Monday, October 18, 2004

Mafalda helps tidy up the room where the closet now stands semi-empty

Before I got my Anthropology degree, I had to defend my thesis. I'd written about Quino's
Mafalda, a comic book character who, along with her other friends and little brother, terrorises her parents with constant questions and general precociousness. She is very political, worries terribly abt the world, and must always know MORE and WHY. You'll no doubt be most shocked to hear that I've been faithfully re-reading her for 20 years now - and I ADORE the kid! [Though truth be told, I haven0t been able to since I wrote my thesis, abt a decade ago. I became over-saturated, hope it wears off soon.]

I wrote
abt her in self-defence. I'd gone to the kibbutz in 1995 to do fieldwork on the genesis of rumours and gossip - which positively flourish in such closed settings - but a cow had broken my wrist (I'll get to that story, promise, but need to scan some pics first), the volunteers' leader disliked me immensely and made my life miserable whenever possible [Oh, you wanted to go to the embassy to vote? You should have told me you wanted the day off! Whaaat, you did??? I'm sooorry, now it's too late.], and my laptop was being held hostage by customs who were busy ringing the kibbutz eminences daily to fully make sure I was kosher, and I couldn't use my arm nor did I have the time or the means (the delights of Israeli bus services and how it takes you 2 hours to travel to some place when the car would get you there in 15 min will come later too) to go to the library as I should, long story short for now, I found myself in 1996 back in Portugal with 2,5 months to go till I had to deliver a perfect thesis and nothing in the way of data to work from.

I did some rather furious thinking. I needed to write abt something I knew well already so forget abt anything involving fieldwork. My best chance was what we call the Closet-Under-the-Stairs Anthropology, the newly-emerging Anthropology that made place for the non-places. From the thesis' Introduction: Cartoons, minor gods for the longest time, have been fighting for a status that truly reflects their ever-incresasing importance.There is something sacred in heresy when its fervour is almost religious but, be that as it may, yesterday's heretics are slowly becoming fully-fledged members of the legitimised Order - and to me it seems as though Anthropology is one of the sciences better shaped to welcome them. I also wrote that Mafalda, the work, belongs to the restricted group of dwarves carried on the shoulders of giants. It does, it is a magnificent, endearing, insightful, piercing piece of work. And so I had a quick talk with my adviser (excuse me while I laugh hysterically at the use of the word "adviser" and its meaning), who agreed to it (more hysterical laughter) and off I went. I spent the next 2 months slaving away at it, writing the introduction, the content and the conclusion simultaneously, finishing books and updating till the very last moment, all the while battling a reluctant computer (this was 8 years ago) that wouldn't let me save the .doc as a whole, plus I'd managed to fly down the stairs, badly sprain my foot and be sofa-bound for 2 weeks AND my very first cat died the very day I finished typing the very last word of my very first thesis (I dedicated it to her. And to my parents. And Jerusalem).

Eventually it was finished and the discussion went well despite: 1) my absolute horror of all things oral (written words are my medium, I've been known to squeak upon opening my mouth during oral examinations - TWICE, and it was about ENGLISH BOOKS.) 2) the main arguer (?) having started it off by asking what I THOUGHT ABOUT Umberto Eco's sense of humour when I'd only put in a QUOTE from The Name of the Rose at the very beginning and it had no relevance whatsoever to the subject discussed, for fuck's sake! 3) Said arguer being obviously wasted out of his mind, sprawled on the table waving his arms about, smoking, and asking my male colleagues entering the room if they were my lovers IN ENGLISH (I kid you NOT, this story is still making the rounds). In fact, it went so well my grade was through the roof and the President of the Jury strongly urged me to get it published.

[Let me just get this off my chest: I met with my ultra-busy ADVISER exactly once, for exactly 10 min, to ask him whether I should use the term neothenia or paedomorphosis - both loosely meaning the retention of larvar/juvenile traits upon entering adulthood, as seen e.g. in Mickey Mouse today, all big eyes and round face and head 1/3 of the whole body. He said I should go on using neothenia, it didn't matter. I did, and, wouldn't you know it, got my head properly chewed off by the excentric Professor who, while taking a deep drag, berated me for my use of such an outdated term and I should have known to use paedomorphosis - and at that moment I looked at my adviser bcs he was going to say something, surely, and my adviser, who'd been kind enough to read the thesis for the first time only 3 days before, KEPT MUM. And for a long time after that I was still hearing how fabulous for me that he'd DEIGNED to be my adviser bcs it had SO, like, PAID OFF, such an outstanding classification was soooo, like, very typical of his advisees and one could JUST detect his finger EVERYWHERE. I've very much wanted to tell all of them exactly what it is THEY CAN DO with said finger. Oh wait, I'm being so unfair. He DID say during the discussion that I was brilliant, my thesis was brilliant, my Portuguese was brilliant, my writing was brilliant and I most certainly had the "breath of wording" (a respiração da escrita). THANK YOU SO MUCH. Alpha-male lauding does make my heart beat that much faster but IT DIDN'T HELP ME WRITE THE DAMN THING ONE BLOODY BIT, DID IT!]

yes, they wanted me to publish - and what do I do? Obviously, I recoil IN HORROR, isn't that what most people would do upon just having heard their university wants them to publish their thesis? What, everyone and their dog being able to read what I write??? Perfect strangers seizing my words??? People I know learning things abt me I may not want them to learn??? There's the indians with their soul-photographs, there's me and my texts. I BLED for that thesis, I POURED myself into it. Too bloody personal, that's what it was. So I successfully evaded that particular quicksand and managed to not get it published. Doesn't this make you want to weep?

