Violence and the Seduction of History in Musiquito:

Anales de un déspota y de un bolerista


H.J. Manzari

Worcester Polytechnic Institute


In 1993 a little-known Dominican writer, Enriquillo Sánchez, published his first attempt at a dictatorial novel, Musiquito: Anales de un déspota y de un bolerista. While this novel lacks the prestige and maturity granted works by such famed authors as Gabriel García Márquez, Roa Bastos and Mario Vargas Llosa, it does, however, offer a valuable look at direction of contemporary Dominican letters. Musiquito treats the Dominican past by raising the question of historical writing and historiographic metafiction in Caribbean studies. The narrator of this curious tale, the son of Musiquito, tells the story of the comical and absurd reign of the fictional Dominican despot Porfirio Funess, and his bolero-composing companion, nicknamed Musiquito. Porfirio Funess is a deranged and lascivious dictator whose uncontrollable eros rules the island republic. At base, the novel is founded on the premise that any prose narrative, Dominican or other, is a fraud; that each sentence and paragraph defrauds and seduces the reader of any possible truth; that truth, in the postmodern sense, is in crisis (Shaw 370).

The protagonists of the novel are Musiquito and Porfirio Funess. Aguasvivas, a.k.a. Musiquito, is a bolerista who contextualizes, in the form of the bolero, the events documenting the life of the fictional Dominican dictator Porfirio Funess. Funess is a fictional composite of many dictators who have ruled the Dominican Republic, from Pedro Santana through Trujillo and Balaguer. (1) Yet a number of more obvious references would link him more to Trujillo than any other (Valerio Holguín 193). Even so, Sánchez’s fictional character appears to be closer to that of the Patriarch in García Márquez’s dictator novel, El otoño del patriarca. The similarity is reflected in the novel’s concern with the true nature of absolute power and the need for people to create a supernatural leader who represents a sense of destiny and a source of control for all the seemingly unpredictable absurdities that dominate life. In addition, the two fictional dictators share an attraction to prostitutes and are often ruled by their uncontrollable libidos.

At first glance, the title of the novel Musiquito: Anales de un déspota y de un bolerista raises some curious issues. Like other dictator novels, the author of this narrative chooses to represent a historical past but, unlike his Latin American predecessors, he introduces an innovative element into the discourse, the bolero (Valerio Holguín 194). From the beginning, the title Musiquito raises the level of importance of the bolero (a popular musical element) while simultaneously placing the Dictator, and by extension, History, in an almost secondary position. The subtitle Anales de un déspota y de un bolerista cements the relationship between the bolero and history in the novel. While the Anales pertain to historical chronicles and official documentation, the bolero represents the popular, fictional and creative realm. This counter positioning of historical and lyrical forms recalls the Derridean dichotomy of oral versus written. Here the bolero, or speech, is privileged over the written histories composed by the appointed historians chosen by Funess. Such privileging casts doubt on the very possibility of any "guarantee of meaning" and reinforces the postmodern belief that history and fiction are human constructs (Hutcheon 93).(2) In fact, Musiquito is plagued by contradictory discourse, both in its content and structure.

The novel begins as the narrator, the son of Jacinto Aguasvivas (a.k.a. Musiquito), sets the scene. The story opens with the young narrator gazing at the blood-stained guitar which once belonged to his father. In this retrospective narrative, nostalgia takes over as the young Aguasvivas recalls years gone by and the first bolero his father composed in his honor. Writing, in the novel, serves as a refuge for the young boy, whose "testimonial" initiates a personal search. The blood that stains the guitar serves as a double metaphor, first for the blood shed by his father and Funess in the ambush that killed them, and also for the thousands of lives lost while his father played boleros which documented the heinous deeds of the tyrannical dictator. Sadness and despair force the young narrator to contemplate the blood’s origin as well as his own link to his father:

Pertenece a Porfirio Funess, El Poblador, o pertenece a mi padre. No sé. Lo verosímil es que esta sangre pertenezca a El Poblador. El se abrazó a la guitarra cuando le habían despedazado el diafragma, pero mi padre se la arrebató en el acto, herido en el páncreas y en las ingles por las descargas apocalípticas del tiranicidio. No sé. Aunque parece sangre de dos hombres, es la misma atroz y acosada sangre. Lo aclaro a tiempo para que nadie después alegue inocencia. (9)

The passage above cements the search for the father as an underlying theme of this novel. It recalls the retrospective journey taken by the young Juan Preciado in Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo. Both novels begin with the son deciding to research his past after the death of a parent. Contained in the threads of both novels is a ruthless father figure who flouts the law and enjoys all the women he desires.

