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Alejandra Pizarnik in the Psychiatric Ward: Where Everything is Possible But the Poem

JAIME RODrGUEZ-MATOs
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Abstract The work of Alejandra Pizarnik has been a central part of the questioning of subjectivity in recent literary criticism. Two basic patterns have emerged: one outlines the unification of the poetic persona and the poets tragic life; another draws attention to the fundamental lack that is presupposed (even in the first case) once subjectivity is understood structurally (i.e., linguistically). While this divide has been posited as the rupture between Romanticism and postmodernism, this paper claims that the basic pattern of subjectivity in question marks a continuity with the Romantic tradition and, furthermore, that this tradition is one that abolishes the singularity of the poem for Pizarnik. A third subjective position then emerges, one that Pizarnik simply terms the new voice, unknown. This third subjective position divides her oeuvre from within and incorporates the other two. Resumen El trabajo de Alejandra Pizarnik ha sido importante para el cuestionamiento del concepto de subjetividad en la crtica reciente. Dos patrones se han impuesto: uno propone la unificacin del sujeto potico y la figura trgica de Pizarnik la persona; otro hace hincapi en la falta en la que se funda todo sujeto (hasta en el del primer caso) una vez la subjetividad se piensa estructuralmente (es decir, lingsticamente). Esta divisin se ha visto a travs del lente de la ruptura entre el romanticismo y la posmodernidad. Este ensayo sostiene que en ambos casos el tipo de subjetividad est en continuidad con el sujeto romntico, y, ms all, que, para Pizarnik, esa tradicin destruye la singularidad del poema. Un tercer tipo de sujeto surge entonces, al que Pizarnik simplemente llama la voz nueva, desconocida, y divide su obra desde el interior a la vez que incorpora los primeros dos.

I In the last two decades the work of Alejandra Pizarnik (19361972) has been very productively examined as a site from which to elaborate theories of subjectivity. To use Csar Airas terms, we have been attending to the clash between a
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reading that has emphasized the personal myth of the poet and the criticism that argues that the subject of the myth, the putative stable identity of the poetic 1 voice, can only speak from its own dislocation (1998: 78). The work of Cristina Pia is worth reviewing in this regard, as it allows us to concisely summarize both tendencies in the criticism. Pia has noted that there are two tacks in Pizarniks poetry (1999: 92103). First, there is the idea of poetry as the foundation not only of the subject but also of Being, which she terms la poesa como instancia absoluta de realizacin (1999: 115; passim). Secondly, there is the idea that language is always incapable of achieving plenitude. Pia argues that Pizarniks work moves from one path to the other. Ultimately, for Pia, what is at stake in the two opposed views of language is la estructuracin/desestructuracin de la subjetividad delineada en los poemas (106). The subject is constituted by language even as it is also, and most importantly, eclipsed once it tears apart the symbolic order on which it was constituted. This is the death of the subject, or, from the opposite point of view, the appearance of a paradoxical entity that is immaterial and distinct from the symbolic order as such. In Pias reading, this death resolves the opposition between the two options in favour of la poesa como instancia absoluta de realizacin. Pizarniks break with a grounded and stable subjectivity is lived as a failure. This failure, seen as the cause of her suicide, gives her death a literary function, as autenticacin retrospectiva de su obra (120; cf. Pia 1991).2 In order to counter the tendency to base the unity of Pizarniks work on the unified image of her as a real person, Csar Aira refers to a gesture in Pizarniks text that is prior to linguistic formulation, of which Rimbaud is said to be the precursor: el sujeto es puro gesto de la enunciacin, antes de que sta se formule (1998: 63).3 After Aira, the critic who has most eloquently elaborated this insight has been Juan Duchesne. As Duchesne puts it, la creacin potica [de Pizarnik ] se constituye precisamente all donde el sujeto se desvanece para su propio decir (2010: 158). That is, in Pizarniks work we find la persistencia de la voz en la muerte del sujeto (161). The voice is inscribed at the crossroads between body and language without belonging to one or the other: As, el sujeto se encuentra simultneamente dentro y fuera del lenguaje [] (Duchesne 2010: 162). Voice becomes a pivotal absence that structures subjectivity and language at the same time (163). And it is from that void that the poem will be saved, in Duchesnes words, from language but for language, singularidad que salve al poema del lenguaje para el lenguaje (163); that is, aquello que no le permite morir del todo para el lenguaje (162). The attempt is to point to a void that is atopic and prevents the subject from becoming fully present. These two readings have proven immensely useful in furthering our under
1 Aira has identified the first kind of subjectivity as Romantic via the Surrealists (1998: 11; 32), while the dislocated subject is elaborated via a reference to the Lacanian distinction between the subject of the enunciated and the subject of the enunciation (6063). 2 Pia is neither the first nor the last to make this point (see Graziano 1987 and Sucre 2000). 3 Various recent interventions follow Aira in this regard (e.g. Depetris 2004: 17; 70; and Rodrguez Francia 2003: 9).

