Postdictatorship allegory and neobaroque disillusionment in Jose Donoso's Casa de campo.
A House in the Country hinges on an allegorical image of the contemporary Chilean nation and state as the eponymous country house, a hermetically sealed microcosm whose idyllic artificiality and orchestrated timelessness represent the escapism, neo-feudalism and baroque aesthetics of illusionism of the Chilean oligarchy. The Ventura's country house known by the imaginary name of Marulanda, a contradictory emblem of arcadian idyll on the inside and ruthless exploitation on the outside, allegorizes Chile's social contradictions and residual internal colonialism under the liberal democratic regime of the 60s, on the eve of Allende's election.
In A House in the Country, as in the seventeenth-century German baroque plays analyzed by Benjamin, "[h]istory merges into the setting" (Origin 92): rather than being narrated sequentially, time is represented spatially and visually, in a series of static panoramas of the allegorical country house. In part, this is because history--that is, any possibility of revolutionary change--is considered a threat to the ruling social order. But more importantly, the spatialization of history is a central strategy of Donoso's deconstructive philosophy of history. As I will show, the latter, as well as Donoso's neobaroque allegorical narrative, constitute substantial affinities with Benjamin's materialist and anti-teleological philosophy of history. For both Donoso and Benjamin, history, far from signifying progress and the incremental realization of social ideals, is synonymous with catastrophe and ruin, the successive accumulation of residues of the broken lifeworlds of the past. Benjamin insisted that "we must wake up from the world of our parents" (Benjamin qtd. in Buck-Morss 279), defining the writing of history as a task of demystification which twentieth-century intellectuals must unmask the dreamworld of nineteenth-century mass culture. I argue that similarly, A House in the Country is conceived as a wake-up call, a historical novel and political allegory which enacts an awakening from the collective illusions sustaining hegemonic Chilean (and by extension, Latin American) culture and politics. I will show that in their parallel projects of disenchantment of modern social myths, Donoso and Benjamin avail themselves of the characteristic baroque ironic awareness of the kinship between appearance and reality, where selfevident certainties are discovered to be artifacts, in a slippage between illusion and disillusionment. Here, the baroque's subjectivism becomes a critical tool in the project of emancipatory antirealism: because (to adapt Heinrich Woelfflin's well-known comment) the baroque represents things "as they seem to be" in contrast to realism, which "represents things as they are," it can explore the disturbing proximity of truth and delusion and unmask the polished surfaces of normalizing national discourse (Woelfflin 20).
In a study on literature in the aftermath of the dictatorships of the Southern Cone, The Untimely Present: Postdictatorial Latin American Fiction and the Task of Mourning, Idelber Avelar examines the ways in which authors like Donoso have responded to the dictatorships of the 70s and their destructive effects in the realm of culture and literature. Contributing to recent work concerning the cultural contexts of postdictatorship society such as Nelly Richard's Residuos y metaforas (translated into English as Cultural Residues), Avelar's study usefully establishes the larger regional context of post-boom literature underlying Donoso's work. The term postdictatorship here designates a period beginning with the military coup (Chile's own traumatic 9-11 of 1973), and encompasses both initial phases of dictatorship terror and repression and later periods of so-called transitions to democracy. Avelar posits that the right-wing dictatorships of Argentina, Chile, Brazil, and elsewhere constitute a historical turning-point and catalyst for the inauguration of a new kind of literature of disenchantrnent that breaks with avantgarde 'boom' practices such as magical realism. He describes a shift to an allegorical literature of mourning and defeat replacing the optimistic fabulations of boom writing, which celebrated Latin America's literary "coming of age" in the pantheon of world literature. My reading of A House in the Country parallels Avelar's in his use of Benjaminian theory of allegory and history, but I go beyond Avelar in presenting a detailed analysis of A House in the Country that foregrounds the centrality of the neobaroque in both Benjamin's theory of allegory and Donoso's postdictatorial allegory.
The Plot and the Facts of Political Allegory
Beginning with Luis Inigo Madrigal's detailed deciphering of A House in the Country's political allegory, critics have recognized the novel's allegorical procedure of "speaking otherwise" (allegorein), whereby one story (the fictional history of Marulanda) alludes to another, hidden story, the history of Chile in particular and Latin America in general. (3) A House in the Country is a sustained allegory of Chile's national tragedy of the early 70s, joining the cluster of dictator novels of the 1970s published by Garcia Marquez (El otono del patriarca), Augusto Roa Bastos (Yo el supremo), and Alejo Carpentier (El recurso del metodo) in the aftermath of the dictatorships in the Southern Cone. A small number of central characters and events in A House in the Country translate more or less literally into the historical figures and events of Chile in the 1970s, such as Adriano, "the liberator" (Salvador Allende); the Mayordomo, "the dictator" (Pinochet); and Francisco de Asis, the martyred bard of the revolution (Victor Jara). Even though allegorical representation in the novel is not completely reducible to a political satire or a linear roman h clef as Madrigal points out, the inhabitants of the house and natives of Marulanda correspond to a schematic social composition of Chile's population. The adults are the ruling oligarchy; the children, the middle classes; the Marulanda natives, the proletariat or lower classes (including actual indigenous people); and the servants, most certainly, are the armed forces (Madrigal 13). The allegorical correspondence between the fictional family-house and the real nation-state is suggested, for example, by the fact that the children do not actor talk like children, but like adults. Likewise, the majority of the characters are flat, without interiority, obviously created to embody abstract principles.
As every year, the Ventura clan, consisting of 14 adults and 35 children, and accompanied by an "army" of servants hired anew each year, embark on an epic journey by railway and wagon train from the capital to vacation at their summer residence at Marulanda. They leave before the advent of the annual "thistlestorms" in the fall, a tempest of grass seeds that chokes all life on the beautiful plain. The trip, however, is more than a vacation, for Marulanda harbors the material base of the family's fabulous wealth--gold, which is mined and manufactured into laminate by local natives. The Venturas justify the colonization and enslavement of the natives as a civilizing mission (to eradicate the cannibalism of the natives, which the Venturas claim threatens to spring up again the moment the natives return to their natural state [House 18]). Yet no Ventura has ever had any personal contact with the "fierce" natives, except for the doctor Adriano Gomara, married into the family, whom the clan punishes by declaring him mad and locking him away in a tower. In the year narrated, the adults decide to embark on a picnic in a fabulous paradisiacal glade on their estate. Accompanied by the servants (to protect them from the cannibal natives), they abandon the children in the house. The departure of the adults and the servants results in a power vacuum, and the children break into factions experimenting with a variety of responses: some, the conservative elite around Juvenal and Melania, struggle to uphold authority and prevent "lawlessness" by continuing to play La Marquise Est Sortie a Cinq Heures ("The Marquise Left at Five"), a disciplinary tool designed to keep the children trapped in the fantasy world of a courtly masque and distract them from reality.
