publisher colophon
  • "Un núcleo imperioso y siempre elusivo":On Assemblage, Dissent, Hybridity, and the Politics of Elegía Joseph Cornell, by María Negroni

In this essay my purpose is to rehearse a reading of María Negroni's Elegía Joseph Cornell as a dissenting cultural product. My argument will be that Negroni's text sets in motion a discussion of the center of literary meaning and value. Such discussion is enacted by taking the textual interpretation beyond the realm of the written word, integrating visual images as well as formal transgressions on the page, thus turning the book into a hybrid assemblage or aesthetic device. In this manner, Elegía… opens up a marginal space that contests textual experience. I will try to answer the following question: In what manner does the convergence of visuality and agency in Elegía… challenge the center of literary meaning and value? Finally, I will conclude that Elegía…'s dissenting quality makes it a paradigmatic cultural product produced in the realm of time-space concretion, where the continual rearrangements of meaning and value call for new vocabularies to trace the effects of the politics of contemporary literature.

assemblage, dissent, hybridity, Latin American poetry, María Negroni

This article is about María Negroni's poetry collection Elegía Joseph Cornell as a paradigmatic, dissenting cultural product that questions the centrality of hermeneutic meaning and representational poetics. In this paper I argue that Negroni's dissensus sets in motion a discussion of the center of literary meaning and value by transforming the text into a hybrid medial assemblage contesting textual interpretation from a sensual, marginal standpoint. Looking closely into the poetic and aesthetic interior of Negroni's literary project, this center-margin or interpretative-sensual tension can be taken as one of her project's most prominent features which, nonetheless, has not been explicitly addressed in current studies of her poetry. The centrality of hermeneutic meaning in literary studies is about the understanding of the time of action and the construction of a plot as a center around which both meaning and the structure of representational poetics are conveyed in fiction (Rancière 8). However, when fiction started to abolish the hierarchy of action and plot by giving way to a space of sensible coexistence of all individuals, things and situations, the representational quality of fictionality suffered a rupture that resulted in a dissensus with the regime of representation (7). In other words, the centrality of meaning and hermeneutics was shackled by literary projects placed in the margins of such a center, opting for an oscillation between meaning and presence, between the interpretative and the sensible (Gumbrecht xiv–xv).

The institutionalization of literary value is only one of many possible modes of literary categorization, a process related to a context of historical-cultural circumstances that determine the validity of specific cultural products (Jane Thompkins in Mallol 2).1 [End Page 45] Zygmunt Bauman managed to signal this in a broader cultural context by pointing to the "progressive breakdown in communication between the increasingly global and extraterritorial elites and the ever more 'localized' rest," implying that "the centers of meaning-and-value production are today extraterritorial and emancipated from local constraints" (3). Such an acknowledgement sheds light on the ways in which cultural products are inscribed in the systematic narrative of globalization, neoliberalism and late-capitalism practices (Braidotti 31–32; Vertovec 86–90). The displacement and continual reordering of the cultural space enacted by this narrative results in the rearrangement of centers and margins, placing us—as well as literary production—in "a strange circle whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere (or, who knows, perhaps the other way around?)" (Bauman 77–78).2 Literature, one can argue, has its correlate in the center-margin conflict as it is embedded in it, bounded by its condition as a cultural product.

In relation to the latter, an urge to explore forms of dissent in literary fiction gains priority in order to recognize—give visibility to—the different modes of literature that converge in the boundaries delineated by the center-margin dialectic. This urge I am referring to is about the same urgency Rosi Braidotti has been describing in recent years; that is, the part we play, as cultural critics, in "rewriting issues of power, of economic and geopolitical exclusion and of modes of production and reproduction" (30) in order to challenge the "grossly distorted reflection in the postmodernist narrative [that] leaves unaccounted for and unarticulated other experiences, which are also an integral part of the postmodern scene" (Bauman 100–01). Braidotti's 'rewriting' does not mean to fully overcome the systematic narrative of globalization and late-capitalism practices, inasmuch as these are part of our socioeconomic time-space. Rather, her understanding of 'rewriting' seems closer to a form of dispute or rethinking the normative—that which has become the center (Braidotti 35).3 In turn, and as a way of reformulating Braidotti's word choice, I am [End Page 46] proposing to use the term 'dissensus' as a discussion of fiction's interior and exterior. By considering cultural products as potential dissenting artifacts, conceptual substitution could be avoided while denoting, instead, disagreement with a consented narrative.

In this regard, Maria Negroni's literary project features a series of aesthetic characteristics useful for elaborating a reflection on contemporary Latin American literature associated with the discussion of the center-margin dialectic referred to above. Negroni is a well-established author, translator and literary scholar. Her literary production started in the mid-1980s and comprises a series of poetry collections, a couple of novels and several essays that have been recognized internationally by their combination of literary genres, different forms of media, and experimental aesthetic composition ("María Negroni …" 38–40; Punte 86–87). Among her most recent publications, the poetry collections Elegía Joseph Cornell (2013), Objeto Satie (2018), Archivo Dickinson (2018) and Pequeños reinos (2017)—in collaboration with Argentinian visual artist Nora Correas—are particularly interesting for the points that I will address in this essay.4 Even though some critics have described these works as functioning together as "objetos poliédricos que indagan el vínculo entre artista y arte como oficio, pasión, entrega" (Romero), it is possible to read beyond this interpretation and view them in an Adornian sense, that is, as aesthetic artifacts both weaving and unweaving artistic, interpretative and sensual fields.5 [End Page 47] Moreover, they seem to take to another level of abstraction what Andrea Castro has defined as one of Negroni's poetic highpoints ("María Negroni …" 38), i.e. The way by which the written and material representation of other media activates the conative function of language in order to oblige the reader to assume the role of a reader-spectator. Such a role, continues Castro, opens up the possibility of a combination of cognitive processes and sensorial perception in order to make the reader-spectator get in touch with aspects of experience that are not put into words (44–47).

