House/Garden/Nation: Space, Gender, and Ethnicity in Post-Colonial Latin American Literatures by Women

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In reading these post-colonial literatures by women facing the crisis of transition, this study highlights urgent questions of destitution, migration, exile, and inexperience, but also networks of value allotted to women: beauty, clothing, love.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"This is a superb book. One of the foremost Latin American literary critics writing today, Rodríguez offers in this study an important new perspective on the ‘foundational’ novels of early Latin-American nation-building and their relation to the modern and contemporary narratives of social transition in Central America and the Caribbean."—Ellen McCracken, University of California, Santa Barbara
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822314653
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 5/28/1994
  • Series: Post-Contemporary Interventions Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 223
  • Product dimensions: 6.07 (w) x 9.23 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Meet the Author

Ileana Rodríguez is Associate Professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Ohio State University. She is a specialist in the centro-Caribbean area and has written extensively on the literature and culture of the island and mainland nations.

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Space, Gender, and Ethnicity in Postcolonial Latin American Literatures by Women

By Ileana Rodríguez, Stanley Fish, Fredric Jameson, Robert Carr

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1994 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-8187-7



Modernism/ Modernity

The texts of Rómulo Gallegos and José Eustasio Rivera, as well as the texts of Ricardo Güiraldes, speak of a geography without limits. Across vast and ill-charted plains, at high altitudes where the lines of the horizon can barely be discerned, in regions populated by cunning natives, disturbed only by the thunder of enormous herds and limited at their borders by the human frontier of ethnicity, the nation-states are postulated at the beginning of the century. The lights of Modernism begin to flicker. If in Rivera the signs of a modernist aesthetics first scintillate, in Gallegos only the final gleamings can be discerned. This shift in semantic planes we call transition.

The feminine boudoir of Mercedes Galindo and its Oriental flavor in Teresa de la Parra; the Parisian taste her wardrobe displays; the languid, sensual posture she adopts on a divan; and her well-appointed dinners and her Baccarat glassware all recall a modernist aesthetics. But the after-dinner conversations on oil extraction, marriages of convenience, and alliances between professionals, hacendatarios, and founding fathers already belong to the horizon of Modernity. This shift is also an index of transition.

Transition is thus a generous concept. For when the impoverished daughters of the original plantocracy, without a name or recourse to the law, are taken hostage to the metropolis; when they languish in solitude in gardens reverting to jungle; when women of porcelain and women of ebony occupy the same discursive plane, and the daughters of the "commercial bourgeoisie" are shot by the army, we are also facing a transition.

The Spirit of the Law

Transition is the limit and the threshold: it is a border, a deep divide between two alternative modes of thinking, affecting one's self, the world, conversations, kinship and labor relations, table manners, peasant behavior, and the words appropriate to addressing subalterns. But it can also be a wound, a deep wound, an amputation, bloodshed.

Insofar as it postulates change, transition is related to Utopia. It articulates desire and hope. This century has developed around utopian ideas of social health, "progress," and/or social justice, ideas of revolution. In the horizon of literary modernity at the beginning of the century, in Gallegos for instance, to progress is to civilize. Progress and civilization constitute a copula. The history plotted in Doña Bárbara is the history of an obsession: to civilize is to tame, to vanquish, to coordinate, to kill—in short, to constitute the masculine agencies that support rational production, progress. The Neo-Positivist spirit of Santos Luzardo, the hero of Doña Bárbara, pronounces itself against all barriers to progress and civilization: idleness, barbarianism, the misuse of time (capital), the stagnating and unproductive accumulation of money, the mismanagement of land and its wealth, and the poor habits of the labor sector—in short, all that comes to impede the primitive accumulation of capital.

The concepts of progress and civilization also imply the displacements of hierarchies and hegemonies (men/women, master/peon, white/mestizo, mestizo/indigenous peoples). Doña Bárbara diagnoses the problem, and the prognosis for recovery invokes the spirit of the law as mediation. To rewrite and to recodify the law is the only way to regulate the exchange between the unequal terms of the social equation. In Gallegos, the judicial argument is the vehicle for administering progress and civilization, the dominant discourse in the constitution of the productive nation. The plains of Arauca are the geography on which matters of property are proven; and the plains' extension, government, yields.

Here, two problems of Neo-Positivistic, liberal desire will be addressed: to make civil law valid over custom, and, consequently, to reconceptualize legal prose—sales, litigations, territorial extensions, accounting—as an interaction between master and peon. The concepts of "custom" and "law and order" are thus recast. As Hobsbawm has argued, customs, the mundanities organizing everyday life among the subject-peoples (women, peons, mestizos, indigenous peoples), the residual cultural norms of ethnic groups vanquished in the constitution of nation-states, are recast as folklore; and law and order, the means to transition, are incorporated into the newly modified structures of government. The method of personally exercising authority and exacting punishment on the flesh of the subaltern by administrators in societies of extraction (plantations and mines) is replaced by the depersonalized forces of the army, the custodians of frontiers (borders and limits as geographic and legal concepts) for the nation-state.

