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Pleasure, pain, and paradox: subjectivity in Maria Negroni's La jaula bajo el trapo.

Maria Negroni's dramatic poem, La jaula bajo el trapo (1991) borrows cultural artifacts from world literature, plastic art, pop culture, and even geographical locations, which at times are clearly marked and other times, are woven seamlessly into the text. One of particular importance comes from Ingmar Bergman's Autumn Sonata (1978), because, unlike any other reference in La jaula bajo el trapo, Bergman's film shares with Negroni's poem a fundamental and striking similarity in its dramatic plot: a daughter whose attempt to reconnect with her mother ends in failure. (1) Through this familial relationship each daughter seeks her mother's acknowledgement, validation, and love which would provide her a foundation for self-identity development and / or repair. In pursuit of connection, the daughters unearth memories of their childhood and the role their mothers played in the development process. Inevitably, however the daughters' excavation into the past exhumes profound feelings of deep love and bitter hate.

Relational psychoanalysts like Jessica Benjamin study the complexity of daughter-mother relationships and work toward an understanding of the ambivalence so prevalent between mothers and daughters. Benjamin describes the dynamics of this particular relationship in terms of a paradox; one in which daughters must separate from the one woman with whom she has established a primordial bond in order to understand herself as a separate and independent subject. (2) Hence, self-identity formation becomes a critical component in understanding the love-hate relationship experienced by both daughters in Autumn Sonata and La jaula bajo el trapo. From Bergman's film Negroni carefully selects one line--"Is my grief your secret pleasure?"(27)--a question that epitomizes the daughter-mother paradox and central conflict in both works. This line underscores the double-bind of self-identity formation that both daughter protagonists fail to resolve. A careful examination of the daughter-mother dynamics both works uncovers the broken paradox that frustrates self-identity formation for the daughters; at the same time, the line Negroni borrows also serves as a touchstone on which the poet then offers an alternative ending to the self-identity search--one that enjoys success through the poetic performance and the self-conscious nature of the text itself.

It is Eve, Bergman's daughter protagonist, who first utters, "Is my grief your secret pleasure?," calling attention to the paradox on which the daughter-mother relationship is built in both the film and the poem. Paradox, a figure of speech in which oppositional terms reveal an underlying truth, in the quote above consists of the binary opposition "pain" and "pleasure." By replacing "pain" with "grief," Bergman adds the notion of loss, another layer of meaning to the double-bind's fundamental truth. Synonymous with mourning, grief suggests that the daughter's distress originates from the death of her mother; however, in neither work does the mother actually perish, in fact it is the daughter's perception of physical and / or emotional abandonment that causes great pain. The characterization of the daughter's psychological and emotional distress in terms of the parent's death articulates the magnitude of anguish both daughters suffer. Nonetheless their impression of maternal abandonment prohibits them from developing self-identity, an even more poignant sort of death. (3) In psychological terms, the daughter's success and/or failure to develop a self-identity depends on maternal participation in the paradoxical dynamic: the mother serves as the locus and fount of needed love as well as the person from whom the daughter must differentiate and be acknowledged.

Benjamin, in her ground-breaking book The Bonds of Love (1988), describes subjectivity formation as a result of a paradoxical tension maintained by both daughter and mother. "Recognition is, thus, reflexive" Benjamin asserts, "it includes not only the other's confirming response, but also how we find ourselves in that response" (21). In this two-person--or intersubjective--dynamic each woman must relate to the other as an individual subject, an interaction Benjamin terms "mutual recognition." Acknowledgment of the other as a subject and responding to the other's assertions defines recognition: in order for self-identity to develop each woman must respond to the other and only then can she comprehend what makes her different, and be able to recognize the similarities she may share with the other. The paradox of this two-subject dynamic sustains a constant tension in which the daughter needs to unite with her mother, strengthening their loving bond, as well as establish a separate and unique self. Because of the oppositional character of this relationship Benjamin describes mutual recognition in terms of a double-bind, she writes:
   The need for recognition entails this fundamental
   paradox: at the very moment of realizing our own independence,
   we are dependent upon another to recognize
   it. At the very moment we come to understand the
   meaning of 'I, myself,' we are forced to see the limitations
   of that self. At the moment when we understand
   that separate minds can share the same state, we also
   realize that these minds can disagree. (33)

Again, in both the film and the poem the paradox finds each daughter in a constant flux of wanting to feel close to her mother and at the same time needing her mother's acknowledgment to identify her separate and unique self. Correspondingly, the ongoing struggle with the opposing forces of uniting and separating bring about feelings of love and hate.

