Excerpts from Vincent Walsh's doctoral thesis on Junot Díaz. They have been edited for concision and clarity.
Junot Diaz employs a variety of postmodernist literary strategies in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, such as conflating (and confusing) the role (and identity) of author and narrator, creating a parallel fictional (and semi-fictional) subtext in the form of numerous, often detailed footnotes, and incorporating a hybrid mixture of discourses throughout a self-referential, apparently self-undermining narrative. Yet by means of his persistent satirical tone, pervasive irony, occasional explicit commentary, and thematic inferences, Diaz simultaneously challenges the core tenets of postmodernist-poststructuralist theory. Diaz’s creative concerns interrogate the notion of constructed histories, reestablish distinctions within binaries, and defy the poststructuralist prohibition against grand narratives, while contesting the postmodernist tendency toward moral and cultural relativism. Diaz appears to be consciously inviting a poststructuralist reading, even as he simultaneously undermines any possibility for such a theoretical analysis ever succeeding in fully coming to terms with his work. In effect, Diaz redirects the lens of the postmodernist-poststructuralist perspective back on itself, questioning its basic assumptions. Diaz creates a unique, innovative literary language in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, borrowing tropes from Dominican folklore and popular superstition, mixing in idioms and memes from sci-fi, horror, fantasy, Japanese animes and North American movies, television serials, comic books, hip-hop, and urban diction, in order to tell a story that reawakens repressed memories of historical trauma, and enhances awareness of egregious contemporary injustice. Diaz focuses on the devastating trajectory of the imperialist enterprise in the Western hemisphere since 1492, highlighting the rapacious ideology that ruthlessly engenders this ongoing project of exploitation, domination, and oppression. In setting private aggrandizement above collective wellbeing, the imperial mentality causes incalculable, completely unnecessary suffering, beginning with genocide against the native population, and extending into the extreme social disparities of the neoliberal present; the predatory practices of this avaricious agenda have become so destructive that they now threaten the very survival of the human species. Ruthless greed is the curse that afflicts us; the only possible counter spell that can save us will be a courageous return to instinctive solidarity, with timely recourse to the healing power of human love.
Human beings have arrived at an unprecedented crossroads in our history where we face the prospect of imminent self-destruction, as unthinkable as such a grim outcome might be. . . . Given the unprecedented disruption, chaos, and potential catastrophe presently confronting us, it is no wonder that Junot Diaz resorts to horror, sci-fi, and fantasy for describing the current human predicament in his fiction. Given the unprecedented disruption, chaos, and potential catastrophe presently confronting us, it is no wonder that Junot Diaz resorts to horror, sci-fi, and fantasy for describing the current human predicament in his fiction.
A severely skewed neoliberal economic system, euphemistically described as “globalization,” steadily enriches an increasingly tiny number of individuals, leaving less and less of the planet’s wealth to divide among the rest; hundreds of millions of human beings languish from starvation and severe malnutrition, with hundreds of millions more expiring from easily preventable diseases and the long term effects of degrading, debilitating poverty. This lopsided economic system is an extension of predatory capitalist enterprises that gathered momentum with the onset of European imperialism and the steady expansion of colonialism. Rather than serving human needs and guaranteeing general prosperity, the neoliberal form of economic organization, like Moloch in ancient Babylon, devours the lower classes to feed the greed-frenzy of privileged ruling elites. The absolutist powers granted through judicial activism to the abstract legal entities that constitute transnational corporations transcend all governmental regulation as well as individual human agency; this self-consuming system finds apt metaphorical expression in the epilogue to Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao: “Of what import are brief, nameless lives . . . to Galactus?” for the corporation, by definition, functions solely to enhance profits; human life is irrelevant to its impersonal concerns.
As literary critics and intellectuals, it is crucial for us to recognize that our contemporary human dilemma involves first and foremost a crisis of ethics. While we applaud our progress as a species in casting off the binding shackles of prohibitive moral codes imposed by repressive religious doctrines and parochial social conventions, especially in the domain of our inherent sexual freedoms, we need to guard against sweeping moral relativism that considers all questions of ethics as matters only for subjective judgment and individual concern. It does not behoove us to replace restrictive moral codes with reductive cultural relativism, for such a move just leaves us dangling irresolutely between polarities of “our standards are superior to theirs,” and “anything goes.”