By paying attention to Elegía Joseph Cornell—a long essayistic poem that chronologically initiates these series of aesthetically related works—I argue that Negroni questions the central representational structure and hermeneutic conceptualization of literary value. Negroni's poetics, as Castro has mentioned, tend to obstruct the possibility of a mimetic and referential reading by way of medial dimensions that transform the reader into a spectator ("María Negroni …" 38; 50–51). I also draw on examples from both the form and the poetic content of Elegía … to argue that the text dismantles hermeneutic fixation, moving between the center and its margins, an oscillation between meaning and presence that contests the conventional textual experience. This problematization could also be productive for engaging in a speculative discussion: that of a potential tension between the dissenting cultural product and the literary text that prioritizes either representation or the intent to develop a mimetic account of socio-historical phenomena such as globalization. Propelled by its contestatory quality, my reading of Elegía … contends that its dissenting standpoint makes it a good example of a cultural product produced in the realm of globalized time-space concretion, in which constant rearrangements of meaning and value call for new vocabularies in order to trace the effects and intricacies of the politics of contemporary literature.

A Peripheral Space: Hybridity as Dissensus

Elegía … Revolves around an image: a standstill from a film by Joseph Cornell that Negroni contemplates and reflects upon.6 The photogram described by Negroni—and reproduced, to some extent, on both the book cover and page 13—shows an infant girl with long hair riding a horse, personifying the 13th century Old English [End Page 48] legend of Lady Godiva. This image drives the essayistic poem in which Negroni seems to 'box' Cornell's artistry and craft. The text entangles both the biography and the art of Cornell in a sometimes conversational, and at other times, fragmentary manner. It is as if the text, evoking the procedures of the artistic assemblage and the collage—reminiscent of the avant-garde movements, primordial to Negroni's literary project (Porrúa, "La imaginación en movimiento"; Punte 88–90)—interweaves and juxtaposes Cornell's art with a multiplicity of poetic voices.

Through this interplay, it is particularly interesting to observe how the text continually undermines the sense of specificity, of belonging to a particular literary genre. To put it differently, it possesses a somewhat hybrid condition, eluding and contesting a conventional formal classification. Moreover, this hybridity is not a mere feature represented in the text through lyricism or narrative; instead, it signals its political function, an acting capacity procured by the literary text. As John Kraniauskas put it, hybridity is understood as "the site of the politics of theory in which alternative uses of the term—and alternatives to the term—fight it out, are articulated and unraveled" (741).7 Thus, Elegía … Is neither lyric nor narrative, fictional nor argumentative; but rather, it is a text that embodies the contradiction of being neither the one nor the other, but both simultaneously. Its hybrid condition condenses some of the main characteristics of Negroni's poetry indicated in recent studies on her oeuvre, e.g. the cinematographic-scriptural interplay conveyed by Negroni's poetic frames as time-space abysms (Albarelli 186–191), the text as unfolding a universe of textual and visual experiences (Punte 90–93), or the challenging position assumed by the reader-spectator every time she interacts with the books of the poet ("María Negroni …" 50). In other words, what Elegía … Seems to tell us is that by understanding it as a hybrid text we are assuming its dissenting quality, instantly contesting the institutionalized value and meaning of the medium and the literary genre. These claims are more obvious in Elegía …'s prologue. Negroni writes: [End Page 49]

El arte—pareciera sugerir Cornell—siempre lee un libro interior que habla de la ciudad del alma. En esa ciudad hay cosas de lo más curiosas … Hay también, en ciertas conjunciones o geografías temporales, una luz secreta que hace coincidir la maravilla con el laberinto que la esconde. Entonces el libro se cierra, la ciudad sueña, el centro desaparece. Queda el mundo, esa visión inasible, aterradora, y magnífica.

Negroni's writing, as with Cornell's art, works through assemblages that weave, symbolically speaking, aesthetic and experiential borders (Albarelli 181; Porrúa, "La imaginación en movimiento"). Its aim is to place the text in a peripheral space, contesting the centered space imposed by meaning interpretation while enabling an alternative sensual approach to literature. In this regard, the construction of the book as a montage of visual resources—e.g. text format variations, drawings, pictures, graphic symbols, manuscripts, etc.—and powerful lyric images, obliges the reader-spectator to constantly move between the immaterial and the material, to oscillate between the meaning and presence effects of Elegía … As Castro noted, analyzing other works by the poet, Negroni's lyrics invite us to physically experience rather than intellectually comprehend the text ("María Negroni …" 50). This can be read from Hans Gumbrecht's interpretation of poetry as a fundamentally sensorial, embodied experience: "even the most overpowering institutional dominance of the hermeneutic dimension could never fully repress the presence effects of rhyme and alliteration, of verse and stanza … instead of being subordinated to meaning, poetic forms might find themselves in a situation of tension, in a structural form of oscillation with the dimension of meaning" (18).

