Sunday, April 17, 2011

Desiderio's Unreliable Narration

“I remember everything” (Carter 11).

“I cannot remember exactly how it began” (Carter 15).

To me, these two lines are significant in understanding Carter’s The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman. They are evidently contradictory and make the reader question the validity of the main character and narrator Desiderio. Through the first person point-of-view, Desiderio writes his autobiography. He tells the reader how he became a war hero. As readers, we must consider that Desiderio is telling the story in his perspective. He claims that he was not affected by Dr. Hoffman’s illusions, yet there are times when he sees surreal images outside of town. Carter’s use of imagery and an unorthodox plot suggest that Desiderio’s memory has become poor with age or that he is making up a story. After all, he is someone who wanted to be desired by others at a young age. The fact that he is an old man reflecting his war days also must be considered. As we age, our memory fades. The contradiction between these two quotes demonstrates that.

The key difference between these two quotes is that they appear in separate chapters towards the front of the novel. The first quote is from the “Introduction” and the second quote is from the first chapter “The City Under Siege.” An introduction is typically used to describe the content a narrator is talking about. Desiderio uses the introduction to tell the reader that he remembers “everything” and is a war hero. In “The City Under Siege,” he begins to tell his story about the war, opening with the line “I cannot remember exactly how it began” (Carter 15). Throughout the novel, Carter uses an unorthodox plot to allow breaks in the narrative, giving Desiderio a chance to give his comments about the war in his old age. Above all, Desiderio is in control of the plot, a plot that has sudden solutions, a limited climax, and ultimately an unexpected ending that Carter uses to explain theory. Could this possibly be that Desiderio is telling a fictional story for his autobiography? Better yet, could he have been affected by LSD when penning his autobiography? Carter’s surreal imagery and the references to Albert Hoffman, creator of LSD, suggest that Desiderio is in a battle with achieving reality rather than telling us about his life. As a youth, he seeks acceptance from others and claims that he struggles with killing Albertina. It seems to me that this novel shows the desires of Desiderio in a surreal manner in which the narrator describes himself favorably and seeks the possibilities of acceptance.

Overall, these two lines leave the novel open to a wide variety of analyses that could focus on Desiderio’s validity as a narrator.


  1. I wonder if these lines can also be understood int he context of Desiderio's hybridity. In the beginning, Desiderio states that he remembers all the events, because he does recall all the physical events. But as the narrative unfolds, we see that a great degree of the tension takes place within Desiderio's own mind as he wrestles with this Reason/Desire dichotomy--he seems to be in the midst of an identity crisis, and it's important to note that he is, after all, "of Indian extraction." By the end of the narrative, Desiderio realizes he doesn't understand how his journey began and ended mentally, because he still doesn't still quite understand the significance all of the events have in his life.

  2. I agree that the quotes that John Dykstra has presented call into question Desiderio's reliability as a narrator. As a result, the argument could be made that, in certain instances, he altered the narrative, or forgot the actual events, which resulted in him looking more heroic or less disturbing (as in the case of Mary Ann, where he slept with a woman that was either sleep walking or in a coma, meaning that she could not consent to the act). Over the years, a variety of factors could have affected his memory, from age destroying it to the numerous tales of his heroism affecting it.