Liquid Crystal Wrapped in Rainbow Mist:

Cecilia Vicuna and the Weaving of Water


                                                                                                            by Christine de Lailhacar


1. The Metaphysics of Weaving.

To write about André Breton in a language other than that of passion is impossible. Besides, any other language would be unworthy of him. For Breton, the power of language was no different from that of passion, and passion, in its highest, tensest form, was nothing other than language in a state of savage purity: poetry. Breton: the language of passion - the passion of language.

            These words by Octavio Paz reflect the ever recurring intuition of the common nature of passion and language, language defined by Aristotle as expression of en tí psychí pathema. They can be directly applied to Cecilia Vicuña: to write about Vicuña in a language other than that of passion is impossible. The continuation of Paz` encomium to Breton shows even more striking parallels with Vicuña`s art:

Breton`s ideas about language were of a magic sort, but at the same time they possessed a precision...that I would call scientific...

[Among the key words] revelation and rebellion, innocence and marvel, passion and                      language, there is another, perhaps central word: magnetism.1


            Someone privileged to meet Cecilia Vicuña will be immediately bewitched. Within a few moments such preconceptions as the incompatibility of scientific intellect with visions not verifiable by logic will have vanished into thin air as though by magic wand.

            This effect is not produced by some magic potion. The innocent, delicately bitter tea she prepares, in what seems an ancient ritual, is a mixture of herbs she has collected herself in the Andean mountains. Cecilia knows about herbs. Since her childhood in the precordillera andina  she has been in touch with native women shamans who instructed her in  traditional botany.

            The visitor is seated somewhere. There are no partition walls or other marks of spatial limits in her huge loft in downtown Manhattan, with a ceiling so high that its beams are lost in darkness. Pierced here and there by irregularly spaced small spotlights, it resembles a stellar space rather than a living room. One is suddenly unable to tear one`s eyes away from some work of hers, disquieting, orphic, such as “La Falda de la Momia,” (the mummy`s skirt). The ragged piece of loosely woven, ancient cloth, draped over a twig, is un-heimlich in Freud`s sense of the foreign, strange (Aristotle`s to xenikon) diabolically “thrown across” the familiar, the homely (Aristotle`s to oikeion). But why is it familiar? What chords of ancestral memory does it stir? What anamnesis of strange, forgotten cults?

            “The Mummy`s Skirt” is a spiritual trace of ancient northern Chile and Peru where, according to CÉsar Paternosto, the technique of mummification was known before it was practiced in Egypt. The visitor has hardly spotted the intriguing piece when several others, from different places in the loft, lure his attention in their field. He finds himself mesmerized within a magnetic web  like those Vicuña constructs outdoors, with strings that cross at points of cosmic energy. These works, neither sculptures, nor exactly collages, are objects she calls “precarios”  ephemeral, precarious combinations of worthless fragments: a scrap of old textile, a twig, a shard of pottery, a bone, a feather. These are things discarded by man and nature and picked up at random û or so it seems. If they were thrown on a garbage pile, no one would notice them, and, indeed, she calls them “basuritas,” little garbage. They constitute, however, the arch-repository of the shaman, from Siberia to Morocco. Vicuña calls the precarios “spatial metaphors,” that is, visual translations of her poetic work into space. In art, as in language, it is not the elements but their combination and articulation which creates a magnetic force capable of attracting cosmic energies into its field. Suddenly one “re-cognizes” something û in Paul Claudel`s sense of being “born-with” (con-naεtre), be it in a previous life. This is the nature of that “familiarity,” constitutive  part of the “uncanny” in Freud`s analysis.2 The effect  on the “experiencer”3  of the precarios is “sideration.” 4 He is “turned into “iron” (Greek sideros) or “star-struck” (Latin sidus, star),  for both iron and stellar bodies have to do with electromagnetic fields.  This implies that these strange artifacts, this cosmic articulation of a material which is, strictly speaking, refuse, have the power to elicit an echo of atavistic memory. One reintegrates a world deeply buried in the most unfathomable layers of the self.

            The three-dimensional poetic objects, however, are not the only source, no more than the tea, of the special state of mind in which the visitor finds himself. There is the face, alternately concealed and disclosed, in accordance with Vicuña`s naturally ritual movements, by a veil of the Indian`s long, straight, shiny, light-catching-reflecting, raven-black hair. “Negro es el brillar” (black is the shine). From the intermittently black-veiled mouth of the Inka priestess, issues the highly controlled, articulate flow, in Spanish or English, of the most sophisticated western philosophical commentary, the most uncanny universal erudition which encompasses the Vedas, as well as the pre-Socratics and ranges from classical rhetoric to Derrida and the most esoteric post-structuralist notions.

            A sudden light-hearted laughter and frequent humorous remarks do not break the spell. They are the same diabolic symbol, the xenikon or incongruous element thrown across, which lends depth, inner dynamics, and iridescent ambiguity to her poetry.

            This unio mystica of mystic intuition and intellectual erudition does not take place in a “noche oscura del alma” (dark night of the soul), as in San Juan de la Cruz`s poem. It is not even the union or merging of two separate entities, but light answering light in an infinite reflection-refraction-reverberation “iridescence,” which is the title of one of her poems. The capacity for reverberation is inherent in the language itself, Quechua, which is the authentic voice (the etymon) of both Arguedas` and Vicuña`s poetic texts, although they appear to be written in Spanish. This is why, in spite of the close reading of “Atahualpa Huañui,” constant excursions into the Andean cosmovision as refracted through the Quechua language are still necessary in order to reach the poet herself. But in this cosmovision, as the characteristic palindromes and metatheses of Quechua intimate,5 means and ends may become interchangeable.  I am unable to say whether I have become interested in the Inka world because an Einfnhlung  (feeling-in) into it would make Vicuña`s poetry more accessible, or whether I am fascinated by Vicuña because she incarnates whatever the word “Inka” and the word “mestizo” may evoke.

            The capacity of mirroring and refraction which characterizes Quechua is, as Robert Randall shows,6 cherished by Quechua-speaking communities and enjoyed in the form of word plays and riddles. These are not casual games, but an integral part of Andean cosmology. The dilemma of the critic lies in choosing between seduction and skep- ticism (a skepticism I have discussed previously in connection to the Nietzschean-Heideggerian-Derridean tendency of inferring ontological, i.e., universal truth values from the contingencies of a single language). The practice is tempting, poetically convincing, and sometimes, according to Derrida, “semantically infallible.”7 As Billie-Jean Isbell observes,


Derrida, Loewenberg, and many others have debated the truth value of metaphors. It is apparent that for the participants in Quechua riddling, it is not the truth of the statements that is important, but rather the new conceptualizations through analogy are important.8


             “After Babel,”9 no single language can claim to be the vessel of universal, cosmological truth. However,  the search by humans for truth as reflected in their own, particular language is, without doubt, a universal. Native speakers of Bamana, Fulani, Yoruba languages who read Randall`s article about the Inka language found something familiar in the idea of word plays as repositories of in-sight, i.e., wisdom. What is universal are, obviously, not the concrete words but the human desire for the truth and creative power deposited in them. Simicta chantani is the Quechua expression for the act of creating (making) by words: poiesis. There is the belief, not only in revelation by the word of what is, but in its power to “make,” i.e., to call into being: ontogenesis. “At the beginning was the Word.”                       

            With such primary value placed in language, its presumed constitutive nature, it follows that, like Quechua, the “lenguaje entretejido” (interwoven language),  the cosmos is truly the web of links and currents of energy seen by the watuq (watuq, from the verb watuy, to link by threads). In Andean folklore the wise men, amawta or watuq, are usually presented as old, as in “Atahualpa Huañui.” In the readers mind, this conjures the universal image of the venerable,  blind, old man: blind in every-day-light, like the “old owl” in daylight, incapable of “ob-vious,” i.e. conventional perceptions, but ultra-lucid in their in-sight, inner sight. They are Tiresias “ whose soul grasps all things, the lore that may be told and the unspeakable.” (Sophocles, Oedipus). “Blind” (homeros) is certainly one of the connotations played upon by Walcott when naming his epic poem Omeros.10

            The challenge for the modern poet, especially the one divided by the daimon of mestizaje, is not to be blind. Vicuña comes close to achieving some sort of unio mystica of energies deemed incompatible in the western mind: in Vicuña, rational intellect û what our eighteenth-century ancestors called “en-lightenment” is yoked together (zeugma) with the “clair-voyance” of intuition and imagination.

            It may “not be the first time this has been tried, nor is it the last time it failed,” one could quote Borges again with reference to our stubborn desire to define the nature of art. But with Vicuña, there is an adumbration that art has something to do with the intercourse between the erotic and the sacred whose crossing points spark imagination, as each reinforces the other. As both eros (according to Plato) and faith lift us up, this “mestizaje” leads to an ex-altation, i.e., to a “higher” region (Latin altus) or towards the other (alter). As an adolescent growing up in the precordillera andina (at the foot of the mountain range), Cecilia was fascinated by Quechua and Guarani erotic-sacred songs whose reflection or echo she later discovered in two French surrealist poets, Giselle Prassinos and Joyce Mansour. By a telling “coincidence” or rather “crossing of two vectors” in Vicuña`s vision, both are French by virtue of their language and their affinity with AndrÉ Breton. Otherwise they are respectively Franco-Greek and Anglo-Egyptian mÉtisses. We should keep in mind this “source” of Vicuña`s poetic vocation, the overdeterminations springing from the intersection points of the erotic and the sacred, when we read further, especially the poem La Wik`uña.” This opening-up and stepping-out of the self (ex-altation, ec-stasy) is a phenomenon caused by in-spiration, whether erotic, artistic, or religious. It is comparable to the divine pneuma, life-giving breath, the Hebrew nafash ( to breathe, blow), whose noun is nefesa (soul), as God blew life and soul into inanimate matter (Genesis). An extreme form of ec-stasy are the epileptic “seizures” experienced by Saul/Saint Paul, Mohammed,  and Dostoevsky, the latter describing the “holy illness” of prophets and artists in clearly mystical terms. Epi-lepsis, from epi-lambanein  is “to be seized and set apart” (ek-stasis). The victim (or “the chosen one”) is, as one currently says “out of himself.” He is struck as though by thunderbolt, by extreme, demonic concentration of electromagnetic energy of non-solar light (illa) in its zigzag movement (kenko) dividing the dark cloud. Related is the trance, deliberately provoked in many cultures, from the Delphic Pythia to Haitian voodoo, where persons enter into communication with ancestors or gods.

            The sacred permeates everyday life in traditional cultures in general and in the Andean world in particular. It may inhabit an ordinary household object or turn a simple domestic gesture into a ritual, which, in turn may trigger the ecstasy in the midst of the world of the familiar. As we will see with Vicuña`s ephemeral art works, the precarios understood as “prayers,” no special cult site is necessary, no trance either. Hers is a “l·cido entrar,” an entering into a state of mind in which she communicates with the All (lo Inmenso) in perfect lucidity and simultaneous extra-lucidity.

            The interlacing/interweaving between verbal and erotic play and religion (religio, from Latin religere, to tie back back, suggests a need for a thread) is so complex in Andean culture that neat distinctions among its practitioners are hard to establish.Their missions overlap: the amawta interpret the mysteries of the cosmos; the toqueni hamuni is defined as “hechizero y adivino” (sorcerer and divine). Their skill in manipulating language confers high social status,  because, according to Randall, it also suggests extraordinary sexual skill. As with all oracular speech, theirs unfolds “en enigmas y oscurante.”  One is reminded of Saint Paul`s “nunc per speculum in aenigmate” (through a mirror in darkness), taken up by Saint Augustine, but the clear-sightedness strived for is of a different nature. From the Christian (western) point of view, it is the promise of seeing directly “facie ad faciem” (face to face). In this one-directional focus, the goal is to disentangle the knots that confuse our understanding. Taken to its extreme form, this principle leads to deconstruction, but even Derrida himself occasionally acts like a watuq.11 In Incaic cultures, it is  the role of the shaman or watuq  (from Quechua watuy,  to bind and tie together û which, actually corresponds to religere, but refers to a multi-directional operation) to reveal linkages, as truth is not static but relational. The watuq is an ontological weaver;  consequently the most sacred form of artistic expression is the textile.


            In my introduction I tried to rehabilitate partly the activity of contemporary practitioners of western poetics from the severe charge of “vivisection” by none less than George Steiner. The following translation of a passage from Randall, however, vindicates Steiner while asserting the importance of our exposure to the cultures of the “other,” as facilitated by mestizos, such as Vicuña. As mestizos participate in both worlds, they may create “links” (watuy), not only among the things of the cosmos as easy to accommodate as distant galaxies, but also among the things of the cosmos as endemically resistant to accommodation as the human minds:


From a western point of view, we can decipher a textile by unraveling its threads. In this way we can determine the structure of the textile; we can analyze the fibers and discern their animal or vegetal origin; we may learn how they were spun; we analyze the colors and discover from which plants or animals there were produced and what mordants were used; we can equally submit the material to a radiocarbon analysis to establish its age. And so we will have deciphered the mysteries of the textile. In contrast, from an Andean point of view, not only will we have destroyed the textile, but we will have gained absolutely no concept of its meaning. And this is the purpose of the word play: to attach together the disparate elements of the universe in order to understand their interrelation instead of separating the filaments.”12


            It is interesting to note that our western metaphor for the process of gaining knowledge is not the separation of the threads of a textile, but the “dissolution” of a solid: ana-lysis from Greek lyein (to solve). Correspondingly, we “solve” a problem.


            Leaving aside for the moment the case of the Old Testament, made complex by the coexistence of the Midrash with the Torah, and above all, the Cabala which, due to obvious affinities, the “correspondences,” fascinates Vicuña û one observes that in all texts of revealed religions, such as the Koran or Christian Patristic, the Word of the Creator congeals into immutable dogma. In contrast, in the Inka con-text-ile, the word becomes mutant,13 because patterns, i.e., corresponding configurations of the threads of the weft and the warp, can be established wherever they seem to be obvious, that is, semantically appropriate in the vision of the watuq or amawta. “La fijeza es una ilusion, un momento de relacion” (fixity is an illusion, nothing but a moment of relations) declares Vicuña in the manuscript of her forthcoming book Palabrir.

            Vicuña`s outdoor “installations” are concretizations of what the watuq “sees”: tips and protuberances of boulders are connected by strings, or a round stone or nut (the globe) is enveloped by a web that unites continents and connects them to the stratosphere.  The threads give visual form to the echo. Andean mountain cliffs are wiñaq rumi (Arguedas), speaking, living stones which “germinate” in César Paternosto`s words, an idea he communicates visually in his photographs.14 By doubling returning syllables and blurring their sequence, the echo creates new words. These are sacred communications. There is, therefore, a factual, non-mythological reason for the status of Quechua as the “sacred language”: its most distinctive features, the repetition of syllables within a word, the metathesis (yuma-mayu, foam-river), and the palindrome (words or phrases that can be read both forward and backward), are the poetic techniques which emulate the sacred communications of nature. It is the imitation of the “imitator,” the echo, yachapayaq qaqa  (qaqa is the mountain cliff from which the echo resonates, and yachapayaq  is imitator). As the speaking cliffs are the voice of ancestors, these eternal stones, offer an entrance into a universe where time is abolished or cyclical like the universe of the sacred or of poetry, which “conjugates past and future simultaneously.”15 The one who “prays” for an answer enters “aquÉl pretÉrito en que serÉ un niño” (that past when I will be a child) of Davila Andrade.16 Vicuña conjures “un futuro pasado  que es el ur-texto del humanar, una constante invencion”(a past future which is the ur-text or arch-text of being-human, a constant invention).17 A constant invention, a perpetual spinning of new threads, establishes the “authenticity” of the ur-text which is an “invention” from the outset. It corresponds to the mental operation at the root of the universal phenomenon which I have designated as the achronic, atopic “Africa” or “Inca” realm, by quotation marks serving to indicate their partly fictional (“invented”) nature.

