La casa devastada by Carlos Cociña

La casa devastada. Carlos Cociña. Santiago: Alquimia Editorial, 2017. 110 pages.

I was crossing the mountains when I opened this book. I was flying over snowy peaks and plains excavated by millennia of water’s action. Then, there before this panorama, between the white of the page and the black of the words, two questions came to me: What is poetry? What is a house? Several months later, I stumbled upon an answer to this experience of defamiliarization; Goethe had a word for this: apercu, that is to say, the moment when in full contemplation of an object, there emerges in our mind an intuition, a conviction that interrupts all our vital processes. This flash of lightning not only impacts us by its light, but also causes for us in some way to feel immersed in a totality, and parting from there we rethink ourselves. If a book can do this, it is because it functions with the intensity of impact of a forest or a waterfall or the moment before a storm.

But I return to the first question: What is poetry? Is poetry the writing of La casa devastada [The devastated house]? What we know is that at first glance, we encounter a scientific, technical, and robust prose, with fragments separated by numbers and appendices, variations. But, are scientific conclusions really the ones that are developed there? I don’t think so, although they seem to be. What Cociña has been practicing for more than 40 years of writing is to link perception with an objective language as a way of connecting these visions with the elements that surround them, so this way, and I quote, “a la intemperie se pierdan las diferencias” [out in the open differences are lost], the ego is eliminated, and everything turns out to be part of a grand process:

Las cosas se mueven, sin considerar la percepción. Aunque moverse es una categoría mental, ello no invalida el desplazamiento. El viaje a las zonas de impacto tiene coherencias estructurales independientes de cómo operemos o estemos en ellas”.

[Things move, without considering perception. Although moving is a mental category, it does not invalidate the displacement. The journey to the zones of impact has structural coherencies independent of how we operate or are in them.] [CASA | 02]

The world moves with and without us, but it is this perception that binds us to a universe in constant transformation: The rock that we take in our own hand, although unchangeable by sight, finds itself in full and continuous process of erosion, of sulfation of its minerals, of converting itself into dust or into another, larger rock. In a way, I believe that Cociña’s proposal also has to do with the rewriting of biology without being biological, of physics without being physical, of urbanism without being architectural, in a nutshell, materials related to the shifting of this book, in order to make a turn toward the interior of the same composition of reality, to the composition of the elements, and maybe because of that we could link this writing to poetry, what Enrique Lihn called the poet’s antiespecialidad, that is to say, their capacity for meddling in whatever language, in whatever technique, and twisting whatever technical and conclusive definition of reality, in order to say suddenly:    

“Es permanente la sorpresa del agua. Su capacidad de recuerdo, y de eliminar los contornos para ser parte de todas las cosas”.

[Water’s surprise is permanent. Its capacity of memory, and of eliminating contours in order to be part of our things.] [LÍQUIDOS | 03]

Cociña’s voice does not emerge then from an Olympus or from the streets that surround it, for his vision is instead perimetrical or similar to that of a drone that flies over human populations or vacant zones and that all at once is able to focus in such a way that it suddenly converts itself into the view of a microscope: an entire galaxy interacts in front of our eyes. He himself declares, “estoy en la fragilidad de los andamios” [I am in the fragility of the scaffolding] (1), or rather, from the structure without fixed or firm foundations, but from the temporal position, utilized for constructive tasks, of the repair or maintenance of a building. From there, later he will tell us, “me preocupan las fisuras que quedan tras los cierros”, [The cracks that remain behind the walls concern me] (06), an open verse (like all in this book) but that can also function in the poetic sense, because in this writing every entrance into a displacement and into the elements allows a reflexive turn of his own inscription, even a space for the lyric, a “intimidad paradójica, contradictoria, misteriosa, vivificantes, distensa y lúdica” [paradoxical, contradictory, mysterious, exhilarating, distended, and ludic intimacy] (06).

The house in this blueprint is the place where all of matter’s possibilities become obvious: smoke, concrete, water circuits, cliffs, forests, fields, the cliffs and their vegetal diversity, the modalities of wind, mineral life, molecules, humidity and its lack thereof, sound, and cerebral activity. The is a surrounding world, this is what biologist Jacob von Uexkull defined as: “an incessant dance and infinity of atoms,” an everything where “down to the smallest thing, an order, sense, and meaning is shown.” Everything produces formations grown to such point that they disappear in order to give something new to others.” The house is a space of transformation and of affirmation. Each part of this book opens itself to a spectrum of these possibilities:

“La sensación es silencio, estrellas en axones”.  [Sensation is silence, stars in axons.] [Materiales en el lugar equivocado | 1]

“Cuando es largo el camino de regreso no se llega al lugar”. [When it is long, the path of return does not reach the destination.] [Materiales en el lugar equivocado | 14]

“Todo asentamiento es del agua”. [Every settlement is of water.] [LÍQUIDOS | 02]

