The Transposed Heads: Rethinking the Erotic Triangle in Pedro Cabiya’s La cabeza(1)
John Lind McAfee, Southern Methodist University
“What we commonly call friends and friendships are nothing but an acquaintance and connection, contracted either by accident or upon some design, by means of which there happens some little intercourse betwixt our souls; but, in the friendship I speak of, they mingle and melt into one piece, with so universal a mixture that there is left no more sign of the seam by which they were first conjoined” (Montaigne 271). This statement, which appears in Michael de Montaigne’s essay “Of Friendship,” presents an unexpected and problematic view of friendship. The phrase “mingle and melt into one piece” invokes, for me, Georges Bataille’s work Erotism: Death and Sensuality. Bataille describes a world of “discontinuous beings” (15), but the connection that Montaigne describes challenges this state of separation, suggesting that friends are continuous with each other. Although Bataille insists that death is the only true route to continuity, he argues that one can arrive as close as is possible to continuity with another person through eroticism, which leads to the breakdown of personal barriers (17). When viewed through the lens of Bataille, the closeness that Montaigne describes between the very best of friends becomes colored by and in fact even contingent upon erotic desire.
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick explores similar ideas in Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (1985), in the form of the “homosocial,” a term that refers very generally to “social bonds between persons of the same sex,” (Sedgwick 1). She notes that the term can be used to describe modern friendships, citing specifically that “it is applied to such activities as ‘male bonding’” (1). For Sedgwick, these bonds are indeed rooted in desire, “the affective or social force, the glue… that shapes an important relationship,” (2). While she makes no firm conclusion as to whether this desire is sexual, she does suggest that there is a continuum between the homosocial and the homosexual, and that this continuum differs for men and women. The male homosocial strongly rejects any connection with the homosexual (1-3). Rather than consummating their homosocial relationships through sexual encounters, straight men establish their connections by exchanging women. As Sedgwick writes: “… Lévi-Strauss’s normative man uses a woman as a “conduit of a relationship” in which the true partner is a man” (26). By acting through a woman, a socially and personally acceptable channel of erotic desire, two men are able to draw closer to one another. In this process, the woman involved is reduced to an object that can be exchanged “for the primary purpose of cementing the bonds of men with men” (25-26). The female homosocial and homosexual are not nearly as divided as those of their male counterparts: “women in our society who love women [and] women who… promote the interests of other women, are pursuing congruent and closely related activities” (2-3). Since her book is mainly about the male homosocial and the exchanges that fuel it, Sedgwick spends no more time analyzing the female homosocial. One of my goals here will be to explore the female homosocial and examine its mechanisms of establishment. Furthermore, one must consider that in a world in which men and women interact constantly, the male and female homosocial interact as well. Referring to her own work, Sedgwick writes: “much better analyses are needed of the relations between female-homosocial and male-homosocial structures” (18). Another goal of my work, then, will be to examine the ways in which these two systems work together. Pedro Cabiya’s novel La cabeza (2007) provides an excellent opportunity for such an analysis; using this work, it is possible to examine both the male and female homosocial and also to shed a bit of light on the relationship between these structures.
Even though twenty-seven years have passed since Between Men was published, surprisingly little scholarly work has emerged to address these topics that Kosofsky Sedgwick practically invites her readers to study. To be sure, one can find numerous works addressing female homosociality and many about lesbianism, but few of these seem to approach the topic from a similar angle to Sedgwick. There are a few notable exceptions.(2) Perhaps the most prominent is Terry Castle’s The Apparitional Lesbian (1993), in which she explores what happens when a second woman is introduced into the male-female-male triangle model that Sedgwick employs: “Female bonding, at least hypothetically, destabilizes the ‘canonical’ triangular arrangement of male desire, is an affront to it, and ultimately – in the radical form of lesbian bonding – displaces it entirely” (Castle 72). For Castle, a second woman entering the original triangle creates a second triangle, female-male-female, and when the two women come together in an exclusive female-female relationship, the original male-male homosocial bond is left without any foundation and collapses (73). Castle applies her new and improved model to a reading of Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Summer Will Show, and suggests that the novel “illustrates so neatly what we might take to be the underlying principle of lesbian narrative itself: namely, that for female bonding to ‘take,’ as it were, to metamorphose into explicit sexual desire, male bonding must be suppressed… in the absence of male homosocial desire, lesbian desire emerges” (84-85). Looking closely at the language Castle uses, it seems that she suggests that lesbian desire follows or results from the dissolution of the male homosocial, or occurs when male bonding is absent and does not impede it. Castle’s book leaves the reader with a question and a conundrum, then: Does the female homosocial “destabilize” the male homosocial (suggesting that the female homosocial preexists the male) or does it only occur or “take” when the male homosocial is “suppressed” or absent (suggesting that it follows the male)? A further issue is the fact that the male homosocial does not seem to enter very strongly into the novel she analyzes. According to her descriptions, the female protagonist of Summer Will Show is caught in a triangle of exchange between her father and her husband (Castle 82), but her father has died (82) and her friendless husband cannot find another man with whom to “retriangulate his relationship with his wife” (84). This situation is hardly ideal for an examination of how the male and female homosocial actively coexist and interact.(3)
Pedro Cabiya is a Puerto Rican author and has published several novels and collections of short stories. He is also a cultural critic and professor at the Universidad Iberoamericana. Cabiya’s earlier works were published in Aire, the literary supplement of newspaper Claridad. His Historias tremendas (short stories, 1999) was selected as «the best book of the year» by Pen Club International and by Instituto de Literatura Puertorriqueña. In 2003 Cabiya published another volume of short stories – Historias atroces – and in 2007, his first novel: La cabeza.
