Sarduy, Severo (Vol. 97)
Severo Sarduy 1937–1993
Cuban novelist, poet, dramatist, and essayist.
The following entry presents an overview of Sarduy's life and career through 1991. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volume 6.
Sarduy is best known for experimental and linguistically complex literary works that explore Cuban culture and the ways in which language creates and transforms reality. His most famous work, the novel Cobra (1972), for which he received the Prix Médicis étranger, eschews linear narrative logic for a loosely structured series of images and dialogue scenes in which events are repeated with differing outcomes and characters change form and gender. As Julia A. Kushigian observes: "[T]he strength of Sarduy's work lies … in his ability to duplicate the world through the chaotic, creative process—mixing times, histories, cultures, and genders in an effort to stimulate readers through the brilliance and complexity of his prose."
Sarduy was born in Camagüey, Cuba, where he attended Instituto de Segunda Enseñanza. In 1956 he entered medical school in Havana, where he began writing poetry and advertisements for radio and television. The following year he published a short story entitled "El seguro." During the Cuban revolution Sarduy worked as an art critic for Lunes de Revolución; in the fall of 1959, Fidel Castro's new government awarded him a scholarship to study art criticism at the L'Ecole du Louvre in Paris. Sarduy became aligned with two highly influential French literary groups: one was associated with the literary journal Mundo Nuevo, and the other—which included Philippe Sollers, Julia Kristeva, Lucien Goldman, and Tzvetan Todorov—was associated with the radical structuralist and Maoist journal Tel quel; he also studied structuralist methodology under Roland Barthes at the École Pratique des Hautes Études of the Sorbonne. Sarduy's first novel, Gestos, was published in 1963 and was followed by numerous other works, including novels and collections of poems and essays. Sarduy died in Paris in 1993 from AIDS-related complications.
Gestos examines life in Cuba just before the Communist revolution of 1956–1959 and attempts to determine what it means to be Cuban. The novel is comprised of impressionistic vi-gnettes, dialogue scenes, and monologues that depict the daily activities of an unnamed mulatto laundress and singer. De donde son los cantantes (1967; From Cuba with a Song), considered by many critics to be Sarduy's most experimental novel, includes three narrative sections; the first concerns a tortured romance between a Spanish general and a nightclub singer; the second depicts the career of a singer named Dolores Rondón, who was the unnamed main character from Gestos; the third section deals with the introduction of Spanish-European culture to Cuba. The title character of Cobra is the star of a burlesque house run by a woman named La Señora, with whom Cobra—whose gender is at times difficult to ascertain—is romantically involved. The fantastical plot of this novel—one that includes such disparate characters as Tibetan monks, a motorcycle gang, and a Tangierian sex-change doctor named Dr. Ktazob who is reminiscent of Dr. Benway from William S. Burroughs's Naked Lunch—begins when Cobra and La Señora are reduced to dwarf size by a drug both were taking to make Cobra's feet smaller. Cobra proceeds mainly as dialogue and is accompanied by Sarduy's comments on art and the creative process. Maitreya (1978; Maitreya), a novel many critics consider to be about the theme of exile, begins at the time of the Chinese invasion of Tibet when a Buddhist monk, the Master, dies after predicting his eventual reincarnation as the Instructor. The other monks find a young boy being cared for by two Chinese women, the Leng sisters, and declare him the reincarnation of the Master and the next Lama. Not wishing an ascetic life for the boy, the Leng sisters flee to Ceylon and then to Cuba during the revolution. The final section of the book concerns the death of Cuban author José Lezama Lima. Evincing a more traditional narrative structure than some of his previous novels, Colibrí (1984) centers on a house near a jungle where a woman named La Regenta provides wealthy male clients the spectacle of hand-some young men wrestling. Colibrí, a young blond man who has just arrived, defeats an obese Japanese wrestler, El Japonesón, and becomes the hero of the club. After discovering that La Regenta is passionately in love with him, Colibrí flees into the jungle and meets up with El Japonesón; the two become friends and lovers. Once captured, Colibrí is returned to La Regenta, only to escape and be caught again. Upon his return the second time, however, Colibrí is treated like a god and orders La Regenta's house burnt to the ground and rebuilt. Colibrí then takes charge as the new "dictator" of the club. Cocuyo (1990) is an ironic bildungsroman set in pre-Castro Cuba that some critics have found reminiscent of Voltaire's Candide. Cocuyo, whose name means "firebeetle," is torn from his comfortable bourgeois life by a violent storm; he is injured and winds up in a hospital staffed by unreliable and untrustworthy doctors. He eventually flees to a girls' school where he takes a job running errands. Cocuyo's journey towards maturity leads to an awakening of his sexuality, specifically his love for a woman named Ada.