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standing of Pizarniks work. However, the two positions concerning the question of subjectivity, despite their differences, share a basic assumption regarding the link between subjectivity and language, which is affirmed even in the case of those who have most resourcefully sought to dislocate it, and which occludes another aspect of Pizarniks poetry. While the notion of the co-extensiveness of subject and language is certainly relevant when reading Pizarnik (Nicholson 2002: esp. Chapter 4), I am in agreement with critics like Aira and Duchesne; if one were to follow the thesis of that identity to its logical conclusion, the dislocating structural absence would ultimately be revealed at its (absent) core. However, in this paper I will show to what extent Pizarnik also problematizes that position by objecting to identification of the dislocating structural absence with the poetic voice. I posit that the subject in question is one that remains equidistant from the subject-as-ground-of-enunciation and from the voided subject. Thus, one of the most interesting aspects of Pizarniks poetry is that it confronts us with the challenge of thinking the appearance of a third subjective stance. While her texts have been offered most often as the embodiment of a grounded subject or as the unfolding of an atopic and dislocated void, my purpose in what follows is to show to what extent she historicizes those two options by referring to them as an impasse that must be breached if a post-Romantic poem is to be possible. To that end, I will focus on two late texts, both of which date from 1971: a passage from a poem titled Sala de psicopatologa, and the well-known En esta noche, en este mundo. II Pizarniks late poem, Sala de psicopatologa, included in the section titled Textos de sombra of Ana Beccius edition of her Poesa completa (Pizarnik 2001: 41117), addresses the issue of a split or fragmented subject in two ways. On the one hand, in relation to a dialectic that seems to be the source of all the speakers problems; and, on the other, in relation to psychotherapy of which the speaker of the poem talks in aesthetic terms: la psicoterapia en su forma verbal es casi tan bella como el suicidio (413).4 Sacrifice and suicide are framed in meta-poetical terms such that the singular stance taken towards the negativity that they imply, within a very specific tradition, ultimately results in the appearance of a different kind of poetic subject altogether. Here is the passage that interests me:
Que te encuentres con vos misma dijo. Y yo le dije: Para reunirme con el migo de conmigo y ser una sola y misma entidad con l tengo que matar al migo para que as se muera el con y, de este modo, anulados los contrarios,
4 The link between psychoanalysis and the Hegelian dialectic of recognition, in which the subject struggles to death in pursuit of a completeness that is forever lost, was first elaborated by Lacan (Descombes 1980: 947; 97109).

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la dialctica supliciante finaliza en la fusin de los contrarios. El suicidio determina un cuchillo sin hoja al que le falta el mango. Entonces: adis sujeto y objeto, todo se unifica como en otros tiempos, en el jardn de los cuentos para nios lleno de arroyuelos de frescas aguas prenatales, ese jardn es el centro del mundo, es el lugar de la cita, es el espacio vuelto tiempo y el tiempo vuelto lugar, es el alto momento de la fusin y el encuentro. (Pizarnik 2001: 414)

An anonymous voice suggests that the speaker of the poem, the patient in the sala de psicopatologa, should become identical with herself; and the poem as a whole can be said to be a rejection of the philosophically charged imperative for a stable identity, such that I = I, particularly when it is subjectivity that is in question. This rejection is a multi-layered and complex one, but it can be brought into sharper focus by highlighting three aspects of the passage, each of which will then be developed in more detail: (1) the poetic subject is asked to become one with herself what is asked of her is to become the synthesis of a tortuous dialectic (i.e., the unity of contraries, an experience of the impossible, the unfolding of the Idea, and so forth); (2) the sacrifice implied in that operation becomes the suicide which produces a poetic image and eliminates the dyad subject/object, finally producing a thing beyond the apparatus of representation; (3) once the thing-beyond-representation appears, everything is united as in the old times, space becomes time and time becomes a site for a cita both encounter and quotation.

The passage in question opens with a demand of an unnamed Other. Resonating in the background here is the Romantic topic of the poet who takes dictation or is merely a vehicle for a message that comes without any involvement of human will or consciousness, but which would give access to the Thingitself: that noumenal realm that is only available to the disinterested and noninstrumental aesthetic experience. Historically, this was in effect a decentring of the subject, who was from then on also something other than him/her-self. Pizarniks work as a whole is characterized by the inclusion of this kind of metaliterary or inter-textual resonance. In the early poetry this is more obvious and even awkward: e.g. the Vanguardist call for rejecting abstractions in Daz contra el ensueo (included in her first collection La tierra ms ajena 1955), which belies a young poet trying to stake out a position on the axis of literary modernity. But even then, this was done in a way that put in question some of that traditions most basic assumptions. For example, if in Rimbaud the call is for a visionary poet that brings the unknown into poetry by obeying the dictate of an Other within himself that is not the

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self,5 Pizarnik will turn the illuminations of the visionary into opaque bits of information that break down and transform the poem into something more like a broken record. The recording surface still appears, but it is transformed almost beyond recognition, as is the case in another poem from the same 1955 collection, Vagar en lo opaco, where we read:
mis pupilas negras sin ineluctables chispitas mis pupilas redondas disco rallado mis pupilas graves sin quiebro absoluto (2001: 18)