The author’s innovative insertion of the bolero into historical discourse warrants further examination. From the beginning of the novel we know that Musiquito is forced to compose boleros documenting Funess’s endeavors. His is an unpleasant task, and his ballads capture various aspects of life in the Dominican Republic under the rule of El Poblador. If Musiquito fails to complete his task, he will be killed just like those he writes about. The composition of boleros is transformed into an historical process:

Musiquito se veía cada vez más hundido en la guitarra de la desgracia, con su trío de muerte (o de consolación) que interpretaba los boleros más lluviosos —y más agrios en el marisco de la ternura— de la historia sin cronistas del amargue y de los fastos sin comensales del horror.(33)
[Emphasis added]

Throughout the narrative, Musiquito composes boleros in order to survive. Like Sherezade, who tells a story each night in order to remain alive, he documents the events of the dictator’s reign and the "desgracias" that befall all who stand in his way, and his musical discourse supplants the "historia sin cronistas" described above. The reference to an "historia sin cronistas" alludes to the undocumented atrocities committed by the dictator and covered up by those in power. As an oxymoron, the idea of a "historia sin cronistas" also sheds light on the self-reflexive qualities of the narrative and its concern for historical writing. We know history cannot exist without its writers. Conversely, we are aware that there would be no need for chroniclers if there were no history or past events to document. If we take this one step further, looking through a postmodern lens, the passage suggests that there exists an unwritten history like that captured by Musiquito in his boleros, as well as others which goes undocumented. In this case, we can interpret Musiquito’s boleros as an historical process that documents the "desgracias" of Funess’s reign. His ballads chronicle events replete with "muerte" and "horror". Throughout the novel, the concern for history, historical writing and its indeterminate nature, is most important. But this concern may also be seen as a clever attempt on the part of the author to parody the efforts of Trujillo, who worked incessantly to stampout the Dominican past.

Historian Andrés Mateo tells that under Trujillo, "el trujillismo rechazaba el pasado histórico, usándolo como ideología y legitimización, por contraste del presente" (76). Thus, it would only seem logical that an oral record, in this case the bolero, should be foregrounded to catalogue events, no matter how mundane or ludicrous. The boleros Musiquito composes document local culture and events around the time of the dictator. But more importantly, they serve to provide the people of the Dominican Republic with a message. The message he shares tells the people of the events taking place under Funess’s reign. Moreover, in a highly illiterate country such as the Dominican Republic, such oral histories become privileged over the written ones for the simple reason that the majority of his audience cannot read. Funess’ legend, like that of all dictators, lives on in the folklore and unofficial histories of the people. In his own fictional history, he becomes a popular hero.(3) While the bolero has its origin in Cuba around 1885, it spread quickly throughout other Latin American countries, only to return to the Caribbean as a more diverse and refined art form.(4) As Fernando Valerio-Holguín suggests in his "La historia y el bolero en la narrativa dominicana" the bolero became an attractive outlet for Latin American writers because it served as a rich source for a seductive and erotic intertextuality, which could inspire epic-like tendencies within the fictions created (192). Even more important is the fascination with seduction inspired by the bolero:

Una lírica del goce, largo proceso de seducción, de sensualidad, de reciprocidad acompasada por el ritual ineludible del centro de gravedad de los cuerpos. Seducción ritualizada, de juego, desafío, provocación, rico en inflexiones y complicidades. El bolero cantado para el baile, descubre el rodeo de la sensualidad. (Zavala 125)

