The Representation of the Body in the Poetry of Alejandra Pizarnik

by Alejandra Pizarnik, David William Foster
The Representation of the Body in the Poetry of Alejandra Pizarnik
Alejandra Pizarnik, David William Foster
Hispanic Review
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Arizona State University
nadie me conoce yo hablo mi cuerpo
(Pizarnik, "Los pequeiios cantos,"
Textos de sombra y ultimos poemas
Vision enlutada, desgarrada, de un jardin
con estatuas rotas. Al filo de la madrugada
los huesos te dolian. Tn te desgarras. Te
10prevengo y te 10previne. Tn te desarmas.
Te 10 digo, te 10 dije. Tn te desnudas. Te
desposees. Te desunes.
(Pizarnik, "Extraccion de la piedra
de locura," Extracci6n de la piedra
de locura 58)
n interest in the representation of the body in
contemporary culture implies a series of interlocking
concerns: 1) an attention to a presumed
ever-expanding scientific (or, perhaps now,
counterscientific) knowledge about the structure
and function of the components of the body, including
different systematic ways of classifying
1 I wish to acknowledge the contributions to this essay provided by my research
assistant, Gustavo Geirola. Support for the execution of this study was provided
by the Women's Studies Program of Arizona State University.
320 David William Foster HR 62 (1994)
those components; 2) the relationship between one's body and one's
perceptions of it, ranging from inner spiritual feelings to various
forms of self-contemplation; 3) the ideological issues associated
with classifying bodies in terms of sex, race, or other metonymic
features; 4) the uses of the body, whether instrumentally (e.g., as
the site of political statement, as in public protest, or as the site
of political repression, as in torture) or reflexively (e.g., for purposes
of sexual pleasure or artistic expression, as in display texts like
theater or dance); 5) the politicization of the body as a metonym
for social issues, as in the case of explicit signs of sexual preference;
and, finally, 6) the preoccupation for the limits of the body: the
extent to which it is or is not autonomous, self-contained, or perceptually
independent and the degree to which any aspect of the
body can only be defined in relationship to an individualized or
collectivized other (e.g., linguistic functions, sexuality-even masturbation
involves imaginings of others). It need not be emphasized
that many of these considerations may be viewed as various facets
of a single imperative: the need to engage in a sustained practice
of rethinking the body in counterpoint to any ideology that would
hold it as already defined (cf. Benstock, Ch. 2: "Signifying the Body
Feminine;" cf. also Turner; Featherstone et al.; Goldstein).
"Thinking through the body," as Gallop's superbly ambiguous
trope states (with "through" read either as a locative preposition
or as a verbal particle), means an insistence on grounding and
regrounding human experience in a body that is problematized
both as part of a materialist questioning of the Western primacy
of immanence and as part of current sociocultural priorities regarding
threats to the integrity and the very survival of the body.
This may not necessarily mean that the body (rather than, say,
some other putative dimension of human experience like the mind
or the spirit or a particular emotional phenomenon like love or
adventure) has assumed an obsessive centrality in contemporary
culture, especially in whatever is judged to be its vanguard sectors.
But it does mean that when the body is either thematized or utilized
as a semiotic field of reference and symbolization, it is likely to be
introduced as problematical rather than as a signifying given.
Clearly, this means more than simply re-viewing the body from
different perspectives or discovering new vistas of the body (e.g.,
recent thematization of the genitals, especially in photography).
Rather, it means interrogating the very bases on which any defiThe
Body in the Poetry ofPizarnik 321
nition of the body as a whole or its components is proferred. It is,
for example, not enough then to refocus a gaze of the female body;
one expects, to begin with, a questioning of the definition of the
female body and of the legitimacy of representing it artistically in
the first place.
Perhaps to speak of the need to deconstruct the body is too
facile a characterization of the position one is describing. Yet to a
large extent, it does mean disassembling certain givens, particularly
those that relate to essentialist characterizations and the
implication that there is an already known about the body and
those that presume that the position of the body in society is already
fixed by parameters prior to the birth and maturation of anyone,
personal body. Concomitantly, it refers to the difficulties of holding
in place any understanding of the body constructed from the site
of an individual consciousness, no matter whether that construction
is the consequence of internalizing cultural givens or of forging an
eccentric knowledge in counterpoint to cultural givens. Where perhaps
former considerations of the threat to the survival of the
body centered on hostile nature and living conditions, the consciousness
at issue here involves something more like the ideological
menace to which an individual's corporally-based self-construction
is subject-something like the bell jar motif that a poet like Sylvia
Plath has bequeathed to contemporary literature or, in our search
for antecedents, the eponymous yellow wallpaper sign of Charlotte
Perkins Gilman's 1892 short story.
In the fifteen years since her suicide, the Argentine poet Alejandra
Pizarnik (1936-1972) has emerged as a crucial figure in contemporary
Latin American feminist writing. The cultural consciousness
associated with her person and her literary production
includes major strains of Western marginalization, with the specific
inflections provided by Argentine society. Pizarnik was a woman,
a Jew, the daughter of an immigrant-refugee family, a lesbian, a
clinically certified schizophrenic who spent her last years institutionalized
(she took her life while at home on a weekend pass),
a suicide (in a country where suicide is still a capital offense), and
a poet. The enormous critical interest that her work has stimulated,
both during the period of military dictatorship in Argentina (1966-
322 David William Foster HR 62 (1994)
73, 1976-83) when much of it circulated clandestinely and during
the post-1983 period when a previously suppressed and fragmented
cultural production may now be subjected to intense sociopolitical
interpretations, has allowed it to be read within multiple and divergent
interpretive registers. Nevertheless, there is a critical consensus
that Pizarnik's poetry (both in traditional verse form and
in the form of nonmetrical prose microtexts) is of indisputable
My previous work with Pizarnik has centered on the eleven
prose vignettes that make up La condesa sangrienta (1971), which
deals with the figure of Erzebet Bathory, a sixteenth-century Hungarian
noblewoman accused of the torture and death of over six
hundred girls in rituals apparently intended to provide her with
eternal youth and beauty. I have examined Pizarnik's interpretations
of the lesbian dimensions of Bathory's rituals in Gay and
Lesbian Writing in Latin America (1991). A separate essay, as part
of an examination of literary versions of violence and power during
the Argentine military dictatorships, takes up the question of how
La condesa sangrienta can be read as an allegory of patriarchal
power, with Bathory constituting one of Mary Daly's token torturers,
an understanding of the text that both explains how the
Countess was able to pursue her sadistic rituals with relative impunity
and why Pizarnik's treatment of her has provoked so much
interest in the context of analyzing the neofascist ideology of the
Argentine dictatorships (Foster, "Of Power and Virgins;" Daly 96).2
The present essay analyzes Pizarnik's poetry with respect to
an issue related to the previous work on La condesa sangrienta:
her representation of the female body. One may rightly expect to
encounter many of the strategies for deconstructing the male tech-
2 It must remain for another study to examine the creation of the "Pizarnik
legend," that of a female poete maudit who has served as an abiding model for a
generation of Argentine poets, especially within the context of military tyranny in
Argentina and the general sense of a Babbitt-like repudiation of a Bohemian norm
of poetry. Any examination of the construction of such a legend will have to take
into account how much of Pizarnik's writing was published by establishment houses
like the Editorial Sudamericana and Victoria Ocampo's unashamedly oligarchic
little magazine Sur (cf. Pifia on the image of Pizarnik as a poete maudit; concerning
Pizarnik and Sur, cf. King 194-95). In a certain sense, Pizarnik is the Argentine
counterpart to the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, who also constitutes a powerful
feminist icon of the woman's body in pain (see Schaefer, Ch. 1); concomitantly, one
may also speak of a "Frida Kahlo myth."
