El último gran surrealista: Juan Sánchez Peláez / Edgardo Dobry

The Last Great Surrealist: Juan Sánchez Peláez

                  [Juan Sánchez Peláez in 1979, by Vasco Szinetar]

The seven books the Venezuelan Juan Sánchez Peláez published between 1951 and 1989 are gathered in a single volume. A baroque union of mysticism and eroticism.

Juan Sánchez Peláez, Obra poética (Barcelona, España: Lumen, 2004)

The recent disappearance of Juan Sánchez Peláez (Altagracia de Orituco, 1922 - Caracas, 2003) gives this book the entity of a final milestone, the solemnity of a closure: with the deaths in recent years of the Peruvian Emilio Adolfo Westphalen, and the Argentines Olga Orozco and Enrique Molina, Sánchez Peláez was the last of the great representatives of the enormous plateau that Surrealism reached in Latin American poetry. Our tenacious baroque vocation —the American tendency of looking at words as if they were carnal objects as recent and astonishing as the world they needed to name— and a certain epic spirit in the cultivation of the 20th century aesthetic Left favored that great impetus of the movement founded by Breton. A chapter that opens in 1928, just four years after the publication of the first “Surrealist Manifesto,” when the magazine Qué appears in Buenos Aires, founded by Aldo Pellegrini. At that time Neruda was in Rangoon writing his first Residence on Earth and a few years later Lezama Lima, in Havana, was announcing the “Death of Narcissus”: “The hand or the the lip or the bird were snowing.”

The word, streaked with divergent senses, strips its own materiality. If the accent in the Surrealism of the Americas is markedly erotic, as for example with the Chilean Rosamel del Valle (an explicit influence on Sánchez Peláez), it is, in the first place, because of that visibility of the word as an unsettling object, dislocated from its reference: “The words sound like gold animals,” writes Sánchez Peláez. He appeared at the beginning of the 1950s in the vortex of that movement that had transformed poetry into a laboratory of rare images: his first book, Elena y los elementos (1951), which opens with an epigraph from Éluard as a declaration of principles, takes hold of the surrealist imaginary almost violently: “Milk bread of the moon, dark drum of cereals / Precipice of clouds that drowned my sleeping face in the waters.” Filiación oscura (1966), Lo huidizo y permanente (1969) and Rasgos comunes (1975) represent the most powerful zone of his voice, in search of a you whose encounter doesn’t, however, alleviate anxiety: “To her, my ritual of drinking at her breast because I want / to begin something, in some direction.”

A baroque union of mysticism and eroticism, as Valente noted regarding Westphalen, with words that also apply to Sánchez Peláez: “He belongs by nature and lineage to a tradition marked by the intense exploration of poetic language.” Eugenio Montejo, relatedly, designs a Venezuelan genealogy when he situates him as a descendant of José Antonio Ramos Sucre (1890-1930): “From him Sánchez Peláez inherits the emphatic and sumptuous tracing of the word.” Ramos Sucre (whose Obra poética, Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Poética, 1999, is available), one of the rare geniuses who appeared after the dissolution of Modernismo, wrote almost exclusively prose poems, in the wake of Rimbaud’s Illuminations and the Baudelairean spleen, but already closer to the progressive abstraction that Symbolism operated on the construction of the phrase. Sánchez Peláez was also a master of the prose fragment, which he alternated with verse in nearly all his books. This barely posthumous compilation of his poetry reveals, complete, the images of a journey through one of the most extreme territories of poetic invention.

{ Edgardo Dobry, El País, 18 September 2004 }

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