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Gender and metaphoricity in Luisa Valenzuela's "I'm Your Horse in the Night."

The multiple meanings of "I'm Your Horse in the Night" -- "De noche soy tu caballo" from Cambio de armas (Eng. Other Weapons, 1982) -- derive from the impossibility of determining the exact nature of events occurring there. The events seem to be that a Latin American male, a revolutionary who goes by the name of Beto and is on the run for his life, in the middle of the night, secretly visits his lover, a woman not involved in political action whom he calls Chiquita. After they make love and he leaves, she is arrested, tortured, and interrogated by the police concerning his whereabouts. The narrative, told from her point of view, is affected during Beto's visit by her sleepiness and by alcohol, and during her incarceration by her decision that the best way to deceive her captors about his visit is by deceiving herself. Thus the reader is told of Beto's visit by the narrator but the police are not, creating interesting discrepancies that are not quite contradictions. Does this mean the narrator is unreliable? Is the story -- especially the ending, used above as my epigraph -- realist (either psychologically or objectively) or irrealist (either neofantastic or otherwise)? What do the answers to these questions say about the story and about Valenzuela's writing more generally? At the outset, it is clear that the distinct ways this story can be and has been understood guarantee critical interest in it for some time to come. Due to the text's brevity, however, sustained commentary has been rare. I shall devote this article to a close reading of the story and to a few of the implications that follow from my close reading.

Beto, you know now, if its true that they killed you, or

wherever you may be, Beto, I'm your horse in the night and

you can inhabit me whenever you wish, even if I'm behind

bars. Beto, now that I'm in jail I know that I dreamed you

that night; it was just a dream. And if by some wild chance

there's a Gal Costa record and a half-empty bottle of

cachaca in my house, I hope they'll forgive me.. I will them

out of existence. (101)(1)

In this briefest of stories (only five pages of large print), character appears knowable, and most criticism has focused on describing this aspect. Unlike the difficult-to-determine events, questions about the pseudonymous Beto and Chiquita have been answered by many. For example, Maria Ines Lagos-Pope makes several astute statements about the female characters in Other Weapons.

These are women who live alone, who have no family,

are strong, decided, sexually liberated, economically

self-sufficient, and the relations with their lovers are

outside matrimony.(2)

Love continues to be the center of women's lives, in

spite of them being modem, free women.(3)

Although the protagonists have a much greater control

over their own lives, there does not appear to have been

an authentic exchange of weapons. If there is a new

type of woman in these stories, the hero has remained

the same, he continues to be the warrior Ulysses, the

adventurer, the seducer, for whom the woman waits at

home, faithful and patient.(4)

Regarding emotional matters, and despite certain

resistance by the woman, the man continues exercising a

real dominion over her.(5)

Speaking specifically of "I'm Your Horse in the Night," Lagos-Pope finds the male-female relation here particularly damning: "Chiquita is the other face of Amanda [in Rituals of Rejection'], she is the possessed object, as she herself underlines by accepting the relation of possession, accepting that she is there to wait."(6) Added to these remarks is the fact that she accepts his nickname for her, Chiquita or "little girl," as few conscious feminists would do. Another critic, Gwendolyn Diaz, sees Beto's domination of Chiquita not only in her waiting for him while he is away, but also in his position in their lovemaking. "Beto assumes the posture of the master; he mounts her and from his superior position he dominates her; she accepts it, becoming his slave lover."(7) Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex devotes a chapter to the woman-in-love as a woman's life situation whose norms involve her subjugation; and for all her sexual liberation, Chiquita is represented as a woman-in-love. I will return to the theme of love in my conclusions; for now, it is enough to note that Chiquita's feelings for Beto are clear and, despite the brevity of this story, complex.

A clue to understanding the complexity in the discourse of love comes from a comment made by Sharon Magnarelli, the critic closest to Valenzuela, whose intelligent analyses in frequent articles have been compiled in Reflections/Refractions (1988). Magnarelli noticed that in Rituals of Rejection," the story that precedes the one under discussion, and in other stories in the same collection, horses are of two kinds. one is wild and free, the other domesticated and a servant to humanity. The domesticated horse nevertheless retains a vestige of wildness, of its free nature, that at moments permits a rebellion as it seeks its lost freedom"(198).(8) This wildness beneath a veneer of domestication symbolized by the horse places in a useful context the remarks above about Chiquita, who declares to the absent Beto, "I'm your horse in the night" (101). She is almost an oxymoron. the liberated woman-in-love, the domesticated horse retaining a desire for freedom and at times rebelling.

