Mehl Allan Penrose. Masculinity and Queer Desire in Spanish Enlightenment Literature.
In this bold book, the argument is that Spanish Enlightenment writings are pervaded by cultural anxieties around not just masculinity, but same-sex desire. "Without analysis of why Spanish writers satirized and marginalized effeminate males and how satire influenced Spanish society's perception of queer men, unconventional gender, and sexual expression," urges Penrose, "we will not be able to comprehend the complex configurations ... that went into the notions of sex, gender, erotica, and sexuality during the Enlightenment period" (3). Penrose offers five chapters of readings "from a queer perspective" (24): after an Introduction in which he lays out his theoretical approach, Chapter 1 covers invocations of hermaphroditism in periodical literature; Chapter 2 applies theories of camp to depictions of petimetres in Cruz's sainetes; Chapter 3 considers male homoerotica and sexual violence; and Chapter 4, male friendship and love in the poetry of Manuel Maria del Marmol. There is also a conclusion, and a list of works cited. The objective of this study is not new research uncovering archival materials or manuscripts (for example), but rather, a queer, (homo) sexuality-studies approach to (for the most part) canonical eighteenth-century texts (e.g., the periodical El Censor, Ramon de la Cruz's sainetes).
Penrose's "Introduction" elaborates a framework for "queer" as "the non-normative and uncommon in gender expression, biological sex, and sexual desire and behavior" (19). He adopts a readerly stance that refuses to "assume that most characters and situations we encounter ... are straight or straight-identified" in eighteenth-century literature, and insists on interpretation "free of the hegemonic impositions of the one-size-fits-all of previous readings" (20). Though Penrose notes that "it would be anachronistic to refer to [petimetres and afeminadot] as 'gay' or 'homosexual,' simply because these words imply a self-conscious identity that was not extant in the period under discussion" (21), he clearly is reading for same-sex desire and sodomy within this queer framework. Just as "the misogynist tirades against women in sermons and print were a form of resistance to what preachers and male authors perceived as a threat from growing freedoms for women", so satires of effeminacy were a "reaction to what was happening in Spanish culture" (22): in other words, because there were so many satires of effeminacy, we must take this as a "reaction" to same-sex behavior and desire in the wider culture. Penrose is also interested in the transformation of queerness "into a 'not-so-queer' state in Spanish discourse: in ubiquitous effeminate figures like the petimetre and in positive affirmations of same-sex male desire in [the poetry of] Marmol" (23).
Chapter 1 examines "hermaphroditism" in eighteenth-century periodical literature. Penrose focuses on periodical literature as "the journalistic essay was to be, next to theater, the predominant genre in which the symbolic hermaphrodite was caricatured" (39), and argues that "Hermaphrodita, third gender, and jembra vestia de hombre as labels in these essays designated the enactment of gender and erotic otherness, rather than the embodiment of true hermaphroditism" (80). However, one of the goals of the chapter is also to "put into question Haidt's perspective ... that there was no overt association between effeminacy and sodomitical practices" (38) in texts depicting petimetres. As evidence, Penrose submits two texts referring generally to afeminados (fudging the fact that Haidt was focusing on petimetres)', he reads literally the description of a petimetre as "mozo puta" in Torres Villarroel's "Vision y visita decima"; and interprets as sodomitical "El currutaco de Sevilla," a romance/pliego in which a currutaco has a syringe placed into his buttocks (77, 130-136), unaware, it seems, of the period use of the syringe in enemas--a standard medical prescription for a range of complaints--and thus of a strain of scatological humor at work in the text. (Penrose does later admit that his evidence is not extensive: the syringe-image of the currutaco is "the only one of the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries that I have read in which an afeminado is involved in any type of sexual act" .) The conclusion is that "whether [effeminates] did or did not have sex with other men was not the point of satirists as much as that they were not--could not be--penetrators of women because of their status as non-men and their 'inferior' feminine qualities" (80).