Film scholars have pointed out the self-identity search as the primary reason Eva invites her mother to visit. Michael Bird remarks that journeys from parents to children repeat throughout Bergman's work: "The fear of facing relationships is enmeshed with the terror of the encounter with self, the discovery of the paradoxical interchangeability of persona of parent and child" (270). The critic's remarks illuminate two key factors in the protagonists struggle: loss of self and the fear associated with recuperating or confronting it and the "paradoxical interchangeability of persona." While the protagonist obviously lacks a unified sense of self, (4) the dynamics between the daughter and mother in this film can be more clearly understood by examining the relational paradox involved in self-identity formation. Bird's suggestion of "interchangeability" as the fundamental process acting on this relationship falls short of explaining why Eva seeks subjectivity through the mother and, moreover, the ungratifying results this relationship has produced.

The viewer learns of Eva's psychological and emotional struggles in the opening scene of the film when Viktor, her husband, reads aloud a passage from his wife's book that reveals her underlying motive for inviting Charlotte to visit:
   People have to learn how to live. I try to practice
   everyday. The difficulty lies in that I haven't found my
   identity, and so I grope blindly. If someone could love
   me as I am I feel quite certain I might dare look at
   myself. Yet the mere likelihood of my having that experience
   seems so very distant. (5)

In Eva's mind her mother is the one person who could know her "as she is," (despite being loved by her husband and her father). For this reason when she arrives Eva lavishes her mother, Charlotte, with love and provides all the creature comforts she requires in hopes of repairing a formerly estranged relationship. Charlotte dutifully responds with gracious appreciation yet, although her demeanor suggests a loving and devoted mother, her internal monologue portrays a woman very focused on herself and her own personal-identity issues, and ultimately proves incapable of providing Eva the recognition she so desperately requires.

The scene in which Eva performs the Chopin Prelude for Charlotte demonstrates a relationship in which the mother does not see her daughter as an individual subject and the resultant break down of the necessary dynamics that maintain mutual recognition. Because Charlotte spent her career touring Europe as a successful concert pianist, Eva's performance of the musical piece can be interpreted as an attempt to gain access into her mother's world. Despite her initial apologizes for technical flaws, Eva attempts to assert herself through her own execution of Chopin, one that would affirm her uniqueness and individuality. Eventually, however, Charlotte responds with a discreet and nonetheless crushing rejection of Eva's interpretation: by replaying the piece slowly and stamping it with her own "correct" representation, Charlotte negates Eva's performance and consequently Eva as well.

While the dialogue affirms Charlotte's refusal to recognize her daughter, Bergman's camera direction visually underscores the unbalanced dynamic that strains the relationship. Keith Simmons notes the use of right angles in this scene: "These shots brilliantly suggest the strife between the women while highlighting their essential connection" (13). At the piano Charlotte's profile appears in the foreground while Eva, just behind her, directly faces the camera, giving the viewer a full shot of her expression as she looks at her mother's profile. Each woman's response to the other is characterized in the visual image: Charlotte offers only part of herself while Eva, in quiet desperation, opens herself up wholly. The simmering prelude offers a microcosmic glimpse of the explosive relational dynamics that will unravel in the coming scenes that leads the daughter through a struggle for union and separation infused with powerful emotions of love and hate.

