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At the time of the discovery and during the process of conquest and colonization of America, there was a transplantation of already mature languages and literature to a different physical environment, inhabited by peoples of other races, characterized by completely different cultural models, incompatible with the form colonizer expression. There was, therefore, a maximum separation between the culture of the conqueror and that of the conquered, which therefore underwent a brutal process of imposition.
In addition to its own function of creating expressive forms, literature served to celebrate and inculcate Christian values and the metropolitan conception of social life, consolidating not only the presence of God and the king, but also the monopoly of the language.
Even so, the universities and convents, the men of study and those who presided over dioceses and audiences, the viceroys themselves in the great capitals, in addition to the presence of so many writers, painters, sculptors and architects, created an environment conducive to literature and the arts. It was to be expected that the children of the conquerors, and also those of the conquered, would very soon try to write in Spanish. Towards the middle of the 16th century, some names of writers and artists born in America began to be found.
At the end of the sixteenth century, the descendants of the conquistadors, some of them of pure European blood, but mostly with some admixture of Indian blood, were men of a new type, “the new indigenous” who lived within a unique environment. melting pot of two cultures. The Indians, too, at least those who learned to speak the language of the conquerors, were different from what they had been: life had changed for them just as it had for the newcomers. Spain and Portugal established the general lines of the new social structure and imposed their “guiding” principles on it.
The higher forms of native culture disappeared, but not many of the humbler techniques, which have lasted, some until now, grafted onto European forms. Very soon this new society became aware of its individuality and jealous of its rights. The colonial world developed with astonishing rapidity, yet it is borne in mind that the colonizers brought their entire civilization with them. This flourishing was all the more surprising as only about a tenth of the population could speak correct Spanish or Portuguese.
Literature and the arts found the support of the universities, schools, convents, political and ecclesiastical authorities. The viceroys tried to revive the tradition of the patrons.
In the 17th century, it is often said that baroque taste, and especially the influence of Luis de Góngora, sadly overshadows the poets of the region, and even the prose writers. It is true that, as a kind of reductio ad absurdum of the baroque, a large number of extravagant and useless works were produced, from hundreds of verses taken from Luis de Góngora or Virgilio to acrostic sonnets, “labyrinths” with cryptograms, romances with echo, poems in eleven languages, and “retrograde” poems in Latin, which can be read from top to bottom as well as from bottom to top.
In the period between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the colonies were nothing more than inferior rivals of their European capitals during the main creative period of Hispanic literature, and one of the reasons for this is that the colonies, from the point of view of European culture, they had very little population; there were millions of Indians, thousands of African slaves, who still didn’t speak much Spanish or Portuguese.
The actual number of inhabitants of the two vast colonial empires scarcely exceeded that of Spain and Portugal combined, and, as we know, only a tenth were of European origin or had fully adopted the customs of Europe. In this way, literature, in the European sense, was confined to a smaller minority than in Spain or Portugal. In addition, a kind of shyness tied colonial thought, that he felt compelled to wait for a signal from the distant metropolis as to “how things should be done.”
Prohibitions like the one affecting novel tightened the fence. And the limitation of the print media, due in part to the scarcity of readers, produced a peculiar situation, in which the author was never sure of reaching an audience or, if his works circulated in manuscript, he could only count on an audience. By the 18th century, the neoclassical school was slightly imposing itself, much more slowly than in Spain or Portugal. Very few are the signs of its influence before the end of the colonial era, and it is best represented by the poets of the Spanish-American Wars of Independence.
From the middle of the 18th century, it is already possible to talk about at least the outline of a literature as a configured cultural fact, not only as individual productions of little repercussion. The awareness of a group by intellectuals, the recognition that began to exist of a local literary past, the beginning of greater receptivity on the part of public, although weak and few in number, begin to define an articulation of literary facts. This was the decisive importance of the eighteenth century, whose basis is the movement of the academies and whose crowning will be the full consciousness of autonomy in the nineteenth century.
By the 19th century, under the apparent immobility of the colonial system, there was a latent anarchy in Hispanic America. At that time satire and fables multiplied. Colonial satire became a political weapon, and as such persisted throughout the century. In Cuba, there is a mixture of African and European words. In the literature of colonial times echoes of popular songs and parodies of local dialects were not lacking here and there. In the already independent countries, literature, in all its forms, retained all the public functions that it had acquired with the liberation movement.
In the midst of anarchy, the men of letters were all on the side of social justice, or at least on the side of political organization against the forces of disorder. Men of letters were, as a rule, men of action. A good number of them became presidents in their republics. Many, government ministers. Most, at one time or another, were members of the chambers. They often suffered banishment. The poets of the wars of independence had discovered the public utility of poetry.
Romanticism was already a tradition. He continued the tasks he had set for himself: the conquest of the landscape, the reconstruction of the past, the description of customs.
In the countries still subject to Spanish rule, Cuba and Puerto Rico, economic development followed exactly the same steps as free nations. But men of letters continued to take part in public life; in general, fighting for freedom.
With the arrival of modernism, as was natural, the style also changed, along with the themes. The words themselves were new. After the verbal opulence of the baroque seventeenth century, the neoclassical reform of the eighteenth century impoverished poetic language. In the 19th century, romanticism introduced a good number of new terms, but unfortunately not as many as in French. Now the modernists have banished bland neoclassical words; but they put into play a very extensive vocabulary -such the vocabulary of luxury, names of precious stones, metals, fabrics, furs, birds, flowers-. Instead, they simplified the syntax.
They suppressed the hyperbaton, excepting those of its forms that were common in everyday speech; they put an end to all “poetic license”. With the appearance of the modernists, all the known meters came into circulation, new ones are tried, and some of the old ones are refreshed with changes of accentuation and caesura. The variety of strophic forms became infinite. Judging by the display of imagination and technical perfection in the poetry of the modernists, one might have expected a parallel flourishing in works of fiction.
However, most of his prose, and usually the best of it, took the form of essays, chronicles, travel articles and literary criticism. In the field of fiction, the preferences of the modernists converge in a type of short story, conceived and developed poetically. Two currents converged in fictional literature: poetic fantasy and realism; if sometimes the clash was violent, other times the two currents ended up being confused. and some of the old ones are refreshed with changes of accentuation and caesura.
The variety of strophic forms became infinite. Judging by the display of imagination and technical perfection in the poetry of the modernists, one might have expected a parallel flourishing in works of fiction. However, most of his prose, and usually the best of it, took the form of essays, chronicles, travel articles and books, and literary criticism. In the field of fiction, the preferences of the modernists converge in a type of short story, conceived and developed poetically. Two currents converged in fictional literature: poetic fantasy and realism; if sometimes the clash was violent, other times the two currents ended up being confused. and some of the old ones are refreshed with changes of accentuation and caesura.