A Portrait of the Mexican Artist: Elizondo and Joyce

Conference paper read at the North American James Joyce conference in Buffalo, NY:

A Portrait of a Mexican Artist: Elizondo and Joyce

Brian L. Price – Wake Forest University

When Salvador Elizondo’s Teoría del infierno [Theory of Hell] appeared in bookstores, Mexican readers found, set against an unattractive rose matte background, the well-known photo of Joyce that typically adorns the cover of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. At first glance, this is an odd choice because Joyce only appears twice in the book: once explicitly in Elizondo’s brief yet insightful treatise on Ulysses and again implicitly in the next text, entitled “The First Page of Finnegans Wake.”[1] But what strikes me about the choice of this cover photo is that Elizondo places Joyce front and center in the presentation of his work. The gesture is simultaneously homage and appropriation. And the appropriated image is significant: he chooses the artist as a young man. Within Elizondo’s conception of art, Joyce plays a central role and is appropriated over and over as a literary object that promotes a specific vision of art.[2] Thus in this article, I will only deal with Joyce obliquely as a literary object that is used in the formation and promotion of another author’s literary project. Specifically I argue, as does David Damrosh in his book on world literature, that reading foreign authors consists of “an elliptical refraction of national literatures” and a process of translation wherein writing gains in import while, at the same time, it does not construct “a set canon of texts but a mode of reading.” Thus weltliterature becomes “a form of detached engagement with worlds beyond our own place and time” (281). It is precisely this concept of engagement that I want to apply to Elizondo’s reading of Joyce. I read Elizondo’s artistic development as a threefold interaction beginning with his early discovery of Joyce and emulation of Stephen’s aesthetics, his later critical engagement of Ulysses, and his exegetic translation of the first page of Finnegans Wake. Doing so will allow us then to make some broader comments about Joyce’s influence in Mexico and, hopefully, open a new line of inquiry into Elizondo’s work.

For many Mexican authors in the 1950s and 1960s, discovering James Joyce amounted to a landmark in literary development. Ramón Xirau first encountered Ulysses as a young Spanish exile in France en route to Mexico. He obtained the Morel and Gilbert French translation and admits to having endured much difficulty in reading the novel. Nevertheless, in preparing a seminar for the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), Xirau came to view Joyce’s literature as an attempt “to find an absolute outside the theological ideal: to deny God and find another suitable reality. In Joyce, that absolute reality is the creation of a language” (Toledo 39-41). Carlos Fuentes placed Cervantes at one end of the spectrum of literary modernity and Joyce at the other, insisting on each author’s role in renovating literature through a careful criticism of the processes by which art is created: “In Don Quijote… that criticism of creation is a critique of reading; in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, it is a critique of writing” (Fuentes 97). Fernando del Paso, possibly the most Joycean of all Mexican authors, claimed Joyce as “my teacher par excellence” and regarded Ulysses as “a sort of sun which took its place at the center of the Gutenberg Galaxy, shedding light on every work written after it and on the body of universal literature that preceded it”; he would further add that he found in Ulysses “not only the meaning of all the books I was destined to write, but also the meaning of all the years of my life that I would dedicate to their composition” (Fiddian 50-51).[3] But it is possibly Salvador Elizondo’s hagiographic rendering of the Irishman’s influence that most succinctly underlines the intensely personal nature of these interpretations: “Joyce is not orly the greatest writer of the English language of our century, but also – and this is a very personal and subjective opinión – the highes specimen of ‘artist’ since Leonardo da Vinci that the species homo sapiens has produced” (“Autóctonos y metecos: Céline y Joyce” 380-381).

