restricted access Reclaiming the Author: Figures and Fictions from Spanish America (review)
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Reviewed by
Lucille Kerr. Reclaiming the Author: Figures and Fictions from Spanish America. Durham: Duke UP, 1992. 227 pp. $17.50 paper.

As is well known by now, Structuralism's postulation of a trans-personal, linguistic subject of discursive activity purported to explain away as mirages the idiosyncrasies and particularisms of individual expression. The concept of author as a personal singularity that had been inherited from phenomenology and existentialist philosophy was put in check by Structuralism's fascination with code rather than utterance, the constraints of langue rather [End Page 165] than the creative appropriation of parole. This confident announcement of the author's death was followed by some very subtle critiques of the idea which showed that the prerogatives of the subject had simply been hypostatized into other elements of discourse—beginning with the very concept of structure—thereby keeping the author very much alive. In this seamless and intelligent book, Lucille Kerr endeavors to show how this dynamics has played itself out in the context of literary production in Spanish America during the last thirty years.

Kerr undertakes in this study the reading of a number of works whose point of departure—if not their essence outright—is the problematization of some aspect of not only the traditional, received idea of the author, but of the critical proclamations regarding the author's supposed demise as well: Cortázar's Rayuela, Elena Poniatowska's Hasta no verte Jesús mio, Fuentes's Terra nostra, Pubis angelical by Manuel Puig, Donoso's El jardin de al lado, and Vargas Llosa's latest novel El hablador. Anyone familiar with these works will understand immediately the fertile ground they offer to Kerr's perspective. Under various guises all of them manage to raise important considerations about the role of the author as a controlling fiction for the production, consumption and reception of the literary text. Furthermore, they all explore the subtle ways in which the author's avowed death is less a disappearance than a reformulation and a transformation of the will to power embodied in the figure of the author.

Kerr argues that the recurrence of authorial figures in Spanish American fiction bespeaks a preoccupation with issues of authority in general. I find this proposition to be irrefutable, and the examples she adduces unimpeachable. Yet, given this thesis, could an explanation be advanced as to why Spanish American works of the last thirty years engage in a seemingly obsessive exploration of issues related to the figure of the author? What are the cultural and political explanations and implications for the existence of such a sustained meditation on issues related to authority? It is perhaps too tempting to see the phenomenon Kerr points to as related to Spanish America's existence in the political, cultural and economic periphery of Western experience, a situation that makes its writers and intellectuals keenly aware of the two related insights that Kerr has identified so sharply: the self-delusion involved in any claim of absolute power, and the equally naive assumption that any locus of power—in this case the author—can be summarily declared dispensed with and dismissed.

Because of the debate from which it draws its materials, Reclaiming the Author is without question an important and timely contribution to the field of Spanish American literature. Its wider connotations concerning issues of power and authority should make it equally significant to academics in other related scholarly fields as well. [End Page 166]

Carlos J. Alonso
Emory University
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