            Coded references to threads strung between the stars or certain  sacred mountain cliffs are the means by which an oppressed people may preserve its voice. Humans will always find a means for telling the story of their true being. Legends from all around the world describe how this was achieved through textile. In the “Voix de la navette” (the voice of the weaver`s shuttle) GÉrard Genette recounts a Greek myth about a young girl whose tongue was cut out by her rapist, so that she be unable to tell the story of the crime. But, like ArachnÍ, like Penelope, she was expert in the art of weaving. She wove the images into a cloth, and the shuttle became the means of revelation. And revelation, in Andean cosmology, is the back-and forth of reflection and echo û the movement of the shuttle.  From the beginning, the Andean universe was, according to Vicuña, “un mundo hilvan” (a fibrous world) unlike the European Stone Age. “Cultures describe themselves in the stories of their beginnings,” writes Dudley Young, inferring that “for our interpretation, mythology has often been a more efficient tool than science.”18

            What the Spaniards perceived as the Quechua-speaking Indians` fetishism of language is thus related to their “obsession with textile.” 19

            In one of Vicuña`s visions, the earth appears “wrapped in a web of crystal.” This is a zeugma,20 as is the “weaving of water,” since the hardness of  crystal  is as irreducible to threads as is the fluidity of water. But these are mere physical impossibilities. Beyond them, there is “the  metaphysics of the textile”:21


     Tejido es el Ande en su  cuerpo animal    Woven is the Ande in its animal body   

Tejido fue el mundo en                             Woven was the world in

Tahuantinsuyo: cuatro partes                   Tahuantinsuyo: four parts

Unidas entre si                                          Linked among themselves

Tejidas fueron las cuentas                        Woven were the accounts

En khipus                                                  In khipus  22

 Los puentes en cuerdas                            The bridges in ropes

 Los mensajes en mantas                          The messages in blanquets

 El agua en canal                                      Water in channels (kenko) 23

   Tejidos fueron los montes y valles           Woven were the mountains and valleys 

   En ce`que, lineas radial es                       In ceque, radial lines of 24

   Adoratorios distribuidos desde un           Worship sites parting from a

   Centro como un gran khipu                     Center like a huge khipu

   Visto desde arriba                                     Seen from above.

                                                                    (“Metafísica del textil”)


            We find here again the surprising affinity between the apparently sheer intuitive Andean visions and the supposedly rational theorems of structuralists and post-structuralists. Roman Jakobson`s key image of meaning production, the horizontal and vertical lines of metaphor and metonymy is as much a reminiscence of the image of warp and weft as is Genette`s shuttle pulley.

            From Arachne (the name means “spider”) to Penelope, from Helen of Troy to Tennyson`s “Lady of Shalott,” weaving possesses a root symbolism. Certainly, it fulfills a basic need in the protection of the body, but no more so than, say, the tilling of the earth for food production. It would be too facile a clichÉ to stress the obvious “femininity” of weaving, although all mythological weavers are women, and the activity itself suggests permanence, security, the homely hearth,25 an order or grid overlaid on the indifferent continuum of life. As such, it responds to the quest for origin-birthplace-home, the pacarina of both sexes. Thus weaving becomes the root metaphor, which includes the laboring of land. For instance, the tracing of regular furrows is a topographical weaving which, in Greek, gave its name to a form of writing, the boustrophedon, the left-right / right-left movement of the oxen pulling the plow. Weaving is also the dialogue, the back-and-forth of “reflexions” in both senses of the term. Vicuña writes: “The Spaniards came looking for gold [de oro sedientos in”Atahualpa Huañui”], but they did not see the golden thread, the textile culture, the intertwining of thought, the network of reciprocity and interchange.”26 As to literature, Franτoise Lionnet goes as far as calling “every female text a métissage,” playing on the French word “métier” for loom, and the necessary interlacing in a woman`s text of her own thoughts and feelings with a male-informed general discourse.27

            The fear of the destruction of the textile in which we wrap our identity is particularly strong in the Andes.28 This fear may explain why the arch-weaver, Arachne, the spider, is (with the exception of some iconography on Paracas textiles) almost absent from Andean mythology, although its web is a more apt image for Andean modes of radial thinking than the straight lines and right angles of  warp and weft, because its narrow central triangles expand virtually ad infinitum in ever widening trapezes. Moreover, a spider web is iridescent, brilliant with drops of dew, water inspired by light. But it lacks the sensuous quality of the tactile, as it disintegrates û diabolically (like treasures offered by the devil) as soon as a hand touches it. And the hand may be punished by the spider`s sting and its devilish poison, especially in the tropics. In an intriguing study, “Reading Pictures, Viewing Texts”29 Claude Gandelman presents a kind of seeing as a form of touching where the optical exploration of lines interacts with what he calls “the haptic probing of texture.” Vicuña qualifies a “listening with her fingers” as the most important preparation for her non-written art works. 30 We may admire the spider`s web, be tantalized by its beauty, but we cannot hold it or probe its texture lovingly. A textile made from animal hair or vegetal fiber is something we can touch with our eyes and see with our fingers, a concrete token of an otherwise “fugacious” brilliance (La Wik`uña) which transcends us.


            Oro es tu hilar                                    Gold is your spinning31                         

            Oro es tu hilo                          Gold (I pray)a  is your thread                

            De orar                                                Of prayera

            Templo                                                Templeb

            Del siempre                             Of always guiding the thread

            Enhebrar                                             Through the needle`s eyec

            Armando casa                         To buttress your house

            Del mismo treznal                               By the same interlacing of braids                                                                                  

            Teja mijita                              Weave, my girl

            No más                                                    Do just that

            Trueños y rayos                                   Thunder and lightningd

            Bordando al pasar                              Embroider as you go e


            Tuerce                                     Twist

            Que tuerce                               All that can be twistedf

            El dorado                                The golden

            Enderezo                                             Bring out straight

            El fresco                                              As a fresh

            Ofrendar                                             Offeringg

            Nustas calmadas                                 Now that your girlish

            De inquieto pensar                              Worries are calmed

            Marcas y señales                                 Marks and signals will                                                                                                  orderly appear in your textileh               

            Pallá y pacá                            Here and there

            Hilos y cuerdas                                    Threads and ropes

            Los negros y los dorá              The blacks and the goldeni

            Cavilan                                               Mark depthj and lightness

            En punto                                             of thought by regular stitches

            No se vaya                              Do not

            A escapar                                            Drop the mesh

            Hilo y vano                              Thread and interstice

            Lleno y vacío                           Full and empty

            El mundo                                 The world

            Es hilvan                                             Is fibrous

            Pierdo el hilo                           I lose the threadk

            Y te hilacho                             Making loose threads hang out                                                                                     

            Briznar                                                Which spring forth like blades of                                                                                               grass                           

            Codigo y cuenta                                  Code and account

            Computo comunal                              Communal bookkeeping l

            Todo amarrar                         All must be linked

            Hilado en pos                          One element stitched to the other                                                                    

            Cuerdas y arroyos                               Ropes and brooks

            Aunar lo tejido                                    Uniting the textile

            No es algo inicial?                              Is it not so from the beginning?m                       

            El cálido fuelle                                    The hot bellown

            Oro templar                            Tempers the gold / temple of prayer

            Habla y abriga                                    Speech and mantleo

            El mejor juglar                                   For the best word jugglerp


I comment on this poem in detail because its close reading reveals in a condensed form most of Vicuña`s poetic concerns, Leitmotive whose variations we will find in all her verbal and visual art.

            Oroa is “gold” in Spanish, i.e., symbol of the most valuable substance. Oro is the first person singular of the verb orar. Vicuña links words, prayer, and textile:


La palabra es un punto                 The word is a point (stitch)

De confluencia y union                 Of confluence and union (crossing point                                                                   in a textile)

Oro                                                Gold

De la oracion                                Of prayer

                                          (Palabrarmas, p. 76)32


Temple (b) is a place of worship, i.e., where I pray (oro). Templar is to temper (a procedure used to obtain the most fine-grained, most resilient steel from crude iron), a refinement taking place in a crucible. The poem asks that gold appear under the hot air from the bellow; but what is infinitely more precious than gold, namely life, is breathed into a word by the prayer, as the divine pneuma breathes life into inanimate matter, an universal image. It is the Hebrew verb nafash (to blow, breathe) and its noun, nefesha  (soul, spirit, life) of Genesis.

            Spinning and “passing the tread through the needle`s eye”(c) are universal metaphors for storytelling, for instance, “to spin a seaman`s yarn,” as narration can be compared to a thread. In ancient Europe, village women gathered in a “Spinnstube” (spinning room), each in front of her spinning wheel, telling stories to pass the long winter evenings. They must have deployed so much imagination that “spinnen” was later expanded to mean telling crazy stories. These villagers had no mythical “Africa” to spin back to, only the same old thread. So they had to use it for imaginative “embroidery” (e). Stories, therefore, accompanied the making of a maiden`s dowry, matrimonial sheets, baby linen, and funeral shrouds from generation to generation.

            Thunder and lightning (d), i.e. illa, non-solar light, is woven into textiles, sculptured as reliefs on stone, in the zig-zag form of the kenko. With it, a whole metaphysics is evoked.

            Lightning may be an ill omen, as in “Atahualpa Huañui.”  But words often contain a pair of opposites, as well as radial extensions. The lightning is also the piercing of obscuring clouds. It announces heavy rains, potentially destructive, but representing fertility if channeled into the ceremonial kenko  of a cult site outside Cuzco. The kenko  zig-zag line, if turned to the left by forty-five degrees, resembles a stair. It could be the line of very old temple steps inclined downward, with their angles smoothened by pilgrim`s feet and erosion over the centuries. The assoc-iation with the stair-like irrigation system allowing the Inkas to make use of the narrowest strips of land on the mountain terraces is, therefore, quite natural.  The kenko, relative to water cult, could be imagined as “escaleras ... no para el piÉ” (stairs not built for the human foot), as Vicuña describes the “black ziggurat” of the ceremonial center of Ollantaytambo in “Incamisana.”  Water refuses to take angular shape. Its movement downward a stair smoothes the edges of the steps into arcs, giving it a shiny, serpentine line (Vicuña`s “curvo manantial” in “Unui quita”).The kenko is, therefore associated with amaru, the snake which, in the constant semantic reflection, thus symbolizes water, fertility (including in the form of mist or river foam) and rebirth (the snake shedding its skin). The zig-zag of the thunderbolt and the moving curbs of the serpent become interchangeable in mythopoieic imagery. Thunder follows lightning immediately or after a few seconds, depending on the distance of the celestial upheaval. But we know the explosion is imminent. The entire electromagnetic tension pushes to this final discharge. Andean musicians excel in the illa-pa vivon, “the edge of the thunderbolt,” a rhythm of irresistible crescendo.33

            Kakakakay,  to thunder, shows the characteristic repetition of syllables, as in an echo. It is the imitation of the cracking, the accelerated small explosions leading to the outburst.

            khatatatay, to tremble, palpitate, is an important notion, associa-ted both with deadly agony (convulsion) and poetry34

            phatatatay,  moving convulsively

            pharararay,  to beat one`s wings with violence35

Embroider (e): One may, of course, embroider a kenko line on a cloth or weave it into it; it is the most typical Indian motive. But here the encouragement to embroider is directly related to language and, therefore, poetry. Since “ `la lengua sagrada` se concibe como un hilo” (the sacred language, Quechua, is conceived as a thread) (La Wik`uña, p. 85), this is special embroidery. “Chantaysimi, el hablar hermoso, es hablar bordando” (beautiful speech, is to speak as embroidering, La Wik`uña, p. 85).  The term brings up the whole problematic of figures of speech as “embroidery,” the question whether tropes have no more than an ornamental function (Aristotle`s inclination) or whether they are impossible to dissociate from the genesis of language itself. On the latter assumption, tropes are not secondary, but primary. We call them “catachreses,” meaning that the use of the “secondary,” figurative term is unavoidable, due to the lack of a primary term. Paul de Man,36 the preeminent representative of the latter assumption, gives as examples of catachresis “the leg of a table”, “the face of a mountain,” metaphors we cannot help using, even if we wish our speech to be sober and without adornment. In Quechua, embroidery is clearly not secondary. What is beautiful is meaningful. The kenko line is the water, the thread, the language.

            “Twist what can be twisted”(f): in urging the young weaver to twist, tie, knot, braid, Vicuña speaks from the arch-Quechua perspective, which is quite different from the Western one. But as a participant in the Western tradition, she rather “opens-up” the problem to “reflection.” Not from Vicuña can we expect the oversimplifying statements imputing to western people an obsessive need to categorize and to separate what is united, tied and twisted together by nature. Such soulless analytical orientation holds for expository discourse.  European poetry in contrast, especially among the Romantics, such as Wordsworth, it is much closer to the Andean, and universal-traditional cosmovision: “Our meddling intellect / Misshapes the beauteous forms of things / We murder to dissect.” (Wordsworth, “The Tables Turned”).

            In the Andean scale of values, wisdom ranks highest. It consists, as we have seen, of the ability  to link things together (watuy), as embodied by the watuq. Straw is twisted together to form a rope, the means of linking, which is why Randall considers quite plausible37 Jorge Lira`s suggestion that the word “quechua” derives from q`eswa or rope of twisted straw. Vicuña`s appeal to the weaver to link what can and should be linked in the weaver`s view belongs to this frame of reference. A further connotation of twisting is the wick of a candle or oil lamp, torcida, i.e., twisted wool as the “hilo de ofrenda” (thread lighting the sacrificial offering) “que el Inca incendia” (lit by the Inka). (La Wik`uña).

            Vicuña has an innate ritualistic disposition due to her perception of the transcendental dimension inherent in everyday life. Weaving, basically the production of clothing and bedding, is usually as utilitarian and prosaic an endeavor as, for instance, potato cultivation. Yet, just as one may speak with Vicuña of the “metaphysics of weaving,” in “The Potato as Cultural Metaphor,” Regina Harrison presents what amounts to an Andean metaphysics of the potato, a metaphysics so profound and complex as to require twenty-three pages of exegesis. 38

            Every endeavor, every gesture may be a gift, an “offering” (g). A “precario,” an ephemeral, commercially valueless thing, a “little garbage,” can be sacri-ficed (lit.“made sacred”) if the offering is inspired by the “gold”  (oro) of prayer. That universal dream of turning straw into gold (an example is the German fairy tale “Rumpelstilzchen” where, significantly, everything depends on the knowledge of a word) is veri-fied (made true) here at a higher level. It is true that shafts of ripe straw have the shimmer of gold û and shimmer, reflection, iridescence is, in the Andean mind of Vicuña, infinitely more meaningful than the heavy solidity of gold. Metal ore comes from the entrails of the earth, from its kuraz·n: not from its shunga (heart as center of the soul).

            “Marks and signs” (h) should be woven into the textile. The tocapu  symbols are what comes closest to  writing in Quechua, in addition to the khipu  or knotted string. These non-pictographic symbols, i.e. geometric crosses, dots, kenko lines are displayed in small squares on textiles, predominantly used for the unku   (the shirt better known by the colonial term “poncho”) of a person of high rank. Tocapu  visual codes also appear in paintings of the colonial era and were still used in the writings of the most eminent mestizo chroniclers of the seventeenth century, Santacruz Pachacuti Yamqui and Guaman Poma de Ayala. They continue to inform popular and poetic imagination, as Vicuña`s. In the last line of the poem, the fruit of the weaving girl`s labor is destined to become “the speech and the mantle” of the most distinguished “juggler of words” û surely the watuq, who in his prestidigitation with words, knows how to expose the hidden links in the cosmos.

            Vicuña makes notable use of the poetic device of turning the infinitive into a noun (substantivization of the verb, here el inquieto pensar). This is possible in Greek, German, and Spanish, while in English a verb can only be associated with an article by use of the all-purpose gerundium (-ing). For Vicuña, this is more than mere stylistic idiosyncrasy. As the non-conjugated verb does not express the individual or grammatical “person,” the infinitive with article suggests the non-individualistic, rather communal feeling of traditional societies.  Above all, there is a metaphysical dimension: by eliminating the finite actor, the grammatical infinitive opens up the Infinite. The verb designates the timeless essence of the activity. Beyond static Being, it turns into dynamic Becoming.

            This is one of the striking similarities between the Greek (Herak-litus)-inspired Heidegger and Quechua-inspired writers. Comparable to Heidegger`s das Sein, das Dasein, etc.,39 in Vicuña`s poem there are several examples of actions which exist independently of the contingent doer:”the-always-to-push-thread-through-the-needle`s-eye,”“the-to-offer,” “the-to-inquiet-think,” “the-to-juggle.”

            “The black and the golden” (i) corresponds to the privileged Andean concept of twins or pairs which I mentioned in connection with Claude LÉvi-Strauss in chapter III.  Harrison sees tinkuni, a key Quechua word meaning matched items which provide unification of deviant ones, such as loose threads (k), illustrated in Andean weaving by colored bands of mirrored opposition, such as black and white, black and gold, etc.40 But tinkuni is not a reductive principle of order. If thought is a thread, loose threads can “sprout” new insights and imaginative adventures for the person who knows how to link them in so far unseen combinations. The importance of loose threads, i.e., fringes and tassels on Andean clothing and bags, “radiating,” so to speak, from the orderly woven textile, can be related to the concept of tinkuni.

