Irony in the Proyecto Diaspora(s)
Choteo, Irony as Pathos, and Buffo
The work of Virgelio Pinera and Jose Lezama Lima, both authors ostracized by the regime during the seventies, gripped the attention of the younger generation of eighties intellectuals. This was especially true for members of the Diaspora(s), for whom Pinera became an intellectual icon. It would not be excessive to say that Pinera was one of the strongest voices in Diaspora(s). The presence of his voice was there, even when his writing was not. Its tone and texture, its pitch and gravitas characteristic of his caustic and ironic oeuvre, left an imprint on the Diaspora(s)’s work. Pinera was the only Origenista to whom Diaspora(s) devoted a dossier. Aguilera indicates that the journal particularly emphasized Pinera’s playful and ironic nature, which in terms of national costumbrismo is also what Jorge Manach called choteo:
De todos los Virgilios que conozco (el narrador, el que sorbia te por las tardes, el que cuchicheaba con Lezama) prefiero el que sentia asco. No hacia una persona o una comida, movimiento comun a que suele reducirse el asco; sino el burlon, el tragaes- padas de feria, el personajito escatologico. . . . En este sentido, sus cartas tambien. . . . Cartas ludicas, pediguenas, gozadoras; que caricaturizan lo que estan observando y realifican la ficcion que perversamente se genera (crea) en ellas. Como si despues de los cuentos, el teatro, los poemas . . . no quedara otra opcion que la risita constante, eso que Gombrowicz llamaba el “sabroso culipandeo.
[Of all the Virgilios I know (the narrator, the one who sipped tea in the afternoons, the one who whispered with Lezama), I prefer the disgusted one. Not with respect to a person or a kind of food, as disgust is commonly reduced to, but rather the mocker, the county fair sword swallower, the scatological character. . . . In this sense, his letters as well. . . . Playful, demanding letters that take pleasure in life, that characterize what they observe and realify the fiction perversely generated (created) in them. As if after the stories, the plays, the poems . . . no other choice remains but the constant snicker, what Gombrowicz called “the tasteful dodge (el sabroso culipandeo).] (Aguilera 1999a, 26)
In other words, both the Diaspora(s)’s oeuvre and Pinera’s belong to a long tradition of works that have cultivated the practice of choteo as a unique Cuban trait defining national identity. The difference, however, is that in the Diaspora(s) choteo is represented not as a national characteristic.12 One can see various aspects of choteo at play in the Diaspora(s), but also many differences that distance the project’s approach from that tradition and bring it closer to Pinera’s dry and scathing humor. Manach defines choteo as “tirar todo a relajo,” a personality trait consisting in not taking anything seriously and laughing at any type of situation with a slightly teasing attitude (Manach 1999, 50.) This is in general the journal’s prevalent tone on most matters, but Manach does not consider choteo intellectual or witty; for him it is a sincere, lightweight joke (ibid., 51.) Conversely, irony, especially the type we find in Diaspora(s), is “mas o menos, una forma de simulacion, de doblez, puesto que consiste en decir lo contrario de lo que se siente o se piensa. Pero el cubano es tan sincero—sincero hasta cuando miente, cosa que hace sin escrupulos—que le repugna toda forma ironica de impugnacion. Prefiere el choteo, que es la mofa franca, desplegada, nada aguda generalmente, como que no tiene hechura de dardo, sino mas bien de polvillo de molida guasa, que se arroja a la cara de la victima [more or less a kind of simulation, of doublespeak, since it consists of saying the opposite of what one feels or thinks. But Cubans are so sincere—sincere even when they lie, which they do without scruple—that they hate any ironic form of contestation. They prefer the choteo, which is a forthright jibe, openly displayed, generally nothing pointed like a dart but more like the powder of a ground-up ribbing (molida guasa) that is tossed in the victim’s face]” (ibid., 78). That is, a witty simulation, a Brechtian estrangement, as Rito Ramon Aroche suggests in his review of Lidzie Alviza’s work (Diaspora(s) 7/8: 94). But choteo and irony also have commonalities, in that both can be described as Manach does the former: “El choteo es un prurito de independen- cia que se exterioriza en una burla de todas formas no imperativa de autoridad [Choteo is an itching for independence that manifests in mockery of any nonimperative form of authority]” (Manach 1999, 62). In other words, both irony and choteo indicate a lack of respect for authority and a desire to be above hegemonic power, or at least distinct from it. This irreverent disdain is precisely what Diaspora(s)’s ironic tone reveals, and it materializes as a scornful representation of cultural and political state power. This aspect of irony is also a legacy of Pinera. His poem “Lapidas [Tombstones],” for example, shows this ironic irreverence toward the most authoritarian and arbitrary power of all: death.13
/A que no me llamas por mi nombre?