During the night Charlotte awakens from a bad dream and meets Eva in the living room where the two women spend the remaining twilight hours recalling the past events that have established the parameters of their relationship. In this conversation Eva remembers the pain she felt each time her mother departed on a musical tour. Charlotte's constant travel left young Eva paralyzed and speechless. Eva articulates the depth of her emotions in terms of death: her need for her mother's love was so strong that her leaving felt as if it would destroy Eva's life. Each of Charlotte's departures produced and acute sense of complete abandonment and loss for Eva.

Eva's mourning gradually turns to rage as she recalls her adolescent years and Charlotte's attempts to participate and control every aspect of Eva's young life. At fourteen Eva's need to develop a mature self-identity coincided with Charlotte suffering a back injury that prevented her from finishing a tour. (6) The pianist returned home to heal and make amends with her husband and rebuild her family life. Eva's resentment escalates into a cathartic rage as she remembers how Charlotte controlled her dress and behavior: changing her hair and clothes, getting her braces, and making her read and discuss books she did not understand. Eva complains that her mother's expectations made her feel ugly, stupid, and unworthy of love. Inspired by her mother's constant disapproval and inability to recognize her daughter as an individual subject, Eva's self-hatred translates into a lack of self-identity that leaves her feeling empty and alone throughout her adult life. (7)

In this poem as in the film, Negroni creates a space in which two adult women work through self-identity issues. The particular line Negroni includes stands out because it is in English and italicized, it does not appear to be hidden in the text, therefore assigning it importance and prompting the reader to remember the film or perhaps view it for the first time. The similarities between the two pieces are many, among them is the central conflict; the daughter in La jaula bajo el trapo seeks recognition from her mother. However, creating a poetic text that reads like a drama allows Negroni more venues through which she can explore this familial relationship. Negroni's text reads like a poetic performance in which two actresses appear on a stage and scene directions describe the images on the poetic stage. In this performance the poetic voice plays two distinct yet combined roles: she is both the daughter (8) acting on the stage and the playwright in the process of writing the dramatic text. Being able to design and reenact her own developmental process allows the playwright an opportunity to use the text as an agent of recognition and establish self-identity. From the daughter-actress perspective, the similarities between the two daughters in the film and the poem are quite similar. Like Eva, the daughter in Negroni's poem seeks out her mother to establish the paradox of self-identity formation: to reconnect the loving bond and union they once shared that will simultaneously engage them in a relationship practicing mutual recognition.

While Eva hopes that Charlotte will recognize her during her visit, Negroni's poetic voice directly solicits her mother's attention: "me reconoces, madre" (42, 78), "me oyes" (45, 78) "?me ves aqui?" (41). The daughter's request for acknowledgement can be read as an appeal for both physical and psychological validation. While "reconocer" and "ver" correspond more closely to physical appearance, hearing ("oir") connotes a deeper understanding of the other; on in which the mother hears not only her daughter's words but to the subject from where they come. Physically the mother remains on the left side of the stage throughout the entire performance, she never once changes position or looks at the daughter on the other side. As the poem moves forward and the daughter's petitions are ignored, she explicitly explains her needs along with the results of her mother's refusal and/or inability to oblige her.
   ... Tomar una parte de vos y encenderla. Arderla
   como resina al fuego para verme, algo que me diera
   una imagen de mi, la claridad al mirarme en el espejo.
   Ahora ya no estoy. He perdido el rumbo, las hogueras
   hacia mi corazon. No soy mas que una teoria de
   peces dormidos, asmaticos: vos. Hace tanto frio a orillas
   de mi misma. ?Acaso me muero sin saberlo? (70)

Here, the daughter returns to the common physical connection they once shared as the locus of their first bond and a place in which she may begin to locate the self. The mother's body as nurturing and protective heat fuels the light in which the daughter will see herself. However, Negroni demonstrates the volatility of this relationship by countering the possibility of enlightenment with cold emptiness: "No soy mas que una teoria de / peces dormidos asmaticos" (70). The oxymoronic image of the asthmatic fish produces a tension that emphasizes the opposition of life and / or death, but the added abstraction--that the fish be a mere theory--removes any remaining possibility of subjectivity; the daughter's self-identification development remains as a set of directions to be followed. In addition, the colon and "vos" point directly back, toward the mother identifying the mother as the source or cause of the daughter's anguish. The paradox cannot maintain its tension: instead of lighting the flame for the daughter's recognition, the mother's cold, subject-less body frustrates the daughter's attempts at gaining recognition and subjectivity.

