• O OLHAR SURREALISTA DE JOYCE MANSOUR
Durante as primeiras décadas de eclosão do
Surrealismo, no centro radiante que era Paris, as mulheres foram idealizadas de
todas as formas possíveis, porém jamais foram vistas ou aceitas como artistas. Sequer
participaram das reuniões e enquetes – a eloquente enquete sobre sexualidade comete
o ato inadmissível de não incluir a opinião de nenhuma mulher. Em geral quando se
fala de Joyce Mansour (Egito, 1928-1986), ela é mencionada como uma exceção. Embora
admirasse o Surrealismo à distância, em seu Egito natal, somente em 1953 a poeta
se muda para Paris, e seu primeiro encontro com Breton, com quem já se correspondia,
data de três anos depois, quando o Surrealismo começa a enfrentar desgastes e necessita
beber novos horizontes que o revitalizem.
A poesia de Joyce, que enfatizava a violência
sofrida pela mulher, suas imagens dilacerantes, o ímpeto revolucionário da linguagem,
causou um impacto eficaz e decisivo à sua recepção no movimento. Sua natureza sempre
independente a leva, ao passo de poucos anos, a compreender que a escritura automática
trazia em si como elemento essencial o impulso vital de implodir eventuais travas
da criação. Sua poética passou então a lidar mais intensamente com outras técnicas
surrealistas, de um modo bastante peculiar, como o recurso onírico, presente em
muitos cenários e personagens de sua prosa, de seus densos relatos que se mantinham
direcionados a tratar da violência contra a mulher, assim como o humor negro, que
põe em cheque as instituições e dá à sua obra uma alta expressividade que a situa
como uma das mais importantes poetas de seu tempo.
Ao conversar com Leila Ferraz, a surrealista
brasileira que foi uma das organizadoras da Exposição Internacional do Surrealismo,
realizada em São Paulo, em 1967, ela recordou uma passagem de sua residência em
Paris: Conheci a belíssima e enigmática Joyce,
com seu charuto perfumava a todos nós. Inebriante e misteriosa. Elegantíssima e
rica. Encantava-me a cor de sua pele, voz rouca e cabelos negros com franja curta
e exalando óleos orientais. Boca pintada, ela soltava baforadas de fumaça lentamente
– e espalhava seus pensamentos como quem revela enigmas. Ah! JOYCE MANSOUR. Também
morava no 16º Arrondissement, entre Trocadero e Bois de Boulogne. Vestia-se de marrom
e negro. Às vezes trajava um chapéu. Uma pausa e então seguia: Falta-me falar de seu sorriso de mulher feita
e fière. Seus longos silêncios, olhos
semicerrados. Surgia e desaparecia sem alardes. Era casada com alguém de rara importância.
E todos se calavam para escutar sua voz de profundeza oriental declamar seus poemas
ou acolher suas opiniões sages. Ela era
da época de Breton e assim como ele erguia a cabeça com austeridade de quem sabe
Poeta e prosadora, a sua obra completa foi
publicada em 1991: Prose et poésie, œuvre complète, (Actes Sud, Paris). Na poesia cabe o destaque de livros como Cris
(1953), Rapaces (1960), Les Damnations (1967), Pandemonium
(1976) e Flammes immobiles (1985). De igual modo que na prosa é imperativo
citar Les Gisants satisfaits (1958) e Ça (1970), assim como a peça
de teatro Le Bleu des fonds (1968). Impossível não reconhecer em Joyce Mansour
uma das vozes poéticas de maior relevância no século XX.
