Luisa Valenzuela’s Dark Desires

Luisa Valnezuela~Argentina

Dark desires and the others, the ones desired by me, men
who don’t know tenderness.
And the other desires.
One of the recent desires, perhaps the main on or the most
The desire to tell all, not let one word disappear.
Hunt the language alive.

The isolation of texts, the fragmentation of the body.

Argentina’s Luisa Valenzuela is a serious contender for a solid place in her country’s literary canon – a woman who challenges her patriarchal society, its politics and the role of women in the country’s identity.  Having earned a deserved reputation as a member of Argentina’s avant-garde cadre, her works chastise the establishment and demand women take responsibility for their political destiny. Having stated all this, she still is a woman who wants a good man.  Dark Desires and the Others is a patchwork memoir cobbled together from fragments of diaries, letters, memories that plumbs the fertile soil of Valenzuela’s love life circa 1970s-’80s New York City. 

This memoir, although meandering and by nature, self-indulgent, is compelling.  If not for Valenzuela’s honesty about her obsession with male genitalia, then also for her refusal to compromise any part of herself for the sake of a man.  She is on the search for a relationship that allows her to have all the same things a an is allowed without question: creative life, rewarding job and a full social life. Even thought his was a productive part in her writing life, it gains only a subtle nod from Valenzuela with the thrust of the memoir about the men she has loved and tried to love: Joe, Duck, Pale Fire, etc.  Most of her lovers have nicknames (to protect the innocent and the generously endowed) and drift in and out of her life, reappearing when they have a need to be met, whether emotional or physical.

Although this is a memoir based on diary entries which precludes self-reflection, there isn’t as much of Valenzuela question her own motives or behavior as one would expect.  In parts, it reads as an homage to the phallus, with myriad descriptions of her lovers’ anatomies, the actual sexual act and the her body’s craving for sex.  With this in mind, Valenzuela eschews probing her own deeper emotions for an easy dismissal of why a relationship didn’t work: neither parties wanted to compromise.  The result is that what she accuses men being guilty of – basically accepting their privileged role in society – she becomes guilty of herself.  She does recognize this excerpt, albeit without apology:

I prefer cold water.  There’s a lot that’s masculine in me; that’s perhaps why I feel a connection with men who have certain feminine characteristics and despise them at the same time (the men).  Another part of me despises machismo, so what to do?  And especially, will I ever find someone to end my days with?  The couple, not as something closed like a cyst, looking at each other and mutually reflecting each other, but rather as company, in solidarity, looking ahead, advancing.  What a pretty pretension, and what a tacky sentence.

What makes this a difficult existential dilemma to untangle is the time frame.  Not that women and men don’t face this very same question today, but this was a time in history when women plunged with confidence and unwavering fortitude into the idea that they were equals to men, finally able to claim the same desires: a contentment from professional and creative endeavors without bending to an other.  What inevitably occurs, as Valenzuela admits, is that love becomes the third wheel, a focus in her life only when time allows.  Her commitment to her own vision, steeped in the political and social atmosphere of the time, adds a complex layer to why her relationships aren’t working out. 

Valenzuela wants to show us all her primal thoughts and desires mixed in with poetry, dreams, reactions and theories.  But even she realizes the limits of confessional:

Obsession is a form of observation that becomes infected, sickly:  the compulsion to open up our notebooks and write there so that nothing escapes us is a farce.  Imitating monkey.  Real writing is something else.

Even her own disdain doesn’t prevent her from a bit of literary navel-gazing.  What’s most vital about this “apocryphal autobiography” is it’s testimony to a change, a movement, in women’s history.  No matter how vain or petty at time this personal chronicle may seem, it does mirror and speak for what many women faced as they walked forward into a new burgeoning independence and redefined their own roles.  Love takes a backseat to liberation in Valenzuela’s life and that’s exactly how she wanted it.  As a woman, we can only stand by and say, “Brava.”

Dark Desires and the Others
By Luisa Valenzuela
Translated by Susan E. Clark
Dalkey Archive Press
Paperback, 266 pp.
ISBN: 9781564786319

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