Letter from the editor

November 2, 2016 in Letter from the editor, Uncategorized by

Movement defines us, but the action of clashing shapes us.

This issue is dedicated to the savage beauty of encountering the different, the opposite, the paradoxical, and being able to inhabit it in active and dynamic ways. Writing, re-writing, erasing, destroying, and everything that comes between an original and its translation, in the broadest sense of the word, is built within the limits of the encounter with the other person, text, world. This encounter could be an explosion or a junction; could be a sign of change or a prophecy to remain the same. Translating is always transforming both the source and the new creation.

This issue is my first as Alchemy’s incoming 2017-18 editor, and I’ve collaborated on it with last year’s editor in chief, Majo. I would like to extend a special note of thanks to Majo for making this issue possible, a person who has been living and drawing inspiration from clashing cultures, who never hesitated to make me feel that this issue was also my creative project. This feeling of authorial and editorial fluidity is one thing that gives Alchemy its flavor. I’d also like to thank Aia Hawari, Alchemy’s fantastic new assistant editor, for her collaboration in this issue; and to Daniel Lara Cardona, for his striking photography.

As always, we are proud to show groundbreaking works: Daniel Centeno Maldonado y Alfonso J. Gustave deliver an amazing short piece of fiction a about a woman that “is Janis, Aretha, and Edith Piaf all mixed into one” and collides between the limits of beats and sound in Cuba and New York. Daniela Camacho and Majo Delgadillo share a piece of powerful poetry that draws in itself the very beautiful state of grief. Eleanor Hill and anonymous remember the everlasting lucidity of Mallarmé and Verlaine. Izabela Zdun translated a remarkable piece from Michał Paweł Markowski, which states touchingly that the anthropology of literature is “a lovely, really lovely science.”

Enjoy this crossing,



Anthropology, Humanism, Interpretation

October 30, 2016 in Uncategorized by

With the philosophy of William James as the backbone, this essay explores the contemporary notion of literary anthropology and poses broader questions about interpreting both literature and life, showcasing a human being in his attempt to make sense of the world armed with a different understanding of truth.

1. “Anthropology is a lovely, really lovely science!”1 Admittedly, this sentence did not refer to literary anthropology per se; still, it is valid with regard to literature. Literary anthropology is indeed a lovely science; the only question is whether it is a separate science or the newest mutation of literary studies. It seems it is the latter. While changing its subject matter, literary anthropology also changes its previous reading methods. An anthropological reading of a literary text wants us to mistrust the commonalities about literary texts. If structuralists believed that they are more independent than Marxists because they analyzed the very texts and not their economic conditions, and if deconstructionists believed that they are more refined than structuralists because they see that the coherence of a text is a metaphysical premise and not a fact, then anthropologists today jointly believe that their sagaciousness transcends both the structuralist independence and the deconstructive refinement, for texts show us not artefacts and their internal incongruities but most of all a human being who, with their [texts] help, tries to somehow orient himself* in his own world. Today, on the eve or perhaps already at the time of the anthropological changing of the guard, I wish to say a few words about how I see the relationship between anthropology and interpretation.

2. In his lectures, William James aptly described the discord between the tough-minded and the tender-minded people. The former believe only in facts, beyond which there is nothing else and whose incoherence attests to the permanent fragmentation of the unity of our world; the latter, on the other hand, as a result of the same fragmentation, demand an external acknowledgment, an absolute justification of that which is arbitrary. The world “exists in reticulated and concatenated forms,”2 says James, and we either accept it (the tough-minded) or not (the tender-minded choose this option). This, says James, is indeed a serious discord, though in both cases it deprives us of our will and the possibility to influence our lives; or – as Nietzsche would put it – it deprives us of creativity. In both cases, there is no room for experience, which would not only adjust to the varying stream of life but also regulate this stream. In both cases, there is equally no room for time, and so for change. When the tough-minded declare reality to be ready and finite, the tender-minded everything that occurs see as a mere shadow of the invariable. Both see the world through the prism of an absolute (and that is why they invalidate time), except that for the tough-minded absolute are the received laws of reality (and their ensuing facts); and for the tender-minded absolute are the pre-existing laws and that is why facts are completely insignificant.

3. What James calls pragmatism or humanism, today we promptly call an anthropological perspective. The most succinct way to describe it is the following: the meaning of the world exists neither in the very facts nor beyond them – in any sphere of a transcendent explanation of them – but is rather a result of human creativity. This creativity is a negotiation with the world based on established rules. These rules are not a single but a collective discovery; that is why James aptly claimed that “into the field of fresh experience, we plunge forward with the beliefs our ancestors have made already.”3 That said, a human being with an intellect at the disposal is not opposed to the world according to the dichotomy subject-object, but is into this world submerged and does not so much discover it as creates it through mental and physical activity. In other words, he experiences the world and in this notion lies both the fact that the world concerns and surrounds the human being and that he cannot free himself from this world. The world that concerns and surrounds a human being does not allow him to become a subject of cognition per se, i.e., a producer, but rather makes of him a subject of experience. And the category of experience leads us clearly toward anthropology. The turn from the structural-phenomenological literary studies toward anthropological literary studies, I believe, lies specifically in departing from the epistemological subject of research and choosing instead a pragmatic subject of experience. Better yet, a humanistic subject of experience, as James, the integrator of experience and humanism, would put it.

