Francisco de Aldana
Do not forget, my lady, that night when our souls struggled body to body.
Reading the nostalgia tinged romances above (which might be familiar to some of you, as his micros have been popular on our Facebook page), you might not instantly arrive at the conclusion that Mexican writer Juan José Arreola (1918-2001) was a misogynist.
Misogyny, a serious allegation to level at anyone, is something which Arreola was accused of at various points in his career.
There is no doubt that the spiritual conflict – or perhaps the conflict of spirits – between man and woman is a theme that crops up frequently in his work. As does criticism of marriage. As does adultery.
And if you read a piece such as Insectiad (below), you are certainly greeted by a narrator who speaks in tones that ring misogynistic.
Arreola countered the accusations against him by stating that he considers himself a being that seeks completion through woman:
“I suffer from this nostalgia and have tried to express it through texts that have been erroneously interpreted as anti-feminist criticism. Since my childhood I have been avid to complete myself in woman. I cannot conceive of man without this bed in which he rests and forms himself, I cannot conceive of man without this confrontation.”
I wonder if comments like this help or hinder his defence.
The introduction to his 1986 compilation Confabulario Definitivo discusses Arreola’s perhaps peculiar attitude towards the sexes.
Apparently, reflecting on the work of writers as diverse as Otto Weininger (seems like a bigot to me) and Simone de Beauvoir (certainly not considered a chauvinist last time I heard), Arreola postulated that, following the split of the original and absolute bisexual being, the feminine essence took form in the material, such as clay and earth, while the masculine associated itself with the spiritual and aerial.
“It’s not necessary to force the argument to explain the tendency of the lady, an empty form, to fulfil herself through the spirit, the man, and to devour him,” continues the above cited introduction.
And vice versa, I suppose. Hmmm.
One fact is, however, that Arreola was not a writer who spent much time letting his philosophical viewpoints be known. Quotes such as the one above were rare and spontaneous. Therefore, if one desires to speculate on Arreola’s supposed misogyny, not much exists to go on apart from his fiction writing.
But is this fair? Is it ever really safe to claim insight into a writers opions via the musings of his fictional protagonists?
We belong to a sad insect species, dominated by the supreme power of vigorous, bloodthirsty, terribly scarce females. For each of them there are twenty weak, sickly males.
We live in constant flight. The females pursue us, while for security reasons we abandon all nourishment to their insatiable jaws.
But the mating season changes the order of things. The females exude an irresistible aroma, and we, enervated, follow them to certain death. Behind each perfumed female trails a string of pleading males.
The spectacle gets under way when the female perceives that there are enough candidates. One by one we leap on her. With a quick movement she parries the attack and tears the gallant to bits. While she is busy devouring him, another aspirant flings himself onto her.
And so on to the end. The union is consummated with the last survivor when the female, exhausted and relatively sated, scarcely has strength left to decapitate the male astride her, obsessed in his pleasure.
She remains asleep a long time, triumphant on her battlefield of mortal spoils. The she hangs from a nearby tree a thick cartridge of eggs. From it the mass of victims will again be born with their unfailing compliment of executioners.
He pursued her through the library between the tables, chairs and lecterns. She escaped talking of women’s rights, infinitely violated. Five thousand absurd years separated them. For five thousand years she had been inexorably harassed, disregarded, reduced to slavery. He tried to justify himself through quick and fragmentary personal praise, spoken with half sentences and timid gestures.
In vain, he searched for texts to support his theories. The library, specialized in Spanish literature of the 16th and 17th centuries, was a vast enemy arsenal, which glossed the concept of honour and other atrocities of this type.
The young man quoted, without tiring, J. J. Bachofen, the learned man that every woman should read, as he had returned to them the grandness of their role in prehistory. If his books had been at hand, he could have placed the young girl right at the scene of that dark civilization, governed by women, when the world was blanketed in a deep fog and where man tried to rise above it in stilt houses.
But all this left the girl cold. This matriarchal period, by misfortune non-historical and hardly provable, seemed to greaten her resentment. She darted from shelf to shelf, sometimes climbing the ladders, crushing the young man under a downpour of insults. Fortunately, in the ruins, something useful occurred to the young man. He suddenly remembered Heinz Wölpe. His voice, quoting this writer, acquired a new and powerful accent.
“In the beginning there was only one sex, evidently female, which reproduced automatically. A mediocre being began to emerge sporadically, bearing a precarious and sterile life compared to the formidable maternity. However, little by little, it began to appropriate certain essential organs. And, at some point, it became necessary. Woman realised, too late, that she was missing half her elements, and needed to search for them in man, who was now man by virtue of this progressive separation and this accidental return to his point of origin.”
Wölpe’s theory seduced the girl. She looked at the young man with tenderness. “Man is a child that has behaved badly with its mother throughout history,” she said, almost with tears in her eyes.
She forgave him, forgiving all men. Her gaze radiated, she lowered her eyes like a Madonna. Her mouth, hardened before by disdain, softened and sweetened like fruit. He felt mythological caresses brewing in his hands and lips. He moved closer to Eve, trembling, and Eve did not flee.
And there, in the library, at that complicated and negative scene, at the foot of volumes of conceited literature, an age-old episode began, similar to life in a stilt house.
What Genaro does is horrible. He uses unforeseen weapons. Our situation is turning sour.
Yesterday, at the table, he told us a story about a cuckold. It was actually quite funny, but as if Amelia and I could laugh, with Genaro ruining it with huge bursts of fake laughter. He’d say: “Have you ever heard anything funnier?” stroking his brow, clenching his fingers as if he was searching for something. Then he’d laugh again: “How it must feel to be cheated on?” He paid no attention to our confusion at all.
Amelia was desperate. I felt the urge to insult Genaro, to scream the whole truth at him, to leave running and never return. But, as always, something stopped me. Amelia, perhaps, wiped out by this unbearable situation.
It’s already quite some time since Genaro’s attitude first surprised us. He was becoming more and more foolish. He accepted incredulous explanations, gave place and time to our wildest meetings, played the travel game on ten occasions but always returned the day he said he would. We abstained uselessly in his absence. Once back, he’d bring us small presents and hug us in an immoral way, almost kissing our necks and holding us too tight to his chest. Amelia almost passed out with repugnance in such embraces.
At first we used to do everything with fear, believing we were running a huge risk. The impression that Genaro was going to discover us at any moment tinged our love with fear and shame. In that sense the thing was clear and clean. The drama floated over us, bestowing dignity on guilt. Genaro has ruined it. Now we’re involved in something shady, dense and heavy. We love each other half-heartedly, sickly, like a married couple. Little by little we’ve acquired the insipid custom of tolerating Genaro. His presence is unbearable as he does not hinder us; rather, he facilitates the routine and provokes tiredness.
Sometimes, the messenger that brings our supplies says that the decommissioning of this lighthouse is a done deal. We’re glad, Amelia and I, secretly. Genaro is visibly distressed: “Where will we go?” he asks us, “We’re so happy here!” he sighs. Then he searches my eyes. “You’ll come with us, wherever we go.” And he sits and stares at the sea with melancholy.