Political violence in 'The War with Chile'

Translated by Judah Rubin

Mariano Mantel, “En el caos urbano,” Lima, Peru, via Flickr.

Translator’s note: Luis Fernando Chueca’s essay was originally published as “Violencia política, nación peruana y poesía en ‘La guerra con Chile’ de Roger Santiváñez” 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. It has been edited lightly for publication in Jacket2 and appears here in translation for the first time. — Judah Rubin

One of the characteristics of a large portion of Peruvian poetry that, within the highbrow literary system (Cornejo Polar, 1989), has addressed the political violence of the final decades of the twentieth century in Peru[1] has been to not limit itself to the specific sort of violence referred to as the “internal war” or “internal armed conflict” that began in the country in 1980 or as it occurred during the Fujimori-Montesinos dictatorship (1992–2000). Rather, it likewise incorporates the social conflicts linked to the failed history of the structuring of the Peruvian nation as a peripheral country as but one scene within the globalized world from the postmodern neoliberal perspective. One could say, in this sense, that Peruvian poetry concerning political violence, in general, has not solely attended to what Slavoj Zizek (2009) calls “subjective violence” or that which is “directly visible … performed by a clearly identifiable agent” (1), or that which is, in general, primarily taken into consideration. It also speaks to equally fundamental modalities that Zizek identifies as “objective”: “systemic violence” (which corresponds to the consequences of the function of economic and political systems) and “symbolic violence” (linked to the “imposition of a certain universe of meaning,” 10), which cannot be set aside in evaluating the causes of “subjective violence.” Subjective violence, notes Zizek, can be referred to as such (“subjective”) while it is usually recognized as violence “in contrast to the non-violent zero level” (10). This is to say that it stands out from the disturbance of what is erroneously taken to be the “normal” and “peaceful” state: it is from that comparison that violence is subjectively perceived.

That encompassing stance can be identified as a general characteristic of poems that first refer to the political violence in Peru around 1983,[2] and continuing to the most recent allusions in poetry of the new millennium.[3] It must be emphasized, of course, that this poetic stance does not attempt an historical or sociological analysis, nor does it offer itself as scientific truth; rather, it is structured through this generation’s own mediations and demands, so as to also take up the neither solely more nor less explicit thematizations of the identifiable political violence in the poems but also the modes in which this affects its textuality and the configuration of its subjects.

The present essay attempts to approach the confluence of Peruvian political-national violence through Roger Santiváñez’s “The War with Chile,” a text included in Homenaje para iniciados from 1984. In this poem, in contrast to the others from the same book, there is no direct mention of the violence of the 1980s apart from the allusion in the poem’s title in a manner that, following Walter Benjamin, we could call allegorical: an aesthetic modality in which what is fundamental are fragmentation, the materiality of the sign, and, as such, the perception of time “as a fugitive now-moment, as inapprehensible dialectical flare, delivered to the same course of things in their painful, unavoidable expiration” (Brea 36).[4]

Santiváñez, Kloaka, and Homenaje para iniciados

“The War with Chile,” I noted, is a poem by Roger Santiváñez included in Homenaje para iniciados, his second poemario. According to the end of the book, the poems were written between November 1983 and June 1984, which is to say during the final months of Movimiento Kloaka and in the months immediately following its dissolution. One might expect that, in that sense, the texts would be filled with the inquiries and proposals of this group, one of whose founders and most conspicuous members was this very Santiváñez. Kloaka emerged in 1982 by one measure as a reaction to the context of growing violence and the accelerating decomposition and impoverishment of Peruvian society.[5] The group, from a neo-vanguardist stance that identified itself with art-life, insisted on the negation of any and all institutionality and on the necessity of a total revolution that would make the liberation of the human possible on all levels. However, as distrust in the possibility of these transformations grew and, in their opinion, the decomposition of society and the cloacal situation of the country deepened, they radicalized toward the anarchic pole of the group and the extreme individualism of some of its members, who went from a self-declared “vigilant conscience of what is happening in this country” in the formative moments of the movement “to total marginality and personal combustion without sensible position statements, to the purest decadent style of ultraperipheral marginality” (Mazzotti 2002: 136). This transformation is linked to the conditions of the decomposition of the society, and with the group members’ perspective of no longer holding out for any great possibility of a sustainable utopian perspective and so being able solely to participate in this decomposition by writing from a position directly resulting from being party to the harshest parts of life in the country.[6] On the other hand, a growing anarchism and individualism had resulted in a material examination of textuality, sensuality, and sound, all of which stemmed from Santiváñez’s work.