Son inutiles tus burlas y tus ultrajes.
Ni siquiera llamarme viejo y que la muerte me ronda.
De nada vale decirme “carcamal,” “baboso,”
“reblandecido,” “caquectico” . . .
Nada me ofenderia, nada,
aunque me llamaras “esqueleto rumbero”
mi dignidad quedaria a salvo.
Pero si llegas a llamarme por mi nombre, si llegaras a decirme Virgilio Pinera, entonces me ofenderia
porque esas lapidas pesan demasiado.14 (Pinera 1999, 28)
In “Lapidas” the poetic voice playfully personifies death and provokes it in an ironic fashion: “^A que no me llamas por mi nombre?” The irreverent tone of the question indicates fearlessness and a willingness to confront the ineluctability of death. Is there any ground to challenge death? By playing with the double meaning of llamar (“to call” and “to name”), the poem is pointing to the proximity between life and death, and to a new understanding of the latter. This poem, written in 1971, clearly alludes to Pinera’s intellectual persona and to the ostracism that he suffered during the last decade of his life. After having been an early and enthusiastic supporter of the revolution, Pinera grew increasingly uncomfortable with the stifling cultural policies that took place from 1961 onward and fell into disgrace as a consequence of his muffled critiques.15 Barred from intellectual public life and publishing, Pinera became invisible well before he died. He was like the specter-like figure of his poem who is unafraid of death because, while physically present, he is already gone. This death in life has rendered death more familiar to him and less fearsome: “Son inutiles tus burlas y tus ultrajes / Ni siquiera llamarme viejo / y que la muerte me ronda.” But what could be a tragic truth is actually expressed with a playful tone, whose irony is conveyed with the double meaning of “llamar.”
The crux of the poem resides in that subtle ambiguity by which in the end death, like the gravestone to which the poem refers, renames us, as it happens, it individualizes us as when we are named (given a name) at birth. This name that we are given at birth symbolizes a new life, a full life, our presence and visibility in the world. The tombstone, in contrast, is what memorializes our life. It is the tribute to our memory and the way to acknowledge the importance of our (now former) existence. In the poem, the gravestone signals or produces an injunction to memorialize the poet’s life: “Pero si llegas a llamarme por mi nombre, / si llegaras a decirme Virgilio Pinera, / entonces me ofenderia.” But it is this type of injunction to celebrate a life after death that the poet fears the most. It is this “renaming” that the poet rejects, “porque esas lapidas pesan demasiado.” That is, he rejects the tribute to his memory as a writer, because it goes against his sense of ownership of his experiences. When he was alive he was made invisible by others, but no one could take away his experience of life and the fact that he was actually present, at least to himself: “aunque me llamaras esqueleto rumbero’ / mi dignidad quedaria a salvo.” Once he is gone, however, he will only be alive through the memories that others fashion of him. What he fears is not that death is calling him but that it will rename him through memory by recreating his persona and the legacy of his thought.