Just as the lyrics of the bolero seduce the audiences with their rhythms, so do the words of the novelist seduce the reader. The reader finds himself seduced by nostalgia and the nostalgia of seduction that is the bolero (Valerio-Holguín 192-93). The incorporation of popular song as part of the narrative strategy employed by Sánchez not only tells of the erotic conquests of the dictator but also exploits the bolero to seduce the readers and lure them into a most interesting period in Dominican literary history.(5) The slow tempo of the bolero, and the importance of its lyrics and the voice of the singer induces the reader to "listen" closely. Moreover, in Musiquito, the bolero and the musical space it creates becomes a cultural locus through which gender, politics, sexuality, and cultural identity are continuously defined and refined, contested, negotiated, and ultimately, even internalized.

As we examine the novel in greater detail, we see the potential of popular music and the bolero to create spaces for dialogue and even produce conflict about its messages. Hybrid in nature, the language of the bolero tempts and toys with the reader as it takes on double meanings throughout the novel. On the one hand, the bolero is represented by the many ballads Musiquito composes, while a closer look at the words seems to highlight the erotic nature of the Dominican ruler. Thus, the Bol(eros) in this novel play an important role in recording the erotic (here Eros and Thanatos appear to complement each other) adventures of this Dominican Don Juan.(6) A closer look at one of the many examples should reveal the underlying tones of eroticism that permeate the narrative.

Musiquito cantaba a las vírgenes, la verdad sea dicha.(...) Así [Funess] se mantuvo durante cuarenta años, pasando de las quinceañeras a las recién paridas, y de éstas a las viejas que frisaban los cincuenta y cinco, negadas ya al amor pero furiosas en los lechos sórdidos en que el Fundador de la Democracia Tropical las despojaba de toda mentira anciana y toda fiebre a medias.(53) [Emphasis added]

The author’s satirical portrait of Funess’ unruly libido as he seduces his victims, both young and old, serves two purposes: first, it supports the notion that the dictator is an oversexed and crazed ruler worthy of the title "Eros de la patria", and second, the parodic juxtaposition of eros and patria deconstructs the notion that patria connotes something dignified and respectable—the father. Further analysis would suggest that this passage reinforces the narrator’s continual search for the father/father figure and alludes to the pessimistic vision of life he develops as the novel progresses. In connecting foundational and sexual violence, Sánchez overturns the religious and cultural ideals of the Hispano-Catholic society; the same ideals that sanctioned the sexual and racial purity of the "sacred and legitimate" family.

Throughout the novel, Sánchez parodies an authoritative notion of Dominican history and historiography by incorporating carnivalesque elements, sexualizing and desexualizing the characters in the novel. This strategy is evident in the ritualistic manner in which Porfirio Funess deflowers Dominican virgins.

Sólo que El Poblador no las hacía mujeres con su órgano divino. Las hacía mujeres con el meñique. Primero les acariciaba el pubis intacto y eterno con la mano derecha, sumergida en lociones de tocador perfumada con lavanda francesa y, ora con el meñique, ora a veces con el índice, cargados ambos de anillos rituales.... (12-13)

The "anillos rituales" paint Funess as a kind of santero-like figure, whose bewitching sexuality makes "real women" out of these young ladies. The ritual rings serve as a link to Funess’ hidden past and the African heritage he so conveniently hides by covering himself in white powder before appearing in public. Ironically, his African ancestry would link him with the exotic and the forbidden but Funess’ prowess does not exihibit such heritage. The scene described in the novel is almost cult-like, and it is obvious that Funess takes on a sort of "teen idol" status with the young deflowered girls of the republic. What is truly ironic is the perverse way in which the randy dictator robs them of their virginity: he uses either his pinky or index finger. Clearly, this is an attempt on the author’s part to parody the dictator’s sexuality as well as masculinity, or lack thereof. One instance in the novel recalls that "Funess fue el autor de diecinueve vírgenes, sometidas sin ñoñerías a las inquisiciones del meñique, a las babas del héroe, a las soberanías sucesivas del chulo sin solución de continuidad" (22). Of course, the key parodic element is that he does not use his penis during his sexual interludes. The image painted of the "héroe" is diminished by his use of the "little" finger in his sexual encounters, over and over again. The sardonic language employed in the passage above is essential to Sánchez’s parody of the dictator figure. The paradigmatic structure serves to deconstruct the myth of the dictator in so much as each phrase builds on the next. The juxtaposition of the images of authority and power suggested by the inquisiciones, héroe and soberanías, with the terms babas, meñique and chulo, work to degrade and mock his character and the sacredness of his authority. In these episodes the women are seen as toys and objects of the dictator, underlining the paternalistic/misogynistic nature of Dominican cultural history. Nonetheless, the protagonist’s attitude with respect to women reflects his own errors in appreciating history.