4. Experience, according to James, is “getting into fruitful relations with reality.”4 There is both the more stable subject of experience and the more changeable – what he experiences. Experience then is something that enables us to say something about the subject. Upon translation into the language interesting to us, we could say that if we read books professionally, and so think of reading as an experience (which is impossible not to do), then we ought to agree that the reading method describes more the subject than anything else.

From this transactional conception of a subject experiencing the world follows that if that which is changeable defines that which is stable, then the subject is multilaterally defined by what happens to him in [his] experience or by what he reads. But also the other way around: reality is changeable and its changeability depends on the subject who bestows upon reality its interpretation. This is in fact the best definition of the anthropological take on interpretation: “a fruitful relation with reality,” which can also be described differently: interpretation is a transaction a human being makes with the world. Why relation and why transaction? Because it not only connects the subject with the world but is also a kind of interchangeable activity: I affect the world (texts) and the world (texts) affects me. Why should this transaction be fruitful? Because it permits the reading subject to situate himself in the world as he pleases and at the same time to say something meaningful to others, which is the most humanist feature of human activity imaginable.

5. Experience is also a constantly developing process from which certain consequences follow. A human being builds his beliefs based on what happens to him, and it either matches his beliefs or modifies them. Because experience is changeable, “no point of view can ever be the last one.”5 And that in turn means that experience is by nature perspectival; devoid, however, of a uniting perspective from which – as in Leibniz – we could see everything the way God sees is. The processuality and perspectivism of experience brings about never-ending negotiations between the subject and the world, which means that if we think our beliefs and convictions attain a closed and polished form, we simply relinquish experience for the benefit of theory, from which we demand salvation from the stream of reality. Experience, to the extent James understands it, questions the opposition between practice and theory just as much as it questions the opposition between the tough (practical) and the tender (theoretical) minds. In experience, the (reading) subject affects reality (texts) by way of his created ideas (interpretations), from which follows a certain philosophy of truth. For truth, in James’ definition, is a relation between our sensational experience and our ideas. True is for us not what is in the text but what does not cause dissonance between what comes from the outside (senses) and the state of our intellectual property. It is in fact the only moment when a humanist can speak of any congruence or adequacy, for it is the congruence between experience and belief that is the foundation of interpretation. “If a new experience, conceptual or sensible, contradicts too emphatically our pre-existing system of beliefs, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred it is treated as false.”6 For true in such cases is only what does not contradict this system of beliefs. And because this system of convictions and beliefs does not create itself separately from experience but rather in its duration, humanism is released from the accusations of any form of transcendentalism.

6. Before I explain why James’ humanism should become a primary source of inspiration for contemporary literary anthropologists, I shall briefly respond to the most serious accusation that may present itself when truth is dispossessed of its power of absolute objectivity. So, they say, if the only criterion of truth is the congruence between one’s experience and beliefs, then how can we protect this truth from complete arbitrariness? James suggests that “truths should have practical consequences.”7 That is, every sentence we suspect to be true (as it corresponds to our beliefs) must undergo a test of experience, which is the only verifying filter. It is the very experience that is the authority by which some judgements are rejected and others accepted. James writes:

The true is the opposite of whatever is instable, of whatever is practically disappointing, of whatever is useless […] of whatever is inconsistent and contradictory […] of whatever is unreal in the sense of being of no practical account.8

Being of no practical account means here unjustifiable, equalling what is false. False then is something to which no one can be convinced and that is because it cannot be justified. However, if I can rationally justify my belief to someone, as it is a belief congruent with my convictions, and that person will accept my belief, then we both believe that our beliefs are true.
Are we at the risk of being accused of arbitrariness by adopting a pragmatic conception of truth? Not in the least. From the fact that absolute truths are defined as truths accepted by the majority does not by all means follow that this acceptance does not belong to the definition of what is true. Quite the contrary, truth does not depend on what it is but rather on who and why accepts it. This acceptance or refusal does not originate from a mythical congruence between our judgements and reality but rather from the congruence between what someone declares and our own experience. And that in turn means that an agreement is easier to reach for those who share similar experiences rather than for those who are divided by profound differences. If people cannot agree upon their experiences, they will not establish truth of their beliefs, which does not mean, however, that it is at all impossible. Truth is desired and necessary but it should not be sought in reality but rather in our relation to it. True, I shall repeat, is what triumphantly undergoes a test of experience so that we are able to justify, confirm, and verify it. If our beliefs about the world flunk this test, then they automatically approach falseness. There are no ideas or beliefs about the world that would be true in themselves. As James aptly puts it: “Truth happens to an idea. It becomes true, is made true by events.”8 The verification of ideas that mean something to us occurs during the experience we are sharing or want to share with others. Clearly, there is no room for arbitrariness.

7. In his reflections, James uses an economy-related imagery. Truth, he says, must be interchangeable, i.e., certain judgements are true if we can pay with them for someone’s experience. It is important to remember that these judgements cannot be uncovered because then, without referring to anything else but themselves, they turn out to be void, and so useless. The usefulness of truth, against which we protest so abruptly, accusing it of relativism, is merely one example of the functioning of cultural economy: everything that circles in a given culture and becomes true (i.e., we agree that it is true) must refer to something other than itself, to something that is accessible also to others. Just as the truthfulness of our words, with which we write an interpretation of a text, which means that they have some kind of coverage; that is to say, they are subject to some kind of test.

