Jamee Indigo Eriksen

Joseph Holmes

Rachel Robbins

Michael Ursell


Love and Dismemberment in Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl and Luisa Valenzuela’s Cambio de Armas

Rachel Robbins
San Francisco State University

A comparison of Luisa Valenzuela’s Cambio de Armas (Other Weapons) with Shelley Jackson’s hypertext fiction Patchwork Girl reveals startling similarities amid glaring differences. Each author constructs a multivalent and contradictory narrative; each text defies closure and confounds the distinctions between author, narrator, and reader. Each text is constructed as a multiply authored and mutable text. Both subvert narrative unity by producing multiple, often contradictory readings.

These texts converge in an experiment that interrogates the construction of meaning and the struggle for interpretation. They share an interest in the fragmentation and multiplication of the singular subject and an aesthetic project that explores the links between the body and the text. The fragmentation and multiplication of the subject is expressed through guise and disguise, gesture and performance. Bodies are depicted in each text as cipher or sign. The subject is similarly conveyed as a continual construction. Gender and other essential characteristics are depicted as a series of stylized gestures.

Both texts make use of self- reflective fictional strategies that include a self-conscious re-ordering of narrative and perspective; each contains meta-narrative conceits explicitly engaging the material construction of text. Fragmentation, repetition, and non-sequential narrative create nuanced and contradictory story space in each. Biology, theology, critical theory mingle indiscriminately with recuperated and reconstructed elements of multiple narratives within Patchwork Girl. Valenzuela crosses genre, switches perspective and allows fictions within her fictions to indicate ambiguous and contradictory readings. Both texts make use of repetition, elisions, and allusions to challenge the boundaries of the text. Both involve the act of re-reading. Each renders visible the material practices of the work. In Jackson the act of splicing and grafting limbs of disparate texts challenge the discrete boundaries of the body of the text. In Valenzuela multiple versions of each narrative exist simultaneously, embedded within the text.

Each text contains the trace of a gap, the presence of an absence. This trace, describes the difficult dance of representation around and about a radically elusive subject (Gaggi 147). For Valenzuela this is a subversive act defying collective amnesia, a depiction of erasure where the traces of that which has been excised are made to show. In Jackson's text a similar attention to gaps and erasures mark her production of a gendered subject and indicate an interest in the interaction between disparate texts. Both Jackson and Valenzuela attempt to represent the gendered subject in language that constrains meaning to a series of fixed oppositions. The interrogation and mediation of language in each text reflects the manner in which each author pushes at the edges of what can be expressed in words.

Linguistic multiplicity, ambiguity and disjunction display a resistance to closure and specificity. In both texts sentences fail to end and merely drift to a close without the benefit of a period. An attempt to express multiple and often contradictory subjectivities in language necessitates the linguistic play and experimentation that characterizes each text. Each text inscribes an element of indecipherability as part of a negotiation with the construction of meaning. Both texts engage the intersections of violence, desire, and representation. Jackson's text conducts a dialogue with the traditions that determine how one reads a body or a text. Valenzuela's project, meanwhile, is concerned with the interjection of oppressive authority within a signifying system. Each explicitly treats the manners in which gender is inscribed on bodies and through language, interrogating representation and experimenting with the construction of meaning in a labor of love that ultimately speaks of the act of writing itself.

Valenzuela has a specific political project in addition to the aesthetic project she shares with Jackson. Valenzuela constructs her text as an exploration of the violence of representation, and the representation of violence. She produces her narrative at the intersection of sex, language, and desire. Cambio de Armas consists of a series of love stories set in Argentina during the so-called Dirty War. To speak of love in Valenzuela is a dangerous proposition; these stories are multivalent texts within which coded combatants struggle for signification. Valenzuela's work is an inquiry regarding representation as a form of domination. The surface text of each is a love story within which a struggle for dominance is enacted as shifting subjects attempt to write themselves in opposition to each other. In Valenzuela, tenderness and torture are intimately linked. Laura Garcia-Moreno insists that the collection
Explores the complex relationship between language and violence as it relates to gender, it investigates who controls representations of seeing and speaking in the Argentinean society of the seventies and eighties, when the state took language into its hands and tried to remove it from the user's participation. (Garcia-Moreno 12)
Valenzuela exhumes narratives disappeared by the state, and examines silence and self-censorship as forms of complicity. Her stories are highly ambiguous and allow for a multitude of interpretive possibilities. These texts occur in a context where innocuous language hides murderous intent. She inscribes the gaps, silences, and contradictions silenced by a national narrative, exploring language as the site of a struggle for meaning:
The Argentinean narrative [...] shared the common goal of reconstructing a historical subject as a way of denouncing authoritarian forms of discourse and official versions of history which the state, in its massive campaign of terror, had presented as a consistent and completed narrative without any social conflicts or contradictions. (Garcia-Moreno 9)

