¿Entiendes?: Queer Readings, Hispanic Writings

¿Entiendes?: Queer Readings, Hispanic Writings

by Paul Julian Smith, Emilie L. Bergmann

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"¿Entiendes?" is literally translated as "Do you understand? Do you get it?" But those who do "get it" will also hear within this question a subtler meaning: "Are you queer? Are you one of us?" The issues of gay and lesbian identity represented by this question are explored for the first time in the context of Spanish and Hispanic literature in this groundbreaking anthology.
Combining intimate knowledge of Spanish-speaking cultures with contemporary queer theory, these essays address texts that share both a common language and a concern with lesbian, gay, and bisexual identities. Using a variety of approaches, the contributors tease the homoerotic messages out of a wide range of works, from chronicles of colonization in the Caribbean to recent Puerto Rican writing, from the work of Cervantes to that of the most outrageous contemporary Latina performance artists. This volume offers a methodology for examining work by authors and artists whose sexuality is not so much open as "an open secret," respecting, for example, the biographical privacy of writers like Gabriela Mistral while responding to the voices that speak in their writing. Contributing to an archeology of queer discourses, ¿Entiendes? also includes important studies of terminology and encoded homosexuality in Argentine literature and Caribbean journalism of the late nineteenth century.
Whether considering homosexual panic in the stories of Borges, performances by Latino AIDS activists in Los Angeles, queer lives in turn-of-the-century Havana and Buenos Aires, or the mapping of homosexual geographies of 1930s New York in Lorca’s "Ode to Walt Whitman," ¿Entiendes? is certain to stir interest at the crossroads of sexual and national identities while proving to be an invaluable resource.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"People working in gay and lesbian studies in Hispanic literatures or cultural studies will not be able to continue to work without this volume close at hand. ¿Entiendes? provides both impetus and standards for all subsequent work in the field."—Benigno Sánchez-Eppler, Brandeis University

"This is a groundbreaking collection of essays on gay and lesbian topics in Hispanic literatures—there is nothing that compares with it."—George Yúdice, Hunter College and The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822399483
Publisher: Duke University Press
Publication date: 05/24/1995
Series: Series Q
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 448
File size: 2 MB

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Queer Readings, Hispanic Writings

By Emilie L. Bergmann, Paul Julian Smith

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1995 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-9948-3


Re-Loading the Canon

Mary S. Gossy

Aldonza as Butch: Narrative and the Play of Gender in Don Quijote

Aldonza Lorenzo is butch. I realize while I say this that I am writing both as a feminist theorist and as a Cervantist, as both a radical critic and as a Hispanist. It is hard to play all those roles at once, but not impossible. For the Hispanists and scholars of narrative in us, I would like to show the utility of gender theory for the study of the Spanish texts at the foundation of modern narrative and how those texts are still making contributions to everybody's understanding of representational practices. For the feminist theorists in us, I would like to demonstrate that new readings of old and canonical Spanish texts can contribute to new structures of representation, and conceptions of subjectivity, in the present. I would like to affirm that these several perspectives can benefit from the interaction that this essay proposes.

In some ways, the Cervantist-feminist theory tension is not unlike the connection between butch and femme. In both cases, it is the differences between the two terms that make the relationship exciting and that produce new meanings for text and for experience. Of course, there is no direct analogy between the two relationships: I would not suggest that Cervantism is "butch" and feminist theory "femme" (perhaps the opposite, but that would be another essay). In terms of feminist theory and practice in the twentieth century, a butch is a woman who plays a role culturally encoded as masculine in relationship to a femme, who is a woman playing a role culturally encoded as feminine. Their relationship is not an imitation of the behavior of heterosexual men and women in relationship to each other. It is, rather, a displacement and reinterpretation of gender roles whose specific values come from the relationship enacted by two female bodies together. The interaction between Cervantism-lesbian theory is like butch-femme in this last respect. The tension and association of the two terms produces new possibilities for meaning in each.

