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April 29, 2008

“There is a tendency to stress, the passive and traditional role, of women as opposed to a more dynamic and enterprising project of masculine world (Chong 2).

�National identity can thus make people aware of themselves as a unique collectivity and a defender of its possessions or historic patrimony, such as territory and culture (Chong 12).�


The quotes above from Chong made me thing about Belli and Kozameh .
In Inhabited Woman we can easily find a way to contradict such tendency. While we have Sara representing some ‘passivity’ choosing to be perfect housewife, on the other hand we have Flor who is really engaged to fight oppression and move forward with more hope for a change.
Kozameh in Steps Under Water represents the voice, not only for women, but also for her nation that has been prevented of knowing the truth of such a dark period in history for a great part of the population who still suffers with the mystery of those who disappeared.

Through the women in Belli and though Kozameh it is impossible not to recognize the possibility of knowing that their objective is to question the society and build through their voice the awareness to bring together women and the nation without being only “men [the representation of] the progressive feature of national modernity (Chong 2).�

Women and the Nation in Belli and Morejon

Guiterrez Chong demonstrates how women are used as symbols of national identity.
Guiterrez Chong show how women’s bodies are manipulated as national symbols in the arts and are often idealized to create archetypal images of nationalism. While women have been used for nationalist purposes, Guiterez Chong also shows how women themselves imagine the nation.

She also attempts to show how women function I different roles for different types of nationalism. Tehreofroe, women can be both active participants in national struggles and transmitters of national culture.. Yet, it sometimes seems unclear on how women are feeding into previous nationalist cultures or subverting patriarchal nationalism. Can women who write and who make artistic contributions also play a role in supporting patriarachal nationalism? Here it seems that race has a key role to play as to who has also a vested interest in supporting regimes and to supporting or appropriating racialized forms of dominance, even when patriarchal.
In Morejon and Belli’s work, the body works as a geographical, gendered, racialized, and sexualized metaphor for the nation. For Belli, the nation is literally grounded in Itza’s incarnation as an orange tree. While Belli incorporates indigenous women as part of the national project, indigenous women still remain mostly invisible. Indeed, the nationalist project that has women at the forefront is not of the “original� bearers of the land, but that of the mestiza and the Spanish invaders. In this, I am not sure if Belli is trying to create a creolization or a mestiza consciousness so much as an appropriation. In this way, I am reminded of the way in which indigenous groups here are used as figures of noble and brave symbols, yet are often treated as if they are wholly disappeared.
In both Belli and Morejon’s work, identity is constructed in part on a political identity and a consciousness and willingness to participate in a vision of nation-building. The way in which the characters “become� is through a willingness to act and a willingness to be aware of their surroundings. For Belli, Lavinia could have stayed in her sheltered world, but she in fact, becomes through her participation and willingness to engage beyond the parameters of her privilged world. In Morejon’s Amo a mi Amo, the character also becomes more aware of her master’s role in domination and oppression, and therefore, in some ways similar to Lavinia, begins to question her own positon. In Mujer Negra, Morejon presents a history of a woman’s becoming literally through the emancipation of the nation. The references to national heroes such as Maceo function as a way to juxtapose women’s role in nation-building. However, there is also the question of if Morejon’s Mujer negra also challenges not just national identity, but an African diasporic identity. For Belli and Morejon, poetry and narrative are also ways of fashioning national identity through the evocation of female symbols

WOMEN AND NATION BUILDING - 'THE INHABITED WOMAN'

WOMEN AND NATION BUILDING
In the quest to reinsert Mexican women in ‘official’ masculine history of nationalism which excludes women, GutiÑ?rrez Chong observes “a tendency to stress, the passive and traditional role of women as opposed to a more dynamic and enterprising project of the masculine world. for McClintock, men and women have different trajectories vis-à-vis the modern nation: ‘while women present the traditional face of nation (inert, backward-looking, and natural), men represents the progressive feature of national modernity (forward-thrusting, portent and historic)’….we do not find elements in these affirmations that undermine the importance of nationalist symbolism, which, were it not it not to exist, would make any nationalism unthinkable…[meaning that] the body or the heroic feat of women is neither a trivial nor minor affair. In short there are several roles which women assume in nationalisms, it is not only a question of seeing women as symbols or ‘garments’, but as social actors who are implicated in national processes in differing ways.â€? (2-3)

The view of women as passive is rather a fictional construction of women by men; after all if they are the ones (through patriarchy) who decide what gets included and/or excluded in their history, it’s very easy for them to dismiss women’s roles in nation building, on the basis of these false images of women they have created. Hence the need for a feminist intellectual practice that will place women at the centre of reconstructed historiography of nation building.
‘The Inhabited Woman’ is Belli’s bid towards this reconstruction. Itza, just like Gutierrez Chong questions this trivialization of women’s participation in these ‘public’ spaces of nationalism. Despite the fact that she out there in the battle field (away from her domestic sphere of operation) she laments “…I was not allowed to participate even though they took me into battle…There were moments when I felt my sex was a curse� (91). She goes on to assert her heroic accomplishments “I was strong and more than once my intuition saved us from ambush. I was caring, and often the warriors came to me to talk about their feelings. I had a body capable of bearing life in nine moons and withstanding the pain of birth. I could fight, was skilled as any with my bow and arrow. I could cook…But they did not seem to appreciate these things� (91) isn’t it obvious that women are the reproducers of a nation? That a man cannot fight to defend this country on an empty stomach? Surely this is contribution that seeks to be acknowledged. Why should nationalism be described in the hegemonic sense of heroic history?
Even though it’s difficult to give Lavinia all the credit for her brave participation in the National Liberation Movement (given the fact that she was inhabited by Itza), I wonder; is Belli trying to demonstrate that patriotism in this way overrides race and class (as Itza fights for her country through Lavinia)? Or does this inhabitation illustrate the ‘differing ways’ in which women participate in national building; Itza fights with her brave spirit while Lavinia fights with her body? Through these two characters, Belli makes the eclipsed (women and indigenous people) visible.
Gutierrez Chong underscores the different ways in which women participate in nation building through Josefa. She argues “For official historiography, her heroic act was not the transmission of ideas or ideals of winning battles or making one’s mark, it was rather the ability to emit a whisper at PRECISELY THE RIGHT TIME (9) (my emphasis). Any struggle involves planning where everyone involved plays a role (public or private). There are those who plan and those who execute the plan, and those who provide a conducive environment for the plan to occur (in the same manner that a theatre production includes those on the stage (visible) and those backstage (invisible) but both are equally important). Josefa’s was giving a signal at the right time. Belli underscore this need to keep to the plan through Lavinia’s initiation into the revolutionary movement. As she checks her rear-view mirror, she remembers “But Flor insisted on the need to follow the “security measures� to the letter. She was never t take anything for granted� (194). Sebastian further emphasizes the importance calculating time “You’ll get better at calculating time more accurately. It is not a good idea to arrive too early, nor too late. It can look suspicious if you drive around too much.� (195). Now can anyone imagine if both Josefa and Lavinia missed the time? Should participation still then be judged by the visible?

