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May 7, 2008

Gender Performance in "Persona" (Morejón)

I would like to consider here the idea of subject-formation and gender that Judith Butler describes in the context of the poem “Persona? by Nancy Morejón.

In the selection from Bodies That Matter, Judith Butler proposes gender not only as a construction, but more exactly, as the repetitive “citation? of behaviors that are culturally attributed to each gender. Thus, as the following quote explains, a “girl? is a person who performs, who “cites? the appropriate “girly? behaviors. As Butler explains, this citation isn’t a mere choice, but rather a requisite behavior which constitutes the subjectivity of that person; that is, a female who doesn’t perform as a “girl? risks having her subjectivity and personhood called into question. Furthermore, historically there have consistently existed forces which regulate and enforce the performance of these gender appropriate behaviors, thus having the effect of naturalizing them.

“To the extent that the naming of the ‘girl’ is transitive, that is, initiates the process by which a certain ‘girling’ is compelled, the term or, rather, its symbolic power, governs the formation of a corporeally enacted femininity that never fully approximates the norm. This is a ‘girl,’ however, who is compelled to ‘cite’ the norm in order to qualify and remain a viable subject. Femininity is this not the product of a choice, but the forcible citation of a norm, one whose complex historicity is indissociable from relations of discipline, regulation, punishment. Indeed, there is no ‘one’ who takes on a gender norm. On the contrary, this citation of the gender norm is necessary in order to qualify the ‘one,’ to become viable as a ‘one,’ where subject-formation is dependent on the prior operation of legitimating gender norms.? (Butler 232)

In the Morejón poem “Persona?, the “I? (the speaker in the poem) brings into question her own subjectivity: “Which of these women is me? […] Why am I me? Why are they them?? In this poem, as the “I? questions herself, as she considers different women, she contemplates these women in terms of the behaviors they perform: the black woman who runs, the “early morning wanderer…being hunted / and wasted / and resold?. Though she questions her identity, the possible options she considers are traditionally symbolically female—that is, they are citations of the “norm?, allowing them to be understood as female.

The poem also alludes to the repetitiveness of the performance of these behaviors: “Who is that woman / the one in us all fleeing from us all / fleeing her enigma and her long origin / with an incredulous prayer on her lips, / or singing a hymn / after a battle always being refought?? That “woman in us all? and the “battle always being refought? seem to suggest not only the norm created by the performance of gender (“us all?), but also the relationship of women to men (the “battle?) and the repetition of it (“always being refought?).

The poem also suggests the notion of enforcement and regulation of gender norms that Butler discusses, for instance, in the figure of the “young Andalusian don?. Here, the relationship between male and female is displayed; clearly the woman is dependent on the don—the intersection of social and economic factors here work together to create a forced dependency on the part of the woman, which in turn serves to enforce and regulate her performance of “appropriate? gender.

May 6, 2008

Belli & Kozameh performance

“Performances function as vital acts of transfer, transmitting social knowledge, memory, and a sense of identity through reiterated.? (Taylor 2)

“Performances function as vital acts of transfer, transmitting social knowledge, memory, and a sense of identity through reiterated.? (Taylor 2)
“[It] carries the possibility of challenge, even self-challenge, within it. As a term simultaneously connoting a process, a praxis, an episteme, a mode of transmission, an accomplishment, and a means of intervening in the world, it far exceeds the possibilities of these other words offered in its place.? (Taylor 15)

In Gioconda Belli the matter of performance is seen on the way she allows us to visualize the woman’s search for social transformation in order to feel as one, as a woman. It is a woman that (re)creates express through a social commitment a way find herself and also a meaningful life.

Kozameh’s writing in Steps Under Water is the self-challenge Taylor mentions. She brings back memory, through a painful way as she mentioned, “intervening the world? making us aware of her history. Her performance was to represent the losses and to give voice to al of those who were left mourning in a past that is impossible to be brought back.

“On another level, performance also constitutes the methodological lens that enables scholars to analyze events as performance. Civic obedient, resistance, citizenship, gender, ethnicity, and sexual identity, for example are rehearsed and performed daily in the public sphere.? (Taylor 3)

Could we say that Lavinia and Kozameh are both performing sexual identity and citizenship respectively?


