Events and Special Projects

18 Jun 2023

TransLatin Diagonals

Casa São Roque – Centro de Arte, Porto


In the as yet untranslated (and perhaps untranslatable) neobaroque ‘novel of ideas’ Catatau, Paulo Leminski (Brazil, 1944–1989) adopts the persona of an alternative-history Descartes who, having arrived with the fleet of Maurício de Nassau during the Dutch Invasion of Brazil, struggles and fails to ‘Euclidise’ the rainforest, and is flung into a hallucinatory fever by the intractability of the new continent to reason.

Catatau is one of a number of extraordinary works that reflect the unanticipated impact upon colonisers of indigenous cultures and the flora and fauna of the ‘new’ continent. Vibrating with the force of this high-tension encounter, their relation to language, representation, and the subject is at odds with the canon of European modernism.

An outstanding early example is Verdant Inferno (1908), a collection of writings by the civil engineer Alberto Rangel (1871–1945), sent into the interior by the colonial authorities to map, record, and report, but who records his experiences in tales that shimmer between objective documentary, visionary limit experience, and sheer mental breakdown.

This moment when colonialist rationality meets its limits in the ‘magnificent disorder’ of the Amazon unleashed an autocritique that is reflected in all the aesthetic movements of the region, most notably anthropophagy, tropicalism, and concretism in Brazil and the neobaroque in the Carribbean and Rioplatense regions. While looking back over their shoulder at European art movements, these characteristically Latin American modernist tendencies projected their dynamics into a new soil where they would not and could not take, and where they mutated instead into unprecedented new forms.

Such artistic ferment is the product of a deeper ungrounding: indeed, the implicit claim of Catatau is that this encounter disrupts the faculty of representation as such, destabilising epistemic certainties, and that the processes of cross-contamination that follow cannot be understood via the optic of the Western subject.

To celebrate the imminent release of Gabriel Catren’s Pleromatica, or Elsinor’s Trance, This exploratory workshop uses four recently published and in-progress translations from Urbanomic and Sequence Press as overlapping references to enter the space of Latin American thought in its relation to European modernity and discourses of de/colonisation.

Leminski’s transplantation of European philosophy into the rainforest is reiterated by Jean-Christophe Goddard (1959–, France) in A Scabby Black Brazilian, paired with Rangel’s Verdant Inferno in Urbanomic’s SWITCH series. Setting out from the Portuguese Bento de Espinosa’s haunting dream of a Brazilian ‘native’ and his subsequent reinvention of himself as ‘Benedict de Spinoza’, a ‘purified’ thinker distanced from the darknesses of the Portuguese colonial adventure, Goddard asks: What if Bento were instead flung into the depths of the Amazon, wouldn’t that be truly the philosopher’s nightmare…?

In America: An Integral Weave, Fernand Zalamea (1959–, Colombia) draws upon the concept of transmodernity, coined by Rosa María Rodríguez Magda (Spain, 1957–), to paint a panorama of a twentieth-century Latin American thought that was never trapped in the alternative between ‘modern’ reason and ‘postmodern’ unreason. With Latin America conceived as a borderzone ‘naturally prone to mixture and hybridization’, a ‘privileged site of gnoseological oscillations and creative transits’, Zalamea emphasises the Latin American intellectual’s peculiar capacity to construct syntheses, to find new mediations between opposites that invent and intersperse exchange, osmosis, and transformation to reflect the metamorphic complexity of the universe, with reference to a panoply of artists and intellectuals including Alfonso Reyes (Mexico, 1889–1959), Pedro Henríquez Ureña (Dominican Republic, 1884–1946), Jorge Luis Borges (Argentina, 1899–1986), José Lezama Lima (Cuba, 1910–1976), and Ángel Rama (Uruguay, 1926–1983).

In Pleromatica, Gabriel Catren (1973–, Argentina) confronts the most fundamental challenges of modernity as dramatised by canonical figures including Mallarmé, Joyce, Hegel and Fichte, in a major philosophical work that kicks against postmodern nihilism in a style that digests the ventriloquizing transpoetics of Leminski, the neobaroque queerness of Néstor Perlongher (Argentina, 1949–1992), the cannibalism of Oswald De Andrade (Brazil, 1890–1954) and the startling imagery of Lezama Lima. In this post-Grothendieckian reconfiguration of transcendental philosophy, a ‘phenoumenodelic’ trip to the far side of ‘speculative realism’ yields not so much a philosophical treatise as a Babelian ‘lanjaguar’ infused with the vivência and razonabilidad of Latin American thought and the perspectivist Amazonian anthropology of Eduardo Viveiros De Castro.

Speakers: Maya B. Kronic (Urbanomic), Thomas Murphy (translator of Pleromatica, Verdant Inferno and A Scabby Black Brazilian), Amy Ireland (Urbanomic), Gabriel Catren.

• How do the concepts of transmodernity and reasonsibility [razonabilidad] offer an escape from the exhausted alternative between the positivistic universalism of the ‘modern’ and the ‘postmodern’ horror of totalizing thought and demonising of reason as colonial mastery?

• How might tales of transplantations, encounters, contaminations, and the breakdown of representation help us to think the process of colonialisation in terms of ‘diagonal passages […] reciprocal seduction processes […] between the dominants and the dominated […] not just reducible to instances of oppression’ (Zalamea)?

• Can intertextual practices of ‘unweltic translation’, ventriloquism, hybridity, and perspectivism produce movements within writing that the explicit and discursive cannot, diagonal transits in thought that might accompany struggles including decolonialism, feminism, and a generalized trans- politics?