LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 34, No. 3 - Fall 1989
Editor of this issue: Violeta Kelertas
Copyright © 1989 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
GOING HOME: A READING OF ILZE ĐKIPSNA'S VICTIM
Lost paradises, innocent of reflection, sin, or divisive self-knowledge, aesthetically and morally whole, and self-contained. Home. Often, they are grafted onto individual biography, with an idealized version of childhood serving as the lost paradise. Biblical, mythological, archetypal, they can be a powerful collective metaphor as well. Exile literature is doubly affected. For many writers, the lost homeland takes on the hues of all the mythical homes and paradises. Memory blends childhood reminiscence, actual and idealized, fortified by individual and community nostalgia, with common traditional "memories". It is not surprising that the writing of exiles abounds with patterns of loss and attempted recovery. Many times, they are explicitly related to the fact of exile. Since, however, that collective state is, for many authors, naturally congruent with the loss of childhood, the two tend to merge. One of the heroines of Ilze Đkipsna's novel Beyond the Seventh Bridge1 invokes this connection:
"... it seems to me sometimes that I'd be willing to give a whole continent just to know who we would be now and what we would see today if we had not left home and childhood at the same time."
To this, her friend answers:
"We will never know whether we just left home or just childhood, and how to tell the difference." (194)
The exile configuration may also be implicit, lying in wait to assert itself through configurations like original sin, growing up, losing touch with the spontaneous and the naive through knowledge and self-consciousness. The conflation of these experiences can give a text increased resonance, but it can rely too much on unreflecting automatic associations of home, childhood, political autonomy.
When a woman writer uses such patterns, the additional question arises about how her gender does, or should, affect her use of them, to what extent she is aware that her use of the convention is undercut or complicated by her history of exclusion and marginality. When women are fully aware of this, their myth can be of an entirely different sort. It
. . . contains no trace of nostalgia, no faith that the past is a repository of truth, goodness, or desirable social organization. Prufrock may yearn to be Hamlet, but what woman would want to be Ophelia? While the myth of a golden age has exerted incalculable pressure in the shaping of Western literature and its attitude toward history, the revisionist woman poet does not care if the hills of Arcady are dead. Or rather, she does not believe they are dead. Far from representing history as decline, or bemoaning disjunctions of past and present, her poems insist that past and present are, for better or worse, essentially the same.2
Latvian writers, female and male, exile and Soviet, are no exception. Whether they are evoking the home country in emigration, or ethnic identity in a superstate, they call upon the convention of home metaphors. Some critics have pointed to the coincidence of problems of identity and emigration, or universal alienation as typified in the emigrant.3 When female Latvian authors use such metaphors, however, I would suggest that we look for other complications and resonances as well. When such women writers as Soviet Latvian Vizma Belđevica and exile author Velta Toma work with notions of home and return, they do it in ways that may indeed have something to do with their varying relationships to the home country, but that also reflect their being female. It is possible that patriarchal myths or other ideologies, such as those of exile or of the presumed absence of gender in the presumed classless society, deform the difference. I believe the difference is there nonetheless. What follows is the reading of a short prose text by the emigre writer Ilze Đkipsna that can serve to raise some questions about this problem. Đkjpsna's novels Beyond the Seventh Bridge and Unpromised Lands 4 deal with exile, but it is easier to consider fully a short piece.
The one I have chosen was published in jauna Gaita in 1974, entitled "Upuris". The title could be translated as "Victim" or "Sacrifice", and the ambiguity is pertinent. As you will see, the vacillation between activity and passivity, willingness and half-willing co-optation is an important point. The account, identified as a dream toward the end, deals with an attempt to go home. The first sentence: "We decided to go home." introduces two essentials — the first person plural that remains to be clarified, and the notion of home. The setting also signals an essential concern of the narrator:
We had whiled away more time than anticipated with the long distance conversations — my conversation finally succeeded, or, rather, the connection succeeded, but Andrejs had in the meantime experienced something special, and I could not respond properly because Lidija was standing next to me. That dejected me but did not particularly crush me for, with the years, I have hardened myself and do not despair just because it's not always possible to communicate as one wishes.
