An inventory of masculinities: Borges in Denevi's Enciclopedia secreta de una familia argentina.
Marco Denevi's 1986 work, Enciclopedia secreta de una familia argentina, wryly iconizes Borges's famous assertion that "no hay clasificacion del universo que no sea arbitraria y conjetural" (OC 2: 86). Conspicuously influenced by "El idioma analitico de John Wilkins" (1) the novel's epigraph reads: "No hay nada mejor que una enciclopedia para describir un mundo esquizofrenico. Disociando los datos y los conocimientos sin someterlos a ningun orden salvo el arbitrario del alfabeto, toda enciclopedia parece dictada por la esquizofrenia" (9).
While Borges's comment about encyclopedias primarily referred to the unfathomable nature of the universe at large--preceding entries such as "Tablas del machismo, Las doce," "Porteno, Paradigma del" and "Viveza, Elogio de la," the epigraph above suggests that is the arbitrary and conjectural nature of Argentina in particular that requires a "schizophrenic" text for authentic representation. Throughout the 1980s, schizophrenic, along with adolescent, autistic and delusional would become terms Denevi frequently used to describe his homeland in the fiction, essays and interviews he increasingly used to express his political and social concerns. At the heart of his perplexity with the region was a culture that both permitted and resulted from Argentina's "historica educacion en los simulacros, parodias, caricatura, deformaciones, suspensiones y negaciones de la democracia" ("La Argentina del silencio" 118). This culture, of course, was a central concern to many intellectuals in the wake of the nation's Proceso Nacional de Reorganizacion Social. Marta Morello-Frosch argued that younger Argentine writers, including Denevi, turned to Borges with the question: "With what cultural materials does one reconstruct national literature?" (28). In a tone considerably more acrid than his earlier satire, Denevi's Enciclopedia secreta de una familia argentina finds its answer in disassembling, examining and categorizing these cultural materials with all the ironic distance afforded by the guises of empirical research. (2)
The deployment of outsider perspectives to shed critical light on the dominant social order characterized Denevi's fiction since the publication his first novel, Rosaura a las diez in 1955- Like Rosaura's Camilo Canegato, many of his protagonists are marginalized, ineffectual, and unattractive. Homosexuality among his antiheroes frequently has an unfortunate causal relationship with these characteristics, and is often the hallmark of their outsider status (Louisor-White 135). Rather than empathize with these characters, Denevi's narrators often echo Argentine society's disdain. Ironically agreeing with the social norms that marginalize his queer protagonists, Denevi lays bare the contingency of these norms upon the very people and activities that they proscribe. As one character in the Enciclopedia secreta states, "A las mujeres les resulta facil. Les basta con no ser hombres. Pero un hombre tiene que probarlo y no es tan sencilla la cosa ni esta al alcance de cualquiera" (251). The acts that men must constantly put on to prove their masculinity (synonymous with their "portenismo") become nearly indistinguishable from those that others (and often, indeed, those same men) must use to conceal their homosexuality. Eve Kosofsky Sedgewick has noted that, "the relations around the known and the unknown, the explicit and the inexplicit around homo/heterosexual definition--have the potential for being peculiarly revealing, in fact, about speech acts more generally" (Epistemology 3). Harnessing the critical potential of the tenuous relations between sexuality and epistemology in general, Enciclopedia secreta takes a doubly removed approach in its examination of Argentine society. The editors of the encyclopedia present themselves as mere observers compiling data, while many of the entries they include dispassionately describe scenes of male homosocial and homosexual desire. The empirical observations of Argentine gender constructs effectively expose the parallels between Argentina's dominant sexual discourse and its dominant political discourse.
Herbert Brant has noted that the people, historical events and dominant social values depicted in Marco Denevi's fiction consistently reveal his "conviction that truth is covered up by a superficial veneer, suggesting that layer after layer of built-up illusion and falsification have completely obscured reality" ("Camilo's Closet" 203). The strength of Enciclopedia secreta de una familia argentina's critique of Argentine society resides in its analogizing the lies those in power must tell themselves and tell others to achieve the political and economic gain they desire, regardless of the cost, to the masks men must wear to assert their social dominance, often at the expense of their own happiness and wellbeing. The novel's homosexual characters in particular meet catastrophic ends, the tragedy caused by Argentina's blindness to its social reality finding an echo in the tragic scenarios of men self-destructing rather than coming out of, or even recognizing the true confines of "the closet." Borges, being both an author for whom traditional Argentine versions of masculinity are almost sacred, and a major influence upon Denevi, is necessarily brought into conversation throughout Enciclopedia secreta. The text's encyclopedic format is but the first of many engagements Denevi makes with his predecessor in his inventory of Argentine culture. In scenes reminiscent of a number of Borges's compadrito fictions, Denevi interrogates his predecessor's unassailable admiration for traditional displays of Argentine masculinity, exposing the sexual and psychological motivations for, as well as the consequences of, masculine rivalry.
Enciclopedia secreta de una familia argentina is best contextualized within a larger project Denevi undertook after Argentina's return to democracy. Using the novel as a space to interrogate the contradictions and competing realities that kept the nation on its destructive course, Denevi began writing fiction around a term he coined to define the malady he saw afflicting his compatriots: manuelisma was "una enfermedad mental endemica entre los habitantes de Buenos Aires. Sus manifestaciones consisten en la mitologizacion del pasado, en la negacion del presente y en la afirmacion apodictica de un futuro utopico" (Manuel 14). The book he intended to write was to be called Las munecas rusas, as it would contain various novels within one. Yet the project of inscribing the causes and effects of manuelisma within fiction took on such enormous dimensions that Denevi eventually chose to split the text in two. His Manuel de Historia (1985) contains five different versions of the attempts and failures of two collaborators--"nuestro propio Bustos Domecq"--to compose a novel (65). (3) Remainders of the actual contents of this unfinished novel, too unwieldy to appear alongside the accounts of their creation--as was intended for Las munecas rusas--were published in Denevi's Enciclopedia secreta de una familia argentina (1986).
