Desktop version

Home arrow Travel

  • Increase font
  • Decrease font

<<   CONTENTS   >>

States of exile Kracauer’s extraterritoriality, and the poetics of memory in Cristina Peri Rossi’s Estado de exilio (2003)

Ignacio Infante

In one of the sections of her brief but fascinating autobiographical work Julio Cortázar y Cris, the Uruguayan writer, based in Barcelona since the 1970s, Cristina Peri Rossi (Montevideo, 1941) poignantly describes a particular experience of temporality in relation to the process of writing that highlights a sense of feeling “strange” in the world. The specific passage of this book - a work originally written in Barcelona and published in Uruguay in 2014 - in which Peri Rossi articulates this feeling of strangeness, is part of the section entitled "Los exilios” [The exiles], and goes as follows:

A medida que voy escribiendo este libro, que no pensaba escribir nunca, siento que el tiempo real es el pasado, el tiempo inmediato es el pasado, y cuando paro a descansar un poco ... me siento extraña.

(Julio Cortázar y Cris, “Los exilios,” 42)

[As a I am writing this book, a book I had never planned to write, I feel that the real time is the past, the immediate time is the past, and when I stop to rest for a while ... I feel strange.]1

This sentence, marked by a deep lyrical sense of nostalgia, expresses how the subjective experience of a complex form of temporality is for Peri Rossi not only connected to the act and process of writing, but also to the historical experience of exile, as made clear by the title of this particular section of Julio Cortázar y Cris. This experience of “real time” as a temporality always pertaining to the past is precisely connected to the larger question of memory, or rather what I will refer to in this chapter as the poetics of memory, that for Peri Rossi gravitates around the process of writing. According to Peri Rossi, “real time” appears to constitute an experience of the past as immediate, and thus an experience of the immediate as a spatiotemporal “here and now” that is ultimately felt as a realm already past, gone, lost, and never recoverable, except for - and this is perhaps the key aspect here - through the very process of writing. Thus, feeling “real time” for Peri Rossi is a strange but familiar experience, in other words, an intrinsically uncanny experience - "me siento extraña,” as she describes - a strange feeling in which the here and now is acknowledged by Peri Rossi as never escaping the past, and ultimately, as I will argue in what follows, as never leaving the experience of exile.

This chapter explores Sigfried Kracauer’s concept of extraterritoriality in relation to the poetic work of Peri Rossi, within the larger critical framework proposed by Fronteras Líquidas / Liquid Borders as a collection of essays. The main premise of this chapter is to highlight a series of connections between the critical examination of exile as a historical condition originally developed by Kracauer in the 1960s and the specific features of Peri Rossi’s creative exploration of exile in her poetry collection Estado de exilio (2003). Through my analysis, I demonstrate how their respective understandings of exile as a historical condition constitute crucial and parallel acts of resistance to the hegemonic and brutally violent flattening logic of totalitarianism divergently experienced by Kracauer during Nazi Germany, and by Peri Rossi during the military dictatorship in Uruguay, and their respective historical aftermaths. Within this larger historical context, the chapter aims to establish two main claims as part of the critical premises presented by Fronteras Líquidas / Liquid Borders as a collective critical inquiry: first, to highlight the extreme importance of both critical theory and creative practices as political acts of resistance in relation to specific historical circumstances related to exile; and second, to provide a wider historical and poetic lens through which to understand and rethink the present historical moment, in order to challenge contemporary forms of totalitarian ideologies, and the parallel hegemonic and brutally violent flattening logic related to forms of totalitarianism developed in the twentieth century.

At the core of both Kr acauer’s development of the notion of extraterritoriality and Peri Rossi’s poetics of exile in Estado de exilio, there is a parallel preoccupation with time and space - or rather, with the forms and conditions of experience as affected by the spatiotemporal and affective dimensions of exile as a historical condition. As I will show in the rest of this chapter, there is a relevant historical overlap, and paradoxical reversal, in the work of these two very different leftwing intellectuals - a German film theorist from Frankfurt, almost at the end of his life, on the one hand, and a young Uruguayan writer from Montevideo in her early 30s, on the other. Both writers are not only producing their work while in exile having had to escape the brutal totalitarian regimes and fascist ideologies in their respective countries of origin, but more importantly, deeply reflecting on the historical conditions and affective state of exile in extremely relevant parallel ways.

