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Severo Sarduy.

For my parents

The question as to how one should approach a difficult work of literature begs a series of questions, one of which is: What, if anything, constitutes a "difficult" work? The American composer Roger Sessions attempted to answer this question in a 1950 New York Times article entitled, "How a 'Difficult' Composer Gets That Way." Charged by his critics with composing "difficult music," Sessions answered that it was not that his music was difficult per se, but that people unaccustomed to listening to certain sounds found it difficult and that repeated exposure to the new sound would dispel the perceived difficulty. Severo Sarduy stated on several occasions that the label of experimental literature did not apply to his work with any degree of specificity, since all literature is by nature experimental. But, unfortunately, we live in an age that demands quick, easy answers, even when the stakes are as high as that of war. A few years ago, the Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante gave a talk at the University of Madrid where he came close to declaring the death of "difficult" or serious literature. Included in such a tragic death would undoubtedly be the works of the great writers of all epochs and nations. Clearly, Sarduy's name would be included in that sad list. He would be joined by such contemporary American writers as John Barth, Donald Barthelme, Thomas Pynchon, William T. Vollmann, and Robert Coover, whose work has been compared to Sarduy's.

Roger Sessions recalls Einstein once saying, "everything should be as simple as it can be, but not simpler" (169). Thus I want to make it clear from the outset that the purpose of this essay is not to make Sarduy simple or even simpler--an impossibility that applies not only to Sarduy but to any philosopher, writer, or artist worthy of the name. Instead, my aim is to introduce Sarduy to a monolingual English audience and to enrich--through a multiplicity of historical, ethnographic, and artistic cross-references--the reader's experience of his work. To that end, I hope that this essay proves helpful and that you join me in this wildly baroque, carnivalesque, textual adventure.

When Americans think of Latin American writers, they usually think of Carlos Fuentes, Jorge Luis Borges, Isabel Allende, and the world-renowned Gabriel Garcia Marquez of the best-selling One Hundred Years of a Solitude; it was this book that, thanks to the wonderful translation of Gregory Rabassa, put Latin American literature on the American map. The generation out of which these and other Latin American writers (like Octavio Paz, Julio Cortazar, and Mario Vargas Llosa) emerged has been called the Boom generation. It was an age of literary experimentation, and the experiments took many forms. Cortazar's Hopscotch liberated novelistic narrative from the traditional strictures of linearity; Jose Lezama Lima's Paradiso turned the novel into a mirror of consciousness (via the Greek eros of the banquet); and Garcia Marquez's magic realism freed the reader from the straitjacket of the realistic novel. The three most important publications in Cuba in the late 1950s through the mid-1960s were the magazines Origenes (founded by Lezama Lima), Lunes de Revolucion, and Ciclon. The last two were established by dissidents of Origenes, who were beginning to turn away from Lezama's poetics to redefine the essence of Cuban culture (lo cubano) along less traditional, nationalistic lines. One such dissident writer was Severo Sarduy, whose poetry first appeared in Ciclon (1956).

Sarduy was born on 25 February 1937 in the province of Camaguey to working-class parents. Camaguey, as Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria has pointed out, was one of the most traditional of the Cuban provinces--ironic given Sarduy's own aggressively modern, postmodern, and antitraditionalist aesthetics (Ruta 15). Unlike most of his contemporaries, Sarduy did not come from a privileged background. His cultural origins were mixed: Spanish, African, and Chinese. He attended public schools throughout his life, and in 1955 he graduated from Instituto de Segunda Ensenanza de Camaguey (the equivalent of high school) with honors in arts and sciences. By the time he graduated, Sarduy had already developed an interest in literature and had published some poetry in the local newspapers. His interest in the literary life no doubt made his family uneasy. By the time he was college age, the Sarduys had, through hard work, joined the middle class, and they expected their son to choose a practical career. Convinced that he had exhausted all the educational opportunities in Camaguey, Sarudy moved to Havana, where he enrolled in medical school at the University of Havana--more likely to satisfy his parents' wishes than really to pursue a career in medicine. It was his ticket to the center of Cuban culture. In Havana he earned a living as a copy editor, writing television and radio jingles for an advertising agency. A year after his arrival in the city, Cabrera Infante published his short story "El Seguro" in the magazine Carteles. In the course of a year he had published several poems in Revolucion (an anti-Batista newspaper), had established himself as editor of Diario Libre, and had become a regular contributor to Nueva Revista Cubana and Artes Plasticas.

The next pivotal moment in Sarduy's life came in the fall of 1959 when he was awarded a scholarship to study art history and criticism at the Ecole du Louvre in Paris. Sarduy did not finish his art studies at the Ecole, as the director of the school died before he had even begun work on his thesis. But in Paris he met Neruda, Garcia Marquez, Cortazar, Goytisolo, and Paz, to name but a few. By 1961 it was apparent that the revolution in Cuba had not gone as expected; the magazines that Sarduy had been involved with had disbanded, some writers had already taken flight, and the Castro regime was beginning to actively censor publications. This was the year that Sarduy decided to burn his guayabera, the traditional Cuban shirt, and not return to Cuba. In Paris he established connections with many of the writers associated with the progressive magazine Tel Quel and later collaborated with Julia Kristeva, Philippe Sollers, Roland Barthes, and other structuralist and poststructuralist writers. It is his connections with the French writers that have led many critics to accuse Sarduy of being more French than Cuban--this in spite of the fact that he never stopped writing about his native country and never stopped writing in Spanish. It was in Paris, in fact, that Sarduy wrote his first novel, Gestos (Gestures, 1963).

Gonzalez Echevarria sees Gestos as Sarduy's parody of Alejo Carpentier's novella The Chase (1956) (Ruta 67). The Chase, which takes place in pre-Castro Cuba, has the main character run into a concert hall performance of Beethoven's Eroica Symphony to escape capture by members of the revolutionary Marxist group he has betrayed to the authorities. In Gestos the events take place during Batista's dictatorship, and the main character, a mulatto woman, is a singer by night, laundress by day, and a revolutionary setting bombs in public utility companies in her off hours. As a counterpoint to The Chase, with its references to European architecture and German classical music, the world of Gestos is filled with the sights and sounds of popular Cuban culture.

This brings us to the theoretical base of Sarduy's literary works: his neobaroque aesthetics, without which it is difficult to understand this original writer. Americans tend to think of Cuba either as an oppressive dictatorship (which it is) or as a country of racial equality (which it is not) with deep roots in the African continent. This neighboring country of African mythologies with its Orishas and Santeria has come to be known in recent years as the home of the Afro-Cuban sounds of Wim Wenders's film Buena Vista Social Club. But modern-day Cuba is also a country with roots that go back to seventeenth-century colonial Spain and to nineteenth-century China. As history has demonstrated time and again, the influence of colonial power has never been one-directional. Even when the "mission" of the colonial power was to control, manipulate, and exploit the labor and natural resources of the indigenous people, its accomplishments in this direction were always tempered by the colonized culture, whose history and mythologies stood in the way of total absorption. This process of cross-cultural pollination is often referred to as hybridity. As Homi K. Bhabha writes in The Location of Culture, "Hybridity is the sign of the productivity of colonial power, its shifting forces and fixities; it is the name for the strategic reversal of the process of domination through disavowal (that is, the production of discriminatory identities that secure the 'pure' and original identity of authority).... It unsettles the mimetic or narcissistic demands of colonial power but reimplicates its identifications in strategies of subversion that turn the gaze of the discriminated back upon the eye of power" (112). In short, the colonized culture reverses the process of colonization by absorbing or co-opting some of the elements of the colonial power's culture into its own. That reversal brings with it a significant transformation that determines to a great extent the identity of the new country.

Many of the Cuban writers of the early 1950s attempted to redefine Cuba's place within as well as outside of European culture in light of Cuba's African and Asian influences. From Cintio Vitier, who tried to define the Cubanness of Cuban literature in Lo cubano en la poesia (The Cubanness in Poetry, 1958) to Carpentier's The Music in Cuba (2001) to Lezama's "Images of Latin America" (1980), attempts were made to forge a unified field theory of Cuban poetics--or, more specifically, a Cuban poetics that answered to and reflected the cultural diversity of postcolonial Cuba. Luis de Gongora, (1561-1627), the father of the Spanish literary baroque tradition, based his Soledades (Solitudes) on Ovid's Greco-mythological countryside and had little to do with the Latin American landscape. As Lezama writes, "His weddings of country girls are illuminated by the appearance of Pan in the Sicilian valleys. His poetic perspective is formed by the Greco-Latin tradition and the splendor of the baroque cornucopia of fishes and falcons" ("Image" 324). In contradistinction to the European baroque, Lezama cites The Heroic Poem (Poema HerSico) of Colombian baroque poet Hernando Dominguez Camargo (1606-1659): "I would say that to the Gongorine metaphor Dominguez opposes a very American image of space and development.... [I]n Dominguez's poems the decoration of the baroque cornucopia is replaced by the forest and the mountains..." ("Image" 324). Dominguez's baroque accurately describes the Latin American landscape because he looks at the landscape before him as un nativo de la tierra--a native of the land--and does not superimpose an imported image upon it.

Yet if this is so--if the European baroque failed to do justice to Latin American culture--how is the Latin American baroque different? And further, why begin with a redefinition of a national literature that drags along the baggage of a tradition that is not one's own? Cesar Augusto Salgado's essay "Hybridity in New World Baroque Theory" can help us answer this question: "The term baroque was first used to designate a stylistic period of extravagant artificiality and ornamentation in post-Renaissance European art and literature and to characterize the doctrinal iconographic strategies of the Counter-Reformation. More recently it has come to describe the particular instances of Latin-American cultural alterity in the discourse of ... New World (or for short, neo) baroque theory. Within this discourse, the baroque functions as a trope or adjective for the region's complex ethnic and artistic mestizaje ('racial mixture') rather than as a reference to exclusively Western cultural forms" (316). The Latin American "baroque curiosity" is part and parcel of what Lezama Lima called the American expression. It begins and it justifies its beginning with the European baroque because it needs a starting point, a history--even if that origin and that history are superseded in the process of hybridity and racial mixture. Virgil returned to mythic Troy for the founding of (mythic) Latium out of a sense of historical origins. And Sarduy's neobaroque theory is another such return, only to abandon the old land. To that end, Sarduy begins where Lezama leaves off.

Lezama Lima, Sarduy's predecessor and mentor, differentiated between the European baroque and the American baroque by equating the former with tensionless accumulation and the latter with what he called el plutonismo, the "Plutonism," or the explosive, disseminating nature of Latin American culture. The explosiveness is that of an "originary fire" (fuego originario) that fragments, disperses, and unites the various heterogeneous elements that make up Latin America. It is at this point that Sarduy's theory of the neobaroque parts ways from that of Lezama's. Sarduy the poststructuralist agrees with Lezama that the American baroque is explosive; however, the result of its explosiveness is dispersal rather than unity--in fact, dispersal and fragmentation, followed by more of the same indefinitely. Sarduy writes:
 the European baroque and the first Latin American baroque present
 themselves as images of a mobile and decentralized universe ... but
 one which is still harmonious; they constitute themselves as
 bearers of a consonance: that which they have with the homogeneity
 and the rhythm of the exterior logos which organizes and precedes
 them, even if this logos is characterized by its infinitude, by the
 inexhaustibility of its unfolding.... On the contrary, the
 contemporary baroque, the neobaroque, structurally reflects the
 disharmony, the rupture of homogeneity, of the logos as an
 absolute. It is this lack, which constitutes our epistemological
 basis.... Neobaroque: a necessarily pulverized reflection of a
 knowledge which knows that it is no longer "peacefully" closed
 within itself. ("Baroque" 131)


While Lezama's formulation of the Latin American baroque is grounded in art, architecture, and literature, Sarduy based his theory of the neobaroque on science or, more specifically, on contemporary theories of astronomy. Lezama's "originary fire" becomes the "Big Bang" of Sarduy's artistic and literary universe. In fact, one of his untranslated books of poetry bears the title Bing Bang (1974).

