“There are few of us critics in any literature”: An Interview with Christopher Domínguez Michael


Mexican literary critic Christopher Domínguez Michael. Photo: María Baranda.

This interview centers on the latest two books by Christopher Domínguez Michael, both published in 2020. The first, Ensayos reunidos 1984-1998, was published in Mexico by the Colegio Nacional, and the second, Ateos, snobs y otras ruinas, was published in Chile by Ediciones Universidad Diego Portales. We discussed these books, but also the sinuous and intricate relationships between politics, literature, and history. It is impossible to summarize in a few digital pages everything that Domínguez Michael says in these two books. However, in this interview, we look at some matters that I found compelling for readers.

Although I interviewed  Domínguez Michael as a literary critic, his work, extensive and complex, far exceeds that field. I am not the first to highlight the quality of his prose and critical thinking. But in a world where the essay, as a literary form, seems so displaced by academic and journalistic writing, and other forms of criticism, the literary pages written by Domínguez Michael are unique, original, and intelligent, engaging us in controversial and passionate readings.

Marcelo Rioseco: The prologues to the Antología de la narrativa mexicana del siglo XX [Anthology of Mexican narrative of the twentieth century] take up a large part of your Ensayos reunidos 1984-1998 [Collected essays 1984-1998]. I’d like to start this conversation by casting a glance back at the past. Perhaps we might undertake the classic—and necessary—exercise of evaluating what remains, or what persists in remaining, of this literary endeavor of yours, which took up five books. Have your preferences for and sympathies toward the anthologized authors changed at all? Was the Antología received as you expected, or were there surprises?

Christopher Domínguez Michael: We’re talking about a couple of volumes (divided into five inner books) that appeared in 1989 and 1991. That was a long time ago. In 1996, I added ten new authors because in the first edition I, the anthologist, was the youngest among them. Their reception was contradictory: I introduced myself into Mexican literature with an ambitious project that no one has attempted since, at least as far as narrative. But it was received with mistrust, and not only due to my youth, although I did start publishing at the age of eighteen. My name was already known because, from 1983, I was literary reviewer for the magazine Proceso, then very popular, and I had well-earned fame as a brash young man. But by the time the Antología appeared, I had already spent two years at Vuelta, Octavio Paz’s magazine, and our many ill-wishers saw the book as an instrument thought up collectively by that much-hated and envied group. An unjust accusation, but one I’m honored to have leveled against me: Jorge Cuesta, the father of literary criticism in Mexico, was singled out for the same thing: putting his name on a poetic anthology that was really a team effort of the Contemporáneos (the Generation of 27 was their peninsular equivalent). But they really did make the anthology together, and they decided the bravest among them should sign it.

In my case, there was no supervision whatsoever. The director of the FCE, poet Jaime García Terrés, and managing editor Adolfo Castañón (also a member of the Vuelta editorial team, and therefore consistently maligned) left me entirely at my liberty. But even after Paz’s death, I have continued to be accused, in the ghostliest regard, of being his voice from beyond the grave; and—another honorable charge against me—of having inherited from him an almost political power. Paz was Bretonian. He couldn’t be bothered with the novel, and he didn’t like my Antología—as I describe in Octavio Paz en su siglo, the biography I published in 2014—because I gave too much space to Carlos Fuentes, who was a nemesis of his at the time, and because, out of Paz’s works, I anthologized poetic prose and not the short stories of Eagle or Sun?, of which he felt very—perhaps too—proud. I had no intention of pleasing him. His vanity was elsewhere, quite far from me, from Mexican narrative, or from the Latin American Boom, which already lay dead. He even hated the word boom. In between the two volumes of my Anthología he won the Nobel Prize, and we hardly ever caught a glimpse of him.

But, since false modesty is the most tolerable of sins, as Chamfort or some other French moralist once said, in the Antología I laid out a canon that persists, for the most part, as even my adversaries recognize. But since the book is no longer in circulation, some see fit to cast it aside without ever having held it in their hands. They say there are no women writers in it, but of course there are: Elena Garro first and foremost, who never published in Vuelta, and many others, “given new meaning” with much song and dance in this century, whose memories I pulled out of oblivion.

