Anachronism and Baroque abandon: Carpentier's, Cortazar's, and Botero's decolonial columns.
In the aftermath of the Cuban revolution, Alejo Carpentier returns to the New World Baroque in his essay "The City of Columns" to outline a national aesthetic. Published in 1964 in the volume Tientos y diferencias, the essay initially reads as part of that heady moment, the so-called Boom in Latin American culture, which produced a glimmer of hope that aesthetic practices can foreground a Latin American particularity in the face of homogenizing global forces. This optimism ends abruptly with the death of Che, the massacre at Ttatelolco, and the overthrow of Allende. Exploring institutionally embedded aesthetic trajectories winding through this brutal landscape, Angel Rama reminds us in The Lettered City that an unmitigated faith in literary production is misplaced: from the first moments of the European conquest, writing was a fundamental colonial enterprise; indeed, writing in the form of maps and laws contributed to the imposition and sustenance of the Spanish empire. Although Rama died before he explicitly engaged the Boom, the published draft of his book implies that the Boom is the latest manifestation of the "lettered city." Studies such as John Beverley's Against Literature and Jean Francos The Decline and Fall of the Letter City further develop Rama's insights, expanding his notion of the lettered city to include a broader scope of literatures and national contexts.
Carpentier's image of the city of columns forges a similar critical space. This metaphor serves as an umbrella for a range of entanglements among aesthetics and violence. At the same time, the cultural analyses and quotidian tropes that Carpentier gathers within the figure of the city of columns outline possibilities for an alternative aesthetic outlook. Carpentier's aesthetic stance centrally involves the register of time: the deployment of a disjointed form of temporality--anachronism--proves to be key to the intervention he subsumes under the rubric of the "American Baroque" (256). Our reading of Carpentier's essay will focus on this temporal aspect of his aesthetic vision. Anachronism, for Carpentier, surfaces at the level of quotidian cultural agency and collectivity. In the guise of a nationalist project, he provides a blueprint for a critical politicization of the aesthetic of the everyday.
As the starting point for his nationalist agenda, Carpentier presents the mixed reactions to La Havana voiced by Alexander von Humboldt in the nineteenth-century. Though the geologist-turned-explorer praises Havana's poise, the beauty Havana contributes to the landscape, and the pleasing sight with which the city meets those who approach it from the harbor, he also points out a defect. Von Humboldt deplores the "poor layout of the streets" (244). Carpentier offers his account of a national aesthetic in response to this charge. The modernist's complaint about the city's design, Carpentier indicates, ignores Havanas pact with the sun. "One asks oneself if that layout did not conceal a great wisdom, apparently dictated by primordial necessity--the tropical necessity of playing hide-and-seek with the sun, snatching surfaces, extricating shadows, fleeing from the torrid twilight with an ingenious multiplication of esquinas de fraile [street corners funneling a breeze]" (245). Von Humboldt's lament appears to have been given in by his obliviousness to the turns and twists of a subtle process of mutual exchange to which the city dwellers have seduced the sun. Carpentier places the playful dynamism of the Cubans' everyday reciprocal interactions with the sun at the core of a national Cuban aesthetic.
Among the protagonists of the Cubans' game with the sun that Carpentier will go on to dissect in his essay, is a whole cast of columns. As his historical narrative has it, "interior columns" first built by Spanish masons are "born elegantly in shadowy patios" (246). They support "the arcades of interior porticoes" (247). In this capacity, the columns serve the cause of shadows in a city where the streets are "intentionally narrow" (247). Integral components of an urban design that prevents the pedestrian from being blinded by direct sunlight, the columns help to sustain a simultaneously epistemic and sensory project: cutting up the sunlight, they permit vision. Carpentier calls this function of the columns logical. But the columns will soon surpass this occupation.
The nineteenth century reveals a transition in the column's role, owing to the city's westward expansion. Market-driven growth correlates with an architectural shift. Urban development, then, inaugurates a novel chapter in the nationalist account of Cuban aesthetics:
[T]he column moved to the street, thus creating--even in days of evident architectonic decadence--one of the most extraordinary constants of the Havana style: the incredible profusion of columns in a city that is an emporium of columns, a jungle of columns, an infinite colonnade, the last city to possess columns in such amazing excess, columns that, moreover, having abandoned original patios, began to retrace the column's decadence through the ages. (247)
Suffusing the column with hyperbole, Carpentier's description of the device marks a departure from whatever realistic architectural purpose or urban function may have struck him. His celebratory image of the column, furthermore, signals an aesthetic displacement of any straightforward art-historical or analytical aim guiding his text. This epistemic move is self-conscious: it is the text's stated purpose to "take the reader by the hand" as if on a walk "looking at elements that may be considered specifically Cuban" (246). The city of columns appears to be an authorial artifact, a production of lettered agency, every bit as much as an urban construct made of stone, iron, paint, and glass. The columns, Carpentier notes, continuing our walk through the city, aggregate in
[a] constantly renovated colonnade, where all the column's styles are represented, conjoined or hybrid ad infinitum. Half Doric half Corinthian columns, dwarf Ionic columns, cement caryatids, timid copies and decadent versions of Vignola built by any number of overseers, contributing to the extension of the city at the end of the nineteenth century. Not to mention the occasional existence of a certain modern Parisian style since the beginning of the nineteenth century, or of certain musings of Catalonian architects. (247)
Dazzlingly diverse, the column becomes the carrier of a new, amalgamated, style. Carpentier declares this style unique to Cuba. "Regarding the thousands of columns that modulate in the area of Havana ... we detect a singular expression of the American Baroque in their extraordinary proliferation" (256; our emphasis). The historical trajectory Carpentier traces pries loose signs of unison from plurality. "The multiplication of the columns was the result of a Baroque spirit.... Th[is] ... spirit, ... forged by the processes of transculturation, is translated into an irreverent and offbeat replay of classical forms that creates the illusion of orderly and tranquil cities" (257). Neobaroque Havana coaxes a multi-temporal aesthetic arrangement into an appearance of harmony. An accumulation, a commingling, and a superimposition of heterogeneous elements yield an aesthetic experience of order and tranquility; this experience includes illusory dimensions, but is for that matter no less poignant.