In this regard, consider the passage's subtle reference to the disappearance of the center—'el centro desaparece'—through the effect of a secret light—'luz secreta'—procured in conjunctions or temporal geographies—'en ciertas conjunciones o geografías temporales'—matching wonder with the labyrinth in which the former is hidden—'coincidir la maravilla con el laberinto que la esconde.' It is not by chance that such verbal construction is chosen to open Elegía … The prose is clearly intervened by a lyric tension, and synesthesia appears to drive the merging of abstract thought and perceptive verbal images. As a result, these sentences should be read as statements of purpose and conviction: the conviction that the agency of art—'El arte siempre lee un libro interior que habla de la ciudad del alma'—could take us beyond the center in order to interact with the world as an unattainable vision—"El centro desaparece. Queda el mundo, esa vision inasible." By doing so, Negroni's prologue announces the potentiality of art, the "luz secreta" matching wonder—the poetic image—with labyrinth—abstract thought. This potentiality or agency is also a 'vibrancy'—Michael Ann Holly's jargon (Rosler et al. 16)—a 'vitality' that produces effects and affects its readers (Mitchell 6–11). It is in this fashion that I read the passage cited above as an instance of hybridity in a textual sense.

More concretely, what we are able to see through the arrangements and assemblages of Elegía …, both poetically and pragmatically speaking, is an attempt to "Deconstruct … History through reference to specific cultural practices" (740). The poetic voice announces this subtlety: "Déjame tolerar la incertidumbre, convivir con mis cajas de madera y de vidrio, que son trampas para asir las cosas (como los poemas)" [End Page 50] ("Elegía …" 50). Elegía …'s hybridity, as with Cornell's boxes, functions as a device that captures and assembles parts of the world—they are 'trampas para asir las cosas (como los poemas)'—it creates "new contexts" by deconstructing both the remnants of modern culture and the medium specificity of the book (Punte 90). This, as Punte has shown, "opens up a vortex" (92), it makes the reader-spectator re-experience the world and the text. These ideas resonate with Florencia Garramuño's description of contemporary Latin American visual and verbal arts as forms of disbelonging. To Garramuño, the crisis of medium specificity is associated with an "exploration of sensibility in which notions of belonging, specificity and individuality are continually jettisoned" (247). Freeing themselves from the constraints and distinctions of a determined aesthetic form, these contemporary artifacts produce partitions of the sensible that are able to deconstruct specificity (253), hence questioning the centrality of specific literary meaning and value. In this manner, Negroni enables a contemporary reflection on cultural forms and practices by raising the text up to the level of contestation. The power of this potentiality resides in the political action of Elegía…; i.e. the text permits an alternative reading of cultural products inextricably embedded in the intimately interconnected and highly conflictual space of events in globalization. What this hybrid, unspecific text does is to stress cultural mixture and underline the ways in which it is already—and always—marked by an alterity (Kraniauskas 748–49).

As several critics have already shown, these forms of disbelonging and unspecificity are not an alien perspective on Negroni's writing (Bocchino 97; Castro, "Habitando la lengua …" 170–72; Castro, "María Negroni …" 50–51; Punte 97–98). In her collection of essays El arte del error, the author accomplishes the encapsulation of the dissenting capacity of her work. Both the formal and artistic status of poetry, as well as its current possibility of fulfilling an aesthetic and political function, is raised in order to contest historical and canonical articulations, disputing the central reordering that justifies its exclusion:

Uno de los malentendidos más viejos en materia literaria (y que bien puede extenderse al campo entero del arte) es el que se empeña en clasificar las obras en categorías, géneros, escuelas, allí donde, en sentido estricto, no hay más que autores y artistas, es decir, aventuras espirituales, asaltos y expediciones dificilísimas que se dirigen—cuando valen la pena—a un núcleo imperioso y siempre elusivo.

Returning to Elegía … it is possible to argue that the dissenting quality of the text is not exclusively concentrated in the realm of its political effect. In fact, by taking a closer look at both the poetic form and language, it could also be noted how Negroni's text further contests the possibility of a fixed hermeneutic meaning. The examples are varied: the continual poetic voice shifts, bouncing from the fictionalized thoughts of Cornell and the girl on the horse ("Elegía …" 50–51; 58–59; 28; 36; 79), to those of Negroni's voice that permeates the entire book, while enabling a distanced dialogue between them—and, at some point, it is rather difficult to determine who is speaking, all being left to the reader's intuition. The intertextuality plays with the mixture of literary genres, from the biography in the seven parts of [End Page 51] "Apuntes para una biografía mínima" (24; 30; 37; 54; 65; 76; 80), the dramatic piece in "Teatro de Hans Christian Andersen, Dance Index #9, 1945" (45–6), and the obituary (87), to the use of formal academic writing—e.g. footnotes (11), dictionary entries (25), quotes (20; 72; 81), and bibliography (65–66). Even the title of the book toys with the idea of meaning displacement as it takes the literary possibilities of the elegy as a poem of reflection and lamentation to the limit. Due to the latter, the ars poetica of Elegía … Could be understood as an attempt to develop a poetic form out of the poetic form, to make visible a dissensus in the matrix of literary meaning. To explain this, Negroni fuses her voice with Cornell's:

Hacia una poética muda: pensar es adivinar. No sé sipodré, de ese modo, encontrar una idea futura, perolo intentaré. Lo importante, ahora, es cuidar el vacío(ninguna pasión, ningún plan de viaje, ningún apegoa cosa concreta), mezclar lo ruin, lo erótico y lo culto,y hallar una forma que estribe en la ausencia deforma. ¿Será posible? Ah, cómo quisiera ser yo mismoun arabesco de humo con su alto desorden, su herviderode dioses, su taller abierto a la incoherencia,como el estado después de la muerte.

