Paper presented at the International Conference on Latin American Cyber Cultural Studies.  Liverpool, U.K., May 20 2011

I will analyze the ways in which technology was incorporated into Uruguayan literature in two different historical moments: the publication of Psalmo á Venus Cavalieri by Roberto de las Carreras in 1906, and the publication of the CD rom Árbol veloZ, by Luis Bravo in 1998. Both works had some features in common, such as the accomplishment of certain utopian conception of the book under new technological conditions, and the effort the authors did to bring these conditions to Uruguay, where they were complete novelties, and required the importation of goods that were not locally available. In the case of Luis Bravo, for instance, the importation of the CDs (at a time when there were no local manufacturers) from Canada implied a conflict with local custom authorities. One century before, Roberto de las Carreras imported special typesets from Europe, photographs of the Italian singer Lina Cavalieri, and red dutch paper to create a luxurious book-object, intended to be a jewel. De las Carreras has left a detailed account of the process of elaboration of his Psalmo a Venus Cavalieri in a series of letters he wrote to his friend Edmundo Montaigne, where he exposed his conception of the book as an integral work of art, where graphic design must be as relevant as the text itself. In Luis Bravo’s Árbol veloZ, the introduction describes an utopia of the book as an artifact that allows the reader not only to read, but also to listen and see, as part of a plural sensory experience. Both authors conceived, in different times, a revolution of the book format allowed by new technologies. By the comparative analysis of both experiments in Uruguayan literature, I will show that the authors faced similar challenges to incorporate new technologies in their artistic projects. The comparison will also allow me to consider the issue of the relationship between media and literature from a historical perspective.

By 1900, the awareness of the new technological conditions played an important role in Modernista literature, where we could easily find both “apocalyptic” and “integrated” writers, as Umberto Eco put it, even enthusiasts, I would say, of technology. Among the apocalyptic writers, in Uruguay we could signal José Enrique Rodó, worried by the chance that a new technological society could undermine the spiritual identity of Latin America, identified with Ariel, by contrast with a more materialist and technified society, that he identified with Caliban in his classic essay. But among the integrated, the anti-rodosian1 Julio Herrera y Reissig and Roberto de las Carreras were highly interested in bringing new technologies into their own creations. For instance, in the debate about the originality of Herrera y Reissig’s poetry triggered by the prologue by Venezuelan critic Rufino Blanco Fombona to the French edition of Herrera’s poetry (Garnier, 1914), where Blanco Fombona accused Leopoldo Lugones of plagiarizing the Uruguayan poet, Horacio Quiroga told, in response to the accusation, that Herrera y Reissig had listened to Lugones’ poetry beforehand, recorded in a wax cylinder that Quiroga himself had brought to Montevideo in one of his trips to Buenos Aires.  This happened  by 1900, before Quiroga definitely established in Argentina.

Roberto de las Carreras expresses interest in innovating the book format in his commentary of Pedras preciosas writen by the Brazilian consul in Uruguay Luiz Guimarães, and published in Montevideo in 1904, by printer Barreiro y Ramos. Roberto de las Carreras dedicates one chapter of his Parisianas, a series of commentaries about some newly released books, where he describes the novelty that this publication represented for the local literary field. The book represents, for Roberto de las Carreras, the recreation of Paris in Uruguayan soil. It belongs to a Parisian shopwindow, where books could be seen among waves of red velvet, looking like jewels:

Estremecen con una fruición sibarítica de sensualismo plástico, esos engarces de la idea en estuches afiligranados de papel de hilo, de Holanda, en papel de aguas, en que se dibujan como penumbras de maravillosos estanques, ornados de ibis: visiones traslúcidas de fantasías de Kioto. . . . Libros en que traza el lápiz sus caprichos de nube, las evanescencias de las ilustraciones diamantinas que llevan el ritmo á la fantasía del fumador de ensueño, como los arabescos de humo de un narghilé. (De las Carreras, Parisianas 24)

Guimarães’ book-object brings together a variety of plastic sensations, visual in the illustrations that populate its pages, tactile in the different textures provided by the different kinds of paper used in its binding. It was also the result of the collaboration of different artists: the Italian painter Scarzolo Travieso, who illustrated the book, and the musician Alberto Nepomuceno, who composed the music for the poems.

