Testifying Without Metaphor

(The Cases of Washington Cucurto, Martín Gambarotta and Roberta Iannamico)

Chapter taken from the book The Mouth of Testimony: What Poetry Utters (La boca del testimonio: Lo que dice la poesía. Buenos Aires: Norma, 2007.) Trans: Jacob Steinberg, 2011 Cover art: Pablo Guerra, www.pabloguerra.net At Chronos <3’s Kairos we believe that poetry, among other things (love, sex, drugs, etc.) should be universal and timeless. We don’t mind if you photocopy, distribute or share our poems. They’re free.

The profanation of the unprofanable is the political task of the coming generation.1 Giorgio Agamben Oh, the poverty of the imaginary and the symbolic, the real always being put off until tomorrow.2 Gilles Deleuze

If it is true that to profane entails “return[ing] to common use that which has been removed to the sphere of the sacred,” 3 this profanatory act seems difficult to accomplish in this day and age, in a secular society. Even more difficult than the eruption of heresies that struggled from within the closed nucleus of the dominant religions must have been over the centuries. It’s simply that, as Agamben states well, today we would be facing a new, much more subtle type of religiosity, the one he defines as capitalist and that, in its most extreme phase – that of the “spectacle” – “aims at creating something absolutely unprofanable.”4 The cameras on reality shows, installed even in the bathrooms, can be taken as the paradigmatic example of this movement towards sacralization. Because if very much so in appearance it would seem as though we were before a profanatory operation, in reality it all turns out to be quite the contrary. Allowing that camera to advance into regions until now concealed achieves separating them from common use to incorporate them into their counterpart: consumption.
Agamben, Giorgio. Profanations. Trans. Jeff Fort. Brooklyn: Zone Books, 2007, 92. 2 Deleuze, Gilles and Claire Parnet. Dialogues II. Rev. Ed. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. New York: Columbia U. Press, 2007, 51. 3 Profanations 82. 4 Profanations 82.
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And that “religious” (sacralizing) practice, that transforms use into consumption, finds its perfect manifestation in the format of the spectacle. Immersed in this type of a society in which capitalism and spectacle come together to put everything on exhibit in an act that separates the object from itself, writers like Washington Cucurto, Martín Gambarotta and Roberta Iannamico, whose books of poetry began to appear in Argentina towards the end of the 1990’s, seem obstinate in seeking unexpected ways to bring forth this political task which Agamben demands of future generations: “the profanation of the unprofanable.” 5 Attempting to strip poetic writing of its rhetorical tool par excellence, metaphor, these writers seek to skirt around the symbolic as well as the imaginary with the end of coming as close as possible to what rhetoric always just fails to represent: the real6. If the reality show cameras, with the technology of their realist machinery, come to fill the void opened by that impossibility of representing the
Profanations 92. The term real allows us to establish a difference from the term “reality” whose substantially positive mark tends to be, in literature, at the base of realisms. The Lacanian perception of the Real – understood as that which resists formulation (symbolization) and resists being represented (imagined) – allows the displacement of the core of reading from reality “exactly as it is” to that lacking presupposed by the unrepresentable. But giving the term real another twist, there are thinkers who find art’s productive engine precisely in that lacking. Toni Negri refers to the realin art as an encounter, an occurrence that bursts into the desert of postmodern abstraction. “When reality is removed from truth, you cannot continue calling it truth. It is the real that has become true,” it says in Art and Multitude, Cambridge: Polity, 2011, 8. For his part Deleuze calls the minimal real unit “agencement,” and for him a writer would be he who invents agencements on the basis of others already invented. In this sense, the writer, in contrast with the “author,” is he who writes with the world, and not on behalf of it. It is for this reason that for the author “the real [is] always being put off for tomorrow,” in Dialogues II, 51.
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real, these poets seem to seek the exact opposite using an apparently identical methodology. The “reality show” that they stage in their pages is filmed with a camera held by the hands of its own protagonists. Thus, what was once spectacle deflates to let objects themselves, or better yet, that which lives amongst them be seen (“the middle on the line of encounter between an internal world and the external world”7). Rupturing the intended effect of the reality show, here an encounter is sought out, precisely where “literature” always exercised a separation – speech and writing, literature and life, form and content, signifier and signified, etc. In this way a profanatory mission is launched that implies starting always from scratch. As if there weren’t a literary tradition. Or as if the particulars of that tradition were acquiring, in an emaciating way, a different purpose. The names of some writers who preceded these poets, hence, cease to operate as a wink towards literary complicity and obtain, on the page, a value of use. Take, for example, Zelarayán, the last name of poet Ricardo Zelarayán, which Washington Cucurto uses as the title of a book.8 Already within the book, the character named Ricardo Zelarayán was dragged by his hair by the security guards for throwing spinach
