The other political side of spiritism

24 03 2011

A medium possessed by Pancho Villa curing people.

Oddly enough, this sort of reminds me of my grandparents (also from the Mexican state of Coahuila) who would drag us to charismatic prayer meetings, where the leader would go into a trance and start speaking in tongues while we were praying the rosary. Not necessarily my cup of tea now, but I don’t see a huge difference between that and what is portrayed above.

E. can step in and tell me if he remembers that.

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Los Brujos del Poder

23 03 2011

A little on the spiritist influence on Mexican politics, with some bad production values and conspiracry theories thrown in for good measure.





Mexico as symptom

24 01 2011

…Thus the dream is that, since the excess was introduced from outside, i.e. is the work of an alien intruder, its elimination would enable us to obtain again a stable social organism whose parts form a harmonious corporate body, where, in contrast to capitalism’s constant social displacement, everybody would again occupy its own place. The function of the Master is to dominate the excess by locating its cause in a clearly defined social agency: “It is they who steal our enjoyment, who, by means of their excessive attitude, introduce imbalance and antagonism.” With the figure of the Master, the antagonism inherent in the social structure is transformed into a relationship of power, a struggle for domination between us and them, those who cause antagonistic imbalance.

Perhaps this matrix also helps us grasp the reemergence of nationalist chauvinism in Eastern Europe as a kind of “shock-absorber” against sudden exposure to the capitalist openness and imbalance. It is as if, in the very moment when the bond, the chain preserving free development of capitalism, i.e. a deregulated production of excess, was broken, it was countered by a demand for a new Master who will rein it in. What one demands is the establishment of a stable and clearly defined social body which will restrain capitalism’s destructive potential by cutting off the “excessive” element; and since this social body is experienced as that of a nation, the cause of any imbalance “spontaneously” assumes the form of a “national enemy”.

-Slavoj Zizek, Tarrying with the Negative: Kant, Hegel, and the Critique of Ideology

The book from which this quote was taken was not an easy one to read. As in many of Zizek’s books, this wasn’t so much a book that held to one theme, but used certain themes from Kant and Hegel to elaborate upon a number of themes. For example, the chapter that preceded the one where this quote is found takes its inspiration from a theme from Richard Wagner’s Parsifal. In the last chapter, “Enjoy your nation as yourself”, Zizek tries to break open a matter near to the history he was living: the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the rest of Eastern Europe in the early 1990’s. Zizek uses the tools of Lacanian analysis and critical theory to discuss why these countries broke apart the way they did, often in violent and genocidal blood baths. As you can see from the above, Zizek attributes this to the re-entrance of these regions into the capitalist sphere. The shock from this transition led to these peoples trying to find stability again in the midst of the societal chaos re-introduced with generalized commodity production.
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All the earth is a grave

17 11 2010

All the earth is a grave and nothing escapes it, nothing is so perfect that it does not descend to its tomb. Rivers, rivulets, fountains and waters flow, but never return to their joyful beginnings; anxiously they hasten on the vast realms of the rain god. As they widen their banks, they also fashion the sad urn of their burial.

Filled are the bowels of the earth with pestilential dust once flesh and bone, once animate bodies of man who sat upon thrones, decided cases, presided in council, commanded armies, conquered provinces, possessed treasure, destroyed temples, exulted in their pride, majesty, fortune, praise and power. Vanished are these glories, just as the fearful smoke vanishes that belches forth from the infernal fires of Popocatepetl. Nothing recalls them but the written page.

-Nezahualcoyotl, King of Texcoco, found on this site





El Niño Fidencio… de Roma a Espinazo

27 09 2010

A review and reflection on the film

The above is the trailer. The whole film can be watched here. You gringos got lucky, because this one has subtitles.

It is best to start at the beginning. Around the beginning of last century, a child was born in Guanajuato, Mexico, by the name of José Fidencio Sintora Constantino. He was orphaned and came of age amidst the turmoil of the Mexican Revolution and its aftermath. Unlike most Mexican young men, he seems to have been committed to domestic service rather than field work. It also seems that he was afflicted with Kleinfelter’s syndrome, meaning that his sex organs were underdeveloped and he seemed to be perpetually a boy (niño), without facial hair or a deep voice. In the early 1920’s, he would settle in the northern state of Nuevo Leon, in a small railroad town known as Espinazo.

Like a select few, Fidencio was thought to have el don. That means that he had the power to cure using traditional healing methods. Literally, it is a “gift”. But Fidencio’s gift was something extraordinary, something that comes along only every so many generations. From his humble beginnings as a local curandero, he became a national phenomenon. Apparently, he could cure anything using nothing but herbs, prayers, and in extraordinary circumstances, surgeries with a piece of glass (without anaesthetic). His fame grew to the point that the urban legend spread (not based on any facts, but still) that he cured the radically anti-clericalist president of Mexico, Plutarco Elias Calles, of leprosy. Some say that in exchange for his cure, Calles was asked to cease his radical persecution of the Church, which subsequently happened. To the people of the time, and in his legacy, he was given the name, el Niño Fidencio, or the Child Fidencio, even though he lived to forty years of age.
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Sex and the Latino family

19 08 2010

The catalyst for this post comes again from the Conservative Blog for Peace, and it is an interview done a couple of years ago with writer Richard Rodriguez. I quote the relevant passages:

Once my partner became part of my life, he became part of their life too. They didn’t want it said, they didn’t want it named or defined, but they assumed it and accepted it. At family events, when my partner wasn’t there, my mother would get on the phone and call him and insist he come over…

I have not been to a Mexican family without some suspicion of homosexuality in children or grandchildren. But people deal with it within the larger context of family. That’s why I suspect the revolution will come not from the male church but from how women treat their children, and whether or not women are willing to reject their children. I don’t think they are. I saw too many times during the AIDS epidemic that when death came and the disease took its toll, if one parent was there, it was almost always the mother and not the father. That bond is so powerful.

