The Furniture of Perceptions
"Okay, go and be a writer. But not at my expense." (Myself with Others) This was the response of Carlos Fuentes' father, Mexican charge d'affaires in Buenos Aires. Not long afterwards the famous Mexican novelist Alfonso Reyes said to Fuentes: "Mexico is a very formalist country. If you don't have a title, you are a nobody: nadie, ninguno. A title is like the handle of a cup; without it, no one will pick you up." (Myself with Others) Reyes was a diplomat as well as a writer and philosopher, and Fuentes would later himself become Mexican ambassador to France. Other posts included working at Ivy League colleges Princeton, Dartmouth and Brown. If in a book like The Cost of Letters various writers describe how best to make a living whilst writing, we could see that Fuentes was one of those novelists who seemed to do so more augustly than most. While Latin America's most brilliant recent novelist, the late Roberto Bolano, survived doing odd jobs, Fuentes, like Reyes, Octavio Paz and Mario Vargas Llosa, were often figures of status beyond their literary lives. When Bolano is asked in a Playboy interview about his former enemy (Octavio Paz - whose cosy life is played up in Savage Detectives), he says he doesn't see him any longer as the nemesis he once was, and the interviewer wonders whether Fuentes would now be playing that role. Bolano admits he doesn't much read Fuentes anymore, but there is no sense of him being a writer who would much interest Bolano as he goes on to dismiss Perez-Reverte and Isabel Allende more directly. Fuentes, like Allende, would be a writer "who enjoyed the fruits of the Boom" as Bolano explicitly mentions Fuentes as someone who did exactly that, taking advantage of the craze for Latin American literature and its fantastic dimension in the post-war years. Reading a Fuentes short story like 'The Doll Queen' one sees the quintessence of magic realism, and one can decide whether this is a compliment or an insult according to taste. As the story flits between various layers of consciousness while we wonder what might be real, what could be imaginary, we are in the 'genre'. Yet we should be wary of seeing this idea of the Boom that Fuentes was central if not quite 'epicentral' to as wholly negative, with Bolano speaking well of Vargas Llosa, for example, in his useful account of numerous Latin American writers in Beyond Parenthesis. But Fuentes was part of this middle generation, between Borges, Ernest Sabato, Adolfo Bioy Casares, and Julio Cortazar, and the later one that includes Bolano and the Argentinean writer he greatly admires, Cesar Aira. Indeed Aira's book The Literary Conference focuses on someone trying to clone "A Celebrity. A recognized and celebrated Genius" and the mad scientist chooses Fuentes. Here is a writer of elegance and fame, a figure often talked about as a possible Nobel Prize winner and both an ambassador and professor: the ideal man to clone for a literary conference.
But this is the man and not the work, yet how closely are they linked? In Diana it would seem all but inextricably; in a short story collection like Happy Families more implicitly. Diana isn't one of Fuentes's best know or most admired novels (The Death of Artemio Cruz offers the full modernist artillery), but it is amongst the most personal, a fictional account of the author's affair with the actress Jean Seberg during a time when Seberg was engaged in radical political activity: chased by the FBI; afriend of the Black Panthers. Halfway through the book the narrator says: "Reasonably or not, I've lived to write. Literature, almost since I was a child has been the filter of experience for me, from fear of being punished by my father to my most recent night of love. Sex, politics, soul - it all passes through my literary experience." Moments earlier, in the previous chapter, the title character has said to the narrator that "you have no imagination", and there Fuentes is writing a book so closely based on certain experiences that the reader might be inclined to agree. Yet as Fuentes also says "The expectations of the book refine and strengthen the facts of lived life. Perhaps nothing of this is true, or perhaps in reality it's the other way around; it's literary imagination that determines, provokes the "real" situations in my life." What could be more literary after all than an affair with a well-known politically active actress, hounded by the paparazzi on the one side and secret agencies on the other? But Fuentes is talking here of the very nature of perception. "The mind is a vast unfurnished room that slowly but surely fills up as we live with the furniture of perceptions. The objective world exists, but it has no meaning unless it passes through the sieve of the mind. Subjectivity gives reality to a world of mute, inanimate objects."
