In Maria del Carmen Perez’s book titled, Una Ciudad de Estatuas y Perros, I would like to explore the various short stories in which Perez invites us to imagine putting ourselves through the perspective of narratives within the post-humanistic view. The short stories that will be observed are “Album Familiar,” “Muñeca Rota,” and “Quiltografía.” Perez’s short stories challenge the idea of human individual reality by placing the reader in a position where one must think beyond rational comprehension and widen one’s capabilities to explore the existence of transcendental subjects and/or events given by characters who do not obtain humanistic elements. I argue that by broadening our capabilities to imagine other possibilities beyond our comprehension, Perez allows the readers a chance to imagine a world through alternate perspectives as a way to come to terms with real life’s impending realities. Moreover, to further demonstrate this proposition, I will be analyzing Perez’s text through the concepts of the posthuman, and other speculative philosophies.
By Clarissa Quintanilla
When reading novels, we, as readers, place ourselves into the frame of reference of the main characters or imagine ourselves in the setting in which the novel is taking place. Through this approach, we gain an understanding of how a character’s actions and feelings contribute to the sequence of events happening in that narrative. It is most common for readers in nature to place themselves into the perspective of a character in a story that demonstrate a humanistic system of thought, which can be described as concentrated on the idea based on reason and the self-governing attribute of the human being free of supernaturalism. On the other hand, readers are presented with a challenge when imposed to identify with narratives that do present a perception of the supernatural and a life in the hereafter. In Maria del Carmen Perez’s book titled, Una Ciudad de Estatuas y Perros, I would like to explore the various short stories in which Perez invites us to imagine putting ourselves through the perspective of narratives within the post-humanistic view. The short stories that will be observed are “Album Familiar,” “Muñeca Rota,” and “Quiltografía.” Perez’s short stories challenge the idea of human individual reality by placing the reader in a position where one must think beyond rational comprehension and widen one’s capabilities to explore the existence of transcendental subjects and/or events given by characters who do not obtain humanistic elements. In addition, Perez tempts us to transform our imagination by subjecting ourselves to fall within another space in time. Throughout Perez’s short stories, we come across a recurring theme in which her narratives are presented with realities that are difficult to comprehend. I argue that by broadening our capabilities to imagine other possibilities beyond our comprehension, Perez allows the readers a chance to imagine a world through alternate perspectives as a way to come to terms with real life’s impending realities. Moreover, to further demonstrate this proposition, I will be analyzing Perez’s text through the concepts of the posthuman, and other speculative philosophies.
One of the short stories in which the reader is invited to imagine an alternate reality is in Perez’s story titled, “Album Familiar.” In this story, the reader is presented with a childhood memory illustrating a group of siblings who are staying at their grandmother’s house after their home was affected by a bomb that had completely destroyed it. Left without resources and absolutely famished, the children decide to invent a game as a scheme to forget about their hunger. The children imagine their own alternate world of violence comprised of superheroes and villains. Through their imagination, they visualize a ball of fire taking the form of a destructive egg that had fallen over their old house to manipulate with the reality of how their old house had been destroyed. This is a representation of how the children begin to operate their imagination in order to break away from the impending realities of a world of war and violence in which they are living.
This representation can be criticized through the ideals of Claire Colebrook. According to Colebrook, in her book titled, “Death of the Posthuman: Essays of Extinction,” she explains that rather than thinking of the post-human, where we destroy all our own self-fixities and become pure process, we can look positively to the inhuman and other imagining or readiness process (Colebrook 28). In other words, by gaining a new outlook, Perez tempts the reader to acquire new perspectives of a world that is not real, yet, allowing us the possibility to different outlooks by detaching ourselves from the reality. Colebrook encourages us, as readers, to remove ourselves from our own pretentious method for understanding the world that surrounds around us by endeavoring to expose that temporary truth of what the world may seem like and look for a dissimilar, yet positive outlet.
For instance, a puppet is only significant when a person is controlling its strings, giving it life. Otherwise, without the use of a human, the puppet has no movement, no life, and is without meaning.