The novel’s parody of the abuse of power in the Dominican Republic is evident in the satirical portrait of the sexually driven dictator. Porfirio Funess’ uncontrollable desire for women reflects a greater love, the love for the self. The narcissistic qualities of the dictator, common to all dictators in novels from Latin America, serve as an appropriate target for the author’s attack on the hierarchies that have governed the Republic for decades. Each time the narrator describes the great accomplishments and builds up the heroic-seeming qualities of the dictator, they are quickly torn down. We may take for example his rampant sexuality and reputation as a "ladies’ man". The mystique which surrounds this Dominican Don Juan is that of a playboy, but after all the bragging and praise, we are told that:

Porfirio Funess no alcanzaba los cinco pies de estatura. Tenía los ojos

verdes, el pelo canoso y era altivo y arrogante, abusador y sagaz. Los cachetes le caían sobre el cuello y exhibía manos quizá de violinista. (13)

This caricature of the dapper dictator does him no justice as the possible romantic hero of a bolero or a novela, or a nation. His appearance is quite comical and his elfin-like height and basset hound-like face serve to deconstruct the myth of his person and break down his political authority. It also alludes to the dictator’s need to cover up or conceal identities, which on a larger scale parallels the narrator’s preoccupation with his own identity, one covered up by a cultural history reliant upon deceptive appearances. In the multiple transformations of the dictator, we see the mocking derisive spirit of the carnival manifest itself throughout Musiquito, where the identities of Funess and the "mad man" are deliberately blurred.

The Porfirio Funess the public knows and adores is a mythical hero, one who makes use of disguises and masks. Even so, his fame continues to grow throughout the novel:

Su popularidad aumentaba de todas maneras. Era Dios. Alguien exclamó a tiempo: «Dios y Funess». Sólo que Dios tenía muy poco espacio en la fórmula salvadora y dejó a Funess solo. (111) (7)

Funess’ desire to know all, to see all and to control all culminates in his being likened to God and eventually surpassing Him in importance: "Sólo que Dios tenía muy poco espacio en la fórmula...". As he "displaces" God in the formula, the dictator is raised to a new level, that of omnipotence. But we must not forget that it is God that abandons him, "tenía muy poco espacio en la fórmula salvadora y dejó a Funess solo". Ironically, not even God can find it in his heart to forgive this wretched soul. Funess may equal "Dios" but his actions are much more like those of a devil, a characteristic very common of the dictators in more famous novels, such as El otoño del patriarca and Yo el Supremo.

If we accept the premise that the "island" is a metaphor for identity, then the image that Porfirio Funess establishes in the following passage reinforces the narcissistic qualities characteristic of any dictator. They are quite common in Latin American dictator novels, where the Patriarch in each case establishes himself as a symbol of the identity of the whole nation. Not only is Funess obsessed with himself, but his ego encourages him to believe that he himself is the quintessence of Dominican identity. The young narrator tells us: "‘La insularidad-decía Funess—Es deliciosa y omnímoda’. Él era la ínsula" (29). The image of the "island" repeats itself as references are made to neighboring islands and cities which are "island-like". A little later in the story, the narrator reveals how Funess’s obsession grows and his desire to be the center of the universe takes his authority to another level: "había soñado una república imperial. Los islotes adyacentes fueron convertidos en provincias ultramarinas y bautizados con inusitada pompa.... ‘como afirmó Copérnico—le comunicó en un parte de solemnes lisonjas—la Tierra gira alrededor del sol y los isleños alrededor de Su Excelencia’" (30). In this example, Funess envisions himself as the center of the universe, and his island nation becomes the pivotal point around which the whole world revolves. We perceive to what extreme Funess’ obsession with power and control could take him, if only in his dreams. Yet, we cannot forget that a large part of the identity crisis/historical problem that remains unresolved by Dominicans is the simple fact that they must share the island with their western neighbor, Haiti.

