Susana Blas Brunel
Tears do not stop life
“Marina Núñez. Natural”, catálogo, Universidad de Valladolid, Valladolid 2005, pp. 104-109.
“I get up with difficulty, get dressed, have breakfast, write, go swimming. My mother has died. Life has not stopped. Tears do not stop life.”
With my mother. Soledad Puértolas.
“We are always acting. That who knows is intelligent.”
“The antithesis man-nature was man-invented. Our task consists in re-¡nventing a relationship that will complete the unity of manhood with nature and that tries to understand its working from the inside”
Ruth Hubbard and M. Lowe. Woman’s Nature: Rationalization of Inequality.
Nothing stops. Nothing stops life. Nothing stops nature. We can remain perfectly still, and nevertheless, everything is moving. In fact, this could be our last option: the wu wei, which more than “no acting”, ¡s the creative stillness. The book of Tao expounds it clearly:” That who acts, falls through; that who clings to something, loses it. That is why the wise man does not act, and therefore does not fall through; nothing clings, and therefore nothing loses.”
Nothing stops. Nor does nature. Nature neither exists aloof from us. It ¡s such a trite term that now, no one knows what it is, nor to which subject we are referring to when we ñame ¡t: philosophy, science… to our plot of flowers? Within this Underground car, we all move at the same time in a silent dance. The traffic jam at the entrance of the city produces a miraculous flow of cars going forward and stopping in time, without crashing. Sometimes we remain still and keep our breath to see what happens, curiously, to see if something changes in our lives, or outside, in the street, ¡n the landscape of our distress.
The landscape has already come out. Remaining very still, we can try to immobilize our body, but even then, our inner organs, our bowels, will go there around, travelling inside. Blood flows, transporting elements continuously. Blood does not stop; it boils all the time, or gets frozen. It is no more than the Creek idea: the whole nature, from its tiniest particles to its most giant bodies, from the grains of sand to the suns, from protists to man, is in a constant state of birth and death.
Marina Núñez has considered in Natural to talk from her imagery about that controversial relationship that the human being experiments with landscape; such a trite and saturated term as “nature”. We no longer know what ¡t is. The “landscape genre” in painting, in photography… in cinema. It is long ago that it is no longer used only for trees, mountains, grounds. It spreads to everything, to nothing: urban landscape, moon landscape, interior landscape, emotional landscape. Its definition in a dictionary makes us grin: “Field extension that can be seen from a place. The field considered as a spectacle.”
But in Marina’s environments the characters do not fully integrate with the background; like superimposed silhouettes, the bodies observe, fight, cut themselves out of the natural without becoming active part of those degraded ecosystems. And in this dispute, the individual loses the battle.
The seven environments, that break the idea of landscape, suggest me a repertory of contemporary sufferings: fear of loneliness, lack of communication, depression, obsession, stress, melancholy, anger… A particular way to settle old scores with our affective interior.
While writing this text, in one of the breaks, during a nap, visions and references, that join hers, have devastated me. The motionless, helplessness and the confinement to which her characters are subjected, took me to Prometheus, specifically, Esquilo’s. The way he deals with the myth, “the agitated earth”, “the dust raised in a whirlwind”, “the confusion of the sea and the air” join to express the injustice and ancient grief that devastate the soul of the main character.
But even being enchained, static under the water or hanging from a tree, the cycle goes on. Everything runs its own course. Nothing stops.
We wonder what will happen when this solar system had cancelled its existence, when it will have suffered the fate that awaits all what is finite, the death. Will the corpse of the Sun rolling eternally in the outer space, and all the forces of nature will converse in the only way of movement, attraction? Or, as some state, are there in nature such forces able to make that the dead system returns to its original state of incandescent nebulous, able to bring it to a new life? I am afraid that the answer is yes, because tears do not stop life.
The landscapes of the soul
The dictionary María Moliner state for “nature” a definition that worries me: “Physical universe, i.e., foreign to the spiritual intervention of man”. And I wonder: foreign to spiritual intervention? I would say just the opposite: we don’t do anything but “intervening spiritually” in that universe. In fact, it is difficult not to understand the landscape, which is our particularly domesticated nature, as a myth, as a metaphor, as fiction, as spirit. It ¡s true that ¡t is a contradictory relationship, as at the same time that we integrate nature in ourselves, we do it in a dissociated manner, identifying it with the “psyche” and not with the body. Removing from ourselves all connection with what ¡s natural that may enhance our animality. That is why, “conquering”, dominating or fighting with nature, will not be an attempt to cure ourselves internally. And that random reconciliation, irrational, that fear of the strange forces of nature, is nothing but the fear of facing ourselves. In a certain moment, body and soul dissociated. Then, people started talking about “illnesses of the body and of the soul”. Such division between organic illnesses and psychic illnesses is a determining issue for our civilization and the dualism that succeeds nowadays would be the direct result of this detachment, of the separation between philosophy and medicine. Passion was removed from medicine and captured by philosophy. But the former association between mind and nature remained. The marine images used by the classics show us how these ones conceive man as a tragic being devastated by grief and lashed by the pain with the same violence the elements lash the sea, or the waves the cliffs. For that reason, with an ¡nsecure existence, always threatened by the danger, and raised or ruined by the gods or fate, facing the landscape, the field, the garden or the view through the window of the train, still means to look at emotions; and domesticating these environments, to control our vital disorder.