The black pupils of the poetic voice lack the impossible-to-avoid (because wholly Other) lightning flashes of the visionary; they are also the scratched surface of a record bearing the defective reproduction of an Other voice. Given this lack and deficiency, the last verse cited should appear as something of a surprise. These eyes are without quiebro absoluto, which I read both as the negation of a break with the Absolute and a negation of a fundamental fissure in the organ invoked in order to represent poetic experience. Thus, Pizarnik reproduces part of a pattern that can be identified with a Romantic scriptural relay, but she does this while positing the unavailability of the illumination that is supposed to result from it. These early examples, from a collection which Pizarnik later disowned (1975: 254), allow us to note the degree to which the poetic problematic with which the poet is engaged was already intuited from the very beginning. It is the same imperative that is coded into the phrase the speaker hears the Other say in the first verse quoted from Sala de psicopatologa: Que te encuentres con vos misma dijo. The distance the speaker manages to mark vis--vis that injunction constitutes an interruption of the dictates of the Other in the later poem. What is achieved in Sala de psicopatologa can then be read as both an absolute breach within the poetic subject (or the subject-as-breach) and also as a fracture in the Absolute (un quiebro absoluto). This fracture is then expanded upon. The non-representable Thing, something that is without being in the form of an object, makes its appearance in the form of a poetic image: a bladeless knife without a handle, spoken of in terms of a disappearance of the dyad subject/object. This amounts to an identification of the Thing and the linguistic materiality of the image. Pizarniks meta-poetic imagination is at its sharpest when she alludes to the emergence of a more primordial time when everything was united, when the distinction between subject and object, time and space, was not yet in place. If in Wagners Parsifal the characters can cast off their empirical being as they enter the ethereal realm where, as Gurnemanz puts it, time changes [] to space (Act I, scene 1), Pizarnik is well aware that such a space is only the Modern yearning for a more primordial and originary time. The romantic programme would be complete but for the ironic distance that the text establishes from the whole process. That knife which has neither blade
5 Rimbaud: Car Je est un autre (2005: 374).

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nor handle is, at once, a true encounter (cita), with a manifestation that eludes the form of an object, and a cultural artefact: a quotation (cita) of Jean Arp. The place for the encounter in the poem is created by way of the pastoral landscape, the harmonious setting ideal for the encounter. The assumed plenitude available in such a place is tainted by the clinical imperative for the thing to be identical with itself. That is, the encounter is the overbearing injunction of the obscure voice in charge of the sala de psicopatologa. Furthermore, the darkening of the pastoral setting will echo the theme of speculative dialectics. The black pupils cited above, as well as the fact that the image of the knife to which Pizarnik turns, but which is (not) there and does not belong to her but to Arp all of this serves as a very close periphrasis of the night of the world, which according to Hegel is most in evidence when one looks a human being in the eye (1974: 204). In The Phenomenology of Spirit this is the night of self-consciousness: the night in which I = I (Hegel 1977: 476). We will come back to this point. The speakers reply is a disdainful rejection of the process implied in the anonymous suggestion of an obscure voice, the person who is presumably in charge of the ward. The refusal is carried out by way of a rundown of a dialectic that ends in the identity of opposites. In this particular case, the ironic fusin will require the obliteration of the content of the word conmigo: that is, the being of una sola y misma entidad. The encounter that the obscure voice encourages is revealed, in the process, as impossible. Already broken apart in the utterance of the interlocutor, the word conmigo, con vos misma puts in motion a sort of battle between the togetherness of con (thesis) and the division (negation) that the word migo implies if understood as the first person of the present tense of the verb migar i.e., following the Diccionario de la Real Academia Espaola, desmenuzar o partir el pan en pedazos muy pequeos para hacer migas u otra cosa semejante. The negation of the negation, however, results only in death: matar al migo para que as se muera el con. In effect, this attempt at unification is only self-destruction. And what is most striking is how the word vos is placed in the text between con and misma. Between vos (you, or the speaker of the poem) and voz (the voice addressing the speaker of the poem) erupts an irreconcilable difference: become one with yourself in the word (vos/voz) itself. The voice can be read both as the element that displaces the unity of opposites (that is, the element that makes it impossible for the subject to become unified) and, also and at the same time, as the site where such a union takes place. This ambivalence, far more than a subtlety, stands for a central problem in the work of Pizarnik as a whole. Her texts are most productively engaged not as a succession of phases, but as the tense coexistence of contradictory poetic projects that divide her work from within. The encounter or re-union is, in effect, the formation of an image, the locus of which can only be language. In it we recognize the identification of the particular body and the Sublime Idea, the incarnation of Spirit. The demand that is made on the speaker is that she should be herself in essence, in the same way

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that such a poetic image is assumed to be the Thing beyond representation. The trace left by the disappearing knife can only be that of language, but in the sense that, in relation to its insufficiency (the fact that we are only dealing with a trace), no demonstrable referent can be adduced except the Nothingness being kept at bay (by language itself). Pizarnik simply declares that this sequence involves the effacement of subject and object. We can better appreciate what is at stake here in relation to the pastoral register (jardn lleno de arroyuelos de frescas aguas prenatales). As we are told in the last period of the passage: ese jardn es el centro del mundo, es el lugar de la cita, es el espacio vuelto tiempo y el tiempo vuelto lugar, es el alto momento de la fusin y el encuentro. The place of synthesis, the place of the encounter (cita), will be transformed into the disjunction of the quotation (cita). The most traditional literary rendition of such a place is the pastoral setting, a genre that seeks to represent a site of absolute ontological stability or harmony. The place of the cita, the fusin and the encuentro, would be the most appropriate setting for the actualization of the injunction to become one with yourself in the word (vos/voz) itself. The cita, however, is literally a quotation without quotation marks. An encounter but not a re-union the harmonious landscape is quickly revealed as disjointed, as we realize that the image is the place not where the subject becomes language, but where the speaker meets Arps bladeless knife without a handle. This subject-without-object has voided the togetherness of the image, fissured the absolute of the pastoral harmony, and condescended to the work of the negative involved in the incarnation required by the dialctica supliciente. When Hegel talks of the beautiful soul that has come into full knowledge of itself in its pure, transparent unity the self-consciousness that knows this pure knowledge of pure inwardness as Spirit (1977: 483), he is clear about the upshot of this absolute knowing: The self-knowing Spirit knows not only itself but also the negative of itself, or its limit: to know ones limit is to know how to sacrifice oneself. [] Thus absorbed in itself, it is sunk into the night of its self-consciousness [] (492). It is in relation to the voice that requires this sacrifice, or movement towards Night/Nothingness, that the rejection of the Hegelian background is organized. Instead of sinking into that night of self-consciousness after the sacrifice, the speaker has instead overstepped its limits. We are now in a position to explain Pias distinction between the breakdown of language and the plenitude of being, not in terms of failure, but within the post-Enlightenment dialectical framework elaborated thus far: that is, by way of the rejection of the command to unite subject and object in Sala de psicopatologa and the reworking of the theme of a subject that is emptied-out in the process of recording a message that does not come from her self-identical individual consciousness.

