Re-visiones #7

guest researchers

From speech to writing, from writing to speech. Towards a poetics of orality following five years of research in the Seminario Euraca1

María Salgado (

Translated by George Hutton

Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart

Abstract: In this article I analyze some compositional strategies of the speech staged by two renowned Spanish films produced towards the end of the Transition period (Navajeros and Deprisa, deprisa). On the basis of a comparative of how both films construct differently the representation of their characters’ speech in the written script and the oral performance of their interpreters upon this script, and attending to the interval opened by the interplay between both instances, I reflect on some ideas of language, writing and orality that in fact collaborate with the production or problematization of stereotyped and passivizing representations of socio-historical subjectivities such as that of youngsters excluded from the economic and cultural “desarrollista” (developmentalist) order to which both films refer; and from here, I ask about a poetics that would tend to propitiate the linguistic agency any subject has as a speaker. This text formalizes as an article some ideas discussed in the framework of Seminario Euraca, a Madrid based collective research on languages and (genealogies of) crisis on going since November 2012.

Keywords: Orality and writing, poetics, Deprisa, deprisa, Navajeros.

It begins… in a wasteland on the outskirts of a concrete city. Our city. When, on 8th November 2012, those of us who would become the core members of Seminario Euraca, a collective for research into language and crisis, got together for the first time, the first image we called up was that of two young people, Ángela and Pablo, practicing how to fire a gun in a wasteland on the outskirts of Madrid, taken from the film Deprisa, deprisa (“Hurry, Hurry!”) by Carlos Saura (1981, min. 14:02-15:30).

The second image we looked at that evening depicts the whole group, namely Pablo, Ángela, Sebas and Meca, walking along the esplanade of the Cerro de los Ángeles (min. 23, 48-56; min. 30:23 – 35:45). When the four friends reach the monument atop the hill, they notice that its statues have been dismembered. Meca asks some elderly, conservative-looking women why the religious images were destroyed. The women reply that it was due to gunfire from republican soldiers during the civil war. “They had it coming” jibes Meca, and the four of them laugh as the women look on, scandalised. For reasons entirely different to those of the elderly women, we could say we are concerned by the apparent ignorance about the war exhibited as by these young people, who may well have migrated from the towns of the southern plateau of Spain (such as Pablo) or who may have been the first members of their families born in the slums or the new housing projects built mostly in the south of the city, because it shows a breakdown in transmission between the popular classes of the peninsula, which would describe them as being not only impoverished and deprived of the basic material rights they need in order to exercise their citizenship, but also, and often directly related to this, that they have been previously defeated, repressed, and/or expelled from the places they call home2 . The four youngsters are unaware of how they themselves could be linked with those other (possible) young republicans whose bodies (physical and cultural) were systematically suppressed by the Francoist regime, and upon whose suppression a dismembered story was pieced together. Faced with the question of the past, they do not recognise themselves. Faced with the question of the future, they hurry, hurry, running through a plot of dreams about wellbeing, robbing banks, and murders, highly romantic and with a tragic ending.

The image of these young people so young and so strong that they do not have a past3 , but who are, or seem, nevertheless, capable of briefly taking over a piece of the world by means of action, was a starting point for the collective research project called Euraca, not out of – for example – class identity, despite the fact that most of the Seminar’s regular participants were somewhat removed from the labour market at that time, but rather out of a kind of symbolic alliance between our own youth (with a range of ages) and (not only) that of the film’s protagonists (but also that of others mobilised from 2011 onwards), in the desire for action, invention and the provocation of a change that is usually so characteristic of youth. The image also led us to reconsider certain stories of the landscapes of the political and economic crisis of the 2000s, there on the wasteland earmarked for the Spanish Development project, about to be inundated with new housing (and the subsequent processes of speculation, corruption, extension of the landlord model, the housing bubble and the depoliticisation of the struggles for the right to the city) which so sharply condenses the material side of the sociohistorical crux of the so-called Transition to democracy in Spain and which, so often, brush aside the landscapes and stories that are broadcast by the media4 . In essence, we came to question which stories and contexts – like, for example, the mass migrations both in and out of the peninsula in the 1950s, 60s and 70s – had been cut out from the visible, nameable and conceivable frame, loaded as it was with the cultural objects of a democracy (and a democratic culture) which, in 2012, was undergoing widespread revision.

At a time of high proliferation of the 15M assemblies 5 , and when spontaneous “taking the voice” situations were booming out of any given social and cultural event, that is, at a time in which the crucial question about the modes of political representation was at play, we sensed that it was an opportune moment to broaden out the language of the questioning of/for/about the redistribution of the voice. The difference between the giving and the taking of the voice was, therefore, one of the key questions in, at least, the first two programmes of the Seminar, both titled “Take the Language”, and it has perhaps remained a key question throughout the whole research process over these five years.

Insofar as, in western logocentric culture, we tend to associate speech with the body that speaks, and the body with the irreducible part of the being, thus distinguishing it as a radical exteriority of writing considered as an external sociolect acquired by the body by means of becoming literate, and therefore under a strong hierarchy of usage; and insofar as, for this reason, we can imagine few gestures more figurally democratic than that which consists of, despite all of the negative determinants from the outset, “somebody taking the voice”, that is, facing the other people that make up their community, taking it “in their own words”, it seemed (and would still seem) crucial to ask at least three nodular questions when it comes to articulating voices, writings and bodies of the heterogeneous social body in the poetics of writing (facing forwards) and reading (facing backwards) that may inform and reposition our view, namely: 1) those ideas about language that naturalise the illusion that spontaneous speech exists, entirely split off and distinguishable from writing, and always genuine in character, personal and interior, private; 2) those ideas about writing that naturalise the illusion of clean and neutral transcription from speech, or of sound from letters, in a one-to-one equivalence, with nothing mediating between them, as completely autonomous entities; 3) and those ideas about culture that naturalise the stereotyped representation of uneducated subjects by their incorrect and loose speech, and that deem educated subjects’ speech to be neutral.

