1. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own.
2. Bracketed ellipsis points indicate editorial omissions; unbracketed ellipsis points are in original of quoted texts.
3. Translated and quoted by Abraham P. Bloch (150).
4. Gossip has received more critical attention in fields such as anthropology, sociology, and folklore than in literary studies. In these fields, the dynamics of gossip are commonly understood as deeply rooted in its social context; see, for instance, Max Gluckman’s pioneering “Gossip and Scandal” (1963), which casts gossip as a deeply social practice; Robert Paine’s 1967 response to Gluckman, which insists on the importance of viewing gossip through the lens of the individual rather than the community; the folklorist Sally Yerkovich’s 1977 exposition of gossip as “the strategic management of information” based upon a shared moral code (192); Jörg Bergmann’s Discreet Indiscretions: The Social Organization of Gossip (1993), which focuses on the structure and logic of gossip rather than its specific content; or, more recently, cultural anthropologist Niko Besnier’s Gossip and the Everyday Production of Politics (2009), which frames gossip as a communicative practice fundamentally engaged with questions of power. Such readings approach gossip from different angles, but coincide in treating gossip not simply as idle chatter but rather as an active social endeavor that can be either salutary or corrupting according to the nature of its deployment. Similarly utilitarian approaches are followed by psychologists such as Robin Dunbar, who views gossip as a means of maintaining social ties, much like the grooming practices of primates, and by a number of philosophers: see, for instance, Karen C. Adkins’s 2002 reading of gossip in terms of feminist epistemology, or C. A. J. Coady’s 1994 interrogation of gossip’s validity as a form of testimony. The diversity of such readings contrasts with the more circumscribed approaches taken by literary scholars, who have largely adhered to Patricia Meyer Spacks’s reading of gossip as a benign, empowering practice.
5. Agnes Lugo-Ortiz similarly connects Puerto Rican literary output during the 1960s to the cultural, political, and economic convulsions of the period—a time, she writes, “when established models of authority appeared to be shaken or crumbling, and dominant discourses of ‘identity’—sexual, gender, or national—underwent significant disturbances” (117).
6. See Sylvia Molloy’s examination of Onetti’s use of gossip, and of gossip as a transactional practice, in her 1979 essay “El relato como mercancía.”
7. And so too, of course, may instances of the “good gossip” that Spacks traces in Austen or James be readily found in the Caribbean. As Hope Munro writes, apropos of Trinidadian gossip, “People lime in different contexts for various reasons, but essentially the activity renews social networks and offers a performance space for participants to share knowledge and daily experiences. While it appears to be ‘the art of doing nothing,’ liming is an important way to reinforce social bonds or create new ones” (16). The texts of Ana Lydia Vega, Olive Senior, and many other Caribbean writers often feature or reflect upon this kind of intimate, socially rewarding gossip.
8. Gossip and related forms have been the subject of numerous popular nonfiction works since the turn of the millennium, perhaps in part due to the increasing cultural significance of gossip blogs, social networks, and related media. Joseph Epstein’s Gossip: The Untrivial Pursuit (2012) and Roger Wilkes’s Scandal: A Scurrilous History of Gossip (2002) offer engaging overviews, while Jeannette Walls’s Dish: How Gossip Became the News and the News Became Just Another Show (2000) focuses on the interplay of gossip and the news media—a topic that has only grown more timely since her volume’s publication. See also Cass R. Sunstein’s On Rumors: How Falsehoods Spread, Why We Believe Them, What Can Be Done (2009) for an exploration of the effects (predominantly negative, in Sunstein’s reading) of rumor and gossip in American politics and society.
9. Interestingly, Spacks’s view of gossip has filtered back into the field of sociology: a 1994 study by Diego Gambetta offers a nuanced sociological reading of gossip informed by Spacks’s work. Gambetta’s approach to gossip is also informed by sociological research on the practice, allowing him to incorporate Spacks’s notion of “good” gossip into a more comprehensive framework. Riffing on the Italian notion of gossip as a trivial but pleasurable activity—the Italian word pettegolezzo derives from peto, or “fart,” Gambetta notes—he argues that gossip’s myriad uses are subsidiary to its ability to both satisfy curiosity and broker “emotional complicity” between participants. This is a valuable insight and a notion to which I will return in the pages that follow.
10. The question of the extent to which lexicographical and etymological divergences reflect real differences in the lived experiences of gossip across different cultures is tantalizing but far beyond the scope of this study; neither do I propose to explore the reasons for such apparent divergences. (It is, however, interesting to note that many of the early English sources—Chaucer, Spenser, and so forth—clearly view gossip and backbiting in negative terms, more in keeping with the connotations found in Spanish and French.) Rather, I suggest that literary gossip scholarship on Anglo-American texts has been significantly influenced by the etymological felicities of gossip’s roots in the intimate bonds of kinship, and has at times overlooked readings of gossip that might more readily suggest themselves to scholars of bochinche or cancan.
11. Spacks does go on to offer a “minimal definition” of gossip as “idle talk about other persons not present” (26), although she readily admits such a reductive definition misses much of the nuance and power of gossip. In the introduction to Potins, cancans et littérature, Solomon likewise insists on the difficulties of defining gossip, which she traces to gossip’s complex origins in both the chatter of women and the quanquam of (male) university scholars (8).
12. The pleasures of gossip are manifold and rather underrated, at least by recent literary scholarship: as Gambetta notes, Spacksian gossip scholars, in pushing back against prior condemnation of gossip in moral terms, at times become almost puritanical in stressing gossip’s functions rather than its delights. “One of the few safe things we can say about gossip is that if we indulge in it so painstakingly it is because gossip is pleasurable. But the pioneers in the study of gossip, driven by an urge to stress its positive functions against the standard morals which disapprove of it, kept this elementary reality concealed,” Gambetta writes (201–2). Solomon makes a similar point, noting that the pleasure taken in gossip is both a part of the reason it is so easily dismissed as “unimportant chatter” and a part of the reason that gossip is so powerful: “Gossip is defined first and foremost by the pleasure it gives: the pleasure of transmitting, the pleasure of knowing,” she writes. “It is this desire that drives and justifies the circulation of words exchanged because their content is scandalous, secret, or simply concerns a third party. This is the reason why perpetrators of gossip like to deal in sexuality, slander, and unpublished information about their neighbors” (8). The thrill of gossip, as will be seen throughout this book, is often the driving force that provides it with such charge and potency, and allows it to admit so many uses, both for good and ill.
13. See also Roger D. Abrahams on the performative nature of casual interactions in St. Vincent. “While there would be no confusion in the minds of the community between a Carnival song and an everyday argument, they would be recognized as being related to each other as controlled contest forms and evaluated as performances,” he writes. “Gossip is therefore seen as simply one of the many inevitable performances of everyday life” (81). Abrahams further argues that the power of gossip rests in large part upon its performative appropriation of the names (and thus reputations) of the people gossiped about. “Someone who is always talking about others is described as having a fas’ mout’. The term is significant, for being fas’ means being thievish, and having a fas’ mout’ is thus regarded as t’iefin someone’s good name; that is, betraying trust,” he asserts (83).
14. Similarly, the Oxford English Dictionary defines rumor as “talk or hearsay” that is “not based on definite knowledge,” and also as “an unverified or unconfirmed statement or report.” In Spanish, the Real Academia dictionary defines rumor as a “voice that runs among the public,” a “confused noise of voices,” and a “vague, dull, and continuing noise”—all definitions that suggest the imprecise murmuring of a circulating rumor, as opposed to the more precise act of gossip. The French word rumeur suggests buzzing confusion rather than specific information; Larousse offers three definitions describing rumeur as “a confusion of noises, sounds, and voices,” an “indistinct noise of any origin,” and a “confused murmuration of disapproval,” before conceding that the word can also suggest “news [ . . . ] of which the origin is unknown or uncertain and the veracity doubtful.”
15. Carrión, a Mexican writer and conceptual artist, systematically explored the practice of gossip through collective practices, “experiments,” filmic projects, and more formal theorizations in conference talks, particularly in the 1980s. His engagement with gossip was explored in a 2017 retrospective in Museo Jumex, Mexico City.
16. Indeed, Spacks continues, gossip derives its power from the residual traces of a primitive belief in the practice’s potency. “Like the notion that taking a photograph of someone endangers his spirit, the view that saying something bad has the force of doing something bad wells from pre-rational depths,” she asserts (30). This sense of gossip as a harmless, if transgressive, practice, seems reasonable for Spacks’s gossipers, who are drawn chiefly from English literature. Spacks’s view is easy to understand, too, when read against her cataloging of the medieval and other early writers who describe gossip in terms of murder and manslaughter, and demand physically violent reprisals against those who commit acts of verbal violence against them. Reading the violence of the early English sources against the mannered restraint of nineteenth-century gossips, it is easy to allow oneself to be convinced that a process of evolution—even of civilization—is at work.
17. Brian Johnson’s reading of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is instructive in this context: Johnson perceives in Offred’s gossip, and her narrative as a whole, “the ultimate form of productive gossip,” in keeping with Spacks’s concept of gossip as an intimate and empowering practice. But Johnson also acknowledges that for Atwood’s oppressed handmaids, gossip’s power “often proves to be illusory,” with the Mayday gossip network cast as being almost as oppressive as the authoritarian regime against which it stands (48). It is tempting to suggest that the dystopian imaginary here provides a space for engaging with gossip on terms not entirely dissimilar to those found in the lived realities of the authoritarian Caribbean.
18. It is not only in the Caribbean that writers have looked beyond framings of gossip as “women’s talk.” Cozarinsky, writing in 1973 about Jorge Luis Borges and Marcel Proust, recognizes gossip as a practice traditionally associated with women but used, needed, and feared by both men and women (18–21). More recent scholarship, such as Phillips’s study; Martin’s edited journal issue; and Cara Cilano’s Contemporary Pakistani Fiction in English, which includes a section on gossip in Pakistani novels, has similarly begun to question the understanding of gossip as an inherently feminine practice. Note, too, the recent effort to consider male gossip in the British context, of which Amy Milne-Smith’s 2009 study of gossip in the gentlemen’s clubs of nineteenth-century London is a fascinating example.
19. Martínez Alvarez published his novel La ciudad chismosa y calumniante under the pen name Martín Alva.
20. Clearly, gossip has played a far larger role in the broad sweep of Caribbean history and letters than I can address in this book. A study of gossip’s role in mediating representations of the Caribbean during the early colonial period, for instance, could be both rich and fascinating. The literary spat between Bartolomé de Las Casas and Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo offers a rich vein of ad hominem attacks and gossipy anecdotes; Las Casas notably criticizes Fernández de Oviedo for writing “as if he had witnessed all that he writes about this island” while in fact seldom leaving Santo Domingo (102), accuses him of defaming the indigenous peoples in order to justify their abuse and enslavement, and alleges that the only parts of Fernández de Oviedo’s writings, “and of all his gossip,” that are trustworthy are his descriptions of the local flora (104). Another worthy subject, in a similar vein, might be the historian Peter Martyr, whose 1530 work De Orbe Novo, as Herbert W. Krieger notes, is based on “pure gossip, for he admits that everyone who had been to the Indies visited him” (33). More recently, Édouard Glissant tantalizingly hints at gossip’s role in mediating (and controlling) narratives surrounding emancipation in the Francophone Caribbean, reproducing Louis Thomas Husson’s “odious, hypocritical, smarmy” (72) 1848 notice to Martinique field slaves warning them to reject “evil gossip” (80) and “comply with the orders of your masters” (79). Martínez Alvarez’s 1926 novel La ciudad chismosa y calumniante, meanwhile, laments San Juan’s obsession with gossip, and ends with the claim that a city populated entirely by blind, deaf, and mute people would be “a city without gossip, without intrigue, without calumny, and happier, far happier” than a place where people can see, speak, and gossip freely (Alva 234). Other examples, from the early colonial period to the present day, surely abound.