Concerning Homenaje para iniciados, Santiváñez has said:

Things being as they were [referring to the desperation of the “strictly political preoccupation” of the aforementioned disenchantment], I dedicate myself in this book to singing erotic love and to the separation of lovers and to the closed defense of an anarchist individualism against any established order. At the same time, I began to be interested in what we would call phrasing in poetry, or the internal rhyme of the verses and their undulating, sensual, Orphic capacity. Here is when my preoccupation with language itself begins, without mattering much to me — at a conscious level — what I wanted to signify. (interview with Miguel Ildefonso, Ciberayllu, 2004)

Anarchist individualism, erotic love, and poetry constitute, effectively, the fundamental preoccupations of the poet, but these are also the principal marks of the speaking subject of the poems in Homenaje para iniciados. This speaking subject, always self-presented as a poet, is situated, in general, at the margins of social life and is declared to be in contrast to the bourgeois normalcy, dedicating himself then to writing, to artificial paradises and to the nourishment of sexual pleasure, which are modes of relating to the world and to facing the decomposition and violence shaped in the urban context in which the larger part of the texts are situated.[7] If some of Santiváñez’s poems, like “Conversation with my Father on his Sick Bed,” show a broader continuity with the work of 1979’s Antes de la muerte (Before death), his first poemario, which is easily inscribed in the developments of the conversational current of the second half of the 1970s, in Homenaje para iniciados he begins to manifest an intense radicalization.[8] This radicalization implies a more decided fragmentation of discourse and the heightening of verbal violence through the alterations of syntax, the deliberate clash among the registers used in the same poem or in the phonic games that do not permit the association with any referent. The resulting effect arrives, in some texts, at the hermeticism that permits recognition in the book of “a withdrawal from any socializing or populist intention” (Mazzotti 2002: 157), which is common in a good part of Peruvian poetry of that moment.

Some initial evidence of the above and of the confluence of art-life or poetic poet-speaker in this book can be seen in its paratextual apparatus. The title, Homenaje para iniciados, for example, implicitly carries with it an announcement and a declaration at once, as Carlos Lopez Degregori notes, that “an ‘initiate’ is someone that has passed a series of tests in the process of reaching a certain knowledge and, likewise, power. That domain of ‘knowledge’ and of ‘power’ appear clearly linked to the poetic activity conceived of as a visionary and almost sacred venture in which the poet […] has the attributes of a superior albeit misunderstood officiant and from a subject in open conflict with his social environment” (2006: 204). This can be observed at various moments: for example, the confluence of “kings” and “chaos” in the name of the press Kings in the Chaos that editors created ad hoc for the publication of this book, a name that, moreover, comes from the title of an earlier poem by Santiváñez;[9] or in the note that accompanies the photo on the back cover: “Let the devil drink from your hands.” It is likewise revealed in the title of the liminal poem, “For Aicamlad,” which, while it operates as a dedication, opens the body of poems provoking and obstructing the reading while inverting — in the manner of the “odumodneurtse” of César Vallejo in Trilce — the order of the letters of the name itself to whom the poem, in the first instance, is addressed to (“Aicamlad”: Dalmacia), and thus leaving veiled or reserved “for initiates” the reference to the poet Dalmacia Ruiz Rosas, who was a “principal ally” of Kloaka and quite close to Santiváñez.

In the same poem, the final verse (“Royer anarko-latra”), which is explicitly appended as a signature, records the ideological inscription of the poet-speaker within the “generational perspective of a declassed urban subalternity” (Mazzotti 2002: 158), close to the protagonists of Lima’s nascent underground rock movement of those years. With this operation, the poet-speaker implicitly underlines, in turn, his skepticism toward the system (in the context of the still-recent return to a democracy that had nonetheless already offered, for that moment, clear demonstrations of its limitations, and of its fundamental ideological and economic ideas and strategy of dirty war to combat subversive violence), as well as his distance from collective projects, that, as they were, proposed a social transformation from the legal left — which in those years enjoyed force and recognition thanks to the election in 1983, in Lima, of the first social mayor in Peru. But, the poet is similarly skeptical of those who advocated for the insurgency against the state, as occurred with the Sendero Luminoso. It is revealing, in this manner, that the fracture evoked in the word “anarko-latra,” which is given not only as a declaration of an anarchic or anarkic ideological position (with the Andean and underground sound “k” of “Kloaka”), tries to likewise be — beginning with the suggested and supposed verbal character of its initial segment (“anarko” the conjugation of the hypothetical verb “to anarkate”) — an affirmation of action that corresponds to said political stance.