            The black (the disquiet thinking) and the golden (the fresh offering [g]) can produce a harmonious textile when artfully combined. They form a grid of stitches in which the voids (cavilar [j] is to create cavities, metaphorically to meditate deeply) are light, if the textile is loosely woven, and the full ones dark û or vice-versa, depending on the color of the threads on the weft and the warp or on the angle from which light is falling on the textile. Cavilar suggests cabalgar, and, indeed, the threads are “galloping” like horses jumping one over the other alternately. The whole constitutes a gracefully controlled choreography, lit. space-writing, an image of the world, because “el mundo es hilvan” (the world is fibrous), held together by threads, as are the stars.


In the Southern Andes people say: the warp and weft are the male and female, the cross is the union. A weaving of light corresponds to a weaving of shadow...Penetration [a form of cavilar ] and fecundity, to weave is to copulate. The future Ande is mestizo and clear like a woven cloth, dense and hard  in order to contain the vital water.41


“They did not write, they wove. They wrote the holy events in a hieroglyphic system composed of orderly arranged signs which found in the textile its richest expression.”42


            This fibrous “writing” originated, as did arguably all writing û from the accounting of the number of bisons killed as painted on cave walls to Mesopotamian cuneiform incisions on clay tablets, from hieroglyphs to numbers and alphabets û as a very pedestrian recording of quantative data. Consequently, the primitive function of writing was bookkeeping (l) and administration. This is, for one example, Robert K.Logan`s thesis.43 But the everyday turned sacred and the bookkeeping marks turned Writ. Holy scriptures, in turn, started to become guidelines for market practices, especially in the Koran (Surah II, 282), as the secular was not separate from the sacred. In contrast to the conventional historiography of writing such as Logan`s, Vicuña views the origin of writing as the initial attempt to communicate with the Sacred. I tend to agree, not out of intellectual conviction û Logan`s sources must be taken seriously û but because I prefer the noble origin of writing as sacred gesture to the subaltern one of writing as a merchant`s tool. After all, hiero-glyph  means sacred engraving. Yet as the mirror opposites of tinkuni suggest, we can only speculate (confront mirror images or reverberations) on the authentic first origin (videmus per speculum in aenigmate). CÉsar Paternosto may be right in contending that notation û whatever form it took û evolved out of different needs. Any glyph may be something “initial.” Hence Vicuña`s rhetorical question: “Is this not something initial?” (m).

            The hot bellow (n) û yet another reminiscence of  pneuma and nafash, divine breath, inspiration (cf. b) û “tempers”  (templar is a phonetic-semantic con-flation or blowing together of “temple” and “to temper,” the purification and hardening of the precious metal), the oro  of prayer.

            Thus, golden strands are woven into the mantle (o) or unku (poncho), studded with tocapu symbols, of the most distinguished: the one who weaves together the strings of the universe, the imaginary lines that hold constellations together: the watuq, juggler (p) of words û but thread is itself  “el mejor juglar.”


            From her multiple, voluntary “exiles” in Sanscrit, Hebrew, Greek, Latin cultures, the mestiza Vicuña has “thrown across” diabolic symbols into her discourse. She does so freely, not by necessity, as did her Inka cultural ancestors in their attempt to confuse the Spaniards. She throws her symbols into a most receptive universe, the Andean cosmovision. From there they radiate.

            It is because Vicuña is so steeped in the Andean world that the xeniká or foreign sparks of erudition which  û as though by lightning û she throws across her being-Andean, could ignite the visions latent in popular, i.e., language-forming, entity-linking, intuition all over the world.

            In “The Metaphysics of Textile” (which I paraphrase here), Vicuña presents the thread the as the “primordial metaphor” û but can “metaphor,”which is classified as “secondary meaning” by rhetoricians be primordial? It can, in the different mode of thought permeating the oral universe where, as I have tried to show, the term “metaphor” can at best be taken...metaphorically. The thread is a “primordial metaphor,” if taken “tautologically” as the first thread, “the umbilical cord, union of mother and child.” Furthermore, according to Vicuña, to “go back to the first textile means to imagine the first interlacing of twigs imitating a nest to give birth” or the” first twisting of a vegetal fiber in imitation of a natural vine.”  Or to see the “first thread producing itself all alone from a strand of the wool of a passing animal caught by vegetation” (from  Metaphysics of the Textile ).

            What makes Vicuña`s poetry truly universal is her quintessentially Andean specificity û and that is her admittedly “invented indian-ness.”44

            In “Metaphysics...” she reminds us that the Sanskrit sutra, the commentary on the holy Buddhist text, means “thread.” Tantra, the holy text derived from the Vedas , is “thread and cloth.” Identical associations occur in ancient Chinese texts which go as far as to make a distinction between the weft and the warp as direct and reflected light (the latter corresponding to illa  ).

            “To weave is to give light” (dar luz, meaning to give birth), Vicuna quotes an Andean saying. The crucial link is the crossing. It may be the original crossing from the darkness of the womb to the light of life, or it may be the birth of new images at the crossing points of the conscious and the unconscious (overdetermination).  The all-connecting, mutually illuminating, horizontal and vertical lines of the weft and the warp testify to the truth of this expression of popular wisdom.


2. The Iridescence of Words.  

            Without the gaudy, commercially eye-catching colors, the stark, plain ( non-”mestizized”) blue and yellow  smashed on the front and back covers of the original edition of La Wik`uña, the slender volume would have the same mesmerizing effect  as Vicuña`s precarious sculptures. When the book is laid flat to reveal the continuity of the two covers, the photograph is hypnotizing. It is a work by César Paternosto, the sculptor, painter and photographer (light-writer), Cecilia`s husband. The picture does not re-present, not even make present an ancient stone, but inspires with life a mineral porous from hundreds of years of rain and sun and vegetal embrace. The slightly blurred, but distinguishable relief on the weathered sandstone is a cross framed by a stepped line suggesting a kenko whose meandering, losing itself in the decaying matter, points to the Infinite û a reflection of Vicuña`s grammatical infinitives.

            There could be no greater symbiosis between two artists. As Vicuña acknowledges in “Gratitude,” at the end of La Wik`uña, the genesis of Paternosto`s book Piedra Abstracta: La Escultura Inca, Una Vision contemporánea 45 and that of La Wik`uña took place over the same span of years, and “the two books dialogue: one reflects the ideas of the other.” (La Wik`uña, p. 109).

            The result is a cross-breed of visual and verbal art, each enhanced by the xenikon  thrown across from the other. Cecilia occasionally adds a music and dance solo to this mestizaje among arts. One might pose again the question of “Gold is your Spinning” whether this mestizaje “is not something initial.”  It is the prototypical art form, as it existed long before the multi-media hype of the present day. Vicuña does not reject any medium, as long as it is “semantically appropriate,” the one and only “requerimiento” (requisite) for the watuq.

            One of her creations û this one unique in its kind is the animation (from anima, soul, i.e.”breathing life-soul into” inanimate matter) of the figures woven into a two thousand-year old textile û just as Paternosto makes paleozoic stones “germinate.” Her process is as follows: she photographed the figures (warriors, priests, musicians) that conform the fringe of a Paracas (Peruvian) textile belonging to a collection of the Brooklyn Museum of Art. She pasted the photographs on cardboard and cut the individual figures out. The two-dimensional characters were equipped with strings, so that she could make them move, not in the up-and-down movement of puppets, but back and forth, to enact scenes of harvest, battle, and worship against the background of a  painted cardboard Andean landscape of her creation.

            We don`t know much about the music of the Paracas and other early pre-Columbian cultures, but it is possible it resembles the illapa vivon (edge of the thunderbolt) or the yawar mayu  (bloody river), most violent tempo of war dances. We may imagine how “the musicians made [the drums`] gut explode [qaqaqaqay]  or [flutes] wail [huañuy] during the sad steps of the dances.”46 But we do not have to imagine the scene. The battle from two-and-a half thousand years ago, conceived as a visual and sound poem, is “given to see” (videtur) on a video and an animation film.47 There is no voice-over (no anthropological explanation). The experiencer is invited into a unique visual and sonic space. The sound track is a double palimpsest consisting of three layers of music. The first are field recordings from contemporary Andean festivals where the characteristic sounds of the ancient instruments played by the Paracas musicians (drums and flute, percussions of stones and sticks) still clearly “sound through” in a way analogous to Heidegger`s “shining through,” as an old text is visible under the newly inscribed one in a palimsest. On this double “hypotext,”  José Pérez de Arce and Claudio Mercado, ethno-musicologists of the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, together with Cecilia Vicuña, “inscribed” or “wove” a new text(ure). They were indeed, “weaving waves” û of sound. The three voices utter a “saint language which can be heard but not quite understood.” (Vicuña`s description). “Palabras agenas y oscurantes...” and as intriguing as were those heard by the first Spaniards intruding into the Andean space. 

            This space, a metaphysical space, could be visualized in a graphic representation, such as Randall`s in “La lengua sagrada”, of the khipu as cruci-gram. It consists of two crosses which are superimposed in such a way as to form a star (or the “radiating” sun). Four straight perpendicular lines linking the rays represent the nodes of the radial threads, while the whole is surrounded by a double circle. The resulting division into many sectors of various geometrical shapes suggests an extremely complex metaphysics. The words written along the different axles and quarters or eights of circles are disposed as palindromes (words that are identical whether read backwards or forwards), under whose combinations we recognize “llama,”“illa,”“yaya” (father), “mama” (mother), and “yachapayaq qaqa” (echo).  This concept of “crossroads in space,” is tangibly present in every home and field, in form of the most humble object of everyday use, the basket: a widening spiral woven around a star, the initial crossing of reeds. In Andean logic, the world view given tangible expression in the khipu is, therefore, necessarily û by philosophical necessity û true, because material reality, the obvious empirical necessity of weaving the reeds in one specific way and not in another, confirms the concept as the only possible one. There is no other way of producing a basket than by starting from an initial crossroads in space. There is nothing metaphoric nor re-presented by simile. The cosmos and the basket abide by the same law, have the same mode of existence.


            The Eternal and the Infinite are reflected in the most fleeting of light effects, in  a hardly perceivable iridescence: in a shade of difference in the skin color of the mestizo, in the “prismal pores” of the wik`uña, in the “flying prism” of the hummingbird, in the shiny polychrome skin paint of the African ritual dancer48


                                    Iridesce (Iridescence).


Adonde van                         Where are they going (a)

Los suaves in·meros                        Those countless tender ones(b)

Apiñandose en haz              Apparently pressing toward each other?

La luz                                              Light itself (c)

Los desea                            Desires them

Y los sale                             And goes

A buscar                              In search of them

PÉtalo                                 Flower petal

Y pluma                               And feather

Concha                               Mother-of-pearl shell

Y piedra                               And pebble

Piel de semilla                                 Skin of the seed grain

Petroleo en el mar              Oil drop on the sea (d)


Rayos radiando                               Rays radiating

L·cido entrar                                   Lucid entering (e)

El mismo brillo                               The very brilliance

Sabe pensar                                    Is capable of thought

Todo es                               All is

Sombrita                             Subtle shade

Cambiante                          Changing

Irisar                                               Iris hues

Nupcian                              They mate

Quebrando                          By breaking

Su lomo lustral                                Their lustral loins (f)

Relumbra                            Reverberate,

Huachito                             Huachito, homeless little orphan (g)


Poro prismal                                   By the prismal pore of your skin

Ofrenda                               The offering (h)

Es el iris                              Is the iris(i)

Arco visual                          Visual arc

Oscura                                Dark

La fuente                             Is the source

Negro                                              And black

El brillar                             Its brilliance.


                Wondering is at the origin of knowledge and wisdom. A child, enchanted by a colorful sight, will try to connect the entities by establishing links (threads). There is no essential difference between the child`s wondering and the philosopher`s thaumazein, the first step toward enlightenment according to Plato. To wonder is to pose questions to oneself and others. Hence the frequent  use of what seem to be rhetorical questions in Vicuña`s poetry. As in all poetry rooted in oral tradition, i.e., fashioned by dialogue and performance (with the correlative frequency of what linguists call the “performative”49), these are, however, real questions. The first lines of this poem from the collection La Wik`uña ingenuously ask the listener / reader about the whereto (a) of these luminous non-entities, non-nouns, only ephemeral qualities, i.e., adjectives (b). Like the use of the infinitive instead of a noun, the adjective instead of a name betrays a certain hesitation of naming, i.e., of fixating mutant qualities into a stable entity. Actions and qualities, be they the most evanescent, are the essence here, the thing-in-itself. A name designates only an angle of vision, the one arbitrarily chosen by a self-authorizing master-observer. “Fixity is an illusion, nothing but a moment of relation” (Palabrir). Naming is the privilege of a god or entitled human, the master of the word, Rimaq. Otherwise, in oral cultures, one is  what one is seen doing, one`s characteristic behavior, which, obviously, is not a permanent quality observable at any moment: “flashing eyes” (Athene), “dancing with wolves” (a movie hero who invented his indianness...). The luminous non-entities, by huddling towards each other, behave like words: “Words have a love for each other, a desire that culminates in poetry.”(Unravelling, p.89)

            Vicuña`s seemingly naive opening question is followed by a report of what is observed, and that, far from being naive, is a metaphysical zeugma where light, a physical, impersonal phenomenon, is anthropomorphized as a feeling subject who desires(c), goes out in search...Light  is calling out for their, the tender ones`, echo, that is, light is calling for its own reflection in the photosensitive particles. Light makes them “present,” makes them the “present” of life, the gift of a fraction of a second of existence during which they reveal their intimate structure: the web of membranes in a flower petal or in the transparent wing of a dragonfly; the “strings” of tiny nacre sediments in the open half of a sea shell.50

            Light, its capricious focus and reflection, determines what is a treasure. Like the illumination by poetry, it makes brilliant a falling petal destined soon to turn brown, the splinter of a sea shell, the amber skin of a seed grain, and even û diabolic intrusion the drop of petroleum in the sea (d). “Making brillant”: daiein + pyr: to make something shine by the gift of light: dar luz: to give birth. Supposing someone had never heard of oil spills and environmental destruction in general and would thus look without any preconceived associations at a drop of petroleum on the ocean, a drop of motor oil in a puddle, he would find the most beautiful rainbow spectrum. Only the child and the artist are capable of “looking at things as though they saw them for the first time,” asserts Rilke in connection to the sculptor Rodin. The semiotic incongruity of this last item on the list, the oil drop is, however, a diabolic symbol thrown across by Vicuña who feels herself  wounded by the rape of the animal and vegetal body of the Andes:


            “The earth [is] asking for love” (Precario / Precarious)...

            “The cow / Is the continent / whose milk (blood) / is spilt”...

                “What are we doing with life?”...

            “Before being contaminated, the river wants to be heard.” 51


            The diabolic symbol of “petroleum” û sudden, incongruous, black slash over the picture of transparent, ultra-fragile beauty û makes this beauty all the more precarious and precious, as it is menaced by man-made, opaque, black slick, crude oil extracted and manipulated by man. When outrage becomes extreme (estremece), becomes palpitation, agony, revolt, turning into masochism, it  can blacken what is most luminous to our eyes. Vicuña does it again by “insulting” the sacred wik`uña in archaic slang words in “La Wik`uña.” While grease (the wira of Wiracocha) was sacred because it was considered the substance of life, the “oil” of today is devilish, because it is the substance of death. Vicuña`s gesture of revolt finds a distant echo in Tess Onwueme`s Africa, where “dreams are drowned in a thirsty a land where oil ceases to anoint.”52

            Just as light is “capable of desire,” brilliance is “capable of thought.” As in  a mystical experience, the observer-poet becomes one with the observed object. To enter this unio mystica, this ex-altation of mind and soul is a “lucid entering” (e), no trance-like ecstasy. Although “extra-lucid,” the poet remains master of all her cognitive faculties

            “They mate while breaking their lustral loins” (f): the whole eros-thanatos drama is condensed in that fraction of a second when these luminous non-entities reflect each other. They live only for the duration of this instant when the grace of light touches them from a specific angle. This zenith is all their destiny. Their hymeneal (“High-time,” German Hoch-zeit, wedding) is the time of their death, when their movement toward each other changes the angle of light, “breaking their lustral loins.”

            The hymeneal actualizes their being while annihilating it. So does poetry. Vicuña seems to evoke Hyperion in Goethe`s Faust II:


Bin die Verschwendung                              I am luxury

Bin die Phantasie                            I am fantasy

Bin der Poet                                                I am the poet

Der sich vollendet                           Who accomplishes himself

Wenn er sein eigenst Gut                            At the instant of dilapidating     

Verschwendet.                                            His proper being                                                         

Thus, the hymeneal becomes a small ancestral burying site (huequito ancestral), each “prismal pore” an offering.