PLATEAU: Fertilizing the fallow field.
The grounds, attending to their nature, can be classified as accessible, entrapping, stalemated, narrow, steep, and expansive. Grounds which can be freely traversed by both sides are called accessible. With regard to grounds of this nature, be before the enemy ¡n occupying the raised and sunny spots, and carefully guard your line of supplies. Then you will be able to fight with advantage.
Sun Tzu. The an of War
Waste ground, dry, inert, cracked, of which life seems to have moved away. In ¡t, female characters, inert, drowsy?, drugged?, almost corpses, get the energy from the lightning, from the light that gives birth to Frankenstein, artificial light.
These naked women or with a plain nightdress, seem to be taken from their beds at night while sleeping, and narcotized, exposed to the light. In my opinion, Marina Núñez offers here an intelligent counterpoint to the essentialist view of the “woman tree”, the “woman earth”, of the woman as a symbol of fecundity, a topic widely developed in our culture through art and literature. Marina places women away from that manure, that fundamental substance. Standing out of an inert ground, the author decides to give life to these women not by connecting them to roots, vegetation, ground, like were the cases of Frida Kahlo or Ana Mendieta, but to metaphoric wires. In this case, away from the vital substance, only the lighting, the electricity, seems to give them breath.
And within this tradition of the feminine nude in the landscape, which crystallizes during the Renaissance, and becomes obvious within the context of the Venetian painting; Marina Núñez, at the same time she refuses the myth of the fertile-woman, dismantles another iconography not less outspread: the one of the woman-object, naked or half-dressed; that left out in the landscape, and shown as an object, offers herself to the masculine sight. I mean a referent, which enhanced by surrealists, had good examples in the art of Max Ernst, Bretón or Duchamp, amongst others.
The women of “Plateau” are placed in the open field, nor in hidden places, more appropriate for voyeurism. They no longer are the powerful mother, the fertile and matriarchal goddess; nor the tortured woman, broken doll awaiting to be raped. These women seem to inhabit a new territory, and receive the energy from above, bringing forward a new way that escapes from dualism and suggests hybrid territories that overcome that what is natural and artificial, corporal, human and technologic.
“Unlike the hopes of Frankenstein’s monster, the cyborg does not expect its father to save it through a restoration of the garden; that is, through the fabrication of a heterosexual mate…. The cyborg would not recognize the Garden of Eden; it is not made of mud and cannot dream of returning to dust.”
Donna J. Haraway, Cyborgs’Manifest
COSMOS: pain in the chest, pain in the centre.
“What!” I shouted. “Are we being taken up in an eruption? Our fate has flung us here among burning lavas, molten rocks, boiling waters, and all kinds of volcanic matter; we are going to be pitched out, expelled, tossed up, vomited, spit out high into the air, along with fragments of rock, showers of ashes and scoria, in the midst of a towering rush of smoke and flames; and it is the best thing that could happen to us!”
Julio Verne. Journey to the Centre of the Earth.
Moles in which time gets lost or stops. We find ourselves suddenly falling one fine day that our head does not control our refraining psychological devices. The ground we step on, drills like the chinks on the ice of the lakes of Finland, but to fall in a not abysm, that is nothing but our own heart.
We want to hold on but such lava drags us to the centre in its incandescent river. The centre of the earth is nothing but our own madness. Sometimes the whirlwind of our soul is so big that draws us.
“9th March 1922. It was just fatigue, but today, another beating brings sweat to my forehead. What would happen if one strangles oneself? If the oppressive observation of oneself would reduce or close the hole by which one is thrown into the world? Sometimes I am not far from that. A river flowing backwards. It is long ago that this happens to a large extent”
Franz Kafka. Notebook number Twelve
In this series I see the characters falling into their own heart. Lately, I always end up talking about this organ. I am repeating myself. I am all the time writing this: despite that paradigmatic image of the English doctor of the 1 7th century, William Harvey, lifting this organ in his hand in one of his dissecting sessions to dismantle the myth of this inner organ, the heart, and its placement in our chest, the meanings that associate it to wisdom, for example, among Hebrews, Aztecs and Egyptians still ooze; following the trail of the Chinese “thinking heart”, or the Christian “heart-kingdom of Cod”. Doctors of the 19th century couldn’t explain when the stethoscope was invented. how the organ was accelerated or halted in time to affection; these same cardiologists who had to admit uneasy, after analyzing the preserved heart of Santa Teresa that her left ventricle torn by what they thought to be an angina, was also the shadow of the angel’s arrow the legend tells runs her through.
