Interview of Jorge Etcheverry by Gonzalo Millán
Gonzalo Millán/Jorge Etcheverry
Interview of Jorge Etcheverry by Gonzalo Millán
Contemporary Poetry IV.4 (1982): 48-72
Gonzalo Millán: Jorge, you say that you belong to the School of Santiago, the least well known of the poetry groups which emerged in Chile in the sixties. In what year was the School of Santiago born?
Jorge Etcheverry: Around 1966. It really began as a group of friends who later started working in poetry and in theoretical studies on poetry. By 1967/68 we decided that we had a series of things in common and therefore baptized ourselves the School of Santiago.
GM: Where did the group have its origin and who were its members?
JE: Well, we met at the Pedagogical Institute of the University of Chile where some of us were studying philosophy and some literature. The members were Naín Nómez, Erik Martínez, Julio Piñones, and myself. Alexis Monsalves participated occasionally.
GM: The book The Escape Artist closes with a poem entitled "Epitaph for the School of Santiago." When did the School of Santiago die?
JE: This was meant, in part, to be ironical, and it also was an opportunity to speak about the members of the group who live here in exile, about the situation in which we find ourselves and the changes that have taken place through the years. It also means that this is no longer a time for manifestoes and positions of principle. That had already been done and is still considered valid in a way. On the other hand, it is also a recognition of a time when we were working together and had a common identity. There are certain similarities in our work.
GM: Which were the main activities of the group?
JE: The group became known as such in an interview in the daily La Nación in 1967. Afterwards we published an anthology in the magazine Orfeo under the title "33 nombres claves de la actual poesía chilena" (33 Key Names of Current Chilean Poetry) . As a group we published in both Spanish and Geman in the Swiss magazine Humboldt. In 1968 we appeared in a television program, and we held a series of poetry readings. The active period of our group ended in 1970. Allende's victory that year marked the beginning of an intensive political process in our country which temporarily removed most of us from literary activities.
GM: What distinguised the School of Santiago from other groups of young Chilean poets of that time, such as Trilce, Arúspice, Tebaida?
JE: I would say, first of all, that we wanted to write poetry which would somehow not fit into the accepted framework of that period, poetry with long verses, abundant imagery, allusive poetry, poetry which attached great importance to rhythm, which wouid intercalate different voices and which would be fragmentary in some way. The basis for this kind of poetry may be found in the heterogeneous character, the mosaic form of our South American capitals, and a certain impossibility of synthesis. Let us say that the finished, round poem, the one-image poem tries to tell of a totality which cannot be synthesized. The only possibility left then is that of referring to this totality through simultaneous and diverse languages.
GM: Would yours then be a fundamentally urban poetry, as opposed to the "neo-lyric" tendency in the poetry practiced by some members of other groups outside the capital?
JE: Yes, but without rivalry or condemnation. There are, In fact, several reasons why our kind of poetry was not the one preferred by other authors, or the most widely read, or the one with the greatest critical acclaim. I might add that this situation has been changing lately. In the material that has been reaching us from Chile we found that some poets seem to be doing something similar to what we had been trying to do then.
GM: Perhaps this is the case not only in Chile. An example would be the infra-realist movement founded in México by two young Chilean poets who now live in Spain, Bruno Montané and Roberto Bolaño. I think that their poetry has certain affinities with the style of the School of Santiago. What is the connection between this group of poets and contemporary Chilean poetry?
JE: Well, rather than thinking of figures in historical terms we let ourselves be guided by ways of writing. And for almost all of us the way of writing of Pablo de Rokha was important: long paragraphs, strong, rhythmically charged, and a fragmentary conception of the poem. One might say that de Rokha's poetry consists of one long poem to which he has added and from which he has taken away. After that, our preferences even led us to link up with a certain type of classical language, such as that of Aeschylus. He uses a paragraph which belongs to neither prose, nor drama, nor poetry, but has elements from all three and a very strong rhythm. In contemporary terms, we were attracted by the North American "beat" poets, especially Ginsberg. On the other hand, we were also interested in Lautréamont because of his prose writing, which places him at the margin of the traditional genres. Some of Beckett's short stories are imbued with a similar aura. Ellot also had some influence on us. Pound was of interest to us because of his work with intertextuality or a plurality of languages. I personally was also quite interested in Rimbaud and Perse.
