In the last decade, one of the most interesting and under-examined characteristics of Latin American novels authored by women is the recourse to representations of secular spiritual practices as a form of resistance to patriarchal authority. Authors Laura Restrepo, Luisa Valenzuela, Giaconda Belli, Mayra Montero, Carmen Bullosa, Elizabeth Subercaseaux, and the lesser-known authors Alicia Yanez Cossio and Alina Diaconu, all explore unusual spiritual experiences and endeavours that effect profound personal transformation and interfere with forms of patriarchal order. This engagement of secular spirituality is new but not surprising. As Latin America has faced dramatic changes with post-Cold War political, economic, and militaristic rearrangements, spiritual life has not only attracted new followers but also evoked conversions. Over the last four decades, large sectors of the poor have abandoned Catholicism and converted to evangelical Protestantism. On a much smaller scale, Buddhism has been adopted amongst sectors of the middle class, and feminist theology has emerged as a spiritual and political movement on the continent and in the Caribbean (Aquino 15; Sigmund 2). Francine Masiello has suggested in "Las politicas del texto" that the need to infuse individual life with greater spiritual meaning emerges from the division of spirit and matter. As a result of this division of spirit and matter, she suggests, subjects are seeking out meaning "in the crevices of the sensory world, in the interstitial zone between bodies and social referents" (312). Although she describes this division as the remaining scar of dictatorship and genocide in Argentina, her model is applicable to other Latin American regions where the combined effects of militarization, repression, persecution, and betrayal on the part of the nation-state over the past three decades has evoked comparable states of existential depression.
The two experimental novels, El penultimo viaje (set in Argentina) by Alina Diaconu and Dulce compania (set in Colombia) by Laura Restrepo, are examples of this recent turn. In both, the loss of and search for spiritual connection in the human world result from the experience of corporeal repression and pressures to conform to the status quo. In El penultimo viaje, this repression extends from militant patriarchal regimes that exert complete control over the corporeal behaviour and mobility of its subjects. In Dulce compania, repression is produced by a gendered regime shaped by Catholic constructions of social difference as well as an apocalyptic, militarized environment. Overwhelmed by pressures to conform to physical and spiritual practices that maintain and stabilize the militarist, patriarchal regime, the women protagonists in both novels lose hope that they can build a meaningful future life. As I argue here, both novels foreground the secular pilgrimage as an "oppositional practice" (Chambers 6) that restores this lost meaning and hope. In these representations, pilgrimage is structurally reformulated. It involves a spiritual inward turn and a cathartic corporeal experience that in its most profound moment constitutes the recognition of the other within. In both novels, this personal use of pilgrimage prompts significant subjective transformation and leads the protagonist to dwell and form oppositional alliances in the marginal interstices and frontiers of the nation-state.
The novels of Diaconu and Restrepo represent several important departures from canonical Latin American literary projects that have used the form of the travel narrative to imagine oppositional identities. In the past, definitive Latin American travel narratives, including Alejo Carpentier's prologue to El reino de este mundo, Juan Rulfo's "Talpa," or Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "The Very Old Man With," amongst many others, have introduced new aesthetic or cultural concepts of regional or national identity by uncovering popular spiritual practices. These narratives have often presented travel in terms of a departure from the European metropolis and a search for a totalizing or allegorical Latin American identity often symbolized by the internal indigenous, mestizo, black, or mulato other. This project, as Jean Franco argues, has often enacted a discovery of a "cliched cartography" anchored in essentialist characterizations of racial or indigenous difference, particularly where Europe is represented as the "rational" centre at odds with Latin America, the non-rational, magical, or spiritual periphery (9). In their novels, Diaconu and Restrepo also inspire an alternative vision of reality and spirituality, yet they narrate experiences of movement toward and contact with a spiritual realm without relying on realismo magico and lo real maravilloso, which are associated with the authors Marquez and Carpentier, and without engaging in the repressive languages of "contact zones" that are characterized by "asymmetrical relations of domination and subordination" (Pratt 4). Their novels also break with testimonial uses of travel narratives to explore marginal spaces of resistance to the nation-state. Such uses are best exemplified by Miguel Barnet's Biografia de un Cimarron and Elena Poniatowska's Hasta no verte, Jesus mio, which give voice to nomadic protagonists who narrate their ongoing attempts to escape violent masters and elude the forces of state discipline.
