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La Casa Del Obrero Mundial #5 w/ Muk (feat. Mariana Orantes)

1 July 2019

The July edition of La Casa del Obrero Mundial comes around with a smooth musical selection as well as an interview and readings from the Mexican writer and artist Mariana Orantes. The interview is in Spanish, but below you’ll find the translation of the latter as well as the two excerpts and brief essays that Mariana will read us during the show in Spanish. The writer talks about her creative path, inspirations, outlook on art and the horrific situation in Mexico in terms of the Narco and people who’ve gone missing. Turn the audio on and read up!

***

Hello, how are you, Mariana?

Fine, thanks, here having some wine with great company, thank you very much for inviting me.

So nice to have you here. Could you introduce yourself and tell us a little about what you do and your literary path: books you’ve put out, projects you’ve participated in…

Well, I’m a Mexican writer and I’ve published various short-stories, poetry, but most of all – literary essays. That’s my favourite genre and one that is often overlooked, even though it has a long history here in Latin America, but everybody still tends to think it’s too academic and serious, and that it won’t have the same grace as a story or a poem, right? So it tends to get a little overshadowed. Sometimes it can be really entertaining, therefore I really can’t grasp why it’s so unpopular. But I’m glad a new wave of essay-ism seems to be rising in Latin America, it really IS a genre very common here due to their long tradition, at least this sort of funny yet deep, brief way of writing… I guess that’s a great definition of what it is. So yes, this is the genre that’s closest to me, especially because I’m such a scatter-brain and find it difficult to concentrate in many things, even now – I feel like my head is in the clouds. I first published my works when I was around 23-24, but I began writing when I was still very young. I had stopped for a while when I entered university, because you know, it kind of changes everything being academic et al. But later, when I joined the USM I took on writing again, encouraged by this Albanian teacher I had, Xhevdet Bajraj.

So before you entered that university you were on hiatus in terms of writing. What where you doing instead?

I was more focused on academic research. But I wasn’t very keen on it and that’s where my liking of the literary essay came from, the first having a very strict form. Me, myself I loved playing about, would add jokes to my research, and the teachers obviously wouldn’t be very happy about it – it would be like, ‘get rid of this, we’re talking serious here’… Yet a lot of the research from those years I later used in my essays. Like, some things on Sigüenza y Góngora, a Mexican writer from XVII century, Mío Cid, Fray Luis de León and the Golden Age… I do have quite an academic basis.

Could you say this was a big influence to your recent work?

Yes, but the research I come from is not as academic and formal, I prefer a certain field research. Later, in my third book, which is some sort of research of violence in Mexico my writing style is much different: more disperse, various stories on assassination, yet with each they become more and more personal. These stories tend to start with something quite general and move towards my most inner intimate feelings.

That’s precisely what my next question was going to be about: what are the themes and topics that perpetuate your writing?

Well, I do have a *small* obsession with violence.

Just a tiny small one.

Yes, just a veeery tiny small one. Especially the mechanisms of violence and oppression. Most of my stories tend to explore how do these mechanisms work, from everyday violence to big organized structures. Though I believe it’s really important to be able to laugh and look at all of it in a humorous way, because violence and oppression related themes tend to be very solemn. They tend to be taken very seriously, just like, for example the coronation of a king or, let’s say, the presidential strip, there’s nothing more serious than that. So all these acts tend to be the most ridiculous of them all, if you look at them from a different point of view and that’s because in truth they aren’t backed by anything. The coronation of a king is the most ridiculous thing you can imagine, Chaplin already mocked that in ‘The Great Dictator’. So yeah, I believe that all things solemn are the most fertile soil for mocking and making fun. This is an important part of my latest writings: how to turn these solemn topics into something entertaining. Say, not necessarily ‘funny’, but at least entertaining. To allow the reader not to feel bored and instead have fun, but learn something and perceive the profundity of these mechanisms. This applies mostly to my literary essays – the stories or poetry not so much, they have a different purpose. For example, in my poetry I love writing about everyday life, the little beautiful things… As they say: the world is in constant flux, like some sort of river, and poetry is these special moments you take out from the water and expose them in the shore as artefacts to be frozen in time. That’s the way I believe poetry and art works.

Your latest book is called ‘The Gentlemen Stay to Rest’. It’s topics also dwell on violence. What other titles have you published so far?

My first book was a children story called ‘Once Upon a Time in Los Beatos’ – about an imaginary town somewhere in the province, called ‘Los Beatos of Getoutifyoucan’. There lived a kid that, well, wasn’t all that lucky. That came out in 2011.

