Así fue: Anti-colonial Narrative in Alejo Carpentier's Concierto barroco and Reinaldo Arenas s El mundo alucinante. Sophia A. - PDF

: Anti-colonial Narrative in Alejo Carpentier's Concierto barroco and Reinaldo Arenas s El mundo alucinante Sophia A. McClennen Penn State University Sólo en la absoluta ignorancia de los pueblos, y en

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: Anti-colonial Narrative in Alejo Carpentier's Concierto barroco and Reinaldo Arenas s El mundo alucinante Sophia A. McClennen Penn State University Sólo en la absoluta ignorancia de los pueblos, y en una opresión tan feroz como poderosa, cabe el mantener atado a un rincón miserable de la Europa, distante dos mil leguas de océano, un mundo sembrado de oro y plata con las demás producciones del universo. Fray Servando Teresa de Mier, Ensayos histórico políticos 1 Alejo Carpentier's Concierto barroco (1974) and Reinaldo Arenas s El mundo alucinante (1969) are anti-colonial narrative revisions of history. Their literary campaign of redirecting power from Western, imperialist ways of understanding and controlling Latin America forms the epistemic ground for their literary project. 2 For Carpentier and Arenas, the anti-colonial imperative emanates from their observation that colonial power structures still persisted in Latin America in the 20 th century. Carpentier s Concierto barroco narrates the coming to consciousness of an upper class Mexican in the 18 th century. The protagonist, who lacks a proper name, is symbolically referred to as el Amo 1 Cited in Perea. 2 The term postcolonial has enjoyed a great deal of debate. An excellent summary can be found in Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin, Key Concepts in Post-colonial Studies ( ). A strong critique by Stam and Shohat in Unthinking Eurocentrism suggests that the term is ultimately apolitical, poststructural and inattentive to context and history (37-43). Neil Larsen also critiques the term for similar pitfalls in Reading North by South. These critics notice the ways that the term has been used to suggest ubiquitous relativity and unceasing fragmentation and I agree with much of their criticism. While borrowing from certain aspects of postcolonial theory, this article uses the term anti-colonial to designate opposition to colonialism and to the persistence of colonial practice, economically, ideologically and politically. I take anti-colonial to mean, first critical of the institutions and historical practices associated with imperialism, and second, in favor of social independence and cultural autonomy. or the Master. On holiday in Venice, el Amo is confronted with a European version of the conquest in the form of an opera and the blatant Latin Americanist arrogance of the production ignites el Amo s resistance to colonialism. Arenas s El mundo alucinante presents a fictionalized account of Fray Servando Teresa de Mier who spent his life persecuted after delivering a sermon in 1794 where he suggested that the first appearance of the Virgin of Guadalupe pre-dated the arrival of the Spaniards. Told from various viewpoints, Arenas s novel describes Fray Servando s persecution as symbolic of Latin American struggles for freedom and independence. Both novels center on the problem of history and the power it wields over Latin American identity. Each text has a key scene that rewrites and revises the así fue of official discourse from an anti-colonial perspective. By offering an alternative version of así fue, both writers narrate against colonialist ideology and the hegemony of Western history. In their shared concern over which version of history should hold the most ideological power, Carpentier and Arenas challenge the persistence of the colonialist epistemes that regulate the region s cultural identity. Yet, Carpentier and Arenas employ rather different strategies. An analysis of their distinct narrative approaches, which I argue can be broadly divided between Carpentier s modernist and Arenas s postmodernist aesthetic, suggests that the project of countering imperial history is not a unified effort, but, rather, a varied and multiple endeavor. While comparative work on Carpentier and Arenas has tended to emphasize their opposition, and while I agree that these writers have different literary agendas, I argue that they share common ground. 3 3 Comparative works on both writers, which argue principally for divergence, are by Andrea Pagni and Juan José Barrientos. 