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“I am and I was in many eyes. I am only memory and the memory that one has of me.”
—Elena Garro, Recollections of Things to Come
This book developed from my ongoing study of the texts of Elena Garro (1916–1998), which began at a time when she was still considered a persona non grata in Latin American studies. Garro was not yet acknowledged as an author of status in Latin America; she had received no international prizes, and her works were certainly not canonical within Latin American literary circles. I don’t recall when I first read her narrative, but I know it was not in a formal setting such as graduate school. It was after reading Los recuerdos del porvenir (published in 1963 and translated in 1969 as Recollections of Things to Come) and then the short story “La culpa es de los tlaxcaltecas” (It’s the Fault of the Tlaxcaltecas) from the collection La semana de colores (The Week of Colors, 1964) that I began to formulate my ideas about the Malinche paradigm in general and Garro’s contributions in particular. Garro’s many novels, short stories, and plays were and continue to be an important guide for me in exploring ideas about gender, ethnicity, and cultural memory. She offered an alternative vision of the official narrative of her national history and what it meant to be “Mexican.”
In contrast to Garro’s omission from the literary canon, I can remember clearly the class with Don Luis Leal (1907–2010) at the University of Illinois in which I first read the essays of Octavio Paz (1914–1998). Despite the difficulties of dealing with the infamous word chingada (a term with many meanings, including “the raped one”) that was so daringly discussed in the chapter “The Sons of Malinche” from The Labyrinth of Solitude, Don Luis conveyed the widely held view that Paz was the literary successor of Alfonso Reyes (1889–1959), the great Mexican intellectual of the first half of the twentieth century. By the late sixties, Paz was being widely read in universities and was admired for his poetry and essays. Today he is internationally recognized as one of the major figures in the rich tradition of Latin American writers—a great poet in the pantheon that includes Pablo Neruda and César Vallejo; a consummate essayist in the tradition of Reyes and the Spaniard José Ortega y Gasset (1883–1955); and a diplomat as well. By the time of his death in 1998, Paz was the most dominant cultural voice in Mexico, winner in 1990 of the only Nobel Prize in Literature (and only the third Nobel Prize of any kind) awarded to a Mexican.
Critical references to Paz’s work consistently have used the superlative. George Gordon Wing wrote in Books Abroad in 1973: that “[n]o living essayist in the Hispanic world can match the richness and variety of Octavio Paz’s thought nor the encyclopedic range of his erudition. Not only has he made original contributions in the fields of esthetics, anthropology and comparative religion, but also in his critical essays on literature, art, and the film he has drawn on these fields and a dozen more” (41). Commenting after Paz’s death, Enrique Krauze, a member of the Vuelta group and therefore part of Paz’s inner circle, ventured that Paz “was the greatest and most generous of Mexican writers. No one wrote as much as Octavio Paz about Mexico’s writers and artists” (“The Sun,” 99). The influence of Paz on writers is still evident today, and he is considered to be the literary antecedent of such prominent Mexican authors as Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel Zaid, Carlos Monsiváis, Homero Aridjis, and José Emilio Pacheco (Krauze, “The Sun,” 99). Besides Paz’s influence on writers, his position as editor-in-chief of the literary journal Plural (1971–1976) and then as founder and director of its successor, Vuelta, led to his reputation as “el último ‘cacique cultural’” (the last cultural boss) of the twentieth century (Martínez, “Los caciques culturales,” 29). “Cacique”—a word far more powerful than “boss”—implies the ability to make decisions about who will be published and who will be read. Paz certainly is ascribed that power. Elena Garro, his first wife, often found it difficult to publish after their divorce; she and others attributed those problems to Paz and his circle.2 Whether Paz directly or indirectly interceded against her is difficult to prove. Nevertheless, it is conceivable that members of the Mexican intelligentsia might wish to avoid offending him and therefore rejected the work of his ex-wife.
