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Femicide Machine and The Iguana 43

By Richard Marshall.

The Femicide Machine, Sergio González Rodríguez , Translated by Michael Parker-Stainback, Semiotext(e), 2012.

The Iguala 43, Sergio González Rodríguez , Translated by Joshua Neuhouser, Semiotext(e), 2015

A Mexican businesswoman who headed a group of 600 families searching for their disappeared relatives has been killed.

[BBC News, 13th May, 2017]

Sergio Gonzalez Rodriguez wrenches us into a universe of unsurpassed transgression, of unintelligibility, of Shakespeare’s poetic tribunal of desolation and manic genocidal perversions, where Macbeth’s chilling ‘nothing’ is everything. Read this, at the near end of ‘The Femicide Machine’ about Alejandra, spoken by her mother.

‘ Who pays for all this if the killers and the ones who protect her go free? They kidnapped my daughter, like so many other girls, right off the street.
They beat her.
They tied her hands.
They raped her.
They tortured her.
They mutilated her while she was alive.
They burned her with cigarettes.
They killed her by strangling her until she asphyxiated.
And they threw her into a vacant lot like she was garbage.
Alejandra.
I looked at her in her coffin and I almost didn’t recognize her: she who had had such a pretty, long neck was now like a hunchback, sunk down into her shoulders. They broke her. She faced an inhuman death all alone. She was just on her way home, like so many other girls.’

Figure this: according to Mexico Evalua, there were 101,000 homicides of all types in Mexico between 2006 and 2012. That’s the same as casualties in the wars of Iraq and the Balkans. We are at the very limit; Iguala is Nahautl for ‘when the night settles down.’ Rodriguez writes towards the heart of this night, towards a ‘collective shame, the extreme impunity, the perverse vertigo’ of the reality that he imagines again and again with images that ‘intertwine with deep vectors or infintisimal, destructive lines: a rainy, impoverished city; irregular asphelt streets lined by walls sticky with the smell of fried food, gasoline and motor oil; the iron and steel of doorways and weapons; flesh violated by lethal bullets… Some run, others trip and fall to their knees in the thick mud or pause in the face of imminent death. And in their mouths is the thirst of the irreversible…’

The world Rodriguez reveals is unimaginable, loveless, unintelligible, a world framed by a 0.1% plutocratic capitalist causality of a territorial power machine that includes, amongst other damned things – ‘… the precarious peso, the economic weakness of the country’s interior and the escalating social tensions… the weight of the united States; its geopolitical interests, the use of its war machine on the pretext of wars on drug trafficking and terrorism, its incessant demand for drugs…’ It is a space which back in 1998 Roderiguez had already identified as a state of ‘borderization’, of a Mexico where, ‘ … everything is becoming a border, a twilight zone in which anything can happen. A border that, in spite of the best efforts of civil society and institutions to find a dignified and viable means of coexistence, spreads like a scourge of crime, impunity, the loss of respect for life, the disappearance of persons as an industry of extermination… Empires – like nation-states – become decadent when they become unable to guarantee the integrity of their sovereignty and their territory. In recent years – due to ancestral inequality, the disaster of the globalised economy, the fall of the authoritarian presidency, the slow institution of a new political system of the drug trafficking boom, police and judicial corruption and the migration of workers – Mexico’s borders have suffered from a series of perverse effects that tie together a multi-faceted erosion of everything from the national contract to public security.’

Apuleius of Madaura’s squared figure introduces us to another borderland. It presents the notion of the indefinite term, the borderline term, as a single thing. It is an axiom of Aristotle’s argument (in ‘On Interpretation’) from which his principle of bivalence and the law of the excluded middle flows. Bivalence stipulates that a proposition is by necessity either true or false. The law of the excluded middle states that where two statements contradict each other ‘ it is always necessary for one to be true and the other false.’ This classical picture was drawn by Apuleius. Draw a square. Place top corner right; ‘Every pleasure is good’. Place top corner left; ‘Every pleasure is not good’. Place bottom corner left; ‘Some pleasures are good.’ Place bottom corner left; ‘Some pleasures are not good.’ The top corners are contraries, they can’t both be true. The bottom corners can both be true but cannot both be false. Call these the subcontraries. Diagonals from the top left to the bottom right and from top left to bottom right are also contradictions.

