- Talking Back: Toward a Latin American Feminist Literary Criticism
Debra Castillo divides her study of Latin American feminist writing and criticism into seven exhaustive analyses of texts by writers of diverse ages and different ethnic backgrounds, ranging in origin from Spanish-American and Brazilian to U.S. Asian and Chicano communities. In each of the essays her analytical method consists of acknowledging the writers' theoretical insights about their works of fiction, and in marshalling an impressive array of critics and theorists who contribute to her own innovative deconstruction of patriarchal models of reading. She is quick to describe her critical position in the preface of the book by distancing herself from what she sees as three current approaches in Latin American feminist debate: the "other extreme of seeing women's literature as inherently limited when held up to 'universal standards,'" and the stance taken by some that any writing not concerned with social or political action is decadent. Castillo instead proposes focusing on the specific strategies of female antihegemonic texts and forgoes the construction of a general theory of Latin American feminism that could pose the danger of oversimplifying what she rightly sees as a heterogeneous and multidirectional literary production. She also warns against the dangers of appropriating Anglo-European theory uncritically which, on the one hand, can provide a blueprint for elucidating Latin American women's creative production, but on the other can result in incongruous analyses, detached from the very social and cultural structures that are part of such production. Castillo's point is well taken: ultimately, Latin American critical practice must and is developing a theoretical body of its own, in spite of what seems a contradictory stance taken by the author when she affirms that in Latin America there is a general preference toward the "revolutionary rather than a theoretical mode."
Castillo's work sets an agenda for future Latin American feminist scholarship by pointing to the possibility of women-centered interpretations of literature: her method is thus predicated on the recovery of lost "facts" as well as providing insights about Latin American culture. She also repeatedly asks us to "decenter" our view of Latin American theory and invites us to look at how women writers "Talk Back" to tradition and theory.
One of the most inspired essays in this book deals with the theme of marginalization in the works of Rosario Castellanos and Maria Luisa Puga. A key idea explored here is the still current and unresolved oppositon between women of Indian and European background within Latin America, who in spite of the parallel marginalization posited by their common gender [End Page 393] do not share the marginalization caused by class. In the case of Rosario Castellano's Balun-Canan, however, Castillo concludes that the marginalization caused by oppression affects both the Indian woman and the woman of the dominant class alike. In organizing a feminist discourse, Castillo thus acknowledges the significance of class and race issues, but warns against the danger of critical stagnation by not going beyond confrontational politics.
The book closes with a provocative and stimulating chapter in which we hear Castillo "talking back" to one of the principal figures of Latin American literary criticism, Roberto González Echevarria, and challenging the ideological implications of his book, The Voice of the Masters. Overall, Talking Back deserves careful consideration, and because its arguments are sometimes embedded in a rather tortuous language, it must be read attentively. This is a serious study that provides new insights not only of the texts under analysis, but of the evolving process of Latin American feminism as well. [End Page 394]