Most critics praise Sarduy's experimental approach to novel writing, aligning him with the avant-garde writers of the South American literary "Boom," post-Boom, and with European postmodern and post-structuralist authors. Sarduy's work is recognized for its distinctive blend of themes, including an abiding interest in Cuban identity and culture, as well as a fascination with Oriental and Western philosophies. Sarduy's work also deals with themes of sexuality and personal identity, offering often outrageous depictions of transvestism, transsexuality, homosexuality, and sado-masochism in an attempt to explore and critique the notion of a unified ego, or singular personality. While critics generally agree that Sarduy's work offers unique and original insights and experiences, most point out that his books are difficult—sometimes nearly inaccessible—because, in addition to the oblique, allusive nature of his writing and his frequent avoidance of linear narrative logic, Sarduy—by his own admission—often included in his works references to his personal life that could have been meaningful only to himself or to particularly close friends. Michael Wood concluded of Cobra: "There is a dizzy freedom in such writing. And while Sarduy has horrible slithers into cuteness and into sniggerings of camp, and while he is far more interested in blood and semen and leather jackets than I am ever going to be,… Cobra remains a remarkable book, a nervous, flighty homage to the life of language."
Gestos (novel) 1963
De donde son los cantantes [From Cuba with a Song] (novel) 1967
Escrito sobre un cuerpo: Ensayos de crítica [Written on a Body] (essays) 1969
Flamenco (poetry) 1969
Mood Indigo [with H. M. Erhardt] (poetry) 1970
Merveilles de la nature (poetry) 1971
Cobra (novel) 1972
Overdose (poetry) 1972
Barroco (essays) 1974
∗Big Bang: Para situar en órbita cinco máquinas / Pour situer en orbite cinq machines de Ramon Alejandro [with Ramon Alejandro] (poetry) 1974
Maitreya [Maitreya] (novel) 1978
Para la voz [For Voice] (dramas) 1978
Daiquirí (poetry) 1980
La simulación (essays and lectures) 1982
Colibrí (novel) 1984
Un testigo fugaz y disfrazado (poetry) 1985
El Cristo de la rue Jacob [Christ on the Rue Jacob] (novel) 1987
Nueva inestabilidad (essays) 1987
Cocuyo (novella) 1990
Pájaros de la playa (novel) 1993
Epitafios, imitación, aforismos (poetry and prose) 1994
∗This volume is in both French and Spanish.
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SOURCE: "'Total' Reality in Severo Sarduy's Search for Lo Cubano," in Romance Notes, Vol. XIII, No. 3, Spring, 1972, pp. 445-52
[In the following essay, Johndrow examines Gestos and De donde son los cantantes, exploring Sarduy's use of "pintura gestual" as a device for representing what it is to be Cuban.]
In Paris to study art criticism Severo Sarduy fell under the influence of French authors (such as Alain Robbe-Grillet), artists and critics. Applying techniques involved in the plastic arts, he tries to lead the reader to a higher understanding of a situation by presenting him with a painting whose colors are words and whose canvas is the book, thus interpreting reality in terms of painting rather than in conventional literary ones. He tries to maintain a maximum distance from his works arguing that the new or "total" realism cries for an honest reproduction of an object (or person) as opposed to an "artistic" interpretation. An accurate view of twentieth century reality would not see a subjective man-centered world, but an object world inhabited by man. Since "todo objeto tiene un sonido interno que es independiente de su significado exterior," objects have more than utilitarian importance [Severo Sarduy, "De la pintura de objectos a los objects que pintan," Mundo Nuevo, No. 1, July, 1966].
