You are on page 1of 16

Mothers, Muses and Male Narrators: Narrative Transvestism and Metafiction in Cristina

Peri Rossi's "Solitario de amor"

Author(s): Nicola Gilmour
Source: Confluencia, Vol. 15, No. 2 (Spring 2000), pp. 122-136
Published by: University of Northern Colorado
Stable URL:
Accessed: 09-09-2016 19:59 UTC

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted
digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about
JSTOR, please contact

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at

University of Northern Colorado is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to

This content downloaded from on Fri, 09 Sep 2016 19:59:44 UTC
All use subject to
Mothers, Muses and Male Narrators: Narrative
Transvestism and Metafiction in Cristina Peri Rossi's
Solitario de amor

Nicola Gilmour
The University of Auckland.

Solitario de amor (1988), the novel under discussion in this article, is Cristina Peri R
third, the first being El libro de mis primos published in 1969, a text which consecrates P
Rossi as a left-wing political writer in her native Uruguay. Her second novel, La nave de lo
locos, is published in 1984 after a fifteen-year interval during which time Peri Ross
been forced to abandon Uruguay and had gone into exile in Spain. Solitario de amor,
author's first first-person narrative and, by her own admission, her most autobiogr
breaks with all previous classifications of Peri Rossi as "una escritora pol?tica" o "la escrito
representativa del exilio" (A 9) to establish her as a writer whose particular perspecti
strongly informed by an interest in psychoanalysis.1 Solitario de amor is followed
another first-person narrative, similarly informed by a psychoanalytic perspectiv
ultima noche de Dosto?evski (1992), which is Peri Rossis last novel to date. In additio
fitting into this sequence of novels, which follow an overall thematic progression,2 Solita
de amor forms one-third of a triptych on the subject of obsessive sexual passion, which al
comprises Fantas?as er?ticas, a book-length essay on sexual fantasy and eroticism, and Bab
b?rbara, a book of poetry.3 Thus Solitario de amor has a double place in generic an
thematic subgroupings of Peri Rossi s works.
On one level, that at which it has principally been studied (Levine; Kaminsky;
Mora), Solitario de amor is the story of an intense love affair, bordering on pathologi
between the unnamed masculine first-person narrator and a woman called A?da, wh
the exclusive focus of the male narrator s attention. The degree of obsession that this ma
feels is such that he admits he has no life other than that which he shares with her:
un tipo sin memoria, un hombre sin ra?z, sin h?bitos.. .soy un ni?o sin madre" (59). T
affair is the sole focus of his narration, which starts when the affair ends as a way
retaining contact with her: "He de escribir cada uno de nuestros recuerdos_ [S]er?
escriba de este amor" (183). His narration is a desperate attempt at representing A?da
rewriting the outcome of the affair. It functions both as a denial of the separation
rejection that the narrator feels when A?da evicts him from her body, her house and


This content downloaded from on Fri, 09 Sep 2016 19:59:44 UTC
All use subject to
life, and also as an acknowledgement of this forced separation, since it recounts the story
of the narrator s loss.
Despite the overwhelming presence of explicit imagery related to sexual pleasure,
the intention of this article is to explore the metafictional elements of this work, treating
Solitario de amor as a representation of the birth of the writing subject and linking its
metafictionality to the use of the masculine first-person voice that so characterizes Peri
Rossi s narrative works. It is my contention that two parallel structures of desire are present
in the novel: on the one hand, the desire of the narrator for complete fusion with Aida, a
sexual and psychological desire which is reflected in the frequently used image of the child's
yearning for oneness with its mother; on the other hand, on a metafictional level, the desire
for a Utopian fullness of representation sought by an artist in the construction of his or her
artwork. Both these desires parallel that of the transvestite and thus, I suggest, are closely
related to the choice of narrative voice. This kind of analysis will go some way towards
explaining elements of the novel that have hitherto been difficult to account for by critical
readings of Solitario de amor simply as an erotic text or as a radical rewriting of gender: for
example, the insistent dualism of the conceptual framework of the novel, the overtly
traditional phallicism of some of the imagery and the novel's peculiarly ambivalent ending.
In addition, I will endeavor to show that Solitario de amor functions as a fetish in both its
narrative structure and content, with the consequence that, while at times the novel
contains elements of radical subversion, there is also a deep-seated conservatism at work
which makes the product of these three manifestations of desire?sexual, textual and
transvestite?deeply ambiguous, thereby creating a paradoxical narrative which defies
The issue of narrative voice is crucial to my argument since it is by approaching this
narrative as a transvestite narrative that the metafictional subtext of the novel is revealed.
By "transvestite narrative" I refer to the narrative practice whereby an author uses the first
person voice of a character of the opposite sex to him/herself to narrate the story; as is the
case when Peri Rossi uses a masculine "I" to serve as the focal point of her novel. In
traditional Freudian analysis transvestism is seen as a sub-category of fetishism?an
extreme form of clothing fetish, whereby men gain an erotic charge by temporarily
dressing as women. In his 1927 essay entitled "Fetishism" Freud posits the fetish object as
a substitute for the phallus, which the little boy once believed his mother to possess.
Despite evidence to the contrary, the boy refuses to give up his belief in this phallus that
he thinks should have existed. Refusing to see this "lack," which he attributes to castration,
he therefore displaces the hypothetical phallus onto a substitute, often a shoe or some other
item of easily possessed clothing, or onto another part of the female body, so that his fear
of castration might be neutralized.
Fetishism is, therefore, a kind of m?tonymie fragmentation, where the part (the
fetish object) is made to stand in for the whole (the mother with a phallus). Belief in the
all-encompassing phallic mother is a promise to the little boy that she and he are at the
deepest level the same, with the basic difference between them eliminated. Constructing
the mother in his own image, the child protects himself horn the terrible threat of
castration and thus, the terrifying possibility of sexual difference. Fetishism is theorized as