In “Album Familiar,” through the ideals of Colebrook, this is what has allowed the children in the story to shy away from their impending reality of starvation. They have been able detach themselves from that existence into another through the inhuman in order to survive until the end of that day. Given that the story takes place under unfortunate circumstances, it illustrates the amazing power of the mind. As Colebrook also mentions, “The eye is geared to spectacle as much as speculation, with speculation itself being both productively expansive in its capacity to imagine virtual futures and restrictively deadening in its tendency to forget the very life from which it emerges” (Colebrook 13). Through the ideas of Colebrook, the children dealt with their situation by seeing their world through a positive and playful perspective rather than their actual negative state of permanence. Therefore, although they were conscious of their reality, they looked toward the inhuman as an outlet to get away from their truth of starvation.
On the other hand, Perez’s short story can also be examined through Giorgio Agamben’s theory of play and the sacred in his article titled, “In Playland: Reflection on History and Play.” Agamben explains the concept and model behind imagination, which describes the value of what it is to play. Agamben describes that playing and ritual ceremonies are both unified in a sense that they both pertain to the child and the adult. Agamben mentions that life by play for the human is both a transformation and acceleration of time. Therefore, when someone is playing, time goes by quicker. Why? Because one is experiencing fulfilling enjoyment. Therefore, this main point of the text articulates that activities permit us to fall within another space in time. In addition, it is important to mention Agamben’s discussion regarding the sacred, which is interrelated with play. For instance, a puppet is only significant when a person is controlling its strings, giving it life. Otherwise, without the use of a human, the puppet has no movement, no life, and is without meaning. This puppet, which is used for playing, therefore loses its magic. This means it is necessary to play with them to have magic—to have life. Thus, the focus of this theory expounds on the fact that there needs to exist this transaction between the mind and the imaginative mind for there to be magic. The toy’s magic has become absent from its use of the human; therefore, the person has left the toy sacred. On the contrary, toys can convert from sacred to play once they have again been given their significance back by the use of a human. This is, therefore, a continuous cycle where an object’s value is sustained through the use of play.
Therefore, through the ideals of Agamben’s take on play, in Perez’s “Album Familiar,” the children’s realm of the sacred was their fixed thought on hunger because they had nothing to eat. Therefore, they transformed that fixed thought into play where they imagined their dad walking in through the door with bags in each hand where the boys visualized there to be chicken and meat. As Agamben mentions in his text, “Play, on the other hand, furnishes a systematically opposed operation: tends to break the connection between past and present, and to break down and crumble the whole structure into events” (Agamben 74). In other words, this imaginative play opened a portal for the kids, a portal in time in which they can satisfy their once sacred thought of hunger into an imaginative fantasy where they are showered with food. This short story therefore shows how play and the sacred are both interrelated and interchangeable because at the end of the short story, the boy’s reference that even though they did not actually eat anything, their idea of play had transformed that night from what was once an unfortunate reality into a fulfilling act of play.
Accordingly, Baldovinos discusses that the power of literature in the context of fiction contributes to the foundation of a broader perspective of one’s own life.
Ricardo Roque Baldovinos’s article titled, “El Derecho a la Ficción,” argues that fiction is used not only as a way to better understand how we are, but fiction also allows us the possibility to imagine how we would like to be. Therefore, fiction is nothing else than the right to imagination and freedom, to imagine ourselves becoming anyone or anything we would like to be in any sphere. Accordingly, Baldovinos discusses that the power of literature in the context of fiction contributes to the foundation of a broader perspective of one’s own life. Baldovinos argues that in literature, one’s identity cannot be understood without taking a step towards otherness. For instance, he states, “Porque leer activamente, en el proceso de transfiguración, supone necesariamente despojarse de la identidad y sentir y experimentar con el otro y a través del otro” (Baldovinos 153). That is to say, in order for fiction to take its course into helping a person become more diverse, the individual must lose itself from the confines of a fixed identity and explore with the other. Therefore, Baldovinos continues to argue that if we understand the role of literature as a simple expression of a given national identity, then it will not fully demonstrate the best that it has to offer us.
