Fuera de campo. Literatura y arte argentinos después de Duchamp
Fuera de campo. Literatura y arte argentinos después de Duchamp (Anagrama, 2006)
by Graciela Speranza
Using the nine months that Marcel Duchamp spent in Argentina over the course of 1918-1919 as her springboard, Universidad de Buenos Aires professor Graciela Speranza has come up with a clutch, cross-disciplinary leap into uncharted waters that's pretty close to a perfect 10 for me on the art history and literary criticism scorecards. As presumably can be gathered by chapter titles like "César Aira, literatura 'ready-made'" ["César Aira, 'Ready-Made' Literature"] and the fact that the non-Aira subjects include fellow Caravana favorites Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar, Manuel Puig, Ricardo Piglia and new to me visual artist Guillermo Kuitca, Fuera de campo. Literatura y arte argentinos después de Duchamp [Out of Bounds: Argentinean Literature and Art after Duchamp] is an ace, thoroughly compelling study on the way that "el efecto Duchamp" ["the Duchamp effect"] has left its mark on and/or dialogued with an unexpectedly large swath of post-Duchampian Argentinean artistic culture despite Duchamp's 1918 contention that "Buenos Aires no existe" ["Buenos Aires doesn't exist"] (381). Although Speranza's tome is way too rich to do justice to in a single hurried vacation post, there's no reason we can't take a quick look at a few of the highlights before returning to the volume in more detail later. "'Eclosiona un arte': Borges conceptual" ["'Hatching an Art': Conceptual Borges"], for example, has some great bits linking Borges' "Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote" ["Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote"] to Duchamp's 1919 L.H.O.O.Q. and 1965 L.H.O.O.Q Rasée in which Speranza connects the dots between what she refers to as the "piedra angular de su depurado arte de la reproducción, la falsificación y la copia" ["cornerstone of (Borges') refined art of cloning, falsification and copying"] (91) and Duchamp's shaved facial hair reproduction of his libidinous and mustachioed Mona Lisa and the various ready-made urinals the Frenchman produced over the years. Moving on to the Borges- and Bioy Casares-penned Crónicas de Bustos Domecq [Chronicles of Bustos Domecq], Speranza makes the point that even though many of the spurious artists that populate the work confuse the notion of original art and copies in ways that are ridiculous and sublime at one and the same time, these "variantes estrafalarias del arte menardiano" ["eccentric variants of Menardian art"] also underscore "la fragilidad cada vez más evidente del concepto de autoridad" ['the ever more evident fragility of the concept of authority"] (119) much like Duchamp was prone to do himself. Lest anybody fear that a serious academic work of this nature might make for dry reading not befitting a provocateur like Duchamp, I should probably mention that its anecdotal juiciness ought not be underestimated. In a book in which the "tradicionalmente irreconcilables" ["traditionally irreconcilable"] Argentinean literary traditions of Arlt and Borges are said to intersect in such a way that proves that "nuestra literatura se funda en el plagio, el robo" ["our literature is founded on plagiarism and on robbery"] (265) and a book in which famous nutjob Raymond Roussel seems to make a cameo in every other chapter, one of my favorite stories of all has to do with the "insidioso mapa" ["insidious map"] Manuel Puig sent to Guillermo Cabrera Infante in which some of the heavyweights of the Latin American Boom were "travestidas" ["decked out in drag"] as movie stars from Metro Goldwyn Mayer: Borges as Norma Shearer (Puig: "Oh, tan refinada!!" ["Oh, so refined!!"]), Cortázar as Hedy Lamarr ("Hermosa pero tan gélida y remota" ["Beautiful but so cold and distant"], García Márquez as Liz Taylor ("Hermoso rostro pero piernas tan cortas" ["Beautiful face but such very short legs"]), and Puig himself as Julie Christie ("Su suerte en los asuntos amorosos es la envidia de todas las estrellas de MGM" ["Her good fortune in love affairs is the envy of all MGM's female stars"]) (219). OK, that's enough for now, but I promise to return to this either later in the month or just in time for the 2015 edition of the Argentinean Literature of Doom. Feel free to make me keep my word.