Carlos A. Aguilera’s work comes from the same tradition of political irreverence, but poems such as “Mao,” for example, introduce us to a much more complex notion of irony. “Mao” recounts the extermination of sparrows during the 1958 Chinese Great Leap Forward. Sparrows were known for eating stocked grain, so the state involved Chinese citizens in their massive killing. The goal was to ensure a high agricultural productivity that would ultimately result in fewer imports of heavy machinery. This campaign turned out to be one of the most tragic events of the Maoist period, because the lack of sparrows brought with it a plague of locusts that caused the Great Famine and the deaths of sixteen to thirty million people. Because the campaign resulted in the opposite of what it was meant to achieve, its representation becomes ironic in Aguilera’s poem.
enemigo radical de / y enemigo radical hasta que destruye el campo: “la economia burocratica del arroz” y destroza el campo: “la economia burocratica de la ideologia” con sus paticas un-2-tres (huecashuecasbarruecas) de todo maosentido
como senalo (o corrigio) historicamente el kamarada Mao en su intento de hacer pensar por enesima vez al pueblo:
“esa masa estupida que se estructura bajo el concepto fofo de pueblo”
que nunca comprendera a la maodemocratik en su movimiento contra el gorrion que se muta en vientreamarillo
ni a la maodemocratik en su intento (casi totalitario) de no pensar a ese gorrion
vientreamarillo.16 (Aguilera 1997, 22)
As a mise en abyme, “Mao” is actually an irony about an irony. Not only is it a poem about a historical event, it is also a reflection about irony itself. Line after line, the poem represents factual and antithetical events. For example, there is a description of the sparrow massacre in a matter-of-fact form whose aim is to create a suspension of disbelief. But this actually is not what is intended, because immediately after that statement, the poem reveals its falsity by indicating that ideology, like economics, is a matter not of beliefs but strategic planning. The government claims that sparrows eat away the crops and their revenues, but it is actually a planned economy and a stale ideology that does this. The sparrow is a fragile bird and not a menace to the economy. It is fragile, yet “barrueco,” original, different, unlike Mao’s ideology. Mao despises the masses but uses them. His system calls itself a democracy when it is not one. In the following lines, the poem tackles the question of violence:
o repito ch’ing ming
donde el concepto violencia se anula ante el concepto sentido (epoca de la cajita china)
y donde el concepto violencia ya no debe ser pensado sino a partir de “lo real” del concepto wnsolosentido (como aclaro muy a tiempo el presidente Mao y como muy a tiempo dijo: “si un obrero marcha con extensidad: eliminenlo / si un
obrero marcha con intensidad: rostros sudorosos con 1 chancro de sentido”)17 (ibid., 23)
The line “o repito ch’in ming” refers to the April 5 Movement of 1976, when the state violently suppressed demonstrations in Tiananmen Square against totalitarian measures. These protests were held during the Ch’in Ming, a traditional Chinese festival honoring the dead. In totalitarian regimes, state power is stratified and articulated in the form of a Chinese box: “y donde el concepto violencia se anula ante el concepto sentido / (epoca de la cajita china.)” Rule is conducted through the establishment of a strong ideology that legitimizes power. Here ideology means reason and the supersession of violence, but that ideology is actually implemented through violence hidden under the concept of reason, as though each were a small box inside of a larger one. Reason in this regard is violence, not a means to a cause but rather the cause itself: “y donde el concepto violencia ya no debe ser pensado sino / a partir de ‘lo / real’ del concepto / Mnsolosentido.” Ironically, however, this type of thinking (“Mnsolosentido”) is intensive, instead of extensive. If intensive thinking, in Deleuzian terminology, is the force that fuels the production of difference, it should not be equated to “Mnsolosentido” as the poem does: “si un obrero / marcha con extensidad: / eliminenlo / si un / obrero marcha con intensidad: rostros / sudorosos con 1 chancro / de sentido”).” “Maodemocratik” is actually only the regime of one ideology, and thus one direction (sentido: one direction, one meaning, ex (Latin): outside, tendere (Latin): estirar): “y subrayando con una metafora la nofisura que debe existir / entre maodemocratik / y sentido.”18 That is, a worker who wants to deviate from the “un sentido” must be killed; he cannot veer off the path. On the contrary, if he remains on the path (according to state ideology), his process of production is intensive and could potentially create a system of differences. The irony of the poem consists in reversing this process. Instead of creating a system of differences, the worker produces a contagious ulcer (chancro) of meaning, that is, a foreign body that corrodes it from the inside (“1 chancro / de sentido”). “Maodemocratik” is an oxymoron; it creates the opposite of what it means. There is a fissure between tradition and lack of sense, that is, only one ideology can make the tradition, can make history, the rest is outside history:
“subrayando con una metafora la nofisura que debe existir entre maodemocratik y sentido
y subrayando con la misma metafora la fisura que existe entre tradicion y nosentido: generador de violencia y aorden / generador de nohistoria y “saloncitos literarios con escritores sinsentido”19 (ibid.)
