Adentrándose en la escritura del borde / Gabriel Payares

Deep into Writing on the Edge

Just as this edition of Papel Literario was reaching its deadline, the country received the ill-fated news of the death of Stefania Mosca, novelist and essayist, who was born in 1957. Recently honored by the IV Feria Internacional del Libro, in 1997 she was awarded the Premio Municipal de Narrativa for her novel Mi pequeño mundo: el burdel nacional visto desde un hueco.

“I feared it from the start: it was late.”
Stefania Mosca, “Tic, Tac…”

“The problem is the real, how we function within this reality,” Stefania Mosca affirmed in an interview on the occasion of being chosen as the honored writer for the IV edition of the Feria Internacional del Libro de Venezuela (Filven), manifesting one of her greatest aesthetic and philosophical preoccupations, which she tackled head on in her essays from El suplicio de los tiempos (1999), to cite one example. Her voice, a national echo of the dilemmas inherited from the 20th century by Western culture, would immerse itself without a second thought in the discourse of the border: that fatal dividing line that declares inside and outside, us and them, and that far from being circumscribed to the flat and innocuous dimension of geography, today is erected more than ever as the instrument from which realities are molded.

In that sense, Mosca assumed her belonging to the place of those “on the outside”: a place of marginal and peripheral enunciation, that is nevertheless not exempt from the existential problems addressed by Sartre and his frequently cited Being and Nothingness, but rather the opposite. Reality, the body, the perception of the other and of the self are all so present in Mosca’s pen that they ended up being the ideal categories for researching the author’s adherence to a continental culture whose voice has been silenced within the symbolic realizations of media hegemony; in her own words, a “marginality of the periphery [that] does not have a story, outside those promoted by the DEA or obscenely typified by Hollywood films” (El hilo de la voz, 612).

Narrating the Margin to Ourselves
There we find the superposition of essay and fiction in Mosca’s work: responding to the need to offer ourselves our own story, of grabbing hold of our subalternity as prime material, through which we can get closer to our truth – our being-in-itself, Sartre would say –, attainable only through “liberational” writing and reading. Mosca’s seemed to be a poetics of approaching the real, in frank disagreement with the market’s so-called “simulacra”: a posture that turns out to be at once a logical consequence and an honest opposition to the global village’s millennial offers.

So her fictional construction of notable characters that conduct themselves in marginal or even alienated social ways is more than understandable – “The Cosmo Girl,” the “Beggar,” “The Sweet Wife” –, those whose voices have been silenced by the system and confined, either to the gym, to the street, to domestic chores, or to the consumerist noise of marketing. And yet, the case of the beggar contains a moment of significant humor, though not any less dark: the assumption of complete lack, the most absolute and pure mendacity, as the greatest state of liberation possible: “There will be no life beyond total lack. Freedom. My own, to be something apart, a ruin. To not have a credit card” (Ibid, 607). Although with marked sarcasm, the narrative of this indigent who has fled from a world that is repugnant to him and that offers no escape – even reaching the point of affirming that “the rural escapes of the sixties are fallacious (Ibid, 608) – contains the seed of the true liberation Mosca pursues: that of the story-teller who assumes her marginality and finds in her naked word, liberated from life – “there will be no more life” – the path to self discovery.

More than what we would call characters, these are fictional instances that allow an almost essayistic reflection on the aforementioned themes; almost excuses to research identity, the female body, love’s incomprehensibility, or the urban construction of the everyday – “six million caraqueños seeing Mount Ávila every morning creates a link” (Ibid, 610) – and memory, understood as the ancestral, inherited and legitimate trace that must be recovered and put back together within the individual: fragments of origin, whether it be national, familial or personal. A group of interests and of questions to which Julio Miranda adds, in El gesto de narrar, “the female complaint, that manages to critique itself as a dependency (…) as well as the concern for the body’s deterioration and aging; and no less, the contrast between the city of freeways and big buildings, of vertigo and violence, and the sea as fullness” (345).