GM: The anthology in Orfeo which you mentioned before was a kind of anthology-manifesto, a catalogue of preferences. Do you remember which Chilean poets were included in it?
JE: Well, we wanted to show post-Neruda poetry, but in particular a tendency which we felt was a precursor of our own work and which we then regarded as the poetical path. The selection opened with figures such as Humberto Díaz Casanueva, Rosamel del Valle, and Eduardo Anguita, and continued with Mandrágora, a Chilean surrealist group. Those were the poets to whom we attached the greatest importance. I also remember that at around that time we were reading the first publications by Juan Emar which corresponded in prose to what these poets were attempting to do in poetry. Others were Nicanor Parra, Gonzalo Rojas, Carlos de Rokha, Enrique Lihn, Gonzalo Millán, Manuel Silva Acevedo, and other young poets of whom I don't really know what has become of them.
GM: For years you were a student of philosophy. Did those studies influence your poetry in any way?
JE: Yes, so far as the tendency towards rational judgments is concerned, a certain control of structures and the technical language .of philosophy, and the implicit conception of the world which usually determines the vision of some voices in the poems. But all this is not taken altogether seriously; instead it was regarded as just another element in the situation of a character in the poem who thinks about the universe, politics, sex.
GM: Do you see any relationship between your poetry and that of Humberto Díaz Casanueva, another poet with philosophical training?
JE: I see no formal relationship. I also think that his is more a metaphysical poetry. When I read his poetry more than ten years ago, I found it interesting, but then came the Allende government during which time I practically ceased all literary work. And right afterwards carne the years of exile during which I have been writing a decidedly committed poetry which I have been reading at recitals, which appeared in journals such as literatura chilena en el exilio and Revista de la Casa de las Américas, and which is completely different from the poetry of The Escape Artist and is not included in that book.
GM: Coming back to the formal characteristics of your poetry, which could also be applied to the School of Santiago, do you agree that one of them would be the lack of distinction between genres, between poetry and prose?
JE: Sometimes, in the most extreme case, there is a lack of distinction which is, in a way, programmed and fundamental. I remember making a somewhat pretentious statement in the manifesto which appeared in Orfeo: "Here exists neither poetry nor prose, here exists only the word, potent, undifferentiated, naming the world as a whole, trying to make it over as in the beginning."
GM: On the one hand we have this lack of distinction between poetry and prose, and on the other the use of the long verse—you call it a paragraph. To what extent is this long verse connected to North American poetry? You already mentioned Ginsberg, but I am also thinking of Whitman and Crane. The use of the versicle is common to all of them.
JE: It vas common to many of the poets preferred by us then. Rimbaud, for example, in Season in Hell, which, to me, is the prose poem elevated to its highest expression, Lautréamont, Perse, Xenophon among the Greeks, old de Rokha, etc. Among the North Americans Ginsberg is the one who impressed me most because of his ability to maintain a poetical level by using paragraphs in which the metaphorical element is often completely absent and which deal strictly with the problems of daily life. In order to achieve this, one has to have a great rhythmical and syntactical strength, a long breath like the one that sustains some of Kerouac's novels from beginning to end. Sometimes I have also utilized a variety of automatic writing. Many of my poems are written in an immediate and definitive manner and when preparing the final copy years later I try to stick as closely as possible to the original text, even though the meaning of some images may have been lost.
GM: I would like to remind you that there is a Chilean poet of the generation directly preceding yours who is characterized by the use of the versicle. I am referring to Enrique Lihn. Do you see any relationship between Lihn and the School of Santiago?
