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5— From Early Words to the Vernacular Inflection: Vanguard Tales of Linguistic Encounter
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Language Identities in a Vanguardist Idiom

Certainly the insertion of language into national or ethnic identity projects is not in itself a product of the literary avant-gardes. In the Western world, language's pivotal function in defining inclusive and exclusive identities is inscribed in the etymological roots of the word barbarian: "somebody who does not speak Greek."[11] In the modern era of nation-states, language, ethnicity, and nation interact through the development of administrative vernacular print languages, a phenomenon carefully traced by Benedict Anderson in Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism . Language and nation or ethnicity are also insistently juxtaposed in modern intellectual history, through romantic nationalist ideologies and the nineteenth-century consolidation of philology as a scientific discipline that sought evolutionary parallels between linguistic, literary, and national development. Because of what Anderson has identified as the "primordialness of languages" and the illusion of language as "rooted beyond almost anything else in contemporary societies" (145), attention to language in cultural contexts always generates tensions between essentialism and historicity. Language may be considered an actor in material culture but also a protagonist in the history of powerful ideas, the embodiment and raw material of myth.

As early as 1882, Ernest Renan cautioned in his address "What Is a Nation?" against forgetting that languages are historical formations and


the temptation to ground national identities on idealized notions of racial, religious, or linguistic purity. From a historical perspective, Renan observed, language is, like race, merely something which is made and unmade (15–16). And yet, as Anderson points out (significantly, in his chapter "Patriotism and Racism"), a national language is also a potent and captivating idea that "looms up imperceptibly out of a horizonless past" and simultaneously the idealized embodiment, especially in poetry or song, of "a special kind of contemporaneous community" that projects an image of "unisonance" (145). But, as Mary Louise Pratt suggests in a critique of Anderson's work, investigations of links between language and identity formations may also address the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion at work in conceptualizing linguistic uniformities through these national or ethnic "linguistic utopias."

These tensions between language as a national myth and language as historically formed, between inclusive and exclusive languages, shape vanguardist discourse on linguistic identities in Latin America. As I have noted in the chapter on Americanist projects, Latin America's vanguard movements coincided historically with a renewed intensity in the discourse of cultural autonomy that had engaged Latin American writers since the post-Independence years. Language issues had played a key role in the nineteenth-century projects seeking national and continental identity, most notably in the polemic between Andrés Bello, in favor of maintaining continental linguistic uniformity, and Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, a qualified advocate of incorporating into literature the linguistic forms actually spoken in the new republics.[12] The centripetal impulse toward standardization within national boundaries and the linkage of language with state culminated in the century's last three decades with the foundation of national language academies on the French and peninsular models. The centrifugal affirmation of unofficial languages was manifested in the work of writers who sought to textualize orality as a palpable sign of desired cultural authenticities.

But the appearance of culturally patterned linguistic issues in Latin American vanguardist practice represents not merely unresolved autonomy questions that reemerged with the New World spirit surrounding centennial celebrations of independence. The singularity of this renewed inquiry lies in the modern alertness to language itself, to the stories of social and cultural struggle that its own constitution enacts, and to the critical potential inscribed in its own mercurial inconstancy. On one level, these linguistic projects do indeed affirm the creative and critical worth of culturally "authentic" languages; they struggle to bring


into the linguistic and literary marketplace idioms formerly excluded. But in a more radical vein, many of these activities also reflect on the cultural processes and relationships implicit in the pursuit of linguistic uniformity or difference. Although they seek on one level the image of "unisonance" with which Benedict Anderson characterizes the concept of a national language, these projects often also foreground linguistic dissonance and complication.