Governing and government are politico-economic concepts. Politically, they rest in the army; economically, they are understood through the paradigms of development and underdevelopment. In terms of the conceptualization of spaces and institutions of organization and control, "transition" could then also be understood as a euphemism for development. The non-negotiable term in the transition to modernity is thus progress constituted as civilization. To advance. To move forward. To reach. In Daniel Lerner's paraphrase of Marx's thought, it is the fact that "more and more developed societies present to less developed ones the image of their own future" (Schiller, 140).

Productivity is progress. It is politically legislated civilization, the constituted state or the state about to be constituted, that which regulates the social behavior of productive beings. Santos proposes to fence, to shoe, to order and educate as conditions of progress. Reading Santos against the grain, it can be argued that progress is the institutionalization of society through a series of dualities: men's hegemony over women, the master over the peon, whites over other ethnic groups. The metaphor signifying transition is inscribed in woman in masculine terms: in the heroine doña Bárbara as repression/dictatorship, and in Marisela as affection/democracy. On the bodies of women, class, ethnicity, and gender converge.

The transition to modernity is, then, not only the articulation of desire, the constitution of national projects, the proposing of programs; it is also a method. A close reading of Santos' strategic activities reveals Gallegos' reliance on the culture of the oligarchy as the paradigm of civilizing culture, on elegant speech as a method of progress. In his grammar, phrasing, and vocabulary, in his knowing how to speak well, and in the "respect toward others" latent in his words rest his superiority over the whole peonry. His impeccable culture is a weapon for defeating the concept of power envisioned by the subaltern groups. The educated voice of the white man is thus to be established as hegemonic in the social and literary text. From polished oligarchic white men's speech norms are established. Bad behavior, pride, cunning, and bad government are defined as progress' adversaries. The internal market where all possibilities are negotiated becomes, in this new light, chaos and disorder, and barbarianism (the culture of indigenous peoples, women, peons, mestizos—the irrationality of centaurs) is constituted as its limit. Barbarianism as a signifying chain must be codified, and norms and pathologies established in race and blood, as in the indigenous peoples'; in feelings, as in women's; in pride, banality, and manliness, as in deviant subaltern behavior; in avarice, as in money that does not produce capital. Indigenous people, cantankerous women, laborers, and the oligarchy must be rewritten according to the new spirit of the law.

To Civilize—To Progress/To Kill

These structural modifications imply from the very beginning a reimagining of space and place, a geography, a people. A few days after arriving at the Altamira cattle ranch, Santos Luzardo visits his cousin Lorenzo and offers his friendship. In this conversation between two cousins, a drastic split in the oligarchic conceptualization of the nation takes place and a transition between a before and an after, a pre- and a post-, is established. The dialogue between the two men, one a lawyer and the other a doctor, seals a family reconciliation. The family bond is written as a metaphor when Lorenzo, speaking from the bosom of the medical profession, advises Santos to kill. The discursive field here registers modern and ancient epistemologies as oppositions in the binary "plain/city" as much as in "barbarianism/civilization."

The principle of change (progress/civilization) along with the advice to kill as male bonding are inscribed as memory, as writing, and as history and ideology. Lorenzo's patriotic speech commemorating independence embodies the will to kill, and so the terms of transition as a military concept are established. Significantly, the mythical figure of the centaur, an indigenous interpretation of the Spanish invaders now reversed and extrapolated to define the inferiority of the mestizo peonry and the indigenous peoples themselves, is the axis on which the passage between literary/textual Modernism and economic modernity turns. The centaur as self (in the self of ethnic groups signaled by the narratives) is the semantic plane in which the discourse of history is filed:

[T]he centaur is barbarianism and, therefore, we must be done with it. I knew then that with that theory, which proclaimed an orientation more useful to our national history, you have created a scandal among the traditionalists of the epic, and I had the satisfaction of ratifying that your ideas had created a new epoch in the manner in which our independentista history was evaluated. I was already of an age to understand the thesis, and felt and thought in agreement with you. (Gallegos, 69–70)

Addressing each other in the familiar, the consensus among "us," as well as the distance between "us" and "them," is established. The discourse on the centaur illustrates the split between traditionalism and modernity, between "him" as a metonym (him = men and women) and "him" as a metaphor (him = him), between the interpretation of the new and the old histories, between a modernist aesthetics and a modernizing one, between beauty and utility. Nation, in its transition to modernity, is overwhelmingly an economic concept. But the distinction between traditionalists and moderns marks yet another split: the disagreement over historical hermeneutics, the interpretation of the historical fact of Independence.

