Luisa Valenzuela Como en la guerra (1977) and Cola de lagartija (1983)

Lecture by Dr Geoffrey Kantaris, Department of Spanish and Portuguese, University of Cambridge

Luisa Valenzuela
Como en la guerra (1977 ... Intro: Luisa Valenzuela The Post-Boom began at Noon on 11th Sept ... Collapse of Grand Narratives of the Boom Como en la guerra (1977)
[lit: "As if in ... Published just after dictatorship (1976- ... Raises complex questions about the relat ... Professor of Semiotics named AZ and Ella Psychoanalysis and semitotics? Antigone's Claim: Kinship Between Life a ... Symbolic= "sphere of norms and law that  ... "She points not to politics as a questio ... Sphere of cultural intelligibility Crisis of representation and (gender) in ... "Incestuous legacies that confound [Anti ... Parodies of psychoanalysis Cola de lagartija (1983) Transition between masculine dictatorshi ... Forceful emergence of women's voices in  ... "The sexuality of fascism" El Brujo The Dictator The Monster José López Rega Novel's version: no guarantee about his  ... The supplement, the Phallus and fetishis ... Structure of the novel:
* El Uno
* D*os
 ... Three testicles Derrida's De la grammatologie Erotic triangle: the triple E Sixfingers: finger as fetish Conclusion
Luisa Valenzuela: Como en la guerra (1977) and Cola de lagartija (1983)

Como en la guerra (1977) [lit: "As if in war", trans.: He Who Searches]

Written 1973-75, but like everthing else, it got caught up in the maelstrom of the dictatorship. Although published in BsAs 1977, several changes had to be made to get it past the censorship

Most drastic -- omission of a sort of fictional prologue called "Página Cero" (Page Zero) which graphically recounts the torture of the novel's protagonist and sets up a clear political frame for what may otherwise appear to be a psychoanalytically inspired novel about the lack underpinning desire and the fantasies of fulfilment with which human beings invest desire. The entry for Page Zero still remained in the index, however, so the discerning reader might have been able to intuit censorship and interpret the title in its latent political sense. The suppressed prologue was published in the English translation, but did not appear in Spanish until the 2001 edition of Casa de las Américas.

Professor of Semiotics named AZ and Ella

The novel concerns an Argentine Professor of Semiotics in Barcelona, possibly called AZ, who seems to recognize a former acquaintance from Argentina in a possible prostitute. He decides that he must investigate the cause of her turn to prostitution and, adopting different disguises including transvestism, he visits her at 3am every night to try his hand at amateur psychoanalysis. The woman is nameless in the novel, although curiously the 2001 edition named her in the blurb on the back as Sabina. AZ discovers her graphomania, and the analysis gets confounded with occasional sexual acts. His wife, Beatriz, helps him to transcribe the recordings he makes of her conversations, and even helps with his disguises. Abruptly, the woman disappears, leaving AZ to confront his increasing entanglement with her and his fantasy projections of femininity. The novel then enters an hallucinatory world, probably an extended dream, or perhaps the delirium produced under the torture described in "Page Zero". In these sections, AZ travels first to Mexico, undertakes a Mazatec purification ritual which degrades into the counter-cultural icon of María Sabina, the Mexican medicine woman who introduced Westerners to the hallucinatory mushrooms used in the Mazatec ritual. He then travels south, through Chiapas, which is superimposed onto Misiones and Tucumán, where he meets a paradoxical group of theatrical revolutionaries who re-enact some displaced form of anthropophagism in their possible eating of a fat Western hippy woman who has brought various stereotypical New Age talismans from India to the indigenous population of the area. Finally AZ ends up in Buenos Aires, where there are queues and queues of people waiting to file past the coffin of la Santa. AZ makes his way painfully and slowly towards the sarcophagus, but gets caught up with a group of militants who want to blow up the concrete structure surrounding the sarcophagus. He agrees to take part, and under constant machine-gun fire, he manages with great difficult to insert the sticks of dynamite into the holes around the concrete building. The dynamite is finally set off, and the strucutre explodes to reveal Ella -- AZ is convinced that it is his Ella -- suspended in her crystal tomb.

Antigone's Claim: Kinship Between Life and Death (Judith Butler, 2000)

Butler's short text is a speculative examination of the puzzle that Antigone represents for philosophy, psychoanalysis and feminism. 

Does anyone know who Antigone is in Sophocles' version, and what her family relationship to Oedipus was?

Antigone was the result of Oedipus' incestuous union with his own mother. Her father, Oedipus, is therefore also her brother. Her sister, Ismeni, is also her aunt and her niece, and her brothers Polyneices and Eteocles are also uncles and nephews. She thus represents a radically unstable point in the structures of kinship imagined by Sophocles and Greek legend.

Sphere of cultural intelligibility

You may know that Antigone buries her brother Polyneices against the direct orders of the King Creon. Antigone's act is a direct challenge to the Law of Creon, but unlike the various philosopher such as Hegel, Lacan and Irigaray, who in one form or another interpret Antigone's act as the primitive sway of kinship or blood ties -- even of incestuous brotherly love -- against the social law which must demand alliegence to the father, and hence ultimately as an unsustainable social position, Butler suggests that:

Crisis of representation and (gender) intelligibility

I don't want to claim that Ella, in Valenzuela's novel, is Antigone in any simple sense -- indeed, in many ways she is the reversal of Antigone, an anti-anti-gone. But like Antigone, Ella forces a crisis in representation and intelligibility at many different levels. For Ella's subject position is unstably written into the text even as she resists and confounds AZ's blundering attempts to psycho-analyse her. What AZ misses until the very end of the novel is the suppressed story of her militant past, her possible betrayal by her militant lover Alfredo Navoni -- a character familiar to readers of Cola de lagartija and Cambio de armas -- and her love/hate relationship to her twin sister and double, who we might be tempted to call Ismeni. She is ambiguously subject to the Father's Law in the form of the ambiguous father/brother/lover figure that is the revolutionary Alfredo Navoni, who has perhaps cursed her to a living death through a possible betrayal. She is a subject of dereliction in her abandonment in exile, and appears to have turned to that unstable subject/object position, both the margin and the precondition of normative patriarchal femininity, that is represented by prostitution.