An anthology of 162 authors, living and dead, is a fool’s errand. I would not repeat it, and I advise any young person against it. My anthology expressed a longing to democratize public life in Mexico, and this longing, perhaps unfortunately, included literature. It was a panorama of the main trends of the day, with some authors and more than a few stories and novels I already didn’t like, as I made clear at the time. It was a representative anthology of the Mexican fin de siècle, not a compendium of my aesthetic preferences. This is another reason I never republished it, except for the prologues you read in my Ensayos reunidos 1984-1998, because they bear on my history as a critic. But, if I were forced to repeat the experience, I would make do with fifteen prose writers.

M.R.: Are Mexican critics truly prepared to understand the literature that’s currently being written in Mexico? Is there any critical school or tradition in Mexico a young writer might hang on to in order to develop a career in criticism?

C.D.M.: There are always few of us critics in any literature, and under the present conditions of transition from the written word to online journalism, there are even fewer. Unlike what was initially thought when the Internet was born, nobody reads long texts on a screen. To publish a thirty-page essay online is to throw it in the trash. I had the privilege of being educated at Vuelta, where an essay of that length could still be published… a largesse that has now disappeared. I don’t like to claim our present age holds a monopoly over all ills, but without the old literary journals I don’t see where essayists can be educated. Twitter and Facebook likes run precisely in counter to a critical temperament. I blame those who make use of the tweet, whether from the left or the right, for having hoisted a Trump, a Bolsonaro, or a López Obrador to power. In the United States, Leon Wieseltier just launched his magazine, Liberties, which will only be available in print. We must retrace our steps. It has been common, throughout the history of western literature, for the reviewer to become a poet (for the muse) or a novelist (for money), before settling into the role of the literary critic. In Mexico, young critics cease to be critics when they are accepted as students or professors at North American universities. And you never hear of them again. These days will pass. A Cyril Connolly or a George Steiner must be brought back to life. I will never see it.

M.R.: To what extent is politics not a problem for literatures like those of Latin America, which are so enamored with realism? You mention this yourself in the case of the Novel of the Revolution, pointing out, in this case, the subordination of literature to History, with a capital H. Is this what’s behind the persistence of realism in our literatures?

C.D.M.: Firstly, the modern novel was born in the nineteenth century in relation to realism, as has been correctly studied by marxist or postmarxist critics like Lukács and Moretti. But I don’t see Latin American literature as enamored with realism, unless it is confused with the naturalism of Zola, a more interesting writer than he seems… Forgetting about the famous “magical realism,” whose genetics and genealogy have been studied with great scrutiny, what’s realist about Rulfo, García Márquez, Lispector, Lezama Lima, Monterroso? The fact that Bolaño makes use of History with a capital H in 2666 does not make the book pejoratively realist. The novels we pick up at the airport and train stations—now those are realist. Cheap literature for people in a hurry. I have little interest in this phenomenon, which incensed me as a younger man. Today it strikes me as nightmarish, as another non-realist, Juan José Arreola, once said, to imagine a world where everyone is reading Mallarmé. Is Mariana Enriquez a realist? No, she comes from the Southern Gothic of the United States; a realist in the anachronistic sense of the concept was John Steinbeck, not Faulkner nor Twain before him.

M.R.: In the same context, several times in your Ensayos Reunidos you point out that there is no political novel of Mexico’s ‘68, and if one does exist, that novel would be the 56 pages of Revueltas’s El apando [The hole]. Might we say the political novel has somehow failed in Mexico? Or, rather, that the problem is not literary but historical: the great historical tragedies need perspective, time, a slow process of decantation in order to finally be told.

