So I totally understand people who don’t want to go to the AWP for this or that reason, but the fact is that Raul Zurita gave a couple of readings this year as well as appeared on a panel on the translation of Latin American poetry, so I’m happy I went. From Zurita’s Purgatorio: “When faced with horror, we had to respond with art that was stronger and more vast than the pain and damage inflicted on us. I believe this is what I thought in 1975, a year and a half after the military coup. It was then that a few soldiers subjected me to one of those typical abuses in which they are experts. I recalled the well-known evangelical phrase: If someone strikes your right cheek, turn the other to him. So I burned my left cheek. Completely alone, I enclosed myself in a bathroom and burned it with a red-hot branding iron. Purgatory began with that laceration.” To recognize this is to recognize that Spivak has carried out a double displacement: not only has she replaced the question of whether the subaltern does speak at a given moment with the question of whether it is possible for them to speak at all, she has even more importantly substituted speech for action, as if, again, there exist opposing worlds of language (in which we are trapped) and being (which remains inaccessible to us). Had she not carried out this substitution, her essay would have been far less effective; for the subaltern or the masses never cease to resist and rebel even as they are constituted by these actions as the masses. These are fragments of a geophysical “playback” recording from an oil company’s exploration department. A pattern of sensors responded to a shock. The signals were taped. A computer “massaged” the tapes. But need remains for human judgment. The program is not quite capable of typing out a letter to the finance Committee: “Invest $[ ] at Latitude [ ], Longitude [ ]. You won’t be sorry.” Welcome to Bellona. Phones and TVs are out; electricity is spotty; money is obsolete. Riots and fires have cut the population down to a thousand. Gangsters roam the streets hidden inside menacing holograms of dragons and griffins and giant praying mantises. The paper arrives every morning bearing arbitrary dates: 1837, 1984, 2022. Buildings burn, then repair themselves, then burn again. The smoke clears, occasionally, to reveal celestial impossibilities: two moons, a giant swollen sun. Howl, howl, howl, howl. A coyote raises its muzzle to the night sky and bays, his body small in a blankness of snow. Though the sky is black and starless, white radiance pours from above. The bare branches of trees shimmer against the encircling dark. The thin trees are in chains, fastened to the frozen ground, guaranteed straight growth. Telephone lines glimmer in the void of the scene’s edge, along with dim city lights. The yellow of a fire hydrant glistens in discordant hue. The aerial luminescence for which the coyote gathers its brown body into a territorial howl is not the moon but a halogen light, so high above the animal that we glimpse only its concrete base and straight-as-a-trained-tree metal. Howl, howl, howl, howl. A coyote bays at an artificial light mistaken for its lunar companion. Nature vs Culture? The image on closer look will not sustain such division. No footprints in the snow mark the coyote’s progress toward participation in this strange still life; this animal’s dead and taxidermied.
[Note: Source: Johannes Goransson, “ ‘The Political Uncanny’: Raul Zurita’s Purgatory”, at Montevidayo, 20 Mar 013; Warren Montag, “Can the Subaltern Speak and Other Transcendental Questions”, at Cultural Logic: An Electronic Journal of Marxist Theory and Practice, via Aindriu Macfehin, FB post, 20 Feb 013; “] Kodak ~ 1975 | Scientific American E.O. Wilson, “Slavery in Ants” [“, at A Fiery Flying Roule, 20 Mar 013; Sam Anderson, “Sage of the Apocalypse: Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany’s loopy sci-fi masterpiece, lives to destroy again”, at New York Magazine, 28 Mar 010; Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Lowell Duckert, “Howl”, at postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies (2013) 4]