by Ezequiel Zaidenwerg, PhD student at the Spanish and Portuguese Department
I’m leaving Buenos Aires with bittersweet feelings, as it’s usually the case every time you go back home after having uprooted yourself. Although familiar in an almost visceral way, with each return the city feels more and more out of place, which I think might be an apt metaphor of what it means to be a researcher, at least as I have experienced it so far –one works not to make the unfamiliar known, but rather to see what’s most intuitively familiar under a different, slanted light. But besides my own biographical circumstances, on the one hand I leave with satisfaction, for not only was I able to meet almost all of the goals I had set myself when I was planning for this research trip, but I also managed to expand my investigations to neighboring Chile; on the other hand, I am extremely worried about my country and the accelerated conservative restoration that is taking place. The validation I feel for having selected neoliberalism –so pressingly current again– as one of my primary research subjects does not compensate at all for the sadness I experience at the current state of affairs.
The first leg of my research ended with an upcoming trip to Chile, where I had been invited to teach a course –part seminar, part workshop– on the history of poetic form in Spain and Latin America. Considering my interests, I was very curious to visit Chile, where strangely I’d never been. As it’s widely known, Pinochet’s regime, after the coup that overthrew Salvador Allende’s administration in 1973, was a testing site for the neoliberalization of the region, backed by the US through the Plan Cóndor. In order to implement economic policies that would ultimately transfer wealth back to the already very privileged, a cultural change was needed, one that hinged on depoliticizing civil society and neutralizing labor power, which could only be achieved through intimidation and violence. In Valparaíso, a breathtakingly beautiful port town, I interviewed Enrique Winter (b. 1982), one of the most respected new voices in Chilean poetry, who despite being an ardent leftist has lavishly incorporated traditional, as well as Avant-Gardist, elements into his writing, dispelling the notion that free verse is automatically the most “advanced” or “progressive” form, but just another option in the vast repertoire of poetry, that doesn’t automatically guarantee an emancipatory agenda, but can also be used to support a reactionary one. We also talked about his experience with Winter Planet, a poetry/music ensemble he has formed with Gonzalo Planet, the frontman of Matorral, one of Chile’s coolest indie rock bands right now, and how poetry seems to be returning to its primitive musical origins, associating itself once again with sound, rhythm and live performance.
I had only one day in Santiago de Chile, but it was a very fruitful one: I managed to get an interview with Raúl Zurita (b. 1950), one of the most important Latin American poets alive. Zurita has written extensively about his own experience being detained by the Dictatorship –this also prompted him to do a solitary performance for which he burnt his own face with acid. What interests me about the poetry of Zurita –besides being an unconditional fan– is how he combines the most traditional sources, such as the Old Testament and Dante’s Divine Comedy, with the most contemporary, including of course performance but also conceptual art. In that sense, I wasn’t surprised to learn that he’s working on a large scale, site-specific piece, on the tragedies of refugee children for a biennial in India.
Back in Argentina, I traveled to Rosario, on the banks of the Paraná River, perpetually tied with Córdoba as the second most important city in the country. Although I hadn’t originally planned to meet him, I saw Juan Balaguer, a visual artist who is as obsessed with neoliberal representations as he is with classical techniques. It was refreshing to see how my own concerns are shared across the apparent boundaries that are thought to separate -but not quite- artistic disciplines. We had lunch by the river, ate the most delicious grilled boga (a freshwater fish autochthonous to the area) and had a long, stimulating conversation on the neoliberalization of contemporary art associated to the what we perceive to be a falling in disgrace of the notions of craft and materiality. Dematerialization, as theorized by Lippard and Chandler in the US and Masotta in Argentina, was one of the topics we touched in the very enlightening interview I had with Irina Garbatzky, the author of Los ochenta recienvivos, a groundbreaking study of poetry and performance in the River Plate area in the 1980s. I feel Garbatzky’s approach, who traces back the idea of performance to visual arts in the 1960s and then explores its adoption by the poetry scene, will greatly expand the scope of my research, and provide a new set of questions that will be central to my dissertation. We also discussed her new research project, on contemporary Cuban literature reacting to the Soviet notion of living in the future; it was particularly interesting to see how, in the end, the two sides of the Western liberal project –Russian communist totalitarianism and American market fundamentalism– ultimately shared the (illusory, I might add) experience of living in the end of history, as Francis Fukuyama infamously declared in the US.
Back in Buenos Aires, I had a very productive meeting with Colombian born poet and performer Tálata Rodríguez, who quite memorably described poetry as music’s handicapped sister. Unfortunately, although nice, my meetings with other artists and performers weren’t as fruitful, at least not for the purposes of my research. I had also scheduled an interview with Diego Sztulwark, an activist, writer and political philosopher, to talk about French poet, translator and philosopher Henri Meschonnic’s theories on rhythm and politics, which he bases on the Spinozian notion of affect. Unfortunately, an emergency came up –he had to attend a very important demonstration–, and since it was my last day I couldn’t see him, but we chatted online and, although nothing can replace a face to face conversation, he gave me some pointers and confirmed my intuition in choosing the work of Meschonnic, whom I’d already been studying, as a tool to explore the political dimension of rhythm, probably the topic of my dissertation.