In the preface to the 1985 novel, Denevi explains that his extraction of the pages that would soon be published as Enciclopedia secreta de una familia argentina may make Manuel de Historia read like a "desmesurado prologo de una novela que jamas habria sido escrita" (7). But Manuel does in fact lay out the premise for the Enciclopedia quite clearly. In one version of the story, a rich but elderly aspiring writer, Ramon Civede (an anagram and frequent literary alter ego of Marco Denevi), enlists the collaboration of an American philologist and cultural advisor, Sidney Gallagher, describing the novel he wishes to compose in the following way:
En lugar de "Manual de Historia", "Manuel de Historia". Manuel por el nombre del protagonista e Historia porque es la biografia de un hombre que vive, en los cincuenta anos de su existencia, los quinientos que vivio su pais. ... [N]o me propongo narrar, porque de lo contrario la novela seria infinita, los episodios historicos ocurridos a lo largo de los quinientos anos, sino la evolucion del caracter y de la mentalidad de Manuel como consecuencia de la historia. (58)
Effectively, Enciclopedia secreta accounts for five-hundred years of Argentine history as allegorized through Manuel Argento and his descendants. (4) Civede, however, had a particular angle in mind: "[m]e entusiasma la idea de enfocar nuestra historia a traves de la sexologia y de la psicologia, exclusivamente. Sera una vision parcial, lo admito, pero complementaria de la perspectiva de los historiadores" (60). Herein lies the "secret" aspect of the Enciclopedia secreta de una familia argentina, which, as Denevi explains in the prologue, divulges "datos, noticias, intrigas, habladurias, intimidades, verguenzas, delaciones, hechos y pensamientos que, hasta ahora guardados bajo llave, aqui ven la luz del dia" (11). True to Civide's vision, as we will see, the succeeding generations of Manuel Argento's family reveal the historical evolution of Argentine prescriptions for gender performance and cultural identity. (5) However partial, the Enciclopedia secreta's exposition of the sexual and psychological manifestations of Argentine culture provide a crucial perspective on the discourses of power in general.
The actual History the Enciclopedia secreta contains begins with the arrival from Spain of patriarch Manuel el Adelantadito in the 16th century, and concludes on October 17, 1945. (6) That evening, while celebrating the nuptials of the aptly named Eden Perdido Argento on the family mansion's balcony, the entire Argento clan falls to its death when the intense vibrations from "[una] horda de endemoniados" pouring through Buenos Aires's streets, chanting "pe-ron, pe-ron," shake the girders with such force that the balcony collapses (223) (7) Appearing in an encyclopedia, the intervening events are not presented chronologically but alphabetically--indeed the family's annihilation is located in the "N" section. The encyclopedia entries range in length from one sentence to some ten pages, and consist of microfiction, anthropological notes, short stories, a Molly Bloom-style monologue and even a sonnet, which H. Bustos Domecq is alleged to have included his "Florilegio de la lirica rioplatense" (247). The stories and observations the entries contain provide random snapshots of Argentine history, primarily evinced through various male characters' attempts to conform to the standards of machismo in a given era. Conflict in these episodes generally arises from the Argento men's difficulty adhering to "Las doce tablas del machismo" (249). Embodying the Argentine masculine ideal was in fact a challenging prospect, with the slippery and ever-changing qualities that defined this elusive trait. While there were always twelve laws, few of them remained the same throughout the generations: (8) "Los Argento se desesperaron por mantenerse al corriente. A menudo la noticia de una modificacion les llegaba tarde, ellos incurrian en flagrantes transgresiones que los obligaban a desafios cruentos o a no salir de su casa por un mes, corridos de la verguenza" (251).
So plainly stating that many of the fights his characters got into were due to their embarrassment over missing a social cue, Denevi deftly unveils not only his protagonists' insecurity, but that of an entire literary canon of Argentine men. The suggestion arises that, from Martin Fierro and Don Segunda Sombra to Horacio Oliveira, shows of male competition, be they with fists, knives or words, are motivated more by a need to demonstrate one's adherence to a masculine code than to possess the object at stake in their conflict. While women traditionally serve as the triangulating object which sanctions the bonds among literary rivals (Sedgwick, Between Men 21), competition among Borges's male characters often stems from complex issues around the code itself. The rivalries depicted in Enciclopedia secreta appear to more closely follow Borges's formulations, with their general lack of female intermediaries, but in doing so, make him a special target for Denevi's criticism.
LOOK UNDER "M" FOR BORGES
In his 1989 book of essays about Argentina, La Republica de Trapalanda, written from the perspective of a European living in Buenos Aires, Denevi asserts: "la sociedad argentina no ganara mucho si se conforma con la exaltacion de la obra de Borges y no se averigua por que esa obra ha podido brotar, asi, en medio de los males, de las penurias y de las pamplinas de esa misma sociedad" (151). Several entries of the Enciclopedia secreta seem to have this very aim--acknowledging the value of Borges's writing while questioning how its more problematic aspects reflect and result from Argentine society. As with many writers from Argentina's younger generations, Borges was an influence whose presence in Denevi's work could not be denied, but would not go unchallenged. While other writers worked through and against Borges's classism, Euro-centrism and political conservatism, in the Enciclopedia secreta in particular, Denevi's obvious esteem for Borges is tempered by his criticism of the ingenuous privileging of repressive gender norms that imbues his predecessor's work.