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The Romantic genius, as a trope for subjectivity, stands ideologically for a grounded constitutive subject, but unfolds as a self-divided and constituted subjectivity: the romantic subject is the empty place in the structure that is always about to be filled with the lightning flash of revelation, but s/he does not think of this lack as constitutive of his/her aesthetic project. By failing, the Romantic subject proves that in the search for an autotelic manifestation of literature of itself to itself (a manifestation that thus is not a manifestation in the sense that the history of philosophy can give to the word manifestation)6 what emerges is a lack that is not erasable or fill-able, a gap that is constitutive. To put it differently, if the nineteenth century had linked the idea of man and language in formulas such as man speaks language (cf. Descombes 1980: 4142), the Romantic poetic subject whose word is the recorded dictation of the altogether Other is the figure that flips that coin and first makes possible the thesis that it is language that speaks man as subject. As tienne Balibar has put it, this is the idea that language speaks the possibility and the limit of possibilities for man for the human individual thrown into the linguistic system to name himself as subject (2003: 12). The paradigmatic Romantic metaphor for this figure is that of the Aeolian harp (Bloom 1971: 200). The Aeolian harp is an instrument that produces its music without the mediation of consciousness. This metaphor is more complicated than it appears in at least two respects. For one, it assumes that the aesthetic ideal is best expressed by means of a musical analogy, in the sense that Romantic aesthetics take music as its basic condition. The implication behind this musical background is that art is supposed to be the non-objective intimation of a transcendental Idea. Secondly, while it is possible to understand the transcendental field that can never be presented in-itself as a unified Idea made possible by the existence of a single transcendental subject the effect it has on the subjectivity at work in this kind of poetry is that it divides it: the subject is blind regarding an important part of what he or she does as a poet. Some version of this trope appears in all of Pizarniks work, but its appearance is directly put in question in some key moments of her texts. Sometimes
6 This unexpected and paradoxical manifestation inaugurates an epoch that we now often call by names such as postmodernism. As Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy explain: It is indeed something of this genre that Blanchot tries to enables us to think, for example to limit ourselves to one of the threads he [drew] from the romantic fabric in his interrogation of fragmentary writing. Something of this sort is also at stake in the most insistent of Heideggers [] meditation on language, which is largely undertaken with Humboldt (or in other words, along with a body of research that in many ways prolongs that of the Schlegels), and which, citing Jean Paul and glossing Novalis and Hlderlin, leads, as if through the margins of romanticism, to the question of what, more proper than all propriety, speaks in language. And Derridas work on and around writing, the trace, and the dissemination of writing continues to proceed in the direction of this thing if indeed it implies a direction to take. Is it necessary to add that never for a moment did the romantics even imagine a single one of these thoughts? They are instead eclipsed within romanticism (1988: 124).

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it is assumed and repeated. For example, in a poem from 1959, later included in rbol de Diana (1962), the speaker acknowledges: me dejo hacer [] me dejo decir (2001: 143); or, from the same collection: Das en que una palabra lejana se apodera de m. [] La hermosa autmata se canta, se encanta, se cuenta casos y cosas []. (Ella es su espejo incendiado [], su elemento mstico []) (119). Although the image of the mirror already suggests a meta-poetic awareness that would mark a distance from this trope, the poetic subject is still the channel through which non-objective presence is grasped. Yet, that the outside voice that turns the poetic subject into an automaton is described as a mystical element is something that should be noted. A more complicated stance is apparent in Fragmentos para dominar el silencio, a poem dated 1966 but published in 1968 in Extraccin de la piedra de la locura. In it, the same kind of assertion occurs: Las fuerzas del lenguaje [] cantan a travs de mi voz que escucho a lo lejos (223). But already in this poem the trope is put in question as a poetic device we find in it the appearance of a different entity, which is the dislocated voice to which Aira and Duchesne have called our attention: Cuando a la casa del lenguaje se le vuela el tejado y las palabras no guarecen, yo hablo (223). The speaker is still linguistically inscribed into the fabric of the poem as the subject to which the sentence refers, but through a paradoxical gesture that locates the I, as the subject that hetero-topically voices this formulation, somewhere beyond language. No wonder that, if language is a house, the particular house described in the passage no longer has a roof, which allows us access to something that is beyond its walls. The relation between inside and outside is thereby pushed to its limit. In Noche compartida en el recuerdo de una huida (1964), also included in Extraccin de la piedra de la locura, the confusion between inside and outside is dealt with in its most extreme tension: Y hasta cundo esta intromisin de lo externo de lo interno, o de lo menos interno de lo interno [] (257). This poem is significant in that it directly inscribes this Mbius-like subjectivity within the tropology of the Romantic poetic subject. Further on we read: No soy yo la hablante: es el viento que me hace aletear para que yo crea que estos cnticos del azar que se formulan por obra del movimiento son palabras venidas de m (257). It is at this precise point that Pizarnik introduces the theme of the death of the subject: Y esto fue cuando empec a morirme [] (257). In this poem, the death of the poetic voice takes place as the figure that thought that her song was her most intimate property now understands that she is sung and said. She is presented as a marionette or a muequita. The speaker cuts this figure out of blue paper and lets it fall to the ground. Once there, the speaker says to it: nadie te distingue pues no te diferencias del suelo aun si a veces gritas (258). The subject that results from the passage of the dislocated voice of the Other through language is ultimately a figure that cannot be distinguished from the logic of places available on the ground. The Heideggerian variant of this theme can be traced in a note Pizarnik wrote on the poet H. A. Murena, titled Silencios en movimiento, first published in 1965. There she cites from one of Heideggers poems: Y la voz nos conduce a

