sobre las Madres

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¿Cómo podemos, al escribir de las dictaduras y sus tecnologías de opresión en América Latina, al escribir contra la tortura y del terror, perturbar su poder no solo de imponer el tema, sino además de ejercer una fascinación sobre el texto? Para descomponer esa lógica debemos arriesgar la desilusión de también perturbar la ilusión de totalidad en el texto, cuyo poder de transmission es como la autoridad del dictador: una autoridad fundada en el poder de reproducit entre su público esa ilusión de orden por encima de la condición del terror… en otras palabras, un silencio…
Al igural que ese silencio, así también los desaparecidos, los ausentes y las fosas communes autorizan al Estado como la Fuente de la verdad.
Contra esto se levanta un arte que busca una cultura de la resistencia.”
~ Charles Merewether (quoted p.236, Butinx)

Gustavo Butinx once drew a series of quotes and writings together to convey some understanding of the politics and identity of the Madres. I still find some of these ideas thought-provoking… here is his opening, explanatory, statement (followed by quotes from within the essay):

madres-plaza-de-mayo“No es fácil escribir sobre las Madres. Lo que aquí se ofrece no es un texto orgánico y autorizado sino el inicio de una aproximación, construída a modo de collage y pensada para una discusión que no se agote en lo académico.” (Butinx, p.236)

“Pero la de las Madres es también una estrategia simbólica que arrebata al poder el poder de sus imágenes, ocupando y recuperando los vacíos de su retorica, parasitando sus contradicciones. Maternidad, femineidad, familia, religion. El pañal que flameó por primera vez sobre sus cabezas en una peregrinación official a Luján. Los nombres y reclamos “femeninamente” bordados sobre tan piadosos pañuelos. Los clavos de Cristo en la solapa. Los ayunos y retiros. Los encuentros en la iglesia, desde cuyas puertas serían ellas mismas secuestradas. Y esa notable capacidad para revertir el discurso del enemigo: “Las Malvinas son argentinas, los desaparecidos también”.
Pero eran las Madres. Al buscar a sus hijos usaban ingenuamente el sagrado derecho democrático de querer saber” (Osvaldo Bayer). La agudeza así lograda puede ser también interpretada como un doble filo. Ya en 1982 algunas feministas argentinas le comentaban a Jean Elshtain que, por las características de su accionar, las Madres “profundizaron y legitimaron la imagen de la madre de luto como típica e ideal identidad femenina. María del Carmen Feijóo cuestiona una estrategia “basada en los roles reproductores de la mujer que refuerza la convencional division del trabajo.” Pero Martha Ackelsberg y Mary L. Shanley enfrentan estas expresiones con la comprobación propia de cómo las Madres disolvieron las fronteras de lo público y lo privado en sup unto más sensible y al mismo tiempo más resguardado: la construcción de género. “Para proteger y cuidar a sus hijos tuvieron que salir de sus casas y hablar como seres politicos y como ciudadanos”.
Por ser madres ejemplares, dejaron de serlo (Alejandro Diago).” (Butinx, p.238)

“Espacio que se disuelve en tiempo: casi una definición etimológica de la utopia. Tanto más ponderosa pore star articulada a un rito. La Victoria es efímera pero año tras año reiterada. Más que una actuación, cada Marcha de la Resistencia, cada ronda de los jueves, es una actualización. La toma de la Plaza tiene ciertamente una dimension política y estética, pero sobre todo ritual, en el sentido más cargado y antropológico del téermino. No se trata tan solo de generar conciencia sobre el genocidio, sino de revertirlo: recuperar para una vida nueva a los seres queridos atrapados en las fronteras fantasmagóricas de la muerte.” (p.240)

“No solo el presente, también la presencia, esa primera y esencial forma de protesta asumida por las Madres. “Con su sola presencia empezaban a quebrar un sistema” dice Bayer. Los pañuelos-pañales en las procesiones y en los despachos, en los fastos oficiales, en la Plaza de Mayo. La ausencia del hijo encarnada en la presencia ubicua de la madre, iluminando el “cono de sombras” (Piera Oria) con que se pretendía sepultar a los secuestrados en un limbo sin memoria. La silueta actúa como una metáfora inversa pero de igual sentido: el vacío se vuelve pleno en la acción vital de quienes lo (d)enuncian y en ese mismo acto lo llenan. Aparición con vida. No la mera ilustración artística de una consigna sino su realización viva. Las Madres hicimos las siluetas. Esas siluetas eran la presencia de los desaparecidos en la calle (Hebe). Presencia-por-ausencia. Como la de los desaparecidos.” (p.242)