I would like to start off by pointing out that Diana Taylor’s call to a shift towards “performances [‘] function as vital acts of transfer, transmitting social knowledge, memory, and a sense of identity through reiterated…?(2) serves as an alternative to these hegemonic histories that we have been discussing. Its emphasis on the ‘ephemeral’ forms of knowledge indeed includes those that have been excluded from these documented transmissions of history: women and the indigenous people (in nation building) as discussed by Gutierrez Chong. Without archival material, these two groups have almost been regarded ahistorical, therefore, with Taylor’s ‘additional sites’; their contribution in the making of histories of their nations can be reassessed and acknowledged – as the absences and gaps in the histories are filled.

If Taylor’s emphasis is on performance (eg movements), how then do we talk about Molloy’s text (and other literary texts) as performances? Doesn’t Molloy’s text (as a written performance) betray the very notion of embodiment? Or is writing perhaps a performance of Molloy’s embodied memory?

Taylor writes: “Is performance always and only about embodiment? Or does it call into question the very contours of the body, challenging traditional notions of embodiment?? (4) It appears that Molloy’s writing ‘not so much with her body’ is a way of ‘manipulating, extending and playing with embodiment’ – of defying the traditional notions of embodiment. She challenges the idea of ‘a completely organized system like a whole body’. She describes her body not protected by skin. In fact she has an estranged relationship with her body; “…she does go out every day for a few minutes…to attend to a body that she cares for half-heartedly. She finds IT cigarettes…she takes ITS clothes…? (51) –clearly distancing herself from her body. Thus her body is not central to her writing.

Molloy’s pursuit of a ‘whole self/identity’ is analogous to the complexity of performance which Taylor argues “carries the possibility of challenge…it is indefinable…as a term simultaneously connoting a process…a mode of transmission, an accomplishment, and a means of intervening in the world? (15). Molloy is equally in a process of constructing a ‘unified’ identity which remains fragmented throughout the narrative. She is all the same successful in transmitting her embodied fragmented memory. Just like performance practices that “both bind and fragment the Americas? (16), Molloy’s fragmented body and memory bind her with the women in her life: Clara, Vera and Renata. There need not be one simple and universal definition of performance in the same way there that identity need not be constructed out of a whole and unified self, and does that even exist?

May 5, 2008

Performance in/and Kozameh

Diana Taylor argues that "performances act as vital acts of transfer, transmitting social knowledge, memory, and a sense of identity through reiterated behavior" (2). This point took me to the chapter "A Flat and Jaded Description of a New Year's Eve" in Steps Under Water.

In this chapter, Sara describes the tensions surrounding the second annual New Year's Eve dinner that she is about to share with the other prisoners. Referring to how the dinner was thwarted last year after one of the women loss control, Kozameh strongly depicts Sara’s compulsion to carry out the dinner rite:

“I sweat. My armpits are drenched. I feel faint, blood pressure dropping, words coming to me, over and over again. Pillaging cannibalism. Acculturation. I don’t feel good…My ears go cold. My neck. Andrea and Griselda are late in joining the others. They talk, almost whispering, as if there were no other moments in their lives. Just now, when it’s imperative that we mingle. My brow is dripping wet. I hope I get over this before somebody notices. Better not have any embarrassing moments on this December 31, at dinnertime. Grist for the piss-eye-chologists. Plenty of them. This isn’t going away. And some of them even enjoy the approval of the majorities here. This crap, make it go away. Go away.? (125)

Kozameh’s reference to the psychologists illustrates how New Year’s Eve dinner has come to occupy a naturalized, normalized place in culture, one that is expected to remain unaffected by the less-then-ordinary conditions in which the women prisoners find themselves. Hence, Sara and the other prisoners are compelled to repeat the ritual in order to 1) remain recognizably “human,? and 2) avoid becoming fodder for the psychologists. Thus, there is nothing “voluntary? about partaking in the dinner, but rather, as Sara suggests, “it’s imperative that we mingle? (125). As the intense physical descriptions of Sara’s panic and desperation reiterate, cultural performances are always “simultaneously ‘real’ and ‘constructed’? (Taylor 4).

In “Critically Queer,? Butler goes into much detail about how subjects become compelled to cite, specifically through her discussion of Derrida’s notion of the importance of repetition. Here Butler highlights “that discourse has a history,? and thus “action echoes prior actions, and accumulates the force of authority through the repetition or citation of a prior, authoritative set of practices? (227).

