The Aliveness of Memory: The Academic Centre for the Memory of Nuestra América (CAMeNA)

More than one path leads to the Academic Centre for the Memory of Nuestra América(CAMeNA), based on the Del Valle campus of the Autonomous University of Mexico City (UACM). One has to cross a quad, usually busy with students, and can then walk past the building, make one’s way past what seems to be constant, never finished construction work, and enter the current premises of the CAMeNA.

The CAMeNA was built up around the personal archive and the ethics of the journalist and writer Gregorio Selser, who was born in 1922 in Buenos Aires to Ukrainian-Jewish immigrant parents, and passed away in 1991 in Mexico City. Selser had left Argentina in 1974 and came to Mexico in 1976, where he, his partner Marta Ventura and their children reunited in 1976. As a person and as a journalist and writer Selser took on the political challenges of his historical moment, and control of his own knowledge and education: at age 12 the voracious young reader decided to not continue to secondary education because he felt that school interfered with his reading. By the age of 15, he had read the complete works of Stefan Zweig, Thomas Mann, Emil Ludwig and Leonhard Frank, plus many other classics like Germinal and Les Misérables, his best friend he said later, was a dictionary. Six years later, now with the experience of an adolescent working life and the knowledge and discipline gained through his continued self-education, he returned to adult education. He became a journalist. His active support for the exiles who had struggled against fascism in Spain eventually made him a potential target of repression, and he went into exile to Uruguay in 1944. After his return to Argentina he continued his work on the past and present of the struggles for life and dignity in Latin America. In 1955 he published his first book, on the Nicaraguan freedom fighter Augusto Sandino. Many more were to follow, among them the monumental Chronology of Foreign Interventions in Latin America, which covers the time period from 1776 until 1992 in four volumes. In 2005, the UACM had the foresight and good judgement to acquire the general archive kept and cherished by himself and Marta Ventura. In 2007, the university added their personal archive. Both archives were to be made publicly accessible, without charges to the users. This was the seed of the CAMeNA.

How does one care for and grow the seed of committed knowledge and lucid analysis that people like Selser had grown and planted? Those who eventually became members of the Advisory Board and staff at the CAMeNA answered this question by creating around Selser’s legacy an academic centre where archival material is cared for and made accessible, where people come together in events organized around a project of committed, autonomous knowledge and analysis, and from where radio programmes (eventually available online as podcasts), the digitalization of the archives and a lively social media presence reach out to people beyond the physical premises of the CAMeNA. ‘Academic’ stands for a personally disinterested, analytically rigorous, ethically committed, politically autonomous (as distinct to, not neutral), solidary (read: non-competitive, non-protagonistic) approach to analytical, academic and politically experiential knowledges. It also stands for an unrelenting commitment to the public, expressed through the refusal to privatize these knowledges or access to them in any way. The implication is that without these conditions and commitments, knowledge and analysis would lose their intellectual rigor and their ethical integrity. The term ‘Nuestra América’, ‘Our América’, indicates that ‘América’ is conceived of in the tradition of the Cuban poet and freedom fighter José Martí: as intellectually and culturally autonomous, and as striving towards independence and decolonization. Keeping the archives collected by the CAMeNA in Latin America (often, Latin American archives are bought by North American or European universities) is part of that strive towards autonomy and independence.

The staff see themselves as the caretakers of a project which preserves and brings to life the memory of those who never acquiesced to the status quo and instead, found, imagined and built a multitude of alternatives. Thus, the CAMeNA honours them by practicing analytical sharpness, political commitment, intellectual autonomy, personal helpfulness and affective warmth. Those attitudes and the emerging atmosphere set a counterpoint to the harrowing content of some of the collections, and are part of the everyday practice of an affective resistance to repression and terror by not letting those take possession of the behavior and the dispositions of those who deal on a day-to-day basis with the memory of what most hurts.

Since 2004, individuals and collectives who – like Gregorio Selser – have taken on their historical moment with integrity, commitment and lucidity, have entrusted the CAMeNA with their own archival collections. Many of those materials document dedicated anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist struggles for a continent where people live in dignity and peace, and they also document the cruel, terrorist, violent responses by states, governments and élites in Latin America, the Caribbean and the United States. Among them are – to give just a few examples – collections on state crimes in Latin America from 1962-2012, on Mexican grassroots movements in solidarity with Argentine resistance against the 1976-1983 dictatorship, on the struggle for LGBT rights in Mexico, the complete documentation collected by writer Paco Ignacio Taibo II for his biography on Ernesto ‘el Che’ Guevara, selected material on Operation Condor from the Archive of Terror in Paraguay (1960-1989), and the documentation of the court martial and civil proceedings against General José Francisco Gallardo Rodríguez, who blew the whistle on Human Rights violations in the Mexican armed forces. Over the next few months, this blog will introduce these different archival collections and the activities of the CAMeNA in a series of blog posts. In the next post we will introduce the life and the work of Gregorio Selser, and the general and personal archival collections by himself and Marta Ventura.


Centro Académico de la Memoria de Nuestra América, <> [accessed 05/09/2018]

Rodríguez Mora, Tania, ‘La universidad y la memoria: El Archivo Gregorio y Marta Selser en la UACM’, in Selser, Gregorio, Me hubiera gustado ser poeta o director de orquesta (Mexico City: UACM, 2014), pp. 9-14.
Selser, Gregorio, Me hubiera gustado ser poeta o director de orquesta (Mexico City: UACM, 2014)

Cornelia Gräbner is currently a Leverhulme Research Fellow and would like to acknowledge The Leverhulme Trust’s support.


Re-posted from Lancaster University, DeLC Staff Blogs <;


Comunicado sobre reportajes del Primer Aniversario y traducción del video documental

Communique in Spanish from the ejido Tila, celebrating the first anniversary of its declaration of autonomy.

Ejido Tila Chiapas a 19 de enero del 2017

A la Opinion publica

Al Congreso Nacional Indigena (CNI)

A las Juntas de Buen Gobierno

A la Sexta nacional e internacional

A los medios de comunicación independientes

A los derechos humanos no gubernamentales

A las organizaciones sociales que luchan por justicia y dignidad

Reciban un cordial saludo de parte de los compañeros y compañeras del Ejido Tila que seguimos en pie de lucha hasta llegar al final y continuaremos luchando construyendo nuestra autonomia ejidal y autogobierno aunque en medio de tantas amenazas pero nuestro pueblo esta firme y dispuesto a seguir para adelante asi como estamos trabajando con nuestro derecho como pueblo indígena y como territorio ejidal.


Nuestro pueblo como muchos otros pueblos está echandole ganas a seguir explicando y profundizando nuestro acuerdo de constituir el Concejo Indigena de Gobierno y lanzar la candidata para que lleve su palabra frente a todo Mexico e internacional y frente a esos que nos quieren arrebatar las tierras y nos estan masacrando por todas las partes de Mexico. Porque llegó el momento de los pueblos.