Más que una categoría política, el desaparecido es nuestra figura cultural por excelencia. No lo eliminado sino lo reprimido, en toda la complejidad de ese término. Lo negado, antes que lo proscripto. Pero el triunfo secreto de las Madres es la dialéctica intuitive que les permite revertir esa lógica perverse en sus propios términos. Hacer del desaparecido no el signo desplazado de la muerte sino el proyectivo de la latencia. El retorno de lo reprimido. El eterno retorno del mito.” (p.243)

“Como testimonio las Madres nos ofrecen sus existencias reconstruídas en la búsqueda de los ausentes. “Nuestros hijos nos parieron a nosotras, nos dejaron embarazadas para siempre” (Hebe).” (p.244)

Te seguimos buscando” es la frace característica. “Buscar, esa era la única manera de continuar siendo madre (Hebe)” (quoted p.246)

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold mine) Gustavo Buntinx (1993) ‘Desapariciones forzadas/ resurreciones míticas (fragmentos)’ pp.236-255, Arte y poder: 5as. Jornadas de Teoria e Historia de las Artes, Facultad de Filosofía y Letras (UBA) del 8 al 11 de septiembre de 1993

http://myhero.com/hero.asp?hero=MPM_isfa_AR_2011_ul

cookbooks as literature

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Speaking of community cookbooks in her introduction to Recipes for Reading (1997), Anne Bower writes “Usually put together by women to raise funds for a church, temple, school, museum, or other cause, these texts seem innocent of narrative force. After all, what do they contain? A preface explaining the group’s philanthropic intent and/or a few words on how the cookbook was compiled, a few illustrations, chapters dividing food by categories, paid advertisements (sometimes), and mostly, of course, the recipes, normally accompanied by their donors’ names.
It is the contention of Recipes for Reading that fund-raising cookbooks comprise a genre containing much more than the discrete elements listed above. The contributors to this volume find that these cookbooks tell stories – autobiographical in most cases, historical sometimes, and perhaps fictitious or idealized in other instances. The discourse of the discrete textual elements and their juxtapositions contribute to the creation of these stories, which quietly or boldly tell of women’s lives and beliefs. In community cookbooks women present their values, wittingly or unwittingly (we often can’t know which).” (pp.1-2)

She poses the question “Could I value this book not just as a fun source of recipes but as a literary text whose authors constructed meaningful representations of themselves and their world?” (p.2)

“As we come to see the links between what Susan Arpad classifies as “literary artifacts (diaries, letters, reminiscences, and oral histories) and material cultural artifacts (especially quilts and other needlework, photographs, and gardens),” we acquire more and better techniques for reading all texts related to women’s self-representation.” (p.5)

Part of what we’re coming to see about these varying texts, once considered decorative and/or private and/or trivial, is how they have served the communication needs of women. Scholars, particularly those in women’s studies, or feminists in literature and history, have demonstrated that, although women were often limited in access to recognized status-bearing discourse forms such as poetry and fiction, public speaking, and journalism, they expressed themselves through other print and nonprint materials. And in those materials they not only recorded and reflected the world around them, they worked to construct their world. Whether complicit with or pushing against the constraints and categories that bound them, women acted to shape the communities around them. Thus, what we may designate as fairly private activity or discourse (sewing, the writing of letters, contributing to a cookbook) may actually have been seen by women of the past as forms of public participation.” (pp.5-6)

Karen L. Blair reminds us that because a “male definition of activity” has dominated discussions of history and social change, only women engaged in public work such as suffrage have been termed active.” (p.6)

“scholars have for a long time seen the great cultural significance of food, though they did not contribute directly to discussions of community cookbooks until recently. Mary Douglas puts it bluntly in a discussion of ethnic food: “Ethnic food is a cultural category, not a material thing.” She goes on to explain that “food is a field of action. It is a medium in which other levels of categorization become manifest. It does not lead or follow, but it squarely belongs to whatever action there is. Food choices support political alignments and social opportunities.” This kind of insight is immensely applicable to research into the compiled or charitable cookbook.” (p.10)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine) Anne Bower ‘Bound together: recipes, lives, stories, and readings.’ pp.1-14 in Recipes for Reading, Ed. Anne Bower, Amherst, Massachusetts, University of Massachusetts Press, 1997

Border crossing – Como agua para chocolate

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Of Como agua para chocolate, Cecilia Lawless once wrote that “Laura Esquivel has written an unclassifiable work that simultaneously breaks and brings together boundaries of genre so as to concoct something new in Mexican literature.” (p.216)

