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MASCARITA'S METAMORPHOSIS: VARGAS LLOSA AND KAFKA Roy Chandler Caldwell, Jr. The eponymous storyteller of Mario Vargas Llosa's novel El Hablador (1987) undergoes a transformation nearly as radical as Gregor Samsa's in Kafka's Die Verwandlung. Saúl Zuratas—better known as Mascarita, 'Mask-face'—leaves his promising university career and disappears into the Amazonian jungle to Uve among an isolated Naturvolk, the Machiguengas . WhUe other Westerners—missionaries, anthropologists, traders —likewise penetrate remote zones and encounter other peoples, Mascarita goes further than they. He not only adopts Machiguenga language and Machiguenga ways and beUefs, but also appears to have completely abandoned Western values and Western practices. Mascarita does not encounter the Other; he has become the Other. The role he plays in his chosen culture symboUzes the depth of his assimüation: a storyteller, he has made himself the repository ofMachiguenga narrative, thus assuming responsibüity for preserving his new people's threatened identity. For Mascarita, as for Gregor Samsa, there is no going back on his metamorphosis. My comparison of Mascarita to Gregor Samsa is not arbitrary, for traces of Kafka's text appear throughout El Hablador. Before quitting the West for the Machiguengas, Mascarita had adopted Gregor Samsa as a fictional totem. Mascarita revered Kafka; he knew Die Verwandlung by heart and referred to it repeatedly, employing its fictions to help articulate his own marginaUzed position as a Jew in a CathoUc world, as a man stigmatized by a lurid birthmark (hence his nickname). He has even named his parrot Gregor Samsa (17-19). Rejecting a society that has rejected him, Mascarita develops an enthusiasm for so-called primitive cultures, cultures that he claims have not forever lost the capacity to Uve in harmony with nature, like Gregor Samsa's "becoming-animal," Mascarita's "becoming-primitive" signifies a flight from an unauthentic existence.1 Unlike Samsa's, however, Mascarita's metamorphosis is a conscious political and cultural decision on his part. Kafka's tale has a further importance in El Hablador, as weU. StructuraUy , Vargas Llosa's novel has a double-braided narrative, composed of two clearly distinct voices alternating chapter by chapter. The first belongs to a Western narrator engaged in a project of systematic reminiscent narrative: speaking in the first person, this narrator recounts his own experiences with Mascarita, from the long conversations of university days to his friend's mysterious disappearance in later years. The novel's second voice belongs to an anonymous Machiguenga storyteller who weaves a long, strange, and shifting tale out of fragments of creation myth, tribal history, legend, helpful hints for planting and hunting, recipes for magic potions, news from afar, and a good bit ofthat speculation on the lives of neighbors we caU gossip. As the Western narrative VcH. 25 (2001): 50 ??? COHPAnATIST unfolds and Mascarita fades from the narrator's life, Kafka's tale goes underground in the text. Hidden if not entirely forgotten, it resurfaces at the critical moment in the text where the two narrative strands converge . The Machiguenga storyteller tells his listeners a tale we readers recognize as Kafka's Verwandlung. His story follows Kafka's only in its broadest contours: recounting what must be a "bad trance," the teller wakes up to discover he has become a "buzz-buzz bug," a creature he christens with a dual name representing the two cultures of its origin: a "Gregor-Tasurinchi" (Tasurinchi is the only proper name among the Machiguengas). This man-bug, this Machiguenga-Westerner, suffers roughly the same fate as Gregor Samsa: a radical sense ofestrangement from his body, shame for himself and his family, hunger and pain, and finaUy death. Through this story we are able to solve the mystery of the Western narrator's missing friend. Mascarita has not in fact been absent from the text, but his voice had been transformed to such a degree that we were unable to identify it. Mascarita has been the Machiguenga storyteller from the outset. Vargas Llosa's appropriation of Kafka's Die Verwandlung raises a number ofinteresting questions, questions about the crossing ofcultures as weU as the crossing oftexts. My aim here is to address these questions through a double reading: Vargas Llosa through...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-0887
Print ISSN
0195-7678
Pages
pp. 50-68
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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