What I have learned from the fact that Aldonza Lorenzo is butch is that Cervantes's representation of her in the Quijote is part of a trajectory in narrative practice that has rarely been followed except in some very radical and recent texts. The dilemma of feminist theory about representational practices has been that when the female body is depicted, it is invariably transgressed in some way (de Lauretis 103-57) and that the only way to preserve the female body from transgression is to consign it to the realm of the unrepresentable–an equally problematic fate because it exiles women from discourse. Teresa de Lauretis discusses this economy of desire in terms of the Oedipus myth, in which the hero's story is told over the bodies of women and the feminized spaces through which he travels. The recurrence of Greek myth as metaphor in her work is a direct result of her reading of Freudian psychoanalysis, which is also one of my theoretical bases. Greek mythology also participates indirectly in the representation of Aldonza, where, as in contemporary feminist theory, Oedipus is displaced by Medusa and the question of violence and narrative is reframed. Cervantes has given us an exemplary treatment of this problem in his depiction of Aldonza Lorenzo. I do not suggest that Cervantes knew what a butch was in twentieth century terms–I do suggest that he knows what he is doing when he represents a female body that constitutes itself in "masculine" terms in relationship not to a male body, but to the idea of a woman who is constituted as ideally feminine. In the relationship between Aldonza and Dulcinea, not as real women but as gendered textual functions, butch-femme works as a figure of writing and of representation that suggests the possibility of a narrative that does not consume women's bodies.

I do not think that these are Utopian suggestions, especially since the text so clearly marks the degree to which they are conditioned by existing forms. For it is Sancho Panza, the material male body par excellence, whose discourse announces the new representation. When Sancho describes Aldonza in the paragraph that follows, he may be read as the enunciator of traditional narrative itself, historically determined as male, as the continuing rehearsal of the story of Oedipus. As I will show later, Cervantes's representation of Aldonza is revolutionary precisely because it does not sidestep the dominant tradition or pretend that it does not exist, but rather transmutes it. Never one to mince words, Sancho says of Aldonza:

Bien la conozco, ... y sé decir que tira tan bien una barra como el más forzudo zagal de todo el pueblo. ¡Vive el Dador, que es moza de chapa, hecha y derecha y de pelo en pecho, y que puede sacar la barba del lodo a cualquier caballero andante, o por andar, que la tuviere por senora! ¡Oh hideputa, qué rejo que tiene, y qué voz! Sé decir que se puso un día encima del campanario del aldea a llamar a unos zagales suyos que andaban en un barbecho de su padre, y aunque estaban de allí más de media legua, así la oyeron como si estuvieran al pie de la torre. Y lo mejor que tiene es que no es nada melindrosa, porque tiene mucho de cortesana: con todos se burla y de todo hace mueca y donaire. Ahora digo, señor Caballero de la Triste Figura, que no solamente puede y debe vuestra merced hacer locuras por ella, sino que, con justo titulo, puede desesperarse y ahorcarse; que nadie habra que lo sepa que no diga que hizo demasiado de bien, puesto que le lleve el diablo. Y querría ya verme en camino, sólo por vella; que ha muchos dias que no la veo, y debe de estar muy trocada; porque gasta mucho la faz de las mujeres andar siempre al campo, al sol y al aire. (1.25, 244) [I know her well ... and I can tell you that she pitches a bar as well as the strongest lad in the whole village. Praise be to God! She's a brawny girl, well-built and with hair on her chest, and she will know how to keep her beard out of the mud with any knight errant who ever has her for his mistress. Oh, son-of-a-whore, what muscles she's got, and what a voice! I can tell you that one day she went up the village belfry to call in some of their lads who were working in a fallow field of her father's, and they could hear her as plainly as if they had been at the foot of the tower, although they were nearly two miles away. And the great thing about her is that she's not a bit shy. There's a good deal of the court lady about her, too, for she jokes with everybody, and makes light and fun of everything. I tell you, Sir Knight of the Mournful Countenance, that you're not only quite right to play your mad pranks for her, but you've got reason to despair and hang yourself; anyone who knows you will say you acted better than well, even though the Devil himself should carry you off afterwards. Oh, I wish I were on the road only for the joy of seeing her. I haven't set eyes on her for ever so long. She must be changed, too, for always trudging about the fields in the sun and wind greatly spoils a woman's looks.] (209)

