The Milli Vanilli Condition
Essays on Culture in the New Millennium
Eduardo Espina
Travis Sorenson, Translator

(Arte Publico)
  • The coming of cell phones makes us all "a universal witness, a thief of instants with visual posterity included."

  • Since Japan is surrounded by water. it is mysterious. "Water wants to get in so that it can get to know it." Thus tsunamis.

  • During one tsunami, homes --- made of wood --- were "floating by, on their way to forgetfulness, as if asking where their home was."

  • Espina lived in Texas. On September 11, 2001, "People spent the day watching television, since there is where reality goes first."

  • On September 12, "the destruction of the World Trade Center could be seen commercial-free at all hours and on all channels." Everything was then covered in flags. "Just as with mushrooms after the rain, they were everywhere. The era of the flag had arrived. Houses and other buildings had grown flags during the night, even though no one had watered them."

  • Serial killers may also be "necrophiliacs." Jeffrey Dahmer, according to his lawyer "was a necrophiliac who loved to have sexual relations with non-loving objects." Espina avers that he might be the "Most popular serial killer in the history of pop culture."

  • He also claims that Dahmer could be seen as a "cereal killer" because, like other of his cohort, he was "capable of eating their prey during dinner or breakfast (in this regard Dahmer was very democratic, since he would eat his victims at any hour of the day.)"

  • Espina is a poet, and he gives live readings. When a fan came up at the end of his presentation, saying that "listening to me has made him want to write, I feel compelled to invite him to plagiarize me," because then Espina is "the writer who has spawned the impersonation of a fellow human being." He points out that, according to Paul Gauguin, "Art is either plagiarized or revolutionary."

  • This leads him to reveal to us that translators can improve the original. "The famous Hungarian art forger Elmyr de Hory looks at the camera and states with convincing naturalness that on his good days he painted Matisses that were, without a doubt, better than those painted by Matisse himself on his bad days."

  • Plagiarism might be defined --- as it is here --- as "an altruistic tribute according to which human beings testify that they have read, with an excess of admiration, a certain work of a certain author."
With the ten quotes from above, I am hereby testifying that I have read, "with an excess of admiration, a certain work of a certain author." For the author, in this case, Eduardo Espina, is a fascinating, funny, even I may say --- a dreamy writer. He can also be who can be excruciatingly astute. He often, as he does here, goes off on tangents that are not so fascinating, not so funny, or, if I may say so, not all that dreamy.

But whatever his failings, the good stuff is so beyond just good that I may now claim publicly that I have for him an excess of admiration.

§   §   §

Eduardo Espina is from Montevideo Uruguay, and they tell us that he is a poet. If this is his chosen career, he might consider getting out of it and just go on being an essayist, like Joseph Addison or Richard Steele. Because the thirteen jottings that he offers us in The Milli Vanilli Condition are, at times, pure poetry. The good ones are fine . . . but the best are sublime.

"Disasters with an Oceanfront View" is a meditation on, among other things, water, tsunamis, disasters, "worlds sinking below waters," death ("especially when it is someone else's, carries great attraction; has a sort of bait-like power"), Ovid, The Great Flood, the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, photographers, the poet Edward Thomas, volcanoes, hieroglyphics, progress, Immanuel Kant, the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, evil (or Evil), "metaphysical despair," floods, baptism, J. M. W. Turner, etc etc you get the picture.

Speaking of plagarism, I include here as an attachment a page or two taken from his water essay in The Milli Vanilli Condition. In it you'll see soon enough that part of Espina's magic comes from those old poetic devices: parallelisms, juxtapositions, puns and anagrams, trick-the-reader, off-rhymes, alarming imagery, surprising (almost kookie) symbolism, far-out similes, jokes, and just plain daffy personifications. Several of which can be seen if not felt in this brief description of a neighbourhood after the tsunami:

    There were homes made of wood floating by, on their way to forgetfulness, as if asking where their home was. They had ceased to know. Even malls were mauled. The fury of the water soon lost its anonymity, making of the complete destruction an act of beatitude unfamiliar with its content. It developed its erudition by traveling all over, without the need of cooperation from its surroundings to perfect a negative prosperity, a by-no-means down-in-the-dumps fervor at the level of the unimaginable. Death had reasons to be optimistic. But, "What is this?" reality asked itself, attempting to decipher the visual roar, a karaoke in stereo originating in hell.

In a later passage, Espina says "I remember having heard that if something needs to be said, it can only be said by inventing it." And that is exactly what happens here, for the poet has invented a startling language to fit disaster, a language that speaks of houses as if they were people ("houses went floating by without knowing what to do"), automobiles with eyes, and the ability to rise ("after being submerged for quite some time, were rising to the surface to see how life was as seen from the water"), seas whose very names are a mockery ("the ocean that ceased to be Pacific . . . its name was not enough to keep the waters calm"), puzzling inversions that stop the reader cold ("The world on that day, and the following ones, was born invented"), suddenly Romantic ("Prompting the notion of soul in nature"), or Biblical ("there were heard in the subsequent images prophecies") or Philosophical ("noises emerging from the overdose of water and wind"), or Psychological ("arousing in the mind a dowry of resources that diminish empiric reality as we know it") or Physiological ("confirming the modius vivendi of the operation of sight") or Primitive imagery ("Because, in such a time in history, with nature immodestly exhibiting its cannibalistic condition, its collapsed closeness, the following remains to be asked: how to establish speech and have it tell riddles of understanding.")

And, finally, the essay ends with a consumeristic near-pun and paradox, "It was a disaster with an oceanfront view."

In this clotted paragraph, I claim we can hear echoes of Joyce, Freud, Nabokov, Marshall McLuhan, and the King James Bible, ending with a typical symbolic Japanese touch, "In this overbearing way water showed its face. It abbreviated life as if it were a well-finished haiku."

--- L. W. Milam