JE: Well, I quite liked his book The Dark Room. There was a long verse with great strength, but it is practically the only book by Lihn I liked. Lihn also seems to focus on one theme. And in some of our discussions at the time we said that thematic poetry as such was an exercise in poetic composition, which is not to say that I am denying the fact that a great deal of my poetry is thematic. Another poet I forgot to mention when we were referring to the use of language other than poetic language (such as philosophical language) is Gonzalo Rojas in Contra la muerte (Against Death) . This book impressed me when it first appeared.
GM: Some critics might express certain misgivings about this kind of poetry, for example calling it confused because of its thematic excesses and incoherence. On the other hand, it also gives the impression that the length of the versicle or paragraph is not determined by the breath, and that the cut-off point is arbitrary.
JE: It is precisely because, had we pursued a tight rhythm and thematic coherence, we would once more have fallen back into a poetry which falsely presents to us a totality which we intentionally wish to avoid. Our position in the Orfeo manifesto was the following: There is no possible synthesis. This also conforms to the point of view that the Third World countries have no history, no destiny, no physiognomy; that those who have physiognomy, destiny, history, and therefore the possibility to create perfect closed objects, are the Europeans.
GM: Your opinion is that fragmentation, thematic dispersion, the lack of identity and purpose would properly express the countries of the Third World?
JE: In some way they would at least correspond to the attitudes of the elites. I do not deny that in spite of being committed to the cause of revolution I have received a certain culture and education, and that I therefore belong to a social class which I must describe as elitist. I cannot reject this culture and social class because they have formed me. Otherwise I would be falling into a false folklorism. Now, as far as complete and long-winded sentences are concerned, I have a poem, for instance, in which the following image appears: "The horse of the inconceivable Third World proletariat breaks into a gallop, loosing the reins from the hands of the elite." It seems to me that at certain moments the kind of reality which I try to present calls for sentences where rhythm, image, and conceptual content must be present simultaneously. To me, the ideal poetical phrase is one in which these three elements are present and interlinked, but unfortunately I rarely achieve this.
GM: The sentence you quote has many reminiscences of de Rokha, don't you think?JE: Probably; this is why I have mentioned de Rokha repeatedly.
GM: Perhaps we could now proceed to the book itself. At first sight the vision it conveys is a chaotic one of revolutions, war, social and political problems, an explicit opposition between hawks and doves. Could you elaborate on that?
JE: I would have to refer to my political commitment which begins In 1965 and has continued, with differences in form and degree, to the present, and also to the fact that I have experienced relatively important political events from within, as just another person. This explains why the poetry I call political and which is also found in The Escape Artist offers neither apology nor praise. It consists of a view from within a situation, the thoughts, attitudes, and needs of men who experience the situation from within but elevated to a kind of typical character, a petty bourgeois like myself. Somewhere it says: "The city youth of the fair brain and facile mouth no longer lets his locks wave in the wind, while from the adjacent streets he examines the best way of taking the fortress by siege." In some way this is a self-portrait.
GM: What has been the significance of exile in defining the political vision which appears in your poetry?
JE: Generally speaking, I would say that exile has allowed me to obtain a better overall view. It has made me think about the relationship between developed and developing countries, and it has made me experience dependency a little, in that I have had access to the opposite pole. I find that it has been a useful experience. Coming back to literature, exile has led me to write essentially political poetry and it has also allowed me to understand that the initial enthusiasm we felt for some foreign authors or theories was naive. This does not mean, however, that I have abandoned my previous poetry. I continue to write it, but in a somewhat changed form.
GM: Would this opposition between the thematic poetry common in Chile and the School of Santiago which does not aspire to synthesis, not be equivalent to Umberto Eco's opposition between the open and the closed work
JE: Ultimately yes, but I would say that our poetry is organic and thematic in some way. The theme does not focus on a particular object or anecdote or situation, but presents "states of things," states of consciousness, situations which are somewhat generalized, or sometimes even atmospheres.