Seberg would hardly have been a mute, inanimate object; closer instead to the expressive, intangible subject, and Diana is intriguing because behind the frayed-with-use fictional story of a serious man of letters besotted by a glamorous, hectic star, is also an investigation of celebrity and friendship, confession and roman a clef. Talking of his friend William Styron he says: "when Bill feels he's being hounded in his country, he calls me and visits Mexico." A page or two later, the narrator says: "minimal forty-year-old Don Juan of the Mexican night, I aspired as a man to that power of metamorphosis and movement. But most of all I wanted it as a writer."
Here is someone looking for experience, but we can't pretend this is the aloof account of a figure on the margins, but a novelist at the cultural core. Where Paz is presented in Bolano's Savage Detectives chiefly through his maid's perspective, so august is Paz and so lowly Bolano and many of the narrators he focuses upon; in Diana the narration is controlled by someone for whom few doors would be closed. Where Paz is offered obliquely by a writer who was in the shadows most of his life, Fuentes's narrator so closely modeled on a figure like Fuentes himself, lives in bright, celebrity light. "So I invited not only my lovers to the party at the Opera but new writers like Jose Agustin, Parmenides Garcia Saldana and Gustavo Sainz, who were fifteen years younger than I and who deserved the laurels already wilted on much older heads - mine, for instance." The narrator also talks of staying with Styron at the exclusive Martha's Vineyard, and later tells us that Diana was "married to Ivan Gravet, a very popular, prize-winning French writer who'd written two beautiful books about his youth, the first about his escape from Eastern Europe, the second about when he'd fought in the war. His latest novels seemed written for the movies and were produced in Hollywood..."
One needn't see this name-dropping as a sign of artistic failure. though perhaps some might believe so not especially because Fuentes is dealing with the rich and famous, but because he is allowing to intrude into the novel what some would see as the essentially journalistic. When he talks of Styron and Jose Agustin, Parmenides Garcia Saldana and Gustavo Sainz, these are all writers where the factual intermingles with the fictional. Yet this is exactly what Bolano does so often in his work, and exactly what Aira does with Fuentes in 'The Literary Conference'. Bolano and Aira might be offering perspectives that are playing on the gap between the central characters and Paz and Fuentes, while Fuentes sees Styron and others as equals, but the sort of milieu Fuentes explores isn't very different from the world a writer like F. Scott Fitzgerald moved in. Fuentes, like Fitzgerald, is not an underground writer in the Dostoevskian sense, someone on the edge of society, a literary fringe dweller. He was always a literary insider, a friend whose compliments were returned. Milan Kundera thanked him for his concern back in the late sixties when writers in Czechoslovakia were being persecuted, mentioning it in an open letter on Fuentes's seventieth birthday.
Whatever reservations we may have of Fuentes' work, it wouldn't be fair to claim too confidently the limitations of the oeuvre due to the expansive pleasures of his life, but perhaps when reading some of the short stories in Happy Families, the ones that come off best are those that suggest a societal sweep over those commenting on lives in the societal underbelly. Of course there is always the danger of generalizing from the particular: Fuentes' is a large body of work and our purpose is only to comment on a small number of tales, with a sidelong glance at Diana, The Death of Artemio Cruz and some of the essays in My Life With Others. 'The Discomfitting Brother' for example is a Bunuelian account of an aging man whose wife dies and leaves him not only in the continuous charge of the construction company he runs, but also the household. All goes well initially as Don Luis Albarran makes sure the house continues functioning smoothly with its five servants. "Senor Albarran did not need to exchange words with a single servant to have everything in its place at the correct time. He did not even need to look at them." However, when his drunkard older brother Reyes comes to stay, the house is turned around as the brother charms the fives servants with various gifts bought by forging Don Luis' signature. While the third person story initially presents Don Luis in a fair light, the light of his own self-illumination, however limited, by the conclusion he looks like he will absorb his brother's harsh appraisal: "Who looks at you? Really, who looks at you?...You live in the ruin of yourself." Yet by the very end of the story perhaps not: "Yes, he said to himself, yes I have known love. He slept peacefully again."
