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The Poetics Of Ostracism – Fernanda Garcia Lao

Mar 20, 2021 | Front And Center | 0 comments

Translated from the Spanish by Dipen Bhattacharya
How long has it been

The watch on my wrist was one of the first things that lost meaning, just when I had decided to wear it again. For years, I was without a watch. I was late for everything. I never worked in offices. Punctuality, except in the theater, seemed to me a sign of domestication, of obedience. My cell phone ensured the rest of my absent-mindedness. Messages, alarms, they were easy ways to get me to shore.
But a couple of years ago it felt bad to depend on that thing with a foreign memory. Better to go back to the circle of time, to the mechanical beat of my wristwatch. My cell phone had eaten up a lot of objects: letters, mailboxes, camera, alarm clock. It shortened needs and took possession of images, conversation, newspapers. A dwarf icon contained the map of the city, another the bank, this the mail. Technology consumed the world. It imposed its own speed, compressing and synthesizing. Only I was left out of reach of his hunger: now I am a face on the screen of others, work is immaterial, money does not exist and I am confined.
But from the techno advances, it is known, one does not return. If the tool is unknown, knowledge is maimed.
In the first days of March I looked for the word antivirus, to see what medicines were prescribed in response to symptoms, and I only found “protect your privacy online,” “free antivirus for PC, for Android.” Nothing for human beings.

The body without circulation

This evil that eliminates taste and smell needs us only to look or be looked at. Touch, the most physical of the senses, is not permitted. The only thing that can be touched, after disinfection, are cold surfaces. Screens and keyboards.
If only the Power to be, in their eagerness to avoid contagion would organize circulation, confine desire, banish us from the outside, this obliging us to be content with ourselves. But what does that mean? Be aware of one’s own breathing?  Read next to a hypothetical fire? Or, simply, continue consuming from home, if one has the means.
Denied territory outside, the system of signs that is a body, a group, isolated and without a city, I feel that I am remote-controlled. The only thing that happens is the pandemic. If I write it in lowercase it is on purpose. Because it is lethal and capricious, its spread sounds too much like an ad campaign. It is a narcissistic virus that likes to be mentioned.
To what extent are we slaves of what we produce. Fear is a product. If you don’t have it, they take it to your house. I don’t want it to eat me. How do I escape it?

Dystopia without a budget

The collective imagination rehearsed in the 20th century – climatic disasters, food shortages, invasions of all kinds. Aesthetics of the extreme, of the monstrous, on a large scale. The superlative, in a cinematic way, with special effects and thousands of extras, was the representation of evil.
And suddenly this virus, impossible to escape the Trojans, is organized in a minimalist way and, despite its worldwide manifestation in a computerized app map. It only demands that you not go out, that you self-exclude. Do not leave the cities, as in Ballard’s novels. It is a virus that works with the sinister: the monster is one, you have to beware.
So the world, reduced to you, depends on your previous living conditions. Your world can have a pool or be a studio apartment. Your world can be sustained by delivery or by a meager supply of noodles. Your world can include a femicide or it can be a charming cave. Your world is your problem. Each home, a franchise. Capitalism has achieved its wettest fantasy. Total control without investment, zero cost. Do not come to hospitals, do not go to school, the street is not a place. The one who does go out is sick person in control.
Each era experiences to the extent of its poetic possibilities. This evil is docile if you had already started your withdrawal from the tangible world: good connectivity, network, sim card. Love of reading, cooking, yoga at a  distance. If not, what a shame for you. Nicolas Bourriaud already noted it in his Relational Aesthetics more than a decade ago: “Communication tools are invented in order to clean the city streets of all relational scum and impoverish neighborhood ties.

The oyster theory

Me. An excluding word. How many first-person narratives this pandemic has triggered. We don’t know yet. But what can we expect. If literature feeds on exceptions, the common root promises little. How many diaries of confinement are being written while I write down this sentence. For whom. What originality we will find in reading an experience identical to ours. Perhaps the interest resides in us. A big pixelated text, a thousand-headed mollusk. The repeated blog of the bourgeoisie will have slippers, tantrums, an eating disorder, fatigue, a sweep and a scrubbing. Anguish. Of the rest, nothing. If you are inside, but outside of consumption, you are nowhere.
A closed oyster is a mystery, a concept “devoid of images” Bachelard would say. However, there was never a disease, a crisis, so exposed. Each and every photograph its displeasure and its matching facemask. The first stroll, the sun on the balcony. “The most dynamic evasions are made from being compressed,” noted Bachelard in The Poetics of Space, and also “the wolves in hiding are more cruel than those wandering.”
The domestic landscape is broadcast live and direct. Half of humanity connected, what to do with unsatisfied desire. Participate or back down?
The call to stop the wars by an international organization a few days ago seemed to me a pataphysical gesture: let’s stop killing because we are dying. Confusion and contaminated information, cyber foolishness, revolutions with one finger, replace the saga of past pandemics.
These days I have not let up on dark readings, fantastic or surreal texts, poetry, and I dedicate a fair share to transmission of the real. I read and write until set free by sleepiness or previous commitments. My only obligation is virtual workshops, which I had already started before the virus.
There are those who ask to return to normal, as if the norm were a state. I tell myself no. If this suspension serves any purpose, it is to question habits. The way we think about the body, the conscience, other, the other. Is the unknown outside or inside? The world of predictable ended. Are we to regret it?

How long has it been, bis

I leave the house with my muzzle on. They opened the nursery. Upon arrival, I find other women with their faces covered. We have gone out to look for something other than food. I look at the indoor plants. They always struck me as excessively fragile, bland. I have a garden that looks like a jungle, but inside the house not a seedling, only books and pictures. I decide to sidestep the flowers of the Alps, the primroses, the pansies. I buy two inside beings, with difficult names, and go home. I slow down on the sidewalk, so the autumn sun touches my neck a little. Upon arrival, I take off my boots, my mask, and I am about to transplant the creatures, in silence.
Later, while my partner reads, I lock myself up to write about the lockdown, on demand. I lose track of time once again. I send a message to my daughters, who live in Prague. Are you up for reading a text? Immediately one answers me: “No, ma. It’s midnight”.


Originally published in Spanish in Traducciones para Bitácora del Encierro  –

Fernanda García Lao

Fernanda García Lao

Fernanda García Lao is an Argentine novelist, poet, and playwright, known as “the strangest writer in Argentine literature.” She was born in Mendoza, Argentina in 1966, but lived in exile with her family for almost fifteen years. Fernanda received her education in Spain, studying acting, music, and journalism. When she returned to Argentina, she trained as a playwright and director. She is the author of several novels, plays and two collections of short stories. His novels, poems and stories have received high praise and have been translated into French, Portuguese and Italian. At the Guadalajara Book Fair 2011, García Lao was named one of the “25 best kept secrets in Latin American literature”. Out of the cage (Deep Vellum, 2021) is her first novel in English.

Dipen Bhattacharya

Dipen Bhattacharya

Dipen Bhattacharya was raised in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and now resides in Southern California. To date, he has published six works of fiction in Bengali: three novels and three short-story collections. The social dynamics of imagined future societies—interwoven with scientific principles—feature in his work, often set in Bengal. Dipen holds a Ph.D. in astrophysics.


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