Extrañeza [Strangeness]. Rodrigo Arriagada-Zubieta. Buenos Aires: Buenos Aires Poetry. 2017. 56 pages.
Extrañeza is the work of a subject at risk of disappearance, a series of almost photographic images of human interactions at the moments of their sporadic ends. Heir and admirer of the best post-Parrian poetry—that of Kay, Martínez, Lihn and Roa Vial—Arriagada-Zubieta (Viña del Mar, 1982) is capable of renewing the stage of Chilean poetry with its own vigor and establishing itself as an indisputable figure of interest. His passion is the mirror, rather in the sense of radiance, whose immateriality endows it with a constitutive unreality. The etymology of the word that gives the title to his first work, refers to the Latin word “extraneus” (from outside, alien). If we add the “eza” suffix, we are driven to think about the poet’s quality of seeing himself from the outside looking in. But it is not, as it could be confused, the self-contemplation that leads to self-knowledge. It consists of questioning everything that remains as an unconscious memory and purging it by way of exodus, by “throwing it to the road,” from yourself to get a glimpse of inverse images of the subject, of time and, above all, of fleeting, exact reverse encounters of what our culture consecrates as sublime acts of what is human.
Braulio Fernández Biggs introduces this work by pointing out that Extrañeza “es una memoria doliente que surca un ayer del todo deseado precisamente porque nunca logró verificarse” [is a painful memory that cuts across a completely desired yesterday precisely because it never managed to be verified]. Coupled with this is the Baudelaire formula, with which the author identifies himself in the epigraph of the book: “Yo tengo recuerdos como si tuviera mil años” [I have memories as if I were a thousand years old]. This poetry seems to occur between both signs. How does one reconcile a strenuous amount of memories with what seems to have not happened? The fact is that more than the verification of experience, what seems to matter more to the poet is the inability to grasp that which he has at one point experienced. What Extrañeza hides is a philosophy of existence as the omen of nothingness, a universe in which everything is destined to disappear, “porque la nada que está en todo/ igual que los siglos en los siglos /se ocultaba incluso en aquellos encuentros en los que nunca estuviste/ y en los que habrías estado si las cosas fueran reales/ si no desaparecieras a cada momento/ preso de aquello que hay entre la noche y el tiempo/ gran desierto de tu oscura inexistencia” [because the nothingness that is in everything/ the same as centuries within centuries/ hides itself even in those encounters in which you never were/ and in which you would have been if things were real/ if you did not disappear at every moment/ prisoner of that which exists between night and time/ great desert of your dark non-existence]
Arriagada-Zubieta proves himself to be a passionate writer of the unconscious; he seeks to explore and depict it, but like Lynch without inquiring any answers. It is simply to establish the scenic capacity of an unfinished moment transformed into a variant of itself. The continuous allusions to films are undoubtedly one of the most outstanding elements of this book as a neo-figurative, because it seems that the poet does not try to say something here that he knows or has seen beforehand (the absence of versification seems to prove it), but to rescue a brilliance of the episodes through the distortion of a language that wanders zones of strangeness and whose most forceful achievement is to bring to presence a paradoxically abstract visual. This makes Extrañeza a work that far from being placed in the logic of an exhausted saying, arises as a discovery of the validity of modernity, because we do not find the exhumation of a style or the vindication of a category of taste in the work, as in many other poets who make the neo or the post the axis of their representation. By insisting on the visual structure of experience, the idea of image slips into the scope of the conception of poems, prior to its phenomenal attraction, inseparable from the language that seems to contain it and produce it. The work is not uniquely derived from a visual material, although it in no way remains foreign to it. It is not difficult, therefore, the reader remains trapped, anxious and a stranger to the battle that is fought in the pen of the author to produce intuitions of a “reality” destined to succumb to the evidence of getting lost in a “falsa claridad memoriosa/ laberinto soleado/ de los pasos de un ciego” [false clarity memory/ sunny labyrinth/ of the steps of a blind man].