Deleuze 52. The quotations from poems by Washington Cucurto are taken from the following books: Zelarayán, Buenos Aires: Ediciones Deldiego, 1998; La máquina de hacer paraguayitos (The Paraguayan Baby Making Machine), Buenos Aires: Siesta, 1999; Veinte pungas contra un pasajero (Twenty Pickpockets Versus One Passenger), Bahía Blanca: Vox, 2003; and Como un paraguayo ebrio y celoso de su hermana (Like A Paraguayan, Drunk and Jealous of His Sister), Bahía Blanca: Vox, 2005.
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on the floor, the tray of kiwi on the floor, for opening up tubs of yogurt. (from “A Terrible Morning”) As can be seen, the process of sacralization, that tends to leave the literary tradition separated, confining it to the cultural museum, is here profaned. Putting that tradition to use with unexpected results, this process restores it to the body from whence it had been removed (literature) injecting new life into it.9 Even the format of these poets’ books seems to want to come forth and desacralize that which, to allude to the separation to which it was subjected, we call literary in scare quotes. They’re books of a reduced format, whose precariousness presupposes struggling with an object that seems much more like an easily breakable toy than an object of intellectual fetish; which also presupposes storing them in the library, running the risk of their slipping behind larger books. In that sense I’d have to say that we are perhaps dealing with a new type of object – ex books without an ex libris – that were thought up with the goal of being placed on that piece of furniture that puts on living room display a storage bin of dead culture. Fallen behind that drill line that seems to come forth and affirm “the
Lest we forget that César Vallejo differentiates “new poetry” from poetry with a new sensibility, pointing out that in what he calls truly new poetry dwells a life “in which these new relations and rhythms are made blood, are cell-based,” in “New Poetry,” translated by Michael Lee Rattigan in 2010 for his blog: http://thefiendjournal.wordpress.com/2011/03/12/new-poetry-prosefragment-by-cesar-vallejo/. The author cites the essay in Spanish from the collection Crónicas de poeta. Caracas: Ayacucho, 1996.
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museification of the world,” 10 these books seek to introduce disorder to the spectacle just as the character “Ricardo Zelarayán” does among the supermarket aisles. Finally, the publishing houses where these poets’ books are printed – generally independently run endeavors – also demonstrate, in the way they’ve named themselves, a willingness to cut ties with any literary reference. As opposed to the publishing houses of poetry in the seventies – Tierra Firme (“Solid Ground”), Último Reino (“Last Kingdom”), Tierra Baldía (“Waste Land”) – whose names all imply something more than what they literally mean, Siesta (“Nap”) and Belleza y Felicidad (“Beauty and Happiness”) seem to allude to that state of literalness whose humor demands, rightly so, not to be disturbed by an excess of meaning. Deldiego (“Ofthediego”), another one of these publishing houses, makes use of a proper noun before which, in the style of illiterate Spanish, the article is placed. That is the most common way to refer to the soccer player Diego Maradona, known as “El Diego” (“The Diego”). If we take for granted that the name of this publishing house refers to the soccer player, we must nevertheless establish that we don’t seem to be dealing with an homage here – to him – but rather with a step forward – from him – onto literary ground. This is because the concept of an homage exists in function of the separation of the object. Here, in turn, there seemingly is an almost infantile appropriation, like that of the child with his toy (“the toy… makes present and renders tangible human temporality in itself, the pure differential margin between the ‘once’ and the ‘no longer’”11). Cucurto’s poem entitled “The Books From the Publishing Center” shows quite clearly that type
Profanations 83. Agamben, Giorgio. Infancy and History: The Destruction of Experience. Trans. Liz Heron. New York: Verso, 1993, 72.
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of possessive bond, as unexpected as it is new, that appropriates for itself the tradition archived on the timeline and instigates that tradition’s perpetual circulation around the spiral of life:
They are easily the most splendid in Argentina’s cultural history! The editor’s fantasy, the colorful books from the Publishing [Center, they are absolute transmission! And their manuscripts of The Great Poets that taught me to read! Publishing Center, you were more important than my mom and [dad and in my youth you were held as high as the Boca Juniors! Hijo, Sonny, when I die sell it all, don’t let the things of a dead [man remain in the house, but the books of the Publishing Center, those [bury with me.

