Telling Ruins in Latin America 0230605222, 9780230605220

As a merger of past, present and future, and as a material embodiment of change, the ruin offers a fertile locale for co

1,024 46 2MB

English Pages 288 Year 2009

Report DMCA / Copyright


Polecaj historie

Telling Ruins in Latin America 
 0230605222, 9780230605220

Table of contents :
Contents......Page 6
Figures......Page 8
Acknowledgments......Page 10
Introduction: Telling Ruins......Page 12
Part One: What Are We Doing Here?: Ruins, Performance, Meditation......Page 22
1 Performing Ruins......Page 24
2 Scribbling on the Wreck......Page 38
3 “Oh tiempo tus pirámides”: Ruins in Borges......Page 50
Part Two: Whose Ruins?: Ownership and Cross-Cultural Mappings......Page 60
4 Translating Ruins: An American Parable......Page 62
5 Machu Picchu Recycled......Page 74
6 The Ruins of the Present: Cuzco Evoked......Page 88
7 Ruins in the Desert: Field Notes by a Filmmaker......Page 98
8 The Twentieth Century as Ruin: Tango and Historical Memory......Page 106
9 Modernist Ruins: The Case Study of Tlatelolco......Page 118
Part Three: The Ruins of Fragile Ceasefires: Scenes of Loss and Memory......Page 130
10 Pinochet’s Cadaver as Ruin and Palimpsest......Page 132
11 Spatial Truth and Reconciliation: Peru, 2003–2004......Page 146
12 “Words of the Dead”: Ruins, Resistance, and Reconstruction in Ayacucho......Page 158
13 Tlatelolco: From Ruins to Poetry......Page 174
14 Sites of Memory, Emptying Remembrance......Page 186
15 History, Neurosis, and Subjectivity: Gustavo Ferreyra’s Rewriting of Neoliberal Ruins......Page 194
Part Four: Ordinary People: Inhabited Ruins, Precarious Survival......Page 206
16 All in a Day’s Work: Ruins Dwellers in Havana......Page 208
17 Witness to the Ruins: An Artist’s Testimony......Page 222
18 Coming Home to Praia de Flamengo: The Once and Future National Student Union Headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil......Page 230
19 Fernando Vallejo’s Ruinous Heterotopias: The Queer Subject in Latin America’s Urban Spaces......Page 240
20 Charges and Discharges......Page 252
21 Angels among Ruins......Page 260
Contributors......Page 272
B......Page 278
C......Page 279
F......Page 280
I......Page 281
L......Page 282
M......Page 283
P......Page 284
R......Page 285
T......Page 286
Z......Page 287

Citation preview

New Concepts in Latino American Cultures A Series Edited by Licia Fiol-Matta & José Quiroga

Ciphers of History: Latin American Readings for a Cultural Age by Enrico Mario Santí Cosmopolitanisms and Latin America: Against the Destiny of Place by Jacqueline Loss Remembering Maternal Bodies: Melancholy in Latina and Latin American Women’s Writing by Benigno Trigo The Ethics of Latin American Literary Criticism: Reading Otherwise edited by Erin Graff Zivin Modernity and the Nation in Mexican Representations of Masculinity: From Sensuality to Bloodshed by Héctor Domínguez-Ruvalcaba White Negritude: Race, Writing, and Brazilian Cultural Identity by Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond Essays in Cuban Intellectual History by Rafael Rojas [email protected] Scripts, Digital Migrations, and the Territories of Writing by Damián Baca Confronting History and Modernity in Mexican Narrative by Elisabeth Guerrero Cuban Women Writers: Imagining a Matria by Madeline Cámara Betancourt Other Worlds: New Argentine Film by Gonzalo Aguilar Cuba in the Special Period: Culture and Ideology in the 1990s edited by Ariana Hernandez-Reguant Carnal Inscriptions: Spanish American Narratives of Corporeal Difference and Disability by Susan Antebi Telling Ruins in Latin America edited by Michael J. Lazzara and Vicky Unruh

New Directions in Latino American Cultures Also Edited by Licia Fiol-Matta & José Quiroga

New York Ricans from the Hip Hop Zone by Raquel Z. Rivera The Famous 41: Sexuality and Social Control in Mexico, 1901 edited by Robert McKee Irwin, Edward J. McCaughan, and Michele Rocío Nasser Velvet Barrios: Popular Culture & Chicana/o Sexualities edited by Alicia Gaspar de Alba, with a foreword by Tomás Ybarra Frausto Tongue Ties: Logo-Eroticism in Anglo-Hispanic Literature by Gustavo Pérez-Firmat Bilingual Games: Some Literary Investigations edited by Doris Sommer Jose Martí: An Introduction by Oscar Montero New Tendencies in Mexican Art: The 1990s by Rubén Gallo The Masters and the Slaves: Plantation Relations and Mestizaje in American Imaginaries edited by Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond The Letter of Violence: Essays on Narrative, Ethics, and Politics by Idelber Avelar An Intellectual History of the Caribbean by Silvio Torres-Saillant None of the Above: Puerto Ricans in the Global Era edited by Frances Negrón-Muntaner Queer Latino Testimonio, Keith Haring, and Juanito Xtravaganza: Hard Tails by Arnaldo Cruz-Malavé The Portable Island: Cubans at Home in the World edited by Ruth Behar and Lucía M. Suárez Violence without Guilt: Ethical Narratives from the Global South by Hermann Herlinghaus Redrawing the Nation: National Identity in Latin/o American Comics by Héctor Fernández L’Hoeste and Juan Poblete

Telling Ruins in Latin America Edited by

Michael J. Lazzara and Vicky Unruh


Copyright © Michael J. Lazzara and Vicky Unruh, 2009. All rights reserved. First published in 2009 by PALGRAVE MACMILLAN® in the United States—a division of St. Martin’s Press LLC, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010. Where this book is distributed in the UK, Europe and the rest of the world, this is by Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited, registered in England, company number 785998, of Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire RG21 6XS. Palgrave Macmillan is the global academic imprint of the above companies and has companies and representatives throughout the world. Palgrave® and Macmillan® are registered trademarks in the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe and other countries. ISBN: 978–0–230–60522–0 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Telling ruins in Latin America / Michael J. Lazzara and Vicky Unruh, editors. p. cm.—(New concepts in Latino American cultures) Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0–230–60522–2 1. Latin America—Antiquities—Social aspects. 2. Cultural property— Latin America—Social aspects. 3. Latin America—Intellectual life—21st century. 4. Latin America—Social conditions—21st century. 5. Latin America—Historiography. I. Lazzara, Michael J., 1975– II. Unruh, Vicky. F1403.3.T45 2009 980⬘.012072—dc22


A catalogue record of the book is available from the British Library. Design by Newgen Imaging Systems (P) Ltd., Chennai, India. First edition: August 2009 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Printed in the United States of America.






Introduction: Telling Ruins Michael J. Lazzara and Vicky Unruh


Part One What Are We Doing Here?: Ruins, Performance, Meditation 1

Performing Ruins Diana Taylor



Scribbling on the Wreck Francine Masiello



“Oh tiempo tus pirámides”: Ruins in Borges Daniel Balderston


Part Two Whose Ruins?: Ownership and Cross-Cultural Mappings 4

Translating Ruins: An American Parable Sylvia Molloy



Machu Picchu Recycled Regina Harrison



The Ruins of the Present: Cuzco Evoked Sara Castro-Klarén



Ruins in the Desert: Field Notes by a Filmmaker Andrés Di Tella


8 The Twentieth Century as Ruin: Tango and Historical Memory María Rosa Olivera-Williams 9

Modernist Ruins: The Case Study of Tlatelolco Rubén Gallo

95 107



Part Three The Ruins of Fragile Ceasefires: Scenes of Loss and Memory 10 Pinochet’s Cadaver as Ruin and Palimpsest Michael J. Lazzara


11 Spatial Truth and Reconciliation: Peru, 2003–2004 Jill Lane



“Words of the Dead”: Ruins, Resistance, and Reconstruction in Ayacucho Leslie Bayers


13 Tlatelolco: From Ruins to Poetry Sandra Messinger Cypess


14 Sites of Memory, Emptying Remembrance Nelly Richard


15 History, Neurosis, and Subjectivity: Gustavo Ferreyra’s Rewriting of Neoliberal Ruins Idelber Avelar


Part Four Ordinary People: Inhabited Ruins, Precarious Survival 16 All in a Day’s Work: Ruins Dwellers in Havana Vicky Unruh




Witness to the Ruins: An Artist’s Testimony Rolf Abderhalden Cortés

18 Coming Home to Praia de Flamengo: The Once and Future National Student Union Headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Victoria Langland


19 Fernando Vallejo’s Ruinous Heterotopias: The Queer Subject in Latin America’s Urban Spaces Arturo Arias


20 Charges and Discharges Diamela Eltit


21 Angels among Ruins Sandra Lorenzano







1.1 Templo Mayor (Mexico City) 1.2 Standing on the ruins at Villa Grimaldi (Santiago, Chile) 5.1 Machu Picchu (Peru) 7.1 Luis Baigorrita, a survivor of Argentina’s 1879 “Conquest of the Desert” 9.1 “Parque Vertical,” Tlatelolco (Mexico City) 10.1 Neo-Nazi salute to General Pinochet in The Clinic, December 14, 2006 10.2 Pinochet’s cadaver in The Clinic, December 14, 2006 11.1 Yuyanapaq: para recordar (Lima, Peru, 2004) 11.2 A scene from “Sin título,” by Grupo Cultural Yuyachkani (Peru) 14.1 Villa Grimaldi, “Park for Peace”: “El Patio Deseado” (Santiago, Chile) 14.2 Empty graves awaiting the remains of the disappeared, General Cemetery (Santiago, Chile) 14.3 Muro de la memoria, by Claudio Pérez and Rodrigo Gómez, Puente Bulnes (Santiago, Chile) 17.1 Juana Ramírez in Mapa Teatro’s Testigo de las ruinas (Colombia)

15 18 66 93 116 125 126 140 144 177 179 182 217

This page intentionally left blank


The idea for this book emerged following a panel on the Latin American city at a session of the Division of Twentieth-Century Latin American Literature, organized by María Rosa Olivera-Williams for the December 2005 Modern Language Association (MLA) Convention in Washington, D.C. With the project well on its way, we organized a session on ruins in Latin America at the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) Congress in Montreal, September 2007, with presentations by contributors Leslie Bayers, Rubén Gallo, Regina Harrison, and Jill Lane. We extend our immense appreciation to all our contributors for their enduring enthusiasm and hard work. We especially thank José Quiroga for encouraging us to submit our project proposal to Palgrave’s New Concepts in Latino American Cultures series that he coedits with Licia Fiol-Matta; their combined support for the book was fundamental, along with feedback from Palgrave Macmillan’s two anonymous readers and ongoing assistance from their editors and editorial staff, including Luba Ostachevsky, Joanna Mericle, Colleen Lawrie, and Julia Cohen. From the University of Kansas, we thank Dean Joseph Steinmetz and former Associate Dean Paul D’Anieri of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Jill Kuhnheim, Acting Chair of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, for making possible Vicky Unruh’s release time that facilitated the book’s completion; and Paula Courtney, Director of the College’s Digital Media Services for her excellent, and always patient, technical support. We also thank Juan Camilo Lorca, the Critical References Bibliographer at Chile’s National Library for his research assistance to Michael Lazzara, and Ediciones Era S.A., Marcial Molina Richter, Warner/Chappell Music Argentina, and Marcela del Río for allowing our contributors to quote poetic and musical verses. We extend our appreciation to the translators of three essays: Laura Kanost for her translation of Sandra Lorenzano’s piece; Susan García, Bernardita Llanos, and Leslie Marsh for their translation of Diamela Eltit’s essay; and Sarah Townsend, translator of Rolf Abderhalden’s essay. A special thank you goes to Joe Guerriero, whose photograph of Antigua, Guatemala provides the cover-art for the book. Our largest debts by far are to Julie and Ana Lazzara in Woodland, California and to David



Unruh in Lawrence, Kansas, not only for their steadying support but also for their willingness to spend these months of their lives among the ruins. Four pieces in this book are revised or translated versions of previously published essays and are reprinted with permission from the following publishers to whom we extend our gratitude: Rolf Abderhalden Cortés, “The Artist as Witness: An Artist’s Testimony” appeared in E-misférica 4, no. 2 (November 2007); Diamela Eltit’s “Cargas y descargas” appeared in E-misférica 4, no. 2 (November 2007) and in Signos vitales: escritos sobre literatura, arte, y política, Santiago: Editorial Universidad Diego Portales, 2008 (31–40); Nelly Richard, “Sitios de la memoria, vaciamiento del recuerdo” appeared in Revista de critica cultural 23 (2001): 11–13; and Francine Masiello, “Los sentidos y las ruinas” appeared in Iberoamericana (nueva época) 8, no. 30 (2008): 103–112.

Introduction: Telling Ruins Michael J. Lazzara and Vicky Unruh

Between 2001 and 2005, displaced citizens from Bogotá’s condemned El Cartucho barrio revisit their neighborhood, now under demolition for a new millennium park; they stage scenes that combine material remains and memories of their lives there with images of their homes’ destruction in progress. In 2007 Rio de Janeiro, members of the National Students’ Union take up residence in a deteriorated parking lot that once housed their long-demolished headquarters and organize a cultural festival to commemorate the union’s tumultuous past and reclaim the space as their own. In 2005, a photographic exhibit forces Lima inhabitants who chose to ignore the brutal violence that took place in the indigenous Andes between 1990 and 2000 to confront powerful images of fellow Peruvians surviving amid the material rubble of civil war. In post-Soviet Havana, citizens perform taxing physical labor just to keep themselves and the crumbling buildings they inhabit standing, acts of recycling that reconfigure revolutionary ideology and Cuba’s cultural past. In post2001 Buenos Aires, writers collaborate with street trash recyclers in a struggle to survive economic crisis and turn refuse into art. In December 2006, Chileans passionately enact their angst over how to interpret Augusto Pinochet’s disintegrating remains. By telling stories like these, this book investigates the rich network of narratives and cultural debates generated by ruins in modern Latin America. Focusing on the ties between ruins and storytelling in a broad sense, 21 authors probe the ruin—as metaphor and trope—in such varied expressive forms as literature, visual arts, performance, film, architecture, archeology, and real world locales (e.g., Buenos Aires, Bogotá, Havana, Lima, Machu Picchu, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago). A central premise is that the ruin—as a merger of past, present, and future, and as a material embodiment of change—offers a fertile locale for competing cultural stories about historical events, political projects, and the constitution of communities. Equally important is the idea that what a human group does with its ruins—maintain them in disarray, restore them, transport them to alternative sites, linger on them with pause, or


Michael J. Lazzara and Vicky Unruh

banish them from view—unleashes compelling social, ethical, or political consequences for the present and the future. As a literary, artistic, or architectural motif, of course, the ruin is new to neither Latin America nor Western culture. Manifestations of the ruin in European discourses of modernity include the classical ruin transposed from the grand tour to aristocratic gardens for reflections on life’s brevity; the ruin of Romantic yearnings for cultural or historical difference; the ghostly, self-parodying ruin of the modern gothic; or the fragment ruin of the avant-gardes. Recognizing ruins as powerful generators of critical-theoretical reflection, major twentieth-century thinkers conceived of activity around ruins as a metaphor for intellectual inquiry itself. Thus, attuned to the “speech” of stones, Freud compared psychoanalysis to an archeological dig (Merewether, 25). Even more frequently cited is the affirmation by Walter Benjamin—whose Angel of History hovers over this volume from beginning to end—that “allegories are, in the realm of thoughts, what ruins are in the realm of things” (1977, 178). Also germane is Benjamin’s comparison of voluntary memory to an act of retrospective “excavation,” whereby memory becomes the “medium” rather than the “instrument” for exploring the past, “just as the earth is the medium in which ancient cities lie buried” (1999, 576). Not surprisingly, reconfigurations of Benjamin’s ruins metaphors inform contemporary theorists who imagine reflexive, critical, and future-looking uses of nostalgia (Boym); plot new understandings of melancholy as a productive activity that reworks for critical ends the losses embodied in material and experiential remains (Eng and Kazanjian); and propose new ideas about creatively recycling the ruinous “detritus” of contemporary life into an “ecology of everyday experience” that might unmask the mechanisms of modern “progress” that spawn the debris (Highmore, 65). In Latin America, an appropriative recycling of pre-Columbian physical or cultural ruins weaves through nineteenth-century nationbuilding projects and is seen in such diverse works as Cuban José de Heredia’s meditative poem “En el teocalli de Cholula” (1820), which contemplates Aztec ruins in a Romantic reflection on the past; the long poem, La victoria de Junín: canto a Bolívar (1825), by Ecuador’s José Joaquín Olmedo, that celebrates a heroic Latin America founded not only on Bolívar’s achievements but also on the spirit of the Inca leader, Huayna Capac; or Manuel de Jesús Galván’s 1882 novel Enriquillo that resuscitates an obliterated indigenous past to create, in the aftermath of Haitian independence, a national romance that erases a substantial Afro-Caribbean presence from the Dominican Republic’s cultural map. Foreign explorers who visited Latin American ruins in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—such as John Lloyd Stephens, Sir Clement Markham, and Hiram Bingham—arrived with capacious cultural baggage and grand plans of their own, bringing into focus property disputes and identity claims that stemmed from their imperialist sojourns. Later experiments by twentieth-century Latin American writers linked

Introduction: Telling Ruins


avant-garde originality with an imagined ground zero of pre-Columbian origins in stories that no longer unified peoples and geographies but instead signaled radical discontinuities in a region whose modernity has been qualified in more recent theoretical disquisitions as peripheral, burdensome, divergent, ambiguous, or hybrid. Thus the narrator in Miguel Ángel Asturias’s early Leyendas de Guatemala (1930) derives his credentials for avant-garde storytelling from a lyrical dig into Guatemala’s ruinous Mayan past, and Mário de Andrade’s Macunaíma (1928) recycles remains of Amazonian folklore into a parodic Brazilian “hero without any character” who journeys from the primeval, virgin forest of his birth to conquer the wondrous modern city of São Paulo. Asturias and de Andrade’s contemporaries later launched their own wanderings among the ruins, as in Pablo Neruda’s Canto General (1950), or in the ruinous metaphors that traverse Jorge Luis Borges’s meditations on the aesthetic and philosophical implications of human epistemologies. Macondo, Comala, and so many other fictional places, too, affirm that ruins and ruination have been major detonators for Latin American literary imaginings. Several contributors to this volume reflect on ruins’ early uses—their deployments, silencing, or potentialities. But a key argument of Telling Ruins in Latin America is that the ruin returns with fervent intensity at the turn of the millennium as a measure of the era’s own structure of feeling and as a new interpretive path for revisiting earlier manifestations of ruins in Latin American cultural discourse. In turn-of-the-millennium Latin America, ruins created by temporal erosion, unanticipated cataclysms, or natural disasters meld with ruins born of human-inflicted violence and authoritarian abuses of power. As a result, urban spaces are littered with “trash heaps of memories, corpses, rubble, vestiges of experience . . . lost illusions, obsolete narratives, bygone styles, [and] lapsed traditions” (Richard, 51) that evoke the devastation of failed utopian political projects, the inequities produced by economic “progress,” and human lives torn asunder. If, as Jean Franco suggests, the Latin American megalopolis can no longer “be imagined as totality,” the challenge of the present is that “community, identity, and subjectivity [must] be rethought or refashioned from fragments and ruins” (190). Although some ruins are ignored or fade into the landscape, the intellectuals and artists whose reflections comprise Telling Ruins forcefully argue that ruins are dynamic sites shot through with competing cultural narratives, palimpsests on which memories and histories are fashioned and refashioned. Ruins, for these authors, do not invite backward-looking nostalgia, but a politically and ethically motivated “reflective excavation” (Unruh, 146) that can lead to historical revision and the creation of alternative futures. Recent scholarship on Latin America addresses issues germane to the critical discussion of ruins: the collapse of utopian artistic, political, and ideological projects; the workings of memory, healing, and reconstruction


Michael J. Lazzara and Vicky Unruh

in postauthoritarian art and testimony; dystopian representations of urban locales; the search for models of change; and artistic inquiries into the ethics of art and intellectual work. Yet the focused study of ruins as sites of competing cultural stories about Latin America’s past and contested future offers a rich new vein of inquiry into these overlapping problems, one that reveals more sharply a stirring creative drive toward ethical reflection and change in the midst of ruinous devastation. Building on scholarship by major twentieth-century theorists like Benjamin; prominent Latin Americanist scholars like Avelar, Masiello, Richard, Franco, and Taylor; and international critics like Boym, Huyssen, Roach, Woodward, Ginsberg, Merewether, Roth, Lyons, and Young—all of whom crop up in the contributors’ bibliographies—this book’s contribution lies in its placement of the ruin on center-stage as a topic for reflection about the new shapes of artistic and intellectual inquiry in turn-of-the-millennium Latin America and in its teasing-out of an intimate dialogue among artists and intellectuals on ruins, politics, and ethics. Through the act of telling, this book shows how artists, intellectuals, and ordinary citizens impose transformative and “creative ruination on the material objects of history” (see Masiello in this volume). Part one, “What Are We Doing Here?: Ruins, Performance, Meditation,” echoes the ethical concerns raised by Cuban writer and “ruinologist” Antonio José Ponte about artistic or intellectual projects— say like this book—that draw sustenance from disasters. This section argues that although ruins harbor temptations of reactionary nostalgia, melancholy, voyeurism, and sentimentality, the affective and reflective modes that ruins breed can also be productive, creative, political, or ethical. However, the ethics of ruins often pose dilemmas for subjects who must decide how to relate to them and what to do with them. Diana Taylor speaks to these dilemmas by taking us on a first person journey that signals the very real crisis of a subject who confronts—with her own body—not the “glorious ruins” of “ancient scenes of power,” but the “dark ruins” of the present, those of Latin America’s recent episodes of political violence and uneven modernization. For Taylor, visiting places such as Santiago, Chile’s “Park for Peace” at Villa Grimaldi, one of the Pinochet regime’s most notorious torture centers, is vexing. What might be “our” individual and collective responsibility in the face of a ruinous past and its human fallout, particularly when complete understanding is paradoxically impossible and imperative? Francine Masiello and Daniel Balderston join Taylor, and all contributors featured in this book, to speak collectively against the preservationist drive to immortalize the past by reifying ruins, emphasizing instead the ruin’s capacity to be reframed, recycled, and debated. In Latin America, ruinous experience has generated ruinous narratives filled with stammering, stuttering, melancholia, and paralyzing trauma. But ruins, Masiello counters, can also be sites of “ethical possibility” that permit movement beyond the stammer, that usher us away from historical stasis toward unanticipated

Introduction: Telling Ruins


“frontiers of action” and “collective thinking.” Balderston, in analyzing the ruins theme in Borges, echoes Masiello when he shows that ruins, in all of their seductiveness and recombinatory potential, provoke a reflection on history’s “malleability.” Balderston catalogues the Argentine writer’s deployment of ruins as sites of intra- and intertextual play. Like the critics and artists gathered in this book, Borges saw ruins as “incomplete fragments of a lost whole” on whose palimpsestic surfaces temporalities could mix and mingle in ways unforeseen. Part two, “Whose Ruins?: Ownership and Cross-Cultural Mappings,” demonstrates that encounters with ruins can provoke competing claims of cultural or national ownership among diverse constituencies. These chapters demonstrate that the interpretive reconstruction, restoration, transportation, or commodification of archeological or urban ruins in Latin America reveal unresolved tensions in international, national, or local political projects, as well as a ruinous site’s potential for unanticipated resignifications over time. Although some of these cross-cultural mappings involve movement across national borders, others unfold within the contentious struggles of a single nation’s serial and sometimes catastrophic reconfigurations of itself. Thus, Sylvia Molloy investigates what happens when ruins are transplanted, literally and linguistically, from one national context to another. Her analysis of John Lloyd Stephens’s mid-nineteenth-century writings on his travels to the Yucatán and Central America illuminates how he used ruins from that other “not-quite-American” America to imagine a “culturally worthy,” ancient US-American past. These inter-American cultural translations of ruins, Molloy argues, reveal the uneven cultural relationship between the Americas—North and South—from their very beginnings. Such uneven relationships also weave through Regina Harrison’s analysis of how Machu Picchu was resignified throughout the twentieth century. At once an archeological enigma, an object of aesthetic contemplation, an inspiration for political projects, and a commodity for tourist consumption, Machu Picchu’s ruins have gone through multiple recyclings since their 1911 “discovery” by Hiram Bingham. Turning to another cross-cultural encounter with Andean ruins, Sara Castro-Klarén demonstrates how Sir Clement Markham’s 1856 account of his trip to Cuzco is filtered through a lettered cultural memory, acquired through reading, that trumps what he actually sees as an eyewitness to ruins. The archive of existing cultural narratives about Cuzco shapes Markham’s evocation of ruins, thus revealing the complex “interpretive discursive conditions” that mark archeology as a discipline. Focusing on the devastating consequences of one nation’s internal cross-cultural encounters, Argentine documentary filmmaker Andrés Di Tella discusses how ruins provide essential “visible evidence” for his cinematic exploration of how southern Argentina’s indigenous peoples were exterminated in the late nineteenth century. Ruins, for Di Tella, are double edged—evocative of both past time and future potentialities.


