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Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispnicos

Maples Arce, Marinetti and Khlebnikov: The Mexican Estridentistas in Dialogue with Italian
and Russian Futurisms
Author(s): RUBN GALLO
Source: Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispnicos, Vol. 31, No. 2 (Invierno 2007), pp. 309324
Published by: Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispnicos
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RUB?N GALLO

Maples Arce, Marinetti and


Khlebnikov: The Mexican
Estridentistas in Dialogue with Italian
and Russian Futurisms
En este art?culo se examina la relaci?n de la vanguardia mexicana con los futu
ristas europeos. Se ha hablado mucho de la relaci?n de los poetas estridentistas
mexicanos con otros movimientos de vanguardia europeos como el futurismo o el
simultane?smo, pero se han escrito pocos an?lisis detallados. Me propongo demos
trar aqu? qu? ideas y qu? conceptos del futurismo italiano tomaron los estriden
tistas. Mi lectura se enfoca en la relaci?n de Manuel Maples Arce - el padre del
movimiento - con los textos de F.T. Marinetti, el fundador del movimiento fu
turista en Italia. Demuestro que Marinetti fue la influencia m?s importante en el
manifiesto y en la po?tica de Maples Arce. Basado en estos descubrimientos, pro
pongo una relectura del estridentismo dentro del canon mexicano: no como un
movimiento fallido (Paz, Monsiv?is), sino como una implantaci?n de un modelo
for?neo, aunque con importantes diferencias: la originalidad de los estridentistas
estuvo en sus manifiestos y no en su obra po?tica.

On of the most original among the groups who sought to propagate the Futurist
revolution around the world was the short-lived Estridentista movement which

erupted on to the Mexican literary scene in 1921 with a bombastic manifesto


plastered overnight on the walls throughout Mexico City and composed by a
group of poets and painters in their early twenties who pledged their allegiance
to both Futurist aesthetics and the politics of the Mexican Revolution. Although
from the beginning the Estridentistas presented themselves as followers of the
Futurists, there have been almost no critical studies seeking to elucidate the
relationship between the two movements. In this article, I discuss specific as
pects of Italian and Russian Futurism that were incorporated into the Estriden
tista program, although I shall show that despite the fact that the Mexican poets

adapted many of F.T. Marinetti's ideas about poetry, their movement was
actually quite different from Italian Futurism in terms of both politics and
aesthetics.
As we shall see, much insight can be gained by comparing the central ten
ets of Estridentismo to the theories developed a decade earlier by Italian and

Russian Futurists. Such a comparative analysis will help us resolve questions


REVISTA CANADIENSE DE ESTUDIOS HISP?NICOS 31.2 (INVIERNO 2007)

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310
that have gone unanswered since the early years of the movement. Can Estri
dentismo, as indeed many of the movement's fiercest critics have argued, be
dismissed as simply a derivative movement that merely repeated the theories,
technological obsession, and poetic experiments introduced by earlier avant
garde movements? Did the Mexican group produce any original contributions
to avant-garde poetics? How familiar were the Estridentistas with the innova
tions of the Futurists, Ultraists, Creationists, and other international groups?

The Estridentista group was launched by Manuel Maples Arce in 1921, and
it included a number of writers in their early twenties: Luis Quint anilla (who
signed his works using the Orientalist pseudonym "Kyn Taniya"), Germ?n List
Arzubide (who eventually published a history of the movement), the Guatema
lan-born Arqueles Vela, and Salvador Gallardo. A number of artists (Germ?n
Cueto, Ram?n Alva de la Canal, Jean Chariot, and Leopoldo M?ndez) also col
laborated with the group, producing dozens of woodcuts, drawings and prints
to illustrate the pages of the movement's books and journals.

Perhaps because of the brevity of its existence - by 1927 the Estridentistas


had dispersed, and most of them had given up writing to take jobs in the Mexi

can government - the movement has received scant critical attention. The
group, moreover, left behind a very small body of work consisting of a few
manifestos, a dozen collections of poetry, a novel, and two journals, Irradiador
and Horizonte. After the group disbanded Estridentista writings were mostly
forgotten, and they were practically impossible to find until the literary critic
Luis Mario Schneider collected the group's manifestos and poems in his 1970
anthology El estridentismo o una literatura de la estrategia.

The most original an intriguing text written by the Estridentistas was "Ac
tual No. i," the founding manifesto of the movement, which was plastered on

walls and lampposts throughout Mexico City in 1921. The manifesto was in
spired by Marinetti's "Founding Manifesto of Futurism" (1909) and among the
myriad movements and writers mentioned in "Actual No. 1" the Italian Futur
ists occupy a privileged position. The Estridentista manifesto opens by an
nouncing a series of "subversive illuminations" inspired, among others, by
Filippo Tommaso Marinetti.1 The extent of Marinetti's influence on the Mexi
can movement has not been satisfactorily traced, although - as we shall see - it
was quite extensive.
Estridentismo, the very name of the Mexican movement, comes from the

word "strident" - a term denoting a harsh or shrill noise. The same word was
cherished by the Italian Futurists and it appears in a number of Marinetti's po
ems and manifestos - a crucial fact that has not been noted by critics dealing
with Estridentismo. "? l'Automobile de course" (1905) one of Marinetti's early
poems written in French, uses the adjective "strident" to exalt the high-pitched
sounds of a racing car: "Dieu v?h?ment d'une race d'acier / automobile ivre
d'espace / qui pi?tine d'angoisse, le mors aux dents stridents" (Marinetti, Scriti

