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Peru: Controversy and Tributes on 120th Anniversary of César Vallejo's Birth

Google's doodle for the 120th anniversary of the birth of César Vallejo


On 16 March, 2012, Peru celebrated [es] the 120th anniversary of the birth of the great Peruvian poet César Vallejo, who, as Wikipedia in Spanish points out, is “considered amongst the greatest innovators of poetry of the 20th century. He was, in the opinion of the critic, Thomas Merton, ‘the best poet, worldwide, after Dante‘.”

In Peru, the date was commemorated [es] with numerous activities, such as recitals, lectures and new publications.

One of the things that greatly surprised Peruvian lovers of Literature was Google's doodle, which was made available only for Peru and the United States, and which paid tribute [es] to the writer. This tribute was driven by numerous netizens [es] on Facebook, and was supported by the The House for Peruvian Literature [es], who also gathered numerous other proposals for Vallejo doodles [es] that were to be sent to Google. However, the doodle that was finally decided upon, was an original by Google.

The blog Debae Pedagógico reproduces [es] one of the doodles which had been proposed and what inspired its creator, the artist from Lima Javier Aquino:

me concentré en la personalidad reflexiva y la tristeza de los poemas de Vallejo aludiendo al dolor humano. Por ser un escritor de antaño es que los elementos aluden a algo antiguo y precario refiriéndose también a la situación económica poco favorable que vivó el poeta.

I focused on the reflective personality and the sadness of Vallejo's poems, alluding to human suffering. To be a writer in the old days, the elements had to allude to something old and precarious, referring themselves to the less-favourable economic situation in which the poet lived.
César Vallejo - Alternate Doodle

César Vallejo – Alternative Doodle


But this anniversary has not been exempt from controversy. Controversy has risen from an article [es] in a local newspaper that alludes to the celebrated sadness of the Vallejan poetry; in the sense that it has damaged the national sub-conscience and is guilty of the supposed defeatism of the Peruvians. The author of the article, Diego de La Torre, later attacked J.R. Ribeyro, another Peruvian writer, who praises liberal theories. According to him, these are the things that contribute to achieving “a citizen with a winning mentality and lack of complexes.”

The reactions on social networks were immediate and devastatingly in Vallejo's defense. Above all, reactions were most frequent on Twitter, where Twitter users posted sarcastically under the hashtag  #CulpadeVallejo (#BlameVallejo) [es],  throwing blame at the poet for everything bad that has happened.

A copy of the entire article was made public [es] on Facebook, but it is in the blogs where one can truly see the debates against the article. For example, Gustavo Faverón wrote [es]:

El artículo de Diego de la Torre dice que estaríamos mejor si en lugar de tener a uno de los cuentistas magistrales de la tradición hispana y en lugar de tener a quien fuera, posiblemente, el mayor transformador de la poesía en español en los últimos trescientos cincuenta años, hubiéramos tenido una serie de epígonos de Paulo Coelho. […]

Diego de la Torre, cuya capacidad de lectura no puede ir más allá de interpretaciones al pie de la letra (como las del célebre personaje de Ribeyro que terminó matando a su amada por su incapacidad de comprender una metáfora) supone que la vida es literalmente una competencia con repartición de medallas en la línea final, y que, en ella, alguien como Vallejo, acaso por haber muerto sin dinero o por no haber alcanzado en vida la plena celebridad, o acaso simplemente por no haberse rendido a la lógica del capital como única medida de toda moral, no es otra cosa que un fracasado.

Diego de la Torre's article says that we would be better if instead of having one of the magisterial writers of Hispanic history and instead of having who was, possibly, the oldest transformer of Spanish poetry in the last 350 years, we would have had a series of imitators such as Paulo Coelho. […]

Diego de la Torre, whose reading capacity does not go much further than interpretations of letters (similar to the instance where the celebrated character of Ribeyro killed his lover because of her inability to comprehend a metaphor). He supposes that life is quite literally a competition with  distributions of medals upon the finish line, and that, someone like Vallejo, who perhaps died without money and without having achieved in life full celebrity status, or perhaps simply did not exhaust the logic of the capital as the last measure of all moral, is no more than a failure.