It is no surprise that Funess would want absolute control over all aspects of the republic. In another anecdotal episode, the young narrator reveals Porfirio Funess’ hatred for blacks. Race is always a risky subject, and in the Dominican Republic, a nation of mulattoes and blacks, the situation becomes more delicate. Nonetheless, Funess detests blacks, and in an effort to stamp out cultural and racial differences in his country, he hires a Swedish scientist, Neils Boëring, to concoct a magical lotion to whiten the skin of any Dominican, black or mulatto. Hence, in the novel, he is dubbed the savior of the white race for he was able to achieve what leaders for centuries had failed to do:

Después de cuatrocientos años inicuos y nefandos, lo habían al fin logrado. Eran blancos. Hacía cuatrocientos años que esperaban ser blancos. [Y]...en menos de tres años el suyo sería un pueblo mediterráneo y antes de cinco un pueblo victorios[a] y concluyentemente ario, asombro del universo, de los hombres, de la ciencia y de los más altos preceptos estéticos que la humanidad había burilado con delectación y esmero durante los siglos metódicos e inescrutables. (41)

In this grotesquely disturbing passage, Funess is shown attempting to eliminate any sense of cultural heterogeneity in the country. The years preceding his reign of power are described as "inicuos" and "nefandos" and reflect the presence of a black history. However, complete Europeanization in three years would not be enough for the power-hungry Funess. The term "ario" recalls past images of a dictator like Hitler, who not only wanted to achieve world domination and control, but also wanted to establish the "perfect" race. Funess wants the Dominican Republic to become the center of the world so that for once Europe will have to follow in his footsteps. But the following passage reveals the true nature of this island nation, as the dictator consults government officials as to whether or not complete extermination of a race of people would be possible:

Quería saber si era apropiado modificar la identidad de un pueblo que secularmente había sido negro y mestizo, convirtiéndolo en un pueblo de blancos de la noche a la mañana con una loción milagrosa. (39)

The true cultural identity of the Dominican nation is "negro y mestizo" in contrast to the Aryan version Funess would like to envision. Although this is a novel about a fictional dictator, we cannot help but see the similarities between him and the real life Trujillo. It is known that dictator Trujillo, in his fever to rid the island of its African heritage, practiced and promoted anti-haitianism. Under Trujillo, Dominicans and Haitians were said to have nothing in common, and those of Haitian blood or ancestry were considered to belong to the "other" group (Mateo 147-48).(8) This marginalization was meant to instill a sense of pride and nationalism in hearts of the "real" Dominicans. Therefore, the portrait Sánchez paints of Funess is not unlike Trujillo, at least according to the historians like Mateo and Cassá. Ironically enough, Trujillo was a mulatto and had to deny and ignore his heritage to be accepted by the bourgeoisie. Also, he was known to cover himself in talcum powder before going out in public, to appear "whiter".

