Essay on Ode on the Death of William Butler Yeats

John Beverley, Testimonio: On the Politics of Truth (Minneapolis/London: University of Minnesota, 2004). 121 pp.

From the Metropolis: A Critique of Testimonio and the Testimonio of the Critic
LAURO FLORES University of Washington—Seattle

This thin volume gathers four influential essays previously published by John Beverley, in various venues and in some cases more than once, between 1989 and 2001. In this sense, as Beverley himself points out in his “Preface” to the book, this collection “constitute[s] a record of my involvement over the past fifteen years with the narrative form called in Latin American Spanish testimonio (testimonial narratives would be the closest English equivalent)” (ix). The author’s awareness regarding the historical, contingent, and “testimonial” character of his own essays is unambiguous and worthy of note—a point to which I will return later. This explains, among other things, his declared reluctance to alter the texts: “Beyond correcting typographical errors and anachronisms, updating the notes, and adding an introduction, I have resisted the impulse to revise them” even though, he says, he “would not always put things in the same way today” (ix). In the first essay, “The Margin at the Center: On Testimonio” (1989), Beverley explores the roots, emergence, functions and specific features of this narrative form—by

From the Metropolis

A contracorriente

contrast and in relation to other literary and non-literary practices such as autobiography, the picaresque novel, novela-testimonio, oral history, etc. The provisional definition he offers of testimonio, as “a nonfictional, popular-democratic form of epic narrative,” (33) is that this is “a novel or novella-length narrative in book or pamphlet […] 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” (31)....