Chapter 2 creatively reads Ramon de la Cruz's petimetre characters through the lens of theories of camp. "The petimetre...minced about and displayed an artifice and excess that flagrantly transgressed gender and sexual borders ... his comments reveal[ing] a sensibility for wit and irony that closely parallels camp comedy" even though "writers created the petimetre to be laughed at, unlike camp's intention to have the reader/viewer laugh with the characters" (81). Thus Cruz's petimetres are "camp-like without carrying the cultural connotations of modern-day camp" (81). A petimetre from a Cruz sainete embodies a "queer performativity ... unmasking ... significations created and sanctioned by culture" (82). Penrose cautions that "camp theory has its limits in describing Cruz's humor because unlike camp, his foppish satire does not 'go against the cultural grain'" and instead "bolsters traditional and popular beliefs about how Spaniards should be, talk, and act" (83); he clarifies that Cruz's petimetres are "fictitious characters with no agency, unlike the camp persona who is not merely imaginary but often flesh and blood" (83). The argument is not that Cruz intended for eighteenth-century viewers to deconstruct contemporary gender signs and expectations, but rather that a practice of queer reading fruitfully may employ Cruz's texts in the work of "unmasking:" camp theory is productive "in that it deconstructs the cultural and social configurations that rendered a marginalized figure, the petimetre, humorous because of his queer antics, looks, and conversation to reading and viewing audiences" (83).
Chapter 3 examines male-male sexual violence in eighteenth-century texts, approaching Samaniego's Jardin de Venus and the romance "El Currutaco de Sevilla" as texts in which the depiction of sodomy "serves as a method of violent punishment and a metaphor for the subjugation of the powerless by a powerful authority," "a discursive maneuver that compares male same-sex sexual relations to all that is unnatural, violent and loveless, the sodomizer to an all-powerful Church-state establishment dominated by a heteronormative economy, and the non-European to a barbarous sexual predator" (112). Penrose contends that these poems brought the subject of homosexuality "to light, albeit in a violent, negative way. Who next might be identified as performing sodomitical relations? Who next might fall victim to the aggressive sodomite? No one knew, but one thing Spanish society was sure of: the 'real' man was the one who could save the day. Only he could foil the sodomite's intentions" (138).
In his fine (and best-argued) Chapter 4, Penrose discusses male friendship and love in the poetry of Manuel Maria del Marmol. "In an age that encouraged male sentimentality," there were "rare tropes that portray men who desired other men in a sympathetic and positive light" (139). Penrose analyzes "the nature of friendship, love and sexuality in Spanish pastoral poetry in order to understand the complex relationships that are represented in" two clusters of Marmol's poetry: poems of "friendship," and "homoerotic poems" (139-40). He reminds readers that "Spanish Enlightenment writers and intellectuals were intensely aware of [the] libidinal aspect" of male friendship elaborated through Greek models (145): thus, in "creating a shepherd who desires another, the poet returns the pastoral to its Greco-Roman roots, in which the theme of homoeroticism is ubiquitous" (164). But most important, concludes Penrose, is that Marmol "insisted on expressing homoerotica in his pastoral works when convention did not ... leaving] us with some of the rarest and most open demonstrations of desire between men in Spanish literature" (165).
Penrose's main critical contribution is to plant the flag of homoeroticism firmly in the center of the map of eighteenth-century gender and sexuality studies, challenging the reader to accept his contention that depictions of effeminacy or invocations of the hermaphroditism chiefly refer audiences to same-sex desire and sexual acts, even when/though they might reference other things as well. He argues with passion and determination, offering an opening salvo intended to clear the way for further queer studies. This important effort should be hailed by those seeking new ways of enticing students to appreciate Enlightenment literature. Masculinity and Queer Desire in Spanish Enlightenment Eiterature is a great addition to the field that, one hopes, might set dieciochistas on the road toward uncovering supporting evidence in as-yet unstudied texts and manuscripts.
The Ohio State University
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|Title Annotation:||texto en ingles|
|Publication:||Dieciocho: Hispanic Enlightenment|
|Article Type:||Resena de libro|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2015|
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