SHE’S SO FINE
[dear readers, I’m not sure how to get the accents and tildes working here]
Cecilia Vicu?a’s work is a meditation on and an enactment of the fine.
Not fine as in the sense of “precious” or “luxurious”, as in fine wines or “she lived surrounded by finery,” but fine as in “precise” and “delicate.”
Not “delicate” as in weak. Vicu?a’s fine is penetrating and effective, like a string cutting cheese, like laser surgery, like the fine link of the copula in an uncannily exact metaphor.
Not fine as in “refined” — which calls up sugar, oil, and pretentious manners. Vicu?a’s fine is the fine of nature, like that of spiders’ webs. Or the fine of manipulated nature, like goats mixed genetically with spiders to give silk in their milk. The fine of DNA.
It is the fine of lines. Her book Instan is a perfect illustration of the principles of the fine. Simultaneously writing and drawing, as in the Japanese verb kaku or the Quechua verb kellkani, the pages of the first section of the book, “gramma kellcani (the drawings)”, are reproduced from finely pencilled originals. The printing is in grays, not black, showing the tiny variations of shade characteristic of pencil. Because these variations are the traces of an individual’s force and pressure, they serve to humanize the writing and reconnect it with the body of its creator.
The letters in “gramma [“grandmother” and “grammar” as well as amma, “mother”] kellkani” morph into lines and then back into other letters. Words fuse into lines and then into other words Sometimes the lines separate to indicate connection but do not actually touch. Sometimes the words arrange in spirals, or crisscrosses, or wave patterns. Some look very like scientific diagrams. Sometimes the words are in Spanish and sometimes they are in English. The drawn lines show how the words are connected and also how they are distinct: compacto, compose, compartir. “Gramma kellkani,” like so many of Vicu?a’s other works, is as much an essay on comparative linguistics and metaphysics as it is a poem as it is a drawing. It is as if Vicu?a, unlike Mr. Casaubon in Middlemarch who never manages to find “the key to all mythologies”, has truly found, if not the key to all languages, a graphic and probing way in to some specific truths about them.
Into the mine of the f(emin)ine.
Or the filaments of the infinite.
Or onto the tightrope of the written word into sound and its unpredictable trapeze into meaning.
Ironically, lines as she uses them foil linearity, making the eyeballs dance and loop-de-loop, making the reader turn the book to all angles, maybe even rotate it entirely. What a truly fine way to cause a revolution, to turn the world upside down!
Part Two of Instan, “el poema cognado/ the poem”, illuminates the mechanism of the “gramma kellcani” drawings:
An instant is present
a filament of sta, a state of being stamen,
a thread in a warp,
a web in ecstasy.
An instant — the smallest divisible unit of time we can experience? At the end of “gramma kellcani” the lines have dispersed into points which are surely stars? They have no more meaning? Except that –wow — they inhabit — nay, they create — the Milky Way, the fine trickle of light which is also milk:
To carry back is to relate
a flowing of milk: time
becomes language and love.
And Vicu?a’s love (in a kind of lightwordmilk), with its dimensions at once personal, political, and metaphysical, transmits as if through a miraculous verbal breast fashioned of the finest fiberoptic technology; “ad?nde,” she asks coyly, as if she truly didn’t know she were giving it,
de una teta
Just as Vicuna’s fine can be graphic or liquid or light, so also can it be sound, as when in her performances she enters a room first with her voice — amar/ el formans …. formans: “a bunch of frequencies in the human voice” Carlos Guedes — small (fine) but, even unamplified, capable of filling the huge hall at St. Mark’s church with its shivery resonances.
A moment of trance where transformation begins:
silence to sound, and back.