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5— From Early Words to the Vernacular Inflection: Vanguard Tales of Linguistic Encounter
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Linguistic Estrangement as Cultural Critique

The idea that a national or ethnic essence can be summed up in a privileged verbal artifact is consonant with ideologies of cultural nationalism. As Anderson suggests, the imagined community of a nation becomes the imagined community constituted by the speakers of a given language. But Pratt addresses in "Linguistic Utopias" limitations inherent in these imaginings. It is not uncommon, Pratt notes, for the notion of "speech community" sustaining utopian visions of linguistic nationalism to be appropriated by subgroups within a given national entity to affirm the intrinsic value of those groups, as in concepts such as "black English" or "women's language." Such projects, she observes, can be "extraordinarily empowering," as they challenge "the normative forces of standard grammar" and insist on "heterogeneity, on the existence and legitimacy of lifeways other than those of dominant groups" (56). But Pratt compares the limitations of such ventures to nineteenthcentury dialect studies that addressed language as a "nexus of social identity" but failed to see it as the "site of social struggle" in which dominant and dominated participate (56).

In Myth and Archive, Roberto González Echevarría has posited a somewhat related idea in expounding a theory of Latin American narrative. Bringing together Bakhtin and Foucault, he develops the idea that Latin American writers construct a position from which to legitimize their own stories by mimicking the rhetorical strategies of hegemonic, nonliterary discourses dominant in certain historical epochs. In this model, a Bakhtinian notion of a dialogic resistance to official discourse is tempered by a Foucaultian insistence on the power of that dominant discourse to shape individual stories. González Echevarría seeks, in part, to show the interaction of the two in Latin American development as a discursive struggle between the hegemonic practice and the individual writer staking out a legitimate position from which to speak. Pratt's work suggests a comparable approach to the problem of language identifies by addressing language as the site of interaction between languages of power and languages of resistance, a struggle in which both participate.

Anderson's inquiry into the role of language in nationalist ideologies points to an additional problem in the concept of a language community, empowered or not. The idea of a national language, Anderson observes, especially in poetry or song, can project a feeling of uni-


sonance. Considering Pratt's points about subcommunities, this could be true whether the speech community in question is official and empowered or a more marginal group through which a broader-based national identity is sought, such as blacks in a predominantly white Western society or Indians in Peru. The unisonance of the resisting speech community would be substituted for the unisonance of the dominant language, as one essentialist model of authenticity would seek to displace another. In constructing linguistic identities in Latin America, vanguardist artists used the discourse of origins, specifically, through images of the ancestral voice and cultural essence, to affirm cultural autonomy in art. The mythical return to the beginnings of an imagined ancestral language and the elevation of primary linguistic forms (sounds, interjections, phrases) to the status of cultural entities sustain the same ideal of self-present linguistic unity we saw in Huidobro's poetics. Thus the quest for linguistic difference paradoxically leads back to another "universal" language, different only because of its specific cultural context.

On one level, then, vanguardists worked to bring idioms formerly excluded into the literary marketplace, a project of cultural resistance grounded in affirming new models of authenticity. But in a more radical vein, many of these activities also reflect on the cultural relationships implicit in notions of linguistic uniformity and difference. At times these writers focused on orality not as a privileged site of linguistic presence but so as to reenact specific historical situations and to reveal language as a locus of cultural disputes and interactions. Against the unisonance implicit in a linguistically pure poetic space—or in its vernacular version, the primordial ancestral voice—many vanguardist language activities also foreground linguistic plurality, dissonance, and complication.

Grammar through History and on the Streets

The antiacademic stance—against grammar, the dictionary, the genre, the book—constitutes, as I have noted, a cliché of the vanguardist enterprise. In Latin America, attacks on grammar as the nexus of normative forces and cultural institutions and, above all, as the incarnation of the written word permeate vanguardist activities with or without an autochthonous agenda. Huidobro's Altazor himself calls for "circuit breakers in the sentences" and "cataclysms in the grammar" (OC 1: 393; EW 81 ). Few vanguardist manifestos, in fact, fail to attack


normative language, and, in most cases, these norms are romantically portrayed as stiflers of freedom, emotion, and creativity, as the antithesis to a desired heightened consciousness or transrational language. The affirmation in Venezuela's aphoristic "Granizada" proclamation is typical: grammar serves only to justify the injustices of language (MPP 161). Oliverio Girondo developed this position more fully in his aphoristic exercise Membretes (Veinte poemas, 1932). Life, Girondo observed here, is a long process of "brutalization" in which syntax and the dictionary handicap our natural ability to transform a chair into an ocean liner (96). In Ecuador, José Antonio Falconí Villagómez's "Arte poética" manifesto rejects rhetoric and the academy "because there are no longer any grammarians in the orb" (MPP 117). Also typical is Mário de Andrade's deflection of the antigrammar assault to the vernacular mode. In his manifesto, "A escrava que não é Isaura," the pursuit of "pure lyricism" liberates words from the "syntactic patrol" (GMT 306).

