Manuel Mujica Láinez

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George O. Schanzer

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Since 1965, when Peñuelas noted "la ausencia de nombres hispanos en la extensa bibliografía del mito" [the absence of Spanish surnames in the extensive bibliography of myth], the subject of myths has been explored by Hispanic scholars, and comments on their use by Spanish American writers have become quite frequent. Usually such studies or remarks refer to the born narrators among the novelists of the "boom" who do not emphasize self-reflective structure in their works. The use of myths has been noted and studied in Carpentier and García Márquez, among others. This use has been largely overlooked in Manuel Mujica Láinez, especially in De milagros y de melancolías [Of Miracles and Melancholies], which has received meagre attention, since its publication, late in 1968.

De milagros is the work of a famous writer, who has more than a dozen books to his credit as well as six or more literary prizes, both national and international…. Mujica Láinez, six years younger than Carpentier, but eighteen years older than García Márquez, has been labeled part of the anti-Perón establishment in Argentine literature. Why, then, did this recent work of Mujica Láinez, which represents a thematic homecoming, not score as well as the earlier ones?

The circumstances of publication of De milagros y de melancolías provide a major but not the only clue for the relative neglect of the book: the would-be chronicle of the mythical city of San Francisco de Apricotina del Milagro was launched by Editorial Sudamericana of Buenos Aires, the same press which eighteen months earlier had published Cien años de soledad [One Hundred Years of Solitude]. The reviews of Mujica Láinez' novel thus far available, do not refer to it in relation to the work of García Márquez, whose "escandaloso éxito" [scandalous success] (to quote Rodríguez Monegal) completely eclipsed De milagros…. Supposedly written by an exile from the prodigious city between December 1967 and July 1968, De milagros could have been inspired by Cien años. Therefore the possibility of a parodistic or imitative relationship exists and ought to be explored.

A review by Ghiano, which traced the use of myths in Mujica Láinez' earlier works, did not specifically link De milagros to the author's Crónicas reales [Royal Chronicles], written in the same vein in 1966 and therefore definitely prior to Cien años…. While the earlier ironic work presents vignettes from the history of an imaginary European dynasty, De milagros pretends to be a documented history of a South American city. Neither book contains the motif of a quest for the cue of magic documents, whose decoding coincides with the fatal ending of the novel, which we know from García Márquez. But it does appear already in Mujica Láinez' Bomarzo, years before Cien años.

In view of obvious parallels, it is surprising that the two authors have not been linked more often…. The patent similarities, as well as the dissimilarities, of the latter and Cien años call for a comparison and an examination of Mujica Láinez as a myth-maker.

Unlike the saga of Macondo, the chronicle of San Francisco de Apricotina does not avoid the appearance of history and bases itself on a two-page apocryphal bibliography, divided by periods, poking fun at erudition of all sorts. This documentary nature, rather than a "new novel" feature,… seems a take-off on documentary narratives. While we sense a relationship of the mythical Macondo with the area familiar to García Márquez …, "la ciudad del Milagro" [the city of the Miracle] is a synthetic Spanish American provincial capital, in a mountainous region south of Northern South America,...

(This entire section contains 2247 words.)

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not too far from the sea, near a remaining Inca stronghold, whose warrior horsemen are the "panchos" and long-haired Indians, called "jipis." Now that we know—or rather do not know—the place, Mujica Láinez leaves no doubt about time and the sequence of events. They begin in the period of Philip II; they end with the assassination of the proletarian líder of the city, four hundred years later, in the nineteen sixties, which necessitates the exile of the would-be chronicler. There follows an "Epílogo espiritista" ["Spiritist Epilogue"], which provides an open-end conclusion by means of a reportage on a timeless vision, supposedly having taken place earlier at the voodoo brothel of the demagogue-governor, who somewhat resembles Perón. It is interesting to note that at the end of bothCien años and De milagros the city is in ruins. While García Márquez' novel is subdivided yet gives the impression of rambling along, its underlying structure … can be constructed by the reader. Mujica Láinez, on the other hand, leaves no doubt that we are studying the highlights of a linear sequence, which is divided into chapters dealing with the mythical heroes of San Francisco: El Fundador, Gobernadores que tuvo … hasta su Independencia, El Liberador, El Caudillo, El Civilizador y El Líder [The Founder, Governors Until Independence, The Liberator, The Caudillo, The Civilizer, and The Leader]. A further, invisible, structuring is afforded by the technique of presenting history as a sequence of slides or verbal pictures (obviously modernist cuadros [tableaux]), which evoke real or synthetic historical canvasses. Indeed, in a letter—in excellent English—Mujica Láinez referred to his technique of using a "historical framework to build a succession of scenes (tableaux) of constant irony" (9/25/72).