La cabeza presents a story that falls somewhere in-between science fiction and horror, and provides a chance to examine the male and female homosocial structures functioning strongly and simultaneously. His characters are involved in a complex web of relationships that are perhaps ideal illustrations of the homosocial. Daniel and his wife, Gloria, are involved in a terrible accident the night of their wedding, and Gloria is thrown from the car and trapped underneath. Through a combination of Daniel’s attempts to pull her free and a massive explosion, her body is severed at the bottom of her ribcage. Daniel’s older brother Ezequiel, a failed scientist and unscrupulous inventor, constructs a machine that will keep the upper half of Gloria alive. The brothers keep her highly drugged state to prevent her from becoming aware of her condition and panicking. Although Daniel keeps Gloria alive, he spends very little time with her, maintaining active affairs with his secretary, Marta, and Gloria’s live-in nurse, Raquel. However, Raquel and Gloria are also engaged in a sexual relationship, for Raquel can stimulate her by means of a special wire in the machine. Ezequiel convinces Daniel that Gloria should not be kept connected to the machine, as it is expensive and was only intended to be a temporary solution; he offers his services once again to provide a solution. Marta expresses extreme curiosity about Gloria and convinces Daniel to take her to the house; when they arrive, Marta is horrified by the sight of her, and begs Daniel to let Gloria die. Daniel is determined to proceed with his plan, and he dismisses Raquel without explanation. Ezequiel arrives and transplants Gloria’s head onto Marta’s body, preserving Marta’s own living head in a special capsule. Daniel resumes his life with Gloria almost as if nothing had happened, and places Marta’s head on his desk. However, one day, while Daniel eats lunch at his desk, Marta’s head begins to experience intense sexual pleasure. Since Ezequiel warned Daniel that Marta might continue to feel some connection with her body, and Marta has told him that she can always feel her body’s orgasms, Daniel knows that Gloria must be having sex with someone besides him. He rushes home to find that Gloria has left him for Raquel. It is important to consider that the narrator often speaks in a witty, humorous tone; the reader is meant to understand the novel not only as a piece of science fiction-horror but also as a platform for lightly poking fun at each of these two genres. Indeed, as a particularly relevant example, the Daniel’s dismay at the end of the novel makes one laugh at the fact that Gloria has left him for a woman. But this humorous air does not negate the novel’s usefulness in inspecting social and erotic bonds – it does quite the opposite. The simple fact that the reader laughs at this situation suggests that at some level it rings true, and that an in-depth look at the circumstances that bring this moment about may be quite revelatory.(4) An examination of Daniel and Ezequiel’s relationship shows that it is an example of Sedgwick’s male homosocial, while a similar look at the relationship between Gloria, Raquel, and Marta reveals the workings of female homosocial desire. A comparison of these relationships shows their sharp contrasts and their complex interrelationship.
One of the few complications of an analysis of La cabeza is the fact that Daniel and Ezequiel are brothers. Montaigne dismisses the consideration of brothers from his essay on the basis that “the complication of interests, the division of estates, the raising of one at the undoing of the other, does strangely weaken and slacken the fraternal tie” (267). Indeed, there is an aspect of sibling rivalry at play here, as the brothers are far from equals; their relationship displays a strong power hierarchy in which Ezequiel has almost complete control over Daniel. But their relationship is never seen to “weaken or slacken.” Instead, they perform the same kinds of homosocial exchanges that Sedgwick describes, indeed doing so to an extreme, which creates a very close bond between them. A scene in Ezequiel’s office demonstrates that the brothers have actually achieved significant continuity with each other and one can begin to see their power relationship:
-Tú propusiste que…
-Da igual – interrumpió Ezequiel - . Para llevarlo a cabo, sin embargo…pues, ya sabes: una de las partes involucradas tiene que ser sacrific…
-¡Ya te dije que…!