This fissure generates violence and chaos, which at the same time generates “sinsentido” writers with no meaning and no trajectory. Aguilera evokes two senses of “un sentido” (“one meaning” and “one way”) and plays with the word “violencia.” According to the logic of the Chinese state, there is violence when there are different meanings, ways, or ideologies: “(si un obrero marcha con extensidad: / eliminenlo.” That is, a worker who does not follow the regime’s path must be exterminated, like the sparrow that would dare fly off freely. Yet, the real violence is actually committed by the state, which only permits its citizens to think in one way, thus imposing one tradition and immobility. That is, by walking “inward” (toward “the way”), ideology can become contagious, like a venereal disease: “si un / obrero mar- cha con / intensidad: rostros / sudorosos con 1 chancro / de sentido.” Mao only speaks through metaphors (“subrayando con una metafora”), and his political discourse is lyrical: “Y sin embargo hoy es famoso por su cerebrito verticalmente / metafisico / y no por aquella discusion lirikproletaria entre gorrion.”20 His lyricism is a direct cause of the metaphysical and teleological nature of a political system of thought whose end goal is utopia. In other words, it is lyrical because it is literary, and it is literary because it is mostly articulated through metaphors. This is precisely the aestheticized representation of sixties politics that we studied in chapter 1. The poem thus offers a critique of such discourses and of their metaphorical force that goes so far as to equate violence and reason: “el concepto violencia se anula ante el concepto sentido.” This explains why a metaphor is actually an irony. What other rhetorical figure could dissemble as well as a metaphor? The poem is therefore a metapoetic critique of metaphors because of their potentially ironic use. Paradoxically, however, the poem itself is an irony of the same irony it is criticizing. In other words, the poem chooses to narrate history through irony. At the end of the poem, Qi the copyist of Mao’s history gets his finger chopped off, because he accuses Mao of manipulating history. This is how Mao “corrects” history:
“y como se vio obligado a corregir el (definitivamente) civilista Mao al coger un cuchillo ponerlo sobre el dedo mas pequeno del copista Qi (en un tono casi dialektik / militar casi) decirle “hacia abajo y hasta el fondo (crackk . . .)”21 (ibid., 24)
By “correcting” history with violence, Mao invents his last metaphor. That is, killing is not an act of violence, it is rather a “correction” of history. As a dissemblance, the art of correction is also an irony. The poem shows that violence is always represented as an irony, as something that it is not. From a metapoetic point of view, the poetic voice also chooses irony to narrate the tragic events that led to the Great Famine. If Mao writes history violently, the poetic voice chooses irony instead. Mao’s discourse is essentially metaphoric: correction is violence under the guise of reason. The poem clearly attempts, however, to criticize the use of metaphors. We can observe this weariness in the story’s narration. The refusal to “metaphorize” the story is also an effort not to repeat Mao’s violent gesture. The criticism of metaphors is carried out through irony. The result is a poetic ironic form about political irony, and the first sign of this operation is articulated by the peculiar poem’s form, which is actually quite common in Aguilera’s poetry. It consists of form where punctuation marks replace words. Not only do punctuation marks replace words, they are also grammatically incorrect. Several linguistic elements are misused or abused: neologisms, incorrect spelling, improper word use, italics, absence of capitalization, slashes, parentheses, character numbers followed by dashes and written numbers, constant enjambments. This linguistic violence also points to a political violence. That is, it’s the linguistic representation of an ideology whose economic policies are fraught with violent practices. Punctuation marks can only be irreverently used, but their meaning remains the same. That is, punctuation marks have a grammatical function, but they do not have semantic meaning. When used improperly, however, their function does not change (paradigmatic axis), but the syntagmatic level of the sentence does.
