Saturday 16 July 2022


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The Iliac Crest by Cristina Rivera Garza (translated by Sarah Booker)   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
“Disappearance is contagious. Everyone knows this.” What is known, what is written, what is uttered, what is achieved immediately begins to be eroded through that onslaught of words, thoughts and experiences that constitutes what we think of as the passage of time. To hold on to one’s identity is, in such circumstances, a neurotic tendency, the invocation of a threat. “We are always prepared for the appearance of fear. We lie in wait for it. We invoke it and reject it with equal stubbornness.” The narrator in The Iliac Crest is a doctor in a hospital, situated on the border of land and sea as it is on the border of life and death, which expedites the deaths of incurables, completing, as thoroughly as possible, their disappearances as individuals. Disappearance is here both a medical and a political condition. After working at the hospital for 25 years, the doctor’s home is effectively colonised, almost simultaneously, by an ex-lover, who immediately falls ill and becomes effectively inaccessible to the doctor for the rest of the novel, and by a woman claiming to be the (actual) Mexican author Amparo Dávila, who is writing 'the story of her disappearance' in a notebook. From the evening of their intrusion upon his previous routine, from the intrusion upon his habitual life of both memory and imagination, the doctor’s world begins to become destabilised, ultimately threatening his identity and sanity. Language is the way in which borders and distinctions are maintained, but language is also the way in which borders may be destabilised and subverted. The book displays constant tension between language and bodies, between the conceptual and the physical, between construction and erosion. There is an emphasis on borders and distinctions, especially spurious borders and distinctions, and on the subversion of these borders and distinctions. On a conceptual field there is more distance within a category than between one category and another, but the distance within categories is invisible to those intent upon borders between them. But all borders are arbitrary and therefore spurious: male/female, reality/fiction, desire/fear, fascination/repulsion, eros/abjection - these pairings are not dichotomies but overlays, more similar than they are different. Maintaining these distinctions is a compulsive act that reveals the neurotic bases of language. Rivera Garza has a lot of fun undermining distinctions, dragging the contents of her novel over them in one direction or another, or, especially, leaving them suspended on the polyvalent point of maximum ambiguity, “this threshold where one state ended and the next is unable to begin.” The characters show themselves to be, and discover themselves to be, copies, false copies, copies separated from their originals by time or by the meanings attributed to them by others. Amparo Dávila, transgressing the border between fiction and actuality, is forced to defend her authenticity and authorship when made aware of another, older, ‘truer’ Amparo Dávila (who eventually reveals herself to be dead, to be Disappearance itself). The narrator is told by the women who are staying in his house that they know his secret: that he too is a woman. He strenuously denies this but is compelled to keep checking his genitals to reassure himself, increasingly unconvincingly he tries and fails to defend his masculinity, and eventually ceases to deny her femaleness. The narrator is pushed by the events of the novel into an ambiguous zone in which distinctions do not apply, a zone which is both hazardous and liberating. “We lived on terrain that bore only a very remote resemblance to life. Our irreality and our lack of evidence not only constituted a prison but also a radical form of freedom.” 

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