April 28, 2008

Similar to Kristin's question, "can we read the literary texts in this course as products of women reclaiming their (own) images for their own uses," I am interested in how building upon Gutierrez Chong's suggestion that "women have been used by and for nationalism," we can see how women writers use such manifestations of nationalisms to critique and respond to their objectification and/or exclusion (15).

Specifically, I am thinking of Coronado's "Freedom" and "To Spain" poems, in which she is at once implicating herself in the nation-building process, and critiquing narratives of nationalism. Indeed, if Gutierrez Chong posits "women as intellectual creators of ideas of homeland and nation" (11), Coronado's poems seem to illustrate this notion directly.

Gutierrez Chong focuses specifically on the trope of the "woman homeland," and Coronado begins "To Spain" evoking such an image:

"What is the Black slave woman doing,
is she singing or crying?
Oh, grand lady Europe,
who keeps her in your splendid service (1-4)....
I who was nourished in her very womb,
who suckled at her breast,
her ardent milk, I lovingly revere her,
and I demand to know if at the feet of her tyrant
the slave rests, sings, or weeps.
Rise up, people who also owe
your life to this dear mother" (9-16)

In this poem, Coronado makes immediate use of a racialized gender to not only utilize the nation as woman trope, but to also call attention to the hierarchy that she sees existing between her beloved Spain ("the Black slave woman") and the rest of Europe (who Coronado critiques as exploiting her homeland). While on the one hand Coronado's crude comparison of the once powerful Spanish empire to a black slave woman throws the legitimacy of her claim into question (by eliding the actualized colonial violence the Spanish enacted on bodies of the indigenous and/or enslaved), her use of this image also suggests a way of responding to the nation as woman trope. Not only does this image differentiate between the varying positionalities of women that the category "woman" erases, Coronado also utilizes this image as a way of critiquing the process of nation building. Scolding those "who also owe [their] life to this dear mother" (16) and yet cannot act as a collective unit, Coronado criticizes the ways in which "One raises his battle tent/ in a corner of Spain/and elects himself king,/ and one traces in the sand,/writing and dispensing/ the laws that he alone follows." Positing these nameless figures as akin to "aimless Arabs," Coronado once again shows how women contributed and/or reinforced their own nationalisms by staking claims against the (national) identities of others, thus eradicating the possibility of women as innocent bystanders with no stake in the process of "masculinized" nation building. And yet, conscious of the ways in which their limited rights circumscribed how they could take part in the nation building process, Coronado uses "Freedom" to critique women's oppression:

The young men are smiling,
their elders are joyful
because, they say, my sisters,
that they have gained freedom for the people (1-4)....
I am pleased...for the men.
But as for us, the women,
I applaud not, I feel nothing (16-18)...
Freedom! What does it mean to us?
What do we gain, what will we possess?
Imprisonment by tribunal
and a needle by right? (21-24)...
But I tell you, my comrades,
that the law is but for them,
that women do not count,
nor is there a Nation for this sex (42-45)

If, as Gutierrez Chong suggests, the "success of nationalism depends on transmission and diffusion" (20), then in response to Daniela's question of "what is literature's role in this building or rebuilding of a nation?" Coronado seems self-consciously aware that it occupies a very central role. Using her poem as a source of a more gender equitable nation building at the same time that she rhetorically claims "nor is there a Nation for this sex," Coronado's position as woman writer positions her as reproducer of national boundaries, active participant in national struggle, and transmitter of national culture (20), three central areas in in which Gutierrez Chong suggests women have been central to the process of nation building.

To push on Daniela and Kristin's points a bit, and in dialogue with the Sommers article, I would like to ask how women writers position themselves/become positioned as critiquers and reinforcers of nationalist projects. Does the age of globalization allow for the possibility of overcoming national boundaries and interests (especially if as Daniela suggests "language" and "homeland" in the singular might no longer apply), thus allowing for more ethical and intersubjective interactions between self and other, or does globalization simply bring about new forms of nationalism (economic, capitalist, religious)?

women and nation building

considering the tendency (described by both gutiérrez chong and sommer) to use images of women and their bodies in nation-building projects, can we read the literary texts in this course as products of women reclaiming their (own) images for their own uses?

how do these texts participate in nation-building projects? how do these texts interact with official nationalist discourses? i see some of these works as breaking into and contesting existing nationalist discourses. kozameh, for example, in pasos bajo el agua/steps under water, reveals aspects of argentine experience that had been buried. we know from her preface (as well as what she told us in person!) that this novel was not strictly her own personal experience but a composite of the stories of many people—however tragic, it is part of argentine identity. similarly, i think morejón’s poems “amo a mi amo�/ “i love my master� and “mujer negra�/ “black woman� expand the cuban story to include afro-cuban women.

Nation, country, homeland

“It is wide spread the assumption that nationalism, has ‘typically sprung from masculinized memory, masculinized humiliation and masculinized hope’ (Enloe, 1989, p.44 in McClintock, 1993, p. 62) or that it is a doctrine invented in Europe at the beginning of the nineteenth century (Kedourie in Leuossi, 2001, p. 230).� (Gutiérrez Chong 3)

It is interesting to read this “wide spread assumption� and think of Gioconda Belli’s novel, as it seems that the author is trying to give her nation a new meaning throughout The Inhabited Woman. Even though we are told the story of Faguas, we know she is talking about Nicaragua and we are aware of the socio-political moment that Belli chose as a setting for her story. It is not a simple coincidence that the author (a political committed woman) would want to expand her work into the literary realm. However, I think it’d be naïve to believe that she did it without thinking of her need to tell the story of her country, of her nation. It is significant that she decided to fight for her country’s liberation of a dictatorship and that she gave her main character the same gender, but then I can’t help thinking of two questions related to Gutiérrez Chong’s quote: Did Lavinia get involved in the organization because she wanted to or because of Felipe? (A question we have discussed in class many times) And, why did Belli felt the need to include Itzá in the story? Was Lavinia’s European background somehow problematic and the author felt she had to reach out to more “native� (autóctono) Nicaraguan roots?

So, what does “nation� mean? And, can a novel like The Inhabited Woman or Steps under Water help rebuild a nation that went through a painful fracture? According to Doris Sommer, romance novels did help build a sense of nation in the nineteenth century:

“It is possible that the pretty lies of national romance are similar strategies to contain the racial, regional, economic, and gender conflicts that threatened the development of new Latin American nations. After all, these novels were part of a general bourgeois project to hegemonize a culture in formation.� (Sommer 29)

In the twentieth century it is women like Belli and Kozameh that write the novels and tell the stories. But, even though they opened the field for a different kind of nation, we may have to think that they still belong to the “bourgeois project�: How did they create their authority to write? Who was/is their audience? Is there a difference between Alicia Kozameh and Rigoberta Menchú, as far as their socio-economic background and education and their ability to convey their experiences to their compatriots?