C.D.M.: Is there any great novel about Chile’s September 11? I don’t know of one. But there will be. Many years passed before Napoleon found his novelist in Tolstoy, or the French Revolution in the Hugo of Ninety-Three, or the wonderful novels that appeared just at the centennial of the Bolshevik coup. There are, of course, exceptions: Grandfather Azuela for the Mexican Revolution, Pílniak for the Russian. Essential testimonies of the Gulag, like Solzhenitsyn’s, or Victor Kemplerer’s diary on Nazism, are not, strictly speaking, novels. The novel needs time, the breath of many generations on the nape of the writer’s neck. The question is badly asked, and I was one of the many who asked it badly. In 1990, there was no reason the Great Novel of Mexico’s ‘68 should yet exist—nor is there in 2021, when there is not yet a novel on the much-celebrated neo-Zapatista uprising of 1994. But, on ‘68, there are memorable fragments in García Ponce, in Del Paso, not to mention some unforgettable poems. And I have no doubt that the great novel of Mexico’s ‘68 is El apando. It is lacking in nothing, and it has nothing in excess. The novel is not the nanny of History.

M.R.: Beyond the Revolution and its literature, what role has nationalism played in Mexican narrative? I’m thinking of the verses by Salvador Novo you cite on page 113, which I think you read as a judgment passed on a nationalist culture whose writers have been obligated to represent the social subject in conflict with history. I’m impressed to note the poem cited is from 1934. Do you have the impression that this problem has already been overcome in Mexican narrative, or on the contrary, has it grown all the more acute over time?

C.D.M.: Nationalism—an illness cured by traveling, as Pío Baroja said—is a feverish ailment that comes and goes. Since the nineteenth century it has been, if anything, a failing of genetics. In Mexico today, thanks to the populist government, we have a resurgence of the seediest and most jingoistic of nationalisms, through publicity and demagoguery. This will have no impact on good literature. Cuesta and Novo already put it in its place—literary nationalism, I mean—in the thirties, as you mention. Why would someone like Fabio Morábito, one of Mexico’s principal writers in prose and verse, waste his time with it? He’s doing his own thing, what’s incorrectly called the “literature of imagination,” as if there could be any other kind. Concern with history is another matter. Fernanda Melchor is a keystone in the reconstruction of narco-literature—something amply contemporary, but not due to the subject, tragic or journalistic depending on point of view, but rather because she’s a magnificent writer. In terms of vernacular talent, I haven’t read anything like her since José Agustín.

M.R.: When you speak of Alfonso Reyes, Julio Torri, Mariano Silva y Aceves, and Carlos Díaz Dufoo the younger, you call them “the greatest prose writers of Mexican literature.” My question has to do with the place from which they write—we might call them writers who work “in the shadow of History.” Does this have something to do with the fact that these writers were all in the Ateneo de la Juventud, Mexico’s Athenaeum of Youth? This was a place where, to quote Jiménez Rueda, “Most Atheneaists did not understand the political and social revolution, while they revolutionized the cultural life of the country.” How might we understand this apparent paradox?

C.D.M.: I thought I would die before I heard Jiménez Rueda’s name again; that happens to you when you anthologize 162 authors. He was a minor nationalist. Reyes was the one who wrote the most moving historical testimony of Mexican literature, speaking of the death of his father, an upstart general who died in the Ten Tragic Days, in his Oración del 9 de febrero [Prayer on the ninth of February]. Torri’s De fusilamientos [On firing squads] is an ironic aestheticization of the Mexican Revolution that outrages the ultra-Bolsheviks (in Merleau-Ponty’s sense). It must outrage them for a reason. Revolutionaries in politics are always conservatives in aesthetics and vice versa, as is well known.

M.R.: When, in the section titled “Contemporáneos de todos los hombres” [Contemporaries of all men], you speak of Octavio Paz, Juan José Arreola, Agustín Yáñez, Fernando Benítez, José Revueltas, and Juan Rulfo, you write: “The foundation these six authors strengthen is not only universal artistic mastery, which is a great deal, nor bringing letters up to date with the clock of the age, which is unforgettable, but rather the conscience of a literature in absolute freedom, which is everything.” Could you say a little more about the relationship between freedom and literature?