Feeling attached to her mother and a desire to reenact this connection is manifest through the maternal body, a locus of origin. In the first scenes of the poem the daughter refers back to the primal union through an image of the two women bound together:
   ... un sueno que nos encierra a las dos en un circulo,
   suave ocio, espejos de Glasgow. Irascibles devanadoras,
   tejemos al fin juntas, voluptuosas. Anzuelo y curvas.
   Puras tristezas, de queli tempi. En la cresta del
   circulo, paralelas al cuerpo, al jadeo del tiempo, ya
   no silban -simplemente- las palabras. Juro que el
   amor es asi: con un poco de suerte, el circulo se contrae
   y coincide con el centro: se puede habitar tus ojos
   (y hasta osar lo real) durante epocas enteras ... (17)

The circle encloses feelings of unbroken love and unity just as the hook and the curve of the voluptuous bodies visually recreate the way in which their bodies fit together, and weave them passionately as one. Nevertheless, this space is not completely idyllic; enjambment juxtaposes the contradictory shapes, "circulo" and "paralelas." While Negroni seemingly refers to language as something outside the body, the oxymoron creates a tension in the reading that points the reader toward a love that sustains a volatile position: both as inside the circle of unity, and outside as separate and open to the passing of time and the influence of language and culture. (9)

As the poem moves forward the circle breaks and the daughter reacts to her mother's absent rejection. Her yearning for the unconditional circular bond transforms into a love with underlying hostility: "y me pongo a amarte / encarnizadamente" (37). Her desire for her mother's affection becomes frustrated, mixes with anger, and slowly gains momentum until it surfaces through a latent violence:
   voy a abrazarte ahora con toda la boca
   voy a treparte el higado despacio

   hasta que te pares en la memoria
   el alma

   un hilo (41)

Again, like the unbroken love mentioned above, the embrace reveals the daughter's need to physically and emotionally engage with the mother, yet the use of her mouth connotes consumption. By consuming her mother the daughter would wield control and be able to force the mother into meeting long unmet needs. (10) Repetition of the verb structure links the first two lines together into one image. In the second the daughter seeks to dominate her mother from the inside: "voy a treparte el higado." The oppositional force of the image (inside-outside) releases its tension in the next stanza where the daughter communicates her ultimate objective: that her mother responds to her as a unique subject. However, understanding the difficulty of this task the daughter would concede to a mere "hilo."

Union and love also appear together with love in moments that correspond to separation and hate.
   hay dias
   en que mi odio y mi amor por vos
   se funden
   a fuerza de esquivarte (48).

The tension necessary for mutual recognition appear possible but it is precisely in the "esquivar," the escape where the daughter's attempts are again frustrated. Here Negroni's makes the daughter's double bind quite transparent; love and need for connection are concomitant with differentiation. Separation from the same woman from whom she needs and desires love exemplifies Benjamin's double-bind and steeps the daughter's emotions in anger and hatred. Separation is not an easy process, especially when one also needs to feel close and bonded to the person from whom one separates. Negroni's daughter wrestles with differentiation and articulates her viewpoint through a discourse of war. As early as the second scene of the poetic performance the daughter, ready for battle, first lauds her enemy and then stages her attack:
   ...En una multiplicacion de homenajes, ecos, stupor,
   esperanza, te diezmo, te saqueo. Lorigas, arneses,
   formacion en escuadra, espuma por la boca, emboscadas.
   Aire lugubre como un son de guerra. Con
   un furor tan perfecto la belicosa ... (22)

Because her need for love and closeness will not allow her to completely destroy her mother, the daughter can not vanquish. And later, the daughter attempts a "gran partida" in which she plans to exit the stage, and by relation of inference, her mother's life. The plan's implementation however becomes frustrated because the door through which she would leave is revolving and going through it only places her in the exact place she began. Once again, the paradox of being inside and / or outside only leads to working through this difficult relationship.

