The language of the Kloaka
Language, civil war, memory, and drugs in Roger Santiváñez's 'Symbol,' translated by Judah Rubin
Translator’s note: Germán Labrador Méndez’s essay was originally published as “La Lengua de la Kloaka: lenguaje, guerra civil, memoria y fármacos en Symbol (1991) de Roger Santiváñez.” Versions were published in Góngora & Argot: Ensayos sobre la poesía de Roger Santiváñez, an anthology edited by Paul Guillén and published in July 2015 by Collages de aleWendorff and in La Kloakada: Neovanguardia latinoamericana de los 80 published in Libros Pórtico in 2015. It has been edited lightly for publication in Jacket2 and appears here in translation for the first time. — Judah Rubin
“To Rosa. This is my music notebook.”
This is the entrance. The marginalia propose an apparent challenge to the complicated language of Symbol (1991), one of the most hermetic books of the pata kloaka Roger Santiváñez (Piura, Peru, 1956). Music? Yes, but what sort of music is it in this poemario where the language is so opaque, intensely hermetic, reconcentrated on itself, extreme, uninhabitable? Symbol is a point of no return in Santiváñez’s linguistic project, and he will dedicate his following books to forced deconstructive works, embarking on a process of trova oscura. The poet, guided by a late ideal of the vanguard, expresses his confidence in arriving at the poetry to come, that drinks in and inherits its own tradition of obscure poets. A fruit of this darkness, this writing still wants to be a document, a transcript of the lived, a memory of the body and the world.
Beginning from the apparent tension between biographical and culturalist forms, between document and work — a paradox that, as I will show, is formalized in the language and design of the book — in this text I propose to read Symbol as a zone of linguistic intersection of personal and political experiences, aesthetics, and lives of the Movimiento Kloaka, and of the related youth culture in Lima. To that end, I will attend to the multiple documentary refractions of the poemario and the traces that drugged literature and the poetic pharmacy has left on it, put into service by the memory and the collective trajectory of a generation.
The book declares itself to come from the poet Santiváñez’s “music notebook.” One could say that the exercise of this reading solicits some amount of harmony, although the music of its surroundings historically comes, in reality, from the chords of the Limeño underground, in which, during the mid ’80s, Santiváñez militated. As such this poetic notebook declares itself to have been written after/through the years of punk: music is a metaphor for what a small community of countercultural Limeño youths named the desolate noise of groups like Narkosis or Leuzemia, to cite two bands whose soundtracks, according to the testimony of the poet, accompanied him over nearly a decade of experiences that the barely twenty pages that make up the book refer to.
Music notebook. Yes, but how to meet the music in this book made of symbols, among the book’s rarefied strokes, product of a language that has noisified its syllables? The broken language of symbol is made with pieces of decomposed word, with abrupt rhymes and interjections that sound like scratches. However, every so often among the phrases, with affected precision, a modernist verse emerges from the crepuscular symbolism that threatens, for an instant, to generate tonal harmony, the succession of works and breakages that the next verse has prepared to avoid in any easily listenable cadence. Music made, then, with pieces of sounds: “I write by phonic sequences […] I don’t have a theme […] I work with syllables, words and assonances as though they were music notes” (2011).
Music. If we carefully look for semantic remains, we gather a catalog of musical names: rockers, cassettes, micros. Atmospheres in which one can’t hear anything and voices seem to be singing. Places and forms in which an absent music is clearly hinted at. A biographical key: in the ’80s, Santiváñez was a musician. A decade later, Roger Santiváñez had already become a poet. Symbol is the first book in the work of Roger Santiváñez dated in partibus infidelium: by 1991, Santiváñez has already abandoned the country, the city, and his own era. He has left off being contemporary to himself. From musician to poet after an exodus. Poet’s notebook.
1991. Ediciones Asalto al Cielo. Filadelfia.
This mark in the book indicates an exit, an escape. Dates and places index positions in time and space, fundamental for a poet like this, who is so preoccupied with producing complete relation with his path of mastery, with the grand tour that leads him from the Limeño underground to the literary history of the future. And it is here that Santiváñez as a poet has projected his path from the complex device that all his work supposes. His have been written, nevertheless, from decades of having lived as a precaritized creator, like a printed man who finally rests in the compact format of a complete anthology, provisionally sheltered from obscurity and the inclemency of time. Santiváñez translated to the field of late modernist poetry the political questions of the lucha autonoma and, acting as his own editor, utilized the names of his publishing imprints as part of his poetic project, in the manner of avatars that effect enunciative movements, just as other poets have used pseudonyms, changes of locations, and records. As such, if we consider the textual organization of the provisional complete work of Santiváñez in the carefully selective 2006 volume Dolores morales, it makes sense to consider the possible forms of literary-biographical narrative within the totalizing mechanism of the complete works.