Y en esta ocasión les enviamos este sencillo escrito para presentarles los trabajos de los compañeros y compañeras de medios independientes y agradeserles por sus trabajos que realisaron tanto para mostrar nuestro Primer Aniversario de Autonomia Ejidal para Tila y libre determinación; pero también les presentamos las traducciones al idioma ingles y francés de nuestro video documental Juntos defendemos nuestra Madre Tierra, Mi Lak tyeñ kotyañ lak ña’ lum y que será de gran ayuda para difundirlo entre compañeros y compañeras que hablan estos idiomas y que conozcan sobre la historia de nuestra lucha por la defensa de nuestra tierra y territorio. Por esto;

  1. Les agradecemos su trabajo solidario como compañeros y compañeras de los colectivos que hicieron las traducciones a los idiomas ingles y francés de nuestro video documental Mi lak tyeñ kotyañ lak ña’ lum Juntos la defendemos nuestra madre tierra. Aquí les presentamos las traducciones de los videos que se pueden descargar en buena resolución para reproducirse y difundirse. También les enviamos este escrito que presenta el documental para los diferentes idiomas.

‘Ensemble nous défendons notre terre-mère’, ‘Mi Lak Tyeñ Kotyañ Lak Ña’Lum’: Documentaire sur l’inséparabilité de la terre, de la culture, de la gouvernance et de la sociabilité.


De nombreuses populations autochtones de l’état du Chiapas, dans le sud-est du Mexique, ont été à l’avant-garde de la lutte pour la terre et la culture, conçues par elles comme inséparables. Durant des siècles elles ont souffert la dépossession culturelle et territoriale – quand la spoliation territoriale implique presque toujours la spoliation culturelle. Les gouvernements local, fédéral et internationaux, ainsi que les grandes entreprises et le monde des affaires ont l’habitude de travestir cette dépossession sous un discours de “développement” et de “progrès”. A l’inverse, les organisations de défense des droits humains et les populations concernées expliquent que la dépossession doit être comprise dans son contexte et comme faisant partie d’une guerre de basse intensité et de contre-insurrection, qui s’est intensifiée en réponse au soulèvement zapatiste de 1994 et à la mise en place des Conseils zapatistes de Bon Gouvernement en 2003. L’un des éléments en dispute dans ces luttes contre la dépossession c’est la figure légale de l’ejido. Les ejidos sont la propriété sociale des membres de l’ejido, et tous les éléments relatifs à lui sont abordés en assemblée et par les représentants élus par elle. La figure de l’ejido a été établie dans la Constitution nationale après la Révolution mexicaine de 1910. Les Traités de Libre Échange et les politiques dérivées de ces traités ont tenté d’abolir ou d’affaiblir cette importante figure légale.

La commune autochtone ch’ol de Tila a lutté durant plusieurs décennies pour défendre 130 hectares de son ejido. Ce terrain se trouve dans le petit village de Tila et ses alentours, et comprend des terres agricoles et urbaines. Dans la commune de Tila, vivent des membres de l’ejido (indigènes ch’ol) et des habitants urbains (métis). Les premiers se gouvernent par assemblée; jusqu’en décembre 2015, le gouvernement municipal gouvernait les seconds. La figure légale de l’ejido protège l’esprit de la vie en commun et la propriété collective de la terre; le centre de peuplement urbain étant lui, au contraire, soumis aux lois de la propriété privée.

Les 130 hectares en litige furent occupées illégalement durant la décennie des années 60 par le gouvernement municipal métis. Des années plus tard, les membres de l’ejido gagnèrent un jugement censé leur donner une protection juridique contre la spoliation de leurs terres; cependant, ce que les autorités municipales et l’état du Chiapas offrent à l’ejido est une indemnisation en échange de leurs terres, alors que les membres de l’ejido exigent la restitution de la terre car ils estiment qu’elle est cruciale pour leur vie sociale et culturelle. Les membres de l’ ejido ont été jusqu’à présenter leur cas à la Cour Suprême de Justice. Alors que la décision de la Cour tardait, les autorités municipales ont tenté de détruire la cohésion des membres de l’ejido et de les convaincre à l’usure d’accepter une indemnité de compensation pour leurs terres, par le biais d’une campagne de harcèlement constant ou encore par l’introduction de compteurs d’eau courante impliquant de transformer cette ressource en un service payant, alors que les sources d’eau se trouvent sur les terres de l’ejido.

‘Ensemble nous défendons notre terre-mère’, réalisé et produit en collectif par la communauté ch’ol de Tila et la maison de production indépendante Terra Nostra Films, utilise le genre documentaire à la manière d’une lettre publique: le film était initialement destiné aux juges de la Cour Suprême. Dans le documentaire, les membres de l’ejido expliquent en paroles et en images pourquoi cette terre a une valeur inhérente et inestimable, et pourquoi la figure légale de l’ejido ne se réfère pas seulement à la terre communale, mais aussi à la vie sociale et culturelle et à la possibilité de s’auto-gouverner. Le documentaire a été réalisé juste avant que l’ejido, qui est adhérent à la Sixième Déclaration de la Forêt Lacandone de l’EZLN, ne déclare son autonomie le 16 décembre 2015, en réponse à des décennies de spoliation et en résistance à une vague de violence et de répression.

La caméra nous invite à regarder la terre, les paysages, les personnes, les espaces et les pratiques communales d’une façon telle qu’elle ne les enferme pas et que le regard n’en prenne pas possession. Comme dans d’autres productions de Terra Nostra, il n’y a pas la voix d’un narrateur extérieur: ce sont les membres de la communauté eux-mêmes qui parlent, et le spectateur/auditeur est mis au défi d’apprendre à écouter les inflexions et les façons de parler des personnes impliquées dans la lutte pour leur terre. C’est ainsi qu’une poétique visuelle et verbale de la résistance émerge comme faisant partie d’une approche éthique, politique, philosophique et pratique de vivre et de s’engager les uns avec les autres, avec l’environnement social, l’environnement construit et l’environnement naturel… non pas comme une façon de “nous approprier” ou “d’accéder”, mais comme un engagement à la recherche d’une plénitude essentiellement inestimable.

Plus d’informations sur les sites gérés par l’ejido Tila:

Le documentaire est disponible ici en version originale sous-titrée français:

Lien vimeo:

Lien youtube:

Call for Participation (edited volume) Poetic Words in the 21 st Century Neoliberal City

Which alternatives to the capitalist and neoliberal status quo is the poetic word involved in constructing, by participating in expression, response, spatial occupation or collective organisation? Conversely, in what ways has poetry in public spaces become a tool for readying urban spaces for gentrification? Which strategies do poets and cultural organizers employ to resist such a re-signification of poetry by those in power, and to defend and recuperate poetic words as processes that practice radical democracy and are committed to social, political and spatial justice?

