The Body as Weapon: HIV as Revenge
University of Wisconsin-Whitewater
Revenge as a theme has pervaded a myriad of both public and private discourses and can be found in areas as diverse as religion, law, psychology, and literature, to name just a few. The motivations for revenge are just as diverse as its manifestations, but underlying all such vengeance narratives is the desire to "get even" or correct a grievance perceived to be committed against the avenger. Cultural theorist, Susan Jacoby, in her study on the evolution of revenge, has investigated this desire for retribution in a variety of arenas and has concluded that underlying all of them is the cultural belief that justice and revenge are mutually exclusive. Society tends to look at those who seek revenge on their own as renegades who buck the traditional justice system in their personal quests for a distorted form of justice. Given this public perception, the avenger is often left to function alone, under his/her own perceived laws of justice, often times due to fears or knowledge that society’s justice system will not provide the sort of resolution that is so craved or one that would afford a sense of justice for the perceived loss (Jacoby, Introduction).
This is often the case when dealing with the deliberate transmission of HIV and the use of the body as the weapon to extract retribution. Because this transmission can occur via human intercourse (1), a decidedly private and intimate interaction, it is often shielded from public and legal scrutiny. This fact has inevitably caused a drastic re-thinking of interpersonal relationships, sexuality, eroticism and health itself. Revenge becomes one avenue to try to retaliate for the permanent biological and ultimately, physical and psychological, alterations that will be caused by the progression of the HIV virus.
These themes permeate the work that forms the backbone of this article, El vuelo de la reina, the most recent novel by Argentine novelist Tomás Eloy Martínez. In Eloy Martínez’s work, the protagonist chooses to take matters under his own control and utilize a virus-altered body as a means of extracting retribution. While viewing Eloy Martínez’s work as an example of what I call a revenge narrative due to the centrality of the theme of retribution to the overall literary product, I show how he employs some of the predominant metaphors regarding AIDS to depict a vengeful interplay of eroticism, seduction, and violence. The HIV-infected body becomes the weapon of choice, utilized not only to seek revenge for infidelity, but also to enact a systematic pattern of violence akin to torture. I examine this interplay not only on the individualistic level of the protagonists, but also extend it to provide an examination of the vestiges of authoritarianism in post-dictatorial Argentina.
During the emplotment of revenge, Eloy Martínez recurs to a variety of metaphors that Susan Sontag, in her seminal work entitled AIDS and its Metaphors, has critically analyzed. According to Sontag, the most prominent, the plague metaphor, has been used to represent diseases throughout history, including syphilis, cholera, and now, AIDS. It is linked to fear, xenophobia, and the notion of foreignness, themes which surface not only in the imagining of the origins of the virus, but in the contradictory reality that faces those who are infected with a disease that they previously viewed as belonging to "others". Furthermore, there is the military metaphor, which utilizes an aggressive vocabulary of schemes, attacks, mobilization, ambush as well as the required counterpart, a formidable defense. This metaphor is intimately related to the notion of revenge and the envisioning of the body that seeks it. Due to the aggressive nature of this narrative, militaristic overtones predominate, particularly in relation to the forceful transmission of the virus through rape, violent and sadistic sexual activity, and sheer force. Both the notion of virus-as-foreign and the violence inherent in military metaphors are evident in El vuelo de la reina and will be examined in relation to the larger theme of revenge.
The Body as Weapon: Enacting Revenge
Within the arena of the revenge plot and the metaphors that inhabit it, the central focus of this article is on the avenger and victims’ bodies and how the narration of retribution is performed by and upon them. The theories of sociologist Arthur W. Frank and his conceptualization of different types of "wounded" storytellers will illuminate this discussion. Frank’s work, The Wounded Storyteller, critically examines the different manifestations of ill bodies that strive to find a voice in narratives about an illness experience. Through a detailed discussion of each body type and how they protagonize various narrative tendencies, Frank provides a groundwork suitable for multiple disciplines. He focuses specifically on four common "wounded" bodies that resurface in the fictional and non-fictional works he has examined: the disciplined body, which is ruled by regimentation and self-control; the mirroring body, which depends upon images from popular culture to try recreate the healthy body within itself; the dominating body, primarily defined by force and rage; and finally, the communicative body, which is the idealized self who accepts its condition and communicates openly with others about that reality. For the purposes of this article, I predominantly focus on the dominating body that exemplifies the protagonist in Eloy Martínez’s work. Frank’s terminology provides a manner to envision the alterations and re-conceptualizations that befall the protagonist in his quest for retribution.