Paz and Garro had been married in 1937; had a daughter, Helena, in 1939; and were divorced in 1959. Their married life was conflictive and marked by numerous liaisons that generated not only gossip but also literary works in which they and their lovers appear as characters. The novels of the Argentines José Bianco and Adolfo Bioy Casares, who met the couple in Paris in the forties, portray characters who are identified with Garro and Paz.4 Initially Paz was quite the conventional Mexican husband, expecting his wife to play the role of a traditional housewife within the private sphere of the home, as documented in his letters to Garro archived in the Princeton Library. He later encouraged her to participate in his experimental troupe Poesía en Voz Alta. Paz praised her first novel, Los recuerdos del porvenir, calling it one of the best novels of the time. Soon after that brief pacific interlude of mutual recognition, their relationship became increasingly uncivil. They followed very different paths, geographically, politically, and literarily.
As a member of the diplomatic corps of Mexico, Paz was sent to a number of European and Asian venues. During his assignment in India, which began in 1962, he met and married his second wife, Marie José Tramini, who could be seen as a contrast to the volatile and challenging Elena Garro. Garro never remarried, but she and her daughter were constantly together in their travails and travels. She suffered an unofficial exile, living outside of Mexico from 1971 until 1993, in fear of retribution for her conflictive role in the student uprisings of 1968, which culminated in many deaths at the Plaza de Tlatelolco.
In 1968 Paz returned home from his “official exile” as a diplomat in India, having renounced his position in protest against the government’s role in the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre. He became a formidable figure in Mexican cultural life, an icon whose ideas and observations on all aspects of political and esthetic topics were published in his own journals and in the essays that he wrote for other Mexican and international venues. In 1990 he was awarded the Nobel Prize, the ultimate recognition of his significance in international circles.
In contrast to the superlatives and literary accolades heaped upon Octavio Paz, Elena Garro has suffered from what Lucía Melgar has called a “black legend” (Writing Dark Times, 2). Even Garro’s most ardent supporters—writers like Emilio Carballido and Christopher Domínguez and friendly critics like Melgar and Gabriela Mora—acknowledged that she was a difficult person with whom to interact and that she had offended members of both the political and intellectual elite of Mexico with her outspoken ideas about the treatment of Indians and the interference of intellectuals in the student uprising of 1968. Her stormy relationship with Paz and her flouting of social conventions also compromised her literary recognition. Because of these extraliterary factors that hampered the acceptance of her work for publication and translation, Garro is not well known beyond the borders of Mexico, except in some U.S. academic communities. A review of the bibliographic database of the Modern Language Association reveals that 286 studies of her work had appeared in print by 2009. Most of the critical material focusing on Garro has emerged because of the increased involvement of feminist literary critics, a situation with parallels to other female writers of her generation. Argentina’s Silvina Ocampo and Griselda Gambaro, Uruguay’s Armonía Somers, and Mexico’s Rosario Castellanos are prime examples. Not unexpectedly, Paz is the subject of 1,014 entries, reflecting his stature in the academic world.
As an essayist, Paz dealt with such diverse issues as Aztec art, Tantric Buddhism, Mexican politics, neo-Platonic philosophy, economic reform, avant-garde poetry, structuralist anthropology, utopian socialism, the dissident movement in the Soviet Union, sexuality, and eroticism. El laberinto de la soledad (translated as The Labyrinth of Solitude) is considered one of the most influential studies of Mexican character and thought and is still his most famous essay, translated into numerous languages. Also translated and widely read are his politically oriented essays—Posdata (translated as The Other Mexico: Critique of the Pyramid, 1970), Corriente alterna (Alternating Current, 1967), and El ogro filantrópico (The Philanthropic Ogre, 1979)—as well as those dealing with esthetic issues, such as El arco y la lira (1956; translated as The Bow and the Lyre, 1973) and Los hijos del limo: Del romanticismo a la vanguardia (Children of the Mire, 1974), which explores the history of modern poetry from German Romanticism to the avant-garde movements of the 1960s. His critical study is also significant for its erudition; Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz o las trampas de la fe (translated as Sor Juana or the Traps of Faith, 1982), which focuses on the Tenth Muse of Mexican letters, is considered a tour de force. His poetry has also found excellent translators, including one of his most important poems, “Piedra de sol” (Sunstone, 1957), which blends Aztec and classical European mythologies within the circular form that recalls the famous Aztec calendar stone. English readers may also find ¿Águila o sol? (Eagle or Sun? 1951) as well as The Collected Poems of Octavio Paz, 1957–1987 in a bilingual edition with translations by respected translators Eliot Weinberger, Elizabeth Bishop, and Paul Blackburn.