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311
346). The word "strident" appears again, although here in Italian, in Zang
Tumb-Tumb (1914), a poem whose very title is cacophonous and strident: "1 m.
piu in alto oscillazione striiidente d'un trave aperto a forbice sotto il co?olar
della sabbia." For Marinetti, stridency (or "noise-making," as he also called it)
was one of the central tenets of Italian Futurism. In his "Manifesto t?cnico della
letteratura futurista" (1912), he explains the need to introduce into literature
"elemneti che furono finora trascurati ... Ii rumore" (Marinetti, Teor?a 45), and
in a later manifesto he praised Futurism for having invented "the art of noise."2
In addition to the name of the movement, other elements in Maples Arces
first manifesto appear to be inspired directly by Marinetti's texts: the Mexican
poet's irreverent and passionate tone, his relentless attacks on the literary estab
lishment, and the refreshing spontaneity of his language. Several passages in

Maples Arce's text correspond almost word for word to the Italian poet's ex
hortations. The fifth paragraph of Maples Arce's manifesto, for example, urges
readers to reject - in literature, but also in life - all that is antiquated, hack

neyed, retrograde, clich?. "?Chopin a la silla el?ctrica!" (Schneider 269) de


mands the manifesto, turning Frederic Chopin, the 19th-century composer of
piano nocturnes and polonaises, into the embodiment of the pass? sensibility
that the poet despised.3 The phrase became the battle cry of Estridentismo, rep
resenting the movement's hatred again the dead weight of the past.

"?Chopin a la silla el?ctrica!" echoes Marinetti's second manifesto, pub


lished in April 1909, which bore the combative title "Uccidiamo il chiaro di
luna" (Marinetti, Teor?a 13). Moonlight - that staple of Romantic poetry that
had inspired endless dreamy compositions like Beethoven's "Moonlight sonata"
- was to the Futurists what Chopin was to the Estridentistas. For the Futurists,

moonlight was a stale literary convention that represented the oppressive


weight of the past, and thus the second Futurist manifesto includes a passage in

which Marinetti exclaims: "Uccidiamo il chiaro di luna"; and in a later text,

Marinetti expounded: "Al chiaro di luna nost?lgico, sentimentale o lussurioso,

noi opponiamo infine l'eroismo ingiusto e crudele che domina la febbre con
quistatrice dei motori" (Marinetti, Teor?a 262). Marinetti used moonlight as a
symbol of a hackneyed, old-fashioned aesthetic; Maples Arce would use Chopin
to denigrate the same values.
The Mexican Estridentistas also followed Marinetti's passionate rejection of
the dominant literary traditions. Maples Arce directs much of his combative

energy against the legacy of Modernismo, the Symbolist-inspired literary


movement that had flourished in the nineteenth century and was still the
prevalent model in Mexican letters in the 1920s. Marinetti had rallied against
the virtual monopoly held by Symbolism over Italian literature; Maples Arce
would do the same against Modernismo. Estridentismo, like Italian Futurism,
was a movement of renewal whose first step was to condemn the stultified ar
tistic models that had stagnated in on-going tradition.

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312
Starting with the first manifesto of Futurism, Marinetti fiercely denounced

his literary predecessors, who were still under the influence of Symbolist
aesthetics. "La nostra generazione," he wrote in 1909, "[?] stanca de adorare il
passato, nauseata dal pedantismo accademico" (Marinetti, Teor?a 24). The poet
later called a section of Guerra, sola igiene del mondo [1915] "Noi rinneghiamo i
nostri maestri simbolisti ultimi amanti della luna" (Marinetti, Teor?a 259) and
in it he explained the differences between Futurists and their symbolist precur

sors. He directed especially scathing attacks against Gabriele D'Annunzio "fratello minore dei grandi simbolisti francesi, nost?lgico come questi" (Teor?a
261) whom he accused of propagating a literature tainted by "i quattro veleni
intelletuali che noi vogliamo assolutamente abolir?" (Teor?a 261). Number two
on this list of poisons was "II sentimentalismo rom?ntico grondante di chiaro di
luna" (Teor?a 261).

