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Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies, Vol. 10, No.

1, 2001

gele lo nuestro: Deconstruction, Restitution and the Ex Demand of Speech in Pedro Pa ramo

Although his published literary works are limited to a collection of short stories (El llano en llamas, 1953) and a novella (Pedro Pa ramo, 1955), the Mexican writer Juan Rulfo is generally recognized as one of the major gures in twentieth-century Latin American letters. The formal innovations brought about by Rulfo are widely seen as crucial steps in preparing the way for the distinctive forms of the new novel and of magical realism in writers such as Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel Garc a Ma rquez. Rulfos writing makes its mark in part by breaking forcefully with naturalism, which had comprised one of the dominant frameworks of the Mexican and Latin American novel during the rst half of the twentieth century. Or, more precisely, his text produces a rupture within, and not simply a departure from, the poetic and ideological precepts of naturalism, and speci cally within prevailing theoretical distinctions between writing and speech, lettered and oral culture.1 But the considerable in uence that this work holds for Latin American cultural production during the boom period and beyond is only partially explained by references to the distinctiveness of style. At the same time, Rulfos work constitutes one of the rst attempts to think of Latin American cultural production as a site of irreducible difference: not as one determinate identity opposed to another (for instance, between Latin America and the Western tradition), but rather as a difference pertaining to tradition as such. The shattering of the naturalist mirror in Rulfo is prepared by a return to the classical tradition. Most notably in the novella Pedro Pa ramo, we nd an ongoing citation of tragedy and allegory. For Rulfo, these classical forms comprise a stage upon which the origin of modern Mexico takes shape as an encounter between two worlds.2 But these allusions to the classical tradition, which prompted Carlos Fuentes to declare that Rulfo has set out to re-engender Greek mythology in a Mexican context (La nueva novela hispanoamericana), are also involved in a twofold task of naming the past. To name the past is to both give (or return) to the past its meaning and to delimit its encroachment upon the present. In more than one sense, then, it is death that calls for naming in Rulfos re ection on tradition. On one hand, death imparts to speech its exigency, in the dire circumstances of a gift or inheritance found to be in danger of lapsing into oblivion. But, at the same time, it is the act of naming which allows death to take place as death. Naming the past also serves to place it within a network of relations in which it can at best represent a partial account of the real. In what follows, I examine Pedro Pa ramo as a documentation of the problem of peripheral modernity in Mexico. Through a close reading of a selection of
ISSN 1356-9325 print/ISSN 1469-9575 online/01/01002520 2001 Taylor & Francis Ltd DOI: 10.1080/13569320020030033


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passages in this novella, I will suggest that Rulfo frames the event of modernity in Mexico in terms of a tenuous relation to language, and as the experience of an aporia. To a certain extent, this text comprises a critique of the modernization process that began in the nineteenth century under the doctrine of Liberal positivism and the authoritarian administration of Por rio D az, and which continues, albeit under a different code, following the bourgeois revolution of 191020. While tracing a history of exclusions and silences, Rulfos text also poses a challenge to the logic on the basis of which certain postcolonial discourses have sought to redress the violence of colonialist and imperialist representations. The passage from lettered tradition to oral tradition in Rulfos writing also profoundly unsettles the Platonic conception of representation as a mimesis of the eidos, and as procuring a more or less adequate relation to the truth.3 Rulfo thinks Latin American cultural production a site of irreducible difference. This is also to say that the literary work is marked by con icting demands, which together create a rift within the work itself. Rulfos text is divided between the exigency of redressing the violence of peripheral existence and an acute awareness of the limits of the very logos of restitution. A measure of what is at stake in the problem of Mexican modernity can be elucidated by contrasting its presentation in Pedro Pa ramo with the work of one of Rulfos contemporaries, the renowned essayist and poet Octavio Paz. In his famous study of Mexican character (El laberinto de soledad, 1950), Paz poses the question of what it means to be both modern and Mexican through a scene of allegorical re ection. Framing the Mexican Revolution as an essentially modern event, Paz likens the emergent nation, which has recently undergone a catastrophic transition from oligarchic society to what is ostensibly a bourgeois democracy, to an adolescent facing a rite of passage into adulthood. Paz understands the experience of peripheral modernity as a time of transition and of radical uncertainty, as bearing witness to a philosophical and ethical question: What are we, and how can we ful ll our obligations to ourselves as we are? (Laberinto de soledad, 9). Pazs view of the revolution is shaped by his belief in an essence of modernity that would remain available to the nation. The catastrophic violence of revolution presupposes, and is in turn justi ed by, the idea of modernity as an absolutely new beginning. Pazs twofold question, which links the possibility of determining the being of Mexico to an ethical register of responsibility and autonomy, nds itself caught within a circular movement: in order to resolve the problem of being (what is it to be Mexican now?), it will have been necessary to answer the question of obligation (what we are is secured by the knowledge of to whom or to what we are responsible). But this ethical value is itself located within a general question about essence (as we are). The dilemma facing Paz as he inquires into the status of mexicanidad or Mexicanness could also be described in terms of a con ict arising within the very conceptualization of modernity: concealed within this questioning of the present (Who are we?) is a negation of the past, or of particular facets of the past (We are not that), and the af rmation of a seeming paradox (we are not what we seem; we must become what we already are). Pedro Pa ramo, written ve years after Pazs text, similarly offers an allegorical treatment of revolution. However, the comparison between Paz and Rulfo and their respective notions of modernity also runs up against a limit. While Paz conceives of modernity as the End (conclusion and telos) of a process in which

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the nation has yet to fully realize itself (to wit, one of the central ironies of El laberinto: We [Mexicans] have an exuberant modernism with a de cient modernization), Rulfos work on the other hand conveys an understanding of modernity as an antinomial relation between the process of modernization and modernist poetics, and between images of cosmopolitan modernity and subaltern underdevelopment. With Rulfo, modernism cannot be adequately grasped as an event taking place despite a highly problematic modernization process. It must on the contrary be seen to occur alongside and as another facet of this problem. Where Paz describes Mexican modernity as the arrested result of an incomplete process, Rulfo encounters the two faces of a complete paradox. Rulfos text takes as its point of departure a scene strikingly reminiscent of Pazs analogue between nascent nation and adolescent. The narrative begins with Juan Preciados rst-person recollection of his journey to Comala, the town in which he was conceived, but from which his mother, Dolores, was exiled prior to his birth. The narrator recounts having promised his dying mother that he will seek out his father, whom he has never met, andin the words of her nal injunctionex gele lo nuestro , demand from him what is ours.4 A re ection upon the origin both orients and indelibly complicates this scene. The specular relation that juxtaposes modern and pre-modern worlds is reinforced as we gradually discover an uncanny homology between the post-revolutionary State and the tyranny of caciquismo. Furthermore, this liminal injunction places the issues of birthright, of culture and of identity within a tragic frame: the sons passage into adulthood, in which he seeks to found a connection between the con icting and mutually annihilating demands of maternal and paternal lineages, will also open onto an aporetic encounter with loss and silence. Rulfos notion of an origin that can be approached only through loss prepares something akin to the knowledge confronting the tragic hero: hermeneutic will to mastery seeks to include itself within its own eld of vision, to insert or reproduce itself as present at the scene of its own conception or conceptualization. Hermeneutics must seek to reconcile itself and its projection of modern self-knowledge with an errant destiny that both is and is not its own. Through this errancy, the designation of ones own suffers a cut that at once renders to knowledge its fundamental possibilities while remaining out of reach or in a certain sense impossible and inaccessible to knowledge. In other words, the quest for paternal recognition will be obligated to identify with an originary crime. Before discussing the implications of this rst scene, a brief digression will help us to situate the return enacted by the narrator. It is a move which both recalls a certain history of national self-re ection while also marking the limit of this discourse on mexicanidad as a specular relation. In a series of analyses of the vicissitudes of Mexican popular culture following the revolution, Nestor Garc a Canclini details a series of steps through which the post-revolutionary state appropriates cultural production, or sets culture to work in the interest of the states own legitimization. State-sponsored speculation on the past in postrevolutionary Mexico, including various attempts to revive pre-Columbian traditions, constitutes an invention of tradition and not, as some claim, a rediscovery of a previous epoch. For the state, culturalist claims to have recovered a lost tradition are themselves the basis of a certain production process. Alongside the image of a recovered tradition unfolds a hidden space in which the state has


