Foundational Fictions: The National Romances of Latin America / Edition 1 available in Paperback
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Foundational FictionsNational Romances of Latin America
By Doris Sommer
University of California PressCopyright © 1993 Doris Sommer
All right reserved.
por encima del distanciamiento del tmtulo, de la fortuna y del color de la piel . . . esta la atraccisn de los sexos, el poder irresistible del genio de la especie.
Matalachi, Enrique Lspez Albzjar
When Gabriel Garcma Marquez, Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Julio Cortazar, among others, apparently burst onto the world literary scene in the 1960s, they told us categorically and repeatedly how little there was worth reading in earlier Latin American fiction.1 Only now, they said, was the continent gaining cultural independence by Calibanizing the range of European traditions, mere raw material in purposefully naive American hands.2 Content, perhaps, with this vindication of our scant information about Latin America, an English-language public hardly suspected the Boom's substantial pre-texts: a whole canon of great novels that elicited disingenuous dismissal by writers who anxiously claimed to be literary orphans at home, free to apprentice themselves abroad.3 This book is written for that unsuspecting public, and also for a generation of Latin Americans who, with justified enthusiasmfor the Boom, may have taken the dismissal too literally.
Although some critics argue that the Boom was merely a promotional explosion, hardly a literary phenomenon at all, the new novels do show distinct family resemblances, enough in fact to produce a checklist of characteristics. These include a demotion, or diffusion, of authorial control and tireless formal experimentation,techniques apparently aimed at demolishing the straight line of traditional narrative.4 The epic subtexts about Latin American development that can be read back through the debris now become risible simulacra. If all this sounds like denial, it was. New novelists tried to laugh off the appeal of positivist and populist projects that had, by then, run aground and made history stumble when it should have been going forward. Looking back at Latin American history after reaching a precipitous end, to find that end no longer meant purpose, evidently produced giddiness. In several countries national productivity had in fact been rising from the middle of the nineteenth century to the populist period of Import Substitution Industrialization during World War II when, for a change, foreign powers were too busy to stunt local growth by supplying manufactured goods. But after the war imports flooded the markets again, and Latin American history no longer seemed progressive, no longer a positivist national biography of maturation that was overcoming some childhood or chronic illness. When Western Europe, but especially now the United States, was again free to meddle in Latin American internal affairs and to step up the production and exportation of goods, populist optimism waned. Along with it, the linear logic of economic developmentalism twisted into the deadend of perpetual underdevelopment, while patriotic storylines wilted into the vicious circles that Carlos Fuentes found typical for the new novelists.5
Yet the more they protested indifference to tradition, the more they would send me back to the persistent attractions that caused so much resistance. What was it, I would ask, about the notoriously obsolete programmatic brand of Latin American fiction that haunted the Boom? What burden of narrative habits or embedded assumptions could account for so round a repudiation? The attraction is practically visceral and is provoked, I believe, by a rather flagrant feature that has nevertheless gone unremarked. It is the erotic rhetoric that organizes patriotic novels. With each obsessive effort to be free of the positivist tradition in which national projects (were) coupled with productive heterosexual desire, a continuing appeal is reinscribed in the resistant Boom. The straight lines of "historical" novels can fairly be reconstructed from the efforts to bend them. Whatwould account for the tragicomedy of self-defeating repetition in, for example, One Hundred Years of Solitude, or for the frustration and shame in The Death of Artemio Cruz, if not the bad fits between developmentalist assumptions and Latin American history? And we can deduce, for another example, that "positive" reality was a reigning literary ideal from the important departure that the proto-Boom style of magic realism represented.6
The Boom's parodies, its fine ironies and playfulness, are the kind of endless denial that is bound to produce the opposite effect of an admission, so that its vicious narrative circles comment on a writerly frustration as well as on disappointments with developmentalism: the more national romance must be resisted, the more it seems irresistible. One way out of circles, it seemed, was the collapse staged by Mario Vargas Llosa at the end of Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (1977); an earthquake levels the baroque confusion between Vargas Llosa's scandalously modern romance with a scriptwriter's allegedly "realist," everescalating, and mutually invading soap operas until the once multiple but now cumulative and mangled project falls on his, their, our, heads.
For those who survived this Boom, including most of its authors, it evidently was not the collapse of history. Time passes and pendulums swing. Some writers who had written circles around history in the sixties and seventies began to experiment with new versions of historical narrative.7 This return of a repressed tradition may arouse some curiosity about the fictions the Boom deliberately left behind, perhaps even a capacity to understand and to feel the passionately political quality of Latin America's earlier novels. They had, among other things, the charm of promise that has since turned to bitterness at the perceived fraud. We may also notice that the Boom's playfully pessimistic terms were largely accepted as literarily mature, which is perhaps to say flattering to a First World's taste for the post-modern, the almost narcissistic pleasure of having one's ideal notions of literature mirrored back.
My readerly paradox, taking denial as a symptom of unresolved dependence, would not only send me back to the foundational fictions that the Boom was resisting, but also to anentire tradition of resistances. The paradox borders on a typical irony of writing (in) America, where successive generations may deny literary resemblances to the point that denial itself constitutes a resemblance. If the new novelists imagined themselves suddenly born into full maturity, other American writers had imagined the same.8 Jorge Luis Borges jokes about the repetitive circularity and the impossible pride of starting anew in "The Wall and the Books," about the emperor of China who built the Great Wall and burned all books written before his reign only to sense that a future emperor would erase his epoch-founding work with another new beginning. Borges, the American writer, is evidently amused but also fascinated by a tradition written in erasures of the past.
To appreciate this countertradition of repeated denials, it is important to remember how epoch-making nineteenth-century "national novels" seemed for generations of readers. The concept of the national novel hardly needs an explanation in Latin America; it is the book frequently required in the nations' secondary schools as a source of local history and literary pride, not immediately required perhaps but certainly by the time Boom novelists were in school. Sometimes anthologized in school readers, and dramatized in plays, films, television serials, national novels are often as plainly identifiable as national anthems. As for the foundational bonds between this literature and legislation, ties that seemed "unacknowledged"9 in Shelley's England, they were no secret in Latin America. One stunning acknowledgment is the page-long list, by the turn of the century, of Hispano-American writers who were also presidents of their countries.10 A comparable list for lesser offices might seem endless. And despite important parallels, North American writers who were establishing a national literature might assume a metapolitical posture, an apparently disinterested critique that was rare for the South. Latin Americans seemed more integrated into partisan struggles and less available for transcendent social criticism.
