Turning the Graphic Surreal

Nightfall, in “Saturday” was a particularly terrifying section. This was the three page sequence of the rape of Rafaela. Though graphic descriptions of rape, let alone sex, can isolate readers, the language in this section turned something we are all to familiar with in to a climactic terror sequence. The description of the rape itself is done carefully under an immense wild-life metaphor. The whole scene starts out quite literally feral (I say literally as the act of rape is innately feral, though referring to wildlife). We get images of jaguars, serpents, verbs like clawing, pawing, tearing. Then the incident is somewhat abstracted by these images of violent grandeur, “Battles passed as memories: massacred men and women, their bloated twisted bodies black with blood(…) million more decaying with smallpox; kings and revolutionaries betrayed, hacked to pieces in a Plaza of Tears,” (Yamashita 220). This sequence to me sounded like prose poetry, but beyond that seemed to attempt to span thousands of years of violence- from the animal kingdom to human destruction. This to me was very surrealist in nature. The text even goes on to include, “The apocalyptic fulfillment of a prophecy– blood and semen commingling among shredded serpent and feline remains,” (221).

I have to wonder why Yamashita felt in this moment that this one incident should be described in terms of all time. This to me was one of the most surrealist sections I have encountered in the novel, even to Rafaela’s cutting off of the villain’s ear. However I think the sequence bridges the gap to magical realist when we reflect on the fact that it is describing rape. Additonally all the allusion and metaphor cool down by the end of the section leaving us with a naked and harmed Rafaela. In this sense I feel the intense surrealist action before is justified by the fact that Yamashita is describing an act so graphic, and so evil that it logically can be linked with any act of violence from time. Something so singular yet so universal is described here, we would never want to put ourselves in to Rafaela’s shoes here but we come to an understanding through Yamashita’s surrealism of the degree of evil she has encountered.

3 Responses to Turning the Graphic Surreal

  1. ainsley February 17, 2016 at 1:54 pm #

    I agree with you: this section was one of the most surreal and horrific in the novel. For me, the terms in which Yamashita described it made the act even more terrible and violent–if she had described it rationally, coldly, scientifically, unfeelingly–it would have had an entirely different effect, especially because of what we know of Rafaela’s character. Everything about her requires feeling. I think Yamashita’s artistic/literary choices for this section were well and carefully-chosen. Her attacker is “snarling, pounced, eyes bloody with terror, claws and teeth…” while Rafaela is described as writhing into a “muscular serpent” who “thrashed at him with vicious fangs” (220)–yet she is ultimately overpowered, and the section ends with the poignant and terrible image of “blood and semen commingling among shredded serpent and feline remains” (221). I found Yamashita’s reference to colonialism in this section interesting–why did she choose this moment to reference the “white gold and the crude stuff called black gold, and the coffee, cacao and bananas” (221)–all of the things that the western world wanted, and took–by cruel means–from south american and caribbean countries. It is not just Rafaela who is bleeding, but the land–Ouro Preto and Potosi, stripped of its wealth and resources by the forced labor of its inhabitants. Yamashita writes of the “human slavery that dug and slashed and pushed and jammed it all out and away, forever” (221). Coupled with the violence that is taking place, this imagery is perhaps some of the most tremendous we have seen in the novel–not only is Rafaela’s pain and violation being described, but also the pain of the “women of Cochabamba,” the “massacred men and women” in the wars that “passed as memories” (220)–hundreds of years of violence and cruelty inflicted on others by those more powerful, believing themselves to be somehow entitled, somehow justified. I could say a lot more about this and pick it apart much further but I’ll just end it here. And- at least she got his ear.

  2. burkekm February 17, 2016 at 2:50 pm #

    I agree that this was a horrific chapter but the way in which Yamashita describes the scene fit perfectly with the elements of the entire story. Her use of many feral and wildlife references fits well with the rest of Raphaela’s chapters, often referencing natural elements and creating the idea that Raphaela herself is very close to nature. As the climax of the story is heightening and the Tropic of Cancer is moving with Arcangel and his orange, time and space become very distorted, which is also drawn to attention in this scene as Yamashita makes references to different periods of violence in both the natural and human worlds. Ultimately, the way in which Yamashita utilized the elements in this chapter and alluded to greater depictions of violence not only drew more attention to the feral and senselessly violent act of the rap e but also Raphaela’s seriously traumatized state during it in a way that simply explaining what was going on could not depict.

  3. Prof VZ February 22, 2016 at 12:17 am #

    Great conversation here. I agree that by expanding the scope–temporally and mythically–of this violent act, Yamashita is able to help us understand the violence that underscores colonial acts of conquest even as she helps us understand the power dynamics that are always at play in sexual violence. Such violence is about power, and many act of power are about violence. In what way do you think that this scene mirrors the final fight between two other powers: Arcangel and SUPERNAFTA? Are they both versions of the same fight, or are they fundamentally different? I guess the answer to that would depend on how you understand Rafaela’s character vs. Arcangel’s character and what aspects of struggle each embodies or represents.

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