Denevi's admiration is evident in the very form of his novel, embodying one of Borges's most famous critical contributions to twentieth century philosophy--the dependence of knowledge upon the discourses of power. Influence can be noted in other formal devices of the Enciclopedia secreta, whose pastiche of styles, ambiguous authorship, competing versions of history, apocryphal referents, and references to (and misattribution of) works by contemporary and historical writers all playfully hearken back to Borges's fictions. Yet when the Enciclopedia secreta mentions him specifically by name, Borges, as a historical referent, is used to illustrate an apparent double standard in Argentine society.
In the entry, "Porteno, Paradigma del," Votivo de la Cruz--the same Argento to complain of the difficulty adhering to the doce tablas del machismo--does everything he can to be the "desideratum y el non bis in idem del portenismo," even though conforming to this code involves negating his every instinct (229). He stays out late, though he prefers to go to sleep and get up early; he detests alcohol but drinks it regularly; he feigns a voice that sounds nothing like his own. (9) He deeply admires his friend Fiesta Civica, renowned poet and porteno par excellence, whose verses, though unintelligible "[s]alvo los articulos, las preposiciones y las conjunciones", are met with fervent praise in the local bars (230). When Fiesta Civica is murdered and his identity papers reveal him to be in fact an Italian citizen and hairdresser, Votivo--oblivious to his own dissimulations--fumes that "[e]n este pais la gente es un fraude" (231). Years later, walking past the plaza where this charlatan was killed, he sees a plaque commemorating "Fiesta Civica Maldonado, poeta porteno y popular." Here, Denevi writes: "En el mas puro estilo borgeano Votivo penso: 'Yo conoci a ese hombre y era mejor que Carriego, que el falso Carlos de la Pua y que Celedonio Flores'. Y los ojos se le nublaron" (231, my emphasis).
The "Paradigma del Porteno" refers both to the archetypal masculine ideal that Votivo and Fiesta Civica sought to incarnate, and to a specific pattern, or stylized repetition of acts, in Judith Butler's terms, of denying aspects of one's own identity in the attempt to perform idealized porteno masculintiy (214). With this entry, then, Denevi not only signals the performativity of porteno identity, but through Votivo's tears, underscores the pain caused by the destructive self-negation required to incarnate this tenuous trait. The "estilo borgeano" in which Votivo ardently recalls the friend whose memory he had previously execrated, aims at Borges's own susceptibility to manuelisma in his tendency to mythologize the past. Historical figures, such as compadritos Nicolas Paredes, the Iberra brothers, Juan Murana, or his famous military forbears, Colonel Francisco Borges and Isidoro Suarez, among others, frequently appear in Borges's work, their idealized masculine traits overshadowing any other attribute or flaw. (10) Indeed these machos often serve exclusively as barometers for measuring the masculinity of Borges's protagonists--one of the Nilson brothers having fought Juan Iberra, Rosendo Juarez worldng for Nicolas Paredes--making these historical figures a type of adjective describing his characters in much the same way "la mujer, el apero y el colorado son atributos o adjetivos" of Azevedo Bandeira in "El muerto" (OC 1: 548).
A second, and more directly critical, mention of Borges can be found in the entry entitled "Muerte, que no para todos es la misma," which reads:
Cada vez que un hombre moria, los Argento varones sentian la irreparable perdida de un individuo irrepetible. Pero cuando moria una mujer no quedaba para nada afectada la inagotable pluralidad de las mujeres. El escritor Jorge Luis Borges fue del mismo parecer, segun consta en uno de sus libros mas ignorados por la familia.(217) (11)
The book referred to here could be any number of Borges texts. As a subject of his non-fiction, women are virtually absent. Female characters in his fiction, if they appear at all, are generally dead (as in Beatriz Viterbo in "El Aleph" or Teodolina Villar in "El Zahir"); function as property whose possession is but one symbolic indicator of power (as in the nameless redhead in "El muerto" or la Lujanera in "Hombre de la esquina rosada"); are self-abnegating tools for revenge (as in "Emma Zunz"); or serve as a sanctioned (e.g. heterosexual) mode for diffusing homosocial and homosexual desire (as in Juliana Burgos in "La intrusa").
"La intrusa," in particular, illustrates the unequal value placed on the lives of men and those of women. In the exposition, the narrator, presenting himself as Borges, justifies his writing the story for historical purposes, because it provides "un breve y tragico cristal de la indole de los orilleros antiguos" (OC 2:401). Exactly what about this "indole" Borges sought to demonstrate, and the narrator's (and presumably the author's) personal feelings about it, have been up for debate since before the story was even written. (12) The Nilson, or possibly Nelson, brothers display typical macho traits: "sus lujos eran el caballo, el apero, la daga de hoja corta, el atuendo rumboso de los sabados, y el alcohol pendenciero" and "[f]ueron troperos, cuarteadores, cuatreros y alguna vez tahures" (OC 2:401). Yet their physical appearance, violence and greed marginalize them among other orilleros in Turdera, while bringing the brothers closer together. When the elder brother, Cristian, brings home domestic servant and bedmate Juliana Burgos, the younger, Eduardo, covets and falls in love with her. To sublimate this desire, Eduardo brings home a woman himself, but, apparently no substitute for Juliana, she is quickly thrown out. Likely sensing his brother's infatuation, and revealing Cristian's personal regard for Juliana, he invites his younger brother to "use her" while he's away, from which point on the two share her sexually. Rivalry surges, and the two begin to bicker over business and domestic affairs, "pero lo que discutian era otra cosa" (OC 2: 402). After selling Juliana to a brothel, only to buy her back after both realize the other is secretly engaging her services, the tensions between them begin anew. Jealously protecting the relationship with his brother above all else, Cristian kills Juliana and he and Eduardo bury her together. The brothers are so relieved to have this obstacle between them removed that, "[s]e abrazaron, casi llorando" (OC 2:404). Now, only after Juliana is dead, they share one more tie binding them together: "la mujer tristemente sacrificada y la obligacion de olvidarla" (OC 2:404).