Whereas Paz’s poetry and essay collections are available in most languages of the world, few texts by Garro’s have been translated into English: of her ten novels only Recollections of Things to Come is available in a translation from 1969, along with First Love & Look for My Obituary: Two Novellas, the short stories “It’s the Fault of the Tlaxcaltecas” and “The Day We Were Dogs” from La semana de colores (1964), and three plays: A Solid Home, The Dogs, and The Tree. Thus one of my goals is to introduce the work of Elena Garro to a greater audience that cannot easily access her work in Spanish. Although both Garro and Paz explored the role of time and indigenous myth in Mexican life as well as the impact of historical events on the lives of Mexicans, her themes are primarily centered on power and gender relations within the context of the patriarchy and machismo.
Like many Mexican women in real life and in her own texts, Garro considered herself a victim of the patriarchy. Her work was a way to document and criticize the inequalities and obstacles that she suffered as a woman. Her identity as the wife of Paz at first was a difficult role to accept, as she reveals in her memoir about the first year of their married life, (Memorias de España 1937Memoirs of Spain 1937). Their ideological differences became acute in that first year of marriage, which was spent in the war zone of the Spanish Civil War. How ironic it was to start their life as newlyweds while all around them were scenes of battles, destruction, violence, and death. Paz had been invited to Spain as one of the delegates to the Second International Congress of Antifascist Writers for the Defense of Culture and was touted as one of the up and coming writers of Latin America. Garro was there only because she was the wife of the young poet and was often an embarrassment to Paz because she did not follow the script of the silent and obedient wife. Although their marriage continued for decades after their return from Spain, they would never seem to be on the same page regarding the political and personal issues of importance to the Mexican people. After their divorce, Garro’s identity was still tied to Paz in many references to her: she was now his ex-wife.
I realize that in bringing Paz and Garro together within a single critical work I may be accused of substantiating what Elena Poniatowska complained about in Las siete cabritas: “Elena Garro has remained so intertwined with Octavio Paz that many times it is difficult to separate her work and life from the name of the poet. ‘Ah, the one who was the wife of Paz’ is a phrase that seems to form part of her identity” (111).
In presenting a book on both Paz and Garro, I wish to challenge the stereotype implied in that comment. I suggest that Garro’s role as an intellectual and as a creative influence on Mexican culture should be acknowledged and reevaluated independently of her difficult relationship with Paz and her erratic personality. My analytical study of their work on similar themes will allow the reader to determine whether she was really just the “wife of Paz” or worthy of being considered one of the important independent agents of cultural memory in Mexico, offering unorthodox readings of the past and of contemporary political and intellectual positions on national history and identity.
One way to appreciate the undervalued writings of Garro is to compare her work and ideas with those of her more recognized former husband. In the following chapters I place these two great writers in conversation with each other and thus introduce to a wider audience the role of Elena Garro in formulating oppositional narratives of Mexican national history. This dialogical approach reflects ideas articulated by Santiago Castro-Gómez in an essay on “Traditional vs. Critical Cultural Theory.” Traditional theories of culture posit “man” as a creator of cultural values, evidenced in customs, language, and modes of thinking (Castro-Gómez, 143). Critical Cultural Theory, as Castro-Gomez calls the opposing view, emphasizes the sociopolitical (conflictive) aspect of culture. In other words, culture is viewed as the battleground where the control of meaning is decided (Castro-Gómez, 147). Notice the vocabulary used by Castro-Gómez: culture as the battleground, the contestatory space, where the cultural memory is formulated, where the struggles for meanings and ideologies take place. Based on this perspective, what makes us select only Paz’s reading as the most authoritative viewpoint on La Malinche, on the Mexican Revolution, on the Spanish Civil War and its participants, or on gender relations in general? As a response to this question, this book examines how both Paz and Garro have contributed different perspectives regarding major sociopolitical constructs involved in formulating the cultural memory of the Mexican people.
