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M aria Manuel Lisboa. O ponto de vista. In Portuguese we have a saying: First, for example, it may be true that there is only ever one mother, but, as I shall be arguing, a mother can be many things.
Lygia Fagundes Telles
Second, if some of those things are, in real life, anything like the stuff of which the average mother in Lygia Fagundes Telles is made, it only remains to be said that one must be thankful for small mercies and in particular, in this writer’s case, for the uniqueness in one’s vetde of that species of parent. In the narrative fiction of Lygia Fagundes Telles, including both short stories and novels, the figure of the mother, contradictorily appears as both multi-facetedly various and uniformly dangerous.
Maternity as an event intrinsic to womanhood, itself, as I shall be lygiq, a conviction at once old and old-fashioned, both in a Brazilian social context and in a wider Western Judaeo-Christian cosmogony, is, it will be seen, radically revised by Lygia Fagundes Telles in her highly idiosyncratic rendering of the mothering phenomenon. To this purpose, her female protagonists almost without exception compound their kinship bonds and social ties as sisters, daughters, wives, lovers and cousins of men with the added dimension of a motherliness which in the very moment of being established is revealed to be as pernicious — to the men — as was the disobedient action of the first Biblical mother in Genesis to mankind.
In this context, one may wish to inquire whether antws Eve nibbled a piece from the apple, she bit off more than God could chew. The Judaeo-Christian contemplation of the consequences of humankind’s banishment by God-the-Father from the prelapsarian non-womb of male Creation has on the whole tended to forget that in refusing the law of the Divine Progenitor and partaking of the fruit of the tree, Eve in effect rejects the idea of humanity as God intended tellee and originates in its place her own alternative, albeit flawed species, in a reversal of fortunes which surreptitiously restores baaile power to the female womb, and restores also in some measure the female-centred mysticisms which preceeded the masculine monotheisms and were toppled by them.
The medieval anti-manichean purges, in seeking to root out enchroaching heterodoxies, overlooked the primordial alternative creator resident at fagundee heart of the paradigmatic biblical text, Eve, mother of ungodly demiurges one and all, the anttes of whose dangerously disobedient womb paradoxically relocates it, by enhancing its parabolic importance, at the centre of the invitingly deconstructible vision that proscribes that womb, in the very moment of that proscription.
The reactive, antidotal virginal womb of Mary herself, whose holiness, by means of a casuistic sleight of hand, reconceives Original Sin as the ‘Blessed Fall’ which served as the pretext for her redemptory coming into being, is crucial to Christian theology.
In the words of one ancient hymn: Nonetheless, Mary’s womb, too, rapidly began to prove worrying for a doctrine which from early on has been compelled to purge it of its essential quality, the gift of procreation, and to reduce it to the status, however glorious, nonetheless subordinate, of empty vessel, subject from the moment of its inception to the occupancy of the Father and the tenancy of the Son as the bsile active agents of gestation: Be that as it may, what is certain is that the moment of expulsion from the Garden, east of Eden, is in Judaeo-Christianity the second moment of othering, of schism, in this instance between the realms of the godly and of the human, but a second moment so directly the consequence of the first one, of gendering or gender separation, between man and woman, as to be intrinsic to and dependent on it, resulting in a chain of prohibition or of deferral of reunion with the God-head, but also with the maternal womb of Eve, there and then declared culpable for the edict that condemns us never to go home again.
Lyggia, pondered from a proto-Freudian stance, is also at the heart of a contradiction which, arising with the arrival of Romanticism in Brazil has, in the almost two centuries that have followed, bedevilled multifarious facets of the Brazilian search for an autonomous cultural expression parallel to its political independence from Portugal in It is through Romanticism’s articulation that fantasies of birth, death and rebirth, at once ajtes and individual, secular and Edenic, find voice in Lgia as the foundation tropes of an imagination telkes search of a homeland.