Now mix in new contraries. To the top line add, ‘non’ to subjects and predicates. The new contraries to ‘Every pleasure is good’ becomes ‘Every non-pleasure is good’ and ‘Every pleasure is non-good.’ It’s the start of the indefinite term: ‘ … I do not call ‘non-man’ [to anonymon] a name but an indefinite name- for what it signifies is in a way one thing, but indefinite – just as I do not call ‘non-recover’ [or ‘not recovers’ or ‘does not recover’] a verb but an indefinite verb’ writes Aristotle. Return to the square. Top left corner put ‘man is just’. Top right corner place its contrary ‘man is non-just.’ Bottom corner left place; ‘ Man is not non-just’. Bottom corner right place; ‘ Man is not just.’ The diagonals will pick out contradictions of the top left and bottom right, and top right and bottom left. (ie ‘man is just – man is not just’ and ‘man is non-just – man is not non-just’). But now consider placing the non before the subjects as well as the predicates. If non-names are admitted then the distinction between non and not is admitted. A ‘non-man’ is not the same as a ‘not man’. ‘Man is just’ is different from both ‘Man is not just’ and ‘Non man is just.’ ‘Man is just’ is contrary to ‘man is not just’ but not to ‘non man is just.’ But ‘Man is non just’ seems to imply equivalence to ‘ man is not just.’ The distinction between not possessing a property (e.g. ‘not happy’) and possessing a non-property (‘unhappy’) creates borderline indefinite terms Aristotle glosses without argument as: ‘ What an indefinite name [or noun] signifies is, in some manner, a single thing.’ With this he introduces terms such as ‘non-existent’, ‘non man’ as some kind of things, a a something that remains obscure but of a nature ‘of some manner’. The extraordinary Daniel Heller-Roazen writes (and throughout I follow his guide):

‘ … the word ‘indefinite’ constitutes less the name of a concept than the index of the difficulty, which troubles the theory of terms, sentences, and the regularities of truth and falsity that are to hold between forms of stated opposition.’

The world of Rodriquez is one where the difficulties of truth and falsity are extreme and generalizing. The borderization of the Mexico is becoming the default state of much of the demoralizing, degenerating states – including vast swathes of the USA as well as the obvious deranged, broken and rapidly disintegrating basket cases. Behind the systematic and the regularities lie unenclosed, limitless and boundless regions, where the border is a lurking, spreading aoriston, Hobbes’ ‘ground unset with bounds’. The vanishing of the definite contours of a state have, like the indefinite terms of logical form, nevertheless acquired a definite position on the territorial global map. Roderiguez has systematically and tirelessly worked to achieve this and behind this asks the lurking question, ‘what does this borderisation, this indefiniteness, mean?’ Rodriguez presents our contemporary world as negative, chimerical, imaginable, knowable, real, impossible, imaginary, a crisis of privations and indefiniteness that swirl around inside atrocities as a vast awful thing ‘in some manner’.

The Semiotext(e) blurb for his ‘Femicide Machine’ gives us contours for what has to be grasped, and why it’s difficult to say anything more than just repeat Roderiguez. It struck me that perhaps the best reviews would just transcribe the books in silence. It then struck me to try and find a way of understanding the ontology of this ‘whirlwind of the dead’, as Juan Rulfo writes.

‘In Ciudad Juarez, a territorial power normalized barbarism. This anomalous ecology mutated into a femicide machine: an apparatus that didn’t just create the conditions for the murders of dozens of women and little girls, but developed the institutions that guarantee impunity for those crimes and even legalize them. A lawless city sponsored by a State in crisis. The facts speak for themselves. — from ‘The Femicide Machine’ best known to American readers for his cameo appearances as The Journalist in Roberto Bolano’s ‘2666’ and as a literary detective in Javier Marias’s novel ‘Dark Back of Time’, Sergio Gonzalez Rodriguez is one of Mexico’s most important contemporary writers. He is the author of ‘Bones in the Desert’, the most definitive work on the murders of women and girls in Juarez, Mexico, as well as ‘The Headless Man’, a sharp meditation on the recurrent uses of symbolic violence; ‘Infectious’, a novel; and ‘Original Evil’, a long essay. ‘The Femicide Machine’ is the first book by Gonzalez Rodriguez to appear in English translation. Written especially for Semiotext(e) Intervention series, ‘The Femicide Machine’ synthesizes Gonzalez Rodriguez’s documentation of the Juarez crimes, his analysis of the unique urban conditions in which they take place, and a discussion of the terror techniques of narco-warfare that have spread to both sides of the border. The result is a gripping polemic. ‘The Femicide Machine’ probes the anarchic confluence of global capital with corrupt national politics and displaced, transient labor.’