52 The claim that Carpentier s project is an example of modernism while Arenas is an example of postmodernism may seem ahistorical given that Concierto barroco postdates El mundo alucinante. Part of the logic for this difference stems from the fact that Carpentier and Arenas come from different generations and that they were tied to Cuba in vastly different ways. For instance, both writers spent time in jail, but Carpentier, imprisoned in 1927, was protesting the dictatorship of Gerardo Machado and Arenas tells readers that he was imprisoned in 1973 and 1974 for his sexuality. These distinctions position these writers differently vis-à-vis the post-revolutionary Cuban state. Arguably, Carpentier s more secure role as cultural representative of post-revolutionary Cuba in contrast with the ostracism and persecution of Arenas explains why Arenas s critique of official history also includes (and often focuses on) versions produced within Cuba. Another factor that reveals the different versions of anti-colonial narrative in their work relates to their literary context. Carpentier, while writing at the same time as Arenas, is part of a literary generation associated with the Boom. Arenas, in contrast, is notorious for his rejection of totalizing grand narratives and the authoritative narrative voices that he associated with Boom aesthetics. 4 The following analysis focuses on the critique of colonialism present in both Concierto barroco and El mundo alucinante and suggests that their oppositional aesthetics overlap in a common narrative desire to dislodge imperial claims regarding Latin American culture. While Carpentier and Arenas represent different generations of Cuban literature, this fact does not fully account for the discrepancies between the anti-colonial histories 4 Félix Lugo Nazario describes Arenas s work as attacking the pre-revolutionary Cuban literary tradition, especially that of Carpentier and Lezama Lima (124). The intertextuality between Arenas s work and that of Carpentier, specifically between El 53 they create. Carpentier, having studied architecture, has an architectonic vision: he builds and rebuilds, structuring alternative vistas of Latin America. The act of reconstruction combines with Carpentier s narrative goal of encountering deep meaning or uncovering long, lost truths. 5 In Concierto barroco, Carpentier attempts to construct an autochthonous source of Latin American identity. Yet, as González Echevarría argues, the primary concerns of Carpentier are the unfinished task of the Enlightenment, Latin American Independence, and the region s cultural disentanglement from official colonial rule (26). Raymond Leslie Williams describes the modernist project of Carpentier as closely tied to his interest in the marvelous real a mode of representation he employed in order to highlight the fundamental differences between Latin American and European culture (35). Armed with neo-baroque literary language and a vision of Latin American cultural hybridity as his tools, Carpentier erects new ideological edifices that he hopes will replace the repressive cultural architecture left in place by colonialism. Perhaps this desire to construct a new cultural habitat helps explain why an omniscient narrator, who provides a unified account of the story, orchestrates Carpentier s Concierto barroco. In contrast, Arenas s text resists any attempt to unify the history of Fray Servando. His novel is narrated from multiple points of view (first, second, and third person), complicating the notion of a faithful source of history. These multiple voices with their contradictions and inconsistencies stand out against what mundo alucinante and El siglo de las luces, has been well documented (see Juan José Barrientos). 5 For example in Los pasos perdidos the protagonist makes a journey into the jungle seeking primitive musical instruments and eventually his own cultural identity and, in Viaje a la semilla the protagonist takes a trip back in time and winds up in a pre-natal state. 54 appears to be a fixed source of counter-discourse in Concierto barroco. Alicia Borinsky describes the multiple narrative voices in El mundo alucinante as constitutive of a decentered discourse, and Pagni takes this point even further arguing that such a splintering of voices blurs the source of knowledge (141). The etiological goals of Concierto barroco sharply oppose the narrative of El mundo alucinante. Arenas is suspicious of any authoritative narrative voice that pretends to provide deep answers to the historical dilemmas that plague present culture and, consequently, Arenas concentrates on exposing how power structures fabricate truth in order to control society. In an interview with Jorge Olivares and Nivia Montenegro, Arenas explains: No me interesa dar una visión histórica desde el punto de vista académico de la época de un personaje. En ese aspecto discrepo las cosas que hace Alejo Carpentier. Carpentier es un cronista de la historia y se somete a la historia (59). 6 Nevertheless, Arenas very explicitly has his own hermeneutic vision of history, which he explains during the same interview: Hay una historia que es la historia del hombre luchando contra el medio ambiente, contra elementos, o contra la persecución. Esa es la historia válida (59). To this end, Arenas does not construct a new Latin American heritage in the sense that Carpentier architecturally erects one, but, instead, asks his readers to observe the 6 This negative characterization of Carpentier may be due, in part to the fact that Arenas has been plagued by critical accounts of his indebtedness to the work of Carpentier, García Márquez, and other Boom writers from Latin America. In a note that appears with his article, Fray Servando, víctima infatigable from Necesidad de libertad, Arenas comments on the widespread belief that his writing has been influenced by Boom writers: Me informan que informes desinformados informan que hay en esta novela -- El mundo alucinante --, escrita en 1965, Mención en el Concurso UNEAC, 1966, influencia de obras que se escribieron y publicaron después de ella, como Cien años de soledad, (1967) y De donde son los cantantes (1967).... He aquí otra prueba irrebatible, al menos para los críticos y reseñeros literarios, de que el tiempo no existe (90). 