Others, like Wenceslao and Mauro, prepare the rebellion of the children: Wenceslao, the son of the imprisoned Adriano Gomara, liberates his father from his attic-prison. Tired of ceremonial make-believe, iconoclastic Mauro, the "Young Count" of "La Marquise," becomes the leader of another group of children who uproot the fence, erasing the barricade between the artificial interior and unknown world outside. Yet another, materialistically-minded group of children break into the cellars and make off with the family gold. Adriano "the Liberator," fraternizing with the natives who have invaded the defenseless mansion, takes over power and initiates a series of radical changes abolishing the old class- and race-based hierarchy, installing instead a left revolutionary order. However, Adriano's egalitarian regime destablilizes as a result of challenges from internal factions among the children and economic collapse resulting from the breakdown of gold production and trade. Encountering signals of the revolution upon their return from their outing, the adults dispatch the servants to restore the old order. The servants, under the Mayordomo's command, then topple the revolutionary regime in an orgy of bloodshed and destruction, killing Adriano and Iris inner circle, and torturing and executing children and natives. Under the dictatorship, the old reign of terror and discipline is re-imposed in the war-ravaged mansion with double force to erase any memory of the recent past and its revolutionary changes.
An early draft of the novel ended with Marulanda in the grips of the Mayordomo's totalitarian regime, while Wenceslao and a small circle of refugees escape through the underground labyrinth to freedom. (4) In the published version, Donoso brings the Ventura parents back to Marulanda, accompanied by English-speaking foreigners, to whom they intend to sell the decaying estate. In this episode, Donoso glosses the dictatorships' policies of neoliberal modemization and integration of national into global markets. In addition, as eritic Carlos Cerda points out, he also highlights the unintended disastrous consequences of instigating the military overthrow for the oligarchy--an unprecedented dependency on the military and global capitalism (Cerda 116). The oligarchy's consequent own disempowerment is staged next, as the servants, conspiring with the foreigners, sideline the Venturas altogether in a third revolt. Hijacking the wagon train, the conspirators leave the Ventura adults and children in the ruined house to perish in the fall storms. Desperate, most of the adults crowd into a mule cart and escape across the plain at a crawling pace, to their certain deaths. The remaining Venturas seek shelter in the house, which also receives a stream of natives seeking refuge from the choking tempest. As the Venturas join the natives in their traditional method of slow breathing to the rhythmic beat of a triangle, the novel ends with a tableau of an uncertain new dawn of yet another social order. The motley group has chance of surviving, by "[l]iving together in Marulanda according to the traditional customs we can learn from those who know the land better than we do," as Wenceslao explains (House 343).
Neobarroco: Donoso's Emblematic-Allegorical Narrative Procedure
In interviews, Donoso has pointed out A House in the Country's relation to contemporary Chilean events as well as to the crisis of representation caused by the political tragedy and his subsequent search for new literary modes to describe them:
In A House in the Country appears the tragedy, the necessity to speak about a Chilean issue. But given the impossibility of doing this in my Chilean language, ... I had to invent a language, as I had to invent a new country to be able to write about it.... I was consciously predisposed against magical realism, against the fantastic. It had occurred to me that the only thing that could serve to convey reality was not the fantastic but the artificial. I designed this novel as ah artifice, as a contestation of naturalista and realism. (Italics in the original) (5)
Donoso's comments reveal that the language of A House in the Country is intended to expose the false harmonies of post-1973 Chilean society, an authoritarian culture complicit with the barbaric Pinochet dictatorship. In the explicit context of Chilean culture's subjection to totalitarianism, Donoso's rejection of the fantastic mode of narration that founded in large part the boom's fame--magical realism--is telling. It signals a transition from his previous novel, the experimental El Obsceno pajaro de la noche (1970), a change much commented on both in Donoso criticism and in studies of the beginning of the so-called post-boom literature. (6) Rather than continuing in the avantgardist vein of boom storytelling, Donoso brings back allegory, an "obsolete" mode discredited in the Western literary canon by romanticism and, subsequently, by realism. He also brings back the embodied omniscient narrator of the 18th- and 19th-century novel.
Breaking his personal narrator's authorial control ironically in a metafictional postmodern mode in A House in the Country, Donoso has him reflect on the possibilities and limits of the narrative he inhabits:
[T]o tell the truth, I write as I do so that people like him [Silvestre Ventura, with whom the narrator is just having a conversation about the novel] won 't recognize themselves ... or understand what I'm saying about them. The exaggerated ugliness of some of my earlier books could have been readily grasped by people like the Venturas, because every attempt at "realism," however unpleasant or disturbing, always meets with official approval.... [I] employ in this present tale an equally exaggerated artificiality.... since artifice is a sin for being useless and immoral, whereas the essence of realism is its morality. (House 283)
Similar to the Brechtian alienation effect, Donoso's use of obsolete forms and narrative modes (such as allegory and the omniscient narrator) are intended to break the fictional illusion and draw the reader's attention to the arbitrariness of representation. Artifice, or resolute anti-naturalism, also rules Donoso's concept of character: "I make no appeal to my readers to 'believe' my characters: I would rather they were taken as emblems" (House 286). Donoso opts for artifice over verisimilitude to expose the constructedness of what is readily accepted as natural, real, unproblematic. Thus, A House in the Country is a deconstructive narrative, an aggressive, angry book written to destroy the false unities, false totalities, false harmonies of post-1973 Chilean culture and all versions of bourgeois realism that are complicit with the totalitarian regime. (7)
Latin American cultural critics agree with Donoso in positing Southern Cone dictatorships as a historical threshold ushering in a major reorientation of artistic practice, including a new literature of disillusionment that breaks with high literary 'boom' experimentalism such as magical realism. According to Alberto Moreiras, "en la postdictatura el pensamiento es sufriente mas que celebratorio. Marcado por la perdida del objeto, piensa desde la depresion" ("thought in the postdictatorship is more suffering than celebratory. Marked by the loss of the object, it thinks from the point of view of depression" ). In The Untimely Present, Avelar "propos[es] 11 September 1973 as the allegorical date of the decline of the boom" (13). Helpfully elucidating Donoso's comments cited above, Avelar critiques the "magical realist or fantastic contrasting of opposing logics" as attempting "the compensatory reestablishment of the auratic in the postauratic" (15, 13). The "traditional aura of the letrado [man of letters]" and literature as an institution is salvaged in the criticism of boom writers like Fuentes, where one can observe a "tendency to see literature as disproportionately 'advanced,' 'ahead of its time' vis-a-vis the continent's economic and social backwardness" (12, 27). This redemptive reconciliation of the contradiction between modernity and Latin American identity and history, seemed all but impossible after the dictatorships made it clear that they would promote an economic modernization and globalization voided of all liberating, progressive dimensions.
This emphasis on artifice, and the recuperative mode of citing "obsolete" forms, genres and themes, mainly from the seventeenth-century culture of the baroque, associates Donoso's A House in the Country with the so-called neobaroque, a broad 20th-century transatlantic and transamerican movement, to which belong Latin American intellectuals such as Severo Sarduy, Lezama Lima, and Irlemar Chiampi, and European intellectuals Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, and Umberto Eco, as well as Walter Benjamin, especially in regard to his work on baroque allegory in The Origin of German Tragic Drama and modero allegory in his projects on Baudelaire and nineteenth-century Paris. Most poignantly, it includes Chilean critic Nelly Richard, whose analyses of postdictatorial Chile in Cultural Residues brush history against the grain in a Benjaminian manner by searching for insights among the wasteland of discarded cultural residues produced by the dictatorship's regime of terror and its neoliberal restructuring of society.
