Desencanto al amanecer.
Thirty years after his death, it must be impossible to read the diary of Che Guevara in Bolivia and not be overwhelmed by the unanalyzed masculinism, the authoritarian patriarchalism, of the vision of revolutionary struggle. And as much as it is impossible to miss the controlling homosociality of the revolutionary struggle the account models, it must also not be difficult to detect the unspoken but always threateningly present homoeroticism of the comradely microcosm.
The need to analyze the occluded ideologemes of one powerful version of human liberation and to question the place of woman, of the feminine, and of pleasure in that version is the organizing principle of Milagros Palma's novel Desencanto al amanecer. The work tells the story of Fernanda, a university professor and writer who feels bound to respond to the call to do duty against the counterrevolutionaries in an artists' and writers' brigade in the jungle. (One presumes that the locale is the author's native Nicaragua, but this is never specified, although certain linguistic markers make it clear that the work is set in Central America.) Fernanda is subjected equally to the masculinist harangues of her male colleagues and to the male-dominant command (which only causes her to recall the unremitting machismo of her husband), and when she falls victim to the counterrevolutionaries, she enters a dreamlike trance that whisks her away to a Monique Wittig or Joanna Russ-like lesbian utopia in which the pleasure of the body, the dearticulation of binary gender and its hierarchical oppression, and the release from the heavy hand of masculinism figure the sort of liberation that official ideology only mouths, while at the same time it effectively reinforces the very tyranny against which it speaks. Cultural nationalism, revolutionary priorities, self-sacrifice, martyfish asceticism, verticalist obedience, and, above all else, male supremacy all serve to reinforce in Fernanda the conviction that she has gained nothing with the overthrow of the foreign-supported dictator. Moreover, when she is told that she simply has a bad attitude, she is only further convinced that the revolution's machos do not have her liberation in mind.
There is a lot that is wrong with Palma's novel. By setting the work in an underspecified Latin American nation, she loses the sense of sociohistorical placement that gives the themes of resistance the resonance of lived experience. But differently, by engaging in nonspecificness, the novel implies the notion of universality that radical feminism and queer theory customarily reproach. More significantly, by juxtaposing historical reality (even a thin, underspecified one) with a surreal realm of death, Desencanto al amanecer essentially reinforces the idea that meaningful resistance is not possible in this world and that death is the only release from compulsory heterosexism for the sexual dissident: the disappearance through death is one of the homophobe's most abiding fantasies. Before her death, Fernanda works with a battle-scarred Pilar type; but the reader seeks in vain for a carnal relationship between the two women, and thus the record of real-life homoerotic resistance to masculinism - imperialistic or armed-revolutionary - will have to be sought elsewhere.
David William Foster Arizona State University