The books here are neither “interesting” nor “good” but “splendid.” But precisely in this beauty and happiness that they allot, apparently frivolous and carefree, resides their vital effect of transmission. The new Cucurtolibrary (whose ex libris was already willed) must be buried – with the paradoxical aim of surviving – with the dead man. Not the case with the “things of a dead man,” those corpses of books that, for not pertaining to the “Publishing Center,” are sorted out for sale. It’s that here there is a vote of confidence in the living book, the one that, united with the body, is destined to always be reborn, in a way suited to Vallejo, from the entrails of a “corpse full of world.”12 A publishing center works there, where
The author is here citing a well known verse by the Peruvian poet César Vallejo. The entire stanza, in English, says: “Pedro Rojas, thus, after being dead, / got up, kissed his blood-smeared casket, / wept for Spain / and again wrote with his finger in the air: / ‘Long live all combanions! Pedro Rojas.’ / His corpse was full of world,” in “Spain, Take This Cup From Me.” The Complete Poetry: A Bilingual Edition. Ed. and trans. Clayton Eshleman. Berkeley: U. California, 2007, 589. (Translator’s note)
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the life of the dead refuses to be death in life. Incarnated by the mythical CEAL13, that with its populist politics provided reading material for various generations, that center is, for Cucurto, an organic knot – a new type of más-médula 14 – where editing, writing and publishing have merged to become one and the same.15
The publishing house Centro Editor de América Latina (Publishing Center of Latin America) was founded by Boris Spivacoff in 1966 and closed its doors definitively in 1994. 14 Here, again, the author is referring to a well known phrase in the Spanish-speaking literary world: Oliverio Girondo, Argentine poet whose major literary production occurred from the 1920’s to the 1950’s, is highly credited with helping introduce European avantgarde movements to Latin America. His last book of verse was titled En la masmédula, the last word being a compound of Spanish más (“most”) and medulla (“medulla”). Many critics understand the term to refer to a certain linguistic core, the very heart of words. (Translator’s note)
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15 “First publish, then write,” the already anthologized saying that Osvaldo Lamborghini repeats with variations in distinct portions of his work, accepts, as does all great condensate of ideas, multiple layers of reading (at the same time it must be mentioned that the phrase itself could come from, among other sources, a possible reading that Lamborghini does of the article “The Power and the Glory,” by Maurice Blanchot, where he refers to the “extraordinary turmoil that causes the writer to publish before writing, that causes the public to form and transmit what it does not understand, the critic to judge and define what he does not read,” in The Book To Come. Trans. Charlotte Mandell. Stanford: Stanford U. Press, 2003, 250.). It is of particular interest to us to detect, within this drift, what, knowingly or not, was left assimilated for the new generations of poets from this species of programmatic precept. “Lamborghini is a writer who wished to come close to the moment of the formation of the archive and the moment of the construction of the publishable text,” Reinaldo Ladagga states well in the magazine Las Ranas, Year II, Nº 2, Buenos Aires, April 2006, 119 (Trans. mine). This type of utopia, that looks to desubstantialize the practice of writing at the same time that it forces the pole of publication to take charge of the unpublishable, can be considered a profanatory gesture. What resists being read because it is not even written is what is here sought out (for publication). The books from the publishing house Eloísa Cartonera – an artisanal enterprise managed among others by Washing Cucurto – impose, with their discomforting covers made of recycled cardboard, a resistance to reading that some criticize. As if in some place it were “written” that to publish presupposed facilitating that reading.

Tamara Kamenszain was born in Buenos Aires in 1947. She abandoned her philosophy degree in 1971 and began a career in journalism, editing the independent magazine 2001 and eventually becoming cultural supplement editor for the newspapers Clarín and La Opinión. She was a fundamental part of the Neobarroque movement in Argentina in the 1970’s. She has published the books of poetry De este lado del Mediterráneo (Noé 1973), Los No (Sudamericana 1977), La casa grande (Sudamericana 1986), Vida de living (Sudamericana 1991), Tango Bar (Sudamericana 1998), El ghetto (Sudamericana 2003), Solos y solas (Lumen 2005) and El eco de mi madre (Bajo la luna 2010). In addition to her poetry, she is a prolific literary critic, having received the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in 1989, among other numerous prizes and honors. Many of her poetry collections have been translated to Portuguese, German and English.

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