Writing In The Interregnum: On Sergio González Rodriguez's "Los 43 de Iguala"



by Gerardo Muñoz

One cannot but be intrigued by Sergio González Rodriguez’s recent essay “Los 43 de Iguala” (Anagrama, 2015) that analytically weaves the kidnapping and massacre of the 43 male students from a rural school in Mexico’s State of Guerrero with an autographical exploration. For one thing, it is difficult to locate Sergio González’s own political investment in the historical event (“event” in the light sense of the word, and not in the theoretical register from “French theory”). This difficulty springs from the fact that if one compares this book next to other canonical texts of the Latin American testimonial tradition, such as Operación Masacre (1957) by Rodolfo Walsh, the post-Boom testimonio, or even recent investigative journalism of State crimes such as Miguel Barroso’s Un asunto sensible (Mondadori, 2009). In González there is something that does not quite fit into these forms. González Rodriguez vacillates in framing a discourse of “truth” of the subaltern, and although the guerilla fighter Lucio Cabañas’ subaltern memory is echoed at different moments in the essay, it far from occupies the center of the narrative frame. González Rodríguez avoids restituting a revolutionary tradition as exegetical infringement, since every restorative practice of an “event” extols a politics of historical appropriation already contained in recent Mexican political history.

If subalternism is insufficient for a narrative against a new form of domination, this makes the case for a narrative inscription that is post-subalternist. Curiously, this post-subalternist register will be quite the opposite of John Beverley’s recent formulation of “post-subalternity”, that is, it is beyond the subaltern not because it has been incorporated in alliance with a progressive State form, but rather because it remains a remnant that vexes multiples levels that include the State, a geopolitical techno-militarization, a process of narco-accumulation, a tradition of guerrilla warfare (or what remains of it), and elementary forms of peasant banditry or delinquency [1]. Post-subalternism names the excess of these process of convergence and divergence of multiple actors and territories that cannot be subsumed into the order of a single narrative.

“Los 43 de Iguala” goes through great efforts to map these actors, even though analytical and political demarcations fail to become discrete. The narrative proliferates in multiple valences exhausting the political in the typical determination of enemy and friend divide. The impossibility of solidarity as a tangible horizon marks the end of partisanship in classical schmittian terms, which signals Carlo Galli’s global war hypothesis for our contemporary world, as well as to Reiner Schurmann’s fracture of hegemonic organization that yields meaning to every historical epoch.

The staging of war is far from being conventional and regulated in traditional Statist structures. González Rodríguez calls this scenario at a specific moment of his essay “Brush War”: “una guerra menor o irregular, cuyos riesgos y amenazas persisten en el plazo inmediato y próximo, sobre todo desde la perspectiva de la seguridad de Estados Unidos” [a minor or irregular war, since its risks persists in the long and short term, above all from the perspective of the U.S’s security structure”] (González Rodríguez, 100). “Brush War” extends towards an undefined course of a heterochronic design that challenges the inside and outside limits of classical militarization within territories already annexed by the extensiveness of security models. The Latin American guerrilla’s call for “many Vietnams”, so popularized in the revolutionary languages of the ‘turbulent sixties’, to borrow the expression from Diana Sorensen, has been completely fulfilled as a brush war in the age of globalization, where no emancipation seems to be in near sight except that of capital.

We are confronted with a landscape of a different and undetermined war. The fact that González Rodriguez affirms opacity as a fracture of narrativization, weighs heavily on the epochal fracture as such, hindering a “truth” that is more effective than if he were to fabricate an entelechy of partisanship (which of course, does not mean that one condone the crime at any point, but rather, that those perished lives do not exhaust the political nor coincide with the possibility of a strong commitment on the Left). González Rodriguez’s essay is an unbridled writing on the walls of the interregnum of our epoch, which entails a halt in the modernizing and teleological narratives of both State’s conservationist and revolutionary ideologies of History.

What makes Sergio González’s narrative anamorphic resides in his incumbent “speculative journalism”, which is one of opacity and not of militant truth, betraying the purity of a confessionary tone at the very opening: “Debo hablar de lo que nadie quiere ya hablar. Contra el silencio, contra la hipocresía, contra las mentiras, habré de decirlo…el influjo de lo perverso ha devorado la civilización, el orden institucional, el bien común” [“I should speak of what no one wants to speak. Against silence, against hypocrisy, against the lies, I must speak…the flux of the perverse has devoured civilization, institutional order, and the common good”]. It is not all clear that González achieves this “truth-discourse” programmatically or effectually, which at the same time seems to echo Fukuyama’s doctrine on the political decay of global order and legitimacy. It is precisely the “fissure” of de-narrativization that escapes in his writing and what attests to the gap between the technology of the investigation and the current political opacity. Speculative journalism can only inhabit this murky site, without recurring to counter-hegemonic resistance.

