Las cartas de Eros came first in 2016. This was followed by the volume of visual poetry Poetas, voladores de luces (2017), and the dramatic texts Diálagos de desaparecidos (2018). The independent publisher Overol is not trying to rescue the unpublished works of Enrique Lihn, but rather to offer, book by book, a timely writing that has never ceased to occupy a disquieting place in the imaginary of contemporary literature. RB
When Enrique Lihn recounted the story that Rodrigo Lira left his attic apartment on General Salvo Street indignant because he had not been considered for the position of “editing secretary and proofreader” (Lira had shown Lihn his copy of La orquesta de cristal with its countless corrections, hoping that it would occur to Lihn to hire him), he recognized that it would not have been a bad idea to have had someone help him make a clean copy of the “reams of paper” that he had written “with effort and carelessness.” It did not occur to him to propose that work to Rodrigo Lira, or anyone else, although the talk of reams of paper was not an exaggeration. The Getty Foundation in the United States, for example, preserves more than sixty boxes with part of his correspondence, unfinished manuscripts in all sorts of genres as well as notebooks, notes, and drawings.
This brief anecdote about Lira represents one of the central aspects of Lihn’s life: his industriousness and his lack of domestic stability, which caused him to be in constant transition, not being able to settle for very long on work, or a house, or a comfortable situation that would allow him to order his papers, or even less hire a secretary. Nevertheless, he kept his archives for decades and even carried out an artisanal self-publication, using part of these in the book Derechos de autor (1981).
Boris Groys says that archives “are usually conceived as a means of preserving the past; to present the past in the present. But in fact, archives are at the same time, or even primarily, the engines that transport the present toward the future. Artists do their work not only for contemporaneity but also for the archives of art, which implies thinking of a future in which the work of the artist will continue to exist in the present (…) And it is precisely that future and anticipated presence of the work of art that guarantees its influence on the future; its possibility of giving form to that future.”
By pursuing this idea, it is possible to consider that some of Enrique Lihn’s most influential and topical works are posthumous. Among these are his Diario de muerte (1989) and his collected essays in El circo en llamas (1997), and Textos sobre arte (2008). The “rescue” label does not fit Lihn as a posthumous author except in the case of the fortunate reprinting of a great part of his canonic works (that is, the principal books that he published during his lifetime) that has been carried out by Ediciones UDP since the mid-2000s.
Before that series of reprints, one of the first sources through which my generation could get to know Enrique Lihn’s works was the posthumous anthology by Eduardo Llanos, Porque escribí (1995). It included texts from different periods, although the anthologist postulates in the preface that the most valuable production was contained in the poems written in the 60s, principally coming from La pieza oscura (1963) and La musiquilla de las pobres esferas (1969): “In those works I believe I see his most authentically original and enduring contribution (…) and also a manifestation of his loyalty to a lyricism that, at this point in time, was easier to parody than to rejuvenate.” However, the selection includes “numerous excerpts from earlier books,” even though the anthologist thinks that “in some, Lihn already takes too much distance from his lyric temple.”
Llanos’ wise decision to make known a wide and inclusive selection, beyond his own tastes and preferences (and from that supposed “temple”), allowed for access to fragments of works that had not been available up to that time, generating curiosity and amazement at the formal changes in which Lihn was dabbling. Later, when his “canonical” books were available, and keeping in mind the growing influence and interest that his works awakened in the new generation of authors and readers, the way was opened to begin to study and edit other posthumous, dispersed, or unedited papers that could complement what was already in circulation, thus deepening the knowledge about the textual production of an author who did not have the time to order, and even less to publish, the abundant material that he had written for decades and which he had jealously saved until his death.
From the more than sixty boxes of manuscripts that are stored in the United States, only his book Una nota estridente (2005) has been published. The original title was Álbum de toda especie de poemas, and it had been scheduled for publication toward the end of 1973, but this could not be done due to the coup d’état. Later, Lihn used this title for another anthology, and the original book remained unpublished as a whole.
This type of hazard and setback was frequent in relation to Lihn’s production in the post-coup era, so that he finally published what he could, when he could, and as he could. His writing, to the contrary, was incessant in all the genres and was not subject to the uncertain opportunities he had of putting it in circulation due to the precarious editorial conditions that he had to face.
Numerous book projects remained incomplete and many collaborations remained scattered in diaries, journals, pamphlets, catalogs, and other people’s books. Thus, after completing my bachelor’s degree thesis on Lihn’s life at the Instituto de la Comunicación e Imagen at the University of Chile (2009), I sent it to Ediciones UDP and received as counterproposal the request to compile some of those dispersed texts for a miscellaneous book that in the end could not be published due to the great quantity of material that appeared during the research done in periodical libraries and archives in Chile, Latin America, and Spain. Once the possibility of an encyclopedic and heterogenous book from dispersed papers was discarded, we agreed with the publisher to bring out a part of that compilation in the book La aparición de la Virgen y otros poemas políticos (2012).
The experience of working on this anthology was key to understanding that it did not make sense to have delivered to libraries a hefty, unreadable volume that would have been of interest only to specialists, taking Lihn toward a dubious patrimonial sphere that would have distanced him from his contemporary vocation as a posthumous author. Consequently, the research followed its course, with no urgency to publicize the results.