Memories can be both private and public; that is, memories can belong to an individual but also reflect group history. Cultural memory “is shaped by, and thus conveys or represents, its group history and identity” (Hirsch and Smith, 2), so the agents of cultural transmission—whether people or texts—influence the shape of the future memories of a people. The shaping and reshaping of a collective cultural memory is a process informed by many sources: politicians, academics, historians, journalists, and artists, among others. Canonical intellectuals of twentieth-century Mexico, including Octavio Paz, have been accepted as mediators of the memory of future generations. Today critics recognize that the gender, age, and class (among other characteristics) of a witness or agent of transmission affect the agent’s “reading” of events that form cultural memory. Therefore the formation of cultural memories, like the literary canon, is a construct influenced by subjective factors and by the temporal environment. The representation of gender in cultural memory presents a particular problem because past narratives were mostly constructed and transmitted by men. In response to that shortcoming, a focus of feminist literary critics has been to “redefine culture from the perspective of women through the retrieval and inclusion of women’s work, stories, and artifacts” (Hirsch and Smith, 3). Many critics of Mexican culture would agree with Margo Glantz that in Mexico women had been excluded from the cultural scene until well into the twentieth century (Glantz, Sor Juana, 122); along similar lines I would argue that Garro’s voice has been marginalized in comparison to her husband’s because of both her gender and the inherent contestatory nature of her ideas.
Although “gender” and “memory” are contested concepts, my study provides concrete examples of how two intellectuals of different genders approach the important issues of the past: national identity, gender, ethnicity, and affairs of state. If culture is a representational environment in which certain ideologies are legitimized, what better way to explore the representation of different ideologies than through a study of the way different wars in a country’s history are represented by their key writers? Although many critics have studied the works of Garro and Paz individually, few have compared their perspectives with regard to their focus on a theme that they both experienced personally: war. Rarely do we have a published record produced by two members of the intellectual elite who experienced the same conflicts and impact of a war scene. In the following chapters I analyze their representations of power relations, suffering, violence, and the dynamics of social upheaval concomitant with warfare. In placing these two talented writers in conversation with each other, I hope to introduce to a wider audience the role of Elena Garro in formulating oppositional narratives of Mexican national history.
While I discuss many themes and refer to a broad range of Hispanic writers within the context of Latin American literary history, I have chosen to frame each chapter using the motif of the different wars that affected the lives of Garro and Paz personally and professionally. I chose the theme of war because, as John Limon wrote, “the history of literature began with war and has never foresworn it” (3). Limon begins his story of war-literature with the idea that writing and war have a “perdurable affinity” and that war is “the most vivid of historical markers” (4). Nevertheless, the topic is generally considered a “man’s” theme. As Donna Pankhurst comments in “The ‘Sex War’ and Other Wars: Towards a Feminist Approach to Peace Building,” “the roles of women in war and other types of violent conflict remained almost invisible throughout the world. Accounts of war, through news reporting, government propaganda, novels, cinema, etc., tended to cast men as the ‘doers’ and women as the passive, innocent victims” (13). In general, and certainly in Mexico, women have always borne the major responsibility of transmitting cultural values, including war stories, to the next generation, even though they were rarely responsible for formulating these values and accounts.