The Body in the Poetry of Pizarnik 323
nologies of gender in poetry on women written by men, and it is
not necessary to read far in Pizarnik's poetry to discover procedures
for the defamiliarization of the standard commonplaces of womanly
allure: the intensely ironic and even sarcastic reformulation of the
tropes of description and evocation and the displacement of a sense
of a poetic tradition of the female poetic voice by a rhetoric of the
appropriation of male diction, with all of the disconcerting ambiguities
such an appropriation implies. These strategies in various
combinations characterize a contemporary feminist tradition in
poetry from a "medusian" perspective, to trope Helene Cixous' famous
Yet, what I would like specifically to focus on here, in an attempt
to refine the presence of the aforementioned strategies as they
specifically appear in Pizarnik's work, is the cluster of tropes relating
to the human body. Pizarnik wrote at a time when lesbian
identity as such could not be forthrightly articulated (indeed, it
has only been in the past ten years that Argentine literature can
pride itself on an explicitly lesbian/gay cultural project). As a
consequence, her poetry, written in Spanish, a language where
gender markers are consistently overt (cf. Read passim), is characterized
by both an evasiveness as to the gender identity of the
poetic voice and its addressee and by the adoption of a conventional,
normalized female/male discourse of love. The question to be addressed
is whether or not, beyond such a concession to social circumscriptions
on erotic expressiveness (and part of the question
is whether it is even appropriate to assume Pizarnik was making
concessions), one can identify a poetic encodement of the human
body-its physical contours, its experienced sensations, and its linguistic
projections-that validates the importance attributed to
Pizarnik in terms of the various categories of marginalization
mentioned above (see the studies in Body Guards on issues of gender
ambiguity). More specifically, is the importance Pizarnik is said to
hold for a lesbian identity borne out by a rhetoric of poetic expression
that undermines hegemonic heterosexism? Or, might there be
a specific Talmudic understanding of the woman's body as the site
of corrupting uncleanliness?
A much more challenging question, within the context of Deleuze's
and Guattari's revindication of schizophrenia, is whether
or not what was judged to be Pizarnik's ultimately suicidal mental
illness does not, in fact, provide a significant insight into a restruc324
David William Foster HR 62 (1994)
turing of sexual experience, anchored in a particular mental/
physical sense of the body found in her texts. An investigation of
these questions and others that will arise in the close scrutiny of
Pizarnik's poetry in the framework described will provide the basis
for a characterization of her production beyond the stylistic descriptions
and the untheorized inventory of feminist and psychoanalytical
themes that have been the basis of the bulk of criticism
authored to date (Fagundo 451).
One approach to the representation of the body in Pizarnik's
poetry would be to inventory the vocabulary of her texts. Such an
approach, although it may possess little theoretical contextualization,
is indeed revealing. For example, beginning with her first
collection, La tierra mas ajena (1955), depending on which criterion
of lexical classification is used, there are almost eighty separate
references to the body in twenty-eight poems. Approximately a
dozen are reflexive: self-characterizations of the poetic voice; over
sixty are linked to second- and third-person deixis. There is a concentration
of references to the face, with ten references to ojos, five
to labios, four to manos (plus two to uiia« and three to dedos), three
to dientes; nonfacial items like pechos (three occurrences), vello
(one), arterias (one), and piel (two) establish topographical points
of reference that will recur with insistence throughout her subsequent
Las aventuras perdidas (1958), which consists of only twentytwo
texts, some of them no more than five or ten lines, contains
fifty corporal references, over a fifth of them devoted to sangre,
plus additional references to herida, venas, corazon; huesos, cadsuoeres,
and uhos. Pizarnik's key 1968 cycle of prose poems, ExtracciOn
de la piedra de locura, contains over fifty allusions to body parts,
with what would by now be an expected concentration on items
like huesos, corazOn (sixteen appearances), sangre, sexo, and a generic
word like cuerpo predominates (sixteen occurrences). The
texts in this collection are notable for what becomes Pizarnik's
metapoetical emphasis, and there are, as a consequence, clusters
of images relating to voz (including labios), mano (including gestos),
ojos (including visiOn and mirada), and lengua. These items possess
a metapoetic function to the extent that they may be used to refer
The Body in the Poetry ofPizarnik 325
to a process of poetic participation or assimilation, composition,
and communication (including the two functions of transmission
and reception). By the eleven vignettes of La condesa sangrienta
(1971), there is no longer much sense in even tabulating pertinent
lexical items, and references that fall within the semantic orbit of
the key word in the book's title are so evident they might as well
be in boldface type: sangre alone occurs nine times in the eleven
vignettes, and, the basis for the voyeuristic element of the text I
have described elsewhere (Foster 100), ojos appears eight times,
plus one occurrence of mirada.
Pizarnik's ten principal collections contain almost six hundred
references to the body (understanding that there are some questions
of exact corporal identity). It is notable that, despite the
presumed I-based character of poetry, approximately 450 of Pizarnik's
references refer to the second and third persons; some of
these references, to be sure, may involve the doubling of the poetic
voice. The items that predominate, on the order of at least five
percent of the total, are coraz6n, cuerpo, huesos, manos, ojos (almost
a ten-percent occurrence), sangre, and voz. This inventory does not
take into consideration the possibility of an essential synonymy
with respect to series like voz, lengua, respiraci6n, soplo, boca,
dientes, garganta-without exhausting the list-with respect to the
metapoetic dimension of Pizarnik's poetry. One could contemplate
a similar concatenation of terms beginning with a prime like sangre
(approximately forty occurrences) or manos, both of which exercise
crucial functions in the sadomasochistic features of these compositions,
whether literal (La condesa sangrienta) or figurative (patriarchal
However, such an inventory is inadequate. An inventory of vocabulary
items is basically meaningless in that it divorces lexemes
from both their syntactic and poetic context, assuming that they
possess an intrinsic meaning, when, precisely, poetry is the verbal
discourse with which we most associate the principle that meaning
is a function of an overall textual structure. That structure may
not be totalizing (although there is certainly enough of a tradition
that presumes that it is), but it is at least determinant to an extent
greater than anything associated with nonpoetic discourse. There326
David William Foster HR 62 (1994)
fore, it is not reasonable to expect to derive much importance from
noting the high incidence of occurrence in the poetry of Pizarnik
of lexical items such as cuerpo or ojos.
But there is another issue regarding the vocabulary of Pizarnik's
poetry that has only tangentially to do with the extent to which
individual words may be interpreted outside their place in the poetic
discourse and the extent to which they may be classified and homologized
extratextually as well. This second issue concerns the
much touted surrealistic nature of Pizarnik's writing. I leave aside
any discussion here as to the exact quality of surrealism in her
texts, whether they correspond to any surrealistic movement as
such (which would certainly be a retarded one at the time of Pizarnik's
major production from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s);
whether it is a matter of an Argentine neosurrealism, stimulated
by one of a number of possible factors and involving several possible
groupings of participants in terms of little reviews, presses, or
personal affinities (Sola); or whether it is sui generis, the consequence
of Pizarnik's specific way of encoding experience, influenced
no doubt by something like an already permanently established
surrealistic option in Western culture. Personally, I incline toward
the latter proposition, on the basis of the interpretations proposed
in what follows of this essay (see Lasarte also in this regard).
