<<Biblioteca Digital del Portal<<INTERAMER<<Serie Cultural<<El Río de los Sueños: Aproximaciones Críticas a la Obra de Ana María Shua<<In Whose Own Image?: Ana María Shua’s Gendered Poetics of Fairy Tales
Autor: Rhonda Dahl Buchanan, Editora
Título: El río de los sueños: Aproximaciones críticas a la obra de Ana María Shua
In the past three decades, Ana María Shua’s poems, novels, short stories, as well as very short short stories, movie scripts, and even cook-book recipes have been dedicated to the cultural pondering and decoding of gender issues. Her texts have been enticing readers not only in Spanish, but also in English, German, Italian and Dutch, among other languages, to look beyond the most apparent forms, to be intuitive and act counter-intuitively, to think and to imagine. Slimy frogs turn into charming princes and much more, princesses kiss them once, twice or many times; ultimately writing becomes just an identity mirage in which the princess endlessly kisses her own image in an unpredictable mirror. Narrative depends on the writer’s imagination and the reader’s compromise and willingness to remain in the land of the virtually omnipotent societal structure, which, tradition has taught us, no matter how horrid the entanglement is, will eventually be resolved by the much needed “happily ever after” ending. Or maybe not? Perhaps the fin-de-millennium Western culture, the postmodern sensibility and project (if not a condition as Lyotard calls it) has a different script for the “happily ever after” kind of tales?
Ana María Shua’s exploration of the fairy and folk tale genre distinctly points towards the following goal: if the patterns of classical fairy tales reflect the societal unconscious (as psychoanalysts and particularly Jungian scholars claim), that unconscious should be critically examined. In other words, the discursive analysis of different versions of traditional fairy tales may reveal cultural norms, codes and mores. Consequently, if our own particular ideology—or to be more specific in the case of Ana María Shua’s literary opus, the feminist ideology—clashes with the one underlying the cultural unconscious, then the goal of her writing project becomes even more specific, to incite and animate her readers to reflect on gender identity and its discontents: “Si una princesa besa a un sapo y el sapo no se transforma en príncipe, no nos apresuremos a descartar al sapo. Los príncipes encantados son raros, pero tampoco abundan las auténticas princesas” (Casa de geishas 87). In her 1992 collection of “cuentos brevísimos,” Casa de geishas, this revisionist project is foregrounded in the section of the book entitled “Versiones.” Therefore, when in the above quoted “version” of the popular fairy tale “The Frog Prince” the authenticity of the princess is questioned, the reader should ponder what it means to be an authentic woman in this day and postmodern age. Nothing should be taken at face value, the subject, along with its femininity has disappeared or has mutated. As Baudrillard warns us, textuality hardly leads to reality but most likely to another textual web of simulacra.
In order to understand Shua’s revisionist project, it is necessary to recall the tales from early childhood, to search for the missing links and repetitions, and even revisit the images that remain embedded in our collective memory. For example, the classic tale of “The Frog Prince,” which heads the Brothers Grimm mid-nineteenth-century German collection, features a princess who makes a marriage pledge to a frog in exchange for her lost ball of golden yarn. Although she soon regrets her promise, the princess is forced by her father to keep it. Ultimately, she gets fed up with the slimy frog in her bed and smashes it into the wall. This violent act unexpectedly breaks the spell and the frog turns into a prince. However, the direct reference that Shua’s narrative makes has to do with an earlier version of this tale, the one in which the princess kisses the frog who remains in her bed for three weeks before the spell is broken. Although Madonna Kolbenschlag’s interpretation and qualification of this story in her study of feminine models and myths in fairy tales, Kiss Sleeping Beauty Good-Bye, is somewhat exaggerated, it also points to an important and prevailing structure of gender relations of this particular fairy tale:
The patriarchal, androcentric bias of the tale is underscored by the fact that the heroine’s accommodation is prescribed by her father, the King. The all-too-familiar pattern of the battered woman is evident: initial anxiety, anger and hatred are gradually pacified by the realization that she has nowhere to go, no one to turn to. Her isolation and dependency make her a prisoner of male will. (206)