This content downloaded from on Fri, 09 Sep 2016 19:59:44 UTC
All use subject to
a narcissistic mechanism of disavowal that creates a split in the subject since he both denies
what he perceives as the castration of his mother and, at the same time, highlights it by the
symbolic nature of his fetishistic fixation. The fetishist is seen to be oscillating between two
poles, holding two opposing views at the same time.
A more extreme version of fetishism is a certain kind of transvestism. The transvestite
does not acquire just one object of feminine apparel to reassure himself but rather dresses,
speaks and behaves like a woman, giving as complete a performance as his skill will allow.
Dressed up as a woman, a man looks in the mirror and sees the feminine version of himself
that he needs to protect his narcissistic image of wholeness. This woman-in-the-mirror is not
just any woman, but rather, THE Woman?the Phallic Mother, whose existence safeguards
the man-child s bodily integrity. This image of Woman is, of course, a narcissistic projection
of mans own need and has little to do with women, although it is based on the imaginary
morphology assigned to them by the transvestite fetishist.
Transvestism has been predominantly considered a male perversion, since in the
traditional psychoanalytic view women are always already castrated and therefore, in a
sense, have nothing to fear. Nevertheless, some feminist theorists have endeavored to
recuperate the possibility of female fetishism and, by extension, transvestism, treating it as
a strategy to avoid the positioning of both men and women on either side of the castration
axis, while others have posited the lesbian as a true female fetishist (Schor; Grosz).
Although the complexity of these issues precludes elaboration here, I would suggest that
Solitario de amor is a text that supports claims that fetishism may not necessarily be
restricted to males and that some reworking of Freud s theories is required.
In an oscillation reminiscent of the fetishistic transvestite figure itself Peri Rossi both
affirms the necessity of her choice of narrator in Solitario de amor and denies it at the same
time, providing several somewhat unconvincing arguments to explain her use of a
masculine first-person narrator. A closer examination of these reasons shows that, in spite
of saying "voy a ser muy clara" (M 78), Peri Rossis statements in her interviews become
fetishistic ones of contradiction and paradox.
With regard to narrative perspective, Peri Rossi is adamant that her choice is due
exclusively to literary considerations: "[L]a elecci?n de si escribo en primera persona o no
tiene que ver con factores meramente literarios. Eso no implica ning?n deseo m?s que una
estrategia literaria_ [E]s una elecci?n determinada por la emoci?n que quiero suscitar,
pero en ning?n caso por otro motivo" (A 23). In another interview, Peri Rossi asserts that
all aesthetic choices, including presumably the choice of narrative voice, should be
subordinated to the theme of the novel, which is given the highest priority (M 78).
However, at no point does Peri Rossi clarify why she feels that a masculine first-person
narrative voice is aesthetically and thematically necessary for "una novela donde la pasi?n
amorosa es absoluta" (Q40).4 In fact, she goes on to state that gender has little to do with
it: "[L]a pasi?n amorosa no depende del sexo que se tenga, es decir, en primer lugar, la
psiquis no tiene tiempo ni sexo" {M 79).5 There is no real, embodied, fundamental
difference, Peri Rossi seems to be saying. Nevertheless, if there is no difference that matters,
why is it so essential that the novel be written from a specifically masculine narrative
perspective? Could the protagonist have been a woman? Not according to the author: "[A]


This content downloaded from on Fri, 09 Sep 2016 19:59:44 UTC
All use subject to
m? me hubiera encantado que Solitario de amor fuera entre dos mujeres.. .pero habr?a sido
otra novela, no la que yo quer?a escribir" (M 79). The novel would have been "different"
in some way that Peri Rossi prefers to leave unspecified.
One possible key to deciphering these somewhat cryptic and contradictory remarks
lies in Peri Rossis perception of authorial authority itself and her repeated concern that her
work be seen in the context of a universal discourse that is unfettered by questions of
gender. She explicitly states that, had she chosen a feminine narrative voice and a feminine
object of desire as the focus of the novel, this would have detracted from the universality
of her observations and ultimately de-authorized the work: "[Y]o quer?a hacer el an?lisis y
luego involucrar al lector y que luego no se quejara ay, claro es que son enfermas, esto les
pasa por ser lesbianas.' Era una manera de autorizar el texto" (M 79). Ostensibly for
"strategic" reasons, Peri Rossi prefers to play along with the assumptions that she in turn
assumes the general reader makes, but when asked by the interviewer specifically how she
manages to inscribe herself within a "universal" discourse and subvert it at the same time,
she evades the question (M 79-80).
While until now all critical attention has been focussed on the authorial choice of a
masculine subject, the feminine nature of the object has remained unquestioned by Peri
Rossi and by the critics alike. The potential gender combinations considered for the novel's
characters are never extended to a feminine subject writing about a masculine object, nor to
a masculine subject writing about a masculine object. Why? If gender is irrelevant to
obsessive sexual passion then surely all of these options would be equally valid and
appropriate, or would they? In reality, the illusion of choice is in fact just that?an illusion,
given that for the narrative to work at all the transvestite format is essential. The enigmatic,
fetishized object/other in the novel has to be the embodied figure of a woman and the
narrating subject has to be masculine, not least because, in Peri Rossi's view, writing is a
phallic activity associated with "universal" subjectivity and is, therefore, covertly masculine.
This supposed universality is undermined by the fact that Solitario de amor is
acknowledged by Peri Rossi as her most autobiographical book: "[E]s la primera vez que me
identifico con la voz que narra. Y en ese sentido es mi libro m?s autobiogr?fico" (Q40). This
is reiterated later in the same interview: "Me siento completamente identificada con el
personaje protagonista, a pesar de que es un hombre. Creo en este caso es irrelevante. Que el
protagonista sea una mujer o sea un hombre no cambia nada. Por lo tanto creo que es mi libro
m?s autobiogr?fico" (Q 42-43 emphasis added). The presence of an intense emotional
identification between author and narrator somehow overrides sexual difference because of
the "universal" nature of the theme. In the light of these comments the reader is encouraged,
obliged even, to make the identification between the author and her protagonist, to hear his
voice as being hers, cross-dressed. While it may seem paradoxical that Peri Rossi's work on
"universal" sexual passion is also her most personal one, what may be seen as at stake in
Solitario de amor is Peri Rossi's very authorization to write, to participate in that allegedly
universal discourse that is the Western masculine literary tradition.
The construction of narrative authority around the idea of a gender-free, race-free,
difference-free universality, is predicated on a series of binary oppositions by means of which
the narrator represents his relationship with A?da: subject/object; male/female; mind/body;


