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  • Carnal Inscriptions: Spanish American Narratives of Corporeal Difference and Disability
  • Niamh Thornton
Susan Antebi, Carnal Inscriptions: Spanish American Narratives of Corporeal Difference and Disability. New York and Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan. 2009. 239 pp. ISBN 978-0-23061-389-8.

Physical difference, as described in textual form, frequently functions as a metaphor for other types of cultural difference, otherness or, disturbingly, of some negative generality. This is how, for example, diabetes in one of Gabriel García Márquez's characters suggests his greed, excess and venality, rather than merely denoting an actual illness. In Carnal Inscriptions Susan Antebi explores this idea of fictional physical differences and disabilities over the course of several exemplary texts. In her words, 'Textual performance operates here through inconsistencies or gaps in the overarching metaphors that purport to collapse corporeal difference with ethnic, cultural, and gender differences, or with identity as generalized otherness' (2). This displacement of difference is taken from the perspective of Latin American authors and artists who have a variety of experiences, including having lived in the US, carrying an awareness of their own otherness, or feeling like outsiders through their own disability. Much of her foundational theory is inspired by recent developments in disability studies. However, not all of her texts are about disability. Some deal with the idea of the monstrous, the freaks (as they are now acceptably called within the realm of freak studies), and all of those who fall outside conventional measurements, abilities and typical physical and mental functioning.

In her text Antebi enriches the idea of travel, displacement, and otherness from a distinct and sometimes very radical perspective. Through this distinct lens, Antebi examines very diverse individuals and their creative products. Starting in the late twentieth century she begins with a suggestion that the adoption by the influential Cuban poet, essayist and journalist José Martí of the monstrous Caliban from Shakespeare's The Tempest had been influenced by his visits to [End Page 1029] freak shows on Coney Island. She contends that 'Martí's text inevitably participates in a history of metaphorical bodies and of monstrosity as a shifting category through and against which collective identities are forged' (38). Martí's text is usually read within the framework of the debates surrounding national identity formation in Latin America. To place it instead into a wider parameter of considerations of bodily difference is not to take away from earlier readings, but invites the reader to reconsider the text in another light. Antebi compares Martí's reaction to that of the Mexican poet and essayist José Juan Tablada, who went into exile and lived in New York as a result of political differences in the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution. Antebi considers his reactions to the freak shows through an exploration of how freaks were read in the early part of the twentieth century. This placing of these two writers in a different context enables her to explore how the men positioned themselves as viewers in sympathy with the freaks, as they also felt that they were marked as other in the US. The writers' otherness makes these figures kindred spirits, whose difference and outsider status fuels the imagination of Tablada and Martí.

Antebi continues the idea of the viewers' reactions to difference through an examination of two short stories by two Ecuadorian writers, 'La doble y única mujer' (1927) by Pablo Palacio and 'El caballero de la mano en el pecho' (1983) by Jorge Velasco Mackenzie. The separate time frames informs her reading and allows for a consideration of the developments and changes in how difference is viewed. In this chapter she introduces the idea of 'autoscopy', that is, to see oneself from outside. This doubling of a sense of difference, that is, of being seen and watching oneself, is explored by many of the writers and artists.

Jewishness and being Japanese, with their physical markers of difference and the subject's sense of being an outsider in Latin America, are examined by Antebi through her reading of three novels: Santa María del circo (1998) by David Toscano; El hablador (1987) by Mario Vargas Llosa; and Shiki Nagaoka: una nariz de ficción (2001) by Mario...


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