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Coatlicue redux

Those who played along for the first installment of Infinite Summer may recall my post about the weird little reference in Infinite Jest to something dubbed the Coatlicue complex. Well, Coatlicue makes an oblique return in Bolaño’s novel in the form of the Virgin of Guadalupe, whom we see depicted in a mural in Charly Cruz’s garage. Wikipedia (I know, I always cite wikipedia; I’m lazy) suggests that some take the Virgin of Guadalupe to be a simplification of the Coatlicue myth. I don’t know that the Coatlicue baggage would really benefit Bolaño’s story very much, so I’m not going to lean too heavily on the vague association, but I was amused to discover the connection.

The story of the Virgin of Guadalupe does seem at least somewhat relevant to our story, though. In a nutshell, the story goes that one Juan Diego was out for a stroll one day 400 or 500 years ago when he spotted a vision of a 15- or 16-year-old girl in a nimbus of light who asked to have a church built in the area in her honor. Somehow, Diego figured out based on her request that she was the Virgin Mary. When he went to the bishop with the news, the bishop (ever the skeptical lot, those old religious folk) asked Diego to return and ask for a miracle to prove her identity. She told Diego to gather some flowers (though it was wintertime) on the hill where they met. He found some Castillian roses (indigenous to the bishop’s home but not the immediate locale). She then arranged the flowers for him on his cloak, which he presented to the bishop only to have the Virgin’s image appear on the cloth of his cloak.

This icon is of great importance to Mexican Catholics.

For our purposes, I suppose it’s worth noting that we’re talking about the ghost of a young woman roaming about Mexico. If the Coatlicue angle contributes anything at all, it’s also worth noting that Coatlicue is a mother goddess associated with life, death, and rebirth.

It’s also interesting to note, given the lack of much in the way of first-hand physical evidence of the person Archimboldi, that the existence of Juan Diego, in spite of his being integral to such an important piece of Mexican religion and culture, is heavily disputed.

Cruz’s painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe differs from the original icon in that it has one eye closed. On page 348, Bolaño brings up blind justice, and I can’t help drawing an association with this image, except that instead of blind justice, the image, in light of the negative portrayal of the police in this section and coming up and the fact that hundreds of murders of young women have gone unsolved, somehow represents justice closing one eye, looking the other way. And what better place for such an image than the garage of a man who displays a film associating violent (maybe nonconsensual) sex and death, a house in which Rosa Amalfitano later speculates her friend Rosa Mendez (a convenient sort of pre-double representing what Rosa A. seems destined to become) is probably dead.

As Fate is rescuing Rosa from her friend’s probable future fate by taking her away from Cruz’s house, he gets another look at the mural and notices that the open eye seems to follow him everywhere. Interestingly, some photographers and ophthalmologists have reported seeing figures reflected in the eyes of the original icon of the Virgin of Guadalupe. This, of course, is considered further proof of the miracle. But for us, maybe it means something different, that just as we can see justice (or a saint of virginhood, if you prefer) watching us, if we look closely enough, we can see ourselves reflected there, somehow implicated. We’re all, through our inaction, through our complacence, by indulging in art void of meaning or reference to social justice (take Johns’s selling of his body for money rather than for a higher purpose) — we’re all somehow culpable.

Maybe. I don’t know. I’m still noodling on it.

That we meet another character named Guadalupe who bears the heavy weight of the murders seems not insignificant. That she and Fate share an interest in finding out more — in doing something besides settling for inaction and complacence, something that I take to be a mission of Bolaño’s in this book as well — underscores the happy naming congruence.

Also of possible note is the fact that Spain has a Lady of Guadalupe as well. In that story, a virgin appeared to a shepherd and asked him to dig at the site of her appearance. When he did, he found a sacred statue. This virgin is one of only a few black representations of the Virgin Mary and so shares with Fate the privilege of being something of a rare specimen. The existence of virgins of Guadalupe on different continents with which Bolaño not only had ties but which figured in this novel and had been home to Rosa Amalfitano seems relevant given all the doubling in the book and its transnational porousness.

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  1. March 1, 2010 at 12:51 am

    “This icon is of great importance to Mexican Catholics.” That is an understatement, Daryl.

    I choose to believe that the Virgin in the garage was winking at Fate on the way in and the way out, the Virgin of color blessing a man of color in his endeavors. This seems perfectly appropriate because the Virgin of Guadalupe has historically blessed violence many times.

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