Part 1: Pattern
Plascencia uses the name Merced (or variations of it) for multiple characters in the novel.
“The cleaning crew came, sprayed fire retardant over the two vehicles, and then scraped away shreds of wet paper that clung to the shattered windshield and hood, some of the pulp falling to the asphalt and washed into the gutters by rainwater”(p198)
“There was no official record of Merced de Papel’s death..her history was on the lips of her lovers”(p198)
“But when Merced de Papel dissolved from paper to strings of fiber and pulp it was not the mild-mannered and short-tongued men who mourned her most, but those with scarred and long tongues” (p201)
“To her the idea of a romance enduring even a season was a baffling absurdity – it’s something that burns and disappears into ash” (p167)
“Smiley had sworn that he would never again wear the black funeral guayabera. But the morning that he received the news of Little Merced’s death he got up from bed…slipping on the black guayabera once again.” (p198)
“Perhaps Little Merced was awakened not by the hand of God, but by one of Apolonio’s concoctions” (p201)
Part 2: Analysis
In the novel People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia, multiple characters share the same name of Merced. Using the same name, Plascencia compares and contrasts the different Merced’s lives. In chapter 22 specifically, we read about the deaths of two major characters in the novel: Merced de Papel and Little Merced. Although they may share the same name, the cause of death and aftermath are very different, which highlights the different lifestyles and relationships of women “of paper” compared to women not of paper. The juxtaposition of their two deaths thus demonstrates the fragility of both the life and relationships that women of paper choose to pursue, as once Merced de Papel dies, her presence and significance fades among the world that she sought, yet still survives among those that she abandoned.
In the same chapter, both Merceds die – Merced de Papel by a car accident, and Little Merced by citrus poisoning. Merced de Papel’s body is never found, as the rain causes her to dissolve into pieces of wet pulp that are sprayed off by the cleaning crew and “washed into the gutters by rainwater”(p198). Unlike Merced de Papel, Little Merced is found by Froggy who then carries her to Federico de la Fe’s house. The presence of Little Merced’s body compared to Merced de Papel washing away emphasizes the concrete, tangibility of people of flesh. With Little Merced being found while Merced de Papel seems to just disappear without any record of her death, her history only “on the lips of her lovers”, Plascencia also highlights the abstract intangibility of paper people: something that exists as only ideas in the minds of others.
Upon death, Merced de Papel’s preferred “mild-mannered and short-tongued men” did not mourn for her as much as the passionate men with “scarred and long tongues” (p201). The rather detached reactions of her favored lovers result from Merced de Papel’s view of love as a “baffling absurdity – it’s something that burns and disappears into ash” (p167). She ignores gifts of past lovers, no matter the degree of passion and dedication behind it, such as an original song that took two entire years to create. She does not understand the “sincere nostalgia” that seems to have caused men to abandon their pride, as she herself strips off any scraps containing remnants of her past lovers and replaces them with new paper. Little Merced, on the other hand, witnesses the pain and self-inflicted burning that her father undergoes due to his love for her mother. She is sympathetic to her father’s troubles with love, as she wants her father to be able to pine for her mother privately, fighting to protect her father (and the rest of El Monte) from Saturn’s gaze through the black veil that she learns to form from Baby Nostrodamus. Because Little Merced understands love and a sense of belonging or appreciation of the past, those that she loves are able to reciprocate the love even after death. The entire town mourns her death, even Smiley, who “had sworn that he would never again wear the black funeral guayabera” (p198). And as a result of the love (from Apolonio), Little Merced is revived while Merced de Papel is gone forever, only existing in memory.
Through contrasting this insubstantial fate of Merced the paper form, having faded away without a trace, with that of the flesh form, Plascencia seems to renounce paper’s ability to safely keep ideas and thoughts long after collecting them. However, the act of destroying paper, along with the thoughts and emotions built upon it, in part stems from people – Merced de Papel strips off the scraps of paper herself. It is an individual’s agency to determine if the paper and its contents have meaning and, similarly as lovers write and try to leave their marks on Merced de Papel’s body, to create meaning out of the paper. So even as paper is destroyed, it is up to us to safeguard the content within ourselves, just as Merced de Papel’s scarred and long-tongued lovers do. Plascencia suggests that it is our disregard for paper, and the meaning that it can hold, that causes paper to become a flimsy fragile object, like Merced de Papel at the end, when it could be something wholesome and passionate, like Little Merced.
Part 3: Questions
How does Galerie De Difformite carry out its namesake as a gallery? And how may that contribute to its message as an artist’s book?
We have discussed in class the emphasis experimental novels place on aesthetic experience. How is the format of the book essential to the message (ie why make it a book and not something else?). Discuss with any of the following books: People of Paper, Citizen, Galerie De Difformite, The Arrival.
Both Citizen and Galerie De Difformite incorporate artwork into the book. How do their uses compare?