We invite essay proposals that explore the ways in which poetic words engage with the material and the immaterial in the contemporary urban world, marked by spatial injustice (in lines with Edward Soja’s “thirdspace”), racism, sexism and the related phenomena of segregation, marginalization, gentrification, or deliberate decay. This specifically includes essays that pick apart neoliberal and authoritarian mystifications and instrumentalizations of ‘Poetry’ in the contemporary urban context. We welcome investigations of the relationship between poetry and the city’s role in producing categories, such as “illegal” immigrant, that criminalize and exclude, as well as considerations of poetry generated in response to the production and policing of “internal borders” within the cityscape. We are looking for research on poetry and the city’s complicity in neoliberal legal, carceral and penal systems that have targeted migrants, the poor, and racialized populations. How has poetry participated in discourses, or been instrumentalized by forces, that have remade the city as a zone of privilege, homogeneity, and wealth?

Our planned edited volume seeks essays that explore the role of the poetic word as a critical response to, as an engaged critique of and intervention into, the social, affective and political realities of today’s cities that are marked by post-industrial, neo-colonial and neoliberal structures. We are looking for analyses and experiential engagements of a variety of poetic expressions from diverse urban zones, and particularly invite research on cities and towns that are not capitals, a relatively less studied topic in the broader area of investigation.

Many examples of contemporary urban poetry speak about, and from within, spaces marked by the watershed of neoliberal policies and beliefs, and the financial crises of the beginning of our century. The short form, read, performed, exchanged, written on the urban surface, or hidden within the palimpsestic layers of the city, can challenge notions of possession or productivity. This world-making poetic expression, which is sometimes the fruit of cooperative or communal endeavors, and sometimes the cherished hidden gem in a hostile environment, furthermore problematizes traditional ideas of the public and the private and reexamines conventional notions of enunciation and authorship. In the best of cases, it is an exercise in democratic, urban imagination that allows for an active, sense-imparting relationship with the environment.

Studies may include, but are not limited to, strategies of writing against monumentalization, poetry in relation to the city as tourist attraction and object of consumption, street art’s sensory responses to urban rhythms (in line with and beyond the historical vanguards), poetry and touch in an urban context, poetry of resistance to the language of advertisement, art in relation to an economy of sharing, and lyrics of dispossession and discarded objects. Other possible topics include: poetic resistance to, and defense against, neoliberal violence, and poetries of occupation and solidarity, what Kristin Ross (along with the Communards) calls “communal luxury.”

Please send your 3-4 page proposal (max. 1100 words, MLA style) to,, by October 31, 2016. The deadline for submission of complete essays (max. 8,000 words) is Jan 31, 2017.

¿Enaltecimiento de qué? A propósito de la ficción y las leyes

(Arturo Casas, EsCULcA, Observatorio para a Defensa dos Direitos e Liberdades)

Enaltecer es verbo transitivo, como todo el mundo sabe. Se enaltece algo y ese algo es lo que la gramática llama complemento directo. De entrada, el objeto posible de enaltecimiento, en términos semánticos, es tan amplio como el mundo. Igual que uno puede aborrecer prácticamente cualquier cosa, igual que una puede adorar asimismo innumerables referentes, en principio sería factible convertir en objeto de enaltecimiento una variedad incontable de entidades. Los títeres, por poner un caso. Enaltecimiento de los títeres, cabría pensar. Recuérdese ahora Éloge du théâtre, de Alain Badiou.

Sin embargo, en el lenguaje jurídico y sobre todo en el lenguaje mediático-político de control social e ideológico, lo que se enaltece por antonomasia, y casi por exclusión léxica, es el terrorismo, nombre del mal absoluto en estos tiempos simples. Para otros objetos se buscan otros verbos. Honrar, por ejemplo. “Honrar a las víctimas”, se dice. Y está bien que se haga. Sobre todo cuando de verdad se honran (no se utilizan) y se honran todas. La cuestión es que, por lo que se acaba de señalar, enaltecer es hoy por hoy un verbo manchado, bajo sospecha.

Qué sea el terrorismo, por otra parte, dista de ser cuestión de delimitación sencilla. Nunca lo ha sido, pese a lo cual hay quien lo tiene clarísimo. Normalmente, el Estado y sus aparatos lo tienen. Todo estado suele tenerlo claro, de hecho. Y de esa claridad, de nuevo normalmente, el abuso oscuro, el ejercicio acusatorio represor, el control en ocasiones criminoso de las libertades.

Se puede afirmar en general, contemplando este mundo nuestro catalogado como occidental y transmoderno, que otro concepto que hasta no hace mucho tiempo tuvieron claro el Estado, los legisladores, los jueces, el sentido común popular e incluso la policía fue el de ficción. Solíamos creer que existían dos formas de intervención en el espacio público que dejaban en suspenso provisional la responsabilidad de expresar algo (la opinión, por ejemplo, la discrepancia, la más ácida de las críticas políticas o la sátira).

Una de esas formas era la asociada a determinados fenómenos festivos y celebratorios, parateatrales a fin de cuentas. El mejor ejemplo, y supo explorarlo muy bien el ruso Mikhaíl Bakhtín, es el del carnaval. A ningún policía se le ocurría hasta hace no tanto detener a nadie durante la celebración del carnaval. Dijera lo que dijera, vistiera lo que vistiera, manifestase lo que manifestase en las distintas variantes de los lenguajes verbales y visuales activados. Y ello pese a que lo propio del carnaval es justamente el exceso, la diatriba, el dicterio. No se hacía eso. Pero ahora ya se hace. Se hizo en Ourense (Galicia) el pasado febrero en las fiestas de carnaval, por caso. Un ciudadano disfrazado de titiritero, con el ya célebre cartel de “Gora Alka-ETA” en el pecho, fue denunciado por la policía ante la Audiencia Nacional española por enaltecimiento del terrorismo.

La segunda forma que quedaba al margen era la transmitida, en términos de comunicación, como manifestación artística. Si en una farsa, por ejemplo, un personaje gritaba de repente “¡Muerte al rey!” o “¡Muerte a los ciegos!” a nadie se le ocurriría pensar que fuera a aparecer un funcionario policial para detener a la actriz. Ni siquiera para llevarse detenido al personaje que esa actriz representase (?). Sería de locos hacerlo. Ningún rey, ninguna organización de ciegos se personarían nunca como parte. Sería absurdo hacerlo, sí. Los actores y las actrices, los disfrazados todos tenían licencia para hablar. De eso obtuvieron notable partido estético y metateatral Shakespeare, Cunqueiro y Jelinek, entre tantos otros. A mayores, policías y juezas, alcaldesas y ministros lo asumían con meridiana claridad, como diría un primer ministro español.