Valenzuela's work responds to and interacts with a proliferation of signs and the perversion of language where “the official rhetoric of the Dirty War drew much of its power from being at once ‘comprehensible’, incongruous, and disorienting” (Feitlowitz 20). Valenzuela plays with and against these tendencies, she writes stories that mask the story being told; she tells stories that refuse to tell themselves. In Cambio de Armas representation occurs in a multiply mediated and highly contested zone. Valenzuela examines the complex and intimate relationships between oppressors and oppressed. Valenzuela's work insistently engages language and narrative as a site of excess. The Argentine experience stresses the deadly seriousness of Valenzuela's textual dissidence.

Feitlowitz posits a double discourse imposed on the civilian population by the military junta, which she insists was “intensely verbal.” She notes that the national struggle was carried out linguistically: “The terrorist state created two worlds one public and one clandestine, each with its own encoded discourse”(20). Feitlowitz argues that these two discourses were intimately linked, “from public pronouncements to clandestine practice, where language became a form of torture”. Feitlowitz describes the official discourse of denial, and a co-opting of seemingly innocent expressions to refer to brutal practices. She notes that medical vocabulary frequently filtered through both the official discourse and the disingenuous language of torture. The body politic was referred to as sick and in need of healing. In a chilling analogy, victims were tortured in rooms labeled as operating theaters and hospitals were frequently used as sites to imprison and torment the disappeared. The slang that developed in the camps became a code that allowed a proliferation of subtle and sinister meanings to infect everyday language. In this sense seemingly innocent phrases took on a chilling subtext.

Patchwork Girl is a narrative assemblage that includes fragments of anonymous biology textbooks, essays, and novels. It challenges notions of individual authorship and authority by reproducing whole fragments of text without official citations. Jackson's text is mediated by and through the explicit conjoining of multiple texts. Jackson's aesthetic project in Patchwork Girl consists of reassembling dismembered bodies. Patchwork Girl is a rewriting of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein that reconstructs the female monster torn apart in Shelley's text. The title page lists the author as “Mary Shelley & Herself,” “herself” reads here as a reference to Mary Shelley, Shelley Jackson, and/or the unnamed female monster. Patchwork Girl is a first person narrative in which the speaker alternates between Shelley, Jackson, and the female creation. In a lexia titled “M/S” Shelley Jackson invokes the doubled author Mary Shelley/Shelley Jackson in a reference to Roland Barthes' S/Z.

Critical theory regarding hypertext fiction frequently references Barthes' essay “From Work to Text”. Hypertext fictions are often framed as examples of Barthes “writerly” text, where the reader must actively construct rather than passively consume the text. Barthes' term ‘lexia’ has been adopted to describe the segments of text within hypertext fictions. Writings about hypertext typically recognize a reorganization of the roles of writer, author, and subject. This reorganization is an effect of the manner in which hypertext fictions address themselves to readers as co-producers of the text. Gaggi depicts the changing relationship between reader and text as one that modifies subjectivity. He notes that in contrast to ‘traditional’ texts, hypertexts both decenter and multiply the reader: “Texts that are closed, coherent, and focused [...] tend to elicit mirroring subjects that recognize or misrecognize, themselves as separate, unified, and centered” (111). He distinguishes the unitary and central subject addressed by ‘traditional’ realist fiction from the fragmented and decentered subject interpolated through postmodern fiction. Of this last category, hypertext is exemplar of one way in which postmodern fiction renders its objectives through its material construction.

Jackson's aesthetic project confounds the separation of such categories as reader, author, and subject. Christopher J. Keep emphasizes “the ways in which electronic textuality pressures the category of the ‘human’” (166). Keep emphasizes the movement of postmodern fiction toward “the rapid decentering of the subject” (170). He notes the pressure on categories such as ‘author’ and ‘reader’ as elements of hypertext fictions, and the challenge both to unitary subject and to bodily integrity. Hypertext fictions elicit a rethinking of fixed categories and unitary notions of body and subject. Keep likens the codex book to the body, in its apparent unity and completion, and suggests that the relationship between human and machine by which readers negotiate the maze of hypertext requires a reconfiguration of the organic body and the unitary subject in relation to the text. The challenge to the unitary subject is explicit in Patchwork Girl, “I told myself, the most disparate sentiments will seem unified under the aegis of I- on that pedestal, that little podium” (Story/I). Jackson's text displaces a unitary subject for a multiple one, suggests an alternative to bodily integrity through the construction of a sutured subject fashioned from multiple sources.