1. “A Mouthful of Dynamite”
1. Orality is not, of course, solely a concern for the Anglophone Caribbean. Hispanic Caribbean writers such as Guillermo Cabrera Infante and Luis Rafael Sánchez draw heavily on the spoken word in constructing their narratives—and also, not coincidentally, freely weave gossip into their texts. Much the same might also be said of Patrick Chamoiseau, Maryse Condé, and many other Francophone Caribbean writers. As Glissant and others have noted, it is impossible to conceive of Francophone Caribbean production without orality, not least with reference to Creole oral production. Importantly, for writers from across the Caribbean traditions and their diasporas, orality can be a way of rescuing memories from silence or of giving space to marginalized voices (often those of women and minorities), as seen for instance in the work of the Haitian exile writer Marie-Célie Agnant. In such cases, orality becomes not (or not just) a locus of resistance but also a way of processing loss: the ephemeral spoken word can be preserved through its transposition into writing, and the writer’s engagement with orality can become a means of reaching back to lost or near-forgotten people, periods, and places. This has been true, for instance, of writers such as the anthropologist and poet Lydia Cabrera, who deploys orality to capture Afro-Cuban dislocations born both of slavery and of more recent displacements. For Cabrera, the spoken word is a supplement to the incomplete historical record. Her story “Historia verdadera de un viejo pordiosero que decía llamarse Mampurias,” for instance, begins with the assertion that “there are events that do not appear in written history, that escape a people’s knowledge for one reason or another, because they were willfully erased, or were not contemplated or understood, or they occurred in the present of a time outside time itself, and the true reality, in all its unreality, disappears behind closer and more evident realities” (72). Gossip, so concerned with narrative corrections and revisions, plays an important part in this process of challenging and expanding upon monolithic official or historical accounts, a theme to which I return in later chapters.
2. The role of gossip in the colonies, from the colonizers’ perspective, would make a fascinating comparative study in its own right. See, for instance, Emily J. Manktelow’s 2015 study of gossip in a South Seas missionary outpost, Kirsten McKenzie’s 2004 exploration of scandals in nineteenth-century colonial port cities, or Michael K. Walonen’s brief acknowledgment in Writing Tangier in the Postcolonial Transition (2013) of gossip’s role in creating community among British expatriates.
3. I here follow Cliff’s use of male pronouns for Harry/Harriet, who later in the text becomes simply Harriet.
4. Another possibility: perhaps Harry/Harriet is even better read than he appears and is familiar with Barthes’s suggestion, in Fragments d’un discours amoureux, that the Symposium is “not only a ‘conversation’ (we are speaking about something) but also a gossip (we are speaking amongst ourselves, about others)” (217).
5. Like orality, gossip has been at the core of diasporic writers’ nostalgia for their lost home country. The African American writer Audre Lorde, the daughter of Caribbean immigrants, writes lyrically of “West Indian voices in the supermarket and Chase Bank, and the Caribbean flavors that have always meant home. Healing within a network of Black women who supplied everything from a steady stream of tender coconuts to spicy gossip to sunshine” (119).
6. In this, I follow in the footsteps of post-Gluckman sociologists who have sought to read gossip as a means not just of binding communities together, but also of furthering individual interests and mediating intra- and intergroup conflicts. Robert Paine, writing in 1967, views Gluckman’s communitarian thesis as “unsatisfactory because it makes the community the center of attention instead of the individual” and argues instead for a conception of gossip rooted in participants’ individual goals and private agendas. “I would hypothesize that gossipers also have rival interests; that they gossip, and also regulate their gossip, to forward and protect their individual interests,” he writes (280). As both Sally Engle Merry and Niko Besnier note, the debate between Gluckman’s “structural-functionalist” and Paine’s “transactionalist” followers dominated anthropological and sociological gossip scholarship for many years; still, more recent studies have sought to reconcile the two readings, exploring both the nature of the society in which gossip occurs and the needs and goals of the individual actors therein. “Gossip occupies a pivotal position between the sociopolitical structure of the group and the agency of particular members of the group,” Besnier asserts. “Studying gossip is thus tantamount to investigating the relationship between individual action and the structure of society in which the individual is embedded” (“Gossip” 547). In this chapter, I explore precisely this nexus between the community and the individual.
7. Efforts to regulate gossip are by no means unique to the Caribbean, nor indeed a recent innovation. In sixteenth-century England and Scotland, male and female gossips were punished using the scold’s bridle, which physically kept the wearer’s tongue from wagging; the practice endured in parts of Europe until the nineteenth century. In 1913, Wisconsin passed a “criminal gossip law” making it illegal to gossip about an absent third party in a way that “shall injure or impair the reputation of such person for virtue or chastity or which shall expose him to hatred, contempt or ridicule,” with Wisconsin attorney general Walter C. Owen writing: “I cannot find where there is any law like it in any other state. [ . . . ] Its purpose, evidently, is to suppress gossip” (219). A century later, in 2016, Saskatoon’s municipal leaders considered an antibullying law that would have allowed police to ticket people they caught gossiping. Efforts to suppress gossip can also be intended to curb dissent; in 1973, for instance, Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos issued a decree calling gossip “one of the most insidious means of disrupting [ . . . ] peace, order and tranquility” (44) and ordering the imprisonment of anyone caught spreading gossip; a 2013 Chinese law, meanwhile, allowed officials to jail people who posted gossip online.
8. See also Michael Wood’s discussion of García Márquez’s “borrowing from talk or oral tradition” in Cien años de soledad; Wood perceives “the ribbon development of gossip” in the deceptively simple flow of the narration (García Márquez 17).
9. In García Márquez’s work, in other words, gossip becomes a kind of counterpoint to the wandering storytellers described by Mario Vargas Llosa as “taking and bringing anecdotes, lies, fabulations, chismografías [gossip], and jokes that make a community out of a town of dispersed beings, and that keeps alive among them the feeling of being together, of constituting something fraternal and compact” (El hablador 234).
10. As a form, the pasquín is fundamentally connected to gossip: the original “talking statue” of Rome was supposedly named for Pasquino, a domestic worker (in some tellings a tailor or a barber) whose trade gave him insights into the behind-the-scenes happenings at the Vatican. Pasquino became famous for the gossip he circulated, and after his death people honored his legacy by posting gossip, in the form of lampoons and sarcastic poetry about the political leaders of the day, at the base of his statue. The gossip at the heart of La mala hora has perhaps been obscured in the Anglophone scholarship by the tendency to translate pasquines as “lampoons”; as Robert Coover notes, “Though an accurate enough translation of pasquines or ‘pasquinades,’ the word is somewhat misleading, for the wall posters are merely gossipy, not satirical.”
11. Scholars have noted the class divisions highlighted by the pasquinades’ reception. William Rowe and Vivian Schelling perceive “a sharp contrast between the notables of the town, preoccupied with scandals which undermine their pretension to gentility, and the poor,” who struggle with more tangible losses (206). The pasquinades, Stephen Minta writes, “only become a problem [ . . . ] when the élite families in the town recognize that the existence of the lampoons, and the apparent inability or unwillingness of the authorities to do anything about them, is undermining their own position of authority and control” (86). More broadly, see James C. Scott’s Weapons of the Weak for a discussion of the ways in which gossip allows the poor to insert themselves into public discourse while subtly reinforcing the norms of the society in which they operate.
12. Sims also reads the pasquinades as undermining the mayor’s authority: “The fact that the pasquinades appear and disappear at will exposes at once the fragility of the official world and the irrepressible vitality of the carnivalesque space,” he argues (56). The pasquinades, he continues, “function as subversive elements” that produce “a series of spreading waves that shake the official world” (56). Regina Janes would agree: “The pasquins are not in themselves political, but [ . . . ] symbolize resistance to the order imposed upon the town [ . . . ] the pasquins suggest that writing itself is subversive, especially the sort of writing that tells aloud what everybody already knows and does not say” (34).
13. With some notable exceptions: the dentist, who as the corrupt and despotic mayor’s political enemy stands for courage and integrity, does not fear the pasquinades, for example.
14. The mayor’s response to the pasquinades has been widely read as opportunistic: he uses or co-opts the circulating gossip to justify a wave of repressive violence against the townspeople. While correct, such readings risk minimizing the power of the pasquinades themselves. It is the violence already sparked by the pasquines, after all, that allows the mayor to unleash the force he claims is necessary to halt them.
15. In fact, Nora de Jacob seems eager to have her secret revealed: she is frustrated to be secretly engaged in a love affair with “a man who might have been made to be talked about by a woman,” and half-jokingly threatens to tell everyone about their affair. “I’m quite capable of putting up my own pasquín,” she warns (172).
16. In this sense, La mala hora can be seen as delving into the same territory—speech and writing, authorized and unauthorized discourse—previously discussed in relation to orality in the Anglophone Caribbean. The boundaries between the spoken and the written have been well explored in Caribbean literature, particularly with reference to colonial and postcolonial tensions. As Kaiama L. Glover notes in connection with Francophone Caribbean literature, the “perception of an embattled oral tradition overcome by an oppressive written culture dominates postcolonial theory” (217). It is reasonable to read García Márquez’s project, in part, as a subversion of this trope, with an oral form, gossip, appropriating or slipping into the written word in order to upend existing power structures.
17. The pasquinades emulate forms of scandalous, expository gossip seen elsewhere in the Caribbean. As S. Elizabeth Bird notes, following Gluckman, the simidors, or leaders, of the scandal songs sung in Haitian villages use gossip to lampoon the indiscretions of their neighbors (31). Herskovits, in his classic study, quotes one Haitian as saying: “The simidor is a journalist, and every simidor is a Judas!” (74). (Tellingly, as Elizabeth A. McAlister writes, the Creole word jouda, derived from “Judas,” is used to denote a gossip.) Much like the pasquinades of La mala hora, it is from the public exposition of acts already privately gossiped about that the simidors’ songs derive their power. “It is not so much the song itself that is feared, but rather the way the story now becomes the public property of the village, and source for endless speculation,” Bird writes (31).
18. As Vargas Llosa points out, by the end of La mala hora the violence has recommenced, the prison is full of dissidents, and men are fleeing to the mountains to join the rebels. “The mendacious peace has ended: the ‘people’ return to their quotidian hell,” he writes. “Who started all this? That anonymous and proliferating agent: the implacable ‘papelitos’ ” (Historia de un deicidio 454).
19. The doctor comes close to acknowledging as much when he remarks that the pasquinades say “what everyone already knows, which by the way is almost always the truth” (104). Similarly, Benjamin’s assertion that the pasquinades are a symptom of social breakdown is rebuffed by the dentist’s assertion that they are simply “a sign that sooner or later, everything becomes known” (124).
20. See, among many other examples, Dieter Janik’s 1994 essay positioning La mala hora as part of a broader genre of “literature of la violencia” and Carmenza Kline’s discussion, in Los orígenes del relato (2003), of La mala hora’s mapping of Colombian communities’ experiences of violence.
21. Gossip generates a similar inexorable apathy in Zohara (1961), by the Barbadian writer Geoffrey Drayton, in which a peasant village is gripped by the gossip of María, its sinister, soothsaying midwife, eventually leading to the death of Manrique, a mute boy whose innocence stands in counterpoint to María’s malicious chatter. María’s gossip becomes a means of manipulating those around her: her gossip sessions are described as séances, or as enchanting those who participate, with gossip shown as governing the villagers’ lives. “The news of events invariably preceded the events themselves. But for the fact that those concerned were thus forced into action, there would [ . . . ] have been neither births, marriages, nor deaths in the village,” reflects Don Gumersindo (103). María’s gossipy prognostication becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: “The Marías of this world both foretold disaster and initiated the steps that made disaster inevitable,” Gumersindo thinks (92). María’s calumnies, which focus upon Satanic rituals supposedly being carried out in the mountains, eventually lead the villagers to murder Manrique in an act described as a collective sin. “It was all the men in the village, you know—every last one of them,” Ana says (184). Unlike Crónica, Drayton’s novel pairs communal inertia with a single, almost supernatural gossip—a gesture that, interestingly, mirrors the doom-mongering prophecies of the midwife in Presagio (1974), a film scripted by García Márquez.
