Noël Valis Lecture

“Homosexuality on Display in 1920s Spain: The Hermaphrodite, Eccentricity, and Álvaro Retana”

For centuries, homosexuals have been viewed as freaks of nature. As one of those “mistakes,” the erotic novelist Álvaro Retana (1890-1970) made a rather remarkable writing career out of what he sometimes called his eccentricity and sometimes his double-sided monstrosity. He turned his persona and his fiction into an extravagant, ironic display, while performing the role of showman. In using such qualifiers, especially the monstrous, he appears to embrace a status seen today as unwanted and undesirable, but as I argue here, the aesthetics of oddness he fashions reveals even as it occludes an early twentieth-century homosexual subculture in Spain that was far more visible than previously thought. In the larger sense, Retana’s work also allows us to consider qualities and aspects that, to my knowledge, have been largely overlooked in a period marked by great social, cultural, and political change and fluidity: a renewed and modern sense of the marvelous, as reenvisioned through the ambiguous hermaphroditic forms of the monstrous and the eccentric, a sense of the marvelous we may only have glimpsed in other writers and artists of pre-civil war Spain.


A native of Toms River NJ, Noël Valis has lived in New Haven CT for the last sixteen years and teaches at Yale University. She writes on modern Spanish literature, culture, and history, with books on the Spanish Civil War, bad taste and class in modern Spain, and religion and literature. A Guggenheim and NEH (National Endowment for the Humanities) Fellow, she is the author of twenty-four books, including Sacred Realism: Religion and the Imagination in Modern Spanish Narrative (Yale University Press), Teaching Representations of the Spanish Civil War (Modern Language Association), and The Culture of Cursilería: Bad Taste, Kitsch and Class in Modern Spain (Duke University Press), which won the Katherine Singer Kovacs Prize. Her translations include the poetry of Noni Benegas (Burning Cartography [Host Publications]), winner of the New England Council of Latin American Studies Best Book Translation Prize. She has also written a book of poetry, My House Remembers Me (Esquío), and a novella, The Labor of Longing (Main Street Rag Publishing), which was a Finalist for the Prize Americana for Prose. Her current project is a book, Lorca After Life.


The lecture will be on Tuesday, May 12th at 4:00pm in Rockefeller 002.


Please also join Noël Valis for a reading of her novella "The Labor of Longing" - Tuesday, May 12th at 6:00pm in the Baker Treasure Room.