by Lucas de Lima on May.01, 2013
In the early 90’s, Hilda Hilst, like many other Latin American writers, regularly penned a newspaper column. Published as the collection Cascos e Carícias (Crusts and Caresses), her cronicas are as visionary, scathing, and hilarious as her books. Hilst’s fiction, poetry, and drama might seem hermetic at first glance, so it’s interesting how often she reflects on politics at a time when Brazil was plagued by national debt, inflation, and corruption scandals. I’m especially intrigued by the connection this example (my translation) makes between sexual/colonial aggression, submission, and marginalization:
System, Form and Cucumber
When Plato was asked which existing governments and systems were most conducive and useful for our knowledge, he responded: “None of the present ones.” I, a mere poet, would say the same today. But the poet doesn’t exist. That last phrase reminds me of a story: Queen Victoria—angry because the Bolivian dictator Mariano Melgarejo not only forced the ambassador of Britan to drink a barrel of chocolate as punishment for refusing a glass of chicha (an alcoholic drink), but also made the ambassador ride a donkey backwards on the main street of La Paz—Queen Victoria, as I was saying, asked for a map of Latin America, drew a line over Bolivia, and prophesied: Bolivia doesn’t exist. I would also say: poets and Latin Americans don’t exist. Yes, they exist to be ransacked. Under any form of government, presidentialism, parliamentarism, or (!?!) monarchism, we, Brazilians, Latin Americans, will always be ransacked.
Ah… how sadly truthful is the fragment from the book Tu não te moves de ti, whose author is this modest writer of cronicas in her spare time, yes, myself, the one who’s been stoned (pooooor thing!). Cut out the following (purchasing the book would be too much to ask!) and, please, don’t forget it this time:
“…I’m a man, I trip up, I lie on my belly, on my belly, ready to be used, ransacked, adjusted to my Latinness, yes this one real, this one on my belly, the countless infinite cosmic fornications in all my Brazilianess, me on my belly, vilified, a thousand bucks in my acosmic hole, handing over everything, my rich depths from within, my soul, ah, much like Mr. Silva, so thick, kicking the ball, singing, rich people abroad call you a bum, oh Mr. Silva the Brazilian,
Mr. Macho Silva, hoho hoho, while you fornicate asslike your women singing, kicking the ball, what a big cucumber, Mr. Silva, on your turntable, your poor junctures breaking, handing over your iron, your blood, your head, hidden, by the touch, half-blind, conceding, always conceding, ah, Great Ransacked One, great poor ransacked macho, on your belly, on your knees, how long conceding and pretending, green-yellow victim, loved macho entirely on your belly flexing, on all fours, multiplied in emptinesses, in ais, in multi-irrationals, mouth of misery, I exteriorize myself stuck to my History, she swallowing me, me swallowed by all chimeras.”
Did you hurt yourself, reader? Did you scandalize yourself, reader? (pooooor thing!)
Hilst’s sign-off—an acknowledgment of the degradation that literature, too, can inflict—reminds me once again of poetry’s ability to turn its own negligibility into a space of permissiveness, of potency, beyond the mandates of preconceived systems and forms. By taunting the “hurt” or “scandalized” reader, Hilst deftly undermines a potentially imperialist ethics of reading based on the prowess of enlightened states such as ‘thinkership’. Instead, the reader, like the poet, becomes a vessel—a “pooooor thing”—used and abused as a passive orifice to the phallic fruit (cucumber) of those higher up in the power structure.
The cronica thus illustrates the reversal of the power bottom—a writer whose submissiveness within the culture is the very thing that permits and spreads her voracity, her agility, her “multi-irrational” contagion and disease. Her mouths and holes multiply in me, forcing leaps of an imagination whose violation only gives it more reach.