Here a gap between the Venezuelan men and women writing the nation opens up. The voice of Teresa de la Parra represents, in women's writing, the space previously held by the "traditionalists of the epic," a movement toward the conservative in this historical discourse. Mantuana, an aristocrat, a defender of her clan, of her relatives, the orientation which, in her, contributes to modernity, is not found at the ethnic-group level, nor at the level of the nation, but at the level of gender. In her Ifigenia, Teresa de la Parra moves the concept of barbarianism from mythology (the centaur) to law (regulating feelings); from aesthetics (Doña Bárbara), to the spirit and the letter of the law, the civil code. She collapses the mythologic and the generic, placing legalized male barbarity, marriages of convenience, and benefits for the nation-state on the same plane. The name of Ifigenia, is, in this sense, as telling as that of doña Bárbara. In the figures of these two women and the mechanics of their construction, the polemics of gender, ethnicity, and nation in times of transition in Venezuela are embodied.

From the Beautiful to the Utilitarian

At the beginning of this century, the process of transition toward modernization in the cultural arena was designed through an enlightened, positivist epistemology that ideologically willed to modernize. According to Subercaseaux, it expressed itself

economically by structural incorporation into the capitalist world market, socially by massive immigration and the presence of new actors, and politically by the inauguration of theoretically liberal regimes, which in practice were strongly restrictive. (145)

The mid-century revolutionary processes were oriented by the principles of Marxist epistemology, which proposed a change of the social agents in power, a state-owned economy, and a struggle against imperialism. This was illustrated by the revolutionary thinking inscribed in testimonial texts.

In this sense, in the first transition,

the liberal and enlightened elites fulfilled a fundamental role. Besides being carriers of the ideology of lay-progressivism, and of economic liberalism, they mediated between Frenchification (and Europeanization) in the most diverse realms: fashion, languages, food, art, design ... [a] project which, in the last instance, pretended to model society in the image, and to the liking, of the norms and values that that very same sector paraded. (174)

And in the second transition, the wretched of the earth, as Fanon will call them, or the semi-proletariat, constituted the social agent. Its enormous, volatile potential in poor, peripheral, or developing societies, given the productive profile of such societies, was responsible for revolutionary projects to reformulate, in a "profound manner,"

the external articulation of their respective societies, and to increase the capacity of political self-determination of the nation-state. Social revolutions ... always group three basic questions: transformation and economic development, democratization of political institutions ... [and] national self-determination; for this reason ... they involve an ample spectrum of classes and social groups. (Vilas 1986: 18)

Dilettantish, sybaritic, consumer-oriented, frivolous, urban, acratic, orientalist, fin-de-siècle, the Modernism of Mercedes Galindo and María Eugenia Alonso represented by Teresa de la Parra does not avoid polemicizing against the dictums of masculinist modernization, with its emphasis on labor, savings, productivity, and science and technology. In the merely economic sense, elements of this argument could be incorporated into the debate on the second transition of the century. Speaking of Modernism in the voice of his generation at mid-century, Angel Rama actualized this counterposition. Referring concretely to the life of the artist and the split between material life and literary creation, he considered the incursions of transnational capitalism into the economy detrimental to artistic production and dissemination, and gave us a concrete example in the case of Rubén Darío (Rama 1970, passim).

In this same spirit, in his book Subercaseaux rescues a thought according to which Modernism formed a part of the

great fin-de-siècle controversy between utilitarian and mercantile modernism which does not leave a space for "the life of the soul," [a position] that conceived art and beauty as the foundation of an urgent and necessary spiritual renovation. (179)


Excerpted from House/Garden/Nation by Ileana Rodríguez, Stanley Fish, Fredric Jameson, Robert Carr. Copyright © 1994 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
Pt. I Gender/Genre/Nation/Ethnicity: The Masculine
1 Transitions: Modernism/Modernity 23
Pt. II Nation/Ethnicity/Gender/Genre: The Feminine
2 Teresa de la Parra: Hacienda/Nation - Quid Pro Quo 59
3 Dulce Maria Loynaz: Garden/Nation - Parva Domus: Magna Quies 88
4 Jean Rhys: Island/Nation - Hortus Conclusus 108
5 Simone Schwarz-Bart: Provision Grounds/Nation - Et in Arcadia Ego 132
6 Gioconda Belli: Urban House/Nation - Domi Nostre 165
Notes 199
Selected Bibliography 203
Index 217
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