Para acompanhá-la na presente
edição, convidamos o artista plástico John Welson (País de Gales, 1953). Pintor
e poeta, Welson possui uma expressão singular no ambiente surrealista mais recente
europeu. A seu respeito, comentou John Richardson:
Firstly, it is for me impossible to begin
to make sense of John’s worldview, his weltanschauung (amongst other languages he
is fluent in German, you know!) without taking full account of his Welsh, Radnorshire
or, better still, Celtic, roots. You cannot
be brought up in the Radnorshire hills of Wales as John was, and not see – and here
I mean really see – the figures from the Arthurian myths and legends and hear the
echoes through the ages and mists of druidic bards… (see John’s good friend Patrick Lepetit’s ‘The
Esoteric Secrets of Surrealism’ for more on Surrealism’s Celtic connection). But
before moving on we also need to acknowledge the organic nature of his work, surely
influenced by his life working and walking in the hills of his beloved Radnorshire.
No mesmo depoimento que meu deu, em dezembro
de 2017, o musicólogo Richardson refere a intensidade de diálogo da obra de Welson
com Benjamin Péret, que vai além do terreno da simples influência. Reuni-los agora
– Joyce Mansour e John Weilson – possui um caráter revelador da excelência e da
diversidade do Surrealismo. Meus agradecimentos especiais à poeta Anna
Apolinário, pela sugestão da edição e pela ajuda na formatação de alguns
CLAUDIO WILLER | A lírica
selvagem de Joyce Mansour
JEANNE BACHARACH | Joyce Mansour, contre les cadres
JEANNE BACHARACH | Celui qui voit éclaire: du Bleu des
Fonds de Joyce Mansour, aux Émergences-Résurgences d’Henri Michaux
| The voice in the bottle: the love poetry of Joyce Mansour and Robert Desnos
MAITE NOENO CARBALLO
| Joyce Mansour y Gisèle Prassinos – estética de lo feo en el surrealismo
Mª TERESA NOENO
CARABALLO | Joyce Mansour, la
| André Breton et le groupe à la veille de la rencontre avec Joyce Mansour
| Le corps traumatisé: un pont entre Joyce Mansour et Henri Michaux
SHANNA COMPTON | How strange familiar things can be: celebrating Joyce Mansour
| Excessive bodies, shifting subjects and voice in the poetry of Joyce Mansour
EDIÇÃO COMEMORATIVA | CENTENÁRIO
DO SURREALISMO 1919-2019
Artista convidada: John Welson
(País de Gales, 1953)
Agulha Revista de Cultura
Número 133 | Maio de 2019
logo & design | FLORIANO MARTINS
revisão de textos & difusão | FLORIANO
MARTINS | MÁRCIO SIMÕES
In Surrealism and Women, published in
1991, three of the collected essas centred on the work of Joyce Mansour, producing
one of the first focused studies of the writer’s work in English. These essays situate
Mansour under the rubric of surrealism, and indeed, from the publication of Screams
in 1953, Mansour was very much a part of the surrealist group. Beyond this overarching
categorization, however, it can prove rather difficult to situate or theorize Mansour’s
work. Some have explored her prose using feminist scholarship. Judith Preckshot,
for example, discusses Mansour’s narrative works through Hélène Cixous’ texts on
women, writing and subjectivity, and Maryann De Julio obliquely evokes Julia Kristeva’s
‘speaking subject’when discussing Mansour in her opening essay included in Surrealism
and Women. Mansour’s poetry, however, does not lend itself as
easily to this sort of deconstruction. As a number of scholars (Ades, Cottenet-Hage
and Preckshot) have pointed out, her poetry is more problematic to read through
a notion of feminine subjectivity that is more obviously relevant to analysis of
the women visual artists within surrealism. Part of the reason for this may be that
Mansour “chose actively to side with the Surrealists, rather than simply passively
accept Surrealism as a convenient platform” (Ades). Another reason might be Mansour’s
ambivalent attitude to “postwar French feminism”, in particular to the views espoused
by Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex, published in 1949. As Beauvoir’s
text forms one of the bases for the inception of post-structuralist feminist writings,
Mansour’s work may well have not comfortably fitted into the postmodern discursive
Yet this ambivalence towards the feminine subject,
and towards theslippery issue of subjectivity, becomes a common device used by Mansour,
particularly in her poetry, to resist developing a ‘voice’ that espouses a single,
consistent identity. All three of the contributions to Surrealism and Women
focus on this practice as a way of exploring the theme of shifting identity
in Mansour’s work and the way in which this is deployed through the ambiguous use
of pronouns and swift shifts in viewpoint. However, while the voice in Mansour’s
work remains deliberately elusive, the evocation of an explicitly visceral, erotic
language that directly portrays the powerful physical and emotional complexities
of sexual desire and love is evident in her work until her relatively early death
essay I reframe this focus on the conundrum of viewpoint in Mansour’s poetry, suggesting
that it is her very insistence on ‘deconstructing’ and fragmenting the body that
creates a disembodied voice, one that layers disparate images together so
compactly and lists parts of the body and bodily functions in such a repetitive
mantra that they no longer imply a consistente whole, imaginative or otherwise.
