The Violent Eye of Queer Motherhood

by on Oct.07, 2010

In light of Johannes’ post and the recent rash of gay teen suicides in the US, I want to continue exploring queer motherhood. In Bolaño’s “Mauricio ‘The Eye’ Silva,” motherhood—bound up in dictatorship-era queerness—is borne of an unspeakably violent act. If violence in the text is “ambient,” this particular act is animal: it shoots straight through a subject who is not its author-agent but vessel, vibration itself.

Mauricio Silva is a photographer “reputed to be homosexual”:  his nickname is “The Eye.” On an assignment in India, Silva finds himself in a brothel where boys are prostituted and castrated. His vision, described in retrospect:

“I was crying, or I thought I was, said The Eye, or maybe that’s what the prostitute thought, poor kid, but none of it was true. I tried to keep a smile on my face (although it wasn’t my face anymore, I could feel it drifting away from me like a leaf on the wind), and all this time, underneath, I was scheming. Not that I had a plan, or any idea of redress, just a blind determination.”

Silva’s determination, undoubtedly sublime, leads to excessive display. He is, after all, a weeping Eye. Wreaking violence at the brothel in order to rescue two boys—the bloody details of which the text refuses to describe—The Eye experiences a spillage of the self, a leakage beyond tears:

“…what the Eye saw was a drowsy, tearful child; the eunuch was still at his side, with a half-amused half-terrified look on his face.  Then the Eye was transformed into something else, although the expression he used was not ‘something else’ but ‘mother.’

Mother, he said and sighed.  At last.  Mother.” (my italics)


Why does the Eye transform, turning suddenly violent despite the narrator’s assertion that he “had always tried to avoid violence, even at the risk of being considered a coward”? How does maternity surge through a Chilean gay man, for the sake of two Indian boys he has just met, out of nowhere?

Bolaño doesn’t tell us outright. But his protagonist’s optical nickname suggests enough. We turn, via Zizek’s The Ticklish Subject, to Alain Badiou, who clears up our fuzzy postmodernist lens:

“…there is one and only one Truth which, once articulated, spoken out, functions as the index of itself and of the falsity of the field subverted by it.”


The Eye’s maternal violence is a properly authentic act. It fully, if momentarily, suspends the logic in which gay men—as aberrant, nonreproductive members of society—don’t make the species evolve. Aren’t even allowed into the leftist camp of Chileans who, “when it came to sexuality […] reacted just like their enemies on the right.”

The Eye’s act reveals the “falsity of the field” precisely by throwing back at culture, through ruthless tenderness, the death drive inscribed upon him.

The Eye’s violence = Badiou’s Truth-Event.


As the single mother of sexually exploited children, the Eye trivializes the middle-class fight to eat wedding cakes. Staying in India to take care of the boys, he gives up life and a relationship in Europe. He also fucks up the childless “no future” mantra of Edelman as well its inverse:  the misguided campaign on the Internet urging suicidal queer youth that “it gets better.”

The Eye’s adopted children don’t get better. They perish despite his care. The Eye doesn’t get better either:

“That night when he went back to his hotel, he wept for his dead children and all the other castrated boys, for his own lost youth, for those who were young no longer and those who died young, for those who fought for Salvador Allende and those who were too scared to fight.”

The story ends with more tears, tears for the future of children who die. Yet, before tears, during the Eye’s rescue, algo bueno: “He vividly remembers the feeling of exaltation welling up in him, stronger and stronger, a joy that felt dangerously like lucidity, but wasn’t (couldn’t have been).”


Before tears, light:

“The lights cajoled me” “Teased me” “Rubbed my cheek, brushed” “my arm”

“Rested lightly” “on my shoulder” “Then I heard” “the voice say,”
“…The past is shadows” “We’ll make” “another child…” “The lights,”
“the lights settled” “in my arms &” “made a shape of” “a glowing baby”

“with a phos-” “phosphorescent smile” “It was a symbol” “of the future”
“I held it” “Held it” “for a moment” “of peace, till” “it dissolved”

–Alice Notley, The Descent of Alette

5 comments for this entry:
  1. Joyelle McSweeney

    Lucas, I love your reading of Bolano plus the counterposition of the Notley– I’ve brought those two together myself in thinking about queer motherhood (in my ‘Future’ of ‘Poetry’ talk,) so you and I must breathing the fetid air of the same occult niche! Your focus on The Eye’s Eye is really helpful to me in thinking about an essay I plan to write as soon as I can FIND my copy of Bataille’s Story of the Eye– I will be anxious to hear your thoughts on it once I materialize it!

    Great reading of the Bolano, really stellar.

  2. Johannes Göransson

    I love this story and I love your reading of it.

    I think the children-multiplying version of “no future” is a really interesting, bringing to mind Joyelle’s statements about the rampantly queer motherhood of Artaud in the “Future of “Poetry”:

    I like the quote in which Allende’s supporters are made part of this proliferation of death’s children. Very startling moment.

    I’d like to hear more about the relationship to “the sublime,” what you make of that connection. Seems like a very interesting connection.


  3. Danielle

    Yes, gorgeous reading of the Bolano, which I haven’t yet read, so must run out for.

    My *Story of the Eye* has also disappeared, Joyelle! I wonder if they’re all together somewhere, clogging up a drain…


  4. Lucas

    Joyelle, believe it or not Sarah and I were in the audience when you gave that talk a year ago. Can’t wait for your reading of Bataille–have loved that book for a long time.

    Johannes, beyond the dissolution of the self, I was thinking of the alternation between danger and salvation that the sublime consists of. The Eye probably risks his life for those boys, but in so doing is elevated with an excess of life (children multiplying, as you say). Zizek calls this Christian love: “a violent passion to introduce a difference, a gap in the order of being, to privilege and elevate some objects at the expense of others.”

    Of course, it’s also the “perverse core” of Christianity.

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