Academic journal article Chasqui

Gossip and Nation in Rosario Ferre's Maldito Amor

Academic journal article Chasqui

Gossip and Nation in Rosario Ferre's Maldito Amor

Article excerpt

Rosario Ferre's 1986 novella Maldito amor has been widely interpreted as a feminist text. It is easy to see why: the novella, largely dominated by the florid account of Don Hermenegildo, a lawyer and historian who offers the "official" version of the De la Valle family's saga, ends with a radical act of subversion. Gloria, the family's long-suffering mulatto nurse, recounts a contradictory version of events as she goes about setting fire to the family's home, in the process destroying Hermenegildo's manuscripts and perhaps killing Hermenegildo himself Gloria's narrative revisionism and her final act of arson have been read as a double blow against patriarchal master texts, and by extension against broader gender, class and race-based hierarchies. Marisel Moreno, for instance, describes Gloria's burning of the mill as representing "the final debunking" of Puerto Rico's foundational myth, an attempt to "rebel against the hegemonic order and patriarchal structures that the De la Valle family [...] comes to symbolize" (97). Gloria's and Hermenegildo's sparring accounts are thus conceived of in terms of an essential duality: one account triumphs over and replaces the other, in a narrative clash that reveals the contours of the power dynamics and tensions at play in Puerto RIcan society.

Such readings, though valid and valuable, risk overlooking the refractory nature of Maldito amor, which advances not solely through the accounts of Hermenegildo and Gloria, but also through a plurality of other contradictory yet complementary tales told by various family members and associates. The text's narrative complexity can be understood. I suggest, by reading these diverging accounts as gossip, a practice that I take to be inherently and intimately concerned with revision and revelation or, one might say, with revision through revelation. All characters in Maldito amor reveal what they claim to be private truths about other characters: in so doing, they actively contradict the other characters' versions of events. One account does not simply substitute another, but rather, through gossip, establishes its place in a narrative lattice in which each character's account undermines and, crucially, is undermined by all others'. The driving force at work here is not simply a dismantling of master narratives, but rather an exploration of the essential precariousness of all narratives, carried out progressively but insistently via the gossip disclosed by all the characters, female and male alike.

This process is adversarial in nature: if, as Ricardo Gutierrez Mouat suggests, the De la Valle family members are engaged in a "perpetua guerra civil" (285), then gossip is their chief weapon. There is real power, both symbolic and practical, to the characters' words: by revealing what they know, or claim to know, about others, the characters of Maldito amor gain tangible advantages over one another, and not always in proportion to the agency and authority they might otherwise possess. Gossip in Maldito amor thus becomes a vital, desirable, and even necessary form of self-expression: a means of giving voice to one's own viewpoint, even, or especially, in the face of more securely established narratives. As such, gossip constitutes a potent leveling force and tool for dissent, allowing the challenging of narratives imposed by the powerful on the subordinated. (1)

Such readings oi Maldito amor clearly resonate with feminist approaches to the text, and it is entirely fitting to read Ferre's deployment of gossip, a practice often seen as gendered, as a means of troubling master narratives, patriarchal or otherwise. (2) Still, Maldito amor goes further, using gossip as a means not just of questioning dominant narratives, but also of rendering a more fundamental epistemological uncertainty. Gossip promises new truths and the disruption of prior understandings; yet gossip is also partisan, inescapably (and often deliberately) colored and distorted by the perspectives it advances and the moral judgments it hands down. …

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