8. That is precisely what the meaning of humanism is for interpretation. If experience is the only sanction legitimizing any interpretation, then it becomes true only insofar as we accept it and that is because we have been thinking the same way for a long time or we have been convinced to a new interpretation. The existence of canonical interpretations does not result, therefore, from the fact that what they claim is true (in the sense of objective truth, independent from what is said about the text), but rather from the fact that nearly everyone agrees with this interpretation as it does not stand against our beliefs. Of course, canonical interpretations retain a large level of generality as it is easiest to reach consensus between various individuals. However, what has to be regretfully acknowledged is that that which is canonical often equals that which is banal. If, with what I readily agree, truth is the result of agreed upon experiences (i.e., the result of social negotiation), then the biggest chance for acknowledgement have the most common and palest judgements, and so those which refer to the most commonplace experiences. It is in fact the best proof of the truthfulness of the humanist theory of truth: true is typically what does not cause dissonance in our system of beliefs. What causes such dissonance becomes referred to as untrue.

9. What are then the consequences of the humanist conception of the subject and related to it conception of truth for literary studies today? Following James, I assume that both subject and truth are the effect and not the cause of experience, which is impossible to separate from both its controlling cultural context and from the sphere of social negotiations that grant it legitimacy. The key category, then, becomes experience contrasted with both theory understood epistemologically as an a priori knowledge about the world and with idiosyncratic madness that is unable to substantiate its own rationale. The category of experience allows us to avoid extreme poles of universal theories and isolated gibberish. In this sense, it is a basic anthropological category which describes a human being immersed in life and attempting to say something about this life to others so that they can also understand it. If we agree that we see some continuity between our life and profession, then we should take into account that the profession we exercise is not safe as it is immersed in life that – as James puts it – “wags on”10 without any certainty and warranty, which means that no one and nothing beforehand will explain our actions and we must continuously ensure their rightness. That we must make a good number of mistakes while doing it, dogmatic theoreticians and trivial observers do not want to take into account as they deem satisfactory knowledge which does not belong to their lives. And in this life (the reading and writing of which is its substantial part), there are no interesting experiences they could share. For one who cannot say anything interesting about life should not concern himself with literature. Those are the consequences of James’ humanism and those are the consequences of the anthropology of literature, which, indeed, is “a lovely, really lovely science.”

University of Illinois at Chicago

1 Stefan Żeromski, Dzieje grzechu [The Wages of Sin] (Warsaw: PIW, 1976, vol. 1), 129.
2 William James, Pragmatism. An Old Name for Some New Ways of Thinking (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co, 1907), 137.
3 Ibid., 255.
4 William James, The Meaning of Truth. A Sequel to Pragmatism (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co, 1910), 80.
5 Ibid., 90.
6 Ibid., 134.
7 Ibid., 52.
8 Ibid., 76.
9 James, Pragmatism…, 201.
10 Ibid., 123.
*Translator’s note: ‘himself’, ‘his’, and any other derivative encompass the feminine gender as well.

Michał Paweł Markowski is Chair in Polish Language and Literature as well as Professor and Director of Graduate Studies at University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the author of numerous articles and books, among them on Gombrowicz, Schulz, and Kafka. His current research focuses on nominalist temptation in twentieth century European literature.

Izabela Zdun is a doctoral candidate and Russian language instructor at McGill University, Canada. Her research focuses on genre studies and contemporary Russian literature, specifically on Liudmila Petrushevskaia’s fairy tales. She is also a certified English/Polish translator and regularly translates academic texts from French.


Le vierge, le vivace et le bel aujourd’hui

October 30, 2016 in Uncategorized by

Swan Sonnet

The virgin, the beautiful and brilliant day
Will it break, with a flutter of its drunken wing,
This hard, forgotten lake which haunts under cracking
Frost, the transparent glacier of flights unmade.

A swan of days gone past remembers that it’s he,
Magnificent, but who without hope is thus freed
For not having sung his song of vitality
When in sterile winter’s resplendent ennui.

His whole neck will shake this white agony
The space imposed on him which he denies fiercely,
But not the frightful soil where his plumage is caught.

Ghost, assigned to this place by his pure light hereon,
Immobilised by circling icy dreams and thoughts
Of scorn, remains exiled, useless; the lonely Swan.

Stéphane Mallarmé, born into a middle-class family on 18 March 1842 in Paris, is one of France’s four major poets of the second half of the nineteenth century, along with Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, and Arthur Rimbaud. A lot of his poetry was acknowledged to be difficult to understand because of its tortuous syntax, ambiguous expressions, and obscure imagery. Since his lifetime, critics have continued to disagree as to the precise interpretations of many of his later works.

Eleanor Hill is a former Sarah Lawrence College student.


Les fleurs

October 30, 2016 in Uncategorized by

The flowers

Golden avalanches of ancient azure skies
On the first day, and of the eternal snow of stars
You once detached the calyxes of seas and skies,
Of the still young earth, an earth virgin to wars.