In the case of war stories, women are most frequently treated as objects and are seldom the writers of those narratives. In Mexico, as in most countries of Latin America, the many wars and battles that mark their histories have been captured in narratives and poems that provide the cultural memory transmitted to generations. In terms of the Mexican Revolution, the first civil war of the twentieth century, the list of writers whose narratives deal with the topic is sizable. Any popular inventory includes figures such as Mariano Azuela (Los de abajo [translated as The Underdogs]), Rafael Muñoz (¡Vámonos con Pancho Villa! [Let’s Go with Pancho Villa!]), and Martín Luis Guzmán (El águila y la serpiente [The Eagle and the Serpent]) of the early period, and the list continues with more recent names: Carlos Fuentes (La muerte de Artemio Cruz, 1962 [translated as The Death of Artemio Cruz, 1964]), Jorge Ibargüengoitia (Los relámpagos de agosto [The Lightning of August], 1965), Fernando del Paso (José Trigo, 1966), and Ignacio Solares (Columbus, 1996).
Even when women did write about wars, critical literary reviews often neglected their narratives. In studies of Mexican history and literature, for example, the women who participated in the Mexican Revolution, as well as those who wrote about it, were long ignored. Historians acknowledge now that women participated in the Revolution in many ways (Sarah Buck, Jane Jaquette, Mary Kay Vaughan); the Revolution is the founding myth of the Mexican political state (Knight, “Myth of the Mexican Revolution,” 223), so it is important that the cultural memory reflect the real contributions of women both as warriors and as writers.
One of the rediscovered texts is the novel Cartucho (Cartridge, 1931) by one of the pioneering female Mexican writers of the early twentieth century, Nellie Campobello, which narrates the battles of the Revolution from the unusual perspective of a young girl. Although Cartucho first met with critical success, it later disappeared from cultural memory. To ignore women writers not only preserves the myth that “war is men’s business” but also maintains a false picture of national history. By choosing the theme of war, I not only propose to question the mythology of war’s gender but also hope to show that Elena Garro was very much involved in exploring and questioning the cultural construction of the myths that form the foundation of Mexican national identity.
Chapter 2, “All in the Family: Paz and Garro Rewrite Mexico’s Cultural Memory,” deals with the way Mexicans narrate the clash between the Amerindian peoples and the Spanish conquistadors under Hernán Cortés, who arrived in 1519. The Mexicans are unique among Latin Americans because they frame the bloody wars of conquest using the biblical myth of Adam and Eve as their foundational story. Cortés is cast in the role of Adam, and the indigenous woman called La Malinche, who was his guide and translator, is the Mexican Eve. In this chapter I explore in greater depth the differences in the perspectives of Garro and Paz on the foundational couple and their role in the cultural memory of Mexico regarding national identity as well as gender and ethnic issues. I have included a review of the perspective of Paz’s grandfather, Don Ireneo Paz, who had presented a nineteenth-century version of La Malinche characterized by a decidedly romanticized view of the “first couple.” Octavio Paz reproduced aspects of this earlier construct, especially its view of gender relations, in his essay “The Sons of Malinche,” from The Labyrinth of Solitude. In contrast, Garro presents in Los recuerdos del porvenir and “La culpa es de los tlaxcaltecas” her acknowledgment of the burden of the Malinche paradigm, but the women she depicts rebel against the cultural stereotypes associated with La Malinche. Moreover, for Garro, mestizaje (the mixture of Indian and Spanish blood or cultural elements) and indigenist issues were of crucial importance to Mexican national identity. Anne Doremus has maintained that Paz, like his mentor Samuel Ramos, did not look upon mestizaje as “a significant factor in the development of the national character. In their view, indigenous culture made little impact on the Mexican psyche” (384). Garro, on the contrary, shows how important indigenous issues are to Mexico.
Two civil wars affected the lives of the Paz and Garro families, the first of which was the Mexican Revolution of 1910–1917. In Chapter 3, “War at Home: Betrayals of/in the Mexican Revolution,” I explore how the two writers deal with the Mexican Revolution, a civil war that split the country into many factions that still manifest themselves in Mexico today. The theme of the Mexican Revolution is explored by the two writers in dissimilar ways; their viewpoints are influenced by gender differences and the divergent ideologies of their backgrounds. As documented in the essays of Paz and in Garro’s more varied compositions (her essays in Revolucionarios mexicanos, the novel Los recuerdos del porvenir, short stories from La semana de colores, and the full-length play Felipe Ángeles), their understanding of the successes and failures of the Mexican Revolution continues to influence narratives of cultural memory.
