Ezequiel Martínez Estrada

Ezequiel Martínez Estrada

Ezequiel Martínez Estrada (September 14,1895-November 4,1964) was an Argentine writer, poet, essayist, and literary critic. An admired biographer and critic, he was often political in his writings, and was a confirmed anti-Peronist. While in his middle years he was identified with the ideas of Nietzsche or Kafka, in his last years he was closely identified with the Cuban revolution and Fidel Castro.


Originally from rural Argentina, Martínez Estrada was born in San José de la Esquina, in Santa Fe Province and grew up until the age of twelve there and in Goyena, a village in the southern reaches of Buenos Aires province. (In 1937, he would buy a farm in Goyena). In 1907, his parents separated, and he went to live with his aunt Elisa in Buenos Aires, and to study at the Colegio Avellanda. It appears that his formal studies were cut short due to poverty. By 1914 he was working at the central post office in Buenos Aires; he would remain in Buenos Aires until retiring in 1946.

Within a few years, he began to establish a reputation as a poet; he also published a few short essays. In 1921 he married the Italian-born artist Agustina Morriconi, who definitely subordinated her career and unquestioned talents to his; she was, by all accounts, the muse of much of his poetry.

Beginning in 1924, Martínez Estrada taught literature at the Colegio Nacional of the Universidad Nacional de La Plata. He would continue this for decades, losing the job only when Juan Domingo Perón rose to power in 1945 (and returning briefly after Perón fell from power in 1956).

In 1933, responding to the 1930 Argentinian coup by José Félix Uriburu, Martínez Estrada published "Radiografía de la pampa", the first of a series of rather pessimistic sociological-psychological-historical essays that would make his reputation. That year, Martínez Estrada received the first of what were to be a series of national literary prizes. It is also about that time that he began travelling abroad; his generally favorable impressions during a U.S.-government-sponsored 1942 visit to the United States are recounted in his posthumously published "Panorama de los Estados Unidos"; his impressions on this visit apparently contrasted sharply with his earlier and later anti-Americanism.

In 1946 Martínez Estrada became a regular contributor to the Argentine magazine "Sur", edited and published by Victoria Ocampo. His contributions to "Sur" included poems, essays, and Kafkaesque short stories.

During the Perón years, Martínez Estrada suffered from an extremely disabling form of neurodermatitis, quite possibly psychosomatic. After the fall of Perón, his health regained, but still feeling himself a bit of a voice crying in the desert, he embarked on a series of writings he called his "catilinarias" (after Cicero's Catiline Orations), a series of acerbic writings directed at the Argentine elite, both in government and among the intellectuals, predicting that Argentina faced a century of "Pre-Peronism, Peronism, and Post-Peronism." During this time, he returned briefly to the Colegio Nacional, then was appointed as an Extraordinary Professor at the Universidad Nacional del Sur, in Bahía Blanca.

Beginning in mid-1959, Martínez Estrada began what became a semi-exile lasting nearly to the end of his life. First he went on a lecture tour of Chile, then to a peace conference in Vienna, where he met the Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén. In September 1959, he went on to Mexico, where he remained for a year at the Institute of Political Science at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and wrote "Diferencias y semejanzas entre los países de América Latina" ("Differences and resemblances among the Latin American countries"), a long essay even broader than its title might suggest, in that it also drew parallels to Asia and Africa, and generally cast his lot with the emerging Third World-ist view, condemning imperialism and colonialism and expressing his admiration for the revolution then in progress in Cuba, which proved to be his next destination (although with some brief trips back to Argentina).

From September, 1960 until November 1962, Martínez Estrada served as director of the Center for Latin American Studies of Cuba's Casa de las Américas. There, he became very much a part of the heady intellectual atmosphere of the first years of the revolution: above all, he studied the life and works of José Martí. He also edited two books of Fidel Castro's speeches, and numerous writings and pamphlets including "El nuevo mundo, la isla de Utopía y la isla de Cuba" ("The New World, the Island of Utopia, and the Island of Cuba"), in which he saw Cuba has having a manifest destiny, under which the indigenous Taínos of Cuba were linked to the "Amaurotos" of Thomas More's "Utopia" and Castro's Cuba to the ideal Cuba of Martí.

