Saturday, 16 December, 2017.

"If you consent, neither you nor any other human being shall ever see us again: I will go to the vast wilds of South America..." 
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus 

The words of the epigraph express the desire of Mary Shelley's well-known fictional creature, Frankenstein, the  monster marked for posterity by the name of his demiurge.  Lonely and rejected, and conscious of his unique monstrosity, he begs his master to create a mate for him.  To his mind, which yearns to learn more about the world, South America appears to be a perfect place to continue an unimpeded existence.  The creature is aware of the "hapless fate of its [i.e. South American] original inhabitants" (Shelley, 119), but he obviously believes that there he and his bride could start a life whose monstrosity would be less noticeable.

However, the Frankenstein family never sets foot in South America.  The female creature is destroyed by Dr. Frankenstein before being animated, and the famous surviving techno-monster never manages to procreate in the South America he has imagined. The male creature and his master end up in the frigid North Pole instead, while issues of literal and literary procreation remain a secret buried with the two of them.

The choice of South America as an imaginary site where even a creature not born of mother and father could find happiness is highly symptomatic.  Although in 1818, when Mary Shelley's book was first published, Alexander von Humboldt had already completed his South American journey and Europe had developed "scientific" ideas about the New World, romantic myths about mermaids, amazons, men with snouts, people with a single eye in their forehead and other dream-like creations by the European conquistadors–continued to structure the colonizer's imagination.

Dr. Frankenstein's monster longs for the South America that has been constituted as an object of colonizing discourse, as an inscription of European desires to overcome and extend its imperial imagination.  Christopher Colombus, who in spite of his incredible endeavor was never able to transcend the limits of medieval epistemology, hallucinated the newly "discovered" continent as the beautiful Orient.  He described this imaginary site as a proper place for the Fountain of Youth, the Garden of Eden and even mermaids.  The admiral's imagination set the tone for future rhetorical constructions and speculations about the continent.  Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors violently imposed their mother tongues, along with the baggage of their cultural unconscious, on the "New" World, saturating it with "Old" World cultural constructs and metaphors.  Latin American literature is one of the most interesting products of their labor, contained as it is in the narratives that pair Western imaginary structures with the erasure, refiguration and hybridization of native narratives and cultures.

Even though the Frankenstein family never settles in South America, the doctor's dream of producing life with the exclusive participation of one "parent" finds its fictional echo in Latin American literary production. Along with many other unfulfilled desires, the literary imagination of the continent manifests itself in a strain of narratives that articulate this paradoxical desire for creation without maternal participation.  In continuation I will refer to those textual procreators who perform the task of (re)production in the solitude of their narrative universe.  I will also look into writing practices that involve literary metaphors of conception and procreation.  In other words, I will interrogate notions of textual paternity and parthenogenesis, since most of the works examined here involve narratives where the process of procreation is carried out with the exclusive participation of a "single" literary "parent".  Both motherhood and fatherhood are metaphors that permeate the imaginary structures of these narratives, which come to life through the use of the word itself.

What kind of subjectivity is embodied in the image of the procreator who avoids the corporeal presence and participation of the other? What is the place of gender roles in this overwhelmingly solitary parthenogenesis?  What sort of desire is embraced by the demiurge when he (and it is almost always a he) bypasses the sexual encounter?  How does imagination replace nature during this literary process?  How does this procreational totalitarianism make manifest the relationships inherent in political, social and sexual contexts of particular Latin American countries?

In order to consider these questions and to reread the literary imagination of twentieth-century Latin America,  I have selected texts which reflect both  positivist and postmodern sensibilities. The imagination is often structured by technology and its development in this type of   narrative practice.  The scientific laboratory in Horacio Quiroga's novella The Artificial Man (1910) uncannily reflects the interests of early twentieth-century Buenos Aires: hypnotism, electric energy and the rules of chemical synthesis combine with moral and philosophical questions of artificially created humanity.  While the high-tech nature of reproductive technology today makes in vitro fertilization, "test-tube babies", surrogate embryo transfer, fetal reduction, sex predetermination, cloning and embryo freezing relatively common procedures, early modern Latin America could only conceive of these technological marvels as products of the unrestrained imagination of its writers.  However, both the process and the product originate from the same desire to create life through a procedure that bypasses heterosexual contact. 