We need to face honestly and resolutely the pressing question of whether there might actually be something fundamentally wrong with the fact that billions of human beings suffer from the hopeless misery of degrading poverty, while a select few amass unimaginable fortunes, treasures so vast they could never possibly spend their accumulated riches. We need to ask ourselves how we can justify the claim that our own lives have intrinsic value, while simultaneously implying that those of others do not, and that if other people fail to thrive, or even survive, it is somehow their own fault, or just a matter of inscrutable destiny. We need to ask ourselves how it is that today in Western intellectual culture we commemorate the slaughter of six million human beings during the European holocaust, yet continue to ignore the ongoing murder of six million people, and still counting, in the Congo. Do the black skins of these African victims make their existence somehow less valuable? How far have we progressed morally and culturally beyond the homicidal policies of Belgium’s King Leopold II?
These are some of the core moral issues that Junot Diaz challenges people to confront when reading his fiction; he is writing into the silences created by urgent ethical questions that we prefer not to ask, yet that urgently call for adequate answers. For Diaz, it is neither honest nor responsible for us to blame the travesties of the Trujillo dictatorship on the evil nature of just one man; we need to examine the geopolitical system that still supports such despots in order to ensure endless wealth accumulation for self-elected, privileged elites. We should not just complacently accept conventional accounts of Columbus’s “discovery” of the New World, without also evaluating the genocide that accompanied it, as well as the nightmare lives of hundreds of millions who still suffer from the legacy of that original slaughter today.
Diaz offers a particular, quite coherent and purposeful historical background for his novel -- regardless of prohibitions against “grand narratives” -- as well as a definite geopolitical context for his short stories that is firmly grounded in ethical principles that support social justice and human rights. . . . he portrays the arrival of Columbus in the New World as an unmitigated disaster for the native population. Contrary to the current critical consensus, Diaz expresses no ambivalence in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (although there surely is complexity and nuance) regarding the curse that was inflicted on comparatively innocent Native American communities by homicidal conquistadors driven insane with rapacious greed. Furthermore, Diaz makes it quite obvious that the fuku released by the Admiral, like an evil genie from a holy water bottle, traces an obvious trajectory down through the centuries to Trujillo and then on to Demon Balaguer. . . . The fuku can be considered a metaphor for predatory capitalism, with all its attendant evils, a pervasive malice that affects the daily lives of us all.
Junot Diaz brings the suffering of the disenfranchised painfully alive in his poignant depictions of impoverished rural peasants and hard pressed factory workers in the Dominican Republic, along with struggling immigrants fighting to survive oppressive conditions in the United States. The exploitation of countless women driven by dire need into strip clubs and prostitution is yet another manifestation of the extreme social dysfunction and widespread tragedy that results from an economic system designed solely for the benefit of elites. Men’s chronic violence against women -- and also against each other -- along with the pervasive neglect and abuse of children, are just further consequences of the desperation and despair that follows from overwhelming stress due to incessant, frenzied competition. The entire human society, both in the Dominican Republic and the United States, is hierarchically structured, like the pecking order on a poultry farm, so that self-esteem and personal dignity end up the scarcest of commodities. The so-called law of the jungle that prevails everywhere takes on extreme forms of savagery that not even wild beasts would abide.
Images of nuclear destruction in Diaz’s fiction portray apocalyptic living conditions, where hunger and violence join hands with a pandemic of drug addiction; the brutality of thugs in Caribbean cane fields mirrors bone breaking beat downs by New Jersey State Police. Half a millennium may separate Spanish conquistadors from contemporary Santo Domingo barrios and New Brunswick ghetto streets, but the general misery in each of these historical periods reveals comparable degrees of desolation, even if victims today remain mostly invisible, while facile sophism silences their screams. Junot Diaz combines the ineffable influence of literary language with the compelling eloquence of carefully crafted prose in a writing style that rocks like hip-hop and reads like poetry; his fiction arouses the sleeping conscience of humanity, awakens our better instincts and evokes our higher nature. Junot Diaz reminds us that we belong to one human family, and that, following the example of Oscar Wao, we can conjure a counter spell for the curse of greed and violence -- the healing magic of human love.