Jackson's construction melds opposites and reorders binary constructions. Meaningful oppositions between made and born, real and false, orderly and disorderly are subverted as she forces these categories to share space. Jackson plays with gender and being, dislocating her unnamed heroine into an unfixed category, between male and female, human and non-human, living and dead. In Jackson's text the connective tissue between distinct states is evoked by seams and scars; dotted lines and hyperlinks act as metaphors for this notion of interconnectivity. Jackson's patchwork text is a multiply signifying whole. Patchwork Girl multiplies the speaker of the text, and shifts without regard for the boundaries between separate speaking subjects. The narrative suggests graveyards and quilts as metaphors for writing and insists on stitching and surgery as appropriate metaphors for the recuperation of textual fragments. The de- and re-constructed subject and his/her representation in writing is an explicit concern, Jackson obliquely references and explicitly reconstructs critical theory regarding the subject, subjectivity, writing, and representation. Jackson conducts a satirical dialogue with Derrida in the lexia “interrupting D” and reproduces segments of Donna Haraway's “Cyborg Manifesto” as well as Helene Cixous' “Coming to Writing” as parts of a dialogue concerning the subject and notions of multiple, contradictory and fragmented subjectivity.

The multiplicity insisted upon throughout the work applies equally to author, reader, and text. Jackson's project here is an attempt to determine the ways in which we write ourselves, and to depict the refractions and distortions that occur as we borrow and recast the writing that precedes us. Jackson's text coincides with Valenzuela's in the manner in which it inscribes ambiguous and contradictory narrative, rewriting omissions in Mary Shelley's work, among other texts. Jackson suggests a paradoxical combination of completion and disunity: I have a letch for sequence, don't doubt it. I am not an agent of absolute multiplicity any more than I am some redoubtable whole. I am a double agent, messing up both territories (Body of the Text/double agent). The material form of hypertext lends itself to this paradoxical unity/disunity as hypertexts have no fixed sequence; the reader chooses which links to follow in order to construct the narrative.

The lexia disguise offers an alternate version of Guises: That's one possible beginning-how I, grown canny and better practiced in restraint, shrouded myself in the convenient coverall of widow's weeds and sailed for America (Journal/disguise). The cloaking of the mysterious form of the monster paradoxically multiplies the hypothetical possibilities of the hidden form. In Guises the attempt renders her all the more visible as passengers and crew speculate wildly as to her true identity. The text insists that the cabin-boy, Chancy, held simultaneously the belief that I could not possibly be a woman (was therefore a man) and the conviction that I could not possibly be a man (and therefore had to be a woman) (Journal/guises). Chancy is eventually revealed to be a woman masquerading as a man, further complicating the profusion and confusion of selves. The insistence on gender as a disguise that can be stripped away continues throughout the text and suggests a reading of the body as a site of speculative fictions.

In the Body of the Text section, blatantly self-referential lexia project a series of possible placements for the reader: I'm crossing a narrow arroyo, I'm cross-legged on a dusty pillow in a tiny Mediterranean restaurant on Valencia in the Mission, I'm in the back of an air-conditioned convenience store at a gas station in Iowa (Body of the Text/this). These are separate lexia, identically labeled, that project multiple hypothetical readers into specific spaces and places in relation to the text. These lexia lead to a series of smaller and smaller text boxes that contain the words the moments of text get smaller, and smaller (Body of the Text/now) and never seem small enough, because to pause on a given screen-even for a sip of coffee-is an interruption of the flow (Body of the Text/flow). This insistent focus on the present moment, the particular text, focuses the attention differently:

Assembling these patched words in electronic space, I feel half-blind, as if the entire text is within reach, but because of some myopic condition I am familiar with from dreams, I can see only that part most immediately before me and have no sense of how that part relates to the rest (Body of the Text/this writing)

The reader is forced to pause on each fragment of text and decide on the context that links it to other lexia. Some links lead in loops, and the same fragment takes on different meaning in a new context. Jackson plays with this, constructs nearly identical lexia that play against the reader's in/ability to retain a memory of other fragments of text. Jackson refuses the eternal and absolute presence of authorial time, which would convey and unchanging and stable textual object. The author refuses to transmit presence, and thus insists on writing from an indeterminate present in order to allow that which is outside the author's gaze to shift. Meta-narrative conceits construct a text that explicitly deconstructs itself.

