Deconstruction (and digression) in the poetry of Jenaro Talens.
Discussions and theorizations of parenthetical insertions and expressions usually control for the contexts in which they appear by considering such elements as they are found in prose. Parenthetical insertions in poetic texts, though, are built upon the unstable terrain of poetry. In poetic texts, the supposedly complete, stable, and whole ground against which parenthetical insertions are judged to be inconsequential is always already undermined, as poetry is constructed according to the opposition between metrical and semantic segmentation, to use Giorgio Agamben's terminology (109). What defines poetry, according to Agamben and others, is the possibility of enjambment. Rather than merely dealing with parenthetical insertions interrupting and distracting the reader from the meaning produced by sentences, one must take into account the prior distribution of these sentences over multiple verses. As James Longenbach states, "[t]o cast syntax into lines is to provide choices, to place precision in the service of equivocation by making us consider the implications of reading the syntax in one way rather than another" (24). For Longenbach, "if line determines the way a sentence becomes meaningful to us in a poem, it also makes us aware of how artfully a sentence may resist itself, courting the opposite of what it says--or, more typically, something just slightly different from what it says" (24-25).
Whether poetry should seek to create verisimilar and realist representations of experience and reality or instead seek to resist itself has served as one of the fundamental points of contention between Spanish poets during the post-Franco period. The poetas de la experiencia, like Luis Garcia Montero ((1958-), Felipe Benitez Reyes (1960-), Carlos Marzal (1961-), and Vicente Gallego (1963-), championed a return to a more conventional and easily comprehensible poetic practice. These goals have been interpreted by some as attempts to maintain the political status quo. To a certain extent, this strain of poetry came into being as a reaction to the "elitist" and "intellectual" poetry of the so-called novisimos, whose work sought to undermine mimetic and verisimilar representations of reality in poetry. This work and its skeptical attitude towards reality and language was a reaction to the linguistic manipulation and cover up taking place on both sides of the political spectrum during the Franco regime.
Although he has questioned the utility of categories like that of novisimo poetry, Jenaro Talens (1946-) is generally considered to be one of these poets. (1) That his poetry undercuts mimetic and verisimilar literary representations and exhibits the influence of post-structuralist thought are facts accepted by most critics. This has led to a mainstream account of Talens's poetry in which the explicit thematization of poetic practice and the incorporation of terminology associated with literary theory are privileged, to the detriment of other subtler techniques. While in a number of cases such a description is accurate, this dominant account overlooks the full variety of ways in which Talens's poetry critiques mimesis. In particular, it overlooks seemingly simple, less explicit techniques that do so, leading to the misrepresentation of Talens's later, seemingly more conventional work. This gesture forms part of the larger phenomenon of operating on the assumption that texts are inherently verisimilar unless one finds evidence to prove otherwise, in the process naturalizing presence and verisimilitude.
Such a gesture is ironic given writing's already tenuous status vis-a-vis speech according to logocentrist accounts. Accepting Derrida's critique of logocentrism requires that one not rescue writing to then apply the same binary logic built into logocentrism and disqualify certain forms of writing and certain techniques (like parenthetical insertions) that point to the always already precarious nature of linguistic representation. A fundamental characteristic of Talens's work is the importance of parenthetical insertions for his poetry, not only in individual collections but rather in his work as a whole. (2) These insertions appear throughout his poetry, both in poems displaying the explicitly metapoetic style usually associated with his work as well as in those that bear a superficial resemblance to more quotidian "confessional" poetry.
The sorts of parenthetical insertions Talens uses and the ways he uses them in his work vary from collection to collection and demonstrate an increased internalization over time. In early collections these insertions tend to appear either separated from stanzas or as part of a series of sentences marked by periods at the ends of verses. They also tend to present complete thoughts or sentences. As his poetry develops these insertions become more fragmentary and interrupt the stanzas and poems in which they appear. At the same time that such an internalization is taking place, Talens's poetry simultaneously shifts towards a more conventional and straight-forward style, at least on the surface. To trace this development I will discuss a range of poems spanning Talens's poetic career, including texts from Vispera de la destruccion (1970), Tabula rasa (1985), Menos que una imagen (1990), and Rosa sin porque (2004).
