Square pegs : the political function of ambiguous gender and sexuality in three novels from the Southern Cone

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Redmond, Erin Hilda, 1965-

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The novels examined in this study -- Manuel Puig’s El beso de la mujer araña (Argentina, 1976), Diamela Eltit’s El cuarto mundo (Chile, 1988), and Hugo Achugar’s Falsas memorias: Blanca Luz Brum (Uruguay, 2000) -- suggest the oppressive character of binary-based identity categories in the contexts of the Southern Cone dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s and of the neo-liberal regimes that followed them. This study’s queer theoretical perspective draws on performance theory as Sylvia Molloy adapts it in her idea of the pose, which she conceives of as the politically resistant, sustained representation of a culturally unclassifiable identity. Each chapter has a dual focus, involving analyses of political and religious discourses as well as close readings of the ways in which each novel counters the normative ideologies of the discourses that most inform its narrative through representations of forms of gender and sexuality that cannot be categorized in binary terms. The purpose of this study is to contribute a fresh theoretical perspective on El beso de la mujer araña and El cuarto mundo and to fill a gap in criticism through its analysis of the little-studied Falsas memorias: Blanca Luz Brum. The first chapter analyzes Molina, one of the novel’s two protagonists, as a representation of unnamable gender and sexual identities that undermines the ideologies of early Peronism and critiques oppression in the Argentina of the 1970s. Chapter II discusses how Eltit’s novel counters the naturalized gender opposition of political and religious discourses through its characters’ nonnormative identities as it points to the violence of the Pinochet dictatorship and the socio-economic inequities of later neo-liberal regimes. Chapter III analyzes Achugar’s protagonist, the historical figure Blanca Luz Brum, in terms of how she flouts the norms of femininity specific to early twentieth-century discourses in the Southern Cone. The Conclusion addresses the novels’ use of varying strategies to deconstruct normative identity categories, examines the different positions of politically resistant literature in dictatorship and neo-liberal contexts, and analyzes the implications of the texts’ relativism for political, social, and cultural change.