Wild gladiolus with necks as subtle as swans
With divine laurel leaf of exiled souls from dreams
Ruby, which reddens the innocence of crushed dawns,
Not unlike the flawless footsteps of seraphim

The Hyacinth, the myrtle to lightening brightened
And like the flesh of the female, the cruel rose,
Herodiade, a flower of the clear garden,
She from a fierce blood and violently arose!

And you made the sobbing whiteness of the lily
She touches upon, which sails on the seas of sighs
To the blue incense of pale skylines, dreamily
Mount upwards and towards the lonely moon which cries!

Hosanna on the lute and in incense swinging
Our Lady, garden hosanna of our limbo!
And end the echo by the heavenly evenings,
Ecstasy in looks exchanged, glistening halos!

Mother, true and strong, who created in her breast,
Calyxes which balance out future vials and jars,
The grand flowers with a bitter balsamic Death
For the poet weary of the life made from stars.

Stéphane Mallarmé, born into a middle-class family on 18 March 1842 in Paris, is one of France’s four major poets of the second half of the nineteenth century, along with Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, and Arthur Rimbaud. A lot of his poetry was acknowledged to be difficult to understand because of its tortuous syntax, ambiguous expressions, and obscure imagery. Since his lifetime, critics have continued to disagree as to the precise interpretations of many of his later works.

Eleanor Hill is a former Sarah Lawrence College student.



October 30, 2016 in Uncategorized by

A toast

Nothing, this foam, a virgin verse,
Shows nothing but the cup;
Far away the many sirens
Drown the wrong way round, submersed.
We navigate through, my diverse
Friends, I already on the stern
You on the grand prow which divides
The waves of lightning and winters;
Sweet drunkenness calls me away
No fear of its instinctive sway
To give, hardly upright, this toast
A solitude, a reef, a star
To whatever it was that was
Worth the white torments of our sails.

Stéphane Mallarmé, born into a middle-class family on 18 March 1842 in Paris, is one of France’s four major poets of the second half of the nineteenth century, along with Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, and Arthur Rimbaud. A lot of his poetry was acknowledged to be difficult to understand because of its tortuous syntax, ambiguous expressions, and obscure imagery. Since his lifetime, critics have continued to disagree as to the precise interpretations of many of his later works.

Eleanor Hill is a former Sarah Lawrence College student.


Chanson d’automne

October 30, 2016 in Uncategorized by

Song of Autumn

The long sobs
Of the violins
Of autumn
Stab my heart
With a monotone
All suffocated
And pale, when
The hour strikes,
I recall
Days of yore
And cry.
And I go
With tragic winds
That carry me
Here, there,
Like the Dead Leaf

The French poet, Symbolist leader, and Decadent Paul-Marie Verlaine was born in Metz, Northeast France on March 30, 1844. His family moved to Paris in 1851, where he was enrolled in the lycée. In 1862, he received his bachelor’s degree, then following the wishes of his father, an infantry captain, entered civil service.


. is a student and a writer who would rather remain a mystery.


[ninguna membrana de contención estaba ahí para protegernos]

October 30, 2016 in Uncategorized by

ninguna música de fondo

[voz i] hay aproximaciones a la muerte más atroces que la enfermedad.

[voz ii] …

[voz i] descubrí que había reino y amenaza en un cuerpo destruido. tuve vicios que no comprenderías.

[voz ii] ¿como los desembarcos? ¿el duelo? ¿ese abrimiento?

[voz i] hago un esfuerzo por olvidar. ya no me reconozco. y esta herida, una impunidad. la belleza, como la infancia, nos es arrebatada sin aviso.

[voz ii] ¿has pensado cuándo arreció la desdicha? ¿cuándo dijiste: estoy rendida? solo tú podías hacer de esa derrota un don celeste. nunca vi ojos más torpes brillar de esa manera.

[voz i] comencé a hablar sola, pero mi voz era obscena. supe que ninguna efusividad reemplazaría mi antigua fascinación.

[voz ii] ¿y esta luz tan blanca? ¿la habitación vacía? ¿has temido la radioactividad?

[voz i] no. pero en sueños me veo debilitada. al despertar, he preferido no encontrarme con objetos amados.

[voz ii] me gustaría insistir en los detalles. hay en ti un desfiladero que no reconozco. la imagen de un animal que contiene todo el pavor del mundo.

[voz i] ¿pavor? ¿te refieres al sobresalto? no. he llevado ese tumor como una perla, una joya solo mía. a veces he querido enterrarlo en el jardín, con la esperanza de alimentar una flor desconocida.

[voz ii] habría que celebrar la desorientación. si alguien respira sin enrarecimiento me parece una mala señal.

[voz i] la multiplicación de las células no es un privilegio. aquí no engañamos a nadie. una invasión. un todo prolifera agresivamente. en otro tiempo era el deseo. abatirse. un cuerpo contra otro. esa gravedad.

[voz ii] pareces una mujer perseguida por lo voraz.

[voz i] parezco una mujer. digo: la enfermedad me ayudará a vivir. mi desesperación es falsa. hay aproximaciones a la muerte más atroces.