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already been conceded to be the curator, protector and guarantor of this inheritance.5 Through the invention of tradition, then, the state emerges as purveyor of certitude, as the holder of a master discourse whose meaning lies beyond question. In one of its predominant forms, post-revolutionary cultural production serves the state in the latters attempt to legitimize its own appropriation of power and to consolidate its legitimacy. The states role as fabulist serves to hollow out a space of legibility in which the failures of the present moment can more easily be passed off as merely temporary and epiphenomenal, guilar Cam a necessary collective sacri ce in view of what He ctor A n describes as the image of a true modernity that is always to come: the true Mexico was the one that had not yet appeared and was to be conquered in the future guilar Cam (A n, 1993, p. 159). The synthesizing role that characterizes the modern state is relevant on an adjacent level for caciquismo. The states regulation of the countrys interior and organization of its myriad divisions is sustained in part through representation: in the work of documenting, archiving and displaying the myriad differences that constitute the nation. The state organizes and makes visible linguistic patterns, migratory trends, ethnographic and demographic traits. Rulfos cacique likewise projects a kind of totalizing force, a capacity to seize the communal land and possess it is a seamless whole. Pedro Pa ramos appropriation begins with a denial of limits as such: in reference to a neighbours objections over the caciques interpretation of shared property lines, he responds: There wont be any walls. The land has no divisions (20).6 The refusal of divisions or boundaries constitutes an attempt to identify what is particular to the cacique with the Alland hence to deny the nite nature of particularity. This negation of the particular is structured by a logic similar to that of the post-revolutionary state as the dream of recovering an originary national wholeness. The state not only auto-re exively nominates itself as the sovereign guardian of a now-uni ed tierra; at the same time, it adopts the ironic title of Institutional Revolutionary Party, through which it stakes an impossible claim upon the catastrophic movement of revolution or transition itself. Through a propriation (seizing and making proper), the state would take ownership not only of the name (Revolution), but of the very act of naming that attains its gure in this event. In the contradictory assignation Institutional Revolutionary Party can be heard the echoing of an anxiety that arises alongside the dif cult thought of revolution: as a radical break, a turn announcing an absolute suspension of history, progress, law and rationality, revolution portends the collapse of the nite into the in nite. For Rulfo, the state is site of a simultaneous justi cation and self-effacement, or what could be described as the emergence of being from mere necessity. The state legitimizes its own existence as well as the dissymmetries it permits and propagates on the dual basis of a past to be recovered and a future to be realized. At the same time, it effaces itself as function of particular discourses and interests, by passing itself off as an instance of the universal and unimpeachable law of necessity. Through the projection of a colossal and uni ed tradition, the state emerges as the archive of the past as necessity. But necessity, or what must have been, also exceeds the limited capacity of the understanding. And thusa crucial sleight of handexperiences of the negative, of the moments of loss, lack, uncertainty and contingency that are part of any national history, are passed off as a merely accidental occurrence from which the nation, via the uplifting power

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of the state, will one day recover. Through its organization of cultural production the state enables the being of the nation to be posited as off-stage, as a reserveand thus it preserves this being as something removed from the transitory character of history. Cultural production in Mexico during the 1920s and 1930s was, whether intentionally or not, frequently complicit in these rituals of legitimization. One might look to the meteoric rise of Muralism in the 1920s, which often appeared to produce a synthesis of pre-Columbian, revolutionary and modernizing images; or to the essay tradition founded by Samuel Ramos, Jose Vasconcelos, Alfonso Reyes and Paz, which took Mexican character or identity as an object of inquiry and celebration; and also to the literary tradition of the novela de la revolucio n, which frequently cast the revolution as a heroic fable from which the state draws symbolic support.7 A close reading of the rst two fragments of Pedro Pa ramo will enable us to see how Rulfos text re ects upon this process of identi cation and legitimization, allowing us to understand it as a dyadic narrative: Mexican modernity as both an emergence from the prolonged violence of the revolution and as a return to a semblance of unity and permanence. Recalling the rst pages of Pazs Labyrinth of Solitude for their paradigmatic presentation of post-revolutionary Mexican re ection, we see that the act of narration, understood as the capacity to give an account of ones situation and ones origin, is a necessary and indeed constitutive moment in the self-presentation of the national subject. The discourse of mexicanidad, as an attempt to identify an essence that would lend credit to the post-revolutionary articulation of national unity (we Mexicans are united in so far as we can tell ourselves who we are), produces a redoubling of lo mexicano, into a re ecting subject and a re ected object. With Rulfo, however, re ection on the condition of modernity will bring with it a series of interwoven and unsettling questions about the nation-building process. A certain narrative of national destiny has already given shape, in the rst fragment of Rulfos text, to a question of justice. A demand for restitution is inscribed in the mothers dying words. As we shall see, this demand also articulates the time and space of solidarity as at once excessive and lacking, or as always and already out of joint. This lapsus is also the errancy of community and shared meaning, and cannot be grasped and comprehended once and for all, by either a national discourse or a particular reading. Early on in the account given by the principal narrator, Juan Preciado, of his journey to Comala, we are confronted with a dual question of agency and desire. We encounter, parallel to the narrators own speech, the interwoven strands of maternal and paternal relations, each of which functions as a metaphor, as a condensation of various demands and identi cations. The parental traces in the narrative are metaphors not only because they set in motion distinct and often con icting familial and sociological registers (for instance, the distinction between patriarchal and matriarchal traditions and lineages might also designate an encounter between Spanish and Amerindian traditions), but also because, at the level of the national subject, these gures embody some of the con icting demands which go into the constitution of identity as such. Juan Preciados return to Comala following his mothers death is staged as a re ection on a primal scene. In the rst passage, the narrator vacillates between a recollection of his arrival in search of a father he had never met, and in the same breath returning us to the even earlier scene of his mothers death, when he had rst