Recruited into a progressive history--albeit one marked by a decadent phase--the column, for Carpentier, comes to epitomize a transculturating dynamic. This process infiltrates the phenomenology of urban life: emblematic of a Baroque aesthetic of mixing, one that allegedly reflects Cuba's racial mestizaje (its "mixed blood"  (1)), the city of columns exudes an atmosphere of peaceful coexistence. But the language of illusion suggests that something is being lost track of in the movement to hybridity. Transposition retains gaps. Baroque assemblage involves a misrecognition. Carpentier forges a disjunction between that which is real and that which is only apparent. It will prove to be not only the city dweller or the European visitor who falls for a chimera. (2) In conceptualizing the Neobaroque, Carpentier creates a ruse that takes in the reader, but that he will ultimately dismiss, and invite the reader to leave behind.
Indeed, the columns mobilize an operation of "forgetting." Carpentier writes,
The Cuban Baroque consisted in accumulating, collecting, and multiplying columns and colonnades in such an excess of Doric and Corinthian, Ionic and composite capitals, that they ended up making the pedestrian forget that he lived among columns, that he was accompanied by columns and observed by columns that measured his stride and protected him from the wind and rain, and that he was watched over by columns in his dreams. (257)
While the columns, at times, are benevolent and shelter the pedestrian, their excess turns them into a formidable apparatus of domination and control. In their abundance, they induce forgetfulness, while even penetrating and regulating dreams. Glossing the "modulating" activity he attributes to the columns, Carpentier explains that to modulate means "to create modules and determine measures" (256). The columns cut up and organize space and time. They are instruments of discipline. Carpentier's language mimics the proliferation of the columns in a series of regulating verbs--forget, observed, measured, watched over--that portray the American Baroque as neither harmony nor heterogeneity. Multiple "forgettings" conspire.
The multiplying columns are agents of forgetfulness in the sense that the combination of architectural elements that at one time proclaimed distinct local Mediterranean geographies elides conflicts among their inhabitants. The synchronicity of the different types of columns--Doric, Corinthian, and Ionic--hides the violence that produced what we now designate as Greece or the Mediterranean. Carpentier's nationalist chronicle implicitly comprehends this forgetfulness as a strategy of anachronism devised by the Cubans--a temporal intervention that reshuffles pre-scripted, progressively developing relations between past, present, and future.
Like the columns, the Cuban pedestrian is an agent of forgetting. She ignores European presences in the new world. She disregards their temporal marking of her passage through space. She abandons from her consciousness the columns' structuration of her perambulations. She rejects the temporal order the columns impose on her path, which, of course, is also a spatial order. Her forgetfulness, again, reveals an operation of anachronism: the pedestrian throws sequential, measurable temporality and the mode of governance it facilitates into disarray.
Forgetful columns and passersby remind the reader of a third forgetter who appears early in the essay. Carpentier quotes von Humboldt's observation that "beckoned by [Havana's] charming impressions, the European visitor forgets the danger lurking there" (245; our emphasis). Columns of sorts occlude the view of the city from the water. According to von Humboldt, "a jungle of masts and ships' sails" prevents sailors from seeing Havana, leaving it "half hidden" (245). By extension, von Humboldt's impoverished visual comprehension of urban design becomes a type of forgetfulness. The predominantly mercantilist mission of the approaching ships appears to have a hand in impairing von Humboldt's aesthetic perception. Immediately following his remark about the blocking effect of columnar masts, Carpentier mentions that von Humboldt voiced his condemnation of the layout of the streets in reference to the Calle de los Mercaderes (Street of Merchants, 244). Carpentier here seems to be ascribing a role to the market in motivating the demand for a different design. The suggestion is that the logic of commerce elicits forgetting and obfuscates vision.
Besides von Humboldt, another forgetful European voyager makes his appearance in Carpentier's nationalist historiography. Taking his cue from von Humboldt's statement that Havana lacks "the savage majesty of the rocky coasts of Rio de Janeiro," Carpentier hears echoes of von Humboldt's lament in Te Corbusier's writing on urban planning (244) and turns to the architect's preoccupation with light in Rio (255). Unlike the Cuban medio punto (a large multi-colored glass fan that filters sunlight), le Corbusier's brise soleil, notes Carpentier, does not cooperate with the sun. It is worth recalling that Le Corbusier developed plans for Rio de Janeiro and other South American cities inspired by the impressions gained while flying over those cities. Iconic figures of the Enlightenment and Modernism survey these cities from literal and metaphorical distances. Accordingly, the sun's "sumptuous presence" (255) remains largely invisible if not substantially abstract to our travelers. The aesthetic significance of architectural devices that dialogue with the sun is lost on them. Forgetfulness is these journeyers' lot.
Lastly, Carpentier presents himself to the reader as a mediator and perpetrator of acts of forgetfulness who replays "classical" motifs and encourages us to leave behind characters and figures propping up his linguistic edifice. Beginning with von Humboldt, moving on to Le Corbusier, and ending with Baudelaire, Carpentier, the writer-becoming-urban designer, installs several European-style pillars in his imaginary city. But passing by these columns by his hand, the reader also forgets being surrounded by them upon entering the as of yet "unimaginable forums" they undergird in the new city of letters. "Havana's colonnades ... bring to mind the tree trunks of imagined jungles, shafts of rostral columns, unimaginable forums, as they are referred to in Baudelaire's verses: Le temple oil de vivant piliers / laissent entendre parfois de confuses paroles" (sic, 158). The city of columns is an imaginary space, a site of cultural artifice. The columns Carpentier fashions return us to unfathomable elements. Rather than linking past, present, and future in a steady rhythm of modernist progression, they move away from the harmoniously unfolding Neobaroque columns lining itineraries of measurable time. Carpentier's invented columns keep watch over a disjunctive imposition of "an Indian woman reigning supreme over a fountain of Greek dolphins" (158), bolstering an epistemic endeavor that renders visible trajectories of violence inherent in Baroque models of symbiosis. Carpentier is "forgetting" the Neobaroque columns that he rescued for Cuba's nationalist aesthetic project, in favor of the metaphorical pillars of his city. In a double movement, he recalls Baudelaire approvingly, and simultaneously misquotes him. The text forgets the nineteenth-century poet's opening reference to nature ("La Nature est un temple ..."), figuring him as another European pillar who censors nature in favor of modernity. Both Neobaroque and European pillars exert their lure in Carpentier's city. First, however, heightening this ruse, then giving into it, and subsequently extricating himself from it, he supplants these pillars by the more enigmatic, simultaneously fictional and quotidian murmurings emanating among his imaginary columns. (3) As he walks us through the lettered city, Carpentier arranges and rearranges it. Assimilating and engendering signs in his growing urban conglomerate, elaborating connotations and inferences, to then discard, reassemble, and renew meanings, he immerses us in a vibrant hub of aesthetic productivity.
