Civil Wars: The Mother of all Oxymorons

I wrote briefly yesterday about Horacio Castellanos Moya’s novel, Senselessness. It’s difficult to describe, because so much of it is below the surface, though it still hits you in the mouth. The bulk of this very short novel is the narrator’s struggle with his ego, with the things that bother him, with his mounting anxieties, like the smelly feet of a beautiful lover, or the likelihood that her boyfriend will beat the hell out of him, or that a sinister general might do something far worse.

He finds poetry in the words of the K’iche’ Indians (among other Mayan tribes), who have suffered through near genocide and are caught between opposing armies. He relates their horrors almost in a matter of fact way, unable to directly tie what they went through to the overall injustice and the political situation in Guatemala at the time. He almost doesn’t need to. The description of the action is enough. We almost don’t need the narrator to also realize how despicable these actions were.

But why doesn’t he present his opinion regarding wrong and right? Why doesn’t he ever speak in ethical or moral terms? The narrator has no problem being very frank about sexual issues, but he refuses to discuss political and even religious context, even though he is thrown into the thick of both. The project he’s been tasked with was given to him by representatives of the Vatican, and he begins his work in their offices.

My guess is that the author felt it would be more powerful to keep the issue of genocide, politics and even religion just slightly under the surface, because he wanted to hit the reader with an indirect sock in the jaw. A blow that comes from several directions, that we have to uncover, perhaps, that we aren’t sure exactly where and when it hits us. I also think he added to this vague unease and overall anxiety quotient by not locating the book exactly. There is room to maneuver, room to imagine other nations and other genocides, other senseless wars and atrocities. And, because the prose is virtually non-stop, with few full stops, this vagueness and anxiety rush steadily at the reader, never really let up, and keep us off balance with the narrator. The result, at least for this reader, is the desire to learn more. Much more.


Civil Wars: The Mother of all Oxymorons
Scroll to top