In 2015, in conjunction with Daniela Escobar and with the collaboration of Mario Verdugo, we established the publishing house Overol, in which, thanks to Andrea Lihn’s trust in us, we were able to publish for the first time Las cartas de Eros (2016). Despite having been written in the early 80s, Lihn’s prose turns out to be incredibly current, given the interest that exists today for autobiographical and referential genres, despite the fact that the letters are fictional in the sense that they were not conceived as letters to be mailed but rather to form part of a book whose subject confesses, and we recognize an intimate, suffering, hurtful, and lucid Lihn. From this ensemble, only the letter to Gabriela Mistral had been previously published in El circo en llamas. Another fragment (an excerpt from the letter to Consuelo) was published in a special article dedicated to Lihn in the newspaper El Mercurio in 1998. This clipping impressed me by its quality and convinced me of the irresistible need to gain access to the rest of the letters. Fortunately, Andrea Lihn had saved in Chile the typed papers, since with them she had put together a play titled Enrique por Lihn (2001).
Having the power to decide the character we would give to Las cartas de Eros, we opted for an edition that would not refer to the figure of the author, but rather to his work. The cover with its impossible triangle, developed by Daniela Escobar, was born from the reading of the book and is designed to draw in anyone, not just specialists or Lihn’s followers. For the same reason, the book does not have a preface, but rather an epilogue that functions as an explanatory note about the particularities of the volume for those who are interested in the process.
The following year, we had the opportunity to publish an anthology that made available scattered poems that had not been collected in a book until then and accompanied by the re-edition of a plaquette that had only circulated in Italy in 1982 with the publication of 151 copies. This represents Lihn’s only visual poem, a ludic and unusual phase in his production. Poetas, voladores de luces (2017) maintained the same criteria with regard to design and absence of para-texts preceding the reading of the ensemble itself. It includes an ample selection of poems found in newspapers, journals, anthologies, and artisanal editions that do not make up part of individual books by the author. The section A Catulo y otros (1952-1988) includes dialogs or questions from Lihn to authors such as Vicente Huidobro, César Vallejo, Luis Oyarzún, Rubén Darío, and Mauricio Wacquez, in addition to diverse “passage poems” written during trips to Spain, the United States, India, and to cities such as Antofagasta and Punta Arenas in Chile. Among them, there are some that were left out by Lihn’s demanding selection when he put together La pieza oscura (1963). Seis poemas sobre mitología chilota (1972), which are poems written by request or published only once in the newspaper El Siglo, are included in the last section. The value of these poems lies in the working of a particular aspect, which has not been highly explored in Lihn’s poetry, namely his relationship with Chilean popular culture.
That anthology, despite being somewhat more demanding in regards to the context in which each poem was written and published—since said context enriches the reading—could also reach a non-specialized public who, as is the case with all anthologies, had the opportunity to choose its favorites within a varied ensemble that shows different periods of the author’s work.
After this, we examined the archive of Lihn’s unpublished plays that his heiress retains and chose for the first publication of his drama, the brief piece Diálogos de desaparecidos (2018). This election also responds to current affairs about which we read in those texts, which do not need any previous note or contextualization, to question us and which can reach a transverse public. In addition, it reinforces the knowledge of a political and concerned Lihn, attentive to what is happening in his surroundings in real time. We discarded the idea of gathering several works in a single volume, which would have been heavy and difficult to read. It seems to us that what is interesting is to allow each work to have its space and time in a curated edition intended for reading, and whose objective is not only to “rescue” the texts, but also to make them have a conversation with the times in which they are going to appear.
Currently, we are working on a fourth book that gathers articles, essays, and other interventions about literature, art, and politics that are not included in El circo en llamas, or in Textos sobre arte. Among them, it is worth noting, for example, a series of articles about literature and art that Lihn published while he was staying in Cuba. Already in 2010, the researcher Matías Ayala, commenting on the edition of Textos sobre Arte, notes that “from his stay in Cuba between 1966 and 1967, there are only two texts. It is very possible that in Cuba Lihn may have written more and there may be articles awaiting investigative research that will discover them.” Three other texts about art not included in the previously mentioned book are included in this recompilation, in addition to six literary articles about Cuban poets and authors that are not found in El circo en llamas. Also recompiled are other texts written since said Cuban experience, as is the case of the legendary “Carta abierta a Heberto Padilla” (1971), a text that until now has not been circulated in Chile. Also relevant are the speeches and columns published by Lihn in newspapers and journals, such as Cauce, El Espíritu del Valle, and La Época, before and during the dictatorship about literary and artistic activity as well as about the political situation. We hope to publish this book in 2020.
There is a lot more of Lihn’s material to review and to make known. We believe that it is pertinent to publish this type of work as an archive that is always being updated and which attempts to make available to readers diverse content, tones, and formats without the ambition of making them canonical or aspiring to their definitive fixation. For this reason, it is important for us to avoid focusing on the figure of the author, so as not to abuse his image in terms of advertising or diffusion. And at the same time, it is important that the editions be materially adjusted to the objective of facilitating their reading and permitting an appropriate circulation.
The criteria that we have favored is that these be books that do not become too attached to an image of a preconceived or marbled image of the poet, but rather that they allow the unfurling of Lihn’s work in our present. Returning to Groys’ comments: “the utopian impulse always has something to do with the desire of the subject to get out of his historically defined identity, to abandon his place in the historical taxonomy. In a certain way, the archive gives the subject the hope of surviving his own contemporaneity and reveal his true being in the future because the archive promises to preserve the texts or works of art of this subject and make them accessible after his death. This utopia, or at least, this heterotopic promise that the archive makes to the subject is crucial for his capacity to develop a distance and a critical attitude toward his own time and his immediate audience.”