Translated by Shaj Mathew
We imagine this. Much of contemporary writing crosses the frontier of literature (or the parameters that define what is literature) and remains both outside and in it, in a diasporic position: outside but trapped in its interior. As if in exodus. These writings continue to appear as literature and take the format of books (they are sold in book stores and on the internet and in international book fairs), preserve the name of the author (they are seen on TV and in newspapers and contemporary magazines and receive prizes at literary festivals), are included in any literary genre like the novel, and recognize and define themselves as literature.
They appear to be literature but it is not possible to read them using literary categories such as the author, work, style, writing, text, and meaning. It is impossible to read them as literature because they empty the term literature of meaning: the meaning (or the author, or the writing) remains without density, without paradox, without indecidability, without metaphor, and is totally consumed with ambivalence: they are and are not literature at the same time, they are fiction and reality.
They would represent literature at the end of the cycle of literary autonomy, in the epic of transnational literary agencies or of the offices of the book featuring in the biggest channels of newspapers, radio, TV, and other media. This end of the cycle implies new conditions of production and circulation of the book that modify the modes of reading. We might call these postautonomous writings or literatures.
Postautonomous literatures, these territorial literary practices of the quotidian, are based on two (self-‐evident) postulates about the world today. The first is that all that is cultural and literary is economic, and all that is economic is cultural and literary. And the second postulate of these writings would be that reality (which is constituted by its changing media) is fiction and fiction is reality.
These diasporic writings not only cross the frontier of literature but also that of fiction, and remain inside-‐outside in both frontiers. This occurs because they reformulate the category of reality: it is not possible to read them as mere “realism” in either referential or verisimilar terms. They take the form of testimony, autobiography, journalistic reporting, personal diaries, up to ethnography (many times with a “literary genre” interjected in their interior: the police novel or science fiction, for example). They leave literature and enter “reality” and the everyday, the reality of the everyday—the everyday being TV and the media, blogs, email, internet, etc). They fabricate present with daily life and that is one of their politics. The quotidian reality is neither a historical-‐referential reality nor one of social and political history, but a reality produced and constructed by the media, technology, and science. It is a reality that does not want to be represented because it is already pure presentation: it is a cloth of words and images of different velocities, grades, and densities, interior-‐exterior to a subject, that includes the event but also the virtual, the potential, the magic, and the phantasmatic. The everyday reality of these postautonomous writings exhibits, like a universal exposition or a global model of a web, all the historical, social, and magic realisms, the costumbrismo, the surrealisms, and the naturalisms. It absorbs and combines all of mimesis of the past to constitute the fiction or the fictions of the present. A fiction that is reality. The different hyperrealisms, naturalisms, and surrealisms, all created in this undifferentiated reality, they are distanced openly from classic and modern fiction. In this everyday reality, “subject” and historical “reality” are not opposed. And neither are “literature” and “history,” or fiction and reality.
The idea and the experience of an everyday reality that absorbs all the realities of the past changes our ideas about 19th and 20th century Latin American fiction. In those centuries, the reality was “historical reality,” and the fiction was defined by a specific relation between history and literature. Each one had its sphere well-‐delimited, and that is what does not happen today. The classic narration of the canon, or the Boom (One Hundred Years of Solitude, for example), crossed clear-cut frontiers between the historical as real and the literary as fable, symbol, myth, allegory or pure subjectivity, and produced a tension between the two: the fiction consists in that tension. The “fiction” was the historical reality (political and social) and passed through a myth, a fable, a genealogical tree, a symbol, a subjectivity or verbal density. Or, simply, it crossed a frontier between pure subjectivity and pure historical reality (like One Hundred Years of Solitude, and I the Supreme, History of Mayta by Maria Vargas Llosa, The Commandment by José Pablo Feinmann, and the historical novels of Andrés Rivera, like The Revolution Is An Eternal Dream). These writings without metaphor would be the fictions (or reality) in the era of media and of industry of language (in the public imagination). They would be the everyday reality of the present of a few subjects in an urban island (a local territory). They would form part of the fabric of the present that is the public imagination.
