Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Infante’s Inferno is undoubtedly the finest work written by Cabrera Infante since his ground-breaking Tres tristes tigres (1967; Three Trapped Tigers, 1971). Erotic tableaux are central to the development and understanding of this novel as a whole, but they must be seen as vehicles or motives for reflection: on the nature of relationships, on the incompleteness of human experience, and, not least important, on man’s (and woman’s) artful penchant for fantasy. Like Georges Bataille and William Burroughs, Cabrera Infante portrays sex as a form of expenditure, as the most primal form of expression. This does not mean, in any way, that his erotic fiction should be seen as pornography; he makes evident that the body is in every way the mirror of the soul, the most tangible evidence of being. By depicting the coming together of man and woman and the profound loneliness of both, he has chosen to ponder essential questions, ontological in nature, from a philosophical perspective but with the acerbic wit typical of Menippean satire.

Eroticism as the raw core of human experience is essential to understanding Infante’s Inferno, but the reader must keep foremost in mind that sex in this novel is always remembered—lived in the past and re-created in the present. For this reason, Infante’s Inferno is also a witty meditation on that most Proustian of preoccupations: the act of remembrance. Yet, whereas the French...

(The entire section is 403 words.)