C.D.M.: Speaking of Mexico, with The Labyrinth of Solitude, with The Fair, with The Edge of the Storm, with Los errores [The errors] (one of Latin America’s contributions to the drama of communism, but sadly Revueltas is one of those writers who doesn’t travel, I don’t know why), with Pedro Páramo, these authors freed us from literary nationalism and its aesthetic and moral constraints. They gave us freedom. The next generation, thanks to them, could read Simone Weil or Bataille. That’s freedom.

M.R.: Rulfo is a writer who has attained unanimity in Latin America, but he does not seem to have had the same luck in the English-speaking world. What do you think is behind this phenomenon? A lack of curiosity? A culture with little interest in translation?

C.D.M.: If the Anglo-sphere doesn’t translate, it is all the worse for it. I feel sorry for our friends at the NYRB, translating classics from central Europe that have been in Spanish since I was a teenager, and who knows what else… They love and understand Rulfo and his Pedro Páramo in the Norwegian fjords, in Arab countries, in German… If the New Yorkers miss out on him, what a shame. Of course, I’m happy to see Bolaño’s success in English because he’s a great writer, but that only happens every so often—in his case, the stars aligned. Günther Grass, when he met Rulfo at a bookstore in Mexico City, bent down and kissed his hand. What more can I say? And of course, Rulfo was not the best person in the world, which is irrelevant, but I say these things because I’m a Saint-Beuvian scholist.

M.R.: Among the critics mentioned and analyzed in Ensayos reunidos there are beloved figures like, for example, Monsiváis and Zaid, among many others. If you had to do a personal rewrite of the section “Narrativas de hoy: los realismos y su crítica” [Today’s narratives: realisms and their critics], who would be the critics who, in your opinion, have opened most space in Mexico? Which ones do you see as closest to your heart?

C.D.M.: Zaid is beloved to me, but not Monsiváis. I’m from a different parish, as the French say. Certainly, as was proper in the 1960s, Monsiváis blurred the line between the lowbrow and the highbrow. From a distance, he was very pop. He should have gotten in touch with Dwight Macdonald, another of my secret critics. And they spoiled us in that sense, but what can we do, the deed is done. They made us believe Pedro Infante and his movies were fantastic. When my French ex-wife came to Mexico, I gave her an intensive course in the Mexican cinema of the so-called Golden Age. She had me watch Maurice Chevalier and I asked her to forgive me. That’s what came out of Monsi’s raucous education, all of it passed down through abominable prose. He was of great value in the democratization of Mexico, and in the gay cause, of course. He was also a demanding reader of poetry, and if he had dedicated himself to poetry criticism, Mexico would have lost a lay patrician and gained a critic… He stands out in Mexico for something that is ignored elsewhere: his Protestant—Methodist—origins, in a Catholic country, at a time when such religious dissidence was very hard to bear. That explains his indignation toward injustice of all orders. He was not the last, but the only of our puritans, to paraphrase another homosexual, the great Santayana.

Zaid did and does practical criticism, in economics as well as poetry. He’s one of the few original thinkers in the Spanish language, and even though he has been translated to English he’s looked down upon because he’s antiacademic (he has called for the dismantling of UNAM, for a start), and a very strange sort of Catholic—not a conservative, but perhaps a communitarianist. Zaid is still waiting for his readers, who are somewhere close to Iván Ilich, to Christian anarchism, to Mounier’s personalism. His time will come. As far as the critics of the previous generation—Evodio Escalante, José Joaquín Blanco, Adolfo Castañón, Eduardo Milán—they all abandoned the vocation, sooner or later. It’s a shame.

M.R.: Let’s talk a little about Ateos, esnobs y otras ruinas [Atheists, snobs, and other ruins], another book of yours published in 2020. This book forms part of a long critical series including two previous books: Los decimonónicos [Those of the nineteenth century] (2012) and La sabiduría sin promesas: Vidas y letras del siglo XX [Wisdom without promises: life and letters of the twentieth century] (2009). It would be impossible not to evaluate this large-scale intellectual labor. Are you satisfied with the “close” of this trilogy?