Lidija was standing next to me, in reality waiting for an opportunity to address the Estonian woman who was busy in the corner behind the large information table, along with the operator. Dark-haired, with round red cheeks, rounder than one usually associates with Estonians, she did actually at one point look at Lidija and said yes, but no, not now. In other words — I have duties now, and I don't want to do what I'm not supposed to. Lidija understood Estonian and felt rejected, but she too was already getting used to not letting herself be crushed, though for other reasons. Clench your teeth and live on — actually, it's not so hard as long as one has a proper reason for living.5
These two paragraphs are a resumption of what went on just before the decision to go home, possibly an explanation for that decision because what follows is a re-assertion of that step — "Then6 we decided that it was time to go home." The amplification of the opening statement indicates that the events in the telephone office or post office are related to the decision temporally, and perhaps causally. What, then, are those events?
First of all, in quick sequence, three persons are mentioned. Two of them will turn out to have central importance. Andrejs, who will reappear only at the very end, when I awakens, is nonetheless deeply involved in getting the events of the dream going and afterwards shares an attempt at interpreting them. Lidija will accompany I on part of her journey, and their relationship is worth a close look. The Estonian will disappear almost completely, except for a veiled reference to her that will close the piece. "Yes but no" is her cryptic contribution, made less ambiguous by the appended explication: not now. A further exegesis is found to be necessary by I: "In other words, I have duties now, and I don't want to do what I'm not allowed." In spite of such attempts at interpretation, what they all share with I is a futile attempt to communicate something and, at least for I and Lidija, the Stoic insight that one can survive that futility.
This is a brief prelude to the central struggle of the narrative, the walk and arduous climb home. The voyage lacks context in time and space, but the women frequently compare things. During their approach to the house, they occasionally pause to measure the thick trunks of the lindens. I comments that they have grown immensely, thus suggesting a long span of time, but "measuring did not help us much because after all we didn't know how many spans it used to take then to cover the rough trunks."7 Comparison without a reference point — going through the motions of logocentrism without being grounded in it? As with the long-distance call that finally succeeds technically but does not achieve its human purpose, they still make the gestures.
For I, this is a return but not, it appears, for Lidija. We are told that she had not been on "our" street — note that "we" here refers to the family, not to I and Lidija as before. Again, there is a qualification of a seemingly final statement: if she had been on the street, which could only have happened in childhood, she did not remember it. The passage of time is again invoked in the changed color of the buildings and, perhaps more importantly, in the disappearance of all fences. The latter change is remarked by Lidija, and here the reader gets a good glimpse of the problematic and ambiguous relationship between Lidija and I as, at this the point of her interference, presence impinges itself on the narrator / I as problematic. The various changes, the latter tells the reader, had of course been known to her, but now it all "had to be viewed anew because Lidija was coming along. Thoughts too sometimes arrange themselves more clearly if someone else sees them, a truth that even dreams surprisingly observe." For the moment, the "we" with Lidija seems to constitute a community for insight, for "arranging thoughts."
In this, Lidija is both an aid and an impediment. She is seen by the narrator as competitive, inserting her observation "before I could explain anything." Lidija, who had participated in the only partially successful enterprise of long-distance calling in some unnamed way, implicated in the changing "we" of the text, had herself been frustrated by the "yes but no, not now" response of the Estonian woman at the information desk for whom she had "in reality" been waiting (another disjunction between appearance, consciously cultivated, and real feeling or motivation); she might or might not have been on I's street in childhood but nonetheless notices that the fences have come down. There is some shared knowledge, along with reluctance to acknowledge it. If it is useful for us to read Lidija as part of "I", then some fences are still standing here; she is a part that is recognized and admitted recently, gradually, grudgingly. Responding to Lidija's remark about the fences, I for the first time acknowledges that going home may be difficult — "One obstacle less," she remarks cryptically, "as though it were my responsibility." To this, Lidija mumbles even more cryptically: "Who knows?",8 and it is at this moment of Lidija not letting her off the hook about some vaguely hinted question of responsibility, that it occurs to the narrator, possibly in pique, and certainly contrary to her earlier, albeit grudging, admittance of the usefulness of L's presence, that "I didn't even know why she was coming along with me."