By the end of the century, when economic prosperity and "scientific" state policies produced an intellectual division of labor, the literary pendulum had swung writers away from affairs of state. This tended to relieve literati from political responsibilitiesand freed them to develop the preciousness of modernismo, largely in poetry, or it exiled narrators to the pessimist borders of "naturalism." But in 1941 when Pedro Henrmquez Ureqa delivered his now classic Harvard lectures on "Literary Currents in Hispanic America," it was obvious that the pendulum had swung back to engagement for many of the continent's writers. The younger generation was split between the poetic vanguard of Borges and early Neruda, who inherited the "splendid isolation"11 of the modernists, and an exalted or rebellious neoromanticism that gradually led back to the "old habit of taking part in political affairs,"12 though most of these writers seemed no longer to hope for political leadership. Typically, they wrote from a "nativist" or reformist opposition in order to sway opinion about, say, race relations or economic policy. Many dedicated themselves to reform through education, as had Domingo F. Sarmiento and the many positivist nation-builders who followed. Nevertheless, to cite only three examples of the tradition's resilience after the premature eulogy in the Harvard lectures, by 1948 novelist Rsmulo Gallegos became Venezuela's first freely elected president; in 1962 novelist and story writer Juan Bosch won a landslide victory in Henrmquez Uieqa's native Dominican Republic, and in 1990 Mario Vargas Llosa almost won a campaign for the presidency of Peru.
Henrmquez Ureqa's periodization of committed, precious, vanguard and reformist writers is, of course, very rough. But like so much he wrote, a wealth of detail justifies the boldness. So I won't presume to improve on his scheme, only to add that half a century later it seems that historical romances and romanticized history continue to burden a resistant tradition. By romance here I mean a cross between our contemporary use of the word as a love story and a nineteenth-century use that distinguished the genre as more boldly allegorical than the novel.13 The classic examples in Latin America are almost inevitably stories of star-crossed lovers who represent particular regions, races, parties, economic interests, and the like. Their passion for conjugal and sexual union spills over to a sentimental readership in a move that hopes to win partisan minds along with hearts.
To show the inextricability of politics from fiction in the historyof nation-building is, then, the first concern of this study. I am certainly not the first to notice this connection. Leslie Fiedler, for one, uses it to launch his study of the ethical and allegorizing penchants in American novels.14 And more recently, Benedict Anderson pointed to the continuities between nation-building and print communities formed around newspapers and novels.15 However astute and provocative these analyses are, though, I cannot manage to make them suggest why Latin America's traditional novel is so relentlessly attractive.
My own suggestion constitutes the second concern here. It is to locate an erotics of politics, to show how a variety of novel national ideals are all ostensibly grounded in "natural" heterosexual love and in the marriages that provided a figure for apparently nonviolent consolidation during internecine conflicts at midcentury. Romantic passion, on my reading, gave a rhetoric for the hegemonic projects in Gramsci's sense of conquering the antagonist through mutual interest, or "love," rather than through coercion.16 And the amorous overtones of "conquest" are quite appropriate, because it was civil society that had to be wooed and domesticated after the creoles had won their independence.17 The rhetoric of love, specifically of productive sexuality at home, is notably consistent, taken for granted in fact, despite the standard taxonomies that like to distinguish foundational novels as either "historical" or "indigenist," "romantic" or "realist."18 It will be evident that many romances strive toward socially convenient marriages and that, despite their variety, the ideal states they project are rather hierarchical. Nevertheless, the question of degree and even of style will make all the difference in considering the mixed political and esthetic legacy of romance.
To paraphrase another foundational text, after the creation of the new nations, the domestic romance is an exhortation to be fruitful and multiply. Exhortation is often all we get though, along with a contagious desire for socially productive love and for the State where love is possible, because these erotico-political affairs can be quite frustrating. And even when they end in satisfying marriage, the end of desire beyond which the narratives refuse to go, happiness reads like a wish-fulfilling projectionof national consolidation and growth, a goal rendered visible.Fleshing Out History
Romantic novels go hand in hand with patriotic history in Latin America. The books fueled a desire for domestic happiness that runs over into dreams of national prosperity; and nation-building projects invested private passions with public purpose. This was no simple matter of one genre giving the other a hand, because the relationship between novels and new states has a Moebius-like continuity where public and private planes, apparent causes and putative effects, have a way of twisting into one another. "(T) hese fictions have helped, from the very beginning, to shape the history which has engendered them," as Djelal Kadir has put it.19 Romance and republic were often connected, as I mentioned, through the authors who were preparing national projects through prose fiction and implementing foundational fictions through legislative or military campaigns.20
For the writer/statesman there could be no clear epistemological distinction between science and art, narrative and fact, and consequently between ideal projections and real projects. Whereas today's theorists of history in the industrial centers find themselves correcting the hubris of historians who imagine themselves to be scientists, the literary practice of Latin American historical discourse had long since taken advantage of what Lyotard would call the indefiniteness of science21 or, more to the point, what Paul Veyne calls the undecidability of history.22 In the epistemological gaps that the non-science of history leaves open, narrators could project an ideal future. This is precisely what many did in books that became classic novels of their respective countries. The writers were encouraged both by the need to fill in a history that would help to establish the legitimacy of the emerging nation and by the opportunity to direct that history toward a future ideal.
Andris Bello, the Venezuelan poet, legislator, grammarian, and educator who became one of Chile's most important culturalarbiters, suggested the necessary connection between fiction and history in an essay he called "Historical Method."23 The apparently conservative defender of standardized Spanish (whose widely adopted Gramatica did more to preserve the continent's coherence than did Bolmvar's political ambitions)24 was polemicizing here against what others (mis)took as modern historiography. In their passion for progress, Bello alleged, young radicals like Josi Victorino Lastarria and Jacinto Chacsn were leading themselves and their students astray by courting foreign models, French models in this case, which focused on the "philosophical" patterns of history.25 To replace Spanish habits with French fads made no sense to the judicious old man. In France it might well make sense to develop a "scientific" historymeaning codifiable in predictable ruleson the basis of painstaking inquiry and documentation, the kind of preliminary work yet to be done for the Americas. Not that it was invalid to search for the "spirit" of events, but that it was inappropriate or hasty on a continent where even the most basic historical data were lacking. Instead, Bello supported a narrative option that would delay explanations until after the facts were in, perhaps indefinitely. "[W]hen a country's history doesn't exist, except in incomplete, scattered documents, in vague traditions that must be compiled and judged, the narrative method is obligatory. Let anyone who denies it cite one general or particular history that did not start this way." Then the cautious chronicler does something daring: he advocates self-consciously personal (even self-interested) narrative over the pretense of objectivity. One writer's worries, another's colorful memories or fabulous legends, all seemed to deliver more autonomous and more accurate pictures than those offered by a still unformed "science" of history. "Do you want to know, for example, what the discovery of America was like? Read Columbus's diary, Pedro de Valdivia's letters and those of Hernan Cortis. Bernal Dmaz will tell you much more than Solms or Robertson."26 It is easy to see that Bello's endorsement of the narrative method in history could be construed as more than simply a defensive modesty that falls short of explanations. Without the presumption of scientific truthfulness, narrative had a freer hand to construct history from private passions. So, we canextrapolate a paradoxical boldness from Bello's warnings: narrative becomes necessary, not only because the gaps in our historical knowledge make more "modern" methods unfeasible, but also because the filler can then be taken for an origin of independent and local expression. Perhaps this is why Bello's essay has been renamed and often reprinted as "Cultural Autonomy of America."