As Quiroga's narrative position shows, Latin American modernity, like most modernities, is permeated by a Romantic heritage in its desire to construct a "new subjectivity" that combines philosophy and technology, giving birth to a specific type of Latin American science-fiction.  However, the overall poetic structure of the narrative is still locked within the centralizing narratives of modernity: the identity created and reinforced by this text is bound by the search for a knowledge that is higher, but not impossible to reach.  On the other hand, postmodernity, which makes its tentative presence felt in Hernández's "The Daisy Dolls" (1949) and finds its full blown incarnation in Donoso's text "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" (1973), signals the impossibility of the idea of a unified self and relies on notions of simulation, replication and fragmentation.

There are many instances of solitary procreation in earlier Latin American texts, particularly those written in the nineteenth century, when literary romanticism employed the fantastic genre to explore the Doppelgänger motive.  Popular literature in nineteenth-century Latin America used the fable of the literary double to articulate a specific modification of this motive: the entire continent was in fact imagined as a double of Europe, whose colonial rule managed to engender new hybrid forms of criollo identity uninformed by native tradition.  The fashion of gothic tales that prevailed in Europe at the time was transformed into a story of the Latin American cultural unconscious, a story of a people forced to embody the fractured identity of those who were colonizer and colonized at the same time.

Imported European myths of creation offer numerous and p style="margin-left: 30px;"erse depictions of birth that, nevertheless, share one common feature: the feminine imagery has been erased from most of them.  Femaleness is usually treated by a highly symbolized reference to unformed darkness, liquid or blood.  The biblical version of creation expresses this depiction of the life-source: "The earth was without form, and void:  and darkness was upon the face of the Deep" (Genesis 1:2).  Similar metaphors of darkness and depth, associated with women and their reproductive organs, serve as a way of supressing and disciplining the female as creator.  Around the same time that a puzzled Columbus was trying to explain why his maps of India did not correspond to the site he had chanced upon due to a navigational error, the Kabbalists at Salamanca were attempting to create a simulacrum of a human being called a golem.  Before their expulsion from Spain, Jewish mystics were contemplating the magical combination of syllables and words that would bring a golem to life.  Alongside them, medieval alchemists like Paracelsus concentrated on the mixture of minerals and bodily fluids that would help in the production of the homunculus...  With the advancement of science and technology, after the Industrial Revolution, the robot was imagined and created.[1]  What all such creations–golems, homunculi, automata, dolls, robots–have in common is the symbolic desire of the male master to surpass the female role in the process of procreation and, therefore, the urgency to prove that humanity can take away the sole power of creation from the p style="margin-left: 30px;"inity.  Paired with this metaphysical urge was the concrete practice of gender domination and female oppression.

An obvious example of this tendency can be found in most writings of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.  In Thus Spoke Zaratustra, he states: "Never yet have I found the woman from whom I wanted children, unless it be this woman whom I love: for I love you, O eternity.  For I love you, O eternity!" (34).  Here, eternity formally disembodies the female through the imaginary substitution of eternity as a bearer of the philosopher's offspring.  The children that are projected and wished for in the relationship with eternity are words written for generations to come.  Semen is replaced by the signifier of the beyond through the process of textual dissemination, which engenders eternal creatures, which in Nietzsche's case, include such eternal monsters as Adolf Hitler.

Along with philosophers and alchemists, writers gave birth to this desire in the form of linguistic simulation.  Never mind that the newly created subjectivity signified loneliness, misrecognition and solitude. After all, the creature was not of one mother and father, but, quite the contrary, the product of a desire to surpass both nature and God by engaging in imaginary acts of creation.

Borges' famous story "Circular Ruins", along with Horacio Quiroga's "The Artificial Man", José Donoso's "Chattanooga Choo-Choo", Felisberto Hernández' "The Daisy Dolls" and Rosario Ferré's "The Youngest Doll" all focus on the birth of the linguistic being through the dissemination of a single parent and speak to the tragic human desire to overcome death through technology.  In virtually all of the works mentioned the creator and the newly formed creature end up perishing from the world.  The linguistic material used in the creation of textual bodies,[2] consists of such p style="margin-left: 30px;"erse elements as dream tissue, plastic, human body parts, wax, porcelan and garden gourds.  Etymologically, the formation of fictional matter is always already imprinted with traces of female presence, even though most of the creators are male:  mother and matter come from the same Indo-European root me, which denotes the physicality of substance.  However, the careful reading of these text shows that the female, maternal presence, although often repressed, explodes the narrative structure in most unexpected ways.

