You are on page 1of 5


In EI lugar sin lfmites Jose Donoso uses marginality and transgression as the leitmotifs of his novel. All characters in Donoso's work represent different aspects of marginal Latin America: sexual repression, prostitution, economic exploitation, and political despotism. These ideas and the setting in which they interact (a whorehouse) recall a recurrent milieu in expressionist drama, but they achieve a higher degree of complexity in Ellugar sin lfmites, a complexity that results from the problematization of narrative perspective and the use of transgression at all possible levels. The subsequent ambiguity confers on Donoso's work a revolutionary quality: at the formal level, the author alters narrative structure, characterization, and time-space relationship; at the level of content, Donoso's raises his voice against the unjust ruling social and moral order prevalent in Latin America, where the power structures have created an untenable situation. The present study interprets Donoso's use of marginality and transgression in light of Bakhtin's concept of Carnival and of the genealogical analysis that Foucault proposes in his exegesis of Nietzsche's work. 1
1 For the discussion of the camivalesque, I will mainly draw on Mikhail Bakhtin's summary of the history of this mode in Problems of Dostoevsy's Poetics (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1984) 122-37. A Bakhtinian reading of Jose Donoso's novels has been undertaken by Ricardo Rodriguez Mouat, Iinpostura e impostacion: La modelizacion lUdica y carnavalesc;a de una produccion literaria (Gaithersburg, MD: Hispamerica, 1983) and Myrna Solotorevsky, Jose Donoso: Incursiones en su produccion novelistica (Valparaiso, Chile: Ediciones Universitarias, 1983). Written during the rise of Bakhtinian studies in the United States (early 1980s), both of these essays reveal the merits and defects of pioneering works. Although they succeed in providing a comprehensive survey of Bakhtin's theory of Carnival, they misunderstand some of its key concepts. Furthermore, the way. these two critics approach Donoso's treatment of sexuality is especially disappointing; Mouat almost ignores the issue and Solotorevsky provides a reactionary, when not na'ive, view of it.

Carnival is transgressive in its very nature. As Lechte suggests, "Carnival in general may be understood as a make-believe overturning of the law and existing social norms.''2 For Bakhtin camivalesque literature is one of the manifestations of the popular culture originated in pre-class, agricultural communities. With the rise of a class society "free and familiar contact among people" was abandoned and repressed, but emerged in the form of a popular culture opposed to official forms (123)- characterized as "monolithically serious and gloomy, subjugated to a strict hierarchical order, full of terror, dogmatism, reverence, and piety" (129). Popular culture, on the other hand, is full of laughter, ambivalent images, sacrilege, and profanation; the world is turned upside down and atypical behavior is favored. As Bakhtin points out, "eccentricity is a special category of the Carnival sense of the world" (123). Similarly, in questioning the inherited notions of sexual and mental "normality," Foucault argues that the so-called "natural" is a cultural artifact, a fiction that the power structures have legitimized to perpetuate the status quo. In order to analyze this process, Foucault proposes the concept of "genealogy," as opposed to "history." Unlike traditional or "total" history, which celebrates the spectacular, genealogical analysis emphasizes the marginal and the discredited; it aims at preserving singularity by studying those phenomena neglected by history. Bakhtin's thesis of the carnivalesque and Foucault's interest in the disconnected, ex-centric, and subversive find their spokesman in the homosexual protagonist of Ellugar sin lfmites, La Manuela. The rest of the characters help to configure a kind of literary reredos through which Donoso portrays the different strata of Latin-American society during a period of transformation. Don Alejandro Cruz is the omnipotent landowner who rules over the haciendas and the lives of their inhabitants in Estaci6n El Olivo, a wineproducing town in south-central Chile; he represents the feudal order, which is receding in the face of a rising bourgeoisie. 3 This new middle class is associated with the figure of Octavio, who has achieved independence by building his own business. The transition
2 John Lechte, Julia Kristeva (London and New York: Routledge, 1990). 3 Critics have frequently pointed to the obvious godlike qualities of the landowner. See, for example, Vicente Urbistondo, "La metafora de don Alejo/Dios en Ellugar sin limites," Texto Crftico 22-23 (juliodiciembre 1981) 280-91. Suffice it to say that Don Alejo symbolizes the feudal, patriarchal, and repressive order from which Pancho wants to escape.





