Empire of Dreams (El imperio de los sueños, 1988) is a postmodern book of poetry by Giannina Braschi, who is widely considered "one of the most revolutionary voices in Latin American literature today". In 1988, Empire of Dreams debuted in Spain to acclaim as El imperio de los sueños, with an English translation by Tess O'Dwyer later inaugurating the Yale Library of World Literature in Translation (1994). Composed from 1980 to 1986, this series represents the first major phase of Braschi's oeuvre: poetry written entirely in classical and modern Spanish.
Forming a hybrid of prose poetry, drama, musical theater, manifesto, gossip, autobiography, diary, literary theory, and antinovel, Empire of Dreams is a mixed genre trilogy on the culture of excess. The central axis of this epic poem is the Latin American immigrant's optimistic new life in the "Big Apple", which is dramatized by Braschi as the epicenter of the American Dream. However, social and linguistic references to other Latin cities and neighborhoods abound, such as "the Latin American Quarter in Paris, the barrio chino barcelonés, the zaguanes of Borges's Buenos Aires, and the colonial houses in Old San Juan".
The author later wrote the first full-length Spanglish novel Yo-Yo Boing! and a controversial work of political fiction in English, United States of Banana, which provides a scathing critique of the false promise of meritocracy within the American Dream.
Empire of Dreams deals with issues of artistic creation, immigration, commercialism, capitalism, identity crisis, sexual and gender ambiguity, and revolution. The narrator journeys through a "phantasmagoria of internal and external trials in order to experience the center—of political power, of meaning, of feeling, and of personal identity".
The work has been compared structurally to the Chinese box and the Matryoshka doll, given that the book has six books inside.
Part one, "Assault on Time", is a sequence of meditative prose poems on the subject of love lost and the ineptitude of language and grammar to communicate emotions. It is Braschi’s first book of poetry and it begins with the breaking of silence: "Behind the word is silence./Behind what sounds is the door". Letters take on a life of their own, roaming the streets of New York, and punctuation marks, such as colons and semicolons denote pivotal points in a relationship.
Part two, "Profane Comedy", turns loud as the poet pays homage to the evolution of poetry and performance, especially comedia dell'arte. "Profane Comedy" is composed of four books of poetry, each with humorous gusto and a flair for the grotesque: 1. "Book of Clowns and Buffoons", 2. "Poems of the World; or The Book of Wisdom", 3. "Pastoral; or, The Inquisition of Memories", and 4. "Song of Nothingness". Throughout, Braschi intermingles television jingles and pop songs by the likes of The Beatles and Madonna with poems of the Spanish Golden Age. References include Luis de León, Miguel de Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Luis de Góngora, Garcilaso de la Vega , and Francisco Quevedo, while cameo appearances are made by poets, painters, philosophers, and composers, such as: César Vallejo, Rimbaud, Goethe, Nietzsche, Shakespeare, Breughal, Beethoven, Van Gogh, and Picasso, among others. Quotations of classical poets abound, transformed by the appropriating hand of a joyful poet who uses the "sampling technique of rap music" and hip hop. Though Braschi writes with a strong literary tradition behind her and from an erudite standpoint, "she imbues her text with jollity and a brilliant energy". The text unfolds through a series of violent and surreal theatrical scenes performed by clowns, buffoons, shepherds, lead soldiers, magicians, madmen, witches, and fortune tellers. These gender-bending migrant characters attack and occupy the American mainstream, including business centers and tourist attractions. In a climatic episode of "Pastoral ; or, the Inquisition of Memories", shepherds cause traffic jams on 5th Avenue during the Puerto Rican Day Parade, ring the bells of St. Patrick's Cathedral and take over the observation deck of the Empire State Building where they dance and sing: "Now we do whatever we please, whatever we please, whatever we damn well please".
Part three, "Intimate Diary of Solitude," is a lighthearted antinovel that mocks the Latin American Boom and dictator novels. The composition is a mix-mash of flash fiction, pop songs, tabloid, commercials, diary excerpts, political and literary manifestos, performance art, ending with a philosophical treatise on the writer’s role in the modern age. The heroine Mariquita Samper, a Macy's make-up artist who dreams of being a star, calls for a revolution of "poetic eggs" and shoots the narrator of Latin American Boom novels (such as One Hundred Years of Solitude) who keeps rewriting her own diary in order to turn it into a bestseller. The debate between quality and originality versus fame and fortune is a constant theme in Empire of Dreams. The work closes with a quotation from an anonymous poem of Medieval Spanish literature, a line from "El Conde Arnaldos": "I only sing my song/to whomever follows me".
Giannina Braschi credits T.S. Eliot’s "The Waste Land" as the single most impactful English language poem to inform the rhythmic shifts and the inspiration from which she creates a chorus of anonymous voices to capture the collective conscience of the masses. Feminist scholar and poet Alicia Ostriker notes in the introduction to Empire of Dreams that the poet’s voice sounds decidedly "macho" and yet it can be theoretically "paired with Luisa Valenzuela, Clarice Lispector, Luce Irigaray, Helene Cixous, and Marguerite Duras, and obviously she owes a great deal to Gertrude Stein". Braschi has published scholarly works on Spanish language poetry by Cervantes, Garcilaso, Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, Antonio Machado, Federico Garcia Lorca, and César Vallejo, from whose work she quotes throughout Empire of Dreams. In an interview with NBC Latino, Braschi identified her favorite poet as César Vallejo: "Vallejo is a jack-in-the-box who performs the movement of my spirit. No matter how much you push him down into the box, the poet always bounces back to affirm his love for life".
Giannina Braschi, a National Endowment for the Arts fellow, is considered an influential and revolutionary voice in contemporary Latin American literature. She is the author of the postmodern poetry classic El imperio de los sueños/Empire of Dreams (1988), the Spanglish dramatic novel Yo-Yo Boing!, and the postcolonial dramatic novel United States of Banana (2011). Her collective work explores the politics of empire and independence, while capturing the trials and tribulations of the Latin American immigrant in the United States. She has won awards and grants from National Endowment for the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, PEN American Center, Ford Foundation, InterAmericas, Danforth Scholarship, Reed Foundation, El Diario, Rutgers University, and Puerto Rican Institute for Culture. With the publication of United States of Banana, CARAS Magazine named Braschi one of the most influential Puerto Ricans in 2012.