Thus Sarduy defined the neobaroque as the pure energy of a decentralized world:
 The baroque, an overflowing cornucopia, renowned for its prodigality
 and dissipation--hence the moral resistance which it has provoked in
 certain cultures noted for their economy and moderation, like the
 French.... Verbiage, squandered forms, language which, because of
 its excessive abundance of names, can no longer designate things
 but only other designators of things, significants which enfold
 other significants in a mechanism of signification which ends by
 designating only itself, revealing its own grammar, the models of
 that grammar and its generation in the universe of words.
 ("Baroque" 124)


Sarduy's nonteleological conception of language, of excess, of what Georges Bataille called "expenditure without reserve," culminates in an eros-poetics of literature: "Play, loss, squandering, and pleasure, eroticism as an activity which is always purely playful.... Like baroque rhetoric, eroticism presents itself as the total rupture of the denotative, natural, direct level of language ..." ("Baroque" 130). It is not sex as a biological function, but the eros of sex for its own pleasure--the pleasure of language that exceeds the limits of signification for its own sake--that Sarduy embraces: "Declared or not, the prejudice, sweetened by different vocabularies and adopted by successive dialectics, is the prejudice of realism. Everything about it, about its vast grammar upheld by culture, the guarantee of its ideology, assumes a reality outside the text, outside the literalness of writing" (Written 36). What the "moral," traditional bourgeoisie has never accepted is that sex may not always be for purposes of procreation--even in our so-called permissive (but nevertheless puritanical) American culture, where sex is what normal and moral, heterosexual, married people do. Similarly, what the bourgeois consumer of literature cannot accept, says Sarduy, is that language, as a fetish, may be enjoyed not for what it says, but for itself. If sex is for procreation, language is there to express and represent indubitable, concrete reality: "The one thing the bourgeoisie will not tolerate, what really drives it crazy, is the idea that thought can think about thought, that language can talk about language, that an author does not write about something, but writes something, as Joyce said" (Written 13).

Yet what if language never gets to an ultimate referent, transcendental and fixed? Why not conceive of the surface of a text as a mask--however, not as a mask that hides an actual face, but rather as a mask that merely hides another mask? Wittgenstein believed that all statements of facts refer to the particular rules of grammar a community of speakers has systemized into their own language game. Any claim, then, to certainty or doubt can be made only given the foundation and rules of the language game. In short, there is no getting beyond language. That being the case, Sarduy (who hardly ever mentions Wittgenstein) sees writing as a process of simulation that refers, not to an origin or form (in the Platonic sense), but rather to figures of simulation in a chain of relative signs, all without exception artificially constructed, either institutionally, societally, or personally. "Transvestism," writes Sarduy, "may well be the best metaphor for writing" (Written 37). And in his essay "Simulation" he writes, "The transvestite does not imitate woman. For him, a la limite, there is no woman; he knows--and paradoxically he may be the only who knows this-that she is just appearance, that her world and the force of her fetish conceal a defect.... The transvestite does not copy; he simulates ..." (Written 93). "To be a man" or "to be a woman" is to appear as a "man" or a "woman," the result of social constructs that allow or disallow a very specific number of gestures, positions, and values within a given society. The transvestite, concludes Sarduy, knows that "woman" is a social construction--not an ontological category--and that apart from the individual woman, "woman" does not exist.

One highly significant point of difference between Sarduy and other Cuban writers, like Cintio Vitier, Alejo Carpentier, and Lezama, is in his rejection of his compatriots' definition of Cubanness. While Lezama and Vitier believed that one could articulate a conception of Cubanness through a return to the past, for Sarduy "Cuba" is everything that Lezama and Vitier claimed Cuba was and much more. "Cuba" is one of the many dispersed fragments that resulted from the "plutonism" of the neobaroque. Cuba is Europe, Africa, and Asia. Cuba is the Caribbean island of Columbus's Journal, of Romeo & Julieta cigars, of Perez Prado music, of exotic European dreams and cheap vacations. But above all, Cuba is a construction in an infinite number of language games, meaning different things to different individuals and communities. From Cuba with A Song, Sarduy's most difficult and experimental work, is a novel about "Cuba" as an indeterminate and irreducible text.

From Cuba with a Song (1967)

From Cuba with a Song is challenging to reader and critic alike. Having none of the formal qualities the reader of Latin American literature has come to expect from the Boom novel, From Cuba with a Song resists by its very nonlinear, elliptical form, a totalizing, realist reading. To speak of the "characters" and the "story" of From Cuba with a Song is to do the novel a great disservice--to betray in some sense its author's intentions. In this direction, few critics have been as clear and as insightfully faithful to Sarduy's literary project as Gonzalez Echevarria. His masterful analysis, La Ruta de Severo Sarduy (Severo Sarduy's Route, 1987) is the best critical analysis of Sarduy's work.

As I indicated earlier, Sarduy's literary theory borrows much from the semiotic theory of Roland Barthes and from the structuralist, language-based psychoanalysis of Jacques Lacan (whom Sarduy also parodied). One can even detect some of the basic ideas of poststructuralism in his conceptualization of the neobaroque. As some critics have pointed out, at times Sarduy interpreted even Lezama as "as if he were a subtropical Derrida" (Pdrez-Firmat, Rev. 252). Yet despite this, Sarduy is a very Cuban writer, and From Cuba with a Song is--regardless of the French theory behind it--a very "Cuban" novel.

De donde son los cantantes is the Spanish title of From Cuba with a Song, an untranslatable title that plays with the double entendre of the question and answer of Cuban identity--a sort of "who are we?" versus "where do we come from?" The Spanish phrase de donde son los cantantes can literally mean either of two things: Where do the singers come from? or Where the singers are from. From Cuba with a Song captures Sarduy's reference to a popular Cuban song: "de donde so los cantantes" is a line from a song entitled "Son de la loma." Written by Miguel Matamoros, a member of the Matamoros Trio, this song with its play on words was a hit in Cuba in the 1920s. Thus we see that the title of this novel is steeped in its originary culture in a way that the typical Latin American novel is not. One can read One Hundred Years of Solitude without having to know much about Columbian popular culture or history. This is an interesting paradox, given that Sarduy's project is to escape the trappings of the realistic, historical novel.

At the end of From Cuba with a Song Sarduy included an explanatory paragraph to help the reader through the text he or she had just finished: "Three cultures, at least, have been superimposed to constitute the Cuban--Spanish, African, and Chinese--; three fictions alluding to them constitute this book" (154). The word fictions is perhaps Sarduy's parody of Borges's short-story collection, Ficciones. However, it is also an instance of Sarduy's agreement with the Argentine writer that everything is in fact fiction--and that "fiction" and "reality" are reversible, within and without the margins of the text/world. From Cuba with a Song is both a "question and an answer as to what is Cuba, and also in its own constitution, a roundabout way of saying what Cuba is, without naming it" (Gonzalez Echevarria, Ruta 102, my translation). In short, "Cuba" is "Spanish," "African" and "Chinese"--all these cultures mixed together, but always within quotes--fragments of language or texts.

From Cuba with a Song is composed in four parts: "Curriculum Cubense" (as in a cube (1)); "By the River of Rose Ashes"; "Dolores Rondon"; and "The Entry of Christ into Havana." "Curriculum Cubense" sets the tone and structures the general theory of the novel in a just few pages. We are introduced to two transvestite show girls/ prostitutes by the name of HELP and MERCY. Occasionally HELP and MERCY--or the Flower Girls, as they are alternately called-hunger for some meaning to their lives and for some fullness to their identities: "My, we're metaphysical, we must be hungry! Let's go to the Self-Service!" (15). But their arrival at the Self-Service means only that it will be up to them, and no one else, to construct their own (provisional) identities, the way one takes on a mask:
 No sooner said than done. They're off on tiptoes, pressing their
 tummies, slipping among the shells of rusty cars--their silky hair
 flows through tin scraps--stumbling, jumping over flattened and
 spokeless bicycle wheels, over handlebars, moss-covered horns,
 headlights stuffed with paper, aluminum circles with red bars.
 Yellow deities....

 And off they go, the Flower Girls, the Ever-Present cross another
 scaffold, another avenue. There they go, under the three-leaf
 clover of the highways watched by helicopters. Echo tunnels. There,
 by the escalators, by the rails, where all the trolleys are, a
 second before the go signal. How speedy! (15-16).


MERCY and HELP wander through a world of neon signs, of street vendors, of mass-transit movement, of spokeless bicycles wheels left on sidewalks, endlessly turning like everything else around them, without direction. This is the Havana of Cabrera Infante's Three Trapped Tigers (1971). After a Cuban-Felliniesque journey through the night, MERCY and HELP finally arrive at the Self-Service where, "The delicacies, like the plates which contain them, are made of plastic" (19).

In the second section, "By the River of Rose Ashes," we encounter Mortal Perez, "the blond Spaniard, whose Castillian is spotless and who possesses the always uncertain attributes of power.... Mortal Perez is a lecherous old general who pursues the image of Lotus Flower, a soprano--he thinks--at the Chinatown Opera House" (154, my italics). Lotus Flower/Empress Ming, however, is not a soprano; he/she, like MERCY and HELP, is a transvestite prostitute. The Spanish General, or "Gen." as he is also called, brings to mind two other personages of Spanish history and literature. In mistaking Lotus Flower for a Chinese soprano, Perez echos Columbus's initial mistake of confusing the Tainos of Cuba with the people of India. And like Don Quixote, who mistakes his Dulcinea for a beautiful princess, in his own misperception Perez falls in love with his Lotus Flower, "the opera singer." To his great frustration, however, the object of his desire constantly eludes him. The Flower Girls intercede and try to help Lotus Flower by acting as go-between. In the process they take advantage of the Spaniard's infatuation with the Chinese transvestite; they take his money and ransack his apartment. The General then takes revenge by sending his beloved "soprano" a lethal bracelet that will cut the veins on her wrists. From across the "Chinese Opera House"--or the seedy Shanghai Havana Burlesque" (2)--Mortal Perez waits to see her lifeless, pale body emerge in a stretcher, as love and desire have turned to cruelty and death: "G had ended his parable, completed his parabolic cycle. From Peeping Tom to sadist. He who possesses with the eye possesses with the dagger. He would recognize her by her blood. Wound her. Pleasure is crossed with pain" (55).

It is no coincidence that the General (G, Gen., the Generator, the Origin), Mortal Perez, is a Spaniard. Though much has been written about Cuba's African culture, the sad and shameful story of Cuba's Chinese population remains the unwritten chapter in the island's history. Sarduy's inclusion of the Chinese in "lo cubano"--or Cubanness--is a singular exception in Cuban letters. From Gestos to From Cuba with a Song and from Cobra to Maitreya, Sarduy never fails to acknowledge the impact of the Chinese on Cuba's multiethnic, multiracial identity. And Sarduy, who saw himself as a mestizo, a person of mixed race, claimed both African lineage and "a Chinese ancestor by the name of Macao" (3) (Gonzalez Echevarria, Ruta 16).

The Chinese were brought to Cuba in the late 1840s, just as the Spanish government was beginning to realize that slavery would soon come to an end. With the abolition of slavery, the sugar- and tobacco-plantation owners would have to find ways to replace slave labor with at least some form of indentured servitude. The price of slaves had gone up so much that only the richest plantation owners could afford to import slaves from Africa. Part of the reason for this is that a great deal of pressure was put upon Spain by the British to end the slave trade. By the 1840s, one-half the population of Cuba was African slaves. Fearing slave uprisings like those of Jamaica and Haiti, the Cuban government tried to "whiten" or Europeanize the population and to find economic alternatives to slavery. In an unsuccessful experiment Irish and Spanish workers from the Canary Islands and Galicia were brought to Cuba as low-wage laborers. So in 1847 the first Chinese laborers were imported to Cuba. They were brought in as "immigrants, usually on an eight-year contract, and therefore they were not to be regarded as slaves under the treaty of 1817. But the difference was really one in name only" (Thomas 186). The Cuban Commission Report of 1876, an oral history of the Chinese in Cuba in the nineteenth century, graphically depicted the inhumane treatment of the Chinese "workers" brought to Cuba. Upon their arrival in Havana harbor, 70 percent of them were sent to work in the sugar plantations, while the remaining were employed as cigar makers, launderers, and tobacco plantation "laborers." Twenty years after the first 206 Chinese immigrants arrived in the island, the Chinese population had grown to over 100,000. This little known but significant element of Cubanness had, until Sarduy, been ignored in Cuban history.

The third part of From Cuba with a Song features one of Sarduy's most memorable "characters," Dolores Rondon. Dolores, a mulatto woman--singer, poet, courtesan--is the embodiment of exactly one third of Cuban culture. Oscar Montero traces Sarduy's Dolores Rondon to Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda's character of the same name (104). Whether such a person really existed is open to question, but it's precisely the textual indeterminateness that makes for the richness of the legend. The undecidability between "reality" and "fiction" is clearly what attracted Sarduy to the Dolores lore. The name Dolores, which in Spanish means pain, is, as Montero remarks, "bombastic" and melodramatic (105). Dolores, curvaceous, sensuous, with a full "round behind," is an Americano's fantasy of the racially mixed Caribbean woman. Sarduy's Dolores marries Mortal Perez--a character having the same name as the General from "By the River of Rose Ashes." But is he the same character? It is certainly the same linguistic sign, which, like any name, may refer to a specific object or not. The major similarity between the Mortal Perez of section 2 and the Mortal Perez of section 3 is that they're both white.

Dolores, a poor singer, "legitimate daughter of Ochun, queen of the river and the sky" (60), (4) moves to Camaguey, where she meets Mortal Perez, a corrupt local politician with high ambitions. In a bitter parody of the violently possessive institution of marriage, the Spaniard asks for Dolores's "hand" in matrimony, which the narrator/apologist says is not to be interpreted to mean that the Spaniard literally wants to cut off her hand, as in the old colonial practice of cutting off the hands of "delinquent slaves," in any case, "as far as we know" (69). After Dolores and Perez marry, they move (as did the young Sarduy) from Camaguey to Havana. There Perez becomes a senator, and in a short time the newlyweds come to enjoy the opulent decadence that comes with a political career. And though there are no direct references to a particular government, it is safe to assume that Sarduy had the Batista dictatorship in mind.