For example, in the “con sus paticas un-2-tres / (huecashuecasbarrue- cas)” we find both puns and a sign: the number 2, which can be read as a pictogram that resembles the bird. The term “paticas” (“patas” or bird legs) echoes the Cubanism “platicas” (chats), and “barrueco” (an irregular pearl) is the term from whence “barroco” originates. The line is thus ironically referring to the empty and convoluted arguments that justify the policies to exterminate the sparrows. The repetition of “huecas” (“empty”), joined with “barruecas,” produces an alliteration that evokes the bird’s pecking sound. Also, the semantical opposition between “huecas” and “barruecas” produces laughter instead of gravitas. In other words, there is not a traslatio of meaning as in metaphor. Instead, the punctuation marks add tone. In most cases, as in this example, this tone is one of buffo. Irony in the poem articulates buffo as a tonality. There is a lot of buffo in Aguilera’s work, and by extension in Diaspora(s). According to Paul de Man, buffo is what Friedrich Schlegel calls the disruption of an illusion. It is, for example, what happens in commedia dell’arte. “[Buffo] is the aside to the audience by means of which the illusion is broken” (de Man 1996, 178). In the poem, metaphor as a rhetorical figure is displaced by irony as buffo. That is, in political discourse metaphors become ironic because they dissemble and “hide” violence. Instead, poems are ironic because they show dissemblance through the articulation of pathos, or buffo in Aguilera’s case. Buffo breaks the illusion that metaphor produces.
Of all the works we have seen, Historias de Olmo by Rolando Sanchez Mejias may most clearly show what I call the pathos of irony. The book is a series of Beckettian microfictions about the “absurd” and illogical life of a character named Olmo. Drawing on Pinerian storytelling tradition, the book breaches formal conventions, including those of genre, length, and narrative flow. The reader’s expectations are constantly challenged. The absurdity of the stories lies more in the humor they provoke when explanations, space, or time no longer make sense, as in “Viaje a China,” for example: “Olmo se abrocha los zapatos, se va a China, vuelve de China y se desabrocha los zapatos [Olmo ties his shoes, goes to China, comes back from China and unties his shoes]” (Sanchez Mejias 2001, 82). The comic effect lies in the inconsequentiality and the incongruence of both actions. The actions of tying one’s shoes and traveling to China are made equally important, and there has been an alteration in the cause and effect between them. In Historias de Olmo, irony, as we have understood it thus far, is replaced by humor or choteo. In other words, what disappears in these stories is the traditional understanding of irony as a trope that posits a sujet suppose savoir or an external point of view. Gilles Deleuze argues that in traditional irony an ultimate law always establishes the rule that is broken: “Classical irony acts as the instance which assures the coextensiveness of being and of the individual within the world of representation” (qtd. in Colebrook 2004, 133).
Thus, in irony the subject is always represented as a disempowered victim. Irony reproduces a reality that deviates from an established norm, which is why it always resides in negativity and never empowers the subject. Irony thus conceived comes from the romantic interpretation of irony as an embodiment of the relation between the subject and the Absolute that is later interpreted as negativity in work from Hegel to Kierkegaard. To end the repetition of the negative impact of irony, Deleuze proposes giving up irony and finding an alternative in humor. Thus, for Deleuze irony as a trope must be replaced by something more active and less reactive, and for him that is humor. It is what Deleuze calls superior irony or postirony, a concept that “strives to think all the becomings that lie beyond the subject, all the points of view that lie beyond the grammar and logic of human representation” (Colebrook 2004, 137). Postirony tries to grapple with what we cannot say by delving into the forces that produce subjectivity, rather than with recognition. This is why “humor shows subjects to be collections of sounds, gestures, body parts, and signs devoid of any real sense” (ibid.). In Historias de Olmo, humor is also a reversal of irony. There is no subjectivity but rather a perpetual state of becoming as the result of the categorical collapse between bestiality, humanity, and entities.