Valenzuela's story Cuarta Versión (Fourth Version) is, much like Jackson's text, a self-referential narrative assemblage. An unnamed narrator reconstructs the story from disordered segments of writing, possibly the journal of the protagonist: uno de los tantos principios-¿en falso?-dice así: Señoras y Señores, he aquí una historia que no llega a ser historia? (Valenzuela 4) (One of many beginnings, (a false one perhaps?) is as follows: Ladies and Gentleman, this is a story which probably won't go down in history[4])1

Valenzuela similarly plays with guise and disguise in the story. The protagonist, Bella is an actress who performs the role of her self: Mi papel es estar viva Valenzuela 7) (My role is to be alive [7]). The telling of the story is similarly a mediated event, as the unnamed narrator struggles with the protagonist whose story she reconstructs. The narrator emphatically voices the silences imposed on the text. Lo que más me preocupa de ésta historia es aquello que se está escamoteando, lo que no logra ser narrado (Valenzuela 20) (What bothers me most about this story is what's being disregarded, what isn't being told [21]). This attention to the silences and gaps writes that which has escaped narration back into the story and constructs a series of alternate readings of the text that destabilizes a fixed and final meaning. This complicates notions of authority and authorship through the multiple and fragmented voices woven into the text. The author displays the material of the narrative, in a fictional meta-narrative that depicts the construction of the text itself.

Valenzuela's project destabilizes narrative in order to delineate divergent and contradictory stories silenced within the text. This story is a multiply mediated and multiply authored text. It invokes assemblage as a narrative possibility, and inscribes arbitrary order rather than strict sequence. The story explicitly concerns itself with reading, re-reading, and writing. The construction of meaning is an essential element of the text: Leo y releo estas páginas sueltas y a veces el azar reconstruye el orden (Valenzuela 3) (I read the scattered pages over and over again, their order sometimes reconstructed at random [3]). This arbitrary reconstruction of a fragmented and contradictory history inscribes multiple subjectivities into the text. Y ésta que soy en tercera instáncia se (me) sobreimpone a la crónica(4) (And whoever I am in the third person is superimposed on the chronicle [4]). This ambiguous sentence implies a superimposition of order on the text by the unnamed narrator, but additionally suggests, with the extra me an order imposed by the text onto the speaker.

The relationship between narrator and protagonist is further complicated by the addition of una narradora anónima que por momentos se identifica con la protagonista y con quien yo, a mi vez, me identifico (Valenzuela 4) (an anonymous narrator who at times identifies with the protagonist, and with whom I, in turn, also identify [4]). The multiple points of view are refracted here through a third anonymous narrator identified alternately with both the speaker and the protagonist of the text, further complicating origin and authority. This gesture is startlingly similar to Jackson's text in which the speaking subject shifts between three primary subject positions and in which an anonymous narrator also seems to speak identified at times with one or all of these three.

Mary Janell Metzger emphasizes the narrator's desire for closure within Cuarta versión and reads it as a detective story driven by the narrator's desire for a complete account. The narrator is forced to seek her narrative in the spaces, gaps, and verbal screens that Bella has provided and thus to reconstruct the political through the sexual, puzzling over the horrors of Bella’s murder through the fragments of Bella’s desire (Metzger 296). Metzger suggests that the multiple narration of Cuarta versión involves a struggle for meaning where the fragmented and multiple versions of the story impede the narrator's desire for a completed story. In Metzger's reading, writing is a site of desire where narrative insistence on sequential form fixes details and fragments into a unified whole. This reading links closure and completion with death. Valenzuela consistently destabilizes a fixed or final reading of each story. The stories that make up this collection emphasize the silences, gaps, and ambiguities within the narrative. The narrative continually resists closure and embraces ambiguity as Valenzuela allows that which has been excised from the text to leave its trace. Her project here reads as a struggle against erasure, closure, and death.

Desire is depicted quite differently in Jackson's project. Desire is a cohesive force in Patchwork Girl. In her attempt to inscribe feminine desire into an open and ambiguous linguistic system, Jackson conceives of notions of interconnectivity and community rather than completion or closure. Desire is the force that holds the disparate limbs of the monster, and the text. The monster and her maker are depicted as lovers whose co-creation is the construction of separate selves. The cabin-boy Chancy, revealed to be a woman disguised as a man, becomes the monster's lover. Yet even the lesbian sensibility of the work is complicated by a brief lexia titled tail that depicts the monster's union with a male circus freak who sports a fake tail. This segment suggests the urge to read mutation rather than mutability when reading the subject, unfixes the usual gendered sexual puns and reapplies them with humorous results. The multiple voices conveying the monster's narration construct, a haunting and sexual intercourse/discourse (Story/voices). Jackson consistently links dialogue and sex within a text explicitly founded upon a premise of promiscuous intertextuality.