The first thing that Sancho says about Aldonza is that she "pitches a bar as well as the strongest lad in the whole village." On the literal level, this means that she is as good at festive games of strength as the men are. But according to Agustín Redondo, who has made a comprehensive study of this description (Redondo 19), "tirar la barra" [throwing the bar] figuratively meant, in Cervantes's time, futuere, that is, "to have sexual intercourse (with a woman)" (Traupman 123b). Redondo's work shows how the representation of Aldonza participates in carnivalesque structures in the Quijote. My aim is to demonstrate how Cervantes represents Aldonza as butch in order to push the limits of traditional narrative. While Redondo says that by this description "Aldonza se transforma de tal modo en mujer fálica" (Redondo 19) [Aldonza transforms herself in this way into a phallic woman], he does not take his interpretation to the conclusion suggested by the Latin dictionary. Instead, he perceives her as a serrana, a "mítica cazadora y salteadora, briosa y rolliza, que, en la sierra, atacaba al viajero, se lo llevaba a su cueva y saciaba en el su sanguinaria sensualidad" (Redondo 13) [a mythological huntress and highwaywoman, spunky and sturdy, who in the mountains would attack the traveler, carry him off to her cave, and satisfy in him her sanguinary sensuality]. But Aldonza lives in a town, not in the mountains, and there is no sign in her name–despite its connotations of transgressive sexuality–of the kind of castrating ("sanguinary") eroticism that the serrana image evokes. Perhaps because she can "throw the bar," the assumption is that she has taken it from some man, and thus Redondo sees her as a carnivalesque inversion of femininity that comically matches and emphasizes the "desvirilización" (Redondo 20) of Don Quijote. But Aldonza has never met Don Quijote. She does not know, and does not care, who he is. He was in love with her, but "ella jamás lo supo ni se dio cata dello" (1.1, 40) [she never knew it or gave it a thought (35)]. The man is irrelevant to her. She has no need to castrate him–she has discovered that the harm, like the phallus, belongs (as much as it can) to anyone who is willing to play with it. Aldonza is thus as much a Sphinx as she is a Medusa, and the question she poses in the text is related to how she plays with the barra. To "tira la barra" means futuere [to have sex with a woman], and Aldonza does it as well as the young men of the village (who, in the absence of further evidence, I assume to be heterosexual); the not very subtle implication is that she must be doing it with women.

This knowledge surfaces, at least unconsciously, when Redondo refers to Aldonza as "un verdadero marimacho" (Redondo 12) [a real butch] citing as evidence for the appellation her height, strength, stentorian voice, the manly scent she exudes after perspiring, and her hairiness. While "marimacho" today has acceptations that go from 'mannish' to 'lesbian,' the following citation from Lope de Vega's "La Serrana de la Vera," which the Diccionario de Autoridades uses to define "marimacho," may help to clarify its meaning in the Golden Age: "Lindo talle, hermosa moza,/si marimacho no fuera." (Diccionario de Autoridadesy 500b). This quotation distinguishes gendered behavior from the gendered body. A marimacho may be a woman of "lindo talle," that is, one with a body that men find attractive, but she can never enter into the symbolic economy of "una hermosa moza" [a pretty girl] because she doesn't act like one. A marimacho is defined by her "aspecto y modales masculinos" [masculine aspect and affect], her "ademanes o maneras" [mien or manners] as a butch "conjunto de [...] gestos y actitudes habituales" [combination of habitual gestures and attitudes] (Moliner 2.352, 2.433), all of which, in Sancho's story, help to describe Aldonza's performance of gender. She is not a woman trying to castrate men or to be a man. Rather she "resignifies masculinity in a butch identity. As a result, that masculinity, if that it can be called, is always brought into relief against a culturally intelligible 'female body'" (Butler 123). No one in the story or the criticism doubts that Aldonza is female. What strikes Sancho as eminently tellable and at the same time destablizes the narrative is that she is not a heterosexual female, that is, not an object of or participant in male desire. A woman's performance of masculinity and her orientation of this performance toward another woman (figured in the Quijote as "tirar la barra") are not the same as, or imitations of, a man's. Aldonza "tira la barra" as well as, but not in the same way as, the manliest fellow in town. To whom does she throw it? To another woman. The bar here becomes not a sign of division, but, as in Sue-Ellen Case's formulation, the sign of connection on a narrative level between butch and femme (Case 56–57).