Nation and Ethnicity in Language Activities

Emerging in the context of activist cultural nationalism that I have described in the introduction, the interest in culturally specific languages constituted a significant aspect of vanguardist activity in several Latin American countries. Brazilian modernismo was marked by a polemically antiacademic spirit, a rejection of prescriptive expressive forms, and the explicit goal to employ the idiosyncrasies of spoken Brazilian Portuguese as the material of art. Even though from the time of its establishment in 1896 the Academia Brasileira de Letras had directed more attention to New World Portuguese than its Spanish American counterparts had done with Spanish, the academy provided a frequent target for innovators' polemics. Graça Aranha, who had given a keynote lecture in the historic Semana de Arte Moderna in São Paulo, articulated the antiacademic position in a 1924 lecture, "O espíritu moderno," before the academy itself. After criticizing the establishment of the academy on the French model as the institutionalization of a nonexistent tradition that was yet to be created, Graça Aranha suggested that creating a specifically Brazilian literature was a project at odds with the whole concept of a language academy. He proposed that the academy incorporate in its dictionary colloquial Brazilian words and expressions and deliberately exclude from its lists language used only in Portugal. In keeping with this philosophy, he suggested that all works published by the academy, all papers prepared by its members, and all works cited with awards be written in "ordinary, common language, expurgated of all archaisms or of ... Portuguese verbal classicism" (GMT 325).

This commitment to spoken language extended to regional, indigenous, and African influences and permeated the work of avant-garde literary artists. In the "Prefácio intcressantíssimo" manifesto that introduces the Paulicéia desvairada poetry collection, Mário de Andrade praised the Brazilian language as "one of the richest and most sonorous" and affirmed his commitment to Brazilian Portuguese (PC 22).


Mário imagined, but never realized, a Gramatiquinha da fala brasileira (a "little grammar" of Brazilian Portuguese). Mário did incorporate vernacular inflections into his poetry, in particular, the 1924 Clã do Jaboti collection (1927). But his major linguistic achievement is the novel Macunaíma (1928) that incorporates elements of regional language, idioms, and proverbs into a hybridized amalgam that has been called a "Discourse for the Defense and Illustration of the Brazilian Language" (Martins 194) and contains, as Haroldo de Campos points out, numerous "metalinguistic elaborations" on language themes (Morfologia 187–92). The linguistic education of the novel's eponymous antihero underscores the point, as he is forced to learn two languages: spoken Brazilian and written Portuguese.[13]

In the same vein, Oswald de Andrade's "Pau-Brasil" manifesto, a document suggestively titled a "falação" (or chat) in some versions, urges the use of language "without archaisms, without erudition.... The way we speak. The way we are" (GMT 327; SMSR 185). Poems in the Pau-Brasil collection (1924) enact linguistic encounters between "proper" language and language as spoken in Brazil. The concern with language persists in the collection activities of the Antropofagia group described by participant Raul Bopp. The group's projected verbal collections included the creation of a "subgrammar" to recapture "the simplicity of the language, in order to free it from its complex pedagogical gearings" (Bopp, Vida e morte 47). This endeavor was to include dropping cumbersome orthographic elements from written Portuguese and preparing a list of one hundred key words with a "Brazilian flavor." This proclivity for collecting verbal artifacts was manifested more widely in the publication of linguistic studies of regional dialects or indigenous languages, such as O dialeto caipira in the Revista do Brasil or articles on "A lingua tupy" published by the Revista de Antropofagia (Martins 8). A colloquial tone and antiacademic spirit also characterized the poetry of Manuel Bandeira in the modernismo period, for example, in his "Poética" manifesto poem: "I am sick of a lyricism that stops and goes to look up in the dictionary the pure stamp of a word" (BMP 66). His "Evocação do Recife" denigrates those who can only "ape Lusiad syntax" and celebrates the "correct language of the people" because they "speak the delicious Portuguese of Brazil" (BMP 71).

In Peru, the vanguards' antiacademic tone first emerged in the recuperation of Manuel González Prada as a cultural hero. In the prewar decades, González Prada had been the first to recommend that Peruvian art break with Spain and the linguistically conservative Lima spirit,


explore Peru's indigenous traditions, seek linguistic renewal through popular sources, and search for new forms in other literatures.[14] José Carlos Mariátegui, editor of the vanguardist Amauta, lauded González Prada's revolutionary spirit in El proceso de la literatura, his essay on Peruvian literature from the Siete ensayos de interpretación de la realidad peruana (1928), and also in the special issue of Amauta dedicated to his predecessor.[15] Mariátegui and most of Peru's self-designated vanguardist writers claimed González Prada as a mentor for their attack on the attempt to reinstate colonialist cultural ideals represented by Lima's "futurist" generation. A key member in this group had been José de la Riva Agüero, whose Carácter de la literatura del Perú independiente (1905) had prompted Mariátegui's essay on literature. According to Mariátegui, Riva Agüero and his contemporaries had helped to institutionalize Peruvian culture and literature by establishing the Instituto Histórico del Perú, the Revista Histórica, and the Peruvian language academy.