Shua’s glimpse into the narrative web of “The Frog Prince” assumes the reader’s preexistent knowledge of the tale. She does not bother to introduce the background situation, but rather focuses on the pun and the moral of the tale. The moral is unlike any other: identities are not fixed, disguises are multiple and authenticity is rare, if not impossible. However, she does not stop with this insight. It is only the first in the series of five avatars of the tale contained in Casa de geishas. By offering several versions of the same plot she virtually overcomes the limitations of the written language and printed page, and reminds the reader of the old, “happily ever after” times when the fairy tales were not fixed and different versions proliferated because orality was the principal mode of transmission. Nevertheless, Shua’s simulated orality is yet another postmodern trademark. The epic storyteller whom Benjamin mourns in his illuminating reflections on the poetics of narrative construction, is nowhere to be found. Instead, the narrator may be one of the geishas who, we are warned at the beginning of the book, may not even be Japanese, women or even transvestites:1
Claro que no es una verdadera Casa y las geishas no son exactamente japonesas; en épocas de crisis se las ve sin kimono trabajando en el puerto y si no se llaman Jade o Flor de Loto, tampoco Mónica o Venessa son sus nombres verdaderos. A qué escandalizarse entonces de que ni siquiera sean mujeres las que en la supuesta Casa simulan el placer y a veces el amor (pero por más dinero), mientras cumplan con las reglamentaciones sanitarias. A qué escandalizarse de que ni siquiera sean travestis, mientras paguen regularmente sus impuestos, de que ni siquiera tengan ombligo mientras a los clientes no les incomode esa ausencia un poco brutal en sus vientres tan lisos, tan inhumanamente lisos. (Casa de geishas 10)
Whoever the narrator may be, he or she is closer to us than we can imagine, and is not an impersonal master storyteller situated on a higher plain of knowledge which transmits the truth about the world. The narrator does not depict a static, unquestionable image to us, but rather relates a psychologically charged interpretation of a situation. As the title of the text “Simulacro” cleverly insinuates, simulations proliferate and protagonists are caught in the cynical web of reflections and dependencies. Women are not women, they are not even disguised men, or transvestites, but dolls, human replicas without a navel, without a trace of the umbilical cord that once tied them to their mothers. Although not of this world, these motherless daughters do seem to pay taxes and are aware of the economic benefits extracted from their profession, and furthermore, they do seem to know how to search for the meaning of life from behind patriarchy’s back.
The second version of the Frog and the Princess tale (“Sapo y princesa II”) makes a brief reference to the previous rendition, and continues the double-edged narration, still taking into account the traditional tale. Once again, the center of attention is the princess, who, apparently, impressed by the miraculous outcome of the previous kiss, continues kissing the prince who turns again, this time definitely, into a frog. From a young woman who does not keep her promise and who is overcome by fear and disgust in the presence of the repulsive animal, the focus of Shua’s tale shifts to the young woman who is curious, experimental and closely involved with changing the conditions of her life and the contents of her bed. It is a woman with agency.
In “Sapo y princesa III” the young princess continues the kissing project, and this activity opens a chain of transformative reactions: the frog turns into a prince, who becomes an object, a washbowl, which changes into a bird, a petrel, which then evolves into a flower, a heliotrope, which finally metamorphoses into a mirror. Now the young woman is able to cherish and adore her own image, which is what she does with pleasure.
The idea of a princess thrilled by the discovery of her own secret power in her reflection in the mirror, recalls a heroine of another fairy tale: Snow White. According to Bruno Bettelheim’s influential study The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales: “the story of Snow White warns of the evil consequences of narcissism for both parent and child. Snow White’s narcissism nearly undoes her as she gives in twice to the disguised queen’s enticements to make her look more beautiful, while the queen is destroyed by her own narcissism” (203). Bettel-heim’s analysis of the tale is focused on the resolution of the Oedipal complex, the friction with the mother and the successful separation from her in the individuation path. While the mother-daughter relationship seems to be the central axis of the tale, the mirror seems to be the primary space in which the conflict between the two of them is played out.