It is like this because Negroni sees, through the potentiality of art's agency—"El arte siempre lee un libro interior que habla de la ciudad del alma"—and poetry—"luz secreta" and "maravilla"—the artifact to both question poetry through poetry—"Hallar una forma que estribe en la ausencia de forma"—and seize and understand the world: "Déjame tolerar la incertidumbre, convivir con mis cajas de madera y de vidrio, que son trampas para asir las cosas (como los poemas)" ("Elegía …" 50). Let us exemplify this. The piece "De las cajas a las ensoñaciones líricas en celuloide" (29), in which Negroni's enunciation takes over to describe Cornell's filming techniques, could be helpful. This description turns its attention to the aesthetics featured in Cornell's art, but at the same time, Negroni appears to define Elegía …'s structure and composition, thereby echoing its ars poetica. It reads as follows:

Tanto en estos films como en los que él mismo compuso con material hallado, la sintaxis es la misma: el montaje se fractura, se incentivan los cortes, se vuelve abrupto el intertitulado, y predomina el uso de planos, letras o escenas repetidas e invertidas. El resto será improvisación (en el sentido musical) y auspicio de lo descoyuntado.

("Elegía …" 29; italics are mine)

The passage is also paradigmatic of the formal arrangement of the text: a fractured montage—'el montaje fracturado'—repeating and inverting already existing frames, words and scenes—'uso de planos, letras o escenas repetidas e invertidas.' It is an improvisation that dislocates the poetic form through the poetic form—'el resto será improvisación … y auspicio de lo descoyuntado.' In this regard, as both Albarelli (183–191) and Punte (93–96) have pointed out, Negroni remediates cultural techniques such as the montage in order to reconfigure the material we have in front of us. Here again the book demonstrates an internal tension overwhelming the [End Page 52] text: the representational structure and its poetic organization are jettisoned by the visual components and the meta-reflection that continually suspends and deviates from a specific, fixed meaning. The improvised dislocation enacted by the poem has its core in the medial dimensions which, as Castro has shown in other works by Negroni, require a constant role shift between the reader and the spectator position ("María Negroni …" 50). As a consequence, the consideration of the book as an artifact—as Negroni distorts formal textual parameters in order to contest the imperious and always elusive nucleus—8 is illustrated in several examples throughout the book.

Word/Image Assemblages: The Politics of Elegía Joseph Cornell

In the piece "Aviary, 1955" (fig. 1) the intersection between the written text and a set of types or symbols motivates both the reading of the poem and its visualization in conjunction with the symbols spread throughout the pages ("Elegía …" 18–19). On the other hand, the untitled piece that concludes the book (fig. 2) takes to an extreme the composition between the text and the image (92), resulting in a piece of visual poetry.

Figure 1. Aviary, 1955 ()
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 1.

Aviary, 1955 ("Elegía …" 18–19)

[End Page 53] Both cases call, in a different manner, the reader-spectator cooperative intervention: figure 1 calls for visualization as a way of grasping the sense of the piece. However, I am not interested in how the symbols should be interpreted. The reader-spectator could, for example, relate them to the title of the piece, 'Aviary,' and 'read' them as birds flying through the pages in a sort of abstract intervention that recalls, simultaneously, Cornell's aviary series.9 Rather, I focus on the explicit solicitation of alternative interpretations: it is obvious that this piece and the book seek to communicate beyond the written text. In the case of figure 2, the reader is obliged to literally rotate the book in order to be able to read the calligraphic design printed on the page. This action subverts the hermeneutic logic of the literary text, making the reader aware of an alternative mode of reading/experience by manipulating the book—a book which oscillates between meaning and presence, drawing our attention to its functionality as an object with an aesthetic purpose. Following up from this, it could be argued that Elegía … Continually problematizes its medium specificity, it reshapes the intellectual approach, as well as the sensorial and physical experience in relation to the book. This disruption that takes place in the literary and material form makes the reader-spectator-participant's attention move back and forth, from language to image. Even more, it obliges the reader to acknowledge the intervention of specific cultural technologies in the production of textual meaning and presence, thus posing a somewhat renewed understanding of the material in relation to literary language. Forcing the reader-spectator-participant to think about their experience, Elegía …—and in a broader sense Negroni's literary project and the contemporary Latin American artistic works analyzed by Garramuño (245)—pose aesthetic and political questions beyond literature's borders.10 Seen in this light, if a medium is traditionally understood to be shaped by specific historical and cultural structures, and its remediation via the interrelation of cultural techniques—like Elegía … Made obvious via formal and poetic assemblages—questions its belongingness to a determined cultural and historical domain, Negroni's book is a useful cultural artifact for posing new questions regarding the role of her artistic project within the machinery of literary production in the contemporary cultural milieu. [End Page 54]

In Elegía …, form deconstructs meaning and invites us to reinterpret what we have in front of us. To put it in Michael Yonan's words: "Form is not a series of aesthetic choices a priori to an object's being: form makes it a thing in the first place. Form is therefore analogous to the idea, concept, or design of being" (246). Following the latter, it seems that Negroni's text encourages us to continually transform the poetic form into the material form. Such an encouragement falls into the category in which Michael Ann Holly has put materiality: "[the] meeting of matter and imagination, the place where opposites take refuge from their perceptual strife" (Rosler et al. 15). The artifactually of Elegía …, its 'force field,' emphasizes the dialectical strife that summarizes its hybridity: an obvious interaction between the material and the immaterial, but also between visuality and agency.11 This takes us back to the interpretation of the hybrid text as a form of assemblage. An assemblage, I believe, that works in the sense in which Jane Bennett has accurately described it:

The effects generated by an assemblage are, rather, emergent properties, emergent in that their ability to make something happen. … And precisely because each member-actant maintains an energetic pulse slightly "off" from the assemblage, an assemblage is never a solid block but an open-ended collective, a "non-totalizable sum."