In Symbol’s bibliographic record is a fixed beacon from the other side of the American continent’s borderline: “1991. Ediciones Asalto al Cielo. Filadelfia.” Symbol establishes a customs house between Peru and the United States as if up until its publication Santiváñez fell within Lima’s orbit (the place names of his publications diversify in the following years). The indices that date and locate the poet’s subsequent books complicate the map of his literary biography: Amherst, then suddenly Lima, afterward Buenos Aires, Boston, later Sullana in Piura. The trail is lost through distinct countries in various languages. Judging by his own editorial imprints, this subject-publisher is deterritorialized after Symbol. The book is, then, the threshold mark of a Lima-time. It is the step from a Lima-situation to its unresolved time. It is the beginning of a nomadic situation.
A notebook, then, that is ex arcadia, an exilic notebook, a text that laboriously condenses sensations, experiences, places, and forms amalgamated over a decade, the device Symbol marks — through memory — the exit from Lima, the horrible toward a liberating transit without end. The memory of an Assault on Heaven. In 1991. In the city of Philadelphia.
The empire of Symbols.
Symbols, yes, but what words do these symbols recall? What scraps of common language come through? A simple look at the poems’ titles is enough to give an idea of the poetic project of the book in its totality: the circulation of symbols includes terms like hate, solitude, people, war, desire, solution, triumph, liberation, succumb, delirium, voyage, adventure, pleasure, joy, laughter, peace, colophon — each of these terms functions as a concrete poem. They are simple terms, useful for expressing links among people, beliefs, affects, and governments. They objectify a vocabulary of the era. They portray the linguistic monument that constitutes every order of socially situated reality in a given time and place. Although they are basic words — or precisely in their being basic — these symbols, currency worn down in circulation, true keywords, reflect the values of a world, and likewise their naturalization, their quotidian invisibility. An example of the function of this empire of symbols: a term like war declares that war is instituted in the quotidian, shows how behind the apparent neutrality of the language a history of States/state, violence, and desire are hidden: “What’s the war? You asked. Haven’t we always been / In it? In what, eh?” asks a girl “while caressing the breakwater.”
The book analyzes, interprets, deconstructs, reifies the conjuncture of symbols. It proposes an incomplete linguistic catalog of rhetorical potentialities: of power, of killing, of imagining and of allucinating [sic]. Such poles organize a moral world, a cosmic map ruled by said four cardinal points: government, death, utopia, and pharmaco-chemistry. Through the modulations of this axiological vocabulary at large a critical repository is articulated, a dictionary of affects where each subject — beginning with the poet — is rediscovered and interpolated by a socially shared language. Any subjectivity is submitted here to the empire of the language, to the violence of its supposed transparency.
The moral modes in Santiváñez’s titles (hate, solitude, people, war, desire …) fall upon other distinct modes in the interior of each poem. The titles are totems that organize the book. They struggle under its extended shadow. They oppose other possible titles in the interior of each text, like alternate symbols, that open, poem after poem, a distinct axiological field, against the power of attraction that each totem-title holds. The tension between masses of language generates distinct gravitational fields through the length of the poemario: the interior symbols of each poem adhere to their own marks to be constituted as such, typically in the arbitrary use of uppercase letters within some of the poems. These capitalizations constitute attempts at diacritically freighting certain words, graphically granting them the category of symbols: that is, for example, the case in the unexpected and continuous theological invocations (“God,” “the Lord”) and in the programmatic verse “Poetry is a text against the World,” to which we will return.
All this plays with the symbols that name each poem and section of the book. Symbolization operates on a double axis thanks to an unexpected graphic distribution that includes double readings of the tiles, autonomous (like independent cells that mark the absolutely new beginning of the poem) and subordinate (in sequences that link these titles with the first or last poems of other poems). In the latter case, thanks to particular syntax, the titles act as prefixes to the infinitives of some of the first verses (“Hate / Loving the radiant person / Holding up time”). At other times, titles offer more or less ironic interpoem codas.