Michael J. Lazzara and Vicky Unruh

As with photograph for Barthes, Di Tella sees in genocidal ruins not only what was lost, but also a more inclusive national project that “could have been.” Extending the discussion on Argentina further, María Rosa Olivera-Williams reads the tango as a compendium of the twentieth century’s ruins. Tango, Olivera-Williams argues, consists in the fragments of heterogeneous cultures and experiences (modernization, migration, war, violence) that mix creatively without harmonizing their differences. Focused similarly on the ruinous fallout of modernization’s cultural and class encounters, Rubén Gallo investigates modernist Mario Pani’s midtwentieth-century architectural innovations of Mexico City’s massive Tlatelolco housing project, built over the razed layers of a pre-Columbian Aztec city and the colonial city that replaced it. In Gallo’s account, Pani’s expansive “mixed-blood modernism,” which included a mythologizing appropriation of the earlier sites into the Plaza of the Three Cultures, harbored the seeds of its own physical and ideological ruination: the housing project’s “reverse panoptic” relationship to the Plaza facilitated the government’s 1968 massacre of citizens, and its faulty construction exacerbated exponentially the 1985 earthquake’s casualties. Both events signaled the incipient demise of the modernist project and of the authoritarian state that supported it. Rising from the rubble of such collapses, part three, “The Ruins of Fragile Ceasefires: Scenes of Loss and Memory,” revisits the ruins— human and geographical—generated by authoritarianism and civil war. The leftist revolutions and student movements of the 1960s gave way to the extreme political violence of military regimes and counterrevolutionary movements in the 1970s and beyond, whose goal was to install neoliberal economies. In postconflict “transitions,” memory has been imperative for citizens unwilling to participate in tacit amnesias or official versions of history. But what and how to remember—that is, how to frame the ruins of the disaster—are salient questions with no easy answers. While many have wanted to leave the past untouched in the interest of tenuous national reconciliations, others have fought to frame the ruins in ways that honor the dead and respect the suffering of the tortured. Michael Lazzara’s “Pinochet’s Cadaver as Ruin and Palimpsest” proposes that ruination affects not only architecture, but also bodies and ideas that can be framed as ruins. In late 2006, Pinochet’s cadaver became a ruinous site upon which struggles over power and memory were performed, thus revealing Chile’s deepest anxieties about its stilldivisive past. Shifting focus to Peru and arguing for the production of social memory as “embodied” and “spatial” practices, Jill Lane explores how a nation emerging from civil war confronted similar anxieties over memory and the writing of history. Her discussion of a performance project by Grupo Cultural Yuyachkani speaks once again to ruins’ malleability: by creating a “museum-before-the museum” of objects, memories, and artifacts not yet codified in national space or woven into official

Introduction: Telling Ruins


stories, Yuyachkani turns the residues of violence into pliable, powerful forces capable of signaling epistemological gaps or of raising consciousness among apathetic bystanders. Poetry, too, has provided fertile terrain for reconfiguring shards of experience in ways that blur boundaries among memory, history, and fiction. In their respective analyses of Peruvian poet Marcial Molina Richter and Mexican poets Marcela del Río and José Emilio Pacheco, Leslie Bayers and Sandra Messinger Cypess show that far from musing contemplatively on ruins, these poets perform and transform them through acts of witnessing. While Ayacucho and Tlatelolco have undergone multiple cycles of violence whose ruinations have marked national histories, poetry writes against history to rescue silenced voices buried in the ruins. Returning to Chile, Nelly Richard considers connections among urban space, public art, and social memory. She admonishes that form matters when framing ruins aesthetically and wonders how the disaster’s remnants can best be recast to agitate social malaise and make memory’s variegated textures explode and provoke. Part three closes with Idelber Avelar’s intervention on Argentine writer Gustavo Ferreyra, in which he thinks beyond his prior work on postdictatorial ruins and allegory to assert an emergent “second wave” of postdictatorship literature in which metaphors of “recovery, recuperation, and restoration” are losing relevance. This new work, he argues, presents ruinous bodies heretofore ignored: gray or neutral subjects (neither victims nor accomplices) who merely persist in neoliberal times among “the ruins left by the destructive utopia of privatization.” In Avelar’s account, these subjects appear as “repeated re-codification[s] of [their] own ruins,” a sum of previous failures and political metamorphoses. They are ordinary people living not just among ruins, but as ruins. Part four, “Ordinary People: Inhabited Ruins, Precarious Survival,” turns to the creative and critical responses of people whose everyday experience unfolds among the remains of failed utopias, catastrophic political projects, or economic crises. In their everyday survival, the ruins dwellers discussed in these chapters illuminate what Joseph Roach has said about repositories of urban remains—he calls them “cities of the dead”—which become “vortices of behavior” that can generate cultural self-invention (28). In contrast to the grandiose projects whose collapse is symbolized by the rubble, these chapters tease out the small stories of those who comb through, recycle, and reconfigure their lives from and within those ruins. Vicky Unruh demonstrates how filmic and prose representations of Havana’s contemporary ruins dwellers critically revisit the revolutionary discourse of work. The refurbishing, recycling activity of ordinary workers engaged in surviving, she argues, not only recasts the Revolution’s hierarchical dichotomy between physical and intellectual labor but also reconfigures its famed literacy campaigns into a pedagogic repertoire of cultural literacy that reactivates Cuba’s vast cultural archive. Rolf


Michael J. Lazzara and Vicky Unruh

Abderhalden Cortés, codirector of the Bogotá Mapa Teatro Laboratory of Artists, details his group’s work with the displaced inhabitants of the officially condemned El Cartucho neighborhood, slated for obliteration so that a new millennial park could be built in its place. Abderhalden describes a series of creative “install-actions” that constituted Mapa Teatro’s Proyecto C’ùndua, in which displaced residents returned to their vanishing neighborhood to reenact their own memories and stories simultaneously with the site’s demolition. In a comparable tale of return and symbolic repossession, Victoria Langland traces how Brazil’s National Students’ Union (UNE) reoccupied a dilapidated parking lot constructed over the site of its former headquarters (1942–1964) in Rio de Janeiro. Langland’s account addresses the students’ serial-stagings of commemorative acts—from the years of dictatorship to the present—to highlight how the group’s memories and the meanings they ascribe to the site have shifted over time in response to present-bound interests. In different contexts, Arturo Arias, Diamela Eltit, and Sandra Lorenzano focus on bodies and subjectivities in ruins—on the ruination of ordinary citizens by hegemonic power and on the resistance that these citizens show despite the odds. Arias, for example, demonstrates how Colombian writer Fernando Vallejo creates a fictional portrayal of Medellín as a “ruinous heterotopia” that signals how heteronormative society suppresses queer desire and how violence (political and social) only breeds further violence. Arias argues that Vallejo unmasks the nostalgic notion of “home” as an idyllic narrative of origins but also resurrects its “hidden grids of affection” from within the logic of queerness that marks his protagonist. Diamela Eltit focuses on recent Chilean filmic and narrative representations of ruined female bodies marked by poverty. Her text shows how literature has been a key site for imagining subjectivity otherwise, even as official discourses have continued to perpetuate the stereotyping and ruination of women. In the book’s concluding chapter, Sandra Lorenzano returns to Argentina to show us the “wreckage upon wreckage” (Benjamin) that has accumulated throughout Latin America’s recent trajectory of violence and economic plunder. Using director Carlos Sorín’s 2002 film Historias mínimas (Minimal stories) as an extended metaphor, she urges us to listen closely to the critically creative, forward-looking, “small voices” discernable in the debris. Her chapter compels readers to engage with these “small voices,” to assume the responsibility of transmitting memories and demanding justice. Ruins, politics, ethics: these axes cross Telling Ruins at every turn. As remnants of cataclysms past and embodiments of time’s fleeting nature, ruins make us realize that what today qualifies as “progress” will tomorrow be obsolete. Because they lack functionality, ruins challenge modernity’s imposed narratives and harbor enormous creative potential for artists and activists. Just as they evoke the past—and these evocations, though sometimes nostalgic or melancholic, may also be profoundly

Introduction: Telling Ruins


critical and constructive—ruins also stimulate future imaginings. The chapters in this volume, taken together, can remind us that stirring up ruins is a vital ingredient for the critical work of the present.

Select Bibliography Benjamin, Walter. “Excavation and Memory.” In Selected Writings, volume 2, edited by Michael W. Jennings, Howard Eiland, and Gary Smith, translated by Rodney Livingstone et al., 576. Cambridge, MA: Belknap—Harvard University Press, 1999. ———. The Origins of German Tragic Drama. Translated by John Osborne. London: NLB, 1977. Boym, Svetlana. The Future of Nostalgia. New York: Basic Books, 2001. Eng, David L., and David Kazanjian. “Mourning Remains.” In Loss: The Politics of Mourning, edited by Eng and Kazanjian, 1–25. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. Franco, Jean. The Decline and Fall of the Lettered City: Latin America in the Cold War. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 2002. Highmore, Ben. Everyday Life and Cultural Theory: An Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2002. Merewether, Charles. “Traces of Loss.” In Irresistible Decay: Ruins Reclaimed, edited by Michael Roth with Claire Lyons and Charles Merewether, 25–40. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 1998. Ponte, Antonio José. “What Am I Doing Here?” In Cuba on the Verge: An Island in Transition, edited by Terry McCoy, 14–16. Boston, New York, and London: Bulfinch Press, 2003. Richard, Nelly. Cultural Residues: Chile in Transition. Translated by Alan WestDurán and Theodore Quester. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004. Roach, Joseph. Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996. Unruh, Vicky. “ ‘It’s a Sin to Bring Down an Art Deco’: Sabina Berman’s Theater among the Ruins.” PMLA 122, no. 1 (January 2007): 135–50.

This page intentionally left blank

Part One

What Are We Doing Here?: Ruins, Performance, Meditation

This page intentionally left blank

Chapter 1 Performing Ruins Diana Taylor

I Accompany me to the ruins. Over here, the glorious ruins, such as Templo Mayor buried under modern day Mexico City, ancient scenes of power. And over here, the dark ruins, the rubble of recently destroyed and abandoned torture centers like Villa Grimaldi in Santiago de Chile, where military regimes tortured and murdered members of their populations. And these over here, a third kind, I will call renovation ruins, many of which exist only as traces. The large Millennium Park in downtown Bogotá covers what used to be 15 square blocks of a community known as El Cartucho, a “blighted” neighborhood erased in an urban renovation project. I know this site through the work of the Colombian art lab Mapa Teatro, which worked with members of the condemned community for four years and developed a performance, Testigo de las ruinas, that takes us through the process of demolition. Ruins, past and present, are bracketed from everyday life, as if from another era that only incidentally touches our own; nonetheless, they are bound up with nationalist discourses of power, identity, and memory. Not just “proof” of human existence and past practices, the crushed rocks become the measure of who “we” are now. But how? What do ruins ask of us as we walk through as tourists, visitors, or witnesses? Does the materiality of the places transmit the knowledge of past lives, or does it affect only those who already know what happened there? How does being there affect what and how we know? While we perform ruins by physically walking through them and bringing them to life, does the activation work at a remove? Does the artistic representation of place and presence evoke the same reactions? Ruin (or ruins), as a noun, conjures up mysterious and romanticized pasts, unique tourist destinations, places where “we” (not of that place


Diana Taylor

or time) can perform the unimaginable, keep the past intact as past even as we bring it up close and move through it. Shells, structures, scenery: ruins are empty of something palpable in its absence. At times, the ontological “empty” gives way to the violent practice that emptied recalls. At others, ruins allow us to fantasize about the existence or even possibility of the ontological empty, the stillness of arrested motion, the quiet aura of the far away, even as we walk through them before or after lunch. These stones—the “real” thing—materialize the past. The physical remains provide the scenarios that invite visitors to envision the lives that others lived within them. All objects reference behaviors. Each object we see was made, or positioned, with a certain use in mind. We populate the space with peoples and actions as we reenact past practices, conscious that others climbed these stairs and sat where we are now sitting. Walking the ruins is a durational performance; presenciamos y damos cuerpo (we experience, “being present” and “lending our bodies”) as we repeat the acts suggested by the scenario. Physically being in the place, listening to the tour guide and/or imagining past practices can summon up visceral connections to lives lived and lost, even to lives about which the visitors know little. But as we conjure them up, we know that they’re gone, and remain there forever as gone. They allows us to forget that we too are present and absent at the same time. We come and go; the ruins (and the ghosts) remain in their still-there-ness. Although ruins conjure up loss, sometimes violent and traumatic loss, the experience of visiting ruins is usually thought of as nontraumatic. Being there, putting ourselves physically in another’s place, suggests as much about not knowing as about knowing. Does proximity somehow transmit knowledge of someone else’s experience? What are we presenciando, or making present? Perhaps it depends on the quality of our being there. A tourist, the noun suggests, is a thing, not an action. A tourist might be there but do nothing. The “tourist,” as a category associated with short stays and recreation, is both a product of and a target for massive marketing campaigns. Advertised as a romantic one-on-one contact with exotic otherness, tourism has made experience widely accessible and filled the space for us; being there, in person, can be anything but unique. For others—let us call them visitors (noun) who do something (visit “in a friendly way” to comfort or benefit or behold)—these skeletal structures offer information. Ruins of ancient cities make visible the bare bones of past social structures, the hierarchies and values of stratified systems. Being in place allows us to imagine, perhaps even presenciar, a set of social and cosmic relations performed through architecture: scale, distance, height, and positionality. There are things we can know by being there. Presencing—more “accompanying” than identifying with another—places us in the scenario. Although reenacting the moves of another may allow us to imagine that we share basic understandings of how social actors once lived in and through these structures of power,

Performing Ruins

Figure 1.1


Templo Mayor (Mexico City). Photograph courtesy of Diana Taylor.

we can, of course, only move in and through them by means of our own systems of understanding. Take the very idea of ruins. What differentiates a ruin-as-monument from the unidentified mounds of brush and bramble that cover ancient cities? A topographical survey of Latin America would reveal that the region is full of ancient lands, though not all of them charge admission. Since national and international institutions started taking an interest in Latin American ruins in the late nineteenth century, they have cemented a history and identity of “our” present.1 Mexican children visit sites to gain knowledge of their heroic forefathers. UNESCO’s world heritage initiatives signal certain ruins as humanity’s patrimony. “We,” the collective constituted by categories such as “the world” and “humanity,” are beneficiaries and heirs of past greatness. Even though these sites are the state’s responsibility, the rate of excavation cannot compete with archeologists’ identification of yet more sites. The past overtakes the present’s technical and economic capacity to uncover it, even as the present rapidly becomes past. More buildings fall into ruin, often victims of economic decay and dislocation rather than of time and weather. Some ruins I have visited lately have little to do with ancient power and glory, at least not the kinds of power about which societies boast. In Latin America, and I suspect elsewhere, ruins (as noun) coexist with other kinds of ruin: the active, willful ruin of sites associated with


Diana Taylor

governmental, military, or economic violence. Ruin (as verb) yanks us back into the world of agency: people ruin things; people ruin other people. Recent sites of torture by state forces have only recently fallen into disrepair. In some countries, rubble proves that the military destroyed the evidence of its crimes against humanity. In others, the armed forces feel so empowered that they don’t bother to cover their tracks. The current neglect only signals a pause in operations.

II Pedro Matta, a tall, strong man walked up to us when we arrived at the unassuming side entrance to Villa Grimaldi, a former detention and extermination camp on the outskirts of Santiago de Chile. He is a survivor who gives guided visits to people who want to know about the site. He says hello to Soledad Falabella and Alejandro Gruman, colleagues of mine in Chile who thought I would be interested in meeting Matta. He greets me and hands me the English version of a book he has written: A Walk through a Twentieth Century Torture Center: Villa Grimaldi, A Visitor’s Guide. I tell him that I am from Mexico and speak Spanish. “Ah,” he says focusing on me, “Taylor, I just assumed. . . .” We all walk into the compound. The site is expansive. It looks like a ruin or construction site, and it’s hard to get a sense of it from where we’re standing. A sign at the entrance, Parque por la Paz Villa Grimaldi, informs visitors that 4,500 people were tortured here and 226 people were disappeared and killed between 1973 and 1979. Another peace park, I think, in the tradition of Hiroshima to Virginia Tech, another peace park that buries violence under the name of peace. I photograph the sign that reminds us that we are in a memorial and this tragic history belongs to us all. Like many memory sites, it asks us to behave respectfully so that it might remain and continue to instruct. Lesson one, clearly, is that this place is “our” responsibility in more ways than one. “This way, please.” Matta leads us into the emptied space. He walks us past the rubble near the entrance to the small model of the torture camp to help us visualize the architectural arrangement of a place now gone. It is laid out, like a coffin, under a large plastic sunshade. We do the recorrido in Spanish, which makes a difference. He seems to relax a little, though his voice is strained and he clears his throat often. He tells us that the compound, a nineteenth-century villa for upper-class parties and weekend affairs, was taken over by DINA, Augusto Pinochet’s special forces, to interrogate people detained by the military during massive round-ups.2 In the late 1980s, one of the generals sold it to a construction company to tear it down and replace it with a housing project. Survivors and human rights activists could not stop the demolition, but after heated contestation they secured the space as a memory site and peace park.

Performing Ruins


A miniature scale model of the extermination camp positions us as spectators. The main entrance allowed passage for vehicles delivering the hooded captives to the main building. Matta’s language and our imaginations populate the emptied space. He points to the large main building where the officers lived, right here, exactly where we’re standing; then the small buildings that run along the perimeter to the left where the prisoners were divided up, separated, and blindfolded—men there, women there. There are drawings made by survivors: hooded prisoners pushed by guards with rifles for their three seconds at the latrines; a hall of small, locked cells guarded by an armed man; a close-up drawing of the inside of one of the cells in which a half-dozen shackled and hooded men are squeezed in tightly; an empty torture chamber with a bare metal bunk bed equipped with leather straps, a chair with straps for arms and feet, a table with instruments. Here, too, objects reference behaviors. We know exactly what happened there/here. Matta points to other structures on the model. He is explicit about the violence and clear in his condemnation of the United States’ role in the Chilean crisis. He looks at me and remembers I am not that audience—an audience, yes, but not that audience. Looking down at the model, everything is visible through Matta’s recounting. Past/present, there/here converge. We stand on the site of the main building, usurping the military’s place. Looking offers us the strange fantasy of seeing or grasping the “whole,” the fiction that we can understand systemic criminal violence even as we position ourselves in and “above” the fray. We are permitted to identify without identifying. We look up and around at the “place itself.” What does being there mean in this case? There’s not much to see of the former camp. The remains of a few original structures, replicas of isolation cells, and a tower dot the compound. Matta walks us toward the original entryway, the massive iron gate now permanently sealed as if to shut out further violence. Here it is clear that another layer has been added to the space. A wash of decorative tiles, chips of original ceramic from the site, forms a huge arrow-like shape on the ground pointing away from the gate toward the new “peace” fountain and performance pavilion. 3 Matta ignores that for the moment. This is not the time for reconciliation. He continues his recorrido. He speaks impersonally, in the third person, about the role of torture in Chile: one-half million people tortured and 5,000 killed out of population of 8 million. I do the math. There were far more tortures and fewer murders in Chile than Argentina. He speaks about torture’s development as a state tool from its experimental phase to the precise and tested practice it became. Pinochet chose to break rather than eliminate his enemies. The population of ghosts, or individuals destroyed by torture, would serve as a warning to others when the former prisoners were thrown back, like zombies, into society. Matta’s tone is controlled and reserved. He is giving historical information, not personal testimony, as he outlines the camp’s daily workings. Language,


Diana Taylor

too, was transformed as words were outlawed: crímenes, desaparecidos, and dictadura (crimes, disappeared people, and dictatorship) were replaced by excesos, presuntos desaparecidos, and gobierno militar (excesses, presumed disappeared people, and military government). As we walk, Matta describes what happened in each area of the park, keeping his eyes on the ground, a habit born of peering down from under the blindfold he was forced to wear. He re-enacts even as he retells. Colored shards of ceramic tiles and stones now mark the places where buildings once stood and the paths where victims were pushed to the latrine or torture chambers. As we follow, we, too, know our way by keeping our eyes on the ground: “Sala de tortura” (Torture Chamber), “Celdas para mujeres detenidas” (Cells for Detained Women). Gradually, his pronouns change. They tortured them becomes they tortured us. He brings us in closer. His performance animates the space and keeps it alive. His body connects me to what Pinochet wanted to disappear. Matta’s presence performs the claim; le da cuerpo. He has survived to tell. Being in place with him communicates a very different sense of the crimes than looking down on the model. Glorious ruins, like Templo Mayor, take us back in time; dark ruins like Villa Grimaldi bring time right up close: now, here, and in many parts of the world, as we speak. I can’t think past that, rooted as I am to place reactivated as

Figure 1.2 Standing on the ruins at Villa Grimaldi (Santiago, Chile). Photograph courtesy of Diana Taylor.

Performing Ruins


practice. I, too, am part of this scenario now; I have accompanied him. My chest hurts. My throat tightens. My “unarmed” eyes look straight down, mimetically rather than reflectively, through his down-turned eyes.4 I do not see, really; I imagine. I presenciar; I presence. I participate not in events but in his recounting of events. My “presencing” offers me no sense of control, no fictions of understanding. He walks, he sits, he tells. When he gets to the Memorial Wall with the names of the dead, he breaks down and weeps. He cries for those who died but also for those who survived. “Torture,” he says, “destroys the human being. And I am no exception. I was destroyed through torture.” Torture is also transformative, turning societies into terrifying places and people into zombies.5 We walk; we talk about how other survivors have dealt with their trauma, about comparisons with other torture centers and concentration camps. He says he needs to return to Villa Grimaldi, even though it makes him sick. Afterward he goes home, takes aspirin, and goes to bed. We continue to walk, past the replica of the water tower, past the “Sala de la memoria” (Memory Room), the small building that originally served as the photo and documentation lab, past the pool and the memory tree with names hanging from the branches, like leaves. Different commemorative art pieces remind us that “forgetfulness is full of memory.” Later Soledad tells me that Matta does the visit the same every time: stands in the same spot, recounts the same events, cries at the Memorial Wall. What does this mean about witnessing and the quality of being in place? Matta is, as he has told us, our “guide.” Every move follows the outline of the book he has written. But is he also a professional survivor? Is he acting? Am I his witness? His audience? A voyeur of trauma tourism? What kind of scenario is this? Or maybe, like the space itself, there are many overlays and several things converging at that same time. Like other survivors, I believe, Matta is both a traumatized victim and a witness to trauma. Trauma, too, is a durational performance, characterized by the nature of its repetitions. For Matta, the experience has lasted for years, ever since he was disappeared by the armed forces. His reiterated acts of showing, telling, and leading people down the paths, characterize both trauma and trauma-driven actions (like these tours) intended to channel and alleviate it. Perhaps for him, as for the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, the ritualized tour offers both personal consolation and revenge. Memory is a tool and political project, honoring those who are gone and reminding those who will listen that the victimizers have gotten away with murder. His tour, like the Mothers’ march, bears witness to a society in ruins in which judicial systems cannot bring perpetrators to justice. Yet the walk-through, like the march, also makes visible the memory paths that maintain another topography of place and practice, not of terror but of resistance, the will not only to live but also to keep memory alive.


