The Foreign Passion, by Cristian Aliaga (translated by Ben Bollig), is a collection of prose poems that deliver a devastating critique of the cultural blindness on which contemporary capitalism relies. Unlike much of the author’s previous works, which were written from and of his home country, Argentina, this collection emerged from an eight month long European residency when he was a visiting professor at the University of Leeds, England.
Each of the poems offers a moment of encounter at a precise location visited during this time. These may be sites of conflict, rundown cities or bucolic landscapes. Also included are “centres of ‘Western’ culture that those from the edge of the world are told to admire.” The reader is offered a different perspective, the experience of place presented in concentrated phrases that culminate in a sense of what has been lost.
The book opens with an introduction by the translator. In this he talks of why we travel and what we seek, musing that the tourist goes in search of authentic experiences which are no longer there, often due to tourists. Few go to view everyday existence.
“Their culture is of no interest to the international traveller in search of untouched nature or examples of aboriginal cultures, in both cases very often (re)constructions specifically designed for the tourist market.”
He discusses the impact of globalisation and what this means.
“the exportation of work practices now unacceptable in developed countries either to distant countries or to less visible zones in the country itself”
“These regions dispensible yet indispensible for the functioning of the global capitalist system.”
“Aliga’s poetry focuses precisely on that which is left over or remains”
The poems are presented in both Spanish and English. None is longer than a page yet each packs a powerful, poignant punch.
I was particularly taken by ‘natural life’ in which the author is on the M62, Leeds-Manchester. He passes fields, “natural life in the midst of the profit civilisation”. He views plot after plot containing lifestock and closed up houses where:
“the inhabitants do their work, alien to the dozens of vehicles that fly by each minute. Inside each machine that passes this oval of land at a modern-day speed, the members of the family last a second, like figures from an old movie, and disappear for ever.”
The prose style of this collection made for straightforward perusal allowing concentration to focus on content. There is much to consider.
“We travel to come back different, to lose on the journey our reason and the ingrained habits of the mind. We return, full or empty, to mend the holes in our words”
What Aliaga seeks is an investigation of culture, a “resistance against the erasure of lives and histories excluded by neoliberal capitalist narratives and policies.” The paradox of his work is that he is aware his target audience is unlikely to be reached.
“For he who sings while
his children burn alive, because he doesn’t know, he doesn’t
notice the smell.
For them I write, those who
won’t stop to read.”
Contemporary capitalism relies on societal collusion. These poems provide a succinct and important reminder of the cost.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Influx Press.