But the attack on grammar, and the orality-writing dichotomy that sustains it, represents more than a romantic rebellion against rules and responds to specific historical circumstances. Certainly these activities reconsider the interaction between oral and literate cultures inscribed in the original European-indigenous encounter. They also address the long-standing struggle between centripetal and centrifugal linguistic forces, or what Angel Rama described in La ciudad letrada as a struggle for literate control of cultural information embodied in the "lettered city" of Latin American life and the democratizing elements within it. As Haroldo de Campos suggests in addressing Brazilian modernismo, a literary focus on oral culture resonates in special ways for societies with large illiterate populations in which to write and speak well are signifiers of privilege and keys to social mobility ("Uma poética" 30). Thus the vanguards' recuperative linguistic undertakings constitute a pragmatic rapprochement between the language of literature and the language of everyday life and underscore language's complicity in social conflict.

This feature becomes most evident in works that allegorize and invert colonialist exercises in linguistic control. If we look one more time, for example, at Guillén's poem "Llegada," which announces the arrival of black language and experience into contemporary Cuban culture, we can see the inversion of a prior encounter. In their first arrival into this Western literate society, blacks controlled neither language nor cultural information. "Llegada" announces, however, the poems (in Sóngoro cosongo and in Motivos de son before it) that will seek to empower the


surviving oral tradition by "bringing it into writing" (Clifford) and to underscore the role that language played in that first encounter. Thus the power to tell that story belongs to those who take possession of the word. Similarly, the Brazilian "Antropófago" manifesto, which inverts European primitivism through a "bad savage" who ingests that culture for his own ends, portrays a historic encounter in linguistic terms. Here Father Vieira, a Portuguese Jesuit colonizer and master of the spoken and written word, takes control of illiterate native inhabitants as Brazilian sugar is "signed away" (GMT 355; LB 39). But the manifesto, like the illiterate king with whom he dealt, appropriates Father Vieira's lábia ("lip" or "gift of gab") and retells the story with the inelegant Brazilian Portuguese supported by Antropofagia members, imbuing it with the power of the written word.

In an Andean context, vanguardist indigenista writers sought to invert the linguistic terms of the colonial encounter by using Quechua and Aymara words and concepts in their poetry and by writing Spanish to conform to indigenous phonology, just as the Spanish colonizers had transliterated indigenous languages through written Spanish. Gamaliel Churata's surrealist novel El pez de oro presents the most striking inversion story, as an autodiegetic narrative voice assumes the form of the totemic Golden Puma to retell Columbus's landing. The account interweaves words from Columbus's written diary with a variety of oral indigenous verse forms constituting the Andean world's oral account of the event as a natural catastrophe. Mário's Macunaíma, as I have noted, enacts an even more intricate reversal, as the eponymous hero, whose spoken language brings into writing an amalgam of Brazilian colloquialisms, parodies the language of the Portuguese explorers to describe for those at home in the virgin forest his adventures in modern São Paulo. The variety of linguistic registers in Macunaíma's letter gives testimony to the complicity of language in cross-cultural encounters. His patronizing description of the paulistas ' language inverts the discovering culture's written account of the oral language spoken by a group it considers inferior, a situation that calls to mind defining as barbarians those who do not speak the conqueror's language. The description also lays out the hierarchy between orality and writing circumscribing such engagements.

Nas conversas, utilizam-se os paulistanos dum linguajar bárbaro e multifário, crasso de feição e impuro na vernaculidade, mas que não deixa de ter o seu sabor e força has apóstrofes, e também nas vozes do brincar.... Mas si de tal desprezível língua se utilizam na conversação os naturals desta terra, logo que


tomam da pena, se despojam de tanta asperidade, e surge o Homem Latino, de Lineu, exprimindo-se numa outra linguagem, mui próxima da vergiliana, no dizer dum panegirista, meigo idioma, que, com imperescível galhardia, sc intitula: língua de Camões! (84)

(In their conversations the Paulistas use a barbarous and multifarious dialect, uncouth and polluted with colloquialisms, but which does not lack gusto and forcefulness in figures of speech and coital idioms.... But although such vulgar and ignoble language is used in conversation, as soon as the natives of these parts pick up a pen, they divest themselves of such crudities and emerge every whir as Homo latinus (Linnaeus), expressing themselves in another language, closer to that of Virgil, to speak as a eulogist in a mellow tongue which, full as it is of everlasting grace, could be called—the language of that immortal bard—Camões!) (EAG 78)

