Writers Advocate for Historical Injustices in Dialogue With Nature

An exploration of the voices of Latin American women writers who have immersed themselves in terror and healing rites with elements of nature. During the month of the book, we spoke with Dr. in Literature Carolina Navarrete, an associate researcher of the residency cycle entitled Fire Ecologies. A conversation on narrative constellations and hybrid genres of the present.

Edible land, purification of pain through elements of nature, currents of unbreathable air that stain the atmosphere, collective emancipations created in the face of the climate crisis, the effects of capitalism and the technological revolution. The Latin American narrators have woven different worlds where the alterhuman—alternative subjectivity to the self-representation of our species—becomes vital to narrate the pathologies of the present. 

These are some of the examinations that nourish the explorations of Dr. Carolina Navarette, Director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Artistic Research and Creation of the Universidad de La Frontera (CIICA-UFRO)[1], which was a co-organizer of the residency cycle Fire Ecologies, where she participated as associate researcher. In this context, she presented investigations on literary constellations that have emerged in women’s writing in connection with the uncertainty facing the planet. 

Fundación Mar Adentro: In some of your research, the concept of the alterhuman[2] has appeared. How do you link this term with contemporary narratives that appeal to elements of nature? 

Carolina Navarrete: When I began working with narratives of the self, with self-referential genres such as autofiction and autobiography, or with documentary literature written by women, in particular, I started to see a pattern: references to elements of nature, and not necessarily landscape related, but in relation to female agency[3] that sought to raise issues of patriarchy, social justice, or feminism. So I began to see this as a constant. For example, there is a text by the Argentine Dolores Reyes entitled Cometierra, where the protagonist has a special contact with the earth, narrated as a place that contains a memory related to the disappeared persons and also with femicides.

On the other hand, there is an emergence of elements such as fire, present in authors such as Mariana Enríquez, who deploys an emancipatory function of resignification in its destructive potential. We also find the element of air in writings such as that of Fernanda Trías, who in Mugre rosa recounts how breathing can cause the skin to come off, a plot that presents similarities with what we faced with Covid. There is also a line of research based on hydrofeminism; water is very present in literature written by women. 

Along with the constant of the elements, I began to explore notions of the post-human[4] in Latin American literature written by women; a view that is present in the book Las voladoras by the Ecuadorian Mónica Ojeda, for example. Also from the theoretical and critical approaches of authors such as Rosi Bradotti or Donna Haraway; and the new materialist feminisms based on situated knowledge to address non-human and more-than-human approaches. Then, the alterhuman appeared, understood as mutable agency, as well as strategies to “become one with” the elements: fire, air, water and earth, and with other species, with the mineral, vegetable, animal and digital worlds, etc.. We are working on this research topic with two academics[5] with whom we were recently awarded a Fondecyt[6] project, in which we proposed, as a research¹ team, to analyze the recent narrative (stories and novels) of contemporary Latin American women authors to propose a reading typology that can account for the foundations of philosophical and critical posthumanism that redefine the areas and borders of determination and indetermination between human beings and the world they inhabit. 


¹ Team made up of two co-investigators (Coi) and Carolina Navarrete, who appears as Responsible Investigator (IR).

In this regard, what literary archetypes and explorations have been built at the Latin American level particularly in relation to fire?

I have observed fire in various ways. One of the most present dimensions is destruction, but in an emancipatory sense, as I mentioned. Something I’ve seen in books, such as Los divagantes by Guadalupe Nettel, is where there are protagonists who use fire through the imagination projected onto their families to destroy toxic dynamics and start from resilience, for example. This is from a desperate perspective that finds a purification or a new beginning within the flames. 

On the other hand, in the case of Mariana Enríquez, we see a metaphorical intention where fire was used to exert violence against women, and is then used as an agency of autonomy or as a manifestation of denunciation of the stereotype of patriarchal beauty or paradigms stemming from misogyny, machismo o androcentrism. That is where toxic, manipulative, harmful or violent dynamics emerge at the family and couple level, where there is boredom and fatigue, fire allows us to build new autonomy, emancipation and purification. 

Finding paths to emancipation is central to imagining the future of our species. What is the role of literature in the development of a society that is capable of channeling a future of ethical coexistence?

