Pages 353-404: Mexican Zoetrope

I speculated in the Fourth Installment on Fate entry about the possibility that when Bolaño was writing the passages concerning Professor Kessler and Hugh Thomas’s book, The Slave Trade, he was considering how he might use words in the service of revelation rather than avoidance in writing The Part About the Crimes.

Then Matt in his Tidbits piece got me focused on Professor Plateau and his invention that ultimately lead to the zoetrope.

I have finished my second reading of pages 353 through 404 of The Part About the Crimes. I originally gauged Bolaño’s intentions here to be to bring to each of these murder victims some small identity—to force us to contemplate them each individually for a moment. Words in the service of revelation rather than avoidance. The same sort of purpose the Vietnam Wall is designed to serve for 55,000 dead, in that case with severe space limitations. Some better feel for the magnitude of it all. I still think that.

However, as the crime victims fluttered by me this time, they became as individual images in an animation machine and a kind of persistent perception was implanted in my mind. The victims blended back together again into one image. The body of a girl with long hair, about five feet seven inches tall (tall for a Mexican woman), partially clothed, lying out in some vacant area along with garbage. No animation results, however. As this image slowly develops, it becomes a character in the novel that keeps reappearing. (There is a lot wrong with that whole metaphor, but still, I like it.)

Consider Epifanio’s dream of that female coyote dying by the road. Page 387.

And this was the last death of 1993, which was the year the killings of the women began in the Mexican state of Sonora, under Governor José Andrés Briceño of the Partido de Acción Nacional (PAN), and Santa Teresa Mayor José Refugio de las Heras of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), decent and upright men who did the right thing, without fear of reprisals, prepared for any unpleasantness.

Pages 393-94.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Charly Cruz at page 315:

And there’s no sense of the abyss anymore, there’s no vertigo before the movie begins, no one feels alone inside a multiplex. Then, Fate remembered, he began to talk about the end of the sacred.

See Daryl’s entry below on the sacred.

It is difficult not to think back on Oscar Fate’s ruminations on the sacred when we are confronted with the Penitent. The Penitent is only an inadvertent murderer, whom the interestingly named Juan de Dios Martínez began to like when the Penitent perfected his technique to eliminate the bloodshed. Page 368.

Thanks to Elvira Campos, another aspect of Fate’s experience comes back to mind, one that we have not discussed. Fate saw an eerie mural on the side of a building in Detroit. It was an image of a clock. Where each of the twelve numbers would normally have been, there were depictions of people working in the factories of Detroit with a recurring character, a black teenager. The mural looked like the work of a lunatic.

In the middle of the clock, where all the scenes converged, there was a word painted in letters that looked like they were made of gelatin: fear.

Page 241.

Elvira Campos brings these two abstractions, fear and the sacred, together nicely with her theory that the Penitent suffers from sacraphobia:

There are odder things than sacraphobia, said Elvira Campos, especially if you consider that we’re in Mexico and religion has always been a problem here. In fact, I’d say all Mexicans are essentially sacraphobes.

Page 381.

Even the Virgin of Guadalupe takes a hit from the Penitent at page 365.

(Will the asylum at which Elvira Campos is director be the one where Amalfitano eventually takes up residence?)

The Penitent is gone as quickly as he appears in the novel. Juan de Dios Martínez and Elvira Campos slowly fade from the picture, too. Sergio González, the arts writer from La Razón, files his story on the Penitent for the Sunday Magazine and promptly forgets about it all. It is as if these characters were invented and introduced solely to provide us with insight, if insight it is, into this confluence of fear and the sacred.

I guess we have to acknowledge, also, that Juan de Dios Martínez and Elvira Campos engaged in some ritualistic sex. She reminds me a bit of Liz Norton. But that all appears to be a throw-in. I liked these two, of course, but I had the odd feeling that the author was keeping me at some distance from them.

There’s for openers. I look forward to reading the thoughts of others. Later in the week something further concerning Olegario Cura Expósito, the illegal dump, El Chile, and some odds and ends.

–Steve Brassawe

4 thoughts on “Pages 353-404: Mexican Zoetrope

  1. Matt Bucher March 8, 2010 / 3:32 pm

    Great post, Steve. I love that comparison to the individual frames of the zoetrope. Hadn’t made that connection before.

    And with all the murals, we finally get a mention of Diego Rivera in Campos’s office (page 363).

  2. Daryl L. L. Houston March 8, 2010 / 3:40 pm

    Have to agree with Matt. The victims as stills on a zoetrope is a great image.

  3. stevebrassawe March 8, 2010 / 5:36 pm

    Of course that female coyote, killed and left at the side of the road in the desert does not trouble us as much as a girl, killed and left by the side of the road in the desert, particularly when that is presented as some half-comic wildlife identification drill at pages 385-86. For some reason, though, it bothers Epifanio to the extent that he has a nightmare about it at the next page. That may simply be a result of a quirk in Epifanio’s personality. He certainly seemed to care more about that coyote than he does about any of the dead girls.

  4. Jeff Anderson March 8, 2010 / 8:23 pm

    I’m with Daryl and Matt—that’s a really nice reading. I think it ties in with what Paul mentions, too, that this section is so far not graphic and horrible in the way he (and I) expected. The detachment helps make the strobing effect possible, seeing physical details repeated without much ornamentation so that they start to register as a kind of rhythm.

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