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promised to seek this father out. He goes to some length to dissociate himself and his own volition or desire from this venture, attributing it instead to the demands made by his mother, Dolores: I squeezed her hands as a sign that I would do it; she was on the verge of dying and I would have promised her anything . All I could do was to tell her that I would do exactly what she asked, and from saying it so often I continued saying it to her even after I had freed my hands from her dead hands (1). Here a negation bares its double edge. On one hand, the narrators renunciation of his own interest in deference to the desire of the other functions as a rejection or postponement of something that remains to be named. In the face of both the mothers impending death and the (mother/son) couples banishment from the fathers domain, the effacement of (the narrators) desire signals something akin to an imagined ight from mortality and nite existence. It is as if by removing a part of himself from this account, and speci cally through his refusal to recognize himself in the mothers charge, the narrator could somehow preserve himself beyond it. I am not involved, he seems to say, there is nothing of me in what you ask, I guard myself elsewhere. At the same time, Juan Preciados strategic negation of his own investment in this paternal birthright actually allows interest to sustain itself, albeit as repressed, postponed or distorted. And thus this refusal to be implicated must be distinguished from an act of disavowal. One might imagine that, beyond the overt, intentional message of its not me lies the sole possible means of giving form, through this supplementary sign of negativity, to what is otherwise a shapeless, and hence terrifying relation to the unknown: in this case, to the father in so far as his name bespeaks absence, and to the extent that he has yet to fully assume his place in the narrative. This interpretation is supported by the narrators assessment of the tenuous pact established through speech and touch: I never meant to keep my promise. But before I knew it [Hasta que ahora pronto] my head began to swim with dreams and my imagination took ight. Little by little I began to build a world around a hope centered on the man called Pedro Pa ramo, the man who had been my mothers husband. That was why I had come to Comala (1; Rulfo, 1994, p. 3).8 This passage sustains the aforementioned ambiguity of narrative agency, which is formulated via a lackadaisical, dream-like process coupled with the sudden, unexpected appearance of image and world. Simultaneity is underscored by the phrase qualifying this dream-work, hasta que ahora pronto, which evokes the suddenness and disproportion of appearance. What remains undecided here is the ontological status of this world, which perhaps names nothing other than the text itself. (Is it a rejection of and substitute for an event that cannot be allowed to see the light of day? Or, to borrow from the paradox that underlies Bartras notion of national culture, does it have to do with real effects stemming from a ctive cause?) Here we can see negation as a reaf rmation of desire, which, in order to be negated, must at some level already have been inscribed. As negation of negation, the negative sign is not the mere opposite of the negation with which we began. It arises as a moment within a process of working-through, whereby the narrator forges connections and formulates a place for himself within the larger array of signs that Juan Preciado evocatively describes as un mundo alrededor de la esperanza. The narrators account of his return to Comala will be seen to have been, quite literally, an

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analytical account of the subject, of how he came to be where he isand to die there. The ambiguity of this accounting for the unaccountabledeath itself can be elucidated with reference to what psychoanalysis has to say about negation (see Freuds essay Negation). For Freud, negation is the constitutive moment of desire: on the basis of a certain signi er of negativity, the subject introduces into its discourse a supplementary dimension that must be distinguished from the register of signi cation or meaning, or from what we can call the content of a statement. The not of the prototypical negative statement (its not my mother) hollows out or wrenches open a space in which desire can articulate itself through (but not as identical to) the content of the subjects discourse. Hence the Lacanian distinction between the content of discourse and the truth of speech. With regard to Juan Preciados recollections, I am attempting to indicate a necessary connection between signi cation and limits: the price one pays for access to shared, relational meaning is that one must (repeatedly) sacri ce the primordial universe, the paradise without limits in which rules that majestic and tyrannical gure (the infans, not the cacique), undifferentiated from its surroundings. In Rulfo, this paradisiacal universe bears a number of associative and contradictory meanings. It is both a projection functioning in service of the states hegemonic representation of tradition (paradise is the narcotic future/promise which serves to justify the contingencies of the present) and it is an image of maternal nostalgia or fantasy, a marker of an absolute difference vis-a ` -vis the present and the dominant patriarchal discourse. The overdetermination of this space is indicated by the prospect that the phantasmatic gure of paradise also holds open a space in which it is possible to articulate a shared property (lo nuestro). But the importance of negation for interpretation, and likewise of what the narrator refers to as hope, should not obscure the fact that this is ultimately a tragic vision of a world that has been annihilated (if indeed it ever existed). In its fundamental ambivalence, negation affords support to both deferral and articulation, allowing desire to sustain itselfbut as precisely its own deferral, as a kind of repeated slippage in the pursuit of satisfaction. The sense in which this object must be sought can only be registered in so far as it has already been found. More can be said of dif culty surrounding this object of desire, which strictly speaking is an impossible object, through further reference to the conditions inveighed by the dying mother. Her demand is simultaneously proscriptive and prescriptive. On one hand it conveys exigency while on the other it retains a fundamental opacity: Dont ask him for anything. Demand from him what is ours [Ex gele lo nuestro]. What he was obliged to give me and never did The oblivion into which he let us fall [literally: into which he took us], charge him dearly, my son (1). These dying words constitute a threshold and a cipher for the text. The juxtaposition between prohibition (do not plead; do not demean us any further and thereby elevate him all the more) and injunction (exact from him what is ours) give some indication of the degree to which the restitutive demand suffers from an excess and a split in its very enunciation. The tonality of this charge points at once toward the necessary and the impossible, or perhaps in the direction of something both exigent and incapable of full articulation. One could situate this demand within a long tradition of popular struggle in Mexico over land usage and ownership. In that context, lo nuestro would not


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evoke a possession, past or present, but rather an ought, an injustice that remains to be redressed (symbolized). The ethical and political force of the injunction pertains to the signi er and not the signi ed. That is, the possessive phrase points beyond the usurpation or re-appropriation of a good, a property or a right. The structure of this demand does not allow us to think that we will have alleviated its singular weight with the restoration of some particular: what is called for, we might hypothesize, is not just a symbolic restitution of a name, a title or a particular good, but instead an intervention in the symbolic domain itself. This latter constitutes one of the radical claims made upon the revolution: for instance, in the Zapatista faction, which sought not just a redistribution of goods but also a reconceptualization of property as such. If we are to take popular, collective struggle as one likely index for this claim, the enunciation of an ours would be found to have immediately redoubled as a question about the very principles of ownership and right. And thus it would de ect any easy supposition that what is called for is simply the return of the same. I will return to the issue of restitution shortly. For the moment, the point is that the content of this pronouncement of lo nuestro remains indeterminate and, in the present situation, perhaps undeterminable. This phrase holds the place of a hiatus, while sustaining a palpable tension between urgency and ambiguity, the insistent and the inde nite. The semantic emptiness of lo nuestro at the point when it becomes possible to speak it suggests that the exigency put into circulation by this phrase regards something other than an exchange or a return. Indeed, one might ask whether this demand does not mark the very limit of the good and its circulation, and whether the thought of redress does not also bring forth the possibility of the impossibility of its representation, the seeming futility or impropriety of attempting to provide this ours with a de nitive content. The texts prolonged silence over the speci city of lo nuestro leaves us within an ambiguity and a certain theoretical unease: is its content strictly singular, incapable of being translated into the general terms of exchange value or distributive justice? Or does its silence portend a more radical experience of emptiness, to which this demand or claim must therefore be said to belong? Does this speech, which issues from a site of destitution, somehow turn over and allow us to pose or remark on a philosophical question of community, identity and the limits of restitution? Or does its urgency bring us to the very limit of philosophical re ection? Perhaps the radical demand resonating in this maternal injunction is that we are to read its letter (exact from him what is ours) not as a metaphor for something abstract, esoteric, eeting or otherwise resistant to articulation. What if, on the contrary, it insists upon being read absolutely literally, in the sense of nding (out) what it is that is ours? What I am proposing as the literality of the mothers speech also points to an interpretive problem underlying the entire diegetic presentation in Rulfos text. It is a problem that must be addressed along with the presumed intent behind its expression. In other words, what is dramatized in this passage is not only the pathos and gravity of a mothers dying words to her son, but also the process of interpretation itself, through which the weight and meaning of these words are registeredor not. What is at stake in this speech is not the meaning behind it but rather the relation it both remarks upon and puts into play. The entire novella could read as a kind of response to this injunction at the threshold: a response, that is, in the sense of a sustained working through and a ceaseless