“We’ve made the body Barbie’s territory”
The female condition, however, ends up being one of Mosca’s central interests in her attempt to reach, in this case, the ontological truth of woman. She frequently denounces an “autoinvisibility” of the woman’s body, a more frequent victim – although not the only one – of the demands of fashion, who gets lost in the illusions of a standard for femininity that is more demanding each time. It is “women, chasing after The Echo of Another’s Pleasure (Ana Teresa Torres), sweaty in the gym, or shamed and bruised on operating tables” (El hilo de la voz, 611). Mosca wagers on the body’s awakening, drowsy in its silent existential marginalization; a protest that, even if it might seem commonplace today, nonetheless finds its echoes, perhaps intelligently, in the “central” instances of Western thought, such as Descartes, Faulkner o Diderot, and in much more contemporary intellectuals such as García Canclini and Nelly Richards, or even in the Brazilian Clarice Lispector or the Czechoslovakian Milan Kundera.

In the same vein, these references, placed alongside much more local instances such as Simón Rodríguez, Luis Alberto Crespo and even, in an amusing though significant anecdote about Venezuelanness, the ex-president Luis Herrera Campíns, are used by Mosca to put into practice her own theory, appropriating hegemonic thought in order to force it to engage in dialogue with peripheral voices. Liberation, then, for Mosca is conceived as a staging of a marginal voice, that assuming its mediations narrates, describes and constructs itself all at once by means of pure written exercise: “First comes the tracing of the figure. We should delineate, define the contours, the territory’s forms. In order to know our body, we have the skin that, being an edge, is the sense that joins us to the outside, the other, the universe” (Ibid, 613).

In this way, giving a form to our territory – be this the country, the female body or literature itself – implies a journey towards origin, an inner glance that gains sense as it delineates – “discovers” – the truth that was previously occupied by illusion, simulacrum, phantasmagoria. A philosophical proposal that seems to be nourished by Baudrillard’s polemical theories, with the exception that he would have never accepted the existence of an “authentic” national reality; something that did seem to seduce Mosca, whose faith was invested in the ontological (re)discovery of “what is ours,” or more accurately, in its (re)creation: to fill with writing the void left by the market simulacra that, like a distorting mirror, “erases or assumes in a deformed manner, assimilates and transfigures (Ibid, 612) the countercultural manifestations that take place within its core. The author’s fundamental preoccupation, according to what she said in the interview with which we began this dissertation, is found in the reality’s fatal artificial nature, when man is not integrated with Nature: “…but it’s up to us that it be at least a more welcoming elaboration, that it not make us the victims of objects. Because our desire is no longer a desire for the other but rather a desire for the thing.” Perhaps this is announced by the earthquake that closes the bourgeois gathering of La última cena (1991), proposing through the tremor the necessity of fracturing our artificial social structures, in favor of a more direct relationship with the national “truth.”

Following Mosca, writing on the edge – a word [borde] which she aptly used to title the series of essays we’ve been citing – always turns out to be rewriting, in a palimpsest, in the almost archeological search of a negated truth, by means of the word: “The marks of origin have been diluted. The origin does not exist, or it is everywhere, but we can’t avoid the chimera of putting it back together. We have a birth. The body demands that its source be identified” (Ibid, 614). In this Mosca makes herself a spokesperson of a Latin American symptom, of a desire for a reestablishment very in tune with the majority of our nations, that insist on the urgency of rediscovering themselves, of arriving at their own truth as a nation, digging and digging in the ruins of our failed modernity.

From another perspective, this supposes the assumption of writing as the only possible means of salvation. “We all write. We want to save ourselves, to create our own images,” she affirms in her “Sueño de una noche de verano,” recalling the mythical relationship between the word and the genetic act our tradition attributes to it: the hope of recreating ourselves, this time in our own image and likeness – since our mestizo origin already points to the intervention of others, of those from outside – seems to be a constant element of this particular Latin American mythology, full of paradoxes and contradictions, a faithful reflection of the complexities of our social and political reality. Today, it doesn’t seem to exist for those of us who live on the edge of the possibility of enunciating an “us”; and perhaps that is what sentences us to a constant search for liberation, for the nakedness of the short story’s beggar.

{ Gabriel Payares, Papel Literario, El Nacional, 28 March 2009 }

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