Against this institutionalization of colonialist models and in keeping with his preference for "natural" language over verbal artifice, Mariátegui proposed that Latin American writers could bridge their distance from everyday experience by using vernacular language. He argued that all classical national literatures had originated from the languages of the street. Thus the Peruvian writers who had contributed most to the creation of a national literature were those who had maintained contact with popular linguistic sources. Mariátegui affirmed that popular language provided a perpetual source of literary innovation and that the innovative potential of popular language was being exploited by even the most cosmopolitan of Spanish America's vanguardist poets, including Borges, whose work frequently adopted the "prosody of the people" (OC 2: 242–44).[16]

This advocacy of linguistic colloquialism extended to indigenous languages and was played out in Amauta in the vanguardist indigenista poetry of Alejandro Peralta sprinkled with Quechua and Aymara words and in articles on indigenous language.[17] Linguistic indigenismo also shaped the work of Peru's longest-lasting regional vanguardist magazine, Puno's Boletín Titikaka . This magazine promoted indigenist orthography with the goal of making written Spanish appear visually more like a phonetic transcription of Quechua and labeled such experiments with alternative spellings such as "nwestra ortografía bangwardista" (for "nuestra ortografía vanguardista") and "indoameriqana" (for "indoamericana").[18] The Boletín 's editor Gamaliel Churata (the pseu-


donym of Arturo Peralta) devoted extensive attention to linguistic investigations in essays, bilingual poetry employing vernacular verse conventions, and the experimental novel El pez de oro that contains countless digressions on the topic and defines the problem of Latin American identity in linguistic terms. The novel comprises a vast experiment in linguistic pluralism as exemplified in the five categories of word entries in its glossary: Quechua, Aymara, hybridizations of the two or of each with Spanish, "plebeianisms" of the Lake Titikaka region (the novel's setting), and neologisms constructed by the author. As in Brazil, these projects evolved in a general cultural environment of linguistic investigations, including, for example, José Gabriel Cosío's Fonetismo de la lengua quechua o runasimi (1924) and the Alfabeto quechua (1925).

In Argentina, national linguistic inquiries by vanguardist writers, though more limited than in Brazil or Peru, reflected continuing debates over popular language in literature dating back to Sarmiento and the post-Independence era. As Francine Masiello documents, the years immediately before the vanguards emerged witnessed rapid developments in cultural, academic, and literary institutionalization in Argentina.[19] Vanguardist writers addressed the question of whether the spoken language of Buenos Aires and its environs constituted a proper language for literature. The Martín Fierro manifesto includes linguistic independence in its affirmation of cultural autonomy—"faith in our phonetics"—but qualified by a celebration of the country's eclectic cultural inheritance—"a Swedish dentifrice, towels from France, and ... English soap" (MPP 135). Although he later rejected such experiments to the extreme of altering his earlier work, Borges expressed this faith in Argentine phonetics through the lexical and phonological colloquialisms employed in the original versions of his early poetry collections, Fervor de Buenos Aires (1923) and Luna de enfrente (1925). Soon, however, Borges rejected the cultivation of deliberate linguistic ethnicity, although he also discouraged the proclivity of some writers toward (peninsular) "Hispanophilic" purism. His 1927 lecture "El idioma de los argentinos" expressed a common vanguardist aversion to academic purism in an attack on the pretentious "pseudo-words" and "purest indecisive style" ascribed to the grammar of the academy ("El idioma" 20–21). Although as an ultraísta, Borges had signed manifestos that opposed using everyday language in literature (MPP 113), in the lecture, he suggested that the language of writers should derive from their everyday experience: "the unwritten Argentine language" of "our passion, of our home, of trust, and of conversed friendship" ("El


idioma" 25). Still, he opposed the studied cultivation of popular forms. These included the common language of working-class neighborhoods and lunfardo (colloquial underworld language). He also denied the capacity of such unofficial language, or any kind of slang, to effect significant change in the dominant idiom.