Prevailing as the dominant economic and political discourse, neoliberal ideology privileges private profit and individual aggrandizement over collective wellbeing to an extreme that is historically unprecedented. While the global population multiplies, the world’s wealth continues to concentrate in the hands of an increasingly tiny plutocracy, to the extent that eighty percent of the human beings currently living on the planet are now considered simply extraneous to corporate concern. As a result, they are, in effect, cast to the wayside and left there to languish and gradually die. If these throwaway people serve no useful purpose for the only human activity that holds any value in life -- making money for elites -- they obviously have only themselves to blame.
Literary expression that is informed by firm principles of moral understanding and passionate concern for social justice provides a uniquely compelling voice for articulating the necessary protest, since literature puts a recognizable human face on human agony; literature evokes empathy for the pain of flesh and blood bodies in place of the mind-numbing abstractions of impersonal statistics. Junot Diaz connects the notion of personal failure with the experience of socio-economic dysfunction and degradation in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao when Yunior refers to “unheated . . . tenements” teeming with “children whose self-hatred short-circuited their minds” (160), victimized by self-debasement that is rooted in a form of institutional racism that correlates “white supremacy and people-of-color self-hate” (264) in the contemporary capitalist caste system. Inner-city New Jersey street corners in Drown feature crowds of angry adolescents whose young lives are crippled by addiction to gambling, alcohol, and drugs, the tragic outcome of chronic deprivation, random violence, and pervasive despair. Constantly on the alert for police cruisers, and simultaneously wary of vengeful losers at dice, teenagers entertain each other with mutual derision and scapegoating abuse in vain attempts at transcending their hopelessly bleak existence: “We’re all under the big streetlamps, everyone’s the color of day-old piss. When I’m fifty this is how I’ll remember my friends: tired and yellow and drunk” (“Aurora” 57).
The narrator deals drugs to “older folks who haven’t had a job or a haircut since the last census. I have friends in Perth Amboy and New Brunswick who tell me they deal to whole families, from the grandparents down to the fourth-graders” (51). In the meantime, he watches helplessly as the girl he loves succumbs to crack-addled self-destruction: “I know about the nonsense that goes on in these houses, the ass that gets sold, the beasting” (62). Only a fortunate few ever succeed in breaking out of the deadly prison of the ghetto, desperately aggressive inmates like Beto in the title story, who “hated everything about the neighborhood, the break-apart buildings, the little strips of grass, the piles of garbage around the cans, and the dump, especially the dump” (91). Hapless human beings trapped in this environment freeze during frigid winters; in the torrid summertime, the heat in the buildings where they live is “like something heavy that had come inside to die” (92). The narrator in “Boyfriend” recalls nights he spent lying in bed beside his former girlfriend, Loretta, before she left him for an Italian who works on Wall Street: “We’d lay there and listen to the world outside, to the loud boys, the cars, the pigeons. Back then I didn’t have a clue what she was thinking, but now I know what to pencil into all them thought bubbles. Escape. Escape” (113). In “Miss Lora,” Yunior’s girlfriend Paloma “lived in a one-bedroom apartment with four younger siblings and a disabled mom and she was taking care of all of them. . . . Paloma was convinced that if she made any mistakes at all, she would be stuck in that family of hers forever” (151). These and similar passages pervading Diaz’s texts resonate with desperate anger at the blatant injustice of oppressive socio-economic circumstances, which offer scant opportunity for achieving any decent quality of life.
Junot Diaz articulates a profound ethical understanding throughout his writing. Referring to Oscar’s vacation during the annual seasonal return, Diaz-Yunior evokes compassion for the outcasts, for the dregs of society when “Santo Domingo slaps the Diaspora engine into reverse, yanks back as many of its expelled children as it can,” advising us that “it’s one big party; one big party for everybody but the poor, the dark, the jobless, the sick, the Haitian, their children, the bateys, the kids that certain Canadian, American, German, and Italian tourists love to rape- - yes, sir, nothing like a Santo Domingo summer” (272-273). The sardonic tone reinforces the dark humor that makes the bleakness of wretched lives somehow more bearable to contemplate. This same tone of bitter scorn reduces the otherwise terrifying figure of Trujillo to farce by means of the mocking characterizations “Fuckface” and “Failed Cattle Thief” (footnote #1, p. 2), and disparages the tyrant’s dreadedassociates as fantasy-figure “witchkings” (121). Mild sarcasm colors the poignant description of Olga’s pathetic reaction to Oscar’s “cold-as-balls” rejection in the playground, preventing the sad scene from descending to bathos; this shabby little girl already suffers from daily humiliation at school due to her extreme poverty and poor hygiene: “and how Olga had cried! Shaking like a rag in her hand-me-downs and in the shoes that were four sizes too big! Snots pouring out her nose and everything!” (15). Despite the derisive tone, the reader cannot help feeling pity contemplating this small child’s public mortification and painful shame.