The rhetorical positioning of the narrator Borges, the line separating his discourse from that of the brothers, is difficult to distinguish. The naturalness with which readers are told, for example, that Juliana "atendia a los dos con sumision bestial" or that "la vendieron a la patrona de un prostibulo" (OC 2: 403) is the same with which Cristian tells Eduardo, "Hoy la mate" (OC 2: 404). (13) In this final line of the story, one cannot say whether the description of Juliana's death as "tristemente sacrificada" issues from Borges as narrator, or whether it should be read as the indirect discourse of the brothers. On the one hand, the narrator could be condemning the brothers' action and lamenting Juliana's fate. On the other hand, this "sad sacrifice" could be the brothers' thoughts on having destroyed a dearly loved object for the greater good of preserving their relationship. Throughout the story Borges ambiguously, or perhaps ambivalently, describes misogynist attitudes and behaviors in terms that are at once unflattering but free of judgment. When the brothers initially begin fighting over outside issues, to avoid addressing the true source of their contention, Borges explains: "[e]n el duro suburbio, un hombre no podia decir, ni se decia, que una mujer pudiera importarle, mas alla del deseo y la posesion, pero los dos estaban enamorados. Esto, de algun modo, los humillaba" (OC 2: 402). The humiliation is not the result of being in love with and sharing the same woman, but being in love at all. There is little indicator, however, whether the narrator takes this humiliation for granted, or finds it pathetic. Likewise, the brothers, "no pronunciaban el nombre de Juliana, ni siquiera para llamarla," but does Borges understand this anonymity sympathetically, as the brothers' fraught efforts to protect their friendship, or does he rather use it to negatively reinforce and condemn their general view of Juliana as "una cosa"? (OC 2:402).
The indeterminacy of the narrator's discourse, the difficulty in establishing where his sympathies lie has resulted in "La intrusa" being read as both a misogynist and anti-misogynist text. (14) First impressions, however, tend to be fairly critical. (15) For example, in friend and former love-interest Estela Canto's memoir, Borges a contraluz, Canto claims that when Borges explained the plot of "La intrusa," years before the story was actually published, she was shocked. Like many readers today, she was troubled by "el hecho de que la mujer apareciera como un objeto inerte, que no se le permitiera ni siquiera el albedrio de elegir a uno de los hombres. Todo el sentimiento, toda la atencion esta entre los dos hermanos" (230). (16) The intensity of their feelings, for which murder was an acceptable price--though Juliana is so dehumanized, the discourse surrounding her killing is more akin to having put down a lame horse than to murder--led Canto to a conclusion that has been echoed in successive critiques. Not only did she tell him the story was "mezquino, cobarde," but underscored her impression that the plot was basically homosexual--any allusion to which Borges typically found alarming. In this case, however, "[n]i siquiera defendio la situacion. Para el no habia situacion homosexual en el cuento. Continuo hablandome de la relacion entre los dos hermanos, de la bravura de este tipo de hombres, etc." (230). Regardless of Borges's intent or actual position on the Nilson's relationship to one another and their treatment of Juliana--his absolute privileging of the relationship between men, the objectified representation of Juliana and the brothers' queer communal use of her, as noted by Herbert Brant--make "La intrusa" (and therefore El informe de Brodie) a likely candidate for the text Denevi references in "Muerte, que no para todos es la misma." The violence produced by the Nilsons' inability to imagine a relationship existing outside the masculine code of the orilleros is a theme presented over and over in Enciclopedia secreta de una familia argentina.
"AMIGOS, LOS" OR GEMELOS DE LA CICATRIZ
Where the two entries discussed above mention Borges by name and problematize specific aspects of his writing and worldview--and Argentine society by extension--one of Enciclopedia secreta's most captivating entries engages in a more sophisticated critique by rewriting a typical compadrito fiction. "Amigos, los" is the story of Facundo Yaco, the unattractive and depressive loner of the Argento family, who finally begins to enjoy life after he insinuates himself into a group of young men who spend thendays hanging out on a San Telmo street corner. Through gifts of money and favors, and shows of power--if only to frighten women--through astoundingly filthy jokes and cat calls, Facundo Yaco maneuvers his way into leading this "nido de patoteros bravos que en el fondo eran unos inocentes," only to lose his place a few months later when the beautiful, blonde Quique Antueno shows up on the corner and invites himself to stay (34). Quique wins the boys' hearts not with bribes but with attentions and kindness. The deposed Facundo Yaco, unwilling to abandon his new group of friends despite their betrayal, "porque cuesta volver a la soledad despues de que uno se salvo de ella," stays with the gang (35). Bitterly observing "las manas con que el Quique lo despojaba de la jefetura," Facundo Yaco becomes obsessed with his rival, his hate bordering on infatuation. Eventually he senses that Quique's every move is in fact an act performed exclusively for him: "entendio o creyo entender que todo lo que hacia el Quique lo hacia para lucirse delante de el y no lo miraba porque ningun actor mira a los espectadores" (36). Upon spying Quique and another member of the gang at a bar conversing "como dos novios," Facundo Yaco is finally compelled to act; "no aguanto mas calvario" (37).