We are, indeed, far from a militant literary approach of counter-State narrative [2]. This fissure is what testimonio or periodismo investigativo can no longer bear witness to, and that which accounts for the failure to unravel the logic of complot. This strategy in many ways was already present in his prior book Campo de guerra (Anagrama 2014), where transparency and “truth-telling” of the geopolitical terrain as preparatory theses of the book do not hold up the conflagration of what “reality” ends up unveiling. It is true that there is no recoiling from his part, and that makes it even more difficult to confront critically. More than essays about “the struggle” and “truth”, what González gives us is the crisis of resistance due to the opaque processes of narco-accumulation in a normalized state of exception that can only produce forms of heterochronic warfare. It is a tinted history of betrayal and confusion, which puts the whole architectonics of militant reason in flames.

Dwelling on the interregnum, however, does not mean that one subscribes to either apolitical mythology or the defeat of lives that could be placed on the side of rhetoric of sovereignty and Human Rights. If Human Rights actors worked within distinguishable boundaries of sovereignty, where the possibility of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ remained intact, it remains to be thought if in times of the interregnum, international organizations do not also operate within the matrix that contributes to the occlusion of standard political limits. In this precise sense, an infrapolitical writing overruns González Rodriguez’s essay to the extent that folds the fissures that narrativization cannot account for political struggle today.

This pervades the surface of oral language as well. The expression “ya me cansé”[“I had enough”], voiced by the Chief Persecutor Murillo Karam, becomes crucial in the essay as one could read it as the forlorn power before an abyss that no judicial case could close, since the fosas comunes are archeological strata of an infinite geological machination of death [3]. But this points to a certain de-narrativization of power, where judicial preeminence loses its capacity to produce sense and judgment. It is worth comparing Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann as a show of “ridiculousness”, to González Rodriguez’s salient elocutionary lacuna: ‘ya me cansé’ [4]. Where the first is a report on the incommensurable banality of an evil tried in Court, the second is report on a repetition of evil that knows no court or juridical process. The cansancio should be taken literally, that is beyond metaphor: it marks the exhaustion of power’s discourse and liability (the end of a “process” without end). This points to González’s own lucidity within the ineffable that characterizes the interregnum.

But González has something to say, even if that that possibility is located beyond the frame granted by testimonio, although haunted by it. Take, for instance, the end where González Rodriguez decides to radically shift the sustained case of the 43 to a personal and unclear account with a journalist named Gloria, whose life according to the author always remained a mystery. It is also told in a sequence of anecdotes from several encounters: González evokes gestures, including smiles, a casual flirting, her garments, the sensation of a kiss on the cheek, and finally his last memory before her death: “su espalda fina es lo último que contemplé antes de arrancar” [“her thin back was the last thing I contemplated before I left her”]. This desire interrupts the process of a narrative of mourning in the face of those already named and crypted as “students” or as “subjects”.

That night Gloria’s apartment was burned to ashes, and her body hung from the ceiling. González Rodriguez confesses that he only recovers his memory of Gloria, because in times of horror there is no other form of consolation but that of precise autobiographic inscription. One could add to González’s own rationale that what is affirmed is not entirely on “life” as crisscrossed by common identity, community, or even love. It is not clear from the affective memory retrieval of Gloria, whether González Rodriguez was indeed in love with this woman or not. What seems to be more important (central for what we have called here a post-subalternist inscription), is an account of what has impersonally touched his life. In other words, Gloria is a figure that condenses an encounter that was perishable in and for life. Unlike testimonio, the “trace of the Real” is not transformative in González Rodriguez’s essay, but rather it is the trace of life what remains on the negative side of politics, an infra-politics without remaining outside of life or ceasing being political. Gloria is outside the numerical “43”, but is analogical to the cypher as she belongs to the excess in the narrative.

One should also note that what links Gloria’s slaughter and the 43 is a specific kind of death: the pyre as a dematerialization of the body, an incendiary practice of death production that leaves no traces and is witnessed by no one. González Rodríguez writes: “La muerte por fuego simboliza el mayor castigo: no solo incremente la crueldad para con la víctima, sino que se desea que su cuerpo quede reducido a cenizas. La persona es borrada como tal de las faz de la tierra y asume un estatuto mineral, sin nombre ni memoria” [“Death by fire symbolizes a higher punishment: not only a higher cruelty of the victim, but a desire for the corpse to be reduced to ashes. The person itself is erased from the earth adopting a mineral dimension without name or memory”]. González Rodríguez seems to be suggesting that every event is inscribed within a flux of a natural history of destruction. But perhaps the analytical wager should not be placed on the side of destruction, but more so on the impossibility that is generated between the practice and language, between death and the ritual of mourning.