At the height of his political career, Perez provides his prime minister with a "Hawaiian" dancer for his pleasures. But when the prime minister discovers that the "Hawaiian" dancer is not Hawaiian at all, but a mulatto dancer from Camaguey, he accuses Perez of malevolent deception, of trafficking in white slavery, drug smuggling, and "an attempt against public morality" (80). In the end Perez is ousted from public office and declared persona non grata. The prime minister, like all politicians, demands realism--that there be, even if no one really believes in it, a fixed relation between a sign or a word and its referent or object. There is no room for simulation in the State. Stripped of power, influence, wealth, and property, Dolores returns to her initial condition of poverty. Dolores and her now barefoot and sore husband conclude that their past failure to honor the Afro-Cuban deities (of Santeria) had led to their downfall. The deities "are like dogs": if you ignore them "they go away" (86).

"Dolores Rondon" begins with the ten-line poem inscribed on Dolores's tombstone. In other words, it begins at the end:
 Dolores Rondon did here
 reach the end of her career ... (56)


And from beginning to end it is death that mediates the story: Sarduy's Narrator One and Narrator Two "present the life of Dolores Rondon" (57), while MERCY, HELP, and CLEMENCY later join the narration as oracles of the end predestined in the beginning:

HELP (realizing the evil he has done): All must perish!

MERCY (and he sprays himself from head to toe with an atomizer): We are nothing!

CLEMENCY: (and he combs his hair): From dust to dust! (62)

Through her marriage to Mortal Perez, Dolores attempts to get, as she says, "out of her hole" (59), to escape the conditions of provincial poverty. But in her marriage to Perez lies her death, her mortality. Mortal Perez, the Spaniard, the white senator, is a harbinger of death. Even if he is not the same Perez of the second section, his first name and his family name--representative of colonial Spain--will bring about the death of the Chinese "Lotus Flower" and the African Dolores Rondon. In his name the death of these two oppressed cultures is foretold.

The fourth and final section, "The Entry of Christ into Havana," is in some ways the reversal of the Mortal Perez story in the preceding two sections. Here Mortal Perez is not the desiring subject, but the absent object of desire. This section begins in southern, Moorish Spain with HELP and MERCY in search of a Christ-like Mortal Perez, and it ends, as with all such mystical journeys, in a union with the nothingness of death: "Help and Mercy bend down to listen: nothing, not even the birds have remained. So do the Veiled and Vigilant spend day and night at the ruins, waiting. 'Waiting is to become nothing ...'" (94-95). In their search for Mortal Perez, HELP and MERCY leave Cadiz for Cuba. They arrive in Santiago de Cuba, where in the cathedral they come across a large wooden Christ. Like true believers, they immediately see in the wooden cross a Mortal Perez/Christ image. In a pilgrimage from one end of the island to the other, they carry the wooden Christ from Santiago to Havana, by way of Camaguey, where the procession is confused with one of Senator Mortal Perez's political meetings (as state and church processions are often difficult to distinguish from one other). HELP and MERCY's savior is the Christ of Hollywood movies and kitsch iconography--blond, blue-eyed, and sexy: "His picture was everywhere, endlessly repeated, to the point of ridicule or simply boredom: pasted up, ripped off, pulled apart, nailed on every door, pasted around every pole, decorated with mustaches, with pricks dripping into His mouth, even in colors--oh so blond and beautiful, just like Greta Garbo--not to mention the stained-glass reproductions in the Galiano subway. Wherever you look, He looks back" (142).

Christ, an object of consumption like any other object in consumer, capitalist society, is voraciously consumed like candy by the masses: "His name was in all the shop windows. They ate Him in mint candies. They dressed up like Him, wearing little crowns of thorns (their faces white with rice powder) and small blood flowers. It was all so pretty" (143). And as they carry the wooden Christ to Havana, his body--consumed by his fans--deteriorates into nothingness. People from everywhere come to touch him, to worship him, and consequently they have worn down "the wood of His feet with kisses" (131). By the time he arrives in Havana, "Christ" has pretty much disintegrated: "He saw himself crumble. He fell into pieces, with a moan. Wood falling in water. His bald, leprous head split in two. The empty holes of the eyes, the white, perforated lips, the nose in its bone, the ears plugged with two black clots" (152). The entry of Christ into Havana is also the entry of Christ into death. The procession that has carried the crumbling Christ to the capital arrives in the middle of a snowfall that covers everything in white. Sarduy's Christ dies in the snow (a climatic impossibility in Cuba, but certainly not a textual or symbolic one): "the forehead, the cold globes of the eyes, the trunk ... sank into the snow as if looking for something buried. And further up, the curve of the back. The legs in pieces; the snow buried them" (152).

There are several striking elements in this last section. As some critics have pointed out, Christ's entry into Havana may be read as an allusion to Fidel Castro and his troops' entry into Havana in 1959 after the popular overthrow of the Batista dictatorship. It should be noted that although Castro later denied ever having any religious beliefs, one of the reasons for his popularity is that throughout his campaign against Batista he wore a crucifix around his neck, leading people to see him as a Christ-like figure, a liberator of the oppressed masses. (5) In addition, that our Mortal Perez/Christ/Castro enters Havana during a snowstorm is not inconsequential. White is the color of death in Santeria. Moreover, "the white, or European, component in Cuban culture is the historical one, leading up to violence and nothingness ..." (Gonzalez Echevarria, "Severo Sarduy" 1440). This violence and death, along with the more positive aspects of the mixing of Chinese, African, and Spanish culture, are what makes for Cuba's undecidable, multifaceted national identity. For Sarduy, the Cubanness of Cuba is not to be pinned down. The "essence" of Cuban nationhood, elliptical as it is, is precisely its lack of essence. Sarduy's conclusion is the end result of the lessons of the twentieth century--a significant mark of his modernism. Time and again we have been witness to the bloodiness of essentialism--from the gulags to the death camps and everything else in between.

Cobra (1972)

Cobra can be interpreted as continuation of From Cuba with a Song. If Cuba is nothing other than a sign that may stand for different things to different people and there is no "real" Cuba outside of language, then the same thing can be said of other countries. In Cobra it is not Cuba that is at the center of the text, but India. These two very diverse countries do have something in common: when Columbus arrived in the Caribbean, he confused the indigenous peoples with the people of India. As Gonzalez Echevarria writes, "The Orient is for Sarduy ... Columbus's first mistake" (Ruta 167, my translation). Cobra is a novel of such mistakes, disfigurements, and transformations, a novel of transsexuality and transvestism as metaphors of the plasticity and artificiality of identity.

Cobra begins in the "Lyrical Theater of Dolls"--the theater of writing where characters and events can be brought onto the stage or made to disappear with equal ease. When Madam declares that "literature still needs themes" (12), narrator says, " 'Shut up or I'll take you out of the chapter'--this narrative cannot continue" (12). But the narrative does continue, except not as a traditional, linear narrative. The body of Cobra's text is a patchwork.

The mistress of ceremony at the Lyrical Theater of Dolls--a sideshow of identity--is Madam, whose favorite dancing "doll," the transvestite Cobra, complains that "her" feet are too big and that men run away from her at the sight of her feet: "Cobra was her greatest accomplishment, her 'rabbit-foot.' Despite her feet and shadow ... she preferred her to all the other dolls, finished or in process" (5). But Cobra, her creation, is still not happy with "her" condition. It is not enough for her to be the "favorite" doll; she wants to be completely perfect, or else what is the point of being queen of the theater? "What good is it to be queen of the Lyrical Theater of Dolls, and to have the best collection of mechanical toys, if at the sight of my feet men run away and cats start climbing on them?" (3).

In order to rescue Cobra from her "orthopedic determinism," the Madam concocts a strong potion to shrink Cobra's feet. However, the drug is so strong that it also shrinks all of Cobra and the Madam herself. In the process Cobra acquires a double--a (white) dwarf, "Pup" ("abbreviated from La Poupee to La Pupa and to the tenuous explosion of Pup" (6) (27)). But Cobra, still dissatisfied with her transformation, wants to become a total woman. Cadillac, her rival, tells Cobra of Doctor Ktazob, (7) who transformed her by giving her a large male member. When Cobra tells her that she wants Ktazob to make "her" into a woman, Madam (who believes in the linearity of narrative and the order of realism) tries to warn her against it: "You're going to Ktazob, my dear, as easy as if you were going to a dentist.... Get off that cloud: after the butchery and if you can stand it, what awaits you is a rainfall of punctures, tweezings and scrapings, wax in your breasts, crystal in your veins, mushroom vapors in your nose and green yeast by mouth. Cover your eyes with grapes. Your ears with plugs. A yellow dog will lick your feet" (57).

Cobra disregards the warning and journeys to Tangier, where she goes under Ktazob's knife, in one of the most graphic, bloodiest sex-change operations in all of literature. Ktazob's operating room--if one can call it that--is like the dolls' stage, a theater of (psychic) cruelty. To prepare her for what is to come, Ktazob tells Cobra that she must, like a Sufi, transfer her pain to her double, Pup: "The Sufistic martyrs were invulnerable: their disciples suffered for them" (59). What follows is the surgery, with Ktazob assisted by the Alterer, Cobra's Instructor, and Pup's Instructor.
 COBRA'S INSTRUCTOR--"Think of a very hot sun...."
 The Master gets ready.

 Pup screams. Splashes. Big drops of thick ink free toward the
 edges of Cobra's body. Lighting. Rupture. Red branches that descend,
 forking rapidly along the sides of a triangle--the vertex torn
 out-over the white skin of the thighs, along the nickel surface,
 following the contours of the hips, between the trunk and the arms,
 forming puddles in the armpits, thin speeding threads over the
 shoulders, matting the hair: two streams of blood, down to the
 floor. (64-65)


Cut to: Cobra in the red-light district in Amsterdam, but is it the same Cobra? Cobra in Amsterdam is a young man who has answered some personal ads from leather, S&M, dominant men. He walks through the streets of Amsterdam, looking at the prostitutes sitting behind the window displays and walking into the bar where he has come to meet his masters. "We were waiting for you," says one of them, who "wore his name on his back, tattooed in the leather, dull black upon the shiny black of the hide" (77). These are the men who will initiate him, who will put him through a rite of passage--from that of a slave or submissive to that of a master. One of them says, "It's a good thing you came. Today's the day. Because to be a leader you have to pass through submission, to gain power you have to lose it, to command you have to first lower yourself as far as we want: to the point of nausea" (77). The names of the "masters" are Scorpion, Tundra, Tiger, and Totem. Tundra tells Cobra that he will have to be given an animal name, and together they decide on Cobra, because, as Totem says, "Cobra: so that he will poison. So that he will strangle. So that he will curl around his victims and suffocate them. So that his breath will hypnotize, and his eyes will shine in the night, monstrous, golden" (87).

Cobra becomes "Cobra," then, through an identity that is grafted upon him. As Kushigian writes, "Cobra's constitution is always complex, because it is transmutable, from reptile to person, from singular to plural, back again" ("Gender" 54). A tabula rasa before meeting the five gurus, Cobra becomes what they want him to become. In the process the initiation goes too far and Cobra ends up dead. The passage from "ignorance" to the fixity of a univocal identity (or knowledge), as traditionally mediated through violence, has the potential to culminate in the mutilation or death of its subject.

The cultures of the ancient and the modern world, of East and West, meet in Cobra as consumer objects. And the difference between Tibetan monks and S&M practitioners is negligible. Since everything is a surface, everything appears on the same plane. Buddhist monks seated at the feet of a statue of Buddha share their space with a movie poster of Marlon Brando in The Wild One. And why not? Movie stars have become objects of veneration and worship on the same plane as Buddhist deities. The religious fetish and the media fetish are one, both erotically charged and destined for the same place--Sarduy's "empty center." When Tiger asks the Guru what is the quickest way to liberation, the Guru responds, "Don't think about it" (102). Later when Totem asks Rosa, "What should I do to keep it hard while I'm putting it in?" Rosa, echoing the Guru, responds, "Don't think about it" (118).

