The dialectical voice of Enrique Lihn and the metapoetics of twentieth-century Latin American literature
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The work of Chilean writer Enrique Lihn (1929-1989) represents a profound skepticism and devout faith in literary expression. Wary of the universalizing myths and fetishes of modernism, the many “ismos” of the vanguardia, and the propagandistic rhetoric of political poetry, he searched for meaning through an acknowledgement of the limits of literary expression. Rather than surrendering to the paradox of resisting alienation through an already alienated medium of expression, Lihn’s work engages contradictions and loss of meaning, both social and political realities of its historical moment. The result, metaliterary and even antiliterary at times, is a genuinely unique and innovative body of work. I begin by investigating the connection between Lihn’s dialectical poetics and Marxist literary theory. While the work of many theorists is discussed, I am most dependent on that of Theodor W. Adorno, who emphasized the paradox of Negative vii Dialectics: recognizing the impossibility of Hegelian totality (the identity of subject and object), Adorno focussed on the struggle itself rather than the elusive final objective (transcendence of alienation). I also review the heated debate on postmodernism in Latin America, and whether a postmodern aesthetic (observed in Lihn’s novels and public performances) provides a true subversion of alienating discourse. Nestor García Canclini has demonstrated Latin America’s “multitemporal heterogeneity”: the primitive, modern, and postmodern exist simultaneously. Postmodern works, therefore, which appropriately represent fragmented society through an equally fragmented form, expose the contradictions and hypocrisy of late-capitalism, while also challenging the universalizing myths of modernism. The remaining chapters provide textual analysis of the prolific Lihn, with complementary readings of Julio Cortázar (Argentina, 1914-1984) and Nicanor Parra (Chile, 1914-). Ranging from cynical to comical, intimate and erotic to disillusioned, dark to transcendental, Lihn’s work spans many genres, responding to personal issues and political events (Cuban revolution, dictatorship of Pinochet, North American imperialism) that shaped his life. The use of close readings, psychoanalysis, and biographical and historical methods of interpretation are not inconsistent with dialectical criticism. On the contrary, they help to understand the complex nature of these artists’ reactions to their historical reality.