The ‘Iguala 43’ blurb goes:

‘The word “corruption” is insufficient for the magnitude of this evil. — from ‘The Iguala 43’. On the night of September 26th, 2014, policemen attacked a group of student protestors in the Mexican town of Iguala. Forty-three of these students were then kidnapped and turned over to criminals who allegedly tortured and murdered them, and then burned their corpses. The families of the victims refused to accept the official story, which placed all blame on local actors and absolved the federal government of any culpability. The anger provoked by this atrocity, one of the most barbaric acts in recent times, divided Mexican society in two: on one side were those who unwaveringly supported the cause of the students and on the other those who accepted the government’s “historic truth.” Written in memory of the forty-three students, this well-researched and powerfully argued book uncovers the agents, causes, and factors responsible for this unspeakable crime. It offers an interpretation of these events that goes beyond the artificial opposition between good and evil, between rulers and insurgents, and tries instead to understand the cruelty that normalizes atrocity. Gonzalez Rodriguez warns us that “this story has been repeated around the world, but we refuse to see it. If anyone doubts or denies this, then I challenge them to finish this book. When faced with the acceptance of horror, we must recover our lucidity and exercise our freedom to transform this tragic reality.”

What kind of reality is this that is actual and yet is nothing to the world? Aristotle has three types of absent things according to H.A. Wolfson. There is the absence of negation. This is for example involved in ‘The wall does NOT see.’ Seeing here is denied to the nominal subject ‘the wall’ by placing ‘not’ before the predicate. Then there is the negation of ‘privation’. This is the absence involved in the sentence, ‘The blind man doesn’t see.’ It signifies the absence of a property in the subject which in some sense the subject has been deprived of having. The subject in cases of privationis positively lacking a property. Aristotle writes: ‘… privation and possession are spoken of in connection with the same thing, for example sight and blindness in connection with the eye.’ And there is the third type of absent thing, which is neither negation nor privation. This is where we use terms such as ‘non-seeing’ and ‘non-blind’. This third type is ill defined and Aristotle leaves all three types obscure and blurry. ‘The question may therefore be raised whether according to Aristotle the term ‘not-seeing’ [or ‘non-seeing’] could be predicated of a wall’ comments Wolfson. And Heller-Roazen adds to the confusion by pointing out that distinctions of grammar and logicmay diverge and obscure exactly what type of absence one is confronting. In English the suffix ‘less’ seem to attach to privations, whilst other terms that designate privations look positive in form yet name privations, such as ‘bald’, ‘blind’ and ‘deaf.’ Heller-Roazen comments; ‘ … absence comes in many kinds, all of which leave their traces on words.’

Aristotle enigmatically assumed as an axiom that absence attached itself to thingness. Rodriquez identifies the absence of justice, acknowledgment and truth in his borderland Mexico. It is a world that requires that the non-justice, non-acknowledgement and non-truth are given thingness. They are part of a vast something where atrocities are bred. The work is to assert that absence exists, that absence is a thing traced in blood, obscene graves and murder. What we need is to confront apophasis, negation, done in the name of the supertranscendental anonymity [‘non-man’ – ‘to anonymon’] that stalks the Mexican borderlands and elsewhere in our world. We need to cross-fertilise the border of something and nothing. Seventeenth century Iberian scholar Miguel Vinas is our extreme destination of this journey.