An implied belief in common humanity also resonates through Yunior’s second-person appeal to the reader’s empathy for the savage injustice inflicted on Abelard: “A thousand tales I could tell you about Abelard’s imprisonment -- a thousand tales to wring the salt from your motherfucking eyes -- but I’m going to spare you the anguish, the torture, the loneliness, and the sickness of those fourteen wasted years and leave you with only the consequences (and you should wonder, rightly, if I’ve spared you anything).” These and numerous similar passages evoke intuitive sympathy for the suffering of a fellow human being, a sense of solidarity that arises spontaneously among Abelard’s equally miserable companions: “The other prisoners, out of respect, continued to call him El Doctor” (250-251).
Manifestations of intense affection and longing for intimate connection appear throughout the short stories. While the narrator watches bitterly as Aurora heads back into the bedlam of the crack house, he reflects on how their relationship might be quite different in less discouraging life circumstances: “I’m thinking how easy it would be for her to turn around and say, Hey, let’s go home. I’d put my arm around her and wouldn’t let her go for like fifty years, maybe not ever” (61). Even though her addiction and despair apparently win out in the end, Aurora seems to share a similar dream during clear minded hours while she’s locked up in prison: “I made up this whole new life in there. You should have seen it. The two of us had kids, a big blue house, hobbies, the whole fucking thing” (65).
Human beings display a natural inclination toward kindness and mutual cooperation and support. In “Negocios,” the cab driver who conveys Papi to a hotel after he arrives in Miami gives him friendly advice and a guided tour through the city almost free of charge: “Whatever you save on me will help you later. I hope you do well” (168). Papi is treated with kindness by Jo-Jo, as well, who “saw in Papi another brother, a man from a luckless past needing a little direction” (190), and who offers to help him get started with his own modest business. After her ex-boyfriend Max dies in Santo Domingo, Lola gives Max Sanchez’s mother the two thousand dollars she had obtained by selling her body; even though he is still only a casual acquaintance, Lola nurses Yunior after he is badly beaten on a street corner in New Brunswick: “Lola, who actually cried when she saw the state I was in . . . took care of my sorry ass. Cooked, cleaned, picked up my classwork, got me medicine, even made sure that I showered” (168). As a teacher in Don Bosco, Oscar, who had experienced the daily humiliation dished out in the “moronic inferno” (19) of the hallways there as a student, tries “to reach out to the school’s whipping boys, offer them some words of comfort, You are not alone, you know, in this universe” (264-265).
The entire Palacio Peking staff -- Juan and Jose Then, Constantina, Marco Antonio, and Indian Benny (a thoroughly international, creole crew) -- rush to Beli’s rescue when they see her being manhandled by La Fea’s thugs, despite obvious risk to themselves. When one of the henchmen warns Jose, “Listen, chino, you don’t know what you’re doing” (142), Jose, “his wife and children dead by warlord in the thirties” (106), stonily replies, “This chino knows exactly what he’s doing,” as he pulls back the hammer on his pistol: “His face was a dead rictus, and in it shone everything he had lost” (142). Clives, the taxi driver, risks his life trying to intervene when the capitan’s thugs begin beating Oscar in the backseat of his cab: “Clives begged the men to spare Oscar, but they laughed. You should be worrying . . . about yourself” (320); they leave Clives tied up inside while they drag Oscar to his death, but he frees himself and bravely follows them into the cane field, where he recovers Oscar’s lifeless body.