The connection of the carnivalesque with Foucault's view of history has no precedent in Donoso studies. This article traces this connection to interpret the values of marginality in El lugar sin lfmites. Foucault's concept of genealogy is fully developed in his short essay, "Nietzsche, la geneaIogie,l'histoire," in Suzanne Bachelard et al., eds., Hommage 1971).



.. ~
~r II


a Jean

Hippolite (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France,




from feudalism to capitalism is embodied in Pancho Vega, Octavio's brother-in-law and Don Alejo's natural son. Pancho's goal is to achieve an independent position like Octavio's. Pancho's ascent up the social ladder, his transformation from servant to bourgeois, requires the rupture of all his ties to the local oligarchy. This rupture provokes a crisis in his consciousness, which is amplified by his sexual ambiguity.4 At the outset he is presented as the archetype of the boastful, potent m~cho, but this turns out to be a mask hiding a latent homosexuality.

sefialar que se trata de la conciencia de un homosexual-expresion de una humanidad deformada-Ia que se encarga de entregar la vision del mundo" (81). 'Sociological criticism is no more successful. According to Vidal, "La Manuela es la objetividad ejemplar de la perversion como modo de relacion humana en Estacion EI Olivo y a traves de el se enjuicia que en su evolucion ha pervertido los instintos."6 Making use of a strange mixture of sociological and psychological analysis, Vidal concludes that "Ia armonfa del amor se ha convertido en la posibilidad de un monstruoso y esMril acoplamiento sodomita" (ibid.). Following a more radical trend of social criticism, Achugar does not present the character as an exceptional case of perversion, but does accuse him of false consciousness and alienation. Achugar's view reflects the disdain toward the lumpenproletariat of orthodox Marxism, since it considers this sector of society as being both unproductive and reactionary.7 For Achugar, "La Manuela esm permanentemente falseada no solo con respecto a sf mismo y en 10 que respecta a su ser sexual, sino con respecto a su ser social."8 Even though we could, in fact, admit the social alienation of this character, to consider his sexual orientation as a deviation or perversion is just another example of most critics' traditional prejudice when dealing with the topic of homosexuality. None of the above-mentioned scholars justifies, at any time, his consideration of male homoeroticism as a perversion or abnormal behavior; they simply consider it an irrefutable fact undeserving of futher attention. Curiously, the protagonist's subscription to the process of carnivalization, which Bakhtin talks about, is commonplace in articles and essays.9 That is why I will limit
Gambeiro,1975) 73-100; George R. McMurray, Jose Donoso (Boston: Twayne, 1979) 89-107; and Philip Swanson, Jose Donoso: The "Boom" and Beyond (Liverpool: Francis Cairns, 1988) 48-66. 6 Hemin Vidal, Jose Donoso: Surrealismo y rebeli6n de los instintos (Gerona: Ediciones Aubi, 1972) 118. 7 New left ideologists react against this attitude. Immanuel Wallerstein, for example, has denounced the old left's "obtuseness about, if not conscious ignoring of, the interests of the truly dispossessed, the real lower strata of the world-system (the subproletarians, the ethnic and racial minorities, and of course the women),"