There are underground holes which defy our objectivity and we cannot deny that we “feel in that inner organ”: when we fall in love, our heart speeds up; and when we lose our lover, our breast physically hurts. Sometimes, it is enough that our lover places the palm of his hand ¡n our heart to bring us back to live, unfortunately, it does not always happen:
“Gilgamesh touched his heart, but ¡t beat no longer, nor he opened his eyes again. He covered his friend’s face with a veil like a bride”
The Epic of Gilgamesh.
But let’s not fool ourselves; even though we want to jump into the well, we rarely do it on our first attempt. Just like these characters, we grasp as we can to the edges of the artery.
DESERT: sand and melancholy
Wandering alone through the cosmic desert, waterless dunes. Men prototypes. Suddenly holes that take you to remote capsules of freedom, to happiness nets. Melancholy.
There will be a time in which the decreasing heat of the Sun will not be able to melt the ice coming from the poles. Humankind, more and more piled up around the Equator, will not find even there the necessary heat for life; and the earth dead, turned into a cold sphere, like the Moon, will spin in the deepest darkness, following more and more reduced orbits, around the Sun, also dead, on which will end up falling after all. Instead of the warm and bright solar system, with the harmonious disposition of its components, there will only be a cold sphere, which will continue its lonely way through the cosmic space. This is the landscape of another of the contemporary illnesses: melancholy. Even though some psychiatry texts consider melancholy as a subtype of depression, it is an issue that should be clarified. It even seems to be healthy that sometimes it comes to us. The great doctor of the Islam, Isahq ibn Imran used to say that “melancholy can attack those who are excessively religious, those with a too hard intellectual activity, the scholars who have suddenly lost their books and those who had lost their lover”. The absence of melancholy equals the absence of life, despite we are alive.
The landscape today can be a park, a flower in a vase, the water drops in a bath after a shower, the clothes of my neighbor hanging out, your hair. The landscape stopped being a genre with rules long ago; especially when photography absorbed it and decided that landscape was everything it could catch.
I don’t know how, but we have managed that it isn’t much noticed, even though it takes us hours to cross the city. Our movements from home to anywhere else seem to be eternal. The sewer in which you feel trapped is deep, a major pit.
We have already forgotten when all this started. It is so long ago!
In these subterranean spaces which lead to the garden path, to the grass of the park, you share your secret with other beings like you who need to be locked in, who hardly leave home, and that throng out to take positions by the bars of the cubicle facing the outside as if it were the cell of a nun.
It is not that obvious, it ¡s just that it takes us longer to cross the city and get anywhere. We can neither cross the open park, nor the square; and to cross the street, no matter how narrow it may be, I take you by the hand. In each route, we know where to find at least three dumps ¡n which to hide if fear comes over: some are gateways, most of them these sewers, and also a telephone box. There your breathe calms down again, to continue.
We have daydreamed with the possibility of making a tunnel from your place to mine, by which you can come to my place without crossing the park and being seen. Such tunnel would have every three meters grilles to the outside, from which you can see the garden. How would I like that you could feel the grass, the blossom and the light of every season from an open space!
BEACH: fight and defeat
Rimbaud writes in Obock: “a desert beach, burnt, without supplies, without commerce,… conquered by a dozen of freebooters.”
Few ago I was explained the difference between buccaneers, pirates, corsairs and freebooters. It would be long to sum up but all of them are part of that group of beings that inhabit in the sand of beaches when the sun sets, aside our occupation of that landscape lo relax, swim and rest. When we leave, they appear and everything turns more war-like. I discerned remains, pieces, of a battle. Pieces which seem ceramics from a distance. The sun took them over and blinded them. I approached. They were nothing but reflections. Pieces of a mirror, and the figures, reflections of a battle fought in the sky, between women and grandiose birds, fully feathered. The fight still goes on, and it seems that birds, once again, are winning.
Mirror fragments on a beach. The mirror is broken, just like our identity. Within those “contemporary sufferings” Marina Núñez ends up talking about, it might be the search of the contemporary self which suggests this scene lo me. Once produced the fracture soul-body; we try lo discover ourselves, and we only find a broken moon.
Yon can search the pieces, but I can assure you that it is a utopia to remove all the sand of the beach to find them. Wouldn’t it be better to accept such fragmentation, the self vital schizophrenia, our fight, our hybrid condition, our sirens condition?