-Déjame terminar – volvió a cortar Ezequiel sosegadamente. (38-39)
The brothers’ ability to understand each other despite the omission of significant portions of their conversation shows the deep understanding they share. The way in which the conversation shifts almost seamlessly from one to the other demonstrates their continuity of language. But Ezequiel’s dominant nature is obvious in his interruptions which, although not as forceful as Daniel’s, are much more substantive. Other scenes demonstrate much more explicitly the power Ezequiel holds over Daniel. For example, a discussion of their childhood informs the reader that Ezequiel “estaba más que habituado a sacar a su hermano menor de todo tipo de embrollos. Por su parte, Daniel se había acostumbrado a acudir a su hermano cada vez que se le presentaba una dificultad. Por eso no es de extrañar que los dedos de Daniel marcaran automáticamente el número de Ezequiel la noche del accidente” (46). This statement shows the extent to which Daniel relies on Ezequiel. However, as the narrator continues, “La actitud de Ezequiel, sin embargo, no era altruista en lo absoluto. A cambio de la protección incondicional que le brindaba su hermano mayor, Daniel entregaba a Ezequiel toda su mesada; le hacía mandados… le servía de asistente en juegos científicos… [y le] suplía a Ezequiel las lagartijas, ratas, perros realengos y gatos callejeros que necesitaba para sus operaciones [y] experimentos” (46). Although Ezequiel’s support is described as being “unconditional,” this passage demonstrates that it clearly is not, for Ezequiel expects to receive something in return for his help. Already one can see that their relationship is based on an exchange of animals and services. When looking at the nature of these animals they exchange, it is interesting to note that they are all stray, outcast animals, or vermin; they are marginalized, making them Others. The status of these creatures of exchange reveals the brothers’ low opinion of women, who become their objects later on. But even before they begin to exchange women, the brothers remind one of the exchange economies that Gayle Rubin describes in “The Traffic of Women,” where she cites “one of the most striking features of primitive societies: the extent to which giving, receiving, and reciprocating gifts dominate social intercourse” (Rubin 43). The brothers’ arrangements are distinct in several clear ways, of course, namely that the systems Rubin describes are usually between families rather than within them, and that neither party necessarily gains from the gift transaction (43). How, then, can one make sense of this relationship that defies analyses by both Montaigne and Rubin, presenting both strong continuity and strong power disparity? The answer may come from David M. Halperin, who in How to do the History of Homosexuality (2002) writes: “sexual love, at least as it is viewed within the cultural horizons of the male world, is all about penetration and therefore all about position, superiority and inferiority, rank and status, gender and difference. Friendship… by contrast, is all about sameness” (Halperin 121). We might initially be tempted to place Daniel and Ezequiel on the homosocial end of the male homosocial spectrum, but there is not “sameness” in their relationship. Their power difference creates an element of sexuality. Cabiya’s novel certainly does not mention a homosexual relationship between Daniel and Ezequiel. But beginning with an isolated word from Rubin, one can trace a kind of implicit homosexuality: the word “intercourse.” This word has several definitions, one of which is particularly applicable in this situation: “exchange especially of thoughts or feelings” (“Intercourse” def. 2). All of the brothers’ exchanges, then, could be described as kinds of intercourse: the continuous flow of ideas in the conversation in Ezequiel’s office, the exchange of lab animals and services, and finally the exchange of women can all be described as intercourse between them. This intercourse is then sexualized in the sense that it establishes and reinforces the power hierarchy between the brothers. Ultimately, then, this relationship does not fit very well in either of the two extremes of the male homosocial continuum into which Sedgwick says men like to lump themselves; it is certainly not a friendship, but is also not a homosexual relationship. In this way, Daniel and Ezequiel’s relationship underlines Sedgwick’s insistence that the male homosocial exists as a spectrum, but emphasizes that the desire for which women become conduits can in fact be sexual, but is made socially acceptable in this process.
A series of flashbacks Daniel has immediately after the car accident shows how important Ezequiel is in Daniel’s life and introduces the idea of the brothers’ exchange of women. In addition, it shows one of the ways in which Ezequiel holds Daniel in their relationship. Before considering the accident, it is important to realize that Daniel seems to have an obsessive desire for control. In the opening chapter, Daniel gets ready for the day: “Había puesto en orden las medicinas del gavetero, había doblado y guardado la ropa limpia… se había bañado y vestido, hasta café había hecho… Estaba delante del espejo peinándose la rebelde cabellera. Irradiaba un aura de pulcritud, con su nítida indumentaria y calzado impecable” (9). Daniel obviously cares greatly for putting things in order, completing all necessary chores, and dressing himself immaculately. But his current occupation in this section, his attempts to tame his rebellious hair, show that despite his attempts to control all of the aspects of his life, this control is never complete. But when Daniel regains consciousness after the accident, “descubrió que estaba de cabeza” (24). The world he tries so desperately to control has been flipped upside down literally and figuratively, and he cannot even grasp exactly what is happening right away. Daniel had been driving the car, and the accident symbolizes a loss of control not only over the car itself but also over his broader circumstances. Daniel cannot even remember his own identity at first. It takes him a much longer time remember Gloria, however, as he progresses through a series of frustrating flashbacks. One of these flashbacks shows him his own wedding, from the very same day as the accident. He remembers a woman’s presence, but cannot remember her face or identity: “cada vez que Daniel trataba de enfocar el rostro de la mujer que lo acompañaba, todo se derretía, se distorsionaba o se hundía en las sombras justo cuando está a punto de verla, como en las pesadillas” (26). On the other hand, Daniel can recognize