Other Latin Americans might have been reading into Bello's authorization of narrative in history when they went so far as considering narrative to be history; and several issued calls to literary action as part of the nation-building campaign. In 1847 the Argentine future historian, general, and president, Bartolomi Mitre, published a manifesto promoting the production of nation-building novels. The piece served as prologue to his own contribution, Soledad, a love story set in La Paz shortly after the wars of Independence. In that prologue, he deplores the fact that "South America is the poorest region in the world when it comes to original novelists." More than an esthetic deficiency, this signals social and political immaturity, because good novels, he says, represent the highest achievement in any nation. So, in the idealist spirit of enlightened reform that assumed rational legislation could effect rational behavior, it followed for Mitre that good novels could promote Latin American development. Novels would teach the people about their history, about their barely formulated customs, and about ideas and feelings that have been modified by still unsung political and social events. They would be what they already were in Europe and in Cooper's America: "a loyal mirror in which man contemplates himself as he is with all his vices and virtues, and which generally wakens profound meditation and healthy criticisms."27 Then, with perhaps feigned but nonetheless fitting humility. Mitre offers his own story as a mere stimulus for others to write.
Josi Martm, another notable propagandist for nation-building novelsalong with Alberto Blest Gana and Ignacio Altamirano to whom we'll return in chapter 6admired European novels.28 But Martm worried that their ironies and pessimism would do more harm than good at home.29 America needed edifying and autonomous stories, the kind Manuel de Jeszs Galvan wrote forthe Dominican Republic (Enriquillo, 1882) and to which Martm responded in a rapturous letter: "How sublime Enriquillo is, so much like Jesus! And his Mencma is a bride more perfect than Fray Luis ever imagined!. . . This is no historical legend [Galvan's subtitle] but a brand-new and enchanting way to write our American history."30 By contrast, he fretted over the sorry state of literary dependence elsewhere in the Americas, in Mexico for example: "Can there be a national life without a national literature? Can there be life for local artists in a scene always taken up by weak or repugnant foreign creations? Why in this new American land should we live an old European life?"31
All this assumes that literature has the capacity to intervene in history, to help construct it.32 Generations of Latin American writers and readers assumed as much. But since the 1960s, since Latin America's post-Borgesian Boom in narrative and France's self-critical ebullience in philosophy and literary studies, we have tended to fix on the ways that literature undoes its own rojects. This is, of course, a healthy antidote for our centuries-long habit of ignoring or dismissing the gaps and the absences that partly constitute literature.33 To notice this shift in emphasis, though, is also to acknowledge that earlier writings/readings managed the tensions differently.34 In the particular case of Latin America's nineteenth-century "historical" novels, the nagging insecurities that writing produces only peek through the more patent and assertive inscriptions. Tensions exist, to be sure, and they provide much of the interest in reading what otherwise might be an oppressively standard canon. But what I am saying is that those very tensions could not be appreciated if the overwhelming energy of the books were not being marshaled to deny them. When the job of writing America seemed most urgent, the question of ultimate authority was bracketed in favor of the local authors. They didn't necessarily worry about writing compensatory fabrications as fillers for a world full of gaps. Empty spaces were part of America's demographic and discursive nature. The continent seemed to invite inscriptions.
Given this imagined lure to write and the enthusiastic responses just sampled, some critics have wondered at the late appearance of novels in Latin America. The most obvious reasonis probably the best one: Spain had proscribed the publication, and even the importation, of any fictional material in the colonial dispositions of 1532, 1543, and 1571. Whether for its own Catholic Utopian vision of the new world, or for reasons of security, Spain tried to police the Creole imagination. But the rapid repetition of edicts and the surviving records of a lively business in forbidden fiction show with what frustrated insistence Spain tried. The unwieldy, literally unmanageable bureaucracy of the empire was a network in Dr. Johnson's sense, that is a system of holes held together by a string. Administrative negotiations and economic deals regularly slipped through, along with fiction from Spain, including La Celestina, Lazarillo de Tormes, Orlando Furioso, Amadms de Gaula, Belianms de Grecia, El Caballero del Febo, Comedias by Lope de Rueda, most notably abundant copies of Don Quijote from its first 1605 printing on, and followed by books like the satire Fray Gerundio de Campazas (1758) by Padrl Josi Francisco de Isla, the translator of Gil Blas. 35 There were also imaginative excesses written inside the colony, in texts that negotiate the ban on fiction by way of decorous paraliterary genres, including the travelogue, (auto)biography, and history.36
Defiantly fictional novels as such started to appear along with and as part of the movement for emancipation that was triggered in 1808 by Napoleon. His threatened arrival in Lisbon sent the Portuguese court packing to Brazil, where in 1822 the visiting monarch decided to go home and the creoles insisted on substituting him with their own emperor and their own empire. Napoleon's army did force the abdication of Charles in Spain; it exiled his heir Ferdinand VII, and gave the colonists a legitimate excuse to rebel. There was a venerable Spanish norm that granted her subjects local self-rule in the event of a failure in the monarchy. And through this handy Spanish framework, which was made to accommodate French and English republican philosophy, France's usurpation made Americans responsibleso they allegedfor popular sovereignty. What is often considered the first novel published in the Spanish-speaking New World was a good example of the cultural and political amalgam. El periquillo sarniento (1816, completed 1830) by Mexico's Josi Joaqumn Fernandez de Lizardi hasa Spanish picaresque shape and an enlightened spirit, a book that seems to come at the end of a literary tradition running from Lazarrillo to Lesage rather than to initiate a new one. What was novel about Lizardi's work was the very fact that it was scandalously imaginative and that it earned a small but heterogeneous readership, despite the public's preference for short and informative newspaper articles over the books they associated with colonial power. Part of his writerly challenge was to create "a public who could not help liking his novel," as Umberto Eco says of Manzoni.37
More modern novels, sometimes called romances, came at midcentury, after independence had been won (everywhere but Cuba and Puerto Rico), civil wars had raged for a generation, and newspapers had become the medium for serialized European and American fiction.38 The local romances did more than entertain readers with compensations for spotty national history. They developed a narrative formula for resolving continuing conflicts, a postepic conciliatory genre that consolidated survivors by recognizing former enemies as allies.39 In the United States, it has been argued, the country and the novel practically gave birth to each other.40 And the same can be said of the South, as long as we take consolidation rather than emancipation to be the real moment of birth in both Americas. Perhaps, then, in addition to the colonial ban on fiction there was another reason for the late appearance of romantic novels; it is their pacifying project. National romances would have been politically and socially premature before the mid-nineteenth century. That was when leadership passed into the hands of young men who were trained to respect Natural reason in the postcolonial liberal schools. They were also trained to desire Nature's most passionate alliances in the novels they read so ardently.Romance Realized