Daniela Camacho (México, 1980). Is the author of the poetry books En la punta de la lengua, Plegarias para insomnes, [imperia] and the book of palindromes Aire sería, as well as the object book Pasaporte, printed in a trilingual edition along with Natalia Litvinova and Beatriz Paz. In collaboration with the audiovisual artist Christian Becerra, she has published the artist books Carcinoma and Híkuri, which are a part of the Artes de México collection. She was the anthologist for the collection of contemporary hispanic poets Hijas del Diablo, Hijas del Santo. In the last years she has lived in Tokyo, Lausanne and Cairo.


[There was no contention membrane there to protect us]


No music as background

[voice i] there are more atrocious approximations to death than sickness.

[voice ii] …

[voice i] I discovered there’s both a kingdom and a threat in a destroyed body. I had vices that you could not understand.

[voice ii] like a disembarkment? Grieve? That kind of opening?

[voice i] I make an effort to forget. I don’t recognize myself. this wound is just impunity. Beauty, as childhood, is ripped away from us without warning.

[voice ii] have you wondered when did misery strengthen?  When was it that you said: I give up? It was only you who could make a heavenly gift out of this defeat. I never saw clumsiest eyes shining in that way.

[voice i] I started talking to myself, but my voice was obscene. I knew that no effusiveness could replace my former fascination.

[voice ii] and this whitest light? The empty room? Have you ever been scared of radioactivity?

[voice i] no. but when dreaming i see myself growing weaker. At awakening I rather not find beloved objects.

[voice ii] i would like to insist on the details. There’s a coomb in you that i can’t recognize. The image of an animal containing all the dread of the world.

[voice i] dread? You mean the shock? No. i have carried this tumor as a pearl, a jewel of my own. Sometimes I’ve wanted to bury it in the garden hoping to feed an unknown flower.

[voice ii] we should celebrate disorientation. If someone breathes without rarefying i take it as a bad signal.

[voice i] the multiplication of cells is no privilege. We don’t deceive anybody here. An invasion. An everything proliferating aggressively. It used to be desire. Thwarting. A body against another body. That kind of gravity.

[voice ii] you seem like a woman chased by the ravenous.

[voice i] I seem like a woman. I say: sickness will help me live. My desperation is fake. There are more atrocious approximations to death.


MarieJo Delgadillo, (1991) is a Mexican journalist and multidisciplinary artist. Having worked for over six years interviewing artists, politicians and everyday people to find out about them, and publishing in newspapers and magazines both nationally and internationally, she is now expanding her own creative work. Currently she is interested in finding ways poetry and journalistic investigation can work together, exploring topics as pornography, fashion, capitalism and the idea of the body as a commodity. She is also a dance instructor. Her literary work in spanish can be read at and she tweets as @MarieJoDel.



October 30, 2016 in Uncategorized by


“This is the irresponsible sport of a shy sort of man
who could not bring himself to write short stories,
and so amused himself by changing and distorting
(sometimes without aesthetic justification) the stories
of other men. From these ambiguous exercises,
he went on to the arduous composition of
a straightforward short story.”
Jorge Luis Borges

Perhaps I only allowed myself to meddle with them
as a gimmick; putting a nonexistent fact in their stories,
dreaming up the only thing that seems to be real in their profiles.
Ogres: A troupe of artists who are prisoners of themselves,
the detained wanderers, those consigned to oblivion,
the proprietors of madness…

She was like a cloud. That’s the best possible comparison: a cloud. But not one of those little, soft, white clouds that look like cotton candy. No. In life and on stage she was the other kind. The kind that provokes awe by just looking upon them. Dark, with the impulse to squirt ink at the slightest misstep, and with a belly full of thunder and lightning. Her rain was unforeseen and torrential. And not only does this have to do with the tears, but also with the expletives, the shrieks that sounded like rusty hinges, the high-heeled shoes, bras, wigs, fake nails, earrings, the plastic (or not plastic) eyelashes, the short skirts, the turbans, capes, tiaras, cheap pearl necklaces, and the punches that were like propeller-blades.

The victims? Well, they were the musicians and the immediate crowd.

        Because that’s exactly what Lupe Victoria Yoli Raymond (AKA La Lupe, AKA Yiyiyi) did. When she had worked herself into a frenzy with those white eyes that exuded a trance of heartbreak, she believed her songs, and, as a victim of the spite and hate in every verse, she replied with thunderous footwork against the closest pianist or bongo player, and her delirium represented all the transgressions of the male gender.
Can you imagine finishing a song behind your instrument while some hysterical woman is messing with you? You needed to be very handsome or a lover of art for the sake of art to put up with that kind of extra-musical test.

La Lupe was defined in a thousand different ways. For some, she was a nervous breakdown dressed up as a lady. Guillermo Cabrera del Infante came to categorize her as a phenomenological phenomenon. Perhaps in her birthplace, San Pedrito, a town that was very close to Santiago de Cuba, she was merely the crazy girl in the street.

That’s why nobody should be surprised to find out her old-man pushed her to get a career before she went off to cabaret. And La Lupe, despite her rebelliousness, ended up with a master’s degree. There is nothing strange about that: you learn just as much if you follow an academic curriculum as you would following the night-life curriculum. With the former, it’s merely tricks with books; with the latter, there’s tricks with life and moods. La Lupe knew that the stage full of night and shamelessness would be her very own peak where she would preach her own version of the Sermon on the Mount.

That’s where her ministry began.