The following evening he appears at Qyique's house and asks him to step outside. The two walk to an abandoned lot where Facundo Yaco faces him and claims, "Ahora se quien sos. Sos un maricon" (37). When Quique smilingly retorts, "?Vos crees? Porque yo no," Facundo Yaco "hubiese querido sollozar pero se le fue encima y los dos rodaron por el suelo" (37, my emphasis). Rather than cry over, Facundo Yaco attacks the object of his desire--in what is arguably one of the most astonishing fight scenes in Argentine literary history:
Rodando entre los yuyos a veces el estaba arriba del Quique y otras veces debajo, y mas de una vez las caras se les juntaron como para besarse, las piernas se les enredaban lo mismo que en los forcejos de la fornicacion, se abrazaban, mezclaban el aliento y entrechocaban los vientres, por lo que despues Facundo Yaco pensaria que una pelea asi es como la copula. Cuando al fin sintio el sabor y el olor de la sangre que al Quique le manaba de la nariz, sintio tambien que el odio se le dormia como un orgasmo satisfecho. Al igual que cualquier hombre que sacio su libidine, deshizo el nudo de los cuerpos, se sento jadeando medio triste, encendio dos cigarrillos, le ofrecio uno al Quique y se fumo parsimoniosamente el otro. (37-38)
Couching the blow-by-blow description of the young men's fight in terms of lovemaking not only underscores the desire fueling this particular altercation but recasts such brawls in general in an explicitly homosexual light. The resulting closeness between Facundo Yaco and Quique, following this bloody initiation, leads the narrator to claim: "habrian merecido, tambien ellos, ser apodados gemelos de la cicatriz, de la invisible cicatriz que les habia tatuado en el alma aquella pelea" (39). Referenced here is Xavier Villaurrutia's 1936 poem, "Nocturno de los angeles," whose relevance to gay literature in Latin America can be underscored by its prefacing Daniel Balderston's 2004 study of homosexualities in Latin American literature:
Si cada uno dijera en un momento dado, en solo una palabra, lo que piensa, las cinco letras del DESEO formarian una enorme cicatriz luminosa, una constelacion mas antigua, mas viva aun que las otras. Y esa constelacion seria como un ardiente sexo en el profundo cuerpo de la noche, o, mejor, como los Gemelos que por vez primera en la vida se miraran de frente, a los ojos, y se abrazaran ya para siempre. (qtd. in Deseo 9)
In writing "habrian merecido, tambien ellos, ser apodados gemelos de la cicatriz," Denevi invites polyvalent interpretations. There is an entry in the Enciclopedia secreta entitled "Gemelos de la cicatriz, los," a short story interplaying Villaurrutia's poem and Borges's "La forma de la espada," where an Irish soldier's "luminosa" scar inspires one of Denevi's many incarnations of Manuel to seek out a twin scar for his own face. Thus, in one interpretation, like these two other characters in the Enciclopedia secreta, Facundo Yaco and Quique could also be called "gemelos de la cicatriz"; the rhizomatic structure of the novel would be disinterested in the possibility of reader confusion at the antecedent for "tambien" appearing after "Amigos, los." Yet, for those "lectores-hembra" reading the novel from A to Z, this lack of an exact referent for "tambien ellos" forges an association with the traditional patterns of masculine contests for dominance as a cultural phenomenon (Cortazar 470). Facundo Yaco and Quique, tambien ellos, like so many other male dyads in the Argentine canon, are linked by the desire Sedgwick describes as "the affective or social force, the glue, even when its manifestation is hostility or hatred ... that shapes an important relationship," and whose distinctively queer dimensions have been underscored by Denevi's sexualized description of the young men's fight (Between Men 2).
After the fight/lovemaking, Facundo Yaco and Quique abandon the boys on the street corner, and become inseparable. (17) They share all of the objects and experiences that reify their porteno identity, "los naipes, los dados, el billar, el tango," but also, more intimately, "confidencias ... las palabras, los silencios, los ademanes, las simpatias y las animadversiones" (38). And not unlike the Nilson brothers, "[c]ompartieron los quilombos, mas tarde las putas clandestinas" (38). They get in fist fights defending one another's honor, Quique so gloriously he is even applauded by the rival gang after trouncing their leader. Facundo Yaco, "en las andas de la gloria," soon concedes everything to Quique, from preferred prostitutes to wins at pool or cards, because he delights in his friend's triumphs (39).
When Quique becomes obsessed with a married woman who refuses to leave her husband, the relationship between the two men begins to change. Facundo Yaco is stung by Quique's bitterness, which tinges their every interaction; "[e]sa impotencia de la amistad frente a los infortunios del sexo lo hizo llorar a solas" (40). When Quique finally proposes that the only solution is to kill the woman and himself, Facundo Yaco outwardly adheres to the compadrito code and, sounding quite like Borges's Rosendo Juarez, coolly retorts, "Ninguna mujer merece que un hombre la mate y menos que se suicide. Eso es de flojos y de maricones" (40). (18) In fact, he is riddled with panic, insomnia and despair, and finally makes the ultimate concession for his friend: Facundo Yaco buys a gun, kills Quique's lover and then himself. A distorted reflection of Juliana Burgos's murder appears, but the culminating point in Facundo Yaco's and Quique's friendship, the ultimate proof of their bond, is the absolute foreclosure--through Facundo's sacrifice--of the possibility of it moving from a homosocial to a homosexual relationship. The narrator, in an ironically incriminating effort to distinguish himself and his morally upright readers from Facundo Yaco's tragic perversity, explains the motives for this "sad sacrifice": "Si tenemos el corazon puro y la conciencia limpia, que no nos asusten las palabras: esta amistad fue una de las varias formas que adopta el amor oblativo" (40).