Todo el mundo recuerda que eso mismo —esa idea— fue lo que, pese a las puntillosas argumentaciones de Ernest Pinard, el abogado imperial, acabó triunfando en el juicio a Gustave Flaubert por el doble delito de ofensa a la moral pública y a la moral religiosa (lo cual equivaldría tal vez a un enaltecimiento de la indecencia) constituido supuestamente de cabo a rabo por su novela Madame Bovary. Baudelaire tuvo problemas semejantes por las Flores do mal, Joyce por su Ulises, y Curros Enríquez por el Divino Sainete. Todo esto hace mucho tiempo, casi siempre en el siglo XIX.

El caso fue que el abogado de Flaubert, Jules Sénard, puso al mundo sobre una pista aparentemente irrefutable que mucho tiempo después asumiría como dogma esa disciplina de base estructuralista que llamamos narratología. Para ser breves podría formularse así: lo que afirme un personaje es cosa suya; aquello que exprese discursivamente o a través de sus actos no es nunca constitutivo de persecución por la ley. Y aun más: lo que afirma o expresa el narrador de un relato entra en ese mismo orden de actos de habla porque lo suyo es ser ficcionales, fictivos. Así, los actos de habla en una novela o un montaje teatral no forman parte del mundo real. No son mundo real. Y no solo porque los enuncien entidades pertenecientes a mundos de ficción (los personajes, el narrador) sino además porque el acto comunicativo todo en el que se enmarcan en tanto enunciación es ya de suyo ficcional. Con el cine ocurre otro tanto. Y con las artes plásticas lo mismo. Es así sin duda de ninguna clase. Era así porque así debía ser. Y lo que parece mentira es que haya que reiterarlo en este segundo decenio del siglo XXI.

Los abogados defensores de autores como los citados emplearon junto a lo anterior un argumento jurídico más en los procesos en los que debieron intervenir. El de la intertextualidad. Se adujeron párrafos de Montesquieu y Lamartine para restar peso a los argumentos contra Flaubert. De Dante y la Divina Comedia para aliviar la presión clerical contra Curros Enríquez. Lo que ellos escribieron lo habían escrito otros antes, a veces otros con buena reputación, gente fuera de sospecha. Todo discurso, al fin, sería eco de otros discursos. La cita como tal no puede ser constitutiva de delito. Eso argumentaron los letrados.

Pero todo se acaba si se deja que acabe. La defensa de las viejas y de las nuevas libertades es hoy perentoria para todos, es un deber ético y político que nadie está en condiciones de ignorar ni de aplazar. Le va la vida en ello.

¿Cómo es que unos titiriteros pasen varios días detenidos en dependencias policiales por un montaje teatral, dígase lo que se diga por parte de los personajes, las escenógrafas, los músicos o quien fuere a través de la multiplicidad sígnica que todo espectáculo presupone? ¿Cómo pudo ser todo lo que ocurrió después? ¿La retirada de pasaportes, el control obsesivo en los juzgados, la criminalización mediática? ¿Tanto silencio de tanta gente? ¿Y también los cordones de seguridad que políticos en ejercicio, algunos de ellos con patente formación y desempeño jurídicos, se vieron impelidos a activar por si las moscas (yo también denuncio, etc.)?


Esa fue y es la gestión del miedo por parte del estado-vigía. Pero la libertad de expresión no se negocia. Se logró tras procesos históricos dilatadísimos en el tiempo. Constituye una conquista civil irrenunciable para todos nosotros. Ceder ahí es cederlo todo.

Imputar actores por lo que los personajes afirmen es quebrar un pacto sobre el que se sustenta buena parte de la actividad teatral y en general artística de nuestra civilización. Conduce claramente además a que las autoras puedan ser denunciadas por lo que diga cualquier personaje de ficción. Rosalía de Castro podría ir a la cárcel leídos hoy algunos de sus versos desde la sensibilidad prevaricadora que por ósmosis ideológica va afectando con impunidad a las estructuras de control del estado posmoderno.

Iría probablemente, sí. ¿Por enaltecimiento de qué?

Closing Remarks: The Poetic Word as a Form of Resistance in the Neoliberal City (Series)

Cornelia Gräbner, Lancaster University

Ilka Kressner, State University of New York

Anne Shea, California College of the Arts

Over the past two months we have maintained on this virtual location an exchange about the poetic word in contemporary neoliberal cities. Contributors have looked at some of the many facets in which neoliberal capitalism, its structures and its agents shape, change, appropriate, and colonize cities and their inhabitants as individual and as communities. We have also explored some of the many facets of the resistances of the poetic word.

In some case the city dwellers themselves use the poetic word as a form of resisting the erosion of their dignity, as in the cases studied by Ilka Kressner and Carlos Minchillo; in other cases, they are participants in the resistant scenarios or city-scapes envisioned by writers. In others again (Kressner, Hu, Shea), the poetic word serves as a reminder of urban environments that have been demolished or otherwise phased out and with them, the socialities and cultures that they gave space to. Sometimes this is done by speaking about the urban environment and the ways in which people perceive and inhabit it; at other times, this is done by inserting the poetic words to challenge, defend, or bring to life a past that the neoliberal status quo is trying to get rid of.

Three types of city dwellers feature throughout these contributions: the disorientated, the disaffected, and the dispossessed.

One thread that connects all these case studies is an awareness of urban temporality as a thick, textured enmeshing of past and present, and the refusal to simplify, unravel or render transparent this temporality which seems to be intricately linked to people’s experience of space. When people are forced into crazy schedules that leave them not a second to pay attention to, or deal with, the unforeseen or the out-of-the-ordinary, when people’s attention spans are subjected to a carpet bombing campaign that shatters them into a myriad of smithereens, when people don’t even have the time to ask someone for directions and listen to someone’s speech pattern and accent and instead, turn to their GPS – in such life-worlds the unravelled, transparent and easily accessible city-scapes and urban topographies of neoliberal cities appear to be a seductive (and often, the only) way of making it into the next moment. What has become clear in these posts is that such urban environments are lethal for difference.

Apart from destroying social territory and cultural space, in such urban environments the needs of the disorientated are played off against the claims, challenges and defenses of the disaffected and the dispossessed. In the contributions of Minchillo and of Gräbner we see how the dispossessed turn the poetic word into recuperated terrain and change the terms of appreciation. In Minchillo’s case studies in Brazil this happens in the thickly interwoven terrain of the favela and in Gräbner’s, it happened in the overlooked urban jungles of Northern England. While spoken word poetry in the favelas resists, in the case discussed by Gräbner the (possibly well-meaning) marginalized members of the establishment proceeded to collaborate in the cultural dispossession of the territorially dispossessed. Within a wider context these case studies touch on the pivotal role that the creative industries and the creative class have all too often played in the gentrification of cities and in disguizing the lack of imagination and creativity when it comes to building worth-while alternatives that genuinely improve people’s lives. These case studies also touch on the role that cultural analysts and critics have and still are playing in the justification of such processes and policies.