Ezequiel instantly and clearly: “Su última visión fue la de la mujer caminando pausadamente, escoltada por un anciano, a lo largo de una alfombra roja sobre la que dos niñas esparcían pétalos de rosa. Él esperaba en un altar fastuoso al lado de un hombre con espejuelos en el que reconoció inmediatamente a su hermano mayor, Ezequiel. Ambos vestían tuxedos; ambos afeitados al ras, aliñados y nítidos” (26). In this last vision, Gloria remains hidden behind her veil. Throughout these memories, Gloria’s face is hidden, melted, or distorted, while Ezequiel’s is clean and in sharp definition. This disparity in recognition demonstrates Ezequiel’s prevalence and importance in Daniel’s life. Furthermore, this scene brings the idea of the wedding as exchange into the novel. Both Sedgwick and Rubin comment on this idea, and both cite the same quote from Lèvi-Strauss: “the total relationship of exchange which constitutes marriage is not established between a man and a woman, but between two groups of men, and the woman figures only as one of the objects in the exchange, not as one of the partners” (Rubin 45, Sedgwick 26). In this wedding, both Daniel and Ezequiel wait at the altar to receive Gloria from the man who hands her off; they receive her together. Having spent his entire life giving Ezequiel his allowance and his toys (46), Daniel should hardly expect to receive Gloria entirely for himself either. Interestingly, through this sequence, Daniel’s repeated attempts to discover her identity fail, suggesting a broader inability to completely grasp or possess her at all. Gloria actively hides herself throughout the sequence, remaining just out of reach, captivating Daniel by intrigue and preventing him from completely taking possession of her. In one of the visions “Daniel está sentado en medio de la oscuridad. Víctor Frankenstein danza jubiloso, mientras su monstruo Adán ensaya los primeros pasos. Una mujer se abraza temerosa… Daniel se aparta para verla mejor, pero en la penumbra es imposible. Ella le cierra los ojos con las manos y otra vez lo cubre de besos” (25-26). The fact that she actively and purposefully covers his eyes so that he cannot see her hints at a feminine world into which Daniel cannot see and cannot enter. It is a subversion of the male homosocial seen on the screen in Frankenstein and a sign of what is to come from the female homosocial, particularly at the very end of the novel. Immediately after the accident, however, Gloria is left powerless and at the brothers’ whim. The situation that now unfolds reminds one much more of the movie Gloria and Daniel are watching: Ezequiel is to play the mad scientist, Daniel the Igor-like provider of supplies, and Gloria becomes the monster. Gravely injured in the crash, Gloria quickly becomes an object of exchange between Daniel and Ezequiel in an act that perhaps serves as a consummation of the marriage into which the brothers receive Gloria.
The exchange begins when Daniel calls Ezequiel for help the night of the accident. Daniel is accustomed not only to calling his brother for help, but also to providing him with lab animals and pieces of equipment. Although he is in a state of panic and might not consciously realize the extreme approach Ezequiel might take, Daniel is so well trained that he calls without thinking; but on some level, he must be aware that he is handing Gloria over to Ezequiel as another object for experimentation. When Ezequiel arrives on the scene, he stuns the panicking Daniel with an electric shock. After that, “Lo acostó en el asiento trasero [de su coche]. A Gloria la guardó en el baúl, y partió hacia su casa a toda velocidad” (51). Ezequiel places Daniel in the back seat, saving the front seat – the position of control in the driver’s seat – for himself. The back seat is still, however, a place for a person; the verb “acostar” also shows that he does it with a certain amount of care. He stows Gloria in the trunk, using a place and a verb reserved for objects. When Ezequiel returns her to Daniel, she has been further objectified, in a very literal sense: half of her body has been replaced with a machine. Furthermore, the brothers keep her highly drugged and oblivious of her surroundings and her condition; she is not allowed to take account of her situation or make any sort of decision for herself. Having partially lost her body, her senses, her mind, and her control over any of these, Gloria has been reduced to an object. Daniel holds almost complete power over her. He controls her physiologically: Turning off any of the machines would kill her quickly. He also controls her mentally and psychologically through the sedatives, antidepressants, and painkillers he administers. The machine becomes a symbol of male power, a means of control. This situation demonstrates how Ezequiel holds Daniel in their relationship: he lets Daniel regain control in a situation where he had lost it, completely. When Ezequiel gives the women back in a way that lets Daniel have power over them, Daniel feels that he is also in a position of power, and is satisfied.
This power triangle can also be seen in Daniel’s relationship with Marta. Since Marta is Daniel’s secretary, there is already a power disparity between them. Their sexual relationship only furthers it, and allows Daniel to regain control the few times that Marta threatens to overpower him. For example, when he brings Marta to see Gloria, and Marta grows extremely angry at him, Daniel regains control of the situation by seducing her (44-45). But this level of control pales in comparison to the level of control Ezequiel gives him near the end of the novel. After Ezequiel severs Marta’s head to donate her body to Gloria, he puts the head into a capsule he has invented. This capsule keeps her head alive, and even allows her to communicate by means of a voice synthesizer. But Daniel can, by means of a dial, “‘controlar las emociones directamente por medio de estímulos eléctricos. Con este dial tú decides cuán feliz se siente la cabeza, o cuán triste o grave… es como el termostato de un acondicionador de aire’” (41). Ezequiel’s comparison of a person’s emotions to the settings on an air conditioner is highly dehumanizing. Encapsulated, Marta becomes little more than a paperweight with which Daniel can converse, an extreme level of objectification. The fact that he can control exactly what she feels, the topic of the conversation, and the direction in which it progresses suggests that he has more or less ultimate power over her. Again, a triangle has formed in which Daniel provides Ezequiel with a woman-object for experimentation, and the result Ezequiel delivers allows Daniel the illusion of power.