22. Yolanda Martínez San Miguel points to “gossip and social reputation as key places in the public representation of masculinity” and suggests that “El Venao” must be read as a reassertion of traditional Dominican values in the face of migration and other community-eroding factors. “Here gossip functions as a means of re-establishing and maintaining the coherence of a community,” Martínez San Miguel writes (198).
23. This recalls Jean-Luc Nancy’s notion of the community’s role in the transfiguration of death via an “an immortal communion where death at last loses the senseless sense that it would otherwise have had” (Communauté désœuvrée 39). In Nancy’s conception, communities vindicate individual deaths by framing them in terms of salvation or martyrdom. In Crónica, this process is perverted: the death of Nasar is meaningless, with the sacrifice serving only to sustain a self-justifying system of hollow morality.
24. Mais’s short stories circulated in magazines and self-published manuscripts during the 1940s but found a broader audience with the publication of Listen, the Wind, which collected his scattered published works along with previously unpublished manuscripts held in the archives of the University of the West Indies. His stories’ use of gossip serves as a reminder that the trends I explore in post-1960s Caribbean literature are rooted in earlier cultural and literary currents. This is, in Mais’s case, perhaps unsurprising: Mais was deeply concerned with the independence of the West Indies and, in criticizing the region’s present and imagining its future, anticipated some of the chief literary themes and practices addressed in this study. As Alison Donnell and Sarah Lawson Welsh note, as early as the 1940s, Mais’s texts constituted “demands for serious cultural development in the region’s creative consciousness,” thus anticipating “the ‘protest [ . . . ] against or about ourselves’ which Brathwaite calls for in the early 1970s” (113). Welsh similarly notes that Mais’s The Hills Were Joyful Together (1953) and Brother Man (1954)—the latter, especially, significantly marked by the gossip of its community—anticipated works of the 1960s such as John Hearne’s Land of the Living (1961) and Sylvia Wynter’s The Hills of Hebron (1962).
25. The stigmatization of gossiping women is a recurring theme in the Caribbean. In 1994, the Trinidadian calypso artist Winston Bailey, known as the Mighty Shadow, put out a track called “Gossiping” that depicts a woman gossiping endlessly—about neighbors but also about ducks, dogs, cats, and even her food. The gossip is shown as a hypocrite—she gossips about everyone else’s flaws but “would never, ever say she husband / Sneakers stink”—and also as an object of ridicule, so caught up in a frenzy of disclosure that she can’t keep track of the secrets she has learned. “She tell and she tell till she fuh get / Who she tell,” Bailey sings. “She fuh get is you who give her de news.” Not all Caribbean writers think this way about women’s gossip, of course. Reading Opal Palmer Adisa’s It Begins with Tears (1997), Donna Weir-Soley notes that the riverside can become “a site of therapeutic recreation” for women as they gather to do their laundry: “A place for the exchanging of news, gossip, and story-telling for the women and children. While they wait for the clothing to dry, the women and children cook, eat, talk, laugh, enjoy a swim [ . . . ]. Thus, the harshness of physical labor is often transcended by a sense of community, playfulness, and female bonding” (248).
26. Mais’s view of community echoes Maryse Condé’s suggestion, in La civilisation du bossale (1978), that in African societies “individualism is viewed with contempt.” Condé perceives the community’s need to subsume the individual in the collective, writing that “one should insert oneself harmoniously into the community and not do anything to harm its cohesion.” Still, she casts gossip as a blow against that process, a means of throwing grit into the wheels of community. “The gravest faults are slander, the calumny that, in these societies without writing, where the spoken word is the only representation, is considered as the negation, the destruction of the personality of those they attack,” she writes. “The greatest virtues are those of tolerance, of patience, which contribute to appease the tensions of communal life” (28). Condé suggests that African communities depend upon passive processes of ritual and respect to sustain themselves; Mais, in contrast, envisions gossip as a more active process whereby communities can subjugate individuals and demand their acquiescence.
27. As Roger Mais’s tales show, gossip—in the Caribbean as elsewhere—is often bound up in a poetics of place: there are specific locations, such as Mais’s riverbanks and backyard fences, where people go to gossip and where gossip flows as people come together to work, relax, or socialize. Often, these spaces have, or acquire, a deeper significance and color the gossip exchanged therein: Mais uses the yard to emphasize neighborly relations (and encroachments), just as Luis Rafael Sánchez, in La importancia de llamarse Daniel Santos (1988), uses the billiard hall to suggest virility. One thinks also of Émile Ollivier’s La discorde aux cent voix (1986), in which neighborhood cafés and groceries become microcosms, allowing the text to interrogate and juxtapose the many different ranks and kinds of people who populate the town. This is especially true of the Leclerc grocery: “The place where passersby and loafers never failed to stop for their daily dose of extravagant rumors. It was there the thousand flavors of Cailles were distilled: lovers’ trysts, esoteric discussions, political questions, health problems, bedroom stories, open secrets. All passed by the arbor of Leclerc’s grocery,” Ollivier writes (232). These spaces are typically unsanctioned and unauthorized, if not actually unruly: places where people talk freely, and that are in turn colored and defined by the oral exchanges that take place therein. Dash makes a similar point regarding the marketplace and bar in Patrick Chamoiseau’s Chronique des sept misères (1986), noting that a “stream of gossip, rumor, and stories” serves to contrast “these spaces of exuberant orality with the regimented world of the written” (Other America 144).
28. Mrs. Ramage’s trip is presented as an attempt to evade the prying eyes of the people in the town: “When asked why she had left so secretly—she had taken a fishing boat from the other side of the island—she answered sullenly that she didn’t want anyone to know her business, she knew how people talked. No, she’d heard no rumours about her husband, and the Gazette—a paper written in English—was not read in Guadeloupe” (21). Here again, an individual’s desire to avoid gossip proves intolerable to the community, with brutal consequences for those who seek privacy.
29. Thorunn Lonsdale argues that “Sleep It Off, Lady” is partly autobiographical, citing letters written by Rhys to her editor, Francis Wyndham, about her prying neighbors: “What I can’t is to be left alone in a place like Cheriton Fitz which has to be seen to be believed,” Rhys writes. “It is completely isolated yet not peaceful—full to the brim of very stupid gossip. Unkind too” (Lonsdale 147). Lonsdale notes that Rhys also complains of mice scurrying around her cottage walls—another link to the plight of the protagonist of “Sleep It Off, Lady” (147).
30. Sánchez also deploys gossip to notable effect in his novels. He refers to La importancia de llamarse Daniel Santos as a “fabulación,” alluding to the gossip from which it is woven, and offers up an “invented reality” that has “swum through seas of gossip” en route to the reader (26). In this, Sánchez uses gossip to perpetuate what Jason Cortés terms “a flight from the tyranny of ontology” (80); in Sánchez’s text, this narrative ambiguity allows “rumors of genital anarchy” to blossom into a mythos of “deafeningly macho prestige” (Importancia 9). Santos’s very celebrity is founded upon a reputation for virility grounded in, and serving to fuel, acclamatory gossip about his nocturnal adventures. This gossip is participated in equally by men and by women: the pool hall, a “guy thing” described as the “male response to the beauty salon,” is a venue where “gossip is uncovered, slander exercised, reputations paraded, and cuckolds’ horns scrupulously accounted for” (126). Gossip’s “oral graffiti” is everywhere, Sánchez suggests, and is embraced avidly by both men and women (26).
31. All citations from “¡Jum!” refer to Rose M. Sevillano’s translation, “Hum!” (1997).
32. For this final line of the story, I follow Suzanne Jill Levine’s translation.
33. The interpretive quality of gossip is one that Spacks and others view as underpinning the process of constructing intimate communities. While not an aspect of gossip that I substantively explore in this volume, this is, of course, still present in both the Caribbean and its literature. Consider, for instance, Kamau Brathwaite’s transcription of positive, community-building gossip in “The Dust,” a Creole poem from Rights of Passage (1967). Women meet at a corner store and chat about the groceries they are buying, but soon begin seeking to understand the world around them through gossip. Talk turns to the bizarre volcanic dust choking the land, and existential questions arise: “Without rhyme / without reason, all you hope gone / ev’rything look like it comin’ out wrong. / Why is that? What it mean?” (69).
34. Nancy is dismissive of gossip: in La communauté désavouée he singles out “chatty speech,” or discours bavard (73), as the only form of “thought that is not experience,” while in Une pensée finie he approvingly quotes Heidegger’s condemnation of “idle talk”—both in spoken gossip and written “scribbling”—as a curtailing or closing off (fermeture in Nancy’s term, or Verschliessen in Heidegger’s) of understanding (120).
35. As Todd May notes, “totalitarianism” in the work of Nancy and other philosophers of community relates not strictly to political authoritarianism but rather to “the project of constraining people’s lives and identities within narrowly defined parameters” and by extension “the attempt to capture all of reality within a narrow conceptual framework” (4). It is a term that “refers to narrow constraints placed upon individual and social identity and behavior rather than just to a type of state” (23); still, May continues, “although this way of thinking of totalitarianism is more conceptual than political, its links with political totalitarianism are not far to seek” (4). This is a theme to which I return in subsequent chapters.
36. The politicization of gossip and its uses both by and against the state are more fully explored in chapters 3 and 4; here, I concentrate instead on Ponte’s writing as reflecting the individual experience of gossip-mediated state surveillance.
37. Gossip is similarly institutionalized elsewhere in the Caribbean and Latin America, most notably in the Dominican Republic under Trujillo. See also Olga M. González’s account, in Unveiling Secrets of War in the Peruvian Andes, of the use of gossip by Shining Path guerrillas, who both punished the soplones who gossiped about them, and enlisted legions of gossiping informants to help them monitor and control local populations: “Gossip was more dangerous than ever before. There were snoops who supported or belonged to the Shining Path and who enacted a terrifying apparatus of the senses. Known simply as the mil ojos y mil oídos, ‘thousand eyes and thousand ears,’ this surveillance apparatus managed to keep the population in check and generated a state of paranoia. Gossip as Sarhuinos had experienced it before the Shining Path seemed inoffensive in contrast to the politicized chismosos who, in their allegiance to the Shining Path, hunted soplones, the chismosos who opposed the party. Gossip had become a deadly weapon” (56).
38. Philippe Zard describes Kafka’s The Trial as being built upon a “totalitarisme cancanier” (55), or gossip-based totalitarianism, that is strikingly similar to the suffocating surveillance portrayed by Ponte. The Trial’s Tribunal stands, Zard argues, as “a sort of Panopticon” into which everything feeds, “from the old lady at the window to the little girl in the building’s courtyard” (59). This ultimately creates a surveillance society in which “neighbors and even one’s own children can become either spies or witnesses for the prosecution” (59).
39. The dispersion of surveillance has been widely studied, from Simone Browne’s exploration of New York’s eighteenth-century “lantern laws,” which mandated that black people out after dark should carry lit candles, to recent work by scholars such as Anders Albrechtslund and Robert Tokunaga on peer-to-peer surveillance using social-media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.
40. Ponte’s focus on the watched city recalls Tönnies’s focus on the city as the antithesis of Gemeinschaft, which he sees as rooted in the family and the home, and growing increasingly untenable as social groups swell and develop into sprawling and complex urbanizations.