Parenthetical insertions undermine verisimilitude in two distinct yet equally effective ways in this poetry. The first involves Jacques Derrida's notion of the supplement. Parenthetical expressions are considered to be extraneous additions to already complete and coherent constructions, functioning as an interruption that does not affect the structural integrity of the phrases and sentences in which they appear. A supplementary logic seems to be at work here, for "the supplement supplements. It adds only to replace. It intervenes or insinuates itself in-the-place-of; if it fills, it is as if one fills a void. If it represents and makes an image, it is by the anterior default of a presence" (Derrida 145). "[W]hether it adds or substitutes itself," Derrida argues, "the supplement is exterior, outside of the positivity to which it is super-added, alien to that which, in order to be replaced by it, must be other than it" (145). In Talens's early work parenthetical expressions typify this exteriority, often appearing as discrete sentences and occupying their own verses. These sorts of parenthetical insertions bolster and support instances of seemingly complete and developed poetic expression. Ironically, though, they end up exposing the incomplete nature of the rest of the text in which they appear, for if it were in fact complete such support and further elaboration would be unnecessary.
While this first form uses support to implicitly undermine verisimilitude and textual completeness, the second works to actively undermine them. This form places parenthetical insertions directly within sentences and verses, questioning the coherence of their contexts. This phenomenon calls to mind Robert Grant Williams's discussion of an approach to parenthetical insertions that maintains that "[t]he parenthesis 'sets a sunder' the sentence as if the former came after the latter achieved its integrity" (56). This viewpoint relies on the notion that sentences are complete and coherent units of meaning and presents parenthetical insertions as scapegoats for a sentence's lack of coherence and unity. Parenthetical insertions in Talens's poetry, though, interrogate coherence and unity, functioning in a manner similar to Jacques Ranciere's concept of "dissensus." According to Ranciere, "[c]onsensus means precisely that the sensory is given as univocal. Political and artistic fictions introduce dissensus by hollowing out that 'real' and multiplying it in a polemical way" (149).
"Consensus," both in a general political and social sense as well as in the one used by Ranciere, was the goal of the poetas de la experiencia, who sought to write poetry for "seres normales." It is worth noting that many poetas de la experiencia do recognize the inherently fictional nature of the poetic utterances in their work, as Araceli Iravedra has outlined ("Palabras" 35-47). What they are striving for, though, is verisimilitude. Where Talens's poetic practice differs from this model is in his refusal to obscure the discursive manipulation implicit in even admittedly fictional, but nonetheless forcibly verisimilar representations of experience and the symbolic violence they entail. While his work may not have explicit and obvious political implications, its parallels to Ranciere's notion of "dissensus" undoubtedly lay bare the discursive machinations that seek to obscure the discursive manipulation always already taking place in discursive representation, thus allowing the "activation" of readers' questioning of naturalized literary conventions. (3)
Like Edmund Husserl's notion of epoche, or "bracketing," Talens's poetic practice is a skeptical one that strives to expose perceptual and representational strategies that often go unnoticed but which are nonetheless always in play. As Dermot Moran explains, "Husserl characterised the practice of epoche in many different ways[.] [...] He speaks of 'withholding', 'disregarding', 'abandoning', 'parenthesising' [...], 'putting out of action' [...], and 'putting out of play' [...] all judgments which posit a world in any way as actual [...] or as 'there', 'present at hand'" (147). Bracketing also exposes and illuminates typically unseen aspects of the "meaning-positing" acts human beings employ on a daily basis (Moran 146). For Husserl, "[w]e need to bracket certain fundamental structures in order to allow more basic objectifying acts of consciousness to become visible in themselves" (Moran 149). The strategic and self-conscious use of parenthetical insertions in Jenaro Talens's work draws attention to the discursive mechanisms upon which poetic expression is based. Rather than providing clarification, though, as they are typically thought to do, such constructions in Talens's work only further undermine verisimilar representations of action and subjectivity.
