Mónica Ojeda: "My writing is like an Andean volcano"
In her book of stories, Las Voladoras, the Ecuadorian writer constructs a cosmogony of myths and bodies that enchant the reader like a spell.
Monica Ojeda says that she learned the experience of the sublime from the volcanoes that surrounded her in her native Ecuador. She grew up to see beauty in their destruction and vice versa.
Her writing, poetic and visceral, is made of the same tongues of fire, with its veins open like lava flows and sweat that soaks the slimy, sweet armpits of the "voladoras" (flying women). They're fantastic beings that populate the Andean imagination and Ojeda has turned them into cyclops that glide in the night, wrinkling the myth, and reinventing it to liberate it from its patina of archaic machismo in Las Voladoras (Páginas de Espuma, 2020).
"The oral narrative is scary because they could be your mother or your sister and that is a macho discourse; the fear of women at night, when they are willing subjects," said Ojeda during a virtual presentation organized by Librería Cálamo of her beautiful and terrible book of stories.
A migrant living in Spain and a writer who has had to confront a dual condition as a woman and a foreigner, Mónica Ojeda acknowledges that she had to create her own literary tradition, challenge colonized and patriarchal language, and make up her own family tree of female ancestors in order to look at herself.
"We are recovering authors that should be fundamental, but that could not transcend because of the time they lived in, like the Uruguayan Armonía Somers, that has just been translated to Spanish and English, but for many years their books were untraceable," said the Ecuadorian. "They have done a lot in my literary construction. I created my own tradition, decolonized and depatrialized my readings, and the process continues."
For Ojeda, language is not exempt from a power structure, but at the same time, mitigates the blow of the fall. The oral stories on which she bases her tales — where the poetic and aesthetic are intertwined with the mysticism of the Ecuadorian Andes — dissolve the horror of the realities on which they are based. The violence.
That's why she writes in 'El mundo de arriba y el mundo de abajo' (The world from above and the world from below):
"A shaman bones the sleeping words in the shadow of the mountains. He knows the musculature of the verb, the description of the universe as a tangled inner forest. He is a father and speaks to nature. He pronounces the name of the animals. He spares their lives and takes them away with equal respect."
The book, recently published in Spain and with editions in Argentina and Uruguay, is difficult to classify and its symbolism increases as it is reread — which is the best thing that can be said about a work.
On one hand, Las Voladoras drinks from the Andean Gothic, where, according to Ojeda, "the experience of fear in the landscape also determines the form of resistance to that fear" and is a mixture of imagery and geography that constitutes the person.
"For me the important thing was to realize those images through writing, which is a constant discovery," she said. On the other hand, although Ojeda is a master at broadening genres and getting rid of classifications, the stories she tells us are related to the fantastic, with heads that fly and people that come back to life.
"I wanted to reflect on that relationship between reality and the hostilities of reality and how these oral stories largely alleviate that fear and dissolve the harshness of the experience," she said. It's something that can be seen in stories like 'Cabeza Voladora' (The Flying Head), where the unusual and terrible is used to address femicide.
If reviving a dead person — she says — requires writing from the heart. For all intents and purposes, hers can resurrect all the authors that preceded her and are imbibed through her.