But vanguardist linguistic undertakings also characterize language as the instrument of confrontation in more contemporary social situations. In the manifesto "Dos perspectivas," for example, Cuadra spelled out the historical setting for the Nicaraguan vanguardists' linguistic nationalism: the need to create and preserve national language because of the invasion by "a different race" and an "interventionist civilization" (50A 27 ). Thus Cuadra's "Poema del momento extranjero en la selva" establishes its telluric link with ancestral voices not only to construct a fiction of linguistic identity but also to offer a form of resistance to U.S. involvement in Nicaraguan affairs in the 1920s and 1930s. Guillén's "Pequeña oda a un negro boxeador cubano" allegorizes the confrontation of culture and class between a black Cuban and Yankee urban modernity through the talc of a boxer on Broadway in which linguistic punches mingle with the more palpable kind. In these lines, the match is posed through language: "Your English / only a bit more shaky than your feeble Spanish / is good enough inside the ring / for you to understand that filthy slang / spit from the jaws of those you waste / jab by jab" (OP 119; RM 55). The poem concludes that while Europe seeks black culture through music, the Cuban may vaunt his heritage pugilistically by speaking "in black for real" (OP 120).[28]

Several of Oswald's Pau Brasil poems portray sociolinguistic standoffs. The poem "o gramático" ironically contrasts how blacks using colloquialisms and a learned grammarian would tell the same story. Similarly, "pronominais" contrasts two ways of requesting a cigarette: in the grammatical speech of a professor, a student, and a "knowing" mulatto or in the everyday language of the "Brazilian nation" as spoken by the "good black" and the "good white" (Poesias reunidas 114). Other vanguardist works take these grammatical confrontations to the


street on a grand scale, situating them within social and artistic hierarchies of the epoch. Thus Huidobro's satirical play En la luna dramatizes the relationship between language and power in an endless sequence of political coups marked by each group's seizure of linguistic control and display of verbal virtuosity. Mário's "As enfibraturas do Ipiranga," the poetic performance manifesto concluding the Paulicéia desvairada collection, presents an oratorio in verse that characterizes its São Paulo participants by verbal style, social class, and aesthetic position. The oratorio, set initially on the esplanade of São Paulo's Municipal Theater, is also to be performed from diverse sections of the city designating the class of its participants. As a multivocal linguistic event, this piece represents language as the contentious site of cultural change. In a more humorous vein, similar lines are drawn by the Nicaraguan performance piece Chinfonía burguesa by Pasos and Coronel Urtecho. Here, too, characters' varied styles embody social positions or attitudes, of the bourgeoisie, the outmoded modernista artist, and a popular tradition epitomized in the irreverent language of the maid that dominates in the piece.

Oswald took the fight against grammar to the streets in the threescene radically experimental play A morta (1937), dramatizing the struggle of a lyric poet to break with aestheticism and reengage his art with the world. As I have described in the chapter on theater, in scene 2, "The Land of Grammar," an urban battle between "moribund" linguistic norms and the "living" language of speech unfolds in the context of Western bourgeois values and traditions. Protagonists in this scene are linguistic forms engaged in a clamorous battle for control: the "dead," including fixed phrases, grave interjections, lustrous adjectives, and seignorial archaisms, and their "living" opponents, including gallicisms, solecisms, and barbarisms. Cremators support these living "characters," advocates of linguistic and social renewal, while a policeman maintains order and shores up the dead who are also backed by conventional politics, the press, industry, and literature. Here the pursuit of oral language reveals the social interactions intertwined with linguistic processes, in a scene that equates aesthetic renewal through language with the impulse for social change.

Roberto Arlt and Mário de Andrade both characterized language as the locus of contentious change through irreverent approaches to etymology. The etymological enterprise harbors both normative and dissident potential. Traditional etymological activity carries with it the normative and metaphysical impulses of comparative philology. The


underlying myth sustaining the etymological enterprise was often the dream of a common original language also prevalent in vanguardist poetic quests but discredited by modern historical linguistics. In addition, the search for older versions and meanings of words betrays a prejudice that the oldest form is somehow the truest and the most correct, an attitude also inherent in traditional approaches to teaching grammar. Moreover, etymology's filiation with comparative philology and the latter's textual tradition align etymology with the power of the written word despite the changes brought about in language by speech. Arlt and Mário both debunked etymology's normative features and redirected etymological inquiry toward complex social and historical developments implicit in language change. They also pointed etymology toward contemporary usage and away from linguistic preservation in written texts.