Jenaro Talens's extensive poetic production has been collected in three volumes. The first, Cenizas de sentido, comprises his poetic production from 1962 to 1975, while the second two, El largo aprendizaje and Puntos cardinales, cover the periods from 1975 to 1991 and 1991 to 2006. (4) Talens has authored over twenty books of poetry and perhaps as a result of this prolific production many critics have sought to trace a trajectory in his work. More often than not this trajectory traces a shift to a more conventional and referential poetic practice in the 1980s, and can be broken down additionally into his earliest poetry, considered to be a continuation of a meditative strain of poetry akin to the work of Francisco Brines (Prieto de Paula, "El hombre borrado," 9), followed by an explicitly metapoetic and theoretical poetry.
Vispera de la destruccion opens with "Meditacion del solitario," a text divided into two parts. (5) Both of these include parenthetical insertions, each incorporated in a relatively unobtrusive manner. In the first part, the parenthetical insertion is made up of two complete sentences occupying only one verse, and is separated from the stanzas that precede and follow it.
La fragil tranquilidad de un hombre solitario tiene a veces la forma ondulada de un cuerpo nunca poseido. Nada es entonces tan desoladamente triste como el silencio que mana de sus ojos; nada tan profundamente comunicable como ese gesto inconsciente de vida incorporada a la tierra que envuelve la inmovilidad de su humano abandono. (Quien no ama, no avanza. Permanece sin nombre.) (CS 33, vv. 1-8) (6)
This way of incorporating the parenthetical insertion seems to epitomize, both visually and semantically, the supposedly extraneous character typically attributed to parenthetical insertions. A closer look reveals a different scenario, however, as the contents of this insertion make explicit some of the latent themes of the stanza it follows. In particular, it picks up on and extends the ideas that appear only implicitly in the poem's first two verses: the lack of names and the lack of love. While an astute reader may have already made the connection presented by the parenthetical insertion, other readers may not have, or they may have come to a different conclusion, one that did not necessarily link the lack of love, names, and progress. This insertion, then, supplements the content and expression of the previous stanza, implicitly highlighting this stanza's incomplete character.
The second part of the "Meditacion del solitario" includes a parenthetical insertion appearing inside of a stanza, indicating a greater degree of internalization.
Sombra y mas: soledad sin origen. Es grave la expresion y un vacio se asoma por el valle desierto de los ojos. (Que inhospita esta carcel, mudo cristal sin tiempo.) Una arruga nos hace mas humanos, espiritu sin medida, el instante. (CS 35, vv. 9-18)
This example is a sentence placed between two other sentences, occupies two verses, and does not employ enjambment. This fact is significant given that the sentences surrounding it use enjambment freely. What appears within parentheses thus appears to be more like prose than poetry if we follow Agamben's formulation. This mode of representation thus presents the parenthetical insertion as being of a different class than what surrounds it. Again, as was the case in the first section of "Meditacion del solitario," this insertion could be read as being extraneous to the overall meaning of the poem. Upon further investigation, though, the contents of this insertion are in fact seen to be integral to the poem's structure.
The characterization of the scene described as a "carcel" frames this scene in a very particular way that the reader may not have otherwise done. The portrayal of the mirror as a "mudo cristal sin tiempo" draws out the significance of the sharply-contrasted temporal nature of humanity and human existence, a distinction which would not have been as clear in the absence of the sentence placed within parentheses. This parenthetical insertion thus also functions as a supplement. As these two examples have shown, the parenthetical expressions inserted into "Meditacion del solitario" play an integral role in the construction of meaning in this text. Despite their visual separation and the exteriority this separation suggests, these expressions fill in gaps in the text and supplement its meaning, simultaneously pointing out what it lacks.
