J. Rulfo: Another giant, summarily ignored
Perhaps because he wrote all his work in Spanish, he is overlooked by the Academy. In the age of the Internet, an unbearablen slight. Unfair. Un-American.
He was short, and he wrote short.
His entire body of work can be found in a single volume on which I'm now resting my arm — exactly 337 pages long, in the hard cover edition published by "Fondo de Cultura Económica" of 1987.
This master of Latin American literature, better at moments than the better known Gabriel García Márquez or Carlos Fuentes, was a very introverted and shy man who rarely gave interview. He probably had secret dislike for the marketing of the book industry and the authors who accept and sometimes even enjoy the spotlight.
That was, perhaps from the get-go, who Juan Rulfo was: a bit ambivalent and a lot sincere.
He was ambivalent in his literary inclinations, and in his disbelief in the institutions, priests, and inquisitions of the entire literary world was quite evident. But he never expressed it.
He wrote, and he shut up. Completely. To the extent that the readers who gave him positive reviews started to disbelieve the master, and the master became even more doubtful of the popularity of his work.
As a decent man, and a man of letters, all he did in the latter part of his life was to take pictures with a now obsolete camera that may be in some museum in his native Mexico.
This is the man who wrote Luvina; Macario; Diles que no me maten; El Llano en llamas, then Pedro Páramo, and then nothing.
Juan Rulfo, the writer-turned-photographer (who reminds me of Joao Salgado, from Brazil, who set aside his doctoral diploma one day and went one to become one the most prestigious photojournalists in the world) was simply a writer who remarked once that his favorite place to get names for his characters was the public cemetery.
He is little-known in the English-speaking world — although his works have been translated — maybe even forgotten altogether.
Which department of Latin Amercian literature in the United States includes the 337 pages Juan Rulfo wrote as required reading? I haven't checked, but my guess is that one or two, if any.
Students, if they were lucky to have professors with this knowledge, could read the entire body of work by Juan Rulfo in a weekor two, and walk away with a better understanding of the cultural complexity of Latin America.
No need to read the bulkier Mario Vargas Llosa, who writes a book every year (and he is 60-something) or Carlos Fuentes, another fervent Pantagruelian writer who could not stop writing until he unexpectedly died in Mexico City last year. Fuentes' body was quickly shipped to Paris, in accordance with his will, where he had his own monument built at the public cemetery, perhaps in view that followers and students of history might care to drop by in the decades and centuries to come.
Not Rulfo. He was the opposite. Modest. Sincere. The one who could not care less whether he was liked or not by his contemporaries, or the generations to come.
He just stuck to writing — as he felt it. He edited a bit, then shipped it out to the publisher, and shut up.
He was Juan Nepomuceno Carlos Pérez Rulfo Vizcaíno — better known as Juan Rulfo.