- Three Recent Books on Latin American Literature:An Essay-Review
If, as Barbara Johnson has suggested in The Critical Difference, the critic's job is to establish standards for evaluating the differences between texts as (s)he tries to perceive something uniquely different within each text while establishing his/her own individual difference from other critics, scholars of Latin American literature are performing their duties to perfection. Indeed, if we are to judge by the three titles under consideration here, the current trend in Latin American literary criticism would seem to be a focus on difference and otherness, for each of these critical analyses centers on difference: differences between and among texts as well as differences within the text. And each is posited on that rereading proposed by Johnson. One study highlights a different way to read what we might call "standard texts," another centers on the differences in gender portrayal and our traditional reading of that portrayal, and the Foster study centers on difference in emphasis and difference (or lack thereof) between [End Page 477] fiction and nonfiction, "serious" literature and popular literature.
The Dixon study, which is a revision of his thesis, centers on ambiguity, which he defines as the possibility of two or more readings posited by the same text but ultimately incompatible and mutually exclusive. His premise is predicated on the referentiality of texts and his belief that texts not only refer to some extratextual reality but that they have meaning principally in relationship to that reality.
Dixon examines four well-known and often studied novels, two Brazilian and two Spanish-American, but he proposes to look at them in a different and original manner. After an Introduction that explains his theory of ambiguity, he examines Machado de Assis' Dom Casmurro (1900) and its narrative ambiguity, identified as the "existence of more than one deep structure (essential story line) underlying a single surface structure (text)." His analysis of the novel centers on a lengthy discussion of whether Capitu was or was not unfaithful to Bentinho. He concludes that the question cannot be resolved within the context of the novel and that the relationship between Bentinho and Capitu metaphorically parallels that between Man and Life as well as that between the Reader and the Text because the first term in each pair seeks meaning in the second. He also suggests that the second term in each relationship (Capitu, Life, Text) can be compared metaphorically to the undulating motion of an undertow because all push and pull simultaneously.
In his commentary on Juan Rulfo's Pedro Páramo (1955), Dixon centers on what he labels three competing structures: the story of Pedro Páramo, the narrative syntax that is not chronological but rather expressionistic, and the chiasmatic motifs. He sees Juan Preciado as a prototype for the novel's implied reader and undertakes a lengthy consideration of who is and who is not dead in the novel. Once again the issue cannot be resolved unambiguously, and he concludes that "Story and discourse each call attention to themselves, and each distracts from the other." In his examination of the chiasmatic motifs he concludes that the motifs of the second half of the novel mirror those of the first half while a number of characters serve as doubles for other characters.
Similarly, Dixon proposes that the ending of García Márquez' Cien años de soledad (1967) is ambiguous because it offers mutually exclusive possibilities: if the novel we read is Melquiades' manuscript, then it cannot have been destroyed by the windstorm that wipes away everything in the novel's final pages. He postulates that the novel defines itself as a mirror of the world but that the "world it creates is also a mirror of the...