The Aleph Trial: Controversy About Conceptualist Writing in Argentina

A recent consortium about poetry and community (uploaded to the Penn Sound page) featured a brief discussion of what might be called articulation in contemporary poetry. Jacob Edmond a speaker from New Zealand, mentioned the way in which American Conceptualist Writing ignores other trends that could threaten the representation of it as a world leader.

I would add to this shortlist of international conceptualism, Argentine Conceptualist writing. While there are more than a few works included in this movement, it is Pablo Katchadjian that has the spotlight at the moment: his “uncreative writing” has lead to legal action by Borges’s widow (and owner of his estate), Maria Kodama.

Pablo Katchadjian’s first conceptual work might be Martin Fierro ordenado alfabéticamente (2007) or Martin Fierro in alphabetical order – the author takes the canonical gaucho poem “Martin Fierro” and makes it something well, not quite new; he alphabetizes it by line. (You can see it in Spanish here.)

His following work El aleph engordado, or The Fattened Aleph cleverly added  5,000  more words to Borges´s classic short story ¨The Aleph¨. Despite the relatively small run – 200 copies printed by Imprenta Argentina de Poesía – Maria Kodama decided to sue Katchadjian for copyright. Kodama is well known for being extremely cautious with Borges´s rights – bringing to court those who violates Borges’s copyright, re-drawing translation rights in the States and suing a journalist for libel about her in France.

The Aleph trial in the meantime has become a literary conceptualist showcase: one of the trial witnesses included the novelist and translator Cesar Aira and Jorge Panesi. While it seems Katchadjian will explain that he in no way benefited financially, Kodama has explained that this more about respecting literary rights in general. She has said that he should have at least asked for permission.

This has sparked a controversy that has brought forth provocative literary conversations. Going back to Edmond’s discussion. Here’s the more interesting national literary question: is Katchadijian aware of the conceptualist writing going on in other places? (I have the same question with Objectivistas in regards to the Objectivisists – mentioned in the question section of the panel from the Penn Sound page.) I hate to get all Jamesonian, but isn’t this confusion an example of the fragmentation of the post-modern subject?

Will these works find there way into translation (an act of canonization as Walter Benjamin pointed out)? Need conceptualist writing be translated? Maybe just the “wrapper” – as Goldsmith calls it – is enough.

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