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February 27, 2008

On Pasos bajo el agua

Marco feels that things are going to change between himself and Elsa, and he is between both friends. At the same time, he is afraid that something is happening to the women, and he seems to be aware that he might be out of that circle, too. A new bond between the women, even harder to break than a family or a relashonship is growing.

Elsa confronts him: 72
¿qué es lo que te da tanto miedo de nosotras?

71 Marco,
“Pero lo que yo puedo ver es que todas ustedes están dispuestas incluso a compartir un hombre con tal de evitar una pelea?


-“Juntas tienen una especie de energía que no entiendo muy bien, y que no sé de dónde viene. Aunque parezcan que están peleando, en realidad no hay quien pueda dividirlas.
-Estás usando un concepto que no me gusta.
-¿Qué concepto?
-El concepto de división.
-¿Ves cómo reaccionás ante esa posibilidad?
-¿Qué posibilidad?
-La de que se cortara la amistad.
Elsa mira a Marco, lo enfrenta:
-Lo siento por vos, pero esa posibilidad no existe. Mejor acostumbrate a la idea.

That friendship between Sara and Elsa and Cristina is beyond and stronger than anything previous in their lives, because it has been forged in jail, where they have became accostummed only to themselves. Little moments of happiness, lots of consolation, moments of company and survival have molded all those women together, for a long time. That is why they, once out of prison, visit each other, and write to each other. Listening to each other, has also became a substitution for husbands, mothers and sister around them. They mean to each other everything they lacked in prison, so when they are freed, a little unbalance in each of their daily life requires more attention. They need to make spaces for those husbands, sons or daughtters in the outside world, but the smaller possibility of diminishing that friendship is more out of the question than ever. They have not even thought of breaking their friendship. Sara keep saying . “pero te quiero? several times to Elsa and Elsa seems to be open to the idea of Sara and Marco relationship, for Sara to feel “alive?.

Sara says 63: “Soy una especie de rompezabezas que tengo que armar cada día para reconocerme. Para ser la que originalmente soy.?

At the end, on page 63 is Elsa who interprets what is really happening to Sara:

“No es desesperación por un hombre. No es eso. Es desesperación por sentirte viva.?

After all, when they were in prison, that was the only reason they could use to repel or to fight the horror of torture and dehumanization. To feel alive and human by overcoming the effects of being imprisoned. So, Elsa understand Sara’s feelings better than anyone and their friendship is above any other concern and as such, competition between them is out of the question, as well.
--------

February 26, 2008

pasos bajo el agua: what is a jacket to you?

My close reading is of Sara’s description of the guy in the militia following her after she was released from prison (in the chapter Sara, ¿Qué es para vos una campera?/What is a jacket to you?, page 88 in the Spanish version published by Alción).

Fueron pocos los lugares por donde anduve, sola o con Cristina, en que no surgiera el tipo como desde debajo de la tierra, con esos estrafalarios anteojos oscuros, que por supuesto ya no cumplían la función de evitar que yo lo reconociera, sino exactamente lo contrario. Cristina decía que por alguna razón debía elegir andar disfrazado de mosca. Y con ese pelo negro. Y la campera negra de Hugo. Puesta. Siempre puesta. Aunque el calor rosarino nos mantuviera al límite del abatimiento. Cristina.

First, to say that there were few places he didn’t show up is different from saying he showed up almost everywhere: it sounds more like something icky creeping into everywhere, like an infestation. He comes up from underneath the earth, some kind of worm or rodent or weed or insect. The infestation idea also connects to Cristina’s observation that the glasses make him look like a fly. Not only are flies, I think, very dirty and carry all kinds of disease, they are scavengers, feeding off waste and dead bodies—in this case, the destruction caused by the dictatorship. Flies are also known for their super-complex eyes, an image appropriate for a spy.

The dark glasses are an ironic acknowledgment that he’s doing something wrong and he should be inconspicuous but by choosing crazy, obvious glasses he shows that he doesn’t have to be inconspicuous because he’s above the law.

Hugo’s jacket is also a signal to Sara: a reminder of Hugo’s detention, of her beating, of this guy’s power over them. Like the dark glasses don’t serve the purpose of concealing his identity, the jacket doesn’t serve its usual purpose of keeping a person warm—he’s wearing it despite the suffocating heat. A suggestion that he’s cold-hearted and –blooded? (oh, but that would mean he wouldn’t need a coat in the winter, wouldn’t it?) Rather, wearing the jacket out of season shows that this signal to Sara is more important to him than his own physical comfort; he’s obsessive about it, wearing it all the time to make sure she always remembers.

It seems Sara would not feel as bad if he just carried Hugo’s jacket around; that he puts it on repulses her. The jacket was unique, an item of Hugo’s that they were both proud of and that was meant to protect him. This guy is the very person intimately associated with hurting them both and that he has taken something meant to protect is sick and ironic and repulsive.

[I haven’t any idea why the paragraph ends with “Cristina.?]

Freedom on Kozameh's Steps Under Water

Freedom in Kozameh’s Steps Under Water
This passage is taken from page 49:
“…We being the creatures we are, have certain limits. Our feelings and thoughts are definitely limited. And that really frightens me…Do you want to know what I feel right now? I want to go back to prison. I miss my friends. I feel guilty. They should be free, all of them. And sometimes I think I don’t deserve this freedom I have. Look at what I’m doing. I’m celebrating my freedom by putting you in the position of cheating on your wife. You didn’t do it when she was in jail. But you do it now, when she’s free. This is all so ridiculous.? Her compulsion won’t allow her to stop; she walks, opens and closes her fists: “You know what? I need to feel free. I can’t live this way.? “You just said you wanted to go back to prison.? “Well, this is not the kind of freedom I had in mind.? Marco follows her eyes; he is irritated: “I know what you mean. You need a different kind of freedom. Now I get it. You seem to know a lot about that word: freedom. And tell me something, did it ever occur to you to look it up in the dictionary??

Sara has mixed feelings and questions the kind of freedom she is experiencing as a released prisoner. She seems not sure of what this newly acquired ‘freedom’ means and how to deal with, in trying to enjoy it; she oversteps her bounds and steals her best friend’s ‘freedom’. She connects this to the guilt she’s feeling about being free while a whole lot of people are still locked up. Going to prison has changed her concept of freedom: freedom for her is not personal, rather it is collective, and it entails a spirit of solidarity – something that she built with her fellow prisoners while still in prison, something that became their means of survival. This is why she finds this situation - her relationship with her best friend’s husband- ridiculous as it threatens to destroy the solidarity they built under overwhelming conditions of prison life. This is one of the implicit effects of this whole situation where families get broken when people go to prison. In this case, Sara could be feeling lonely because her husband Hugo is in prison, Marco may be feeling neglected because Elsa spends a lot of time trying to bond with her son, to make up for all those years she spent in prison – thanks to the oppressive regime.
Let’s take Marco’s advice and look up what freedom means; according to Oxford American Dictionary, to be free means: not to be under control of another, unrestricted, independent… Sara’s release to “freedom under surveillance? (p147) contradicts what freedom should be – unrestricted - it is certainly a different kind of freedom. The type that she yearns and had imagined is the type that can never be achieved under any dictatorship. The only difference between being in and out of prison is basically that of physical space. Although small, the spaces in prison at least offered them something: a spirit of solidarity. For Sara being released, being in a bigger space is more suffocating; it is just a tantalization of freedom – no wonder at this moment she feels like returning to prison.

The Word

“What I’m doing just isn’t working, trying to describe a moment of that magnitude. Almost absurd. Possible, but absurd. And let this be a sterile classification: I believe in the word. Fervently. For so many who can’t even imagine certain realities, who have passed through zones so distant from actual experience, or who haven’t passed through any zone at all, there’s no recourse other than words that are heard, read. Image or no images, always the word?

This passage is taken from the English version on page 143.

In this passage, Kozameh relies on the word, the act of transcribing experience, to remember her reality as a prisoner and to honor the memory of her companeras. In this passage, she speaks in the first person rather than using the narrator’s interpretation of Sara. The choice to use the first person demonstrates that the story and the narrator are coming into their own sense of self. Throughout the text, the intermingling of three voices-the first person, Sara, and those of the companeras-creates a chaotic vision of reality in which self and other are obscured. The final passage narrated in the first person shows that Kozameh has reclaimed her identity. Sara becomes the identity of the past and a way to interpret herself through others. However, with this ability to now speak and end her story in the first person comes the responsibility of remembering. Her freedom comes with a duty to not forget and to not allow others (we) to forget her companeras and the experiences and histories of the prison.
Thus, the “word? becomes a mechanism to remember, transcribe, and literally write in the others who were left behind, to write in her former self, and to write in her companeras. The “word?-from the transcriptions written in the prison cell to that of the words written from the outside provides a way of translating experience, and experiences that are almost impossible to fully write, to fully translate into human understanding for those who have not experienced it. Kozameh points ot the absurdity of trying to translate, but also the need to translate. Her forceful almost staccato use of language lends itself to the idea of a command, the idea that she has no choice but to write and to publish this work so that others might also attempt to understand. She cites the various audiences that might read this text-those who can’t imagine her reality, who come from different experiences, different backgrounds, and therefore require a translation. A the bearer of these experiences, Kozameh can only give the word as a remnant of memory. Although Kozameh privileges the written word, she also alludes to the idea that the story can be passed through words through both oral and written means. However, in order to evoke this imagery, the word is needed. The idea that there is no recourse other than words demonstrates the pliability of memory, but also the responsibility to remember. As Kozameh strived to keep her writing secret from the prison authorities, it is a literal preservation of her experience and that of her companeras. By writing and disseminating memory, Kozameh also forces the reader to participate in the act of remembering and translation. The reader as the audience also becomes a witness to the experiences of Kozameh and her companeras, and thus the reader, is also put forth with a responsibility to honor memory.

Page 76 “There are jackets that are part of people...? to page 79 “You can understand if I am not up to bearing so much semantic weight right now.?

The way Sara talks about Hugo’s jacket represents not only her anger because it was stolen but also for it being used by another man. It is also her way to express the absence of Hugo and what he represented to her. As she says, the milico took not only his presence but also his warmth, that object was not only a simple piece of leather, it had something else from him. It was like his skin, his umbilical cord, an extension of his body.

It is interesting that the same jacket appears in the end but not as a representation of Hugo but as a ghost, “that [is] only real when [we] want [it] to be […] do[es]n’t exist? (148), because once he left it behind, in other words, it had no importance to his owner (Hugo), it would work only as a reminder of the policeman who wore it, the same one who appears at the end when she is at the police station. At that moment, as Hugo was memory only, there was no reason more to suffer but enjoy a new life and take advantage of the world.