In his aguafuertes articles on Buenos Aires language, Arlt attacked grammarians ("the dusty and bad-tempered gang of library rats") and characterized everyday speech as the inventive source of creative and changing ideas (OC 2: 487). His etymological analyses of Buenos Aires colloquialisms do briefly compare Spanish and Italian sources, but his language stories move from past to present in a direction contrary to that of classical etymology. Primarily he examined these words as they are used in contemporary life and provided rich material on sociolinguistic contexts through anecdotes about specific situations and speakers. These stories and their transpositions into Arlt's novels suggest a language constantly in flux and resistant to grammatical or lexical norms. Most important, in Arlt's view, language develops through human exchange and through contentions interaction for control of word and context. Arlt's pugilistic metaphor echoes Guillén's: the grammarian is well trained in the grammatical scholasticism of boxing, whereas the inventive Buenos Aires speaker throws punches "from all angles" (OC 2: 486).

As one comes to expect from this work, Mário's Macunaíma parodies etymology's penchant for fixing definitive moments of linguistic change. In the course of his São Paulo ventures, Macunaíma, still struggling to learn spoken Brazilian and written Portuguese, racks his brain to remember the word for buttonhole when a young woman places a flower in his lapel. He improvises with an obscenity, and, to the consternation of philologists, his linguistic innovation, the shift from botoeira to puíto (roughly, "buttonhole" to "arsehole" in Goodland's translation) catches on and spreads rapidly through São Paulo. Learned


articles explain the change through the laws of "catalepsy, ellipsis, syncope, metonymy, metaphony, metathesis, proclesis, prothesis, aphaeresis, apocope, haplology and popular etymology." Thus etymologists trace a change that actually results from Macunaíma's proclivity for the obscene back to its "classical" (and legitimizing) sources: "the word 'buttonhole' had become transmuted into the word 'arsehole' via an intermediate Greek word, 'bumphole.' ... But although the word 'bumphole' had never been found in any medieval documents, the highbrows swore it had existed and had been current in vulgar speech" (89; EAG 82–83).

Though diverse in tone and style, these contestations of normative forces in language all focus on the intricacies of language usage, the contingencies of history and society entangled with language change, and the power issues at work in tensions between norms and innovation. These language stories also call attention to the multiple and unstable ways in which language can mean, an enterprise that fundamentally undercuts the vanguards' own ideal of linguistic unity, whether this ideal is motivated by vernacular concerns or informed by more universalist claims.

Polyphony, Dissonance, Impurity

I showed earlier that vanguardist discourse on primal, original language often projects an ideal of linguistic unity that will somehow eradicate the differences among mutually unintelligible languages. Any language, in this view, is translatable into any other language, because, as Huidobro put it, "new events remain identical in all languages" (OC 1: 677), or, in the words of Venezuelan José Antonio Ramos Sucre, "a language is the universe translated into that language" (MPP 161). In Bakhtinian terms, this language (of poetry, he would say) is sufficient unto itself and assigns meaning "without quotation marks" that might bear witness to alien presences. But, at the same time, the vanguardist dialogue on language undermines its own ideal by persistently tracking down whatever in language remains inaccessible or difficult to comprehend. In fact, vanguardist works and language activities, even some with no explicit autochthonous agenda, work to incorporate the linguistically alien, not to make it completely intelligible but rather to keep it always slightly out of reach.

In his essay "The Task of the Translator," Walter Benjamin addressed contradictory qualities in language relationships that are re-


vealed by translation. Languages, Benjamin argued, are "a priori and apart from all historical relationships, interrelated in what they want to express" (72). This "kinship" is not the equivalent to "likeness" but is based on the similarities of intention brought out by the project of translation. According to Benjamin, translation thus reveals ideals of a "pure language" and a longing for "linguistic complementation" in "the great motif of integrating many tongues into one true language," into a tensionless "language of truth" (73–78). This yearning for one true language that Benjamin described certainly recalls the vanguardist quest for a unified linguistic purity. But he also argued that the act of translation is a provisional way of "coming to terms with the foreignness of languages" (75) and that the necessity of translation itself rests on language's historical and actual plurality (75).

