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Néstor Perlongher and Mysticism: Towards a Critical Reappraisal Author(s): Ben Bollig Source: The Modern Language Review, Vol. 99, No. 1 (Jan., 2004), pp. 77-93

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NESTOR

PERLONGHER

AND

MYSTICISM:

TOWARDS

A

CRITICAL

REAPPRAISAL

The

apparent

change

in the

poetry

of Argentine

writer and anthropologist

Nestor Perlongher

(1949-92)

after the publication

of his anthropological

thesis

on

male prostitution

(1987)

and the emergence

of AIDS

in Brazil, whereby

he turned

his literary and academic

attention towards mysticism, has caused

consternation

amongst critics. Concerns

focus on the abandonment

of his earlier

politico-sexual

radicalism

and on the influence

of the New

Age movement,

in

particular the Brazilian

drug religion Santo Daime,

on his work.

The

influential Argentine

writer and gay-rights activist Juan Jose Sebreli

attacked Perlongher's

last works:

Con

respecto a la obra

de Perlongher

[. .

.] la parte desdenable

es la derivada

del

surrealismo heterodoxo de Georges

Bataille, de Michel Foucault y de Gilles Deleuze.

Lamentablemente esta influencia fue la predominante en su ultima epoca, llevandolo

del demonismo a la mistica y aun al esoterismo.1

Sebreli criticizes Perlongher for his reliance on authors who denied sexual iden?

tities, and for focusing

on the flow and

force of desire

in society, as Perlongher

insisted at the end of his thesis on male prostitution

in Sao

do miche [The Business

of Male

Prostitution].2 While Sebreli

Paulo,

O negocio

does

not insist on

a homosexual

identity, his insistence

on the body

as property

of an individual

reveals key ideological differences with Perlongher.3 Sebreli's conception of ho?

mosexuality, in particular the focus on the use of the body as personal property,

was one ofthe developments

in Argentine post-dictatorship

gay rights that Per?

longher abhorred.

In fact, it is possible

to detect in Perlongher's

of homosexuality

as a theme

for his writing in 1991

a response

insistence on the notion of homosexuality

as identity.4

abandonment

to the increased

Osvaldo Baigorria also exhibits some concern in his essay on Perlongher's

mysticism:

Su vinculacion con el Santo Daime inaugura la fase final, mas controvertida o asom-

brosa, de ese viaje sobre el filo de la identidad personal.

Al contrario de lo que

puede

pensarse, su enfermedad no parece haber tenido influencias sobre esta nueva direccion

de sus intereses:

Perlongher

descubre que es HIV

positivo en el 89, en Francia, bas-

Y su 'devenir bruja'

tante despues de haber conectado con la iglesia del Santo Daime.

habia comenzado aun antes. Por los anos 87/88 ?al mismo tiempo en que escribia sus

principales ensayos sobre el neobarroco? comienza a tomar ayahuasca o yage

[. .

.].5

This article was writtenwhile the author was in receipt of an AHRB grant for study towards a

Ph.D. at

1

ciudades

2

N.

1987), p. 231.

3

4

desaparicion

5

O.

King's College, University of London.

J.J. Sebreli, 'La historiasecretade los homosexualesen Buenos Aires', in Escritossobre escritos,

bajo ciudades (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 1997), pp. 275-370 (p. 370).

Perlongher, O negocio de miche: prostituicdo viril em Sdo Paulo (Sao Paulo: Brasiliense,

as 'La

Sebreli, 'Historia', p. 364.

Perlongher, Prosa plebeya (Buenos Aires: Colihue, 1997), pp. 85-90, first published

de la homosexualidad', in El porteno(Buenos Aires), 119 (Nov. 1991), 12-15. In

Luxemburgo', in Lumpenesperegrinaciones, ed. by A. Cangi

Viterbo, 1996), pp. 175-81 (p. 178).

futurereferences Prosa plebeya will be abbreviatedto Prosa.

'La Rosa Mistica de

Baigorria.

and P. Siganevich (Rosario de Santa Fe: Beatriz

78

Nestor Perlongher

and Mysticism

 

Baigorria

is attempting

to deny

the link between

Perlongher's

discovery

that

he

was

HIV

positive

and his mysticism.

