What is the Romantic (and I guess the realist) novel about? Writing that I was able to remember how I was going to answer that question years ago: ORIGINS. I was going to use Marthe Robert’s book, now old, Roman d’origines / Origines du roman. And notice how in her other work, she also tolerates fractured subjectivity and even thinks it is good. Maybe this will help me contest the Doris Sommer thesis or add to it. The thing is that we all behave as though the first really interesting things said on this matter that we know of — Sommer’s essays — were the last. Are they?
All right, where are my copies of Doris Sommer and Marthe Robert? Robert had spoken of the novel in general as a “family romance” before Sommer used the term for Latin America and when I got interested in this question Doris Sommer had only started putting out the articles that would compose her book. She also works with incest and miscegenation but she sees these fictions as “foundational,” looking forward (but after some early disaster, like the flood that drowns Peri in O Guaraní), whereas I would have called them excavational, looking back, seeking origins.
Robert says the novel is the genre that hides its form, it is not true but not false (and I have to look that up). Fairy tales are the tale of the foundling, but novels are the tale of the bastard, who seeks his father, seeks the origin and the patriarch, is on a voyage to the source (Carpentier). I am interested in this movement backward and I need to look at Myth and Archive here. My intuition is that if we look back we can see the origin of the fissures in these stories and texts, that are also social fissures and that persist to this day. The mestizaje, the marriages, the nominal acceptance of difference that is multiculturalism, are what we see looking forward, but looking back and against the grain we see unevenness, rupture, originary violence, and social division.
I do note as well that from the Inca Garcilaso to Juan Preciado and beyond, many heroes and heroines are illegitimate and/or orphaned children looking for their fathers who lie in the Big House, and everyone wants to claim their inheritance. I am not sure what to do with these intuitions but in María there is this marked instability about origins. One lost father and one who is omnipresent and all too omnipotent but who guards secrets and dies. And there is Sinar, another lost and dead father.
ADDENDUM and I do not know where this goes: Macunaíma is a “rhapsody.” Robert opposes novel and fairy tale but what about roman, romance? Epic to romance. Ovidian metamorphoses. And also, what am I talking about — this book is supposed to be about race and the state and now it is about origins (and is putting those into romance … this makes no sense yet).