- Pliegues visuales: narrativa y fotografía en la novela latinoamericana contemporánea by Magdalena Perkowska
“[E]l conocimiento de la realidad se construye como una combinación justa del ver y del saber,” Magdalena Perkowska explains in her new book Pliegues visuales: narrativa y fotografía en la novela latinoamericana contemporánea (132). This commenting on one particular novel opens up one of the central preoccupations of this impressive study: what are the elements that comprise our understanding of reality; and how do social, historical, political, and aesthetic experiences interact with visual materials, in this case photographs, simultaneously producing and questioning interpretations of reality? The visual imagination has fueled Latin American writing since the first colonial gaze, and photography implanted itself in the “new world” immediately after its invention in Europe as a tool for documenting this vast and alluring territory of (mostly) newly independent nations. The interaction of the visual and the verbal in contemporary writing is ever more prevalent, particularly in the form of e-books, blogs, graphic novels, hand-painted cartonera books, and interactive digital platforms. Perkowska’s recent book on the Latin American foto-novela contributes significantly to the crucial debates in Latin American visual culture and photography studies, as well as to the evolution of the novel as genre in contemporary writing.
Pliegues visuales is exhaustive: deeply researched and theoretically comprehensive. Despite the burden of excessive quotes and abundant footnotes (some pages devote more space to notes and quotes than to Perkowska’s own discussion), the book is written in a clear, assertive style. Each chapter presents a nuanced argument built around historical, political, aesthetic, and visual analysis. The chapters’ key photographic examples from the novels offer the reader a glimpse, literally, of the novels’ visual-verbal experience. Perkowska refuses to limit her approach to the illustrative, and demonstrates with each novel how the photos are not accessory to the text, but rather are intrinsically integrated into the novelistic enterprise; thus [End Page 398] her insistence on the hyphenated foto-novela to distinguish her corpus from mass marketed comic strips and related popular genres referenced by the fotonovela. Her keen historical perspective honed in her first book Historias híbridas: la nueva novela histórica latinoamericana (1985–2000) ante las teorías posmodernas de la historia (Iberoamericana/Vervuert, 2008) clearly informs her work as she tackles this new hybrid story of photography and fiction. Her latest book offers a rigorously researched, tightly woven, and theoretically sophisticated statement that puts the foto-novela on the map in Latin American visual and literary studies.
Perkowska’s carefully chosen corpus includes Mil y una muertes by Sergio Ramírez, Tinísima by Elena Poniatowska, La llegada (crónica con ficción) by José Luis González, Fuegia by Eduardo Belgrano Rawson, and Shiki Nagaoka, una nariz de ficción by Mario Bellatín. This corpus offers a broad geographic panorama of the contemporary Latin American novel with examples from Costa Rica, Mexico, Argentina, Puerto Rico, and Peru. These are not simply novels with photos, but hybrid texts that incorporate both verbal and visual material through self-conscious, metafictional, and historiographic maneuvers. These foto-novelas, according to Perkowska, “combinan en su marco ficticio la narración y la fotografía, activando el doble proceso de relatar (contar) y mostrar” (36).
The twenty-two photographs reproduced in Pliegues visuales, placed strategically within each chapter in good quality half- or full-page images, underscore the chapter’s argument. The author thoroughly identifies the photographs, including intricate stories about their provenance (for example, the intertextual discussion of Our Islands and Their People as Seen with Camera and Pencil in González) and their inclusion in the novels. In keeping with the book’s finely wrought analysis, the images do much more than illustrate, and help orient the reader in the “ways of seeing” that Perkowska deftly facilitates.
The book’s introduction and first chapter establish the theoretical framework and justify the genre of the foto-novela. Perkowska addresses numerous approaches on photography in a comprehensive review of European...