The main section of the piece portrays an attempt to scale the stairs of the building of the fifth floor apartment of I's childhood were her mother waits. The entrance hall and the stairs constitute a realm remembered as a safe haven — in the old days, entering that area was tantamount to being home; there is a feeling of "total security": "Up there was home, and, once I entered these stairs, nothing could keep me from returning there." But from the outset or the journey ambiguity reigns, and things are not what they seem. The stone flowers in the foyer propel the narrator into a meditation about how stone flowers at the same time are and are not flowers. The stained glass window in the first landing, though it shines brightly in the morning sun, for the rest of the day serves to keep daylight out. The Grecian statue with her torch only holds a weak electric bulb, and the elevator never has worked beyond the first few stories.
Suddenly the mother emerges out of nowhere, smilingly pointing to a bench at the turn, like Lidija comparing then and now — in the old days, she had always needed to rest there, she says. She leads the way, while Lidija falls back. For the first time, there is a hint that what is up there may not be all good. Again, knowledge or ignorance marks a distance between the narrator and Lidija, as I remarks that Li-dija's round red cheeks (a feature that connects her to the Estonian, in whom it was presented as atypical and surprising too) were understandable in view of her not knowing "what awaits us up there, as I did." Now, the word home suggests a vague threat.
I's relationship to the mother seems idyllic. The mother appears smiling, beckons on, walking ahead because "first of all, she had never liked being part of a crowd and, secondly, she had always led the way and showed an example for her family."9 The apartment is her kingdom, perhaps is she. If it is a room of her own, then it is the mother's, not the daughter's, though the latter refers to it in that, by now problematized and relativized, first person plural. Unlike the middle realm of the stairs, it has nothing that is mere appearance, unnecessary or nonfunctional — "everything that entered here was accepted and perceived at its full worth, wholly or not at all."10 This is how I remember it, apparently expecting it to be exempt from the changes that affect all else, and forgetting her own intimations of fear. In contrast to the mighty statue with the weak bulb in its torch, the window that keeps light out, and the ambiguous stone flowers, here everything is authentic, "real and unshadowed", with the flowers "in our house feeling as right as they had in their unknown beds or meadows."11
Except for the attempted communication with Andrejs at the outset, by long distance telephone, all of I's interactions have been with women — so far, there are no men within the dream. All intersubjective events have had to do with the question of existence of knowledge, degrees of knowledge, information, or familiarity, the extent of sharing it. This is true not only of the current and remembered information the others share with I — distinctions are made between them also on the basis of the narrator's acquaintance with them. Not only is this the case with Lidija, but also with the other two women who join them on the stairs. Mrs. Zelma catches up in the first story. Identified by name, she is presented as someone quite familiar: in response to a childhood memory, Mrs. Zelma snorts, dismissing such silliness, "as she was wont to do", and though she and the narrator have not greeted each other yet,
"We understood each other anyway — we would hug in the apartment, the true place for everything good and important. Having waited so long, we could stand to wait a bit more."12
As the stairs begin to crumble and disappear, Mrs. Z and Lidija leave the narrator behind, occasionally beckoning her to come, ending up beyond the increasing gap, standing on the other side on firm ground, waiting. Toward the end, I explains that she did not have any baggage because she had given her bag to Mrs. Zelma to take along upstairs. That's the last we hear of Mrs. Zelma.