Martínez Estrada left Cuba shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis. With his health beginning to fail, with Cuba expelled from the OAS, and with a need to attend to his own economic affairs, he decided that he "would better serve the revolution from abroad." After a brief stop in Mexico he returned to Argentina, to Bahía Blanca, and to his status as a voice in the wilderness. He completed his three books on Martí (none of which were published in his lifetime and one of which remains unpublished as of 2001), wrote a work on Balzac, and continued to write poems (notably his "Tres poemas del anochecer" -- "Three Poems at Dusk" -- the last work he published in "Sur"). He spoke of returning to Cuba; it is not entirely clear whether his failure to do so was entirely a matter of his health or related to traces of disillusionment with the revolution that are evidenced in his correspondence. He died November 4, 1964 in Bahía Blanca.


The themes of Martínez Estrada's work can largely be gleaned from his choices of whom to write about. The names Nietzsche, Montaigne, and Kafka presumably speak for themselves, but there is also a specifically Latin American theme of skepticism about certain aspects of modernity to be found in his writings. In looking at the works of Domingo Sarmiento, he picked up Sarmiento's themes of "civilization" and "barbarism", but with a greater ambivalence about the virtues of civilization than were found in the earlier writer. Writing about nineteenth-century naturalist Guillermo Enrique Hudson, Martínez Estrada showed himself to be in sympathy with the idea of a return to a more paradisical natural world. He shared with his older contemporary Horacio Quiroga a concern for the mediocrity, injustice, and dehumanization of contemporary industrial / technological society. Like Sarmiento and José Martí, he believed that as a writer he could not only comment upon the world, but influence it. Towards the end of his life, this led to his support for the Cuban revolution and to his "catilinarias", acerbic writings on Argentine politics and culture.

Ezequiel Martínez Estrada Bibliography
Year Work Comments
1918 "Oro y piedra"
("Gold and Stone")
1922 "Nefelibal" Poetry
1924 "Motivos del cielo"
("The Motives of Heaven")
1927 "Argentina" Poetry
1929 "Humoresca"
1929 "Títeres de pies ligeros"
("Light-footed marionettes")
A verse puppet play
1933 "Radiografía de la pampa"
("An X-ray of the Pampa")
The first of a number of book-length sociological-psychological-historical essays
1940 "La cabeza de Goliath"
("Goliath's Head")
Book-length essay
1944 "La inundación"
("The Flood")
Short stories
1945 Autobiographical "letter" to Victoria Ocampo Martínez Estrada's only autobiographical writing
1946 "Sarmiento" Book-length essay
1946 "Panorama de las literaturas"
("Panorama of Literature")
A reworking of his lectures on literature at the Colegio Nacional
1947 "Poesía"
Collected poetry
1947 "Los invariantes históricos en el Facundo"
("Historic Invariants in" Facundo)
Book-length essay on Sarmiento's "Facundo: Civilization and Barbarism"
1947 "Nietzsche" Biography / literary criticism
1948 "Muerte y transfiguración de Martín Fierro"
("Death and Transfiguration of Martín Fierro")
Two-volume essay on the poem "Martín Fierro" by José Hernández
1951 "El mundo maravilloso de Guillermo Enrique Hudson"
("The marvelous world of Guillermo Enrique Hudson")
Biography / literary criticism
1956 "Cuadrante del pampero"
("Portrait of the Pampas-dweller")
1956 "¿Qué es esto?"
("What is this?")
1956 "Examen sin conciencia" Short stories
1956 "Sábado de gloria"
("The Glorious Saturday")
Short stories
1956 "Tres cuentos sin amor"
("Three Stories Without Love")
Short stories
1956 "La tos y otros entretenimientos"
("The Cough" and other Amusements")
Short stories
1957 "Tres dramas: Lo que no vemos morir. Sombras. Cazadores"
("Three plays: What We Don't See Die, Shadows, The Hunters")
1957 "El hermano Quiroga"
("Brother Quiroga")
Biography / literary criticism
1957 "Exhortaciones"
1957 "Las 40"
("The 40")
1958 "Heraldos de la verdad"
("Heralds of Truth")
Biography / literary criticism: studies of Montaigne, Nietzsche, and Balzac
1959 "Coplas del ciego"
("Blind Man's Rhymes")
1959 "Otras Coplas del ciego"
("More Blind Man's Rhymes")
1960 "Análisis funcional de la cultura"
("A Functional Analysis of Culture")
1962 "Diferencias y semejanzas entre los países de América Latina"
("Differences and resemblances among the Latin American countries")
1963 "En Cuba y al servicio de la Revolución Cubana"
("In Cuba, and At the Service of the Cuban Revolution")
Political writing.
1963 "El verdadero cuento del tío Sam"
("The True Story of Uncle Sam")
Political writing in Spanish, English, and French, illustrated by Siné.
1963 "El nuevo mundo, la isla de Utopía y la isla de Cuba"
("The New World, the Island of Utopia, and the Island of Cuba")
Political writing
1964 "Realidad y fantasía en Balzac"
("Reality and fantasy in Balzac")
Literary Criticism
1964 "Tres poemas del anochecer"
("Three Poems at Dusk")
Posthumous publications
1966 "La poesía afrocubana de Nicolás Guillén"
("The Afro-Cuban poetry of Nicolás Guillén")
Literary criticism.
1966 "Martí: el héroe y su acción revolucionaria"
("Martí: The Hero and his Revolutionary Action")
Biography / literary criticism.
1966 "Poesía de Ezequiel Martínez Estrada"
("The Poetry of Ezequiel Martínez Estrada")
Collected poetry
1967 "Martí revolucionario"
("Martí as Revolutionary")
Biography / literary criticism.
1967 "En torno a Kafka y otros ensayos"
("On Kafka" and other essays")
Essays, literary criticism.
1967 "Para una revisión de las letras argentinas"
("For a Revision of Argentine Letters")
Essays, literary criticism.
l968 "Cuatro Novelas"
("Four Novels")
l968 "Leopoldo Lugones: retrato sin retocar"
("Leopoldo Lugones: an Unretouched Portrait")
Biography / literary criticism
l968 "Meditaciones sarmientinas"
("Meditations After Sarmiento")
Biography / literary criticism
1969 "Leer y escribir"
("Reading and Writing")
Essays, literary criticism.
1975 "Cuentos completos"
("Complete Stories")
Stories, edited by Roberto Yahni
1985 "Panorama de los Estados Unidos"
("Panorama of the United States")
Travelogue, believed written shortly after his 1942 visit to the U.S
(unpublished) "La doctrina, el apóstol"
("The doctrine, the Apostle")
An unpublished third book on José Martí.


