Ars Erotica: Analyzing “Arcadia” and “Eva Luna”

March 26, 2019 by Essay Writer

“Language is not a neutral instrument.”[1]

Literature is never without an ideology, whether intended by the writer, interpreted by the reader, inherent in the language, or implied by the context. Thus, an author or a playwright’s particular manipulation of medium – a particular style – always serves a purpose; the author’s, or the audience’s. The heroine’s characterisation, the erotic scenes, and the intertextuality in Isabel Allende’s écriture féminine Eva Luna (1987) exhibit the vital potential of sexual and creative female expression. Furthermore, the novel’s revision of the postcolonial genre, magical realism, for the female Subaltern contextualises the problematic decisions and experiences of women in Latin American society. The characterisation of women, the satirical devices, and the cyclical structure of Tom Stoppard’s comedy of ideas Arcadia (1993) could represent the struggle for the inclusion of the feminine psyche and Eros into patriarchal epistemology. Though segregated by their cultural and historical context, both texts are unified by their feminist discourse on women’s sexuality; in other words, they are instances of ars erotica [2].

The titular character’s development, through intertextuality and metafiction, in Isabel Allende’s magic feminist novel Eva Luna subscribes to the notions of écriture féminine and celebrates women’s life-giving faculty: “Woman must write her self: must write about women and bring women to writing, from which they have been driven away as violently as from their bodies.”[3] Eva’s biblical conception unfolded from her mother’s decision, never having “succeeded in accepting the tyrannical god” (9), to “disobey an order” (19) and “pleasure” (20) a man bitten by a viper; but instead of ensuing mortality, Consuelo saves him from death. Moreover, she names their creation Eva, “so she will love life” (22) and share it, and though “her father’s name isn’t important”, subverting patriarchal lineage, she appropriates “Luna”, after his “tribe, the Children of the Moon”, thus combining two potent matriarchal symbols.[4] She further empowers her daughter by imparting “the idea that reality is not only what we see on the surface… it is legitimate to enhance it and colour it to make our journey through life less trying” (21) and guiding her through life, for “if [Eva] can remember [her], [Consuelo] will be with [her] always” (43). Eva’s sexual awakening to ars erotica, instigated by A Thousand and One Nights, is crucial to challenging phallogocentrism: “Eroticism and fantasy blew into my life with the force of a typhoon, erasing all limitations and turning the known order of things upside down” (146). The “multiple possibilities of [her] womanhood” (192) cannot be expressed by the “pointedness and singularity”[5] of masculine language; in lieu, her later writing is parler femme. In reclaiming “the splendid gift of [her] own sensuality”, she comes “to know [her] body”, expressing her subjective sexuality in itself and for herself. Eva’s relationship with Riad Halabi is juxtaposed against Huberto Naranjo’s suppression of her joissance and creativity. His machismo enforces silence and deception, for she “never spoke of her fantasies” and “feigned satisfaction”, to gratify his sense of entitlement to Eva’s body. Her fabrication of rape corrupts the liberating potential of her imagination and she is “unable to concentrate on [her] work or stories” (220). Eva fulfils her ultimate being by reconciling, as Scheherazade did, sexuality, politics and storytelling. Her writing is “salvation through fabulation”4; it gives her “the power to determine [her] fate, or invent a life for [herself]” (241) or to love “exactly as [she] had been describing… in a scene” (291) and the means to broadcast her non-violent, imaginative emancipation of political prisoners as a telenovela. Isabel Allende empowers the protagonist of Eva Luna by writing of the female experience and body in “white ink”[6] and honouring the female gift of life through intertext with the Bible and Arabian Nights and metafictional strategies.

The problematic, ideological introduction of minor characters in Eva Luna encourages a feminist reading within the context of postcolonial, patriarchal Latin American society. Zulema is condemned for perpetuating her position – “dependent on her husband for everything” (148) – by choosing to “put up with [her husband] rather than work to support herself.” Apathy and idleness have eradicated her identity; she is, metaphorically, an “enormous toy” to her husband’s lust, “a great pale fish abandoned” (149) by the patriarchal ideal of marital fulfilment. Yet she has been “educated to serve and please a man” (148) as her sole function, her value judged as an object, on the basis of “no flaws” (141), domestic ability, and purity. While Zulema is dispossessed of her worth, as defined by her body, for she “could not bear body hair… offended by her own odour” (149), Madrina is “proud of her voluminous flesh… pubis shadowed by kinky fuzz… a strong sweetish odor” (45). She embraces her synaesthetic body and enjoys her sexuality as part of her subject, while remaining devout to Catholicism, thus challenging the archetypal virgin/whore dichotomy, and also empowering women through sacrifice. She baptizes Eva “with a thorough cleaning of the church” (46), an ironic purification; however, the binary oppositions of patriarchal, religious dogma corrupt her nurturing capacity: “the boundaries between good and evil were very precise, and she was ready to save [Eva] from sin if she had to beat [her] to do it”. Having “analyzed her [limited] possibilities” (118), Senora rose to an illusion of power through “imagination”, “patience and hard work” (113) and exploiting her sisterhood. This Janus stereotype is reinforced by her mock submission: “It’s better to say yes to everything and then do whatever you please.” She “never batted an eyelash” (120) at her “distinguished clientele”, paradoxically influential and respected but, nonetheless, a prostitute, reliant on the objectification of women. Hence, Senora appropriates the patriarchal aesthetic of the feminine, without deconstructing it. Melesio/Mimi complicates the conception of female, for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism argues transsexuality is a medical industry, “an institutional expression that women are defective males”[7], reflected in her hyperbolic “metamorphosis” (203) through “enough hormones to turn an elephant into a migratory bird”, or stereotypically performative, as with Mimi’s occupation as a drag queen. On one hand, she is a “divine apparition” (197) and an “Amazon” (203), embodying feminine beauty and strength, but on the other, she is an “unsettling” (204) “freak”, becoming “fanatically submissive” to conform to patriarchal expectations. There is “some difficulty understanding Melesio’s struggle to become [a woman]” but ultimately, “feminism is grounded in supporting the choices of women even if we wouldn’t make [them] for ourselves”[8], and this respect is evident in her willingness “to go through hell to achieve it” (203). Isabel Allende’s characterization in Eva Luna promotes intersectional feminism by positioning women’s choices within their cultural context.