However, I am simply stating at this juncture that I wish to sidestep
the question of the precise nature of Pizarnik's affiliation with any
number of possible definitions of surrealism.
What I do wish to underscore, however, and in direct relation
to an inventory of corporal references in her poetry, is the need to
gauge how processes associated with a surrealist aesthetic expand
considerably the dimensions of such an inventory. Were we dealing
with nonpoetic discourse written in a neutral, automatized, or nonself-
referential language, it would be enough to chart the occurrences
of words like cuerpo, manos, lengua, or ojos, since there would
be little disagreement that such items refer to body parts. Furthermore,
there could be little controversy over what other words
to look for or over which ones would, given the sociocultural coordinates
of Pizarnik's texts, be likely to occur more frequently
than others (e.g., cejas over pelitos; boca over vagina or anyone of
its scatalogical, colloquial variants; cara over trasero, or even senos
over tetillas). And from these facts one ought convincingly to be
able to assert that Pizarnik is not writing a specifically erotic,
The Body in the Poetry ofPizarnik 327
much less a pornographic, poetry (whatever the distinction between
the two might be), despite the unusually high incidence of anatomical
references for an Argentine poet, and for a woman moreover
(Argentine women poets in recent years have been more willingly
to ignore taboos about the use of colloquial, even scatalogical, language
to refer to the body. One thinks immediately of Susana
Thenon's Ova completa [1987], whose pseudoclassical title is even
funnier than the gross expression which it evokes).
Processes like hypostasis, personification, anthropomorphization,
and metonymy all come to mind as figures of a poetic diction
that expands the limits of the neutral inventory of corporal references.
Moreover, if one considers the corporal to be present in
more than just an inventory of nouns and that it is equally represented
in predicate functions like verbs, adjectives, and adverbs,
Pizarnik's representation of the body assumes dominant proportions.
For example:
por un minuto de vida breve
unica de ojos abiertos
por un minuto de ver
en el cerebro ftores pequefias
danzando como palabras en la boca de un mudo
(El tirbol de Diana 15)
There are three neutral lexical items referring to the body: ojos,
cerebro, and boca (I will throughout this discussion be using "neutral"
to refer to an everyday, non poetic lexical norm, the sort of
vocabulary that would appear in an illustrated dictionary's topographical
representation of the body-e.g., The Oxford-Duden Pictorial
Spanish-English Dictionary [44-53]). In addition, there are
two neutral verbs, ver and danzar. In this context, the introduction
of a lexical item likeflores and the anthropomorphization involved
in presentingflores as the subject of danzar homologizes the term
as an anatomical referent. In the poetic universe of this text,flores
assumes a meaning function equivalent to that of the real body
parts, and it then becomes a question of understanding what sort
of bodily experience is to be understood from such an incorporation.
An excellent example of the processes I am describing is to be
found in "La noche," where the personification of the night carries
with it the establishment of a corporeal presence that not only
matches that of the poet, but in a certain sense outstrips it:
328 David William Foster
Poco se de la noche
pero la noche parece saber de mi,
y mas ann, me asiste como si me quisiera,
me cubre la conciencia con sus estrellas.
HR 62 (1994)
Pero sucede que oigo a la noche llorar en mis huesos.
Su lagrima inmensa delira
y grita que algo se fue para siempre.
Alguna vez volveremos a sere (Las aventuras perdidas 44)
The personification of the night is accompanied by the assignment
of physical attributes that enable it to be seen as a person,
including the physical agency implied by verbs like cubrir, llorar,
gritar, irse in the verses quoted (I am assuming that delirar does
not involve corporal instrumentality). The fundamental irony of
the poem is contained in the opening and closing propositions, although
it is more explicit in the case of the first, to the effect that
the night knows more of one than vice versa. The consequence of
this circumstance is the point of the poem, that the night is able
to engage in a superior agency toward the poet, who describes herself
as the patient of the bodily incursions of the night, which
penetrates to the very marrow of her bones. The real bodily presence
of the poet is overwhelmed by the corporality of something
like the night, customarily understood as, if not an abstraction, a
diffuse rather than concretely agentive presence.
The final stanza may thus be read as an affirmation of the poet's
own sense of diffuseness, of the disintegration and even intangibility
of the body that is frequently associated with Pizarnik's poetry
as a dimension of the recurrent themes of death and suicide
and as preliminary versions of the psychotic fragmentation of the
self that sustains the appeal to death and suicide (I should specify
at this point that I agree with Running that one ought not read
Pizarnik's poetry in terms of the master trope of suicide, as somehow
validating a subsequent biographical fact; cf. DiAntonio also).
The current absence of being implied by the poet's declaration of
coming to be once again is not made in the context of the articulated
embodied presence of the night, but as a coda to the poem, with
all of the emphasis that such a placement enjoys: the night is as
it has been overwhelmingly described, but the poet does not exist.
The Body in the Poetry of Pizarnik 329
In the case of "La noche," the invocation of the night via a complex
personification is correlated with the immateriality of the poet's
own body. The result is that one can see the former as less the
foregrounded deployment of surrealistic motifs as such (and there
is an undeniably Lorquian quality about many of Pizarnik's poems)
than the semiotically effective correlation of the loss of the human
body's physical presence and integrity with the overdetermined
embodiment of a range of phenomena-abstract, inanimate, intangible,
external-that impinge in a threatening and even destructive
way on the body of the poet. A similar process may be
found in "El miedo," also from Las aventuras perdidas, where the
verse "el miedo con sombrero negro" (46) involves a metonymy
implying that fear possesses a head; or in the lines from "La luz
caida de la noche" (also from Las aventuras perdidas), "yo no se
del sermon / del brazo de hiedra / pero quiero ser del pajaro
enamorado / que arrastra a las muchachas" (48), in which human
attributes-and in the first case a direct bodily referent-are again
correlates of the poet's self-description in destabilized terms: "mi
delirio," "el mandar de la nada," "mi sangre rabiosa."
The foregoing are only a very small sample of the correlation
of hypostasized entities and the poet's sense of bodily desintegration
or denormalization. The former, as part of the process of personification
or anthropomorphization, are introduced as existing
materially via either reference to specific body parts that are instruments
of their aggressive agency or to metonymies of body
parts, either nouns or predicates, that confirm a physical presence.
Examples of this correlation run throughout Pizarnik's poetry and
serve to confirm the special status given in her poetry to the evocation
of the bodlly-e-vis-a-vis herself and vis-a-vis the forces she
confronts-and to the special way in which rhetorical figures contribute
to that correlation. Although Pizarnik's poetry extends over
almost a twenty-year period, there is remarkable consistency in
the sustained utilization of this correlation.