What kind of desires are mapped by these Latin American narratives produced in the twentieth century?  Although maternal participation in creation is decisevly repressed by the early genesis narratives, it also resists the symbolic erasure of her traces from the creation process.  Quiroga's scientists are unable to replace the mother successfully, since they fail to manufacture a viable creature.  Instead, they engender a son who dies in pain, taking his creator along with him.  Borges' magician encounters utter humiliation after discovering that he is no different from the son he has delivered.  His dreams reveal a desire to substitute imagination for the mother's body, a desire that ultimately results in an endlessly circular narrative.  While homoerotic desires distinguish their two renditions of the creation fable, Hernández's and Donoso's texts explore the possibility of heterosexual control of the male creator over his female creature.  Ferré's rendition of the creation plot is marked by the strong presence of abject eroticism caused by centuries of colonial, imperial and sexual oppression.  Her textual body is the only one that motions towards the break from the circularity imposed on the masculine imagination by the exigencies of the death drive.

As Freud postulated in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), the tendency of life is to return to an inorganic state.  Freud called this paradoxical phenomenon the death drive, which is responsible for the failure of all utopian projects of Western civilization.  Because it assumed that human destructive tendencies were innate, the theory of death instincts was probably one of the most challenging concepts that Freud engendered during his lifetime.  Many modern literary texts work through the unconscious fear that humans have regarding the certainty of their own death.  French psychoanalyst and critic Hélčne Cixous has even defined fiction as a "reserve of the repressed" because of its capability to hide and reveal the repressed material (Cixous 547).  This is particularly true of narratives where life is present in the metaphor of artificial creation, since here human agents control the process of emergence and return to the inorganic state, thus bringing repression of the fearful loss of control into the open.

The female is the "other" of patriarchal civilization and colonization, a passive and repressed ingredient of creation. In our referential reality, the biological conception of a child requires both male and female participation. The woman, however, is the one who actually gives birth to the infant and carries it in an obvious manner.  While paternity is based largely on her word and acknowledgment, mater sempre certa est, maternity is based on the visible change of the female body.  As Western civilization overwhelmingly values the visual, it is not difficult to explain the existence of a need, especially by the male gender, to seek "imaginary" ways of procreating.  The Holy Bible, as the arch-document of Western civilization, inverts biological reality by depicting creation as exclusively male:  "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (Gen. 2.7).  Later on in the text, woman is created as well, this time out of his body: "And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Ad-am, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof" (Gen. 2. 21).[3]  On the one hand, woman is dreamed of, constructed and ripped out of man's body, while on the other the Bible is God's simulation: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them" (Gen. 1. 27).  If we consider the woman mentioned first as the "original" one, created simultaneously with the man and having equal status as the man in the Creator's eyes, then the second passage refers to the simulated replica, the product of someone else's desire.  The question is, whose desire? God's or dreaming man's? Or, are the two just parallel mirrors reflecting each other's needs and thoughts?

The Jewish Aggadah offers one possible solution to the Creation contradiction encountered in the Book of Genesis...  It is about the woman created before the in-famous Eve, called Lilith.  According to Gershom Scholem who refers to Midrash

... a woman was first made for Adam from the earth (and not from his flank or rib). This was Lilith, who irritated the Lord of Creation by demanding equal rights...  She argued: We [Adam and I] are equal, because we both come from the earth.  Whereupon they quarreled, and Lilith, bitterly disgruntled, uttered the name of God and fled to embark on her demonic career. (163, emphasis mine)

Although Lilith is not derived from man's body, she is made for him.  However, her rebellious spirit (pneuma)–possibly related to her telluric and not secondary origins–transforms Lilith into an autonomous being conscious of all the rights that this status brings.  In her own voice, she demands equal rights and argues, even utters the name of God.  One of the legends says that she continued living on the shores of the Red Sea where she sexually excited men in their dreams.  This apocryphal version of the Biblical narrative counters the dominant one in which the woman is dreamed up by a man only so that she may serve him.

As the example of Borges' "The Circular Ruins" (1941) shows, it is possible to use dream material as materia prima for the constitution of the body of an artificial being.  Furthermore, this tale reveals that the demiurge himself is also of a hallucinatory nature, a product of another's dream.  It raises a philosophical and existential query expressed in the story's epigraph, taken from Lewis Caroll's Through the Looking Glass: "And if he left off dreaming about you..."  The rest of the question is logical and frightening: Would "I" exist?  The possibility of not being the original one, not being the only one, or of being just a product of the other's imagination, requires further humiliation for the subjects of modern inp style="margin-left: 30px;"idualism, who consider themselves unique and irreplaceable.