The neoliberal city is an assemblage (Saskia Sassen) that moves in and out of social and territorial spaces in the contemporary city; and following on from the above the city-as-assemblage clearly differs from the city-as-texture. The assemblage is one-dimensional in its topographical, temporal and political arrangements. It relies on enforced transparency and uni-dimensionality. The relationship between past and present is linear, and the legacy of the past is either musealized or, when it does not qualify for or resists musealization, it is suppressed and its legacies in the present, often criminalized. The exploration of this relationship between assemblage and texture is one that we take from this exchange for further analysis and exploration.

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An Aside from the Series: Online Symposium on Academic Freedom in Turkey, 25th August

Academic Freedom and the Turkish Turmoil: Symposium on Academic Freedom in Turkey.
The symposium will be held on Thursday, 25 August, 2016, at 13-17 in the lecture hall Porthania II (Yliopistonkatu 3) in Helsinki. It will be simultaneously streamed online, welcome to listen to the speeches online wherever you are situated in the world!
Please share the link below in your own networks!
Online video streaming:
  • 13:00 Opening words: Academic freedom and autonomy  
    Thomas Wilhelmsson, University of Helsinki  
    13:20 KEYNOTE: Quo Vadis Turkey?
    Umut Özkirimli, University of Lund
    14:00 Turkey, EU and the narratives of emancipation: a reality check
    Senior Research Fellow
    Toni Alaranta, the Finnish Institute of International Affairs
    14:30 Putschists vs. Populists
    Mahmut Mutman, University of Tampere

    15:00-15:30 Coffee Break
  • 15:30-16:30 PANEL:
  • Panel discussion Chair: Research director Juhana Aunesluoma, University of Helsinki
  • Research Fellow Halil Gürhanli, University of Helsinki
  • Professor Hannu Juusola, University of Helsinki
  • Research Fellow Johanna Vuorelma, University of Warwick   


Neoliberal Racism and Black Poetic Forms of Resistance

Anne Shea, California College of the Arts

As theorists have shown, neoliberalism entails, not a shrinking of the State, but its reconfiguration. While regulations on corporations have contracted, laws targeting the poor and people of color have expanded along with the penal system. Neoliberalism works within the law, not outside it, shaping legal categories to its own end. In this short essay, I read the song cycle, Zong!, as M. NourbeSe Philip’s critique of legal reason. If the Law is a form of social ordering, then Philip’s formally experimental text disturbs this order, mobilizing history against neoliberal erasures of white supremacist violence.

In many studies of neoliberalism, race hardly figures. But as Omi and Winant, along with a host of scholars in African American studies demonstrate, neoliberalism is a racial project as much as it is a strategy of capital accumulation (Omi and Winant 211). In the 1970s, neoliberalism mobilized white reaction against gains made by the liberation struggles of people of color in the two previous decades. Emerging within the post civil rights era which had expanded democratic participation and discredited overt racist discourse, neoliberalism employed code words such as taxpayer, as a strategy to mobilize white racism and resentment while disavowing racism itself (Omi and Winant 218). Setting about to dismantle the gains made by anti-racist, democratic movements of the previous era, neoliberalism criticized affirmative action by deploying mutations of the movement’s own rhetoric. If liberation movements had attacked racial oppression, neoliberalism now made the category of race itself an illegitimate category through its insistence on “colorblindness.” Within this frame, any mention of race could be construed as racist; this twist on the anti-racist movements’ own rhetoric served to advance first the neoliberal strategy of crying “reverse-racism” and second the more effective, long-lasting strategy of what Bonilla-Silva terms “color-blind racism.”

Because, in the United States, the working class has been structured by patriarchal white supremacy, its representational forms have taken these characteristics. Thus, representations of deindustrialization have often focused on the white working class man, reproducing the hierarchies and exclusions that marked working class formation and representation. If we look at Ferguson, Missouri we can see how neoliberal racism works within the deindustrialized city. Clarence Lang tells us that the St. Louis City metropolitan area, of which Ferguson is a part, “has been a national laboratory of residential segregation” (Lang). As black residents, many working-class, fought against historical segregation in the ‘60s and ‘70s, whites left (Lang). These changes shaped present-day Ferguson as a suburb of 21,000 where 85% of its residents are black while the city council and police force are overwhelmingly white (Cohen). In this deindustrialized Rust Belt city, marked by inadequate housing, unemployment, and decaying infrastructure, the neoliberal rhetoric of color-blindness serves to mask on going racial inequality in the United States.

In Ferguson, law enforcement has used aggressive ticketing for minor offenses to extract revenue from its poor residents, such that “court fines and fees” constitute the city’s “second-largest source of income, generating over 2.4 million in revenue in 2013”  (“Policing and Profit” 4).  Unlike Fordist economic strategies that required wages to be high enough for workers to buy consumer goods produced in the factories in which they worked, “neoliberalism relies on the inequality of the rich and poor” (Dean). Along with economic dispossession, criminalizing populations serves to constitute social inequalities as natural and inevitable.

It’s within this context that Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager, was shot to death by a white police officer, Darren Wilson, on August 9, 2014. The grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown.

In the months following Michael Brown’s murder, the Caribbean Canadian poet, M. NourbeSe Philp, wrote: “Zong! Ferguson, Ferguson Zong!, Zong! Ferguson, Ferguzong, Fergusong, Fergusing, sing a song of Zong, a song of Ferguzong.” In Philip’s message, sent as a tweet, she brings together the slave ship (Zong) and the neoliberal city (Ferguson). Her words render the neoliberal city as slave ship and grave, revealing both as sites of racial terror and murder. Katherine McKittrick has written “the [slave] ship while materially and ideologically enclosing black subjects” is also “a location of black subjectivity” and “black resistance” (McKittrick xi). McKittrick shows us how to understand the slave ship as a material, discursive, and imaginative site that enables stories that emphasize both the devaluation of black life and, paradoxically, the valuation of black life in struggle. Neil Smith and Cindi Katz remind us of the “imbrication of material and metaphorical space” and the poet enters into this imbrication in order to resist neoliberalism’s dominion over contemporary spatial stories (McKittrick xiii).

Philip uses the slave ship as an imaginative site in her Ferguson tweet and in her book-length poetry cycle Zong! (2008) based upon the legal document Gregson v Gilbert. In 1781, the captain aboard the Zong ordered the murder of nearly 150 African captives so that the money for which they were insured might be collected. Because the insurance claim provoked a legal dispute, the conflict ended up in the English court as Gregson v Gilbert. Making the decision to  “lock[ed] myself in the text” as a means to uncover what “remains hidden below the surface of the legal document,” Philip created the first cycle of poems in the book using words found within the text of Gregson v Gilbert.  After composing that first set, Philips began to manipulate or, in her words, “mutilate” the legal document, by “whiting and/or blacking out words.”