This content downloaded from on Fri, 09 Sep 2016 19:59:44 UTC
All use subject to
presence/absence; writer/text; voice/silence; outside/inside (the body); culture/nature;
representation/reality; artist/muse and signifier/signified. Having set up these dualisms the
narrator then seeks a means of fusing the two components to create a powerful, meaning
full whole, just as the transvestite attempts to fuse male and female. However, despite
privileging the traditionally inferior (feminine) element in the pair, the narrator still retains
the binary framework of assumptions; thus, Woman is still associated with all the qualities
that Platonic philosophy attributes to her. This traditional alignment of binary oppositions
is seen by some critics, notably Levine, as an anomaly: "Curiously, Peri Rossi reverts to a
conventional code of binary oppositions to communicate the heterosexual spectrum of her
novel" (152). If the novel is seen as a deconstruction of gender and the narrator as a sensitive
practitioner of some new non-phallic masculine sexuality, then this apparently traditional
usage of binary oppositions is anomalous. The sheer volume, frequency and weight of these
oppositions in the narrative are difficult to overlook. If, however, the narrative is an
ambiguous fetishistic metafiction, conservative and subversive at the same time, then these
factors are more easily comprehended as the narrator oscillates paradoxically between two
poles, endeavoring to fuse representation and reality.
It would be difficult to overstate the role that fetishism plays in this text: in its plot,
its characterizations and in its very structure, Solitario de amor is shot through with
imagery of fragmentation, anecdotes of fetishistic practices, extended passages focussed on
isolated parts of A?das body and details of other fetish images. The fragmentation of the
structure of the text complements the fragmentation of the body of A?da which, despite
being described as a whole, "una entidad ?nica, indivisible" (11), is largely represented in
fragmented parts, in sexualized, erogenous zones: nipple, breast, clitoris, vulva, vagina and
the unattainable uterus. Similarly, the novel consists of a number of disjointed sections,
uneven in length, which seem more like flashes of memory than an organized text.6 A
number of anecdotes specifically recounting fetishistic behavior serve to fragment the
narrative even further: the story of the shoe-fetishist, recreated by the narrator in his
imagination, who attacks women to steal one of their shoes (139-42); and that of the
English doctor and the Hindu princess, the re-enactment of which constitutes the climax
of the novel (153-54). Several dream sequences are also included in the narrative, which,
aside from serving as an unconscious counterpoint to the narrator s conscious monologue,
also rupture the narrative flow.
The fragmented structure of the narrative is reflected within the novel by the
strikingly dysfunctional communication between the characters. The few conversations
transcribed in the novel rarely exceed more than a couple of interchanges and the format
of Solitario de amor is essentially that of a monologue. Any remark made by A?da triggers
even more reflections about her, converting her yet again into an object of the narrator s
contemplation rather than a contemplating subject in her own right. This fragmentation
of A?das discourse (and the narrators appropriation thereof) further fragments the
narrator s own narrative, his textual body.
In addition to the overwhelming presence of fetishism in the novel the narrative is
itself a fetish, becoming a permanent memorial to precisely that lack of A?da that the
narrator tries to deny and, by so doing, also acknowledges. The impulse to recreate A?das


This content downloaded from on Fri, 09 Sep 2016 19:59:44 UTC
All use subject to
body textually originates in the loss of access to the real body that occurs at the end of the
narration, which the text itself is designed to substitute. In Over Her Dead Body Elizabeth
Bronfen suggests similarities between the representation and the fetish:

Representation in some sense always implies negation or absence of its object of

reference, since some material body is recognized not as real but as an image.
Representation, however, also arises out of the narcissistic wound it is meant to
heal, and as such sets a permanent memorial to precisely the knowledge of loss
[and] separation.. .as it attempts to sublate or replace these experiences. (118)

In the case of Solitario de amor the narrator openly acknowledges that his narrative is his
only way of retaining at least some semblance of A?da: "No estoy separado de ella: en su
ausencia, la memoria me acompa?a, me sigue, me la proporciona all?, en todas partes
donde ella no est?. No he dejado un solo minuto de estar con ella" (179). The act of writing
the text becomes equivalent to being with A?da. The text becomes both an act of
mourning, and a replacement or substitute for her. This narrative body, this text, becomes
a fetish in that it fills the narrators whole horizon, both erotically and ontologically.
Simultaneously recognizing that his narrative is not her real body and denying that it is
not, the narrator creates such a vibrant material image with his language that he can act as
if text were flesh. In this denial and affirmation of lack the links between representation
and the narrator s fetishism become clear.