Valenzuela, by contrast, depicts desire at the site of a struggle for signification. She conveys the fascination between lovers as the dialogue of desire in which each subject seeks a confirmation of difference. In Valenzuela's stories characters are coded linguistically in that it is difference that allows subjects to signify. Writing bodies within complex systems of classification, Valenzuela consistently destabilizes the very orders within which these bodies are able to signify. Desire in Valenzuela is also a desire for a complete text, a full disclosure that her narratives continually resist.

In the title story of Valenzuela's collection, Cambio de Armas names fail to correspond to the things named, suggesting a disordered signifying system. Garcia-Moreno describes the story as, a schematic picture of the dual, polar structure in which language has been organized, of the highly unequal battle that takes place in the production of meanings (12). In the story la llamada Laura (so-called Laura) multiplies her captor through a profusion of names, which serves to relegate him to the status of unmarked sign: ése él, el sinnombre al que le puede poner cualquier nombre que se le pasa por la cabeza, total, todos son igualmente eficaces y el tipo, cuando anda por la casa le contesta aunque lo llame Hugo, Sebastián, Ignacio, Alfredo o lo que sea (Valenzuela 114) (that one, him, the no-name she can call by any name that happens to cross her mind; they're all just as effective anyway, and when the guy's around the house he answers even if she calls him Hugo, Sebastian, Ignacio, Alfredo or anything else [106]). The story involves a struggle for meaning and identity as well as a brutal critique of the construction of feminine subjectivity linking marriage and domesticity to torture and imprisonment.

The story concerns a female guerilla held captive by the man she has tried to kill. As the story begins she has no memory of the past, and accepts as evidence of her marriage to her captor a photograph that shows her in a veil. Fractured into brief titled units that defy notions of sequential narration, this story is an abstract meditation on language and signification. The General's attempt to break the falsely named female narrator into bits, and put her together again in a way that makes sense to him, also reads linguistically. The struggle between the two actors could be effectively described as a depiction of a gendered subjectivity attempting to communicate and name within an oppressive signifying economy.

The general, Roque, is wrongly named, and distorted. His name suggests the inflexibility of stone, yet he is within the text a nearly anonymous figure. The narrative notes that the female protagonist suffers amnesia yet remains unconcerned with her own lack of memory. Laura is baffled instead by esa capacidad suya para applicarle el nombre exacto a cada cosa y recibir una taza de té quando dice quiero (Valenzuela 113) (her capacity to find the right word for each thing and receive a cup of tea when she says I want[105]). Laura is attempting to puzzle out how to interact in a world marked by missing memory and the faulty links between the name and the thing named. Additionally she interjects her own desire into this process of correspondence, indicating that desire is what drives this narrative and what links a thing to its name.

The story contains a couple who are at war, doors and windows that don't open, keys that don't work and mirrors that emphasize the lack of unity of the subject who gazes into them. Valenzuela sets up a desire for equivalences within the text, only to explode them. Just as so-called Laura fixes Roque with a multitude of names, Roque dismantles her with a triangulation of gazes in the peephole segment of the story, when a guard watches them having sex. The ambiguity of the narrative also implies the possibility that while Laura is convinced that a guard watches through the peephole in the door, there may be no guard there at all, and in fact she may be free to leave. The narrative is constructed in such a way that it can be read as Laura's delusion or confusion or paranoia, that her insistence that the keys won't open this door is a false one in the story world.

An example of the sexual/textual struggle between the two actors is Roque's attempt to define so-called Laura in his own terms. He forces her to watch herself in the mirror as he takes her, obliging her to self-identify as object rather than subject. Because of the profusion of mirrors and the multiple angles at which they meet her gaze, she is fragmented and distorted within them, rather than complete. Yet she also repositions him with multiple names, and seemingly invites his attentions, complicit in the game. Valenzuela's insistent ambiguity and nearly abstract language construct a startlingly contradictory narrative. This nuanced narrative positioning marks Valenzuela's interest in power and domination, violence, desire and representation. If we read Roque's actions as attempts to define Laura in a series of roles as wife, woman, and prisoner, we can just as easily read her attempt to define him as husband, lover, captor, or guard. Valenzuela signals an interest in the intersections between these categories, suggesting a deadly complicity in the construction of polarized subject positions.