The poetry of Extrañeza cannot be derived directly from the image, nor from the language alone, nor from the content of experience, as it happens in the best modern poetry. From this paradox arises the phenomenon of what is strange, a category that makes us think of the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty without appearing to be too much like it. Perception itself is what is strange, its discovery leaves the poet unaware to the certainties in which he has been educated and that now become a doubted world in which, nevertheless, he must go out to the city and come into contact with the woman, previous self-contemplation in the mirror: “piensas mientras te miras sin pensar/ que tu vida que no te pertenece/ podría desvelarse de ser vivida por otros que desconoces/ellos desfallecerían en los bares y en las habitaciones/ sonámbulos de despertar para siempre de tu hastío/ Y no sólo ellos/ también tu doble que ahora te hostiga/ podría desvivirte de cuando en cuando/ dividido del insomnio de ti mismo” [you think while you look at yourself without thinking/ that your life that does not belong to you/ could be revealed to be lived by others that you do not know/ they would faint in the bars and in the rooms/ sleepwalking to wake forever from your distaste/ And not only them/ also your clone that now harasses you/ could spare you from time to time/ divided from the insomnia of yourself ].
The beauty of this poetry is located in that empty space, but at the same time familiar to that which it comes from; it makes the concepts of material and spiritual reality mere categories, since everything that happens in the relations of the speaker with the others and with himself does not belong to the interior world nor to the exterior life. To lessen this gap, the author uses references that remind us of Enrique Lihn and his intertextual relationships with culture. In Extrañeza references are mentioned as varied as the paintings of Füssli, Bacon and Hopper; the music of contemporary bands like Pulp and Depeche Mode; movies such as Blue Velvet, White, Cinema Paradiso and The Bridges of Madison County; and myths such as those of Oedipus, Ariadne and Narcissus. You cannot deny the credit owed to the proceedings of Lihn, but while in the author of La Pieza Oscura such particulars are the cognitive support that re-illuminate the experience to understand the lived world, in Extrañeza it is that these cultural supports realize that strangeness itself is the world of perception. The fundamental strangeness seems to be a phenomenology of the body that is defined here in the encounter with the other, the awareness of being oneself is nothing other than the encounter with the world and its in-transcendence: “Piensas y te duele pensar que para vivir un tanto/ tendrías que dejar de estar, estando fuera de ti/ entrar enteramente en otro cuerpo/ como una amarga hostia con sabor a muerte/ lavando tus heridas del veneno que ellas mismas destilan/ asqueado de herir tanta carne/ deshecho en tu reflejo que amanece para nadie” [You think and it hurts to think to live a while/ you would have to stop being, being outside of yourself/ enter entirely into another body/ like a bitter host with the taste for death/ washing your wounds of the poison that they distil/ disgusted from wounding so much flesh/ waste in your reflection that wakes for nobody]. We should say then that the only real thing in Extrañeza is poetry and that it is difficult to find a literary simile able to intuit this philosophical experience in modern-day words. An early poet, Arriagada-Zubieta has written six books in fifteen years, of which Exrañeza is the first to be published, amid a moment of truce to his resistance “a decir tanto en una época en que la palabra se ha gastado como moneda corriente” [to say so much in a time where words are wasted like currency], as he said. A form of ethic rarely seen in these times, in which everyone wants to fill the shelves of bookstores, yet without the necessary maturity that a poet needs. Quite the contrary, Extrañeza is a piece made of time, written by an artist determined to make variations on what he has said is his main theme: “Me gustaría que mis poemas fueran imágenes mentales, en las que las personas y las cosas pasaran por ellos como fantasmas, hasta que la escritura los haga desaparecer y, de paso, también lo haga yo junto a ellos” [I would like my poems to be mental images, in which people and things will pass through them as ghosts, until the writing makes them disappear and, incidentally, I also do it, right beside them].
Mario Chávez Carmona
Translated by Alexandra Hernandez