In the search for a poetics of orality that is critical with these ideas of language, writing and representation, I am interested in investigating both the way by which the characters’ written speech is constructed in the script for Deprisa, deprisa and how this speech is performed by the actors in the film, and comparing this with the speech of the characters and actors in Navajeros (“Slashers”, 1980) by Eloy de la Iglesia and how it is constructed in a different way, despite the fact that the two films are supposed to be similar since they both belong to the “quinqui” genre6 . In my view, the “quinqui” is a cultural myth produced by the mix of an approximate historical subjectivity and the combination of representations that, as in these two films, brought it to light in cinema7 . In this sense, I could have looked into such key issues as the differing gender selection of the main characters, or the narrative development in both storylines, but I am particularly drawn to the singular spoken result of the constructive decisions as agreed upon by the director and the actors in Deprisa, deprisa.

The fact that quinqui cinema brought to the attention of the State’s cinemagoers the speech of these young people who had been excluded from the socioeconomic order in the later years of the Transition, at almost exactly the same time as the publication of the manifestos and founding texts of the movement called “Otra sentimentalidad” or “Nueva sentimentalidad” (i.e. “Other/New Sentimentality”) appealing rather to a conversational or colloquial style that was instead tailored to the normal, imaginary citizen, is something that I shall note down for future consideration, given that it is linked to central issues in the construction of the visible, nameable and conceivable post-Francoist culture frame8 .

Let us take a similar sequence, comparable in length, from the two films we are going to compare. Let us take one of the scenes which, in both films, takes place at a lookout spot in the peripheral wasteland, just over the border from the vast castle of material wealth that the protagonists dream of raiding. The scene comes at the beginning of Navajeros (min. 7:18–8:38; sec. 9, 12-14) in order to relate how the protagonist, called Jaro, shows his friends a weapon after lecturing them about how they need to step up from petty thieving to more serious endeavours. In Deprisa, deprisa the scene comes after a robbery in which Ángela, the protagonist, might have killed a man with her sawn-off shotgun (min. 60:34–61:45; sec. 39, 91-92).

Perhaps the first verbal feature to catch the eye, or rather the ear, in the sequence from Navajeros is the vast number of young people’s slang or colloquial nouns. The vocabulary used by all the characters is so marked that within the first minute of the scene we hear 26 such terms9 . In under ten seconds we hear a verbal exchange about the joint that the characters are smoking, which contains the colloquialisms dándole, costo, calote (i.e. slang terminology in joint-smoking) qualified by mu guapo (“sexy”, “fit”, but here referring to the quality of the hash) and d'abuti (“awesome”, “sick”), and followed by phrases such as no nos cortes (approximately “chill the fuck out”), un pedo (“stoned”) and colgaos (“spaced out”). In another exchange in the scene, in barely one second, buga (“car”, “wheels”) and gasofa (“petrol”, “juice”) coincide, that is, two terms from the same lexical field come together in a highly colloquial rendering: “It’s like when we nick some wheels, there we are cruising around like a bunch of pricks until we run out of juice, then what?”.

The sequence of three phrases that contain buga and gasofa is perfectly plausible for the verbal code that both terms aim to represent, let’s say, faithfully, but such extreme fidelity, or this strict confining of the code, is exactly what prevents something we call not-very-scientifically “life” from happening, but which, of course, points to a verbal “liveliness” that is notable by its absence. Can something be considered alive if it is an identical copy of itself? The etymological definition of “stereotype” leads us to a fixed typographical mould, from which the body (of the letter) cannot, thus, get out. This effect, like a binding, is what spreads, metaphorically, towards “anything that is systematically repeated in the same way, without variation”. Similarly, it appears to me that the stereotyped quality of the slang in Navajeros does not exclusively reside in the strictly delimited lexical choice available to the characters in terms of the vocabulary usually associated with places of a lower social standing, but also in the overarching effect of restricting them to the exact replication thereof, in every single moment of the conversation.

It is both impossible and absurd to state that this three-phrase sequence ‘could be said but probably not heard in a real speech situation’ or that ‘when hearing this sequence, it was probably a consciously exaggerated usage, that is, artificial’, yet I maintain here my deep suspicions regarding something like its oral effectiveness. This same suspicion comes to mind when I hear an expression like “hostia, una recortá” (“fuckin’ hell, a piece”), as uttered when somebody takes out a sawn-off shotgun. It would fit the desired oral tone better if it did not contain the phrase just after the interjection, given that the noun’s referent is already in plain sight. In any case, and since life comes in many different forms, liveliness cannot be verified, and this text does not seek to separate (the wheat) of an inexistent (real?) situation from (the chaff) of the speech in an existing cinematic situation, but rather it aims to deal with the relationship between the script and its being oralised, and between this oralisation and the speech, or rather, the language in use at said sociohistorical moment, in order to observe how the characters are represented verbally; I would just like to remark that in the aforementioned scene at the Cerro de los Ángeles in Deprisa, deprisa they say coche (“car”) instead of buga (“wheels”) three times, and whenever a weapon appears (an axe, a knife) in the story of Pablo’s first robbery, it is accompanied by onomatopoeia and a gesture that shows how they are used, in a way that is, for me, considerably more akin to a situation from, well, ‘real’ life.

