Poetry of Zeitgeist: Diego Doncel
October 8, 2013 Leave a comment
Attention-grabbing titles are high-wire acts: they get in inside the brain of the radio listener, blog or newspaper reader and thorn themselves there. It might even be bought. But readers have been brought up not to judge books by their covers or monks by their habits: in the end the text has to deliver.
Such is the case with Diego Doncel’s 2011 poetry collection, Porno ficción, published in Spain by the now (sadly) defunct DVD Ediciones. (No need to translate, you can guess what it means.) The book exists in a hypercapitalist pornographized landscape of liminal and melancholic spaces: beach resorts in winter, service stations, planes, apartments that look at the world through the glass of windows or computer screens. Revolutionary movements copy a sportswear logo, advertising slogans blare nonsensically that “We shall be your favorite disappearing act”, sexual encounters feel clinical and programmatic. Free thinking is almost numbed out of existence. Not even similes can escape from this consumerism and feel deliberately second-hand or limited, and collapse in on themselves, as here in “Hipermodernidad” (“Hypermodernity”):
And the highway looked like the filmed image of a highway when the lovers escape along it to a rendezvous in a hotel in the suburbs.
Reality confused itself with consumption of reality.
Or in the first lines of the opening poem, “Limonada y pastillas” (“Lemonade and pills”):
All this is disgusting, I told you.
The town, showing itself again to me, was like a website destroyed by a virus.
The breeze was filled with diesel and the sun, behind the salt spray, seemed like a ball of aluminium foil thrown away by the tourists.
There were plastic bags, drinks bottles pulled by the waves, iridescent wreckages along the shore.
You looked around and saw none of this, just a place designed to make me happy.
The town is personified both as website and as exhibitionist—Porno ficción is everywhere.
That all the poems are written as stories in these Whitman-length one-line stanzas makes the collection feel very different from a lot of contemporary poetry. It blurs the lines between poetry collection, the book-length poem, flash fiction, speculative fiction, aphorism, social critique, tweet and Facebook update. It’s these last two that I kept coming back to while reading and thinking of the lines as status updates really contributed to the way the poems work for me rhetorically. Like someone’s Twitter feed, the lines tell a linear story incompletely with non sequiturs, and because they’re written for the unknown public’s consumption they also contain the same germ of self-exhibitionism that the hypercybercommercialist dystopia of the collection demands. Through the status update, the voyeur (speaker and, by extension, reader who picked up a book called Porno ficción after all) becomes an exhibitionist. In the same way, a young female exhibitionist says to the camera in the poem “Sexsurfing”: “the person who exposes herself is not selling herself, the person selling themselves is the spectator”.
I don’t know enough about the collection’s genesis to say whether this critique of sterile consumerism is aimed at the global compulsion or at Spain’s acute experience of it. But it is fierce. This mostly sits half-hidden in the form or implied in the gaps between the lines; but it becomes most explicit in a final note, addressed to a woman called A.:
… The system has converted reality into pornography. The system has made us consumers of simulacra. Someone is at our side shouting that a shopping mall is paradise. …
Within the poems, this might have detracted from them: by setting it out on the last page of the collection, Doncel drives home his rage at the system and underlines the poems’ political message. The system is rotten and no one is spared:
… You don’t even notice how our intellectuals remain silent, at bay. That they too are part of the powerful. …
Diego Doncel, Porno ficción, DVD Ediciones (Spain, 2011)