Maples Arce's manifestos urged an equally vehement rebellion against the


legacy of Modernistas (and even the Post-modernistas of the movement's early
twentieth-century followers). Modernismo was a thing of the past, and the past

was the province of the dead: "Hay que rebelarse contra el mandato de los
muertos ... s?lo los esp?ritus acad?micos siguen confeccionando sus ollas podri
das con materiales manidos" (Schneider 278). One such "academic spirit" was
Enrique Gonz?lez Mart?nez, one of Mexico's most established Post-modernistas
in the decade of the 1920s. Gonz?lez Mart?nez was Maples Arce's D'Annunzio,
and in true Marinettian spirit the founder of Estridentismo blames the old
fashioned poet for the staleness of Mexican letters:
Excito a todos los poetas, pintores y escultores j?venes de M?xico, a los que a?n no han
sido maleados por el oro prebendarlo de los sinecurismos gobiernistas ... a todos los que
no han ido a lamer los platos en los festines culinarios de Enrique Gonz?lez Mart?nez pa
ra hacer arte (!) con el estilicidio de sus menstruaciones intelectuales ... a todos esos, los

excito en nombre de la vanguardia actualista de M?xico, para que vengan a batirse, a


nuestro lado en las luc?feras filas de la "d?couverte," en donde, creo con Lasso de la Vega:
"Estamos lejos del esp?ritu de la bestia." (Schneider 273)

If Futurism declared war on Symbolism, Estridentismo waged a battle against


Modernismo. Maples Arce deploys a series of war images - "battles," "ranks" in his indictment of Gonz?lez Mart?nez. And the young poet justifies his literary

battle with reasons that echo Marinetti's complaints against Symbolism: he


chastises Gonz?lez Mart?nez, whom he takes as a representative of the entire
Modernista enterprise, for killing the soul of poetry and for burying literature in

a pile of antiquated clich?s. Maples Arce closes "Actual No. 1" by "demanding
the heads" of Modernista poets, whom he dismisses as "ruise?ores escol?sticos
que hicieron de la poes?a un simple cancaneo repsoniano subido a los barrotes
de una silla" (Schneider 274).

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313
Germ?n List Arzubide, another Estridentista, chose a different earlier poet

as his D'Annunzio: Rub?n Dar?o, the Nicaraguan-born Francophile Symbolist


whose influence dominated Latin American poetry until well into the twentieth

century. In El movimiento estridentista (1926), his personal history of the


movement, List Arzubide was even more explicit than Maples Arce, and he
excoriated "la Am?rica cuadriculada del rubendarismo" (Movimiento 79-80).
Similarly, most other avant-garde movements in Latin America would focus
their avant-garde rage on a poet or poetic movement that represented nine
teenth-century aesthetics. Thus in "Ultra?smo" (1921), Jorge Luis Borges argued
that "La belleza rubeniana es ya una cosa madurada y colmada, semejante a la
belleza de un lienzo antiguo" (quoted in Schwarz 104).
As a final point, another interest that the Estridentistas shared with the
Italian Futurists must be mentioned: the obsession with modern technology.
Marinetti famously proclaimed a speeding racecar to be more beautiful than the
Nike of Samothrace (Marinetti, Teor?a 10). The Estridentistas voiced their en
thusiasm for modern machines in equally bombastic terms. From the start, love
of modern technology was one of the most prominent themes in Estridentista
writings. In "Actual No. 1," Maples Arce calls on young writers to murder the

past - "?Muera el cura Hidalgo!" "?Chopin a la silla el?ctrica!" - and focus on


the achievements of the modern era. The manifesto argues that "Es necesario

exaltar en todos los tonos estridentes de nuestro diapas?n propagandista, la


belleza actualista de las m?quinas, de los puentes g?mnicos reciamente extendi
dos sobre las vertientes por m?sculos de acero, el humo de las f?bricas, las emo
ciones cubistas de los grandes transatl?nticos con humeantes chimeneas de rojo
y negro" (Schneider 269). After the publication of their first manifesto, the
Estridentistas spent most of the decade of the 1920s putting into practice the

document's injunctions: they wrote poems teeming with images of modern


urban life; they composed novels dominated by automobiles, telephones, tele
graphs, radios and electric currents; they painted industrial landscapes dotted
with smokestacks and skyscrapers.
Despite these numerous similarities between Marinetti and Maples Arce in
the use of manifestos, the use of irreverent and denunciatory language, and the
call for poetic renewal, there are also important differences between the poetic
projects of the Italian Futurists and the Estridentistas. The first, and most ap
parent, concerns the relationship between aesthetics and politics. Closely allied
with Fascism - Marinetti dedicated two of his books to Mussolini - Italian Fu
turism was an ultra-nationalist movement that preached the superiority of the
Latin race and called for the destruction of Italy's enemies, including Austria
and Turkey, through military force. Marinetti had a long romance with Fas
cism: in 1914, just before the outbreak of World War I, he and other Futurists
called on their government to fight, and they burned Austrian flags in front of

the Piazza Duomo in Milan; in 1924, Marinetti published "Futurismo e fas

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314
cismo," a work dedicated "al mi? caro e grande amico Benito Mussolini," a
dedication that reappeared in a later work ("Marinetti e il Futurismo" [1929]);
and in 1928 Marinetti founded a "Futurist Political Party" showing close alle
giance to 77 Duce. As Cinzia Sartini Blum has correctly assessed, Marinetti's
project was characterized by "an incongruity between innovative aesthetics and
reactionary politics" (2). Italian Futurism is a perfect example of what Jeffrey
Herf has called "reactionary modernism" - a paradoxical synthesis of extremely
traditionalist political values with a forward-looking revolutionary aesthetics

(Herfi).