C.D.M.: I aspire to be a universal critic; I don’t see why a Latin American can’t be one. Of the many articles and essays I write, most are pieces of a puzzle I have in my head. They are not free-drifting texts, and they do not claim to be. La sabiduría sin promesa, whose first Mexican edition is from 2000 and will keep growing, is my balance sheet for the twentieth century. Los decimonónicos harbors my passion for “that imbecile century,” as Léon Daudet called it. In opposition to him, I believe—as does Julien Gracq—that between Stendhal and Proust, the long nineteenth century was the promised land. Without the absence of magic of the Enlightenment, and without the horrors of the wars of religion of the twentieth. Ateos, esnobs y otras ruinas, in its first, Chilean edition, was the first version of a work in progress that will continue in the coming years. It will serve to express my growing incomprehension of the new. Let me repeat: if I envy Paz for anything, it was for his ability to understand the present. I have no such ability—I’m an antiquarian, but I do my best. I live in the past because I believe it will come back. I place my bets on cycles; Vico is my favorite philosopher.

M.R.: In the prologue to The Dyer’s Hand, Auden claims that as long as the writer keeps writing about “poetry or fiction, his dream of Eden is his own business, but the moment he starts writing literary criticism, honesty demands that he describe it to his readers, so that they may be in the position to judge his judgments.” I don’t know if this is a question of honesty or not, but I would like to know if, as a critic, you think the reader needs this explanation as Auden claims. And, if so, what could you say about your own way of doing literary criticism? Is it something that must be explained, or does it emerge from your work of its own accord?

C.D.M.: No theory can be derived from my criticism. Literary theories are useful for students: lazy ones or ones that are just starting out. When you mature as a reader, you leave them behind. Barthes himself did. I’ve capitalized a great deal on marxism, on Foucault, on psychoanalysis, but I’m still a Latin American eclectic. I have thought in public and I have written with my own truth, which shifts, just as readings shift. Dostoyevsky is not the same when you’re 18, when you’re 25, or when you’re 60. If I’ve been honest, I’m not the one who has to say so.

M.R.: At the beginning of Ateos, in an article titled “Las ruinas de Palmira” [The ruins of Palmyra], there’s a paragraph that strikes me as very eloquent, where you mention Ernst Jünger’s warning not to get outraged, since—as you point out yourself—“history is a cycle of creation and destruction where good and evil alternate.” In many of your articles, there is an unequivocal critical admonishment of the writers who have been party to totalitarian political systems, or who have participated directly in some of the horrible tyrannies of the twentieth century. It seems to me that there is a critical and also a moral reading of the relation between literature and politics that, in your work, takes in Latin American as well as European writers. What do you make of this relationship in Latin America—the intellectual and literary world’s relationship not only with politics but also with power? Do you think, at this point in the century, we can draw more or less definitive conclusions from this love affair—or, in many cases, this devilishly complex marriage?

C.D.M.: No. I always recall and repeat the name of Khaled al-Asaad, the guardian of the ruins of Palmyra, made a martyr by the Islamic State. This is an intimate duty of memory. And I say Jünger cautioned me against the Alternation of Good and Evil. I take him into account as a devil’s advocate. Jünger’s very human inhumanity makes him a singular writer. I used to admire him a great deal. Now, not so much. He lamented the elimination of the Jews, and I, as a Jew, cannot be satisfied with a bald lamentation. Jünger’s aristocratic indifference to genocide was shared by millions of Germans, although theirs was a drearier version in the end. The English-speakers, who came late to translating Jünger, find him naïve. This time, they’re right. You can’t see 1945 as if it were the Peace of Westphalia of 1648. I change my mind, as you can see, and faced with the issue of morality in literature, I lay bare my own contradiction, which is shared by many: there is no literature without a moral horizon, and at the same time, the only measure by which to judge a work of art is its brilliance. In his life and his work, Oscar Wilde was torn apart by this contradiction.

And Latin American writers’ relationship with power is typically Latin. We have García Márquez with Castro—they have Claudel with Marshal Petain, and all the French writers who served the purposes of Soviet communism and, as Paz said, did Evil on purpose. Or the Spanish writers with the Falange and then with Franco, among whom, it must be said, there were some illustrious examples, like Dionisio Ridruejo, whom Jordi Gracia has studied quite well. We have some fickle cases, like Ernesto Cardenal, in Latin America. All the better.