Originally brought into a man-world for his convenience, objects...
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SOURCE: "Interview: Severo Sarduy," in Diacritics, Vol. 2, No. 2, Summer, 1972, pp. 41-5.
[González Echevarría is a Cuban-born American educator and critic who specializes in Hispanic literature. In the following interview, Sarduy discusses the concept of "the baroque" and its significance to his work.]
Severo Sarduy is a young Cuban writer (b. 1936) established in Paris, where he is director of the Latin American collection of Editions du Seuil. He began his literary career as a poet in pre-revolutionary Cuba. After the Revolution, in 1959–60, he was part of the team of writers who published Lunes de Revolución, an active literary weekly directed by the novelist Guillermo Cabrera Infante. At the end of 1960, a grant from the government sent Sarduy to Paris to study art history at the Ecole du Louvre. He has been in Paris since, where, after completing his studies, he joined two influential literary groups: the one formed around Mundo Nuevo, a monthly literary journal directed by Emir Rodriguez Monegal and the Tel Quel group. He had published two novels, Gestos (1963) and De donde son los cantantes (1967), and one book of critical essays, Escrito sobre un cuerpo (1969). These last two books, as well as his third novel Cobra (to appear this spring in Spanish; fragments have already appeared in Tel Quel translated by Philippe Sollers), show the...
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SOURCE: A review of Cobra, in Hispania, Vol. 57, No. 3, September, 1974, pp. 606-07.
[In the following favorable review, Skinner discusses the structure of Cobra.]
Sarduy has participated in several influential literary journals: Lunes de revolución in Cuba and after his move to Paris in 1960, Mundo nuevo and Tel quel. His previous novels, Gestos (1963) and De donde son los cantantes (1967) have earned him recognition in Europe and in Latin America as an important figure in contemporary narrative. To an original sensitivity for the baroque style of his Cuban mentor Lezama Lima, Sarduy has amalgamated the linguistic concerns of the Tel quel group. The result is a unique fiction, rich in surface texture and detail, that eschews traditional narrative content in order to focus upon the process of communication. Since language is both producer and product of culture, this emphasis leads to an objectification of the very supports of culture.
Cobra definitely represents Sarduy's most ambitious endeavor in this direction. Whereas De donde son los cantantes reveals the tripartite underpinning of Cuban culture (Chinese, African, Spanish), his latest novel achieves a global scope, comprising a dialog between contemporary Oriental and Occidental cultures. In 1970, Sarduy indicated to Jean Michel Fossey that his novel in progress would...
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SOURCE: A review of Cobra, in The New York Times Book Review, March 9, 1975, p. 18.
[Charyn is an American educator, novelist, screenwriter, and critic. In the following laudatory review of Cobra, he briefly summarizes the events depicted in the novel and concludes: "Of course Cobra isn't for everybody."]
Cobra is a mystery show staged by transvestites in disturbingly familiar cities that may, for all we know, belong to an alien universe that is about to crash into us. The personae are constellations that explode into various shapes throughout the book.
Cobra, Severo Sarduy's hero-heroine, begins life as a mummy, a wax doll in a "lyrical bawdyhouse." Here she performs and sleeps, "imprisoned in machines and gauze, immobilized by threads lascivious, smeared with white facial creams." The other dolls, Dior, Sontag, and Cadillac, are jealous of Cobra, the "queen" of the "Lyrical Theater of Dolls." The Madam of the bawdyhouse, the creator and protectress of the dolls, "would look them over, stick on their eyelashes and an O.K. label for each, and send them off with a slap on the backside and a librium."