So it’s been a while.

Yes. My second book came out in 2015 and it’s called ‘Orphans’, it’s also essays. It’s about the abstraction surrounding the Mexican identity and the Mothers of the missing. This is an archetype that became very common since 2010 – women looking for their missing sons. When you look up the term ‘forced disappearance’, the dictionary just offers the meaning of ‘disappear’. But exclusively in Latin America we use the term ‘forced disappearance’, which is terrible and shines a light on the history of these countries. So the term ‘Mother of the missing’ comes from Argentina but was consolidated and widely used in Mexico in the context of the war against the Narco.

But so this ‘forced disappearing’ literally has to do with kidnapping, or does it carry an even more specific meaning?

Yes, it has literally to do with kidnapping.

And so they never come back.

In Latin America it has to do with people disappeared by the military, a war context. In Mexico it has to do with the cartel, the narcos. Basically you’d be with the narcos and they would ‘disappear’ you. Or, they’d ‘pick you up’, another term – the levanton. So that’s what this book, ‘Orphans’, is about. My third book is ‘Satan’s Flea’, and also my most successful by far, ‘the hit’. Its topics are very various, yet the idea of evil is always present. Mechanisms of torture and evil, violence, oppression, questioning what is normal, what do we perceive as normal, also arts and aesthetics. My fourth book is the previously mentioned ‘The Gentlemen Stay to Rest’, which came out alongside a poetry book called ‘The Vertebrae House’, both in 2018. At the moment I’m working on a novel that will be called ‘Fashion Cars and Punk Records’ which is about characters in Barcelona, the painter Ocaña who is… Well, was, he died… Actually, a long time ago (laughs) and in terrible circumstances… The caricaturist Nazário who is alive…

Will this book also have some sort of nod to violence?

No. This one is more focused on what is considered to be normal and questioning normality in general. Precisely because these three characters – Camilo, Nazário and Ocaña, besides of all three being very good friends, in transitioning Barcelona, where always viewed as ‘the others’, the homosexuals, the maricas, as they call themselves, las jotas, las maricas, and they were very happy with it, but even in the gay world they were viewed as weirdos. So they would say that they were the outsiders among outsiders… And so during this time of transition – when Franco dies and it takes some time to put things order, the books is about that mostly, but also very specific concepts. Say, Ocaña’s paintings were discredited saying they’re kitsch and there’s this article about how the term ‘kitsch’ was used to marginalize certain groups: the poor, the trans, women who don’t fulfil ‘that’, elevated standard of art, so the book is more or less about that. Besides, there’s another one I’m working on and which is almost finished, ‘Excessive Discussion’, which is solely literary and art criticism. I’m also a bit weary of all the violence – you have to let breathe, there’s many beautiful things in life, not all is death-bags and decapitated heads, there’s also beauty, like birds (laughs) and art, which is always there to save us, so that book is full of reflections on that.

And so this what you’re going to read us next is an excerpt of two pieces from the book ‘The Gentlemen stay to Rest’.

It’s the last part of the book and one of the most intimate and closest to me. It’s utterly personal. And yeah, that’s it (laughs).

***

A Guided Visit to the Land of the Dead

WARNING

When stepping into the underworld, the fantastic traveller has to bear in mind not to eat anything. The simple act of eating, even just a pomegranate seed, may result in the capturing of body and soul.

This is a guided visit and it’s not recommendable to wander into the labyrinthic report of the murders you are about to read. Popular fairytales, mythology and ancient legends help to unveil my obsessions: I always tell about the same murder, a lot of times, in different ways, all the time. Don’t stop.

This is it, reader: learn from the past.

Part One

The Forest

The first thing that opens before the eye are the pine needles covering the ground wounded by the shadows of the trees and when the sun falls down, darkness is the mantle that covers it all. The forest, the place where one’s journey begins, as any avid fairytale reader must know, is the ideal place for witches, fairies, demons, and monsters.

With its the dark woods, the forest is par excellence the antechamber to the world of the dead. Northbound is Baba Yaga´s shack, atop of a chicken leg with an all-seeing eye. Southbound the huddle of fairies, and hiding elves, Eastbound, the nahuales and demons hanging from tree branches, trying to trick the unaware passer-by, and westbound, the road you’ll take, a path that goes beyond a crossroad.

