Rostros del reverse : José Lezama Lima en la encrucijada vanguardista



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This dissertation reassesses the dialogues between the aesthetic and cultural projects of Cuban writer José Lezama Lima (1910-1976) and the avant-garde, in both its European and Latin American manifestations. My main assertion is that Lezama Lima’s negative appraisals of the avant-garde are more a symptom of his will-to-power and self-legitimization than a categorical rejection of avant-garde values. My work thus revises the critical consensus that fixates on Lezama Lima’s presumed rejection of the avant-garde by documenting the deep relationships between texts and contexts, that is to say, between his poiesis and the intellectual, artistic and cultural manifestations that conform the late ‘30s and ‘40s Cuban scenario, to which the pervasiveness of European and Latin American avant-garde movements such as muralismo were fundamental. I hence consider Lezama Lima’s intricate engagement with avant-garde manifestations in the visual arts, an essential element in his aesthetics underestimated by critics despite the centrality of the concept of image to his works, and the attention 20th century art and thought gave to vision and visuality, as shown by critics Martin Jay and Mary Ann Caws. My dissertation thus explores the interconnections between intellectual, literary and visual art history in order to demonstrate how, despite his critical pronouncements against the avant-garde’s will-to-novelty and rejection of tradition, Lezama Lima actually incorporates several avant-garde topoi and techniques into his works (such as André Breton’s concept of “objective chance” and Pablo Picasso’s “completive technique”), in direct response to the epistemological shift they embody – a shift that has deeply impacted the contemporary regime of perception and patterns of representation. By driving Lezama Lima’s works back to its original contexts, my dissertation represents an important contribution to Cuban avant-garde criticism and its relationship to the broader cultural context of the avant-garde in Latin America and Europe, dialoguing with recent theories that emphasize the impact of the avant-garde on the establishment of contemporary regime of perception and patterns of representation as well.