Category Archives: Poetry
I always loved the spirit of Francisco Izquierdo Ríos, andino, and his writing in César Vallejo y su tierra is valuable. He first visited Santiago de Chuco in 1946 and stayed, if I do not misunderstand, in the Santa María family’s Hotel Bolívar. (Lodging in that town is rough now, perhaps it is that it has not changed since then.) He evokes the spirit of the land and says the nature of that countryside matters to Vallejo’s imagery and voices and it is true; you hear and see that part of Peru in all of Vallejo’s work, and this is important. There is a part of the book written after a return voyage in 1971 when Izquierdo Ríos met the dulce y andina Rita, who had twins for Vallejo who died. Vallejo was “alegre,” she said.
Another insufficiently read biographical work on Vallejo is Antenor Orrego’s Mi encuentro con César Vallejo (1989). There are editions available on Amazon but I do not trust the bindings and this library copy is good; I will borrow it again later. It isn’t a biography but it has important information, comments, anecdotes, and a compendium of documents and articles from the period (and testimonies, too, e.g. the 1959 symposium in Córdoba, Argentina). I would like to read this book in peace, not needing to “use” it, but to study it. Its language is dated but its intuitions, sure and its documentary value, great. Vallejo is “American” in that he is from a place, writes from it, but from the ground up, not borrowing techniques from elsewhere (Darío is European, says Orrego). Vallejo is alone and not well understood because he is original.
Vallejo, Moro, and others walked alone and suffered because they walked alone, but knew how.
Espejo Asturrizaga’s César Vallejo. Itinerario del hombre is another book I would like to reread slowly and in peace. It is yellowed and I would like a nicer copy but do not know if any can be found. One important point Espejo makes is that Vallejo was never really poor or desamparado or alone (the book covers his life up to 1923); his poems on sadness and solitude are not about material conditions of his own. His anger at Peru was about how intellectuals were treated and his work not understood; this is a different question.
My paper, when I finally write it, will look at biographies and memoirs and documents, and at Foucault and Agamben (“The author as gesture”).
There is nothing more wonderful than being able to study in a good café in a familiar and beautiful city away from home.
A different kind of book, that I am buying because I can, is Ortega’s 2014 volume in Taurus, La escritura del devenir. This is a book of criticism that has a critical thesis but there is a great deal of and on biography in it, and some documents are reproduced. Ortega says Vallejo has had some good readers, but also “malos testigos.”
I would have liked to be a Vallejo scholar but failed because of the tenure system. At the time, I needed a book in English in a U.S. university press and I could not seem to sell one on a single author, who was furthermore Peruvian and a poet, unless I claimed he were an exponent of postcolonial theory or something like that, and I could not figure out how. But Vallejo is fascinating and if I can cut through the sadness he brings up for me–none of which tiene que ver in any way, none of which is about Vallejo or even about me, the actual me–perhaps I can still do it.
I think the study of César Vallejo is the only real antidote to the effects of the current election. Our LASA panel on him was rejected–y eso que LASA se realiza esta vez en Lima–surely because it was too poetic and too literary. I was concerned about this possibility and thought the venue could be our salvation, but it was not.
So I am returning to Tulane all the books I had out on him for this presentation, because in the current situation I have two other pieces to finish before I can get back to this. One of them, I am buying since it is a good resource on the texts and it can be bought.
The paper is about biographical criticism of Vallejo, which has been rampant and also underlies much other criticism. What if people did not try to read him as Peruvian (they emphasize his mestizo blood to rescue him for peruanidad, and I think the mestizo background matters but in a much more important way–he has a non-Western or not entirely Western consciousness and perspective, and this matters)?
What if people did not insist that he was sad (remember, sadness is a modernista trope as well) and poor (he is not from a poor background himself, and I don’t think an actually poor person would have sold Georgette’s mother’s apartment to finance a grand tour of Europe)? Wouldn’t it be nice to read his very serious poems as expositions of something other than personal sadness and poverty, and also something more complex than solidarity (although I do realize solidarity is complex)?
Also, given the very conservative state of literary criticism it is strange to me that there are so few close readings of whole poems. Julio Ortega, for instance, is an excellent reader of Vallejo but his writing is so generalizing, as though it were a transcription of a conversation with a friend, and it quotes fragments and then does not sustain the discussion of the text.