The entry preceding "Amigos, los" in Enciclopedia secreta is "Amor," which might be read as a preface to the story of Facundo Yaco and Quique. The entry explains that the men of the Argento family were incapable of romantic love because they so feared women's potential to dominate them through sex. Thus they only had sex with women who were already dominated--prostitutes, servants, adulteresses--and engaged in sex with their wives only as a grim reproductive duty. Consequently, "[l]a sustitucion de intereses, dato del amor, fue trasladado a la amistad, la cual se tino asi de un matiz amoroso sin el menor erotismo. La amistad pues, se postulo para cargar con las oblaciones propias del amor entre hombre y mujer" (32). Facundo Yaco's oblative love, his desire to put Quique's interests ahead of his own, exceeds the bounds of friendship described in "Amor," because they are, as we have seen, very much tinged with eroticism. Simply lolling the intervening woman, as Cristian did Juliana in "La intrusa," was not enough to restore the relationship between himself and Quique, for she was not the shared receptacle for disseminating mutual desire. The romance was not reciprocal. At the close of "Amigos, los," the narrator adds: "[n]unca se sabra si lo hizo por su propia iniciativa o porque entendio que obedecia una secreta orden del Quique" (41). Facundo Yaco's suicide is indicative of what was, for Denevi, the impossibility of openly realizing romantic love between men; for romanticizing the "matiz amoroso" that suffuses their relationship, Facundo pays with his life. Even more pessimistically, the possibility that he murdered a woman and then took his own life on an unspoken order from Quique smacks of viveza criolla, the cynical taking advantage of another's vulnerability. What in vulgar parlance might be referred to as "tomarle a alguien por el culo" hovers between literal and figurative construal, the "active" Quique exploiting the romantic feelings for which the "passive" Facundo will be both manipulated and punished. Homosexual love is thus depicted not only to be culturally unacceptable, but interpersonally untenable.
The naturalness of the association of Facundo Yaco's killing himself to his homosexual feelings for Quique is accentuated by a later argument seeking to defend Facundo's virility by disavowing his suicide. By way of an epilogue to the novel, Denevi includes a letter to the publisher, allegedly written by a relative of the Argentos after reading the "first edition" of Enciclopedia secreta de una familia argentina. (19) Orencio Manuel Guirapepo angrily seeks to redress a number of false rumors Denevi and his collaborators have propagated with their Enciclopedia secreta, including the claim that Facundo Yaco had taken his own life: "Aclaro que no se suicido. Mato a la mujer de mala vida por la que se habia prendado su amigo Enrique Antunez para salvar a este del suicidio y despues se presento detenido en la comisaria. Lo indulto el Presidente Agustin P. Justo ..." (275). Suicide seems to directly implicate Facundo's homosexuality, while killing the "mujer de mala vida" to save his friend is condonable violence discharged within the acceptable bounds of oblative love that characterize virile male friendships. Reiterated here are the elusiveness of the traits that mark any meaningful disruption along the continuum of homosocial to homosexual love (Sedgwick, Between Men 1) and the unequal value placed on the lives of men and women, examined in "Muerte, que no para todos es la misma."
Daniel Balderston has made a provocative association between Borges's description of "el hecho estetico" as "esta inminencia de una revelacion, que no se produce" and the tendency for desire between male characters in his fiction to be disrupted by violent deaths ("Fecal Dialectic" 36-37; Borges, OC 2:13). While providing a nuanced perspective of that desire, tracing its pattern on the homosocial interactions Borges privileged in his writing, Denevi creates that same rupture. Despite exposing important tensions and incongruities in Argentine culture, revealing machismo to be potentially as harmful to men as it is to women, and allowing sympathy for queer characters, Enciclopedia secreta de una familia argentina does not offer homosexuals a viable existence. While drawing tight homosocial bonds with other men, the imminence of a revelation that would extend their friendship toward homosexuality is cut short for gay characters in the Enciclopedia secreta by tragic and absurd casualties. Like Facundo Yaco and Quique, and Votivo and Fiesta Civica, the pairings of men in entries such as "Gemelos de la cicatriz, los," "Militancia de un alma viril," and "Juego de dobles" inevitably end in death.
Denevi does, however, allow glimpses of what might lay beyond this revelation, even if total and permanent access remains barred to his characters. We might contrast Quique's rise to power with that of Benjamin Otalora in Borges's "El muerto." Otlalora seeks to depose his boss by imitating Bandeira's technique of "el arte de la intimidacion progresiva, en la satanica maniobra de humillar al interlocutor gradualmente, combinando veras y burlas" (OC 1: 548). Quique, for his part, is "tan servicial, tan atento" (34). He subtly rests his arm on the crutch of the one-legged Rengo Baltierrez, "como si la muleta fuse tambien suya," where the other boys's in the gang previously hadn't dared look at it for fear of embarrassing him (35). He wins the boys' prizes at the fair, shares his birthday cake with them on the street corner, and sets an example of not catcalling women on the street, in clear opposition to Facundo Yaco whose denigrating comments as gang leader were so startling that "las pobrecitas se asustaban y echaban a correr en medio de la hilaridad de los muchachos" (34). Where women in Facundo Yaco's stories are "un puro estiercol sexual" (33), Quique in a less denigrating (if not equally sexist) manner insists, "a las mujeres, hay que respetarlas porque son madres" (36). Likewise, in Borges's "La intrusa", where there is little describing what actually draws the Nilson brothers so close together beyond violence, their ethnic and social marginality and sex with Juliana," Denevi provides specific examples of the friends' shared activities and shared confidences; their homosocial bonds extend beyond mere competition.