As suggested earlier, Solitario de amor functions on two levels of desire. The first is
the narrators desire for unlimited access to A?da, who for him symbolizes the maternal
body, a desire which is ultimately frustrated when A?da rejects him. However, it is the very
loss of this desired body that, in Lacanian psychoanalytic theory and in the narrative,
allows the child, or in this case the narrator, to enter into language. As Ragland-Sullivan
points out, "no seemingly coherent identification with language and culture could occur
without a turning away from Imaginary objects of plenitude (usually the mother) in the
name of a Symbolic differential" (422). The forced separation from the mother, or A?da,
in Solitario de amor, gives the child/narrator the capacity to create a substitute for this body,
or at least to attempt it, in his narrative. This leads to the second level of desire: the artist's
wish to create a work that, rather than being a representation of reality, is reality.
Subtle references to the writing process, although not as salient as the imagery
related to the Mother, are present throughout the novel. As is to be expected in such a
fetishistic text, the image of Aida in relation to this "writing process" is split within the
narrative. She is presented as a double-facetted figure, both text and muse, lover and
mother of the protagonist-narrator.
References to Aida as the narrator's writing surface or as a text that he is writing with
his passion are frequent. She buttons her shirt like someone closing a book (21); her
clothing becomes the binding of the book and her body, the pages within it. While A?da
is referred to as being very pale (145), her clothes are, at the narrator's insistence, almost
exclusively black?black on white, the colors of text. Similarities between A?das skin and
a blank page are hinted at when her skin is described as "tu piel blanca, lisa" (123) and as


This content downloaded from on Fri, 09 Sep 2016 19:59:44 UTC
All use subject to
having "los poros blancos y abiertos, entre los hilos negros de la malla" (124). Shortly after
this description, a page of a book is also referred to as "blanca, porosa" (158). Significantly,
the notebook that the narrator buys in which to write his nostalgic transcription of A?da
also has black covers: "He comprado un cuaderno negro donde empezar a escribir"
(184)?a reproduction, in stationery, of A?das body.
Text and body are inextricably linked throughout the novel as, on several occasions,
we see the narrator inscribing A?da textually: "Entonces, con la yema de los dedos, escribo
sobre tu cuerpo los signos de mi amor h?medo. La A., de tu nombre" (89). Although in
this instance his ink is his own saliva, earlier in the narrative he also inscribes "ancient
signs" on her body with her menstrual blood (15). Language is used by the narrator to
endeavor to fix the meaning of A?das body, by naming and controlling it: "Voy poniendo
nombres a las partes de A?da" (18); "?A?da!?te nombro, para que te reconozcas" (93). The
cry that he draws from deep within her body in the throes of orgasm also names her,
emphasizing at the same time the sadistic, violent nature of such an imposition of
meaning, presented as a forcing of the limits of A?das identity: "[A] justo por ?ltima vez las
clavijas y tu grito te precipita, desde las entra?as se pronuncia, desde la garganta, el vientre
y los pulmones: el grito te nombra y te identifica, te funda y te cimienta, te bautiza y te
confirma: A?da" (20).
Restriction of meaning is achieved not only by the narrators control over A?das
name/identity, but also by his placing physical limits on her body (the body of his text).
His gift of a sexy black body-suit?a fetishistic garment in itself?is another symbolic, but
nonetheless explicit, attempt to contain her and give her form:

[S]e ha puesto la malla negra que la ci?e, la tornea, cubre su cuerpo de los pies al
busto como yo quisiera ce?irla a ella, tornearla, cubrirla. La malla negra me
representa, me simboliza, ejecuta por m? lo que no puedo hacer: no puedo,
aunque quiero, ser nada m?s que un tejido de nailon bordado, delgado como un
hilo, pegado a su piel. Pero no es otro mi deseo: quisiera ser la malla, quisiera ser
la tela sobre su cuerpo, no tener m?s vida ni m?s consistencia que ?sa. (124)

The black mesh of the body-suit defines the boundaries of A?da for the narrator in a
way that he cannot. The nylon fabric, linked to language by virtue of the fact that they are
both man-made in the narrators eyes, brings together images of physical and discursive
control as the body-suit of language gives A?da the form that the narrator desires. Such a
suit is ill-fitting, a garment of domination which A?da would shrug off were she aware of it:
"[M]i secreto debe ser no confesarte jam?s cu?l es mi sue?o. Si me atreviera a cont?rtelo, si
cometiera el error de pronunciarlo, te desvincular?as de ?l como de la ley, como si mi sue?o
de ti fuera un traje que no te sienta, un vestido obligado, una camisa de fuerza (148 emphasis
added). A?da resists any challenge to her autonomy, any external imposition of meaning:
"Nunca quise ser el sue?o de ning?n hombre: yo soy mi propio sue?o" (149). Other lovers,
it is stressed, have had access to this same body of language and have given it a different voice
or inflection of meaning, a fact which openly challenges the narrator s desired exclusivity.