After three centuries of Spanish imperial politics, inquisitorial Catholicism, and economic monopoly, Nature meant a general relief from counterproductive constraints. The wars of Independence, fought roughly from 1810 to 1825, were led byAmerican-born whites, the Creoles who were routinely denied the best administrative jobs and often coveted business opportunities too. Private initiative had few outlets in the empire's unnatural "corporatist" state, in which groups rather than individuals were recognized in a rather strict hierarchy of color and caste.41 The new societies experimented with liberalism adapted from examples in Great Britain (Bentham was a great favorite), the United States, and also France; that is, they experimented with a representative constitutional government (constitutional monarchy for some) that banished the "artificial barriers" to individual initiative and expression. Latin American nation-builders, privileged as they were, selected what they would from liberalism. They wanted, for example, unrestricted international trade yet refused to abolish tariffs. They got rid of Spain's monopolies (sometimes to fall prey to England) yet held on to domestic cartels, land entailment, and coercive labor systems. For those who were typically called "Conservatives," liberalism often ended with the elimination of Spanish and Portuguese intermediaries. "Nevertheless, in the period from independence to the late nineteenth century, it did come as close as anything to serving as a dominant ideology," with the result that the area was far more egalitarian after independence than before.42
In the third quarter of the century, as if synchronized, countries were clearing away the special privileges, including church rights to land and taxes, left over from the colony. Between 1851 and 1854, slavery was abolished in Venezuela, New Granada, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, and Uruguay. Other countries (except for Brazil and Cuba) preceded or followed within a few years. The refusal of authoritarian habit and the increased private initiative might have added up to a loss of state power, but there were gains from appropriated church lands and jurisdictions, buoyant foreign trade, and from passing civil and business codes to regulate private decisions.
Another place to notice this peak of liberal reform and optimism is in the midcentury novels that were daring to realize the romantic and utilitarian dreams of the European genre. The Latin American elite wrote romances for zealous readers, privileged by definition (since mass education was still one ofthe dreams) and likely to be flattered by the personal portraits that were all the rage in bourgeois painting and in narrative local color, the costumbrismo that became a standard feature of the novels. Perhaps as much in Spanish America as in the Spain that Larra spoke for, the function of costumbrismo was "to make the different strata of society comprehensible one to another," that is to promote communal imaginings primarily through the middle stratum of writers and readers who constituted the most authentic expression of national feeling.43 Identifying with the heroes and heroines, readers could be moved to imagine a dialogue among national sectors, to make convenient marriages, or at least moved by that phantasmagorical ideal. Despite their variety, the romantic conciliations seem grounded in human nature, variously interpreted in this optimistic period but always assumed to be rational and constructive. Erotic passion was less the socially corrosive excess that was subject to discipline in some model novels from Europe, and more the opportunity (rhetorical and otherwise) to bind together heterodox constituencies: competing regions, economic interests, races, religions.44 In Europe too, love and productivity were coming together in the bourgeois household where, for the first time in the history of the family, love and marriage were supposed to coincide.45 But America was Europe's ideal, imaginary,46 realm for the bourgeoisie's project of coordinating sense with sensibility, productivity with passion. It was, to cite the specific example of Jeremy Bentham, a realizable utopia, the place where his reasonable laws (solicited by American admirers like Bolmvar, San Martmn, Rivadavia, and del Valle) could bring the greatest good to the greatest number.47 This America aspired to a modernity metonymized from the other, Northern, America. And no one was more dedicated to the possibility than the transplanted Europeans whose dreamwork was making them American. Theirs was the space to fulfill the desires of a corrupt and cynical Old World, the space where domestic "novels" and ethico-political "romance" could marry.
We might remember that after winning independence, the creoles hoped for internal conquests. The uncompromising and heroic militarism that expelled Spain from most of America was now a threat to her development. What America needed nowwere civilizers, founding fathers of commerce and industry, not fighters. Juan Bautista Alberdi, whose notes for Argentina's 1853 constitution became a standard of political philosophy throughout Latin America, wrote that, "glory has ceded its place to utility and comfort, and military heroism is not the most competent medium for the prosaic needs of commerce and industry" (as if to say the prose of domestic fiction should now replace grandiloquent epic verse).48 He and Domingo F. Sarmiento agreed, if on little else, on the need to fill up the desert, to make it disappear. What sense was there in heroically reducing warm bodies to dead ones, when Alberdi pronounced that in America, "to govern is to populate."49 Few slogans have caught on and held on so well as this one. Husband the land and father your countries, he was saying. They have already yielded and now they must be loved and worked.
Alberdi didn't stop at slogans. He glossed them with practical programs for increasing the population, not only through the immigration policies for which he is remembered but also through marriages between industrious Anglo-Saxons and Argentina's "army" of beautiful women, eminently equipped for the eugenics campaign to "improve" local and "inefficient" Spanish stock. In chapter 3 I'll return to the dalliance Alberdi prepares between affairs of the heart and affairs of state. During the twenty years that Alberdi was matchmaking through these political Bases, luring the sword-wielding Joshuas of Independence to reform their tools into Isaiah's ploughs, we have seen that novelists were also reforming one thing into another: valor into sentimentalism, epic into romance, hero into husband. This helped to solve the problem of establishing the white man's legitimacy in the New World, now that the illegitimate conquerors had been ousted. Without a proper genealogy to root them in the Land, the creoles had at least to establish conjugal and then paternity rights, making a generative rather than a genealogical claim. They had to win America's heart and body so that the fathers could found her and reproduce themselves as cultivated men. To be legitimate, their love had to be mutual; even if the fathers set the tone, the mothers had to reciprocate.