First approach to “The War with Chile”: The nation and the War of the Pacific

If “The War with Chile” comes at a discordant moment with respect to the rest of the book, then, as its title suggests, it proposes as its axis the War of the Pacific between Peru, Bolivia, and Chile (1879–1884), an event that, in contrast to what occurs in the other poems, is located in a time distinct from the contemporary. The subject that speaks, however, is not all that differentiated from other speakers in Homenaje para iniciados: this speaker emerges from a poet whose subjective configuration, together with his voice, is inscribed in the previously noted move toward disorientation, doom, and marginality that characterized the most radicalized members of Kloaka. By sharing those traits, despite its particular temporal location, “The War with Chile” can be read, as we will see, as an allegory for political violence[10] or, to be more exact, as an allegory for the nation in a time of political violence at the end of the twentieth century.

This possibility, nevertheless, to which I will return in the following paragraph, does not dispel other interpretations. One that is unavoidable — the primary interpretation, perhaps, if we read the poem independent of the book in which it appears, or without knowing the context of its production and appearance — would have us recognize the military conflict indicated by the title as the semantic nucleus of the text. From this readerly perspective, together with the mention of the “enemy [that] occupies our streets,” of the “wail of the sirens,” of “a lost bullet,” or of the intention of Reynaldo de Vivanco to “defend the fatherland” facing the “desertion of our chiefs” and the attitude of the “knockoff aristocrats / sold pigs,” as well as the placement of the city of Lima as setting, the text allows for the possibility of its reference, in principle, to the three-and-a-half-year occupation of the Peruvian capital by the Chilean army. This reference is reinforced in the phrase “ANARCHY BY M.G.P,” which obviously refers to the book Anarchy by Manuel Gonzalez Prada (1844–1918), a collection of brief articles written between 1901 and 1909. The reference to Prada’s Anarchy is not simply a declaration of a certain affinity with the poetic subject; it corresponds more closely with the abovementioned “signature” of Santiváñez’s first poem (“Royer anarko-latra”). But in the context of the War of the Pacific and the occupation of Lima, “ANARCHY” is necessarily linked to this ideologue and poet’s fierce denunciation of the incapacity of the Peruvians, above all the leading elites and upper classes, to unite beyond their particular interests against the circumstances of the war, in general, and the army of occupation, in particular. “In the war with Chile we not only spill blood, but exhibit leprosy,” wrote Gonzalez Prada, for example, in 1885 in a text titled “Grau,” later included in Pájinas Libres (1946: 61), which looked to contrast the image of said hero with the shameful performance of the national elites. Santiváñez’s poem is, symptomatically, dedicated to Grau.

These connections notwithstanding, the distance between the speaker of “The War with Chile” and Gonzalez Prada is also notable. One key piece of evidence for this distance lies in the possibility of locating “The War with Chile” in the Propertian tradition of poems that renounce singing of power and war in order to opt for singing of love and pleasure.[11] Santiváñez’s poem is inscribed in this poetic tradition, as in its initial verses: “And we will stay enclosed / watching the pool’s waters gently flow” (23), opting for an apparently indifferent isolation, an unthinkable attitude in someone like Gonzalez Prada:

I grow old. The enemy occupies our streets
                        the finest women impregnated with the odious seed
before the desertion of our chiefs
before the gestures of knockoff aristocrats
sold pigs
I refuse / opt for my lover’s ass
I enclosed myself I surrender to my delirium
only my blessed body my cursed body
I opt for my gentle individualism/ narcissus
I am the madman of Lima who above all loves
himself and the body of my lover (24–25)

