"'Te di la vida entera': Market Rationality and Novelistic Form"
"Te di la vida entera" (1996), by the Cuban writer Zoé Valdés, is a postmodern "third world national allegory," of a type in which (according to Fredric Jameson) "the story of the private individual destiny is always an allegory of the embattled situation of the third world culture and society."1 The protagonist is Cuca Martínez, who represents the Cuban people (Cuca/Cuba). Her lover Juan Pérez represents the Cuban American community that ultimately abandons Cuba.
This novel contains a vivid recreation of pre-revolutionary Havana, but the effect is superficial, like a postcard. The marketable slickness of a glossy postcard is consistent with the central motif of the novel; "el dolar," a dollar bill inscribed with the account number of a Swiss bank account that provides access to a fortune. The action of the novel revolves around the efforts of Cuca's lover to recover this dollar. On a formal level the novel enacts a search for the dollar through frantic efforts to convert itself into a marketable commodity. In this process, no holds are barred, as sex is interspersed with references to religion, recipes, popular culture (Hollywood movies, boleros, rock music, etc.) and high culture (Picasso, Garcia Lorca, Lezama Lima, etc.) in the accessible style of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." Afro-Cuban culture and other cultures are reduced to reified fragments of a truncated multiculturalism, disarticulated commodities cut off from the past or any connection with each other.
References to literary works known to any student taking an introductory level Spanish literature course coexist with descriptions of an angry customer popping a pimple on an obnoxious cashier's face. Catering to the lowest common denominator in taste, considered to be a marketing strategy in Adorno and Horkheimer's essay on the "culture industry," can also be useful as the organizing principle for a satirical novel, as in the present case. What is lampooned in "Te di la vida entera" is postmodernism as the reduction of reality to a market based contingency. Which suggests the following question: to what extent are postmodern critical approaches that are uniformly applied to manifestations of popular and high culture (as in, for example, Beatriz Sarlo's "Scenes from Postmodern Life") themselves dependent on a market based rationality?
Adolfo Cacheiro (United States)
Assistant Professor of Spanish
Department of Language and Literature
Wayne State College
Adolfo Cacheiro is an Assistant Professor of Spanish at Wayne State College in Wayne Nebraska. He is the author of "Reinaldo Arenas: una apreciación política" (2000). He has published articles on Latin American literature in "Hispania" and "Revista de Estudios Hispánicos."
(30 min. Conference Paper, English)