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Johannessen, Lene. “The Lonely Figure: Memory and Exile in Ana Menendez’s “In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd.” Journal of Postcolonial Writing 41.1 (2005): 54-68. Routledge, 15 Aug. 2006. Web. 5 Nov. 2013.

Intro:

Johannessen covers the discussion of exile and figuration. She examines how the exile attempts to re-map his/her new place in order to orient him/herself, in order to understand a new place meaningfully. Johannessen expresses that writin gin exile is writing in extreme. Her essay explores two levels: figuration- metaphor and analogy, which are the master tropes; and the manner in which the exile attempts to understand and familiarize him/herself in a new land. The exile uses old knowledge and applies it to new, unknown world in order to place him/herself. Migration is never merely happy or not—literature, like actual experience, has a growing number of displacement stories. Migration follows a wide range of motivations. The difference between groups depends on motivation. Exile, for instance, is marked by forced banishment; emigration is a choice for a better life.

Ana Menendez’s stories speak in memory, which remembers what has been left behind. The essay states, “The title story “In Cuba I was a German Shepherd” allows a reading that lends ear to the voice of memory as it obsesses with the past” (Johannessen 55). This essay wants to look at how “this voice” [memory] configures the narrative and how memory shapes desire. Johannessen says she will use tropology (the figurative use of language), Bakhtinian architectuonics (triad of model of human psyche; I-for-myself; I-for-other; and I-for-me), and cognitive linguistics. All these fields deal with memory, orientation, and relationships.

Memory unites the dissimilar, while similarity unites what is not continuous in memory. Borrowing the idea from Dianne Thompson’s The Brothers Karamazov and the Poetics of Memory, this essay quotes: “the continuity of memory makes us unite what dissimilarity (spatio-temporal) might otherwise separate; similarity makes us unite what discontinuity in the memory might hold apart” (Thompson (3) qtd. in Johannessen 55). The essay goes on to say that writing in exile intensifies this “sensitivity to temporal and spatial complexities and contradictions embodied in all attempts at representation” (55). Writing magnifies the disjunction between “home” and “place”—writing turns to home in order to restore familiarity in memory (55). Writing in exile highlights what was and what is, and attempts to recover home through narrative, “in order to recreate and restore familiarity, if only its memory” (55). Therefore, exile writers attempt to hold on to memories and to write in order to familiarize themselves with the world.

This familiarization attempts to “orient” self in the world. Writing attempts to restore the old world from nostalgic memory: the writer’s attempt to understand a new place through familiarization happens through the use of metaphor and analogy, “ ‘the master tropes’of migration” (55). Since the exiled lives in a new, unknown world, the exile uses analogy and metaphor to familiarize him/herself—to map his/her new world, a way of understanding. One comes to know the world through language—figuration or mapping—the exile takes what he/she knows and connects that knowledge to things he/she does not know. This “figuration” results in mixing of culture and language. Memory recalls what has been left behind. This idea leads to the essay’s contention that “The title story “In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd” resonates powerfully with such compulsive retrospection, and allows a reading that lends ear to the voice of memory as it obsesses with the past” (55). This memory leads to exile’s desire.

Emigration leads to the need of making the unfamiliar and new into the familiar and understandable. The essay draws on cognitive linguistics to explain the idea of metaphorical mapping—the mapping of “source domains” that diverge from the “target domain.” The idea—from Heyden White and Antonio Barcelona—is that the exile projects old concepts on to new ones: “Language, custom, religion, and tradition undergo a certain degree of ‘figuration’ as they travel from one domain o another”—the two domains tend to blend (56). Migration parallels the idea of the “figuration process.”