What ties the speaker-poet of “The War with Chile” and Gonzalez Prada together is, then, more of a relation of tension than that of correspondence. The attitude of the poet-speaker is likewise less compatible, of course, with the heroic sacrifice of the admiral, as we can unpack from these verses: “Reynaldo the noble savage traveled to / defend the fatherland — Which, God or / the Devil? — in the city of ditches / dear boy among the blackberry and plum / skinny armed boy lulled / by the shadow of paradise. What did / you go to die for bollocks?” (24). But neither is it unified with Gonzalez Prada’s stance, he who, before shutting himself up in his house during the Chilean occupation of Lima, enlisted in the reserve army to defend the city. In spite of a certain concordance in the critique of the surrender by the national elites as leaders at the height of these circumstances — “the bound books / the reading salons / will be burned or sacked by the enemy / and I don’t know that there is anyone so erect / as to the height of my pure phallus against indignity” (24) — or in the option of self-closure, what prevails in “The War with Chile” is a nihilism without exit. While Gonzalez Prada exhorts the Peruvians to reconstruct the country on other bases,[12] Santiváñez’s poem affirms the inevitability of decadence, a word repeated twice in the text with an expanded space between the letters that reinforces its emphasized pronunciation and its central role in the poem. 

              D e c a d e n c e
this is your song (24) 

Beginning with this affirmation of the decadence of a class (“knockoff aristocrats,” “sold pigs”) and, when all is said and done, of the entire country (“the fatherland — Which-God or / the Devil? —”), what remains is the clear impossibility of generalizing Benedict Anderson’s postulate concerning the consciousness of the national community, which, in spite of being a cultural artifact originating from a specific class, can be extended to others in their recognizing themselves within a horizontal fellowship that allows for their disposition, in the final instance, to sacrifice. In Santiváñez’s poem, if the elite does not possess a sense of nation, it will be less likely to expect the general acceptance of any national consciousness. Nevertheless, the poem establishes an association between Gonzalez Prada or Grau and Reynaldo De Vivanco, described and evoked in the poem as a “noble savage” and “valiant prince” who went “to die for bollocks.”[13] The War of the Pacific appears in the poem as a historic milestone where the false myth of the Andersonian imagined community is unmasked. It is in this sense that the speaker of the poem raises the acidic and cutting question: Which fatherland? Answered by an implicit “none,” or, “that fatherland doesn’t exist,” which results from the very formulation of the question (“fatherland which — God or / the Devil? —”).

If this distrust in national entity finds its roots in the fractured society founded with the Spanish conquest, a fracture that was reaffirmed and likewise aggravated with the process of independence, and later made dramatically evident with the War of the Pacific as Gonzalez Prada denounced and which the poem suggests, the skepticism of the poet-speaker of “The War with Chile” shows this in an even more extreme manner. For that poet-speaker, despite the “anarko-latra” stance affirmed in the first poem of Homenaje para iniciados, a wake extends over the entirety of the poemario, and of the “Propetian” rejection of the war in general (“the war is a noise too distant / too imbecilic”), whereby whatever ideological stance, save radical anarchic and nihilistic individualism remains, in this schematic, dismissed.[14] To explain this extreme negation of any possibility of the nation, disenchantment with the elites or the dramatic recognition of a fractured country, evidenced sharply and tragically in Peruvian history with the War of the Pacific, does not seem to be sufficient; rather, it is necessary to add, as one more layer, the experience of violence and social decomposition on the rise at the moment of the writing of the poem: violence which, seen from the art-life confluence that has already been mentioned, Santiváñez, as well as his poet-speaker in “The War with Chile,” is responded to by initiating a process of retrocession and of supposed protection (estrangement from the war and refuge in poetry, pleasure, and delirium) that results, paradoxically, in self-destruction. To approach this, it is necessary to move to another level of reading in which the gathered pieces are now integrated into the recognition of the allegorical possibility as fundamental to this text that, whatever its title, demands a perhaps even more important linking to the Peruvian internal war in 1980.

Allegorical reading: Nation, poetry and contemporary political violence in “The War with Chile”

For this new immersion in the text, one has to remember that the speaker of “The War with Chile” is not differentiated in general, either in the configuration of its subjectivity or in its language, from the sort modeled in the other texts of Homenaje para iniciados, which refer in a more direct way to the moment of the book’s writing. It should thus be taken into account that the declaration, on the part of the poet-speaker, from his willed self-exclusion (“And we will shut ourselves in”) faced with the context of the war, faced with an orgiastic and unfinished ritual of delirium, sex, and hedonism, cannot see his existence solely as a tentative attempt at liberty, as is suggested at the beginning of the poem (“I will adorn your alabaster face / with gold rubies a diadem of semen / in the purity of your forehead / a symbol of freedom”). Rather, it is also as a self-destructive experience largely analogous to the decision of some of the members of Kloaka to explore in their own flesh the decadence and decomposition of society through the consumption of hard drugs that, while provoking harm that could end up being irreversible, were used as resources to access momentary pleasure, for a Rimbaudian acquisition of the condition of poet-seer (through the “alteration of all the senses”) and as a response to the atmosphere of encompassing violence.