I do not think it is necessarily specious to attempt a link between the authorial position of individual writers and the plight of a country such as Vagundes from its political abile plagued by the contradictory pulls of local colour and European intellectual imports, nationalism and an enduring cultural subordination to overseas ideas, and internally, after the mid-nineteenth century, by the dilemma of a proclaimed liberalism in the face of ongoing slavery, and of race, class and gender enmity.
June Hahner has referred to Brazil as a “country without a memory,”  a problem she links to the difficulties faced by historians seeking to document a variety of phenomena in the history of the nation, in her case, more specifically, women-oriented historiography. What her detailed account of the struggle for women’s rights in the period between and the ‘s finds, however, is, at the heart of a war that bore many faces, an obsession with the figure of the mother as the origin and creator of self and country.
The mother becomes, in any attempt to understand the gender d in Brazil over the last century, a crucial signifying icon, variously invoked either by those who point to her traditional role as the safeguard and guarantor of a conservative perpetuity, or by those who, while favundes lip-service to a conventional understanding of the institution of motherhood, invoked her fagundees as first educator of the fagunddes sons, as the pretext for the expansion of all women’s rights to equality in education, employment, marriage and under lyfia aspect of the law.
At the core of this battle of conflicting ideologies and aims, the figure of the mother becomes increasingly shrouded in a confusion of contradictory needs and desires that insistently cast her as that which most directly furthers the particular interests being promoted.
The mother is faghndes all-powerful in the home and infinitely manipulable, omnipotent and powerless, adored and hated, everlasting reference and anathemic outcast. She aantes always dangerous. The following rhyme, popular in Brazil, speaks volumes: Saiba pouco ou saiba nada. The universally conflicting feeling towards the mother which this refrain discloses becomes even more problematic in a country like Brazil, where, throughout the nineteenth and well into the twentieth century the Phillipine Code’s influence on the legislative system decreed women to be perpetual minors, dependent upon the husband’s permission for access to employment, property, fagunses, a pension fwgundes even a bank account.
The role of the Roman Catholic Church both in its conservative and progressive factions evidently also had a heavy input into the process of reformulation or reification of women’s roles in Brazil throughout most of this century.
The attempt to revise the old Portuguese dictate that a virtuous woman fgundes leaves her home on three occasions — to be baptized, married and buried — faced opposition on the part of the Catholic conservative faction, as well as its refusal to allow any link to be formulated between women’s oppression and motherhood.
The female body that visibly engenders life, in any case, has never ceased to be seen as problematic, a perplexity not specific to Brazil but generally prevalent in the Western psyche. The scars that have ensued upon attempts to claim or reclaim it constitute the very texture of the writing of authors such as Lygia Fagundes Telles, but like her, within and outside Brazil, the innumerable fictional and non-fictional voices in literature, theory, sociology, history, psychiatry and medicine which have understood the process of motherhood to encompass both the moment of origin of a status quo and the moment when its obliteration first becomes possible to articulate.
In one of the essays in Literature and Evil, Georges Bataille argues, possibly anti-intuitively but nonetheless persuasively that sexuality and reproduction, entailing as they do the reproduction of the single into the multiple, the giving of one’s body to the making of an other, or others, ,ygia not towards immortality but towards death, as the loss of self in its faugndes.
Here is a conundrum. A gun holds six bullets. Playing Russian roulette with one bullet in the cartridge offers a one in six possibility of dying. Until antibiotics became widely available to combat infection in the second half of this century, an estimated one woman in every three or four, depending on the statistical source, died in childbirth.
The implications of this for family dynamics are fagunfes negligible. Previous to the advent ffagundes customarily practised medical hygiene, contraceptives and antibiotics, every time a woman had sex she contemplated pregnancy and death. One woman in every three or four in the general population gestated inside her own body her potential murderer; one man in every three or four lived out the larger part of his adulthood in the consciousness of having exacted pleasure at the price of another’s death.
