Mexican Gothic Part I: On Literary Vampires, Journeys and the Anglo-American Legacy.

Posted by Inés Ordiz on December 05, 2011 in Guest Blog, Inés Ordiz Alonso-Collada tagged with , , ,

A ghostly question has haunted me even since I grew acquainted with Latin American fantastic literature: how is it possible that, apart from short and little-known articles and unpublished doctoral thesis,  nobody has ever used the term Gothic to refer to its fiction? How come the Latin American literary criticism is so rich in interpretations on the fantastic, but there are no organized and systematic study of the prominent Gothic features of many of its texts? The first answer that came to mind had to do with the bad reputation the genre had in its beginnings, which may explain the critics’ and writers’ reluctance to make Gothic structures, themes and topics too obvious. Another reason for this rejection of the Gothic mode may be the overwhelming presence of Magical Realism in the territory’s narrative, which made Latin American literature known to the world. This type of discourse left little space for other types of creations and criticisms, especially those considered “foreign”, as Gothic fictions were, and therefore potential obstacles to the consolidation of a Latin American identity.

Whatever the reason, I believe that Latin American fictions hide a great deal of Gothic forms, which either serve as Southern tributes to European and North American models, as amusing but critical parodies of these models, or as lairs for hideous native monsters coming from the Pre-Hispanic world. Also, as Gothic studies are globally growing , they are slowly permeating recent literary criticism, resulting in appealing international conferences as the distinguished Coloquio Gótico, which annually takes place at the UNAM, in Mexico city and the recently celebrated International Hispanic Conference of the Day of the Dead, in the FIU in Miami, as well as promising forthcoming monographic publications in the journals Monographic Review and Polifonía.

Coloquio Gótico.

International Hispanic Conference of the Day of the Dead.

Monographic Review.

Polifonía.

As the territory of Latin American Gothic fictions is vast and unexplored, I will focus my  brief analysis on Mexican 20th century narratives, and specially (but not exclusively) on their portrayal of the vampire as the ultimate embodiment of the different writers’ literary inheritance and ironic views. Following these ideas, I will first concisely explore the narratives of Adriana Díaz Enciso and Jose Luis Zárate as examples of what I consider to be works showing an Anglo-American legacy. Secondly, I will comment on the parodic views of the vampire of Carlos Fuentes and Carmen Boullosa, to finally deal with a couple of narratives by Homero Aridjis and the aforementioned Fuentes presenting pre-Hispanic entities as their gothic monsters. Hopefully, this study will whet the reader’s appetite for Latin American fictions. And maybe encourage some of them to explore the continent’s Gothic?

Adriana Díaz Enciso is a Mexican born writer who has lived in New York and London so the British and American influences in her work are not surprising.

Adriana Díaz Enciso’s blog (Spanish and English).

La sed (“The thirst”) (2001) is a traditional 20th century vampire story, whose structure and characters follow Anne Rice’s model. Sandra is a young woman living a boring and unsatisfactory life in Veracruz, until she meets a (predictably) mysterious, (obviously) attractive gentleman, named Samuel, who is (unsurprisingly) a vampire. The enigmatic man invites her to his elegant boat and transforms her. The narrative is then built as a morbid bildungsroman where Sandra, as Lestat had done in Interview with the Vampire, slowly learns how to deal with her recently acquired nature.  As an infant vampire, Sandra naively tries to stand under the sun and avoid drinking blood at the beginning, while questioning the world and its concepts (especially of Good VS Evil) and trying to understand her own self. As the narrative is focalized though Sandra’s perceptions, we have access to the monster-protagonist’s feelings and anxieties, allowing us to understand, sympathize, and even identify with the revenant. This tendency reflects the American development of the vampire fiction in the last decades of the 20th century, with Anne Rice’s novels heading the list.

Apart from this portrayal of the vampire as almost a byronian hero, lost in an infinite world of questions, the presence of homoerotic desires between Samuel and his human companion, Izhar and a great deal of other sexual encounters, La sed stands out for emphasizing the motive of the vampire as a traveller.  From Polidori’s Lord Ruthven to Stoker’s Dracula, King’s Barlow and Rice’s Louis, Lestat and Claudia, vampire fiction is riddled with migrant nosferatu. Samuel and Sandra carry a nomadic (un-)life in Samuel’s boat which takes them to New York, the British Isles, and different places in the Mediterranean Sea. Thus, Díaz Enciso’s vampires bring their anxieties, solitude and their curse to the numerous countries which have witnessed the creation and development of the universal tradition of the literary vampire that La sed inherits.

Jose Luis Zárate, on the other hand, uses a passage from Stoker’s Dracula to offer his own interpretation of the literary vampire. La ruta del hielo y la sal (“The route of the ice and the salt”), published in 1998, is divided in three parts, the second one being a direct translation of Stoker’s account of Dracula’s journey to London in the ship Demeter. This passage is introduced, both in Stoker’s original and in Zárate’s version, as a fragment of the Demeter’s logbook, which describes the horror of the captain when experiencing the strange events that make his crew slowly disappear. The first and the third parts of the novel are presented as the captain’s diary, where he narrates the terrifying happenings taking place in the ship. This account, however, is intertwined with the narrator’s lascivious comments on his subordinates, which show a homosexual desire that is almost an obsession. The sailors are, in the captain’s view, little more than just meat, and his desire for them is absolutely predatory. He even confesses that his reason to hire new men after every journey is the renewed chance of possessing one of them: “Con cada marino que viaja conmigo por primera vez existe una posibilidad. “Siempre es necesaria sangre nueva” (“With every new sailor there’s always a possibility. Fresh blood is always needed”, 1998: 16). A parallelism is then established between the vampire monster, who desires the men’s blood, and the captain, who craves their bodies. They are both queer predators wanting to penetrate the sailors.

Zárate also plays with the motive of the travelling monster. The ship, isolated in the middle of the ocean, reproduces feelings of claustrophobic despair. The captain is trapped in this gothic space with an unknown creature and the revenant sailors, who wake up from the dead to search for his blood. But they’re also trapped: “Son prisioneros de su carne, han sido encerrados en su apetito simple de sangre, en la necesidad. Son sed” (“They’re prisoners of their own flesh, they have been captured by their hunger for blood, by necessity. They are Thirst”, 1998: 114)

Jose Luis Zárate’s blog (only Spanish).

Both La sed and La ruta del hielo y la sal work from previous Anglo-American models and inject them with new interpretations of Gothic meanings and, interestingly, a raised up tone. They’re definitely worth-looking into for pleasure, commitment or mere curiosity.

In my next blog I’ll look into Carlos Fuente’s “Vlad” and Carmen Boullosa’s “Isabel”, as they’re examples of what I find to be subtle but hilarious parodies of other traditional Gothic forms.

References:

Díaz Enciso, Adriana, La sed. México: Colibrí, 2001.

Zárate, Jose Luis, La ruta del hielo y la sal. México: Vid, 1998.

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