In contrast, Restrepo and Diaconu use travel to explore the deeply personal endeavour of self-transformation that occurs through spiritual encounter and the consequent recognition of the other within. The authors undertake this exploration by reformulating the pilgrimage, a spiritual journey and encounter that has traditionally served to confirm the individual's commitment to patriarchal religious institutions. In this reformulation, the pilgrimage serves as a disguise, a "tactic of the weak" as Josefina Ludmer has called it, that allows women to "translate, transform and [thereby] reorganize a given structure" (53). In both novels, the protagonists use the passage through time and space to turn within, restore their bodies, and extend their awareness to phenomena or forces that have been removed or silenced by the patriarchal order from which they seek flight. Here, pilgrimage represents a form of active self-healing that is unfettered by the patriarchal regimes of religious institutions. In fact, by using the structure of the pilgrimage to turn within and harness spiritual strength, the protagonists engage in one of the more productive forms of oppositional behaviour. That is, they employ power against power in order to serve their own purposes, or, more specifically, in order to better elude and safeguard themselves against the detrimental effects of repression and violence (Chambers 10). Along these lines, the encounter with the sacred constitutes the greatest oppositional moment, for it provides the ultimate experience of catharsis and corporeal renewal and compels the protagonists to open out to interstitial forces and visions. At this point, the protagonists of these novels truly travel, as Islam Syed would argue, for they do not maintain the spiritual other at a distance but full-heartedly embrace and recognize the other in the depths of the individual self (56). And yet, these authors extend Syed's formulation of travel, as I demonstrate here, by insisting that the passage and experience of opening offers no return to the old subjectivity; for the corporeal sensibilities and convictions acquired on the pilgrimage internally transform the protagonists and impel them to cross over into the spiritual interstices. Through their transformation of the pilgrimage, the protagonists translate the power of the sacred from its religious destination to another secular location.
Insofar as the pilgrimage centres on corporeal relief and recuperation, and the emotional practices of opening, recognition, and caring, it comes as no surprise that these authors narrate from the vantage point of the secular, personal body. These efforts mirror recent developments in feminist theology throughout Latin America that combine a critique of gendered-national and religious-patriarchal ideologies with a reconfiguration of women's corporeal and intellectual self-perception (Aquino 65). Rather than "write the body" as some feminists suggested in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Diaconu and Restrepo unveil the bodily repressions produced by national and religious institutions and plot the subject's efforts to relieve these repressions and reclaim the body. In writing about the spirit realm from the perspective of the body, both writers refute the constructed superiority of the mind and spirit as articulated in both Eastern and Western religious mythologies. Similarly, both novels reject the fundamentalist Christian idea, often adopted by militaristic regimes, that the body is the site of filth and corruption from which the spirit must be protected. To the contrary, these authors portray the body as a conduit through which the protagonists discover inner strength and intuit oppositional alignments. This reaffirmation of the body therefore contests the militarists' use of terror to isolate and subsequently weaken the subject's body, or their efforts to incarcerate or make the body disappear.
Infinite and eternal, protected from violation or encroachment, the sacred has long been represented as a space apart from the mundane existence of daily life. In this space, extraordinary contact with the divine, the observance of apparitions and miracles, the feelings of spiritual alignment with religious divinities, and the intensely magnified experience of the soul occur in a place and time experienced beyond the real, material world. The sacred is highly encapsulating and propelling, and its force may be felt at a distance. For this reason, it has long inspired pilgrims to leave home, travel great distances, and endure hardship. While the pilgrimage constitutes a collective practice, it provides the structure for self-introspection and transformation: "The reaching out to God on the pilgrimage has implicit within it the reaching inward to the depths of one's own being" (Crumrine 15). Diaconu and Restrepo transform this ideological structure by discarding its religious, patriarchal foundations. They adopt the act of "reaching inward" for strictly personal use, and they do not reach outward to God but to the marginalized spiritual sphere that guides them.