Our mention of Bunuel is hardly a gratuitous reference: Fuentes wrote an article on the great Spanish director, mentions him often in print and was a friend. In 'Luis Bunuel and the Cinema of Freedom', Fuentes says "Reality is more than any of us can see or hope to see; as intensely as I may see my parcel of reality, it is only that, a parcel, not the wholeness of reality." Don Luis isn't doing a very good job of seeing more than a tiny parcel of the world, and in the essay Fuentes goes on to say: "We cannot see reality without counting on what others see. And once you understand this, and you must act accordingly, for, as William Blake warns, he who desires and acts not, engenders the plague." Don Luis is someone who has devoted his life to a Chilean wife who wasn't always so warm. "Lucho, don't be an asshole. We're nothing but accidents of our circulation" It is the very insult Luis once offered his brother, as Reyes reminds him now they are old men. Luis wonders when Reyes was ever so innocent, and Reyes replies: "Until the day you said to me: asshole, we go to Mass every Sunday, but we don't believe in God, we only believe in ourselves, in our personal success, don't go around thinking Divine Providence will come to help you." Don Luis views himself as a sensitive soul and for many years part of a wonderful marriage, but his brother doesn't see it that way. "You know how to use people and then throw them into the trash. Your diabolical wife gave you feudal tips. The arrogance of Chilean landowners."
The brother is probably not much more reliable than Don Luis, but we have to remain outside of Don Luis as we hear what his brother has to say, and witness what Don Luis happens to have done. Now two reasons why we might think of the Bunuelian here is that frequently in the director's films characters are oblivious to the socio-political nature of their circumstances, and often idly obsessive about their routines. Here, in Fuentes's story, the servants are good children, seen and not heard. But then, we notice, hardly seen either. Don Luis' office routine leads to a personal routine. "Given Mexican schedules, however (office from ten to two, dinner from two to four, final business items from four to six), Don Luis had elevenses a little later, at seven in the evening, though this sweet custom cut his appetite for even the monastic meal he ate at nine." Whether in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, El or That Obscure Object of Desire, characters in Bunuel have fixed ideas about how to behave as a good bourgeois, but also fixed ideas about other things (from a woman to a meal) that can lead to obsessive behaviour. It is as though the mania for the appropriate way of doing things can easily segue into failing to see a broader reality. When Fuentes says that we can only see a small amount of reality, nevertheless the question is how much do we see this reality from our own point of view and also from our societally limited perspective. Much of Bunuel's social critique comes from showing us his characters' limited perceptual vista, and here Fuentes does the same. Don Luis is a good bourgeois while his brother isn't. A drunk who many years earlier had opened a bar with the help of Don Luis, Reyes became so hopelessly debauched and dishevelled that Don Luis's wife wouldn't let him into the house. But he is after all the discomfiting brother, the one who shows that extra bit of reality that exposes Don Luis to acknowledge however briefly his smug existence.
Talking of an early sixties Bunuel film, Fuentes says "the twenty characters in The Exterminating Angel promenade themselves elegantly on the edge of the abyss: their perceptions of things is reality, they are the twentieth century descendants of Bishop Berkeley: Esse est percipi. Being is perceiving." This is a narrow point of view that Bunuel often expands beyond the characters' limitations, but still we sense that limitation on the character's part. Is Don Luis such an example? He might allow for a passing thought concerning Bush's petro wars, but he is in his own world, not the broader one. Everyone has only their own perspective on events, but some are less likely than others to see a broader view. Whatever reservations we may have about Reyes, he was at least someone who "not only made cocktails. He was a cocktail." He "urged homosexuals and lesbians to show themselves without complexes, impelled boys ruined by the Revolution to fall in love with girls enriched by the same event, deceived the Hungarian princess dispossessed by Communism into marrying the false rogue without a cent posing as a petro-millionaire from Tabasco." Here was someone moving in and out of various worlds; not protecting himself by staying so completely within one.
