Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Lizard’s Tail is a complex satiric novel in which political allegory, fictional biography, and authorial ruminations on the relationship between life and narrative art are combined in what the author, Luisa Valenzuela, has called a “mythicized and damning version of recent Argentine history.” It is a female perception of and variation on the traditional dictatorship novel of Spanish American literature. It is, however, a novel in which very little action takes place externally. It is, instead, a narrative that one could conceivably begin reading at any one of the three major sections into which it is divided without any appreciable loss of comprehension.

The novel operates on multiple levels and reflects several important concerns of the author. Outwardly, The Lizard’s Tail is the story of Jose Lopez Rega, who—although not mentioned directly by name in the narrative—was the minister of social welfare under Eva Perón, a “witch doctor,” and the author of published books on sorcery. Referring to himself as “the Sorcerer,” he is writing his autobiography (a novel in which he is “the protagonist”), which he intends—as a combination of his life and diary—to be a sacred text. Valenzuela is concerned with showing the perennial presence of the caudillo (“strong man”) figure in Argentina specifically and Latin American society generally. For although Jose Lopez Rega, the historical brujo (“sorcerer”), was part of the Juan and Eva Perón regime of the 1940’s, Valenzuela has anachronistically situated him among events associated with the Argentine military dictatorship of the 1970’s and early 1980’s.

As a master of the “invaluable art of pretense and mimicry,” knowledgeable in the occult sciences and able to transform himself and assume “the most complex personae,” he is “The Red Ant Sorcerer, Master of Tacurú (‘ant hill’ in Guarani), Owner of the Drums, Patron Saint of the Forsaken, the Great Sawer, the High Priest of the Finger and His Sister Estrella.” He...

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The Lizard's Tail Context

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Like her other novels and short stories, The Lizard’s Tail reflects Luisa Valenzuela’s aesthetic and ideological interest in rebelling against the “verbal imperialism” of male discourse. The supplanting of the Sorcerer’s self-centered encomia by the critical voice of the character Luisa illustrates, for example, the author’s consistent creative interest in decentralizing the male narrative voice. Such male/female opposition is central to Valenzuela’s fictional practice.

Although Valenzuela rejects the label of feminist writer, her works—like her extraliterary pronouncements—reflect an awareness of the complex issues involved in writing as a woman within a social and political context in which language and the interpretations of reality are mainly products of male consciousness and perception. “What we women will do, and are now doing,” she wrote in the essay “The Word, That Milk Cow,” “is to effect a radical change in the electrical charge of words. We are inverting their poles, making them positive or negative depending on our own needs and not following the rules of inherited, phallocratic language.”

Thus, framing the male voice with that of female narrators, rejecting the omniscient narrative point of view (which, like the biblical God, reflects male subjectivity), exploring and defending female eroticism, and foregrounding women’s fantasies and “dark desires” in fiction are all artistic aspects and devices of Valenzuela’s self-conscious awareness of “difference”—which is, after all, the perspective of the female writer: “Different, above all. Different.”

The Lizard's Tail Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Bach, Caleb. “Metaphors and Magic Unmask the Soul.” Americas (English Edition) 47 (January/February, 1995): 22-27. Offers a fascinating look at Valenzuela’s life and writing career. Briefly explores some of her themes and examines some of the writers who have influenced her, such as Jorge Luis Borges.

Garcia-Pinto, Magdalena. Woman Writers of Latin America. Translated by Karen Parker Lears. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991. Originally published in Argentina under the title “Intimate Histories” (Historias intimas, 1988), Garcia-Pinto’s interview with Valenzuela traces chronologically the origins and principal thematic concerns of the author’s works: the “mythopoeic thought” of Latin American politics, the “lust for power,” history, the female condition, religion, eroticism, and the role and power of language in the process of creative self-discovery. Includes a primary bibliography and an index.

Garfield, Evelyn P. “Luisa Valenzuela.” In Latin American Writers, edited by Carlos A. Solé and Maria I. Abreau. Vol. 3. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1989. Offers an entry on Valenzuela that covers her life and career. Presents in-depth readings of many of her works and includes a selected bibliography.

Gazarian Gautier, Marie-Lise. Interviews with Latin American Writers. Elmwood Park, Ill.: Dalkey Archive Press, 1989. Gazarian Gautier’s interview with Valenzuela includes a biographical sketch of the author and the Spanish and English titles of her published prose fiction up to 1989. With much to say about The Lizard’s Tail, the interview also addresses such issues as...

(The entire section is 731 words.)