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Poetics of Materiality: Medium, Embodiment, Sense, and Sensation in 20th- and 21-st-Century Latin America

  • Author(s): Becker, Jessica Elise
  • Advisor(s): Masiello, Francine
  • Slater, Candace
  • et al.

My approach to poetics in this dissertation is motivated by Brazilian Concrete poetry and digital writing as models for alternative textualities that reconfigure, through their material dimension, what a poem is and how we read it. These writing models also invite us to think about the ways in which cognitive and physical processes generate meaning. With these insights in mind, this dissertation returns to a broad range of so-called experimental poetry, from Hispanic American vanguardista visual poetry and Brazilian Concrete poetics to present-day Latin American media writing. By emphasizing cross-national and cross-linguistic connections, I explore poetic intersections of verbal and non-verbal modes of signifying, from non-linear poetic texts to poetic images, objects, performances, events, and processes. These different poetic movements and styles are tied together through their foregrounding of materiality, which implies a meaningful engagement with the text's physical characteristics and with the particular medium in which texts are produced, stored, and circulated in both creative and receptive processes. I thus argue that the common ground of Latin American experimental poetry from the avant-gardes to the present is the emergence of a poetics of materiality that places multiplicity, productive tensions, and embodiment at the center of how we conceive of the text itself, the subject, time, and space, and posits meaning as actively generated through the convergence of matter, language, and sensation.

The opening chapter examines the visual turn in the Latin American avant-gardes, particularly in the work of vanguardista poets Vicente Huidobro, Juan José Tablada, and Oliverio Girondo in Hispanic America and the Noigandres group of Concrete poets in Brazil. I examine these not as isolated and ultimately dismissible experimental movements, but as the starting point for a prolonged artistic engagement with the senses, the body, and materiality in Latin America. The following chapter explores how poetry migrates not only out of its traditional linear forms into different visual configurations, but off of the printed page altogether, creating the poem-objects of Augusto de Campos, Jorge Eielson, and Cecilia Vicuña, or the poem-processes and poem-events of Raúl Zurita, Octavio Paz, Wlademir Dias-Pino, Clemente Padín and Eduardo Antonio Vigo, thereby exposing and undermining some of the most deep-seated implications of print culture. Chapter three turns to processes of meaning that emphasize embodiment and multiplicity in time and space: the colorful, performance-based poems of Augusto de Campos' Poetamenos and the hand-drawn poems of Cecilia Vicuña and Ana Cristina César all return to the space of the book, but in non-traditional configurations. In the fourth chapter, which includes multi- and intermedia performances by Arnaldo Antunes and Augusto de Campos, as well as electronic and digital poetry by Eduardo Kac, Ladislao Pablo Györi, Ana María Uribe, Belén Gache, and Eugenio Tisselli, I discuss how new media represents, much like the visual in the avant-gardes, an almost utopian opening of poetic possibilities, where poems are conceived as processes and as instances of multiplicity, and where our interaction with the text is ultimately transformed through digital modes of production, media integration, and network-based textualities. By putting a broad variety of experimental texts into dialogue with one another and with current media studies, my research recontextualizes and affirms the continued relevance and impact of materially-based poetic texts that challenge the norms and the dominance of print culture.

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