Neither Daniel nor Ezequiel is aware until the very end of the novel that their power triangles are in fact imperfect. Gloria and Raquel’s relationship increasingly subverts the level of control Daniel has over either of them, until Gloria finally leaves him for Raquel. The female homosocial bond, it seems, can break free from the male one, similar to Castle’s proposed model: Gloria, the objectified woman, has taken her power back and undermined the very foundation of the men’s homosocial bond. At the beginning of the novel, Daniel takes very little interest in Gloria either personally or sexually. He performs perfunctory tasks to keep her alive and keep her room in order, and at one point gently massages her breasts (9-10). When Gloria pulls aside the sheet that covers the machine, and subsequently has a panic attack due to the horrific sight, he responds with brutal force to sedate her again: “tuvo que abrirle la boca por la fuerza, entrarle las pastillas y empinarle un vaso de agua. Gloria tosió, pero tragó” (12). Daniel’s actions border on drowning her, in the sense that she coughs and chokes on the water, or even on raping Gloria, seen in the way that he forces her mouth open and shoves the pills in without any kind of consent on her part. One might be tempted to see caring in the way he strokes her hair while she falls back into her drug-induced stupor, but one statement Daniel makes to Gloria should make one reconsider. “‘¿Cuántas veces tengo que repetírtelo?... Nunca, nunca, bajo ningún concepto, apartes la frazada’” (12). Daniel is intent on hiding the fact that Gloria is connected to the machine. Especially if we see the machine as a symbol of masculine power and violent control, it seems that he is trying to hide from her the workings of the male homosocial and her own objectification. However, one must also consider the ease with which she can simply tug aside the sheet, something that she has apparently done multiple times, as signaled by Daniel’s exasperated “cuántas veces tengo que repetírtelo?” Evidently, the male homosocial agenda is not difficult to uncover. And as Raquel and Gloria’s relationship shows, it is also fallible. Gloria’s easy revelation of the male homosocial is a strong contrast to Daniel’s complete inability to uncover the female homosocial through the series of flashbacks.
Gloria’s nurse treats her in an entirely different manner than her husband; these relationships constitute a female-male-female erotic triangle that can provide insight into the workings of the female homosocial continuum. The affair that Raquel carries on with Daniel seems like it would distance her from Gloria, or generate jealousy or rivalry. But in fact, the affair brings Raquel closer to Gloria. One morning, during a rare moment of mental clarity, Gloria begins to lament Daniel’s increased distance, complaining to Raquel that “‘ya no pasa conmigo el tiempo que solía… Llega tarde todas las noches y me responde con monosílabos’” (34). A striking contrast with Daniel’s conversations with Ezequiel, his disjointed responses to Gloria demonstrate discontinuity rather than continuity. Raquel has also noted Daniel’s changed behavior, thinking to herself that “‘Y a mí me hace el amor distraído, sin la pasión de antes’” (34). She reassures Gloria with phrases like “‘son imaginaciones suyas’” (34), but Raquel secretly “quiso llorar con ella” (35). Raquel’s attempts to cheer Gloria up and the emotional connection they form as a result of the situation show that they have become close friends. But mutual longing for the man with whom they are both involved brings them together sexually as well: When Raquel finally gets Gloria to smile, Gloria reaches up and “ambas bocas se fundieron en un beso profundo” before they begin to have sex with each other (35). The specific verb Cabiya uses, “se fundieron,” suggests just how deeply they have connected. In its normal context, the word refers to permanently fusing metals together; the diction evokes Montaigne’s description of two friends who “mingle and melt into one.” But the word has a deeper and more generalized meaning: “reducir a una sola dos o más cosas diferentes” (“Fundir” def. 4). Considered through Bataille’s lens, the two separate, discontinuous women become one, thereby achieving a kind of continuity in this highly eroticized action. Their mutual feelings about Daniel drive this encounter, but these feelings are pushed aside as the women come together; Daniel is merely a conduit for the establishment of their relationship. The situation is strikingly similar to Kosofsky Sedgwick’s description of female conduits for male homosocial bonding, only the genders are reversed. This scene suggests that the female homosocial establishes itself in a very similar way to the male homosocial: it uses a man as a conduit. This is a pattern we will continue to see. But for the moment it is worth pausing to consider a question: How can Gloria and Raquel’s relationship be classified? Can it be classified at all? While Raquel and Gloria discuss Daniel’s increased distance, they seem like two close friends; it could be described as a straightforward homosocial relationship. But the scene quite quickly progresses to a homosexual encounter. Raquel and Gloria demonstrate a clear fluidity between the female homosocial and the female homosexual, supporting Kosofsky Sedgwick’s thoughts on the matter.