For barely more than a generation, roughly from 1850 to 1880, romances were projecting civil societies through patrioticheroes who were remarkably feminized. Almost Werther-like, without losing reason to passion, idealized young men shared enough delicate looks and sublime feelings with idealized young women to create intimate bonds with them. Their brand of productive heroism, in fact, depends on it after death-dealing machismo became a thing of the past in many countries, at least in those that produced lasting "national novels" of consolidation.50 We will notice Daniel Bello's lovely hands in Amalia, the feminine fragility of Rafael San Luis in Martmn Rivas, and the heroes' penchant for tears throughout. This gender (con)fusion also produced remarkably principled and resourceful romantic heroines who stand up to police, conspire to escape oppression, and rescue their refined heroes.51 The equally admirable male and female lovers counterpoised in romance threaten to upset the top-down logic of hegemonic projects for hundreds of suggestively democratic pages, before the women dutifully submit to their men. And although the young women readers who would be drawn to these sentimental novels were arguably being trained in the limiting virtues of republican motherhood (sometimes by pseudonymous men such as Guatemala's Josi Millas who signed "Salomi Gil"), the books should complicate our notion of the feminine ideal at midcentury, specifically the assumption that domestic passions seemed trivial to patriotic imaginings.52
The French and English models, admired so by Latin Americans, were improved or corrected by disciples, since the tragicextramarital and unproductivelove affairs that the masters called romance were risky bases for national constructions. Just as Sarmiento's respect for Europe's cities goaded him to imagine Argentina surpassing them, American novelists saw their laconic or future history as a chance to bring Old World flirtations to happier or more promising conclusions.53 Bartolomi Mitre, for example, presumed to outdo Rousseau in Soledad, where a young bride reads and identifies with Julie in order to avoid spending time with her aged royalist husband. The desire she learns from reading is about to launch her on an adulterous adventure with an unworthy visitor. But she is saved from the double bane of boredom and betrayal when her cousin and childhood sweetheart comes home as a hero of Independence.
He stays to marry her after the repentant old husband blesses the couple and conveniently dies. Julie's impossible and incestuous dream to combine propriety with passion comes true for Soledad.54
Martmn Rivas by Alberto Blest Gana (Chile, 1862), is one more of several cases where the romance is set right. It rewrites Stendhal's The Red and the Black by having the provincial secretary Martmn actually marry his boss's genteel daughter. Probably indebted to Balzac's wish-fulfilling allegories where ideal marriages between legitimacy and power can at least be imagined, Blest Gana's book celebrates the wish fulfilled.55 In these American versions (as in Europe's more conventional love stories and in what one might call "Americanized" utopias such as George Sand's Indiana ),56 love is sentimental; it is neither a jaded Bovarysme that desires to desire, nor is it romantic in the sense of the unrequitable and unilateral that describe important European literary affairs of the same period, or of any period according to Reni Girard. Futility, Girard says, is constitutive of desire: "Romantic passion is. . . exactly the reverse of what it pretends to be. It is not abandonment to the Other but an implacable war waged by two rival vanities."57 When, for example, Stendhal's aristocratic heroine finally admits her passion for Julien, the struggle for recognition between them ends and his ardor cools, just as she had once become indifferent with his declaration of love. This instance of what Girard calls triangulated desire (imitative of the desire imputed to an idealized, more successful rival and therefore cut short once the heroine prefers the hero) seems familiar too from more recent Latin American novels written during the brilliant phosphorescence of national projects. Hopscotch and many of Cortazar's short stories come to mind, especially "Manuscript Found in a Pocket." Here, subway romances begin with a triangulated flirtation as protagonist and prey both fix on her reflection in the car window, and they end with despair and relief every time the escalator disappears a new conquest.58
The nineteenth-century national novels insist on simplifying the triangle; they straighten and flatten it out into a dyad where no mediation is necessary or even possible for lovers who know they're right for each other. Tensions that inevitably exist anddrive the story on are external to the couple: the counterproductive social constraints that underline the naturalness and the inevitability of the lovers' transgressive desire. Triangulation is produced, then, in a strangely fecund rather than frustrating way, since the lovers must imagine their ideal relationship through an alternative society. Once they project that ideal as an image that looks like a wedding portrait, their unionrather than the rival who comes between Girard's lovers in order to join thembecomes the mediating principle that urges the narrative forward like a promise.
Mere erotic power play was decidedly un-American during those formative years. The object is not to tease but literally to engender new nations, just as it was during the exaltedly optimistic moments of the French Revolution. "Now is the time to make a baby," read one of its slogans.59 Fathers of nations couldn't afford to simply lord it over mothers if they hoped to produce legitimate bourgeois children. And whereas Europe's favorite romances risked the sterile trap of narcissism,60 American domestic desire tries to keep the lovers interdependent. If authors such as Rousseau and later Balzac, along with the Richardson of Clarissa, showed the strains and finally the cracks in the ideal of the bourgeois family, the Latin Americans tended to patch up those cracks with the sheer will to project ideal histories backward (as a legitimating ground) and forward (as a national goal), or with the euphoria of recent successes.