The body parts dissolve into bodily fluids, reducing them to an existence which
underlines their reliance on words. The constant naming of the parts does not give
them more substance, as it did for Adam when he named all the beasts in God’s new
creation in the opening chapters of Genesis. Rather, Mansour’s repetitive naming
of body parts denies the possibility of a neat, corporeal whole and allows them
only a symbolic existence anchored through the all-encompassing voice.In this way
the speaking voice within the poems is pervasive and ethereal. Mansour’s poetic
voice is sufficiently ‘disembodied’ to permit simultaneous but subordinate viewpoints
all existing at various times within the texts. Female/male, child/parent, human/animal,
creator/destroyer, intimate and universal are all multiple identities that coexist
within a polyphonous, heteroglossic text (Bakhtin 82). I suggest that through this
voice Mansour is able to invoke her connection with the mythology and poetic traditions
of Egypt, conjuring a strong sense of the magic and mysticism of the pre Judeo-Christian
era in Africa and the ancient Near East. I further develop a notion of Mansour’s Egyptian speaking subject by revisiting
Katharine Conley’s skilful analysis of Mansour’s poem “Pandemonium” in which she
reads the poet’s evocation of Africa/Egypt through an analogy with the ‘open body’
of the Bahktinian ‘carnivalesque.’ I wish to extend this reading to suggest that
Bahktin’s notion of the ‘grotesque’ may be better suited to explain how Mansour’s
poetic voice articulates a transformative process that subverts all expectations
through its reliance on base materialism.
aim here is to encourage renewed interest in Mansour’s poetry, which has received
less scholarly attention than her prose Works or plays, first by exploring Mansour’s
connection to Egypt and then by touching on the shifting viewpoints in her poetry
and on the recurring motifs of death and the ‘grotesque body’. By far the majority
of Mansour’s work has been published only in French; however, throughout this short
essay I have consciously chosen to use English translations in the hope that they
might gain a wider audience. Unless otherwise indicated, all passages are quoted
from Serge Gavronsky’s edited collection Essential Poems and Writings, published
in English in 2008, or from his translated version of Cris - Screams, published
in 1995. I am grateful to have been afforded access to Katharine Conley’s translation
of “Pandemonium,” published for the first time in this issue of Dada/Surrealism.
Who the Devil is Joyce Mansour?