If the Italian Futurists veered right, the Estridentistas gravitated towards the
left. The Mexican poets saw their literary project as an extension of the Revolu
tion that had shaken the country from 191 o to 1920. In "El Movimiento Estri
dentista en 1922," Maples Arce lamented the fact that before the emergence of
Estridentismo, Mexican literature had remained untouched by the sweeping
political reforms ushered in by the Mexican Revolution. In other countries that
had lived through revolutionary uprising, like Russia and Germany, poets had

been quick to create a new literary movement inspired by political events: "Pero

los intelectuales mexicanos permanecieron impasibles" ("Movimiento" 25)


wrote Maples Arce, before arguing that his movement sought to remedy this
situation by creating a new literature and a new revolution that was not only
aesthetic but also political:
Pero las inquietudes pos-revolucionarias, las explosiones sindicalistas y las manifesta
ciones tumultuosas, fueron un estimulo para nuestros deseos iconoclastas y una reve
laci?n para nuestras agitaciones interiores. Nosotros [Estridentistas] tambi?n pod?amos
sublebarnos [sic]. Nosotros tambi?n pod?amos rebelarnos. ("Movimiento" 25)

In Maples Arces view, Estridentismo> constituted an aesthetic revolution that


would be to literature what the Mexican Revolution was to politics.

The Estridentistas were too young to have taken part in the Mexican
Revolution of 1910-1917 (Maples Arce was born in 1900; List Arzubide in 1899)
but they were extremely close to Heriberto Jara, a Revolutionary general who in

the 1920s served as governor of Veracruz and appointed the young poets to key
posts in his cabinet.4 Inspired by the political and social reforms instituted by
the Revolutionary governments that ruled the country in the 1920s, the Estri
dentistas sought to extend the momentum of the Mexican Revolution to the
realm of literature by orchestrating what Julia Kristeva has called, albeit in a
different context, a "revolution of poetic language" (1), channeling the spirit of
rebellion and renewal that dominated post-Revolutionary Mexico into a radical
transformation of literature.

I quote in what follows some examples of the Estridentistas desire to create


a Revolutionary literature. Maples Arce dedicated his Urbe: superpoema bol

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315
chevique en cinco cantos (1924) "to the Mexican workers," a group he praised in
politically charged verse:
Y ahora, los burgueses ladrones, se echar?n a temblar

por los caudales


que robaron al pueblo
pero alguien ocult? bajo sus sue?os
el pentagrama espiritual del explosivo. (Schneider 429)

In this poem the revolutionary spirit resides in its theme and not in its style or
literary technique; it is perhaps worth noting that there is nothing revolutionary
in Maples Arce's use of language, and no subversion of syntax or experimenta

tion with typography. Another example of this desire to create a Revolutionary


literature may be found in List Arzubide's Plebe (1925), a poem dedicated to the

Flores Mag?n brothers, who were famous union activists in the wake of the
Revolution. Though at times these poems seem closer to socialist realism than
to Futurism, they nevertheless constituted a major innovation in their break
from an extremely conservative Mexican literary tradition, and their passionate
revolutionary energy was admired by contemporary readers. John Dos Passos,
who visited Mexico in the 1920s, was so taken by the energy of Maples Arces
Urbe that he translated it into English and published it in New York, as Me
tropolis, in 1929. As Octavio Paz has pointed out in "Antev?spera" (103), the

Estridentistas embrace of revolutionary politics remains the group's most


original accomplishment.
The relationship between nationalism and aesthetics constitutes another
crucial difference between the Estridentistas and the Italian Futurists. Marinetti
and his disciples considered ultranationalism - a fervent and bellicose love for
the recently unified Italy - as an integral part of the Futurist aesthetic project
(see, for example, the texts collected in "Guerra, sola igiene del mondo" [1915]).
The Futurists renounced all that was traditional as antiquated in favor of the
modern, and thus they rejected the ancient, feudal-style allegiance to regions
and provinces in favor of a pan-Italian nationalism. In the early years of the
century, the majority of Italian citizens still spoke a regional dialect and felt
more attached to their village or region than to the abstract concept of a unified
Italy. Futurist ultra-nationalism can thus be seen as a novel posture, since it
privileged the modern nation over the old allegiance to the particular region.
Likewise, a literature that would sing the praises of the entire Italian nation - as
opposed to glorifying Tuscan villages, Umbrian Hills, or Neapolitan palaces was a radically new experiment.
The Estridentistas, on the other hand, forcefully rejected nationalist content

in literature. Their politics were nationalist - Maples Arce and his disciples
proudly and repeatedly asserted their allegiance to the Mexican Revolution -