Diana Taylor

I can understand what Matta is doing here better than I can understand what I am doing here. He needs others (in this case me) to complete the task of witnessing, to keep those memory paths fresh, and create more human rights activists. To witness, a transitive verb, defines both the act and the person carrying it out; the verb precedes the noun. Through the act of witnessing, we become witnesses. Identity relies on action. We are both subjects and products of our acts. Matta is both a witness to himself and a witness for those who are no longer alive to tell. He is a juridical witness, too, having brought charges against the Pinochet dictatorship, but he is also the object of my witnessing: he needs me to acknowledge what he and others endured. The transitivity of “witness” ties us together; that’s one reason he’s keen to gauge his audience. Trauma-driven activism (like trauma itself) cannot simply be told or known; it must be repeated and externalized through embodied practice. But why do I need him? I wonder about aura and worry about voyeurism and (dark) tourism. Is Matta my close-up? Does he allow me to bring unspeakable violence as close as possible? If so, to what end? This, too, is multilayered in the ways that the personal, interpersonal, social, and political come together. Walking through Villa Grimaldi with Matta, the oversized issues of human rights violations and crimes against humanity, too large and general on one level, take on an immediate and embodied form. In this spot where we now stand, other people brutalized and killed their fellow citizens. Matta was one of those brutalized. I knew that, of course. But standing there with him, I know it differently. On another level, the corporeal proximity to atrocity allows me to feel my own experiences of criminal violence in an openly public, political context. Matta’s pain activates mine, which is different in many ways, but not in one essential way: in our everyday lives, we have no way of dealing with violent acts that shatter the limits of our understanding. Therapy offers some people comfort. But for others, this brutally emptied space of mourning and remembrance is more appropriate. We all live in proximity to criminal violence, and though some have felt it more personally than others, this violence is never just personal. If we focus only on the trauma, we risk evacuating the politics. Standing there, together, bringing the buildings and routines back to life, we bear witness not just to loss, but to a system of power relations, hierarchies, and values that not only allowed but required the disappearance of certain people. The questions posed by these dark ruins may not be unrelated to those prompted by more glorious ruins. They, like the pyramids, make visible the bare bones of current social structures normally exceeding the eye. A topography of this zone would show that there were 800 torture centers in Chile under Pinochet. If so many civic and public places such as villas, gyms, department stores, and schools were used for criminal violence, how do we know the whole city did not function as a clandestine torture center? The scale of the violations is stunning. The ubiquity of the

Performing Ruins


practice spills over and contaminates social life. The guided tour through Villa Grimaldi gives us an intensely condensed experience within the compound walls. But like the glorious ruins, the isolation is bracketed, only in seeming isolation from everything surrounding them. We know, walking through the compound, that criminal violence has spread so uncontrollably that walls cannot contain it nor guides explain it. We might control a site and fence it in, but the city, the country, the Southern Cone, the hemisphere, have been networked for violence (and beyond too, not just because the United States has taken to outsourcing torture). Is the dark ruin sickening because it situates us in concrete proximity to atrocity or because the ubiquitous practice situates us all in constant proximity to the dark ruin that is our society? I think “we” actually do always know what happened here/there and that this, like many other sites, is our responsibility. The emotional charge comes from the friction of place and practice, inseparable from one another, even if disavowed. As the ruins themselves suggest, instead of the and/or approach, we might recognize the layers and layers of material and corporeal practices that created these places and that get triggered as we walk through them in our own ways.

III Accompany me into the theater. What does being in place mean here in terms of witnessing? Can a spectator be a witness? What happens to the notion of place and objects as authenticators, to varying degrees, for the experiences of others? The stage looks like a warehouse or workspace. The wide central area is open, the periphery cluttered with large metal screens, small mobile stands, chairs, drop cloths, and other sundry objects. During their performance, Testigo de las ruinas, members of Mapa Teatro, one of Colombia’s major performance and theater “laboratories” (rather than a collective so common in Latin American theater in the 1960s), look more like technicians than actors as they mill about in work clothes moving projectors and screens that show the demolition of a blighted neighborhood, El Cartucho, in Bogotá. To the side or downstage center (depending on the performance space), a heavy, dark skinned woman sets up a makeshift kitchen table, lights a grill, and starts grinding corn. A video camera projects her steady movements onto a large screen that somebody centers in the open space. The woman is present throughout the performance: she’s a “character” in the video, an actor onstage; she plays the role of herself, the street vendor that she was in El Cartucho, cooking for a public. Only afterward do we learn her name: Juana María Ramírez. The audience can see her both on screen and off as she goes about her business of turning out perfectly shaped arepas, typical Colombian corn cakes, much as she used to in Bogotá. Audience members can smell the arepas and, at the end of the performance, she invites people to eat them.


Diana Taylor

Although this is not environmental theater in the 1960s understanding of the phenomenon, the audience is transported into an uncanny and constantly changing space of social relations, smells, sights, and sounds that is both alienating and weirdly “homey.” Both no-tech and high-tech, the performance makes a street of the stage and a stage of the street. On screen, former El Cartucho inhabitants give testimony about what their neighborhood used to be. As they speak, the audience sees demolition balls knocking away walls; buildings implode; dust and debris mushroom and settle; the contemporary ruins recall postnuclear holocaust images from sci-fi movies. The city has become an arena of urban warfare, not because the guerillas have arrived from the mountains, but because politicians have chosen urban renewal initiatives that disappear the poor and obliterate the past. Cartucho (meaning cartridge, but also translated as “Lily Street”) is the common name for Barrio Santa Inés. The inhabitants, however, know that it means desechable: disposable people, homes, and neighborhoods. The affluent long ago abandoned its beautiful 1830s vintage homes and moved to other parts of the city. The decayed houses became homes for the poor or flophouses for immigrants (refugees, the performance calls them) fleeing from the country’s conflict-torn interior. Gradually, the government and private companies withdrew services. Bogotá’s more prosperous inhabitants shunned El Cartucho as a place of poverty, petty crime, and drug addiction. It disappeared from their map. Soon, a city beautification and revitalization project ensured it was on no map. Fifteen square blocks were razed and two thousand people were left homeless, their predicament unacknowledged. In 1998, Bogotá was in the throes of an ambitious urban renewal project undertaken by Mayor Enrique Peñalosa (1998–2000). Located a stone’s throw from the president’s residence and the country’s center of political power, El Cartucho provided visual proof of Colombia’s failed social policies. Given the logic of progress and beautification, it needed to disappear. Political ideologies, as Michel de Certeau observed, “transmute the misfortune of their theories into theories of misfortune” (96). Bad places breed bad behaviors and bad people. Or is it the other way around? The unsightly and unsafe area was converted into a people-free, clean, well-lighted showcase. The model of spatial interaction was imposed from above—not a reflection of what was (as in Villa Grimaldi), but of what the mayor’s office wanted it to be. Instead of space evoking practice, this one evacuated it, emptied it, transforming space into a concept, a utopia, a no-place. The Parque Tercer Milenio (Third Millennium Park) materialized the rhetorical commitment to improving national life. Inaugurated in August 2005, the park won first prize in Colombia’s 2006 Architecture Biennial. The performance guides us through the ruins. Former inhabitants’ screened testimonies challenge the notion of “renewal.” Mapa Teatro, founded in 1984 by brother and sister, Rolf and Heidi Abderhalden

Performing Ruins


Cortés, clearly refers to ruins as more than physical remains, rubble, or destruction. It refers also to a state of ruins, a government capable of rounding up undesirable citizens and transporting them to the matadero (the city’s slaughterhouse) without telling them where they were going. The high walls of the matadero surrounded by barbed wire can’t hide the eerie smoke chimney that towers over them. The images underscore the violence of national purification fantasies that rely on the disappearance of certain populations. After a few days, El Cartucho’s former residents were dumped off in different parts of the city. No plan or policy had been arranged for them. No one knows what happened to all the dogs thrown into the back of trucks and carted away. As former El Cartucho residents talk about their old homes, they invoke a mental map of the violently emptied space, the “no-space” as Mapa Teatro calls it, that their area has become. “I used to live here,” says a man, penciling a map. He, like Matta, is a witness to himself and others in the disappeared community. He tells, he points, he implicitly attests to the impunity of those who mandated the project from above. The screens juxtapose historical maps with these drawings, underscoring how the renewal process wipes out, rather than revitalizes, what was there before. Identity, of course, is bound up with space. The difficulties former inhabitants have situating themselves in relation to their past also defines their present and future status. Where do they belong? Nowhere, obviously, according to their government. Disposable people do not belong; they are used and discarded. City designers are only enacting what Latin American military forces have long known: by eradicating or shutting down institutions and places associated with past practices, they can change a society’s sense and memory of itself. While urban renewal cannot compare with the criminal violence of disappearing “subversives” in dirty wars, some sectors of the population are slated to disappear from their homes to make room for new, improved places. Performative utterances, calling a barrio blighted for example, allow for policies that eradicate the disease. No one invests in blighted communities or provides hygienic infrastructure and services; the government need not offer educational resources, health services, drug counseling, rehab, or work opportunities. These communities, the logic goes, are ruined already. What is the point in recognizing their members as cultural agents with vested interests in improving their environment and life chances? The city is the battleground. The war is not just on terror and terrorists, but also on poverty and the poor. The rhetoric of destroying the village to save it applies the militarized language of Vietnam to urban landscapes. Ruin is a political project. The actors move the four large screens around, rearranging the projectors in front of them, bringing the images and sounds up close, juxtaposing them with others, creating a spillover effect that defies containment. Unlike most performances, the focus here is not on actors. They do


Diana Taylor

not speak or tell. They show. They show by moving the projectors and by melting their bodies into the projections. At times, they drape huge drop cloths over their shoulders and position themselves in front of the screens, allowing the images to fold their bodies into the scenario. The fires of burning debris become fires on the body. Their bodies make visible other bodies on and through them—much as traditional acting does. Yet, instead of using their bodies as instruments or vessels channeling other lives, their bodies become screens for the projected experiences of others. The replication and layering of images illustrate the degree to which bodies and space stand-in for each other in the discourse on urbanization. Situated in the ambiguous yet generative inside/outside, Mapa Teatro’s members position themselves, too, as witnesses to ruins. They presence and accompany the El Cartucho inhabitants throughout the process. They serve as their witnesses and acknowledge their loss and trauma, a vital role in a situation where few will call violence by its proper name. The bodies of Mapa Teatro members also make visible and transmit to us—the audience—the memories and trauma of those suffering the violence of urbanization. Mapa Teatro’s performance process thus involves at least three aspects—revelation (illuminating and making visible the destruction of the El Cartucho inhabitants’ plight), witnessing (accompanying the inhabitants and recognizing their trauma), and transmission (passing the knowledge of the experience to the audience). The montage is both a testimony to past pain and a sign of hope; the actors, like the El Cartucho inhabitants, are able to place themselves, through acts of creation and memory, back in the places that no longer exist. They leave a trace, or “huella,” as Rolf Abderhalden calls it. They create testimonies and art from what others have deemed trash. And even in this devastated landscape, there is beauty: the warmth and humor of the inhabitants who speak of their lives, the surprising textures and colors of ordinary objects (bricks, rocks, windows), and the rhythm and motions of everyday life. Then Mapa Teatro wheels the screens away in a fluid coming-and-going of images, sounds, voices, and perspectives that makes visible not a violent community, but a violent set of social relations. The performance’s precision and beauty simultaneously crash against and mitigate the brutality of what is shown. Art, as Mapa Teatro and so many other Latin American theater and performance practitioners have demonstrated, can function as a practice of witnessing. Art is not a thing—a beautiful object—but a process, an engagement with those who interact with it. It creates a safe space of encounter, an occasion to tell (atestiguar) and be heard. For four years, Mapa Teatro developed C’ùndua, an art project/process encompassing various in situ “install-actions” with the El Cartucho inhabitants in which they revisited the space, drew maps, created intergenerational and interethnic memory books, and developed several powerful performances. Testigo de las ruinas, the aesthetic culmination of work developed in the various projects, was completed after the park was built. C’ùndua in

Performing Ruins


Arhuaca mythology refers to “the place where we will go after death.”6 Yet the proposal was, as they call it, a “pact with life.” They wanted to accompany, presenciar, listen to, and acknowledge the subjectivity of those whom the government was ready to discard in the name of urban renewal: “A well built city is not only one whose spaces and buildings are durable and beautiful; it is one whose spaces and buildings hold a sense of the life of its citizens” (Proyecto C’ùndua, 88). Ironically, the park—an emptied space—is also empty. The desired presence is absent; the upscale pedestrians with leisure time to walk through the park or sit and watch a performance did not materialize. Yet the memory of the undesired people who were so brutally absented is present. The space makes visible that which has been disappeared. Poverty—albeit banished—has made its way back. As no economic policies were put in place to address the brutal financial disparities, the streets bordering the park increasingly show signs of disrepair. The decline is a sign not of bad people, but of bad social practice, of waging the “war” on poverty against the poor rather than against unequal systems of production and distribution of wealth. Revelation, witnessing, transmission. How does performance make witnesses of the audience? Audiences do not have a chance to be present, to presenciar, the original events being depicted. But theater and performance can allow audiences to experience the testimonies of those who lived through the events. We are witnesses not to the demolition, but to its retelling. Mapa Teatro felt that the video performance was not sufficient to create the occasion for witnessing they had envisioned. Asking Juana Ramírez to join them onstage changed everything. While no buildings or rubble provide the authenticating materiality for the scenario, Juana’s physical presence “da cuerpo” (gives body) to the scene she invites us to enter. Part of our role as audience, we gradually come to understand, is to accompany her through the re-presentation. She is the link between the “here”—captured on screen but now gone—and us, the spectators gradually turned witnesses. Theater and performance offer a space for transforming the trauma of loss into a force of life affirming action.7 Ruins, whether “glorious,” “dark,” or “reconstructed” ask us to participate and to witness in many different encounters, to accompany and “presence” the reality of the experience of others. But witnessing works across a continuum: the impossible witness to which Elie Wiesel and Giorgio Agamben point (“we, the survivors, are not the true witnesses” [Wiesel quoted in Agamben, 33]); the witness to oneself articulated by Dori Laub; the witness to the victim (as in my interaction with Pedro Matta at Villa Grimaldi); the witness to the event in Bertolt Brecht’s “street scene” (123–29); the juridical witness called to court; and various kinds of witnessing at a remove—either in time (ruins), space (renovation projects), or through representation. Here I have asked you to accompany me through the ruins, to participate in yet another transmission of the act of witnessing. Where this will lead us, I do not know.


Diana Taylor

Notes 1. See Chapter 3 of Castañeda. 2. DINA stands for Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (National Intelligence Directorate). 3. See Lazzara’s Chapter 4 for an excellent study of Pedro Matta and the physical layout of Villa Grimaldi. 4. See Benjamin, 225. 5. I am indebted to Marcial Godoy for this observation. 6. The multimedia Proyecto C’ùndua: Un pacto por la vida/A Pact for Life was produced in 2003 by the Bogotá Mayor’s office and the Bogotá Para Vivir association. 7. See Reisner.

Select Bibliography Abderhalden Cortés, Rolf. “The Artist as Witness: An Artist’s Testimony.” E-misferíca 4, no. 2. (November 2007): eng/artist_presentation/mapateatro/mapa_artist.htm. Agamben, Giorgio. Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive. New York: Zone Books, 1999. Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” In Illuminations, translated by Harry Zohn, 219–53. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1968. Brecht, Bertolt. “The Street Scene.” In Brecht on Theatre, translated by John Willett, 121–29. New York: Hill and Wang, 1964. Castañeda, Quetzile E. In the Museum of Maya Culture: Touring Chichén Itzá. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996. De Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life. Translated by Steven Rendall. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. Laub, Dori. “Truth and Testimony: The Process and the Struggle.” In Trauma: Explorations in Memory, edited by Cathy Caruth, 61–75. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995. Lazzara, Michael J. Chile in Transition: The Poetics and Politics of Memory. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006. Proyecto C’ùndua: Un pacto por la vida/A Pact for Life, A Multimedia Project. Bogotá: Mayor’s Office of Bogotá and the Bogotá Para Vivir Association, 2003. Reisner, Steven. “Private Trauma/Public Drama: Theater as a Response to International Political Trauma.” In The Scholar and Feminist Online 2, no. 1 (Summer 2003):

Chapter 2 Scribbling on the Wreck Francine Masiello Like ossuaries, ruins prove the end of nationalisms and frontiers to which we so laboriously adhere. —Luisa Futoransky

I On the way to Cafayate, somewhere north of Tucumán, the ruined citadel of the Quilmes Indians allows me the leisure of pausing. Perched on the pinnacle of what was once the fortress of a mighty nation, I admire the heights that I have scaled; I stretch my gaze over the horizon; I try to imagine life as it might have been before time swept it all away. Nonetheless, these are not free thoughts, unshackled from any earlier logic. After all, the guidebook has intervened far before my arrival, alerting me to the story of the rise and fall of this once flourishing culture. The largest settlement in Argentina before the Conquest, the Quilmes first resisted the Inca empire and then, for 130 years, opposed the power of Spanish invaders. We know from the tour books that the Spaniards dragged the last Quilmes survivors on foot to Buenos Aires. Most perished in the march. We are also told that the ruins were rehabilitated during Videla’s military dictatorship (1976–1983). Who then can escape the irony of the junta’s gesture, staged in 1978, possibly its cruelest moment, of remembering its native peoples who, much like 30,000 citizens under military rule, had also been disappeared? This is an all-too familiar narrative that runs from Wounded Knee to Tierra del Fuego: first we kill indigenous peoples and later we return as tourists to celebrate their achievements. All the while, we continue in the call to justify ongoing destruction.


Francine Masiello

I reread my words here and see that they border on the obvious: they are what every tourist needs to say upon perceiving the traces of a lost civilization. Pablo Neruda performed a similar act of remembrance (though with considerably greater eloquence) when in “Heights of Machu Picchu” he wrote, “I come to speak for your dead mouths.” Writers like Neruda use the lyric voice to lay claim to the past, to speak control over history. This process begins with the perception of a present-bound concreteness which, like a stone, is polished again and again and remembered by the rhythms of repetition. Originality is achieved not only through the style in which history is recalled, but also through the confidence we place in our senses: vision to capture the image before us and auditory power to track the rhythms of narration. I will return to the role of the senses in relation to ruins, but first, let me turn to some possible strategies for reaching a past that is not ours. I begin with a sense of place. Perhaps, as Pierre Nora once said, the site of memory is more exacting than the memory itself. And that indeed is the point. Ruins bring an awareness of framing, of the device of representation; they are a site of memory that enters into a state of play with memory itself. The experience is dialogic; it insists on the push and pull between past and present, between the givens of nature’s destructive art and my (the witness’s) insistence on innovation. But it is also about the conflict of what I see directly and the history that I will later narrate about the scene observed, or about my version of events in contrast to all the previous texts that have been written about the same. Nothing is innocent: in the presence of ruins, citation and repetition rule the day. Ruins thus drag our imaginations back and forth in time; we leave our sphere of conventional understanding and surrender to lines of flight that lead us to remote and undecipherable sensations. The romantics turned to ancient civilizations to posit a new totality of history. Constantin-Francois Volney, observing the decayed structures of the Turks (1799), and Edward Bulwer Lytton in The Last Days of Pompeii (1834), found in the past the moral lessons necessary for acting in the present; they thus installed a back-and-forth in history that caused a volley in space and time. But the romantics also used ruins for the fiction of meditation. Pondering a memento mori or the theme of Ubi sunt?, they lingered in states of melancholia and paused for self-reflection. In this regard, romantic writers are quite unlike today’s postmoderns who put the fragments of ruins in play, refusing to acknowledge a whole. Here, Andreas Huyssen is right when he claims that the ruin is an apt postmodern site; its irreconcilable fragments resist totality and signal the failure of interpretation. Boundaries collapse; norms are upset; space is restructured. It would seem, in this respect, that the grand oppositions of totality and infinity drive the discussion of ruins. Though we try to grasp the whole, tracking back toward some original form, fragments of meaning lead us forward in infinite movement. I take the antonyms “totality and infinity” from Levinas to signal an ethical possibility that the site of ruins proposes. Here, and this is central to all that will follow, in both

Scribbling on the Wreck


extremes of “then” and “now,” between totality and infinite fragments, ruins always oblige us to see and think in double time. Here, in this double time, we find the moment to touch past and future, to enter the ethical moment of historical revision and move toward collective practice.

II Let me review this slowly by starting with the event of the ruin. The double reading to which I refer emerges from two possibilities: first, the idea of the ruin as a liminal space, a feast for the traveler as it was in another time a feast for the colonist’s eye. In all of this, when we ask how to experience the past, we examine the ways in which we recapture an event that belonged to others. How we establish continuity between past and present is key. At the same time, the breaks in flow may well be the cause for trauma. Second, when a volley of conflicting experiences is staged in the theater of ruins, it touches not simply the double time of past and present, but the wide canvas of history in relation to my interior moments. Ruins speak a lack in my primary experience; they scream out my inability to capture the past accurately. I then try to impose my own experience on a past that I cannot reach directly. I fill in the gaps; I make sense of the rubble; and when all else fails, I try to find an aesthetics of ruin, a beauty that combines nature’s artistic hand with human planning. Staged another way, the archaeological site or the place where disaster fell upon an otherwise organized culture reminds us, as sentient subjects, that we manage multiple time schemes. It reminds us that we are composed of heterogeneous times in contradistinction to the singularity of the efficient public clock. Here, Walter Benjamin gives a useful twist to the problem when he tells us that History is not homogeneous empty time, but time filled by the presence of the now (Jetztheit) (1969, 261). In this collision of temporalities, the chorus of an alternative harmonization can be heard. Benjamin is harsh (and, ultimately, more helpful) when he takes stock of the observer’s present-bound perspective. In his work on the Trauerspiel, for example, he directs us to the artist’s allegorical capacity to make sense of the fragment. On one hand, this talent is the basis of creation, the miracle through which an observer assembles the remnants of the past, piling them up, repeating forms, and producing, in the end, a work of art: creation through citation. But then there is the literary critic, who reveals craftsmanship differently: by taking all of literature, deconstructing it, breaking it down into remnants and then rebuilding the corpus, investing it with new meanings for history. In search of allegorical values lying behind the image, the critic perversely turns the literary artifact into a ruin: “Criticism means the mortification of the work: not the—as the romantics have it—awakening of consciousness in living works, but the settlement of knowledge in dead ones” (1998, 182). So this is not just about the study of ruins; it is also about the creative ruination we impose on material objects in history.