Zong!’s structure resists order – the order of the court, law’s order – and the linear narrative form with its implications of a beginning, middle and end. In this telling of the story of the Zong which is simultaneously an untelling of the story of the Zong, Philip opposes the “marking of slavery as an archaism, destined to be superseded by the emergent history of freedom” (Johnson 222). Rather, in Philip’s text the relationship of slavery to freedom is that of “dynamic simultaneity” (Johnson 227). This story, if we can call it that, hasn’t concluded. Zong’s resistance to closure is not a formal interest in the open-ended text as much as it is a political insistence that the devaluation of black life, the global capitalist systems of exploitation, and the Law’s deadly reason remain with us.

The Law is a form of social ordering. Philip disturbs this order; she tears at Law’s taxonomies. She unloosens its sentences and sets words adrift across the page: “suppose the law/is/not,” she writes (Zong! 20). Philip’s text mourns diasporic Africans subjected to dehumanization through Law’s reason – those aboard the Zong and those whose lives the Law continues to discount in our own time, like Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Mya Hall, and Trayvon Martin. Zong! shows us the past in our present, but also, implicitly, it reveals how the past’s deadly logics might be undone.  Philip recounts a history of white supremacist violence, but also she illustrates “the rhetorical structures by which the languages of supremacy are uttered, rationalized – and ruptured” (Sandoval 2). Chela Sandoval, in Methodology of the Oppressed, asks that we

…not lose sight of the methods of the oppressed that were developed under previous modes of colonization, conquest, enslavement and domination for these are the guides necessary for establishing effective forms of resistance under contemporary global conditions: they are the key to imagining “postcoloniality” in the most utopian sense (Sandoval 9).

As an aesthetic work with its roots in de- and postcolonial movements, Zong! creates textual passage-ways between temporalities in order to expand the vocabularies of resistance to contemporary white supremacist violence. In this song cycle that demonstrates Law’s power, Philip manages to, paradoxically, shrink its dominion by bringing us to its limit.

In her solo readings, Philip performs the text in multiple ways, at times reading only individual poems, other times readings sections or the entire book over multiple hours. She reads at different paces, sometimes reading so slowly that the performance becomes one of silence interrupted by words or silence erupting through words. She stretches words, releasing them into sound or splintering them into percussive beats. Vowels open out into the air, linking insides to outsides, one body to another. Even when Philip reads alone, she seems to be reading with other voices. For Philip, the “public genealogy of resistance’ which her work makes audible has always entailed challenging “the singularity of the lyric voice” with a “multiplicity of voices” (Genealogy 115).

Fred Moten teaches us to pay attention to sound, to the way it might help us hear what he calls “socialities” other than the ones in which we’re entangled. Sound arranges an other order, another sense, through song: “Zong! is song – the song we have always sang,” says Philip, “particularly when we were brought here to the land of untelling.” Zong! understands the normative order of the neoliberal city as a “war on Black life” (Moten). At the same time, through its radical form, the book and its various performances offer a “lawless freedom” (Kant qtd by Moten) that “challenges…the many ways of death that globalization offers” (Philip “Song Lines”). In forming her critique of neoliberalism, Philip taps into the aesthetic strategies and the political imagination of the twentieth century anti-colonial movements and theories that set about to dismantle Western rationality and the European imperium.

Collective and durational readings include the “audience” and/or other artists. Watching and listening to these performances, we note moments of singular voices, cacophonous eruptions of sound and words, chants, joined voices, disjointed voices. Some people stand, others sit or walk, some dance, others read. If the poem can be understood as a kind of tool for gathering people together, this gathering is not organized exactly. It’s something I can’t quite describe which seems important. Because it might be gathering us together in ways we don’t quite have words for or can’t quite name. And in this way the text points toward a future, a search for something which isn’t and which might be if we stay in this space long enough to be transformed by it.


Works Cited

Cohen, Cathy J. “From Ferguson to Flint: Race, Neoliberalism and Black Politics.” African American Studies Lecture. Princeton University. 5 Apr. 2016. Web. 27 May 2016.

Dean, Jodi. “Complexity as Capture: Neoliberalism and Communicative Capitalism.” Neoliberalism, Crisis, and the World System Conference. York University. Aug. 2013. Youtube. Web. 27 May 2016.

Developments in the Law. Policing and Profit. 128 Harv. L. Rev. 1723 (April 2015): Web. 27 May 2016.

Johnson, Walter. “Slavery.” eds. Glenn Hendler and Bruce Burgett. Keywords for American Cultural Studies. 2nd ed. New York: New York U, 2014. 224-27. Print.

Lang, Clarence. “On History, Protest, and “Respectability”” Labor Online. The Labor and Working Class History Association, 17 Aug. 2014. Web. 27 May 2016.

McKittrick, Katherine. Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 2006. Print.

Moten, Fred, and Robin D.G. Kelley. “Fred Moten and Robin D.G. Kelley in Conversation.” Do Black Lives Matter? Bethany Baptist Church, Oakland. 13 Dec. 2014. Vimeo. Web. 27 May 2016.

Philip, Marlene NourbeSe. A Genealogy of Resistance: And Other Essays. Toronto: Mercury, 1997. Print.

—–. “Song Lines of Memory in a Globalized World.” Insurgent Cross-Cultural Conversations in the Expressive Arts: Contesting Notions of Transnationalism and Citizenship. Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York. Mar. 2006. Lecture.

—–. Zong! Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 2008. Print.

Sandoval, Chela. Methodology of the Oppressed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000.

Spence, Lester K. Knocking the Hustle: Against the Neoliberal Turn in Black Politics. Brooklyn, NY: Punctum Books, 2015. Print.


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Live Poetry and the Seizure of Literature in São Paulo, Brazil

Carlos Cortez Minchillo, Dartmouth College

In Brazil, Neoliberalism, and even before it, elitist state-led policies of industrialization since the 1950s have generated abnormal levels of wealth concentration, migrant flows to urban areas, and quasi-legal social segregation. In poor, underserved areas of Brazilian big cities, dwellers have been abandoned to their own devices, living for decades now in the crossfire between a frequently abusive, corrupt police and murderous criminal gangs. Under such circumstances, citizenship must not be taken for granted: it is never an undisputable right, but rather something to fight for, against hegemonic sectors of society. Just to give a more precise idea of how resilient these social actors are, as I write this post conservative politicians representing the traditional elites in Brazil have overthrown a democratically elected president and retaken the power. Emblematically, one of the first decisions of the new government was to abolish the Ministry of Women, Racial Equality, and Human Rights. Also, all members of the new cabinet appointed by the acting president are white men.

This political setback runs counter a long and steady struggle of marginalized people in Brazil for social visibility and political voice. Literary venues that have mushroomed in poor areas of Brazilian metropolises in the past fifteen years have a lot to do with that. When I first started studying this cultural movement in São Paulo, I was particularly interested in checking how the controversially labeled “marginal literature” articulated a political and aesthetical counter-discourse. By attending poetry slam events, and through textual analysis and interviews, I wanted to examine the social dynamics and political impact produced by slam poetry, as well as the ways it potentially challenges aesthetical assumptions and well-established literary appraisal criteria.