Continuing his efforts to rid a whole nation of its black citizens, El Poblador makes another attempt to relieve the island of these "undesirables". In order to achieve this, he consults a Danish metaphysician who performs the task. The engineer explains to Funess that in order to eliminate blacks from Dominican history, he must first go back to Africa and begin the history of humanity from another point. Funess sees no problem in eliminating blacks from history, as the young narrator explains:

en pocas semanas, en la historia nacional no existió Haití ni existió la trata negrera, así como no existieron los filibusteros ni existió Toussaint L’Ouverture. Los fue expulsando minuciosamente de la imaginación, de los cotos en ocasiones ilegibles de la imaginación. (79) [Emphasis added]

Here, Funess is able to achieve a historiographic massacre as he eliminates the black race from textual existence. The removal of Toussaint L’Ouverture and the slave trade from Dominican history destroys any chance of slave rebellion and wipes the historical record clean. This would eliminate any documentation of the Dominican Republic under Haitian rule and the hatred and loss of national pride which came with it. Present history is made to overshadow past history, which also eventually disappears from Funess’s eyes. This passage is characterized by intertextual references beyond those of L’Ouverture and the colonial slave trade. It parodies "official" histories in that it alludes to the ability to modify and even alter a nation’s cultural history. This textual massacre is reminiscent of the famous October 1937 massacre in which Trujillo ordered the assassination of Haitians wherever they were found in the Dominican Republic. More than 18,000 Haitians died at the whim of the maniacal Dominican general. In this same chapter, the Danish metaphysician (a clever insertion of the metaphysical in the metafictional by the author) explains to Funess that:

los hechos históricos, una vez consumados, sólo existían en la imaginación ética de los hombres, de modo que bastaba soñarlos de otra manera para que desaparecieran de las crónicas mendaces. (79)

With history altered, the Dominican Republic would slowly become a different nation and all the past prejudices and problems would disappear. The use of the phrase "crónicas mendaces," or false chronicles, raises the issue of truth as represented in any Dominican history, and reinforces the postmodern idea of the "crisis of truth". By calling into question the veracity of Dominican historiography, Sánchez once again reflects a concern with the process of historical writing in the Dominican Republic and alludes to the possibility of alternative histories.

Violence is a vehicle often used by dictators or tyrants to arrive at power, especially when the dictator wants to satisfy his destructive instincts. The portrait Sánchez paints of this despot is violent, as well as comical. We cannot forget that one of the author’s motives is to parody the image of the dictator that has for decades defined and manipulated Dominican culture. In addition, the ultimate goal of this satire is to deflate false heroes, impostors and charlatans, who aspire to a respect not due them. This can be said both of Funess and of Trujillo, as well as many who ruled before Trujillo. Fear is the most valuable instrument possessed by the ruler and the cleverly ludic nickname given to Funess as "El Poblador" mocks the characteristics for which he is famous.(9) As the "Poblador," Funess is known to have numerous relations with as many young women as possible, as well as to instill fear in the Republic. The narrator tells us that Funess:

poblaba de urbes los valles y de rúas solitarias las sabanas y de ilusiones el miedo y de talleres agobiantes y fragorosos la sempiterna menesterosidad de las islas y de vocales la incuria de los mortales y de leche caliente las anhelantes almas escolares.(26)

Just as with any dictator, complete cultural penetration is necessary in order to establish total domination. As Funess figuratively penetrates Dominican society with propaganda and fear, he also sexually penetrates, but not fully, young girls. Both actions seem to be encouraged by his uncontrollable libido.

Throughout the novel we are bombarded with the grotesque images of violence used by the dictator to penetrate and control. We are told early on in the novel that poets and historians alike called Porfirio the "Eros de la patria," and after having his way with the young virgins, the dictator would marry them off to some young cadet in order not to cause the family any shame (11). However, the night Funess chose to serenade Manuela Loinaz, a young virgin of 16 years, things did not turn out the way he expected. The young narrator tells us that "Manuela amaba en secreto a El Poblador desde los doce años. El pubis le había crecido con puntualidad enrevesada, cosa de rosicler que no decía su nombre" (15). Like many young virgins throughout the island, Manuela had fallen under the love spell of the dictator, the myth of his eros having elevated him to a god-like stature. Manuela is a symbol of all women in the novel, the victim and the object of the dictator’s desires. Her character serves to reinforce the patriarchal nature of Dominican society and its history of machista practices. But tragedy strikes that night, when a neighbor of Manuela Loinaz, an old enemy of Funess’ and "uno de los pocos que habían sobrevivido," throws the contents of his chamber pot out the window, drenching the dictator, Musiquito and the Minister of the Armed Forces. Covered in feces and urine, Porfirio Funess reveals his true colors and wreaks vengeance on the neighbor and his family.