In Tom Stoppard’s satire on epistemology and eroticism as a feminist discourse, the characterisation of Thomasina Coverly and Arcadia’s echoing structure can be interpreted as a representation of women excluded from the generative centre of knowledge, as well as forbidden from self-knowledge of their own vital Eros. The “genius” (65) protagonist is positioned on the brink of intellectual revolution and self-discovery, catalysed by her philosophical equilibrium between Classicism and Romanticism. In reconciling nature and humanity with science and maths – for “if there is an equation for a curve like a bell, there must be an equation for one like a bluebell” (51) – both through intuition and reason, she subverts the patriarchal dichotomy of these paradigms; accordingly, she is met with resistance and silencing. Septimus drily ascribes her an “alpha minus… for doing more than was asked” (51), punishment for challenging the confines of the partial knowledge deigned appropriate to restrict women to patriarchal thought. Valentine, like Septimus’s resonating “gibe”, is disinclined to credit Thomasina’s “fancy… not a discovery”. “She was just playing with numbers. The truth is, she wasn’t doing anything… Nothing she understood.” (63) The dramatic irony in Valentine’s dialogue enhances Thomasina’s erasure from academia, hinged on and perpetuating the axiom that women are cognitively inferior to men, consequently compounding female dependency and masculine dominance.

Similarly, “the Byron gang” (32), in a derisive metaphor, “unzipped their flies and patronized all over” Hannah’s best-selling Caro, to disparage the feminist revision of a patriarchal historical discourse that dehumanizes women, as in Septimus’ bilingual pun, “caro, carnis; feminine; flesh” (4). Thomasina punningly mocks the keeping of maidens, as in Captain Brice’s unwitting irony, “in ignorance” (17) of their sexuality, to protect them from sin, or rather, so their husbands may retain their purity: “There are some things… such as embracing a side of beef, that must be kept from her until she is old enough to have a carcass of her own.” (18) Moreover, the parallel epiphany of Thomasina and Chloë underlines the necessity of the feminine Eros to a comprehensive understanding, in the innuendo “the action of bodies in heat” (114), and the chaos and mortality it entails. Hannah’s confirmation of meaning in the “struggle” (103) for knowledge, “knowing that failure is final”, and Thomasina’s response to being “doomed” (127) – to dance – celebrates the female capacity for life, in opposition to their definition in terms of “negativity, lack, and emptiness” [9]. Therefore, Tom Stoppard’s style in Arcadia could condemn the silencing of women within epistemology and promote a consideration the female libido in ontology.

Tom Stoppard’s and Isabel Allende’s styles – his characterisation, satire and bifurcated structure contrasting with her intertextual écriture feminine – both serve a feminist purpose in Arcadia and Eva Luna. While she narrates women writing themselves in their own language and others facing choices in her patriarchal Latin American culture, he dramatizes their ostracism from epistemology; nonetheless, they share a celebration of the female Eros, woman’s sexuality and life force. Most importantly, these literary works mark the re-emergence of feminism from the realms of linguists and theorists to mainstream consciousness and third-wave activism.

[1] Bolinger, Dwight. 1980. Language the Loaded Weapon – The Use and Abuse of Language Today.

[2] Foucault, Michel. 1978. The History of Sexuality.

[3] Hélène Cixous. 1975. The Laugh of the Medusa.

[4] Diamond-Nigh, Lynn. 1995. Eva Luna: Writing as History.

[5] Tong, Rosemarie. 1994. Feminist Thought: a more comprehensive introduction.

[6] Klages, Mary. 2006. Hélène Cixous: The Laugh of the Medusa.

[7] Greer, Germaine. 1999. The Whole Woman.

[8] Gay, Roxane. 2014. Bad Feminist.

[9] Koene, Jacoba. 1997. Metaphors for Marginalization and Silencing of Women in Eva Luna and Cuentos de Eva Luna by Isabel Allende.

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