In the opening lines to her essay entitled
“Identity Crises: Joyce Mansour’s Narratives”, Judith Preckshot asks, “Who the devil
is Joyce Mansour?”, a question that resonates all the more as there is so little
knowledge of her life in French or English. The same facts are summarily reproduced
across the literature: Mansour was born Joyce Patricia Adès in 1928 in England,
the daughter of Egyptian Jewish parents one of whom (although it is nuclear which
one) was the child of a textile and clothing manufacturer in Manchester.She was
raised in Cairo and married at nineteen, although her husband died soon after and
she went on to marry Samir Mansour. Once in Paris, she soon became close to the
surrealists, in particular Breton, who acclaimed her first publication Screams
in 1953. The Mansours often hosted evenings for the surrealists, including the
infamous 1959 event, Execution du testament duMarquis de Sade. Deliberately
fashioning her hair and jewellery after the styles of ancient Egypt, “Mansour was
the embodiment of the surrealist female ideal in that she was both beautiful and
exotic” (Conley, Automatic Woman). Breton was particularly taken with her,
not only because her writing was so clearly extraordinary in its frank and subversive
sexuality, but also because she may well have symbolised the personification of
the “victorious Orient” he had called upon years before, to “do with me as you please
[…] lovely bird of prey and of innocence, I implore you from the depths of the kingdom
of shadows! Inspire me!” (Antle). Less hyperbolically, his views on the subversive
potential of the ‘Orient’, specifically Egypt, as the source of a “new myth” capable
of “liquidating” the dominance of Western rationalism, became part of his wider
political agenda (Antle).
late French scholar and friend of Mansour, Serge Gavronsky, furnishes a few more
rather startling facts in his introduction to the Essential Poems and Writings
of Joyce Mansour. First, he indicates that Mansour was brought up as a strict
Sephardic Jew who maintained adherence to her faith until the death of her first
husband. From an early age she was taught to read the sacred texts in Hebrew and
tutored in the wider mysticism of the Kabbala and the mythologies of the ancient
Near East. In 1949, she married Samir Mansour and a year before Screams was
published Mansour had her first son Philippe, to be followed by her second son Cyrille
in 1955. I have not managed to find any further mention of Mansour’s children. Gavronsky
also mentions that her mother died when she was 15. In an interview with the photographer
Marion Kalter in 1977, Mansour reveals a young adulthood overshadowed by grief:
“I was a sportive girl in the sun until my mother died…then I got married. My husband died also.At that point I
became conscious of all this and started to see things. One sees that everything
is not rosy. I wrote to get it all out.”
then, is perhaps a means to gain some control over a life in which Mansour seems
to be powerless – certainly against death. A Picture emerges of Mansour as multicultural
and polylingual, as orphan, wife, widow, mother and artistic creator. We might think
that Mansour inhabits multiple, concurrent and shifting identities. One of these,
the influence of Mansour’s Egyptian ethnicity, may be a valuable way of understanding
how multiple viewpoints might co-exist within the parameters of a single poem. In
the three sections below I will look at some of the possible approaches to the issue
of Joyce Mansour’s poetical relationship to the transformative potential in the
imagery of Egypt.
In Cairo, Mansour was actively involved with
Georges Henein (1914-1973) and the surrealist group he founded in the 1930s. Mansour
contributed to his review Art et liberté that was published until Heinein’s
return to Paris in 1947, and she has been included in collected volumes with other
poets involved with the group. Henein admired Mansour’s poetry, commenting in particular
on her use of black humor and the way in which she Drew on surrealist accents to
evoke “the rigorous cruelty of childhood” (Antle). Primarily, he saw her as an Egyptian
poet. Gavronsky, too, acknowledges but does not detail a strong “Egyptian subtext.”
In her article “Joyce Mansour and Egyptian Mythology” (also in Surrealism and
Women), Maryann De Julio convincingly demonstrates the way in which Mansour
“draws heavily on the Egyptian cult of the dead to explore and express an inner
psychic reality”. In fact Mansour invokes both Eros and Thanatos to describe a psychic,
emotional and physical experience that is simultaneously creative and destructive.