As Brazilian geographer Milton Santos explains, in Brazil, the possibility of being a citizen depends, to a large extent, on where he or she lives. This perverse cartography of citizenship and the corresponding spatial segregation perpetuates educational, occupational and economic disparities and produces phobic symbolic representations. Very little room is left for positive roles and expectations. The underprivileged is depicted (or sometimes self-depicts) as illiterate, ignorant, idle, socially unadapted, threatening, violent. Often, they are seen as lazy “welfare scroungers” by those who oppose governmental social programs that in recent years were responsible for lifting about 40 million Brazilians from the poverty level.

The media and the arts contribute to consolidating many of these stereotyped identities, even when they expose Brazil’s societal flaws by adopting an empathic attitude toward those oppressed and vulnerable. A recent study by Regina Dalcastagnè shows that in a corpus of 258 Brazilian novels all Black characters are poor, and 58.3% of Black male teenagers are criminals. Thus, in Brazil, literature –or, at least, mainstream literature– does not necessarily reconfigure bigotry, despite potential good intentions underneath the lines of its often brutal realism.

But by using alternative channels, new voices are telling different tales of the city, and they are being heard. Frequently connected to hip-hop culture and social activism, a vibrant literary scene has been gradually expanding in marginal spaces of Brazilian metropolises. In the last years of the 20th century, initiatives like the communal organization of public libraries in poor neighborhoods or the distribution of poems written on recycled cardboards and attached to light poles prepared the ground for major changes. Since 2001 two types of spoken word events emerged in the peripheries of São Paulo: saraus and slam poetry. In common, both saraus and slams first occupied marginal and popular spaces not traditionally associated with literature: cheap neighborhood bars, abandoned squares, and unused areas inside metro stations. Also, they both rely primarily on oral performances, a largely neglected form of literary art. Even when printed, literary texts previously performed in saraus and poetry slams seldom circulate through conventional channels like mainstream publisher houses and bookstores. In other words, to some extent “marginal literature” redefines where and how literature circulates, and who creates, controls and consumes it. That’s what I have been calling the “seizure of the literary” by those who until recently were largely ignored as producers and recipients of literary texts. The casual and inclusive social space of slam poetry and saraus is a key leverage factor in a country where, according to a recent survey, 30% of the population has never bought a book, public libraries are inaccessible or in poor conditions, and schools are uninspiring or even hostile spaces.

Through literature performed in poor neighborhoods, marginalized subjects have been developing a stronger sense of citizenship and political agency. Especially among underprivileged youngsters, a sentiment of entitlement has recently surfaced, giving birth to deviant discourses and self-representations. As “marginal” writer Alessandro Buzo puts it on a poem, for affluent Brazilians a favela dweller carrying a book is a “contraindication”. The association between a favelado and a book represents a symbolic shift whose magnitude can only be assessed if we accept, together with Gramsci, that hegemonic confrontations are not limited to traditional political institutions. They require the deconstruction of common sense and the formation of new subjectivities. Literature, of course, plays a crucial role here. That explains why it is so remarkable that many marginalized Brazilians have elected literary gatherings as the embodiment of a distinct ethos and an alternative strategy for a non-partisan political struggle. Alternative spaces for experiencing literature, non-printed texts, and heterodox ways of circulating and trading printed materials are the foundation of an original literary system, providing room for non-professional authors, new audiences, and unusual poetic discourses. Not only do they stimulate literature as a vehicle for political messages, but equally importantly, they can transform the politics of literature and the aesthetic features of the literary object.

For those who live in the peripheries and favelas of São Paulo, saraus and slams establish a social and emotional network that can partially compensate for the lack of supporting institutions and services. They not only bring the same old literature to new audiences but also, most importantly, stimulate authorship among those who are usually considered uncultured. In saraus and poetry slams, people perform for their fellow neighbors, but as imagined communities, they create, perform and spread new images of themselves. In doing so, they consolidate a collective voice against a society that despises them. One may recriminate them for perpetuating a binary discourse in which the world is simplistically divided in two: on the one hand, “playboys”, “the system”, the rich, police officers and politicians; on the other hand, them, the marginalized. But who is to be blamed for using this binarism as a segregation tool in the first place? Before things can get better, peripheral citizens have to teach in very simple yet poetic terms what is like to be on the other side of society.


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Resisting Neoliberalism in Contemporary Lima: A Poetics of Vulnerability

By Ilka Kressner, University at Albany, State University of New York

Poetry is a compelling voice to help us gain insight into the massive political and urban changes that took place Lima, Peru, during the last thirty-five years. After the Communist Party of the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) had launched its armed phase in 1980 in the highlands of Ayacucho, the Andean country suffered a civil war with serious human rights violations committed by guerrillas as well as the armed forces (1980-92). It was followed by the repressive regime of Alberto Fujimori, who only fled the country in 2000 during the third (illegal) term of his presidency, as the massive corruption of his government had become too visible. Starting in the 1990s, Peru saw the implementation of a series of extreme neoliberal policies that led to drastic demographic changes, such as rural exodus to the Metropolitan Lima region during the last 20 years.

Peru has a vigorous lyrical tradition marked by a keen awareness of everyday life, the fundamental impact of the daily grind for self-reflection and/as artistic creation. In this context, César Vallejo’s oeuvre, and in particular its inclusion of minute observations and everyday facts remains inspirational for today’s artists. The following strophe from his “Espergesia”/”Have You Anything to Say in Your Defense?” (Los heraldos negros/The Black Messengers; trans. James Wright, Neruda and Vallejo) illustrates a poetic stance of existential disquiet, rooted in, and deeply shaken by everyday life that resonates with contemporary poetic production:

They all know that I’m alive,

that I chew my food…and they don’t know

why harsh winds whistle in my poems,

the narrow uneasiness of a coffin,

winds untangled from the Sphinx

who holds the desert for routine questioning. (Neruda and Vallejo 216)

(Todos saben que vivo,/que mastico… Y no saben/por qué en mi verso chirrían,

oscuro sinsabor de féretro,/luyidos [sic] vientos/desenroscados de la Esfinge/preguntona del Desierto; Vallejo, The Complete Poetry. A Bilingual Edition 160)

With its entwinement of objects, human movements, spatial conditions, abstract terms and figurative images, this passage highlights vulnerability as a key characteristic of human life in the rapidly changing city (in the context of Vallejo’s work, that of Lima of roughly 1915-18). Now, a century later, in the context of a blatant neoliberalization, vulnerability remains key: it is both an immediate bodily experience of the individual and strategy to link and connect us with others. Thus, the awareness and articulation of vulnerability can become a source of interconnectedness toward a shared responsibility (in the sense of an ability to respond). I propose to read vulnerability as a strategy of resistance in the context of neoliberal realities in the Peruvian capital.