Denevi not only provides a picture of alternative masculinities, but, as we have seen, satirizes or outright rejects those codes that are harmful to men and women, and to Argentine society in general. If he cannot imagine an outcome where two men are allowed to experience the fulfillment of their desire, Denevi does offer excoriating criticism of homosexuals' abysmal status and treatment by simply stating with a researcher's "objectivity" what others have preferred to keep silent, or possibly have taken for granted:
Los Argento hombres tenian la idea que un homosexual habia sido antes un hombre como cualquier otro, hasta que por descuido o por cobardia, habia dejado que abusaran de el. Desde entonces era un despojo apto para todos los abusos: propinarle una paliza porque si, llevarlo preso porque si, arrojarle a la cara los peores insultos aunque fuese un santo. O, si a mano venia, reiterarle el abuso inaugural porque para eso uno es hombre, felizmente a cubierto de la homosexualidad. (253-54)
The bizarre double standard that allows a straight man to rape a gay man with no fear of "contracting" homosexuality follows the same political and cultural logic Enciclopedia secreta de una familia argentina critiques overall. The difference between a sexual act being despicably marica or the pinnacle of machismo is entirely discursive. (20) In sex, as in politics or finance, the dominant individual or group has the power to arbitrarily classify a given act under whatever category best upholds their interests and reiterates the naturalness of their being in power.
Among all the points of contact and of contest between Denevi and Borges, here we find another. As early as 1931, Borges points out parallels among machista sexual discourse and larger discursive issues that kept Argentina as a nation unable to prosper, one of them being culture of viveza criolla: "el malevaje de Buenos Aires ... reclama una especie de veneracion para el agente activo--porque lo embromo al companero" (Discusion 17). The principle of viveza, of getting one over on someone simply because one can, of assuming that people who in any way put themselves in a position to be taken advantage of deserve to be so, could be considered an indicator of Denevi's manuelisma, the "mental illness" plaguing Argentines throughout history. Getting anything one can at the expense of the resources and relationships that might sustain one and one's community long term is symptomatic of "la negacion del presente y en la afirmacion apodictica de un futuro utopico" (Manuel 14). The fatal ruptures in desire between men in the Enciclopedia secreta may therefore serve not only to expose the reliance of dominant social and political discourse upon the groups they oppress, but to illustrate the impossibility of the Argentine utopia for which so much was being sacrificed in the present.
Balderston, Daniel. El deseo, enorme cicatriz luminosa. Ensayos sobre homosexualidades latinoamericanas. Buenos Aires: Beatriz Viterbo, 2004.
-- "The 'Fecal Dialectic': Homosexual Panic and the Origin of Writing in Borges." ?Entiendes? Queer Readings, Hispanic Writings. Eds. Emilie L. Bergmann and Paul Julian Smith. Durham: Duke UP, 1995. 29-45.
Bell-Villada, Gene H. Borges and His Fiction: A Guide to His Mind and Art. Chapel Hill: U North Carolina P, 1981.
Borges, Jorge Luis. Discusion. Buenos Aires: M. Gleizer, 1932.
--. Obras completas. Vols. 1-3. Barcelona: Emece, 1996.
Brant, Herbert. "Camilo's Closet: Sexual Camouflage in Denevi's Rosaura a las diez" Bodies and Biases: Sexualities in Hispanic Cultures and Literatures. Eds. David William Foster and Roberto Reis. Minneapolis: U Minnesota P, 1996. 203-16.
--. "The Mark of the Phallus: Homoerotic Desire in Borges's 'La forma de la espada.'" Chasqui 25.1 (1996): 25-38.
-- "The Queer Use of Communal Women in Borges' El muerto and La intrusa." University of Texas: Latin American Studies Association LASA95 Pilot Papers Project, 1995. 14 February 2015.
Brodzki, Bella. "Borges and the Idea of Woman." Modern Fiction Studies 36.2 (1990): 149-66.
Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Tenth Anniversary Edition. London: Routledge, 1999.
Canto, Estela. Borges a contraluz. Madrid: Espasa Calpe, 1989.
Cortazar, Julio. Rayuela. Madrid: Alfaguara, 1987
Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. Volume v. An Introduction. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage, 1990.
Denevi, Marco. "La abeja socratica." La Nacion. 22 June 1986: Section 4, Page 3
-- "La Argentina del silencio." Conversaciones con Marco Denevi, ese desconocido. Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1995. 115-19.
--. Enciclopedia secreta de una familia argentina. Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 1986.
--. Manuel de la historia. Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1985.
--. La Republica de Trapalanda. Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1989.
Hall, f. B.. "The David and Jonathan of the orillas; or, how did she die and could they forget her in Moron? Some thoughts on Borges's 'La intrusa.'" Journal of Iberian and Latin American Studies 13.1 (2007): 11-23.
Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: U California P, 2008.
Louisor-White, Dominique M. "Denevi, Marco". Latin American Writers on Gay and Lesbian Themes: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook. Ed. David William Foster. Westport: Greenwood, 1994. 134-36.
Magnarelli, Sharon. "Literature and Desire: Women in the Fiction of Jorge Luis Borges." Revista/Review Interamericana 13.1-4 (1983): 138-49.
Morello-Frosch, Marta. "Borges and Contemporary Argentine Writers: Continuity and Change." Borges and His Successors. Ed. Edna Aizenberg. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1990. 26-43.
Urien Berri, Jorge. "Marco Denevi, un enciclopedista en el pais de la utopia." La Nacion 4 May 1986:4A.