My

aim

in this paper

is to analyse

Perlongher's

last two collections

closely in order to detect the similarities to and

differences from earlier collections.

This

analysis

displays

three aesthetics

in

Perlongher's last works: mystical masochism, mystical withdrawal, and mystical

purpose. While Perlongher's poetics and techniques do not differ in these two

collections,

and

the first of the three aesthetics

is present in his earlier work,

the latter two demonstrate

a change in Perlongher's

writing, a change

which

I

believe

to be linked

to those caused

by AIDS

in the possibilities

for the use

of

sex as an oppositional political tool.

 

A brief over view of Perlongher's

earlier poetry will facilitate

the analysis

that is to follow. Perlongher's

first collection, Austria-Hungria

(1980), contains

many poems

that allude,

often through slang terms and literary references, to

the

secretive

practices

of homosexuals

and transvestites

in Argentina

during

the

1976-83

dictatorship,

as in poems

such

as 'El

polvo'

and

'La

murga,

los po-

lacos'.

His second collection, Alambres (1987),

included

poems,

such

as 'Ethel'

and 'Daisy',

that combined

the elaborate

performance

of transvestites with a

sordid background

drawn from the streets of Buenos Aires. The collection

Hule

(1989)

cultivated

elaborate

geometric

forms that echoed

the Golden

Age bar-

roco without adopting

complete

barroco form, as in poems such as 'Preambulos

 

barrosos'

and 'Formas

barrocas'.

The collection

Parque Lezama

included

many

poems,

such as 'Leyland'

and 'Vahos',

which alluded

to the zones of homosex?

ual sex commerce

in Sao

Paulo.

This

was also

the subject

of O negocio do miche

(1987),

which applied

Deleuze

and Guattari's

theories on nomadology

to the

underworld

of Sao

Paulo.

Perlongher

 

is also renowned

for the essay

O

que e

AIDS

(1987),

a critique

of the clinical

and

judicial

reaction to the emergence

of AIDS.6

Mystical Masochism

 
 

Although

Perlongher

did

not know

he was

HIV

positive when he became

in?

volved with esoteric religions, he exhibited an awareness

of the radical way that

the virus had changed

the possibilities

for sex as a form of political

resistance

in the postscript

to the essay Avatares

de los

muchachos

de la noche'

(Prosa,

pp. 45-58),7 where he described

his work on male prostitution

as a 'piece

of

archaeology'.

 

This change in perspective

in Perlongher's

work is revealed

most strikingly

in the essay 'La desaparicion

de la homosexualidad

masculina',

where he signed

off completely from the subject of male homosexuality.

In this essay Perlongher

 

but rather

does not deny the real repression of those practising homosexuality,

suggests the danger of normalization

through identitv politics, as 'Gav Rights'

6

N.

Ultimo

Perlongher,Austria-Hungria (Buenos Aires: Tierra Baldia, 1980); Alambres (Buenos Aires:

Reino, 1987);

Hule

(Buenos

Aires: Ultimo Reino,

1989); Parque Lezama (Buenos Aires:

completos(Buenos Aires: Seix

Brasiliense,1987).

Sudamericana, 1990) (for convenienceI referto the editionPoemas

Barral, 1997), abbreviatedbelow as Poemas); O

7

First published

publication

of

que

e AIDS

(Sao Paulo:

as 'Vicissitudes do miche', in Temas IMESC, 4 (1987). Informationon this

and on otherfirst editions of Perlongher'spoetry has been obtained fromthe edition

Cangi and Siganevich.

BEN

BOLLIG

79

becomes just another committee within the apparatus of state power (Prosa,

pp. 85-90).

Perlongher's

turn away from sexuality

accompanies

an apparent

disillusionment

with the treatment

of sexuality,

not only by the state but also

by the promoters

of gay rights themselves.

He wrote:

<Que pasa con la homosexualidad

[. .