            Like the mestizo determined by a chance shade of color, “they” have no identity. Without pedigree, they are little huachos (g) or orphans: the pore of a flower petal severed from its pistil, of a husk from its grain, of a feather from its wing. Hymeneal or wedding is the prime ritual occasion. By receiving and cherishing the gift of the Eternal (Vicuña never calls  it “God,” but variably, “the Immense,” “the Eter-nal,” “the Infinite”), our eye û its iris (i) û makes an “offering,”(h), i.e., gives something back to the Eternal. This is the “prayer” of the iris.

            With all her visual-semantic iridescence, Iris, the Greek goddess, might claim to be the matron saint of the Andes. Vicuña, however, does not believe in personified gods. There is no Iris, only an irisar (“the-to-iris”) or iridescence. She reminds us that “iris” derives from the proto-indoeuropean wee or wiri, which means to fold, as one folds a textile, doblar  in Spanish (to double), i.e., to come back to one`s beginning as echo or reflection. (We may add the related Indo-European stem webh, which is to weave). The Indo-European cluster of concepts is crystallized in the Greek Iris, goddess of the rainbow and, like Hermes, a messenger of the gods (the go-between, like the shuttle pulley of the loom). She is the rainbow, message between earth and sky, reflection of water caused by the fire of the sun. The four elements are united as communication.

            Iris is another xenikon woven into the Andean textile by the mestiza Vicuña. And an extremely receptive “textile” it is. Only in Quechua would one find a verb as iridescent as chirapay ( to rain across the sunshine), a situation  which almost assures the appearance of the rainbow somewhere on the horizon.  As Vicuña often demonstrates, the words lend themselves, almost too generously (like the female wik`uña) to mestizaje û one may now use chirapay in the progressive Spanish form: está chirapando (it is raining across the sunshine).

            The cosmopolitan culture she owes to her split origin allows Vicuña to expand the role of the watuq  over the whole cultural cosmos. To privilege Sanscrit, the pacarina or place of origin of Indo-European languages, is but a reenactment at the global level of the wik`uña myth, the return to the high mountain sources.

            “Viajando por las raíces se llega a un hablar futuro. Un futuro pasado que es el ur-texto del humanar, una constante invenci?n.”  (By traveling toward and through the roots, one arrives at a future language [a “ to-speak”], a past future which its the Ur-text of humans [of the to-be-human], a constant invention), she asserts in Palabrir. In this book she travels across space and time, now to Sanskrit as pacarina, now to the Greek and Latin sources: “Llegar a las raíces greco-latinas es llegar a un punto en el tiempo, un instante de memoria privilegiado por la inscripci?n” (To arrive to the graeco-latin roots is to arrive at a point in time, an instant of memory privileged by inscription).

            This serious investigation into the origins of words û what we call “etymology” û is etymo-logic in the truest sense, because it is true in a poetic sense which is, according to Aristotle, “more serious” (spudaíteron),  than the history [of words]. The investigation leads to the “etymon,” Leo Spitzer`s term for the single word containing the meaning of a whole poem, adopted by Michael Riffaterre 53 as “matrix,” i.e., the single word or phrase of a poem of which all the rest is but a “paraphrase.” The Greek word etymon means literally authentic. But:

            “Dark is the source,” as is the mestizo`s origin; “black is the brilliance” (the to shine.) The mestizo is a zeugma, a crossing of mutually exclusive semes (signs-seeds). The poem ends with a zeugma.54

            This zeugma is not a surrealistic epiphany, that ultra-subjective reaction of the poet`s mind to a fleeting chance combination of sensory stimuli. “Black light,” as photo-graphically made visible by Maurice Tavard`s “negative solarization”55 is part of the Andean cosmovision. All the chiaroscuro of the forest is contained in



Polvo                                             Powder

De estrellas negras                                    Of black stars

En un cielo                                                In a sky

de luz                                             of light

Puma jaguar                                             Puma Jaguar

                              (La  Wik`uña, p. 71; not included in Unraveling)                                            

            Iridescence takes body in the hummingbird who, sharing the illa shine with the wik`uña and responding to solar light, is the other emblematic animal for the Andean people. The condor and the snake, amaru,  although of equal symbolic importance, understandably do not elicit the same tenderness. Andeans adore this tiny bird under some twenty different names. Vicuña`s poem dedicated to the colibri makes use of two: “Tentenelaire” and “Zun Zun.”

            “Tentenelaire” is an “artificial” mestizo word; it is entirely Spanish (ten-te-en-el-aire, keep yourself in the air) but the apparent repetition of interior syllables imitates Quechua. I called this phenomenon “retro-overcoding” in the case of Mera`s “tears of blood” where there were no yawar tek`e at that point of the text of “Atahualpa...” “Zun Zun” is an imitation of the natural sound produced by the hummingbird`s wings (onomatopoeia), the “noise of tiny wings in flight,” one of the meanings of illa,  as described by Arguedas.

            To anyone who has ever seen a hummingbird in flight, this living Christmas tree ornament, with its metallic, seemingly non-organic colors changing like Quechua words with every movement, every change of the angle of light they reflect, this poem needs no explanation (the comments on “Iridesce” obviously apply here too).


Tentenelaire Zun Zun                      Hummingbird.

La luz / en ti / goza                        Light relishes in you

Traga nectar / Lumbron               Sip nectar, birdfly

Espejo / que vuela             Flying mirror

Oro tornasol                                  Sunflower [turning sun] gold

caliz corola / bicho fulgor Chalice corolla / animal of sudden light             

Vence/ a la muerte                        Defeat death

Altarcito / licor                  Little liquor altar

Niño lenguando                 Child licking

Chupá / picaflor                Suck the flower [with your slender beak]          

Nadie / es lo fragil             No one is as fragile

Lo pálpita fuerte               And yet so full of heartbeat56                

Pico / en perfume              Beak in perfume

Prisma volador                 Flying prism

....                          (La Wik`uña, pp. 17-19; Unravelling, pp. 75-77)


            The “flying prism” revolves according to the position of the sun: torna-sol, French tournesol, i.e., sunflower, corresponding to the Greek helio-tropos. The movement of this flower, proverbially rich in seed, turning toward the sun can be interpreted as a “trope” (lit. “turn”; by extension figure, metaphor) of the sun as origin of life, the central metaphor according to Derrida`s “mythologie blanche.” Now if ever there was mestizaje, it can be found in the Greek language. Today, “heliotrope,” a plant of South American origin, with the botanical name of “heliotropium peruvianum,” is associated with mind- or mood-altering effects. Shamans must have known something about it. In Vicuña`s poem it leads by association û not logical inference û to the drunkenness of the colibri, “little liquor altar.” But this may be a “holy drunkenness,” or a sip from the deadly “chalice” of Socrates or Jesus, who were marked for death, as the flower corolla is death inscribed onto ephemeral beauty.

            Even more “Quechua” in spirit is the mineralogical etymology of “heliotrope.” The Encyclopedia Britannica defines it as

“commonly called blood stone [ Arguedas` yawar rumi? ] sometimes termed `girasol,` a name also applied to the fire-opal. The name...appears to have a fanciful origin. According to Pliny, the stone was so called, because, when thrown into the water, it turned the sun`s light falling upon it into a reflection like that of blood...”

            The definition of heliotrope given by the fourteenth edition (1929) of the Encyclopedia Britannica is exactly that of Arguedas` yawar mayu, river of blood.


            Art is a probe sunk into the unknown:

El poema / es el animal                       The poem is the animal

Hundiendo la boca                              Sinking its mouth

En el manantial                                   Into the source.

                                    (La Wikuña  p. 19; Unravelling  p. 78)


            The idea of a constant flowing into each other of sources, semen, signs permeates Vicuña`s poetry:

            “Mist is the semen of the mountains where the streams are born.” (Unravelling, p. 114). These streams are the


Unui Quita                                   Your very beautiful waters               

Undísono magma              Wave-murmuring non-form (a)

Curvo manantial               Becoming arc gushing from the spring

Pacha Pacarina                Pacha Pacarina, holy place of origin in

                                          space and time (b)                               

Esfera y turbion                Magnetic sphere and violent downward spiral   

Una sola eres                                You are one

Aguaá                                Wa-a-ter (c)

Meandro                            Meandering

tu kenko                            Is your snake-like course, kenko (d)

Gozo espiral                                  Spiral orgasm

Una sola sed                                 One single thirst it is

Extremezca* sed               Feel it tremble (e)*

Sacra cohera                                 Sacred coherence of all creation

Mismándose*                                Becoming its own essence*

FluyÉndose*                                 Becoming its own liquid essence*

Taza                                              This vessel

En neblina                         In the white mist

Tu mismo ser                                 Is your very  essence.

                  (La Wikuña., pp. 37-39; Unravelling., pp.104-107.


            This most “Quechuan” of all of Vicuña`s poems is also perhaps her most difficult to unravel. My own, limited familiarity with Andean thought proved insufficient to “open-up” (palabrir) all  her word creations and / or the Andean deixis and its radial connections. I had to rely on the author herself to elucidate some points, which she always did with grace and patience. Her answer regarding the invented verb form “estremezca,” 57  which I report below*, gives the best idea of her technique of rendering in Spanish all those intuitions so naturally reflected in the fluid words of Quechua.

            “Unui Quita” is a song of four syllables whose repeated sounds represent water falling on the rocks.

            Undísono magma (a), the sound of calmly flowing water, so vital in the Andean sensibility,  cannot be reduced to any onomatopoeia of which the human tongue, throat, and vocal chords are capable. It can only be echoed by accessories of ritual dance: Vicuña-the-dancer slowly swings a hollow reed filled with tiny pebbles in which thorns, mixed with the small stones keep those from becoming too mono-lithic by their weight; thus the pebbles slide back and forth in the dry reed, exactly replicating the sound of flowing water. A similar effect is obtained by the Andean “scissors dancer”: “The steel blades are not tightly joined...each dancer can produce the murmur of depends on the rhythm...and on the spirit that protects each dancer.”58

            Pacha (b)59 is “earth / space-time” (La Wikuña., p. 103, Unravelling, Glossary), and pacarina is “place of origin” (La Wikuña., p. 102, Unravelling., Glossary). The crystalline water of the mountain source is the pristine origin veiled in a mythical mist so close to the sky that it merges with the seminal mist of the Milky Way, foam (yuma) of the celestial river (mayu), a fusion reflected in the metathesis of the syllables in Quechua.

            In Aguaá (c), water, the stressed, supplementary a is onomatopoeia of splashing water and its echo from the cliffs, cascading in a kenko (d),  the natural or guided movement of water.

            In “mismándose”* and “fluyÉndose”* we confront two neologisms representing a further development of the substantivized grammatical infinitive. The first is created from “mismo,” self, same” and then put into the reflexive form (-se), and finally into a gerundium. It expresses the process of becoming oneself, unassisted by outside agents: auto-genesis. The verb “fluir” exists, but not as the reflexive û for obvious (Andean) reasons, Vicuña has an inclination for reflexibility, reflexive verbs included. Coming right after “mismándose,” “ fluyÉndose” suggests a progressive becoming flow, a movement toward the essence of fluidity. Fluidity / reflexivity , always associated with light, yields the essence of water, “lo aguático del aguar,” Vicuña might say, as she says “lo wik`uño del wik`uñar,”  that is, the photo-liquid essence of the Andes.

             The universal desire for the pristine origin, particularly keen in the mestizo, which occupied us in the previous chapters, is the thirst for that source û a thirst ever frustrated, it seems. But Vicuña tells us: the very thirst for the origin is the origin:

            Una es el agua / y su misma sed  (One is the water and its [our] thirst).

            La wik`uña and unu  (water) are one. As self-engendering, pristine origin, water can only desire itself, seduce itself in the colorful mantle of the rainbow. So poetry: it is self-reflective, self-referential, self-”drinking.” But why is this thirst so extreme as to “estremecer” (to tremble, khatatay, to palpitate, phatatatay?) 60 Here the author`s help was needed:

      `Estremezca`*is the utterance of sed [thirst] itself. It does not correspond to any correct verbal form. You are right, it could be construed as a command. But it is more vague and totally out of place in terms of regular syntax. `Estremecerse` is a verb rarely used in daily life [like those “palabras oscuras y agenas..,” xenikα used by the Inkas]. It is associated to the trembling of the flesh confronted with death.61


            Here Vicuña literally touches upon a “neuralgic” point: khatatatay (to tremble, like light, like wounded flesh) and phatatatay (to palpitate, like the heart, like a wounded organ, like a wounded bird or butterfly, like the “frantic wingbeats of the last sunrays at dusk”).62 She touches upon an ideal of poetry as “wounding beauty,” as the Andean mountain cliffs are experienced by Arguedas,  or as the essence of poetry  seen by Dávila Andrade:

            “The poetic word,” he writes in “Poesía quemada” (“burnt,” martyrized, stigmatized poetry)63 “must go astray [extraviada] into the center of the play, as the convulsion of a hunt plays itself at the center of an agonizing organ [en el fondo de una víscera].”

            The notions of “convulsion” and “palpitation” are meaning- “pregnant” in Quechua (what Gonzales-Holguín calls “palabras preñadas”). It is as though the words themselves were agonizing, so “tautological” are world and word in Quechua. The agony is played out in the viscera of a word, once more by the repetition of interior syllables “imitating,” as does the echo (the “imitator”), a series of shocks leading to the final discharge, such as thunder, orgasm, or death`s ultimate convulsion: khakakakay (thunder); khatatatay (to tremble); phatatatay (to palpitate).

             But these spasms are also the birth pangs, the convulsions of the maternal body, the first palpitations of new life. “Tears of blood” are located in the same associative chain as the amniotic water and the blood accompanying childbirth û which is “dar luz.”  Light and water are forever linked.

            Vicuña may have had khatatatay in mind when she wrote “estremezca.” * She could have used the more common word for trembling, temblar.  By choosing a verb which phonetically came closest to the Quechua repetition of syllables, es-tre-me-cer, she rendered the extreme agony of the water`s own thirst by an imitation of the echo`s technique of “imitation”

You ask, why not “estremece”[ her letter continues] If I said “la sed se estremece,” it would be just me saying it. If I start by saying “estremezca,” I am producing the trembling of the thirst, which in turn is telling the reader: you ought to tremble because of what is happening to water. It is the dislocation of the verb that moves us to feel the dislocation of the sacred relation thirst-water. Yes, thirst is desire...also in the sense that there is a dialogue of relations between her and us, and that relation is what is being expressed. So, when you say that `t·` here infinitely exceeds individualization, you are right.


            Vicuña has thus thrown a xenikon  across her text in the purest tradition of her Inka “ancestors” confusing those Spaniards, who understood ordinary Quechua, by the interjection of either foreign and archaic words or by a “strange, obscure use” of regular ones. “Estremezca” belongs to the second category, for Vicuña makes “strange use” of a verb of her own language, Spanish, by “dislocating” it. She goes to such “extremes” every time she attempts to convey the spiritual dimension of the “wounding” beauty of the Andes. “Y bien, t· vigilarás la fuente de la neblina en donde nacen las palabras inspiradas” (Watch the source of the mist where the inspired words are born). (La Wikuña., p. 63)

            The title poem, “La Wik`uña,” (La Wikuña., pp. 21-24; Unravelling, pp. 80-87) conveys the sum of all the mythologico-poetic intuitions of the cosmic web of links between light, water, and thread. Adumbrated in the other poems, they are united in this celebration of the emblematic animal of the Andes.

            “No se sabe bien el origen de las alpacas y wik`uñas, pero dicen que salieron de los manantiales y que a los manantiales volverán” (one doesn`t know much about the origin of the alpacas and vicuñas, but they say that they sprang from the high mountain sources and to the sources they will return), Vicuña quotes Jorge Flores Ochoa (La Wikuña., p. 83) and “embroiders”: “Hilo de agua, hilo de vida” (thread of water, thread of life), “oro lánico, riqueza y fecundidad” (woolen gold, richness, and fecundity). It is interesting to note the shift of focus in the bilingual version which appeared two years later: the “thread of water” became the “fiber of prayer,” and “to weave is to pray” (Unravelling., p. 89). Of course, the link is oro  (both “gold” and  “ I pray” ), as we saw in “Oro es tu hilar.”

            The wik`uña is the etymon or matrix of the whole poem. She is actually the matrix, pacha pacarina, of a whole system of thought, in that she is associated with the source, i.e., water, light, origin. The obvious association with wool allows for the type of overcoding already found in the oral poem “Atahualpa.”  The practical is inseparable from the spiritual: wool is the gift of survival on icy mountain heights; it is the string that fixes memory (khipu) and spins the crystal web around our here and now, making it shine, so that it can be tied to the other stars. The wik`uña is existentially what she represents semiotically.