The pathologies of the present that are being narrated in literature are diverse; we see the climate crisis and social injustices that feed on each other. Literature contributes to raising awareness of these realities, feeding the gender perspective and exposing gaps. I mean to say it allows us to imagine situations. A piece of news, on the other hand—by not entering the field of aesthetics or artistic representation—doesn’t necessarily open a door to the imagination or speculative scenarios, as it refers to a reality that obeys a paradigm of transmission of information. Literature, on the other hand, makes that leap and thinks of prospective scenarios, making us ask ourselves what would happen if everything were to end. For example, I think of El ojo de bambi by Verónica Berger Bicecci,  where she imagines a present, past and future based on a choice of art works, masterfully narrating catastrophic scenarios and creating new meanings about subjectivities and other beings that haven’t been given much importance historically. 

Regarding how to feed the imagination, what ecofeminist[7] positions and readings do you recommend to think about the issues we face at a sociocultural level?

Although there is a lot of reading material[8] available, the Braidotti trilogy I previously mentioned has helped me reflect on posthuman knowledge. There are concepts that are generated in relation to objects[9], new materialities, and there is a process of permanent co-construction of terminologies. Ecosabidurías. Agua, aire, fuego y tierra: conocimientos y autoconocimientos (Eco-Wisdoms. Water, Air, Fire and Earth: Knowledge and Self-Knowledge, in Spanish) is one of the relevant books in this sense[10]. Perspectives of hydro-feminisms[11] are also relevant, which explore the agency of water and stimulate new ways of thinking. There is a lot of theory from the posthuman standpoint, but we can also approach it from the European or North American tradition and local knowledge; that is, delve into ancestral knowledge. An integrative view of ecofeminism is necessary for the creation of new meanings in permanent motion. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but literature can help us observe the possibilities from different angles, and one of them is from an ecofeminist reading. 

Returning to the search for patterns and the allusion you have made to this idea—popularized by the media—that there is a “boom” of female writers. What other topics or “narrative constellations” are currently present at the literary level in Latin America?

On one hand, I don’t know if there are necessarily more women writing, or if there has been an increase in readers who are willing to read more women. Either way, this helps the feminist positioning in literature. Now there are even female author bookstores. There has been more recognition; for example, the Booker Prize awarded Samantha Schweblin for Kentuckis, or Distancia del rescate, which speaks of the dangers of GMOs. We move from the science fiction of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to suspense, terror and the Andean gothic in Latin America. The women authors of Latin America have also known how to return to a realm of the neo-fantastic as a space from which to express themselves. They explore a terror that can be linked to the political, and it has been interesting to place several authors in that constellation. So the genre of terror has reemerged together with social justice, technology, criticisms of the patriarchy and ecology—issues that are raised socio-ecologically. On the other hand, we have the autofiction of memory and post-memory, with authors such as Nona Fernández in La dimensión desconocida, Lina Meruane in Sangre en el ojo, or Alia Trabucco, all of whom speak of socio-cultural phenomena from narratives of the self[13]. 

There are also species and kingdoms of nature that are eventually cataloged as minor over time. Is there currently an intention to reposition marginality in various literary contexts?

Yes, and I would also add that it is difficult speaking of pure genres nowadays. It’s complex to say “This is a novel,” because the traditionally defined concept becomes tense when you find photographs, paintings, cooking recipes, lyrics, letters, etc. We are faced with porous or borderline literary genres that are difficult to define.  

You were part of the Fire Ecologies residency through CIICA-UFRO, which you direct. How was this collaborative experience? What learnings were relevant to the center’s line of research?

It has been a great experience to continue shaping CIICA’s lines of research. One of the main axes has been aesthetic. We are in a university that doesn’t have art courses per se, but which is betting on aesthetics, cultural heritage, art, science and technology in a transdisciplinary intersection. Inter-, multi- and trans-discipline, when inserted into contexts of collaboration—such as in the residency—allows us to live through these scientific experiences with artists; a mixture that leads to the surprises of art. This is something that we are experiencing and enjoying.

It is interesting to discover how the work areas in the Foundation have been configured through the residencies. Today, UFRO has academic units such as the Department of Languages, Literature and Communication and the FECSH Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Humanities. I am part of these, as well as of the Vice-Rector’s Office for Research and Postgraduate Studies, all of which are places that incorporate artistic creation and emphasize the humanities, so that CIICA can add its own grain of sand to the university’s scope of creation. We want to make a difference from a utilitarian view of art and highlight its methodologies and lines of research[15]. In this sense, that a scientist who is a member of the community of our university—Valeria Palma—was part of this cycle has been a very nourishing experience.  

