As I read “The Flamethrowers,” before reading the Butler essay, I noted a spot in chapter five – “Valera Is Dead” – where Valera (the entrepreneurial ancestor of Sandro) discusses women and velocity. At the end of the chapter, Valera says that “[w]omen were trapped in time” and explains that this is only true of women because men move “at a different velocity” (Kushner 79). Looking back after reading Butler’s “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution,” I found this section very interesting because it relates nearly explicitly with sections of Butler’s essay, in which she goes off of Simone de Beauvoir, stating that “gender is in no way a stable identity of locus of agency from which various acts proceed; rather, it is an identity tenuously constituted in time” (Butler 519). Butler introduces the idea that gender is not a static result of biology, where men and women from one era of time can be introduced into a new era and find that their roles remain the same. This is further elaborated on the next page, where de Beauvoir is cited as saying, “any gender, is an historical situation rather than a natural fact” (Butler 520). Gender as a malleable, social structure shows up in “The Flamethrowers,” however, with a more misogynistic viewpoint, when Valera insists that men have “to keep going younger” (79) when looking for a mate. This quote adds a level of complexity to the overall message of Valera’s statement, because it suggests that women, for a time, have the ability to be shaped by their surroundings, thus being “untrapped” in time, but that ultimately women will reach a point where they can no longer “change,” in terms of gender roles.
With this analytic framework – brought in by Butler’s text – there is new understanding that can be brought to answering the question of why Reno has sought speed in her pursuit of art at this point in the novel.