Roberto Arlt's work stands in direct contradiction to this view. Writing from his own life experience with a very, different "unwritten Argentine language" from what had been lived by Borges, Arlt combined in his novels, particularly in Los siete locos (1929) and Los lanzallamas (1931), radical innovations in narrative voice and localization with a creative hodgepodge of spoken and, until then, nonliterary languages. These include lunfardo, Argentine regionalisms, foreign words, and metaphors and imagery derived from modern scientific and technological jargon.[20] In a 1930 journalistic sketch, entitled, like Borges's lecture, "El idioma de los argentinos," Arlt employed a pugilistic metaphor to take a more radical, Bakhtinian-style stand on the influence of unofficial languages on the norm. The human groups with no new ideas to express, he argued, need no new words or "strange turns of the phrase." By contrast, peoples in continuous evolution (as in Argentina) strike out, like boxers, with words "from all angles," words that "anger professors" (OC 2: 486). Groups impose their language through "prepotency," Arlt affirmed here, adding that it would be absurd to confine new ideas in a canonical grammar. He further supported this position that popular language has transformative power in a series of articles that highlighted individual samples from a colloquial Argentine lexicon to show their creative potential and their etymological development.[21]

The antiacademic tone of their language activities is inscribed in the Nicaraguan vanguardists' group name, the Anti-Academy. The first manifesto proposed bringing to light past linguistic and literary forms belonging to a national tradition (50A 24). The manifesto "Cartelón de vanguardia" polemicized against "the copy, rhetoric, the rules, academism, linguistic purity" (50A 173), and the manifesto "Dos perspectivas" set forth the goal to "conserve our tradition, ... our customs, ... our language" (50A 27). Following these self-directives, the Nicaraguan vanguardists gathered popular sayings, colloquialisms, children's rhyming games, songs, tongue twisters, lullabies, and popular verse forms from the Hispanic tradition. Pablo Antonio Cuadra, Joaquín Pasos, and José Coronel Urtecho, among others, incorporated many of these into their poetry and into the experimental performance piece Chinfonía burguesa (1931–36).[22]


In his retrospective on the group, "Los poetas en la torre," Cuadra later recalled this activity: "And we went to the people to interrogate their voices, their expressions, their living language, their forms, their namings" (188). In addition, Cuadra explained, they adjusted their literary language syntactically to approximate the language of conversation. Cuadra's own "Ars poética" of this period declares the need to "find the poetry of ordinary things," to "sing for anybody / with the ordinary tone" (OPC 1: 88–89). With more overtly vernacular metaphors, Pasos's brief poetic manifesto of linguistic specificity, "Por, en, sin sobre, tras ... las palabras," celebrates "Mombacho words" and urges other poets to clothe their poetic expression in bombacho trousers (50A 139). Moreover, the performance piece Chinfonía burguesa by Pasos and Coronel Urtecho constitutes a manifesto of linguistic nationalism in its language theme and colloquial expressions and verse forms.

Cuban vanguardist activity developed during a period of intense cultural self-definition in Cuban arts and public life. Members of the Grupo Minorista, many of whom founded the Revista de Avarice, committed themselves both to "vernacular art" and to "new art" (MPP 249). The magazine's concern with Cuban and American identities was epitomized in its consecration of José Martí as its cultural mentor, comparable to the Peruvian Amauta 's attention to the work of Manuel González Prada.[23] As in Brazil and Peru, Cuban intellectuals of this period dedicated themselves to retrieving and collecting cubanismos, as in Fernando Ortiz's Un catauro de cubanismos (1923) and his Glosario de afronegrismos (1924). Works such as these made no claims to a vanguardist character, and Ortiz, a consummate investigator, was neither a vanguardist nor a member of the Grupo Minorista. Still, it is interesting that, as Gustavo Pérez Firmat has carefully documented, the Catauro de cubanismos flaunted the conventions of its genre in the same antiacademic spirit so pervasive in new art ventures.[24]

