I have never read Terra Nostra but now I want to; I would even like to give a seminar on it. This is because Kerstin Oloff’s article “Terra Nostra and the Rewriting of the Modern Subject,” LARR 46:3 (2011): 3-20 gives such a fascinating description of it and is itself such an instructive piece of writing.
Here is a fascinating thing: in Fuentes’ novel, Don Juan’s punishment is to become Don Quixote. Oloff writes, “In other words, the exhaustion of the character of Don Juan results in his transformation into a character that sees the surviving specters of the feudal order invisible to others. Specters of feudalism are, of course, omnipresent in the novel… (17).
Oloff says that the Marxist narrative of class struggle is “the (only partially visible) master narrative that sumes and enables the moments of transcendence and the book’s mythic rrecurrences” (18). The novel does erode linear narratives of progress such as the positivism of Comte, but what Fuentes really does here is rewrite the modern subject. The novel seeks to change the legacy of the recoding of subjectivities began in the Golden Age [see abstract]. Fuentes then revises modern individualist conceptions of the subject. So it is about history, not [ahistorical] myth.
(All of this is very interesting since the novel rewrites three key texts: Celestina, Don Quixote, Don Juan, and engages fall of Tenochtitlan and much else in America.) Key: one of the most important aspects of the work, the revision of the modern subject, disappears from sight if we also refuse to look at the Marxist master narrative.
Some key words: Vico, Maravall, ego transformation as first step to social transformation (yet this has to be dialectical, too; people are born into a Bourdieu-like field), possibility of origins in Aphrodite and not God the Father. This article is really worth getting again and rereading, and one could of course have a class with this book and its intertexts and other Fuentes texts as background, it would be SO instructive.