‘Mexican’ Literature by Raúl Bravo Aduna

The words “Mexican Literature” make me feel uneasy. I hardly know what to do when I come across them. And it is not that I’m not a “good Mexican reader”—whatever that means—, but there’s something about that particular literary label that I find disturbing. The problem is, I cannot easily identify one specific type of literature that can be catalogued as Mexican. And when I actually can find a piece or text that could be labeled in this manner, there’s usually something lost in the expedition.

Jorge Cuesta (1903-1942), perhaps one of the first established social commentators in Mexico, was troubled by this same idea a little bit over eighty years ago. In his famous essay “Literature and Nationalism”, Cuesta explored the problems of writers looking forward to configure a national literature not only in Mexico, but in any other country as well. “The idea of ‘returning to a real Mexican identity’ has not seized to be a one-way trip,” Cuesta argues, “a protest against tradition; it has not seized to be an idea of Europe against Europe, an anti-patriotic feeling.” For him, tradition is something that shouldn’t be looked for or preserved even, tradition is in a constant flux and should be lived, day by day, not traced down so it can be labeled and catalogued. To the eyes of Cuesta, these notions of trying to systematize literature according to geographical standards backfire their own purpose, since they help to impoverish the very nation they’re trying to praise, glory or distinguish—by isolating it from a bigger, more holistic comprehension of Literature, of Life itself.

It seems fairly improbable to read Cuesta’s ideas without remembering Goethe’s famous words on this very same topic: “Nowadays, national literature doesn’t mean much: the age of world literature is beginning, and everybody should contribute to hasten its advent”, which are contrasted, or rather complemented, by Franco Moretti in his “Conjectures on World Literature”, with Marx and Engels’s: “National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the many national and local literatures, a world literature arises.” What is interesting of Moretti’s essay is that he suggests that world literature—in opposition, of course, to national literatures—is not an object, but rather a problem. And the biggest problem regarding the conflict of national literatures remains the passing in silence of it.

I honestly don’t know if Literature should or shouldn’t be national, international, regional or local. I couldn’t care to give a monological and/or monolithic answer. However, I can’t but remember Julián Meza, a “Mexican” writer who can easily be inscribed into the literary canons of France, England or Australasia, it doesn’t really matter, and who past away last February without ever being part of any important list of Mexican writers. He believed that Great Literature could never be circumscribed to some imaginary lines that simulate borders. I’ve been invited to write about contemporary “Mexican Literature” and I must confess that I do not feel up to the challenge. And I couldn’t care less. Literature itself could not care less. Reading should wander, without caring about nationalities, without caring about geographies, without caring about nothing but reading on its own. And “to wander”, as Julián Meza once wrote, “is a destination chose by those who condemn the nationalistic and chauvinistic estates of immobility.” And I couldn’t agree more.



Raúl Bravo Adunais an essayist, poet and translator. He teaches English at the Panamerican University and is an editor of Cuadrivio, a cultural and literary journal based in Mexico City.



1 Comment

  1. I think this commentary fails to be of any help to shaping the idea of what such a problematic concept such as Mexican literature can be. I agree with the arguments here exposed by the author, but I wish he had gone further as to present or exemplify the wide variety of works Mexican writers are producing. I agree that definitions and samples are never enough, but this text finds conformity in defying a phenomenon by stating what it is not, instead of stating what it is by means of showing and explaining.

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