Central American Avant-Garde Narrative: Literary Innovation and Cultural Change (1926–1936)

by Adrian Taylor Kane

Description

This book is in the Cambria Latin American Literatures and Cultures Series headed by Román de la Campa, the Edwin B. and Lenore R. Williams Professor of Romance Languages at the University of Pennsylvania.

This book analyzes the relation between cultural changes and experimental fiction written during the 1920s and 30s. This era, known in Latin America as the historical avant-garde, was characterized by a wave of literary and artistic innovation. By framing several Central American novels and short stories from this period within the highly dynamic political and intellectual cultures from which they emerge, this study analyzes the way in which novelists Miguel Ángel Asturias, Luis Cardoza y Aragón, Flavio Herrera, Rogelio Sinán, and Max Jiménez employ subversive narrative strategies that undermine previously dominant intellectual paradigms.

This study demonstrates how these writers undermine the conventions of nineteenth-century realism and naturalism through a variety of experimental narrative techniques while simultaneously rejecting the discourse of positivism. This had significant social implications given that positivism—the notion that true knowledge could only be obtained through observable scientific data—was abused by Latin American military dictators during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a means of oppressing indigenous groups and working-class citizens under the guise of social progress. This book thus argues that the use of experimental narrative strategies in these novels is not merely for the sake of artistic innovation, but, rather, that these literary works manifest a desire for modernization through social and cultural change. The study concludes by pointing to the undeniable influence that these authors have had on the trajectory of contemporary Central American fiction.

The Central American works analyzed in this study are significant contributions to the Latin American avant-garde, but have been overlooked for two reasons. First, until recently, the main focus of critics of the Latin American avant-garde has been on poetry and manifestos rather than fiction. Second, there has traditionally been a general lack of attention in Latin American literary criticism to the Central American region as a whole. Central American avant-garde fiction is therefore a field that has been dually marginalized by literary critics who have tended to focus on works of other genres by authors from countries with major metropolitan centers and well-established literary circles. Merlon H. Forster and David K. Jackson, authors of Vanguardism in Latin American Literature, have described research on the Central American avant-garde as “sketchy,” noting that “much more careful work is needed.” This book thus responds to a real need within Latin American literary criticism by addressing an area of research that, because of being overlooked, remains only partially understood.

By identifying innovative Central American texts and demonstrating the ways in which they participate in the broader Latin American avant-garde movement, this study contributes to a more complete picture of this continental project of cultural renovation. The author challenges scholars to rethink the concept of the avant-garde as solely a group phenomenon, and establishes a direct link between literary experimentation and the cultural contexts of these Central American countries. This study contributes to recent scholarship that has emphasized the importance of this brief period of radical experimentation in the development of subsequent literary movements in Latin America and contributes to the ongoing dialogue in the humanities about the concept of modernity in relation to various forms of cultural representation.

Central American Avant-Garde Narrative is an important book for all literature, Spanish, and Latin American studies collections.


 

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