Before Lidija too goes up and disappears, the ambivalence in her relationship to the narrator comes up again. As the stairs disintegrate and gaping holes appear ahead, I gives up and decides to take the spiral staircase to the kitchen instead, one that had frightened her in childhood. She descends the now whole and safe steps to the lobby, looks over her shoulder, and decides that Lidija must have made the risky ascent, as she is not next to her. Before Lidija passes I, however, and joins Mrs. Zelma, she stops on the same step with the narrator, making her "freeze with fear because it was almost certain that it would not hold both of us.."13
Mother, in the meantime, emerges more and more actively — she is "now truly pointing the way", having no difficulty circumventing or surmounting the increasing obstacles. She is both goal and guide. In the third story, as I wants to look out the window, she takes her by the elbow, signifying "Not now, that's not important, don't lose sight of the goal! Never lose sight of the goal so that, if you should not be able to reach it, it would not be your fault."14 Note that I's reading of the body language of the mother amounts to a commonplace. As the climb must proceed through an opening in the wall into the outside, the mother's urgings become even more incongruously serene — through the gaping hole, "A clear, limpid late afternoon light came, and Mother's serene voice: 'Come now, come along!'"15
Within the nightmare setting of the ascent a remembered — and shared — dream pops up. As I imagines Mother setting a coffee table in the apartment upstairs, with a tablecloth she embroidered during one of I's childhood illnesses (one that features flowers again, yellow cross-stitch ones), the dream returns very suddenly. The childhood dream is similar to the present one, except that one can still get closer to home at that point. The steps end just in the last stretch, and l-as-child, holding her breath, with one last extreme concentration of the will, gets across in a daring leap. To do it, she has to "renounce her own weight." To come home, you have to jettison your "own" weight, yourself, The dream recurs, but only this once does the dreamer attempt the leap. The other times, she cannot pull herself together sufficiently, and the dream is mercifully interrupted before exposing her weakness. The mother has also had this dream, inducing the narrator to ponder that "dreams too are hereditary, weaving us into an even closer, more unfathomable connection than we can imagine. . . "16 This is now our dream, another incarnation of the changing "we" of the story. And it is, in spite of the common theme of home, danger, ascent, explicitly set off against the "present" dream. The earlier "highest climb and most intoxicating space" had been just an intimation of "what actually awaited us here." The "we" of now does not appear to include the mother — it may be a composite of l, Lidija, perhaps Mrs. Zelma. But really I is now alone, and her question reflects it: "How am I going to get there?" Mother and/or home are both objects and unattainable. Instead of the pure empty space of the earlier dream, "reality was a dangerous, eroded space, air saturated with dust and chalk, each step a danger. . . "17
Remembering the earlier dream, I feels that only an act of "pulling oneself together" (sanemđanas) could help (it would appear that one must pull oneself together in order to abandon oneself), but is apparently unable to muster that. Thus, after mother confirms the safety of the kitchen stairs, she proceeds on the now strangely easy downward journey, thinking that her mother should move out of this dangerous place. Pondering alternatives, the narrator not only expands her previous notion of home, but reverses it to move increasingly outward: the houses of several family members and friends are mentioned as distinct possibilities for new quarters; more, the city itself now is suddenly embraced into this concept, after its earlier vaguely threatening aspect, when a modicum of safety and sense of home could only be attained once the outside door had closed on the lobby. Now, "when one has lived one's whole life in a city, it becomes a wider home, one with many rooms and favorite corners."18
The movement is now in the opposite direction, but just when the narrator's vision seems to have expanded, darkness falls and her alternate route is unexpectedly blocked. Uniformed armed guards appear, blocking the door, the first male to turn up in the story. A young guard, described as cocky, confronts her. Two events characterize their ensuing interaction: first, she does not understand his question, then he indicates by gesture that she is not carrying anything, which she interprets to mean that he is looking for legitimation, documents. Not wanting to let herself be intimidated, she nevertheless concedes the necessity of documents and legitimation in principle, as she asserts to herself that she had the legal right to be there, and that for all he knows she might after all have some documents in her pocket.
After this encounter I discovers that the gate that should be there is not. Could her implied complicity with the guard have barred that access? Unlike the earlier self who had determined to go home and proceeded to do so, she is now wary: "I don't know why but it seemed wiser not to proceed right away . . . "19 Stealthily avoiding the lights of an oncoming car, she ducks into the driveway. Another young man, "rather like the young guard but not in uniform", touches her shoulder. The maternal haven has become doubly inaccessible — not only does it crumble in front of her, but its borders are guarded by a male bureaucracy. And, in spite of some show of bravado, I has apparently internalized their accusations and requests. Here, the question of sharing knowledge with a man arises, as the young man refers to some prior agreement, which I, again, as with the guard, tacitly admits, protesting only that everything is going too quickly and unanticipatedly. A sense grows of her collusion with long-established rules of the "outside" male world, with only meek protest, to herself, of their particular application and enforcement. The contract, either social-political (legitimation by documents) or criminal (a contract much in the mob sense), is never questioned. As the man proposes that they sneak up on someone from different directions, she fully assumes the obligation to go along with that too: "I didn't know who the victim was going to be",20 is her only comment. There is always a victim, and she is ready to collude with the executioner/murderer, acting on this pervasive feeling of prior commitment. Then she awakens, not knowing who is to be killed. It does not occur to her that it might be she.
