by on Nov.29, 2011

This is the first post for all the posts that I would write if I had time to write what I actually wanted to write. I don’t have time to write what I actually want to write which is really about all these things I am reading and also about the collapsing world and writing and writing about time and now and history and economies and money. There’s lots to say about all these things I’m reading but I’m not going to say that much I’ll just say first that I was really struck by a statement a really nice guy in a warehouse in Berkeley recently said to me. Speaking of the General Strike in Oakland at the beginning of November he said something like: “it felt so good, physically, to shut down the port. Just imagine how good an actual revolution would feel.” He said something like this and I was struck by the connection he made between physical, sensual pleasure and political revolt. Which gets me to:

Cecilia Vicuña’s Saborami!  Holy hell! Holy hell! Just published by Chain Links, this gem, this historical gem, this amazing document of life and poetry and art and history and of what it means to be alive at the most dramatic and hopeful and horrid moments and of what it means to write under and through and in response to and because of oppressive governments that destroy individuals and communities and imaginations. There’s a history to this book. It’s a re-issue of a book that was published in England in 1973 by Felipe Ehrenberg’s Beau-Geste Press; they made 250 artists books and as Vicuña writes in the afterword “the work you now have in your hands is a distant relative, a semi-facsimile of that first fragile SABORAMI which was constructed with the poorest materials.” And in it’s new form it’s really a beautifully constructed publication with some full-color reproductions of the collages and drawings that were in the original. I am supposed to write a full essay on this this book for another publication so stop me now. Stop me now. Okay. I’ll go on, but just a bit. Vicuña was 25 at the time she wrote and {un}translated the book. She was living in England and studying art and as I understand it the book begins in part as a celebration of the Allende government and the “new form of participatory democracy” that was taking shape. But then days before the publication the coup took place and she quickly shifted gears and included several works that document and denounce Pinochet’s vicious dictatorship. The book is filled with images of physical “objects” that Vicuña made to document the before and after of the nightmare of the coup: “In June 1973 the C.I.A. And the chilean right wing, together with the Army were openly conspiring to overthrow the Popular Unity government. I decided to make an object every day in support of the chilean revolutionary process. After the coup d’etat and Allende’s assassination the objects changed. In the beginning I wanted to prevent the coup, now the objects intend to support armed struggle against the reactionary government….I conceived them as a journal. Each day is an an object (a chapter) all days make a novel…I didn’t want to make it with many words since there is hardly any time to live.” There is hardly any time to live. There is hardly any time to live. (these lines should appear on a television screen in the middle of a Claudia Rankine poem, or on a billboard in downtown Chicago, or on the outer walls of the Poetry Foundation’s new edifice). Speaking of no-future. Speaking of no future. Speaking of beauty. Speaking of courage. Of bravery. Of strangeness. This book was censored in Chile. And one of the many things that’s stunning about this book is it’s courage, both in the present when it was written and in the now in its re-publication. I’m struck by these lines, which Vicuña leaves without any 40-years-later type of commentary (which could so easily have contextualized the writing with a hindsight knowledge that would have been totally reasonable and perhaps totally contaminating at the same time): “Socialism in Latinamerica would give birth to a culture in which “thinking with the belly” would reveal so much more than “thinking with the head.” Though, perception would grow with increasing joy. There would be much dancing, much music, much friendship. Socialism in Chile could give birth to a joyful way of living.” And next to each of these before and after entries is an illustration that goes with it. Actually the words go with the illustrations I think. But I should stop cause I’m supposed to write this essay. But I won’t stop yet. I was talking before about the connection the book makes (by proximity) between political revolt and bodily pleasure. And then at the back of the book are all these pieces of erotica-poetry, some of which are translated and some aren’t. (Another thing about this book is the way it messes with the hierarchical relationship between original text and translation – some times they’re on the same page; some times the work is just in Spanish; some times it appears in Spanish and then pages later it appears in English. It’s an anarchic, fun mess to read {like this paragraph but more fun}). Like in “NUEVOS DISEÑOS EROTICOS PARA MUEBLES” – Nine erotic designs for furniture, which begins with an illustration of a naked woman reclining butt in the air over some kind of piece of furniture. She’s reading a book and next to her the words “de trabajo” – And later, in “Solitude” – “Do you want to make me see the sky?/touch that space/white/between my thighs/softly/with no other intentions/almost without wanting to.”  I should stop, cause I gotta write this essay later on this book, but I can’t. Okay – and then, in the middle of the book, an illustration of an over-sized woman menstruating on a tree branch. I think it’s a tree branch. The woman is much bigger than the tree branch. And then even earlier, the text of “FIDEL Y ALLENDE” with illustrations of the two. She writes: “…Fidel dresses in the golden suit of a hero. Allende is wrapped with the charismatic veil that descends on all historic characters. His clothes are made out of the support of the people and there remain in Chile some stupid people who do not support him, which is why he is not fully dressed. I’ve painted Fidel with a naked leg to state that his beauty lies in the fact that he is a complete being, a “New Man,” existing and thinking totally.” What to make of such writing, now, in our futureless moment? What to make of such writing now, with the comment stream bursting about the famed post-coup literary turf wars of a very different Chile? The imaginary-real Chile that Bolaño so (insert adverb) constructs. The ruins of a beautiful and nightmarish imaginary-real Chile of the Zurita who stayed during the dictatorship years. A clash in part between the posited political purity of the exile and the nuts and bolts political reality of those who remained.  The impossible hope that one finds in the sadness and anger of Zurita. And an even more pure and impossible hope in these early writings of Vicuña. I better stop now. I have this essay to write and I’ve already made a big enough mess here. But big thanks here to Chain Links and to Cecilia Vicuña for giving this to us. This piece of the world, this piece of history and accident and pain and sadness and terrifying optimism and what becomes of it – the objects and lives and loves and bodies and words and words it leaves behind.