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la patria en donde estn nuestros orgenes (Pizarnik 2002: 214). For Pizarnik, primarily in the mid to late 1960s, that patria is an original place of plenitude, and even though we have lost it, a return to it would be un retorno a un primer da en donde nada ha de ser ms simple que descubrir el infinito en un grano de arena (214). In the case of Murena, Pizarnik notes, the poet has access to that place in the various privileged moments that allow language to be rescued as un lenguaje total [] el de la meloda no fragmentada que sin duda fue nuestro en un pasado ms verdadero que el que cuentan los libros de historia (213). The same basic pattern reappears elsewhere. For example, she states in a note on Cortzars El otro cielo, published the following year (1966), that what the poet asks of language is que sea su verdadera patria (2002: 247). As early as 1957 Pizarnik had identified such a place as the true achievement of the visionary. That year she had begun to read Pablo Neruda in earnest, and found in the Chilean poet un verdadero vidente (2003: 81). The defining characteristic of such a poet is directly related to the theme of the patria, as he is said to have arrived a una patria mucho ms original y cierta in his Residencias (81). However, such a place will remain an a-topic or hetero-topic site for Pizarnik. At the same time that she is writing on Murena and Cortzar in relation to the projected achievement of a linguistic or poetic patria, in her Diarios she notes that she does not have it: No tengo una patria (2003: 397). It is from this ambivalence that she will begin to think about writing more and more in spatial rather than in temporal terms. In a first moment, she will maintain the epiphanic element, as when she distinguishes between a privileged instance and a privileged space, favouring the latter: donde otros diran instante privilegiado yo habl[o] de espacio privilegiado (2002: 300). But the shift will ultimately result in a devaluation of the temporality of epiphany in the visionary, which, according to Pizarnik, remits the reader of Romantic poetry to an immemorial time (2003: 82). That is, at first, the spatial turn coexists with the theme of the place of plenitude, the patria, which would entail the creation of a hetero-topic place, in the sense that it would be nowhere but the poem. In a diary entry dated 2 December 1968, Pizarnik indicates as much: mis cambios de formas, que yo llamara cambios espaciales, tienen por objeto hallar un espacio literario como una patria (2003: 465). The topological turn can and should also be seen as another reference to Heidegger, for whom poetry is the topology of Being (1975: 12). Although it is possible to detect Heideggerian motifs being reworked in Pizarniks poetry of the period e.g., the way that Noche compartida en el recuerdo de una huda problematized the idea of poetry and language as dwelling the fundamental role that this philosopher plays in Pizarniks enterprise as a whole is best observed in her literary criticism. In a piece dating from 1963 she writes, podemos decir que la poesa moderna ilustra [] lo que pregunta Hlderlin y lo que afirma Heidegger, which is that los poetas, en tiempos de penuria, deben cantar la esencia de la poesa (1982: 195). Heidegger is the philosopher who asked the poets writing in destitute times to lead us back to what is most essen-

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tial. In Pizarniks creative practice, however, we can discern a subtle dissonance in this regard, even when she was most taken with this aesthetic programme (during the 1960s). In the case of Murena, after pointing out that what the language of what-is-most-essential achieves is something that resists objectification, she claims that if he fails in his poetry it is not because he does not arrive at that place, but because he makes it all too manifest. By forcing his poems to offer la plenitud/ vestida de presente he has once again introduced the unity of opposites by turning space into time as an absolute present. For Pizarnik, this is the destruction of poetry. Murena, ha dicho lo que quiso decir [] a costa de la poesa, sacrificndola (2002: 215). The question, then, becomes, given that what is sought is the creation of a certain space, what is a site that eludes being constituted as an object? The crux of the tradition that made this its central question, Pizarnik noted, is to define the poet as the seeker of the essence of poetry and, more generally, as the seeker of the essential: that is, the poet of poetry in its Idea. This is a tradition that could be called Romantic in a general sense. Recently, Ana Mara Rodrguez Francia (2003: 2733) and Carolina Depetris (2004) have placed Pizarnik in this context by highlighting her relationship to figures like Paz, Blanchot and Heidegger. Depetris, following Octavio Paz on this point, sees it as a long line that, in spite of all the discontinuities that can break it apart, turns the Romantic programme into a contemporary one; what unifies what could be a disparate collection of poetic elements is the role literature takes (or is given) in relation to philosophy: as Paz puts it, La sagesse moderna no viene de la filosofa sino del arte. [] En el siglo pasado se llam romanticismo y en la primera mitad del nuestro: surrealismo (1996: 574). Depetriss way of entry into the most important consequences of this problematic is the relationship between word and thing. The work of art became a vehicle for knowing or gaining an intimation of the suprasensible; it managed to break down the barrier between the conditioned and the unconditioned: La poesa, con el romanticismo, gira hacia s misma y se interna en un orden potico altamente simblico, para representar [] lo incondicionado (2004: 14). How to present the unconditioned without falling into the traps of representation? The arsenal of tools devised to offer an answer gives us the reformulation of the image and the symbol vis--vis allegory, the sublime, the imagination, the nave versus the sentimental, and so forth. What I want to point out is the extent to which Pizarniks work can also be read as a departure from this general problematic. IV The surprising result is that the structural constitution of the subject on an absence becomes a simulacrum of the aesthetic ideology of Modernity, but with the difference that this repetition appears to serve as a clandestine return to the auratic and sacral incarnation of the spirit in the flesh of the word exactly