For Deleuze, change can only occur by cultivating humor rather than irony. Unlike irony, humor does not set a moral standard because it breaks up notions of subjectivity. It no longer presents a point of view looking at us from above. It just disrupts logic, annuls ethics, and deforms bodies and objects. In this regard it is closer to choteo and to Pinera’s notion of the absurd. This is precisely what “Dostoeivski, libro primero, VII [Dostoyevsky, Book One, VII]” demonstrates:
A veces Olmo se esconde en las escaleras, saca un cuchillo y desde alli acecha. Que finalmente no mate una mosca no prueba que carezca de talento para matar. Olmo explica que Raskolnikov carecia de talento para matar. Dice: “Era un chapucero. En su obstinacion por probar una idea habia olvidado las reglas mas elementales.” Y anade que sobre todo ignoro la regla principal: jCuidado con mujercitas como Sonia!
[Sometimes Olmo hides in the stairway, takes out a knife, and waits. That he wouldn’t hurt a fly doesn’t prove he lacks talent for killing. Olmo explains that Raskolnikov lacked talent for killing. He says, “He was an amateur. He was so determined to prove an idea that he forgot the most basic rules.” And he adds that above all he didn’t know rule number one: Watch out for little ladies like Sonia!] (Sanchez Mejias 2001, 59)
This story trivializes Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment by erasing its moral content. It measures Raskolnikov’s crime not according to a moral standard but rather according to his “talent” as a murderer. Olmo’s interpretation has a more political twist. His idea, a clear reference to totalitarianism, is that ideas take over praxis, and the latter fails because the idea is no longer adjusted to reality: “He was so determined to prove an idea that he forgot the most basic rules.” But immediately, this more serious interpretation is trivialized with a misogynistic popular statement that Cubanizes the Russian novel’s context: “Watch out for little ladies [mujercitas] like Sonia!” This type of humor takes us back to Manach’s choteo, with which it shares a key characteristic, the irreverence for authority that we also saw in Pinera and Aguilera: “Un mero desorden no es cosa que tenga gracia en si. El choteo no se la encuentra tampoco, pero se ufana ante una situacion semejante porque comporta una negation de la jerarquia, que para ciertos tipos de idiosincrasia tropical es siempre odiosa. Todo orden implica alguna auto- ridad [Mere disorder is not amusing in itself. Choteo does not find humor in it either; instead it revels in such situations because they entail a negation of hierarchy, which for certain kinds of tropical idiosyncrasy is always despicable. All order implies some authority]” (Manach 1999, 59). Unlike choteo, however, this type of humor is apolitical and nonnationalistic, which is what makes it so light: “Estas dos disposiciones espirituales nuestras—la ligereza y la independencia—han sido, pues, el caldo de cultivo del choteo [These two spiritual attitudes of ours—lightness and independence—have thus been the breeding ground for choteo]’’ (ibid., 71). Most important, this humor has lost the negative connotations that Manach attributed to choteo, because it actually represents choteo, but ironically. That is, as in the story “Alas, unas, o pezunas” (“Wings, Fingernails, or Hooves”), the narrator teases the reader into identifying with Olmo as the main character, while at the same time ridiculing him and his words. The story shows a categorical disintegration by discussing representation and reality:
Que parezca un mendigo, que sea un misogino, que confunda a los gatos, no dota a Olmo de profundidad. /La poesia en la vida se da por si misma? Mejor virarse de espaldas mientras el banquero regala unos pendientes a su esposa preguntandose por la naturaleza de los acontecimientos.
Asi es la vida. Mejor seguir de largo. Mejor virarse de espaldas mientras una mujer, en la cama, acaricia el omoplato de Olmo. /Con que? Con una plumita. Ella le dijo: “Un cinico, eso es lo que eres . . .”