*

I remember walking in the shadows feeling my mother’s rough big hand grasping mine – childish and weak, leading me towards the finding place. Here we were – the moon’s mercury-like light shining through the treetops. I didn’t want to see a corpse, but at the same time, I did.

I was seven years old and close to my house a night watcher found a dead baby. Someone had thrown him in the trash in a plastic bag. As usual, the authorities took over three hours to arrive, so people gathered around to see the find.

When the night watcher shone his light at the baby it looked so white, almost shimmering in the night, like a tiny sleeping demiurge.

The baby was born at a nearby neighbourship, in the house of two women that everyone knew as “Las Verduleras”.

Being a product of an unwanted pregnancy, the baby was sentenced to death just after birth by the mother and the grandmother. Just after he drew his first breath and cry they cut the umbilical cord, and with the same scissors, they stabbed him various times.

The two women were arrested months later in some town of the Estado de Mexico. The police reported that the baby was perfectly healthy and only came to this world to be murdered by his mother.

*

Saying the baby was murdered with the same scissors used to cut his umbilical cord sounds farfetched, almost artificial, but is true. It seems like a tragedy made up itself; this detail is of such a symbolic nature, that it could have been easily written by Euripides or Shakespeare. The reality, when appointed in fiction sounds improbable, exaggerated. The reach of the symbolic into the reality we inhabit tends to expand and travel into the common past of our species.

There is a lost child in the forest.

And he has no name.

There is a dead child in the forest.

And his eyes are open.

Part Two

The River

The soil closest to the river is wetter and tends to wash away. Watch your step pilgrim, don’t slip in the mud because it won’t be a pleasant surprise. If you take a close loom you’ll see that the soil beneath your feet is full of human remains: skulls, femurs, hands stretching out as if they were asking for alms. It’s a mass grave of all those missing that never came home, and even dead they cry for justice. That hand that salutes us is one of a relative, my cousin Rogelio, disappeared in Tamaulipas by narcos, still looking for his mother and desperately trying to build a house; he was a construction builder.

Up ahead you see the river where that which was above now is below, underneath its stream there are replicas of the houses that the dead inhabited when they were alive, now waiting for their relatives.

*

With its lights off an ambulance travels north, towards the morgue to deliver a body found inside a suitcase on the corner of Berlin and Liverpool street; its the corpse of a three-year-old girl.

The body must be examined, touched by various pairs of hands to determine the cause of death. They will maybe say she was strangled, or not; whether beaten with a blunt object, or not; stabbed, or not; raped, or not.

*

Its been almost six months since they found the suitcase and just as there’s no suspect, no one has claimed the body. The investigation was sketchy. We will never know who did it; what we do know is that he was capable of brutally raping a three-year-old girl so violently that he broke her neck in doing so, only to later as if it weren’t enough, put her corpse into a suitcase and throw it away as some trash.

My first memory is from when I was three and my grandfather gave me a white teddy bear inside a can that he soldiered himself. I remember opening the can and seeing the white little hairs sprawl. That moment for the first time in my life I felt astonishment. With dread, I wonder, if that girl, that little girl, was she aware of the moment of her death as her first astonishment in the face of the horrors of the world?

***

So we just heard two parts of the piece ‘A Guided Visit to the World of the Dead’ which as you saw wasn’t all about birds and art… Why did you choose this precise bit? Does it have some special sentimental value or is it very descriptive of your work in general?

Yes, well, it’s an utterly intimate piece and the third part I can’t even read out loud because I usually burst into tears. Besides, it was the last essay I wrote for the book and I had to present it to the scholarship that funded this book – The foundation for Mexican Letters, and so it was my last work. We read it together with another person and it was the only time the entire piece was read out loud. Why? Well, the third part is so, so… I can’t help myself but burst into tears. I just can’t.

I agree, when I was reading it I felt I’m sinking into not the most pleasant of places.

Yes, and since it goes deeper and deeper, I called it ‘A Guided Visit to the World of the Dead’, it has specific geographic references… In fact it’s written in such way, that if you have a real map, you can recognize the places. Therefore, I’m working in collaboration with a graphic artist who’s going to make a digital version of this essay as well as illustrate it in the form of a map. It’s going to be really interesting. I also chose this essay because it still has continuity, besides, I believe that if you’re not honest when writing and don’t write about things that cause you inner conflict or make you hurt, feel deep emotions of any sort, your writing loses substance and you don’t communicate things as they should. Only when you put out things that demand effort and make you feel them really deeply is when it happens.