Unlike Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, who in his introductory notes to the translation of the last page of Ulysses assures his readers that he has not finished the novel but did not need to, Elizondo read and reread A Portrait, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake numerous times throughout his life. He began A Portrait at 16 while studying in Canada and immediately proceeded to Ulysses, following the natural flow of Stephen’s life (Toledo). Two years later he committed his first recorded misdemeanor – stealing 100 pesos from his mother – in order to obtain Finnegans Wake (Elizondo, “Diarios (1952-1957) ¿La pintura, el cine o la literatura?” 46). A 23-year-old Elizondo mused on May 18, 1956, “Today I began a second reading of that amazing book, Ulysses. I am reading it simultaneously with Stuart Gilbert’s book” (49). He concluded this second reading on June 10th with a brief note: “Today I finished reading Ulysses. It is truly marvelous. I think if I weren’t so interested in reading Shakespeare right now, I would start it again. Molly Bloom’s last interior monologue is the most beautiful prose ever written” (50) And on April 30, 1958: “I am rereading Joyce’s Dubliners. There is no doubt that Joyce is the greatest writer of our times” (“Diarios (1958-1963): El oficio de escribir” 55) A few days later he made plans to adapt “Eveline” for television (55).

This sustained involvement with Joyce’s works did not translate to mimicry in Elizondo’s fiction. Outwardly, he is one of the least Joycean writers imaginable if we adhere to the characteristics outlined by Gerald Martin in Journey’s through the Labyrinth. Martin elaborates a schema of seven qualities that include the incorporation of mythic structure, the exploration of language, the exploration of nature and the experience of consciousness, the search for totality, journeys along roads that lead to towns, the search for the Other through art that returns to popular culture and roots, and the synthesis of craftsmanship and artistry or the elevation of the writer from the level of artisan to that of high priest of language (130-133). His main concern is unearthing a literary genealogy for the Latin American boom writers and consequently constructs a Joycean paradigm that privileges elements of his later fiction that will correspond to writers like Fuentes, García Márquez, Vargas Llosa, and Del Paso. But this construction elides a consideration of Dubliners and A Portrait, which I would propose are key to understanding Elizondo’s relationship to Joyce. It is my contention that his early encounter with high modernism plays a major role in his artistic development, specifically his identification with Stephen and his aesthetic theory.

Elizondo and Stephen

I will allow myself a biographical reading into Elizondo’s life in order to postulate why he might have chosen Stephen as a literary role model. The recent fragmentary publication of Elizondo’s journals in the Mexican literary magazine Letras Libres reveals a young man who was thin, shy, not given to sports, and preoccupied from an early age with fiction. Alternately moody and confident, he pined for young women he had recently met, wrangled with his father over the course his life should take, and worshipped his mother. His early verse is lackluster but his essays show promise. While I have no clear indication to the fact, I can imagine an awkward 16-year-old Salvador, away at school in Canada, curling up with a newly acquired copy of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and finding a kindred soul in its protagonist. That simpatico would surge from feelings of alienation, emotional and physical distance from family, and the growing suspicion that his literary tendencies somehow set him apart from his classmates. This last point is particularly germane because journal entries prior to Elizondo’s departure show a boy who only fiddles with artistic notions. Within a year, however, his entries taken on a much more directed trend. There are plenty of references to mundane concerns, but starting in his 16th year, the year he reads Joyce and encounters Stephen, Salvador Elizondo begins to seriously consider a life of literature.

Digressing from these speculations, we should turn to something more concrete, namely the elements of Steven’s poetics that Elizondo adopts and the contexts into which he weaves them. Stephen’s poetics build upon the precepts of volitional disposition of earthly materials for artistic purposes, symmetry, and pure contemplation divested of action or passion. Elitism, aesthetics, and art for art’s sake become hallmarks of Stephen’s overarching literary project. Elizondo shared these views: “When you see a painting by Gunther Gerzso—to use a national example—there are no elements that are not strictly pictorial, that is to say, there is no call for sentimentalism, no face of the beloved, no mother figure, nothing more than the pictorial shape. That is what I understand pure art to be” (Poniatowska 33). A concrete example may help illustrate this. In Farabeuf or a Chronicle of the Instant, Elizondo’s most recognized book, he treats the central image of the novel – the photograph of the tortured body of the Chinese regicide – in purely aesthetic terms. The body is divested of its human component and converted into an artistic installation. The narrator carefully considers the disposition of the torturers, the angles of the lacerated limbs, the expressions of the onlookers, and the technicalities of light, exposure, and weather conditions on the final photograph. Farabeuf is also a novel where nothing happens, where the text folds back upon itself inviting the reader to contemplate the same scene from a number of different angles.