Building a nation is an ongoing project, even for “well-established� European countries which are now facing a big wave of immigration—according to this week’s Time magazine, Brigitte Bardot will go on trial on charges of discrimination and spreading racial hatred for writing an open letter to the French President accusing France’s Muslim population of destroying the country. So, what is literature’s role in this building or rebuilding of a nation (thinking of a country like Iraq)? Is it possible to represent all its inhabitants in today’s world (compared to what it meant the nineteenth century)?

Nancy Morejón writes: “Those leaves flying under the sky,/are singing the language of the homeland.� Can we talk about one language nowadays? Can we even talk about one homeland (patria)?

Women and Nationalisms: Gutiérrez-Chong and Belli

Gutiérrez Chong, citing McClintock, writes “men and women have different trajectories vis-à-vis the modern nation: ‘while women present the traditional face of the nation […], men represents the progressive feature of national modernity’.� And then Gutiérrez-Chong adds: “Women are the repositories of authenticity and originality which all nations pursue, while their rights in the political terrain of legality are delayed. We do not find elements in these affirmations that undermine the importance of nationalist symbolism, which, were not to exist, would make any nationalism unthinkable. […] In fact, there is no nationalism lacking symbolism and, if such symbolism incarnates the exaltation and celebration of domestic space, then the body or the heroic feat of women is neither a trivial not minor affair. In short, there are several roles which women assume in nationalisms, it is not only a question of seeing women as symbols or ‘garments’, but as social actors who are implicates in national processes in differing ways� (p. 2).


This passage from Gutiérrez-Chong made me think about the character Itzá in Belli’s “The Inhabited Woman�. This passage clarifies for me the relationship both women, Itza and Lavinia, have in the novel. The main character is Lavinia, because she is the “inhabited woman�, and the novel’s title sets this role for her. My doubt was what Itzá represents. I saw her as an important character but since she has no body, no house (besides the orange tree where she dwells) and she is the one who inhabits Lavinia, where her importance comes from? In other words, where comes from the power Itzá has to make Lavinia to do what she herself wishes to do? . So this passage from Gutiérrez-Chong clarifies for me the symbolic place Itzá represents in Belli’s novel. Her “presence� legitimizes the actual armed struggled against the Grand General regime in the novel. It also gives continuity to a previous confrontation between the native people against the Spaniards. And finally it gives the modern nationalist actions of The Movement the occasion to suceed this time, that is, to transform the original defeat into a victory.

Gutiérrez Chong proposes that “there is no nationalism lacking symbolism�. In Belli’s novel, there is no exaltation of the domestic space exactly but, in my view, of the ethnic component, which is not otherwise present in the novel (although the reader assumes that all the people implicated are descendants of Itzá’s race -except maybe Lavinia, who seems to have Italian ancestors.) So, Itzá represents tradition and Lavinia modernity and both are linked by the fact of being women participating in a nationalist movement to form a “multicultural nation�.

How then, Lavinia, from a privileged situation, and enjoying personal freedom, the possession of a house, a good job, beauty and youth, gets to the point of sacrificing herself in her quest? My answer is that her “conversion� happened by accumulation of experiences. First, she realizes that Felipe was involved with the movement. She then sees Sebastian almost dying in her house. Then, she deals with Lucrecia and her sister. And finally she is in the waiting room in the hospital with the “other� people, that is, people Lavinia never was in contact with before. (To all this we can add that she meets Flor, which is also a crucial event for Lavinia in the development of her conscience and political awareness.)

Lavinia finally accepts her full and complete participation in the Movimiento the day before the inauguration of the general’s house (Chap. 24) in “el cerrito verde de su infancia, al grabado de la niña viendo un mundo que consideraba suyo� (p. 329). There is a mention of the childbirth of a woman and then: “sus compañeros, en algún lugar, se prepararían para desatar el látigo de los sin voz, los expulsados del paraíso y hasta de sus míseros asentamientos� (p. 329). Lavinia, then, is personally convinced, and declares her own conviction contemplating the landscape: “Bien valía la pena morir por esta belleza, pensó. Morir tan sólo para tener este instante, este sueño del día en que aquel paisaje realmente les perteneciera a todos.
Este paisaje era su noción de patria, con esto soñaba cuando estuvo al otro lado del océano.� (p. 330)

April 16, 2008

Linguistic Formations of Race

While reading "Gender, Race, Raza," Antonio de Nebriya's line "Language has always been the companion of empire," (14) immediately brought me back to the Benegas poem, "She arises soaked in autumn":

About the date plums called "caquis," that she does not recall having seen on the branch. Perhaps someone showed her one, making it turn in her hand? She suspects that as was usual with her--she was a pianist--the word "caqui" entered through her ear, in a colonial uniform, beige color, excursions by jeep in the desert and concave hat with the hero looking through a spy glass." (83)

Benegas' use of the word "caqui" to illustrate how language is always already infused with historical connotations and cultural ideology closely connects to Kaminsky's argument that race is unstable, relational, and context specific.

These are questions I was considering early on in the semester both through Belli's The Inhabited Woman and Zayas' Her Lover's Slave precisely because of my lack of familiarity with specific markers of race and class hierarchy in Spain and Nicaragua. As Daniela points out, while Belli outlines Lavinia's physical features as a way of marking her as mestizaje, Belli's use of clothing to position Lavinia in a certain race and class was unreadable to me. That is, while certain words ("pedigree," "white skin and dark hair") signify Lavinia's race/class to an extent, without a grounded knowledge of site-specific historical/cultural conditions I was left with only a vague understanding of how Belli intended Lavinia's body to signify. This was also the case for me with Her Lover's Slave, in which Zayas uses Dona Isabel's transformation to Zelima to signify how Isabel's performance as a Moor destabilizes notions of the fixedness/naturalness of race and class. It was not until the readings and class discussion that I was able to more fully "read" Zayas' intentional positioning of Isabel in her work (and specifically the close connections between race and religion in Spain at this time).

The use of language to construct, deconstruct, and interrogate racial formations in both of these texts serves to illustrate the instability and historical/contextual "nature" of constructions of race--constructions that are laden with contradictions that always threaten to expose such racial fictions. This, in part, is what June Jordan's "Report from the Bahamas" seeks to explore as Jordan is constantly resituating/positioning herself and her perspectives based on the context specific ways formulations of race/class/gender manifest themselves in her roles as professor and tourist. Indeed, these contradicitons and the needing to "make sense of" are also at the heart of the Williams' piece in which Williams, despite asking her mother's cousin (her godmother?) for "The truth, the truth," finally surrenders herself to "the voracity of her amnesia" (17), a historical silencing that closely connects to the Hirsch/Smith and Franco pieces we read for our week on memory. Indeed, Williams' identifies Marjorie as "a storyteller," which has strong resonances with Hirsch and Smith's call for counternarratives that challenge hegemonic accounts of history. While the Hirsch/Smith is mostly focused on gender, when read in dialogue with the readings for this week, we can see how gender/race/class/religion are always already bound into such historical retellings.