.]? Ella simplemente se va diluyendo en la vida

social, sin llamar mas atencion de nadie

.] Al tornarla completamente visible, la ofen-

siva de normalizacion

.] ha conseguido retirar de la homosexualidad todo misterio,

banalizarlo por completo. (Prosa, p. 88)

The phrase

'ofensiva

de normalizacion'

allows

Perlongher

to link disparate

elements of the sexuality debate: both state power normalizing through medical

and disciplinary

measures

and the protestors trying to present homosexuality

 

as not deviant,

but normal. The

effect is equal

on both sides: homosexuality

is

accepted,

but no longer interesting. And with the introduction

of the condom

and the Anglo-style

gay-gay couple, we have what Perlongher

calls, borrowing

his terminology from Deleuze

and Guattari,

and Foucault,

a replacement

of

the 'sociedad de disciplina'

with a 'sociedad

de control' (Prosa,

p. 88).

Perlongher's

response

to the perceived

dead

end

of AIDS

and

safe sex was

worked out with reference to Georges

Bataille's

Eroticism:

Bataille

distingue

tres modos de disolver la monada individual y recuperarcierta indis-

la orgia se llegaba a la

tincion originaria de la fusion: la orgia, el amor, lo sagrado. En

disolucion de los cuerpos, pero estos se restauraban rapidamente e instauraban el colmo

del egoismo

[. .

.] del puro cuerpo [

...

].

En el sentimiento del amor, en cambio, la salida

de si es mas duradera

[. .

.] Pero solo en la disolucion del cuerpo en lo cosmico (o sea, en

lo sagrado) es que se da el extasis total, la salida de si definitiva. (Prosa, p. 87)

The use of tense is key here: the devastating effects of AIDS have placed the

orgy in the past tense. Love, and the sacred or the mystical, both options carrying

less of the fatal risk, are in the present tense. With the loving

couple

ending up

in sedentary individualism

(Prosa,

p. 56),

only Bataille's

third option remains

as an attack on the 'monada

individual'.

Perlongher's

fifth and penultimate

collection,

Aguas aereas (1991),8

was

in?

spired by the author's experiences

attending rituals ofthe Santo Daime

where he took hallucinogenic

drugs and participated

in songs, dances,

religion,

and cere-

monies. He also undertook a journey to the religion's headquarters, the Ceu de

Mapia

colony in the Amazon.

a poetics

that draws

heavily

the case with the first poem

Perlongher's

on the sexual

of the series:

mysticism in Aguas aereas cultivates

elements

of his earlier poems,

as is

RECIO EL EMBARQUE, airado aedo

riza u ondula noctilucas

iridiscencias enhebrando

en el etereo sulfilar:

un trazo

(deleble persistencia)

en el enroque de los magmas

en el cuadriculado del mantel

-mental, la sala

de entrecasa (arte kitsch)

  • 8 (Buenos Aires: Ultimo Reino, 1991). For convenience, I referto the republication in Poemas.

  • 80 Nestor

Perlongher

and Mysticism

compostelaba medianias

en el corset del voile, leve y violado.

Pero los voladitos

De los encajes del mantel urdian

Mas que un texto una forma, una figura

Boreal o suave, sus caireles

no dejaban de iluminar los resbalosos

voleos del minue, por las baldosas: una

desprendida y procaz, aranando sus pases

el inane, traslucido volar.

Por espejismos de piel viva

en el tiron de las mucosas

los

rasgueos

de la una

elevaban

las cantigas

al cielorraso hueco, sublunar.

Recio el cantor, brunidas las

guedejas,

dejo de mambo inflige al modular

intensidades en el cieno,

plastica

porosidad de la materia espesa.

En el dejo de un espasmo

contorsionaba los

ligamenes

y transmitia a los encajes

la untuosidad del nylon

rayandolos

en una delicada precipitacion.

(Poemas, pp. 247-48)

The

experience

of the Santo

Daime

ceremony

implies a poetics.

Rather than

a text, a stable

production

of writing, the ceremony

demands

a 'forma'.

