Puerto Rican Author Mayra Santos Febres Returns to UConn

The renowned Puerto Rican author, poet, and professor at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayra Santos Febres returned to UConn on March 11 to give a talk in Spanish for undergraduate, graduate students, and faculty. Santos Febres is the author of many celebrated novels, including many she discussed in her talk: Sirena Selena vestida de pena (2000), Cualquier miércoles soy tuya (2002), Nuestra Señora de la noche (2006), and Fe en disfraz (2009).

Santos Febres insisted that much of her work focuses on forms of knowledge distinct from the Eurocentric binary system of thought. She explained the history behind this system of thought, delving into ideologies that formed during the Enlightenment from Descartes onwards. Following a line of inquiry originally introduced by Jacques Derrida, Santos Febres retraced the history of dualities that structure the Western tradition, many stemming from the division of body and the soul. The backbone of this tendency developed around a linear model of time, place, and ideas. Santos Febres illustrated her point with examples such as the movement of a classical ballerina whose posture is straight up and down, or the way in which many Western cities, such as New York, were drawn according to system of grids. Santos Febres poignantly declared, “I do not do this.”

Santos Febres’ work emphasizes the pensamiento caribeño, or the Caribbean form of thought, which focuses more on the movement, curvature, and non-linear traits of the body. Body language and types of knowledge that come from the body, not the mind gave rise, she argues, to salsa, spoken word, rap, all of which involve non-linear dynamic movements. This is one reason her work focuses on trauma, because trauma is an experience that manifests itself in the body. Santos Febres suggested that there are times when words cannot express or describe the violence that we experience. “This is where I base my novels,” she said.

Santos Febres elaborated on her favorite novel, Fe en disfraz, about an educated black woman, Fe, who represents monstrosity, a recurring idea in her novels. In her discussion of Cualquier miércoles soy tuya, Santos Febres explained how the Caribbean city suggests a fractal structure, rather than a grid. Similarly to cities, the families that interest her are also “fractal,” without form, without a center, and without a strong patriarchal line. Within Cualquier miércoles soy tuya, Santos Febres revealed that she wanted to connect the ways in which humans interact within the Caribbean city to draw a sort of relational map that revealed these fractal qualities in an attempt to create consciousness about other forms of knowledge that may be able to give form to a uniquely Caribbean reality.

By Ayjan Arik