Cervantes' heritage in Latin America: A reading of Machado de Assis' and Jorge Luis Borges' Cervantine literature

Paulo Roberto de Souza Dutra, Purdue University


This study examines the influence of Miguel de Cervantes' literary aesthetic, embodied in Don Quijote, on Machado de Assis and Jorge Luis Borges. It provides an appraisal of how Don Quijote has been read and therefore interpreted by readers, writers and the critics. In order to achieve a theory of reading the novel I confront texts that deal directly with the elements present in the process of writing and reading literature: author, narrator, readers and their relationship, as well as literary influences. I analyze Machado's narrative following a different path from traditional Machadian criticism that mostly looks for his influences in British Literature. I show how Machado, following the burlesque way of Cervantes, builds upon literary tradition as well as readers' expectations to create a unique portrait of nineteenth-century thought. After reviewing the critical literature produced on the relation between Borges and Cervantes and having as basis "Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote," I develop the argument that despite everybody else's, including Borges himself, opinions, Borges wrote a novel and his novel is Don Quijote. The still forming nature of the novel and Borges' perceptions of what a novel is yield for such a dislate. Borges' novel is also a tale about Latin America. I examine the few comparative works on Machado and Borges carried out so far and I come to the conclusion that, although suggested sometimes, a comparison between them through their relation to Cervantes is lacking. I provide one, and I show that, despite the fact that they had all the reasons for not having anything in common, the Tradition of La Mancha brings them together. The specifics and broad similarities between them can be summed up in a matter of attitude towards literary aesthetic. Because of the way they followed Cervantes' literary production and attitude towards literature they must be set apart from their immediate context. Not only in what concerns the idiosyncratic nature of their literary production (which is of course widely accepted) but also and more importantly in what concerns their role of representatives of Latin American Literature and its historical, social, political role in the development of the region. Their works are not consistent with what was being done by others during their active years of production. Machado and Borges tried to imitate and be the European literature as their contemporaries did, especially in their early periods; however, it would seem they proceeded to a reexamination of the model and its applicability on their context. Therefore, although inserted in a literary tradition that would blindly import models they experimented with and chose another path. It is probably due to the fact that the reality of Latin America seen by them was not the same reality their contemporaries saw. In other words, Machado and Borges in opposition to most of their fellow writers in Latin America preferred to "fundar otra realidad mediante la imaginación y el lenguaje, la burla y la mezcla de géneros."




Dixon, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Comparative literature|Latin American literature|Latin American Studies

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