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  • The Dialectics of Exile: Nation, Time, Language, and Space in Hispanic Literatures
  • Maria Helena Rueda (bio)
The Dialectics of Exile: Nation, Time, Language, and Space in Hispanic Literatures. By Sophia A. McClennen. West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 2004. xi + 241 pp. $32.95.

Exile occupies a central place among the defining features of Hispanic literatures. Numerous writers from Spanish America, and many from Spain, were forced to live and write outside their homelands, incorporating reflections on this situation into their writing. It is surprising, however, not to find a substantial body of critical attention devoted to this matter. Sophia McClennen's book responds to a pressing need to theorize an issue that involves many questions concerning notions of power, identity, and memory—all of them pivotal to the study of Hispanic culture on both sides of the Atlantic. By adopting a comparative perspective, she also goes beyond the context of the Spanish-speaking world to reflect on the concept of "exile" and its problematic appropriation by post-modern critical theory. Her main concern in this respect is how a metaphoric use of the concept tends to ignore the pain and difficulties of the actual experience of exile, by focusing on how it liberates subjects from the constraints of nationhood. McClennen stresses the need to localize and reflect on the political circumstances behind any exile's situation, before adopting the term as a de-problematized marker of a post-national condition. Her book thus focuses on the work of three writers for whom exile was imposed as a result of their writings, when dictatorial regimes gained control of their countries. These writers are: Juan Goytisolo, exiled in France during Franco's rule in Spain; Ariel Dorfman, exiled in the United States as a result of Pinochet's coup in Chile; and Cristina Peri Rossi, exiled in Spain from the dictatorship in Uruguay. The Dialectics of Exile carefully studies how these authors confront, in their texts, the conflicts raised by their experiences.

McClennen's decision to concentrate on just these three writers is explained in the book's introduction, where she indicates that they can be understood as case studies for developing a theory of exile literature. The book title summarizes her approach to this theory. She mentions that many studies [End Page 507] on exile literature tend to adopt a binary approach, where the exiled writer is seen as either confined to mourning and nostalgia, or liberated and open to creative perspectives by the experience of displacement. McClennen describes this approach as restrictive, and mentions how texts written in exile tend to include many instances of both positions, often linked to each other. As an alternative, she proposes to study how apparently contradictory concepts in these works appear in a dialectic tension, as authors explore the conflictive emotions that come with exile. The dialectic approach, succinctly described in the second chapter, is the main contribution of this book. It allows for studying exile literature as a manifestation of how concepts associated with the fragmentation of post-modernism interact with the legacy of modernity. The most important of such concepts is the nation and its derivatives, such as nationalism and transnationalism, but also significant are many others related to perceptions of historical time, linguistic representation, geographic location, and cultural identity. From the third chapter onwards she delves into how each of these aspects appears in exile literature.

McClennen's efforts to localize and study the actual implications of being an exile guide much of her analysis. By carefully reflecting on how authors who have experienced the dislocations of exile respond to them in their writing, she challenges appropriations of the concept by contemporary critical theory. In this sense, McClennen's book itself works in a dialectic tension, between abstract theoretical concepts and concrete references to how they are problematized in these writers' works. In her analysis of their relationship to the idea of the nation we can see this process at work. Goytisolo, Dorfman, and Peri Rosi were all forced to live abroad by dictatorial regimes. They thus became separated from their national context; both in the merely geographic sense, and in terms of how they were "removed" from their...


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pp. 507-510
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