Following Bennett's definition of the assemblage, I want to address one last example: the picture depicting the child as Lady Godiva (fig. 3). A picture which, in the words of W. J. T. Mitchell, represents "complex assemblages of virtual, material and symbolic elements" (xiii). Considering the role it plays in the poem, the standstill should be taken as a 'living image' that is "both a verbal and a visual trope, a figure of speech, of vision, of graphic design, and of thought. It is, in other words, a secondary, reflexive image of images, or what I have called a metapicture" (10). I want to emphasize this idea by considering that this living image happens to be the poem itself. It should be noted that the standstill propels Negroni's desire to confront it and, subsequently, to reflect upon it. This is, literally, what Negroni claims: "El texto que el lector tiene ahora entre las manos quiere ser el registro de mi confrontación con su cine, más específicamente, con una imagen de ese cine" ("Elegía …" 10). This echoes Mitchell's understanding of the power of images and our desire to seize them (39), a desire derived from the reproduction of the picture expressed by the poet in her confrontation and reflection upon the image.

By reproducing Cornell's photogram on the page, Negroni seems to be telling us that the image is not a mere poetic construction, but an actual 'thing' that has an [End Page 55]

Figure 2. —Untitled visual poem ()
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 2.

—Untitled visual poem ("Elegía …" 92)

existence outside the realm of the poem—i.e. it is an external presence, part of the film shot by Cornell in the 1960s. More importantly, the reproduction acts: it is the only way to make visible the power of an image that the author is linguistically unable to grasp. An interesting example of the tension between what the visual and the verbal image of the girl as Lady Godiva communicate is demonstrated on page 28, when the poetic voice is displaced in order to allow the standstill to speak for itself. Even though this is apparently a lyric resource deployed by the poet, the presence of the actual standstill enables the dialogue between the picture and the written word, between the visual and the verbal, which consequently contests the hermeneutic meaning by creating a different sensory universe—Chris Godsen dixit (202)—to achieve a different way of interacting with the text.12 As Mitchell puts it, [End Page 56]

Figure 3. —Young Lady Godiva standstill ()
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 3.

—Young Lady Godiva standstill ("Elegía …" 13)

here the picture does not "challenge language in order to weaken it, but in order to invoke that sort of testing through which true strength can emerge" (34). In Mitchell's words, such strength is the 'vitality,' which transforms the image into a living image.

Thus, it transpires that the standstill is more than a sole reproduction on the page, or the object of the author's ekphrastic writing, as some critics have pointed out (Albarelli 191–92; Punte 88). Instead, it is "a thing that is always already addressing us (potentially) as a subject with a life that has to be seen as 'its own' in order for our descriptions to engage the picture's life as well as our own lives as beholders" (Mitchell 49, n 39). It is in this fashion that I interpreted young Lady [End Page 57] Godiva's image as an 'image act' capable of moving both the viewer and the book (Bredekamp 29–33). The power to produce this sensorial effect "lies in the fact that they [images] enable each spectator to encounter in them a pictorial counterpart to the self," hence "a process of intuitive identification permits a privileged intellectual and emotional engagement with both the form and the implication of the presented poses" (94–95). It seems as if the image is able to "constitute a corporeal connection between object and observer, with the result that the act of looking becomes a particular form of the experience of being grasped by that at which one looks … Observers are, quite literally, seized by images" (274).

Conclusions: Un núcleo imperioso y siempre elusivo

Understanding Elegía … As a form of verbal and visual assemblage sums up its dissenting capacity. The text, as a cultural product embedded in the continually shifting spaces of meaning and value enacted by both the globalized worldview and the oscillation between meaning and presence enables a dialogue between different forms of experiencing art that interacts without annulling each other. More than a poem or an essay, Elegía … Is a literary object, a cultural artifact flowing through symbolic spaces, exhibiting a creative hybridity in the sense that it both acts upon the reader's interpretation, and is acted on. Similarly, we can consider how the editions of books like Elegía …, Objeto Satie, Archivo Dickinson, and Pequeños reinos demand attention as they bend the generic locus of specific processes of production, reproduction and consumption of texts by problematizing their belonging to a determined, fixed, specific genre on the editorial horizon (Guerrero 99; McGann 30–31). The way in which texts are circulated and read is affected by the material and poetic transformations they both problematize and exhibit as part of the "complex (and open-ended) histories of textual change and variance" (McGann 9). This resonates with Michael Kelly's understanding of contemporary art as both material and immaterial, enacting an interplay of agencies and effects as "a function of the conflicting and converging modes of agency in the artist, participant, work of art, and their shared worlds" (Rosler et al. 20). Negroni's literary project, and more particularly the dissenting effect present in her last publications, makes this material and immaterial oscillation so powerful and worthy of attention.