* 1933 -- (Argentine) National Prize for Literature (for his poems)
* 1933 - 1934 -- President of Argentine Society of writers (SADE)
* 1937 -- (Argentine) National Prize for Letters for "Radiografía de la pampa"
* 1942 - 1946 -- President of SADE, again
* 1948 -- SADE's highest honor, the "Gran Premio de Honor"
* 1949 -- SADE puts forward his name as a candidate for a Nobel Prize, but he does not receive it.
* 1957 -- President of the Argentine League for Human Rights ("Liga Argentina por los Derechos del Hombre")

Further reading

*Acree, William. "Tracing the Ideological Line: Philosophies of the Argentine Nation from Sarmiento to Martínez Estrada". "Contracorriente: A Journal of Social History and Literature in Latin America (Contracorriente)" 1.1 (Fall 2003): 102-33.

*Ayala, Francisco. "El "Sarmiento" de Martínez Estrada". En "Los ensayos. Teoría y crítica literaria". Prólogo Helio Carpintero. Madrid: Aguilar, 1971; pp. 1257-1260.

*Coleman, Alexander. "Marti y Martinez Estrada". "Revista Iberoamericana" (Pittsburgh, PA) 41 (1975): 629-45.

*Earle, Peter G. "Prophet in the Wilderness: The Works of Ezequiel Martínez Estrada". Austin: University of Texas Press, 1971.

*Fuestle, Joseph A.,Jr. "Sarmiento and Martinez Estrada: A Concept of Argentine History". "Hispania" 55 (1972) 446-55.

*Garasa, Delfían Leocdio. "Ezequiel Martíenz Estrada". "Latin American Writers". Vol. II. NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1989: II: 809-813.

*Orgambide, Pedro. "Genio y figura de Ezequiel Martínez Estrada". Buenos Aires: Editorial Universitaria de Buenos Aires, 1985.

*Stabb, Martin S. "Martínez Estrada frente a la crítica". "Revista Iberoamericana" 61 (1966): 77-84.

*---. "Ezequiel Martínez Estrada: The Formative Writings". "Hispania" 49 (1966): 54-60.

*Ward, Thomas. "Ezequiel Martínez Estrada y el telurismo". "La resistencia cultural: la nación en el ensayo de las Américas". Lima: Universidad Ricardo Palma, 2004: 85-98.

External links

* [http://ensayo.rom.uga.edu/filosofos/argentina/eme/ Extensive Spanish-language site about Martínez Estrada] including his [http://ensayo.rom.uga.edu/filosofos/argentina/eme/eme6.htm autobiographical letter to Victoria Ocampo]
* [http://www.nietzscheana.com.ar/martinez_estrada.htm Martínez Estrada's essay on Nietzsche, in Spanish]
* [http://ar.geocities.com/clescudero2003/eme.htm Spanish-language biographical essay]

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