- The National Body in Mexican Literature: Collective Challenges to Biopolitical Control by Rebecca Janzen
Bodies represented in literary and other cultural works have long been a privileged site for inscribing different intellectual agendas. Whether the body purportedly represents the nation or other collectives, or signifies socially excluded differences, careful analysis of its discursive use sheds light on ways of imagining and potentially shaping social life. In her analysis of diverse texts by five Mexican authors, Rebecca Janzen’s monograph examines the way the body illustrates the workings of State power since the consolidation of Mexico’s revolutionary regime. Her careful close reading traces how weaker characters are described as sick, disabled, or unusual bodies (or specific body parts) when confronting more powerful char-acters—such as doctors, caciques, police officers, judges, and husbands—that represent State or related institutions. Janzen also reads specific references to different characters’ bodies as gestures toward challenges to this exclusionary State.
The introduction begins with a personal anecdote about the author’s experience with a concussion, which integrated her into the local community to which she recently moved. Janzen draws a parallel between the complex working of religion, medicine, the state, and education in her experience and in the Mexican context. While her experience integrated her into the community, she claims that Mexicans’ experiences with such state apparatuses turns them into utterly disposable [End Page 206] bare life. The National Body examines the literary representation of the kinds of subjects that José Vasconcelos considered undesirable for the cosmic race, and it traces in detail the many instances in which characters’ bodies are referenced to allude to their marginality, or existence as bare life in a somewhat reductive use of Giorgio Agamben’s concept. She argues that these references to some characters’ bodies appear when they interact with more powerful characters and thus reveal their inferior or less powerful status with regard to the Mexican state and its apparatuses.
Chapter one examines the narrative of José Revueltas and focuses on the trope of blindness as an umbrella term including all forms of unusual eyes: fixed gazes, clear gazes, tragic eyes, angry eyes, myopia, and glass eyes. The author makes a compelling case for the centrality of unusual eyes/vision to Revueltas’s work and the intertextual connections among them. She argues that unusual eyes appear when weaker characters are left out of the State’s integration project via various institutions (prisons, unions, health care system, education, and the Catholic Church). Taken together, the vulnerability of their bodies represents a profound critique. Janzen imagines them converging in an intertextual collective to challenge the State’s exclusionary politics.
The second chapter, on the narrative of Juan Rulfo, reads the characters of Pedro Páramo and El llano en llamas as representations of bare life, or life completely vulnerable to the sovereign cacique Pedro Páramo. The cacique’s bad blood spills across the narratives and contaminates the other characters, which are all read as metaphorical children of Pedro Páramo. Janzen’s analysis focuses on references to the characters’ bodies, and she interprets these references as indications of how the cacique’s power reduces the characters to weak, voiceless, animalistic, or otherwise dehumanized states that, she asserts, evoke bare life and thus illustrate the process of exclusion exercised by the sovereign. This repression parallels the way the Mexican State continued to exclude despite its claims to incorporate peasants into the national project. Janzen also analyzes characters’ use of the third person plural pronoun as a way to exert power over other characters by silencing them. While speaking for a collective is interpreted as negative, Janzen argues that characters that are represented in similar ways can join together in a potentially empowered collective that could unsettle Páramo’s sovereignty.
Chapter three, which analyzes indigenismo and mestizaje in Rosario Castellanos’s Oficio de Tinieblas and Balún Canán, posits that despite the novels’ intentions to shed light on the realities of indigenous people and women, its representative strategies reproduce indigenismo’s assimilationist intention...