When I first read “The Blue Women,” I was struck by the elegance of its logic and the clarity of the narrative voice. Because the story is about a bizarre practice particular to an invented culture, I had to traverse not one but two sets of cultural assumptions in order to translate it.
Adelice is a prolific young writer from Bahia, in the northeast of Brazil, a microculture of its own within that country, with a “slang” so developed as to be called “Bahianese.” The publication in Hayden’s Ferry Review offered a great excuse to ask Adelice some questions about the story and her writerly origins.
What was the inspiration for “The Blue Women?”
It arose out of a book by Lautreamont, “The Songs of Maldoror,” from which I took the story’s epigraph, and out of a childhood memory of prejudices against freemasons. I wanted to write about how things that seem strange are simple and understandable when seen up close, and about how observing from a distance and from outside often distorts meaning.
Does the world you describe in your book have a parallel in ours?
Yes, many equivalent and parallel worlds. I thought, for example, about achievements, in life, special, happy moments. When we wake to another day, though, with new events, the previous day’s achievements are in the past. They’ve lost the taste of glory, just a day later. But for someone at a distance, who doesn’t live with us, those achievements can seem grand and eternal. Such a person feels uncomfortable, envious; he suffers. And this gives our lives a larger dimension: the other, at times, gives greater meaning to our experiences than we do. Because he is on the outside, though, he knows only a part of [our] reality, and deforms the truth. And so he feels excluded. Many people who have read my story have told me that they have felt excluded, much like the blue women. But the blue women themselves are creating their exclusion.
Do think of yourself more as “Brazilian” or as a “Bahian,” especially with respect to the language of your writing, or do you not think identity is important in this context?
I’m a Bahian from Castro Alves, from the interior of Bahia, and have written three things recently that deal with my origins [a novel, a book of short stories, and a play]. In all of these, I’ve put all the aesthetic influences of the city where I was born, its traditions, religiosity, belief, all that is sacred there. But in other writing, no. There’s no personal identity that determines my writing. I do have an interest in the unusual, in the hidden details of quotidian adventures. In the book of short stories, Caramujos Zumbis, which includes “The Blue Women,” almost all the stories speak of an absurd universe, a trunk of oddities, and to the influences of Cortázar, Kafka and Artaud. The new book of stories, “Fabulous Album,” travels the same path. Also, theatre is always present in anything I do. Even though the stories deal more with the subjective realm, with practically no dialogue or direct actions, I would like to see them adapted for theatre. It would be wonderful to see the blue women meet up on stage. Who knows—maybe some reader of Hayden’s Ferry Review might do it!
THE BLUE WOMEN
“If someone sees an ass eating a fig or a fig eating an ass (these two circumstances don’t frequently present themselves except in poetry), you can be sure that, after having reflected for two or three minutes on which route to take, he will abandon the path of virtue and laugh like a cock!”
—Comte de Lautréamont
Today is the day of the festival where they kill. I don’t know whether they kill jaguars or ants, but they kill. We blue women cannot enter this festival. The white women and the blue men enter. The yellow, white, and black men also enter. And the black and the yellow women. But we, the blue women, cannot. They have never told us who actually dies, but we have deduced that there are deaths because, otherwise, the festival would not be called the festival where they kill.
The start of the tradition of the festival where they kill was so long ago that we don’t remember it with any certainty—if it actually had a beginning—as we think that any date of such antiquity must predate our own existence. In other words, the festival where they kill might be so old that it may have come into being before the blue women came into being and were barred from it. We suspect that if the festival where they kill existed and the blue women didn’t, the festival wouldn’t make sense, since everything that exists needs its opposite, the complement which comes into being by means of limits, prohibitions, inflexible rules. By this logic, we imagine that it is we who legitimate the existence of the festival where they kill, since, in order to kill, they need the blue women. Or not. We also can’t draw our own conclusions because the conclusions of the blue women regarding festivals where they kill are worthless. Still, drawing conclusions is all that’s left to those of us who do not attend the festival.
They never have told us what they do there, who actually dies, how they die, and why they die. They kill: this is all we know. And we’re not even sure, really, that they kill, since we’ve never seen or heard anything. We asked, in other times—and in our time, we continue to ask—why they call what they do a festival. They never answer our questions: they don’t insult us, they don’t smile at us, but nevertheless they don’t respond. Isn’t a festival supposed to be a happy get together, for fun? Those who go into the festival where they kill don’t look as though they are having fun. Couldn’t a festival be a solemn occasion? Those who exit the festival where they kill do not appear solemn. There is no pageantry, no formalities dictated by laws or customs apart from that which we already know: that the blue women may not participate in the festival. Isn’t a festival supposed to be a chance to socialize? They don’t appear to celebrate together some action recalled or shared memory or to commemorate some past event. They enter and leave the festival as though unaffected and empty of memories: they are all bored to be at the festival where they kill. Could the festival be an observance of a saint’s day? They don’t appear to be cultivating devotion for any killer saint. We know them. They are our neighbors, our sons, our men. We don’t teach them to hide evil saints. But a festival is, we believe, a commemoration, with others. Without others there wouldn’t be a festival, and if they never commemorate anything, why call it a festival? And who, way back when, named this event the festival where they kill? More questions for us that never have answers. But it falls to us to ask—time after time, forever. Who would we be if we never asked? The questions were created to be asked. We are not the ones who are going to break the laws of questions, even if everyone else breaks the laws of answers, depriving us of all knowledge concerning the festival where they kill.