February 25, 2008

This passage is on pp. 142-143 in the English version:

"The sky was exactly like that: black and filled with stars. Three years and three months without seeing the nighttime sky. That distance, so concrete, which can be established between the nocturnal sky and night itself, the condition of being nighttime for the days, for the years. But I write it down now, I said it months later. Though at the moment of shielding myself from the freedom that was falling upon me, I didn't think or say a thing. Maybe it occurred to me that I was, after all, still alive and that another alternative at that very instant would have been the rain. Nothing that somebody else couldn't have thought of. To cross that space between the prison and the military bus in the rain. Three steps under water. Good title, if I were telling this story. What I'm doing just isn't working, trying to describe a moment of that magnitude. Almost absurd. Possible, but absurd."

As the narrator remembers the moment when she was released from prison, the narrative splits between describing the physicality of the night and her thoughts, and the impossibility of conveying the enormousness of the night sky and her freedom. Kozameh relies heavily on paradox throughout the novel, and it is especially evident in this passage. As a way of dramatizing the complexity of emotion felt ,and speaking, as Ivone suggests, the unspeakable, Kozameh gives us phrases such as "the freedom that was falling upon me" and "the condition of being nighttime for the days, for the years." Both of these images are imbued with an intensity of oppression and suffocation alongside an inconceivable liberation. The freedom that is "falling upon" suggests an excess, a too muchness that almost offends compared to the life Sara and the other prisoners have shared for several years. This is the difference that Kozameh articulates with the phrase "that distance, so concrete, which can be established between the nocturnal sky and night itself, the condition of being nighttime for the days, for the years." While the narrator relates "nighttime" with the literal darkness of the prison, the lack of hope, and feeling of endless despair these women shared, the "nocturnal sky" marks a "distance, so concrete" that she can hardly believe what it means to be able to look at the stars. In their world, the stars had ceased to exist until this moment.

Existence itself is another theme within this passge. As the narrator (who is also a writer) reflects on her emotions at that moment, she says, "I didn't think or say a thing. Maybe it occurred to me that I was, after all, still alive and that another alternative at that very instant would have been the rain." By illustrating how overwhelmed she was at this moment of stepping out into the air, the narrator emphasizes the moment's extraordinary excessiveness: the woman who always writes, who is always looking for material, could not think of anything remarkably clever to say. She was too busy existing, reminding herself of the rain. Hence, her metanarrative on this passage further dramatizes the understated elation that she experiences: "What I'm doing just isn't working, trying to describe a moment of that magnitude. Almost absurd. Possible, but absurd." The short sentence structures of the last two lines and the repetition of the word "absurd" conjures a mental image of Sara standing there, in "that space betweeen the prison and the military bus" in silent awe. Wordless. It also conveys an image of Kozameh shaking her head at herself years later at the very prospect of trying to represent such a moment through her writing. The excessiveness escapes her both at moment of experience and in her recollection. But of course since the novel itself is a linguistic construct, Kozameh does include her description of this moment, and while we are left to imagine the unspeakable mixture of emotions that escapes her narrative construction, she nevertheless delivers a successful fictionalized representation. The "steps under water" that she references here, and which is also the title of her novel, mark the submerged, understated, and minimalist language that Kozameh strategically uses to counter the heavily repressed and embodied memories of those who were imprisoned, and who continue to carry these memories with them.

Empty Word

I chose this fragment from the second section of the Spanish version of Steps Under Water.

(P. 23) "Hablan entre ellos estos dos. Hablan de una prima que se va a Europa. Europa se me deshace. Me rebota en las paredes del estomago, de la cabeza. No entiendo. No capto la palabra. Europa. Es algo que no es esto. Quien será la tal prima."


In reading “Pasos Bajo el Agua?, I thought many times how the daily life language (common behavior and speaking language) tends to collapse in moments of social chaos. How to express the unspeakable? While the police men are taking Sara to the Police Station, she is obliged to look at the soil and her body is forced to adopt both an uncomfortable and painful position: she should not see where they are going. In fact, she is submitted to a humiliating abuse by agents from the State. Meanwhile, her thoughts, sensations, and feelings are mixed in order to grasp such a situation: all that she gets is a physical understanding of what happen.

The words in such a moment lose their common meaning; there is a violent rupture that shifts her perception about the empirical reality and all that is taken for granted in the daily life. For the Latino American historical context the novel is situated, the reference to Europe is almost absurd and at the same time can be seen as a critic against the alienated bourgeoisie that remains to live its own life without noticing there were disappeared persons during the dirty war. In that moment, the word "Europe" for Sara is empty and it is transformed in something that materializes her discomfort and confusion. She feels the word in her body and not think about it, because in those moments words lack its function.

On the other hand, there's a suggestive humor in imagineting two tormentors remunerated by the Argentinean State talking about domestic things: their family, a cousin who is going to Europe... In a certain extent, outside their works those people have what we know as "normal life?, being mixed with the remainder of the population. Indeed, times of political instability usually change the perception about the reality – or what is worst, all remains apparently the same thing.

PD: The Spanish version of the text faced me with a lot of Argentinean expressions: chancho, manija (bad person, at least in Chile), enchastre (disorder)...In looking for the meaning of "chancho" (solitary confinements) I found a website page that shows a brief description about Caceros, one of the many prisons that received political prisoners during the Dirty War in Argentina. The depiction about the conditions of such spaces is awful and can help us to imagine what it means to live inside a small place for some years, as weel as the traumas produced by such experience. The site is in Spanish, I hope the language doesn't impede the reading of the webpage :)

http://www.boletinargentino.com/index.php?p=685

The use of the first and third person in Steps under water

This passage starts at the bottom of page 18 and continues on page 19 (in the English version): “Come on now, shut up, shut up, stop asking questions, be patient, you’ll find out soon enough! As to why the bird in that painting had its severed head in one corner and its body on the opposite one, as if the two parts didn’t go together, came the reply Shut your mouth! And a mild hatred ran through her bones.?

Kozameh also bring sup this disassociation between the head and the rest of the body on page 84: “And did he hound her about that, all the while Elsa was suffering and having anxieties that were more than justified, which someday I’ll share with you, as soon as you get rid of that mahogany color from that empty head of yours. And I still don’t quite get hot manages to stay connected to the rest of your body.?

I find this fixation with seeing the body and head disconnected as an answer to a question I made myself when I first started reading this book. The story begins in the third person (Sara) and moves on the first person (and back and forth after that). It seems as if this way of seeing herself as both Sara and “I? shows this separating in two and maybe that’s what Alicia Kozameh, as a political prisoner, had to do in order to survive more than three years in prison: She had to distance her head, her mind, the only space where she could be free and alone, from a body that was constantly being observed, punished, and censured in one way or another.

I also think that this separation of the head and the body gives the first person ("I") a very strong approach to show what she thinks and feels. And that “I? can be interpreted as a “we?: Kozameh is speaking on behalf of all the female political prisoners that were incarcerated in the 1970s in Argentina. She is giving her voice a pluralist tone that includes all of them and she can do this by disjointing her head from a body that belongs to all—it certainly feels like her body was one with the other women in stories like the one about New Year’s Eve or about the compañera dying without medical attention. Their voices sounded like one at those moments, even though she was able to maintain and express her individual thoughts.

Note: This weekend I happened to talk to another Argentine student who is the Spanish and Portuguese department and who has also read Steps under water. She told me that she liked the novel because it helped her reflect on the experiences of political prisoners. She had never thought about them because most of the conversations she’s had/heard were about the disappeared and the people fighting for them (like the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo). I just want to bring this up because this comment reminded me that “forgetting? about political prisoners in conversations is not an uncommon experience for people born in the 70s and 80s (and later) in Argentina and because it forced me to look at this book under a different light—I happened to have many conversations about political prisoners growing up due to knowing people who went through this experience.

February 20, 2008

Absence of the self

The passage I am looking at starts on page 18 to 21 in the English version.

She always sees herself as the other. She cannot identify herself as one, her life and experiences happen through the other. It’s through her sister that she acquired a sense of her body (18), there is always fragments that need to be organized, put in order to make sense. When she looks at the mirror, and there is another one behind her, it is easy to imagine that all the images that go inside each other make her small and in pieces that seem to be impossible to be as one.

When she violates her body spying on it (20), decay, waste and incompleteness are the only things she sees that mix up also with the impossibility to identify physical pain. She keeps trying to bring her sister, her father, her writing and Vera’s memories as a way to put herself together. She sees her story as a chessboard (44), a whole made up with other small parts that cannot be even seen on the mirror.

We may say that she tries to put things back together: her life, her relationships and things just start happening (?) at moment she feels (?) pain see outside of the world she builds around her.

On Breve Carcel

This novel could be read as somebody’s journey to recuperate or to find somethig that is fragmented. Perhaps the protagonist seems to looks for her self in her own writing, which shows that fragmentation. For instance, in the sentence below. “Pensó que lejos […] escribiría. There are many sentences like this in the novel that interrupt a otherwise logical, clear and straigh flow of thinking but are kind of cut in the middle.

At the same time, the protagonist writing is also the desire to recuperate Renata, to come to terms with memories of Vera, her sister and her parents. Writing is to create a paralel reality in which to understand herself. Is there a desire to make sense of her present and her past?

The most striking passages, in my view, are then the ones related to writing, like the one on page 66

“Volvió a esta ciudad para escribir, pero no para escribir lo que está escribiendo. Pensó que lejos -¿lejos de dónde? Se aleja de todos sus lugares-escribiría. Algo que le interesara, se decía, un ensayo sobre autobiografías, ¿por qué no? Como no podía delimitar la suya, de manera coherente, leería autobiografías ajenas: por pura curiosidad y para crear pretextos que luego le permitirían reunirse consigo, dar una imagen única.[..] Autobiografías, que placer seguir a un yo, atender a sus mínimos meandros, detenerse en el pequeño detalle que, una y otra vez , lo constituye.[mentions details of Sor Juana’s Respuesta a Sor Filotea]


The protagonist defines what kind her writing it is supposed to be: coherent
Even though her objetive is to write (how many time she needs to say it?), she knows exactly what is the outcome:

“Estas líneas no componen, y nunca quisieron componer, una autobiografía: componen -querrían componer- una serie de violencias salteadas, que le tocaron a ella, que también han tocado a otros.?

