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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 4 - The End as the Death of Origins 217


Chapter 4 The End as the Death of Origins Matricide is our vital necessity The sine-qua-non condition of our individuation. — Julia Kristeva1 They asked him for the woods that nourished him as a child with its obedient trees. […] They explained to him later that all these donations would be useless unless he also surrendered his tongue because during hard times nothing could be more useful For stopping hatred and lies. — Heberto Padilla2 The Impossibility of Return With The Assault we reach the end of the Pentagonía, the novelistic cycle of Arenas’ story, the poemography of alienation, pain and despair. Yet in the world of Arenas, where time and history are deliriously circular, this 1 Julia Kristeva, Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia. Quoted in Rebecca E. Biron, Murder and Masculinity: Violent Fictions of Twentieth Century Latin America (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2000), p. 120. 2 Heberto Padilla, ‘In Hard Times’, in The Cuba Reader: History, Culture, Politics, ed. Aviva Chomsky, Barry Carr and Pamela Maria Smorkalof f (Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 2003), pp. 488–99. 218 Chapter 4 end is by no means the end. Characteristically the end we have arrived at is also a beginning of sorts: the beginning of a furious process of writing carried out by Arenas after his diagnosis with AIDS in 1987. The final novel of the Pentagonía, was, alongside The Color of Summer or the New Garden of Earthly Delights and Before Night Falls, his impetus to keep death at bay, at...

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