Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 469

The most remarkable aspect of Goytisolo’s Exile Trilogy is the disparity between the more traditional narrative approach of the first novel and the chaotic stylistic features of Count Julian and Juan the Landless. The narrator of Marks of Identity makes use of the diverse points of view and narrative devices typical of European and Latin American fiction of the 1960’s. The two later novels, however, are much more unusual and innovative in their approach to the fictional representation of the narrator’s experience. Count Julian is narrated entirely from what may be called a second-person perspective. The narrator, who is also the central character, refers to himself as “you”—you get up in the morning, you sweep up the bugs, you go out on the street.

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Alvaro Mendiola maintains this point of view in Juan the Landless, but in this last novel, he shifts from an implied telling of the experience to a clear portrayal of writing the narrative. This is an important distinction, for novelistic fiction has traditionally been characterized by an illusion that it is not written text. The traditional realistic novel, for example, attempts to create an impression of verisimilitude, employing various techniques calculated to make the text transparent and provide direct access, in an objective manner, to a sociohistorical reality. Novels which do not follow this approach are usually characterized as experimental, for they do not do what the novel has always done.

Count Julian is experimental primarily because it calls attention to itself as a linguistic artifact, and in doing this establishes itself as an intermediary between the reader and the fictional experience. Goytisolo uses semicolons in the place of periods, visual-linguistic signals such as dollar signs in the place of the word “dollar,” and irregular line lengths on the page that interrupt the flow of the text and require the reader to pay attention to the linguistic act of reading. In Juan the Landless, the narrator further exploits the concept of the text as a written linguistic act as he analyzes the process of putting the words on the paper.

There is a very clear development of narrative perspective in the trilogy, a development that gradually intensifies the interpretation of the text as language that exists for its own sake. This linguistic theme is directly related to the conflict between hedonism and asceticism through the metaphorical representation of writing as masturbation. The pen is the penis, and the ink is the seminal fluid flowing on the page, the product of a nonprocreative, sterile exercise of purely solipsistic self-indulgence with no redeeming social value. Writing fiction, then, has the same potential as masturbation, the flaunting of every restrictive Western taboo, the destruction of all traditional moral values, the exercise of one’s individual freedom despite all attempts to suppress the will to self-expression.

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