*Rodó, José Enrique
Rodó, José Enrique
“Superbly irritating,” “insufferable,” “admirable,” “stimulating,” are some of the qualifiers offered by the Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes in his prologue to Ariel, the best known of José Enrique Rodó’s literary works and one of the most influential pieces in the field of the Latin American essay. Despite its brevity, it has had a lasting impact on the evolution of Latin American literature in general, and Latin American thought in particular.
Ariel may be irritating to some contemporary readers, for Rodó writes in a rhetorical fashion that defies the attention of today’s readers. This style is the culmination of modernismo, whose towering figures were Nicaragua’s Rubén Darío and Cuba’s José Martí. While they deserve a special place in Latin American literary history mainly as poets, Rodó is the quintessential pensador, a prototype of the French philosophe and the clearest example of the Latin American thinkers who dedicated themselves almost exclusively to the craft of the essay.
Ariel was published in 1900 when Rodó was only 29, but the author had achieved enough maturity to grasp the political context resulting from the Spanish-American War and the warning signals of unstoppable U.S. dominance of the hemisphere. The literary setting was staged by modernismo, a Latin American intellectual movement that elevated literary standards to a level never before reached in the Spanish language. By the first decade of the 20th century, modernismo had captured the philosophical approach of idealism, substituting it for positivism, which had dominated the social and political arena since the demise of Romanticism. The application of Comte’s philosophy of “order and progress” to guarantee Latin American development was the logical crowning touch of the search for a cultural and political model proposed by Rodó’s most direct predecessor, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento. His search for civilization and his proposal that tbe United States be used as a model to replace the remaining traces of Spain’s influence is exactly what Rodó invites the reader to reject in Ariel.
The essay narrates a seminar-style lecture given by a professor, and uses symbolic characters borrowed principally from literary classics. From Shakespeare’s The Tempest (1610) Rodó takes Prospero and the angel, Ariel. In Montaigne’s Essais (1580, 1588) Caliban appears in the role of a cannibal, who was mentioned by Christopher Columbus in his Diary, and is later revamped in Ernest Renan’s Caliban: Suite de la Tempête (1878), alongside a transformed Prospero more to Rodó’s taste. While Shakespeare made Caliban out to be a savage, Renan painted him as a deformed main character, contrasting sharply with Ariel, the son of air, representing a fading spirituality. With brief mentions of Calibán by Darío in one poem and by the Argentine writer Paul Groussac in a speech in the emblematic year of 1898, Rodó provides the final warning for Latin American survival facing Caliban, who represents a culture based on utilitarianism, democratic mediocrity, and material goal-seeking. Rodó pays tribute to a number of aspects of North American culture (“although I do not love them, I admire them”). However, he stresses the need to recover the roots of the Latin American way of being—a more spiritual, authentic, Mediterranean, classical Greek sense of civilization, represented by Ariel.
While he recognizes “the grandeur and power of work” and the role of curiosity, philanthropy, and industry in the United States, he invites Latin American youth to adopt an authentic model of beauty, quality, and good taste that he insists are part of an innate Hispanic heritage.
While criticism of the negative aspects of Latin American societies is absent in Ariel, Rodó can claim that his aristocratic attitude is paradoxically a precedent for the harsher literature that the regionalists would generate in the first decades of this century. He will also be recognized as the initiator, along with Martí and Darío, of an anti-imperialist literature, a permanent subgenre of both Latin American literature and a more sophisticated chapter of Latin American thought known as dependencia theory. Rodó’s dichotomy reappeared in a variety of books during the course of the century, until its repudiating character was transformed into a positive symbol of mestizo culture by Cuban writer Roberto Fernández Rematar in Caliban (1971).
Since Ariel, the resulting negative consequence of the use or abuse of the work is called arielismo, a pervading trend that consists of a Latin American moral and spiritual superiority, rejecting measures of modern development, and consistently blaming the United States for all the ills of Latin America. Venezuelan journalist Carlos Rangel aptly summarized this trend in his bestseller Del buen salvaje al buen revolucionario (1976; The Latin Americans: Their Love-Hate Affair with the U.S.).
The lasting impact of Ariel explains the irritating overuse of Rodó’s lines or key words such as arielista or rodoniano. Without reading the book or mentioning the author, presidents during inaugurations, diplomats in international conferences, editorialists in search of contrasting arguments, and professors seeking to impress students have used (and still use) Rodó’s best-known phrases to make a point.
Besides the specificity of Ariel’s impact on both Latin American intellectual history and its place in the evolution of the Latin American essay, Rodó’s lasting legacy as an essayist is best illustrated by his use of variations of the genre, as expressed in his philosophically oriented books and in his works as a literary critic. The most outstanding example of the first is Motivos de Proteo (1909; The Motives of Proteus), a more global proposal for intellectual enrichment. Its motto is a correction of D’Annunzio’s “To reform or to die” into “reformarse es vivir” (to reform oneself is to live). Its form is a variable structure of essays, prose poems, anecdotes, and parables in prose.