Through Ricardo Roque Baldovinos’ theory from “Derecho de la ficción” I will be examining Carmen Perez’s short story titled, “Muñeca Rota.” In this short story, Perez invites us into the world of a doll who aspires to be something other than what she already is. A doll who desires to break away from her “feminine” components and explores becoming another transcending subject. The doll exclaims, “quería dejar de ser eso [femenino] y buscar cosas nuevas” (Perez 27). In this context, we can begin to relate the doll’s step toward otherness through Baldovinos’ idea of the right to fiction. In order for the doll to explore and find a new diverse identity, it must first reject its old form. The doll separated herself from her body and then finally became content with her new subjective form as she’s also granted the opportunity to now explore feminine and masculine components. Therefore, becoming free from her once fixed identity to a body, she can now call hers in which Baldovinos would associate with the doll’s new stage toward a greater diverse identity. During the doll’s transformation, her conscious continues throughout her transition symbolically demonstrating that her end is not permanent, rather, it is only her end to her old form, closing the door to her old self-embodiment and opening the door to a new subjective form. This demonstrates Baldovinos’s method for us to envision different lifestyles through fiction beyond that of what we already know when we allow ourselves to become detached and step into the realm of the other. Furthermore, Perez uses a fictional dialogue in this context as a means to describe how we come to terms with our own reality of being unhappy with who we are. Therefore, through fiction, we are able to transform our own fixed identities and step out of our comfort zones in order to truly discover and find who we want to be just as the doll did in the story.
Lastly, another one of Perez’s short stories can be observed through Rosi Braidotti’s “The Inhuman: Life beyond Death.” Braidotti takes an approach where she neither belittles nor admires late advancements in science and innovation. Rather, she directs her attention toward posthuman humanities that move in the direction of new types of posthuman subjectivity and consciousness. We are therefore introduced to Braidotti's theory of nomadism, which diagrams a maintainable current subjectivity as one in transition and one that is never challenged against a prevailing chain of rules. She describes that one is always in the development of becoming and continuously occupied with power and control that can both be restraining yet, innovative. In her article she states, “Death is the inhuman conceptual excess: the un-representable, the unthinkable, and the unproductive black hole that we all fear. Yet, death is also a creative synthesis of flows, energies and perpetual becoming” (Braidott 131). In other words, death is an impending event that we all fear because it prompts a fear of the unknown, however, death could also be seen as a means of innovation to continuously transform.
Therefore, we can associate Rosi Braidotti’s theory with Perez’s short story titled, “Quiltografía” where a dog has passed and stepped into the realm of this black hole that Braidotti describes. Through the perspective of the dog, the reader learns a lesson in which we are invited to imagine transforming into a subject that may not obtain humanistic elements. The reader is put into position to imagine the existence of becoming a transcendental subject other than their previous form. As the short story concludes, “Mejor voy y me echo sobre los pies del Negro, espero que el fantasma de la muerte se acuerde de mí y venga a recogerme. Estoy cansado, y todavía tengo hambre” (Perez 108). Through the viewpoints of both Braidotti’s theory and Perez’s short story, we come to terms with death by allowing ourselves to imagine something beyond our current reality and opening up our imagination to continue that story after our impending death.
In association with Perez’s “Album Familiar,” Diane Ackerman proposes her own impression of play. In her book, “Deep play,” she describes how the use of play can be central to survival. For instance, Ackerman emphasizes that playing is important for survival in the “real world”, she also states that playing is “clearly set off from the rest of reality” (Ackerman 6). In other words, the act of playing is applied as a way to escape from reality and at the same time puts into practice in preparation for the real world. Ackerman also states, “We may think of play as optional, a causal activity. But play is fundamental to evolution. Without play, humans and many other animals would perish” (Ackerman 4). That is to say, Ackerman expounds on the fact that play is not only an activity that stimulates enjoyment and pleasure, it is also a system used to help individuals adopt lessons about the persistence of survival, making play essential to one’s well-being. Through Ackerman’s model of play, this can very much correlate with the strategy that the children in Perez’s “Album Familiar” use in order to help them mentally seek a getaway from the distress they were enduring as well as their impending starvation.
