Pathetic ConwelynAl one time it ^as^(.•ll iiiitifisloodnIhiit conu-tly ii’i|iiircd a religionsnuiKlcrpiniiiiig. To Daiiic. the nioilcmnaddiliDii oftlie word Dirhic lo thenoriginal title {(.Ditnnceliti) of hisneo-sinic ejiic would seem superlkioiis.n’I’o him and most of’his contemporariesnit was oi’)vi(>iis that withoutn(iod no narrative eoiild ever endnjoyl’iill): there could be no ««divinenct)medy. Since Dante, however,npoets, authors, and dramatists havenoften constructed comedies whichnexcluile the transcendent. \ hile anheguiling charm still surrounds tlienShakespearean romp or the ‘ictt)ri;uinmarriage comeily. it is hard in the laten2()th century to believe that maritalnimion happih resolves all humannproblems. The high old sense ofnamwily. now largeU’ replaceil by thentrivial modern one of “funny slory.”ncannot be refurbisheil without a reintroductionnof Deity into literature.nIn The Ciiuis, the Utile (iuys anilnthe Police ( Harper & Row; Newn^ork). the Argentinian writer Ihimberton(lostantini seeks to ag:iin makentheory. The opponents of the governmentnfeel a need to “deconstruct thentextuality inscribed in the para-officialndiscourse.” They refer to Umberto Eco’snquotation of Warren Weaver’s notionnthat “the words information and uncertaintynare intimately interrelated.” Theynbewail their lack of “interstitial freedom.”nIn short, Valenzuela calls ournattention to the fact that she is providingna “chain of signifiers” and invites us tonponder the metaphorical nature notnonly of the characters and events in thennovel but also of the process of itsncomposition.nA basic assumption in all this is thatnreality and fiction are essentially indistinguishable.nFor example, Valenzuela re­nIZ^^H^^MHHnChronicles of CulturenCONFLUENCESnthe divine a major element in literar’ncomedy. Inforlunatel). Mr. (ionslantini’snsupramundune realm consistsnmerely of pelt and inctfectiial (ireekngods who survey the goings on of ann.Argentinian ix)etry circle threatenednin the mid ~()”s with massacre bynbrutal parapolice. Drav’n with anplayful lightness of touch. t4iesendeities are the amusing part ofnthe absurd ilrama. which emls ‘happil'”nwhen the poetry de()tees arenspared, but 12 other innocent peoplenare murdered in their stead. Costantini’snmythical machinerv’ is part of an’black comedy.” meant to saliri/enl.;ilin .nierican parapolice as foolishnbut bloody agents of I lades, but on anhigher level tlie work seeks to deifynthe “little gii>s” who are “little parailingnmonkcNS. yes. but suildenly men.nresembling gods, anil suddenly goils.”nWhat Costantini fails to reali/e is thatnwhen the gods themselves are reducednto laughable dimensions,neverything else, including humansnand human suffering, is tri iaii/.ed notnapotheosi/ed. The result is not highncomedy, merely a dismal joke.nceives an invitation from the Sorcerer tonattend a masked ball. She first remarksnthat he shouldn’t even know she existsn(after all, he is a character she hasncreated) and then says, “I’m not going,nand maybe the masked ball I will describenwill be more exact than the realnthing, or maybe the Sorcerer will decidento write his own story of the party, or wenwill find out through some tmsuspectednsource what really will happen andnmaybe that vnll turn out to be the leastninformative of all.” In the world of thisnnovel nothing is determinate.nIf this is the case, is it possible fornliterature to influence actual life? Valenzuelanraises this question but providesnno clear answer. At one point she isnnndisgusted with herself “for believing thatnliterature can save us, for doubting thatnliterature can save us, all that bullshit” Atnthe end of the long middle section,nwhich begins with, “I, Luisa Valenzuela,nswear” and ends with her signature, shencurses the pain and futility of writingnwhile, nearby, innocent people arenbeing tortured and killed. She speaks ofnplanting the written word that maybenwill serve her as seed someday. Then, inna bewildering ceremony, she says shenabandons the pen, thereby abandoningnthe Sorcerer to his fate. By being silentnshe can make him silentnBut in fact he is not silenced, for thenfollowing section begins with himnsaying, “How well I feel today,” and thenstory goes on.n1 he novel is fascinating in certainnways. The Sorcerer calls himself “thengreat syncretizer” and exploits thenmagic traditions of a number of countriesnand ages. Even his enemies, includingnthe author herself, combat him withnmagic. This treatment of magic, especiallynmagic as a vehicle for obtainingnpower and manipulating others is intriguing.nLikewise, the ingenious narrativengames stretch our imagination andnstimulate our thinking about the fictionalnprocess.nUltimately, however, the novel isnunsatisfying because its elements worknagainst each other. The clever narrativenploys that blur the distinctions betweennthe real and fictitious and establish thenuncertainty of all information eventuallynundercut the social and political commentarynand satire. The exa^erated evilnof the Sorcerer and the military governmentndiminishes the subtlety and consequentlynthe force of the satire, butnbeyond this, the emphasis upon the indeterminacynand fictiveness of everythingnprecludes the possibility of a satiricnnorm. Within the context of such philosophical-aestheticnplay both good andnevil lose their significance. It is impossiblento take such an extravagant caricaturenas the Sorcerer seriously, particularlynwhen the author reminds us alongn