The poemario expresses in these tensions the beginning of devaluation. Here, the hierarchized disposition — title to title — of this moral language of the social disputes the capacity of the instituted language to trap in its orbit whatever meaning circulates in the lines of the subsequent poem. If “Poetry is a text against the World,” each poem is a scenario in which symbols experiment with processes of progressive semantic devaluation, distortions between what they could signify and they seem to signify, between expected meanings and their denotative potential. In practice, symbols exercise the symbolia upon the titles, which is to say, an embolism of their expected meanings: we stop knowing what war means, what people means, what solitude means. These interruptions of meaning affirm the historicity of the concepts that said symbols socially guarantee. They refer to their contingency. They break with their resonance, which is to say, with linguistic effects that are the product of prestige or authority of a word. Here, terms based in a socially constituted vocabulary are destabilized. The metaphysics that every body of socially organized language suggests is problematized. In interrupting the totemic functioning of language, language itself ceases to operate in a transparent manner. Terms like hate, solitude, war, desire are changed to linguistic problems, into expressions filled with mystery. The devaluation of an empire of signs is the major task of the countercultural poet, the naming of “the soulless hypocrisy of a denuded society.”
“Como yo que soy tu avellana erguida”
Wayno awayta aguanta tu angustia observa la luna
Que seguro es tu más calata forma de ser cual
Je suis antivariólico — pero eso era tan añejo
“Like me your stood-up brown eyes”
Furtive wayno holds on through your anguish observing the moon
That yeah is your most naked form of being which
Je suis antipox — but that was so dated
What world of languages organizes the text of Symbol? Poems populated by late-modernist manieras, resonances of the major trunk of Latin American poetics, dark metaphors from Vallejo, and, over each poem, like the shadow of a sinister bird, Ezra Pound. History filters through the cracks of this secret language, which is always a form for speaking of violence. It seems that the symbols are the only possible form of bringing history and violence into the poem.
The roads split like in the sierra maestra
Which roads split aesthetics and politics, revolution and language, Guevarismo and late modernism in Latin America in the 1960s — and in Peru two decades later? In the interior of the vanguardist Santiváñez’s languages is a faint echo of the struggles of ’68, yes, but they are submitted to a no less intense symbolia. In 1991 Philadelphia, after the fall of the wall, Symbol brings forward old Peruvian conversations of the 1980s. The major languages of the revolution — and their Maoist registers — show how their rhetoric falls apart. Santiváñez’s ironic combative revolutionary slang is permanent. The work of poets and activists is both useless and late, undone by the embolization of their vocabularies, and their remains emerge in the pages of Symbol like linguistic fossils defeated by a radical, absolute historical change: “And on what plane did you test your radical discipline?”; “Your putrid Marxian lives you sweet and bitter”; “the memory / Of the grasp shakes your principal contradiction”; “carrying the black flag of your red panties.”
There is no room for politico-military mobilization in this poetic language. After 1991, in Peru of the Sendero Luminoso (here called “Luz Aramada” / Light Armada) and of the state violence of the decade before, there were no legitimate links between the senate and the people. The embolism of the SPQR (Senatus Populus Que Romanus). Civil war between the empire and the language of the bodies that inhabit it.
People (pueblo) is here another of those terrifying symbols, an embolic totem, a poetic-political fiction, a figure where no specific person can be recognized, an impossible mask:
People? A figure of motherfucking No One?
Santiváñez analyzes symbols much as Ezra Pound constructed his Personae (a book that is explicitly cited in the poemario) in double meanings of masks and of poems, languages and faces in language, and not that of human subjects. The People appear like a ghost, as pure name, a figure that tries to occupy, to perform so as to acquire meaning. Behind that active devaluation of social vocabulary, and before the suspicion that every language is a language of power, a certain nostalgia for real human relations resonates in some of Santiváñez. At this crossroads, the position of the poet is complicated:
You near the Country of “Never More” under the dictatorship of the
Culterana poetry is built as a response to war, like Gongora’s Soledades, the Provencal artifice of the trobar clus — the closed ballad — so admired by Pound, or like Pound’s own poetry. The war of Culterana poetry is a tradition of particular readers and readings. War of the world against the world, within and without language. And war of language against itself. Symbol’s poetry is an exercise of trobar oscura on a particular s/State of war: beneath Roger Santiváñez’s obscured verses is war against the people in the name of the people in Peru of the ’80s. The “cells of high danger” are refracted, the indiscriminate massacres of Indigenous people, the experiences of the poets beaten on the buses and the collective exposition of the institutions of a repressive state. Symbol takes from the unmentionable logic of an undeclared war, as though the entire poetic exercise were to agonize the secret life of a state of war, the disappearance of the disappearance of the desparecidos.