As a final remark, the argument of this essay has followed Garramuño's studies of contemporary works of verbal and visual arts in Latin America. Contemporary texts written in the age of globalization are not only interested in representing, through mimesis, traits associated with the narrative of globalized time-space concretion. Instead, by acknowledging that globalization and neoliberal practices are unavoidable conditions of our time (Braidotti 30–31), dissenting texts such as Negroni's essayistic poem draw our attention to the productivity or viability of literary texts as cultural products that can embody alternative forms of discussing the centers of meaning and value. Elegía …'s dissenting quality is not about oppositions or restitutions, but is about contestations. For instance, we could be more thorough and consider Negroni's text as a kind of Bhabhian 'borderline text' of hybrid conditions (Bhabha 1–9). Reading [End Page 58] Elegía … As a borderline text that contests the center of literary meaning and value opens up a possible third space in which the articulation of alternative meanings is enacted. In Kraniauskas's words: "All cultures are frontier cultures … Thus, from the point of view of the working concept of hybridity … the border becomes both culturally exemplary, a 'third space,' and an explicit epistemological position from which to read the texts and times of contemporary cultural formations" (Kraniauskas 753–54). From this perspective, Kraniauskas is referring to the importance of critical projects of multi-directional renovation from the inside in the sense that they "not only visit borders in their texts … but develop 'border epistemologies,' too" (Kraniauskas 741). It is the intention to generate a 'borderline epistemology'—the result of an enunciation from the 'third space,' from the margins—that can be regarded as a way to contest or dissent.

In this manner, the assemblage and hybrid reading I have briefly tried to propose in this essay could be associated with the increasing preoccupation of some intellectuals and artists in their efforts to give shape to other forms of expression. These attempts are about aesthetic modes that not only account for the effects and impacts of globalization on cultural production and social life in general, they are also attentive to the creative standpoints that cultural actors like Negroni occupy in order to theorize and dissent the consensus that is crystalized by the institutionalization of literary and cultural value. Negroni's project functions as an 'archive of poetic imagination' (Porrúa, "La imaginación poética …") in the sense that it construes its own space through a democracy of poetic and aesthetic forms continually rearranged in the text, and in doing so it disregards specificity and opens itself up to alternative forms of the sensible. In other words, by putting in crisis the imperious and always elusive nucleus, as Negroni subtlety puts it, the text is right back at the deconstruction of the literary genre through reference to specific cultural practices. Ultimately, by reading both the literary form and the poetic content in this dissenting manner, a space of possibilities unfolds. In our hands, the text is an artifact that emphasizes heterogeneity, giving visibility to other forms of the sensible. The politics of Elegía … question institutionalized value—Tobeña's doxa and Gell's institutional parameters (see footnote 1)—and by doing so start enacting alternative ways of experiencing her literary project.