Kracauer’s extraterritoriality and Peri

Rossi’s Estado de exilio (2003)

Sigfried Kracauer (Frankfurt, 1889-New York, 1966), generally known for his influential work Theory of Film (1960), was film critic and literary editor for the Frankfurter Zeitung between 1922 and 1933. Kracauer was a leading public intellectual in Frankfurt at the time, and he was associated with various key figures of the Frankfurt School, such as Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin while living in Germany. Kracauer had to escape Nazi Germany in 1933, living in exile for the rest of his life - first in France and then escaping to the United States in 1941, where he lived until the end of his life in 1966. As part of his critical approach to cultural and aesthetic production, Kracauer specifically developed the notion of extraterritoriality in his exploration of the concepts of history and historiography published in his later work History, The Last Things Before the Last.

Kracauer’s History was published posthumously in 1969, in fact, just a few years before Cristina Peri Rossi - having lost her university position and Chair in comparative literature in Uruguay in 1972 - left her home country to live in exile in Barcelona, where she composed the poems that configure her collection Estado de exilio. While Peri Rossi’s poetry collection was first published in 2003 by Visor Libros, as the winner of the 18th Rafael Alberti Poetry Prize in Spain, it was a work mostly composed 30 years earlier during 1973 after her arrival in Barcelona from Uruguay. Soon after its publication in Spain in 2003, Estado de exilio was translated by Marylin Buck as State of Exile and published in Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s prestigious San Francisco-based press City Lights in 2008, a publication and translation that has gradually led to the growing recognition of Peri Rossi’s poetry across the Anglo-American literary market in recent years.

As Peri Rossi describes in the introduction to Estado de exilio, most of the poems in this collection were written during the period of right-wing military dictatorships in the Southern Cone, when hundreds of thousands of Argentines, Uruguayans, and Chilean had to escape to and live in Europe, the United States, and Canada in order to save their lives during the 1970s2:

La mayoría de los poemas que componen ESTADO DE EXILIO fueron escritos en los años amargos de las dictaduras latinoamericanas, cuando las calles y los albergues de París, Londres, Barcelona, Madrid, Estocolmo y Ontario estaba repletos de argentinos, uruguayos y chilenos que habían salvado el pellejo “en el anca de un piojo,” genial metáfora que le escuché una vez a un maduro marinero uruguayo, convertido, por azares de la emigración, en pizzero de un restaurante de la Avenida Infanta Carlota, Barcelona. Fue el primer libro que escribí en el exilio, y sin embargo, no intenté publicarlo. Un extraño pudor me lo impidió. No es fácil llorar en las calles de las ciudades adoptivas, y no quería contribuir al dolor colectivo, al desgarramiento solitario.

(Peri Rossi, Estado de exilio, 8)

[Most of the poems that configure STATE OF EXILE were written in the bitter years of the Latin American dictatorships, when the streets and shelters of Paris, London, Barcelona, Madrid, Stockholm and Ontario were frill of Ar gentines, Uruguayans and Chileans who had saved their skin just barely [“en el anca de un piojo”] great metaphor that I once heard an older Uruguayan sailor, turned, by the chance of emigration, into a pizza maker in a restaurant on Avenida Infanta Carlota, in Barcelona. It was the first book that I wrote in exile, and I didn't try to publish it then. A strange modesty prevented me. It is never easy to cry on the streets of adoptive cities, and I didn’t want to contribute to our collective pain, or to private harrowings.]

In this context, one of the key dimensions of Peri Rossi’s recognition of the own affective implications of her own writing, which can perhaps be defined as a lyric combination of sadness and nostalgia that is both deeply personal and collective at the same time (“contribute to our collective pain, or to private harrowings”), is that it constitutes a form of affect intrinsically related to the experience of exile. From this perspective, Peri Rossi’s crucial recognition and acknowledgment of the strangeness of the past as a most immediate feeling articulated through the act of writing appears to be central to her poetry collection Estado de exilio. This particular poetry collection, the first collection that Peri Rossi wrote in exile having just arrived in Spain, is inherently related for the Uruguayan author to a parallel sense of "strange feeling" to the one that she describes through the recognition of the temporality of “real time” in the section from Julio Cortázar y Cris just mentioned.

