Multitudinous Erotic Engagements: Thinking Alongside Mario Santiago Papasquiaro
Mario Santiago Papasquiaro, Advice from 1 Disciple of Marx to 1 Heidegger Fanatic, Trans. by Cole Heinowitz and Alexis Graman, Seattle, WA: Wave Books, 2013. 45pp.
We are discontinuous beings, individuals who perish in isolation in the midst of an incomprehensible adventure, but we yearn for our lost continuity… Along with our tormenting desire that this evanescent thing should last, there stands our obsession with a primal continuity linking us with everything that is… this nostalgia is responsible for… eroticism in
man [Sous Rature mine].
—G. Bataille trans. Mary Dalwood
In a recursive experience. In a recursive experience, is to count to give an account? What if one never got past the number "1" while counting, while attempting to tally the world? What if the world presented itself as a distracting series of parts intermingled with a distracting series of bodies themselves composed of parts and composites, each countable as "1," each as singular? How much would one then have? A single one? An excess of ones? Many? Something like the Pythagorean monad, the one that is not the first in a numeric series, but the site from which numbers are generated, the first principle that marks the undifferentiated unity of all things? Monad from the Greek obtusely means unit, or alone, but also the totality of all beings. What would a poetry look like that slid constantly between these two poles in the necessity of its form, between covering everything in a single net, and focusing in on a single shard? In a recursive experience where poems appear both each moment all at once and in part on a the small scale of a single line, what happens when these two poles slip together and move forward in lyric?
Advice from 1 Disciple of Marx to 1 Heidegger Fanatic by Mario Santiago Papasquiaro (trans. by Cole Heinowitz and Alexis Graman) is an excessive collection of poems that blends masculine erotics with political critique in a materialist landscape writhing with the detritus of Rimbaud and Lautreamont. Papasquiaro was one of two key members of the Infrarealists (a movement founded in 1976), the other being Roberto Bolaño, whose "Manifesto of Infrarealism" aptly captures the spirit of Papasquiaro's strange combination of erotics and political critique:
For the bourgeoisie and the petite-bourgeoisie, life is a party… The proletariat doesn't have parties. Just funerals with rhythm. That's going to change. The exploited are going to throw a big party. Memory and guillotines.
A few lines later, Bolaño exclaims, "Rimbaud, come home!" and then a few later, between two asterisks, the word "*/ convulsively/ *" dangles on its own line. This emphasis on the adverbial form of convulsion rings true to this collection: this is a poetry that modifies the swelling vortex of everyday "stuff" with the shivers bodies make during the labor of both birth and work, during orgasms, during death. Papasquiaro's slim volume convulses its strange environ into an expansive scope: he critiques art, posits a materialism, trips on mescaline, is aroused or disgusted constantly, stands with the working class, and blows up the moon. As Papasquiaro's moon explodes the book howls a howl that is Ginsberg's "Howl" too, as the influence of the beats is palpable: high and low are mashed together, masculine eroticism fills every abyss of the book's tumbling language, and the whole mechanism slithers forward with unrelenting rhetorical force, a force that lodges its hooks into the skin of the reader and pulls them into the repetitive chant of the poem's form. At times this results in a sexual politics that reeks of a masculine gaze and shows the collection's failings, at others in an unmatched tenderness that swerves quickly into braggadocio and comedic verve.
& as if risen from the very chiaroscuro of the night
1 girl appears her muddy fists against her thighs
repeating 1 / 2 / 3 times:
I am not 1 sex object / I am not that you robots/
……………………I'm alive/ like 1 forest of eucalyptus
here where the norm is to be implacably nice
The "I" and the numeral "1" stand in relation via an anaphoric amplification that twists the self's relation to things, until the poem (and temporality within the poem) multiplies its singularities and becomes forest-like, until time within the poem turns back on itself pulling "1" near to "1" near to "1." The recursive appearance of "1" as a combination of homophonic words makes this numerical point multiple in meaning and maximally deictic, or dependent on context for meaning. This forest of contextually dependent nodes is worth spending time in for the results of its formal pyrotechnics alone, but the lines and phrases produced within the movement of the form are equally stunning. Even as it comments on its own quality as an artistic object the results are dirty, erotic, violent, and elicit a smile all at once:
If this isn't Art I'll slash my vocal cords
my tenderest testicle/ I'll stop blathering
…………………………if this isn't Art
For Papasquiaro, even the smallest of body parts get to be Art with a big "A," and languages say "kiss me/ from the most erogenous part of their torsos" as the world is always already slick with prismatic fluids. This eroticism is just one facet of the text as it declares in all caps:
THERE IS NO AHISTORICAL ANGUISH
TO LIVE HERE IS TO HOLD YOUR BREATH
As the book itself, and the bodies in the book themselves, become naked, they are enmeshed in Papasquiaro's adept system that finds thinking in excess—in successive, excessive attempts at thinking.
Oddly this collection kept me circling back to George Oppen as a point of comparison: both Oppen and Papasquiaro had serious investments in radical leftist politics; both left their home countries to return years later (Oppen leaving the U.S. for Mexico, and Papasquiaro leaving Mexico for France, Vienna, Spain, and Israel); both created incredible collections of serial poetry that reflect on their position in relation to politics; and both put serious, autodidactic engagements with philosophy at the heart of their poetic projects. Even Bolaño's satirical depiction of Papasquiaro in The Savage Detectives is reminiscent of Oppen: "a ticking bomb" who wrote in "the margins of books that he stole and on pieces of scrap paper that he was always losing," who "never wrote poems," a depiction that echoes the shards of thought that compose Oppen's Selected Prose, Daybooks, and Papers.
