Wounds in “The People of Paper”

One of the recurring motifs in Salvador Plascenia’s People of Paper is that of the wound. We see brilliant paper-surgeon Antonio left bleeding on the floor, burgeoned by paper cuts after the creation of Merced de Papel. Federico de la Fey can “cure” himself of his problems (bed wetting, the pain of losing his wife) only by burning himself. Maricela–the companion of Ignacio the mechanic–is marked by star-shaped scars, all self-inflicted by a heated screwdriver head.

What is notable about these “wounds” is that most of them are treated somewhat ceremoniously. Federico de la Fey appears almost sage-like as he emerges from underneath the lead shell of the mechanical tortoise to helps one of the “Glue Sniffers” to beat his addiction (29), and the mechanic’s routine of soaking aloe leaves overnight, then laying them across Maricela’s body each morning (59) is overtly ritualistic.

Despite these nods to ritual, Plascencia’s descriptions acknowledge the violence of the wound and its typical, negative connotations (i.e. Maricela’s ex-boyfriend Tacho, who is too ashamed of her multiple star-shaped scars to stay with her). Even so, by depicting the wound in a way that is both purposeful and at times even constructive.

In a BOMB Magazine interview with Max Benavidez, Pascencia reveals some insight into his decision to depict wounds in this way. When Benavidez asks Pascencia if he agrees with Jean Genet’s view that “beauty originates in a wound,” Pascencia responds,

By the way Genet puts it, a wound is not only the genesis of but also the fuel for creation. The injury, the cut, must be sustained. To heal is to risk losing the ability to be an artist. In that configuration, art is ultimately masochistic, because it prevents closure; the mending of tissues is suspended and the pain is extended. But I guess there are thousands of varieties of wounds, and not all of them expose bone and organs. The sadness of failed romantic love cuts one way. The sadness of social injustice takes the form of repeated shanks, and so on…All these abrasions, regardless of their depth, provoke introspection because we are forced to come to terms with our frailty and mortality.

Reading this comment made me start to wonder about the connection between the pain of the characters themselves and the pain involved with the creative process that Pascencia refers to. Merced de Papel might be left bleeding on the floor as Merced del Papel walks out into the world, but he has, after all, completed his greatest work.

On the other hand, the depiction of wounds in People of Paper suggests that pain is in many ways integral to coping, and that a wound can sometimes help to heal, as in the defeat of the Glue Sniffers’ addiction. In the later part of his BOMB Magazine interview, Plascencia makes the following comment about the creative process, which brought me back to this question:

Does that mean I have to sacrifice my mental health and happiness for art? I let the wounds heal and I’m unwilling to pick at stitches and scabs. If indeed the wound is the source of creation, I’d rather stop writing or be a hack than to be perpetually wounded or reopen my old wounds just to produce some text.

In this sense, perhaps the wounds in People of Paper are meant, ultimately, to run their course. The characters in the book face their own distinct sadnesses, and while their wounds make this pain palpable, they also present the opportunity to move on–a cycle that to Plascencia seems to connect with the creative process itself.

This idea is exemplified most clearly by the depiction of the author Saturn’s sadness when his girlfriend leaves him. Although he could supposedly “survive on the taste of sadness for years” (111), his response is to write what presumably becomes People of Paper.

“Missing you is worse than Pittsburgh,” laments Sal/Saturn on pg. 118. I feel a little wounded myself.

Elise Hawthorne


~ by elisehawthorne on March 28, 2010.

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