Written during his time as a visiting professor at the University of Minnesota, Tabula rasa was considered by many (including Luis Garcia Montero) to represent a shift in Talens's poetic practice to a more conventional and quotidian style. While it is true that by using concrete situations and settings many of the poems included in this collection display the outer trappings of this sort of style, the underlying theoretical foundations of Talens's poetry remain unchanged. (7) The poem entitled "Cosas que pasan" begins by situating the scenario in terms of time and space: "Martes por la manana en Folwell Hall" (LA 135, v. 1). While this verse could be read as a precise contextualization of a verisimilar scene, one could also read this opening verse as part of a play or film screenplay, establishing a scene and a time. (8) Parenthetical insertions play a key part in this text, undermining the verisimilitude of what it recounts. The cluster of verses following this opening verse includes two parenthetical insertions, which undercut both the words surrounding them as well as the sentence of which they form a part:
El frio dibuja sobre mi rostro una imprevista cicatriz, una sonrisa extrana, un rictus que sugiere (apenas) todo lo que el lenguaje de mi cuerpo puede compartir, demasiado inconcreto para agradecer el peso de tu mano (que no esta) sobre mi hombro, mientras camino por anchas calles llenas de lluvia y tiendas grises. (LA 135, vv. 2-6)
The first insertion, "(apenas)," highlights the already tenuous expression of the phrase in which it appears, further weakening the verb "sugerir."
While the insertion of "apenas" undercuts an already unconvincing verb, the next parenthetical insertion in "Cosas que pasan" goes even further. Without the insertion of "(que no esta)," the phrase would read "el peso de tu mano sobre mi / hombro," thereby presenting a (somewhat) concrete instance of physical contact between a hand and a shoulder as well as the way such contact could be measured. The inserted phrase negates this scenario, though, indicating that the hand is not on the shoulder after all. Rather than a superfluous and extraneous insertion interrupting an already formed and coherent sentence, this parenthetical expression hollows out any mimetic content attributed to the sentence. One could perhaps argue that this expression takes an already coherent sentence and negates it, in the process affirming the original coherence of the sentence. A closer look at the sentence spread across these five verses paints a different picture though.
As the speaker indicates, the rictus that hardly suggests everything that the language of his body can share is too inconcrete to acknowledge the weight of the hand (that is not) on his shoulder, while he walks along wide streets full of rain and gray stores. The hand belongs to an undefined "tu," signaled by a possessive adjective that distances this already vague deictic figure even more from presence. So even if the hand were in fact on the speaker's shoulder, the text would still only be referring to its weight within this highly inconcrete scenario. As this necessarily schematic summary of the poem indicates, blaming parenthetical insertions for the lack of coherence and verisimilitude, making them scapegoats for the already vague and imprecise nature of this sentence, overlooks its already fragmentary nature. This dynamic highlights the effect of positing presence as the natural state of affairs and blaming seemingly external, superfluous, or extraneous elements when this presumed presence is revealed to be illusory. (9)
The next sentence in this text, which occupies eleven verses, contains one parenthetical insertion. What stands out about this case is its more explicit critique of language as well as its distribution over two verses by way of enjambment:
No importa lo terrible que pueda ser permanecer sentado en la oficina hablando con la joven del Twin Cities Reader que usa gafas de sol, oyendo el ir y venir de sus entonaciones en la pesada roca del cerebro, y sin alcanzar a comprender, no lo que dicen sus palabras, (o lo que ella cree que dicen sus palabras), sino el ritmo disperso con que su voz me envuelve, bajo la ventana que da a Pleasant Street, y pienso en el hombre de aspecto triste, sus enormes zapatos, el periodico abierto como escudo, las imprecaciones --aqui unas risas-- contra el agua, y como siento ahora hambre y no sed. Me hundo en la silla. (LA 135, vv. 7-17)
The reference to "lo que dicen sus palabras," although it appears within a negative construction, still seems to posit, at least initially, a defined meaning associated with these words and what they say. This defined meaning becomes much more relative as a result of the parenthetical insertion, which functions as an appositive. Appositives embody the traditional notion of the parenthetical insertion as an extraneous and easily removable addition to an already coherent expression, as by grammatical rule such expressions can be removed without making the remaining sentence a fragment.