But Cobra's existence does not reduce itself to simple questions of mechanics. She is more than a doll "who opens and closes her eyes, who urinates and everything, with real hair." Cobra has been "pricked with ardor," and "humanized by force of...
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SOURCE: "Baroque Endings: Carpentier, Sarduy and Some Textual Contingencies," in Modern Language Notes, Vol. 92, No. 2, March, 1977, pp. 265-95.
[In the following excerpt, Gonzalez discusses Cobra and Barocco and explores Sarduy's preoccupation with the baroque style and his postmodern stylistic techniques.]
I rise, O fair assemblage! Andcommincio. Now then, after this introit of exordium, my galaxy girls …
¡Ya! ¡Ya! ¡Una boa! La culebra para no dar a la muerte franco el póstigo de los oídos, por donde el encantador la guíe, cose el un oído con el suelo, el otro zúrcele con la cola para que a puerta cerrada se torne la muerte y aun el diablo.
La plcara Justina
No amount of ingenuity is likely to clarify the self-conscious appropriation of certain canonized styles. Such is the case with Baroque. The adoption of what might be taken to be the intrinsic practices of this style by writers as different as Carpentier, Lezama Lima and Sarduy seems to occupy an area of unresolved ideological tensions between, on the one hand, modern secular culture and, on the other, the dispersed vestiges of the complex, conflictive, dogmatics which, in seventeenth-century Spain, underwent an extravagant political and cultural crisis in the...
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SOURCE: "On the Trail of the (Un)Holy Serpent: Cobra, by Severo Sarduy," in Journal of Spanish Studies: Twentieth Century, Vol. 5, No. 1, Spring, 1977, pp. 57-69.
[In the following essay, Weiss examines various events depicted in Cobra and discusses their significance in terms of the psychoanalytic and semiological theories of Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida, and Roland Barthes.]
The serpentine trail of Sarduy's un-hero/ine opens in scenes of decadence and exquisite transvestism in a Hindu lyrical theatre of dolls, dominated by the rivalry between the leading players, Cobra and Cadillac, and by one obsession: Cobra's feet are too big and she attempts to shrink them, ending up by shrinking herself into a grotesque dwarf. It proceeds with the pilgrimage of Cobra, accompanied by her dwarf-double and the Madam, in search of Dr. Ktazob, a reputed master of the trans-sexual operation, to the final scenes of motorcycle gang-cum-exiled Tibetan lamas (complete with death rites; a penultimate scene of relatively nice realism, set in India, and what appears to be a final sunyata). In pursuing this trail one can orient oneself by keys set up at convenient points along the critical service road by the new school of Latin American criticism. The principal key is perhaps the most inclusive and conclusive—a reading of the novel as playground for one protagonist: Language. Truly so; his primary critical...
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SOURCE: "Irony and the Double in Short Fiction by Julio Cortázar and Severo Sarduy," in Journal of Spanish Studies: Twentieth Century, Vol. 5, No. 2, Fall, 1977, pp. 111-22.
[In the following essay, Johnston explores the confrontation of characters with their doubles in Julio Cortázar's "Historia" and Sarduy's "Junto al Rio de Cenizas de Rosa."]
Man's encounter with his Doppelgänger, a meeting between an individual and his animal, mechanical, or human counterpart, often serves as the narrative material by which contemporary writers of prose fiction depict the human condition. In addition to the portrayal of man through the confrontation of an individual with his double, literary creators have turned to the ancient device of irony, a clash between reality and appearance, for the fundamental narrative technique which permits the examination of modern man and his foibles.
Shared by both irony and the Doppelgänger is a structure of duality: in the former case, the duality consists of two conflicting interpretations of an event or of a single situation; in the latter case, on the other hand, two conflicting aspects of a single personality or identity form the pairing we know to be the double. Essential for the effectiveness of both these literary devices is the presence of a third element, the observer or reader who sees the antithetical components both as separate entities...
