South remembers: Southern Comforts. Tropical Baroque, Pirate Thinking by Octavio Zaya

zaya 2

William Eggleston, from Southern Suite, 1981, dye transfer print, 25 x 38,2 cm, Sammlung Moderne Kunst in the Pinakothek der Moderne Munich. Acquired in 2006 through PIN. Freunde der Pinakothek der Moderne e.V. © Eggleston Artist Trust

Southern Comforts:
Tropical Baroque, Pirate Thinking

by Octavio Zaya


Who Defines Who We Are?
Evening just refused to fall, the sun’s beating on the asphalt and the metalwork brought on a nauseous vertigo. The dark glasses, hankies daubed with cologne on people’s heads, the improvised defence measures, to avoid a burning reflection or a mouthful of exhaust fumes, were being devised and perfected, and were the subject of communication and commentaries… [1]
…with artificial style, characterised by the romanisation of the syntax and vocabulary, continuous classical allusions, and references to mythology, original metaphors, and the creation of a poetic diction as far as possible from everyday language…
However, the conflict of this space cannot be identified fully with the interaction between the cultural reality of the homogenising ‘centre’ and those of the ancestral Native Americans, Africans and Asians with primitive components. Its hybrid configuration — decentralised and destabilising — marks my southern comfort.
Avoiding the risks of compositional space, and nurtured by the juice of universal culture, the marvellous starts to be unequivocal when it arises from an unexpected alteration of reality, the magical; events that are real but seem fictional, in disorder, around every corner, in our cities, street signs, in our nature and in our history. Fusion becomes a rich mythological flow, regardless of time and of historic times. It is like a thread with which one can always grasp the nature of human beings in general, human identity, or the existential being of southern comfort, a thread consisting of multiple mediations. Its ‘identity’ is subjected, then, to specificities that stem from its rooting in an ecumenical spirit, even aggregated into a product that accounts for culture as a synthesis of the particular and the universal.
Nature, history and hybridity are, necessarily, not the starting points, since it is destined to ambiguity and the semantic dissemination of artificiality. Its process of masking, and progressive development of the cliché, the stereotype, and the ridiculous is so radical that it has been necessary to disassemble an operation similar to so-called meta-meta-language. Severo Sarduy identified three mechanisms of artificiality: replacement, proliferation and condensation, which are believed to allow manipulation of the signifier, which is no longer completely tied to the meaning, but rather open to the possibilities of extrapolation, ornamentation and masquerade, making explicit that the relationship with the world is representational.
Southern comfort: multi-weaver of texts, spiralling series of transformations.

To the Northern Face, the Southern Butt

“South,” you say. And you write the South.

But you confront the failure of the word as a sign of things, and accept that it is a sign of a new reality, independent of any extra-textual reference. Is it the inability of words fully to express reality? The word might become the experience being described, where everything converges in the conception of this most complex ‘text’, whose narration represents a search for a meaning, and an identity, in the elusive moment that it tries to capture. Sensation, mediation, reflection, artifice: surface of images, mental product, text reflected in a mirror, accumulation of words.

“South,” I say. And South is on my lips.

Converging and diverging, I am just moments of a self, but not a self. Unfolding in the confluence of fragments of the past, which is re-enacted through the continuous flow of memory, I am the images of my own memory, living in a present that fades away at the very moment of its utterance. Forgetfulness is necessary to remembrance. I am the mirror, which reinstates memory and the longing for love. I am a circular delirium of my degraded expression, a copulation of clichés. And these clichés are the facts that substantiate the certainty of my existence, an invention that time has legitimised as truth, whose transformations operate on the level of writing.

“South,” he says. And South is named Desire.

Writing is the art of digression. Let us speak then of a smell of hashish and of curry, of a stumbling basic English and of a tingling trinket music. This signalectic file card is the Indian costume-maker’s, who three hours before curtain time would arrive with his little box of brushes, his minutely precise bottles of ink and “the wisdom”—the same turbaned one would say, in profile, displaying his only earring—”of a whole life painting the same flower, dedicating it to the same god.”

And so he’d decorate the divas with his arabesques, tit by tit, since these, for being round and rotuberant, were much easier to adorn than the prodigal bellies and little Boucherian buttocks, pale pink with a tendency to spread. The hoarse divinities would parade before the inventor of butterfly wings and there remain static the rime to review their songs; devoted, the miniaturist would conceal in vivo the nudity of the frozen big-footed queens with silver fringes, eye hieroglyphs, arabesques and rainbows, which came out thinner or thicker depending on the insertion and watery brew; he would disguise the shortcomings of each with black whorls and underline the charms surrounding them with white circles. On their hands he’d write, in saffron and vermilion, their cue lines, the most forgettable, and the order in which they had to recite them, and on their fingers, with tiny arrows, an outline of their first movements. They would leave the minister of external affairs, all tattooed, psychedelic, made for love from head to toe. The Madam would look them over, stick on their eyelashes and an OK label for each, and send them off with a slap on the backside and a Librium.[2]


Wordscapes that plunge into life, splashing, shaking, and exploding in a magical juggling act, of image balancing upon image: a bizarre hybrid, a composite of snakes, writings, rhythms, of a flight of traces and a mosaic of infinitesimal shining instants, manoeuvring through endless passages and trapdoors, rendering the epiphany of the body luminous, where the pleasure of the void meets the furious fire of the world. Language reconstructs itself elsewhere under the teeming flux of every kind of linguistic pleasure. Where is this elsewhere? In the paradise of words. Here we are gorged with language; the moment when, by its very excess, verbal pleasure jams and whirls into bliss.


Octavio Zaya. Bogotá, Colombia, 2011

[1] Julio Cortazar, “The Southern Thruway,” All Fires the Fire, trans. Suzanne Jill Levine (New York: Pantheon, 1973).
[2] Severo Sarduy, Cobra, trans. Suzanne Jill Levine (Normal, Illinois: Dalkey Archive Press, 1995).


share this on facebook share this on twitter share this on google+ share this on pinterest more