Truth is arbitrary, an artifact of history. "Writing is the art of recreating reality," writes Sarduy (Cobra 7), and the "Indian Journal" section of Cobra is exemplary of this conception of writing. In the end there is no difference for Sarduy between the "Himalayan artificer" who arrives in Tibet wearing a silk tie with an "Eiffel tower and a naked woman lying on the Folies Cheries caption" (7) and the Christopher Columbus who arrived in the Americas five hundred years ago, bringing with him all the baggage of Western European culture. Note Sarduy's parody of Columbus's diary: "All young, as I have said, and all of a good height, a very fine people: their hair is not curly, but straight and as coarse as horse hair, and all have very broad brows and heads, broader than those of any people I have seen before, and their eyes are very fine and not small, and they are not at all black, but the color of Canary Islanders. A most tame people" (134). This is what Lezama had criticized in the peninsular sensibility and particularly in Columbus's European-colored vision of the Americas. Lezama clearly captured Columbus's superimposition of European mythology and culture onto the Latin American landscapes, making references to sirens, dolphins, and other animals that had nothing to do with the Latin American jungle or sea. But Sarduy takes Lezama's acute conclusion one step further when he makes us realize that nothing has changed, that we are as guilty as Columbus of superimposing Western, bourgeois, consumerist values on the rest of the world. Reality is made of transvestism, simulation, and theater, and there is no getting behind the facade of representation, the stage scenery where real "reality" awaits our discovery. The "Indian" only exists as a simulation of an "Indian" (of "Latin America" or "India"). "'Tonight,' the doorman announces, 'on this stage, a real god'" (134). And later, "With a red circle between their eyes, four thick girls are smiling--golden dentures--dancing a Beckoning to Dawn on the proscenium; in the background, on a luminous float which climbs among celluloid clouds, the Sun God appears with a slicked mustache and golden circles on his cheekbones; at his feet, blinking spotlights of all colors, the throne of the maharajah, his favorite" (134). Crucifixes of Christ (as in From Cuba with a Song) or statuettes of the various Buddhist deities, it's all the same. The sacred emptied out by capitalism does not discriminate among religions. There is no economic system as tolerant as capitalism. Its only enemy is stasis; i.e., that tragic moment, constantly deferred, when capital would cease to flow: "Outside, at the foot of the mosque, peddler stands, statue bazaars are crowded together: dealers auction off miniatures, tankas painted over with the wrong gods, coarse ivory deities, torn Tibetan banners" (142).

The monstrosity of capitalism lies in that anything can be grafted onto anything else, since everything is exchangeable, including death. Cobra, like From Cuba with a Song, ends with a snowy landscape, the Afro-Cuban whiteness of death, except that in Cobra, and for that matter in Buddhism, death is not an end. Death is merely a spin in the wheel of eternal return; albeit reincarnation (e.g., in the wrong kind of animal) is what the Buddhist seeks to escape: "between the peaks, maybe the wind will make the prayer wheels spin, aligned upon the walls of the abandoned monasteries, upon the alters buried by the snow" (148). The World/Text is a mandala, which, after being painstakingly built, is dismantled in a sacred ritual of desecration. "At dawn we shall start out again ..." (149) to build another mandala in search for the elliptical, "empty center." The Spanish infinitive cobrar means to collect, to charge, but there is no payoff in Cobra. It begins where it ends and it ends where it begins, like the cobra snake of India that bites its own tale.

Maitreya (1978)

Sarduy's fourth novel bears the same name as the fourth and future Buddha. (8) Contrary to the opinion of some critics that Cobra is a novel about Cuban identity, Cobra is in fact about the impossibility of identity per se. Maitreya, contrary to common critical opinion, is not a novel of exile, but instead a novel of nomadism, free of the nostalgic yearning for the old land. To be in exile is to be outside one's land, outside of one's center. But if, as Sarduy claims, there is nothing in the center, then the yearning for an (empty) center makes no sense. At most, such a yearning is a remnant of the age before the death of God--when there was a still a horizon to guide us back home. "Woe," writes Nietzsche, "when you feel homesick for the land as if it had offered more freedom--and there is no longer any 'land'" (180-81). All geographies will be new geographies, mappings of our own making as we traverse the new, empty spaces. "Wither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space?" (Nietzsche 181). That Sarduy bases his theory of the neobaroque on astronomy is no coincidence. The baroque worldview begins with Galileo's decentering of the earth, and it ends in the ellipsis of the neobaroque, where there is no center--or perhaps more accurately, where the center is absence, "the ghost limb" of the old world. In Juan Goytisolo's Juan the Landless (1977) Sarduy finds the nomadic movement that characterizes the modern world. In a passage reminiscent of Nietzsche, Sarduy writes, "To flee. Where? Not toward utopia, the imaginary, regressive, or false place, but rather toward a distopia: the no place, wandering, the attribute--and not the ambiance--of he who is without a land" ("Deterritorialization" 104-05). Sarduy situates Goytisolo's work as one of periphery, nomadism, and the ex-centric discourse of postmodernity.
 Periphery, nomadism: Goytisolo's work, his extraordinary centrifugal
 force, are inscribed in the resonance of these two words, in the
 lines of tension they magnetically extend; always toward the
 exterior, toward the outside that beckons, far from the sedentary
 group and its codes, far from the despot and his administrative
 machine. It's the power of the ex-centric discourse, a runaway, the
 opposite of instituted law, in complicity with someone waiting
 across the border, the destruction of the city under siege.
 ("Deterritorialization" 104)


Sarduy's interpretation of Goytisolo's work mirrors his own worldview as reflected in Maitreya. The title "Deterritorialization" is a term borrowed from Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus (1977). For Deleuze and Guattari, the concept of deterritoralization and nomadism refers first to the liberating ungrounding of desire, and second to the nonsegmented, elliptical movement that finds expression in a novel such as Maitreya: "'Hurry,' the visitor prodded him: 'he's about to give the wheel a quarter turn'" (156). This line marks the beginning of Maitreya--a first reference to the movement of time that will usher in the fourth Buddha. Hence, the "quarter turn," the fourth text. As the master lama lies dying, Tibetan monks attend to his needs, kiss his feet in devotion, and turn the prayer wheels: "Secretive, huddled together like Chinese animals on the eve of an earthquake, the four monks entered the next room, where the master was dying.... One of the larger prayer wheels rotated. Someone was sobbing" (157). The famous monastery, snuggled deep in the snows of the Himalayas at an altitude of 13,000 feet--the "Roof of the World," as it is also referred to--hangs over a precipice in Sarduy's text, as its inhabitants await the death of their master, while outside Mao Tse-tung's revolutionary Red Army plans the invasion and destruction of the "opiate" within its walls. Gonzalez Echevarria writes, "The snow that covers Havana at the end of the last story in De donde son los cantantes (1967) [From Cuba with a Song] anticipates the Tibetan snow that closes Cobra (1972) and opens Maitreya (1978). Whiteness is death, absence, the empty page ..." (Celestina's Brood 212). Where there is snow there is death. The snow that covers Lhasa in Maitreya can be read as a symbolic marker of the Chinese communist revolution of 1949. Both the Chinese and the Cuban revolutions have been responsible for the wholesale destruction of thousands of citizens, the elimination of basic human freedoms, and dictatorships that have survived the collapse of the Soviet Union: "From the high monastery-were they officiating at off-hours, celebrating sleepless divinities, meowing guardians of the temple?--brief explosions were heard, first dispersed, sifted by the wind, as if from beyond the jungle, but then clearer, planks falling, tree trunks rolling down the slope. No: the newcomer recognized them immediately: gunshots from Chinese rifles" (161).

In October 1950 the Chinese Red Army invaded Tibet with 40,000 troops, destroying temples and homes and killing over 4,000 Tibetans who opposed them. "But Buddhism will continue to live in the reincarnation of the fourth Buddha," declares the master, prior to the invasion, before he dies: "... I will be reborn.... You will find me in the water, with my eyes closed. I will be the Instructor. A rainbow of wide stripes will encircle my feet" (158). And indeed, in India the late master's prophecy comes true. A group of traveling Tibetan monks one day comes across the person whom they believe to be the fourth Buddha foretold by their master. The Leng sisters, who of course appear in the text without introduction, are washing a little boy in a plastic wash basin when suddenly the monks enter: "In a large plastic basin--seven flourescent colors--purposely splashing the figures, they were bathing a little boy who squeezed his eyes shut so that soap wouldn't get in" (164). He does not close his eyes in meditation, but, as Sarduy irreverently tells us, the little boy squeezes his eyes so that the soap will not get in. Yet the monks interpret the little boy's "closed eyes" as a sign that he is in fact Maitreya, the One whose coming they have been anticipating. Soon thereafter, the monks begin to make plans for the new lama, but the Leng sisters, who don't see themselves as anyone's servants, poison the monks with "strychnine-sprinkled Alicante nougats" (168) and take the train through Pakistan, all the while gulping down "greasy bags of fried plantains and open cans of hot beer" (169).

In Ceylon the Leng sisters open a vegetarian hotel. There the little boy becomes a successful celebrity guru who, eventually bored with his role as Instructor, begins to respond despondently to every question asked of him:
 He responded to every koan with a belch, a hoot or the easy
 aphorism "Samsara is nirvana."

 When the elders, who in his absence had began to charge entrance
 fees, to diminish the rations of chicken, to give preference to
 curious aristocrats or influential people and fill the vacillating
 trays with boiled flour and avocados--they were contriving, besides,
 an order that "would take his message to the west"--became aware
 that he was beginning to take his mission lightly and was drinking
 double martinis in the kitchen, without caring a fig about dharmas,
 they turned sour and grumpy. (180)


The Instructor, himself a product (like any other product) of Western orientalism, reaches the pinnacle of occidental enlightenment through an attitude of absolute indifference. But in response to the Instructor's "bad attitude," the Leng sisters take the young, indifferent, lethargic lama aside and give him a piece of their mind: "you're going to learn English on records so that everybody can understand you" (181). The Instructor, in other words, is going to be an "oriental" guru whether he likes it or not. For orientalism, the exoticism of the East sells. English will only widen his "message" or, what is the same, his marketability in the global economy. The Leng sisters--oriental subjects themselves--are not about to see their successful business venture go under. They need cash to keep the business going: "Where are we going to find the cash to maintain the sliding waves and to protect from moths the bamboo tablets on which the few statements you make are engraved?" (181).

However, the Leng sisters' niece, Illuminated, sees that their financial enterprise is about to collapse, so she leaves for Cuba with her friend Honey Boy. When Honey Boy arrives in Havana, the first thing he is told is to remove his skirt (presumably his Tibetan monk's garb) because Cuban men don't wear skirts (186). Meanwhile, back in Ceylon, the Instructor announces his own death: "This very night, once the football scores are out, I will enter nirvana forever" (190). Thus death and nirvana are parodied and emptied of all their meaning by a Western event that has assumed greater importance than death and religion. As one critic notes, "As many of the previous examples demonstrate, one of Sarduy's effective ironic mechanisms is his recourse to the incongruous, the banal and the scatological. Sarduy's most carefully elaborated effort to debase the Tibetan Buddhist religion which serves as the only thematic constant in the novel appropriately concerns the well-known quest for a reincarnated lama" (Pellon 10). Upon the death of the Instructor, the Leng sisters cremate him and perform a series of rituals in memoriam, reminiscent of the rites performed for the master at the beginning of the book--though "nothing," we are told, remains of him (199). And precisely because "life is nothing" (193), the Leng sisters are able to console themselves with hot chocolate and "churros" (the Spanish-type crullers) (194).

Alternating in part 2 are four sections entitled "The Double" and "The Fist." The death of the Instructor is followed in part 2 with the birth of the double--the twin sisters Tremendous and Divine. They "were born together," Sarduy informs us (203). Born from whom? We don't know. The twins are brought into the world by a Chinese midwife, who recites Afro-Cuban prayers throughout the delivery. And (eight lines) later, as in a literary fast-forward, the prepubescent twins come to discover that they possess special powers of healing and divination: "One day, by pure chance--they were playing ring-around-a-rosy--they discovered that if they passed their hand or jumped three times over a cripple or a person in pain, the paralysis or shooting pain would instantly disappear" (203-04). Success makes the gluttonous Tremendous and Divine become as obese as the personages of Botero's paintings and sculptures, of Diego Velazquez's Las Meninas, and of Juan Carreno's Dressed Monsters: "The more strides the twins made as healers, the more prosperous and plump, in their sugary gluttony, they became" (204).

Then the day comes when the twins have "their first menstruation suddenly and in unison," and on that day they "lost all their powers" (206). (9) Despite all kinds of prayers to the orishas, their powers fail to return, and for a time the twins end up having to return everything that they had purchased on credit and become launderers. What saves them is the discovery that they have operatic singing voices. So in mock-bourgeois, religious optimism, Sarduy writes, "A lost gift implies the emergence of another, or rather: what disappears in the symbolic order reappears in the real to hallucinate us: soon the needy twins discovered that their voices, sustained by the puffy expansion of their diaphragms, and by the substantial calories of sugarcane juice, reached powerful soprano tessituras" (207). The twins become a hit singing in Chinese operas. Admired by many for their "sumptuous fannies and lascivious faces," the Fatties, come to be "forever" known as Ladies Divine and Tremendous (208).