The self-conscious cultivation of autochthonous language within a context of aesthetic innovation appeared primarily in the early poetry of Nicolás Guillén and, to some degree, in Alcjo Carpentier's dramatic experiment Manita en el suelo (1931) and his novel ¡Écue-Yamba-Ó! (1933). Guillén constructed an image of linguistic cubanismo through lexical and phonological colloquialisms, intonations, and stylized percussive elements associated with popular speech and Afro-Cuban culture, as well as through rhythms, acoustical elements, and responsive conventions derived from popular music. The verses from "Si tu su-


piera" in the Sóngoro cosongo collection (1931) are typical: "Aé / bengan a be; / aé, / bamo pa be; / bengan, sóngoro cosongo / sóngoro cosongo de mamey" (OP 1: 105). Here the colloquial "bengan a be" and "bamo pa be" ("come and see" and "let's go see") replace the more normative "vengan a ver" or "vamos a ver." In the manifesto poem "Llegada" that opens the collection, the poetic

speaker allegorizes the "arrival" of non-European elements into Cuban cultural and linguistic life: "Here we are! / The word comes to us moist from the forests / and an energetic sun rises in our veins" (OP 1: 115).[25] Guillén's poetry of this period focuses on oral expression, not only by incorporating song and colloquial elements but also by employing forms that evoke verbal situations and encounters. These include the piropo, the verbal engagement of a woman by a man on the street in "Sóngoro cosongo," the street vendor's cry in "Pregón," and the riddle in "Adivinanzas." In the collection mode that permeated vanguardist activity, Guillén actively gathered pregones from different parts of Cuba and carefully studied their musical, improvisational, and structural features. He even suggested, parodying conventional academic undertakings, establishing a "Municipal Academy of Pregones " in Camagüey, to educate new voices that would replace the ones being lost (Prosa de prisa 1: 25).

Although there was some disagreement among Puerto Rico's vanguardist groups about cultivating deliberately vernacular art, Luis Palés Matos, Puerto Rico's principal creator of afronegrista poetry, suggested the Puerto Rican and Antillean poets should draw on the linguistic richness of the region's African cultures (cited in LHA 48).[26] In addition to Palés Matos's negrista poetry, poetic compositions such as the "Fugas diepálicas" by J. I. de Diego Padró or the "Orquestación diepálica" by Palés Matos and de Diego Padró enacted oral situations of poematic exchange and response, even when the participating voices were not always human. Thus concluding verses in the latter orchestrate bird, animal, and insect "voices" attributed to an Antillean world.

Pit . . . pit . . . pit . . . co-quí-co-co-quí . . . quí
Pitirr-pitirr, chi-chichichuí, chi-chichichuí . . . 
Chocla, chocla, cho cla, mmmeee . . . . . . 
Caaacaracaca, pío, pío, caaaracacaaa . . . 
Juá, juá, juá, juá; uishe-ó, uishe-ó, uishe-ó
Cucurucú! qui qui ri quí ¡Cocorocó!                  (LHA 166)

In other countries, such as Mexico and Chile, the cultivation of linguistic specificity did not constitute a major component of vanguardist


groups' agenda, although it did surface in memorable ways in the work of individual writers. Xavier Icaza's generically unstable, satirical novel Panchito Chapopote, for example, combines a telegraphic, synthetic vanguardist style with an eponymous antihero, Panchito, who in character and language is intended to embody the "Mexican people" of the post-revolutionary era. Pablo de Rokha's surrealist novel Escritura de Raimundo Contreras (1929) inserts stream-of-consciousness narration into the linguistic reality of a Chilean huaso . And although there was no significant vanguardist activity in Guatemala itself, Asturias's Leyendas de Guatemala (written in Paris), which combined the language of the Popol Vuh with elements from Guatemala's popular tradition, presents one of the outstanding results of vanguardist linguistic ethnicity in Latin America. Its final piece, the play Cuculcán (which I examine below) constitutes a discourse on language.

