Valenzuela, Luisa 1938-

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VALENZUELA, Luisa 1938-

PERSONAL: Born November 26, 1938, in Buenos Aires, Argentina; daughter of Pablo Francisco Valenzuela (a physician) and Luisa Mercedes Levinson (a writer); married Theodore Marjak, 1958 (divorced); children: Anna-Lisa. Education: University of Buenos Aires, B.A. Hobbies and other interests: Masks, ceremonies, travel.

ADDRESSES: Home—Artilleros 2130, 1428 Buenos Aires, Argentina.

CAREER: Nacion, Buenos Aires, Argentina, editor of Sunday supplement, 1964-69; writer, lecturer and freelance journalist in the United States, Mexico, France, and Spain, 1970-73; freelance writer for magazines and newspapers in Buenos Aires, 1973-79; Columbia University, New York, NY, writer-in-residence, 1979-80, taught in writing division, 1980-83; New York University, New York, NY, visiting professor, 1984-89. New York Institute for the Humanities, fellow.

MEMBER: PEN, Fund for Free Expression (member of freedom-to-write committee), Academy of Arts and Sciences (Puerto Rico).

AWARDS, HONORS: Premio Kraft, 1965; awards from Fondo Nacional de las Artes, 1966 and 1973, and Instituto Nacional de Cinematografia, 1973, for script based on Hay que sonreir; Fulbright fellowship, Iowa International Writers' Program, 1969; Guggenheim fellowship, 1983; honorary doctorate, Knox College, 1991; Machado de Assis, Brazilian Academy of Letters, 1997.


Hay que sonreir (novel), Americalee (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1966, translation by Hortense Carpentier and J. Jorge Castello published as Clara in Clara: Thirteen Short Stories and a Novel, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1976, published as Clara, translation by Andrea G. Labinger, Latin American Literary Review Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1999.

Los Hereticos (short stories), Paidos (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1967, translation by Hortense Carpentier and J. Jorge Castello published as The Heretics in Clara: Thirteen Short Stories and a Novel, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1976.

El Gato eficaz (novel; also appeared in periodicals in English translation under title "Cat-O-Nine-Deaths"), J. Mortiz (Mexico City, Mexico), 1972.

Aqui pasan cosas raras (short stories), Ediciones de la Flor (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1976, translation by Helen Lane published as Strange Things Happen Here: Twenty-six Short Stories and a Novel, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1979.

Como en la guerra (novel), Sudamericana (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1977, translation by Helen Lane published as He Who Searches, Dalkey Archive Press (Elmwood Park, NJ), 1987.

Libro que no muerde (title means "Book That Doesn't Bite"; includes stories from Aqui pasan cosas raras and Los Hereticos), Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (Mexico City, Mexico), 1980.

Cambio de armas (short stories), Ediciones del Norte (Hanover, NH), 1982, translation by Deborah Bonner published as Other Weapons, Persea Books (New York, NY), 1985.

Cola de largartija (novel), Bruguera (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1983, translation by Gregory Rabassa published as The Lizard's Tail, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1983.

Donde viven las aguilas (short stories), Celtia (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1983, translation by Hortense Carpentier and others published as Up among the Eagles in Open Door, North Point Press (Berkeley, CA), 1988.

Open Door (short stories), translation by Hortense Carpentier and others, North Point Press (Berkeley, CA), 1989.

Novela negra con argentinos (novel), Ediciones del Norte (Hanover, NH), 1990, translation by Tony Talbot published at Black Novel (with Argentines), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1992.

Realidad nacional desde la cama (novel), Grupo Editor Latinoamerica (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1990, translation by Margaret Jull Costa published as Bedside Manners, Serpent's Tail (New York, NY), 1995.

The Censors: A Bilingual Selection of Stories, Curbstone Press (Willimantic, CT), 1992.

Simetrias (short stories), Sudamerica, 1993, translation published as Symmetries, Serpent's Tail (New York, NY), 1998.

Antologia personal, Instituto Movilizador de Fondos Cooperativos (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1998.

(With others) Jorgelina Corbatta, Narrativas de la guerra sucia en Argentina: Piglia, Saer, Valenzuela, Puig, Corregidor (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1999.

La Travesia, Editorial Norma (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 2001.

Peligrosas palabras, Temas (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 2001.

Los Deseos oscuros y los otros: Cuadernos de New York, Norma (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 2002.

(Author of introduction) Alicia Borinsky, All Night Movie, translation by Alicia Borinsky and Cola Franzen, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 2002.

Author of script for a film adaptation of Hay que sonreir. Contributor to periodicals, including Guardian, Village Voice, Vogue, Nacion and Crisis.