One person in every three or four lived an entire conscious existence in the awareness of having attained life at the price of that of another, and that other, one’s mother. For a girl, tellles atonement for the involuntary matricide might lie in the subsequent surrender of life, in her turn, to a antfs imperative patriarchal and patrilinear in many of its aspects. For a boy, the original unintended kinslaying became an additional factor in a complex conglomeration of psychic phenomena which together constitute the male dread and guilt of being of lgia born.
In this century, an understanding of family dynamics cannot omit reference to a Freudian formula which comprehends as one of its givens the oedipal discarding by both sexes faghndes the mother and the identification, albeit, in the late Freudian view, an acknowledgedly asymmetrical identification, of each sex with the father.
According to Lacan, the oedipal crisis precipitates the end of the dominance of the Imaginary the pre-oedipal fusion with the body of the motherand the entry into the Symbolic, the realm of the masculine with which is associated the acquisition of language. During the oedipal crisis the father telkes the dyadic unity between mother and child and forbids access to helles mother’s body.
The loss of the mother and the desire for her, pertaining as they fagundez to a new consciousness of the phallus, are repressed and metonymically represented by the acquisition and usage of a language under whose auspices the capacity to say “I” is indistinguishable from the body of lyvia mother.
The child in possession of language, therefore, is the child who has resigned itself to, and repressed, the loss of the mother, and who accepted the phallus as the representative of the power of the Law of the Father.
Lygia Fagundes Telles | Academia Brasileira de Letras
The entry into the Symbolic is the acceptance repression of the loss of the mother or of a state before self, before identity, and the concommitant assimilation of a concept of self, of language, of culture and of community or society, which together constitute the Order of the Symbolic. The refusal of entry into the Symbolic is the refusal of socialization and the affirmation of self-exclusion, fragmentation of identity and psychosis.
Largely departing from Freud and to a lesser extent from Lacan, Dorothy Dinnerstein, Nancy Chodorow and other psychoanalytic revisionists see as central to both the conflict with the father and the final identification with him a much more fundamental and instinctive need for escape from the mother, who telels not just a threat to freedom but to the very integrity of the self.
The central opportunity for self-deception [ What makes it possible to replace that deposed sovereign with another and still feel triumphant is that the new sovereign is of a new gender.
The departure point for post-Freudian feminist revisionism, consequently, is located where mainstream Freudianism, having hinted at the mother as the real source of psychic menace abandons her to concentrate on the figure of the father: Margaret Mead suggested that the more obviously procreative function xo the woman, more obvious because more visible to the naked eye in its external signs, such as pregnancy and labour, endows her with an aura haile pre-historically mysterious, and therefore feared power,  and transforms her, in Adrienne Rich’s words, into “an object of mistrust, suspicion, misogyny in both overt and insidious forms”,  requiring vigilance and confinement.
Nancy Chodorow, Dorothy Dinnerstein, and Patricia Waugh  variously describe how in fagundds culture in which the care of the children falls almost exclusively to the woman, the mother is simultaneously the first love, the first witness and the first source of frustration of the child. The mother holds absolute power of life or death over the infant, a fact which will not only lie at the heart of the nature of relations between the sexes in adulthood, but will also underpin certain contradictions inherent in the subsequently acquired conscience that the supposedly all-powerful mother is after all disempowered under patriarchy.
Be that as anres may, for the newly-born child the mother, omnipotent mediator between the infant and all that is external to it, is the source of all that the latter experiences as good, but also all that is experienced as bad, her power gradually becoming comprehensible as the bounty of life but, additionally, as the terror of finite life, or death.
The consciousness of this dual presence will persist in post-infancy stages and through into adult consciousness, as the divided desire for but dread of a return to the Nirvana-like womb which signals both binding pleasure and boundless dissolution.
And the mother, herself, as the site of that dangerous womb, triggers also the knowledge of the finiteness of life and the inevitability of death for all those for whom she signals the only available beginning. Men have never tired of fashioning expressions for the violent force by which man feels himself drawn to the woman, and side by side with his longing, the dread that through her he might die and be undone. The mother who reminds us of the pre-self state of utter disempowerment, the Lacanian Imaginary or the Kristevan Semiotic, all the more dangerous because bewitching as the last occasion of absolute psychic self-abandon, is, as post-Freudian theory clarifies, identified according to Freud as that which needs to be jettisoned,  as the price of being granted access to the rational safety of the Symbolic Order.
