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The Humanities Conference 2003

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Prolegomenon to the Political Reading of Poetry: N'or Perlongher and the Argentine 'Neobarroco' as a Test Case

Ben Bollig.

The prolegomenon is a starting point, part of a process. As such, this piece represents both an intervention and part of a process within the current debate in Latin American Studies, and the humanities in general, over the merits of the political reading of literature.

Susan Sontag's seminal work Against Interpretation argues against Platonic readings of literature that highlight its mimetic function. While Sontag frees art from its lowly position in the platonic world-view, this involves a concomitant and elitist depoliticising of the work. Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil, and Deleuze and Guattari's two-volume Capitalism and Schizophrenia offer alternative but similarly anti-platonic approaches through perspectivism and rhizomatics, respectively.

In Latin America, openly political poetry, such as the protest poetry of Pablo Neruda has tended to be read critically for its political content. Conversely, more aesthetic works, such as those of Jorge Luis Borges, have attracted more attention to formal elements and literary devices.

My aim then is to examine the work of Perlongher and the neobarroco, the most important group of poets in post-dictatorship Argentina, through a very small number of key texts in order to show that politics resides not just in the activism that Perlongher and many of his contemporaries gave up for poetry. The stripping of political content in the 1980?s can be read as a reaction to socially committed and colloquial poetry, but also a gesture framed within the context of the new cultural pluralism and micro-political narratives in Argentina. Perlongher's depoliticised poetry reveals his difficult relationship with the organised left in Argentina, particularly over the issue of homosexuality, and a formal reading of his poetry enables a rhizomatic appreciation of the complex relationship between poetry and politics.


Ben Bollig  (United Kingdom)
PhD Candidate and Part-Time Lecturer
Department of Spanish and Spanish American Studies
King's College, University of London, UK

Ben Bollig is a PhD student and part-time lecturer in the Department of Spanish and Spanish American Studies at King’s College London. He is completing a thesis on the poetry of Nestor Perlongher, and has published articles on the work of the Argentine novelist Manuel Puig, Perlongher and transvestism, anarchism in the Brazilian writer Lima Barreto, and Brazilian hip hop.

  • Poetry
  • Poetics
  • Argentina
  • Perlongher
  • Critical Theory
Person as Subject
  • Perlongher, Nestor

(Virtual Presentation, English)