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reinterpretation. The distinction operating here is between the ideality of meaning and what might be termed the force of an expression. But this force should not be dissociated too hastily from what precisely remains to be heard in this speech. Force would describe the degree to which the demand holds something of itself back, though not to say in reserve; rather, force relates the sense in which the demand presents itself as remains.9 This rethinking of force in relation to withdrawal gains further support when, in the following passage, the narrator recalls having borne the only existing photographic portrait of his now-dead mother. This passage is worth citing at some length: It was an old portrait [retrato], worn around the edges; but it was the only one of her that I knew. I had found it in the kitchen safe, inside a clay pot lled with herbs: dried lemon balm, castilla blossoms, sprigs of rue. I kept it with me ever since. It was the only one. My mother was a sworn enemy of portraits. She said they were a thing of witchcraft. And so it seemed, because hers was lled with tiny holes that were like pinpricks, and in the area of the heart there was a hole so big you could stick your nger through it (2). We have here an image of considerable density. If we hope to unpack it, we must begin by recognizing that it is not a simple representation of the mother per se. More exactly, it is the memory of a childs re ection upon the mother in juxtaposition with an imagined surplus that would ll a lack residing between the two. In the restitutive search, this excess is named as having been imparted from the past. The portrait, most likely a photograph, is a metaphor of memory. And so we have to do with an image of imagistic reproduction, introducing itself via a question of mimesis and likeness, of the one and the many, the original and the copy. The portrait recalls the mother from her death and to the world of the living. But it would also seem to have marked her for death before her time. The untimeliness of this mark of eventualitya mark which is already a vestigial re-markis precisely hers, her time and ours. It seems that mimesis can only appear within the framework of a proliferating problematic, a problem of proliferation. The mother does not like it. In her traditional ways, she adamantly resists the duplicity of the doubling process. But, at the same time, her refusal of this technique of duplication is itself the site of a mimetic con ict: following the revolution, the nation must shed its archaic skin, sacri ce all traces of pre-modern existence and adopt the codes of modernity. The mothers dying words, which only become available to us through the narrators later recollections while in Comala, form a site around which multiple meanings and desires accumulate. The two pretexts we have been discussing, of the subject in relation to its conception and the nation in relation to its modern origin, are interwoven and connected by a deferral and a negation of an object (lo nuestro) that can only be approached via circumlocution. It has already been suggested that the rst half of the novella, into which the narrators memory of the face-to-face encounter with the mother will lead, is structured by a tragic dynamic. The narrators speculative venture, his pursuit of a father he has never met, is as much a performance of identity as it is a recovery. Rather than discovering a condition that is or has been actual, it seeks to bring about a certain occurrence through the very act of articulating it. In this


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regard, the protagonist is a gure for the nation as this latter effectively promises itself to its modernity. The staging of this promissory modernity in Rulfo amounts to a citation or reiteration of the nationalist project. It suggests that modernity is constituted as return to and recuperation of a point that is in fact beyond or prior to the nations origin, whose appropriation would allow the national subject to have been there at the origin and to thus have comprehended it, dispelling or deciphering its enigmatic navel. In Rulfos allegorical scene, however, the specular return is disrupted by the very knowledge it produces (this is what Rulfo demonstrates in rewriting the history of the revolution as allegory of caciquismo), and thus the tragic pretextentailing a desire to present the origin to oneself, a hermeneutic drive toward totality akin to what Nietzsche describes as the tragic heros Apollinian will to poweris mirrored by a second movement, likewise tragic, which displaces the premise of the rst. The initial return on Juan Preciados search for his father arrives when he learns that his father, Pedro Pa ramo, was in fact a tyrant, and that he is now dead.10 The lial quest consists in projecting an eventual paternal identi cation that would then serve as its pretext and its telos: in effect, the narrator must already have identi ed with the (Name of the) Father in order to identify with (the notion of identifying with) this particular father. But the actual identity of Pedro Pa ramo, a cacique who, we gather from the words of the narrators rst guide, has in fact fathered a majority of the town, will indicate that this desired identi cation is in fact every bit as impossible as it is necessary. In looking for paternal recognition, the narrator will be obliged to identify with an originary crime. The tragic dynamic in Rulfos text is carried through to a highly opaque account of the narrators death at the midway point in the novella, at which point the textual production of knowledge is seen to have undergone a fundamental shift. The texts enunciative position undergoes a pronounced shift, revealing a different understanding of allegory as locus of modern identity and self-consciousness.11 Prior to this moment, and indeed from the moment he sets foot in Comala, the narrator is caught up in a series of uncanny discoveries, in which the various residents of the village he encounters are subsequently discovered to have been phantasms. The spectral appearance and dissolution of the pueblo culminates in his and our discovery that the narrator too is in fact already dead. His ironic, post-mortem testimonyme mataron los murmullos, the murmurs killed meat once repeats and displaces the tragic topos. It reports a confrontation with the limits of knowledge, and with the sublime (and perhaps obscene) existence of what cannot be made present, of what can be neither deduced nor elucidated under the light of being and the patronymic logos. But this confession or recognition, spoken from the grave he shares with one of his former guides in Comala, also effects a shift within the relation between text and reader. And it thereby produces a secondary, retroactive disturbance in the liminal passage we have been examining. The brilliance of Rulfos images is set off against the tremendous poverty of his landscapes: it is as if the Rul an world had been evacuated of its fullness and subjected to a near-total dissolution of formal de nition.12 Here, however, the prevailing sense of opacity or blindness by which the reader cannot help but have been struck from the very beginning is suddenly shown to have a literal basiswhich, here, is also its basis in the real. The discovery of the narrators own death, coming in the wake of a series of phantasmatic apparitions, compels us to return to the beginning of the text (its

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rst words are spoken by the narrator himself: I came to Comala because ), and to recognize now that this testimonial account has all the while been directed to another, and not to the reader at all. The narrators testimony to his dying amidst the murmurs of a different language is carried forth in a conversation with Dorotea. This address reveals retroactively that Dorotea has been the addressee throughout the rst half of the narrative. Our eventual recognition thus manifests a level of misrecognition, a groundless act of appropriation and self-insertion, at which it became possible to begin reading in the rst place. This startling diegetic reversal juxtaposes a number of important issues: testimony and memory with death; reading and recognition with misrecognition and violence. It bears a structural resemblance to what the German poet and thinker Friedrich Ho lderlin terms caesura: a rupture in the rhythm of poetic verse that coincides with a transformation in our understanding of the text, or with an aporetic moment in its development. (For Ho lderlin, caesura is both what impels the tragic reversal and what ensures against the possibility of the texts resolution or closure: as tragedys third term, caesura determines that beginning and conclusion do not rhyme.) The text makes apparent a con ation of address and intention. This errancy, only recognizable after the fact and on the basis of what it has produced, is inseparable from the dynamic character of its own legibility. We might say that this hermeneutic lapsus becomes recognizable only to the degree that its origin, as onset, act or decision, has receded and its course become irrevocable. The act of poisis thus emerges with political rami cations: this fundamental impropriety, which accompanies the founding of communication, meaning and address, opens onto a thought of the anarchic basis of political agency, of a groundless act of decision through which we enter into relations with others. Reading is inscribed by a decision carried out prior to the appearance of choice and options. But here it is also possible to anticipate a counterpoint. I will suggest momentarily that decision is in a certain way always already grounded. Or rather, decision cannot not be grounded: that is, it necessarily receives its responsibility and is called into deciding prior to the time of representation, before the self-certain knowledge of to whom or to what one is responsible. The decision to act is already responsible (founded in something that exceeds it), in the sense that it must always already have been decidedclaimed and incised, rendered possible yet never guaranteedin order to become what it is: a decision. An originary cut or incision, prior to any decision, accompanies determination at every point here. The posing of a proposition or a question (let us say, concerning the determination and deliverance of what is ours, of a shared birthright or destiny) presupposes a breach, which is also however an appeal, prior to any determination of the proper. This cut both precedes and allows for the possibility of interrogating the claim of what is (ours), while remaining irreducible to any single determination of this claim. Let us now return to the site of the maternal demand. It is a space which, as we are still discovering, functions as threshold to the book. Not only does this injunction hold an interpretive key for the plurality of narrative voices, each of which could be said to contain a cipher of this lo nuestro (Rulfo was known to insist that the pueblo itself is the true protagonist of the work) but this phrase offers a further elaboration on the complexity of the position Rulfo has staked out here in relation to the questions of modernity and autonomy in Mexico. By