This content downloaded from on Fri, 09 Sep 2016 19:59:44 UTC
All use subject to
Clothing as a carrier of meaning serves as an outward expression of the body and a
marker of difference, but it is also a distortion of it. Hence the ambivalence of the narrator
who prefers to describe Aida as naked or half-undressed. A?das "fullness" can only be
appreciated when she is in her natural state?naked: "La plentitud de A?da es su desnudez.
Seguramente si...A?da permaneciera siempre desnuda, nadie dir?a que es una mujer sola....
Vestida, en cambio, A?da es una mujer vulnerable. Como si la ropa fuera una segunda piel,
inc?moda, un disfraz levemente opuesto. El vestido es la interdicci?n" (22). Clothing
becomes a barrier to complete mastery on the part of the narrator and, as an element of
culture, distances the narrator from the original body. The naked body, he seems to believe,
carries only the meaning he imposes on it; it is a blank slate upon which he can write.
As a means of self-expression, clothing is also explicitly linked with voice: "De A?da
conozco cada prenda de ropa, cada inflexi?n de voz" (123). Like clothing, voice is an
impediment to the narrator s control and so, distrusting A?das words, he often leaves them
unreported, describing her as a voiceless body. As if observing her from behind a plate of
soundproof glass, he limits himself to watching her gestures, approving of their grace,
while at the same time disapproving of her voice (121). He would also like to silence her
laugh, which exceeds his conception of her in some undefined way: "Hay una risa de A?da,
brusca y casi enf?tica, que suena demasiado en mis o?dos" (121), producing in him a sense
of uneasiness (133). Preferring A?da to speak with her body, he sounds and records the
inner depths of her body: "[P]ego mi oreja contra su superficie y procuro escuchar el rumor
de sus visceras: el lento bullir del h?gado, las imperceptibles contracciones del piloro, las
vibraciones del colon, clepsidra invisible, el lento ronroneo de la ves?cula?tortuga
hundida en el aljibe?, las maquinaciones del est?mago y el bostezo de los intestinos" (11).
Yet again A?das interior life must be described and thus controlled, this time by limiting
her discourse to that of the body.
By systematically removing any traces of language from his representation of A?da
other than the sounds of her body and by retaining the word for himself, the narrator sets
up a traditional binary opposition between woman as flesh and man as word, an
unremittingly disembodied linguistic presence. At times the traditional power structure of
this dualism may appear to be challenged in that A?da is presented by the narrator as a
powerful figure. The fact that the narrator is unnamed throughout the narrative is in part
due to the author's desire to create universal, symbolic literature through the use of an
atemporal, apolitical universal figure.7 Nevertheless, his namelessness also serves to
emphasize his lack of identity outside of his relationship with Aida. As the narrator
declares, he has no "yo" without A?da: "?Soy un hombre sin nombre.... Si ella no me
nombra, soy un ser anonimo, despersonalizado, sin car?cter, sin identidad. Soy un ni?o
castrado.... Ella am?ndome me confer?a un cuerpo" (179-80). With no name nor body,
all he has left are his words. He is a figure of absolute lack, a signifier without its referent.
However, despite this apparent de-privileging of the logos, or masculine side of the
opposition, and the privileging of the body, the feminine side, the binary structures
themselves remain unchallenged, as is the case throughout the novel. Power, authorial
power, still remains in the hands of the male holder of the linguistic phallus. Woman is still
relegated to the position of object of contemplation; muse or text, but never writer.


This content downloaded from on Fri, 09 Sep 2016 19:59:44 UTC
All use subject to
In an attempt to bridge the divide between language and materiality the narrator
reconstructs Aida part by part, modeling his words on her flesh, using her absent,
remembered and dismembered body as a kind of mould:

Primero, muevo mis dedos en el aire, los froto, como antes de tocar el piano;
luego les voy dando forma, como si tratara de un molde. Debo intentar que mis
manos tengan la redondez y la profundidad adecuadas para tus senos. Cuando
creo que he dise?ado el recept?culo ideal para ellos, desciendo bruscamente por
el aire, como un ave de presa, y los atrapo. (91)

The sensual emphasis on touch and plasticity, as well as sight, lends the narrators
language a solidity that very nearly achieves his goal of infusing his language with her body,
just as he almost succeeds in fusing his body with hers later in the narrative (155).
This ideal of a language suffused with flesh is presented when the narrator imagines
the origin of language as erupting from his own entrails, in an oral birth that imitates the
bodily reproduction specifically the domain of women:

El lenguaje debi? de nacer as?, de la pasi?n, no de la raz?n.... Soy el primer

hombre que, asombrado y azorado, debe nombrar su angustia, su alegr?a y su
furor. El primer hombre que, desde la oscuridad de sus visceras, extrae a
borbotones un grito gutural y profundo, un grito lleno de hilachas y de ramas, de
sangre y de saliva para nombrar la pasi?n que lo acosa. (18?19)

Such a metaphor of maternity also recalls the image of the narrator, pregnant with his work
and absorbed in his interiority, "giving birth" to his text. The production of language is, in
the narrators view, a kind of masculine birth, the unnaturalness of which is echoed less
positively in his dream of an oral/anal birth described as follows:

En el sue?o, estoy enfermo. Por la boca repleta, comienzo a expulsar, en grandes

roscas circulares, mis intestinos. Las heces se acumulan en mi garganta, en mi
lengua, en mi paladar, las siento pasar entre los dientes, las veo salir y embadurnar
mi cuerpo, las s?banas, el suelo. Es un v?mito inacabable, pero que no alivia: s?lo
lo termina el brusco y sobresaltado despertar. (72)

Here this linguistic process is not cathartic. Rather than producing a living, breathing,
vibrant text/child, the narrator feels himself to be churning out excrement in a nightmarish
vision of linguistic inadequacy where language becomes a kind of bodily waste or
The representation of Aida as the narrator s lover is linked to a vision of writing
concerned with the ideal of masculine control and mastery of a feminine object or text.
Such a depiction, however, is counterbalanced by his other image of Aida as an arcane text
to be deciphered by him: "[E]l hombre enamorado no tiene tiempo de leer libros, ocupado
como est? en descifrar los s?mbolos, el significado de cada palabra, de cada gesto, de cada