Felisberto Hernández, Borges' contemporary from the Rio de la Plata region, was more intrigued with the invention of a creature who would be gendered differently from the master.  The long story "The Daisy Dolls" (1949) is told from the perspective of an omniscient narrator, but the focus is that of the male protagonist and demiurge, Horacio.  The method of constructing the creature's body significantly differs from the two previous examples.  Although both the scientists in "The Artificial Man" and the magician in "The Circular Ruins" are concerned with the construction of a unified, coherent body, the importance of this body lies only in the fact that it is a vessel, a repository of the mind and soul.  In Hernández's text, the creature's body is imagined as sensual, libidinous and lascivious.  Moreover,  in "The Daisy Dolls" the fragmentation of the narrative structure coincides with that of the newly created body.  Seduced by technological advances, mainly cinematic reproduction, the creator's fantasy suffers from overexposure, resulting in its dissapearance within the hypertextual realm dominated by the sound of mysterious machines.

In the 1970's, Chilean writer José Donoso enacted a parodic and postmodern reversal of power relations and gender roles in his novelette "Chatanooga Choo-Choo" (1973), and these reversals are accompanied by inflections within the metaphor of the created body.  Sylvia, a model with a perfect body, can actually be erased and reconstructed according to her master's desire.  She often appears without arms or a definite facial structure, a fact which excites her user since he can imagine her according to his own desires.  However, it turns out that Sylvia has powers that elude the patriarchal discipline.  The secret knowledge she is willing to share with other women seems to empower all the female protagonists, although nobody within this fantastic postmodern fable emerges as a clear winner in the gender war.

Finally, the everlasting patriarchal yearning to appropriate the female body and assimilate the mother-imago as reproductive power is masterfully deconstructed by Rosario Ferré in her story "The Youngest Doll" (1976).  Her feminist translation of the creation myth into the socio-politically sensitive space of United States-Puerto Rican relations is simmering with abjection that bursts through the eye sockets of the youngest doll and out of the story's closure.

The linguistic move from experience to the world of the unknown and the unseen marks the narrative poetics of genesis.  Animation of an imaginary being by the power of language metaphorically parallels the writer's desire to use the power of fiction for the fulfilment of often repressed desires.   The  newborn meaning inherent in the creation of artificial life, of a fantastic creature not "of this world", enhances the writer's imagined freedom since it no longer refers to reality, but to the world of the unknown, of the repressed, of disquieting strangeness and even uncanny fear.[4]

The existential problem of "otherness" encountered in the textual bodies I examine requires an analysis of gender roles.  When the product of creation is of the same sex as the creator, there is a possibility of conflict between the two.  When the creator is male and the creature is female, on the other hand, the creature becomes a reified representation of the other, a simulacrum whose purpose is to substitute for the "real" woman and fulfill the sexual desire of her creator.   This certanly does not exclude pleasure as the driving force in the projection and production of textual clones.  However, it is quite clear that while intellectual enthusiasm is mostly tied to the former, erotic excitement permeates the latter.

Jean Baudrillard states that "all reproduction implies therefore a kind of black magic, from the fact of being seduced by one's own image in the water, like Narcissus, to being haunted by the double" (153).  This postmodern angst reflects a not-so-recent practice of endless reproduction of subjectivity through the creation of fictional, literary bodies.  These bodies, inscribed by the uncanny desire of their creators, bear a textual signature–for it is often through the inscription of the "right" word that the creature comes alive.  The textual body of the character, along with the literal articulation of "the body of the text," are both products of the same desire that stands at the beginning of language.

The end of the 20th century is approaching, shrouded in a web of postmodern discourse.  Fiction and reality, along with simulation and representation, are often invoked to provide an understanding of literary and cultural phenomena at the closure of the millenium.  Today, few doubt the metaphoric power of language and its procreative potential.   Most of the time, fiction produces reality and creates a universe of meaning in which it is impossible to tell when the story begins and "reality" ends.  Tearing the subject from its "others" is often impossible.

The creatures engendered in these Latin American texts by a solitary parent are manifesting the creative potential of the letter.   In spite of the fact that they are produced by language, these imaginary beings are rarely subjects with their own voice and language.  Those who do utter words sometimes speak the mother's tongue, while others use the one belonging to the father.  No matter how fixed the script and how dominant the creator is, these subjects speak of their own unfulfilled yearnings. Some are frightened and disillusioned and eventually destroy their creators, while others side with them and tolerate mutual existence.

