Synecdoche and Responsibility: On reading Cecile PinedaProf. Marcus Embry
A privilege I wish others is the opportunity to read all the works by a single author. Reading all of William Faulkner, Yukio Mishima, or Mayra Montero reveals the creative genius of not only the author but of humanity ourselves, what James Agee refers to as "our terrific responsibility towards human life; towards the utmost idea of goodness, of the horror of error, and of God."* This beautiful and terrifying potential is evident in the works of Cecile Pineda, whose works have been reprinted by Wings Press in San Antonio, to the benefit of us all.
Pineda's works are individual creative gems, singular books that perform dazzling literary feats of technique, history, and political responsibility. Together, they reveal Pineda's broad knowledge and the stunning fact that she possesses, as Hunter S. Thompson wrote of Oscar Zeta Acosta, the strength of her monstrous convictions. Each book is different and yet part of the whole, a synecdoche of Pineda. And through the differences in technique, theme, and effect in each book, Pineda reminds us of our own responsibility, broadening the synecdoche so that we too are signified in her project, we too are the whole of which her project will forever be a part.
Pineda's skill is superb. Her novels display a range of technical sophistication that is hard to compare. Her first novel, Face (1984) and her second, Frieze (1986), are stylistically stunning, tightly, masterfully realized. Neither, however, prepares the careful reader for the rollicking send-up of mainstream fiction Pineda realizes in her third and most acclaimed novel, The Love Queen of the Amazon (1991). In Love Queen, Pineda parodies the Magical Realism of the Latin American boom period (1960-1967), best known in the US through the works of Gabriel García Márquez. Her impeccable creation of the genre serves to praise the genre as much as mock it. In her fourth and fifth novels, Bardo99 (2002) and Redoubt (2004), Pineda comes close to remaking the novel genre itself. Bardo is often described as stream of consciousness, although the theme of the book distinguishes it from the Modernist technique it seems to employ. Pineda describes Redoubt as a mono-novel, and as such it suggests the rich landscape of this relatively unexplored technique. Together, these novels indicate Pineda's growth past traditional story telling into a narrative technique that delivers the promise Magical Realism failed to keep, that the world can be other than it is. Finally, Pineda's sixth novel, Fishlight, is a tour de force of narrative control, a novel told in the voice of a five-year old girl, a voice that maintains its integrity while weaving a compelling story of identity written for adults.
The boundaries of her fiction are extraordinary. Face is a stunning meditation about public and private construction of identity through the experiences of a Brazilian man disfigured in an accident. Pineda stylistically distances the reader to feel complicit and vulnerable in the text. Frieze then moves the reader to Java where the narrative merges with the story to present the one hundred twenty stone panels the protagonist must carve, and the acts of sacrifice imbedded in signification, compulsion, and artistic creation. Redoubt challenges the reader to form allegories, to desperately find allusions and metaphors to anchor the meanings that call from the text, effectively creating in the reader the redoubt itself. Fishlight asks of the reader to read as a five-year-old, and yet to understand as an adult, an act that illustrates the complicitous nature of interpretation and judgment. Bardo 99 is perhaps the bravest of her texts, a novel whose main character is the twentieth century, a century already dead and slow to realize the fact. The differences in these texts call the reader to be responsible, to realize the connection between the deeply personal nature of reading and the deeply social fabric of life.
Pineda's fiction presents a life of learning and growth bound together by a passion that requires us to participate. To read Pineda is to touch the miracle of humanity: the breadth of style illustrates our potential, the integrity within each text displays our boundless passion, and the author behind each and all asks of us responsibility, to one another, and to our common genius.