In 'The Armed Family' we again have two brothers, and again the problem of allowing reality in. This time the point of view is the father's on his two sons, both grown up: Andres is a radical; the other, Roberto, a conservative. The father, Marcelino, is an army general forced to hunt down his own son, though "he cursed the stupidity of the right-wing government that had closed, one after the other, the doors of legitimate action to the left, persecuting its leaders, stripping them of immunity on the basis of legalistic deceptions, encouraging press campaigns against them, until they had the leftists cornered with no option except armed insurrection." The younger brother Roberto reckons Andres's revolutionary activities are getting in the way of his burgeoning business career and so ends up telling the authorities where his brother is hiding out. The father hasn't been trying too hard to find Andres, partly in sympathy with his politics, while wholly keen to protect his son. Before the end of the story Roberto will be dead by his father's hand, the dad's protective familial instincts finally less important than retaining a certain value system. The son has betrayed his brother and the father must take revenge not to protect either son, but to say there are more important things than family and business. The general is an honourable man: he sees the world as Don Luis cannot, and knows how to act fairly if harshly within it.
In both Diana and the essay on Bunuel, Fuentes acknowledges the importance of a limited perspective, but then in the stories in Happy Families wonders how characters are stuck within a narrow one, or hint towards broader possibilities. When Fuentes talks of the "image of claustrophobia" in Bunuel's work he could be talking of many of the stories in the collection. In 'The Armed Family' and 'The Discomfitting Brother' these are both tales of characters caught by familial dilemmas. But where the father acts honourably with his sons, no matter the extremity of his actions, Don Luis acts dishonourably with his brother even if he does very little at all. Both Marcelino and Don Luis are characters who feel they have no choice. However, while Marcelino has a right-wing government on his back, Don Luis has no more than a late wife to worry about. "He doesn't come in here. Not while I am alive. No, senor." She might now be dead but he still feels he is betraying her by letting the brother stay: if he is keeping the house running exactly as she would have wished, this would hardly incorporate his errant brother. Where Marcelino is left with an impossible yet ethical decision to make it is not a discomfitting one. It illustrates his good faith as he accepts the higher value of honour over the lower value of protecting his family. The family is only of value if a higher one is invoked in its name. Roberto in his act of treachery must be killed. Don Luis however, need neither protect his brother nor kill him, and is caught in a discomfitting position of feeling in his indecisiveness his own failure of character. His brother might not be the sort of heroic character Andres happens to be in 'The Armed Family', nor wretchedly self-interested like Roberto, but his combination of good and bad qualities, and how Don Luis responds to them, forces upon Don Luis some hard truths. When Reyes tells him "You live in the ruin of yourself", Don Luis can only weakly reply, "I'm a decent man".
Discomfort is a minor feeling; betrayal a major one, yet there is no clear division when it comes to the damage to the self. When Marcelino is expected to do his job as a general for the government and capture his son, he knows these are conflicting demands made all the more so by his respect for Andres and disrespect for the government. Killing Roberto for supporting the dubious authorities and betraying his brother makes Marcelino's act horrific but understandable, even honourable. But Don Luis? He is the bourgeois of gentle bad faith, thinking of a brother who seems far from good but that he presents in a way very useful for his own ends. Marcelino's act is one of horrible freedom; Don Luis by the end of the 'Discomfitting Brother' has surely slipped back into claustrophobic complacency when the narrator says "he slept peacefully again."
