Love the author photo! The whole thing sounds like a film. Is there one, I wonder? I've been wanting to use that photo for months, but I kept putting off writing about Felisberto's great short story "The Balcony" for some reason.
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No downtime is expected, but site performance may be temporarily impacted. Refworks Account Login. Open Collections. UBC Theses and Dissertations. Featured Collection. Mann M. Chapter one looks at the dynamics of veiling and unveiling, of the female body, and of desire itself, which is both repressed into the subtext and expressed on the textual surface.
Desire in this first sense is the topic of chapters three and four, while desire in the second sense is the topic of chapter five. Chapter six looks at desire from a different angle: as an intersubjective, socially mediated phenomena, one which belies the notion that desire is an exclusively private, intimate affair. Abstract ii Table of Contents iii Acknowledgements iv Dedication v Introduction Chapter Two: Sex Doll Semiology Chapter Five: Desire and Metonymy Chapter Six: Desire as an Intersubjective Relation Bibliography Acknowledgements Various people merit appreciation and thanks for their contributions in making this thesis possible.
I would also like to thank Jon Beasley-Murray. For Rob, with love Desire is the very essence of man. Desire, particularly as it is expressed through eccentric kinds of sexuality, forms an intertextual thread running through his entire oeuvre.
By eschewing garden-variety desire in favor of more eccentric manifestations, the novella calls attention to desire, throws it into relief. By normalizing eccentric desire, Las Hortensias suggests that we are all to some extent abnormal, that the difference between normality and abnormality is that in the former the abnormality is played out more subtly. The thesis will suggest that the story invites philosophical reflexion insofar as it addresses our existential condition, our situation as constitutionally alienated subjects, as subjects torn between a desiring self and the ultimately impossible satisfaction of that desire.
The story reminds us that one of our primary tasks as human beings is to come to terms with this alienation, and with its necessary corollaries: disappointment, frustration, angst. I know of few stories that drive home so forcibly that desire is without natural closure, that wholeness is unattainable, that longed-for utopias are impossible, that our inner void can never be filled. Desire pervades Las Hortensias, yet much of its pervasiveness is inextricable from its suppression, a kind of a conspicuity through absence, a flickering of presence and absence together.
Through devious rhetorical means, the story evokes sexuality but also censors it, transforming potentially unsettling desires into socially acceptable meanings and generating a sexual tension which is everywhere apparent but nowhere explicit nor ever resolved.
In Las Hortensias, rhetorical figures veil desires which dare not speak their names, repressed desires which never concretize but rather perpetuate themselves through the indefinite postponement of their consummation. If desire is everywhere and nowhere, revealed and concealed in a poetics of mystification, then how best to demystify its mysteries?
Studying Las Hortensias with an eye to Lacanian notions is productive because doing so alerts us to dimensions of desire which otherwise might be overlooked. For Lacan, there is no such thing as pure theory, no clear-cut distinction between theory and the literature it evokes; all theory is 6 in some sense literary in that it works by rhetorical figures.
Psychoanalysis is no exception, working by figures such as metaphor and metonymy just as poems or novels do, which makes its truth claims just as fictional. It resists interpretation. Meaning will arise not from simply imposing psychoanalytic wisdom on it, but from collaborating with it.
It is nevertheless hoped that such an encounter will succeed in producing readings that do justice to the richness and complexity of both. Much of the recent critical attention devoted to Las Hortensias is psychoanalytically-informed and much of it deals with issues of desire. His highly speculative readings, however, suffer from being only rarely substantiated by concrete textual analysis. Ensuing chapters will build on these and other works while seeking to avoid their respective weaknesses: undue pathologization and moralism on the one hand, and 9 ungrounded abstract theorizing on the other.
The chapters will seek to say something about the forms desire takes, and how such forms generate narrative movement, how they animate a plot which in certain ways mimics the very desire it thematizes.
Desire in this first sense will be the topic of chapters three and four, while desire in the second sense will be the topic of chapter five. Chapter six will look at desire from a different angle: as an intersubjective, socially mediated phenomena, one which belies the notion that desire is an exclusively private, intimate affair.