start of her paper De Julio points out that Mansour evokes the Egyptian deity Hathor
in her common representation as a cow on the very first page of Screams:
The nail planted in my celestial
The horns that grow behind
My bleeding wounds that never
My blood that becomes water
that dissolves that embalms
My children that I strangle
while granting their wishes
All this made me your Lord
and your God. (De
poem’s allusions to the blood and body of Christ and to the ancient Egyptian spiritual
practice of embalming may be seen as an implied referenceto an all-encompassing
and never-ending spiritual life. In turn these are folded into the notion of a female
deity that can as easily destroy as create, a deity both benevolent and malignant
and all-powerful. De Julio explains that Hathor is often evoked by Mansour recalling
her as both fertility goddess as well as destructive Eye. In this case the Eye of
Hathor and the I of the poem are
conflated into a single force that both redeems
and destroys and is both male and female. Ades has commented on the maleness and
femaleness of the ‘I’ in Mansour’s poetry. As anthropologist Jonathan Marshall argues,
“the Egyptian pantheon is different from all others in that ambiguity is embraced
and the threat of disruption is accepted.” De Julio, too comments how “bisexuality
was common in the creation myths” of Egypt. Before the advent of a sky god Rê, more
akin to Judeo-Christian monotheism, it was the female god Hathor, or commonly conflated
with her, Nut, who ruled the sky. She was often depicted as holding the earth in
a protective embrace. She was also the personification of the destroyer. Perhaps
the most interesting part of this myth is that at the end of the day, Nut would
swallow the sun and after it had worked its way through her body she would give
birth to it again in the morning. This is a creation myth in which the feminine
swallows the masculine (sun) and which celebrates both the creative and procreative
process. An implicit understanding of a feminine which destroys and creates forms
part of Mansour’s distinctive understanding of female subjectivity.
Mansour slips between pronouns. Her “I” often implies that the speaker is using
a male persona or subtly changes viewpoint during the telling:
Loves it when I drink her
Loves it when I slip my salted
Along her obscene legs across
her fallen breasts.
Loves it when I mourn my
While she tires my muscles
Against her abusive will.
speaker here could be male or female. The voice is aggressive, even loathing, yet
submissive at the same time. More often, Mansour uses the second person and calls
upon, brings into being, another who may be na eroticised Oth er through which the
poet can focus purely on the rawness of sexual desire:
more frequently, the Other is either dead or dying and Mansour establishes a scenario
where the speaker summons a ‘second person’ who is resolutely physical but absent
while providing a dialogue through which the poet can explore her own psycho-emotional
state with an imagined, immort al Other:
I lower you quickly into
your cheap coffin.
Four men carry it aloft after
nailing it shut
Over your broken face over
your anguished limbs.
They carry it down cursing
the narrow stairs
And you move in your tight
Your head severed from your
This is the beginning of
the relationship between the ‘I’ and the ‘you’ is ambiguous. Whom do we lift up
in our arms? A child, a fragile infirm parent, a murdered lover? The ‘I’ seems abstracted,
split, yet at the same time is ultimately, throughthe poet writing the words, one
and the same. Interestingly, in his essay on classical (pre-Islamic) Arabic poetry,
Geert Jan van Gelder points out that there is a strong tradition in early Arabic
verse of using the first and second person to refer to the self in sudden unannounced
shifts sometimes over the space of a couple of lines. He argues that this shifting
is most prevalente when “passions and emotions are recalled or when disillusions
are implied (separation, breach of promise […])” almost as if the very borders of
the self were threatening to fall away or as if the only way to exact distance from
the strength of sentiment were to view the self from the outside. Fluent in Arabic,
a voracious reader and a part of Henein’s group that promoted the traditions of
the Arabic language, Mansour was presumably well aware of the large body of poetry
to which Gelder is referring.
use of the second person as a device for creating a dialogue which is ultimately
from a single voice is common throughout Screams and throughout her work
Last night I saw your corpse.
You were damp and naked in
I saw your bones kicked up
by the morning sea.
On the white sand under a
Crabs fought over your flesh.