Carpentier's city of letters does not predominantly spawn writings or columns (or tear them apart and demolish them) but simultaneously harbors the sounds of bells and voices ("[t]he Cuban street was always animated and garrulous" ). It lodges ruins and sculptures, it hosts vendors of ice cream, fruit, vegetables and candy, and it splits up into countless spatial segments partitioned by screen doors and iron grilles (246, 248-54). The temporal and spatial disjunctions of the sensorily apprehensible lettered city that Carpentier constructs permeate the everyday.
Placing institutionalized rhetoric and quotidian materiality in the same plane; Carpentier furnishes five figures of anachronism that complement the constellation of forgettings the columns inaugurate. The first two figures pinpoint an ambiguous founding moment (or, in Carpentier's terms, "generating nucleus" ) for Elavana. Designed, in the first instance, by "colonial masons" (251, 254) who reportedly "arrived on the island of Hispaniola before the colonization of Cuba had even begun" (246), the city is a product of builders who both live inside and outside of progressive histories. Two, preceded by a "legendary Havana before Havana" (246), the city occupies an unstable position between historical fact and colonial or postcolonial fiction.
A third instance of anachronism resides in the interruption of linear temporal progression by the masons' creation of the medio punto. With this artifact, which cuts up the sunlight to prevent blinding, these artists invented abstractionism before their time. Carpentier calls the medio punto "an abstract composition before anyone thought of systematic abstractionism" (256). The device, furthermore, illuminates "certain characteristics of contemporary Cuban painting" in virtue of its "simultaneously ancient and active presence" (256). What appears to be an architectural element from an earlier historical moment anticipates a global art movement contemporaneous with the essay's publication. The medio punto's untimeliness, at once "ancient and active," challenges notions of a progressively developing aesthetic order, and erodes national aesthetic boundaries informed by such views.
In a culmination of the essay's epistemological preoccupations, the medio punto--implementing a fourth anachronistic linkage--exceeds its position as an object of aesthetic inquiry to catalyze a mode of vision, of knowledge production, and of aesthetic signification. In its mediations between human being and sun, the medio punto becomes Descartes' "Discourse on the Method vying for reciprocal intelligibility" (255). Carpentier's fictionalized piece of architecture supports a fragmentarily modern and contingently decolonial aesthetic epistemology that gives the sun "the proper spectacles, sunglasses of the sort that induce it to be gentle with us" (255). The Cubans' aestheticization of the sun, furthermore, teaches the sun a lesson or two about lawful economic policy and international trade: "the sun understood that to penetrate old mansions--at that time new--it had to begin by going through the custom house of the medio punto. These were the duties of light. Here the sum was paid in the form of attenuation, the sun's import tax" (256). The sun obliges. But the medio punto learns its lesson, too. Disproving Carpentier's ironic comment that "it is not adept at the details of storytelling and in fact does not favor narration at all," it tells incontrovertibly enticing modern stories, favoring tales that are quite compelling to twentieth and twenty-first century audiences--readers trained in the language of capitalist, nation-based commerce.
Anachronism, as it emerges here, teaches us a way of seeing as well as telling. It embodies a mode of understanding in our engagement with the material world. It lends recognition to our reciprocal interactions with objects and environments. (4) It alerts us to a critical epistemology inherent in everyday aesthetic practice. It generates deconstructive readings of cultural artifacts and procedures of aesthetic subjectivation, while also gesturing toward alternative modalities of aesthetic culture building. It supplies a postcolonial methodology.
A fifth anachronistic move surfaces when Carpentier introduces a note of ambivalence into his celebration of the medio punto and into his rebuke of von Humboldt. This qualification destabilizes the distance that separates him from the modernist. Carpentier mentions the "too-yellow, too-golden sidereal fire" of the medio punto, and its "too-deep blue" (256). In a similar vein, he concedes to modernist aestheticism that "the streets of Havana Humboldt saw might have been poorly designed," even if "those that remain," today, speak of "peace and coolness" (245). Did the Cubans, for their part, have to sacrifice aesthetic standards in order to "domesticate" the sun and to cut up its "brilliant rays" (255-56) just as the columns cut up the sun and the pedestrian's stride? Does the Cuban trade agreement with the sun stipulate an aesthetic price, so the two parties can "get along?" (255). A historical standpoint from which aesthetic admiration and condemnation can flow unequivocally appears not to be available. Carpentier unsettles his own position as a judge of aesthetic productions.
The figure of the colonial masons who precede colonialization inserts a similar moment of temporal dislocation into Carpentier's nationalist chronicle. Carpentier praises these six Spaniards' sensitivity to sunlight as an American expression rather than depreciating it as a colonizing imposition forged in Andalucia. His praise takes language on a walk onto itself. His a-conquistadorial masons function as a Baroque deus ex machina device that breaks with the historical record and lays bare the author's ambivalent play with narrated chronologies, including the temporal itineraries and evaluative vantage points he himself crafts.
