Necropastoral, the Abject, and Zurita

by on Feb.02, 2011

Raul Zurita will give an onsite, bilingual reading and answer questions at 12 PM on Friday, Feb 3, at the AWP in DC

Josh asked a good question in the comments field below, namely, in what ways the necropastoral converges with the abject, and how these dynamics play out in the historical example of Pinochet’s mass graves and the symbiotic (sym-necrotic?) literary mass graves of Zurita’s Song for His Disappeared Love and other works.

The necropastoral certainly shares many features with the abject, but what’s important about the necropastoral is that it is specifically ecological in its concern. It moves from Kristeva’s mapping of a figurative, pyschoanalytic landscape all oriented around the self to the literal landscape and the body as porous to that landscape and to the cultural landscape and to other bodies, living, dead, ghostly, human, inhuman, artificial; in some (but not all) ways it’s the model of the psychoanalytic i.e. interior landscape of the abject turned painfully inside out, and shedding the psychoanalytic content itself. That is, the self and its dramas are not so important in my thinking. There’s something more massy, assembled, necrotic, material, decomposing, and literally field-like about this way of thinking.

I chose the photo of a patient with minamata disease (that’s what’s featured in the picture, but “it hurts it hurts” disease certainly applies) because minamata disease (i.e. industrial mercury poisoning that bioaccumulates up the foodchain, crosses through the placenta in its greatest concentration and catastrophically deforms the developing fetus by disrupting the migration of stem cells around the body) is a physical manifestation of an ecological catastrophe; you could say its a double, but a supersaturated double, of the poisoned landscape that supersaturates or convulses the landscape itself by its presence. And by landscape I mean both the literal land- and hydro-scape and the economic/cultural landscape. So it’s not just the disabled body that’s abject, but the entire assemblage of industrial architecture, cultural/economic architecture and the place of modernization in that architecture, mercury discharged into the water system from the Chisso factory (ironically called, in English, a “plant”), the extant and artificial flushing systems of the waterways, fishing culture and routes that carried bodies through contaminated waters and culled contaminated fish from the sea, the process of bioaccumulation, the “dancing” of the neurologically damaged cats, the process of fetal development, the flushing systems of the placenta, the movement of stem cells through the fetal landscape, the mother bathing child in the famous photograph, the circulation of photograph, photography itself that, all spasming and convulsing unstably together, in a fluxing membranous sick unstable threatening assemblage, that is the necropastoral.

To respond more specifically to Kristeva, I owe much to her essay implicitly, and I’m even literalizing and externalizing her sentences which are meant to apply to the psychological landscape, such as “We may call it a border; abjection is above all ambiguity. Because, while releasing a hold, it does not radically cut of the subject from what threatens it– on the contrary, abjection acknowledges it to be in perpetual danger.” I think I go further by supersaturating and disintegrating that border, remaking it as a zone or membrane, showing how contamination happens on both sides and even renders it little more than a medium. The ecological component, which is what makes it a renovated version of the pastoral, a ‘necropastoral’.

Finally, Pinochet and Zurita. Zurita was here for a few days. A student asked, what do you think of the combination of atrocity and beauty in your work, of making something beautiful of an atrocity? Zurita responded, the most beautiful thing would be if this poem did not have to be written at all. In this sense, he is acknowledging Pinochet as a kind of terrible author of an eternal artwork with which his own writing is symbiotic (or if there’s an opposite of this term that means a co-death– symnecrotic?). Pinochet’s military converted the very landscape into a mass grave, dropping bodies from airplanes into the mountains and oceans, so that they became, in the words of Zurita’s song, “stuck, stuck to the rocks, to the sea and the mountains/stuck, stuck to the rocks, to the sea and the mountains.” This kernel of assemblage is repeated in all the micro and macro structures of Zurita’s visionary landscape, which saturates and resaturates Pinochet’s landscape– the living and the dead, the ghostly and the dead, the lover’s body and the corpse, the soldier’s body and the victim, the voice and the body, the image and the sound, the page and the voice, everywhere in this work is an ‘everywhere’, a total penetration of fragmented matters which can never form a single whole well intact body again but only a kind of flexing field made up of bits and fragments of bodies, voices, teeth, hair, bodily fluids, landscapes, mountain chains, whole continents shattered and their remains heaped up in identical ‘niches’, such as this one:

Araucan niche. They were found in Barracks 13. They were long black valleys like the others who disappeared. It was noted: Southern airplanes ploughed the sky and as they bombed their cities they lit up for a second and dropped. So it says in barracks on engraved tombs that warn. In the limestone they erased the remains and all that was left was the final wound. Amen. They all broke into tears. Amen. It was tough to watch. Amen.