Like Amanda, Chiquita retains a vestige of wildness" -- that is, though dominated by Beto, she is rebellious against his domination. As we read her thoughts, we learn of her insurrection when she curses him ("always so goddamn cautious" [98]; "tan endemoniadamente precavido siempre" [106]). Chiquita hates Beto's need for caution, hates the danger he puts them in; but more important for their relationship, she also hates his self-control. His ever-present caution comes from his being the master of his actions" (98; "tan senor de sus actos" [106]), which causes him to boss her around ("Quiet, Chiquita" [98] "Callate, chiquita" [106]) as he tries to ensure that caution is prominent in her mind too. In contrast to his desires for her obedience, she wants for him to need (verbal) reassurances from her. But just as the torrent of her thoughts, dammed up during the months they were separated, begins to pour out, he silences her. At this moment he clearly wants her body, not her reassuring words. As Gwendolyn Diaz notes, "Outside the symbolic order of language, from which her own lover excludes her, she must resign herself to the act of love."(9) Like the mare whose obedience is a mask hiding an animal stronger than the human who domesticated it, Chiquita holds herself in check to play the role of Beto's lover.

Chiquita proves strong in self-control when she swallows her words at his command; in this we have a foreshadowing of the strength she will show when tested by the police. She can resist his roughness and their torture. Her desire is to rebel against both forces affecting her access to language, and she does rebel. As the one who mounts, rides, dominates, and domesticates, Beto forms one of two forces lined up against her. Beto censors her, telling her to be quiet when she wants to speak@ the police, on the other hand, try to force her to talk, telling her to speak when she wants to remain silent. With the police, she must resign herself to physical abuse. Although loving Beto and being tortured are actions opposed in essence and on almost every level, they are both corporal and semiotic actions and not part of the verbal arena, which is more Chiquita's province.

Another critic, Maria Teresa Bertelloni, while intending to comment on the story as a whole, clearly was making a statement about Chiquita's characterization instead when she wrote that "I'm Your Horse in the Night, [is] told in first person, without rhetorical subterfuges, without metaphors or masks" (my emphasis).(10) Bertelloni is responding to the narrator's directness; Chiquita speaks as though to herself However, there are three reasons it is simply not true that there are no "rhetorical subterfuges" in the story. First, in Bertelloni's attempt to argue for Eros as iter cognoscitivo -- that is, for a historically older, Platonic eroticism as a search for self-knowledge in Valenzuela, similar to the episteme traced by Foucault in The History of Sexuality -- Bertelloni's neglect of the great influence of Jacques Lacan on Valenzuela distorts her results. While I would agree there is always room in criticism for an interpretation which holds in abeyance an author's conscious influences, in this case a main characteristic of the story is the narrator's struggle to mold together her divided self, to construct a mask behind which to survive, which is typical of Lacanian descriptions of the subject. Lacan stresses also that language cannot help but be a false placeholder for a person; thus characterization is always by definition a fabrication, metaphor and mask. Second, Chiquita's "transparency" should tip the reader off that the first-person voice is constructing a verbal mask for herself; her life and Beto's depend on her ability to fool the police. The apparent seamlessness of Chiquita's mask derives from her strength of character. What we witness is her fantasy of herself. Finally, there is "rhetorical subterfuge" to be seen in the relations of antithesis, hyperbaton, hyperbole, understatement, et cetera, when placement of this story is considered within the thematic series of stories that makes up Other Weapons. The story is nestled among others that overtly thematize masks, mirrors, secrecy, and espionage, even metaphor and metonymy. Even if one disagrees with modem theories of the subject and of writing, choosing to see Chiquita's voice as mimetic based on its internal consistency as Bertelloni did, a quick comparison of Chiquita to Bella, Amanda, Laura, et aliae makes it hard to argue for "direct imitation" of an unfragmented personality in the case of any of the principal characters of the book.