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SOURCE: "Severo Sarduy: Vital Signs," in his Modern Latin American Narratives: The Dreams of Reason, University of Chicago Press, 1977, pp. 44-50.
[In the following excerpt, Mac Adam examines various levels of meaning in De donde son los cantantes and discusses the "distance" between author and reader and text and reader.]
Severo Sarduy's De donde son los cantantes (1965) may be said to constitute an allegory of language, or more specifically, of the language of Cuba. We should understand allegory in this context not so much as a kind of literature but as a way of reading literature. In the ancient world, in Quintilian for example, allegory is a situation in which a meaning exactly opposite to the meaning of the words is intended or one in which words say one thing and mean another. For Sarduy, as for Derrida, words are arbitrarily chosen signs, and printed words doubly arbitrary, doubly metaphoric signs, marks that stand for linguistic signs which stand in turn for something else. Any conjugation of these written signs therefore constitutes a case of allegorical activity, since we know that we are at least twice removed from anything like reality when we deal with the written word. We know, further, that the context in which these written signs appear, a literary text, is one in which nothing is communicated directly. What Sarduy's rhetoric aims at is a literal reading of the text—but...
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SOURCE: "Textual Politics: Severo Sarduy," in Latin American Literary Review, Vol. VIII, No. 16, Spring-Summer, 1980, pp. 152-60.
[Santi is a Cuban-born American educator, author, and critic of Hispanic literature and poetry. In the following essay, he examines De donde son los cantantes and Sarduy's use of themes from the philosophy of Martin Heidegger.]
One of the assumptions that governs our sense of modern literary history is that progress in literature exists because Modernity allows for a greater and demystified knowledge of reality. The origins of this pretension to epistemological superiority are perhaps located in Romanticism, whose parallel development and alliance with German Idealism strengthened its case with a powerful philosophical basis unseen before its time. It could be shown, however, that the superiority which Romanticism claims as its own was already present in the Renaissance and in the case of certain modern genres such as the novel, forms the very basis of their position in literary history. The same could be said of those literatures which arise with the advent of Modernity, such as that of Latin America, which from their inception establish a polemical stance before Western culture and tradition.
Implicit in virtually all critical approaches to the Latin American novel are one or more of the above notions, although critics themselves have been wont to...
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SOURCE: "Severo Sarduy's Strategy of Irony: Paradigmatic Indecision in Cobra and Maitreya," in Latin American Literary Review, Vol. 11, No. 23, Fall-Winter, 1983, pp. 7-13.
[In the following essay, Pellon examines how Sarduy creates irony by disrupting the narrative flow of the text and utilizing the technique of "paradigmatic indecision," which destroys images and meanings "by a change of tone, a personal comment, or a violently contradictory sentiment."]
He answered every keon with a belch, a Bronx cheer, or the facile aphorism, "samsara is nirvana." Maitreya
In Cobra and Maitreya Severo Sarduy employs a stylistic technique which entails a partial rejection by the author of the process of selection. Following the linguists Hjelmslev and Jakobson in the distinction they draw between an axis of selection (paradigmatic text) and an axis of combination (syntagmatic axis), I have called this technique paradigmatic indecision. The extraordinary stylistic experiments of Sarduy reveal the linguistic preoccupations of contemporary Latin American literature, and at the same time bear witness to the link between current narrative experiments and the post-structuralist ideology of writing.
Synthesizing a more traditional approach to the process of literary creation and interpretation, Wayne Booth...
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SOURCE: "From Cuba With a Song," in Poetics of Change: The New Spanish-American Narrative, University of Texas Press, 1984, pp. 173-79.
[In the following essay, Ortega examines how the structure and literary style of From Cuba With a Song contribute to an examination of "Cubanness."]
From Cuba with a Song, by the young Cuban writer Severo Sarduy, is a novel that carries radicalism of form to a new level in the Latin-American novel. It is a novel, an antinovel, and a scrapbook of a possible novel. It strikes the reader first as a jumble of innovations, but it actually possesses a self-induced program within its obstinate will to transgress. This program takes the form of the draining of the traditional novel in new variations of the reshaping of cultural forms.