Not that their distinct planets of poetry align perfectly: Bolaño's depiction of Papasquiaro is not exactly accurate, and the gap between their styles feels significant as the always already compromised and compressed poetry of Oppen never quite tumbles over itself with the force of Papasquiaro's recursive erotics. Still, moments overlap moments within their poems, poet aligning with poet:
what's the use if there are lives that are cars with no engines
……………desperately honking their horns
……………………without being able to go
—Papasquiaro from Advice from 1
The definition of mortality
The image of the engine
We cannot live on that.
—Oppen from "Image of the Engine"
They are poets that triangulate in numerous and strange ways, yet what Papasquiaro does with the serial form (a form that always brings me back to Oppen's Of Being Numerous, a poem that declares "The isolated man is dead, his world around him is exhausted") is what especially makes these two poets resonate in conjunction. Papasquiaro's use of the serial form is equally wonderful to Oppen's—he creates a serial form in a poetry that never quite appears to be a serial poem as it folds its numerical recursion into its very lines, creating Baroque patterns, and never getting past "1."
The operative function of Advice from 1 Disciple of Marx to 1 Heidegger Fanatic involves using the numeral "1" in place of the impersonal pronoun "one" and the indefinite article, or "a" and "an." Heinowitz and Graman's cursory "Translator's Note" at the end of the text quickly explains how these grammatical functions play in Spanish:
…the numerical version of "1" is spoken in the same way as the impersonal pronoun ("uno") and the indefinite article ("un" or "una").
The appearance of this note after the text in translation works too, as the slippages from numeral to impersonal pronoun to indefinite article are all quickly apparent in the translation. The first few lines of the poem demonstrate this substitution, and provide an entry point into reading the book's form:
The world gives you itself in fragments / in splinters:
in 1 melancholy face you glimpse 1 brushstroke by Dürer
in someone happy the grimace of 1 amateur clown
in 1 tree: the trembling of birds sucking from its crook
in 1 flaming summer you catch bits of the universe licking its face
the moment 1 indescribable girl
…………………rips her Oaxacan blouse
just at the crescent of sweat from her armpits
& beyond the rind is the pulp/ & like 1 strange gift of the eye
Maybe not even Carbon 14 will be able to reconstruct the true facts
The days are gone when 1 naturalist painter
could ruminate over the excesses of lunch
And with regard to the use of the impersonal pronoun:
foam runs from the mouth of the 1 who speaks wonders
& it would seem he lived in the clouds
…………………………………& not on the outskirts of this barrio
From a few pages into the book, after it sets up its formal constraint:
Reality & Desire get thrashed/ get chopped up
they spill out over each other
To call this spilling, masculine erotics that returns again and again to the same number a "serial poem" may feel like grasping at something that is never quite there, but that abyssal quality of things and selves, that unreachability that always slips past into the next line, that slips the poem past easy nameability within the serial form, that pushes the poem on to the next line and forward into the next numerical recursion of "1," is how this poem engages with the serial form. There are many instances within the poem's movement that can be marked numerically, but within the logic of Papasquiaro's serial they never quite add up, they never fall in line, they remain singular and multiple at once. A. N. Whitehead astutely describes this function of "one" in Process and Reality:
The term "one" does not stand for "the integral number one," which is a complex special notion. It stands for the general idea underlying alike the indefinite article "a" or "an," and the definite article "the," and the demonstratives "this" or "that," and the relatives "which or what or how." It stands for the singularity of an event. The term "many" presupposes the term "one," and the term "one" presupposes the term "many."
This, rather than implying an unbridgeable gap between the singular and the plural, implies an always slipping function dwells in the middle, coming together and falling apart at each recursive click of the musical apparatus, as the poem slides through each appearance of "1." The singular "one:" implies more, but prevents the singular from being read as part of a progressive series, from being a thing, or a moment, or a person, or a quantity, or a quality, which constructs itself through progression: it both is and is not simultaneously.
To return to Bolaño's manifesto:
Sensations don't arise from nothingness (the obvious of obviousnesses) but from conditioned reality, in a thousand ways, as a constant flow.
— Multiple reality, you make us sick!
So it is possible that on the one hand one is born and on the other hand we're in the front row for the death throes. Forms of life and forms of death pass daily through the retina. The constant crash gives life to infrarealist forms: THE EYE OF TRANSITION
There is always "one" and "many," and the poem pushes, transitions, forward to the next multiplicity always already implied in each appearance of "1," and there in "the constant crash," in the waves on waves of singularities, Papasquiaro's poetry swells with everything from "carnivorous plants," to "DNA," to "Pine-Sol," to "Jerry Lewis," to "Sappho," to "Ernesto Che Guevara." "1" should spend time in this poetry where a pickpocket can be the "disciple of 7-armed Shiva: God of masturbation," where "existence…
…takes the form of 1 cop
who runs his state-of-the-art billy club down the length of your face
& you still ask: What's up my big bad wolf?
…………How's repression doing?
There in the lines of the book "1" will know that "1" is reading a small book of poems filled with powerful lines that can teach "1" things about our present, a book that can be there, held in hands like a sinister prayer held for "1" moment in the middle, always in the middle like the space between one and many, like the space between touching hands, like the space between bodies making love "1"-to-"1"-to-"1" in the violent erotics of these shared and multiplicitous political-spheres.