Axolotl/Bichos Raros Crónica

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Susana Chávez-Silverman


In this crónica, I pay homage (and talk back to!) one of my favourite authors, Julio Cortázar, who I had the great privilege and pleasure of befriending in 1980, when he was a visiting professor at UC-Berkeley. I have been obsessed with time-travel, doubling, and interstitiality since I was very young; even the most casual Cortázar reader (if such a thing is possible) will immediately recognise these as recurrent themes in his work. Here, faced with several actual axolotl in a Buenos Aires aquarium, I explore and comment on Cortázar’s strangely mesmerising meditation on identity and transformation. My personal connection is (as in much of my writing) concerned with aspects of gender and sexuality suppressed or (more likely) ignored in Cortázar’s version. I identify, too, with a poignant in-betweenness and ambiguity I read in the figure of the axolotl—and in the work of Cortázar and Alejandra Pizarnik.

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Susana Chávez-Silverman, Pomona College, USA

Susana Chávez-Silverman grew up bilingually and biculturally, in Los Angeles and Santa Cruz, California, with extended stays in Madrid, Spain and Guadalajara, México. In the early 80’s, during the height of apartheid, she lived for several years in Pretoria, South Africa. She teaches courses on U.S. Latin@ and Latin American literature and culture at Pomona College in Claremont, California. Co-editor, with Frances R. Aparicio, of Tropicalizations: Transcultural Representations of Latinidad (UPNE/Dartmouth 1997) and, with Librada Hernández, of Reading and Writing the Ambiente: Queer Sexualities in Latino, Latin American and Spanish Culture (Wisconsin 2000), she has also published numerous essays on Argentine poet Alejandra Pizarnik, as well as on other contemporary Argentine and Chican@ authors. Her book, Killer Crónicas: Bilingual Memories, was published by the University of Wisconsin Press in November 2004 (paper 2011). The book’s genesis was in bilingual, code-switching e-mails Susana wrote while living in Buenos Aires (on an NEH fellowship) during 2000-01. She called these collective e-mail missives “crónicas” [chronicles], inspired by the rough-hewn, journalistic, often fantastic first-hand accounts of the so-called New World sent “home” by the early conquistadores. Her crónicas are anchored in an unequivocal at-homeness in both Spanish and English and the space(s) in-between; her work is at home in U.S. Chican@/Latin@ literature, but navigates other transcultural terrains as well, such as Spain, Mexico, Argentina and South Africa, all geographies which are at once “heimlich” and ineluctably foreign to her. She has travelled throughout the U.S., to Spain, Argentina, South Africa, and Australia giving performed readings from her work. Her second book, Scenes from la Cuenca de Los Angeles y otros Natural Disasters was published in April 2010 by the University of Wisconsin Press. Her creative work has been widely reprinted online and in print journals and anthologies, most recently in the inaugural Norton Anthology of Latino Literature (2010) and in Ambientes: New Queer Latino Writing (2011). Killer Crónicas has recently been selected by the Univ. of Wisconsin Press to be available on Kindle by Amazon. Susana is currently working on a third bilingual book, Our Ubuntu, Montenegro: del Balboa Café al Apartheid and Back.