One of their admirers is Louis Leng, "who came to congratulate them one evening, euphoric after observing the rotundities of Solidarity" (208). Sarduy transports the character of Louis Leng, the master chef from Lezama Lima's Paradise (1974), to Maitreya. The wealthy Cemi family of Paradise (direct descendants of Spaniards) employ a black chef by the name of Juan Izquierdo, who by his own account was a student of the great Chinese chef Louis Leng. In justification of his culinary choices he reports, "I learned my art from that proud Chinaman Louis Leng, who added the mastery of confection to his ancient and refined cooking while he leafed around the Cuban Embassy in Paris. Later he worked in North Carolina, with lots of pastry and young turkey breasts, and I am the continuation of that tradition ..." (Paradise 13). Juan Izquierdo, who is implicitly brought into the narrative of Maitreya through Louis Leng, shares with the Chinese character a history of Spanish colonial oppression, in the employ of the rich Cemi family. Sarduy's Louis Leng, seducer of the twins, is the son of Honey Boy and Illuminated (208).

The action shifts from Cuba to Miami when Lady Tremendous dives into a swimming pool in Sagua la Grande and reemerges in the surf off of Miami among dolphins who receive her "with indignant cries" (211). Lady Tremendous is accompanied by Louis Leng and a dwarf named "Slippery Slice" by the Miami Cubans: "Because of his tenacious hold on Cuban customs and the pleated guayabera he wore to debutante balls, the frozen generations of southwest Miami would later call him a 'Slice of Cuba'" (211-12). This is obviously an instance of Sarduy poking fun at the stereotypical Cuban American exiles of Miami--a generation, in Sarduy's assessment, frozen in time. While in Miami, Louis Leng services the sexually insatiable Lady Tremendous and the dwarf, who because of his size has to perform with a plastic phallus. To the chagrin of Lady Tremendous, who has grown used to Leng's sexual services, out of nowhere, "smashing through the art-nouveau roof of the pergola, wrecking the delicate, vegetal, iridescent crystal and iron structures--a misfired bomb--fell Lady Divine" (215). Lady Tremendous receives her twin sister "with indignant cries" (215).

The action then switches to New York, where Leng has opened a restaurant and where Lady Tremendous, high on drugs, roller-skates to the fountain in Washington Square Park: "She reached Washington Square. The aluminized warm mist blurred the forms of the square. She kept losing speed as if sand were blowing against her wheels. She stopped beside the fountain" (237). Out of the fountain, Venus-like, emerges a man, "fresh as a cucumber, with an aloof lilt that didn't suit the situation at all" (238). The first words out of the man's mouth are: "I'm Iranian," followed by, "Profession ... Chauffeur" (238). The Iranian utters words typically exchanged by Americans when meeting each other for the first time.

Jump to Iran: Lady Tremendous, the "divine macho" Iranian, and the dwarf have opened a brothel that caters to petro-dollar sheiks. The dwarf, a member of the F.A.A. (Fist Fuckers of America) and a master of the sadomasochistic art of "fist fucking," runs into trouble one day when a "potentate from Oman" (252) takes umbrage with the dwarf's favorite act, jumps off the table in anger, and threatens him: "In less time than it takes for a monkey to scratch his eye, you're going to disappear from this shady establishment, from the city ... and off the face of the earth. You have abused caliphal tolerance, allowing yourself backroom backhanded handlings, violating the annals of the Empire. Now you're going to hear the wind raising sand" (254). Next, the narrator tells us, "They all resurfaced at the Grand Hotel de France," in what is possibly Morocco. Here the Iranian penetrates Lady Tremendous from behind, and from the act Lady Tremendous gives anal birth to an oversized baby, born with webbed fingers and toes: "His earlobes, three times longer than normal. Forty solid, even teeth protected a long, pointy tongue: excellent sense of taste. Strong jaw. Delicate, golden skin. A body both flexible and firm like an arum stalk; wide torso, the chest of a bull, rounded shoulders, full thighs, the legs of a gazelle. His arms, hanging, touched his knees. A thin membrane joined his toes and fingers" (269). Some time later in pre-Soviet-occupied Afghanistan, the dwarf and Lady Tremendous's "anal son" lie buried in the desert, "like Koranic saints joined together ... between oil wells" (272), while Lady Tremendous has become a figure of worship for Afghani men and women.

Maitreya is a "novel of exile" if by that we mean a novel about the myth of exile. For the very idea of a missing center, an origin, and the consequent nostalgia of exile is practically nonexistent in Maitreya. It is a mistake not to take Sarduy's burning of his guayabera in Paris seriously. Doubtless, there was something of the symbolic in it, and Sarduy himself admits to it in a satirical association with Hernan Cortes's act of burning his ships after his arrival in Mexico. But especially significant is the fact that Sarduy related this story in French, his second language, and not in Spanish. In Sarduy's burning of his guayabera there is conscious affirmation of the condition of being landless and homeless. Sarduy's characters are all landless. In philosophical terms they are exemplars of the idea that existence precedes essence or perhaps more accurately that existence preempts essence. "The Orient in Sarduy is a false, chimerical origin" (Gonzalez Echevarria, "Narrative" 156), but so is everything else related to the idea of a fixed identity. Dispersion and not the originary unity of the Spanish baroque characterizes the Sarduyan novel. As Pellon writes, "there is interculturalism, plurality, osmosis: a universe in miniature.... Society is linked to the idea of space, but culture--like the individual--is mobile, drifting like wind" (38). The monstrous is the hybrid (mestizaje)--an aspect of excess, e.g., the celestial body known as a "white dwarf," which possesses one of the densest forms of matter in the universe. The dissolution of "white" culture that Goytisolo writes about is the dissolution of a "white dwarf" in space and the dispersal of its energy as its center begins to die off. Expenditure of energy without reserve, dispersal, ejection, evacuation, transvestism, simulation, the nomadism of cultures, the deterritorialization of desire, and the explosion (plutonism) of the elliptical neobaroque are what moves in the prayer wheels in Maitreya. In short, by Sarduy's own definition, Maitreya is the neobaroque text par excellence.

For Voice (1977)

For Voice collects Sarduy's radio plays written between the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s. Despite the amount of critical writing devoted to Sarduy's essays, novels, and poetry, For Voice remains undeservedly ignored by readers, directors, and critics. Written at a time when Robbe-Grillet's theory of the new novel was in vogue, the dialogue in these dramatic works is presented as a surface that is not the upper layer of a fathomable or unfathomable psychological depth, but instead is the surface of a sign without a signified. The Japanese haiku, for instance, operates in this fashion, free of the moralistic intrusiveness of individual consciousness. (10) The actants, as Sarduy calls them, are not the characters of realist drama. Words and actants are interchangeable in such a way that one cannot claim such and such of X and follow X in Aristotelian fashion through to the end, where at last time, place, plot, and character come neatly together in a final exposition of textual meaning. Few writers outside of Sarduy have written dramatic works for radio as masterfully: "Besides Beckett's contributions to the genre, such as All That Fall, Words and Music, or Cascando, it is difficult to cite other examples of the same caliber" (Barnard 10). Sarduy's radio plays have been produced in France, Germany, Spain, and England.

The Beach, the first play in the collection and the most successful of the radio plays, has received various radio productions over the years in several languages. The language of The Beach, stripped down to its bare essentials, is as naked as its bodies. Naked bodies=naked language. The actants are M1, M2, M3 and W1, W2, W3: textures, surfaces, and gestures without proper names. The play acknowledges from the start the potential dangers to which the surface of the naked body/language on the beach/page is susceptible. The six actants, Europeans and Americans enjoying the beach at Cannes and the sounds of bossa nova, have the money to play in one of the most exclusive playgrounds in Europe. M3, who in sequence 5 is a porn star, awaits the arrival of residuals from his latest movie, "Opium and Flagellation in the Dock Districts" (26). In sequence 12, M3 turns out to be an unsuspecting trick of W3, who is now a call girl; the object of desire (gigolo, porno star) becomes the consumer of sex. At a certain point in the play the actants interchangeably perceive the bodies of a couple and the body of a woman lying on the beach. In sequence 10 the dead body of a young woman has washed ashore; in sequence 14 the body of the girl on the beach--reminiscent of "the woman turned to gold in Goldfinger" (44)--is a scene in "Opium and Flagellation in the Dock Districts," an underground film. Sequence 16, on the other hand, has a couple (W1 and M1?) lying on the beach in a sort of dispassionate version of From Here to Eternity. And when "she [W3?] moved away ... We drew closer," says M1. W2 responds: "You and me" (47). The "you and me" is half-empty to the extent that the "you" of the phrase is at all times interchangeable for another you, as occurs in sequence 13 where the female actants (W1, W2, and W3) of the play fall in love with each other.

The sequences in The Beach are like footprints on the sand: erased by the ebb and flow of the sea: "In each band or 'beach' (playa) the sequence is restructured and one of its details varied or transformed into its opposite. In each band the narrative begins from zero; it erases, retracts, and denies what has been written previously, and imposes a new version. There is no final outcome, for the different versions have equivalent values" (For Voice 15). Therefore, "the same text" (For Voice 55). From the Arab who rents the beach umbrellas (Camus's Arab, who in Sarduy's play is not murdered), to the advertising plane, to the Joao Gilberto music continually playing in the background, to the naked bodies of men and women, the beach as a series of triangles contains the browns, the reds, and the greens of Miro, the blues and flesh tones of Hockney, and the obesely baroque family of Botero, all in a whirl of the pleasure of the writerly, painterly, musical, and epidermal text.

Fall: Barroco Funerario is, as the subtitle suggests, a funerary baroque piece. Its movement is downward: to catacombs and sarcophagi. "Fall is the reverse side of The Beach," writes Sarduy in the introductory note to the play, "instead of the body apotheosized and eroticism, the body degraded and death" (60). Fall is made up of six sequences or galleries, as in the Italian sense of the word, galleria, meaning "a covered passage, catacomb, place where paintings are exhibited, tunnel, etc." (60). And just as there are six sequences, there are also six voices. Voices 1, 3, and 5 are male; voices 2, 4, and 6 are female. In what seems to be a backhanded homage (or parody) of Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author, one of the passages refers to the voices as "six characters" (66). The difference between Pirandello's and Sarduy's aesthetics is that Fall is a play written literally after the "fall" or death of the Author/God, as declared by Roland Barthes. And Sarduy makes clear that there are no "characters" in his radio plays: instead there are voices, by no means in search of an author. Moreover, it is precisely because there are no characters that the actors are free to do with the "play" whatever they wish. Sarduy writes,
 The actors may, if they wish, replace the cited sentence with
 another drawn from the same text. They may also exclude the
 citation, or add a sentence of their own invention, summarizing,
 clarifying, judging, commentating on or parodying the "dramatic
 situation." Or finally, while retaining the citation proposed by the
 author, they may add another of their own invention. In brief, in an
 attempt to eliminate the passive notion of actor-interpreter, the
 actor must pass through the "other" side of the work, to participate
 in or challenge it as he reemerges at the moment of its genesis.
 (59-60)


The first death in Fall, then, is the author's. The author dies so that the actor, the reader, and the listener may be born; the author is reincarnated, if you will, in all three.

Re-Cite: Combine Hearing follows Fall because it is a play about the death of the author and the work and the birth of the text. In opposition to the authorial/authoritarian voice of the Author/ God--the originator of a decipherable message--Sarduy re-cites William S. Burroughs's model of the Sender as Virus transmitter, Naked Lunch's many references to biocontrol experiments, and "the principle behind the Mayan codices," where the priests of the community--"about one percent of the population" (95)--sent telepathic signals to the workers about what to feel and when: "Shortly after birth, a surgeon could install connections in the brain. A miniature radio receiver could be plugged in and the subject controlled from the SS, that is the STATE-CONTROLLED SENDERS" (95). The initials SS, which stand for STATE-CONTROLLED SENDERS, also and obviously stand for the SS of Nazi Germany, but more personally to Severo Sarduy himself as an Author/God--a position that he clearly rejects. The Speaker, addressing his audience in Re-Cite, says that the position of the Sender is supreme and that to include messages besides the Sender's would mean that somebody else besides the Sender "has feelings of his own, which could louse up the Sender's continuity" (95). The idea that someone other than the Sender could participate in a process of communication undermines the privileged position of the authorial/authority figure.

Following Barthes's definition of a text as a tissue (or patchwork) of quotations, Sarduy begins Re-Cite with an epigram from Robert Rauschenberg:" 'I call what I make combine-paintings,' that is combined works, combinations. I want to avoid categories this way" (85). All of Sarduy's work can be viewed as combine-writing--a kind of writing that frees itself from the restrictions of canonical genre distinctions. Re-Cite blurs all genre categories by being music, voice, literature, and poetry, in one; it is also, as Barthes says, "a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of [Eastern and Western] culture" (146). The music selected for the play is a Dionne Warwick record and a musical anthology of the Orient featuring Tibetan music. "With the participation," writes Sarduy, of the following: "the classified page of the Justice Weekly, the scientific page of the daily Le Monde, the text of Lichtenstein's canvas, Hopeles, 1963, a page from William Seward Burrough's Naked Lunch, a description by Giancarlo Marmori in Ceremony of a Body, a description by Chen fou in Tales of a Floating Life," and lastly "several passages from Cobra" (88). In fact, Cobra the Text (Sir/ Senor Text(o)--as opposed to the Sir Baroque of Lezama) displaces Severo Sarduy, the Author. But that's alright, says Sarduy, authorial power is illusory: "It can never be a means to anything more than control and more slavery ... junk" (96). The day comes, however, when the receivers get tired of the Sender and replace him with another Sender. What remains then is the white surface (of the page) on which another body/text will be inscribed--re-incarnated, repeated, as something other. In the "end"--at the place where we start from--the voices from Cobra re-cite the fourfold truths: White, White, White, White.