On the object of property


The first thing that strikes me is the wonderfull articulation of academic writing and “personal� writing. This personal writing is testimonial, also. Williams mixes both past memories and insights into new experiences and then compare them, relating them to the academic realm, to finally write an academic article.


The academic article has an ending, but her own search, her questions do not. Her questions end in silence. This is a silence that is eloquent in its own way, because it confronts the seeker with an open space, for her to look again for more answers.

The academic article, then, is a mixture of personal memories and how they relate to the rights of people that are disempowered, like Williams was or her ancestors were.

The second thing I want to emphasize are the stories of polar bears, They resemble represed memories, like the impotent man’s in Peri Rossi’s Lovely’s. But in Williams article, the silence occupies a space and is localized, as we see in the polar bear passage. What I see in this passage is that parents, elders, try to silence some painful experiences, so that their offsprings do not get damaged like they did. Elders sometimes try to preserve the happy non-traumatized child. That might be the explanation for the prosthetic memory, which occupies the place of the “real� memory. Is literature -as in the polar bear story- the same? Does it have healing powers? Could it be a place were “the reconstitution of the self� happens?

Third, the rights of the “owners� that trascend social stratification of production modes, from slavery ( slave owners were the ones with the rights in a pre-capitalist society) and in a modern capitalist system (finances, money reproduces itself). Who makes the rules, who makes the rights?. Those rights are not for the other but for themselves (the owners). As Williams herself becomes ( a yelling self different from the composed and mild-mannered one, in that same way, all mistreated people should/could reclaim their right places in society. Now, rules are supposed to be equally accepted for everyone, but they are not.

Fourth, is it in the process of writing that our self can construct a explanation? Is there a confrontation with fear necessary? Is it in the process of writing that the writer confronts his/her own dilemmas?

Morejon’s I love my master is an example that fits perfectly:

I love my master
I gather firewood to light his daily fire.
I love his clear eyes.
Tame as any lamb,
I scatter drips of honey on his ears.
[…]

My master bites, subjugates

[…]

Hearing from the old field guards talking, I leaned
that my love
gives lashings in the cauldrons of the sugar mill

[…]

¿Por qué le sirvo?

[…]
My love is like the weeds that cover the dowry
the only possession he cannot take from me.

I course

[…]

I love my master, but every night
when I cross the flowery pathway to the cane fields
where we have surreptitiously made love,
I can see myself with knife in hand, butchering him like
innocent cattle.

Gender/race in "La esclava de su amante"

In “Gender, Race, Raza�, Amy Kaminsky discusses the relationship between race and gender, and explores the ways in which gender, long accepted as a natural category, serves to legitimize and naturalize categories of race, “analyzing the instability of race itself and the part gender plays in naturalizing what gets called ‘race’ in and across cultures� (7).

Using an excerpt from Lazarillo de Tormes, Kaminsky demonstrates the ways in which language allows both difference and sameness to be articulated. Using this same idea, I would like to explore how language in “La esclava de su amante� allows Isabel/Zelima to move between the fixed “racial� categories of cristiana/mora, as well as the ways in which “rules of behavior can be transgressed. When they are, authority takes care that the transgressor is either punished or pardoned, so that through its intervention the fundamental structures of racially or gender-appropriate behavior can be recovered� (9-10).

Isabel, a Christian (unmarked) female (marked), uses language to change her identity. Naming herself Zelima and pronouncing her Moorish identity, Isabel embodies that identity, in effect becoming Zelima. In this way, she is using language not as a marker of sameness, but rather a marker of difference; she is not a Christian, she is a Moor. In the context of seventeenth-century Spain, it seems almost inconceivable that any Christian would want to call herself/himself a Moor; in this way, no one questions Zelima’s “mora� identity. Of course, her robe and the sign of “esclavo� on her forehead help to strengthen her pronounced identity.

On the other hand, Zaida, a mora (marked racially/marked because of gender), cannot as easily use language to transgress her racial category (that is, she cannot use it to incorporate herself into the unmarked racial group). Here we see the influence of the state in maintaining racial/gender identities. Zaida, desiring to marry Don Manuel, knows that she must “officially� become Christian—she cannot merely pronounce herself Christian, as Isabel pronounced herself Moor. As Zayas reveals, Zaida has to lie in order to be able to get permission to travel with Don Manuel, “since without that the Moors cannot go from one place to another� (189). Here we see a possible intersection gender and race, but more importantly, an example of the state regulation of those categories.

I haven’t thought through all this enough; I’m sure there are holes in it, so please point them out!

April 15, 2008

Black Man / Black Woman

“Master-slave relations pursued a vision o f black s as simple-minded, strong-bodied economic actants. Thus while blacks had an indisputable generative force in the market, their presence could not be called activity; they had no active role in the market. (Williams 7-8).�

“ ‘Las estatuas, o la condición del extranjero’ evokes the foreigner whose presence is simple not acknowledge (Kaminsky 23).�

We can easily associate the quotes above to Morejon’s “Black Man� since, mainly at the beginning of the poem and in the middle, the language used shows how black were seen and treated by the society they were brought from Africa to work for.

Your hair,
for some,
was the devil’s work from hell
………………………………..
Others say that your religious spirits
Brought on us that gloomy damnation

In “Black Woman� on the other had we see that with all the overcome of pain and suffering from the past in an unknown land. Instead of trying to get the recognition from the master as a hard worker, there is the proud of creation/creating and having in a foreign place where suffering was imposed and everything was foreign.

Now I exist: only today do we own, do we create
Nothing is foreign to us
The land is ours

“Blacks presence could not be called activity; they had no role in the market (Williams 10).� Not being visible is surely painful as Daniela and mentioned Morejon suggests (Black Man) but also the proud of seeing what you have created (Black WomanB) makes you prove your power and show that you [at some point] exist.

Raza and Blood

“…as a cultural construction race is unstable and has different meanings and different purposes in different times and places and that gender is fundamental in making those meanings and revealing those purposes.� (Kaminsky, p. 9)

By Itza entering into Lavinia’s body occurs a metaphoric mestizo encounter between women from both different historical moments and races. Itza melts with Lavinia’s body (and race) in a reverse situation of what occurred when Spanish conquers penetrated not only indigenous land but female bodies. Rather than a brutal act of domination this entrance is a ritual of fusion between two latino female subjects. This fictional episode also points out that even Lavinia looks like a “white� in Faguas, she is product of a complex process of mestizaje between European and Indigenous roots. As contemporaneous daughter of such relations, we can identify in Lavinia’s life experience in Europe the expatriate moment that Amy points out as part of current post colonial negotiations when Spanish Americans travel to Western (Europe and United States). While Lavinia is treated in Faguas as “white� architect with European professional experience, in Europe her identity as other, the “hispanic�, should have been quite different in a way that reminds me Amy’s account about the shock experienced by “‘white’ Puerto Ricans from the island who come to the mainland and find they are brown.� (according to Levins Morales, on page 21). Thus, Lavinia’s racial identity is not a monolithic category but a complex construction that shifts in connection with the context.

