- The Language of Pained Bodies:History, Translation, and Prostitution in Cristina Rivera Garza's Nadie me verá llorar (1999)
Walter Benjamin has proposed, "The interior is the asylum of art. The collector is the true resident of the interior. He makes his concern the transfiguration of things. To him falls the Sisyphean task of divesting things of their commodity character by taking possession of them. But he bestows on them only connoisseur value, rather than use value" (9). In Nadie me verá llorar (1999), Mexican novelist Cristina Rivera Garza functions as one such collector of objects. She rewrites fin de siècle Mexico by appropriating ruined objects from Mexican history, such as photographs, newspapers, medical records, and literary texts, and in doing so reimagines the assumptions fin de siècle Mexican novelists Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera and Federico Gamboa make about the prostitute in their fiction. Indeed, Rivera Garza rids all of these fin de siècle objects of their commodity value by rewriting them and translating them into her own work; in turn the use value of these objects is transformed into a connoisseur value. Moreover, when Rivera Garza, who was trained as an academic historian, incorporates the narratives of marginalized people into her body of work—specifically the stories of the insane, the indigenous poor, and the prostitutes found in obscure and virtually forgotten medical records—she destabilizes the commonly accepted historical [End Page 75] narratives of this period.
Prior critical conversations have treated Rivera Garza's use of history and the figure of the prostitute separately. Traci Roberts-Camps has commented extensively on Rivera Garza's portrayal of women, including prostitutes. She writes, "Rivera Garza moves beyond the vital statistics of a woman who lived from 1885 to 1958 in Mexico, to a portrayal of a woman—daughter, niece, prostitute, lover, patient—and her pain" (95). Stephen Silverstein has engaged with Rivera Garza's historical approach, commenting, "Recent critical attention has noted the manner in which Rivera Garza's doctoral thesis serves as a prototext for Nadie me verá llorar in terms of content, which the author acknowledges in the novel's 'Notas finales'" (533). This essay develops these two approaches further by bringing them together, seeing Rivera Garza's emphasis on the abject of Mexico—and on the prostitute in particular—as a particularly powerful undoing of the master narratives of Mexican history.
In Nadie me verá llorar, the weight of the past seems more present than the present itself. Harking back to the past is a strategy oftentimes used to create a source of stability and cohesion. At the same time, the past also threatens to bring unresolved conflicts into the present. Mexican historian Enrique Krauze affirms, "Our view of the past that was actually experienced is influenced by the past as it came to be … invented. One of the duties of a historian is to separate the past as it was from all the superimpositions of imagination" (xiii). Rivera Garza's fiction does not attempt to separate the past from the superimpositions of imagination. She is aware, however, that Mexican history from the very beginning has been a series of superimposed imaginations. Thus she undertakes the task as a historian and novelist to rewrite the superimposed imaginations of the past as it had already been invented in late nineteenth-century Mexico. Her work therefore echoes Hayden White's concept of metahistory, which assumes that history and fiction follow a narrative structure and that both emerge out of a writer's imagination.
According to Mexicanist Brian L. Price, historical fictions—among them Enrique Serna's El seductor de la patria (1999), Eugenio Aguirre's Victoria (2005), Paco Ignacio Taibo II's Pancho Villa: Una biografía narrativa (2006), Ignacio Solares's La invasión (2005), Martín Moreno's México mutilado (2004), and Pedro Ángel Palou's Zapata (2006), Morelos: Morir es nada (2007), and Cuauhtémoc: La defensa del Quinto Sol (2008)— [End Page 76] inundated the market by 2010. These novels reflected a tendency toward a recanonization of common spaces and figures of Mexican historiography. Price suggests that Rivera Garza steered away from this form of...