Nothing remained of your
And yet that’s the way I
in a dreamscape, the speaker manages to contain and control death through the imaginative
function of memory. The decay of the body becomes part of the natural process of
renewal. By evoking the inevitability of death of the Other, Mansour ensures the
victory of single ‘I’. She explains it bestherself in a line from one of her own
poems: “I am myself, I am the enemy. Alone” (Essential Poems and Writings 109).
This sentiment is reminiscent of theway in which Mansour describes her isolation
in the interview with Marion Kalter (quoted
above), yet it also encapsulates the distillation of a single voice that speaks
for both self and Other – another that is both multicultural and inherently part
of the self.
Death and decay loom large as recurring motifs
in Mansour’s poetry and prose. De Julio points to the influence of the Egyptian
cult of Eros andThanatos in her poetry, and certainly she mounts a convincing argument.
At times the poet manages to collapse desire and the attraction to death seamlessly:
I hardly feel time fleeing
From my room where my tears
sleep in my bed
That never stops dancing
to the sound of my laughter.
That cares only for the warmth
of the dying
In his arms on his mouth
between his hairy legs
Wait for my pleasure to prepare
Wait for my body to grow
cold to grow stiff
Before taking your own pleasure. (Screams)
death is momentary orgasm; it is the natural end of us all and, yet it is usurped
by desire. However, in Screams, it is Mansour’s personal experience that
drives her to seek imagery commensurate with destruction, decay and violence. To
return to Mansour ’s interview with Kalter in 1977:
…I wrote to get it all out. Everything became
disgusting for me. I spoke in English but wasn’t very cultivated. I was strong in
sports, which made me be with men all the time. Everything came out like a scream.
That became the name of my first book. I didn’t take myself very seriously. For
me it was a way of getting it all out because of rage and vengeance. To get the
bad blood out. It became the transformation of a problem. Then I met Sam and we
came to Paris. It was with my meeting the surrealists, André Breton among them,
that everything really started.
Breton loomed large in Mansour’s life, her work has a much greater affinity, at
least on the surface, with the approaches of Bataille. To the best of my knowledge
this connection has not been fully explored, but even a cursory comparison between
the types of imagery favoured in Documents and the texts written by Bataille
for publication in the jornal reveal a certain similarity: the emphasis on waste,
meat, carcasses, decay, female body parts, anthropological and ritualistic artifacts,
juxtaposed with texts on philosophy, tracts on poetry and the Bataille’s own critical
dictionary is as disorientating and subversive as Mansour’s carefully compiled layers
of imagery and linguistic ambiguity. For Bataille as for Mansour, these elements
have a transformative potential. In Death and Sensuality: A Study of Eroticism
and Taboo he claims that the final aim of eroticism is fusion, the removal
of all barriers. He continually points out that this fusion is the unavoidable cycle
which links Eros and Thanatos. In Screams Mansour repeats the words decay,
blood, flesh, rotting, death, filth, dying and disgust over and over again like
a hellish mantra. They appear on every page, in nearly every poem. As other scholars
have pointed out, she also lists body parts, hair, breasts, legs, bellies, ears,
anuses, penises, hands, eyes and mouths. As in Bataille, these last two feature
Sitting on her bed with her legs apart.
Looking for something to eat but seeing nothing
The woman whose eyelids were eaten by flies
Flies came in through the windows
Who couldn’t see a thing.
become eyes. Mansour hints at the association with mouths and eyes and vaginas;
at rotting and starvation and sex and poverty. Indeed, Screams focuses on
all aspects of the mouth: the sounds, fluids, emotions and words that issue from
it and the act of devouring. Bataille, too, refers to the mouth and its capacity
to render a human more like an animal, spurting explosive impulses issued as screams
(Visions of Excess). This excess of rage and disgust that leaves the body
through the contortions of the mouth is precisely what Mansour was referring to
in her conversation with Kalter. It is an experience sufficiently cathartic to be
transcendent: the birth of a new life and a speaking subject.