In struggling to survive, Chiquita and Beto do seem familiar and recognizable, however. As a result, many critics have taken the author to task for characterizations that have not gone far enough along feminist lines, as we have seen. In contrast to the sense of certain knowledge the reader has about character, a thoughtful reader is presented with several possible alternative sets of events. Early in the story, the first-person narrator, after making love to Beto, falls asleep, only to be awakened by the telephone and to find Beto gone, as was his habit. A voice on the telephone tells Chiquita that Beto's badly decomposed body has been found; its condition is poor because it has lain in water for five or six days. Her startled denial accords with the reader's understanding up to this point. that Beto has just lain with her and only recently has left her side. The police almost immediately enter to question her, adding additional weight to the idea that they suspect he has just passed through there, rather than that they know he has passed away. But in her narration in the second part of the story Chiquita recounts that she is certain the night of love must have been a dream and that therefore it can be of no interest to her torturers. She declares: "I only run into him in my dreams, and they're bad dreams that often become nightmares" (101; "Solo me encuentro con El en suenos y son muy malos suenos que suelen transformarse en pesadillas" [109]). In her final apostrophe to Beto, Chiquita tells him of her change of mind: "Beto, now that I'm in jail I know that I dreamed you that night; it was just a dream" (101; "Beto, en la carcel sd muy bien que te sone aquella noche, solo fue un sueno" [109]). She convinces herself that she has nothing to tell her interrogators, and thus does not put Beto in danger. The reader, however, sees clearly how her love and her self-interest bring her to this deception. These late utterances create a divergence between the reader's and the narrator's perceptions. Due to this dissonance, the reader clings to the idea that Beto's visit to her did take place and while she was awake.

A third possibility, the idea that Beto's spirit had possessed Chiquita that night -- added to the possible scenario that the jailed narrator believes (that the visit was a dream) and the one that the reader believes after a first reading (that the visit was real) -- is implied by the narrator's acceptance of the spirit world. After the lovers listen to Gal Costa's song, the song that gives the story its title and introduces this third possibility into the narrative, A noite eu sou teu cavallo [sic]," Chiquita explains to Beto that the title refers to possession by another person's spirit in macumba, Afro-Brazilian religious rituals. He vigorously denies it.

Chiquita, you're always getting carried away with

esoteric meanings and witchcraft. You know perfectly well

that she isn't talking about spirits. If you are my horse

at night, it is because I ride you, like this, seep ... Like

this.... That's all. (99)

( -- chiquita, vos siempre metiendote en esoterismos y

brujerias. Sabes muy bien que no se trata de espiritus,

que si de noche sos mi caballo es porque te monto, asi,

asi, y solo de eso se trata. [107]).

Beto wants to limit the possible meanings of the title to one: sexual intercourse. Again, consistency of characterization is confirmed; the practical, pre-Liberation Theology revolutionary restricts existence to the "real world," where he hopes his activities will have a positive effect and where he believes religion is counterproductive. Readers may line up with Beto or against him depending on their religious and political beliefs. From his disagreement with Chiquita on this subject, however, some doubt is incurred regarding Chiquita's reliability. This may be taken as more evidence that Beto's visit actually occurred, since Chiquita affirms the opposite.

From Beto's remark, we also learn that spirit possession is one of Chiquita's beliefs. The story as a whole does not negate the possibility of possession, and in fact the narrator reaffirms it when she says to an absent Beto in the final paragraph, "You can inhabit me whenever you wish" (101); "podes venir a habitarme cuando quieras" [109]). Since possession, whether spiritual (as Chiquita believes) or sexual (as Beto believes), is contained in the story's title, the theme deserves full weight in any interpretation.(11) Beto could have possessed her as a spirit that night, which would have been more pleasurable than a mere dream, since it is a stronger experience, despite Beto's (spirit's?) denial of the possibility. Beto wants to reduce the phrase "I'm your horse" to a figure for the sexual act, but the story is richer in ambiguity if one listens to the rebellious narrator's voice as well as to Beto's.

At least three possibilities thus far appear defensible for the nature of Beto's visit. he was real, he was a dream, or he was a spirit. Minor permutations or combinations (he was a dream of a spirit) could lead to even more. To understand this ambiguity fully, however, we must look at the much-discussed final sentence.