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re-enacting within the narrators journey to Comala the condensed remainder of a national performative scene, Rulfos text could be said to initiate the labour of a deconstruction, which would engage the discourses of mexicanidad (or treatises on Mexican character or essence) and nationalism in their various forms, and thereby bring to light an unremarked difference that haunts these specular interrogations of national origin and destiny. At a certain point, the image of an archaic paradise that continues to make its way into Rulfos narrative at various points gives way to or transforms itself into a scene of modern disillusionment and dystopia. One could argue that the dissolution here of nationalisms archaic image in its paradisiacal fullness repeats to a certain extent the nationalist myth of decline from pure origin. But in so doing it also underscores the complicity this mythologeme shares with the self-af rmation project of the modern state. If the movement between two tragic threads in Rulfos text initiates a deconstruction of the nationalist claim upon tradition, Rulfo in this sense sets his sights on a mystery, the story of a crime at the origin of the law. But the apparent ease of this concordance between Rulfos text and a deconstruction of the reason of state must itself become an object of scrutiny. If such a labour of re-marking and demysti cation provides much of the critical thrust for Rulfos project, interpretation must also nd itself implicated in the very movement of delimitation it attempts to map. If the nexus of tragedy and allegory allows us to track in Rulfo the limits of the nationalist appropriation of mexicanidad, the interpretive paradigm that lends this reading its force must not remain deaf to the lesson it imparts. That is to say, this reading must not forget that the enunciation of a lo nuestro is also linked to the awareness that no discourse, including deconstruction, can provide a total and conclusive account of national origins without at the same time displacing or regenerating the very limit for which it attempts to account. And thus, to take only one instance, the tragic dynamic that helps articulate a critique of systematic authority (be it that of the state, of nationalism or of positivism) also gives rise through the maternal injunction to a demand for restitution. The issue of collective identity functions strategically here, allowing for an articulation of solidarity under the banner of the proper name (lo nuestro). In so doing, identity also asserts a kind of ineluctability. The legitimacy and veracity of identity are not reducible to the conditions in which it is uttered, nor are they exhausted by the particular content of any discrete expression. On the basis of a particular ( nite and contingent) articulation, however, a call for restitution or a demand for justice is made possible. It has already been suggested that the maternal injunction names something foreign or irreducible to the genus of systematic organization. And it is thus strictly speaking undeconstructable. An articulation of identity resonates within the demand by producing a redoubling of the demand itself: it calls for a restitution which, if we take the act of narration seriously, must be seen as indissociable from the act of giving an account. It demands that there be a demand. And so a tension arises, here at the threshold, between a pair of con icting discourses, which we have tentatively labelled deconstruction and the politics of restitution.13 Between two possible readings of Rulfo, each of which could be described in its own right as inevitable and irrefutable, and between two discourses that by all appearances are fundamentally at odds with one another, a limit emerges. The real exigency is handed down and transferred from mother to son, from text

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to its possible reading, each time by virtue of what cannot be brought into the framework of the present. This urgency concerns the limit that makes each of these discourses (and this is perhaps ultimately to say, reading itself) possible, only to re-emerge as the impossibility of each discourseor of reading itself. And, let us be clear, this is the impossibility of deconstruction, its inability to fully come to terms with its own scene of production, and thus to have had the last word over, for instance, the politics of identity and restitution. Deconstruction remains in a position of indebtedness with regard to this exigency of the limit. The reading set in motion here at the threshold remains responsible to this liminal passage, which it cannot outstrip by forgetting and moving beyond it or by accounting for it once and for all. And thus it nds itself repeating the very gesture it set out to re-mark. Deconstruction seizes an injunction such as this pronouncement over lo nuestro, and in working it over demonstrates the paradoxical structure and undecidable kernel of the discourse of restitution. What is brought forth in the space and time of this reading is an impasse or an aporia, a limit that is and is not proper to language: the we that has been evoked as the subject of this exacting demand is not yet a we, it is not a being in communion with itselfsuch as the subject posited by nationalism or by a certain subaltern identity politics. But in underscoring the textuality and performative character of this injunction, deconstruction itself has already become caught up in the very demand upon which it would seek to comment. The deconstructive reading owes itself to this limit; it passes it over repeatedly without getting any closer to relinquishing it. The mothers dying words to her son introduce issues of memory, justice and restitution as the possible terms and conditions of a proper (future) identity. To recall the mother is to confront the impossible weight of this restitutive injunction. And, as we see from the recurrent interpolations of maternal desire and nostalgia into Juan Preciados narrative, his journey to Comala, despite all paternal pretenses, never ceases to do precisely that: this narrative is also a monumental gesture constructed to a nexus of archaic unity and originary loss. How might one demand of or from the father, one-knows-not-what (only that it is ours), and in a language which is precisely that of thedeadFather? The discursive threads have rapidly become entangled here. If the pretext of return, or of a recollection and recovery of the maternal-communal thing, must proceed by way of this impossible demand, is it not also the case that this charge calls for precisely breaking the maternal bond? Does it not expose itself to the travail of naming, and to what is thus ours, though not in the form of a property? If the narrator is to live up to his mothers dying words, which contain nothing less than the truth of her desire, then he must also take leave of the mother, put her in the ground or kill her once again, and enter into the world of the Name. As we know, this world is that of the (always already dead) Father. Does this demand correspond to what Hegel would allocate to the movement of a (national) spirit? Does it remark the locus of a paternal and speculative birthright which must be supposed on the basis of a rational faith of sorts, over against the empirical evidence of maternal liation? What exactly is being said in this redoubled demand? (To demand what is ours? To demand what is ours? To demand, what is ours!??) There is a temptation to read within this enigmatic phrase an echo of the Heideggerian motif concerning the origin of philosophical thinking in the poetic