The successes should not be underestimated.61 They sometimes have more than a metaphoric relationship to the project of coordinating love and marriage in the foundational novels. The marriage metaphor slips into, or out of, a metonymy of national consolidation if we stop to consider how marriages bridged regional, economic, and party differences during the years of national consolidation. I am referring to data specifically about Argentina, Chile, Mexico, and Central America which suggest a pattern for other countries too.62 If the love matches in Amalia (1851), binding the agricultural interior to the commercial port city, and in Martmn Rivas (1862), where Chilean mining interests marry commerce in the capital, or in Mexico's El Zarco (1888) about a mestiza's unconditional love for the Indian hero, are indications of historical accuracy becausethey coincide with data on regional alliances, economic diversification, and racial coalitions, other novels may also reveal something about the projectand also the processof bourgeois consolidation through literal and figurative marriage. In the nineteenth century, notable families were both public and private affairs, making strategic bonds that were stronger than merely political affiliations. They filled the "relative vacuum of sociopolitical structures" to construct a social organization preliminary to public institutions including the state itself.63
Before Independence, these were typically merchant families.64 With the new republics and the constitutional separation of powers in the 1820s and 1830s, the next generation seized the opportunity to coordinate executive, legislative, military, and financial powers through the existing structure of personal alliances. Those respectable citizens (gente decente ), whose excessive decorum or deficient drive resisted the opportunities, demoted themselves, in effect, to become clients of the "notables" and would later figure in oppositions to the oligarchic state, in the Mexican Revolution for example. At midcentury, while state institutions were being invented, rather bold family bonds (in which marriageable women often represented investment, or risk, capital) were also the springs of new and dynamic economies.65 The merchants who lent money (formerly an ecclesiastical business) to promote the circulation of capital, to diversify from commerce into industries, and for government spending made private deals with consistently public consequences. And even in the third generation, when state institutions were being established, principal families continued to coordinate their diversifying interests through leadership in banks, government, army, and schools. These private deals were apparently more flexible, relatively informal, and open to the racial and class mobility described (or imagined in phantasmagoria of conciliation) by national romances, than were the fourth-generation contracts. These were made after public and ideally impersonal institutions had solidified, and after the liberal optimism of founding fictions was replaced by grimly deterministic positivism. For several countries, cross-over dreams had by the 1880s become the nostalgic stuff of an originaryprehistory (see chap. 8), not a project of alliances. Once the family network congealed, economic and political deals were struck between oligarchic men, not through the risky inclusions called marriage.66
It would seem, to follow the historians, that families were a stabilizing force, a "cause" of national security. But we may also reckon the high seriousness attributed to family ties as a possible "effect" of the nation. Without the goal of nationhood, alliances and stability would be perhaps less transparently desirable than they were. Seen from either angle, the mutual dependence of family and state in Latin America (the reciprocal allegorization to be considered in part II of this chapter) could and sometimes did mitigate the tension between private and public allegiances which has dogged Western political philosophy. From Plato, whose solution in The Republic was to abolish the family along with its divisive gender roles, and Aristotle, for whom the public man/private woman distinction was useful so long as it was hierarchical, through, for example, the English contract theorists and Rousseau's more radical but still incomplete dismissal of family as the natural model for society, political philosophy has had to consider what was "natural" about the family. One result has been so much debate about nature that the concept is continually exposed as a social construction.67
And the variety of "natural" families celebrated in national Romances offers such radically different social programs that to say the novels are romantic reconciliations may register only their general contour. Read individually, the foundational fictions are very different indeed. It seems difficult, in fact, to talk of the books' commonality when the projects they advocate are so varied, ranging from racism to abolitionism, from nostalgia to modernization, from free trade to protectionism. In Amalia (Josi Marmol, 1851), civilization, associated with the city-based free-trading and Europeanizing Unitarian Party, opposes the barbarism of gaucho-like Federalists who dominated the interior, just as the white skin of the intercity lovers contrasts with the dark skin of untutored Federalist masses. Martmn Rivas (Alberto Blest Gana, 1862) attempts to mitigate oppositions by matchmaking across class and regional lines. Determined to convince Santiago's banking families that their disdain for the"radical" mining bourgeoisie in Chile has been less pleasant and less profitable than fiscal cooperation would be, the son of a ruined miner finally marries the banker's daughter.
But mitigation depends on more radical change in tragic Cuban novels, written before Independence and with hopes perhaps of raising multicolored armies to win it. Failure to bring the racial (love) affair to a happy ending accounts for the tragedy of Sab (Gertrudis Gsmez de Avellaneda, 1841) in which the racially amalgamated hero (also Cuba) is desperate for the love (and legitimacy) his creole mistress could give him. Sab's hopes are obscured by the dazzle of a blond English rival who marries the mistress and proves how indifferent foreigners are to both women and slaves. Compared to these bold tones, the frustration in Cecilia Valdis (Cirilo Villaverde, 1882) is endemic to a system of subtle color coding which the lovers never unlearn. Racial difference produces exploitative privilege in one and a vengeful yearning for privilege in the other. Racial disencounters are also the cause of tragedy in Birds Without a Nest (Clorinda Matto de Turner, 1889)an important Peruvian novel I refer to only briefly68 this time between Indians and whites. By contrast, those relations are the hope of national regeneration in Mexico's El Zarco (Ignacio Altamirano, 1888), where an Indian hero learns to love his mestiza admirer during the same years that Mexicans were learning to admire their Indian president Benito Juarez. And though color never seems at issue in Marma (Jorge Isaacs, 1867), Latin America's most popular nineteenth-century novel, racial distinction haunts the book in the fissured identity of originally Jewish Marma, a figure for the incestuous self-destructive aristocracy and for the racially unassimilable blacks.
Brazilian slavocrat Josi de Alencar was evidently writing about blacks too when he wrote about conveniently submissive Indians. O Guaranm (1857) is Brazil's possible idyll once Indians and Europeans learn to love each other; and Iracema (1865) is a more pessimistic Pocahantas-like story where the indigenous princess makes the greatest sacrifices for her Portuguese lover. In a similar sleight of hand, writing a simulacrum that stuck as a racial reality, Enriquillo (Manuel de Jeszs Galvan, 1882) replaces rebellious blacks for peace-loving and long-extinct nativeswho become putative ancestors for today's "Indian" masses in the Dominican Republic. Spain's first conquest in the New World becomes a love story here between an indigenous prince and his mestiza cousin (the Chactas who gets his Atala), fights to protect her honor, and finally defers to Charles V's magnanimous authority. By an inverted displacement, Matalachi (Enrique Lspez Albzjar, 1928), significantly subtitled Novela retaguardista, would substitute long-emancipated black slaves as personae for the Indian peons who concerned him in order to highlight continuing racial abuse and the redemptive capacity of crossover-romance.69 As a rhetorical solution to the crises in these novels/nations, miscegenation (an unfortunate translation for mestizaje, which is practically a slogan for many projects of national consolidation) is often the figure for pacification of the "primitive" or "barbarous" sector. Yet sometimes the terms of desired amalgams slip from synecdochal figures for different races to metaphoric representations of color-coded factions among the creole elite. The legitimating alliances announced by the racial alchemy may therefore have less to do with race relations than with the political flirtations between "liberal" dark horses and "conservative" ruling sectors. This can be argued for Brazil's romances as well as for Ecuador's Cumanda (Juan Lesn Mera, 1887), where the Indian heroine turns out to be the missionary's lost daughter, and probably for Uruguay's Tabari (Juan Zorrilla de San Martmn, 1888), in which the lovable Indian hero, possibly associated with imperializing Brazil, must be resisted if white civilization is to survive.