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316
but their aesthetic was internationalist. They blamed intellectual regionalism for
the pathetic state of Mexican letters and they believed that the only sustainable
literary practice would be one characterized by a dialogue with the international
avant-garde. In "Actual No. i" Maples Arce dismisses nationalist writers with as

much passion as he attacks the Modernistas: invoking caricatures of Mexican

culture, he complains about "las eflorescencias lamentables y mef?ticas de


nuestro medio nacionalista con hedores de pulquer?a y rescoldos de fritanga"
(Schneider 274). In another section of the manifesto, he calls on poets and read

ers to embrace the internationalist spirit of modern times: "Cosmopoli


tic?monos. Ya no es posible tenerse en cap?tulos convencionales de arte na
cional ... Las ?nicas fronteras posibles en el arte, son las propias infranqueables
de nuestra emoci?n marginalista" (Schneider 272).
Maples Arce sees nationalism - those "cap?tulos convencionales de arte na

cional" - as antiquated and as empty as Modernismo. Unlike the reactionary


Modernistas, Maples Arce understood very well that technology (the elevators,
skyscrapers, and train engines that he associated with modernity in his mani
festo) was a cosmopolitan invention, incompatible with nationalist sentiment.
The spirit of the modern era was international, and progress tended to erase the
mark of national traits, in machines as well as in people ("tienden a borrarse los
perfiles y los caracteres raciales" [Schneider 272]). In his view, avant-garde art
went beyond the limits of national boundaries.5
In addition to the discrepancies in political affiliation and nationalist sen
timent, there is a third and more crucial difference that sets the Estridentistas
apart from the Italian Futurists: their vision of language and poetic creation.
Marinetti devoted a great part of his work - as well as a considerable number of
manifestos - to expounding and perfecting a theory of poetic language. Not
satisfied with urging his followers to rebel against the past, Marinetti gave de
tailed, technical instructions on how to bring about such a rebellion in Futurist
poems. In contrast, Maples Arce devoted considerably less time and effort to
linguistic and poetic concerns, and he offers only scattered comments in pass
ing on the act of writing. Despite all their bombastic claims, his manifestos
never offered concise instructions on how to write Estridentista poetry.

Marinetti devoted an entire manifesto ("Manifesto t?cnico della letterattura

futurista" [1912]) to giving step-by-step instructions on how to construct Fu


turist poems. In order to break with the past and explore uncharted territory,
Marinetti explained (Teoria 42), Futurist literature must follow a few technical
rules, designed to destroy traditional syntax: verbs should only be used in the
infinitive; adjectives, adverbs, and punctuation must be abolished and replaced
by experimental typography and mathematical signs; nouns should be paired in
doubles to form new images ("uomo-torpediniera, donna-golfo, folla-risacca,
piazza-imbuto, porta-rubinetto" [Teoria 41] are some examples given by the
poet); the use of the first person was prohibited; and the new literature gave

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317
prominence to three elements neglected until then: noise, weight, and odors. By
following these simple strategies, writers might finally break free from the

bonds of dead tradition, and - to use an expression dear to Marinetti - "set


words free" by giving birth to parole in libert?: "lo inizio," the poet wrote, "una

rivoluzione tipogr?fica diretta contro la bestiale e nauseante concezione del


libro di versi passatista e dannunziana" (Teoria 67).

Throughout his life, Marinetti not only worked and reworked his poetic
theory, but also diligently applied its principles to his own creations. There is a
clear continuity between the theories presented in Futurist manifestos and po
etic texts. We need only glance at the pages of Zang Tumb Tumb (1914), Mari
netti's first book-length poem, to find the strategies outlined in the "Technical

Manifesto" rigorously applied to poetic composition. The poem lacks tradi


tional syntax, relying instead on typographical experiments and mathematical
notation to emphasize certain words; all verbs are in the infinitive; first-person
pronouns are absent from the text; and the poem is definitely "noisy," since it
opens with the onomatopoeic departure of a train: "treno treno treno treno
tren tron tron tron [ponte di ferro: tatatluuun-tlin] ssssssiii ssiissii ssiisssssi
iii" (Marinetti, Zang n.p.).
Nothing of the sort is to be found in Maples Arce's work. His manifestos
passionately denounce the literary establishment, but they fail to outline a the
ory for the creation of Estridentista poems. Aside from his call to write about

machines and new technological developments, Maples Arce has little to say
about the technical aspect of writing. When he does discuss poetic creation, his
vague comments lack the focused pragmatism that characterizes Marinettian
poetic theories. Although the Mexican poet dedicates an entire section of "Ac
tual No. 1" to artistic creation, his observations remain vague and he never of
fers concrete examples of how to apply them to poetry. Consider the following
injunction in "Actual":
XI. Fijar las delimitaciones est?ticas. Hacer arte, con elementos propios y cong?nitos
fecundados en su propio ambiente. No reintegrar valores, sino crearlos totalmente, y as?

mismo, destruir todas esas teor?as equivocadamente modernas, falsas ... Hacer poes?a pu

ra, suprimiendo todo elemento extra?o y desnaturalizado (descripci?n, an?cdota, pers


pectiva). (Schneider 272)

This is the only section in Maples Arce's manifesto which tells poets how to
write the new kind of literature, but the precepts outlined are abstract and gen
eral. What are the "aesthetic limits" to be "fixed"? What are the "values" to be
"created"? How should the poet "denaturalize" his writing? Maples Arce's ideas
about poetic creation are difficult to apply to poetic practice.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that Estridentista poems do not always live


up to the radical break with the past advocated in the manifestos. Maples Arce's

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318
poems, for example, are inconsistent, both in their subject matter as well as in
the technical aspects of their composition: some, like Urbe, show a clear affinity
with avant-garde concerns, but many others, like those grouped in Poemas in
terdictos (1927) with titles like "Spring," "Harbor," "Farewell," "Voyage," and
"Saudade," have more in common with the Modernista legacy of romantic im
agery than with Futurist aesthetics.