“In linking the act of narration and the act of cooking, this novel doubles as a community cookbook. The novel intrigues me because it equates cooking and eating with both a sense of self and a sense of community. Like community cookbooks, which so often cross and collapse formal borders and share some characteristics of autobiography, history, etiquette, and folklore texts, this novel crosses boundaries as well. It collapses borders – those between fiction and instructive cookbook; reading about food and wanting to eat food; woman as provider of sustenance and woman as object of consumption. Indeed, rewriting and rethinking borders is a primary focus of this text. Like Water for Chocolate takes place along the Mexican American border, so that the setting underscores the novel’s exploration of the limitations of the woman’s role in the kitchen, and its movement between the forms of novel and community cookbook.” (pp.216-217)

She asked: “How does this cookbook/novel participate in the act of creating community among its readers?” (p.217)

“[An] association between food and sociability is a strong factor in Like Water for Chocolate, where constant slippage occurs between the narrative and cook-book discourses of the text. This novel demonstrates a particular Latin quality that encodes dining as a rite of eating, speaking, and narrating about food. As you eat, you tell stories of other great gastronomic moments. Eating and storytelling become intertwined. In such a way, food operates on various levels and rarely ceases to act as a mode of communication, a base for community.” (p.218)

Right up to the last chapter, the plotline follows with unnerving accuracy the recipe for a gothic novel. Here is Eve Sedgwick’s summary of the European gothic […]: “You know the important features of its mise en scene: an oppressive ruin, a wild landscape, a Catholic or feudal society. You know about  the trembling sensibility of the heroine and the impetuosity of the lover. You know about the tyrannical older man [woman] with the piercing glance who is going to imprison… them. You know something about the novel’s form: it is likely to be discontinuous and involuted, perhaps incorporating tales within tales, changes of narrators, and such framing devices as found manuscripts or interpolated histories.” The introduction of food in Like Water for Chocolate serves to subvert or at least parody these very conventions. In spite of many troubles – a brush with insanity, the jealousy of her sister, repression by her mother – Tita manages, through her cooking, to develop her own language and sense of self, combining erotics with independence.” (p.219)

“In Like Water for Chocolate the culinary “secrets” are made public.” (p.224) This notion of secrets being made public is certainly a theme throughout the novel and works on multiple levels…

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold mine) Cecilia Lawless ‘Cooking, community, culture: A reading of Like Water for Chocolate‘ in Recipes for Reading, Ed. Anne Bower, Amherst, Massachusetts, University of Massachusetts Press, 1997

the feminist kitchen

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Ksenija Bilbija sums up much of the interest in the kitchen as site of story in Laura Esquivel’s Como agua para chocolate when she wrote:

“For feminists, the kitchen has come to symbolize the world that traditionally marginalized and limited a woman. It represents a space associated with repetitive work, lacking any “real” creativity, and having no possibility for the fulfillment of women’s existential needs, individualization or self-expression.” (p.147)

[As an aside, I also found her discussion of the kitchen and the alchemist’s laboratory, especially as the two spaces might be read in Cien años de soledad, p.149-, interesting)

Ref: Ksenija Bilbija ‘Spanish American Women Writers: simmering identity over a low fire’ STCL 20(1) Winter, 1996; pp.147-165

On the suspension of academic skepticism

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The (misread) blending of genres in Como agua para chocolate has been presented as a reason for the poor critical reception it initially enjoyed. Kristine Ibsen explains that “to read Esquivel’s novel the critic must, to paraphrase Susan Leonardi, suspend his or her “academic skepticism” and admit the pleasure of the text.” (pp.133-134) [I really like this challenge]

According to Ibsen, “a careful examination of the text reveals that Esquivel has neither replicated the male canon nor popular “women’s” literature. In fact, underlying the appearance of conventionalism may be detected as playfully parodic appropriation that serves not only to undermine the canon but, more importantly, to redirect its focus to an aesthetic project in which such binary oppositions as “high art” and “popular” literature are overturned.” (p.134)

Ibsen also refuted a dismissive review of the book’s magic realism (George McMurray commented that the episodes of magic realism “never would have been written without the precedent of Cien años de soledad“, quoted p.133) with a really interesting comparison of the two texts. She wrote: “By appropriating the resources of magic realism, Esquivel has consciously selected a mode that has become so much a part of the canon that it would be easily recognized by anyone even remotely familiar with contemporary Spanish-American literature. Thus, although the hyperbolic episodes of magic realism that appear throughout Como agua para chocolate may indeed be indebted to Cien años de soledad, there is a marked difference in perspective between the two novels. While García Márquez’ narrative centers on a re-examination of broad historical trends, Esquivel’s work produces a meaning independent from the original text by concentrating on the individual experience in relation to history: rather than emphasizing issues of sexual domination and violence upon which the the Americas were founded, Esquivel “feminizes” her novel through the exaggeration of traits traditionally associated with women such as irrationality and sensitivity.” (pp.134-135)

