«The job of writer is above all that of mediator. It is situated between the irrepresentable life and the self-devouring language, in a murky, mobile strip.»
«Azares del cuerpo» is the first book of fiction by the Colombian writer María Ospina Pizano (Bogotá, 1977), consisting of six stories of varied length and which is brought to Chile by Edicola Ediciones (2019) after being published by Laguna Libros (in agreement with Casanovas & Lynch Literary Agency in 2017).
As can be seen in the title, the narratives are linked to each other, and not only by the interbreeding of the same story from many perspectives and moments (in the case, in the case, at least, of the first two texts), but by the reading of the body as territory where resistance and chance are incubated, in a social fabric that forces it to work, to survive.
In Policarpa, Marcela begins work as a cashier in a hypermarket, interspersed with the experiences in a guerrilla camp in the middle of the jungle and collecting a manuscript in the process of correction. The reflection of the protagonist has a double functionality: on the one hand, it allows to remember the past events (with a quota of invention, of course), and on the other, in the present, it allows to dig into the meanings of the products available, unraveling the semiology of consumption.
«In the personal hygiene section assigned to her during the first few days to get acquainted with the products, Marcela discovers the meaning of exfoliating. The first time you see the word about soapy liquids that shine with your promise, investigate the labels of jars for definition. Then buy one of those soaps that make sure you scrape impurities and start throwing it with discipline every morning on the bulging scar that interrupts your shoulder. He wants to sand the pink footprint that is woven there, to see if he stops revealing so much the wound» (p. 13).
«Sometimes you have time to detail the white metal and cement roof of the hypermarket. Repair in that nudity of panels interrupted by metal cylinders, cables, smoke detectors and cameras. He likes to look up every morning, as if to get out of the fiction of buying and selling» (p. 21).
Thus he spins thoughts that contrast with the attitude of his peers, the parkiness and indifference of Diana, for example, the other character. Slowness is the dissonant and rebellious gesture in an entire topography oriented to trade, where reason and contemplation are suspended because of the speed of transactions. «There is no time to waste,» seems to be the hypermarket maxim as a hyperbole of consumer society.
Not everything is said but much is translucent, round, whisper, which reminds us of Clarice Lispector. Because pain and trauma are unspeakable, as well as life, but language, as inevitable and elusive, is the only path that singularizes, which translucent existence in its folds and obliqueness, beyond the symbolic quagor, conventions and Syntax. That’s why the name sets, diminutives, aliases, manuscripts, novels (who is it? Who is it? that’s why the characters, in some way or another, relate to the word, what said and what not said.
«She restless that word, face. You’ve seen it a lot in the instructions for the creams and soaps you buy in the hypermarket. He thinks he has never used it in a phrase» (p. 43).
«Marcela feels that a viscous desire to cry sprouts from her windpipe, but she is relieved to know that Diana cannot perceive them» (p. 52).
In the text entitled Occasion the narrative pulse goes back to the past to count Zenaida’s adolescence, as employed in a private house and its difficulties with spelling. Here returns one of the favorite topics of Lispector, this time in the figure of Isabela: childhood as innocence, as resistance to symbolization, as subjectivity, the word against the word and its institutions, the writing that looks back.
«He had made great progress in spelling since arriving at the house two years ago. But he still made the common mistake of confusing the s with the c. Suseder. You’re going to happen. Lol Then, in the face of indecision, I thought of Marcella’s name. Marcella is written with c because it sounds like an s but is next to an e» (p. 58).
«In the afternoon, when Robertico had arrived from school, Isabela proposed to her to make ponqués. She had decided to stop spending the afternoons naked playing in the back garden since he told her that this was crap» (p. 64-65).
In Saving Young Ladies, Aurora, the protagonist, lives alone in a Bogota apartment and is writing a novel. Soon walking from her window begins to scrutinize from her window a dozen girls of the «Santa Teresa Women’s Home», located at the front, wondering about her lifestyle, her most intimate desires, with the strangeness that causes that monastic, distant, retired life from the world. With one of her manages to build a certain bond, Jessica, with whom she writes letters, thus unveiling a need for dialogue and intimacy. To save her or save her?
«Would any leftovers of the kitchen be stuffed when there were no eyes watching? He wanted to believe it was. He imagined them when he ran the shower curtain on Bogota’s cold mornings to turn to the next one. He wanted to know if they looked at each other with desire. Perhaps with eager envy? (p. 78).
«I wonder how to get you out of there. How long before the season you’re going to spend there? What course are you in? I have thought that if you want to leave there you can come and stay in my house as long as you need» (p. 95).
In Fauna de las eras, the protagonist faces a flea invasion from the cat of the owner of the apartment that rents and that causes welts from constant bites. Written in the form of a diary, the story evokes a certain cortacrarian fantasy where the figure of the flea assumes weighty proportions.
«Estefanía told me a while ago that Bogota was one of the special cities because whenever you go to the movies, you were stung by a flea» (p. 110).
«Fleas follow their feast. Today I have 19 welts: back bending of the knee, elbow tip, and other secluded places. K. told me I think you’re pregnant with a flea. It could well be» (p. 112).
And not just fleas. There is a constant presence of animals in most of these narratives: worms, birds, dogs, donkeys, spiders, cockroaches, which abound like pests, like children’s stories, like many things, tainting and twisting the normality of the city. Again a nod to Lispector.
In Collateral Beauty, the story focuses on Estefanía who records the entry of dolls into a clinic. Yes, as is. Dolls, with their respective names. «Clínica de Muñecos Reyes», an inheritance of his grandfather passed on to his mother and then to his brother and her. Although, in the face of the future closure of the venue, the longing of the protagonist is to travel to the United States and offer such objects, despite the emotion that the her engulfs and the special care she has to wear them according to the dignity of her worth. What will be the fate of those family treasures?
«One by one, the dolls let thebed go. Their naked bodies cast their new precariousness. Estefanía went to the warehouse, opened the drawer marked «clothes» and pulled out a lump of dresses wrapped in silk paper. Leonor looked pretty in the blue satin dress with crinolin. The lace robe served Beatricita. Ingrid’s pleat and short-sleeved dress fit Ingrid» (p. 144).
«What would become of the other dolls, of the pieces of arms, of the loose eyes that fit nowhere? Since burying her mother, she had understood that the living never supply the mselves with the objects left by their dead» (p. 155).
Finally, Azares del cuerpo, the text that gives the title to the book, follows in the footsteps of Martica, manicurist, and Mirla, her confidante and client, who has just widowed and has become assiduous to collect scissors of all kinds. The story reiterates the centrality of the body, its interaction with the everyday, with sorrows, with obsessions, and why not, with absences.
In short, Maria Ospina writes delicate fictions as a pretext to speak of language, its limits, its collapses, inaccuracies, overflows. And not only that, he writes to talk about the productive system, where it operates precisely the normativeness of the language, which squeezes existence, under the promise of an unattainable freedom. Universality is present, of what not.
True that Azares del cuerpo has to do with the pains of Colombia, its recent history, but what these pages narrate also happens in Chile or in any third world country, and that is the main asset of this book: to recognize us in misery, in disappointment , in the solitude of many, but also in recuse, in the certain possibility of imagining through words, writing.
Maria Ospina Pizano. Body chances. Edicola Editions, 2019. 182 pages.