Ellugar sin [{mites has a circular and symmetrical structure. It starts on a Sunday
morning at 9:55 and closes with the events of the following morning. The twelve chapters of the novel are organized into three sections. The first five chapters introduce the characters and the power relations in Estacion EI Olivo, foretelling the arrival, both hoped for and feared, of Pancho. In the two central chaptyrs, 6 and 7, a flashback returns us to the event that occurred twenty years before, when most of the men in town gathered at the brothel to celebrate Don Alejo's election as a senator. On that occasion La Manuela was brought to the brothel (at that time run by the Japonesa Grande) as a burlesque attraction. After dancing in a Spanish dress he is humiliated and thrown into a ditch. Not satisfied with the abuse, Don Alejo and La Japonesa Grande make a bet. If she can sexually excite La Manuela in front of everyone, Don Alejo will grant them the possesion of the whorehouse, which he owned until then. La Japonesita is the fruit of this extravagant union. In the last five chapters the conflict- the crisis of EI Olivo's social structuresunfurls with Pancho's irruption into the brothel. Of all the characters, La Manuela is clearly the novel's central consciousness. Most of the critics have focused their attention on him, and yet the treatment of his homosexuality leaves much to be desired. The traditional readings of Ellugar sin [{mites connect La Manuela's homosexuality with Donoso's use of inversion, repeatedly associating it with the novel's imagery inferno.S Thus, Moreno Turner states: "resulta ademas importante
4 It is precisely ambiguity that rules the local brothel, where as in a microcosm the power struggles and the social transformations of the continent are staged. The fact that a transvestite homosexual and his virgin daughter are the brothel's co-owners highlights that ambivalence. Moreover, the descriptions of these two characters evoke the image of the androgynous, an oxymoronic figure (it symbolizes the coincidentia. oppositorum) that is part of Bakhtin's carnivalesque rhetorical code. S See Fernando Moreno Turner, "La inversi6n como norma: A prop6sito de Ellugar sin [(mites," in Antonio Cornejo Polar, ed., Jose Donoso: La destrucci6n de un mundo (Buenos Aires: Fernando Garcia

in Antisystemic Movements (London and New York: Verso, 1989) 102. 8 Hector Achugar, Ideologia y estructuras narrativas en Jose Donoso (Caracas: Centro de Estudios Latinoamericanos R6mulo Gallegos, 1979) 17l. 9 As mentioned above, Solotorevsky's essay is the most rigorous in its Bakhtinian reading of Ellugar sin [(mites. However, it fails to establish a link between La Manuela's sexuality and the carnivalesque subversive impUlse. Solotorevsky's comments on homosexuality are mostly superficial. For example, she refers to the supposed ambiguity of the "lexema 'Ioca' ," and in order to solve it she explains in a footnote

184 185

myself to only a brief discussion of the three carnivalesque categories that carry a transgressive potential in Ellugar sin lfmites: the character of participative show, the inversion of hierarchies, and the use of masks and disguises. Bakhtin defines Carnival as a "pageant without footlights" (122). What he means is that there is no clear division between stage and audience, between characters and spectators. Society does not contemplate, but rather "lives, Carnival. 10 The archetypal scenes for Carnival are public places, those points of encounter between different groups of people-streets, taverns, roads, public baths, ships' decks. In Ellugar sin lfmites, the brothel is doubtless one of these privileged topoi. All sectors of society in EI Olivo pass by this place, from the landowner to the least of his lackeys. As Vidal points out, the brothel is "el espejo en que se refleja el orden social del campo chileno, es lugar de comuni6n de todas las clases" (122). But carnivalization often goes beyond the brothel's strict limits, pervading all aspects of life in Estaci6n EI Olivo, a topos that in its tum becomes symbolic of the historical changes and the power relations in Latin America. This superimposition of spatial levels (Latin America, Estaci6n EI Olivo, brothel) reaches its ultimate manifestation in La Manuela's body itself. As suggested, this character embodies the transgressive potential of the Fiesta, the subversive convulsion of laughter. 11 Pancho's desperate cry in the midst of his identity crisis confers on La Manuela the stature of a Messianic figure: "Que venga. Me quiero refr. No puede ser todo asf, tan triste ... quiero divertirme, esa loca de la Manuela, que venga a salvarnos, tiene que ser posible algo que no sea esto, que venga" (165).1 2 Thus, the grotesque contortions of La Manuela's body become a

