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Carlos Fuentes, 11 de noviembre de 1928 — 15 de mayo 2012 D.E.P.

15 May 2012

Don’t classify me, read me. I’m a writer, not a genre.

Reed Johnson’s fine obituary in the Los Angeles Times memorialized Fuentes as:

The prolific author of more than 20 books, including novels, short story collections, essays and often-scolding commentaries, Fuentes was among those most responsible for raising the profile of the hemisphere’s Spanish-language literature in the second half of the 20th century, following decades in which it had languished in the shadow of better-known European and U.S. modernists.

The Mexican writer, as far as most of the outside world goes, Fuentes was born in Panama, educated in the United States and lived for much of his life in England. He was attacked by the Mexican right (especially Enrique Krauze) on the bizarre count of being too elegant and dapper to be a true leftist, and by the left for packaging a stereotyped Mexico:

… depicting […] a mythological and stereotypical image of Mexico as a neocolonial, violent and corrupt country, an image […] believed was designed to appeal to Fuentes’ growing numbers of U.S. and European readers.

On the other hand, Fuentes — who supported Vicente Fox in 2000, was supporting AMLO in this year’s election. and was once branded a “reconquistador” by the lunatics at Fox News (for once giving a learned talk on Mexican cultural influence on the United States) and Vicente Fox’s one-time Secretary of Labor, the ultra-Catholic (and ex-Fascist) Carlos Abascal, launched a personal crusade against Fuentes for daring to write a classic of young adult literature:

Abascal attacked Carlos Fuentes’ Aura, a novel of teenage angst, and a juvenile classic in Spanish literature — demanding the novel be withdrawn from Mexican schools (and getting his daughter’s private school Spanish teacher fired) because — well — there’s a crucifix on the bedroom wall where two kids have sex (er… actually, in the imagination of a teenage boy. And, being Mexican teenager, he thinks about sex in terms of Mexican bedrooms … where very likely there will be a crucifix).

Fuentes enjoyed spending the unexpected jump in his royalties for Aura (which, despite what Reed Johnson says, is not “surrealistic” any more than Henry James’ Turn of the Screw or William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” … both of which are creepy and twisted, but firmly rooted in the physical realities of this world) as he did spending the money he made over his long and successful career.

Certainly, there were tragedies. Two of his children died young, and his first marriage ended in divorce. He tried sometimes to live up to his public image as a Mexican caballero: his claims of affairs with French actresses never being taken particularly seriously and his often aloof public demeanor, coupled with his ironic vision of his country — often written while he was a safe distance away — make him one of those maddening men of letters impossible to classify.  Novelist, fabulist, political commentator, scholar and scold.  There are, as Leslie Bird Simpson famously wrote  “many Mexicos” all of which are equally valid and all of which exist simultaneously in one place.  There were many public intellectuals existing simultaneously in the one Mexican who was Carlos Fuentes Macías.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 16 May 2012 6:10 am

    Thanks for this eulogy and background. I am passing it along – with a link to this post.

  2. 16 May 2012 6:11 am

    Small thing – your post title says 2011, should be 2012, of course. Cheers!

  3. 19 May 2012 5:42 pm

    Carlos Fuentes (1928-2012) ~ QEP

    In the early 1970s, when I taught Mexican history at California State College, Fullerton, I specified that one of the required books for the course was The Death of Artemio Cruz, by Carlos Fuentes. I felt then that there was much more to be gained in understanding history though the imagination of its novelists than by the chronology of facts and dates about wars, presidents and government programs. I told the students that you had to understand “the sense of appropriateness” of Mexican leaders and the Mexican people as portrayed in novels. The students and the history faculty were puzzled about why there were novels in a history course.

    Over the course of the next three decades, I read many of Fuentes’s novels (but certainly not all), as if it were a continuation of the standard that I had set as an assistant professor of history. In the early 1990s, living in Berkeley, I heard Fuentes speak at a bookstore on the iconic Telegraph Avenue. He read from the opening, soft-porno paragraphs of his novel, Christopher Unborn. His handsome face spoke in American-accented English.

    In recent years I became impatient with his later novels, with their “president boudoir” plots and (in Spanish) metrosexual language, that is, the language of a pretty boy who is in love with his own words. At one point I thought of writing a demand for a public apology from him for having wasted his time and that of his readers (the one about the two orphan boys who grow up to be important polٌíticos). There was no excuse, I would have said, for such a boilerplate novel when narcos controlled half the country, the political system was paralyzed, and the country’s Petroleum Narrative was serving a status quo that benefited only a few.

    It was in this state of impatience that I wrote, as an op-ed for Reforma, an article that asked Fuentes to help us all better understand the social psychology of oil in Mexico. My essay was published in May, 2007. The title was simply “Fuentes y el Petróleo.” I was disappointed by the shortened title, as the use of the patronymic alone could be confused with the same word for “source” or “fountain.” My late father-in-law’s vegetarian restaurant on Río Tiber in Mexico City was called “Las Fuentes.”

    Fuentes had a full five years to respond to my challenge. Perhaps he did, and we will one day read a posthumous novel that attempts this most serious challenge of understanding Mexican history. If so, I hope only that the story does not revolve around sexual plots and sub-plots of Lázaro Cárdenas.

    Had I actually written this complaint, I would have also acknowledged my great debt to Carlos Fuentes for having introduced me to the Mexican literary imagination.

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