Jackson's text similarly suggests assemblage or collage as a narrative possibility. Graphics intersperse with words, alternately solid and dotted lines map the links within the text. Jackson makes conscious use of the graphic elements of the text, one reaches the Body of the Text section by clicking on the phrenology graphic: a silhouette of a woman whose bald head has been diagrammed into compartments. The sections of skull are labeled with words such as Adhesive, Hiding, Hopscotch, and Embryo. Some segments are labeled with a woman's name, and link to the graveyard section that details the stories of the previous owners of the monster's body parts.

The Crazy Quilt section is constructed entirely of assemblage. Within this section, some of the major themes of the work are echoed in foreign voices: Wasn't writing the realm of truth? Isn't the Truth clear, distinct and one? (Crazy Quilt/conception). This fragment is lifted whole from Cixous' Coming to Writing. The lexia write sutures elements of Frankenstein, Cixous' essay, and The Patchwork Girl of Oz. This concept of writing as patchwork suggests a parallel between the monster's origins in charnel house and graveyard, and that of the text. Jackson's project is an exploration of how narratives reconfigure each other. The fragmentation of the text, forces us to adopt a gaze that is equally modular and fragmentary (Carazo 116). The lexia this writing concludes, Without shape, without end, without story. Or with as many stories as I care to put together (Body of the Text/this writing). This multivalent and collaged construction emphasizes a subjective and fragmentary human experience in an attempt to write the slippery subject back into the text.

The lexia Written and Sewn recount the construction of the body of the monster and explicitly voice Mary Shelley as her creator. Creation is alternately likened to writing and sewing and involves in each version a gathering of fragments and piecing together as the creative act. The reconstruction of the monster, the feminine act of creation, and the voice of Shelley as author coincide: My birth takes place more than once: In the plea of a bygone monster; from a muddy hole by corpse-light; under the needle, and under the pen (Story/birth). This birth then, describes the writing of the gendered subject and the construction of a postmodern fiction. Jackson transgresses the strict separation of subjects in the Journal section that is Mary's account, where her voice blends with that of her creature: Her scars lay like living things between us, inscribing themselves in my skin. I thought I too was rent and sewn, that I was both multiply estranged and gathered together in a dynamic union. What divided her, divided me (Journal/her, me).

The two are depicted as performing a minor surgery prior to their separation, Mary Shelley cuts from her own flesh a scrap of skin which she sews onto her creature, and chooses to graft onto herself a segment of the monster's scarred flesh. This joining links them, even as the text continues in the monster's voice: The graft took, the bit of skin is still a living pink, and so I remembered when I was Mary, and how I loved a monster, and became one. I bring you my story, which is ours (Journal/us). The shift from Mary Shelley's voice to that of the monster is also a shift from the Journal section to the Story section. That shift marks a distinction between a private writing and a public one, but also links the two inseparably.

The meditations on wholeness and fragmentation that characterize The body of the text are carried out through narrative in this section. The monster, seeking to become whole and human, purchases the name, memories and past of another woman. Even as she memorizes the details of Elsie's past, she finds herself slowly disintegrating. Several lexia detail alternate versions of her fragmentation, diaspora has her limbs exploding from her, in coda they gently detach and float away. In response to this crisis of integration, she calls Elsie, who arrives and climbs into the bathtub with her, And then she lay her whole and solid body which was all knees and cruppers against my parting parts and my limbs rolled in the wave her descending raised(Story/in the bath). This union amid disassembly allows the monster to gather herself without a pretense of wholeness: All disassembled, I made myself over, forgetting not to remember (Story/I made myself over). It is Elsie who shows the monster how to retain herself both multiple and whole. Not through the loan of her name and history, but through a physical act of compassion. Elsie climbs into the bath with the fragmented monster and encircles her with her arms.

In Jackson bodily wholeness is likened to the integrity of the codex book, If all quotes remain tethered to their sources, by however tenuous filaments, so my parts (Body of the Text/hidden figure). The compassion that prompts this rewriting is undone if we insist on the discrete boundaries of texts. It is only as a multiply mediated work that it exists. Just as the monster is unthinkable without the multitude of bodies from which she is pieced together, so the postmodern fiction is unthinkable if the integrity of the bodies of text from which it draws is insisted upon. Mary writes, I write, we write, but who is really writing? Ghost writers are the only kind there are (Story/am I Mary). Jackson posits interconnection and hive against the lonely and terminal state of completion. She rescues Shelley and the unnamed monster from the silence of death.

