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Marooning The Caribbean: Vitalistic Imaginaries In Virgilio Piñera, Héctor Rojas Herazo And Alejo Carpentier

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Abstract

In this dissertation I argue that the historical lived experience of the maroon allows us to read twentieth-century Hispanic Caribbean narrative outside the two traditional variants of imagining and studying its literature and culture: as an anthropologically-based picture of mixtures and blends (transculturation, creolization, hybridity, etc.), and as a representation of the convoluted processes of founding nations and building identities. Instead, through an understanding of the cunning and the craft of the maroon, of the way they made sense of the world and a place for themselves in it, works of fiction that were usually left behind in name of traditional ways of reading can reveal to us a new image of the Caribbean by showing us different understandings of space and the subject's relation to it. In the first chapter I argue that Virgilio Piñera's La carne de René is the clearest example of this strategy. What appears to be a pessimistic and hermetic novel with absurdist flourishes is indeed an attempt to give flesh-like and extensive qualities to concepts, thus turning the physical body into a place where ideological beliefs and oppositions play out their tensions in a constricted field. In the second chapter, dedicated to Héctor Rojas Herazo's En noviembre llega el arzobispo, I show how a vitalistic logic manages to portray a Caribbean where the images of memories-and not the word or the Law-ground a community. In the third chapter I focus on Alejo Carpentier's El recurso del método. Generally considered a coda to his principal work, I argue instead that it is a critical intervention in the Caribbean and European imaginaries: by focusing on nuclei of peripheral lived experience within the cosmopolitan center, and as a result of a change in the author's definition of the "marvelous real" into a organismic, baroque movement, the novel is able to disrupt the global cultural valences of center and periphery. I first read Esteban Montejo and Miguel Barnet's Biografía de un cimarrón as an example of maroon imagination, and then use it to recast Antonio Benítez Rojo's The Repeating Island as a text suffused by this type of imagination of the world. Then the dissertation studies three novels not commonly regarded as representative works of the Caribbean: Virgilio Piñera's La carne de René, Héctor Rojas Herazo's En noviembre llega el arzobispo, and Alejo Carpenitier's El recurso del método. Like the settlements founded by runaway slaves all throughout the Caribbean, these novels reject being immersed in nation-building projects because they do not grow out of an oppositional consciousness but out of an image of a community sharing a lived experience. They flow between and under the oppositional poles of tradition and modernity, status quo and revolutionary change, center and periphery. They are able to do this thanks to, first, their attachment to various forms of vitalism-a preference for becoming over being, for seeing reality as a live organism and in terms of virtuality and actualization-which results in ontological plasticity. Second, thanks to their attempts to trace precarious maps of their surroundings through an exercise of haptic discovery, unveiling and disclosure: in a world of uncertainty, a sense of touch is what gives them bit by bit a series of impressions of their immediacy that their imagination carries on, composing a precarious map of their surroundings. If the traditional Caribbean image was constructed by historical narratives based on various comings and goings of oppositional consciousness, and conceived in order to conquer, possess, name and make use of that territory, these novels were indifferent to this impulse because they wanted to know the world, to dis-cover it, to get rid of the cloak of uncertainty that surrounded it. Virgilio Piñera's La carne de René, the focus of my first chapter, is the clearest example of how maroon texts step away from oppositional logics by looking at space and the subject. The novel ascribes flesh-like characteristics to dialectical categories. By turning into flesh abstract ideologies, the novel assigns extensive qualities to them, particularly a finite extension in space, thus precluding both René-its main character-and readers from being able to imagine transcendental horizons beyond that limited space. This makes ideas turn into hurtful objects that have painful effects on the physical body. I argue Piñera is able to do this thanks to two critical readings he makes and then combines in the novel. First, he critiques the Republican Cuban literary and cultural milieu's belief that they will construct a historical image by means of poetry for the new Cuba, showing they are fooling themselves into thinking they found a transcendental option for what in reality is a closed circuit. Second, he overlays this enclosed and bounded topology onto Witold Gombrowicz's disruptive critique of bourgeois society that appears in Ferdydurke. By combining these two critiques he is able to portray a narrative universe in which ideology affects the body directly and painfully because in the name of its Cause, or in the name of those against it, the flesh is churned out in the hope of producing ethereal ideals. By vitalizing ideals the novel steps away from an oppositional logic, making it difficult for critics to assign it to any category of literary history or of the political spectrum. The second chapter focuses on the vitalistic logic underlying the novel penned by Colombian writer and painter Héctor Rojas Herazo, En noviembre llega el arzobispo. This logic blurs creative genres, words and images, memories and space, in order to build a grounds-up, inclusion- based community that discards the hegemonic, exclusionary and Letrado-based national institutions of Colombia's capital. By reviewing his journalism from the 1950s and early 1960s I find a thorough attempt at portraying Caribbean society and culture as radically different from the established historical image in which Bogotá's enlightened men of letters created the Nation. This disavowal of nation-building intellectuals is construed by recurring to painting instead of writing; by blurring borders between language and image he also blurs the difference humans trace themselves against animals and nature, transforming the traditional dichotomy of nature versus culture into an organismic image of reality as a live (and lived) continuum. The iconoclastic effort against the intellectual class, however, drives him into a blind alley with problematic consequences because, as the novel's form attests, there is a teleological residue of hope for spiritual progression towards an immutable, organismic totality. In the third chapter I argue that Alejo Carpentier's El recurso del método, typically read as part of the "Dictator Novel" genre and as a coda to his principal work, is in fact a crucial rereading of his previous definition of the Baroque that updates it for a post-colonial and more globalized moment. He emphasizes the organismic, lived-experience aspects of it, but in such a way that he eludes the problems of stasis that Piñera affronts at the level of the subject, and Rojas Herazo at the level of the community. He does this by going beyond the Caribbean and positing an organismic world cartography in which Cartesian-like Europe is contaminated by proliferating nuclei of disorder coming from Latin America. The novel does this by turning itself into a supplement of Marcel Proust's fictional world, thus disrupting the ideological valences of the world order and stepping away from oppositional descriptions like center and periphery, high and popular culture, establishment and antagonism. He portrays pre-First-War Paris not as the apex of cosmopolitanism but as one more place in the global cultural system, allowing him to suggest that the ontology that comes from acknowledging a becoming within life itself is a cosmopolitan answer to the new world cartography. Thus, the novel is a crucial reflection on the then-recent postcolonial and globalized consciousness, coming out of his previous reflection on the marvelous real and on the Latin American Baroque. The conclusion develops the principal consequences these maroon texts have on reimagining Latin American history and the idea of the Caribbean itself. On a first level, novels and authors are recovered from historical oblivion. But furthermore, by leaving behind accounts of intellectual and narrative processes exclusively based on agonistic templates, maroon texts are able to portray the dynamics of circulation and blockage, processes that occur throughout the global sphere of intellectual exchange, silencing, intervention and mis-translation. In advance of further research, I succinctly show how a cartography of the Caribbean can be traced out as the play of oppositional movement of nation-building and its critique on the one hand, and the ephemeral sprouting of maroon consciousness and foundations on the other.

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2012-05-27

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Caribbean Literature; Vitalism

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Castillo, Debra Ann

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Aching, Gerard Laurence
Bosteels, Bruno
Buck-Morss, Susan

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Romance Studies

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Ph. D., Romance Studies

Degree Level

Doctor of Philosophy

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