55 landscape from a multi-perspectival view that unveils its fractures, cracks and fault lines. While I want to attend to these differences in order to sketch out the varied aesthetic and political components of Latin American anti-colonialism, I also want to suggest an alternative reading of both Arenas and Carpentier, one which is suspicious of the ways that they have been positioned in opposition and one which registers the ways that their projects represent ideological overlap and dialectical engagement. Readings of Carpentier that focus on his totalizing, authoritative approach tend to deemphasize his hybrid narrative, just as those that read Carpentier teolologically de-stress the ways that he represents history as layered, circular and repetitive. In many ways, Concierto barroco, a novel that follows El reino de este mundo (1949) and Los pasos perdidos (1953), can be read as testimony to Carpentier s continued concern for the persistence of colonialist culture in Latin America well after the Cuban Revolution, suggesting that Carpentier felt that the struggle for an autochthonous culture was far from complete. Similarly, studies of Arenas that highlight his narrative fragmentation and experimentation might miss the ways that this fragmentation is a desperate effort to find a new form of political narrative and a new way of critiquing the forms of social control that continue to lead to cultural oppression. Ultimately, these two approaches diverge in terms of the degree to which each writer engages with Cuban revolutionary ideology. Anti-colonialism in Carpentier is a step towards a revolutionary project that Arenas is unable to wholeheartedly accept. Instead, Arenas, ostracized by the Cuban revolutionary collective, finds that he has more questions about the nature of revolution than answers. On the one hand, Carpentier argues that the revolution is best served by ending the legacies of colonialism, that 56 cultural independence is fundamental to successfully changing society because the Wars for Independence were unable to adequately disentangle Latin America from cultural dependence on Europe and North America. Arenas, on the other hand, because of his marginalized position within the Cuban revolution, and within Latin American society as a whole, questions the problem of the self within the collective and worries that any overarching external definition of identity necessarily negates the organic and complex nature of being. Where Arenas is full of questions about politics and the self, Carpentier is more confident in his ability to trace an emancipatory cultural trajectory for Latin America. Yet, it is important to bear out the ways that these projects overlap and, I would argue, complement rather than negate each other, because each author is totally committed to an anti-colonial vision. At a broader level, then, careful attention to their anti-colonial positions also allows us to consider the relationship between literature engaged with anti-colonialism and (or) with leftist revolution. To what extent do these positions necessarily overlap and to what extent might they diverge? Modernist and Postmodernist Anti-colonialisms Linda Hutcheon explains that postcolonial literature negotiates the once tyrannical weight of colonial history in conjunction with a revalued local past (131). Both Concierto barroco and El mundo alucinante demonstrate such negotiation while employing different strategies: Carpentier s modernist novel recasts the monologue of official history with a chorus of new players, whereas Arenas s postmodern narrative concentrates on dismantling the notion of one central source of history. Given the fact that scholarship has tended to associate postmodernism with postcolonialism it seems necessary to briefly sort out the intersections of these critical approaches since a key 57 feature of my argument is the notion that anti-colonial writing can be found across a broad range of narrative forms. It is also important to point out that I favor the term anti-colonial rather than postcolonial when discussing the cases of Arenas and Carpentier. The post before colonial too often signals a transition, an ending, a paradigm shift, which makes the term postcolonial problematic in Latin American contexts. As has been well documented by others, decolonization in Latin America is a complex process and in many cases Spanish and Portuguese rule was quickly replaced by British, French, and US neocolonialism. 