The fundamental reason why the door in Negroni's poem leads the daughter back to the stage and why Charlotte cannot ask for forgiveness for not acknowledging Eve is because the mothers in these works have not reconciled their own self-identities. According to Benjamin, the key factor in female subjectivity formation is the ability for the other, in this case the mother, to understand herself as an individual subject. Therefore, the mother's subjectivity becomes the fundamental and irresolvable problem for the daughters. In Bergman's film Eva articulates the results the mothers' difficulties have on their daughters:
   Mother's injuries are carried over to the daughter.
   Mother's deep frustrations are to be paid for by the
   daughter. Mother's unhappiness is to be the daughter's
   unhappiness. It's as though the umbilical chord
   had never been cut. Mama, is it so? Is the daughter's
   tragedy the mother's triumph? Mama, is my grief your
   secret pleasure?

These lines represent a turning point in the film. Eva has just finished her stormy rage and then all becomes quiet. Liv Ullman, the actress who plays Eva, delivers the lines with a quiet expression, it is as if her character has run out of energy, she is physically and emotionally exhausted, and arrives at this conclusion. The weightiness of the moment, along with the close camera shot allows the viewer to focus on the poetic force of this moment and the dialogue. The repetition of the word "mother" assigns responsibility for the previous cathartic rage but the measured tone allows the viewer a moment to rest from the emotional outbursts. (11) And yet the words "injuries," "frustrations," "unhappiness," "umbilical chord," and "pleasure" that seemingly summarize Eva's particular story, also foreshadow Charlotte's personal history as well.

The quote above serves as a turning point in Bergman's film when Eva takes on a more adult, more powerful position and Charlotte becomes childlike as she remembers her own youth and relationship with her parents. She remembers her own childhood drama as one of emotional seclusion where her only means of expression was music.
   I remember so very little about my childhood.
   Neither parent could express affection, touching was
   forbidden either as a punishment or as a caress ... I
   was very ignorant about anything that might pertain to
   love, intimacy, contact, nearness, warmth.... I found my
   outlet in music, there was no other place for emotions
   to show.

This love-less--"injured and frustrated"--youth later translates into a fragmented--and "unhappy"--view of the world.
   At times I try to remember what my mother looked
   like, but I can't see her. I recall things about her: she
   was dark, big, and had blue eyes, a strong nose, full
   lips. But I can never make the pieces all come together.
   I can't see her ... By the same token I can't see your
   face or Helena's or Leonardo's.... I remember giving
   birth to you and your sister but all I remember of the
   deliveries is that they hurt. But the pain, what was the
   pain like? It's blanked out.... I've always wished that
   you'd take care of me, that you would take me in your
   arms and comfort me.

Charlotte's words reveal not only an inability to see herself and her own mother as whole persons but even more poignantly she needs to be nurtured like a child: Charlotte never reached emotional maturity, she never established her own self-identity and still seeks a mother to love her. Because Charlotte's emotional and psychological needs for love and differentiation were never met, she has no recourse to provide these needs for her daughter.

Whereas Charlotte's lack of subjectivity manifests through her fragmented perception of her world and the way she relates to Eva, the mother in La jaula bajo el trapo standing on the left side of the stage is a vacant, voice-less figure. In the second scene the stage directions describe both women and allude to the mother's emptiness, her almost robotic nature: "mujer de bata blanca. en silencio. Movimiento / ritmico o mecanico de pies y manos. ojos en blanco." The woman remains silent throughout the poem: "... Aunque a veces pareciera oirse la voz de la / madre, es la hija quien habla, siempre (la voz interior no es monologo)." (13); hence, the words attributed to the mother are really the daughter's interpretation. The only sound the reader can accredit to the maternal figure are the words, "--se me ha perdido una nina," which repeat throughout the scene "como una letania" (14). Despite appearing taciturn the interpretative words of the daughter characterize the mother as demanding, cynical, and traditional in her understanding of femininity. The mother suffers her own set of problems, often characterized as asthmatic (12) she never acknowledges her daughter as someone special or unique, she spends a lot of time demanding and, even acknowledging her own subjectivity loss:
   ... ella, la anudadora de tristezas--dijo la madre--, no
   ha podido sostenerse en la desesperacion, no ha
   soportar el peso, ser la sombra de una apariencia:
   yo. Ella se esta despojando--ay la torpe--de su propio
   misterio... (49)

