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The contents of Sub terra —whose first printing received critical acclaim and notably sold out in a short three months— portray the difficult socio-economic conditions faced by Chilean miners as they struggled to earn a living wage, and even as they faced their own deaths deep underground in work conditions that were far from safe.
The present essay thus proposes an alternative interpretation—reading Lillo not through the work of his naturalist model but in fact against Zola. Throughout Sub terra, Lillo in fact admirably blends the social preoccupation of much nat- uralist literature with a deeply rich symbolic imaginary and a subjective aesthetics more characteristic of Latin American Modernism.
Ultimately, this return to the work of Lillo should not be understood solely a recon- textualization of an author who has been already exhaustively researched as a naturalist, but also as a way of bringing more attention to a notable author whose name-recognition has far outpaced a sincere engagement with his texts.
Yet despite this canonical categorization, what is also ap- parent in Lillo is the infusion of a decidedly Latin American form of liter- ary modernism. Although there is a tendency to discuss Latin Amer- ican modernism as a literary aesthetic first and foremost,5 it is more ac- curate to say that it was itself a unique fusion of literary precepts and overtly political and engaged social critique.
Yet as it was developed by its most noted practitioners e. In many instances, Modernist prose is not addressed by critics—and where it is addressed, is often enjoys less critical interest than poetry.
According to author and critic En- rique Anderson Imbert , it is from Zola that Lillo learned to relate and denounce at the same time Even here, however, modernism is not even mentioned, despite that the stories in Sub terra had been written and published during a time in which the move- ment was very much in vogue.
Lillo emphasizes that there is little to eat and mentions how the provisions purchased by the miners are controlled by the company through monopolistic practices 50, Here, the mine as a physical environment —a place of unbearable heat and scarce ventilation 49 — mirrors the social limitations faced by those living in the mining village.
Hammering the point home is the climax, when it is revealed that not only will the miner not receive his pay, but that instead he even owes money to the company office. Instead of receiving his pay, Pedro is tragically notified of an outstanding debt. The miner is indebted to this system for life as an indentured servant if not, as Lillo suggests in fact, a slave. Here there is, seemingly, no evidence of the characteristic tropes of Modernism.
One could certainly argue that because the modernist element of the story is restricted to a dream sequence the story itself remains naturalist through and through—that the dream merely drives home the incontrovertible truth of social determinism.
To explain: Modernists decried the deeply uneven distribution of ma- terial wealth that was, for Latin America, a direct consequence of the conquest and enduring patterns of colonization and set out to imagine worlds that were inherently different from the current one as a way of charting a course for a better world. Dreams were at the core of this cri- tique and their yearning for a better world through the practice of art. Lillo Against Zola: Germinal vs. The most frequent appearance of figurative language in Germinal is the consistent personification of the mine itself, which, while it is certainly effective, remains yet somewhat programmatic.
Now conceived more abstractly the monster is neither the physical mine nor the landowning class but instead capital itself and the set of social and economic relations that has earned the name capitalist.
And devour us it will, make no mistake! The focus of this masterful second story of Sub terra is the introduction of a young boy, age 8, to the harsh reality and punishing work environment of the mine. Certainly, description of the cord by which the father physically ties the son to his work post needs no literary flourishes to emphasize how trapped the boy is Yet elsewhere, Lillo frequently goes beyond sparing elaboration and a paucity of isolated but penetrating details in his description, which is better described as lyrical.
She does not exaggerate. Here Lillo pursues the color black with singular purpose much as other Modernist authors pursued the transcendent meaning of other colors Cuentos de colores by M. Ball Jr. Here he moves beyond the sober style associated with strictly naturalist prose of Zola, who conceived of literature in terms of scientific experimentation and more or less straight-forward denunciation.
Nevertheless, it is also suprisingly attentive to the creation of mood, atmosphere. Yet the life of a mine horse differs substantially from the life of the human miners and even more so from the lives of the overmen or pit bosses; in that whereas men live above ground, the horses were actually stabled there, sometimes living out their entire lives in a quiet darkness beneath the surface of the earth.
Although Zola makes reference to an unnamed horse or horses on a number of occasions e. One such scene in Germinal whose dramatic and social potential Zola has left unexploited concerns an evocative narration of the death and subsequent lifting of the horse Trumpet to the surface in one of the cages of Le Voreux. What Zola has neglected to exploit —and what has not escaped Lillo, himself an informed and im- pressed reader of Germinal— is the dramatic possibility contained in the description of the scene whereby the horse is physically extracted from the mouth of the mine.
The carefully-chosen and symbolic name for the horse communicates through contrast the unsettling irony that instead of being valued as a precious metal, Diamante is in fact pulled from the mine and left to die on his own in the countryside, unproductive and therefore unwanted, a sacrifice to the callous capitalist enterprise that sees life itself as expendable or only in terms of a use-value harnessed to the triumph of exchange.