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
(1) Or perhaps Foucault's Les Mots et les dioses, as the lines are excerpted from the Essai sur ksfondments de nos connaissances, composed by apocryphal French philosopher (and anagram of Marco Denevi), Ivan D'Orceme.
(2) In 1962, Donald Yates wrote, "Denevi is essentially a gentle satirist. His tools are humor and understatement. There is not a harsh declaration nor a hammered-down moral to be found in his pages" (166).
(3) In an interview in La Nacion, published just after the book's release, Denevi explained: "Si yo queria expresar la impotencia de un pais, tenia que convertir a Civede en un autor que nunca llegara a escribir Manuel de Historia" (Berri 1).
(4) Denevi explains in the "Prolegomeno muy importante" of the Enciclopedia that "[o]ciosos historiadores discuten todavia hoy si los Manueles son cinco sucesivos Manueles o si son uno solo" (11).
(5) Describing Enciclopedia secreta de una familia argentina in an interview in La Nacion, Denevi explains his intention of interrogating "las fobias, miedos, vicios, supersticiones, mitos y virtudes de los argentinos ... expresados en lo que hacen los personajes" (Berri 1).
(6) This historical date corresponds to the massive worker protests which secured Juan Domingo Peron's release from military custody and initiated the political establishment of Peronism--still celebrated in Argentina as el Dia de la Lealtad.
(7) Should there remain any doubt as to Denevi's feelings about Peron, the encyclopedia entry is entitled "Noche del Apocalipsis del Anticristo Juan" (222).
(8) The entry on the "Doce tablas del machismo" explains: "Los varones de la familia se habrian cortado la lengua o una mano antes que transgredir una sola de las doce leyes, las cuales, a traves de las generaciones, fueron siempre doce aunque no siempre las mismas salvo unas pocas que se conservaron firmes" (249).
(9) Among the proscribed activities in the doce tablas del machismo were: "el consumo de ciertas comidas y bebidas, la practica de este o de aquel ademan, el empleo de vocablos considerados femeniles ... alguna que otra modulacion de la voz en el registro agudo" (250).
(10) The later Borges was not entirely unaware of these mythologizing tendencies and their potential drawbacks. In an apocryphal encyclopedia entry he wrote for himself in the epilogue to the Obras completas, he admits: "Era de estirpe militar y sintio la nostalgia del destino epico de sus mayores. Pensaba que el valor es una de las pocas virtudes de que son capaces los hombres, pero su culto lo llevo, como a tantos otros, a la veneracion atolondrada de los hombres del hampa" (OC 3:500).
(11) Denevi was critical of the Argentine tradition of extolling Borges's praises while having read little, if any, of his work. Of the "adolescente colectivo" he writes: "No lo leeria, pero se lucia con el como un merito propio. Lo hacia hablar en todas partes y sobre cualquier tema. Lo paseaba y lo manoseaba al modo de un trofeo que probase las virtudes argentinas" (Trapalanda 150).
(12) For highlights of the major arguments (and some potentially problematic conclusions), see Hall. See also: Balderston, "The Fecal Dialectic," and Brant.
(13) Careful readers know that exclamation points in Borges are traditional markers of irony and sarcasm, making the following description perhaps the most clear and the most critical: "Cain andaba por ahi, pero el carino entre los Nilson era muy grande --!quien sabe que rigores y que peligros habian compartido!--y prefirieron desahogar su exasperacion con ajenos. Con un desconocido, con los perros, con la Juliana, que habia traido la discordia" (OC 2:403). The juxtaposition of the Nilsons' violence against Juliana--bom of their resentment for the discord caused by her presence--against Borges's interjection extolling all the dangers the two had been through creates a sense of scorn in the narrator's discourse that is indiscernible elsewhere.
(14) Again, Hall provides a decent overview of some of the major arguments around this topic, but his own claim that Juliana is "superficially weak and submissive" and that she holds great power over the brothers is absurd: "Critics who see 'La intrusa' as a misogynistic story stressing the inferiority and necessary subordination of women fail to realize the extent of Juliana's control over these compadritos" (16). What holds control over the Nilsons is not Juliana, but a social code that instructs men to reduce women to objects and to kill them rather than admit to or speak of the feelings of love they might have for them and for one another.
(15) Bella Brodski writes, for example, "The identity of Juliana Burgos is woman, "the intruder"; Borges situates her among men, and then proceeds to foreclose, indeed erase, whatever textual possibilities she ever presented in the narrative" (159). Gene Bell-Villada, for his part, writes: "It goes without saying that the story's gratuitous violence against a female can only strike negative chords at this moment of history" (188-89).
(16) That she would go on to attribute the source of this tension to Borges's relationship with his mother, where any potential love interest of the son was "una intrusa," does not negate her original concern (230-33).
(17) Likewise, in "Gemelos de la cicatriz, los" after Tom Glenn's and Manuel's own violent encounter, "desde entonces fueron amigos, palabra que significa que siempre andaban juntos" (147).
(18) "Un hombre que piensa cinco minutos seguidos en una mujer no es un hombre sino un marica" (OC 2:412).
(19) Though called the "second edition" in a land of destabilizing move Borges might make, the text we are discussing is in fact the first and only edition Denevi published.
(20) Indeed, regarding a former iteration of "Doce tablas del machismo": "Hubo un tiempo mas bien barbaro en que proclamo que 'un hombre no retrocede ante ningun agujero de mujer, de hombre o de animal', pero despues la mencion del animal fue eliminada. Instituyo el culto falico sin discriminar entre el falo propio y el ajeno" (250).
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|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2015|
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