The difference between coche (“car”) and buga (“wheels”) is of course so tiny that it pales into insignificance when making  a wider comparison of these two films which, in any case, contain a great deal of slang nouns from the era, but it reminds us that, on the one hand, a sociolect cannot be strictly confined but in terms of statistical analysis, and an unconcerned (non-statistical, but rather) aesthetic reproduction thereof, by being stripped of all its problematic features, can have naturalising effects regarding language, speaker and social standing as if they were one and the same, immutable; and on the other hand, even more crucial in terms of writing, they remind us that the inclusion of every single lexical unit ascribed to a sociolect is not necessary in order for it to be represented faithfully.

The exact fidelity of a printed text to real-life speech is impossible on every level, because there is no such thing as an exact transcription between speech and writing, in both directions: from speech to print, and from print to speech. Any simple “word-for-word” transcription exercise of any given heard utterance entails making decisions about the details of the composition, such as punctuation, that is, syntactic abstraction; the division into paragraphs, that is, forming the line of argument into a sequence; page jumps, typographical body, which elements are highlighted, etc. Similarly, every pronunciation or converting to speech of a written text carries with it the obligation to make decisions about the reading tempo, which cannot possibly be identical to the rhythmic choices of the person who noted down those words. Both operations, from speech to writing, and from writing to speech, show a textual condition articulated on both planes. Insomuch that it is proven that any given speech cannot be represented literally in writing, and nor can any printed text be spoken literally, any kind of writing conscious of its condition as an interface knows that it must rather construct a transcription effect, aiming towards orality or towards literalness, in any case constructed as tension, composition and palimpsest.

The idea of literalness as a one-to-one identity between two levels of representation, and that of writing as a stable, unique and original entity is undoubtedly associated with the paradigmatic exchange as founded by the phonetic alphabet. Non-alphabetical writing systems (such as the logograms used in many Asian languages) and writing practices based on dialects not classed as the standard (cf. Bernstein; and North) showed one part of 20th century western poetry the significant capacity of any verbal construction that eschews the form and language that had been, up to that point, naturalised as poetic, in order to re-orient them towards a perhaps more archaic idea, repressed for centuries, of writing not (only) as the printed word. It was not in vain, as I have set out at length elsewhere (see my article “La poesía visual no es visual”; “Visual Poetry is not Visual”), that, in the late 19th century, measured verse fell out of favour; that is, the formal membrane codified for the relation between the three materialities of language (writing, gesture, sound) that so deftly moulded language into poem and poem into declamation.

Whereas the speech constructed by Deprisa, deprisa opens the articulatory gap between these three instances, freeing the speech interface from the absolute rule of the printed letter, its construction is somewhat similar to that of those 20th century poetics that deploy writing as the material remediation or artificial delimiting between letter and sound, sound and gesture, gesture and letter, expanding the notion of (graphic) writing to include the discovery of the exterior time-and-space of the alphabetic letter and the resulting reinvention of the function/fetish of the printed text, sheet music and the script with regards to its oralisation/interpretation/performance by the bodies and their listening communities. If we can take anything from the verbal forms of these poetic trends, it is that the significant power of vernacular diction in these trends did not consist of normalising, a posteriori, the written representation of a sociolect spoken beforehand, but rather in letting them work on each other mutually, and simultaneously, or in a non-literalist correlation.

The fidelity of the verbal representation constructed by Navajeros is delimited to the curtailing of lexical choice, not only restricted but also unwavering, and in this sense, as with the sociolect classed as standard, it is “normalised” as the sociolect of the lumpenproletariat. But the realist model of representation that, like Navajeros, entrusts its fictionalisation of orality to the systematic filtering of individual lexical units through the vocabulary set aside for the colloquial register, does in fact run the risk of taking all reading towards socially agreed meanings, reducing meaning to a question of autonomous semantics, regardless of any (minimal, conscious) choice by the characters. This orientation-towards-meaning endorses the widespread idea about language as a vehicle for the transmitting of pre-existing meanings, and about writing as a secondary transcription of that language. To transmit information, plot and meaning, similar in theory to that in Navajeros, the verbal representation in Deprisa, deprisa is built not only upon a marked vocabulary, but also upon morphosyntactic and phonetic elements, whose condition, let’s say extralexical condition, shifts our attention once again from meaning towards linguistic materiality and the constructed character of signification.

Two of the strongest markers of sociolect in the language of the characters in Deprisa, deprisa are the use of “ejque” and loísmo10 . One is a phonetic marker, the other morphosyntactic. In both cases, they show features characteristic of some southern dialects of the peninsula, forbidden in the written rules of Spanish. Neither of these features can, in fact, be found pre-written in the script. If they appear in the film, it is because the actors’ bodies were allowed to utter the phrases by pronouncing them as they needed to. While it is about verbal elements of a language that lives and works in the body of those who speak it, when these features appear they strengthen the emergence of meaning beyond, or already within, the messages that they are transmitting and exchanging, in such a way that not only the informative result (or message) of the transaction is seen, but also we hear the metal of their throats, also their tongues, septums, noses and glottises, and even the erotic, all of which brought about this result.