Although there are elaborate images of death, of desintegration
and destruction, and of suicide throughout Pizarnik's poetry, the
interrelationship between madness and death, frequently with direct
suicidal statements, abound in the texts written during the
last five years of her life. It is also during this period that she turns
to prose compositions, some of which have narrative dimensions,
like the eleven vignettes that make up La condesa sangrienta, but
330 David William Foster HR 62 (1994)
the bulk are readily identifiable as prose poems. "Continuidad,"
taken from Extracci6n de la piedra de locura (1968), exemplifies
Pizarnik's continued use of specific figures in her evocation of the
antagonistic elements:
No nombrar las cosas por sus nombres. Las cosas tienen bordes dentados,
vegetacion lujuriosa. Pero quien habla en la habitacion llena de
ojos. Quien dentellea con una boca de papel. Nombres que vienen, sombras
con mascaras. Curame del vacio-dije. (La luz se amaba en mi oscuridad.
Supe que ya no habia cuando me encontre diciendo: soy yo.) Curame->
dije. (35)
There is a triple evocation of the facial components of the antagonists,
who, although they cannot be called by their proper names,
in violation of the principle of poetic discourse whereby the privilege
and the power of poetry lies in the ability to name things in a
manner not possible in conventional language, are metonymized
in personified terms via a master metonymy of the face. It would
seem clear that Pizarnik is here speaking about writing, especially
with the figure "boca de papel," an image that alludes to the topos
of the flatuus poeticus, and one could refer to many statements
clustered around interconnected verbs like breathing, speaking,
crying and shrieking; cf. the utterance "Escribo contra el miedo.
Contra el viento con garras que se aloja en mi respiraci6n" ("Ojos
primitivos," El infierno musical 19). Moreover, if the facial components
of poetry assume threatening forms despite being unnamable,
they are masked shades, in an allusion to the metonymy of
the counterface (i.e., a mask is something that only the face can
wear, and even if the face is not present, the mask refers back to
the face, just as the poem, as a metaphor of disguise, refers back
to the poet even when the latter is absent).
The poem is overlain by the two imperatives, "Curame," whose
vocatives are unnamed, and the verb is only one of numerous direct
and indirect references in Pizarnik's final poetic compositions to
the psychiatric process. Note the short composition that is in direct
contradiction to the command in "Continuidad":
Manos crispad as me confinan al exilio.
Aytidame a no pedir ayuda.
Me quieren anochecer, me van a morir.
Ayudame a no pedir ayuda.
(Extracci6n de la piedra de locura 20)
The Body in the Poetry ofPizarnik 331
But in "Continuidad" the imperative "Curame" is linked to the
"vacio," which is presumably another metaphor for the poetic text,
depending for its meaning in part on the absence implied by the
mask, just as much as the cure demanded depends for its meaning
on the terrifying nature of the unnamable things whose eyes, teeth,
and mouth the mask is molded to. The semantic primes of Pizarnik's
texts present here-the problematics if not the impossibility of
poetic discourse, the threatening unnamable, allusion (mostly psychiatric)
to sickness-are once again built around a haunting allusion
to metonymic, personified body parts.
Yet, for all of the recurring images in Pizarnik's poetry relating
to the body, along one semantic axis charting insistently the
breakup of the body and the desintegration of a fragile, while at
the same time profound, psychic domain and along another detailing
the parameters of a frustrated poetic discourse, it is not
enough simply to describe the multiple variants of these images,
as complex as they may be. I am claiming that throughout Pizarnik's
poetry images of the body enter into figurative configurations
dominated by forms of metonymic personification that involves an
extension of references to classifiable anatomical points to involve
predicates associated with such references as well as articleshats,
masks, clothes-that are their conventional complements and
extensions, which is, to be sure, also a metonymic process.
It remains to be seen how this dominant discourse practice,
which functions in general terms to map Pizarnik's sense of the
horror of her physical and emotional interaction with a threatening
universe (whether existential in general or specifically social in
the ways in which the writing as an intertext of determinant historical
signs), assumes a more integral function in major poems,
not as a dominant semiotic feature of her writing but as an organizing
principle of a text in such a way as to function as the
principal vehicle of meaning. "Poema para el padre," which Pizarnik
wrote less than a year before her suicide, may serve as an
example here:
Y fue entonces
que con la lengua muerta y fria en la boca
332 David William Foster HR 62 (1994)
canto la cancion que no Ie dejaron cantar
en este mundo de jardines obscenos y de sombras
que venian a deshora a recordarle
cantos de su tiempo de muchacho
en el que no podia cantar la cancion que queria cantar
la cancion que no le dejaron cantar
sino a traves de sus ojos azules ausentes
de su boca ausente
de su voz ausente.
Entonces, desde la torre mas alta de la ausencia
su canto resono en la opacidad de 10ocultado
en la extension silenciosa
llena de oquedades movedizas como las palabras que escribo.
(Textos de sombra y ultimos poemas 51)
Unlike Sylvia Plath's famous poem to her father, "Daddy,"
which is stunningly brutal in its characterization of the phallocentric
order, Pizarnik is here writing for and in the place of the
father. If it is important to record in feminist writing the images
of the father and of the phallic as its relates to other men, it is
noteworthy that few of Pizarnik's poems deal with masculine figures
(the phallic, to be sure, may also be characterized in terms of
the phallocentric mother-the "Mommy dearest" motif; and Erzebet
Bathory, the Bloody Countess, is surely a figure of masculist
power). This is in part a function of the I-centered dimension of
her expression and the fact that so many of her texts focus on a
characterization of her own specific emotional states. Moreover,
when the Other is present, it is most typically as a personification
of hostile and threatening forces, as I have outlined above, and not
another person, whether man or woman, phallic or otherwise.
In the case of "Poema para el padre," Pizarnik's incarnation of
her father centers on his never being able to speak in his own voice,
never being able to bring forth his own song, and in this sense it
is quite different from the expected feminist denunciation of her
father's triumphantly repressive voice. Precisely, it would seem
that Pizarnik is describing a man who was himself the victim of
the phallocentric denial of voice to the other, and the reader immediately
recalls Pizarnik's Jewish immigrant origins during the
Holocaust, an autobiographical allusion that is not otherwise present
in her writing (see DiAntonio and Friedman on Pizarnik's JewThe
Body in the Poetry ofPizarnik 333
ish identity). But, then, it is an autobiographical dimension that
may be more present than would otherwise seem to be the case if
one wishes to argue that the generalized sense of horror and immolation
in her poetry can be read as an overwhelming reference
to the Jewish experience of the Holocaust and its repercussions on
one consciousness whose ultimate suicide, insistently foreshadowed
in her poems, ends up belying any idea that she is a survivor of
that occurrence. Finally, the fact that Pizarnik was writing at a
time when Argentina was living under a military tyranny of explicit
neofascist and antisemitic dimensions cannot be overlooked (as it,
unfortunately, has been by virtually every critical study).
Pizarnik's father is dead at the time of the poem marked by
the deictic "entonces," literally from an autobiographic point of
view in 1971 and dead in terms of "la lengua muerta y fria en la
boca" (which may also be taken as a reference to a languageperhaps
in the sense of a sociolect-spoken by the father and eliminated
by the Holocaust or-as an ideolect-by whatever general
extermination the poet has in mind). The "[no] A, sino B" structure
of the poem, whereby the father's song cannot be sung "en este
mundo de jardines obscenos y de sombras," but can be sung "desde
la torre mas alta de la ausencia," is metonymized both in terms of
the mouth whose tongue is the source of poetic expression and the
eyes that contemplate the exterior world and the voice that projects
the song back out into the world from which it came (to the extent
that he is repeating "cantos de su tiempo de muchacho"). What is
truly remarkable about this poetic text is that, in the face of so
many inscriptions of emotional and physical fragmentation in Pizarnik's
writing, along with an abundance of images of violence
and death, "Poema para el padre" is essentially integrative, and
it is based on the recovery of the function of the dead tongue and
the efficacious production of the absent anatomical features that
give shape to the restored song.
