In This Article The Chronicle

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies
  • The Colonial Period
  • Ongoing Projects

Latin American Studies The Chronicle
by
Viviane Mahieux
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 May 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0092

Introduction

The chronicle is a somewhat unstructured genre that combines literary aestheticism with the journalistic responsibility to inform. Many important Latin American literary figures, from César Vallejo to Gabriel García Márquez, have penned chronicles, and this practice has been instrumental to their literary contributions in other genres, such as poetry and the novel. At the turn of the 21st century, the most prominent public intellectuals can be primarily identified as chroniclers: such is the case of Mexico’s Elena Poniatowska, Chile’s Pedro Lemebel and Argentina’s María Moreno. But the genre’s visibility and recognition among literary scholars was slow in coming. For Spanish American modernistas such as Rubén Darío, José Martí, and Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera, the chronicle was a necessary obligation that gave them the income to devote themselves to endeavors that they considered more literary, such as poetry. Many of the chroniclers of modernismo worked as correspondents, writing about Paris or New York for a Latin American public, and establishing the association between travel and the chronicle that would continue to evolve throughout the 20th century. During the 1920s and 1930s avant-garde movements and modernizing media began to change how writers and readers thought about literature, and the genre’s concern with questioning cultural hierarchies enabled chroniclers be more at ease with the genre’s dual links to high culture and urban popular culture The chronicle’s literary relevance in Latin America extends to Brazil, where it is considered by many as a national genre. The chronicle in Brazil followed a slightly different trajectory than in Spanish America, with the genre gaining literary recognition much sooner thanks to the importance of Machado de Assis, who published chronicles during most of his writing life. Chronicle writing in Brazil would also come to be strongly associated with Rio de Janeiro, and recognized chroniclers from other cities remain a minority. In the early 1970s the chronicle began to take an increasingly politicized role that heightened the genre’s affinities to testimonial narratives, and the works by Mexico’s Elena Poniatowska and Carlos Monsiváis would be instrumental in this new shift in the genre. The chronicle’s greater visibility, as well as its focus on political or social events enabled it to circulate in book form rather than primarily in newspaper articles, as had previously been the norm. As a genre that dwells on intimate portrayals of city life and idiosyncratic urban practices, the chronicle has frequently functioned as a medium to reflect on urban sexualities, be they emerging women writers or gay chroniclers. The chronicle remains a thriving and evolving practice, and the early 21st century has seen a number of new developments in the genre, from its increased focus on the violence and drug-trafficking cultures, to its engagement with the Internet as platform for communication.

General Overviews

As a flexible and malleable genre, the chronicle is notoriously difficult to define. For this reason, various texts have struggled with pinpointing the rhetorical and historical characteristics of the chronicle. The texts cited in this section all provide broad guidelines to reflect on the genre and its particularities in Spanish America (for definitions of the Brazilian chronicle, see Brazil). They do not, however, necessarily draw the same conclusions, as can be seen in the dialogue among the chroniclers José Joaquín Blanco, Vicente Leñero, and Juan Villoro in Blanco, et al. 2002. Corona and Jörgensen 2002, in which this dialogue is included, draws from chroniclers and critics alike. Although focused on Mexico, it showcases a diversity of approximations that can be helpful to scholars interested in the genre throughout Latin America. Sefchovich 2009 confirms the difficulties of defining the genre but transforms this limitation into an analytical tool that guides the author’s reflection. Egan 2002 takes a different stance by methodically defining the chronicle as opposed to the essay, thus avoiding the common gesture of recurring to the loose label of “hybrid genre.” Bielsa 2006 also develops the notion of hybridity, parting from a solid contextualization of the high/low culture debate in relation to the chronicle. Monsiváis 1987 was one of the first essays to comprehensively approach the genre’s manifestations in Mexico beyond a specific historical period, thus making the continuity of the chronicle visible to literary history. González 1993 is an analysis of the convergences between literature and journalism in Spanish America: while not devoted exclusively to the genre, it helps situate the chronicle within a broader literary context, and as part of an affinity that spans the 19th and 20th centuries. Finally, Jorgensen 2011 offers a broad and productive theoretical reflection on nonfiction writing that builds on González 1993 and delves into the political and ethical dimensions of the late-20th-century chronicle.