As both El penultimo viaje and Dulce compania demonstrate, the task of imagining and representing the empowerment experienced by contact with the sacred is not a simple one. The authors deal with this difficulty by developing a text within a text. In this way, both authors represent the presence of a spiritual realm as a separate space that cannot be explained by some greater totality and that exists in the gaps of religious dogma and patriarchal ideology. In both novels, the presence of the spiritual realm is intuited corporeally, and the spirit force is itself a fusion of the worldly and the otherworldly, the physical and the spiritual, the ethereal and the material. At the same time, the spirit realms explored in these texts represent interstitial gaps that express patriarchal acts of exclusion. As Slavoj Zizek has suggested, ideology creates such exclusions when it cannot afford to call attention to the edifices of its violent history (6). Through pilgrimage, Restrepo and Diaconu suggest, the body regains sensitivity to and is able to recognize those suppressed interstices. The protagonist of Diaconu's novel perceives and eventually joins a spirit realm inhabited by the phantoms of the disappeared and the ghost of her mother. The protagonist of Restrepo's novel undergoes a sacred sexual experience with an angel. In each rendition of the spiritual realm, the female protagonists reclaim what has been silenced and excluded. This act of reclamation gives meaning and strength to the protagonists' lives and replaces what is lacking in the militaristic, patriarchal societies they inhabit. Here, spirituality is the embodiment of both a micropolitical space and a life-giving force that relieves the lack of recognition, compassion, and care, and provides the strength to occupy the interstices despite the odds of terror. To this end, both novels embrace the power of spirituality not only for self-empowerment and self-definition but also as a daffy-life practice that involves reaching out to, defending, and nurturing excluded spaces.
In Argentina, the experience of the "dirty war" and the struggle to come to terms with it in post-dictatorship years has left a rupture in the psyche of the nation. The battle over the representation of this recent past, or what Gabriel Motzkin calls "a continued war over memory" (269), has been at the forefront of cultural debates kept alive by the combined efforts of the critical journal Punto de Vista, newspapers Clarin and Pagina 12, and the programming and activism on the part of the Jewish intellectual community and the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo and their affiliate organizations. On the one hand, agents of las politicas del olvido attempt to present the genocide of thousands of Argentines as a case of national defence and thus a just cause. In contrast, the counter-cultures of literature, film, theatre, critical journalism, and music have attempted to recover and keep alive the memory of the disappeared so as not to participate in a second erasure of the past. As Mempo Giardinelli has stated, "the battle of Memory versus Forgetting is perpetual, virulent, perverse and continues to mark our social life and clearly our literature. [ ... ] In a society like ours, only the recognition of the pain afflicted, only the memory and intellectual honesty will permit us to continue dreaming utopias, and even better, it will inspire us to continue fighting to realize them" (286).
The battle to come to terms with the experience of the "dirty war" is at once corporeal and linguistic, for it demands the recognition of past events and meanings inscribed on the body--and the im-placement of new meanings--re-inscripted signs of the past and the present that bear the marks of "real" lived spatial memories. Published five years after a return to civilian rule in Argentina, El penultimo viaje enacts what Nelly Richard has termed the "obsessive focus of memory" (30) not merely as a way of keeping historical experiences alive but also in a cathartic effort to purge the body of past abuses. The novel explores the extent to which the masculinist backbone of militarism engenders experiences of violence, exile, and memory that are encoded within the individual body. In particular, the novel explores how militaristic domination penetrates the domestic sphere through the law of the father thus leading to an overabundance of violent masculine behaviour and the lack of a nurturing, loving presence. Diaconu therefore draws links among domestic violence, domination, and militant forms of fathering and nationalism.
In El penultimo viaje, the protagonist, Amapola, confronts and heals from past trauma by embarking on a pilgrimage through the northern provinces of Argentina. She makes this pilgrimage after years of depression under an authoritarian regime in Buenos Aires where she was exiled from another totalitarian government in Eastern Europe. Amapola's experience of double exile, her troubled relationship with her father, and deep nostalgia for her deceased mother make her long for a healing sanctuary and ultimately lead her to seek contact with her mother's spirit. But Amapola can access her mother's spirit only by first passing through the painful terrain of her past and confronting her militaristic father. Amapola's pilgrimage therefore consists of a mental journey back through the past and a journey forward toward the future to a portal, named San La Muerte, where Amapola joins her mother's spirit. The two forms of travel, one mental and the other physical, represent two interrelated tasks and states of embodiment that are presented as two narratives: a travelogue, and a memoir. The memoir, a series of descriptions set in regular type and chronologically ordered, describes the protagonist's journey back through time to the memories of her childhood. As Amapola remarks, "there is no paradise, only different levels of hell" (147). Through this memoir we observe Amapola's fearful and repressed state as she survives in a violent domestic space. Set apart in italics, the travelogue records Amapola's pilgrimage and her process of re-embodiment as she observes the northern landscape of Argentina through the window of a train.
