Maja Horn, Masculinity After Trujillo: The Politics of Gender in Dominican Literature. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2014. 202 pp. (Cloth US$ 69.95)
Over the past decade the number of academic publications on Dominican issues has increased substantially, and Masculinity after Trujillo is a major contribution. Instead of privileging the recurring topic of race, Maja Horn focuses on the key role played by gender and sexuality in the local political context of the Dominican Republic up to the present. Drawing on Ernesto Laclau’s ideas about hegemony, she argues that hierarchical relations still predominate in the Dominican Republic, and that they are sustained by notions of masculinity.
After the introduction, Chapter 1 proceeds to “de-tropicalize” the Trujillo dictatorship and Dominican masculinity, proposing that the Trujilllato’s hegemonic notions of masculinity were not only influenced by the Latin American idea of the personalist caudillo, but also by imperialist ideas in the United States. In Chapter 2, “One Phallus after Another” (an obvious wordplay on Doris Sommer’s One Master for Another), Horn discusses two books by one of the most important postdictatorship critical voices, Marcio Veloz Maggiolo. Her analysis of De abril en adelante (1975) and Uña y carne: Memorias de la virilidad (1999) shows that despite his criticism of Trujillo’s masculinity, Veloz Maggiolo reproduces the same masculinist ideology and misogyny when it comes to characterizing the narrator. Chapter 3, “Engendering Resistance: Hilma Contreras’s Counternarratives,” concentrates on this writer’s understudied work. Horn rescues the neglected dictatorship novel La tierra está bramando (1986), which could fit into the category of what I have called (in Seis ensayos sobre narrativa dominicana contemporanea ) “the focus on the rebels.” She comments on different strategies of resistance by groups of intellectuals, e.g. the critique of the regime by means of fliers stuck everywhere with gum (reminders of the pasquines [lampoons] in the opening scene of Roa Bastos’s dictator novel Yo El Supremo); protest by women as an act of public disobedience; and protection based on compadrazgo, a system used by the dictator, but which can also be employed as a form of resistance and is stronger than the allegiances to the regime. Chapter 4, “Still Loving Papi,” turns to work by Rita Indiana Hernández that presents new discourses of gender and sexuality. In her analysis of La estrategia de Chochueca (2000), Horn focuses on the bonding of the marginal young people described in the novel. The absence of parental figures and of structured life, the emphasis on nightlife, and the rejection of mainstream thought are all strategies of resistance. Her discussion of Hernández’s second novel, Papi (2005), convincingly portrays the strategies that underlie “papi’s” exaggerated masculinity and shows the similarities with Trujillo’s strategies. Horn’s analysis is strikingly similar to my own interpretation of Papi as a dictatorship novel.1 The book’s final chapter, “How Not to Read Junot Díaz,” proves successfully that Díaz denounces the destructive aspects of masculinity but falls short of criticizing in depth all the implications of masculinity that still remain. Horn draws an interesting comparison with American scripts of masculinity that makes the problem even more opaque and harder to address.
Three concluding remarks. First, some of the book’s analyses are slightly deformed by the gender-oriented lens, because they do not take into account other multilayered readings. Second, Laclau’s ideas that plead for political agency are overemphasized and perhaps too constraining; for example, Horn deplores that there is not more political agency and a shared signifier in the young tribe described by Hernández in La estrategia de Chochueca, but resistance can be individual and nowadays often lacks shared signifiers. Third, a more accurate use of Spanish terms and sources could have been achieved. For Horn’s analysis of Contreras’s essay Doña Endrina de Calatayud, for example, a brief comment on the distinction in the Spanish Golden Age between honor and honra would have helped readers to understand “the gendered constraints produced by notions of honor [in the sense of honra] with roots in the colonial past” (p. 87). Due to Anglo-Saxon neocolonialism in academic publications scholars frequently ignore (or worse, occult) references on Dominican literature written in Spanish. Fortunately, Horn did achieve relatively thorough research in both languages. So I was surprised to see no reference to articles on Papi by Díaz Zambrana (in Sargasso 2008) and Duchesne Winter (in the Revista de Crítica literaria latinoamericana, 2008) or to my own analysis, since they could have corroborated and widened Horn’s insights.
Despite these minor quibbles, Masculinity After Trujillo is a milestone in Dominican Studies, Latin American Studies, and beyond. It is an extremely well-conducted study and gives us revealing insights into gender politics in Dominican society and literature. The parallelisms, comparisons, and contextualization are relevant beyond the literary realm, making interesting contributions to political, anthropological, and sociological approaches as well. I am convinced that it will be well received and widely read.
De Maeseneer 2011:170–83.
De Maeseneer 2011:170–83.