Politics of Seeing: The Fantastic in the Eye of the Split Subject

Article excerpt

Although the title of Cristina Peri Rossi's short story "Los objetos voladores" (1974) conjures up the popular myth of unidentified flying objects, the Uruguayan writer does not develop this theme within the generic conventions of science fiction but uses it as a narrative device to create intellectual uncertainty in a fantastic text. As an experience of limits, the confrontation with a fantastic object ties in with the calamities and human suffering that describe the microcosm of the story as well as a moment in Latin American history. The story's creation coincides with a time in Peri Rossi's life when social marginalization and political oppression threaten to bring cultural and national disintegration to her homeland. (1) Fantasy may have an allegorical function in a fictional text aimed at an analysis of its socio-historical context; however, the use of specific narrative strategies of the fantastic in Peri Rossi's story complicates an interpretation of the text as a simple mediator of authentic experience and truth. It is, in particular, the text's resistance to closure that produces an unresolved tension around the final interpretation of the alien flying object and prevents an unproblematic equation of the literary text with a specific political reality. While this strategy may serve to circumvent censure, it is also, or even more so, significant in its function of subverting the reading habits of realism.

A further issue easily overlooked with a restriction to an allegorical reading of the story is a feminist concern that arises from the presentation of a feminine point of view in the confrontation with the fantastic object and the construction of a female reader position. Thus, while the effects of the fantastic on the male protagonist represent the core of the story, feminine identification is illustrated as linked to dispossession and extends the debate of reality and its interpretation to the issue of gender and the marginalization of the female voice in the hierarchy of dominant discourses. The present study aims at relating the narrative strategies involved in the deconstruction of reality and subjectivity in the story to an agenda that combines the objectives of social change and genderrelated issues. The foregrounding of the relationship between both objectives is concurrent with an observation made by the author during an interview with John F. Deredita, when she states:

   ... la revolucion politica y la sexual van muy unidas desde el
   momento en que las formas de la sexualidad en una sociedad
   determinada corresponden a un modo de produccion economica y a los
   roles culturales, educativos y sociales que la clase dirigente
   establece como los 'normales', esto es, los mas frecuentes. (136)
   (2)

In Critical Practice, Catherine Belsey suggests that "literature as one of the most persuasive uses of language may have an important influence on the ways in which people grasp themselves and their relation to the real relations in which they live" (66), and that certain literary modes could be seen "to call into question the particular complex of imaginary relations between individuals and the real conditions of their existence" (66-67). Belsey distinguishes between literary modes that either reinforce or undermine the reader's subject position and identification with a dominant discourse, and her approach to literary modes in general parallels that of Rosemary Jackson, who examines fantasy and the fantastic as a literature of subversion with respect to the "politics of its form" (6):

   Literary fantasy is produced within, and determined by, its social
   context. Though it might struggle against the limits of this
   content, often being articulated upon that very struggle, it cannot
   be understood in isolation from it. The forms taken by any
   particular fantastic text are determined by a number of forces that
   intersect and interact in different ways in each individual work. …