And if by some wild chance there's a Gal Costa record

and a half-empty bottle of cachaca in my house, I hope

I'll be forgiven: I decreed that they do not exist. (101;

translation modified; see epigraph)

(Y si por una loca casualidad hay en mi casa un disco

de Gal Costa y una botella de cachaza casi vacia, que

por favor me perdonen: decrete que no existen. [109])

Bertelloni believes this sentence gives Chiquita the power to establish a new reality more to her liking ("Remite al yo el poder de establecer la realidad en la que desea o tiene que vivir" [18]). But if this were true, why does she not will herself out of prison altogether? Why would she merely remove the cachaca and the record when she is in such dire straits? It seems more appropriate to say that the narrator erases the objects from her idea of her apartment at that moment. Since she is in prison, her idea of her apartment need not be contradicted by confrontation with the objects themselves; she is "free" to decide about them as she wishes. The story therefore shows a strong woman attempting to convince herself, to control her mind on all levels. The record and the bottle no longer exist for her. Thus what is surprising and new here is that Chiquita becomes the author of her own story, in the most creative sense of both authorship and authority. She reconstructs herself, fabricates for the police, and tells her own new tale, which the reader must believe is an accurate statement of her mental processes.(12)

At the very moment Chiquita opts for silence with her captors, she "writes with her body," to use the turn of phrase fashionable in the 1980s in feminist circles, and the one which Valenzuela will later employ as a leitmotiv in Novela negra con argentinos (1990). In Valenzuela's essay "Writing with the Body" ("Escribir con el cuerpo") the author explains:

When one writes with the body, one also works with

words. Sometimes formulated mentally, sometimes

merely suggested. But it has nothing remotely to do

with the much-mentioned "body language," it is

something else. It is being committed completely in an act

which is in essence a literary act.

(Al escribir con el cuerpo tambien se trabaja con

palabras. A veces formuladas mentalmente, otras apenas

sugeridas. Pero no se trata ni remotamente del tan

mentado lenguaje corporal, se trata de otra cosa. Es un

estar comprometida de lleno en un acto que es en

esencia acto literario.[20]).

The ending of "I'm Your Horse in the Night" is Chiquita's "writing with her body," in spite of Beto's prohibitions and the police's instigations about language, in an attempt to remain true to herself, her lover, and her principles. As Jean Franco pointed out in Gender, Death and Resistance": "Accounts of women's experience in the death camps ... have not been well-received, which is a pity, for it is above all through women's evidence that we begin to appreciate the importance of survival as an ethical category" (70). The fiction of Chiquita's "writing" of her prison experience too has been underappreciated as protest literature. Her testimony is rare indeed: a heroic, first-person female narrator who tells with irony her tale of being tortured.

In Callejo's brief remarks about the ending to "I'm Your Horse" he summarizes his comments in this way: "The existence of things surrenders to the word" ("La existencia de las cosas se rinde a la palabra" [579]). Although the impossible occurs in many of Valenzuela's stories -- in an early article I made a point similar to that of Callejo about certain ones in Aqui pasan cosas raras (1975; Eng. Strange Things Happen Here) -- impossible events are never necessarily evident in this story or in Cambio de armas as a whole. Indeed, Chiquita asks for the reader's forgiveness for not being able to bring the objects in her room under control ("I hope they'll forgive me" [101]; "que por favor me perdonen" [109]). When she "writes" away the objects and begins her silence, she can only limit her memory, which though neither a small feat nor an unimportant one, is not a departure from referential reality or from the world of the possible.

