- Cuerpo, historia y textualidad en Augusto Roa Bastos, Fernando del Paso y Gabriel García Márquez by Olivia Vásquez-Medina
Over the last thirty years, major commemorative events like the quincentennial of Columbus’s arrival in the Americas and, more recently, the bicentennial celebration of independence from colonial rule have sparked increased public interest in Spanish America’s past. Amid the proliferation of websites, public spectacles, television shows, motion pictures, and even patriotic songs, historical fiction stands out as a popular and productive medium for thinking about how history is constructed, deployed, and consumed. Critics like Seymour Menton (1993), María Cristina Pons (1996), Santiago Juan Navarro (1999), Magdalena Perkowska (2008), Elisabeth Guerrero (2008), and Kristine Ibsen (2010), among others, have each in turn interrogated the relationships between fiction and history, and the past and the present. Olivia Vázquez-Medina’s book, Cuerpo, historia y textualidad, presents the most recent critical engagement with the genre. Building upon the poststructuralist thinking of Hayden White, the postmodern metafictional theories of Linda [End Page 410] Hutcheon, and the Bakhtinian narratological strategies described by Menton—arguably the cardinal points of theoretical orientation for many studies on historical fiction over the last thirty years—Vázquez-Medina proposes reading the body in three touchstone novels as an allegorical representation of both the nation and the historiographic process. The book contains a brief introduction, three chapters that discuss one novel each, and a conclusion that neatly ties together the preceding analyses. It is thoroughly researched, well structured, and clearly written.
In the introductory chapter, Vázquez-Medina lays out the historical, theoretical, and literary framework for the analyses that follow. Augusto Roa Bastos’s Yo el Supremo, Fernando del Paso’s Noticias del imperio, and Gabriel García Márquez’s El general en su laberinto, she explains, belong to the “new historical novel,” a term coined by Fernando Aínsa and popularized by Menton to describe the experimental and irreverent style of rewriting the national past that emerged in the late fifties and continues through the present. Furthermore, each of the three novels under consideration focuses on important protagonists of the nineteenth-century nation-building period: Roa Bastos considers the megalomania of Paraguayan dictator José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia, del Paso tackles the ephemeral experiment with conservative monarchy under Maximilian and Carlota, and García Márquez reimagines the last months of a dying Simón Bolívar. Vásquez-Medina argues that in each, the body of these historical figures “es el punto de partida para meditar sobre el estado de la nación en un momento histórico percibido como problemático” and that this use of the body offers a double critique: one of the fictionalized past, and another of the present moment from which the novel is written (17). Because these moments tend be problematic, she continues, “el énfasis en el cuerpo no está del lado del gozo, de la afirmación vital y lúdica, de la abundancia . . . sino en la decadencia, la desintegración, la enfermedad, los aspectos más sombríos del imaginario corporal” (31).
The first of these decomposing national bodies appears in the chapter that Vásquez-Medina dedicates to Roa Bastos. Here she explores the relationship between the dictatorial body and the use of power by the state in Yo el Supremo, and suggests that the novel “recurre a la imaginería corporal tradicionalmente relacionada con la representación del Estado despótico, pero también la reinventa y la distorsiona para poner en escena la aniquilación del poder absoluto” (43). Following a summary of Dr. Francia’s life, including a balanced appreciation of his government’s strengths (fiscal stability, infrastructure development, and agrarian reform) against his personal shortcomings (megalomania), Vázquez-Medina identifies textual passages where Roa Bastos clearly links the dictator’s physical body with the nation. However, whereas Dr. Francia would like to imagine a complete identification between his own body and that of the...