Manuel Puig - Kiss of the Spider Woman

Regular readers of this blog will recall 'the most perfect cafe' which Tamara and I frequented during the World Council of Churches Assembly in Porto Alegre around this time last year. It was at said cafe, one balmy Brazilian evening, that I was introduced to Antony and the Johnsons (not in person I hast to add!).

The shifting appearance of lead singer, Antony Hegarty is matched by a voice that doesn't seem to come from his, or any other persons, body. Here's a sample for you to hear: Hope There's Someone

They won the Mercury Music Prize in 2005 about which the BBC reported another singer, Beth Gibbons, saying:
I Am A Bird Now is my favourite album this year. I felt its honesty immediately and had not been that touched by music in a long time. He has expressed how I feel about being a woman better than I have myself and created an unnerving, unworldly yet direct impression of our fear of death and life's solitude.


I confess to feeling hesitant that a man can describe being a woman better than a woman could. I want to resist anything that lessens the space for women to speak about their identity. But maybe our space expands rather than contracts when new people come into it. Perhaps Anthony's songs of what a woman might be offers me new songs to sing about myself. In a similar way, perhaps immigrates offers us all new and further possibilities for that it is to be British.

Last week I finally got round to reading Kiss of the Spider Woman, the 1976 novel, later play, by Argentine writer Manuel Puig. There's been several stage productions and a film based on it, so you may already know that it's set completely in a prison cell shared by two men. Valentin has been imprisoned because of his revolutionary activities. The same could be said of the Molina who is locked up due to his sexual identity.

Their interaction is intertwined with Molina's telling of an old German film about a panther-woman, through which the cell-mates explore their identities and desires. Molina comments:
But me and my friends, we’re women. One hundred percent. We don’t go in for those little games. We’re normal women; we only go to bed with men.(49)


At the end of the play, Molina is released and two men, now compañeros (in both meanings of the word), kiss goodbye. Later Valentin is tortured and, under a dose of morphine, he dreams:
…And you dreamed you were very hungry when you escaped from prison and that you ended up on a savage island and in the middle of the jungle you met a spider woman who gave you food to eat. And she was so lonely there in the jungle but you had to carry on with your struggle and go back to join your comrades, and your strength was restored by the food the spider woman gave you. (64)


Through living, study, and celebrating with people from all over Latin America this past year, I've begun to see more clearly this intertwining of art, love, culture, freedom, land, imagination, identity. Feminist and queer theologies keep us from deceiving ourselves into thinking we can 'leave till later' what we may feel to be trivialities at the heart of other's lives.

Manuel Puig (1987) Kiss of the Spider Woman English Translation by Allan Baker, Oxford: Amber Lane Press

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