Chapter 4, “Love and War Don’t Mix: Garro and Paz in the Spanish Civil War,” deals with the multifaceted topic of a civil war that both Paz and Garro experienced in the battle zone itself: the Spanish Civil War. It was a time of great ferment and attracted participants from across the globe. Latin American intellectuals were not on the sidelines but were actually instrumental in defining the conflict, fighting with both pen and sword. Mexico as a country played a key role in supporting the Republicans and then in accepting the many Spanish émigrés who sought asylum; these refugees would later exert a strong influence on Mexican cultural history. Both Paz and Garro were part of this intellectual milieu, but they had markedly different experiences during their time in Spain, with personal and professional repercussions that shaped their subsequent work and personal relationship. I use Garro’s autobiographical Memorias de España 1937 and her novel La casa junto al río (The House by the River, 1983) and poems as well as essays by Paz (including his autobiographical Itinerario) to explore the impact of the Spanish Civil War on the developing psyches of these two creative writers.
Chapter 5, “Tlatelolco: The Undeclared War,” focuses on a watershed experience for Mexico and for each writer individually. The cataclysmic events that took place on the Plaza de Tlatelolco in 1968, referred to as the Tlatelolco Massacre, have been recognized by most historians, social scientists, and literary historians as marking a decisive transformation in Mexican culture and politics. The lives of both Paz and Garro were dramatically changed by this tragic incident. I explore the impact of this national conflict on their writing and on their personal and public personas. Garro reproduced the traumas of her political and personal involvements in the events of that time by means of the novel Y Matarazo no llamó (And Matarazo Did Not Call, 1991) and the play Sócrates y los gatos (Socrates and the Cats, 2003). Paz documented his point of view in the poem “México: Olimpiada de 1968” (Mexico: Olympics of 1968, first published in La Cultura en México on October 30, 1968) as well as in Posdata (translated as The Other Mexico: Critique of the Pyramid, 1970) and later essays.
In the first five chapters I concentrate on the literary expressions of Paz and Garro representing their responses to major national and international conflicts that traumatized large groups of people politically, economically, and culturally. In the final chapter, “From Civil War to Gender War: The Battle of the Sexes,” I explore the texts that are labeled romans à clef—Garro’s novels in which she thinly disguises her own experiences and her turbulent relationship with Paz. While the conflicts that marked their personal relationship seem to have found expression in her writings, Paz appears to have disregarded his relationship with Garro in his writings. In order to learn more about his attitudes toward women, I analyze Paz’s work that focuses on female figures in Mexican culture.
People who know the details of Garro’s biography note that Garro unquestionably reproduced aspects of their personal life in romans à clef, particularly the novels Testimonios sobre Mariana (Testimonies about Mariana, 1981) and Mi hermanita Magdalena (My Little Sister Magdalena, 1998). I propose, however, that these novels are more than autobiographical documents. They represent a biting critique of the patriarchy and women’s role in twentieth-century society.
Whereas Garro plays with her public’s curiosity about her exposé of “life with Paz,” he, in contrast, is more reserved in his representation of personal data, including the turbulent years with his first wife and daughter. While his poetry looks at women primarily as objects, his most open analysis of male-female relations appears in The Labyrinth of Solitude, in which he concludes that women are the “mysterious other” and male-female relations are destined to repeat the Malinche paradigm. I carefully examine the nature of his most consistent interaction with a female figure, found in his major study Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz o las trampas de la fe (1982; translated as Sor Juana or the Traps of Faith, 1988).
This book introduces the reader to two of the most original, provocative, and critical literary figures of twentieth-century Mexico. In presenting the multifaceted creative worlds of Garro and Paz, and their relationship to each other, I offer a comparison of the ideologies of the two writers and how they influenced cultural memory with regard to gender, ethnicity, politics, and the arts. Their uncivil conflict marking the clash between the dominant tradition transmitted by Paz versus the previously marginalized perspective of Garro serves as a reflection of the battle for cultural memory in Mexico.