Perhaps the lack of moral severity in the Catholic family has little to do with lack of catechesis, and more to do with the inherent inability of people to shun others for their sexual transgressions. Rodriguez’s case above is a prime example of this. While some would say that his mother is a “heretic” for not shunning her son or his lover, most would not feel comfortable disowning their son for such a consensual situation. In other words, people are not able to consistently live their lives according to the teachings of the Church because what is required of them is something that they are not willing to do.
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Corrido de San Judas

31 07 2010




Some First Things stuff

29 07 2010

First, a political post I can finally get fully behind:

I too have a fervor—a fever, in fact—for political inactivity. I want to be part of a movement that makes electoral politics so boring that rather than having term limits, we’ll need laws requiring politicians to serve their full term. I want to join a party that make politics and government work so dull that political journalists and elected officials dream of leaving their fields for the exciting worlds of actuarial science and telemarketing.

I want to thrown in my lot with others who want to throw a wet blanket over politics and whose desire is to dampen the enthusiasm for all forms of political activity. I want to consort with citizens who are willing to arrest the ardor, dash the devotion, sap the spirit, and zap the zeal from anything that remotely resembles political enthusiasm. I want to create a new party, dedicated to the mastery of the art of anti-propaganda and committed to the conscientious devotion of alert inactivity.

I consider myself to be profoundly a-political, yet with sensibility of a European-style social democrat. As an ex-Trotskyist, I am well aware of the tendency of my fellow ex-Trotskyists (Burnham, Irving Kristol, etc.), to become right-wing hacks after leaving the movement. I have sought to avoid being an apologist for the capitalist leviathan without being under any illusions that the international working class shall be the human race. I still sing the Internationale to myself sometimes. I think it’s pretty catchy, especially if you can sing it in three languages.

I suppose now I am a Platonic republican.

Also, I found this post that I put in my “gangsters need God too” file regarding the Calabrian mafia:

According to a report in Britain’s Telegraph, Bishop Giuseppe Fiorini Morosini of the Calabrian Diocese of Locri-Gerace has written an open letter to the bosses of the ’Ndrangheta—the Calabrian Mafia—“imploring them to stop using holy shrines for their initiation ceremonies.” The bishop, says the Telegraph, decided to speak out “after more than 300 alleged mobsters—including the 80-year-old ‘Godfather’ Domenico Oppedisano—were arrested in a police blitz earlier this month.” The Telegraph article is accompanied by a screen capture from an Italian police surveillance film showing Oppedisano “being ‘sworn in’ under a statue of the Virgin Mary at Polsi near Reggio Calabria.”

I think one difference between Italy and Latin America is that Italy was more “clericalized” in its Catholicism than Latin America. On the one hand, the clergy had more supervision over what the people did, so the symbols that people employ even in expressing their “folk Catholicism” are the same as those of “clerical Catholicism”. On the other hand, people will employ those symbols in the exact same way that the Latin American, “un-clerical” Catholic does. In this case, while mobsters in Mexico will pray to Jesus Malverde or Santa Muerte for success in their criminal endeavors, the Italian mobster will use an image of the Virgin Mary for the same purpose. Also, even such figures as St. Jude or St. Dismas will also be used for these less than Christian purposes. So the whole idea of a “folk saint” may itself be a construction, for even “approved” saints will be used for unapproved intentions.





More movie moments with la Pelona

21 07 2010

I had another strange eoncounter with la Santa Muerte recently. AG and I went to eat dim sum with friends this past weekend. As usual, so much social activity was too much for us, so we returned home and switched on the T.V. As usual, we had two hundred channels of nothing to watch, but out of sheer nostalgia, I paused at the Spanish-language station when I saw they were showing an India María movie. For those who are rusty in regards to their Mexican popular culture of the last four decades, la India María was a comedic character created by María Elena Velasco that embodies the Mexican equivalent of “black face”, though the veiled racisim here is a little more innocuous. María is just a poor Indian woman confused with urban life and the newfangled ways of the people she encounters in the city. But she proves to be more cunning than everyone else, and manages to save the day in spite of herself. I can’t tell you how many times as a child growing up in the 1980’s I was forced to attend movies or watch on T.V. Velasco’s slapstick antics.

Well, serendipity struck twice, since the above scene was the one I encountered when I turned the channel to the Spanish station. It is a macabre scene in the 1976 film, El miedo no anda en burro (literally, “Fear does not ride a donkey”). She encounters a man playing the organ with, of all things, a picture of la Santa Muerte over the keyboard. Not much explanation is given regarding the placement of the picture. Nor does the picture seem to be more than a personification of death in the context of the movie. But the image is very much the one that is venerated by her devotees. Just another interesting piece of my armchair urban anthropology on a Saturday afternoon.





Patron saint against huffing

10 07 2010

image credit

A great article and video from the New York Times concerning the cult of street youths in Mexico City to St. Jude via TitusOneNine