Rosario Castellanos was 23 years old when she began working on her thesis.
She aspired to apply for the degree of Master of Philosophy and to achieve this she had prepared a text entitled
On feminine culture
In it, the writer delved into the contribution of women to the cultural field, but she also criticized the "chorus of sane men who sentence the absolute impossibility of educated or creative women being something more than a hallucination, a mirage, a morbid nightmare".
Words that are reminiscent of Sor Juana Inés and her claim to men and that at the time of her demonstrated the young Castellanos' commitment to women's rights.
Although she later denied her thesis, in the text she made it clear that “the world that is closed to me has a name: it is called culture.
Its inhabitants are all male.
It is the voice of a woman who claims a space for herself and her peers and which continues to resonate strongly in a world where there are still strong inequalities between creators of both sexes.
It is, however,
Matter that burns
(Lumen), by the writer Sara Uribe with illustrations by Verónica Gerber.
"More than ahead of her time, Rosario Castellanos is a precursor of feminist thought, of women's rights and the rights of indigenous people," says Uribe in an interview by video call.
Although Uribe acknowledges that the situation of women has changed when compared to Rosario Castellanos' youth, he admits that the feminist issues that the author deals with in her work, correspondence, and essays are also still valid, because she developed a thought around of the problems women faced with the patriarchy.
“One feels that she is talking about the present, about situations that are happening right now.
It seems that Rosario tells us about problems that women still struggle with.
And that is the work that I think needs to be more widely read and disseminated”, explains Uribe.
This writer originally from Querétaro began her literary relationship with Castellanos when she was 13 years old.
She loved going to the library in her town to read and it was there that she came across an anthology by Castellanos published by the Fondo de Cultura Económica.
It was a collection of poems that deeply affected her "because of their colloquial language, the treatment of issues that had to do with women's lives, and at that moment I felt that intense connection with Rosario, because she spoke of everyday problems," says Uribe.
Thus began an intimate dialogue between the two writers, which has continued with the publication of
Materia que arde
It is a precious book that brings together the thoughts of Castellanos, the ghosts that tormented her, her ideas about poetry and narrative, her love affairs, the role of women, the suffering of the indigenous people of Chiapas, her home state, and his literary passions.
“I would like to have a coffee with you in the Mascarones cafeteria.
Chat about the subjects you are studying, about the books you are reading, criticize the teachers a bit and blow us up from one class to another to continue with the gossip," Uribe writes in one of the chapters of the book, in which he tells about Castellanos' admission to the university.
It is a longing that moves the reader, who as he progresses with the reading would also like to be in front of Castellanos, perhaps with a glass of wine in between,
Or comfort the Castellanos girl, who from a very young age had to face loneliness.
Born into a wealthy family of landowners, Rosario Castellanos lived her early childhood with the luxuries and privileges of her class.
She was cared for by her nanny Rufina, “una tojolabal”, who was in charge of braiding her hair, reading her stories and telling her legends from Chiapas.
"Many years later, the writer turned those stories into literature," explains Uribe.
Along with Rufina, Rosario Castellanos grew up with a “cargadora”, that is, indigenous girls who for the daughters of the landowners were a kind of toys, beings placed for their entertainment, “a mere object in which the other unloaded their moods: the inexhaustible energy of childhood, boredom, anger, the bitter zeal of possession”, as Castellanos later described it.
The tranquility of her childhood was cut short by the sudden death of her younger brother, Mario Benjamín, a true treasure for Rosario's parents, who began to understand as a child the privileges that those who are born male have.
In fact, the girl knew from an early age that her life was worth less than her brother's.
Uribe takes up an almost magical scene, which occurred during a family breakfast.
"Rosario was eight years old and Benjamin seven when a friend of his mother's burst into the dining room, terrified, like some kind of jellyfish, with white hair, all standing up like that, without combing it, and uttered her prediction: one of Adriana's children Figueroa [his mother] was going to die.
Her mother's response was: but not the boy!
That terrible scene would later become a duel that hit Rosario,
“Those childhood experiences, the death of her brother and later of her parents, that loneliness that she expresses in her letters, left a profound mark on her,” says Uribe.
That is why in Castellanos' literature her ghosts are present, the doubt of her very existence, her fears.
But it also changed her vision of the customs around her to the extent that she grew up alone, that she read, that she questioned.
“There is a playful, playful look, which has to do with the look of childhood that allows her to poeticize her experiences, those narrative sequences where she describes the customs of that time led her to a process of questioning whether those power dynamics that she I observed they were fair”, says Uribe.
That vision of the world of Castellanos is captured in
Materia que arde
not only with the analysis that Sara Uribe makes and that she mixes with the narrations of the writer from Chiapas, but with the illustrations of Verónica Gerber, who more than representing the work of Castellanos has come to objects, symbols always present in his writing.
"I didn't want to literally illustrate her life and we talked about it with Sara and that's where the search for how to make illustrations that weren't literal began, from a couple of everyday objects that appear in her work and the things that marked her, like lamps, keys , the stones, the fabrics of Chiapas”, explains Gerber.
The drawings of lamps are present throughout the book and, of course, if it was one of these objects that marked the end of Castellanos: the writer died in Tel Aviv, where she was ambassador of Mexico, on August 7, 1974 as consequence of an electric shock caused by a lamp, which he turned on when answering a telephone and after leaving a shower.
“Filling the book with lamps connected to various moments in her life, with that phantasmagorical possibility that lamps have.
The most playful thing about her childhood is this clash that I tried to put into the drawings, by substituting pieces of the lamps with embroideries from the women of Chiapas.
There is some childish play with language,” says Gerber.
Both Uribe and Gerber hope that
Materia que arde
will generate more interest in Castellanos' work, mainly his correspondence and essays, which are less well known than his novels, some of which are revered such as
Oficio de tinieblas
Balún Canán .
“She is not the most unknown of writers, but she could be read more.
She also does not have the place that other writers have, although what Rosario wrote in her time speaks to us in a more powerful way, ”says Verónica Gerber.
“Her work of hers provokes a dialogue with her, because her gaze is so vast that it produces a need to interact with Rosario Castellanos.
Her work is current in this century and produces this need to ask her what she would think of movements like MeToo, of the slogans that are shouted in the marches, ”says Uribe.
“What I want to provoke is that the readers are encouraged to ask her about her, to tell her and to talk to her”, he adds.
And she concludes: "There are women whose work is known, but the important thing is to keep that conversation alive."
Although a lamp cut short that possibility in 1974,
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