Socorro and Abelard’s families abjure and reject Beli after Socorro’s suicide because of her “kongoblack, shangoblack, kaliblack, zapoteblack, rekhablack” skin -- “That’s the kind of culture I belong to: people took their child’s complexion as an ill omen” (248), Diaz-Yunior wryly observes -- but the infant is rescued by “a kindly darkskinned woman named Zoila [from the Greek word for life] who gave her some of her own baby’s breastmilk and held her for hours a day” (252). Readers’ natural empathy is aroused once again when they learn that, sadly, the “tiniest little negrita on the planet” (253) is soon torn from Zoila’s arms by Socorro’s greedy relatives and sold as a child slave. In the footnote on the same page, Diaz/Yunior describes the plight of a seven year-old criada he knew in Santo Domingo who was forced to do all the cooking, cleaning, and fetching water for a family while simultaneously caring for two infants. “La probecita” became impregnated by a family member at fifteen, and her son was subsequently forced to work as a slave for the family as well. Since this footnote self-refers to “Mr. Community Activist” -- a role that Junot Diaz conspicuously fills in everyday life -- it is quite likely that it is not Yunior but Junot Diaz who is speaking here, and that Sobeila’s story is not fiction but fact. This instance may also suggest that Junot Diaz is the authorial voice in other footnotes, as well -- maybe even all of them; regardless, the reference obviously compounds the often impossibly complex task of distinguishing between the voice of author and narrator throughout the text.
The selling of children due to dire circumstances created by extreme poverty receives poignant mention in “The Pura Principle,” as well. Pura reveals that “for an undisclosed sum her mother had married her off at thirteen to a stingy fifty-year-old,” and that she had run away from a tia in Newark “who wanted her to take care of her retarded son and bedridden husband . . . because she hadn’t come to Nueba Yol to be a slave to anyone, not anymore” (101). Mami commiserates with her friends over “how often that happened in the campo, how Mami herself had had to fight to keep her own crazy mother from trading her for a pair of goats” (102).
Struggle for survival in an economic system that offers few decent employment opportunities for young women provides the background for the thriving prostitution business that serves as such a rich source of income for the Gangster, La Fea, and other members of the Trujillato. The Gangster, we learn, served as a specialist in violence for the regime, while he also “dabbled in forgery, theft, extortion, and money laundering;” yet “where our man truly excelled, where he smashed records and grabbed gold, was in the flesh trade. Then, like now, Santo Domingo was to popola what Switzerland was to chocolate. And there was something about the binding, selling, and degradation of women that brought out the best in the Gangster; he had an instinct for it, a talent. . . . under his draconian administration the so-called bang-for-the-buck ratio of Dominican sexworkers trebled” (120-121). Neoliberal policies ensure ever increasing profits for the business of selling women and children’s bodies right into the present. These same economic circumstances play a significant role in producing the criminals who facilitate such exploitation. Like his boss Trujillo, the Gangster grows up in severely deprived living conditions, which inspire his ruthless determination to survive by whatever means necessary: “folks always underestimate what the promise of a lifetime of starvation, powerlessness, and humiliation can provoke in a young person’s character” (119).
Trujillo may have appeared as a uniquely brazen and flamboyant tyrant on the world scene, but he represents just one among numerous Latin American dictators who have facilitated and enforced the imperial-corporate fuku. One can only wonder what exactly Frederic Jameson has in mind when he opines, “The dictator novel has become a genre of Latin American literature, and such works are marked above all by a profound and uneasy ambivalence, a deeper ultimate sympathy for the Dictator, which can perhaps only be explained by some enlarged social variant of the Freudian mechanism of transference” (81-82). Novels such as Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Feast of the Goat, and Augusto Roa Bastos’ I The Supreme elicit utter revulsion at the extreme decadence and complete moral decay of the tyrant. Gabriel Marcia Marquez’s The Autumn of the Patriarch evokes mocking derision for a bestial despot; Miguel Asturias’ The President arouses horror, along with dread for the dictator’s devastated victims. In none of these well-known works, much less Junot Diaz’s contemptuous caricature of Trujillo in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, does one encounter any sense of “ambivalence” or “deeper ultimate sympathy” for the monster who degrades and destroys his fellow human beings, and who rules solely through torture, terror, and violence.
