restricted access Women, Guerrillas, and Love: Understanding War in Central America (review)
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Reviewed by
Ileana Rodríguez. Women, Guerrillas, and Love: Understanding War in Central America. Trans. Ileana Rodríguez with Robert Carr. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1996. xxi + 199 pp.

Ileana Rodríguez’s latest book engages guerrilla texts in the Central American context to examine literary and political representations of gender and the revolutionary nation-state. Rodríguez’s study thus builds on seminal works in Latin American cultural and subaltern studies, including Doris Sommer’s Foundational Fictions, Jean Franco’s Plotting Women, and John Beverley and Marc Zimmerman’s Literature and Politics in the Central American Revolutions. Rodríguez examines the constitution [End Page 1021] of the narrative self as guerrilla leader and writer and the relationship between the “narrative ‘I’” and the insurgent masses, finding that woman occupies a subaltern position. Her readings convincingly show how, over the course of different generations of revolutionary writings by male authors, female characters are continually objectified, constructed as Other through their primary roles as “repose of the warrior” and “revolutionary pussy.” By reading the masses through the figure of woman, Rodríguez contends that woman’s exclusion as revolutionary subject reflects the exclusion of all disenfranchised peoples from the revolutionary-democratic society plotted in these texts: “since women are located in the same discursive and geographic spaces as people, masses, and bases, the site of woman draws attention to the typology of political ideology that (re)constitutes ‘democracies’ as autocracies. This book thus argues for the feminization of epistemologies as a precondition for the constitution of genuine democracies.”

In the first half of her study, Rodríguez analyzes key revolutionary writings by representative figures such as Che Guevara, Sergio Ramírez, Roque Dalton, and Mario Roberto Morales. While revitalizing debates from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s on the guerrilla writer, Rodríguez unsettles idealized depictions of the “‘new’ heroic” to show how the “narrative ‘I’” ultimately constructs itself as “Difference” from the masses, women, and troops. Even Dalton’s work, which Rodríguez argues is more nuanced when it addresses the painful gap between the flesh and blood revolutionary and the idealized New Man, falls flat when he unquestioningly depicts woman as vaginal object. So, too, in Mario Roberto Morales’s novel El esplendor de la Pirámide (The Splendor of the Pyramid) woman is present only so that man can demonstrate his sexual prowess as a “veritable ‘Karl Marxutra’.” Women as desiring subjects and sexual/revolutionary agents figure only as (glaring) absence. Consequently, in the political debates of the 1970s, the “Marxist-Leninist label” goes through a “dialectical transformation into ‘Machista-Leninist’ to indicate the absence of revolutionary sentiment toward woman within revolutionary epistemes.”

The contradictions of gender construction are only seriously treated in narratives by women writers such as Yolanda Oreamuno and Carmen Naranjo. Rodríguez’s insightful discussion of Oreamuno, for example, shows how the author confronts and resists exhausted ideologies like those reproduced by male guerrilla texts. Even as Oreamuno’s [End Page 1022] novel La ruta de su evasión (The Route of His/Her Evasion) challenges the logic of patriarchy, it also documents woman’s anger, frustration, and resentment. Carmen Naranjo’s narratives enact “the inventory of social inanity” by depicting fragmented, disembodied voices and the ambiguity of meanings. Realism gives way to simulation, Rodríguez argues, as the misrepresented masses now take the form of the throngs that flock to the artificial world of Bloomingdale’s at the mall. In the ironic play between representation and nonrepresentation, Naranjo calls attention to these “roboticized humans who have no place in the narratives that affectionately recreate social types and/or position them in insurgent revolutionary geographies.”

Turning to testimonial works, Rodríguez highlights co-authored publications by Claribel Alegría and Darwin Flakoll, and Elizabeth Burgos Debray and Rigoberta Menchú, as well as other testimonials collected by Lea Marenn and Margaret Randall to argue that these texts privilege “the constitution of the subject Woman—peasant, indigenous, militant—from the point of view of narratives of resistance.” By situating woman at the center of their narratives, these testimonials fill a critical epistemological void: “They are in charge of inscribing the feminine subject as rebel...