Returning first to Aristotle, he introduced us to ‘transcendental’ terms that have wound themselves around the heart of metaphysical thinking ever since. By the time Aquinas got there there were six fundamental terms. These were terms that were to take us to the very ground of everything, the very bottom. Lorenzo Valla was a medieval scholar who in his ‘Dialectical Disputations’ took to reploughing logic and did so by revising these basic terms. Instead of the basic six – ‘ ‘being, something, thing, one, true, and good [ens, aliquid, res, unum, verum, bonum]’ he wanted to drill down further to identify ‘the emperor and king of them all…’ What he knew of his contemporaries (and we may find affinities in our own time) ‘Being’ was the obvious candidate. What was ‘being’ except the word that designated ‘that which is.’ Here we are, confronting something ultimate in the Mexican borderlands, a moment like in Cimino’s flawed masterwork ‘The Dear Hunter’ when de Niro condenses the whole’s meaning into the immortal ‘ This is this’ line.

But Valla objects: if ‘being’ means ‘that which is’ then he asks what is that ‘that’? To answer we might return to the original list and say: ‘something’ [aliquid]. Yet Valla is not content with ‘something’ either, arguing that ‘something’ can be broken down to mean ‘some’ and ‘ thing’ [aliqua res]. So Valla rests his ground for meaning with ‘res’, ‘thing’. For Valla, ‘thing’ constitutes, according to Fosca Mariani Zini, ‘ a function of signification, which assures a minimal unit of reference.’

The early modern period saw this supremacy of ‘thingness’ draw also from classical Arabic culture and the development of a new kind of mathematics treating a quantity that is unknown in itself but defined in its relation to others when calculated. Muhammed ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi named this ‘al-jabr’ and of course the name has stuck. But this idea of an unknown thing that nevertheless can be subjected to calculation brought new resonance to the term ‘res’, and takes us closer to grasping the ‘unknown’ horrifying us in Rodriguez’s texts. ‘Res’ became the ‘unknown’ from the beginning of the thirteenth century and ‘Cosa’ brought this notion into the vernacular by the end of the fifteenth century via Luca Pacioli’s ‘Summa de Arithmetica’ of 1494. The unknown entity becomes the cross-fertiliser of early modern algebra and medieval metaphysics.

So now we start to engage with the issue of nothing being real. Francisco Suarez’s ‘Metaphysical Disputations’ of 1597 raises the issue of what is the ‘adequate object.’ He determines that it is not ‘being insofar as it is being’ but ‘being insofar as it is real being.’ This takes metaphysics further out than before. Where before first philosophy concerned itself with what exists in actuality ‘in the most fully realized sense of the term’, Suarez was taking it further, taking in ‘possible essences’, things which are not actual but nevertheless possess an intrinsic aptitude to exist. These are things that can exist in the rational mind, that can be thought even though they fail to have natures that could exist in any sense, either potentially or actually. This is ‘represented being’ or ‘known being’, ‘beings of reason’ which have ‘being only objectively in the intellect.’ ‘Logical intentions’ are examples of these things, as well as fictional beings such as the ‘flying ox’ and ‘Nosferatu’.

What else has this minimal mode of being? ‘Not being a man’, ‘being a non-man’ were accepted by Aristotle as being capable of being truly affirmed. ‘ A non-being is a non-being’ is for Aristotle a true proposition. Suarez thought that if this was agreed then a sentence of the form‘ Nosferatu is a non-being’ is also true, even though it refers to a couple of ‘beings of reason’ and nothing else, even though they are not ‘ …true real beings, because they are not capable of real and true existence, nor do they have any likeness with real beings’. ‘Real being’ and ‘rational being’ held the concept of existence apart even though they shared the commonality of a shared name.

Contemporaries and near-contemporaries drew on Avicenna’s ‘Metaphysics’ to dispute this separation. Henry of Ghent and Francis of Marchia, and earlier Walter Burley, developed the idea of ‘maximally transcendent’ being, being that is ‘ common to everything that is intelligible and identical with the adequate object of the intellect.’ The ‘maximally transcendent’ was thought of as being objectively in the intellect, distinct from being actual or possible.