In coming back to Faguas, Lavinia wishes to construct buildings according with national needs rather than to imitate dominant models from Western culture: “(Ella) soñaba con construir edificios, dejar huella, darle calor, armonía al concreto; sustituir las imitaciones de truncados rascacielos neoyorkinos en la avenida Truman por diseños acordes con el paisaje.� (P. 16.) It seems that she intends to use architecture as cultural tool to interact with a nation still looking for Western models to find a common identity.

We can also discuss Itza’s racial mobility in occupying a body so different from hers.

“the reification of race creates the expectation that women of color will write only from a fixed standpoint and a demand that they be spokespeople for a group, writing from an ‘experience’ that is uniform and already known.� (P. 9)

By Itza invading Lavinia,’s body, Belli suggests a more dynamic race and ideology between Latino mixed woman, beyond appearances of being “white� or “non-white�, which complicates our traditional assumptions about such categories. It’s worth mention the passage where Lavinia, in commenting to Flor her difficulties to deal with Felipe, says about him: “He is fighting like Yarince� (p. 247 from the Spanish version) but she cannot explicate the reason of such comment. Itza’s voice is expressed through Lavinia’s flesh.

“Only when we conceptualize race as mutable and multivalenced can we hope to make sense of the ways in which it interacts with the differently nuanced category of gender.� (Kaminsky, p. 9)

What Belli suggests (but did not achieve in a satisfactory way - perhaps the lack of oppositional consciousness between both characters?) is the collapse of different times (Imperial/Post colonial/Expatriate moments?) in the moment Lavinia decides to join the guerrilla movement.

April 14, 2008

Class and race in The Inhabited Woman

“Class differential plays and important role in racial attribution within many Spanish American societies, where such markers of superior economic and social class as the wearing of business attire and the use of standard speech are perceived as markers of whiteness as well. This more fluid approach to race does not mean that differentiation and hierarchy do not exist, only that they are expressed in other ways.� (Kaminsky 21)

The Inhabited Woman-Gioconda Belli:
“Yes, she said to herself, carefully choosing her clothes and shaking her head to coax her curls into place: the secret was in not combing her hear. She was typical of her generation.� (10)
“At first he had looked at her, not totally convinced. When she had come into the office the week before, he’d looked her over from head to toe, sizing up her obvious “pedigree�, the length of her miniskirt, her tousled curly hair.� (16)
“She was wearing one of her shortest miniskirts, high heels, a shirt that fell from one shoulder-the perfect image of sin, she thought to herself before going out…� (37)
“Looking at herself in the mirror, Lavinia thought she looked very good. She had lost weight, and the dress feel softly over her body, the red color contrasting with her white skin and the dark hair falling over her shoulders. Her high heels heightened the effect and made her slender figure even more striking.� (223)

These are all descriptions of Lavinia throughout the novel and they all present a clear way of positioning Lavinia within the world of Faguas in the 1970s. Belli knows that she doesn’t have to do more than describe what Lavinia looks like and what she wears in order to introduce to her readers Lavinia’s social class and race. If you are dressed like Lavinia in Latin America, you are from a certain social class and, it is almost obvious, that you are white-skinned (if you are not, you are going to be treated like if you were). However, Belli is more specific about Lavinia’s race at the beginning of the book:

“I saw a woman. The one who tends the garden. She is young, tall, dark-haired, beautiful. Her features resemble those of the women who came with the invaders, but she walks like the women of my tribe, firmly, as we used to move and walk before the bad times. I wonder if she works for the Spaniards.� (8-9)

From the moment the novel starts, we know Lavinia is definitely from Spanish/European descent and that there is also a hint of mestizaje, as Itzá compares her walk to the one the women of her tribe used to have. Even though Itzá seems to feel proud when making this observation, we are aware that: “The principle of mestizaje, because it tacitly justifies colonization in the forging of a new race/nation that blends conqueror and conquered, materially threatens indigenous people who resist assimilation in the new nation/race.� (Kaminsky 17) We all know what happened to Itzá and to her tribe…

And talking about Itzá, what does it say that she remains invisible to everyone in this novel? Is Belli implying that the indigenous people in Nicaragua (and the rest of Latin America) were and are also invisible in/to this society? Patricia Williams uses plain and unambiguous language to explain how painful it is to be invisible to the rest of the world; how it re-wounds and relives her anger, vulnerability, and despair when “an impassive stare that passes right through all that which is me� (12).

April 9, 2008

State of writing as problem

State of Writing: P. 58/59
I’m interested in talking about the poem “Como va a estar en estado de escritura todo el dia? / How can she be in a writing state all day long? P. 58/59 First, such question itself perturbs me. It suggests the fragility of the writer, her impossibility to afford the state of writing all day. The question of gender seems important in this poem, because of writer’s limitations

Moreover, I would like to ask Noni about some different issues about this poem:
The act of writing as a different state (“vigilia�) to produce a reflection about a concrete reality. Does writing enact a different moment from the empirical experience of daily life? Is writing a separate moment from life because is the moment to gather memories in order to construct a new meaning from what was witnessed? What are the consequences of such a rupture between writing and the daily life?

The differentiation between being a witness in remembering what the writers experiences and the “life� itself. Is the former moment a more appropriate opportunity to write, that is, to construct the memory of what she lived?

The participation of the body in the act of writing supposes also a different way of thinking about logos and writing as separate dimensions from the writer’s body. Maybe she writes without writing, first by imagining what she witnessed in to order to write later. The playful and painful relation between body in trying to write seems amazing and so real.

The failure of writing as productive moment of knowledge. “De pie fracasa�

The times of writing. A different organization of time in thinking about the “best time� to write for her. This time is not only an objective one but an intimate notion.

“ver como revelacion, solo se ve en la vigilia� / “to see as in a revelation, she only sees in wakefullness�: this passage attracts my attention.

The Draft of the Medusa: P. 14/15
Regarding this poem, it struck me the presence of the childhood linked with commercial transactions which the author seems to suggest illegal transactions of kids. Could you talk about the ambiguous meaning of such a miserable reality linked with the promise of freedom?

Translation: Language as issue of your work

How do you negotiate the translation of your poems, vis a vis the importance that you give to rhythm, visual structure and sound? I’m thinking about your poem in the page 36/37, for example, where you develop multiple meanings about language in using different stones.

April 8, 2008

Like Jasmine, I'm interested in hearing more about "There were two women, maybe three." This was a poem our group spent a lot of time discussing, and yet its "meaning" constantly seemed to slip away as soon as we began to articulate a reading of it.

With lines such as "center in movement," and "slipping past an endangered border," the language we attempted to use to describe the poem seemed too heavy, counter weighing its delicate images. The poem's constant movement--akin to a sort of quivering--threatened to become static by any one reading.

