by Shivanee Ramlochan, 2013 NGC Bocas Lit Fest Blogger.

“I needed to write this book, because I had to find out what I had worshipped,” writer and mythographer Marina Warner remarked during her one-on-one discussion with novelist Lawrence Scott on April 25th at the Old Fire Station. The book she spoke of was her recently reissued Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary, originally published in 1976. Warner related that the Virgin Mary dominated much of her entire imaginary and emotional life. She found that the notion of the Goddess had been changing throughout history. The magic newness of the virgin of womanhood as fertile promise, Warner said in response to a question from Scott, became transformed into a chaste figure, representing a moral virtue that extended into abstinence, following the birth of Christ.

Marina Warner in conversation with Lawrence Scott.

Warner’s 2011 non-fiction book, Stranger Magic: Charmed States & the Arabian Nights, was the recipient of the 2013 Sheikh Zayed Book Award, as well as the 2013 Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism and the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism. Of Stranger Magic, Warner likened Scheherazade’s weapons to the stories she tells, adding, “So many of her stories are about the failure of tyranny and the supremacy of mercy … to save ourselves.” Warner expressed delight at the fact that the world is now reading multiple translations of many works, including the Arabian Nights themselves. The idea of stories folding over each other emerges from these multivalent ways of seeing, she enthused, lending possibilities of reinvention and remapping, where those routes of many tellings were less accessible in the past.

The audience tittered knowingly upon Warner’s comment that indeed, now, a priest is not necessarily in a very strong position to preach to a young girl on the “dangers” of her sexuality. Movements of resistance, such as Russian feminist punk collective, Pussy Riot, engage with women’s sexuality in audiovisual and carnivalesque ways. These new narratives are vital, said Warner, in reshaping the sharing of power — they create new spectacles, and they distribute the rights of the storyteller for a world less disposed to function on older, masculinely hegemonic lines.

Photograph by Maria Nunes, Official Festival Photographer.

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