Unlike the narrator in Valenzuela's early novel El gato eficaz Me Efficient Cat), for instance, the narrator of De noche soy tu caballo" does not control outside reality in surreal, fantastic, or even magical ways. Accepting the possibility that Chiquita can be Beto's spiritual mount does not mean she has other powers. In macumba even the uninitiated can receive a spirit, if conditions are right. There is no implication that Chiquita is a mae de santo who may have more sacred power than the internal one of receiving another's soul temporarily. Though she wants to make the record and the bottle disappear, she admits that they may still exist ("If by some crazy chance in my house there is a record by Gal Costa and an almost empty bottle of white rum"). Her authority extends to her mind and memory alone, and thus she is best understood as the opposite of Laura, who has lost control of her memory in the title story, "Other Weapons." Chiquita gives up the attempt to change or even to know what happened to Beto in her final words to him ("if it's true that they killed you, or wherever you may be") but in exchange she gains the richness and plenitude of multiple alternatives, as if the world were commensurate to her imagination or to a fictional text. The narrator's word surrenders to the existence of things, and the word, shadowed by objects it can never truly represent, gains in metaphoricity thereby. Dreams, spirit possessions, concrete objects -- all may exist, whether or not the narrator, Beto, or the police wish it.

The final sentence therefore adds the knowledge, not of Chiquita's new psychic powers, but of her new silence even to herself and of her probable regression to a pre-Oedipal, prelinguistic state. She will not inform on Beto, but neither will she report her thoughts to the reader any longer. The end of the story is her creation of the reason to end her words; to protect Beto, she wipes her memory clean.(13) The changed story Chiquita has written with her body" allows her to keep silent. Chiquita wants Beto's presence, and spirit possession allows her to have it while she protects him. Certain of her previous statements become highly ironic and ambiguous upon a rereading in this light. for instance: "My only real possession was a dream" (100; "Mi unica verdadera possesion era un sueno" [108]). At the same time, the irony and the ambiguity reinforce each other so that all three alternatives remain valid.

Thus Chiquita's final preference among the possibilities, to be Beto's "horse," is merely that, her preference. In this, her choices demonstrate her identification with her female gender. Jean Franco's comments on testimonial literature's treatment of gender and resistance in Argentine death camps are relevant here.

It is also probable that, even though pain has no

gender, men and women suffered their experience of the

death camps in a different fashion, largely because men

and women are constituted differently as individuals.

The writer of the Pisagua diary describes being bent

over backwards until he is broken. Women, on the

other hand, are invaded, penetrated by the enemy. (71)

Similarly, Chiquita's prison desire to be possessed by Beto at night is her wish to change the penetrations and invasions from suffering to pleasures. The police interrogators enact what Franco terms "macho rituals," whose form reflects gender domination. Rebellious Chiquita is not cowed: "Go ahead, bum me with your cigarettes, kick me all you wish, threaten, go ahead, stick a mouse in me so it'll eat my insides out, pull my nails out, do as you please" (101; "Y qudmenme no mas con cigarrillos, y pateenme todo lo que quieran, y amenacen, no mas, y metanme un ration para que me coma por dentro, y arranquenme las unas y hagan lo que quieran" [109]). It is thus a relief that Chiquita's choice of a means of ameliorating her suffering in macumba ritual is less indelibly marked by gender than is the torture, administered only by men, since men as well as women can be mounted by another's spirit.

Joanne Saltz describes the narrator's silence under torture as "resistance by association." Saltz explains: "Her involvement appears to be only in the private sphere in a romance with a man who acts in the public sphere to change the repressive system" (64). According to Saltz, Chiquita's act of solidarity thus challenges the "antinomy of public and private, . . . call[ing] into question their relationship as binary opposites" (65). Indeed, in Valenzuela the theme of sexuality (or love, for that matter) often takes precedence over that of politics, but only to show that in fact sexuality and politics -- of the traditional kind or as an abstract idea of power -- not be separated. As I have shown, both sexuality and politics are inextricable from Chiquita's wellsprings of creativity and the theme of writing. This is typical of Luisa Valenzuela in all her texts, long and short. When Chiquita "rewrites" her memory to make Beto's visit a dream, at that moment one of literature's ties to life, the fiction of our memories, becomes manifest.

Many would say that these themes of protest against torture and "liberated love" mark the story, and the collection containing it, as post-Boom and possibly even postmodernist fiction, but I have my doubts. Several fine critics have written on the subject of post-Boom fiction. To show some of the difficulties involved, I have chosen for its reasonableness Donald Shaw's introduction to a special issue on the subject: "The Post-Boom in Spanish American Fiction" (Studies in Twentieth Century Literature, Winter 1995). Shaw admits that the post-Boom is a heterogeneous group and that no characteristic has yet been found which separates from the others those works he would like to call post-Boom. However, he does take important steps toward distinguishing the bevies of post-Boom fiction (a response to the Boom in Latin America), postcolonial fiction Ca reaction of newly won independence from a colonial power, which still has some relevance in Latin America), and postmodern fiction (an international cultural effect of late capitalism, as explicated by Fredric Jameson and others, and affecting Latin America unevenly).