I'll have to tell you this now, I recently re-read the thesis and it impressed the hell out of me. It truly WAS brilliant, he got that right. I could not believe it. I found myself wishing I had written it, in that funny schizoid way. I doubt that I could, today, produce such a work. I don't know that I could keep so many notions and anti-notions perched on my brain, and eventually be able to integrate them all and spawn something that made sense. I wrote some incredibly complicated sentences! I'll translate an excerpt so you'll be able to see what I am talking about:

Maffesoli makes use of two mythical characters to, in a dychotomy which is very dear to him, express two tendencies, opposite and complementary, which weave our daily lives. One, Promethean, is centripetal and tends to maintain, tends to a necessary neutralising of efervescences (...); the other, Dyonisian, centrifugal, finds those very efervescences to be the departure point to a new appropriation of existing realities and myths (...) Therefore, regarding Mafalda, the question may be posed in terms of formal content: that the anguish should be Dyonisian and the apparent chaos (such as we perceive it today) is accepted, thereby being transformed into an enriching and regenerating force; or Promethean, leading to the sinking of the characters in the primordial chaos, which did not represent disorder but rather the void, the limbo from which no thing or person was ever returned.

hell, isn't this scary? I've had to re-read some sentences twice to fully grasp whatever it was I was saying - mind you, I still don't know that I fully did.

Anyway, NOW WE ARRIVE TO MY POINT! (Lollipops to the survivors among you) My point is, my closet. My absolute need for reserve and privacy. My UEBER-NO-LONGER-HEALTHY need for reserve and privacy. I was talking to my friend G abt this the other day, and how much I dread this year bcs we'll have oral examinations and I HATE having to talk before people, my mind goes blank, my mouth goes dry, and she said the most amazing thing, which I found perfectly silly at the time - she said my having a blog which people read was bound to be therapeutical in that respect bcs it would help allay some of my fears of [over-]exposure.

Because it's true, on some level I AM uncomfortable with so many people finding this blog and reading it even though no one was ever anything but lovely and I DO SO appreciate having you here, and I would NEVER EVER wish to go back to not having met you lot, SERIOUSLY. But now that I know that there are people reading me for sure, I tend to be even more cautious when it comes to personal things. I even went back and set some old posts, the very first ones, written in English or with an English translation (bcs this is what I do, I write in a language and then MUST translate into the other one and am driven mad by my inability to convey the exact same meaning with the exact same rythm blablabla) to Draft bcs God forbid anyone should read them and realise that - BIG INTAKE OF BREATH, CLOSE YOUR EYES, JUMP, HERE WE GO!: I've had a perfectly normal life, I've loved and let go, I've taken chances and lost, I've had the ground taken from under my feet, I've had my breath taken away in gratitude.

There. And in bold too. The posts are up. Fully readable. And do you know, again, IT DID NOT KILL ME. There are many brave people on the internet. And I do I tend to go on and on abt the need to make our days count, to not look back and regret not having done, been, tried, dared - it was only fair that I, too, took the plunge. Besides, if you notice my profile, I DID want to be able to breathe underwater. Today seemed like a gorgeous day to start - and what better company could I hope for, my dahlings? You are part of what has made me braver.

Mafalda found at:, © Copyright 2004 - Tutti i diritti riservati; Group image found at:]

Links to this post:



At 18/10/04 10:08, Blogger brooksba said...


Wonderful post.

I will admit I didn't quite understand everything in your thesis and I was intrigued by it.

I have found blogging to be a release and a way to be more open with feelings when I've never been good at discussing them outloud.

I think blogging allows me to be open but still sheltered. People can read the posts, but I don't have to see how they are looking at me. It helps turn off my internal voice telling me to "Shut up Beth - you're giving too much away". I have found it helps me deal with emotions and thoughts and I can look back and go, "Oh yeah, that's why I did that" or "What was I thinking? That's so off-base!"

I am so glad I have met you through blogging. DM and I were talking about how much you've become a part of our lives. I consider you a true friend, someone I respect, and someone I'd like to meet. DM and I want to go to Portugal some day. =)

Thank you.


At 18/10/04 15:16, Blogger The Lioness said...

Dahlings, hop on an aeroplane this minute - as long as you don't try and MAKE ME SING!

At 18/10/04 18:46, Blogger Dale said...


Open those gills and take a deep breath!


At 20/10/04 05:07, Blogger Meh said...

Blogging has been therapeutic for me as well. I don’t have as much of a problem speaking in front of people, but I do have an enormous problem expressing my emotions orally. I am so bad at talking about my feelings, and yet on my blog I am able to say things I would never, could never do out loud.

So I know where you are coming from.

And you are fucking gorgeous girlfriend, and clever and funny, people should pay to listen to you.

At 23/10/04 00:31, Blogger CarpeDM said...

Someday we will be there. Probably not this year (next twelve months) but maybe the year after? It would be really cool to see you and the cats and the dog.

I think you're great. You're brilliant and beautiful and wonderful. I am so glad you blog.


Post a Comment

<< Home