This particular appositive begins with a conjunction characterized by a history of creative and innovative uses. Most notably in the case of Nobel Laureate Vicente Aleixandre's La destruccion o el amor (1935), the conjunction "o" served as an ambiguous and versatile connector. In the case of "Cosas que pasan" it is unclear whether this conjunction sets up two mutually exclusive options, or if it instead presents two possibilities that can coexist. In either case, words (and what they say) are not presented as innocent, stable, and complete vehicles for communicating meaning. In short, "Cosas que pasan" underlines the importance of paying close attention to words: where they are placed, what surrounds them, and the implications of these spatial configurations. What words say--or what we think they say--is contingent upon how they appear on the page, and in the case of this particular poem, whether or not the text resists itself, simultaneously positing and challenging the meanings it presents.
Originally published as part of El largo aprendizaje, Menos que una imagen was republished a decade later with two other texts under the title Minimalia (2001). In his introduction to this more recent compilation, Juan Carlos Fernandez Serrato identifies the principal characteristics of these poems, pointing out that "[l]o primero que se nota [...] es una buscada sencillez discursiva que aborda sin complejos el paseo por lo cotidiano, muchas veces como apuntes al vuelo de una idea, otras desde la recreacion de una imagen congelada que parece el eco de una vieja pelicula" ("Como una imagen" 15). "[S]implicity," as K.K. Ruthven succinctly states, "is merely a covername for undetected complexities" (45), and as such the effect of simplicity sought out by these poems,
rather than appealing to a notion of the simplicity and natural character of poetic expression, in fact serves to undermine any such notion.
"Sombras sonoras" presents a multi-layered narration of seemingly real events in addition to explicitly hypothetical ones, thereby calling attention to the inescapably situated nature of the narration taking place. The poem's initial verses establish the following scene:
Vive en la buhardilla de una casa, fuera de la ciudad. Es abril y no llueve. Sobre un fondo de yedras, una imagen de una humedad difusa y alcanfor, con una alfombra rala (cuando hay luz) y algun cuadro. (LA 41, vv. 1-6)
Despite the seemingly straightforward nature of the scene depicted in the above verses, several elements stand out. From a formal standpoint, the insertion of a parenthetical phrase in the fifth verse draws the reader's attention, encouraging him or her to question the existence of this scene in the absence of illumination --and, by extension, of an observer--and wonder what, if anything, is found there in the absence of light. Rather than providing a clarification, as one might expect, the contents of the parentheses chip away at the text's verisimilitude. To further complicate matters, an additional layer appears in the next section by way of the incorporation of two hypothetical scenarios:
Si alguien entrase (pero quien) podria ver un camastro bajo la ventana, un bulto en un rincon y algunas sombras algo apenas visible que tal vez se mueva (si aun es posible imaginarlo), que si lo intentara incluso lograria incorporarse y por que no pensar con gran esfuerzo, y proferir, sin duda, algo como un sonido, sin querer y sin poder siquiera controlarlo, un gesto, algo muy semejante a una palabra, o casi. (LA 41, vv. 7-17)
More of the scene is revealed in these verses, though this description is unavoidably colored by the initial phrase of this passage, which predicates the entire description on the hypothetical entry of another observer, whose tenuous existence is in turn undermined by another parenthetical insertion ("pero quien"). A similar function is at work in the next parenthetical insertion, which for its part undermines the ability to still imagine. The temporal implications of this phrase, "si aun es posible imaginarlo," suggest a process by which one is further distanced from a reliance on and faith in the ability to effect such acts of imagination.