Where is this other woman, the one at the other end of the bar:1 Since Aldonza is a butch, we should be on the lookout for a femme. If, as Case suggests, "the butch-femme couple inhabit the subject position together–'you can't have one without the other,' as the song says"; if, as according to Judith Butler, "[i]n both butch and femme identities, the very notion of an original or natural identity is put into question [and] indeed, it is precisely that question as it is embodied in these identities that becomes one source of their erotic significance"; and if, finally, as in Luce Irigaray's title, "the one doesn"t move without the other" (Case 56; Butler 123), then we must look for a woman whose representation is intimately linked with, but not erased by Aldonza's; a woman who is thus coupled with her and turned out in the full array of her culture's feminine drag: Dulcinea.

Dulcinea, in combination with Aldonza, works to perpetuate the writing process of the Quijote after its reported interruption at the end of the eighth chapter. In the midst of the action of the battle between Don Quijote and the gallant Basque, the manuscript upon which the narrator bases his version of the story comes to an abrupt end. Don Quijote and the Basque are left suspended in the narrative space, horses charging, swords aloft, but frozen. The narrator tells in the next chapter how, in the marketplace in Toledo, he discovered another manuscript that continued the story. An avid reader, he picks up some ancient notebooks, and seeing that they are written in Arabic, finds a translator to tell him what they contain. The translator opens one book up in the middle and starts to laugh. When the narrator asks him what's so funny, he says:

Está, como he dicho, aquí en el margen escrito esto: "Esta Dulcinea del Toboso, tantas veces en esta historia referida, dicen que tuvo la mejor mano para salar puercos que otra mujer de toda la Mancha." (1.9, 93)

[This is what is written in the margin: "They say that Dulcinea del Toboso, so often mentioned in this history, was the best hand of any woman at salting pork in all La Mancha."] (76)

The lowly activity of salting pork–Aldonza has her hand in prohibited flesh–juxtaposed with the pretty name makes the translator laugh and signals to the narrator the presence of the story's continuation. This quotation highlights the simultaneity, but not confusion, of Aldonza as threatening Other–she has a Moorish name, and it is her body that performed the act of salting pork in El Toboso, a Moorish town–and Dulcinea as idealized Other. The two of them, together in the margins, inscribed in Arabic, a foreign but intelligible language, are, through a process of translation, integral to the production of narrative. The story can start up again after the couple Aldonza-Dulcinea appears. They function in, but are not of, the dominant structure. The discourse and modes of representation that they encode differ from what comes before their mention. Their joint appearance produces a more complex text than before, one mediated by an at times unfathomable multiplicity of narrators and points of view, in which mastery of interpretation and unity of meaning are incessantly called into question. The formulae of traditional narrative (in the specific example of the romance of chivalry) are displaced, and a new kind of story is told. Cervantes says in the prologue that "todo él es una invectiva contra los libros de caballerías" (1. Prólogo 25) [the whole of (the book) is an invective against books of chivalry (29)]. Leaving aside the question of whether this is an ironic or literal stance, what it signals is a direction away from established narrative forms, a direction that specifically challenges the (not only courtly) male-hero to female-space relationship fundamental to traditional narrative. It is important to remember here that the couple Aldonza-Dulcinea may be related to, but is not just another of the many material-ideal pairs in the Quijote. The couple butch-femme is not part of the same ideological structures as self/other, subject/object, materiality/ideality, or reality/illusion that critics have long been able to see Cervantes's novel as deconstructing. A crucial point of this essay and other theory about butch-femme is that butch-femme is not an opposition; it is a couple, in which two female bodies are subjects in relation to each other, together. The difference between those binary oppositions and a butch-femme couple is not only structural, it is also specifically one of gender. When Aristotle first theorizes power in the Politics, he says that "The first point is that those which are ineffective without each other must be united in a pair. For example, the union of male and female." Immediately, the second paired example he cites is "ruler and ruled." An idea of domination and of value is implicit in binary pairs and oppositions. One term is always in control of, or needs to control, the other. These qualifications are not part of the construction of the butch-femme couple. The other important point, from the position of feminist theory, is that Aristotle's choice of examples is not arbitrary. As Monique Wittig states in her discussion of the Politics, "From that time on, male and female, the heterosexual relationship, has been the parameter of all hierarchical relations" (Wittig 42). Don Quijote is a generalized challenge to the ideological motors of any narrative not in spite of, but specifically because of the fact that it does not consume women's bodies.


Excerpted from ¿Entiendes? by Emilie L. Bergmann, Paul Julian Smith. Copyright © 1995 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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