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what the fragmented language-subject was supposed to have undone. Pizarniks singularity, on the other hand, is most in evidence in the way that she insists on the destitution of language as the ultimate horizon. The best example of this is the well known En esta noche, en este mundo. It was published in 1971, the same year that Pizarnik wrote Sala de psicopatologa, and served as a sort of epilogue to a collection of short poems titled Los pequeos cantos. In contrast to the gnomic poems that precede it, En esta noche signals towards a more expansive aesthetic, which allows for the poem to be read as a hinge point in Pizarniks writing. I cite it in its entirety:
en esta noche en este mundo las palabras del sueo de la infancia de la muerte nunca es eso lo que uno quiere decir la lengua natal castra la lengua es un rgano de conocimiento del fracaso de todo poema castrado por su propia lengua que es el rgano de la re-creacin del re-conocimiento pero no el de la resurreccin de algo a modo de negacin de mi horizonte de maldoror con su perro y nada es promesa entre lo decible que equivale a mentir (todo lo que se puede decir es mentira) el resto es silencio slo que el silencio no existe no las palabras no hacen el amor hacen la ausencia si digo agua beber? si digo pan comer? en esta noche en este mundo extraordinario silencio el de esta noche lo que pasa con el alma es que no se ve lo que pasa con la mente es que no se ve lo que pasa con el espritu es que no se ve de dnde viene esta conspiracin de invisibilidades? ninguna palabra es visible sombras recintos viscosos donde se oculta la piedra de la locura corredores negros los he recorrido todos oh qudate un poco ms entre nosotros!

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Alejandra Pizarnik in the Psychiatric Ward


mi persona est herida mi primera persona del singular escribo como quien con un cuchillo alzado en la oscuridad escribo como estoy diciendo la sinceridad absoluta continuara siendo lo imposible oh qudate un poco ms entre nosotros! los deterioros de las palabras deshabitando el palacio del lenguaje el conocimiento entre las piernas qu hiciste del don del sexo? oh mis muertos me los com me atragant no puedo ms de no poder ms palabras embozadas todo se desliza hacia la negra licuefaccin y el perro de maldoror en esta noche en este mundo donde todo es posible salvo el poema hablo sabiendo que no se trata de eso siempre no se trata de eso oh aydame a escribir el poema ms prescindible el que no sirva ni para ser inservible aydame a escribir palabras en esta noche en este mundo (Pizarnik 2001: 398400)

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The poem negates as much as it affirms; it is the poem that comes after one works through the place donde todo es posible/ salvo/ el poema. But what is this night and this world in which everything is possible/ save for/ the poem? We are faced with two worlds. First, there is a world where the dead are in vita: oh mis muertos/ me los com me atragant. This world is not excluded or ignored but incorporated. The link between the dead and language allows us to call this first world el palacio del lenguaje. It is here that the famous lines about the native tongue find their resonance. The key word of the verse nunca es eso lo que uno quiere decir is neither querer nor decir, it is nunca. Those words are never understood because what is in the balance here is the point of view of the reactive or the dead, which want the poem to be good for something, usable. We are right in the middle of the world of knowledge. What is relevant in the realm of knowledge is what can be re-created and re-cognized. It is true that within this configuration a thing can be presented that is not available for re-cognition or re-creation; but, from the point of view of knowledge, this will