The next hypothetical scenario relates to the "bulto en un rincon," described as "algo apenas visible que tal vez se mueva." The poem's overarching speaker then speculates about this figure's ability to come to and get up. The text thus presents two nested hypothetical scenarios. The poem's first layer in terms of its communicative structure, presented by the speaker who opens the poem, also describes what the hypothetical viewer could see if he or she entered the scene. It later attributes hypothetical actions to the figure that could possibly be seen by the unknown observer. This accumulation of layers questions the verisimilitude of everything depicted in the text, as any authority granted to the overarching speaker is not based on any knowledge of the legitimacy of his or her perspective. Such a questioning would be the logical consequence of the extended conjecture traced in the text up to this point.
The poem's next sequence provides a sort of proving ground for verisimilitude, in that it begins with a short, seemingly simple, declarative sentence, which, had it been positioned at the beginning of the poem, would perhaps arouse little or no suspicion.
Pasan trenes de noche. Es un rumor que se repite en pausas e intervalos, alguien dice que los escucha como si escuchase, probablemente sin pasion, hay libros y papeles y objetos apilados en cajas, restos suponen de quien sabe que. Dicen que nunca se sabra del todo, que es tan extrano y tan acogedor. (LA 41, vv. 18-25)
Positioned in the text where it is, however, in the wake of a demonstration of the multi-layered and mediated nature of narrative representation, this supposedly simple statement inevitably raises questions. Has the poem reverted back to the supposedly "objective" speaker with which it opened, or does it instead represent what is observed--or could be observed--by the hypothetical observer introduced in verse seven? Any remaining trace of certainty is further undermined by way of a series of words and phrases like "como si," "probablemente," "quien sabe que," and "nunca se sabra del todo" that chip away at the facade of a clear, objective reality. What began as an ostensibly simple representation thus becomes successively blurrier as the text progresses and as parenthetical expressions make readers question what they are reading, who is presenting it, and ultimately, what they should believe. Rather than an experimental, explicitly metapoetic text, though, "Sombras sonoras" maintains the appearance of a conventional poetic or narrative text in which a sequence of events is presented in a logical, clear, and verisimilar fashion, although, as my reading has shown, a closer look paints a very different picture.
The final poem I will discuss comes from Rosa sin porque, a collection included in Puntos cardinales. The poem in question, "La nostalgia ya no es lo que era," features two questions inserted into the text. This poem begins with an emphasis on the lack of lived experience and the implicit undercutting of poetic conventions as well as the probable reader expectations enacted by the title. While the reader would likely expect a poem with this sort of title to begin with an account or a memory of a concrete, lived experience, the opening verse takes a very different approach, by announcing that "Son tantos los lugares donde nunca vivi" (PC 172). In this poem, then, nostalgia is clearly not what it used to be, given this opening verse's emphasis on what the speaker did not experience. Interestingly, the explicit negation of experience comes at the end of the verse, effectively calling more attention to these places where the speaker never lived and simultaneously framing this scenario as a disjunction between time and space. The verb "vivi" thus occupies an ambiguous role in this verse, as it refers to an activity that never took place. Its presence parallels that of the verb with which the poem opens, "son," which in conjunction with "vivi" bookends the verse and frames the overarching negative force of the sentence in positive terms. Even though the speaker never lived there, these places still exist and "vivi" still occupies a grammatical position. Even the lack of lived experience, then, plays a role within language. The negation of experience, reality, and verisimilitude still plays a pivotal role within language, and language attributes a presence and reality to the unreal and nonexistent. (10)
The next section of this text reveals the speaker's awareness of the problematized sort of nostalgia this poem deals with:
Ya se que la memoria no conduce a nada ni las lamentaciones de quien fui ( quiza, solo por un instante?) en otros brazos ( los de quien?). Se que su noche tampoco es mia, aunque me acoja como a un rumor desconocido. (PC 172, vv. 2-7)
The two questions appearing within parenthetical insertions in this example undercut the supposed certainty posited by the speaker's use of the verb "saber" ("Ya se" and "Se"). In both instances the speaker knows what is not the case, leaving the reader to wonder what is the case. As was the situation with "son" and "vivi" above, what we encounter here is positive knowledge about a negated state of affairs. Although the reader is inevitably left with uncertainty, this uncertainty is the result of a positive knowledge regarding the uncertainty of the world.