Additionally, Diaconu demonstrates how the home can become a prison. In the memoir, we learn that Amapola led a severely repressed existence much of her life under the dictate of her father, referred to as Padre, and his repeated acts of violence against the entire family. In these descriptions, Diaconal reveals the perspective of a terrified young girl. Throughout, Amapola's home environment is abstract and unidentifiable, void of visual or aural imagery. In fact, save Padre's angry voice, the home is notably silent and colourless. Padre's actions, his severe repression, physical abuse, fits of rage, and his panoptic vigilance of the home causes Amapola's heart to race and her body to sweat and turn cold in fear: "At night he slept with his eyes open [ ... ] that way, nothing escaped him. He controlled the little world of our home like God the planets, and there was no possibility of fooling this unchangeable guard of our waking hours and our sleep" (246). In this environment, void of nurturance, creativity, joy, and love, Amapola struggles to establish a strong, autonomous identity. She develops an existential sense of distance from her body and dislocation from her environment. Amapola has similar experiences in the world exterior to her home. Indeed, the domestic sphere mirrors the national environment as Padre's authority and control as a father are intimately linked to his affiliation with the repressive communist regime. A strong nationalist, Padre trains his family in the slogans of the regime and shapes his children to be "good communist citizens," thereby replicating the dominant order of the nation and its system of praising those who conform. Even though he falls out of political favour and is forced into exile, Padre then adopts the Argentine slogans and expects his children to conform to the new, non-communist authoritarian environment. As Robert Gonzalez Echeverria states in Voice of the Masters, "authoritarian leaders in Latin America vary little, regardless of the political doctrines they profess: they are male, militaristic, and wield almost absolute personal power" (1). As El penultimo viaje suggests, authoritarian leaders throughout the world hardly differ. The resemblance between Amapola's father and the prototypical dictator in Latin America is not gratuitous but serves as a symbolic indicator of the structural parallels linking the two contexts of repression and violence.
Amapola never heals from the original trauma of her early serverance from her mother. The continual alienation from the maternal feminine, those loving, caring, and nurturing qualities that her mother embodies, deepens her grief and self-estrangement. Nonetheless, Amapola's memories of her mother evoke feelings of safety, warmth, peace, and freedom. Through the memoir we learn that Amapola's mother contested her father's violent control and fervent nationalism on several occasions. At some point, she commits suicide, supposedly after learning that she had cancer. Amapola's yearning for a nurturing world is recorded as a loss of identity later compounded by the experience of exile to Argentina to which she never adjusts. She recovers a sense of identity only in the spatio-temporal crevices through which she encounters an apparition of her mother's spirit. The spirit of Amapola's mother appears surrounded in veils; she has no eyes or nose, but simply a purple mouth. Each time the ghost of her mother appears, the veil covering her torso unwinds and gently caresses Amapola's face (119). Each time, she speaks a comforting phrase: "I have come to protect you, I always protected you" (55). During these moments of spiritual, maternal bonding, Amapola finds peace and recovers a sense of self and belonging.
If Amapola's memories of the past are memories of physical disease and repression, Amapola's pilgrimage by train away from this past allows her to re-embody the present. The opening scene shows Amapola vomiting in the bathroom at the train station and suggests that she is purging herself of her past, emptying her body and preparing for another corporeal experience. Once her pilgrimage is under way, however, Amapola enters another body, one that is no longer bound to patriarchy, militant repression, or the nation, but instead one that exists in between the symbolic and spiritual worlds that her mother's spirit occupies. This transition is marked by her sensitivity to a spirit world: "A rumor of silhouettes boarding and unboarding (34). [ ... ] The empty train stations seem phantasmal (42). [ ... ] Nobody boards. Nobody unboards" (43). At another point, she perceives that the train itself is part of the spirit world: "The train is a phantom train, and phantoms the silent, folded bodies, shapeless busts, mummies" (102). At this point, Amapola experiences a crossover into a world inhabited by ghosts.