For instance, according to Shaw, Isabel Allende sees a "return to the love-ideal" as a thematic element marking post-Boom apart from Boom fiction. In novels of the Boom particularly, sexuality was used almost exclusively to criticize society: "The Boom writers were as a rule very uncomfortable with the notion of human love" (Shaw, 14).(14) However, it seems difficult to categorize the post-Boom group along these lines. Take Valenzuela herself, whom Shaw unhesitatingly admits into their ranks. The return to the love-ideal" does not occur positively in Other Weapons on the whole, or in the collection's principal stories, even if it is present in the atypical "I'm Your Horse in the Night." Shaw describes "Other Weapons," to take one example, as an "unforgettable short story about symbolic sexual oppression of a woman urban guerrilla by an army officer," and thus exemplary of the post-Boom's "calls to change social reality" (13). Yet Other Weapons" attacks traditional love in a bourgeois household in its protest against sexual oppression. A horrible simulacrum of the happy housewife, Laura enacts rituals of love with the torturer who keeps her captive. The sham love she exhibits signals the parallels (but certainly not the equality) between gendered imprisonment and torture and gendered marriage law and practice. In addition to protesting state violence, "Other Weapons" deconstructs housewifery that is not consciously chosen, that is maintained by patriarchal attitudes and fears instead of being a freely elected association.

In contrast, "I'm Your Horse in the Night" does not criticize love, as feminist critics have made plain; rather, the story criticizes a liberated woman's love object. For all his forward-looking political beliefs and his bravery, Beto is retrograde in his treatment of the woman who loves him. But does this limited acceptance of the "love-ideal" make the story so different from those of the 1960s Boom period, when sexuality was allegorized and love largely ignored? Not really. Love was not entirely banished from Boom fiction, just as it is not in this collection.

In the 1980s and 1990s many writers represent love relationships as not always complicated and difficult, and not always allegorical of other social or economic relationships. In works recently published, love is not always refused beforehand. To my mind, if there has been a change in the greater use of the theme of love, it is less a chronological break with the themes of the Boom than a break with prejudice against certain kinds of writers, writers who have produced during the time of the Boom as well as now. But now they are published. This new, welcome recognition of different writers, less likely to be male, straight, or white, but not necessarily young, leads to fiction that has new themes (like a positive love relationship between two women) without those themes, having been the factor distinguishing this group from its predecessor.

Qualifying only minimally as post-Boom for its love-interest, "I'm Your Horse in the Night" appears not to be particularly postmodern either, if it is true, as Franco asserts and I believe, that in post-modernism death is a grisly form of exchange and not a relationship with the sacred," (59). Chiquita resorts to the sacred of macumba, the "esoteric" as Beto calls it, as was more the wont of the modernist (in the English sense) or the Boom writer. In a limited way like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Valenzuela allocates a place to popular religiosity, as she did in Cola de lagartija (Eng. The Lizards Tail). The crucial difference between the magic realism in, for example, the priest's ability to levitate in One Hundred Years of Solitude and "writing with the body" in Chiquita's desire to be Beto's spiritual mount is that the former displaces magic onto the world (the priest does levitate), whereas the latter displaces it onto what Bakhtin calls the character zones (i.e., Chiquita believes). While Garcia Marquez is first and foremost a storyteller who translates his beliefs into magic events, Valenzuela, on the other hand, here translates her beliefs into thematic and characteriological elements.