A few months ago, we started wondering whether the festival used to be some type of conspiracy against us because only we could not attend it. But we soon realized it wasn’t. The others were very sad when we revealed this to them, to the point that they said we should be glad we don’t take part in the festival. We lived—just like our ancestors, who, even then, heard from their contemporaries the same excuses—for a long time with the happy illusion that we were special, that to be excepted is to be exceptional, but no. There are good exceptions and bad exceptions. We don’t know, though, if not participating in the festival where they kill is a felicitous or an infelicitous exception.
It would be an infelicitous exception if, at the festival, they were to kill ants. Because we, the blue women, would like to take part in a ritual where ants are killed. We talked about rituals a few days ago with some of them, and they grew sad. And they said, in the way they have of responding to the blue women, “We like rituals of brushing our teeth after meals.” This answer was enough to make us meet to decipher what was hidden in this sentence. We didn’t succeed and deduced that those who attend the festival where they kill enjoy the ritual of brushing teeth as much as we who don’t attend it. We are a hygienic people.
And it would be a felicitous exception if, at the festival, they were to kill jaguars. We are not exterminators of species. We don’t support this type of sacrifice. Could our lack of support be the reason they don’t invite us to the festival where they kill? And why do they continue to attend the festival where they kill if they also feel unhappy about attending? We, the blue women, constantly come up with new questions as we watch the melancholy eyes of those who observe the festival where they kill. They keep quiet. They look into our eyes and say, strictly with their mouths, that “it has to be like this,” and we follow with more questions, which sound like challenges to the system. We don’t feel privileged for not participating in the festival where they kill. All we want is to take part in the festival, even if we leave it unhappy. We say this, and now they smile and say that we know absolutely nothing, that we are ignorant. That we are ignorant, we already know. And finally, they say something that, for us, who are so eager for answers, comes as a revelation: “It’s not a question of being happy or not at the festival where they kill. We are happy or we’re not. We are happy, and then soon after, we’re not. Taking part in the festival—or not—doesn’t change this.” And we, who never enter the festival where they kill and never will, don’t know how to measure the degree of truth or lucidity of their assertion. Why would those who attend be loyal to us?
That they kill jaguars or ants is merely guesswork on our part. We have dreamed up a system of beliefs. In fact, we have already created manifestos and booklets with respect to the festival where they kill. I think that we justify, theorize about, and reflect on the festival more than they themselves do. We put together compendia and treatises. And we don’t discount the hypothesis that they might also kill creatures larger than jaguars. Indeed, they could even kill people. And we suffered, in our meetings, when we thought that we might describe them as potential assassins. Our pain went away, though, when we remembered that they might be killing creatures much smaller than ants, those insects we don’t see, and so we no longer knew how to describe them since we thought, all of us, that killing ants was insignificant and that those who kill what we can’t see should be excused. Today, we think very differently—we know that death is the same for jaguars and for ants. And what they kill no longer matters to us, whether pigs, locusts, old people, babies, protozoa, or elephants. What we want is to take part in the festival and be able to kill also, whatever the species.
What has intrigued us for long stretches of our lives is their complete and absolute indifference as they enter and leave the festivals. They give us absolutely no clue of what they ultimately do inside. They enter and leave and enter. And though we, by any means possible, try to detect some purpose, at least—by means of a look, a smile, a wrinkled brow, or a bitten lip—nothing, absolutely nothing, is revealed to us of the nature of this festival.
We hear no sounds from the festival. No sound at all, not of exaltation or of suffering. On the clothes they wear—everyday clothes that they could wear anywhere, with absolutely nothing distinctive about them—there is no blood, no sweat, nothing visible. They don’t speak in code; they don’t give signals. But when it’s the day and time of the festival where they kill, they leave their houses, their work, their pleasures, and head for the location of the festival. We don’t know anything more of what happens in this closed space located in that street open to all, which we, the blue women, have passed innumerable times, have looked at so many times. There have been so many plots devised to enter this space where the festival where they kill happens that to try to recall and describe all the strategies developed would take more than a day, would last all of a month, a year even. There have been hundreds of methods, thousands of projects, millions of plans such that we would never be able to tell of all of them. We’ve never succeeded in entering; it’s true. It’s not that they guard the entrance of the festival where they kill that rigorously. Rather, there is a greater power, to which we, the blue women, surrender, and when we are close to succeeding in reaching our target, we retreat without knowing why. We think it is our fate never to enter into the festival where they kill.
Today is yet another festival day, the day we so anticipate. It appears to us, as a matter of fact, that only we wait so anxiously for it, for this day which provokes in us so much suffering and passivity, but which also keeps us alive and united. We, the blue women, know that we are different because of our inability to enter the festival where they kill. And this has brought us luck and terror. We discover only today, after long discourses and detailed designs, that perhaps it is we who are dying for not being there, inside, killing whoever would be here, outside.