Even the most radical Estridentista creations, like Urbe, never achieve the

revolutionary renovation of poetic language found in Marinetti's texts. The


Estridentistas, for the most part, retained rhyme (one of the poetic conventions

most despised by Marinetti, who championed free verse), used a fairly tradi
tional syntax in their compositions, and they rarely experimented with typogra
phy. Indeed, one of Maples Arce's fellow Estridentistas, Arqueles Vela, accused
the founder of the movement of writing poetry that did not conform to the
movement's theories: "La teor?a de Maples Arce sobre la poes?a es irrefutable;

pero su poes?a no corresponde a sus conceptos" (Vela 323), and even Maples
Arce himself acknowledged that his poetry was closer to the aesthetics of Mo
dernismo than he had first admitted. In his memoirs he wrote: "Ciertamente, no
comenc? rompiendo por completo con el modernismo y el postmodernismo:
conserv? la m?trica de los heptas?labos, endecas?labos y alejandrinos, pero va
riando en m?sica, y, sobre todo, dando a las im?genes sentido vital, potencia
po?tica" (Soberana 125).
The Estridentistas1 lack of a coherent poetic theory explains, in part, the
movement's untimely demise. Without a clear poetic program, the group's re
bellious energy exhausted itself in a few manifestos. Since there were no ideas to
try out, the poets wrote very little after the publication of their bombastic
opening statements. The group left behind less than a dozen collections of po
etry, a tiny legacy, especially when compared to the thousands of pages that

make up Marinetti's collected writings. Octavio Paz ("Siete" 64) was right to
have judged Estridentismo as an energetic but ultimately infertile and "aborted"
experiment and his sumation of Maples Arce and his movement was succinct:
"el hombre fue poco afortunado y el movimiento dur? poco" (Paz, Poes?a 17).
From our examination of both the similarities as well as the differences

between Italian Futurism and Estridentismo we have attained a much clearer


image of how the Mexican movement related to avant-garde concerns. This
becomes even clearer by expanding the context of our inquiry and asking how
the Mexican group compared to the other Futurism: Russian Futurism.

Several critics have pointed out - though so far no one has analyzed in
depth - the similarities between the Mexican and the Russian movement. Oc
tavio Paz has gone as far as to suggest that the Estridentistas, in their ambition
to achieve a synthesis of political and poetic revolution, were directly influenced
by Soviet experiments: "los estridentistas profesaron ideas radicales en pol?tica y
unieron, influidos sin duda por el futurismo ruso, la revoluci?n est?tica a la

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319
revoluci?n social" ("Antev?spera" 103). Paz's perception of a direct influence is
entirely logical, for in terms of politics, the Estridentistas seem to have much
more in common with the Russian Futurists than with the Italian group. Like
the Russians, the Mexican poets had lived through a long and bloody civil war;
like the Russians, the Estridentistas had had their intellectual awakening in a
new, post-revolutionary country whose first years of existence were marked by

a great optimism and boundless hope for the future; like the Russians, the
Mexicans celebrated the Italian Futurists' aesthetic achievements while rejecting
their belligerent politics; and like their Soviet counterparts, the Estridentistas
considered their poetic creations as an extension of their revolutionary politics.

Paz's theory of a direct Russian influence on the Mexican group is at first


sight confirmed by Maples Arce's repeated references to Russian avant-garde
artists and writers. Indeed, the "avant-garde yellow pages" ("directorio de van
guardia") published at the end of "Actual No. 1" includes a long list of Russian
intellectuals: "Steremberg (Com, de B.A. de Moscou). Mme. Lunacharsky [sic].

Erhenbourg. Taline. Konchalowsky. Machkoff. Mme Ekster. Wlle Monate.


Marewna. Larionow. Gondiarowa. Belova. Sontine" (Schneider 275). Besides
listing the Russian names cited above, in 1922 Maples Arce in his article "El
movimiento estridentista," pointed to the Russian avant-garde as a model for
what needed to be done in Mexico: "En Rusia, los poetas y pintores del supre

matismo afirmaron dolorosamente la inquietud de movimiento bolchevique.