What's left is the explication, another attempt to share and exchange information. It is brief, and undertaken with Andrejs, who invokes shared knowledge in his turn. "I always said that the kitchen door wasn't worth it."21 One might interpret that to mean that the "unofficial", non-straight-line, female access cannot yield valued results. He appears well versed in the problems of ascent, an analyst of previous versions of the recurring dream. Her answer is again ambiguous, a yes but no of sorts: "Yes, but you don't understand."22 He pursues his purposive line of questioning, challenging her to tell him who the victim had been, and she, feeling, yet again, that stoic acceptance of the impossibility of communicating that she shared with Lidija at the outset, counters with another challenge, an afterthought, a non sequitur: "Besides, . . . you don't understand Estonian."23
One could say about this brief text what Annette Kolodny says about Charlotte Gilman's Yellow Wallpaper and a short story by Susan Glaspell — that they are
"highly specialized language acts . . . which examine the difficulty inherent in deciphering other highly specialized realms of meaning — in this case, women's conceptual and symbolic worlds. And further, the intended emphasis . . . is the inaccessibility of female meaning to male interpretation."24
The language act constituted by Đkipsna's story has to do with female knowledge — sharing it, refusing to share it, finding out that Mother knew what the narrator thought she had hidden from her in childhood, sharing a dream, guarding secrets. It also has to do with language itself. If "Estonian" here could be said to stand for a women's language, then the narrator does not understand it in the beginning, but, at the end, seems to imply that she has some access to it by her exclusion of Andrejs because he does not understand it. If that is her suggestion, then it makes sense to see in Lidija a part of I — if this part is being integrated, then naturally Lidija's knowledge of Estonian would also become the narrator's. If, in the dream, I has not found or made a space of her own, then this later incorporation may be some indication that she is on the way to doing that. If, at the beginning, she wanted to impart information to Andrejs without Lidija knowing, at the end she assumes that Andrejs cannot understand her dream because he does not know what Lidija knows.
The stairs are a feminine space. Not perhaps the metaphor for female desire that some feminist critics have tried25 to locate, but rather a transitional cognitive space. Spatial metaphors abound in women's writing. Even the briefest list of titles will indicate that — from A Room of One's Own, Utopias like Herland, to No Man's Land. The place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century, the new book by Gilbert and Gubar. About Đkipsna's novels Ojars Kratinđ26 has said, that they are "mythic questions in interior space." To cite just one instance of the importance of the metaphor of the stairs for Đkipsna: in Beyond the Seventh Bridge, one of the heroines says to the other who, here even more clearly, is part of her: "I remember how once each day was the continuation of the previous one, how each fitted into the other like steps, like stairs leading up and up to reveal an ever widening view."27
This space is not, however, just an allegorical stand-in for childhood. Nor is the attempted climb unproblematic, a simple setting off of the female space of stairs and apartment against a hostile male world outside. It may at times appear so. Never is any male mentioned in connection with either the stairs or the apartment. Andrejs is a long distance call away in the dream, and even though he makes tea and attempts to help in interpreting the dream at the end, his failure to understand is emphasized. His might be seen as a vaguely benign but estranged presence while the young soldier and the co-murderer are definitely threatening ones. The "holding" space of Mother/Apartment/Stairs is however also problematized, possibly in the inappropriate serenity of Mother's responses, more clearly in the threatening information that Lidija has red round cheeks only because she does not know what awaits her "up there", and finally in the progressive crumbling of the steps, a literal deconstruction of the maternal realm. I would suggest two reasons for this deconstruction: 1) that a search for some totalized home is by definition an impossible and false one, perhaps even more so when that home is merely a matriarchal enclave in a patriarchal world; 2) that the goal is compromised by the compromises made in the quest and recedes at each betrayal, whether it be collusion with the guards or mistrust among the climbers/seekers.
