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Dislocated Identities

Exile and the Self as (M)other in the Writing of Reinaldo Arenas


Wendy McMahon

This book offers a significant, original and timely contribution to the study of one of the most important and notorious Latin American authors of the twentieth century: Reinaldo Arenas. The text engages with the many extraordinary intersections created between Arenas’ writing, the autobiographical construction of the literary subject and the exilic condition.
Through focusing on texts written on the island of Cuba and in exile, the author analyses the ways in which Arenas’ writing emblemises a complex process of identification with, and rejection of, his homeland – always an imagined place and which is, as the place of his origins, intrinsically related to the maternal. She examines how the maternal and the motherland are conflated and how the narrator-protagonists’ identification is always in relation to, and dependent upon, this dominant motif. The book also explores the extent to which Arenas’ writing is a tortuous attempt to escape from this dominance and to free himself and his writing from the ties that bind him to the mother and the motherland, and shows that Arenas suffered the exilic condition long before his move to the United States in 1980 as part of the Mariel exodus.


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Chapter 3 - Cycles of his Story 159


Chapter 3 Cycles of His Story Wilfulness, exaggeration, overstatement: these are characteristic styles of being an exile, methods for compelling the world to accept your vision – which you make more unacceptable because you are in fact unwilling to have it accepted. — Edward Said1 Written discourse is born out of a primary expatriation, condemning it to wandering and blindness, to mourning. — Jacques Derrida2 Ref lections of Arenas As described in the introduction, a crucial event in the life of Reinaldo Arenas was his arrest and imprisonment in the summer of 1973 for having sex with two underage teenage boys on a beach at Guanabo which led to him spending time as a fugitive, being imprisoned in El Morro and subse- quently living as a social outcast. Arenas’ description of his alleged crime in Before Night Falls is brief and evasive to say the least.3 He tells us that: 1 Edward Said, Ref lections on Exile (London: Granta, 2001), p. 182. 2 Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), p. 39. 3 Reinaldo Arenas, Before Night Falls, trans. Dolores M. Koch (London: Serpent’s Tail. 2001), pp. 154–5. 160 Chapter 3 In the summer of 1973 Pepe Malas and I were bathing at Guanabo beach. We had sex in the mangroves with some young guys and really enjoyed ourselves with them. (p. 154) This series of events is crucial in understanding Arenas, the man and his work, for not only would the arrest, charge...

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