This content downloaded from on Fri, 09 Sep 2016 19:59:44 UTC
All use subject to
signo del ser amado" (79). Thus, A?da also becomes a mysterious muse from whom the
narrator draws his inspiration, and to whom he seeks complete access in order to recreate
her "plenitud" in his own text. The Aida-fetish of the narrator, the text he constructs from
himself, is in his view a representation of some greater A?da, with whom he seeks fusion.
Paradoxically, the narrators ability to write his text at all hinges on his differentiation from
Aida, but once differentiated, all his efforts are concentrated on creating a nostalgic
representation of the lost oneness or identity with his muse/mother, paralleling the desire
of the fetishist and transvestite to resemble the Phallic, Omnipotent Mother. In the same
way that A?da is both raw material and finished product, in his view of the narcissistic act
of writing the narrator is both creator of A?da and her reader.
What is at stake for the writing subject in this vision of the maternal body as a source
of artistic inspiration? For the narrator, the mother-figure is the fount not only of
corporeality, but also of a Utopian language and is the origin of writing subjectivity itself.
The writer is born (comes into language) when expelled from the body of this primeval
mother, and with him is born a language of wholeness that unites signifier and signified:

[L]as palabras, las viejas palabras de toda la vida, aparecen, s?bitamente, ellas
tambi?n desnudas, frescas, resphndecientes, crudas, con toda su potencia, con todo su
peso, desprendidas del uso, en toda su pureza, como si se hubiera ba?ado en una
fuente primigenia.... El lenguaje convencional estalla, bosque desfoliado, nazco
entre las s?banas de Aida y conmigo nacen otras palabras. (14-15 emphasis added)

This time birth is an enabling experience, not the violent and painful process
described earlier. Rather than being a system the narrator slots into, or something that
emerges from him, language is the narrator s twin, emerging simultaneously from the same
mother. In this new language the word and the object it names become one, the gap
between the two miraculously bridged. This solid, pure and, above all, "real" language
inspires the narrator: "Cobro una lucidez repentina acerca del lenguaje.... Nazco y me
despojo de eufemismos" (15). It is significant that immediately following this vision he
proceeds to describe in great detail all the physiological functions of A?das body. His new
language is infused with materiality because it is fresh/flesh language, unsullied and
undepreciated by daily use and accordingly, permits him to recreate A?das body to
recapture the environment from which both he and language have so recently emerged.
Union with his muse, be it via orgasm or uterine fusion, takes the narrator back to
a world envisaged as prior to culture, before the advent of language, the world of presence
not representation, a world without differentiation: "No cabalgo sobre A?da, me deslizo
con ella, en la peque?a balsa de su sexo, hacia los remotos or?genes, antes de que el grito
fuera canto, antes de que el rugido fuera sonido articulado,... an tes de que el gesto se
hiciera rito, antes de que el miedo se transformara en oraci?n y el barro se hiciera vasija"
(37-38). Here the narrator comes closest to representing the unrepresentable: the fetal
experience of fusion and identity with the body of the gravid mother. This paradise, where
the universe and the individual are one, prior to the advent of language, is inexpressible
except in the nostalgic retrospection of the narrator.


This content downloaded from on Fri, 09 Sep 2016 19:59:44 UTC
All use subject to
The blissful state of orgasmic oneness is connected to another recurring image with
clear implications for a metafictional reading of this novel, that of the perfect mirror which
reflects without refraction or distortion: "[L]a bolsa natal, como la h?meda placenta,
burbuja de vidrio donde el mundo se refleja, y yo en ?l" (38). Here the amniotic sac is
represented as a kind of mirror wherein the narrator beholds his own reflection and his
own place in the world. On a metafictional level this narrative ideal can be read as a
Utopian matrix of language, reflecting the greater Mother-Muse in a one-to-one
The image of the mirror is a complex one in the text and the issue of who is the
mirror of whom seems unclear unless one takes into consideration the splitting of A?da
into muse and text. On occasions, the narrator describes himself as being the mirror of
Aida, a blank, reflecting surface that gives her back the desired image of herself: "[H]e de
ser un hombre espejo, un hombre que te ama porque puedes mirarte en ?l y la imagen te
complace" (149). Without volition, he reflects no image of his own, existing only in
complete servitude to her. Like the moon, he casts no light, but rather reflects that of the
sun?A?da. In the world of the metafictional text, this would correspond to a Utopian
service to the muse which would enable a fullness or completeness of representation so
perfect that it is indistinguishable from the reality that it reflects and seeks to substitute.
At times, at least in the narrator s own eyes, this perfect reflection is achieved, thus blurring
the distinction between the real and the image: "A?da y yo: diversos y semejantes como
quien se mira en un espejo" (49).
However, a simple equation of narrator as mirror and Aida as original (as the
narrator would have us believe), is contradicted by other descriptions of A?da where it is
the whiteness of Aidas skin that is described as "lunar" and it is her body that is depicted
as a reflective moonscape (89, 145). The suggestion is subtly made that A?da is herself a
reflective surface, a specular screen upon which the narrator projects repudiated elements
of himself. The A?da mirrored in the text, instead of being the perfect reflection of an
"external" muse, is the incarnation of the narrators own lack, a narcissistic reflection that
Pygmalion-like he has fabricated to complete himself. Thus Solitario de amor seems to
provide proof of Bronfen s contention that the allegorization of the female human body,
here used as an allegory for artistic creation, sustains narcissistic self-protection by turning
it into "a reflection and completion of the self.. .eradicating any difference between Self
and Other, any difference within" (228). Gazing at Aida as if in a mirror, the narrator sees
his own feminized face and mistakes it for hers; believing he reflects her, he is in fact
reflecting himself and his own need or lack. The narrator has become a writer trapped in
the narcissistic hall of mirrors of his own creation. This emphasis on mirrors as a metaphor
for identification in the narrative also leads the reader back yet again to the figure of the
transvestite, dependent on the mirror to envision his/her empowered, unified self.
The figure of Aida as muse suggests an all-powerful female figure who not only
procreates but also creates, controlling both materiality and language. This Mother with a
pen(is) is a literary invocation of the Phallic Mother evoked by the fetishist/transvestite.
Although this image of the Mother-muse might seem to be a subversive, or non-patriarchal
one, it is important to remember that, in the literary scheme presented by both author and


