Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


Adam Buenosayres

I've been catching up with a lot of the BTBA contenders, and still mean to sort them all out, but Leopoldo Marechal's Adam Buenosayres (Norman Cheadle) [McGill-Queens] calls for separate consideration, not just as a likely shortlister. (Not a review; for that, Michael Orthofer's your go to guy for that.)

A satirical tour de farce, the novel is a strange hybrid, at once foundational and anomalous to Argentinian (and Latin American) literary tradition. Heavy on pastiche and parody, it leans on both Joyce (see below) and Dante (both exiles, I note; Marechal's exile from Argentinian culture was internal, for Peronist leanings), in the latter's case on Vita Nuova (Beatricial idealization, esp in Book VI, "The Blue Notebook") and Inferno (Book VII, "Journey in the Dark City of Cacodelphia"), though more in its score-settling aspects; Cervantes is also prominently in the mix. It is no less sparing of the theological or metaphysical, but no less chauvinistic as it takes Swift kicks at the pretentions of 1920's Argentina. The eponymous hero not only traverses Buenos Aires but in some ways embodies it (as do his circle, as too the Dantean circles).

Reception and influence: From Stephen Dedalus in Argentina, Richard Canning [TLS $ub only sorry]:
"Abundantly spattered with manure.” Thus Eduardo González Lanuza’s splenetic review of Leopoldo Marechal’s first novel, which appeared in the Argentinian journal Sur in 1949. Lanuza acknowledged that Marechal had been deeply influenced by James Joyce’s experimentation in Ulysses, but he dismissed Adán Buenosayres as derivative and disrespectful of the city in which it was set. Julio Cortázar was rather more impressed, hailing the novel as “an extraordinary event in Argentine literature”, even if he initially found it “incoherent” [see here]. Cortázar was most drawn to Marechal’s formal daring – an experimentation that informed his own writing style in novels such as Rayuela (1963; Hopscotch). It was a fellow Latin American Joycean, the Cuban writer José Lezama Lima, who first insisted on the connection between Adán Buenosayres and Rayuela. His own magnum opus, Paradiso (1966), adopts a similarly subversive approach to narrative orderliness and dialogic effect, this time applying it to his own city, Havana.
And as Cheadle points out in his introduction, so too the praises heaped up by Carlos Fuentes, Fernando del Paso, Ricardo Piglia, Ernesto Sábato, Augusto Roa Bastos ...

Canning again (til fair use runs out):
As Norman Cheadle’s lucid introduction points out, though the structure of Adam Buenosayres also invites comparison with Ulysses – its length; its mapping of plot across just three days; its episodic chapters; its self-conscious plurality of narrative modes; its textual jokes, puns and self-referentiality – in many ways the closer textual source remains A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. For Buenosayres, like Stephen Dedalus, is a writer, and this novel, like Joyce’s, is not only a Bildungsroman but a Künstlerroman [ntm a Roman à clef, with Xul Solar figuring prominently (and taking it in good humor, unlike Borges)]. The epic sense of disproportion characteristic of Marechal’s prose reflects just as much the awesome fear and opportunity felt by the young artist as the effects of rapid social transformation in the Argentinian capital immediately after the First World War. This was the age of Martinfierrismo, a literary renaissance focused on the journal Martin Fierro, which was promoted through the capital’s tertulias or literary salons, attended by a crowd of native writers, artists and thinkers, some lately having sailed back from Europe. [...] Marechal’s politics moved consistently away from liberalism, and by 1946 he was a functionary in what Borges termed the “Nazi-Fascist-Peronist dictatorship”. He was also a Catholic nationalist, and a key distinction between Adam Buenosayres and Ulysses relates to a paradoxical, even duplicitous element both in Adam’s character – based on that of the young Marechal [quoting his poetry] – and in the guiding presence of his author: aesthetic radicalism coupled with radical sociopolitical conservatism. [...] The internationalist horizons of the characters in Adam Buenosayres tend to be undermined not just by obdurate local forces of self-interest, but also by an underlying scepticism or contempt towards an ongoing history of European influence [...]

There's more to it than that, the sharp social satire f'rinstance (portrait of the society as a young country), and given its scope its oddness makes for some unevenness (and it wears its prejudices on its sleeves). But it's essential reading for a fuller picture of Argentinian literature, spinning gold out of the dross of what preceded it, and setting its course for the second half of the century.

For notes on my other reading, now and in future, see my postings over to TheFictionalWoods.