Francine Masiello

The ruins stage an in-betweenness: on the one hand, a connection between past and present, between life and death; on the other, the transitory nature of all human progress, a subtle movement in time in which nature comes back to reign over the works of human creation. In this way, the garden—or life itself—is always connected to ruins. This runs from the romantic period to our times. The decayed tombstone surrounded by weeds, which the romantics so much enjoyed, is also found in the visual work of postmodern artist Gordon Matta Clark, who purposefully destroyed existing buildings to let sunshine peer through broken walls and roofs, or in Anselm Kiefer’s monumental links between ruins and civilization, ashes and poetic life. A modern ruin confected to join nature and culture, a modern ruin that cites nineteenth-century ruins: in these extremes, the visual field’s closed totality is pried open. Everything is available, ready for reconstruction. Consequently, the future is left open as well. We are always caught in this disglossia, which captures the before and after in a single frame. It can also be said that framing activates ruins’ aesthetic potential. Through the observer’s lens, we try to detain the flow of a history on the verge of disappearing; we also translate acts of nature into a work of art. No wonder, then, that the frame narrative often introduces some remote past into fiction. Juana Manuela Gorriti’s narrators tell embedded stories crafted like Russian dolls, one inside the next. In any given story, arches and doorways separate her observers from the abandoned ruins of the homeland; each gaze frames another to sustain the art of telling while also sustaining, on a primary plane, the double times of past and present. But ruins impose a peculiar syntax for speaking that encounter, a grammar of double voicing, loaded with double meaning. In its most extreme manifestation, when crying out the failure of the romantic project, ruins produce aphasia; they dislocate oral language. The unheimlich (uncanny) of the ghostly past weighs on us, producing an inarticulate stammer. This is where speech breaks down, but it is also the point at which speech is translated creatively into poetic rhythm. The stammer of irrecoverable loss takes shape in literature as a repetition of the unnamable, a halting vibration that speaks the heterogeneous times that cannot be reconciled as one. Gilles Deleuze would even say that when language trembles from head to toe, we witness “the principle of poetic comprehension of language itself” (1987, 108). To get there—to the potential of art and indeed the potential of the future—I first want to consider some nineteenth-century texts and then draw upon our experience today.

III The romantics tell us that ruins awaken us to the sensorial realm. Confounding the normal structure of things, ruins startle the senses; they alert us to unexpected feelings. For Herman Melville, the Encantadas,

Scribbling on the Wreck


on the surface, are beyond comparison; yet more importantly, he invites us to see in them the world before time. Ruins draw us to search back for an imagined, prelapsarian moment. Melville writes, “[H]ere hues were seen as yet unpainted, and figures . . . unengraved” (768). He describes a world before writing, before inscription, pure experience without the intermediate step of representation. He goes on, “[N]o voice, no low, no howl is heard; the chief sound of life here is a hiss” (768). This is the world of the not yet, a materiality before speech, pure delivery to the senses. Volney begins to hear in the presence of ruins. Feelings are awakened, bodies begin to move, and an apparition then speaks to him and echoes his thoughts (87). Already a doubling of voices is heard, along with an unfolding of the other senses. Tactility comes into play as he walks around the remaining structures that once belonged to the Ottoman Empire. Sound enters laterally as when, for example, one’s perception of ancient time is disturbed by the incongruities of nearby vehicular traffic. The clutter of ruins awakens consciousness to material texture. Experience becomes somatic, dissolving reason in favor of a physical, instinctual interaction with the world. The starting point for reflecting on ruins is the body’s carnal density. Domingo Faustino Sarmiento wants to touch the barbaric, to control it. Gorriti contemplates past and future while touching the headstones and trees of Paris’s Père Lachaise Cemetery; her characters long to touch the Incas’ treasures or caress the stones of the homeland. Melville dwells on the senses when he focuses on Ahab’s abandonment of reason in favor of sensory perception. Memory and perception belong to the larger sensual body. By mid-century, however, a shift occurs from a sensorial, body-centric perception of the world toward a new psychic discipline that alters how subjects perceive the past. Caught in these ever-changing modes of perception, the three writers whom I will consider here—Gorriti, Sarmiento, and Melville— rewrite the terms for engaging a ruined past and for registering their experience. Memory is the topic of Gorriti’s fictions; she turns back the clock to envision a time preceding civil war and dissent, when elites of the Revolution of May 1810—among them, members of her own family— could claim a place in Argentina’s pantheon of heroes. General Juan Manuel de Rosas, of course, brings this glory to an end, resulting in a nation in ruins. In the realm of fiction, Gorriti’s characters register a sense of abandonment as they wander through the debris of battlegrounds. War, indeed, draws the lines between past and future; it signifies dislocation. But it also leads Gorriti to seek other spaces for recording experience. She thus turns to the pre-Conquest Incas and the altiplanos of Bolivia and Peru. Whether in reference to her homeland or distant points of travel, Gorriti begs us to notice the construction of memory as it rises from ruins. More importantly, memory is embodied; it imposes itself in an almost Proustian way through sensorial stimuli.


Francine Masiello

The voice of nature, the roar of water, or the grinding of stone awaken Gorriti to the past; her body absorbs the world’s sounds; sensation drives memory home. Gorriti will draw on the disorder thrust upon the material body both by sensations and the abstract world of ideas. However, when characters fail to feel, to channel the work of memory through the sensate body, then Gorriti’s stories collapse and chaos reigns. Reason, it would seem, fails to bring desired order. There is a simple way of reading Gorriti as the writer who wants to found a nation based on a common remembrance of sacrifice. In her fiction, this is exemplified by the bodies that litter the battlefields of the Argentine civil wars and by her memorials to dead military leaders and her clan’s elders. In this regard, she sustains a narrative about the eternal return of the disappeared. She is haunted by memories of a bitter past and nightmares of the future. But the gesture introduces a double step in Gorriti’s writings so that nostalgia and futuricity operate as one. Nature regulates both. When she returns to her native Horcones, for example, she tells us: Horcones! Paternal home, now a mound of ruins inhabited only by jackals and snakes. What remains of your former splendor? Your walls have decayed; the pillars of your arches have crumbled as if once erected upon an abyss. The sinuous roots of the fig tree and the golden trunk of the citrus barely signal the site of you gardens. Silence and loneliness have settled upon your once festive days. (Gorriti, xvi)

Here, nature is an indispensable part of ruin; it overtakes the edifice of human construction much in the same way that Rosas’s barbaric nature overtook civilization. Even when Gorriti forgoes her obsession with Rosas and moves back to the conflict between Inca and Spaniard, ruins become a metaphor for decay in human understanding. Let me provide a few brief examples. In “El tesoro de los Incas,” the story’s title alludes to the natives’ hidden gold, but also to the ruins of the past and to an imperial memory that is unable to see the virtue of indigenous civilizations. Indeed, blindness is the trope that links the story’s characters. The Spaniards fail to see the power of Inca family ties; they fail to recognize codes of honor. Sightless in the face of disaster, colonized and colonizer are led blindly to their ultimate collapse. Here, the sensate world, awakened by brilliant images of gold, is contrasted to moral darkness. This story marks a point of transition in the nineteenth-century culture to which I earlier referred: if nineteenth-century writers vacillate between a defense of the regime of the senses and that of reason, Gorriti finds in both a lack of ethical guarantees. This ethical quandary is balanced on the trope of ruins. It is no surprise, then, that greed and thievery run through all of Gorriti’s stories. Swindlers, embezzlers, and highway robbers are stock figures in her fiction. They lack a memory of rectitude, but are enticed

Scribbling on the Wreck


by the treasures of the past. This awakens their senses and their thirst for gold. In “La quena,” Rosa is courted by an avaricious and evil Spaniard, yet she is smitten with the mestizo Hernán whom she loves. Following endless plot twists, Rosa dies and Hernán chooses the monastic life. But in a final scene that can only be likened to high gothic, Hernán contemplates Rosa’s skeleton and devotedly turns the femur of his beloved into a musical instrument. The quena resonates with Rosa’s song, wailing of melancholia and loss. It also enables Hernán to pull himself out of silence; he manages to touch the depths of his regret through the spectral voice he hears. Gorriti brings us to the scene of haunting so that her characters can overcome moral blindness or paralysis by grief. The truth is spoken in “La quena” through the bones of the dead just as, in other stories, it is uttered through the voice of madness or through the desperate lyrics of an operatic aria or a funeral dirge. Characters sing; they wail; they go mad; they drown themselves in repetition. At times, they are left speechless. The truth is also spoken in bilingual voices, residual and dominant tongues that demonstrate a contest of values and cultures. Indigenous languages cross with cosmopolitan tongues; Latinisms infuse Spanish prose; musical composition and lyrics from Italian opera disrupt Spanish syntax. These are the sounds of different memories at work, not projected through a single voice, but through dissonant tones and enunciations. Memory, then, is never pure in formation, but always depends on a conflict or blending of colonizing and colonized voices, on liberals and conservatives meeting in distant lands, on bandits facing the law. Memory, above all, is reinforced by repetition, yet a nonnormative or exceptional voice always tells a second story. Not unlike the act of stuttering, this doubling or repetition in speech exceeds time’s linear organization. Perhaps ruins as a nineteenth-century trope respond to a new conception of private interior time that is pulled in several directions. “I was two persons,” the narrator tells us in Gorriti’s autobiography. Yet in an early story, “Gubi Amaya,” a character utters the same phrase. This dual self is caught between sensate experience and reason, between home and exile, public and private time, as the narrator tries to straighten out the ruined history of the past. Bergson here is helpful when he reminds us that the body is a boundary between future and present (Cited in Crary, 43). In the materiality of experience so dear to nineteenth-century writers, the reception of ruins is written on the narrative body, installed in a border space where ethical direction comes into doubt. Framing, haunting, and doubleness serve a disruptive function. Repetition, as a strategy that might have harbored the hope of bringing elusive fragments together, inevitably collapses upon itself, almost like a stammer. Sarmiento also confronted the idea of ruins when he stared at the decayed walls of the baths of Zonda and scribbled on their surface: “One can kill men, but not their ideas.” In itself a badly copied phrase that Sarmiento would cite time and again during his career, this is a phrase


Francine Masiello

that he inscribes under an image of the escutcheon of the Rosas regime, as if his second text could turn the first into a ruin and alter Argentine history. For Gorriti, corporeality is the enduring basis of legend. For Sarmiento, when the body is effaced, voice remains his resource. Both writers evoke the conflict of experience and representation, the doubling of body and ideas, the clash of original and citation as they emerge from history’s ruins. Much in the way that Gorriti’s characters turn to madness in ruins, Sarmiento gets ensnared in this doubleness when he sets abstract reason against the damaged body, civilization against barbarism. Sarmiento cannot live without either. Like the ruins that introduce Facundo, ideas need extension in time, but invariably they fall into the double time of repetition, the equivalent in writing of the oral stutter. An observation about citations in the works of Gorriti and Sarmiento: the passage by Gorriti that I cited earlier appears many times in her works; it introduces several early stories and novellas and makes a final appearance in the pages of Lo íntimo, her memoir written in the year of her death. Sarmiento’s anecdote about graffiti writing on the walls is his stock refrain. It inaugurates Facundo and appears, as well, in many of his texts. We seem to know it by heart. For both writers, repetition is like an enchantment that drives away the horrors of history. Haunting us, like an incantation, repetition alerts us to the double lineage that tears us between past and present. Sigmund Freud linked repetition of trauma to the pleasure principle. By restaging the trauma (the famous “Fort-Da” of Little Hans), the repetition or reenactment allows the individual to master experience that ultimately leads to pleasure. Yet repetition without mastery leaves us with trauma: it often stands for blockage; occasionally it inspires madness; it finds its way into speech through inarticulate stammer. Halting repetitions like this leave us stuck in sameness; without advancing, without reproducing, they lock us in the present.

IV “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awaken,” says Stephen Dedalus at least twice in Ulysses. How strange, it seems, that in this monument to high modernism James Joyce’s hero needs to reiterate his panic over ruins. Perhaps Benjamin is correct: we see history only as a set of fragments; lacking confidence in a holistic past, we instead reduce history to bits and pieces that we later repeat to assure ourselves (albeit without success) of a basic truth under our control. Yet here we fall upon a paradox: if repetition screams the unfinished obsession with a history in ruins, in literature, it also forms the basis of style (as Barthes once told us). Literature’s most famous scenes rehearse this trauma when the main characters fail to resolve their connection to history: Benjy’s mumblings in the Sound and the Fury, the famous stutter of Billy Budd, Kafka’s Gregor Samsa squeaking out his demand for justice by telling a

Scribbling on the Wreck


squeaky tale, the Pelele of El señor presidente, the tartamudo of Pedro Páramo, the lyric voice stammering through the lines of Trilce, or the howling child in Diamela Eltit’s Los vigilantes. History is in ruins and there is no way to voice the experience in a single coherent utterance. Perhaps the originality of these Latin American writers is that they manage to locate the crisis of history not in Pompeii’s volcanic ash or the Parthenon’s crumbled pillars, but in a uniquely American terrain that refuses narration. The American ruin is translated in the stammer that is the basis of style itself.

V Edward Said remarked that dualism is required for all second beginnings: phantoms underlie the invention of the new. No wonder, then, that ghosts persist in Gorriti’s narration, or that thieves and swindlers inveigle the republic’s founding principles. What is a thief, in effect, but one who swipes another’s possessions, one who speaks from the underside of the law, inverting linear order. A thief steals another’s narrative property and, through the copy, calls it his own. With his gestures, the thief installs a double reading required of all progress in history. In a way, he becomes history’s ghostly double, the broken mirror that reminds us of some forsaken whole. A phantom of disorder and antiprogress, he calls for a fresh start. The thief challenges the law’s given order while he leads us to excavate knowledge about things that clearly belong to others. Let’s look at Facundo. Not only does Facundo bring forward the famed stories of repetition (Sarmiento as he sits at Rosas’s desk and proclaims himself to be Rosas), but also posits Facundo as a surrogate for the despot. In this hall of mirrors, Sarmiento leads us to believe that we might find a revelation or unearth the secrets that lie buried with Facundo’s corpse. He makes a ruin of the past in the hope for something new. And here is the brilliance of Facundo: supposedly a denunciation of barbarism, of the uncultivated savagery of tyrants, the text goes on to advance barbarism as a source of art. The ruin of history is not an appendix to civilization; civilization cannot do without it. Sarmiento obsesses with American originality and finds its face in the ruin. We all remember the opening chapter of Facundo when the rastreador and the baqueano rely on their senses to organize knowledge. Sound teaches us to listen to nature; with sight, Sarmiento trains us to see the true nature of the barbaric other. But just as Sarmiento longs to touch barbarism and give outline to its form, he enters into a contradiction: he admits that poetry lies at the center of savage disorder. Perhaps, as Deleuze might put it, the choices are between creative forces and the force of domestication (1995, 290). Savagery falls in with the realm of the senses: rhythm, as the energy behind the primitive economy of speech, teaches us how to listen and understand; sight, sound, and


Francine Masiello

touch belong to the barbaric. Reason is thus left aside in order for originality to blossom. That the sensate world drives the literature of the romantics is hardly a new idea. Of greater importance in Sarmiento’s case is the way in which reason and the senses meet. Recall, for example, chapter nine, the famous chapter about Facundo’s murder in Barranca Yaco. After some time in Buenos Aires, with his children in a private school usually designated for elites and Facundo himself dressed up in a great coat looking like a gran señor, he decides to move on to Córdoba despite all counsel against it. Facundo refuses to listen to warnings about his threatened safety and begins a voyage that will culminate in death. I find this significant. In the city, Facundo loses contact with the senses; his intuitive feel for danger is suppressed. Blinded in the city and loosened from that appropriate combination of native intuition and judgment that earlier had ensured his survival, Facundo’s senses fail him. He is no longer attuned to surrounding danger. He thus ventures forth and meets his demise. Melville’s Ahab is no less careless. Having broken the quadrant that guides his ship, he relies only upon his senses to access the secret of the ancient past: the enemy within that has brought him to ruin. Of course, he is correct in his intuition and finds the whale. But being correct also leads to his destruction. Ahab thus reaches a crossroads between the senses and reason. By choosing sensibility over reason, he brings down both ship and crew. The lesson: collective power is endangered when only the senses command. Yet, at the same time, a community without intuitions to bind it surely cannot prosper. I do not want to make a case for embodied knowledge because, of course, we know that carnal experience is crafted by a biopower that is far stronger than individual desire. But I want to point, with all of this, to a shift in sentiment in the mid-nineteenth century that announces the crisis of an ongoing authority, a crisis of the masculine pact, caught between the pull of organized reason and the draw of the senses. Hence, the republics’ founding fathers—the senior members of the Gorriti clan with talents funneled through a prodigious daughter, the generation of 1837 to which Sarmiento subscribed, the decorated Gansevoorts who led a revolution in the United States as impoverished ancestors of Melville— seem to exhaust their political line and surrender to a nation in ruins. Yet creativity saves their heirs. The ruined structures they perceive—the home, the estate, the doomed ship of a desperate captain—become allegories for failed associations among powerful men. They signal the collapse of the sought-after liberal ideal. Understandably, then, the children of revolution drift in travel and exile. They thus turn to writing, and they remain alone. In this regard, it is no surprise that Sarmiento and Gorriti turn to repetition during the Rosas years, as if to stitch together the scraps of an illusory past. Nor is it any surprise that Melville keeps reflecting on

Scribbling on the Wreck


human extinction, never able to find a way to link past and present. Melville, up to his final fiction written shortly before his death, still tries to capture a before and after in the stuttering figure of Billy Budd. The stutter, then, constitutes an embodied way to name a failure that won’t let us go forward; it announces an inability to represent the past or future while we are stuck in a seemingly eternal present. Like whiteness, the vocabulary of knowledge fails; no connective can redeem it. Melville’s heroes falter and fly away from reason (Ahab, Pip, and Billy Budd), and social connection comes to naught. Whiteness is also the blank slate of Sarmiento’s desert or the battlefields on which Gorriti’s characters wail their sorrows in babbled incoherence. In each case, the illegibility of a fragmented whole torments these authors; its visual trope is found in ruins and its vocal answer in the stutter.

VI Michel de Certeau speaks of the ways in which pedestrians forge spaces of enunciation in dangerous sites to avoid the strategies of the powerful and find alternatives to rationalized space (97–99). Ruins open us to those unconventional spaces, more often collapsing the anxiety of mismeasurement in a habit of endless repetition. Ruins not only speak the dual pull of past and present, the return of the conflict between senses and reason at the scene of crisis, but they also prompt a collective critique of those structures left standing. From the site of the Roman Forum to the burning steel of the World Trade Center, ruins are about the history of ruining others. They speak our failure to find an enduring social bond; they name the site where reason crumbles and harmonic voice is lost. One solution for the ruin of history is found in the force of literature; another might take ruins as a site for new beginnings. In short, ruins awaken us to collective thinking that takes us to the frontier of action.

Select Bibliography Benjamin, Walter. “Excavation and Memory.” In Selected Writings, 1927–34, edited by Michael William Jennings, 576. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999. ———. Illuminations. Translated by Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken Books, 1969. ———. The Origin of German Tragic Drama. Translated by John Osborne. London: Verso, 1998. Bulwer Lytton, Edward. The Last Days of Pompeii. New York: A. L. Burt Company, n.d. Crary, Jonathan. Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge MA: MIT Press [1990], 1995. De Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life. Translated by Stephen Rendell. Berkeley: University of California Press [1984], 1988.


Francine Masiello

Deleuze, Gilles. “He Stuttered.” In Essays Critical and Clinical, translated by Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco, 107–14. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. ———. “Mediators.” In Incorporations, edited by Jonathan Crary and Sanford Kwinter, 281–94. New York: Zone Books, 1995. Edensor, Tim. Industrial Ruins: Space, Aesthetics and Materiality. New York: Berg, 2005. Freud, Sigmund. “Analysis of a Phobia in a Five Year Old Boy.” In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, volume 10, translated by James Strachey, 1–50. London: Hogarth, 1953–66. Futoransky, Luisa. “Prologue.” In Desaires, with photographs by José Antonio Berni. Madrid: Ediciones del Centro de Arte Moderno, 2006. Ginsberg, Robert. The Aesthetics of Ruins. New York: Rodopi, 2004. Gorriti, Juana Manuela. Dreams and Realities. Edited by Francine Masiello. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. Huyssen, Andreas. “Nostalgia for Ruins.” Grey Room 23 (Spring 2006): 6–21. Melville, Herman. Moby Dick, Billy Budd, and Other Writings. New York: Library of America, 2000. Nora, Pierre. Realms of Memory: Rethinking the French Past. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996. Piglia, Ricardo. “Sarmiento the Writer.” In Sarmiento: Author of a Nation. A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Tulio Halperín Donghi, Gwen Kirkpatrick, and Francine Masiello, 127–44. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994. Said, Edward. Beginnings: Intention and Method. London: Granta, 1997. Volney, Constantin-Francois. The Ruins; or, A Survey of the Revolution of Empires. London: Holyoake, [1799] 1857.

Chapter 3 “Oh tiempo tus pirámides”: Ruins in Borges Daniel Balderston [R]uins do not speak; we speak for them. —Christopher Woodward, In Ruins

Ruins haunt the works of Jorge Luis Borges: circular ruins in ancient Persia, a labyrinth on a cliff above the sea in Cornwall, the City of the Immortals in north Africa. In the famous essay “La muralla y los libros” (which opens Otras inquisiciones), he meditates on the distant Great Wall of China: The unyielding wall which, at this moment and all moments, casts its system of shadows over lands I shall never see, is the shadow of a Caesar who ordered the most reverent of nations to burn its past; that idea is what moves us, quite apart from the speculations it allows. (Its virtue may be the contrast between construction and destruction, on an enormous scale.) (1999, 346)

The imagination is powerfully stirred by the distant (and unseen) ruin. It is a puzzle to be meditated on, one which will culminate in one of the great concluding lines in Borges’s work, the famous definition of “el hecho estético,” which we may translate as the experience of ravishing beauty: “Music, states of happiness, mythology, faces worn by time, certain twilights and certain places, all want to tell us something, or have told us something we shouldn’t have lost, or are about to tell us something; that imminence of a revelation as yet unproduced is, perhaps, the ‘aesthetic fact’ ” (1999, 346). What is crucial in this famous sentence is the half-understood, half-seen nature of the object that captures our attention. And perhaps for that reason, ruins—incomplete fragments of


Daniel Balderston

a lost whole—are seductive for Borges. At an uneasy point of presence and loss (“destruction” and “construction,” as he says in the essay on Shih Huang Ti and the Great Wall), they project themselves forward in time, into an uneasy present and an uncertain future. A wonderful example of the function of ruins in Borges is the archeological excavation conducted on Tlön, the imaginary planet in “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.” The objective is to try to define the nature of hrönir, the imaginary objects that so preoccupy Tlön’s philosophers. The description reads: The first attempts were unsuccessful, but the modus operandi is worth recalling: the warden of one of the state prisons informed his prisoners that there were certain tombs in the ancient bed of a nearby river, and he promised that anyone who brought in an important find would be set free. For months before the excavation, the inmates were shown photographs of what they were going to discover. That first attempt proved that hope and greed can be inhibiting; after a week’s work with pick and shovel, the only hrön unearthed was a rusty wheel, dated some time later than the date of the experiment. The experiment was kept secret, but was repeated afterward at four high schools. In three of them, the failure was virtually complete; in the fourth (where the principal happened to die during the early expeditions), the students unearthed—or produced—a gold mask, an archaic sword, two or three clay amphorae, and the verdigris’d and mutilated torso of a king with an inscription on the chest that has yet to be deciphered. Thus it was discovered that no witnesses who were aware of the experimental nature of the search could be allowed near the site. (1998, 77)

Here, the crucial found object, the rusty wheel from the future, is related to a passage from “La flor de Coleridge” (written several years later) in which Borges sums up an incident from H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine. The Time Traveler “brings from the future a wilted flower. This is the second version of Coleridge’s image. More incredible than a celestial flower or a dream flower is a future flower, the contradictory flower whose atoms, not yet assembled, now occupy other spaces” (1999, 241). In Wells’s novel there are actually two white flowers that the Time Traveler puts on the desk at the end of the novel, objects that Weena, his love interest in the distant future, had put—if you’ll permit me the use of the past perfect to refer to future time in the novel—in his pocket, which she considered “an eccentric kind of vase for floral decoration” (43). In Borges’s essay, the number of flowers is reduced to one; one paradoxical dried flower, wilted on the trip back from the future to the present, is sufficient for his purposes. Wells’s novel ends: “And I have by me now, for my comfort, two strange white flowers—shriveled now, and brown and flat and brittle— to witness that even when mind and strength had gone, gratitude and a mutual tenderness still lived in the heart of man” (66). This sentimental

Ruins in Borges


interpretation of the wilted flower does not appeal to Borges so much as the philosophical paradox (similar to the one that worried Tlön’s philosophers): why would the flower “shrivel” on being brought from the future to the present of the narration? “Tlön” famously concludes with a “postscript” from 1947 (seven years after the publication of the story), and “La muerte y la brújula” takes place seven years after it was published; several of the most famous stories, then, are intrusions from the future, disturbing and dazzling in their promise.1 And “Tlön” ends with a discussion of how the world of 1947 is radically different from the world of 1937 (when the second part of the story takes place): there is a complex game of anticipation and memory, a labyrinth in time like the one proposed in “El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan” and “Examen de la obra de Herbert Quain.” The visual emblem of that game is the rusty wheel (of a date later than that of the experiment). “Abenjacán el Bojarí, muerto en su laberinto” considers a different kind of ruin—a vast labyrinth on a cliff above the sea in Cornwall, constructed to entrap the cousin and rival of the builder. It is described as “a majestic, tumbledown edifice that looked much like a stable fallen upon hard times” (1998, 255) and “a great circular trap of brickwork” (1998, 262), its center “a round apartment, a good bit run-down and gone to seed” (1998, 259). Though only a couple of decades have passed since it was built, it is now a ruin, or perhaps it was built as an intentional ruin in the first place in the tradition of Romantic garden follies. The description of the labyrinth evokes that of Daedalus’s labyrinth in Crete (location of another Borges story, “La casa de Asterión”), which was similarly designed to be a hiding place and a trap. Thus the labyrinth is designed to evoke an ancient ruin, while it hopes to entice the builder’s rival to enter it (a future event with respect to the moment of its construction). Narrative time in this story is itself a labyrinth. Unwin and Dunraven, the two young British visitors to the already ruined labyrinth, visit it at a precise moment in history: “It was the first evening of the summer of 1914; weary of a world that lacked the dignity of danger, the friends prized the solitude of that corner of Cornwall” (1998, 255). The narrator’s irony could not be more precise: they visit on June 21, 1914, and of course the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand would take place in Sarajevo a mere week later, on June 28, 1914, and war would be declared on July 28, 1914. By late summer, the train stations of Europe would be busy carrying young soldiers to the fronts; no doubt Dunraven and Unwin found the adventure they desired in the battlefields of the Somme (the secret subject of “El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan”).2 The opening of the story, then, looks backward to the construction of the labyrinth (and within that motion backward, forward to the killing of “Abenjacán”), and also forward to Dunraven and Unwin’s unstated future “adventures” in the Great War.


