Piglia's Plata quemada: The Queer Pietà

     With the 2014 publication of Uruguayan journalist Leonardo Haberkorn’s book, Liberaij: La verdadera historia del caso Plata quemada, scholars and critics must take another look at Piglia’s extraordinary 1997 novel in light of Haberkorn’s intention to reveal the “truth” of the details behind the novel’s content.  In this presentation, I will explore a few of the implications of Piglia’s fictionalization of the story, focusing specifically on the author’s decision to invent a homoerotic relationship between two of the main characters in the novel which I view as key to understanding his highly complex and artistically daring version of “fake news” inspired by the 1965 events.

     As several scholars have noted, one of the pivotal features of the novel is the queer relationship of Dorda and Brignone, the main characters.  Referring to a historical period when such relationships were not commonly visible and rarely openly acknowledged, this aspect of Piglia’s novel stands out for its unusual prominence in the story.  It may also be interpreted in rather contradictory terms.  On the one hand, it appears to reinforce the stereotype that homosexuals are anti-social, culturally poisonous, and essentially criminal.  But on the other, considering the tone of the narration, the sympathy inspired by the background story of childhood sexual abuse, and the images of heroic devotion between the two men, the inclusion of their emotional and physical relationship should be understood as deconstructing the culturally potent image of queers as cowardly, weak, effeminate, and untrustworthy.  The invention of a queer relationship —and specifically the deeply affectionate emotional bonds between the two main characters—, serves a powerful structural purpose in my view.  By means of this relationship, Piglia is able to join together two principle themes:  his politically revolutionary message, as illustrated by the robbery and the shocking scene when the characters burn all the money, and his socially revolutionary message that the love between two men can be imagined as emotionally intense and spiritually meaningful as the love between a man and a woman.  And while the title of the novel may highlight the dramatic act of rebellious socio-economic nihilism, the novel as a whole points towards a very different climax, one which culminates in the radically subversive, emotionally charged image of Dorda cradling the dead body of Brignone:  Piglia’s queer pietà.

Track: 

  • Spanish American Studies