Later, he concludes:

Tonterías, obviamente. Tonterías que equivaldrían a decir que por culpa de Sófocles los griegos creían que el esfuerzo humano era inútil, o que por culpa de Kafka los germanos suponen que un hombre es en el fondo una cucaracha, o que debido a Melville y a Hawthorne y a Poe y a Faulkner los americanos se creen condenados a la desgracia y al horror, o que Camus y Sartre han convertido a los franceses en fatalistas o en nihilistas.

Silliness, obviously. Silliness that would equate to saying that it's Sophocles’ fault that the Greeks believed that human strength was useless, or that it's Kafka's fault that the Germans thought that a man transformed from a cockroach, or that because of Melville and Hawthorne and Poe and Faulkner, the Americans see themselves condemned to disgrace and horror, or that Camus and Sartre have converted the French into fatalists and nihilists.

In the group blog Mil Inviernos, a similar opinion [es] is shared:

Para de la Torre, César Vallejo ha sido más nefasto que Fujimori o Guzmán porque se insertó en el inconsciente y, para poderlo discernir, sería necesario un psicoanalista. Habría que preguntarle al columnista peruano qué influencia ha tenido “Las once mil vergas” de Apollinaire en el comportamiento de los franceses o si Passolini por haber hecho “Saló o los 120 días de Sodoma” es el culpable de que Italia tenga a Berlusconi.

For de la Torre, César Vallejo has been more harmful than Fujimori or Guzmán because he inserted himself into the unconscious and, in order to be able to discern it, it would have been necessary to be a psychoanalyst. You would have to ask the Peruvian columnist what had been the influence on the behaviour of the French in Apollinaire's “The Eleven Thousand Rods” or it Passolini for his “Saló or the 120 days of Sodom” is guilty of Italy having Berlusconi.

Iván Thays points out, with regards to the outraged Twitter users, that many of them ” have not read, nor will read, a line of Julio Ramón Ribeyro or of César Vallejo.” Later on, he gives his own opinion [es] about the article:

No solo sustenta una idea improbable, como decir que una obra puede dañar el subconsciente nacional, o prejuiciosa, como dar a entender entre líneas que los autores representativos deben escribir libros optimistas para favorecer la autoestima de sus países, sino que, además, ha leído de manera superficial y frívola los autores que menciona, y en especial a César Vallejo, quien está muy lejos de ser un derrotista […]

debe quedar claro que cuando César Vallejo escribe: “Yo nací un día en el que Dios estuvo enfermo” no está expresando una idea derrotista sino su disconformidad frente al mundo, atestiguando que existe una idea de justicia implantada por un superior (llámese Dios o quien sea) contra la que se subleva. En ese poema la frase se reitera una y otra vez (de ahí el título “Espergesia”) aumentando el nivel de indignación del poeta y llamando al lector a indignarse también.

It sustains an improbable idea; like saying that a work of literature can damage the national subconscience, or prejudice; like making one understand that representative authors must write optimistic books in favour of the self-esteem of the countries. But also he has read of the superficial and frivolous manners of the authors that he mentions, especially César Vallejo, who is infact quite far from being a defeatist. […]

it must remain clear that when César Vallejo writes: “I was born on a day when God was ill,” that he is not expressing the defeatist idea, but his discomfort against the world. He is testifying that there exists an idea of well-established justice by a superior being (calling himself God or whoever he may be) against he that infuriates himself. In this poem, the phrase  is repeated over and over again “Espergesia”, increasing the level of indignation of the poet and calling to the reader to become indignant himself.

Finally he manifests that:

Hace 120 años nació César Vallejo y, por lo visto, la incomprensión que obtuvo de sus compatriotas contemporáneos (que lo hizo refugiarse en París y no regresar jamás) sigue vigente en este nuevo país puesto al servicio de la “Marca Perú”.

It has been 120 years since the birth of  César Vallejo and apparently, the lack of understanding that set his fellow contemporary countrymen (that made him take refuge in Paris and never return) remains current in this new country, posted to the service of the “Marca Perú”.