Also key to this discussion will be the multiple manifestations of the HIV-infected-body, at times consumed by an overwhelming association with victimization, while at other moments, conceptualized and utilized as a weapon that illuminates the way in which AIDS has provided a deadly way to exacerbate the power differential that can exist in sexual relationships. The deliberate exploitation of HIV to extract revenge can be regarded as a type of physical and psychological torture, particularly in light of the use of violence and rape as an expression of that power. This dynamic is particularly evident in El vuelo de la reina. To better comprehend the destructive potentials of this sort of torturous revenge and the manipulative desires of the victimizer to thoroughly dominate his/her conquest, I recur to the theories of Elaine Scarry’s A Body in Pain.
Scarry argues in her initial chapter, entitled "The Structure of Torture: The Conversion of Real Pain into the Fiction of Power", that during an act of torture, the physical pain being inflicted onto the victim by the torturer is " so incontestably real that it seems to confer its quality of ‘incontestable reality’ on that power that has brought it into being. It is, of course, precisely because the reality of that power is so highly contestable, the regime so unstable, that torture is being used" (27). As Scarry goes on to explain, "What assists the conversion of pain into the fiction of absolute power is an obsessive, self-conscious display of agency. On the simplest level the agent displayed is the weapon" (27). In this case, the weapon is HIV-infected body rather than a more tangible form of weaponry.
In Eloy Martínez’s text, the protagonist struggles with a faltering sense of agency over his own life, and consequently, obsessively tries to reassert his power vis-à-vis violence and some of the mechanisms of torture outlined by Scarry. I argue that the deliberate transmission of HIV through rape and violence is akin to the torture that Scarry examines and theorizes.
In addition to this obvious manifestation of domination through rape, torture, and murder, I also analyze the allegorical meaning of dominance as an attempt by the protagonist to exert his masculinity and in that way, cling to the vestiges of authority that traditionally accompanied it, particularly in the authoritarian society that lingers in the not-too-distant past of this narrative. To enlighten this discussion, I recur to literary critic, Rebecca E. Biron’s, study on the connection between murder and masculinity. In this work, Biron focuses on works that "explore the cliché of proving virility through violence…" (7). She goes on to argue that "when successful manliness is associated with power over women, and successful male citizenship is associated with obeying laws designed in collective male interest, then the criminal male who kills simultaneously celebrates and undermines hegemonic masculinity" (8).
While Biron succinctly problematizes the duality of masculinity in the social and institutional realms of societies with clearly delineated laws governing behavior, I explore this association in a text that does not plainly depict an institutional authority that condemns murder, particularly murder against women, thereby examining the residual effects of an omnipotent dictatorship that was complicit in the torture and elimination of thousands of citizens and provided a model for the convergence of murder and masculinity on the state level. El vuelo de la reina is a post-dictatorial work, but I argue that the expectation of supreme masculine authority that was seen during the dictatorship continues to inform the behavior of its protagonist. In the end, however, as Biron illustrates in her studies, the enactment of murder to assert one’s masculinity is indicative of the true lack of power that these individuals possess, both within a society that lacks clear direction and as individuals whose control over their own lives is compromised by the appearance of AIDS.
El vuelo de la reina
Eloy Martínez’s novel centers on the relationship between Argentine newspaper editor, Camargo, and Reina Remis, the reporter with whom he becomes intimately involved and carries on an all-consuming, torrid affair. Camargo, as an older, power-driven man, goes to great lengths throughout the relationship to infiltrate and subtly control nearly every aspect of Reina’s life, overseeing her work at the newspaper, her choice in apartments, her travel plans, and ultimately, her daily existence through an elaborate surveillance system that allows him to spy on her from a rented room across the street from her apartment. Slowly their relationship begins to degrade and Camargo suspects that Reina is seeing someone else. His suspicions are soon confirmed when Reina terminates their relationship because she loves another man. As he feels the reins of control begin to slip, Camargo increasingly turns to intimidation and violence, ultimately striking Reina in the face. However, she doesn’t succumb to his physical domination, but rather continues to rebuff him. This rejection and betrayal prove to be too much for Camargo, catapulting him into a state of extreme obsessive behavior in which he strives to find a way to once again dominate Reina and prove to her and himself that "vos sos quien sos, Camargo. Nadie puede dejarte" (217).