Amapola's pilgrimage now represents a departure from one realm to another, from a space where contact with spirits is repressed into a realm where what has been repressed returns. At her destination in San La Muerte, the narrative fissure closes. Appropriately entitled "Punto y aparte" which translates as "Period and New Paragraph" this final section announces the end of a past life and the beginning of another. Suddenly Amapola is apprehended and interrogated by two officials who appear to her as a two-headed monster, similar to Cerberus, the many-headed creature that guards the gates of Hades. A gunshot sounds, and at this same moment the ghost of Amapola's mother appears: "Her violet mouth had sweetened its expression, even converted into a smile; [ ... ] she was her guide. It was not possible to get lost. At a certain point she would suspend her march and the two would meld into one another in a big hug: mother-daughter. And this fusion would signify that she had found the way. The final destination" (301). In this final scene, Amapola leaves the material world and enters sacred space. Due to the ambiguity surrounding the gunshot, the events in this final scene produce an "uncertain closure," which leads to multiple readings. As Monica Flori has stated, this open-endedness "subverts the stability of the authoritarian and masculinst discourse" (133). And yet, as the title "Punto y aparte" foreshadows, Amapola's repressed past is brought to an end as she enters into the peaceful realm of the spirit-scape, punctuated by her mother's embrace. In this crossing, the dehumanization of militaristic, patriarchal space contrasts with the maternal practice of love symbolized by the mother's radiating affection. By crossing over into the spirit realm of her mother, Amapola frees herself from the "different levels of hell" she has experienced in the militarized world of patriarchy. Amapola's pilgrimage signifies self-recovery and resistance to the authoritarian order, but it also represents the uncovering of another realm, a spiritscape, in the interstices of the militaristic regime. Diaconu's treatment of this spiritscape is much like ancient Greek and Mayan representations of the underworld in which, despite death, the human spirit plays a crucial role in shaping and aiding life in the material world. The spirit of Amapola's mother represents not only a space apart but also another socio-spiritual practice whereby the spirit guides and revitalizes the living beings by reconnecting them with the life force.
Diaconu therefore highlights the capacity of the individual body to interpret landscapes that the rational mind cannot access. Gordon Avery's psychoanalytic study of disappearance and the "residues" of what is lost against the post-dictatorship context in Argentina is particularly relevant here. Avery claims that ghosts facilitate the political battle of memory precisely because they "demand a different kind of knowledge, a different kind of acknowledgment" (64). The ghosts of Diaconu's novel demand an acknowledgement of the horrors of repression, violence, and elimination, and a knowledge of the healing that comes from compassion and love. In a military regime, compassion and love are located in an elsewhere that, like death, challenges the living to imagine the unimaginable and to develop a new language of survival; for, as Michel de Certeau has suggested, "when it is repressed, death returns in an exotic language (that of a past, of ancient religions or distant traditions)" (192). This "different kind of knowledge and acknowledgment" the possibility of another language, draws Amapola to the pilgrimage and to the nurturing site of the sacred to which she eventually departs. Amapola's pilgrimage signifies a re-claiming of a spiritual force and the emergence of a spiritual practice that seeks to replace violence and repression with peaceful, open caring.
Laura Restrepo's Dulce compania is set in Colombia, traditionally known as one of the most religiously repressive Roman Catholic countries in Latin America. As Elizabeth Brusco has stated, past and present histories of violent religious persecution and subsequent struggles for religious freedom in Colombia have been overshadowed by the violence and political repression produced by the civil war between 1946 and 1958. Characterized by religious persecution and referred to as La Violencia, this civil war caused the deaths of an estimated 300,000 Colombians. Since then, the Roman Catholic hierarchy of Colombia has been slow in responding to the struggle for religious freedom now invigorated by the growing population and the political power of evangelical Protestants (Brusco 235). Within this context, Laura Restrepo's Dulce compania, a novel about the unexpected romantic encounter between a young white, middle-class woman and an angel whose mixed racial identity remains ambiguous, plots radical social and spiritual activism.