The ‘Open Body’ and the Dominant Voice
To continue my exploration of Mansour’s Egyptian
speaking subject, in this final section I look at Mansour’s long poem “Pandemonium”
(1976) which is in one sense an evocation of Africa as the embodiment of transformative
potential imagined by Breton. It is reminiscent of the marvellous itself, the point
at which anything is possible. In this case,Mansour also evokes the Egypt of her
imagination, “Poised between two doors”, the Oriental and Occidental. In another
sense, her imagery positions the desert as a site of real and violent ‘magical’
transformation, of primordeal, black magic. The poem opens with the familiar references
to the throat and mouth and the use of the second person, but by the end of the
first stanza we are aware that the tone of this speaker is quite different from
the bile-spitting ‘I’ of Screams. This voice is calling to a vast, chaotic
and wondrous place, dazzling in its color, potency and scale:
Offer your throat to the
Spit your teeth your waste
From the burning coals pulls
out a stone
Black vermillion like the
Laugh nomads, old age is
the outset, the reader is confronted with layers of allusion - Christian, bodily,
classical, reproductive, ritualistic, pantheistic, sacrificial (“Offer your throat”)
and distinctly Egyptian. The rhythm of the language is perfectly metered to slow
down to the last two words. Not only does Mansour evoque the very heart of Milton’s
chaotic but charismatic Hell; she creates the body of an Africa with few constraints,
an Africa that defies rational order. It is a space in which the “Evening Star”
co-exists with the “sad stink of urine.” Over the eight stanzas Mansour amasses
the stark language of bodily function set against allusion to Edenic Paradise and
sacred African ritual. “Spit”, “waste”, “sperm”, “urine”, “vomit”, “blood”, “bleeding”,
“rump”, “anus”, “penis”, “mouth”, “flesh”, “ears”, “foreskin”, “lips”, “teeth” and
“throat” are all repeated over and over like a rosary of base physicality which
stands in opposition to repetitions of “paradise”, “stars”, “sky”, “night” which
thread celestial allusions throughout the poem. In this vacillation between Earth
and sky, low and high, lurk references to ancient rituals of transformation, “tattoos
on the skin” and a call to “offer the foreskin to the knife” that imply an older,
more visceral and transgressive unification of body and spirit than the later Christian
notion of transubstantiation.
essay on “Pandemonium” Conley argues that Mansour depicts the ‘body’ of Africa and
the many characters within ‘her’ as being in a state of transition or flux. She
draws an analogy with Bakhtin’s notion of the ‘carnivalesque’, a space or moment
in which the boundaries between high and low culture are blurred, allowing for the
parody and subversion of high culture, accepted norms and established institutions
by the ‘lower’, less cultivated orders. Carnival thus symbolises a world turned
upside down in which the social hierarchies are freed from their normal social constraints
(Bakhtin, Rabelais). For Bakhtin, this temporary inversion represents a transitional
state which Conley refers to as an “open body” (‘Joyce Mansour’s). However, what
drew me to the relationship between “Pandemonium” and Bahktin was not the openness
of the ‘carnivalesque’ but Mansour’s mention of Gargantua in the fifth stanza:
Wake up the trade winds from
Oriental shores are forever dappled
The somber spectacle of brains
draining from nostrils
Would make Gargantua laugh
to Bakhtin, Rabelais’ tale of Gargantua and Pantagruel critiques social and political
life in the Renaissance through the grotesque giants’ frank exchange of the everyday
language of bodily function and sexual innuendo and ribald humour. Through an analysis
of Rabelais’ work, Bakhtin develops his notions
of the ‘carnivalesque’ as a social order and the ‘grotesque’ as a literary
trope. The latter, focused on the realism of the grotesque body, is a way of
lowering, parodying or subverting the values entrenched in the overly-mannered,
petty-aristocratic and religious hierarchies of the day. It is the capacity for
the ‘grotesque’, for language, to dissolve the distinctions between all things that
seems to correspond best with Mansour’s intention here, as she imagines the transgressive
laughter of Gargantua. Indeed, the very nature of language as a creative yet mystical
force, capable of absorbing and describing both the base and the lofty, is captured
in stanza four, “One thousand impenetrable words alight and sparkle.”