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be a silence, and, also from that standpoint, el silencio no existe. What is silent or invisible will stand-in for what cannot be measured or re-cognized: with the exception that the ultimate darkness will form a sort of backdrop which will be the world of knowledge, as the night of the world, and the place where the poem takes place. The point here is not that the poem is the night of the world, but that the world of language (of the mother tongue, of knowledge and re-cognition), as a place where things are located and given a value, only has one position for the poem and los recintos viscosos donde se oculta/ la piedra de la locura. And that one place is the night, the place where all the things that do not have a value end up. This gives way to what would seem to be Pizarniks version of the liars paradox, todo lo que se puede decir es mentira. Within the confines of the first world, el palacio del lenguaje (as an organ of knowledge), an unlimited number of statements or predicates can be uttered and recognized (as being true or false). From the standpoint of el poema ms/ prescindible, these say-able statements are part of a lie. From the standpoint of the totality of the encyclopaedia of a world, so to speak, anything that is recognizable has to be kept in the books. Thus we are faced with a different world. And what takes place in the second world is the negation of the first. The second world we can call the world of the dispensable poem; i.e., a poem que no sirva ni para/ ser inservible; a poem that does not even serve the needs of the aesthetic principle or of the play instinct of the Romantics, where the need is exactly for the aesthetic experience to be inservible. The mention of Maldorors dog is significant in this context. When Maldoror was a child he was advised: When you are in bed and you hear the howling of the dogs in the field [] dont make a jest of what they are doing: they have the insatiable thirst for the infinite []; about which Maldoror comments: I, even as the dogs, feel a yearning for the infinite I cannot, I cannot satisfy that hunger! I am the son of a man and a woman, from what they tell me I had thought to be more than this! Yet what difference does it make whence I come? (Lautramont 1965: 15). Pizarnik provides a paraphrase of this passage in another of her Textos de sombra (this one without a date), where the tension between the whence I come and the yearning for the infinite of the dogs is rendered thus: Quiero existir ms all de m misma: con los aparecidos. Quiero existir como lo que soy: una idea fija. Quiero ladrar, no alabar el silencio del espacio al que se nace (2001: 409). One possible reading of this voice that wants to exist beyond itself is that it will only be achieved by turning the silence of the inert place where one is born into what Pizarnik called un espacio privilegiado. But as we have already observed, for Pizarnik such a privileged site runs the risk, as was the case in Murenas poetry, of turning space into time by making it an absolute present. The barking, which would interrupt the silence of that inert space of the Texto de sombra, also becomes silence in En esta noche, en este mundo:

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Alejandra Pizarnik in the Psychiatric Ward


todo se desliza hacia la negra licuefacin y el perro de maldoror en esta noche en este mundo donde todo es posible salvo el poema.

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The voluntarism implied in the question posed by Maldoror (What difference does it make whence I come?) is authorized by the specific aesthetic configuration which posits the poet/poem as the site where infinite and finite are sutured for us, here on earth. On the contrary, Maldorors dog, as it appears in En esta noche, disappears into a night where the poem itself is no longer possible. Is this the way in which the voice becomes other than itself, becoming the voice of that void? In one of the little songs that appeared along with En esta noche, en este mundo in 1971, Pizarnik writes:
el centro de un poema es otro poema el centro del centro es la ausencia (2001: 381)

What lies at the end of this sequence is the void, but this is no longer a metaphor for the night of self-consciousness and self-identity. What is it then? To recapitulate and in order to bring my argument to a conclusion, allow me first to outline what it is not. In the criticism we have two contrasting views on this point. In the attempt to elucidate the ex-centricity of Pizarniks poetic voice, the void has been adduced as the point of suture between subject and what is wholly Other. Such a suture allows for two different readings: either the subject attempts to overcome her finitude through the exposition to the Other and becomes an automaton of the symbolic order; or she displaces her finitude by offering the dislocated entity that remains as the opening towards being that allows thinking to continue. Slavoj ieks reading of Pizarnik offers an instance of the first option; Juan Duchesnes an instance of the second. For iek, when Pizarnik refers to [the] song of silence [], located far beyond any forbidden zone, this [] makes it an inaccessible threatening entity; to which he adds: in Kantian terms: a song which dwells in the terrifying noumenal domain of the Real in which a kind of objective truth (or, rather, a totally objectifying knowledge) about me is inscribed (2006: 155). Elsewhere iek agrees with Kant regarding what this access means for a finite human being: as in a puppet show, everything would gesticulate well but no life would be found in the figures (iek 2001: 152). Pizarniks poetry appears here as an instance of the crippling effects of undermining the claims of finitude on the subject. Duchesnes article takes as its central question Where does the song take place in Pizarnik? His answer is the voice as void. Which is to void the subject

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as much as it is to void the question itself. It is not really a matter of the precise place, what is important is the thinking that displacing the question sets in motion (2010: 165). In this particular case, what is set in motion is the possibility of a poetic event beyond finitude, which is only possible once the poetic voice becomes an offering of the torsion of inside and outside. For Duchesne, lo que se ofrenda es el ser y el estar del sujeto (Duchesne 2010: 167). This liberates Pizarniks text from a certain kind of death, or lays it open for una muerte siempre postergada por el caer de la imagen (168). The unending repetition of the fall of the image onto the site without place of the voided poetic voice liberates it from all destiny and all sense, except that of the voice itself (169). For Duchesne that is the singularity of the poem. What I have been outlining thus far is a Pizarnik that traces a diagonal line between these two positions. On the one hand, she appears to be closer to the Kantian position. As was the case in Noche compartida en el recuerdo de una huida, identifying the poetic voice with the non-place of the Other turns the threshold between inside and outside into an ontological offering that only serves to move forward the tropology of the Romantic poetic subject. As the speaker put it in that poem: No soy yo la hablante: es el viento que me hace aletear para que yo crea que estos cnticos del azar que se formulan por obra del movimiento son palabras venidas de m (2001: 257). For Pizarnik, where chance (as an index of the Real) and the speakers own voice become entwined, what emerges in the language of fragment XVII of rbol de Diana is a beautiful automaton (119). This is given a topological formulation in Noche compartida , where the mueca de papel is indistinguishable from the ground even if she sometimes screams (258). Those screams become a specific orientation towards the possibility of the event of the poem; Pizarnik identifies them as the song that does nothing but alabar el silencio del espacio al que se nace (409). That is, these screams are the song that exists so as to prevent the singularity of the poem from being taken into account. On the other hand, all of this meta-poetical apparatus is there so as to affirm the possibility of a different orientation towards what takes place and is heterotopic in relation to the transcendental ordering of places on the ground. However, Pizarniks poetry will only refer to that new voice as one that is still unknown: Que me dejen con mi voz nueva, desconocida (436). It remains a challenge for us even today to come to terms and understand the poetry of subtraction and the offering of the heterotopic voice that iek and Duchesne, respectively, identify in Pizarnik. However, this is a voice that, at least for Pizarnik, was within the realm of what can be re-cognized, within the realm of theoretical or philosophical knowledge. Her most intense drama is that this voice is for her a tremendously seductive temptation which informs and even dictates many of her texts. And yet it also marks the borderline between writing something that is already accepted and recognized as poetry and an expansion of the limits of poetry itself. Her work is divided from within between, on the one hand, the voice that is sutured to the void and offers to us a paradoxical