But, ¿why she looks for autobiographies?, because there is something special about autobiographies in general, they are coherent, unlike her own writing, but by getting closer to autobiographies, the protagonist, would go through a process of “meeting herself? and grasp and deliver a “unique imagen?. I read this as her goal.

Her writing of “violencias salteadas? is then compared against a coherent autobiograpy like Sor Juana’s where the “yo?(ego) and its details are the objetive and “the pleasure?.

She seems to know that there is a long path to arrive to a coherent, complete autobiogrphy, where she would be able to name a “yo?/ego of herself. There seems to be a conection between the unname protagonist and the process of looking for her “yo?. And the protagonist then, desires to do some day as Sor Juana did ? her own “Carta Atenagórica?

Is it casual her concern with mirrors and images?, she does not look herself in a mirror like Renata does. She recognizes herself in her sister body. Are body and “yo? connected in some way?

February 19, 2008

vera's appearance

my close reading from Sylvia Molloy’s _En breve cárcel_ is from page 91 (part 2, chapter 2, paragraph 4), the narrator’s analysis of vera’s appearance when they meet at the unnamed woman’s house:

Su primera reacción, al mirarla, es una mezcla de interés y de rechazo. Ve a una mujer todavía joven, de buenísima figura, pero algo en ella acusa, de manera demasiado clara y patética, la conciencia de una etapa cumplida y la rebelión ante una decadencia que ha de sentir como inminente. No sólo es el pelo bien teñido, la ropa de mujer más joven, sabiamente descuidada—Vera que cuando la conoció se vestía con severidad, con exceso de discreción, para asegurarse una imagen que en esa época quería ser seria y digna—, el cuerpo sometido a rigurosos ejercicios y atenciones antes desconocidos. Hay algo en la actitud, en la manera de hablar del personaje que de pronto le recuerda a los bellezones viejos que no se resignan a abandonar su papel de conquistadores, que se empeñan en permanecer como caricaturas de lo que han sido.

there are (at least) three layers of meaning in this description of vera: what vera looked like in the past; what vera looks like in the present encounter; and the narrator’s interpretation of vera’s current state, given her knowledge of vera’s past state. vera is repeatedly described as attractive but using language that implies that she shouldn’t be so: “todavía joven, de buenísima figura? [still young, with a really nice figure]; “pelo bien teñido? [well-colored/dyed hair]; “ropa de mujer más joven, sabiamente descuidada? [clothes of a younger woman, smartly/wisely unkempt]; “el cuerpo sometido a rigurosos ejercicios y atenciones antes desconocidos? [her body submitted to rigorous exercise and care previously unknown to her/it]. this is a much different image than had vera been described as young with a nice figure, pretty hair, stylish clothing, and a strong, healthy body—the language calls attention to vera’s age and all the effort she must put forth to maintain her appearance. there is a sense of falseness, of something lost, that vera has become pathetic—particularly in the comparison with the aging playboys who insist on remaining as caricatures of what they have been.

the narrator admits that vera looks good and is desirable, which makes me wonder how someone meeting vera for the first time would describe her...probably not as carefully careless (“sabiamente descuidada?). it seems that the narrator’s perception of vera’s appearance is very much influenced by her feelings about vera as being false, controlling, and manipulative. or perhaps this description of her appearance is meant to reinforce readers’ perception of her as controlling and manipulative? i think the aspect of age is important, too. not only is vera a manipulator, with age she has lost potency and become pathetic. what is molloy saying with this image? is this commentary limited to this specific character or is it generalizable to other/all women as we age?

Disturbing Physicality of the Memory in Molloy’s Story

Here is the Spanish version of the passage I chose. You can find it in the Part 1, last part of the section IV (P. 60)

“Renata, una vez mas, la sorprende. La escuchaba desde la cama, con los ojos entrecerrados, con un cigarrillo que se fumaba solo entre sus labios y le cubría de ceniza el pecho inmóvil. No ha dicho una palabra desde que ella le arrojó el anillo. De pronto se incorpora como si se despertara y se desnuda. Sin mirarla se frota los ojos, se pasa la mano por el cuello, como si se acariciara. Sin mirar se acerca a ella, la desnuda, y recurriendo a las muy precisas descripciones que ella le ha brindado la hace gozar, una y otra vez. No la perdona, como ella no le había perdonando ningún detalle. La obliga, eso si, a permanecer siempre de pie junto a la mesa, a no abandonar en ningún momento – Renata, que nunca le ha pegado, la golpea cuando ella se siente desfallecer – la posición que adoptó cuando comenzó a hablar.?

Renata’s initial detachment and immobility while hearing She describe the exact details about her sexual encounters with others contrast strongly with her later reaction. Can anybody be emotionally absent when at the same time physically present when making love with someone else? The spiritual absence is emphasized through concrete signs such as “un cigarillo que se fumaba solo entre sus labios?. Since Renata is not completely present there, she does not smoke the cigarette, but the cigarette is smoked through Renata’s lips. The object is more active than Renata.

Renata acts both mechanically and solitarily in each previous movement in order to get close to She, and this detached manner reinforces the odd situation that is going to happen: “Sin mirarla se frota los ojos, se pasa la mano por el cuello, como si se acariciara.? Instead of being tender, Renata remains absent in the movements prior to touching She.

In fact, they do not make love, but something similar to an odd ritual. Since Renata is materializing She’s words into physical action, (in a given sense, She creates these stories to hurt Renata), we can watch an interesting inversion: Renata enacts the fiction invoked by the stories She tells about her sexual encounters. This is a possible way to read this story: like Molloy, She is a writer who uses words to (re) create other worlds. It seems a game of mirrors because the novel has a strong autobiographical sense. In this sense, the reality and the fiction are mixed in a disturbing way and we don’t know what instance precedes what: reality or representation.

The cruelty of that moment is showed through other precise physical images: Renata forces She to keep standing, in the same position in which She related the details about her lovers. Sexual pleasure and a refined degree of cruelty are the strange mixture present here. It seems that every moment of pleasure has a complement of pain, whether physical or moral. There are traces of lovers’ complicity through the meticulous ways both women choose to hurt or satisfy each other. Pleasure and pain are put together in such a way to challenge hegemonic representations about feminine sensibility.

The Image of Diana and the Influence of the Father in Certficate of Absence

This passage is from page 121 in the English version:
“Her father asked her to go back to Ephesus, to lose herself in Diana who will bring her back to life. She goes back at that moment, or rather to that dream: yes, in this room, she now accepts her father’s dubious gift. She realizes that, in saying the word Ephesus, her father was altering almost the nameless geography of her story, calling attention to the only place she would never be able to reach. What does she want from her father? Today she would accept anything: not one city, not thirty, but a labyrinth where, for the moment, she cannot find her way. She is aware of the deception as she brings in traces of Diana the huntress into her father’s message: in fact her father only asks her to visit Ephesus and gaze on the maternal colossus. The multiple breasts are not its only monstrous distinction. Below the waist, inlaid in an unlikely stone skirt and rendered static, are beasts: perhaps dogs’ heads, perhaps animal masks, she does not care to make them out. They have become part of the generous figure, that firmly set on huge feet, wisely crowned with a tower, spreads out her arms, promising everything and ultimately giving her nothing. Except, perhaps a challenge?


Sylvia Molloy’s Certificate of Absence puts women at the center of the narrative, but does not eliminate men altogether as shown through the deep influence of the father. While most of the text focuses on Molloy’s relationship with other women as lovers, mothers, and sisters, the presence of her father is prevalent throughout the narrative. For Molloy, her father represents standard societal norms in terms of sexuality and gender. This influence and subsequent resistance to her father and to societal norms are employed through the use of the figure of Diana. Earlier in the text on page 55, Molloy recognizes the importance of her father in her own storytelling and that she has previously ignored the enormous role that he has had in her narrative and her sense of self. In a subsequent dream, she hears her father persuading her towards the Diana of Ephesus, a figure of stone breasts and fertility rather than the preferred Artemis of elusiveness and virginity.
In order to try to understand the passage, I did a little background research on Ephesus. The Temple of Diana of Ephesus in Turkey was considered one of the seven wonders of the world. Apparently, the greed goddess Artemis, a virginal woodland fused with Cybele of Anatolia, a goddess linked to the moon and fertility. It appears contradictory that virginity and fertility are then constructed together in the same figure. It is this hybridization that opens up a source of confusion for Molloy, but also allows for choice.
On page 121, Molloy recalls the dream that she had with her father’s calling for her to go to Ephesus. The repetition of this dream is important as it allows for a recalling and remembering of her previous self. However, Molloy also realizes that her father distorted the meaning of Diana, and closed off certain paths for Molloy by showing her only one way towards being a woman. By calling attention to the one city in a “nameless? geography, Molloy’s vision of her father closes off her very being and sense of self as a woman. Referencing how Zeus gave Diana thirty cities instead of one, which led to paralysis instead of freedom, Molloy also suggests that her father’s wish denoted a static immobility as can also be represented by the coldness and hardness of the stone of the statue mentioned previously in the dream. The nameless geography could also be meant to refer to the nameless cities in which Molloy travels, and the cities that are not named until the end, when Molloy has begun to reveal to herself the sources of her immobility and to begin to successfully shake off the static fertile image of Diana. This geography-Buffalo, Paris, Buenos Aires, is distinguished not by her father, but by her associations with the city and her relationships with women in each of those cities. Therefore, the “one place that she cannot reach? is in fact, a city that is associated with primarily men, and by association with heterosexual norms. This idea of fertility and sexuality is impossible for Molloy to meet. Therefore, in order to achieve freedom from her father’s gaze, her room, and her paralysis, Molloy must engage with the other Diana, the huntress. Once Molloy recognizes this Diana in herself, Molloy is able to actually see herself perceptively. She also sees that her rejection of men, especially her father even though he attempts to gain her love, violence, and her revenge against transgressions as part of her similarity with the huntress Diana. Thus femininity is not necessarily associated with fertility, but rather one of potential violence and safeguarding. Molloy also begins to see the Diana of Ephesus as potentially monstrous. The use of the word colossus signifies an intimidating magnitude that is increased with the image of multiple monstrous breasts. The beasts suggest that fertility can also produce horrible images and fear, rather than maternal beauty. The image that Diana spreads out her arms and promises everything suggests that Molloy previously had been told or believed that adopting a maternal fertile femininity and heterosexual norms would give her everything that she wishes. However, by now recognizing these primordial influences of her father, Molloy sees that these promises were not necessarily true. Rather, the image of Diana of Ephesus is represented as a challenge to Molloy and an image for her to overcome in her journey for self.

