In the last chapter of Heterogeneity of Being: On Octavio Paz’s Poetics of Similitude (UPA, 2015), Marco Dorfsman tells of how he once encountered a urinal in the middle of a library hallway. It was a urinal possibly waiting to be replaced or already re-moved from a public bathroom. The details did not matter as it recalled the origin of the work of art, and of course Duchamp’s famous readymade, originally lost only to be replicated for galleries and mass spectatorship consumption. Duchamp’s urinal, or for that matter any manufactured ‘displaced thing’ reveals the essence of technology, at the same time that it profanes its use well beyond appropriation and instrumentalization. I recall this late anecdote in the book, since Dorfsman’s strategy in taking up Octavio Paz’s poetics is analogous to the dis-placing of a urinal. In Heterogeneity of Being, Paz is de-grounded from the regional and linguistic archive, dis-located from the heritage and duty of national politics, and transported to a preliminary field where the aporetic relation between thought and poem co-belong without restituting the order of the Latianermicanist reason.
Heterogeneity of Being is Dorfsman’s leap (a versuch that gathers also the innate ability for failure in the Nietzschean sense) to cross the abyss of the poetic identity; fleeing from the national-popular frame, as well as from the pitiable origins that enable every ground of transcultural articulation. Against the good intended “–abilities” to “speak on the name of” and in the “place of” the other, Dorfsman offers an exercise in thought. The initial hypothesis is how to assimilate, or render thinkable, an ontology of Pazian poetics in the way of a ‘stimmung’ facilitating the endeavor for thought (12). Heterogeneity of being is nothing more than this, but it happens to be also a stroll around Paz’s poetical constellation– not without accidental turns, missed encounters with transient signatures, interrupted articulations and rhythms – as an attempt to arrest the fold between thinking and the poematic. The poematic is understood here as a strange habitation of sorts; a stanza for the (im)possibilities of thought.
Indeed, the poematic is that which allows a tropology that exceeds the compartmental and sheltered demands of the political, subjective, and ethical drives. Against the temptation of disciplinary binds (which are, after all, signs of university semblance), Dorfsman calls for an incomplete Paz that cannot be an objectified signatory authority, but rather as what unveils the temporality of being (11).
Pazian poetics co-belong with the existential time, since it is a now time (the time of a life), which appears at the gates, without entry, of the culturalist and conventional literary methodologies responsible for the organization of poesis legistlation. Dorfsman is not interested in what we could call a “signatory local scene” of the poetic (“Paz in Mexico” or “Mexico un Paz” – the usual postal-service that is always the currency of exchange) as if the “poem”, as the poet’s standing reserve, could supplement what remains on the side of the unthought or the repressed. (Say an ancient cosmogony, a non-Western mantra, or a temporality that derails the homogeneous or messianic time of the modern). Rather, “Paz” is depository of a heterogeneity of inheritance that fails to assume the form of an identity, a destinial time, and therefore is always “anachronistic and it involves a ghost, a specter” (Dorfsman 18-19).
Laberinto de la Soledad, Postdata, or ¿Águila o sol? attentively read in the initial chapters of the book are displaced from the topical discussion of ‘Mexican identity’ to one of difference and inheritance, or as Dorfsman’s conceptualizes it, of “dif-herencia”, following Derrida’s elaboration of spectrality and heritage in Hamlet-Marx. The temporalization of the poematic allows Dorfsman to unveil in Paz’s thought as a language of dif-herencia that: “is not a concept or a metaphor; it is more like a simile or a pun. It thrives on its ambiguity and imprecision” (23).
Dif-herencia brings to halt the logic of identity and difference, while attending to the exposure of a wound (herida) internal to the process of deappropriation and splitting. Thus, more than drift towards a criollo fictive ethnicity, Paz is reservoir of specters that punctuate through a politico-ethical relation that bring forth responsibility and the practice of witnessing emptying identity formations. Pazian poetic time, suggests Dorfsman, does not inaugurate something like a “national I” or a “principial Mexican inheritance of the letter”, but a dwelling that opens a singular existence and disavows every nomic allowance. Pazian poematicity is an atopic temporal relation with a groundless tradition.
But the heterogeneity of the singular also resists – although “resistance” or “stasis” are not the appropriate words – a negativity that feeds the labor of dialectics. Here Dorfsman deploys along with his concept ‘dif-herencia’ that of ‘similitude’, which could be conceived as nocturnal knowledge or the failure of every effort into constructing a people, an ‘alternative subject’. In his strong reading of Laberinto de la Soledad, contaminated by Heidegger’s expository understanding of the essence of technology, the Mexican essence-problem is turned inside-out as one of masking and simulation. Following Italian philosopher Emanuele Coccia, we could say that in every expository relation one always remains strange or improper . De-attaching the codifications of masks from Christian morality (shame, guilt, or purity), Dorfsman reads a poetical-speak of similitude, where appropriation (of meaning) is de-appropriated in the name of an echo-plurality that is always-already unappropriable threshold for a “modality of truth” (45). In a substantial passage from the third chapter, Dorfsman writes:
“…the revolution, perhaps the most authentic because it set up a confrontation with the interior nothingness of being, only managed to produce a new mask, an institutional mask, the PRI, whose transfigurations and unmasking continue to this day. The chain of identities, Spanish, Indian, Mestizo, Catholic, liberal,….etc, can all be inherited and disavowed, they are all interchangeable and all empty” (47-48).