The poetic emphasis on stasis, on passivity, became a code of conduct for Elizondo. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a period characterized by student protest and violent governmental repression, Elizondo withdrew from the public sphere and took refuge in his Coyoacán home, primarily inhabiting his bedroom and his back porch. He refrained from making public utterances and, after 1972, virtually ceased fictional production. This disappearance left many readers, writers, and critics frustrated. And yet it follows the poetics he had adopted: he distanced himself from extraliterary concerns and focused on the development of an aesthetic principle that emphasized contemplation, intellectual engagement with universal culture, and disengagement from social commitment. But it is wrong to characterize Elizondo as an escapist unfettered by the preoccupations of tangible existence because it becomes clear in his journalism and criticism that he was aware of goings-on and critical of injustice when he perceived it. Instead, his apparent disengagement from political entanglements can be misread as active engagement with ideas, for his texts reflect a conscientious reworking of some of the principal theoretical currents (hermeneutics, phenomenology, post-structuralism, and psychoanalysis) of his time. A careful examination of his short story collections, for example, reveals a thorough comprehension of the fictional strategies of national narratives and the increasing distrust for such narratives as enunciated by Lyotard and other poststructuralist critics. His first collection, Narda o el verano, tackles problems of authority, paternalism, as well as Schopenhauerian and Nietzschean notions of will and power. El retrato de Zoe y otras mentiras sheds light on falseness through the deployment of a classical baroque philosophy of diametrically opposed notions of light / dark, life / death, etc. And the third volume, El grafógrafo, brings the question of representation full circle by making the process of writing – metaphorically, the construction of national narratives – under close examination, placing full emphasis on the role of the writer in creation.

Commentaries on Ulysses

What Elizondo’s texts lack, however, is the ability to deal with Joyce’s pervasive concern for the body and its excesses. Elizondo inhabited the realm of the intellect, far removed from the belches, menstruations, humors, and debauchery present in A Portrait, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake. As noted earlier, the body is given an aseptic and aesthetic treatment in Farabeuf, the fictional biography of the innovative French surgeon, Louis Hubert Farabeuf, who introduced a number of clinical and surgical procedures that continue to be used to the current day. Because Elizondo can only deal with the body as language, throughout the novel limbs are properly identified, surgical equipment is carefully catalogued, procedures are described with exacting precision, and patients and victims are reduced from sentient beings to an amalgam of body parts in a surgical demonstration.

But the inability to write about the corporeal does not limit Elizondo’s appreciation of it in others. In his essay, “Ulysses”, for example, he highlights the transformational quality of Joyce’s writing that converts the body’s immediate phenomenological experience into a literary language accessible to all readers: “Ulysses is above all a description. […] The description of man as body-subject-that-perceives. This, of course, requires a new language. A new language in which symbols lose their primary categories, in which symbols stop being cryptograms that hide fundamental truths because the language that gives them life cannot not move beyond its primary phase, the one that establishes parallels between signifier and signified” (“Ulysses” 129). The new language that Joyce creates, according to Elizondo, allows the restructuring of time and experiences because the past, present, and future are experienced at the corporeal level through the medium of language: “the grandmother’s cake or the ‘organic sounds’ of the furniture are not cake or sound, but the memory of a cake and sound in the middle of the night. In Joyce there are no memories, there is only the real-time experience of life… As such, the living organism from which Ulysses surges is dynamic. Its very essence is that perceptive dynamism described by Husserl” (130). Thus, the body whose function lie so close to the heart of Joyce’s novelistic endeavor are transformed by Elizondo into a problem of language that foregrounds the necessity of finding new means of expression.