Violence in Sylvia Molloy's Cerfiticate of Absence

Violence in Sylvia Molloy’s Certificate of Absence
This passage is taken from page 49 in the English version:
“Autobiographies: what pleasure she feels in following a self, paying attention of its little meanderings, pausing over the tiny detail that, time and time again, gives it shape…What she writes does not constitute, and will never constitute, an autobiography: rather, it tries to reproduce a disjointed series of acts of violence that befell her, that also befell others.?
The narrator’s refusal to label her writing (this book) an autobiography is because this is not so much of a coherent, personal story (the narrator remains anonymous throughout): it connects us to other people in her life (through whom she sometimes sees herself). In keeping with this genre, the fragmented story is told from the omniscient third person who is at the same time the protagonist. Molly uses this technique to allow the reader to be well acquainted with the narrator protagonist but at the same time to learn more about other characters through her.

The story focuses on three main episodes of the narrator’s past and present: her childhood and her love relationships with two women. Her childhood memories connect us to her relationships with her younger sister Clara, her aunt Sara, her father and mother. This is part of what ‘shapes’ her identity which we see her struggling with throughout the text. Her love relationships on the other hand connect us to her very complicated relationships with Renata and the domineering Vera.
The violence referred to in the passage centers around women in the story: the narrator, Clara, Vera and Renata. It takes different forms: physical and mental/projected, self inflicted and inflicted by others. For instance, the narrator inflicts physical pain on her numb and estranged body by slashing her arms; she also violates it by ‘spying’ on it. As a child, she feels violated by her father’s ritualistic morning kisses and his insistence on leaving her door slightly open – something that she detested. She later gets hurt by Vera who leaves her for another woman.
The narrator protagonist also inflicts and projects pain on the women in her life. For instance, she recalls sadistically whipping her then helpless younger sister and successfully lies her way out of punishment. Throughout the story, she plans her vengeance (violence) on Vera for leaving her for Renata. She in turn hurts Renata by telling her she cheated and fantasizes beating her.
I find it interesting that she inflicts and projects violence on the very people she desires: her sister (whom she confesses she desired at one point) and her two lovers.
Is this violence perhaps a way of breaking free from the order, the constant need to conform, to do what is right? The narrator seems to have ‘disorder’ paranoia which she contatly tries to conceal (eg, page 16 and 77), except in her writing, which is disjointed - lacks ‘order.’

February 18, 2008

Water (and its absence) in Molloy

The passage I'm looking at is on p. 62 in the English version:

"--she looks for water. The image of hell she has forged for herself is a place full of blinding white light; at times, it is also a dusty, dry place, without water. She remembers a trip she was taken on as a child...she was afraid of dying of thirst in that bright yellow desert, and kept asking for water, which they gave her sparingly from a thermos. That summer her parents had decided not to go back to the sea, but to spend a month in the mountains instead. The trip was endless...The hotel swimming pool had but two inches of mud in which frogs splashed about; one had to walk for two hours to find a stream with water in it. She felt the need to go to that stream everyday, even though it was a poor substitute for the sea. Her mother, however, who did not need water, who came alive in that hot, dry climate, put a stop to those excursions. It was then that she fell sick. Air and water: that is what she needed, that is what she still needs..."

This passage at once recalls and inverts the happy memories the narrator attributes to family vacations at the sea. Whereas on pp.46-47 the narrator fondly recalls these brief reprieves from schedules, rules (which she so closely follows), and an otherwise inescapable self-consciousness, in this passage she describes their vacation as "endless." In contrast to the feeling of companionship she experienced at the sea, this trip to the mountains is described as barren and lonely, particularly because of the absence of water.

Interestingly, it is precisely this environment that deprives and fails the narrator that allows her mother to "come alive," since unlike the her daughter, she "did not need water." The symbolism of this statement is intimately connected to Daniela's points about the narrator's relationship with her mother. While the narrator recognizes that "air and water" are "what she needed" and "what she still needs," these sources of nourishment are marked as alien, undesirable, and antithetical to her mother's character, who thrives in "that hot, dry climate." In this sense, the above scene comes to dramatize the barrenness and isolation the narrator sought to overcome in her relationship with her mother, and allows us to sympathize with her now detached, repressed character. We can imagine the disappointment of a child, who expecting the excitement of the sea, finds only a "hotel swimming pool...[with] two inches of mud," the frustration of her unsatisfied thirst when her parents only allowed her to drink "sparingly from a thermos," and the outlawing of her two hour daily walk to the closest stream "with water in it." The narrator's unflinching desire, thirst, and dedication to accessing the stream highlights her unwavering desire to extract love and nourishment from a parental relationship that constantly denies her such. Through a psychoanalytic lens, we might (if we wanted to) argue that her poor relationship with her mother is what continues to lead her to "look for water" (read as stable, loving relationships), and what also makes such relationships impossible for her to achieve. The narrator's repressed, detached character becomes symptomatic of the "dusty, dry place" she found herself in as a child.

Although I do not necessarily want to argue for a psychoanalytic reading, the suggestive language of the novel easily allows for it, and so I will simply suggest how the water imagery, particularly the narrator's implied connection to the sea (which is marked by the suspension of societal rules), is reminiscent of the semiotic abyss (which is read as maternal, or an eternal feminine by french feminist psychoanalysts). Read in this light, while the desert and dry land might represent the isolation and separation we all feel after crossing into the symbolic order (through which language at once grants and denies us avenues of connection), the sea might represent the interconnectedness and completeness that resists the binary logic of the symbolic, which is experienced before the break with the mother. Thus, while the narrator denounces the relationship she had with her mother, she clings to the maternal semiotic.

Fragmentation in Certificate of Absence

This passage is on the top of page 17 (English version): “She had dreamed of being with someone before the same landscape: a park, a bench, a tree, and one character, her father, who is dead. The two visions, hers and the other person’s, coincide in all respects except one: her father. The other person sees him as a whole, projecting his shape. She, however, searches for her father and sees fragments that she cannot bring together. She tells herself that a mediated vision, capable of being composed, is sanity. When not only the image of her father but also the images of the bench, the tree, and the park are fragmented, then she will know she has gone mad. All at once, with an effort, she turns her mind to good dreams as a way of warding off evil. She would like to sleep.?

This is just one passage throughout Certificate of Absence that talks about fragmentation. In this case, she dreams of her father, someone who she loved and who tried to show affection to her (she seems to have dual feelings toward her father’s kissing and touching her). Someone who represents the heterosexual man and someone who she tries to emulate (does she position herself in a male heterosexual role in order to get involved with other women?) In any case, there are three characters in this dream (as in every dream she has) and the other person (also a woman) sees her father as a whole, while she sees him fragmented. Although she believes that seeing her father as whole is the “sane? way, she can’t help to see him (who is already dead in her dream) in fragments. It is as if the only way she can see the image of her father (or of her mother, sister, and lovers) is by violently deconstructing it to put it back together. She even tries to “fragment? herself: “…like the nearly healed cut she sees, today, on her arm.? (46)

She is trying to obtain a “whole image? of herself by achieving whole images of others, but first she has to disjoint, dismember, take apart, disembody, and amputate (all verbs she uses throughout her writing). Basically, she needs to break her history/story into pieces and then put it back together in order to move on. It is like a giant puzzle that will lead her to understand herself and the people that surrounds/surrounded her better. (It is interesting to note that another Argentine writer, Jorge Luis Borges, used this character fragmentation technique in his own writing.)

If a child is to become male or female in response to the females and males she encounters in her family and to the male and female images she constructs according to her experience (Ann Rosalind Jones, 1981), then the coldness and distance her mother always showed towards her (added to the desire to stop living) would make her connect strongly with her father and would create a desire to be him/like him. Therefore, in this search as an emotional and sexual being her writing (as well as her dreams) serves as a guide to pick up those pieces (hers, her father’s, her lovers’) and to complete the whole picture of who she was/is/will be.

February 13, 2008

Power (?)

Male power (?)

Lavinia is always trying to fight for her position as a woman. Living by herself, studying in a different country certainly made her different if we compare with other women in her country.
We can see from the beginning when she tries to get a job, starting by the interviewer Julián Solera, men start to mark their presence as symbol of power. Then comes Felipe, a muscle guy “arquitecto coordinador, encargado de asignar y supervisar todos los trabajos? (22), who tried to intimidate Lavinia with his jokes.
Lavinia on her position as new employee remains quiet, asking herself whether her situation would be different if her name was Aquiles or Apolonio.

In all these situations above all the men have powerful names (http://es.wikipedia.org), except Lavinia:

Solera - pieza de madera que se coloca horizontal en la parte superior de un muro en el mismo sentido de éste, y sobre el cual se apoya la estructura que soportará la techumbre;

Felipe - en la Grecia antigua el nombre Felipe se le denominaba al verdugo de dios en la tierra;

Aquiles – fue un héroe de la Guerra de Troya;

Apolonio – escultor griego del siglo I a. C.

Lavinia – era hija del rey de los latinos

The representation of power, or the attempt to it happens throughout the text but it fails with her death, a representation that it was all worthless (?) and women will never have the chance.(?)

On The inhabited woman

The most appealing part of the novel is the pre-hispanic myth that supports the plot and it is at the beginning of the narration, in the epigraph, which ends saying “porque la muerte es mentira? (because death does not exist). This is a myth from the Makiritare Indians, included in Eduardo Galeano’s book, Memorias del Fuego.


Following on the traces of the myth, Lavinia’s life is coupled with Itzá’s as a continuation of the life’s cicle. Both women’s lives are then compared to the legend of the women warrior that Itzá relates, which started during the Spanish invasión of the Americas.

This is made possible through the presence of the orange three in her garden. Lavinia, ingests the seed that makes her the last point of such chain of women warriors. Itzá died and was transformed in a latent form in the soil and somehow at this time in history, she is awakened. “Ví las raíces. Las manos extendidas, llamándome. Y la fuerza del mandato me atrajo irremisiblemente. Penetré en el árbol, en su sistema sanguíneo, lo recorrí como una larga caricia de savia y vida, un abrir de pétalos, un estremecimiento de hojas.?

In this context, the most relevant lines are those in which Itzá implicitly comments on race, language and sexual behavior in connection with lavinia’s role. For instance:

Chapter 3
“Lentamente voy comprendiendo este tiempo. Me preparo. He observado a la mujer. Las mujeres parecen ya no ser subordinadas, sino personas principales. Hasta tienen servidumbre por sí mismas. Trabajan fuera del hogar. Ella por ejemplo, sale a trabajar por las mañanas.? (31).