2. “Parallel Versions”
1. Patrick Chamoiseau similarly riffs on the markers that accompany the fictions of the Caribbean in his detective novel Solibo magnifique (1988), in which Solibo’s dying words—“Patat’sa”—prompt the audience to interpret his death as a performance and to respond formulaically with “Patat’si.” The crime goes unsolved, with the tropes of Euro-American detective fiction proving unable to account for what Wendy Knepper terms Chamoiseau’s framing of “the Caribbean mystery as a third consciousness, an irreducible Otherness” (92).
2. Gossip features in many of Ferré’s other works. The House on the Lagoon (1995) shows its protagonist, Isabel, encountering layer upon layer of gossip as she attempts to write her family’s story. As in Maldito amor, this sparks a battle for narrative control: Isabel’s words are read and corrected by her husband, but her storytelling in turn serves as a mechanism for rebellion, denunciation, and finally emancipation. In Flight of the Swan (2001), likewise, Ferré shows a metaphorical family unit, a Russian ballet troupe visiting Puerto Rico, torn apart by gossip. Masha, the narrator, gains power through her insights into the private life of the troupe’s leader: “I knew all of her secrets [ . . . ]. This knowledge gave me power, and the other dancers respected me for it,” she insists (7). Ferré’s short stories also explore gossip’s uses and risks: in “El collar de camándulas” the protagonist’s erratic behavior is viewed in terms of the harm it could do to her husband’s reputation (Papeles de Pandora 124), while “Cuando las mujeres quieren a los hombres” shows the degree to which women use gossip to mediate relationships. Gossip also drives the plot of “La bella durmiente,” in which a husband receives anonymous gossip about his wife along with the warning that “it isn’t enough to be decent; above all, one had to seem to be so” (150). In “Isolda en el espejo” (Maldito amor y otros cuentos 191), meanwhile, gossip becomes institutionalized: the wives of the town’s bankers declare themselves to be “arbiters of public decorum,” and use gossip to enforce a “law of respectability” (192).
3. Dany Laferrière’s 1991 novel L’Odeur du café similarly highlights the contradictory versions of events that circulate in a small Haitian town. The protagonist, a young boy, sits at his grandmother’s feet and listens to passersby’s accounts of different happenings, from theories about the identity of a madwoman to an episode in which a man claims to have had his arm bitten off by a “sea-dog” (149). Repeatedly, contradictory accounts—labeled with the speaker’s name, such as “Zette’s version” or “Willy Bony’s version” (150–51)—are presented. The text is largely passive, like a child overhearing adults’ conversations, with the versions allowed to come and go without being challenged. The ordering of the passages, however, does lend weight to some versions: the accounts of Sylphise’s death variously claim that the girl is still alive, that she levitated before she died, that she was turned into a zombie and sold, or that the “entire business was made up by jealous people” (66). Still, by the end of the chapter, two versions converge, with the final account—presented with the words “I owe you the truth” (69)—allowed to stand as the definitive version of events. Similarly, in the sea-dog tale, a succession of lurid accounts give way to a more plausible version, with Love Léger using gossip about a mutual acquaintance to explain the beast’s attacks. “There’s always a reason, if you only listen out for it,” he concludes (152). Gossip here provides little epistemic certainty—even Sylphise’s death is waved off rather than satisfactorily explained—but that failure does not generate the anxiety present in Ferré’s text. Rather, the repetition of versions becomes almost soothing: a passive acknowledgment that definitive truths are unreachable and that the gathering together of stories is the only consolation that remains.
4. Where possible, I have followed Ferré’s own translation of Maldito amor, published as Sweet Diamond Dust in 1988. However, Ferré’s translation differs, at times significantly, from the original. I use the abbreviations SDD and MA in citations throughout this chapter to indicate whether I am quoting from Sweet Diamond Dust or, using my own translation, directly from Maldito amor.
5. By violating Nicolás’s privacy and dragging his purported transgressions into the open, Arístides also wins a more direct victory over his brother. There is an inherent power, beyond the shaping of narrative, in the violation that comes with revealing things others would keep secret and in the exposure of people’s private lives to scrutiny, moral judgment, and ridicule.
6. The original Spanish is more vividly persecutory than Ferré’s English rendition: “Las malas lenguas la tienen pelada, y dicen que hasta está loca, y que es y que correntona con los hombres,” Titina says (MA 128)—literally, “Wicked tongues have trashed her, and even say she’s crazy, and that she’s loose with men.”
7. Ferré’s English version speaks only of the rumors coming from “unreliable sources” (24).
8. The Spanish original has Arístides say of Gloria: “no será ella quien desate sobre el pueblo esa madeja de intrigas con que intenta hoy arruinarnos”—literally, “it will not be she who unleashes upon the town this web of intrigue with which she is now trying to ruin us” (MA 142).
9. This use of gossip has been noted by Spacks and others. In an essay on Virginia Woolf and Toni Morrison, Jane Lilienfeld states that gossip constitutes “an effective language for those who are silenced in the dominant culture,” given her belief “that some white women’s voices, often muffled in the family and by cultural practices and institutions, could, through gossip, break free of the control of official stories” (51).
10. María Inés Lagos discusses this issue, writing that “even if Gloria tries to break with the world of the past by sparking a fire, and expresses her desire for change in altering the lyrics of the song that Elvira used to sing when she fell in love with Julio Font, she still keeps singing the song as she modifies it, indicating that not even the flames can erase completely the history and the culture of past generations” (99).
11. In this, she attempts a reversal of the situation José Luis González describes in his essay “El país de cuatro pisos.” González writes: “If Puerto Rican society has always been a society divided by class, and if [ . . . ] in every society divided by class two cultures coexist, that of the oppressors and that of the oppressed, and if what is known as ‘national culture’ is generally the culture of the oppressors, then we must recognize that what in Puerto Rico we have always understood as ‘national culture’ is the culture produced by the class of landowners and professionals” (18). Gloria’s actions would correspond to the attempt by the oppressed to impose their story, or, following González’s terminology, to produce culture on their own terms.
12. This is not the primary concern of Spacks’s study, and in this respect her views are not as fully developed as Cozarinsky’s. Still, Spacks notes that “much gossip delights by an aesthetic of surfaces. It dwells on specific personal particulars. People and their concerns preoccupy gossipers, by definition, but the special way in which they matter evolves from belief in the importance of the small particular” (15). In this, Spacks perhaps thinks of the kernel of information that hints at larger, hidden truths, the logical conclusion of which, one might argue, would be the shattering of Cozarinsky’s “realist illusion.”
13. The idea of destructive conflict within the idealized Puerto Rican gran familia is a recurring theme in Ferré’s fiction. See, for instance, The House on the Lagoon (which, incidentally, also ends with the family’s son Manuel burning down the family home), Flight of the Swan (where the family is a metaphorical one, a ballet troupe), and the Papeles de Pandora stories “De tu lado al paraíso” and “Amalia.” As María Acosta Cruz remarks, “This explosive end to the familiar allegory for the nation (the house) runs entirely parallel with Ferré’s knack for blowing up the metaphorical house of Puerto Rican literature” (93).
14. This contrasts with Enrico Mario Santí’s notion of gossip as “a peculiar national allegory, or else a microcosm of Mexico” in Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo (1955) and Elena Garro’s Los recuerdos del porvenir (1963). Santí, following Spacks, reads gossip as “a metaphor for the reconstitution of communal life outside the reaches of the State, a kind of collective salvation ‘through the grapevine’ ” (134). Ferré’s text, evidently, suggests a rather less generous view of gossip’s role in communal and familial life.
15. Ferré anticipates, perhaps, the exhausted détente that Frances Negrón-Muntaner traces in Puerto Rico’s recent political life, with voters preferring to accept uncertainty rather than commit to the thankless pursuit of definitive solutions. According to Negrón-Muntaner, “Within this ambiguous space, there are undoubtedly tremendous conflicts, inequities, and frustrations,” and “yet there is a place for many contradictory versions of community and self” (10). Ferré also stands as a precursor of the recent intellectual and literary trend, identified by Acosta Cruz, that has seen “newer generations of culture producers [ . . . ] stake the claim that they are free from the monomaniacal search for national identity” (104). Such writers reject the “nationalist dictum” that literature should aspire to forge a unitary national identity, and instead come to embrace plural and contradictory viewpoints: “The island’s paradoxical and conflicted feelings about dependency versus independence are the mix, the brew, the burundanga from which rise stories, themes, and images that power up the culture” (178). Maldito amor, in vividly tracing the consequences of that “monomaniacal search,” highlights the tensions that gave rise to such sensibilities and the risks inherent in seeking to replace one story with another.
16. See Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert in The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction (253). Gutiérrez Mouat also writes lucidly of the thematic and structural congruences between the texts, noting that there is an irony to the way that the “crisis of the process of Caribbean decolonization” in Rhys’s text echoes “a historical moment of recolonization in Maldito amor” (304).
17. Although this evidence may be less conclusive than typically assumed; as Carine M. Mardorossian shows, Rhys portrays Christophine’s Obeah with marked ambivalence. Christophine’s threats of magical retribution go unheeded, her potion fails to work, and she herself refers to the practice as “foolishness” and a “tim-tim story,” and warns that her practices have no power over white people (67–68). Despite the space Rhys gives to Obeah as a theme and plot element, “the black creoles in her fiction are neither shown standing in fear of it, nor are they shown really practicing it,” Mardorossian writes (73).
18. Arnold E. Davidson offers an incisive reading of the tiff between Tia and Antoinette, noting that it “so subtly parallels Antoinette’s subsequent treatment at the hands of Edward Rochester that it is easy to overlook the point of the earlier episode” (23). The transactions at play—pennies for the girls, a £30,000 dowry for Rochester’s bride—require both Tia and Rochester to redefine Antoinette (as a “properly penniless ragamuffin,” as “Bertha”) in order to profit while retaining their own sense of self-worth. “Even though the stakes are then higher, the principle remains the same,” Davidson argues (24).
19. Cosway’s personal history is itself the subject of gossip. Asked whether his name is really Cosway, Amélie says, “Some people say yes, some people say no,” and recalls seeing photographs of his black parents. “They say one time he was a preacher in Barbados, he talk like a preacher,” she adds (72).
20. As Homi Bhabha notes, gossip is of a piece with the seething energy of Caribbean life, one of the “signs of a culture of survival that emerges from the other side of the colonial enterprise, the darker side” (xii–xiii). In Bhabha’s reading of Naipaul, gossip—along with humor, aspirations, and fantasies—is a result of the hybrid, in-between status of Naipaul’s Caribbean characters.
21. Condé’s work is marked by her ambivalence toward both the Caribbean and her own status as an exile, and her abiding suspicion of the Caribbean’s histories and myths. Writing of La vie scélérate, Marie-Denise Shelton remarks that “everything is gnawed by the virus of inauthenticity or failure, even the myths produced by popular imagination [ . . . ]. Condé has entered, as it were, into an ‘era of suspicion.’ In the postcolonial world she describes, language, myth, and ideas are infused with ambiguity. The idea which prevails at the end is that in the Caribbean today a crisis of the spirit, a crisis of meaning, exists” (719).
22. In Célanire, witchcraft and Célanire’s implied status as a “horse” also serve as a bridge back across the Atlantic Ocean: a common thread of gossip and superstition connecting the African and Afro-Caribbean experience.
23. Nunez’s text describes gossip’s role in 1950s Trinidad in terms remarkably similar to V. S. Naipaul’s 1957 novel The Mystic Masseur. Like Nunez, Naipaul describes word of mouth as surpassing conventional media in its reach and rapidity. When Ganesh, the titular masseur, began to manifest his healing powers, there “was no report of this incident in the newspapers, yet within two weeks all Trinidad knew,” Naipaul writes (125). Naipaul, like other Caribbean writers, stresses both gossip’s extraordinary efficacy and its tendency to exaggerate or corrupt the information it transmits. News of Ganesh’s talents “went about on the local grapevine, the Niggergram, an efficient, almost clairvoyant, news service,” he writes. “As the Niggergram noised the news abroad, the number of Ganesh’s successes were magnified, and his Powers became Olympian” (125).
