Academic journal article Hispanic Review

THE METAPHOR OF USURY IN Terra Nostra: On the Traces of Bataille and Derrida in Fuentes's Writing

Academic journal article Hispanic Review

THE METAPHOR OF USURY IN Terra Nostra: On the Traces of Bataille and Derrida in Fuentes's Writing

Article excerpt

Georges Bataille da cuenta de la ruptura de la economía del trueque par la del potlatch o don que crea una economia del desgaste o de la pérdida con el propósito de ponerfin a la estabilidad de lasfortunas dentro de la economía totómica . . . El potlatch rompe el statu quo conservadory erige en su lugar un principio contrario a la conservation. (Cervantes, o la crítica de la lectura 108)

At the conclusion of Cervantes, ï la critica de la lectura, Carlos Fuentes refers to Georges Bataille's conception of general economy and Jacques Derrida's deconstruction of "white mythology" as sources for his own conception of economy's relationship to writing. The study of economy in literature concerns questions of production, the distribution of elements within a literary work, and the relationship between signs and literary tropes. Because literary works are composed of tropic exchanges, metaphor and other literary tropes involving the exchange of meaning and qualities, some of these exchanges can be analyzed in terms of economic form. Thus, for Marc Shell, "the economy of literature seeks to understand the relationship between literary exchanges and the exchanges that constitute a political economy" (152). Fuentes's treatment of Bataille and Derrida serves as a roadmap for the study of literary economy in Terra Nostra. Although Fuentes uses the metaphor of usury to represent political and economic power, his discussion of Bataille's theory of "general economy" requires a critical approach that goes beyond a study of "political economy" in the novel. For example, in Fuentes's novel the tension between, on the one hand, the economies of gift-giving, excess, and expenditure and, on the other, those of accumulation and exchange, is instrumental to the novel's representation of the decline of feudal power and the rise of capitalist economy. For this reason, a preliminary discussion of the general economies of Bataille and Derrida's writings on this subject is necessary.

According to Bataille, general economy would approximate a science that studies the excesses of energy produced in the universe, excesses that by definition cannot be utilized. This useless waste or expenditure also implies an irreducible loss at the level of representation. In literary discourse the excess implies a loss in meaning. As a theoretical framework, moreover, general economy studies and posits a relation to this loss with regard to other economies that Bataille characterized as restricted economies. These would be the political economy of accumulation and epistemological systems that seek to establish absolute truth and fixity of meaning. According to Bataille, political economy is restricted precisely because it is always concerned with wealth and value as common denominators. General economy is unrestricted because it concerns both principles of gains and of losses; for example, in Bataille's discussion of potlatch, or the gift of rivalry, the logic of the gift concerns not so much its reciprocation, but rather the acquisition of the power to surpass the receiver, and the expenditure or loss that comes with that gain in power and prestige. A generous king, one who is able to give, in some societies is seen as a powerful king. (In terms of gift-giving, Derrida in Given Time takes a more radical position: the gift disrupts and annuls all exchange including reciprocity [7-14].) As an approximation to literature, general economy would study the excess and the loss of meaning at the level of figuration in literary discourse. In Terra Nostra, this would include the novel's Baroque style, the excess of its figurai language, eroticism, and the thematic representation of sacrifices, potlatches, gift-giving and other socioeconomic relations not directly limited to accumulation and exchange economy.

In Derrida's deconstruction of "white mythology," he analyzes the general economic play of metaphor in philosophical discourse. In particular, he employs the metaphor of usury to describe a process of abstraction in philosophical discourse, wherein figures, signs, and metaphors become abstracted through "a progressive erosion, a regular semantic loss, an uninterrupted exhausting of the primitive meaning" (Margins 215). …

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