- Reviewed by
In keeping with the promise of its evocative title, Eduardo González's book explores the predicament of literary subjects who, like Shakespeare's Coriolanus, cannot perform without generating a complex web of stories that turn them into "monstered selves." González's masterly scrutiny of short stories and novels by Borges, Cortázar, Wells, Vargas Llosa and Roa Bastos elucidates the ways in which death, metamorphosis and transfiguration are closely linked to this dual character of performance.
Part One, "Myth as Mask," consists of one extensive chapter, which offers a carefully articulated examination of the act of storytelling as a "conflict between individual autonomy and the stereotypes of group solidarity found in magic and ritual." González weaves his analysis of Borges' "El Sur" and "La muerte y la brujula" and H. G. Wells' The Invisible Man into a complex web of overlaps and continuations with Borges' own essays and Walter Benjamin's "The Storyteller" and "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." With remarkable resourcefulness González draws support from varied fields, including psychoanalysis, anthropology, etymology and comparative literature. The insights that result from this sophisticated blend are brought together in a virtuoso study of Vargas Llosa's The Storyteller that closes Part One.
The two chapters of Part Two ("Pastoral and Dark Romance") focus on Cortázar's short fiction. By exploring the complex sedimentation of the character's voice in "Cefalea," the first chapter offers a powerful new "take" on the much discussed topic of the fantastic as a textual strategy which subverts the pastoral narrative from within. In contrast to many critical discussions of Córtazar's best-known stories that suffer from a limiting formalistic bias, the readings of "Bestiario," "Final del juego" and "Las armas secretas" benefit from a broader cultural perspective, encompassing psychoanalytical principles, the structuralist study of kinship and self-conscious reflection on the monstrosity of storytelling within literary criticism.
In Part Three—focused on Roa Bastos' novel, Yo el Supremo-, González continues unfolding his argument, which "is simply this: in narrative, the need for expressiveness goes hand-in-hand with (and may radically resist) the plain urge to communicate with others." While Part Three attests to the labyrinthine nature of González's style, his interweaving of theory, intertextuality (Finnegans Wake, "The Pardoner's Tale") and textual analysis is illuminating and astute enough to lead us over the most unfamiliar ground. Through his compelling rereading of the Supreme's individual biography and of Paraguay's native myths, religion and collective genealogy, González reiterates and complements his previous meditations on the complexities of storytelling. [End Page 167]
The Monstered Self is an exemplary work of scholarship whose relevance goes far beyond the critical horizon of Latin American literary studies. González possesses a remarkable mastery of an impressive theoretical apparatus, which enables him to challenge and engage the reader. By incorporating cross-discplinary insights in the field of Latin American literary criticism and seeking mutual illumination of literature, theory and criticism, The Monstered Self offers enriched understanding of all three.