This  very specific trajectory of Latin American literature–conceived by an endless number of often sublimated, substituted and displaced  images, desires and memories–points toward its most salient characteristics. Using Lacan's metaphor for human development, one could say that after somewhat successfully undergoing the mirror stage in which the Latin American "infant" discovered itself through imitation–that is to say, the colonial period–its literature began self-consciously reexamining its own metaphors and other signifying mechanisms.  Authority and originality, along with legitimacy, self-authorization and authenticity, are some of the most troubling questions of its history of authoring itself.[5]

In his influential study of writing and authority in modern Latin American literature, The Voice of the Masters, Roberto González Echevarría contends that

the emergence of the figure of the writer, who can bear no authority except that of negation, pries apart the relationship between authority and voice. (14)

The identities–national, cultural and political– of nation-states born during nineteenth-century independence movements are still based on the strong "negation," to use González Echevarría's term, of dominant paternalistic voices speaking from the Iberian peninsula.  However, the newly born Latin American offspring turned out to be as dictatorial as its Iberian "father".[6]  "The character embodying authority", that is to say, following the Greek etymology of kharattein, the one upon which the authority has been engraved, drawn or inscribed, will replay the scripted role.[7]  Paternalistic dictators and master authors, "toppling" each other in the metafictional exercise of powers, reenact at least three conceptual struggles: philosophical (god-man), social (father-son) and psychological (super ego-ego).

González Echevarría quotes a passage from Hegel's Philosophy of History, which defines Caesar and other "great historical men" as those "who appear to draw the impulse of their life from themselves" (67). This apparent self-sufficiency of great men, and the powerful life force that they carry, verbally "literalizes" itself in the textual bodies I have chosen to analyze. The protagonists of these narratives are not military and state dictators, but scientists, painters, magicians, industrial designers and doll-makers who desire the control acquired by the power structure.  By imagining textual bodies as obedient slaves, they exclude the female from the process of narrative genesis. With the exception of Ferré's story, the creative urge of these "characters", who are unavoidably also social and cultural figures, is born from the despotic desire to occupy the place earlier reserved for gods and emperors.


Mary Shelley's literary nightmare about a man-made monster has been uncannily simulated in the 1996 cloning of Dolly, the millennial pride of British science.  It seems that the circle is nearly complete today: Dr. Frankenstein's creature has been transposed from the realm of fiction into the sphere of scientific reality.  A lamb cloned from a ewe whose mammary gland cell was used as a vessel for the male DNA, Dolly represents the realization of the age-old dream of Western scientists.  Reflecting the parodic posturing of her scientific creators obviously involved in the games of creation and reproduction once confined to the realm of theology, her name epitomizes our end-of-the-century, postfeminist neopatriarchal neocapitalism.[8] The cloning of the flesh and blood dolly is a manifestation of the desire to create an entity without copulation that is so deeply rooted in the imaginary and narrative structures of the texts examined here.

The British sheep was a text before it was given its cloned body.   Dolly is, in many ways, a nearly-final link in a long chain of research beginning with the alchemists' dream of the homunculus...  The structures of the Latin American literary imagination discussed here represent a peripheral, postcolonial version of this particular trajectory.  But unlike the nineteenth-century offspring of romantic imagination embodied in both Mary Shelley and Horacio Quiroga, Dolly arrives as a mute scientific product that deeply disturbs notions of the creator and the created as well as those of imagination and reality.  Dolly is living proof of technology's ability to overcome both the literal and figurative notions of death and ending.

The twentieth century has been a golden age of literature in Latin America, partly due to magical realism's notorious demonstration that the gap between magic and reality can be successfully bridged through a rewriting of the relationship between the cultural periphery and its linguistic centers.  Similarly, magical realism has shown that the relationship between the centers of imperial science and its colonial clones can be rewritten as a constant metaphoric displacement of the founding myths of the West, of the creator and his creations.  So too, the literary works of art studied as "textual bodies", embodied as they are in an uncanny amalgam of matter, science and culture, manifest an ideological residue of those questions posed outside the centers of European science and culture in the constant game of mirroring taking place between the new identity of colonial subjects and the magnetic draw of the old European mythologies.  It is no accident that Dr. Frankenstein's creature planned to move with his imagined mate from the Old World, where he would never be accepted as a legitimate subject, to South America, which promised to enable the multiplication of his monstrous offspring.  The "new" continent is imagined as a place that provides the horizon for the creation of the new breed, in Vasconselos' words a "cosmic race" produced as a hybrid between the Indigenous and the European.  But the voice of the cultural other resists being treated as mere passive matter which the colonizer shapes according to his cultural determinants and which he can imagine only as a monster.