The book consists of an introduction followed by three segments, each dealing with one of the three racial components of Cuban culture:
(a) "Curriculum cubense," a sort of prologue, poses the idea of the text as iconographic writing. Through this writing, Sarduy will attempt to make visible the different and conjugated components of the Cuban world.
(b) The first segment, "By the River of Rose Ashes," is a mirrored recreation of the Chinese world of Havana. Its detailed descriptions, enumerations, and transformations are not intended as a snapshot of this world but as its...
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SOURCE: "The Ambiviolent Fiction of Severo Sarduy," in Symposium, Vol. XXXIX, No. 1, Spring, 1985, pp. 49-60.
[In the following essay, Prieto focuses on the characters in Sarduy's Cobra and Maitreya, maintaining that destruction—"the prodigal squandering of self"—becomes the "gateway of change" for the transformation of the characters.]
To say that ambivalence, exaggeration and multiplicity play a major role in the recent novels of Severo Sarduy is to belabor a point for reasons which only the temper of these very works can justify. Saturation and redundance, even critical, are as topical to Sarduy's fiction as transformation and evolution are typical of his characters.
The narrative subject in Cobra as well as in Maitreya develops through a transmutational process in every way antithetic to the classical notion of character unity. Its kaleidoscopic nature becomes clear only in the light of Lacan's maxim, "Je ne pense pas là où je suis, et je ne suis pas là où je pense." Furthermore, the impermanence of Sarduy's subject-in-process is made evident at all levels: sexual, nominal, and morphological. La Tremenda, the protagonist of Maitreya, is also la Colosal, la Monumental, la Masiva, la Contundente, la Diva, la Prima, la Obesa, la Toda-Masa, la Delirium, la Divina and la Expansiva. Cobra is a transvestite, a castrato, male, female, square root...
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SOURCE: "Sarduy, the Boom, and the Post-Boom," in Latin American Literary Review, Vol. 15, No. 29, January-June, 1987, pp. 57-72.
[In the following essay, González Echevarría focuses on Maitreya and Colibrí and examines the self-reflective, autobiographical character of Sarduy's writings.]
In his recent books, Sarduy loses himself in the extravagance of his previous works, in the gallery of mirrors that reflects back the texts already written. He again performs a rigorous analysis of the Latin American tradition within which he creates his work and to which he now adds a reflection about his own life as a writer. What does being a Latin American writer mean? How can one create a work as heterodox as his from within a cultural tradition in which the structures of power and authority are so rigid? What is the relationship between power and writing, between authority and literary discourse? Where does Sarduy situate himself with respect to modernity and post-modernity, and what does this position reveal about the Latin American narrative today? These are the questions raised by Sarduy's latest works, but not, of course, in the abstract language used here. On the contrary, if something is evident in the most recent ground covered by Sarduy, if something is visible in the path he takes in the eighties, it is a concretely autobiographical inclination. Now, Sarduy returns to America not by way...
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SOURCE: A review of Maitreya, in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 9, No. 2, Summer, 1989, pp. 242-43.
[Moore is an American writer, editor, and critic. In the following review, he assesses the plot, literary influences, and structure of Maitreya.]
Severo Sarduy is the most daring and innovative of the socalled Boom writers—García Márquez, Fuentes, Vargas Llosa, et al.—but has never won the large audience these writers command. Maitreya, his fourth novel (originally published in 1978), guarantees to continue both his high reputation and low readership. His novels are more difficult to read than those of his compatriots and require not only a familiarity with recent history and French critical thought, but an ability to decode his outlandish metaphoric structures. His characters are not the typical cast of dictators, whores, and matriarchs of Latin American fiction, but an outrageous group of drag queens, dwarfs, motorcyclists, Tibetan monks, dealers, and assorted perverts—most weighed down by junk jewelry and too much makeup, frequently drugged with cocaine, and hanging out in louche bars or disreputable cabarets. Reading a Sarduy novel is akin to trying to develop a Structuralist reading of history from a trunk of costume jewelry, tacky religious relics, and the creepy merchandise of an s-m sex shop.