The neobaroque rediscovers the modernity of the baroque following upon the modern crisis of Enlightenment rationality and the delegitimation of metanarratives of "progress," turning towards earlier, pre-Enlightenment responses to the crisis of modernity (that is, the Reformation, the Scientific Revolution), which had been dismissed as instrumental reason gained dominance during the eighteenth century. At the turn of the twentieth century, the neobaroque arises from the disillusionment with dominant Enlightenment beliefs--for example, the faith in teleology which returned under the sign of Enlightenment reason and progress. Writers and critics like Benjamin, who clearly diagnosed the bankruptcy of teleological historicism as normalizing and uncritical of capitalist modernity's colonialism of traditional lifeworlds, reach back towards the past, to the remnants of pre-Enlightenment cultures, encountering in the "obsolete" baroque alternative (and much more liberating) modes of knowledge and expression. Paradoxically, then (though not surprisingly, given the baroque's and neobaroque's self-contradictory and ironic formation), the baroque is summoned by modern intellectuals to expose the ideological fetishes of modernization as artifice, revealing the skulls beneath the spectacle (as Benjamin might say). Like the skeptical neobaroque, A House in the Country is a novel of disillusionment that exposes a range of modern myths and fallacies--the false faith in Latin American and Chilean historical continuity and progress, in the autonomy of the literary and cultural, and in the redemptive role of literature and culture vis-a-vis political catastrophe, such as occurred in contemporary Chile. Specifically, Donoso's recovery of allegory in his Chilean "historical novel" can be illuminated by Walter Benjamin's theory of allegory. For Donoso uses allegory to show that Latin American history has no unity, and no goal; in this function as deconstructive historiography, allegory in A House in the Country is closely related to Walter Benjamin's path-breaking analysis of allegory as an anti-universalist figure throughout his work, from his 1928 study of seventeenth-century German baroque plays through his study of nineteenth-century material culture in the unfinished Arcades project to his 1940 essay, "Theses on the Philosophy of History."
Finally, it is no accident that both Benjamin and Donoso are writing under the sign of Saturn, of political crisis and defeat. Both elaborate the neobaroque under the shadow of fascism and dictatorship: mourning failed social and political projects pervades their writing, as it did the seventeenth-century as a whole. Nelly Richard's and Idelber Avelar's analyses indicate that A House in the Country is part of a larger formation of postdictatorship neobaroque texts that includes the work of Chilean writer Diamela Eltit as well as Argentine poet Nestor Perlongher. (8) Richard reads Eltit's anti-realist testimonial narrative El Padre Mio (1989) as neobaroque allegory. The text is a portrait of a sehizophrenic urban vagabond, addressed as "my father" with deliberate ironies that refract the condition of the lumpen subject onto the figurative father, an oedipal and political symbol of power (Pinochet): "The book's critical gesture produces an interlacing of the speech delirium of 'my father' (which is unmoored from any verisimilitude) with the Chile to which his monologue alludes as an image of a delirious country, monstrously uprooted from the regular order or normal citizenship" (Richard 54). Here I should caution that, although pessimism remains a key feature, the neobaroque is a complex and heterogenous formation that finally escapes embracing nihilism as a reaction to the delegitimation of idealisms of various persuasions. Instead, it opens up an alternative third route, as we shall see at the close of this essay, which takes up Deleuze in a discussion of the ending of the final version of A House in the Country.
Allegory: History as Transience, World in Ruins
According to Benjamin, allegory contains an insight into the transience of things that is antithetical to notions of progress and history as organic continuity. (9) In the Trauerspiel study, Benjamin describes the baroque allegorist brooding over nature as deathscape or wasteland rather than landscape: "The word 'history' stands written on the countenance of nature in the characters of transience" (177). The seventeenth-century baroque plays Benjamin discusses are obsessed with history as ruin, as the inevitability of natural decay and death. Correspondingly, Benjamin shows, playwrights employ a figural mode (allegory) that does not cover over this fundamental melancholic awareness of the destructive impact of history on human and physical nature. For Benjamin, the past, as critic Theresa Kelley notes, "has no organic, natural connective to the present; it is always 'other' and thus under the sign of allegory" (255). Allegory, writes Benjamin in the late essay "Zentralpark," "conserves only the rubble" (236). (10) Trauerspiel was written to vindicate allegory and undo its stigrnatization in Romantic theory as a contrived mode of reducing the particular (an image, a phrase) to the task of illustrating the general and intellectual (meaning), thus devaluing it by dissecting it allegorically. Benjamin counters that allegory's constructedness, its self-consciously un-beautiful artificiality, is precisely the point: Allegory demystifies what the symbol falsely idealizes: "Whereas in the symbol destruction is idealized and the transfigured face of nature is fleetingly revealed in the light of redemption, in allegory the observer is confronted with the facies hippocratica of history as a petrified, primordial landscape" (Origins 166).
This baroque sense of history as decay contains an insight that proved revolutionary for Benjamin's subsequent development of a materialist and anti-teleogical philosophy of history. In his work on Baudelaire and nineteenth-century mass culture, he encountered the same shattering of the object world, but in contrast to baroque allegory, decay no longer appears as a natural fact of life's transitoriness but as the result of capitalist commodification. And just as allegory is an arbitrary montage of image and intellectual meaning, so commodities are priced arbitrafily; there is no organic connection between objects and their exchange value. Hence, "emblems return as commodities" ("Zentralpark" 675). Notice the parallel to postdictatorship critiques of modernization.
For Benjamin, allegory thus becomes a timely instrument for the writing of history, modern as much as baroque. This is most evident in the 1940 essay, "Theses on the Philosophy of History," which articulates Benjamin's neobaroque theory of history as catastrophe, not progress. The historian's task is not to tell the past "the way it really was" (introducing a coherence that does not exist), but rather to "seize hold of a memory as it flashes up in a moment of danger" ("Theses" 255). The essay also displays Benjamin's own allegorical method at work: the baroque inspired Benjamin's famous allegory of the "angel of history," a montage composed of an image (Paul Klee's painting "Angelus Novus") and a caption. The meaning the allegorist Benjamin ascribes to Klee's painting is not induced from it, but projected onto it in a sovereign, arbitrary act on the interpreter's part. As Benjamin explains in the earlier Trauerspiel, the allegorist "must not conceal the fact that his activity is one of arranging," for the "principal impression aimed at" in his work is "its obviously constructed quality" (Origin 179). Notice the affinities with Donoso's emphasis on artifice, which I will further illustrate in the next section. In "Theses," the angel understands what "we" (Benjamin's figure of a collective implied reader) don't: that history is not "a chain of events" but "one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage" (257). Looking back to the past, the angel of history "would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed" (257). But he cannot; time passes, propelling him "into the future ... while the pile of debris before him grows skyward" (258). Benjamin's allegorical angel exposes historical continuity and developmentalism as illusions: neither a single concept nor person, neither dictator nor savior-angel, can unify the heap of trash and rubble that is history. Benjamin's radical revision of the historical method was to "search for truth in the 'garbage heap' of modern history, the 'rags, the trash, the ruins of commodity production" (Buck-Morss 217-18). In the end, the allegorist turns out to be a materialist.
