Novel, Cartea romaneasca, 2012, 208 pages
Copyright: Cartea romaneasca
Translation rights sold to: All rights available
Magda Carneci’s novel FEM is a volume of visionary prose, a non-conformist foray into the physiological, psychical and metaphysical twists and turns of a generic female character, from tender infancy to early adultness. A contemporary Sheherazade recounts to the lover who has abandoned her the strangest and most intimate experiences of her growth into femininity. A mixture of short story, prose poem, Jungian psychoanalysis, and spiritual confession, FEM aims to be an initiatory text, outside current literary genres, a text about what it means for a human being to open herself up to as yet little-explored and unfamiliar levels of sensibility and understanding.
FEM is a manifestation of the female archetype in the first period of life, an archetype that might give access to surprising possibilities of feeling and understanding. Once known and achieved, these possibilities of being might also manifest themselves on other levels and in subsequent periods of life. FEM is the first stage and will be followed by a further two or three volumes that will go deeper and further explore the trails opened up to now.
For quite some time I have been haunted by the image of a huge, an enormous woman. When I am awake, she is visible as a billowy, whitish ghost somewhere behind my eyes, like a vague background for other images from the swarm that continuously flits across my mind’s computer monitor. I catch myself noticing fat burly women in parks, shops, or on the street. I gaze at them with sickly, uninhibited insistence. I don’t know what it is about them that both attracts and irritates me. A literary sketch came into my mind, about a public transport ticket vendor named Mulberry, who starts to put on weight because her husband has left her, who gets fatter and fatter until she is no longer able to squeeze out of the green metal booth from which she dispenses tram and bus tickets.
In fact, things are not going well for me, because things are not going well with you. Detestable, beloved, hated, loathsome, adorable you. You beast in blue jeans and trainers. You godling in a t-shirt and leather jacket, brimming with lust and fury, with pride and impotence. One evening, grieved by this constant battle with somebody who seems to be from a taxonomic kingdom other than mine, on my way home something happened to me, I had a terrible experience:
I was riding in a bus, which was quite empty for that hour of the evening. There were only a few men and two or three women on the brown plastic seats. I was sitting by myself, with an empty seat next to me. The seats were scuffed and scratched and one of them had even split down the middle, revealing the metal structure beneath. I was going to my mother’s, who lives in a housing block in another district. At one stop, a corpulent, or rather obese, woman struggled on board the bus, laden with plastic shopping bags. Her face looked vaguely familiar although it was grossly ordinary and expressionless. All the same, it seemed to me that I had seen here somewhere before. The woman came and sat down next to me. This annoyed me. There were plenty of other empty seats. She could have sat down somewhere else. A sharp surge of irritation suddenly tensed my midriff.
These large, strapping women. These enormous, overbearing women. Not like me. I’m scrawny. My mother, for example, comes to mind: a woman wilful and harsh, a kind of female man, an army commander, with arms as vigorous and brawny as two men’s put together, who tormented me from an early age with her unbending will to turn me into what she wanted me to be, into what she herself had been unable or not brave enough to be. Then there was our maid, Victoritza, another unstoppable force of nature, with her illegitimate child, fathered by who knows whom and raised in an orphanage, with her drunken tearful outbursts of hysteria, with her heavy palms whenever I made some mistake during the daily rituals of washing, eating, studying, and sleeping and Mother wasn’t at home to see her clouting me.
These large, overbearing, dreadful women. Eleonora, for example, my possessive spinster aunt, burly but well-dressed and coiffed, with her overly bleached blonde hair, who insisted on teaching me French and turning me into a “lady”. Mara, my grandmother’s sister, a Catholic nun, who came to live with us when her convent was closed down: as wide as a cupboard and always dressed in her greasy black habit, she used to force me to go to bed in the afternoon and suffocate me with her motherly hugs as she mechanically recited her little prayers. Or the head of my office, that fraying, sour mountain of flesh, with her bombast and bad temper. Anyway, the thought came back to me with a fury there in the bus, next to that woman; a breaker of exasperated, impotent heat crashed over me and I slid sideways into some other place.
