Mexican Eyegiene: Photography and the Novel in the Work of Cristina Rivera-Garza and Flor Garduño
“Matilda is constructing her paradise,” Cristina Rivera-Garza writes, and I am filled with dread. Rivera-Garza, like Vladimir Nabokov and Eduardo Galeano, and, like Luis Buñuel, devil sinematographer, is an arch-fiend of cruel irony and the “paradise” that her words etch onto our psyche will prove to be as comforting as “asylum” is in No One Will See Me Cry—that is, no comfort at all (218). “There are no eyes,” she continues, “fewer and fewer things to say.”
There are many details, but there is no plot at all to guide them or stop them or give them meaning. The ether, the façade of the theater, three stars crowning the waning quarter of the moon, the smile of a stranger, fragments of broken dolls. Nothing has significance…Tautology is the queen of her heart.”
We need assistance here. The Oxford Dictionary lends a hand: “Tautology, ORIGIN mid 16th cent.: via late Latin from Greek, from tautologos ‘repeating what has been said,’ from tauto- ‘same’ + -logos (see -logy ).” A “world of no eyes” lands Matilda in a vertiginous abyss of repetition, “a wristwatch is a wristwatch. A silk tunic is a silk tunic. The desert is just the desert.”
Stasis. Nothing moves. And as Matilda moves inexorably toward her mad fate, her decades-long imprisonment in a Mexican home for the insane, we move along with her, blindfolded, mumbling repetitions, trying to emerge from the labyrinth of mirrors (too many eyes and too much “I”) where Rivera-Garza, cruel and beautiful Cyclops leaves us.
Equally savvy, devilishly ironic, Flor Garduño treats us to a similar universe with her camera. Our eyes look quickly, somewhere and they see Gabriella in Gabriella (Mexico 1999)—we come face to face with beauty and sentience and mystery: is the veil an accessory, an adornment, or, perhaps, a shield, a means to a veiling that intends to hide a secret.
But the eyes cannot stop, Garduño’s prints exert a gentle but insistant gravity and so, no tautology, Gabriella reveals more as Gabriella reveals more—they are not the same thing--the model is not the work; the work is not the model.
Gabriella reveals Gabriella’s breasts or, again, not a tautology, Gabriella reveals Gabriella’s breasts. And, of course, tautology or not, both statements come up short because it is Garduño’s camera that has made this encounter possible, Garduño’s eye or eyes as well. And then there's the problem of the model, Gabriella, who is, as the introduction to Garduño's Inner Light tells us, more an actress than a posed mannequin; more an agent than a statue.
And, lest we forget, Rivera-Garza’s writing hand and eye for eyes must come on stage now for a bow: without Matilda, without the tragedy of her captivity outside witnessing, without voyeur, in a place where “there are no eyes,” would we have been able to have seen Gabriella and Gabriella at all.
The paradox of a novel that teaches us to see a photograph and of a book of photographs that will, like Rivera-Garza’s novel, change the way we see Mexico forever.
Rivera-Garza, Cristina. No One Will See Me Cry (Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press, 2003.
Garduño, Flor. Inner Light: Still Lifes and Nudes (Boston: Bulfinch/Little Brown, 2002).