La Wik`uña                                              The Vicuña (llama, alpaca)

La wik`uña                                                Vicuña

Es pastar y correr                         Grazing grace in flight

Pecho blanco                                            White breast reflecting (a)

Al atardecer                                              Day`s vanishing light


C·spido brote                                            Sprout on a rocky peak (b)

a todo dar                                     With incredible speed


Flor del lanio                                            Flower of all wool

y del ultra fugaz                            and fugacious to the extreme(c)


Lo wik`uño del wik`uñar                           You, solitary young vicuña, are the

                                                      essence of vicuña-being. (d)

Pensar lumínico                            Light itself

y cabal                                           becomes precise thought

Fase de hilo                                               Moment when thread

Entrando                                       Into crystal is wrought(e)

en el cristal

Fibra de orar                                            Fiber of prayer

Poliedro impensable                                 Inconceivable polyhedron (f)

Amanecer del amar                                   The animal is the

siendo el animal                            dawn of love. (g)

Pálpita, pálpita                             Palpitate, palpitate (h)               Saltarina                                             Artist of the leap

Señora de las                                             Lady of the

altitudes andinas                           Andean heights

T· eres mi                                      You are my

cosica calorica                              little fountain of heat (i)

camotica                                       Sweet, bitter potato

Mi cáspita bruces                          My caspita(i)

La Cupisnique                                           The Cupisnique(i)

Tu eres la Uru                                           You are the Uru(i)

Y la Bamba                                                and the Bamba (i)


Apu aquí                                        Apu here(i)

oro en monte                                             Gold in the mountain

Rimac allá                                     Rimac there

Wik`uña al monte                          Vicuña in the mountain

Tres pristinos mugidos                              Three pristine mooing calls

Tres rápidos tris-trás                                Three hoof beats

Salvaje y frugal                             Wild and frugal

Vivísima fuente                             Source of wool-gushing-forth -life

del lanar

Hija y madre                                             Daughter and mother

del tiempo mejor                           of the better time(j)

Aquí te vas                                                Here you take flight

Y tu ijar se vuelve                         And your loin appeals as

grupa tonaz                                               a tonic croup(k)

T· lo has querido                           You wanted it

mandado y dolido                         ordered it and suffered it          

A quÉ te soy?                                            Why should I be you?


            When the rays of the setting  sun become oblique, the white breast (a) of the wik`uña shines like a certain white offering stone on which grease is burnt, the  illa.64 She seems the “sprout on a rocky peak” (b), an image pursued by Paternosto in his pictures of “germinating stones.” Ollantaytambo, an Inka ceremonial center, is “piedra que brota al toque solar”(stone which sprouts at the sun`s touch)(La Wikuña,p.92).

            The wik`uña is “fugacious to the extreme,” (c) like the flash of color on a hummingbird`s feather. Thus, the individual animal comprises all the essence of vicuña-being (wik`uñaty) in the act of living out its “vicuñaness” (the-to-be-vicuña). (d). She is “the-to-graze” and “the-to-run,” she is “the-to-dawn” of “the-to-love,” “the-to-be-wool. “The activity is the thing in itself, independent from any actor, but condensed, totemized in the animal. In Ollantaytambo, there are “tetas brotando del puro piedrar” (tits sprouting from pure stone-being) (La Wikuña, p. 54; Unravelling, p. 122). In this last example, the substantivized infinitive is given another twist as the verb is an artificial one, made from a noun (piedra) i.e., a noun is turned into a verb which is then turned into a noun. It is another instance of the “strange use of their own language” by the Inkas. The affinity between Heidegger`s Greek disguised as German (with its abundance of substantivized infinitives) and Arguedas` and Vicuña`s Quechua disguised as Spanish, remains striking. Rilke drew the same effects from the infinitive without having the Heraclitean flow in mind, but he was the poet of the transitory, the fleeting “poetic moment,” “del ultra fugaz.” His period, Art dÉco, relished in the iridescence, phosphorescence of sea shells, peacock feathers, dragonflies, rainbows and the opalescence of moonlit landscapes, i.e., reflected or non-solar light  (illa).

            What is essential is the transitional phase when “thread becomes crystal” (e), changing from the soft, opaque materiality of wool or vegetal fiber to the hard, transparent spirituality of the crystal, the “inconceivable polyhedron.” (f) “SoñÉ que una red blanca y radiante envolvi? a la tierra como un cristal.” (I dreamt of a white and radiant net which wrapped the earth like a crystal, La Wikuña, Part II, “Reflejos,” p. 105). Here again is the Web seen by the watuq, and Vicuña finds herself ever so often at the center of one of its nodes. The wik`uña is the “inconceivable polyhedron” (f), a zeugma: the living animal cast in the mineral, geometric form of a crystal, a solid bounded by polygons. She is crystal as much as she is water, both woven together, in the “phase of thread entering crystal,”  to reflect light.

            She is spurred on by the poet who asks her to “palpitate” (h), thus evoking the extreme intensity of life young and leaping (saltarina), as well as of poetry (Dávila) in the grips of death, the convulsion of water in its own desire: estremezca sed ! As in “Iridesce,” the hymeneal, “high-time,” is the celebration of eros-thanatos.

            “You are my little thing of heat” (heat-producing elements, both food and the female animal “in heat”) (i)...The rest can only be “tasted” by the reader, squashed between tongue and palate, like an unknown fruit. The fruit, the camote (i), aged for a couple of millennia, is not a pure delight. Once more, we share the confusion of the Spaniards reporting in the Doctrina the use of “obscure and archaic words” by the Inkas. Camote, a kind of potato which most people  find of repulsive taste, is an archaic slang word (still used today in sentences like “no seas camote,” don`t be a fool) which, thrown across the luminous hymn to “Our Lady of the Andean Heights,” (i) is outright blasphemy. Here it is followed by remnants of an archaic sacred word play(i) dating back to the Chavin culture (Cupisnique) which preceded the Inkas by some two thousand years.65

            Why this sudden blasphemy? It is the diabolic symbol of Hamlet`s suddenly irreverent address to the ghost of his father (“Art thou there, truepenny?” Act I, 4), the demonic splitting of the compact mood of awe and tragedy. It is in this vein that Vicuña speaks of Gabriela Mistral for whom she feels true admiration and the “complicity” of the fellow mestiza:

Complete like a textile that has an imperfection in order to become truly an offering, Gabriela lives in the brokenness or fracture of two cultures. Crevice or k`ijllu from where soars her wholeness. ..Old hag of shit or Saint Gabriela, it doesn`t matter: complementary union, the very soul of being Andean.66


In  other words: mestizaje, “isn`t it something initial?”  (“Oro es tu hilo”), if the union complementaria is a characteristic of pure Andean-ness?

            Blasphemy and insults are arch-Andean, as they are a constitutive part of growing-up Andean, the “initiatory” form of socialization / sexualization. This has to do with the importance of riddle and word play as part of  amorous play:

In the south-central highlands of Peru, riddling among Quechua speakers occurs within two related contexts associated with amorous `play`: (1) during individual encounters while adolescents are pasturing herds away from their villages in the high grasslands and (2) during a group activity that is literally called `to pasture life` û Vida Michyi. An invitation `to play` connotes the combination of posing riddles, clever insults, music, and sexual activities. We might say that, within these two contexts, adolescents are discovering new cognitive relationships coupled with new sexual relationships. 67


            Every culture seems to have its Galateas, its literary period of the “pastoral.” The insults are more erotic than vicious. They are the flaw in the discourse that energizes it. (Correspondingly Maunick speaks of the “cascades of creole insults [which are] images rather than dirt.”)

            “You should do imperfect things (as the imperfection in a textile), so that they can move,” Vicuña said in an interview.68 The idea of the dynamics of asymmetry (“so that they can move”) finds a parallel in Michel Serres` assessment of mestizo being. 69

            The “crevice” in the text, created by the blasphemous words diabolically thrown across the hymn to the wik`uña, Our Lady, across the encomium of Gabriela Mistral, is the warrant of Gabriela`s and Andean, wholeness because the two walls of the k`ijllu  are needed to produce the echo, the double imitation which is dialogue, reverberation,  prayer:  the interstice where a fleeting moment of authentic truth can be captured.

            The k`ijllu is the emptiness over which the mestiza-pontifex places a loom û real or reflected û to produce the strings out of which bridges are made (“Woven are the bridges in ropes”, “Metaphysics of Weaving”). The invitation card to one of Vicuña`s most recent exhibitions, “Hilumbres Alqá,” (Threads full/empty - light/shadow)70 shows a primitive spindle suspended in the sky. What is photographed is actually the reflection of the spindle and its background of a nebulous sky,in a puddle in the street. On that sky, the Via Lactea (Milky Way),  yuma / mayu,  the Quechua metathesis uniting river foam and semen, is clearly visible.

            Naturally, the heart û here both shunga and kuraz·n û of the runa  (people of the Andian mountains) which “palpitates” in the mestiza Vicuña, gives preference to the puna, the high, arid plateau of the cordillera and situates the legendary Apu (i), the archaic Lord, in the mountains, while Rimaq, the talker, dwells on the coast, becoming Lima through Spanish mispronunciation. That coast, so talkative, so easily seduced, conquered, adulterated...71

            Only in the mountains can the indigenous, the runa, find the source, “madre del agua, serpiente zigzag” (mother of water, zig-zag serpent, the kenko, La Wikuña, p. 89).  The mountains are symbolized by their animal, “daughter and mother of a better time” (j). This was a time before the coast allowed itself to be invaded, before the mita in the service of the Spaniards, a time when wives were not used for the kitchen and daughters for the bed of the Spanish “wiracocha.” The sacred is once more linked to the sexual (first insight, and trigger of Vicuña`s vocation to become a poet), here the “tonic croup” (k) of the wik`uña.  Although “Lady of the Andean heights,” she is sheer sex-appeal, invitation by her loin, ijar, to reproduce. “El ijar,” a noun of Arabic origin with, however, the typical ending of a Spanish verb (- ar), may phonetically suggest “the-to-son,” the-to-daughter,” i.e., the loin as the seat of  the reproductive capacity in general. The kenko movement of the “tonic croup,” suggests the fecundity associated with the kenko. The sacred / erotic is also manifest in the popular virgin / harlot fantasy which received a double exposure (a source of overdetermination, as in a photograph) when the Spaniards superimposed the Marian cult on indigenous worship.72 The wik`uña, Our Lady of the Andes, became the companion of the “wiracochas,” as the sensuality of the Indian female could not fail to produce an effect on the Spanish master. And so the mestizo was born, the huacho  (orphan), soon abandoned by his white father. Here, the huacha, product of a generous “ijar,” (k)  asks , her “mother of the better time,” the source, “why should I be you?” This is not a rejection but a quest.


            What Vicuña now perceives as “sprouting stones,” the ruins of the ceremonial center of Ollantaytambo, a town north-east of Cuzco, was under construction when the Spaniards arrived. It had been designed by the Inka Pachacuti who channeled the flow of waters into kenko-like stairs filling baths and shrines.


            Ollanta, Ollanta                                  Ollanta,

            Donde viste la voz?                             Where did you see the voice?

            El hondo sílabo                                   The deep-toned syllable

            Cruzando el rio                                   Crossing the river.

                                                (La Wikuña, p. 53, Unravelling, p. 123).


To “see a voice,” another zeugma, acquires meaning in the context of crossing a river. We remember Arguedas` passage on the zumbayllu, the spinning top with the whistling, humming noise  of “a thousand tiny wings in flight,” or the tankayllu,  the heavy, humming insect:

            [ In Deep Rivers , the huacho Ernesto, forlorn in the Jesuit school of the “captive hacienda,” Abancay73]

“wound my beautiful zumbayllu and set it spinning. The top leapt harmoniously into the air, descending almost slowly, singing through all its eyes.  A great joy, fresh and pure, illuminated my life. I was alone, contemplating and hearing my zumbayllu speak with its sweet voice that seemed to bring into the courtyard the song of all the insects that turn musically among flowering shrubs.

Oh, zumbayllu, zumbayllu, I too shall dance with you.” 74


            All the lonely longing of a child is here expressed. The desire is so extreme (estremece) that imagination must appeal to all the senses, seeing, hearing, smelling (the flowering shrubs) to conjure the beloved land beyond the river. The zeugma (Vicuña`s “where did you see the voice?”) is natural in the Andes. Synaesthesia is not reserved for the receiver; it is present initially in the thing observed or dreamt of, as the zumbayllu “sings through all his eyes.” The huacho  hopes that it may cross the river to deliver the message of longing to the father, in the way Vicuña sends the “deep-toned syllable” (huañuy?) across the river. The huacho cross-breed has to go beyond the mayu yuma, river-foam-semen of the absent father. He does so through language, the only helper in his quest. The syllable crossing the river, the word reaching the other shore builds a bridge. It is, like the mestizo, ponti-fex.

            One sector of Ollantaytambo is called “Inkamisana.” As Vicuña explains (La Wikuña, p. 102; Unraveling, Glossary), this is yet another “mestizo word,” a combination of Quechua and Spanish: inka or enka, generating, vital principle, and misa, from Latin missa, message, later the Christian Holy Mass (one may add, the “good message,” eu-angelion”).



            Escaleras y ritos                                  Stairs and rites

            no para el piÉ                         not for the human foot

            Edificio que piensa                              Building that thinks

            Roca angular                           Angular rock

            Verde rascacielos                                Green skyscraper

            Negro zigurat                          Black ziggurat

            Miniatura del tiempo              Miniature of time

            Trocado en altar                                 Turned into an altar

            Invento de noche                                 Invention of night

            Saliente al albar                                  Epiphany at dawn

            Roca tallada                            Rock carved

            En brotes de orar                                In sprouts of prayer (the-to-pray)

            La piedra y el agua                             Stone and water

            El mismo brotar                                  The same sprout (the-to-sprout).


Stairs, not meant to be climbed by human foot, built only to lead the eye upward; built as a kenko, so that the light reflected from its stonen waters may guide the eye toward the spiritual. Ollantaytambo is the arche-typal, holy, inspired edifice, the Mesopotamian ziggurat, terraced pyramid of a temple tower. Elsewhere utilitarian as irrigation system to produce nourishment for the body, stairs are here reminiscent of the kenko, the amaru (serpent) whose movement, if followed upward, leads to what is sacred: the pacarina, place of origin, crossroads in space. The same form-giving principle inspired both the agricultural technique and the building of the temple mound where stone and water unite, germinate by “giving light” (dar luz).

            In the same way, the “cosmic edge of the Inka world,” the wool-like mist clouding the mountains, “the Milky Way on earth,” can be condensated in a single thread when this thread becomes lighted, in-spired: becomes the candle wick, q`eswa  or twisted rope (supposed origin of the word quechua)75  consuming wax or grease (wira). The thread becomes the inner flame of the offering.


            Hilo de ofrenda                       Thread of sacrificial offering

            que el Inka incendia    Lighted by the Inka

            El tejido vuelve                       The textile returns

            A la Inmensidad                      To the Immense (Incommensurable, Eternal,                                                                                     Infinite)

                                     (La Wik`uña, p. 41; Unravelling, p. 115).


By lighting (in-cendia) the wool string, the Inka, as a first step, turns luminous,  blood-red incandescence into black ashes (cendre, ceniza). Black incandescence (“negro es el brillar”) could be best translated into visual language by the technique of “solarisation nÉgative” invented by the French photographer Maurice Tavard.76 It corresponds to “alqá,77 the theme of Vicuña`s “installations”  weaving together the sixteenth and seventeenth  century buildings (contemporaries of the Confesionario) of a Belgian nunnery in black and white (the fulls and the empties of a textile). The nuns, BÉguines, a marginal order never quite recognized by the Vatican, represent that “imperfection necessary for a textile to serve as an offering.” They specialize in weaving. They are illegitimate daughters of the church establishment, in black robes and luminous, handwoven white linen around the face. Their tangential existence in relation to the system of established religious orders made these huachas û paupers by their vow of poverty û huacas.