Ultimately the daughter in the poem has no real chance of understanding herself as an individual because the mother cannot see any further than her appearance. (20). The last scene is reminiscent of the first, reminding the reader of the mother's unchanged static presence: "La madre (siempre sentada a la izquierda) en un / estado inesperado de vacio. A veces, pareciera que quiere decir algo: falsa alarma" (83). In La jaula bajo el trapo the mother's emptiness and silence portray a woman lacking self-identity and unable to acknowledge her daughter, which ultimately frustrates the paradoxical dynamic needed for mutual recognition.

Autumn Sonata's ending does not resolve its protagonist's dilemma either: Charlotte departs immediately the day after the all-night vigil, leaving Eva exactly as before, her needs unmet. Bergman's unresolved ending invites the viewer to reflect on the relational dynamics between the two women. Negroni, however in response to Bergman's film, provides interesting insight into the daughters objectification process and offers a more hopeful and positive ending. By including the mimetic art of film (among many other art forms in the text) into her poetic performance the reader's attention is drawn to the notion of genre hybridity. The multi-genre and multi-level aspects of the poem provide access to a much more profound exploration of the daughter's experience. The intertextualization of Bergman's film serves as an audio-visual representation of the daughter-mother drama, whereas the poetic performance offers additional several layers of exploration. The daughter's poetic monologue manifests her conscious reality while the stage directions offer a visual experience of her unconscious mind. It is here where Negroni creates "non-poetic" images in her poem. Through the background scenery the poet reveals the daughter's gradual objectification as she fails in her attempts to obtain her mother's recognition.

Set design in a dramatic text provides a visual context for actors on a stage; in La jaula bajo el trapo it makes up the concrete visual images that characterize the internal workings of the actress' minds. An examination of the set design in terms of the daughter reveals her gradual unconscious reification. (13) It begins with a mere suggestion in the first scene as objects appear randomly piled on the stage:
   Detalles a notar: mariposas boreales
   (aroma de lilas, de rosas de china)
   crisantemos ajados
   latas vacias de coca cola
   en una palabra: materia viviente.
   el escenario se colma a si mismo.
   solo el televisor (a un costado) es
   tan pulcro.
   solo las imagenes que proyecta en
   la habitacion y que miramos con
   cierto horror, alivio.

The juxtaposition of seemingly random objects suggests life in terms of senses and feelings that recreate exactly what Negroni attempts to portray: "material viviente." This set of living objects marks a starting point for both the construction of the set and the daughter's gradual reification.

With each new scene the women on the stage appear gradually less real and more like the objectified female image found in texts written by men that many feminist scholars have critiqued. The fourth scene, in which the daughter recalls her childhood, begins with a sad little girl with a bloody nose on the stage who then "salta frenetica a la cuerda." The chord suggests that the child is a mere puppet, controlled by someone else. The little girl image is then followed a few scenes later by a replica of Marilyn Monroe. This actress suggests the daughter's objectification in two regards: first, she helped establish the iconic image that defined beauty for millions of women, and second, in Negroni's text Marilyn appears a mere imitation. Soon the daughter, "adicta a las imagenes" (56), takes on a "nueva pose" signaling her progression toward complete falsity. The thirteenth scene (14) presents the women with a choice: "Una encrucijada. Rieles. Desorden fulgurante. Se / oyen pasos de miles de personas, aunque nadie se / mueve (64). The undercurrent of feet belies the both women's loss of subjectivity as they stand still, as if unable to move. The crossroads offer a turning point for the daughter; unable to select a path leads her to a complete loss of self just like her mother.
   Con algo de titeres, de prototipos, madre e hija
   hablan a la vez. Se insolentan, encierran. Se roban
   como ecos los discursos. Se transfieren el sentido
   comun, la locura. (64)

Puppets speaking at the same time and the reflexive use of the verbs "insolentar," "robar," and "transferir" confuse and each individual with the other; hence, making differentiation impossible.