Although Kozameh positions Sara to be much more cognizant of the cultural power of these repetitious acts than Butler suggests is probable, the tensions between her inner resistance, physical effects, and outward compulsion to cite illustrates how despite the inherent contradictions within the performative, a guise of naturalness becomes maintained:

“Veronica looks at me, I smile at her because I’m sure she spots a shade of paleness in my face. I smile and hopefully manage to hide something with my grin. But I’m not trying to keep a straight face. I’m trying to keep this show of lack of composure under wraps because it’s not a question of blowing my image. That’s it: collaboration with one’s self. With one’s own image. Because the book on me would be predictable: ‘Sara, petite, bourgeoise with ideological weaknesses. Blood pressure drops during New Year’s get-together’. Very funny? (127).

This “collaboration with one’s self,? however, also points to the inherently intersubjective and permeable nature of the performative; if we are compelled to “cite,? that is, perform, in certain ways, then we are always already presuming the presence of anOther. In this light, Taylor’s notion of performance as an act of transfer relates directly to her question of whether performance “call[s] into question the very contours of the body? (4). But how does this relate to her notion of “accion,? which she describes as “more directed and intentional, and thus less socially and politically embroiled than performance??

Performance in En breve cárcel/Certificate of Absence

In “Acts of Transfer?, Diana Taylor says: “Performances function as vital acts of transfer, transmitting social knowledge, memory, and a sense of identity through reiterated, or what Richard Schechner has called ‘twice-behaved behavior’?. (2-3)

Thinking about Silvia Molloy’s En breve cárcel/Certificate of Absence, it feels as though "she", in her performance with her lovers (Vera and Renata), is transmitting the memories she has from her childhood, which also embody the sense of identity that "she" has of herself. The violence that comes afloat in her adult relationships is clearly a remnant of the violence she experienced as a child—with her mother’s detachment and her love-hate relationship with her father. Also, when her sister Clara was born, "she" describes jealousy as one of her first feelings (she was jealous of Clara’s light skin and blonde hair).

“Is performance always and only about embodiment? Or does it call into question the very contours of the body, challenging traditional notions of embodiment?? (4)

Molloy paints a different picture when it comes to "she"’s body. Her whole body (but mainly her skin) seems to work as an identifier of her performance in life. “On the other hand she cannot imagine herself without a voice, just as she cannot imagine herself without a skin… a skin of voices to give shape to these fragments.? (21) I think Molloy challenges the traditional notions of embodiment when "she" fragments her body/skin and, by doing so, shows the incredible fragility of her whole being—it seems that her body is just a fragment of her being; the other fragments are her mind, her heart, her memories, her passions, etc. Putting them all together would mean having one un-fragmented "she".

“Performance, as Roach points out, is as much about forgetting as about remembering.? (11)

I think this quote applies to Molloy’s character, as we can see "she" going through life and acting as if she were remembering her childhood in every step/decision that she makes. However, at the same time, "she" seems to want to forget who she is (her identity) and become someone else (someone stronger like Vera?) Clearly, at the end, our performance IS who we are and we represent who we were/are, as well as who marked us: “Thinking of the two of them, so far way, she immediately sinks (she cannot find a better word) into the memories she has of each. There is absolutely no passion, just a need to become one with her mother and sister, to lose herself in them.? (115)

PS: While doing some research I came accross these remarks about Molloy’s text in "Un mito nuevo: La mujer como sujeto/objeto literario" (Madrid: Editorial Pliegos, 1992) de Elena Gascón Vera. I thought I’d share them with you, but I’m sorry they are in Spanish!

“La protagonista de En breve cárcel tiene una relación mucho mas compleja con sus padres y con ella misma. Desde su infancia la sombra de una locura, probablemente inventada, le ronda como si en la locura, que ella inconscientemente desea, hubiera un posible escape del dolor que sufre por la no aceptación de su propia persona, que ella rechaza identificándola con su cuerpo y en el tropismo que, a lo largo del texto, ella hace de su piel. Esa piel a la que constantemente alude y que desearía dejar y cambiar como un traje viejo nunca apreciado ni querido.
El rechazo de su persona tiene también una explicación psicoanalítica en su deseo de agradar a los padres quienes, subconscientemente, supone que la rechazan, tal vez por nos ajustarse su propio físico a los cánones anglosajones que ella cree son los únicos aceptados por ellos. Esta creencia se ve ratificada con el nacimiento de su hermana, Clara, cuando ella tiene tres años. Clara es rubia y con ojos azules y para ella representa la belleza que cree no tener. Poco después, liberará la tortura de creerse más fea que su hermana golpeándola con un cinturón, tal vez como la secreta intención de marcarla y afearla para siempre. Esta primera violencia, originada por el dolor de no aceptarse, le acompañará a su vida adulta y le supondrá una razón más para justificar su propio rechazo y su consiguiente fracaso en el amor.? (96)