This analogy is reinforced beginning with the self-isolation that does not lead to any subsequent recovery of a relationship to the environment nor with the alternative construction of a new environment, but rather, to the conjunction of “pleasure and destruction,” as one of the verses says, or to an alienation (“I opt for my smooth individuality / Narcissus / I’m the madman of Lima who loves / himself and the body of my lover”), which has as an inevitable correlative — desired or at least suggested — suicide: “That the curtains be opened wide / every reserve of liquor drunk / that we make possible the sweet ceremony of suicide / in life / the enemy will find our corpses / drunk naked having lapped up the / leather of your feet with Bohemian crystal / broken over our warm sexes.” The deliberate ambiguity of “suicide / in life” doesn’t, then, impede the recognition of the self-destructive component of this celebration of decadence. The subject does not opt for submerging himself directly in the violence that surrounds him; still, he consecrates, as though in an inverted mirror, a blissful self-annihilation. In a situation shot through with death, it is possible only to die, a choice which seems to affirm itself, although this occurs through the appearance of a supreme option of life. These ideas are reinforced with the transfer of the image of the woman lover to the writing:

She the nameless the daughter of the poem and the poetry
the enclosed the servant the slave
the passion most certain of the feminist groups
with her I will no longer see the light through the ficus
nor the stench of the streets she will come
to the refuge of your cunt happy
laying day and night fucking beautifully
like flowers in a garden frozen in Summer
            sun song sea
ANARCHY of M.G.P. delicious silence
of your body when the most sensitive days
prostituted pretty little silk panties
in the darkness of El Tiburón
our basement of whores and johns
fags and pinheads California liquor
steeped and dead
            D e c a d e n c e
this is your song

The double reference of the lover as feminine subject and as the poem/poetry returns us to the implications of the identification of the speaker of “The War with Chile” and that of other poems in which the writing presents itself as a topic and, with it, the legitimacy of the reading of the text from an allegorical standpoint: “The War with Chile” as an allegory of the contemporary war to the writing and publication of the book. To return, then, to the space-time of contemporary Peru, many of the verses and annotations that would permit the confirmation of the reference to the War of the Pacific take on a new meaning: the “ululation of the sirens” or the possibility of being struck by a “lost bullet,” the constant question “who lives?” the same as the practice of rape of women on the part of the army, result now as marks that return to the chaos unleashed by the contemporary internal war, to the climate of violence in the streets or the repressive counter-subversive practices.

Nevertheless, one cannot expect a mechanical correspondence between these two linked planes. The allegorical concept in Benjamin, who considers materiality to be significant as a central aspect, faced with the traditional vision of the allegory as a process of rigidly evoking a meaning in spite of its preestablished significance. The text’s potentially allegorical signifiers —from its discursive or written dimension (Eagleton 23), its inorganic condition (fragmentation and processes of montage), and its frequent traces of exhaustion and ruin (and decadence, we might add, in accordance with this poem) — make it possible for “each character, each thing, each situation to signify any other” (Benjamin: 393). It is possible to recognize perhaps dislocated and even contradictory resonances in the phonic, lexical, and syntactical characteristics of “The War with Chile” that meditate upon tendencies toward violence and confrontations experienced by Peruvian society in the 1980s. Thus, for example, the presence of the word “bambeados” (knockoff)[15] in the sequence “knockoff aristocrats / sold pigs” (referring to Peruvian elites who escape their national responsibility and protect their interests or subordinate themselves to the requirements of the great international capitals expanding at the time of the War of the Pacific, or to their heirs in the contemporary period) suggests not only that the poem be shot through with a verbal aggression characteristic of the register of the urban Peruvian street (which is reinforced by obscenity of other terms like “cachando” [fucked], “concha” [cunt], “cabros” [fags], or “cabrones” [bastards]),[16] but that moreover, by the semantic weight of said denigrating word, is involved in the ambiguous current of symbolic violence that is directed in two directions simultaneously: “knockoffs,” generally used to denigrate the subaltern sectors, ends up reversed and directed against the elites, without losing its discriminatory component. Something similar occurs in confronting the liberatory spirit of the subject and of the poem with its use of expressions weighted with machismo and gendered violence.

