Seriously… What About this Book Gives Us the Impression It Has Anything to do With Boredom?????

In Betrayed by Rita Hayworth, film is not an escape from the boredom of small-town life.

Or it is not SOLELY that.

It is a mechanism for coping with patriarchal and heterosexist violence and trauma.

I have been trying to prepare a more thorough post about my reaction(s) to the text and have unfortunately been very busy, but I want to say now that as important as I think discussion of form and aesthetics are — especially in a text with as many different things going on formally as Betrayed by Rita Hayworth — I think there is also always a relationship between form and content, and to not remark upon the content of this novel, when that content involves shit like a little queer boy getting sexually assaulted by his classmates, a little queer boy getting blasted by his verbally abusive and controlling (as in even in his absence, his family manages their behaviors to avoid incurring his wrath, as in he finds ways to prevent his wife visiting her beloved family home, as in he prevents his wife from pursuits which employ her undergraduate degree and full intellect) father for his queer ass tastes and behaviors, a little queer boy being betrayed (word choice deliberate) by his mother, his one ally, when she cows to her husband and trashes her son’s beloved handmade movie postcards… to not remark upon this content, to continue saying, This is a book about people who use film for escapism, without naming what its characters are escaping from, or more accurately, I would argue, what they are coping with, is to miss something that is really fundamental to the novel. …And especially when this conversation about escapism is framed by that Llosa quote and lame-ass Cheuse introduction (I’m sorry, but I think it’s really lame and doesn’t say very much of interest), saying that this novel is of no consequence beyond its entertainment value… then if we ignore the actual gunk and trauma of Toto’s life, and if we also ignore the shit happening in the lives of these various women narrators, then I believe what we are effectively saying is that the lives of boys like Toto don’t matter.

Which pisses me the fuck off.

So when we are contemplating why Puig made the formal choices he made, can we please, please link this with some consideration of the actual events taking place on the page? So for instance, we could ask: Why is the life of a little queer boy like Toto being narrated through the stream-of-consciousness monologues of a group of gossipy women (how does gossip function in this book as both as a site of resistance and resilience as well as a mechanism through which women keep each other in check, are complicit in patriarchal systems?) Women who are themselves experiencing a shit ton of patriarchal bullshit… Catholicism and sexual shaming, male violence and betrayal, etc, etc… I mean, are y’all reading the same book as me? …I guess I’m not really seeing the “boredom” part.

9 thoughts on “Seriously… What About this Book Gives Us the Impression It Has Anything to do With Boredom?????

  1. GO Tim! I read that book in high school? When I lived in Spain. I read it in Spanish. I remember very little about it, but I don’t remember much about last night either.

    So- what I love here is your discussion of the importance of CONTENT. One of my biggest issues with the indie scene is the shying away (and only sometimes, but often enough to drive me mad) from meaning and the obsession with “style” and “new” (I don’t believe in new) and quirky writing and so on. When I read, I want it to be about something. And when I discuss a book, I discuss what it is about.

    • This was a case where ignoring content felt to me like an erasure of the book’s queerness. Not deliberately, by any means, it was just a frustration I was feeling. Of course there is also an aesthetic and formal queerness to the book as well.

      • Tim, you’re definitely onto something here, and according to a bunch of sources I’ve read Puig had difficulty getting the novel published in Spanish in large measure because of its queerness. As translator Suzanne Jill Levine writes, “The book reflected an overt homosexual sensibility: its focus on women’s perspectives and its obsession with Hollywood’s mythic world seemed subversively frivolous…” Goytisolo, who helped give the book its title (Puig said it, but he bracketed it as a perfect title), writes that Barral, a publisher based in Barcelona,
        decided that the effeminate Argentine, vulnerable and fragile, was not the kind of writer he wanted to include in the catalog of his prestigious publishing house.” Thus was the book published in Argentina before Spain. Essentially, even though it turned out to wield a tremendous influence over later novels in the so-called “Boom,” i.e. those of Cortazar and Vargas Llosa, in terms of using pop culture unabashedly, etc., it met many hurdles in terms of its queer content, and without persistent efforts by its supporters might have been ignored.

