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Civilisation and Authenticity

The Search for Cultural Uniqueness in the Narrative Fiction of Alejo Carpentier and Julio Cortázar


Eugenia Demuro

The question «What is Latin America?» has been at the heart of writing from and about Latin America from Columbus’ conquest to present-day discussions and nationalising projects. What this belies is the inherent question «What is Latin America compared to Europe?» This book lays bare the underlying logic of a Latin Americanist discourse through some of the continent’s most influential thinkers, including Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, José Martí, José Enrique Rodó, José Vasconcelos, Fernando Ortiz, Roberto Fernández Retamar, Néstor García Canclini, and Walter Mignolo.
Civilisation and Authenticity presents case studies of two of Latin America’s most renowned and representative twentieth-century writers, the Cuban Alejo Carpentier and the Argentine Julio Cortázar and reveals how desire to define Latin America is entwined throughout their groundbreaking experimental novels, focusing on Carpentier’s Los pasos perdidos (1953) and Cortázar’s Rayuela (1963). New research into the poetics of these authors and jargon-free analyses of their fiction outline how the Latin Americanist discourse persists in both writers’ representations of the Latin American landscape and people as either Europe’s «authentic» and marvelous «Other», or its «civilised» and modern counterpart.
Civilisation and Authenticity presents new research for experts on Carpentier and Cortázar and will be indispensable to students of Latin American literature. Its delineation of the Latin Americanist discourse makes it an ideal reference for anybody studying Latin American cultural studies.


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Introduction xv


i historical problems proposed by definitions of Latin American culture and identity. This work focuses on two particular authors as exemplary of the function of this discourse: Alejo Carpentier (1904–1980) and Julio Cortázar (1914– 1984). These authors’ most indicative works, Los pasos perdidos (The Lost Steps, 1953) and Rayuela (Hopscotch, 1963) respectively, explore questions of a unique Latin American subject defined in relation to Western culture, and do so by renewing the modes, language and techniques of literary practices. This study of their fiction is thus an examination of how they formulate the relationships between literature, history and reality. To do this, it examines their work in the larger framework of the Latin Americanist discourse, focusing on how historical positions regarding Latin American culture and identity are reproduced in the mid-to-late twentieth century through literary practice and poetics. In this endeavour, this work moves away from the tendency to view mid-to-late twentieth century Latin American literature merely as an instance of ‘magic realism,’ which limits the critical evaluation of literature to a few aesthetic characteristics. In Carpentier’s and Cortázar’s fiction, Latin American identity is neither presented nor produced progressively, rather, it is reproduced according to the historical problematic of a dichotomy between European and Latin American cultures. The problem of how to identify and represent Latin America thus remains the same: the dual structure of Latin American culture and identity. What changes in twentieth century literature is the mode of expression; the contemplation of Latin America’s...

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