*González, José Luis
González, José Luis
José Luis González’s cultural, sociological, and historical essays of national interpretation are some of the most provocative and ambitious works written in and on a Latin American country. They can be understood only within the context of Puerto Rico’s concerns about national identity, being an ELA (Spanish acronym for Free Associated State), with but not within the United States.
González’s first essay, Literatura y sociedad en Puerto Rico (1976; Literature and society in Puerto Rico), set up, under the aegis of socioliterary methods and using Marxist thought, the history of Puerto Rican literature from the age of Spanish conquerors until the first decades of the 20th century. His El país de cuatro pisos y otros ensayos (1980; The Four-Storeyed Country and Other Essays) can be considered a continuation, in a broad sense, of Literatura. The book, and the well-known title essay in particular, is an outstanding attempt to interpret the reality of contemporary Puerto Rico.
González suggests that the role of the Creole bourgeoisie, as reflected clearly in texts, was suddenly and hopelessly frustrated because of the American intervention in 1898, and therefore disabled as a driving force of national identity. The polemical condition of the essay, as assumed by the author, is centered in literary sociology and points to the colonial condition of the island, economically attached to the United States.
The fundamental role played by the exile is a key theme in González’s essays. As he points out in “El escritor en el exilio” (The writer in exile), “in certain circumstances exile can prove a very effective form of service to one’s country.” That is, it seems, what he means to say in in “The Four-Storeyed Country,” which answers, in a Socratic manner, the question of how Puerto Rican culture has been affected by American colonial presence. González looks for a response using Marxist theories on national identities, whose roots can be found in Engels’ assertion that “nation is a cultural fact,” or in Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci’s concept of “national popular culture,” as well as in dialectic dialogues with former intellectuals and activists of the national conciousness such as Eugenio María de Hostos or Pedro Albizu Campos.
National consciousness, according to González, has never been possible because of the “four storeys” that make up the Puerto Rican national edifice: 1) native “taínos,” African slaves and Spanish conquerors; 2) immigrants of the first decades of the 19th century (Spanish American political refugees, Corsicans, Majorcans, Catalonians, Irish, English, Dutch, and French); 3) the American intervention in 1898; and 4) late American capitalism and Puerto Rican populism of the 1940s. González concludes that, generally speaking, the impact of the American presence can only be negative for the ruling class, whereas for the remaining social classes it has implied modernization.
The criticism Gonzalez’s theories have received is centered, mostly, on three points: 1) the treatment given to Pedro Albizu, a former Puerto Rican independence leader, as a simplistic personification of pro-Spanish conservatism; 2) the misuse of Marxist methodology, such as the use of culture in terms of social classes, making a distinction between “culture of the masses” and “culture of the elite”; and 3) the biased racial division of two Puerto Rican nations, in economic as well as cultural terms, influenced by the surrounding Latin American examples of two-nation theories, based on the gap between native population and white conquerors or immigrants.
Nueva visita al cuatro piso (1987; New visit to the fourth storey) is not only a kind of continuation of “The FourStoreyed Country,” but also an explanation of the lack of class consciousness of Puerto Rican proletarians.
Born 8 March 1926 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Raised and educated in Puerto Rico. Writer, from 1943. Exiled to Mexico, 1950s: became a Mexican citizen.
Professor of literature, National Autonomous University of Mexico, Coyoacán, and University of Guanajuato. Cofounder, Puerto Rican Communist Party.
Awards: Villaurrutia Prize, 1978.
Essays and Related Prose
Literatura y sociedad en Puerto Rico, 1976
El país de cuatro pisos y otros ensayos, 1980; as The Four-Storeyed Country and Other Essays, translated by Gerald Guinness, 1990
Nueva visita al cuatro piso, 1987
Historia de vecinos y otras historias, 1993
Other writings: several collections of short stories, the novel Balada de otro tiempo (1978; Ballad of Another Time), and memoirs.
Foster, David William, editor, Puerto Rican Literature: A Bibliography of Secondary Sources, Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1982:118–20
Ruscadella Bercedóniz, Isabel, “Bibliografía de José Luis González,” Texto Crítico 12, (1979):115–27
Díaz Quiñones, Arcadio, Conversación con José Luis González, Río Piedras: Huracán, 1976
Flores, Juan, “The Puerto Rico That José Luis González Built: Comments on Cultural History,” Latin American Perspectives 3 (Summer 1984):173–84
Flores-Caraballo, Eliut D., “Class-Bound Reductionism vs. the Multidetermination of National Cultures: An Essay on Puerto Rican National Consciousness,” Studies in Latin American Popular Culture 10 (1991):25–58
Méndez, José Luis, Para una sociología de la literatura puertorriqueña, Havana: Casa de las Américas, 1982
Rodríguez de Laguna, Asela, Notes on Puerto Rican Literature: Images and Identities: An Introduction, New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1987
Rodríguez de Laguna, Asela, editor, Images and Identities: The Puerto Rican in Two World Contexts, New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Books, 1987
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