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Juan Malpartida

Keys from the Hispano-American poetry of the 20th century: between signs and things URL:

There are things that have already been mentioned before, but which are worth being repeated today, maybe because they were forgotten or maybe because it is necessary to go back to our thoughts again and again: Poems, novels, tales, and the works from the rest of the literary genre, are individual works, even if in occasions, they may have been done in collaboration. At the same time, these are product of individual imaginations and are directed to the collective imagination; or putting it another way, directed to speaking individuals, and thus, using a language that transforms them into images: beings in which the symbolic dimension is fundamental and definitive, even if there is not a single reality. The events of May 2nd 1808 in Madrid, or the entrance of Hernan Cortés and his troops in the city of Tenochtitlan are historical events that happened once, and even if the interpretations of these events can change significantly, it cannot affect the fact that they are events anchored in the past, although due to being events from our past, they may have some life in the present. On the other hand, Dante's poem, or the narrative of D.H. Lawrence, are still happening today. There will always be a reader who without trying it will find himself descending to Hell in company of Virgilio and Dante, or someone who will feel the convulsive verbal current, nostalgic of a primal and passionate physical world, of the great English author. The reason to mention all of this when addressing Hispano-American poetry of the 20th century is because I agree with the theory that proposes literatures as something universal, only limited by the possibilities of access, and which are always contaminated by each other. At the same time, I do not believe that they represent sociologic or economic trends that can be analyzed from the perspective of historical mentalities. I am not saying that history, sociology, and other social disciplines do not allow us to better understand an author and his work, what I say is that they cannot provide us with the meaning of these works. It is like this, because among other reasons neither the St. John of the Cross' Spiritual Canticle, nor Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, have a meaning. Actually, they mean a lot of things and foster us to discuss about them all over again, but the concepts applied by the critics to abstract those works are not the works themselves. They cannot be formulated: they are enigmatic combinations of shape and meaning that plea us to be lived one time and another. And we do not live what is called "French poetry" or "Hispano-American poetry", the "modernism" or the "vanguards": we live when we are capable of incarnating a literary work for fraction of time  -sometimes involuntarily-, thanks to reading a text, a number of verses or a narrative fragment. When you come to think of it, neither the Hispano-American, Spanish, French or English poetry really exist. But nevertheless, since poetry has existed, basically everybody has known about it, ignorant in in many occasions to the fact that what they hear of read has not been written in their own language, or is a transcript of many authors and languages. When reading certain modern novels, we may not always be aware that Homer in some way continues narrating his old -but new- stories. Literature is full of succubus that the own author, and the reader, are not aware of. But for the sake of discussion, we need to limit, reduce, adapt, or set a general idea as it is colloquially said. Which means we need to accept the existence of Hispano-American poetry because we can find some particularities in what was written in those Spanish-speaking countries which allow us to understand them, and among us, in a better way. Nevertheless, once we finish reviewing all of these aspects -from lexicographic to political, from rhetoric to historic and environmental- you will have to forget about them because literary works do not want to be turned into a treatise, a bunch of clear and intelligent slides, or a literature class, but aim at making the reader a part of the work. This is what we usually refer to, with great exactitude, as "being trapped" by a book or story. Some may get trapped in the books for way too long, while others may distinguish with excessive clarity the difference between the text and real life. One way or the other, literature only exists because it is something you live, and the day it ends being like this, apart from bad literature, we will only have objects.

Along the first conference, I will propose a number of keys from the Hispano-American poetry of the 20th century, and later in the second conference I will analyze the meaning of several great poems: Altazor (Huidobro), Muerte sin fin (Gorostiza), Espacio (Juan Ramón Jiménez) and Piedra de sol (Octavio Paz). These great poems are in my opinion answers to the challenges about the fundaments and sense that poetry itself had posed at the beginning of the 20th Century. This is by no means a full scenario or the entire history of Hispano-American poetry, but a partial -and probably interested- view done from the 21st century focused on several issues: poetical, the relationship between cities and nature, the body, or the abstractions.     

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