And:

“Me pregunto que raza será ésta, mezcla de invasores y nahuas.
¿Serán quizás de las mujeres de nuestras tribus arrastradas a la promiscuidad y la servidumbre? ¿Serán hijos del terror de las violaciones, de la lujuria inagotable de los conquistadores? ¿A quién pertenecerán sus corazones, el aliento de sus pechos?? (40)

Itzá tells a story that will continue until the “end of time?, althoug there will be no end of time, according to this myth, because life is a never ending cycle.

Then, at the end of the novel, Lavinia dies, as Itzá did, in an attemp to defend her ideals (language, territoty and way of life). Can this ending of the novel be seen as a defeat, or a part of a cycle too?. If it is a part, is a part of a never ending defeat? In other words, same cicle of rebelion, same cicle of defea?. If so, then why is even worthwhile to start fighting for our ideas?


February 12, 2008

Gender and class in The Inhabited Woman/La mujer habitada

In this close reading, I would like to comment on the narrative intersection of gender and social class as seen in a passage of Belli’s The Inhabited Woman/La mujer habitada.

“She had never imagined anything like this could happen to her, especially to her. Not in her wildest dreams or worst nightmares. The ‘guerrilla fighters’ were something distant for her, like beings from another planet. In Italy, like everyone else, she had admired Che Guevara. She remembered her grandfather’s fascination with Fidel Castro and the ‘revolution.’ But she came from a different stock. She was certain of that. It was one thing not to agree with the dynasty and another to fight with weapons against an army trained to kill without mercy, in cold blood. It took another type of personality, other mettle. Her own personal rebellion against the status quo, her demand for independence, to leave her home and hold a professional job, was one thing, but it was quite something else to get involved with this mad adventure, this collective suicide, this extreme idealism…? (71).

In this passage, the reader is aware not only of the protagonist’s gender, but also of her social class. Because Lavinia comes from a privileged class, her life experiences are much different than those of women of lower social positions. For Lavinia, as the reader understands at this point in the narration, “rebellion? is about challenging what is traditionally “female?. Rejecting the path her parents would have chosen for her (marriage, domestic life), Lavinia chooses to be independent, leaving the home, living on her own, and pursuing a career. Challenging the “status quo? for Lavinia doesn’t deal with class so much as it does with gender.

On the other hand, for those involved in the armed struggle, the “mad adventure?, “collective suicide?, and “extreme idealism?, the fight is more about day-to-day, life-or-death issues. In saying this, I do not intend to devalue the ways in which Lavinia challenges the status quo. Rather, it is quite clear in this passage that her social position carries with it a different set of gender issues that would seem quite irrelevant to a woman of a lower social class. Because of her position in society, she is able to passively “not…agree with the dynasty? while other people are forced to “fight with weapons against an army…?. This passage reminds me of critiques of Second Wave Feminism, which highlighted the struggle of white, middle class women, while doing much less to address the situation of women who were also minorities because of their race and social class. These examples illustrate the interwoven nature of gender/race/class, and how these markers (among others) must be understood in relation to one another.

This passage come from the last paragraph on page 186 in the Spanish version.
“Ya no se irá de la tierra como las flores que perecieron, sin dejar rastro. Oculta en la noche en que me mira hay presagos y ella avanza desenvainando por fin la obsidiana, el roble. Poco queda ya de aquella mujer dormida que el aroma de mis azhares despertó del sueño pesado del ocio. Lentamente Lavinia ha ido tocadondo fondo en sí misma, alcanzando el lugar donde dormían los sentimentos nobles que los dioses dan a los hombres antes de morar a la tierra y sembrar el maíz. Mi presencia ha sido cuchillo para cortar la indiferencia. Pero dentro de ella existen ocultas las sensaciones que ahora afloran y que un día entonarán cantos que no morirán?


The Inhabited Woman has three narratives occurring at once. The indigenous woman’s story is told in the present through the medium of the orange tree. Her story is told in the present, but references the past of hundreds of years ago when her tribe resisted the Spanish invaders. The other narrative is that of Lavinia, an independent professional woman from an aristocratic family, who involves herself with the revolucionary movement. The third narrative is that of the land, as represented by the orange tree. The land itself has a story that presents itself as an intermediary between humans.
In this passage, the indigenous woman who inhabits the tree, and eventually, Lavinia, comments on the passage of time, but the permanence of space. Belli references the land that is still present despite various battles, conquests and rebellions and compares it to the ephemeral life of flowers and people. While the indigenous woman might not physically occupy the same place in human form, she still inhabits the land and continues to have an effect on the present. It is alluded to that human live evolves in cycles, and that ancestors are always present in some other form. Therefore, the actions of the past still hold effect to the present. As the orange tree and the indigenous woman watch over Lavinia, they view the transformation from an unaffected individual to one who is capable at last of uncovering and unsheathing her own strength and tapping into her own power. The reference to obsidian alludes to the weapons used by the indigenous warriors against the Spanish. As obsidian was often used in the context of masculinity, Belli uses it now to suggest a feminine power that can also be used to battle. The reference to obsidian and oak suggest a resolute strength and immortality that goes back to the idea of the permanence of the land. In this regard, Lavinia is not only influenced by the inhabitation of the indigenous woman, but also by the need to protect the land itself. The struggle of indigenous rebellion is linked to that of a feminist consciousness. The painting of Lavinia with strong unbrekable images cuts the supposed softer images of feminity. The indigenous woman's own rebellion against her parents, resistance of gender norms, and her involvement in the struggle with her lover are all replayed out in Lavinia.
Belli goes on to suggest that Lavinia has unlocked a latent duty. The references to woking the land and planting corn make it known that the land and nature are also important roles in the novel, and in Lavinia’s awakening. Therefore, her political awakening is a part of her consciousness as a woman and as an inhabitant of the land, in which her ancestors may have very well helped conquer. Yet, the woman of the orange tree does not lay blame to Lavinia, but rather suggests that she is not pure Spanish, but a mix of indigenous and European that is able to tap into the nature of the land.
The woman of the orange tree provokes this consciousness, but also knows that this consciousness comes in cycles and Lavinia is not merely a vessel of the past. The reference again to a growth, a flowering goes back to the first sentence of the passage. The flowers represent a cycle of life, death, and rebirth. The songs that will be sung one day also evoke the idea that the present, the past, and the future are all intertwined. Thus, the land itself is the intermediary between these cycles of time.

The Inhabitation in Belli's 'The Inhabited Woman'

The inhabitation in Belli’s The Inhabited Woman
I decided to do a close reading of a passage taken from page 53:
“She split us open with a single slice. A dry, almost painless scratch. Then her fingers were grasping the rind and my juice was flowing. Pleasurable. Like breathing the delicate inner tension. Similar to crying. My sections opening. My soft peels freeing the gentle tears they held within their round worlds. And then she was setting us on the table. From within the transparent vase, I watch her. I wait for her to hold me to her lips. I wait for the consummation of the rites, the joining of the circles.?

This is a metaphorical description of the process of giving birth and coming into being. The splitting of the orange is like the cutting of either the vagina or lower abdomen and womb (in the case of a cesarean birth) to deliver a baby. Bellie likens Livinia’s fingers to that of the doctor or the midwife who delivers the baby in the midst of blood and amniotic fluid. “The transparent vase? here suggests the embryo sac. The “almost painless scratch? signifies the happiness and desperation to be born and/give birth, which numbs the pain of the cut. The ‘orange tree’ (the Indian woman) waits with great anticipation (captured in the statement “I wait for her to hold me to her lips “as well as “I wait for the consummation…?) to inhabit Lavinia’s body and return to life. It is in Livinia’s body that ‘the tree’ gets to let go of the suppressed pains of the past, inhabiting Livinia’s body is like a purgation of the woman’s soul as she gets a second chance at life.
This inhabitation marks Livinia’s new outlook of life. It propels her to make a decision to either turn a blind eye to the reality of the social injustice surrounding her, enjoy the comfort that her status affords her or to betray her class and participate in ‘redesigning’ and rediscovering herself and her role in her environment. Through this incarnation of ‘the tree’s past and Livinia’s future, Belli interlaces the life experience of the Indian woman with that of the protagonist, Livinia.
I also got the feeling that this passage also makes reference to the sexual pleasures that Livinia experiences with Felipe. This is captured in Belli’s use of “pleasurable?, “…and my juice was flowing? (vaginal secretion) as well as “… to hold me to her lips?. The passion she shares with Felipe is part of the journey towards discovering herself and the world she is a part of.

With the mixture of "pain" and "pleasure", Belli alludes to the pleasurable pain of giving birth and that of the pleasures and pains of not only Livinia's life , but of life in general - which is similar to the bittersweet taste of orange juice.

My close reading from The Inhabited Woman/La Mujer Habitada.

Spanish version P. 127, Chapter 9, 2nd section.
This fragment is said by the indigenous woman from ancient times by asking for blessing to her mother, before leaving her community to engage into the anti-Spanish indigenous movement.


“Madre, no me maldigas, dame tu bendición – dije, arrodillándome en la tierra (….) Solo nos quedan dos caminos, madre – dije, enderezándome – maldecirlos o combatirlos. Es preciso que parta. No es solo por Yarince. Yo se usar el arco y la flecha. No soporto la placidez de los largos días. La espera de lo que habrá de sobrevenir. Siento muy dentro que es mi destino partir. Recuerdo que extendió las manos, las palmas blancas de batir la masa del maíz y redondear las tortillas. Las alzo y volvió a bajar. Inclino la cabeza desistiendo de hablar mas Me hizo arrodillarme e invoco a Tamagastad y Cipaltomal, nuestros creadores; a Quiote-Tlaloc, dios de la lluvia, a quien yo había sido dedicada.?

There’s a mix of resolution and firmness with gentleness in the above paragraph. The use of the first person to tell what occurred is important to emphasize the personal decision regards her choice to fight against Spanish’s domination. At the same time, however, there’s the use of the impersonal form “es preciso que parta (…) es mi destino partir? these expressions point out the necessity (historical conditions surrounded her fate/destino: cannot be otherwise) of such a decision; her sense of responsibility with both the world and her people. Otherwise, she would evade her responsibility with her community and with herself. She affirms having the necessary knowledge – generally controlled by indigenous men – to join to the anti Spanish movement.

The character also manifests explicit hence regards her position as woman inside her community. If on the one hand she refuses to adopt the traditional female role (in Westerns and Pre-Columbine culture, at least as Belli creates the story) in avoiding to wait (the future, a man) as the passive female social position, she uses some type of ancient wisdom (as oppose to the instrumental Western knowledge) more related to non western civilizations and a more intuitive (and female?) way to deal with the reality “siento muy dentro…? regards with not only collective concerns but also with an intimate change in her view upon the world.