The Ant-killers is Sarduy's political play--a historical piece, with the kind of political and social commentary unusual for Sarduy. The play, as Sarduy writes, "is a text on decolonization: of territories and of bodies. Of territories: Portugal restores liberty to its colonies" (For Voice 113). Everything in the play is there to displace through all kinds of ways and by all kinds of means both state and individual fascism--i.e., the fascism referred to by Michel Foucault as microfascism. As Sarduy well knows, both forms of fascism flow into each other. The decolonization (or deterritorialization) of nations brings with it the decolonization of bodies and vice versa (For Voice 113). To cut up, to decenter, is to launch an attack against the central colonizing powers of society, which aim to take over and maintain control over everything outside their periphery.

"This takes place in Portugal," writes Sarduy in mockery of traditional realist literature: "So this takes place in Portugal, on a solid blue background, bright acrylic. Overexposed, pasted, cut-up, with a close-up's clarity, a striped, colored fabric is unfolding slowly, opening like a flower, in slow motion. Plain geometries, blood red, chlorophyll green" (116). So this is the Portugal written about, spoken of: the Portugal of flat surfaces, of canvasses, of overexposed photographs, of cut-ups, of souvenir T-shirts, of plain geometries of red and green stripes. And because it is the Portugal of representation, it is the Portugal of colonization--the country to the west of Spain that had control over Guinea, Mozambique, and Angola until 1974, colonies deprived of their own national and cultural identities, colonies represented by the Portuguese flag.

The historical moment is not experienced directly, but is represented or mediated by the press for consumption. There is no history outside of the text. "What we call history is the history of the word," writes Burroughs. "In the beginning of that history was the word" (Ticket 50). And the Word for Burroughs constitutes the most devastating virus the world has ever known. In the play, one French tourist says, "we heard the first reports of the April Revolution in Portugal, and decided to go and see the new regime, as if it were a matter of a three-star hotel, or something really quaint. We wanted to photograph everything in a few days" (117, my italics). Portugal, Angola, Guinea, and Mozambique as surfaces for consumption are no different from "porcelain plates" or "embroidered napkins" (117). All we know from the passage above is that the French tourists have gone "to see the new regime"; what we don't know is which regime. Objects of consumption, regimes, nations, cultures, and religions are all equally exchangeable with one another. There are two sets of tourists in The Ant-killers. One set is enjoying the beach in Almancil, outside Lisbon (a center of power), and the other set is visiting the savanna in Angola. If the center is the colonizing power, whatever is outside of it is its colony/subject and/or its opposition. Rebellion takes place from the outside, from the margins. The tourists staying in the Angolan savanna are also the ant-killers of the title, who resort to killing the ants that have "invaded" their encampment: "They'd even squandered their last escudos on an insect bomb" (120). The Portuguese central power saw its subjects as mere ants to be gotten rid off at the first sign of insurrection: "They had organized their defense in concentric circles. An outer circle, or noman's land, where enemy movements were tolerated, but closely observed as an alert was sounded. An intermediate circle, where dissuasion was attempted with an accidental rockslide. An inner circle, where they resorted to heavy manoeuvers: sand and fire" (122). But who is the "they" of the sentence--the Portuguese or the revolutionaries? I believe Sarduy has left it ambiguous because a concentric model of power--and all power is concentric--is indeed relative, relational, and exchangeable. At the end of the passage we don't know if it is an ant colony or a Portugese colony whose extermination is being planned. A bridge named after the Portuguese dictator Oliveira Salazar is renamed "William Burroughs" (122) after the revolution of '74, and soon what was at the margins becomes a canonical inscription--the monument of a new tradition and power base.

Burroughs's concept of the Word as a virus that contaminates every aspect of life is taken to its ultimate conclusion in Sarduy's play: as sign (of radicalness) "William Burroughs" replaces the equally and arbitrarily exchangeable sign (of state power), "Salazar." This is why in 1974 the Portuguese authorities announced that it was their hope that "the brotherhood of the Portuguese language" (128, my italics) would continue to be the glue that kept the ex-colonies united. But ultimately the music of Angola, Mozambique, and the Republic of Guinea-Bissau push out--decenter--the dominant culture. Young white students end up wearing, dancing to, and absorbing the African cultures that were once dominated by Western Europe: "Around the radio, a few, naked and brightly painted, with branches plaited around their heads, mimed a primitive dance, laughing: a feigned ritual" (123). The radio as an instrument that transmits sound waves through the air can be both an instrument of power and an instrument of liberation. In effect, a radio projects a series of concentric wavefronts that can be likened to the ripples caused by the throwing of a pebble into a body of water, where the concentric waves go out from the center, until the center ceases to be important, with the dissipation of its influence. Fortunately, with the drop of every pebble comes the ripple effects of spreading concentric wavefronts that push out the elements of the dominant central power "toward the edge" (113) of the historical text, where the explosive and dispersive heterogeneity of the neobaroque deconstructs itself like galaxies in a continual process of expansion and contraction. The Ant-killers aims at a decolonization of the voice, of the work, the text, the author, of all political discourse, be it of the left or the right, and of bodies, Western and non-Western alike. For all his refusal to be connected with a politics of engagement (113), The Ant-killers is Sarduy's most politically engaged text.

Christ on the Rue Jacob (1994)

Christ on the Rue Jacob is one of Sarduy's later books and, like all his other works, a text that escapes facile genre categorization. The most general thing one can say about it is that it is a work of prose. By Sarduy's own assessment, "These are neither articles nor essays, nor commentaries on images or painting: their genre is ambiguous ..." (Christ viii). Christ is Sarduy's most accessible text and a wonderful introduction to his work. It is, to borrow Akira Kurosawa's title phrase, something like an autobiography. Written in what Sarduy called "epiphanies" for an age "starved for religion" (Christ vii), the text is a retracing of life's bodily (scars) and mnemonic inscriptions, i.e., of the inscriptions that make us who we are: "By surveying these scars from my head down to my feet, I have sketched a possible autobiography, summarized in an archeology of the skin. The only thing that matters in one's personal story is whatever has been ciphered on the body and thus continues to talk, to narrate, to stimulate the incident responsible for its inscription" (Christ vii).

Christ on the Rue Jacob is composed of two parts: a reading or retracing of the "body's scars," what Sarduy calls "a personal archeology" (Christ viii), and "an inventory of marks, not physical but mnemonic.... Images--of a city, of a painting--incidents, events, deaths" (Christ viii, my italics). The word death is important here because Sarduy wrote so much about it throughout his career as a writer. In the last years of his life he wrote quite extensively about his own imminent death from AIDS and about the death of his friends, who had meant to so much to him. In June 1993 Sarduy died at the age of fifty-two in Paris. With the exception of Christ on the Rue Jacob, his last five works, Colibri (Hummingbird, 1984), Cocuyo (Firefly, 1990), Un testigo fugaz y disfrazado (A Witness Fleeing and Disguised, 1993), the posthumously published Pajaros de la playa (Beach Birds, 1993) and Epitafios (Epitaphs, 1994), remain untranslated.

Pajaros de la playa takes place on a tropical island, probably Cuba. Located near the beach is a hospital/sanatorium where the elderly and gay, suffering from the ravages of the AIDS virus, are interned. What the elderly and the gay men suffering from AIDS--or the "malady," as Sarduy refers to it--have in common is a fight against death, against the humiliating decomposition of their incontinent, oozing bodies. One character, ironically named Siempreviva (Alwaysalive), resorts to all kinds of nontraditional curative methods in her hope for a restored youth. Evident in Pajaros de la playa (11) is the enforced isolation of the characters from the rest of the world. Their "internment" recalls the inhumane quarantine of homosexuals with AIDS by Castro's regime--a quarantine that lasted until the late 1980s--and the subject of Nestor Almendro's award winning documentary Improper Conduct (1984). In Pajaros de la playa "the body continues to corrode on its unremitting path to putrefaction. A slow kind of leprosy scorches it until the narrator turns into an 'organic wreck'" (Prieto, Body 137). The body in all of Sarduy's texts, to use Beckett's word, oozes from its orifices, quartered, mutilated, tortured, tattooed, inscribed in ink, blood, and semen. The primary colors for gay men dying of AIDS, says Sarduy, are red (for blood) and white (for semen).

Though Sarduy himself never made this connection, the writer who represents the virus of inscription and the inscription of the virus on the body is William Burroughs, whom he never tired of citing. Burroughs once wrote, "My general theory since 1971 has been that the Word is literally a virus, and that it has not been recognized as such because it has achieved a state of relatively stable symbiosis with its human hosts; that is to say, the Word Virus (the Other Half) has established itself so firmly as an accepted part of the human organism that it can now sneer at gangster viruses like smallpox and turn them in to the Pasteur Institute. But the Word clearly bears the single identifying feature of virus: it is an organism with no internal function other than to replicate itself" (Adding Machine 48). Written a decade before the discovery of AIDS, Burroughs's analogical conception of language as virus coincides with Sarduy's formulation of the reproductive/repetitive function of language. For Sarduy, the will to write is an irrepressible drive "based on the repetition of a gesture ... which involves the repetition of a preparatory ritual--words, rhythms, sometimes whole phrases or paragraphs ..." (Christ 85). Sarduy continued to write to the very end of his life, in an effort to turn the (AIDS) virus into a text: to make the blood marks on his body confluent with the ink marks on the page. As Sarduy puts it, "literature is an art of tattooing; within the amorphous mass of informational language it inscribes, encodes the true signs of signification. But this inscription is not possible without wounding, without loss" (Written 41). Writing, he adds, is "the art of proliferation."

Christ on the Rue Jacob is the embodiment (in praxis) of Sarduy's earlier theoretical work Written on a Body. The title itself, tongue-in-cheek, refers to a number of events in Sarduy's life, the first of which is a childhood accident: "As I ran, I passed under the orange tree. I felt nothing when the thorn embedded itself into my skull" (Christ 6). What is amusing here is Sarduy's anecdote in connection with the image of Christ's crown of thorns. He didn't even feel it, admits Sarduy. The title also alludes to James Ensor's painting The Entry of Christ into Brussels in 1889 and to an unnamed painting that Sarduy saw being delivered to a church or the nearby Louvre Museum at the intersection of Rue Jacob and Bonaparte in Paris: "Suddenly traffic stopped to make way for a large open truck. It was delivering a painting as large as a house to some church or the nearby Louvre. The painting was rounded at the top, as if it were going to be hung in a specific place, between two columns and under an arch. It portrayed the scourging of Christ, who was contemplating the Rue Jacob, the bar, perhaps even my ice-cold beer" (26-27, my italics). Sarduy leaves out the title of the painting and refers to it as "a painting" either because he in fact did not recognize it, which is hard to believe given his extensive knowledge of art history, or because he knew the painting, but was more interested in presenting it as a generic example of Christian iconography than in citing it. In either case, as Sarduy informs the reader at the beginning of the book, the gaze of his archeology of the body travels from the head (as in Christ's/Sarduy's embedded thorn(s)) down to his feet (Christ's feet nailed to the cross/Sarduy's wart). This wart, reports Sarduy, had grown on the sole of his foot. This wart, the first mark of Sarduy's AIDS, is the text/flesh that announces the beginning of the end. During the medical procedure, the doctor asks Sarduy if he feels anything; Sarduy says no, but he smells "something burning outside ... like burnt rubber" (35). To this, the doctor replies, "It's not outside ... and it's not rubber. I've already removed the wart and now I'm cauterizing your skin. What you smell is singed human flesh.... We Jews ... are very familiar with this smell" (35).

