Research - Prof. dr. E. Helena Houvenaghel

Exile & Migration and Myth & History Rewriting

Counter-Exile and Universalism

Alfonso Reyes' Literature of Counter-Exile

My doctoral research funded by the Scientific Foundation - Flanders (FWO-Vlaanderen) dealt with an intriguing question. Why was the oeuvre by 20th-century Latin American author Reyes, who lived as an exile for many years in Europe, not well received by the Latin American critics, although he was nominated several times for the Nobel Prize in Literature in the late ‘40s and ‘50s? Mexican and Latin American literary criticism regarded the work of this exiled author as Eurocentric and too separated from his country and continent of origin, Mexico and Latin America.

I propose to shed a different light on Alfonso Reyes’ work by reading it in the framework of Claudio Guillén’s concept of ‘counter-exile’ and its corresponding literary expression. Guillén opposes “literature of exile”, or the direct expression of the sorrow of exile (exemplified by the Ovidian approach to exile), to “literature of counter-exile”, or “those responses which incorporate the separation from place, class, language or native community, insofar as they triumph over the separation and thus can offer wide dimensions of meaning that transcend the earlier attachment to place or native origin” (exemplified by the Ulysses theme or various forms of the odyssey) (Guillén 1972 272).

In this framework, my analysis foregrounds that Reyes' work transcends nationalist concerns (see article: Alfonso Reyes and the 1932 nationalist polemic) and that its center is universalism. The mythical heritage and rhetorical tradition of Ancient Greece is represented by the exiled author as a universal cultural territory, a bridge between continents which lays the basis for universalism.

From this universalist position, the exiled author negotiated a central role for Latin America –especially in the face of Europe’s destruction in World War II– as the world’s future ‘continuer’ of civilization and re-inventor of myths (see article: Latin America in the face of the collapse of Europe (1930s-40s)).

Reyes considers it his moral duty to contribute to Latin America’s universalism and cultural mission. Dialogue and exchange between Europe and Latin America are, in Reyes’ view, instrumental in bringing to realization Latin America’s role as a continuer of civilization. (see article: Latin America’s mission)

Reyes adopts the same universalist and bridging viewpoint by focusing on intercultural links between Europe and Latin America rather than on the borders and separation between Europe and Latin America (see article: Lives between two worlds: Europeans in Latin America and Latin Americans in Europe).

In the same vein, Reyes’ contribution to the polemic about the (New Spanish or Spanish) identity of Juan Ruiz de Alarcón transcends the nationalist atmosphere in which the debate had originally started. Reyes makes the case that an intercultural view on Ruiz de Alarcón’s identity is more appropriate (see article: Juan Ruiz de Alarcón and Alfonso Reyes between two shores).

Many of Reyes’ writings aim at bridging the gap between Europe’s universal heritage and Latin America as a continuer of culture. Reyes familiarizes the Latin American audience with the German, Latin and Greek, and Spanish highlights of universal literature. (see article: Make the universality of the Spanish classics accessible to the Latin American audience)