The essay looks at Menendez’s stories, and it claims that the characters “and their relationship to the world display…a sensitivity to temporal disjunction and dislocation that challenges the coherence of the narrative’s inner space” (56). –plot summary   –focus on Maximo’s “nervous breakdown” (bottom 56-57).Looks at the park: essay claims that Domino Park becomes a separate entity of “American Miami” and acts as a “synecdoche of Cuba” (58). The park only matters to the Cuban immigrants who determined the “place” of the park, giving it meaning as they recreate a Cuban ritual. The Park, now—when Maximo visits it—has become gentrified and a tourist attraction. With the gentrification and touristification of the Park, the Park loses its synecdoche for the Cuabns (why? I don’t understand this logic?) The process works by taking something old but subordinate (Cuban Domino) and re-figuring it to match the new “thing” (America Miami). [An example is brujeira—where Cubans take an old, “pagan” religion and map it on to the new Catholic religion). The Park, however, has not followed these examples: “The park takes its cue, as it were, exclusively from what lies outside it” (58). The tour guide’s discourse objectifies Maximo and the Park, taking away the old Cubans agency in creating their own culture. [Again, I don’t agree—the Park, gentrified or not—arises out of Cuban culture, of bringing and introducing a Cuban ritual in to this space where only (mostly) Cubans over the age of 55 are allowed to participate. Objectification for tourist does not lead to inauthenticity of the ritual performed by the Domino players).

Maximo feels someone else’s will determining him “So even if the function of the park (as a site for playing domino) may not be basically altered from the point of view of the guide, the metaphorization it has been subjected to transforms it into a relic, an object for musuems, something that is lifeless” (59) – [Cubans who fled from Castro’s communism have always-already felt “someone else’s” will determining them].   The park attempts a one-to-one replacement that attempts to limit distance and past. [[I would argue no—that the Cubans who go play there KNOW that this park is a constructed space; however, as Raul says, they do not care. He embraces the spectacle. The Cubans know that this Park, in the middle of Miami, pales in comparison to what they had in Cuba—like most everything in Miami/America, none of it is as good as it was in Cuba.—‘eso no pasabar en Cuba]

Troping is a desire for replication not transformation; the exile space becomes itself the substitute for home. Johannssen claims that “Domino Park represented home with little regard for the new cultural domain in which it resided” (59) and that currently, the Park represents home as a constructed place, thus a caged zoo. Using cognitive linguistics, metaphor and metonymy, used to map knowledge to the unknown for understanding. Both, however, are different “Metonymy is [a] conceptual projection whereby one experiential domain (the target) is partially understood in terms of another experiential domain (source) included in the same common experiential domain” (Barcelona 4 qt. in Johannssen 60).

The essay relates memory to metonymy—metonymic memory selects what it remembers along continuous lines. For the exile, the idea of orientation does not involve making a ‘new home’—home is lost forever, and only lingers, frozen, in memory (60). Metaphor is not good for constituting the exile’s discourse “both because of its retrospective orientation, but also, and just as crucially, because the exile’s obsession is not only with memory but also oblivion” (60). Metonym is better since it “prefigures the exile’s mode of ordering” (60). The essay then looks at “In Cuba…”—stories about Cuba and past and follows two figurations: 1-similie—figure of despair of departure “roots dug in like fingernails in a good-bye” (Menedez 7). The 2nd– likens narrative to movement, where memory uses image of journey and space: “figuration is, however, inherently unstable, inaccurate, if for nothing else than the fact that the absence of figure does not exist” (61)—language opens up a gap between what is meant and what can be meant—this analysis sounds much like Derrida’s trace. The gap is itself a form, a “thing.” The figure that Maximo opens up is called “suspension” (61). Maximo’s memory illustrates memory and oblivion: memory connects him and separates him from his old home.