Rightfully associated with self-love, the mirror, like the pond for Narcissus, is the only resource humans have to ever see their own eyes, mouth, nose, ears, that is, their own face. This pleasure arrives, however, with the often forgotten fact that the reflected image is actually inverted, and that every mirror is defined by its frame. If we are to point to anything about the reality of our faces, we have to do it while pointing to the apparently opposite side of the reflection in the mirror. In a way, if symbolically speaking, we are to examine the reality of gender, at times the right answer may be in the inversion of the canonized cultural narrative. Then the question of who is holding the mirror and framing a particular segment of reality, should enter into our calculations as well. With this in mind, and revisiting the idea that fairy tales discursively structure gender norms, it is possible to understand the way in which the mirror became such a powerful metaphor in fairy tales and some forms of imaginative literature.2
Vanity, self-centeredness, and neurotic narcissism seem to be associated with the classic version of the Snow White tale; however, Shua’s literary mirror appears to be resemantisized. The princess, who first discovered her powers by kissing a frog, has now discovered her own desire. This body-centered narcissism points to a woman who is not only successfully separated from her father’s desires, but who is spontaneous, cheerful, and more than anything else, a maker of her own self. If the traditional mirror reflects patriarchal values by framing the male desire, then Shua’s princess has created an object, magical as it is, that not only reflects but also refracts the female desire.3
The fourth version, “Sapo y princesa IV,” further elaborates the pleasures of her experimental spirit. Encouraged by the power of her body to change the reality surrounding her, she tests it by kissing donkeys, spiders, vultures, worms, wild boars, snakes, snails, and grooms. The ironic narrative voice parenthetically interpolates a comment regarding the prince, who observes this spree of creative energy with occasional bursts of jealousy. The choice of animals is symptomatic: it contains species that are usually not considered friendly to humans, but are quite common in fairy tales. The boar is, for example, one of the sacrificial god surrogates, while the spider, serpent and worm are associated with the female power (Walker 359, 413). The image of the groom, who obviously does not belong to the list, closes this “version” with the explicit hope that he will eventually ascend socially and not only metamorphose physically. The shift of emphasis calls the reader’s attention to the moral importance and reception of fairy tales among “common folk,” and their underlying hope to change their social status through appropriate behavior prescribed in the fairy tales. Basically, if a frog can turn into a prince, why should a simple groom not aspire to be magically transformed into a prince?
The last vignette related to the theme of the “Frog and the Princess” restates the issue of the original and its copy. Is the prince real? Was he turned into a frog by a fairy, or is it that the frog became a prince? Did her kiss change his destiny or was it already inscribed by the fairy’s power, the pregnant princess wonders. The baby tadpole’s “strange” cries seem to prove that the “real” nature of the prince is that of a frog, and that before becoming a frog, he was not a prince. It is the power of her desire that metamorphosed the frog into a more appropriate form to suit the princess. And if we invoke the words expressed in the epigraph of this essay by Jack Zipes, we see that desire, along with necessity, is the major instigator of fairy tales.
The frog-like nature of the prince is revealed to the princess through the baby frog she carries within. Its father’s long tongue puts the identity of her husband and his true prince-like nature into a state of terminal doubt. The princess’s doubt represents, at the same time, the failure of her power to transform by loving, and reveals the psychological mechanism behind the Frog Prince cluster of tales. The ultimate narcissism of the feminine desire revealed in the version with the mirror (“Sapo y princesa III”) is now brought to its final conclusion. Her pregnancy is a sign that she is on her way to becoming a mother, and positive mother images are rare in traditional fairy tales. Maybe the frog that she will deliver will not testify to the repression of her desire, as one would expect from the patriarchal literary tradition, but will mark a new transformative realm in which women’s lives continue beyond the ending.
If there is no archetypal prince and the princess’s present husband is a simulacrum with a long tongue, then Shua’s version of the fairy tale ultimately deconstructs the entire patriarchal system in which girls are trained to focus all their energy on transforming frogs into princes. On the other hand, the frog-like nature of every prince speaks of the true animal nature of the body and its instincts. The fairy tale world vanishes when confronted with such radical doubt as the fairy tale itself is transformed by internalized doubt. Because the characters of traditional fairy tales usually have no interior, psychological content in the modern sense, this radical doubt of the princess brings about the demise of her own princesshood. The unquestioned exteriority of the princess’s actions is now brought into the domain of her own psyche. The fairy tale princess always submits to the will of the king, and is therefore transformed into pure exteriority. Besides her father’s position, it is only her looks and her noble status which are required for her to be an “authentic” princess. The traditional “happily ever after”ending of the “Frog Prince” fairy tale is challenged by the frog-like cries of the princess’s baby.
Shua’s revisionist experiment plays with the canon on yet another level; while in the traditional tale, the transformative amphibian is a frog, her narrative avatars use the close relative of the frog, a toad (“sapo”).4 Unlike the frog’s smooth skin, toads are characterized by their warty surface, and have been associated with evil magic performed by witches who use their legs and pulverized skin in the production of ritual potions (Von Franz 75). The toad’s poisonous nature is stressed in folklore (Von Franz 74) and represents the “inverse and infernal aspect of the frog-symbol” (Cirlot 114, 344).