In both instances, the experience of time is inherently connected by Peri Rossi to the process of writing, and consequently, to the very form of her texts - the rhythm, cadence, figuration, and tone of her lyrical language - as well as to the very materiality of her words printed on the page. It is thus through an examination of the very form, that is, the actual poetics of Peri Rossi’s writing, that one can further explore the theoretical implications stemming from her literary representation of the temporality of "real time.” A relevant example in this context is provided by Peri Rossi’s poem “Estado de Exilio” that titles her collection:


muy pronto tan lejos bastante mal


dificultad palabras furiosa largo

extraño extranjero que más el árbol solo miro diferente


fuera más humano

(Estado de exilio, 29)


very soon so far away quite badly


difficulty words furious interminable strange a stranger what else the tree if I just look differently everything

could be more human

(State of Exile, 27)]

As this poem shows, the condition or state of exile is primarily constituted here through language as a fluid form of linguistic strangeness, particularly in the way in which the linguistic units of Peri Rossi’s poem are configured materially, semantically, and temporally in relation to each other. Here, the deep sense of alienation, dislocation, and loss in this poem is articulated by the gradual juxtaposition of the poem’s linguistic structures through which Peri Rossi overlaps in the first two lines a series of modified adverbs (temporal, “muy pronto”; spatial “tan lejos”; modal “bastante mal”; and back to temporal “siempre”) that are followed by a verse composed of nouns and adjectives (“dificultad palabras furiosa largo”). This sequence generates a fluid semantic flow of meaning through a series of more concrete “difficulty” of “words” - described as hard, furious, and long - that end up grounded on the overall sense of strangeness specifically invoked in the fourth verse: “extraño extranjero que más el árbol.”

This central focus on the poetic figure of “strange a stranger,” as translated into English by Marylin Buck, grounds overall the uncanny feeling of Peri Rossi’s “real time” within the poem, as a sense of strange temporality that is highlighted in the concluding clause configured by the last three verses of the poem: “solo miro diferente / todo / fuera más humano.” While Buck translates these lines as the conditional clause “if I just look differently / everything / could be more human,” the fact is that the semantic implications of these three lines in the original poem create a complex series of semantic and temporal implications that transcend a particular and concrete meaning. From this perspective, the lines “solo miro diferente / todo / fuera más humano” highlight a fluid and strange form of looking beyond the self as represented through language - as in differently looking at everything beyond the self, or a looking alone at others, or looking outside to others, or even looking differently to an outside that could be more human, among other possible translations, or potential interpretations of the original verses - which lead overall to a palimpsest of feelings and experiences of time that lie at the core of the notion of Peri Rossi’s “state of exile.”

Overall, Peri Rossi’s conceptualization of temporality in relation to exile appears to be extremely close - in structural, historical, and poetic terms - to Kracauer’s theorization of “extraterritoriality” in History. In general terms, Kracauer’s notion of “extraterritoriality” constitutes a spatiotemporal realm able to contain two different states of mind, in fact, as a palimpsest of temporalities connected to an experience of rootlessness. Kracauer originally figured the notion of extraterritoriality as a notion that the German critic specifically connects to the experience of exile as a historical condition, and which conceptualized formally in relation to the form of “objectivity” that he saw represented by Marcel Proust in the modernist novel Remembrance of Things Past:

In that passage of his novel where he relates the neutral objectivity of photographs to the photographer’s emotional detachment, Proust lucidly describes two different states of mind - one in which a person’s self wields full power, and the other in which it has withdrawn from the scene. ... Sometimes life itself produces such palimpsests. I am thinking of the exile who as an adult person has been forced to leave his country or has left it of his own free will. As the exile settles elsewhere, all those loyalties, expectations, and aspirations that comprise so large a part of the exile’s being are automatically cut off from their roots. ... Where then does the exile live? In the near-vacuum of extra-territoriality.... The exile's true mode of existence is that of a stranger.