Serious indications of trouble in this intersubjective (or intra: as I suggested, one can read the text as an attempt to integrate an identity, from severely fragmented parts) female space, bounded as it as at both ends by the male world, are the disjunctions indicated by I's distrust of Lidija and competitiveness with her, (who knows what first, can they stand on the same step without falling) and by hints of betrayal. At the outset, the narrator claims she could not speak to Andrejs about what really mattered because of Lidija's presence. At the end, she unquestioningly assumes the role of co-conspirator and co-murderer with the young man, acceding to some prior implicit arrangement. By these acts of bad faith, she may have cut off any possibility of even approaching a semblance of the desired space. By enlarging and populating the space of her dream, the dreamer has created a wider context for interpretation and enabled the reader to conjecture about the reasons for her failure. No longer is it a dream focused on the idyllic apartment above and an empty ascent. The view now takes in the borders and intersections of the female realm where guards appear asking for passports, where a touch of violence emerges, along with some obligations not clearly remembered but nonetheless felt as binding. She may have construed the possibilities of the feminine realm in a regressive, false manner and thus has been unable to help to create it, let alone construct her own room within the apartment. This time, precisely when the burden of failure is not placed so clearly on the narrator — it is not so much a matter of her not being able to "pull herself together" — the possible reasons for that failure are indicated as never before.
We see I's relationship to the male authority figures as well as to other women, besides the mother. In the earlier version of the dream she was always the only climber. The presence and reaction of the other women is another important widening that problematizes interpretation while yielding it new material. There is now a social world that brings out problems of communication and language, or rather two worlds, clearly divided according to gender. This is no more the lone heroic figure of the previous versions, making or not making her (non)-existential leap.
One might construe the fellow climbers as part of the Self, or alternative selves that, if and when acknowledged properly, might make it possible for I to make the climb too. In an opposite vertical movement, Adrienne Rich's "Diving into the Wreck" finds that she is a we, an insight not uncommon among female writers who see their heroines as fluid, the best of them strengthened by acknowledging their division while containing it.28 Within the range of women's attitudes, that of Mrs. Zelma may be the most promising. Along with Lidija, who has no preconceived notion of what is up there, no exaggerated expectations, Mrs. Zelma may succeed in her ascent. We never find out. She could be an alternative to the sentimentality of the daughter as well as the misplaced serenity of mother, snorting with healthy disgust at nostalgia, not stopping for unnecessary greetings. I anticipates the greeting with Mrs. Zelma upstairs with a pleasure that is greater for being deferred to its proper time and place, not compromised by sentiment and false cheerfulness. Out of this small group, Mrs. Zelma comes closest to a missed possibility. We have gone from A(ndrejs) to Z(elma) and back again. A failed ascent, a transcendence unachieved. BUT . . . perhaps more telling than success?
On the basis of a close reading of this short piece (and with knowledge of the longer texts), I would at least suggest that gender is significant in the work of Đkipsna, that it would be worth while to look at how it is constructed in the work as a whole, and how it in turn constructs that work. I do not want to leave the impression, however, that, as it might appear from 'Upuris", there is always a tendency to separate the male and the female worlds. To illustrate this most cogently, let me cite another short piece "Victims", published in 1980 in Lituanus.29 Aside from the similarity in title, there is a failed ascent (this time by elevator, in a skyscraper), a pervasive feeling of betrayal, the quest of something at the top that could change one's life, a quest that ends with failure, this time with expected death. But here the seekers are a pair, a woman and a man. For them, too, the ascent seems necessarily connected with the interhuman realm: "Later, they themselves probably would have tried to fathom why or how their own meeting that day had made it imperative also to become acquainted with the tops of the skyscrapers, right then and there."30 Like the apartment in the other story, the expected space is a Utopian one fraught with possibilities:
"... a special space, a space between heaven and earth, a space in which poems become understandable and one's past significant and life meaningful, a space where they themselves could converse in a new mode, each suddenly seeing the other's life fully."31
As with Mrs. Zelma, the possibility of true human contact is reserved for up there, and, here too, it appears to have to do with knowledge — a new language, a new insight. !n "Victims", it is made clear that understanding one's own life is connected to seeing that of the other.