I am speaking, of course, about accent and dialect as volumes, folds and prominences in language in its spoken form, similar to how Roland Barthes speaks of the “grain of the voice” in the singing voice as “the materiality of the body speaking its mother tongue” to thus be able to analyse the music of his time without conniving with the ideology of communication and expression. Despite the fact that the voices of the two objects under question here are not, as with those that Barthes analyses, postured towards language and towards music – because it does not even deal with recitations of poems that are postured in favour of or against a particular kind of prosody  - their textures are also subjected to a culture that conceives language at the service of the message and that hands out, in advance, the dialogue roles, deeming “good diction” all that which retains the sharpness of the consonants, reins in the vowels, sets out how to use speed and pauses correctly for the fluent utterance of the phrases, and the resulting control in breathing, and dismissing as poor and incorrect all diction which, although it may be full of life and active in other parameters, does not follow the rules in terms of dialect and/or pronunciation. But here, in this space of tension and the thorough highlighting of language’s materiality, is precisely where meaning or texture arises, somewhat more dense and distinct, less stereotyped, a presence a little more, or a little less, representative than that which is produced by the abstraction of a social identity based on a fixed number of words (and their meanings).

Understanding the Barthesian “grain” in a wider sense, with a dual meaning, as a marker, upon language, of the body that speaks, and a marker, upon the voice that speaks, of language (and even as a marker of the body upon each inscribing gesture, whether it contains a voice or not11 ), allows us, outside of prescriptive linguistic rules and the corresponding (class-biased) cultural values, to understand, on the one hand, the resonance of the speech of the characters in Deprisa, deprisa and, on the other, the hollowness of the speech of those in Navajeros. And this does not depend so much, or not exclusively, on the social background of the actors of either film, but rather how the artifice between language, body and voice is composed in both films. That is, it depends on how their orality is written. To achieve this, it is of course necessary to be wary of the most generally accepted notions on writing and orality, and to approach an idea of writing and textuality similar to that proposed by Roland Barthes (and other post-structuralists like Kristeva, Derrida, Deleuze and Guattari…).

I am referring to an idea of writing or archi-writing (Derrida), that understands writing and orality not as two isolated domains, but rather species of language that form palimpsests in each textual operation (be it written down or spoken). It is an understanding of writing that goes beyond (or is already within) graphical notation, which allows us, in turn, to understand poets like David Antin, who is known for the writing of his poetry books based on the reworking of the transcriptions of his “talk poems”, when he states that the crux of the difference between oral and literate cultures does not revolve around the clear absence of a notation system in the former, but rather the different strategies for composition that they have with regards to what he prefers to call “literal cultures”12 . A poet, like Antin, who is often classified as “oral”, in fact prefers to highlight, as a more determining feature of the field of poetry, the use of “vernacular” strategies, positions and procedures, particularly if they are within more strongly literal cultures, or, as I would call them here, literalist cultures.

The resonance of the speech in Deprisa, deprisa is due to, amongst other things, the fact that the actors’ performance of the word is liberated from the literalist fidelity to the printed word in the script. In Saura’s film, the printed word prevails, yet it does not dictate how the verbal performance should be delivered. As the actress Berta Socuéllamos notes, just by contrasting the script on paper and how it was performed in the film, it becomes clear that said oralisation was constructed not as an alphabetic transcription of one sound per letter, letter by letter, but rather as a freer correspondence between “script” and “temperament”, that is, as speech reincarnated and remade in the language of those who would utter it and in the rhythm of their bodies, both before and during the execution thereof:

“Yes, I’m really like my character Ángela, in terms of temperament. As a character, she’s both unique and very complicated. To tell you the truth, we reworked all the film’s dialogues and scenes along with Carlos, so that they were a better fit for our own personalities. From the original script, the only thing left is the first scene at the bar, which was terrifying, and just a few other things.” (Berlanga 26)

The liberation of the printed word offers the bodies of the actors in Deprisa, deprisa a performance of the word suited to the opening of the grain of the spoken voice, because it allows for variation in dialect (with, for example, the pronoun system), and the impregnation of accent within the tone of the standard dialect with which we tend to oralise any given printed text (precisely to naturalise the printed domain as normalised). The liberation of the printed word also allows the actors to open, in their bodies, a talking speed and certain gestures in a rhythm that could not possibly be literalist. A living, pulsional rhythm. A speaking tempo which, in my view, forms a large part of the beauty within Saura’s film. It is a tempo incarnate in the actors’ bodies, who take pauses as and when they like, between which they use onomatopoeia (“pa pa pa”, “ñiuuuu”, “raca”) and colloquialisms (“demasiao”, i.e. “too much”, pronounced informally) in quantities and rhythms, rhythmic quantities, impossible to pre-write in any script (Sec. 23, 48–56; min. 30:23–35:45). In contrast, the oral interpretation in Navajeros follows the rhythm marked by the literalist pronunciation of the phrase as printed in the script. The rhythm is dictated by the written word, with pauses matching full stops and commas, completely out of time with the rhythm of the body delivering the lines, to an extent where, in the case of some actors, the body belonging to the voice does not even correspond to the body we see on screen. For example, the voice of the inexperienced lead actor in Eloy de la Iglesia’s film, was, in fact, replaced by the voice of professional actor Ángel Pardo, due to the former’s poor diction.

