restricted access 1. The Emergence of the Legal-Medical-Literary Prostitute in Latin America
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I n Latin America, prostitution came to its modern maturity as a discourse under the literary regime of Naturalism and in the aftermath of the political consolidation of the modern states.1 The literary specificity of prostitution—its images, its language, its favorite metonymies, its clichés and its aesthetics—was solidified during this time and within this literary current and the related political and intellectual movements of the time. Further, elements of this specificity are still conjured up today in putatively new stories of prostitution (to say nothing of the success of period novels on the subject, as we shall see in Chapter 3). In order to explore prostitution as a discourse, it’s necessary to first provide a sense of how it emerged in literature via other discourses, particularly law and medicine. The passage from unified colonial law to varied modern penal codes left some legal aspects of prostitution unresolved. By examining a broad corpus of Latin American Naturalist novels of prostitution, we can see how Naturalism consolidates particular figures and tropes through which these legal ambiguities manifest: concretely, in the prostitute’s changing name and her perpetually mediated, often inaudible or nonsensical voice. At the same time, the prostitute’s body is medicalized by Naturalist literary techniques I group under the rubric of “overrepresentation”: the means by which a hyperreal body overcompensates for the mediated voice and uncer9 The Emergence of the Legal-Medical-Literary Prostitute in Latin America k 1 K 10 Part I. Chapter 1 tain name, creating a vocabulary and a set of procedures into recognizable literary sequences. A reading of Argentine medical doctor Francisco Sicardi’s five-volume Libro extraño (1889–1902) points to the way that literature functioned coextensively with the broader politics of higienismo [hygienism] in making “overrepresented bodies” into homogeneous units of a total medicalsocial knowledge—though his protagonic prostitute escapes from the novel’s own categories in a mystical ending that can be read more than one way. It’s the Law At a minimum, we could say that prostitution in Latin America is always linked to at least three legal moments: it is defined by originary prohibitions and permissions regarding prostitution (the Pentateuch, the Ten Commandments ), by the legal foundations of the modern state (Colonial laws, the Constitution ), and by the present-day status of prostitution under national and municipal law. In this way, of course, prostitution is also linked to legal history , and to the tendency to narrate legal history as coherent, progressive development.2 In fact, the legal history of prostitution in Latin America is—somewhat like the history of Latin American literature itself—both continuous and fragmented, geopolitically and temporally. On the one hand, colonial laws defined enormous geopolitical areas, and this makes it possible to speak of the legal history of prostitution in early Latin America in sweeping terms. Beginning in the sixteenth century, Spanish laws and practices of prostitution were imported to America; and prostitution was generally tolerated under colonial law, as it had been in Europe, as an important matter of public hygiene to be strictly regulated by the municipality.3 At the same time, post-Independence, the contradictions inherent in colonial law were magnified as nations and municipalities interpreted it in different ways and eventually enacted their own laws regulating, tolerating or abolishing prostitution. Beginning with the regulations of Felipe II (1572–75), legal prostitutes in the New World were required to be orphans or abandoned by their families . Prostitutes who met this description were not criminals; but women who “chose” to stain the honra [honor] of the family name committed a crime. Paradoxically, it was because of this law that the testimony of (legal) prostitutes was inadmissible in court, because they “had no name” and their identity could not be proved. For this reason, in court proceedings from the time, it is typical for prostitutes accused of a crime not to be able to speak in their own defense.4 Emergence of the Legal-Medical-Literary Prostitute 11 While the activity of prostitution was tolerated and controlled as a matter of social prophylaxis, “excesos [excesses]” were forbidden (Atondo Rodríguez 54). The idea of “excess” was defined in terms of appearance: the most common “excess” for which prostitutes were arrested was that of wearing spectacular finery in public places, and the law specifically forbade the use of dresses with trains and high-heeled shoes (Atondo Rodríguez 71) and the use of makeup (López Austin 278). While the...