On another note, philosopher Robert Ehman discusses our individuality and what makes us authentic. In his book titled, The Authentic-Self, Ehman explains that by differentiating between who we truly are, we are able to comprehend that we obtain distinctive personal perspectives and that we can freely be interchanged for another. The authentic self is endeavoring to discover different approaches within ourselves to bring out our true identity both sincerely and intimately. Finding our true selves intends to give us the tranquility of congruence as well as demonstrating our identity with the goal of containing that form throughout the rest of our lives. It intends to call attention to our unique judgements, our unique beliefs, and our unpretentious feelings and behaviors. Ehman also discusses the concept of death and how through death we can attain authenticity. For instance, Ehman quotes, “[…] it is only through a proper understanding of our own death that we can achieve authenticity” (Ehman 115). In other words, by accepting the reality of our own death, we can learn to anticipate new prospects of interpreting our own self-worth and obtain an identity that is a genuine substance of who we are.
Therefore, encountering and confronting death from one’s very own perspective places us into our very own rendition of a sacred space, tempting us to explore the question of life itself.
This idea of self-authenticity can be interpreted with the transition of the doll from Perez’s “Muñeca Rota.” Through the ideals of Ehman, we can interpret the doll’s process of transformation as her seeking her true authentic-self by letting go of her old subjective form, essentially, coming to terms with the death of her past self so to speak. The doll learns to differentiate between who she was and who she truly wants to be. Therefore, in the end, she attains the ability to let go of her full feminine form and transition into a subjective identity with neutral characteristics. Consequently, we see that the doll’s journey begin with an inner dialogue in which her character starts a discussion exposing her true self. It becomes a deeply spiritual venture, for it plans to join her with her very own integrity. Through Ehman’s perspective, those who go through this very process are confronted to uncover a deeper meaning with themselves from their thought and emotions in order to draw boundaries between who they do not want to be and who they would truly like to be.
In an article titled “‘Marquez’ ‘The Trail of Your Blood in the Snow’: The Existential Crisis in Escaping Reality,” by Mojgan Abshavi, the author explores the ideas of existentialism. Abshavi states, “The existential crisis stands for those conditions or states of mind in one’s life when one faces mental problems –including philosophical and psychological problems– over one’s being and position in the world, asking whether one’s life has any meaning, purpose, or value” (Abshavi 103). In other words, the meaning of an existential crisis implies that when the turning point of a significant change takes place, one begins to confront their existential concerns by questioning their purpose and contribution to the world. This statement can be closely associated with the doll from Perez’s story “Muñeca Rota.” Throughout the short story, the doll meets with her existential crisis as she is in the process of coming to terms with her wanting to obtain a new identity. Her crisis through Abshavi’s ideals can be portrayed and experienced as a spiritual process or journey and a matter of personal identity where the doll struggles to seek liberation from her current restraining form. During her transformative stage, she becomes aware of what she truly wants to be and begins to constitute the start of self-acceptance which is all falling in line with Abshavi’s idea of existentialism. Moreover, through Abshavi’s view of existentialism, we can also incorporate his theory with Perez’s “Quiltografía.” For instance, Abshavi states. “the individual’s self-consciousness over his/her present situation is very important in recognizing his/her specific existential crisis” (Abshavi 105). In other words, the individual must recognize and become aware of his/her circumstance because doing so, will allow them to come to terms with their situation. By this statement, we can interpret how the dog slowly begins to reminisce and contemplate about his purpose in the world when he was alive. As the dead dog looks over his surroundings from a transcendental point of view, he becomes aware of the attention people around him are giving him now that he has passed on. The dog admits that he never deserved anything during his life as he thinks, “[…] o aquellos lienzos con letras tan elegantes que han dibujado, todo para este pobre perro, que nada mereció en vida […]” (Perez, 105). This signifies that he has become aware of his own passing and has already faced his existential crisis while coming to terms with the fact that he is no longer an existing dog.