Porque no hubo impunidad. Murió, frito en sus propios orines y en su cacas ofensivas, Pedro Altolaguire [the neighbor]. Cayeron en el paredón de fusilamiento sus hijos mayores. Sus dos hijas, pecosas y altaneras, fueron violadas por el Quinto Regimiento Sureño de Cosacos Tropicales.
Su mujer, de carnes enteras a pesar de los cincuenta y cinco años de discreción y abstinencia bajo los que había escondido su hermosura y su magia electrizantes, tuvo que acostarse con todos los pretendientes de cuarenta años atrás y fue obligada a atizar el fuego de la olla descomunal que dispusieron para freír al boticario, su marido. La dejaron viva. La dejaron viva para que diera testimonio elocuente del destino de la familia.(17)

The grotesque images prominent in these and many other passages serve to belittle the figure of the dictator and are very important to the process of destroying hierarchies (Menton 24). The narrator satirizes a tragic scene in order to demystify the benevolent images of a Porfirio Funess that brought progress and order to the Republic. In the example, the grotesque causes displeasure because of the improbable nature of the image. It is unimaginable that a human being could stoop to such levels in order to maintain his authority. This scene is transmuted from the parodic mode into a satirical portrait of the depraved dictator.(10) So common among grotesque scenes such as this one are scatological images that draw the reader’s attention to the lower stratum or the lower confines of the body. These images lend a bodily character to the objects of the parody, degrading them and providing us with a very visual moment. Throughout the episode, the reader’s senses are assailed with scatological images of "caca" and "orines" and other vile actions. This downward progression, from the higher to lower senses, is an essential ingredient in the carnivalesque and Sánchez uses it to exploit this moment. He writes that when "Musiquito tocaba una criolla dulce y lenta, [mientras Funess serenaba la vírgen] el vecino de Manuela Loinaz hizo una de las suyas (...) [y luego] echó una bacinilla de orines y otras menudencias... que lo mojaron a él [Musiquito] y a El Poblador" (16-17). This spectacle is directed at all of the senses. The movement from the serenade by Funess (affecting the auditory senses of all present) which triggers the bowel movement of the boticario (both physical and olfactory) progresses downward to the dictator and his accomplishments as they are covered in excrement (touch and smell) and which finally results in the heinous execution of those involved (touch). The fact that Funess chooses to let the wife live as a witness to the tragedy which has befallen her family only augments the degree of fear El Poblador is able to instill in his subjects throughout the republic. This episode recalls the death of Patricio Aragonés bathed in his own filth in El otoño del patriarca and therefore may also be an intertextual reference to the dictator novel written by García Márquez. Moreover, the use of the carnivalesque in Musiquito is similar to its predecessor, El otoño del Patriarca, in that the novel finds itself unmasking official ideologies.

Nonetheless, Musiquito: Anales de un déspota y de un bolerista serves to elaborate a new form of conceiving the dictator in Latin America, and more importantly, it revisits the need for challenging hegemonic Dominican histories. Sánchez’s approach would suggest that since all fiction is invented, so is history, because it is manipulated and re-created and, hence, belongs to the same kind of fabrication as Sánchez’s novel, or to the "memoria del olvido". In the tenacious ambiguity that situates it between fiction and history, between transgression and the law, the novel is a good example of writing as a "pharmakon," in which we perceive the ability to mean something and its opposite. As readers of the novel, we are challenged to question the "truthfulness" of the texts we read and to rethink the entire notion of historical reference and its privileged tradition in Dominican letters. The identity in crisis, reflected in the narrator’s search for the father in this novel, mirrors an even greater crisis: that of a nation searching for a cultural history to call its own, and on another level, one that may link it with the other nations of the Spanish Caribbean.


(1). The name possibly derived from a combination of Mexico’s dictator, Porfirio Díaz and Borges’s Funes, el memorioso.

