Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2017


Department of Foreign Languages and Literature, North Carolina State University


This article studies the connections between conditions of tyrannical control in Juan Rulfo’s novel Pedro Páramo and forms of violence and government in the contemporary world. It discusses debt and violence, two essential elements in the plot of Pedro Páramo, from the perspective of the so-called drug war, as well as critical discussions of debt that have emerged in the context of recent financial crises (Graeber, Lazzarato, Varoufakis).

Pedro Páramo’s tyranny is built on the implementation of two powers that feed on each other: necropolitical power and control through debt. Necropolitical power (Mbembé) involves the administration of and dominion over the death of the subordinated population—in a way that resembles the new forms of sovereignty-exertion in Mexico, whether through criminal organizations or official military institutions. Also existent in Comala is an administrative system that I refer to as “indigent tyranny” (a concept based on Varoufakis’s “bankruptocracy”). Don Pedro is a defaulter who exploits his dominance by constantly deferring his debts. His debt delinquency is sustained not only via the exertion of of violent, tyrannical power, but also via the acceptance of a guilty conscience by a population that has become the victim of forced expropriations. I contend that this condition is analogous to the debt assumed by contemporary subjects in the context of contemporary financial crises, such as the subprime mortgage crisis or the Eurozone crisis.

For Carlos Monsiváis, Pedro Páramo represented the failure of the Mexican Revolution to emancipate rural communities. In this sense, I maintain that the novel’s climate of authoritarian and anti-social violence warrants a reading informed by the perspective of interrelated phenomena, such as the militarization of the “war on drugs,” which have a socially regressive impact. Thus, the interaction between necropolitical power and Comalans’ subjection to indigent tyranny entails consequences in the social spectrum—consequences that ultimately cause the breakdown of Comala, coopted by the tyrant’s will, under the weight of his unresolved debts, and defeated by the violence exercised against its population. Analyzing this interaction offers various ways to interpret the damaged conscience of contemporary subjects within the late-capitalist framework.



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