Vanguardist language activities in Latin America underscore the alien in language through deliberate exercises in Bakhtinian heteroglossia that foreground linguistic plurality. Antônio Alcântara Machado, editor of the Brazilian Revista de Antropofagia, invoked this principle in the context of linguistic identity: "The Portuguese Language is not the common patrimony of the race. First because there is not race but races. Second because there is not language but languages" ("Vaca" 1 ). But plurality also develops in more concretely aesthetic terms. Countering the imagined linguistically pristine space, hostile like Krauss's visual grid to the intrusion of actual speech, vanguardist manifestos and creative texts fashion polyphonic images in the Bakhtinian sense, that is, through the orchestration of multiple voices, often not harmonious. This concept of polyphony appears frequently in vanguardist manifestos and challenges the also common vanguardist goal, particularly in ultraísmo, of distilling language into a single synthetic image or metaphor. These writers conceived multivoicing as the polyphonous orchestration not only of actual voices but also of discrete linguistic elements, such as words, sounds, or rhythms. Thus Alberto Hidalgo's early poetic manifesto "La nueva poesía" spells out the polyphony metaphor, already with dissonant notes: "may our verses be sonorous and polyphonous / but not make the sound of crystal flutes" (MPP 48). Early Puerto Rican manifestos posit the concept of "polyrhythm" embracing a diversity of ideas and images (MPP 30). Mário explained in the "Prefácio interessantíssimo" manifesto the concept of poetic polyphony using a simultaneous overlay of disconnected phrases (PC 23; JT 12). In the "La poesía" manifesto, Huidobro described a comparable weaving together of voices through the words that have been "ene-


mies since the beginning of the world" (OC 1: 655). And the Mexican estridentistas described "pure poetry" as a succession of "orchestrally systematized" images suggestive of varied ideological phenomena and emotional states (MPP 158).

Creative texts organized through multiple voicing strengthen this image of linguistic plurality. Many are organized around specific musical metaphors or principles. Musical features certainly abound in Spanish American modernismo and Brazilian symbolism and Parnassianism, which preceded the vanguardist movements. Although there are similarities in this musical interest, the emphasis shifts in the vanguardist works. In the earlier periods, the emphasis on musical elements derived from a driving interest in poetic form and sensory effects. In general, writers in the vanguards draw on musical motifs and structures more for their multiple voicing potential. These voices are to engage in a dialogue that maintains their discreteness rather than merges them into one. Thus the words (or voices) that have been hostile since the beginning of time, to extend Huidobro's metaphor, remain distinct or even antagonistic. This is certainly true in Mário's "As enfibraturas do Ipiranga," the oratorio in verse I have described, which brings together with distinct styles, tones, and aesthetic attitudes voices from diverse social classes in São Paulo, and in the Nicaraguan Chinfonía burguesa with its counterposition of bourgeois, aestheticist, and popular voices with distinct approaches to art and life.[29] Colombia's de Greiff consistently organized poems in Tergiversaciones (1925) and Libro de signos (1930) around musical motifs. Sections of these often lengthy compositions, for example, "Esquicio No. 2 Suite en Do Mayor," mark changes in tone or style ascribed to poetic speakers or shifting musical voices. The numbered sections of this composition include "Praeludium," "Scherzo," "Nenia," "Baladetta," "Giga," "Chacona," "Canción," "Serena," "Zarabanda," and "Final: Erumna." Reinforcing the polyphonous image, these musical forms are drawn from a variety of classical and autochthonous registers. Guillén's Motivos de son collection draws on a specific musical form, the Cuban son, that by definition requires multiple voicings, a principal (and sometimes secondary) voice that emits the main part of the composition (the motivo or the letra ) and the multiple voices (coro or estribillo ) that reply to the principal voice. These voicings correspond also to the varied musical instruments playing the son .[30] In Puerto Rico, musical metaphors and multiple voicings also characterize poetic experiments by Palés Matos and de Diego Padró. These include the combination of animal sounds in "Orquestación


diepálica" by both writers and the juxtaposition of these with sounds of nature, the city, and musical instruments in "Fugas diepálicas" by de Diego Padró alone. Also in the musical mode, Mário designated Macunaíma a rhapsody, alluding in part to the novel's piecing together of countless forms of Brazilian Portuguese and popular speech.