Operations like this that destabilize the possibility of fixing univocal meanings are traces, in that sense, of how the violent crossfire in the environment enters into the text. This is observed also in the impossibility, in the context of the Peruvian internal war at the end of the twentieth century, of bringing a clear demarcation of the enemy, as alluded to at the end (“The enemy occupies our streets / the finest females pregnant with the odious seed / before the desertion of our chiefs”), in contrast to what would happen in a reading that seeks to locate itself under the sign of the War of the Pacific, in which a clear border is maintained between the enemy (the invading army) and the so-called traitor (“the knockoff aristocrats / sold pigs”). In light of the contemporary war, if the enemy could be the subversive groups facing the Peruvian state as the invading army had earlier, it could also be, through allusion to its behavior in the streets and the verbal violence of the poem against the governing elites, the members of its own national army, which would be consistent with the expressed distrust against the existence of a fatherland. But then, in this context, to whom does the expression “the desertion of our chiefs” refer? It isn’t possible, it seems, to propose definite and closed answers in this respect, as the poem doesn’t seek, as I have noted, an exact parallel between the two possibilities of reading noted. Rather, the allegorical potential, it might be said, invites us to leave open and in tension diverse meanings and to perceive, at the same time, the many confusions that are part of this weave of violence.

This violence of tone that enters into the poem and also operates on its textuality is recognized from the confrontation between the diverse registers that enter in conjunction.[17] As noted, the conversational character of Santiváñez’s early poems is radicalized in their fracturing of the linearity of discourse and the more decisive incorporation of words and expressions that come from a wide scope: street slang, popular orality, lyric accents, abrupt stops in the semantic thread or the sonority, rewritten or embedded fragments of western culture, musicality or noise exempt from words, etc. They produce, in this way, interesting frictions that simultaneously refer to the effervescent and hybrid Peruvian cultural scene, in general, and the Limeño, in particular, and to the encompassing violence while the cuts and fractures in the verbal texture of the poem allegorize the disagreements and outbursts in the same society. Something of this can be observed, for example, in “boy with thin arms lulled / by the shadow of paradise / What did / you go off to die for the bollocks? / with your green watery eyes / …” With the presence of “bollocks” in the fragment, there is not only a discursive friction (distinct registers) and semantic friction (the meanings correspond to discordant fields), but also a verbal clash, that is, of some quite harmonious sections due to the internal rhyme (“brazos delgados arullado,” thin arms lulled) or with the phonic reiteration (“sombra del Paraiso,” shadow of paradise), followed immediately by “guevas” (“bullocks,” which having been written with a “g”), reinforces its bombastic sonority. Something related occurs with “Silk isn’t smoother than the petals of / Pink yellow red and currants with / Which release your cunt / For me / This splendid evening”: lexical and rhythmic sensuality smoothly and tersely in accordance with the “esplendente atardecer” (splendid evening), affected by the violent discursive and phonic embedding of “cunt.”

As Santiváñez mentions in the interview cited at the beginning of this essay, “phrasing in poetry, or rather the internal rhyme of the verses and their orphic, undulating, sensual capacity,” as well as other processes, like the oxymoronic constructions (“I refuse / opt for my lover’s asshole / cleanly” or “suicide in life,” for example) or other syntactic fractures elicited in the work of montage (“delicious silence / of your body when you give them sensitively / prostituted cute silk panties / in the darkness”) allow for the observation of the war(s) from the speakers of the poem, which are made present in the poem’s textuality. It is interesting to relate these elements to the declaration, confirmed in the final stanza, that the lover with whom the poet-speaker takes refuge from the “too imbecilic […] noise” of the war and disposes himself to the interminable and pleasureful session of sex and artificial paradises, is — also, or really — poetry (“the daughter of the poem and poetry”).