These differences from Garcia Marquez still do not place Valenzuela among the post-Boom, however, if we return to Shaw once again. The most useful criterion for post-Boom membership I discerned in Shaw came in his introduction, where he writes that the younger writers found the boom "excessive" in "elitism," "cosmopolitanism," and "emphasis on technique" (12). And Valenzuela is a critically successful writer precisely because her texts, including Other Weapons, are intellectually challenging, cosmopolitan, and metaliterary. These three qualities bring her closer to Boom writers than to the populist Isabel Allende and the post-Boom. These characteristics also deny Valenzuela the epithet of postmodern, with the possible exception of her cosmopolitanism (read internationalism), which in another meaning of the term would be a quality of the postmodern. Though living in exile, and writing of Mexico and New York at times, Valenzuela always has a specific context for each writing, even though it may go unstated. The events in Other Weapons protest the horrors of Argentine reality during the Dirty War by alluding to them. Without naming it Argentina in the late 1970s, her story does not take place in the nowhere internationalism of the postmodern.

"I'm Your Horse in the Night" represents Chiquita with verisimilitude and uniqueness, as a certain person (the definite characterization discussed above) in a specific Argentine context. In an interview Luisa Valenzuela has located Argentine reality in general as oscillating between the two poles of "poetry and cannibalism" ("la poesia y la antropofagia" [453]). THe protest writing in Other Weapons, including this story, is the swing of the pendulum toward the latter pole, while the metaphoricity of the stories is their swing toward the former. When highly metaphorical, Valenzuela's stories share important qualities of modem political poetry such as Ernesto Cardenal's epigrams, which similarly intertwine politics and love. To describe Valenzuela's writing in another fashion: her writerly microstories are often so rich in alternative interpretations that they function like holograms. Successive images revealing various micronarratives can be viewed from different reader positions. In a compilation of the positions by a professional critic, the figures appear to move, with ambiguity as their motor. The moving images fascinate us at the same time that their metaphoricity challenges us intellectually, esthetically, and politically.

(1) Quotations from Deborah Bonner's translation of the story will be indicated by page numbers in the text. All translations are mine, except that of "I'm Your Horse in the Night." The Spanish of this excerpt is provided following the translation when quoted in the body of the article. (2) "Se trata de mujeres que viven solas, que no tienen familia, son fuertes, decididas, sexualmente liberadas, economicamente autosuficientes, y las relaciones con sus amantes se dan fuera del matrimonio" (72) (3) "El amor sigue siendo pues, el centro de la vida de las mujeres, a pesar de que se trata de mujeres modernas y libres" (81). (4) "Aunque las protagonistas tienen un control bastante mayor sobre sus vidas, no parece haberse producido un autentico cambio de armas. Si bien ha aparecido un nuevo tipo de mujer en estos cuentos, el heroe ha permanecido igual, sigue siendo el Ulises guerrero, aventurero, seductor, a quien lo espera una mujer fiel y paciente en casa" (82) (5) "En lo emocional, y a pesar de una cierta resistencia de la mujer, el hombre continua ejerciendo un verdadero dominio sobre esta" (81). (6) Chiquita es la otra cara de Amanda [de `Ceremonias de rechazo'], es el objeto poseido, como lo subraya ella misma al aceptar la relacion de posesion, que esta alli para esperar" (77). (7) Beto asume la postura del amo; la monta y desde su posicion superior la domina; ella lo acepta convirtiendose en su esclava amante" (731). (8) Magnarelli also notes that the title is translated/interpreted (since all translation is an interpretation) three times in the story: by the narrator from the Portuguese of Gal Costa into Spanish, by Beto as the sexual act, and by the narrator as macumba. This is a separate idea from the one I propose@ that the events in the story may be interpreted as at least three different scenarios. Magnarelli emphasizes the linguistic translation from Portuguese to Spanish as part of Valenzuela's exploration of the themes of writing, whereas my concern is to show the figural, poetic quality of her short stories. (9) Fuera del orden simbolico del lenguaje, del cual su propio amante la excluye, ella debe conformarse con el acto de amor" (731). (10) "'De noche soy tu caballo' [esta] contado en primera persona, sin subterfugios retoricos, sin metaforas ni mascaras" (17). (11) Yet Antonio Callejo calls the story a "wet dream" ("Un sueno humedo" [578]), then changes his mind: "O tal vez no sea un sueno, porque ella acaba en la carcel, a costa de esa noche" (579). It is ironic that in an article on irrationality and irreality in Valenzuela, which Callejo calls "irregularity," the critic should limit himself to only the two possibilities which the practical, materialist Beto would have condoned@ either the lover had really been there, or his presence had been a dream. But perhaps the brevity of Callejo's remarks on this story accounts for his not defining more carefully or thoroughly the irreality he finds there. (12) That she must convince herself Beto's visit was a dream means she does not know for sure that it was a dream. It does not mean that it could not possibly have been one. It does not eliminate an alternative, although it certainly weakens the argument that it must have been a dream. (13) The question remains as to the time of the telling of the story, the time of enunciation@ is there a kind of realism in the time of the narrating? If so, is the entire tale told after her imprisonment and her decision to end all doubt about the nature of Beto's previous visit (i.e., that it was a dream)? No, the narrating is not really represented as such@ it appears to occur vaguely simultaneously with the events in that no-time of objective narration. The final paragraph is striking because of the change to an emotional, prayerlike apostrophe to Beto, from that no-where, notime, unrooted voice of an objective narrator who has focused on the scene from within Chiquita's mind and from her point of view. In the last line, particularly, the narrator changes from an ironic observer of herself with Beto, and sends an emotional message to him from her place of suffering. (14) My book-n-progress, tentatively titled The Newly Sexed Woman," treats female sexuality in several Boom novels.