As a literary critic using the form of the essay, Rodó’s bestknown work is El mirador de Próspero (1913; Prospero’s outlook), a compendium of articles, lectures, speeches, literary comments, and travel columns. In this book Rodó elevates each variation of essayistic prose to the highest level attempted in Latin America. However, as with Ariel, the dense declamatory nature of his writings made his style a progressively less attractive example for future generations.
Born 15 July 1871 in Montevideo, Uruguay. Studied privately, and at the Escuela Elbio Fernández. Cofounder, Revista Nacional de Literatura y Ciencias Sociales (National review of literature and social sciences), 1895–97. Professor of literature, University of Montevideo, 1898–1902. Elected to the House of Representatives, 1902–05 (resigned) and 1908–14. Contributor to La Nación, Buenos Aires, from 1907, and traveled to Europe as its correspondent, 1916. Fell ill in Genoa, Fall 1916. Died (of abdominal
typhus and nephritis) in Palermo, 1 May 1917.
Essays and Related Prose
La vida nueva, I: “El que vendrá” and “La novela nueva”, 1897
La vida nueva, II: Rubén Darío, 1899
Hombres de América, 1899
La vida nueva, III: Ariel, 1900; edited by Leopoldo Alas (Clarín), 1948, Gordon Brotherston, 1967, Raimundo Lazo, 1968, Ángel Rama, 1976, and Abelardo Villegas, 1982; as Ariel, translated by F.J.Stimson, 1922., and Margaret Sayers Peden, 1988
Motivos de Proteo, 1909; as The Motives of Proteus, translated by Ángel Flores, 1928
El mirador de Próspero, 1913
Cinco ensayos, 1915
El camino de Paros (meditaciones y andanzas) (European travel notes), 1918
Los últimos movitos de Proteo, edited by Dardo Regules, 1932
Parábolas, y otras lecturas, 1935
La tradición intelectual argentina, edited by Rafael Alberto Arrieta, 1939
Ideario, edited by Luis Alberto Sánchez, 1941
La América nuestra, edited by Arturo Ardao, 1977
Collected works editions: Obras completas, edited by José Pedro Segundo and Juan Antonio Zubillaga, 4 vols., 1945–58, and Emir Rodríguez Monegal, 1957, revised edition, 1967.
Scarone, Arturo, Bibliografía de Rodó, Montevideo: Imprenta Nacional, 2 vols., 1930
Albarrán Puente, Glicerio, El pensamiento de José Enrique Rodó, Madrid: Cultura Hispánica, 1953
Benedetti, Mario, Genio y figura de José Enrique Rodó, Buenos Aires: University of Buenos Aires, 1966
Benedetti, Mario, Rodó, el pionero que quedó atrás, Montevideo: La República, 1991
Bollo, Sarah, Sobre José Enrique Rodó, Montevideo: Imprenta Uruguaya, 1951
Bosco de Bullrich, Nieves, La imaginación del signo, Buenos Aires: Vinciguerra, 1993
Costabile de Amorin, Helena, Rodó, pensador y estilista, Washington, D.C.:
Organization of American States, 1973
Crow, John A., “Ariel and Caliban,” in his The Epic of Latin America, Berkeley: University of California Press, revised edition, 1980:675–97 (original edition, 1946)
Earle, Peter G., and Robert G.Mead, Jr., “José Enrique Rodó (1871–1917),” in their Historia del ensayo hispanoamericano, Mexico City: Andrea, 1973:61–64
García Morales, Alfonso, Literatura y pensamiento hispánico de fin de siglo: Clarín y Rodó, Seville: University of Seville, 1992
Gómez-Gil, Orlando, Mensaje y vigencia en José Enrique Rodó, Miami: Universal, 1992
González Maldonado, Edelmira, El arte del estilo en José Enrique Rodó, San Juan, Puerto Rico: Edil, 1968
Guevara, Dario C., Magisterio de dos colosos: Montalvo, Rodó, Quito: Minerva, 1963
Langhorst, Frederick Hart, Three Latin Americans Look at Us: The United States as Seen in the Essays of José Martí, Jose Enrique Rodó and José Vasconcelos (dissertation), Atlanta: Emory University, 1976
Lauxar, B., Rubén Darío y José Enrique Rodó, Montevideo: Agencia General de Librería y Publicaciones, 1924
Martínez Durán, Carlos, José Enrique Rodó, en el espíritu de su tiempo y en la conciencia de América: Homenaje al maestro de América en el centenario de su nacimiento, 1871–1971, Caracas: Central University of Venezuela, 1974
Pereda, Clemente, Magna patria, Rodó: Su vida y su obra, Caracas: Imprenta Universitaria, 1973
Perez Petit, Victor, Rodó: Su vida, su obra, Montevideo: Garcia, 1937 (original edition, 1918)
Simón, Luis, José Enrique Rodó, San José, Costa Rica: Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports, 1985
Torres Ríoseco, Arturo, “José Enrique Rodó and His Idealistic Philosophy,” in his Aspects of Spanish-American Literature, Seattle: University of Washington Press,
Zaldumbide, Gonzalo, José Enrique Rodó, Montevideo: Garcia, 1944 (original edition, 1919)
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