Academic journal article Chasqui

Double Vision: History and Politics in the Works of Augusto Roa Bastos and Tomas Eloy Martinez

Academic journal article Chasqui

Double Vision: History and Politics in the Works of Augusto Roa Bastos and Tomas Eloy Martinez

Article excerpt

The literary double has pervaded Western literature since ancient times. Three primary manifestations of the double dominate the analysis of the role of the double in literature; the psychoanalytical, the philosophical, and a new postmodern approach that examines the double in relation to processes of signification. The first type of interpretation focuses on the double as a psychological phenomenon that manifests certain physical drives, sexual obsessions (Freud) or personality disorders, such as alienation or disintegration (Jung) (Slethaug 17). The second type of analysis has a wide range of applications, many of which overlap with psychological phenomena because they involve mental processes. For example, Soren Landkildehus, whose ideas are grounded in the theoretical arguments of Kierkegaard and Kant, illustrates how the double reflects a transformation of one's belief system, a fundamental change of mind of the protagonist (Landkildehus 65). Finally, other theorists, such as Gordon E. Slethaug, suggest that contemporary fiction has moved toward a postmodern double that manifests itself in literary forms that reflect upon the writing process itself in ways that question the notion of truth or the value of any single meta-narrative: for example, several versions told of the same story, footnotes, cited texts, and other forms of discourse that expose the subjectivity of writing. As Slethaug notes, "By demonstrating that the double is really only a linguistic device, a metaphor, authors can demythologize it and appropriate it for the very process of deconstruction; they can create a meta-double" (27). These ideas about the double have a singular applicability to the Latin American historical novel and its subgenre of texts known as the narrative of Latin American dictatorship. Several novels belonging to this category, notably, Yo el Supremo (1974) and El fiscal (1993) by Augusto Roa Bastos and La novela de Peron (1985) and Santa Evita (1995) by Tomas Eloy Martinez, are characterized by their use of the double. Although these novels span two decades, they constitute a definable corpus of works because of their shared focus on concrete historical figures whose historical image they seek to reexamine. (1) I will illustrate here how these novels employ different types of doubles to convey the same postmodern end: to show how visions and revisions of history intersect to illustrate the ultimate indeterminacy of historical interpretation and/or to question the validity of traditional political dichotomies. (2)

Twentieth-century Latin American history is replete with ambiguous figures that have successively been both praised and criticized as either historical heroes or villains. These figures include the nineteenth-century Paraguayan dictators, Jose Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia (the subject of Yo el Supremo) and Francisco Solano Lopez (the subject of El fiscal), as well as the twentieth-century Argentine president Juan Peron and his wife, Eva Duarte (the subjects of La novela de Peron and Santa Evita, respectively). For much of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Dr. Francia, who ruled Paraguay from 1814-1840, was the object of what was known as a "black legend," that simultaneously portrayed him as needlessly isolating Paraguay and ruling the country with an iron hand that repressed civil freedom. For example, Guillermo Cabanellas, in his historical account El Dictador del Paraguay Dr. Francia, published in 1946, states: "Very soon a deathly silence that was to last for nearly three decades would silence the music that must have reached his ears [Francia's] that night, through the calm of the fields. Afterwards, silence, eternal silence" (Cabanellas 163-64). Such accounts were later contradicted by other historical works, such as Julio Cesar Chaves's El Supremo Dictador, published in 1964, that offered a revisionist view of the dictator, acknowledging his role in obtaining and preserving Paraguayan independence. …

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