Works Cited

Bertelloni, Maria Teresa. "Eros como iter cognoscitivo: Cambio de armas de Luisa Valenzuela." In Love, Sex & Eroticism in Contemporary Latin American Literature. Alun Kenwood, ed. Melbourne/Madrid. Voz Hispanica. 1992. Pp. 13-21. Callejo, Alfonso. "Literatura e irregularidad en Cambio de armas de Luisa Valenzuela." Revista Iberoamericana, 132-33 (July-December 1993), pp. 575-80. Diaz, Gwendolyn. "De Hegel a Lacan: El discurso del deseo en Cambio de armas de Luisa Valenzuela." Revista Iberoamericana, 164-65 (July-December 1993), pp. 729-37. Franco, Jean. "Gender, Death and Resistance; Facing the Ethical Vacuum." Chicago Review, 35:4 (1987), pp. 59-79. Lagos-Pope, Maria Ines. "Mujer y politica en Cambio de armas." Hispamerica, 16:46-47 (1987), pp. 71-83. Magnarelli, Sharon. Reflections/Refractions: Reading Luisa Valenzuela. New York. Peter Lang. 1988. Marting, Diane E. "Female Sexuality in Selected Short Stories by Luisa Valenzuela: Toward an Ontology of Her Work." Review of Contemporary Fiction, 6:3 (Fall 1986), pp. 48-54. Saltz, Joanne. "Luisa Valenzuela's Cambio de armas: Rhetoric of Politics." Confluencia 3:1 (Fall 1987), pp. 61-66. Shaw, Donald. "The Post-Boom in Spanish American Fiction." Studies in Twentieth Century Literature, 19:1 (Winter 1995), pp. 11-27. Valenzuela, Luisa. El gato eficaz. Mexico City. Mortiz. 1972. _____. Cambio de armas. Hanover, N.H. Ediciones del Norte. 1982. _____. Cola de lagartija. Buenos Aires. Bruguera. 1983. _____. "Desgarrada entre la poesia y la antropofagia (1981)." Interview with Alejandra Luiselli. La Semana de Bellas Artes, 64 (21 January 1981), pp. 4-5. Reprinted in Los novelistas como criticos. Norma Klahn and Wilfredo H. Corral, eds. Hanover, N.H. Ediciones del Norte. 1991. Pp. 453-58. _____. "Escribir con el cuerpo." In Conflictos culturales en la literatura contemporanea: 17 ensayos y una discusion. R. Orlandini, M. Graniela, L. Santos, eds. Mayaguez, P.R. Editorial OGS, Universidad de Puerto Rico. 1993. Pp. 19-29. _____. The Lizards Tail. Gregory Rabassa, tr. New York. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 1983. _____. Novela negra con argentinos. Hanover, N.H. Ediciones del Norte. 1990. _____. Other Weapons. Deborah Bonner, tr. Hanover, N.H. Ediciones del Norte. 1985.
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Author:Marting, Diane E.
Publication:World Literature Today
Date:Sep 22, 1995
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