As the women who fight birds are nothing but sirens. And if they start by fighting the birds, they will end up becoming women-bird themselves. In ancient mythology, sirens were in the beginning women with a bird body, and the bird represented the soul. It is sad for me, and explains many other things, that the later association of women and flesh, with “the physical”, look away from her this first iconography that connected feminine with the intellect, with the spirit.
As it happened in Plateau, the women of this landscape are far away from the topic of “the woman tree”; helpless, they struggle lo recover their wings, that “artificial” part, cerebral, even though they die in their attempt. The woman-bird ends up becoming a woman-fish, a siren, and after being the unlawful holder of the soul, becomes “the one who attracts souls”, that voluptuous and evil being waiting for men, the masculine element, to swindle them with her beauty, with her flesh, and her voice.
Even defeated, I have no doubts that every siren keeps part of that feathered physiology. To prove this, I suggest this peculiar piece of news taken from a Boston paper in 1881 which described a stuffed siren that had been taken to New Orleans: “This wonder from the marine depths is in an excellent state of conservation. The head and the body of a woman are clearly distinguished. Her hair is pale blonde, several centimetres long. The arms end with claws, very similar to those of an eagle, instead of fingers and nails”
It seems that the siren maintains her claws, and part of the feathers, even though now, mad, combs her long and silky hair with a hand and holds a mirror with the other.
One day, we may decide to give a final impulse from the rocks, a last impel to fly, lifting the torso, propelling our scaled tail to the clouds, trying to get back to gliding.
Our hair will be torn, tangled. We won’t comb it again; and the mirror, thrown to the sand ¡n that final impel, will break into thousand pieces, which, hidden by the sand grains, will reveal the echoes of that last battle.
“But we passed through safe and sound and we continued to Delphos, where they had found the skeleton of an English man hanging from a tree in a narrow pass, with a golden watch in his ribs. There I wetted my feet in the Castalia fountain, and all the rocks were covered with light purple harebells… Yes, it is so strange to return here that I could hardly know where I was; or which time it was. I saw my own soul coming down from the Acropolis, when I was 23; and how I pitied on it!”
The scene of the jungle is the scene of the moment after, of the result of the battle with the trees. Nature has won, and corpses hang from the branches. The tree can be energetic and healthy during the day. Almost no one has doubts about its powers. We have developed the therapy of embracing trees, we climb to them or turn around in an iniciatic manner like in rituals of santería with ceibas. Instinctively we associate to them our own memories, the time they have lived, and that suggest that they secretly hoard our history.
But when the night comes, the forest and the jungle betray us, change their aspect. Those corpses hanging from the branches are the remains of the battle with the big trees of the jungle. Metaphors of the contemporary suicide, real or metaphoric, as there are many dead persons in life.
Trees find their power in their stillness. They do not move because they do not need to. They get everything with their branches. We took lianas and African masks made of seeds, leaves, branches for the battle, and just like the birds… trees ended up winning too.
You tried to convince me that oriental philosophies harmonize with trees and got that symbiosis with the natural world that occident had forgotten. You told me about your trip to Japan and showed me all those books and partly you convinced me, until you showed to me your t’my Taoist bonsai, and explained to me how its growth was limited and leaves adapted to your liking. You told rne that the first ones were recollected by nature. In the beginning they were small trees due to the harshness of the environment, that were found in craggy parts of the mountains and it was almost impossible to rescue them. The ones obtained, were put ¡n plots, and the conditions of the environment ¡n which they had been found were reproduced. Its growth was controlled by planting them in a very poor ground and watering them just to survive. That made me sad.
In the aquatic series, the bodies under the water grasp in vain the bubble from which they can get oxygen, which still has some air. Meanwhile, the amorphous monster swims peacefully, the slobbery mollusc, is the only one that gets its karma, its dance.
The bodies, hardly retain life. The drowning will release them from their impossibility for the fight.
Marina Núñez has not called this field “Abyss” by chance. The sea, and therefore water, has become since antiquity ¡n the counterpoint of life. Back to Homeric’s poems, a series of marine images turn it into the kingdom of death and synonym of the human mind, changeable, overflowed by sudden storms.
Dying for Esquilo is like falling into the “clutches” of destiny, and the death is always like rowing, in the rapids of a river, which is the way dead people have to take. In The seven against Thebes a messenger tells the choir that the city is safe, but that both brothers, Eteocles and Polyneices, have died. In that moment, the choir simulates the movement of the oars, as if it were Aqueronte’s boat.
Anyway, dying is not but flowing and changing. Life, whichever state it may take, seems to be unstoppable.
Under the water, tears stop life less than ever.
“It is comforting… to think that man is just a recent invention, a representaron of less than two centuries, a simple fold ¡n our knowledge (and power) and that will disappear as soon as it finds a new form”
Foucault, The order of things.