The

latter is a broader concept,

and Perlongher's

poem, itself a text, demonstrates

the Daime

ceremony as a collection

of artistic manifestations:

a dance

('los

res?

balosos

| voleos

del minue');

physical sensations

('espasmo',

'contorsionaba');

songs ('cantor', 'cantigas');

and kitsch interiors and fabrics ('arte

kitsch'). What

is interesting here is that as well as proposing

an expansion

ofthe

poetic project,

from 'texto' to the apparently more inclusive

'forma', Perlongher

draws on ele?

ments from his overtly sexual poetry. The 'cantigas'

were the central element in

his un-anthologized

poem 'Cantiga'

(1981),9

where

the song

and dance

offered

a provocative

challenge

to clear divides

between

the sexes.

The

ceremony

in

the first poem of Aguas

aereas

I is filled with unholy

dirt, e.g. the

'cieno'?mud

or slime?on

which the dance

takes place.

The

physicality of the poem

is also

closely related to that found in Perlongher's

earlier and distinctly sexual collec?

tion Par que Lezama

(1990),

which Perlongher

wrote while

he was

researching

his thesis on male prostitution.

For example,

the 'enroque

de los magmas',

a

castling implied by the chequered

tablecloth, recalls the poem 'Nostro mundo',

where 'magmas' were used as the layers of throats of men admiring adolescents

(Poemas,

p. 214),

while 'enroque'

is used

to describe

the crossing

ofthe

legs of

a male prostitute

in Al

miche'

(Poemas,

p. 231).

Alongside

the kitsch details

XUL, 2(1981), p. 27.

BEN

BOLLIG

8l

of tablecloths

and 'arte kitsch', Perlongher

is also reliant on transvestite

voca-

bulary for his portrayal

of the ceremony, in particular

the description

of the

fabrics as becoming

'nylon', the material,

alongside

Banlon,

closely related to

the dressing-up

ethos

of many poems

in Parque

Lezama,

and

the 'corset

del

voile',

another travesti tool. While he may be describing

a mystical experience,

at this stage

the ceremony

he evokes

is as physical

and

dirty as

in his earlier

poems,

and

there

is no

radical

change

from his earlier poetics

except for the

overt subject matter.

 

Moreover,

this poem displays

what Leo

Bersani

refers to as 'self-shattering

jouissance'.10

Bersani

identifies this dynamic

in S/M,

which

he also

calls

the

'impulse

of self-dissolution'.11

Perhaps

this is one

way of characterizing

Per?

longher's

'salida

de si'.

The

ecstasy that Perlongher

identifies in the rituals of

Santo

Daime

is also

that found

in the cosmic

ecstasy identified

by S/M

prac?

titioners in Bersani's

conception.

Both, vitally, make the subject

unfindable;

as

Perlongher wrote in his essay on ecstasy and poetry, '^Adonde

se sale

cuando

no se esta?/iAdonde

se esta cuando

se sale?'

(Prosa,

p. 150).12 The

question

is

unanswerable,

for the masochistic

jouissance

and the 'salir de si' ofthe

mystical

ceremony both deny the very self of the 'se'.

 

This

same aesthetic

is found in Perlongher's

final collection,

El

chorreo de

las iluminaciones.13 Prior to Perlongher's

death,

he had broken

with the Santo

Daime

religion

as he felt that it could

not offer the medical

help that the latter

stages of AIDS

required. Perlongher

had been awarded a Guggenheim

scholar?

ship for a project uncompleted

at the time of his death,

an auto sacramental

or

mystery play, which Sara Torres, in an interview with the sociologists

Rapisardi

and Modarelli, claims was heavily influenced by the Christian mystics.14

 

The

first poem in the collection,

'Tema

del cisne

(I)',

draws on modernista

techniques

and classical

mythology, while continuing

the aesthetic

of anthro?

pological risk exhibited in many of the poems in Aguas aereas:

Undoso el que avanzara por los rizos

del espejo laqueado, su pezcuello

docil al mando del cendal declina

rayado el rutilar de su plumaje.

Quien por interrogar las inestables

corrientes donde

anega su pellejo

arruga de nerviosas denticiones

la quilla que traslucida corria

por parques de reflejos azulados,

impavido el azor, la crista altiva,

arriesga el hundimiento en ese anclaje.

