by Joyelle McSweeney 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.]