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  • Emotional Violence in Mexico: Portraits of Psychological Trauma in Fernando Del Paso’s Noticias del Imperio
  • Lloyd Hughes Davies

Sáenz points out that “la literatura mexicana cuenta desde sus antepasados coloniales con textos híbridos en los cuales la historia no se puede deslindar de la ficción” (25). Such a tradition has been enhanced in relatively recent years by the works of both Carlos Fuentes (1928–2012) and Fernando del Paso (1935-) which illustrate what are now designated New Historical traits, particularly in their encyclopaedic range of references, their intertextuality and their deployment of the Bakhtinian concepts of the dialogic, the carnivalesque, parody and heteroglossia (Menton, 22–23).

While Fuentes is an important member of the so-called “Boom” generation of writers whose works enjoy canonical status, the novels of the much lesser-known Del Paso have been relatively slow to achieve critical recognition. Thus, while Mata acknowledges the near critical consensus on the status of Noticias del Imperio (1987) as a masterpiece (73), he offers a robust personal critique of Del Paso’s representation of the empire as “un mero castillo de palabras que se cimbra y se desmorona en los bostezos del lector […] el discurso se convierte en verborrea, repetición demente de la historia […]” (79). 1 For Fiddian, by contrast, Noticias del Imperio is a “brilliant piece of creative writing that is now universally acknowledged as the leading example of the Spanish American new historical novel of the 1980s” (5).

While the internationally-renowned Fuentes has long overshadowed the younger Del Paso who published his first novel when Fuentes was already established as a pivotal proponent of the Nueva Novela school of writing, several critics now hold the view that Del Paso is the most important contemporary Mexican writer (Fiddian 144). Sáenz, for example, claims that his works “marcan un punto culminante en la trayectoria de la novela mexicana del siglo XX” (64).

Del Paso’s period of residence in London from 1971 to 1985 reaffirmed his hostility to the former imperialist powers whose contempt, he claims, for the “Third World” persists (Fiddian 18). Yet, as Fiddian goes on to point out, Del Paso holds that Latin Americans are equal inheritors of the European cultural heritage, in contrast with Paz’s view of Latin Americans as “uninvited guests who came into the West via the tradesmen’s entrance” [End Page 54] (quoted by Fiddian 22). He thus combines a deep sensitivity to Mexico as a colonized country with an equally potent awareness that, as a Mexican and Latin American, he is party to European culture and history (Fiddian 20–21).

This apparent contradiction may explain, at least to some extent, his affinity with his protagonist in Noticias del Imperio, the Empress Carlota, whose monologues, found in alternate chapters of Noticias, form the cornerstone of the text: her feelings match, in their passion and intensity, Del Paso’s own convictions although they are expressed inversely, she being a “high” European determined to claim, as an equal partner, her stake in Mexican indigenous culture.

Several critics have noted Carlota’s pivotal status in the novel. Kohut, for example, points out that Del Paso’s original intention was to base the novel on Carlota’s monologues but then realized that more direct historical narrative was needed as a form of counterpoint (228); the monologue remains, however, the “espina dorsal de la novela” (233), a view confirmed by Del Paso himself: “la locura de Carlota en realidad será el tema central de la novela” (quoted by Mata 77). There may be gaps in Carlota’s biography—“fue borrada prácticamente del mapa de la historia a los 26 años inmediatamente después de su derrumbe psíquico en el Vaticano […] ” (Igler 52) - and she, along with her husband, the Emperor Maximilian, may be no more than footnotes in history (Beardsell 176; Salinas 88) 2 but such deficits in the historical record are amply redressed by Del Paso’s imaginative account in which Carlota is the central figure, the prime source of the text’s fascination: her complex and often contradictory character emerges in her residual regal dignity and distance that clash with her carnivalesque humour and with...


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