Gianfranco Selgas
Stockholm University

WORKS CITED

Adorno, Theodor. Aesthetic Theory. 1970. Edited by Gretel Adorno and Rolf Tiedemann, translated by Robert Hullot-Kentor. Continuum, 1997.
Albarelli, Irene. "Encuadrar las escenas del mundo: notas en torno al cine de Joseph Cornell en la écfrasis y el museo." Profundidad de campo. Des/encuentros cine-literatura en Latinoamérica, edited by Betina Keizman and Constanza Vergara, Metales Pesados, 2016, pp. 179–96.
Bauman, Zygmunt. Globalization: The Human Consequences. Polity Press, 1998.
Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matters: A Political Ecology of Things. Duke UP, 2010.
Bhabha, Homi. "Introduction: Locations of Culture." The Locations of Culture, 1994. Routledge, 2008, pp. 1–18.
Bocchino, Adriana A. "Escritura como lugar de arraigo en el exilio: Tununa Mercado y María Negroni." 452ºF. Revista electrónica de teoría de la literatura y literatura comparada, no. 4, 2011, pp. 92–109. revistes.ub.edu/index.php/452f/article/view/10815
Braidotti, Rosi. "A Cartography of Glocal Powers." Transpositions: On Nomadic Ethics, Polity Press, 2009, pp. 30–42.
Bredekamp, Horst. Image Acts: A Systematic Approach to Visual Agency. 2007. Translated by Elizabeth Clegg, De Gruyter, 2018.
Castro, Andrea. "Habitando la lengua: subjetividades nómadas en la narrativa de María Negroni." De nómades y migrantes. Desplazamientos en la literatura, el cine y el arte hispanoamericanos, edited by Andrea Castro and Anna Forné, Beatriz Viterbo Editora, 2015, pp. 169–90.
———. "María Negroni y la puesta en escena de lo no dicho." Pasavento. Revista de Estudios Hispánicos, vol. V, no. 1, 2017, pp. 37–52.
Cheah, Pheng. "Introduction Part II. The Cosmopolitical—Today." Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling beyond the Nation, edited by Cheah, Pheng and Bruce Robbins, U of Minnesota P, 1998, pp. 20–39.
Cornejo Polar, Antonio. "Mestizaje and Hybridity: The Risks of Metaphors—Notes." Translated by Christopher Dennis, The Latin American Cultural Studies Reader, edited by Ana Del Sarto, Alicia Ríos and Abril Trigo, Duke UP, 2004, pp. 760–64.
Garramuño, Florencia. "Forms of disbelonging in contemporary Latin American aesthetics." Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies, vol. 22, no. 3, pp, 245–57. doi:10.1080/13569325.2013.814568.
———. "La opacidad de lo real." Aletria, vol. 18, July–dec., 2008, pp. 199–214, www.periodicos.letras.ufmg.br/index.php/aletria/article/view/1453/1549. Accessed 28 July 2019.
Gell, Alfred. Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory. Oxford UP, 1998.
Godsen, Chris. "What Do Objects Want?" Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, vol. 12, no. 3, 2005, pp. 193–211. doi:10.1007/s10816-005-6928-x.
Guerrero, Gustavo. Paisajes en movimiento. Literatura y cambio cultural entre dos siglos. Eterna Cadencia Editora, 2018.
Gumbrecht, Hans Ulrich. Production of Presence. What Meaning Cannot Convey. Stanford UP, 2004.
Han, Byung-Chul. Cultura y globalización. 2005. Translated by Florencia Gaillour, Herder, 2018.
Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri. Empire. Harvard UP, 2000.
Kraniauskas, John. "Hybridity in a Transnational Frame. Latin Americanist and Postcolonial Perspectives on Cultural Studies." The Latin American Cultural Studies Reader, edited by Ana Del Sarto, Alicia Ríos and Abril Trigo, Duke UP, 2004, pp. 736–59.
"Literatura, política y valor." Radar de libros, Suplemento literario de Página/12, 18 Oct. 1998, www.pagina12.com.ar/1998/suple/libros/98-10/98-10-18/nota1.htm.
Mallol, Anahí D. "Poesía: género y subjetividad en cuestión en la escritura de María Negroni". Orbis Tertius vol. 8, no. 9, 2002–2003, pp. 1–6. www.orbistertius.unlp.edu.ar/article/view/OTv08n09a05/3752.
McGann, Jerome. The Textual Condition. Princeton UP, 1991.
Mitchell, W. T. J. What Do Pictures Want? The Lives and Loves of Images. U of Chicago P, 2005.
Negroni, María. El arte del error. Vaso Roto Ediciones, 2016.
———. Elegía Joseph Cornell. Caja Negra Editora, 2013.
Negroni, María. "María Negroni: 'Una puede mirar algunas cuestiones sólo retrospectivamente.'" Interview by Ivana Romero. Eterna Cadencia, 29 June 2018, www.eternacadencia.com.ar/blog/contenidos-originales/entrevistas/item/maria-negroni-una-puedemirar-algunas-cuestiones-solo-retrospectivamente.html. Accessed 15 July 2019.
Porrúa, Ana. "La imaginación en movimiento." Review of Elegía Joseph Cornell, by María Negroni, Bazar Americano, Oct. 2013, n/p, www.bazaramericano.com/buscador.php?cod=368&tabla=resenas&que=porr%C3%BAa. Accessed 26 July 2019.
———. "La imaginación poética: entre el archivo y la colección." VI Jornadas Internacionales de Filología y Lingüística y Primeras de Crítica Genética. La Plata, 7–9 August, 2013, www.memoria.fahce.unlp.edu.ar/trab_eventos/ev.3875/ev.3875.pdf. Accessed 24 July 2019.
Punte, María José. "Una resaca de juguetes olvidados: la obra de Joseph Cornell revisitada por María Negroni en su libro Elegía Joseph Cornell (2013)." Mitologías hoy. Revista de pensamiento crítico y estudios literarios latinoamericanos, vol. 17, 2018, pp. 85–99. doi:10.5565/rev/mitologias.521.
Rancière, Jacques. The Lost Thread. The Democracy of Modern Fiction. 2014. Translated by Steven Corcoran, Bloomsbury, 2017.
Rosler, Martha, et al. "Notes from the Field: Materiality." The Art Bulletin, vol. 95, no. 1, 2013, pp. 10–37. doi:10.1080/00043079.2013.10786104.
Sarlo, Beatriz. Escenas de la vida posmoderna: Intelectuales, arte y videocultura en la Argentina. Ariel, 1994.
Tobeña, Verónica. "La problemática de la nacionalidad cultural y el canon literario. Un campo cultural abierto en dos". 1a Jornada de Jóvenes Investigadores en Educación – FLACSO Argentina, 2012, Buenos Aires, educacion.flacso.org.ar/files/webform/eventos/Ponencia%20Jornadas%20FLACsO.pdf.
Vertovec, Steven. Transnationalism. Routledge, 2009.
Yonan, Michael. "Toward a Fusion of Art History and Material Culture Studies." West 86th: A Journal of Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture, vol. 18, no. 2, 2011, pp. 232–48. doi:10.1086/662520.

Footnotes

1. I am using Verónica Tobeña's interpretation of 'institutionalization' as a shared doxa concerning a specific literary space and language, an axis around which traditions, tendencies and interests are articulated in a conflictive manner (1–2). An interesting perspective on the institutional parameters of art production, reception and circulation is given by Alfred Gell, who is concerned about the restrictions and aesthetical judgements imposed by institutionalized art production and circulation in the context of advanced bureaucratic-industrial states (1–11). A more recent debate on centers of meaning and value has been proposed in "Hipertexto e hipercultura" (Byung-Chul Han 19–23). Furthermore, for a discussion on literary value and institutionalization in globalization with a Latin American perspective, see "Literatura, política y valor" (Literatura … 1998), a conversation between literary and cultural critics Beatriz sarlo, John Kraniauskas and Roberto schwarz.

2. Also, in their book Empire, Michael hardt and Antonio Negri, in what I read as a refinement of Bauman's 'strange circle,' have envisaged globalization as a new system of command. This new system, argue hardt and Negri, would imply a reorganization of capitalist domination, a global scale giving Shape to a non-hierarchical but reticular Empire, without a center and without an outside (Hardt & Negri xi–xvii; 13–21).