This chapter will explore how veiling and unveiling support each other in a kind of dialectical movement, a movement which submerges some desires, while bringing others to the surface. What Veils Un veil In Las Hortensias, fetishistic and voyeuristic desire is more or less overtly depicted, but more extreme or disturbing manifestations of desire—in the form of rape fantasy, incest and necrophilia—are kept under wraps.
Like the two friends, the store dolls are also disguised, as if, in keeping with the carnival theme, they were about to attend a masked ball. The anonymity afforded by masquerade makes the bacchanalian revelries of carnival—a word sharing the same root as carnal—more socially acceptable, allowing revellers to more freely indulge in desires that during normal times might be frowned upon, which is perhaps why Horacio, who has no normal times, is so fond of costumes and masks.
Veils, besides leading to uncanny identity confusions so frequent in Las Hortensias, evoke feminine modesty, whose violation Horacio finds so thrilling.
However, people are not the only things to be costumed in Las Hortensias. As mentioned in the thesis introduction, the story itself is covered, shrouded in a veil that disguises the desires it constantly implies but never overtly states. If Las Hortensias uses metaphor to reach beyond the veil, offering brief, hazy glimpses of its sub-textual nether regions—a world of violent, morbid, incestuous desire—it also, paradoxically, uses metaphor to keep them veiled, mysterious, enigmatic.
But so too might there be no story if the veil were to stay firmly in place, if the textual textiles were so tightly woven that nothing at all could be seen through the veil. For Freud, secondary revisions are formal devices that act on veil the thematic structure of a dream or story, covering up its literal meaning to mask its nudity.
At the same time, this sub-textual material can be glimpsed at beneath the revisions, which both disguise and denude the meaning of what can be perceived without a veil. But what is the nature of the truth exhibited by psychoanalytic unveiling? Lacan understands it in the Heideggerian sense of a movement of aleitheia, as the manifestation of being, as the unveiling of the things themselves.
Lacan follows Heidegger in seeing truth as unveiling herself most primordially in literature, which gives birth to manifestation, which allows being to be more fully. Literary fiction is the place where the possibility of truth-as-unveiling is put onstage, where truth offers up its nakedness for contemplation. Yet instead of laying bare the being of being, the story inverts the Heideggerian ontology and lays bare the being of non-being, the truth of desire as lack.
The story locates this non-being in a place; its contours are an excavated hole, the empty vessels of hollowed out female forms—life-sized sex dolls, at once disguised and denuded as objects of desire and sites of lack. The novella thus integrates unveiling into its contents, making it part of its production process. For if it constantly covers the female body in fabric, it also partially removes it, making the reader complicit in a corporeal unveiling, in a fetishizing striptease that dramatizes the voyeuristic pleasures of the text and of reading itself.
Like Heidegger and Lacan, Barthes also sees fiction as a site of unveiling, though he differs from the former by being more interested in the desire driving the unveiling than in the ontological status of the thing unveiled. For him, the literary text arises from a desire to write and to please; as an object of reading pleasure, it is itself a scheme of seduction. Barthes understands reading as a form of pleasure seeking which involves gradually undressing layers of textual fabric, a striptease in which meaning or truth is slowly unveiled.
Las Hortensias seduces first by offering tantalizing glimpses of skin and then by staging a progressive unveiling of what the novella had hitherto kept veiled: the female body. Reading Las Hortensias thus fuses, in an erotically charged drive to see and to know, the voyeuristic and cognitive into one pleasure. The female body is explicitly unveiled in the Primavera exhibition, which is staged as a kind of three-part striptease suite which opens with some flashes of skin and closes with the promise that sex dolls turn schoolboy dreams into reality.
If gapping intensifies fetishistic desire, so does the use of synecdoches, which are themselves fetishes and which themselves become more focalized, with the subjects of the fetishizing gaze voyeuristic spectators being replaced by parts heads and then by smaller parts eyes. Here a party of dolls have shed their evening gowns for bathing suits. Horacio fixates on two, one with fish painted on her shoulder blades, the other, presumably in a bikini, with red concentric circles painted on her exposed midriff.
Horacio himself thus becomes a fetish object, transformed by metonymy, which makes his totality as a subject present within an object or detachable part. Striptease highlights the formal processes at work within the story itself, which slowly and gradually unveils its meanings, but only by veiling them, by partial disclosure, by a Dichtung of provocative glimpses and substitute revelations—flashes of cleavage, two-piece bathing suits, semi-nudity. She is surrounded by an array of erect severed arms, each of whose hands points upward.
