Toward a poetry and poetics of the Americas (35): from Simón Rodríguez, 'American Societies,' 1828

An early experimental poetics

from American Societies
Translated from Spanish by Javier Taboada

Spanish Language & Government share the same position…

                asking for a reform & 
                being able to admit it       on one side 

                                                 & on the other                                                                

                                                                                            search in many ways,
                                                   Reformers        can’t find the true one.

Societies tend to have a way to exist, very unlike the one they have had, & from which they are intended to have.
            Men of these last eras —
reprimanded by the labor endured in useless attempts —
dissatisfied with the apparent convenience of the known Systems —
tired of hearing & reading pretentious praises to irrelevant things, & sometimes to what has not happened yet —
fed up with being abused in the name of god! the king or the nation
                                                                         they want to live 


they don’t ask for
masters                     or                 tutors
they want to possess
their own persons, assets & will
& that doesn’t mean they yearn
to live like wild animals,
   (which is what the defenders of manifest or palliated absolutism suppose) 

They want to govern themselves by REASON
which is Nature’s authority

reason, abstract figure of the thinking faculty 

                                       Nature doesn’t                                            Society does
              breed                                                                   by neglect not by convenience

in the 19th century
general interest
is crying out for
AMERICA is called on
because of the circumstances, to undertake it
this may seem a daring paradox 
… it doesn’t matter …
the events will prove
what’s a very obvious truth
America must not servilely imitate

Where will we look for patterns? …
– Hispanic America is original = original must be their Institutions & Government = & original the ways to establish one & another.
we either Invent or we Err. 



America is called (if those who govern it understand) to be a model of good society, with no other work than to adapt. Everything has been done (mainly in Europe). Seize the good — strand the bad — imitate with judgment — and for what is lacking invent. — Simón Rodríguez                        

(1) Educator, essayist, and philosopher, Simón Rodríguez was mainly known for being the tutor of Simón Bolívar (see above) and of the humanist and poet Andrés Bello. However, Rodríguez’s innovative thoughts and reflections towards the intellectual, idiomatic, and creative independence of the Americas were gathered in a monumental work-in-progress, American Societies, which was published in successive editions from 1828 to 1842.

(2) Scholar Rafael Mondragón explains the nature of the work: “It was a philosophical book which would be published in installments. [The book left] blank spaces for the readers to scratch out and modify the text. [Rodríguez] would gather his reader’s letters to integrate their reactions in the writing of each new chapter. The book would be distributed throughout the Americas via a continental subscriber’s system. To conclude his work, Rodríguez invented a new way of writing, playing with typography to paint the page, and imagined ways to convey gestures and emotion on paper.” (in Periódico de Poesía, UNAM, October 22, 2018). For all of which, here it is — in his own words (translated from the Spanish by Javier Taboada) — a key to Rodríguez’s system (1840):

in written speech

Size &
Variety      of the typeface indicates tone     

separation &
isolation             of phrases indicates pauses              

Separation is painted
by placing words or phrases among dots
isolation is painted

by placing   words or
                    phrases       in the center of the page

      Ellipses are painted      by putting a dot
                                                 under the omitted word

Hyphens     indicate   relation
Diagrams          .          connection

 to perform all these is necessary to feel
nobody learns how to Feel &
nevertheless we all express our feelings

                                  but we must learn      to express others’ feelings
                                                                         which produce our own

 This is the aim of the reading’s principles

The Writer must dispose the page to achieve the same result as the orator
               thus the art of Writing requires
                              the art of Paint.             

(3) Rodríguez’s typography and spatial use of the page precedes Mallarmé's groundbreaking Coup de Dés by almost fifty-five years. American Societies is in that sense an early avant-garde work as we now conceive it.