GM: Would this mean that there is no submission to time and place, as in the poetry you call thematic?
JE: I would say that our poetry does not cease to be subject to time and place, especially longer poems such as "Central Flower." But, as I said before, what is at stake here is the creation of "states of things" where various themes are linked together. I recall, for instance, a poem entitled "A Caucus of Quail." First there is a conversation between friends, then a girl appears, this is followed by an imprecation against poets who write poems with well defined themes, a mention of the proletariat of the Third World, a dinner at my home, the distinction between ethnic groups and allusions to the luxury of the developed countries, a voice which praises poverty as an authentic way of life, an allusion to the customs of immigrants, a mention of Chileans and what is happening to them in their countries of exile, of the multitudes who attack Parliament Buildings and that these things concern us, but we are walking in a street, there are the observers who watch us walking in a street, and finally an attempt to lay the foundations for this type of poetry together with an allusion to the need of hiding the self of the speaker. I think that all this, through I do not know what mechanisms, has something that makes it possible to create a situation, a "state of things." A certain thread runs through it.
GM: Don’t you believe that the term "pluri-thematic poetry" might adequately describe this kind of poetry?
JE: Yes, I think so.
GM: We said that at the collective level the vision of the book is a vision of war, a conflictive vision, be it class conflict or conflict between nations. On the other hand, you pointed out that in the poem "The Winged Dog," a kind of manifesto, one of your concerns is "the rabble of the equals and the others." How do you see these relationships?
JE: As problematic ones, prone to all kinds of accidents. As an exchange of conceptions of the world. As fondness, hate, a mixture of all these things.
GM: Within the context of human relations there is one that appears over and over again, the erotic relationship. How do you see the relationship between man and woman?
JE: As problematic as well, but at the same time as a source of Paradise and Hell, as a possibility for encounters between human beings. But in the relationship with women there are other aspects apart from the erotic one. Woman may be a companion in daily life, a companion in struggle, a companion in knowledge. There is a series of poems such as "Dawn" where this appears. It is the wife, the beloved, who is referred in "Gnosis.
"GM: It is curious that to the masculine voice in the poems the woman plays an ambiguous role. I think that in the book the masculine image par excellence is that of the warrior, a genitally and martially potent man. In this sense the woman appears in a role where she is either passive or threatening this virility, a siren.
JE: Yes, there are, in fact, several poems where this is the case. Woman as Paradise and distraction at the same time, as a time of calm and as a debilitating threat, woman as an enigma,. the interlocutor who frustrates understanding, etc. It is curious, yes. I would say that through these poems one can form the image of man as warrior, but with certain weaknesses, a thin warrior who tires easily, generally fails, and smokes. He talks quite a bit, he actually talks a lot, and he does not go beyond the prevalent view of women in a male World.
GM: You also draw the distinction between "true men" and "true women." Who are these "true men" and "true women"?
JE: In the case of this poem which was written in the sixties, the true man would be the one who carries out the tasks of a warrior which, in this case, would be equivalent to the revolutionary political struggle. And the true women would be those who offer men the possibility to rest so that they can once more resume the struggle, which is a very traditional position.
GM: Woman as the warrior's repose.
JE: Yes, but there is also something like a confrontation, because the end of the exaltation of war corresponds to the reign of women and calm. I know that this is very traditional.
GM: Yes, it is Ulysses' return to Penelope. You are aware, then that this vision is totally at odds with the current feminist struggle for the emancipation of women?
JE: Well, yes. In "Central Flower," a poem that deals with sex, there is the statement, "no longer with us is the detailed intervention of OBJECTS FOR EVERY-DAY USE, the enumeration of THE BEAUTIFUI, THOUGHTS MAN WOULD LIKE TO BE." This book does not attempt to be idealistic in any way, or to propose a system of ethics, but to record a certain "state of things"; and unfortunately it must be said that in the Latin American Left, and perhaps above all in the Chilean Left, the status of women has not really undergone any major changes, some very specific circles excepted. Both the traditional myths and the traditional behaviour of men towards women in bourgeois or historical societies continue to find acceptance.