The rhythm gained by the body and speech over the transcriptive command of the written word, is one which, in the same way, opens up syntactic structures in the language of Deprisa, deprisa that are anomalous to the prescriptive writing rules which should never be confused with all writing (in the broader terms, as mentioned here), just as certain acritical discursive poetry with “normal sentence structure” or normalised syntax for the transmitting of information reproduces the phenomenon in the printed domain13 . For both poetry that aspires to make use of speech or language in use critically, and for any artistic object that seeks to (re)present certain languages, for example a film script, it could, at least, be taken into account that there is nothing further removed from the oral form than syntactic fluency, and if the aim is fluency in live oral narration, then preventing the speaker from juxtaposing, assembling and repeating is futile. Syntactic fluency belongs to the format of prose and written register, given that the very protocol of writing allows time for elaboration, for deleting the traces of disfluency by means of editing and correction, whilst speech is edited and corrected in real time and in front of everybody. Syntactic fluency is also a feature of the oral register of learned and formal sociolects, which are, by no means, those that Deprisa, deprisa and Navajeros aim to represent.

Let us focus, for a moment, on this syntactic level. Let us compare the workings of the lines spoken by Jaro and Meca in the corresponding wasteland scenes:

“Come on lads…… If we just get fucked up every day we’ll spend our whole fucking life in this shithole […] what do you mean you’re all stoned? we’ve got to do it right I’m bored shitless of nicking stuff kicking in phoneboxes and all that bollocks […] it’s like when we nick some wheels there we are cruising around like a bunch of pricks until we run out of juice then what? […] well yeah but you don’t really need anything… you just come here to strut about! but the rest of us… […] fuck yeah Butano! you get me […] that doesn’t matter… now we’ve got this piece things are going to change around here… no more wandering around pissing our lives away!”
(Jaro, Navajeros, min. 7:42 -8:27)

“No wonder they’re runnin’ like mad they’re madly tryin’ to get home so their wife opens the lickle door for ’em gives ’em a lickle kiss asks ’em how are things Juan how’s work and there he is all sweaty yeah fine a lickle bit sleepy then she turns on the telly for him now the kids now it’s all kickin’ off start layin’ into the kid you’re gonna get a smack me? I’d just kill ’em I swear I’d kill ’em.” (Meca, Deprisa, deprisa, min. 60:54–61:22)

The lines taken from the film Navajeros are largely complete and contain linking phrases, as compared to the interruptions that divide up the phrases in Deprisa, deprisa. Anacoluthon, the interruption of a discursive sequence or incongruence in the syntactic sequence, is a phenomenon which does not appear in the 45 seconds of Jaro’s speaking, and neither does juxtaposition. The oral effect achieved by the colloquial tone of the individual nouns gets lost, in part, because it is confined inside a phrasal structure normalised by and for the written standard. These two phenomena, so characteristic of speech, do occur, however, in the 28 seconds of Meca’s spoken intervention. Meca juxtaposes phrases with and without the copulative conjunction (“and”); he leaves out the subject of an unconjugated verb (“[he] start[s] layin’ into the kid”), and embedding, without the verb “say”, those phrases that he imagines the subject to be saying, who is, by the way, a kind of nemesis to his character: the middle-class worker tied down by his consumption and his office.

Meca’s use of language could be deemed grammatically incorrect and ascribed to the uneducated speech of the kind of subject he is representing, but just by looking at how the events unfold in the story that he tells, it can be seen that they take on an interesting form14 . I am referring to how the two prevailing morphological markers, i.e. loísmo and the diminutives, comprise, simultaneously, the sonorous rhythm and the semantic development of the intervention as a whole, given that the indirect complements rhyme in the masculine gender referring to the protagonist of the description (i.e. the repetition of “los”), along with the rhyme of the diminutives of the poor guy’s ridiculous possessions (using the -ito suffix in Spanish), in such a semiotically rich way that it would be unfair to reduce it to mere incorrectness, or, even worse, a parody of a social class15 . The fact that the indirect complement takes the standard form when there is a change in number in the pronoun (los > le, i.e.‘em > him) is a variation which could, again, easily be ascribed to the very instability of uneducated speech, but it would at least have to be contrasted with the fact that it has certain functionality for the story. I refer to when Meca changes from the plural to the singular pronoun form he is, as well as changing the number, singling out “Juan” as one of thousands of generic businessmen who take the same ring road to get to identikit flats, with identikit wives and identikit children. Those mentioned here could be, at the very least, vernacular compositional strategies, carried out thanks to the flexibility of the pronominal system available in the speech of Jesús Arias Aranzueque, the actor who plays Meca.

But how could this speech even be conceived by something like a scriptwriter? That is, how could this language possibly be pre-written? Here we have the pre/post problem which takes us to the idea of language as entirely separated, binarised and hierarchically ordered into pure and primitive speech which is only later written down, a secondary meaning which carries pre-existing meaning, a letter which turns into sound, etc. A complete anticipation turns out to be just as impossible as a complete postposition, to the extent that, as we have already noted, the condition of writing as an interface consists precisely of transliterating from one side to the other. No matter how painstakingly a scriptwriter might try to transcribe, faithfully, every single detail of such an utterance, and if the director were to take great pains to make the actor pronounce such a text letter by letter, from speech to writing, from writing to speech, and from speech to the body, there would be some kind of impossibly literalist gap or differential or articulation: possibly writable as a correlation, if its author is conscious of the fiction of orality or literalness that is being generated on both sides of the interface.