There are life accounts that ask for disarray. This seems to be one of those. It’s not easy to sacrifice portions of La Lupe’s biography. There was the time when her first husband kicked her out of their trio, Tropicuba, with a pistol in hand and with her nearly naked in the street after he walked in on her with a bartender mid-coitus. There was also that time in that place called La Red where she attracted the likes of Marlon Brando, Ernest Hemingway, Simone de Beauvoir, Tennessee Williams, Picasso, or Jean-Paul Sartre, all of whom sought the pleasure of witnessing one of her raptures. Or, better yet, there was the moment of her exile from Cuba in 1962 because her brand of slutiness (her artistic liberty) seemed too counterrevolutionary for Fidel.

In 1972, she howled, “he said that I was stealing the spotlight from his revolution, and that I had to go. When there’s revolution you can’t go around with the likes of Benny Moré or me. We took all the attention away from him. I exist for everyone, revolutions don’t limit me. I am for everyone who’s got soul!” at Rolling Stone magazine.

It must be said that her arrival was not very easy. There’s a big difference between being the Queen of Cuban Heartache and not belonging in Mexico or Miami. And how could she do it? It’s already been said that Yiyiyi beat her musicians and their instruments, something which already has its drawbacks, but another big detail has not yet been mentioned: she would strip on stage when she became possessed by the rhythm. There are videos that show La Lupe beating her breast with a microphone, others that capture her revealing her panties and bra, and there are even some that present her bare-ass pressed up against a wall.

With all this, why more revolution?!

That’s what they said when she went to New York and managed to be conscripted by Mongo Santamaría, whose performances at The Apollo made James Brown, and any other on-stage legend, look like a babe in soiled diapers. The woman would run and slide on her knees as the band continued playing. Then she would scream, bite her hands until she bled, slap herself with glee, pinch herself everywhere, and tear the curtains down from the stage. The stagehands, who had surely already seen everything there was to be seen, would hide from the oncoming hurricane while shouting: “Watch out! Here comes the crazy woman! Move off to the side, she might hit you!”

To see the videos from that time is a total experience. The musicians ingeniously maintain the rhythm while she screams, kicks maracas, punches various targets, crows like a possessed rooster, and runs like a lunatic. The modus operandi seemed to be that everyone was just doing their thing at those shows. But for some strange reason, everything fit together perfectly. The pieces sound solid and the chaos fits like a glove. There’s probably some law of physics within this, one that should be christened with this woman’s name. It would be interesting to explain this life’s roller coaster ride scientifically.

Because La Lupe was a madwoman on and off the stage. When Tito Puente recruited her into his ranks, she became queen. The timpanist left his prejudice aside before the singer’s chaotic vocal style, and decided to dethrone Mongo Santamaría to see what would come. And gold was struck. In the mid-sixties they made albums such as Tito Puente swings/The Exciting Lupe Sings, Tú y yo, and El rey y yo. This was the time of the true breaking point. Tickets to their shows sold-out, the albums flew off the shelves at record stores, the bolero, “Qué te pedí,” becomes an instant classic, the recognition accrued, the interviews in American media were frequent, and, last but not least, money came in torrents. La Lupe was proclaimed to be The Queen of Latin Soul. She had no rival. Celia Cruz was the B-side to that album. And Yiyiyi unscrupulously enjoyed her fame. She spent fortunes of pure sin. You don’t think so? Well, if you don’t, the ipso facto purchase of Rodolfo Valentino’s mansion and thousands fur coats with the payment from one night on stage proves it. Besides, in those years the lady contracted nuptials again, this time with the singer Willie García, with one strict condition: she told him to “not even work because your woman has tons of money to spare to maintain you. Understand?”

And, as is the routine of these stories of fortune and fame, her divisiveness was becoming unbearable for Puente’s band. They say that she showed up unexpectedly, with her blood saturated with drugs, she recorded however she pleased, and everyone had to comply with her whines. On top of it all, she made more money than the very leader of the band. The outcome was what was expected: the expulsion of the troublesome woman. It is not known if what happened next was so expected: La Lupe recorded the song “Oriente” which fired direct shots at Puente and Celia Cruz:

Y yo que le daba todo a mi jefe Tito Puente                              I gave everything to my boss, Tito Puente
Se me fue con la del frente,                                                           He left me for the girl on stage,
y solita me dejó                                                                                and left me all alone
Ay Ay Ay,                                                                                           Woe is me,
Tito Puente me botó,                                                                       Tito Puente threw me away,
me botó.                                                                                              he threw me away.

        After so much excess it’s normal for disgrace to rear its ugly head. But what is certain is that even though La Lupe was falling, it would take some time to hit rock-bottom. That’s why that descending parabola had hundreds of memorable moments. Her work as a solo artist doesn’t disappoint. Tite Curet protected her when he gave her songs like “La Tirana,” “Fijense,” “Avanza y vete de aquí,” “Carnaval,” or “Puro Teatro.” And that doesn’t count her successful versions of songs by The Beatles, The Doors, Sam Cooke, or Janis Joplin, many of which appeared on the album The Queen Does Her Own Thing.