In comparison with the sex she has with Raquel, Daniel’s sexual contact with Gloria is almost nonexistent. In the first chapter, Daniel “procedió a apretar [sus senos] con pausada suavidad” (10). The use of “proceder” makes this contact seem like a procedure; this has become a routine that Daniel follows rather than a true attempt at connection. Certainly, it is gentle (“suavidad”), but this gentleness is “pausada,” it is restrained. When considering why Daniel has stopped having sex with Gloria, it is certainly not because she cannot have sex in her current physical state; Raquel manages it just fine. Perhaps Daniel feels that he cannot personally get the kind of pleasure he wants out of what he views as only half a woman. But a more likely explanation is that Daniel usually uses sex for exerting power over a woman, which his relationships with both Raquel and Marta demonstrate, and in Gloria’s present state he believes that he has gained more or less complete control over her. In essence, he has no more need for having sex with her, and therefore has become almost awkwardly withdrawn. There is no restraint, by comparison, when Raquel and Gloria have sex; on one occasion, Gloria tells Raquel “‘Suéltate el pelo’” right before they begin (19). Raquel’s initially tough and businesslike exterior (17-18) melts away when she releases her hair and begins to stimulate Gloria (19). As they each continue to excite the other, eventually “se besaron con frenesí, acariciándose mutuamente los pechos, alineados pezón contra pezón” (20). Neither holds anything back, as demonstrated by the use of “frenesí.” Furthermore, the women achieve a kind of grammatical continuity, as they are both the subjects of the verbs “se besaron” and “acariciándose.” And finally, this sentence shows that they are equals in this relationship; they are “alineados pezón contra pezón.” They are in line with each other; their intercourse does not establish a hierarchy but rather allows them to pursue continuity with one another on an even plane.(5) The fact that at the end of their session “se vinieron al mismo tiempo, igual que en otras ocasiones” (20) shows that they are very closely attuned to each other, and that they therefore successfully approach continuity – and that they do so regularly.
It is also important to consider the means by which the women establish their physical connection – Raquel stimulates Gloria through the machine. Since the machine is a tool and symbol of masculine control, and could be considered in this scene to be the male element in a kind of skewed erotic triangle, then one woman is once again using the male element of a triangle as a conduit for approaching another woman. In a broader sense, Raquel further establishes the female homosocial by subverting the male homosocial’s objectification of Gloria. Thus, this scene presents not only further evidence that the female homosocial works through a male conduit, but also begins to hint at how the two homosocial systems are linked. Were it not for Gloria’s objectification and the machine, would Gloria and Raquel ever have come together in the first place? It is both impossible and pointless to argue that point one way or the other. What is clear is that Daniel and Ezequiel, in the workings of their male homosocial bond, created the circumstances in which Raquel came together. And the machine itself facilitates a connection between the women. In Donna Haraway’s discussion of cyborgs in “A Cyborg Manifesto” (1991), she discusses the breakdown of certain boundaries when humans and machines are combined: “People are nowhere near so fluid, being both material and opaque. Cyborgs are ether, quintessence” (Haraway 153). Considered in light of Bataille’s argument about the breakdown of personal barriers, Haraway’s comment suggests that cyborgs are already well on their way towards continuity with others. Since Gloria can clearly be considered a cyborg in her present state, it seems that her conversion has further opened her up to the possibility of continuity with Raquel. In an interesting parallel to the flashback scene in which Daniel and Gloria kiss while watching Frankenstein, Haraway writes: “Unlike the hopes of Frankenstein's monster, the cyborg does not expect its father to save it through a restoration of the garden; that is, through the fabrication of a heterosexual mate, through its completion in a finished whole, a city and cosmos” (151). While the presence of the film in the movie suggests a comparison between Gloria and Frankenstein’s monster, there is also an important difference, furthered by Haraway’s comment. Perhaps instead of fabricating a “heterosexual mate,” Daniel and Ezequiel have acted as conduits for the arrival of an even more perfect homosexual mate. For as Gloria writes at the end of the novel, in her goodbye letter to Daniel, “es como si [Raquel] supiera exactamente cómo y dónde tocarme. No te lo puedo explicar” (59-60). Raquel can provide a level of connection that Daniel never could either achieve or understand. The way in which Daniel and Ezequiel objectified her for an exchange has opened Gloria up to the possibility of this relationship with Raquel; the male homosocial, through its own mechanism of operation, has laid the foundation for the female homosocial to blossom.
The brothers’ attempts to establish control also bring Marta and Gloria together in a way that ultimately allows them to defy – at least to an extent – the system that tries to objectify them. Like Raquel, Marta is involved in an affair with Daniel, and she knows that he is married. Marta is aware of Gloria’s condition and feels that Daniel is treating his wife unfairly by not letting her die (30). She advocates for Gloria’s right to make a decision for herself (31), essentially telling Daniel he should return a certain level of power to Gloria. But one must also consider the possibility that Marta has ulterior motives: perhaps she thinks that with Gloria out of the picture, she might be able to have a more meaningful relationship with Daniel. Furthermore, although Gloria might not know it yet, Marta is the reason for Daniel’s increased distance, the main competitor for his attention. Unfortunately, Cabiya does not address this latent rivalry that might result from Gloria and Marta’s positions. But one consideration might help to explain why this rivalry does not emerge: can Marta see a bit of herself in Gloria? Does learning about Daniel’s objectification of his wife and his refusal to give Gloria any control over her own life allow Marta to see that she herself might be a victim of male manipulation? There is at least one point in the novel where a similar situation is quite blatantly obvious. At the end of the novel, when Daniel has Marta’s head in his office, the reader learns:
El personal de planta evitaba tener que ir a su oficina, pero a veces era irremediable. Gretchen, de recursos humanos, tiene que consultarle algo a Daniel. Toca la puerta.
–Pase– dice Daniel. Gretchen pasa. Marta gira sobre sus bielas para mirarla.
–Saludos, Gretchen– Dice con una linda sonrisa. Gretchen no le responde, ni siquiera la mira.
