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Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica: Eat Your Words!

- another brief review in the form of another letter I really wrote to that same friend


“Die Grenzen meiner Sprache bedeuten die Grenzen meiner Welt.”
- Ludwig Wittgenstein

Another day, another set of scattered thoughts. The quote of my “little philosopher” as you had put it—and then I laughed—the one that made me even remotely interested in reading this in the first place (because anyone, book or person, who references Gilles Deleuze will naturally pique my interest, despite the ironic fact that I’ve barely read any Deleuze, it’s just more like “a friend of a friend is a friend of mine” kind of thing…), that functions as one of the epigraphs of this book you so graciously let me borrow—thanks again!—goes as follows: “What we see never lies in what we say.” And then the full quote here: “There is a disjunction between speaking and seeing, between the visible and the articulable: what we see never lies in what we say.” And vice versa; but never mind that. The hell does this mean? I’m no Deleuzian (or Foucauldian for that matter, Deleuze’s quote comes from his book on Michel Foucault) but perhaps I can short circuit this through the lens of this book the quote appears in, “Tender is the Flesh.”

The world of this book is a cruel and hungry one. In a world that literalizes an economic/political system that exploits/slaughters humans, everyone is a cannibal. The allusion to our modern times is, perhaps, more than a little obvious (like pointing out where our clothes and phones come from, but, yes, sure, of course, it is a point worth pointing out every time it is pointed out) but what really was drawing me in was more the language that props up the world of the book, the words behind the ideology, the ideology behind the words. (Less the prose style, which is less flashy and more functionable, than the use of the words themselves, but anyway…) You can’t call what’s going on here “cannibalism,” much like how human meat is referred to instead as “special meat” or human cattle as “heads.” It is, again, a literal Transition, from Taboo to Permitted; to change how we say things is to change our perception of the world itself, and how we interface with it. Already on the first page: “… there are words that cover up the world. There are words that are convenient, hygienic. Legal.” Other characters’ words are noted throughout as well, described as “lava” or “tadpoles” or “pieces of glass melting in extreme heat.” One character, but really all of them, “needs to affirm reality through words, as though words created and maintain the world in which he lives.” To some degree or another, words do. To speak is to regulate the distance between us and the world, to exercise some control over our existing relationship with it. Of course, as the book makes abundantly clear, there are powers that be who can control our words, who can agitate truly the disjunction between what we see and what we say, and so control our very selves. In this world in which I'm like 80% sure cannibalism is not legalized, what are we not permitted to speak on today? What Truths can we not articulate?—Now isn’t that the true horror? Outside of creepy cannibalism, that is. In this sense is the book truly dystopic, or more specifically Orwellian. Both flesh and not: tender is our language.

And so the ending, I recall your puzzlement: why basically Marcos is no hero, and why no one is. For all his own words, his rage is a silent rage, he never says what he thinks until the very end. And when he does finally speak his mind, it’s to maintain the status quo. His child with Jasmine, a “female head” turned “woman” after he chooses to bring her into his home, is born, and then he strikes her unconscious, “stunning” her for slaughter, to use the language of the book. “She had the human look of a domesticated animal.”—the last thing he says. Poor Jasmine! For all his moralizing throughout the book, Jasmine goes from “female” to “woman” to “female” again by the final paragraph. What cynicism! Marcos would rather be satiated in this world, the one with legalized cannibalism, than Struggle for a new one. Well. Whether or not you consider Marcos to be an Everyman, universal of us all, is up to you. Depends on how you see it (and say it). Now, am I going to say I would be a better person than Marcos? That I’d do better in his situation, in his world? We would like to think so, wouldn’t we, imagine ourselves as some kind of Chosen One. (For what it’s worth, I don’t presume myself to be better than anyone, morally or intellectually or in any other sense.) But don’t we all maintain the status quo in some way? The world happens to us and we also let the world happen. We do what we can to change things—Right? For sure.—and things have changed, and yet “what we see never lies in what we say.” For the most part I would hardly call myself cynical, certainly not as cynical as this book’s ending, but what the hell do I know? Last thing I want to do is eat my words. Well, and people too.


About the Writer:

CX is doing what they can. All of their writing-things can be found also on Many Masks Press, and other places like other places.


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