This notion of slippage is also present in the other poems in "Fragments of an Unknown Diary," which was also the section I most connected with. In "We have come, I was saying, this far," Time and Place become reworked into "non-time" and "non-space," which require a rethinking of concepts we take for granted on a daily basis. Similarly, in "How can she be in a writing state all day long?" we are given the paradox, "she only sees in wakefulness, with her eyes shut, horizontal," wherein revelation depends upon an intermediary state of consciousness; "Standing," or the vertical disrupts the writing process, causing the shapes of revelation to slip away.

I saw a parallel theme emerge in "When dawn awakes," which is one we have yet to discuss as a class:

When dawn awakes
when light comes to reveal me
stripping my shadow state
and silence is sustained on songs, motors
and voices I write
as if to invent the shadow departing

"When dawn awakes" mirrors the intermediary state of consciousness we found in "Writing State" (through the word la vigilia), where there is an act of exposing ("reveal," "stripping") through the disappearance of the "shadow state." Benegas' use of the shadow resonates with the slippery, intangible imagery she provides throughout the "Diary" section, and similarly draws on paradox:

Sleep while standing
close your eyes while open
be silent and work in the dark
fade away and revive between the covers of a book

These quietly framed paradoxes, understated and yet repeated throughout this section seem to be a unifying factor/theme that I'm interested in hearing more about. I'm also interested in asking about the poems on writing--are the processes reflected in the poems autobiographical or reflections on what/how writing might be? What leads a writer to write on writing? Does writing on writing change one's relationship to it?

Tentative questions for Benegas

Possible Questions for Benegas;
1. Remembering one of the articles we read last week for class, that in poetry rhythm comes first, and then meaning follows, is this case in your writing, particularly in the poem ‘Inutile’?
2. What kind of relationship do you have with your translators? And what role do you play in the process of the translation of your poems? Does the gender of your translators matter?
3. Do you consider your poetry as representative of women issues?
4. In ‘The Raft of the Medusa’: “no words to say the horror of death so well known�. Is this acknowledgement, on your part that sometimes language fails in the face of trauma?

Thoughts on Benegas/Robbins talk...

Having the unfair advantage of just coming from the talk with Noni Benegas and Jill Robbins, I would like to consider what I heard in the talk, and perhaps use it to help me formulate questions for tomorrow.

Having the unfair advantage of just coming from the talk with Noni Benegas and Jill Robbins, I would like to consider what I heard in the talk, and perhaps use it to help me formulate questions for tomorrow.

One of the most interesting parts of the discussion for me was the relationship between mother and daughter. As Jill and Noni discussed, often relationships between father-daughter/father-son/mother-son are explored, but the mother-daughter relationship is not discussed as often. Hearing Noni discuss the balance of love/hate in the relationship she had with her mother made me think about the ways in which seemingly opposite terms can be intimately related to one another in such a way that the two almost become indistinguishable—love/hate, tenderness/violence, mother/daughter, love between family members/erotic love.

While Noni talked in depth about her relationship with her mother, she only mentioned her father one or two times. This reflects, perhaps, the structure of the poem we discussed in class last week (from Fragmentos de un diario desconocido). The “papa� structure only appears five times, while there are numerous invocations of “mamá�. In this poem we can also see how supposedly opposing concepts relate intimately: “mama laughing, mama suffering�. In another poem (“Now I am body…�) we see the collapsing of boundaries of body/spirit, mother/daughter.

I believe all of this can be seen in light of what Noni discusses as being in between places (she quoted, for example, Pablo Neruda: “Lo que tengo está en medio de las olas� “What I have is in the middle of the waves�), being neither here nor there, neither one extreme nor the other, but an embodiment of the two that floats somewhere in the space between them.

I'm still thinking about specific questions to ask.

Noni Benegas

As we talked about “Inutile� last week during the presentation, I think that some questions related to it would be interesting
- Why is there a separation between the mama & papa? Was it written with a certain purpose? For someone?
- What’s the reason for so many different words? (even in English it was a bit hard for us to get the real meaning of them)
- Has your writing/inspiration changed since you moved to Spain?
- Is translation a problem for you? Don’t you think that it loses it musicality/essence?

3 questions for noni benegas

these are the questions i plan to ask noni benegas in class on wednesday:


1. what writers do you most like to read and who do you think has influenced your own work?

2. how do you participate in the process of translating your poetry?

and a question about a specific poem (and, more generally, about saving the world.... who better to ask than a poet?)
3. i read “las entretelas sedosas�/ “silken linings� as a critique of a superficial way of thinking about the world. [first, i suppose i should ask if she agrees with this reading.] because i think this lack of deeper, more critical thinking is a problem in the dominant culture in the u.s., i wonder if you have any opinions about how to go about revealing the silken linings?

Noni Benegas's poetry

On “The Cartographer�

Space is open in the poetry of Benegas: speaks to us of travels, navigations, different times and places, and never sticks to only one of them.


The cartographer occupies the poetic voice as a dame. As such she invents a new way to make maps: the map as a kind of mirror. She puts us in the place of the travelers who leave their own traces on the maps. But the reader too is able to switch her positions, looking at the world from different perspectives, switching from object to subject and vice versa.

There are no limits in this travel. The space of the poem is the universe. We could perhaps think of the Borges’s characters, like the traveler and the philosopher who go around looking for something that they then discover was in the journey itself or was there even before the journey started. In Benegas’s poem, the trying is the whole point: the truth is in the journey itself, and the journey is the writing and the reading of the poem. In place of Borges’s characters, Benegas puts the cartographer dame in the map. Thus, the world possesses a different and perhaps more complete order.


On “Fragments from an Unknown Diary� (p.61)

The first paragraph responds to what words do:

Words
(they say)
that compose, mend
solder the linkages
bone to the bone
sighs
systaltic diastolic
steer steps
mount traces
fill shadows


The second paragraph responds to what words are:

Words
(you say)
are a thread
they guide you
Cold
words
beg, demand, invite
to give you warmth
through them
a flapping, fluttering, soaring
a brushing against, silk, sudden applause
a heartbeat
hoarse, hollow, deep
until sense forms
is risen, heard, pierced
its function:
to keep you alive

Although poetry itself, and Benegas’s poetry, is a composition characterized by economy of words, I have found this poem could even be more succinct, with the following lines:

Words
that compose, mend

Words
are a thread
they guide you
[…]
until sense forms
[…]
to keep you alive

Even though I have left our some line, these lines above continue holding the meaning the whole poem conveys.

It is interesting to see that the words I have suppressed in the first paragraph, all relate to travel and journey to other dimensions. In the first paragraph, for instance:

steer steps
mount traces
fill shadows

Here we have a journey and or the making of a path that can modify or re-direct our purposes.

And in the second paragraph:

a flapping, fluttering, soaring
a brushing against, silk, sudden applause
or heartbeat

All of these words relate to sensations, noise, movement of life: Pure sensoriality. It gives the reader the sensation of how marvelous is to be alive.

This poem also, speaking about words, as in “The cartographer�, gives us a sense of completion, plenitude because it is possible to move in an ample space that we could imagine as infinite. There are not enclosed spaces.

