Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Indeterminacy and the Subversive in Representations of the Trujillato

Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Indeterminacy and the Subversive in Representations of the Trujillato

Article excerpt

The mid-twentieth-century dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo established in the Dominican Republic one of the most hermetically tyrannical states in the history of Latin America. The most well-known literary reconstruction of that era in Spanish is La fiesta del Chivo by Mario Vargas Llosa, a text pub- lished in 2000 that marked a new contribution to the long tradition of Latin American dictatorship novels. La fiesta del Chivo is grimly denunciatory throughout its nearly six hundred pages and yet, arguably, at no point is it particularly subversive, not even in the retroactive sense of revealing the horrors of a vanished regime. This can be attributed to a general absence of ambiguity at the levels of both structure and content. The reader is led tightly by the author from character to character, narrative strain to narrative strain, with little freedom of interpretation beyond that inherent in any literary artifact. By contrast, less-disseminated texts by Dominicans that consider the Trujillato, such as Freddy Prestol Castillo's testimonial novel El Masacre se pasa a pie and Juan Bosch's short story "La mancha indeleble," mask their subversiveness in, respectively, narrative fragmentation and uncertain allegory. These fictions are compellingly indeterminate in that the ambiguities offered by a choppy polyphony in one case and an imprecise symbolism in the other force a reader to work actively to arrive at conclusions about the dictatorship. Sharp clarity is not imposed from above as in La fiesta del Chivo and as in, nefariously, the Trujillato itself.

Although the indeterminate nature of the two Dominican texts leaves open interpretive possibilities that are in fact not contestatory of the regime they consider, at a deeper level such readerly freedom works against the suffocating control of word and person wielded by Trujillo. By almost any measure, Vargas Llosa is a far better writer than either Dominican, but the consummately polished nature of his novel tends to exclude the openness of text and thought provoked by the rougher products of Prestol Castillo and Bosch. El Masacre se pasa a pie and "La mancha indeleble" are therefore far more subversive than the relatively closed La fiesta del Chivo despite the paradoxical reality that the former texts are less clearly denunciatory than the latter. An implication that follows is that within Latin American literary studies in North America, the institutional structures of canon formation-classroom syllabi, graduate program reading lists, market forces that privilege certain research over others, etc.-might do well to rearrange their hierarchies by actually promoting certain authors and texts not because they are deemed most accomplished in terms of talent or fame or influence or sales, but perhaps because they are not.

Dominican literature is a particularly noteworthy case for this argument. The Dominican Republic, sovereign over approximately two-thirds of the island currently called Hispaniola, stands symbolically at the center of the creation of Latin America even as its literature is rarely found in the realms of the North American academy dedicated to southern prose. This contrast is compelling. Columbus visited the island on his first journey and his remains are presumed to be buried there, thus endowing the country with the foundational and (of course) genocidal semiotics of his existence. The uncritical verses to Columbus penned by such keystone Dominican poets as Salomé Ureña de Henríquez (1850-1897) are but one example of how local writers could locate hegemonic imagery in a nation-narration starting point of 1492 rather than 1821, the first time when the country left the Spanish Empire (voluntary recolonization occurred in 1861), or 1865, the definitive date of Dominican independence. Ureña de Henríquez, however, though staple patriotic fare in classrooms across Santo Domingo, is not widely read outside her country. This fate is generally shared by the major Dominican writers who followed her: the poet Pedro Mir, the essayist Pedro Henríquez Ureña, Juan Bosch, and others. …

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