JosÉ AsunciÓn Silva Y La Ciudad Letrada

Author: Osorio, José Jesús
This book focuses on the cultural and political conditions of Colombia in relationship with their most notorious poet in its history. The relationship between José Asunción Silva, the cultural institutions and the social and political environment at the end of the 19th century in Bogotá is the main interest of this book. The Colombian nation underwent great political and social changes at the end of the century. Silva lived in a narrow-minded society that achieved a short but very important period of peace. Critics from different perspectives, in many cases contradictious, bother Silva because of his novelty characteristics. Nonetheless, they do not take into consideration the sensible intellectual that cares about the social situation, the city and the country. Journal articles and chronics about the city written by Silva denote the conditions of the relationship established by the poet with the politicians, groups of writers and the city as generator of culture.

This book analyzes the poetic works of Silva, which deals with the topic of childhood, the poetry book Intimidades, and his first poem “The first communion”, written when he was ten years old. The reconstruction of Silva’s childhood by some of his friends is also analyzed. This late reconstruction of his infancy just serves to create an impression of a weird, uneasy being that does not fit according to Bogotá’s society of the epoch.

Literary anthologies such as Parnaso colombiano, La lira nueva y the Estudio preliminar written by Jose Maria Rivas Groot are also analyzed. The revolutionary ideas of Silva cause uneasiness and discrimination against him because they are far from the traditional norms imposed by the culture of the time. Silva does not accept that a poet has to be regulated by the catholic preceptors. This book considers that relationship of Silva with the letrados of the Regeneration group was uncomfortable.

Silva was interested in the societal chronic and he thought journalism was an idoneous medium to express his ideas about the society and particularly the literature and culture in general. Silva creates turmoil for the way he carries himself, way of dressing, and gestures, which did not correspond with a man of the time. It is observed that Silva’s isolation did not happen due to the idiosyncrasy of his great talent but because of local circumstances created by critics who did not always carry them with honesty and fairness.


“The work of Colombian writer José Asunción Silva (1865-1896), the theatrical details of his suicide and the rumors surrounding his sexuality have long figured in histories of Latin American literature ... Silva has suffered both from the prestige of his position as a pioneering modernista, a cosmopolitan master of irony critical of the posturing of power, and from the enduring myths associated with his so-called decadent lifestyle and self-destruction. In a valuable approach to such a contradiction, this study looks at Silva’s relationship with the cultural and political institutions of his native city of Bogotá ... Silva, for whom elegance and hauteur came to be almost ontological categories, slipped toward the periphery of official culture. After his death, he became the subject of the stilted, repetitive praise of literary histories and text books. Dr. Osorio’s work reveals the key points of foundational contradictions in the life and works of the Colombian modernista. From now on, it should be indispensable for anyone interested in Silva and his work, in fact, for anyone interested in a fresh rereading of Spanish American modernismo.” (from the Preface) Professor Oscar Montero, Lehman College and Graduate Center, The City University of New York

“Although there are many important books on José Asunción, Colombia’s best-known poet, it is always healthy and refreshing to have a new one. This book brings new information about the poet’s childhood and talks about his problems of being an official worker in a political system that he, as a poet, rejected. But the most important part of the book is the discussion of his role as a chronicler of 1880s Bogotá society, a city that was in the process of modernizing. The critics of the period never understood his talent and his work. Perhaps with this new work, readers will have a new approach to understand the many reasons that Silva had for taking his own life at the age of 30, and will appreciate his talents not only as a poet but as a chronicler ...” – Professor Rafael Saavedra Hernández, State University of New York at New Paltz

“This new book represents a salient contribution to the study of José Asunción Silva, Colombia’s premier poet, and one of the most important proponents of Hispanic Modernism of the time period. The originality of Dr. Osorio’s work lies in its meticulous reconstruction of every aspect of the political, religious, and social context of the period, without which an explanation of the poetic work of such a first-class non-mainstream writer would not be possible ... Dr. Osorio brings to life for the reader a figure for whom a life of radical nonconformity and the art of writing remained intertwined. Moreover, Dr. Osorio’s book contributes to the scholarship on Silva for bringing to light certain lesser-known aspects of the poet’s pursuits: his interests in journalism, and in the urban chronicle as a genre and as a medium for capturing Bogotá in the process of modernization.” – Professor José Muñoz Millanes, Lehman College, The City University of New York

Table of Contents

1. Versiones de la infancia
2. Dos versiones de la modernidad literaria: Silva y Rivas Groot en el Parnaso colombiano y La lira nueva
3. Silva y la política cultural de fin de siglo
4. Silva y la ciudad letrada