Sarduy's best-known novel, Cobra (English...
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SOURCE: "What Kind of Games Are These Anyway?: The Metafictional Play and Politics of Cobra and Juan sin tierra," in Revista Hispanica Moderna, Vol. XLIII, No. 2, December, 1990, pp. 206-17.
[In the following essay, De La Cova examines Sarduy's Cobra and Juan Goytisolo's Juan sin tierra (1975). She contends that, while both works are neo-baroque and "abandon linear narrative for spacial form," Juan sin tierra's "new realism" and Cobra's parody act to disguise and represent a variety of political themes.]
In 1972 and 1975 respectively, the Cuban Severo Sarduy and the Spaniard Juan Goytisolo, expatriate friends in Paris, brought to publication unsettling metafictional works. Cobra and Juan sin tierra are responses to some of the same literary stimuli of cultural opposition: Octavio Paz's Conyunciones y disyunciones, the nouveau nouveau roman, and French Post-Structuralism. The two works are not the same kind of metafiction, however, as Cobra tends toward a fabulous text of language games and extreme decontextualization, whereas Juan sin tierra is an instance of what Patricia Waugh [Metafiction: The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction, 1984] calls a "new realism."
As might be expected, there are notable technical similarities between the works. They both abandon linear narrative for spatial...
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SOURCE: A review of Cocuyo, in World Literature Today, Vol. 65, No. 4, Autumn, 1991, pp. 676-77.
[In the following review, Case claims that Cocuyo exhibits a "dense, multilayered, and distinctly neobaroque style, parody, and metaphoric structure."]
Severo Sarduy is a writer of many talents. He is a recognized art and literary critic and a member of the Tel Quel group as well as an accomplished novelist, essayist, and poet. Born and raised in Cuba, Sarduy studied medicine before moving to Madrid and subsequently to Paris, which he made his home. His first novel, Gestos (1963), blended avant-garde techniques with Cuban sensitivity; De donde son los cantantes (1969), the highly acclaimed Cobra (1972), Big Bang (1974), and other works followed, in which Sarduy elaborated and expanded his complex and multifaceted literary world.
For Sarduy followers, Cocuyo will satisfy their appetite for his dense, multilayered, and distinctly neobaroque style, parody, and metaphoric structure. The narrator relates of Cocuyo's early shock in life, toppled while performing one of man's most private acts, to his being torn from a comfortable bourgeois existence by a storm, which lands him in a hospital run by quacks, from which he flees to live with La Bondadosa in a girls' school where he runs errands for an office. He finally reaches the real world of...
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Bush, Audrew. "On Exemplarity and Postmodern Simulation: Robert Coover and Severo Sarduy." Comparative Literature 44, No. 2 (Spring 1992): 174-93.
Compares Sarduy's work with that of Robert Coover. Bush examines similarities between North American postmodernist fiction and South American literature after the so-called "Boom" of the 1960s; he focuses in particular on the relationship of each school to developments in French structuralist and post-structuralist literary theory.
Champagne, Roland A. Review of Cobra, by Severo Sarduy. Modern Language Journal 60, Nos. 1-2 (January-February 1976): 80.
Favorable review of Cobra.
Review of Para la voz (For Voice), by Severo Sarduy. Choice 23, No. 7 (March 1976): 1069.
Short, favorable review of Para la voz.
González Echevarría, Roberto. "Plain Song: Sarduy's Cobra." Contemporary Literature 28, No. 4 (Winter 1987): 437-59.
Examines oriental influences and structural elements in Cobra.
Levine, Suzanne J. "Writing as Translation: Three Trapped Tigers and a Cobra." Modern Language Notes 90, No. 2 (March 1975):...
(The entire section is 379 words.)