The Poetry Project

On Raúl Zurita

Eline Marx

“Forgetting is impossible. But what you do with that inability to forget is a different story”
— Raúl Zurita

I learned about Laura Isabel Feldman’s existence at the same time as I learned more about my grandfather’s disappearance. Laura was a political dissident murdered by the Videla regime in 1978. She was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1959. In highschool, she campaigned with the Federacion Juvenil Comunista and joined la Unión de Estudiantes Secundarios, the revolutionary student branch of Peronism in 1973. In 1976, she started contributing to the marxist review Informacion. The newspaper never circulated; it was supposed to be launched the month Jorge Rafael Videla staged a coup. In 1977, massive persecutions against political opponents began, but she decided to stay in Argentina and continue her activism.

In 1991 my father met Laura’s father, Simon Feldman, on a film set in Paris. At that time, my parents were looking for traces of my maternal grandfather, Samuel Lipszyc, who was known to have been a worker’s organizer and marxist in Argentina. My mother had only met her father as an infant and grew up thinking he had been tortured and assassinated by the Videla regime. Through Simon Feldman, she discovered her father had a brother in Argentina and another in Brazil. The last time they had heard from Samuel Lipszyc was in fact in 1983 while the dictatorship was ending and he was thought to have been in Mexico. Mystery continues to shroud his disappearance.

Simon Feldman searched for his daughter all his life and had the confirmation only a few years before his passing that she had been abducted, sequestrated and executed at the secret detention center El Vesubio. I still can’t wrap my mind around the idea of the State assassinating a teenager, and yet simultaneously know that this is what a State represents. I may never learn of the destiny of my grandfather; but knowing how hard Laura fought for the political conditions both of them sought after fills me with admiration for her utopianism, her determination, her fragile youth, her political anger. Men in uniforms tried to wipe away her existence, but she is very present to me. I sometimes dream that ghosts of murdered revolutionaries will materialize to lead us in an insurrection against the international right wing.

Chilean poet Raúl Zurita knows existence does not stop with the death of a human body: in Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay under the “Operation Condor” coordinated by the CIA, dissidents were thrown from planes in the ocean and in the desert; they are now part of our surroundings, they inhabit the elements, our common memory. Poets are here to bring times and spaces closer, open passages we thought were closed. Raúl Zurita awakens entire worlds State terrorism intended to destroy. His words are incantations to bring his comrades back to life. His capacity for tenderness is large, uncorrupted and firm: “I am not his father, but Galip Kurdi is my son” writes the poet about the Syrian child who drowned in the Mediterranean sea on September 2015 while trying to escape the war.

Raúl Zurita was born in Santiago, Chile in 1950. In 1973, the Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean army Augusto Pinochet overthrew the democratically elected socialist president Salvador Allende. The day of the coup, Raúl Zurita was arrested, imprisoned and tortured for twenty-one days with hundreds of others in a secret detention center held in a naval training ship because he carried a notebook with poems. Writing became then a matter of personal survival and collective salvation. Raúl Zurita has dedicated his life’s work to honor the disappeared worldwide: “He who is being beaten or tortured or killed is united with everyone who has been or is being beaten, tortured and killed: it’s the military coup in Chile, but at the same time it’s Auschwitz, it’s the bomb over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it’s the Sabra and Shatila massacre. Each disappeared, tortured, massacred human being represents the absolute failure of all humanity”. There is a continuity in this immeasurable violence. Violence in the exclusive project of the nation state and the discursive fiction of democracy. Violence in the totalitarianism of capitalism, or “hyper-dictatorship” as Zurita names it, which attempts to annihilate anything resisting commodification and rests on its bloody colonial and imperial legacy which too many pretend to forget. (In Chile, the U.S. support was crucial in the execution of the coup. The Pinochet regime was put in place to eliminate communism and trade unions and enforce economic liberalization and privatization. These policies created a rise in the GDP —concentrated in the hands of the oligarchy— and severe inequalities. The Argentinian junta also had the support of the U.S., and while Henry Kissinger was urging the regime to rapidly silence its opponents, the government was implementing free-trade and deregulation policies that led to the Argentinian crisis of 1998-2002. Neoliberal policies developed in prestigious universities and carried out by international institutions continue to devastate the lives of people worldwide for the interest of the capitalist elite in the name of “development”, “growth” and “security”.) Violence in the propaganda that wants us to believe this reality is inevitable.

Raúl Zurita fights back against the manipulation of language which aims to distort our perception and prevent the imagining of alternate worlds. His words bear witness to brutality, and against this void, there is the fundamental force of our love. “We live in the age of the agony of languages and the absolute triumph of the language of advertising. […] Poetry is the most fragile art because it depends on those words that die. But at the same time, it’s the most powerful because it is the only one that can give account to that ferocious loss and raise up new meanings. […] Poetry will not die.” (Raúl Zurita)

#258 — Spring/Summer 2019