There are 2 women who tell their story in Cauterio, the new book by the Spanish LucíaLijtmaer, (Buenos Aires, 1975). One of them, Deborah Moody, existed 4 centuries ago, fled from England and was the first woman to found a colony in the new world.
Deborah recounts the past of her buried in the sand, motionless. The other is a young contemporary woman, without a name, who has also left her city, Barcelona, and wanders the streets of Madrid. And although they are separated by 400 years, the 2 have open wounds for the same reason: disappointment in love, the destruction of desire and leaving behind the life known until then.
“Burn to cure” is what the writer had in mind when she chose a cautery to title the novel; a tool from early medicine that cauterizes damage. “The book wants to function as something that itches, that stings, but that is necessary to stop an infection”.LucíaLijtmaer is part of the dialogues of the Hay Festival Querétaro that took place between September 1st and 4th of the current year, in that Mexican city.
If the novel is a cautery, what do you want to heal?
The center of the novel is the idea of love as mythology. Love as a narrative is a weapon that women cling to, not only them, but in this case they are two women, with the intention of saving themselves. And they are disappointed by the traditional idea of love as a couple, of romantic love, that is what they have to heal and then redirect themselves, each one with their strategies, very different from each other.
Why does romantic love disappoint them?
Sometimes it happens with this ideal that we have, which is never what you expect, it mutates and there is always a great disappointment. Once your heart is broken, you have to rebuild from there and understand that all that love story is not necessarily what you thought.
There is an issue that has not changed in recent centuries about how we conceive love and that sometimes, when that whole story breaks, we are inconsolable, the contemporary character is inconsolable, until he can put himself back together.
She says that love is a monstrosity, what are the atrocities of this traditional love?
It amuses me that you can think like that, because when you are in those situations, it seems like an aberration to fall in love. You cannot even consider sharing again, trusting again. She understands that love is monstrous, because somehow, when you love and when you are in love, it is not very different from being sick.
It is something that invades you, that is irrational and makes you make irrational decisions, often based on desire and, above all, on vulnerability. Love makes you vulnerable by default, and it seems monstrous to her at the time.
Before falling in love she has a full, active, creative life, and when she is asked to join “the monogamy club”, she says that “it is better to belong than not to. She makes sense of everything”.
It is a sticky, comfortable, monochord club, like a “sedative”. Do you share that vision?
I wanted to narrate the traditional couple, that when you hug her, she hugs you back. When you have a stable partner, you live with her and you have a more or less established life, much less dissident than being single, than being in polyamory, or having a life that is more difficult to explain.
You go to your mother-in-law’s house and it is something easy to explain, especially if you are a monogamous woman in a long-term relationship; that is what I meant. It is a monotonous club with certain rituals, all very similar, that have not changed in the last 100 years. Routines are generated, which by all accounts of the global sentimental status quo, are the right thing to do. They do not change the television commercials or the cinematographic narratives about it.
When a heterosexual woman of my generation says that she wants a partner, we all assume that she wants that, and then, those aspirations are much more varied.
Desire plays an important role in both. Deborah says: “I only feel alive when he possesses me”, but her husband soon moves away from her, what happens to her when she stops being desired?
That is what completely breaks her and modifies her, because she marries out of desire, it is fundamental to that marriage. She feels a tremendous desire and accelerates the wedding. For her, body is important: she talks about her braids tightening her hair, her corset cutting her flesh, all that bodily rotundity.
Desire in both shows the need to talk about 2 libidinous subjects. In the case of the contemporary character, she also uses her desire in a self-destructive way. When she separates, she has a series of lovers that she does not care about, with whom she goes to bed to obtain a certain agency, that of feeling desired by foreigners, foreigners who pass through Barcelona, a very touristic city. She wanted to show the 2 things, the primal, erotic desire and the use of her own body as something self-destructive.
Why do you pose it as self-destructive?
Because she is a woman who has just been abandoned, she is almost a zombie, deep down they are 2 zombies. One is literally underground recounting her past life and the other wanders around the city without knowing why or where she is going.
In a city where she does not represent her, she does not have any relief or any kind of support. She does not want to have friends anymore, or contact with anyone and I liked the idea of sex in a random way, with whoever she wants, however she wants, but clearly she’s not okay, that is why it is self-destructive sex, not because of promiscuity.
Why do both postpone their own project for the benefit of the other’s project: the political careers of the husbands?
The idea of subjecting women to being an instrument for a political career made me very uncomfortable. In that discomfort is born the rebellion that I propose for them and the idea of creating their own project.
In the case of Deborah with other women, in the case of contemporary women through revenge; are the 2 resources that are there. Both seem very useful to me in the contemporary world, in our society, either because of the idea of reparation, which is very necessary and the construction of spaces of dissent to generate their own narratives, which is what contemporary feminism does. At the moment in which you narrate yourself you can advance; if it is not counted, it does not exist.
Revenge seems to be totally censored, but you pose it as a way to heal. How does it work for you?
It is my favorite narrative resource; I love movies where there is female revenge. It has always fascinated me and in all the literature that has shaped me as a writer it is essential. With revenge you get the last word lyrically, especially in silent characters; when they come, a series of things are revealed that generate a lot of enjoyment for me.
And if I am honest, the first thing I wrote was the revenge of the contemporary character, because I thought, if she is going to suffer so much, I need to write how she takes revenge before everything else.
Have you ever taken revenge?
I do not believe in revenge in personal life, only symmetry and reciprocity.