            A similar vague fear and repulsion in front of something of which a part escapes our assessment seems to account for the Spaniards` almost hysteric reaction to the sanctuary of Ollantaytambo called Inkamisana. Again we should remember Freud`s notion of “das Unheimliche.”78 The totally alien is not as horrifying as something that is strange, yet  familiar in some way (a dead member of the family coming back as a ghost, especially, if she was a beloved relative). The “mestizo word” Inkamisana corresponds obviously to a huaca,79 the Inka or pagan component diabolically united with the Christian holy mass, something archaic and mixed in language and inspiration. This “sprouting” of miscegenation had to be arrested from the start, it had to be crossed out from sheer conceivability. The Confesionario para los curas de Indios con la instrucion [sic] contra sus Ritos (Confessionary for the missionaries to the Indians with the instruction against their rituals)80 speaks of these strange objects of worship: hills, rocks, springs, and other things of unusual shape perceived as numinous. A monstrous birth could be a huaca. The object is no longer profane, but seen as a manifestation of the sacred. And here lies the link with illa: the radiance of the sacred, unusual alpaca, the white one, unique in her herd, destined to die as sacrificial offering, and illa of the evil omen, one of whose meanings given by Arguedas is “monstrous birth.”81 Illa and huaca form the twisted thread woven throughout Andean mythopoiesis. Even if the two words appear less often in Vicuña`s texts than in those of Arguedas, their meaning is transparent as the palimpsest of her poems and given visual form in her “precarios”: the”union complementaria” of the “horrible and the beautiful.” She may or may not have been aware of Edmund Burke`s and Immanuel Kant`s writings about “The Sublime and the Beautiful,”82 and the resulting notion of “the horribly beautiful,” so central to German romanticism, especially in E.T.A. Hoffmann`s tales, one of which, “Der Sandmann,” became the basis for Freud`s “Das Unheimliche.”  Language, etymo-logy, the search for the authentic by “traveling upward to the sources,”  was Vicuña`s only guide, and it led her to the intuition of the same zeugmatic link: “Horror, del inglÉs awe, y estÉtica vienen de la misma raíz.” (Horror,  related to English “awe,” and esthetics derive from the same root). (Manuscript for Palabrir ).

            The huaca is sublime, horribly beautiful because of too many faces. I follow in “contagious imitation,”83 Vicuña`s path of “upward etymology.” A linguistic approach, such as the one used in this essay, will try to find the sesame of poetry in a “palabrir,” Vicuña`s technique of making words open-up, praying to them that they do so. The most appropriate way to reach the “cosmic edge of the Inka world” as (re-)created by the words (simi chantami) of Vicuña, is to capture some reflections of the many faces of the huaca, i.e., to give a voice, the power of the word (rimaq) to...the word itself. And û with the exception of illa (almost “hermetic,” because too “mercurial”) û there is no single word in the Quechua language as close to the cosmic edge as “huaca.” Its ceaseless semantic shuttle gives an insight into Quechua`s weaving of words and, by the same token, illuminates some of the associations and articulations in Vicuña`s poetry that may seem “agenas” y “oscuras.”

            Here are the many faces of the “horribly beautiful”  huaca or waka (the spelling, hua or wa, does not have to concern us here because there existed no authoritative set of rules  for the transcription  from the oral Quechua , kechwa, kkechuwa, etc., before the 1975 document of the Peruvian Ministry of Education):


CÉsar Guardia Mayorga: Diccionario Kechwa-Castillano / Castillano-Kechwa: 84

WAKA                        Todo lo que es sagrado...Esta palabra no permite sacar verbos; no

                         ostante, los españoles derivaron el verbo: wakamuchay                                                           “idolatrar”

WAKARPANA             Llama [alpaca] blanca sin mancha para sacrificios [illa]                                   

WACHA                     (adj.) huÉrfano, pobre, desgraciado

WAKIY                       Separar [daiein, daimon]



Antonio Cusihuaman. Diccionario quechua: 85

WAKA                        Hendidura, abertura prolongata, grieta [k`ijllu], a menudo de forma


WATUCHAY Colocar cordones a...alg·n objeto

WATUCHI      Adivinanza

WACHAY       (intr.) parir [dar luz]

WACHU                     Surco

WACHUNKAY          Repartirse en surcos, intercalar a un surco [water in a kenko]   

WACHUY       Surcar, copular

WACHIIY       Brillar

WACHAKUY             (trans.) dar luz

WACHAPAKUY        Tener hijos de diferentes hombres [“ijar” in Vikuña`s double meaning                             of hijar]                                                           

WAKHAY      Quebrar, perforar (una pared) [hymen]



Jorge A. Lira. Diccionario Ketchuwa / Español  86

WAKA                        Dios familiar, idolillo; osario [“huequito ancestral`] Par.: WAKA:                                   grieta, caverna [k`ijllu] ; los indices tienen cierto recelo en cuanto                                 se refieren a dichos sitios.

WAKA (2)       leporina, deformidades congenitales [one meaning of illa          regis-                            tered by Arguedas] Fig.: hechizero, malÉfice

WAKHAY      Desquiciar, desarraigar [activity of the daimon]

WAKKAY      Derramar lágrimas

                        [huañuy, huacayhuan, huacacurcami, the “tears of blood” of                                                 “Atahualpa huañui.”]



Guardia Mayorga:

Huaca:                         All that is sacred. This word cannot be put into verb form                                               [too sacred initself, it cannot be manipulated linguistically, not                                   even for a substantivized infinitive]; Nevertheless, the Spaniards                                 made the verb  huaca-muchay  into  “idolotrar” (to idolize).

Huacapaña:     white alpaca, flawless, destined for sacrifice [ the shining illa,                             unique in her herd]

Huakcha [huacha]: orphan, poor, luckless

Huakiy:                        to separate [daiein, daiesthai, daimon]



Huaca:             fissure, prolonged opening, crevice [k`ijllu], often in human form

Huatuchay:      to put strings around an object

Huatuchi:         riddle [watuq]

Huachay: (intr.)            to give birth [dar luz, give light]

Huachu:                       furrow, ridge, trail (of light)

Huachunkay:   to spread, divide oneself into furrows [as water in an Inka                                                           irrigation system; to divide; daiein]

Huachuy:         to create a furrow, hollow, copulate

Huachiiy:         to shine [daiein in combination with pyr , fire]

Huachakuy: (trans.) to give birth [dar luz]

Huachapakuy:             to have children from different men

Huakhay:         to break, to pierce [a wall, a hymen].



Huaca:             familiar divinity, small idol; ossuary [Vicuña`s”huequito                                                                        ancestral”]                                        

                        Related: huaca as crevice [k`ijllu], cavity. The indications seem to                               conceal something concerning the location of such sites[ while the                           ce`que  indicates the sites of certain huacas ].

Huaca (2):       leprosis, congenital deformities [one of the meanings of illa                                registered by Arguedas] Fig.: witchcraft, malefice

Huakhay:                     to disjoint, uproot[actvity of the daimon]

Huakkay [Huacay]: to shed tears violently:”Tears of blood”:                            [The HUANUY,  HUACAYHUAN,  HUACACURCAMI  of”Atahualpa Huañui.”]


3. Ephemeral Objects, Lasting Grace: Precarios.

            Sacri-ficial offerings, “making sacred” small things received in gratitude from the Immense and given back to the Immense as in a reflection, articulate the meaning of the Precarios. To sacrifice the fattest calf, gold, or incense made from the rarest plant is ultimately the arrogance of imputing human values to the gods, strictly speaking a way of bribing them in order to obtain their favors.

            Vicuña`s offerings are of a totally different nature. To give back a pebble, a feather, a twiglet, is to enter the value system of Nature with humility. The “surplus value” added is the pneuma, the inspiration: a pebble, a feather, a scrap of textile is made sacred by arranging it so that it will solicit an echo from the Immense.

            “ `Precarious` is what is obtained by prayer. Uncertain, exposed to hazards, insecure. From the Latin `precarius,` from `precis`, prayer.” (Exergue to Precarious / Precario).

            The prayer of the mestiza û herself a collage of fragments û takes the form of a ritual assemblage by which these fragments become sacral art. The very process of such creation is precarious, an “endangered enchantment,” as Roger Scruton calls it in his plea for the preservation of a sense of the sacred in our increasingly denatured lives:

It is difficult to retain a sense of the sacred without ritual. For the modern intellectual, the memory of enchantment may be awakened more easily by art than by prayer. Yet, art, properly understood, is prayer: it is an attempt to call the timeless and the transcendental to the scene of the human incident.87


            The precario is Rilke`s “poetic moment” given visual and tangible (“haptic”) form. Only those poets who are chanters of the sacred knew all along the significance of what ordinary, i.e., predominantly “rational” minds, considered insignificant but what has been recently discovered by the very standard bearers of rationality, the scientists, to be extremely significant as crucial links in the ecosystem, nodes in the web of nature, one might say: a moss, an insect, or any other “pest” all too efficiently combated by pesticides.

            Paradoxically, it is in her most shamanic compositions of fragments that Vicuña comes closest to the ideal of “cultural translatability,” not through metaphor but through “trans-port” as in ecstasy. Where one would expect the most forbidding problems of culture-specific deixis, one is not even aware of any threshold to her universe. One simply enters.

            She herself explains the process as follows:

      The assembling of the fragments, each referring to a unique moment, like a mnemonic reference, is very much like a page in a personal diary. It leads into a memory, for the artist, that breaks the boundaries of the personal level to enter the collective, past human experience.88


            This entering is an ideal fulfillment of the universal wish to “belong,” because it transcends the  daimon (as divider, creator of discord) of specific belonging.

            I have focused on the precarios at the very beginning of this chapter on Vicuña, because these very special works offer condensed insights û an “entrance,” she would say û into her complex artistic personality. My own obsession (as some perceive it) with language and etymology is vindicated by Vicuña in a letter (March 1993):

The precarios: Although the word “sacrifice” was not on my mind [I only understood it literally as “making sacred”] , you could, indeed equate my gestures with the ancient burning of the cumbi, the wik`uña textile. But for me, the crucial aspect of the precario that it is language. I am speaking to the earth, to the elements through those gestures...the material I have selected for almost thirty years as “my vocabulary.”


            The collection of photographs of precarios and the accompanying poems and aphorisms published under this title are dedicated to:


César Paternosto que lo vi?               To César Paternosto who saw it

A mis padres que siempre                   To my parents who always

escucharon la tierra                            listened to the earth.


            What Paternosto “saw” is the “sacra cohera,” the interwovenness of all things in the cosmos, and Cecilia`s mind as a pacha, the original crossroads in space, both receptor and emitter of electromagnetic (sidereal89) waves.

            As to the second source of inspiration, how not be grateful to these exceptional parents, life-light givers (dar luz) who “always listened to the earth” and who, during long excursions from the adobe house in the Chilean precordillera, taught their little girl to do the same, although unaware of the latter`s extra-sensitivity, her extra-lucidity in hearing the planet`s messages and seeing the web of its connections with the stellar space.

            The precarious art works and their legends are presented under the heading “Six Metaphors in Space” in the first published edition of 1983, Precario / Precarious.90 A revised version is included in Unravelling,   where we find “Ten Metaphors in Space”: five, composed and photographed in North America, were added to the original group û a proof that the Andean spirit is not limited to the Andes. It can find its expression in the apparently least congenial settings. A similar observation prompted Camara Laye to declare that one does not have to be African in order to be a griot (West African homologue of the amawta). The precarios of New York and Maine are particularly interesting, precisely as examples of this transferability. The only “metaphor in space” that is left out in Unravelling is the sixth one from the original, “TunquÉn,” perhaps because it is the most esoterically shamanic and thus considered most resistant to cultural translation û although the cover shows a proto-shamanic arrangement of feathers and stones.

            “Metaphors in space”: I am pleading guilty of academic pedantry when stating once more my caveat concerning the term “metaphor.” The precarios are not metaphors in the Aristotelian sense, only in the literal sense in which Vicuña uses meta-phora, i.e., as trans-port, trans-fer, trans-lation (a tautology, actually, as Latin “latum” is nothing but the past participle of “ferre”). In “Oir y Orar” (To Hear and to Pray)91 she herself explains: “...but here metaphor and metonymy are not stylistic figures, they are the transport and they effect the change.” I call this change “trans-substantiation.” In other words, it is Schelling`s “tautology”92 characteristic of oral discourse and ritual.

            Vicuña has something more immediate to offer, something more alive, palpable, pulsating (phatatatay) than the often cumbersome transfer involved in metaphor with its obvious signifying intention (Husserl`s Bedeutungsabsicht), a clearly cognitive strategy. Her “metaphor” is a transferable sensibility, under certain aspects comparable to the “transfer” in psychoanalysis: she “enters” the thing, identifying with it. It is the wik`uña`s “l·cido entrar.”

            The spiritual disposition of lucid entering û not in a trance state û testifies to Vicuña`s familiarity through study, i.e., cognitive operation, with Eastern meditation practices, such as Zen and Raja Yoga. Be it only as a result of her linguistic interest in Sanscrit, especially the Upanishads, a certain “disponibilité” (Sartre)93 or unprejudiced listening was bound to emerge. The “lucid entering” is, however, not a passive “disponibility,” but the willful “baring of the heart,” the Herzensblossheit of the German mystic Meister Eckhart (1260-1327) or the concentration strived at by the yogi of his whole being on an object to the point of becoming one with it. Yoga (Sanskrit) means “union.” It is the root of the word “yoke,” Greek zeugma. Vicuña`s vision of the “union complementaria” of seemingly incompatible qualities is thus vindicated. Vicuña enters into communion with a single feather (not even the bird), with a single wand of this feather: “And if I dedicated my life to one of its a single wand of the feather?”(Precario). A de-personalization takes place (hence the privileged use of the infinitive, the non-conjugated verb, excluding the grammatical “person”), an abandoning of the self, of any pretense to mastery as the subject of action which places the other as a mere object in his own field of vision, ap-propriating it. The grammatical infinitive allows for becoming, for “flowing” in the Heraclitean -Quechua sense. Becoming is a dimension of the Infinite, and word creations like “fluyÉndose” ( the-to-become-flow) and “mismandose” (the-to-become-self) come close to expressing it.         

            Y si yo dedicara mi vida                      What if I dedicated my life

            a una de sus plumas                to one of its feathers?

            a vivir su naturaleza               To live its nature

            Serla y comprenderla              be it, understand it

            hasta el fin?                            to the end?


            “Precarious is what is obtained by prayer...Uncertain, exposed to hazards, insecure..” Thus starts Precario,  on a page without identity. There are no numbered pages. The linearity of subsequent numbers would be a fetter to radial-radiating thought. “Exposed to hazards, insecure,” that is the exile, the marginal, the rejected, basurita (little garbage), thrown-across (diabolos). It is the mestizo, the illegitimate child, the “parasite” (Serres), the orphan: huacho. It is the luminous non-entity, no-person of “Iridescce.” “Relumbra, huachito!”


[The precarios are] “trembling messages from dead cultures and dying nature. Like irregular, electromagnetic wave patterns from a distant star, they cannot be decoded, they are anomalies for which our explanations are insufficient. They put us on alert: there may be more going on than we thought,”


writes Eliot Weinberger in his introduction to Unravelling. “More going on,” on earth and beyond. The “immature” person û the child, the artist û sees a camel, a whale, a weasel in a cloud, even if he uses that vision at a second degree (irony) as a means to taunt a “mature,” i.e., “rational,” i.e., opportunistic mind. Polonius will only “see” that it is useful to agree with one`s superior. Underlying Hamlet-style “antics” is the authentic intuition that not all signs of the sky (“messages of the cosmos”) can be accommodated by Horatio`s philosophy (not to speak of Polonius` utilitarian know-how). Certain things may be sacred without any revealed religion telling us so. We have to grope our way, “listening with our fingers”.

            “Listening with the fingers came first; the scattered bones, the sticks and feathers were sacred objects that I had to put in order.” The ordering principle is that of a shamanic arrangement susceptible to elicit the response of cosmic energies. As Calvin Reid observed, “to the viewer, such an arrangement or `installation` may seem the equivalent of a character in a sacred text.”94

                  To follow their will was to rediscover a way of thinking. Listening to the elements I traveled down paths of the mind that led me to an ancient silence waiting to be heard. To think was to follow the music, the feeling of the elements. This is the way a communion with sky and sea began.”                                                           (Precarios, no page)


            The in-tensity of the communion is rendered poetically by the tension between semantic incompatibles, i.e. by zeugma: “to listen with the fingers,” “to hear a silence.” To listen with the fingers is the first movement of the prayer. In “Oir y Orar” (to hear and to pray)95 the human mouth seems to imitate the shamanic “spirit catcher,” a small circle with a feather attached a-cross.


            La O produce un labio            The O produces a lip [lips forming a circle]       

            Por ahí entra la I                    through which enters the  I

            O de orificio, del antiguo        O of orifice, from the ancient

            Os : la puerta.             os : the door.


            The door, the”entrance,” is open. The raw material of the precario is  “waiting to be seen as a way of hearing an interior sound...” This is to listen lovingly: “To hear with eyes belongs to love`s fine wit” (Shakespeare, Sonnet XXIII).

            In one of the precarios, bones and twigs form a tiny, arched entrance, flanked by two feathers as sacred banners. Indeed, the arc is clearly what is purports to be, a gateway. It is entrance û which, were it Spanish, would mean “en trance” (in a trance-like state) û but it is a “l·cido entrar.” Something nebulously luminous (crests of ocean waves, the Milky Way?) spans the background, so that, logically, one would not need that disproportionately tiny gate to gain access to “the Immense.” One may simply step over or around it. Yet, somehow there seems to be no way around it. Here too, “the gate is narrow.”


