by Maria Bustillos
Michael Mullen wrote an extraordinary reply to an earlier post, and I’d like to draw attention to it.
Seaman’s sermon I’ve mostly re-read already, because it’s stunning and strange and raises so many questions that I can’t answer, and cuts so far down to the bone of what it is to be a sentient being. The passage about stars [p. 152] alone is so connected with other things that have been talked about already.
This leads to a discussion of metaphor that seems related to things Maria wrote earlier about Plato’s cave. “Metaphors are our ways of losing ourselves in semblances or treading water in a sea of seeming.” Stars are metaphoric reflections of the one real star, the sun of our solar system. And that star is real, why? Because if it weren’t we’d be dead? Because it can burn up astronauts in bad sci-fi movies, but isn’t that treading back toward metaphor? Because it’s the ideal from which other stars and their qualities are extrapolated?
The novel is full of dreams, and dreams within dreams, beneath a dreamlike surface, a swirling narrative. We’re trying to make sense of this all, and hoping to grasp the life jacket that won’t cause us to sink.
The stars that may be dead remind me very much of Amalfitano’s belief that places don’t exist when you leave them. That jet lag comes not from you being tired, but from the place you’ve arrived at working extra hard to constitute itself. As soon as you leave again, it slips back into semblance.
And with all of this sort of metaphysical questioning, I still believe that the novel is pointing toward the realities of injustice and exploitation, as you’ve all discussed above. You can’t go to Santa Teresa and expect not to be implicated in the crimes, or some attempt at their solution.
This approach to this book, through its poetics rather than through its politics, seems essential. If the novel were only a call to action, demanding that we “do something” about the crimes, it would surely be something quite different, would be a pamphlet in blazing red letters or a call-in radio show. Now that we’re reading something like a police procedural (in the next section,) I’m starting to appreciate the difficulties of the “pragmatic” approach to this subject a lot more. The clarion call alone would not be enough to change anyone’s mind; that kind of writing only separates us from the reality, sets us apart from it. We have to think about what it means to be human in a bigger sense in order to understand both the dream and the waking. If we could really understand it–maybe only then would we have a shot at changing how the world works.
All this by way of observing that throughout, both Oscars have been grappling with an attempt to make sense of, or to synthesize, the physical and the metaphysical–culminating at the end of this section in the successful rescue of Rosa Amalfitano. Could they have saved her if they’d been “men of action,” openly concerned with the outward manifestations of things in Santa Teresa? Wouldn’t we have seen some kind of Sam Peckinpah bloodbath if they’d gone in all macho and confrontational? The very dreaminess of their conduct seems to have disarmed the bad guys, both literally and figuratively.