10

11

12

L. Bersani, Homos (Harvard: Harvard UniversityPress, 1995), p. 94.

Bersani, p. 96.

 

13

First

published

as 'Poesia

y

extasis' in La letra A, 3 (1991).

Published as a collection of four

poems (Caracas: Pequena Venecia, 1992), and

later as a

14

collectionof

thirty-onepoems in Poemas.

and A.

Modarelli, Fiestas,

F. Rapisardi

banos y exilios: los gaysportenos en la ultimadictadura

(Buenos

Aires:

Editorial Sudamericana, 2001), p.

200.

  • 82 Nestor

Perlongher

and Mysticism

Porque, por mas que mirese a los hados,

no se retarda la fatal carrera

si tempestuoso pie pisa la pluma.

 

(Poemas, p. 297)

 

The

swan, the modernista

bird par

excellence,

as

in Dario's

'Yo persigo

una

forma' (1901),

where the curved

neck represents the unanswerable

question

for

the poet who cannot but question,

is an

image drawn from the symbolist poetry

of Baudelaire and Mallarme. Perlongher

here offers an image ofthe questioning

that he has carried out in his poetry and anthropology:

the swan,

cipher for the

poet, is adrift on the dangerous

waters. Perlongher

reframes his earlier projects

within a mystical intent ('mirese

a los hados'),

and also

within a morbid

sense

of inevitability

('no

se retarda

la fatal carrera').

Difficulty is seen

in terms

of

darkness and waters, an experiment

of going into the powerful unknown.

This

unknown

may well destroy

the poet in painful

and unexpected

ways.

This returns us to Perlongher's

earlier comments on force and form in poetry:

Esa desestructuracion del frenesi dionisiaco arrastraria la identidad individual en la

nebulosa

afectual de los cuerpos

(y, por que no, de las almas)

en amalgama.

Empero,

ese fervor dionisiaco,

en la medida

en que

librado

a si mismo es

.] un

'veneno'

que conduce a la pura destruccion, precisaria de la armonia del elemento apolineo que

le diese una forma, para poder mantener la lucidez

p. 165)15

en medio del torbellino. (Prosa,

The begrudging

doxical position,

('por

que

no')

use

of 'alma'

demonstrates

in between

the physical

and the spiritual;

Perlongher's

para-

'frenesi' reminds

the reader

of an earlier

poem

of the same

name that contains elements

drawn

from the Brazilian

carnival

words, and syntax collapsed

(Poemas,

pp. 105-08),l6

and in which grammar,

in a pure Dionysian

frenzy. Now, however, in deal?

ing with the overwhelming

forces let loose by death, Perlongher?inspired

by

Nietzsche's Das Geburt der Tragodie (1872)17?has

to use

a clearer

and more

organized

form. This necessity accounts

tax, the image

of the swan,

and a logical

for the use of the sonnet,

clearer syn?

method

similar to his essays

in a poem

that reflects on a poetic project

that has met its fatal end.

It also explains

an ad-

herence to form that is not entirely strict, given that the forces in operation

are

strong enough to annihilate the poetic project. Death is accepted as inevitable

and the real physical effects of AIDS?'la

fatal carrera', 'tempestuoso

pie'?are

drawn harshly into focus.

Santa Teresa's

ideas on the mystical experience

with regard to pleasure and pain:

are of help here, particularly

Era tan

grande el dolor [ofthe mystical experience] que me hacia dar aquellos quejidos

[. .

.] No es dolor corporal

y tan excesiva la suavidad que me pone este grandisimo dolor

sino espiritual, aunque no deja de participar el cuerpo algo,

y aun harto

[. .

.]. Pues

tornando este apresurado arrebatar el espiritu es de tal manera que verdaderamente

parece salir del cuerpo y por otra parte claro esta que no queda esta persona muerta, al

menos ella no puede decir si esta en el cuerpo o si no, por algunos instantes.18

  • 15 First published as 'La forcede la forme:notes sur la religion du Santo Daime', in Societes,29

(1990).

16

  • 17 First published in Alambres. e.g. F. Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, trans. by S. Whiteside (London: Penguin, 1993).