This active undoing of the comfortable certainty of the world and its character echoes the project put forth in Husserl's phenomenological effort to break with established notions of reality and the perceptual strategies upon which we rely to capture and construct reality. The scope of the parenthetical insertions in this section of the poem is quite specific, as they target the words immediately preceding them. The first serves to undermine the certainty and stability of the speaker's (past) identity, as it follows "quien fui," framing this identity as ephemeral and fleeting. The second, for its part, draws out the relational nature of adjectives like "otro" that rely on binary oppositions between self and other and thus are not based on any positive characteristic of the nouns they describe.
"La nostalgia ya no es lo que era" clearly effects a sort of "bait and switch" on the unsuspecting reader. Rather than a traditional account of nostalgia the reader is instead faced with a hollowing out of the assumptions they bring to the text regarding experience and language's ability to capture and reproduce it. The two questions offered by the speaker and packaged in the form of parenthetical expressions interrupting the flow of the poem have very specific functions. These questions draw attention to the inherent ambiguity inhabiting seemingly stable forms of expression, compelling the reader to examine these elements that might otherwise go unnoticed and unquestioned. In the end, this text makes us wonder if nostalgia really ever was what it "was," or if instead it has always been fragmentary and fleeting.
Dominant modes and commonplace understandings of linguistic representation rely on an assumption of coherence and a faith in the reality of what is written until a reason to suspect otherwise arises. Such assumptions inevitably depend upon some sort of paradigm of the visible and the believable and have clear political implications, for certain aspects of this reality are considered to be primary and natural while others are considered to be secondary and extraneous. This implicit hierarchy built into traditional conceptions of linguistic expression reveals a much more widespread political configuration based on disparity and exclusion. Whether working to tie together loose ends or actively working to hollow out their surroundings, parenthetical expressions play a fundamental role in any poetic effort to engage with the political nature of discursive representation.
Digressions in the form of parenthetical insertions are a crucial feature of the deconstructive project that underlies Jenaro Talens's poetic practice. By drawing attention to the complexity of the interaction between "regular" texts and "secondary" parenthetical insertions, Talens's poetry makes the reader aware of the exclusionary discursive gestures by means of which certain elements suppress other ones. Parenthetical insertions in Talens's texts, however, do not accept the secondary role normally attributed to them, nor do they blindly accept the naturalized reality of "normal" writing and the "reality" it represents. Upon entering the terrain of poetry, linguistic expression loses the naturalized character that it often enjoys when appearing as prose. Talens's poetic practice explores the discursive possibilities of poetry's unstable terrain, built upon the opposition between metrical and semantic segmentation.
The parenthetical expressions in his texts seek to make the reader question the reality attributed to the words that surround them and the images of reality these words would seek to construct. The inherently antagonistic relationship between what is inside and what is outside these parenthetical expressions calls the reader's attention to the constitutive role these expressions play, while simultaneously undercutting the supposedly self-sufficient nature of "normal" poetic content that nevertheless requires supplementation. These "exterior" parenthetical expressions thus represent a form of "dissensus" and critique the "consensus" of mimetic representations that are normally taken at face value. From his early work to his most recent poetry, Talens has employed parenthetical insertions to undo, undermine, and interrogate both the unity and verisimilitude of traditional conceptions of poetic expression as well as the ideological assumptions they serve.
This aspect of Talens's work, often overlooked by critics, illustrates the complex blending of registers and layers of enunciation characteristic of his poetry and its ability to maintain a critical stance vis-a-vis circumscribed verisimilar representations of reality. In contrast to his more explicitly metapoetic work in which allusions to literary and critical theory abound, the use of parenthetical insertions may seem innocent, or even detrimental to a project of undermining mimesis. Despite this poetry's supposed innocence, though, it is still critical of facile, unproblematized representations of reality. Thanks to its supposed innocence, this poetry is able to fly under the reader's radar and critique the politics of representation implicit in mimesis's efforts to build "consensus" by asserting the primacy of what is given and accepted without question. Since they are not labeled from the beginning as "elitist" or excessively intellectual, these poems by Talens have the potential to more effectively question and undo our assumptions about reality, our attempts to capture it in a coherent fashion, and the political implications that accompany any and all representations of our surroundings. As this examination of a selection of Jenaro Talens's work has shown, bracketing poetic expression empowers those "seres normales" who read poetry, allowing (obliging) them to discover how (not so) normal reality and poetry that seeks to capture (construct) it actually are.