Furthermore, taking onto a different perspective, “Awakening to Space Consciousness and Timeless Transcendent Presence” by Christine Jonas-Simpson, explains the idea surrounding space consciousness. Space consciousness is described as being aware of the space that one is in while there is a sense of alert inner stillness in the background. During one’s space consciousness, one begins to recognize the simple things in life within their own inner-self, such as a simple sound, touch, sight and smell. One becomes attentive of their senses, which then converts as the source and background to that experience. Jonas-Simpson then incorporates this concept of space consciousness and associates it with the perception of death. In her article, Jonas-Simpson states: “This sacred space is experienced with an alert openness to the now moment. It is as if when facing death there is a heightened awareness of life itself” (Jonas-Simpson 196). That is, generally, one’s sacred space is to take in and pay attention to the supreme moment one is in. However, when confronted with the face of death, one’s life begins to flash before their very eyes and become more aware of their self-consciousness because in the light of death and the now apparent acknowledgment of death occurring, one’s consciousness begins to shift to a new alternative perspective of awareness that is much more amplified than before. In addition, Jonas-Simpson states, “It [death] is felt more keenly as we see that the world of form is ephemeral and eventually dissolves, just as the human form is dissolving before us” (Jonas-Simpson 196). Therefore, encountering and confronting death from one’s very own perspective places us into our very own rendition of a sacred space, tempting us to explore the question of life itself. That being so, Jonas-Simpson invites the reader to new alternatives for comprehending the complexity of the relationship between an individual who is coming to terms with their reality of facing death in the context of their spatial consciousness.
Through Jonas-Simpson’s ideals of space consciousness, we are able to construct similarities with Perez’s short story, “Quiltografía.” Within the essence of the dead dog, he creates a space within himself where he begins to recognize elements and movements taking place in his foreground such as people approaching him with tears in their eyes, leaving him cards and a bouquet of red or blue carnations which he cannot distinguish. This is the commencement of the dog’s passage into his own space consciousness where he becomes attentive of his senses and becomes aware of the components surrounding him. In this part of the story, Jonas-Simpson would interpret this stage of the dog’s consciousness as his dimension of the transcendence after surpassing death.
In conclusion, Maria del Carmen Perez’s book, Una ciudad de Estatuas y Perros, illustrates how by widening our capacities to envision different conceivable outcomes outside our ability to understand, Perez permits the reader an opportunity to envision a world through interchangeable viewpoints as an approach to deal with real life’s impending dooms. Through these speculative philosophies mentioned in my analysis, one is able to make meticulous connections within Perez’s short stories and explore how they are interrelated with one another, yet, obtaining different perspectives specific to each individual theory. Throughout this analysis, we examined the significance of theoretical principal themes such as the post-human, nomadism, imaginative play, and the system of fiction so as to set up oneself with an individualistic disposition that will put us into practice and prepare ourselves to come to terms with our realities.
Abshavi, Mojgan. “Marquez’ “The Trail of Your Blood in the Snow”: The Existential Crisis in Escaping Reality.” Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, vol. 8, no. 5, 2017, pp. 103-110.
Ackerman, Diane. Deep Play. Random House International, 2000.
Colebrook, Claire. Death of the Posthuman: Essays on Extinction, vol. 1. Open Humanities Press, 2014.
Ehman, Robert R. The Authentic Self. Prometheus Books, 1994.
Giorgio Agamben. "El país de los juguetes: Reflexiones sobre la historia y el juego." Infancia e historia. Trad. Silvio Mattoni. BA: Adriana Hidalgo Editora, 2007. 93-128.
Jonas-Simpson, Christine. “Awakening to Space Consciousness and Timeless Transcendent Presence.” Nursing Science Quarterly, vol. 23, no. 3, July 2010, pp. 195–200, doi:10.1177/0894318410371848.
Pérez Cuadra, María del Carmen. Una ciudad de estatuas y de perros. Santiago: Daskapital,
Roque Baldovinos, Ricardo. "El derecho a la ficción". Niños de un planeta extraño. San
Salvador: Editorial Universidad Don Bosco, 2012, pp. 151-155.
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