While formulating his plan, he begins to fear that her affair with another man led to the contraction of a sexually transmitted disease, consequently putting Camargo at risk. He reasons with himself that "no le importó infectarte con los chancros de su viaje" (217) y que "acaso ha tenido compasión de vos al infectarte el alma" (237).Through the perceived affront committed against him through Reina’s indiscretions, he reasons that he is justified in seeking vengeance. In essence, the revenge plot is set in motion by paranoid imaginations of a worst-case scenario that are never verified, but rather, become reality in Camargo’s mind. In this case, the specter of STD infection, coupled with his fervent desire to regain dominance over Reina, eventually lead him to take action and execute a plan of revenge.
He reasons that he must attack her at the exact point of his loss and her betrayal- her sexuality. Throughout their affair, Reina and, more specifically, her body, represented the idealized, sexualized female form: Camargo not only had the pleasure of fantasizing about her, but as her boyfriend, had the privilege of communing with her physically and sexually. When she terminates their relationship, he loses the access he once enjoyed to her body, and consequently, to her sexuality. Therefore, he can no longer tolerate that she continue to be a sexualized being, particularly one who offers her body to another man. Through his plan of revenge, he aims to taint her via a virus that he hopes will complicate (and in his mind, eliminate), all future sexual relationships.
In order to extract his revenge, Camargo must be certain that Reina is indeed exposed to HIV. This is significant because, despite the lack of control that Camargo experiences through the dual effects of being betrayed and possibly exposed to HIV, he cannot function as a dominating body, regardless of his sadistic desire to extract revenge on Reina personally. He has never confirmed his own suspicions that Reina infected him with HIV, and therefore, lacks the biological weaponry necessary to carry out the plan he has developed. Ironically, he is rendered doubly impotent, first by the loss of a sexual partner and consequently, by his inability to physically and sexually dominate Reina as he seeks revenge. Because of this ambiguity about his own health status, he must effectively utilize another’s body to infect Reina. To achieve this goal, he turns his focus onto the two homeless people who live outside of Reina’s building.
He has seen them on multiple occasions and has surmised that they are refugees from the war in Kosovo who paid dearly to come to Buenos Aires, only to find themselves living in the street. They desperately want to return to their homeland with the aid of new passports and identities, thus creating an opportunity for Camargo to manipulate them to achieve the revenge that he desires. At first his mental scheme of how to achieve that revenge is imprecise; he only knows he wants to include Momir, the homeless man, in his plan because he intuits that "él puede ser el instrumento de tu castigo. Su hedor, la irredimible suciedad de su cuerpo, el asco de sus manos: eso es lo menos que merece la traición de la mujer" (218). At this point, he wants to humiliate Reina and destroy the pleasurable connection between sexuality and her body by making Momir rape Reina. The desire to have Momir carry out this vengeance shows that Camargo wants not only to overpower and dominate her through violation, but also humiliate and degrade her by planning her violation by someone who, according to Camargo "debería(n) ser borrado de la Tierra: utilizado para la servidumbre y luego aniquilado" (237). The fact that he must bribe another man to carry out this act of sexual and physical domination further highlights Camargo’s metaphorical impotence. The use of rape here is important because it accentuates the fact that in order to control another person through her own body, a violent overtaking of that body is utilized in an attempt to force a fragmentation of self and thus, eliminate agency on the part of the victim.
The rhetoric of rape resonates with one of the predominant metaphors described by Sontag in AIDS and its Metaphors: that of the military metaphor. Much of the discussion about HIV and AIDS tends to recur to these metaphors in an attempt to conceptualize the virus. It is not at all uncommon to hear about the "war on AIDS" that many public health ministries have launched to combat the threatening virus that is conceived as an invading force, much like an invading army. It is neither welcome nor expected and therefore, much of the rhetoric focuses on strategies of defense against this virulent invader. AIDS theorist and commentator, Michael S. Sherry, in his article "The Language of War in AIDS Discourse" focuses on this pervasive metaphor and the fact that it is often used in an attempt to paint a dire picture of the current public health situation and therefore, mobilize either the government or the gay and lesbian community to fight back or, in the language of the war metaphor, stage a counter attack against the invader that is HIV (in Murphy and Poirer 50).
