Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art

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    Synopsis

    Bad Manners is a 1965 book of poetry by Juan Calzadilla (1965) divided into four parts: "Criminal", "Counting down to zero", "Changing of the guard", and "Hunting", each composed of poems written in prose or verse and interspersed with drawings by the author. Calzadilla uses his prose and poetry to narrate situations that reflect, in different ways, the states of oppression that the author feels. While Calzadilla’s earlier poems also examined alienation and oppression, these issues take on a more ironic, deeply incisive tone that borders on sarcasm. Each section uncovers a different dimension of bleakness, and many of the poems concentrate on chaos and putrefaction, mentioning human and animal deaths, souring and rotting food, and bodily ailments like broken bones and  pus. These details are all components of a condemned man’s environment-- a man whose only escape is suicide.

    Annotations

    Throughout Bad Manners Juan Calzadilla (b. 1931) plays with themes of inclusion and exclusion. This book was written at the end of Calzadilla’s position as a government worker, and the texts are informed by his frustration with the political situation in Caracas. By 1965 he had attained literary notoriety and in this book he takes the position of “national poet” who claims to speak authentically and shed social performance. However, this pretense is just another mode of masking. The speaker assumes a new position, located at the periphery of the city and at the periphery of his relation to himself. Calzadilla extends this marginality to the structures that make up bourgeois life. He frequently mentions suits and wallets, and the figure of the empty or abandoned suit appears in several poems. All this serves to generate critical energy against contemporary mechanized society. The author’s drawings depict monstrous figures, rows of hospital beds, disintegrating bodies, and other references to physical and mental pathologies.

     

    Juan Calzadilla (Altagracia de Orituco, 1931) worked across a variety of techniques including painting, poetry, and art criticism. From a young age he dabbled in literatura and in 1953 won the Prize for Poetry from the First National Youth Festival. [For more essays by Calzadilla regarding shifts in Caracas’ art scene, see ICAA digital archive (doc. no. 865589) and (doc. no. 1279499)].

     

    Bad Manners was published under the umbrella of the avant-garde group El Techo de la Ballena. El Techo de la Ballena were a group of Venezuelan artists and writers who combined different disciplines—visual arts, poetry, photography, film, performance art, among others—to create interrogative and revolutionary artwork during one of the most violent decades in Venezuelan history. Guerilla warfare, far-left ideas, political repression, and problematic city planning helped create a framework for this group’s formation. In painting, sculpture, and writing, they encouraged an informal aesthetic and an ethos of aggression that was meant to combat the dominant paradigms of abstract geometry, landscape, and social realist styles. Their strategies were subversive and often incorporated Dada or Surrealist strategies. Their large editorial production encompassed at least three issues of Rayado sobre el Techo de la Ballena and many exhibitions. (For more books, publications and essays from El Techo de la Ballena, see (doc. no. 1279466), (doc. no. 1279418), (doc. no. 1060254), and (doc. no. 1142155)].