Colección: Revista Interamericana de Bibliografía (RIB)
Casa de geishas: The Brothel as Literary Metaphor
The collection consists of three sections: Casa de geishas, Versiones and Otras posibilidades, with a total of 215 short short stories, ranging in length from one line to one page. In the first section, which lends its name to the title of the collection, Shua employs humor, sarcasm and irony to break down preconceived notions regarding those who transform the art of erotic fantasies into a lucrative business. The authors witty observations about life in the brothel are charged with double meanings which allude to the underlying intention of these tales of sex and desire, which is to explore the mysteries of the creative process itself.
El reclutamiento, the first text of Casa de geishas, suggests to the reader that the provocative array of erotic fantasies which follow serves as a metaphor for the the act of writing. Although the recruitment seems arbitrary at first, the selection process soon denotes a certain configuration and style under the discerning eye of the madame:
Ahora la madama busca a las mujeres que faltan y que ya no son cualquiera sino únicamente las que encajan en los espacios que las otras delimitan, y a esta altura ya es posible distinguir qué tipo de burdel se está gestando y hasta qué tipo de clientela podría atraer. Como un libro de cuentos o de poemas, a veces incluso una novela. (9)To carry this metafictional analogy one step further, one could say that the clientele that the geishas will attract is composed of the diverse types of readers who will enjoy the texts offered by the enticing Madame Shua. Potential clients should be forewarned before entering this house of pleasure and perversions that certain risks are involved, and naturally, there is a price to pay for services rendered.
The fifty texts which comprise the first section of the collection describe the geishas and their clientele, as well as the brothel and its many services. Although the brothel has appeared frequently in Latin American literature, Shuas geisha house is unlike any prostíbulo found in the narrative fiction of such writers as Mario Vargas Llosa, José Donoso or Gabriel García Márquez. In his article, Notes on the Presentation of Sexuality in the Modern Spanish American Novel, Donald Shaw discusses the significance of the brothel in the novels of the Boom writers, stating: we cannot ignore the way in which the brothel recurs as one of the major symbols of the human condition in Spanish America (280). Although Shuas geishas do not resemble the prostitutes of the Boom authors, their tales do in fact reveal truths about human nature and the creative process itself. The narrator provides clues which entice the reader to draw a correlation between the descriptions of the brothel and its employees and the act of writing. For example, the text Imitación reminds us of those literary works which suffer from anxiety of influence, to borrow a phrase from Harold Bloom. While intertexuality and parody require a certain degree of imitation in order to transform existing forms into something new, at times, the strategy fails, resulting in an absurd exaggeration of the successful original model, as the following text suggests:
Burdel de pueblo que imita famoso burdel de la capital que imita burdeles de Nueva Orleáns que imitan la idea que los americanos tienen de los burdeles de París. Burdel de pueblo, copia lejana: balcones de terciopelo rojo, mujeres de hierro forjado. (35)Just as literary historians delineate common characteristics of the conventional nineteenth century romantic novel, the text Tradición, informs us that a well-respected brothel adheres to certain precepts in its composition as well:
Un digno burdel europeo del siglo XIX debía tener una gorda, una flaca, una judía, una negra. La judía podía ser tambien la flaca, pero la gorda no. (40)In Simulacro, the narrator implies that things are not necessarily what they appear to be in the Casa de geishas: Claro que no es una verdadera Casa y las geishas no son exactamente japonesas (10). The prostitutes of Shuas geisha house are not necessarily women nor transvestites, nor are they even human in some cases. The clientele is attended by a diverse company of temptresses who go by such names as Márgara, Vanessa, Catalina and Rosaura, or simply La Flaca, La Gorda, La Más Rubia, La Seis Dedos, La Que Mira, and the most successful of all, La Que No Está, an expert at the subtle art of absence:
Ninguna tiene tanto éxito como La Que No Está. Aunque todavía es joven, muchos años de práctica consciente la han perfeccionado en el sutilísimo arte de la ausencia. Los que preguntan por ella terminan por conformarse con otra cualquiera, a la que toman distraídos, tratando de imaginar que tienen entre sus brazos a la mejor, a la única, a La Que No Está. (31).Another favorite is known as La Insaciable, an ironic name indeed, como si alguien, alguna vez, saciara algún deseo (49). Then there are those who are not human, or those who are only partially so. For example, the tale Parcializar explains that for those clients who have a preference for certain parts of the female anatomy, there await: sólo nalgas, sin cuerpo que las sustente ni mujer a la que pertenezcan, solitarias y bellas sobre la cama (17). The list goes on as the madame aims to satisfy the desires of each and every client. There are frogs for well-read princesses, giraffes for vampires into bestiality and, for the most sophisticated clients who are willing to pay the price, la madama está en condiciones de contratar los servicios de su propia esposa (23).
In addition to the geishas, the madam contracts other staff members to make certain that order reigns in her seemingly chaotic kingdom. For example, there is a bouncer to enforce the rules of the house, a personal trainer to keep the geishas in shape, and a clean up crew to separate fulfilled fantasies from frustrated desires. The clients who frequent the establishment are as varied as those who serve them, and include, among others, masochists and sadists, exhibitionists and voyeurs, phantoms, zombies, and the strange circus creatures known as los perversos polimorfos. The text Clasificación tells us how the clients are categorized por lo que piden, por la ropa que usan o por la forma de mover las orejas (32). Finding the right label for each client, whose tastes and individual preferences may vary, is as confusing as trying to categorize a literary work. The author herself has fallen victim to the critics who have tried in vain to define her work. Shua offers the following opinions about such classification in the Domínguez interview: Me ubiqué en tantos casilleros que terminé por escapar de las clasificaciones, que creo es lo mejor que a uno le puede pasar (6).
Shuas madame is very adept at taking advantage of the overlapping tastes and fetishes of her clients, combining them in interesting ways to satisfy individual desires, while at the same time, economizing on the operational expenses of the geisha house. The text Mirones illustrates this point:
A los mirones se les hace creer que miran sin ser vistos. Se les dice que la pared transparente junto a la que se ubican simula ser, del otro lado, un espejo. En realidad, sólo un vidrio corriente los separa de los felices exhibicionistas. En estas combinaciones se destaca la madama, hábil en reducir costos. (18)Like the gawkers who enjoy the striptease act from behind the safety of the glass, the readers become voyeurs who participate vicariously in the erotic fantasies of the geisha house. While we may believe that we are observing and laughing at others, the glass is actually a mirror which reflects our fears and desires, our virtues and weaknesses. One cannot help but laugh at these amusing texts with their final surprising twists, but we are left with an uneasy feeling that perhaps the joke is on us.