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by Paul Cahill
(1) In his essay "De la publicidad como fuente historiografica: la generacion poetica espanola de 1970," as well as on other occasions, Talens has critiqued the ways in which literary historians employ reductionist models to categorize authors and works.
(2) The most thorough study to date of the phenomenon of parenthetical insertions in poetry is John Lennard's But I Digress: The Exploitation of Parentheses in English Printed Verse (1991), which presents an exhaustive examination of the use of parentheses in English poetry from the 15th to 20th centuries. In the context of Spanish-speaking poetry, Robin Fiddian has studied parenthetical expression in the poetry of Jorge Luis Borges.
(3) This phenomenon calls to mind the larger process of "activating the reader" described by Luis Martin-Estudillo in the context of novisimo poetry (179). Antonio Mendez Rubio makes a similar assertion in his prologue to Talens's anthology El bosque dividido en islas pocas. Antologia poetica (1960-2008) (2009). In particular, Mendez Rubio discusses the necessity of language to be critical of itself if it wishes to have any hope of intervening critically in social reality (15). He refers specifically to metapoetry and its potential for being more than a mere form of escaping reality. Instead, metapoetry is able to expose the ways in which reality is produced by language and discourse.
(4) From this point forward I will use the following abbreviations to refer to these collections: CS (Cenizas de sentido), LA (El largo aprendizaje), and PC (Puntos cardinales).
(5) In the original edition of Vispera de la destruccion, each part of "Meditacion del solitario" was preceded by a parenthetical expression functioning as a sort of title or means of orienting the reader. The first section is labeled "(Frente al mar)," while the second is situated "(Ante el espejo)" (Vispera 15, 17).
(6) Vicente Granados Palomares, the recipient of an earlier version of this poem from Talens himself, undertakes a detailed analysis of the variants between both versions. Most relevant for my study is the original division of this final verse into three, employing enjambment in one of them: "(Quien no ama, / no avanza, permanece / sin nombre)" (322).
(7) Andrew P. Debicki, Chris G. Perriam, and Luis Garcia Montero are among those who have read this work from such a perspective (Debicki 198; Perriam 205; Fernandez Serrato, "Introduccion" 38). Angel L. Prieto de Paula has implicitly critiqued this stance by tracing the continuity of Talens's poetic trajectory, all the way up to texts like Profundidad de campo and Minimalia, both published in 2001 ("Poetas del 68 ..." 168-69). Critics like Miguel Casado, Susana Diaz, and Juan Carlos Fernandez Serrato, on the other hand, have explicitly critiqued this stance (Casado Los articulos 104; La poesia 205-27; Diaz 224; Fernandez Serrato, "Como una imagen" 15).
(8) It is also not necessarily common knowledge that Folwell Hall is the building that houses the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Such specialized knowledge undermines the readily recognizable character of supposedly "verisimilar" poetry.
(9) It is worth noting that parenthetical insertions are almost completely absent in Luis Garcia Montero's Diario complice (1987) and Habitaciones separadas (1994), texts that seek to construct and present verisimilar scenarios.
(10) This dynamic is reminiscent of some of the poems that make up Guillermo Carnero's Dibujo de la muerte (1967), in which language fixes the flow of time and points to death and decay over time through a medium that effectively traps these objects eternally. In particular I am referring to poems like "Avila" (97-100), "Amanecer en Burgos" (106), and "Atardecer en la pinacoteca" (108).
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|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2012|
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