The images of the final lines of the poem, with their apparent
overdetermined reference to the counterproductivity of poetic discourse-
the opaque, the occult, silence, and empty spaces that are,
moreover, shifting-ultimately refer to a fullness of expression,
through the daughterly agency of the surrogate father, that is otherwise
quite the contrary of the failure of expression in Pizarnik's
poetry. Furthermore, if the daughter is speaking on behalf of the
334 David William Foster HR 62 (1994)
father (which is why the poem is entitled "para el padre" and not
"del padre" or "por el padre"), she cannot be said to be revalidating
a phallocentric, patriarchal discourse; I am overlooking the discourse
politics involved in anyone attempting to speak for anyone
else, especially one judged by the speaker to require someone else's
voice. The point is that this father's voice is the voice of the oppressed,
the marginal, and the silenced, and she is engaging in a
process of revoicing it. The process of revoicing depends on the
recovery and reintegration of the bodily instruments of the father
that had become absent because they had died, and it is the memory
of that death that brings the song back, just as the circumstances
of suffering and death had brought the songs of collective memory
into the father's consciousness. And it is this restored song that
ultimately echoes in the writing of the words by the poet with
which the poem closes.
From a feminist point of view, Pizarnik suggests a significant
alternative dimension to the phallocentric voice: the circumstance
of father figures whose own repressive destruction can,
even in the larger context of her own vertiginous mental decline
(recall that the poem is written less than a year before her suicide),
be contravened through the agency of the daughter's poem.
This is hardly a revindication of phallocentrism, since the anatomical
points of reference of the father underscore his own
victimization at the hands of the masters "que no [10] dejaron
cantar." Finally, the daughter may be unable to stop her own
desintegration at the hands of other masters in other "jardines
obscenos," so horrifyingly chronicled in the texts that frame
"Poema para el padre," but she is able to envision the power of
reconstituting the material voice of her father and speaking for
it herself.
It would, of course, be a vain undertaking to canvas Pizarnik's
texts seeking parallels to this virtually last-minute homage to the
silenced father, and one must accept the way in which it is a dramatic
exception to her otherwise unmuted mapping of the destruction
of the body by presumably the same forces that silenced her
father's speech (see, however, the late prose poem "Los muertos y
la lluvia," in Textos de sombra y ultimo« poemas 31-32, which speaks
of her father in the context of the Holocaust: "la tumba sagrada
de mi ilicita infancia" [31]). The phallocentric silencing by a direct
menace to the body is the basis of another important composition,
The Body in the Poetry ofPizarnik 335
a sequence of fragments taken from one of Pizarnik's most important
compositions, the title poem of Extracci6n de la piedra de
locura (1968), which is dedicated to her mother:
Rapido, tu voz mas oculta. Se transmuta, te transmite. Tanto que hacer
y yo me deshago. Te excomulgan de it. Sufro, luego no see En el sueiio el
rey moria de amor por mi. Aqui, pequeiia mendiga, te inmunizan. (Y aun
tienes cara de niiia; varios aiios mas y no les caeras en gracia ni a los
mi cuerpo se abria al conocimiento de mi estar
y de mi ser confusos y difusos
mi cuerpo vibraba y respiraba
segun un canto ahora olvidado
yo no era aiin la fugitiva de la rmisica
yo sabia el lugar del tiempo
y el tiempo del lugar
en el amor yo me abria
y ritmaba los viejos gestos de la amante
heredera de la vision
de un jardin prohibido
La que sofio, la que fue soiiada. Paisajes prodigiosos para la infancia
mas fiel. A falta de eso-que no es mucho-, la voz que injuria tiene razon.
La tenebrosa luminosidad de los sueiios ahogados. Agua dolorosa.
It is important to note that the sequence quoted probably does
not constitute one of the very few examples in Pizarnik's writing
of explicit same-sex markers in a vocative context. Rather, the
sequence seems to shift between a direct reflexive characterization
and the characterization of the self via a disengaged second-person
vocative ("Se transmuta, te transmite"). The fact that a disengaged
personal referent is involved is likely most apparent in the deprecatory
parenthetical statement. In any case, what at most is involved
is a mirrored doubling of the poetic voice (cf. the comments
on this aspect of Pizarnik's poetry in Molloy 119). The poem turns
on the hyperbolic description of both "mi estar y de mi ser" as
confused and dispersed, which involves something like a hypostasis
of any attributes associated with estar, since, by definition, they
cannot, in the realm of everyday language, constitute material attributes.
The iterative references to destruction are accompanied
by specific verbs that refer to acts of agents of power (which, with
336 David William Foster HR 62 (1994)
the exception of the dream-land "rey," are unnamed): "Te excomulgan,"
"te inmunizan" (which can be construed as a phenomenon
of dissolution, provided that the immunization is against something
that will save her, like love or poetry), "prohibido," "injuria,"
"ahogados" (which mayor may not be agentive). In this context
"la que fue sofiada" may even be construed as referring to the
object of an act of power, especially to the extent that if the threatening
other dreams you, you cannot properly dream yourself, and
the other determines your being (both ser and estar) in a way contrary-
cf. the overt verbs of intervention-to how you would integratively
determine yourself. Even if the self-knowledge of the
indented verses signals a body that is confused and diffuse, it corresponds
to the then as-yet-unforgotten, still not fugitive songif
not a song of bodily integrity, at least one's own. This condition
of the body is in contrast to the loss characterized subsequently
as "los suefios ahogados."
Aside from the conventional reference to the lovestruck king,
this sequence of "Extraccion de la piedra de locura" does not specify
the speaking other that is the constantly evoked source of less and
destruction. Significantly, in the paragraph that precedes the sequence
I have quoted, the poet has already announced her own
confusion with those that speak (for) her. She would like not to
speak against them, but yet she must; note still another metonymization
of the poet's act of speaking in the form of a catachrestic
reference to a body part:
Cada hora, cada dia, yo quisiera no tener que hablar. Figuras de cera
los otros y sobre todo yo, que soy mas otra que ellos. Nada pretendo en
este poema si no es desanudar mi garganta. (Extracci6n de la piedra
de locura 284)
The final text I would like to examine-"Tragedia," one of her
later prose poems-suggests itself because it is here that Pizarnik
does turn to an explicit same-sex identity in a context in which,
rather than a dialogue with the personified other, concrete bodies
are, despite their repersonification as dolls, being specified:
Con el rumor de los ojos de las mufiecas movidos por el viento tan
fuerte que los hacia abrirse y cerrarse un poco. Yo estaba en el pequefio
The Body in the Poetry ofPizarnik 337
jardin triangular y tomaba el te con mis muiiecas y con la muerte. t.Y
quien es esa dama vestida de azul de cara azul y nariz azul y labios azules
y dientes azules y senos azules con pezones dorados? Es mi maestra de
canto. l,Y quien es esa dama de terciopelos rojos que tiene cara de pie y
emite particulas de sonidos y apoya sus dedos sobre rectangulos de nacar
blancos que descienden y se oyen sonidos, los mismos sonidos? Es mi profesora
de piano y estoy segura de que debajo de sus terciopelos rojos no
tiene nada, esta desnuda con su cara de pie y asi ha de pasear los domingos
en un gran triciclo rojo apretando el asiento con las piernas cada vez mas
apretadas como pinzas hasta que el triciclo se Ie introduce adentro y nunca
mas se 10vee (Textos de sombra y ultimos poemas 39-40)
Although this text does not involve a comprehensive typology
of the female body, almost half of the lexical items are references
to the body, either principal nouns or their associated predicates.