(History, 82-84)

By conceiving extraterritoriality as a “near-vacuum” realm where the “exile” lives, Kracauer is emphasizing both a figurative and a historical dimension of experience that, within his analysis, appear to be central to the critical understanding of each other. In other words, it is through the palimpsest of temporalities that he formally sees as figured in Proust fiction - thus having a figural dimension - that Kracauer is able to trace a parallel palimpsest back to the analogous structure of the life of the exile as a historical condition ("Sometimes life itself produces such palimpsests”). From this perspective, Kracauer’s conceptualization of “extraterritoriality” appears as an experience of temporality that in its articulation through language reflects a parallel historical structure in the world.

Ultimately, at the core of Kracauer’s definition of extraterritoriality, there is a sense of strangeness that is strikingly parallel to the sense of strangeness (“strange a stranger”) that also appears as central to Peri Rossi’s poetic project in Estado de exilio. In this sense, another key example of the poetics of memory as a palimpsest of temporalities is provided by Peri Rossi’s poem, GEOGRAFÍAII, which is characterized by a stronger narrative coherence than the poem "Estado de exilio.” Here, the poetic voice establishes a temporal tension between two cities, as representing two different realms of experience, namely, the city of birth, on the one hand, represented as a space experienced as a child through streetcars and recognizable urban elements, and, on the other hand, the new city, characterized by an adult and isolated sense of clinical emptiness:

En la nueva ciudad espero en el andén.

Iluminado y vacio

Parece una sala de hospital:




(Estado de exilio, 63)

[In this new city

I wait on the metro platform.

Illuminated and empty

it seems like a hospital waiting room:


cotton balls


(State of Exile, 115)

These two urban spaces - the space of the home country in contrast to the “illuminated and empty” space of the new city in which the poetic voice is now waiting surrounded by a clinical sense of alienation - are connected by the last stanza of the poem, a third space, in this case, represented by an Edward Hopper painting, through which the poem provides a strange sequence of temporalities:

Como en un cuadro nocturno de Hopper

una muchacha solitaria

espera junto a un pilar.

(Estado de exilio, 63)

[Like in one of Hopper's nocturnal paintings

a solitary girl

waiting next to a pillar.

(State of Exile, 115)

This poem is a wonderful illustration of the poetic geography of “extraterritoriality” in Peri Rossi’s poetry of exile: a palimpsest of temporalities that is sustained by the rootlessness at the core of a scene that is at the same time past, present, and virtual or aesthetic versions of each other. It is the image of the “solitary girl” in “Hopper’s nocturnal paintings” that provides the emotional connection and figurative link between the temporality of childhood and the past city in the first stanza and the “new” temporality of adulthood in the new city of the second stanza. By establishing a connection between a past space, a new space, and the figural space of painting that literally frames them both my providing the analogy of feeling at the core of both previous stanzas, Peri Rossi’s poem creates a palimpsest of spaces, temporalities and experiences. Ultimately, it is through this poetic palimpsest that the subject, in this case, the poetic voice, can be present and absent at the same time, recurrently confronting its own strangeness, while expressing its own sense of alienation - a recurring sense of subjective rootlessness that can only exist as such through the process of writing - “me siento extraña,” as Peri Rossi described earlier.

It is precisely in this sense of a deeply subjective strangeness, as a sense of detachment and disconnect from a geographical or spatial reality in the world, that Peri Rossi's articulation of the experience of "real time” if her writing connects with another key dimension of Kracauer’s concept of “extraterritoriality.” For Kracauer, “extraterritoriality” entails a “cutting oft' of their roots” (History, 82) that leads to a strange sense of emotional detachment, that he specifically relates to a strange sense of objectivity in relation to historical experience. This is in part what Kracauer means when he describes “extraterritoriality” in the following statement: "The exile’s true mode of existence is that of a stranger” (History, 84). This sense of detachment and objectivity as central to a "true mode of existence” that Kracauer locates as central to the notion and experience of “extraterritoriality” is highlighted by Tara Forrest, through a close reading of key passages of Kracauer’s theorization of “extraterritoriality” in History, in the following terms:

Like the exile (who, in confronting an “alien environment,” finds himself “cut off” from the expectations and assumptions which had previously “comprise[d] so large a part of his being”) Kracauer argues, in History, that “[i]t is only in this state of self-effacement, or homeless-ness that the historian can [effectively] commune with the material of his concern.” “A stranger to the world evoked by [his] sources,” he claims that the historian is “faced with the task - the exile’s task - of penetrating its outward appearances, so that he may learn to understand that world from within.”

(Forrest, 120)

The possibilities of extraterritoriality and the dialectics of exile

Similar to Kracauer’s “extra-territorial” historian, the poetic voice of Peri Rossi’s writing emerges as a witness of the geography of exile as a palimpsest of temporalities that keep connecting the past with a deep sense of alienation in the present. However, as argued here, it is precisely because of this sense of alienation and rootlessness, which for Kracauer is central to the experience of exile, that he also conceives “extraterritoriality” as a possibility for a “true mode of existence” (History, 84). By embracing a condition through which the subject can go beyond the world’s “outward appearances,” Kracauer’s “extraterritoriality” articulates a way to “learn to understand that world from within” (History, 84). This condition or dimension of “extraterritoriality” is also described by Kracauer as the “exile’s task” - a notion which appears, from the perspective of critical theory, to be closely related as a concept to Walter Benjamin's notion of the task of the translator in his extremely influential essay "The Translator’s Task.” There is, therefore, a sense in which, for Kracauer, “extraterritoriality,” primarily because of the palimpsest of temporalities upon which it is structured, as examined here, constitutes a realm of new epistemological - and perhaps also ontological - possibilities of experience through which the subject can transcend a given realm of reality. This is an aspect of Kracauer’s conception that is precisely emphasized by Gerhard Richter in his work Thought Images, as described here:

For someone to exist in a state of extraterritoriality means to depart from territory as a space and as idea while still remaining deeply attached to it, that is attached to it precisely in the act of departing from it. Extraterritoriality names the experience of radical insecurity in which the self encounters itself as an other. But precisely this encounter also names the promise of possibility.


Thus, if within the framework of “extraterritoriality” explored in this chapter, the exile's task constitutes a facing of the self as an other within a radical sense of epistemological and ontological “insecurity,” following both Richter and Kracauer here, it also constitutes a condition that paradoxically names the “promise of possibility” of a new linguistic and conceptual imagining of experience.

From this perspective, the sense of strangeness that characterizes the poetics of memory in Peri Rossi’s writing also connects here with “the promise of possibility” (Richter, 113) at the core of Kracauer’s conception of “extraterritoriality” through which a new experience can be imagined and named. A parallel “promise of possibility” appears in the poem “CERCANÍAS,” the penultimate piece of the collection Estado de exilio, as a lyric expression of a new figuration of experience that Peri Rossi describes through the image of “mi ajenidad” [“my otherness”] (which is translated by Marilyn Buck as “foreignness”):


No necesito ir muy lejos para soñar

Un tren de cercanías me basta

Unas vías herrumbrosas que corren al borde del mar

y ya me siento en otro mundo [...]

Mi ajenidad

- soy la extranjera, la de paso -

es la ciudadanía universal de los sueños.

(Estado de exilio, 74)


I don’t need to go very far to dream

A train to the suburbs is enough for me

Some rusted tracks that run

along the seashore

and I feel I’m already in another world [...]

My foreignness

  • -1 am the foreigner, the passing stranger -is the universal citizenship of dreams.
  • (State of Exile, 143)

As this poem shows, if the sense of otherness (“ajenidad”) expressed by the poetic voice is the result of a condition historically connected to the experience of exile (being “la extranjera, la de paso”), it also constitutes a possibility of poetically imagining a new, more complex and larger, understanding of the same sense of strangeness at the core of Peri Rossi’s experience of "real time” - the "universal citizenship of dreams” that ultimately emerges at the end of this poem. Using again Kracauer’s framework, one can argue that through the poetic voice in CERCANÍAS, Peri Rossi assumes the task of creating a new epistemological understanding of the world within her own practice as a writer.

