Thursday, March 20, 2014

Luisa Futoransky´s galaxy: Women's future is present in past

At the reception of the Club Concordia in Vienna the warm and friendly tones of writers chatting fill the air. The little bar is open and coffee is the more popular order as this is mid - morning.

The service is excellent today on 6th March 2014 when they are here to celebrate International Women´s Day before the actual day dawns.
Dorothea Macheiner

As in every year, Austria PEN has made a considerable effort to celebrate women in their own words and presence. 

It is an earth shaking collection of voices they have. Susanne Dobesch, the Secretary General of PEN Austria steers the course introducing all the speakers. In 2013 she wrote this essay "I am Malala" for the launch of Time to Say: No!

This year, Helmuth Niederle, PEN Austria President has edited Macheiner´s novels published by Løcker who display books by various authors. She had already welcomed us in the early morning and asked a few of us to present. I presented "Women as Constitution: The relevant rage" 

There is a day long symposium and the theme is Mulieris Mundi, Women of the World.  

In Vienna the home of many conventions as varied as the Ozone layer, Multilingual extracts and Diplomacy as well as Road Signs is where in 1991 the Women Committee of PEN International formally became a a PEN standing Committee. The idea was mooted in New York in 1986. 
Ishraga Hamid
Among the guests is an international panel consisting Dorothea Macheiner  (Austria)  Diana Raznovich, Ishraga Hamid, Erna Pfeiffer (Austria) , Etela Farkašová  á and Philo Ikonya (Kenya/Norway). 

In 2014, PEN Austria is announcing a new publication: Black Orphea which will be launched in June and which has joined the title of this blog. Two novels by Dorothea Macheiner are launched today. Ishraga´s I am a black Austrian as well as Philo Ikonya´s Invincible Nubia; Adios Lampedusa, will also be launched in June. 

I move around happy to have stirred the rage. It is noticeable for me that a new energy has come into the space. Well, I see a strong woman and I hear her voice. 

I am drawn to listen and introduced to Luisa Futoransky who has just arrived. I can see that she is in her element. Suddenly only the two of us are talking as happens when people are on a break and taking a bite. The other two leave us and are meeting more people. Luisa asks me where I come from. I answer her. To my surprise she begins to talk about Afrika using the pronoun "We". "Well, we got independence but remained in colonial ..." 

She trails off in my mind as I am struck by that fact. I might have been distracted but I have never heard someone who is not from Afrika include herself in a dialogue about Afrika. The "We"  inclusion struck me. I listened and then there was silence. Poetic silence. Maybe then I heard her words from the poet below in Spanish the last few lines of which I translate roughly: 

Recurring rhyme

It hums
it hits the chest
tells of ballads
goodbyes and unions
the maritime walk
bats fly by buzzing
not angels
Who will tell me that 
I do not want to see myself 
in The Shout of Munch ?
To exist passion needs a witness
a passerby
a cannibal
the weapon of autumn is
the uproar of clarity

Munch- The Shout
Rima reincidente
se golpea el pecho
relata baladas
adioses y fusiones
el paseo marítimo
los acordes
los murciélagos pasan rasantes,
no los ángeles.
¿Quién me referirá que no quiero verme
en "el grito" de Munch?
Para existir la pasión exige un testigo
un pasante
la caníbal

arma de otoño es
la estrepitosa lucidez

Later I read her article among many others in the UNESCO Courier and saw that she is always walking in the "We" of women and the world. I am inspired. The "Stars in her personal galaxy" are many women some of whom we have not heard of much. But continents are also in there of course. Women break all sorts of barriers. Society needs them at the helm. The world does. The earth too. 

It is wonderful to see in this "We" something I always dream of. If we who know hardship, rejection and love and exiles of many forms could use the love part to hold hands even if in words the world would change. That discrimination might lead to more solidarity is a dream. That those who experience it might annul other forms of discrimination of any one. With our imagiNATION we can change much.

Here is a woman who has created her universe of thought and is sharing it with voices that were not amplified enough in their time. So that I can say as a Namibian proverb I like quoting goes: The future is behind us the past in front. How does one who has learned to see the future in the past behave? Well this is key for all of us. For there is a tendency to think of the women today and to measure much according to the ones we know only. 

But now in the present, Luisa is pensive. Maybe she is thinking about South Sudan right now. The Central African Republic, Egypt, Tunisia and Nigeria. I have told her I come from Kenya and she looks intensely. Well, we are here about women and in no land can we say women are where they ought to be, and later I hear her speak about FGM quoting the work of Waris Dirie.

And she has known many lands. This has taught her to break stereotypes. Luisa was born in Argentina but left her land in 1976 before the military junta took control. She has lived in the USA, China, Japan and Italy in a span of seven years, before settling in Paris. On this journey of her life she learned to get sustenance from other women´s lives. She sings them still. A hummingbird. Here is an interview ´the itinerary of a hummingbird´

She can list so many but on this day she spoke about Else Lasker- Schüler described as a foreigner in her own land and Janet Frame.
You can read the full story in the Courier link above.

It was moving to hear Futoransky talks about these women. And yes, straight to the breaking of stereotypical ways of looking at women. So many will think they must be either this way or that.
Well, she describes Else in the Courier as " A mix of contrasting characteristic - surrender and arrogance, rebellion and submission". Else was passionately committed to her poetry.

Amazing to hear about how Else overcame so many contradictions and her successes at last. Rejected during the Nazi period and then today having Germany, where she was born and Israel, where she was buried, "each claiming that she is their national poet!" Frame received many awards and was nominated many times for the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Very deeply moving is the story of Janet Frame. To cope with rejection and tragic circumstances, to attempt suicide and to find support to live as an author from Frank Sargeson who helped her travel and write is a long journey. Mental illness and stigma to overcome as well as the tedious search for the real diagnosis. Is it schizophrenia or something else? 

Janet was helped in that by Alan Miller a doctor. But she had suffered many electronic shocks for treatment and her internment was to her prison.

What a journey in writing and fighting for Janet Frame. All those obstacles overcome. And yet when she was recognized with awards, she did not forget the women who were also struggling by her side.

A humble background and her two sisters drowning and an epileptic brother. What an amazing sister of Clotel! And what a feeling of being in touch with this galaxy through Luisa Futoransky. A chance to hear many hummingbirds. This reminds me of late Wangari Maathai Nobel Peace Prize winner. "I will be a hummingbird," She said.

Luisa Futoransky was born in Buenos Aires in 1939. She is a poet, journalist, essayist and translator. She is the author of The Duration of the Voyage (Editorial Junction Press, San Diego, USA; 1997). She has written three novels, more than eight poetry books and two book length essay books. Her works have been translated into English, German and French. She lives in Paris. She has received prestigious awards such as French Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres and a Grant from the Guggenheim Foundation.