On the individual level, physiological discourse turns to this same metaphor when describing the way in which the virus enters the body and overtakes the immune system. Much of the medical discourse surrounding HIV transmission recurs to the notion of an ambush carried out by the virus against the cells of the body, ultimately annihilating the healthy defenses of the body and leading to the destruction of the body from the inside out. Sontag illustrates how disease is seen as an invasion of alien organisms. The body must try to use its "immunological defenses" and "aggressive" medicines and therapies to try to combat that invader. This discourse, in turn, contributes to the stigmatization of those infected with the disease (97-99). In fact, she argues for the destruction and retirement of this metaphor over all others because of this stigmatizing effect and the overzealousness of its descriptive potentials (182). When examining these common discourses in both societal and individual models of infection, one can see how these same metaphors resonate in the image of rape.
Steven F. Krueger deconstructs this metaphorical language of war by showing how the keywords associated with HIV infection can also connote a sexual encounter. He explains how HIV "penetrates" the cell membrane, "attacks" the cell’s nucleus, and ultimately "takes over the cellular machinery" (36). He argues that "homosexual imagery is evoked by the description of cellular DNA that is made to "bend over" so that the virus can sneakily insert itself into the host chromosomes" (39). I would argue that this same imagery also evokes the violent actions of rape, in which the attacked body is "invaded" by the "dominating" force of the rapist, ultimately forcing the victim to succumb to the overwhelming power of the attacker. A woman who is attacked by surprise often is rendered defenseless, just as the cell that is invaded by HIV. Therefore, we can see that in the case of Eloy Martínez’s depiction, the rape committed against Reina not only is a physical and sexual attack, but a biological one as well.
The desire to physically overpower and disgust Reina is only part of the revenge that Camargo hopes to impose on her. Instead, he wants the rape not only to affect her during the act itself, but to leave a lasting impression for her lifetime. Camargo reasons that "ya que la mujer te ha traicionado…no vas a permitir que nada en ella quede sin mancillar ni herir, nada de esa sangre sin infectar" (237). This desire to physically damage Reina internally and externally requires the usage of a weapon that, once it enters the body, continues on its destructive path from the inside out. That weapon is HIV, or "el mal" and it is something that Momir, the homeless refugee from a far-away land carries. "El mal" is never explicitly defined as HIV in this text, but the use of the referent "el mal" to connote HIV is one that can be seen in both literary works and critical studies of HIV (2). None-the-less, it is up to the reader to connect the referent to the textual clues provided and ultimately supply the names HIV and AIDS. Eloy Martínez offers these clues, first through visual imagery: "Ahora que has vuelto a ver su canino único despegándose casi de las encías violáceas y la sombra de una escara despuntándole detrás de las orejas, a pesar de que su aspecto es todavía saludable, estás seguro de que Momir encarna el mal" (223). "El mal" that Momir carries is strongly suggested to be HIV after he rapes the drugged Reina and his partner asks, accusingly: "Por qué no te cuidaste? ¿No le advertiste que estás enfermo?" to which Momir responds "Lo quiso así. Qué importa la enfermedad" (239).
In addition to the lack of definitive naming of the disease that Momir is infected with, the very use of Momir as the carrier of the HIV virus is significant, given the treatment of AIDS throughout literature. As was previously mentioned, there is a common conception that AIDS and HIV attack from outside both the body and the community. This belief is often extrapolated to the extreme by situating the blame outside of the community on "foreigners" or "others" in an attempt to exculpate one’s own community and emotionally distance oneself from the reality of the disease. This perception is complicated, however, by the very name given to the refugee: Momir. The suffix of the name (mir) means peace in Serbo-Croatian.(3) The juxtaposition of the peaceful moniker and the violent actions enacted by the body inscribed with that name create a sense of dissonance. On the surface, Momir incarnates the disease-carrying foreigner who poses a direct threat to the new society he inhabits, but his name suggests that, to those who have the cultural and linguistic knowledge necessary to "translate" him, he would not have naturally posed the daunting threat that was previously perceived, had it not been for Camargo’s manipulation. Never-the-less, no one, especially Camargo, takes the time to look past his "foreign" exterior, choosing instead to operate on the xenophobic belief that he incarnates the pernicious "plague" that inhabits his body. He essentially becomes the "foreign" and "deadly" disease that is feared by the modern Argentine society represented in the novel, thus giving credence to the misconception and further exacerbating the cycle of blaming foreigners and others for the maladies of society.
