Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The critical context for Luisa Valenzuela’s work must be defined to include the political situation in Argentina in addition to works of other writers. In France, Valenzuela came into contact with the group of poststructuralist critics associated with the avant-garde literary journal Tel quel. Poststructuralists in France were critical of orthodox Marxism and its failures. The rise of French feminism coincided with the breaking away from orthodoxy on the Left. In Argentina, women made gains in terms of working conditions and democratic rights during the Perón period. Ideological contradictions in the movement allowed a broad spectrum of women, from traditional to radical, to call themselves Peronists. At the time Valenzuela wrote The Lizard’s Tail, Argentine women were engaged in political struggle not only as family members of revolutionaries in the home, but also as an integral part of the struggle. The military government did not make allowances for gender in its torture of women.

In an interview in 1983, Valenzuela mentioned that Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Roland Barthes had been her colleagues at the New York Institute for the Humanities. It is within this context of postmodernist debates about language and the political situation in Argentina that Valenzuela chooses to situate herself as a writer.

Valenzuela’s work is also grounded in the contemporary writing of Argentina, including the work of such writers as Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar. These writers also incorporate the themes of dream, death, magic, and desire. In fact, it was not until Aquí pasan cosas raras (1975; Strange Things Happen Here, 1979) and Como en la guerra (1977; He Who Searches, 1979) that Valenzuela began to address political issues in her work. Existentialism and psychoanalysis have become woven into the fabric of contemporary letters in Argentina. Valenzuela’s attitude toward these traditions is irreverent on occasion, and at least equally informed by feminism and a belief that only truth and justice can exorcise the phantasms in her country. Several critics have noted that it is very important that one not read Latin American literature as merely symbolic or magic; Latin American writers are faced with the problem of conveying a political reality that is frequently “unbelievable,” especially to readers from another culture. Nevertheless, Valenzuela wishes her work to be read for its metaphors, as literature, not only as political commentary.