As the poem draws to a close the daughter on the stage, now a mere object, becomes aware of herself as a product of her own artistic creation, which calls the readers attention to yet another level of the text:
   por de pronto
   cada movimiento se ha cerrado en un cuadro
   y el personaje
   en constante admiracion
   del cuadro
   (en el que esta) (84)

By using Jacques Derrida's theory of the artistic frame the meta-levels of Negroni's poem visually appears. The frame, according to Derrida, is a centering device that points to the object of the artistic creation; in Negroni's poem the art object is the daughter. At the same time, the frame reveals another level of her artistic reality: that of the text itself. Once the daughter-as-actress has been defined as an artistic object, the stage becomes what lies "outside" the art and suggests yet another "reality", that of the playwright.

The daughter's alternative role as playwright appears subtly throughout the poetic performance both directly and indirectly. The reader's first introduction to the daughter as artist and playwright emerges early in a discussion with her mother in which the mother complains that the daughter does not know how to create an appropriate image of her: "Cuando hables de mi, tamiza, / lima, redondea y despues elimina la expresion poin- / tee del rostro (tuyo o mio)." (18) In another moment the daughter refers directly to the poem itself: "Como si forcejeara con un / sueno (o un poema)" (39). Later, Negroni becomes also quite ludic as she uses slashes to separate her verses, as if to write in prose, but playfully calls attention to verse. Here again, Negroni crosses the boundaries of genre reminding the reader of the text's multiple levels and the dual role assigned to the poetic voice: daughter-actress, daughter-playwright.

As mentioned above, Negroni's response to Bergman's film offers hope to the complicated and failed daughter-mother relationship. It is on the level of the playwright that the reader finds an alternative ending. Whereas Eva is left just as she was before Charlotte's visit, Negroni's poem is also circular. The poetic voice repeats almost exactly the same beginning description of her mother:
   puesto que
   una vez que te nombre
   no pode volverte al lugar del deseo
   a un clima de espacios blancos (85)

All but the "puesto que" appear in the first scene of the performance. Here the causative conjunction suggests that as a result of writing the text and writing her mother ("una vez que te nombre") the playwright has now created a dramatic performance in which she can recognize her mother and herself as sharing similarities but having separate minds and bodies.

Loving and hating her mother in the text allows Negroni's daughter-playwright to understand these emotions through an alternative venue, and thus acknowledge the ambivalence and the underlying tension of union and separation that facilitate recognition and self-identity formation. What makes this poem so compelling is the way in which Negroni recreates this experience for the reader. Her epigraph reads: "La poesia pareciera implicar el fracaso: la celebracion de un estado fallido de las cosas."

This quote translated from John Ashbery alerts the reader not only to the self conscious aspect of the poem, but also the underlying paradox that the text itself reestablishes for the poetic voice. The intertextuality of the epigraph calls attention to the hybridity of the text, the collage effect that sends the reader on a mission to follow the cultural trail each new reference presents and brings her or him back to look at the dramatic poem itself, as an agent possessed of the power to recognize its playwright. La jaula bajo el trapo performs the impossibility of two women to acknowledge the other as a subject. By writing their failure the playwright paradoxically celebrates her accomplishment: being validated as a unique subject.


Autumn Sonata. Screenplay by Ingmar Bergman. Trans. Alan Blair. Dir. Ingmar Bergman. Perf. Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullmann. 1978. DVD. Janus Films.

Benjamin, Jessica. The Bonds of Love. New York: Pantheon, 1988.