        Also, Puig’s resistance to machismo extended into the realm of international politics, not only personal. When the dispute over sovereignty of the Falkland Islands erupted with Great Britain, for instance, whereas many Argentinians saw it as a symbol of Argentine nationalism and self-assertion, Puig demurred, seeing them as, as he put it in his inimitable fashion, “Four deserted islands discovered by an Englishman whose caprice made him plant a flag in the ground. And his fellow mariners remained there with a handful of sheep, that’s all.” Bold things to say aloud to a public that was revving itself up with phrases like “Mother country or death!”

        All of these quotes, by the way, are from the wonderful Review of Contemporary Fiction from the Fall of 1991.

  2. Tim–

    Great to see you fired up about this book, and pushing the discussion in worthwhile directions. For me, on the first go-around the formal stuff dominated because a) I spent a lot of time just figuring out who was who, when was when, etc., and b) it was pleasurable to allow Puig’s voices to wash over and around me, even when they were describing acts that call for critique and commentary. I like your insistence on connecting form to content, and I’ve been thinking a lot about gossip while reading it, since so much of the talk is gossip, part of what makes Puig “contra Borges” as the critic Roberto Echavarren put it. That’s part of what I was getting at in my first post in linking the film “Fake Fruit Factory,” in which a lot of these elements converge–gossip as a coping mechanism but also as a means of resistance. I think it’s interesting that the last stream of consciousness monologue we get from Toto is when he is nine, and after that we are constructing the story through the prism of these multiple voices–characters who seem to only be peripherally involved in some cases, and written documents, including Toto’s, a.j.a. Casals’s, very formal essay on “The Movie I Liked Best.” Why do we not see his teenage consciousness the way we do Hector’s or Cobito’s or Paquita’s, even though the novel’s central events unfold around him? Is it because pubescence strips him of a voice, forcing him to turn the films into allegories of what he can’t talk about otherwise? Yet Puig proffers voice where we might not expect; through Corbito we can deconstruct the relationships between social class, education, masculinity, heteronormativity, and sexual violence. I think it is interesting to talk about the limitations of film, though–films are used as an ulterior means of communication in the book, but it’s only in these bursts of consciousness, precisely where film is least effective (at least the Hollywood film that Puig was enamored with), that we really get at the core of these characters. I take it that that was part of Paul’s point when he posed, astutely, “I think what I’m trying to get at is whether this was a deliberate attempt to get as far away from film as possible?”

  3. An aside on gossip- I took a sociology course as an undergrad and it was really brilliant. One paper we read was about the function of gossip in Chinese villages. It discussed how the women had no actual power-all the positions of power in the town and in the family were held by men- but argued that the women actually had MORE control over the social structure of the villages because they all did the laundry together at the river and gossiped and their gossip was incredibly powerful and affected the social structure of the village far more than the “town leaders” and whatnot. It struck me as so true- it rang true to me. One theory posited by the sociologist writing the paper was the language itself was developed by humans to GOSSIP- as a means of social control.
    BTW- I think of myself as terribly inept at gossip.

    • Paula,

      Good point, not an aside at all, actually. I was scheming to do a post, and still will if I can find time, on Robin Dunbar’s theory of gossip at the origins of language evolution. Basically, Dunbar is a linguist who traces gossip to grooming behavior in higher primates and argues that, as your sociology paper had it, language was first gossip, NOT “This is how to sharpen a rock” or “The tapirs have been running in plentiful numbers through this ravine.”

      Of course, what Facebook reveals is that everything can be seen as social or remade as a social phenomenon, i.e. a form of gossip. It’s true that I’m more likely to click on a link if so-and-so posted it versus through a search of my own or what some algorithm leads me to. Sometimes this seems invidious, and at other times I’m just fine with it.

      The Wikileaks phenomenon is intriguing because of the way it mixed up gossip and diplomacy, two things that are supposed to belong to different spheres, one lower and one higher. Or rather it exposed how great the imbrication between the two.

  4. Pingback: Reading Stanley Elkin’s Searches and Seizures: On “The Bailbondsman” « BIG OTHER

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