Binary Elements in El obsceno pájaro de la noche

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Author: Philip Swanson
Editor: Janet Witalec
Date: 2003
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 5,635 words

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[(essay date January 1985) In the following essay, Swanson examines duality as a central organizing principle of El obsceno pájaro de la noche.]

A notable feature of much recent criticism on José Donoso's El obsceno pájaro de la noche is the number of references to the text's inherent duality. Isis Quinteros sees the mythical level of the novel as being organized around a series of "relaciones en oposición binaria,"1 while Adriana Valdés has commented that: "es constante la estructuración anverso/reverso en la narración."2 Josefina A. Pujals also asserts that "toda la novela es un juego sobre dos tensiones o polaridades opuestas, de unión y desunión, de aglutinamiento y fragmentación representados por los factores imbunche y desmembramiento respectivamente."3

However, critics have so far tended to emphasize the ways in which binarism intensifies the complexity and ambiguity of the novel. Thus Promis Ojeda writes: "El obsceno pájaro es ... una genial expresión de ambigüedad al mostrar la coexistencia permanente de los dos lados de la realidad."4 Cornejo Polar agrees: "la reversibilidad enfatiza la caducidad de la oposición real/ficticio, cumple una clara función desjerarquizante y cancela toda opción de vertebrar causalmente el relato."5 Achugar analyses the "dialéctica del afuera-adentro, de la verdad-mentira," "la dicotomía mínimo-máximo, instante-eternidad" and the motifs of "máscara y disfraz que son anverso y reverso de una misma noción: la de persona:"6 but he sees these oppositions mainly as a manifestation of the futility of man's attempts to apply logical norms to fictional or non-fictional reality. The same outlook is implicit in the comments of Gertel and Hassett: the former feels that the element of reversibility indicates "la total negación de la realidad,"7 while the latter claims that "the stability between signifier and signified begins to lose its customary integrity, so that a mundo al revés emerges in which objects tend to be signs to their opposites."8 Such views are summed up by Lipski:

Above all else, Donoso's novel is a novel of duality. Throughout the expanse of the text, a number of possible events or propositions are narrated, together with their opposites. The ensuing picture is one of total ambiguity.9

This systematic questioning of the nature of reality is indisputably an integral part of the text: the numerous oppositions and contradictions in the novel do plainly constitute a direct attack upon the notion of a reality that can be easily understood and transferred to the written page. The author himself has remarked, in an interview with San Martín, that El obsceno pájaro is characterized by "el binarismo como negación del maniqueísmo."10 However, in the same interview, he also suggests that this ambiguity is not necessarily a barrier to identifying the novel's internal form:

Quisiera que fuera una cosa tremendamente polifacética, tremendamente vital, tremendamente movible, tremendamente barroca, no en un sentido de Carpentier; barroca como las ciudades medievales que de alguna manera tienen un sentido ... De alguna manera, las ciudades medievales tienen un urbanismo propio interior que es...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420049486