Ancestral Voices and National Essence

These multiple linguistic projects cultivate the spoken word or unofficial language as repositories of national or ethnic identity and insist on the singularity and cultural worth of each vernacular idiom. All of these endeavors seek to insert the languages of concrete cultural experience into a specific literary world, "bringing [them] into writing," a phrase James Clifford uses to describe what ethnographers do when they salvage oral traditions (Writing Culture 113). Because of their focus on cultural difference, on the surface these undertakings appear antithetical to the vanguardist pursuit of a pristine and primal verbal world, that linguistic utopia in which poets can speak in the newborn language of a time before time. But the figures in which these cultural linguistic goals are often embedded deflect the vanguardist discourse of origins toward a specific cultural experience in which Huidobro's "cries of the universal birth" become instead the birth cries of a culturally concrete linguistic identity.

Vanguardist writers build this image by drawing on the mythical aura surrounding the idea of language itself, those qualities noted by Anderson in Imagined Communities, including "primordialness," an air of "rootedness," and the sensation of looming up from a "horizonless past" (144). What looms up from that imagined past is the image of a rooted ancestral voice through which the artist in tune with his or her culture might speak. In Huidobro's creacionismo, we should recall, only those who have not forgotten "the accents of the world in formation"


are prepared to call themselves poets (OC 1: 654–55). By virtue of the vernacular turn, those in tune with a primordial or ancestral voice become particularly qualified to speak for their specific contemporary human community. This portrayal of language partakes of the same primitivist discourse of origins that I have explored in the vanguardist stories of America. But here the emphasis falls specifically on language, through the search for culturally inflected primal voices and originary words. Thus the unisonance of a universal language becomes the unisonance of a specific national or ethnic experience. In Latin American vanguardist discourse, this link is forged through orality, the concept of a living voice engaged in speech or song.

In this vein, Mário explained in the "Prefácio interessantíssimo" manifesto introducing the urban poetry of Paulicéia desvairada that he had set forth through the city's jungle with his "variegated lute" (PC 30). In that collection's poem "Trovador," the speaker celebrates sentiments of "the men of the first eras" and announces "I am a Tupi strumming a lute" (PC 32–33). Similarly Raul Bopp (of the Antropofagia group), in his lengthy primitivist poem Cobra norato (1928–31), portrayed a speaker whose source is "voices that come from far away" (27), and in "Negro," he invoked "the voice of ignored origins" that weighs in the black man's blood (Cobra norato 127). Similarly, in Guillén's "Llegada" announcing the arrival of black language into Cuban literary culture, the speaker's words derive from a prehistoric source. In the opening scene of the Leyendas de Guatemala, the narrator returns to his homeland to seek out the voices that lie buried under its palimpsest of "sonorous cities." Later, the storyteller proves his creative prowess by returning to the primeval forest where he hears the echoes of the earliest tribes, "where their song began" (18). Similarly, the Nicaraguan vanguardist Luis Alberto Cabrales imagined in "Canto a los sombríos ancestros" a timeless poetic voice, "filled with the ancestral soil and burning" an "ancient voice ... impetuous and agile, like you, ancestors" (50A 127–28).

Not surprisingly, fashioning a linguistic identity through ancestral orality often relied on nature. The organic metaphor, so prevalent in nineteenth-century Latin American literature, is critically reexamined in the 1920s novela de la tierra, as Carlos Alonso has demonstrated in The Spanish American Regional Novel, and also reemerges to be challenged, as I have shown, by the vanguardist portrayals of America. But vanguardist dialogues specifically addressing language are also sustained by


