‘By Inevitable Association’: Latin American Modernist Anti-Rhetoric and the Inescapable Figure of the Rhetorician

Abraham Romney


This article investigates the history of rhetoric in Latin America at the end of the nineteenth century by situating and analyzing allusions made by José Enrique Rodó (1872-1917) and Rubén Darío (1867-1916) to one of the most widely-circulated Spanish-language rhetorical handbooks in Latin America, Spaniard José Gómez Hermosilla’s Arte de hablar en prosa y verso (1826). Rodó and Darío were both associated with literary modernismo, a movement coming from Latin America, that sought to revive Spanish language literature. On the one hand, the anti-rhetorical arguments of these two writers contributed to the narrative of a decline in the rhetorical tradition through belletristic rhetoric, a narrative that still persists in some scholarship. On the other hand, modernists like Rodó engaged in a process of synthesis which concerned itself with pedagogy, selectively borrowing from the classical tradition and aiming to inculcate aesthetic sensibility and good taste in the rising generation. I examine references to rhetoric and to Hermosilla in Darío’s short story “El Rey Burgués” and in Rodó’s essays, including Ariel and “La despedida de Gorgias” in order to suggest that this synthesis was both oppositional and revisionary. Particularly, in Rodó’s essays, the figure or persona of the rhetorician functions as a protagonist whose philosophical anti-foundationalism can be read as a revision of the classical tradition that promises to renew its relevance rather than declare its end.

Palabras clave

modernismo; Rodó; Darío; Hermosilla; preceptiva literaria; retórica

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