Carpentier brings together the five modalities of anachronism just outlined with the two anachronistic stratagems enacted by forgetful columns and pedestrians. He reminds his audience that Cuba has a national style. However, by comparing the island's Neobaroque columns to the merchants' commercial columns, he cautions against a reification of the Neobaroque form, which would imply the inexorable commodification of the Cuban aesthetic. Pronouncing a mercantile agenda the counterpart of his nationalist project, Carpentier leaves the latter behind in favor of a strategy of anachronism that promises a sharper, more fine-grained, epistemologically more rigorous disruption of modernist progressivism and market ideology than Neobaroque modalities, conceived as a developing tradition or a style, can hope to attain. Anachronism, for Carpentier, surfaces in ineradicable conflicts and unpredictable tensions permeating everyday aesthetic existence. It suffuses quotidian conjunctions and disjunctions, releasing within these structures potentialities for alternative visual and textual figurations and for modes of reading and aesthetic production that recognize the multivalent character of these articulations.
An example of the dual orientations that aesthetic elements and engagements exhibit under the sign of anachronism can be found in the iron grilles adorning many of Havanas facades. These grilles are so common that they spring up from all types of buildings, ranging from "palace ... to shack" (250). Despite their democratic spread, the grilles demarcate boundaries and underwrite private property. Even when they reach upwards and protrude from balconies, they mutate into guardavecinos. Cutting up the sky, they become aerial grilles that protect individuals from their neighbors. Nonetheless these skyward grilles initiate an aerial writing. "There on high were born new lyres, novel keystones made of sun, innovative rose motifs, thus rejuvenating the art of ironwork that was in danger of extinction ..." (251). Progressivist market economies establish loci of obsolescence and underdevelopment but also rekindle the aesthetic productivity of traditional forms that thereby transmute into equivocal aesthetic sites of economic agency.
Carpentier's text puts anachronism to work in order to recognize and explore the multilayered, ineluctably polyvalent orientations he attributes to aesthetic procedures. (5) He enlists anachronism as a disorienting, inconclusive operation of rupture that allows happenstance to propel the dynamism of simultaneously economically inflected and aesthetically saturated everyday forms that otherwise would coagulate into solidified, commodifiable patterns.
As the essay unfolds, "Havana" names a performance or a concatenation of ongoing linkages and shifts among linguistic, temporal and architectural frames. Carpentier's contingently morphing modulating devices open up the Neobaroque and the aestheticized market arrangements in which it is complicit to alternative aesthetic possibilities and limits, which we investigate further in our studies of Cortazar and Botero.
Cortazar's Alternating Frames
Analogies to Carpentier's forgetting of the columns occur in Cortazar's reflections on the power of art in his stories "Blow-Up" (1959) and "Apocalypse at Solentiname" (1976). Both tales revolve around photography. Invoking an autobiographical form, "Apocalypse at Solentiname" tells the story of Cortazar's trip from Paris to Central America. The main episode of the voyage, as the narrative documents it, is not his stay in Cuba, but a visit to Ernesto Cardenal's artists' community on the islands of Solentiname in Lake Nicaragua. Cortazar's poet friends make Polaroid pictures of their encounter. Cortazar himself takes snapshots of his surroundings, including images of a set of paintings produced by the people of the area. The photographs will reveal an uncanny and elusive ability to make readable Latin American violence. The strategy through which Cortazar wrings these effects from the photographs in "Apocalypse at Solentiname" parallels anachronistic modalities recruited by Carpentier, as we shall see.
Cortazar's earlier story, "Blow-Up," evinces a parallel logic of anachronism. Narrated in the voice of the French-Chilean translator and photographer Roberto Michel, who takes a picture of a man, a woman, and a young boy gathered in a mysterious constellation by the side of the Seine River in Paris, "Blow-Up" celebrates art's capacity to reframe our vision. Cortazar, in this tale, affirms art's transformative capabilities, in part, by inventing a narrator who refuses to acquiesce in art's failure to better the world. Explicitly taking up the question of art's powerlessness to change reality, the story, then, enacts art's very power to articulate alternatives to the understandings, perceptions, and erotic fantasies produced by way of established, quotidian modes of representation.
In both stories, Cortazar engages in a temporal jostling with aesthetic frames. He activates as well as dislocates realist orders of meaning that dovetail with the market's insistence on immediacy and transparency. Through this double move he creates a fragmented and diffuse temporality. Cortazar manipulates time to fashion a decolonial mode of anachronism that achieves a certain distance from stultified market procedures.
"Apocalypse at Solentiname" implicitly declares this decolonial mode Baroque. The story enmeshes us inextricably in a Baroque intertwinement of art and life. Having picked up at the camera store the slides from his Central American voyage, the narrator is about to go through the images at home, in his apartment in Paris, but not before informing the reader of the order he has in mind:
[I] t was pleasant thinking that everything would be revealed to me again little by little, after the paintings from Solentiname I would go through the boxes with the Cuban photographs, but why the paintings first, why the professional deformation, art before life, and why not, the one said to the other in their eternal unresolvable fraternal and rancorous dialogue, why not look at the Solentiname paintings first since they're life too, since it's all the same. (270)
If, in this passage, life interrupts art with a question, then art immediately breaks up the flow of life by interposing a counter-question. Irrespective of which one of the duo precisely says what, we lose track of whether it is art speaking, or life. Separating out and disentangling the voices of the art-life pair here is not the point because we are in the sphere of their Baroque enmeshment. This conflation suspends and complicates temporal orientations. And, indeed, while it is the narrator's professed plan to begin with the paintings, that is not obviously what happens, as the first slides that appear are images of Ernesto Cardenal's mass in Solentiname, and of children playing in the sunlight, photos that, we have learned from the narrator, had been shot before the paintings.