The birth of this new way of thinking in this more resolute woman is featured with the respect she treats her mother, reaffirming the ties of loyalty to her family and her culture. In this sense, it’s worthy the author’s choice in giving to this character a way to speak that expresses nobility, despite the fact that such a choice is not strictly “realist?, because such way not inform about race or culture features (she speaks Spanish, without using any dialect). Most important, such diction communicates high values of the indigenous culture. In other worlds, the diction dignifies not only the woman by using it, but the culture she belongs. The body language depicted in the scene also confirms the respect of the woman for her mother and her culture. The reference to the soil “tierra? the moment she kneels down also remarks such ties. The reaction of her mother features not open approbation, but the resignation to accept her daughter resolution and new attitude in face hard times of oppression. What is described is the silent mother’s blessing, expression not through a rational dialogue but through a ritualistic ask for help to Indian gods. It can seem some naïve the invocation to God, but express a high spirituality which Spanish men lack, despite their political alliance with Catholic Church.

By the character experiencing a clear conscious sense of becoming she needs to express to her mother such deep motivations to go away from her family and community. The combination of an inner decision motivated for unfair situations should be explained to her mother without anger but with respect and some of sweetness emphasizes the presence of heritage ties. Nevertheless, she is not asking for permission, just for blessing, her choice is taken.

February 11, 2008

"The other" and the meaning of names in The Inhabited Woman

If you have the English version of the book, you’ll find this passage at the end of page 299:
She missed him furiously. She couldn’t understand him or maybe she didn’t understand; “understanding? was a double-edged sword. Given Felipe’s behavior, it was difficult to simply apply her theory about the “other? Felipe, excuse him from his responsibility in the name of an ancestral heritage.
Also on page 307: “Just so you know: that’s the last ‘primitive impulse’ I’ll ‘understand’,? Lavinia said before Felipe went out the door.

The way Gioconda Belli uses “the other? and “primitive? in this passage reminds me of the way anthropologists use these two expressions. “The other? is seen by an “us? and “us? is a group of people who has power over “the other? (at the beginning of the twentieth century that “we? used to be male, white, middle and upper class, Westerner, etc.). Lavinia sees two Felipes: One is the one she loves and respects, and the other Felipe comes out when she overprotects her and doesn’t let her get involved with the Movement. It is at that moment that, as Lavinia cannot understand Felipe, he gets labeled as the other, the different the one, the strange and difficult to understand one.

It is interesting that Belli also uses “primitive? to explain Felipe’s impulses because she is depicting him in a not-so-flattering way. Yes, the primitive can be exotic and sensual, unknown and mysterious (and we know Lavinia loves that part of him). But that primitive subject can also be dangerous and harmful. Is that what Lavinia feels when Felipe’s “primitive impulses? emerge? Then, Belli ends that sentence ends with “in the name of an ancestral heritage?—after all, in our Western point of view the primitive comes from a distant past. However, Lavinia is not aware that she is actually the one who is inhabited by that ancestral heritage, by those primitive impulses, by Itzá. What an interesting play of words and meanings that Belli puts right in front of us!


I was curious about the names that the author chose to give to these characters, starting with Lavinia. So, I started looking up their meaning and this is what I found—I think it’s very interesting and I also think that Belli really thought about the names she used in her novel! (I found the meaning of these names in the following websites: http://www.behindthename.com/, http://www.significado-de-los-nombres.net/, http://en.wikipedia.org. I translated some meanings from significado-de-los-nombres.)

• Lavinia: In biology, Lavinia is a genus of fish of the Cyprinid family. In Latin, Lavinia means purity. Lavinia is also a character in Shakespeare's revenge tragedy Titus Andronicus.

• Felipe: It means "friend of horses? in Greek, and Saint Philip was one of the twelve apostles. Characteristics: He is creative, sensitive, and egocentric. He is kind and communicative with everyone, but he is possessive and tender at the same time with his significant other.

• Inés: Agnes in English, derived from Greek ‘αγνος (hagnos) meaning "chaste". Saint Agnes was a virgin martyred under the Roman emperor Diocletian. The name became associated with Latin agnus "lamb", resulting in the saint's frequent depiction with a lamb by her side. Characteristics: She is curious and intuitive. She has a strong personality and is loyal to her friends. She has a lot of energy and is very active.

• Flor: Means simply "flower" from the English word for the blossoming plant. It is derived (via Old French) from Latin flos.

• Sebastián: Derives from Greek σεβαστος (sebastos) "venerable" (a translation of Latin Augustus, the title of the Roman emperors). Saint Sebastian was a 3rd-century Roman soldier martyred by arrows after it was discovered he was a Christian.

• Sara: Means "lady" or "princess" in Hebrew. This was the name of the wife of Abraham in the Old Testament. She became the mother of Isaac at the age of 90.

• Adrián: Means the one who comes from the ocean. Characteristics: He is creative, responsible, and has a great will for work and his studies. He is also generous and he cares for the well-being of the people he loves.

• Julián: From the Roman name Julianus, which was derived from JULIUS. This was the name of the last pagan Roman emperor, Julian the Apostate (4th century). It was also borne by several early saints. In medieval England this was also a feminine name.

• Lorenzo: Means winner, with a laurel wreath upon his head. Characteristics: He is independent, honest, and has a lot of contagious energy. He’s perseverant with his ideas and projects, and cares about the people he loves.

• René: Late Latin name meaning "born again", one who has returned to the grace of God. He is witty and intelligent, and can adapt easily to new situations. He has a lot of friends.

• Pablo: Means the youngest. Characteristics: he is rational, sincere, and sociable. He is interested in everything that happens around him and he has a nice personality.

• Ute: Comes from the male form Odo. Originally a short form of various names beginning with the Germanic element od meaning "wealth, fortune".

• Itzá: «Gota de Rocío» es el delicado nombre de la joven indígena protagonista de la novela «La Mujer Habitada» de la poetisa nicaragüense Gioconda Belli…(http://archivo.elnuevodiario.com.ni/2001/septiembre/01-septiembre- 2001/variedades/variedades1.html)

• Yarince: I couldn’t find a meaning for this name.

• Gioconda (just for fun!): From the Late Latin name Jucunda which meant "happy".

Space/Place in The Inhabited Woman

My close reading comes from pages 11-12 in the English edition.

Passage:
"When she arrived, it had been suffering from decrepitude and abandonment. The doors creaked, the roof leaked; it was ailing from the rheumatism cause by dampness and being closed up. She repaired it, using the money she made from selling the old furniture and her knowledge of architecture. She turned it into a jungle, filling it with plants, colored cushions and boxes, books, records....Old age seemed like a terrible and lonely state to her: she turned her head with a certain melancholy and looked back at her house, thinking about her Aunt Ines. Perhaps it had been better for her to have died before decrepitude set in, even though now she would have liked to see her aunt's elongated figure waving good-bye to her from the doorway as she left for school in the morning, all scrubbed and ironed. This time, she was sure, her aunt would have said good-bye woman to woman, living through her the dreams her time did not allow her to fulfill. A widow at an early age, she could never overcome the horror of loneliness." (11-12)

On several levels, this passage juxtaposes young and old, life and death, loneliness and vibrancy. Having just moved into her deceased aunt's house, Lavinia reflects how the house had been "suffering" from "decrepitude" and "abandonment." By personifying the house, Belli not only characterizes this young architect's passion for buildings, but also dramatizes the relationships that exist between people, space/place, and the natural world (which we also see between Lavinia and the orange tree). Furthermore, the "decrepitude" and "abandonment" of the house parallels Aunt Ines's loneliness (which Lavinia attributes to her widowhood) and the abandonment Lavinia feels at no longer having her Aunt to keep her company. As she looks at the house her thoughts naturally turn toward her aunt (signifying the strong relationship between them), and Lavinia considers how unlike the house that stands before her, she is glad her Aunt passed away before "decrepitude" set in.

Belli continues to dramatize the abandoned feel of the house, using words such as "ailing" and "rheumatism" to personify the effects of the leaking roof and the creaky doors. But just as this is a figurative "coming home" for Lavinia, who regrets the pain she caused her Aunt by moving abroad, Belli highlights how this is a literal coming home as well. In stark contrast to the initial barrenness of the house, Lavinia gradually "repairs" it and fills it plants (life, growth, vibrancy), "colored cushions" (vibrancy, warmth, comfort), boxes (excess), books (imagination, cultivation, intellect), and records (harmony, rhythm, comfort/company). Along with these physical items, this passage also reminds us how Lavinia fills the house with loving memories of her aunt.

Overall, this passage touches on Belli's treatment (and personification of) buildings throughout the novel, the fluid relationship between past and present, humans and our surroundings, and the paradox of experiencing loneliness in the midst of company and companionship in isolation.

February 6, 2008

"La esclava de su amante" and La Celestina?

In this analysis, I am going to consider the section of "La esclava de su amante" in which Claudia attempts to convince Doña Isabel to pay attention to don Manuel’s amorous advances toward her. In the English translation, this section begins on page 153: “The clever Claudia, for that was her name, and well might I call her clever too, for she was also disposed against me, and in favor of the ungrateful stranger Don Manuel…?

This episode of the tale stood out to me because of its Celestinesque tones. In this passage, Claudia enters Isabel’s room to persuade her to read a note from don Manuel. Isabel, disinterested and offended by Manuel’s forwardness, at first dismisses Claudia’s attempts to persuade her. Indeed, she believes Claudia to be plotting against her, calling her clever, and at another point, uses the stronger adjective “cunning? to describe her. Claudia appears in this episode to take on the role of medianera, acting as a go-between in don Manuel and doña Isabel’s dealings. I wonder to what extent María de Zayas y Sotomayor would have been influenced by La Celestina, first published in 1492. Given the widespread dissemination of the work, it seems likely that Zayas y Sotomayor would have been at least familiar with the work. The parallels between this passage and a similar passage in Celestina are striking. After learning of don Manuel’s suffering (or in Celestina, Calisto), Claudia (Celestina) intercedes on his behalf, beginning the process of persuading Isabel (Melibea) to consider don Manuel’s situation. In both cases, the medianera is of a lower social position, doing the “dirty work? for each of the men. They isolate the women (Isabel/Melibea) in a private place (their bedrooms) and effectively wear them down until they eventually lose their resolve. Isabel ends up reading the letter which she had sworn not to, and Melibea agrees to meet with Calisto (in Celestina). There is a difference here, however. In “La esclava de su amante?, Isabel begs Claudia that she not let don Manuel know that she read the letter. In Celestina, Melibea sends one of her undergarments with Celestina as a sign to Calisto that she will meet with him.

