The following is an excerpt from Notes Toward a Pamphlet by Sergio Chejfec and translated from the Spanish by Whitney DeVos (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2020), published with permission of Ugly Duckling Presse.
He’s not a well-known figure, and he doesn’t belong to any particular circle of celebrities. Although his life lacked longevity, the general impression is that he didn’t have much left to do. He was to live in that part of the twentieth century before everything was either stored or archived. Therefore, many more things are unknown of Samich than are known. The study and criticism of his texts have not gone sufficiently deep, either. All circumstances that, in this case, are unimportant since Samich’s irradiation operated by means of elevation.
What he wrote was as important as what he decided not to write. Well into the twenty-first century, today this may seem like a curatorial obviousness. But in the twentieth century, if it became explicit, as was the case with Samich, such an obviousness could respond to an intention as banal as it was sophisticated. Negativity was fashionable, of course, but being both naïve and a negativist at the same time was less common. Samich candidly threaded both behaviors with extraordinary naturalness, as if his figure had combined the cunning solipsism of aesthete avant-gardes with the Olympian negligence of a wise and reticent illiterate life.
Another one of Samich’s peculiarities is that he was a practically unpublished writer: his behavior was elliptical as a writer because he did not publish; and he did not publish in order to preserve his ellipsis from any potential threat or form of critical surveillance. His papers are stored in boxes few know about and that for years no one has opened. He wrote books he never finished because his thoughts changed all the time; he had believed, in each case, they would mature if left on hold, and the time would come when eventually they’d be ready. But while all this was in the process of happening, Samich would drift toward something else; the memory of a manuscript would change or cease to interest him, and then he’d end up doing something more significant than destroying what he’d writ- ten: he’d dismember it. Poems and different pieces without an attributed genre would return to a unified state at once molec- ular, floating, and random. If necessary, he thought, later they could make up the new index of a future book — one for which the same fate of dissolution and ambiguous resurrection was nonetheless expected.
The effect of this idiosyncrasy was that, while alive, Samich published small pieces in magazines or collectively-authored books. To this end, he had volatile and disorderly criteria, demonstrated in his constant inclination toward the arbitrary fragment (a fragment extracted mostly at random from the writing mass, without taking into account factors regarding coherence or unity, even without taking into account any criteria of arbitrariness). The magazines that published him, like the books containing his fragments, did not have a wide circulation and, one by one, were lost track of. It’s unlikely one would be able to reconstruct a plot that, from the beginning, was extremely weak and inconsistent. In fact, there have been magazines including Samich’s work that never reached the point of publication, at the mercy of processes perhaps silently influenced by the author’s undecided protocols.
If this were about a normal writer, I mean those who publish books and attach their own more-or-less-vigilant authorial pres- ence, these circumstances I’ve been mentioning would suggest that — within the literary medium and its characteristic tools of expression — the signal was breaking up. But the case of Samich seems different, since he didn’t consider publication essential; and sometimes writing, either. From his point of view, the poet operated on the surrounding environment by irradiation. In some cases, discursive developments emanated from him, and in other cases they were developments more ineffable and thus difficult to describe, directly linked to the paradigm of affections, in a broad sense. He was interested in exploring the field of such emanations without committing them to writing.Essentially, that would lead him to being, from his point of view, a character of himself.
More than over a piece of writing, the writer had to claim author- ship of a figure. Samich seemed to think it proved too easy to be a writer, if defined in terms of output and frequency of the writing itself. Rather, writing was only a probable suffix related to the circumstances of the writer, who could himself produce non- textual, or even non-verbal discursivities, and thus create a work based on dynamic links and constellations, contrary to all that which is derived from the fixation of words.
Samich was the creator of his own system, which didn’t necessarily have to be an organic system; it’s likely it wasn’t new, original or different, either. The distinguishing feature was a scheme of almost non-substantial notions. Perhaps it would be more advisable to talk about intuitions instead of ideas. A solitary individual, Samich moved within a field of discontinuous hunches. His choices did not aim to excavate the profound in order to find or reveal a certain hidden or fundamental truth, but instead to take the pulse of intermittency and the changeable, having as he did a preference for the provisional. He conceived of thoughts like passing ideas, explorations arranged as a plot of passions directed toward the interpellation of others, without wanting, however, to have any bearing on them. The result could only be what it is now. In strictly literary terms: an aesthetic attitude at a cursory glance categorical, if somewhat encapsulated in itself, whose conviction hides, on the contrary, its own weaknesses.
The weak points of his work were and remain a secondary issue, since the work itself was not conceived of in order to ultimately be fixed within some form of publication and thus has an elusive relationship to the concept of value. For Samich, literary value was not a challenge, not even a goal or a problem; worth was a floating and at times non-existent issue, linked to the spheres of will and desire, and it was a moral issue. Without doing so on purpose, it’s likely he championed the disappearance of literature, conceived of as that knowledge and practice refused to him, and as that which made of value its abstract albeit common universal currency.
Speaking of currencies, market rates were of no benefit to Samich. A poet born in an area relegated to the interior of Argentina, itself a lateral country of the western hemisphere, he went through the experience of living in exile in his own land, as have many other artists and people in general throughout the history of humanity. Exile and its related figures — isolation, withdrawal, even volunteer ostracism — represented a backup mechanism against the inattentive indifference of a literary medium like the Argentine one — small, labyrinthine, and frugal — and also a private act of contestation, although for that very reason a rather illusory one, against the same system.
I get the impression that, despite belonging to a different century, being, as he is, a representative of a time period now-outdated both in social and technological terms, even resembling a ship- wrecked sailor of that era’s sensibility, and also of its art and history, the figure of Samich can say a lot about our moment in the present tense. Formulated thus, “the present tense” is as
mysterious, or even more, than “the past tense.” Even so, I want to say, it’s worth embedding Samich’s figure in the present. At each moment, the present is saturated with redundancy — I think this is a widely-shared opinion. Such redundancy must be challenged with impetus. Samich would be the wedge with which I propose to start the cleft, then the crack, and later the splintering of the whole worn-out schema.
Like I’ve said, a universe of such a singular and disorganized manner as belongs to this Argentine poet resists efforts toward coherent description. Any explication developed using premises, hierarchies, attributions and sources, would likely affect the virtual lesson that might be extracted from the real figure, because that same architecture of the image would improperly tidy up a matter both heterodox and resistant to organization.
I think, for these reasons, that only the pamphlet form would do justice to Samich. “To do justice to” — another ridiculous idea. And yet it can nonetheless serve as an indication of what I mean. It seems to me rather paradoxical that, of all people, Samich — whose life is almost a situation of existence, I mean a life that, if we think about it, turns out to be more virtual than true — a person who, while he inhabited the world, aspired to a voice permanently lowered, would, paradoxically perhaps, require the megaphone a pamphlet represents in order to have his ideas, or whatever they’re called, disseminated.
Sergio Chejfec, originally from Argentina, has published numerous works of fiction, poetry, and essays. His novels translated into English: My Two Worlds (Open Letter); The Dark (2012, Open Letter); The Planets (Open Letter, a finalist for the 2013 Best Translated Book Award), Baroni: A Journey (Almost Island); and The Incompletes (Open Letter). Some of his short stories and essays in translation can be read at Asymptote, Words Without Borders, Music & Literature, and elsewhere. He currently teaches in the Creative Writing in Spanish Program at NYU.