Miguel Lopez-Lozano. Utopian Dreams, Apocalyptic Nightmares: Globalization in Recent Mexican and Chicano Narrative.
West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 2008. ix + 294 pp. Paperback, ISBN: 978-1-55753-484-2.
Miguel Lopez-Lozano's Utopian Dreams, Apocalyptic Nightmares sheds light on a hitherto relatively unknown area within the territory of the utopian imagination. It is a study of the contributions of four Mexican/U.S. Chicano authors of narrative fiction to the ecocritical current of dystopian writing, which "addresses the effects of industrialization on the environment, proposing alternative worlds in which humankind lives in harmony with nature" (26). It focuses on works published in the last two decades of the twentieth century that for the most part amount to imaginative representations of Mexico City: Carlos Fuentes's Cristobal Nonato (1987); Alejandro Morales's The Rag Doll Plagues (1992); Carmen Boullosa's Cielos de la Tierra (1997); and two novels by Homero Aridjis, La Leyenda de los Soles (1993) and its sequel, En quien Piensas cuando Haces el Amor? (1996). Lopez-Lozano postulates a genre for these works by suggestively comparing them (albeit in passing) with Zamyatin's We, Huxley's Brave New World, Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, and Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. The point is more argumentative than analytic: it is not so much that there are specific textual correspondences to be detected as that those earlier works can function as a background by way of (apposite) historical analogy.
Lopez-Lozano's main interest lies in "cautionary tales of ecoapocalypses" and "the excavation of the history of exclusion" (5--the notion that history is indeed rewriting being at the core of his project). This he proceeds to do by providing a context that allows him to interpret his canon of works within the larger dynamics of South American social and political history. The introduction very much focuses on what may be described as the utopian invention of the Americas, taking two dates as symbolic: 1492, the arrival of Columbus, and 1992, the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Going back to the colonial period, Lopez-Lozano examines the utopian projections that were made to bear upon the New World as the earthly paradise, briefly considering how "the discovery of the Americas ... provided Europe with a locus upon which to project its own preconceived myths and desires" (7). After independence, he points out, "Latin American elites began to conceptualize modernization as a new kind of utopia, one that encapsulates the desire to achieve the levels of productivity, comfort, and consumption associated with the nations and economies of the First World" (5-6). Both conceptualizations of South American identity are perceived to entail the establishment of a sense of domination over the peoples, the territories, and the cultures of the Americas, and both are challenged by the authors Lopez-Lozano has chosen to study as they explore the potential of dystopian science fiction to question prevailing assumptions. Specifically, their work is seen to reflect the obvious ambivalence--in a country that was left behind in the process of modernization--between a striving for progress and the cultural and psychological dangers of life in industrialized society.
Lopez-Lozano describes the process of Mexico's belated industrialization, which took place only decisively after World War II, and traces the story of industrialized capitalism through several political and economic crises, seeing modernization itself as the utopia par excellence of Mexican elites (see 26-40). In such conditions, Lopez-Lozano submits, art emerges "as a viable form of resistance to the rules of the market, since local artists can create awareness of social issues and problems, thereby forming a critical voice that questions the illusory logic of unlimited progress that supporters of neoliberalism propose" (40). Does this mean, one wonders, that all relevant works stand in direct opposition to the establishment as a whole, or do they connect to significant social or ideological movements that remain within the accepted rules of the states or to political parties?
Throughout the book, as has been hinted above, the subject of revisionist history is significant both for generic reasons (it is a major topic in the set of novels from Zamyatin to Bradbury) and for outlining a local context (the problem of identity and of imagining Latin America, before as well as after independence). One aspect of this subject has of course to do with the issue of the incorporation of indigenous communities. Lopez-Lozano denounces the fact that, in the case of Mexico, the promotion of an official mestizo identity corresponds to a project of national unity that is little more than a fallacy. The mestizo is the locus for a tension between Westernized, "modern" Mexicans and communities that have resisted acculturation. The clash between the cosmopolitan and the indigenous perpetuates the problem of exclusion. But this is not just a cultural problem. Mexico is faced with a situation in which the conflict between the social perspective (the mestizos) and the economic (the latifundismo) remains unsolved. "Thus," the author points out, "both Europe's utopian images of the New World and Latin America's utopian dreams of modernity are ultimately founded upon the marginalization of the same native peoples" (32). This allows Lopez-Lozano to postulate a kind of schizophrenic identity as a background to his discussion of the five selected dystopias, and it definitely adds an extra strain to the depictions of environmental collapse in contemporary Mexican dystopian writing. In the novels by Fuentes, Morales, Boullosa, and Aridjis, "dramatic images of the ecoapocalypse emerge as a criticism of both the mega-projects of trading blocks that fail to address the impact of neoliberal policies on indigenous communities and also of the detrimental effects of industrialization on the environment" (231).
At this point, one is apt to ask whether a more explicit borrowing of concepts from the field of postcolonial studies would not be welcome here, as it might help bring the book to the attention of the academic community. Granted, to be trendy is not an asset per se, but there is a degree of acknowledgment that it is easier to get for your research when you follow a recognizable methodology or "school."
One of the significant features of Lopez-Lozano's study is that, in addition to offering a sustained discussion of the corpus of novels that has been selected for analysis, it provides clues for further research. Indeed, the author cites a number of "proto-science fiction" narratives or technology dystopias by Mexican writers, going back to the Enlightenment (see 25-26); and he surveys briefly another group of dystopian works from the 1990s and 2000s, thus pointing to the possibility of expanding the corpus (see 233-36).
More important, perhaps, Lopez-Lozano's insights into contemporary Mexican/U.S. Chicano dystopian fiction may be taken by either himself or other scholars as hints toward the interpretation of narrative works produced in historical circumstances and ideological frameworks that are in several ways comparable to the ones that he describes. In particular, it is probably relevant to remark that the "genderization" (II) of America as feminine (a female land/body to be taken/raped) is not specific to America, since as part and parcel of the discourse of imperialism and colonization the imagery was applied elsewhere, such as Africa and Australia. An acknowledgment of the similarities may suggest a broader relevance--to be derived from a comparative perspective--for the author's readings of a few novels that emerge from a single, specific context. An exploration of the similarities may give rise to questions such as, Did writers produce the same kind of (dystopian) writing in the face of similar social and national situations? What other variables are there besides the general dynamics of empire, exploitation, and marginalization? Did "modernization" mean the same thing, either as an objective historical process or as a goal or as a predicament to be imaginatively equated in fiction? In other words, a heuristic framework could be derived from Lopez-Lozano's study that might be applied to the research of utopian texts produced in other countries or territories that have also borne the burden of colonization. At the same time, it should be noticed that such "genderization" of the land came to be assimilated by American societies themselves in their internal dynamics, both cultural and institutional, as American states and societies established themselves historically not only in opposition to European imperialist nations but also in permanent negotiation with, or through exclusionary practices toward, Amerindian peoples proper.
Both in the case of post-imperial national cultures elsewhere and in the case of North and Latin American "internal" colonization, it is not unlikely that the imposition of notions of modernity is reflected in dystopian depictions of the present and the future that question the very tenets of what it means to be modern along with the prevailing, official sense of national identity (where there is one). It is a problem worth looking into.
Reviewed by Jorge Bastos da Silva, U'niversidade do Porto
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|Author:||Bastos da Silva, Jorge|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2010|
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