- The Object of the Atlantic: Concrete Aesthetics in Cuba, Brazil, and Spain, 1868–1968 by Rachel Price
In The Object of the Atlantic, Rachel Price develops an historically-rooted theory of "concretude" that takes shape in the Atlantic region between empire and globalization. Through readings of writers such as José Marti, Joaquim de Sousândrade, Ramiro de Maeztu, and Brazilian concrete and neoconcrete poets and artists, Price demonstrates how a shared aesthetic interest in concretude alternately mirrors, engages, and anticipates economic shifts from objects to networks. The book's definition of its central theme is wide-ranging, moving between spectrums that include the endpoints of material and immaterial, presence and absence, "thingly" and virtual. Within these categories is further variety still. Objects are contrasted to networks, processes, dematerialization, and voids, and they are paired with materiality, commodities, products, and the everyday remnants of material culture, among other things. Materiality, in turn, sometimes refers to the fact of these various objects as depicted in writing and other times refers to the materiality of writing itself.
The materiality of writing includes written form, as in Price's discussion of a "signature use of colons" in Martí's late-nineteenth-century New York chronicles. Price describes how Martí's chronicles, a series of newspaper articles written by the Cuban poet while living in New York City, "juggle distant geographies and carefully modulated paces, miming the global operation of capital" (53). She argues that, in these chronicles, frequent and unorthodox use of colons "visually string together far-flung places and times into a delicately connected whole—a concrete diagram" (53). Just as the chronicles "mime" global capital, the colons create a diagram-like effect. Later, Price describes how their "form enacts the culture of the stock market: harried, pitching, linking far and near through the exchange of commodities—made equivalent, as the colons make chunks equivalent" (55; emphasis added). The materiality of writing here is thus a formal and visual strategy that serves to imitate an extratextual material reality.
Later, Price pushes back against a dominant reading of mid-twentieth-century Brazilian concrete poetry that suggests the movement's aesthetics were straightforwardly reflective of "the euphoric national developmentalism characteristic of the era of President Juscelino Kubitschek" (166). Instead, Price shows that what concrete poets Décio Pignatari, Augusto de Campos, and Haroldo de Campos called "'ultimate' or 'total' realism" had specifically to do with "a desire to make word equal thing" (167). Here, she argues that the materiality of writing is not a visual and formal "representation of external reality but reality itself" (167) and makes the case for prescient links between concrete poetry and the coming rise of "a more networked, more virtual, and more extensive capitalism" (21). Though the neoconcrete movement that formed in (somewhat antagonistic) response to concrete poetry and art accused concrete poetry of "a naïve fidelity to a scientific objectivity that conflated antilyrical anti-expressionism with a fetishizing of objecthood," [End Page 539] Price argues that concrete poetry already showed an interest in the pairing of the material and immaterial that would predate later moves away from the objectual and toward the processual in neoconcretism as well as in the poema/processo movement that coincided with the dawning digital age.
A careful revealing of this type of insight—one in which literature anticipates coming aesthetic and political-economic shifts—is one of The Object of the Atlantic's strongest claims. And the book's meticulous, historical exploration of transatlantic networks of power juxtaposed with close readings of the region's aesthetic output helpfully reveals further ways aesthetic concretude relates to extraaesthetic reality. One example would be Price's address of the complex relationship between Spain and Latin America as it engages questions of objecthood and subjecthood at turn of the twentieth century. Resisting the persistent divide between Latin American and Penninsular studies, her discussion of Spanish critic and theorist Ramiro de Maeztu shows how Cuba's "independence (or loss) is but one event in a dense web of multiple, interrelated movements throughout the...