Poets, martyrs of Mars (Labrador 2005). Symbol assumes, from its own title, a perverse and perhaps inexplicable relation between militaries and bards (“that strange Einsteinian relative relation between poets and soldiers”) that, poem after poem, is actualized and crossed on occasion by some utopian rip (“peru country of tomorrow When!”). Symbol analyzes how war exists under the declaration of “PEACE,” another of the totem-titles in the poemario.
In Symbol that distance between bodies of war and names of peace, between repressive bodies and poets’ space, between distance to occupy and the body’s words, is made visible. The body — its symbols — is the place where that distance is preserved. A tragic, sacrificial place that has to assume the violence of saying where the war is, of naming it, of making evident the links that bind it, not only phonetically, to “All the presidents all the pressed all the prisoners” with all the poets.
On investigating the war, in naming the quotidian exchanges of an urban middle class, the poet discerns, through secret, latent images, that the war has taken place since the beginning:
O eras la coleccionista de ese film que no te gustó
Y sin embargo recordaste en homenaje al día inesperado
Hablaban de la guerra como de una sucia palabra
Pero al doblar la vuelta de tus cartas te sorprendes
Or you were a collector of that film you didn’t like
And still remembered in homage to that unexpected day
They spoke of the war like a dirty word
But when you folded and flipped your cards you were surprised
War is also a dirty word. Like sex, it is an affair of which one doesn’t speak, but which everyone can recognize in its primary, structural character, in its maintenance and reproduction of order.
In girum imus noctem.
Embolizing the symbols, the poetic activity looks to become conspiratorial. In proposing itself as the fruit of conspiracy, this writing appeals to a cryptic but communitarian gesture, far from the heroic figuration of the poet agonistically confronted by abstract instances that overcome him. Within the book, the I’s of Symbol are marked on their own perimeter, in a secured zone organized by series of exchanges — series of chemical exchange, series of linguistic exchange and series of erotic exchange — which are also series of value. These, more than a consistent and linked structure of the poemario, organize its symbolic economy, a delicate balance of drugs, bodies and languages, as we will see.
Over a decade of nocturnality, the urban geographies of Lima have made the text of Symbol possible solely in relation to a contemporary Situacion Kloaka, as is explicitly noted in the colophon of the book. Symbol will, in that way, be a song to the nocturnal life of the Peruvian capital, an elegy of its clubs and slums, of its discotheques, suburbs, communes, and safe houses. Beyond the deafening clattering of the war, a Bohemian world of poets, musicians, and artists organize on the rearguard of their own historical time, constructing a temporarily habitable underground bunker. From this underground world the malevolent flashes, in the verses of Symbol, or the photograms of a documentary like Eutanasia y Kilowatt, to historically articulate the subversive activities of Movimiento Kloaka, where Santiváñez militated, as Zevallos Aguilar among others, has documented.
Symbol convenes the M.K. under poetic signs that refer to the margins and youth of the Peruvian urban nuclei of the 1980s. With precision and fidelity owed to topos (the carpe noctem), the imaginary of the underground night of Symbol is detailed with the same veneration with which an impressionist painter might reproduce seas and sunsets. A pantheon of nocturnal deities adheres to its nocturnes: devils, girl mini-vamps, prostitutes, cabaret singers, vampires, and lost souls; likewise, specters of the founding heroes of bohemia (Nerval “the abolished,” Sade, Rimbaud, Toulouse-Lautrec); fraternities, solidarity sects, unions of the lumpen and the poet (“Descalzos por los Descalzos”). From its parties and passions, its conversations in streets and dives, a territory of concrete spaces sprouts from beneath the dense major language of those symbols. Under the language-totem of a national Peru flashes “a fanzine moment” or “Dawn fatal as the fango / Bloody and fertile like a rolling stone.”
The world of the night is arranged chronologically.
That rewritten world carries with it an exact precision. It is necessary to draw a sharp distinction between the present on which is written that past and the past that, since 1991, the present conjures and recalls. There is also a perfect chronology between both sorts of time, the time of the present and the time of the past of which the book speaks. Precision is vital to the poetic tone of the book.