But vanguardist texts do not always organize their multiple voicings under an all-encompassing musical metaphor, and music itself might constitute simply one language of many. Alejo Carpentier's experimental theatrical piece Manita en el suelo (1931), for example, a one-act opera buffa from the Cuban popular tradition, pieces together fragments from a variety of oral and musical spheres: prayers, common poetry, popular refrains and sayings, songs, sones, and décimas . In a different mode and cultural context, Argentine Oliverio Girondo's six-part poematic prose piece "Semana Santa" from the collection Calcomanías (1925) interweaves bells, prayers, dialogues, and vendors' refrains heard by the poetic speaker during Holy Week in Seville. In Mexico, Xavier Icaza's experimental novel Panchito Chapopote tells Panchito's story through a variety of voices bombarding the contemporary Mexican scene: languages of Mexican corridos, of political and revolutionary rhetoric, of the petroleum industry, of the media, of popular refrains and local gossip, and even of two parrots who overhear key character conversations. Individual entries in Oquendo de Amat's 5 metros de poemas display multiple linguistic registers through a typographically diverse visual panorama reminiscent of Apollinairc's Calligrammes, Huidobro's "cubist" poems, and futurist typographical experiments. Several pieces of this kind present urban panoramas. Although the most striking visual clement in these poems is their distribution of words to form the "picture" of a city, cityscapes are constructed from verbal artifacts synthesizing lyricism with media idioms and imagery and impinging on contemporary urban life, as in the lines from "new york" shown in the figure on the following page.

The effect of these compendiums of multiple languages, verbal styles, or musical rhythms is rarely harmonic. Rather these works record the proliferation of separate languages that are not always mutually intelligible even when they are in direct dialogue. Certain works address this problem thematically, for example, through bilingualism. Guillén's "Tú no sabc inglé" ("You Don't Know English") recounts a linguistic and sexual misunderstanding (portrayed through a bilingual pun) between a Cuban man and a North American woman. Cuadra's bilingual and ironically entitled "Intervención" enacts a comparable scene of lan-


Top center: Soon the trees will break their tics / And all the policemen
are flower bouquets; top left: CONEY ISLAND / The rain is a coin for shaving;
top right: WALL STREET / The breeze bends the stems / Of the Paramount stars;
center: The traffic / writes / a bride's letter; bottom left: Telephones / are liquor
depots; bottom right: Ten runners / naked on the Underwood

guage encounter with a big-footed gringo and a gringa with honey hair: "Tell the yankee:/ go jón / And the gringuita: / veri güel " (50A 115). Also in Nicaragua, José Román's bilingual "Preludio a Managua en B Flat," subtitled "with accompaniments in English," deploys the musical metaphor in a bilingual mode to document the alien presences in that city and including even a "Dios English Speaking" (an "English Speaking God") ( 50A 120; English in original). These works address the confusion and conflict provoked by linguistic interventions rather than the desirability or accuracy of given forms. Similarly, Oswald de Andrade's "vício na fala" ("vice in speech") from the Pau Brasil collection carries out an ironic exercise in translation between "correct" and "incorrect" speech: "To say milho they say mio / For melhor they say mió / For pior pió " (Poesias reunidas 80). In the long poetic composition "Noturno de Belo Horizonte," Mário portrays Brazil's multiple


verbal modes, including the propensity of some to speak "lackadaisical, untroubled," of the cariocas to "scratch the r's in the throat," and of the capixabas to "widen the vowels" (PC 136).

These texts build a heterogeneous and alien image of language resistant to the dreams of universality or purity so evident in much avantgarde discourse on language. Not surprisingly, then, the Tower of Babel, a provocative alternative to the aestheticist ivory towers of autonomous art, appears as a repeated motif. Framers of the second euforista manifesto, for example, call on poets to "raise the Tower of Babel" of their thinking in order to "unite the races" through language from the Yukon to the pampas (MPP 127). On a more critical note, however, the calligraphic poem "Babel" by Chile's Próspero Rivas is visually arranged in the form of a pyramid-style tower. As Klaus Müller-Bergh points out, this poem employs the Babel metaphor to challenge modern Faustian dreams of aesthetic control ("El hombre y la técnica" 290). Directing the metaphor to the linguistic difference inscribed in the biblical source, Mário's "Jorobabel" protests with greater anguish against modern human misunderstanding and disconnection: "Clamor! Nobody understands one another! A God does not come! . . . Babel!" (PC 90). A more aesthetic emphasis and ironic tone permeate the Babel motif in "Charcos," a short poem by Salvador Novo of Mexico's Contemporáneos group, although this poem's vision of modernity is not unlike Rivas's. Here the poetic speaker contrasts the totalizing quests of a subjectivist Western aesthetic tradition with the relativism of a Babelie modern life. In the former milieu, poets reaching for the heavens show signs of a decadent tradition with "heavy tongues." In contrast, the modern poet faces a more fragmented scene of relativity in both the natural and human worlds: "But a stone / (Oh Einstein) / Made a thousand bats fly / from the Tower of Babel" (INPA 205). Both Mário and Novo employ the allusion to Babel to intimate a human fall through language and a relativistic view of language itself. But vanguardist discourse also often portrays linguistic disunity, manifested in the dissonance of "impure" words, as the very goal that writers pursue.