SIDELIGHTS: "Luisa Valenzuela's writing belongs to that class of contemporary works Umberto Eco has called 'open works,'" Patricia Rubio observed in Salmagundi. "In them the harmonious representation of reality, supported by logic and syllogism, is replaced by a more ample and complex vision in which the laws of causality cease to operate in a linear fashion. The ordered Weltanschauung of the standard realist narrative … disintegrates in the face of desire, cruelty, the instinctual, the magical, the fantastic, the sickly." Noting the magical and the fantastic elements in the Argentine novelist and short-story writer's work, critics have often described Valenzuela's fiction—with its mixture of the fantastic and the real—as belonging to that popular Latin American school of writing called magic realism. Not content with this characterization, Valenzuela was quoted by Time contributor R. Z. Sheppard as saying, "Magical realism was a beautiful resting place, but the thing is to go forward." She has forged into new fictive territory: her work is much more bizarre, erotic, and violent than that of magic realism's best-known proponents, such as Gabriel García Marquèz and Julio Cortazar. As one of the few Latin-American women writers to achieve widespread recognition in the United States, Valenzuela also distinguishes herself from others of her contemporaries by bringing a decidedly feminist slant to the maledominated world of Hispanic literature.

As Rubio pointed out, Valenzuela's work—with the exception of Hay que sonreir, her first novel, published in English translation as Clara, and The Heretics, her first collection of short stories—is highly experimental. Constantly shifting points of view, extensive use of metaphors, and word play have become her trademark. In her fiction the form of the work as well as the words used to write it are equal candidates for renewal. Hispania contributors Dorothy S. Mull and Elsa B. de Angulo observed that Valenzuela's linguistic experimentations include "efforts to distort language, to 'break open' individual words to examine how they function, to expose their hidden facets as a watchmaker might probe and polish the jewels in a timepiece." In the Voice Literary Supplement Brett Harvey noted, "Valenzuela plays with words, turns them inside out, weaves them into sensuous webs. She uses them as weapons, talismans to ward off danger and name the unnameable."

An effort to name the unnameable seems to be a strong motivating force behind Valenzuela's fiction, in this case the unnameable being the surreal reality of Argentine politics. In Valenzuela's novella He Who Searches, as Emily Hicks noted in a Review of Contemporary Fiction essay, the text is unpenetrable "without considering the current political situation in Argentina." Valenzuela has herself admitted the political content of her work. For example, in an interview with Evelyn Picon Garfield in the Review of Contemporary Fiction, the novelist noted that the reason she wrote her most popular novel, The Lizard's Tail, was for "only one purpose: to try to understand." Valenzuela explained that it is almost impossible for her to comprehend how the Argentine people allowed themselves to become victims of the harsh military regimes that dominated their country for such a long time. In a similar conversation with Barbara Case for Ms., Valenzuela revealed that the magic found in her work is paradoxically the result of the reality the writer discovered in her native land. "Everything is so weird now and it becomes more and more strange," Valenzuela explained. "We thought we had this very civilized, integrated, cosmopolitan country, and suddenly we realized we were dealing with magic. It's been discovered that a minister in Isabel Peron's cabinet was in real life a witch doctor and had books published on witchcraft. Argentinians were caught in a trap of believing ourselves to be European while ignoring all our Latin American reality."

The Lizard's Tail has been described as a roman à clef based on the life of Artentina's spell-casting cabinet minister. Jose Lopez Rega, Peron's minister of social welfare, appears in the novel as the Sorcerer, a man who has three testicles. He refers to this third testicle as his sister "Estrella" and dreams of having a child with her. "Of course this character," Case observed, "renounces women since he already has one built in— his own 'trinity of the crotch.' But in this unique parody of Latin machismo, his third testicle, Estrella, exists in the Sorcerer to restrain him. When he gets too feisty, Estrella contracts with pain and leaves him doubled up on the floor." Through the use of firstperson monologues—described as the Sorcerer's novel or diary—and additional first-and third-person narrations, Valenzuela tells the story of the Sorcerer's rise to power, his fall, his plans to return to power, and his death. Other characters include the Sorcerer's mother—whom he boils and drinks—the Generalissimo, the Dead Woman Eva, and Valenzuela herself.

The Lizard's Tail represents everything readers have come to expect from Valenzuela's fiction: magic, power, political commentary, circular time, female/male conflicts, and violence. However, some critics believe the author attempted too much in the work.

New York Times Book Review contributor Allen Josephs maintained that "Her attempt at virtuosity tends to undermine the novel. In order to convince the reader of the Sorcerer's madness and narcissistic depravity, she resorts to surrealism, hyperbole and self-indulgent prose. The parody becomes increasingly self-conscious as the novel proceeds." Reviewer Herbert Gold also criticized the novel, writing in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, "She is trying for intelligence and trying for magic; but the novelist here points to herself too much….She broods about making magic too muchto be able to make the magic. She wants to be wild; that's not the same as wildness."