dissociating mirror, a vehicle for the liberation of Pancho's repressed homosexuality, but also for a possibility of change, a channel of access into a ludic and egalitarian reality, free from the constrictions of class society. Ultimately, the image of La Manuela's body as "surface d'inscription des evenements," and "l'articulation du corps et de l'histoire" evoke the comparison that Foucault draws between physiological and historical analysis. 13 La Manuela'S biological decadence in his sixties mirrors the decay that Estaci6n El Olivo and the land-owning class in general suffer as a result of the emergence of new systems of production. The protagonist's rebellion against his condition, his permanent assault on socalled social normality, becomes a desperate gesture in favor of multiplicity and difference. Regarding the phenomenon of inversion, Bakhtin suggests that during Carnival, ordinary laws, prohibitions, and hierarchical structures are abolished in order to give way to free and familiar contact between individuals. Occasionally these structures are subjected to inversion. The primary carnivalistic ritual is a parody of the crowning and subsequent dethroning of the king of Carnival. The general tendency among critics has been to show La Manuela playing the role of the fool, who for a few moments, as long as the dancing lasts, is applauded and cheered by the audience, only to be ridiculed and beaten immediately after. Nevertheless, all these critics have been unable to understand that this very role is also played by Pancho Vega and Don Alejandro Cruz, with the difference that they behave as brutal fools who, unlike La Manuela, are willing to kill and rape. La Manuela's shows end by dethroning the fictive power of the two characters. Because Pancho is excited by La Manuela's dancing, his virility is questioned. And the other performance given by La Manuela-the sexual act with La Japonesa Grande, although it starts as a kind of opera buffa, succeeds in dethroning Don Alejo as the brothel's kingproprietor. We should keep in mind that in this inside-out carnivalesque world of Estaci6n E1 Olivo, the brothel is the power's symbolic center. In fact, the loss of the place coincides with the beginning of Don Alejo's decay. Insofar as the use of eccentricity, masks, and disguises is conceived, we should note the critics' generalized manipulation of Bakhtin's theses. The Russian critic defines eccentricity as the manifestation of the habitually repressed. In a similar fashion, masks and disguises do not hide or falsify reality, but rather uncover aspects as authentic or false as those that are usually shown. Moreover, masks in the pre-capitalist world represented the joyfulness of change and reincarnation. For La Manuela, his Spanish dress has the
13 "Historiquement et physiologiquement," Foucault says, quoting Nietzsche (154).

that, according to the Jose Gobello's Diccionario lunjardo, "loca en ellenguaje de los homosexuales, tiene significado de 'pederasta pasivo'" (74). One does not need to look up in any strange dictionary what is of common knowledge in popular Spanish ("loca" meaning "ostentatious gay"). The result is even more ludicrous when we realize that Gobello's definition is wrong and tendentious in confusing pederasty with homosexuality. 10 In commenting upon Bakhtin's theory, Julia Kristeva develops this idea: 'The scene of the carnival introduces the split speech act: the actor and the crowd are each in turn simultaneously subject and addressee of discourse," Desire in Language (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984) 49. 11 Both Bakhtin ana Kristeva recurrently insist on the concept of tlle Carnival as "a genuine transgression." See Lechte 105. 12 Jose Donoso, Ellugar sin limites (Barcelona: Bruguera, 1981).




character of a fetish associated with the feminine sexuality that he feels is his. As the narrator comments in chapter 4: "Porque cuando la Japonesa Ie decfa papa, su vestido de espanola ... se ponia mas viejo" (65-66). In the face of the novel's treatment of these elements, we might legitimately wonder to what extent the symbolic Spanish dress is just a dress or a disguise, to what extent it hides or discloses. Donoso's goal, in any case, is to show the human being in all his/her ambiguity. What at the beginning may seem a series of types, as in a medieval allegory, soon acquires the complexity of the modem novel. The characters become multifaceted, unapprehensible, and fundamentally heterogeneous beings. In an interview with Rodrfguez Monegal, Donoso attributes the very same value to his use of transvestism and disguises:
"Por que me interesan tanto los disfraces? "Por que me interesan los