Lo mismo se hizo en el grupo de noviembre en Alemania" (25). These are direct
references but there are many other elements in the works of the Estridentistas
that recall the Russian Futurist aesthetic: the titles of certain poems (Maples
Arce's Urbe: superpoema bolchevique en cinco cantos), the constructivist-style

design of books and journals (see, for example, the cover illustration which
Ram?n Alva de la Canal designed for Germ?n List Arzubide's El viajero en el
v?rtice" [1926]), and the Mexican poets' direct participation in their country's
post-revolutionary politics.
Nevertheless, we must ask now just how well did the Estridentistas know

the Russian Futurists? As we shall see, not as well as might first appear. If we
examine Maples Arce's "avant-garde yellow pages" in detail, we find a number
of surprises. First of all, Maples Arce does not mention Vladimir Mayakovski,
the most important Russian Futurist poet whose poems and theoretical texts
had much in common with the Estridentista project. Secondly, Maples Arce's
list of Russian names is riddled with misspellings and typographical errors. One

example will suffice for comment here: Anatoly Lunatcharsky, the Soviet
Commissioner of Culture, a man, is mistakenly identified as "Mme. Lunachar
sky," a woman. Such errors and omissions suggest that Maples Arce was not
familiar with the Russian names he was citing. Again, various French words
embedded in the list (like the phrase "Com. De B.A. de Moscou," an abbrevia
tion for "Comit? des Beaux Arts de Moscou") further suggest that Maples Arce

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320
might even have been copying the list of Russian writers and artists, whose
work he did not know,from a French publication. Maples Arces unfamiliarity
with the most important creations of Russian Futurism thus implies that the
supposedly striking parallels between the Mexican and the Russian avant-garde
movements were merely coincidental, and similar to the aesthetic convergences
touted between the Russian and the Italian Futurists which were the result of
pure chance rather than direct influence.6

Despite the rather superficial political and aesthetic affinities between the
Estridentistas and the Russian Futurists, there were also crucial differences be

tween the two movements, especially in their theories of language. Like their
Italian counterparts, the Russian Futurists devoted much of their work to de
vising a new poetic theory that would free literature from the weight of the past.

The Russians, however, went much farther than Marinetti: they believed that
language, weighed down by centuries of everyday usage and clich?d conven
tions, was doomed and essentially unredeemable. If Marinetti destroyed tradi
tional syntax, the Russian Futurists discarded their entire mother tongue alto
gether in favor of a new set of words that could only be used to write poetry.
Thus, the poet Velimir Khlebnikov invented Zaum, a new language designed
especially for writing poetry. Markov has described zaum as "what is generally
considered [Russian] futurism's most radical creation ... the so-called transra
tional language" (19). Zaum consisted entirely of invented words, which had no
meaning beyond the nuances and texture of their sounds, which sometimes

included vague Slavic resonances. We can see the workings of this mysterious
"language" in Khlebnikov's "Dyr bul schyl," the most famous zaum poem:
Dyr bul schyl

Ubeshshchur

Skum

Vy so bu
R L ?z. (44)
Markov offers the following "reading" of the text:
The poem begins with energetic monosyllables, some of which slightly resemble Russian

or Ukranian words, followed by a three-syllable word of shaggy appearance. The next


word looks like a fragment of some word, and the two final lines are occupied with sylla

bles and just plain letters, respectively, the poem ending in a queer, non-Russian sound

ing syllable. (44)

In fact the poem does not "mean" anything beyond its strange guttural music,
and this rejection of signification constitutes a frontal attack on traditional liter

ary language. The conventions of poetic composition are trampled, torn to

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321
shreds, and finally discarded by zaum poets, who felt free to invent not only an
original style but also a brand-new set of words.

If we now return to Maples Arce, we see that his poetic creations, and even

his irreverent manifestos, pale in comparison to the boldness of Russian Futur


ist poetic experimentation. Even Urbe, Maples Arce's most revolutionary crea
tion, appears as a completely traditional poem when set against the linguistic
fireworks of zaum. Consider the opening verses of the Mexican "super Bolshe

vik poem":
He aqu? mi poema

brutal

y mult?nime
a la nueva ciudad.

Oh ciudad toda tensa


de cables y de esfuerzos

sonora toda

de motores y de alas. (Schneider 429)

With their quaint internal rhyme and parallelisms, these lines are in fact closer
to the aesthetics of Latin-American Modernismo than they are to any Futurist

work.

Nonetheless, one last coincidence between the Russian movement and the
project of the Estridentistas does deserve our attention, namely, that the Mexi
can and the Russian avant-gardes were the only two literary movements to em
brace the nascent field of commercial advertisement. Two Russian Futurists,

Mayakovsky and Khlebnikov, collaborated with visual artists to create posters


and newspaper ads for various state-owned companies. Proud to form part of a
new country full of hope and idealism, the Futurists avidly promoted, with po

etic jingles and zaum-]ike slogans, the products and services of the state, in
cluding the state-owned airlines and postal services, as well as more mundane
products like biscuits, matches, and cooking oil (see, for example, the many
advertisements designed by Mayakovsky and Rodchenko reproduced by Dab
rowski in the catalogue Aleksandr Rodchenko published in conjunction with the
exhibition of the artist's work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York).

Likewise, in post-Revolutionary Mexico the Estridentista poets and paint


ers collaborated in a number of ad campaigns. If, unlike the Russians, they did
not promote state-owned companies but rather products and services that they
associated with modernity, there is an uncanny coincidence in that the most

famous ad campaign designed by the Estridentistas promoted an industry


which had also been publicized by the Russian Futurists: radio broadcasting, or,
as it was known in Mexico at the time, "TSH," short for "telefon?a sin hilos," or

wireless telephony.