When cross-checking the lines that Meca says in the film’s script, it turns out that they do not coincide exactly with the lines spoken for the film, and, despite their colloquial tone, they show syntactic fluency and highly correct grammar. If we compare Jaro’s speaking with the relevant prewritten part of the script, we get a different kind of similarity, more identical than symmetrical, more literalist, less open to variation. The parts in the oral version of Navajeros that overwrite the script are more imperceptible (“cómo que” “por ahí”, i.e. unnecessary verbal fillers, similar to “kind of” or “like” in English; “Pesicolo”, i.e. the name of the character), and they are less related with pronunciation features (with some small exceptions, such as “ná” for “nada”, and the dropping or emphasising of certain consonants), syntax and composition, than those of Deprisa, deprisa:

Come on, lads…… If we just get fucked up every day, we’ll spend our whole fucking life in this shithole. […] Stoned? We’ve got to do it right. I’m bored shitless of pinching stuff, kicking in phoneboxes and all that bollocks. […] It’s like when we nick some wheels, there we are cruising around like a bunch of pricks until we run out of juice, then what? […] Yeah right, Pesicolo! You don’t need anything for your house though…you just come here to strut about. But the rest of us… […] Fuck yeah, Butano! You get me […] That doesn’t matter…now we’ve got this piece things are going to change around here… No more wandering around, pissing our lives away! (Jaro, Navajeros, sec. 9; 13–14)

They stay late at work and then they’ve haven’t got time to see their wifeys. And the telly goes on. What absolute wankers! (Meca, Deprisa, deprisa, sec. 39, 91–92)

In the comparison we can see how the information in the script for Deprisa, deprisa is perfectly put across, and the nuances are even improved and the implicatures sharpened by the oral version. We can also observe how the actor has taken, from the script, the diminutive “wifey” (mujercita), multiplying the concept and shifting it around as he pleases throughout his intervention, without, in fact, using the given diminutive itself16.

This revealing symmetry shows that the correlation between the oral and written versions can be perfectly produced outside of the normal phrase structure without at all losing its sense. The multiplying of the diminutive morpheme is an effect overwritten by the speech onto the script, showing that it is impossible to distinguish it as belonging to an entirely autonomous orality, let alone a spontaneous one. In other words, somehow, there is remediation, transliteration towards the oral and the written, the articulated use of both kinds of language, but, and this is crucial, the printed form is not at all deemed superior to the oral version. In fact, it is the transcriptive infidelity, or rather the expanded correlation between speech and script, that in Deprisa, deprisa helps deploy a meaning beyond (or already within) the semantic web deployed by its lexis, as well as an oral fiction, perhaps more loyal (than faithful) to reality.

The fundamental difference in how the two films construct their speech is based, to some extent, on elements that are highly difficult to apprehend, namely, for example, as rhythm and as choice. As if the characters were people who were able to make minimal verbal choices, variations and embellishments and, consequently, make choices even beyond the verbal. As if language were, as indeed it is, inscribed into the body (of any speaker, including the actors’), and, thus, it sets about adapting itself to what the body proposes and requires, even preceding it, without knowing what will be said, that is, to say the least, breathing rhythm, pronunciation, the strengths and weaknesses of the memory, which determine a certain movement, a certain style perhaps, a certain flourish, that is, a combination of artifice and pulsation that overwrites, onto the body, a kind of body language, a body onto the voice, a voice onto writing. A multiple taking of the language, against the restrictions in usage with which the social sphere regulates it.

While in Navajeros the music plays in the background, in Deprisa, deprisa the music is almost always chosen by some character who wants to dance to it or listen to it, and the same happens with language: in the former it is given to the speakers from the outside, whereas in the latter it seems, though not entirely their own, somewhat closer. As if the speakers, or rather, as if any speaker had, as well as something (a message) to say in a language and in a vocabulary valued at the cost of schooling, linguistic agency, that is, here, and resonating with Judith Butler’s notion of “political agency”, the ability to think about it and modify it, considering that language is not commanded nor equally distributed and it thus offers forth eternal tensions of property, appropriation, reappropriation and dispossesion.

To a certain degree of abstraction, and from a certain position, is the recreating of the linguistic agency contained in all speakers, wherever they may come from, whoever they are, something which could qualify the difference between “taking the voice” and “giving the voice” which then victimises, by means of their speech, the subaltern bodies that it aims to represent. “Taking” the voice would comprise a politics of representation (and even of poetry), and a poetics of writing (and even of politics), for which neither the speaker entirely possesses a language that is, more than anything, social, and nor is language entirely independent from the usage that each speaker elaborates therein; thereby they all transform, both the language and the speaker and back again, as well as the power that regulates them, to different degrees of intensity. It is a poetics somewhat different to that which confines the subaltern (speaker’s) voice and the (educated) speaker in the transcriptive fidelity of certain autonomous meanings in the process of speaking, reading and writing in the languages that both construct as subjects, and furthermore, even as community and, therefore, as conflict, instead of stereotypes that are predetermined, victimised due to their speech, and passivised. To a certain degree of abstraction, and from a certain position, is said agency or activation of the linguistic conscience of any speaker with regards to the inner and outer language in use of the text being read/listened to/attended/performed, the effect intensified and further encouraged by poetry.

