Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Killer Books: Writing, Violence, and Ethics in Modern Spanish American Narrative

Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Killer Books: Writing, Violence, and Ethics in Modern Spanish American Narrative

Article excerpt

Killer Books: Writing, Violence, and Ethics in Modern Spanish American Narrative. By Anibal Gonzalez. Austin: U of Texas P, 2001. 176 pages.

This is a thought-provoking book. It develops the unfamiliar notion that writing can be by its very nature complicitous with violence and repression, "not innocent" (as Georges Bataille, we learn, had already contended) but inescapably involved with an ethical dilemma. Not surprisingly, the book ends with a sharp attack on the contemporary vogue for "sociocriticism," which Gonzalez thinks ignores the issue. His arguments are similarly at the opposite extreme from those, for example, of Hernan Vidal, who conceives of a "critica literaria eticista," as expressed in his book on Manuel Cofino, which can be instrumentalized for the moral education of the masses. Traditionally, Gonzalez points out, it has been possible to regard writing as "on the whole a good thing, or at least a morally neutral entity" (140), or, as Vidai puts it, as an activity which in Latin America can contribute to constructing the cultural identity of the young states (presumably by establishing collective value-patterns and creating what Fredric Jameson calls "national allegories"). It, is this kind of assumption which Killer Books seeks to challenge. Without denying that "The moral condemnation of human injustice and violence in all its forms is one of Spanish American literature's most obvious and recurrent motifs" (18), Gonzalez nevertheless insists that "violence is an intrinsic quality of writing itself (19). In other words, not just what writing transmits, but the very instrument of communication, is somehow tainted and open to justified suspicion. I have to confess that I have not fully understood why this should be the case. There is no difficulty in perceiving why authoritarian regimes and censors of all kinds should distrust writing; but why writers themselves should worry about the moral implications of writing as an activity is, despite Gonzalez's repeated affirmations throughout the book, not entirely clear. His opening chapter, presenting the issue, seems to conflate the effort involved in writing, the impact on others of certain types of writing (because of its "collusion with the state and its attendant violence" [8]) and the sense which some authors may have of the futility of writing, into what he calls "graphophobia," a catch-all term, the application of which to specific texts is methodologically suspect.

The texts in question are Manuel Gutierez Naera's article/ short story "La hija del aire," Manuel Zeno Gandia's La charca, Teresa de la Parra's Ifigenia, Jorge Luis Borges's "The Garden of Forking Paths," Alejo Carpentier's The Harp and the Shadow, and Julio Cortazar's "Press Clippings," a heterogeneous selection. Few of these works at irst sight appear to embody the theme of aversion from writing on the author's part and some of them do not strike one as being about writing at all. The critical question, therefore, is whether Gonzalez makes a convincing case that they all illustrate graphophobia. …

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