GM: Well, we know that change in the traditional sex roles is one of the goals of revolution. You were speaking about sex just now. I see in some poems that the sexual relationship becomes metaphysical at certain times. Some poems, for instance, reminded me of Tantric or alchemic sexuality. Especially when you are speaking of the sexual relationship as equivalent at the cosmic level to the marriage between sun and moon.
JE: Sex is, of course, given great importance, but it is no less true that there is also a recognition of the fact this dimension is not always identical. In "Gnosis," for example, we simply have a couple discussing the habitual problems of a couple in a somewhat remote manner. "Fragments" says, "I would not fall into the error of attributing to you metaphysical properties. Now that the angels are crestfallen and it is time for many imprecisions." A potentially transcendental situation of love or sex is treated ironically, in a way.
GM: Would you agree with the idealized vision of women and love of the surrealists?JE: I would say that in the final analysis no, in absolute terms no.GM: We noted that there is an obvious political concern in your poetry, but in coexistence with these references we find images belonging to the occult or having obvious mythical echoes. How can these two realities be reconciled?
JE: I think they can be reconciled on the basis that a certain education, certain influences and tastes, and a certain growth environment must be assumed. I do not believe that a petty bourgeois, just because that is what he is, should have to amputate a part of himself; one can be a petty bourgeois and still be with the revolution—there is no need to repudiate one's upbringing. As Sartre says in one of his dramas: "Some arrive at the party and bring their ties, others bring their wives." People are forever talking about Liberty, Equality, Fraternity of the French Revolution, or about bourgeois democracy, but they really become universal only with the arrival of socialism. Pursuing this thought, which, to me, is European, one might also say that it ultimately lacks validity, but I like it and use it in this poetry because it somehow means something to me.
GM: You would say then that the revolutionary, a man of transition, need not repudiate the images of his past?
JE: No. I would say that in order to be a revolutionary it is necessary to do things, to carry on some kind of revolutionary activity. Paradoxically enough, I find myself among members of Chiles political elite, which maintains a certain cultural level and yields quite a bit more than, for example, a hum-drum, square militant who has totally purged his consciousness of all elements supposedly extraneous to Marxism, but whose objective action and subjective efficacy are minimal. Finally, revolution is not a means to achieve purity, but a way of transforming reality.
GM: There would be no ideological conflict, then.
JE: I start from the basis that all men have ideological conflicts in a greater or lesser degree. Even this book here is quite contradictory. If one says, for example, "We will not enumerate again the irksome needs they dictate to me from the newspapers, the text books and history books," and later, "Something else, let's say it straight. We celebrate the Revolution on every page," this may sound quite contradictory, but the speakers who appear in the poem are really fictitious, and on the other hand, we all have many facets. Different facets, different and often contradictory versions have flown out of me, without my trying. I also believe that Latin Americans are more contradictory than other people: on the one hand they struggle for the Independence of their continent and for the creation of a culture of their own, but at the same time they are faithful followers of either the European Marxists, or the European poets and writers, or the European theoreticians and linguists.
GM: Something that attracted my attention in this context is the image of the political leader in the book. It seems that the political leader is comparable to other elitist figures like the wizard, the teacher, the wise man. Is that not a Messianic view of both spiritual and intellectual leaders?