If there exists a passion underlying the reading of texts, audiotexts and verbal emissions of all kinds in at least three official languages and various other unofficial lects (Galician, Creole, Castrapo, English, Spanglish, French, Castillian Spanish, Andalusian…), and underlying the writing of all kinds of texts over the five years since our Seminario was born, it is a passion that adheres, on the one hand, to the need to take back the linguistic initiative that has been snatched away from us, by, among others, the information corporations and the institutions of linguistic normalisation, and on the other hand, to a notion of poetry as an important alternative to linguistic passivity, for as long as it is the most sophisticated verbal artform (for its being devoted, zealous and focused).

Madriz, 2017


Antin, David and Charles Bernstein. A Conversation with David Antin. New York: Granary Books, 2002.

Berlanga, Jorge, “No soy una pistolera”. Interview with Berta Socuéllamos. Fotogramas, Año 35, Segunda época, nº1666 (August 1981), 26-27. Online:

Bernstein, Charles. “Poetics of the Americas”. My Way: Speeches and Poems. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Barthes, Roland. “El grano de la voz” (1972), in Lo obvio y lo obtuso. Imágenes, gestos voces. Trad. C. Fernández Medrano. Barcelona, Buenos Aires, México: Paidós, 1986. 262—271. 

Butler, Judith. “Introducción. De la vulnerabilidad lingüística”. Lenguaje, poder e identidad. Madrid: Síntesis, 2004 (1997).

De la Iglesia, Eloy. Navajeros. 1980. Film.

_____. y Gonzalo Goicoechea. Navajeros. Fotocopiadora: RANKX-XEROX 3450. DL: 14.3485-1980.

Díaz de Castro, Francisco J. La otra sentimentalidad. Estudio y antología. Barcelona: Fundación José Manuel Lara, 2003.

Derrida, Jacques. De la grammatologie. Paris: Minuit, 1967.

Labrador, Germán. “La habitación del quinqui. Subalternidad, biopolítica y memorias contrahegemónicas, a propósito de las culturas juveniles de la Transición española”. Joaquín Florido Berrocal, Luis Martín-Cabrera, Eduardo Matos-Martín y Roberto Robles Valencia (eds). Fuera de la ley. Asedios al fenómeno quinqui en la Transición española. Granada: Constelaciones, 2015. 27–64.

North, Michael. The dialect of Modernism. Race, Language & Twentieth-Century Literature. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Saura, Carlos. Deprisa, Deprisa. 1981.

_____. Deprisa, Deprisa. Madrid: Elías Querejeta, 1980. Fotocopiadora OFIMO – Modelo Nashua 1215 nº 06658. DL: M-I4960-1980.

Salgado, María. “La poesía visual no es visual. El artificio poético del siglo XX a partir del problema de la poesía visual”. Hispanic issues online, forthcoming.


[1] This text is an abridged and reworked version of a paper I presented at the Northeast Modern Language Association Annual Convention (Baltimore, United States, 23/3/2017), in a Seminar called “Poetics of Precarity/Precariousness in Contemporary Spain and Southern Europe”. My text formalises, as an article, some ideas that were worked upon in conversation over several sessions of the Seminario Euraca, combining them with my own research project into the language-oriented poetics of the 20th century, and my own practice as a poet, along with ideas that I brought to light, thanks, as well, to the works and conversations that took place in the workshop “El habla es el mar, la poesía es la pesca” (“Speech is the Sea, Poetry is the Fishing”, at the Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo, Madrid, Spring 2016). The Seminario Euraca is a research hub, looking into languages, mainly poetic language, which takes the current crisis in southern Europe as its focal point for discussion. The word “euraca” borrows its last morpheme from the pejorative term “sudaca” (i.e. a derogatory word for people from South America). The Seminar brings together researchers, activists, artists and poets, most of whom have come through a range of different university faculties, but are now mostly outside of the academic system.

[2] Regarding the breakdown in transmission between rural, proletarian community cultures of the first third of the 20th century and the transitional cultures of the Iberian peninsula, over the aegis of a massive rural exodus and the development of a consumer-based culture, we read some texts by the historian Pablo Sánchez León, such as “Encerrados con un solo juguete. Cultura de clase media y transición” (Mombaça, nº 8 (2010), 11-17) and “Desclasamiento y desencanto. La representación de las clases medias como eje de una relectura generacional de la transición española” (Kamchatka, nº4 (December 2014), 63-99); as well as Pasolini’s classic lectures published together in Lutheran Letters (1975) and Corsair Writings (1975).

[3] The verse in italics paraphrases a verse by the Argentine poet Washington Cucurto in a poem from La pajarera de Once called “Quién soy?” (“Who Am I?”): “I am so young and strong that I do not have a past” (Bahía Blanca: Vox, 2012).

[4] In the initial presentation of our Seminar, we showed, as a paradigmatic example of this operation of the emptying of contexts, the photographs of young people against a white background, used in Carmen Pérez-Lanzac’s report for El País called “Generación nimileurista” (i.e. the generation of young people for whom earning 1000 euros a month is increasingly unobtainable) (12/3/2012). Luis Moreno-Caballud discusses and expands on this same report in his book Culturas de cualquiera. Estudios sobre democratización cultural en la crisis del neoliberalismo español (Madrid: Acuarela libros, 2017).

