- Transnational Discourses on Class, Gender, and Cultural Identity by Irene Marques
This book focuses on four authors, from four different continents, who share a common drive to subvert the dominant worldviews and values that are at the root of oppression and discrimination based on race, gender, and class. Irene Marques’s comparative analyses of works by Mia Couto (Mozambique), José Saramago (Portugal), Clarice Lispector (Brazil), and J. M. Coetzee (South Africa) reveal the writers’ imaginations of sublime spaces where there is no room for the types of exclusions that are engendered by discriminatory paradigms of human engagement. Furthermore, in Marques’s opinion, their concerns, alternative visions of being, and engagement with what is outside of oneself are legitimized by an array of theories and philosophies that cut across cultures and histories. This, contends [End Page 196]
Marques, points to the fundamental human gravitation toward “a more fulfilling and holistic identity (ontology)” (8).
Marques reads the aforementioned writers from perspectives based on various theories and philosophies, including psychoanalysis, Buddhism, Jungian psychology, écriture feminine, Heideggerian philosophy, and what she broadly calls “African epistemologies.” In the process, she teases out deconstructions of the unjust, discriminatory, and power-based representations of self and other as well as projections of alternative worlds that are more inclusive on a social, cultural, racial, gender, and cosmological level. Thus, Couto’s narrative is shown here to be engaged, through language, in the process of dismantling colonial and postcolonial constructs of Mozambique. In their place, he posits a “traditional” African concept of the world that is representative of the country’s multicultural identity and partial to a nonhierarchical world.
Similarly, in Marques’s reading of The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, Saramago explores the limitations of idealizing language in his reworking of (the Pessoan character) Reis’s Lidia. This complex metafictional process allows Saramago to peel away layers of the kind of reality created in the dichotomous hierarchical language that is found not only in literature and popular culture, but also in Salazar-era imaginations of the (Catholic) women of the “New State” (96). Marques contends that Lispector is a “necessary” and “ethical” writer who, unlike her “arrogant” contemporaries (138), goes to the root of the marginalization and oppression of “others,” that is, language itself. She recreates other modes of expression that do not annihilate the voice of her subjects nor imprison them in images that reflect the values of the dominant members of the society. As “secretary of the invisible” (181), Coetzee is described here as the author who does not merely reveal the obvious world constructed by dominant forces, but rather offers a parallel, unimaginable one that is inclusive of those considered “others” in apartheid South Africa. Marques is quick to point out that “inclusion” in Coetzee’s fictional world does not mean obliteration of “otherness,” but rather acceptance and respect of difference in a nonhierarchal reality.
The varied theoretical and epistemological approach adopted by Marques is the most innovative aspect of her work. However, in her attempt to prove the universality of beliefs across cultures, Marques’s arguments sometimes falter into generalizations. Salient among these is her frequent allusions to “African epistemologies” to substantiate her identification of the African dimension of the alternative worldviews of some of the writers. Her views on the role of women in precolonial Africa (26) disregard the varied permutations in gender relations, attributable to diverse economic structures, political systems, and religious beliefs, in the many communities of the continent. This notwithstanding, Marques’s work contributes to the ongoing attempts at crossing existing geographical boundaries in literary study to find common ground in the cross-cultural examination of various constructions of race, class, and gender. [End Page 197]