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The Dense Forest of the Real Juan Jos Saer

Everyone knows, or should know, that the novel is a form adopted by narrative to represent a vision of
reality, during the age of the bourgeoisie. According to Lukacs, the tension in the novel, between the
protagonist and the world, is not wholly a question of historicity, but the limit that points us towards its
imperfection. From a certain point of view, Realism signifies the adequacy of writing based on a vision
of man who is exhausted by historicity. The origin of realism is to be found in comedy, which is to say,
the art of reality. Cervantes, the Father of realism, introduces narrative to comedy (as the source that
guarantees historicity).
As the recognized avatar of narrative, the function of the novel enters a well-defined historical period
which is absurd to eternalize. For the great narrators of the century, from Joyce to the New Novel, the
principal objective is to break the barrier imposed by a conception that permits a flawless historicity.
For Joyce, Symbolism is the dialectical opposite of realism. For Kafka, the difference between a
parable and an allegory is undefined. In Pavese or Thomas Mann the mythical search allows an
epiphany within the cultural dimension, and in a larger sense, exceeds the purely historical reality, etc.
In Argentina, two writers had erased these problems: Macedonio Fernndez (who did it in a radical
manner) and his student Jorge Luis Borges. Their criticisms of the novel had already begun during the
mid-1930s, and had in advance transformed (through their anachronic practice) the entire novelistic
tendencies in the Spanish language thereafter.
I adhere fully to the position of Macedonio Fernandez, and I think that his Museum of Eternal Novel is
an unprecedented feat in Spanish language. It is impossible to ignore why Macedonio had opposed
the novel because his criticism of the novel is fundamentally a criticism of the Real. My first
preoccupation as a writer, consequently, is centered on what is presented to us as the real, and to
which everything else is subordinated. Being Argentinian, for example, is a matter of fact of our
puerile reality that requires, like everything else, a careful examination. I do not write to demonstrate
my claim as Argentinian, although this would frustrate the expectation of many readers, especially the
non-Argentinians. I do not speak as an Argentinian but as a writer. Narrative is not an ethnographicsociological document. The narrator is not a compromised individual whose purpose is to represent
the totality of a particular nationality.
European critics often consider Latin American literature within the specific traits of Latin Americanness. To me, this is confounding and dangerous because such preconceptions would confine the
writers in the ghetto of latinoamericanidad. If the work of a writer do not conform to the European
readers immediate image of Latin America, this divergence would be read as a sign of inauthenticity
on the writers part, and all the more, if the writer is particularly Europeanized. There certain features,
in terms of form and content, stereotyped as Latin American by Europe, and the majority of Latin
American writers share this opinion by placing nationalism and colonialism under the same trend.
Consequently, it should not be studied separately even though on one hand, it is about the
nationalism of the colonizer, and on the other, the nationalism of the colonized.
Three dangers lie in wait for Latin American literature. Firstly, to be presented, a priori, as a Latin
American. The function of literature is not to investigate the characteristics of nationality. This is
because any form of imperfection in the work would then be deemed unacceptable, and the work
would be less rigorous, and closed off from other sources. The greatest error a writer could commit is
to think that being Latin American is a sufficient reason, in itself, for writing. What is considered Latin
American should be seen as secondary, by chance. The particularity comes not from ones place of
birth, but the work as a writer. Hlderlin, in a letter to Bhlendorf (4 December 1801) states this very
clearly: When culture progresses, national essence is always of the least interest. The claim of
national particularity is nothing more than a kind of simulation, the old irrational masks of ideology
persisting to maintain the status quo. Of all the different layers that structured reality, national

specificity, supported by morals and politics, should be the first to be questioned because of how it
seems to be undisputable.
This claim for one to be from a particular nation of Latin America (or any other regions) runs into two
other dangers that are lurking behind literature. The first would be vitalism, the ideology of the
colonized, based on a Sophist approach of assessing how our half-developed economy is related to
our privileged relationship with nature. Abundant and exaggerating, the clich of excessive passion,
the occult, the best-seller genre of magic realism, and the confusing association of the excessive
continental terrain with primitivism, the man from Latin American must play the role of the noble
savage challenged by pure natural forces. The second risk, as a result of our terrible social and
political state, is voluntarism. Considering our work as a spontaneous instrument of social change,
using it as an illustration of the theoretical principles defined earlier. Of course, against state terror,
the exploitation of man by man, the use of political power against the working class or individuals, we
would want an immediate and absolute change of the social structure, but unfortunately, this is
beyond the task of literature.
Since the beginning, the narrator possess nothing more than a negative theory. What has been
formulated has no utility. Narrative is a practice that (as it develops) secretes its own theory. Before
writing, one would know what not to do, and what remains of it (or that is what one is doing) is the
result of the repeated decisions taken by the narrator while he types during the different stages of
his work. Given that I am Latin American, and that Latin Americans we are, my work consists in
describing what we are, this very typical ideological statement implies a tautological approach
because if beforehand one is recognized as Latin American, it is useless and redundant to say it.
These historical, political, economic and social problems demand an exact solution from an
appropriate method. The displacement of the singularity of literary practice implies ingenuity,
opportunism and bad conscience. The bad conscience coming from the discomfort writers feel when
confronting the particularities of his writing within his historical situation. There are two ways to
approach this issue. First, to limit the volunterist repetition of the social circumstances, but this would
be a mistake. Second, what seems now as the only correct course consists (from precisely the
problem of the supposed bad conscience) in analyzing ones own experience and display this
analysis in the writing.
The novel is only a literary genre; the narrative, a way of relating man with the world. Being a Latin
American neither locates us outside this truth, at its margin, nor exempt us from any implication.
Being a narrator requires a huge capacity of readiness, for uncertainty, to be ignored, and this point is
valid for all narrators, whatever his nationality. Every narrator lives in the same land: the dense virgin
forest of reality.

Translated by J. Loke