According to the Jungian scholar Marie-Louise von Franz, in mythology the frog is usually a masculine element while the toad is feminine. It is associated with the Mother Earth, and, most interestingly, it represents the uterus and childbirth.5 In that sense, Shua’s literary quest is not only invested in parodying the genre itself, but also in laying bare the building blocks of the Western symbolic order. Before transforming frogs into princes, the writer inverts the rules of the game and substitutes frogs with their “infernal aspect,” toads (Cirlot 344). Shua strengthens the feminine element of her tale, even though that makes the conception of the tadpole ever more miraculous.
The feminist project of Shua’s syncopated tale foregrounds an active heroine who playfully spins possible narrative webs emanating from the classic source. The “some day my prince will come” kind of expectations no longer seem valid at the end of the twentieth century. Postmodernism has left a permanent imprint on a variety of Western molds. Gender representations, along with socialization patterns, seem to be forever changed. So what happens with the prince in this new kind of space, not only the one who was a frog, but the real hero, the one who was able to outsmart the wizards, kill the dragons, and rescue the one and only princess?
The amending fairy tale project that Shua so successfully develops in Casa de geishas has its roots in a much earlier writing project, a volume of short stories entitled Los dias de pesca (1981). Although her novel Soy paciente was published in 1980, the stories were written first, preceded only by a collection of poems El sol y yo published in 1967. Shua’s subsequent titles point to the fact that narrative fiction turned out to be the genre most appropriate for her expression in language. New, feminist, and somewhat bitter fairy tales appear scattered throughout Los días de pesca as if calling on the reader to undo the repressive and uncertain reality of the late seventies and early eighties in Argentina, a period when disappearing was not only a discursive metaphor.
There are three stories in the collection which most explicitly recall the fairy tale fabula and structure: “Princesa, mago, dragón y caballero,” “La escoba y la bruja,” and “El detective, el vampiro y la niña.” In addition, the story “Historia de un cuento,” although not a direct revision of a classical fairy tale, lays bare the reality of the contesting process that the writer undertakes during the translation of the societal body into writing. Significantly, all these tales belong to the section called “Historias de la vida real,” a subtitle which leads the reader to approach the stories in a paradigmatic and exemplary way.
“Princesa, mago, dragón y caballero,” the longest of all the stories in the book, is a revision, or to be more precise, an updated version of the famous tale featuring a powerless damsel in distress who awaits a rescuer. Following the tradition in a tongue-in-cheek manner, the tale almost turns out to be exclusively about the knight called Arnulfo de Kálix.
The story begins with a tournament and the battle that everyone has been waiting for between Arnulfo de Kálix and Príncipe Verde. They must fight each other in order to win the right to face the wizard who has captured the Princess Ermengarda and is keeping her in the castle under the watchful eye of the dragon. All the necessary elements of the archetypal tale, according to Bettelheim’s frame, are present: “the unlikely hero proves himself through slaying dragons, solving riddles, and living by his wits and goodness until eventually he frees the beautiful princess, marries her, and lives happily ever after”(111). However, Shua’s hero will not only encounter a different kind of a princess, but will also experience more doubts, trials and tribulations than any archetypal representative of the patriarchal past. Although a hero in his most fundamental aspects (bravery, dexterity and persistence), Arnulfo is not presented as perfect and natural. More than anything else, he plays the role of the hero in this particular tale, but there is a gap between that role and his actual representation. From that gap emanates the urge that gets translated into a series of revelations about friendship, happiness, maturity and life goals. Discursively, the gap between the real self and the projected ideal is worked out through the ironic double voice of the omniscient narrator who has access to the mental world of the protagonist but does not consider it either important or worthy of further elaborations essential to the development of the narrative. He appears to be most honest and engaged when narrating within parenthetical brackets. The opening paragraph of the story contains one of his parenthetical remarks: “Y esa noche el caballero Arnulfo de Kálix y el Principe Verde bebieron juntos por el fin de la amistad que los unía y por la eternidad de la belleza (que los separaba)” (25).
From the rest of the story, it soon becomes obvious what this ironic remark means: the two men who must face each other in the battle which will determine the rest of their lives, became friends during the long period leading up to the tournament, and now that friendship must end in order for them to get closer to the goal whose “reality” they can hardly imagine: the princess. Later on, that same postmodern narrator, quite versed in Baudrillard’s distinction between different orders of simulacra, will reveal parenthetically that what the two knights are longing for is not even a princess but rather her image: “El caballero Arnulfo amaba y deseaba ya a la princesa Ermengarda (a su imagen) como un chico ama y desea a su primera, no poseída bicicleta” (30). This clear separation between the real and its representation is underlined throughout the narrative. It is particularly significant because the traditional classic hero achieved his status through his image and not through his actual person. That is why it is generally quite difficult, if not impossible, to match historic figures with epic heroes. The image is what is cultivated and worshiped because of its discursive malleability. No real person matches the hero’s idealized image.