Maximo’s memories –his daydreams—become present in the figure of his wife. His memories, his daydreams, are a “synecdochical representation”, where parts (memory) stand in for the whole (Cuba). His memories stand in for that location, his home in Cuba. His memories represent how the exile occupies a certain place while remembering another place. This double creates a “discursive tension” that cause Maximo to “conflate and confuse” Cuban with Miami (62). Maximo thinks of his “other life” but that phrase is ambiguous—which is his other life? Johannssen wants to look at this tension—this suspension—and states that exile’s “double orientation” struggle for dominance; however, for Maximo, this “suspension” is neither Miami nor Cuba. Maximo is left without a place because he has no way to orient himself. He has no place from which to speak since he cannot reconcile his current place and his past; he is caught between place and time. (63).

Essay turns to joke, which functions along metonymic memory. The laughter directed at Anglo-American superiority and arrogance also pokes fun at Cuban “and his innocent provincialism in the face of the cosmopolitan new world he encounters” (65). He invests his naivety in the dignity. Essay says that he gets the laugh and “allows Maximo to escape his enclosure in a life lived elsewhere” (65). [I think this reading of the joke misses some nuances. I think that Maximo, a professor and well-read man in Cuba, knows that he is thought to be the provincial, poor man, and possibly uneducated man in the eyes of American society, and the joke is quite “literal”—in that new way literal means—in pointing out that Maximo was a German Shepherd in Cuba (a well respected professor), so the joke serves as a tragic reminder of his new place in America, in Miami, where he can no longer come off as a great and “pure breed”]


I have been watching Examined Life, which is a documentary that follows around different philosophers and has them discuss something or other. I have also been reading about Soren Kierkegaard (whose grave is posted here).

I have a lot of fragmented thoughts on all of this.

Cornell West is brilliant in this. He, like most philosophers, talks about philosophy being our meditations on death. We are constantly learning, dealing with, making sense of how to die. We do this by being thinkers and examining our lives:

(I wanted to post the Cornell West clip here, but for whatever reason, this isn’t working, so here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1Q6v1xsvcI&feature=related)

This concern about how to live (in preparation for death) is what concerned Soren (from now on shortened to SK). SK thought that philosophy shouldn’t tell us what it knows, philosophy should tell us how to live; what we should do. But that should do becomes tricky because everyone has to choice it very purposefully.

I see much of the same concepts here that Heidegger will pick up later. Both are concerned with subjective moral truths; both reject the easy life of following the crowd. SK was concerned with authentic living and existential dread much before Heidegger, Sartre, or Camus. SK has the idea that existence is something more than what you are born with and says that it is something, rather, that one strives to, which is much like Heidegger talking about Dasien’s possibilities that Dasien takes up.

Just as Dasien is this Being-towards, a being that is thrown ahead of itself in the world, Sk, too, talks about existence as a thrown forward– existence is the choices one makes and lives with wholly.

This brings me to another point which I would like to explore. If Dasien is this Being-towards-others-towards-death, which is to say that being is constituted in context to its culture, society, history, present, future, language, etc, and its project is only completed at death when it no longer has any possibilities to take up, then that is to say that when someone dies, MY (some of my) possibilities end as well.

If part of the structure of Dasien is its possibilities, then when someone dies, those possibilities become less because if my wife of 50 years dies, my best friend from grade school, my family member, or anyone I know dies, then I no longer have the possibility to explore a “towards-others” with that person any longer. Therefore, we must always live towards this death. This is why it is so important to fulfill ethical imperatives because if we do not, a little piece of our own Being dies as well.

This is what the poets, musicians, artist know so well. This is the pain of heartbreak, of mourning, of loss– because our possibilities that we can take up become more limited when someone close to us dies. The melancholy that follows these events is that melancholy that Zizek talks about, in a way. Zizek describes the melancholic as the person who is frustrated because he has acquired the object of his desire but has lost his desire for it. I am interested in his later description of what is going on with the melancholic:

In this precise sense, melancholy (disappointment with all positive, empirical objects, none of which satisfy our desire) is the beginning of philosophy. A person who, all his life, has been used to living in a certain city and is finally compelled to move elsewhere is of course saddened by the prospect of being thrown into a new environment–but what is it that makes him sad? It is not the prospect of leaving the place that was for years his home, but the much more subtle fear of losing his attachment to this place. What makes me sad is my creeping awareness that, sooner or later–sooner than i am ready to admit– I will integrate myself into a new community, forgetting and forgotten by the place that now means so much to me. in short, what makes me sad is the awareness that I will lose my desire for (what is now) my home (Slavoj Zizek. How to Read Lacan 68)

When we look at this language, this explanation, isn’t this what is going on in mourning an other? When we are separated from a close other (family, dear friend, lover, etc), the sinking heart feeling we get when we know that the relationship with our girlfriend is changed (heartbreak), when we know that we will never see a loved one (death)– all of these events is, as Zizek describes “..the subtle fear of losing his attachment to this place,” where this place can be the same exact physical place, only changed by the lack of the person you shared the space with.

This is the melancholy of having less possibilities to take up (in Heideggerian terms). It is also the reminder of death, of how things can change, of how things will change, of being forgotten after death, of forgetting when someone else dies. As I sometimes forget I had a father because it has been so long since he was a part of my environment, and then I become melancholic when that comes back to me. It is these mixed feelings of guilt and nostalgia. A desire to return to something better, but knowing that maybe it wasn’t “better” but just different.

I have to go back to Heidegger and Lacan and Zizek and explore this idea of the melancholy being a result of Dasien’s possibilities being narrowed, and I would like to explore the ethical implications of the ethical life in the face of this Being-towards-others that feels melancholy when there is one less other to be towards. I wonder if this is what Nancy explores?

Well, I leave this fragment to try to go read more…

I am continued to be confused, baffled, and even entertained by Antunes. The breakdown in chronological time is fascinating and reminiscent of Faulkner, and I even read a review of ‘What Can I Do’ that points out Faulkner’s obvious influence on Antunes here:

Indeed, Faulkner presides over “What Can I Do When Everything’s on Fire?” as a tutelary spirit. Here, for instance, is a legendary sentence, spoken by a death- befuddled child, from “As I Lay Dying,” published in 1930: “My mother is a fish.”And here, uttered by a baffled son, is a sentence from “What Can I Do When Everything’s on Fire?”: “You’ve turned into a fish, father.” Like Faulkner in his great novels of the ’30s, Antunes deploys idiot monologues, garrulous, colloquial voices, superheated atmospherics and dismembered narratives that exalt not-knowing as a prime literary excitement.

Chapter two continues in the same manner as chapter one. The reader is given a little more background, and it becomes very clear that Paulo is on heroine and, maybe, other drugs.

There is a great image of Paulo going to sit on the beach so that the ocean waves and wild horses can drown out the noise of his parents fighting, but the arguments get so loud and intense that the image of relaxing, rolling waves becomes violent: “… I was the one hurt out there by the horses and the sea” (21).

The overwhelming motif (more so than in any Joyce novel) is the inter-mixing of all the images and symbols. Memory becomes a dream becomes reality becomes madness, and one symbol goes from being one of peace to one of horror from one page to the next.

This chapter elucidates some of the narrator’s problems: he steals for drug money; he feels guilt but uses drugs to forget; he feels guilt for taking advantage of his guardians, but then dismisses his feelings because they are not his parents and then feels guilty for taking advantage of them again.

There are wonderfully lyrical passages of using drugs and its withdrawal:

heat at first, followed by cold, followed by an urge to crush myself, I don’t know what dying is like but they’re disentangling me from my body, conversations that get away from me, scarecrows in smok holding a basin up against my chest
— Vomit” (29).

Here the story of the Neighbor Dona Aurorinha is told. She had a lover she would write to, but the lover died of some desease.

