Julie Phillips Brown deposited Reading as Ritual Response: The Artist’s Books of Cecilia Vicuña [slides] in the group Interdisciplinary Approaches to Culture and Society on MLA Commons 8 months, 2 weeks ago
Since the 1960s, Chilean poet and artist Cecilia Vicuña has developed an internationally-recognized body of hybrid works that draw on poetry, painting, sculpture, installation, dance, song, and film. “Reading as Ritual Response” considers one of Vicuña’s lesser-known categories of work, the artist’s book, through which she harnesses the visual, material, and tactile capacities of the book to preserve histories and re-imagine presents and futures. I focus primarily on Vicuña’s alternative temporal relationship to trauma in Sabor a Mí, a bilingual artist’s book first published after the 1973 coup in Chile.
Pinochet’s coup inflicted a national trauma of massive proportions, from the torture and disappearance of individuals to the widespread dismantling of Chile’s economic systems and cultural memories. If the nature of trauma is to resist narrative comprehension and to persist through melancholic repetition, then its subject suffers doubly from the initial event and from its unbidden, uncanny returns. I argue that Vicuña’s repeated efforts to revise and republish Saborami demonstrate not merely the poet’s melancholic return to an original trauma, but also her investment in ancient Andean models of time and her belief in the poïetic powers of reading as a ritual response to collective trauma. The Aymara tradition of facing the past (while turning one’s back on the future) places history immediately before us, directly at hand and readily reworked. With each return to Saborami, Vicuña works to reform the past from the present, and to turn the violence of Chile’s collective trauma toward a larger, cosmic reversal.