Wednesday, April 6, 2011


The Ultraists were a literary movement founded in 1918 by Jorge Luis Borges (pictured at left), his brother-in-law Guillermo de Torre, and a group of assorted Spanish malcontent poets.

The Ultraist Manifesto was published in Nosotros magazine (Buenos Aires, 1922), and Borges described their objectives:

1. Reduction of the lyric element to its primordial element, metaphor
2. Deletion of useless middle sentences, linking particles and adjectives.
3. Avoidance of ornamental artifacts, confessionalism, circumstantiation, preaching and farfetched nebulosity.
4. Synthesis of two or more images into one, thus widening its suggestiveness.

These issues are so arcane and specific to their own place and time, that today they are nearly incomprehensible. But they were a dedicated lot, who fought hard in their day for a new artistic vision that included "evocative imagery, references to the modern world and new technologies, elimination of rhyme, and creative graphic treatment of the layout of poetry in print" (as Wikipedia puts it). Even though looking back today, the results are quaint at best and pretentious at worst.

More interesting to me than the movement itself is the fact that it was hatched via the tertulia concept, a lost tradition of holding important artistic convocations in bars and cafes. These gentlemanly proceedings, usually surrounded with copious food, coffee, alcohol and tobacco, were a sort of scholarly lodge meeting without a lodge, commandeering a public cafe for that purpose.

Variations of the tertulia concept still survive today in a way, when we see organizations holding meetings at a table in a restaurant or at Starbucks (I used to mock such people and say "Starbucks is not your office!" and now I've become one of them!), but it's only a pale vestige of the golden days of Spanish tertulias or the Viennese Kaffeehauskulture.

1 comment:

  1. Some tenets of Ultraist philosophy (particularly Synthesis) relate interestingly to concepts expressed by Herman Hesse in The Glass Bead Game alternatively titled Magister Ludi (Originally published as Das Glasperlenspiel, 1943), a future-fiction in which the characters' focus is academic synthesis of seemingly disparate fields of study.