24. The tale of the haunted room is more rumor than gossip, in that it concerns a place, not a person. Many of the stories that bubble through Célanire tread the line between rumor and gossip, not least because they are seldom staged directly: the narrator reports what is said but seldom shows the speech act. Though firmly grounded in gossip about specific characters, many of the episodes thus relayed are deprived of the performative aspect of gossip.
25. Condé’s description of the doctor as “Papa Doc” carries a “Duvalier echo,” presumably deliberate, that fuses a little Caribbean Vodou with the Frankenstein motif running through Célanire, notes Carolyn Duffey (74).
26. Sociologists and anthropologists have frequently noted the interplay of gossip and witchcraft; see, for instance, Wolf Bleek’s 1976 study of gossip’s role as a mechanism of accusation in Ghana; E. E. Evans-Pritchard’s pioneering work examining witchcraft as a means of probing the unknowable; Christiane Bougerol’s Une ethnographie des conflits aux Antilles (1997); and Pamela J. Stewart and Andrew Strathern’s Witchcraft, Sorcery, Rumors and Gossip (2003).
27. Condé’s treatment of supernatural rumors and gossip recalls Derek Walcott’s sonnet “Le Loupgarou,” from the sequence “Tales of the Islands” (1962), which tells the “curious tale that threaded through town / through greying women sewing under eaves” of Le Brun, a fruit peddler who, gossip has it, is secretly a “slathering lycanthrope.” Walcott dwells on the gory details of the tale—the werewolf “lugged its entrails, trailing wet / With blood”—but also makes clear that the story is just something that “these Christian witches said” about an outsider greeted by “slowly shutting jalousies” as he tottered through the town (Green Night 30). Once more, superstitious and bloodcurdling tales fuel gossip that is used to mark the exclusion of its target.
28. In Rire haïtien (2006), Georges Anglade also casts gossip as an evaluative process but shows final consensus being arrived at through the intervention of external authority figures. His tale “Le cabri à la dent d’or” tracks a scandal that flares in a Haitian marketplace after a butcher’s arrest: “It is whispered that he is supposed to have sold a young goat’s head that had one gold tooth. It is on this fabric that Quina’s rumors will embroider all day long” (99–100). New details emerge, and the townsfolk bicker over whether it was really a gold tooth—implying an upper-class victim—or merely an amalgam filling. The stories proliferate; finally, a magistrate intervenes, ruling that the gossip was started as an act of revenge by a girl conducting an affair with the butcher. The reputational sabotage might have succeeded, the magistrate adds, had the butcher not been caught making love with a boy the previous evening. The tale ends with a bang of the magistrate’s gavel—dismissing the gossip, but also marking its final transformation from groundless rumor into a tale that will be repeated and remembered long after market day is over. In another tale, “Lincoln, Churchill et le contremaître,” Anglade shows gossip’s use by Port-au-Prince’s conservative elites. Gossip swirls freely, with people stirring up trouble and waiting to see which of their calumnies will stick. “Three people, two telephones, and a day are all that is necessary to launch a substantial rumor in the small, interconnected society of Port-au-Prince,” Anglade writes. “By the next day, it is possible to verify whether people are willing or not to subscribe to the plot[. . . . ] The third day, the zen, the plausible lie, has taken on a life of its own” (322). But the gossips defer to outside authority: the tale’s narrator becomes the arbiter of gossipy complaints made against one of his employees and ultimately sees through the gossips’ self-serving slander. Despite this, an unspoken anxiety underpins many of Anglade’s tales. The gossip shown as circulating in Haitian society seldom provides access to the truth—and in the absence of an organic consensus, truth emerges simply as whatever those in power determine it to be.
29. The fluctuating racial divisions and differences of opinion in the community underscore Célanire’s rejection by both white and black society, an interesting point given that Célanire is repeatedly depicted as monstrous and cannibalistic. As Patricia A. Turner notes, accusations of cannibalism are racially charged: from their earliest encounters, both white Europeans and black Africans described one another as cannibalistic, with each using alleged anthropophagy as a vivid shorthand for amorality and barbarism. Turner dryly remarks: “When the belief that a given people eat the bodies of others is perpetuated, we can be sure that relations between the parties in question are, at the very least, strained” (Grapevine 31). In depicting Célanire as cannibalistic—through acts of specific gossip, rather than the vaguer rumors that Turner describes—both blacks and whites thus position her as the other, morally and socially distinct from their own racial identity.
30. Gossip is used in a similar fashion in Émile Ollivier’s 1986 novel La discorde aux cent voix, in which circulating stories about a town’s residents are carefully inventoried. Consider, for example, the competing stories about Cyprien Anselme: various bits of gossip are explicitly pitched against one another, with their sources—from the senator’s “political enemies” to the “goldsmiths of rumors” (45)—tracing the divisions in the town itself. Many other sparring scraps of gossip and rumor are similarly arrayed in the text, without any attempt to discern their veracity. Much like Estévez’s Havana, it seems, Ollivier’s fictional town can only be fully represented through an accounting of its gossip and rumors.
31. The seemingly definitive resolution of Torres’s text is in keeping with the traditional detective story, which Brooks describes as claiming “that all action is motivated, causally enchained, and eventually comprehensible as such to the perceptive observer” (Reading for the Plot 269), and which Geoffrey Hartman notes is inextricable from the “the ritual persistence of the problem-solving formula” (171). The novel’s resolution, however, is at odds with many of Torres’s other novels: Doña Inés contra el olvido (1992) and Los últimos espectadores del acorazado Potemkin (1999) both eschew definitive versions, suggesting that La fascinación owes its clear resolution, at least to a degree, to the conventions of the classic detective story.
32. See Maryann Ayim’s essay “Knowledge through the Grapevine: Gossip as Inquiry” for a discussion of gossip as a positivist investigative framework in Christie’s Marple stories.
33. As Forrester states, “The practice of psychoanalysis involves speaking what sounds often remarkably like gossip, rumour and—that extraordinary word so close to the analytic process itself—hearsay” (10). The patient, at least in the popular imagination, does not look directly at the analyst but reclines: analysis is thus a speech act without an object, allowing an unusual slippage of identity. “One consequence of this peculiar stance of the analyst is that the patient finds it possible to gossip about him- or herself—something that in everyday life is impossible” (247). The similarity between the speech act of gossip and the speech act of therapy is more than merely structural: gossip, in Forrester’s reading, is a key piece of the analytic process and mediates subtle leakages between analytic discourse and real-world happenings. This is a profound and rich, if sometimes troubling, connection: “Gossip is the underbelly of analysis,” Forrester asserts (253), elaborating that gossip functions as a common thread linking individual analytic dyads back to the founders of the field, and coming to serve as “the cultural unconscious of psychoanalysis” (259).
34. Latin American writers such as Jorge Luis Borges, Juan José Saer, and Ricardo Piglia, among many others, have mined the tropes of detective fiction. In the Caribbean, meanwhile, see Persephone Braham’s Crimes against the State, Crimes against Persons (2004); Stephen Wilkinson’s Detective Fiction in Cuban Society and Culture (2006), which is grounded in a reading of the works of Leonardo Padura; and Jane Bryce’s “ ‘Who No Know Go Know’: Popular Fiction in Africa and the Caribbean” on the use of crime fiction as a vehicle for “gritty realism” in the popular fiction of the Anglophone Caribbean (232). The investigations shown in Caribbean crime fiction often take place against a backdrop of official apathy and inaction, a point that John D. Erickson explores with reference to Chamoiseau’s aforementioned Solibo magnifique, Raphaël Confiant’s Le meurtre du Samedi-Gloria, and Condé’s Traversée de la mangrove. Jason Herbeck also offers an insightful take on the nature of detective fiction in the Francophone Caribbean, which he terms an “undercover operation” (63), arguing that the failure, in works such as Traversée de la mangrove, to offer definitive resolutions to the texts’ central mysteries speaks not to a definitive break with the paradigmatic conventions of the detective novel but rather to an attempt to bring the norms of the format into dialogue with the historical, narrative, and epistemological idiosyncrasies and instabilities of the region. Condé, he suggests, gives each of her witnesses’ stories “equal bearing on the investigation” (71)—a betrayal of generic readerly expectations that speaks to the lived reality of the “(neo)colonial French Caribbean.” Similarly, reading Chamoiseau, Herbeck suggests that “the inherent opacity and countless crimes of the colonial period render it [ . . . ] impossible to discount any particular narrative as false” (76).
35. Although, as previously discussed, outsider status can be narratively useful; recall Forrester’s notion that the analyst’s distance allows the patient to gossip about him- or herself. Standing apart from Venezuelan society gives Madigan an ability to tease apart and weave back together the countless narrative threads she hears through gossip, much as the detached analyst can help a patient find coherence and clarity in his or her own story.
36. Lorraine Code makes a similar point about the value of social knowledge derived from gossip. “If knowing other people were recognized as knowledge without which it would be virtually impossible to negotiate the world successfully, then it would not be so difficult to demonstrate the epistemic worth of gossip,” she notes (147). Gossip’s focus on the inner lives of others makes it a powerful investigative tool but also reveals its epistemic fragility. “In knowing other people, no one can claim absolute authority, not even the people who are allegedly known,” Code concedes (xvi).
37. Brooks’s thesis takes on a special charge in the Caribbean, where the body—and the desire to know, biblically and epistemically, the body—has so often been the locus of questions of power and domination. The Caribbean itself was viewed by Europeans, from the first moments of the discovery, with exoticizing and eroticizing eyes; this tendency, as Guillermina De Ferrari notes, left deep marks in the region’s troubled history: “After all, much like conquest itself, sex often seeks to justify appropriation on the basis of knowledge of the Other, or at least on the basis of the desire for such knowledge” (145). In the Caribbean, to speak of the body is necessarily to speak of colonialism, of slavery, and of the body’s role in authoritarian power politics of punishment and domination.
3. “An International Scandal”
1. Besnier’s Gossip and the Everyday Production of Politics (2009) proposes a focus on gossip’s consequences rather than its mechanisms and structures, an approach that he argues “leads us to return to problems of power, resistance, and agency” (17). Gossip is “above all dangerous” (97) and can have consequences that include “ridicule, ostracism, or even death” (17); still, Besnier argues, it can also be co-opted and used by those with power and wealth, or those already so marginalized that gossip holds little fear for them.
2. As James Scott notes, “The character of gossip that distinguishes it from rumor is that gossip consists typically of stories that are designed to ruin the reputation of some identifiable person or persons” (Domination 142). Such a differentiation applies chiefly to the content disclosed; the rumormonger could still conceivably use the performative or linguistic markers of gossip.
3. Dalleo engages fruitfully with this point, describing the Caribbean public sphere as “part of a transnational negotiation of power relations” and exploring the tensions between globalization theory, empire studies, and postcolonial studies (227–28). Such theorizations are valuable but beyond the scope of this project; I will note only that I conceive of the Caribbean, and approach the question of the Caribbean public sphere, from a perspective more in keeping with Benítez-Rojo’s notion of the Caribbean as a “meta-archipelago” that “has the virtue of lacking either boundary or center.” Benítez-Rojo writes: “Thusly, the Caribbean outgrows and overflows its own ocean, and its ultima Thule can be found in Cádiz or Seville, in a Bombay suburb, in the low and rumor-filled shores of Gambia, in a Cantonese tavern of the 1850s, in a Balian temple, in a blackened Bristol dock, in a windmill by the Zuiderzee, in a warehouse of Colbert-era Bordeaux, in a Manhattan discotheque, and in the existential saudade of a Portuguese song” (18). This—globalized and without limits in its self-conception—is the Caribbean of which I write.