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and destabilizing force of questioning. Let us say once again, and for the sake of another argument, that Rulfo has engaged the discourse of mexicanidad with the force of a deconstruktion. Right here, in a statement calling for an almost interminable re-reading, he counters the regional ontologies of Mexican postrevolutionary cultural production with the interrogative edge of a more fundamental questioning. What would be af rmed is neither an object to be demanded and returned, nor a subject to whom this restitution would be directed. In fact, the subjectobject relation is itself shaken at the brink of this open-ended statement. At stake here would be the question itself, the question (of the) as such, in that and as what this question demands for thinking. Akin to Paz, Rulfos position on the revolution would thus hinge on the elucidation of a question of Mexico, and the work would take shape as an attempt to allow this question to come forth. For instance: as modern moment par excellence, revolution brings forth something on the order of a new world or epoch; but, at the same time, this creative or disclosive force is experienced as an interminable dissolution and a suspension (epokh). What Juan Preciado encounters in the world to which he returns is not the same. It is not the paradise promised by the others recollections, but rather the absolute destitution and desolation of world. For Heidegger, a questioning and philosophical disposition emerges in the course of what he names somewhat enigmatically the darkening of world. The statements concerning modern alienation serve as masks in Heideggers thought for an evanescence that always af icts the appearance of world already. Entschlossenheit, the apex of world and the resolute and spiritual opening to what Heidegger calls the essence of being, also marks the beginning as (always already) a decline. Entschlossenheit brings together, at the site or opening at which Heidegger attempts to think world, two sides or slopes of what could somewhat hastily be called resolution and dissolution. World nominates a locus that is always already in retreat, an experience in which the self-evidence of the question of being suddenly begins to waver and lapses into crisis. Could it be that world is exactly that which thought runs up against when it seeks its own basis, its own cause? Is not world something that takes on breadth and depth only when viewed obliquely and awry, and which dissipates so soon as thought attempts to interrogate it head on? Is not the work of Fu hrung, which Heidegger describes in An Introduction to Metaphysics as the guiding and transferential spirit of worldly production, itself already a form of darkening, a loosening of the relation to the thought that sustains it? Does not the passage and handing-over of tradition, indicating the interest returned upon an incommensurable debt (traditio as a surrender or delivery), also presuppose an irreducible opacity, without which the transfer (which is itself always double: a movement to and fro; and a passage across a gap) could not take place? This opacity, if the line of thinking that takes us from Rulfo to Heidegger and back again is sustainable, would appear in the form of a haunting that marks the difference of Comala from itself in Juan Preciados endeavour to live up to the maternal injunction. But this philosophical engagement of the question of world also bears a limit.14 In Heideggers thought, the discussions of world, spirit and language settle for a time on the primacy of the question in the foreclosure of representational thinking. The reciprocal relation between world and human is both unsettled and renewed by the question, Why are there beings [Seiendes] rather than

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nothing? (Introduction to Metaphysics, 1). Heidegger suggests that, in its near super uity, the supplemental clause (rather than nothing) that punctuates this question and brings it to term also produces a kind of trembling within the query itself. We have been suggesting that a similar tone might be located in the maternal pronunciation of a lo nuestro in Rulfo. For, it is precisely in so far as the content of the injunction remains uncertain or even manifestly empty that we can begin to ask after what is truly ours. This trembling, we might say, establishes a material basis for thinking. But an elaboration of the priority of the question in its strong, Heideggerian resonance, and of the force it lends to thinking, still has not answered what prompts the restitutive demand in Rulfo. Nor does it fully account for the conditions in which a statement can be produced as utterance. In fact, the mothers injunction seems to point, in its very possibility, back to a domain or a register irreducible to the structure of the question as understood by Heideggerian deconstruktion. (Though, again, this is not to say that these spaces have nothing in common: on the contrary, they shareand are divided bytwo facets of a fundamental concern.) It would seem, nally (though this is no longer exactly to speculate), that the maternal demand for redress issues not from a question at all, but from what could only be described as a kind of certainty. This certitude is perhaps not far removed from what Heidegger, in the Die Wesen der Sprache essay, calls a promise. The certainty of the promise arrives from across an abyss. Or rather, certainty names that sense in which the promise arrives at its address (an address which is not One) ahead of itself. In so far as it is enunciated, the promise has always already arrived, though this is also not far from saying that the promise is also always at risk: nothing guarantees it from falling into oblivion. Certainty always remains to be demonstrated here in the liminal scene at issue in Rulfos text. In fact, it presupposes this demonstration. What is named in this certitude can neither be brought forth, nor can it be represented: it is not, for example, a certitude regarding what this we is owed. It is the limit of the evident and the self-disclosing, which is also to say that this we is always already in debt. Ex gele lo nuestro, as a call for justice, is spoken on the basis of what remains out of joint. It speaks both of and from this lack of jointure, of what has been foreclosed in and from the present. The basis of the statement has been described as irrefutable and undeconstructable. If deconstruction would call attention to the ab-grund which haunts this phraseology, the praxis of restitution would counter by declaring that this statement cannot not be grounded. It is uttered on the basis of a relation to what cannot be brought forth, with regard to a speaking relation that is itself a limit. An experience of the incontrovertible here provides the basis of this uttering of lo nuestro, as an enunciation which issues from a prior obligatedness. Language, says Heidegger, promises itself to itself (Die Wesen der Sprache). In a similar fashion, what will have been the question of what is ours begins with a passage across a line that is neither empirically veri able nor theorizable as transcendental. At the moment of speaking, this limit is what has already called for and what opens itself as speech: it is an originary echo to which speech would emerge as a response. Until now, this exigency has been named only in absentia, as what was owed but never given, and as what has lapsed into oblivion. As such, deconstruction rightly calls this demand groundless. But, at the same time, and in a time that is never quite the same as deconstructions, the injunction is always already grounded. The


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injunction must be understood at once as a demand for what remains unful lled, and as a response to (and the expression of a kind of knowledge of) a limit that can only make its appearance as having been lost. And thus we might say that this demand always knows more than it lets on, more than deconstruction accredits it. Let us now leap ahead to the conclusion of Rulfos novella. In so doing we will be passing over the series of fragmentary testimonies that, beginning with Juan Preciados post-mortem testimony, work to orchestrate the second part of the text as a rejoinder to the texts liminal injunction. The rst half comprises Juan Preciados account of his journey to Comala in its double exigency. It narrates what we have been describing as the demand of a demand, or that there be a demand of the Father: in his language, no doubt, but only in so far as something heretofore unheard in this language remains to be redressed. In the wake of the narrators death there emerges a collective and polyphonic testimony from the dead of Comala. These accounts sketch the discrete instances of tyranny that have paved the way for modernization in Mexico. But, at the same time, the gesture of a restitution of and to collective voice and memory signals a refusal of the old dream of a total and more or less adequate account of the origin.15 One of the principal voices of this discontinuous collective memory is found in the melancholic narrative of Susana San Juan, the cacique s childhood beloved. The complexity she presents for Rulfos text as a restitutive document cannot be adequately addressed here. However, it is what the reappearance of her gure opens up, following her death and just after the cacique himself has been dealt a fatal blow, that can and must be addressed here. In the concluding passage of Rulfos text we witness the engendering of a recognition akin to what Aristotle describes, for classical tragedy, as anagnorisis.16 The caciques dying gaze, lifted skyward, is confronted by the sublime gure of Susana San Juan. The enigmatic presentation of the sublime here not only prepares us for the death of Pedro Pa ramo, it likewise coincides with another instance of an impossible testimony which issues from the cacique: This is my death, he said (70). This recognition recalls and corresponds to a certain degree with Juan Preciados ironic and abyssal confession to Dorotea (the murmurs killed me). However, the time and space of reading (approximately half of the novella) that separates these two speech acts also allows an interpretive difference to emerge. What has become apparent between these moments of recognition is the logical structure of caciquismo as an attempt to appropriate or annihilate all limitsand to thereby abolish death itself. But, as we see from the relation between cacique and pueblo, the relentless abolition of limits is itself already a kind of death: this endeavour to outstrip nitude produces nothing other than a death without end. The lesson offered in this mortal enunciation, which is at once a recognition and an accomplishment of death, is contained in the enigma of its own limit: it is necessary to die in order to have lived.17 Thus the nal enunciation is at once a recognition (this is my death) and a promise (this is my death). The utterance, in so far as it places a limit upon itself as desire, as intention, or as Idea, promises itself via death to the living. In a strange way, the enunciative act prepares the way for death: it does not describe the reality of what is about to happen so much as it produces the space of this happening. It is in the space that speech opens between itself and its deatha death that could not arrive before or without the imparting address of speech,