And, although unlike the immediately preceding text in the same
collection, "Violario," (38-39) in which the poet speaks of an attempt
to rape her (violar) on the part of an old woman at a wake (velorio),
with specific allusion to the French lesbian poets Renee Vivien and
Nathalie Clifford Barney (cf. Jay), "Tragedia" does not overtly
evoke sexuality. However, any discussion of the poem must begin
with the specific identification of two obviously important women
for the poet who are repersonified as dolls at a tea party. Moreover,
the text is almost unique in Pizarnik's writing for the concatenation,
rather than dispersion, of the references to the body, unified
in one place by the adjective azul, so significant in Latin American
poetry since modernism and Ruben Dario's eponymous collection
(1888) as a positive qualifier of psychic transcendence: the body of
these female dolls, rather than being the site of the dismemberment
of the body, now suddenly attests to a privileged feminine experience,
confirmed by the ritual of the tea party."
The fact that the context is a tea party underscores another
unique and salient characteristic of this composition as the description
of a special feminine space, which is the uncharacteristic
humor that colors it. The evocation of the nice-little-girl gentility
of the tea party, the specification of the women as the girl's teachers
of singing and piano (which is also a marker of feminine gentility),
the presence of death (which, surprisingly, never is described as
playing a role in this ritual), the absurdly grotesque penetration
3 One recalls that Lewis Carroll was one of Pizarnik's favorite authors (Piiia
338 David William Foster HR 62 (1994)
of the piano teacher by the bicycle she rides (the consequence of
her obeying the patriarchal injunction to women to keep their legs
tightly pressed together-or is it, rather, a hilarious reference to
the vagina dentata, capable of devouring a bicycle seat?), and, finally,
as a consequence of the foregoing, the inappropriateness of
the title-in the universe of Pizarnik's poetry, being penetrated
by an inanimate bicycle seat as the result of the pressure of one's
own legs is hardly a momentous tragedy when compared to the
terrible violations of the female body throughout her texts by
agents of sinister destructive forces. In a text in which a circumstance
of communion with the female body is described, even if it
is the childish setting of a garden party and the women have been
repersonified as dolls, the conjunction of elements descriptive of
the body move from integrative to puckishly absurd. "Tragedia"
may not be characteristic of Pizarnik's evocation of the body in
general nor does it go as far as her other later texts in which a
turgid eroticism clearly involves same-sex confluences and where
it would be almost willful on the part of the critic not to perceive
dimensions of a lesbian sexuality (e.g., "Las uniones posibles," 1617;
"A tiempo y no," 20-22; "Una traici6n mistica," 35-37; "Nina
entre azucenas," 42; and "La muerte y la muchacha [Schubert],"
72-73-all included in Textos de sombra y otros poemas). This is
certainly a singular composition in which a poetic universe of samesex
identity is marked by essentially positive and humorous specifications
of the body.
The lesbian dimension of Pizarnik's personal experience is one
that critics have been unwilling to deal with. Although there are
scattered references to her sexual identity, silence is in general
accompanied by only these passing references. Although I have
examined the sexual needs of Erzebet Bathory (Foster, Gay and
Lesbian Themes 97-102), there is no reason to believe that Pizarnik
aligned her own preferences in any way to those of the Bloody
Countess. Indeed, it is arguable that she saw the Hungarian noblewoman,
as I have already stated, as a figure of the most violent
abuse of power and therefore of a whole with those whom she
identifies as "los due nos del silencio" ("Anillos de ceniza," in Los
trabajos y las noches; in Obras completas 247) her poetry attempts
to countermand. Even Pifia, in the only extensive biography of the
poet available (Alejandra Pizarnik), finds no need to engage in any
discussion of Pizarnik's sexual life, as though whatever this most
The Body in the Poetry ofPizarnik 339
intimate aspect of one's life, especially in the case of so dramatically
a confessional poet as Pizarnik was, were of scant consequence;
Fagundo's encyclopedia entry is no different in this regard.
It must, however, be noted that Pizarnik's poetry is hardly
characterized by an interest in anything that could be called romantic
or sentimental motifs, and even the erotic is really not of
much prominence, despite the overwhelming image of a woman's
tragic writing from her own profoundly experienced body. While
La condesa sangrienta does narrate a complex erotic undertaking,
it is Bathory's body that is at issue, and, I repeat, there are eloquent
reasons to insist on a disengagement between the narrator and
her protagonist, whatever the productively morbid fascination the
latter exercises on her. Furthermore, it is only in the epigramatic
compositions of Los trabajos y las noches (1965) where Pizarnik
speaks sustainedly to another in anything like amatory terms.
Furthermore, one should not expect to find in Pizarnik a duplication
of the parameters-essentially romantic or sentimental-of the
male erotic obsession, a caveat that extends also to a feminine
version of male homosexual desire. Indeed, it could be argued that
one important dimension of lesbianism could be defined as residing
not in any necessary use of same-sex markers but in the eschewal
of heterosexual linguistic and semantic conventions, which consist
of a restrictive definition of the erotic (see several essays in Writing
and Sexual Difference; Moi also presents various opinions on this
topic in several places in her survey of feminist literary theory).
Yet, there is no denying that the poet's voice is markedly reflexive.
For example, in "En tu aniversario" she says "Recibe este
amor que te pido" (Los trabajos y las noches, in Obras completas
238). The conjoining of the two verbs depends on a restriction, one
that is violated, concerning the source of complement. Such a violation
here underscores the recurring mapping in her poetry of
the inability to transcend herself, which is presumably what an
experience with the other-emotional, sentimental, sexual, eroticinvolves.
Pizarnik's poetry revolves around three fundamental processes
that impede identification of or with the other, and these three
processes must, certainly, be taken into account in the specification
of a beloved, same-sex or otherwise. The first is the I-based nature
of Pizarnik's poetry, a correlative of the individual's perceived
schizophrenia and the imperative to plumb it. Secondly, there is a
340 David William Foster HR 62 (1994)
utilization, as a consequence of this perception, of an extended
romantic irony whereby the poetic voice doubles and redoubles
itself, fragmenting and refracting (and occasionally converging)
the elements of her identity via multiple mirror images, (such that
the poem becomes itself a higher order, if maddeningly ineffective,
mirror). And, finally, as part of the process of dismembering and
assemblage, there is the extensive use of personification and metonymy.
This means that both human identity is displaced into a
component that does not require real-world gender markers and
that the nonhuman (e.g., anonymous, threatening forces) are anthropomorphized
and, therefore, equally lack real-world gender
markers. In the latter case, a persuasive argument can be made
that those forces are all elements of the authoritarian patriarchy
whose violence is one of the principal objects of Pizarnik's poems.
