- House/Garden/Nation: Space, Gender, and Ethnicity in Post-Colonial Latin American Literature by Women
Ileana Rodríguez’s first monograph in English deploys such a wide critical and historical scope that I feel as though I have read both too much and not enough on the topics promised in her title. House, garden, and nation are understood here as terms that the disenfranchised majority in Latin America can mobilize to enter societal struggles, and they “signal the appropriation by women of ever-larger social spaces in the reorganization of privatized spaces [End Page 284] and in the territorial administration of the globe” (19). These concepts, then, represent for Rodríguez both “the ancient structures of the psyche” (197) and the modern instruments of political and social transformation, especially for women. Her selection of texts places classic novelas de la tierra by Rivera and Gallegos in dialogue with novels by Francophone and Anglophone Caribbean women writers (Simone Schwartz-Bart, Jean Rhys) as well as works by three Spanish-speaking authors (Gioconda Belli, Teresa de la Parra, and Dulce María Loynaz). To begin, Rodríguez reaches back to her early fascination with Alicia and Arturo Covas in La vorágine, a text that for her links the masculine and feminine to a “certain feeling of continental regionalism” (xiv) and to the land, the country, the nation. Following her incursions into what she names “the masculine” (depictions of violent, land-owning, nation-making misogynist men) she privileges five “feminine” textual moments of national transitions to Modernity in the attempt to unravel and expose how the state in each case has been constituted, and to locate in each of them “the assigned gender and ethnic positions” (1). The thread that sutures these authors for Rodríguez is their feminization of the concept of nation along with their inscription of a dislocated, disarticulated woman. Rodríguez’s critical method appears to combine undertheorized and reductionist notions of “the masculine” and “the feminine” with sociopolitical commentary—much of it generalized (“On the bodies of women, class, ethnicity, and gender converge,” 25), and some of it local (“The geography of the mountain people is an armed geopolitics,” 42). The sheer mass of commentaries of this sort envelopes if not eclipses the textual analyses, an effect that creates the impression that for Rodríguez’s purposes no specific literary work would be necessary to substantiate her roving observations. Curiously, she does not delve into any texts other than the prose of the five main authors whom she treats in this study, thus mirroring them back and forth among themselves as if they constituted a magic circle of meaning. Rodríguez claims that her method is feminine, and often makes its point at the end, when the overwhelming accumulation of evidence proves her points for her (16). If we accept that a gender binary informs rhetorical strategies, then the book’s difficulties could be attributed in part to it; perhaps, however, it would be fairer to “the feminine” to say that House/Garden/Nation is voiced through an unconventional and scattered critical register. In a profound sense, this book does not accomplish a coherent critical commentary about house, garden, nation, space, gender, ethnicity, or postcoloniality with respect to Latin American literatures by women. It instead offers a comparatist perspective interspersed with political analysis that differs notably from the more focused approaches taken by the majority of literary critics writing for a North American readership, which may in fact be Rodríguez’s primary achievement.