Like the Frenchman, the Chilean is well aware of the important role carried out by the mine-horse. Nevertheless, he has also changed much. Lo mismo nos pasa a todos. In the final paragraph, Lillo harnesses the modernist emphasis on inner experience by way of externalizing the subjective experience of the dying horse in his description of both the mine and the landscape atop the pit. The story narrates two days in the life of a presumably typical miner who goes by the nickname Cabeza de Cobre on account of his reddish-hair.
In fact, they would rather die fast —while working— than slowly on account of hunger As in Germinal, here too the social content of the story is clear, even if the pos- sibility of strike or rebellion seems superfluous in the Chilean context. La luz del astro, suave como una caricia, derramaba un soplo de vida sobre la naturaleza muerta. It is also a more poetic passage whose lyricism works to highlight the intense contrast between a beautiful above-ground landscape and the harsh realities of the mines un- derground, and simultaneously of the dialectical tension between leisure and work the former, as Henri Lefebvre notes in Rhythmanalysis, only gaining meaning in relation to the latter.
The story begins with the arrival of an unknown worker to an unnamed mine near the Chilean coast. Although the newcomer is blind, he seems to be capable, and the foreman asks him to join the company.
The new miner quickly earns a solid reputation for good work, but he is also progressively shrouded in mystery. This reputation is supported through unexplained events that happen beneath 91 The Latin Americanist, September the earth, particularly at night.
As the unknown miner furiously works the rock, some lit firedamp —the dangerously explosive natural gas pervasive throughout the mines— illuminates him in a blast of flames. Juan, like both Etienne and the anarchist Souvarine of the French novel of , is a newcomer to the area who drastically changes the tenor of the culture of the mines.
This project, as we have seen, goes beyond a strict naturalism to incorporate the lyri- cism, dream worlds, striking colors and poetic dimensions characteristic of modernism. Here Lillo places even more emphasis on mystery and ultimately on the fantas- tic. The narrator, for one, seems to think that Juan has done the men a public service of sorts—that he has even liberated them from a form of indentured servitude.
An additional clue buried in the text supplies evidence for this interpretation—the form of a cross. Even the death of the two watchmen who stumble upon the unnamed figure in the darkness may be attributed directly either to a devilish force that may not in fact be Juan this is left unclear in the text , if not to the danger inherent in the mine itself. Conclusion In their refusal to embrace fully either a strict Naturalism or a canonical Modernism, the stories contained in Sub terra constitute a complex literary production that deserves to be more carefully mined by contemporary scholars able to work outside canonical categorizations.
Moreover, critics writing in English have been particularly slow in ex- ploring his work, and thus slow in introducing readers of English to his ideas and works. Esther S. Dillon and Angel Flores , to-date there has not been a sustained attempt to explore his work in either language. I suggest that some of the lack of interest in Lillo may in fact be due to the interpretive pigeon-holing that has labelled him a naturalist.
One of 95 The Latin Americanist, September the now classic debates over Modernism questions whether it is a school or an epoch see Davison Nevertheless, in the 13th version of Sub terra Santiago, Nascimiento, , which I have used in prepar- ing this chapter, the dream sequence has been reinstated.
Oelker argues that this cut, and others made in various stories contained in Sub terra, had the effect of intensifying the naturalism of the stories. This occurs at the beginning of the novel and is of great relevance to present concerns. In the opening paragraph of Germinal Zola writes of the desolate character of the mining zone traversed by his main character Etienne as an ocean combining both metaphor and simile.
Out on the open plain, on a starless, ink-dark night, a lone man was follow- ing the highway from Narchiennes to Montsou, ten kilometers of paved road that cut directly across the fields of beet. He could not make out even the black ground in front of him, and he was aware of the vast, flat 96 Fraser horizon only from the March wind blowing in broad, sweeping gusts as though across a sea, bitterly cold after its passage over league upon league of marsh and bare earth.
Not a single tree blotted the skyline, and the road rolled on through the blinding spume of darkness, unswerving, like a pier. This rare foray into poetic prose that in some respects is at odds with the goal of the straightforward naturalism frequently attributed to Zola as one might expect has a larger purpose in the context of the novel as a whole.
Dillon and Angel Flores. Pan American Union, Washington D. Anderson Imbert, Enrique. Spanish-American Literature: A History.
John V. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, Aztorquiza, Octavio and Oscar Galleguillos V. Brown, Donald F. Chavarri, Jorge M. Davison, Ned. The Concept of Modernism in Hispanic Criticism.
Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, Republished in Englekirk, John et. Anthology of Spanish American Literature.
New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Revista Chilena de Literatura 31 : 63— Englekirk, John, et. Fraser, Howard. Garfield, Evelyn Picon and Ivan A. Mexico: Ediciones Cuadernos Americanos, A Companion to Spanish American Modernismo. Woodbridge: Tamesis, Cuentos completos y otras narraciones.
Breve historia del modernismo. Lefebvre, Henri. Stuart Elden and Gerald Moore. London; New York: Continuum, Lillo, Baldomero. Sub terra: cuadros mineros.
La compuerta número 12, un cuento de Baldomero Lillo
La compuerta número 12
Los mejores 1001 cuentos literarios de la Historia: “La compuerta número 12”, de Baldomero Lillo