The XULdigital Project: experimental Argentine poetry and criticism in the Poetics of the Americas

Last month, I recommended The XUL Reader (Roof Books, 1997) as further reading for A Short Primer to Latin American Poetry in the Spanish Language. The reader is part of a larger project, spearheaded by Ernesto Livon-Grosman, called XULdigital, which aims to archive work from the historically significant Argentine journal XUL: Old and New Sign (1980-1997). Additionally, through an essay collection in Spanish and English called 5 + 5, it provides critical context to the project of the "Poetics of the Americas" in a continental sense, calling for both the reevaluation and redefining of "American literature" to encompass work from both continents. The entire project is digitized in an easily-digestible format, sponsored by the O'Neill Library at Boston College, providing access to a facsimile edition of the Reader, and a downloadable .pdf of the essay collection---an invaluable resource for those interested in contemporary experimental Argentine poetry, translation, and transnational poetics in general.

Jorge Santiago Perednik founded XUL in 1980, in the middle of Argentina's most repressive dictatorship (1976-1983), marked by extreme government censorship that silenced literature and the arts; however, as mentioned in the Primer, poetry was able to thrive thanks to small press publishers like XUL. In the "Project Background" for XULdigital, Livon-Grosman states that the original journal "provided a space for literary and political expression despite the hostile environment created by a military dictatorship that had used censorship as the State's key instrument of terror."

During this time, XUL created a format and offered a forum for experimental language, ultimately interested in "posing questions that elicited multiple responses and by insisting on the co-existence of different points of view." In an effort to redefine the present cultural moment, the journal created a link to the past by featuring influential poets, such as Oliverio Girondo and Osvaldo Lamborghini, while publishing contemporary poets like Néstor Perlongher and Leonardo Scolnick. Historically grounded, yet focused on the present, the original journal investigated the relationship between art and politics, paying particular interest to the specificity of poetic language, visual poetry, translation, and the Neo-Baroque.

After the dictatorship, Perednik continued to publish XUL in the same spirit as before, exploring the interrelation between writing and language, and emphasizing the ongoing importance of cultural critique in art. From 1980-1997, he published works by José Hernández, Xul Solar, Laura Klein, Nahuel Santana, Emeterio Cerro, Roberto Ferro, Susana Chevasco, Arturo Carrera---the list goes on. The journal even featured poems by Livon-Grosman and Perednik himself, all of which can be found in the Reader.

5 + 5 features a dynamic and impressive essay collection in both Spanish and English, my favorite being Charles Bernstein's "Our Americas: New Worlds Still in Progress," which can serve as an introduction to the aforementioned project of the "Poetics of the Americas" in a continental sense. Echoing not only José Martí, but also Oswald de Andrade, Bernstein argues not only that "the singular, unitary idea of American literature is based on a set of often violent, Anglonormative erasures," but also that the "Americas" is an imaginary cultural space "whose mutant and multiform manifestations are as evanescent as the last breaths of a dying tongue." For Bernstein, the American poetic project is both ongoing and cannibalistic (see reference to Oswald de Andrade's Cannibal Manifesto in the Primer), and can not simply be distinctively divided into North and South; instead, it must be seen as inherently multiplicitous.

5 + 5 also includes essays on the journal and the Xul Collective and Roof Books, as well as an inter-continental comparative study of Ginsberg and Haroldo de Campos and a piece offering a selection of contemporary voices from the Southern Cone (a region encompassing Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Southern Brazil). In Spanish, the collection contains an interview with Perednik, essays on the journal, the historical context and political climate, and the "pan-lingual hypertext" of the digitization project.

Rather than provide selections, I'm going to encourage you to check out the project yourself. Start with the "Project Background." Then, if you're interested in poetry, check out the Reader; if you're interested in criticism, specifically the cultural and historical context of the project, go straight for the collection of essays. But you've got to check this out---it's proven to be an original, well-informed, and most importantly, invaluable project, especially for those interested in Latin American poetry in translation.

-Alex Gregor