Academic journal article Chasqui

Ambiguous Modernity, National Identities in Transition: Miguel De Carrion's Las Impuras

Academic journal article Chasqui

Ambiguous Modernity, National Identities in Transition: Miguel De Carrion's Las Impuras

Article excerpt

In Foundational Fictions: The National Romances of Latin America, Doris Sommer interprets the romantic novels of nineteenth-century Latin America as allegories that helped both to write the new nation and to define a national identity; she maintains that 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" (7). As Sommer explains, it was after independence, in the mid- to late-nineteenth century that the "modern" novel (also called the Romance) emerged in Latin America. Sommer reads these novels of the nineteenth century as "foundational fictions"--that is, they are interested in not only discussing the nation but also helping to construct the emergent national identity of their respective countries. Yet in Cuba, there is a very different history that has to be taken into account when attempting to discuss Cuban national identity. Unlike most of the other countries in Latin America, Cuba did not achieve full independence from Spain until the very end of the nineteenth century, in 1898. Therefore, although individuals living in Cuba had doubtlessly already begun to develop a sense of Cuban identity before independence, Cuba was still in the process of defining and constructing its newly recognized political and national identity in the first few decades of the twentieth century. It is also important to note the involvement of the United States in the independence--and in the economic, political, and cultural development--of Cuba. Because of Cuba's late independence and its close involvement with the United States, therefore, the level of economic and material development in Cuba would have been very different during its formational years than in other Latin American countries that had emerged as new countries much earlier, in the nineteenth century.

Sommer notes that marriage is an important concept in many of these novels because it often serves as an allegory for the nation; in these "foundational fictions," marriage becomes such a central concern and key element in these novels quite simply because "marriages bridged regional, economic, and party differences during the years of national consolidation" (18). Inextricably linked to the concept of marriage is the role of women, for it is the women who give birth to the new generation--the new nation--with a new sense of national identity. Considering this, it seems important that Miguel de Carrion decided to write two novels explicitly about women, Las impuras (1919) and Las honradas (1918), set in the turbulent years of Cuba's early nationhood, the Republican Period. In his book, The Logic of Fetishism: Alejo Carpentier and the Cuban Tradition, James M. Pancrazio notes that these two novels, Las honradas and Las impuras, appear in a moment of "cultural crisis in which national identity was hotly debated among the country's intellectuals" (71). It seems no coincidence that Carrion is writing during a moment of such ambivalence and open contemplation (and critique) of the nation. Just like the "foundational fictions" that Sommer discusses in her book, Carrion's novels also voice concerns, through their characters and narrators, regarding Cuban national identity.

Although I will be focusing on Las impuras, I argue that both of Carrion's novels, Las impuras and Las honradas, form a new type of "foundational fiction" for Cuba (although perhaps a foundational fiction gone wrong); they contemplate the future of the new nation and examine the newly emerging sense of nationalism in Cuba. However, these novels contemplate and envision nationalism and the new nation in a very different manner than the nineteenth-century "foundational fictions" that Sommer discusses. Las impuras, in particular, examines not only the Cuban nation, but also its relation to modernity and modern consumer culture, which are important parts of this new nation's identity in the early twentieth century. …

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