The modernist reflection manifested in the 1910 publication of Quiroga's  The Artificial Man reproduces the dominant scientific dream which is on the verge of being achieved in the postmodern conditions at the end of the same century.  In Quiroga's works, nineteenth-century sentimentalism is supplemented by technological imaginings which mark a new stage in the revision of the old humanist vision of the inp style="margin-left: 30px;"idual.   His novella not only glorifies the possibility of creating a male specimen through chemical synthesis, but also offers valuable insight into the Argentine society in the making at the dawn of the modern age.  The outcome of the experiment shows that the creation of a new creature by artificial means, necessitates the sacrifice of another life deemed less valuable.  While the scientists are all descendants of the European races, the subject whose life is sacrificed has markedly darker skin.  His life and pain are needed to power the imaginary clone of their scientific vision.  But the creator finally pays with his own life since the attempt to extend himself by technological means penetrates too deeply into the order of nature.

Some thirty years later, porteńos who read issue seventy-five of the cultural journal Sur found the same metaphor of a man-made, man-like creature shrouded in a different ontological insecurity: this time the author was Jorge Luis Borges, and the story was "The Circular Ruins."  Science is replaced by the power of an archeological imagination; the outcome of the narrative is similar, since the creator realizes that he himself is a creature dreamed by yet another dreamer.  This imaginary cloning takes away any notion of inp style="margin-left: 30px;"iduality and originality from the human subject, placing him in the neo-baroque predicament of being a helpless victim of a larger and indefatigable order. The epistemological joke played on the wishful father, and the deeply ironic tone of the narrative voice, both point to the fact that Borges was foreshadowing a change in the positivist exaltation at the inception of modernity.  The desire for progress, so prominent in Quiroga's narrative, is a reflection of the modern optimism that gradually gives way to the Borgesian view of history as a circular ruin of a creator's dreams.

Another symptomatic work from Buenos Aires at the end of our century that features the narrative construction of the Textual Bodies is  Osvaldo Soriano's 1992 bestseller El ojo de la patria (The Eye of the Country).[9]  Quiroga's scientist and Borges' magician are replaced by a bitter professor who lacks any higher ideals. Although Argentine by birth, his loyalty is not tied exclusively to that nation.  He is ready to offer his services to the highest bidder, whether it be IBM, Toshiba or some other multinational entity.  His brainchild is a special chip that resurrects the body of a long-dead national hero.  The symbol of the nation is able to make small movements and talk about his lifetime if he pleases. Unspecified Argentine spy groups attempt to appropriate this technologically-resurrected national hero, although none of them are quite sure what the consequences will be if they fail.

The narrative develops mostly through the focus of one of those spies, Carré, who is aware that he is just a link in a chain of command that he never fully comprehends.  His world consists of pieces of a puzzle he will not be able to see completed.  Carré is devoid of his own body since for the other characters he exists only as a text of a report they occasionally receive from him.  Soriano does not construct recognizable material bodies for the characters of this novel, allowing them instead to behave like Baudrillard's pathetic postmodern humans lost in the web of narratives always constructed by someone else.  Carré's material body undergoes so many plastic surgeries that he can no longer remember the contours of his original face.  The only face he sees in the mirror is that of Harrison Ford, and as a spy he can have no photographs of his pre-operation self.  The search for his original image becomes the obsession of his disjointed life.  He vaguely remembers that a statue was made of his original likeness, a bust placed on his bogus grave in a Paris cemetery.  This fact prompts him to try and discover the image which will reveal to him his "original" and "true" self.

Most of the other characters in the novel also wear masks of different heroes of popular culture, such as Madonna, Michael Jackson, Sting, Bob Marley, Batman, Robin, Laurel and Hardy.  Each of the protagonists of the novel assumes one or another mask provided by the media star system.  Nothing is what it seems to be, since the stable notions of gender identity and national borders have been disturbed.  The body itself is constructed as a replaceable, exchangeable commodity whose uniqueness belongs to the fading dreams of modernity.