Perhaps this happens with all kinds of art. I feel that so many things of what you say ring a bell with what I’ve thought many times, like about the marginalized among the marginalized… Like, this one thing that for me, as a creative person – I can’t ever flip my tongue to say ‘artist’, but…

But you are one (laughs) just admit you’re one.

…But that’s precisely what happened to me many times – I’ve been an outsider among outsiders for years, so what you were saying about the emotion having to be strong and precise, that if it’s not there – it isn’t worth creating at all.

Yes, precisely.

I feel that a lot of contemporary art fails to achieve that because it has become a product of sorts in many genres of art throughout the last fifty years or so. It all feels so mechanic.

Yes, because first of all, people nowadays tend to apply a certain censorship to feelings. Nobody likes it when it’s ‘too much felt’, everybody looks for something ‘clean’, more ‘clear’, more ‘white’…

Yeah, the ‘white cube’.

And it’s not entirely a bad thing, because there really are people who, despite of that, can express themselves in that way, but it should be also taken into account that there’s plenty of people who don’t…

Don’t do it that way.

Not just that, but even the ones who have no passion for doing it whatsoever. For instance, among the writers there are so many who write…

Just cause they can.

Yes, just because they can, but they’re so disconnected from their inner self, they keep it so shallow, seems to me they aren’t getting anywhere with that…

Yeah, same thing in music.

Yeah, I believe so… And that’s the thing – art should be visceral, cause conflict, not only within the emotions of the spectator, but the artist itself, because if a person is trying to connect with other people, there has to be some sort of conflict… I guess that’s the reason we writers become alcoholics – that’s a common path, because you have to be constantly seeking for this conflict.

Talking about other writers and what there is today in the literary Mexican scene – even though I’m not very well informed about it… My question is – what does it feel to be a Mexican writer today? How often people write about the things that you do? What’s your place in all this?

The scene is pretty decent. I feel it flourishing. There’s plenty of women writers and that’s amazing, because I can feel more unity among women than before and the truth is that the work of women these days seems much more interesting to me than that of men, even though, of course, there are exceptions. For example, the most interesting poetry as of lately was written by women – makes me think of Iveth Luna and her ‘Therapeuthical Community’ which is an amazing piece of work. Diana del Angel and her book ‘Barranca’, which is great… Then she has a chronicle book on violence which is fascinating, because she went off to do all this research on Julio César Mondragón, a studen from Ayoatzinapa who got his face cut off during this dreadful event of the disappeared of Ayoatzinapa. She went on to do the research, met his wife and wrote this book called ‘Processes of the Night’, an incredibly brave piece of writing. So yes, the leading writers now are really brave women. Very chidas (laughs).

Most probably it has to do with the times we’re living in too, right? Feminism, and all; people are speaking out about things that they wouldn’t had dared speaking before and there is a lot of change. Which other writers of these would you recommend checking out?

Besides the ones I already mentioned, you cannot not leave out Fernanda Melchor who’s breaking through the world with her incredible novel ‘Season of Hurricanes’ – probably the best Mexican novel of last year and the one that’s been winning countless prizes all over the world. I’m a big fan of hers. Then there’s Odeta Alonso, a Cuban born, Mexico based writer who writes amazing lesbian poetry – beautiful, delicate, sensuous. I also like very much the way Nora de la Cruz writes, a great prose author… Another amazing novel from last year is called ‘Restauration’, by Ave Barrera, I loved it. Among guys, who’re doing cool things, I’d name Eduardo Ruiz Sosa, who lives in Barcelona, and his book ‘The Anatomy of Memory’ and a short story book called ‘How Many of Yours Have Died’ which is fantastic. There’s really plenty of interesting things and Mexican narratives, which at first may seem quite exotic, but in reality they’re not. Ah, of course, Raúl Aníbal Sánchez, a great writer, Daniel Espartaco, his brother, too. Gilma Luque and his amazing novel ‘Dark Work’, Bibiana Camacho with her latest book ‘Empty Cages’. Oh, I’d also like to make a little advert on this lovely magazine Bibiana is making with her partner Julian Elizondo, another great novelist. The magazine is called ‘Caspita: Narratives of the Strange’, incredible themes and such. The first edition’s main topic was ‘alcohol’… All about these alcoholics… Man, it was marvellous.

So, we’re coming to an end with our interview and for last Mariana is going to read us a couple of brief essays more: ‘The Pinnacle of the Moon in the park Ueno’ and ‘The First Morning Sparrow’. Would you like to tell us a goodbye word?

