Spectacle and Performance in Dominican Literature (Acta Fabula)

oneDa scene from Ray Andujar’s novel, Useless gestures1 character Hoefeld tells tourists who admire dolphins swimming in the Caribbean that the mammals they think they are photographing are actually sharks (p. 173). This example, which Catherine Pelage gives at the end of her book2 Dominican Literature on the Move. Literary performances by Rita Indiana and Ray Andujar, resonates with the considerations with which the critic begins his study, causing the imprisonment of the Dominican Republic in the images of postcards. Like this character, the two writers featured in the book, Rey Andujar and Rita Indiana, attempt to open up the reader to a violent encounter with the reality of a country whose tropical decor is crumbling to reveal the spectacle of a plague-ridden society. inequality, instability, violence and corruption, but also a rich and unique culture and history that nevertheless remains largely ignored. This observation of ignorance extends even more palpably to Dominican literature, largely invisible not only in the great body of Latin American literature, but also in Caribbean literature, where other countries such as Cuba or Haiti usually take the lead. Relatively little studied, Dominican literature is hardly exported to France, where it is relatively little translated. So, among the main works, on which S. Pelage focuses in his analysis, – El ombre triangle4, Candela5 or Useless gestures6, Ray Andujar; Chochueka’s strategy7, Grandpaeight, Numbers of animals9 or Ominkule mukamaten Rita of Indiana – only one was translated into French in 2020, titled tentacleseleven.

2Therefore, we can only welcome the publication Dominican Literature on the Move. Literary performances by Rita Indiana and Ray Andujarwhich, using a comparative approach, compares two contemporary Caribbean intellectuals of the same generation12 whose award-winning works13 focus on social issues specific to the Dominican Republic, such as racism, anti-Haitianism, sexism, corruption, or the persistence of a Trujillist ideology inherited from years of dictatorship .

3K. Pelage returns to the concept spectacle, which constitutes the general thread of the study, recalling that it evokes the spectacle – and therefore the spectators – immediacy, fragmentation, corporeality, orality and hybridity, as well as marginality and subversion. The works of Rita Indiana and Ray Andujar also, in her opinion, reveal the connection between spectacle and the social construction of identity proposed by Judith Butler14 or Medar Serrata15 in relation to gender or cultural and national identity. Through spectacle and staging, identities are questioned, deconstructed or relentlessly redefined, thus avoiding any essentialist fixation. The book also refers to the theories of Antonio Benítez Rojo,16 for whom performance, by virtue of its oral and syncretic nature, is one of the common characteristics of Caribbean literature. The concept of performance also allows critics to analyze the literary works of two Dominican writers within their broader and intermediate production: the latter are not only writers, but also carry out artistic projects related to singing, dancing or staging, in particular in collaboration with artists. executor.

4Chapter titled “Between Writing and Execution. Exciting Outputs, explores the relationship between minority writing and performance. K. Pelage places Rita Indiana and Ray Andujar in the panorama of Dominican literature, which for a long time was dominated by the poetic genre, and then characterized from the end xxand century, the development of the novel, the result of which is the work of deconstructing and updating the traditional forms of the genre. Critics refer to Rita Indiana and Rey Andujar as part of a “constellation of post-Island artists” (p. 41) – Frank Baez, Homero Pumarol or Juan Disent – who, often emigrating, create hybrid works that transcend academic norms, write in Spanish and often take Santo Domingo as their subject from a perspective that rejects the vision of the island as a closed universe and prefers “a space of transcendence and fusion” (p. 43). She also shows how Rita Indiana and Rey Andujar stage novels, in particular Ominkule mukama17 and El ombre triangle18 – where the bodies and their dramaturgy are exposed and paraded. These “literary performances” (p. 56) allow writers to question the roles imposed by Dominican society on characters marginalized by their sexual orientation, social class, or skin color, and to introduce fragmentation and hybridity into the very structures of the work.

5The chapter “Deconstructing the Prisons of Identity and the Bonds of the Past” shows how Rita Indiana and Rey Andujar implement the process of deconstructing the paradise image of the Dominican Republic. This is reflected in much of the depiction of a filthy and polluted urban environment populated by insecure residents—sometimes ghostly silhouettes of cleaners, exploited Haitian laborers, men and women involved in prostitution or drugs, abused children, etc.—. The apocalyptic depictions of Santo Domingo given over to the Flood or fire, which we find both in the novels of Rita Indiana and those of Rey Andujar, especially in Ominkule mukama19 and Candela20 – thus, they symbolically refer not only to the tearing of the heavenly veil, exposing the wounds of a broken society, but also to the desire for a cleansing renewal that would allow its foundations to be reforged. Both writers also question the historical legacy left by the Trujillist dictatorship, characterized, among other things, by political authoritarianism, corruption and violence, which, they recall, draws its sources mainly from unequal colonial structures and racists. They also point to the persistence of a strong attachment to dominant and oppressive, misogynistic and homophobic masculinities: this “institutionalized machismo” (p. 94) of Dominican society is kept at bay in the works by carnival images—especially in Grandpa21 – criticism of the paternalistic nature of the figures of the heroes of the fatherland or the game of deconstruction of gender identities. The chapter closes with a comparative study of the novels. Numbers of animals22 and Candela23, in which Rita Indiana and Rey Andujar expose and question the historical roots of Dominican anti-Haitianism, in particular by dramatizing a frontier figure rayano24. Haunted by the Trujillian dictatorship, impoverished and discriminated against, the latter nevertheless remains the repository of a piece of colonial history shared by both sides of the island of Santo Domingo and an identity of Afro-Caribbean transcultural syncretism that presents itself as a counterpoint to national essentialism.

6The last chapter of the book is devoted to the double characterization that Antonio Benitez Rojo recognizes in Caribbean literature and which, according to C. Pelage, allows us to better understand the works of Rita Indiana and Rey Andujar: their stage dimension and supersyncretic. In the case of Rita Indiana, this manifests itself in a seething dynamism in which the vividness of writing, multilingual spoken language, and the constant movement between different temporalities—present, past, and future—reflect the currents that cross society. connect it not only with the Caribbean archipelago, but, more broadly, with the world. C. Pélage also shows how Rita Indiana, through intertextual play, calls to work Cuban Alejo Carpentier to explore the nooks and crannies of colonial history and offer a counter-reading. Using the popular detective novel genre, Rey Andujar reveals a society trapped in a story that it refuses to face: violence, corruption and murder thus become symptoms of a powerless nation.


7The work is of great interest, not only because the French reader will want to discover the related works of Rita Indiana and Ray Andujar, but it is to be hoped that they will soon be the subject of a larger translation into our language. With reflections that allow us to place the two writers in the broad panorama of Dominican and Caribbean literature, this also represents a very stimulating study for archipelago literary scholars.

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