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6— The Frenzy of Modernismo: Herrera Y Reissig
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Eroticism and the Dissolution of Boundaries

Most readers, even those accustomed to fin de siglo decadent tastes, find the frenzied movement and often macabre eroticism to be the most startling aspects of Herrera y Reissig's verse. The sonnets of "Las Clepsidras" (1909) exhibit an eroticism that goes further than Herrera y Reissig's own models, the poetry of Samain, or that of Lugones' "Los doce gozos" (from Los crepúsculos del jardín ). The physicality of erotic union is embodied in the poetic language itself, where alliteration, rhyme, and jolting images remind the reader of language's densely textured physical nature, as in "Oblación abracadabra":

  Lóbrega rosa que tu almizcle efluvias,
y pitonisa de epilepsias libias,
ofrendaste a Gonk-Gonk vísceras tibias
y corazones de panteras nubias.
                              (PC,  480)


(Lugubrious rose, which discharges your musk in effluvium,
and siren of Lybian epilepsies,
you made an offering to Gonk-Gonk of tepid
viscera and Nubian panther hearts.)

Like Lugones, Herrera y Reissig combines classical, biblical, and liturgical elements in his erotic rites, and he invites a questioning of these fixed scenes by placing disruptive images or discordant sounds in his poetry, such as "Gonk-Gonk," or the "miserere de los cocodrilos" ("litany of the crocodiles") which closes the sonnet "Oblación abracadabra."

The tension between the closure of the sonnet and the wayward energy tightly contained within it explodes in poems such as "Tertulia lunática" (1909), in which excess is heaped on excess:

  ¡Oh negra flor de Idealismo!
¡Oh hiena de diplomacia,
con bilis de aristocracia
y lepra azul de idealismo! . . .
Es un cáncer tu erotismo
de absurdidad taciturna,
y florece en mi saturna
fiebre de virus madrastros,
como un cultivo de astros
en la gangrena nocturna.
               (PC,  142)

  (Oh black flower of Idealism!
Oh hyena of diplomacy,
with bile of aristocracy
and blue leprosy of idealism! . . .
Your eroticism is a cancer
of taciturn absurdity,
and it flourishes in my saturn
fever of destructive virus,
like a culture of stars
in the nocturnal gangrene.)

Herrera dissolves constraints of space and time as well as the borders of intelligible language in his most experimental po-


ems.[38] Dissolution, or the unraveling of the chains of signification, follows the vertigo of Herrera y Reissig's language itself. Its combination of eroticism and linguistic play, although unconventional, is not unexpected given the usual dislocations eroticism creates. According to Georges Bataille, eroticism's movement is always a dissolving and dislocating force, resulting in discontinuous movement or speech:

Le passage de l'état normal á celui de désir érotique suppose en nous la dissolution relative de l'être constitué dans l'ordre discontinu. Ce terme de dissolution répond á l'expression familière de vie dissolue, liée á l'activité érotique.[39]

(The passage from a normal state to that of erotic desire supposes in us the relative dissolution of the being constituted by discontinued order. This term of dissolution responds to the familiar expression of dissolute life, linked to erotic activity.)

The play of eroticism involves a dissolving of established forms and a fundamental fascination with death.[40] The mixture of death, eroticism, and an emphasis on the physical form in its separate parts, suggested in the work of Herrera y Reissig, is made explicit in later surrealist writers and artists.[41] Max Ernst's skeletal, mechanized female forms show the ultimate fetishization process implicit in the erociticm of the modernista stilled scenes. Ernst quite literally shows the dismemberment of the female image, with body parts isolated from their context, along with a growing dissolution of formal restraints. Herrera y Reissig's work forecasts this tendency that will be more obvious in vanguardista poetry.

Surrealism's fragmentation is not based on the previous establishment of a complete image, for it is an association reconstruction based on contiguity, not continuity. The dissonant voices of modernismo, especially Lugones and Herrera y Reissig, proceed along different lines. Offering us first the entire corporal image (or at least an iconic representation of the physical unity), they atomize everything received: body, idea, concept, referent, in a type of metonymy that cancels the initial referent. While union, harmony, and death itself are to be resolved within the scheme of Eros, even Rubén Darío reveals the dangerous physicality of


eroticism, as in his portrait of Salomé in "Poema XXIII" of Cantos de vida y esperanza:

Y la cabeza de Juan el Bautista
ante quien tiemblan los leones,
cae al hachazo. Sangre llueve.
Pues la rosa sexual
al entreabrirse
conmueve todo lo que existe,
Con su efluvio carnal
Y con su enigma espiritual.[42]

(And the head of John the Baptist
In whose presence lions tremble,
falls with the axe blow. It rains blood.
For the sexual rose
as it slowly opens
moves everything that exists,
With its carnal outpouring
And with its spiritual enigma.)

In his essay "El caracol y la sirena," Octavio Paz stresses the harmonic balance Darío strikes between the poles of death and eroticism.[43] Yet in retrospect, the more explicit work of Herrera y Reissig—the surrealist works that came later—and the overt threatening quality of eroticism in César Vallejo's poetry make us question and reinterpret the erotic nature in modernismo' s fixed scenes.

In much modernista erotic poetry a scarcely contained violence accompanies scenes of possession. Here the ideas of dissolution and (re)possession are essential. Visual seizing or possession is possible only if the object to be possessed is expelled from oneself. As Gilles Deleuze describes the expulsion/dissolution process: "One does not truly possess that which is expropriated, placed outside of oneself, doubled, reflected under the gaze, multiplied by possessive spirits."[44]

Raúl Blengio Brito, in his extensive study of Herrera y Reissig's work, finds that Herrera y Reissig does anticipate many of surrealism's reversals, especially in the description of "Desolación absurda" and of "Tertulia lunática." He finds many of these instances to be merely coincidental, however: "Las coin-


cidencias, sin embargo, terminan ahí: en la incorporación de los aportes del subconsciente, en las imágenes que de ella resultan"[45] ("The coincidences, however, end there: in the incorporation of the constributions of the subconscious, in the images that result from it"). He finds that Herrera y Reissig's work is not marked by the disintegration of language, "ni hay huella siquiera de asintaxismo alguna"[46] ("nor is there the slightest trace of any distortion of syntax"). Although Blengio Brito illustrates thoroughly his claims, it is undeniable that Herrera y Reissig's work does indeed anticipate surrealism's reversals in a powerful way. The disintegration, or dissolution, of accustomed stock scenes and mellifluous language are clear indicators of a rupture in poetic language.

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