The Tuesday Video Clip: Pablo Katchadjian

Who is Pablo Katchadjian? Good question. For a while, I thought he might be an invention of César Aira, who has advocated his project in the Argentine press. It turns out, though, that the poet who rewrote  José Hernández’ Martín Fierro line by line (all 2,316 of them) in alphabetical order does indeed exist.

For those who do not know, the Martín Fierro is one of the foundational texts of Argentine literature. Originally published in two parts in 1872 and 1879, the poem presents a romanticized image of the gaucho as a symbol of national identity, in stark contrast to the Europeanizing tendencies of the then-President of the recently established Republic, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento [en]. As one of a handful of texts at the center of the polemic surrounding Argentine national identity in its formative years, the Martín Fierro has made appearances in the work of writers like Jorge Luis Borges, Leopoldo Lugones, and even Thomas Pynchon. It also inspired the title of an avant-garde journal [en/sp] founded in 1924 by Evar Mendez and Oliverio Girondo [sp], among others.

As someone researching the place of textual genealogies in contemporary fiction, I openly admit the bias behind my interest in this project and the poet’s 2009 volume El Aleph engordado, which performs a similar operation on the famous short story by Borges. If I have learned anything, though, in my rounds through the stacks, it is that it’s hard to say it better than César Aira does. So I’ll cede the final word on Katchadjian’s Martín Fierro to him (in translation).

The most extraordinary thing about this reformulation is that the new order forcefully reminds us that there was an old order: the lines of Hernández’ Martín Fierro followed an order as well; they were not interspersed at random. […] Every order, regardless of what it seeks to convey, is conventional and changeable.

What follows is a brief clip of Katchadjian reading from his Martín Fierro ordenado alfabéticamente, the first few lines of which (reproduced from the Aira article in Otra parte) appear below:

A andar con los avestruces
a andar reclamando sueldos
a ayudarles a los piones
a bailar un pericón
a bramar como una loba
a buscar almas más tiernas
a buscar una tapera
a cada alma dolorida
A cada rato, de chasque
a cantar un argumento
a cortarme en un carillo
a dar con la conyuntura
a decir lo que pasaba

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