With the temporal disarray the story creates arrives an unsettlement of geographical location. For what the announced slide show displays for the narrator, as he clicks through the pictures, and for the reader, whom he tells about the images, is bloodshed, kidnapping, and torture all over Latin America. The violence happens in Solentiname, and it happens in Buenos Aires or Sao Paulo, and other places and countries. It appears to make no difference precisely where it occurs, just as it supposedly makes no difference, at the beginning of the story, whether Cortazar is from Argentina or some other Latin American country, and his friends from Nicaragua or Costa Rica, or elsewhere in Latin America (265, 270-72). A global economy elides differences between nations and schemes of naming persons. "Apocalypse in Solentiname" inquires into the conditions of visibility and intelligibility the market implies for violence and for our accounts of it. Whereas anachronism punctures silences produced by conventional mechanisms of representation, genres such as illustrated realist travel narratives, the story indicates, seal up ruptures, forging closures that render these kinds of narratives liable to assimilation by the market. The example that Cortazar gives of this is of the snapshot of the group of poet friends. The Polaroid images include a dimension of rupture: Cortazar mentions "disturbing ectoplasms" that materialize and that gradually give way to noses, smiles, and faces, before people's whole bodies can be discerned. Jokingly asking what would happen if the Polaroid paper began "to fill up with Napoleon on horseback," the narrator suggests that these quotidian pictures of special encounters leave intact the trappings of empire (267). These images signal but ultimately gloss over the presence of disconnected body parts, elements that reappear in the wave of explosions and executions the slide projector reveals to the narrator. Although the narrator's pretend-naive wonder about blobs foreshadows the shock attendant on the later exposures, photographic glimpses of local color are not quite up to the sheer power of historically entrenched schemes of meaning. Napoleon on his horse remains a presence in the field of representation that can pop up seemingly out of nowhere, tearing into a texture of apparently cogent, transparent meanings.
A similar difficulty, the story indicates, hampers the aesthetic capabilities of naive folk art. The paintings made by the people of Solentiname, which are for sale, play into the market rather than somehow undercutting it, (6) which is precisely what Cortazar seeks to achieve for his own narrative. Having methodically captured the paintings in photographic form-as opposed to buying them-the narrator fills in Ernesto Cardenal on this photographic enterprise: "I told him what I'd done and he laughed, art thief, image smuggler. Yes, I told him, I'm taking all of them, I'll show them on my screen back there and they'll be bigger and brighter than these, screw yourself." (269). The narrator trips over the Nicaraguans' attempt at marketing, proving himself to be a far smarter economic and aesthetic strategist than Cardenal and his group. The narrator's flouting of standardized codes of artistic reception and transmission performs the point it brings home: the aesthetic and political challenge that arises for representations of violence is to arrive at a form that is capable of bypassing closures instituted by the market. Interestingly, the narrator's artist friends are in cahoots with him on these ideas about the poetics of power: Cardenal laughs, just as Jose Coronel laughed about the Napoleon joke.
Anachronism is Cortazar's reply to the quandary he has laid out. We are drawn into anachronism by way of another joke when the narrator worries that a plane called the "Piper Aztec" is going to take the group "straight to the sacrificial pyramid" with its "hiccoughs and bowel rumblings" (266). Like the narrator's friends, we, his readers, also are in on the shuffling of temporal frames, in the realm of fear and humor. But well before this moment, Cortazar begins to put into place a line of columns that he has us "forget."
The narrative unfolds in the space between two sets of pillars of quotidian rationality. Both these colonnades comprise established aesthetic mechanisms of subjectivation of a sort we have encountered in Carpentier. The first pillars revolve around language. There are at least four of them right from the start: One, beginning the story by telling us about his landing in San Jose, Costa Rica, Cortazar has the reader waiting for a realist travelogue rather than the fiction she has already begun to read. Thus she mimics the Costa Ricans, who, Cortazar informs us, are "always ... full of surprises" (265). And, surprisingly, they act like other global citizens mediated by an abundance of images. At the airport the Ticos are already waiting for the image ("waiting for you there are ...") and waiting for someone (for the author first at a press conference and later at the gates of hell) to fill the image that never arrives (265-66). This process of non-arrival nonetheless gives the reader the illusion that the thing, the image produced, is a subject. We forget we are reading fiction, not a true travelogue. Two, there is the authority of grammatical forms, which Cortazar immediately defies by switching between pronouns: the "I" does not land at the airport in San Jose but a "you land[s]" (266). (7) Three, there is a discussion of indifferent, simultaneously generalizing and differentiating practices of labeling persons on the basis of the nations from which they come: "what difference does it make that I'm Argentine although ... I should say Tino, and the rest of them Nicas or Ticos" (266). And finally, Cortazar catalogues a series of uncomprehending routine questions interviewers habitually address at him about writing, nation, and politics (265-66). So much for the opening pillars. The last and closing pillars consist of the supposedly banal reactions to the slide show displayed by the narrator's Parisian lover Claudine, who fails to see the violence that leaves the narrator dumbstruck. The narrator makes no attempt to disabuse her of her state of incomprehension. The suggestion is that her comprehension would be equally intolerable (272). A generic sense of loss felt for violence in Latin America, presumably, falls short of the politicization of affect to which the narrator aspires. Deemed incapable of grasping the Napoleon joke, she doesn't get to hear it coming from the narrator's lips, who holds his tongue (273). Interspersed between these two sets of pillars of hopelessly deficient symbolization and interaction, one opening the story, the other closing it, there are socially sanctioned forms of painting and photography as well as received human-machine exchanges connoted by the narrator's mesmerized clicking through the slides exhibited by the projector.
Cortazar's poetics articulates a dimension of violence that resists assimilation by the quotidian impersonal mechanisms that serve to render us subjects, namely, by standardized autobiographical modes of writing, by the genre of tourist snapshots, by explicitly engaged art (as exemplified by the model of "Cuba"), by an apparently innocent art of the people, and by everyday cross-cultural conversation (the narrator's dialogue with Claudine). While activating readability and meaning contingent on each of these established methods of representation, "Apocalypse at Solentiname," at the same time, performatively wrestles away from these systems a more perilous poetics of violence.
This distance from ordinary subjectifying mechanisms takes a temporal form: "you think what you think, it always gets ahead of you and leaves you so far behind" (271). The temporal disjunction Cortazar forges asserts a breakdown in rationality: "you don't know how or why you do things when you've gone beyond a limit that you don't understand either" (272). And it throws the body in disarray, tying it into a knot and either causing it to vomit or throwing it into a state of immobility. Space alters along with time: "I don't know how long it took me to cover the distance between the kitchen and the living room" (272-73).