In Benegas’ poetry, the navigation is not restricted to travel themes, the navigation as filling spaces can be felt also in this poem about words. Words are like objects with which it is possible to navigate, too.

April 7, 2008

Questions for Noni Benegas

I came up with a couple of questions for Noni Benegas. Like Daniela, I am sure that I will come up with more.

Has your writing process changed since moving to Spain? Is your writing the same in every context?

How has your poetry been received in different contexts and different locations?

How much of your poetry is self-referential? How much of your poetry is a surrender or loss of self? Can you explain your writing process?

Many of your poems such as Mapmaker and There were two women, maybe three seem to resist binaries and clear distinct categorizations or oppositions. Do you attempt to present a perspective that obscures categories? How much of your poetry is consciously subversive?

Do you reread your own poems after publication? If so, would you edit or change any of your poems if you had the chance?

Many of your poems such as The Raft of the Medusa and Mapmaker seem to rely on a previous narratives or myths. However, your poetry also rewrites these narratives and alters our reading of them. Do you see your poetry as another form of myth-making?

Poems such as She does not know how to write and Mapmaker reinscribe women into narratives of memory. Is your poetry about resurrection or creation?

Some questions for Noni Benegas

These are some questions I came up with in the last few days, but I’m sure I’ll think of more when I reread her poems. (The questions are in no particular order.)

• I’ve noticed you talk about fall/autumn more than you talk about the other seasons in your poems. Why is that?
• In class, we’ve been talking about the role of the translator and her relationship with the author and with the text. What was that relationship like with Noёl Valis when she was translating Burning Cartography?
• In poems like, “Mapmaker�, The Minister�, “The Raft of the Medusa�, and others you leave spaces/pauses between words. What is the significance of those spaces?
• “Permanence� ends with: “Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon 1989�. What are other spaces (physical, as well as mental) that inspire you to write?
• Is the story represented in “There were two women, maybe three� connected in any way with Certificate of Absence by Sylvia Molloy?
• Last Wednesday I volunteered to read “Inutile� out loud in Spanish. Reading the series of “mama/adjective or noun� felt very emotional and almost heartbreaking. Was that your intention when writing this poem?
• You left Argentina in 1977. Did your leaving have any connection with the dictatorship? How was it to live in Europe at that time?
• In her introduction, Noёl Valis says: “She knows what it is to travel, to make the journey back and forth between cultures, between one’s past and one’s present, between everyday world and dreams.� Which of these journeys is more difficult and why?
• In an interview I found online you say that Miguel Hernández is your favorite poet. Is this true? And why is he your favorite poet?
• Are there any other poets that inspire you? What about writers in general?
• Do you write poetry only Spanish? If so, after so many years living in Spain, have you noticed if your language (the Spanish you use to write poems) has changed? I noticed that in “We thought as one� you use “decís�.
• In “And I returned to your land, serene� you write: “on that distant shore of the planet�. When I first read this poem I was sure you were talking about Argentina, but now I’m not that sure. So, first, does the poem refer to Argentina? And, do you travel there often? Does it feel like home when you go or more than thirty years living abroad is just too much time to keep considering it home?
• In 1994 and 1995 you work on a project called “El saber gay�, which includes conferences, book presentations, and a film festival called "La homosexualidad en el cine". What has it meant to you to be known not only as a poet, but also as a lesbian poet? And a lesbian poet who writes in Spanish?

April 1, 2008

I Love My Master-Sexuality, Desire, and Domination

Morejón considers sexuality and desire in a context of colonial slavery. The poem is full of tension and contradiction, and gives the effect of confusion, self-denial, abjection, dissonance, and desire. The title of the poem, “Amo a mi amo� also plays with language to suggest a mirror-like image that reverberates between love and slavery, love and property, and love, and love and power. While the poem refers to the knowledge of reports that her amor whips others, Morejón’s female subject questions her own position as a slave and why she lives in such miserable conditions and why she lives under servitude. The poem refers to a gender-specific oppression under colonial slavery. Morejón’s female subject feels imprisoned by the muslin robes and lace dresses that have been imposed upon her-the clothing suggests an imposition of his will onto hers by creating a costumed body that is congruent with his desires and the objectification and commidification of desire into Western customs.


The contradiction is heightened when Morejón’s female subject describes her love for her amo, but also imagines killing him at the very site where they secretly love. Morejón’s poem offers no easy resolution to this tension. Rather, she resists resolution in favor of giving a sense of the complexity of colonial relationships, and between love, desire, and power. While the drumbeats, presumably of other slaves, potentially drown out her lover, and suggest an absolution of guilt for murder, the campanas of the slave master’s estate also call her. Thus, there is a consistent tension between responsibility, individual and group, obedience and resistance, and love and hate. The ambivalence between submission and love and vengeance place the female subject in a cycle of resentment and constant questioning of her own position.
Earlier in the poem, the female subject’s language in describing her master is that of doting, desire, and affection. Later, her knowledge of her master’s violent nature and infliction of suffering upon others awakens a new self-consciousness. This knowledge permantently changes the way in which the woman perceives the master, and also changes the way she sees herself. Her identity is recreated, and thus, her sexual relationship is also resignified. The consciousness of her sexuality changes as she realizes that she is not in possession of it. Sexual exploitation figures in relation to racial exploitation.
The importance of translation and language also plays a role in the poem. The woman in the poem expresses a desire to hear a marímbula, a Cuban instrument, play instead of the guitar, which denotes a instrument of European origin. Thus, she is inflecting her own desire for a creole cubanidad with African roots over the European. The woman also admits that while her lover’s mouth is beautiful, she can not decipher his words. The inability to understand his language points to an inability to translate and to be cognizant of another’s place. This positions the woman in a state of unknown, which is later broken when she hears from tongues that she can understand, that her lover is also an oppressor. When Morejón writes, “my tongue for him is no longer his own� represents a suppressed mode of control, in which language and words are dominated violently into submission. The play on words of lengua to signify language and tongue suggest a conflation of the woman’s physical tongue no longer belonging to herself, and her speaking tongue, her language tongue also taken from her as a form of domination, both sexual and cultural.

What is under the skirts

It attracted my attention the fact that the texts we had to read for the class about sexuality, desire, and bodies have, in some degree, strong ties with the effort of translation.

In the case of the main theoretical texts, translation is linked with what we understand as spoken languages. Both authors give us different points of view about translating from one language to another one. Among many other things, while Peri Rossi, as writer, says that translation is a process of love (through suggestive approaches to (in)fidelity and desire), Bellesi, as translator of poetry, struggles with sacrifices, choices, and feelings of betrayal by reconstructing both physical and conceptual meanings of the texts she rewrites.

