Prof. Dr. Dieter Ingenschay (Professor of Latin American Literature, Humboldt University; Germany)

17.09.2010 – Interview conducted by Kathleen Vesper

How much is Latin America’s relationship with Europe reflected in Latin American literature?

That is a very difficult subject; I think it is reflected by the language itself. Most of the literature is written in Spanish, French, Portuguese, and English. Spanish is the most influential language, so this is the first connection, then on the other hand there are many tendencies from Baroque literature to Surrealism have been adopted by Latin American authors. On the other hand, we should not imagine this relation as a one-way. We have many influential subjects and styles , that come from Latin America, like Modernism, created by Rubén Darío and others was the first tendency in recent poetry to come over the other way the magic realism, the magic historic novel and even before, let’s say the Baroque style of the Mexican nuns of Juana is very different from let’s say Góngora style. So there have been special ways, not necessarily autochthonous styles, but special ways of creation in Latin America that influenced European culture as well. But as far as percentage is concerned, the biggest part, the biggest influence is still from Europe to Latin America and this is considerable. Except for movements like exile, there are scholars who speak about this transatlantic relationship that is significant for both cultures.

Can translating Spanish language works of literature be seen as a form of cultural diplomacy?

Well, cultural politics is the subject of the Instituto Cervantes, they take advantage of the fact that there are 270 to 280 million people who speak Spanish in Latin America. I think for the non Spanish-speaking community in Europe it can be seen as a means of cultural diplomacy rather than of politics. You can first of all, recall certain facts let’s say the Brazilian family of Thomas Mann and so on. And then it is the aim as Westerwelle himself declared, that to strengthen these relations and I guess that literature, in a certain perception, tells very much about the nations and you can get excellent information. It is not necessarily narrative literature, think of “The Open veins of Latin America” by Eduardo Galeano, which is certainly a book that has contributed to spread knowledge about Latin America all over the world.

Political turmoil has been an inspiration for many Latin American authors in the past. Is it still the case of contemporary literature or are they concerning themselves on other topics today?

Literature is such a large field that it is difficult to generalize. I think there were some authors in the past and there are still some authors who do not necessarily write in political contexts but the majority has at least some political concepts behind their writings. So I think all in all that Latin American literature is a bit more politicized than in other parts of the world and I think that it is an adequate medium for expressing political things, especially the so-called “nueva novela histórica” (the new historical novel), that really shows new approaches to History.

How has the prominence of Latin American authors such a Gabriel García Márquez and Miguel Ángel Asturias changed the perceptions of countries abroad?

I think García Márquez is a special case because we may consider his work as coffee-table books, even if they are not read they are part of the interior design of some apartments. But jokes aside, sometimes people do not know which country literature comes from but I think the Cuban exile authors like Zoe Valdés and so on really give an impression about the situation in the country and “Hundred years of solitude” has been read as a text that informs about these never ending civil wars and dictatorships. But I guess, for the good or for the bad, literature has influenced on a big percentage of the population. But all in all, I think about the telenovelas and TV series they are showing in Spain and they do have some impact.