But is it a resource that we women can take?
Do you know what is up? Whenever I think of female revenge in real life, I think at some point she is going to get punished. That is why in reality I prefer to use the idea of reparation, because in the face of injustice, it is necessary to be able to heal. But in literature, revenge seems fabulous to me. It would have to be a very well thought-out revenge so that they would not punish her… It is like a perfect crime so that they would not catch you.
The one in the novel is pretty perfect, and although we will not reveal it, what inspired you?
I thought about all the real estate violence and how when a couple breaks up, the most important thing is to have a house. What would happen if all your loving ghosts occupied that house? Looking for a flat in Madrid I saw how desperate people are to rent whatever it is, there I saw it clearly.
Do you feel that after centuries of discrimination we are in a time of a certain dose of revenge?
I think not, because, in general, the only thing we women have done in the last 50 years is fight for our right to exercise the freedom of our bodies. Also a political and social role, because we have been second-class citizens and what we do is claim what we should have by right.
In any case, what we are seeing is a punishment for these attempts at reparation in the great ultra-right movements in the United States, in the new laws criminalizing abortion. I think we are experiencing an ultraconservative wave that has been brewing since the 1970s.
This with the popularization of civil rights movements and that is opposing the latest great advances, which are being able to name what happens to us with sexual violence, with labor inequality and so many etceteras that I could add.
How should we react to this ultra-conservative wave?
Well, as we have always done; narrating, naming, and weaving social media. Alone,you cannot; with friends, you can. It is a very good motto, and everything that has been achieved is because there have been a series of movements that have to do with the collective.
For example: younger women who name, who put the body, who tell and manifest themselves; now you cannot bring those young girls home and tell them their body is not theirs.
What would you highlight as the milestones of this movement?
Of course the MeToo, but the #Tell it worldwide, to name sexual violence and harassment, which is systematic and is the order of the day.
All the decolonial movements that give voice to the fact that feminism is not white and that it is plural and always has been and a monolithic idea must be broken. That is everything that has to do with the claims in favor of the rights of autonomy of the bodies.
What has been done in Latin America, especially the green scarf movement in Argentina. On the other hand, in Ireland and Poland, where women have taken to the streets and have broken the barrier put up by the Church and the ultra-conservative movements, there are 3 major issues that have been fundamental.
Would you say that most of them have to do with the body, with its protection, its freedom, its autonomy?
Every time there is a social setback, the first thing that is put in check is women’s bodies. This is what Margaret Atwood says about The Handmaid’s Tale, when people are scandalized by what she tells; she says it’s nothing that hasn’t happened before in world history.
The first thing that is done in wars is to conquer the body of women through rape. The first thing a dictatorial regime does is birth control through control of women’s bodies.
So, women’s access to sexual freedom is fundamental, it is not only a matter of giving birth or not giving birth, but of control over their desire, because as the feminist analyst Luciana Peker says “what bothers them is desire”, and you are right.
Why does that piss them off?
Because a woman who enjoys is a dangerous woman; or autonomy, for the fact that she does not need you to get pleasure from her; I am not saying she is conscious, it is probably an unconscious fear, but she clearly has something to do with it. Independence is the possibility of not needing the other, of enjoying freedom, it is something obvious, but it is deeply rooted.
Do you think men understand this? Do they feel threatened?
It is difficult for me to generalize, I believe that every breakthrough requires a readjustment, and obviously, nobody wants to lose the privileges, I understand the fear, I even understand the resistance. But as soon as you examine the idea of violence, of being second-class citizens, of not having the same rights that the other has with the most absolute freedom, it is necessary to understand it and join in, because it is much more fun to join in to change things. I believe that the reticence is taken advantage of by the extreme right. It is the fear in which these movements grow, the fear of change and ignorance, above all.
What are the possible futures?
The novel does not make any futuristic approach; instead, I think it leaves questions rather than solutions. The ecological collapse, on the one hand, since the contemporary character is terrified and it is part of his self-destruction to consider the nihilistic idea that everything ends. It also questions what happens with traditional love, if we can overcome it or if we will always repeat the same stories.
And finally, if the idea of a shared future in projects outside the traditionally political can have a way of subsistence, or only selfishness and individualism will make us survive. In the end there is a possibility of union in future projects that give some hope. Undoubtedly, union is strength and civic union, in this case, is what I see as the best possibility for the future.
As for traditional love, how could we project it?
There is no single solution. There are attempts for the future, but not much else; listen to options and experiences and see what works, deep down it is trial and error. Also understand that happiness is not unequivocal, perhaps we have to deconstruct the desire for perfection in love; it does make us unhappy.
There is a book by Liv Stromquist called ‘I feel nothing’, which talks about contemporary love and the impossibility of constant satisfaction; it helped me a lot, because you realize that you are not always satisfied and that nothing happens because of that.
Is the search for perfection more a trend for women or also for men?
It is a question of contemporary capitalism, of capitalism in love, the need for consumption, for constant emotion, that also affects men. Everything has to be excellent all the time: the best sex with the same person, long-term, and always in love like the first day is impossible, but nobody says so. We have to talk more honestly about what happens to us, and narrating ourselves honestly implies breaking all those taboos.
What would be the taboo that you would propose to break down today, in this interview?
It is the idea of love as salvation and as a mantra of life. Accept that it is not always like this, or not all the time. That which comes from other generations, that love is forever and that when it is not like that, it is one that fails; break that as soon as possible.