Nmero Extraordinario Conmemorativo 1974-1994 || The Presence of Absence: Reading the Spaces in Rosario Aguilar's "El guerrillero"

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  • The Presence of Absence: Reading the Spaces in Rosario Aguilar's "El guerrillero"Author(s): Ann GonzlezSource: Letras Femeninas, , Nmero Extraordinario Conmemorativo 1974-1994 (1994), pp. 79-85Published by: Asociacion Internacional de Literatura y Cultura Femenina HispanicaStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23022478 .Accessed: 15/06/2014 17:54

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  • The Presence of Absence: Reading the

    Spaces in Rosario Aguilar's Elguerrillero

    Ann Gonzalez

    University of North Carolina-Charlotte

    Like any Latin American woman writer, Nicaraguan novelist Rosario

    Aguilar faces several layers of oppression: governmental, social, economic, patriarchalall of which attempt to silence political protest and the feminine voice. Silence, however, is a vexing imposition which carries within its

    conceptual framework the seeds of its own deconstruction, for what is not

    spoken constitutes an alternative discourse. Latin American feminists have learned that silence need not be openly defied to be undermined. In fact, to break silence implies the use of a language which is doubly oppressive: that of the

    Spanish conquistadors which not only silenced indigenous speech but which also is inherently and linguistically phallogocentric. Without an authentic

    language from which to speak, Latin American women writers from the days of Sor Juana and the mystic poets have experimented with strategies for manipu lating and layering silence in order to protest, condemn, or in Luisa Valenzuela's

    words: to disturb (81). Silence, then, understood in its function as alternative discourse rather than

    in its opposition to speech takes on a variety of signifying forms. In imagery, symbols or other textually mute communication, silence becomes "a will to say

    or a will to unsay... a language of its own," as Trinh T. Minh-ha suggests (74). Another strategic form of silence outlined by Debra Castillo in reference to

    Rosario Castellanos, is the "use of misleading speech to mask an essential

    silence... to create a free space for either intellectual activity or simple privacy"

    (40). Still another mentioned by Debra Castillo is the appropriation of silence

    as a "tactic neither for the saying nor for unsaying but for concealing a coded

    speech between the lines of the said and the unsaid"(41), or as Josefina Ludmer

    explains, "silence constitutes a space of resistance before the power of the

    others"(50). Lucia Guerra-Cunningham outlines a series of possibilities for a

    virtual language of silence: "the aesthetic phenomena of silence and the void, the palimpsest, the diglossia of the feminine, mimicry with a transgressive value

    . . . the feminization of other dominated groups, visible or blank margins that

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  • 80 Numero Extraordinario Conmemorativo: 1974-1994

    modify the assimilated intertextual space creating signifying fissures in the

    phallogocentric ideological system" (143). One of the roles of Latin American feminist criticism, therefore, is to recognize and privilege alternative discourse

    strategies. Like learning a spoken language, feminist critics must learn a second

    language of silence and absence if they are to read/hear/understand the words and spaces of Latin American women.

    One such writer, often overlooked by the critical establishment, is Nicara

    guan novelist Rosario Aguilar, who through the careful interplay of words and

    silence, weaves a politically astute and emotionally inflammatory discourse in her 1976 novelette El Guerrillero. Her fiction reflects the strength of Nicara

    guan women caught between the romance of the revolution and the patriarchy

    of existing structures, between the presence of official dogma and the absence

    of a feminine voice. Written before the final 1979 demise of the Somoza

    government in Nicaragua, the narrative withholds direct criticism of the ruling class; yet the political denunciation is evident by the very words left unsaid. The narrative becomes a silent condemnation of the fear and oppression which reign in the despotically controlled Nicaragua of the early 1970s. El Guerrillero also

    speaks by its very self-censure about women's issues, about the role of women

    in a society torn by violent struggle and upheaval. This novel, in particular, projects a muted cry from women to be released from the constraints of a legal and social system which has no moral authority to judge them. Thus, the power of absence permits the novel to speak on a multitude of levels, through the spaces between the words and the blanks between the lines.

    The most consistent absence in the novel is that of the guerrilla of the title

    who never appears except in the recollections of the central female character.

    She is imprisoned by her obsessive memory of their brief love affair during the

    period that she hides him, wounded, from the authorities. He in turn is obsessed with the revolution and as soon as he recovers leaves her to rejoin the ranks. She

    never sees him again. This structural device of creating a narrative around a

    missing character functions as a backdrop for a series of even more profound absences and disappearances, silences and secrets, opinions unstated, cries muted and feelings hidden.