It was a bizarre moment, almost like all the others. Her pronunciation of the Shakespearian language was far removed from what an Oxford professor sounds like. A pageant of words flew out of her mouth like a typhoon, whose exoticism always kept the audience interested. Refuge was sought after in psychedelics for the response it produced in the day tripping blabbermouth. That’s why there were invitations to festivals where she would share the stage with Iron Butterfly and Jethro Tull. In in the midst of all this it should also be added that the Village Voice prostrated itself before her when they unabashedly published:

She is Janis, Aretha, and Edith Piaf all mixed into one. She sings ballads better than Piaf, and covers songs like the other two singers, but with added insanity. She could make a fortune in the rock scene. La Lupe is devastating, and it looks like she is self-destructing. Mr. Mojo Risin’, take note.

Amidst that destruction there’s a television episode that would be appreciated by those who remember it from The Dick Cavett Show. This show, which had guests like Lennon, Zappa, or Hendrix, also dedicated an airing to Yiyiyi. There’s absolutely nothing that was left on the cutting room floor. She comes out dressed in gold from head to toe, with a turban, a robe, and a parade of jewelry of the same color. She looks like the cheap girlfriend of an Oscar. The thing is, as she sang “Afro Blue,” she takes off her robe, high-heeled shoes, and turban. She also smacks her belly, and shakes her titties like she wants to rid herself of them. By the end, she’s just in a one-piece suit that looked like it was painted on, and the back neckline was so low you could just barely see her crack. After the musical exorcism, she walks, quite satisfied, grabs her fun-bags, shows off a golden booty, and gives a basket of cookies from Morón, which she made herself, to a surprised Cavett as she told him: “the morale is not high, but it’s abundant.” The gringo takes them, then goes with La Lupe to sing “Allá en el rancho grande,” and he starts to disrobe as his guest just had.

Those would be the final stellar moments because everything afterwards was more error than execution. La Lupe was recruited into the ranks of those who practiced Santeria in New York. And those kinds of things bring baggage. For example, when she was in the Broadway Shakespeare play, Two Gentlemen From Verona, it turned into a disaster. The ogress, as seductive as only she could be, fastened a Chango stone around her waist with a string for good luck. She went out to sing, and halfway through the song the ingenious woman disrobed, and, it must be stated, when she fell her mouth produced a sound that was louder than an explosion (but it had nothing to do with flavor). They say that the people, after hearing the scream from the woman who fainted, nearly died of laughter. But it seems that she was not at all amused to find out about her forthcoming dismissal from the show due to black magic.

And now that we’ve gotten to that point, it should also be mentioned that afterwards, in an interview, it occurred to her to state that Celia Cruz and her husband followed Palo (in other words, they were dirty insects that fucked with the dark side of the saints). It’s not known if it was due to this, but the other woman became America’s guarachera singer, became a staple for Fania Records, and got a legion of followers while doors were being shut for Yiyiyi (except for Hell’s). You have to imagine what the person who was once considered a goddess suffered. Especially when you add the fact that her husband, in the throes of schizophrenia, nearly beat her to death with a pipe in their home. Oh, and another thing, before it bleeds into the next paragraph: on one of those days the candles for her saints burned longer than they should have until they produced the mother of all flames in her abode.

But more things had to happen in her life: the death of her partner, the seizure of Rudolph Valentino’s mansion, the goodbye to her fancy cars, diamonds, and jewels, her confinement in an apartment in the Bronx, the attempts at a comeback in Venezuela, and her friend, Tito Puente’s attempts to resurrect her. But it was all for nothing. Everyone turned their backs towards her. And it was a crazy banishment: along with her daughter, Rainbow (nobody really knows about her other child, René), she ended up living in homeless shelters, receiving social security checks, and getting sporadic help from her musician friends who were leaving behind the onstage fancy footwork and mental breakdowns.

Splendor had given way to misery.

        If she had been a mere mortal, like the person writing this, surely she would have played a La Lupe album, and hugged the jukebox to mourn the vindictive act. But her extravagance had its limits. And besides, the tigress had one more stripe to earn: it happened on New Year’s Eve, 1984. Because that was the day of the fall, while she decorated her home to receive the New Year. Yes, the fall that left her in a wheelchair and with no hope of moving her feet for the rest of her days.

Bad things tend to happen like a downpour, like a rising river. Everybody knows that. Everybody also knows that downpours give way to the sun. The calm of Lupe Victoria Yoli Raymond’s storm came in a most unexpected way for those who are least familiar with the story: from the hand of the Evangelical Church. Her friends, the singers Blanca Rosa Gil and Xiamora Alfaro, took her to the temple where the miracle happened. It was before the only crowd she ever feared to face in her life that Yiyiyi was brought into the fold. An Evangelical pastor asked her if she believed in God, placed his hand on her, and released her like you would a sack of potatoes. A vision softly creeping covered the hysteria. The black woman lay on the ground with no hope. Someone, finally, whispered during the sound of silence and asked her how she felt.

She stood up and said: “you know, not too bad.” And, when she realized she was helped by God, Lupe began to jump around like a frog and ran like a gazelle.

If you think that Madonna changed her image a lot, what happened afterwards must be explained: the woman dedicated herself to studying scripture, she sang, but only in church, she renounced low-cut clothing, rejected offers for comebacks, and stopped putting make-up on. She had become a slightly different kind of wild and bizarre woman, the religious kind. And that’s why those who were least familiar the story were referred to: Yiyiyi made the Bible rowdy when she recorded bolero adaptations to songs sung to Jehovah. You can hear her orgasmic scream in all of them as well as understand the slogan: God is love. Is there any other way to be Pentecostal that doesn’t involve being outrageous and salacious? And isn’t that why they called her Yiyiyi, for her moans and screams of ecstasy?