One year later, De las Carreras will publish a book with similar features, where he also incorporates photography into the design. Psalmo a Venus Cavalieri is one of his erotic books, where the author keeps developing the topics of free love and eroticism that made him notorious in Montevideo. In some of his previous books, Sueño de Oriente and Amor libre: Interviews voluptuosos con Roberto de las Carreras, in which the author promoted breaking away with the bourgeois institution of marriage to become lovers in a future anarchist society, he had already shown a careful elaboration of the book’s graphic design. The second was printed by the publisher of the anarchist newspaper La rebelión, where De las Carreras wrote promoting his ideas on sexuality, and discussed the theories of free love with fellow anarchists in Uruguay and abroad. He took advantage of anarchists’ know how in graphic design, that according to Lily Litvak, was instrumental in the technical virtuosity displayed in anarchist publications:

Llama la atención la experimentación tipográfica llevada a cabo en los periódicos libertarios, posiblemente como reacción contra la disposición uniforme identificada a veces con los periódicos conservadores. En general los periódicos ácratas estaban bien impresos. Debemos recordar que muchas veces los editores se reclutaban entre los tipógrafos, la aristocracia del movimiento obrero. A menudo encontramos en esas páginas protestas por tal o cual obra mal impresa, o encomios por una bien llevada edición. (Litvak 269)

Roberto de las Carreras explained to his friend in La Plata (Argentina) Edmundo Montaigne his project, in the series of letters kept in Uruguay’s National Library. The author was looking for a printer in Argentina able to undertake such project, suggesting the name of Peuser to his friend:

Mi ambición es una edición que pueda ser depositada en ofrenda a los pies de Venus Cavalieri. Ofrecerle una edición que no fuera admirable sería un grave pecado para con su belleza. Pienso que Peuser bien pudiera ser agradable a la Cavalieri y que Vd. podría desempeñar el alto cometido de interrogar a ese señor sobre su arte de crear el cuerpo del libro. (El autor crea el alma). En París las maravillosas envolturas de ciertos libros, el engarce de creaciones de Loti, Daudet, etc. se ofrenda al público en escaparates de velours como piedras preciosas y deslumbrantes. Yo profeso la devoción de los libros, me parecen joyas y creo que su alma artística me acompaña en esta delicada sensualidad por el ropaje de las obras, por el del libro. [. . .] Esa edición sería hecha con arreglo al siguiente modelo que someto á su gusto: Interpretaría el título de Salmo: esto es tendría el aire de un misal, sería de gran tamaño (adjunto la medida)[.] El título sería formado por grandes letras, artísticamente derramadas sobre la Carátula. Esta debería ser hecha por algún artista de intuición sensualista, el cual llenaría un fondo con espesas nubes de incienso viboreando de entre incensarios de harem. Se impone agregar a ese incienso, columnas, pórticos griegos, algo que sintetice clara, breve y vagamente el mundo antiguo, el mundo maravilloso que transcurre en mis páginas de apoteosis de la Cavalieri! (De las Carreras, “Carta a Edmundo Montaigne”)

The book is an offering to the Italian opera singer Lina Cavalieri. The search for a foreign printer is due to the author’s conviction that there are no local conditions in Uruguay for such a book, where graphic design, or the body, was as relevant as the poem itself, the soul. This derived from the fact that De las Carreras most frequent editor, Dornaleche y Reyes, didn’t want to publish an expensive book without the guaranties that the expenses would be covered:

En Montevideo es imposible improvisar. La edición es una utopía. El editor Reyes me exigió tales garantías que me hizo retroceder: entre ellas que le firmase un documento para garantirse contra mis herederos, en caso de que yo llegara a morir mientras durase la impresión del Salmo, cosa que no es imposible que me hubiera sucedido, pues hay mucha gente que muere de pronto. Yo acepté la proposición del previsor Dornaleche por parecerme humorística, pero este exigió entonces cantidad de trabas de un carácter menos artístico y por lo tanto imperdonables. (Ibíd.)