4. I follow Dolores M. Koch’s translation, Before Night Falls, to which all parenthetical citations refer.
5. Arenas hews close to Sylvia Molloy’s notion of the “autobiographer as gossip.” As with Lucio V. Mansilla, of whom Molloy writes, there is “nothing self-effacing” about Arenas’s literary persona. Molloy argues that Mansilla’s first-person “I” is a gossip who “unremittingly commands attention; the substance of his story, while certainly not meaningless, pales before the display of the storyteller” (183). Much the same, clearly, could be said of Arenas.
6. Many critics have pointed out the falsehoods and exaggerations in Arenas’s text. Delfín Prats, depicted as Hiram Pratt (or Hiram Prado in Koch’s translation) in Antes que anochezca, calls Arenas “a great fabulist” whose work cannot be read as truthful: “The things he attributed to me were really something. In his writing, everything is hyperbolized. [ . . . ] As testimony his writing fails” (“Yo tengo” 26). Names—real and pseudonymous—are used inconsistently across Arenas’s work, both in the original and in Koch’s translation: Arenas’s text changes some names (the writer Miguel Barnet, for instance, is “Miguel Barniz” in Antes que anochezca but Miguel Barnet once more in Koch’s translation), while leaving others (including Virgilio Piñera, José Lezama Lima, Alejo Carpentier, and Severo Sarduy). Interestingly, Arenas attributes Delfín Prats’s Lenguaje de mudos (1969) to “Delfín Prats” and not to “Hiram Pratt,” to whom Arenas refers on the same page.
7. Arenas describes his conviction as itself grounded in a kind of gossip: the castrista law under which homosexual acts are prosecuted, he writes, allows convictions to be made based on a single denunciation—essentially, on the basis of gossip rather than hard evidence. Similarly, the regime uses gossip to locate dissidents: it is Arenas’s friend Hiram who, by chatting with acquaintances, seeks to learn his whereabouts in order to inform the authorities.
8. The use of gossip to construct and defend queer identity is not confined to the Caribbean. Lisa Kahaleole Chang Hall asserts that “gay identity is really founded on storytelling and gossip” and that to become part of a queer community is to become “embedded in a legendary network of gossip, tale-telling, and multiple interpretations of the same events” in which identity is continually performed and reasserted (229). See, too, Ryan Linkof’s intriguing study of queer writers’ co-option of the fledgling gossip columns of Edwardian England; Linkof suggests that privileged but marginalized gay men used their conflicted status to gain entry to, but also criticize and stand apart from, English high society.
9. Arenas’s defiant sexual exuberance, commingled with gossip, in the face of an ossified authoritarian reality recalls Magdalena Perkowska-Alvarez’s reading of gossip in Margarita, está linda la mar (1998), by the Nicaraguan writer Sergio Ramírez, as a carnivalesque exercise in narrative resistance. “Gossip can become an art of resistance, and a transgressive element, destabilizing official discourses and eternal and unquestionable truths,” she writes. “Seen through this lens, the small stories of gossip contain enormous transgressive—which is to say, festive—potential” (266).
10. Throughout Antes que anochezca, however, Arenas insists that the works of “counterrevolutionary” writers circulated freely among Castro’s allies and senior government officials. During his stay in the home of writer Norberto Fuentes—a stay orchestrated, if we are to believe Arenas, by the Seguridad del Estado—he is able to read Cabrera Infante’s Vista del amanecer en el trópico, as well as “all kinds of literature unavailable to anyone in Cuba except officials in Fidel Castro’s government” (225).
11. Arenas feared not just friends who became informants but all those whose loose tongues could cause trouble: “Even if he was not an informer,” he writes about Reinaldo Gómez Ramos, “he was prone to gossip” (238).
12. Arenas comes to see Miami’s exile community in particular as equivalent to “the worst of Cuba: the eternal gossip, the chicanery, the envy” (292) and to feel himself “surrounded by gossip and difficulties” (292) and living “in a state of constant paranoia” (293).
13. It would not have been the first time that US officials took note of Arenas’s efforts; in a 1983 letter, Elliott Abrams, then assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs, urged the Immigration and Naturalization Service to allow Arenas to travel: “Given Arenas’ demonstrated ability to speak and write about his life in Cuba and his new life in America, I believe that there is a strong public interest argument for his case. It is in our national interest that he be able to travel.”
14. As Cabrera Infante notes, Antes que anochezca was transcribed, not typed, and is highly oral in its delivery, a last flurry of gossip before the light fades: “Written in a race against death, frequently not badly written but barely written: dictated, spoken, shouted, this book is his masterpiece” (Mea Cuba antes y después 922).
15. Not all gossip is testimony, and not all testimony is gossip. John Beverley defines testimonio as “a novel or novella-length narrative in book or pamphlet (that is, printed as opposed to acoustic) form, told in the first person by a narrator who is also the real protagonist or witness of the events he or she recounts, and whose unit of narration is usually a ‘life’ or a significant life experience” (30–31); such a reading would admit Antes que anochezca but exclude much if not all of Cabrera Infante’s gossip. Axel Gelfert’s A Critical Introduction to Testimony offers a reading of gossip as a “pathology of testimony” that can, but does not always, ascend to the level of true testimony (213); see also C. A. J. Coady’s 2006 study, which informs Gelfert’s reading.
16. Cabrera Infante cotranslated many of his works from Spanish into English, or vice versa, frequently changing details and adding puns. I use my own translations, with page references to Mea Cuba antes y después (MCAD), the latest and most authoritative edition of Cabrera Infante’s essays, which includes Mea Cuba and Vidas para leerlas. Where Cabrera Infante’s translations vary from the Spanish, I quote from Kenneth Hall’s cotranslation of Mea Cuba (MC), which also incorporates essays originally published in Vidas. I also cite from the London Review of Books, where two of Cabrera Infante’s essays—“Bites from the Bearded Crocodile” (BC) and “Infante’s Inferno” (II)—were originally published in English; the latter is not to be confused with Infante’s Inferno (1984), Cabrera Infante and Suzanne Jill Levine’s cotranslation of La Habana para un Infante difunto (1979). These essays were subsequently translated into Spanish and included in Mea Cuba as “Mordidas del caimán barbudo” and “Los poetas a su rincón.”
17. Will Corral makes a similar point in a review of Mea Cuba, noting that the text is “full of information, insight, and gossip” that adds up to a “Who’s Who, What’s What, Where’s Where of contemporary Cuban letters”—not a work that everyone will agree with or approve of, but one that demonstrates that “Cabrera Infante’s knowledge of Cuban literariness is the broadest, liveliest, and nastiest to date” (342–43).
18. Hall’s cotranslation holds that Cabrera Infante arranged Greene’s “final” meeting with Castro, not his first (MC 295); Greene, for his part, denies that Cabrera Infante played any part in arranging his sole meeting with Castro, which took place in 1966. Cabrera Infante excuses the error with more name-dropping and another insult, stating that while Greene may not have been present on “that Havana night in 1959,” he did introduce Castro to Alec Guinness, Carol Reed, and Noel Coward. “I must have confused them with each other and all of them with Graham Greene. But I have an excuse for that embarrassing gaffe. You see, for me then, all Englishmen looked alike,” Cabrera Infante writes (“Letters: Cain’s Cuba”). For a detailed overview of Greene’s stay in Cuba while researching Our Man in Havana in 1957, and while preparing to shoot the subsequent film in 1959, see Peter Hulme’s article “Graham Greene and Cuba: Our Man in Havana?” (2008).
19. In the Spanish, “con su más cara máscara de pez abisal que nunca”—literally, with a more expensive deep-sea fish mask than ever.
20. The use of gossip in oratory is neither a Caribbean innovation nor a modern one. Susan Phillips notes that medieval English priests “used gossip as a teaching tool, a device for holding the attention of their chattering congregations” (207).
21. Here and throughout, I follow Anglade’s English text, given alongside the French, from Rire haïtien (2006).
22. For another famous example of the enduring power of silence both during and after Duvalier’s rule, consider Marie Vieux Chauvet’s decision to publish Amour, colère et folie in Paris in 1968. “Persecuted, terrorized by a hideous dictatorial regime, we find ourselves constrained to ruse in order to cry out the truth!” she wrote to Simone de Beauvoir. “It has been 10 years that we have waited, choked; it has been 10 years that Haitian novelists and poets have been silenced. Help me break this silence, please” (qtd. in Joseph 32). Chauvet’s writing was intended as a blow against a regime that had already robbed her of a cousin (the poet Antonio Vieux, whom Duvalier boasted of having personally executed in Fort Dimanche) and two nephews (killed randomly in 1963 in the wake of a botched kidnapping attempt against Jean-Claude Duvalier). After the detention of other family members in 1968, Chauvet’s family convinced her to withdraw and suppress Amour, colère et folie—and to continue to do so even after the end of the Duvaliers’ rule, effectively reducing Chauvet’s masterpiece to fodder for literary gossip. “Rumors circulated of family intrigues and political dramas that led to the persistent censorship of the trilogy,” Thomas Spear writes. “Facts and anecdotes about this silencing generated contradictory myths” (14).
23. Anthony Phelps argues that young Haitians “close themselves off” by writing in Creole. “When they use Creole, they move themselves away from America, they shut themselves off from the rest of the new continent,” he warns (“Anthony Phelps” 381).
24. See, for instance, Madelaine Hron’s assertion that zombification is only possible because of a global cultural relativism due to which “the world refuses to recognize the horrors of Duvalier’s regime” (164).
25. As Bernard Diederich notes, Greene protests too much: many of the characters in The Comedians are directly modeled upon real people and, Diederich claims, remain instantly recognizable to any reader—of whom, admittedly, there would have been very few—who moved in the Haitian and expatriate circles that Greene describes (107–11).
26. Greene names no names, but the account clearly refers to army rifleman François Benoit, who was accused on little evidence of mounting an attack on Duvalier’s children, triggering brutal reprisals and an international crisis that came close to toppling Duvalier’s regime, a story Greene recounts in “Nightmare Republic.”
27. There is a knowingness and even an irony to Greene’s use of such local color: Joseph, for instance, dryly proclaims himself an “ignorant man” (134) when pressed on locals’ belief in Duvalier’s use of corpses in religious rites, while the foreigners, who are largely shielded from Haiti’s national tragedy, are presented as vain, inauthentic, and naive.
28. In this, Greene recalls Cabrera Infante who, as Kenneth E. Hall notes, channels classical gossips in his biographical works. “Plutarch and Suetonius, for example, are significant to Mea Cuba,” he writes (394).
29. Duvalier’s regime vested much of its claim to power in its embrace of folk religion, which served some of the same roles fulfilled by gossip in Cuba and the Dominican Republic, coming to constitute a two-way system of communication and surveillance. “Voudou is everywhere in Haiti. Penetrating the religion in a systematic manner was, therefore, a guaranteed way of communicating to or receiving information from the people,” R. Anthony Lewis notes (46). See also Laguerre’s assertion that Duvalier used gossip to circulate religious gossip about himself: “This served to enhance the regime’s power. In a country like Haiti, what is important is not the veracity of these stories but whether they effectively project a certain image and perception of the government” (Voodoo and Politics 119).
30. Fox won £3,500 in the case, of which Greene had to pay £500 personally; the case didn’t break the bank but did prompt Greene’s flight to Mexico, where he wrote The Power and the Glory (1940). Greene’s review, though scandalous at the time of its publication, has more recently been read as a perceptive early commentary on the risks associated with representing childhood in film; see, for instance, Kristen Hatch’s Shirley Temple and the Performance of Girlhood (2015).