9 comments for this entry:
  1. James Pate

    Great post, Daniel. I’m looking forward to reading this…

  2. Kent Johnson

    Dan, fabulous. Vicuna is great, great.

    Here is another Chilean poet you should write about, if you don’t mind me suggesting, one of the central figures of experimental poetry in the Southern Cone: Andres Ajens, who’s become a bit known in these parts through his close “translucination” collaborations with Erin Moure. I’m on the board of his incredible journal Mar con Soroche, and I’ve blurbed this book (along with Monica de la Torre), so I’m admittedly somewhat “parcial.” But Ajens is spectacular and is breaking new ground with ten-thousand obsidian mind-plows. This is one of the VERY few collections of essays by a contemporary Latin American avant-garde poet to appear in English. And the writing/thought is mind-boggling. Just published by Palgrave/Macmillan, in the Poetics series edited by Rachel Blau Du Plessis, Introduction by Erin Moure and Forrest Gander, translated magnificently by Michelle Gil-Montero.

  3. t.w.

    Fantastic! I will def check out that Vicuña book.

  4. Daniel Borzutzky

    Thanks y’all – and thanks Kent for reminding me of Ajens. I know a bit of his work, and remember these pieces from Fascicle ( Remember Fascicle? What a great little run that journal had. Ajens brings to mind the great Juan Luis Martinez, whose amazing La Nueva Novela can be read in English here, which is really just well frankly amazing that this website has suddenly appeared in the last few months:

    Further proof that perhaps we are all minor characters in a Bolanyo novel?

  5. Johannes

    Wow those Ajens poems are riveting. Is there anymore of that around?

  6. Kent Johnson

    I’d meant to include the order page for the Ajens book:

    Johannes, yeah, and there’s plenty more where those come from! Let me know if you want to get in touch with Andres, as it would be a very fine contact for Montevidayo as a whole–he is at THE center of the most cutting-edge work in South America, knows everyone, runs the most important innovative literary journal of the Andean nations, organizes conferences, runs Intemperie, one of the most vital publishers of experimental poetry in South America, and on.

    And Daniel, I share your amazement about Juan Luis Martinez only now coming to light in these parts. Major studies in English await. He is the “outsider” hero of Chilean and South American poetry, as you know… Here, since I’m promoting Ajens’s book of essays, and since blurbs are supposed to help with that job, is what I wrote for the cover. Get this book. You’ve never read essays like these:

    >The Andean nations of Chile, Bolivia, and Peru have a storied tradition in 20th century poetry: Huidobro, Cáceres, de Amat, Neruda, Vallejo, Mistral, Saenz, Parra, Vicuña, Zurita—writers of the first power, all. To this panoply, another name: Andrés Ajens, who perhaps more than any of the above defies whatever satisfactions classification may provide: for where does the strange poetry stop and the singular, tunneling prose begin? Or vice-versa? The mind of Ajens is an astonishment, and his labor is yet unfolding. As a friend of mine once memorably put it, “It’s like ladling soup and a horse comes out.” This brilliant translation of a challenging, contemporary genius is a huge gift to America’s new poetic thought, South, Center, and North.

    –Kent Johnson

  7. Johannes Göransson

    Who translated the Ajens poems in that Fascicle? For some reason it doesn’t say (the invisibility of the translator?). I’d like to read more.


  8. Kent Johnson

    It doesn’t say? I’m getting an error page here at the moment when I check. But that would (or should) be Erin Moure.