M.R.: No critics and/or theorists are left out of Ateos; you touch on many well-known thinkers of diverse positions: Žižek, Agamben, Foucault, Byung-Chul Han, Beatriz Sarlo, and Scruton, to name a few. What is your relationship with this sort of criticism, which is, in many cases, academic in both origin and usage? Do you think theory in general (or, as others call it, critical theory) has contributed to a greater understanding of contemporary literature?

C.D.M.: When I was around twenty, my life—before any calculated or deliberate decision—kept me from going to university. I must be one of the few self-taught literary critics, without a university education, who still remain in the world. But I am not anti-academic: how could I be as a passionate reader of Bénichou, Empson, Auerbach, Genette, Menéndez Pelayo, Harold Bloom, George Steiner, Fumaroli, every one of them a university man of the highest order? I was militant from afar in the anti-post-structuralist, anti-theoretical Fronde, in the style of Compagnon, Will H. Corral, José Guilleume Merquior. At its origin is the colossal mistake of the Frankfurt School after the Second World War: minds as brilliant as Adorno’s sowed misguided hatred of the Enlightenment, and now we are literally paying for it with blood. I currently get along better with the marxists who come from humanism, like Kristin Ross or Enzo Traverso or Jameson, than with the postmodernists like Žižek and Agamben, with their mental concentration camps, a Cortazarian model they set up wherever they can. What would an Auschwitz survivor think when someone like Agamben compares their experience to a shopping mall in Milan? Many of the postmodernists, lacking any sense of scale, trivialize history—they lend instruments a metaphysical sufficiency offensive to individual liberty. I’m sorry, but I’m a liberal in the untainted, Cadizian sense of the word. Like Vargas Llosa.

M.R.: Chilean poetry is very present in Ateos. We find articles on Gonzalo Rojas, Enrique Lihn, Nicanor Parra, and writers like Bolaño, whose relationship with poetry permeates his entire body of work. How do you see the tradition of Chilean poetry within Latin America, and how is a country like Chile, which also has a strong poetic tradition, seen from Mexico?

C.D.M.: Chile is a central part of my biography. As a teenager, I met the children and youth who came to Mexico in exile in 1973, some of whom became fast friends. I loved Gonzalo Rojas very much, and admired him too. As an adult, I adopted a child who was born in Santiago de Chile, my stepson, as my second wife, his mother, grew up in Chile. My finest editors are in Chile, and for this reason Chilean literature—not just poetry (I like and dislike Armando Uribe as much as Marco Antonio Montes de Oca, for example, and I hate Teillier as much as Sabines; the Andes do not keep me out of Chile)—is part of my everyday diet. And the critics, from Alone and Father Valente up to my contemporaries, who are my friends, with whom I am always in dialogue. Age and luck meant I did not meet Bolaño, but I consider him both Chilean and Mexican. Along with Colombians like Mutis, García Márquez, Vallejo, and the Hispano-Mexicans who attained this status to various degrees, like Moreno Villa, Cernuda, Tomás Segovia, etc., Bolaño is in my Critical Dictionary of Mexican Literature (2012), which was translated to English, quite wonderfully, by Lisa M. Dillman. I count all those who have made literature in Mexico, and I don’t ask for passports. The Savage Detectives is the best novel written in Mexico since Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry, whom I would have included, if I had not imposed upon myself the restriction of not stepping outside Spanish.

M.R.: In Ateos you also cover Argentine literature, and not only the most consecrated names like Borges, Piglia, or Aira. Rather, the reader comes across an attentive criticism of very current women writers, such as Mariana Enriquez, María Gainza, and Mariana Eva Pérez. Do you think Argentine narrative continues to live up to that long tradition we all know and appreciate, in terms of literary quality?