31. Another exaggeration: as Cabrera Infante notes, Greene told Castro he played Russian roulette only four times.
4. “Páginas en Blanco”
1. Bosch attributes the insight to Eugenio María de Hostos, the nineteenth-century Puerto Rican intellectual.
2. The tendency of political leaders to gossip, and thereby bolster their grasp on power, is a common thread running through the Caribbean’s authoritarian regimes. Pedro Estrada records that under the dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez, Venezuela was “a country of gossips.” He continues: “Gossip in Venezuela has brought great problems, tragedies, catastrophes. It is far easier to handle gossip than information. It is easier to propagate, to repeat. I have seen many political heads fall as a result of gossip” (141). As described in chapter 3, the revolutionary government in Cuba also used gossip to gather intelligence and repress dissidents, while in Duvalier’s Haiti gossip helped shape the regime’s public image. The authoritarian preoccupation with gossip is not a uniquely Caribbean phenomenon: Augusto Pinochet used gossip and other “mysterious channels of information” to keep aides on their toes (see Pamela Constable and Arturo Valenzuela’s A Nation of Enemies, 81), and even Napoleon, writing in 1809, urged his police chief to arrest rumormongers and plant agents to shape the gossip swirling on the streets (see E. K. Bramstedt’s Dictatorship and Political Police, 22). Such gossip also leaves marks in dictatorship fiction from beyond the Caribbean: Augusto Roa Bastos’s Supremo frets over pasquinades and gripes about “malignant rumors, gossip, chatter [ . . . ] which whispering scribes will repeat prolifically through the centuries” (56), while Daniel Sada’s Porque parece mentira la verdad nunca se sabe (1999) shows an authoritarian regime crumbling until little remains but gossip.
3. Bosch continued to condemn gossip throughout his career. In 1993, he wrote: “Gossip is a Dominican invention not found in any other country in the world, and gossip consists in thinking false things and making them circulate, saying them, as though they are true or legitimate” (qtd. in Di Pietro 94).
4. Balaguer’s irreverent tone contrasts with the hagiographies he perpetrated during Trujillo’s lifetime. In his Two Essays on Dominican History (1955) Balaguer wrote that the “providential hand of Trujillo” had led to a period in which “the wonders of legends have been undone by the marvels of objective reality,” with Trujillo working “miracles that are as portentous as those which, during the preceding four centuries, were worked solely through the intervention of supernatural powers in the nation’s life” (22). Note, however, Derby’s assertion that Balaguer’s skill as a writer and orator allowed him to combine praise with subtle—yet, to his audience, pointed—criticism of Trujillo, using techniques such as substitution and synecdoche to raise concerns about the caudillo’s actions (“Shadow” 331–33). The temptation to read Balaguer’s gossip as his breaking silence after decades of restraint should be avoided: as his calculated contemporary criticism of Trujillo shows, Balaguer was acutely self-aware, and not given to making off-the-cuff comments or rattling off anecdotes without an ulterior motive.
5. For a more detailed reading of the role of the Foro Público and its successor, Radio Caribe, see the work of Lipe Collado, who brands the Foro a “monument of gossip” (55). Derby also notes that the Foro Público published not just denunciations but also retaliatory letters in defense of those accused. She further records the use of anonymous government-published books attacking individuals, anonymous pasquinades sent to individuals by mail, and a cohort of “pens for hire” employed by Trujillo specifically to praise or slander people as they rose or fell in his favors (“Shadow” 298).
6. Abbes García, one of Trujillo’s most brutal allies, published his own gossipy memoir, Trujillo y yo: memorias de Johnny Abbes García, in 2009.
7. Balaguer’s stylized use of gossip is far from trivial; as Derby remarks, the official gossip of the Trujillo era became a kind of self-justifying practice, gaining potency through its own ambiguity: “As Vicente Rafael has said, ‘Rumors . . . work by separating seeing from believing.’ Indeed, denunciation wreaked havoc by doing just that: forging ruinous hearsay of unknown provenance and unlikely veracity that was believable only by virtue of its everyday style. [ . . . ] Denunciation gave gossip an official imprimatur and created the illusion that the accused were actually at fault” (“Shadow” 305–6). Balaguer’s memoirs seek to replicate, through gossip, the rituals of denunciation deployed by Trujillo’s regime.
8. At the time that Memorias was published, Balaguer was himself beginning to be the focus of confessional, tell-all accounts by former colleagues; see, for instance, Balaguer y yo (1986) by Ramón A. Font-Bernard, a former functionary in Balaguer’s first administrations. Subsequent examples include Balaguer y yo: La historia (2006) by Víctor Gómez Bergés, a former minister of external affairs, and Balaguer y yo: Testimonio de una amistad (2003) by lawyer and ambassador Zoila Martínez de Medina. The similar titles, though coincidental, speak to the memoirists’ drive to assert inside knowledge of the events they describe.
9. Néstor Rodriguez calls this episode “a dramatic example of the continuity of paternalism tied to the historic figure of Balaguer” and “an unprecedented decision in Dominican literary history” (15–16). As Silvio Torres-Saillant notes, the slight to Sención serves as a reminder that under Balaguer conservative social forces “had the power to name reality and to render the opposition mute[. . . . ] There is no question as to who really has the last word” (Dominican Blackness 48).
10. Another warning against dismissing Sención’s novel comes from Junot Díaz, who notes that the text “tangled with the legacies of Trujillo directly and explored the nightmare brought about by Joaquín Balaguer’s regime. Sención is phenomenally important” (Conversations with Ilan Stavans 49).
11. Though, as Derby notes, such engagement was not always to the people’s advantage. The Foro Público, she writes, “empowered citizens, since it appeared to include them in a new disciplinary apparatus that gave them the power to judge others, even while their participation in the Foro enabled the state to better police them as well.” Though experienced as empowering, Derby argues, the Foro Público in fact served as what Foucault terms a “technology of power” or “mode of suspicion” (“Shadow” 316).
12. The Times also quotes Sención directly, noting his past access to Balaguer’s family home. Sención seizes the opportunity to gossip: “It was a most strange and curious household,” he recalls. “There were two female dwarfs, kept as mascots but who to this day are part of his retinue, and a pair of aggressive collies that, when they bit you, you had no choice but to sit there and smile” (Rohter).
13. In La mosca soldado (2004), Marcio Veloz Maggiolo describes marimantas as “beings of indefinite form who emerge from the darkness of the night wrapped in a white sheet; slowly approaching spoiled children to cover them and take them away” (9). The parallels between the social-policing aspect of gossip and the disciplinary invocation of the marimanta are perhaps not coincidental. A further resonance lies in the derivation of Tonton Macoute from a Haitian folk tale, as Edwidge Danticat notes in her 1994 novel Breath, Eyes, Memory: “In the fairy tales, the Tonton Macoute was a bogeyman, a scarecrow with human flesh. [ . . . ] If you don’t respect your elders, then the Tonton Macoute will take you away. Outside the fairy tales, they roamed the streets in broad daylight, parading their Uzi machine guns” (137). Gossip, both for Dominicans and Haitians, allegorizes risks that are very real.
14. An entire book could be dedicated to the connection between music and gossip in the Caribbean: as Gordon Rohlehr notes, the typical calypso protagonist is “a peeping Tom, a gossip or simply a reporter of incidents which he always claims to have personally witnessed. [ . . . ] The stereotype of the inquisitive and contentious neighbor becomes soundly established by calypsoes” (215). And gossip is a common thread running through not just calypso and merengue but also the mento of Jamaica, the tumba of Curaçao, the parang of Carriacou, the plena of Puerto Rico, the benna of Antigua, the combite songs of Haiti, and many of the region’s other folk and popular musical forms. Given the profound role such music plays in Caribbean society—“it is only in the calypso that the Trinidadian touches reality,” notes Naipaul (Middle Passage 66)—it is unsurprising that musical gossip often filters back into the region’s literature. See, for instance, references to scandalous benna in Jamaica Kincaid’s 1978 story “Girl”; Naipaul’s Miguel Street (1959), which Kamal Mehta describes as “calypsos in prose, dealing with the local social life in Trinidad. [ . . . ] Like many real calypsos, these stories are based on anecdotes” (282); Earl Lovelace’s Is Just a Movie (2011), which features a “true-true kaisonian” who boasts of being a “maker of confusion, recorder of gossip, destroyer of reputations, revealer of secrets” (5); and even Alejo Carpentier’s conflation, in El reino de este mundo (1949), of “the symphonies of violins and the murmurations of slander, the gossip of their beloveds and the trilling of their captive birds” (14).
15. This was especially true for the working classes, for whom merengue served as a gateway to political news and public discourse. “The lyrics [ . . . ] served as news for people in poor neighborhoods,” write Elizabeth Gackstetter Nichols and Timothy R. Robbins. “Merengue lyrics often communicated the reality of what was happening, people and events, to people too poor to afford a newspaper or a radio” (30).
16. As Fernando Valerio Holguín writes, Trujillo used merengue as a propaganda tool and means of revenging himself against Dominican elites. “From its beginnings, merengue always had an epic character, and therefore a political one, as it narrated an anecdote, a heroic act, or an important event. [ . . . ] Trujillo made the most of the epic character of merengue and thus had merengues composed that extolled his deeds as though they were cantares de gesta,” or epic romances (103).
17. Danticat’s The Farming of Bones (1998) also explores the Haitian massacre, using rumor to stage the uncertainty and powerlessness of the Haitian border dwellers. As Pramod K. Nayar notes, rumor maps the distrust between Haitians and Dominicans; a group of cane workers initially refuse an invitation to drink coffee with Señora Valencia, for example, because it is rumored that Dominicans are poisoning Haitians. Both threats and victims are “constructed within the fugitive discourse of hearsay, rumours and stories,” Nayar writes (6). But Danticat’s text also uses rumor and “talk” to stage the Haitians’ disbelief and loss of agency: “I keep hearing it, but I don’t know if all of it is true,” says Sebastien (127). Later, Amabelle is warned that soldiers are approaching her home. “It couldn’t be real. Rumors, I thought. There were always rumors, rumors of war[. . . . ] This could not touch people like me,” she insists (140). It is telling that the episodes are framed as unsourced rumors rather than gossip about specific individuals: the sense is of people caught up in historical currents they cannot fully fathom, with little ability to escape the approaching crisis. “I’d never let the rumors engage me. If they were true, it was something I could neither change nor control,” Amabelle reflects (147). Only in hindsight do the rumors cohere into concrete testimonies: Amabelle reclaims a measure of agency by accepting a secondhand story as the truth about Sebastien’s death. “I believed it because of what I had seen [ . . . ] because of what I had heard [ . . . ] because of what the people said” (241). After the uncertainty that marks the text’s treatment of the massacre, her credulity is poignant and potent—a gesture against ahistoricity and an insistence that these stories, preserved through hearsay and testimony, can memorialize those who would otherwise “vanish like smoke into the early morning air” (280).
18. The word leyenda is also used in a different sense, to allude to stories pertaining to Vodou or magic, such as that of the dark rider who appears at the time of Lora’s death. In such cases the word leyenda adheres more closely to its more typical Spanish association with the fantastical.
19. The notion of gossip flying from rooftop to rooftop recalls Veloz Maggiolo’s 2006 short story “Nido de volanderas,” which describes “flying witches” who reproduce without male assistance and carry political gossip around the Dominican Republic. Even though “they were excellent messengers,” with the end of the country’s internal wars they disappeared and “no longer go from province to province spreading gossip” (73–74).
20. The lack of clear distinction between rumor and other narrative forms has been acknowledged by other scholars. Patricia A. Turner writes that folklorists “often place rumors on a continuum with myth, folktale, contemporary legends, memorates as the genres within which they are considered. Sociologists often place rumor in conjunction with gossip, hearsay and anecdote” (Introduction 169).
