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Cowardice—An Alibi: On Prudence and Senselessness
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The pledge is given here and now, even before, perhaps, a decision confirms it. It thus responds without delay to the demand of justice. The latter by definition is impatient, uncompromising, and unconditional.

—Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx

The raw material of courage is time.

—Alain Badiou, The Meaning of Sarkozy

I Am Not Complete In The Mind, Begins The Novel. I Am Not Complete in the mind: who is the “I” that speaks? It is not yet the narrator, not yet the author: “I am not complete in the mind, said the sentence”—without citation, without quotation marks, absent are the usual signs that might separate what is now a doubly reported discourse from the flow of the narrator’s own thoughts—“that I underlined with the yellow marker, and even copied into my personal notebook” (Castellanos Moya 2008, 1; translation slightly modified). The sentence said it and not the subject. This application of italics, an ambivalent typeface that, on the one hand, conserves and highlights foreign words—mark of the other, the improper—and that, on the other, is based on manual writing (a cursive), the mark of its most intimate, proper, and irreproducible moment, trembles between witness and writer, between production and appropriation and serves as the frame of the novel that follows. The italics translate the underlining of the manuscript to the printed page. The narrator exscribes the impression of his reading on the very page he reads. He reads and then “even” inscribes this impression; the moment of ex- and inscription, forged in the indecision of this reading. (Write. Underline. Copy.)

A peculiar novel, this paranoid roman à clé, Senselessness (Insensatez) by Horacio Castellanos Moya, that is, an unexpected novel about the legacy of the Central American wars: the protagonist of Senselessness is not the indigenous subject who suffered and struggled as a victim (or victimizer) in those wars, nor some kind of solidarity worker dedicated to bringing about the truth of what happened in the civil war, but is rather a writer of very meager political convictions who accepts the underpaid task of editing a volume that (we must imagine) will appear as Guatemala: nunca más, Informe del Proyecto Interdiocesano de Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica (Guatemala: Never Again, Report of the Inter-Diocesan Project for the Recovery of Historical Memory), a project under the auspices of the organization whose name appears in the title. The narrator is frequently drunk (naturally). He tries to have affairs with the Spanish women who dedicate their lives in Guatemala to social work in the Archbishop’s palace, where the narrator himself has an office in which to edit the volume. The testimonial phrases that occupy his day are recorded not only in his memory but also in his personal notebook and gradually become the narration of his own experience. As these citations become his, the nameless narrator enters a panicked state proper to those who suffered the war and whose testimonios he has been employed to edit. Pursued (perhaps only in his imagination) by the criminals of the Guatemalan Civil War, he violently flees the city and then the country. Recently arrived in some Germanic land (Castellanos Moya himself lived in Frankfurt from 2004 to 2006) he returns (from a bar in which he imagines he has met with Octavio Pérez Mena, that is, Otto Pérez Molina) to the house of a cousin with whom he has found asylum. There he receives an e-mail that finally confirms the madness he has suffered with increasing mania and which closes the novel, as it begins, in citation:

there in my inbox was a message from my buddy Toto, which I proceeded to open with the utmost eagerness, and which wasn’t a letter so much as a kind of telegram that said, “Yesterday at noon the bishop presented the report in a bombastic ceremony in the cathedral; last night he was assassinated in the parish house, they smashed his head in with a brick. Everybody’s fucked. Be grateful you left.”


Occupying an ambiguous moment of political subjectivization (if we can, indeed, still call it that) crystallized by the Guatemalan Civil War and...

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