I will get further into this and when I am old I will be a great Vallejo critic, it is my future.
A crumbling volume I am putting into recycling is Artaud, Les tarahumaras, in Gallimard/idées, 1971. I bought it used 10 years later. The text was composed between 1937 and 1948, after Artaud’s 1936 trip to Mexico. I marked some passages in it when I read it.
P. 18: Westermers when asked a question react as though they knew it was they who were responding, and not someone else. The Tarahumaras are not like that.
Pp. 18-19: A European would never accept the idea that his sensations, emotions, ideas, were not his own, that another person could have experienced them in his body. The Tarahumaras do make a distinction between what are one’s own thoughts and what are the thoughts of the other, even if one thinks both thoughts oneself.
P. 73: The Renaissance and Humanism diminished humanity because they denied the perhaps superhuman, but natural laws of the earlier period: from the Renaissance forward Man tried to cut nature down to his size, rather than reach up to its size. Nature was denied and only the human was considered henceforth.
p. 131, on ceremonies and priests: Mais il faut surtout entendre les Paroles qu’ils se renvoient de l’un à l’autre avec des signes qui senblent extraits des limbes même de l’Eternité et qui sont faits pour supporter et manifester quelque chose, et ce quelque chose est l’Esprit du Verbe qui roule comme une boule de flamme devant le Seigneur Dieu, et dont eux Tarahumaras se souviennent, disent-ils, d’avoir été et d’être la Volonté et le reflet.
A student gave me Adrienne Rich’s poem “Planetarium” on astronomer Caroline Hershel, because of feminist identification and because I had been an important professor. I did not know the poem and liked it because I take seriously the relationship between earth and sky.
The reproductions I found were not laid out visually in the attractive way the poem was printed in the book, so I will give you the visual thesaurus version of “Planetarium.”
Caroline Hershel received the Gold Medal for Science from the King of Prussia in 1846, and it was conveyed to her by Alexander von Humboldt.
There is value in his prologue to the Ayacucho edition of Vallejo. I have a photocopy of this prologue in a file that I never look at, and the Chávez government (apparently) put all the Ayacucho books online for free, but I do not trust the permanence of that. I may buy a used copy of that Ayacucho edition. Part of what is valuable, for my purposes, in that prologue are some comments about the relationship between the self — subject of enunciation, but also biographical self — and writing.
And I can think clearly now; I understand everything as soon as I look at it. The shadows roll away as I open things up, as opposed to gather. I still feel anxious when reading because I was always taught it was a way of procrastinating on writing. If I were seen reading, I would be accused of not understanding how the profession worked. I would rather give up reading than be lectured again about my unfitness. And I feel yet more anxious when doing anything that has to do with teaching, because I was taught that time spent on that would lead to immediate banishment. So often I tried to have a conversation on anything, anything at all, and only getting these two admonishments: reading, and any activity related to teaching, would lead immediately to inquisitorial levels of torture as well as certain execution. And writing is what I like most, but all the admonishments about how I could not and surely would not make me want to throw every word ever written in a certain direction, light a match to them, and move to another planet.
It was a professor who admonished me in this manner for so many years, and this is why I do not like professors. Topics here are not being seen, but being projected into in a very negative way; negative counter-transference; the oppression of girls; and terrorizing children. I was terrorized as a child and knew nobody would believe me; I would not be surprised if none did now. I also think my mother knew what they were doing to us. I think that is why she did not trust our good will. And it will be considered unkind of me to say these things, to write them down, to allow them to be read.
Others will ask why I analyze such things, should I not be out running? These events are in the past. But the unconscious does not know time, and it is important to look at things as they are and have been before beginning to moralize. One of our parents kept threatening suicide. The other, committed to sticking things out, had an inherited fear of abandonment. He was never really leaving but withdrew, and he would rehearse the idea of never seeing us again. This was a fantasy our parents had but as I have just discerned, it was also a fear they experienced.
People would like simple judgments, things were good or bad, black or white; if the judgment is not simple they prefer to say the answer is unknowable. They do not wish to sift through the layers of things, do not see the benefit of that, but I do.
Our library actually owns a copy of this book by Guillermo de Torre, so I am recycling my xeroxed pieces of it. These sorts of items I like to keep around me, as they are mementos of my love for the field and of my innocence, in the time before I thought I must renounce it.