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trace of that abyss, and, on the other, the recognition that to write from that non-place is to write only of its exhaustion, of the exhaustion of a Romantic project that can no longer aid her in formulating the new temporality of the unknown voice without also destroying it. This is what I read in another of her Textos de sombra:
no estoy en dificultad: estoy en no poder ms. No abandon el vaco y el desierto. (439)

If the poem has become the site from which thinking manages to get away from the grid of metaphysics, isnt this operation (the suture of subject and void) one that turns the singularity of the poem into the evidence most needed for a neo-ontological thought? I take this text to be a confession regarding the poets struggle in avoiding a kind of Romantic writing of which she is, nevertheless, one of the peaks. However, Pizarnik herself is aware of the limits of this kind of sincerity. En esta noche, en este mundo is clear on this point: la sinceridad absoluta continuara siendo lo imposible (399). It is poetry as an experience of the impossible which Pizarnik has discovered to be exhausted. And it is alongside that exhaustion (by incorporating it rather than simply negating it), but nevertheless en este mundo, that the new unknown voice takes place. Works Cited
Aira, Csar, 1998. Alejandra Pizarnik (Rosario, Argentina: Beatriz Viterbo Editora). Balibar, tienne, 2003. Structuralism: A Destitution of the Subject?, trans. James Swenson, differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, 14.1: 121. Bloom, Harold, 1971. The Visionary Company: A Reading of English Romantic Poetry (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press). Depetris, Carolina, 2004. Aportica de la muerte: estudio crtico sobre Alejandra Pizarnik (Madrid: Ediciones de la Universidad Autnoma de Madrid). Descombes, Vincent, 1980 [1979]. Modern French Philosophy, trans. L. Scott-Fox and J. M. Harding (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). Duchesne, Juan, 2010. Dnde el lugar del canto?: la voz potica en Extraccin de la piedra de la locura, de Alejandra Pizarnik, Pensamiento de los Confines, 26 (invierno-primavera): 15870. Graziano, Frank, 1987. A Death in which to Live, in Alejandra Pizarnik: A Profile (Durango, CO: Logbridge-Rhodes), pp. 917. Hegel, Georg W. F., 1974. Jenaer Realphilosopie, in Frhe politische Systeme (Frankfurt: Ullstein). , 1977. Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford University Press). Heidegger, Martin, 1975. Poetry, Language, Thought, trans. A. Hofstadter (New York: Harper and Row). Lacoue-Labarthe, Philippe, and Jean-Luc Nancy, 1988. The Literary Absolute: The Theory of Literature in German Romanticism, trans. P. Barnard and C. Lester (Albany: State University of New York Press). Lautramont, Comte de (Isidore Ducasse), 1965. Les Chants de Maldoror, trans. G. Wernham (New York: New Directions). Nicholson, Melanie, 2002. Evil, Madness, and the Occult in Argentine Poetry (Gainsville: University Press of Florida). Paz, Octavio, 1996. Obras completas: Ideas y costumbres II (Mxico: Fondo de Cultura Econmica). Pia, Cristina, 1991. Alejandra Pizarnik (Buenos Aires: Planeta).

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, 1999. Poesa y experiencia del lmite: Leer a Alejandra Pizarnik (Buenos Aires: Ediciones Botella del Mar). Pizarnik, Alejandra, 1975. El deseo de la palabra (Barcelona: Barral Editores). , 1982. El premio internacional de poesa: Salamandra, in Pere Gimferrer (ed.), Octavio Paz (Madrid: Taurus), pp. 195200. , 2001. Poesa completa (Barcelona: Lumen). , 2002. Prosa completa (Barcelona: Lumen). , 2003. Diarios (Barcelona: Lumen). Rimbaud, Arthur, 2005. Complete Works, Selected Letters, trans. W. Fowlie and S. A. Whidden (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press). Rodrguez Francia, Ana Mara, 2003. La disolucin en la obra de Alejandra Pizarnik: Ensombrecimiento de la existencia y ocultamiento del ser (Buenos Aires: Ediciones Corregidor). Sucre, Guillermo, 2000. La metfora del silencio, in Alejandra Pizarnik, Obra completa, ed. G. Z. Herrera (Medelln, Colombia: Editorial rbol de Diana), pp. 1520. iek, Slavoj, 2001. The Fright of Real Tears: Krzysztof Kieslowski between Theory and Post-Theory (London: British Film Institute). , 2006. The Parallax View (Cambridge, MA; London: The MIT Press).

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