The turn to anachronism in "Apocalypse at Solentiname" picks up on a similar move in "Blow-Up," to which the story explicitly alludes, albeit in a manner that rejects normative chronologies fuelling intertextual linkages: among the questions the press asks Cortazar is the inevitable one, "why was 'Blow-Up' (the Antonioni film) so different from your short story?" (265). Rejecting the question, the narrator declines to install temporal order in command of aesthetic meaning. In the aesthetic plane, temporality, for him, is polysemous. The temporal possibilities and tensions signaled by the intertextual reference in "Apocalypse" also characterize "Blow-Up."
Like "Apocalypse," the earlier story invokes structural procedures of subjectivation: these include the grammatical organization of language, the semantic content realized by way of words (119-20), the representational devices of the camera and the typewriter, and conventional signs of nature in an urban setting, such as clouds and pigeons. In "Blow-Up," Cortazar continually unsettles acts of framing. He persistently makes fun of the schemes of pleasure and seduction they encourage: "I had no desire to shoot pictures, and lit a cigarette to be doing something; I think it was that moment when the match was about to touch the tobacco that I saw the young boy for the first time" (118). We get here an act of framing that is orthogonal to the material it embraces. Rather than reflecting the presence of an individual seer who works the camera in accordance with his personal vision (117-18), the framing is haphazard, a purely procedural gesture of transferring sexual cliches to the object of vision. Eschewing an epistemology of vision and representation that opposes subject and object (119), framing and framelessness, Cortazar gives us images of the emergence and the loosening of frames. This loosening takes place in the register of time.
[Michel] lacked no confidence in himself, knowing that he had only to go out without the Contax to recover the keynote of distraction, the sight without a frame around it, light without the diaphragm aperture or 1/250 sec. Right now (what a word, now, what a dumb lie) I was able to sit quietly on the railing overlooking the river watching the red and black motorboats passing below without it occurring to me to think photographically of the scenes, nothing more than letting myself go in the letting go of objects, running immobile in the stream of time. (118)
A mutual letting go of subjectivity and objectivity becomes readable as a temporal disjunction between stasis and movement. (8) Frameless vision, the story has it, is unattainable, but what is possible is a shifting from frame to frame. It is in such rearrangements of constellations that alternative modes of seeing surface. This involves the emergence of reframings and, as established frames slip away, gives rise to the articulation of a different, newly discernible frame, which allows elements to become visible and makes possible narration:
Now there's a big white cloud, as on all these days, all this untellable time. What remains to be said is always a cloud, two clouds, or long hours of a sky perfectly clear, a very clean, clear rectangle tacked up with pins on the wall of my room. That was what I saw.... And little by little, the frame becomes clear, perhaps the sun comes out, and again the clouds begin to come, two at a time, three at a time. And the pigeons once in a while, and a sparrow or two. (131).
The things that become visible and susceptible to description in the course of the articulation of the frame and in the movement toward story telling are cliched images of nature as read from the perspective of city life: the sun, the clouds, the pigeons, one or two sparrows. They are not unheard-of phenomena. But a difference has substantiated. There is motion and telling. Sequential temporal moments are being fabricated.
Anachronism sustains this motion and telling and this shaping of temporal stretches. "Blow-Up" locates its reader as well as its narrator ambiguously within its own fictional order. For Cortazar keeps the frame of the narrative in a state of fictional suspension. Almost two paragraphs into the story, we read, "I have to begin some way and I've begun with this period, the last one back, the one at the beginning, which in the end is the best of the periods when you want to tell something" (115). Beginning and end coincide in a Baroque conflation of art and life.
Despite being an ending, the end of the story maintains this superimposition of beginning and end by reiterating the fusion of art and life. In the closing paragraph, Cortazar has the narrator paradoxically look at the sky and a picture at the same time or leaves it ambiguous at which one of the two Roberto Michel is actually looking. "Blow-Up"'s ending thus underscores the anachronistic co-occurrence of beginning and ending that Cortazar heightens around the beginning of the story. Anachronistically suspended temporal frames support motion, telling, and the forging of temporal sequences on Cortazar's as well as on the narrator's part, while also destabilizing the reader's position vis-a-vis the narrative.
The unsettlement of temporal organization interarticulates with an overhaul of distinctions between modernity and the archaic. Roberto Michel moves into the world of his photograph where he liberates the boy from the man and the woman (130). We see here a similar shift as in stories such as "Axolotl," "The Night Face Up," and "The Idol of the Cyclades," where an ostensibly contemporaneous character turns into a figure of the primitive. A parallel movement also marks the superimposition of a present-day airplane and a vehicle of an Aztec ritual in "Apocalypse in Solentiname'"s "Piper Aztec" joke. The protagonists of these stories and the modern technology in the joke upend the antithesis between modernity and the primitive, participating in both of these dualities at once.
In "Blow-Up" as well as in "Apocalypse at Solentiname," Cortazar performs a temporal juggling with frames that dislocates realist visual, narrative, and conceptual orders. Opening up a space for surprise and shock within schemes of marketable aesthetic meaning, Cortazar puts to work as a decolonizing register a form of temporal disruption immanent in, yet exceeding, the Neobaroque.
As in Carpentier's and Cortazar's writings, temporality is in disarray in Fernando Botero's artistic production. Botero's work is known for its capacious protagonists. Puffed-up men and women pose in quotidian settings. The atmosphere is tranquil. Characters are typically unhurried. Frequently, a profusion of edibles is on display. Tables and trees carry ample volumes of tropical fruits, ready to be guzzled down. Inflated human bodies confirm the viewer's impression that delectable provisions abound. The accelerated pace of modernity appears far from the protagonists' world. No reason to rush to take a bite or to grab a knife to cut open a watermelon, an orange, or a papaya-they are at hand. Prepared for the eating, the fruits don't require much toil; besides a bit of slicing, they mainly need to be picked up and brought to the mouth. Desire for food would seem to arise at one level of pictorial meaning, but we can be confident that it will be satisfied. Persons and things are in harmony. They coexist in the same ontological and affective plane.