The are strong parallels between Donoso's allegorical method of telling the history of Chile in A House in the Country and Benjamin's philosophy of history. Both employ a "construction of history that looks backward, rather than forward, at the destruction of material nature as it has actually taken place, [and which] provides dialectical contrast to the futurist myth of historical progress (which can only be sustained by forgetting what has happened)" (Buck-Morss 95). A House in the Country similarly exposes the discontinuity of Latin American history as the proverbial heap of rubble. Like Benjamin's angel, Donoso represents Latin American history as a sequence of social orders imposed violently and then discredited, as a consequence failing to achieve anything resembling organic development and progress--instead merely "piling wreckage upon wreckage" ("Theses" 257). Historical orders narrated in A House in the Country (the conquest of the natives, the colonial order of the Ventura oligarchy, Adriano/Allende's revolution, the Mayordomo/Pinochet's dictatorship) each arise through the destruction of what precedes them and, in turn, collapse themselves, culminating in the final natural apocalypse of the thistlestorm. (The thistles are foreign plants to the region introduced by the Ventura, thus the annual thistlestorm is in fact a natural catastrophe that has been socially engineered.) Each new regime pretends to construct a better world; actually it merely continues the work of destruction. History in Chile/Marulanda amounts to a sequence of static orders and their cataclysmic overthrow.
Spatialized History: The Marulanda Panoramas
The country house at Marulanda is Donoso's allegory for history as a layering of rubble. In A House in the Country, as in the seventeenth-century plays analyzed by Benjamin, "history merges into the setting" (Origin 92). More precisely, Benjamin explains, "[i]n the ruin history has physically merged into the setting" (emphasis added [177-8]). In the discarded rubble from the past, time has been transformed into space, petrified into fossils: "chronological movement is grasped and analyzed as a spatial image.... The term 'panoramic' has been coined," Benjamin adds, "to give an excellent description of the conception of history prevalent in the seventeenth century" (Origin 92).
One can trace the periods of fictional Marulanda history in A House in the Country through a series of static pictures of the house that emblematize the respective current stage of historical development. Thus, a description of the design of the park in the opening chapters portrays an artificial implant on the surrounding plain, carefully bounded and isolated from exterior nature: "The park, embedded in that plain without a single tree to mar its expanse, was like an emerald, its depths crystal with fantastic gardens of harder material than the stuff of the countryside" (House 34). The hyperreal beauty of the location ("broad lawns where peacocks strolled, the miniature rocaille island in the laghetto" [House 34]) seems of lift Marulanda out of history and project a fantastic utopian reality. Marulanda, the perfect microcosm of the Ventura, a "gem" (34), is the antithesis of the indigenous world upon which it has been grafted: "the boxwood maze, the rose garden, the leafy green theater peopled with commedia dell'arte figures; the garden steps, the marble nymphs, the amphoras--all copied only the noblest models, banishing any trace that might compromise it with the indigenous" (34). This first of four panoramas of Marulanda presents the colonial regime as social utopia, the transcendent European civilizatory order it officially claims to embody. This is a mythic image, not a historical one. The park's non-utilitarian beauty emblematizes the leisured and non-productive lifestyle of the aristocratic Ventura, whose social status rests on the productivity of the subjugated local natives. But the novel is written, to echo Benjamin, to extinguish this false appearance of imported European civilization as progress and social perfection. Under Donoso's allegorical gaze, the Ventura home sheds its semblance of ideal beauty and, falling into history, becomes a ruin. As a first step in Marulanda's decay, the aura of perfection is replaced by an atmosphere of indeterminate danger following the departure of the adults and servants, that is to say, of the ruling oligarchy and the army. This is registered in a second Marulanda panorama:
When the children found themselves alone ... they felt that ... the familiar park wore a strange hostile air, and the house, so deserted today, seemed colossal, alive, a dragon with innards of carpeted hallways and gilded salons to swallow them up, with tower tentacles lunging after the swift clouds. (House 61)
The home, the familiar place of shelter and orientation in the world, becomes unfamiliar, strange, and threatening: in this passage and elsewhere, Donoso employs the uncanny (here, the house as dragon) as an instrument in Iris defamiliarizing allegory of Latin American history. The uncanny, which, according to critic Anthony Vidler, expresses a fundamental insecurity erupting within the familiar, announces early on in the novel the violent upheavals that are to follow.
A subsequent and third panorama of Marulanda on the eve of the Mayordomo's dictatorship, and the end of the Revolutionary period, spatializes the historical changes introduced by Adriano's regime. The caravan of the armed servants is bearing upon the house; the overthrow of the revolution is imminent. At this point, the narrator offers the following static image of the liberated, de-colonized estate:
With the railing gone--nothing remained but the fanciful gate chained and padlocked between two stone columns, as if adrift in the middle of the plain--the grass had succeeded in flooding its vast landscape over what had once been the civilized park. It was sprouting wildly, fantastically, in the middle of walks and lawns, even from cracks in the caves and gables of the deteriorated architecture, so that the mansion, formerly so majestic, now resembled one of those overgrown picturesque ruins to be found in paintings by Hubert Robert of Salvatore Rosa. But on closer inspection, an observer would have discovered that the grounds had been altered beyond recognition not only by that invasion, but by a series of ditches running from the laghetto, no longer a decorative pool but rather a source of irrigation for the garden plots that had replaced the once elegant flower beds. Groups of natives and children stood working with backs bent to the sun. (House 204)
The altered landscape bears the marks of, to echo Benjamin, revolutionary history that has merged into the setting. To begin with, the artificial park has become an agricultural field, tilled by both "natives and children," a transformation that allegorizes the abolition of the leisured aristocracy and the introduction of an egalitarian distribution of labor. More importantly, the fence separating Marulanda from the surrounding plain has been removed, terminating the Venturas' insularity and opening the house and park to the outside. The removal of the boundary fence allegorizes the abstract principles of the revolution--the eradication of the barricades of class and race in the formation of a new "fraternity" of children and natives.
I use Benedict Anderson's term intentionally here to signal that the revolutionary order also introduces, for the first time in the history of Marulanda, a national community. For the Ventura's colonial regime is the antithesis of the "deep, horizontal comradeship" that theorists of nationalism such as Anderson posit as the characteristic of the nation. The Ventura oligarchy is tribal, not national: the Venturas are in the habit of marrying their cousins; their loyalties do not extend beyond their own class and age group--not even to their children, whom they distrust, betray, and abuse (through the officially sanctioned terror of the servants), not to mention the natives, whom they consider barbaric. For the Venturas' cliquish attitude, "treasurer" Hermogenes' exclusionary use of the pronoun "we/our" is symptomatic. Excluding the children from the "imagined community" of Marulanda's owners and citizens, Hermogenes declares that the gold is "ours.... Mine and my brothers' and sisters'. You're just children ... as unruly as servants and lazy as natives" (House 137). In Conjeturas sobre la memoria de mi tribu (Conjectures on the Memory of My Tribe) (1996), a family memoir that traces the history of Donoso' s family over four hundred years back to the arrival of the first Donoso in Chile, Donoso reveals similar attitudes in what he calls his own "tribe." His ancestors, a criollo clan of landowners, isolated themselves in their rural provincial estates and contracted endogamous marriages (Conjecturas 30).