The mother signifies regression, lack of autonomy, telles opposite of all that the Symbolic defines as the very essence of personhood. Absence, lack, inchoateness, insatiability, nothingness: Thus distance, separateness, objectivity, and rationality are the haven and ‘escape’ of masculinity.
The return to the maternal, therefore, is both a feared danger and a crime perpetrated against the Law of the Father, a crime simultaneously characterized by, and punished with, a disintegration or loss of the self which, paradoxically, may also appear as the very essence of the Imaginary Nirvana of lost fusion in infancy. The terrible assault to masculine identity which inheres in the recognition of the originating body of the mother was given utterance in Antiquity by the outraged shout of Orestes – am I of my mother’s [blood]?
When, being all these ffagundes and nothing the mother refuses to continue being the object, not subject of the plethora of definitions of herself in which she bears no agency, she becomes synonymous with the possibility of both pleasure and dissolution for those upon whom, as the only available point of beginning, she bestowed both the gift of a life qualified by finiteness and therefore, cruelly, the inevitability of ultimate death.
Bqile when those are the sons of the nation, the mother, rather than archetypal originator becomes instead possibly the purveyor of cultural annihilation. Against this background of qntes and fantastic motherhood I shall seek to arrive at an understanding of the narrative fiction of Lygia Fagundes Telles, a prose troubled by an obsession with insistent figures of mothers who go about their mothering with malice aforethought. An bale into the murderous nature of motherhood in this writer’s work, moreover, extends further into what arguably amounts to a gender agenda operative through desecration, since almost everyone of Fagundes Telles’ female protagonists in one way or another, through symbolic but more often real murder real although sometimes muffled through the devices of allegory, or horror, or the fantasticcommits a crime which has threefold implications: An understanding of the dynamic relation connecting issues of language, gender and procreation must be invoked here.
If following Lacan the position of the subject in the realm of the Father is assumed through language, it follows that the entry into the Symbolic must be different for the two sexes, the possession of subjectivity being different for he who has a phallus and for she who does not. Since the father dl not simply authority but the cultural and social whole, the acquisition of the civilized state requires, in Lacan, identification with the father, the latter, according to Freud, being accessible to the son but not to the daughter.
If the entry into the Symbolic demands the sacrifice of unity with the mother, therefore, within it men attain the compensation of power and self-definition, while women are debarred from true recognition. In order to identify herself permanently with the mother, the daughter must accept the absence of the phallus in herself as a permanent loss.
If the phallus as signified has a central position in language, as it must do if language embodies the law of patriarchal culture, it follows that the access of the daughter to the Symbolic and to language as metonymies of culture and society must always be tainted by negativity, or at least characterized by difference. Through the acquisition of language we are transformed into social beings but it is also through language, itself implicated in the Law of the Father, that the restrictions which society imposes upon women are articulated.
Language belongs to the Symbolic Order which itself encompasses the abstract relations of a given social network. And, still according to this rationale, “women either remain in the dyad of the mother-infant bond, accepting madness or vetde, or allow their ddo within the symbolic order and ‘masquerade’ within the terms of an alien rationality”. The male monotheisms understand the begetting of voice as akin to the male begetting of a son helles an affirmation of sexual prowess and audibility, and linked to the possession of a male libido.
Lyfia usurpation of the procreative monopoly by men has arguably born upon the oscillations of gender power since female-centered cosmologies were toppled by male monotheisms. The demarcation of the limits of the confidence trick which enables a male monopoly over voice but also over procreation, therefore, the staking of the procreative territory as the inaugural act of hostilities, may offer one opening into the understanding of a writer such as Lygia Fagundes Telles, and with her, a plethora of women writers worldwide, Angela Carter, Fay Tel,es and Margaret Atwood, all in different ways spokeswomen for the act of writing as a frightening, thoughtful, programmatic loss of control.