Horacio dismisses the scene because he cannot decipher or make sense of it, he cannot situate its signifying elements—a whole whose parts have multiplied like cancer cells, parts whose extremities appear as if trying to wave down a mysteriously absent whole—into a narrative, into a coherent system of meaning.
All Hail the Signifier For Lacan the unconscious is not, as it was for Freud, an occult realm, a black box filled with chaotic and jumbled desires; in the Lacanian unconscious, desire is orderly and structured. Unlike Saussure, who views the relation of the two terms as relatively fixed, Lacan views it as extremely unstable and posits the unconscious as an order of pure signifiers, an order in which signifiers precede signifieds.
For this reason, fixed meanings can never be pinned down since the differential nature of the signifier implies that its identity will vary according to its position in the system. Although Lacan often uses the term signifier to designate words, the two are not synonymous. As such, nonlinguistic things such as objects can also function as signifiers. A single masculine presence completes the system.
Something like this happens in Las Hortensias: by unveiling the phallus as an idol, the text unpins its own linchpin and in doing so brings its own movement to a halt. If Hortensia comes back to life like a vivified corpse, she would also seem to transcend death; as eternally young and beautiful, Hortensia represents the denial of death inasmuch as she embodies it; since she is a mere thing, she has no life to lose; since she is already dead, she cannot die and is thus immortal.
Horacio is the very image of this subject; his danse macabre with sex dolls literally petrifies him, turning his organic matter into a stony substance, but one whose enduring properties do nothing to mitigate his mortal anxiety. For Lacan the subject is not; in a radical sense it has no being.
The signifier forges its existence out of the real by assigning it a proper name and inscribing it in the symbolic order, re-imagined here as a worthless cheque. Horacio surrenders his existence to the signifier's power by 28 becoming one and gains in return the mute inertia of its rigid materiality, of its inanimate object-ness, a fetishist having become a fetish.
In the first half of the story, Horacio keeps a small harem to use as performers in showcase scenes which employ a cast of only one or two, lucky divas who have the stage all to themselves. Multiplication of wholes then becomes fragmentation into parts, as in the scene in which the multipedic beggar doll is surrounded by a grotesque quantity of limbs, and in another in which dolls quit the stage entirely, leaving only their severed arms and legs floating in a pool.
The potentially infinite nature of this dissemination is again 31 7 The notion of the heterogeneous or decentered self is not unique to Lacanian-inspired post- structuralism; Buddhism has always viewed the unified self as a necessary fiction, while contemporary neuroscience increasingly points to a self that, far from being unified, is diffuse, i. Like the imagistic and industrial multiplication of dolls, this self- replenishing necklace is potentially infinite, since it is always possible to attach other links and other chains to it ad infinitum.
The itineraries of Hortensia and her successors run through both husband and wife; they traverse their being like a tsunami which washes away their subjectivity, hollowing out their human core, leaving them like empty mindless objects, like dolls. It suggests that even our most intimate desires are configured by outside forces, forces which threaten to submerge us. For Lacan, the preeminent force is that of 33 language, which effectively liquidates human subjectivity by reducing it to a mere function of the sign system.
But in another, the story seems to offer a less radical, more humanist stance, for if it suggests that subjects are submerged by outside forces, it also suggests that this aphansis has something to do with a contingent and hence transformable process, i.
This chapter will continue the discussion of sex dolls by examining further the notion of metaphor, first in terms of its rhetorical role in the narrative, i. In each manifestation, metaphor offers the opportunity for understanding one thing in terms of something else, and it is this something else—what has been previously termed subtextual content, repressed material, literal Stoff—that will be of interest here, getting at the thing that metaphor veils and unveils.
As a modernist work, Las Hortensias certainly privileges the metaphoric, as we will see below, though by no means does this make metonymic imagery any less operative, particularly, as we will see in chapter five, in its connection to fetishism.
In one instance, Horacio enters a 37 room in which fishing rods stand erect against a wall. Just as he is about to embrace a doll, he is startled by a sudden noise, the sound of a rod falling to the floor.
The Daisy Dolls
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Las Hortensias y Otros Cuentos