from The Letters of Carla, the letter b. A Mystery in Poetry with a foreword by The Future Guardian of the Letters and an afterword by Benjamin Hollander
You can tell from the start Heriberto is lying through his teeth. How do we know? Well, he says he is not interested in Charles Olson, in his Carlos, but the fact is he’s obsessed by him – Are you joking me, he fawns and fantasizes over him. He wants to breathe through and kill daddy poet at the same time. (“Daddy, Daddy, you bastard, I’m through.”) Ironically, he’ll do what no academic before him could: put the big guy on the map. Those avant private college poet boys and girls in the poet biz will eat it up in the States, where they’re so repressed they want so desperately to believe anyone who will fetishize (or give him fascist eyes) and kill their father, any father, and Olson el grandioso hombre is a ripe target, cause he’s the breath on the big dick they can’t get a hold of, if you know what I mean.” From a feminine man perspective, I know what he means. It’s satisfying how Luria reads it: what the Norte-Americanos don’t really know about their own poets, in this case Olson, is that someone from south of the border can get away with saying just about anything and no one will check, or, as I like to put it, give blowback. You could call this their “Olsonian inertia,” so Heriberto would phrase it. Good for Heriberto: if he really knows the facts of Olson’s life and is ignoring them in search of a theory to prank Americans – more power to him. Or if he doesn’t know the facts, which I think is more likely (I mean – why would he even bother if he just wanted to do a parody), so much the better, no one will be the wiser. Either way, it doesn’t matter: he makes the point, and the North Americans look a bit guarded defending him. I applaud Heriberto. He realizes the effects of theory, which is why he can say anything, and why he confesses he won’t have any sex:
In reality things work very differently. And if sex happens, some- times other things also happen, like kids, love. In theory-world there are no consequences / just hypothesis
(The True Length of Neo-Emotionalism (A Short Story) or heriberto yepez: THE TRUE LENGTH OF NEO)
“In theory world there are no consequences”: I can imagine Heriberto telling you:
“I will stage you a theoretical monster, one Charles Olson, be- cause you don’t know the facts, and you want to fit the big man into the sexist authoritarian archetype you have of him (‘look at how he harassed women,’ you will say), and in your tolerance to accept me as a literary representative provocateur of my people as victims of literary border patrols, you will accept my facts about the evil paleface, although I’m just making them up as I go along… you don’t even notice that I use the word “imperialism” without in my book referring to any specific historical instances or events. I can create the bogey-man Olson to carry that word into his practice, I can make “projective verse” a military manifesto. I can ignore all the salient facts and relationships of Olson’s life. I can say the Holocaust was fiction, Saddam is Hitler, 9/11 is Pearl Harbor. I can turn water to wine, and, well, if only not to offend me, you Americans will say ‘he has a right to his perspective; we need to learn to see ourselves from the point of view of ‘the other.’ A win-win for me. Even the Mexican government will sponsor my trips to conferences up North so that I have the Norte-Americanos in crisis and lit-quaking in their books or wondering how I will stage the drunken paleface of an Olson 50 years after he staggered across the Berkeley stage.”
And, if that is not enough to warn North American leftist anti-imperialist types of Heriberto’s aesthetically rich theoretical fantasies, readers who will actually read and take seriously almost 300 pages of his riddled-with-errors, imaginary-Olson text, well, the joke, Heriberto says, is on you, refracted in a trickster text published years earlier by the same editors who may be in good faith or maybe not (who knows, their intentions no doubt were good), who printed the translation of the possibly fraudulent Olson scholarship in El imperio de la neomemoria. Way back in 2002, Heriberto winked at all of us – about his follies:
In recent years, I have been involved in translation-criticism experiments involving certain types of critical fantasies in which I mix real interpretation with secret self-parody or even readers’/ editors’ deliberate deceptions. I have succeeded, for example, in getting non-real “criticisms” (heteronomy) or supposed translations published in major magazines, or in simply developing concepts or applying points of view in which I don’t actually believe, systematically attributing false quotes to real authors or manipulating data, mixing unknown fictional authors in with canonical ones – in short, considering criticism, at every point, to be fictional prose. I write fictive and parodic translation-criticism (crítica-ficción) without revealing it to the readers of the books or magazines that have published those essays or pseudo-translations. In many cases my use of fiction is simply indistinguishable from my true beliefs. Even though most of the time you wouldn’t know it from reading my texts, I always write criticism from an insincere point of view, as a way to destroy the confidence and authority we give to the critic as a literary subject or Text, Lies, and Role-Playing, published in Chain 9, 2002a credible voice.
(Text, Lies, and Role-Playing, published in Chain 9, 2002)
So there you have it: the crítica-ficción jig’s (or is it the giggles are) up. You, dear North American avant-garde(rs), who have taken Heriberto’s Olson “bio that explains empire” seriously have just been had. Maybe, like me, you know this, or may- be you don’t – what does it matter? (It’s all good and all in fun.) You have been taken for a ride. You have just given him your authority. But the question remains: Why would readers believe what my literary make-up artist says about Charles Ol- son? Because he’s got image conscious avant-garde(rs) from the North and the South by the balls and he knows it. As some- one cool enough to be branded an avant-garde provocateur Mexican poet – I remember my niece once saying that what never stops through life, is that everyone wants to sit next to the cool kid in school – he can get away with claiming Charles Olson as a colonialist serving empire, only because the anglos in their tolerance are too afraid not to welcome “a Mexican perspective,” their words justifying the attack by saying “Olson himself is not really the target but U. S. expansionism, in all its cultural forms, is….”Of course. Brilliant. My hero, Heriberto. A “know nothing” Olson scholar. And, ironically, if the more liberal gringos are told this could be a joke, the more sensitive they get and say, no, “he’s serious, he’s a serious scholar,” the more they take Heriberto at his word, as long as he gets to kill 61their fathers, their families (“families are artificial structures” he says), through theory, as long as he plays his anti-imperial role as oppressed Mexicano. As my sister, the insistent “Carla, the double lettered b. b.” said to me, “the more you get under the skin of the North Americans the more literal they get defending their agenda. Or, put another way, the more they’re taken for a ride, the more they talk about the rights of the person taking them for the ride.” Call it their inertia.
So the jig’s up: because if you don’t know the salient facts of Olson’s life, which are just the opposite of what Heriberto claims and which Heriberto could secretly know (although I doubt it) – as Juan Hirsch Luria wrote me, “Heriberto is lying when he says he’s not interested in Olson, since he’s, well, obsessed by him, are you joking me, he fawns and fantasizes over him” – then it don’t amount to a hill of beans. Even Heriberto would agree – that in a time of crisis, that when poetry is in a time of crisis – strangely, this sounded similar to one of the subjects, “Poetry and the Rhetoric of Crisis,” at the new Berkeley conference – then as Mexican popular culture says: “No te hagas pato” (lit. Don’t make yourself a duck, meaning, don’t pretend you are not you, don’t turn into a third person in order to not assume the responsibilities of knowing you are the person you accuse, don’t become 3 in order to not accept you are both 1 and 2. Which is why, in time, I would plead with Heriberto in order to protect him, plead with him to take responsibility for himself, to not be “the other”: “No te hagas sitting pato, por favor” (lit. don’t make yourself the sitting duck), I told him. “Don’t hide. Be true to your crisis, Heriberto, Hache (the letter “H” in Spanish), be true to me, Carla, the letter b.,” as if our motifs could be in natural correspondence, H and b, and a musical cryptogram, so to speak, as if we could be singing under a lemon tree.