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THE BODY AND WRITING - Coming Into Being

Woman stands at the crossroad and contemplates humankind
      making its way beyond the cosmic machine...

Part One

by Cecilia Bustamante

My body was before the word. The reality of being a woman made me belong to silence, unacquainted with myself, unable to describe-inscribe my being in the Universe where man is the measure of all things. He set the norms, the terms of our human relations and has designed the frontiers to the flight of my thought.
The body restricted me within its properties, heightened by the dominion of the material. The condition: to be bonded to habit and custom, to become the embodiment of tradition. Absolute authority practiced in woman its power and rule. She was left in charge of disseminating its legacy using codes alien to her reality. She belongs to History (1).
Now I want to train the voix sauvage, the voice that cries out to claim the space that has been left void. A voice in search of signs that can fill the space from which woman has sprung voiceless (2). She cannot regain the past or control her present, she has though, a right to establish her space toward the future.

(1) "...that strange reality which is History, and which is neither completely objective not completely subjective, in which the dialect is resisted, pervaded and corroded by a kind of anti-dialect, itself however still dialectical in character." Jean Paul Sartre, in What is Literature (1947) quoted by Frederic Jameson, Marxism and Form, Princeton University Press, 1971. P. 206.
(2) "...a sign of impotence appears, and the brand of want. Who would embark in the remaking of Hegel or the reinitiation of Kant and their adventure? Who will with all seriousness undertake such an enterprise in our time? The founding discourses, the first philosophies, those syntaxis implying totality have been left behind us...in that space other voices raise, less cultivated, or more exactly savages voices inquiring for that empty space...we lack to produce a language which will not disposses someone else. If not, we might survive with a marginal and phantasmogoric life..." J.T. Desanti, La Filosofía de los Poderes, (quote translated by the author), Premiá Editora, México 1979. pp. 30-36.

Woman Keeper of Moral Standards?

Woman seeks to open what Parmenides called eye of thought, to let the dazzling nous greet the silence in a language hitherto denied to us. Meanwhile, we have internalized the forms of "the other," consummated in the body. Woman stands at the crossroads and contemplates humankind making its way beyond the cosmic machine, towards rebirth or extinction. Woman is not a mere invention of grammar, she is quite able to create her own language. She has been long schooled in the use of symbols not her own, has experienced non-communication, terror and silence, she can aspire to cut a diamond with another diamond.
The human mind now rushes to discover what was held in those apparently empty spaces, to invade the space of silence which has been the dwelling space of woman (3). Man was the inventor of the image of the world. But, though woman has very little to do with that creation, she shares the responsibility for the effects of her non participation in the social system. Her role has been that of keeper and transmitter of the moral standards and became "efficient" in the praxis of the social values. Woman was written our of Metaphysics, such omission meant a slim possibility to understand her essence, to define her world and was outlined and enclosed within the social order, her freedom to interact with man at an intellectual level, remained undercut. Such spiritual deprivation reaffirms itself in the reality of the body which becomes part of the world of objects.

(3) Wittgenstein’s entire work starts out by asking where there is any verifiable relation between the word and the fact. That which we call fact may well be a veil spun by language to shroud the mind from reality. Wittgenstein compels us to wonder whether reality can be spoken of, when speech is merely a kind of infinite regression, words being spoken of other words...Language can only deal meaningfully with a special restricted segment of reality. The rest, and it is presumably the much larger part, is silence... For the silence, which at very point surrounds the naked discourse, seems by virtue of Wittgenstain’s force of insight, less a wall than a window. With Wittgenstein, as with certain poets, we look out of language not into darkness but light. Anyone...will be sensible to this odd, mute radiance,” George Steiner, Language and Silence: Essays on Language, Literature and the Inhuman, Atheneum, New York, 1970. P. 21.

Codes of the Cybernetic Era

Woman can search for referential in time and space, but our ignorance-innocence, makes it hard to perceive these, for us, new dimensions of reality, and knowledge. Woman equals woman, she is her sign, indistinguishable from herself. Is her mind a tabula rasa?
Despite being an object of belonging in society, she is ignored in a general or selective fashion. So she finds herself displaced inside and outside the system. If we accept this condition as characteristic, she can with legitimacy seek for referential in both directions of the "time lost."
Woman is expected to perform a contribution concrete in nature, a production which is essential to the stability and endurance of the social system. But, if we try to equate it with the rewards of society, injustice will prevail.
We can prove omission from the economic models; besides discrimination from knowledge, we have also been absent in the distribution of wealth. Woman is, at a world level, in a condition of dependence and exploitation.
The language we use to describe our reality, the peculiar characteristics of being inside but excluded from the system, can be antagonistic. Her language itself is reacting to the ever-growing shock of scientific and technological advancement (4). As part of the underprivileged or despoiled groups, women see these achievements of contemporary science and technology as attained at the expense of great sectors of humankind. They experience injustice, inequality, instability. The present is the birth place of new definitions, the codes of the cybernetic era.