In Sarduy's inimitable way, the Jewish Holocaust and the AIDS holocaust are brought together through a history of the flesh. Moreover, in Nazi Germany homosexuality was punishable first by either sterilization or castration and then, finally, by death. While the Jews in concentration camps were made to wear the two overlapping yellow triangles, symbol of the Star of David, homosexuals were made to wear an inverted pink triangle. The inverted pink triangle became a symbol for the gay liberation movement of the 1970s, and then in the 1980s it was adopted by the gay organization ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) in its fight against AIDS. Because nothing is innocent in his work, Sarduy, I am convinced, was well aware of all these associations. The Sarduyean world is contiguous, analogical, connected through myth, religion, the flesh, and the text. The four cardinal points are part of the same web, and separation is what no one can bear. What every individual seeks is unity within one's self and with the world, albeit with a world of veils and illusions where unity can be only a goal: "At that time we were very close, my mother and I: we were literally almost the same person" (5, my italics). The word literally is often used as a synonym for the word exactly. But Sarduy cleverly qualifies "literally" by placing the word "almost" next to it, thereby undermining the sense of exactness. Furthermore, one may interpret "literally" to mean "by the letter," in which case, "almost" becomes a rhetorical, linguistic sign without a referent in the world, since things either are or they are not. When Sarduy feels the pain of the surgeon's scalpel on his head, he realizes that pain is one thing that can't be shared. The pain is his and no one else's. Not even his mother can feel his pain: "The icy feel of the anesthetic as it touched my head plunged me into myself. The pain was mine. This was not my mother's body that suffered..." (6-7). The first scar is the scar of our separation or, as Francois Wahl put it, the scar of "umbilical excision" (qtd. in Christ 29). This invisible scar we carry with us throughout our lives. After our initial separation from the mother come so many other such separations--deaths--physical and spiritual from family members, friends, and lovers.

Most of the second part of Christ on the Rue Jacob deals with the death of Sarduy's friends: Lezama, Roland Barthes, Witold Gombrowicz, Virgilio Pinera, Italo Calvino, Calvert Casey, and Emir Rodriguez Monegal, to name only a few. In the event that is death, in its stark finality, writing can only remain silent. In an epiphany of Christ on the Rue Jacob that bears the same title as a book by Beckett, Texts for Nothing, Sarduy writes: "Writing is useless. It does nothing to rescue those who are swept away by a sea of lava, who lie already beneath that stone" (93). Death is what every writer confronts. Even though the journalist and the media mogul deal with the same raw material as the writer--that is to say, the Word--it is only the writer/artist who confronts death in his work without fear, without looking away: "I mean a real writer, like Beckett, Genet, Joyce, Hemingway, Conrad, Fitzgerald, Kafka ... right away we have a distinction, can you imagine a writer or an artist who would be afraid to hear the word DEATH? I sure can't. Any writer who cannot hear that word is not a writer" (Burroughs, Adding Machine 50), and any writer who can't face death head-on is not a writer either. Sarduy places it at the very center of everything he wrote.

In telling the story of the time he fell and broke his lower lip horsing around with a friend at Princeton University, Sarduy describes the scene at the hospital waiting to get his lip stitched thus: "That Sunday morning, a dozen doctors and nurses, red-eyed like sleepwalkers, were dealing with their patients in total exhaustion. They pulled Coke after Coke from a soda machine.... I could hear through the dirty transparency of the curtain: 'I wonder if she'll die.' Someone, without the least formality, the way you request a piece of information, was inquiring about death" (24-25). Beautiful and poignant, Sarduy's anecdote of his experience at the Princeton hospital is told in a manner that can be described only as one of outraged understanding. The lights of Lezama, Virgilio Pinera, Calvert Casey, Italo Calvino, Severo Sarduy, et al.--these bright stars who once illuminated the dark, night sky disappear one day in an instant, like white dwarfs. "The white dwarf state," says the English astronomer Fred Hoyle, "is the graveyard all stars will ultimately reach" (248). Fortunately for us, because they are so distant, their light will continue to reach us for a long time to come. In the eternally recurrent spin of the prayer wheels, "this farewell is a warm introduction" (Moore 243) to a writer and an artist deserving of the same or greater admiration and respect that other Latin American writers of his literary generation have enjoyed.

"Translating" Sarduy

Given the relative difficulty of his writing, Sarduy was fortunate to have such wonderful English translators as Carol Maier and Suzanne Jill Levine. And by the same token, Levine and Maier were fortunate to work with a writer as supportive as Sarduy. Levine's translation of Sarduy's work began with From Cuba with a Song, originally published along with Hell Has No Limits (1966) by Jose Donoso and Holy Place (1962) by Carlos Fuentes, under the title Triple Cross (1972).

As previously noted, From Cuba with a Song is a translation of De donde son los cantantes, a title that can be interpreted as both a question and a statement--a play on words that is lost in the English rendition. Faced with the difficult task of translating an untranslatable title, Levine attempted in a number of ways to capture in English--even if only minimally--the multivoicedness of the original until finally settling on From Cuba with a Song. What is interesting in her account of the difficulties she faced in translating Sarduy's second novel--something that Sarduy himself warned her about--is his openness to her experiments. At one point, Levine proposed entitling the novel "From Cuba with Love," as a misquote of the movie From Russia with Love, and Sarduy, a fan of James Bond movies, was quite amused and even agreeable to it. Levine writes, "Sarduy's playful response to 'From Cuba with Love' was prefaced by praise of the baroque extravagance of another Bond film, Diamonds Are Forever, whose plot is almost impossible to disentangle" (150), as is the "plot," of course, of From Cuba with a Song. In a letter to Levine, Sarduy wrote, "Now I don't feel so cheated by not having been the author of Diamonds Are Forever which ... is divine for its heavy ornamentality, its baroque transvestism, its conceptual labyrinth. Of all the the titles you propose I prefer From Cuba with Love ... because it evokes the supermacho CIA agent. Now that Cuban journalism insists upon my filiation with that benevolent institution, nothing could be more opportune" (qtd. in Levine 150).

Although Levine seems to have proposed the James Bond-sounding title half in jest, she had legitimate reasons for doing so. From Cuba with a Song is peppered with countless references to American pop culture. HELP and MERCY appear dressed as "motorcycle molls, their helmets adorned with Fifties iconography" (Levine 150) of Elvis Presley, James Dean, Paul Anka, Tab Hunter, Pat Boone, and Rock Hudson. In the end, however, Levine decided on the title that would capture the novel's playful, irreverent, treatment of Cubannes:
 From Cuba with Love made its way to From Cuba with a Song to signal
 more clearly the text's poetic function as a song, and its Cubanity,
 making explicit what was implied in the original title. Though not
 a grammatical ellipsis like the original, this title could also be
 an incomplete answer to a suspended question, a fragment of a
 sentence that in this case might be "They came from Cuba with a
 song." It completes the original half-sentence: "The singers are
 from ... Cuba with a song" not in a linear but in a circular way,
 from the syntactic link both posing and responding to the enigma of
 origin. (151)


The question of origin is one that haunts every translator in the quest to render his/her translation as faithful to the original text as possible. It is what translators agonize over in the course of their thankless work. But Sarduy, who was never "faithful" to the original sources of his citations, did not expect faithfulness from his translators. If anything, he gave them ample freedom to play, even to misquote him, as he misquoted so many authors in his own texts. In the translators' afterword to Christ on the Rue Jacob, Levine and Maier discuss their elusive search for the original passage from Burroughs's Naked Lunch to accurately insert it in the English translation. They write, "When one searches through Burroughs's novel for the passage Sarduy cites, so as to insert the 'original' English into the translation, it becomes evident that, although the bulk of the paragraph does indeed correspond to an identifiable passage, some sentences have been taken from other sections of the book, and there is one sentence that Sarduy has apparently added himself" (Levine 164). Turning the religious concept of a "faithful" translation on its head, Sarduy instead put into play the exquisite joys of textual infidelity. He "translated" authors and cultures (as in the Latin traslatio) by transposing them. "Like Flaubert in Salambo, Sarduy 'translates' the non-Occidental experience" (Levine 173). In fact, he saw his own life in Paris as that of a translated Cuban into French and vice versa. He denied "the dichotomy between exile and home" and "between translation and original" (Levine 151). There is no home (nostos) to feel nostalgic about.

In Cobra, for instance, the question of the twins' origins never comes up. They are not from the plains; they are not from the mountains. They emerge out of Woman's womb as if out of nothing. But then as Gonzalez Echevarria acutely notes, one rarely encounters conventional familial groups in Sarduy's narratives ("Severo Sarduy" 1442). The question of origins is either an ontological or a historical one, and history in this instance has been denied the twins from the outset (as it happened with the Africans and Chinese in Cuba). Also, the history of the world is a history of texts, and here as elsewhere, the non-Western matrix has been denied a place in the Western canon. The history of colonialism and slavery is the story of the West assuming the role of cultural midwife while denying the Other any claim to a history prior to the conquest. The twins (African and Chinese) are delivered by a Chinese African midwife, herself the subject of colonial mestizaje, most likely lacking any knowledge of her past. The same thing has occurred in this country with African Americans. It is a very small minority of African Americans who can trace their origins back either to a specific family or even to a general geographical location in Africa. The history of the Americas is the story of a translated people. Any attempt at finding the original source is likely to terminate in a experience similar to that of Levine and Maier's with respect to the Burroughs quote, where some of the original lines of the text may still be intact, while others may have been either altered or added to create another story.

To the question of whether the Americas have a common history/literature (historia), the answer, as Gustavo Perez-Firmat says, is twofold. The Americas, or the geography that serves as the referent for the sign "America," is complex and manifold. Although the cultures and histories of the different countries of the Americas cannot be funneled into one, except perhaps in the most superficial way, "the Americas' cultural indebtedness to Europe is but one feature that the literatures of the New World have in common" ("Introduction" 2). The history of Cuba, for one, is connected by many factors to the history of the United States and Europe. Yet certain critics have argued--and I include myself among them--that that there is little in Sarduy that could really be considered Cuban and that in fact Sarduy is more French in literary and cultural sensibility than he is Cuban (see my Severo Sarduy and the Religion of Text). Gonzalez Echevarria's long-standing defense of Sarduy against such "accusations" from critics like me, Roberto Fernandez Retamar, and others postulates a Sarduy whose Cubanness (lo cubano) is implicitly inscribed in every single one of his texts with the blood of la patria. On further consideration I believe that both Gonzalez Echevarria and my camp are wrong and wrong for the same reason. If Sarduy was a French writer cross-dressed as a Cuban, he was also a Cuban cross-dressed as French writer. The failure to take Sarduy's opposition to nationhood seriously is perhaps the worst form of betrayal. If there was anything that Sarduy refused to endorse, it was the outworn romanticism of nationhood. It is not that Sarduy was a cross-dresser of Cuban culture; it is more that as a Cuban living most of his life outside of his native country, Sarduy saw Cuba as the Cuba of texts--an object of transvestism and simulation no different from Paris. Sarduy knew Cuba, loved Cuba, wrote about Cuba with all the gusto of the transvestite who, having put on his/her mascara, proudly goes out for the night. What the transvestite knows, said Sarduy, is that a woman is just appearance, and by extension so is a country-signifiers in the order of simulacra. Starving for an identity? Join MERCY and HELP at the Self-Service. The twenty-two-year-old Sarduy "stayed in Paris because, at that stage of his career, his commitment to art, to writing, and to his own growth concerned him far more than making a statement of political allegiance. The truth of the matter is that for Sarduy ... writing is the revolution" (Prieto, "In-Fringe" 267).

Prieto's assessment of Sarduy's decision to stay in Paris after his scholarship ran out rings true at least to this critic. But what was at first the self-chosen life of an expatriate became some years later a life of exile. In the late 1970s, at the height of the cold war, Sarduy--along with other Cuban writers living in and outside of Cuba--was accused of working for the CIA and denounced as a traitor to the revolution by the Castro regime. Refusing to take the accusations seriously or to heed the ultimatum of being in (with the regime) or out (against it), Sarduy opted for neither and in response took up the arms of a revolutionary, nonteleological literature of concentricity, mockingly deconstructive of power.

One of Sarduy's weapons of choice was the Cuban choteo. More devastating than irony or parody--the latter of which begins by respectfully citing the source and then transforming it for its own ends--choteo doesn't take the source or anything else seriously. Perez-Firmat writes, "The contrast with the subtlety and refinement of irony, which finds fertile soil in old and tradition-laden nations like England could not be sharper" ("Riddles" 72). According to Cuban cultural critic Jorge Manach, choteo was everything that was wrong with postcolonial Cuba. He attributed "the prevalence of choteo in Cuba to the youth of the Republic" (Perez-Firmat, "Riddles" 72). If you asked anyone on the street, he said, to define choteo, they would all agree that it consists in making fun of everything. In his 1940 essay "Indagacion del choteo" (Investigation into Choteo), Manach charged that choteo appeals to the basest and lowest common denominator of Cuban society. Jocular, mocking, and scatological, choteo reduces, levels, and lowers everything with which it comes in contact. In this sense, says Perez-Firmat, "choteo is doubly low: it is 'low' humor that 'lowers' its victims" ("Riddles" 72-73). Further and more important with respect to Sarduy's use of it, it holds absolutely nothing sacred. The sacred, in fact, may just be its favorite subject of attack. Anarchic in nature, dismissive of class and social distinctions, it laughs at all traditions by making light of them. "Everything is carnival, everything is parody, everything is laughter" (Kushigian, "Dialogue" 76, my translation), says Sarduy as he laughs at the myth of Maitreya by placing the Instructor inside a plastic wash basin. And so, "we witness the superimposition of the Cuban culture or specifically, the choteo onto Oriental philosophy" (Kushigian, "Dialogue" 76). But it's not just the Orient that suffers the slings and arrows of Sarduy's choteo--so does the West. The severity of Sarduy's choteo lies in the fact that it is not only rhetorical but also, and perhaps of even greater importance, formal--a mockery of the prudish bourgeois expectation that writing should always be about something, with an identifiable referent outside of language. The Bahktinian carnivalesque aspect of choteo, with its affront to all kinds of social hierarchies and middle-class hypocrisy, is potentially liberating. Taken too far, however, choteo can end up in the kind of nihilism that Nietzsche warned could result from a reevaluation of values. If, as Perez-Firmat claims, Manach overlooked the culo (ass) in "lo vernaculo" (the vernacular) ("Riddles" 72), Sarduy certainly did not. The dung heap of Western civilization lay nearby in the horizon. How one transformed the dung heap into something else, into something positive, was another matter--the material of art. Ana Maria Barrenechea is right on target when she says that Sarduy's Cuba--in all its religious, ethnic, and racial multiplicity--is a metaphor for a world the gods (Yoruba and Judeo-Christian) have abandoned (234). In the absence of gods, we are left with the dangerous freedom of the Self-Service. And yet to look back will no longer offer comfort, for we are also the age that knows that the "greatness" of the past was steeped in human blood. "Barbarism," writes Sarduy, "thy name is the Western World" (For Voice 101).

