Viña del Mar, Chile: Ediciones Altazor. 2022. 132 pages.
In the cultural histories of our countries, the task of mapping poetics (which have their own peculiarities beyond metropolitan hustle and bustle) is still underway. In Chile, the so-called Valparaíso-Viña del Mar-Concón axis is one example. On this geopoetic spectrum, from the mid-eighties to the mid-nineties, we note discourses defining a poetic setting that, for the less experienced reader, did not necessarily fit in contiguously with the habits or styles established in metropolitan literary society. That period bore spasmodic witness to situations, actors, and motions. There was no evident continuum; nor was the terrain watered by scarcity.
In years without Internet, when publishing was difficult, the work of Ignacio Vásquez Caces emerged. Born in Viña del Mar in 1963, he is one of the most relevant authors of the abovementioned scene. La construcción (Altazar, 2022) is his third book of poems. He previously published La margen (1990) and El lento amor de la nieve (1995), the novel Las arquitecturas invisibles (2001), and various essays. For purely age-based reasons, Vásquez Caces is a contemporary of a handful of authors whose poetics are identified with the so-called “eighties generation,” which made resistance against the Pinochet dictatorship its most explicit basso continuo, but by no means its only imaginative benchmark. To outline the minimal traits necessary to elucidate the writing practices of these authors and their bodies of work is to relate them to manifestations of what we call the neo-avant-garde of the eighties, which hoarded, modeled, and voided a good part of Chilean political discourse during this period.
To address the poetic oeuvre of Vásquez Caces, and La construcción above all, is to appreciate three traits that he incorporated into his efforts for years, with specific peculiarities: a critique of the formal foundations of writing, the transgression of various discursive genres used to undermine said foundations, and the inclusion of different codes from other forms of symbolic production. These peculiarities undeniably connect, contrast, and enter into dialogue with the poetics of his contemporaries (Holas, Correa, Lorca, Pérez, Fischer, Novoa, the “Retaguardia de la vanguardia” collective, etc.) and with the more on-display and higher-profile norms of Chile’s capital. Vásquez Caces seeks to elucidate the link between literature/poetry and visuality, a differentiating move undertaken through formal and operative densities that lend his work great semiotic complexity.
“LA CONSTRUCCIÓN PUTS FORTH A HYPERBOLIC POETICS THAT HOUNDS ANY GIVEN DISCOURSE: A SORT OF BLACK HOLE THAT DRAWS ALL LIGHT INTO ITSELF”
La construcción becomes a palimpsest, displaying language marked by sharp cultural and social callbacks: it makes of fragmentation and montage an exacerbated method, building a labyrinth of references at the service of the stealthy articulation of a discourse that refuses univocal interpretation. On the other hand, and not only as literary citations, his “scientific” allusions to the likes of Einstein, Lévi-Strauss, and Baudrillard lead discursive limits to overlap and intersect in this work with pronounced extravagance. Clearly recalling Alice Through the Looking Glass, La construcción knows that, on the textual plane, anything can be conjugated, making of allusion and insinuation the piece de resistance of its plot: a plot that is apparently arbitrary and sometimes overwhelming.
La construcción pushes to the point of dizziness the relationships that diffuse in the centrifugal force of possible meanings that, opening one after another, are annulled in a hecatomb of unalike games and images. Perhaps La construcción puts forth a hyperbolic poetics that hounds any given discourse: a sort of black hole that draws all light (or, in this case, all cultural discourse) into itself, not to disrupt or resignify for the sake of some “other,” promising who knows what. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is, rather, a jovial move of annulation, in no way nihilistic, but rather a depletion of the resources of representation, as philosopher Sergio Rojas has proposed on the subject of contemporary visual art. A posthuman, post-utopian act that does not close in on itself, but rather bursts into shards of meaning.
The dense plot of La construcción wagers on a verbal and visual game that does not end in empty dramatism, but rather dares to put forward a ludic rhetoric with which to imagine possibility. Marcelo Rioseco, in his 2013 book on Martínez, Lira, and Maquieira, coined the term “ludic neo-avant-garde,” referring to the act of speaking, observing, and reading these poets as verbal machines, articulated in order to combat and demolish notions, concepts, and language itself: a destabilization of the canon of Chilean poetry and of the ordering discourse of verbal logic that appropriates meaning for itself—and, above all, the “right meaning”—being institutionalized in the name of an impossible emancipation. I have my agreements and my differences with Rioseco, but it is productive to note that La construcción can be placed within this highly ironic category of a ludic neo-avant-garde: its core is occupied by metapoetic demarcations (something proper to all poetry from the eighties to today) that cross paths not only with images (photographs, reproductions of paintings, various graphic texts) but also with representations employed as an ironic record of what the text itself calls “independent celluloid greatest hits collection and the cyclops’ bell,” referring, in short, to the dissolution of authorship and the blurring of the benchmarks of the real. In this section of the book, allusions to Einstein are not superfluous: we see a dismantling of poetic discourse itself as a game of figurations that become letters; the color of the type, the blank spaces, and the spatial distribution of the words become resources that undermine the textual stability of the real. In Vásquez Caces’ book, visual and textual dispositions converge, configuring a mental and imaginative adventure that is not always easy to follow.
These approaches to La construcción by no means intend to encapsulate the book—they mean only to demonstrate the complexity of its reading. A book like this one could not exist without La nueva novela, nor could it exist without the imaginative overflows of Iommi and Alcayaga Vicuña or the pathos of the eighties. The poetics of Ignacio Vásquez Caces anticipates readers who will come to terms with diverse intersections that interweave unexpectedly, playfully, and astonishingly, to appreciate an experimental ludic/poetic exercise that is among the most relevant to have taken place in the Chilean poetry of recent decades.