–Don Daniel, tenemos un rep…
–Gretchen– dice Daniel–, me parece que la acaban de saludar.
Gretchen traga en seco. Marta no la ha dejado de mirar.
–Sa… saludos– tartamudea, resuelve lo que tiene que resolver con Daniel y se las arregla para no tener que volver a entrar (58-59).
Setting aside the consideration that anyone might be uncomfortable entering an office and being greeted by a swiveling head, Gretchen cannot even bring herself to look at Marta. Looking would force Gretchen to see the results of male objectification of a woman, and to consider that she herself might be the object of such masculine domination. Gretchen essentially flees from that possibility and makes sure she will never be faced with it again. Marta, however, is quite curious about Gloria’s situation; she wants to inspect the results of objectification.
In the scene in which Marta and Daniel are in a hotel room together, she begins to take advantage of this control, which directly suggests that she is aware of Daniel’s attempts to control her. She begins to request that Daniel take her to see Gloria. After he brushes off many requests to allow her to see Gloria, Marta stages one of their sexual encounters with the specific intention of convincing him to take her to visit:
-Lléeevameee – rogó Marta como una niñita engreída. El recurso hizo reír a Daniel, pero no lo conmovió.
-No – dijo.
-Lléeevaaameee – insistió Marta.
-No – dijo Daniel.
-Lléeevaamee, aaandaa – prosiguió Marta, pero esta vez acompañó la súplica con un juguetón vaivén de las nalgas que meció la cabeza de Daniel.
-No – dijo él sin convicción (32-33).
Before Marta resorts to sex, Daniel’s mind is firmly made up. His reasoning very well may be similar to his insistence that Gloria not pull back the sheet: he knows that allowing Marta into the house will expose the workings of the male homosocial. After Marta tempts him with sex, however, his firm answer has been shaken; he now answers “sin convicción.” Marta is using sex to control Daniel, meaning she knows that sex can be used to exert power. It is not too great a stretch, then, to consider that she is aware that for Daniel, sex with her is about placing himself in a position of power over her. Indeed, right after Marta playfully shakes her buttocks, “el movimiento le hizo recordar a Daniel la poderosa carnadura trémula que tenía bajo la cabeza. Su pene se dio por vencido antes que él…” (33). Her action effectively reminds him that she has power and that he needs to emphasize his own power over her once again. But she takes advantage of this need in order to gain access to Gloria; once again, while a man thinks he is exerting his power over a woman, she is using his methods of control as a conduit to reach another woman. When she arrives at the house, Marta expresses great solidarity with Gloria, bursting into tears (an interesting parallel with Gloria’s tears and Raquel’s desire to cry with her) and demanding that Daniel “déja a esa mujer morir en paz!” (44). This strong support and advocacy for Gloria’s right to decide shows that these two women share a homosocial bond of friendship as well. Daniel seems to overcome the situation by seducing Marta once more at the end of the chapter.
Whatever connection the women may have at this point is nothing compared to what is to come later, when Ezequiel physically unites Gloria and Marta. He likely performs the procedure thinking that he is simply joining two objects together, and reveling in the male homosocial power to do so.(6) What he does not realize is that like the machine he created that allowed Gloria and Raquel to connect with one another, his procedure has created physical continuity between Gloria and Marta. A black suture “le rodea el cuello como una gargantilla, y que hace de frontera entre la blancura de la cabeza y el marrón del resto del cuerpo” (56). Gloria adds that “‘está bien pegada, no se va a caer’” (56). Ezequiel’s black thread has tightly joined these two women into one, perhaps a bit reminiscent of Frankenstein’s monster, but also a literal realization of Montaigne’s mingling friends. Not only is this continuity quite strong, it has in fact empowered Gloria once again. Free of the control of the drugs and with an able body, she is capable of both making her own decisions and carrying them out; she exercises this power when she leaves Daniel. Again, the female homosocial establishes itself by means of a male intermediate. This continuity between Gloria and Marta extends far beyond the tightly fused flesh around a neck, however, for Marta’s head also gets to share in its pleasures. She says to Daniel from her capsule: “‘Te pasaste la noche entera haciéndole el amor… Se te olvida que yo también siento los orgasmos’” (58). Although it seems that Marta has been objectified to the greatest extent possible, completely captive and with a man in complete control of her thoughts and emotions, her continuity with her body(7) – and, therefore, with Gloria – shows that she retains a degree of freedom. The fact that the women can be united through intercourse even over great distances shows that they have a connection and a power that the men can neither take away nor understand. This lack of understanding becomes particularly clear when Marta’s head begins to experience Gloria’s sex with Raquel: “‘ay… Me estoy viniendo, Daniel, nunca había sido tan sabroso…’” (59). Evidently, sex with Raquel is much more pleasurable for Marta than sex with Daniel. She would likely echo Gloria’s statement in her goodbye letter, concerning Raquel’s knowledge of how and where to touch. The women seem to know exactly what each other need and want, and even though they cannot put it into words to explain it to the men, they evidently have a strong continuity of understanding between them. The men simply cannot deliver what they want and need. Despite the efforts by Ezequiel and Daniel, the women cannot be entirely subdued and objectified. Instead, they liberate themselves from the men’s controlling ways, and indeed take advantage of these methods of control as means to establish stronger connections with each other. In this context, we could perhaps reconsider a statement that Gayle Rubin makes just before quoting Lèvi-Strauss on marriage: “The relations of such a system are such that women are in no position to realize the benefits of their own circulation. As long as the relations specify that men exchange women, it is men who are the beneficiaries of the product of such exchanges” (Rubin 45). The circumstances under which La cabeza comes to an end quite clearly challenge this remark, since the circulation of these women has in fact allowed them all to establish close bonds with each other and to find a source of intense pleasure and satisfaction that the men could never provide. Their situation is by no means perfect – Marta is still mostly confined to a capsule and destined for Daniel’s bedside table – but it is nowhere near as bleak a picture as Rubin suggests.