It is impossible to date fictional Marulanda history precisely, but, as many commentators on the novel have noted, scattered clues (such as mention of the railways, allusions to the opera season in the capital, the Chilean currency of the time, as well as the international trade with "foreigners") point to a "diffuse nineteenth century" (Luis Inigo Madrigal) as the setting of the first part of the plot, which describes the traditional oligarchic order preceding the rapid changes of regimes under Adriano, and then under the Mayordomo (Madrigal 10, n. 17). Since the revolution and counterrevolution allegorize contemporary Chilean events of the 70s (at this historical rupture, the focus also narrows from the hemispheric to the national, from an unspecified Latin America to Chile), it follows that the colonial neo-feudalist order survives into contemporary times--a withering critique on Donoso's part of the social and political anachronism of Latin America as well as Chile. Among many other things, Donoso's novel is also an allegory of the missing national identity of Chile/Latin America long after its historical independence from Spain in the first decades of the nineteenth century. A House in the Country allegorizes the survival of the colony, not only in the nineteenth century of newly independent Latin American nations, but into the contemporary period. The coincidence of the colonial and the contemporary is implied in the Mayordomo's restoration of the old Ventura regime (as we shall see). Nelly Richard's analysis of the effects of "compulsive modemization" (8) of the postdictatorship, of the neocolonial in the modern corresponds to Avelar's argument. A central claim of Cultural Residues and The Untimely Present is that, in this region, the transition from the hegemony of the state to the hegemony of the market was ushered in by dictatorships (see Avelar 54-61). In Brazil, Chile, and Argentina, it took totalitarian regimes to break the popular resistance to neoliberalist policies. "As Eduardo Galeano has put it emphatically, '... people were being tortured so that prices could be free'" (Avelar 79).
Finally, and to return to the third Marulanda panorama cited above, it is telling that even Adriano's revolutionary regime is already built on ruins--notice the mention of the abandoned former gate "as if adrift in the middle of the plain," the deteriorated architecture of the mansion, of wild grasses "flooding ... what had once been the civilized park" (House 204). The historical process is traced as a layering of rubble which no historical agents, not even idealistic progressive regimes, can eschew. On the same picture plane, Donoso's freeze-frame of history presents the discarded remnants of the old colonial order next to the revolutionary alterations of the landscape (which are themselves about to be destroyed by the approaching army of servants). The past resists seamless incorporation into the present: as in Kelley's comment on Benjamin, "the past ... is always 'other'" (255). Donoso's allegory of Marulanda history is a montage, an assemblage of fragments, whose parts (elements of the past and present) do not fuse into an organic whole. This is in accordance with Benjamin's melancholic understanding of history as loss, expressed in his allegory of the angel propelled into the future by a storm: "This storm is what we call progress" ("Theses" 258).
The effect of disjunctive accumulation is enhanced by the passage's art historical allusions. Processes of layering of obsolete objects occur not only at the fictional, but also at the metafictional level--the spatial image both depicts, and is itself, a collage of fragments. Donoso alludes to the ruin landscapes of Italian baroque painter Salvatore Rosa (1615-1673) and French landscape painter Hubert Robert (1733-1808)--one of the novel's many citations of European paintings. The imaginary Marulanda landscape and architecture are constructed in part through references to European paintings, especially from the period of the rococo and from the arcadian genre. (11) The iconology of idealized landscapes from early modern painting satirizes the aestheticist escapism of the Ventura (von Koerber 91-92). Confirming this reading, Donoso cites the French rococo painters as models of the novel's pictorial compositions: "en Casa de Campo ... esta Bouchet [sic], Fragonard, Watteau" ("in A House in the Country ... there is Boucher, Fragonard, Watteau" ["Coloquio" 107]). French painters Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), Jean-Honore Fragonard (1732-1806), and Francois Boucher (1703-70) were the main representatives of French rococo painting, a style that arose in the late baroque period and replaces baroque monumentalism with an emphasis on delicate forms and refined ornament (see Burbaum 13-14). The rococo, derived from the French term "rocaille" (referring to shell ornamentation in grottos and gardens), prefers idyllic and idealized themes--a "rosy" distortion of reality Donoso associates with the Latin American bourgeoisie imitating the courtly culture of the past: A House in the Country "also offers the rosy deformation, the bourgeois deformation" ("se da tambien la deformacion rosa, la deformacion burguesa" ["Coloquio" 107]). Donoso's art historical allusions further connect him with the recuperative neobaroque. A House in the Country summons rococo kitsch (the "miniature rocaille island in the laghetto" [House 34]) as well as the monumental baroque, both small-scale and large-scale manifestations of seventeenth-century art.
The fourth and final panorama of Marulanda, taken from the post-dictatorship period, completes the novel's fictional history rendered through spatial images. As the servants go about their violent task of reconquest, the atmosphere darkens into "a scene steeped in desolation and death: screaming, running, and shooting in the charred and muddy park, and corpses of nameless natives floating in the laghetto" (House 218). The last vestiges of Marulanda's "rosy" rococo artifice, already dismantled by the revolutionary regime's agricultural projects, are laid to waste. The narrator offers the following panoramic view after the return of the Ventura parents:
The house stood as if shipwrecked on the plain, a magnificent rotting hulk, the flowered walks and rose gardens leveled, most of the park burned or cut down for firewood by the natives' axes.... The house itself, its ruined balustrades, its shattered statues, the tiles dislodged from the mosaics on the towers and rooftops, invited the marauding grasses to take root in every crack and crevice of its architecture, and to grow, ripen, and wither where they would, endowing the house with curious springs blown by the shifting winds. (House 291)
The trajectory from utopian idyll to ruin completed, the estate has been reduced to the proverbial Benjaminian "pile of debris." According to the analogy between "house" and (Chilean) state suggested in the second half of the novel narrating the fictional revolution and counterrevolution (the passage also harks back to the political allegory, the "ship of state"), the consequences of Pinochet's dictatorship are catastrophic. Any official claims to national progress founded in economic modemization are not merely denied: their rejection is powerfully supported by a deconstructive method of historiography that adduces as its evidence the visible material record of destruction.
The Underground Labyrinths
Up to this point, we have discussed the physical space above ground--the building and the park. But there are hidden underground spaces that compound the material archive testifying against the false legitimacy of the Ventura regime. The Ventura mansion at Marulanda is built on yet another ruin, an underground labyrinth, the remains of an indigenous salt mine that have become the cellars of the country house. The Ventura social order is superimposed on the earlier indigenous order; metaphorically burying and repressing it. The house is thus an architectural allegory of the conquest, much like the cathedrals that the Spanish constructed on top of Aztec pyramids. With time, the Ventura have become oblivious of the original purpose as well as the actual enormous expanse of the underground labyrinth. They only use a small area as storage space and substandard housing for the servants. Thus, through the image of house-upon-underground labyrinth, Donoso allegorizes the loss of an entire historical period, native pre-Hispanic culture. The indigenous past is banished ("none of the Ventura ever went down to the cellars" [House 48]), buried under the history written by triumphant Hispanic civilization, and demonized in rumors spread by the Ventura about the native "cannibalism" and "barbarism."