Ref: (italics in  original; emphases in blue bold mine) Kristine Ibsen ‘On Recipes, Reading and Revolution: Postboom parody in Como agua para chocolate.’ Hispanic Review 63(2) (Spring, 1995), 133-146

Forming identity through food and romance in Como agua para chocolate

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I like what Regina Etchegoyen had to say about the role of the culinary in Como agua para chocolate:

“En la novela, la vida familiar cotidiana se mezcla con elementos fantásticos, creando así una atmósfera de realismo mágico. El humor que se consigue mediante la exageración y la magia se combina con lo trágico de la situación: un amor que sólo puede conseguirse la muerte.
Pero es la comida y sus efectos el aspecto primordial de la obra. El placer que provoca la comida tanto en su preparación como en su gusto, es la base temática y estructural de Como agua para chocolate. […] La comida y sus funciones, a través de la protagonista Tita, se convierten en el centro de la novela. La novela/libro de recetas/folletín presenta los secretos de la vida ye del amor mediante la comida.” (p.119)

“La comida le ofrece [a Tita] lo que la realidad le niega: expresar su sexualidad y su amor.” (p.120)

“Tita ve el mundo filtrado por su experiencia culinaria.” (p.121)

“La cocina se convierte en un estilo de vida por medio del cual Tita se define como persona. Sus manos operan en función a sus quehaceres domésticos. Sus manos son instrumentos que tejen para canalizar sus frustraciones y escriben un recetario donde narra su historia para dejar plasmada una prueba de su amor y de su talento único. Pero cocinan, ante todo, como parte esencial de su personalidad y de su vida. Escribir, tejer y cocinar son actividades esenciales de la protagonista, por medio de las cuales puede expresarse abiertamente como mujer.” (p.121) …”Escribir, actividad tradicionalmente masculina, se entrelaza con tejer y cocinar, actividades tradicionalmente femeninas.” (p.122)

“La comida, además de poseer una función temática en la novela, tiene una marcada función en el nivel estructural de la narrativa. Las recetas no sólo inician cada uno de los capítulos de la novela, sino que también unen todo lo narrado, pues encadenan todas las acciones que sucedem. Las recetas establecen el marco narrativo. Cada receta abre el capítulo, se interrumpe y concluye anticipando el siguiente capítulo. Cada receta evoca el recuerdo de un hecho particular en la historia de amor de Tita. Las recetas, además, conectan lo narrado con el momento de la narración en el que la narradora (sobrina/nieta de Tita e hija de Esperanza) relata.” (p.122)

Again, the blurring of genres allows all of this work to take place in the text…

Ref: Regina Etchegoyen ‘Como agua para chocolate: Experiencia culinaria y autorrealización femenina.’ Cuadernos hispanoamericanos Jan. 1996: 547pp.119-125

Como agua para chocolate – a pastiche of genres

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I’m interested in how criticism of Laura Esquivel’s Como agua para chocolate focused in on Esquivel’s (mis)use of genre. Critics have made a number of interesting comments on how her deployment of many genres works in the novel, Susan Lucas Dobrian being an example:

“As a postmodern parody, Como agua para chocolate represents a pastiche of genres. It is all-in-one a novel of the Mexican Revolution, a cookbook, a fictional biography, a magical realist narrative, a romance novel, and serial fiction. Amidst this generic slippage, the underlying element that ties these genres together within this novel are the assertions of femininity found in popular culture. Although on the surface Esquivel structures her novel as a popular romance, the generic hybridization and parodi stance open and free the novel from the restricted and hermetic formulas that tightly structure the typical romance narrative. Linda Hutcheon [-p.57] emphasizes this effect of parody when she posits modern parody as a liberating strategy that, rather than criticizing the original text, may instead be directed towards the social codes that enable such a narrative. Indeed, Esquivel adds a political charge by situating her narrative against the backdrop of the Mexican Revolution. In doing so, the author both forges an underlying theme of rebellion, change, and momentum  in the gender politics of the novel, and confronts Mexican popular myths of femininity within the bloody conflict. By waging war, both literally and figuratively, between repression and liberation, a new story comes to light, or perhaps, better said, the same story is read in a new light.” (pp.56-57)

Ref: Susan Lucas Dobrian ‘romancing the cook: parodic consumption of popular romance myths in Como agua para chocolate.’ pp.56-66 Latin American Literary Review Vol. 24, No. 48 (Jul. – Dec., 1996)