    The narrative voice is a combination of third person description and internal

    monologue which simultaneously places the protagonist in the position of both

    subject and object. The reader is witness to her internal subjective struggle; yet she often speaks to herself as if she were the "other." This discursive strategy permits the reader to follow her innermost dilemmas while on the surface of the action, she remains silent. The novel itself becomes the private intellectual space of which Rosario Castellanos speaks. This silent space, in turn, is layered in

    palimpsest fashion with other silences. The heroine's only means of learning about her absent guerrilla lover is

    through the radio news: "Que hay algunos prisioneros; que a otros los han

    cogido, muertos . . ." but the news is always incomplete: "No han dado

    nombres"(213). This silence is not that which is imposed on women by their

    oppressors, but rather a silence freely chosen by the dominant class to deny

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  • Ann Gonzalez 81

    information, to deprive the oppressed of vital knowledge. The absence of information in the news, however, compounds throughout Aguilar's narrative with other absences: the absence of necessary medical care by government-run

    hospitals, the absence of food, the absence of children prematurely sent into the

    work force instead of to the rural school where the protagonist teachesall

    attest to the government's inability to provide the basic necessities of food, education and medical care for its population. Open condemnation of the ruling class is superfluous. Support for the existing political regime deconstructs itself

    by the conspicuous official silence surrounding the very issues which demand

    governmental attention.

    What is more, silence on the part of the authorities is a vital means of social

    control. The protagonist, left pregnant by her guerrilla lover, feels obligated to

    accept the attentions of a sergeant quartered in her town who she believes

    suspects her relationship with the guerrilla: "No le quedo mas remedio que aceptar al sargento . . . Porque el sargento sospecho algo desde un principio y

    ella sabia que 61 sospechaba, y el sabi'a que ella lo sabia. Se quedo callado"(214). No verbal communication takes place. Meaning is formulated on the basis of

    unvoiced suspicions which in turn motivate action. His silence conveys power; hers a recognition of her political vulnerability: "Con solo la sospecha pudo torturarla y hacerla confesar que lo habia tenido tantos dias escondido, en su

    casa, sabiendo que toda la guardia lo buscaba"(214). This strategy in women's

    writing according to Naomi Lindstrom reflects "the type of discourse character

    istic of groups occupying a disadvantaged place in society"(47). The protagonist's silence becomes an "indirect means of expression.. .which allow[s] dissidence

    to be both manifested and hidden in the text"(47). The female center of Aguilar's narrative feels she has no choice but to accept the sergeant while she remains

    loyal in mind and spirit to her guerrilla: "le es aun fiel, si amor es lealtad"(215). Thus, her silent defiance of the political establishment is doubled: on a concrete

    level she hides a guerrilla from the militia; on an emotional level she conceals

    her love for the guerrilla from her current suitor, the metonymic representation of military oppression.

    Aguilar juxtaposes the protagonist's silence which protects the truth of her

    past relationship with the guerrilla to the speech of the ruling class which is

    founded on lies. The sincerity of the guerrilla convinces her of the untruth of the

    official culture's position that all revolutionaries are indoctrinated by foreign

    ers, "que les hayan lavado el cerebro... como en las peliculas"(214). She knows

    that the government accuses her lover of terrorism "no por traficar con drogas

    como dijeron despues"(217). Furthermore, her refusal to divulge the identity of

    her son's father places her at the mercy of town rumor: "La gente habla. Y a han

    llegado a sus oidos los chismes" (236). Speech, then, is fundamentally unreli

    able. At worst it reflects outright lies propagated by governmental disinformation.

    At best it conveys town gossip based on suspicion and hypothesis. The silence

    of the oppressed, therefore, constitutes a vital form of protection from the

    unreliability of speech effectively preventing one from bodily physical harm as

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  • 82 Numero Extraordinario Conmemorativo: 1974-1994

    well as from violation of the private, intellectual and emotional sphere of

    innermost subjectivity. The central character's own speech is also coded. When she makes contact

    with her guerrilla's friends to prepare his escape, she must literally speak "en clave" over the telephone. The passwords protect the speaker as well as the

    listener while misleading would-be intruders or casual passersby. When she

    speaks to her neighbors about the radio soap operas which she halfheartedly follows, she is consciously employing speech with what Guerra-Cunningham calls a "transgressive value," that is she is purposefully misdirecting her

    neighbors through the repetition or "mimicry" of quotidian activities, thus

    maintaining a semblance of normality, while masking the secrets of her authentic action: her concealment of a guerrilla, her illicit affair with the

    sergeant and her subsequent affair with a married judge, her illegal abortion when she discovers she is pregnant by the judge, her trips to the city to make contacts with her guerrilla's friends and her traumatic visit to the city morgue to see if her guerrilla has been killed. In short, like any well-trained undercover

    agent, she lives a dual existence and carefully constructs the details of her cover

    story, her visible life, in order to protect the viability of her invisible, secret life. Her lecture to the children in her rural school is another instance of encoded

    speech. As she teaches, her lessons juxtapose stated material and private

    thought, that is, the said and the unsaid, further propelling the image of duality and layered being:

    Las estaciones en Nicaragua son: invierno o epoca de lluvias y verano o

    epoca seca. Ay, amor, mejor no te hubieras ido por esos caminos que deben

    estar llenos de lodo, Ha llovido tanto!, los llanos deben estar que son un solo

    pegadero. Los productos principales son: cafe, a lo mejor te fuistes para el

    lado de las sierras, a los campamentos de cafe, alii tu lucecita confundida entre las lucecitas de los achones, es epoca de achones. Algodon, cana de

    azucar, banano, arroz, maiz y frijoles. En Nicaragua hay minas de oro y

    plata. Adentro de mi, tu hijo, hondo, muy hondo, como las minas. Estoy triste, el muchachito nacera triste. De las minas de Nicaragua solo se extraen

    tristezas. (235)

    Her lyrical repetition in distinct contexts of "epoca," "cafe" and "minas"

    linguistically functions as the link between speech and silence, emphasizing the

    layered texture of words. As each repeated word is spoken and subsequently thought, it accumulates signification. What the protagonist does not say to her

    students about mines but what the text reveals is her emotional state, her

    memories, her symbolic extension of the elasticity of her words. The language of silence, however, is layered yet again by what Aguilar herself intimates but does not say about the "sorrowful" Nicaraguan mines, about the reprehensible labor conditions, the misery of poverty, the missing young men like the

    protagonist's lover, the unborn babies "hondo, muy hondo" in the wombs of sad

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  • Ann Gonzalez 83

    women who must escape, like their absent men, through the discursive strategies

    of silence. The school teacher's lesson on the grammatical sentence "un conjunto de

    palabras que dicen algo"(256) is yet another instance of speech which not only

    deconstructs its facile signification but also points to other meaningful possibili ties. Through the ambiguity of the word "algo" and through her own inattention to the very words she speaks, the communicative function of the grammatical

    sentence, the most basic structure of language, is called into question: "Manolo,

  • 84 Numero Extraordinario Conmemorativo: 1974-1994

    socially unacceptable in the all-Catholic, politically conservative Nicaragua of 1976. The character herself remains absolutely silent on the issue so as not to be at the mercy of her lover, who quite appropriately is a judge:

    No puede aconsejarse de nadie. Ahogada en un silencio absoluto. No, el

    juez no debe saber jamas que lo ha decidido. Que le quede por siempre la duda de la verdad: si en realidad existio la criatura o si por un accidente

    ajeno a la voluntad no ha llegado a su termino. Que crea que ella le mintio

    para sacarle algo. (252)

    Aguilar' s character deconstructs the myth that every child brings prosperity to its family: "Para ella cada nifio nace con una dosis de dolor a sus espaldas . .. y cada hijo no trae su pan debajo del brazo. Cada hijo acumula la dosis de su propio dolor a las espaldas de la madre"(237). Her fundamental reason for the

    abortion, however, is not economic but romantic. She does not love the judge and refuses to bear his child: "sabiendo que cada hijo, en lugar de traer

    soluciones, trae espantosos problemas y dolor.. ."(250). Aguilar does not allow herself or her character to be drawn into a phallogocentric debate on the

    morality, ethics, economics or politics of abortion. She presents the issue as a

    personal matter, one that women will understand without the hysteria induced

    by patriarchal fears, and one that will be decided without words in the private, inner space where silent resolve is always taken.

    While the main character is constrained to silence "en el silencio se basan

    la seguridad y tranquilidad"(227), Aguilar must search for discursive strategies which allow the narrative to speak for her character. One such tactic is the

    description of the natural world which clarifies through imagery the dilemma of the heroine: "Los pajaros afanandose, siendo los unicos de la region que no

    cantan gozosos, porque sienten cercano el peligro y comprenden lo serio de su

    mision"(268). These birds cannot sing lustily because through their inexperi ence they have made their nest too near the ground, too near to human beings and concomitant danger. Yet their mission is clear: to raise their young. Aguilar's character ultimately comes to understand her own mission, her duty to her son and more generally her duty to her school children and the community of which she forms a vital part: "Debe formar parte de la comunidad que es el

    pueblo y de la que ella es y debe sentirse parte muy importante"(269). With th is realization comes her freedom from obsession. She is finally able to accept that the guerrilla's life and her own will never again intersect and that she must release him to his future: "segui el curso de las aguas que desgraciadamente, corren en sentido opuesto a mi vida. Pero no te dejes atrapar, amor"(271). This final line in the novel on one level resolves the central character's internal

    conflict. Nevertheless, on a deeper level, the issues which have kept her silent will continue to censure her. She may be liberated from self-imposed psycho logical oppression, but external socioeconomic and gender oppression will continue to determine how and when she may speak.

