Kranidis M-Synthesis 2-985-Kiss of the Spider Woman
It is deep into Kiss of the Spider Woman, the movie, that we see Molina’s social queer connections and her private life away from the jail cell. She is a man who has been arrested for sleeping with a minor. The play takes place in South America somewhere while there is a political or counter political revolution is taking place. She is placed in a cell with a revolutionary named Valentin who is under interrogation about a political activity and his involvement. The novel includes a historical collection of theories about homosexuality, legal documentations in foot notes. This dry inclusive research text shows Puig’s political stand and academic knowledge shared in a double narrative. The fictional characters act at the top of the page while the bottom of the page echoes a historicity of hate and misunderstanding.
The novel begins with both of them in the cell while Molina is telling Valentine a movie from the 40s. She romanticizes the Nazis and the way they represent power and romance for her. Valentin laughs at her imaginary descriptions of the main character in her own film. Later they argue. Valentin finds their spending time listening imagining movies frivolous and useless. We discover mid way into the novel and movie that Molina has been set up by the guards to spy on Valentin and find out who his comrades are outside of prison. Molina pretends to have visits from her mother, to whom she is very close to but cannot convince Valentin about that so she asks the guards to give her food. She and Valentin enjoy many meals together as time goes on. Molina falls in love with Valentin.
The story unfolds when we discover that Molina is going home. Before she leaves the prison cell she is asked by Valentin to give a message to his comrades. She first refuses but then decides to take the phone number. After she is out se know she has been followed by the police. Her every move is captured. She is looking for the right moment to make the call and give Valentin’s message. This is the time we meet her queer friends and their hangout. Her closest friend is a performer at the club. We see her sing in drag. Molina takes money out of the bank gives it to her friend to take care f her mother because she thinks she might be gone for awhile.
The next days she goes to make the call. As a car drives by to meet her a cop car follows. Molina runs away to the other side of the street hoping to get picked up by Valentin’s comrades. As she approaches their car they open fire and kill her.
Manuel Puig demonstrates here the complexities of homosexual love as well as the corruption of many systems; cultural, political, legal and most of all revolutionary. Molina is the true victim who fall sin love with a heterosexual revolutionary. And even though they have sex in prison, Valentin has no doubt about his own sexuality. He does get angry with Molina many times and calls him a “fag”. “While the text seems to condone polarized and essentialist constructions of sexuality and gender in its essential characterization of Molina and Valentin these binary rubrics blur, shift, and are subverted as the relationship between the two men progresses and eventually becomes sexual” (Davis). Valentin, conventionally heterosexual and ideologically rebellious, espouses this deconstruction of their roles. He notes that, “when it comes to our relationship…. We could make any damn thing out of it we want; our relationship isn’t pressured” since “outside of this cell we may have our oppressors, yes, but not inside. Here no one oppresses the other” ( Puig p. 202).
(Even though we have not read a theory which addresses significance of heterosexual sexual activity with a gay or transvestite man, I will use the theories we have used, and some new ones, to analyze Molina’s behavior of acting out movie scenes as the leading lady and being insulted by Valentin by being called a “fag” using Butler’s theory of the performative. Butler says that “Queer” derives its force precisely through the repeated invocation by which it has become linked to accusation, pathologization and insult” (Butler).
Butler’s claim that “identity is an illusion retroactive by our performances” can be connected to Molina’s acting as the main lady of her own movies which constitutes a performing gender which establishes identification with the normative phantasm of ‘sex”. Molina uses her body movements to emphasize a feminine appearance which for Butler is when “sex becomes something like a fiction, perhaps a fantasy, retroactively installed in prelingusistic site to which there is no direct access” (Butler).
Molina’s gender behavior while identifying with the social constructions of sexuality and performance she is challenging them. She does not conform to heterosexual conventions of sexuality but she adapts the gender constructs that she performs in her story telling. Her narrative voice and language become her seductive tools for escape, reform and resistance. Butler’s analysis of the “gender acts” is what leads to material changes in Molina’s existence and her own body as well as they are transformed into “someone else, who’s neither a man nor a woman,” neither gay nor straight, “but someone who feels … out of danger” (235). By disrupting binary understandings of gender and sexuality, Kiss of the Spider Woman denaturalizes these qualities and underscores their constructedness and fluidity Valentin has sex with her either by thinking of her as a woman or by disassociating himself from the actual physical part of their actions. Language here does something to not only represent something. Molina’s story telling allows Valentin to escape his won reality of prison and enter into her own imagination and to follow her as a leading lady in a propaganda Nazi movie. Refer to the normative imaginary
Butler says that “one is not simply a body, but, in some very key sense, one does ones body differently…” Through language Molina acts the performative identity she creates. “Within speech and theory, a performative is that discursive practice that enacts or produces that which it names” (Butler). The sexual acts between Valentin and Molina appear to have different affects on both of them. Molina’s existence is altered by her love for Valentin and even though she does not discuss nor understand his political position, she converts her ideologies of safety and family and friendship and endangers her life to help his cause. This is what kills her.
Many read the text in terms of familiar types and polarities (masculine/feminine, gay/straight, victim/villain, fascist/marxist) and did not notice any questioning of dichotomies. It is also clear that the author has respect for the emotional pull and clear world picture that binary cultural rubrics afford people, even as he resists the harmful effects of stereotypes (Manrique 24). Kiss of the Spider Woman mounts a defense of popular culture by suggesting that the queer identity is not either feminine or masculine but instead it is a practice that one must admit as altering. Is Valentin straight, bisexual or gay? Is Molina gay, transgender or transsexual? These roles remain interpretive in the novel. Valentin changes from a cold distant revolutionary into an inward passionate man who for a little time-in a specific time and place shared Molina’s world. Molina, on the other hand becomes active in political roles which transform her perceptions of identity and struggle.
Butler, Judy. Critically Queer. GLQ, vol 1, no 1 (fall 1993).
Kimberly Chadot Davis, “Audience, Sentimental Postmoderninsm, and Kiss of the Spider Woman CLCWeb:Comperative Lit And Culture 10.3(2008).
Manrique, Jaime. “Manuel Puig:The Writer as Diva.” Christopher Street(July 1993):14-27.
Puig, Manuel. Kiss Of the Spider Woman. Trans. Thomas Colchie. NY:Vintage, 1978.
I haven’t actually read Kiss of the Spider Woman or seen the film, just read it referred to in various works of queer scholarship. I was surprised from your precis to see how much it follows a stereotypical narrative of associating the queer/trans character with duplicity and political suspect-ness, then killing them off as the climax. Though clearly it does many more complex things as well! I was intrigued by the connection between Molina and the Nazi films; there has been some interesting writing (by Leo Bersani in Homos, as well as Jack Halberstam in The Queer Art of Failure) wrestling with the homoerotics of Nazism and what that can mean for a queer politics. I am curious about how Molina’s fandom of those movies intersects with the revolutionary position he ends up occupying…