By the sixteenth century the Spaniard Domingo de Soto introduced the notion of the ‘supertranscendental’ which went beyond the distinction between ‘real beings’ and ‘beings of reason’ and claimed commonality with both. Imaginability was the tool that did this: if anything could be imagined then for de Soto it had being. Pedro de Fonseca in his ‘Disputations’ extended this idea that anything imaginable had being. He proposed a ‘something’ that included anything you could speak of or think about, regardless of whether it lay in or out of the mind. Anything opinionable, thinkable and apprehensible fell within this vast ‘something.’ Here was a ‘something’ that went further than anything proposed by Philip the Chancellor, Aquinas, Duns Scotus and Suarez, where transcendental properties were limited to actuality and potentiality. This ‘something’ held both being and non-being, real and fictitious, possible and impossible.

The ‘supertranscendental supersomething’ was important to seventeenth century logic and metaphysics. John P Doyle writes of this:

‘Antonio Bernaldo de Quiros (1613-68) thinks that logic prescinds from real being and being of reason, and in this context he refers to ‘loveable (amabile), ‘knowable’ (cognoscibile) and ‘intelligible’ as terms which are supertranscendent. Richard Lynch (1610-1676) does the same and adds ‘imaginable’ and ‘willable’ (volibile) to his list. Silvester Mauro (1619-1687) uses ‘super-transcendental’ as synonymous with ‘intelligible ‘ and ‘knowable’ (cognoscibile) which he says includes impossible things and ‘nothing itself’ (ipsum nihil). In 1674, the French Jesuit Andre Semery dedicates a portion of his logic course to these terms, his examples being ‘intelligible,’ ‘knowable’, and ‘thinkable’… ‘ The adequate object of the intellect, he tells us, is not transcendental being but rather super-transcendental being, which includes the impossible as well as the possible. Prior to the impossible and the possible, supertranscendental being equates with ‘something’ in the broadest sense, and is the equivalent of simply being an object of understanding.’

What these and other philosophers contended was that alongside the imagination there were several other ways to access the supertranscendental, including the will, love and desire. And these ideas were not found just in the Church and schools but bled into the vernacular of the times. Paris, 1638, saw Jean Salabert writing:

‘ There exist … transcendental terms… being, thing, one, true, good, perfect, possible and those like them…Moreover there are some terms that are called supertranscendental because they are attributed not only to real and positive terms, but even those that are negative, fictitious, and chimerical, such as ‘intelligible’, ‘imaginable’, ‘knowable’, ‘imaginery’,. Thus one may say, ‘The chimera is intelligible’…’Privation is knowable.’ In our French language, we attribute this term ‘thing’ not only to true things, but even to signs, privations, and impossible things, for we often say, ‘that’s an imaginary thing’, ‘that’s an impossible thing’ . The word ‘thing’ is therefore a supertranscendental term.’

As we contemplate the unimaginable, the impossible, the inconceivable via the dark texts of Rodriguez we inevitably ask whether these also may be granted the same metaphysical status as their affirmatives. If ‘intelligible’ is granted ontological status then can not its negative also be granted such? The seventeenth century raised exactly this question.

Silvester Mauro raised the issue and responded by saying that given that ‘intelligible’ and ‘knowable’ can be affirmed of everything, both being and no-being, then what would its indefinite double ‘unintelligible’ and ‘unknowable’ signify? Transcendental terms, according to this, were not subjects of indefinite doubling. To do so would be to be self-refuting. Jose Aguilar agreed when he wrote: ‘ Know that super-transcendental terms may not be infinitated’ and no subject was ‘non-knowable.’ (We’re back to the Aristotlelian square – ‘infinitated’ means you can affix ‘non’ to a term. Denying supertranscendental terms infinitation was a way of restricting the scope of its negation and thus its meaning. )

Richard Lynch disagreed. ‘If per impossible it were the case that there were an infinity of concepts, of which none were being, taken with however greater universality, non imaginable, or non willable, then certainly each of these concepts would be non-being, and each would be something non-imaginable and non-willable.’ This move takes us towards the far reaches: things without being, unimaginable and unwillable. And a different reason motivated a similar conclusion for Antonio Bernaldo de Quiros. He noted that Aristotle wrote that ‘non-being is non-being’ and ‘the non-existent is the non-existent.’ So even if we can’t know the non-intelligible directly we can indirectly via its application to the non-existence, which is nothing.