Elizondo interprets the work of high modernism as one grand linguistic-literary experiment. “Joyce… breaks the essential system of a literary language that could only produce perfect constructions, that is to say, uninteresting constructions” (“Vísperas de Bloomsday” 211). This experiment is a postcolonial gesture that defies the hegemony of the British empire by attacking it precisely in one of its principle points of pride: a literary language whose pillars include the likes of Shakespeare, Marlowe, Browning, Byron, and Austen. Ulysses is the “final expression of the English language, manipulated  […] by an outsider, by a subject, by an Irishman who manages to take it to its penultimate consequences, to a climax that has no other finality… than its own destruction” (210). According to Elizondo, the outsider’s ear allows Joyce, Conrad, Keats, and Wilde to transform English literature, which had become stagnated and was only capable of creating perfect, uninteresting constructions. To put it another way, “The Irishman snatched the conquerer’s language, subjected it to the ingenuity of the conquered, and elevated it to levels that English literature has still yet to achieve” (“Carta a una actriz” 92). It is of little surprise that Elizondo, who chaffed against traditional, non-transgressive writing, would emulate such influences. The correlation here is obvious: Elizondo, as a Mexican writer attempting to break the molds of Mexican literary nationalism so dominant in the mid-century, imagines his own work in an equally transgressive fashion.[4] Literature as violation of social and cultural construct becomes one of the key tenets of Elizondo’s project. Consider for a moment “Sistema de Babel” [System of Babel], a brief short story from his last volume of short stories, El grafógrafo [The Graphographer]. The core argument is this: a man decides to impose a new language in his home, one that disarticulates the traditional relationships between signifier and signified. By cutting the “serpentine umbilicus”, he hopes that new, autonomous meanings will grow, thereby renewing language’s expressive power (“Sistema de Babel” 16-17). This storyline lies at the heart of both Joyce and Elizondo’s experimentations with language. Transgression, which has always been a cornerstone of Elizondo criticism, takes on a new meaning when it is considered for the potential of its aesthetic renovation and not merely for its flashiness.
The First Page of Finnegans Wake

Allow me to summarize some of the arguments I have made up to this point before preceding to the final analysis which regards Elizondo’s engagement of Joyce through his translation of the first page of Finnegans Wake. Until now I have proposed a moderately biographical reading of Elizondo’s emulation of Joyce. Far from developing a style akin to the totalizing pyrotechnics that Martin prescribes and Del Paso or Fuentes exemplify, he takes a more personal approach, taking Stephen’s poetics at face value. Language plays an integral role in his texts, especially those that propose an overturning of traditional, common sense language in favor of newer, more inventive forms of expression. Throughout this discussion I have also hinted that this overall project somehow counters a current of nationalist realism that dominates Mexican literature in the 1960s. Joyce, transformed into a literary object for emulation, becomes a vehicle for an alternative cultural paradigm that engages culture at the world level. Transmitting Joyce to Mexican readers, then, becomes one of the hallmarks of Elizondo’s career.

When he stopped actively writing fiction, Elizondo entered Mexico’s academy and became an important figure in molding young writers; under his tutelage, members of subsequent generations began reading Joyce. But in 1962, prior to the publication of any books other than a relatively uncelebrated volume of poetry, Elizondo was heading up a new literary magazine with an audacious goal. The title alone, S.Nob, gives us a sense of the journal’s tone. Originally planned as a weekly cultural supplement, it lasted six weeks before production ceased. One final number was published a month later, and then the editorial committee disbanded permanently. But during those two months, however, S.Nob attempted what no other journal had done prior to that time: to expand Mexican readership of foreign literature through translation and dissemination. Its target texts tended to be French symbolist and surrealist and Anglo-American modernist. The editorial board, comprised of a dense core of young cosmopolitan Mexican authors, eschewed the publication of consecrated Mexicans and privileged critical articles on Baudelaire, Valery-Larbaud, Pound, Proust, and, of course, Joyce.ç[5] In the first edition, published on June 20, Elizondo launched a translation of the first page of Finnegans Wake. He had originally planned to translate the whole text with the help of his friend, Fernando del Paso, but the work stagnated due to Del Paso’s reluctance to admit that he did not speak or read English.[6] The translation is a fascinating document that reveals a conscientious attempt to interest readers in important and difficult world literature.