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but which also signals the limit of every address, its inability to be present at its own receptionthat the maternal demand also offers itself to be heard in a different register. Lo nuestro, spoken from out of the oblivion of forgetting, could here be said to resonate as the property of a plural we. Only this is a we which is not One, and whose dimensions and parameters cannot be xed or decided once and for all (just as the testimonial voices composing much of the second half of the novella are not only plural in number but also heterogeneous, constituting an excess within the work as totality). The structure of this communal relationality attains its crucial dimension from the double movement of enunciation, which, as an originary incision delimiting the plenitude and permanence of the One, thereby opens itself to the incalculable possibility of shared, future meaning. Notes
1. Rulfo has often characterized his writing in terms resembling those of naturalism; for instance, he describes his intent as to speak not as one writes, but rather to write as one speaks (Roffe , p. 55). But I have suggested elsewhere that the effect of Rulfos transposition of writing and orality is anything but a simple af rmation of a naturalist aesthetic (which, at least in one of its forms, would take orality or spoken dictionas opposed to written discourseto constitute the true expression of subaltern existence). Rather, what emerges from this attempt to redress the spoken word in Rulfos text is a question of differenceof a difference arising between cultures and worlds, and moreover of a difference already at work at the origin of culture and language itself. To write as one speaks is to symbolize a con ict that goes unrecognized or is disowned by the dominant discourse. 2. The most widely discussed instance of this is the allegorical motif of poetic descent, through which the primary narrator in the rst half, Juan Preciado, recounts his journey to Comala. On a similar note, the denouementwhich is in fact a regression, from the time of Juan Preciados arrival to a time prior to his birth, in which his father (Pedro Pa ramo) rst imposed his tyrannical rule upon the towncan be likened to the anagnorisis of Greek tragedy. In one sense, Juan Preciado could be described as the reader of his origin in paternal tragedy. Regarding the connection to Greek tragedy, I will not be alluding to a speci c tragic text or to the theatrical speci city of Greek tragedy, but will instead con ne my remarks to a certain reading of tragedy, which nds its most salient expression in Hegels Phenomenology of Spirit. For Hegel, and for much of the philosophical tradition in his wake, tragedy comprises two moments. The rst stages an encounter between two antagonistic forces, claims or worlds. In the wake of catastrophic encounter, the tragic text offers itself as a synthesis, drawing upon and retaining certain formal aspects of each axis. For Hegel, the synthetic moment of classical tragedy is embodied by the emergence of a new political form: the modern state. In Rulfo, on the other hand, the importance of the tragic form will have less to do with the Hegelian promise of reconciliation, and more to do with an attempt to think the limit of aesthetic and political synthesis. 3. As a critique of colonial and neo-colonial projects, Edward Saids Orientalism has provided the canonical statement regarding (neo)colonialism as a process of misrepresenting the (non-Western) other. In Latin America, a possible remedy is found in Pablo Nerudas 1945 epic poem, Las Alturas de Macchu Picchu, which culminates in a poetic gesture of restitution, of returning to the pre-Columbian other his or her voiceor, more precisely, of presenting poetry as prosopopeic mouthpiece for the silenced other. While it is certainly possible to maintain that Rulfo similarly envisions Latin Americanist writing as engaging a process of restitution, a key difference must be marked here: where Neruda attempts to invert the colonialist misuse of representation (and his project therefore reaf rms the Platonic conception of truth even as it seeks to invert its prior colonizing function), for Rulfo the thought of restitution does not leave the Platonic connection between truth and eidos intact. 4. Translations of Rulfo are my own, unless otherwise speci ed. Instead of relying on the pagination of a particular edition, I will refer to the fragment numbers which Gonza lez Boixo assigns in the Catedra edition. Gonza lez Boixo counts 70 of these units; Margaret Sayers


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Peden, one of Rulfos English language translators, counts 68. The difference can be attributed to variations in printing between editions. (On this discrepancy, see Narciso Costa Ros, 1976.) As for the context in which this maternal demand is made, fragments 9 and 20 give an indication of the history of Dolores and Pedro Pa ramo. After his fathers death (which, in the allegorical framework I am arguing for, would coincide with the demise of the oligarchy and the end of ownership of the land by the few circa the time of the Revolution), Pedro inherits his fathers debts (the family of Dolores is owed the most), which have nearly bankrupted the family estate. Pedros marriage proposal to Dolores thus conceals a dual strategy: liquidation of this debt and appropriation of one of the larger estates in the community. Here one might speculate at some length concerning Rulfos characterization of caciquismo (a phenomenon in rural, pre-revolutionary Mexico in which the cacique governed by informal, authoritarian rule) and neo-caciquismo (the somewhat paradoxical return of caciquismo following the Revolution), which assumes the form of a primitive accumulation of land, capital and women. Furthermore, a historical point of reference for the mothers demand can be situated in the state-sponsored reparto programme, whichaccording to ones positionwas to have returned the oligarchys landholdings or latifundios either to small, individually owned plots (this is the bourgeois position) or to the communal structures of ownership practised by indigenous groups prior to the Liberal reforms (this is the position of the radicalized peasantry in southern Mexico). The catastrophic failure of the reparto and the return of caciquismo in rural, post-revolutionary Mexico is one of the sites on which Rul an allegory xes its gaze. The states self-appointed role as guardian, organizer and purveyor of tradition is in fact an invention; it constitutes the projection of an imaginary ground that never in fact existedor at least not in the uni ed, continuous and self-comprehending way it is presented. And this is also to say that the content of tradition perhaps only begins to function as a locus of collective a Canclinis analysis of the relation between identi cation in the present of modernity. Garc modernity and tradition develops out of an important insight into the status of cultural production itself: rather than con ning his study to the space in which cultural artefacts are produced, his analysis addresses the history of reception and distribution these objects receive, i.e. of the ways in which they are organized and represented. And thusthe crucial pointthe primary production is not one of objects at all, but rather of meaning. John Womack attributes a similar statement to the revolutionary caudillo Venustiano Carranza (see Zapata). The Carranza faction, which ultimately turns against the other factions of the Constitutionalist alliance and triumphs over them, is seen by many as embodying the force of institutionalization and corruption that eventually prevails over the popular movements represented by Zapata and, to a lesser degree, Pancho Villa. The relation between cultural production and the state following the revolution is of course more complex than I am able to indicate here. Perhaps a comparative analysis, of the imaginary a Canclini and Roger Bartra (Culture and identi catory processes described by both Garc Political Power in Mexico) on the one hand, and the reciprocal link between state and culture (as domain of disinterested aesthetic experience) as it is examined by David Lloyd and Paul Thomas in Culture and the State on the other, could help to shed light on the complex and often antithetical dimensions of this relation. Margaret Sayers Pedens translation manages to convey both the gradual pacing of this imaginary production and the sudden and unexpected emergence of this world as gure. Here we have an early indication of the complex interrelation in Rulfo between cultural imaginary and event as something that precisely exceeds the will, intent or agency of this national subject. The connection between force and withdrawal or withholding receives an addition in ection in the description of caciquismo as process of propriation, and in the accounts of Pedro Pa ramo as he takes over the communities holdings. Rather than inserting himself directly in a confrontation with the pueblo, the cacique operates by removing himself from the public domain and inserting a lieutenant, Fulgor Sedano, in his stead. It is Sedano who will then issue the various threats and carry out the myriad and exemplary acts of violence that together constitute caciquismo as a phenomenon of terror. We see, through the introduction of the caciques lieutenant, that the effects of caciquismo can only be gauged in the absence of the cacique himself, as one who shows that he does not show (all). The masters enjoyment-without-limits depends upon his capacity not to appear, to maintain the appearance of keeping (a part of) himself in reserve.