This representation perpetuates one of the pervading misconceptions surrounding AIDS, namely, that it is from elsewhere rather than being found in one’s own society. Cultural theorist David B. Morris, in his study on postmodernism and illness, identifies this origin plot as one of the most common plots found in AIDS-related literature. These plots "...seize on the exotic, the unfamiliar, and the remote, on some distant site of deviance and otherness" (211). In fact, many theorists define this tendency to situate the origin of AIDS elsewhere, often in the third world. Paula A. Treichler adds: "The term exotic, sometimes used to describe a virus that appears to have originated ‘elsewhere’ (but ‘elsewhere’ like ‘other’ is not a fixed category) is an important theme running through AIDS literature" (in Crimp 46).
Sander L. Gilman mentions this conception by bringing attention to the groups seen to be most at risk in the 1980s: The 4-H’s (4): homosexuals, heroin addicts, hemophiliacs, and Haitians. Gilman further notes that nations that attempted to trace the origins of HIV invariably turned outward as they pointed their accusatory fingers. To the United States, AIDS was either an African or Haitian disease, while its origins were placed firmly in the United States in the eyes of France and the former Soviet Union (100). This tendency to transfer blame and origin onto foreigners often leads to a further connection between marginalized members of society and AIDS, due to the fact that foreigners are often lumped into the same subjugated category as society’s other outcasts, such as homosexuals, drug users, and prostitutes. In Eloy Martínez’s novel, Momir experiences multiple marginalizations: as a "refugiado de la guerra de Kosovo" (150), he has been displaced from his native land, being forced to flee to escape the violence and persecution of the war. In his new society, Argentina, he inhabits yet another marginalized space: not only is he a foreigner, but he is a carrier of a deadly disease, leaving him as a homeless outcast of society.
By intentionally exposing Reina to a disease that is often associated with foreigners and marginalized citizens, Camargo aims to punish her for having an affair with a foreign writer. He also strives to marginalize her by isolating her from her support network in the days following the rape. When Reina finally awakes from the drug-induced state that Camargo put her in, she is extremely disoriented, not being able to understand what happened to her or how multiple days have passed without her knowledge. She tries to call for help, but no one comes to her aid, thus isolating her emotionally. She has lost physical control of her body as she stumbles about the apartment. When she finally sees the blood between her legs and feels the excruciating pain emanating from her body, she only has a bodily knowledge of what happened but is unable to connect that feeling with mental certainty. In the words of Elaine Scarry, she has undergone a torturous session of "unmaking" in which Camargo strives to utilize pain and objectification to display what he ultimately believes to be his absolute power over her. This absolute power is in actuality fictitious, but by attacking Reina from multiple angles, Camargo deludes himself into believing it to be real.
These perceptions are key to the idea of the revenge narrative. As Jacoby pointed out in the introduction to her work on revenge, the avengers who strive for retribution following a perceived grievance committed against them often eschew society’s normal channels for achieving justice, such as the criminal justice system, and strike out on their own vengeful quests. Often operating independently, their perceived affronts, whether imagined or real, motivate their redemptive actions, all in an attempt to reestablish control and power, not only over their own lives, but those of their offenders. In Camargo’s case, his desire for revenge primarily originated from being rejected and subsequently losing his influence in Reina’s life. How Camargo processed both affronts was key to the type of revenge he eventually plotted. Fearing a loss of control and agency, he created a plan that would give him the feeling of dominance in both his life and Reina’s. His obsessive desire for an omniscient presence is also reminiscent of the authoritarian regimes that plagued Argentina from 1976-1982. Camargo calls to mind the dictators who refused to tolerate the slightest deviation from their established laws and rules. In an attempt to dominate Reina, Camargo recurs to similar tactics that were used during the authoritarian regime: intimidation, torture, and ultimately, murder.
