Otherness as Dystopia: Space, Marginality and Post-National Imagination in Fernando

 Vallejo’s La virgen de los sicarios



Sandro R. Barros

University of Michigan



The objective revisionism of the Colombian Establishment elaborated by Fernando Vallejo through his homonymous character in La virgen de los sicarios could be argued as a literary project in which the city comes to represent a point of departure for the novel’s odious re-imagination of the national present. The disposition of the character of Fernando as a hateful entity whose corrosive criticism of the homeland re-emphasizes Colombia’s stereotypical image as a site dominated by violence and social decay may be regarded, however, as a concealed declaration of affection.(1) Ultimately, the narrator’s obsession with the national space reveals an apparent demonstration of concern and frustration derived from his disillusioned re-encounter with the city of his youth. Nevertheless, as subjective or transcendently poetic as Fernando’s caustic prose may be when revising the status quo of the nation, the disparaging attacks against the Establishment take place precisely in the protagonist’s reconsideration of the Colombian urban milieu. In La virgen, Medellín is depicted as the locale upon which the past is enunciated as a utopia and the present, Medallo, as Vallejo’s onomatopoeic irony suggests, is eventually confronted and consummated as a dystopic reality. The authorial alter-ego’s fixation with the national space, clearly manifested in the numerous accounts of the sicariato violence and the corruption of the ecclesiastical and political bodies, is intrinsically denotative of a textual gesture in which the narrator’s (dis)affection for that which is contained within the urban realm serves as a sustained mirrored image of the Colombian nation as a whole.(2)

Indeed, the notion of the city representing the entirety of the nation corresponds to an abstraction insofar as the urban reality conveys a type of “fictional knowledge” that inherently proposes one’s gaze upon its dense fabric as a type of totalizing experience (de Certeau 127).(3) More than an ideal of cosmopolitanism, the universe contained in “one” space, the city signifies a discursive authority, for in the very realization of its “optical” knowledge, the very imaginary totalizations produced by the gaze of its singularities, lies the key to its self-authentication, its ability to define the state of things in the illusion of plenitude.

A powerful act of imagination in itself, the city, more specifically the lettered city, has traditionally submitted to its referentiality the very process of thought, the very formation of centric and peripheral modes of national being.(4) By reverting the perspective of the lettered city’s account to the marginal gaze, the perambulations of Vallejo’s protagonists through the chaotic space of Medellín suggest that the sanctioning aspect of the urban discourse be turned against itself in the definition of national identities. The act of re-imagining Medellín – and by default the nation – vis-à-vis the periphery implies the appropriation of the city’s totalizing discourse. Thus falling prey to an outsider viewpoint, the conceptualization of the urban realm as a utopian ideal of civility, or conglomeration of differences “in agreement” is dismantled in La virgen’s narrative in favor of the complete annihilation of its future. The city is not only denounced as a failed project of communal existence but it is also shown to be a space where its apparent diversity is ultimately exclusivist in principle.

If counter-utopian literature has commonly expressed a disenchanted pessimism towards the present by fictionalizing its condition in the remoteness of a future account (Kaplan 200), what the reader comes to realize in La virgen is that the author is actually pursuing the opposite of such a tenet.(5) In Vallejo’s text, the perception of the city as a degenerate likelihood is replaced by the actuality of Medellín’s present, which consequentially places the novel in a singular position regarding the very status of dystopic narratives as prophetic visions.

As Néstor Canclini affirms, cities are not merely a physical phenomenon, a way in which individuals occupy a certain space. Cities also constitute locales with an inherited patrimony comprised of elements such as legends, histories, images and films that speak about and on behalf of their existence (Imaginarios urbanos, 93). Hence, the city itself can be considered a text to be arbitrarily interpreted, translated and recounted.

Personified as a malignant agent capable of easily disposing of its inhabitants, treating citizenship itself as a commodity, Medellín is (re)presented in La virgen as a Dantesque inferno where the marginal body is constantly depicted as a nomadic existence, spiritually exiled in its own space of origin.(6) Throughout Fernando’s and his sicario companions’ pilgrimages, “Metrallo” is criticized for its ejection of those individuals who do not conform to concentric and pre-established models of citizenry imposed by the lettered city. The disenfranchised sicarios are portrayed as homeless entities, rejected by the very place that has been customarily imagined as fostering difference (Bridge and Watson 11).(7) Fernando’s visit to Medellín’s morgue in search of his second lover Wílmar vouches for the novel’s denouncement of the city’s dehumanization of marginal bodies. When seeing the multitude of nameless cadavers, victims of the random violence that has taken over the urban space of Medellín, the narrator comes to realize how analogous his experience is to that of a visit to a local butcher shop:


Los que sí están refrigerados son los N.N., o no identificados, que van a una cava o frigorífico desnudos, colgados de unos ganchos como reses por tres meses, al cabo de los cuales, si nadie los reclama, el Estado los entierra por su cuenta. El Estado, esto es, Colombia, la caritativa. (120)


This ironic description of the nation “charitably” disposing of the unidentified bodies of its citizens emphasizes the extent of its disengagement as a political institution. The corpses that Fernando observes, hanging like pieces of meat in the morgue’s refrigerator, are symbolically suggestive of the Establishment’s treatment of sicarios as bestial entities. Moreover, the narrative shift from the first person to the third in this episode underscores the level of depersonalization with which Vallejo intends to characterize the senseless purpose of life in the urban context of Medellín. When referring to himself in the third person, the narrator reports:


Si en un principio, de entrada, el hombre invisible pensó, por su color translúcido, que los cadáveres de la sala de necropsias estaban refrigerados, después descubrió que no. No. Era la transparencia de la muerte. (119)        


The proposition of the body as a disposable commodity is advanced at both the physical and metaphysical levels. While Vallejo’s narrator’s sarcastic irony criticizes the urban locale as an abject space for the sicario existence, the author seeks to textually transcend its reality by formulating a discourse that reveals the idiosyncrasies and contradictions of the city as a poetic unreality. One example of this mode of discursive representation can be found in the narrator’s arrival at one of Medellín’s comunas. Upon reaching the top of a hill, Fernando and Alexis encounter a sign posted by local residents with the inscription “se prohibe arrojar cadáveres” (46). Upon noticing the presence of a dead body amidst a pile of garbage nearby, the narrator, in his customary sardonic tone, notes the paradox present at the transgression of the authority implied by the posted message: “¿Se prohibe? ¿Y esos gallinazos qué? ¿Que era entonces ese ir y venir de aves negras, brincando, aleteando, picoteándose, patrasiándose para sacarle mejor las tripas al muerto?” (46).(8) There is a conscious intent here of manifesting Medellín as the epitome of a transcendental reality. The very presence of the sign’s inscription “it is forbidden to throw cadavers” presupposes a paradoxical account, since the image of a body lying by its side contrasts with the value of the message contained in the writing. Also, Fernando’s explanation of the decomposing body being eaten by vultures implies a transgression of the inscription’s authority, which fundamentally underscores not only the comuna as a legislative organization distinct from the lettered city but also shows that Fernando’s and Alexis’ “surreal” experience corresponds, in fact, to the very quotidian reality of the sicario in his locale of origin. As the narrator affirms: “Surrealistas estúpidos! Pasaron por este mundo castos y puros sin entender nada de nada, ni de la vida ni del surrealismo. El pobre surrealismo se estrella en añicos contra la realidad de Colombia” (118).

What Fernando signifies by suggesting the Colombian reality to be a surrealist paradigm is not necessarily the contemplation of the nation as an unreality but rather an ironic proposition that asserts the sicario space as an unknown territory. In other words, in the commentaries that emphasize the nation’s extraordinary nature, Fernando ultimately reaffirms the place from which his discourse is effectively formulated.

Indeed, Fernando’s observations throughout La virgen’s narrative are particularly keen on drawing attention to the geographical separations existing between the sicario marginal sphere and the lettered city. The narrator-protagonist’s assertion of Medellín as the combination of two cities under a single name indicates the scrutiny of the urban spatiality as the severance of two distinct universes: “Podríamos decir, para simplificar las cosas, que bajo un solo nombre Medellín son dos ciudades; la de abajo, intemporal, en el valle; y la de arriba, en las montañas, rodeándola. El abrazo de Judas” (82).

However, in this explicit separation advocated by the narrator, the influx of bodies, that is, the dislocation of the marginal subject from the peripheral comuna to the lettered city – and the opposite – is purportedly unequal, for it is common to observe the sicarios infiltrating the space of the lettered city but not the contrary. Fernando’s explanation of the sicariato’s journey from the “espacio de arriba” to the “espacio de abajo” gives emphasis to the very impertinence of this class in defying the imaginary borders of the city. Simultaneously, the author underscores the sicario presence as a foreign body within the confinements of the urban milieu. Hence, the comuna is constantly emphasized as a space of isolation where the city itself disposes of its byproduct, namely the poverty and violence attributed to the sicariato culture:


La ciudad de abajo nunca sube a la ciudad de arriba pero lo contrario sí: los de arriba bajan, a vagar, a robar, a atracar, a matar. Quiero decir, bajan los que quedan vivos, porque a la mayoría, allá arriba, allá mismo, tan cerquita de las nubes y del cielo, antes de que alcancen a bajar en su propio matadero los matan. (82)


Exposed as an infectious locus, the sicarioscomuna is apprehended as a space of containment of poverty whose growth threatens the very existence of the utopian ideal of the city. As Fernando recounts, the situation of warfare between rival groups of sicarios is ultimately transferred beyond their original domain; it invades the lettered city in its most quotidian occurrences:


Se estaban dando plomo a loco estos dos combos por cuestiones “territoriales,” como decían antes los biólogos y como dicen ahora los sociólogos. Dos bandas de la comuna noriental, que como su nombre indica está en el Norte, agarradas de la greña en Sabaneta, que está en el Sur, en el otro extremo? Sabaneta goza de extraterritorialidad, amigos, y aquí no me vengan a dirimir sus querellas de barrio: esto es mar abierto para todos los tiburones. (50-51)


As La virgen’s narrator asserts, the genesis of the sicariato’s Medellín, the “Meddellín de arriba,” must be understood as a site of marginalization instigated by the very agency of its counterpart, the “Medellín de abajo.” This becomes patently obvious when Fernando briefly accounts for the so-called “La violencia” period in Colombian history – roughly from 1948 to 1958 – in which the political dispute between the Liberal and Conservative parties led the country into a perennial state of insurrection and criminality.(9) In one of his customary digressions, Fernando retells the comunas as a developing occurrence whose foundations are settled in the country’s historical territorial disputes:


Cuánto hace que se murieron los viejos, que se mataron de jóvenes, unos con otros a machete … A machete, con los que trajeron del campo cuando llegaron huyendo dizque de “la violencia” y fundaron estas comunas sobre terrenos ajenos, robándoselos como barrios piratas o de invasión (83).


As can be noted, the sicariato existence is reviewed in conjunction with the historical nation. The inclusion of the sicario as a subject who evolves out of the conflict of Medellin’s marginality suggests that violence be appreciated as one of the many facets that make up the nation’s identity. As Vallejo explains the story of the two Medellíns, the author places in evidence a message of abandonment and exclusion that leads the reader to reflect on the responsibilities of the lettered city for the situation one encounters in the “city above:”


Y que hace Medellín por Metrallo? Nada, canchas de fútbol en terraplanes elevados, excavados en la montaña, con muy bonita vista (nosotros), panorámica, para que jueguen fútbol todo el día y se acuesten cansados y ya no piensen en matar ni en la cópula. (84-85)


Within a critical reflection that stresses the urban utopia as an elusive concept, Vallejo ratifies Medellín as a legendary city. The author articulates the urban spatiality as a fabulous myth apprehended as the “sum of all signs”, as Roland Barthes would have it (144), a global representation of the nation in a degenerative state. Thus, the re-appropriation of the topos of violence and its re-incidence throughout the novel revise the Colombian context as an emblematic territory whose first cognitive identification communicates social chaos and violence as a type of inherent identity.

As Vallejo introduces human brutality as an everyday account, at times appealing to its current “banality” to reaffirm the city’s dystopic quality, Medellín becomes suggestively uttered, in Bakhtinian terms, as a chronotope of the contemporary Third World city, a space marked by poverty, hybridity and heterogeneity in disparate and unequal levels.(10) The author’s negative reiteration of Medellín as a collapsed urban project reveals a subversive mode of celebrating Colombian nationality that appropriates the very process through which the nation has been traditionally imagined. Nevertheless, instead of focusing on the positive attributes that express a cohesive form of national identity and solidarity – as Benedict Anderson has suggested regarding the consolidation of the European bourgeoisie – Vallejo’s narrative repossesses a national cultural imagery that is essentially negative (Anderson 145).(11) This becomes evident, for instance, when the author links Medellín and its sicariato culture to the figure of Pablo Escobar, a name that has come to be understood as a synonym for Colombia and the drug traffic underworld:


Con la muerte del presunto traficante, aquí [Medellín] la profesión de sicario se acabó … Sin trabajo fijo, se dispersaron por la ciudad y se pusieron a secuestrar, a atracar, a robar. Y sicario que trabaja por su cuenta y riesgo ya no es sicario: es libre empresa, la iniciativa privada. Otra institución nuestra que se nos va. El naufragio de Colombia, en esta pérdida de nuestra identidad ya no nos va quedando nada. (34)


Vallejo’s reinstatement of the sicario as a subverted type of entrepreneurship contributes to the sustaining of Medellín’s identity as a site of social corruptibility, while proposing, rather ironically, that the sicariato lifestyle be recognized as a profession. Furthermore, Vallejo’s implication of the sicariato activities in conjunction with Escobar suggests the young assassins’ representation be contextually inserted in an economic model that purports the nation’s drug-related activities as a degenerate type of Third World capitalism. However, Vallejo’s ironic critical appreciation of the sicariato’s engagement in society’s marginal economies does not lose sight of the fact that their line of work constitutes a last resort, since this social class is unable to engage in licit forms of capitalism as a means to ensure its own survival:


Muerto el gran contratador de sicarios [Pablo Escobar], mi pobre Alexis de quedó sin trabajó. Fue entonces cuando lo conocí. Por eso los acontecimientos nacionales están ligados a los personales, y las pobres, ramplonas vidas de los humildes tramadas con las de los grandes. (61)


If on the one hand Fernando affirms in the aforementioned fragment that national events are connected to personal and individual circumstances, on the other hand the narrator is particularly keen on stressing the arbitrariness with which the historical nation remembers and forgets its own past and sense of identity.(12) Fernando’s critical stance on the collective imaginary of the nation predicates his exilic Self to be someone whose memory of the past is capable of acting as a supplementary force of historical representation: “Señor procurador: Yo soy la memoria de Colombia y su conciencia y después de mi no sigue nada” (21).

The former exiled narrator reveals himself as an entity that, through his apparent distance from the nation’s reality, is able to better confront the true nature of its progress; his life-account is advanced as a corrective measure that elevates remembrance to a condition of authenticity where history is concerned. In Fernando’s contrast between the present of the nation and his memories, the disfigured now becomes an event of historical proportions, for ultimately the narrator recognizes the past and its conventional narratives to be relative commonalities:


La fugacidad de la vida humana a mi no me inquieta; me inquieta la fugacidad de la muerte: esta prisa que tienen aquí para olvidar. El muerto más importante lo borra un partido de fútbol. Así, de partido en partido se está liquidando la memoria. (39)


As can be noted in the aforementioned excerpt, La virgen’s narrative trivializes the national past inasmuch as it reinforces its corruptibility in the present. Vallejo’s scrutiny of Medellín’s modernity sees globalization as a type of ideological violence in which existence is relinquished in favor of trans-national capital demands. The author also revises the contemporary global nation as a locus where the disavowal of traditional identities constitutes a mandate within the circumstances promoted by the economic initiatives of the new world order. Earlier in the narrative, Fernando criticizes the origin of the sicarios’ names and unprivileged individuals alike, thus manifesting internationalism as a paradigm after which local identities are negotiated. Observing that the sicarios’ names are in their vast majority foreign, especially Anglo-American based, the narrator states:


Con eso de que les dio a los pobres por ponerles a los hijos nombres de ricos, extravagantes, extranjeros: Tayson Alexander, por ejemplo, o Fáber o Eder o Wílfer o Rommel o Yeison o que sé yo … Es lo único que les pueden dar para arrancar en esta mísera vida a sus niños, un vano, un necio nombre extranjero o inventado, de relumbrón. (8-9)


A postmodern sense of hybridization can be contemplated influencing the formation of one of the most basic forms of identity articulation, that is, one’s given name (Canclini, 263-322). The Anglo-American patrimony, whether or not expressed in the hybridization of proper names or material commodities, is purported in the novel as a distinguishable referential by which global identities are devised, for it is in the consumption of the so-called First World cultural production that the symbolic value of particular influences is asserted.(13) The transnational postmodern context that embraces Medellín is thus implicated as an “in-between”(Bhabba, 59-60) stage in which archaism – represented by Fernando’s memory and his self-assertion as the representative of a particular past tradition – and modernity – implied by the sicario’s incorporation into the contemporary “worldly” context of Medellín – converge in the author’s conscious representation of the reality of globalization in Latin America.

The signs of contemporary consumerism are vehemently criticized in Vallejo’s revision of Medellín as the narrator Fernando comments about their effects on the behavioral attitudes of his sicario companions: “Impulsado por su vacío existencial Alexis agarra en el televisor cualquier cosa: telenovelas, partidos de fútbol, conjuntos de rock, una puta declarando, el presidente” (33). While the sicarios’ wishes for material possessions are communicated to the reader as an “existential emptiness,” Vallejo does not conceal those symbols that have come to constitute the enunciation of a global condition where market ideals and individual aspirations are manifested as a single interdependent desire:


Con su letra atravesada y mi bolígrafo escribió: Que quería unos tennis marca Reebock y unos jeans Paco Ravanne. Camisas Ocean Pacific y ropa interior Calvin Klein. Una moto Honda, un jeep Mazda, un equipo de sonido laser y una nevera para la mamá: uno de esos refrigeradores marca Whirpool que soltaban chorros de cubitos de hielo abriéndoles simplemente una llave. (91)  


The textual affirmation of the current global context in La virgen denounces the present neo-liberal ideology as a corrosive force that is capable of consuming itself insofar as it promotes human existence as a synonym of consumption. In Fernando’s commentary cited above, Vallejo reveals a critical appreciation of the Colombian reality that exposes the paradoxical idiosyncrasies of the new world order: the marginalized subject is revealed as an agent that licitly or illicitly participates in the nation’s economy while simultaneously being exposed as a type of “disposable” entity whose struggle for survival and sense of identity is caught between the entrance and exit from the peripheral city, the “buying” and the rejection of the models of identity proposed by the metropolis (Bernal 65-6).

Since the sicarios of Vallejo’s novel are portrayed as having the same aspirations as those individuals belonging to higher social classes, the equality of their humanity is disclosed, which essentially constitutes the text’s most subversive theme: the proclamation of the Other’s “sameness.” In other words, in spite of the clear demarcation of the sicario’s excluded existence on the peripheries of society, the marginalized Other is normatively proposed as an agent capable of contesting with the cultural Establishment on the very terms of its exclusion. It suffices to mention here the emergence of the sicario as a “profession” whose conduct obeys, in principle, the same contractual and capital logic of legitimate types of businesses.

Thus the sicariato’s status as an underprivileged class comes to be revised in Vallejo’s novel as a paradox where the agency of poverty is concerned, for the reader sees through Fernando’s narrative that the sicarios’ line of work constitutes, in fact, an entrepreneurial initiative that is capable of challenging the lettered city’s “common sense;” and it does so by defying the Establishment’s own rules either in terms of cultural integrity and tradition – as the sicariato’s veneration for the Virgin of Sabaneta is able to confirm – or in terms of the very models of economy the nation adopts. Vallejo’s revision of poverty through the sicarios’ perspective, more than constituting a paradox of action and alienation, social marginality and visibility, is cogitated as an element of the Colombian identity whose self-regenerative condition is seen as a tradition: “La pobreza se autogenera multiplicada por dichas cifras y después, cuando agarra fuerza, se propaga como un incendio en progresión geométrica” (68).

The authorial message of poverty as a tradition within the historical nation is particularly noticeable in one of La virgen’s accounts in which Fernando encounters Alexis’ mother after the sicario’s death. When the narrator sees his former companion’s mother, he is instantly reminded of a poor old maid who used to serve at his home:


Pensé en … una sirvienta de mi casa, que me la recordaba. Evidentemente, aquella lejana mujer, que por la edad podría haber sido mi madre, no era la que tenía enfrente, que podía ser mi hija … ¿Sería que por sobre el abismo del tiempo se repetían las personas, los destinos? (86).


Pondering the possibility of Alexis’ mother to be related to his old servant, the narrator acknowledges misery as an atemporal circumstance, a social facet of the nation that unequivocally masks individuality under the stigma of destitution. Furthermore, when stating that the “abyss of time” repeats destinies as well as the presence of individuals in one’s life, Fernando also implicates memory as a corrupted way of accounting for the past. And it is precisely in the recognition of the past as an imperfect and aleatory construction that the author asserts the story of his partially autobiographical protagonist as a type of historicity, seeking to destabilize traditional historical discourses on the premises of the novel’s ambiguity as fiction and one’s subjectivity in the account of history. This tenet is particularly evident in one of Fernando’s many digressions in which he reports on his attendance at the funeral of an old acquaintance by the name of El Ñato. As the narrative goes, when receiving the news of his acquaintance’s death, Fernando reacts with perplexity for, as he remembered, El Ñato had been dead for thirty years, murdered in the exact same conditions of which he was now being informed: “Me despedí … a la vez inquieto por la perspectiva insidiosa de que El Ñato, y en general al ser humano … lo pudieron matar dos veces” (107). Upon arriving at the funeral, the narrator realizes that the defunct was, indeed, the person he judged to be deceased decades ago, which leads him to inquire: “¿No sería que la realidad de Medellín se enloqueció y se estaba repitiendo?” (109).

Fernando’s depiction of reality repeating itself could be reviewed either as a poetic instance or as a rhetorical principle of relating the past as a deficient memorial construct. (14) In either case, what prevails in Vallejo’s text is the obsessive accountability of the present based on the introspective subjectivity of the narrator’s recollections. Through Fernando’s perspective, the historical nation is contemplated in its undoing, consequentially revealing La virgen‘s discourse as a type of criticism directed towards the paradigms of post-modern ideology.

Yet, in its dystopic review of the present of the nation from a marginal viewpoint, Vallejo’s narrative does not invoke any form of marginal resistance or promote solutions for the de-marginalization of the sicariato existence. In effect, the sicarios’ reality is promoted as a self-destructive and self-regenerative condition that is pessimistically articulated as one of the symptoms of the nation in its very fundamental disintegration. La virgen’s contextual utterance of Medellín as a space in decay recognizes the current global milieu as the erasure of humanist principles. In this sense, Vallejo ironically postulates “inexistence” as the rationale for the twenty-first century: “Pobres seres inocentes, sacados sin motivo de la nada y lanzados en el vértigo del tiempo. Por unos necios, enloquecidos instantes nada más” (121). Fernando’s last words “y que te vaya bien, que te pise un carro / o que te estripe un tren” (121) underscores such a nihilist principle of expressing the contemporary culture, which further emphasizes La virgen’s critical revision of the nation as a frail and elusive concept.(15) The postmodern logic of centric annihilation thus defeats historical indoctrination, which inevitably purports humanity as an existence adrift: “Bueno parcero, aquí nos separamos, hasta aquí me acompaña usted, por su lado, su camino que yo me sigo en cualquiera de estos buses para donde vaya, para donde sea” (121).




(1). Indeed, the topos of violence appears as a commonality in the contemporary realm of Colombia’s literary production. For example, a search on Colombian fictional literature in the MLA Bibliography yields 32 articles that directly deal with the thematic of social violence. Laura Restrepo, Fernando Vallejo, Gabriel García Márquez, Alonso Salazar, among others, are but a few of the contemporary authors whose works are directly concerned with the historical significance of violence in the Colombian social milieu.

(2). For the role of the city in the collective imaginary of the nation, see De Certeau, “Walking the city” esp. 127.


(3). Vallejo’s discourse presents a “panoramic” narrative of the city, suggesting the narrator as a “voyeur” of the urban reality, according to De Certeau’s understanding of the term: ”Las comunas son, como he dicho, tremendas … casas y casas y casas, feas, feas, feas, encaramadas obscenamente las unas sobre las otras, ensordeciéndose con sus radios, día y noche, noche y día a ver cuál puede más, tronando en cada casa, en cada cuarto, desgañitándose en vellenatos y partidos de fútbol, música, salsa y rock, sin parar la carraca” (56).


(4). The reference here to the “lettered city” departs from Benedict Anderson’s analysis on the emergence of print capitalism and its role in the shaping of national identities. Anderson argues that 19th century print capitalism constituted a type of discursive power that diffusely asserted that which was to be included or excluded in the process of imagining the modern nation. See Imagined Communities, esp. 45.


(5). As Carter Kaplan observes: “Dystopia uses fiction to portray institutions based on intellectual mythology and essays prophecy and prognostication” (200).


(6). For an analysis of La virgen as a parodic version of Dante’s Inferno see L’Hoeste, La virgen de los sicarios o las visiones dantescas de Fernando Vallejo” 757-67.


(7). As Bridge and Watson note on the characteristics of the city as a site of diverse imaginary projections: “Clearly for people living outside of conventional norms, such as gays or single women, or for those seeking to break the bonds of earlier ties, the city can represent a space of liberation … [it] operate[s] as a site of fantasy. So also subjectivities are constructed in the spaces (both formal and intersitial, imagined and real) of the city and certain kinds of feelings or a sense of self are made possible, and we remember these as emerging in a particular site” (11).


(8). In this passage, the narrator also underscores the notion of the city as a malignant collective upon stating that the agent responsible for the dead body was, in actuality, Medellín: “Dije arriba que no sabía quién mató al vivo, pero sí sé: un asesino omnipresente de psiquis tenebrosa y de incontables cabezas: Medellín, también conocido por los alias de Medallo y de Metrallo lo mató” (46).


(9). For a historical analysis of bipartisan conflicts and violence in Colombian politics see Rojas, Civilization and Violence.


(10). Mikhail Bakhtin characterizes chronotope as “the intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships that are artistically expressed in literature” (The Dialogic Imagination, 84). This idea seems to somewhat coincide with Barthes’ conceptualization of myths, which are essentially “a sum of signs, a global sign, the final term of a first semiological chain” (Mythologies, 114).


(11). See Anderson 83-112.


(12). For the conditionality of history as a discourse of power that is intrinsically subjected to the memorial account of “the memory of the hero or of the victim”, see Walcott 371.


 (13). In Consumers and Citizens, Canclini observes that culture has become “a process of multinational assemblage, a flexible articulation of parts, a montage of features that any citizen in any country, of whatever religion or ideology, can read and use” (17-8). Although Canclini’s remarks on the current global symbolic economy are insightful, it is necessary not to lose sight of an inherited sense of ambivalence towards cultural authenticity and “inferiority” that still lingers on the Latin American culture as a consequence of its postcolonial past, which certainly exerts a strong influence in the shaping of identities where the use of the so-called First World culture (in particular the United States) as a referential is concerned.


(14). As Fernando affirms elsewhere in the narrative: “El tiempo barre con todo y las costumbres. Así, de cambio en cambio, paso a paso, van perdiendo las sociedades la cohesión, la identidad, y quedan hechas unas colchas deshilachadas de retazos” (30).


(15). For a reading of Vallejo’s novel as a parody of Nietzschean nihilism, see Serra, La virgen de los sicarios de Fernando Vallejo: testimonio paródico y discurso nietzscheano” 65-76.


Works Cited


Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities. New York: Verso, 1991.


Bahktin, M.M. The Dialogic Imagination. Ed. Michael Holquist. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981.


Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. Trans. Anette Lavers. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972.


Bernal, Álvaro. “Cultura urbana e identidad sexual en La virgen de los sicarios de Fernando Vallejo: el desarraigo de un                 intelectual ante la realidad desesperanzadora de su nación”. Brújula 1.1 (2002): 63-72.


Bhabha, Hommi K. The Location of Culture. New York: Routledge, 2003.


Bridge, Garry and Sophie Watson. A Companion to the City. Massachussets: Blackwell Publishers, 2000.


Canclini, Néstor García. Consumers and Citizens. Trans. George Yúdice. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001.


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