With her 2016 novella Aries Point, Nancy Bird has undoubtedly attained a place among the major Caribbean writers. Nonetheless, such an assertion immediately raises some questions: Is Nancy Bird’s writing truly Caribbean? Can we place her work within those limits, restrictions, and borders? The answer is suggested by the writer’s own words:
Así, en mi aldea, cualquier institución que prentenda regir el ser y el sentir de los hombres y de las mujeres y de las variadas expresiones de sus identidades, no va a encontrar de dónde agarrarse. Cuando los seres son libres, entendiendo el límite entre la libertad propia y la ajena, no hay quien los embauque. (44)
Bird most certainly would oppose any type of label, border, and restriction to the human mind and body, but if one wants to dwell on these literary critical exercises of “branding each writer with a specific badge,” I rather designate this writer’s works as belonging to “world literature.” For example, in their collaborative work, which recently appeared under the title Combined and Uneven Development: Towards a New Theory of World-Literature, the Warwick Research Collective (WReC) proposes a new way to redefine or to reinvent the field of literary studies such that it can emerge out of its current crisis. WReC defines “world literature” as “the literature of the world-system—of the modern capitalist world-system, that is” (8). This implies that we need to understand modernity as always governed by unevenness:
…the historically determinate “coexistence,” in any given place and time, of realities from radically different moments of history (…). The multiple modes in and through which this “coexistence” manifests itself—the multiple forms of appearance of unevenness—are to be understood as being connected, as being governed by a socio-historical logic of combination, rather than as being contingent and asystematic. (WReC 12)
A number of contemporary writers from the Caribbean and Africa see themselves reflected in this definition since they belong to a literature, which talks about the human being and their fundamental problems. Although rooted in specific contexts, this literature circulates—travels—and, by doing so, it thereby weakens the reality of national borders in literature. Nancy Bird’s Aries Point has some reference points to her place of birth, but she would certainly not take issue with being placed under a designation that is not limiting and which breaks with old-fashioned paradigms.
Aries Point is a book that communicates with the contemporary boom in forms of writing and human expression, best represented and empowered by the blog. Although some may view the blog as a way of killing traditional forms of literature, such as those of the novel or the book of poems, Bird’s originality lies in bringing the blog to the reality of the book. In what may be considered experimental literature, a new door is open for a world where fast-reading and fast-consuming is a reality to endure. And although quickly absorbed, it does not force readers—even the lovers of great literature—to give up the simple pleasure to be found in the act of reading something for the mind: texts that might trouble them and make them think and thus to move into a process of change.
Aires Point thus maintains intertextualities with the work developed by Elsie Wheeler on the Sabian Symbols. In the novella, the narrator’s blog is entitled Pleyades, referring to a middle-aged open star cluster. The cluster’s name comes from Ancient Greek and was later mythologized as the name of seven divine sisters. Their name was imagined to derive from that of their mother Pleione, effectively meaning “daughters of Pleione.” And Pleione, of course, is the name by which the narrator identifies herself. Mythology, the hidden secrets of the universe, and spirituality function in Aires Point not as a way to predict the future of our lives, but rather as a sensory modus operandi for trying to understand and reflect on different aspects of human condition. Perhaps even further, as a way of making sense of how our condition as human beings, instead of uniting us in solidarity, rarely readies us “para entrar en sintonía” (Bird 24).
Aries Point is a book where several topics are in play from the most mundane or banal—but as Bird shows us, nothing is so mundane or banal that is exempt from deep thinking—to largely important ones such as the way in which the stories of the Bible have been interpreted throughout the centuries as in the case of the one concerning the decay of humankind due to the bite of an apple. It is also a novella where the silences can tell more than words, a book impregnated likewise with questions. The reader senses, at every moment, that it is in the questioning that knowledge emerges:
Puedo constatar—yo, la llamada víbora—porque me encontraba por allí al momento del hallazgo que, como aquel ser generoso y razonable de quien puedo dar fe, Eva no titubeó en ofrecerle la manzana a su acompañante. ¿Por qué no? Creo que hoy en día, muchos profesionales de la salud y mucha gente afirmaría que la manzana es una fruta muy saludable, refrescante e hidratante. Así, en comunión com la naturaleza Eva se dispuso a compartir. Yo digo que fue algo muy sensato. ¿Por qué no alimentarse con algo tan saludable y por qué no extender la dicha al prójimo? (Bird 52)
This narration, of course, is not lacking its pinch of humor.
As Bird has already accustomed her readers to expect, Aries Point is yet another invitation to participate in an empathic scream against the norm, a scream that has once again become necessary in a world in which we are attacked by corporate and commoditized slogans of “respect for minorities,” for “difference in color, gender and ethnicity,” but in which we increasingly witness the power of globalization and capitalism to undermine and to ignore substantive difference, in whichever ways it may manifest itself. It is also another step toward discovering “la armonía entre todas las cosas” (Bird 67).
As the narrator of the blog points out: “Los lectores del blog habrán notado que el miedo es una constante en mis preocupaciones, si no en mis blogueadas” (Bird 83). Fear is certainly a persistent topic: it is fear that either paralyses us or makes us push forward. But the lesson that the viper—or Pleyades, or Pleione, or Nancy Bird—teaches us, is that the second option is the only option. It is by facing fear (“vencer el miedo”) that splendor, glory, and who knows?, a harmony with the universe can be achieved.
When I first started reading the opening pages of Aries Point, one writer’s name came immediately to my mind and kept dancing there: Virginia Woolf. And when I reached page 61, I saw that the narrator indeed makes a reference to Woolf. I could not help but wonder whether this conjunction were not precisely what the weaver of words called Nancy Bird meant by “la armonía entre todas las cosas” (67). Definitely a book worth spending time with, where the poetry and the power of words will take the readers to unthinking places, opening up new possibilities of thinking and feeling. Nancy Bird’s aldea no doubt carries the whole world.
Lista de referencias:
Bird, Nancy. Aries Point. San Juan: Isla Negra Editores, 2016. Print.
Warwick Research Collective. Combined and Uneven Development. Towards a New Theory of World-Literature. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2015. Print.
Lista de imágenes:
1-3. Alphonse Mucha, Art Nouveau