a kind of verbal tellurism through which the ancestral word of cultural identity becomes firmly rooted. The poetic speaker in Asturias's Leyendas provides the most literal example. His song emerges in the jungle's delirious night, as, borrowing from sacred Mayan tales, he begins to grow roots and feels himself a part of the land. Brazilian Plínio Salgado, in his article "A língua tupy" in the Revista de Antropofagia, analyzed phonetic and semantic elements in order to maintain that this "nascent" language provided unmediated contact between humanity and nature, a "true eucharist of man in intimate cosmic union" (Salgado 6). Luis Cardoza y Aragón's Pequeña sinfonía del nuevo mundo presents a disoriented poet in New York out of touch with nature: "Words were impotent, they did not create, they had lost their genesic magic" (263). In Guillén's "Llegada," we recall, the speakers' ancestral voices arise "moist from the forests." Similarly, as Cuadra urged his fellow poets in "Ars poética" to return to the sources of song, his own "Canción del momento extranjero en la selva" discovers ancestral voices in a primeval Nicaraguan setting: "Prior to my song / prior to myself, / in the heart of our mountains" (OPC 147). In the Andean world, the speaker in Oquendo de Amat's "madre campo" from 5 metros de poemas draws initial words from nature with a voice "primitive like the rain and the hymns" (n.p.). And in Ecuador, Hugo Mayo employed a comparable verbal tellurism with a cumbersome image verging on parody: "men fastened like ticks / on the terrestrial pachyderm / unsheathe your orations" ("Bujía polar" 62).

Beyond the imagined ancestral voice, orality gave way to a second essentialist notion. The vanguardist utopian quest for a verbal void as a creative ground zero was marked, as I have shown, by a preference for the most basic units of expression, those that with a gridlike hostility to the "intrusion of speech" barely approximate language at all: Huidobro's "spirit whisper of the wordless phrase," de Greiff's "mute voice," or the "Agú" manifesto's "fresh scream of the flesh." The vanguards' linguistic identity projects redirect this taste for the minimal elements of language toward the search for essential units of cultural definition. Thus the spoken word, or the written version approximating oral models, is portrayed not only with the aura of presence ascribed to an ancestral voice but also as the repository of a deeply structured authenticity. Writers search for a singular sound, word, or phrase that might express the essence of a particular human community. Through this linguistic unit and often with wording that today would be re-


garded as racialist, biology and history, nature and culture converge, and linguistic artifacts personify national character.

In this vein, the Venezuelan "Granizada" proclamation declares that one can classify human groups in accordance with the interjections on which they rely. While this manifesto seems to speak more than slightly tongue-in-cheek, others sound more serious, as when the Martín Fierro manifesto pledges faith in "our phonetics" or in Luis Palés Matos's identification of an Antillean "accent" and "homogeneous cultural rhythm" (LHA 48). In Nicaragua, Cuadra wrote of "vernacular unity" and "vibrations" forming the soul of a people and borne out through race, blood, environment, beliefs, and language (50A 47–48). In Brazil, Menotti del Picchia explained that modernistas wanted to "write with blood" (GMT 291), and in his lecture "O espíritu moderno," Graça Aranha identified occult forces endowing the Brazilian language with its "marvelous enchantment of alluvium and solar splendor" and the capacity to express a "collective spirituality" (GMT 322). Mário celebrated the wonders of the "very admirable ão" of Brazilian Portuguese (PC 22), and Brazil's Antropofagia group, as I have noted, collected words with a "Brazilian flavor," selecting the word mussangulá to incarnate national character: "a variety of philosophical laziness, of a Brazilian cast" and "against everything that is coherent, syllogistic, geometric, Cartesian" (Bopp, Vida e morte 48). In "Pequeña oda a un negro boxeador cubano," Guillén's Cuban boxer on Broadway holds the power to "speak in black for real" (OP 120), and, addressing the idiosyncrasies of Buenos Aires language, Arlt singled out certain special words (furbo, fraca, squenun ) as representative of a singular cultural experience.

In its customary fashion, Mário's Macunaíma carries the idea of cultural essence through language to the edge of parody. The eponymous Brazilian hero is born in the depth of a virgin forest in a primeval moment of silence. As if aware of his duty and destiny as a national hero to provide an ancestral voice, Macunaíma prolongs this silent moment for six years and, when forced to talk, only exclaims, "Ai! que preguiça!" (Oh! What laziness!) (5). Its parodic tone notwithstanding, Macunaíma's highly colloquial first sentence has, from the time the novel was first published, been interpreted as a verbal icon of essential Brazilianness.[27] More important, perhaps, Macunaíma 's parodic gesture toward its own creation of an ancestral voice and a verbal essence points to contradictions shaping the vanguards' cultural linguistic ventures and to their potential for a more critical impact.


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5— From Early Words to the Vernacular Inflection: Vanguard Tales of Linguistic Encounter
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