Other critics praised The Lizard's Tale as an important work of Latin-American fiction. In the Review of Contemporary Fiction Marie-Lise Gazarian Gautier called the novel "fascinating," a "gorgeously surreal allegory of Argentine politics." In her Review essay on the work, critic and translator Edith Grossman dubbed the novel "remarkable" and noted that in it "Valenzuela reaffirms the powerful significance of language and the value of the artful word as legitimate modes of understanding the dark enigmas of brutality and violence."

Valenzuela's criticism of Argentine politics is often coupled with an equally harsh look at the fate of women in such a society. In World Literature Today Sharon Magnarelli found Valenzuela "always subtly political and/or feminist." Magnarelli detected a link between Valenzuela's wordplay and her portrayal of women in her fiction, viewing the work as "an attempt to free language and women from the shackles of society." Valenzuela's novel Hay que sonreir, for example, deals with Clara, a young woman who comes to Buenos Aires from the provinces and turns to prostitution in order to support herself. In the novel one sees the beginnings of Valenzuela's characteristic experimentation with form: the story is told through first-and third-person narrations alternating between past and present tenses. The book also contains a clear statement of the writer's feminist concerns. "One of the main themes of the text," Magnarelli noted, "is unquestionably contemporary woman's plight with the social expectations that she will be passive, silent, industrious (but only in areas of minor import), possessed by a male (be he father, husband, or pimp) and that she will continue to smile (hay que sonreir ['one has to smile' in English]) in spite of the exploitation or violence perpetrated against her."

Critics have also commented on the female protagonists of the stories in Valenzuela's collection Other Weapons, five narratives dealing with male/female relationships. While many Argentine writers focus attention on the larger social and economic ramifications of their country's perpetual political violence, Valenzuela, as both Voice Literary Supplement contributor Brett Harvey and Review contributor Mary Lusky Friedman commented, reveals how the stress of living in a repressive society undermines interpersonal ties between individuals in that society. Other Weapons "testifies to the difficulty of forging, in politically distressed times, sustaining personal relationships," Friedman observed. "The failures of intimacy that Valenzuela depicts are the quieter casualties of Argentina's recent crisis." In Valenzuela's work, as Valerie Gladstone pointed out in the New York Times Book Review, "Political absurdity is matched only by the absurdity of human relations."

Politics play an important role in Valenzuela's Black Novel (with Argentines), although the novel also plays with other forms and motifs. The story of Palant, an Argentinian expatriate in New York City who murders an actress for no reason whatsoever, begins as a psychological study. Michael Harris, writing in the Los Angeles Times Books Review, noted that Valenzuela's frenetic prose defies classification: "This is no meditation on guilt….Norisitan existentialist celebration of a 'gratuitous act.' It's something else." As Palant begins to question the reality of the murder, wondering if the whole thing wasn't just a theatrical performance, Valenzuela reveals that he is actually in self-exile in New York, tormented by memories of the Argentinian "dirty war"; his experience of the theatricality of New York comes in part from years of living in Buenos Aires, pretending not to notice the atrocities around him. "Yet Black Novel isn't standard political fare, either," commented Harris. "This is a witty, sexy, literary book by a highly sophisticated writer."

With Symmetries, a collection of short stories, Valenzuela again garnered much critical acclaim for her mastery of the form. Booklist reviewer Brad Hooper called the author "a breathtaking adapter of the form's peculiar qualities to suit her own ways of expression." The collection includes everything from interior monologues to adaptations of biblical stories and fairy tales; in "4 Princes 4," for example, Valenzuela presents a prince who refuses to wake his sleeping beauties with a kiss, preferring instead for the women to remain forever inanimate. While exploring themes of power and gender, Valenzuela is careful both "to tell an edgy story and to show the reader how it was constructed," noted Harold Augenbraum in Library Journal. Comparing her with other postmodern writers, such as Calvino and Borges, Review of Contemporary Fiction contributor D. Quentin Miller wrote that Valenzuela "adds violence to their playfulness, and her stories are driven by a deadly urgency"; he also stated that she "should be counted among these masterful authors of stories about storytelling."

Valenzuela continues her exploration of political and patriarchal domination in the novel La Travesia. In it, she tells the story of an unnamed female professor who drifts through the New York scene, becoming friends and lovers with bizarre people. The narrator "tends to be a participant in other people's projects," noted Naomi Lindstrom in World Literature Today; "only at the end of the novel does she acquire the resolve to draw upon her own resources." In the mean time, she must deal with her manipulative older husband and confront her Argentine past. Lindstrom commented that La Travesia contains "a good dose of satire, a tricky and fast-paced plot whose diverse strands are well-coordinated, and a cast of memorably weird secondary characters."



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Valenzuela, Luisa 1938-

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