21. Alzaga is modeled on Eulogio León, who conducted a similar exercise in genealogical manipulation at Trujillo’s behest, and of whom Veloz Maggiolo writes in La memoria fermentada (2000). In a 2001 interview with José Carvajal, Veloz Maggiolo admits: “I never met Eulogio, so I invented him on the basis of fragmentary biographies and things that happened to several inhabitants of Villa Francisca” (“Memoria fermenta”). Veloz Maggiolo’s admission to inventing parts of León’s story dovetails with his comment elsewhere in La memoria fermentada that “the invention of memory is [ . . . ] a way to erase stubborn and squalid authentic memories. A novelist always tries to invent memories” (134). The act of writing fiction, in the narrative monopoly it implies and the imaginative liberties the author takes, echoes the pseudohistorical revisionism perpetrated by León and by the Trujillo regime more broadly. See Rita De Maeseneer’s 2008 study for further discussion of this point.
22. Mejía learns his lesson and seeks revenge through gossip of his own: “It is said that he too was among those who carried reports to the authorities about Honorio’s lyrics” (61).
23. Given merengue’s ability to disseminate criticism, Sellers writes, “Both musician and instrument become dangerous weapons for the dictator as well as those who oppose him in the novel. For Lora, his accordion is his weapon of choice” (14).
24. Music allows the transmutation of street gossip into something more durable. Jeremy Verity notes the preservation of centuries-old gossip in still-current songs: “There are mentos that go back over 200 years, and the news and gossip in them is sometimes very old. I’ve heard one in the Jamaican Blue Mountains that I am told is about Admiral Lord Nelson’s affair with Lady Hamilton, which must have been on every lip in late eighteenth-century Jamaica. British governors and administrators, lawyers and preachers, good and bad, are all pictured in these songs” (185).
25. Alzaga’s attack on forgetting offers a counterpoint to Renan’s claim, examined in chapter 2, that forgetting is critical for constructions of nation. Of course, Alzaga’s revisionism is itself a form of forgetting, designed to unify the nation around a state-approved version of the past and of Dominican identity.
26. It is telling that so much of Oscar Wao’s gossip is transmitted through footnotes. For T. S. Miller, the footnotes provide “an outlet for Yunior’s historiographical impulse: his secret history becomes marginal in multiple ways, a history told from the margins and in the margins” (96). This impulse, though introduced in gossipy footnotes, comes to dominate the text. Miller continues: “The whole novel becomes a sort of not-so-secret history, complete with all the scandalous gossip and outrageous hyperbole of the original Anecdota (Secret History) by Procopius” (97).
27. Yunior alludes not only to the challenges of historicity in the post-Trujillo era but also to the limits of narration itself. La Inca and Belicia never discuss the girl’s abuse, which becomes their “very own página en blanco” (78), a veil behind which Yunior cannot peer. More intriguingly, Beli’s bizarre, otherworldly mongoose vision is also presented as beyond the scope of Yunior’s narratorial authority. “Even your Watcher has his silences, his páginas en blanco,” he admits (149).
28. Erica Wickerson notes a similar process at work in Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus, suggesting that the novel’s style of narration “implicitly resembles the dialogic form of gossip,” with the reader “unavoidably” becoming Zeitblom’s confidant (212–13). Wickerson also ponders the destructive and adversarial aspects of gossip in relation to Germany’s troubled history; in revealing “gossip as a tool for revenge and for blame” (224), she suggests, Mann presents literature itself as “more useful as a mode of working through conflicting interpretations of a traumatic past than it is as a reliable representation of that past” (225). For a fuller exploration of the seductions of Yunior’s slippery narrative strategy, see T. S. Miller (100) and Elena Machado Sáez (162, 175).
29. Rafael Rojas argues that all states—democracies and authoritarian regimes alike—rely for their legitimacy upon “historiographic consensuses” (“Legitimidad e historia” 21); the difference is that in free societies consensus emerges from a plurality of sources, while in totalitarian states the government enforces a predetermined consensus derived only from approved sources. In such contexts, acts of political dissent, as well as moral offenses, are brought into the spectrum of transgressions scrutinized and regulated by gossip. See also Helen Lima de Sousa for a discussion of state-sponsored gossip in Brazil.
30. In The Spiral of Silence, political scientist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann interrogates the connections between slander and gossip: “The boundary between slander and gossip is fluid. When does talking with disapproval about someone who is absent cease to be mere opinion? Reputations are destroyed, characters assassinated, honor brought into disrepute and disgrace; it becomes taboo to be seen in that person’s presence” (120–21). Derby explores similar ground, noting that “during the Rafael Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic, slander against regime insiders was used as a means of social control” (“Beyond Fugitive Speech” 125).
31. As Dorrit Cohn points out, historical accounts tend to be concerned with broad trends and epic battles, not the details and drudgery of daily lives or even the specific terrors and tragedies experienced by individuals as historically momentous events unfurl. “History is more often concerned with collective ‘mentalities’ than with individual minds,” Cohn notes, giving rise to “the massive prevalence of summary over scene in historical narration” (121). Díaz’s deployment of gossip, in concerning itself with individuals and their actions, clearly favors, and meticulously stages, what Cohn calls scenes.
32. The role of literature in the reclamation of the Dominican Republic’s deleted histories has been remarked elsewhere. Mónica G. Ayuso suggests that the 1937 massacre was so thoroughly purged from the historical record that it “was an event reduced to silence and imprecision” until it was reclaimed and restored to public consciousness in the 1990s by writers such as Edwidge Danticat, Rita Dove, and Julia Álvarez (47).
33. Díaz breaks with the authoritative mode of storytelling used by Mario Vargas Llosa in La fiesta del chivo (2000) and aligns himself with the “narrative fragmentation and uncertain allegory” that Adam Lifshey traces in works such as Freddy Prestol Castillo’s El Masacre se pasa a pie (1973) and Bosch’s 1960 short story “La mancha indeleble” (436). Díaz himself notes, in Oscar Wao and elsewhere, that the all-powerful author resembles a dictator, and his suspicion of definitive versions is surely marked by this awareness. As Lifshey writes, “a text that slips out of discursive control, that offers itself willingly to interpretation, that is self-contradictory and ruptured, and uncertain rather than consistent and coherent and comprehensive—this may be the most fundamental disputation of any dictator’s dominance over word and thought” (454–55).
34. In this, Díaz’s narrative project resonates with Derby’s call for the admittance of “fugitive speech such as rumor, gossip, and hearsay as primary sources for Caribbean historical research” (“Beyond Fugitive Speech” 124). “Bringing unsanctioned speech forms into the writing of Caribbean history could help put back into history-writing popular agency and instrumentality,” Derby writes. “More than that, everyday speech genres such as rumor, gossip, and hearsay also enable one to capture a staple of everyday experience that in all of its disorderly interruption challenges the ‘univocity of statist discourse’ ” (139).
35. The historiography of the Galíndez incident would make a compelling study in its own right: the details surrounding Galíndez’s abduction remain hazy, and much of what has gradually entered the public record has done so through rumor and gossip. After the event, Dominicans “whispered the details of Galíndez’s torture,” notes Stuart A. McKeever in The Galindez Case, and these rumors entered the historical record circuitously through, for example, the relayed gossip of FBI informers. “You pick these stories up bit by bit; you ask no questions for fear of your life,” one such informer told the bureau, along with a detailed account of Galíndez’s final moments (87).
36. That what is presented as legend contains traces of or structural similarities to gossip recalls the significant body of research, chiefly in the field of social psychology, that suggests legend itself can be understood as calcified rumor, and as a form in dialogue with less fixed discourses such as rumor and gossip. See, for instance, Gordon W. Allport and Leo Postman’s framing of legend as “solidified rumor” (162) or Patrick B. Mullen’s suggestion that “some legends become rumors and some rumors become legends” (98). Derby, meanwhile, perceptively notes that both “gossip and rumor are rough drafts of what might become a genre—an autobiography, a story, a legend, or a tale—and they are conveyed with hesitancy so that they are not taken as codified statements of fact” (“Beyond Fugitive Speech” 131).
37. Although, as seen in the second chapter, the connection between gossip and epistemology has been explored by scholars in other fields—notably philosophy—and has also been fruitfully explored by Caribbean writers. Indeed, there are resonances between Yunior’s project and Gloria’s attempt, in Maldito amor, to supplant a master narrative with her own account. Still, where Gloria seeks to impose her own univocal narrative, Yunior is more open to accepting the need for plurality and multivocality.
38. Jan Gordon hints at this, noting that gossip is “a semiotic reminder that all information is in a sense already mediated, that all listeners are prey to a previous dialogic encounter to which all are late, whose sources we can never recover[. . . . ] Gossip is always belated, always attempting to recover some original information, or an original account, yet hopelessly bound to the intransitive domain of the self-supplanting ‘version’ ” (59). In the Dominican context, gossip’s secondhand, revisionary striving becomes a means of troubling monolithic or totalitarian narratives: in emphasizing its own truth status at the expense of an existing narrative, gossip reveals the fragility of such claims and foregrounds the possibility and necessity of other versions of the past.
39. This aspect of gossip resonates with Linda Hutcheon’s concept of historiographic metafiction, which “like postmodernist architecture and painting, is overtly and resolutely historical—though, admittedly, in an ironic and problematic way that acknowledges that history is not the transparent record of any sure ‘truth’ ” (10).
40. There are parallels in this to the all-seeing “Public Eye”—a kind of counterpoint to Díaz’s eye of Sauron—that Glen Perice discerns as shaping public discourse and mediating violent reprisals in post-Duvalier Haiti. “The Public Eye in Haiti is the memory of political violence. The Public Eye is an allegorical reference to seeing and remembering. [ . . . ] In the stories and rumors of the killings, memories were ignited and fanned. [ . . . ] People had kept accounts and revenge in their heads for many years” (“Public Eye” 255).
41. Walsh perceives that the “conceit of the journal allows Mars to inflect the fiction of her novel with historical facts” (73); true, but the novel as a whole is written with a similar aim, with gossip about events that Mars suggests really happened serving to blur the lines between fact and fiction. The same “crossing of boundaries [ . . . ] from private to public, past to present, and from psychological to allegorical modes” that Walsh perceives as “central to the idea of literature as a means of reconstruction” (72) is also, after all, a critical aspect of the mechanics of gossip.
42. This motif is interesting when read in relation to Mars’s L’heure hybride (2005), which similarly explores the interplay between the personal and the political. The protagonist, Rico, foregrounds a secret that he keeps from the reader until the last pages of the novel, in a move that Lindsey Scott reads as establishing “a tension between the intimacy and seduction of the first-person voice and the mistrust engendered through the keeping of secrets” (546). The keeping of secrets becomes a gesture of both narrative and sexual agency in the face of authoritarianism, much as it is gossip, télédiol, that ultimately affirms for Rico “that the beautiful dictatorial machine is breaking down” (L’heure hybride 106). The destabilization of the state finally allows Rico to assert his own homosexuality; as with Nirvah, his body is a contested space over which he struggles to assert control. “Since the Duvaliers used sexual violence so extensively during their regimes, the body became a unique place for resistance,” Scott writes (548).
43. It is significant that Nirvah’s initial use of gossip to track down Daniel is described in transactional terms: “Each item of information is paid for with cash or with insomnia” (11). All the characters in Mars’s novel—Nirvah and Raoul, but also Arlette, Marie, Solange, and the gossiping neighbors—are presented as compromised and self-serving. Duvalier’s revolution, in Mars’s telling, corrodes the bonds of community and makes Haitians into cynical survivors, for whom even basic acts of neighborliness come with a price tag.
44. The parentage of Marie’s baby is an open question. Both Anthony and Raoul use gossip about Marie’s sexual partners to absolve themselves of responsibility for the pregnancy. When Nirvah, assuming Raoul to be the father, asks Marie whose baby it was, she considers the question a critical test: “Will she tell me the truth? [ . . . ] Who is this young woman, the fruit of my loins?” (283). In fact, Marie tells Nirvah that the father was Ziky, her imaginary friend.