- Latin American Women and the Literature of Madness: Narratives at the Crossroads of Gender, Politics and the Mind by Elvira Sánchez-Blake and Laura Kanost, and: Intersections of Harm: Narratives of Latina Deviance and Defiance by Laura Halperin
Elvira Sánchez-Blake and Laura Kanost in Latin American Women and the Literature of Madness: Narratives at the Crossroads of Gender, Politics and the Mind and Laura Halperin in Intersections of Harm: Narratives of Latina Deviance and Defiance put the topic of madness at the center of their critical [End Page 230] debate. Sánchez-Blake and Kanost argue that the dynamics of reason and unreason have occupied the attention of twentieth-century scholars in Europe and North America but have received little attention in Latin America. The authors underscore the connection between literature and the violent history of Latin America in the late twentieth century; brutal military dictatorships and civil wars ignited—especially in women authors—an interest in writing fiction that employs insanity as a literary device. Thus, Sánchez-Blake and Kanost focus on a "poetics of madness," which allows them—following Michel Foucault's seminal work History of Madness (1961), which states that the literature of madness is a medium for raising the critical consciousness of humanity—to open a space for women to talk about the intersections of experience, culture, and politics (p. 2).
Latin American Women and the Literature of Madness's six chapters analyze, respectively, the 1984 novel by Uruguayan author Cristina Peri Rossi, La nave de los locos (The Ship of Fools), in which Peri Rossi denounces exclusion and marginalization by military regimes in South America through the image of characters traveling without destination; Lya Luft's Exílio (1987, Exile), whose depressed protagonist stands as representative of contemporary Brazilian women, mentally strained by multiple and sometimes clashing societal expectations; the 1994 collaborative work by Chilean author Diamela Eltit and photographer Paz Errázuriz, El infarto del alma (Soul's Infarct), in which the utter marginalization of psychiatric hospital residents alludes to oppression by military dictatorship in Chile; the first novel by Mexican author Cristina Rivera Garza, Nadie me verá llorar (1999, No One Will See Me Cry), in which madness becomes a reflection of gender, class, and national struggles in Mexico at the turn of the twentieth century; Laura Restrepo's 2004 Delirio (Delirium), which portrays a woman suffering from delirium in order to depict Colombia under siege by violence, political corruption, and social decay; and Puerto Rican writer and editor Irene Vilar's memoirs The Ladies' Gallery: A Memoir of Family Secrets (1996) and Impossible Motherhood: Testimony of an Abortion Addict (2009), which create a family narrative of mental illness that is inextricably linked to the neocolonial status of the Caribbean island.
Sánchez-Blake and Kanost's analyses of these narratives show the strengths and limitations of madness as a concept or as a literary device that intersects with postmodern and feminist critical theories. The strength of a critical book that focuses on madness through the analysis of contemporary fiction written by Latina and Latin American women is to open the theoretical studies of madness from the Latina/Latin American angle. The limitation of an important book like this is that, in some moments, by underscoring the allegorical nature of madness in literature—such as with Sánchez-Blake's analysis of Peri Rossi's The Ship of Fools, the chapter that begins the book—everything is questionably interpreted as madness. [End Page 231] Nevertheless, the careful selection of narratives studied in this book is an important contribution to the field of Latin American literary and women's studies. It is an invitation to revisit canonical novels and to discover others, such as the...