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  • The Inordinate Eye: New World Baroque and Latin American Fiction
The Inordinate Eye: New World Baroque and Latin American Fiction The University of Chicago Press, 2006 By Lois Parkinson Zamora

In this novel interdisciplinary study, Lois Parkinson Zamora explores Latin American cultures and their forms of visual and verbal expression in relation to the transcultural modes of signification embedded in the aesthetic and ideology of the New World Baroque. By thoroughly analyzing Latin American fiction alongside an impressive variety of cultural artifacts from Pre-conquest tradition to contemporary murals, paintings, and architecture from both sides of the Atlantic, the author shows how modern Latin American writers use the New World Baroque syncretic structures to define post colonial identity.

Chapter one describes the European and Amerindian encounter in terms of an ontological confrontation. It formulates the "syncretic" nature of the image of the Latin American Baroque through the foundational narratives of Quetzalcóatl's mirror and Guadalupe's eye. As god "images" are vital to culture, the author [End Page 312] traces the cultural distinctions that underlie their process of signification. She claims that, as visual-performative media, indigenous representation renders a better depiction of the image, which comprises the "fluid" identity of Mesoamerican gods. As western alphabetic system denies this mode of signification, she concludes that Guadalupe's eye, as a "syncretic" image imprinted in Juan Diego's tilma, does not only promote proselytism but it also illustrates the interactions of indigenous cultures and European colonizing systems.

In chapter two, the author demonstrates how contemporary artists' visual and textual images engage in the pre-Hispanic tradition of the códices. She identifies the "experiential field" of time/space of Mesoamerican cosmology as the central theme of Elena Garro's Los recuerdos del porvenir and La semana de colores, Eduardo Galeano's Memoria del fuego and Diego Rivera's murals. As records of Mesoamerican culture, códices link cosmic movement and human history. Time ties in with space in a structure that favors mutability and whose interpretation involves the association of images with myth by the public performance of the tlacuilo. She presents Rivera as a modern tlacuilo, whose murals reproduce the structures of the códices and transmit post revolutionary values. She defines Garro's and Rivera's work in terms of their "inordinate" spatial structures. As Galeano, they recreate the códices and transgress realist expression.

Chapter three focuses on the New World Baroque as a postcolonial poetics for Latin American cultural self-definition. Lois Parkinson Zamora grounds her argument on Alejo Carpentier's cultural theorizing, El siglo de las luces, and Concierto barroco alongside a vast number of literary, architectural, and musical examples and Neobaroque theories. Convinced of the need to analyze the relationship between European cultural forms and American expression, Carpentier recognizes in the Baroque's horror vacui and Latin America's "inclusionary" nature the foundations of his "transcultural theory." As he redefines the Baroque as "a constant of the human spirit," he proposes the New World Baroque as an aesthetic of inclusion that accounts for Latin American identity. She explains that Carpentier's theory surfaces in a narrative that is emblematic of a "decentered" and all-inclusive, "inordinate" perspective.

Chapter four examines Frida Kahlo's overlooked engagement of "Baroque iconography" in the representation of modern female subjectivity as a means to understand Gabriel García Márquez's characters. She starts by analyzing European and Folk Baroque iconography in conjunction with religious portraiture and sculpture to signify Kahlo's work as Baroque. She argues that, as opposed to García Márquez's repeating characters that "ironize" interiority, Kahlo's intensify interiority and suffering. His characters challenge the Baroque allegory for purposes of political critique in The Autumn of the Patriarch and One Hundred Years of Solitude. In Of Love and Other Demons, on the other hand, Lois Parkinson Zamora discusses Baroque hagiography and demonic possession in the hybrid viceregal culture of the Caribbean. The chapter demonstrates that both adapt Baroque structures to their syncretic cultural contexts.

In chapter five, Jorge Luis Borges's "miniature" New World Baroque narrative is the focal point of analysis for it differs from the "inclusionary impulse" that defines the projects carried out by Garro, Galeano, Carpentier, and García Márquez. Although Borges favors universal traditions over Spanish ones, his impulse to embrace the universe makes him Baroque—so does his self-reflective and parodic style. The author examines Baroque visual devices such as illusionism, trompe l'oeil, Renaissance and Baroque perspective, quadratura, and mise en abîme to discuss Borges's disruption of realist representation. She claims that his irony lies in the fact that his illusion of infinity operates within the conventions of realistic perspective, his mastery of Baroque convention, and his knowledge of different disciplines, media, and genres. She concludes that Borges's Neobaroque originality stems from his reworking of tradition. [End Page 313]

The Inordinate Eye. New World Baroque and Latin American Fiction illuminates the understanding of contemporary fiction and its underlying connection to visual and verbal transcultural modes of perception and expression. In this context, Lois Parkinson Zamora's "cultural legibility" proves essential to alternative and accurate accounts of Latin American modernity. She sets an important precedent for scholars whose interest is the study of literature that reflects hybrid modes of imagining. She demonstrates the latter through the sign of the New World Baroque and its syncretic forms and defying perspectives, which she brilliantly traces in contemporary Latin American fiction.

Mónica Morales
The University of Arizona

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