Cultivating linguistic impurities derives in part from the vanguards' studied avoidance of the banal, an orientation revealed in stands against the language of everyday life taken by Huidobro and the ultraístas as well. The value of poetic language, according to Huidobro, is directly proportional to its distance from the language that people speak (OC 1: 654–55). Borges wrote in the ultraísmo manifesto that to "displace


everyday language toward literature is a mistake" (MPP 113). On the surface, then, the numerous efforts to bring spoken language and oral forms into writing would appear antithetical in spirit and intent to creacionismo and ultraísmo ideals. But these apparently antagonistic projects are akin in pursuing what is alien or not ordinary. Although vanguardists with autochthonous goals sought through oral traditions an image of unisonant national identity, they were simultaneously drawn to the spoken word's strident chords for communicating in a critical mode the radical dissonance of specific experience, contemporary and/or vernacular. Thus these writers engaged in a form of cultural or social translation, bringing specific linguistic forms, designated on one level as familiar and collectively "ours," into profoundly unfamiliar literary contexts and to readers for whom they would be strange. In the process, they called attention to language's alien substance and, in the Bakhtinian sense, deliberately spoke "with quotation marks."

Images of dissonance or impurity abound in vanguardist language talcs. Thus, in the "Prefácio interessantíssimo" manifesto that lays out the project of poetic polypbony, Mário lauded "the great enchantment of dissonance" (PC 24), and, within their "decalogue," Puerto Rico's atalayistas constructed a small manifesto of disharmony: "The screeching of a crank door opening is as melodious as the sighing of a flute. The ripping of a sensual dress is more hypnotizing than a Beethoven symphony" (MPP 356). In amore musical but still discordant vein, Mexico's Jaime Torres Bodet, in an ars poetica composition "Música," contrasted the purity of creation in the abstract—a "music" learned in the "pure language" and "notes of silence" on the keys of a "mute instrument"—with the dissonant notes of creation executed in greater contact with life—"between irascible zithers and flutes, what I dreamed of as sonnet wounds me as symphony" (Obras escogidas 38–39).[31]

Not infrequently, vanguardists actively sought out the discordant, the impure, and the deliberately incorrect. The Dominican Republic postumista manifesto rejects the notion of "poetic words" (MPP 110), and Puerto Rico's euforistas extended this idea to proclaim a verse "full of defects, harsh and coarse" (MPP 124). Writers with vernacular goals were especially drawn to defects and saw linguistic impurities and mistakes as the raw material of invention. Thus Oswald's "Pau-Brasil" manifesto, in pursuing "language without archaisms, without erudition," and "natural and neologic," also praises "the millionaire-contribution of all the errors" (GMT 327; SMSR 185). Oswald's language poems that I have cited, in particular, "vício na fala" (vice in speech),


defiantly bring "incorrect" language into the literary field. In the same spirit, Manuel Bandeira's poematic manifesto "Poética" assaults "the purists" of linguistic correction and praises "universal barbarisms," "the exceptional syntactical construction," and the "difficult and pungent lyricism of drunks" (BMP 66). In "Evocação de Recife," his poetic speaker equates the "erroneous idiom of the people" with the "correct idiom" (BMP 71). Guillén is particularly drawn to those elements in the language of Cuban pregoneros (street vendors) that evolve from the deliberate creative mistake, for example, the cry promoting "mantecao de aguacate" (avocado ice cream) because it rhymes with his refrain for "crema e' chocolate" (cream and chocolate) (Prosa de prisa 1: 26). Similarly, the Nicaraguan "Cartelón de vanguardia" counterpoises the "linguistic purism" it rejects with "linguistic invention" and "the dirty word" (50A 173). Mário's Macunaíma counters his adversary's massive collection of precious stones with an international array of dirty words, and the narrator retelling Macunaíma's story employs the "impure speech" of the Brazilian people (168).[32]

In the context of vanguardist poetry, critics normally associate the idea of "impurity," as opposed early on by Huidobro, with Pablo Neruda's memorable manifesto "Sobre una poesía sin pureza" (Toward an Impure Poetry), published in 1935 toward the end of Latin America's vanguardist period.[33] Here Neruda describes a poetry of contact by "man with the earth" and with the material objects of experience. From these, he explains, poets have much to learn. "Used surfaces," their "wearing away," the "prints of the foot and the finger" can express the "confused impurity" of human beings (HV 259). For some this manifesto marks a gradual shift in Neruda's work, particularly from the second stage of the Residencia de la tierra cycle (1933–35), to a more down-to-earth style.[34] Others associate the concept of impurity with his poetry's hermetic qualities, characterized early on by Areado Alonso as the "poetics of disintegration" in the Residencia collection.[35] In either case, some Residencia poems express the manifesto's concept of impurity by speaking directly about language. The poem "Sabor," for example, anticipates the manifesto's idea of an experiential "wearing away" in the image of "conversations worn out like used wood" (OC l: 178).[36] There is certainly some similarity between this impurity as defined by Neruda and its manifestations in more broadly based vanguardist discourse, particularly in Neruda's thoughts about a poetry contaminated by the messiness of human experience. But there is also a difference in emphasis. Neruda's "impure poetry" as outlined in his