JE: Yes, but one should also remember how leaders like 0'Higglns and Manuel Rodríguez are shown even in Neruda's Canto General. It Is very difficult for the petty bourgeois of the sixties to represent leaders other than Ché Guevara, Turcios Lima, Douglas Bravo, Fidel Castro, Hugo Blanco, Inti Peredo. We are somehow accustomed to this type of heroic figure. But I would also say that the non-representation of the people as a revolutionary whole is present as a problem area In this book, as in the following passage: "In other places men resume with renewed vigour the just struggles of the poor: disguised in fezzes, under wide-brimmed hats, scanning the future through the yellow slits of their eyes," or, "In Latin America the rancor of the people grows, pressed and shoved against the unassailable waste of the cities. They are witness to the burning of forests, to the clearing by fire of wheatfields: 'Nevermore shall we be able to attempt to construct a universe based on leaves of grass." I admit that culturally speaking and from my educational background I do not have the necessary elements to represent a revolutionary collective, although I do have the traditional elements which can be found in Homer and much earlier in Gilgamesh to represent the personal hero who directs a people. This is much more within our reach, whereas the other possibility has not yet been done, or is very difficult to represent, for me at least.
GM: There is a very ancient archetype, that of the twins, of whom one is the hero and the other the poet, the artist who records the heroic deeds of his brother and thus offers him immortality. Do you think that the wizard, the wise man, the seer of your book are masks of the poet?
JE: In the final analysis perhaps yes. But sometimes the versions of the archetypes get a bit mixed up and I tend to say, for example, "The wizard gropes for his cartridge belt, makes an inverted gesture with the back of his hand." Here we have a wizard with a machine gun.
GM: This seems interesting, this vision of the wizard as leader, the shaman as guerilla, archaic and modern, magical and practical.
JE: Yes, as you say, this is an archaic image based on the figure of the shaman; I realized it after writing these poems. It is curious that even without putting much faith in depth psychology, which assumes a static consciousness (there is a certain baggage of fixed archetypes which repeat themselves), the shaman functions as a symbol of transcendence; like the bird he points more toward a transcendent way out than toward a project which can clearly be reached. This corresponds to our situation In Latin America. We know perfectly well from what we as peoples, even as a continent, want to escape, but it is not clear to us where we want to arrive. This is why the revolutions In Latin America are so unpredictable and diverse, the Cuban case, the Nicaraguan case. What wlll become of El Salvador? What will be the future of Chile? I would say, however, that utopia as a theme is absent from the book.
GM: Yes, I agree with you. There is no goal. There is something else I would like you to confirm. In the figure of the prophet I can feel echoes of Zarathustra. What significance did Nietzsche's work have for you?
JE: I remember reading quite a bit of Zarathustra when I was 16 or 17. In "A Drowsiness of Birds III" there is an allusion to Nietzsche: "Old tabbies lying on cushions reliving the words of Weininger the poet, of Schopenhauer the prophet, of Nietzsche the soldier." These are women who completely assume the role that has been assigned to them by a male—dominated society. Nietzsche the soldier is the one who carried this concept furthest. Zarathustra as a work of literature influenced my adolescence. I am, of course, not enthusiastic about Nietzsche's conception and have nothing to do with it at the present time.
GM: Going back a little, I don't know whether it would be derogatory to speak of an elitist vision in the book. I wonder whether you would accept that?
JE: No, I don't accept that because I think that these are not complex poems, in spite of the fact that they might appear so. I find that they are simple poems. They do not require a hermeneutic reading, as it is called these days, an interpretive reading going from the text surface to the bottom. A simple reading, close to literal, is enough. There is not much hidden symbolism. In "Central Flower," for example, there is a guy who in fact says, well, I would like to be free from this burdensome need of sex, but if we are in this, we are in it. Although the basic attitudes of the characters might be amplified, distanced, their attitudes are common, they are emergency judgments, combat judgments on the possibility of one or the other action, on the physical condition, the political situation, etc.
GM: Was Sartre's work important with regard to this problematic vision of one's fellow man and the female to you?
JE: It was important at some time, around 1966 and 67. Later I no longer liked his concepts. He proposes, for example, the separation between consciousness and body (in-itself vs. for-itself) which looks to me like Christiantiy carried to the extreme. I don't accept that. Raising, as Sartre does, the problem of commitment at the personal level, in these times when entire nations assume it just like that overnight as in El Salvador or Irán, disqualifies his thought as far as I am concerned.