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10. Abundio, the narrators rst guide in the allegorical descent to Comala, also pronounces upon one of the texts most poignant jokes: as cacique, Pedro Pa ramo is at once the father of all and father to none. Juan Preciado is in fact his sole legitimate heir, though the issue of legitimation is precisely what Rulfos text casts into doubt. This universal impropriety of the sovereign exception is also an allusion to a key moment in the Conquest: Corte ss abduction of La Malinche, or her consent to being his mistress. It recalls a scandal that has since been embraced by national culture, according to a sardonic logic of solidarity that Paz summarizes in the phrase, we are all sons and daughters of la Chingada. 11. The formal sequence I am arguing for is a movement from a traditional conception of allegory (or an allegory of ideas) to tragedy (in which the questions of agency and specular knowledge run up against a limit from which they cannot detach themselves) and back to allegory again. Only this time, allegory appears as something closer to the twentieth-century readings of allegory offered by Walter Benjamin (The Origin of German Trauerspiel) and Paul de Man (The Rhetoric of Temporality). That is, allegory as underscoring the internal difference of signi cation, and as a renewal of the tone of mourning initiated in tragedy. At the same time, allegory departs from tragedy in that mourning must now be approached as an impossible or interminable endeavour. In the passage from mythos to history, mute nature mourns its modern desolation. Yet natures silence also informs the peculiar language of this travail: even if it could speak, natures language would be a kind of silence. Following the death of Juan Preciado, the narrative gives evidence of yet another formal shift. The second half of the text is composed of the discontinuous and fragmentary memories of Comalas dead. It seems to me that this diegetic turn anticipates some of the fundamental principles of what has since come to be known as testimonio literature. 12. Many critics have sought to explain the extreme distortions of Rulfos narrative as evidence of the in uence of the European avant-garde, suggesting that they be read as a somewhat stylized repetition of surrealist, absurdist and expressionist poetics. It seems to me that such attempts to situate Rulfos text within a general avant garde project (and thereby to familiarize its expression at the level of a supposed iterability) is only another way of avoiding the problem of its speci c address or locus. By this I mean that the vanguardist reading ignores an important sense in which aesthetic production seeks to problematize self-identity rather than reproduce a space removed from ideology and particularity, as aesthetic ideology from Schiller through Paz would have it. I have addressed the problematic of the Rul an landscape and its myriad contortions elsewhere by identifying, at the level of both image and grammar, an anamorphic movement that situates formal innovation alongside a thought of the crisis of Mexican modernity. 13. The assertion that no discourse can provide a total account of or fully organize the scenario at issue here also applies to my own reading, and to my provisional suggestion that an antinomy arises in Rulfos text, re ected in a tension between deconstructive and restitutive registers. Of course, there is no reason that a deconstructive reading could not also understand itself as part and parcel of a project of restitution, or vice versa (though not to say the nal restitution or a truer restitution). 14. On the relation between questioning, world and spirit in Heidegger, see Jacques Derridas Of Spirit. Of course the political differences between Heidegger and Rulfo form another important difference, and we should not forget the disastrous consequences of Heideggers early attempts to link his meditations on world to a political project. 15. This renunciation of narrative teleology understood as immanence or closure, and likewise of the truth relation implied by the phrase giving voice to the other, marks a fundamental moment in Rulfos conception of allegory. If a vestigial messianism can be identi ed in Rulfos writing, and I believe that it can, this sense of a justice or communion to come must be thought from the absolute evacuation of its content, and with a view to the temporality or difference that this structure makes visible at its limit. 16. In the texts nal passage we have been brought, chronologically speaking, to a point at which the death of Susana San Juan has prompted the cacique to effectively condemn the pueblo to its death. Following the patriarchs imposition of absolute silence, and yet for reasons that are never entirely clear, Abundio (the narrators guide into Comala and one of the caciques many illegitimate sons) deals the tyrant a mortal blow with his machete. The narration of this act is marked by a profound irony that would seem to re ect Rulfos understanding of the revolution: the patricidal blow that Abundio strikes against tyranny can be interpreted either as a more or


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less random occurrence brought about by one in the midst of a drunken stupor, or it can be taken as a kind of passage into the absolute of revolutionary action, echoing of one of the rallying cries of the Revolution: iMueran los caciques! [Death to the caciques!]). 17. This also raises an interesting question concerning the status of the tragic form in Rulfo. In a certain sense, we could say that the cacique, in order to occupy the place of tyrant and tragic hero, must precisely break the pact of silence that links the Greek experience of nitude and freedom. In Schellings tragic theory, it is the heros silence in the face of an unjusti able punishment imposed by divine decision (e.g. Oedipus held responsible, despite everything, for patricide and incest) that serves as the avatar of a human freedom beyond dik. Ancient tragedy attests to human freedom in the face of its impossibility, or in so far as the heros silence, as a mode of de ance, assumes and takes upon itself what can be neither justi ed nor outstripped. Rulfos version of Mexican modernity is thus both a tragic account and a staging of tragedys own death.

guilar Cam n, He A ctor and Lorenzo Meyer, In the Shadow of the Mexican Revolution (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993). Roger Bartra, Culture and Power in Mexico, trans. by Susana Casal-Sa nchez, Latin American Perspectives (Spring 1989), pp. 6169. Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama , trans. by John Osborne (New York: New Left Books, 1977). Narciso Costa Ros, Estructura de Pedro Pa ramo , Revista Chilena de Literatura, 7 (December 1976), pp. 117142. Paul De Man, The Rhetoric of Temporality, in Blindness and Insight (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983). Jacques Derrida, Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question, trans. by Geoffrey Bennington and Rachel Bowlby (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989). Sigmund Freud, Negation, in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, v. XIX (London: Hogarth Press, 195374). a Canclini, Culturas h bridas: estrategias para entrar y salir de la modernidad (Mexico: Ne stor Garc Grijalbo, 1989). Martin Heidegger, An Introduction to Metaphysics, trans. by Ralph Mannheim (New York: Doubleday, 1961). Martin Heidegger, Die Wessen der Sprache, in On the Way to Language, trans. by Peter Hertz (New York: Harper, 1971). Octavio Paz, Laberinto de soledad (Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Econo mica, 1959). Octavio Paz, Los hijos del limo (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1974). a armada (Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1973). Reina Roffe , Juan Rulfo: Autobiograf Juan Rulfo, Pedro Pa ramo (Madrid: Catedra, 1993). Juan Rulfo, Pedro Pa ramo , trans. by Margaret Sayers Peden (New York: Grove, 1994). John Womack, Zapata and the Mexican Revolution (New York: Knopf, 1969).