Getting that MLA proposal down to less than 1000 words

Vallejo: Language Itself [I am not sure this title covers it, but a better one is not coming to me, and this has been improved since I posted it … but I am still interested in the question of the title]

Borges said Quevedo was a poet of language: “La grandeza de Quevedo es verbal” (“Quevedo,” Otras inquisiciones, 1952). His contemporary César Vallejo was a Quevedo disciple in his youth, and some of his later language experiments are more Quevedian than avant-garde. This panel considers Vallejo as a poet of language itself, rather than as an “expressive,” or ethical or political poet as has been most traditionally done. Such thematic readings are essential for a politically committed writer whose work uses a great deal of autobiographical material and also closely engages the intellectual life of his time. But the strong emphasis in Vallejo’s critical tradition on his personal circumstances, his vocabulary of pain, and his leftist politics also works reductively, as does the focus on image at the expense of intertext and sound. Vallejo’s language consciousness is well recognized, but is part of his difficulty still an effect of evading questions of textuality? Our papers present close readings not motivated by the most commonly invoked thematic clusters in Vallejo criticism (orphanhood, poverty, suffering, displacement, mestizaje); we contend as well that a focus on language also reveals Vallejo as a more affirmative poet than he is often considered to be. We are particularly interested in the ways in which Vallejo’s use of fragmentation works to create not a static composition but one that seems to transform itself as it is read. We note in addition that although Vallejo criticized the coldness of much avant-garde writing (“Hacedores de imágenes, devolved las palabras a los hombres,” he wrote in “Se prohíbe hablar al piloto” [Favorables París Poema 2, October 1926]), and while his work has an immediate affective and even corporeal impact, the difficulty of his texts has much to do with their intricacy at the level of intellect.

César Vallejo died in 1938 with much of his major work still unpublished. He has since emerged as one of the most important writers in the Spanish language and as a major figure in world literature. Recent English translations of poetry and prose include Seiferle (2003), Eshleman (2006), Mulligan (2011), Gianuzzi and Smith (2012), and Malanga (2014); additional projects are underway. In 2011 Michelle Clayton published a major study in English; Stephen Hart’s new biography appeared in 2013. Much progress has been made on the collection and edition of his writings in narrative, theatre, and essay as well as poetry. New documentation includes Juan Fló’s discovery of early manuscripts of the later poems (Fló and Hart, eds., Autógrafos olvidados, 2002), Alan E. Smith’s facsimile edition of España, aparta de mí este cáliz (2012), and Andrés Echeverría’s compilation of Vallejo’s correspondence with Pablo Abril (2013). Since most of his writings in Spanish are at last available in responsible editions, research on Vallejo is now possible in a way it had not been earlier.

We aim to contribute to renewed scholarly work on this author who has become monumental without being fully read. We also hope to support the growth of Vallejo studies from an international and comparativist standpoint. This is important since given the translations and the global power of English, it is desirable that Vallejo’s critical traditions in Spanish, English and other languages remain in contact with one another and that the work in Spanish be known outside Peru. In addition Vallejo himself, the traveler with an Andean substratum, writing in Paris about Peru, Russia, Spain, worked from this point of view. Especially with the complex situation of his editions and manuscript tradition, it is essential to follow the networks through which his texts circulate, across languages and borders. The panel engages the Presidential theme “Literature and Its Publics” in that all presentations address questions of readership and audience.

The first two papers offer new readings of well known texts, giving very close attention to verbal play. Pedro Granadós’ “Trilce/Teatro: guión, personajes y público,” focuses on Trilce (1922), Vallejo’s most linguistically daring collection. Granados first shows how Trilce works as a theatrical or performance text, and then considers one of the specific audiences with which this collection enters into dialogue: the journal Colónida (1916) and the Colónida movement that grew up around it. Alan E. Smith’s “Looking for ‘Hallazgo de la vida’” examines the prose poetry of Vallejo’s early Paris years, some of the poet’s darkest, arguing that these are in fact affirmative texts and showing how they work to recover both the human figure and pathos.

The following two presentations focus on translations, adaptations, and Vallejo’s influence on contemporary literature and art. Jonathan Mayhew’s analysis of translations ranges from the earlier work (Los heraldos negros, 1919) to España, aparta de mí este cáliz (1938), drawing contrasts with translation projects on Neruda and Lorca. Vallejo’s modernism, he argues, is characterized not by visual imagery but by what Ezra Pound called “logopoeia,” or the “dance of the intellect among words.” Finally, Stephen Hart examines the poets who commemorated their ‘audience’ of and with Vallejo in a number of poems, focusing mainly on the poems Pablo Neruda dedicated to the Peruvian. His discussion also refers to the novels which have resurrected different aspects of Vallejo’s biography – Juan José Saer’s La pesquisa (1994), Roberto Bolaño’s Monsieur Pain (1999), Luis Freire Sarria’s César Vallejo se aburrió de seguir muerto, Eduardo González Viaña’s Vallejo en los infiernos (2007; English translation César Vallejo’s Season in Hell, 2015) and Jorge Nájar’s Vallejo y la célula Nec plus ultra (2010) – as well as films such as Roy Andersson’s Sånger från andra våningen [Songs from the Second Floor], and Fernando de Szyszlo’s artwork. Questions implicit in Mayhew’s presentation and explicit in Hart’s are what we mean by “public,” and what forces are at play when we talk about the influence a writer wields over other artists.

Papers will be posted online ahead of the convention. In the session, however, they will not be read, but rather summarized and explained. Each presenter will prepare a handout of relevant quotations for the audience, to facilitate assimilation and discussion of their analyses and arguments.


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