Post-Doctoral Research Project: Literary Fields in Central America and Mexico through the Life and Works of Eunice Odio.

March 16, 2013 // by tania

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1. Project Abstract

The main purpose of this Project is to study the “temporary structures within the historical flow” of the literary fields in Mexico and Central America during most of the Cold War (1945–1975), and their influences on the development of certain literary forms and discourses.  The avant-garde Costa Rican poet, Eunice Odio, will be considered as a figure to track these discourses because her work provides a crucial example of an exceptional text that could not influence the system due precisely to the hegemonic patterns of those temporary structures.


2. Description of Project

Why is one literary text ignored and another praised? What is prestige and talent about?  Who “makes” literature?  Is it only a matter of writers or are others responsible for the “artistic usefulness” of a hegemonic form?  Since literary fields are made up of social networks, different factors come into consideration—ideological, cultural, gender, social and political.

The biography of the Costa Rican poet, Eunice Odio (1919–1974), is an ideal way to track these factors.  Her life exemplifies the ideological tangles of the Cold War: a known left-winger she later became an anti-communist.  She also got involved in avant-garde networks throughout Central America and Mexico City, establishing contacts with important figures such as José Coronel Urtecho, Miguel Ángel Asturias, Octavio Paz or Elena Garro.  And finally, Odio represents a paradigmatic case of oblivion even though she wrote one of the most ambitious poetry books in Spanish, El tránsito de fuego (1957), recently translated into English under the title of Fire’s Journey. Part 1 (2013).  This book consists of more than 10,000 verses dedicated to examining the construction of the identity of the stateless poet.

As Bourdieu emphasized in The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Fieldwe should consider the connection between the production of a work of art and the value conferred on it beyond the mystery of creating.   The truth is that creativity is produced within social and political networks that are called into account.  Thus, we cannot ignore the conditions that surround the production and reception of a literary work.  To analyze the structures of those networks could shed light upon why it was necessary to create, beyond pure aesthetic pleasure.

As any writer or poet, Eunice Odio constructed her position and her viewpoint after the social and political conditions around the literary space.  At the same time, she elaborated a discourse to convince herself of the reasons why she was devoted to her art, no matter the consequences.  Those conditions were essential to construct her singularity and her intellectual liberty.  By means of a scientific analysis, those complex conditions of production can be identified and, indeed, the exceptional effort that was needed for that singularity to exist can be comprehended.  What are the foundations of her realm of expression? What were the particular social and political conditions from which Odio’s lucidity stemmed and which imposed limits on that lucidity?  What is the reason behind her “creative mind’s protest”, in Harold Bloom’s words?

Thus, other questions arise.  How did the structures within the literary fields under study operate?  Are the dynamics of those structures somehow represented and/or revised in Odio’s work?  Is it possible to say that her humanistic proposal in Fire’s Journey is not only a reflection on the metaphysical, stateless poet but also a protest regarding the “rules” of art?

This Project has two main objectives:

– To study Eunice Odio’s life cycle as a poet in order to reconstruct her “creative mind’s protest”.

– To examine the events that molded the structures of the literary fields in Central America and Mexico during the Cold War.

The significance of this Project lies upon the connection established between post-colonial and post-modern culture, a connection conceived within the avant-garde movements that still endures its influence on today’s writers, as Rosemberg notes.  Furthermore, we have often read about the confrontation between avant-garde art and committed art in Latin America (regarding aesthetics and ethics), but what were the ideological and cultural confrontations within the avant-garde movement itself?

The methodology employed is based on Pierre Bourdieu’s theory on literary fields: the degree of “importance” of a literary work is often determined by its creator’s relations with the Symbolic, Social, Economic or Political Capitals. Also on the idea of “distant reading” developed by Franco Moretti, where maps, timelines and charts can account for a much larger literary system: through visualization, we can array disparate information and understand the position of actors in a network.  And last but not least, on Harold Bloom's theory on poetry included in The Anxiety of Influence.

I have already documented Odio’s early use of surrealistic aesthetics to shape a sense of belonging.  Nevertheless, it is a contradictory and anguished projection of identity, very different from the tropical “happy orchard” motif that had crystallized in Art Nouveau Poetics.  The results of this discovery were included in my article “Arraigo onírico.  Tras la pista de la joven Eunice Odio” (2012), published by the University of Costa Rica.

At the moment, I am trying to reconstruct Odio’s years in Mexico City, when she constantly accused Cuba and Russia of interfering in Latin American politics.  Also, I am studying Fire’s Journey (1957), which represents a milestone in her humanistic proposal.

Now I would like to determine the reasons for Odio’s radical political change.  Thus, I would need to go back to the origins of her political consciousness and consider well-known political events as well as those that took place within the cultural and literary fields, like the controversy between the Stalinists and the surrealist Spanish artist exiled in Guatemala, Eugenio Fernández Granell; or the CIA investigation into the writer Elena Garro.  By reviewing the above, I will be able to outline a structure analysis, elaborate models and determine the degrees of relations, hierarchies, polarizations, power groups, and even the historical “laws” in place.  All of this would be complemented with the elaboration of maps, timelines and tree diagrams that would illustrate visually the structures under study.




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