Essay on the gift. The poet gives and returns symbols, transforming their value in the operations of the gift and the counter-gift. He makes of symbols óvolos. He adjusts accounts. Exchanges snubs. Like a good countercultural poet, in his social game, value in the artistic field is in inverse relation to value in the field of power: as he doesn’t have money, the maximization of interest opposes the maximization of the art (Bourdieu). He affirms that he is opposed to “business with kultur.” He declares art for art’s sake. He defends the new art of living that the bohemians have invented.
In the field of art, he is invested for the long haul. The job of the poet on the street will be, if anything, recognized by his peers, by the “wolf brothers” mentioned elsewhere in the book. This is what the poet poses to the dialogical you:
The triumph will come though neither you nor I will realize it
You won’t sell yourself more than is recommended
But how much is recommended? Perhaps, in Lima of the ’80s, as in Baudelaire’s Paris, the poets pretend to go to the market in order to take a look around while they are, in reality, going in search of of a buyer (Benjamin)? What value incorporates or extracts a handful of verses from the shared social language? How, if at all, does the value and the meaning of these symbols change under empire?
The problem with gifts is their recognition. The problem with gifts and with the artistic field in the phase of their emergence is the lack of criteria of established value (nomos) that guarantee their exchange (Bourdieu). And the identity of the poet himself is an unproductive product of that devaluation of this dis-recognition. What relation plants symbol between the exchange of values, words and bodies?
It’s that I’m not Vallejo I’m Santiváñez the one that didn’t
Understand the ugly greeting of the lumpen when no hates it
Erring in public, erring in the market, to whom one sells oneself. When is prostitution recommended? To not understand a greeting. To not understand recognition. The exchange of words in the verses to produce value differs in the long term. This is a task of memory.
What was at the root of the exchange of verses? What did the poet’s voice say? At the origin of everything, loss establishes the relation of this learning to speak. When was Peru fucked? At what moment did the poets sadden? The romantics insisted compulsively: “in infancy / childhood we live and afterward we survive.” It was also said that childhood was the only country of the poet. The adult is an exile from childhood. In Symbol both exiles come together, and so, Symbol is a gondola ride through sweet adolescent memories: of bars and girls dressed as schoolgirls, a world tangoing through moments, bedroom daydreams, neighborhood soft serve, and kids “with their girl of fifteen wandering without having anywhere to go.” The fracturing of that world produces poetic writing, when this is the only way to reterritorialize there in the impossible time of memory.
Hatred, symbol of the first poem, is the paradoxical affect that mobilizes relations between bodies throughout the book. This first poem, “Hatred,” is linked to the following poem, “Solitude,” through its final verse: “you | left| me bereft. Solitude.” Foundational myth: the loss at origin. The birth of hatred and poetry come at the end of childhood. The value that that poetry can generate proceeds from that hatred. A generational hatred. A shared hatred.
To combat that hatred and that solitude giving the body and seeking other bodies. To give the body, to give with the body, written to allow the recompense of this foundational debt, as there is nothing else that can amortize it. For the poemario the only capital that flows is the organic. Only then will the poet be able to make his work, to guarantee future value. From the flesh nearly everything is enunciated. All that which is named is named from the flesh. The observer enunciates from his own flesh. All the books are read, and that flesh is lost like the youth that Symbol wants to recapitalize on, to convert into poetic value.
Rites of communion to return to the origin. From the hand of the romantic poets and those of the surrealists. Alchemy of desire, from the bodily fluids, like the production of poetry and like the appropriation of time (Labrador 2003a). These erotic emptinesses will have their pharmaco-poetic simulacrum. An important section of the poemario is dedicated to the dark rites of the body. They anticipate other givings and other chemical and linguistic rites, on top of those to which we will return. Santiváñez cites Yeats again: “love has pitched his tent in / The place of excrement” (Poems, 375), naming the relation between value and desire. Love is the place of excrement, which is like naming the possibility of producing value from that which is discarded. How? Through the creative rite. One that implies a taking of the body and word. A strange ceremony of the opening of the mouth. An inversion of the mouth. Coprolalia: dirty words. In pure underground cliché, that rite that permits the inversion of poetic value from the cast off — para-alchemy — is coprophilia, like poetic communion, like ritual giving, like Eucharistic rite, where anuses become mouths and, likewise, receive, to underline it, lipstick: “Tan sólo por lucirte era tu lindura más pura y más puta / Te arreglabas para hacerlo mejor te pintabas de rojo el culo” (Alone enough to show off it was your beauty purer and more putrid / You fixed yourself to make it better you painted your ass red).