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  • Ann Gonzalez 85

    From a symbolic perspective, the most important silence in the entire novel

    is the absence of the main character's name which propels the protagonist into the position of an Every woman, at least a poor and oppressed Nicaraguan

    Everywoman. Certainly, from a socioeconomic perspective she has more in

    common with her male guerrilla lover than with a rich woman from the ruling

    classes. In this sense, Aguilar's novel speaks more of class divisions than gender

    divisions. Yet the focus of the narrative is on the protagonist's relationships with

    her first love and her subsequent lovers, her relationship as a daughter to her

    invalid mother, as a mother to her son, as a teacher to her pupils, as a vital

    member of her community to her neighbors, and ultimately her relationship with

    herself. Her double life of outward serenity and quiet versus inner turmoil,

    secrecy and concealments primarily reflects the problematics of gender moreso

    than generalized oppression. Thus, the absence of name projects the speech/silence, presence/absence,

    subjectivity/objectivity oppositions in this novel to the Nicaraguan female

    population at large. It may be significant that in a sequel to this novel written

    after the 1979 Sandinista victory, Aguilar finally does give this character a

    complete name as if to say that in a more just society it will be safe to speak;

    speech will not be synonymous with lies, and the feminine double life can be

    integrated into one unified person with a complete name, first and last. In the

    absence of such an idyllic world, however, Latin American women must

    continue to negotiate the boundaries of the said and the unsaid, to tap the

    potentials of absence, and to explore the possibilities of a language of silence.


    Aguilar, Rosario. El Guerrillero. In Primavera Sonambula. San Jose, Costa Rica:

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    Castillo, Debra A. Talking Back: Toward a Latin American Feminist Literary Criticism

    Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992.

    Gonzalez, Patricia Elena, and Eliana Ortega, eds. La sarten por el mango. Rio Piedras,

    P.R.: Huracan, 1985.

    Guerra-Cunningham, Lucia. "Las sombras de la escritura: Hacia una teoria de la

    production literaria de la mujer latinoamericana." In Vidal: 129-164.

    Lindstrom, Naomi, "Feminist Criticism of Hispanic and Lusophone Literatures:

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    Ludmer, Josefina. "Tretas del debil." In Gonzalez and Ortega: 47-54.

    Trinh T. Minh-ha. "Not You/Like You: Post-Colonial Women and the Interlocking

    Questions of Identity and Difference." Inscriptions 3/4 (1988): 71-77.

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    Article Contentsp. [79]p. 80p. 81p. 82p. 83p. 84p. 85

    Issue Table of ContentsLetras Femeninas, , Nmero Extraordinario Conmemorativo 1974-1994 (1994), pp. 1-238Front MatterCrnica de una ilusin [pp. 7-8]"Letras Femeninas" 1974: The Beginning [pp. 9-9]"Letras Femeninas": The First Decade [pp. 10-10]Presentacin [pp. 11-11]La dama ausente en la retrica corts [pp. 13-22]Autobiografa y escritura conventual femenina en la colonia [pp. 23-30]Lo precolombino: notas sobre el dilogo disfrazado en sor Juana Ins de la Cruz [pp. 31-38]On the Double: Tres amores and the Postponement of Love in Avellaneda's Theater [pp. 39-47]Ambigedad epistemolgica en un drama de Julia Maura [pp. 49-56]Entre Eros y Logos en la poesa de Ana Mara Fagundo [pp. 57-69]Intertextualidades y diacronas en la poesa de Orietta Lozano [pp. 71-77]The Presence of Absence: Reading the Spaces in Rosario Aguilar's "El guerrillero" [pp. 79-85]La narrativa fantstica de Anglica Gorodischer: la mirada "femenina" y los lmites del deseo [pp. 87-96]Postmodernismo y teora del caos en "Cola de lagartija" de Luisa Valenzuela [pp. 97-105]Un orden en el caos: Visin crtico-narrativa de Julieta Campos [pp. 107-114]Lenguaje, ideologa y vanguardia en la poesa de Julia de Burgos [pp. 115-121]Ana Lydia Vega y la re-escritura de la historia [pp. 123-129]La nostalgia del milagro: Guadalupe Loaeza y la crnica como crtica cultural [pp. 131-137]Entre biografa y mitografa femenina: "Antonieta" de Bradu [pp. 139-146]The Construction of a Feminine Voice: Rich, Castellanos, Belli, Swir [pp. 147-155]Images of a Better World: Latina Muralists in New York [pp. 157-166]The Construction of "further, alternative signs": Notes from a Workshop in Translating Women Writers [pp. 167-175]Poemas Seleccionados [pp. 177-179]El sueo de otro sueo [pp. 181-187]Gua de la revista "Letras Femeninas": 1975-1993 [pp. 189-237]Back Matter


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