The obvious point of reference for Latin American authors reading and translating Joyce is Borges, who spoke of being the first Latin American to arrive at Joyce’s Ulysses. Sergio Waisman observes that Borges’s translation of the last page of Ulysses reveals an insightful, if partial, reading of a number of salient themes in Joyce’s work (the work’s Irishness, linguistic innovation—particularly neologisms—, Joyce’s study of human consciousness as it relates to time, and the use of multiple narrative forms) as well as a prescient insight into the need for exegetic commentaries as well as the import of this author years before a French translation would be available (158-163). If we accept Waisman’s argument that translation allows the author to take up complex issues of language and creation without necessarily having to write a long novel (and in this way economizing time and effort while bringing his or her major concerns to the forefront without burdening readers with an endless narrative), then we might argue here that Elizondo’s treatment of the first page of Finnegans Wake serves a similar purpose. Elizondo develops a purely literary language, divested of obligatory ties to a concrete reality. His exegetic text explains the references, but the question remains as to whether the work is enjoyable at the auditory level without the background information. Why then does Elizondo take the time to explain these elements to readers? In the first instance we might reason that Elizondo is showing off. He was, at best, an elitist dandy and, at worst, a cocksure snob. His privileged background allowed him to travel extensively, read whatever he wanted, and interact with the cultured circles of Mexico City long before reaching maturity. But that reading presupposes a solipsism that places Elizondo at the center of his universe, and my feeling is that art occupied that space. If my reading of this is correct, then it would be logical to assume that, while this possibility may play a part – far be it from me to discount the reaches of egocentrism – Elizondo’s commitment to literature was his primary concern, and disseminating that literature to others became his main goal.

The editorial comment that precedes the translation speaks volumes about what is to follow. “Many readers, avid to possess a complete literary culture, pale at mention of a book considered virtually unreadable. Now it continues being virtually unreadable, but at least we can read it in an almost familiar language” (14) As stated, the project pretends to complete the literary education of its readers. There is the concomitant recognition that in English Finnegans Wake is almost impenetrable and that in Spanish, it continues to be so. Translation here is not conceived as a means of making a text more legible, but rather as the transfer of a work’s form, style, and content to another language. It also suggests that the creation of a new language – and here we think back to earlier comments made during “System of Babel” – is needed to deal with Joyce’s work. What follows, then, is a translation of the roughly 280 first words, beginning with “riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs” and ending with “and their upturnpikepointandplace is at the knock out in the park where oranges have been laid to rust upon the green since devlinsfirst loved livvy”. Whereas Borges playful erases the Dublin landscape and infuses Molly’s Dublin brogue with the Italianate singsonginess of River Plate Spanish (complete with its characteristic voseo) (Waisman 157-168), Elizondo aims for absolute fidelity to the text. He reproduces grammatical structures, honors linguistic register, and offers some ingenious neologisms to match the polysemantic layering that occurs with “his penisolate war” or “topsawyer’s rocks”. But what really interests me here is not the translation itself. In terms of translation studies, and by comparison to Borges, Elizondo’s work is rather docile. There is no inventive recasting of the text. Indeed, this should not surprise us since Elizondo considers translation one of the principal impediments for Latin American readers. Thus his reproduction aims at utter fidelity. If the translation itself is not the issue at hand, then what is?

Curiously, to complement the 280 words of translated text, Elizondo includes approximately 1,900 words in 33 exegetic footnotes; that is nine times longer than the actual text. These notes attest to the mythological, historical, religious, and literary density that Joyce packs into the opening lines of the Wake, and they demonstrate a conscious effort on the translator’s part to make the text understandable. As translator, his primary responsibility is to the text: he cannot alter it, dumb it down, sweeten it up, or polish out the sticky points of Joyce’s writing. He is constrained to honor Joyce’s original intent. But as disseminator, Elizondo provides his readers with the keys necessary to comprehend the task at hand. Thus, the first footnote corresponding to the first word, “riverrun”, reads: “here is expressed the sense of the course that the River Liffey takes through the city of Dublin. The phrase that commences with this expression constitutes the complement for the final phrase of the book through which the beginning of Finnegans becomes its own ending, thus forming its own cyclical unit.” He is keenly aware of the literary allusions contained in second line: “Sir Tristram, violer d’amores, fr’over the short sea, had passencore rearrived from North Armorica on this side the scraggy isthmus of Europe Minor to wielderfight his penisolate war: nor had topsawyer’s rocks by the stream Oconee exaggerated themselse to Laurens County’s gorgios while they went doublin their mumper all the time”. This sentence alone receives 8 footnotes, including one that expands upon the dual allusion of “topsawyer’s rocks”, involving both a reference to Twain and the logging industry.

