Connecting Guatemala, Australia and the World: Violence in Horacio Castellanos Moya’s Senselessness and Mark McKenna’s Looking for Blackfellas’ Point


This article uses Lacanian psychoanalysis to look past the enormous contextual differences between the politically-motivated mass murders and consequent genocide of the Maya in Guatemala during the Civil War, and the frontier massacres in Australia during colonisation, to locate important commonalities. In Horacio Castellanos Moya’s 2004 novel Senselessness, it identifies a libidinal investment in a Maya and Latin American Other as the site of the excessive enjoyment that Lacan calls jouissance: a projection responsible for love, hate and all varieties of discrimination. It identifies a similar investment in an Aboriginal Other in Mark McKenna’s 2002 nonfiction book Looking for Blackfellas’ Point. Castellanos Moya creates a narrator whose intense libidinal investment in the Maya Other’s suffering reveals not only the limits of reconciliation in Guatemala, but also how libidinal investments in Latin America as a site of literary jouissance trap the region between magic and violence. McKenna unearths a local narrative of denial in which Aboriginal Australians are cast as villains; this points to an ambivalent national narrative where Aboriginal Australians are either victims or victimisers, but always exceptional. What connects Guatemala, Australia and the world is a collective responsibility for the production of Others – of and for whom violence is expected.

Over thirteen-and-a-half thousand kilometres separate Guatemala City and the Bega Valley on the far south coast of New South Wales. However, the five or so years leading up to the new millennium saw both places host particularly significant attempts to recover and to thwart the recovery of the historical experience of war and the government-sponsored oppression of two Indigenous populations.

Guatemala’s thirty-six-year civil war officially ended in 1996 with the Guatemalan government and a group representing the various left-wing rebel forces signing the final peace accord. During the Guatemalan Civil War, the staunchly anti-communist United States-backed military sought to eradicate leftist elements in the country. Barbara Harff and Ted Robert Gurr call the Guatemalan military’s campaign an episode of ‘repressive politicide’ (‘Toward’ 364). Repressive politicides are ‘mass murders targeted at political parties, factions, and movements because they are engaged in some form of oppositional activity’ (Harff and Gurr, ‘Toward’ 363),…

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Published 29 October 2020 in Volume 35 No. 2. Subjects: Aboriginal Australians, Aboriginal Australians - Literary portrayal, Early settlement of Australia, Magical Realism, Latin American literature, Indigenous history and culture, Guatemala, Horacio Castellanos Moya, Mark McKenna, Global North, Global South, Indigenous Latin Americans, Genocide.

Cite as: Piccini, Mark. ‘Connecting Guatemala, Australia and the World: Violence in Horacio Castellanos Moya’s Senselessness and Mark McKenna’s Looking for Blackfellas’ Point.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 35, no. 2, 2020, doi: 10.20314/als.5db55e95ec.