Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Photography, Punctum and Shock: Re-Viewing Juan Rulfo's Short Stories

Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Photography, Punctum and Shock: Re-Viewing Juan Rulfo's Short Stories

Article excerpt

Critics have tended to locate mythical structures at the heart of Juan Rulfo's literary work. In a major collection of articles on Rulfo published in 1981, Hugo Rodríguez-Alcalá suggests one of three main possible approaches to Rulfo's work - the others being formalist and philosophical (Rodríguez-Alcalá 1981: 4). In The Cage of Melancholy, Raymond Bartra argues that Rulfo's melancholic depiction of rural Mexico is symptomatic of a dangerous mythification of 'Mexicanness' that characterizes post-revolutionary Mexico. According to Bartra, this fetishistic, romanticizing gaze disguises a 'powerful nationalist will bound to the unification and institutionalization of the modern capitalist state' (Bartra 1992: 3). Three of the key modern myths to which he refers are exemplified by stories from El llano en llamas: the myth of the melancholic peasant is illustrated by 'Luvina' (1992: 30); the myth of the Mexican's indifference to death is exemplified by 'El llano en llamas' and 'iDiles que no me maten!' (1992: 61-62); the double myth of primitive, or mythical, time is encapsulated in the epigraph from 'Luvina', 'y es que allá el tiempo es muy largo' (1992: 45; see Rulfo 1985: 118). Rulfo's short stories, from this point of view, unwittingly provide fodder for the very nationalistic discourse against which he writes, by contributing to the multiple myths upon which that discourse is erected.

María Luisa Ortega's more recent Mito y poesía en la obra de Juan Rulfo (2004) adopts a far more optimistic perspective on the mythical and mythifying aspects of Rulfo's fiction. As a basis for her analysis, she uses Ernst Cassirer's Philosophy of Symbolic Forms (1929), in which the German philosopher analyses the links between mythical conscience, natural language and aesthetic representation. Her argument is that Rulfo's work marries the poetic temporality of instantaneity and the mythical temporality of eternity, creating a paradoxical Rulfian temporality in which 'la vivencia del instante se vuelve inconmensurable' and - at least within the fictional time of reading - 'el instante es pura eternidad' (2004: 33-34). The proposition that closes her introduction and opens her analysis, interestingly, reinforces Bartra's point: 'desentrañar lo que se esconde tras los símbolos y las imágenes mítico-religiosas de El llano en llamas y Pedro Páramo, es una manera de situarse en la frontera del misterio para trascender desde el silencio las verdades esenciales que marcan el destino del mexicano' (40). Mythical images and symbols, from this perspective, are a means of delving into the essential, timeless characteristics of the Mexican - precisely the myth that Bartra denounces as an ideological construction of 'Mexicanness'.

In the following study of the 1953 short story collection, El llano en llamas, I wish to call into question any purely mythical reading of Rulfo's short fiction, by delving further into the nature of the instant which, as Ortega insists, is at the heart of his work. I shall align my reading with that of William Rowe, whose convincing argument is that 'in Rulfo we do not find whole myths, or even necessarily whole symbols, but fragments. Rulfo's world is at the intersection of the archaic and the modern' (Rowe 1987: 59). My contention is that Rulfo's ruptured narrative bears a stronger relationship with the fragmentary photographic image than with any unified or unifying mythical image. Temporally, his aesthetics is inextricable from the tiny pinprick, the minute intrusion that punctures any totalizing mythical construction. Whereas mythical narrative is characterized by the abstract, the essential, the archetypal and the collective, Rulfo's photographic stories are characterized by the concrete, the contingent, the singular and the solitary. His short story collection, far from constructing a double myth of the Mexican past, makes a double pact with the present: it fragments narrative structures through eminently contemporary forms of fragmentation; these forms, in turn, privilege the fleeting, present moment. …

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