Pages 404-465: Florita

At the half-way point I want to indulge briefly in a generalization about this novel, something that I have tried to refrain from doing. To this point I personally have not encountered one shred of text that leads me in any way to the thought that this is some sort of crusading novel, that it is sending out some clarion call for action along the lines of, “something must be done about these murders” or “something must be done about the working conditions on the Mexican side of the border.” Nor do I detect any sort of message like that from the tone of the novel.

When I speak of a “crusading novel,” I am thinking of something like The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. It is hard to miss the message in that novel that “something must be done about the corruption and working conditions in the meat industry.” Again, I can detect nothing like that in this novel. Of course, as sensitive human beings I think that we all want very much to see such a message. I simply submit that it is not there.

It appears to me that we are being presented with a particular vision of the nature of human existence by a man who takes pride in portraying the most troubling aspects of that existence with nary a flinch. That’s all. There is not a lick of redemption here nor is there held out the hope of any because that is the way he sees the truth of the matter.

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

There is not much question but that Florita Almada is the star of the show in this section of the book. Daryl has thoughtfully discussed aspects of her character below. My own reaction to her was much warmer as has my reaction to Barry Seaman become much warmer as I have reread his speeches. I want to focus on a different facet of the poem to which Daryl referred.

As Florita scans the poem on page 432, she comes to a downright apocalyptic passage:

Old, white haired, weak, barefoot, bearing enormous burden, up mountain and down valley, over sharp rocks, across deep sands and bracken, though wind and storm, when it’s hot and later freezes, running on, running faster, crossing rivers, swamps, falling and rising and hurrying faster, no rest or relief, battered and bloody, at last coming to where the way and all effort has led: terrible, immense abyss into which, upon falling, all is forgotten.

After considering this, she comes to this conclusion at page 433:

. . . (4) that if it was true that all effort led to a vast abyss, she had two recommendations to begin with, first, not to cheat people, and, second, to treat them properly. Beyond that, there was room for discussion.

Superficially, that is heartwarming of course, the kind of simple, pithy observation that wise old people are capable of. But then consider it further. How, pray tell, did we get from the premise–the abyss–to that conclusion, the recommendation of fair and just treatment of people? It is a leap that made me laugh. She endeared herself to me with it, but it makes no sense.

Of course the better way to look at it is that it is a piece of homespun philosophy being presented to us rather than a piece of logic. The centerpiece of this philosophy is not human kindness in any form but rather fairness and justice. The idea is that even in the face of the ultimate void, we ought still to act with fairness and justice toward others.

Now is there some redemptive message here? Not for me. I cannot escape the conclusion that this being presented to us as a piece of naïveté for our affectionate amusement. I cannot believe that we are expected to take this from Florita seriously.

In other words, it seems clear to me that the author has spoken to us at times through several characters in this novel. However, I do not believe that he speaks to us through Florita.

–Steve Brassawe

5 thoughts on “Pages 404-465: Florita

  1. bluestocking March 17, 2010 / 6:40 am

    Here is an area of great disagreement between us, Brassawe. I will demonstrate to you the error of your ways, here, according to the author’s own words.

    Firstly, point (4) makes perfect sense. It is a real prescription for people who are troubled by pain and suffering in this world. If you are afflicted by e.g. what you are reading in this book, what you see in the news, then you can begin to address your grief, guilt, shame etc. by looking to the quality of your own conduct toward others. It’s a matter of focus. What it’s saying is that human kindness IS fairness and justice. Something you have to think about specifically and put into action. That this is a real and practical way out for each individual man who can’t stand the horror.

    There is something in what you say about the author’s distance from this slightly maudlin-sounding prescription–that it’s a piece of naïveté for our affectionate amusement.

    You’ll recall that right before before Florita first goes on TV, there’s been a ventriloquist on. That ventriloquist’s name is, I believe, Roberto Bolaño. He is “an autodidact who had made a name for himself” in various places, and “who thought his dummy was a living creature.” This ventriloquist is rebelling against his dummy, the dummy has actually tried to kill him but is very weak and could never manage it. This dummy (among others, of course, but this one right now) is Florita Almada, who is about to speak, right after the ventriloquist … that’s how it always goes, first the ventriloquist and then the dummy. Florita really likes the ventriloquist, though. And even to him, she shows a great deal of sympathy, she gives him advice, even though she’s not saying the stuff she’s supposed to be saying, just like a dummy who won’t behave.

    The thing is, she really is a saint, with a strong and fixed moral position, with real comfort and advice for the afflicted. The ventriloquist doesn’t care for this! He finds her dangerous … she’s dangerous “for people like him, hypersensitive, of artistic temperament, their wounds still open.”

    She lets him have it, for sure.

  2. Daryl March 17, 2010 / 9:02 am

    Oh, I like Florita well enough, and I think she’s speaking a truth. I’m just not convinced it’s a truth we don’t already know. I think that during my first hasty reading of this a year ago, I took Florita at very surface/face level to be the seer she claims to be. This closer reading has left me more skeptical. I think she does have visions, but they’re not so visionary.

    I had overlooked these mentions of the abyss, which we’ll hear more about in next week’s reading. Thanks for pointing them out.

    • stevebrassawe March 17, 2010 / 6:42 pm

      Maria, I have responded to your great comment over at

      It’s odd, Daryl, that our last consideration of the abyss came in the context of Charly Cruz’s reminiscences about the old, big movie theaters at page 315, which then led into his discussion of the end of the sacred. I continue to ponder that. Are we to interpret his remarks as limited in relevance only to movie theaters? I dunno.

  3. Oregon Michael March 20, 2010 / 2:49 am

    Steve I completely agree that this isn’t a crusading novel. I do not feel like Bolaño is preaching at us, but inviting us to consider the awful complexity (or simplicity?) of some messed up shit. Anyway I wouldn’t feel comfortable being preached at by him, since he’s not a saint, and I think he doesn’t really pretend to be.

    That said, I want to wonder if maybe he DOES speak to us through Florita.

    Florita is a seer who is not directly affected by the violence in Santa Teresa, just like Bolaño the author in Spain. Although maybe this isn’t true since Florita receives threats for her televised visions and could suffer real violence in her country. But as a viewer of Reinaldo’s show you could conceivably ask yourself if Florita isn’t just using the deaths of women in Santa Teresa as a gimmick to gain popularity for herself and more gigs on the program.

    This is exactly what happens on p.512 (forgive me for skipping ahead a few days but I don’t think this gives anything away!) when a feminist group from Mexico City “cast aspersions on the seer who had appeared with the WSDP on a regional TV show, just some old woman who apparently wanted to exploit the crimes for her own benefit.”

    Likewise, it is conceivable that a reader of this book might perceive Bolaño as taking advantage of the murders in Ciudad Juárez to create for himself his literary masterwork. Isn’t it reasonable to be skeptical of the literary fame Bolaño might have sought to tender by fictionalizing the deaths of hundreds of women in Mexico?

    I think the answer is yes if the reader gets the impression that Bolaño is castigating the rest of us for sitting on our hands and doing nothing about it. But that’s not the impression that you get, or me either. If Bolaño is implicating anyone, I feel he implicates himself as much as the rest of us, so I don’t judge him anymore than I judge myself.

    So maybe Bolaño does speak through Florita by saying that he could be judged the same way as her, as an exploiter, by feminist groups or anyone. And if we forgive Florita, or believe her, maybe we can believe Bolaño too.

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