La cabeza provides an opportunity for examination of male homosocial and female homosocial relationships within the same context. Because of the interrelationships between these systems in the novel, one can begin to understand how these two homosocial systems relate to and, in fact, depend upon one another. Ultimately, the overall system shown in La cabeza consists of a set of interlocking triangles that change depending on the side from which they are analyzed. Daniel and Ezequiel come together through the objectification and exchange of women, who act as conduits through which the men establish the complicated power hierarchy that exists between them. Women use this male system as a means of drawing closer to one another and eventually defy the men’s power triangles. They subvert the objectification to which they are subjected, and in the end take power in their mutual understanding and flee from the dominant and power-hungry reign of the men in their lives. Unlike the men, the women’s relationship is founded on equality and mutual wellbeing rather than a struggle for power. But unlike Castle’s model, which had the female homosocial either completely destroying the male homosocial or simply rising from its ashes, neither homosocial system as seen in La cabeza seems to be able to survive without the other. The male homosocial requires women that will at least partly submit to its devices, as Marta did at the end of the novel. The female homosocial seems to operate by submitting partially to the male but then using it as a means of strengthening the women’s connections. This system of interrelated triangles provides an answer to Kosofsky Sedgwick’s call for analysis of the relationships between male and female homosocial. Perhaps it is unique to La cabeza and only serves as method for approaching this work. Further and lengthier examination of other works under the same lens will show whether or not this system could provide the understanding that Sedgwick’s study did not pursue.
1. The title is a reference to the novel The Transposed Heads by Thomas Mann. The erotic triangle is an important element of his novel, which I analyzed alongside La cabeza and other Latin American works in a different study. This article is an expansion of the section on La cabeza.
2. Katherine Binhammer’s article “Female Homosociality and the Exchange of Men: Mary Robinson’s Walsingham” (2006) addresses both Sedgwick and Castle, but she simplifies both of their arguments to the point that she cannot completely engage with them. Furthermore, the text that Binhammer analyzes is quite problematic, because while she correctly cites interdependent triangles (235), fact that one character who both the reader and the other characters believe to be a man is revealed to be a woman at the novel’s close complicates matters greatly (225-226). While there are both male-female-male and female-male-female triangles present, and they certainly coexist and interact, they do so perhaps a bit too closely to be able to draw a really clear conclusion.
3. One might also consider Sharon Marcus’ Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England (2007). Marcus addresses Kosofsky Sedgwick’s work and discusses female-male-female triangles in some detail (i.e. 154, 223). However, she does not arrive at any broad conclusion about the mechanism behind these triangles, nor does she approach the relationship between the male and female homosocial. My comments on Marcus’ book, however, should be considered as partial and provisional, since I have not been able to dedicate to her important work the amount of time it deserves.
4. It must be noted that Halperin’s reading cannot be adequately applied to the female homosexual and homosocial relationships that emerge in the novel, since his comments very specifically address male sexuality. Even though the women’s positions with respect to Daniel could possibly turn them into rivals, the sexual relationships between the women themselves are based on equality rather than power disparity.
5. The humorous and ironic elements of the narration of La cabeza are indeed critical to the novel and deserve a slow, careful, and extended analysis. The space available for this article did not allow for more discussion of this point than its quite limited inclusion here. Future studies on the novel would do well to examine this important element of La cabeza.
6. Ezequiel’s experiments on the women is markedly similar to a point raised by Néstor E. Rodríguez in his article “Espectros, Alienígenas, Clones: Los Sondeos Poscoloniales de Pedro Cabiya” (2009), one of the few available scholarly pieces on Cabiya’s work. Rodríguez cites a series of experiments that male physicians from both the United States and Puerto Rico carried out on Puerto Rican women in the 1950s and 60s to test contraceptive drugs. In this light, it is important not to downplay the true horrors to which Ezequiel is subjecting the women.
7. Marta’s head is clearly another example of a cyborg. Although the capsule could and largely should be seen as a sort of prison, it is also in line with Haraway’s views in that it helps to break down Marta’s barriers and allows her to enter into continuity with Gloria, as well as with Raquel. Another interesting consideration is its similarity to some of the points Barbara Becker makes in her article “Cyborgs, Agents, and Transhumanists” (2000) concerning the relation of the cyborg to physical touch. For Becker, cyberworlds supposedly offer the possibility of escape from the imperfect physicality of the real world; this kind of thought process may inform Daniel’s avoidance of contact with Gloria and his use of the machines to try to establish control over what constantly seems to slip past his ability to control. But for Gloria, Marta, and Raquel, the machines in the novel in fact provide a sort of interface to enhance the physical touch that they can share.
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