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Xavier Villaurrutia, crítico de arte


Xavier Villaurrutia is a 20th Century intellectual Mexican writer best known for his poetry, fiction, and playwriting. My dissertation aims to study his prolific art criticism from 1926 to 1950 as a narrative literary genre that creates a third space for discussing Mexican culture. Traditionally, relations between art and Mexican modernity have been viewed in a deeply polarized way. On the one hand, we find an orthodox nationalist project committed to the Mexican society and working class, as exemplified by Diego Rivera’s murals or the work of avant-garde writers such as Manuel Maples Arce. Countering this conservative and nationalistic viewpoint we also find the cosmopolitanism of the Contemporáneos avant-garde group, to which Villaurrutia belonged. In order to dismantle this dualistic narrative I propose a third possibility that departs from Walter Benjamin’s media theory as well as Roland Barthes and John Berger’s photography theoretic and textual analysis to frame an understanding of visual representation, criticism and national culture in the Mexican modernity of the 20th century and its implications for the 21st century.

Authors such as Rubén Gallo (2003) and Esther Gabara (2008) have portrayed Mexican modernity from the standpoint of media history and photography, respectively, to trace the ethics and aesthetics of representation of modernity. However, the intersectionality of poetic images, painting, photography, and cinema in art writing published in newspapers as well as in journals like Ulises, Contemporáneos, and El Hijo Pródigo have been almost completely overlooked. In order to fill this gap, I have revised works from Xavier Villaurrutia that reveal these intersections with the goal of expanding the scope of national cultural discourses during mid-twentieth century. These writings expose the poet’s will to establish himself as an active and critical spectator of the cultural policies. In addition, Villaurrutia shows the impact of technology and media, such as photography, in representations of nationalism. The Mexican author selected for this project is roughly contemporary to Walter Benjamin and, in many ways, displays a similarly original approach to media theory as the German critic, for which I consider him to be pioneering voice on visual and media culture in Latin America.

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