My student observes that the more you know about Vallejo’s biography, the more it seems to lend itself to mythologizing since there are so many eccentric anecdotes. That is of course why a deeply contextualized intellectual and cultural biography would be interesting. It would not solve the problem, though, if it repeated the gesture of trying to establish truth about and understanding of Vallejo, the unitary entity, because what he appears to have done is establish himself not so much as a spectre or an illusion but a fractured, fluctuating and flickering subject.
I have always refused to study either Vallejo’s life or his manuscript issues. My position on his life was always new critical: let us not read the works through what we imagine the life to be or to mean, especially since tht has already been done so much and so poorly. My position on the manuscripts and most editions has been that they were all valid: there is not a true text to be established, only a rich and variegated corpus to work with. The kind of digital archive that could and in my view should be created for study of the manuscript and edition question does not exist, would be difficult to build, and if made correctly would be infinitely useful.
I have a manuscript in a drawer about the fractured subject(s) of Vallejo’s poetry. It starts out with a discussion of Las ventanas se han estremecido, a prose poem in which the hurricane-shaken windows “elaborate a metaphysics of the universe,” and goes on to say that a first difficulty in reading this and other texts is that it is not clear who is speaking or where they are calling from. Then it talks at some length about the way in which the poems resemble buildings under construction or bodies in dissection.
That is all well and good for the poems but what about the characters in the short stories, who are all pounded to bits, doubled, fragmented or otherwise asymmetrical, and what about the life if we are to talk about the life? People have been concerned to discover “the real Vallejo” which is problematic because of the lack of information, and also because it is quite old fashioned to think of the self as a unitary thing anyway — it may not be. Is it, though, that Vallejo in life managed to project the fluctuating subjectivity we all have, even as we believe ourselves to be endowed with identities and selves?
That is a completely speculative question and I have no idea whether it has meaning or whether it matters. I am just interested in what my student said, every new piece of information seems to abet the mythologizing rather than allow a more sober, stable picture to come into view. Here is something that can neither be limited nor located, but is not everything or infinite:
Yo creía hasta ahora que todas las cosas del universo eran, inevitablemente, padres o hijos. Pero he aquí que mi dolor de hoy no es padre ni es hijo. Le falta espalda para anochecer, tanto como le sobra pecho para amanecer y si lo pusiesen en la estancia oscura, no daría luz y si lo pusiesen en una estancia luminosa, no echaría sombra.
–”Voy a hablar de la esperanza.”
Note: both the poems cited here are from the middle 1920s, in the earlier part of Vallejo’s life in Paris. I am looking at Silva-Santisteban’s edition, which has some manuscript facsimiles and other documents. It is pleasant to be able to touch these things again, and I think I have broken a spell. I thought I was calling Vallejo back from the spirit world to help with my projects but I appear to have resuccitated that person who used to handle Vallejo manuscripts.