In her presidential address at the 2013 convention of The Modern Language Association, Marianne Hirsch spoke on “connective histories in vulnerable times.” Hirsch places vulnerability as a connector and link at the center of her analysis. For her, “vulnerability… can move us toward an ethics and politics of open-endedness and mobility, attuning us to the needs of the present…” (330). A theorist of trauma, the concept helps her to expand the retrospective view of trauma toward alternative temporalities that might “galvanize a sense of urgency about the need for change, now” (337).

Vulnerability as a shared presence of communication, attunement to the needs of the present in view of a traumatic past, and as an ethics of connectivity and relationality (Butler 99) help me to approach contemporary Peruvian poetry marked by a past traumata, the violence of the years between 1980 and 1992, the time of the armed conflict that was fought among the Shining Path, Peruvian armed forces, and the peasants of the highlands surrounding the region of Ayacucho (Theidon 5), and the violent silencing of that trauma during the Fujimori presidency. This poetry aims at connecting troubled perceptions and responding to shifting realities—from rural to urban, and from a past urban reality to that of the neoliberal megalopolis that developed during the mid to late1990s. In her study Intimate Enemies. Violence and Reconciliation in Peru, Kimberly Theidon notes that in Quechua, people oftentimes use the wod “the Sasachakuy tiempo (difficult time)” to describe the armed conflict, a time “bracketed as a finite period” (3). The general, vague term is a telling example of the lingering trauma. The “difficult time” is still in need of its verbal expression, particularly by those most affected by the armed conflict: almost 80% of the 69,280 people who had died during the years lived in rural areas and spoke Quechua. Contemporary poetry written in Spanish proposes a strategy to the lingering trauma, which I describe as that of a voiced vulnerability of the human body that connects beyond age, race, class; at times, it connects the living with the dead via the shared violability.

Among the poets whose works I study are Roxana Crisólogo, Miguel Ildefonso Huanca, Victoria Guerrero Peirano, and Carlos Villacorta Gonzáles. All reflect on the experience of coming of age (and rage) during the eventful 1980s to 2000. For instance, Crisólogo’s Ludy D (the title refers to the nickname of a guerrilla militant of the Shining Path movement) is written from the perspective of a young student in Lima of the 1980s. It centers on her conflicted relationship to the militant party; on the one hand the attraction of its intransigence, and on the other her repulsion to its cruelty. The context of Guerrero Peirano’s El mar, ese oscuro provenir (The Sea, this Obscure Future), on the other hand, is the Fujimori regime.

In her book The City at its Limits: Taboo, Transgression, and Urban Renewal in Lima, Daniella Gandolfo describes the mood in the Lima of the mid-1990s as that of “euphoria. Imported vehicles had flooded the streets, high-rise buildings rose at breakneck speed, and while weekly bombings of electric towers in the outskirts of the city had for years kept entire neighborhoods in a recurrent state of darkness, the streets now seemed to glitter in a continual parade of light. Businesses had opened or reopened their doors, invigorated by foreign capital that poured into the country with Peru’s reinsertion in the international financial community…” (1‒2). Guerrero’s voice brings the urgency of the moment into the poetic realms and helps reflect on what lies behind the glitter and bright lights. While they refer to, and cite the discourse of publicity, many of her poems invoke the dark spaces of the brightly lit city, and describe for instance the solitude of the stars that have become invisible as a result of the light pollution. This poetry is marked by metaphors that stress the vulnerability of the human (and posthuman) body in the neoliberal city. In Guerrero Peirano’s poem significantly titled “ciudad sumergida” (submerged city), the lyrical voice describes how

a little boy felt the breath of the city

on its lonely walkways

nobody knows what those eyes have seen

but there are shoes, there is blood, there are kisses

on the dead ground… (my trans.)

(un niño ha sentido el aliento de la ciudad/por las azoteas solitarias/…/nadie sabe lo que han visto aquellos ojos/pero hay zapatos y sangre y besos/sobre la tierra muerta… (Guerrero, El mar 25)

Guerrero’s poetic city is depicted by a haunting image of a barren earth, with bodiless eyes that register human remains, such as shoes, blood, and kisses (or maybe remembrances of the latter). There are no bodies to be touched or voices to be heard. There is nothing but a verbal enumeration of a few material objects that point to those who were disappeared during the years of human rights violations from the 1980s to 2000. With the exception of the earth’s respiration, the scene is unanimated, posthuman and even spectral. Guerrero underscores the connecting power of vulnerability that links human bodies, abandoned objects and mutilated space. Space does not only reflect the memory of a massacre in an image of desolation. Moreover, it is connected to the body, being a requirement of the body to live. Here, I refer to Judith Butler’s description of space as “an infrastructural necessity and public good” (101). The juxtaposed portrayals of the human body, inhuman body and of the body of the environment underscores the connectedness among them. The act of mutilating one of the elements has a direct impact on the others. In the poem cited above, this shared vulnerability becomes an agent to mobilize, relate and recount.

The agency of the lyrical voices in the works by Crisólogo, Huanca, Guerrero Peirano, and Villacorta Gonzáles is far from that of a stable subject position. Oftentimes, poems become the sites of verbal enumerations of disposable items, gestures, glimpses, urging their readers to rearrange them. Words have no more healing power (I interpret this as a comment on the limitations of the various Truth and Reconciliation Reports). They are fragile, and similar to the human beings and the surroundings they describe, the words in Guerrero Peirano’s poem themselves face dismemberment, explosion or satiety. Vulnerability is explicitly put as a mode of relationality. It extends from, and joins the body of writing with the human body and the body of the city. In this way, vulnerability can connect and mobilize and, to return to Hirsch, “galvanize a sense of urgency about the need for change, now” (337).

Works Cited

Butler, Judith. “Bodily Vulnerability, Coalitions and Street Politics.” Differences in Common:

Gender, Vulnerability and Community. Ed. Joana Sabadell-Nieto and Marta Segarra.

Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2014: 99-127.

Crisólogo, Roxana. Ludy D. Lima: Ediciones Flora Tristán, 2006.

Gandolfo, Daniella. The City at its Limits: Taboo, Transgression, and Urban Renewal in Lima.

Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2009.

Guerrero Peirano, Victoria. El mar, ese oscuro provenir. Lima: El Santo Oficio, 2002.

Hirsch, Marianne. “Connective Histories in Vulnerable Times” PMLA. 129.3 (2014): 330-348.

Neruda and Vallejo: Selected Poems. Ed. Robert Bly. Boston: Beacon Press, 1971.

Vallejo, César. The Complete Poetry. A Bilingual Edition. Berkeley: University of California

Press, 2007.

Theidon, Kimberly. Intimate Enemies. Violence and Reconciliation in Peru. Philadelphia:

University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013.

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