GM: With regard to this problematic relationship with the Other, I see in some way an application of the phenomenon of Darwin's natural selection, which you mention, to human reality. I am referring to the final part of "The Winged Dog," where human conflict is expressed in animal terms, for instance the struggle between classes and species, the cow, the pig, etc. Do you think that this is the case?
JE: This poem was written here in Canada, but the nicknames as references or allusions allow the space to be defined as Latin American. Here and in our own countries we have an animal struggle for survival, since survival is always threatened by need and want. In other words, in spite of the class struggle, it is experienced, abstractly speaking, as the contest between one man and another for work, but in concrete terms it is experienced in the enmity and competition with one's fellow man. This book does not provide formulae, but shows an existing state of things.
GM: Do you think that this animal presence, a real bestiary, is emblematic of different human lineages, as in medieval heraldry where an animal is the incarnation of certain attributes which man adscribes to himself?
JE: Yes, I think so. In this context, I learnt through a friend about Chinese astrology. There the signs of the zodiac and the years of birth are all represented by animals, each of which has its own characteristics. I think that this is a natural or unconscious way of achieving imaginary characterizations which are representative of certain kinds of people.
GM: There is really a proliferation of animals in the book, and I don't think that they are there gratuitously, but that they have an emblematic function. For example, the birds, crows, doves, bees, frogs...
JE: I think that if we compare some texts among themselves their specific function will become apparent; the bees, for example, represent the mental and physical state of struggle, aggressiveness., combat. The birds have traditional positive meanings depending upon the height of their flight, their wingspan. They also have a function relating them to the witness, especially in the poems of "A Drowsiness of Birds" where they are endowed with a perspective which permits they to cover large areas. As far as the quail are concerned, this has to do with something my father-in-law used to say, that he was the father of twelve quall. Hence the title of this poem, "A Caucus of Quail."
GM: You also use the image of the pelican in the traditional sense, offering its breast to the voracity of its children. What does the cat represent in this heraldic bestiary?
JE: The cat is an animal I like. It adopts a sometimes negative, sometimes positive function, and in the odd poem, but not altogether seriously, it is assimilated to God.
GM: There is a poem entitled "Cat-woman"; on the one hand you identify the cat with the woman; it is the model of love, and on the other hand it inspires Orpheus.
JE: It is because of my preference for cats. There is always something mysterious in cats, something sordid and dark, something cruel and serene. And it has always been linked with women.
GM: In the opposition between cats, these wise insomniacs, and the sleepers, I perceived the presence of a gnostic idea of existence in some poems, this idea of life as a numbing dream from which one must awaken through knowledge.
JE: Well, the gnostic texts did, in fact, interest me and I believed that I was seeing some gnostic reminiscences in Spanish American literature. But I think that two views of dream are present in the book: gnosticism where dream is equivalent to the absence of consciousness, to darkness, to degradation, and a conception we might call shamanic where dream is the opposite, the possibility of transcendence. The presence of the former is greater in the book.
GM: The shamanic vision of dream is related to surrealism. You mentioned Lautréamont and I am thinking of Nerval, who was also admired by that movement.
JE: Yes, I think so. Dream, for me, has been a source of speculation.
GM: One of your literary interests is science fiction. There is an apocalyptical climate in some poems of the book. Which World is experiencing apocalypse there?
JE: I would say that it is the stressful World in which the speaker, a combatant. lives. But it is not clear what will happen after the apocalypse, it is not clear whether the speaker will survive or perish.
GM: But you go past the uncertainty. I remember a fragment where a character wanders among the radioactive ruins of a city.
JE: Yes, I think it is in "Gloss." Red Flowers appear there. There is a certain hope there. The red flower is a rather obvious symbol. In "A Drowsiness of Birds" there is also a reference: "Soon the city will be entirely of crystal and every step will dress in lead-grey—Then will be the hour of purity." All these references allude to how the forces of the revolution will liquidate the old order and make purity possible.