/Pero que vamos a hacer si la prosa no ama? Entonces Olmo le dijo. . . . /Como decir en prosa que Olmo la ama? /O que no la ama? Y ella, ella, /ama a Olmo? Ella le dijo, mientras se pintaba . . .
Veamos, no perdamos el punto de vista. Donde hubo un ala de angel ahora hay un omoplato vacio. Donde hubo emocion ahora cuelga un bicho en una rama. Donde hubo amor ahora . . .
jPero esto se parece a la poesia! Prometemos que se repe- tira pocas veces, por no decir jamas, jamas. Mejor volvamonos de espaldas. Visto en prosa, Olmo duerme. Como un bendito. Profundamente como la superficie de un lago duerme su alma.
Le van creciendo alas, o unas, o pezunas.
Es un encanto—dice el narrador recogiendo la plumita de la cama.
[That he looks like a beggar, that he’s a misogynist, that he couldn’t tell two cats apart, doesn’t make Olmo deep. Does life’s poetry offer itself up on its own? We’d do better to turn our backs while the banker gives his wife earrings, and meditate on the nature of events.
That’s the way life is. Better to follow at a distance. Better to turn our backs while a woman, in bed, caresses Olmo’s shoulder blades. With what? A little feather. She tells him: “A cynic. That’s what you are.”
But what do we do if prose doesn’t love? So Olmo tells her . . . How do we say in prose that Olmo loves her, or doesn’t love her? And she, she, does she love Olmo? She tells him, as she puts on her makeup. . . .
Hold on. Let’s not lose our point of view. Where there was an angel wing there’s now an empty shoulder blade. Where there was emotion there’s now a bug hanging from a branch. Where there was love there’s now . . .
But this sounds like poetry! We promise that this will rarely happen again, or rather, never, never. Better to turn our backs. Seen in prose, Olmo lies sleeping. Like a saint. Deeply like the surface of a lake his soul sleeps. He grows wings, or fingernails, or hooves.
“He’s charming,” says the narrator taking the feather (plu- mita) from the bed.] (Sanchez Mejias 2001, 68)
The piece poses an amusing paradox regarding poesis (writing) and its relationship to reality as a subject matter. The narrator states that odd characters such as Olmo, as well as unusual events or love scenes, are not poetic subjects in themselves: “That he looks like a beggar, that he’s a misogynist, that he couldn’t tell two cats apart, doesn’t make Olmo deep. Does life’s poetry offer itself up on its own?” The comic element comes from the oddity and trivial, inconsequential (and thus realist) absurdity in all the events the narrator represents. In other words, “Alas, unas, o pezunas” criticizes realism, its mimetic function, and its objective analysis of reality. An objective analysis seeks to understand the real social conditions, and this is precisely what the narrator is telling Olmo, the writer, not to do: “Better to follow at a distance.” In other words, we cannot reproduce an objective image of reality, because there is not one objective point of view. This is why characters are confused and suddenly lose the point of view (“Hold on . . .”). But it is precisely because we lose the point of view, that reality comes together in a sudden poetic representation: “But this sounds like poetry!”
The paradox is that after having said this, the narrator comes up with a poem inspired by the events he has belittled before: “Where there was an angel wing there’s now an empty shoulder blade. Where there was emotion there’s now a bug hanging from a branch. Where there was love there’s now . . .” Once again, the poem has ranked poetry higher than prose: “How do we say in prose that Olmo loves her?” The piece ends, however, with a poetic fragment in prose: “Deeply like the surface of a lake his soul sleeps. He grows wings, or fingernails, or hooves.” The narrator is telling us that poetry and prose are indistinguishable. “Alas, unas, o pezunas” also shows that poetry is not a social analysis of reality, and that life in itself is poetic. Poetry is actually as inconsequential, odd, alluring, and unpredictable as reality. Writing flows, like the river to which Olmo is compared, as the narrator picks up the “plumita” (or quill in Spanish), which is also the writer’s pen.