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322
In the early 1920s, both Velimir Khlebnikov and Vladimir Mayakovski had
worked for ROSTA, the central soviet broadcasting station. Mayakovski made
over two thousand drawings and several hundred posters with propagandistic
slogans and jingles for the agency (Kern 264). In Mexico, the Estridentistas de
signed a similar avant-garde advertisement in 1923: a promotional poster for
"Radio" cigarettes made by "El Buen Tono," a cigar factory that also owned one
of Mexico's first radio stations. The cigarette ad, which appeared on the back
cover of every issue of Irradiador, evokes the aesthetic of Russian Constructivist

and Futurist compositions: fragments of phrases ("El Buen Tono," "Elegantes,"


"Los mejores cigarros") in circular patterns evoking stylized radio waves. Ironi
cally, it was an advertisement and not poetry that allowed the Estridentistas to
experiment with a revolution of language: the fragmentation, dispersal, and
simultaneity in this cigarette ad is much more radical than anything to be found
in the group's creative texts.7

The Estridentistas shared the spirit of Italian Futurism, especially Mari


netti's irreverent dismissal of the past and his attempt to create a new literature
in tune with the modern era, but their project lacked the coherence of the Ital
ian or Russian movements. Perhaps the most original contribution of the group
is to be found in its manifestos, those bombastic writings filled with revolution

ary energy. Thus, in texts like "Actual No. 1" we find a radically new style in a
forceful prose whose intent is to bring about a literary renewal.

In the end, however, the Estridentistas were unable to translate their rebel

lious energy into a coherent literary program. Unlike Marinetti, who wrote
painstakingly technical instructions on how to create Futurists texts, neither
Maples Arce nor his fellow poets ever explained how to write Estridentista texts.
Instead, the poetry actually written by Maples Arce and his fellow poets was
much closer to the nineteenth-century poetic models they rejected in their
manifestos than to the avant-garde experiments they claimed to advocate, and
even the most radical texts, like Maples Arce's Urbe, appear extremely tradi
tional when we compare them to the wild language of Zang Tumb Tumb or
Zaum. Although the Estridentistas were the first avant-garde group to disturb
Mexican letters in the twentieth century, they were bold when writing mani
festos but extremely shy when experimenting with poetry. Perhaps this is why
their work has been all but forgotten and why critics still consider their poetry a
failed project.

Princeton Un iversity

NOTAS
i The opening paragraph of "Actual No. i" reads: "Hoja de vanguardia / Comprimido
Estridentista de Manuel Maples Arce / Iluminaciones subversivas de Ren?e Dunan,

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323
F.T. Marinetti, Guillermo de Torre, Lasso de la Vega, Salvat Papasseit, etc?tera y

algunas cristalizaciones marginales" (Schneider 267).


2 See the manifesto inti?ed "Distruzione d?lia sintassi / Imaginazione senza fili /
Parole in liberta" (1913). The manifesto closes with the ominous phrase "Ecco alcuni
degli elementi della... nostra arte dei rumori" (Marinetti, Teor?a 60). "Arte dei
rumor i" was the title of a 1913 text by another Futurist poet, Luigi Russolo, who saw

noise as the ultimate symbol of modern life and wrote: "colTinvenzione delle

macchine, nacque il Rumore. Oggi il Rumore trionfa e domina sovrano sulla

sensibilit? degli uomini... GODIAMO MOLTO PI? NEL COMBINARE


IDEALMENTE DEI RUMORI DE TRAM DIMOTORIA SCOPPIO, DI
CAROZZE E DI FOLLE VOCIANTI, CHE NEL RUDIRE, PER ESEMPIO,
L"EROICA' O LA 'PASTORALE'" (Marinetti, I manifesto 123-27).
3 "Perpetuemos nuestro crimen en el melancolismo trasnochado de los 'Nocturnos,'
y proclamemos sincr?nicamente la aristocracia de la gasolina," wrote Maples Arce

in "Actual No. 1" (Schneider 270).


4 This curious fact has led Jorge Schwartz to affirm that "el estridentismo pas? a la
historia siendo el ?nico movimiento de vanguardia en Am?rica Latina que cont?

con apoyo militar" (161).

5 We should add that Marinetti was much more consistent in embracing nationalism
than Maples Arce in rejecting it. Although Maples Arce's manifestos attack nation
alist literature, the Estridentistas championed the work of Mariano Azuela (they

published the first edition of Los de abajo in Mexico), a writer obsessed with na
tionalist themes, while several Estridentista works were sprinkled with nationalist

clich?s as in, for example, the second manifesto which ends with a Mexicanist ral

lying cry ("Viva el mole de Guajolote," and Germ?n List Arzubide's dedication, al
beit with a certain irony, "a Huitzilopoxtli, manager del movimiento Estridentista"
to El movimien to estridentista in 1926).

6 Vladimir Markov remarks that "in its origins the Russian [futurist] group was quite
independent of the Italians. In 1909 not one of the snodk people had even heard of
[Italian] futurism: no one could dream that three years later they would call

themselves futurists " (382).

7 For a discussion of radio and Estridentismo, see the chapter "Radio" (Gallo).

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