- Ariel Dorfman: An Aesthetics of Hope
Sophia A. McClennen's Ariel Dorfman: An Aesthetics of Hope examines the life and works of Chilean writer, activist, and intellectual Ariel Dorfman, highlighting his commitment to the notion that culture plays an essential role in the way we understand and struggle to change our world. This outstanding study strikes a balance between providing an overview of Dorfman's life and work and offering a critical assessment of his writing. Addressing both the absence of a comprehensive study of his work and the critical tendency to see his diverse production as fragmented, McClennen argues that a consistent aesthetic strategy has guided all of his production: "from Donald Duck to Death and the Maiden to Exorcising Terror, from Susana la Semilla to his Internet blog, Dorfman's works reveal his aesthetic commitment to providing readers with an unflinchingly intense view of a world where hope for the future depends on a combination of critical reflection and creative imagination" (279).
Chapter 1 traces Dorfman's biography, paying special attention to his repeated exiles and displacements that shaped his identity in different key moments such as in Berkeley in 1968, in Chile under Allende, and in exile in the United States. This chapter attends to the intersections between such defining experiences and his cultural production.
Chapter 2 provides an extensive discussion of Dorfman's many literary and theoretical influences, ranging from early modern, modernist, and postmodern writers across national boundaries. McClennen attends to the specific ways Dorfman blends these influences to create his own unique style. This style, she contends, positions Dorfman as a postmodern storyteller: one who is skeptical of master narratives and of language's ability to represent reality but who also maintains a deep-seated faith in the importance of storytelling for shaping communities by enabling memory and creating social bonds. The influence of surrealism is of particular interest in that it provides a model for surprising the reader through a variety of tactics and styles that aim to surprise the reader and provoke response.
The third chapter develops the aesthetic theory of hope, thus providing readers with a theoretical map that Dorfman refrains from elaborating. Here McClennen reviews relevant theories of aesthetics and of hope, as well as some of Dorfman's stylistic tendencies related to this aesthetic of hope. She contextualizes it with broader theoretical concerns, such as the Frankfurt School's engagement with mass culture or postmodernism's critique of representation, master narratives, and authorial agency. McClennen highlights that despite attention to doubts and difficulties in addressing such themes as violence and trauma, a pervasive sense of faith in literature and in the reader permeate Dorfman's production. Even his most dystopic works are hopeful that they might move the reader to action, that there might be agency, that it might produce a desire for a different community.
Chapters 4 and 5 delve into analysis of Dorfman's works, divided chronologically into pre- and post-1990 cultural production. Her detailed, well-written analyses of his more- and less-known texts seamlessly weaves together textual analysis, theoretical considerations, and relevant contextual information to connect Dorfman's cultural production to broader theoretical and cultural concerns.
In Chapter 4, her analysis of works such as Moros en la costa reveals the nuanced way Dorfman responds principally to the Pinochet dictatorship and human rights abuses. Her analyses underscore Dorfman's continued exploration of conflicting responses to the disappeared, the difficulties inherent in trying to express or represent violence and torture, and the intersections [End Page 707] of the poetic and the testimonial in his work. Although she finds him increasingly pessimistic in this period when Pinochet's rule seemed endless, McClennen affirms the persistence of hope in all of these works aimed at fostering critical thinking in an actively engaged reader.
The works analyzed in Chapter 5, such as La muerte y la doncella, Manifesto for Another World, and The Nanny and the Iceberg mark Dorfman's shift in focus from trauma and the testimonial to neoliberalism and globalization. McClennen...