Latin-American Women Writers: Class, Race, and Gender

By Myriam Yvonne Jehenson | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 5 "To Build New Worlds"

Two interesting issues emerge in the multitude of critical discourses on modernism and postmodernism. The first concerns the shift in emphasis from the literary work as product to the literary work as process, whereby the activity itself, and not the completed action, becomes the primary issue. The second centers on whether the allegation is true that experimental authors subvert fictional norms. Regarding the first issue, it is true that the reader of postmodernist works is less interested in mimesis, an illusory sense of representation, and more in poesis, participating in the making of the text at hand. The second issue, the supposed subversion of norms in experimental fiction, is dismissed by the postmodernist writer as another modernist illusion. As Roland Barthes pointed out almost thirty years ago: "Far from being a copy of reality, literature is, on the contrary, the very consciousness of the unreality of language: literature that is the most 'true' is the one that knows itself to be most unreal insofar as it knows itself to be essentially language...."1 Ann Jefferson's more recent focus on radical forms of contemporary literature reiterates Barthes's position. For Jefferson, experimental writing, because of the awareness of its distance from so-called reality, is genuinely "realistic." It lays bare the systems through which reality is constructed, not only in fiction, but in everyday life, 2 and it foregrounds the postmodernist conviction that ultimately, all is conditioned by textuality.3 3

It seems appropriate at this point to distinguish among three types of postmodernism discussed in this book. The first is a ludic postmodernism that plays on its own fictive processes, the "opera aperta" of an Umberto Eco, the novels of an Italo Calvino. It exposes the systems through which the author constructs reality. Cuban/Mexican Julieta Campos is postmodernist in this sense, as is Brazilian Helena Parente Cunha. The second type of postmodernism, also ludic, centers on serious political issues while playing with language and conventional literary forms. This type found expression in the works of Luisa Valenzuela discussed in chapter


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