Unlike Cien años, the Argentine novel makes no pretense of being a family saga, although los próceres [the leaders] of the prodigious city are often interrelated, in both conventional and unconventional ways. Both books would benefit from appending a genealogical-dynastic chart of the protagonists, such as the one prepared recently for Cien años for didactic purposes. As the successive or simultaneous Buendías share characteristics, the chief executives of San Francisco are all variations of "The Hero of a Thousand Faces" (in this case six plus), but they are all tuertos [one-eyed] whether they are one-eyed congenitally or as the result of violence. Whereas the protagonists of both novels act rather irresponsibly, the incongruous and selfish actions of Mujica Láinez creations somehow lead to the common good and progress of the city. Both Macondo and San Francisco are founded after prolonged wanderings through the wilderness, but it is Mujica's opening chapter which parodies a deliberate quest, the Hispanic colonizing pattern, and the celebrated "utopía-epopeya" [Utopia-Epopee] myth. Of course, the establishment of a shipyard in the mountains inland by the apricotinos clearly outdoes the discovery of a Spanish galleon miles from the sea, in Cien años. Likewise, while the sexual prowess of García Márquez's characters is as mythical as the dimensions of certain of their organs, Mujica Láinez, with greater sophistication, shows considerable interest in sexual deviation, as he has effectively done in previous works. Nevertheless, he also includes sexual initiation scenes, an aunt-nephew relationship, and San Francisco's mythical warrior, the caudillo Bravaverga, leaves not seventeen but fifty-seven spurious sons who later form a legion of shock-troopers (with purple capes, not green berets), the "Vergas Bravas" [Fearless Penises]. Sex is somewhat grotesque in De milagros, and avoids the excessive endogamy of Cien años. Both works ridicule legal issues, but San Francisco's famous trial, in which the firm of Martínez Kafka represents both parties who are the same person, tops them all. Literary allusions abound in the two novels and especially those to works by Cortázar and Fuentes treated as reality by García Márquez are known. Mujica Láinez incorporates whole lines from famous writers and blends them together. He also uses parody extensively, and perhaps excessively, by providing fake neoclassical, romantic and even gaucho poetic inserts in his prose.

While the immortality of the omniscient first-person narrator in Bomarzo and El unicornio is an effective literary device and the extraordinary longevity of Ursula together with the timeless quality of Melquíades affirm the mythical nature of García Márquez' creations, the survival of the Duchess of Arpona, in De milagros, from Chapter I to Chapter V (three hundred years), on a prescription of nightly intercourse, appears a gag, even if we associate it with the Phoenix myth.

We have come to the fundamental differences between the two novels: In spite of its Rabelaisian features …, Cien años never leaves any doubt that it is a serious work; the same quality, in Mujica Láinez advertised even on the back cover, makes his book a humorous one. "… vuelve la narrativa argentina a los rasgos del humorismo crítico …" [the Argentine narrative returns to the characteristics of critical humorism] is Ghiano's appropriate comment. Also, the repetitions in García Márquez' saga come to a conclusion with the end of the clan, of Macondo and of the book; yet San Francisco de Apricotina del Milagro may be founded again and again. While in Macondo, a transfiguration of Aracataca, according to Mejía Duque "los hechos se magnifican y sacralizan" [events are magnified and sanctified], the legends, anecdotes, and traditions of the synthetic San Francisco are festively debunked. Whereas García Márquez "no deja traslucir … que haya diversidad de sustancia entre lo prodigioso y lo diario" [does not permit the conjecture that there is a real difference between the prodigious and the routine], according to Gullón, Mujica Láinez insists on showing us how natural events become prodigious and indicative of divine intervention. Only for two miracles does he fail to offer an explanation, therefore making them even funnier: one concerns the survival of the Duchess of Arpona, the other the instant arrival of persons and things, including a temporary Wall of China, merely by mentally concentrating on the image.