These are the "duefios del silencio," against which the non-silence
of the feminine poet strives to prevail. But the marking of those
elements as masculine is, once again, fundamentally metonymic,
since as La condesa sangrienta makes abundantly clear, it is not
just men who are the agents of the authoritarian patriarchy (i.e.,
the penis is not the phallus, to echo Lacan), a circumstance confirmed
by the feminization of her father in the poem discussed
above (cf. Halliday 79ff. concerning the special circumstances of
silence dealt with by lesbian poets; several studies in Lesbian Texts
and Contexts deal with the question of a specifically lesbian discourse).
Yet, to be sure, it would be ludicrous to assert that sexual matters
in a text can only be confined-can only legitimately be discussed
when confined-to overt thematics, although such a claim
does, in fact, seem to prevail among scholars of Garcia Lorca's
poetry." While it is unquestionable that willful critical discretion
4, Most criticism still resolutely ignores homoeroticism in Lorca because it appears
not to be overtly thematicized in his writing, although his biographers are
now willing to discuss the homosexual alliances and experiences of his actual life,
since they were, after all, probably a major factor in his death by torture in the
hands of the Guardia Civil (Schonberg; but see the refutation by Gibson, Appendix
C). What is perverse about all this is that, in order not to have overt thematics
that would demand an honest analysis, critics have simply ignored out of existence
those compositions that do contain open traces of homosexual desire, although the
reconstruction and magnificent staging of the play El pUblico and studies by Binding
and Sahuquillo have made that approach increasingly difficult; the fate of Lorca's
The Body in the Poetry ofPizarnik 341
has been a factor in the avoidance of lesbian features in Pizarnik's
poetry, with the exception of the text analyzed above, which was
published posthumously, it is true that her poems reveal only scant
same-sex markers and then in some cases such markers may be a
function of the processes of doubling of the poetic I in her discourse.
Where lesbianism does, however, become an issue beyond the explicit
description of homoerotic affiliation is in the special sense of
the body Pizarnik's texts transmit. If it is true that lesbianism
involves much more than female-female genital coupling and, indeed,
that coupling in any of the psychopathia sexualis sense of the
word may not even be involved (Faderman; Rich; Wittig), we might
begin to understand the imperative that interpretive analysis seek
other ways of framing the question. While Rich's concept of the
lesbian continuum may not be particularly applicable to Pizarnik's
poetry, inasmuch as the latter is hardly interested in constructing
relationships in the face of the burden her poetry transmits of
having to detail so painfully the destruction of the body and its
self-consciousness, there is, nevertheless, a direct pertinence both
in the sense of situating lesbianism somewhere else other than in
genital sexuality (which becomes, then, only intermittently incidental
to a lesbian consciousness) and of establishing a chain of
signifiers that leads back from the experience of a feminine social
integration to the process that impedes it in the physical as much
as the psychological destruction of the human subject under the
sway of the patriarchal authority:
Una noche en el circo recobre un lenguaje perdido en el momento que
los jinetes con antorchas en la mano galopaban en ronda feroz sobre corceles
negros. Ni en mis suefios de dicha existira un coro de angeles que suministre
algo semejante a los sonidos calientes para mi corazon de los cascos contra
las arenas. ("Piedra fundamental" in El infierno musical 16)
Pizarnik may at times feel herself an accomplice of the forces antagonistic
to her ("aquello que me es adverso desde mi," ibid. 14),
but it does not take a lengthy reading of Mary Daly and others to
grasp how the victims can, with a terrible irony, be their own worst
contemporary Luis Cernuda is something else again, and it is only thanks to the
diligent work of Carlos Monsivais that insistent homoerotic dimension of Mexico's
Contemporaneos poets can no longer be veiled by critical silence.
342 David William Foster HR 62 (1994)
victimizers, and that it is an act of cruel responsibility toward
those who speak their own physical and psychological oppression
to see them as desocialized and autonomous agents of their own
destruction, when the condition of social withdrawal, egomania,
and identity displacement must all be read as symptoms rather
than causes of their alienation. The antithesis that is repeated
throughout her texts regarding the function of poetry as an antidote,
a buwlwark, or a reprieve from both the deafening roar of
the destructive forces and the silence of a self-sufficient oppression
brings with it the inevitable recognition of the fragility of the poet's
algo en mi no se abandona a la cascada de cenizas que
me arrasa dentro de mi con ella que es yo, conmigo que
soy ella y que soy yo, indeciblemente distinta de ella.
En el silencio mismo (no en el mismo silencio) tragar
noche, una noche inmensa inmersa en el sigilo de los pasos
No puedo hablar para nada decir.
Por eso nos perdemos, yo y el poema. (ibid. 14)
It is for this reason that none of the facets of the integrity of
a feminine identity, along whatever sort of continuum one wishes
to postulate, from the sort of greeting-card happiness (rejected in
Maria Luisa Bombal's famous formulation that life was a lot easier
when she realized she did have to be happy), to the sort of woman's
interdependency in Rich's and Wittig's archetypal lesbianism, remains
an ellusive goal in Pizarnik's literature, whether cast in
terms of her own poetic I or in terms of Erzebet Bathory's hermetic
sadistic gynocentric realm at Csejthe Castle, which constitutes its
own sort of perverse lesbian fantasy.
One can then approach the dismemberment of the body in Pizarnik's
poetry, manifested in an impressive lexical density regarding
corporal references and in the metonymic processes by
which the body is confirmed by drawing on, even in the context of
its dismemberment, a corporalization of the diverse realms that
impinge on the body, through judicious reference to feminist theorizing
concerning the status of the self under the weight of authoritarian
oppression. It is not just that a free-floating patriarchal
violence is a constant threat to the feminine, as evoked in the multiple
shadings of the master trope of rape, but also the diverse and
The Body in the Poetry ofPizarnik 343
interlocking institutionalizations present in Pizarnik's writing:
militaristic tyranny (located in the Hapsburgs in La condesa sangrienta),
the psychiatric establishment, the sociopolitical process
that silenced her father, and even an authoritarian poetic discourse
that her poems must break down in the face of its threat to repress
her own writing (which is perhaps what academic criticism has to
a certain extent subjected her to; cf. an early poem like "Poema a
mi papel" from La tierra mas lejana, 20; also, from the 1971 poem
"En esta noche, en este mundo," "la lengua natal castra / la lengua
es un 6rgano de conocimiento / del fracaso de todo poema" [Textos
de sombra y ultimos poemas 63]). As Judith Roof has written:
Th[e] relation between writing and the body presumes, of course, that
the ultimately autoerotic and self-circular process by which this writing
is generated comes from an experience of the body that occurs in a prerepresentational
state. How else does the body escape the appropriation and
marking of a propertied, patriarchal system? Somehow the woman's relation
to her body, even if that relation is an analogy, must precede the
discourses that alienate the woman from her body, discourses that supercede
an originary language to which the woman has access via her
body. (132)
Furthermore, Sylvia Molloy, in introductory comments concerning
the representation of the body by Latin American women writers
that explicitly includes Pizarnik, writes that:
I prefer [rather than emphasizing synecdoches of woman in texts by male
poets] to call attention instead to signs of physical fragmentation of the
female body in texts written by women and to observe what use they make
of that physical fragmentation in their attempt to represent woman. In
such cases the dismemberment of the female body by a woman writer, the
erotic component, and by extension, the fetishizing impulse, becomes much
more complex in nature. For, unless the case can be made for a narcissistic
fetishization of fragments of the self or for a lesbian fetishization of fragments
of the other, the fragmented female body, in poems written by
women, is not primarily engaged in an exclusively erotic transaction. It
is basically involved in a textual transaction where mutilation and fragmentation
are cleverly used not to subdue the other but to portray the
But not only the body is creatively dismembered in women's texts.