Objects are prone to sharing in the expanded spatial presence that Botero grants his characters. Both persons and things appear full; they repeatedly push up against the picture frame in his works, or against the rims of tabletops, the walls of living quarters and bathrooms, or the borders of other holding compartments (baskets, bowls, beds, chairs, hands). Although Boteros works often allude to a peaceful kind of happiness, they by no means evince unqualified contentment.
A melancholic tone infiltrates physical plenitude. Persons look forlorn, whether they are dancing, enjoying a snack, visiting the beach, doing themselves up in front of the mirror, or posing for an implied spectator. Delight and despondency go together in Boteros art. What might appear as a complacent celebration of consumption and leisure time actually is an examination of fleshy corporeality that drenches fullness in emptiness. A sense of vacancy suffuses scenes of bucolic bliss. Human beings inhabiting domestic surroundings exude a solitude that shows no sign of abating. For all their sweetness, Boteros paintings, drawings, and sculptures let the viewer know that something is irrevocably amiss.
Beauty, in his oeuvre, partakes of the uncanny and the grotesque. Caricature steers the observer's attention away from the protagonists' individual preoccupations and proclivities-as do the figures' eyes, which typically look into different directions. Botero fashions types. He offers us a cast of characters that instantiate modes of engagement with orders of consumption and regimes of power. Motifs alluding to the altiplano (roofs, mountain tops, references to rural life, images of ecclesiastical and political representatives) lay the basis for a locally grounded cosmopolitanism. Latin American vocabularies intermingle with European pictorial idioms. Eclectically partaking of a wide array of canonical styles of representation (ranging from Olmec sculptural codes to pictorial forms inaugurated by Velazquez, Rubens, Goya, and Picasso, among many others), Botero combines and expands on the repertoire of multiple temporalities enacted by Carpentier's columns and Cortazar's frames.9 To tease out the contending and interweaving temporalities he animates we turn to his 1989 painting Comida campestre (The Picnic).
The abundance of juices and fruits in The Picnic suggest that eating and drinking have barely happened and might still occur. The glass and cigarette in what would appear to be feminine hands intimate that an otherwise unseen woman, whose hands they most likely are, is alternating sips with smokes. Seductive femininity goes coupled with masculine repose. Besides pictorial and sculptural traditions, cinematic conventions steer the viewer's temporal trajectory through the work: the woman's cigarette and the man's nap hint at a post-coitus break in the proceedings among the picnicking pair, having the viewer oscillate in an indeterminate present between the before and the next. But this temporal interval is traversed by ambiguity: Perhaps desire has halted or is yet to inflame. Fertility, quite plausibly, goes unactualized. Sexual energies may remain encapsulated in neatly separated bulging physical volumes--split banana peels intimating vaginas; little sausages announcing penises; rosy cheeks, scarlet fingernails, and a pink table cloth dispersing strands of amorous longing that never quite connect. The viewer gleans a state of nonproductivity. We simultaneously witness an aftermath occurring in the wake of an event that has not befallen, and a prolepsis of an anticipated happening that will not take place. Once again, temporality is in disarray. We bounce back and forth between past, present, and future.
Meanwhile a knife hovers ominously at the center and forefront of the picture plane. The utensil in principle makes possible a generous meal but also portends a violent imposition of limits. Clearly, it is not only edibles that bear lacerations. Botero relentlessly has chopped off artifacts and environmental phenomena (the picnic cloth, smoke ascending from a volcano, a mountain range) as well as human bodies (the two protagonists). Bloatedness and slashings are two sides of the same coin. The promise of abundance goes together with a threat of violence.
If Boteros painting mirrors the demands of the global marketplace for speed and toil with a compensatory image of companionship, calm, and plenitude, then isolation and distraction tear through the promised happiness; expectancy meets with fatigue and stasis. Though the characters' bodies appear dated (they violate contemporary norms specifying appropriate corporeal sizes and builds), they also engage in a complex critical negotiation with modernity.
Ostensibly seamlessly integrating myriad cultural idioms--like a swelling corporation feeding on neoliberal deregulation--Boteros art, in fact, transgresses market principles: His many knives pronounce antagonisms. The lacerations they produce insert fault lines. Slicings and severings acknowledge fragmentations that belie constructions of progressive economic, cultural, and artistic development. Botero upends schemata of smooth modernization.
An anachronistic play with frames lies at the heart of Boteros Neobaroque critical strategy. (10) The Picnic assembles widely divergent frames shaping subjects of transcultured forces. Analogously to Carpentier and Cortazar, Botero dramatizes a forgetting of iconic signifiers of aesthetic meaning making. Picking up on the action suggested by the knife, parallel and crosscutting lines enter slits into pictorial forms the artist cites: smoke raising from the volcano gashes the pastoral; the straw, the fork, and the bread cleave through the picnic scene (brushing aside the Baroque portrait connoted by the image of the sleeping man); the cigarette punctures the still life. Additionally, the tablecloth hews into the landscape scene. Cutting carries on well into the background of the painting as partitions between the hills carve up the countryside panorama.
The Picnic enacts a politics that intermeshes historical artistic modalities with aesthetic forms shaping quotidian materiality: Botero entwines European and Latin American art idioms with classical pop-cultural signifiers of temporality, Carmen Miranda-style images of exotic pleasure, and everyday routines involving food, drink, naps, smoking, and leisure-time outings in the country. Aestheticization presents a provocation in Boteros work: far exceeding formal vocabularies currently on offer, aesthetic activity pervades daily life, propelling ongoing aestheticizations on different terms. Like Carpentier and Cortazar, Botero uses the unsettled temporality inherent in but not exclusive to the Neobaroque to formulate a decolonial critique of market formations and to free up everyday aesthetic energies to imagine an alternative social order.