  • Bielsa, Esperança. The Latin American Urban Crónica: Between Literature and Mass Culture. Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2006.

    E-mail Citation »

    Chapters 1 through 4 offer a very useful introduction to the contemporary chronicle by focusing on the high/low culture debate that has long surrounded the genre. Chapters 5 and 6 compare the urban locations of Mexico City and Guayaquil, offering original close readings of two seldom-studied chroniclers: Emiliano Pérez Cruz and Jorge Martillo.

  • Blanco, José Joaquín, Vicente Leñero, and Juan Villoro. “Questioning the Chronicle.” In The Contemporary Mexican Chronicle: Theoretical Perspectives on the Liminal Genre. Edited by Ignacio Corona and Beth E. Jörgensen, 61–68. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002.

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    A brief and engaging discussion by three contemporary chroniclers on their practice. Focuses on the chronicle’s ethical commitment, foreign influences, and the genre’s political and aesthetic dimensions. This text is perhaps most fascinating because of the diverse range of responses from these authors: their differences point to the inherent difficulties in defining the genre.

  • Corona, Ignacio, and Beth E. Jorgensen. The Contemporary Mexican Chronicle: Theoretical Perspectives on the Liminal Genre. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002.

    E-mail Citation »

    Although this edition focuses specifically on the contemporary chronicle in Mexico, it includes a wide range of important reflections by scholars and chroniclers that are pertinent to the chronicle as practiced throughout Latin America. An excellent first read for anyone looking to get a grasp on current debates surrounding the genre.

  • Egan, Linda. “Play on Words: Chronicling the Essay.” In The Contemporary Mexican Chronicle: Theoretical Perspectives on the Liminal Genre. Edited by Ignacio Corona and Beth E. Jörgensen, 95–121. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002.

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    An in-depth analysis of the rhetorical differences between the essay and the chronicle, two genres often described as hybrid and with almost interchangeable characteristics. Egan bases her argument on a contrast between a chronicle by Carlos Monsiváis and an essay by Héctor Aguilar Camín.

  • González, Aníbal. Journalism and the Development of Spanish American Narrative. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511551314E-mail Citation »

    An essential reference to contextualize the role of the chronicle in the complex relationship between journalism and literature in Latin American letters. Of special relevance are chapter 5 on the chronicle during modernismo and chapter 6 on the ethics of writing. The book is written in a remarkably clear and approachable manner, very useful for advanced undergraduate courses or graduate seminars.

  • Jorgensen, Beth E. Documents in Crisis: Nonfiction Literatures in Twentieth-Century Mexico. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2011.

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    This book does not focus exclusively on the chronicle, but its excellent theoretical grasp of nonfiction writing (chapter 1) makes it important reading for scholars interested in the political and ethical dimensions of the chronicle. Especially worth reading are chapter 5 (chronicles on crisis and catastrophe) and chapter 6 (on the Subcomandante Marcos’s chronicles from Chiapas).

  • Monsiváis, Carlos. “De la santa doctrina al espiritu público (sobre las funciones de la crónica en México).” Nueva Revista de Filología Hispánica 35 (1987): 753–771.

    E-mail Citation »

    Focusing on the works of Mexican chroniclers from colonial to modern times (Bernal Díaz del Castillo, Ignacio Altamirano, José Tomás de Cuellar, Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera, Martín Luis Guzmán, Salvador Novo, Elena Poniatowska), Monsiváis argues for the value of the genre and critiques its invisibility in literary history.

  • Sefchovich, Sara. “Para definir la crónica.” Chasqui 38.1 (May 2009): 125–151.

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    A productive meditation on how difficult it is to define the chronicle, the questions that should be asked to grasp its implications, and the different mechanisms of representation that are made manifest in the genre. More than attempting an absolute definition, this essay offers guidelines to evaluate and analyze the diverse corpus of texts that are categorized under the rubric of “chronicle.”

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