Bird, Michael. "Heuresis: The Mother-Daughter Theme in A Jest of God and Autumn Sonata". The New Quarterly 7 (1987) 267-273.

Kristeva, Julia. Desire in Language. Ed. Leon S. Roudiez, Trans. Thomas Gora, Alice Jardine, and Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia UP, 1980.

Negroni, Maria. La jaula bajo el trapo. 2 ed. Santiago: Cuarto Propio, 1999.

New Princeton Enciclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Ed. Preminger, Alex and T. V. F. Brogan. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1993.

Simmons, Kenith L. "Pain and Forgiveness: Structural Transformations in Wild Strawberries and Autumn Sonata." New Orleans Review 10 (1983) 5-15.

Rose Marie Brougham

Union College

(1) Negroni's inclusion of this reference is also surprising due to the thirteen years that separate the Swedish film's first screening and the publication of the Argentinean poem.

(2) The mother in Benjamin's theory refers to any primary caregiver and does not suggest that the only person who can fulfill this role is the biological mother.

(3) The film scholar Michael Bird points out the role death plays in the life of Bergman's protagonist:
   The quest for an emerging self-image against the relentless erosion
   of an earlier one is a matter of life itself is implied by an
   accumulation of death-images ... Eva, ... in her frustrated
   attempts at fostering life, is confronted with death's spectre. An
   abortion, the premature death of a child, and now the contemplation
   of suicide--these are the darker realities which threaten her
   frequently repeated wish to give and nurture a life other than her
   own (271).

(4) Kennith L. Simmons summarizes Eva's internal conflict when he states: "she is the abandoned child with an insufficient sense of self who is therefore unable to love" (13).

(5) Because of the discrepancy between the English subtitles and the dubbed dialogue, all the quotes for this study have been taken from the dubbed version.

(6) Simmons describes two of Bergman's characters, one in Wild Strawberries (1959) and the other in Autumn Sonata (1978), as suffering from "physical ailments in the middle of their bodies that are related to their roles as mothers; Charlotte's lower back problem is the remains of a serious injury that sent her home temporarily to mother her daughters, thus associating motherhood with injury" (12).

(7) Bird again insists on the filial dynamics as a becoming one, he writes: "... Bergman ... ha(s) explored the separation, journey, and heuresis in which mother and daughter become themselves by becoming each other and, hence, become one" (273). On a literal level Bird uses the Greek term heuresis to describe the reunion, or "finding again" of the two women. However, it is exactly his suggestion of them "becoming one" that prevents Eva from developing a unique sense of self.

(8) Negroni does not give the women in her poem names, which of course allows the reader to interpret these women in universal terms as roles women play in this particular relationship.

(9) This stanza lends itself to a Kristevan reading of the circle as the womb, or chora and the source for the "whistle" of poetic language. The daughter, while reenacting the love and unity of her mother also experiences the alienation of language as a culturally defined system.

(10) The idea of a daughter needing her mother for nourishment points the reader again back to infancy and the basic human dependence of the child on the mother. The level of need here for union is clearly primordial.

(11) The camera position in this scene marks a change in the dynamic between the two women by closing in on their faces, Charlotte in the forefront and Eve behind her. When Eve moves from Charlotte's left side to the right it corresponds with her changing role, becoming the adult while Charlotte appears to be a submissive child.

(12) Asthma affects a person's ability to breathe because the airway swell and fill with mucous. If left untreated asthma can be fatal. The repeated description of the mother as asthmatic characterizes her as oppressed, constricted, and without the life-giving force of air. Negroni may be pointing the reader toward the physical manifestation of the woman's psychological and emotional issues. In this regard Negroni and Bergman's mothers are quite similar.

(13) It is important to note that it would be almost impossible to produce the poem as a dramatic performance without significant adaptations to the text.

(14) La jaula bajo el trapo can be divided into a total of seventeen scenes.
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Author:Brougham, Rose Marie
Publication:La Nueva Literatura Hispanica
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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