Both works make use of the age-old myths of the heroic leader, unlimited virility, defeat of death and eternal recurrence, but it is Mujica Láinez who shows them as collective necessities in a Jungian sense. The archetypical "jefe tuerto" [one-eyed leader] of San Francisco is needed to galvanize community action. In De milagros eternal recurrence is "plot vehicle, unity device, and canceller of time." Other characteristics, not yet mentioned which the two novels share and which Meehan, in a recent review of a third novel conveniently listed as "identifiable elements traceable to the Colombian artist" are: "the extensive use of enumeration and exaggeration …, the employment of epithets or 'tags' to identify characters … frequent images of age, decay, and destruction; strong female characters and weak male personages obsessed with their extravagant enterprises."

Further traits, typical especially of Mujica Láinez, are seen in Crónicas reales and De milagros as well as in earlier novels: A penchant for the recreation of the past—quite unlike Rodríguez Larreta's, despite the use of verbal paintings mentioned above; constant links between the past and the present; e.g. the characters dream of devices which later would become part of modern life; the use—and perhaps overuse—of comical names; last but not least an extraordinary Enguistic creativity. It is regrettable, indeed, that the limitations of this paper do not permit the reading of samples of the grotesque humor, fanciful enumerations, and picaresque situations of De milagros y de melancolías, a book which deserves to be better known.

In a letter dated August 22, 1972, Mujica Láinez confirms the composition of De milagros, prior to his own reading of Cien años, which he greatly admires. Linking his novel with the preceding Crónicas reales he writes: "Juntos forman una especie de anti-historia del mundo occidental, compuesta por un escritor que se vengó así, alegremente, de las torturas que le habían impuesto la celosa Historia y su hijo bastardo el Anacronismo cuando escribía novelas como El unicornio, Bomarzo, etc." [Together they make up a sort of anti-history of the Western world, composed by a writer who thus took revenge, good-humoredly, for the tortures which jealous History and her bastard-son Anachronism made him suffer when he wrote novels like The Unicorn and Bomarzo]. In a subsequent letter (9/25/72) the novelist refers to a new work which will form a "tríptico" [triptych] with Crónicas and De milagros. Mujica Láinez' remarks place the latter clearly in line with his other creations. While this excludes a parodistic or imitative link to Cien años it leaves no doubt that De milagros is a parody of Latin American reality. It satirizes the history of Spanish American "personalismo"; it lampoons both foibles and traditions and, even if it accomplishes it in a delightful, intelligently and artistically humorous way, it may hurt, especially coming from a member of the Argentine Literary Academy, an establishment almost totally devoid of a colonial past and cultural "subdesarrollo" [underdevelopment]. Perhaps Latin Americans do not easily laugh about themselves and this may account, in addition to poor timing of its publication, for the meagre success of a novel which disguises itself as a chronicle. The myth of the eternal recurrence of the one-eyed strongman, in an ambient fraught with credulity, is not fashioned by Mujica Láinez (This would be impossible, if we accept the concept of myths as psychological reality.) It is explored by the author and deflated. He is not a mythmaker, but a delightful destroyer of myths. (pp. 65-71)

George O. Schanzer, "The Four Hundred Years of Myths and Melancholies of Mujica Láinez," in Latin American Literary Review, Vol. 1, No. 2, Spring, 1973, pp. 65-71.


David William Foster


Kessel Schwartz