In the form of a reduced Bildungsroman, Dulce compania centres on the protagonist named Mona, a nonconformist in a conformist society, who works as a journalist for a tabloid magazine but aspires to one day "write things worth writing" (15). Through Mona we gain an ironically critical perspective on life in Colombia. Mona orients herself in Bogota through her references to the frivolous tabloid culture that keeps her employed, the Catholic culture in which she never finds faith, and the militarized environment produced by the endemic civil war between los guerrilleros, the government, and paramilitary groups. Thus, on the one hand, she moves nervously through her daily routines in fear of attack, and, on the other hand, she confronts the repressive rhetoric that situates women in positions of inferiority to men by focussing on their physical appearance as the greatest measure of their worth. Furthermore, Mona finds herself a citizen of a Catholic nation-state in which she no longer feels secure, for she portrays the president and the elite class as deeply invested in preserving the status quo of their own privilege through economic, militaristic, and religious oppression.
This depiction of Colombia reveals the vicissitudes of a Catholic patriarchal culture based on domination and manipulation and the difficulty of creating dialogue and change. As a way of "getting through the day," Mona maintains an ironic attitude about her personal situation and the national situation. She mocks the false appearances and learned "stupidity" of the women she must interview at the National Beauty Pageant, and she describes the daily confrontation with violence as an upsetting, yet already established, routine to which she has grown numb. While Mona has consciously and uncomfortably chosen to conform as a mode of survival, she disdains the ongoing production of a gender regime sustained by those who aspire to nothing more than the status quo. Dulce compania thus reveals the extent to which Catholic patriarchal culture controls and monitors women's bodies and the national body.
Within the seemingly transparent folds of realism, Dulce compania takes a leap of faith by using common language to describe Mona's encounter with an angel. This encounter spiritually and socially transforms Mona and leads her to seek out new spatiotemporal orientations in the city of Bogota. This change of events occurs one day when she is unexpectedly sent to investigate the case of a fallen angel in the poor neighbourhood of Galilea beyond the reaches of centralized forms of authority. Despite the fact that Mona's journey to Galilea is professional, it ultimately represents a pilgrimage that leads to personal transformation, for Mona must enter into an unknown territory, where her own identity and perception shift in the changed context.
Described as a corporeal-spiritual awakening that permanently changes her life and eventually plants within Mona the seeds of radical socio-gendered change, the encounter with the Angel of Galilea is recorded at the level of plot, but it also introduces linguistic and narrative experimentation to the text. Mona's initial encounter with the Angel is one of combined enamoramiento and sublime enlightenment: "My heart skipped a beat and then stopped, overwhelmed by the vision" (42). Here this inner restraint caused by her stopped heart is not the result of reverential terror but of her sexual and spiritual attraction to the Angel. Insofar as Mona feels her heart seize for a moment, this encounter marks a full-stop in the novel. From this point on, the novelistic narrative records the difficulties of representing the unrepresentable. In an effort to relate the spiritual and corporeal otherness of the Angel, Restrepo wrestles with and partially dislodges the binaries and categories in which the spiritual and supernatural worlds have been enclosed. Most particularly, Restrepo rescues the spiritual as a realm separate from and in conflict with the body. Thus, Mona's first encounter with the Angel is described as an extraordinary visual and sensual experience: "Without producing a sound that would announce his arrival, a boy appeared from I don't know where and approached us. [ ... ] Very tall. He was almost nude, and he was dark. And fearfully beautiful. [ ... ] But he was just a boy, and nonetheless I was sure that he was also something else, a creature from another sphere of reality. [ ... ] He moved with a slow undulation like water beings or like mimes, and his attitude was humble and majestic at the same time, like a deer. [ ... ] He burned like a slow fire, and a shining incandescent light seemed to emanate from his skin" (42). Most notable in this description is the absence of religious connotations. The Angel is not described in religious terms, but instead as belonging to another, underdetermined "sphere of reality." This scene therefore marks the author's initial efforts to pry the spiritual from conventional religious institutions that have attempted and largely succeeded in appropriating all things otherworldy. As Restrepo suggests here, our own language has been restrained by the religious portrayal of the spirit as something totally separate from and transcendent to human experience. Restrepo thereby textualizes the difficulty of describing the Angel in order to highlight the extent to which the spiritual realm has been denied in language. The Angel appears human, and yet his "humble yet majestic" qualities make it both possible and difficult to place him within human social categories. The Angel appears to Mona as both creature and force, as the embodiment of animal, human, artistic, and elemental forms. He is compared to fire and water, he undulates, shines, and emanates. The slow movement of his body is likened to the movement of sea creatures but also to the hypnotic gestures of a mime. Through this association of all living organisms with the spirit, Restrepo suggests that all life contains spirit.
