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2005-2006 Visiting Fellows

Fiona J. Mackintosh
University of Edinburgh

Thanks to the generous  award of a Friends of Princeton Library Research Grant (in conjunction with a Small Project Grant from the British Academy 44th Congress of Americanists fund), I undertook a 4-week research visit in August 2005 to the Firestone Library to look at the papers of the Argentinian poet Alejandra Pizarnik (1936-1972). One of the strengths of the Special Collections at Princeton is their impressively wide-ranging collection of literary manuscripts and correspondence of major figures in Latin American twentieth-century literature; the Pizarnik papers at Princeton permit a comprehensive overview of Pizarnik's total output, encompassing poetry, prose, critical works, notebooks, diaries and correspondence. Other material relating to Pizarnik is to be found in the papers of Emir Rodríguez Monegal, Manuel Mujica Láinez and Alberto Girri, which are also housed in the Princeton collections, making this a unique resource for seeing Pizarnik's material in a broad context.

Pizarnik's work has most frequently been analysed in terms of a few key thematic obsessions - silence, the night, death, childhood - or biographically through her lesbian orientation, her počte maudit image and her suicide. Such readings need to be put into perspective by taking into account an extremely important aspect of Pizarnik's work, namely the tremendous impact on her entire output of her meticulous reading of other literature; in the Princeton collection are several notebooks which she labelled her palais du vocabulaire, in which Pizarnik carefully recorded significant phrases from other writers' work which will subsequently feed directly into her own creative and imaginative processes. The aim of this project, therefore, was systematically to analyse the 'palais du vocabulaire' and the 'diarios de lecturas' in parallel with her diaries and letters, mapping her sources, and thereby allowing for a new contextualization of Pizarnik within a modernist aesthetic of fragment, intertextual borrowing and citation.

In the context of my earlier research on Pizarnik, which looked at her deliberate intertextual reference to other writers (such as Lewis Carroll), this research at Princeton has enabled me to go into far greater depth, getting a mucher fuller idea of the range of Pizarnik's reading and of her determined autodidacticism with regard to both literature and language. I have been surprised by her range of reference; her closeness to French poetry and surrealism, for example, is well-documented, but looking through the Princeton material, her dedication to reading Góngora as well as Genet, and anonymous Aztec songs alongside Artaud sheds new light on certain of her recurrent tropes and images. It also becomes evident that Pizarnik's compilation of the palais du vocabulaire not only feeds directly into her poetic creations, but also contributes significantly to her self-writing through the parallel worlds of correspondence and diaries.

Amongst the gems at Princeton are many unpublished manuscripts of prose poems, groups of recitas (along the lines of the French récit) and chants. Pizarnik's published prose works, some quite violent and obscene in their language, are often dismissed or ignored by critics who prefer the tiny, polished more lyrical earlier works. Seeing the extent of Pizarnik's experimentation in prose and the amount of critical reflection she devotes to the possibilities of writing prose calls for a serious critical re-evaluation of what constitutes her oeuvre. The Jewish element of Pizarnik's biography also comes more to the fore in this material, as does her linguistic playfulness and love of humour - the latter displayed in one notebook which contains over 70 titles of 'Instrucciones para .', the work of a true Cortazarian cronopio.

My article on the palais du vocabulaire resulting from this research is intended to form part of a collection of essays on Alejandra Pizarnik, offering a reassessment of the Obra 'completa', a de-mythologization of Pizarnik (emphasizing her literary context and her important work as a literary critic) and a more systematic stylistic analysis of her work, in particular the many complex facets of her humour.

Receiving this Grant from the Friends of Princeton Library has been invaluable to my research, and I am extremely grateful for this opportunity.


24 August 2005


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