In the years following World War II, the French asked themselves whether anything could be said to be socially redeeming in de Sade. Why not burn de Sade? Such a question could only make someone like Sarduy cringe in horror and rightly so. However, one could ask the same question about Sarduy with respect to the North American context. The answer, I believe, would be a positive one. For Sarduy's challenge to the traditional notion of identity raises questions that remain problematically unanswered in American society. America's history of racism is the end result of the way we as a society have constructed, distributed, and economically propagated a certain conception of national identity. The obsession with placing people in religious, racial, and ethnic boxes has to do with a desperate attempt at filling what is experienced as an empty center with an artificially constructed identity that has yet to utter its "true" name. "Laughter, mockery as the mask of nothingness, choteo as a challenge to emptiness," is tantamount to "identity as a negation of identity" (Gonzalez Echevarria, Ruta 130, my translation). The secret, if we ever allow Pandora to let it fly out of her box, is: no, we are not number one; there isn't and there never was a number one in the elliptical and concentric circles that make our world.

Notes

(1) Sarduy associated the word cube with cubism as well as with the glass cubes of West Coast sculptor Larry Bell, of which he writes, "Larry Bell's art ... destroys the notion of art as a reference to something other than its own physique: the support, the armature, is precisely what constitutes the work" (Written 82).

(2) The Shanghai Theater of Sarduy's novel is pure kitsch, as kitschy as a Pedro Almodovar tableau. Varderi points out the connection between Sarduy's narratives and Almodovar's films.

(3) Either Sarduy's claim was a fiction--in his way of thinking, a simulation of reality--or he did in fact have a Chinese ancestor who was named Macao on his arrival in Cuba.

(4) Cuba's patron saint, Our Lady of Charity, is also the Santeria deity Ochun, goddess of the rivers and eros.

(5) The title "The Entry of Christ into Havana" is also an allusion to James Ensor's (1860-1949) carnivalesque painting The Entry of Christ into Brussels in 1889. Ensor, among other things, was a painter of masks, and the mask as a trope of simulation is central to Sarduy. The title of Sarduy's third novel, Cobra, is a reference to the artistic group from Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam known as COBRA, of which Ensor was a member.

(6) Sarduy was highly influenced by the work of the German artist Hans Bellmer (1902-1975). He is best known for a series of disturbing photographs of two dolls he constructed in the 1930s. The dolls are disassembled torsos in various sexual positions: tied to trees, spread-eagled, or quartered. These doll photos do much to clarify Sarduy's vision of the Lyrical Theater of the Dolls, especially in that Bellmer's dolls were double and that parts of one were often interchanged with parts of the other. Bellmer wrote a book entitled Die Puppe (1934) in which his dolls were characters in a theater of cruelty.

(7) The name Ktazob, as Prieto has discovered, combines the Arabic word zob, meaning penis, with Sarduy's contraction of the Spanish word quitar, to remove, with the root consonants kt. In short, Ktazob stands for "the penis remover" (Body 265, n5).

(8) Maitreya "resides in Tushita heaven and is expected to appear on earth in human form four thousand years after the disappearance of Gautama Buddha" (Coulter and Turner 303).

(9) This idea also appears in Sarduy's radio play Fall. The association of the twins' first period with the loss of their power of divination and healing goes back to the Nepalese Buddhist belief in the Devi or Goddess Durga. Her three sexual aspects are Kumari (prepubesence), Lakshmi (sexual maturity), and Mahakali (seasoned detachment). As part of a religious ceremony a prepubescent girl is chosen to represent the goddess, and she remains a Kumari Devi until the day of her first menstruation, after which the search for a new Kumari Devi begins all over again.

(10) This connection was not lost on Sarduy. In 1981 he wrote a radio play titled Tanka, after the classic form of Japanese poetry. The tanka is composed of five lines with five, seven, five, seven, and seven syllables.

(11) In the Cuban argot the word pajaro (bird) is pejorative, equivalent of the English word fag. Hence Sarduy's reference to a "colibri," or a hummingbird, and to "pajaros de la playa," or beach birds, could be translated as "beach queers." In Colibri his father says to Sarduy, "You are part of a long line of Sarduy men, and until now there have never been any fags (pajaros) in this family. I don't want anyone pointing the finger at me on the street. So you are now going to burn those four pieces of shit" (129, my italics, my translation). Clearly, the four pieces of shit are Sarduy's first four novels.

Works Cited

Barnard, Philip. Preface. For Voice. By Severo Sarduy. Pittsburgh: Latin American Literary Review Press, 1985. 9-11.

Barrenechea, Ana Maria. "Severo Sarduy o la Aventura Textual." Textos Hispanoamericanos De Sarmiento a Sarduy. Caracas: Monte Avila Editores, 1978. 221-34.

Barthes, Roland. "The Death of the Author." Image, Music, Text. Trans. Stephen Heath. New York: Hill & Wang, 1977. 142-48.

Beckett, Samuel. Cascando and Other Short Dramatic Pieces. New York: Grove, 1968.

Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994.

Bowker, John, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997.

Burroughs, William. The Adding Machine: Selected Essays. New York: Seaver, 1986.

--. Naked Lunch. New York: Grove, 1959.

--. The Ticket that Exploded. New York: Grove, 1987. Carpentier, Alejo. The Chase. Trans. Alfred Mac Adam. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1989.

Coulter, Charles Russel, and Patricia Turner. Encyclopedia of Ancient Deities. Jefferson: McFarland, 2000.

Gonzalez Echevarria, Roberto. Celestina's Brood: Continuities of the Baroque in Spanish and Latin American Literatures. Durham: Duke UP, 1993.

--. "La nacion desde De donde son los cantantes a Pajaros de la Playa." Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos 563 (May 1997): 55-67.

--. "Narrative and Prophecy in the Post-Modern Novel: Sarduy's Maitreya." World Affairs 150.2. (1987): 147-62.

--. La Ruta de Severo Sarduy. Hanover: Ediciones del Norte, 1987.

--. "Severo Sarduy." Latin American Writers. Vol. 2. Ed. Carlos A. Sole and Maria Isabel Abreu. New York: Scribner's, 1989.

Goytisolo, Juan. Juan the Landless. Trans. Helen R. Lane. New York: Viking, 1977.

Hoyle, Fred. Astronomy. New York: Doubleday, 1962.

Kushigian, Julia. "Dialogue and Displacement: The Orchestration of Sarduy." Orientalism in the Hispanic Literary Tradition: In Dialogue With Borges, Paz, and Sarduy. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 1991. 71-101.

--. "Gender and Culture Reconsidered: The Transformation of Cobra into Bildungsroman." Between the Self and the Void: Essays in Honor of Severo Sarduy. Ed. Alicia Rivero-Potter. Boulder: Society of Spanish and Spanish-American Studies, 1998. 49-64.

Levine, Suzanne Jill. The Subversive Scribe: Translating Latin American Fiction. Saint Paul: Graywolf, 1991.

Lezama Lima, Jose. "Image of Latin America." Latin America in Its Literature. Trans. Mary G. Berg. Ed. Ivan A. Schulman. New York: Holmes & Meir, 1980. 321-27.

--. Paradiso. Trans. Gregory Rabassa. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1974.

Montero, Oscar. The Name Game: Writing/Fading Writer in De Donde Son Los Cantantes. Chapel Hill: North Carolina Studies in the Romance Languages and Literatures--U.N.C. Department of Romance Languages, 1988.

Moore, Steven. Rev. of Christ on the Rue Jacob, by Severe Sarduy. Review of Contemporary Fiction 15.3 (1995): 242-43.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Gay Science. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage, 1974.

Pellon, Gustavo. "Severe Sarduy's Strategy of Irony: Paradigmatic Indecision in Cobra and Maitreya." Latin American Literary Review 23 (Fall-Winter 1983): 7-13.

Perez, Rolando. Severo Sarduy and the Religion of the Text. Lanham: UP of America, 1988.

Perez-Firmat, Gustavo. "Introduction: Cheek to Cheek." Do the Americas Have a Common Literature? Ed. Gustavo Perez-Firmat. Durham: Duke UP, 1990.1-5.

--.Rev. of Jose Lezama Lima's Joyful Vision: A Study of "Paradiso" and Other Prose Works, by Gustavo Pellon. Hispanic Review 59.2. (1991): 252-54.

--. "Riddles of the Sphincter." Literature and Liminality: Festive Readings in the Hispanic Tradition. Durham: Duke UP, 1986. 53-74.

Prieto, Rene. Body of Writing: Figuring Desire in Spanish American Literature. Durham: Duke UP, 2000.

--. "In-Fringe: The Role of French Criticism in the Fiction of Nicole Brossard and Severe Sarduy." Do the Americas Have a Common Literature? Ed. Gustavo Perez-Firmat. Durham: Duke UP, 1990. 266-81.

Salgado, Cesar Augusto. "Hybridity in New World Baroque Theory." Journal of American Folklore 112.445 (Summer 1999): 316-31.

Sarduy, Severe. "The Baroque and the Neobaroque." Latin America in Its Literature. Trans. Mary G. Berg. Ed. Ivan A. Schulman. New York: Holmes & Melt, 1980. 115-32.

--. Christ on the Rue Jacob. Trans. Suzanne Jill Levine and Carol Maier. San Francisco: Mercury House, 1995.

--. "Cobra" and "Maitreya." Trans. Suzanne Jill Levine. Intro. James McCourt. Normal: Dalkey Archive Press, 1995.

--. Colibari. Barcelona: Argos Vergara, 1984.

--. "Deterritorialization." Trans. Naomi Lindstrom. Review of Contemporary Fiction 4.2 (1984): 104-09.

--. For Voice (The Beach, Fall, Re-cite, The Ant-killers). Trans. Phillip Barnard. Pittsburgh: Latin American Literary Review Press, 1985.

--. From Cuba with a Song. Trans. Suzanne Jill Levine. Los Angeles: Sun & Moon, 1994.

--. Written on a Body. Trans. Carol Meir. New York: Lumen, 1989. Sessions, Roger. Roger Sessions on Music: Collected Essays. Ed. Edward T. Cone. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1979.

Thomas, Hugh. Cuba, or, The Pursuit of Freedom. New York: Da Capo, 1998.

Varderi, Alejandro. Severo Sarduy y Pedro Almodovar: del barroco al kitsch en la narrativa y el cine posmodernos. Madrid: Editorial Pliegos, 1996.

A Severo Sarduy Checklist

From Cuba with a Song. 1967. Trans. Suzanne Jill Levine. Los Angeles: Sun & Moon, 1994.

"Cobra" and "Maitreya." 1972/1978. Trans. Suzanne Jill Levine. Intro. James McCourt. Normal: Dalkey Archive Press, 1995.

For Voice (The Beach, Fall, Re-cite, The Ant-Killers). 1977. Trans. Phillip Barnard. Pittsburgh: Latin American Literary Review Press, 1985.

Christ on the Rue Jacob. 1994. Trans. Suzanne Jill Levine and Carol Maier. San Francisco: Mercury House, 1995.

ROLANDO PEREZ was born in Cuba in 1957. He is the author of a number of books, including The Electric Comedy (Cool Grove, 2000); The Divine Duty of Servants: A Book of Worship (based on the artwork of Polish writer/artist, Bruno Schulz; Cool Grove, 1999); On An(archy) and Schizoanalysis (Autonomedia/Semiotext(e), 1990); The Odyssey (Brook House Press, 1990); and Severo Sarduy and the Religion of the Text (UP of America, 1988). His latest book, The Lining of Our Souls: Excursions into Selected Paintings of Edward Hopper, was published in 2002 by Cool Grove Press.
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