The title of Valenzuela's La Palabra ‘Asesino’ (The Word ‘Killer’) indicate the relationship between signifier and signified as a tacit concern of the story, where an investigation of language is linked to an investigation of being and identity. In this story the lover's identity is reconceived in light of his revealed past. Upon learning that he has killed a man, his lover attempts to reconcile her notion of the man as her lover, with the idea of him as a killer. In this story Valenzuela suggests a disquieting link between seeming opposites. She purposely proposes nameless lovers, one of whom is a peaceful woman fascinated with the killer hiding in her bed, the other a gentle man who has taken lives. This revelation within the narrative intensifies the emphasis on the subject as a series of fragmented shifting selves: Ella tomó la información como una entrega de pedacitos de él (Valenzuela 68) (She took the information like a gift of little pieces of himself [64]). The investigation of the subject is prompted by a linguistic concern. The real subject of the story is the word, killer.

This word destabilizes the already discontinuous identity that each protagonist adopts in relation to each other. Each explicitly interrogates the other in a search for self, and engages language as the site of this search. The order of language, where names correspond to things, becomes el orden subvertido por la muerte (Valenzuela 75) (the order that's been subverted by death [70]). This story responds on several levels to the construction of language; again the actors seek themselves in each other, as in a linguistic system where difference allows for signification.

Ella le advierte: No te busqués en los espejos, buscate por dentro. Cuidado con la imagen especular.Es falsa. Es invertida. Es distante. Te desdobla y arrastra. Y él sin escuchar las advertencies, usándola a ella de espejo, tirándola a la cara la peor de sus caras en procura de autocomprensión. (Valenzuela 76)

(She warns him: don't look for yourself in mirrors. Look inside yourself. Be careful with your mirror image. It's deceptive. It's inverted and distant. It doubles and drags you. He doesn't listen to the warnings, using her as a mirror, throwing his worst faces in her face in a search to understand himself [71]).

Valenzuela consistently depicts heterosexual lovers in this collection, signifying in binary terms. The structure is limited by its oppositional construction; yet the order it presents is then distorted and disordered by death.

This referent of death suggests that the breakdown between signifieds and signifiers, as in the discord between objective reality and official discourse, distorts the signifying system to a degree that it is no longer effective. In Valenzuela's work the perversion of language, the discord between what is said and what is meant ultimately disorients meaning itself. The protagonists in each story struggle to fit into binary categories, to express multiple selves through oppositions. This limited signifying system is interrupted by an imposition of disordered non-correspondence where the name no longer references that named. This story ultimately interrogates the assignment of meaning, and the act of writing. Limiting signification to a single meaning, busca en ella su propria destrucción (he's looking for his own destruction in her), is equated with the act of writing: busca que ella lo escriba (Valenzuela 79) (he wants her to write it all down [74]). In this sense, assignment of meaning, inscription into language, is a form of limitation when the connections hold, a form of destruction when the system breaks down.

This reading again links closure with death. Death in the sense of closure and completion here refers to a completed reading, a dead sign. Additionally it references a world in which signs cannot signify freely for fear of the attributions they might accrue. Conversely this suggests the coding that censorship makes necessary, in order to safely express anything, that expression should be masked in such a way as to pass unnoticed. In order then, to say anything one would be forced to disguise such sayings as not saying, returning to silence and complicity. Valenzuela's text works in and around questions such as these, as a response to a state in which death hid itself behind other names. Where books were buried out of fear but bodies disappeared without the benefit of graves. Ultimately Valenzuela's gesture enacts the contradictions embodies in the very notion of being a writer, and attempting to write of, from, and about an authoritarian state. Her stories concern the imposition of state sanctioned language, and the challenge to the subject embodied by a violently oppressive state.

Jackson complicates the notion of language as unchanging in order to call into question the position of a fixed speaker as the origin of the text: It bothers me, the thought of my words becoming clues, something someone might peer at to try to find a lost object (Story/a life). The concept of language as a stable and unchanging object is challenged in this work as is the singular subject producing language. I was not one person and there was more than one way to write this (Story/a life). The material construction, the circling and shifting and arbitrary order of hypertext asserts a shifting and mutable text in the same gesture through which she articulates a notion of mutable subjectivity. Instead of a finite and knowable codex book, the endless possibility of intertextuality is opened up. An impulse to reveal the enigmas constructed by a text is modified here by continually shifting narrative. Jackson's text remains, not indecipherable, yet less than knowable. She equates language as a knowable stable object with rigid sequence and finality, in a word, with death. The critique is akin to Valenzuela's, where halting the chain of signifiers constrains signification.