There is an interesting contrast between when Paulo says that he knows how to tell time and how his narrative doesn’t follow any chronological time. It goes back to the philosophy of waiting it seems. For Paulo, time is broken, but not in the sense that he has to wait—that waiting time in which one endures and “feels” time’s slow passage. Paulo’s time is, rather, broken in that its linear-ality has been destroyed. He has no way of telling past, present, or future, and this reflects his phenomenological experience of lived time. Just as he can’t tell time (or, maybe, more accurately put, BECAUSE, he can’t “tell time” as he claims), he can’t tell experiences apart from one another, whether real, imagined, resulting from madness/sickness, or dream.

Yet, at the same time, his “time” (his experience within time) becomes an object of analysis. Something he takes apart and tries to analyze. The story, what one is reading, his depiction of events, is his attempt to analyze his situation, but he is having trouble doing so because he is so lost in “time”.

What Can I Do When Everything is on Fire? (A Novel) by: Antonio Lobo Antunes

I am getting around to reading one of the books that I received for my birthday. The title of this one was enough to make it my next choice of books to read. I want to look at this book chapter by chapter because it is, as the book jacket suggest, “…a poetic masterwork that recalls Joyce’s Bloomsday with its dizzying farrago of urban images that few readers will forget.”

The basic plot, from what I understand from reading the jacket (and the first chapter), is the story of Paulo trying to piece together the bits of his existence, but that existence is one of madness, fragile memory, and a reality that includes the most successful, flamboyant drag queen of Lisbon, Carlos/Soraia and his wife, Judite and his lover, Rui. It seems that Paulo has a breakdown and is sent off to a hospital, and somewhere along the way his parents give him up to some guardians. It seems that we are getting these fragments of his story from a mental ward.

The book opens up to the main character, Paulo, mixing a dream, an analysis of the dream, memory, and reality together in a poetic, stream-of-consciousness narrative that reveals very slowly the plot of novel. Paulo, at times, has a hard time separating what his dream was and what his memory was; he also has trouble remembering what reality is, as is seen when he mixes his parents with his guardians and his reality with his dreams and has obvious trouble with memory:

“my mother judite, my father carlos, the doctor, not this one, a fatter one,
I remember the doctor’s red necktie when they brought me in, a Gypsy woman who was hollering
or was I the one hollering?
the doctor
–What’s your mother’s name?
along with that I remembered the attendants, who were holding me by the wrists, from the ambulance Dona Helena had called
–Take it easy fellow
[…]
maybe it was the attendants who had helped me instead of the fat doctor with the red tie, not in this office bu in a room with no windows or a closet where the gypsy woman or I was hollering or maybe neither one of us, the noise of the dishes
–What’s your mother’s name?” (Antunes 2-3).

There is an interesting play of memory and dream and reality here, which raises interesting questions of what “reality” is? After all, aren’t our dreams part of our reality? And how much is a fragmented, unreliable memory reality?

We get that Paulo’s parents are dead (as well as Rui), that Paulo had a breakdown in which he broke lots of plates. These images are mixed superbly in a language that becomes easier to follow, but a language that is meant to be opaque. It becomes hard to decipher how much of the story is a memory and how much is madness.

There are images of fights between Paulo’s parents in which Judite is asking her husband about the bra she found, “Do you wear this, Carlos?” (17); along with images of Paulo’s drag queen father being described as a clown, and later, Paulo’s denial of his parent’s when he calls his guardians, the Couceiro’s, his real parents.

This narrative is quite a force that does more than merely convey a Joycean stream-of-consciousness. The reader is left wondering what can be trusted as the chapter ends:

“–I’m asleep
and since I’m asleep I don’t worry, everything is a lie, aware of the pillow sliding between the mattress and the trunk they were slamming me against” (19).

I look forward to see where all this is going. It is thus far an exploration of a person’s history of slipping into madness and blurring reality with dream and memory. It seems that Paulo trying to put this story into words is his way of trying to remember who he is. We are, after all, just what we were and what our future possibilities are. So what happens when we do not have a clear memory, or a broken memory, of the past?