Today, my students concluded Cuban modernist Virgilio Piñera’s 1949 novel René’s Flesh. Subverting the genre expectations set in the first few chapters, René’s Flesh defies the linear motion of the coming of age novel. The conventional coming of age novel begins with a stubborn climb in the attempt to conquer societal expectations by overcoming them, the protagonist’s ultimate passage to transcendence traverses failure with recognition and acceptance. In that way, character development in the coming of age story occurs at the moment rebellion turns to understanding and the protagonist desires the demands put on him by society.
René, a sick and pathetic excuse for a boy, is twenty years old yet incapable of meeting even his family’s simple demands. It opens with René nearly passing out at the butcher shop during a joyous day when it has the unrestricted sale of meat, which is met by excitement and hysteria by the rest of the town. René is soon introduced to his central role in the “The Cause” and its “battle of the flesh” as its soon-to-be chief. Millions of lives hang in the balance, yet René’s clouded inability to understand the simplest meaning spills over to the reader. In content becoming form, Piñera uses absurd nonsense to confirm René subversion of the genre – instead of recognition and acceptance, René’s Flesh is an exercise in frustration and evasion. Continue reading “To “Suffer in Silence”: On Masochism in Virgilio Piñera’s René’s Flesh”