Saturday, April 30, 2011

Ernesto Sabato Died

Ernesto Sabato, a famous Argentinean writer, died at the age of 99 today. Sabato may not have been the most talented Latin American writer (which is not surprising since the amount of literary talent in Latin America is overwhelming), but if I had to recommend a single Latin American novel for somebody to read, I would recommend Sabato's short novel The Tunnel

I don't claim that the literary quality of this novel is higher than that of many other amazing Latin American writers. However, the importance of The Tunnel resides in the profound insight it offers into the nature of machismo. (The feminist in me will always defeat the literary critic, the academic, the educator, and every other facet of my personality, and I confess this freely.) The workings of the mind of a woman-hater, whose main goal in life is to perpetuate his passionate belief in female inferiority, are described in minute and terrifying detail. As you look into the diseased mind of Castel, the women-hating protagonist of the novel, you realize exactly where the horror of machismo comes from. 

As I have written on various occasions, I was initially going to dedicate my life to the study of Latin American literature. Soon, however, I realized that I wasn't going to be able to deal with how machista the entirety of Latin American literature is, so I switched to Peninsular Studies. So many extremely talented authors from Latin America celebrate and prettify male chauvinism that it just gets tiresome. Sabato, however, goes so deep into the mind of a woman-hater that all you can do as a reader is shrink away in horror. That, I believe, is extremely valuable because I cannot think of another Latin American writer of either gender who does anything even close to this.

On a personal level, The Tunnel was one of the first novels in Spanish I ever read. I was in my early twenties, and the novel really helped me to understand what informs and nourishes male chauvinism. Many things that I was seeing around me became very clear. Actions of some of the men I knew transformed from highly mysterious to crystal-clear in their machismo. I strongly believe that this novel should be required reading for all young women. There are aspects of machismo that, at a first glance, might even seem (and often do) attractive to many young women. Understanding how male chauvinism works would be an invaluable skill for the life of any woman.

8 comments:

Meredith said...

El tunel was the first Spanish novel I ever read! I was sixteen and was just beginning to wake as a young feminist in bloom, and I was so disgusted. I went on to minor in Spanish, focusing on Latin American literature/culture, but I still completely agree that the machismo is terrifying.

Clarissa said...

It is really great to know that other feminists also experienced El tunel as important to their understanding of machismo.

profacero said...

I'll have to read it. I was never able to get through it because of boredom. I'll read it with the students this coming year.

cringe-all said...

Is there perhaps an analogous book, reading which can make the actions of some of the women I know be transformed from highly mysterious to crystal-clear?

Judith Sierra-Rivera said...

As a Puerto Rican woman I became a feminist by reading Latin American and Caribbean literature. I read Neruda and Sábato, and I understand your feminist reading. But for me, it was the texts of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Delmira Agustini, Gabriela Mistral, Rosario Castellanos, Julia de Burgos, María Luisa Bombal, Alfonsina Storni, Clarice Lispector, Néstor Perlongher, Carlos Monsiváis, Pedro Lemebel, Manuel Puig, Severo Sarduy, José Lezama Lima, Camila Henríquez Ureña, Nilita Vientós Gastón, among many (oh so many) others the ones who informed me about feminism. My point is that you can find “machismo” in every literature, because we all live in a patriarchal system. We could design syllabus for different national or regional literatures presenting “machista” authors and texts. Latin American and Caribbean literature is so vast… It accounts for more than 20 countries, hundreds of ethnic groups and languages, and countless idiosyncrasies. And it is very sad that many Spanish language and literature courses reinforce the conception of Latin American literature as “machista”. This is because they go over and over again the same old folks (i.e. Neruda and Sábato), instead of reading other great authors. Maybe it is because they want to stay on a comfortable/canonic reading: Latin American literature is “machista”, and so, they search for authors to confirm this reading. I hope that some of my colleagues and I could design better syllabus in order to approach our literature from other readings, feminism for example. These courses could break through old assumptions about our literature by exposing students to literary texts which can inform us about Latin American and Caribbean feminist and queer thoughts.

Clarissa said...

I don't disagree with you Judith. Since I'm not a specialist in Latin-American literature, my recommendations in this area are purely those of a reader, not a scholar.

María Luisa Bombal would be the female counterpart of Sabato's machismo. If you want to see why so many women so happily submit to it, read this author.

Spanish prof said...

Here is a blog post that articulates much better than what I could why I never liked Sabato:

http://www.elboomeran.com/blog-post/539/10733/patricio-pron/algunas-palabras-sobre-ernesto-sabato/

A girl called María said...

I read The Tunnel when I was 17, I think. Well, it doesn't mind now, if i'm posting this comment is because I was surprised when I found your blog's post about Sabato's death (I'm from Argentina and it did affected me a lot, but I wanted to read if someone had said something about his dead world-wide), and when I read what you said, I realized I've never thought about how Sábato painted in this novel the 'machismo'. It's very interesting.