27 June 2008

The Economy of Nostalgia

I am doing my annual stint of summer teaching in Ann Arbor and today stopped by the very good, independent Shaman Drum Bookshop. Using the pretext of a typical late afternoon thundershower, I managed to spend an hour poking around after class. Among the things I found is this book of poetry by Uruguayan poet Cristina Peri Rossi. The book originally appeared in Spanish five years ago, but many of the poems were composed nearly three decades earlier during the early parts of Rossi's continuing political exile. She now lives in Spain and has since 1972. Her poems give voice to, among other things, sorrow, loss, perseverance, bitterness, rage, fear, reconciliation (or perhaps resignation), and, especially, nostalgia. As Rossi explains in her prologue, "Each exile is different, but we all have one thing in common: nostalgia." She explains, as well, that when the Uruguayan military junta relinquished power (1985), she decided not to return to Montevideo. Why? "I did not want to repeat the experience of longing. I do not want to feel a different nostalgia; I prefer to hold onto the same one. I have lived with it, I do not want to live with others." A decision taken in light of the economy of nostalgia.
Cristina Peri Rossi

One learns that the essential
wasn't books
wasn't records
wasn't cats
paraísos in bloom
spilling over the sidewalks
nor even the large moon - white -
in the windows
it wasn't the sea lapping the shore
the murmur fragile against the seawall
nor friends no longer seen
nor childhood streets
nor that bar where we made love with our eyes.

The essential was something else.

Cristina Peri Rossi

I said to you:
"One needs a lot of courage
for so much useless death."
You thought I was referring to Latin America.
No, I was talking
about dying in bed,
in a great city,
at eighty or ninety years old.
* From ~ Cristina Peri Rossi. State of Exile. Translated by Marilyn Buck. San Francisco: City Lights, 2008, pages 105 & 123. Originally published as Estado de exilo. Madrid: Ediciones Destino, 2003.

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