“The Weight of Words, the Shock of Photos”: Poetic Testimony and Elliptical Imagery in Sergio González Rodríguez’ The Femicide Machine

Tobias Jochum (Free University Berlin)


Since the early 2000s, the academic discourse around the feminicides in Ciudad Juárez and the state of Chihuahua has grown increasingly interdisciplinary and self-conscious—that is to say, self-reflexive about inherent ethical ambiguities and pragmatic limitations of writing about (and against) fatal gender violence in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. For politically-motivated scholars of feminicide, illustration and narrative became fundamentally necessary to help humanize otherwise often faceless research and academic work: hence, recent volumes of feminicide scholarship prominently incorporate photographic images and personal testimonials. In his monograph The Femicide Machine (2012), Mexican journalist Sergio González Rodríguez likewise adds testimony and illustration to his dense study of Ciudad Juárez, but with an unusual twist. Guided by reflections on graphic representations of violence by Susan Sontag and Jacques Rancière, this paper aims to uncover the specific strategies deployed by González Rodríguez, as he turns testimony into poetry and deflects the reader’s urge for visual gratification, thereby opening a space for critical self-reflection. I posit The Femicide Machine as a case study for the larger argument that politico-ethical urgency and analytical complexity posed by atrocities such as the Juárez feminicides are pushing cultural producers to transcend genre boundaries and seek out novel or alternative modes of representation in the quest to engage audiences in meaningful ways and ultimately elicit political responses towards effecting social change.

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