It is certainly possible that María de Zayas y Sotomayor composed this episode without knowledge of Celestina, given that the similarities are somewhat vague. However, it would be interesting to explore this avenue further, by examining the other works of Zayas y Sotomayor, as well as looking into what books she read (or would have read) during her life.

February 5, 2008

Power in "Her Lover’s Slave"

I am looking at the passage on page 182 “ Pretend I am who I say, and call me nothing other than Zelima…? and ends on page 183 “I still have something to give you, though it be little compared to what you are worth and what I owe you.?

My idea is that even being in control before falling in love with Don Manuel, Isabel remains strong, controlling, or at least trying, a situation where she seems to be in disadvantage. I see Zayas y Sotomayor using her position as a woman to show a possibility to be weak at some points and at the same time to be conscious about what is the best for her life. Giving up her identity for someone she loves just proved that even though religion and values are important, she chose love instead. The death of Don Manuel at any point meant that patriarchal values in society would change the control over women, but her what we could get is that throughout the story she was the who make all the decisions for her life.

Esclava del Hombre/ Slave of the Man

Lisis: “Ay, señora mía! Y como habéis permitido tenerme tanto tiempo engañada, teniendo por mi esclava a la que debía ser y es señora mía? Esta queja jamás la perderé, y os pido perdonéis los yerros que he cometido en mandaros como esclava contra vuestro valor y calidad. La elección que habéis hecho, en fin, es hija de vuestro entendimiento, y así yo la tengo por muy justa, y excusado es pedirme licencia, pues vos la tenéis para mandarme como a vuestra. Y si las joyas que decís tenéis no bastaren, os podéis servir de las mías, y de cuanto yo valgo y tengo.? (P. 193)

During the tale there are some important references about Isabel origins: she belongs to a high class catholic family from Murcia, in Spain. Even when she assumes the role of slave two times she doesn’t lost some privileges, that is, she always is treated with deference, both by her masters (señora/señor) and by other slaves. It seems that she assumes the identity of slave exclusively in relation to the unequal affair with Don Manuel. She knows that once Don Manuel “pleased her? the only possible solution is getting married and she does everything to reach her purpose, even when she knows Don Manuel has other lovers. However, by being slave does not interfere with the way she is treated by the servants, always as a distinguished woman.
The quoted passage reinforces the fact that she was slave especially in the gender aspect. Isis, other upper class single woman and her “señora? at the time Isabel tells her own life history, understands that Isabel belongs to her own class and apologizes for the situation created in being “señora? of such a woman.
De Zaya gender’s claim is regards gender issues, pointing out the unfair situation lived by women who fall in love for lying men. Isabel’s chastity and spiritual purity is linked with the preservation of her aristocratic origins. In other words, the class problem is never developed in de Zaya’s tales, what it matters is the denunciation of gender issues which damage only women. In this sense, other kinds of slaveries: of class (servant instead of aristocratic), racial (Moro instead of Spanish), and national (musulm instead of catholic) are dislocated to a marginal side of the narrative. Moreover, they become metaphor of Zaya’s key claim: the subaltern condition of the woman in a society dominated by patriarchal rules.

CLOSE READING:Maria de Zayas

CLOSE READINGS: Maria de Zayas’s “Her Lover’s Slave?
The passage I picked is taken from page 158 : “Oh, the feminine weaknesses of women, turned into cowards from infancy and their strengths weakened because rather than playing at war they are taught how to make a hemistich! Oh, if only I had never come to my senses, but had gone from the arms of the evil gentleman to the grave! But my bad luck was saving me for greater misfortunes, if anything worse were possible.?

This passage is very significant as it marks two important things:
a) It is the root of Dona Isabel’s endless misfortunes which she foreshadows with the statement “But bad luck was saving me for greater misfortunes? which prepares the reader for more calamities. The rape is becomes the loss of Isabel, washed away with the loss of her honor, which she spends almost half her age trying to restore. (I found it very ironical that it takes a man, Don Manuel, to take away her honor and another, ‘Luis’, to avenge it.) It is interesting that the doer of such an evil thing is referred to as ‘gentleman’ in the passage – “evil gentlemen?. This seems like mockery because the term ‘gentleman’ denotes ‘politeness’, ‘chivalrous’, “men’s behavior, characterized by consideration and courtesy, especially toward women.? (Encarta Dictionary) ‘Evil’ on the other hand denotes ‘desire to cause hurt or harm’, ‘immoral or wrong’ which is the direct opposite of what ‘gentleman’ is. So Zayas juxtaposes these contradictory adjectives to actually mock Don Manuel’s illicit behavior. Isabel feels so dishonored that she would have preferred to die right after this ordeal.
b) The other term at the core of this passage is the term ‘feminine’ which Isabel blames for her failure to defend herself, to prevent the rape from happening. This is a culturally constructed quality generated by the persuasive patriarchal biases. It has in many instances been used as a tool for social control over women. Isabel complains about this kind of socialization where women (right from birth) are turned into cowards and into believing that they are weak. Their strength is purposely killed by this socialization as they are groomed into being good and dutiful wives and mothers who mend their family’s clothes. Isabel must therefore suffer from her inability to defend herself – thanks to ‘femininity’.

Esclava y amante/slave and lover?

The passage of “La esclava de su amante? I want to comment on is on page 192 of the Spanish version, and on page 196 of the English version:

The passage of “La esclava de su amante? I want to comment on is on page 192 of the Spanish version, and on page 196 of the English version:

-Ya, señores -[…]-, pues he desengañado con mi engaño a muchas, no será razón que me dure toda la vida vivir engañada [… no] me fiara de [don Manuel], ni de ningún hombre, pues a todos los contemplo en éste engañosos y taimados para con las mujeres [… ] porque [los hombres] han tomado por oficio decir mal de ellas, desestimarlas y engañarlas, pareciéndoles que en esto no pierden nada [… Yo], como ya no los he menester, porque no quiero haberlos menester, ni me importa que sean fingidos o verdaderos, porque tengo elegido Amante que no me olvidará, y Esposo que no me despreciará, pues le contemplo yo los brazos abiertos para recibirme.[… P]ues por un ingrato y desconocido amante he pasado tantas desdichas, y siempre con los hierros y nombre de su esclava, ¿cuánto mejor es serlo de Dios, y a él ofrecerme con el mismo nombre de la Esclava de su Amante?

I would like to focus on two words of this segment: engaño and esclava.

The word engaño (deception, swindle, fraud/delusión/unfaithfulness) points to the main concern of Isabel and of the narration. She feels not only disillusioned (desengañada) or disappointed (decepcionada), but above all she knows that she has been tricked and deceived (engañada).

Highlighting this word, Isabel emphasizes two points:

1 Her situation must serve for others not no fall in the same situation (of being engañadas)
2 Since for her there is no way she may trust any man again, her only escape is the church, with the image of Christ as her only choice, waiting for her with open arms. Being a dishonoured (deshonrada) woman, she is done finished. Society has closed its doors to her.

Esclava is then the other important word in this passage. It is repeated throughout the whole text, because it signals Isabel’s terrible ordeal and above all her de-empowerment. Being a dishonoured woman, she has no place in society. Therefore, she has to turn to the convent. She was once enslaved to Manuel and now she is enslaved again, this time to Christ. (The religious connection this segment establishes with the Annunciation here is explicit: When the Angel announced to the Virgin Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus, she replied “Soy la esclava del señor. Hágase en mi según su palabra.?) So, through Isabel’s words, de Saya’s intention is to denounce the position of being esclavas for all women either in society or in the convent.

Focus on these two words of this segment allows us to see that Isabel is a victimized subject who has been engañada, and now is again an esclava. Reading the whole text, however, we know that she is woman who, by telling her story to other women, has chosen to think, act, and denounce. The fact that she tells her story shows that he is an agent of her destiny (even if it means to change masters, from Don Manuel to God).

This passage shows that, with Isabel, M. de Sayas is moving beyond the boundaries set for a woman writer. She wants to transmit her knowledge to other women (among them, we the readers) and to society at large.

February 4, 2008

Reading of

The passage on pages 196 with “In the end..? and finishes with "since I myself looked for these tribulatons"

Doña Isabel’s decision to enter into slavery, not as a strategy, but as a last resort poses interesting questions and assumptions regarding gender, racialization, and class. Her reasoning for voluntarily entering into an indefinite time period of enslavement reflects on her idea that she has no other choice but to enter into an arrangement in which she is essentially powerless. Her wish “to always be a branded slave, since thus I was in my heart? demonstrates the physical internalization of her predicament. It also alludes to the idea of women’s sexuality and subsequent dependence on purity or marriage as a form of enslavement that has literally placed a physical marker on her through the possible breakage of the hymen, the embarrassment and shame cast upon her family, and the stripping of individual female honor. Therefore, her branding is a way in which to physically castigate herself as “other? due to her outsider status from the norms and acceptability of courtly society. The desire to remain a slave shows the desire to remain branded so that she might have some place or category, even as a slave, in society. The branding of Doña Isabel also comes with the repudiation of her Spanish name, nationality, religion, and status. With the branding as a slave, Doña Isabel is also branded as a Moor. In sum, Doña Isabel gives up her own identity in favor of a constructed persona relies on her branding for its identity. In order to construct this identity, Doña Isabel does not conform or listen to her own rationality or that of Octavio, but rather deems that “…perhaps with the permission of the heavens that wanted to bring me to this state?, she is subject to forces beyond her control. This phrase alludes to her subsequent plea to be allowed to devote herself to God. Doña Isabel situates her narrative as a tragedy that is part of a process in which God is her only master. The phrase has deep religious overtones by intertwining master and slave to God and master. The narrative suggests that the only way to survive tribulation is to devote oneself to God and to forgo vanity, material goods, and beauty for the ultimate sacrifice and reward. Therefore, Doña Isabel’s story has remnants of a religious parable. Dona Isabel's redemption for Don Manuel's rape and sexual trangression is through a promise of chastity and an attachment of spouse/master to God.

Zayas, Dona Isabel, and Class in "La esclava de su amante"

I am consciously bending the rules a bit here, but since the passage I am looking at is on p.147, "Among the most devoted, knight by the name of Don Felipe...until I saw myself engulfed in my misfortunes," and deliberately takes on the tone of "If I knew then what I know now," I think it is also important to look at how Zayas develops Luis (Don Felipe) throughout the story, and specifically how Dona Isabel's perspective of him changes once she herself "underclasses" herself, in addition to the close reading I provide.

