Mediating Andean Modernity: The Literary Oracular in Muerte por el tacto by Jaime Saenz


  • Joseph Mulligan Duke University



Mediation, modernism, nationalism, regionalism, tellurism


Upon his return from Berlin in 1939, Jaime Saenz started working in La Paz for intelligence agencies and public relations offices of Bolivia and the United States, which led to correspondent positions with Reuters and McGraw-Hill World News. His trajectory into Cold War Bolivian state nobility seemed all but guaranteed. However, on the brink of this breakout moment, he renounced his job —and professionalism altogether— committing himself to a life of literature and alcoholism as his marriage unraveled. In response to repeated interventions, he justified his every loss with a further indictment of the precautious, which was an outgrowth of his belief in the existence of a higher truth that was both accessible and impervious to analytical reason. In this article, I ask how Saenz’s poetry from the 1950s metabolized the rhetoric of indictment which it had inherited from the Tellurism of the Chaco generation. How might Muerte por el tacto (1957) be symptomatic of a broader aim of restoring to modern poetry its oracular legitimacy? On what grounds did Saenz indict precautious defenders of historical culture? And how did such an indictment mediate “national energy” (Tamayo) as it came into language through the nativist discourse of the land? Paying focal attention to regimes of revelation in Saenz’s  early  poetry and the historical conditions of its production, this article updates a discussion among Transatlanticists about the legitimization of irrationalism in 20th-century poetics and politics by assessing the socio-symbolic value of the oracular in the regionalist discourse of modernism.


Author Biography

Joseph Mulligan, Duke University

Romance Studies, PhD Candidate