 

 Carolina Navarrete has a PhD in Literature from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and completed a Postdoctoral Degree in Latin American Studies at the University of British Columbia, Canada. Currently, she is an academic at the Department of Languages, Literature and Communication at the Universidad de La Frontera, in the Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Humanities, a member of the academic committee of the Master of Arts-UFRO and a researcher at the Technological Scientific Nucleus of Social Sciences and Humanities at UFRO. She is the director of ZUR Magazine and of the Cátedra en Narrativas del Yo (Professorship in Narratives of the Self) and directs the project “Interdisciplinary Center for Research and Artistic Creation” (CIICA), along with being main director and representative of UFRO in the Red en Artes y Humanidades (RAH) (Arts and Humanities Network) of the Chilean State University System and director of Conocimientos 2030. She is also an associate researcher at the Latin American Studies Program at the University of British Columbia (UBC), in Vancouver, Canada.

Referencias:

[1] In addition, she directs the Red en Artes y Humanidades (Arts and Humanities Network) and Conocimientos 2030. She is an academic in the Department of Languages, Literature and Communication of the UFRO, is a member of the academic Committee of the Master of Arts of the FECSH-UFRO and is a researcher associated with the Latin American Studies Program at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada.

[2] That which does not appeal to the human or non-human, but to the other.

[3] Concept that appeals to “a multiplicity that involves many heterogeneous genres and establishes unions, relationships between them, across ages, sexes and kingdoms of different natures,” in terms of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari.

[4] The posthuman appeals to a character of overcoming humanism, where the human condition is overcome by a “prolongation of life without deterioration, with greater intellectual capacities,” the ability to self-replicate and mastery of emotions, among other capabilities.

[5] Gabriel Saldías Rossel, academic from the Universidad Católica de Temuco (UCT) and with academic Claire Mercier of the Universidad de Talca. 

[6] Fondecyt Regular No 1241591: “Poéticas elementales: subjetividades posthumanas en la narrativa de autoras contemporáneas ( 2008-2023)”.

[7] Ecofeminism, as a philosophical line, considers the bond between women and the environment or nature, structured in an intersectional manner in relation to the organization of the socio-economic system. 

[8] The academic also recommends other texts on ecofeminism, such as those by Alicia Puleo: Claves ecofeministas para rebeldes que aman a la tierra y a los animales, and the book by Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva, Ecofeminismo: Teoría, crítica y perspectivas.

[9] The social researcher associates the concept with “OOO Object-oriented ontology”.

[10] The interviewee suggests the books of Francesca Ferrando: Posthumanismo filosófico and The art of Being Posthuman: Who are we in the 21St Century?, as well as Posthuman Glossary by Rossi Braidotti & Maria Hlavajova; More Posthuman Glossary by Braidotti, Jones & Klumbyte. From Latin America she recommends La letra salvaje. Ensayos sobre literatura y animalidad by Julieta Yelin, and  Modos posthumanos de la subjetividad y del ser con otros by Gabriela Balcarce.

[11] The hydrofeminisms proposed by Astrida Neimanis in Postman Feminist Phenomenology and Posthuman Phenomenologies for Planetary Bodies of Water. Feminist Companion to the Posthumanities. She also highlights the studies of Claire Mercier on hydrofeminisms in recent Latin American dystopias. 

[12] Sangre coagulada from the book Las voladoras.

[13] The researcher adds Marcela Trujillo, also known as Maliki in Diario oscuro.

[14] The academic adds that, “we know the novel has long occupied a predominant place, with the idea of the total or totalizing novel, but it must be noted that today the story also has a relevant place in the literary scene. The same goes for autofiction, cards, referential genres, science fiction, etc., conceived for a long time as minor genres. They are currently taking the lead, highlighting their importance in terms of analysis and readings, as well as in the publishing market.”

[15] The researcher adds that the aim is to highlight the methodologies and lines of research linked to the field of research in the arts and artistic creation from transversal axes such as gender, collaboration (local, national and international), interculturality and inter, multi and transdisciplinary. 

Violeta Bustos Vaccia

Interviewed by Violeta Bustos Vaccia, Head of Communication at Fundación Mar Adentro. Journalist, graduate in Data Visualization and Master in American Aesthetics from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. Researcher and teacher in the field of digital communication and content creator.