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Seeing Darkness

México Noir: Rethinking the Dark in Contemporary Narrative and Photography

Abstracts

Cristina Rivera Garza (University of California San Diego): ‘Los materiales ajenos:escritura, oscuridad y muerte en el México de hoy’/ ‘Estranged Materials: Writing, Darkness and Death in Contemporary Mexico’. 

Los autores contemporáneos no sólo enfrentan el reto del creciente predominio de las tecnologías digitales en su quehacer sino que también encaran un contexto de precareidad social y violencia extrema al que Adriana Cavarero ha descrito adecuadamente con el término horrorismo. En tales circunstancias, es cada vez más difícil negar que los materiales con los que trabaja el escritor de hoy son, de entrada, materiales ajenos, es decir, materiales que llegan a la escritura desde y a través de otros, mediados por la presencia de una comunidad. Las estrategias de apropiación que caracterizan a una buena parte de la escritura de hoy—de la copia literal al tachado, de la excavación al reciclaje—han contribuido a conducir, en efecto, a una serie de voces desde el dominio de lo público hacia los circuitos de la literatura, conformando textos que retan la estricta diferenciación entre los géneros literarios. Sin embargo, será sólo a través de la desapropiación, a través de esa “desposesión sobre el domino de lo propio” que los materiales ajenos podrán poner en cuestión la naturalidad, o incluso la pertinencia, de la reintegración literaria. La desapropiación reconoce abiertamente el origen comunal del lenguaje y busca producir estrategias que, siendo estéticas, no olvidan el sustrato ético y comunitario del quehacer escritural. Propongo aquí el uso del término comunalidad—en la acepción propuesta por el antropólogo mixe Floriberto Díaz, como una definición material y espiritual mediada por el trabajo comunitario denominado como tequio—para repensar al trabajo de la escritura como un trabajo comunal con capacidad para producir pensamiento y práctica crítica.

John Kraniauskas (Birkbeck College, London): ‘Roberto Bolaño’s “2666”: as Noir and as Installation.’

In this paper I attempt to read Bolaños novel 2666 as a work of postconceptual literature. I do so in two ways: firstly, through an account of its deployment and staging of Duchamp’s notion of the ‘readymade’ – in which Kant’s ‘this is beautiful’ is supplanted with the apparently more rationalistic ‘this is art’; and secondly, by analysing the account of the ‘crimes’ depicted in the work as a kind of forensic installation or ‘resonance chamber’ in which the origins of capitalism are condensed, contained, and exhibited as permanent horror.

Gerardo Suter (Universidad Autónoma de Morelos): ‘Blink: The connectivity of Darkness and the conceptual framework of the expanded image’:

Theory is the result of a daily practice.

I understand darkness in two ways: in an indexical and in a narrative (also aesthetic) sense. Both are interrelated, but while the first occurs on the surface of the image and has a transparent effect on the viewer, the second one exists in a meta-place and is not easily recognized. It is true that much of my work has to do with darkness; I mainly work in black and white, and much more with black than with white, reinforcing the mood of the obscure, the bizarre, the unknown. This resource helps me in the construction of a narrative system that leads the viewer through the specific story. In this narrative sense, blackness is a space-time of disconnection. It is a void, or an interstice between the visible (audible or readable). Let’s have a look at a sky full of stars: a universe of tiny lights. When we raise our heads we establish a virtual connection between all these dots in the void. We trace lines in the darkness to model a system: we build constellations. In my work the viewer does the same, he uses darkness to establish possible connections. He works on the invisible to connect the visible. The blackness is an infinite place, like the Borgesian Aleph, a point that contains all possible points; or nothingness, that could be fullness at the same time.Those spatial or temporarily empty places are like blinks in a continuum. They are interstices of disconnection where the viewer can enter to fill the emptiness with his own experience. Paul Virilio talked of picnolepsy, an altered state of mind, a temporary disconnection that sometimes is related with glimpses of creativity. The principle of my thesis on the Expanded Image is that: in order to permit the expansion, there has to be a void. I call this void a blink. Within my conceptual framework, an image is a Technical Image, in the sense Vilém Flusser defined it. In this sort of images, I distinguish two particularities, one related to objectivity, and the other to subjectivity. And, to put it simply, the objective facet of the image is permanent and never changes, while the subjective aspect suffers continuous metamorphoses. In this logic, me as the producer, or the viewer as the consumer, load the images with subjectivity. At this stage of recreation of the image we may refine the narrative, and in the field of production, post-production or circulation, we can pull the image into the darkness.