7 Even though postcolonial (i.e. anti-colonial) culture has existed since the inception of colonialism, it is more common to associate the postcolonial and the postmodern. Hutcheon argues that the two projects share some traits, but postmodernism is politically ambivalent where postcolonialism is not (130). Hutcheon sees an ideological convergence of the two posts on the issue of ex-centrism: it is not just the relation to history that brings the two posts together; there is also a strong shared concern with the notion of marginalization, of the state which we could call ex-centricity (132). Or, as Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin explain, the postmodern and the postcolonial often overlap even though postcoloniality, taken as a counter discourse to colonialism, has existed since the beginnings of colonialism. Every major aesthetic movement is capable of harboring postcolonial critique. The point of connection between the two posts, they argue, stems from the fact that: The decentering of discourse, the focus on the significance of language and writing in the construction of experience, the use of the subversive strategies of mimicry, parody and irony all these concerns overlap those of postmodernism and so a conflation of the two discourses has often occurred (117). If Arenas s work is postmodern and anti-colonial because it 7 See Mary Louise Pratt. 58 endeavors to destroy all central sources of ideology, then Carpentier s search for an alternative representation of Latin America, which can challenge the ideology of empire, signals his modernist impulse. To adapt a concept developed by Neil Larsen in Reading North by South, Carpentier engages in canonical decolonization because he deploys High Modernism as an antidote to Western imperialism (7). Carpentier s effort at undermining the neocolonial practices of dominant Western narratives rests on a desire to substitute a multi-layered, autochthonous culture as a new counter canon. Each novel tackles the hegemony of Western truth claims: Carpentier values the indigenous and the hybrid as sources for a counter culture and Arenas attacks imperialism through a deconstructive assault on the concept of truth. Moreover, in keeping with the political nature of anti-colonial narrative, each writer believes that representation has a measurable effect on social organization. These novels are committed to destroying imperialist claims to power by rewriting colonial versions of the past. Their fundamental differences, though, relate to what should replace imperialism and how best to destroy it. Donald Shaw explains that Carpentier s first interest in his roots occurred while the writer was in Paris in 1928: he experienced in Paris a kind of culture-shock that awakened in him a passionate interest in the Latin America he had been forced to leave (15). This interest, which would later be elaborated in numerous essays and which was associated with the concept of the marvelous real, was integrally tied to a re-valorization of Latin America s past from an anti-imperial standpoint. Describing his postcolonial interest, Carpentier wrote: Sentí ardientemente el deseo de expresar el mundo americano. Aún no sabía cómo. Me alentaba lo difícil de la tarea por el desconocimiento de las esencias americanas. Me dediqué durante largos años a leer todo lo que podía sobre América, desde las Cartas de Cristóbal Colón, pasando por el 59 Inca Garcilaso, hasta los autores del siglo dieciocho (cited in Shaw 130). Carpentier s challenge to colonialism comes, then, in the form of a powerful counter narrative. Arenas, in contrast, focuses his challenge differently, preferring a guerilla attack and an anarchistic solution to oppression. Andrew Hurley and Jacqueline Loss describe this tendency as relating to Arenas s interest in questions of individual freedom: Arenas s constant question is why difference must be a curse, why any attempt at freedom of self must finally lead not just to our imprisonment... but ultimately to our own destruction (411). Nevertheless, it is important to locate what may at first glance appear as nihilism and bourgeois individualism within the political imperative of anticolonialism. Arenas maintains a clear notion of difference and hierarchy in terms of political power and he consistently challenges hegemony. In a move which signals a key difference between his writing and that of Carpentier, he describes what he sees as the persistent colonization of Cuba: As a Spanish colony, we never freed ourselves from the Spaniards; for that, the Americans had to intervene, and then we became a colony of the United States; then, attempting to free ourselves from a fairly conventional sort of dictatorship in the colonial vein, we became a colony of the Soviets (Color of Summer 227). Arenas later explains that his writing is dedicated to exposing these multiple colonizations by recounting the history that has been suppressed. While such comments often lead to dismissals of his work as counter-revolutionary, Arenas s rele
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