          “The raw material waited to be seen

            As a Way of hearing an interior sound

            Asking us to create

            This or that union

            A feather leaning, a trophy flying.”


The feather, severed and lost part of a former living, airborne whole, has kept intact its power to appeal to the forces of the sky. As with the universal shamanic instrument, the spirit catcher, a feather put across a circle, it will either command some spirits to enter or block the way to evil ones: a double filtering process accomplished by the coarser wands of the feather interacting with the less penetrable down.

            An extraordinary power emanates from the “Flying Trophy,” even here, in its small, two-dimensional black-and-white photographic reproduction. Although caged within the page of a book, the Andean condor is at the point of soaring into the sky. Is it Wamani, the mountain god who appears as a condor?96 The “flying trophy” is a zeugma, obviously, as in general a trophy, the killed, “naturalized,” stuffed animal (naturalisé in French)  is no longer able to fly, its function reduced to that of a dead witness to the glory of its murderer. But here the “trophy” shatters ordinary truth. Consisting merely of two feathers tied to a couple of sticks, the condor is at the point of take-off towards mythical heights, sheer energy condensed, just because of the slightly asymmetric position of his wings (the two feathers),97 captured as in a snapshot at  this very accidental moment, in this particular fraction of a second. Yet, it is a movement which, in all eternity, cannot be arrested by human force, it is the awankay, soaring of large birds, symbol of freedom even in captivity. Awankay: the verb was turned into a noun by Arguedas who changed the least important consonant within it: v (and correspondingly the w  of transcriptions of Quechua) and b are interchangeable in Spanish pronunciation, except in very formal peninsular Spanish which insists upon the v-sound.  He used the verb as “Abancay,” the name of  the “captive hacienda” with its Jesuit school where the young hero is held “captive,” dreaming of “soaring”away from the courtyard together with his zumbayllu ( spinning top).

             Through their articulation in the precario, the fragments of a condor û perhaps the feathers are only those of an ordinary crow û hold a kind of power that does not depend on the one who wields it. Who would that be? It is “the-to-be-power,” uncanny, demonic, divine, only to be interpreted by the divine, the soothsayer, seer or vates: the poet.

            If one contemplates the photographic reproduction long enough, if one “enters” it, the condor may turn into a Christ, a vengeful Christ before what then becomes an apocalyptically tormented sea or sky; or he may be the Savior from the torment, his protecting arms stretched out, his head mercifully inclined toward his flock. It could be the Christ of the Sugarloaf mountain of the mestizo city Rio, or some Fellini cinematographic totem flying over Rome.

            If Dávila Andrade`s mitayo “added more whiteness to the cross,” Vicuña redeems the original shamanic meaning contained in the Andean cross.


            “And the objects û where did they come from?

            From the soul of all the Indians I have been?

            From my shamanic heart?

            I heard them when I was dancing and arranging something on the beach

            As an offering and token of love for the sun and the sea.”


            Of course, both the invincible condor-mestizo-Christ and the arch of the triumph of the spirit were swept away by the returning tide or blown away by the wind. They were meant to be. Initially, Vicuña did not even allow the precarios to be photographed; she did not want them to last in any form. An offering is meant to be consumed, and these were offerings made to the sea and the sky who responded by taking back what came from them. Or rather: the wind of the sky and the waves of the sea “rearranged” the composition, thus inviting the poet to respond to a new configuration-constellation. A dialogue.


            SA-MA-RA 98 is, as the notice at the end explains, “a seed with wings”: “Fruto seco con el pericarpio en forma de ala, como el del olmo o del fresno.” (Dry fruit with a pericarp in form of a wing, like that of the elm or the ash tree).

            The book itself û if one can call “book” that which draws attention to itself as a physical object, not just as the indifferent container of signs-standing-for something else û is precarious (one thinks of the “livre-objet” of the French author Michel Butor). It restitutes to the book the prestige of its origin, its “cradle,” the “in-cunable,” before Gutenberg invented mass printing. We must keep in mind the importance to the Andean mind of pacarina, origin, translated into Spanish as “cuna,” cradle. A book, if some of the traits of its infancy û its “illiteracy,” so to speak û are restored,  may become a sacred or magic object, as bewildering as were these “magic things” (the documents to which the Spaniards “spoke,” i.e., from which they read aloud) to Atahualpa and his subjects. We may imagine SA MA RA as the first book appearing in a so-far oral culture. And, after all, a book encountered early in life can be, to a certain extent, the origin or pacarina of our identity, as it can strongly shape our thought and moral convictions or be the cradle of our faith and imagination. Samara is a seed (semen), destined to be widely dis-seminated, a process helped by its wings.

            The Colombian publishers, Ediciones Embalaje (Package Publishers) manufactured three hundred “copies,” that is, hand-made originals consisting of twenty sheets of coarse paper fastened by a knotted string (reminiscent of the other “writing,” the khipu) to the two covers of brown cardboard, the kind ordinarily used for postal parcels or grocery boxes. It is discarded cardboard, a precario.

            The Chilean edition of La Wik`uña seems wrapped in a kenko (Paternosto`s photograph). Now is it a coincidence that I was “thunderstruck,” as though hit by lightning when receiving Cecilia`s gift û by postal parcel û of SA MA RA and seeing at first nothing but the lightning zig-zag of a kenko? After all, cardboard is the kind of thing we see everyday without seeing it.

            If my vision of a kenko in this banal cardboard was not intended by the author, it was, however, a special coincidence: a “cross of two vectors” must have been formed:


            La coincidencia es un alcance            Coincidence is the

            milagroso del azar                              miraculous achievement of chance

            El cruce de dos vectores                     The crossing of two vectors

            poco cuidadosos quizás                       Which were a bit careless, perhaps.

                                                                        (from Palabrarmas)


Our vectors had crossed a bit carelessly. But Vicuña`s art spins so powerful a thread among apparent contingencies that the experiencer`s mind, his eye, his mind`s eye, become tuned to the technique of the watuq.

            What was so extraordinary with this most ordinary cardboard? A close look at the cut reveals that it is not compact, but, as in any cardboard, a corrugated inside is sandwiched between the two smooth outer papers. Corrugation is, obviously, a snake-like line, the amaru, the kenko, leading back to the pacarina, place of origin, the source.

            The title, SA-MA-RA, is graphically presented in such a way as to suggest the infinite reverberation or echo of the a û like the a  in agua-á  of the cascading waters, the “unui quita” of the poem with the same title. It is worth noting that in all cultures, the repeated a is used for the effect of incantation: La illah il Allah,  the koranic affirmation of faith; the dream of Shangri-La; the fascination of all poetic minds with the name of the Central Asian city of Sa-mar-cand;99 the funfair magician`s “abra-ca-da-bra.” Some link must exist between the first letter, the alpha, the aleph and the pacarina (three times a). How does the human in his first linguistic manifestations know? Why are the most important persons first encountered called “mama,” “papa” universally û with variations, such as the “yaya” as in “Atahualpa” û invariably based on the a?

            Two poems contained in this precarious object (precarious indeed: the knot in the parcel string holding together the two kenkos had to be redone over and again) resound with echoes:

            Cruz del Sur               Southern Cross 100

Cruz es el Sur / Y como duele              The South is a cross / and how it hurts

El deseo / y el miedo               The desire / and the fear

De ser luz                                To be light.


            Ver                                          To see

La herida / es un ojo               The wound / is an eye

Sangra / la mirada                              Bleeding is the look. (p.9)


            A wound was seen at the threshold, the place of the mestizo.101 Playing on the assonance between “mirada” and “herida” (“miraculÉ,” from “miracle” in French is “stigmatized” with the wounds of Christ; the mestizo bears a “stigma”), this poem throws the diabolic symbol of Christ across the arch-Andean “tears of blood”102: “sangra la mirada.”


            The most precarious creation, the most quixotic enterprise, are lines traced in the sand. A quintessential poetic “offering” comes to mind: Don Quijote`s “penitence” in the Sierra Morena103 prompted by the inscription in a cave “from where a fountain sprang.” Don Quijote, escribiendo por la menuda arena muchos versos...”  writing many verses into the fine sand)...

            In the Andes, sand is sacred as a symbol of the cohesion of free parts (Vicuña`s “sacra cohera”) where division means loss of identity (sand is sand only as the mass of its grains).

In sixteenth-century Quechua, the word for disaster is aqoraki. Aqo means “sand” while raki is “to divide,” “to separate” [daiein]. Consequently, aqoraki refers literally to the separation of sand. As sand exists by virtue of the connection between its different grains, to separate them “destroys” the sand, just as separating the threads destroys a textile. The “disgrace” is then the loss of connections that one had with one`s community and / or nature û the phenomenon we call today “alienation.”104


            Sand, itself symbol of cohesion, is in its concrete form as fluid and transitory as are Quechua words. What determines essence, underlies identity, is relation: “fixity is only an illusion, a moment of relation,” writes Vicuña (Palabrir). Shape, color, size, weight are accidental.

            To trust the sand, this proverbially most treacherous, most immaterial of material supports, as guardian of one`s offerings attests to an unshakable faith in the “sacred coherence.” This gesture û the opposite to “building one`s house...”û turns into an authentic offering, a “lucid entering” into the realm of the sacred, as there is no naive attempt to bind the forces that be, no arrogance expecting reciprocity.

            Don Quijote`s letters traced in the sand are an offering to Dulcinea. They are obviously “purloined letters,”105 as the addressee exists as princess Dulcinea only in the hidalgo`s imagination, i.e., she has no other than a poetic existence. What instills her with life is the spirit, the pneuma, nefesa, blown into the “basurita” Aldonza û which does not in the least diminish the dignity, spirit, and authenticity of the offering per se. Traces in the sand, least destined to last û and so Don Quijote became immortal:  the “inmortal novela.”

            “Con-con” is the name of a precario traced in the sand. It is the name of a real place in Chile. It could be translated as “with-with,” junction of all things.

            “At the junction of two waters, the Aconcagua river and the Pacific Ocean106 I made my first spiral: Con Con,  Chile, 1966.”

            It is a spiral, hand-traced into the fine sand (like Don Quijote`s, it has to be a “menuda,” fine, sand, for poetic nuance is unattainable in coarse material), juxtaposed to a circle formed by a loosely twisted rope. Both these sacred enclosures are gateways to the “Incommensurable.” They are surrounded by what looks like a small army of temple guardians (twigs stuck vertically in to the sand) and a meander (kenko) formed of bunches of feathers which seem vegetal rather than animal, for they are grouped in such a way as to resemble a common species of cactus. The feather-cacti are replicas or echoes of the apparently endless natural field of dune vegetation in the background. We  are not dealing with metaphor here. A magic essence, rather, is flowing across distinct categories. Union takes place by osmosis between the real feathers, the cactus-like feathers, and the real cacti  û the cholla (cactus) being itself a node in the khipu  of radial symbolism. It is (i)-magic irony turning the divisions between ontological categories into vapor, that is, into fertilizing mist for a mind as fecund as Vicuña`s in which, in turn, the categorical dichotomy between supposedly western “rationality” and Andean “intuition” is abolished û or where, if they do exist in non-mestizized form, they “copulate” felicitously, to use her “metaphor” for weaving.

            When the magic transubstantiation û the mimesis of plants by animal parts û will be swept away, along with the conjurations of unending movement (the caracol, snail or coiled snake  traced in the sand, amaru,  interacting with the kenko  of the rope), nature will have reclaimed them back as her own. And who knows whether Vicuña`s writing in the sand while listening with her fingers is anything more than a “putting in order,” a cleaning of the surface, to bring out a palimpsest written by nature herself, such as the “rose des sables” (sand rose) of the Sahara desert, the original wind rose? Those “wind-curved sandhills”(Surah 46) are as much a palimpsest to the calligraphed Koran as the water-curved rocks (curvo manantial) and the waved sand of the beach are to the non-written cosmovision of the Inca. Does not the language, Quechua, behave like moving sands, perhaps as an invitation to discover such palimpsests written before any writing was invented that could have been superimposed on them?

            By tracing lines into the sand, “el ser hace su ofrenda a la inmensidad” (being makes its offering to the Immense).

            “To pray is to feel...To be one with sea and sky...To feel the earth as one`s own skin” (Unravelling, p. 5) .

             This communion, the grace of becoming one with sea and sky in a trans-category, trans-species brother hood/ sisterhood, is unio mystica. While given here shamanic expression, this is ultimately the hymn of Saint Francis of Assisi to “Sister Water,”“Brother Sun” and all the things of God`s creation.  Obviously not pantheism in St. Francis`s case, it is not in Vicuña`s either û nor pan-en-theism, although the latter may come closer. It is a dialogue, sovereignly independent from any revealed Word, any Scripture. It is a quest: “Everything in me is against the idea of humankind as the center of anything...I am trying to interpret what water, the sea, the sun may `feel`”  (letter, April 93). St. Francis too, to judge from his confessional writings, was not so much “preaching to the birds,” as the usual iconography infers, than “con-versing” with them (flowing together).

            To both, nature is not a “liber mundi” where everything (omnis mundi creatura) is but  sign. Oral cultures obviously never had the medieval liber mundi image. The communion is direct, unmediated by the hermeneutics implied in the “book-of-the world” perception. It is the same disposition which informs Vicuña`s relation with language. In Palabrarmas  she reports how words visited her in a vision and opened themselves up to “reveal their inner associations.”

            “I called them `divinations` And the words said: `the word is divination.`To divine is to ascertain the divine.”(Unravelling, p.34)


            Perhaps even more significant than communication with the grand elements of sea and sky is Vicuña`s humility, a Franciscan trait, the faculty to see the sacred nature in all of Nature, even, and especially, when victimized, maimed, dirtied, suffocated: desacralized. There is that weed, growing with obstinate will-to-life, a living hymn to the Creator, out of the crevice between the concrete and the curbstone of a New York sidewalk. In its desperate thirst ûestremezca sed û it reaches down to the abject, oily fluid of the gutter. Vicuña drew a chalk circle around it which encloses a cross whose intersection point is the root site of the plant. It is one of her “street pieces.” Just as the crevice between the concrete and the curbstone is a sacred k`ijllu, the heart (root) of the plant marked by the cross is a pacha pacarina (earth/space/time-place of origin), “a cross of warp and weft, union of high and low, sky and earth, woman and man, the first knot, beginning of the spiral, life and death, birth and rebirth” (Unravelling, p. 9). It is a “crossroads in space.”

            Ordinary magnitudes become irrelevant. If you enter with your eyes the sacred ground marked by the chalk circle, you find yourself, small like Alice in Wonderland, in a forest, one of the innumerable “sidewalk forests,” those “small altars on the streets of New York, air vents for the earth, pasture born in the gutters.” (Unravelling, p. 19). The weed is life, inspired enough to find, or strong enough to create, the crevice in the imprisoning concrete: a heroic split, only because “la luz lo desea” (light desires it), as it desires the non-entities of “Iridesce.”

            “I called them divinations...”. “To divine, from Indo-European  root da, dai, in Greek daiesthai, to divide. Suffixed from daimon, divider, provider, divinity.”107

            The idea of the daimon, taken up over and over again since 1974, focus of the forthcoming book Palabrir, is a major thread, perhaps the very weft of Vicuña`s text(ile). Here is another “crossing of two vectors”: on the one hand my interest, stemming from a background in classical languages, in daimon and diabolon, on the other, Vicuña`s discovery stemming from Andean linguistics, from the semantic versatility, conferring to the word a metaphysical dimension. “A word is divine: internally divided. Its inner division creates the ambiguity, the inner tension that makes growth possible.” (Fire over Water, p. 11) She added in a conversation (Spring 93): “The illa of the alpaca, of the white stone, is the daimon of light; illa is language, a conjunction.” This appears as a rather esoteric statement, a strange “conjunction,” not applicable anywhere save in the peculiar universe of the amawta or watuq. It would, however, occur to nobody to attribute a “shamanic heart” to Immanuel Kant. Yet, he states:

Of all our mental notions, that of conjunction is the only one which cannot be given through objects but can be originated only by the subject itself.108



1. Octavio Paz(in memory of André Breton) Nuevo Mundo (Dec 6, 1966). English transl. by Alfred Mac Adam, Review: Latin-American Literature and Arts ,  51 (Fall 1995), p. 17 [my emphases]

For Aristotle`s description of language as “passions in the soul” (en  tÍ psychÍ pathemata), see note 36 to Introduction.


2.Siegmund Freud, “Das Unheimliche” (The Uncanny), Collected Papers, vol.iv,  (London: The Hogarth Press, 1950), pp. 368 ff.