Daniel Balderston

The building, erected in the tradition of garden follies to be a ruin even at the time of its construction, is designed as a trap. The man posing as Abenjacán, who claims to be fleeing his cousin Zaid, is revealed (according to Unwin’s solution of the mystery) to be Zaid seeking to entrap Abenjacán. The signature of the serial murderer is the obliteration of the victims’ faces—of Abenjacán (the real Abenjacán, cast in Dunraven’s version of the story as Zaid), the black slave and the lion that accompanies them to Cornwall. The story is set up as a case of deduction from the terms of the series, and the surname “Unwin” suggests that Borges—a reader in this period of Kasner and Newman’s Mathematics and the Imagination (1940) and of Bertrand Russell’s writings on formal logic—is suggesting that the appropriate reasoning process would be derived from game theory, and perhaps more specifically from the notion of zero-sum games, posited by John von Neumann and Oscar Morgenstern in The Theory of Games and Economic Behavior (1944). The story was first published in Sur in 1951 and is a “zero-sum game” in the sense that the lion-slave-“Abenjacán” comprises a 3/–3 game, one of von Neumann’s classic formulations of the mathematical structure of a game. “Las ruinas circulares” works quite differently with an extratextual reference. The initial geographical reference seems vague: “his homeland was one of those infinite villages that lie upriver, on the violent flank of the mountain, where the language of the Zend is uncontaminated by Greek and where leprosy is uncommon” (1998, 96), but points to ancient Persia, and probably to its mountainous north, as the location for the story. The religious references (the fire cult, the presence of the totem animals, the purification rituals) point to the Zervanite heresy of Zoroastrianism. 3 In this story, ruins (again constructed as a mathematical series, with the sage coming from a ruin upriver to the south, and the “son” going to a ruin downriver to the north) are places of generation and creation. Life and death are closely intertwined, as in Zoroastrianism, and the presence of both the river’s water and the temple’s fire point to the concern for these two warring elements. “The idol that was perhaps a tiger or perhaps a colt” (1998, 99), but also a bull, and a rose, and a storm, refers perhaps to the earlier idols that, as R. C. Zaehner notes, were destroyed in the religious wars that preceded the rise of Zurvan (24), which included the lighting of sacred fires in the places where the idols had been. Zaehner, in Zurvan: A Zoroastrian Dilemma, refers to an element of Zoroastrian mythology that seems particularly pertinent to the story. With regard to “the appearance of the form of the youth,” Zaehner states: “Theodore [bar Kônai] identifies the youth with Narsê and the same god figures in the Manichean myth, where his function is plain. In the Bundahisn, when the onslaught is finally unleashed, Ohrmazd brought sleep upon Gayomart in the form of ‘a youth of fifteen years of age, shining and tall.’ This youthful form would then appear to be the

Ruins in Borges


personification of Gayomart’s sleep” (191). The relation between this passage (perhaps known to Borges through other classical sources, or through more recent German or British scholarship, as happened with his appropriation of ideas from the not-yet-discovered Gospel of Judas in “Tres versiones de Judas”) and the plot of the story is obvious enough: the youth of the myth also appears in the sage’s dream, though the twist that Borges gives the plot—that the sage himself is a figment of another’s dream—is not developed in this source.4 “Las ruinas circulares” constitutes a kind of limit-case to the sort of reading I do in Out of Context: Historical Reference and the Representation of Reality in Borges, since the historical references (and even the geographical location) are so minimal as to be almost invisible. Though these references may appear to be vague, they do suffice to place the story in what Mary Louise Pratt has called a “contact zone,” just east of the cultural boundary between the Greek and the Persian spheres, and perhaps early enough that Eastern influences (soon to be manifest in the Greco-Roman world in the cult of Mithra) have not yet spread westward. Borges’s work almost always conceals knowledge known to the author that is not made explicit in the text, and certainly the Zoroastrian and Zervanite elements in this story would be examples of that kind. “El inmortal” is another story that is set mostly in a ruin, in this case also a place of creation and generation, though in an ironic sense. Beginning in the reign of Emperor Diocletian (284–305), it is narrated by the tribune Marco Flaminio Rufo (the name evokes that of several Roman consuls), whose wanderings take him from Egypt to the ruined City of the Immortals, somewhere in the western part of north Africa, presumably in present-day Morocco. There he drinks of a stream that makes him immortal, which turns out, of course, to be more a curse than a blessing. Much of the story consists of a description of the City of the Immortals (535–42), first from afar: “At dawn, the distance bristled with pyramids and towers” (1998, 185), and then, gradually, he explores the perverse ruins. The most important description reads as follows: Out of the shattered remains of the City’s ruin they had built on the same spot the incoherent city I had wandered through—that parody or antithesis of City which was also a temple to the irrational gods that rule the world and to those gods about whom we know nothing save that they do not resemble man. The founding of this city was the last symbol to which the Immortals had descended; it marks the point at which, esteeming all exertion vain, they resolved to live in thought, in pure speculation. (1998, 190)

This is a folly on a much larger scale than the labyrinth in Cornwall, and like the ruin in “Las ruinas circulares” it is presided over by an ambiguous effigy figure: “the body of a tiger or a bull” (1998, 188). Probably a reference to figures made popular by the expansion of Eastern cults


Daniel Balderston

such as that of Mithra in the Roman Empire, this statue presides over a liminal place where mortal life becomes everlasting, which turns out to be a fate more terrible than death. It is a place of loss—where Homer has forgotten his epics, where the Roman tribune loses his faith in the future—but also mysteriously of a new kind of generation, where the group of immortals (and it is impossible not to hear echoes of the pompous language that is used by literary academies to talk about their members) forget their glory, even their names, and turn into the elemental beings who rush out naked to enjoy a sudden downpour in the desert. This catalog by no means exhausts the list of ruins in Borges’s texts. Three more deserve mention here. In “La escritura del dios,” “[o]n the first day of creation, foreseeing that at the end of time many disasters and calamities [ruinas] would befall, the god had written a magical phrase, capable of warding off those evils” (1998, 251). 5 In “La Secta de los Treinta,” the members “[t]heir number decimated by sword and fire . . . sleep by the side of the road or in the ruins spared them by war, as they are forbidden to build dwellings” (1998, 443). And another futurist fantasy in the vein of “Tlön,” “Utopía de un hombre que está cansado,” includes a brief description of the lost world of the present: “To judge by the ruins of Bahía Blanca, which curiosity once led me to explore, it’s no great loss” (1998, 463). In fact, one of Borges’s late projects was the writing of an introduction to a book entitled El libro de las ruinas, published 11 years after his death by Franco Maria Ricci in deluxe editions in several languages; that introduction has been collected in an anthology of his prologues, El círculo secreto (2003, 156–63). Borges is fascinated by intellectual projects that include the intrusion of the future into the past. An almost secret example of this is in the essay “La creación y P. H. Gosse,” one of the least studied texts in Otras inquisiciones, which concerns the religious and scientific crisis visited upon Edmund Gosse’s father, a scientist and devout Christian, by the discovery of geological strata and fossils. Gosse proposes that God created the world as if it were old: Adam has a navel although he was never connected to a mother by an umbilical cord. Borges adds, with a touch of local Argentine color: “There are skeletons of glyptodonts [sic] in the gorge of Luján, but there have never been glyptodonts” (1999, 224). By referring to one of the key discoveries of Argentine paleontology, which brought Florentino Ameghino to world fame and encouraged him in his nationalist fantasies that the human species had originated in Patagonia, Borges links Gosse’s tortured reconciliation of evolutionary science and Christian creationism to that of his compatriots who would argue against all odds for a Patagonian origin.6 Near the end of The Waste Land, T. S. Eliot famously calls his poem “These fragments I have shored against my ruins.” Borges’s works, also brilliant fragments of a whole that was lost or that never quite happened, are similarly the products of a personal quest, the wilted flowers of the future, or the umbilical cord linking someone to a nonexistent mother.

Ruins in Borges


Ruins in Borges are as often the ruins of the future—the great project of the encyclopedia of Tlön, Pierre Menard’s unfinished masterpiece—as they are relics that can be reimagined. The past is always invented, the future impossible but inexorably imagined.7 As he writes at the end of “Tlön”: Contact with Tlön, the habit of Tlön, has disintegrated this world. Spellbound by Tlön’s rigor, humanity has forgotten, and continues to forget, that it is the rigor of chess masters, not of angels. Already Tlön’s (conjectural) “primitive language” has filtered into our schools; already the teaching of Tlön’s harmonious history (filled with moving episodes) has obliterated the history that governed my own childhood; already a fictitious past has supplanted in men’s memories that other past, of which we now know nothing certain—not even that it is false. (1998, 81)8

This striking meditation on the malleability of history was of course written in 1940 (though it is attributed in the postscript to the story to the then-future date 1947). In 1940, diabolic utopian political projects were reshaping the past: rewriting German cultural history, retouching photographs of the Bolshevik Revolution, remaking great urban spaces (Rome, Berlin, Moscow) as fantasies of an imagined past.9 Significantly, archeology—concerned especially in its period of growth, from Goethe in Greece and Italy, Stephens in the Yucatán and Central America, Schliemann in Troy and Mycenae, to Bingham in Machu Picchu, with the exploration of ruins and with an aesthetic appreciation of them—is mentioned specifically as one of the intellectual fields that is rethought in Tlön: “Numismatics, pharmacology, and archeology have been reformed. I understand that biology and mathematics are also awaiting their next avatar” (1998, 81). Archeology is one of the fields being remade—not only in Tlön but also in the narrator’s world—by the intrusion of the imagined world into the real one. Just as archeology on Tlön is subject to the desire and imagination of those who are doing the digging, so our planet’s ruins are the space defined by Juan José Saer (in the opening pages of his great novel El entenado): “The unknown is an abstraction; the known, a desert; but what is half-known, half-seen, is the perfect breeding ground for desire and hallucinations” (10). An aesthetic of ruins is for Borges a poetics of the fragment: pieces of a lost whole invite a reconstruction through imagination, a reconstruction that is always bounded by uncertainty and hypothesis but fueled by desire. Borges’s works—his thousands of short texts, few of them written to be parts of books, though when collected into books they amount to thousands of fascinating (and often difficult) pages— themselves depend on a poetics of the fragment. The reader is always invited to puzzle over the relation of one text to another, of one idea to another that repeats (and often contradicts) it, over textual fragments that are repeated (think of Menard and Cervantes’s sentences; think of


Daniel Balderston

the old man curled up in the corner who appears in both “El Sur” and “El hombre en el umbral”; think of the mysterious verse “Axaxaxas mlö” that appears in both “Tlön” and “La biblioteca de Babel”). Ruins are even more literally the space of desire in “La secta del Fénix.” The sex act (and there is consensus in the criticism that this story is about that) takes place in such liminal spaces: “There are no temples dedicated expressly to the cult’s worship, but ruins, cellars, or entryways are considered appropriate sites” (1998, 173).10 Ruins are, then, frightful and awe-inspiring, but also potentially places of generation and creation, in even the most literal senses of those words.11 Christopher Woodward notes that Freud “saw archeology as an analogy for the practice of psychoanalysis” (54–55) and quotes him as saying “Stones speak” (55). He then quotes at greater length from Freud’s comments on Wilhelm Jensen’s novel Gradiva (1903), set in Pompeii: “What had formerly been the city of Pompeii assumed an entirely changed appearance, but not a living one; it now appeared rather to become petrified in dead immobility. Yet out of it stirred a feeling that death was beginning to talk” (Cited in Woodward, 55). Clearly what is at stake for Borges are the ways in which archeological fragments provide an aesthetic of the textual fragment and a way of thinking about the imagination. In “La biblioteca de Babel,” one of the few fragments of text that the librarian-narrator has found to make some sense reads: “Oh tiempo tus pirámides” (1974, 466) (“O Time thy pyramids” [1998, 114]), thus making explicit the link between temporal and spatial fragments, and the presence of both kinds of fragments in textuality. As Borges says in “El sueño de Coleridge,” about the writing of Coleridge’s great poem “Kublai Khan”: In 1691, Father Gerbillon of the Society of Jesus confirmed that ruins were all that was left of Kublai Khan’s palace; of the poem, we know that barely fifty lines were salvaged. Such facts raise the possibility that this series of dreams and works has not yet ended. (1999, 372)

Here Borges notes the sequence of dreams that intrude on reality, but that now exist only as shards. Kublai Khan’s dream of a palace resulted in the construction of Xanadu, but the palace is now just a ruin; Coleridge’s dream resulted in the composition of the poem, but the fragment that he was able to write down after being awakened was but a part of the lost whole. For Borges, then, the processes of destruction and construction (as he calls them in the essay on Shih Huang Ti and the Great Wall) are intertwined. The whole can only be imagined from the fragment. Or to turn this formulation around: the fragment gives us access to the whole. In “Tlön,” the second part of the story ends: “The classic example is the doorway that continued to exist so long as a certain beggar frequented it, but which was lost to sight when he died. Sometimes a few

Ruins in Borges


birds, a horse, have saved the ruins of an amphitheater” (1998, 78). Here, clearly it is the power of thought—attention, memory, and anticipation, as Augustine defined it in Book XI of the Confessions—that is crucial to the world’s very existence.12 Ruins—what Woodward calls “a dialogue between an incomplete reality and the imagination of the spectator” (139)—are privileged settings in Borges’s work for the experience of that precarious and contradictory nature. Artistic creation (“el hecho estético”) comes from that liminal space: the revelation that is not produced, whose wholeness can only be imagined.13

Notes 1. On the time frame in “La muerte y la brújula,” see Zalcman and my commentary in Balderston 2000 (106–7). 2. On the secret subject of “El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan,” see Balderston 1993 (39–55). 3. For further detail on the Zoroastrian and Zervantine background to “Las ruinas circulares,” see Williams. 4. For more details on Borges’s sources for “Tres versiones de Judas,” see Aizenberg. 5. Note that the concept of “ruinas” in “La escritura del dios,” here translated as “calamities,” is not so obvious in the English version. 6. See Andersmann on the Museum of Natural History of Buenos Aires. 7. Woodward notes that at various moments in the history of architecture “the vanished past has become an inspiration for the future” (115). 8. This haunting passage contains a thought not unlike that in Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn (1995), quoted by Woodward in his discussion of cold war ruins in southern England: “The closer I came to these ruins, the more any notion of a mysterious isle of the dead receded and the more I imagined myself amidst the remains of our own civilisation after its extinction in some future catastrophe” (Cited in Woodward, 225). 9. Borges wrote a number of essays on the rewriting of German cultural history in Nazi Germany. These are collected in the section “Notes on Germany and the War” of the Selected Non-Fictions. On the retouching of photographs of the Bolshevik Revolution, see for instance King. 10. Canto writes of Borges’s fear of vacant lots, which she implies were associated in his mind with a fear of homosexual contact, or perhaps even of male rape (52). 11. See for instance Ginsberg’s comments on Jerusalem’s Western Wall: “The Wall is a cipher, an aleph, a root of meaning whose full articulation awaits the human heart. The Wall is a sounding board of the heart, a resonant terminus. Nothing is thought of as being beyond the Wall. The Wall does not speak to what is on the other side of it. It has within itself endless depth, walling nothing in or out. The Wall is self-existent. In a word, a ruin. Its wholeness is gone, and its holiness is present” (138). 12. Augustine’s “anticipation” sometimes appears instead as “expectation” in English translations of the Confessions. 13. I am grateful to Vicky Unruh and Michael Lazzara for the invitation to write this piece, and to Luciano Martínez for organizing the warm occasion at Swarthmore College where I presented it for the first time. It is dedicated in fond friendship to Antonio José Ponte, “ruinólogo.”


Daniel Balderston

Select Bibliography Aizenberg, Edna. “Three Versions of Judas Found in Buenos Aires: Discovery Challenges Biblical Betrayal.” Variaciones Borges 22 (2006): 1–13. Andersmann, Jens. “Relics and Selves: The Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, Buenos Aires.” Augustine. Confessions. Book XI. Online version. http://www.ourladyswarriors. org/saints/augcon11.htm#chap1. Balderston, Daniel. Borges, realidades y simulacros. Buenos Aires: Biblos, 2000. ———. Out of Context: Historical Reference and the Representation of Reality in Borges. Durham: Duke University Press, 1993. Borges, Jorge Luis. El círculo secreto: prólogos y notas. Buenos Aires: Emecé, 2003. ———. Collected Fictions. Translated by Andrew Hurley. New York: Viking, 1998. ———. Obras completas. Buenos Aires: Emecé, 1974. ———. Obras completas. Buenos Aires: Emecé, 1989. 4 vols. ———. Selected Non-Fictions. Edited by Eliot Weinberger and translated by Esther Allen, Eliot Weinberger, and Suzanne Jill Levine. New York: Viking, 1999. Canto, Estela. Borges a contraluz. Madrid: Espasa Calpe, 1990. Ginsberg, Robert. The Aesthetics of Ruins. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2004. King, David. The Commissar Vanishes: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin’s Russia. New York: Metropolitan, 1997. Saer, Juan José. El entenado. Buenos Aires: Folios Ediciones, 1983. ———. The Witness. Translated by Margaret Jull Costa. London: Serpent’s Tail, 1990. Wells, H. G. The Complete Science Fiction Treasury of H. G. Wells. New York: Avenel Books, 1978. Williams, Mac. “Zoroastrian and Zurvanite Symbolism in ‘Las ruinas circulares.’ ” Variaciones Borges 25 (2008): 115–35. Woodward, Christopher. In Ruins: A Journey through History, Art, and Literature. New York: Vintage, 2003. Zaehner, R. C. Zurvan: A Zoroastrian Dilemma. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955. Zalcman, Lawrence. “La muerte y el calendario.” Hispamérica 45 (1976): 17–29.

Part Two

Whose Ruins?: Ownership and Cross-Cultural Mappings

This page intentionally left blank

Chapter 4 Translating Ruins: An American Parable Sylvia Molloy In all our journey through this country there were no associations. Day after day we rode into places unknown beyond the boundaries of Yucatán, with no history attached to them, and touching no chord of feeling. —John Lloyd Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Yucatán

In 1839, John Lloyd Stephens, a New Jersey lawyer and businessman, toured Central America and the Yucatán peninsula on what was to be the first of two voyages. Stephens was, at that point, a seasoned traveler and dabbler in exotica. He was the author, too, of travelogues: Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petraea, and the Holy Land (1937) and Incidents of Travel in Greece, Turkey, Russia, and Poland (1938), which had gone through multiple printings and earned him the quite tidy sum of twenty-five thousand dollars in two years. Stephens’s companion on the trip to Yucatán was Frederick Catherwood, the well-known English architect and draughtsman, himself a seasoned traveler and dabbler in exotica, already famous for his drawings of Middle Eastern ruins and for his painted panoramas. It was rumored that Catherwood was the first Westerner to make a detailed survey of Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock. He and Stephens met in London in 1834 and Catherwood moved to the United States two years later.1 The travelers set out from New York harbor bound for Belize in October 1839. While the purpose of this first journey remains unclear—Stephens’s habitual penchant for travel is complemented by a mysterious “diplomatic appointment” from President Van Buren that is never clarified—the ultimate goal of the first trip, which Stephens would later write up as Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatán, is to reach Copán.2 As with most travel narratives that are destined to whet


Sylvia Molloy

the curiosity of readers and future travelers, Stephens delays narrating the arrival in Copán, taking pains to detail multiple sights and incidents on the road from Belize. One of these—striking enough to inspire Catherwood’s first sketch—is, in retrospect, significant. In Chiquimula, Stephens and Catherwood come upon “what had attracted our attention at a great distance, a gigantic church in ruins”: It was seventy-five feet front and two hundred and fifty feet deep, and the walls were ten feet thick. The façade was adorned with ornaments and figures of the saints, larger than life. The roof had fallen, and inside were huge masses of stone and mortar, and a thick growth of trees. It was built by the Spaniards on the site of the old Indian village; but, having been twice shattered by earthquakes, the inhabitants had deserted it, and built the town where it now stands. The ruined village was now occupied as a campo santo, or burial-place; inside the church were the graves of the principal inhabitants, and in the niches of the wall were the bones of priests and monks, with their names written under them. Outside were the graves of the common people. . . . The bodies had decayed, the dirt fallen in, and the graves were yawning. Around this scene of desolation and death nature was rioting in beauty; the ground was covered with flowers, and parrots on every bush and tree. (1969 1:74)

This, one could argue, is Stephens’s first view of a ruin. Yet, he does not identify it as such; rather, he calls it a building in ruins. The difference, I would argue, is not negligible. Something “in ruins” for Stephens—and indeed for many of his fellow travelers—is something in some way familiar (a church) that, while deteriorated, can be reconstituted (one “knows” what the missing parts were like). While this church “in ruins” may be described as being “enormous” and “at a great distance”—conventional requisites of ruins—the distance that separates it from the observers is neither symbolic nor mythical, but conventionally measurable in both space and time. The church’s filiation can be traced, its ruinous state explained by natural causes, the distance separating it from the traveler crossed. The church “in ruins” is a sort of tropical Tintern Abbey, and Stephens’s calculated description of the yawning graves and the luscious nature overtaking them constitutes a perfect memento mori—one that will not be repeated at the sight of the “real” ruins whose incompleteness is harder to mourn or to compensate. Something “in ruins” can be remembered, if not personally at least collectively. A ruin—or the lack it represents—can only be conjectured or, more precisely, evoked. There are other important differences between this church “in ruins” and the ruins for which Stephens looks. Unsaid, but very much in his mind, is the sense that, as he himself puts it, he is “entering abruptly into new ground” (1969, 1:96), initiating the exploration of “monuments and architectural remains of the aborigines” (1969, 1:97) as part of an ongoing investigation into the first inhabitants of America. 3 From that perspective, Stephens has little use for vestiges of the European Colonial: the