In this passage, Isabel seeks to establish how she came to her current condition while describing marriage proposals she received at an early age. Specifically, this passage focuses on Don Felipe, who "so well endowed with gifts, with gentility and nobility" could still not solidify Isabel's affection since "so lacking in those [gifts] of fortune," she could not bring herself to take his offer, or his passion, seriously. Early on then, we can see how Zayas establishes a rigid class system that not only implicates Isabel in one form of oppression (classism) alongside her attempts to challenge another (sexism), but also frames marriage as a business transaction in which fortune and title far outweigh the concept of "love" (which is ironic given the story's obsession with the theme). In fact, Isabel bluntly states, "He was, in short, poor; and to such an extent that he was unknown in the city, a misfortune suffered by many," reiterating that his humble financial situation established his "unknownness," and setting a tone that allows the reader to understand how Isabel pities, rather than sympathizes with, such "misfortune." Indeed, as she continues on in this passage, she shows little compassion or understanding for how she could possibly be expected to take any other view given her nobility: "I followed the opinions of others," "nor did I take any notice of him," "because of the way I beheld him I never even recognized his face, until I saw myself engulfed in my misfortunes.'

It is precisely the line, "until I saw myself engulfed in my misfortunes" that allows us to explore how this passage includes a combination of feelings that Isabel initially felt towards Felipe (indifference), and how hindsight has caused her to regret her actions towards him. Clearly, her change of opinion has little to do with actual affection, and everything to do with circumstance, as she comes to understand him as offering an alternative to her current "misfortunes." But even reminiscing on this point, she still considers how his lack of fortune would have negatively affected any relationship they might have had: "I wish to the heavens that I had looked with favor on him, or that I had taken his side so that the misfortunes I lament would not have befallen me...but, being poor, how was he to deal with my indifference, though I had enough wealth for him and for me?" By drawing attention to her own source of wealth, Isabel underscores the power relations that would affect such a financially uneven relationship. Aware of her own "superiority" in terms of class and wealth, Isabel suggests that the uneven power dynamic between them would have been unsustainable; that if love is not the basis of a relationship, a wife at least needs a husband whom is esteemable in his fortune and rank. Such a sentiment calls attention to how gender is always already implicated within other cultural norms and discourses (in this case, class).

It is not just in this section that we find these sentiments coming through. On p.162 when Don Felipe first disguises himself as Luis, a servant, Isabel makes note of her suspicion, then dismisses it with "who looks favorably upon a poor person?" Interestingly enough, Zayas seems to turn this statement on its head later on in the story when Don Manuel tells Isabel he cannot love her after she has disguised herself as part of the lower class, "if it was already difficult for me to love you then, how much more so is it now, when by following me as only a common woman could, you have put yourself in such vulgar straits?" (192). This serves as an interesting parallel to Isabel's class-based dismissal of Felipe (who also disguises himself as a servant), who despite the disrespect she shows towards him nevertheless tells her, "on the strength of who I am, and I am more than you imagine, as soon as I know your wishes in this regard, though I lose my life, he will comply with what he has promised" (175), speaking of Don Manuel.

But still the story ends with Isabel maintaining a class-based notion of honor and respectability. Rather than coming to understand her own limited worldview (just as she is unable to ever truly respect Don Felipe despite her "debt" to him), she states: "And what most amazes me is that neither the noble, nor the honest man, nor he with obligations, nor he who thinks himself most wise, treats women any differently than do those from the lower, humble spheres" (197). While Zayas could have used Isabel's plight as a way to critique deeply classist notions, Zayas instead uses her only to admonish the honorable men who prove to be no more honorable than the base lower classes they are taught to abhor.

close reading: la esclava de su amante

i did a close reading of a section on page 157, which starts with "¡Ah, flaqueza femenil de las mujeres," and ends with "las mujeres como yo así vengan sus agravios.?

Zayas uses this cautionary tale (and others) to influence readers and change society. By emphasizing doña Isabel’s innocence and the devastating consequences of don Manuel’s violent act, Zayas makes clear the injustice of a situation that was probably quite familiar to (and possibly unquestioned by) her readers.

This passage works to convince readers of the necessity of heeding the advice she gives elsewhere in the text: that women must beware of men that seek to dishonor them. Also implied is that society should not judge so harshly women who have been dishonored in such a way.

There are many images of evil, violence, and death in this passage. Although one would not be surprised to find violence in a rape scene, this extends beyond the attack—in fact, the rape itself is not described (more about this later). It is doña Isabel who becomes violent: in a “furor diabólico? she grabs for a sword, in a manner that Zayas describes using the verb “arremeter,? which refers to a sudden, furious attack. Doña Isabel’s reaction is also described as “una mortífera rabia,? or a rage that could cause death—to the enraged herself or someone else? (I also wonder about the possibility of another meaning of “rabia?: could she also be calling don Manuel a crazy/sick dog?) By the time she attacks don Manuel, doña Isabel has already recognized that, having been raped, survival is worse than death: she wishes she had gone straight from his arms to “la sepultura?. He prevents her from killing him and then from killing herself. The image of the sword alludes to the rape that was not described. In addition to the sword’s obvious phallic symbolism, twice Zayas describes it entering a body: “se la fui a envainar en el cuerpo? (I think a sword’s sheath is a common symbol for the vagina) and “me la iba a entrar por el cuerpo.? Since it is obvious what one might do with a sword, I think these images serve another purpose: to describe the rape, as well as to contrast it with doña Isabel’s two failures to pierce flesh.

Throughout this passage, don Manuel is clearly the guilty party. He is described as “infame? (twice), “traidor,? and “diestro en hurtar.? This last description refers directly to his ability to keep from being stabbed to death but also alludes to other ideas: “diestro? not only refers to ability but to right, righteousness, and legitimacy. “Hurtar? also refers to stealing and hiding, in addition to avoiding both the sword and his obligations. The explanation for doña Isabel’s suicide attempt (“por haber errado el del infame?) may also have two meanings: she is stabbing her own body for having missed the body of the wicked don Manuel or because of the error committed by the body of the wicked don Manuel. In any case, don Manuel is undoubtedly the wicked one. His escaping her attack unharmed, she asserts, “no fue milagro?—it was his own talent for escaping and not any sort of miracle or divine protection.

As guilty as don Manuel is, doña Isabel is equally innocent. Twice Zayas uses the word “agravio?—an offense has been committed against doña Isabel, she has been damaged. She was passive, not an active participant. During the crime, doña Isabel was unconscious: “pasada más de media hora, volví en mí.? Even in her rage, she is an instrument of the damage caused to her: “infundiendo en mí mi agravio una mortífera rabia, [...] en mí fue un furor diabólico.? She is not responsible for what has happened to her.

I believe this passage demonstrates the gravity of such a situation. Lamenting that she did not die after the rape, doña Isabel suggests that her fate would include more unhappiness, “si puede haberlas mayores.? She questions the possibility that anything could be worse—for her, rape is a fate worse than death. I believe this is an important point because it is followed by a period. The rest of the passage is one long sentence (not unusual for Spanish) but after the idea that nothing in doña Isabel’s life could be worse than rape, Zayas places a full stop. This attack will change the rest of doña Isabel’s life and in coming to/coming to this realization, she is disoriented: “volví en mí, y me hallé, mal digo, no me hallé, pues me hallé perdida, y tan perdida, que no me supe ni pude volver ni podré ganarme jamás,? going around in circles recognizing that she will never be the same, that she is lost and irretrievable. Now that her honor is gone, there is nothing left of her that is of any value.

This passage also relates the experience of doña Isabel to the larger culture. In part, she blames society for the inadequate education of women, teaching them embroidery rather than how to use weapons. She also alludes to gender traits as culturally constructed (!): “acobardadas desde la infancia y aviltadas las fuerzas....? The use of passive voice here suggests that one is not born a wimpy coward but rather is made to become a wimpy coward. This is not a problem unique to doña Isabel: “las mujeres como yo así vengan sus agravios.? This is a societal problem that I believe Zayas was trying to improve through her writing.

good lord, sorry i wrote so much.

February 3, 2008

María de Zayas-Close reading

The passage I choose is on page 149 and it starts “The owner of the house in which we lived was a widow…? and it ends on page 150 “…nor would I have opposed my father’s wishes for all the riches in the world.?

In this passage María de Zayas y Sotomayor introduces us to the “perfidious? don Manuel and, even before telling us much about him, she warns “easy women, if only you knew, each and every one of you, what you give away the day you surrender yourselves to the false caresses of men?. Right from the beginning, María de Zayas lets us (readers) know of the dangers a man poses, even though that same man is someone she would consider as a husband “as one must, of necessity, have one?. Therefore, no matter how little she thinks of men, she follows what the patriarchal society of the time dictated for women’s future: pass away, become a nun, or get married.

It is interesting to note the phrase “and how you would have prefer to have been born without ears and without eyes?. María de Zayas uses it to prevent women of falling in the same trap she fell with don Manuel, but is that really what she meant as a writer? Without ears and eyes she wouldn’t have become a writer and wouldn’t have been able to transmit these messages. Moreover, her readers wouldn’t have been able to read or listen to her stories. Even though she tries to help other women by warning them, she is not trusting their minds (intelligence and common sense) to do the job of discerning “good? men from “bad? men. With a fairly patronizing attitude, she is treating her female readers as children (don’t look at that man; don’t listen to that man because he is bad). Maybe I’m getting this wrong because she does believe there aren’t any “good? men: they are all are equally devious and deceitful (“came to love me, or to deceive me, as it is all the same.?) O maybe it is my desire as a reader (using Margaret Rich Greer’s words) to see doña Isabel as the strong woman she is during the whole story as a sign of a powerful and smart woman in that rigid society. (Although, I won’t deny feeling a little bit upset every time don Manuel manages to talk her into things—even after she shows tremendous decisiveness and determination in the previous paragraph!)

Regarding doña Isabel and doña Eufrasia’s relationship, even though the whole city refers to them “as the two girlfriends?, doña Isabel doesn’t hesitate to follow don Manuel when he decides to leave the city to get away from her. Where did that profound love for doña Eufrasia go? Did it get pushed aside by the desire to follow don Manuel? Or is it no fair to judge doña Isabel because she was trying to salvage her and her family’s honor? Albeit this is a great story and it is a story written by one of the very few women who was an author at that time and place, I can’t help wondering if María de Zayas could have gone further in “the relative conservatism of the plotting of male-female relations? (Rich Greer).