Allegorizing the hidden, repressed history of the pre-conquest Marulanda, the underground cellars are more than strange, unknown territory; they are disturbing, uncanny. Vidler notes that central to the uncanny is "the contrast between a secure and homely interior and the fearful invasion of an alien presence" within the home, the archetypal embodiment of security and shelter (3). In "The Uncanny" (1919), written under the impact of the First World War, Sigmund Freud relates the uncanny to the domestic and familiar (i.e., what is "'homelike,' 'belonging to the house'") partly by tracing the German etymology of the term, "das Unheimliche," to the "heimlich" or "heimisch," that is to say, the homely, claiming that "the uncanny is that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar" ("The Uncanny" 225, 220). According to Freud, when primitive or old beliefs (such as animism and magic) are disavowed, they are repressed and transformed into the type of anxiety known as the uncanny. When that which was once familiar, and had subsequently been repressed, returns, it is experienced as uncanny. In other words, in the uncanny's treacherous mirroring structure of the familiar/unfamiliar, the certainty of dwelling in one's home can reverse into the realization of finding oneself in a stranger's house.
In this way, Marulanda's underground labyrinths destabilize the homeliness of the Marulanda home, enacting the passage from a seeming domestic security and comfort to the revelation that the Ventura mansion is constructed on the demolished remains of the former home of strangers--their "barbaric" subjects, the natives--and that the Ventura's ancestors aquired their material wealth by expropriating the natives' livelihood, the salt mine. Though the reasons why the actual origins of Ventura material wealth should have been repressed are obvious, their descendants, "as if to glory in their ignorance" habitually ask one another, "summer after bored summer, playing croquet or cards or sipping their tea, what the deuce could ever have possessed their great-great-grandfather to build his house ... on so desolate a spot" (House 248). Lifting the screen of collective oblivion, the narrator reveals the repressed knowledge about the location of the country house by introducing Wenceslao's escape from the Mayordomo. Wenceslao takes refuge in the underground cellars with his servant-friend, the critically injured Agapito.
[T]he great-grandfather of our Venturas, after long years of war and extermination, built the first family dwelling--castle, or rather fortress: not the mansion my reader knows ... --on top of the salt mine. He [intended] ... to corner the market on salt, at that time the only currency, which had enabled the aborigines to develop their own rudimentary commerce. By building a house above the mine and guarding the property for the family's enjoyment by means of the ring of lances, the Ventura had closed off all access to the mine, while reserving the main shafts for themselves as entrances to that underground maze which now served the house as cellars. So it was that in one generation the working of the salt mine came to an abrupt halt, its importance forgotten.... [The natives] were reduced to bartering, and were henceforth dependent on whatever the Venturas were willing to give them in exchange. Thus the salt ceased to represent the natives' independence.... The Venturas could then seal up the mine for once and all, willfully forgetting the octopus of tunnels and caverns under their mansion.... (House 247)
The excavation of the mystery of this vast underground space comes at an appropriate stage in the fictional history of Marulanda. For to Wenceslao at this point in the story, the underground labyrinths are no longer uncanny (unheimlich), but home-like (heimlich). It is there that he and his accomplice take shelter and find relative security from the Mayordomo's regime of terror in the house above, which, in turn, has lost any resemblance with homeliness and become an absolutely hostile space. Now that a stranger, the dictator, has invaded and taken possession of the Ventura home, the homeless Wenceslao finds a temporary home in the abandoned salt mine. Thus, the darkness and vastness of the underground vaults, while still disorienting, are no longer threatening, but newly familiar. "My eyes have learned to distinguish many shades of darkness," Wenceslao thinks (House 250). Facing the threat of being buried alive when the Mayordomo's troops wall up the entrances to the cellars, Wenceslao recovers his memory of the underground topography to reach a secret exit at the natives' settlement through which, as a small boy, he had first discovered the labyrinth.
During the old Ventura regime, that journey underground had been undertaken by Adriano to shock his wife Balbina and children out of the false complacency of the Ventura tribe, to broaden their horizons beyond the rigid boundaries of their self-contained microcosm. On that first journey underground any Ventura had ever undertaken within living memory, the family enters uncanny space, making "their way through abandoned mushroom beds where aberrant species grew as baroque as cancer, toward caverns and passages built of ancient stone" (House 48). The exploration of the underground labyrinth culminates in a discovery that lifts the repression of the buried origins of the Ventura country house. Adriano reveals to them a chamber filled with rich costumes--a treasure of "rows of mother-of-pearl trinkets ... feather-crested diadems, ... braided and embossed gold ornaments, ... dazzling breastplates, masks, bracelets, chains, and big figured brooches" (49). But, he adds, these are the property of the natives: "Your family is unaware of the existence of these treasures because they've been hidden down here for so long that even back in your grandfather's time the memory was lost" (49). The costumes are the natives' "warrior gear and priestly robes" the Ventura had seized from the conquered natives (50). This theft, however, has not been forgotten by the natives, as becomes apparent when they join Adriano's revolution equipped with their recovered property, their buried sacred clothing and ornaments as well as their ancient weapons, the lances that had been retooled to form Marulanda's boundary fence. The underground chamber and its contents, in other words, can be understood as a crypt where the repressed history of Marulanda is buried. For Adriano's son Wenceslao, the journey underground awakens him from the dreamworld of his tribe (just as Donoso would awaken Chileans in House, and as Donoso enacts his own awakening from the faulty memory of his "tribe" in Conjeturas) by bringing to consciousness the indigenous culture and past his ancestors have buried physically and repressed psychologically.
The Allegorieal Sign: Images that Ale Also Ruins
One of Benjamin's achievements in the Trauerspiel study and his subsequent work is to elaborate the affinity between allegorical representation and the experience of historical crisis, both in the seventeenth century (which grappled with civil wars as well as the consequences of major intellectual and religious upheavals) and the nineteenth and twentieth (where capitalist commodity culture and world wars accelerated obsolescence, fragmentation and ruin). Historical crisis is inscribed into seventeenth-century baroque plays as much as into Benjamin's own work--and Donoso's A House in the Country--as a crisis of representation, questioning the narratability of experience in the context of catastrophe. Benjamin's famous interpretation of allegory, ("Allegories are, in the realm of thoughts, what ruins are in the realm of things" [Origin 178]) defines this correspondence: language, like the world, takes the form of ruins. In the allegorical sign, representation does not heal the ravages wrought by history in the world, but, through self-consciously artificial procedures of fragmentation and collage, reproduces them at the level of language. Allegory is a figure of disillusionment, the "majesty of allegorical intention" is "the extinction of false appearance" ("Zentralpark" 238). Writing during and in the wake of catastrophe (civil wars, fascism, the post-dictatorship) must confront the heap of debris of familiar contexts of meaning and existence. In his critique of the idealism of the "organic" sign, the symbol, Benjamin's ultimate target is capitalist ideology that avails itself of such redemptive signification to mystify the status quo by patching up broken lifeworlds into false totalities. In contrast, allegory's "amorphous fragment[s] ... contain an insight" which the harmonic symbol cannot convey--"the lack of freedom, the imperfection, the collapse of the physical, beautiful, nature" (Origin 176).