Soriano's end-of-the-century novel is set in Europe after the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall.  The unemployed spies belonging to different nations have now completely lost their purpose.  The postcolonial Argentine gaze provides the old "mother" world with a different identity as it returns to find its own source, its own creator.  The national hero (often referred to as "mummy", "corpse", or "relic") that various spy groups claim to "protect" and possess appears to be one of the leaders  of the 1808 Cabildo, an event marking the struggle for independence from Spanish colonial rulers,when the identity of the Argentine nation was being forged.  Soriano purposely obscures the true identity of the resurrected hero: it could be Mariano Moreno, who disappeared after the Cabildo and left Argentina for Europe, but it could also be any other leader- Castelli or Belgrano. None of the Argentine spies are able to identify the microchip-powered body of the national hero and connect it to its proper name. Monumental history and tradition are becoming less and less relevant, since the Argentine protagonists are part of the same imagined community by virtue of everyday life rather than through a metanarrative of common historic origins.  They invoke the names of restaurants and bars, certain streets that they used to visit when they lived in Buenos Aires, and rely on porteńo inflection and slang as a password helping them verify the true national identity of their compatriots.  They all seem to suffer from a form of national amnesia, not unlike García Márquez's Macondian insomnia plague that brings forgetfulness.  However, there is one major difference: instead of Melquíades, Soriano uses an unrecognizable national hero enhanced by a microchip.  The latest generation of Latin American writers has a very parodic relationship to its glorious history, opening up the sacred space of the nation for a thorough reevaluation.

Two hundred years after independence, the father of the nation requires batteries to function and eye drops to clarify his gaze, thus proving that he is the true eye of the country.  The national hero embodies el milagro argentino, the Argentine miracle, a promise that Argentina will become part of the first world, revive its glory from the past century, and possibly provide a center that somehow got lost in the postmodern era.  Soriano's use of the syntagm "el milagro argentino" is yet another irony that provides a contemporary context for rereading national history.  Since an abundance of Latin American "milagros" were achieved during the dictatorships of the seventies, one could not expect Argentina to fall behind its neighbors by not producing its own miracle.  In Argentina, this miracle covers the period of 1990-1994, when Menem's minister of economy, Domingo Cavallo, introduced a neoliberal economic model that not only failed to reduce the national deficit, but also even further impoverished the middle and working classes.

Soriano's novel exposes the emerging culture haunted by simulation, the lack of stable referents and the specter of freedom.  The usual colonial perspective is reversed: it is the Old World that represents the site of identity loss, emptiness and erasure of memory, the Europe of the new fin de sičcle, which is also the end of the millennium.  A new Europe seen from the colony has long forgotten its universalist discourses of essence, life, truth and causality.  Concepts that appeared entrenched in the discourse of Western philosophy now sound hollow, disjointed and unconnected to each other.  Both the past and the future appear irrelevant because, as Vattimo has observed, the central rationality behind history is lost to humans conscious of their emptiness of meaning.[10]  The Borgesian circular ruin of history is replaced by no history whatsoever, and the characters of Soriano's novel drive around following a meaningless, fragmented script they are forced to decipher themselves.  There is no more Big Brother as a visible and monumental entity that gives clear, unquestionable orders.  Instead, humans receive messages that they are forced to interpret themselves, never quite able to compare their interpretation with the intended message.  The freedom, in this context emblematic of a postmodern social order, leads to arbitrariness and a peculiar kind of dogmatism.  Reader-centered culture results in a proliferation of "meaningful" possibilities inside the chaos created by the  excess of signification.  Since there is no longer one absolute and sacred truth, everything becomes culturally relative, while liberation from reference brings meaninglessness.

The figure of the national hero is involved in yet another textual literalization that bears all the marks of a peripheral postmodernity.  The fact that the microchip now powers the most sublime expression of the national spirit is indicative of Soriano's parodic gesture, which calls into question the stable notions of both the center and the periphery.  The transnational character of the story inscribed in the microchip enables endless reproductions of the same myth of national greatness, its sacrifices and its tragic glory.  The struggle of various secret agents to appropriate the essence of the nation ends with the desperate escape of the main character into his "decoy" tomb, where he proudly drags the decrepit hero of the nation, clad in a Genesis T-shirt.

This time, Genesis signifies the name of a British pop band, not the process of creation that the Latin American nations had to undergo during the colonization.  The body of the national hero can be multiplied to deceive the enemies, since the only value it has is connected to the built-in microchip which can be sold to any multinational corporation for a profit.  Soriano's textual body is a hybrid national creature which can be cloned at will to satisfy the needs of the highest bidder.  The neoliberal dream of the strong economy turns out to be the nightmare of those segments excluded from the proper national reality.  Unlike the power that is supposed to animate Quiroga's artificial man, the energy used to run the postmodern national body need not be derived from those deemed racially or culturally inferior, but from every possible human simulacrum.  The microchip is planted in a body that can be discarded at any time, just like the multitudes of real human bodies sacrificed daily at the altar of the neoliberal economic miracle.

