Dark Desires And The Others

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

The Argentinian writer/poet Luisa Valenzuela has published eleven other books besides the one under review here, DARK DESIRES AND THE OTHERS (Dalkey Archive Press, translated from the Spanish by Susan E. Clark). I don't think I'll be rushing out to my nearest bookstore to order any one of those.

DARK DESIRES was cobbled together by Valenzuela in 2002 from a swarm of diaries she kept during the years between 1979 and 1982, when she was living and teaching in NYC (and taking side trips to California, Mexico and Argentina). Valenzuela calls DARK DESIRES an "apocryphal autobiography." It's an apt description; you soon learn not to trust much of what she says about herself or New York or any of the many men she slept with along the way.

Objectivity is not Valenzuela's long suit: her work in academia is never discussed, her friends and lovers are given only first names, her surroundings only minimally described.
The focus of DARK DESIRES is on Valenzuela herself: her feelings, random thoughts, sexual needs. All diaries are egocentric in this regard, but Valenzuela takes solipsism to another level and obsesses about herself relentlessly and pedantically, to such an extent that many of her diary entries read like parodies ("Here I am, or at least that undefinition so addicted to the wound that makes up myself. I bleed, and not only monthly; I cut myself and I gnaw away at myself, but I don't know how to surrender. With fury. Yes, that's for sure: with fury. Fury that sometimes abandons me and leaves sadness in its wake. Fury that I hope will last and keep me going. Fury against all those who try to touch me and do so only with their fingertips, and then sometimes pull away, afraid. Something burns them, something surrounding me, something merciless that comes out of me even if I don't intend it to.")

What saves DARK DESIRES from being a pretentious mess is Valenzuela's frank way of writing about sex: "Who can take that away from you? Who can take away the generosity of a man who, after coming, instead of lying comfortably beside you, slides down to the foot of the bed, to go down on you and keep giving and giving, making you vibrate more and more."

Although she is an intensely sexual creature, a woman who enters into endless affairs, Valenzuela doesn't have much use for men. "The male of the species also has his little heart," she writes. "It surprises you every time you rediscover this, without really wanting to, and then all at once you start putting two and two together and all the available evidence comes together to demonstrate that, yes sir, the male of the species is also a human being, although he generally tries to hide this fact and very often succeeds."

Valenzuela's contradictions and obsessions fill the pages of DARK DESIRES. It makes for laborious reading, except for those bawdy riffs on what it's like to have sex with the lowly male of the species.