Nuclear weapons represent the ultimate instrument of terror available to the dictator, the terminal stage of the deadly force that has always been employed to facilitate ruthless exploitation and guarantee elitist privilege. In the present lethal stage of transnational corporate capitalism, the United States retains the right “to resort to force to eliminate any perceived challenge to U.S. global hegemony” (3), including “the right to first use of nuclear weapons . . . even against non-nuclear powers” (218). The deployment of nuclear and laser weapons on platforms in outer space “subjects every part of the globe to the risk of instantaneous destruction” (11). Given such facts, it is no wonder that Oscar poses the rhetorical question: “What more sci-fi than Santo Domingo?” (6). The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is replete with allusions to nuclear holocaust, beginning with Oscar’s reference to Santo Domingo as “Ground Zero for the New World” on the opening page. The scar from the savage burns inflicted on Beli by the father of the family that buys her as a child-slave resembles the disfigurement of a Hiroshima survivor: “A monsterglove of festering ruination extending from the back of her neck to the base of her spine. A bomb crater, a world-scar like those of a hibakusha” (257).
Diaz employs nuclear and science fiction imagery to depict the extreme poverty in the rural area of the Dominican Republic where Beli spent her early years, as well: “Outer Azua . . . resembled . . . irradiated terrains from . . . end-of-the-world scenarios . . . the residents could have passed for survivors of some not-so-distant holocaust. . . . these precincts were full of smoke, inbreeding, intestinal worms, twelve-year-old brides, and full-on whippings” (footnote #32, p. 256). The added observation that families in Outer Azua “were Glasgow-ghetto huge because . . . there was nothing to do after dark and because infant mortality rates were so extreme and calamities so vast you needed a serious supply of reinforcements if you expected your line to continue” (footnote #32, p. 256), conveys the inescapable impression that Third World devastation exists on a comparable level in the First World as well under the current transnational corporate regime.
Diaz envisions an “end-of-the-world” that is, ominously, “not-so-distant.” He is quite explicit about this prospect in his essay on the 2010 earthquake: “I cannot contemplate the apocalypse of Haiti without the question: where is this all leading? . . . The answer seems both obvious and chilling. I suspect that once we have finished ransacking our planet’s resources, once we have pushed a couple of thousand more species into extinction and exhausted the water table and poisoned everything in sight and exacerbated the atmospheric warming that will finish off the icecaps and drown out our coastlines, once our market operations have parsed the world into the extremes of ultra-rich and not-quite-dead, once the famished billions that our economic systems left behind have in their insatiable hunger finished stripping the biosphere clean, what we will be left with will be a stricken, forlorn desolation, a future out of a sci-fi fever dream where the super-rich will live in walled-up plantations of impossible privilege and the rest of us will wallow in unimaginable extremity, staggering around the waste and being picked off by the hundreds of thousands by ‘natural disasters’ -- by ‘acts of god’ ” (6). Diaz’s places the word natural in quotations because he regards humanity as actually being threatened by social disasters, man-made calamities that are the predictable consequences of out-of-control elitist greed.
Yet even the super-rich will find themselves hard-pressed to find safe haven in the case of nuclear Armageddon, which poses a more serious and immediate threat than ever to human survival today, given intensifying international competition. Nuclear conflagration, as Arundhati Roy has pointed out so tellingly, defies the human capacity for comprehension: “If only, if only nuclear war was just another kind of war. . . . But it isn’t. If there is nuclear war, our foes will not be . . . each other. Our foe will be the earth herself. Our cities and forests, our fields and villages will burn for days. Rivers will turn to poison. The air will become fire. The wind will spread the flames. When everything there is to burn has burned and the fires die, smoke will rise and shut out the sun. The earth will be enveloped in darkness. There will be no day -- only interminable night. What shall we do then, those of us who are still alive? Burned and blind and bald and ill, carrying the cancerous carcasses of our children in our arms, where shall we go? What shall we eat? What shall we drink? What shall we breathe?” (4).
Diaz connects the Fall of the House of Abelard with the threat of nuclear annihilation. During their final night together before his arrest, Abelard reminds Lydia of the intrinsic value and incomparable beauty of their shared humanity when she despairs, “We’re clocks . . . Nothing more,” by reassuring her gently, “We’re more than that. We’re marvels, mi amor” (326). Abelard’s expression here mirrors the magistrate’s appeal on behalf of the captive barbarians: “We are the great miracle of creation!” Yet Diaz/Yunior interjects immediately, “I wish I could stay in this moment . . . but it’s impossible. The next week two atomic eyes opened over civilian centers in Japan and . . . the world was remade. Not two days after the atomic bombs scarred Japan forever, Socorro dreamed of the faceless man” (236-237). The faceless man appears numerous times throughout the text; this image obviously refers to death, but it can also be understood to represent utter disregard for the dictates of conscience, willful blindness to the crucial difference between right and wrong.
