divendres, de setembre 16, 2005

The Strenuous Life

Sweet and sour. The taste of the amber beer fills my head while the smoke clouds the smell of the fermented beverage. Sour clouds like the red tears of the woman dehumanised under the hammer of the executioner, that pounds. A bell [sic.] that echoes: murderer… murderer… murderer.
Walking towards the sunset the streets get narrower. A bit of history in every corner, blood on every stone.
The story of humankind is a story of struggle, a tale of unrest. The search for freedom is essential (if anything is) to human nature. Step by step the struggle of so many women from every age and every part of the world to get small conquests, small parts of the kingdom of freedom was a fact even before the true arise of the ideological and social revolutions of the sixties.
In 1909, in Barcelona, Francesca Bonnemaison created the Biblioteca de la Dona, which a year later became the Institut de cultura i biblioteca popular de la Dona.
Nowadays, that iniciative has widened its scope and the institution has become a center for the culture of women. A battlefront that fights for real women with real problems. Far from any intellectual digression their war is down to earth.
The megalithical reconstruction and redefinition of our culture as human beings took a run up during the sixties, and is still on. Nowadays the war is fought at two different fronts. On the one hand an immediate fight for the rights of women. A legal and educational effort to provide effective equality and to correct the faultlines of the system.
On the other hand, the ideological fight intends to redefine roles and identities.
During the late XXth century a bookshop in Barcelona, La Sal, contributed to the effort of creating a culture of the woman and for the woman. La Sal was in Lladó street. A small street in the old part of Barcelona. This position of concealment was not an obstacle for those who disagreed with the method and the objective. Up to four times was the shop set on fire. The harsh survival conditions were unbearable, and La Sal ended up closing its doors forever not before moving to another place. In 1991 a bookshop named Pròleg took over from the efforts of La Sal.
My steps take me now to Dagueria street where in its number 13th one can find the only bookshop in Barcelona entirely devoted to women. Literary workshops, seminars, presentation of books, conferences, debate groups and literary gatherings take place in a cosy environment. –it is a matter of providing women (and those men who want to come) with a comfortable place to share experiences, a place they can feel their own- tells me the woman in charge of the place. The name of the shop seems providential to me. She confirms my feeling explaining why they chose Pròleg for the name.
Pròleg, a foreword, is like a new beginning. The shop wants to be the threshold of a new way of seeing life. As the foreword in a book that appeals to you, so does the bookshop.
To create an identity for oneself, a notion of woman not universal but constructed from each one’s experiences, feelings and needs.
Ultimate freedom should come from self-conscience and self-definition. It is not a matter of finding and redefining the role of women as a universal need, as a universal experience. For they are not universal. It is a matter of finding a role for every person.
Women, must fight together. Strength in numbers.
Let’s rephrase it. People. People should fight together against any form of oppression. To be free means to be what you choose (be it the housewife or the entrepreneur).
I hope for the moment when an article like this would have never been written. When man and woman remain as mere descriptions, not definitions. When each and everyone of us would be a collage of hopes and thoughts and needs. Not a victim of a self-designated superior power. The moment of true equivalence. Call me Utopian if you like, for I may be one. I prefer, dreaming, even in vain, than despair.

C/ Sant Pere més baix, 7 (08003) BARCELONA
Tlf. 934 022 762 www.diba.es/dona

C/ Dagueria, 13 (08002) BARCELONA
Tlf. 933 192 425 www.mallorcaweb.net/proleg

dijous, de febrer 24, 2005

The Mirror Paradox

Imagine, just for a moment, that you create a setting for a film. You get some costumes and dress the actors with them. Then you invite some friends into the setting to show them what a fabulous culture you have just discovered. It should not require a tremendous effort of imagination, as it is the situation Edward Said proposed (more or less) in his well known work Orientalism, and elaborated later on in several articles. The problem is, (if one looks, as Said used to, for practical applicability), that it is not always easy to detach ourselves from the constructs of our cultural background. Some critical view is advised. When it comes to reformulating oneself ideas, the complete deletion of existing ones and input of new ones in blank files is not recommended. The perspective could be lost and one risks nihilism or even worse. Amalgamating new currents of thought or new points of view about life with the ones you already possess (and of course making due readjustments) will probably bring a better knowledge about the environment (be it close or far). In that sense, if you imagine the world as a complex matrix of labels, a huge amount of metal panels hanging in the void, you would have depicted a static and unchanging world. The amalgamating solution allows you to devise a matrix of labels, but instead of metal panels, post it note labels should be used. The difference? With post it notes one can just change or readjust what has been written on it. "Voilà".
But, what happens if "the Other" chooses to respond to the intrusion (that artificial creation of a notion of the Other) with unusual methods? That is to say, instead of confronting that artificial notion and try and convince the conceptualizer of that image that it is wrong, that it should be corrected (or readjusted), that cunning Other puts a mirror in front of the conceptualizer, convincing him that the image his preconceptions have created, is real.
Can we transfer this into a down to earth situation? Yes, of course. Nowadays, an incredible amount of far-east concepts about life are coming to western culture and tend to be systematically swallowed by western individuals. The western individual has been convinced by the Other that the exotic image western people had from eastern people was completely right. The same way there are "Toreros" and "Folclóricas" in Spain but not all Spanish people are such, not all eastern people are shaping their houses according to Feng shui or getting up early to do some Tai-chi. In the case of the Japanese, ‘it is "a truth universally acknowledged" (I’m quoting. Thanks Jane) that they all are hyper-polite people who follow a strict honor code’. Sure, have you known any? Just because their actions fit into some of our labels does not mean action-intention and label are well matched. Human beings, just human beings.
Needless to say that this is not exclusive of oriental people. Most cultures have their own stereotypes to offer to the market, while others are too busy with survival.