I recently read an article (link below) that explores the relationship to the current chart-topper “Blurred Lines” video, and its use of nude female models, with the history of art that, for hundreds of years, has expressed the beauty of the nude female. In this article was a quote from art theorist John Berger: “men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at[…] The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object – and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.”
With this quote in mind, along with the reader of Butler, I was drawn to the segment of chapter 14 where Reno is left to wander the Valera house by herself while the Valera’s go to a meeting. “I looked up at the portrait of the grandfather. He was trapped in a never-ending vigil up on the wall. I felt like we had that in common, somehow. The predicament of being trapped” (Kushner 257). With this quote, snuck in at the end of a paragraph in the middle of the chapter, we get the start of an answer as to why Kushner chose to include the Valera chapters in this book. “That the body is a set of possibilities signifies (a) that its appearance in the world, for perception, is not predetermined by some manner of of interior essence, and (b) that its concrete expression in the world must be understood as the taking up and rendering specific of a set of historical possibilities[…] The body is not a self-identical or merely factic materiality; it is a materiality that bears meaning” (Butler 521). For “The Flamethrowers,” the chapters about Valera are meant as an actual concrete expression of a life lived, to contrast the chapters about Reno and her malleable state of self – a life in movement. However, in this scene, we see that Reno does not see herself in this way, that for her, her role in her own life is just as static, as unmovable, as the life of Valera. This reveals to the reader that, despite her artistic intents and the unconventional company with which she keeps, that Reno still feels herself held to that gender role of what “woman” is in relation to the men around her; making herself believe that she is, like the painting of Valera’s grandfather, an object to be viewed.
Something that I am still trying to interpret is the purpose of including Reno’s inability to relate Valera’s mother’s cruelty with “femininity and its rituals” (Kushner 257) in the same paragraph involving the quote above.