Well, only thank you for this beautiful interview and the wine, also the friendship – because you always have to be thankful for that, the truth is that you’re a lovely person and hopefully this project continues for quite a while. 

***

Pine Moon, Ueno

1

The rain falls on the city covering with a cold layer the trees on the sidewalk, the roofs of the houses and also, democratically, the head of a statue trapped in its bronze pedestal. The rain grows into a brief storm. Drizzling bushes, windows and the moving umbrellas of ladies heading towards an unknown destination, like flowers carried by the stream of the river. In its patter on the umbrella the rain creates its own rhythm and becomes meditation music. At the cafe where I’m taking shelter, my cup has left a half moon shaped stain on the napkin. At its bottom it draws a full moon, its contour hints the circle of the celestial body (a silver anklet on the gypsies’ brown foot).

2

A painting of Hiroshige comes to my mind: the circle that outlines the moon pine in Ueno park. The pine wood grows and arches, rises and bristles like the spine of a cat to continue its way toward the posture in which it rests. Branches bifurcate: one, the arched spine of a cat, the other snakes around and in its slithering turns into an ouroboros made of turpentine, tracing a circle that imitates the moon’s surface: irregular and rough, niveous and luminous from a distance, like a splinter or a seed pearl that shines under the blow of a black knife.

3

The tip of the trunk stretches out without disrupting its capricious shape. The painter, with the mania of a demi god, wanted the wooden circlet around his painting to rest with the likeness of the moon in the serene water and over the rooftop of the Benzaiten`s temple, the mother goddess of the selenic artists.

4

The painter tried to show in detail something that was resting unattainable various meters above his head: not the real moon, but the branch of a tree holding it; to attract the heavenly divine to the earthly; a celestial body imitated by the tree, a tree imitated by the painter, a painter imitated by the poet. An Imitation of an imitation. A creative and gratuitous act through which he shines (that is, trough the circle outlined by the moon pine) the progress, the sacred, the profane in the strength of everyday life thus reflecting the instrument of human ingenuity.

5

Explosions of green-leaf emerge around the bark-moon. The stars, born like a bud from the foliage, dye the sky with emerald hue. Traced whimsically, it looks like a Japanese calligraphy stroke, like the sumi circle. It is the Ensō -moon: nature-borne illumination, the light that shines in the dark, cyclic harmony.

6

Ensō, the circular universe. The nature of a being nests in the vacuum. There’s nothing, therefore, everything has its place. It’s the path that dictates creation, and discipline, outside of ego and vanity which lead nowhere. The river joins its own riverbed surrounding the mountain but it does not limit itself. The moon rises and wanes, he is the guiding light in the cycle of the higher: perishable and imperishable reflected in what is merely human, but it’s not the essence of the inhuman. I can easily imagine it: Hiroshige raises the brush in his hand, the withe canvas is empty.

The First Sparrow of the Morning

The first sparrow of the morning has fallen on the roof. Each day a different bird falls dead. Sometimes a grackle, sometimes a parakeet, sometimes a pigeon. The other day I held a torcaza with a slit throat in my hands and I remembered the plumage of my grandmother’s birds, one deep red, another yellow and one blue, although most of them were grey, as the grandchildren.

The first dead sparrow has fallen on the roof, an I hope I won’t need to count anymore. Each day it happens, I clench my hands and jaw and I wish to count no more. But every day thirty, fifty, eighty birds fall dead, murdered. One heart stops and the world seems to grow colder. The bodies fall on the heads of the passer-by: on the little white table in the garden, heavenly decorated, lies a rotten skull. Corpses and more corpses float even in the president´s pool. But, what can be done? We got used to drink frapuccinos with eyes falling from the sky while stirring our coffee with a spoon. Nothing amazes us.

The first sparrow of the morning has fallen on the roof.

Playlist

1. Maria Kovac & The MK Sound - Trust Me
2. Nico - One More Chance
3. ZYX - When Darkness Comes
4. Areknuteknyterne - Untitled
5. Data 2 - Living Inside Me
6. Interview with Mariana Orantes
7. Reading of 'A Guided Visit to the World of the Dead'
8. Interview with Mariana Orantes Pt.II
9. Reading of 'Pine Moon, Ueno' and 'The First Sparrow of the Morning'
10. Jun Miyake - Lillies of the Valley
11. Winston Tong - The Quotidien
12. Guerilla Warfare - Easy Street
13. Annie Anxiety - Third Gear

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