However, the book could be published in Montevideo, not by Dornaleche but by Barreiro y Ramos, the same editor that had published Guimarães’ book. What seemed impossible to Roberto de las Carreras by 1903, became possible by the importation of new printing materials. In a later letter to his friend in La Plata, he says:

Realizo en Montevideo el milagro tipográfico. . . Jamás lo hubiera creído posible en la ciudad de San Felipe! Es esta una maravilla casi tan desconcertante como la Muerte. Figúrese Vd., esto es trate V. de concebir con esfuerzos dantescos de imaginación, lo siguiente: Barreiro, el decano de nuestros introductores de libros y de nuestros impresores, ha hecho venir de París, la fine fleur, de los papeles artísticos y de los tipos de imprenta de igual ramo.. . . Yo lo veo y no lo creo. . . Será un libro impreso en oro!. . . sobre el papel borra de vino de una elegancia arcaica desvanecedora. . . De paso sea dicho no hay elegancia sin arcaísmo. (Ibíd.)

Psalmo a Venus Cavaliery was an experiment in graphic design, printed in thick hand-made paper of a dark red color, with Art-Noveau capitals printed in gold, a special typeset inspired by old Elzevir printing, bound in leather and closed with satin tapes. The book would finally include a series of pictures of the Italian singer to which the book is consecrated. Written in poetic prose, the author experimented also with the proposal of free verse that Santos Chocano was promoting from Peru, in a programmatic text that appeared in the pages of La revista, the poetry magazine published by his friend Herrera y Reissig.

Roberto de las Carreras was aware of the novelty the book meant in Uruguayan literature, and probably in Hispanic letters. However, he stresses in his letter to Montaigne that the display of typographical virtuosity and the incorporation of photographs (a relatively recent technique in graphic design by 1905) were meant to reproduce an archaic object, that would bring back literature to its Greek origins.

Almost a century after, in 1998, Luis Bravo made a similar claim when he published his CD rom Árbol veloZ, also an experiment in incorporation of new technologies into Uruguayan literature. Bravo belonged to the group UNO, that published poetry books in the 80s with a graphic conception highly influenced by Brazilian Concretismo and later Marginalismo,2 that is also present in Árbol veloZ. But the blending of avant-garde techniques in this work aims at the recreation of an archaic form of art:

Poetry since its origins (if we go back to the Greek epos or the cosmogony hymns of the ancient Oriental and Occidental civilizations) has been designed as Chant; a particular way of blending the sound and image of words created to be recited accompanied by musical instruments like the lire (an element that drove to name the genre as Lyric). The Renaissance definition of the Lire de braccio, evokes a string instrument of the XV and XVI century “used for polyphonic improvisations” (Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary). Such definition is specially adequate to be rendered into this work of imbrication between verbal and musical textures that make the foundation of “Swift Tree”. (Bravo, “Intro”)

As paradoxical as it may seem, this interest in recasting the ancestral practice of poetry in the new reality is common to both writers. María Rosa Olivera-Williams appeals to the notion of remediation, coined by Bolter and Grussin, showing how old media is refashioned by the use of new medium. Luis Bravo’s utopian conception for a new book resembles in many aspects De las Carreras project: a collective work, in which many artists take part (hence the signature in the CD: “Luis Bravo + 20 artistas uruguayos”) and the wish that “the sinesthesic motivation, the hunger for images, and the diversity of rhythms of the receptor or listener at this end of the century —and we are positive of the XXI century as well— obtains here the possibility to connect with the ancestral poetical art.” (Luis Bravo, Intro).

The material difficulties were also similar in both projects, depending upon material conditions that were not locally available. Luis Bravo was less lucky than Roberto de las Carreras: while the second was finally able to print his “milagro de la tipografía” in Montevideo, Árbol veloZ had to be manufactured in Canada, because there was no CD manufacturers in Uruguay back then. Created in Macromedia Director (now Adobe’s) the work consisted in a binary for Windows (.exe) made with an early version of Flash, very popular among video-games designers, to which, as Jill Kuhnheim notes, the navigation system of the CD rom resembles. When Luis Bravo imported the CD roms from Canada, they were held at the facilities of the Uruguayan custom authorities because he had to pay copyright fees —for a work that he himself had created! After quarreling with AGADU (Uruguayan Author’s association, that should provide the authorization to clear the copyright fee) the CD rom made it into Uruguay, and were published by Trilce together with a book of poetry. The first edition was both the book and the CD rom bound together.