With Doqa Barbara (Rsmulo Gallegos, 1929), the authoritarian father who had stepped aside during nineteenth-century negotiations takes the center again. This anti-imperialist novel was neither ready for conciliation nor desperate enough to defer sovereignty as Enriquillo had done. Instead, it apprentices the hero to the "un-naturally" powerful woman he will replace. Her irresponsible eroticism is not only immoral, it is as unpatriotic as was the lechery of villainous men in the earlier romances, men like Mariqo (Amalia ), Loredano (O Guaranm ), Ricardo (Francisco ), Valenzuela (Enriquillo ), repeated in Barbara's ally Mr. Danger. They are almost always the brutish bosses, macho rather than manly and lustful rather than loving.
In militant "populist" revisions like this one, where romance's gender confusion is cleared up as a matter of national defense, a sensuous and resourceful woman is degenerative by definition (the characters of Doqa Barbara and Zoraida in chap. 9).
If the difference between masculinity and machismo is somewhat vague, the vagueness should suggest at least one trap in romance. In its revised expressions, possibly as a response to the dour positivism that followed the fictive amalgamations of midcentury, nationalist romance valorizes virility as a self-evidently male attribute while it tries to distinguish between good and bad men. By the time a new imperialism threatens to overtake what national alliances there have been, the erotic figuring of politics often loses the flexibility that facilitated founding partnerships. In Doqa Barbara, the father's comeback makes sharing power seem unpatriotic or economically irrational. From the 1920s on, nativist or populist novels that share similarly defensive features would coincide with the popular fronts of newly founded Communist parties (and of right-wing populism?). And, to some degree, the patriarchal culture of populism is prepared in narratives that recast foundational romances to bring the soldier-citizen back into history. He had been the hero of the wars of Independence, and even of the civil wars that followed. Then the fighters had been called home to be fathers; manly independence had given way to the negotiated domesticity of notables who had traded diplomatic daughters in cross-sectoral alliances to secure the peace. But the men could not stay home long, not after the shocking 1898 intervention of the United States in Cuba's war of Independence, recast as the Spanish American War for Cuba and for Puerto Rico as well. And the geopolitical reality of U.S. control makes a new homecoming seem remote. Spain had finally given up her fight in the Americas and gone home; but the United States assumes that the Americas are home. Populism, therefore, has an important narrative career in Hispanoamerica, and a long afterlife even when the political culture changes its name.70
One might assume that the diversity of national contexts and the range of partisan programs in nineteenth- and twentieth-century patriotic novels overload any common structure to the point of crushing it. Chile's vertical integration, Cuba'sracial integration, Argentina's color-coded campaigns, Colombia's retrograde idyll, Ecuador's Jesuitical paternalism, Venezuela's vamp-raiding, what possible ground could join them? One very general answer is America, the space for Bolivarian dreams of continental unity. This would explain, for example, how Andris Bello could write about Chile and sustain an argument about cultural autonomy for the continent; and why Mitre set his story in Bolivia while writing about his native Argentina; or why Cuban Martm celebrated a Dominican novel as the model for American writers in general. But the answer I have been getting at is rather more specific than the goal of developing neighborly nations on Pan-American principles. The novels share a particular kind of intimacy. Read together, they reveal remarkable points of contact in both plot and language, producing a palimpsest that cannot derive from the historical or political differences that the novels address. The coherence comes from their common project to build through reconciliations and amalgamations of national constituencies cast as lovers destined to desire each other. This produces a surprisingly consistent narrative form that is apparently adequate to a range of political positions; they are moved by the logic of love. Whether the plots end happily or not, the romances are invariably about desire in young chaste heroes for equally young and chaste heroines, the nations' hope for productive unions.
To call their books romances is, then, hardly to understate a public function. In the United States, at least, the label has traditionally distinguished an ethico-political character of our most canonical books of fiction. And in Latin America, romance doesn't distinguish between ethical politics and erotic passion, between epic nationalism and intimate sensibility. It collapses the distinctions. In Spanish America the two are one, Walter Scott and Chateaubriand in the same pot-boilers, pace Georg Lukacs.71 In The Historical Navel (1937),72 Lukacs set historical Scott apart from sentimental Chateaubriand by an unbreachable esthetic and political distance. During the Popular Front Lukacs was reducing his own earlier distinction between epic and novel in order to defend the novel's construction of social coherence as no less binding than that of epic.73 Novels, he now maintained, could be just as objective and historical. AndScott came closest to the "great historical objectivity of the true epic writer" (Lukacs, 34) who respects and even celebrates historical necessity as progress (Lukacs, 58). Chateaubriand, by contrast, "chopped and changed his material at will" (Lukacs, 290), "tr[ying] hard to revise classical history in order to depreciate historically the old revolutionary ideal of the Jacobin and Napoleonic period" (Lukacs, 27). Like other sentimentalists, he was writing the nostalgic tales we might now call romance when, Lukacs implies, he should have been writing novels. Scott looks ahead; Chateaubriand looks back; Scott's heroes are average participants in historical change; Chateaubriand's are uniquely sensitive victims of history. How could the two possibly be reconciled?
The possibility seems even more remote from our Anglo-American tradition of criticism that opposes novel to romance in terms that now appear to be inverted. Novel was the domestic genre of surface detail and intricate personal relationships, whereas romance was the genre of boldly symbolic events. The tradition probably originated with Dr. Johnson's definition of romance as "a military fable of the middle ages; a tale of wild adventures in love and chivalry," whereas the novel was "a smooth tale, generally of love." But Walter Scott adjusted these definitions in his own article on romance (1823), stressing the novel's "ordinary train of human events [in] the modern state of society."74 That is to imply its lesser status, fit more for ladies than for robust men. Scott claims, and is largely granted, significance as a historian because he is a "romancer," concerned not only with the "marvelous and uncommon," but also with the extrapersonal and social dimensions of a collective past.
In the United States writers like Hawthorne and his admirer Melville picked up this distinction and insisted they were writing romance dedicated to America's mission.75 Cooper, at least, suggested the connection between the public good and private desire when he boasted that the special quality of romance was that it aimed to deal poetic justice all around and thus achieve a higher truth than any available from chronicles where too many heroes marry the wrong girls.76 And Fiedler noticed that apparently male romance and female novels keep very close company.77 Perhaps any distinction would be moot, since allU.S. fiction of the nineteenth century can be called some variety of romance.78
Even Lukacs, who in the service of the Popular Front theorized the opposition between "heroic" history and lachrymose legend, showed despite himself how the genres attract each other in practice.79 Lukacs admitted that the novels of what one might call underdeveloped European countries could not repeat either Scott's middle-of-the-road modernity or his celebration of past events. These were possible for Scott only because England had already achieved its "progressive" bourgeois formation. And the happy outcome of English history produced an entire class of heroes. But for countries such as Germany or Italy, where bourgeois unification was frustrated, so too was the project of writing celebratory Scott-like novels. As in Latin America, European foundational fictions sought to overcome political and historical fragmentation through love. Lukacs points to the strategy but doesn't call attention to the recurring pattern or to its relevance even for Scott. "Thus, while Manzoni's immediate story [in The Betrothed ] is simply a concrete episode taken from Italian popular lifethe love, separation and reunion of a young peasant boy and girlhis presentation transforms it into a general tragedy of the Italian people in a state of national degradation and fragmentation." The story of Manzoni's lovers grows into "the tragedy of the Italian people as a whole" (Lukacs, 70). Gogol, too, concentrates on the downfall of the Cossacks in the romance of Taras Bulba. It is the tragedy of one of the hero's sons who, in love with a Polish aristocratic girl, becomes a traitor to his people" (Lukacs, 74).