Shua’s narrative points to this fact from its inception and invokes it regularly, particularly emphasizing its relevance for female imagery. While the classic tale would most likely present the conflicting situation—the abduction of the princess, for example—at the beginning and always in the service of hero’s conquering path, “Princesa, mago, dragón y caballero” foregrounds the practice of using the female image by male authors, narrators and story-tellers. Usually the female character appears as a motivation for male activity. This procedure makes her disappear from the classic narrative. She resurfaces at the end when the hero saves her from the dragon or a similar beast. The hero invokes her in memory every once in a while before some particularly harsh task, until finally walking away with her in order to live “happily ever after.” Shua’s hero undoes this Western textual fabric woven throughout centuries of obeying the male desire almost exclusively, and retracing the steps of classical heroes to question their supremacy. Although the narrative’s title insinuates the change of the order of the characters’ importance, it is not until the end that the reader is clearly faced with the open expression of female desire.
Like a traditional knight, Arnulfo de Kálix has a catchy name rounded out by his place of birth instead of the family name. Heroes do not belong to families but rather to their kingdoms, countries and nations, thus later ensuring the survival of their legend through repetition. Arnulfo de Kálix, however, has the psychology of a novelistic hero more than any epic character; he hears the legend of the dragon and the princess from a traveling singer when he is twelve, the right age for any adolescent to fall in love, and this poetic narrative becomes a guidance in his life journey. His first expression of love is also discursive. He engraves her name into his oak desk before he even imagines her. At that time, still a child more than a young man, he mentally conceives the dragon and not the princess. The space that the “discursive” princess occupies in his mind is measured by the well-known prosaic objects extracted from his modern, technologically well-equipped reality: in the beginning he loves her and needs her like a child who wants his first bicycle; then, like a young man pining after a movie actress; later, as he matures, his desire is like that of a writer who yearns for his first, still unwritten novel. As Arnulfo grows older he wants her like a middle-aged official who dreams of a job for which he sacrificed almost all his hopes; then, like a pilot of a commercial aircraft who wants his own small plane; and finally, like a man who has never seen the sea cherishes an old photograph that has been hanging over his desk for years. Like the mythical princess in the dragon’s castle, he seems to be a prisoner of his own gender and desire. For one should not forget that his selfhood is constituted by the image of a female, a perfect “other” that he is not even sure exists. He loses his best friend, the Príncipe Verde, during a prescribed knight’s tournament. Later, his mature life with a steady profession and a good wife turns out to be a mirage, because his path was determined by the rules of the fairy tale genre and its governing masculinity. And finally, our postmodern hero is forced to trade his youth and strength for the wisdom necessary to outsmart the wizard.
In a way there is a certain literary reworking of the quixotic narrative because Arnaulfo’s pursuit of the princess parallels Cervantes’s famous novel. Like a postmodern Don Quixote, Arnaulfo becomes infatuated with a discursive female phantasm—we should not forget that he first heard about the Princess Ermangarda from a ballad—and dedicates his life to the dual aim of becoming a true knight in order to gain possession of the “real” princess. The prince is charmed by the spell of a literary genre and does not possess the power to break out of its absolute laws. He is caught up in the web of narrative conventions in much the same way that Princess Ermengarda is invented and maintained as an image of ideal womanhood by the patriarchal social order. Women are best when they are imagined, rather than engaged in a dialogue with their dragon-like nature. It is that terrifying part of femininity which defies any generic rule with its unbounded desires that the dragon protects as well as enjoys. In the end, the princess’s tears for the slain dragon betray a different kind of connection to this mythical creature that nurtures fire. The centuries-long relationship between the princess and the dragon is based on the power of sexuality which both the confined woman and her guardian reptile share.
Thus Shua’s narrative is very explicit regarding the artificiality of a construct called “princess.” Her image is made to serve as a metaphor for all the other desires that a maturing male may have and that are replaced by the demands of the traditional gender and genre expectations. “She” is the desire that gives the meaning to “his” life. The story in which she is “liberated” is not her story but the hero’s, and she is framed in such a way as to represent the object of his desire and not its subject.