(4) “...a non-standard linguistic feature suddenly emerges into popular conscience...can happen either when a change from below becomes noticed, or when a dialectic feature which has existed in the language for some time, is perceived as clashing with a spreading standard feature. In both cases there will be conflict between the social forces which fostered the non standard -feature, and those promoting the accepted norm. At this point, one sometimes finds a period of apparent calm and the change superficially stops. On closer examination we see that it is the artificial calm of the centre of the cyclone, a momentary balance of opposing factors. As is in Elliot’s Four Quartets: ‘At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh, not fleshiness:/Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is..,’ Jean Atchinson, Language Change: Progress or Decay? Fontana Paperbacks, U.K., 1981. P. 78.

Special Locus

Woman, caught in these man-made conditions, is an element that has not been recognized as a key part in world development. Deprived of decision power, when she has set in motion some current of change, those projections have been controlled. She doesn’t master her own destiny, she has not attained her total identity yet. How coherent and harmonious is this progress given the situation of women and the underprivileged? Does it posses legitimacy?
Amidst the constant change, woman is destined in time to be a decisive force of the process of becoming. Her time seems only Heraclitean, but science has gone forward and we need to know. Our time is irrecoverable in a sense, but because the new reality of time, we need to clarify our function, our place. I think it is a stabilizing one, with capability for displacement. This has not been taken into account, it is an evidence selectively discarded from the sphere of information and knowledge.
During periods of accelerated change, as the present, it is easy to perceive the imbalances in the hierarchical structures that sustain political and economic power. We can also observe the other hierarchy which is language: registering symbols, concepts, models, which rely for their effectiveness on a highly selective image of reality: the reality of the dominator. Its referential terms and codes carry discrimination and a segmental-selective representation of reality relevant to the final goal of maintaining the control of (political) power.
Such a language constitutes an aggression upon the individual and the society. It is so how language can prevent communication. It offers a distorted image of the world. It becomes volatile when operating in the space if international politics because of its potential for violence against our conscience and our individual and national identities.
In this void of dialogue, the spaces pre-emptied by non-communication are taken by violence and terror which threaten to be our only reality and future. The structural violence in society, proposed by Johan Galtung (5), is a phenomenon I find registered also in language. Language which predicts upcoming conflicts, shows the insensitivity and flexibility of the ethics of power and incorporates the reverberations of crisis.
The growing and long-term instability at a world level, the potential for global destruction, demand a definite support of peace and multidisciplinary studies, the analysis of new factors, I believe, is woman with her stabilizing properties. There have been enough attempts to sidetrack her with the dubious task of defender of moral issues and controversial problems, just as birth control which is nothing more than a unilateral burden.
The realities of our time are violence and terror, a lack of meaning and coherence with the transcendent ambitions of human nature, a human being can perceive their need for liberation. From a woman’s point of view, liberation is a trickier proposition because, historically, she is and has been subject of double deprivation and alienation: as a natural resource that gives birth to the species’ offspring, and as a phantom worker in the economic models.
Her participation has not been in the exercise of power or in decision making ( at the moment I cannot count those at top level world politics, because they do not represent the common interests of women of the world), nevertheless woman can be uniquely suited to bring about stability. Her special locus in society is movable, floating, a circulating one, able to alternate - operating dynamically as an element of equilibrium. She functions inside and outside the system.
Because of her dependent condition, woman has usually identified with the minorities’ movements. She is training herself in the reality of our time: direct violence and death.

(5) Johan Galtung and Tord Hoivik, “Structural and Direct Violence”, in Journal of Peace Research, Peace Research Institute, Oslo. Vol. 8, No. 1, 1971. pp. 73-76.

Role of Woman in the Process of Social Change

Such an involvement would seem contradictory to her human nature and her balancing function in the social structures. It can only be expalined in part, because she easily identifies with the suffering and discrimination and her sensitivity has not been numbed. When politicized, woman tends to become radical, depending on the status on her own society. Her operability is antagonistic to the system, she is then a revolutionary (6). She is coming into being. Like the new language, she is setting categories, forging individual access to new aspects of reality and trying her alternatives to integration.
The option is a legitimate one, well attuned to woman’s individual experience of the process of change at the praxis level: to engage in destabilization using the same means of rebellion as the minorities of her time. The forms that her action might adopt are not totally predictable since we do not have enough information about her reality. It is not easy to establish her relations with the forces of change operating at social, economic, political and cultural levels. We must include as well the factor of time.
Her role within the process of social change and economic development is emerging as never before. Yet, in what we have seen of this century, she is being dismissed as a minor detail. That is what has driven to revolutionary political action in order to participate in the truth of our times, to neutralize the violence of the terroristic imposition of silence, to exorcize the voided space. This is, in my understanding, why some have become terrorists. But violence cannot be eliminated with violence.

(6) “More generally...in a far-from-equilibrium conditions we find that very small perturbations of fluctuations can become amplified into gigantic, structure breaking waves. And this sheds light on all sorts of ‘qualitative’ of ‘revolutionary’ change processes. When one combines the new insights gained from studying far-from-equilibrium states nonlinear processes, along with these complicated feedback systems, a whole new approach is opened that makes it possible to relate the so-called hard sciences to the softer of life and perhaps even to social processes as well.” Alvin Toffler, Foreword “Science and Change”,. In Ilya Prigogine, Order Out og Chaos, Bantam Books, Toronto, New York, London, Sydney, 1984. p.xvii.

    Read the second part of this essay:

  • The power of language
  • Word of the poet
Go to Part Two

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