Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Between Confession and Realism: Lack, Vision, and the Construction of Identity in Rafael Arévalo Martínez's Una Vida and Manuel Aldano

Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Between Confession and Realism: Lack, Vision, and the Construction of Identity in Rafael Arévalo Martínez's Una Vida and Manuel Aldano

Article excerpt

Most of the sporadic literary criticism directed at the Guatemalan Rafael Arévalo Martinez's work has either situated it in the context of modernismo' (with some caveats), or in that of postmodernism and fantastic or psychozoological literature as a preview to 20th-century literary experimentation. Most of the critics in this latter category base their conclusions primarily on Arévalo Martinez's psycho-zoological stories, in particular his most famous "El hombre que parecía un caballo." This has proven to be the narrative that has largely defined the writer's work, and has led several critics to focus on his other stories and novels to note the development of animal imagery in his work and its relationship to later innovative narrative in Spanish America.* 2

Such categorizations, however, do not account for the primarily realist/ autobiographical vein evident in his first two novels, Una vida (1914, hereafter referenced as UV) and Manuel Aldano (1922, hereafter referenced as MA). Nor do they account for what Seymour Menton has mistakenly called the lack of thematic unity, especially in Manuel Aldano. In this book, the narrator ends with what Menton calls a psychological novel about a young poet trying to find and keep work with an essay-like epilogue full of Darwinian theory diagnosing the protagonist's inability to adapt to modern work after leaving school and working at a series of jobs, mostly in foreign-owned enterprises. While to Menton this "digression" seems out of place (160), the present study will treat it as a mediating discourse around which coheres a careful construction of identity throughout the two texts, in order to answer two basic questions. First, how does the protagonist's discursive "choice" determine the careful construction of identity that allows him to exist as a writer and as the "caso clínico . . . emblema de la doliente nación del trópico" (MA 144-45)? Obviously, my debt here is to Michel Foucault, who poses the questions "under what conditions and in what forms can something like a subject appear in the order of discourse? What place can it occupy in a given type of discourse, what function can it assume and by obeying what rules?" ("What Is an Author" 221). Secondly, how does the protagonist's discursive formation, which provides him with a superior identity while simultaneously relegating him to inferior status, affect the generic qualities of the novels?

The choice of social Darwinism and the struggle for life to construct a discursive identity, always present in the narrator's attempt to make a place for himself in the realms of work and family, is inextricably linked to the rights to language and sexuality, the two linchpins which the protagonist, Aldano, considers essential for legitimacy. His consciousness of the relationship between work, identity, and sexuality, always present throughout the novels, becomes more explicit when he attains and struggles to keep what might be considered the ideal job of Angel Rama's ciudad modernizada, which required modernizing the function of the lettered city with the advent of internationalist modernization and the division of labor.3 If the narrator sees before him the carrot of the right to reproduce, the right to fatherhood associated with the attainment of a job at the bank, then behind him lie his "paternal" obligations to his widowed mother and his sister, all tied to his struggle for identity: "había pobrezas vergonzantes como la de mi madre; ávidos deseos insatisfechos, como los de mi hermana; ambiciones de ocupar un puesto en la vida, formar un hogar, de reproducirse ... y llenar un destino, -como la mía" (MA 108-09). The right to reproduce and to the attainment of a legitimate subject status, then, is contingent upon the acquisition of capital, and Aldano is well aware of this contingency: "El neurasténico es un hombre con la mitad de deberes y la mitad de derechos que los demás hombres" (MA 110).

Here it is useful to recall Foucault's thesis on the production and deployment of familial sexuality and its relationship to marital alliances in the strategies of "biopower" that formed in the 19th century. …

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