Translating Ruins: An American Parable


church “in ruins” that, to further thwart its possibility of ever becoming a bona fide ruin, has been recycled as a cemetery, that is, brought up to the present. Stephens and Catherwood are filled with boundless admiration when they happen upon Copán. The travelers, however, inspire little admiration among the inhabitants who view them with distrust, especially one José María Acevedo, who claimed to own the land, showed no inclination to give them permission to look around, and waved the title deed at them to prove his ownership. This piece of paper, which Stephens peruses at length in Acevedo’s presence, threateningly, “as if [he] meditated an action in ejectment” (1969, 1:82), gives rise to what Stephens calls “an operation”: All day I have been brooding over the title-deeds and, drawing my blanket around me, suggested to Mr. Catherwood “an operation”. . . . [T]o buy Copán and remove the monuments of a by-gone people from the desolate region in which they were buried, set them up in the “great commercial emporium,” and found an institution to be the nucleus of a great national museum of American antiquities! (1969, 2:115)

To settle the purchase expeditiously and dispel any of the professed landowner’s lingering doubts, Stephens resorts to an uncommon masquerade: I opened my trunk and put on a diplomatic coat with a profusion of large eagle buttons. I had on a Panama hat, soaked with rain and spotted with mud, a checked shirt, white pantaloons, yellow up to the knees with mud, and was about as outré as the negro king who received a company of British officers on the coast of Africa in a cocked hat and military coat, without any inexpressibles. But Don José María could not withstand the buttons on my coat; the cloth was the finest he had ever seen and [they] realized fully that they had in their hut an illustrious incognito. (1969, 1:127–28)

The threatening pose, the colonial masquerade, and Acevedo’s greed close the deal: Stephens bought Copán and all the ruins within for fifty dollars.4 At first view, there is little new here: the First World traveler, with the by now familiar pretext that ruins are neglected, if not destroyed, by indifferent Third World natives, disconnected from their past and ignorant of the ruins’ value, embarks on a lucrative salvage operation in the name of art. But this is not Stephens’s only concern: he worries that someone else may beat him to it. “Very soon,” he argues, “[the] existence [of the ruins] would become known and their value appreciated, and the friends of science and the arts in Europe would get possession of them. They belonged of right to us and, though we did not know how soon we might be kicked out ourselves, I resolved that ours they should


Sylvia Molloy

remain” (1969, 1:115–16). Remarkably, these defiant reflections precede Stephens’s purchase, so the claim to proprietorship both present and future (“they belonged of right to us” and “ours they should remain”) is not based on actual acquisition but on a preexisting right, albeit one that may meet with local opposition (“we might be kicked out ourselves”). I shall return to this right and to the possessive first-person plural. The purchase of Copán signifies a double victory for Stephens: he seizes the ruins from the natives, who appear indifferent, and from European antiquarians who must be beaten at their own game. Regarding the ruins of Palenque, in Mexico, Stephens could not purchase the site because Mexican law prohibited a foreigner from buying land unless he was married to a Mexican woman; according to Stephens’s biographer, he actively contemplated the possibility of marriage but ultimately gave it up. Up to here, then, nothing new, nothing remarkably different from, say, Lord Elgin’s infamous plunder. Indeed, Stephens himself compares his project to that of the Parthenon marbles, “precious memorials in the British Museum” (1969, 1:89), as he wonders how, given the difficulty of transportation, he might move the pieces to New York: “I could exhibit by sample,” he writes, “I could cut up one idol and remove it in pieces, and then make casts of the others” (1969, 1:89). Yet in this enterprise of recovery, there is one aspect that is quite unique; one that illustrates, if somewhat perversely, the topic of cultural translation or, quite literally, of cultural transfer. Whereas Stephens’s previous ventures in the Middle East and Eastern Europe were primarily those of a cosmopolitan antiquarian, his voyages to Central America, Yucatán, and Mexico (two of them, a second trip closely following the first), beyond the collection of exotica, involve a national engagement: Stephens is traveling as an “American,” an official American, one could say, thanks to his mysterious “special mission.” And as an “American” he proceeds to view, claim possession, and transfer the ruins of Mayan civilization which are, after all, “American” pieces: not foreign, but ours. Ideologically speaking, as Esther Allen points out, this expansive Americanness was not all that common at the time Stephens wrote. There was no notion of a shared America, north and south, in the US imaginary. (Nor, I hasten to say, is there now.) Instead, there was America; and then, there was South America (Allen, 72). Allen quotes Henry Marie Brackenridge who, on an early journey south in 1820, wrote disapprovingly of Argentines: “They call us Americans of the north—Americanos del norte; and themselves, Americanos del sud” (Cited in Allen, 72). Brackenridge’s dissatisfaction is leveled not so much at the self-appellation of the one—South Americans—as at the unnecessary qualifier to describe the other. In a letter to James Monroe, also quoted by Allen, significantly titled “A Letter on South American Affairs by an American,” Brackenridge writes that “[A]s the first of the colonies in forming an independent government, [we] have become peculiarly entitled to the

Translating Ruins: An American Parable


appellation of AMERICANS,” and further adds that the United States, by that very primacy, should be seen as “THE NATURAL HEAD OF AMERICA” (Cited in Allen, 75; Brackenridge’s capitalization). When it came to the past, however, and to whatever prestigious lineage might be educed from that past, the term America took on a more ample meaning for Stephens, one determined not so much by geography as by ideology. In a century committed to the search for origins and inspired by the culture of ruins, Stephens, a connoisseur of the so-called cradle of Western civilization, was eager to establish the existence (as were some of his contemporaries) of a “civilized,” culturally worthy, American past. But he had trouble meeting those criteria in North America. If the desire for that past was there, the great and mighty ruins attesting to great civilizations were not. All there appeared to be in the North (and it is interesting that Stephens never traveled extensively in North America) were unsatisfactory bits and pieces, not monuments. The monuments were elsewhere, in the other America, or rather in the other of America, the shadow figure that must constantly be qualified: South America, Spanish America, Latin America, in other words, America-not-quiteAmerica. The process then was to establish a continuity between the two through a strategic Americanness that would allow the United States to have its American ruins through ideological annexation, material transfer, and cultural translation, thus creating a prosthetic “high-cultural” past that would conveniently prove to the world “that the people who once occupied the American continents were not savages” (1969, 1:79).5 Note how in the following passage Stephens casually establishes such a seamless Americanness, relying on the continuity of syntax to mask hiatus: In our own country, wild and wandering ideas in regard to its first peopling have been inspired by the opening of forests, the discovery of tumuli, or mounds, and the fortifications extending in ranges from the lakes through the valleys of the Ohio and Mississippi, the finding of mummies in a cave in Kentucky, the discovery on the rock at Dighton of an inscription supposed to be in Phoenician characters. . . . From such evidence there arose a strong belief that powerful and populous nations had once occupied the country and had passed away, leaving little knowledge of their histories. In Mexico the evidence assumes a still more definite form. (1969, 1:75)

Mummies and a fraudulent Phoenician inscription on the one hand, Copán, Palenque, Uxmal, Chichén, on the other.6 On one side, belief and passion but few fragments of the past; on the other, the past’s “definite forms.” To achieve the cultural transfer effectively, the ruins, as symbolic goods, must be uncoupled from the culture in which they still hold meaning. Stephens must demonstrate that Guatemala’s and Mexico’s indigenous peoples, for whom the ruins were part of the quotidian, are unaware or disdainful of the ruins’ symbolic value; in a word, he must


Sylvia Molloy

demonstrate that the ruins, to these peoples, typically pictured as naïve, plodding, and lazy,7 constitute what Jennifer L. Roberts calls a “landscape of indifference”: that they are literally insignificant. Despite the fact that Stephens is guided through the ruins by indigenous inhabitants (who thus prove they have a better sense of the monuments than he credits them for), these inhabitants must be effaced from his text lest they unduly complicate the effect he seeks—hence the following, eloquent description of an empty, abandoned Copán, meaningless, prompting no associations. Like a forgotten text, a relic that has lost its connective potential, it is ready to be translated, transported, resignified: The city was desolate. No remnant of this race hangs round the ruins, with traditions handed down from father to son and from generation to generation. It lay before us like a shattered bark in the midst of the ocean, her masts gone, her name effaced, her crew perished, and none to tell whence she came, to whom she belonged, how long on her voyage, or what had caused her destruction.8 (1969, 1:104)

Considered incapable of cultural memory, the native informants’ knowledge is belittled or not recognized as knowledge. Thus, to illustrate their disaffection, Stephens reports the following exchange: When we asked the Indians who had made them [the monuments], the dull answer was “¿Quién sabe? (Who knows?)” There were no associations connected with this place, none of those stirring recollections which hallow Rome, Athens, and “[t]he world’s great mistress on the Egyptian plain.” (1969, 1:104)

The question bears asking: For whom are there no associations? The Indians’ answer, Quién sabe, is much too rich to be translated literally, as Stephens does, in order to prove disaffection. Given the ambiguity of the expression and the multiple uses to which it can be put in Spanish, it could just as easily be proof of resistance, of shrewdness, and not of dullness, a calculated will not to reveal knowledge: I know but I won’t tell you.9 This would illustrate precisely what Stephens would deny: that the ruins do have meaning for these other-Americans, but a meaning (and, indeed, associations) that he, Stephens, does not recognize. Even if he did recognize them, he would have trouble acknowledging them; for the sake of his American project, he must stress other-American indifference.10 In the same way, when asked how old the ruins are, the natives answer, “Muy antiguo,” by which Stephens understands very old, and again judges it a careless response. Once more, the implications of the Spanish term antiguo are lost on Stephens: antiguo is, yes, very old, but it is also very ancient, in the realm of the archaic; similar to the suranné, it belongs to a mythical, a-historical time, as Walter Benjamin reads in Baudelaire. Stephens wants dates instead, linear time, precise history.11 His linguistic competence is limited, requiring recourse to a

Translating Ruins: An American Parable


go-between: “I was not very familiar with the Spanish language and, through Agustín, explained my official character” (1969, 1:80). From the errors in his text, he seems to have had little Spanish and less Maya Quiché.12 This does not stop him, however, from relating his story as if linguistic communication were transparent, in the “we-asked-and-theytold-us” style that marks travel narrative to Latin America since the time of Columbus. Given Stephens’s project, to “discover” American ruins in America and, at the same time, take them away to America in name of a firstperson plural imposed from the North, not only was he unable to seize cultural differences, he was predisposed to ignore them. In the end, misapprehension served him well. He could claim the ruins as ours even before purchasing them because we, as Americans, were entitled to them, “they belong of right to us” (1969, 1:115–16), and not, say, to Europeans. In that we, needless to say, there was no room for the other-Americans from Guatemala, from Chiapas, from Yucatán. Only a flexible, yet allincorporating concept of America could allow for the following syntactically unstable, serpentine passage in the account of the first voyage: [T]he [Mexican] republic, without impoverishing herself will enrich her neighbors of the North with the knowledge of the many other curious remains scattered through her country. And [I entertain] the belief also that England and France . . . will leave the field of American antiquities to us; that they will not deprive a destitute country of its only chance of contributing to the cause of science, but rather encourage it in the work of bringing together, from remote and almost inaccessible places, and retaining on its own soil, the architectural remains of its aboriginal inhabitants. (1969, 2:474)

Europe must leave the study of American antiquities to us, Americans. They should not deprive a “destitute country” of contributing to science and retaining “on its own soil” the “remains of its aboriginal inhabitants.” The sentence is remarkably muddled: Which is the “destitute country,” Mexico or the United States? Which keeps the ruins “on its own soil,” Mexico or the United States? And whose aboriginal inhabitants are these, Mexico’s or those of the United States? No one country name can answer all three questions, but all three can be answered with America, or rather, with different inflections of the word America, where the term can be either strategically comprehensive or strategically exclusive. In Stephens’s system of transfers, America (in the most ample sense) functions as a linguistic shifter that can only really be actualized by a US citizen. Or, said another way, America is an all-encompassing term, but only if posited from one location. If Stephens’s primary goal in his use of expansive Americanness was to salvage the Mayan ruins and claim them for “our nation”—deriving from this feat a sense of personal achievement, national acclaim, and a not negligible financial gain—some of his readers, after the MexicanAmerican war, took the notion even further. Stephens published his first


Sylvia Molloy

travel book in 1841, his second in 1843, roughly around the time that the notion of Manifest Destiny began to see the light. Whether Stephens shared this belief is not certain although, being a Jacksonian Democrat, one may surmise that at least in some sense he did. There is no doubt, however, that many of his readers not only espoused the belief in Manifest Destiny but also used Stephens’s own arguments vis-à-vis the legitimacy of US claims on Mesoamerican ruins to bolster their cause. Thus Albert Welles Ely, a physician from New Orleans, in the 1851 issue of Debow’s Review, Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial Progress, and Resources, a notoriously pro-slavery, Southern-nationalist publication, wrote an article entitled “Ruins of Central America and Yucatan,” largely cribbed from Stephens.13 The same floating use of “America,” “our country,” and “home” are found here in Ely’s fiercely nationalistic arguments: Do the American people realize the fact that here in our own country we have the most stupendous ruins of cities upon the face of the globe? That we have pyramids too, greater than many of those in Egypt? Must we go so far from home as that [to the Middle East] to find wonders when here, in the very heart of America, we have the most astonishing ruins that the world can afford? We talk of the ruins of Ninevah, that “exceeding great city of three days’ journey,” when here, within a week’s travel of New Orleans, we have Ninevahs and Taadmors, and Baalbecs, and hundredgated Thebes! (47–48; my italics)

Whereas Stephens figured that, in order to prove that they belonged to America, these ruins had to be transferred to “America”—that is, the United States—Ely did not express the need to have them moved at all. Writing in 1851, after calls for the annexation of “All Mexico” had become a matter of course, particularly among Democrats who argued that bringing Mexico into the Union was the best way to ensure future peace in the region, the Yucatán was—or very shortly was bound to become—“our own country.” Speaking of transfers, it is fitting to mention that Stephens’s grand plan to found a “great national museum of American antiquities” (1969, 2:115) in New York City never materialized. Difficulties with the Mexican government thwarted his attempts at wholesale exportation and limited the pieces he managed to bring back to New York. Those objects he did bring back, however, “were most curious and valuable; and if I were to go over the whole ground again, I could not find others equal to them” (1963, 1:118). Among them was the only dated, carved wooden beam in the governor’s palace in Uxmal and a similarly carved wooden lintel from the ruins at Kabah, which Stephens again claimed “were the most interesting specimens the country afforded” (1963, 1:261). Stephens, writes an admiring critic, “brought to an America now ripe for self-discovery the first fair account of its distant past” (Predmore, xviii).

Translating Ruins: An American Parable


Lacking the proper national space to house the objects attesting to an “American” civilized past, Stephens changed plans and decided to send his collection, and notably the beam from the palace at Uxmal, to the National Museum in Washington. While waiting in New York for a second shipment of carved stone doorjambs from Kabah, Stephens had the pieces installed in Catherwood’s Rotunda, on the corner of Broadway and Prince Street, where they were exhibited together with Catherwood’s famous panoramas of Jerusalem and Thebes and seen by thousands, the viewing of panoramas being one of the most popular pastimes of the period. Temporarily dissociated from their Americanness by their Orientalist setting, the Mayan ruins were “translated” yet again and made to tell another story; the American self-discovery they were supposed to inspire gave way to the distraction of exotica. Note also the disparities in the exhibit: paintings of Thebes and Jerusalem were juxtaposed with Yucatán ruins in what was meant to be suggestive brica-brac. If the objects spurred any reflection on the past, it was on the past as curio. On July 31, 1844, a few weeks into the exhibition, the Rotunda went up in flames. As one witness wrote, “[T]he panorama burnt last night about ten o’clock and the two valuable paintings [Catherwood’s Thebes and Jerusalem] were destroyed together with a large collection of curiosities, relics, and other precious things collected by them on their recent travels in Central America” (1963, 1:xvii). The dated beam from the Governor’s Palace in Uxmal, which would have allowed for the precise dating of the whole structure, was reduced to ashes, thus rendering the issue of dating moot and Uxmal, in effect, muy antiguo, as Stephens’s disdained native informants knew full well and had already told him.14 The Kabah stone doorjambs suffered another miserable fate; arriving too late to be exhibited in the Rotunda, they were given by Stephens to a friend, John Church Cruger, who transported them to his estate on a private island on the Hudson, incorporating them into a moldering wall simulating a ruin, constructed to Cruger’s specifications to emulate a Thomas Cole painting. One more layer was thus added: from Mayan ruin to national American relic, from exotic exhibit to rich man’s simulacrum.15 I don’t want to push this story into rigidly fixed meanings, just allow it to reverberate critically in a reflection on Inter-American cultural translation and on the problematically uneven cultural relations and cultural imports between the Americas since the very beginning of “America.” The discourse of Americanness that Stephens’s work so clearly exemplifies (a discourse that echoes in the Monroe doctrine, the Americanist ideology of Waldo Frank and Van Wyck Brooks, the Good Neighbor Policy, and the Alliance for Progress) is, whatever its diverse, even contradictory ideological and political inflections, based on a lack of cultural reciprocity and a denial of coevalness, to quote Johannes Fabian, that thwarts true exchange. Stephens’s recycling of the Yucatán ruins


Sylvia Molloy

as an American past, whatever its many merits in terms of archeology, translates a culture out of its context and opens the way for a particular perception of Latin American cultural goods as charmingly out-of-sync and yet easily translatable into the culture of “America.” Furthermore, Stephens’s exhibition of his ruins in a panorama, a popular venue, next to other representations of exotica, prefigures the commodification of Latin American cultural products that prevails even today. “Stones speak,” wrote Freud. Unfortunately, the listener often has them say only what he wishes to hear.

Notes 1. For further information on Catherwood, see von Hagen. 2. On his mysterious appointment to travel, Stephens writes: “The author is indebted to Mr. Van Buren, late President of the United States, for the opportunity of presenting to the public the following pages. He considers it proper to say, that his diplomatic appointment was for a specific purpose, not requiring a residence at the capital, and the object of his mission being fulfilled or failing, he was at liberty to travel” (1969, 1:1). Although the official nature of the mission is often mentioned, no information is ever provided about that “specific purpose.” 3. More than once, Stephens would have his reader believe that he was the first Westerner to penetrate the region. In reality, European travelers had already explored the area and written about it from the Spanish conquest on—though it is true that Stephens and Catherwood were the first to survey the ruins systematically and in detail. Five years before them Juan Galindo, a Central American explorer and army officer, had conducted a scientific expedition into Copán and recorded his findings in letters that did not circulate widely. Galindo was the first to point out the physiognomic resemblance between Mayan carvings and the indigenous people of the region. Stephens and Catherwood seemingly met Galindo in England, and Stephens refers to him occasionally. 4. On his purchase of Copán, Stephens observes: “The reader is perhaps curious to know how old cities sell in Central America. Like other articles of trade, they are regulated by the quantity in the market and the demand; but, not being staple articles like cotton and indigo, they were held at fancy prices, and at that time were dull of sale. I paid fifty dollars for Copán. There was never any difficulty about price. I offered that sum, for which Don José María thought me only a fool; if I had offered more, he would probably have considered me something worse” (1969, 1:99). 5. In the narrative of his second journey to the area, Incidents of Travel in Yucatán, always intent on stressing the “American” nature of the Mesoamerican ruins, Stephens proposes continuity between the indigenous peoples of the South and North. Frequently noticing the imprint of a red hand on many ruins, he observes, “I have been advised that in Mr. Catlin’s collection of Indian curiosities, made during a long residence among our North American tribes, was a tent presented to him . . . which exhibits, among other marks, two prints of the red hand: and I have been further advised that the red hand is seen constantly upon the buffalo robes and skins . . . and, in fact, that it is a symbol recognized and in common use by the North American Indians of the present day. . . . I suggest the interesting consideration that, if true, the red hand on the tent and the buffalo robes points back from the wandering tribes in our country to the comparatively polished people who erected at the south” (1963, 2:27).

Translating Ruins: An American Parable


6. In the ongoing debate about the peoples to whom New World ruins might be attributed, a major current of thought contended that indigenous natives were incapable of such feats, and that, in all probability they had been built by peoples from other ancient civilizations. See Coe (73–98). 7. Stephens writes: “[T]he Indians, as in the days when the Spaniards discovered them, applied to work without ardor, carried it on with little activity, and, like children, were easily diverted from it” (1969, 1:118). 8. Desolate and desolation are words that come up frequently in Stephens’s text as a way of erasing (or not wanting to see) signs of human life. Charles Darwin resorts to a similar strategic erasure when he describes Patagonia as a “wilderness” in The Voyage of the Beagle. 9. On indigenous resistance, see Sommer: “Natives who remained incalculable, because they refused to tell secrets, obviously frustrated colonial state control” (116). 10. Stephens argues: “The ignorance, carelessness, and indifference of the inhabitants of Spanish America on this subject are matter of wonder” (1996, 1:98). 11. Roberts writes: “Stephens’s implies that historiographical perspicacity is not available locally. It is efficient, deictic, and discriminating, and must be manufactured by the historicizing eye of the modern traveler” (545). 12. It is interesting to note that Stephens’s account of his second voyage to Yucatán shows greater familiarity with Spanish than does the narrative of his first voyage. He starts to write words correctly (mestizos and not mestitzos) and often incorporates Spanish in the text without highlighting terms: “the bayle,” “the enramada,” “the garrapatas” (1963, 2:63). 13. Ely cribs from Stephens to such an extent that he quotes the same verse describing Thebes, from Pope’s translation of the Iliad, to describe Copán, this time quoting correctly: “great empress” (and not “great mistress,” as Stephens had written). 14. On the burning of pieces from Yucatán ruins in the Catherwood Rotunda fire, Stephens writes: “I had the melancholy satisfaction of seeing their ashes exactly as the fire had left them” (Cited in von Hagen, 256). 15. This folly, much in fashion at the time, was seen, von Hagen tells us, by the Swedish traveler Frederika Bremer, who described the pastiche as “a design in the best taste” (231–32). It is this mention of the Cruger folly that allowed scholars to trace the “Stephens stones” that had been deemed lost. They are currently in the collection of the American Museum of Natural History.

Select Bibliography Allen, Esther. “This Is Not America: Nineteenth-Century Accounts of Travel between the Americas.” Ph.D. diss., New York University. 1991. Benjamin, Walter. “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire.” In Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, edited by Hannah Arendt and translated by Harry Zohn, 155–200. New York: Schocken, 1968. Coe, Michael. Breaking the Maya Code. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1992. Ely, Albert Welles. “Ruins of Central America and Yucatan,” Debow’s Review, Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial Progress, and Resources (1851): 44–50. Predmore, Richard. Introduction to Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatán, by John L. Stevens, 1:xiii–xx. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1949. Roberts, Jennifer L. “Landscapes of Indifference: Robert Smithson and John Lloyd Stephens in Yucatan.” Art Bulletin 82, no. 3 (September 2000): 544–67.


Sylvia Molloy

Sommer, Doris. Proceed with Caution, When Engaged by Minority Writing in the Americas. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1999. Stephens, John L. Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatán, 2 vols. 1841. Reprint, New York: Dover Publications, 1969. Page references are to the 1969 edition. ———. Incidents of Travel in Yucatán, 2 vols. 1843. Reprint, New York: Dover Publications, 1963. Page references are to the 1963 edition. von Hagen, Victor Wolfgang. Frederick Catherwood, Architect. Introduction by Aldous Huxley. London: Oxford University Press, 1950. ———. Maya Explorer. John Lloyd Stephens and the Lost Cities of Central America and Yucatan. 1947. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1990. Woodward, Christopher. In Ruins. New York: Pantheon, 2001.