“Las cosas tienen el silencio del agua”. [All things have the silence of water.] [LÍQUIDOS | 03]

“La realidad está en otra parte, estamos en ella”. [Reality is somewhere else, we are in it.] [Aterrizar en palabras | 03]

“En vuelo los pájaros marcan el aire con el calor y viento que desenganchan los árboles”. [In flight birds mark the air with the heat and wind that trees unfasten.” [Esquina | 01]

La casa devastada deploys a writing that moves between poetry and technicality, for a reason that is fundamental in both type of language: definition. Both science and poetry are dedicated, in essence, to saying that things are something; the first in order to arrive at a law or truth, the second according to Cociña, “construye una realidad verbal, en que las relaciones que se establecen en esa escritura son homologas a la verdad de la realidad” [construct a verbal reality, in which the relationships that are established in this writing are homologues to the truth of reality]. This is the radical value of this proposal, in a time when art has abandoned certainties and each time valorizes more a work for its state of indetermination. This is not to say that in these fragments the nebulous or the indistinct are not also part of the foundation, but all of a mental landscape is composed here beginning such that the verb “ser” [to be] gives existence in the middle of a mountain chain wrapped by snow: reality feigns and is a simulation of what we define.

In this sense I do not mean to say that the Cociña’s forcefulness could be placed parallel to another paradigm shift in its use of language and Chilean poetry; I am speaking of none other than Nicanor Parra’s Poems and Antipoems or also Juan Luis Martinez’s La Nueva Novela [The new novel], since it confronts and opens a furrow (long worked by Cociña) that becomes inevitable, when the time comes, to understand the deconstructive power of poetry before the predominant discourses. At least, those two books, like this one, place us again before the questions “what is a poem?” and “what is poetry?” and also possess the same corrosive and recycling intensity.

Finally, why the devastated house? If the house is the physical territory of perception, the code utilized for constructing it transgresses from our own perceptions, language is first thing to be devastated. But there is a more important meaning than this term and this seems to me more pertinent, because not only the house is constructed starting from the discursive destruction, from ruin, but also starting from a clear destruction of ecosystems, from a question about the absence of an element in the food chain, or about the future of the sea covered in plastic, the irregular growth of cities, the intervention of water movements, drought caused on land, the concern for sound and confinement: “Las sociedades disciplinarias organizan los espacios de encierro […] Es la violencia el sentimiento mismo y la homogeneidad la fomenta” [Disciplanary societies organize spaces of confinement […] Violence is feeling itself, and homogeneity foments it”]. Cameras observe us and exercise their violence in urban spaces and with this violence we end up building our own twisted vision of the world. Cociña, although and engineer of the ruin, offers a proposal:

Plantar árboles. La mayoría te sobrevivirá. A algunos podrás subir, mientras puedas. Extenderán sus raíces, mientras caminas, casi siempre, alrededor de ellos. Como sean sus hojas, cambiará el horizonte y la luz desde donde mires. Casi no tendrás que cuidarlos, sólo dejarlos libres, inmóviles en la tierra y aleteantes en el aire. Les impondrás un idioma que olvidarás, y tendrán preguntas en lo que crees certezas.    [Plant trees. The majority will outlive you. Some you will be able to climb, while you can. They will extend their roots, while you walk, almost always, around them. As their leaves are, the horizon will change and the light from where you watch. You almost won’t have to care for them, only leave them free, motionless in the earth and fluttering in the air. You will impose on them a language that you will forget, and they will have questions where you create certainties.]  [CASA | 08]

I believe that this is the spearhead that Carlos Cociña’s La Casa Devastada leaves us, the possibility of constructing from these fragments a transparent language, made of questions, with convictions that from time to time may seem impossible to us, but are those that poetry should open for us, as a way of disrupting our view of our surroundings and their composition; there is something of us in the rock and in the lichen, in the brain and the axons of the other, because although we may not perceive it, “aún así, vibran los prados, las aguas, los aires, en una luz suave e inestable que transluce materia cambiante” [even so, the fields, the waters, the air vibrate in a smooth and unstable light that reveals changing matter].

Diego Alfaro Palma

Translated by Auston Stiefer


Other Reviews in this Issue

Ya nadie llora por mí
Teoría y práctica de La Habana
Casa transparente
Paisajes en movimiento


LALT No. 7
Number 7

The seventh issue of Latin American Literature Today highlights indigenous voices with dossiers dedicated to three Wayuu writers from Colombia and Zapotec poetry and prose. We also pay homage to renowned Venezuelan poet Eugenio Montejo with a special dossier, as well as returning to the strange worlds of Latin American science fiction and opening a new space for Brazilian literature in Portuguese and English.

Table of Contents

Editor's Note

Translation Previews and New Releases

Featured Author: Eugenio Montejo

Dossier: Wayuu Literature


Latin American Science Fiction

Indigenous Literature

Brazilian Literature




Nota Bene