Table of Contents
Send a Letter
Magazine Staff
Back Issues
Editors's Notes
Chicago Journal
Class News
Books by Alumni
For the Record
Center Stage
Ad Infinitum
Virtual Chicago
College Report
Alumni Gateway
UofC Homepage

Plots gone wrong

Perhaps the best way to catch the rhythm of Patrick O’Connor’s studies would be to hit the dance floor and do the tango. Dipping and turning through recent academic interpretations of the classic Argentine steps, O’Connor, an assistant professor in romance languages and literatures and the College, comes to rest on his own: The tango, with its exaggerated, suggestive moves, represents a perversion of heterosexuality. Identifying and interpreting such perversions, which O’Connor defines as “accepting conventional ideas of what human development should be but stubbornly departing from them anyway,” lie at the heart of his current research, featured in his Humanities Open House lecture last year on Eva Perón and the tango. As a resident fellow at the University’s Chicago Humanities Institute next year, O’Connor, 40, will take a sabbatical during the winter and spring quarters to write a book on the manifestations of the perverse in Latin American fiction, a topic that combines his literary studies of gay and lesbian issues, fetishism, and Latin American culture.

In Paper Dolls: Latin American Fiction and the Narratives of the Perverse, O’Connor will analyze the significance of sexually perverse heterosexual and homosexual characters in a swath of Latin American novels. O’Connor says he’s fascinated by the lives of characters in which “the plots go wrong.” His subjects include Molina, the gay window dresser in Kiss of the Spider Woman, who seduces his heterosexual cell mate in an Argentine prison; the rich Uruguayan in The Daisy Dolls who commissions a life-size doll named for and resembling his wife, eventually falling in love with the doll, cheating on it with another female doll, and finally going mad; and the young Cuban poet in Paradiso who justifies his homosexuality to himself by imagining his father performing homosexual acts as an adolescent. O’Connor says he may also include a chapter on Perón and “tacky representations” of her, such as Madonna’s portrayal in the screen adaptation of the musical Evita, in which, O’Connor points out, Madonna and costar Antonio Banderas try to pass off a tango waltz as the real tango in the movie’s climactic scene.

As he explores these and other characters, O’Connor, who holds a Ph.D. from Yale, says he does not want to be “a literary historian who stands at a distance from a shelf of Great Books and says what the history of Latin American fiction should be,” but, rather, one who “gets down on the page where a character is doing something you wouldn’t expect and then sits down and looks at that moment’s relationship to the rest of the book.” O’Connor says he chose the title Paper Dolls to allude to The Daisy Dolls by Felisberto Hernández and to Paper Tigers, a book of literary criticism by John Sturrock on the work of Jorge Luis Borges. The overall purpose of the project, O’Connor says, is to challenge traditional approaches to Latin American literature.

In one new take, O’Connor interprets the works through the prism of Freudian categories. “Freud is good to apply, because Latin American critics tend not to use him themselves,” says O’Connor. “The more common way is to apply anthropological or Marxist language to the study of Latin American culture. But Freud’s narratives tell us a lot about what kind of a story about sexuality sounds plausible.

O’Connor also argues for a literary history of Latin American fiction that places at its center a work like Manuel Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman. Most literary circles, he explains, tend to use as their standard Gabriel García Márquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude, a sweeping family drama acclaimed for its use of magical realism and grounded in traditional Latin American themes relying on fear of incest and depictions of the region as a vast jungle. By setting up Solitude as “the norm” for Latin American fiction, O’Connor suggests, critics are marginalizing works that speak with comparable eloquence about the region’s urban life and that create equally complex—though perhaps less traditional—characters.

“I hope people will take away from the book the idea that you have to keep the same kind of critical distance from Solitude that you would from a statistically normal definition of sexuality,” O’Connor says. “There are other histories to be told. There can be a lot more excitement in books that seem perverse or twisted than in grand epics that reinforce limiting notions of the Latin American char-acter.”—C.S.

Table of Contents | Send a Letter | Back Issues | Staff | Editor's Notes | Letters | Investigations | Journal | Class News | Books | Deaths