Photographs of precarios  can be found in:

Cecilia Vicuña, Unravelling Words and the Weaving of Water. Transl. Eliot Weinberger and Suzanne Jill Levine, (St. Paul, Minnesota:Graywolf Press, l992), pp. 14-23.

- Precario / Precarious, Transl. Anne Twitty (New York: Tanam Press, 1983).

Also in: Sulfur, # 29, 1991, pp. 43-47.

Various catalogues of her exhibitions, such as the one at the University of Berkeley in 1993  and in Kortrijk, Belgium, in 1994.


3. The term used by Syed Amanuddin in Creativity and Reception  (see note 4 to chapter III) is convenient for encompassing “reader,” “listener,” viewer,” etc.


4. Term of Roland Barthes. See Walcott`s “sidereal,” chapter VII.


5. “Palindromes” are phrases that can be read both backwards and forwards, such as, in English, “Madam I`m Adam.” An example of” metathesis” is yuma (foam) and mayu (river) where syllables change places.


6. Robert Randall, “La lengua sagrada. El juego de palabras en la cosmologia andina,” All Panchís, # 29-30, año XIX (Sicuani, Cuzco, 1987), pp. 267-303.


7. Jacques Derrida, Glas (Paris: Editions Galilée, 1974), p. 7. He calls “sémantiquement infaillible” the comical French mispronunciation of the name “Hegel” as “aigle” (eagle). The “infallible” link is the royal quality attributed to the eagle and Hegel as the king of philosophers.


8. Billie-Jean Isbell (Cornell University) with Fredy Amilcar Roncalla Fernandez (Ponti-ficia Universidad Catolica del Per·), “Ontogenesis of Metaphor: Riddle Games among Quechua Speakers Seen as Cognitive Discovery Procedures,” Journal of Latin American Lore  3 : 1 (1977), p. 21.


9. This is a reference to one of the basic books in the vast field to which this essay belongs, George Steiner,  After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation   (London-Oxford-New York: Oxford U.P., 1975).


10. Walcott`s Omeros is the subject of chapter VII.


11. See note7 above.


12. Randall, p. 272


13. I use the term “mutant” here instead of the more common “sliding semiosis” because here it is not just the meaning, the “signified,” in Ferdinand de Saussure`s sense, which “slides” from under the “signifier,” but the very mode of semiosis is in a mutation comparable to that of a biological species.


14. See photographs in Precarious and Unravelling Words  and CÉsar Paternosto, Piedra Abstracta.  La escultura inca: Una vision contemporánea. (Buenos Aires: Fondo de Cultura Economica, 1989). English translation: The Stone and the Thread: The Andean Tradition of Abstract Art  (U. of Texas Press, Austin, 1996).


15. See Walcott, chapter VII, Nobel Acceptance Speech.


16. Davila Andrade, “Infancia muerta,” Arco de instantes, (Quito: Casa de la Cultura, 1959), pp. 25-26.


17. Manuscript of forthcoming book Palabrir  (Opening-up Words).

Note the infinitive turned noun, “el humanar,” an important device in Vicuña`s texts.


18. Dudley Young, Origins of the Sacred: The Ecstasies of Love and War (New York: St. Martin`s Press, 1992).


19.  Vicuña, “Metafísica del textil,” Tramemos, Boletín del Centro Argentino de Artistas del Tapiz, año 11, # 31 ( Buenos Aires: Nov. 1989).


20. See chapter I, 3, “The Yoke...”Zeugma, the Greek word for “yoke,” designates the combination of incompatible notions.See Oswald Ducrot & Tzvetan Todorov, Dictionnaire  encyclopédique des sciences du langage  (Paris: Seuil, 1972), p. 355.


21. See note 19 above.


22. Khipu, see note 9 to chapter I.


23. Kenko, a zig-zag line characteristic of both North and South American Indian visual art: it is the lightning (illa  as non-solar light); it is the serpentine flow of water over rocks, especially the water from the high mountain sources channelled to fill baths and shrines. It resembles û and therefore is û amaru, the snake, hence related to water cult. The “snake-like”  movement conflates the two images, as water is fertility and re-birth seen as incarnated by the snake renewing itself by shedding its skin.

See Glossary of La Wik`uña, pp. 31-33.


24. Ce`que, Inka land division system. Originally, complex system of imaginary lines radiating from Cuzco`s Temple of the Sun. It connected a number of huacas  that marked the days in the agricultural calendar.  Ce`que  also functioned as astronomical sites to observe the rising and setting of the sun, moon, and certain constellations. It also pointed toward water sources.

See R. Tom Zuidema, Inca Civilization in Cuzco  (University of Texas Press, 1990). In his Glossary, Zuidema defines ce`que  as “sight lines.”


25. In the West, only when men participate in the task does the activity take on political weight and fuel rebellion and social change, as in Gerhard Hauptmann`s famous play Die Weber (The Weavers) depicting the home industry exploited by merchants right before the Industrial  Revolution.

 Many medieval homes in Europe boasted two “ armoires” : the real armory with the husband`s hunting arms  and the armoire or cabinet containing the neatly folded linen of the wife`s dowry, equally important as status symbol and token of respectability, i.e., credit-worthiness.


26. Vicuña, comments on her work in “Document in Wool: Installation of Wool, Pigment, Wood, Refuse),” Catalog of the exhibition “America, Bride of the Sun: 500 Years of Latin America and the Low Countries,” Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp, 1992.


27. Franτoise Lionnet, Autobiographical Voices, p. 213.


28. Cf. Randall, note 12 above.


29. Claude Gandelman,Reading Pictures,Viewing Texts(Bloomington, Ind. U.P., 1991).


30. See “precarios,” part 3 of this chapter.


31. La Wik`uña  (Santiago de Chile: Francisco Zegers, 1990), pp. 31-33.


32. Palabrarmas: El Imaginero. Series Cuadernos de poesía y crítica, Buenos Aires, 1984.Selections of Palabrarmas can be found in the bilingual anthology of Vicuña`s works, Unravelling Words and the Weaving of Water (cf. note 2 above).


33. See Arguedas, “The Agony of Rasu Niti,” transl. Angela Cadillo Alfaro de Ayres  and Ruth Flanders Francis. Review of Latin American Literature and the Arts  (# 25-26, 1980), p. 46


34. Dávila Andrade: “the poetic word must get lost (extraviada)  in the center of the play, as the convulsion of a hunt plays itself in a single viscera. “Poesía quemada,” En un lugar no identificado (In an unidentified place) (Mérida,Venezuela, Talleres Gráficos Universitarios, 1962), pp. 44-45. Notice the titles of both the poem and the collection: Poesía quemada ( burnt poetry) is an intertextual echo from Don Quijote`s autodafÉ   (the burning of the hidalgo`s books). En un lugar no identificado  echoes the famous opening sentence of the “immortal novel”: “En un lugar de la Mancha de cuyo nombre no quiero recordarme”  (in a place of La Mancha whose name I don`t care to remember).


35. Translation of Quechua words by Jorge Lira, see note 86 below. The last term, “violent wingbeating” is a strong link to African oral poetry. See chapter V.


36. Paul de Man, “The Epistemology of Metaphor,”  in Sheldon Sacks, ed., On Metaphor  (Chicago: Chicago U.P. 1978), pp. 11-28.


37. Randall, p. 272


38. Harrison, pp. 172-195: “The potato`s `eyes` correspond with the stars, they are poles of metaphysical relations.” Accordingly, the thirty-one varieties are cultivated, not each in its separate patch, but in a complex system of “mirroring” rows of pairs of opposites (tinkuni). Potatoes are members of the household, each individual variety being named with affection and little respect, such as the “spotted guinea pig fetus potato” or “the potato-that-makes-daughter-in-law-cry.”


39. Das Sein”  (the to be), as distinct from “das Seiende” (what is); “die Seiendheit,” the quality derived from “das Seiende;” “das Wesen” (essence), etc., corresponding to the Greek  ÿein, to ein, einai, to on, ousía...


40. Harrison, p. 51. Potatoes too are planted in rows displaying tinkuni.


41. Vicuña, “El Ande Futuro,” catalog of the exhibition “Matrix” at the Art Museum of Berkeley, California, 1993.


42. Ubbelohde Doering, quoted by Vicuña, La Wik`uña, p. 86.


43. Cf.Robert K.Logan,The Alphabet Effect:The Impact of the Phonetic Alphabet on the Development of Western Civilization (N. Y.: St.Martin`s Press: 1986), pp. 26-27.


44. Cf. chapter III, 2, “Authenticity.”


45. CÉsar Paternosto, Piedra Abstracta. La escultura inca: Una vision contemporánea  (Buenos Aires: Fondo de Cultura Economica, 1989). English translation:   The Stone and the Thread: The Andean Tradition of Abstract Art (U. of Texas Press, Austin, 1996).


46. Arguedas, “The Agony of Rasu Niti,” p. 44


47. Paracas,  16 mm  color, 18m24, animation. Written and directed by Cecilia Vicuña. Produced by Paulina Ponce and Cecilia Vicuña. Photography by Paulina Ponce. Edited by John Mullen. Music by José Pérez de Arce, Claudio Mercado, and Cecilia Vicuña (New York: 1993), bi-lingual subtitles. Also available in video format.


48. See chapter VI, Edouard Maunick.


49. For the linguistic term “performative,” see note 59 to Introduction.


50. Strangely, all the elements of Art déco are united here: the fluidity of movements, Hector Guimard`s motives of sea shells, all the opalescence, phosphorescence and shimmer of the nineteen-twenties. Andean sensibility seems present in the MusÉe d`Orsay.


51. From Precarious. A propos a scandal of contaminated milk causing the death of some two thousand children per year in Colombia.


52 . Tess Onwueme, Okike, # 25-26 (Feb., 1984).


53. Michael Riffaterre, Semiotics of Poetry  (Bloomington: Indiana U.P, 1978).


54. See chapter I, 3.


55. Maurice Tavard, “solarisation négative”: “negative solarization originated in the laboratory from the observation of certain phenomena of photographic chemistry...the surface covers itself with a photosensitive veil...a kind of negative-positive.”(Fondation Nationale de la Photographie, Maurice Tavard, l`alchimiste des formes, Paris, 1932).

See Christine de Lailhacar, “To Express the Inexpressible: A Study in Comparative Poetics” in LittÉrature comparÉe/ LittÉrature gÉnÉrale, (Bern: Peter Lang, 1991).


56. See note 86 below, “palpitation,” khatatatay, phatatatay.


57. Vicuña, letter, Jan. 29, 1993.


58. Arguedas. “The Agony...” p. 44. It is worth noting that Arguedas` first published work, a collection of short stories was Agua (1935).


59. See Pachakamaq, chapter III, 3.


60. See khatatatay   (note 86 below).


61. Vicuña, letter, Jan. 1993.


62. See African oral poem, chapter V.


63. Dávila Andrade, “Poesía quemada,” see note 34 above.


64. illa: cf. Wiracocha, ch. III, 3.


65. The collective memory of the civilization of Cupisnique is confirmed by shards of ceramics. Those which could be put together show an astounding quality of abstract art. As to the semantic value of potatos, see Harrison, note 38 above.


66. Vicuña, “Andina Gabriela, Una palabra complice” (already quoted).


67. Billie Jean Isbell & Fredy Amilcar Roncalla Fernandez. “The Ontogenesis of Metaphor: Riddle Games among Quechua Speakers Seen as Cognitive Discovery Procedures,” Journal of Latin-American Lore 3:1 (1977), p.22.


68. Interview with Kim Levin, The Village Voice, (May, 1990).


69. Michel Serres, see chapter II.


70. “Hilumbres Alqα “ (Threads full / empty - light / shadow). Exhibition, Kortrijk, Belgium, Oct. 1994.


71. The dichotomy between the coast and the sierra, causing that inner schism first expressed by CÉsar Vallejo, has not changed to this day:”Unlike refugees who flee across borders, Peru`s internally displaced people [Indians, the runa puna,  and mestizos from the highlands seeking work in the coastal capital] cross an invisible border of race, culture and language within the country.”

Robin Kirk, “The Decade of the Chaqwa [Quechua word for “chaos”] :Report to the UN Committee of Refugees.” The New York Times, (Dec. 15,1991).


72. Cf. Montecino, “El marianismo en la cultura latino-americana,” Madres y huachos, pp. 25-33.


73. Abancay ( to  soar) awankay: see below, IV, 3, the “condor.”


74. Arguedas, Deep Rivers, p. 86 (my emphases).


75. Jorge Lira,  Randall`s reference, p. 272.


76. “Negative solarization,” see note 55 above.


77. See note 70 above.


78. See note 2 above.


79. See note 14, chapter I.


80. Confesionario para los curas de Indios con la instrucion [sic] contra sus Ritos (1585).To be found in Corpus Hispanorum de Pace, vol. 26 (Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 1985).


81. Cf.Arguedas` passage on illa  in Deep Rivers (already quoted)


82. Edmund Burke. A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful. With an Introductory Discourse Concerning Taste [1756] (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1846).

Immanuel Kant, Kritik der Urteilskraft  [Critique of Judgment, 1790] Ed. Gerhard Lehman (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1966).


83. See chapter I, Geoffrey Hartman.


84. CÉsar Guardia Mayorga, Diccionario Kechwa-Castillano / Castillano /Kechwa  (Lima: Ed. Los Andes, 1959) 1967 (3rd. ed.).


85. Antonio Cusihuaman, Diccionario quechua  (Lima: Ministerio de Educacion, l976).


86. Jorge Lira, Diccionario Kketchuwa-Español, (Cuzco: Edicion Popular, n.d.).


87. Roger Scruton, The Philosopher on Dover Beach  (New York: St. Martin`s Press).


88. Vicuña, exhibition catalog “America, Bride of the Sun,” cf. note 26 above.


89. For “sidereal,” see note 4 above.


90. Precarious / Precario (New York: Tanam Press, 1983). As the original edition is bilingual, I give the Spanish phrasing only when significant  with regard to poetic-linguistic concerns.


91.”Oir y orar,” lecture given at the IIIrd. Congress of Hispanic Cultures, Santiago, University of Chile, Aug. 1992. A definite version will be part of Palabrir.


92. Schelling, “tautology” as signifying mode of myth, see note 1, ch. I.


93. Cf. Jean-Paul Sartre`s drama Les Mouches.


94. Calvin Reid, review of Vicuña`s exhibition at the New Museum, New York, Art in America, Jan. 1991.


95. See note 91 above.


96. Arguedas, “The Agony of Rasu Niti.” See note 33 above.

“[The dancer] Rasy Niti was the son of a great Wamani, a mountain with eternal snow. But then he had sent him his spirit, a gray condor whose white back was shining...” [It is the shining of the illa,  the back of the white alpaca, the pearl-white stone in whose hollow the sacrificial offering will take place].


97. For the dynamics of asymmetry, see Michel Serres, ch.II, 2.


98. SA MA RA, (Roldanillo Valle, Colombia: Ediciones Embalaje-Museo Rayo, 1987).


99. See chapter VI, Maunick`s “Samarcande”.


100. “Y como duele” (and how it hurts) reminds one of García Lorca`s outcry at the Spanish Civil War, “España me duele” (Spain is hurting me).The Southern Cross, a Cross weighing heavily on the shoulders of the people living under it, is also a main theme of Maunick (cf. chapter VI).


101. See Vicuña`s poem “Y en el umbral veo una llaga...”  which I put at the beginning of chapter III, “The Wound of the Inka.” The wound (llaga, herida, or, in Walcott`s case, the scar, together with the “threshold,” i.e., a form of crossing) is a permanent concern of the mestizo.


102. Yawar tek`e,  see “Atahualpa” and Arguedas, ch.III.


103. Cervantes, Don Quijote  I, chapter XXVI.


104. Randall, p. 272.


105. Reference is made to the “Purloined Letter” by Edgar Allan Poe as commented by Jacques Lacan in  Ecrits (Paris: Seuil, 1966).


106. This kind of junction of river and ocean û  a mestizaje where each penetrates the other, becomes the other`s substance (sweet water, salt water) at different hours of the day according to the tide û the “mascaret,” is also one of the main features of Maunick`s poetry. Cf. chapter VI.


107. Vicuña, in Fire over Water (New York: Tanam Press, 1986), p. 11. This collection of essays, poems and reproductions of art works explores the striking resemblance between the images and symbols of early Vedic art and those of the North American Woodland Indians.


108 .Immanuel Kant, Transzendentale Deduktion der reinen Verstandesbegriffe,” par. 15, Kritik der reinen Vernunft  (Transcendental Deduction of the Pure Concepts of Reason,  par. 15 of the Critique of Pure Reason ).





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