Elizondo’s translation of the first page of Finnegans Wake evinces a number of similarities with Borges’ translation of the last page of Ulysses. Both authors are, to some degree, the first of their respective generations to encounter Joyce. Unlike many early Hispanic readers, both were able to tackle Joyce’s texts in the original language. Both authors also avoid the bodily aspects of Joyce’s writing; Elizondo elides the body byviewed Ulysses as the transformation phenomenological experience into literary language while Borges opted for the most chaste page of Molly Bloom’s long monologue. The parallelism between first and last pages is also noteworthy, though they stem almost coincidentally from differing projects. Borges never intended to translate Ulysses. In fact, he boldly asserts that not only had he not read the entire the text, but that there was no need to do so for he knew with the “adventurous and legitimate certainty that we have when we affirm our knowledge of the city, without claiming, because of this, the intimacy of how many streets it has nor even of all its neighborhoods” (Waisman 159).[7] But it is the differences in their approaches to translation that draws the most attention. Whereas Borges playfully mistranslates Ulysses, divesting it of its Irishness and imbuing a sense of Argentineness through the use of the voseo and the reduction of explicit references to Irish landmarks like Howths Castle, Elizondo meticulously preserves the original text.

There is one final point that needs to be made about Elizondo’s critical appreciation of Ulysses and translation of Finnegans Wake. When he collects these texts into Theory of Hell, the book to which I referred at the outset of this paper, he placed “Ulysses” immediately before “The First Page of Finnegans Wake”. While there is no indication that these texts were written diachronically, we may deduce from Elizondo’s reference to the inferiority of José María Valverde’s 1976 translation of Ulysses that the commentary was written after his 1962 translation (Toledo 40-41). The first explanation seems logical enough: Ulysses was published 17 years before the Wake and Elizondo was obeying the chronological order of Joyce’s publication scheme. A second possibility, to which I am currently inclined, stems from their content as much as from their chronology. The article on Ulysses reflects Elizondo’s conviction that the novel is clear and accessible. It can be dealt with in critical terms. Indeed, on more than one occasion he has bracketed modern literature between Cervantes’ Quijote and Joyce’s Ulysses, suggesting that everything that came afterwards – including his own work – was fluff. The translation of Finnegans Wake, a work described as “unreadable”, moves beyond criticism into a world where exegesis is the only possible means of comprehension. The placement of these two articles suggests that Ulysses is the culmination of language while Finnegans Wake is its apocalyptic finale.

Conclusion

In concluding this paper, I hope to open two new lines of inquiry. First, my analysis of Elizondo has tried to unearth a new aspect of his writing that has previously been overlooked. When Farabeuf hit the stands, critics rushed to highlight its transgressive eroticism, its relationships with the noveau roman, its penchant for orientalism, its obsession with the I Ching, and a host of other exotic literary paraphernalia. The lion’s share of academic articles sought to uncover what one friend has described as “the dark side of Elizondo”. In my opinion, this has been the single largest disservice to Elizondo’s work that we could have done. True, he set out to shock people. But what these so-called sexy topics have done is undermine a broader inquiry into the Elizondo’s relationship with language and the role of artistry in fictional creation. Likewise, Elizondo has been presented to American academe as a novelist when in reality his oeuvre encompasses all genres. The second line of inquiry that should stem from this current research is a newer understanding of how Joyce enters Mexico’s literary imagination. For years we have been accustomed to thinking of Joyce in terms of two authors: Fernando del Paso and, to a lesser degree, Carlos Fuentes. Both authors seek broad totalities, display an impressive array of linguistic pyrotechnics, employ mythic structures to organize their narrations, and employ a patently high modernist world vision in their dealing with national issues of identity, insularity and cosmopolitanism, and art in general. Yet this paradigm is not the only viable model for Joycean incorporation. Elizondo stands at the opposite end of the Joycean spectrum.

