The clearest zone of the air: A Tribute to Carlos Fuentes and The City as a Character

Paniel Reyes Cárdenas

People with a pervasive influence to a generation are inevitable, especially when it comes down to literature, the strength of prose can awake with vibrant voice the feelings of an otherwise slumbered community or mesmerize with sweet voice a giant, taming their rudest passions.

Dr. Paniel Reyes Cárdenas. Photo: Universidad del Golfo de México, rectoría centro.

Dr. Paniel Reyes Cárdenas. Photo: Universidad del Golfo de México, rectoría centro.

Carlos Fuentes did a hallmark in Hispanic American literature, not only because of the extension of his still unfathomed literary work, but also because that work was momentous and rendered possible a whole generation of writers, the “boom” generation. In the next few lines I’ll try to explain that claim by attending to his first novel: “La región más transparente”, in which he carries out the forbidden task of tackle the philosophical and sociological maze of the city. As Latin-Americans’ abroad (I must render the reader that I am a Mexican living in Sheffield, UK) we are peculiar human beings, we bring a past that define us and we are also shaped by the always new culture, this happens to such a extend that we end up belonging to no place, and nonetheless Mexico and Sheffield own us, can we escape from this fate? I think we should embrace it; only then we will be able to plant the seeds of a cultural lasting contribution. Bearing this thoughts in mind I will devout some of these lines to explain why I believe that Carlos Fuentes’ “La región más transparente” bears a meaning that the self-understanding of our steel city, Sheffield, can profit of, even in spite of being far away of a megalopolis-sized urban swarm, like Mexico City’s.

Indeed, nearly two hundred years of independence of the Latin-American countries weren’t enough to encourage writers to face the problem of the city, they took time to describe the encounter of human and nature, to depict landscapes and to visit the towns and villages that are germinal of the culture. Only when the time was ripe enough a whole new generation led by Carlos Fuentes will unwrap the riddle of the city, not only describing it, but also making of it a proper character.

Confronting the maze: diachronic and synchronic

Nonetheless, not everybody is ready to confront the maze, the city might suck you in the randomness and you can end up trapped into a labyrinth of meanings that cross over each other intensifying or diming significance. Carlos Fuentes sinks in the problem of the city wisely, not only describing its chaotic overtones, but with a specific approach. His novel is diachronic because he has an understanding of how the history of the Mexican revolution and post revolution generated mixed outcomes; on the one hand it changed the unfair ancient regime of the colony in the distant past and the Diaz’s dictatorship in the near past, both of them based in an unsurpassable division of classes, on the other hand, though, the revolution generated the mindset of the Mexican praise for the leadership of the cacique for whom people will give up reason for charisma.

Carlos Fuentes knows that we are children of confusion; we are mixed not only in race, but also in a love/hate relationship with our past, where everything is grey and beckoned to analytic interpretation. Diachronically, Carlos Fuentes explains the origin of the city in the expression of Alfonso Reyes: the most transparent region, he’s leading us back to the origin of the mythical Tenochtitlan, born in the middle of a clean lake, that unlike Venice or St Petersburg enjoyed an amazing tidiness. But everything comes to a price: the Aztecs fierce dominion and sacrifices sustained an oppressive order that granted the conquistadors the opportunity to divide and defeat. The colony didn’t change the fact of the sacrifice, but a different level now, at the price of having always the scar, pain, and resentment of the bondsman. And Carlos Fuentes tells us that we weren’t that better off in the independence, when the desire for a savior, a father of the nation, will continually blind us to irrationality.

What about the city in the mid 1950’s, where the novel is situated? It is exactly the time in which an awaking self-consciousness of who we are cropped up in a city of contrast. That is what the synchronic approach is about, because is a city of different urban roles, all of them incommensurable with the other, all of them linked deeply. Ixca Cienfuegos and Teodula Moctezuma are two unique characters, they both are extemporal, detached from the problems of the other characters, silent witnesses of the glory and disgrace of other lives. Yet they are still boosting the move forwards, sometimes patronizing, sometimes comforting, sometimes braving. Still they are the soul of the city, a welcoming mother and a human heart eater god, like Huitzilopoztli.

Sheffield is a small city, I have friends that look at it with some condescending disdain, up to the point of saying that this kingdom has only one proper city (the imposing London). So size-wise, it is really different from Mexico City, we don’t have pollution nor the hectic anxiety that pushes you forward towards a devouring routine. I will probably can’t extend an analogy between that urban monster and this vibrant student city from the synchronic point of view. But diachronically Sheffield is the daughter of the same circumstances that fathered our capital across the Atlantic Ocean. The industrial revolution and war wiped out a now seemingly mythical medieval past, progress mixed with class division was unleashed relentlessly ever since, at the same time people here had been always struggling for an utopia of justice and community, of shared values and shared pains.

Back in the 1980’s when David Blunkett put a banner in the town hall that reads: “The people’s republic of Sheffield”. Here, more than in any other place in the UK, the dialectic between a nation and a city has been a difficult one, Sheffield won battles but still had hurtful drawbacks, not an industrial city anymore though managed to survive that apparently lethal wound of bankruptcy with the vibrancy of two big universities. Rivers of people from everywhere have flooded Sheffield now, and the question about the maze emerges again: who are you, Sheffield? What are your foundations? What do you aim for now? I believe both cities never had that question of self-consciousness more strongly prompted. Carlos Fuentes passed away more than two years ago, but his mind still challenges us to find an axis of identity, he was recently worried about the antidemocratic drawback of the elections in Mexico, he was worried about the conservative impasse of Britain in the last election, how can we –synchronically, answer to that?

Paniel Reyes Cárdenas is a Mexican philosopher. Currently a research fellow at the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom. He was award a doctorate in Philosophy by the University of Sheffield, United Kingdom. Is founder of the Mexican Society for Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Science. We suggest to visit

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