Latin American "historical novelists" found themselves in a similarly premodern situation, although, to follow Benedict Anderson, we should add that they did so before many Europeans and offered models in fiction as well as foundation.80 Therefore, Latin American histories during the nation-building period tend to be more projective than retrospective, more erotic than data-driven. Viewed from the margins, then, Scott's "middle-brow" exemplarity becomes inimitable.81 Scott was a model of what a fully integrated national culture could be, just as the extraordinaryheroes of Latin American romance were. But to work for his willing heirs, Scott first had to get between the book covers with Chateaubriand, or Rousseau, or Stendhal. It was their ardent sentimentalism that helped to flesh out the histories that lacked usable, that is, constructive and flattering, data.
To marry national destiny to personal passion was precisely what made their disciples' books peculiarly American. On the one hand, little seemed to determine the direction of historical discourse from the middle to the end of the nineteenth century, since, as Andris Bello seemed to complain, basic data were lacking. But on the other hand, and this is my point, not just any narrative filler would have done. The glee I surmise in Bello's exhortation to imagine the past surely owes to the opportunity he perceives for projecting an ideal history through what Northrop Frye calls the most basic and satisfying genre, romance.82 What better way to argue the polemic for civilization than to make desire the relentless motivation for a literary/political project? To read on, to suffer and tremble with the lovers' drive toward marriage, family, and prosperity, and then to be either devastated or transported in the end, is already to become a partisan.Pretty Lies
What contemporary novelists can no longer take seriously, it seems, is the interested imaginings of empty spaces. Where nation-builders projected an unformed history on a beckoning empty continent, new novelists trace the historical density on a map full of mangled projects. A Hundred Years of Solitude, just to take one masterful example, is no less driven by history than were the earlier novels. It recounts the long century of Colombia's vexed history staged as a series of erotic alliances among principal families. But these are families that fight one another, mistake foreign interest for mere curiosity, and resist the talented outsiders whom romance should have invited in. The great Boom novels rewrite, or un-write, foundational fiction as the failure of romance, the misguided political erotics that could never really bind national fathers to mothers, much less thegente decente to emerging middle and popular sectors. And no novel disintegrates more programmatically than does The Death of Artemio Cruz (1964), by Carlos Fuentes.83
At first, Artemio seems like a classic father, less because he was an officer in Pancho Villa's army (Zapata was clearly too radical an option for him or for the liberal heroes of romance) than because he was a lover. Artemio loved Regina; he braved battles in order to be with her. And she reciprocated, getting ahead of the army to prepare a cozy spot and a warm meal for her man, as did so many other soldaderas of the Revolution. As they made love they thought back on the idyll of their first meeting, sitting on a beach, watching their double portrait in the water. So magic a memory, and so self-serving a vanishing act for the originary scene of rape. The imagined idyll was
esa ficcisn. . . inventada por ella para que il se sintiera limpio, inocente, seguro del amor. . . esa hermosa mentira. . . . No era cierto: il no habma entrado a ese pueblo sinaloense como a tantos otros, buscando a la primera mujer que pasara, incauta, por la calle. No era verdad que aquella muchacha de dieciocho aqos habma sido montada a la fuerza en un caballo y violada en silencio en el dormitorio comzn de los oficiales, lejos del mar.84
[a fiction that she had conjured up that she (sic ) might feel clean and innocent and sure of love. . . her pretty lie. . . . It had no trace of truth. Neither did the truth: it was not true that he had gone into that Sinaloan pueblo just as he had gone into so many others, ready to grab the first woman who incautiously ventured outside. It was not true that a girl of eighteen had been thrown helplessly across his horse and carried back to the officers' dormitory to be violated in silence.]85
Later, under fire, Artemio faces the fact of his cowardice. But before there is time to invent his own pleasing fiction, perhaps about a consuming love for Regina that made death unthinkable, she dies and Artemio turns deserter and opportunist.
If his desertion is an ethical disappointment for the reader, it does not compare with the erotic failure, in this unraveled romance, to make the next conquest. When the Revolution ends, he tries to win Catalina Bernal, the daughter of a rich landowner who blesses the uneven match in order to insure hisholdings by joining forces with the revolutionary victors. Catalina refuses, or is unable to make up the requisite romantic lies that would legitimate the union. She suspects Artemio's treachery against her brother. She is hurt by her father's acquiescence when she herself is proud enough to resist. But mostly she is unsure about how heartfelt interested love can be. Whereas Doqa Barbara showed only traces of guilt in the marriage between Barbara's mestiza daughter Marisela and civilized Santos, a marriage that tries to cover over the history of usurpation and civil war with a lawful union, Artemio Cruz makes the guilt relentlessly self-conscious. Here, the foundational love affairs of romance are revealed as rapes, or as power plays that traffic in women. If only Catalina would do for Artemio what Marisela had done for Santos, we may sigh. The pair seems perfect: a beautiful aristocratic girl and a resourceful boy from the provinces with heroic credentials. Fuentes arouses and makes us confront the habits of romantic longing we have learned from national romance. But if she had given in, would Artemio have become more honest or admirable in reconstructing Mexico on a popular base? Or would he merely have seemed more genuine while reproducing the class structure that equally shameless exploiters bequeathed to Catalina's more elegant father?
Readers keep few illusions about Artemio's possible career in a country that "institutionalized" the revolution as a strategy of containment.86 It is possible that the pretty lies of national romance are similar strategies to contain the racial, regional, economic, and gender conflicts that threatened the development of new Latin American nations. After all, these novels were part of a general bourgeois project to hegemonize a culture in formation. It would ideally be a cozy, almost airless culture that bridged public and private spheres in a way that made a place for everyone, as long as everyone knew his or her place.
Excerpted from Foundational Fictions by Doris Sommer Copyright © 1993 by Doris Sommer. Excerpted by permission.
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