Yet the starkest feature of the Angel is the glowing light and heat that emanates from his dark skin. Mona, a white, middle-class female, is sexually and spiritually awakened by the dark Angel, who is furthermore a religious renegade and representative of the poor residents of Galilea. This encounter initiates Mona's subversive pilgrimage. Mona wholeheartedly transgresses the religious institutionalization of the spiritual and the political segregation of socio-racial groups by engaging in hieros gamos, a sacred marriage ritual, with the racially ambiguous dark Angel. Given that racial distinctions have been clearly demarcated in Latin America as the remains of the region's colonial legacy, this treatment of the racial identity of the Angel as ambiguous is significantly subversive. At once, Restrepo embraces unspecified, interracial sex and turns religious language in on itself as a way to upset not only the sexual/ spiritual divide, the elevation of man over woman, and the exclusion of the material body from the spiritual force, but also the racial divide that places taboos on sex between people from different, or unidentified, socio-racial backgrounds. After a second encounter in which both Mona and the Angel become enraptured with one another, the two consummate their love, thus fusing socially separated bodies and the sacred with the erotic in a union that "is a sacrament": "Holy my soul and holy my body, both well loved and enjoyably accepted. Holy maternity and holy sexuality, holy penis and holy vagina, holy pleasure, blessed orgasm, because they are clean, and pure and holy and the sky and the earth are made of them, and because they have suffered persecution. [ ... ] Blessed be the sin of the flesh forever, if it is committed with such desire and love" (97).
In this short catalogue of the sexual union between the Angel and Mona, the novel shows the sacred as a force that moves through the bodies of the lovers and intensifies their sexual union. By making recourse to the naming and classifying characteristic of the catalogue, Restrepo enacts a spiritual rediscovery of the sexual body, wrestling it from negative Christian associations with filth, pain, denial, and sin. In addition to naming the sexual parts of the human body rather than repressing the utterance of "penis" and "vagina," she employs the religious term "holy" meaning free of Catholic sin, to characterize this anatomy and the pleasures they produce. In describing maternity as holy, Restrepo furthermore disregards the notion that procreation is the punishment women must bear for their sin. In all these ways she enacts what Ellen McCracken has described as the "deployment of forbidden speech and repressed vision" (149) as a way of reclaiming spirituality; for this celebration of pleasure and bodily joy and creation challenges the very basis of sin and in particular "the sin of the flesh" as an absurd form of oppression that has nonetheless led to internalized self-loathing and denial. She reveals the sexual act as one of liberation that permits women and men of different backgrounds to sustain a spiritual connection with one another and with their bodies. In her vision, all forms of life are infused with spirit, and all anatomies, including the sexual organs of the human body, are capable of emitting this spirit.
Restrepo performs the infusion of the mundane with the spiritual not only at the linguistic level but also at the level of narrative. The Angel's physical and discursive presence on earth is represented through a fold within the novelistic narrative that introduces his transcribed voice. A collection of six distinct chapters set apart from the other chapters internal to the novel, this narrative addition represents the immense force of the sacred: "I don't possess unity nor identity: I am not one, I am a legion, I am, we are more than a thousand. [ ... ] We are so immense that we cover galaxies" (52). In addition, these angelic notes reveal the past and present transgressive desires of the angels to infuse the world with this spiritual force despite the prohibitions placed on them by God. For example, in the following we observe the Angel saying to Mona as he seduces her: "Come with me to the cavern in which springs of clear water flow. [ ... ] There I will make you mine, you the chosen one, the blessed, the only, in you I will deposit my seed. [ ... ] I will open the doors of your interior temple and I will allow your eyes to see the mystery. The ineffable mystery that God has only wanted to make accessible to sacerdotal beings and hierophants" (89-90). Here the Angel reveals his decision to disobey God and transgress those laws that have established man as inferior to God and woman as inferior to man. Specifically, he breaks "the principle requirement that the angels protect their power," since "woman is the fountain of filth and sin" (88) in the eyes of God. But the Angel expresses no regret. He joyfully infuses Mona with spiritual vision and then impregnates her so that he can create "his own race with the daughters of men" (91). Thus, in this experimental mode of developing a text within a text, Dulce compania plots the penetration of the mundane, material world by the angelic spiritual realm. Again, this transgressive encounter and miscegenation is both spiritual and racial and so leads to a spiritual and racial mestizaje that signifies the subversive reformulation of the childhood prayer "Guardian angel / sweet company / don't leave me alone / at night or by day." Indeed, Mona gives birth to a young girl who is in every sense human, save her "profound clairvoyance," which is like that of her angelic father. Mona's daughter is therefore the first of this new, mixed race of humans that will no longer live enclosed within the engendered, hierarchical, and repressive laws of God or in the segregated spaces that divide distinct racial and social sectors.