Jackson conceives of death differently than does Valenzuela. Her project attempts to locate a subject constrained and denied by the same elements that constrain linguistic systems and insist on finitude. Her work resists death, not in any literal sense, but as a metaphor for ending or completion. Jackson's text destabilizes the opposition between life and death in order to emphasize the continuity of meaning. Everything I'm made of speaks from the dead. This language I speak, it's haunted (Story/voices). Haunting figures repeatedly as a trope that reverses the finality of death, it is an integral part of Jackson's project. The possibility of return that it inscribes includes the resurrection of the female monster, the return of Shelley as author, the disinterment of the bodies contributing to the monster's body, and the surfacing of the multitude of texts contributing fragments to Patchwork Girl. The text mediates incessantly between a fixed and final form of itself and a continually reconstructed text as multiple possibilities of textual instances.

Each author mediates the conflict between the moral imperative to speak and the conviction that speech is never adequate to its task, that it does violence because it distances and distorts the truth while providing an illusion that it provides access to it (Gaggi 146). Jackson does this to posit communal creation and rescue gendered subjectivity, Valenzuela to bear witness, to recuperate that which has been silenced. The struggle to represent in language that which cannot be represented moves each text. The awareness of lives snuffed out and silenced, of fear and internalized censorship infects Valenzuela's narratives, her work functions in dialogue with these tendencies. Response to fear and danger codes the narratives and a preoccupation with what is silenced and erased moves them. I have said that it is a dangerous proposition, to speak of love in Valenzuela. Yet I label her work a labor of love. Her stories include a profusion of voices that weave words where too much silence proliferates. She looses a wildly signifying language in order to repair the singularity of official history.

Valenzuela writes in a context of intense scrutiny, censorship, and self-censorship. Torture and death euphemistically disguised as disappearance stalked the production of possible meaning. If books are buried while human bodies are denied graves it does indeed seem that the production of meaning is at stake.

Both Jackson and Velenzuela express a fragmented and multiple subject; both dismantle fixed and stable categories of gender, and of being. The subject produced within and addressed by these works is mutable, changeable, fragmented and contradictory. Each partakes of an ethics of deconstruction; compassion wields a scalpel in these texts. Each text dismantles and reassembles the body and the text. Rewriting history, recalling the forgotten and erased, reassembling the monsters of earlier ages, these works remake the profusion of texts that precede them, constructing an aesthetic of fragmentation and an ethics of love. The mutability of flesh and multiplicity of the body are inscribed as an antidote to erasure. The possibility of writing without unity, the inscription of a divergence, (Cixous 15) structures these works. Each author writes against death and disintegration; and each text is a labor of love.


1 All bracketed English translations of Cambio de Armas with page citations come from Deborah Bonner's translation, Other Weapons. Bibliographic information can be found in the Works Cited under Valenzuela.

Works Cited

Cixous, Helene. Coming to Writing and Other Essays. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard
         UP, 1991.

Feitlowitz, Marguerite. A Lexicon of Terror: Argentina and the Legacies of
New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Gaggi, Silvio. From Text to Hypertext; Decentering the Subject in Fiction, Film,
         the Visual Arts, and Electronic Media
. Philedelphia: University of
        Pennsylvania Press, 1998.

Garcí-Moreno, Laura: Other Weapons, Other Words: Literary and Political
         Reconsiderations in Luisa Valenzuela's Other Weapons
         American Literary Review
19:38 (1991): 7-22.

Hayles, N. Katherine: Flickering Connectivities in Shelley Jackson's Patchwork
: The Importance of a Media-Specific Analysis.
Postmodern Culture:
         An Electronic Journal of Interdisciplinary Criticism
(Electronic publication)

Jackson, Shelley. Patchwork Girl. Watertown, MA: Eastgate Systems, 1995.

Keep,Christopher J.: The Disturbing Liveliness of Machines: Rethinking the
         Body in Hypertext Theory and Fiction. Cyberspace Textuality: Computer

        Technology and Literary Theory. Ed. Ryan, Marie-Laure Bloomington, IN:
         Indiana UP, 1998. 164-81.

Metzger, Mary Janell: Oedipal with a Vengeance; Narrative, Desire, and
         Violence in Luisa Valenzuela's Fourth Version'.
Tulsa Studies in Women's
        Literature14:2 (1995): 295-307.

Sánchez-Palencia Carazo, Carolina; Almagro Jiménez, Manuel. "Gathering the
         Limbs of the Text in Shelley Jackson's Patchwork Girl. Revista de la
         Asociación Española de Estudios Ingleses y Norteamericanos
         (2006): 115-29.

Valenzuela Luisa. Cambio de Armas. Hanover, NH: Ediciones Del  Norte, 1982.
  ––– Other Weapons. Trans.Deborah Bonner. Hanover, NH: Ediciones  Del Norte,

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