This content downloaded from on Fri, 09 Sep 2016 19:59:44 UTC
All use subject to
narrator, writing is a phallic activity; the pen is aligned with the key which gives access to
A?da, thus becoming a symbol of masculine mastery and control. Fusion is achieved
through penetrative heterosexual coitus and there is little of androgynous subjectivity or
gender reconstruction in this. With his magic, phallic pen (engraved with Peri Rossis
initials)8 the narrator attempts to fill the lack in language, and in doing so, reveals all the
phallic sexual imagery associated with masculine textual production: the sense of orgasmic
catharsis when all goes well; the devastating frustration of impotency when it does not; the
metaphors of mastery and unlocking of secret knowledge; the striving to replicate the
female reproductive function by endeavoring to conjure reality out of words; the realist
desire to mirror reality exactly as it is; and the realization that sole possession of meaning
always eludes him.
The ambivalent, ambiguous ending of the narrative leaves nothing resolved as it is
possible to suggest at least two diametrically opposed interpretations for its last scene. The
final three pages show the narrator, abandoned by Aida, on a train returning home to his
real mother. As he picks up his pen to write, he has a vision of Aida in her black bodysuit,
ripping it open and masturbating herself to orgasm. As A?da gives birth to orgasm, "como
una parturienta que rompe aguas" (185), the narrator gives birth to his text. On the one
hand, A?da could be seen as surpassing the narrator's control, ripping his language apart
and proving, in no uncertain terms, that she is beyond his control, that he and his pen are
unnecessary. This could be a revindication of the self-sufficiency of autoeroticism, where
the formerly passive object finally acquires agency and acts for herself, and as an image of
A?da creating a text of her own. On the other hand, the description of A?das actions can
also be seen as simply the narrator's fantasy, her autoeroticism appropriated for his text,
and thus mastered by his pen. Both interpretations are potentially valid, both are justified
in the text and a firm conclusion is difficult, if not impossible, to reach.
As a reflection of Peri Rossi's view of the writing process the novel is more
conclusive. In Solitario de amor the relationship between A?da and the narrator re-enacts
the writer's drive to invest him/herself completely in his/her narration, fusing with it in a
blaze of ecstasy, writing subject and written object becoming one powerful whole, and also
reflects the impossibility of attaining this aim. In his effort to represent his Muse, Mother
with a pen, and to transcribe her completely, the narrator aspires to nothing more than her
reflection and finally fails to reflect anything other than himself. His textual mirror, instead
of providing access to the universal and definitive meaning, becomes a reflection of his own
limitation, trapped in "lo enga?oso particular" (17). In fact, the more universal the
narrative attempts to be, the more deeply personal it becomes; the more erotic Solitario de
amor purports to be, the more compellingly disembodied and metafictional it appears.
As I have endeavored to show, Solitario de amor can be read as a dialogue between
Peri Rossi and her muse, and between Peri Rossi and her text; hence the strong emotional
identification of the author with the narrator, not so much as a lover but as a writer.
Reading the image of the Phallic Mother as a figure of the powerful writing woman
perhaps explains how Peri Rossi has managed to clear a space for herself in what she clearly
perceives as a man's literary world. By envisioning writing and reading as predominantly
masculine activities but describing them as a kind of birth from the muse/mother, Peri


This content downloaded from on Fri, 09 Sep 2016 19:59:44 UTC
All use subject to
Rossi seems to be attempting to accommodate both the masculine and the feminine, the
phallus and the uterus, in a transvestite-like denial and affirmation of difference. The
transvestite narrative voice becomes a technique of empowerment and of authorization,
hence explaining Peri Rossi's investment in a male narrator.
Writing from a masculine perspective may be seen as a subversive appropriation of
the phallus, for the purposes of deconstructing and reworking masculinity, but can just as
easily be conservative. As Judith Butler comments in Bodies that Matter, "drag is subversive
to the extent that it reflects on the imitative structure by which hegemonic gender is itself
produced and disputes heterosexuality's claim in naturalness and originality" (125), thus
stipulating that there is nothing inherently subversive about disguising oneself as the
opposite sex. Thus, the use of this narrative technique involves risk, since the ambiguity of
this narrative position leaves Peri Rossi open to potential accusations of appropriating a
masculine voice for the purpose of self-aggrandizement, of essentialism in her portrayal of
women and of buying into the notion that a specifically feminine subjectivity is somehow
less than a supposed universal subjectivity. Can Peri Rossi be pinned down as being
fundamentally reactionary or as being fundamentally subversive? Or, like the transvestite,
might she not be both at the same time?

1 In my discussion of Peri Rossi s work I rely primarily on three interviews: the first, in
chronological order, is Susana Camps' in Quimera, hereafter abbreviated to Q; the second one is
published in Mester which will be abbreviated as M\ while the third is my own interview with
the author conducted in Barcelona in July 1998, forthcoming, abbreviated as A.

2 In my interview with her, Peri Rossi comments that she sees each of her novels as an attempt
to solve the issues left unresolved at the end of the previous one. For example, La nave de los locos
ends with the protagonist s repudiation of virility, a theme which is taken up subsequently in
Solitario de amor. La ?ltima noche de Dosto?evski moves from desire for a woman to the desire to
write, an issue that also comprises a little-studied aspect of Solitario de amor (A 19).