[5] The term 15M refers to the social and political movement that started following a large-scale protest in Madrid on 15th May 2011. The protest called for “real democracy”, i.e. to offer social solutions to help Spain escape the economic crisis (which was ravaging the country at the time) and a profound change in the existing mechanisms of political participation. After the protest, a few dozen people decided to set up camp in the Puerta del Sol, right in the centre of Madrid, to denounce the arrests that had been made over the course of the day. The campers called a general assembly the following day, which attracted hundreds of participants, and the subsequent early-morning evacuation of the camp by the police led, on the 17th May, to thousands of people uniting in disgust. From here, the camp grew exponentially, and new campsites sprang up all over the country and beyond. The camp at the Puerta del Sol remained in place for one month, after which the General Assembly decided to continue with their political activity in the streets and neighbourhoods of Spain (Translator’s Note).

[6] The term quinqui refers to a genre of Spanish cinema, emerging in the late 1970s and early 80s, in which the  protagonists are invariably young urban delinquents (TN).

[7] For a cultural and sociological characterisation of the myth of the quinqui, see “La habitación del quinqui” by Germán Labrador Méndez (2015).

[8] The anti-rhetorical and neofigurative shift that begins to get underway following the manifesto of “Otra sentimentalidad” (“Other Sentimentality”) published in 1983 in El País by Luis García Montero, and endorsed by Álvaro Salvador and Javier Egea, not only does away with all trace of the textualism that was rife in the writing of poetry in Spain between 1964 and 1972, but it validates the deactivation of the linguicist paradigm and utopia that created it. The language of “Otra sentimentalidad” is an idealised compendium of the lightest vocabulary and that which is homogeneously stereotyped as coming “from the street”, which does not sound particularly realistic insomuch that, for example, it barely strays from the lyrical melodies of traditional Spanish poetry, in particular the hendecasyllable. This manifesto, and a couple of other critical texts as well as representative poems, can be consulted in the anthology by Francisco J. Díaz de Castro (2003).

[9] These slang terms include buga, gasofa, rollo, enrolla, costo, marcha, corte, colega, descarao, demasiao, etc. They were widely used in the peninsular Spanish of the 1980s and, when presented in isolation, they do not always have a direct equivalent in English. Buga is “car” or perhaps “wheels”; gasofa is “petrol”,“juice”; colega is “friend”, “mate”, etc. (TN).

[10] Both are instances of prescriptively non-standard usage of Castilian Spanish, and are stigmatised. “Ejque” is an alternative pronunciation of “es que”, often used as a verbal filler (i.e. “The thing is…”). Loísmo describes the phenomenon of the overuse of the direct object pronoun “lo”, in cases when standard Spanish would (usually) require the indirect “le” (TN).

[11] “The “grain” is the body in the voice as it sings, the hand as it writes, the limb as it performs” (Barthes 270, my translation).

[12] “David Antin: […] I tried to replace the theory of the primitive by offering a theory of the difference between “oral societies” and “literal societies” based on a more general notion than the simple and obvious question of “writing” versus “non-writing” –a distinction between a society that was committed to processes and a society committed to objects. It went on to make the case that innovation probably proceeded more fluidly, casually and regularly in oral societies, where you learned how to make a pot or a canoe or a spear thrower by learning the right way to make it rather than by copying an idealized standardized object. […] Charles Bernstein: Finally, there is the insistence of the vernacular in your work –vernacular essays, vernacular poems– vernacular thinking, which is not just a matter of vocabulary or syntax but of composition. This insistence on the vernacular is, as you suggest, in Stein and also Williams, and is in that sense fundamental to radical modernist writing. Here again the relation of “speech” to “writing” is complex and productive […] David: […] the “oral” conceived as embracing all the ways of organizing behavior relying upon the wide range of mental and physical procedures (including body learning) we can call remembering; and the “literal”, which includes the whole range of procedures laying access to some form of “recording” or spatialization of memory, including drawing and mark-making of any sort, and perhaps also nonspatialized but ritualized repetitional, recitational memorizing […] Memorizing isn't remembering, and recording is remembering.” (2002 49-52; my emphasis).

[13] Although “normal sentence structure” is a commonly used syntagm, here I have borrowed it from one of the most well-known essays of the (heterogeneous) North American poetry movement LANGUAGE, which, starting in the late 70s, drew up a critique of those poetic practices that do not pay much attention to the materiality of language and the constructed nature of poetry: “There are 'worlds conceived in language/men not dreamed of.' We don't know the restrictions imposed by speech pattern /conventions, though those involving e.g. normal sentence structure thought required to 'make sense' start to show, won't until a writing clears the air” (Robert Grenier, “On Speech”. This 1 (1971)).

[14] The ungrammaticality in the original Spanish is due to the loísmo in the object pronouns used by Meca (see endnote x). In the proposed English translation, this morphological deviance from the standard is instead offered as phonological deviance (i.e. “em” for “them”) (TN).

[15] The rhyming of the pronouns mentioned here refers to the (non-standard) repetition of the pronoun “los” in the original Spanish, rendered in the translation as “for ’em”, “gives ’em”, “asks ’em” (see endnote xiv). As for the rhyming diminutives, morphological diminutivisation is not as readily productive in English as in Spanish. Here it has been rendered lexically with “lickle”, a babyish, somewhat ‘pathetic’ equivalent which similarly aims to reflect Meca’s attitude to the subject of his story (TN).

[16] “Wifey” is a lexicalised example of a morphological diminutive in English (TN).

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Re-visiones - ISSN 2143-0040
HAR2013-43016-P I+D Visualidades críticas, reescritura de las narrativas a través de las imágenes