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Artemisia Drank The Ashes of Mausolus

This is the second close-reading for the quarter. Sorry that it’s been about two weeks since I’ve written this, but I’m finally uploading it now. This is a piece concerning Pía Barros’ story, Artemisia.

It was repulsive to see it there, affixed to her, the liquid dribbling down its chin,
coming from her breast which before had been pink and beautiful and was now
excessively dark and swollen… Then the sucking infant, satisfied, would sleep
without detaching itself from her.” – Pía Barros, Artemisia
Artemisia begins in image and history. A woman, possibly the Artemisia of the title, in a Borgesian reflection, overcome by the sight and caresses of her self. Away from the flat belly – dark heavy breasts and a choking, desperate child whose birth and creation has fully overturned Artemisia, a “shattering experience that disrupts or even threatens to destroy experience in the sense of an integrated or at least viably articulated life” (LaCapra, 206). Artemisia is a story of fragmented pasts and their reflections in a total present.
Artemisia is a new mother who tears away from her child. Her mood is most intense when nursing her child, bringing on “repulsion” that makes “her want to hit, break and dismember this voracious and dominating creature”. Artemisia experiences a disfiguring that she attributes to him, once being beautiful and desirable in another’s eyes: his father. The mirror, displaying a physique seemingly unaltered by childbirth, has become her new consolation, a monument towards a historically reenacted self. Reflection and self-image allow a forgetting of Artemisia’s “creature”; there is a narcissism acting as caretaker for her and child that will transform and eventually starve both.
Memory is acting as a displacer of the present in Artemisia with ramifications for our titular character.

Artemisia is experiencing three displacements by memory: (a) a gendered conception of womanhood as emphasized through the body; (b) the gendered process of motherhood; and (c) sexual expression eroded and constrained by (a) and (b). She speaks of a “vigilant gaze” and the “stern look” that expect her to care for her baby that sparks nausea and depression around socializations and memories of (b). Artemisia instead desires “her satisfaction before the envious glances of other women”, to live life within her memory of (a) in order to once again give rise to (c), “her skin brushed by other hands” than the lonely, hungry child before her. The internal inconsistencies of Artemisia, to forget and worship sight; to be held and adored, but never by her boy; create an inability to voice her self. She lives in paradoxes she seeks to forget, and the repressed manifestation of these contradictions is violent. I point to the “interaction between violence and violation, the breaking of some custom or some dignity” that Williams discusses in Keywords here – an unruly violation of Artemisia’s self-governed laws for socialized identities that seeks to maintain and enforce them.

We are left as Artemisia returns to image. “The child cried next to her. As she turned her back to avoid thinking about him, her body made a sloshing sound. Bit by bit, the mirror reflected her fractured and vaporous figure.” In many ways, we are given a parallel between gender and age relations here, as the child wails in desperation next to a woman driven powerless – both defined in their needs and desires, though fulfilled most when living for another (the mother for the son, the son for the father – the drama lying in a desire to reverse this triangle). Perhaps one can recall Fanon’s description that “the settler makes history” (Fanon, 83), the colonizer and outsider creating the narrative and identity of the mother country (or in this case, mother). (a) (b) and (c) are all displacements that contribute to the narrative of the mother as breast, as an object upon which one can act. Trauma, and traumatic displacement then, is a reduction in agency; trauma makes the subject an object by creating a present history.

A woman, standing tall in front of a mirror where a thousand eyes scream her into existence; she is to be seen, never held.

Works Cited
Barros, Pía. Artemisia, collected in Astride. Translator unknown.
Fanon, Frantz. Concerning Violence from Wretched of the Earth collected in On Violence – A
Reader. trans. Constance Farrington
LaCapra, Dominick. History in Transit collected in Theories of Memory – A Reader.
Williams, Raymond. Keywords collected in On Violence – A Reader.


Filed under: Books, Evergreen

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