(2). In addition, Donald Shaw in his Nueva narrativa hispanoamericana alludes to this aspect of postmodernism in Latin American literature proclaiming "la culminación en Hispanoamérica del Modernism, porque a los escritores todavía les queda alguna confianza en la posibilidad de expresar ‘verdades’. El posmodernismo, en cambio, surge precisamente cuando tal confianza entra en crisis," p. 370.

(3). Music written in honor of Trujillo was very common. Perhaps one explanation behind the proliferation of boleros and merengues praising or questioning his power was the fact that the Dominican Republic suffers from a high level of illiteracy and one of the easiest forms of spreading ideas or information is orally, or through music. It is possible that Enriquillo Sánchez is parodying this aspect of Dominican culture.

(4). A valuable resource for the history of the bolero is Gerard Béhague, "Popular Music in Latin America," Studies in Latin American Culture, 5 (1986), 41-47.

(5). Throughout the Caribbean, songs of all types represent an essential part of daily life and serve as cultural identifiers. In Puerto Rico, songs like Lamento borincano and En mi viejo San Juan, are sentimental contributions to the national struggle for identity. Cuban-American song writers like Willie Chirino and Gloria Estéfan have songs that represent a constant struggle to hold on to the past, and each one represents an individual vision of Cuba. Chirino’s songs, like Nuestro día, and Estéfan’s latest album, Mi Tierra, are perfect examples of this. Gustavo Pérez Firmat’s Life on the Hyphen: The Cuban-American Way, addresses this issue with respect to Cuban-Americans. It would be interesting to see the publication of a cross-cultural/pan-Caribbean study of how the music of the Spanish Caribbean shares a similar search for a cultural rootedness.

(6). Andrés Mateo suggests that Trujillo too had this ability to lure and attract which gave him the reputation of being an "eros de la patria". He writes: "La manipulación sexual de la figura varonil de Trujillo y su papel en la "construcción" del mito es un aspecto aún no estudiado. Juan Bosch afirma ‘el proceso por el cual las masas entregan su destino a un caudillo tiene en el fondo un contenido sexual" (42)

(7). This quote, "Dios y Funess" is an obvious play on the famous neon sign at the entrance of President Peynado’s house that read "Dios y Trujillo". It also recalls Balaguer’s famous speech "Dios y Trujillo". See Jesús de Galíndez, p. 39.

(8). Trujillo’s sadistic massacre of Haitians in 1937 has inspired a great deal of writing. In Balaguer’s 1947 study La realidad dominicana, he stresses the importance of Dominican attachment to Hispanic culture and what he sees as a Haitian threat to Dominican racial, political and national integrity.

(9). Rafael Leonidas Trujillo created a myth surrounding his person and had the nickname of "Padre y benefactor de la patria" which ironically appeared in every corner and village throughout the island nation in order to secure Trujillo’s cultural and political domination, not to mention the fact that at one time he renamed the capital, Santo Domingo, "Ciudad Trujillo".

(10). On Menippean satire see Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism, especially p. 309.


Works Cited

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Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and His World. Trans. Hélène Iswolsky. Cambridge: M.I.T. Press, 1968.

Béhague, Gerard. "Popular Music in Latin America." Studies in Latin American Culture. 5 (1986): 41-47.

Frye, Northrup. Anatomy of Criticism:Four Essays. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1957.

Galíndez, Jesús de. The Era of Trujillo. Ed. Russell H. Fitzgibbon. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 1973.

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Larson, Neil. "¿Como narrar el trujillato?" Revista Iberoamericana. 142 (Enero-Marzo 1988): 89-98.

Mateo, Andrés L. Mito y cultura en la era de Trujillo. Santo Domingo: Editora de Colores, 1993.

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Sánchez, Enriquillo. Musiquito:Anales de un déspota y de un bolerista. Santo Domingo: Editora Taller, 1993.

Shaw, Donald L. Nueva narrativa hispanoamericana:Boom, Posboom, Posmodernismo. Madrid: Cátedra, 1999.

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White, Hayden. Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1973.