Carlos Fuentes—the Older Writer

Mexico City was a curious destination: the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) was anti-Castro, governing by political repression and economic stagnation. But those were familiar from Colombia, and politics mattered somewhat less now. More important were artistic opportunities. Mexico City was the center of Latin American literature and cinema, which took Gabo back to his earlier love. Despite the variety of his film writing, Garcia Marquez could not find any work until hired to edit “two fluffy periodicals, Sucesos (Events) and La Familia.” Handling everything from copywriting to layout and cover art, he gained enough experience to move to J. Walter Thompson in 1963. “I’ll never write again,” he glumly told Alvaro Mutis, another expat whom he knew from his student days in Bogota.50 But Mutis introduced him to the work of Juan Rulfo, and Garcia Marquez wrote a screenplay of Rulfo’s The Golden Cock, which Mutis showed to his friend Carlos Fuentes. He also gave Fuentes one of the few extant copies of La Hojarasca.51

Only a year older than Gabo, Fuentes was already Mexico’s most important young writer. As a gatekeeper, he was the older writer. Fuentes would “take him to places that almost no other writer in Latin America could reach,” writes Martin, having “enjoyed a privileged upbringing, which he had made the most of. He spoke both English and French superbly, in the virile but modulated tone of the classic Mexican tenor. He was handsome, dashing and dynamic, glamorous in every way ... in 1958 he had published what can fairly be considered the work which announced the imminent Boom of the Latin American novel, Where the Air Is Clear (La region mas transpar- ente).”52 Fuentes had just published Aura and The Death of Artemo Cruz, two of the great Mexican novels of the century. “I’d heard about Gabriel through Alvaro,” said Fuentes, who loved film and helped Garcia Marquez with the script of The Golden Cock. Martin writes that Fuentes’ “intellectual generosity was unrivalled.” But above all, “Fuentes’s Latin American consciousness was much more developed than that of Garcia Marquez and he was able to tutor and groom the still raw and uncertain Colombian for a role in a vast Latin American literary drama.”53

We may fairly ask what was in it for Fuentes. As the older writer, didn’t he put himself in the role of sponsor and advisor without apparent benefit? Wasn’t he promoting a potential rival? It has become fashionable to take a cynical view of altruism, but recently disciplines as different as ethics (Peter Singer) and economics (Nobel Prize winner Alvin Roth) are converging on a more nuanced view.54 In the dynamics of gatekeeping, if we recall Collins’ vision of the intellectual attention space, a prominent writer rises in the estimate of his cohort when he attracts talented auditors to his conversation. This also confers future advantage on him, a “halo effect,” according to Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky’s account in prospect theory: reciprocal altruism, the sub-domain that covers such actions, holds that people will be more helpful when they know that their aid is returned even in minor and intangible ways.55

Fuentes may have brought to Garcia Marquez’ attention the fact that translations of his The Death of Artemo Cruz were selling quite well. As Deborah Cohn reveals, Fuentes had hired Carl Brandt as his US agent and, working with Balcells, the pair moved Latin American translation from university presses to commercial ones.56 Also selling well were translations of Alejo Carpentier (Explosion in a Cathedral), Julio Cortazar (Hopscotch) and Mario Vargas Llosa (The Time of the Hero). Translations were hot. But Gabo was still working part-time on scripts and part-time in public relations, a marginality that reminds us, and not unfairly, of Moreau in Sentimental Education. He could not get published, and now these authors, never vocal Castro supporters, were even being courted by Cuba. If Paris had been an economically frustrating bohemia, then Mexico City was an artistically frustrating mid-career pause. Someone had provided him “a great house ... and all the comforts of bourgeois life,” he wrote to Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, but the atmosphere was full of what Martin calls “fake bonhomie,” which annoyed Garcia Marquez so deeply that he was “close to fist fights at parties.” Fuentes supplied him with contacts and encouragement, but Gabo wasn’t able to do anything with them. He could not break through. He was “a tortured soul, an inhabitant of the most exquisite hell: that of literary sterility,” said Uruguayan writer Emir Rodriquez Monegal.57 But a horror of the bourgeois, as Bourdieu wrote, must be “nourished in the very heart of the artistic microcosm.”58

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