The poematic in Paz is in the order of the profane, although not because it dwells in the radical historicity of the singular seeking to ‘represent’ or ‘donate’ the real world with measured political action, but because it has no desire in instantiating a historical event (or a new politics). The profanity of the mask vis-à-vis the logic of similitude is a space of potential use that trans-figures the other for becoming. It is a style that is both singular and disjointed. In Dorfsman’s propositional hermeneutics, Paz’s discussion of identity is only preparatory for a de-identification of a singular-plural that destitutes every politics of location, and in fact, all politics of being within history.
Pazian culturalism is dissolved not only in similitude / simulation, but also in the poetic temporality of language. Here, similitude coincides with the event of language itself, making the poetic the very singularity of profanation. In Piedra de sol, Dorfsman reads the verse “unánime presencia en oleaje” in light of Heidegger’s poetological exegesis of Parmenides poem and the poetic universe of Georg Trakl (94-96). But Dorfsman goes further, since for him the Pazian poematic bear witness to the rhythm of singular life (I would also argue of the ‘immanent cause’, although this is not explicitly in the analysis) where the way of language builds its own path or “camino”.
Hence, it is no longer a subject that enacts or wills, but the time of being which against the order of signification, stems from the stasis of language (“en el seno del lenguaje hay una guerra civil sin cuartel”) (97). Crossing tracks with Heidegger and Trakl, Dorfsman’s disobeys the exegetical command of the Pazian archive, only to re-direct it to the spiral of errancy of language. This is the proper region of the poetic temporality or the silence or the simulation in the poem.
The temporality of the poem becomes for Dorfsman the possibility of speaking in language, in the tongue of the other. This is why the end of Heterogeneity of Being should be read as poetic desistence, as the call for a practical exodus from every determination of the poetic arrival in meaning or History for a ‘peal of language’  . The poem, in its exigent silence and means of desistance, opens in this way to thought:
“To say no the world is to flee, to escape, perhaps towards an elsewhere: poetry. At least towards a certain kind of poetry, the kind of hermetic, escapist aestheticism which Paz seems to be attacking but which, paradoxically, he was himself accused of writing. But no, what the poem here says is not no or yes; it a refusal of both. Is it a negation, then? Rather, it is the recognizing of the aporetic status of the world, to which affirmation and negation are irrelevant. The poet hears a call to either affirm or deny, but he cannot place the call.” (109).
It is here, however, where the poematic becomes a problem for thought, as well as an impersonal exigency. This is why it is odd that Dorfsman vacillates in calling Paz’s poetics “mysticism” as temporalizing of language, since it is the mystic reverse what allows for the tracking of silence, for the breathing in of a permanent wound that is its second voice. This is the silent voice that dwells in the event of the calling of thinking, which turns (and the turn here is not just in passing, but indicative of the taking place of language) any iteration of everything unsaid in the event of language .
The exodus of the poematic does not lead to the desert but to the nocturnal and illegible knowledge of the pyramid. The pyramid knowledge knows no disclosure. This is where Duchamp’s readymade crosses path with Heidegger’s thought on the essence of technology. This very encounter is pyramidal (or at least triangular: Duchamp-Heidegger-Thing), even if Dorfsman does not attempt the elaboration and keeps it secret. But Dorfsman’s suggests that Duchamp’s painting as philosophy is what speaks (in silence) to the unveiling of modern technology.
The duchampian injunction poses another tactical movement: it radically suspends the modern closure on aesthetics (aisthesis), which entails the ruin of the technology of “critique” (Thayer) for the production of ‘visibility’, of the ‘made visible’. It is only in Duchamp where the Heideggerian maxim “the painting spoke”, earns something like a covert instance of life; or in Dorfsman’s terminology, a poetic similitude. The notion of the poem itself becomes profane simulation of every distance relative between language and world. It through this transfiguration of the power of the dichtung (still a revelatory substitution in the later Heidegger) to the readymade, that a heterogeneity of being ceases to be supplementary to the order of history and of epochal destiny.
And it is at this instant where the poematic touches and falls into the strange welcoming site “where literature, paintings, shoes, and urinals may speak, but their secretions may be otherwise than meaning” (124). This is no longer a region for aesthetics or production, but desistance in language. Perhaps at this point one could say that the poem has conducted an exodus from itself into the inner sense of silence.
- Emanuele Coccia. Sensible Life: a micro-ontology of the image. Fordham University Press, 2016.
- For a take on desistance in the specific context of the Chilean Avant-Garde and the readymade, see Villalobos-Ruminott’s “Modernismo y desistencia. Formas de leer la neo-vanguardia. Archivos de Filosofia, N.6-7, 2011-2012.
- Giorgio Agamben. “Il silenzio del linguaggio”. Arsenale Editrice, 1983.