Donoso repeatedly signals that his characters are emblems: in addition to the aforementioned general warning to the reader, cited above, to see them as "emblems," not as "believable" characters (House 286), consider Wenceslao's expression, '"I don't embody his [my father's] ideas any more. I only embody the despair of having no ideas to embody'" (House 206), and the narrator's description of Francis of Assisi, before his execution by the Mayordomo: "conscious of representing an entire race ... a placid, a regal presence, ... [an] emblematic figure in whom abstract History stood incarnate" (House 214). The many emblematic characters in A House in the Country are good examples of such images that are also ruins. Allegory and emblem are related but distinct forms (and Benjamin makes no distinction between them, a problem for a more specialized discussion but something that need not concern us here). (12) Imagine a baroque emblem, composed of pictura (image), inscriptio (interpretive motto) and subscriptio (interpretive poem/prose caption): its tripartite structure, the juxtaposition (or montage, as we might say today) of three parts that are clearly separated in form and function, flaunts rather than hides its manmade, artificial character, as sign (see Henkel and Schoene 9-26). We know that there is an image that presents something, an idea or maxim or moral lesson, which the text makes explicit; for the early modern reader, part of the pleasure of reading emblems was to complete the puzzle posited by the icon and solved by the text. The very separation, in the emblem, of the two dimensions of the sign, presentation and representation, signifier (the picture) and signified (the caption), exposes the artificiality and the posteriority of meaning-making. The emblem flaunts the discontinuity of the abstract and concrete as well as the constructedness of the sign as an arbitrary assemblage of these two parts.
Take the Mayordomo, allegory of Pinochet. His attributes embody the various dimensions of Donoso's satire of the Latin American dictator: two-dimensional and faceless like the other servants-soldiers who are replaced year by year, he is defined by his uniform (Pinochet became general of the Chilean armed forces after the previous incumbent, General Schneider, was assassinated because of his loyalty to the Chilean constitution). Thus, despite having absolute command over the servants-armed forces and the Ventura children during curfew hours at night, "the dictator" is only another servant who receives orders to command other servants and lower orders. His only distinguishing features are quantitative: the size of his uniform ("what proved truly difficult was to find a candidate large enough so that it wouldn't hang loose on him" [House 23]), his greater cruelty to excel in the execution of the masters' law, and a larger compensation that includes "a cottage in the capital ... in a neighborhood resembling the masters', only plebeian" (24). The chapter named for the Mayordomo (narrating the restoration of the old order under his command after the violent overthrow of the revolution) shows that all his measures are derivative, lacking imagination and vision. He is a imitator, so intent on returning to the way things were that he lacks the understanding that "an order reestablished is never a true order but simply an imitation, always out of phase ... to the current situation" (222). Donoso's allegorical dictator tries to reinstate a broken old order that was obsolete and corrupt long before it was overthrown--a doomed enterprise.
In this futile effort, the Mayordomo becomes a satanic double of Benjamin's "angel of history," allegory of the discontinuity and non-teleology of history. Looking back to the past, the angel "would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed" ("Theses" 257). In his effort to erase all traces of the revolution, the Mayordomo literally attempts to abolish time by having all calendars and clocks confiscated, and all windows of the house painted black:
"Day and Night, I shall end with you! Whosoever refers to your cyclic authority ... is guilty of a crime and will be punished! Neither past nor future, neither development nor process, neither light nor darkness: only fable and shadow! ... [S]eal up all shutters and paint all the windows black, leaving an unvarying light in every room, so that the difference between day and night shall be canceled. All with henceforth take place in the doldrums of History, for History shall not resume until the masters come home!" (House 232)
By completely sealing off the house and its inhabitants from the outside, even from natural rhythms (the dining hall remains open day and night, now indistinguishable), the Mayordomo traps the children in an "endless present" without change (237). Amputating chronological time and blocking all windows is the Mayordomo's crude attempt to restore the inward-looking microcosm, the Baroque civilized ideal, represented in the first Marulanda panorama. Critics have noted that the blackened house, at the level of the contemporary Chilean political allegory, also summons the Latin American phenomenon of "memoria clausurada" and the "politica del olvido" of the dictatorships (von Koerber 163). This analogy is literal; to erase the memory of Allende and the Unidad Popular after his assassination, Pinochet walled in the door of the presidential palace La Moneda (at Morande 80) through which Allende's corpse was removed to be buried in an unmarked grave (Nelson 21). The blackening of the house is the Mayordomo's last, most desperate (and, as we know, unsuccessful) attempt to maintain this artificial enclave intact.
Yet time passes, propelling the angel of history "into the future ... while the pile of debris before him grows skyward" ("Theses" 258). Clearly, Benjamin's angel is more insightful than the Mayordomo--after all, he understands that history is nothing but "one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage" (257). But the moral lessons of Donoso's and Benjamin's allegories are related: no totality, neither a grand narrative (left revolutionary utopia or dictatorship dystopia) nor a single person, neither dictator (Mayordomo-Pinochet) nor savior-angel (Adriano-Allende), can reintegrate the heap of rubble that is called History. That is to say, in addition to a critique of the historical naivete of the Pinochet dictatorship, Donoso's satire of the Mayordomo has implications for his portrait of Allende in Adriano Gomara that have not been fully recognized. Founded on social utopianism, Adriano's revolutionary order founders partly because of the violence of a conceptual idealism related in principle (though not in political practice) to the Mayordomo's counterposition. Discussing Chilean society in the 1990s after the collapse of grand narratives, Martin Hopenhayn takes the Benjaminian view that this collapse may not be as catastrophic as the displaced Chilean intellectual left might think today. While eschewing facile versions of postmodern relativism, Hopenhayn advocates a theoretical pluralism that is attuned to local and cultural difference. Thus, his picture of postdictatorship Chile does not castigate a depoliticized society governed by market values: "Devoid of the Great Project, the everyday turns into what it is: the life of each and all days. Healthy minimalism? Maybe so. We all have our little projects, filling up and justifying the day, the week, the month, the year at most.... The old utopian Great Project turns into these smaller missions that are disseminated by way of programs, initiatives that are born and die: local proposals. None of them last very long, yet the multiple possibilities and effects of that underlying initiative are inscribed everywhere and in everything" (Hopenhayn 5).