these layers of reference in “Pandemonium” combine, Conley suggests, to create a
“textual body which is not singular in any sense and which, furthermore, is the
very opposite of the Occidental sublimated body because it refers constantly to
its own materiality” (“Joyce Mansour’s”). I agree that Mansour’s Africa is clearly
a textual body that refers to its material nature if only to list over and again
its many and various parts. Yet the constant repetitions are almost hypnotic and
seem to be more akin to the subversive
and transformative power of words. The very
uttering of the words blood, mouth, teeth, flesh, spit, vomit and cry constantly
creates a song of excess which denies corporeality and exults imagination. Rather
than presenting a polyphony of different viewpoints and speaking voices as in the
earlier poetry in Screams, Mansour distils a speaking voice that is both
self and many others but is arguably still “Alone.” Bakhtin refers to this process
of distillation as ‘heteroglossia’, many languages speaking as one, part of his
concept of the dialogic imagination in which all language (and therefore ideas)
is dynamic and relational, constantly extending and informing itself. For Mansour,
the mouth is a recurring motif, one that has the power to create the words that
issue from it. The full mouth, on the other hand, appears to represent the Other.
In “Pandemonium,” Mansour states categorically that the full mouth, the swallowing
mouth, “is death, after all.” I am reminded of the deity Nut who, every evening,
swallows the sun, affecting ‘his’ demise for that day. Death is equal to a subject
not free, even momentarily, to speak.
In this essay I have suggested that an examination
of Mansour’s poetry through the lens of her relationship to Egypt is a fruitful
way of better understanding some of the constant recurring motifs and imagery throughout
her poems: the often ambiguous relationship between the ‘I’ and the ‘you’ in her
works, the insistence on the primacy of death and decay, and the emergence of an
omnipotent speaking voice that acts as a disembodied conduit for a range of other
speaking identities within a single poem. Indeed, the peculiarities of subjectivity
that Mansour explores produce some of the boldest and most stunning of surrealist
poetry. The voice that emerges from these complex articulations of cultural identity
indicates that the poet’s Egyptian background and personal identification with Africa
are of paramount importance.
of concluding, I would like to look briefly at one of Mansour’s final poems:
To the one who doesn’t love you
The hostile ear is dried up
Hatred vomits the sand in the hourglass
The betrayed night aborts
A passion in the present already passed
Bury your dreams in the bags under your eyes
They will be safe from envy
They will be safe from the adage
And the old are wise. (“Four Poems”)
in the last years of her illness when death is drawing near Mansour still relies
on the language of excess to convey her outrage at the thought of not being able
to create through words: of being thought of as a babbler. I would suggest that
the ‘you’ in this poem is a caution to the reader but alsoan address to self, or
even multiple selves as she appears to be
talking to her own reflection (looking at the “bags under your eyes”). In response
to the difference between the male gaze and the way in which a woman might see herself,
Mansour once wrote “I think woman should hide herself in the imaginary, indecisive
folds of her own reflection.” (Ades). There are two people in this poem, the self
and the Other-self. Both are real and both are imagined; however, it is the imagined
self, buried under the surface who remains an ‘African’ and a singular speaking
subject. I recall again Mansour’s words that perfectly capture the way in which
multiple selves/voices are synthesised into the arrangement of an imagined whole:
“I am myself, I am the enemy. Alone.”
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EDIÇÃO COMEMORATIVA | CENTENÁRIO DO SURREALISMO
Artista convidada: John Welson (País de Gales,
Revista de Cultura
133 | Maio de 2019
& design | FLORIANO MARTINS
de textos & difusão | FLORIANO MARTINS | MÁRCIO SIMÕES