A Cultural Politics of Anachronism
The key moments in Carpentiers, Cortazar's, and Boteros oeuvres that we have investigated in this essay exemplify modes of dissociating aesthetic production from constellations of modernity. (11) While each of the three artists deploys Neobaroque idioms to derail modern schemes of meaning production and to initiate alternative aesthetic modalities, we have identified a cultural politics that crosscuts and exceeds vocabularies subsumable under the heading of the Neobaroque. (12) Within various Neobaroque modalities, a different, tangentially related, artistic endeavor becomes discernible: Carpentier, Cortazar, and Botero stage forms of temporal dislocation we call anachronism. These artists' works, in other words, rally a method of oblique, multiplied, and disjointed temporality to steer away from modernist premises, to upend aestheticized market formations, to renovate aesthetic epistemologies, and to reorder the constituents of the lettered city. Carpentier's, Cortazar's, and Boteros temporal forgettings, reframings, and cuttings exemplify a critical Latin American aesthetic of anachronism. (13) Each of the three artists places this invention squarely at the center of a renewed politicization of the aesthetic dimensions of the everyday, one that invokes the region in its antagonistic as well as compliant ties to global and to other historical transcultural mobilizations.
(1) Drawing our attention to the "vast imagery--mythology--of the mulatas, Baroque both in temper and build" (248-9), Carpentier represents Cuba's mestizaje as substantially fictionalized rather than naturalizing it.
(2) Those who are under the misapprehension of tranquility and order include von Humboldt, who, as quoted by Carpentier, applauds Havana's poise and testifies to having perceived a gradual, even if, to him (von Humboldt), regrettably slow, correction to Havana's design (245).
(3) Note the irony in which Carpentier wraps Havana's abundant columns: "We have said that Havana is a city with more columns than any other city on the continent, and that could be an advantage" (249). The reader here is explicitly asked to contemplate what kind of advantage this would be."
(4) In other words, anachronism highlights aesthetic relationality. On this concept and its significance to the notion of the aesthetic, see Roelofs.
(5) On the centrality of such ambivalent orientations to constellations of aesthetic experience, practice, and agency, and on the entwining ethical, political, and economic registers these manifold orientations involve, see Roelofs.
(6) This notwithstanding the tones of disturbance, violence, and fear that Cortazar inscribes in the ostensibly naive forms of the "little pictures," and the disjunctive juxtapositions he embodies in the paintings' compositions (268).
(7) In the Spanish, "uno baja en San Jose" (Cortazar, "Apocalipsis" 155).
(8) It is actually doubtful that the freeing and the immobilization are indeed beyond photographic influence, as Roberto Michel may imagine it to be. Moreover, his idea that such extrication from the technology of the camera is possible may well be an artistically mediated fantasy. These uncertainties, which Cortazar courts, engulf the reader, once again, in an irresolvable Baroque entanglement of art and life.
(9) For a more extensive reading of Boteros aesthetic politics, see Roelofs (164, 167-75).
(10) For discussions of Boteros work in terms of Baroque vocabularies, see, among others, Faris and Sillevis.
(11) In Mignolo's terminology, each instance exemplifies a decolonial "delinking" from the "rhetoric of modernity."
(12) For a recent discussion of Neobaroque forms of representation, see Zamora and Kaup. Zamora and Kaup understand the Neobaroque as an "alternative modernism" with a hemispheric, even global reach (24). Our notion of anachronism highlights tension and antagonism in contradistinction to the "dynamic network of transcultural processes and relations" that Zamora and Kaup describe in a language reminiscent of the flexibility lauded by the neoliberal marketplace (20).
(13) On anachronism in work by Remedios Varo and Clarice Lispector, as well as Fernando Botero, see also Roelofs (115, 172, 174-75, 183). In our book manuscript in progress, "Aesthetics and Anachronism in Latin America," of which this essay is a part, we explore this aesthetic more fully in connection with a broadened array of contemporary Latin American cultural productions.
Beverley, John. Against Literature. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1993. Print.
Carpentier, Alejo. "The City of Columns." Baroque New Worlds: Representation, Transculturation, Counterconquest. Ed. Lois Parkinson Zamora and Monika Kaup. Durham: Duke UP, 2010. 244-58. Print.
--. "La ciudad de las columnas." Tientos y diferencias, 1964. Obras completas, Vol. 13, Ensayos. Mexico City: Siglo Veintiuno, 1990. 61-73. Print.
Cortazar, Julio. "Apocalipsis de Solentiname." Cuentos completos. Vol. 2. Madrid: Alfaguara, 1994. 155-60. Print.
--. "Apocalypse at Solentiname." We Love Glenda So Much and A Change of Light. Trans. Gregory Rabassa. New York: Aventura, 1984. 265-73. Print.
--. "Blow-Up." Blow-Up and Other Stories. Trans. Paul Blackburn. New York: Pantheon, 1967. 114-31. Print.
Faris, Wendy B. "Larger than Life: The Hyperbolic Realities of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Fernando Botero." Word and Image 17.4 (2001): 339-59. Print.
Franco, Jean. The Decline and Fall of the Lettered City: Latin America in the Cold War. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2002. Print.
Mignolo, Walter D. "Delinking: The Rhetoric of Modernity, the Logic of Coloniality and the Grammar of De-Coloniality." Cultural Studies 21.2-3 (March/May 2007): 449-515. Print.
Rama, Angel. The Lettered City. Trans, and ed. John Charles Chasteen. Durham: Duke UR 1996. Print.
Roelofs, Monique. The Cultural Promise of the Aesthetic. London and New York: Bloomsbury 2014. Print.
Sillevis, John. "Boteros Baroque." In The Baroque World of Fernando Botero. Ed. John Sillevis. Alexandria, VA, and New Haven: Art Services International and Yale UR 2007. Print.
Zamora, Lois Parkinson, and Monika Kaup. "Baroque, New World Baroque, Neobaroque: Categories and Concepts." Baroque New Worlds: Representation, Transculturation, Counterconquest. Ed. Lois Parkinson Zamora and Monika Kaup. Durham: Duke UP, 2010. 1-35. Print.
Monique Roelofs and Norman S. Holland
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|Title Annotation:||articulo en ingles|
|Author:||Roelofs, Monique; Holland, Norman S.|
|Publication:||Confluencia: Revista Hispanica de Cultura y Literatura|
|Article Type:||Ensayo critico|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2015|
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