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  • Sites of Disquiet: The Non-Space in Spanish American Short Narratives and Their Cinematic Transformations by Ilka Kressner
  • Diane E. Marting

Diane Marting, Ilka Kressner, Julio Cortázar, Jorge Luis Borges, Juan Rulfo, Gabriel García Márquez, Miguel Picazo, Manuel Antín, Ruy Guerra, Carlos Velo, Jose Bolaños, Film Adaptation, Atopos, “Hombre de La Esquina Rosada”, “Tema Del Traidor Y Del Héroe”, “Cartas de Mamá”, “Pedro Páramo”, “Eréndira”, Intermedia

kressner, ilka. Sites of Disquiet: The Non-Space in Spanish American Short Narratives and Their Cinematic Transformations. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue UP, 2014. xvi + 169 pp.

In the novelas de la tierra from the early twentieth century, use of space meant valorizing a specific national or regional geography, usually an indomitable natural feature that challenged ideas of civilization. The nueva narrativa authors who wrote mid- to late twentieth century use space differently. The Spanish American stories and novellas Ilke Kressner studies create spaces that afflict characters and readers with “unease.” These spaces occur in Jorge Luis Borges, Juan Rulfo, Gabriel García Márquez, Julio Cortázar, and other, lesser-studied writers. The areas in their works are inscrutable in their detail and indefinite in their limits. To identify the slippery qualities of the spaces, Kressner follows such theorists as Henri Lefebvre, Homi K. Bhabha, Paul Virilio, Kenneth M. Roemer, and Fredric Jameson, among others. Importantly, the nonspace or atopos, as Kressner calls it, acts upon characters rather than reflects or projects their feelings. These Latin American nonspaces ultimately defy definition, because they have no parallel in the real or material world, and yet they are presented as if they had full descriptions or were so familiar as to not need describing. Simplifying Kressner’s argument, the atopos, or “adverse space,” “allude[s] to common spatial characteristics, and at the same time, paradoxically, negate[s] them” (11).

The Latin American narrative atopoi studied by Kressner complicate and frustrate understanding and mental visualization, thus creating a “spatial effect” more [End Page 104] than a space. The term atopos embodies the concept of an “alternative space,” as employed by Roland Barthes, Michel de Certeau, and most significantly in Marc Augé’s Non-lieux: Introduction à une anthropologie de la surmodernité (1992). It is similar to Foucault’s heterotopos, but more useful for Kressner’s purposes of intermedial comparison and contrast. Furthermore, Kressner writes that “From an etymological point of view, the terms ectopos (‘out, out of, or off place’) or allotopos (‘different, other place’) also capture the characteristics of the spaces under consideration” (15). The places she finds in these short stories are backgrounds, contexts, ambiances that lurk just beyond recognition; they may be vague, unreal, or imagined, are more often urban than rural, more often cultural (interiors) than natural (physical geography).

After delimiting each verbal narrative’s atopos, the second section of Kressner’s volume describes the disquieting, active nonspaces in each story’s film adaptation(s). For example, “In Spatial Vagueness: Jorge Luis Borges’s and Miguel Picazo’s Hombre de la esquina rosada,” Kressner reminds us that the labyrinth, the library, and the aleph are instances of the similar lack of concreteness and archetypical thinking that is to be found on the pink corner of Borges’s story. The disquieting exterior street corner and interior of the bar represent power, but defy materiality and explanation for the same reasons that the spaces affect the characters: the location is special. The pink corner requires a leader who is machista, brutal and brave; if he is not, another who better fits the requirements of the site will replace him. Next Kressner’s chapter asks, how does this transfer to film? Does it transfer? She finds that the Spanish director Picazo “uses point-of-view shots to convey domination for the scene” (35), and even “total blackness” to show the negativity or adverse nature of the spatial effect in his film.

In contrast to Borges’s stories requiring characters to submit to codes of behavior related to special spaces, Cortázar and his filmic adaptors provoke unresolved dualities that defy ordinary assumptions. Unseen but felt, a third impossible presence in Cortázar’s stories often haunts...


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