[Sergio Gonzalez Rodriguez]

And this extremity is defended best by Miguel Vinas (1642-1713) working in first Peru and then Santiago, Chile. In his Philosophia Scholastica he dissects ‘intelligible’ to find out whether ‘unintelligible’ can be something. He considers Boethius arguing that ‘non man’ takes away the meaning of ‘man’. What is signified afterwards is everything other than ‘man.’ Arguing analogously, someone might likewise argue that ‘non-intelligible’ takes away everything that ‘intelligible’ means and conclude of what is left that ‘ there is nothing that non-intelligible can signify.’ But Vinas regards this as a mstake. There may still be something other than the absence of intelligible left over: ‘What is represented by the term ‘non-intelligible’ is as such neither true nor false but simply diverse from the meaning of the term “intelligible”.’ Heller-Roazen glosses this: Even if a mistake such representation would still have positive properties.

What of ‘knowable’? Can there be anything left for ‘non-knowable’ except a self contradiction? Vinas’s argument is reminiscent of the algebraic notion of the unknown object that nevertheless can be represented even if only obliquely via relations with other known items: ‘ … the term ‘non-knowable’ represents some object, which is in fact knowable, it does not represent it as knowable, but rather as distinct from what is represented by the term ‘knowable.’’ Vinas argues that even as the senses of non-intelligibility increase it ‘… continues to signify, without, however, signifying anything that can be either actual or possible. It points, in diverse ways, to the being of a false representation: something hybrid or confused, which partakes, impossibly, yet not inconceivably, of quiddity and inexistence’, as Heller-Roazen explains .

John P Doyle calls Vinas’s work ‘a kind of philosophical Finisterre of metaphysics, a point which thinking runs up against ‘ an extrinsic boundary for what can be signified and expressed.’ Vinas’s understanding of ‘non-intelligible’ ‘… negates not only all existing things, but also all possible things, and even more strikingly, all impossible things, however one conceives or reaches them or it.’ The outer limits of metaphysics is here recalled in the cold apoplexy of the Mexican limits limned by Roderiguez.

First philosophy’s persistent query is about what is its proper and adequate subject. There was a four-fold hierarchy in place in around the sixteenth century: firstly, the highest of all real being; then the incorporeal substance; then the real being and finally the vast something of supertranscendentalism, taken to the limit by Vinas at the end of his earth. Was the German Calvinist Clemens Timpler reaching even further, adding a fifth element, when he suggested that ‘nothing’ is intelligible and an ontological fixture? Leibniz rests his own metaphysical foundations on five such foundational objects, the single supertranscendental ‘something’ that includes nothing. Leibniz writes:

‘[G]eneral science is nothing other than the science of the universal Thinkable as such… Ontology, or the Science of Something and Nothing, being and Non-Being, the Thing and the Mode of the Thing, Substance and Accident.’ Here we find the cornerstone of what Kant called ‘ the highest concept with which one is accustomed to begin a transcendental philosophy,’ which is, ‘ … the division between “something” and “nothing.”’ But as Kant argues, ‘ Since every division presupposes a concept that is to be divided, a still higher one must be given, and this is the concept of an object in general, taken problematically, leaving undecided whether it is something or nothing.’ Kant is closer to the Iberian Scholastics than the Leibnizean disciples like Baumgarten he engaged with. His ‘object in general’ is, as Heller-Roazen says, ‘… like the ‘non-intelligible’, or the ‘non-knowable’, and straddles the divide between what can and will and what cannot and will not be. To conceive of such an ‘object’, one must envisage a single condition of being something and nothing, at once in disjunction and in conjunction.’ A limit of representation leans against a requirement to represent it.

The perversity of a limit is that it is both the first and the last: here, Kant envisages a limit concept, the ‘object in general’ that names the last determinable and the first non-determinable, a midnight concept from which all others are to be deduced. This is the murderous nightmare kingdom where terms ‘signify nothing’ from everything. Here is Macbeth’s demonic object, a world of something and nothing, being and non-being, thing and the mode of the thing, substance and accident, an object that is possible and impossible, an algebraic emptiness facing an infinite judgment.

By writing about terrible absences Rodriguez has written about everything.

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First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, May 14th, 2017.