Review of 'Distópica'

Image courtesy of  Distópica

Image courtesy of Distópica

There are a few strains of online journals that attempt to create, undo, constitute, or discuss in hopes of appearing, however briefly, in the top suggestions of search engines in this omnipresent beast we now call the Internet. This is precisely the field where the Distópica editors, writers, and visual artists have decided to intervene while fully recognizing the irremediable brevity with which we consume these products online. They chose the virtual arena, where triumph is equivalent to defeat. But what would become of literature if it did not tempt failure? Distópica tempted failure, and along the way, it was able to set forth, as an act of rebellion, various difficulties: the inconsistency of literary workshops in El Salvador, the lack of commitment of some editors, and the scarce investment and general indifference of the government, disease upon diseases. Therefore, it is worthwhile to ask, how do we survive culturally in the face of political violence? How do we persevere in a country where there is little or no incentive to read? This is why perhaps, from the very beginning the reader already knows that Distópica is a glitch, it shouldn’t exist. This is why the cover points to an equivocation; you cannot explain the dystopic from the dystopic. Art is the message; the rest, leftovers.   

In “A Star Named Wormwood,” Pedro Romero Irula establishes a remote connection with “Comet Halley” by Reinald Arenas; the two texts interweave morality, the mechanisms of religious oppression, a catastrophe that never comes and is instead replaced by a series of unfortunate events, all mixed into a relentless and breathless narrative. Because of its important mark on the religious consciousness of our Americas, the Comet Halley serves as the thread weaving together the narrative in both stories; however, Pedro reaffirms his aesthetic position by indulging in the voices of his characters, distant in age but sharing the same bad luck, introducing scenes that appeal to the normalization of certain problems that would be impossible to imagine outside of El Salvador or Central America. In his writing, each violent act is a portrait of disenchantment transmuted into fiction. The texts steps forward and back; it flows from its creator without the desire to pander to anyone.  

“Panópticon” revolves around the presence of the invisible. It seems like a bomb eager to self-destruct against the mundane. The author takes a rifle and passes it to the reader, inviting him to shoot, to kill and go along with him as if it’s nothing. Portilla’s writing represents a rebellious, political, philosophical, and social mechanism. The author does not have a face, but he has literature. He does a good job hiding the devices of warfare, transforming them into resources, style. In many ways, its worthy of a close read. The story paints the scenes of a novel. It could do away with two or three paragraphs that do not connect or appear forced, as if they may belong to a previous chapter. 

Zamora writes in poetry and thus is allowed to break all the rules, not because of his success in US literary circles, but because his writing needs no introductions. The risk, nevertheless, is that he could be walking towards quicksand. That’s what appears to be the case in “Vivíamos en el puglarcito,” the exhortation of his life story, the denunciation and oblivion, the emphasis of belonging to otherness, in idealizing and romanticizing it. Prose is transformed into description. He draws close to melodrama signaling himself as a victim that suffers and feels special at the same time.  

I could not stop thinking of “Los hijos of Lacandón” as a hybrid between the Black Mirror episodes “Fifteen Million Merits” and “Nosedive” and the use of medicine in the movie Limitless. Augusto’s writing is intense and the text reads like a fascinating film script, but its gaze is ambiguous. The setting can be switched for the reality of any country that continues to retrace the divisions between civilization and barbarity. It would have been interesting to interweave a setting closer to El Salvador, so that “all-seeing eye” could be a personification of the Salvadoran government, perhaps. Something similar happens in the “Rites or the abandoned god”: the reader might fail to grasp the mythological meanings and get lost on the path to an illuminated class consciousness; everything remains very distant, without clear signposts or clear intimacy of the author with the problems specific to the region. There is an intertextual reference present: Nabokov’s Lolita, which is far too notorious. Where is the author writing from? 

“Oro Rosa” sows discord, moving inside the magazine like a nomad. It pumps life into the project and reminds the reader that literature cannot be contained. It denounces the imposed and customary machismo. Patricia comes at it hard; it is not easy to write about acts that are repeated daily, especially taking into account the style in which the story is narrated. The reasons why, the intimacy of the defeated. The female protagonist is constantly searching because she has no other option; the cliché of loneliness is served in the right measure. She does not name it, she narrates it.  

Distópica represents the same contradiction that traps it. The magazine plants doubts that emerge and drown in our social media streams; Distópica acts and transcends its paratexts. It overcomes the analog to manifest itself before a greater number of readers.  Distópica becomes a piece of the insurgency that cannot be contained. It leaves behind only one debt: the articulation of the relationship between dystopia and the Salvadoran reader. How do Salvadorans conceive dystopia within their environment? Dystopia or reality? Is there another option? Why do they normalize what they normalize? Not all fled from danger. The bastards who stayed stayed because they had no other option. Reality does not ask whether they wanted to or not. They exist where they exist. Period. Therein lies the romantic aspect of the magazine, the essentialization of violence as a source for narrative: to whom are they writing? Who do they wish to question? Isn’t dystopia an othering category? Among the greatest challenges of all national literature is how to avoid recurring central themes that point to a singular facet for an overextended period. To not convert social problems into symbolic objects for cultural consumption. How to do it? I don’t know, but it would be interesting to consider this point in future projects, editorial proposals, and anthologies. What lies beyond that “desire to kill and die” that Castellonos Moya, Dalton, and now the dystopians have already written?

Translated by Willy Palomo