But in reading Gossy’s text “Skirting the Question: Lesbians and Maria de Zayas�, I could find what, in my opinion, enacts another type of translation. In commenting on the treatment many scholars have given to lesbianism as topic in Golden Age Hispanism, she asserts: “Many Golden Age scholars would rather not see or hear from lesbians, and many lesbian and queer theorists have never heard anything about the Golden Age, so doing lesbian feminism and Golden Age Hispanism requires a lot of translation.� (P. 19). Such work of translation makes us to look at silences, disguised clues, and absences in fields where it seems, because of the use of such tactics, oppressive situations do not occur. However, as Gossy points out, it is starting from such absences which scholars can detect different signs and levels of oppression.

“Sometimes very troubling facts produce very little outcry, and the lack of outcry in facts frequently signals big trouble, this whole process is called repression.� (P. 20).

So, how to translate properly the silence imposed by repression in texts that refer to both desire and sexuality as a way to resist heteronormativity that rules both literary canon and society? While Gossy takes Maria de Zayas’ example from Golden Age Hispanism, I would like to comment on the case of Molloy, who is also editor of “Hispanism and Homosexualities�. As we have seen, “Certificate of Absence� enacts lesbian desire in a very particular way and it seems to me possible to establish connections between this novel and the effort of translating lesbian desire thorough silence and absence. We can see an interesting aspect of this text through the fact that the character Writer experienced not only relations with women but also with men (second paragraph of the P. 109 in the Spanish version). Thus, Molloy avoids binary oppositions between heterosexual and homosexual models: the story goes beyond such polarizations and perhaps because of that enacts a different possibility before heteronormativity. If she just wanted to portray lesbian relationships in a conventional fashion, the text would satisfy the male heterosexual gaze, linked with a society rules by notions such as spectacle and entertainment. In explaining why Fontanella’s satire about Zayas’ cross-dressing is not enough to grasp both Zayas’ work and sexuality, Gossy asserts that “there is more to and under the skirts, and in lesbian desire, than meets the phallocentric eye, and it takes a certain kind of gaze to spot it.� (P. 27). In a contemporary way, Molloy also knows very well how to avoid such phallocentric gaze to express lesbian desire. While during the Golden Hispanic Age, the risk of expressing this desire lied in physical punishment (something that still nowadays occurs in countries like Iran, as well in some others); the current risk in Western societies lies in the trivialization of both female body and her desire. And here the metaphor of the translation seems to be useful when we recall another meaning of it: “translation is above all an attempt at alterity.� (Bellesi, p. 26)

“Como anotar, como escribir alguna vez la unión salvo en función de la ausencia? Y por que, si Renata ya no está, se empeña en convocarla, en fabricarla dentro de este cuarto donde la desnuda, pidiéndole una y otra y vez lo que ahora sabe que le dio y que no le volverá a dar? Necesita marcarse en ese cuerpo ausente, en esa mente ausente, no olvidarlos como no olvida sus muertes, sus voces, sus pieles. No olvidarlos, y pedirles que no la olviden.� (P. 122)

Since lesbian desire is the Other for (and within) hegemonic system, writing about it enacts the effort of translating an alterity into something possible to name without unveiling it. How to do that without being incorporated by the dominant system, which is over all an affirmative system? The above fragment can give us some clues about the desire developed in this text: one connected with absence, as well as death, instead of presence. Since memory embraces both past and presence, the act of writing not only is used to recall past desire, but to embody the desire of wanting a love that the Writer won’t possess anymore. The writer’s desire operates within the dialectical relation between union and loss: “Borronea con dificultad porque quiere recrear, no disecar, y no lo logra. Quiere volver a unirse porque ahora comprende la unión: acaba de perderla.� (P. 122). The Writer needed to lose Renata to grasp the deepest meaning of her desire. Thus, Molloy avoids the trap of depicting lesbian desire through conventional descriptions about explicit presence of female bodies, since what she reconstructs is the desire by the body’s absence. This is something connected with the fact that Molloy does not mark woman’s desire for another woman as lesbianism, despite all the clues given to the reader to suppose that the character the Writer is constructed based on Molloy’s lesbian experiences.

Besides the absence, we can also detect occlude signs, as that of making the Writer an active subject, through the way she describes her own hands (Pp. 107-108). Hands are here clues because they enact an opposition to the male gaze. Writer’s desire connects itself not with the act of seeing or being seen but with touch, a less associate sense with female desire, which transforms this passage in a meaningful moment about gender and desire. Those are examples of acts of translation - through words, silences, meaningful gestures and absences – about an oppressive situation Molloy seeks to challenge by using difficult devices to be seen by heteronormativity eye. “Lesbian�, Gossy states “is by definition not visible to the gaze that looks for castration. Lesbian is about something more than castration; looking for castration or the lack of it misses the lesbian point.�

Gender and Translation

After reading “Gender and Translation� by Diana Bellessi and “A Translator in Search of and Author� by Cristina Peri Rossi, I would like to think about these pieces in dialogue with the translation of Alicia Kozameh’s Pasos bajo el agua (Steps Under Water). Since I haven’t read Pasos in the original Spanish, but rather in the English translation, I have to write from my own experience of reading the translation, and fortunately, the conversation Alicia had with our seminar.

As Peri Rossi mentions in “A Translator� (itself a translation), a translator “in love with a text believes that the author’s voice is his or her own voice�. She also mentions that most of her translators are women. Without trying to making an uninformed essentialist comment about women’s identities, this allows a sort of gendered continuity between original and translation. This idea works well in dialogue with an idea that Bellessi brings up in “Gender and Translation�—“And what does she write? What she thinks she sees and how she thinks she sees herself. The speaking subject seen as object and theme not only in her individual singularity but also in the singularity of gender. If we conceive language and its structuring of discourse as a primarily historical construction, this leads the producer of the original to explore her place in it…the translator is often implicated in this process, as she watches her language broken apart violently by the original that she translates. From that derives perhaps the preference of many contemporary women writers for women translators…� (28). Because to a certain extent (ignoring factors of race, economic status, etc) the experience of being female does indeed inscribe and limit one’s experience of herself and the world around her, a female translator translating a female author would seem to produce a more faithful translation.

What then do we make of David E. Davis (a male) translating Pasos (a female-authored text)? What happens to the gendered continuity that exists between female author and female translator? Does there arise the “distrust [of] what might be construed by gender difference…� (28)? How does a male translator go about putting into another language the words that narrate the experience of a female imprisoned and tortured? If the experience of translation is, as Peri Rossi describes, an appropriation of the author’s voice by the translator, how does Davis, a male, go about recreating in English the gendered experience inscribed by the language of the original? In some abstract way, this might be seen as a masculine repossessing of the feminine—that is, by taking the female author’s words and rewriting them, Davis reinforces the gendered binary that allows males to write and forces females to be written.

In this context, it is interesting to think about the relationship between author and translator that Peri Rossi describes as “vampiric, phagocytic, live love, and shameless, like pornography� (59). In the translator’s “plunging into the author’s imaginary, his or her fantasies and desires…� a strange sort of pornography is created. The translator, probing and exploring the spaces of the author’s imaginary, is complicit in this pornography, taking the written experience and intimately experiencing it as his own. And in doing so, he ultimately re-authors those experiences, making them available to another audience.