- La imaginación novelesca: Bernal Díaz entre géneros y épocas
"Más allá" seems to be the overall impression that a reader of Oswaldo Estrada's book La imaginación novelesca: Bernal Díaz entre géneros y épocas is meant to receive. That is, Estrada's vision towards Díaz's Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España conceives of the soldier's work as far more than an exhaustive chronicle of his experiences with Hernán Cortés's invading force in Mexico; Díaz del Castillo also exhibits many thoroughly literary tendencies in his book. It is this acute focus on "literariness" in a genre whose [End Page 705] famously heterogeneous nature invites caution from its audience that reveals the most cause for celebration in Estrada's piece.
Consisting of an introduction, five chapters, a conclusion, and a rich bibliography, La imaginación novelesca walks a critical tightrope of sorts: examining the literary traces of Díaz del Castillo while still distancing the latter's work from a novel as such (21). Estrada's introduction makes this goal clear. Although his study does not discount the importance of the Historia verdadera and its place "en el momento histórico e historiográfico en que produce su manuscrito" (20), the "novel" value of Estrada's enterprise lies squarely in his second goal of exploring Díaz del Castillo's literary qualities.
In chapter 1, Estrada delves into the cloudy world of historiography written during the conquest. For while "historias" of the Renaissance were conceived of as documents without poetic additions (31), Estrada rightly locates Díaz del Castillo as a writer whose literary style is encouraged by a Mexican reality best explained by fantastic models. Therefore, it should not be a surprise that Díaz del Castillo employs stories, common sayings, and oral elements most commonly found in literary sources of his own era (37-41).
After thoroughly analyzing this difficult genre, Estrada turns his critical attention to concrete examples of Díaz del Castillo's "lenguaje novelesco" (47). Chief among Estrada's observations is his inclusion of the reader as one of Díaz del Castillo's probable discursive considerations. Disparate figures such as Bartolomé de las Casas and Cortés are the objects of critical treatment due to techniques of foreshadowing and suspense, respectively (57-60). Moreover, Estrada usefully mentions Bakhtin's theory of dialogism as a frame for the "voices of the other" (indigenous vocabulary in particular) that populate Díaz del Castillo's book (74-80).
Chapter 3 sharpens this literary focus to an exploration of the "characters" present in the Historia verdadera. Specifically, Cortés and doña Marina represent two notable entities whose treatment in Díaz del Castillo's work encourage a literary lens for their investigation. Estrada comments that the exploration of these characters' entire selves, from interior to exterior features, is indicative of their literary value (82). Doña Marina, for one, also demonstrates a capacity to develop traits in other characters. Cortés's main literary component, according to Estrada, seems to be glimpsed in the antiheroic characteristics that Díaz del Castillo applies to a usually epic figure (110).
Estrada offers a strong study of time and place in the Historia verdadera in chapter 4. Particularly apt is Estrada's argument that Díaz del Castillo manipulates time in a very self-conscious manner and links it tangibly to this marvelous New World space in a chronotopical whole (122). As part of Estrada's consideration of Díaz del Castillo's time-space conflation, a useful addition to this section would be an examination of Mary Louise Pratt's concept of "contact zones" in relation to this spatial collision with cultures of the "other."
Chapter 5 visits this literary approach upon various twentieth-century Mexican novels. Above all, Estrada notes that Díaz del Castillo stays culturally relevant in Mexico largely due to his literary attraction to many of the nation's...