- Macho Ethics: Masculinity and Self-Representation in Latino-Caribbean Narrative by Jason Cortés
The project of Macho Ethics: Masculinity and Self-Representation in Latino-Caribbean Narrative is to interrogate the complicities that suture authorship to heteronormativity and power in historical and contemporary Caribbean and US Latino literatures. As an examination of a structure generally rendered invisible, this study focuses on male authors who assert their own authority as well as destabilize normative masculinity in Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Dominican insular and transnational histories and archives. “These writers and their avatars within the story,” Cortés explains, “face an ethical conflict that demands either a response … to these authorial genealogies or an acknowledgment of their own complicity with power and violence” (1). The texts in question—Edgardo Rodríguez Juliá’s 1981 Las tribulaciones de Jonás and the 1983 El entierro de Cortijo, Severo Sarduy’s 1984 Colibrí, Luis Rafael Sánchez’s 1988 La importancia de llamarse Daniel Santos and Junot Díaz’s 2007 The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao—share a concern with the intimacies of the figure of the macho with that of the dictator and the author. Cortés proposes an “ethical criticism” of these texts—informed by the work of Jacques Derrida, Emmanuel Levinas, and Aníbal González-Pérez—which can “consider and explicate the implications of the presence of violence, responsibility, and the Other in literary discourse” (8).
There is much to recommend in this study, but what remains of this review will move through one moment of Cortés’ reading of La importancia de llamarse Daniel Santos to underline ethical dilemmas, complicities, and entanglements that recur throughout the book. In the chapter titled, “The Sentimental Education,” Cortés prefaces his discussion of Daniel Santos by highlighting how central the engagement with discourses of masculinity has been to Sánchez’s oeuvre. Cortés then moves to discuss a construction of the figure of the Puerto Rican macho as a response to the “anxiety of colonial inferiority that is experienced as the threat of feminization. Machismo functions as a compensation mechanism of sorts, albeit denigrating, to claim masculine authority” (82–83). It becomes evident, as Cortés argues, that what appears at first as Sánchez’s critique of the figure of “macho” Daniel Santos ultimately reveals the ethical challenges spawned by the uncomfortable intimacy and proximity of the position of the narrator with the gaze of very object of his critique. “The voyeuristic perversion” illustrated in the scene where Sánchez’s narrator describes an orgy among a group of teenagers “underscores the ethical ambivalence inherent in the writing process, and therefore, in the figure of the author” (91). Cortés describes what Sánchez does in this scene as a risk, to the degree that the act of writing becomes a tangled effort to issue a critique of the figure of the macho while exercising authority in the problematic ways associated with normative masculinity.
The risk of becoming precisely that which the author critiques is revisited in the other works explored in Macho Ethics through historically and theoretically informed discussions and close readings. In each of these case studies, Cortés makes evident the specificity of the challenges and complicities illustrated by the texts he [End Page 195] studies. Nevertheless and as he concludes, “a particular continuity, perhaps the most pervasive, has been the apparent complicity of the authorial figure with the violence of authoritarian regimes of power and systems of oppression” (127). This conclusion is compelling and revealing in the case of all of these authors to the degree that they have been and continue to be challenging of the status quo and of the normativities they explore in their fictions. But could the pursuit of the figure of the literary author as “rebel without a cause” be precisely the performative required to join the pantheon of male letrados? Might this ethical quandary be different if women and women’s bodies were at the center at the narrative? Although Cortés notes...