REVIEW by Willard Manus
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
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.