This question of claustrophobic complacency was one that often engaged Fuentes. In Diana the narrator discusses a well-known Hollywood actor who comes to live with them. Lew Cooper named names during the McCarthyite hearings but named only those already given by others. "He fell between the two categories." He wasn't heroically refusing to have anything to do with the House Unamerican Activities Committee, nor was he cosying up to it. "How do you judge that kind of action? Cooper went on working. Others, who refused to talk, never again set foot on a movie set..." How should one judge such a character, how to find the wherewithal to offer a perspective broad enough to know where you stand? Do many people who do something problematic prefer to surround themselves with people who insistently agree with them or flirt with the possibility of constant rejection? Those who offer the latter (as Reyes does in 'The Discomifitting Brother') as opposed to the former (Don Luis) are refusing this claustrophobic complacency.
In My Life with Others, the writer says: "We know that in public life, as in personal life, nothing is more destructive to the self than being surrounded by sycophants." It is such a position that Fuentes explores, for example, in the interconnected story collection, The Crystal Frontier, where the enormously wealthy Leonardo Barosso impacts on the lives of numerous people at the mercy of his money, and in The Death of Artemio Cruz, where the central character is on his deathbed looking back on a life of compromised luxury and casual brutality. In the latter the narrator says, "there are things you don't want to think about, things that you want to forget by remembering something else; and above all, you want to forget yourself, the man you find yourself to be now." In Myself with Others Funtes insists: "for my generation in Mexico, the problem did not consist in discovering our modernity but in discovering our tradition. The latter was brutally denied by the comatose, petrified teaching of the classics in Mexican secondary schools..."
In numerous Fuentes statements (fictional and factual) there is this need to escape from claustrophobic complacency, as if Fuentes knew that it could easily have been his lot: a well-known and successful writer from a wealthy family. If many a writer believes that writing is a luxury they are lucky enough eventually to practise, for Fuentes it perhaps was finally more a responsibility than an ambition. As the Encylopedia Britannica succinctly puts it: "The son of a career diplomat, Fuentes travelled extensively with his family in North and South America and in Europe. He learned English at the age of four in Washington D.C. He studied law at the university of Mexico, Mexico City, and later attended the Institute of Advanced Studies in Geneva. Fuentes was a member of the Mexican delegation to the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva (1950-52), was in charge of cultural dissemination for the University of Mexico..." Here is a man of unequivocal privilege whose first collection of stories came out while he was still in his mid-twenties.
There are a couple of avenues worth exploring when thinking of Fuentes's privileged perspective as a wealthy Mexican, and as someone who nevertheless came from a country that was itself perceived as poor. It is as though Fuentes wants to write from privilege but not at all to defend privilege. Where numerous writers of Fuentes's generation in France appeared to acknowledge their comfortable perspective and played up their monarchical leanings (writers like Roger Nimier, Antoine Blondin and Jacques Laurent) Fuentes for all his authority as a writer seemed to see it as a luxury and not a right. "I learned in Chile that Spanish could be the language of free men...an anonymous language, a language that belongs to us all, as Neruda's poem belonged to those miners on the beach, yet a language that can be kidnapped, impoverished, sometimes jailed, sometimes murdered." (Myself with Others) Here the privileged writer is not haughtily insisting on taking control of the language, but acknowledging how easily it can belong to power and oppression. As he says, "the language of Mexicans springs from abysmal extremes of power and impotence, domination and resentment." It is a variation of Deleuze and Guattari's notion of a minor literature: "a minor literature doesn't come from a minor language: it is rather that which a minority constructs within a major language." A "second characteristic of minor literatures is that everything in them is political." (Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature) Diana is obviously a novel based closely on Fuentes's affair with Jean Seberg, but it is also a book that allows Fuentes to talk about a minority within a majority: Diana's involvement with the Black Panthers. When in the book Diana says: "my husband always says that the dilemma of liberals in America is that they have an enormous sense of injustice but no sense of justice", it is the danger of a perspective that acknowledges the political but cannot always act upon it, that the person cannot quite find their own stance positively.