C.D.M.: Argentina and Mexico are complementary opposites (contrary to what they say, Brazilian literature is small in scale). I couldn’t go without Argentine literature—that complement, unlike Chile’s, that is so hostile and impenetrable. Contrary to what they believe—the exceptions can be counted on the fingers of one hand—we are the cosmopolitan ones: a young Mexican writer will always know more of new Argentine literature than the reverse. Before they made do with their peculiar idea of Paris; now it’s their own internal market. In short, few Mexicans have been able to make themselves known there. Morábito is one of them, perhaps because he’s a Mexican from Alexandria, in Egypt, with Italian parents. My cultural heroes come from the magazine Sur. Vuelta and Letras Libres, my Mexican magazines, come from the same family tree. The Argentine women writers, some of them, are the best of the language, in my view. On the other hand, Argentine poetry—not forgetting Borges as a poet, Juarroz, Olga Orozco—has always been a cut below their narrative. Conversing with Mariana Enriquez, we agreed on how interesting we find the case of a second-row writer like Beatriz Guido. A tumultuous tradition, like Mexico’s.

M.R.: What role does the literary critic play today? Is their voice heard, referenced, or rather a form of resistance? How do you see your own vocation in the literary and cultural field we live in today?

C.D.M.: Literary criticism is the finest of the arts, as Wilde said. And, in literary criticism, high culture resists. The ivory tower Flaubert found threatened: that’s why we must keep the windows wide open to the public square, because the shit keeps rising and rising.

M.R.: I’d like to close this conversation talking a little about your literary and/or intellectual masters, whether they be Mexican, Latin American, or European. Could you talk a little about them, who they are, and what you learned from them?

C.D.M.: There are too many to name. In Mexico, Cuesta and our poet-critics, Paz and Segovia. In Spain, Don Marcelino, who after his death in 1912 was taken hostage by Francoism. Guillermo Sucre, from Venezuela, gave me great encouragement when my Tiros en el concierto [Shots at the concert] (1997) came out, as did Cobo Borda from Colombia. Saúl Yurkiévich, with whom I had the chance to stroll through Coyoacán and Paris. José Miguel Oviedo, who wrote about me, I’m honored to say, as did José Balza, the author of pages I by no means deserve on my literary criticism. I’m a man of the Third Republic, I stick with the Nouvelle Revue Française from between the wars: Suarès, Du Bos, Thibaudet. Also, as poison to kill poison, the Frankfurters and Hans Mayer from the German years, the guardian of the Manns. In all their diversity, in English: Connolly, Kermode, Wilson, Pritchett, Steiner, and the great survivor Denis Donoghue; Berardinelli and the “militant Italian critics”; of my contemporaries, James Wood, Michel Crépu, Gumucio, Gracia of Barcelona, Filippo La Porta of Italy, Rafael Rojas of both Cuba and Mexico… I never stopped buying even the most modest compilation of criticism at the most remote of the old-school bookstores. If I don’t do it, no one will. Criticism, as etymology demands, will always be in crisis.

Translated by Arthur Malcolm Dixon


Arthur Malcolm Dixon is co-founder, lead translator, and Managing Editor of Latin American Literature Today. He has translated the novels Immigration: The Contest by Carlos Gámez Pérez and There Are Not So Many Stars by Isaí Moreno (Katakana Editores), as well as the verse collection Intensive Care by Arturo Gutiérrez Plaza (Alliteratïon). He also works as a community interpreter in Tulsa, Oklahoma and is a 2020-2021 Tulsa Artist Fellow.


LALT No. 18
Number 18

In our eighteenth issue, we feature the work of beloved Cuban poet Reina María Rodríguez alongside that of João Cabral de Melo Neto, renowned Brazilian poet and third Latin American winner of the Neustadt Prize. We also highlight Latin American women poets, indigenous literature from Brazil, new works in translation, and a return to the essay through the words of Mariano Picón Salas.

Table of Contents

Editor's Note

Featured Author: Reina María Rodríguez

Dossier: João Cabral de Melo Neto





Brazilian Literature

Indigenous Literature

Translation Previews and New Releases

On Translation

On Translation: Seeking Publisher

On the Essay

Nota Bene