Poesis of Thought
Bernhard’s representation of the world belongs to the so-called aesthetic tradition of minor literature. It is pertinent to draw a parallel between Bernhard’s work and the Diaspora(s)’s because the latter’s view of the world stems from the same premise. The Diaspora(s)’s work originates from an antihumanist perspective and emphasizes the epistemological nature of language. In his speech “En busca de la verdad y de la muerte” (In Search of Truth and Death”), reprinted in the second issue of the journal, Bernhard argues that language is the privileged space for thought in a world that has succumbed to violence. This address was written in 1968 for Bernhard’s reception of the Anton Wildgans Prize of Austrian Industry. Instead of following the stylistic conventions of acceptance speeches, his text symbolically negates the social and ethical value of the prize by showing the dismissal of History’s atrocities that makes the prize possible in the first place. For him, communication in society is constantly hindered by an irrevocable misunderstanding: “Os agradezco por esta distincion, por el malentendido que constituye sin ninguna duda esta distincion, pues como sabeis todo es malentendido [I thank you for this honor, for the misunderstanding that this honor undoubtedly constitutes, since as you know everything is a misunderstanding]” (Bernhard 1998, 9). This misunderstanding occurs because there is no outside to ideology, which, like nature, represents an irrational force that leads to destruction: “Hablo ahora de la muerte, puesto que me habeis encargado un discurso, algo sobre la vida, es cierto, pero yo hablo, aun cuando hablo de la vida, de la muerte. . . . Todo lo que se dice es siempre sobre la muerte [I speak now of death, since you have commissioned me to give a speech, something about life, certainly, but even when I speak of life, I speak of death. . . . Everything that is said is always about death]” (ibid., 6). To be alive amounts to being dead because we are subjected to the dominant and deforming powers of society, which annihilate us.
Bernhard claims that one must use language to destroy hegemonic language. Despite our inability to escape the fundamental power of ideology by externalizing its effects and articulating the monstrousness that governs our consciousness, we can cope with the enemy within us. The externalization of such monstrousness, however, can only come from a place of negativity, and thus can only be articulated through the same negative rhetoric that produces it. This explains why Bernhard’s speech is merely a list of
History’s atrocities: “Podria tambien contar una historia. . . . hablo de la mentira y el ridiculo y no cuento El cuento de la profundidad. . . . no hago mas que rozar todo esto y arrojo a esta sala algunas palabras, por ejemplo la palabra “aislamiento,” “degeneracion,” “vulgaridad” . . . y puesto que muy rapidamente nos cansamos de la comedia, del espectaculo de la existencia, de todo el arte dramatico . . . un dia, en un solo instante, en el instante decisivo, nos arrojamos de cabeza a la muerte [I could also tell a story. . . . I speak of lies and the ridiculous, and I don’t tell The Tale of Profundity. . . . I simply mention all this in passing and throw into this room a few words, such as the words ‘isolation,’ ‘denigration,’ ‘vulgarity’ . . . and since we tire quickly of the comedy, of the spectacle of existence, of the whole dramatic art . . . one day, in a single instant, in the decisive instant, we throw ourselves headlong into death]” (ibid., 8). It also explains why he lists topics but never actually speaks about them. He develops this discursive strategy by affirming that his text doesn’t speak about anything, which is a way to also express how power silences the narration of History’s defeats: “Pero creo que he dicho bastante, o hablado, ^no es asi? Senalado, ^no es asi?, pasado en silencio muchos temas, como veis, pasado en silencio casi todos los temas [But I think I’ve said enough, or spoken (isn’t that right?), pointed out (isn’t that right?), passed over in silence many topics, as you see, passed over in silence almost all topics]” (ibid., 9). This is the rhetoric of an antispeech that constantly annihilates the truth at the level of discourse. The speech develops an argumentation to demonstrate that the search for truth is doomed to be a search for death.
Finding “the truth” is not the Diaspora(s)’s goal, either. In Diaspora(s), the hegemonic rhetoric of violence is met with a poetics of violence. For the Diaspora(s), as for Bernhard, literature must confront the power that silences it, by exerting its own mode of violence: “El vigor de una ‘literatura desplazada,’ si no se produce una hecatombe que la borre, puede ser directa- mente proporcional a la violencia que se ejerce sobre ella. Puede decirse mas: ningun abrazo se ha vuelto mas prometedor que la estrecha acometida, que el empujon seductor entre la violencia del poder y la violencia con que la literatura intenta desplazar al poder [The vigor of a ‘displaced literature,’ if no disaster occurs that wipes it out, can be directly proportional to the violence exerted on it. We could say even more: no embrace has been more promising than the close attack, than the seductive shoving between the violence of power and the violence with which literature seeks to displace power]” (Sanchez Mejias 1999, 6).
This antithetical relationship between destruction and love posits power as a violent force that can only be counteracted with a violent literature. Literary destruction thus understood, however, does not point toward reconstruction. Since literature is no longer considered as an emancipatory project, Sanchez Mejias is not proposing the destruction of state power in order to establish a different type of power. What is the nature of this violence that must oppose the violence of power? It consists of a critical practice to debunk the onto-theological paradigm that underlies all structures of domination, like the sixties revolutionary rhetoric. It is actually a violence against the idea of literature itself, so far conceived of as an allegorical literature, as I argued in chapter 1. According to Aguilera, allegorical and canonical literature was born dead: “En una literatura ‘muerta’: que sublima y sublima constantemente lo mismo, que se estanca en malas ficciones, que no piensa [In a ‘dead’ literature: which sublimes and constantly sublimes the same thing, which mires itself in bad fictions, which does not think]” (Saunders 2001, 1). Sanchez Mejias repeats the same idea of a dead literature: “El sistema totalitario odia los huecos negros. No soporta las lineas de fuga. Todo debe adquirir la fijeza mortal de una realidad ordenable en terminos de control [The totalitarian system despises black holes. It cannot tolerate lines of flight. Everything must take on the deadly rigidity of a reality that can be ordered in terms of control]” (Sanchez Mejias 1999, 3). To oppose this dead literature, the Diaspora(s)calls for the power of language: “Cuando nuestra generacion organizo algunas tacticas de ‘politica literaria’ (revistas marginales . . .) no lo hizo tanto en relacion con el poder . . . como para preservar tozudamente el nervio de la literature [When our generation organized tactics of ‘literary politics’ (marginal magazines . . .), it did not do this so much with respect to power . . . as to stubbornly preserve the backbone [nervio] of literature]” (ibid., 6). Paradoxically, however, the language that the Diaspora(s) is claiming is illegible, and thus also dead: “Es una generacion que supo resistir los sarcasmos embozados de la critica oficial, que en ningun momento dejo de utilizar todas las palabras del mundo aunque sus poemas y relatos se volvieran ilegibles para el bien publico y para la tradicion literaria cubana [This is a generation that was able to resist the veiled sarcasm of official criticism, that at no point stopped using all the words in the world even though its poems and stories became illegible for the public good and for the Cuban literary tradition]” (ibid., 5).