sólo por mecer tu culo cuando
Al contacto del falo hacías tus necesidades en mi
Boca dedicada y creada por Dios para tu alegría sin límites
Con tu orgasmo de sangre sudor lágrimas y caca
Vida te la enseñé y apreciaste
[…] only to rock your ass when
On touching cock you did what you needed to in my
Mouth dedicated and created by God for your limitless joy
With your orgasm of blood sweat tears and shit
I taught you life and you appreciated it and the memory
While the poet writes, he does not participate in the corporal exchange: writing and sexuality are part of a differential exchange: in a relation of supplement,forcibly converting writing into an onanistic space, returning to break literary time and symbolic time from its socially acquired value. Several moments articulate, for example, the progressive lack of differentiation between ink and semen: “From your ink in solitude that which spontaneously sprouts grass”; “poetry justifies the unsatisfying luxury”; “destroyed by the pen of love.” The chemical border in the production of value, the economy of time.
Inhaling the people’s pain.
“What is metaphysical substance?” asks Santiváñez at one moment. It is a problem of the exchange of gifts, yes, and the exchange of fluids. We know from Derrida that the relation between writing and the pharmakon is also, as between ink and semen, a relation of the supplement. But we don’t want just the metaphor; we want the “metaphysical substance.” There are numerous indications of the material relationship between the chemical, the psycho-pharmacological, and the writing of Symbol, in a broad panorama of altered practices, sous influence. The pharmacy, though not that of Plato, but rather that of the clandestine laboratories, comes to mediate the tasks of writing and memory, as it does the relation of such trades with desire (Labrador 2009). They are the hasty letters of Symbol: “Solution / Chemistry of those days thrown to your bed.” Secret symbols mediate them.
As we have said, to imagine and to hallucinate are two of the totem-coordinates that organize the book, two terms that articulate the relationship between politics and poetry. The altered images of the verses are reiteratively opposed to a TV where the State images: that is, the State produces images. And to hallucinate, a term marked in the political and poetic vocabulary as part of an underground movement that, in those historical dates, reached a global dimension, is to articulate in those poems their own ambiguities within an expansive poetics. Doors of perception are opened and closed as a function of a “trip” from the placidity of “delirium.” This results in the political delirium of the State — and the poetic delirium of the subject entranced. There are obscured images, in the writing itself, of a bad trip. Therefore, the book ends with the following question: You eaten? The book. The drug.
Words marked like a deck of cards of pharmacological slang: hallucinate, chemistry, solution, trip, delirium. They are some of the textual flourishes that place all the inscription in Santiváñez’s text in a long and fertile tradition of modern letters: that of drugged texts (Catoldi, Labrador 2003b). Some of the emblematic styles are his own, in particular the coining of epithets to name the drug (“give it the tse-tse,” a name that will be one of the editorial imprints of Santiváñez’s autonomous cultural cell years later) or the ongoing presence of apocalyptic symbols that are frequently pharmacological metonymies: “I learn blue fire that God response”; “the devil is your life’s animal”; “the bite mark of the / sacred beast.” Also, appeals to the mystical: “Exceeding the separation of the hard walls / That in your sensitive hallucination was different”; “Opening the three windows of Tampu-tokto”; “Meeting. Truth. Fusion.”
These aren’t the only textual signs of this pharmacological influence. It is fitting to mention the free exploration of the secret rhythms of Santiváñez’s verse, which includes dissonant harmony, confusions of words, synesthesia, personification of colors, or animations of the natural elements. All of these forms fuel an organic language, a personified, living, plastic language that invites us to ask ourselves if this will be, in reality, the truly musical of the music notebook, a silenced music, sonorous solitude, that, as the Neo-Platonists that Santiváñez has read carefully wanted it to, is expressed in the relationships between materials beyond human perception. Not another topos of literature under the influence but an affirmation in which the drug connects us with the movements of the cosmos, its secret machine.
Poetic pharmacology situates the body of the poet in the center of a complex economy of fluids. Its laws respond to the tragic equivalence between that which the machine gives and that which the symbols require. The economy of the drug has a sacrificial dimension (“go sucking the blood of your son who gives it to you graciously without crying”). The body of the chemist poet spills over in incontinence: “In the morbid Peruvian topics” this body-medium, sacrifice-body, pharmaco-body is constructed as a network of societal, historical forces that the pharmacological mediates. Poetry wants that drug that permits, inhaling it, “to inhale the pain of the people.” That key verse summarizes all of Symbol’s poetics. That pain results in an overly strong drug not to destroy the heroic subject — the poet — that wants to get with it to write it.