3. The discussion on the normative is not an isolated one: see Pheng Cheah's reflection on the need for a critical account of different views of the world: "In an uneven neocolonial world, how can struggles for multicultural recognition in constitutional-democratic states in the North be brought into a global alliance with postcolonial activism in the periphery? The realizability of a global civil society or an international public sphere capable of representing/mediating the needs and desires of humanity's radically different constituencies through cross-identifications stands or falls here" (Cheah 37). To stress the ideas I am trying to pair here, compare Braidotti's 'rewriting' to homi Bhabha's 'beyond' and 'cultural difference' (1–18), as well as to Bhabha's stand considering the political role of the critic in society: "The critic must attempt to fully realize, and take responsibility for, the unspoken, unrepresented pasts that haunt the historical present" (12). Although it is very appealing, I am not entirely sure if Bhabha was either too naïve or overly optimistic when writing about the political responsibility of the critic. In the Latin American context in which I am placing my arguments, the political role of the critic has been put into question for some years now. See Beatriz sarlo (173–79) for a concise critique of the role of the modern intellectual.

4. María José Punte locates Elegía… alongside Pequeño Mundo Ilustrado (2011) and Cartas extraordinarias (2013) as comprising a trilogy that reaffirms Negroni's literary project within a determinate aesthetic aim, that of appropriation, fragmentation, juxtaposition, collage and montage (Punte 87). In her article, Punte revises these aesthetic techniques expressed in Elegía … via infancy and cinematography as poetic motifs. My contribution, as I will show throughout this essay, implicitly acknowledges Punte's analysis, but focuses instead on the presence and sensible effects of Elegía … In order to define the book as a contemporary dissenting artifact.

5. According to Theodor Adorno, the weaving and unweaving of artistic genres, media and artistic fields, represents the complexity of art objects as they enact a reevaluation of their own meaning production: "The artwork wants to make the facts eloquent by letting them speak for themselves. Art thereby begins the process of destroying the artwork as a nexus of meaning. For the first time in the development of art, affixed debris cleaves visible scars in the work's meaning. This brings montage into a much broader context. All modern art after impressionism, probably including even the radical manifestations of expressionism, has abjured the semblance of a continuum grounded in the unity of subjective experience, in the 'stream of lived experience.' The intertwinement, the organic commingling, is severed, the faith destroyed that one thing merges wholly with the other, unless the intertwinement becomes so dense and intricate as to obscure meaning completely" (155).

6. Joseph Cornell (1903–1972) was an American artist and filmmaker who spent most of his life in relative isolation in New York. He was one of the exponents of the artistic assemblage as well as avant-garde experimental cinema. Cornell's most characteristic artworks were a series of boxed assemblages created from found objects.

7. Before moving forward, I would like to clarify that I am referring to 'hybridization' in a broader sense, paying close attention to the potential pitfalls of the cross-disciplinary semantic borrowings signaled by Antonio Cornejo Polar: "As far as hybridity is concerned, it is almost spontaneously associated with the sterility of hybrid products [as] its immersion in history, which makes it possible to enter and leave hybridity, in one way or another, the same way one 'leaves and exits modernity,' even though these movements do not always obey the needs, interests, or freedom of those who experience them" (760–61). Instead of using hybridity verbatim, I am employing it beyond representation, placing it in the realm of the political action enacted by the text as a cultural product in continuous transformation [see "Cultura híbrida," Byung-Chul Han (33–41) and Florencia Garramuño ("Forms of disbelonging …" 250–251; "La opacidad de lo real" 203–204), for a similar approach regarding hybridity and cultural transformation]. In this regard, I subscribe to Kraniauskas's point: "Hybridity as a form of transdisciplinarity, for example, does not simply mean the use of concepts derived from a variety of disciplines but, in some instances, their mutual transformation" (749).

8. My understanding of artifacts follows Theodor Adorno's definition. Horst Bredekamp summarizes it as follows: "Adorno defines works of art in general as 'artefacts' since he wishes to emphasise their dual character: formed out of inert matter, they are at the same time, possessed of an intrinsic 'force field' … Adorno insists that it is 'through the artefact, its problems, its material', that the power of the 'force field' is generated." (Bredekamp 280).

9. Some examples of Cornell's aviary series: https://bit.ly/2Myp7rj. Cornell's film The Aviary, from 1955: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x4mfwf9.

10. This asseveration can be related to the introductory remarks of this essay regarding the place in which contemporary literary projects, from an aesthetic margin I have associated with the oscillation between meaning and presence effects, contest the centers of meaning and value. This reflection might be too broad to be discussed in detail in this paper. As a way of short-circuiting this discussion, I would like to add that my arguments align with Garramuño's view on the role played by contemporary Latin American verbal and visual arts today: "In what sense do these transgressions and expansiveness propose new ways of dwelling in the world? How does this porosity of boundaries propitiate modes of disbelonging that offer images of expanded and hospitable communities? To what extent have fundamental notions of aesthetics been substituted in contemporary art by the production and circulation of affects? How does this questioning of belonging redefine the ways of understanding Latin America and its productions?" (245).

11. My views are closer to Gell's: "In place of symbolic communication, I place all the emphasis on agency, intention, causation, result, and transformation. I view art as a system of action, intended to change the world rather than encode symbolic propositions about it … The definition of the art object I make use of is not institutional …; the definition is theoretical … Nothing is decidable in advance about the nature of the art object, because the theory is premised on the idea that the nature of the art object is a function of the social-relational matrix in which it is embedded" (6–7; italics in the original; the emphasis is mine).

12. A rather important point for literature that I will not pursue in depth here has to do with the idea of verbal images and pictures. An analysis of the poetic text—i.e. a series of both rhetoric and poetic forms—could elucidate the way by which language enacts the as pictura poesis when, for example, Negroni describes the film's standstill. See Mitchell for a summarized discussion of the verbal image (55), as well as Bredekamp's speech act and image act (29–35).

Additional Information

ISSN
2165-6185
Print ISSN
0018-2206
Pages
45-61
Launched on MUSE
2020-03-07
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.