Chapter 5 Machu Picchu Recycled Regina Harrison

Tourists, pilgrims, multinational commissions, and anthropologists all wend their way to the Machu Picchu’s iconic peak. Tours to Peru have surged since the Shining Path’s guerrilla activities were curtailed in 1992; most visitors carry a specific agenda in their daypacks, and their particular reasons for stepping onto the grassy terraces and smooth granite staircases converge in the Incan “lost” city. Since 1911—when Hiram Bingham “re-discovered” the ruins of Machu Picchu—the stone outcroppings, stone huts, and ceremonial spaces exist alternately as sites of measurement, as a physical obstacle testing stamina, and as an unqualifiedly mysterious field of energy. A most spectacular place of Incan engineering prowess, Machu Picchu has served as a staging for aesthetic contemplation, as a blueprint for political agendas, and as a cultural icon to be consumed by the masses. Machu Picchu’s relatively recent emergence from the mists of time positions the marvelous ruin both in this world and outside its worldly confines. Straddling histories of the fifteenth and twenty-first centuries, Machu Picchu appears fixed and constant in its granite presence. The masonry’s intricacies attest to real functioning of empire—then and now—as history emerges when the vines are cleared. We experience time and space as compressed, according to Walter Benjamin: “In [ruins] all the contradictions of the epochs of transition are frozen in a stand-still dialectic; they are allegories of transient times” (Cited in Boym, 208). Competing discourses of ruination and rumination mingle: personally experienced ruins yield knowledge of death or an image of nature triumphant; they offer a misdirected search for authenticity in a postmodern world, a pilgrimage toward transcendence, the bliss of communitas shared in contemplation; or they elicit emotional responses of melancholy and nostalgia.1 Words, photographs, and maps make these traces visible, as poets, explorers, and backpackers create personal testimony of their journey and refashion the ruins to their liking.


Regina Harrison

His-tory: Bingham To Hiram Bingham goes the glory of being the first traveler from a distant land to see the ruins. His hastily written comments about that first day, that first encounter, appear in his diary. Of that primal scene on July 24, 1911, he jots briefly in his notes: 10:07 start from camp 10:40 #1, hill + M.P. . . . looking S.W. . . . 10:45 #2 bridge 1/25 [shutter speed] 12:07 Arr. hut. Curiosity of ranchers. Sweet potatoes. Fine Ruins—much better than Choq. (A. Bingham, 2)

The entry continues for several more handwritten pages. He lists the series of photographs with the exposures, notes the fine stonework of the bath and houses, paces off the dimensions of the three buildings at the sacred plaza, marvels at the “magnificent view,” and roughly sketches the complex. Then, he packs up his camera and is back at the base camp by 5:32 p.m., as night falls. The explorer’s visit to Machu Picchu had lasted a mere five hours, similar to the modern escorted tour to the site! The sacred space—even in 1911—was not a pristine primeval setting unscathed by modern encroaching. Melchor Arteaga, the owner of this land, had rented out the space to three Peruvian Indian families who planted corn and potatoes amid the ruins. Arteaga, persuaded by Bingham to climb up to Machu Picchu by his bribe of a US silver dollar, knew the sharecroppers well (A. Bingham, 6–10). Melquíades Richarte, a poncho-clad boy who lived at the site (and who guided Bingham), appears several times in the photographs and provides a dimension of scale next to the giant stone structures. Furthermore, this stone ruin and monument of time also bears the defacement of modern writing—graffiti—as well as evidence of ongoing agricultural cultivation. In his diary, Bingham jots down “Lizarraga 1902,” which he finds lettered on the wall with three windows. The young Yale professor, reflecting on his trek up to the heights of Machu Picchu a day later, does not claim credit for the find in the 1911 report. Instead he notes, “Augustín Lizarraga is discoverer of Machu Picchu and lives at San Miguel bridge . . .” (A. Bingham, 19). Yet, penning a letter to his wife several days later, his (now) contested ownership of the site begins: “I started to tell you yesterday about my new Inca City, Machu [sic] Picchu. . . . The stone is as fine as any in Cuzco! It is unknown and will make a fine story.” (A. Bingham, 25; my italics). Publicly, in some later versions he writes up, Bingham still gives credit to those who have come before him to the ruin. His “The Discovery of Machu Picchu” in Harper’s Monthly (1913) embeds a mention of Lizarraga: “From some rude scrawls on the stones of a temple we learned that it was visited in

Machu Picchu Recycled


1902 by one Lizarraga, a local muleteer” (Bingham III, 13).Yet, this graciousness of credit is marred by his manner of description (“some rude scrawls”), which leaves the handsome Yale instructor as the towering figure at the site. With the publication of Lost City of the Incas (1948), Lizarraga’s tagging of the wall is nowhere mentioned. And, in this version, the “fine story” that Bingham promised to tell takes on the dimensions of Raiders of the Lost Ark, where peril awaits at every bend of the watery torrent or tangly trail. The field journal entry “10:45 bridge” has been considerably enhanced with mention of possibly being dashed to pieces on the rocks. Similarly, the ascent, not even described in the field notes, takes on awesome proportions in 1948: “For an hour and twenty minutes, we had a hard climb. A good part of the distance we went on all fours, sometimes holding on by our fingernails” (Bingham, 162). While here Bingham is precise about energies expended to get to the site, in describing the ruins he is aware of the inadequacy of words to fully render the surroundings. In 1911, he resorts to a sketch; in the book (1948), he gratefully acknowledges the accurate representation afforded by a camera: “Would anyone believe what I had found? Fortunately, in this land where accuracy in reporting what one has seen is not a prevailing characteristic of travelers, I had a good camera and the sun was shining” (Bingham, 166). Yet even that photographic record in black and white is selectively shaped as Bingham culls out panorama shots that reveal how much clearing the indigenous families had done. And, fitting his purpose in 1948, the ruins are reported as overladen by thick vegetation: “It was hard to see [the ruined houses] for they were partly covered with trees and moss, the growth of centuries, but in the dense shadow, hiding in bamboo thickets and tangled vines, appeared here and there walls of white granite ashlars carefully cut and exquisitely fitted together” (Bingham, 165–66). However, the scholarly cache of thousands of photographs taken during the expeditions clearly contrasts with the prose description and reveals, from that first day on, the Quechua Indians who lived there hacked at the vegetation, were sheltered by the ruins, and eked out a daily existence in the fields. In contrast to the prose versions of the site, Hiram Bingham, the meticulous photographer, rarely shows up in the photographs at Machu Picchu. Unlike most tourists today, he does not stand in full frontal mode smiling at the camera with the iconic green peak of Huayna Picchu behind him. One photo taken at the site captures him bending over, adjusting his tripod. His face is obscured by his hat and jacket; Huayna Picchu is densely covered with low lying clouds (A. Bingham, 288). Only in 1948, with snowy white hair and garbed in a beige suit, does he get into the typically iconic postcard stance with the ruins in the background (A. Bingham, 343). Now a new road, labeled the Hiram Bingham Highway, zigzags upward; he was there for the inauguration on the day that mass travel to Machu Picchu began.


Regina Harrison

Figure 5.1

Machu Picchu (Peru). Photograph courtesy of Regina Harrison.

Writer-Travelers to Machu Picchu Pablo Neruda, who visited the site in 1943, still had to get there the old way: rail travel for six to seven hours from Cuzco and then by horseback up to the ruins. Visibly awestruck by the “lofty solemnity of the abandoned Incan towers,” Neruda reflects on the misguided privileging of far-distant ruins, preferred over those sites closer to home: “After seeing the ruins of Machu [sic] Picchu, the fabulous cultures of antiquity seemed to me papier-mâché” (Cited in Felstiner, 144). Guided around by José Uriel García, author of The New Indian, Neruda listened to a kindred spirit who saw the ruins as a site of communal enterprise, a source of regeneration for the indigenous peoples. 2 Indeed, in Neruda’s crafting of the “crucible” of civilization, admiration for the genius of the construction abounds in an expansive poetic archeology. The “tall city of stepped stone” morphs poetically into “Granite lamp, bread of stone./ Mineral snake, rose of stone./ Buried ship, wellspring of stone” and “Final geometry, book of stone” (Cited in Felstiner, 227). Yet Canto IX, with its dazzling crescendo, gives way to Neruda’s ultimate question amid the ruins: I question you, salt of the highways, show me the trowel; allow me, architecture to fret stone stamens with a little stick climb all the steps of air into the emptiness,

Machu Picchu Recycled


scrape the intestine until I touch mankind. Machu Picchu, did you lift stone above stone on a groundwork of rags? (57)

The departed ragged laborers whom Neruda envisions trapped beneath layers of stone, imprisoned in tasks thrust on them, will surface once again through his remembrance and his voicing of their plight. 3 By 1947, the writer Christopher Isherwood embarks on a long South American journey that is written up in his Condor and the Cows. Informed by John Rowe’s “Inca Culture at the Time of the Spanish Conquest” and Bingham’s Lost City of the Incas, Isherwood deems Rowe’s work “absolutely authoritative” and pans Bingham’s book as “rather too journalistic in style and perhaps too speculative” (5). Apparently, he carries a number of guidebooks with him, which make him leery of his own descriptions of the sights: “There is no sense in my trying to describe Cuzco; I should only be quoting from the guide-book. In fact, after two days’ sightseeing I am so bewildered by impressions that I scarcely know what we have actually seen and what we have read” (145). Yet once up at the site of Machu Picchu, words do not fail Isherwood, who exclaims: “This site is too stupendous for any architecture. Even the Parthenon would seem unimpressive here. The Incas’ masonry is a miracle of technical skill, but I can’t help thinking that their buildings must have resembled municipal washrooms or public tombs” (150). Che Guevara’s 1952 visit to Machu Picchu is visualized prominently in Walter Salles’s Motorcycle Diaries (2004). Although the motorcycle is featured in the title, it is, ironically, when Che and his companion Alberto Granado are down and out on foot that they share in the daily injustices of the multitudes of Latin America’s oppressed. Both men write up their impressions of the trip; the contemplation of Machu Picchu reflects their differing perspectives. While the movie dwells on Machu Picchu’s spectacular ruins, Che’s published diary offers only one battered photograph from the archives; sun leaks into the photo frame from the left, the two peaks are slightly off center, and the photograph is not attributed to either Che or Alberto. Che’s prose is better, as he zooms in to give a close-up travel portrait: “[T]he Temple of the Sun with its famous Intiwatana crowns the city. It is carved from the rock which also serves as its pedestal, and close by a series of carefully polished stones suggest that this is a very important place” (109). Turning from the luxurious remains of the Inca’s tomb under the base of the temple, and foretelling the man he “was going to be,” he emphasizes the segregation of the architectural forms at the site: “Here you can easily appreciate the differences between the various social classes of the village, each of them occupying a distinct place according to their grouping, and remaining more or less independent from the rest of the community” (110). Similarly,


Regina Harrison

his observations of the 12-hour train ride to the site pinpoint the class structure reflected in the price of a ticket: “third-class carriages [are] ‘reserved’ for the local Indians” who, because of unfamiliarity with modern hygienic practices, are strikingly odiferous seated next to him in the train (116). Che knows of Hiram Bingham and he deplores the hordes of US citizens who swoop in to see Peru because of what the explorer described: The fact that it was the US archeologist Bingham who discovered the ruins, and expounded his findings in easily accessible articles for the general public, means that Machu Picchu is by now very famous in that country to the north and the majority of North Americans visiting Peru come here. (In general they fly direct to Lima, tour Cuzco, visit the ruins and return straight home, not believing that anything else is worth seeing.) (117)

Che frets at how the tourist train pushes the local train off to the side. Using the tourist/traveler binary, he laments what “they” will never see as they journey compared to what he experienced: “Of course, the tourists traveling in their comfortable rail coaches could only glean the vaguest idea of the conditions in which the Indians live, from the fast glimpses they catch as they speed past” (117). Alberto Granado, Che’s travel companion, narrates how they did not rough it at all after ascending on the old mule trail to Machu Picchu. They stay for free at the hotel near the ruins thanks to the Peruvian manager’s kindness. They climb Huayna Picchu, leave their names in a bottle there on the peak, take some photos, and descend to light a fire among the ruins for an afternoon mate tea break. Lying on the “sacrificial stone” in the turret’s round walls, Granado conceives of an American Indian revolution, which would be based on his marriage to an indigenous woman he met in Cuzco. Not a shot would be fired to bring about this revolution, he says. Che vehemently objects. Enwrapped by thoughts of revolution, Granado contemplates the spectacular natural setting and lingers in description of the impressive blocks hewn into “the living rock” (92–95). Early in 1960, Sacheverel Sitwell, the British writer, is loaded onto a hotel bus after taking the slow, little one-coach train, fueled by a gas engine whose top speed was a mere 40 kilometers per hour. Zigzagging up to the heights, Sitwell is overcome by the site: “This is the most stupendous approach there has ever been, to something which in its own right is perhaps the most startling dramatic archeological site in either the Old or the New World. For the setting is enough, is almost too much in itself” (76). He compares Machu Picchu to the Valley of the Kings at Luxor or the dramatic arrival at Petra; however, both pale in scale to this Andean site. He is enchanted by the mystery of the place. Was it a refuge for women? Was it one in a chain of fortresses? In the 1960s, visitors

Machu Picchu Recycled


could stay overnight in a small tourist hotel, now enlarged to 12 rooms (Maxwell, 151), but Sitwell pointedly advises against that: Machu Picchu, which is certainly among the wonders of both Americas, and a dual artifact of nature and of man, has hidden itself away, and it is not in its intention that we should spend too long a time looking at it. We should come to it, preferably from far away, admire it, and move on. (82–83)

By the end of the 1970s, the train trip to Machu Picchu is still prominently featured, especially in Paul Theroux’s Old Patagonian Express. He notes he is one of 200 tourists catching the train, box lunch in hand, along with the indigenous passengers who are also waiting to board. In the chapter entitled “The Passenger Train to Machu Picchu,” the site itself is contained in a scant three paragraphs. Theroux sets the scene, humbled by a shimmering rainbow hovering over the site on the ridge above him and the tourists. But he refrains from excess; instead, he is concise and pointed: We continued to climb the steepness. The tourists chattered, stopping only to gasp; the gasping turned to complaint. It was not until the last step, at the brow of the hill, that the whole city was revealed. It sprawled across the peak, like a vast broken skeleton picked clean by condors. For once, the tourists were silent. (318)

Tourist Tracts While these well-known writers busily narrate Machu Picchu, other scribes—dedicated to persuasion, not lyricism or awe—spin prose that similarly fashions the image of the ruins. A brief look at travel industry texts brings Machu Picchu out of the mists of time to reveal its green cutting-edge profile; these advertisements allow us to chronicle the metamorphoses of the Peruvian marvel. An early travel promotion to South America by Grace Line promises a weekly service of ships (New Yorker, January 11, 1936). This ad prominently features the “ancient Incan race” in a large reed raft on Lake Titicaca; the photo of the raft fills the page. Mention is made of “ruins as old as the Pyramids,” but not Machu Picchu specifically. The commercial pitch is conveyed in the last sentence: “Everywhere, sights to be seen nowhere else, repaying the traveler again and again for his journey . . . where his dollar at the present rate of exchange stretches surprisingly far.” By the 1950s, the image of Machu Picchu looms large in the ads. A Pan American/Panagra Airways ad in Time (March 12, 1956) promotes “[t]he city that hid in the sky for 350 years” in a bold headline; the site photo covers two-thirds of the two-page ad. A romantic narrative spins out in advertising prose: in 1535, a Spanish grandee leads his horse in


Regina Harrison

the jungle; the Incan warriors are killed while protecting the maidens in the sky-high sanctuary. This fanciful tale ends in silence: “The city was stilled by tragedy—yet will live forever as a noble creation of a proud race.” The same airline promotes a past/modern dichotomy by strategically positioning tourists perched on the steep cut steps of the entrance to the ruins in a 1957 Newsweek captioned “Glimpse into the past . . .” (February 25, 1957).4 In 1958, Machu Picchu shares the advertising space along with inset photos of the open air markets, scenery, sports venues, and hotels. Middle-aged tourists sit at the foot of the giant stone complex, which now looks more like a tamed pyramid rather than a “lost” city (Holiday, February 1958). A later promotion that same year features the ruins, a “high spot on side trip to Incaland” (Holiday, June 1958). Machu Picchu is front and center in advertising space in the 1960s. A Holiday magazine ad in 1964 makes an invidious comparison—“See Europe First. That’s natural”—but goes on to praise Peru, especially Machu Picchu, as a destination. This mysterious, lost city is yours to explore: “watch towers, temples, baths, and terraces” (July 1964). In the same magazine and the same year, the familiar Machu Picchu panorama shot expands to cover half of an ad page, beneath a headline that states: “Odds are 1300 to 1 you’ve never heard of Machu Picchu. (No wonder. It was lost for 400 years!).” The site is described as slumbering (“Why, nobody knows”) until an “American” explorer “scaled its heights and hacked through the matted vines.” The pitch for Machu Picchu ends with an assurance for comfort: “you can visit . . . easily, comfortably” (Holiday, October 1964). The following year, in a different theme, the adventure tourist is seduced by a huge one-page ad ruggedly boasting: “[t]here is no Machu Picchu-Hilton . . . yet” (New Yorker, July 31, 1965). By 1968, Braniff Airlines devotes an entire page to a photograph of the mountain ruin, with reduced text promoting it as “The Next Place.” Pristine, with gleaming white granite buildings and terraces, the photo is unusual in that a wispy cloud covers the sharp razor edge of Huayna Picchu. The text combines temporal sequences: the jungle growth that obscured ruined palaces and temples have been “cleared away.” Imaginatively, in this ad, the “ancient gods” are there as well as the graceful maidens, phantasms significantly “laughing, and waiting.” No hardship trek, this sell is for mysterious time travel: “When you come to Peru, you’ll find many mysteries . . . only a few hours (and a few thousand years) from the sophisticated city of Lima” (New Yorker, January 20, 1968). American Express, the same year, sneaks a photo of the ruins into its pitch for six package tours. However, Machu Picchu is erroneously labeled a “4,000-year-old mystery” covering “300 square miles” (Travel, December 1968). Oops! Although Shining Path had begun its political agenda of societal transformation in Peru in the early 1980s, travel promotion did not reflect this reality. A New Yorker issue of March 1983 beckoned tourists, sponsored

Machu Picchu Recycled


by the Peruvian Tourism Promotion Fund, to come “[f]ace to face with another world.” A reed boat paddled by a poncho-clad Indian in a traditional earflap hat scoots a llama bedecked in ribbon to a fiesta. Machu Picchu appears reduced in the corner of the page. A riff on iconic photos, Huayna Picchu is shifted to the right so that a deep chasm falls between it and another mountain. An otherworldly dark cloud hovers in that space, while an eerie soft glow emerges from the center. The text illuminates the visual strategy: “Explore another world. Come to Peru. Come to the country of incredibilities” (New Yorker, March 14, 1983). Twenty-firstcentury tourist promotions by PromPerú also appeal to sensory experience and lessen the history lessons by telling potential travelers to “Pack your six senses.” Furthermore, Machu Picchu no longer claims special advertising prominence. Promoted instead are the flavors of Peru’s culinary heritage, other ancient wonders, and tropical forest ecology. The March 2007 issue of Natural History has a striking two-page spread about the “oldest mud city in the Americas,” Chan Chan on the Peruvian coast, with scarce mention of Machu Picchu.

Tourist Treks The complete Machu Picchu experience is sought after by legions of twenty-first-century tourists who must feel the pain of the arduous journey to the site by foot. No sleeping under sheets at the tourist hotel; these travelers’ tales stress their efforts to inhale the essence of the Andes all the way. Phyllis Rose, writing for the New York Times in 1996, notes that the site is “once again a popular tourist destination,” with the guerrillas now in jail. At age 53, she is determined to walk there. She softens the trip; there are 26 porters in her tour group, a cook, and three assistants who carry the cooking gear. Even so, the “aging hiker” can only think about grouping breaths and where to place her feet. Her look back after a five-day trek reveals what this site means for her: “You may be so tired you can hardly appreciate the view. . . . But one way or another I think you are repeating the Incas’ experience in feeling that you have come to a safe haven, a center of civilization, protected and guarded by the mountains” (November 10, 1996). Ten years later, a New York Times article describes the Inca Trail as “the Long Island Expressway of Central Peru” (Healy, November 12, 2006). The trek is now so popular that the Peruvian government sets limits: only 200 tourists and 300 bearers of their stuff per day. Plan B, not similarly controlled, accommodates those determined to hike, starting at Salkantay or Choququirao, but neither trek allows hikers to enter through the fabled Doorway to the Sun prized by Inca Trail tourists. Still, foot travel is worth the sacrifice as one hiker states, “This seemed a little bit less touristy and farther off the beaten path. . . . I twisted my ankles, I wrecked my knees descending a rock-strewn hillside with no


Regina Harrison

path for an hour, and I fell on a cactus while bouldering. I am so glad I went” (Cited in Healy, November 12, 2006). The sprained ankles and battered feet are irrelevant to the New Age pilgrim, the latest traveler to approach the ruins. The package tour of sacred traveling, metaphysical touring, is a growing segment of the tourist industry (Todras-Whitehill). Every June, “Body Mind Spirit Journeys” arranges for an annual Incan Shamanic Journey for $2,999 per person, double occupancy, plus airfare. Numerous bloggers sincerely testify to being “changed forever,” connected with the “powerful energies of each of the places,” and carrying home an “aura of peacefulness and joy” ( This trip to Machu Picchu features a special sunrise meditation, trips to the countryside to participate in ritual shamanic healing, and guided travel by bus and train. With no need for hiking boots, this road to Machu Picchu is inspirational group travel aimed at the journey there and then the path inward. High-tech mass media also allows for the consumption of Machu Picchu without the sweat or high prices. Virtual travel, summoned by computer, provides images of Machu Picchu, recycling some of the tired clichés, which still manage to captivate the viewer. Slow and sometimes shaky 360-degree tours around the ruins are abundant on YouTube; still photos accompanied by electronic panpipes focus on tourists inspecting quarries, dry wells, and storage houses. PromPerú sponsors; clicking there engages a soundtrack of Quechua and panpipe flutes, while a top screen banner gives a wide panoramic vista of Machu Picchu after the mist has lifted. But this scene on a busy page gives way immediately to other regions and quintessentially Peruvian products of equal standing with the Incan site (Chan Chan, Sipán, pisco liquor, potatoes). The multimedia section features a 30-second video by the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency. In nostalgic retrofashioning, this spot begins with an Indian boy conversing with his father in Quechua, their faces in tight close-ups. Both wear ponchos, the pointed wool ch’ullu cap; they drink out of a quero wooden cup, whose elixir leaps from the cup to shroud the mountains, only then to dissipate. Orchestral thunder explodes as the camera backtracks, revealing the two Indians and their llama herd, located on a terrace overlooking the iconic mountain range and stony village. Although the Quechua phrases are never translated, the message spoken in English at the end is clear: “Pack your six senses, come to Peru, land of the Inkas” (“Machu Picchu,” Machu Picchu continues to occupy space in the national imaginary; commercial, political, and cultural agents lay claim to its importance for Peru. When the Intihuatana stone was chipped while filming a beer commercial in 2000, there were many indignant comments regarding the abuse of national patrimony: “This is an affront to our ancestors” (BBC). President Alejandro Toledo also cashed in on the national

Machu Picchu Recycled


significance of Machu Picchu when he carried out a second inauguration there in July 2001. Nazario Turpo and Aurelio Carmona, shamans, were invited by Toledo to perform ceremonial offerings: camelid fetuses, two coca leaves, corn bells, red earth, starfish, and chicha corn beer drink (Krebs, 13). The president’s wife, anthropologist Eliane Karp-Toledo, explained the choice of the site: “We decided that we would go to be inaugurated in a place that . . . is part of Alejandro’s heritage. Machu Picchu is such a symbol” (Cited in Lubow, 46). So much a symbol, in fact, that, during Toledo’s presidency, Peru began negotiations with Yale University for the return of some 5,000 artifacts excavated by Bingham and housed in the University’s Peabody Museum. A “Memorandum of Understanding,” drawn up in 2007, recognizes that Peru has sole title to the Machu Picchu materials, provides for the return of museum-quality objects to Peru, and promotes ongoing collaboration between Yale and Peru (Klasky). All of these remnants of Machu Picchu—bones, ceramics, metal loaned under a legal agreement drawn up in 1912 for several years of research—should be shipped back to Peru, according to Eliane Karp-Toledo (2008), who criticizes the agreement. In the twenty-first century, the ancient site has become a much contested space. Is it a sumptuous winter palace retreat or merely an ancient burial ground for “Chosen Women”? Who really deserves to be called the first “explorer”? Should tourism be curtailed in an effort to preserve the ruins? Who owns the artifacts from the site? With legal documents, laboratory measurements, and ecological charts, Machu Picchu is increasingly defined in contemporary statistical categories.5 Yet, beyond economies of space and time, Machu Picchu remains a place where old and new imaginaries are quarried among the stones.

