Week #12 (assuming we skipped #11) – Metaphors for writing in People of Paper

We’ve already mentioned in class the big metaphor between Antonio’s origami creations and the act of writing.  Antonio heals with paper, performing surgery on cats and eventually humans, and he also creates life with paper, through the character we come to know as Merced de Papel.  Professor Sample asked for examples of other ways Plascencia references other metaphors of writing in The People of Paper, and the only one I could come up with was the frequent description of blood as ink.  There are others.

On page 15, Antonio creates Merced the Papel from pieces of paper that he has collected, including pages from literature:  Austen, Cervantes, Leviticus, Judges, and The Book of Incandescent Light.  This strikes me as a metaphor for the way an author is influenced by existing literature.  However, The Book of Incandescent Light isn’t an actual book, as far as I know (apparently the monk named fifty-three wrote it)-though it is periodically referenced in The People of Paper as if it were an existing book.  This is not unlike MZD’s references to completely made-up references in House of Leaves, which scrambled the boundaries between real texts and imaginary ones.

Merced de Papel’s behavior could be interpreted as a symbol for a written work-even a symbol for the written work in which she was created.  For example, she steps over Antonio, her creator, when he passes out from exhaustion and paper cuts, and takes on a life of her own.  Plascencia has Frederico de la Fe and EMF do something similar to the author, Saturn, when he is made vulnerable by his breakup with Liz (which was due in part to his obsession with writing the book).  Also, she causes pain to men who are intimate with her.  This could allude to the pain in the novel, the specific pain of a man in love.

There seems to be something significant in the fact that she has the same name as Frederico de la Fe’s wife, Merced, and his daughter, Little Merced.  It reminded me of the part of Dream Jungle when Paz Marlowe’s mother reveals that all the miscarried children were given the same names.  It may also have something to do with the fact that many of the characters’ actions or situations overlap with the authors’.  These characters aren’t static personalities.

I was also confused about how Merced de Papel had “lost her civilization” and why she was the “only known survivor of her people.”  Is this a commentary on her specific type of literary character?  Who are her people?  Why aren’t there any more of them?


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2 thoughts on “Week #12 (assuming we skipped #11) – Metaphors for writing in People of Paper”


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    Professor Sample says:

    I like this idea of treating Merced de Papel as an in-book metaphor for the other characters, who take on a life of their own after the author (Saturn) initially creates them.

    In many ways, it seems that The People of Paper is asking a question that has preoccupied other postmodern novelists (DeLillo in Mao II or Rushdie in The Satanic Verses), which is, how does something new come into the world? In a world of consumer glut and crowded voices, how does something wholly new come into the world, and what agency does that new thing have? We probably should review Barthes’ “The Literature of Exhaustion” essay, where he suggests that the impossibility of creating something new is itself grist for a novel. Do you see The People of Paper entering into Barthes’ argument in any way?


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    hereticsnail says:

    I think there are definitely ways that The People of Paper addresses some of the issues that Barthes raises in his article. 

    There’s the paragraph on page 139 about ‘intermedia’ arts “eliminat[ing] not only the traditional audience…but also the most traditional notion of the artist…the very idea of the controlling artist, has been condemned as politically reactionary, even fascist.”  I thinkPlascencia mentions somewhere in the book that his control over his characters and his manipulation of the facts and histories makes him a sort of colonialist, the kind that he accuses Liz’s tall white lover of being. 

    Barthes’ discussion of Borges’ “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” mentions the creation of a “coherent alternative to this world…[that] begins to obtrude itself into and eventually supplant our prior reality” (143).  This passage made me think about the ways that Plascencia seems to be rewriting the history of so many things (El Monte, Rita Hayworth, his breakup and with Liz) and writing about these manipulated histories in a tone that assumes they are true. 

    Borges has been described as a “magical realist” (according to some definitions of the term), and we could make the case that Salvador Plascencia is too.  I think magical realism might be one strategy that writers employ to overcome “exhaustion.”  When realistic literature is exhausted, writers can mix a bit of the supernatural into their work and make it something new.

    Barthes’ mention of The Three Imposters, a fictional text that eventually becomes real when someone decides to publish it, reminds me of The Book of Incandescent Light, a book about heartbreak that might be a metaphor for The People of Paper.

    However, from the way Merced the Papel is described in The People of Paper, I got the feeling that she was the last of her kind, rather than the first (even though she probably was the first of her kind)–which makes me doubt that her character is Plascencia’s reaction to “exhaustion.”  It seemed like people thought of her as if she was the last of her endangered species, the last member of her tribe, or a relic from the past.  I don’t know if anyone else got that impression.

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