To return to A House in the Country: neither the Mayordomo nor Adriano recognizes what Wenceslao understands in his progressive disillusionment: "I only embody the despair of having no ideas to embody" (House 206). That is why Wenceslao is the only emblematic hero in this dark novel--not because he embodies the weak unprincipled middle classes who bring the radical Adriano to power and then defect to Pinochet, as Inigo Madrigal claims (Madrigal 15-16)--but because he understands what Benjamin's angel knows: that the continuity and progress we sec in history is nothing but a disguise for the "wreckage" wrought by "the storm we
call progress" ("Theses" 258). Wenceslao sounds like a nihilist (nothing "would ever again persuade him to embrace any philosophy more concrete than his own disillusionment" [House 275]), but this is not how the novel ends. For the baroque gives, as Gilles Deleuze argues in The Fold, an alternate response to the modern threat of nihilism after the delegitimation of metanarratives, traditional and modern, faith and Enlightenment reason: To the Benjaminian challenge of "Theses," and in response to the question, How does one live in a world without principles?, Deleuze posits,
That is where the baroque assumes its position: Is there some way of saving the theological ideal at a moment when it is being contested on all sides, and when the world cannot stop accumulating its "proofs" against it, ravages and miseries, at a time when the earth will soon shake and tremble ...? The baroque solution is the following: we shall multiply principles--we can always slip a new one from under our cuffs--and in this way we will change their use. We will not have to ask what available object corresponds to a given luminous principle, but what hidden principle responds to whatever object is given, that is to say, to this or that "perplexing case." ... A case being given, we shall invent its principle. (Fold 67)
Faced with the prospect of chaos (the loss of absolute principles), the baroque, Deleuze argues, offers a solution by way of an unexpected detour: the baroque is a "time just before the world loses its principles. It is the splendid moment when Some Thing is kept rather than nothing, and where response to the world's misery is made through an excess of principles" (Fold 68). Deleuze's suggestion that something provisional, and admittedly fictional, may fill the proverbial (intellectual, existential) void of the baroque (one principal topos of the baroque is horror vacui, the impulse to fill all empty spaces) describes Wenceslao's (and the other Ventura abandoned at Marulanda's) response to the apocalyptic ending, the annual fall thistlestorm, which chokes all life outside. As discussed above, the remaining Ventura settle into an uncertain new beginning of a post-postdictatorship social order at Marulanda--the Mayordomo's troops and the foreigners have departed for the capital with, it is understood, the prospect of dividing between themselves the gold trade in the future. This is Donoso's final allegorical image of Chile under the rule of neoliberalism and globalization. The nation's profits go to foreign investors. Devastated by the knowledge of the loss of their power to global players, the majority of the expropriated Ventura adults succumb to suicidal panic and will meet their deaths crossing the plain in one overcrowded cart during the thistlestorm. But "something rather than nothing," as Deleuze puts it, is affirmed in the ruined and abandoned country house itself that is now receiving refugees, both former masters, former slaves (natives), and the Ventura children. Faced with chaos and the threat of death, the heterogeneous group of refugees form a new community built on new principles--not the revolutionary ideals that inspired Adriano, "the Liberator," which have failed, but principles invented, it seems, given the exigencies of a specific case (as Deleuze says), that is, of Marulanda in ruins, during the season of the thistlestorm. This principle is a collective ritual of survival, practicing a method of slow rhythmic breathing developed by the natives, which is allegorized by a final tableau vivant: "in the ballroom, the bodies of grown-ups and children and natives alike lay mingled, resting in each other's laps, on the pillows, muffled in striped blankets woven by native women, scarcely breathing, eyes shut, lips sealed, barely alive" (House 352). This postscript to the Marulanda panoramas speaks for itself: colonialista is here to stay, consolidating into globalized neocolonialism (the oligarchy has simply gone global). The losers of globalization, ordinary Chileans--mostly middle class, working class, and indigenous peoples, including the few survivors of the colonial oligarchy--can hope to survive the apocalypse if they invent new forms of solidarity and community and practice local, vernacular arts of social and economic knowledge and survival.
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University of Washington
(1) I will be discussing the English translation of Casa de campo (1978) throughout: A House in the Country. Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are mine.
(2) I will occasionally be referring to Origin as the Trauerspiel study (its German title was Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels). On Benjamin, see also Buck-Morss.
(3) See also Gutierrez Monat, Murphy, von Koerber. The end of the first part and the second part evoke specifically the political events in Chile in the 1970s, whereas the first part of the novel summons a generalized nineteenth-century Latin America.
(4) The authorial narrator comments: "In an earlier version of this novel, Wenceslao, Agapito, and Arabela ... vanished into the plain, heading vaguely for the blue mountains dotting the horizon, never to be seen again" (House 275).
(5) "En Casa de campo se produce la tragedia, la necessidad de hablar de una cosa chilena. Pero ante la imposibilidad de hacerlo en mi idioma chileno.... habia que inventar un idioma, como habia que inventar un pais nuevo para poder escribir sobre el.... Estaba conscientemente predispuesto contra el realismo magico, contra lo fantastico. Habia pensado que lo unico que podia servir frente a la realidad no era lo fantastico sino lo artificial. Me plantee esta novela como un artificio, como contestacion al naturalismo y al realismo" (Donoso, "Coloquio con el autor" 112, 108).
(6) See von Koerber's discussion of Donoso's repeated comments on the exhaustion of "boom" avantgarde narrative techniques (85-86). Murphy places the novel "beyond the nostalgic and epic seriousness of the boom, exemplifying the postmodern pastiche and self-consciousness of the 70s and 80s" (17). Sec also Hart's discussion of the post-boom's shift away from high-literary experimentalism in response to the commodification of literature and new attitudes towards popular culture (144ff.).
(7) Across Donoso's swerve to postdictatorship anti-illusionism in House, where the country house at Marulanda allegorizes the shattered social architecture of the Chilean nation, this novel is also part of an overarching continuity in Donoso's work centered on domestic settings and the theme of the house. From Coronacion (1957) through El obsceno pajaro de la noche to his novel of exile, El jardin de al lado (1981), Donoso's novels are set in houses, many of them in ancestral homes, the spaces of dynasty and family history. See Gonzalez Mandri.
(8) Argentines prefer the term neobarroso (an allusion to the muddy water of the River Plate) to neobarroco. See Perlongher's essays on "Barroco barroso" in Prosa plebeya, 93-140. On recent Chilean narrative, see Cortinez; on neobaroque criticsm influential in Chile, sec Arriaran and Beuchot.
(9) On Benjamin's concept of allegory, see Steinhagen; Buck-Morss, "Historical Nature: Ruin," The Dialectics of Seeing, 159-201; Kelley, "Conclusion," Reinventing Allegory
(10) "Zentralpark" (named for New York City's Central Park) is the title of a collection of notes, part of a study entitled "Charles Baudelaire--ein Lyriker im Zeitalter des Hochkapitalismus" (Charles Baudelaire--a Poet in the Age of High Capitalism), which Benjamin completed in 1938 for publication by Horkheimer and Adomo's Institute for Social Research. The study was rejected and never completed.
(11) See von Koerber, 138-139. Other paintings featured are Nicolas Poussin's two paintings "Et in Arcadia ego" (dated during the 1630s and cited as a frame of reference in a description of refugee Wenceslao and his friends on the plain, House 263) and Antoine Watteau's "Embarkation for Cythera," which Celeste points out is hanging on the walls of the mansion (House 9).
(12) Albrecht Schoene gives the following definition of their differences: emblematic icons are "found," whereas allegorical images are "invented." Emblems begin with the concrete picture, copying their icons from classical sources and thus reinterpreting an inherited stock of images. Allegory, in contrast, begins with an abstract idea, for instance, justice, to which a concrete image is added to embody its various attributes. Thus, the girl with the blindfold, scales, and sword is obviously an artificial image, which has been constructed to transmit the meaning of the idea of justice (Emblematik 261).
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