So, while not quite emerged in the....

Parodies of psychoanalysis
Consumption of la Gorda
Navoni as Wolfman

This is a dream, recounted by the woman to AZ during the psychoanalytical sessions, and attributed to Ella's revolutionary lover, Navoni, where “a man eats a wolf, becomes a Wolf Man, and then eats a dog and ducks” (Hicks 73). In the original Wolfman case, Freud, as is well known, initially attributed the Wolfman’s psychosis (manifested in his terrified dream of wolves waiting to eat him) to his observance of a primal scene, aged one-and-a-half, of his parents engaged in  coitus a tergo  (Freud, “From the History of an Infantile Neurosis” 235). Further analysis led Freud to deduce a perversion of this fairly common “primal scene” via the (incestuous) seductive attentions with which the Wolfman’s older sister had regaled him when he was just over three, while she tormented him with the picture of a wolf from a picture book which would set him screaming furiously, “fearing that the wolf would come and gobble him up” (213). I thnk this points us to the role of the (twin) sister(s), Ella y su hermana, as a latent content underlying the dream of the revolutionary (if we read Navoni’s dream through Freud’s analysis), and his ultimate rejection/betrayal of the sister(s), leads us back to the suppressed political text which in fact frames the two dreams that are recounted

El Brujo
The Dictator

Up to a certain point, Luisa Valenzuela's novel follows the tradition of Latin American dictatorship  writing in centering its account on the monstrous figure of the dictator himself. Like García  Márquez's Patriarca or Roa Bastos's Supremo, the dictator holds a core fascination for the writer  because he is in some ways the "author" of the destiny of so many lives. But, the dictatorships of  the 1970s are actually unlike the earlier dictatorships; they are not, for the most part, power  structures centred around one man whose word becomes law. They are systemic dictatorships,  where power is diffused throughout a whole system of control, not centred on any one person. It is  therefore fitting that Luisa Valenzuela's dictator is himself a marginal historical figure, although a  megalomaniac. He represents a diffused system of power and terror -- he is a symbol of the  operation of power, and of the psychoses of power. This is because Valenzuela is using her  dictator figure to point to the latent or hidden psycho-sexual motivations underlying the fascist  authoritarian politics of the military regime, including the psycho-sexual motivations underlying the  use of gratuitious torture.

José López Rega

Valenzuela's dictator is, then, the obscure historical figure José López Rega. 

Known even back then as El Brujo due to his penchant for the occult, López Rega had played an obscure rôle in Perón's entourage in Madrid, apparently chaperoning Isabel Perón, acting as personal secretary to Perón and virtually controlling access to the old man

   —. there are several anecdotal accounts of what is known or rumored about López Rega's life before joining Perón's entourage. One historian, Eduardo Crawley mentions the 740-page book he pub-lished in 1962, the year of his retirement as a police officer. Entitled Astrología esotérica

Simpson and Bennett mention that López Rega declared one of his books to have been co-authored by the Arch-angel Gabriel, and that he escaped bankruptcy by fleeing to Brazil, where “a business partner of his introduced him to Brazilian-African magic: a variety of voodoo” (p. 62f). The references to the esoteric publications and to Brazilian-African magic are explicitly taken up in Cola de lagartija.

Novel's version: no guarantee about his authenticity

All these elements, and many more, are included in the portrait of the Brujo in Cola de lagartija. However, the novel avoids tying itself down explicitly to history, elaborates freely and extensively on the material and indeed dramatizes its own relationship to history by questioning the ethical status of writing.

The supplement, the Phallus and fetishism
Structure of the novel:
* El Uno
* D*os
* ¿Tres?

At the level of structure, the novel is divided into three sections, enigmatically entitled ‘El Uno', ‘D*os' and ‘¿Tres?'

  —. ‘El Uno' straightforwardly represents the principle of auth-ority at the heart of any dictatorial system - single authority, imposition of uniformity or oneness.

  —. ‘Two' (Dos) represents the principle of dualisms and binary oppositions (Good/Evil, Soldier/Terrorist) governing the Western system of duality and binary oppositions attacked by Octavio Paz and others. In this way Two (Dos) is synonymous with ‘God' (Dios). Two represents the normative system of sexual complementarity: male/female, the traditional heterosexual belief that male complements the female and the female complements the male. Two can also be seen as generally representing the principle of symmetry ─ after all, we have two hands, two eyes, two ears, and (this is not gratuitous) men usually have two testicles (a crucial theme upon which the novel plays, as we shall see).

  —. But what of the third term? Does it represent something different htat disurbs o undermines the power structures of the regime, or is it merely an extension of them, a Holy Trinity?

Derrida's De la grammatologie

I use the word ‘supplement' with the same double sense that Jacques Derrida gives it in De la grammatologie. This idea is not actually difficult, although it might sound difficult.

Sixfingers: finger as fetish

To take another example: after we are told of the supernumerary testicle, we are given an account of the Brujo's first love, a girl called Seisdedos, Sixfingers, whose peculiarity was that of having a supplementary finger on each hand and an extra toe on each foot. His first experience of sexual love involves this disturbing sense of excess and lack.

Geoffrey Kantaris, Creative Commons Licence
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