One can see vestiges of torture sessions in the tactics that Camargo used to attack and violate Reina. His primary weapon was rape, used for a myriad of purposes: to humiliate and degrade her, to disgust and frighten her, to physically harm her, to destroy her sexually, and ultimately, to infect her with a potentially fatal virus. This one act, symbolically one that Camargo lacked the power to carry out, mimicked the primary physical act of torture in that its goal was to inflict pain, in its numerous forms. By locating the attack in her own home and, more specifically, in the room and on the bed once used for lovemaking between Camargo and Reina, he aims to reduce her world to that miniscule space, thereby isolating her and converting her once safe and comfortable surroundings into weapons themselves because they no longer function as everyday items, but rather, have become accomplices in her destruction. Furthermore, she is isolated and cut off from help outside of her home, a seclusion that Reina herself recognizes when the doctor she calls for assistance naively suggests that she denounce the rape to the police, to which she replies: "¿Cómo me aconseja que vaya a la policía?...¿Sabe qué le sucede a una mujer acá cuando se queja de lo que yo me estoy quejando?" (262) Consequently, in the hours after the rape, Reina is a fragmented, diseased, physically disintegrated being that seems unable to exert substantial agency over her situation. "Está privada de cuerpo, tal como vos querías, Camargo, no puede estar en sí misma ni tampoco en nadie" (254). In short, she is exactly what Camargo hoped for because he assumes he can manipulate her at her weakest moment and "rescue" her, thereby reasserting his control over her. In the end, this façade of ultimate power quickly erodes, revealing behind it the agency of Reina and her desires to remake herself.
To Camargo’s surprise, Reina’s will cannot be broken, as she continually reiterates that she will not reconcile with him. Shortly after the attack, she consults with a doctor, who immediately conducts tests for various STDs. There, the realization of the gravity of her situation begins to sink in:
Tanto el laboratorio como el ginecólogo confirman lo que temía: el hombre que la atacó estaba infectado por una miríada de males venéreos. Antes de cuatro a seis semanas no le podrán decir si, además era un HIV positivo. Lo usual es atacar la enfermedad antes de que aparezca. El médico prescribe una batería de antibióticos y, desde ahora mismo – insiste: ahora mismo- Reina debe tomar el cóctel anti-SIDA (265).
Despite the trauma inflicted on her and the realization of the potential future she may face as an HIV-positive person, Reina chooses to focus her energies on healing from the attack and caring for herself. She is determined to avoid all contact with Camargo. Emblematic of this internal shift in focus is her decision to flee the hectic life of the city and spend time alone at her family’s country estate. Initially, she is successful in reintegrating her body and mind and fusing them in the common quest to regain control over her life. However, in spite of her efforts to heal and regain agency over her own body and mind through this retreat to her family’s estate, she cannot escape the sadistic determination of Camargo. Once he realizes that Reina will not be possessed by him, Camargo unravels completely.
Although he originally recognized the importance of her survival after the rape because "si no sobrevivía, el castigo que le había infligido no serviría de nada", (254) his need to completely dominate her overtakes him, leaving him unable to even allow her to live with HIV. In the end, he murders her, realizing that only through the complete destruction of Reina’s entire being is he able to be certain that she will no longer betray him. In the grand scheme of the narrative development, Camargo’s quest to control and punish Reina for abandonment and betrayal passes through many phases and levels, attacking her mentally (through the destruction of her career), emotionally (through his sadistic manipulation, threats, and isolation), physically (by hitting and drugging her), sexually (through the rape and transmission of HIV), and ultimately, by murdering her. HIV functioned as one of the myriad of weapons utilized by Camargo to attempt to achieve ultimate domination over Reina. Although the use of HIV as a weapon is a relatively new addition to the arsenal in sexual warfare, in the end the destruction wrought by HIV on the body failed to yield the immediate and extreme results that Camargo craved; therefore, his impatience led him to the ultimate weapon of total annihilation: the revolver.
The fact that Camargo recurred to such drastic measures in the end, particularly after carefully devising a scheme that would punish Reina by forcing her to live as an HIV-positive individual, ultimately illustrates Camargo’s impotence and the façade of power that is rapidly disintegrating. When all of his plans fail and Reina still refuses to succumb to his control, Camargo’s decision to utilize the phallic weaponry that is the revolver reveals not only his lack of authority, but his lack of masculine authority over Reina. In this sense, Eloy Martínez’s text shows some of the tendencies that Rebecca E. Biron examined in her study of the confluence of murder and masculinity. One of the conclusions that Biron reached was that the texts she studied "…paradoxically resist violence against women by reenacting it, providing staged enjoyment of radical transgression at the same time that they force readers to criticize static and destructive dominant fictions" (150).