manifesto focuses less on a specific image of language itself and more on how poetic language might express in more accessible ways the impurities of the human condition.

While the activities I have been describing manifest a profound interest in "disarticulated" experience, the images of dissonance and impurity they construct point to the alien and the nonorganic qualities of language itself and its potential to speak with quotation marks. There is a deliberate favoring of "bad language," not simply of dirty words like the ones Macunaíma or the Nicaraguan vanguardists collect but of the kind of fala impura (impure speech) used to sing Macunaíma's tale. Vanguardist discourse on language often emphasizes the critical potential of the impurities themselves, the markers of alterity that, like pauses, puns, slips of the tongue, murmurs, echoes, and creative mistakes, interrupt the smooth flow of discourse and make comprehension for listeners or readers a deliberately discontinuous and arduous experience.

Although he did not explicitly theorize in these terms, the major Latin American poet whose work of the vanguard period probably most completely embodies the approach I have just described is Peru's César Vallejo. Particularly in his most hermetic collection, Trilce, Vallejo transformed language drawn from the quotidian realm into the radically inaccessible. Here linguistic difficulty, played out in the poetry's fragmented syntax, morphological distortions, neologisms with colloquial roots, and vocabulary from multiple nonliterary contexts, traces a tortuous course that links poetic speaker and reader. The speaker's verbal virtuosity and the language's deceptive proximity to words from everyday life notwithstanding, language in Trilce remains irrevocably alien and hard to assimilate, as in these lines from the work's first poem: "Un poco más de consideración / y el mantillo líquido, seis de la tarde / DE LOS MAS SOBERBIOS BEMOLES " (43) (A little more consideration, / and the humus liquidates, six in the afternoon / OF THE MOST ARROGANT B FLATS [RS 5]).[37] As Jean Franco points out, this poetry provides "involuntary revelations offered by language itself which is never completely controlled by the speaker" (121). Christiane von Buelow's brilliant reading of poem number xxxvi in Trilce presents this piece as a vanguardist "nonorganic" work (in Bürger's terms) and (in Benjamin's) an allegory of linguistic fragmentation enacted through the critical "dismemberment" of the Venus de Milo as the symbol of romantic, symbolist, and Spanish American modernista aesthetic perfection. Most pertinent to my points about the vanguardist focus on linguistic disso-


nance and impurity are von Buelow's observations about Vallejo's practices of "grammatical mutation" and "verbal decomposition," his delibcrate obstruction of musicality through "stammering fragments," and the fact that his use of metaphor is limited almost always to catachresis, that is, to the deliberate misuse of language (44, 47–48).[38] Von Buelow also suggests that this work's "grammatical and semantic ruins" (the linguistic equivalent of the visual ruins of the Venus de Milo) manifest a dialectical process of reconstruction. On the one hand, these evoke the artwork's (and, I would add, language's) imperfection and, on the other hand, they manifest a will to knowledge, to a "linguistic truth always about to emerge" (50). The discourse on language I have been describing throughout this chapter manifests a comparable continuing tension between images of a transcendent linguistic unity and purity and the unending attraction to language's foreign substance and the critical power released by its deliberate misuse against the norms of its historical moment.

Although critics have often ascribed a deeply structured autochthony to Vallejo's poetry, his was not a deliberately vernacular project, and, in fact, Vallejo himself rejected the idea of self-consciously vernacular art.[39] In contrast, Asturias almost always wrote in a studied vernacular mode. But Asturias also addressed the language issues we see dramatized in Vallejo's poetry, and his decontextualized autochthonous work may also be read allegorically. Regardless of the genre he undertakes, Asturias's writing is highly lyrical, and he tells his most important story about language not in poetry but in a difficult and highly experimental play drawn from pre-Columbian sources. That story, with which I now conclude, dramatizes in visually memorable scenes the language problems that preoccupied Asturias and his vanguardist contemporaries.

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5— From Early Words to the Vernacular Inflection: Vanguard Tales of Linguistic Encounter
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