  • 18 J.Marti, Diccionariodel pensamiento de

Santa Teresade Jesus(Valencia: Edicep, 1981), p. 395.

BEN

BOLLIG

83

The paradoxes

(pain or pleasure,

body or soul,

in or out ofthe

body)

reveal the

difficulty in presenting the mystical experience logically without collapsing into

nonsense. Santa Teresa explained the physical aspect of the mystical experience

in very visual terms:

Porque verse ansi levantar un cuerpo de la tierra, que aunque el espiritu le lleva tras si

y es con suavidad

grande, si no se resiste

[. .

.]. [Dios]

le tiene tan

grande [amor] a un

gusano tan podrido, que

que

no parece se contenta con llevar tan de veras el alma a si, sino

quiere el cuerpo, aun tan mortal y de tierra tan sucia como por tantas ofensas se ha

hecho.19

The acceptance

of the

('espiritu')

is reminiscent

low

('gusano,

'tierra, 'sucia',

'cuerpo')

of many of Perlongher's

earlier poems,

by

the

high

where sex?

ually obscene

themes

and also the masochistic

are mixed with Golden

Age and modernista techniques,

relationship

between the 'top' and the 'bottom'

Bersani

describes

in the S/M performance.

Comments

on the Christian

mystics made by Jacques

Lacan

may allow

us

to reframe Perlongher's

mystical poetry. Discussing

the notion of a specifically

feminine jouissance, Lacan

observes, 'being not-whole, she has a supplementary

jouissance

compared

to what

the phallic

function designates

by way

of jouis?

 

sance

.]. There

is a jouissance

that is hers that belongs

to "she"

that doesn't

exist and doesn't signify anything.'20 Women,

 

Lacan

argues, and 'bright people

like Saint John ofthe Cross

.] can also

situate

[themselves]

on the side ofthe

 

not-whole [

].

They

get the idea

or sense

that there must be di jouissance

that

is beyond.

They

are the ones

we call mystics.

It's

like for Santa Teresa?you

need

to go to Rome

and

see that statue

by Bernini

to immediately

understand

that she's coming.'21 For Lacan,

then, there is a certain sexual

contact with God

to which the mystic and the woman are privileged:

'it is insofar as her jouissance

is radically Other that woman

has more of a relationship

to God than anything

 

that could

have been

said in speculation

in antiquity

following

the pathway

of that which is manifestly articulated

only

as

the good

of man'.22 This

late

work by Lacan

demonstrates

an attempt to link feminine sexuality?the

extra,

 

non-phallic

jouissance

of the woman?to

contact with God.

What is interest?

ing, above

and beyond

Lacan's

esoteric specul(um)ations,

is that Perlongher,

although

not through

direct reference, is reflecting a move

in French

thought

 

that reappraised

the mystics. Santa Teresa's

insistence

on the inseparability

of

pleasure

and pain

in the mystical

experience,

placed

in the mould

of French

psychoanalysis,

offers a formulation close to the masochistic

mysticism above,

whereby, despite its potentially lethal effects, suffering becomes potentially di?

vine. However, this masochistic

linked to the imminence of death.

mysticism,

as we

shall

see, is fundamentally

Perlongher's masochistic

aesthetic, however, also appears in his earlier poems.

19 Santa Teresa

9 vols

20

(Burgos: El

de Jesus, Obras de Santa Teresade Jesus, ed. by P. Silverio de Santa Teresa CD,

Monte Carmelo, 1915), 1, 148.

The Limits of Love and

Fink (London: Vintage,

J.

Lacan, The Seminars of Jacques Lacan. On Feminine Sexuality.

ed. by J.-A. Miller, trans. by

B.

21

Knowledge. Book XX. Encore 1972-73,

1998), pp. 73-74.

Lacan, p. 76.

  • 22 Lacan, p. 83.

  • 84 Nestor

Perlongher

and Mysticism

An examination of 'Herida pierna', from Austria-Hungria

connections between the two mystical stages, and also

(1980),

allow

can help trace

us

to consider

further whether Perlongher's

mystical poetry presents as dramatic

a change

the commentators

 

above

might lead

us to suspect:

Coser los bordes de la herida? debo? puedo? es debido?

he podido?

suturarla doliente ya, doliendome

 

rastreramente husmeando

como un perro

oh senor

a sus pies

oh senor

con esa pierna

atada

amputada

anestesiada

doblada

[

...