The pharmacological is a painful verification, a point that equalizes the rupturing force of the countercultural languages and the inertia that opposes the social field. If the first force constructs tense opposition between the old and the new, this tension is resolved in the second force established against the claim of the utopian conquest, the triumph, “the possible.” In the pages of Symbol the possible is the pharmaco-chemical. Only as such is the possible the poetic.
Debidas al dolor que te producía tu negra sociedad
Lo posible obsedió tu mente hasta el rico delirio.
From the pain that made you your black society for you
The possible observed your mind until the rich delirium.
The pharmacological nature of this writing allows for the expression of the mutant character of the book, along with its factual character. Text-monument-document, the written book, 1991, from the other side of the line, at a distance of a world. From the other side of the mirror. From the other side of chemistry. Thanks to that displacement between the pharmacologic and writing, the subject acquires literary agency at the core of this drugged language.
To be a subject in the interior of this language means to overcome those chemical and political aspirations that mediate delirious memory, through violent inscription of memory of the major marginality of language, in the mode of organizing symbols, and to disorganize them in turn. The aspirations of a people on one hand. On the other, those Symbols.
This text is written in peruvian; which is to say in castillian
Spoken in this part of Latin America, which is called
Peru. But, more exactly, it is written in the language that
Is spoken in the streets of Lima after midnight.
For that reason I name here Félix C. and Carlos V. with whom
I learned to walk on the knife’s edge of that language.
This is Symbol’s colophon, which contains and illuminates the rest of its pages. To write in Peruvian, in a midnight, Limeño, sub-urban Peruvian, in the language of the community of the Descalzos, signifies the deterritorialization of language, starting Castillian down a line of flight, to adopt the braying of an ass and the barking of the dog. I am indirectly citing Deleuze and Guattari’s Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature. To understand the processes of meaning and violence in their enunciation of these so-called “minor literatures,” Deleuze and Guattari establish that the minor problematic of a literature occurs in the process of deterritorialization of a subject in a deterritorialized language at the heart of a deterritorialized community. Which is to say, a subject who flees in a minor language produced in the process of expressing the minor becoming of a minor community in the process of not being it.
How does Santiváñez adapt these Deleuzian ideas? In the colophon, and throughout the book, he alludes to the existence of communities of young bohemians who, while high, fear the state and the revolution and dream up literature. They fear and dream with the bodies of the lumpen, with the many colors and the many languages of the popular Peruvian world, incapable of entering into either literature or the nation. This world of languages and accents and of bodies proceed — they flee — through the pages of Symbol through the perfect rupture of its languages.
Deleuze and Guattari speak of the “minor becoming at the heart of a minor language.” They speak of “setting language to go down a line of flight.” Santiváñez speaks of “learning to walk on the knife’s point of this language.” Peruvian would be here a minor language of the major Castillian language. It would be one of the minor becomings of Spanish. Santiváñez speaks permanently from the deterritorialization of language, appropriating to it, in turn, from other languages, introducing it to other bodies speaking Castillian. “To see the sun you hide yourself use another dialect.” To hide oneself, to become cholo, to become mestizo, indio, to see the sun, the central inti the deity of the mythical Incan world, whose ritual likewise traverses the pages of Symbol.
That other dialect, Peruvian, is made by breaking, violating, returning mestiza, the mother tongue, the “chaste-llian,” an expression of another one of the great deterritorializers of Castillian, the experimental novelist Julián Ríos. As such, from the mestiza language of bureaucratically segregated urban Peru, the underground claims becoming Indigenous, versus the major symbolization of the lettered city. From Julián Ríos I also take the term “bad language” as what best describes Santiváñez’s project of generating a language code capable of resisting and destabilizing the normalizing action of language of power. To deterritorialize the language, to make it rave pharmacologically, to drug it, to indigenize it, to approximate it to English or to the delicate high modernist poetry, in a cryptic language that does not want to be understood: that is the mission of Limeño lunfardo, from a limit language of the initiated, or of mestizos. That is the project of Symbol and of Santiváñez, and of the desires shared by the minor community to which he belonged.
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Edited by Judah Rubin