Voice, woman's voice-hard to find, agonizing to enunciate-speaks too in
fragments, is composed of shards. (117-18)
344 David William Foster
HR 62 (1994)
Thus, to study the representation of the body in Pizarnik and
to pursue the complex images of suffering, displacement, and dismemberment-
all with the overtones of death and, ultimately, a
growing concentration of references to suicide-necessarily involves
more than either the compilation of a corporal lexicon for
her texts or the examination of localized processes inscribed with
a generalized rhetoric of metonymic animation, anthropomorphization,
personification, and hypostasis. In order to gauge accurately
the impact of Pizarnik's stunningly terrifying writing and the place
it has come to assume in contemporary Argentine poetry (whether
associated with a feminist category or not), it is imperative to see
the figuration of the body as deeply imbricated with a coherent
and sustained examination in her texts concerning the implacable
forces that systematically dismember the individual on every level
of her being (cf. Halliday passim concerning motifs of physical
destruction in lesbian poetry and discursive strategies to countermand
them). The body is not incidental to the map of schizophrenic
disintegration a common psychoanalytical reading of her poetry
may be satisfied to characterize. Rather, it is an integral corollary
of the all-encompassing repercussions on the individual of a social
systematics, one now amply charted by feminist theory, that is the
principal-indeed, exclusive-object of examination in Pizarnik's
writing: "i.,Quien invento la tumba como simbolo y realidad de 10
que es obvio?" ("Las uniones posibles" [1972] in Textos de sombra
y ultimos poemas 19).5
Amat, Nuria. "La erotica del lenguaje en Alejandra Pizarnik y
Monique Wittig." Nueva estafeta 12 (1979): 47-54.
Benstock, Shari. Textualizing the Feminine: On the Limits ofGenre.
Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1991.
5 I have avoided quoting from Obras completas; poesia y proeas (1990), an edition
that has been criticized as being, in fact, incomplete, both in the absence of an
extensive number of her texts and in the apparent errors introduced in transcribing
many of those that are included (Pifia, "La palabra herida"). It would, however,
appear that the principal way in which this edition is complete is in completing the
published representation of Pizarnik's oeuvre, and in this sense it complements
Textos de sombra y ultimos poemas (1982).
The Body in the Poetry ofPizarnik 345
Binding, Paul. Lorca: the Gay Imagination. London: GMP, 1985.
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Epstein and Kristina Straub. New York: Routledge, 1991.
Cixous, Helene. "The Laugh of the Medusa." Signs 1 (1976): 87593.
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Daly, Mary. Gyn/ecology; the Metaethics of Radical Feminism.
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Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and
Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1983.
DiAntonio, Robert E. "On Seeing Things Darkly in the Poetry of
Alejandra Pizarnik: Confessional Poetics or Aesthetic Metaphor?"
Confiuencia 2.2 (1987): 47-52.
Faderman, Lillian. Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship
and Love between Wo-Men from the Renaissance to the
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Fagundo, Ana Maria. "Alejandra Pizarnik (1936-1972)." Argentina
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Source Book. Ed. Diane E. Marting. Westport: Greenwood,
Featherstone, Mike, Mike Hepworth, and Bryan S. Turner, eds.
The Body: Social and Cultural Theory. London: Sage, 1991.
Foster, David William. Gay and Lesbian Themes in Latin American
Writing. Austin: U of Texas P, 1991.
--. "Of Power and Virgins: Alejandra Pizarnik's La condesa sangrienta."
Friedman Goldberg, Florinda. "Alejandra Pizarnik: palabra y
sombra." Noah 1.1 (1987): 58-62.
Gallop, Jane. Thinking through the Body. New York: Columbia UP,
Gibson, Ian. The Assassination of Federico Garcia Lorca. Harmondsworth:
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Goldstein, Laurence, ed. The Female Body: Figures, Styles, Speculations.
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Halliday, Caroline. "The Naked Majesty of God': Contemporary
Lesbian Erotic Poetry." Lesbian and Gay Writing; an Anthology
of Critical Essays. Ed. Mark Lilly. New York: Macmillan, 1990,
Jay, Karla. The Amazon and the Page: Natalie Clifford Barney and
Renee Vivien. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1988.
King, John. Sur: a Study of the Argentine Literary Journal and Its
346 David William Foster HR 62 (1994)
Role in the Development of a Culture, 1931-1970. Cambridge:
Cambridge UP, 1986.
Lasarte, Francisco. "Mas alla del surrealismo: la poesia de Alejandra
Pizarnik." Revista iberoamericana 125 (1983): 867-77.
Lesbian Texts and Contexts: Radical Revisions. Eds. Karla Jay and
Joanne Glasgow. New York: New York UP, 1990.
Moi, Tori!. Sexual/ Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory.
London: Methuen, 1985.
Molloy, Sylvia. "Introduction [Part 2: Female Textual Identities:
the Strategies of Self-Figuration]." 107-24. Women's Writing in
Latin America: An Anthology. Eds. Sara Castro-Klaren, Sylvia
Molloy, and Beatriz Sarlo. Boulder: Westview P, 1991.
Monsivais, Carlos, "Que si esto es escandaloso," 263-346. In his
Amor perdido. 9a ed. Mexico: Era, 1985. Orif. 1977.
The Oxford-Duden Pictorial Spanish-English Dictionary. Oxford:
Clarendon P, 1985. Orig. published as Duden espaiio': Diccionario
por la imagen.
Pifia, Cristina. Alejandra Pizarnik. Buenos Aires: Planeta, 1991.
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--. "La palabra herida: Sobre las 'Obras completas' de Alejandra
Pizarnik." La Gaceta [Tucuman, Arg.] 2-VI-91, 4ta secci6n, pp.
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Frank Gracziano. Durago: Logbridge-Rhodes, 1987.
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--. La condesa sangrienta. Buenos Aires: Acuarius, 1971.
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--. El infierno musical: Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI Argentina, 1971.
--. Nombres y figuras. Barcelona: La Esquina, 1969.
--. Obras completas: Poesia y prosas. Buenos Aires: Corregidor,
--. Los pequeiios cantos. Caracas: Arbol de Fuego, 1971.
--. Textos de sombra y ultimos poemas. 2a ed. Buenos Aires: Sudamericana,
1985. Orig. 1982.
--. La tierra mas ajena. Buenos Aires: Botella al Mar, 1955.
--. Los trabajos y las noches. Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 1965.
--. La ultima inocencia. Buenos Aires: Poesia Buenos Aires, 1956.
The Body in the Poetry ofPizarnik 347
Read, Malcolm K. Visions in Exile: the Body in Spanish Literature
and Linguistics, 1500-1800. Amsterdam: J. Benjamins, 1990.
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Running, Thorpe. "The Poetry of Alejandra Pizarnik." Chasqui 14,
2-3 (1985): 45-55.
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Lorca, Dali, Cernuda, Gil-Albert, Prados y la voz silenciada
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Buenos Aires: Culturales Argentinas, 1961.
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Oxford: B. Blackwell, 1984.
Wittig, Monique. The Lesbian Body. Trans. David Le Vay. New
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Writing and Sexual Difference. Ed. Elizabeth Abel. Chicago: U of
Chicago P, 1982.
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