Although Soriano's novel was published in an age of proliferation of electronic media, it was still printed as a book that has a material, three-dimensional existence.  The printed pages are marked by numbers, and the reader is not invited to randomly go from one page to another, as with a microchip run hypertext.  There is an order and a sequence determined by the writer and the narrative structure, while the reader is left with the freedom of interpretation.  Nevertheless, microchip technology is foreshadowing the end of the textual body that we once knew as the book.  On a more optimistic note, I could say that the book has actually shed its body like a snake that leaves its skin behind as a monument to its previous life.  The book of the future promises to be composed of pure textuality without its material components of ink and paper.  Like Soriano's national hero, the body of the future books will be composed of electronic impulses which flicker on the screens of personal computers, while the reader has the freedom to create endless narratives provided by the memory built into the microchip.  The dream of creating a homunculus is now fully manifest. It seems that the polarization between literature and science which began with the p style="margin-left: 30px;"ision of alchemy is now reaching its highest point.

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Colás, Santiago.  Postmodernity in Latin America: The Argentine Paradigm. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1994.

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[1] For an overview of the motif of the artificially-created human-like being, consult the study by Robert Plank, "The Golem and the Robot".

[2] Different critical readings of canonical nineteenth-century works such as the already mentioned Gothic novel Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelly and E. T. A. Hoffmann's story "The Sandman," both published in 1818, exhibit the human urge to explore the relationship between language, art and science.  Doctor Frankenstein's creation is a perfect example of a lonely creature that comes to life in order to fulfill its master's yearnings for power and is abandoned by its creator as soon as it tries to express itself as a separate entity.  As Marie-Helene Huet has convincingly argued in her study Monstrous Imagination, preceding the monster's birth we can detect signs of passion in its creator, not for a living woman, but, in this particular case, for science itself (130-131).  Rousseau's suggestion that passion is the origin of language marks rationalist dissatisfaction with purely semiotic existence and engenders the subject's need to transpose his/her longings into the symbolic code of writing..  Kristeva's notion of the semiotic reformulates Rousseau's oppositional split between passion, which belongs to the body, and speech, which brings being to the language of the other.  Language as other appears in the form of writing, which positions itself as the other of both speech and body.  The paradoxical production of textual bodies takes place on the border between language that wants to become a body and a body that cannot speak without language.  For Rousseau, we talk and write when we feel the urge to express ourselves, when passion forces us to exhibit our body through words.  The substitution of objects of interest that occurs in Dr. Frankenstein's life parallels the substitution that underlies the metaphoric nature of language.  The products are textual bodies engendered through the writer's literary desire to construct a narrative that uses text-as-body as its central poetic metaphor.

[3] Although I am aware of different interpretations of the Bible, and that it was probably written by different authors during various time periods, I have chosen to read it as one text.

[4] I refer here to the definition of the fantastic given by Tzvetan Todorov in The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre.

[5] I am using the term "Latin America" in order to emphasize some of the similarities in the development of the countries that constitute it. However, the economic, cultural and political differences between, for example, Honduras and Argentina are tremendous. As Santiago Colás has argued in  Postmodernity in Latin America: The Argentine Paradigm, when considering revolutionary unity during the sixties, we could talk about Latin American modernity.  With the establishment of the free-market economy, the homogeneity is broken, and consequently we have Argentine, Brazilian or Nicaraguan postmodernity (18).

[6] The identification with the aggressor is a defense mechanism described by Sigmund Freud in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), but more fully ellaborated by his daughter, also a psychoanalyst, Anna Freud. 

[7] I am following the etymology given and elaborated by the French psychoanalyst and critic Helene Cixous in her article  "The Character of 'Character'."

[8] Celeste Newbrough uses this expression in order to characterize the current public discourse on cloning.  "Bah, Bah, Black Sheep: Cloning, Reproductive Rights and the Gender Revolution." online, Internet,  Feb. 29, 1997.

[9] Osvaldo Soriano, El ojo de la patria, Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 1992.

[10] Gianni Vattimo, "Posmodernidad, żuna sociedad transparente?" En torno a la posmodernidad. Ed. Gianni Vattimo, 1980, Editorial Anthropos, Madrid, 1990, 17.

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