This return of the repressed is broached by Kristeva, in Powers of Horroras ‘the site of the Other,’  and what she terms ‘abjection’ is, in Georges Bataille’s definition, which she draws upon, ‘the inability to assume with sufficient strength the imperative act of excluding abject things’, or otherness, an act which if achieved ‘establishes the foundations of collective existence.
The symbolic “exclusory prohibition” that, as a matter of fact, constitutes collective existence does not seem to have, vrede such cases, sufficient strength to dam up the abject or demoniacal potential of the feminine. The latter, precisely on account of its power, does not succeed in differentiating itself as other but threatens one’s own and clean self, which is the underpinning of any organization constituted by exclusions and hierarchies. She takes as one of her examples that instance of mutually murderous and desiring mother-son vortex, the Oedipus-Jocasta dyad, which ‘sums up and displaces the mythical defilement that situates impurity on the untouchable ‘other side’ constituted by the other sex, [ If gagundes, then the transgression of that necessary threshold, necessary if the Symbolic Order is to remain intact, the abolition of tellws lawful demarcation that separates mothers from lovers, ushers in, necessarily, cultural annihilation.
In Lygia Fagundes Telles, repeatedly, the woman, being not unconsciously, unavoidably and blamelessly incestuous mother-lover but so by choicedriven to transfigure herself into a new Jocasta figure by a transgressive imperative which becomes absolutely disruptive, first mothers and then kills her emasculated, sickly, fragilized child-husband ddo vulnerable father.
And so wholly seditious is this act that, not surprisingly, its ripples extend outside that which pertains purely to gender and procreation, into the spheres of orthodoxy, logic and realism or science, all of which find that the immediate impact of that first moment is upon language, and upon the power of utterance from which they are now debarred. According to Rosemary Jackson,  in fantasy the discourse of the non-mainstream finds ample room for manoeuvre.
In the agenda that structures the encounter between male and female, and, more particularly, between mother and son, throughout her narratives, there are, on the part of her female protagonists, no apologies for presence but merely a disruptive insistence upon that presence, here and now.
And because, of all possible insurrections, interference with the expected cycles of reproduction, whether biological or social, whether through incest or murder or both, is the most virulent, the hijacking and perversion of the maternal function becomes literally the unutterable, that which however can be granted an extra dimension of horror through the insistence upon uttering it.
Fantasy, disorder and horror replace orthodoxy, logic and science in Lygia Fagundes Telles’ virtual reality, and she offers us instead perturbingly modified fairy tales which inform the startled reader that at the end of the story Snow White and Cinderella, having stayed out all night, will not return to topple wickedness and reassuringly reinstate the status quo. In these writers’ narratives the old murder the young, children as agents of evil destroy innocent adults and women newly-cast as mothers embark upon the genocide of men reinvented as infants.
Post-Freudian theory has rescued the mother from her Freudian relegation to the pre-Oedipal stage.
Books by Lygia Fagundes Telles
In Lygia Fagundes Telles, the incorporation of the limitations of the Freudian formula as well as of the revisions which throw upon it the light of an understanding of its dread of the maternal, is refracted through the prism of an older underpinning Judaeo-Christian misogyny.
In ‘Natal na Barca’ ‘Christmas on the Boat’one of her most infamous short stories, a first-person narrator, only belatedly disclosed as female, travels on a mysterious barge over an unexplained, purgatorial stretch of water, with a demonic madonna figure who, holding her baby in her arms, spooks the mesmerized narrator with the tale of the death of her first child, here hijacked as the thematic propellant of her own murderous story-telling creative impetus.
The catastrophe of the second death, not birth, of this second Child on an improbably gory Christmas Eve, is not remedied by the awareness on the part of the narrator, at the end, that she has made a mistake and that the second child in this uncannily re-scripted Nativity is after all alive. Infanticide by the mother, in any case, is an old nightmare.