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Some Write to the Future: Essays on Contemporary Latin American Fiction.

In his latest work of criticism, Ariel Dorfman, the Chilean professor, novelist, poet, and dramatist includes six essays translated from Spanish as well as one on Gabriel Garcia Marquez written in English for this volume. Each essay deals with the work of a contemporary author (or in the case of the essay on Chilean testimonial literature, seven authors) from a different Latin American country, from Cuba to Guatemala, Columbia, Peru, Paraguay, and Argentina. Despite this wide geographical range, the essays all deal with narrative prose, generally with novels, and are unified by Dorfman's constant interest in the relationship between culture and politics.

For Dorfman, literature can never be separated from the goal of the social and economic liberation of Latin America. In the Introduction to Some Write to the Future, he states that the principal link between these essays is the fact that "all of these meditations stem from the same fierce belief that our literature has an important role, indeed an essential one, to play in the liberation of the people of Latin America" (xii). He admits that this affirmation of the revolutionary function of literature may appear more naive than it did twenty years ago, that in the world of the 90s it is harder to envision "significant change," but still maintains that "only an exploration of the ways in which our contemporary fiction subverts prevalent power, or submits to it, can reveal that fiction's true character" (xii).

Two of the essays were written more than twenty years ago. "Men of Maize: Myth as Time and Language," on Miguel Angel Asturias' novel, and "Borges and American Violence" were published in Dorfman's first collection of essays (Imaginacion y violencia en America. Santiago: Editorial Universitaria, 1970). They are published as they originally appeared with only a few changes to reflect current concerns. The author adds a parenthetical remark not in the Spanish version that there are hardly any women in Borges' works, and omits a short but rather gratuitous attack on another critic who has devoted too little attention to Men of Maize in an article. These essays, however, both fit into the general theme of repression and violence. Dorfman's attempt to "humanize" and make Borges' work central to the Latin American experience must be seen as an important contribution to the criticism of the outstanding Argentinean writer.

In the longest essay in the volume, "Fathers and Bridges Over Hell: Deep Rivers," Dorfman concentrates on the social novel of Jose Maria Arguedas, defining its social message as one of final hope. "Sandwiched Between Proust and the Mummy: Seven Notes and an Epilogue on Carpentier's Reasons of State" is a 1980 essay about one of the Cuban writer's lesser-known works. "The Rivers of Roa Bastos," a study of Son of Man, was written as an introduction to an English translation of the work.

Dorfman's 1982 piece, "Political Code and Literary Code: The Testimonial Genre in Chile Today" studies the testimonial literature of seven of the Pinochet regime's political prisoners. According to the author, not only does this literature witness the power of the written word and hope that fights against tyranny, but it is obviously one that affects him personally. This regime forced him to go into exile in 1973 (from which he did not return to his native country until 1990) to avoid being taken prisoner. He has chosen all male authors: Alejandro Witker, Rodrigo Rojas, Rolando Carrasco, Carlos Lira, Anibal Quijada Cerda, Manuel Cabieses, and Jorge Montealegre. His analysis includes excellent generalizations about the function and style of these works. Furthermore, despite his own commitment to leftist politics, he is capable of seeing the stylistic weakness of many of these:

The reason, however, why I mention this first great defect of these accounts is that I believe that their carelessness with language, the fact that they consider it a mere vehicle for a truth that is already preestablished, that is, as an instrument that is almost extraneous to what is really important, is one of the most pronounced weaknesses of the left in Chile and, beyond them, of those who want to change the world in a revolutionary way. (159)

Although Dorfman the critic has previously defended the validity of language used for propaganda (xiv), as a writer he sees that writing well, integrating form and substance, will produce a stronger, more vital, and more powerful literature.

Dorfman's writing varies in quality. At times his style is extremely difficult. This difficulty stems often from the complexity of his thought. However, the sentence and paragraph structure become convoluted, as when he discusses Ernesto's dreams in the essay on Deep Rivers: "There are, therefore, allies in this world, but they are not messianic saviors; and there are renewing spaces, but not to withdraw to, separating oneself from the day-to-day crossroads of life" (50). The translations are done well, but perhaps with too much attention to accuracy of thought and too little homage to English style. On the other hand, there are moments when the author uses a felicitous turn of phrase, as when he is 'describing the desire for fame in the essay on Carpentier's Reasons of State:

The Head of State is, therefore, essentially colonized: his deepest desires are to leave behind his original earth and interfuse with the values of those who are "superior," to be a conspicuous member of the select group of humanity who happen to own the cannons, the factories, and the phonemes and who can guarantee him a place in their dictionaries.(104)

We have, obviously, left the best for last. "Someone Writes to the Future: Meditations on Hope and Violence in Garcia Marquez" must be read by anyone preparing to teach or discuss One Hundred Years of Solitude. Dorfman's analysis serves as a catalyst for thought, and as a corrective for the overuse, indeed the abuse of the term "magic realism" or "magical realism" (at one point Isabel Allende was called "The Queen of Magical Realism" in a television sketch about her!). Too frequently today any Latin American literature automatically falls under the denomination of "magic realism." Dorfman points out the two traditions in Latin American culture, that of the literature of the educated minority, found principally in cities, and that of the majority, the popular/oral or folk tradition, found mainly in the countryside. He situates Garcia Marquez's style at the confluence of these two traditions, and explains that the presence of the marvelous proves that "that term |'magical realism'~ attempts to explain what happens in novels such as these as merely literary strategy rather than a cultural experience that comes from the way people in Latin America cope with their existence" (210). His formulation certainly expands the horizons and goes beyond any simplistic formulae in explaining the artistic achievements of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Some Write to the Future is definitely worth reading, if only for the essay on Garcia Marquez. But Dorfman's extensive review of the literature on each of the writers he includes is also invaluable for the professional who is looking for a deeper analysis of these works; the notes are extensive and show a wide knowledge of the bibliography. Central ideas from works found in the bibliography in Spanish are provided in summary form to the reader of English. Dorfman's ideas are provocative and challenging, and the book should prove invaluable to the study of many areas of contemporary literature.
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Author:Raymond, Kay
Publication:College Literature
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1992
Words:1231
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