It is clear that the fuku that afflicts the New World stems from the greed and violence that was introduced into the Western hemisphere with the arrival of Columbus; the contrasting epigraphs in Oscar Wao set the tone, and establish the framework for all that is at stake in the ensuing narrative. The chilling disclaimer from Fantastic Four, “Of what import are brief, nameless lives . . . to Galactus?” corresponds with contemporary neoliberal dogma that designates the tragic consequences of unscrupulous avarice as mere “externalities,” for which business leaders and political elites assume no moral responsibility. Since the individual members of any given corporate entity are entirely replaceable, the corporation can be regarded as an indifferent monster, a superhuman being, like Galactus. According to prevailing economic theology, a corporation’s sole mandate is to maximize profits for shareholders by means of relentless growth and ever-widening expansion; human suffering is completely irrelevant to the pursuit of limitless riches.
Juxtaposed against this heartless corporate machine stands globalized humanity, the extended human family, “creolized,” in effect, through the intermixing of peoples and cultures, calling out for recognition of its innate rights through the poetic appeal of Derek Walcott’s Shabine: “Christ have mercy on all living things! / . . . out of corruption my soul takes wings . . . / I . . . saw / when these slums of empire was a paradise / I had a sound colonial education / . . . and either I’m a nobody, or I’m a nation.” The word “nation” can be interpreted here, not in terms of its usual association with a limited, particularized political-cultural community comprising an individual nation-state, but rather according to the sense of its Latin root -- that which has been born -- which would infer instead the emergence of collective consciousness, awareness of humanity’s collective existence as members of a single biological family, whose common home is planet Earth, asserting the priority of communal wellbeing over private aggrandizement and individual greed.
Writing back to empire necessarily entails interrogating the capitalist economic model; it seems evident, when one looks back over the past half-millennium of predatory expropriation and exploitation practiced so relentlessly by a self-privileged minority, that the principal source of injustice in human societies has been the prevailing discourse that rationalizes and justifies unconstrained avarice. In his essay on the earthquake in Haiti, Diaz describes the current global economic system as a “rapacious stage of capitalism. A cannibal stage where, in order to power the explosion of the super-rich and the ultra-rich, the middle classes are being forced to fail, working classes are being re-proletarianized, and the poorest are being pushed beyond the grim limits of subsistence, into a kind of sepulchral half-life” (6).
Capitalist ideology and practice has always been rapacious as well as cannibalistic, by its very nature; it has simply reached an especially destructive stage in its neoliberal form -- a stage that is likely to prove terminal. The contemporary neoliberal paradigm persists in placing corporate profits above people, remaining indifferent to looming environmental catastrophe, insisting on relentless expansionism that keeps pushing humanity to the brink of self-annihilation. Unless alternative forms of viable economic organization can be realized, paradigms that ensure social justice, support functioning democracy, and guarantee human rights, unprecedented disaster threatens. The current, all too real threat to the very survival of the human species makes the horrors of the European holocaust of the 1930s and 1940s seem like a mere rehearsal for ultimate calamity. In Diaz’s terms, such alternative economic models would create the healing zafa necessary to dispel the deadly fuku of transnational corporate capitalism that currently threatens imminent collective doom.
Vincent Walsh was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1946. He graduated from Fordham University in 1969, and attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship from 1969-1970. He earned his Masters in Education in 1987, in the midst of a career as a secondary school English teacher, a career that has included many years of teaching in the inner-city. Vincent taught graduate courses in the Education Department at DeSales University from 2005 – 2012; he entered the doctoral program in English at Lehigh University in 2006, and graduated from Lehigh with a Ph.D. in Postcolonial Literature in 2014. He is currently teaching English at New Britain High School in New Britain, CT, where he is conducting action research on incorporating the principles and practices of Restorative Discipline for the inner-city studentshe is currently teaching, while simultaneously aligning this disciplinary approach with the scholarly work of Eric Jensen.