]

O estoy?

 

ando?

metiendo los estiletes en el muslo

para que arda

para que mane

haciendole volcar lechoso polvo en la enramada

[? ? ?]

ampliandola

estirandola

pierna

as

No me hagas caso, Morenito, no la hagas

asi, tan prominente y espantosa

la herida

lo que hiende

la penetracion del verdugo

durante la hora del dolor

durante el acto del suplicio

del calor

de la sofocacion

de los gemidos

impotente como potente bajo esa masa de tejidos

arbitrarios como bandidos asaetados por los chirridos

Quiero pues?

[? ? ]

deseo, pues?

despues?

Debo chupar? mamar?

de ese otro seno

herido

desangrado

en la nalga

con la pierna cortada

con la

ah caminar asi, rauda cual rafaga

daga

montanas de basura magicas y luminosas

ser lucida? ahora, hoy?

tumbada cual

yegua

cual vaca

borracha cual chancha

animal

animal

echada

No me hagas caso, Morenito: ve y dile la verdad a tus padres.

(Poemas, p. 47)

The

poem creates a relationship

of guilt and humiliation

between the narrator

voice and other subjects,

e.g. the 'verdugo',

a torturer or executioner, and family

members.

The narrator

voice is placed repeatedly in subordinate positions, as

various animals and a naughty child, and is the object of violence, being cut,

bled, and suffocated.

This

relationship

is highlighted

as one

of impotence

to

potency. The position is also characterized

by dirt and sordidness,

e.g.

the

'polvo'

and 'basura'.

Alongside

this violence

and ritualistic humiliation,

we

read surprisingly esoteric vocabulary,

e.g. the 'montanas

de basuras

magicas

y luminosas'. This magical, luminous

material

stands

in keen contrast

to the

dirty subservience that dominates the poem.

This

aesthetic is also

found in the work of Jean Genet.

In many of his works

Genet proposes a form of mystic humiliation, generally related to homosexu?

ality and transvestism.

In the novel

Our Lady

of the Flowers,22, Genet writes:

Divine [a transvestite] died holy and murdered?by

consumption. (p. 51)

[Darling]

walked down the Rue Dancourt, drunk with the hidden splendour (as of a

[. .

.] (p. 70)

treasure) of his abjection

23 Trans. by B. Frechtman (London: Paladin, 1988).

 

BEN

BOLLIG

85

His life is an underground heaven thronged

with barmen, pimps, queers, ladies of the

night, and Queens

of

Spades, his

life is a heaven. (p. 73)

Slowly but surely I want to strip [Divine] of every vestige of happiness so as to make a

saint of her. (p. 82)

Genet's technique,

like Perlongher's,

is to ally the low, dirty, and

humiliated

with the mystical, so that the underworld

becomes

an ascent

to the divine.

In

Perlongher's

poem

the flashes of light within

the scenes

of abjection

and

hu-

miliation

are a glimpse

of an unspecified

divine.

Both works, however, while

remarkable

in their courting

of the marginal

and abused,

do

not necessarily

offer a radical

challenge

to the structures of domination?be

they sexual

or

economic?that

frame such positions.

While Perlongher

reveals the sordid

at-

traction of humiliation,

there

is

a strong

suggestion

that this aesthetic

may

accept the structures whereby such humiliation

is imposed

rather than sought.

In the wider context, while the adoption by members of the gay-rights move?

ment of terms such

as 'faggot'

and 'dyke' as affirmative has the powerful

effect

of rendering harmless

a term of abuse,

it does not challenge

the dominant social

order's ability to invent and impose such stigmatizing

language.

As Bersani

suggests, 'resignification

cannot destroy'.24 He offers a critique ofthe aesthetic

of mystical humiliation

through S/M found in authors

such

as

Genet:

Masochistic jouissance is hardly a political corrective to the sadistic use of power,

although the self-shattering I believe to be inherent in that