The ultimate twist of “Princesa, mago, dragón y caballero” comes at the end when the dragon is slain, the wizard is outsmarted, and the hero liberates the princess. He is an old, complete stranger for a woman who spent her entire youth with the dragon. Who is the villain now, the narrative voice silently posits. Whom should a woman, a “liberated woman” nevertheless, trust after being incarcerated for so long in the castle structured by patriarchal hegemony? How does the liberation affect feminism after the flight from the masculine order? Why should the princess suddenly accept the unsolicited “liberator,” a complete stranger, after learning for centuries how to negotiate with her monstrous captor?
These are the underlying questions of the entire narrative. They also happen to be some of the much debated issues of the feminist movement of the sixties and early seventies in Latin America: how to convey to millions of women accustomed to the confines and demands of the patriarchal home, women who mostly, but not exclusively, live outside the urban centers of the Western civilization, that their position and role in the household is not “natural” but constructed? How to explain that the dragon can be eliminated and the wizard outsmarted?
As many critics whose research involves gender issues in Latin America have pointed out, feminist ideology and philosophy is not overwhelmingly embraced by women of all classes and sexual orientations. For example, Amy Kaminsky has summarized the problem in her excellent study of gender oppression and sexuality Reading the Body Politic: Feminist Criticism and Latin American Women Writers in the following manner:
Feminism meets resistance there on the linked issues of foreignness, class allegiance, and sexuality. The mass-media representation of feminism as antisexual and antimale (or, simply and insidiously, antiheterosexual) and the popularly disseminated notion that the feminist movement is bourgeois and Northern (and therefore doubly suspect, probably reactionary) have alienated many otherwise progressive women and men. Women’s insistence on controlling their own sexuality, whether in choosing their sexual partners or in having control over reproduction, is represented as anything from perversion to selfishness, and as the work of outside agitators. (18)
The reality of gender relations in Latin America points to the fact that women have historically been restricted to private spaces, be that a house or a convent.6 And she has survived. As with any other authoritarian regime, the prospects of change are often uncertain, and there is reluctance to accept it because it may bring even worse conditions, such as further restrictions and loss of security. It is not surprising then, to see that women are reluctant to accept the new ideology—even if it is feminist—that either comes from the privileged classes or from the outside.
After the many centuries Princess Ermengarda spent under the watchful eye of the dragon, she may not be eager to comply with the rules of the fairy tale genre. The prince appears as the unknown stranger, not as the adequate redeemer at the end of the tale. The realm of happily ever after which completes the marriage plot is not accessible to the princess. Is it possible that she came to love her imprisonment? Or perhaps she is afraid that the unknown stranger, the dragon slayer, has a potential for more oppression? Shua’s narrative leaves these questions unanswered. It closes with the image of a terrified and sad princess soaked in the green blood of her captor, trying to resuscitate dragon’s fiery breath. Overwhelmed with fear and grief, she gazes upon old Arnulfo as if wondering what her life will be like from now on.
Nevertheless, in Casa de geishas, there is a vignette that may serve as a possible answer to the question of the princess’s future. In “El héroe a tiempo” a kingdom is plagued by a three-headed monster that devours all its virgins. Soon, his greed is such that he does not bother to ascertain their virginity. The hero arrives, and soon after slaying the beast, demands his own reward. One form of oppression is substituted by another, and the story ends with the expressed hope that yet another hero will arrive soon.
Princess Ermengarda’s rescuer is not a unique personality, but a role dictated by the symbolic order which defines the rules of story-telling for the traditional notions of literature. The gender conscious poetics that inform Shua’s thought-provoking writing project suggest the possibility of cultural transformation; however, her narrative gift is wrapped in a transparent cellophane fabric that distances us from this revisionist potential. The veil that cushions Shua’s discourse is woven out of very fine threads of irony which, at least according to its Greek etymology (eironeia), represents a practice of writing that dissimulates and interrogates laws of textuality. In this sense, the recipient of her fairy tales faces the challenge and responsibility of passing this gift on to others—readers and listeners, men and women— not unlike the storyteller who is at the same time a “teacher and a sage” (Benjamin 108). Shua’s story requires a reader that enjoys the game of “defamiliarization” of the traditional fairy tales. The limitations of one’s own gender are foregrounded and set into ironic play as “her tale” passes along a singular poetic vision dedicated to the mother (“A mi madre”7) who, we can only imagine, told her her very first tale.