Foucault's genealogy attempts to disclose, counterbalance, and, ultimately, undermine the normalizing and disciplinary function exercised by the modem technologies of power. Genealogy seeks to "break down, to disassemble, the unity of the apparently self-evident concepts from which philosophers and social scientists generally begin ... to disrupt the unity of the apparently given and immediate objects of our experience and to show that they are products that have within themselves a certain heterogeneity."15 Reading Ellugar sin limites in a genealogical way would move us to reconsider the concept of sexual "normality." Is its protagonist the abominable pervert that Vidal, Moreno Turner, Solotorevsky, or Achugar want us to believe he is? Or is he/she merely trying to assert the human right to physical pleasure without guilt or shame? The latter is the only valid alternative if we assume that concepts such as normalcy and deviance are, first and above all, cultural constructs. But let us suppose that, blinded by the technologies of power, we accept the existence of perversion in the novel. Even then we should not forget the subversive value underlying all deviances from the established normal behavior. Marcuse, for example, in discussing the so-called perversions, considers their value to "express rebellion against the SUbjugation of sexuality under the order of procreation, and against the institutions which guarantee this order. "16 But Foucault resists accepting these polarities (normalcy/deviance, acceptable sexual behavior/perversion) as natural, instead making clear that "sexuality is not a natural reality but the product of a system of discourses and practices which form part of the intensifying surveillance and control of the individual." 17

travesties [sic]? "Por que me interesa en Coronacion la locura de la

senora? "Por que en Este domingo los disfraces tienen un lugar tan importante? Es porque estas son maneras de deshacer la unidad del ser humano. Deshacer la unidad psicol6gica, ese mito horrible que hemos inventado.14

In Donoso's view, as in Bakhtin's or Kristeva's, "Carnival is a transgression, then, because it shakes thought based on the logic of identity to its foundations" (Lechte 109). Both Donoso's transgressive theses and Bakhtin's carnivalesque categories assume a renewed significance in light of the concept of, "genealogy" (or "effective history") proposed by Foucault:

Ellugar sin limites reacts against this policing of behavior. Donoso's use of masks
corresponds to the two purposes that, according to Foucault, must be at the basis of genealogical analysis: the representation of reality as a masquerade; that is, history as the great Carnival of time, and the systematic dissociation of reality, bringing to light "les systemes Mterogenes qui, sous Ie masque de notre moi, nous interdisent toute identite"
15 Bernard Flynn, "Sexuality, Knowledge and Power in the Thought of Michel FoucaUlt," Philosophy and

L'histoire sera "effective" dans la mesure oil elle introdnira Ie discontinu dans notre etre meme, Elle divisera nos sentiments; eUe dramatisera nos instincts; eUe multipliera notre corps et l'opposera a lui-meme, EUe ne laissera rien au-dessous de soi, qui aurait la stabilite rassurante de la vie ou de la nature ... , Elle creusera ce sur quoi on aime ala faire reposer, et s'achamera contre sa pretendue continuite. C'est que Ie savoir n'est pas fait pour comprendre, i1 est fait pour trancher. (160)

Social Criticism 8 (1981) 331.

16 Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization (Boston: Beacon P, 1955) 49. 17 Madan Sarup, An Introductory Guide to Post-Structuralism and Postmodemism (Athens: U of Georgia
p, 1989) 80. Sarup summarizes the fundamental thesis of Foucault's History of Sexuality in these

14 Emir Rodriguez Monegal, "Jose Donoso: la novela como 'happening' ," R/ 76-77 (Julio-Diciembre

paradoxical terms: "Foucault suggests that liberation is a form of servitude, since our apparently 'natural' sexuality is in fact a product of power" (ibid.).

1971) 525.