It is possible, from this, to recognize and problematize a dimension of ars poetica in “The War with Chile.” The poem looks to distance itself from the “noise” of the war and to enter itself into the “language of the music in the / silence of the halls, only the / hallucinated / embraces and caresses / spilling forth from lubricated vessels” (24). Noise versus music and war versus poetry is what is being proposed. But this music is in reality impregnated by noise, and poetry expresses the war. There seems to be no other possibility in this case. The signifiers, as Eagleton points out with respect to Benjaminan allegory, leave off a “surplus of meaning,” and go further than planned to produce a hybrid, fractured, and necessarily violent poetry despite declaring the desire to escape from violence. Something similar could be posed in relation to the fatherland, whose existence is discounted in the poem: “fatherland Which” asks the speaker, tacitly citing a negative response. Still, in the same texture of the poem, we encounter another response: not the fatherland, of course, but the “knockoff aristocrats,” who call to defend it in acts that are understood finally to be “for the güevas.” But if the speaker accused those elites, recalling “the desertion of our chiefs,” and later went further in declaring his radically individualist anarchism and rejected, consequently, all interest in the national (“I enclose myself I surrender to my deliria / only my blessed body my cursed body / opts for my smoothly narcissistic / individuality / I am the madman of Lima who loves / himself most and the body of my lover” [25]), the texture of the poem offers something more. Its diverse registers and its conflictive hybridity harbor another means by which to imagine the nation: something close to the idea of the contradictory totality that Antonio Cornejo Polar proposes. It’s true that here there is a recognition of all the fragments of that heterogeneity, which it is impossible, on one hand, to encounter in one single text. It is also true that the speaker of the poem seems to have profound roots in what are paradoxically and with contempt referred to as “our chiefs”: the house in which he shuts himself and the language that describes the objects as remains or ruins of something already deciduous but still present and even loved (“pool,” “alabaster,” “gold,” “rubies,” “Persian rugs,” “silk gown,” “bound books,” “reading salons,” “basements,” Bohemian crystal,” “ciboria”). As such, his gesture of enclosure and his categorical rejection of defending the supposed “fatherland” in war (whichever of the two wars) signify, more than resignation and discounting, decadence as well; not only of said fatherland and the ruling class, but also his own. That enclosure implies a voluntary exitless route that begins this withdrawal; he can only hope to go on submerged in his self-destructive hedonism. And still, at the same time, Santiváñez offers a powerful opening for something different through its language. Another idea of nation and another poetry.  



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1. For a comprehensive treatment of the process of political violence in Peru of the ’80s and ’90s see, above all, Manrique (2002) and CVR (2003).

2. The first seem to be “Reyes en el Caos” (Kings in the Chaos) by Roger Santiváñez and “Acontecer de Cristóbal” by Tulio Mora, which appeared in April and June of that year, respectively.

3. Among the most recent, one can see, for example, the poemaries Ya nadiee incendia el mundo (2005) and Berlín (2011) by Victoria Guerrero, Tratado de arqueología peruana (2005) by Roberto Zariquiey, Ludy D (2006) by Roxana Crisólogo and Las hijas del terror (2007) by Rocío Silva Santiesteban.

4. The Benjaminian concept of allegory, first developed in the Origin of German Tragic Theater and later in his texts on Baudelaire, distance themselves from the traditional visions that oppose it to the symbol and in that which would limit them solely to being “a conventional relationship between a denotative image and its meaning” (Benjamin 378). Benjamin’s position, that breaks with said paradigm, has permitted many studies to recognize allegory as fundamental not only in art of the vanguard (Burger 1997), but its central place in postmodernity (Owens 1991, Brea 2009). Beyond those mentions, see also Eagleton (1998) and Buck-Morss (1989) and, for an approach related to postdictatorial Latin American literature, Avelar (2000).

5. Kloaka was made up of the poets Roger Santiváñez, Mariela Dreyfus, Guillermo Gutiérrez, Domingo de Ramos, José Alberto Velarde, Mary Soto, and Julio Heredia, as well as the fiction writer Edián Novoa and the painter Carlos Enrique Polanco. Dalmacia Ruiz Rossas and José Antonio Mazzotti were “principal allies” of the movement. For a broader look at Kloaka’s aesthetic-ideological project, Zevallos (2002), Mazzotti (2002), as well as De Lima (2003) are fundamental.

