martes, 9 de junio de 2009

Prensa para "Mujer y poder en la literatura argentina", de Gwendolyn Díaz en el Buenos Aires Herald


"Silly Novels by Lady Novelists" is the title of an essay by Mary Anne Evans, in which she criticizes the work of female writers of her time and praises 19th-century European realism, a grander tradition she was going to dive headfirst with her subsequent literary production. Only that these works would not be signed by Mary Anne Evans but George Eliot, the male nom-de-plume that opened the gates of the literary canon.

Times have changed – or have they? Gwendolyn Díaz, a Professor of English and director of the Graduate Programme in Literature at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas, has brought up a series of
enlightening approaches in the book Women and Power in Argentine Literature, published in 2007 by the University of Texas Press which has just been translated into Spanish and published by Emecé in Argentina as Mujer y poder en la literatura argentina: relatos, entrevistas y ensayos críticos.
In the book, Díaz interviews 15 Argentine women writers active between 1950 and 2005, commenting on their work and including a short story or an excerpt from longer works. The approach and the aim are evident from the title, which is as pointed as it is controversial.



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Why “women and power”?
It’s the sexiest topic that anyone could have! Because it’s an association that is not always made: it’s usually “men and power,” and it’s time to turn that around. And because it’s true. It’s a different kind of power that women exert, sometimes in different ways but more and more in the same ways that men do. The power that the book talks about is like Hegel said, that every relationship is a power relationship, a power struggle, in every situation in which two souls come together there’s a power structure and a hierarchy. Hegel’s master/slave dialectic happens in every aspect of our lives. Tununa Mercado has a story like Amor combatiente, which is the soldier conquering the body of his woman, and it’s very violent – the penetrating metaphors, if she didn’t write it poetically it would be pornography. All of that spills over to the world of politics and society, so when you have a sexist society, where the men dominate over the women, you have a society that is going to do that at the social, practical, economic and political levels: it spreads out.
Why Argentine women writers?
In the US there’s a big interest in female Latin American writers. One of the big reasons is that in the 60s and 70s there was a very big feminist movement, and a lot of attention turned toward women in every discipline, including writing. There was a lot being written about how women write. I don’t think that’s discussed so much any more, but that’s one of the reasons why women were being read. Why Latin American women? In 1985 Sandra Cisneros published The House on Mango Street, and the US started noticing that what they call Hispanics or US-Latinos were a growing minority – but not only that: they had buying power and political power, and whenever you talk about economics and politics in a capitalistic country, it’s “hello, let’s see what’s going on.” Latino men were looked at too, but the interest on women has a bit to do with a fascination with the exotic – the Caribbean and Mexico is exotic because they are tropical and indigenous and mestizo, which is so different from the Southern Cone (however, people in the US don’t understand that). All of that came together when Sandra Cisneros came to be published in New York by Random House, and other publishers started scouting for more Latina writers. After Isabel Allende’s La casa de los espíritus (with her last name Allende, political again), people started looking towards the South. García Márquez became the stereotype of all Latin America, but the branch of writing of the Latin Americans who are not magical realists is characterized by their aesthetic merit: a lot of these writers have created their own style, which is complex, different and aesthetically polished. Their models tend to be European, and the writing tends to be crafted rather than straight narrative.
Have you found any common strains in these women writers?
I want to say no, because I think that we can all connect to the energy that is all around us as a male or as a female: I think like Lacan, that we all position ourselves vis à vis a cultural span – you can have phallic women, and you can have passive, nurturing men. Having said that, there’s still tendencies. I would say, from the readings that I have done, that women writers tend to have a connection between the inside and the outside that they express in an aesthetic form that sometimes means instrocpective. The women that I have studied have a gut-to-mind connection, a link that seems to express itself in writing more than I have found in men writers who, more often than not, externalize more and focus on the outside, the narrative, the adventure – caveat: there are many exceptions.
Some writers here have dealt with politics head on, whereas others have not treated it directly.
They might be getting away from politics, but they’re not getting away from power. The aim of the book is to show the dynamics of power in all aspects of life. I have a couple of women who did time in prison during the repression, I have a woman who was tortured, but I also have the mother and the daughter, the daughter who wants to separate from the mother and how hard that is, the lovers, the power exerted there, and if you see how that plays all the way through the social structure you understand how we go from a mother and a son to a Cristina and a Pingüino.
1950-2005: why those bookends?
1950 is a nice, round number, and that’s when Elvira Orphée started publishing, right in the middle of the Perón years. Elvira starts writing from the élite (she’s married to the Ocampo family) about the repression of the Peróns, and I think that’s a central mark in the Argentine mindset: Perón vs. the élite. Alicia Dujovne Ortiz wrote a biography of Evita, and that’s still part of the Argentine collective unconscious – how the Peróns were, and how they still control the ideology of the Argentine. Luisa Valenzuela’s "Cola de lagartija" is another point in that arc – Luisa Valenzuela is a treasure. She is beginning to get in Argentina the kind of recognition she gets abroad: last year I organized a symposium at the University of Vienna on her work. It was fantastic – but nobody knows about that here. I think that if she were a man things would be different. I want to make these authors known internationally –that’s why I wrote the book first in English – but I want to make them known also locally.
What surprises have you found in preparing this book?
One of the things that wasn’t a surprise but which continues to mistify me, perhaps because I’ve spent most of my intellectual life in the US, is how ingrained traditional cultural roles are in Argentina. Even the most liberated feminist-thinking writers are still locked within a concept of femininity, womanhood, sexuality, attractiveness, domesticity, or view themselves as being an exception because they are successful women, and feel that they have not been discriminated against because they in particular were able to overcome that because of their qualities. They do not see that they are still grounded by a gender stereotype.
What is the “Argentineness” of writing?
Not all of the writers are urban, but for those that do write coming from the city that’s really central, a huge feeling of desire and appreciation and admiration for being porteño. And also a tremendous amount of criticism and hatred at the same time. This is something I did say at the introduction, I called it the Argentine ethos: all of them have a sense of pride for being Argentine because there’s a lot to be proud of, a tradition of culture, a country where immigrants came and really made the America for themselves, a respect for intellectuality and the arts, a feeling of family, humanity, a respect for friendship which has been lost in other countries. You fall in love with all of that, and I think Argentines understand that they have that and they’re proud of it. On the other hand, there’s tremendous disappointment that Argentina has not fared better in its fate, that how could a country that’s so bright be in such a mess politically and economically, how come there be 50 per cent poor in a country that’s so rich. When we lost the Mundial (and I say ‘we’ because I’m mitad argentina), how come we didn’t win? There’s a psychology of failure: we are destined to fail and to be disappointed. So much greatness, but it always ends in failure. That is a common denominator in all these writers: a great appreciation and admiration for Argentineness and a disappointment that it has not ended up with bringing the country up. Unamuno talked of a “tragic sense of being alive”, here there’s a “tragic sense of being Argentine.”

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