It might seem odd to invoke Fuentes in the context of a minor literature because he appears to be a writer so on the side of status and success, and perhaps we do so mischevously: to indicate that Fuentes was unavoidably on the side of authority rather than on the side of the oppressed. Now if there are writers like the French figures we've invoked indicating happy privilege, there are writers on the other who indicate a sense of failure: Bolano was one, but also Kafka and Gogol: the Czech writer the very novelist Deleuze and Guattari discus in Toward a Minor Literature and the latter a figure Fuentes dedicates an essay to in Myself and Others. Fuentes says of Gogol : "He tries to heal his body, he tries to heal his fortune. He seeks time for imagination and his writing; he moves in official circles; he seeks patronage, praises the tsar and authoritarianism. He manoeuvres ceaselessly to survive as a creative enigma." "The mysterious dwarf" is a writer from the literary underground, and Fuentes is the sort of compassionate essayist who can bring out some of his singularities, but writes as though knowing while he is not a writer of complacent wealth, neither is he a man of personal struggle.
However, this sometimes makes Fuentes's stories seem offkey. In 'The Mariachi's Mother', the tale opens with "a mature woman ? sixty or seventy years old ? naked in a police cell..." except for a "diaper pinned on her" as the story explores the woman's relationship with her singer son. The son eventually becomes an undercover cop, receives a terrible beating by locals along with other corrupt cops who are killed, and in the mayhem the authorities round up various locals including the Mariachi's mother. Will her son come to his devoted mother's rescue? Though in the third person, Fuentes narrates from the inside, privileging us with information about the mother's thoughts and feelings. "The truth is that Dona Medea doesn't want to surrender to eternal darkness just like that. The guacamole doesn't drip out of her taco." She sees other women to compare herself to, guessing their destinies. "She classifies them accurately. Some seem like beasts of burden. Others are thought of as clever." Here Fuentes chooses to get close to the mother's thinking, but (unlike in 'The Armed Family') it feels more ventriloquial. More like he is throwing a voice rather than embodying one. The story explores the yearning gap between a mother adoring her son and the son often not worthy of such adoration, but it seems like a work of aloof sociology: with the mother serving Fuentes' socio-political ends over immediate engagement. In 'The Armed Family' the two dovetail in the personal as the political. In 'The Mariachi' s Mother', the story seems more like a way of using the central character to tell a story about the inevitable corruption and ambition in Mexico that destroys families.
It is an act of creative sympathy, but the tone is closer here to free indirect discourse than in 'The Armed Family' and some of the other stories, and perhaps shows up Fuentes's limitations at a moment when he wants to stretch his sensibilities. It brings to mind James Wood's comments on John Updike's The Terrorist, another writer of privilege trying to get into the head of the less well-off. "Updike is unsure about entering Ahmad's mind, and, crucially, unsure about our entering Ahmad's mind, and so he plants his big authorial flags all over his mental site." The free indirect approach that tries to get close to a character's thoughts instead leaves us too aware of the gap between narrative consciousness and character consciousness.
Now partly what makes for free indirect discourse is where what would have been put in speech marks is incorporated into the third person narrative. The words don't belong to the character, but they aren't in the same register as the disinterested narrator either. The narrator might think "it never rains but it pours" is a cliche, and would refuse to utilise it from a position of 'objective' narration, but if the writer feels the character is likely to think it then he might include it from the character's point of view even if third person is still held: without speech marks. When Dona Medea thinks that she "doesn't want to surrender to eternal darkness just like that", when Dona Medea thinks that she "can smell from a distance the predatory women who conspire all day and the ones who seem so resigned they don't even complain", can we hear the character saying this, even if only to herself. If we can't, perhaps free indirect discourse has failed. 'The Mariachi's Mother' seems inauthentic next to The 'Discomfitting Brother' and 'The Armed Family', because the former fails to find a register that reflects the socio-political interests, and hence the ventriloquism.