One of the primary "destructive dominant fictions" that Eloy Martínez’s text reveals is that of absolute masculine authority. Each of Camargo’s actions reveal a man still clinging to the promise of what R.W. Connell termed "phallic privilege," (in Biron 8) still convinced of his power simply because he is a male. Through Camargo’s eyes, Reina is a possession rather than an individual, resulting in the devaluation of human life. Throughout the conception and enactment of his plan, Camargo is only concerned with exerting his own power over someone that he views as "his", and proves a willingness to use any means necessary to exercise that power and re-conquer Reina. This complete disregard for human life combined with the acceptance of torturous means to exert power was commonplace during the authoritarian rule, thus creating masculine identities in which violence and intimidation were not only commonplace, but lauded. On an allegorical level, this text seems to posit the question: What happens to the perceptions of masculinity that were created under authoritarianism once the dictatorship ends? What Camargo’s actions reveal is that to a certain point they continue to function in the new society, despite the transformation to a democratic system. Essentially, Camargo still exhibits dictatorial behavior despite the lack of the authoritarian structure to support it.
The echoes of authoritarianism that can be found in Camargo’s vengeful actions against Reina also call to mind one of the common metaphors of the regime, specifically expressed by Admiral César A. Guzetti, that depicted Argentina as a wounded social body being "…contaminated by a disease that corrodes its insides and forms antibodies. These antibodies must not be considered in the same way that one considers a germ" (Graziano 133). The metaphorical use of disease as a means to justify social cleansing capitalizes on the fear associated with real diseases and plagues, thus lending credence to the "need" for a strong government to "cure" the wounded social body, at least in the minds of those in power. Camargo functions in a similar fashion. The corrosive contaminant plaguing him is not the "subversive" elements metaphorically recast as dangerous antibodies by the Argentine government, but a "subversive" girlfriend who refuses to abide by his rules. Like the actual military regimes before him, Camargo, functioning much like in his own life, recasts Reina as a diseased entity, thus obliterating her individuality by envisioning her as an infested, corroded body carrying a potentially lethal disease (HIV). He then sets out to "cure" her in much the same way that the military junta "cured" those deemed subversive and disruptive to the social body: through torture, manipulation, and a quest for physical and psychological destruction. To attempt to justify his actions, he encapsulates them in a rhetoric of revenge, thus shifting the blame unto Reina rather than examining his own role in both the unraveling of their relationship and ultimately, her destruction.
In essence, Camargo’s personal spectacle of revenge mirrors the one
played out by his country’s government only 25 years ago. The
combination of these elements in a contemporary political novel
function as a social and civic criticism of a society that once again
is mired in corruption and scandal and that on many levels, still has
not abandoned facets of the authoritarian mentality. The use of the
AIDS-infected body as a weapon reveals a society that has yet to
completely eradicate the totalitarian mindset, which for some, like
Camargo, is still a justifiable way to operate. AIDS becomes yet
another weapon to attempt to assert a masculine authority that, until
1983, was hailed as a virtue of strong citizens and a strong
government. While the weaponry may have changed and the society is
different on the surface, Eloy Martínez reveals that some of the
underlying conceptions of identity and power dynamics are still lagging
behind in their transformation.
(1). This is not the only method of transmission, but will serve as the central focus of this chapter. It should be noted that HIV can also be passed from mother to fetus, from the sharing of tainted needles, or through the transfusion of infected blood from one patient to another. In essence, a person is at risk of contracting the virus whenever he/she comes into direct contact with infected bodily fluids. It is worth noting, however, that when the virus first appeared in the United States, it was given the acronym GRID (Gay Related Immuno Deficiency) because it appeared to only strike homosexuals. (Treichler in Crimp) As evidence later surfaced that it was possible to contract HIV through means other than homosexual contact, some of the damage had already been done to public perception. There are countless anecdotes about this deep-seated belief, not only in the United States, that AIDS still predominantly affects homosexuals. Even if one examines the corpus of literature from Latin America in which AIDS and HIV appear, some of the most notable authors and works are from homosexual men. For example, two of the works that have received the majority of critical attention for their treatment of HIV/AIDS are Reinaldo Arenas’ Antes que anochezca and Severo Sarduy’s Pájaros de la playa. Both authors were openly homosexual and intertwined the themes of homosexuality and illness into their works. There are still very few works from Latin America either by or about heterosexuals that deal with AIDS. The three works examined in this chapter focus specifically on heterosexual transmission.
(2). In her article "El mal del siglo veinte: Poesía y SIDA," Kuhnheim not only utilizes this referent in the title and body of her critical article about elegy and AIDS poetry, but cross-references the vocabulary "el mal" with Mario Bellatín’s novella Salón de Belleza, where it is also used in reference to a disease that, through textual clues, is clearly AIDS.
(3). Personal correspondence with Ksenija Bilbija, January, 2004.