^ In one interview, Peri Rossi explicitly links these three works, using the different genres as an
attempt to fill the lack in the expressive capacity of any one genre:

Solitario de amor es un libro sobre la obsesi?n amorosa. Yo escribo Solitario de amor que es la
parte tr?gica, la parte sentimental de ese tema, pero escribo paralelamente la parte l?rica que
es Babel b?rbara. Y, adem?s, inconforme con haber intentado abordar este tema s?lo por estos
dos lugares escribo un ensayo Fantas?as er?ticas con lo cual yo me siento m?s contenta de haber
abordado el tema del sexo y de la obsesi?n amorosa por tres lados" (M 69).

4 As Judith Williamson comments in a different context: "In our society women stand for the side
of life that seems to be outside history?for personal relationships, love and sex?so that these
aspects of life actually seem to become women's areas'" (101). Therefore, it would appear that it
is much more common to associate women with the themes of love and sex, making a feminine
narrative voice, rather than a masculine one, the more obvious choice for this subject matter.


This content downloaded from on Fri, 09 Sep 2016 19:59:44 UTC
All use subject to
5 Peri Rossi contradicts these views in a later interview where she suggests that biological sexual
difference has such huge ramifications for the psyche that a heterosexual encounter must
overcome enormous obstacles to function at all: "Tener el aparato genital completamente
distinto me parece una diferencia abismal, casi que vuelve imposible la relaci?n" (A 20).

6 This structure reflects, perhaps, the text of a dialogue between psychoanalyst and analysand,
and thus foreshadows a subject that Peri Rossi investigates further in her following novel, La
?ltima noche de Dosto?evski.

7 In one interview Peri Rossi states: "El protagonista de Solitario de amor no tiene nombre, ?por
qu?? Porque es un s?mbolo del amor" (Q45). She goes on to say that she prefers to follow "el
camino de Kafka, que es quitar toda individualidad al personaje para que sea m?s espec?fico de
una especie de angustia general con la que se podr?a identificar cualquier lector" (Q45).

8 In Fantas?as er?ticas Peri Rossi includes the pen in a list of phallic symbols and inscribes her
initials on it: "[L]a estilogr?fica (fina y larga, gruesa y corta, brillante u opaca, a la cual, a veces,
en un exceso narcisistico, se le agregan las iniciales particulares)" (FE46).

Apter, Emily and William Pietz, eds. Fetishism as Cultural Discourse. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1993.
Bronfen, Elizabeth. Over her Dead Body: Death, Femininity and the Aesthetic. Manchester:
Manchester UP, 1992.
Butler, Judith. Bodies that Matter. On the Discursive Limits of Sex. New York: Routledge, 1993.
Camps, Susana. "La pasi?n desde la pasi?n: Entrevista con Cristina Peri Rossi." Quimera 81
(Sept. 1988): 40-49.
Freud, Sigmund. "Fetishism." (1927) The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychohgical Works of
Sigmund Freud. Ed. and Trans. James Strachey. London: Hogarth Press, 1953-74. Vol. 21:
Gilmour, Nicola. "Entrevista with Cristina Peri Rossi." Forthcoming.
Grosz, Elizabeth. "Lesbian fetishism?" In Apter and Pietz, 101-15.
Kaminsky, Amy. Reading the Body Politic: Feminist Criticism and Latin American Women Writers.
Minneapolis: U Minnesota P, 1993.
Levine, Linda Gould. "Cristina Peri Rossi's Gender Project. Rewriting Male Subjectivity and
Sexuality in Solitario de amor" Latin American Women's Writing: Feminist Readings in
Theory and Crisis. Eds. Amy Brooksbank-Jones and Catherine Davies. Oxford: Clarendon,
1996. 148-62.
Mora, Gabriela. "Escritura erotica: Cristina Peri Rossi y Tununa Mercado." Carnal Knowledge.
Essays on the Flesh, Sex and Sexuality in Hispanic Letters and Film. Ed. Pamela Bacarisse.
Pittsburgh: Ediciones Tres R?os, 1991.
Peri Rossi, Cristina. Babel b?rbara. Barecelona: Lumen, 1991.
-. Fantas?as er?ticas. Madrid: Ediciones Temas de Hoy, 1991.
-. Solitario de amor. Barcelona: Grijalbo, 1988.
-. La ?ltima noche de Dosto?evski. Madrid: Grijalbo, 1992.


This content downloaded from on Fri, 09 Sep 2016 19:59:44 UTC
All use subject to
Ragland-Sullivan, Ellie. "The Symbolic." Feminism and Psychoanalysis. A Critical Dictionary. Ed.
Elizabeth Wright. Oxford: Blackwell, 1992. 420-23.
Schor, Naomi. "Female Fetishism: The Case of George Sand." The Female Body in Western
Culture. Contemporary Perspectives. Ed. Susan Rubin Suleiman. Cambridge,
Massachusetts: Harvard UP, 1985. 363-72.
-. "Fetishism and its Ironies." In Apter and Pietz. 92-100.
Williamson, Judith. "Woman is an Island. Femininity and Colonization." Studies in
Entertainment. Critical Approaches to Mass Culture. Ed. Tania Modleski. Bloomington and
Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 1986. 99-118.
" me percibo como una escritora de la Modernidad': Una entrevista con Cristina Peri Rossi."
Mesterai no. 1 (Spring 1993): 67-87.


This content downloaded from on Fri, 09 Sep 2016 19:59:44 UTC
All use subject to