In her study of funeral orations in ancient Athens, Nicole Loraux argues that the funeral pyre functioned to integrate the family of those deceased into the civic and moral universe of the polis [5]. Against the possibility of igniting civil war or stasis, the funeral oration had a double healing purpose: on one hand, it compensated death against preserving political unity, and on the other, it aimed at maintaining civic freedoms in the city. The pyre of the 43 students, whether conducted by the corrupt police or the narco paramilitary organizations in Guerrero or a combination of both, bears witness to a complete emptying of the funeral oration that can only signify the disintegration of civil society (polis), and the indefinite stasis as signaled by those whose lives are cremated, but that lack the proper rite of public funeral. In this sense, the interregnum could also well be understood as the spatialization of the public that knows only social strife, and can no longer guarantee the preservation of its sovereign body politic.

Placed within the larger Latin American writing of political violence that Jean Franco situates under the sign of a “Cruel Modernity”, we witness a shift from the figure of the desaparecidos (paradigmatic of the post-dictatorial debates) to the mass pyre of students, Iguala announces the unredeemable crisis of civil society, whose exercise of death exposes its own disappearance [6]. At this intersection, González Rodriguez’s remembrance of Gloria, as a dis-figuration within stasis, is a preparatory oration for an infrapolitical memory without subject that do not exhaust neither life nor the fantasy of a new biopoliticized civil society. Gloria is neither the allegory nor the symbol of González’s own investment with the event of the 43, since her memory is not even reducible to the republic of the living that characterizes the civic space, but is rather what haunts it.

Ashes are always irreducible and singular, barely traced by gestures and affects beyond all signification. Ashes remain, and what remains are traces in a temporal landscape without event. Ashes also announce the elation of a singularization to come, paraphrasing philosopher Reiner Schurmann’s thought on the destitution of hegemonic phantasms, which here entails the potential for a beyond of Mexican sovereignty [7]. It is already the life of the singular, since Gloria escapes the sociological hopes of a transcendental redemption for life and for the national space [8]. But if the funeral oration was the name for the affirmation of the political within the public, we have yet to find a second name for what Gloria stands at the threshold of the contemporary impossibility to account for death, as well as for the erasure of every single death in the state of anomie.

Photographs by fossilmike.



[1] John Beverley introduces the horizon of “post-subalternism” in the last chapter of his book Latinamericanism after 9/11 (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011).

[2] Ricardo Piglia. Teoría del complot. Buenos Aires: Mate, 2007. Against Piglia’s of counter-narrative, I follow Alberto Moreiras’ concept of denarrativization as a fundamental ploy in González Rodríguez infrapolitical writing. See Alberto Moreiras’ “Infrapolitics: the project and its politics. Allegory and denarrativization: a note on posthegemony”. Transmodernity: Journal of Peripheral Cultural Production of the Luso-Hispanic World, N.5, 2015.

[3] Sergio Villlalobos-Ruminott. “Las edades del cadáver: dictadura, guerra, desaparición (Postulados para una geología general)”. Heterografias de la violencia (La Cebra, 2016).

[4] Sergio González towards the end of Los 43 de Iguala writes: “A pesar de proponer esa narrative judicial de los hechos, los reportes de la prensa nacional e internacional multiplicaron las preguntas para tratar de aclarar las inconsistencias, contradicciones, y lagunas que suscitaron las palabras de Murillo Karam y las imágenes que mostró. La extensa ronda de preguntas y respuestas culminó cuando el procurador dijo: “Ya me cansé”. Y dio por finalizada la conferencia” (131). I thank Camila Moreiras and Pablo Dominguez for bringing to light this passage in a discussion.

[5] Nicole Loraux. The Invention of Athens: The Funeral Oration in the Classical City. Zone Books, 2006.

[6] Jean Franco. Cruel Modernity. Durham: Duke University Press, 2013.

[7] Reiner Schürmann. Broken Hegemonies. Indiana University Press, 2003. For an important discussion on sovereignty and the Mexican State form, see also The Mexican Exception: sovereignty, police, and democracy (Palgrave 2011), by Gareth Williams.

[8] In this light, it is interesting that the figure of Gloria emerges only after the case of the 43 was explored echoing the “Holy Saturday” (“Sabado de Gloria”) in preparation for Sunday’s resurrection. Resurrection is only possible because there was a corpse in the first place. The only form of beatitude in the time of the interregnum is one in which there is only a singular figuration of “Glory” (the Gloria of my desire, not of transcendental subsunption), as deferral of the “serenity and peril of the Sunday of life” that Catherine Malabou discusses in The future of Hegel (2005). This complicates the question of finitude and philosophy of history that places the name of Gloria in a double-bind.

About the Author:

Gerardo Muñoz is a doctoral student at Princeton University. His dissertation studies the crisis of State form and political principles in nineteenth and twentieth century Latin America. He has translated essays of Giorgio Agamben and is a member of the Infrapolitical Deconstruction Collective.