That sarcastic reinterpretation of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz lived happily in her new skin. They say that she felt like the most fortunate woman alive, even on the night before dying of a heart attack while in a deep sleep. That happened on a day that was as unusual as herself: February 29, 1992.

Why are these lives so alluring? Is it that they’re morbid? Is it because people insist on Héctor Lavoe and not Rubén Blades? Or because they prefer La Lupe over Celia? Could it be that chaos is more interesting than tranquility? There’s rules for everything. The most precise rule about the ogress came from her friend and composer, Tite Curet: “she is Baroque art: dynamic, exaggerated, and frivolous.”

Praise be to God!


Alfonso J. Gustave has received a B.A. in Spanish with a minor in translation from the University of Texas at El Paso, and will receive an M.A. in Spanish in December of 2016 from the same institution. He was a speaker at the “Carolina Conference for Romance Studies” (2016) at The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill with the presentation entitled “Human Flesh as the Entrée: The Historical Banquet of Juan José Saer’s El entenado,” as well as at “The Cleric’s Craft: Crossroads of Medieval Spanish Literature and Modern Critique” (2015) at the University of Texas at El Paso with the presentation entitled “Paradigms of Intellectual Thought in Europe: The Impact of the Escuela de Traductores in Toledo on the Western World.” He will present “Painting a Picture with Words: Structural Similarities Between Carmen Boullosa’s Cielos de la Tierra and Hieronymous Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights”” at the University of Oklahoma during the Twelfth Annual Conference on Latin American, Peninsular, French, Francophone and Luso-Brazilian Literatures, Music, Visual Arts or Cinema in October, 2016. He is currently an editor and the translator at the Revista de Literatura Mexicana Contemporánea (Journal of Contemporary Mexican Literature).

Daniel Centeno Maldonado has a Master’s and a PhD in journalism from the Complutense University of Madrid. Daniel was the editor-in-chief of Alfaguara in Venezuela. He is the author of a volume of interviews, chronicles, and profiles about writers, musicians, and international filmmakers: Retratos hablados (Debate-2010), and Ogros ejemplares (Lugar Común/UANL-2015). His journalism, criticism, and creative work can be read in publications such as ABC, El Universal, Feriado, Letra Internacional, Armas y Letras, FronteraD, La Palabra y el Hombre, Arcadia, and Rolling Stone Latinonamérica. He was a finalist of the XV International Prize Julio Cortazár for the Short Story, and the XXX edition of the International Prize Juan Rulfo for short stories. Daniel has a MFA from The University of Texas at El Paso, where he was the editor-in-chief of the literary magazine Río Grande Review. He has been an invited guest at the Feria Internacional del Libro de Guadalajara, and at the writer’s gathering called Centroamérica Cuenta. In addition, he is the director and founder of the literary journal Coroto.

by jjrojo

Micro(science)fiction: You can see the future from here: Part Two

December 20, 2014 in Uncategorized by jjrojo

The following mini-stories, written mainly by undergrads in Tijuana, Baja California, were “performed” and given away as postcards and book separators to passersby waiting to cross the border from Mexico to the USA. All of the stories depict near-future scenarios for the border zone, and they were the beginning of a 10-part, science fiction-based intervention made during the Spring of 2011 on the San Ysidro border crossing, Tijuana-side. The project was called “Desde aquí se ve el futuro” (You can see the future from here), and it was conceived as a collective imagination exercise of experiential fiction.



Photographs in this section by Cristina Gutiérrez-Espino, Gustavo García, Alfredo González and Gerardo Porcayo.

Letter from the Editor

May 26, 2014 in Uncategorized by pcapogar

Science fiction explores the way we interact with technology and science, translating both the past and the future into different realities and offering us a distorted mirror view of our own present. Our hopes and fears have been passing through science fiction’s filter for a long time, and the genre has developed strong traditions parallel to the English-speaking one, and their coincidences are as striking as their differences.

Our sixth issue is dedicated to the power one can find in contemporary science fiction. This issue seeks to explore—on a global scale—the relationship between science, technology, and imaginative speculation. And so we’ve included five projects from around the world (one from just the other side of the border) to illustrate this exploratory melding.

Our own Pepe Rojo, teaming up with Alchemy staff members Lilibeth Moreno and Bryan Constantino, tackle micro sci-fi bursts from Tijuana, while Sergey Lukyanenko and translation team Paulina Duda and Jodi Greig offer a closer glimpse into these alternate worlds (from Russian and Polish, respectively). Another translation team, Ignacio Azcueta and María Pape, alongside Maximiliano Frini, bring a South American perspective to this issue’s mix, from Uruguay and Argentina.

Translation is about possibilities. The possibility to inhabit multiple worlds, tongues, and contexts. The possibility that a text can be embodied in different forms. This is what the work in this issue reminds us of: the mounting possibilities of language. And sometimes that language stems from other dimensions and alternate realities. We hope you find your own alternate worlds in this issue, new ways of embracing the unknown, the unsayable, the undeniable.

Paola Capó-García and Pepe Rojo, Editors