Virtual tributes

But not everything that has been written about Vallejo these days has turned into a provoked debate over the aforementioned article. In her blog, Sonia Luz Carrillo recalls [es] and compiles previous articles that have been written about the poet.

In Cinencuentro they review [es] points of intersection between Vallejo's poetry and cinema, and post a compilation of videos [es] with his declaimed poems also proves to be quite interesting.

The aforementioned Gustavo Faverón writes [es] about “Nueve Monstruos” (“Nine Monsters”), one of Vallejo's most famous poems:

Vallejo, como escritor y como intelectual, se estrelló muchas veces contra los obstáculos de una educación limitada y las escaseces que afronta cualquier peruano de la clase media provinciana que además se va empobreciendo a lo largo de su vida; luchó y fracasó en muchos géneros (no fue un gran novelista, no fue un gran dramaturgo, aunque tratara), pero no desfalleció ni renunció, probablemente porque entendió que los fracasos temporales eran inevitables en una empresa como la que se había planteado, que no era la pequeña empresa de triunfar como escritor, sino la inmensa empresa de inventar un lenguaje que le permitiera decir lo inefable o por lo menos señalarlo, dibujar el gesto que nos permitiera intuirlo.

Vallejo, as a writer and intellectual, crashed against the obstacles of a limited education and the shortages that face any Peruvian of the provincial middle class. In addition to becoming impoverished throughout his life, he fought and failed in many ways (he wasn't a grand novelist nor was he a grand playwright, even though he tried). But he didn't become weak and he didn't resign, probably because he understood that temporary failures were inevitable in an industry such as the one where he was planted, and it wasn't the small business of achieving triumph as a writer, but the immense business of inventing a language that would permit him to say the indescribable, or at least to point it out or to draw the gesture that would allow us to sense it.

The linguist Nila Vigil recalls [es] her first time reading a work by Vallejo:

Yo lo conocí en el colegio, me encantó (lo de Paco Yunque no lo cuento). En casa de mis padres había dos libritos de él de editorial Losada y me los devoré. No sé cuánto entendería de sus poemas pero los leía y leía con pasión porque me dejaban un no sé qué en el alma. Han pasado más de 30 años desde la primera vez que lo leí y me sigo emocionando cuando lo leo. Creo que es uno de los mejores poetas que han escrito en castellano.

I was introduced to him first in school and I enoyed it thoroughly (the short story of Paco Yunque). In my parents’ house, there were 2 little books of his from the Losada editorial and I devoured them. I didn't know how much I would understand, but I read them and I read them with passion, because they left something – I don't know what – inside of my soul. 30 years have passed since the first time I read his work and I still become emotional when I read it again. I believe that he is one of the best poets that has ever written in Spanish.

In the blog Marea Cultural, Augusto Rubio recalls [es]:

César Vallejo se reconcilia en el alma y en el corazón de su patria cuando abrimos sus libros y les damos lectura. Él representaba emblemáticamente el alma mestiza peruana y latinoamericana que prefiere la marginación dolorosa a la humillación de la servidumbre.

Whenever we open his books, we find that César Vallejo is reconciled in the soul and in the heart of his nation. Symbolically, he represented the soul of the Latin American and Peruvian half-breed that prefers the painful marginalization of the humillation of servitude.

Finally, on Youtube you can find this musical version of “Masa”; another of the most recognized poems of César Vallejo.

This post was originally posted in the personal blog [es] of Juan Arellano

1 comment

  • […] Peru: Controversy and Tributes on the 120th Anniversary of the Birth of César Vallejo, Juan Arellano, English translation by Rebecca Knaggs (Español aquí): The 120th anniversary of the birth of César Vallejo on 16 March, 2012, was celebrated with recitals, lectures and new publications. Netizens also remembered the poet and his work through blogs and social networks. The day also included the hashtag #BlameVallejo after the publication of a controversial article. – El 16 de marzo se celebraron con recitales, conferencias y nuevas publicaciones los 120 años del natalicio del gran poeta peruano César Vallejo. En Internet se recordó al poeta y su trabajo en blogs y redes sociales. Incluso se creó la etiqueta #culpadevallejo tras la publicación de una polémica columna. […]

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