6. This move can be seen in high relief in the group’s manifestos and documents, above all on contrasting the declarations of 1982 and ’83 with those that begin to appear in the first months of 1984. See above all “El gran-pacha-kutic ya comenzó” (Zevallos 2002). Mazzotti (2002) raises the idea of decadence of the ultraperipheral curse with the following explication: “This need to attack the status quo, that much of the time neither transcends the stentorian scream nor the shocking pose, reveals nonetheless a clear necessity of liberating the anguish already felt by the young intellectuals who saw themselves displaced from a place in civil society, given their critical stance toward all official sectors, whether belongs to the left or not. From there, the attacks, not solely on cultural institutions, but on political and social institutions, and the satire of religion and “sacred” figures, like the flag and the president, were also among their obligatory themes.

7. This follows the bulk of the poems in Homenaje para iniciados, but in particular from “Para Aicamlad,” “Lechuga,” “Escrito en la oficina,” and “Rimbaud en Abisinia.” On the relationship of political violence and the city in this poemario, Paolo de Lima 2010.

8. One should remember that already in the ’70s, above all with Hora Zero, the conversational register had been radicalized compared to the ’60s, incorporating, in a more accusatory manner, the language of the streets. La Sagrada Familia, a group formed in the second part of the ’70s and to which Santiváñez belonged, proposed a recusal from the prevailing excess formal carelessness without abandoning the conversational. The radicalization would be reactivated with Kloaka, and two of its members nearly explore the conversational after the dissolution of the group: this is observed most clearly in Symbol (1991) by Santiváñez and in Pastor de los perros (1993) by Domingo de Ramos.

9. The aforementioned poem “Reyes en el Caos” (Kings in the Chaos) appeared in a fragmented form in the magazine Hueso Humero 17, in 1983.

10. The allusion to political violence in this poem has been highlighted by José Antonio Mazzotti (2002) and by Paolo de Lima (2010), who have noted that the process used in the poem can be related to the Poundian strategy of “translation of times” in The Cantos: “Said Poundian translation functions in the conception of ‘The War with Chile.’ What is said is thus related to the facts of the present, which is to say that in each discourse the poem refers to the moment of the political violence of 1983–1984”

11. This tradition, initiated in the West by the Greek poet Callimachus, has as its most emblematic representative the Latin poet Propertius and, in the contemporary period, Ezra Pound, through his translation-rewriting “Homage to Sextus Propertius.” In Latin American poetry it includes Ernesto Cardenal and the Peruvian poet Rodolfo Hinostroza, each one with their own “Imitación de Propercio.” As a declared distancing from Power, with a capital P, the attitude that sustains these poems is the critique of power and, in that sense, it is definitely political. In this respect we can see Lauer 1972. In the case of “The War with Chile,” the following in this line is produced although the song to love and pleasure is caught up in the delivery with a marked Thanatic perspective.

12. As can be seen, for example, in the “Discurso de Politeama” (1888) — which is declared in the context of a large collective advocating the recovery of the provinces of Tacna and Arica — in which he notes: “The true nation of Perú is not made up of the groups of creoles and foreigners living on the strip of land between the Pacific and the Andes; the nation is made up of the multitudes of Indians scattered across the eastern band of the cordillera” (1946: 67).

13. “Por las güevas” (tr. Bollocks) is a variation of “por las huevas,” an expression in urban slang that is equivalent to “for pleasure,” “absurdly.”

14. This stance represents, for César Ángeles L., the crux of the fundamental limitations of Santiváñez’s aesthetic project: “Santiváñez’s individualism (creative matrix) has allowed him to arrive at a certain hell in Lima, Perú. But that same individualism (its ceiling) has impeded, up to the present, the development of other less personalist elements, more social and popular operations in his poetics. As, for example, to continue on that powerful path of his of speaking from a cosmopolitan culture and, at the same time, from an expressed assimilation of our mestizo or ‘cholo’ social condition in contemporary Perú. The decadent mood and suburban mystique have, to the contrary, absorbed him to the extent that it is difficult to imagine greater variations in that line than he has at the climax of Symbol” (2001).

15. This is used to diminish not only something that pretends to be original (“de marca,” branded) while not being so (“zapatillas bamba,” “reloj bamba”), but for the person who possesses it, their incapacity (economic, generally speaking) to access the original or whose intent at this simulation is thus exposed.

16. “Cachar” (rendered in translation here as fuck) in Peruvian popular speech refers to carry on sexual relations; “cabros” and “cabrones” are violent and generally homophobic terms to designate homosexual men.

17. The name of the poet Luis Hernández is fundamental as a reference for this method. In a certain sense Santiváñez recognizes this by using a text of Hernández’s as the epigraph in Homenaje para iniciados.