José Luis Barrios (Iberoamericana, Mexico City): ‘Encuadres de la oscuridad y violencia inaudita en “Los detectives salvajes” de Roberto Bolaño y “Heli” de Amat Escalante’ / ‘Framing Darkness and Unspeakable Violence in Roberto Bolaño’s “The Savage Detectives” and Amat Escalante’s film “Heli”.

En el imaginario fotográfico, cinematográfico  y literario de la historia moderna de México la relación entre paisaje, rostro y mundo de habla ha funcionado como aparato ideológico y canon estético del modernismo y nacionalismo político y artístico. A  través de la instrumentallización de éstos recursos artísticos se produce una reificación de la naturaleza y la alteridad que en su sublimación es violencia estétcia sobre lo otro. En este contexto, la conferencia "Encuadres de la oscuridad y violencia inaudita" en Los Detectives Salvajes de Roberto Bolaño y Heli de Amat Escalante" analiza el modo en que el uso del caligrama en la novela de Roberto Bolaño y el encuadre y la toma en el film de Amat Escalante son estrategías estético-críticas donde se muestra la modernidad como violencia histórica en México. En ellos el rostro, el paisaje y el lenguaje son contrainvestimientos a través de los cuales se perfora el imaginario subllime mexicano y se muestra la violencia de lo Real.

Geoffrey Kantaris (Cambridge University) ‘Techno-noir in the Borderlands: Alex Rivera’s Sleep Dealer (2008)’

Sleep Dealer (Alex Rivera, 2008) is a dystopian science fiction film that borrows many elements from the techno-noir genre. With allusions to the plots of the neo-noir Chinatown (Polanski, 1974) and the techno-noir Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982), it is largely set on the Mexican side of a future sealed border between Mexico and the USA, at a time when the country’s water resources and air space are controlled by a US private military-industrial corporation, migrant labour is disembodied or “immaterial”, and “affect” is commodified in the form of simulated embodied experiences bought and sold over a future Internet called TruNode. This paper examines the relationship between the film’s representation of geopolitical financial crime, virtual migration, disembodied warfare and the biopolitics of affect, in order to understand the continued ability of noir tropes to generate a politics of the present.

Elsa Treviño (Cambridge University): ‘Basta de Luz!: Configurations of Revelatory Darkness in Guadalupe Nettel’s “El huésped” (2006), Ignacio Padilla’s “Espiral de artillería” (2003) and Jorge Volpi’s “Oscuro bosque oscuro” (2009)’

This paper discusses the dark as a form of revelation in twenty-first-century Mexican fiction. It proposes an exploration of three distinct configurations of the dark in contemporary narrative: the metaphor of blindness in Guadalupe Nettel’s El huésped (2006); the noir aesthetic of hidden and secluded spaces in Ignacio Padilla’s Espiral de artillería (2003); and the trope of the gloomy and haunted forest in Jorge Volpi’s Oscuro bosque oscuro (2009). This analysis suggests that these seemingly disparate novels use darkness and hindered vision to articulate a contemporary preoccupation with self- and social-knowledge in a context often portrayed as uncertain and precarious. Evoking notions of the Freudian uncanny, the dark in these texts pre-empts the revelation of something that is hidden, “kept from sight,” not only from others, but from the self as well. By placing darkness at their core, these novels dwell on instances in which the unsettling of the familiar and the known hints at the existence of alternative, shadowy paths to knowledge and truth. This paper shows that, through the tensions between darkness and revelation, these works meditate on the possibility of clarity in the midst of uncertainty, displaying an indecisive balance between hopefulness and futility. In the commonalities of their texts, Nettel, Padilla and Volpi could be betraying a shared generational perception of literature as a privileged form of knowing in which the dark is the route to unlikely, imperfect illumination.