'The Mariachi's Mother' indicates the danger of a writer working within the expectations explored by Deleuze and Guattari, in Toward a Minor Literature, when that figure is from a country whose literature comes out of colonialization but who hardly themselves pass for an example of the oppressed. It raises an important but difficult question over artistic terrain: what are the limits of an artist's vision? Fuentes acknowledges this through his remarks about our inevitably limited perspective on the world, but sometimes an artist, for very honourable reasons, wants to go beyond that perceptual demarcation for the purposes of political progression. He or she wants to understand the lives of the underprivileged and the put-upon, but nevertheless in Fuentes' case the writerly strengths rest in showing wealth, status and power, and then alluding to the limitations of such attributes for the wider good. This isn't about the noble poor, but the innoble rich. It is exactly why Eduardo Galeano can invoke Fuentes's The Death of Artemio Cruz in Open Veins of Latin America: he is the sort of figure well within Fuentes's 'sphere of consciousness'. Artemio Cruz is a man, Galeano says, who, "sheds the idealism and heroism of his youth as the years pass: he helps himself to land, founds and multiplies businesses, gets a seat in the congress, and climbs the shining steps to the peaks of society, accumulating wealth, power, and prestige by wheeling and dealing, bribery, speculation, audacity, and the bloody repression of the Indians."
Now when Donald Barthelme says in 'On Writing' that "one proceeds by way of particulars. If I know how a set of brass knuckles feels on Heidi's left hand it's because I bought one once, in a pawnshop...the world enters our work as it enters our lives, not as a world-view or system but in sharp particularity" the problem rests when a writer loses that gift of specificity. Bolano may resent Fuentes's privilege and Aira might gently mock his status, but in each instance they are also acknowledging the 'Fuentean': it wouldn't be for Fuentes to write differently ? just for others to have a problem with what he has written. One might believe representationally that 'The Mariachi's Mother' is a more progressive and politically purposeful tale than 'The Armed Family' and especially 'The Discomfitting Brother', but the latter pair are better at understanding the aesthetic demands meeting the limitations of perspective. There is a whole world evident in the servants' reaction to the brothers, but a more intimate relationship with that world would probably have done nothing for the story.
It is often enough claimed a writer should write about what they know, and is then occasionally countered with others saying that this surely negates the imagination. However, one can tether the former observation to the latter by suggesting that writers need to be true to their world. When Fuentes talks in Diana about the limits of one's perceptual field, this needn't mean one only writes autobiographically, more that one writes preoccupationally. When Diana says the writer/narrator has no imagination is this not often the insult levelled at the autobiographical writer? Yet the narrator in Diana goes on to insist that his reality is shaped partly by his creative activity. He may work from what is real, but his perception helps create that reality. This leads to a writer's world, which leaves us not asking whether it is imaginative or autobiographical, but aesthetically singular: does it seem like a work that is Fuentean or could another writer have written the same story more interestingly? There might be those who regard Fuentes as a writer of wealth and taste and that we subsequently shouldn't take him seriously at all, but this is only valid from a critical ? as opposed to a personal, prejudicial perspective ? when the writing goes beyond the ready perceptual limits of the writer's milieu. There are of course writers whose worlds are much bigger than others (Tolstoy, Dickens and Balzac, say, next to Henry Miller, Marguerite Duras and Cesare Pavese) and who want to capture all of life. However Fuentes' remarks in Diana and My Life with Others indicate not Keats' negative capability where creatively man goes beyond the apparent limits of his imaginative faculties, but a limited capability that can nevertheless offer numerous truths but within a certain range. Fuentes is finally a writer always at home with the questionable values of the wealthy, rather than the noble virtues or the grinding poverty of the poor. His furniture of perception is one of class and money, showing the limitations of this world well, without quite expanding it into a comprehension of worlds beyond.
© Tony McKibbin