There are always other eyes seeing what I see, and imagining that other angle, imagining what these senses that are not mine could make out through my own sense is, all things considered, the best definition of love that I know.
Grief is the end of loneliness.
—Cristina Rivera Garza (Liliana’s Invincible Summer, Part IV)
The narrative in Liliana’s Invincible Summer appears to begin with a quest to track down a copy of a decades-old police report. That is the starting point. But it is not the promised end (or even a vision of that horror). It is the not real undertaking. It is not even the real starting point, which clearly came earlier – perhaps with the decision to track down the police report so many years after the events described in that report, perhaps with the decision to write about her sister’s life and death, perhaps with the decision to engage in that noble, bootless gest of sense-making. Perhaps all of the above.1 The answer is not clear, cannot be clear. Perhaps cannot even be. (Some questions are unanswerable.)
Οὐκ εἶναί φασιν οὐδέν· εἰ δ᾽ ἔστιν, ἄγνωστον εἶναι· εἰ δὲ καὶ ἔστιν καὶ γνωστόν, ἀλλ᾽ οὐ δηλωτὸν ἄλλοις.
He maintains that nothing exists; and that if anything exists, it is unknowable; and that if anything both exists and is knowable, it cannot be demonstrated to others.
—[Aristotle] (On Gorgias, 979a, trans. after W.S. Hett)
It is not, I would say, a book as such. It is an assemblage, a collection – the approach is curatorial rather than authorial and, fittingly, devotional rather than authoritative. It is a choice, perhaps meant to suit the subject’s own approach to living and recording, an attempt to be in the subject’s place, for whom ‘the urge to write and the urge to archive appeared at the same time’ (Part II). Liliana’s ‘archive’ is somewhat commonplace – drafts of letters, fragments of relationships – and her sister’s additions to this (transcripts of unrecorded interviews, etc.) do not present a clear picture, or a mosaic, or even a comprehensible collage. She notes, ‘Liliana’s deliberate opacity not only requires determination on the part of the reader, the willingness to read on despite obstacles, but also complicity. Even love’ (Part VIII). Like its subject, the book, too, requires determination on the part of the reader, but not enough is presented to inspire that determination or that complicity – and certainly not that love, which is perhaps more necessary than either.
Not that Liliana was not special – to her family, to her friends; not that her death was not a tragedy – to her family, to her friends; but there is not enough in the archive to make her a hero or a symbol or emblem or much more than a statistic to anyone other than her family and her friends. Her fears, her dreams, her character – the future she never knew – remain chimerical, a cypher. But grief finds its best expression in the counterfactual. The strongest parts of the book, those parts that seem most ‘real’ (that convey the unreality, the impossibility of the situation), are those that deal directly with the experience of grief and mourning, ‘in this other world of quicksand in which we have already placed our feet, sinking little by little’ (Part IX), because the grief is the author’s story to tell, while Liliana’s life never should have been – it should have been her own. It is thus an imperfect book. Incomplete because its true work is not something that can be finished for an audience – and will perhaps never appear to be finished at all.
- This is apparent from reading The Restless Dead or Grieving: Dispatches from a Wounded Country, which explore much of the same territory, but start in different places and use different strategies and are, for some of the same reasons, equally (dis)satisfying. [↩]