In the reality-fiction of any “people” in any urban Latin American island, many writings today dramatize a certain situation in literature: the process of the ending literary autonomy, opened by Kant and modernity. The end of one era in which the literature had an internal logic and a crucial power. The power of defining itself and being directed by its own laws with its own institutions (criticism, universities) that publically debate their function, valor and meaning. They also would debate the relation of literature or art with the other spheres: politics, economy, and the relationship with historical reality. Autonomy, for literature, was specificity and self-‐referentiality, and the power to name and refer to itself. The situation of the loss of autonomy of literature (or the literary) is that of the end of the spheres or the thinking of spheres. As it has been said many times: today sees the erasure of the relatively autonomous camps of politics, economics, and culture. The reality‐fiction of the public imagination contains and fuses them.
In a few present writings that have crossed the literary frontier (and that we call “postautonomous”) you can clearly see the process of the loss of literature’s autonomy and the transformations that are produced. Literary classifications have formally ended; this is the end of the wars and divisions and traditional oppositions between forms of realism or of the vanguard, of “pure literature” and “social literature,” of rural and urban literature, and also the literary differentiation between historical reality and fiction. One cannot read these writings with or through these terms; they are two things, they oscillate between the two or differentiate themselves.
Along with the end of these formal classifications, the confrontation between writers and literary movements seems to be over as well; it is the end of the fight for power in the interior of literature. The end of Bourdieu’s notion of “camp,” which supposes that autonomy of the sphere, or the idea of the sphere. Because literary identities are erased, formally and “in reality,” they become erased politically as well. And then one can clearly see that these forms, classifications, identities, divisions, and wars, can only function in a literature conceived as an autonomous sphere, or like camp. Because what dramatized it was the fight for literary power and for the definition of the power of literature. Literary identities, formal and real, are blurred and this is what differentiates contemporary literature from that of the 60s and 70s. In the texts that I am reading the “classifications” would respond to another logic and politics.
Upon voluntarily losing specificity and literary attributes, upon losing “literary value,” and upon losing “fiction,” postautonomous literature would lose the emancipatory and almost subversive critical power that autonomy assigned to literature as its own politics. Literature loses power and cannot exercise it anymore.
Postautonomous literatures may exhibit their pertinence to literature and the topics of self-‐ referentiality that marked the era of autonomous literature: the mark, the speculative relationships, the book within a book, the narrator as writer and reader, the internal duplications, recursiveness, parallelisms, paradoxes, quotations, and allusions to authors and readings, even if it’s in a burlesque tone, like in the literature of Roberto Bolaño. They can insert themselves symbolically inside of literature and continue to show off the attributes that defined them before, when they were completely “literature.” Or they can become Trash (Basura, novel by Héctor Abad Faciolince) or “trash” (La ansiedad: novela trash by Daniel Link). This does not change their stature as postautonomous literatures. In the two positions or in their nuances, these writings pose the problem of literary value. I like them and it does not matter to me if they are good or bad literature. Everything depends on how literature is read today. Or from where it is read. Or if this process of transformation of spheres, or the loss of the autonomy or the loss of literariness, and reading is altered. Or if reading continues to be an interior process to autonomous literatures and to literariness, and thus appears as literary value in the first place. Said in another way: or the change is seen in the stature of literature, and so another episteme emerges as well as other modes of reading. Or it is not observed or it is negated, and so the division between literature and genre, good and bad books, will continue.
Postautonomous literatures of the present would escape, cross the frontier, and enter a medium real/virtual, without an outside, the public imagination: all of what is produced circulates, penetrates us, and is social and private and public and real. That is to say, postautonomous literatures would enter a type of material and social function (everyday reality) where there is no index of reality or of fiction that constructs the present. They would enter the fabric of the present that is the public imagination to tell any stories behind daily life in an urban, Latin American island. The experiences of migration and the subterranean of certain subjects are defined outside and inside of certain territories.
Here I’ve postulated a territory, the political imagination or the fabric of the present, where I situate my reading or myself. In this territory there is no reality opposed to fiction, there is no author, and there is not much sense. From the public imagination I read contemporary literature as if it were a piece of news or a call from Amelia in Constitución or from Iván in Colegiales.
Josefina Ludmer was born in Córdaba in 1939, she died in Buenos Aires in 2016. She was a teacher, writter, essayist and critic.
Shaj Mathew is a Ph.D. candidate in comparative literature at Yale. He studies contemporary literature from the Middle East, Latin America, and the Anglophone world.