While in their analysis of both Jill Kuhnheim and María Rosa Olivera-Williams point at the great attachment that Árbol veloZ still has to the book economy, I think we can better understand both Luis Bravo’s book and Roberto de las Carreras’ Psalmo. . .  as a attempt to recreate pre-capitalist economic conditions, expressed in the desires of both authors to reenact archaic forms of poetic practice, by means of technology. Rather than a market economy, their economies seem closer to one of squandering, a purposeful waste of resources where the final cost highly surpasses the potential exchange value of the work of art. Kuhnheim points at the similarities between Modernista resistance to market incorporation and the commodification of art, and the contemporary experimentation with digital media:

Just as the modernistas respond to the dominant values, assumptions, and discourses of the turn of the last century and positioned art as an alternative to these, this artists take up elements from mid-twenty century concretismo and vanguardismo and combine them with influences from the late-twentieth-century market economy and digitalized world to give us new ways to imagining art’s role in the present. (Kuhnheim 167)

Acording to Kuhnheim, these poetic practices can be read as an alternative “to the mercantilization fo image an word through electronic commerce” (ibíd). But as acts of cultural resistance, these poetic experiments meant also an attempt to overcome the technological divide. Although María Rosa Olivera-Williams argues that “la división geográfica entre Primer Mundo/Tercer Mundo o Norte/Sur no parece jugar un papel importante ya que la mayoría del continente está conectado electrónicamente y tiene acceso al resto del mundo” (Olivera-Williams 349), in the works analyzed here, awareness of the differences in access to technology played a role in the conception and the making of both Psalmo a Venus Cavalieri and Árbol veloZ (the second hasn’t been online until very recently, when I myself uploaded some of the videos included in the CD rom)3.

The technological divide is not only an issue of access, but rather, in my view, of appropriation of the technologies that make new ways of communication possible. One century ago it had to do to the appropriation of graphic and printing techniques, today it seems to be infrastructures to increase bandwidth, hardware manufacture (in 1998, CD manufacture, for instance) or domain creation and registration. Another issue that aroused with the publication of Árbol veloZ had to do with outdated legal frameworks to respond to a new media reality, that ended up in the retention operated by custom authorities. Access to software itself seems to be less problematic at the moment, mainly thanks to the amazing development of open source software. But by the time Árbol veloZ was created Macromedia Director or the encoders for digital audio (mp3) and video (mpeg) were highly priced and not available at all locally. They were (and continue to be) proprietary tools where the lack of interest in backwards compatibility or cross platform support shown by the companies that own them lead to the obsolescence that renders the appreciation of the work as was first edited impossible.



Bravo, Luis. Árbol veloZ: Poemas 1990-1998. Montevideo: Ediciones Trilce, 1998. Print.

—. “Intro.” 25 Mar 2009. Web. 26 May 2011. <>

De las Carreras, Roberto. “Carta a Edmundo Montaigne.” 1903 : n. pag. Manuscript.

—. Parisianas. Montevideo: Tall. de A. Barreiro y Ramos, 1904. Print.

—. Psalmo á Venus Cavalieri. Montevideo: Tall. A. Barreiro y Ramos, 1905. Print.

Herrera y Reissig, Julio. Tratado de la imbecilidad del país: por el sistema de Herbert Spencer. Montevideo: Ed. Santillana, 2006. Print.

Kuhnheim, Jill. Spanish American Poetry at the End of the Twentieth Century: Textual Disruptions. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004. Print.

Litvak, Lily. España 1900: modernismo, anarquismo y fin de siglo. Barcelona: Anthropos, 1990. Print.

Olivera-Williams, María Rosa. “La nueva vanguardia, tecnología y Árbol veloZ de Luis Bravo.” Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies 14.1 (2011): 349-360.Print.


1 Aldo Mazzucchelli has proposed that Herrera y Reissig contested the arielista ideology of José Enrique Rodó in his edition of Herrera’s Tratado de la imbecilidad del país. Roberto de las Carreras has also openly attacked the author of Ariel, in several texts, among them the letters to Montaigne that I quote here. That is why I term the alliance between both writers as “anti-rodosian”.
2 Gustavo Wojciechowski was in charge of graphic design in this publishing group, himself a typographer and font designer, and one of the main innovators in Uruguayan graphic arts.
3 The online version can be seen at: