A (Dubious?) Exam for a Class on Narco.

I hope I am not breaking any regulations here.  In any case, exam period is over.  I gave my students this exam after a class on narco in which we covered a number of films and read a number of nonfiction and fiction books.  Most of all, we concentrated on the stories that the narco world provides.  But then the question came up–from a colleague: is it fair to put the students in the situation of having to internalize, even if punctually, for an exam, a world that is alien to them (and that we hope will remain alien)?  Or, the companion question: is it not the case that, in the humanities, every course, every proposed course of reflection, should lead participants precisely to that point of singularization where existential decisions, actual or potential, become marked for them?   Is that exam (I am perfectly willing to take drastic criticism) too political an exam, too moralistic an exam, too unscholarly an exam?  Too ridiculous an exam?  Or it is still insufficient to the extent it gives the students, through offering a parodic escape, an easy way out of really taking on board the terrible they have been exposed to?  (Please forgive the obvious pedagogic moves in what follows, it is an exam after all:  it is the questions above that interest me, for future courses.) .

Final Examination

HISP 363.500

Fall 2018

Prof. Alberto Moreiras

As you know, our interest in the narco world this semester has been on the stories it produces more than on its political or sociological or historical implications.  This exam will ask you to engage in some storytelling of your own.  You can and probably should base your responses on the books and films we have covered.  Please respond to four (4) of the following six (6) questions.  (200 words each; 25 x 4 = 100)

A. (On the model of El Sicario.)  Choose a role for yourself in the narco world—the role you find most congenial, perhaps, or the role you find most repulsive, or anything in between—and write a short confession of why you think you did not do great in it, and elaborate on what constrained you and limited you.

B. (You might keep The Counselor in mind.) Imagine that you are someone with a good amount of greed in you that hears of a deal that will bring you into the business world of a big jefe de jefes notorious for his cruelty with those who screw up around him.   The deal could provide you with $5 mil, tax-free, but it involves a complicated negotiation with some corrupt police officers from Del Rio. Texas.   Evaluate the situation and tell me what you would do, how you would screw up and why, and how you would face your final moments.

C. (I think there are aspects of Miss Bala) You need to cross the border into Nuevo Laredo and you are accosted by three guys who tell you if you drive a truck loaded with AK-47 automatic guns, C4 explosives, and 400 hand grenades across the bridge they will not make mincemeat of your mother and your little sister. Only one problem: in order to cross the bridge, you would have to shoot two border patrol agents that cannot be left behind as witnesses of your crossing.   Would you accept the deal?  If you do, and you accomplish your mission, would you turn yourself over to the authorities once you know your mother and little sister are safe in Northwestern Alaska?

D. We have read some of you commenting on the “three types” of connections women may have to the narco world, but there has not been much on men’s connections. Are there also three types, or are there more?  How would you categorize the type that becomes fascinated by the stories, wants to know them, wants to develop an understanding, wants to figure out all possible types of responses, but prefers to abstain from the action itself?  Would this latter type be male- or female-marked, or would it be gender-free?

F. Whiteout is a powerful journalistic account of historical events where the US government had no compunctions in terms of engaging in illegal behavior for profit. But what is so wrong about the government doing what it can do, just because it can, with absolute impunity?  Is that not the glory of power?   If you could choose between becoming the investigator blowing the whistle of illegality or the government agent in charge of a massive strategic maneuver, illegal, but that would provide espionage agencies with a splendid budget for targeted assassinations and the like, what role would you assume?  Do you believe in the rule of law absolutely or only relatively?  Or do you not believe in it at all?

E.  In The Cartel Don Winslow presents us with an extremely complicated narrative where he attempts to foreshorten several decades of narco wars in Mexico through the eyes (and hands) of a relatively small set of characters. One of those characters is Art Keller, who has to confront a number of moral quandaries.  Put yourself in Art Keller’s position at the time of having to engage with the (illegal, but you will get away with it) assassination of many minor soldiers of the drug wars just to favor Adán Barrera’s dominance of the narco trade.  Keep in mind that Barrera is Keller’s archenemy.

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