As the elevator only opens on a brick wall, leaving the two stranded, presumably to die, communion between them never comes about. They might have been able to "converse" on top "if there was such a space at all anywhere." I want to raise the question again whether there is something wrong with the nature of the quest that makes it impossible to achieve. In "Upuris", it is the assumption of a simple return to the mother, at least by the straight and public main stairs. Mother may be more accessible by the winding kitchen (female) steps associated with childhood fears. That question is never answered, as access is cut off, but perhaps if she had tried those first, before the world of the male functionaries could mobilize ... In "Victims", there is also this preoccupation with the linear, goal-oriented drive upward; in the car, the two think they could just "become airborne and fly directly" to the top of the skyscrapers. It may be this imitation of the male quest myth that guarantees failure, especially when seen as the access to what, at least in "Upuris" appears to be a clearly female space, the realm of the mother. In another short text "lenemđana"32 (taking in, incorporating, conception), the description of waking up in the mother's apartment a day before the latter's funeral, there is the sense of sharing in the maternal space with much loving respect, without appropriating it. It happens in a context of domestic chores lovingly performed, culminating in the required ritual laughter to make the bread rise better. Thus, it makes sense to talk about a female epistemology and a female space here, as in "Upuris", perhaps as that "holding" space that some feminist thinkers33 see as the alternative to the masculine quest myth. Yet it would be simplistic to assume the kitchen stairs are the answer. An attempt to go home may, by its very nature, be a reactionary enterprise, even when construed as a Utopian possibility of female community.34 The aspiring women climbers, urged on by, and on the way to, the perfect Mother in the perfect feminine space are surrounded by authoritarian and at times violent border patrols and plagued by bad faith and lack of communication among themselves.
In spite of the conviction and beauty of the mother-daughter communion in "lenemđana", this is hardly an answer. That communion vacillates between mystical receptivity ("You have done everything, I only have to understand it.")35 and a more active desire to make or remake home ("From this silence, from these frozen things and these deaf rooms, I have to fashion home once again.")36 And here, in the earlier story, it is a space in which only the narrator and her (dead) mother exist, one lacking the realism and clarifying power brought to "Upuris" by its intersubjectivity.37
1 Aiz septita tilta. (Beyond the Seventh Bridge) New York: Gramatu
2 Alicia Ostriker, "The Thieves of Language: Women Poets and Revisionist Mythmaking," in The New Feminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature, Theory, ed. Elaine Showalter (Pantheon: New York, 1985), p. 330.
3 O. Kratinđ, in Books Abroad, Autumn 1973, p. 675, for instance. Also Aija Kuplis Bjornson in llzes Pasaule, New York : Gramatu Draugs, 1984.
4 Aiz septita tilta, Neapsolitas ţemes. New York: Gramatu Draugs, 1970.
5 Ilzes pasaule, p. 47. (further cited as IP)
6 My emphasis.
7 IP, p. 47.
8 IP, p. 48.
9 IP, p. 49.
10 IP, p. 50.
11 IP, p. 50.
12 IP, p. 50.
13 IP, p. 51
14 IP, p. 50
15 IP, p. 51
16 IP, p. 52
17 IP, p. 52
18 IP, p. 53
19 IP, p. 54
20 IP, p. 54
21 IP, p. 54
21 IP, p. 54
22 IP, p. 54
23 IP, p. 54
24 "A Map for Rereading: Gender and the Interpretation of Literary Texts," in The New Feminist Criticism, p. 58. My emphasis.
25 Jessica Benjamin, for instance, in "A Desire of One's Own: Psychoanalytic Feminism and Intersubjective Space," in Feminist Studies, Critical Studies, ed. Teresa de Lauretis, Bloomington, Ind. 1986.
26 "Society and the Self in the Novels of Ilze Đkipsna and Alberts Bels," Books Abroad, Autumn 1987, p. 675.
27 p. 193.
28 Ostriker, p. 331.
29 Vol. 26, No. 3.
30 p. 30.
31 p. 31
32 Vidëja isteniba (New York, 1974), pp. 117-126.
33 Such as Josephine Donovan, "Toward a Women's Poetics," in Feminist Issues in Literary Scholarship, ed. Shari Benstock (Bloomington, 1987).
34 Conversations with my Cornell colleague Biddy Martin.
35 Videla isteniba, p. 125.
36 Videla isteniba, p. 121.
37 For a striking comparison of major themes (the apartment, the male, possibly an animus figure, explicating the female heroine's dream) see Ingeborg Bachmann's novel Malina.