martes, 16 de enero de 2018

Book: The fantastic short story in Río de la Plata

The fantastic short story in Río de la Plata

Fernando Chelle

Translation by Jesús Daniel Ovallos

  • Editorial: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1st edition (January 10, 2018)
  • ISBN-10: 1983757489
  •  ISBN-13: 978-1983757488

Paper edition (US $): here 
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Paper edition (EUR): here 
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Prologue by the author
The fantastic storytelling mania

Among the different literary manifestations that have proliferated in both strands of Río de la Plata, the fantastic short story has been one of the most outstanding. Uruguay and Argentina have been the birthplace of many excellent novelists, poets and playwrights whose names will live forever in the history of Latin American and world literature, but the most studied and most relevant authors of this region have been those who devoted their words to short stories, and within them, those who dabbled in the fantastic genre.
It is not easy to establish a reason why this kind of literature was more intense in the Río de la Plata than in the rest of Latin America, perhaps there is no definitive explanation to clarify this fact. Julio Cortázar said once that, possibly, this proliferation was due to the fact that the surrounding reality of the countries of the Río de la Plata is much poorer than the rich tropical environment surroundings of the countries that are located in the northern side of the continent. It is a possibility to which we must add at least another reason, more relevant in my opinion: the literary influences that the authors of the early and mid-20th century from Río de la Plata had. Among the most notorious influences, some of them openly recognized by different authors from that region, we can highlight the North Americans Edgar Allan Poe and Henry James (though James, almost in the end of his life, got the British nationality); we can also highlight the influence of German writer Theodor Amadeus Hoffman; Czech Republic’s Franz Kafka; France’s Jules Verne; Ireland’s Charles Maturin; Great Britain’s Thomas de Quincey, Ann Radcliffe, Mary Shelley, Herbert George Wells and Keith Chesterton, among many other influential but less noted authors.
The fantastic vein within literature is as ancient as literature itself. If we wanted to establish the origin and development of this literary line, we would have to go back to classical myths, go through some medieval literary manifestations, then follow the path of chivalric novels, and also take a look at some romantic and gothic stories. But if we wanted to theorize about that literary line, which has been present in all periods of time and has been present in many diverse literary manifestations, we would have to find out what they have in common; how, for example, a classic myth and a gothic novel are related, or how those manifestations are related to a story by Leopoldo Lugones. The answer to this question would be: the disturbing strangeness. The works in the Fantastic genre try to show a different reality than the historically recognizable reality. The facts and phenomena considered fantastic literature oppose to the natural laws, they do not imitate the reality, but they create other alternative realities that overcome or surpass what is credible or recognized as real. Of course, these supernatural elements are way different in a mythological story than in a modern civilization’s story, where the explanation of that "other reality" does not have an answer linked to divinities, but to rationality and science, as long as it can be explained by them. This has led some theorists to delimitate the fantastic, to establish a more precise definition of a term that, as I mentioned before, has been used to put works with different styles and characteristics in the same bag. As the intention of this book is not to theorize about the concept of the fantastic, but to show a series of analytical comments of some stories with similar characteristics written by authors from the Río de la Plata zone, I will present a brief description of its characteristics, and then I will just refer some concepts mentioned by Tzvetan Todorov in his 1980’s The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre, so the non-experienced reader can have an idea of the concept.
The fantastic short stories in Río de la Plata in the 20th century are characterized for being brief narrations that have supernatural elements in believable environments. We can see this particular characteristic (with some differences between each story) in every story studied in this book. All of them have an average character that lives normal, daily life situations, but somehow suffer strange phenomena that cannot be explained from a realistic point of view. These stories cause an impression to the reader who, ultimately, ends up being an accomplice to this fiction, and ends up accepting the facts shown in the story as true.
In the aforementioned book, Tzvetan Todorov characterized and classified the stories with fantastic features in three categories:
First, he refers to “the marvelous”, which is when something supernatural is explained by establishing new rules for the nature. Later he refers to “the uncanny”, which happens when the supernatural event is explained through rationality. The uncanny, the author explains, happens when something familiar to us becomes something unknown, but in the end of the uncanny stories, the rupture of reality is explained. Finally “the fantastic” is linked by Todorov with a rupture in the daily life matrix. Normality is broken because there is an extraordinary event, a conflict between believable happenings and others considered unreal. At the end of the fantastic story, we do not know exactly what is going on or if the conflict is solved. and we end up perceiving the phenomenon as unexplainable.
While reading the commentaries on this book, the reader will be able to notice some of the characteristics and typical topics of the fantastic literature from Río de la Plata in the twentieth century.
One of the most characteristic features of the fantastic storytellers, even though this is not seen in all of the stories, is the use of a first person narrator; this is a resource that tries to make the reader believe something that otherwise would be unconceivable. This kind of narrator can be seen in two of the short stories I approach in this book: The Canary, furniture shop by Felisberto Hernández andThe Aleph, by Jorge Luis Borges.
As for the topics, they are so many and so diverse that I will refer only to those which are present in the stories worked on in this book.
First, the treatment of the mental deviations and the psychological problems is a recurrent topic in many of Horacio Quiroga’s short stories (The feather pillow, the lone man, The decapitated chicken, among others), but it is also typical in Felisberto Hernández works: he even studied some pathologies of mental patients. Love is not a recurrent topic in fantastic literature, but coincidentally, two of the stories approached in this book revolves around it; but in them, love is always linked to the impossible, the difficulty, (this can be seen in The feather pillow by Horacio Quiroga and in Continuity of the parks by Julio Cortázar). In fantastic literature, independently of the topic approached, it is frequent to see the writers playing with the concepts of time and space inside their narration, and it can be clearly seen in Continuity of the parks by Julio Cortázar and in The Aleph by Jorge Luis Borges.
This book consists in five articles that have been previously released on three magazines: Revista Digital VADENUEVO (Uruguay), Realidades y Ficciones – literary magazine – (Argentina) and Revista Cronopio (Colombia). There are many representatives of the fantastic short story in Río de la Plata. I could have worked on stories by Macedonio Fernández, Leopoldo Lugones, Silvina Ocampo, Enrique Anderson Imbert, Adolfo Bioy Casares, MaRío Arregui, among others, but I decided to choose those which, in my opinion, are the most representative ones: Horacio Quiroga (Uruguay), Felisberto Hernández (Uruguay), Jorge Luis Borges (Argentina) and Julio Cortázar (Argentina).

Fernando Chelle

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