Fuentes: Variaciones interpretativas en torno a su obra, New York: Las Américas, 1974
González, Alfonso, Carlos Fuentes: Life, Work, and Criticism, Fredericton, New Brunswick: York, 1987
González Boixo, José Carlos, “La obra ensayística de Carlos Fuentes,” Anthropos 91 (December 1988):7–10
Guzman, Daniel de, Carlos Fuentes, New York: Twayne, 1972
Harss, Luis, and Barbara Dohmann, “Carlos Fuentes o la nueva herejía,” in Harss’ Into the Mainstream, New York: Harper and Row, 1967
Hernández, Ana María de López, editor, Interpretaciones a la obra de Carlos Fuentes: Un gigante de las letras hispanoamericanas, Madrid: Beramar, 1990
Levy, Isaac Jack, and Juan Loveluck, editors, Actas: Simposio Carlos Fuentes, Columbia: University of South Carolina, 1980
Monsiváis, Carlos, “Notas sobre la cultura mexicana en el siglo XX,” in Historia general de México, vol. 2, Mexico City: Colegio de Mexico, 1977:303–476
Paz, Octavio, “La máscara y la transparencia,” Prologue to Cuerpos y ofrendas: Antología by Fuentes, Madrid: Alianza, 1972
Poniatowska, Elena, !Ay vida, no me mereces! Carlos Fuentes, Rosario Castellanos, Juan Rulfo, la literatura de la onda, Mexico City: Mortiz, 1985
Tittler, Jonathan, interview with Fuentes in Diacritics (September 1980)
Vernier, Martha Elena, “Escritura lateral: Ensayos de Carlos Fuentes,” in La obra de Carlos Fuentes: Una visión multiple, edited by Ana María Lopez de Hernandez, Madrid: Pliegos, 1988
World Literature Today issue on Fuentes, 57, no. 4 (1983)
Zúñiga, Dulce Ma., Intertextos: Calvino, Borges, Fuentes, Guadalajara: University of Guadalajara, 1989
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