The appearance of the Angel on earth, his act of love with Mona, and the birth of their daughter Orphelia represent a reformulation of the most powerful biblical myths defining humans' sexual and spiritual behaviours. This symbolic resignification of the human-divine sexual union represents an erotic rewriting of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, particularly where the sexually mature female replaces the asexual virgin. Mona is not impregnated by an unidentifiable force. Instead, the Angel willfully assumes an earthly presence and unites with a female human. The representation of mutual male and female desire, passion, and fulfillment in this revision also explodes the Virgin Mary-Christ-Magdalena triad as the reproductive source of long expired gender and sexual practices centred on the construction of a purity/promiscuity dichotomy. Finally, Mona's conception of a baby girl suggests that the returning saviour will be a racially mixed female.
By reclaiming sexuality, spirituality, and holiness from patriarchal institutions, Restrepo symbolically initiates an alternative practice of pilgrimage and imagines a sacred space for the liberation of the social and spiritual female body. Here the secular spiritual path potentially dismantles hierarchical, religious associations, promotes an ethic of openness and caring, and leads to new socio-racial identities and practices that will liberate both men and women and affect greater social change through compassion. The pilgrimage Mona has undertaken leads to socio-geographical changes in Mona's daily life practices, for it leads her away from her conformist routines and insular social enclaves. Through her contact with the sacred, Mona discovers a sense of spiritual orientation and integrity in a politically distorted world. As a result, Mona's irony and sarcasm give way to compassion and an activism of caring. She chooses to leave her middle-class neighbourhood every afternoon in order to raise her daughter amongst her new friends in Galilea, who are "sensitive to angels." While the Angel is simply the incarnation of the greater force that organizes this sacred space, the birth of Orphelia nonetheless symbolizes the possibility of new encounters and practices of recognition and opposition on earth. The final destination of the pilgrimage, the peripheral village of Galilea, represents hope, the ever-present possibilities for change and renewal, and the faith that human lives can be transformed by contact with the sacred.
As Oliva Espin has noted of Latina healers in the United States, the practice of spirituality offers another process of empowerment that allows women to comprehend their experiences and development "with a flame of reference different from extant feminist conceptualizations and yet achieve parallel results in their lives" (167). Similarly, the novels of Diaconu and Restrepo represent a practice centred on healing that cannot be definitively categorized as feminist. Writing about the effects of repression and violence on the individual body, both authors reclaim the acts of opening out, nurturing, and caring from their traditional associations with the feminine. These qualities, the authors demonstrate, must be mobilized and restored to the society as a whole. As both representations of pilgrimage practices suggest, the mobilization of these feminine qualities leads to their reorganization and challenges the age-old association of the feminine with patriarchal dependence, fixity, and the domestic sphere. Instead, the re-articulation of the feminine through pilgrimage reveals recognition and caring as modes of behaviour that oppose rather than support patriarchal associations of the feminine with dependence, status, and lack. Given the environment of violence that these novels describe, Diaconu and Restrepo show us that the only way to proceed is by adopting a micro-political, oppositional practice that, like pilgrimage, works from within and yet ultimately positions itself in the suppressed interstices of militarized patriarchal regimes. Through pilgrimage, women take oppositional hold in those very interstitial, spiritual spheres negated by the patriarchal regime.
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This essay examines two Latin American novels that represent secular pilgrimage as a form of opposition. Authors Alina Diaconu and Laura Restrepo reformulate pilgrimage as an individual practice that prompts significant subjective transformation and leads the protagonist to dwell on and form oppositional alliance in the interstices of the nation-state.
FELICIA FAHEY is an assistant professor of Latin American literature at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. Her publications have focused on travel, nationality, and representations of identity in twentieth-century Latin American narratives. Her most recent project examines novelistic representations of self-identity by Latin American and Latina women authors in the United States.…