- Hybrid Identity and the Utopian Impulse in the Postmodern Spanish-American Comic Novel by Paul R. McAleer
In this book, Paul McAleer establishes the connections between comedy and the themes of human identity and utopia. He first locates the beginnings of humorous writing in Latin America in nineteenth-century editorials, which became costumbrista satirical portraits and novels. However, one could also point to the novelistic genre, with works such as Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi’s El periquillo sarniento, first published in 1816. Along with the contemporary Latin American comedy writers McAleer lists (all of them men), one could also add Roberto Bolaño, Fernando Iwasaki, and of course, many women writers, including Rosario Castellanos, Ana Lydia Vega, Griselda Gambaro, Luisa Valenzuela, Rosario Ferré, Silvina Ocampo, Angélica Gorodisher, and Ana María Shúa. While all the chapters are dedicated to male writers (Mexico’s Gustavo Sainz, Peru’s Alfredo Bryce Echenique and Jaime Bayly, and Colombia’s Fernando Vallejo), in my view it would have been more fulfilling to include works by women writers (or at least to address the reasons no woman writer was included) in order to provide a contrasting female perspective.
As stated, McAleer’s book studies the relationship between comedy and the need to express both individual and social identities, pointing out that laughter depends on the internalization of societal norms, rules, and values. The introduction summarizes the evolution of the utopian impulse in comedy from its origins to the comic drama and the comic novel. According to McAleer, comedic prose has always been fascinated by the youthful maturation of the Bildungsroman. This is reflected in the five contemporary comic novels studied in his book, as they follow European comic Bildungsroman and its utopian impulse. However, while inscribing comedy’s utopian impulse, they all fail to bring it to fruition in a happy ending: “Their protagonists are not allowed a satisfactory social or individual identity” (16). In each chapter, McAleer tries to identify postmodern symptoms and cultural hybridity, as well as how they are manifested in the structures and themes in the comic and utopian impulses inscribed by the novels. Perhaps the problem with this approach is that the book takes the postmodern condition of Latin America for granted, without questioning or problematizing this assumption (as has been [End Page 99] done, among others, by Aníbal Quijano, Walter Mignolo, and several of the participants in Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar’s 2001 edited volume Alternative Modernities). Only in the conclusion does McAleer admit that
Latin American modernity and postmodernity are quite different animals to their counterparts in the West. Latin American modernity constitutes the failed attempt to homogenise Latin American culture under the rubric of an Enlightenement and modernising utopian ethos, while postmodernity constitutes the conscious recognition of this failure and the resurgence of heterogeneity within the fragmentary schema of neoliberal economic policy.(149)
According to the author, although the five novels—written by four different Latin American authors in different postmodern contexts—resort to a combination of different comic modes (parody, comic irony, the grotesque, the absurd, the burlesque, farce, travesty, or the festive), their comedy is mainly satirical and/or burlesque.
Chapter 2 deals with comedy and female identity as a site of contestation in Sainz’s La princesa del Palacio de Hierro. The analysis is carried out in the context of the traditionally limited role of women in comic literature and the contrasting images of the female character in the novel. According to McAleer, there is a transnational clash of gender politics between a male chauvinistic objectification of women and the more progressive views of feminism, youth culture, and La Onda literary movement (of which Sainz was a founding member). This ideological ambivalence ends up limiting both the theme of female identity acquisition and the utopian impulse of the novel. The protagonist, the Princess, is described as an “unrealiably unrealiable narrator” and an unstable, hybrid, postmodern subject who lacks a center and a sense of agency. Curiously, the view of 1970s Mexico City as a...