Works Cited

Damrosch, David. What Is World Literature? Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 2003.

Elizondo, Salvador. “Autóctonos y metecos: Céline y Joyce.” Pasado anterior. Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2007.

—. “Carta a una actriz.” Pasado anterior. Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2007. 91-93.

—. “Diarios (1952-1957) ¿La pintura, el cine o la literatura?.” Letras Libres Mar 2008: 44-51.

—. “Diarios (1958-1963): El oficio de escribir.” Letras Libres Apr 2008: 54-59.

—. “Sistema de Babel.” El grafógrafo. Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2000. 16-17.

—. “Ulysses.” Teoría del infierno y otros ensayos. Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2000. 126-144.

—. “Vísperas de Bloomsday.” Pasado anterior. Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2007. 209-211.

Fiddian, Robbin William. “Palinuro de Mexico and Ulysses.” Estudos anglo-americanos 5.6 (1981): 50-56.

Fuentes, Carlos. Cervantes, O La Crítica De La Lectura. 1st ed. México: Mortiz, 1976.

Joyce, James. “La primera página de Finnegans Wake.” Trans. Salvador Elizondo. S.Nob 20 Jun 1962: 14-16.

Martin, Gerald. Journeys Through the Labyrinth: Latin American Fiction in the Twentieth Century. London: Verso, 1989.

Toledo, Alejandro. “Lecturas paralelas de Salvador Elizondo y Ramón Xirau en el descubrimiento de James Joyce.” Los márgenes de la palabra: conversaciones con escritores. Mexico: Coordinación de Difusión Cultural, 1995. 39-44.

Waisman, Sergio Gabriel. Borges and Translation: The Irreverence of the Periphery. Lewisburg [Pa.]: Bucknell University Press, 2005.


[1] All titles and texts translated from the Spanish are my own unless otherwise noted.

[2] Bordieu’s theory of cultural capital enters here because Joyce, not necessarily his works per se, become the central tenet of an aesthetic revolution. Reading Joyce becomes synonymous with a higher devotion to art.

[3] Fiddian’s academic work on Del Paso’s relationship with Joyce is not only extensive, but it is also the only serious scholarly effort thus far to provide a systematic reading of Joyce’s reception by Mexican authors. The quotes referenced above originally appeared in Spanish as responses to a questionnaire that Fiddian had sent the author that he later translated for his article “Palinuro de México and Ulysses”.

[4] See Robert McKee Irwin’s Mexican Masculinities, Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado’s Naciones intelectuales, and John Brushwood’s Narrative Innovation and Political Change in Mexico for more details on the resurgence of Mexico’s literary nationalism. It is especially noteworthy for this study, as well as others dealing with the topic, to note that the the resurgence in texts questioning Mexico’s political, social, and cultural identity appear at a moment of crisis after the administration of Miguel Alemán Vásquez who, according to Daniel Cosío-Villegas, brought an effective end to the promises and reforms that underpinned the transformational aspect of the Mexican Revolution.

[5] Noteworthy here is the relationship each author has to Joyce: Baudelaire, Proust, and Flaubert were precursors with whom Joyce dialogs frequently in his novels; Pound and Valery-Larbaud are contemporaries who, apart from their own writing, read and commented on Ulysses. Valery-Larbaud, with added insights from the author, also supervised the first French translation of Ulysses that Auguste Morel and Stuart Gilbert published in 1927.

[6] Of this experience, Elizondo observes that “I have known Fernando del Paso for many years; our friendship began around the time that he was writing José Trigo guided by his enthusiasm for Joyce’s Ulysses, but it was a ‘translated’ Ulysses. That’s why the compound words in José Trigo feel so artificial while in Joyce’s original text they are completely natural. Knowing of his enthusiasm for Joyce, I proposed to Fernando del Paso that we translate Finnegans Wake. We were just about to begin work when he confessed that he did not know English and that the Joyce that he knew was a translated Joyce” (Damrosch 281).

[7] Waisman’s translation.

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