As shown in this chapter, while the various figurations of alterity articulated by Peri Rossi in her poetry can only exist as part of the poetics of memory articulated in her writing, by reading this collection in relation to the notion of “extraterritoriality” as theorized by Kracauer, we can better delineate some of the key critical, historical, and theoretical implications brought forth by Peri Rossi’s work. At the same time, and in the very process, reading Kracauer’s notion of “extraterritoriality” as a notion applicable to Peri Rossi’s poetics of memory sheds extremely valuable light on the affective and temporal dimensions of exile to which both writers are specifically and directly responding to in their parallel but paradoxically different works. In this sense, Peri Rossi’s poetics of memory and Kracauer’s notion of “extraterritoriality” both reflect the rupture of the coherence of a linear temporality as it is related to the historical experience of exile - what Sophia McClennen has called "exile’s time” in her influential work Dialectics of Exile. However, as my argument here has shown, Peri Rossi’s and Kracauer’s respective approaches to exile as a condition of experience - both poetic and historical, as argued here - open up new epistemological and ontological implications that considerably expand the dialectical model and reading of the temporality of exile developed by McClennen, while collapsing the distinctions between the spatial and temporal dimension of exile, which McClennen treats as specifically distinct from each other. While McClennen’s influential understanding of exile is based on a dialectical model of circular (premodern), linear (modern), and absent (postmodern) understanding of historical time (Dialectics of Exile, 28), the “extraterritorial” model proposed by Kracauer is based on an overlapping of temporalities in relation to each other. Simply put, in the realm of Kracauer’s “extraterritoriality” that relevantly mirrors Peri Rossi’s notion of "real time,” exile is a lot less dialectical, and considerably stranger and more fluid. Ultimately, in the realm of “extraterritoriality,” the ruptured coherence of McClennen’s “exile’s time” can be figuratively reconstructed not only into a deeper understanding of experience, as proposed by Kracauer, but also into the “promise of possibilities” mentioned by Richter, which, as shown here, are poignantly and powerfully imagined and shared by Peri Rossi through the pieces that configure her groundbreaking poetry collection Estado de exilio.


  • 1 Unless otherwise noted, all translations in this chapter are of the author.
  • 2 There are a series of extremely important studies of Uruguayan and Southern cone exile in the late twentieth century, among them Abril Trigo’s Memorias migrantes. Ensayos y testimonios sobre la diaspora uruguaya; and Exile, Diaspora, and Return: Changing Cultural Landscapes in Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay, edited by Luis Roniger, Leonardo Senkman, Saúl Sosnowski, and Mario Sznajder.

Works cited

Benjamin, Walter. “The Translator’s Task,” translated by S. Rendall and Lawrence Venuti, ed., The Translation Studies Reader (third edition). London: Routledge, 2012, 75-83.

Forrest, Tara. The Politics of Imagination. Benjamin, Kracauer, Kluge. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2007.

Kracauer, Siegfried. History, the Last Things before the Last. New York: Oxford University Press, 1969.

McClennen, Sophia A. The Dialectics of Exile: Nation, Time, Language, and Space in Hispanic Literatures. West Lafayettw: Purdue University Press, 2004.

Peri Rossi, Cristina. Estado de Exilio. Madrid: Visor Libros, 2003.

Peri Rossi, Cristina. Julio Cortazary Cris. Montevideo: Estuario Editora, 2014.

Peri Rossi, Cristina. State of Exile. Translated from the Spanish by Marilyn Buck. San Francisco: City Lights, 2008.

Richter, Gerhard. Thought-Images: Frankfurt School Writers' Reflections from Damaged Life. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007.

Roniger, Luis, et al. Exile, Diaspora, and Return: Changing Cultural Landscapes in Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.

Trigo, Abril. Memories Migrantes. Ensayos у testimonies sobre la diaspora uruguaya. Rosario: Beatriz Viterbo Editora, 2003.

Part IV

<<   CONTENTS   >>

Related topics