It was then that I saw once more the terrible woman who had appeared to me in a dream. A huge, an enormous woman. She was sitting upright in the middle of the world, on a kind of ancient stone stool, and the heavens with their glittering constellations rotated around her. She was naked, she was monstrous, a mound of muscles and wrinkles and folds of fat and flesh, with countless breasts layered like elongated chubby fish scales, like countless bunches of grapes with long, purple nipples, cascading from her broad chest down to her belly. And from beneath that large, rippling belly, from its hidden, shadowy triangle, as if from the majestic portal of a temple, a warm marble portal, there were pouring streams of people, there were entering streams of people, like myriads and myriads of darkly coloured ants. In her lap the woman was holding the world and suckling it from her countless mammary glands, wherefrom flowed streams of milk, but at the same time she almost engulfed and smothered it in her folds of massy fat. She was huge and dark, like a reddish mountain outlined against a purple, distant sky. She was panting and a gurgling sound came from her thick layers of flesh, her folds of fat, and her skin, which was covered with soft colourless down and brown freckles. From time to time she scooped up a handful of people and crammed them into her wide mouth, with its flabby lips, like a blood-red, prone figure of eight. She devoured them insatiably. But down below, countless more people kept emerging from inside her. She was like an infernal meat grinder, like a furnace for melting down rocks and metals, inside which was visible an expanse of blood-red, searing, liquid flesh.
There was something ferocious and unbearable about that image, which fascinated me. Something incomprehensible drew me to that soft, hot body in a dreadful way, that body whose crown seemed to touch the heavens and which filled the world with its sweaty, dark, copious flesh, as the woman sat on her ancient stone stool, her back turned to the glittering constellations traced against the sky around her outline, like a pale aureole. I felt a dreadful attraction. I would have liked to go to her, to press myself against her body. I would have liked to go inside her, to make love with that archaic monster, to die of so much pleasure, like a flea trampled by an elephant, like a mouse flattened by an erupting volcano. And a strong wind ripped me away from the distant place whence I avidly watched the enormous woman, an invincible magnetism thrust me towards her, pressed me against that copious, throbbing flesh and crushed me.
I am back in the bus. Disgust and fear engendered by the vision of the huge woman linger in my body. I am sweating. My dress is glued to my skin. I cast a sidelong glance at the woman on the seat next to me. A monster, I say to myself yet again, so obese, with her sagging folds of fat, her broad, jowly face, which reminds me of somebody. But who? The woman next to me starts pressing up against me. As if she wanted to get closer, so as not to fall off the seat or to feel protected by me. Or as if she were snuggling up to me or making advances, like a man, vulgar and very definite advances. She presses up against me. She winks at me and her hideous face smiles winsomely, it laughs softly, gurglingly. I huddle up against the wall of the bus until I can withdraw no farther. I feel crushed. I feel revolted, repulsed. An atrocious fear gnaws the lining of my stomach. I want to say something, to shout out, to rebel. I want to attract the attention of the other people in the bus, but a sudden fear and the embarrassment of making a fool of myself obstruct me, strike me dumb. Then I want to stand up, to change seats, to flee. Maybe even to jump from the moving bus, which seems to be going faster and faster and is no longer making the stops. But the fat woman holds me prisoner with her copious body glued dreadfully to mine. Then, with a horrified start, I sense she is sitting on top of me. Like a large, heavy eiderdown. Like an avalanche of dense and strangely hot snow. A black wave washes over me; a stifling warmth descends on me. I sense I am dying and profound terror overwhelms me, strangely mixed with intense pleasure. An enormous, dissolving pleasure.
But in the very instant when I think I am dying, I suddenly realise that the huge woman resembles an enormous Buddha, seated in the lotus position. She is a female Buddha, a huge, pyramidal, golden statue. The head has long woman’s hair. The body consists of multiple superposed women, like a tower block with multiple storeys, and these storeys, these levels, each undulate their heads, breasts, bellies. And each head has the same face, repeatedly identically over and over again. And the face, the face is my own face! The idol/monster/goddess, the monstrous Buddha, is I!
And then I rebel, I want to shout, to scream, but all of a sudden I wake up. I am bathed in reeking sweat, a sweat that is simultaneously salty, bitter, sour, and sweet. This smell reminds me of Mother.
Translated by Alistair Ian Blyth
“Hard to sum up in just a few words, FEM is a psychedelic novel about the essences of femininity. A poetic prose that left me with the impression that it would fit wonderfully into a new wave of aesthetic oneiricism. A novel for the cognoscenti, FEM is scandalous and provocative in equal measure.”
“An initiatory text, a text of depths rather than postmodern surfaces, a total rather than fragmentary text, FEM puts forward a metaphysic of the senses, an intense concrete and sensorial experience, like a springboard to revelation, transforming biological conditioning, intuition and so-called female sensuality on the road to knowledge, to a ‘different logic’, an ‘integral logic’.”
“What Magda Carneci undertakes in FEM is not only profound, but also honest: an honesty that is sometimes cruel and bewildering, sometimes constructive and generative, an honesty that only great writers are capable of.”
“FEM: a remarkable novel, a read not to be missed.”