[Note: My information about industrial poisoning in Japan is derived from _Toxic Archipelago: A History of Industrial Disease in Japan_ by Brett L. Walker with an Foreword by William Cronon. I found the ideas of these environmental historians about the body’s porousness or permeability closely allied with mine, and our different disciplinal approaches made for interesting contrasts and confluences. I will lay those out in a future post, I hope.]

3 comments for this entry:
  1. Corey

    A very generous reply. How did I end up the psychoanalyst interrogating the Deleuzian? It’s normally the other way around!!

    I like your term because it allows us to theorise that which exceeds our former ontologies of productivity, and its specifically colonial manifestation, the pasture. Also, now thinking your term in regards to the mercury poisoning, specifically of the placenta, now that’s staggering, thinking it’s productivity reterritorialised into manufacturing monstrosity via the formerly invisible monstrosity of the industry responsible.

    And I suppose the Zurita example exposes how the membrane can be thought from the other way, the motherland spiculated with the corpses in bits, over rocks, not at all “the return” to a pantheistic source, or what have you.

    So, with psychoanalysis raised, some must have the buzz of Antichrist sauntering in their recall, I know it’s made me think of it immediately. Could you see it as a text in which two schools of thought – psychoanalysis and mediaeval christianity – flail about an impossible reconciliation sought of the necropastoral? Of course sans the term, a friend of mine and I debated on pretty much this point, and he was sure that it was a purely Lacanian film, where irruptions of desire cross-contaminated and underlay all of the psychoanalyst and the medieval researcher’s apprehensions and thwarted them at every turn. I saw such an interpretation grouping too much heterogeneity together, that of the archetypal animals, the medieval image of the pyre, the immanence of ants, and the exascerbation of one another by each’s discourses. I saw more of a relation between religion (or superstition, or negative theology) and psychoanalysis, in which the solitude of thought meant by the holiday shack in the woods for the remembrance of the irreconcilable event of the child’s death ends up only bringing the two closer to the irreconcilability of the event in which these two are now ligatured to. The psychologised solipsism of Wordsworth’s The Prelude, and its reconciliatory solitude, where one is better endowed to explore their closeness to a whole, Nature, solitude with one’s other in discourse – between the two – and the woods (rather than Nature), means the death of solitude and the proliferation of decomposition, from the genitals to its constellations, a doe carrying an abortion, and so on.

    You quite possibly have already spoken about this.
    Thanks again.

  2. Corey

    That rather long, final sentence doesn’t make sense, read again:

    Antichrist has moved FROM the psychologised solipsism of Wordsworth’s The Prelude, and its reconciliatory solitude, where one is better endowed to explore their closeness to a whole, Nature, TO solitude with one’s other in discourse – between the two – and the woods (rather than Nature), ultimately meaning the death of solitude and the proliferation of decomposition, from the genitals to its constellations, a doe carrying an abortion, and so on.

  3. David Wolach

    Thanks Jovelle -& Corey- for the above. Your discussion of the necropastoral in regards to the ecological crisis as one, in part, as result of expropriation & productiion – makes me think of the economic surround (among other socio-political erasures) of toxic sites/bodies made toxic – what sites are for dumping and necrotizing and what are deemed high value in the reverse sense. Hence of Antwi Akom’s work on race, economy & ecology, and perhaps also of interest (or at least what the really interesting discussion above recalled for me), Elliot Anderson’s work on Superfund Sites & soil remediation. A good short synopsis of the latter is at:

    Thank you–Solidarity, david