Notes 1. For varied approaches to ruins, see Huyssen, Roth with Lyons and Merewether, Unruh, Silverman, Yalouri, and Ginsberg. 2. See Adán, Florián, Valcárcel, and Cosío for more commentary about Machu Picchu from a Peruvian perspective. 3. See Camayd-Freixas, Santí, Shaw, Enjuto-Rangel, and García Antezana for literary analysis of Neruda’s Heights of Machu Picchu. 4. I appreciate Don Johnston’s assistance in providing access to the advertising agency archives in the 1980s, when he was Chairman of J. Walter Thompson. 5. Burger and Salazar’s edited volume examines the archeology from a twenty-first century perspective and often disputes Bingham’s claims. Flores Ochoa alludes to local protest that curtailed Fujimori’s planned cable car access to Machu Picchu, as well as a 1999 UNESCO commission report preserving the world heritage sanctuary and prohibiting new access roads and new construction. Maxwell also reports on regional protest in regard to ecological boundary lines in the park as well as train service that caters more to tourists than local inhabitants. Ethical and legal issues of repatriation of cultural property are well covered by McIntosh; the Yale-Peru controversy is detailed in Lubow, Karp-Toledo, and Klasky.


Regina Harrison

Select Bibliography Adán, Martín (Rafael de la Fuente Benavides). La mano desasida: canto a Machu Picchu. Lima: Juan Mejía Baca, 1964. BBC News. “Fury at Sacred Site Damage.” September 13, 2000. Bingham, Alfred M. Portrait of an Explorer. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1989. Bingham, Hiram. Lost City of the Incas. 2d ed. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1981. Bingham III, Hiram. “The Discovery of Machu Picchu.” In Machu Picchu: Unveiling the Mystery of the Incas, edited by Richard L. Burger and Lucy C. Salazar, 7–21. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004. Body Mind Spirit Journeys. Boym, Svetlana. The Future of Nostalgia. New York: Basic Books, 2001. Burger, Richard L., and Lucy C. Salazar, editors. Machu Picchu: Unveiling the Mystery of the Incas. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004. Camayd-Freixas, Erik. “Alturas de Machu Picchu and the Modern Revival of PreColumbian Cultural Artifacts.” Revista de Estudios Hispánicos 36, no. 2 (2002): 277–91. Cosío, José Gabriel. “Una excursión a Machu Picchu, ciudad antigua.” In Machu Picchu: historia, sacralidad e identidad, 44–60. Cuzco: Instituto Nacional de Cultura, 2005. Enjuto-Rangel, Cecilia. “Reaching the Past through Cities in Ruins: Itálica and Machu Picchu.” Colorado Review of Hispanic Studies 2 (2004): 43–60. Felstiner, John. Translating Neruda: The Way to Machu Picchu. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1980. Flores Ochoa, Jorge A. “Contemporary Significance of Machu Picchu.” In Machu Picchu: Unveiling the Mystery of the Incas, edited by Richard L. Burger and Lucy C. Salazar, 109–25. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004. Florián, Mario. Oda moral a Machu Picchu: último santuario de la cultura andina. Lima: Editorial Labor, 1985. García Antezana, Jorge. “Intertextualidad mítica en ‘Alturas de Machu Picchu.’ ” Revista de crítica literaria latinoamericana 11, no. 21–22 (1985): 75–83. Ginsberg, Robert. The Aesthetics of Ruins. New York: Rodopi Press, 2004. Granado, Alberto. Traveling with Che Guevara. Translated by Lucía Alvarez de Toledo. New York: Newmarket, 2004. Guevara, Ernesto “Che.” The Motorcycle Diaries. Translated by Alexandra Keeble. Melbourne, Australia: Ocean Books, 2004. Healy, Patrick O’Gilfoil. “Taking the Back Roads to Machu Picchu.” New York Times, November 12, 2006, travel section. Holiday. “6 Good Reasons for the Swing to South American Vacations.” February 1958, 152. ———. “Odds Are 1300 to 1 You’ve Never Heard of Machu Picchu.” October 1964, 22. ———. “See Europe First. That’s Natural.” July 1964, 129. ———. “You Can See More at Less Cost when Your Travel Agent Helps Plan Your Trip.” June 1958, 197. Huyssen, Andreas. “Nostalgia for Ruins.” Grey Room 23 (2003): 6–21. Isherwood, Christopher. The Condor and the Cows. New York: Random House, 1949. Karp-Toledo, Eliane. “The Lost Treasure of Machu Picchu.” New York Times, February 23, 2008.

Machu Picchu Recycled


Klasky, Helaine. “Yale and the Machu Picchu Artifacts [Letter to the Editor].” New York Times, March 3, 2008. Krebs, Edgardo. “The Invisible Man.” Washington Post Magazine, August 10, 2003. Lubow, Arthur. “The Possessed.” New York Times Magazine, July 24, 2007. “Machu Picchu.” Maxwell, Keely Beth. “Lost Cities and Exotic Cows: Constructing the Space of Nature and Culture in the Machu Picchu Historic Sanctuary, Peru.” Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 2004. McIntosh, Molly L. “Exploring Machu Picchu: An Analysis of the Legal and Ethical Issues Surrounding the Repatriation of Cultural Property.” Duke Journal of Comparative and International Law 17 (2006): 199–221. Natural History. “Pack Your Six Senses, Come to Peru.” March 2007, 20–23. Neruda, Pablo. The Heights of Machu Picchu. Translated by Nathaniel Tarn. New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 1966. New Yorker. “Face to Face with Another World.” March 14, 1983, 89. ———. “Grace Line Presents South America.” January 11, 1936, inside cover. ———. “The Next Place.” January 20, 1968, 44–45. ———. “Visit the Difficult Countries before Conrad Hilton Does.” July 31, 1965, 61. Newsweek. “Glimpse into the Past . . . of the Vacationland of the Future.” February 25, 1957. PromPerú. http// Rose, Phyllis. “To Machu Picchu, the Hard Way.” New York Times, November 10, 1996, travel section. Roth, Michael with Claire Lyons and Charles Merewether. Irresistible Decay: Ruins Reclaimed. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 1998. Santí, Enrico Mario. “Introducción.” In Canto general, edited by Enrico Mario Santí, 7–99. 2d ed. Madrid: Cátedra, 1992. Shaw, Donald Leslie. “Interpretations of ‘Alturas de Machu Picchu.’ ” Revista interamericana de bibliografía 38, no. 2 (1988): 186–95. Silverman, Helaine. “Touring Ancient Times: The Present and Presented Past in Contemporary Peru.” American Anthropologist 104, no. 3 (2002): 881–902. Sitwell, Sacheverel. Golden Wall and Mirador. New York: World Publishing, 1961. Theroux, Paul. The Old Patagonian Express. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1979. Time. “The City That Hid in the Sky for 350 Years.” March 12, 1956. Todras-Whitehill, Ethan. “Touring the Spirit World.” New York Times, April 29, 2007, travel section. Travel. “After Europe.” December 1968, 70–71. Unruh, Vicky. “ ‘It’s a Sin to Bring Down an Art Deco’: Sabina Berman’s Theater among the Ruins.” PMLA 122, no.1 (2007): 135–50. Valcárcel, Luis. Machu Picchu: el más famoso monumento arqueológico del Perú. Buenos Aires: Eudeba Editorial, 1964. Yalouri, Eleana. The Acropolis: Global Fame, Local Claim. New York: Oxford/ Berg, 2001.

This page intentionally left blank

Chapter 6 The Ruins of the Present: Cuzco Evoked Sara Castro-Klarén

The discourse of archeology as a modern science appears in Peru with the publication of Mariano Rivero’s (n.d.) Antigüedades peruanas, printed in Vienna in 1851. For Rivero, archeology and the identification, measurement, and general study of Chimu, Moche, Rimac, and Inca ruins provided a foundational discourse for the nation and demonstrated its intricate relation to the past. Ruins—as objects of contemplation and study, as both historical and aesthetic sites, and as the immediate presence of the past—have played a very important role in countries like Peru, Mexico, and Guatemala. Ruins have invited and propelled the imaginations of foreign travelers such as Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) and D. H. Lawrence (1885–1930), and local intellectuals such as the Jesuit Francisco Javier Clavijero (1731–1787), Julio C. Tello (1880–1947), and José María Arguedas (1911–1969). In countries with splendid Amerindian architectural legacies, ruins have provided an undeniable and immediate reference to the nation’s antiquity. In some cases, profoundly evocative texts have been authored and, in so doing, an archeo-space for the nation has been produced. This act of imaginative cognition is, of course, anchored in complex, intertextual coordinates; on one hand, it involves in situ observation and interpretation and, on the other, it uses ruins as palimpsests, as sites of free play where creativity and affect generate layered pages that at times prove singularly strong and indelible.1 Ruins as sites of imagination and memory, of course, play a central role in European cultural history, with the Renaissance as a chief example. Ruins have never been inert piles of stone. They are the material and cultural work of generations past. And while often they are taken as sites removed from present day usage and meanings, they have in fact proven catalytic in the establishment of key historical and artistic moments. In this regard, it is necessary to consider how both local


Sara Castro-Klarén

memory and external memory have intersected in the construction of images and meaning. In what follows I will offer a textual analysis of the archeological poetics of evocation, one of the chief narrative modes and rhetorical constructs in the representation of ruins. I am going to focus on Sir Clement R. Markham’s (1830–1916) Cuzco: A Journey to the Ancient Capital of Peru, With an Account of the History, Language, Literature, and Antiquities of the Incas and Lima: A Visit to the Capital and Provinces of Modern Peru, published in London in 1856 and reissued in New York in 1973. In my analysis of Markham’s text, I show that a lettered cultural memory shapes Markham’s eyewitness experience of the ruins and determines the narration he produces. The cultural imaginary operating on the witness becomes more salient in the act of evocation than the actual experience of being in the presence of ruins. Ruins, in Markham, evoke the memory of what he has already encountered by reading various texts, especially the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega’s (1539–1616) Comentarios reales (1609). This already-known cultural memory is in turn riddled with its own obsessions and nostalgias, a sort of cultural memory en abyme. However, before I delve into Markham’s journey to Cuzco I need to frame a little further the question of the nascent archeological poetics about and in Peru. The emergence of disciplines such as history and archeology in nineteenth-century Latin America exacerbated the question of national origins insofar as historical knowledge, until then, had been linked exclusively to lettered culture. The absence of alphabetic script in preconquest Amerindian cultures propelled the hermeneutic of ruins to the forefront of the inquiry on national origins. This is the moment that marks the emergence of the archeo-space of the nation and its myriad disciplinary complications. For instance, Rivero’s archeological findings appeared intertwined with the linguistic work of Johann Jacob von Tschudi (1818–1880) on Quechua grammar and literature. The original intention of the Swiss doctor’s journey to Peru was to discover medicinal herbs and learn about Inca medical knowledge in general. However, as a result of his journey, Tschudi became aware of the need to become a linguist first and an archeologist later. While in Peru, Rivero’s archeological knowledge had proven indispensable to Tschudi. When the doctor returned to Vienna, having written the first modern grammar of the Quechua language, he became the principle sponsor of Rivero’s archeological work and of the eventual publication of his Antigüedades peruanas (1851), which was quickly translated into English as Peruvian Antiquities (1853). Tschudi’s scientific journey to Peru taught him three things, none of which would be lost on Markham: that the criollo intellectuals in Lima knew little about native Andean medicine or any other matter dealing with Andean civilizations, that the chief impediment to learning about this ancient knowledge for them and for him was the ignorance of Quechua, and

The Ruins of the Present: Cuzco Evoked


that the Comentarios reales were an excellent guide to his questions and objectives. 2 In recognizing the importance of the Quechua language for ethnobotany, archeology, and ethnohistory, Tschudi anticipates the discovery that the Maya epigraphers eventually made in the twentieth century: that the current speakers of Maya posses knowledges (saberes) that are indispensable to the reconstruction and understanding of preconquest knowledges and cognitive modalities. We cannot hope to understand the meaning of a ruin if we do not know its name in the original language. We cannot, for example, know the full import of the marketplace on each ninth day of the month in Cuzco if we do not know that the place was called kusipata, which in Quechua means the “the place of joy.” Ironically, in the middle of the nineteenth century, we find that Tschudi makes the same claims to authority as Garcilaso first did for the writing of his seminal Comentarios reales: language is the storehouse that contains all possibilities; not the prison house, but rather the kolk’a (“storehouse” in Quechua). Such claims to authority based on knowledge of the language of those who built the present ruins are exploited to great advantage by Markham in his sections on Quechua literature and especially on the play Ollantay. Postmodern archeologists are keenly aware of the fraught interpretative discursive conditions in which their discipline operates. In two essays for the collection Interpreting Archaeology: Finding Meaning in the Past (l995), Ian Hodder and Michael Shanks pull away from “processual” or positivist archeology and state that the only archeology possible today is the interpretative kind. The archeologist needs to be aware of his subject’s position in relation to the past and of the fact that the discourse he generates is at once creative and critical. Hodder and Shanks write that we can thus “expect a plurality of archaeological interpretations suited to different purposes, needs, and desires” (5). Taking their theoretical position on discourse from Foucault, they call for an awareness of how technique and style shape how archeology “designs and produces its pasts” (24). Such a shift from validation to signification, “from anchoring our accounts in the past itself to the ways we make sense of the past by working through artifacts” (25), is what Hodder and Shanks call an archeological poetics. With this framework in mind that accounts for both the poetics of archeology and the arrival of archeology as a new science in the Andes, let us now turn to Markham. Markham, like the English translator of Rivero’s and Tschudi’s works, introduces his book with a reference to William H. Prescott’s (1796– 1859) History of the Conquest of Peru (2 vols., 1847) and History of the Conquest of Mexico (3 vols., 1843), which are capital and now understudied books in the rewriting of Amerindian societies and the conquest. Prescott was born in Salem, Massachusetts to a prosperous old-line family. He studied at Harvard but was blinded in one eye and wrote with a special “writing-case” that enabled him to write without seeing. He


Sara Castro-Klarén

learned several languages and had a secretary to read to him and find necessary materials. By the mid 1820s, he decided to write a three volume History of the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella the Catholic (1837), based on many other books and on manuscripts that he received from Spain. This original research, based on other sources, won Prescott considerable praise and esteem as a historian and, in a way, set a new benchmark. Although he makes no reference to the works of Rivero and Tschudi in his introduction—he may have read them upon his return to England—in his later chapters Markham relies on the veracity of the information in both books for many of his claims about Quechua literature. In his “Introduction,” Markham attempts to grab the reader’s attention with promises of tales of great adventures, no less marvelous or less true than the stories told by the now famous and well-regarded Prescott. It is not clear whether Markham knows that Prescott is blind. It is nevertheless obvious that he thinks that nothing surpasses the accuracy of the eyewitness’ personal account, although he is drawn, too, to the high adventure of medieval epic. The young Englishman is convinced that tales of the conquest fuse together several types of narrative and are thus superior to all other accounts of marvel and adventure: “Surpassing in wonder the tales of Amadis de Gaul, or Arthur of Britain, yet historically true, the chronicles of the conquest of the New World, the voluminous pages of the Inca Garcilaso, and the simple record of the true-hearted old soldier, Bernal Diaz, are the last, and not the least wonderful narratives of medieval chivalry” (2). However, Markham makes clear that “in the eager search for information with regard to the conquest of America, the deeply interesting history of its anterior civilization has been comparatively neglected; and the blood-thirsty conquerors have been deemed more worthy of attention than their unfortunate victims” (2). Markham is not only ready to correct Prescott’s mistake in selecting the subject of history, but he is also prepared to go further. He seems to reproach Prescott for having relied exclusively on the chroniclers and other archival material. For Markham, the thing to do in the travelobsessed culture of the nineteenth century is to go out there and see for oneself (as in the case of John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood). With Stephens’s Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatán (2 vols., 1841) and Incidents of Travel in Yucatán (2 vols., 1843) clearly in mind, and keenly aware of the marketing success of these books, Markham announces that his book, too, is based on an extensive visit and visual exploration of Peru and the Inca ruins. Students of the Spanish chroniclers like Prescott, Markham says, “have never themselves gazed with rapture on the towering Andes, nor examined the native traditions of the country described, nor listened to sweet but melancholy [sic] Inca songs, nor studied the beautiful language in which they were written” (3). From the four points that Markham makes—first-hand visual experience, examination of native understandings of the world, knowledge and appreciation of the language, and of its artistic manifestations—we

The Ruins of the Present: Cuzco Evoked


can clearly see that the explorer and archeologist had profitably assimilated the historiographical lessons taught by the Inca Garcilaso, lessons that were neither lost on Rivero nor Tschudi. Moreover, Markham points out that of all the people who had recently written on Peru, “none [had] visited once the imperial city of Cuzco” (3). Markham not only offers novelty in his text, but also exclusive claims to the kind of first-hand knowledge and visual perspective that his text presents. His “visit to the actual scene of the deeds of the Incas, by one who would be at pains to undertake such a journey” would thus surpass anything that historians could craft (3). The new science that Markham is presenting combines the information that history can offer with the confirmation and amplification that only eyewitness exploration and actual sighting of the “scene of the deeds” can provide. The willingness to travel and trek beyond the comforts of libraries and archives is what singles out the new knowledge that Markham creates—though Markham, of course, models his contribution on Humboldt’s accounts of his own expedition to the “New World.” Markham sailed from England in August 1852. He passed through New York and Panama on his way to Peru and reached Lima some four months later. His travel account moves quickly through Lima in order to open the second chapter with the “Journey to Cuzco.” The first stop on his ascent to Cuzco is Chilca, and he is quick to remark that “it is inhabited by a race of Indians, who thus isolated in a small oasis surrounded by the sandy wilderness, have preserved much of the spirit of freedom and independence” (21). From the following paragraph, it is clear that Markham already had some ideas about the interaction between Indians and Spaniards and the importance of the Indians’ cultural resistance for the production of “authentic” views and scenes: “An instance of their determined resistance of oppression occurred the morning after my arrival” (22). In an even smaller village, in Asia, consisting of no more than ten mud huts, the savvy traveler finds another longed-for gem: “At this wretched little place I found an Indian who possessed a copy of the History of the Incas by Garcilaso de la Vega, and who talked of their deeds as if he had studied its pages with much attention” (23). Markham’s descriptions are crisp. His details are always telling, as they are the result of very keen observation and an excellent background in Peru’s socioeconomic history. Having spent the night in Cañete, he observes that the proprietors of the estates are “an excellent class of country gentlemen, upright, hospitable, and kind to their slaves and dependants” (25). He then provides his reader detailed information on the haciendas in the valley, their names, the names of the owners, the crops, the number of workers and families on the land. In this “joyful arrangement,” he does not fail to mention if there is a priest or a chapel on the land, and notes all the different products available in the area (26). Like all European travelers in the period, Markham sees with a commercial eye. He knows that his readership is


Sara Castro-Klarén

as interested in a good adventure tale—the history of the Incas and the great ruins of Cuzco—as they are in knowing about the possibility of setting up business in the area. Peru does emerge as an archeo-space, but it is never just that. As the eye of the traveler reconnoiters the archeo-space, it maps over that space the topography of commercial value. In so doing, Markham produces a curious kind of palimpsest, for he layers over the old and sacred Andean agricultural space the transformed topography of the encomienda and the hacienda, perceived by the European traveler as future places of commerce and profit. Markham remains true to his promise. He takes the reader to the “scene of the deeds.” As he passes through Pachacamac, the traveler uncovers the previous identity and meaning of the place. This, to him, is the great Chimu, “conquered by the Incas, in the time of Pachacutec, whose son, the renowned Prince Yupanqui, proved the superiority of the arms of the Sun, in many a fierce battle with the Yunca Indians” (30). This perspective constitutes nothing less and nothing more than a page taken from the tales of King Arthur. He does not fail to note that “in the huacas, or burying places, on the plain of Cañete, many curious relics of this period have lately been dug up, including specimens of Inca pottery, stone canopas, or household gods, golden ear-rings, and silver ornaments of various kinds” (31). Markham does not make mistakes. His knowledge of Inca and pan-Andean culture is accurate, as his chief source is Garcilaso. If his knowledge of pan-Andean culture is always there to inform the land that he traverses with a sense of the past, Markham shows that he is just as versed in the events of the conquest as in spotting places where battles took place and people camped or made significant stays. As he reaches the gates of the hacienda Larán, he informs us that the place is said to have been the boundary between the territories granted by the Crown to Pizarro and Almagro. Markham’s narrator steps forward to write upon this otherwise meaningless spot a narrative steeped in the past. Although now forgotten, the battle’s significance remains and reverberates throughout Peruvian history: “It was here that the Marshal Almagro established his quarters, when returning from Chilé in 1537[;] he proceeded to the Coast, to claim from Pizarro his share of the territories of Peru. The stormy interview between those two fierce adventurers at Mala, led to the retreat of Almagro into the interior, and his final overthrow in the bloody battle of Las Salinas” (33). Oh yes, the battle of Salinas: the battle so well chronicled and studied by Garcilaso, the battle that cost his father his good name and a fall from the Crown’s graces from which neither father nor son would ever recover. The growing anticipation that Markham’s narrative creates as he ascends toward Cuzco finally peaks when he meets with the splendorous object of his desire. Cuzco, first encountered in the narratives of Garcilaso, Cieza de León, and, of course, Prescott, and later imagined and caressed in his fantasies, is now within his grasp. Cuzco evoked!

The Ruins of the Present: Cuzco Evoked


Cuzco as the magnet that pulled him away from England into the rarely visited Andean mountain range finally appears before the traveler’s eyes on the unforgettable morning of March 18, 1853. With his fine memory of the topography of the Tahuantinsuyo, Markham reports that he crossed the Apurimac river and entered the territory that “[o]nce composed the empire of Manco Capac, the first Inca of Peru” (94). From there, he retraces the imagined steps of both the Incas in battle and the Spanish in their conquering marches, the same conquerors who slept in royal tambos (resting places) as they reconnoitered the socio-space over which they claimed domain. Markham’s narrative makes visible scenes of antiquity by weaving strands of imagined memory with present sensory perceptions such that past and present become inseparable. As he sees and feels the Inca Empire’s living ruins, he imparts to each stone, each hanging bridge, each flowering tree, and each solar clock an aura of nostalgia and a patina of its past appearance. His is a narrative done in pentimento style, in which palimpsest-play is incessant. It is as if he had been there before. As he writes, he evokes and also transmits a sense of departing from the beloved space, while at the same time he registers the excitement and joy of actually being there in person. His foundational text—Garcilaso’s account of his nostalgia for Cuzco and his beloved mother country—floods from the pores of Markham’s prose. He captures and reproduces to a fault the Inca’s own oxymoron: Garcilaso’s enthused laments for the originality and intelligence that created the now extinct, yet ever-present empire. Markham’s ascent to Cuzco in February 1853 predictably follows one of the Inca’s famous routes. Small villages and agricultural fields appear and disappear as the road winds through the majestic mountains. At every turn, the traveler spots ruinous fields and walls that at once situate him in the present and transport him, via evocation, to a Peru before the conquest’s destruction. Although preconquest Peru is now in ruins, as ruins the walls and fields bear witness to the bursting of life and beauty that existed before the Spaniards’ arrival. Ruins and wildflowers are juxtaposed in Markham’s descriptions to emphasize the conquest’s destruction. “Slopes covered with lupin, heliotrope, verbena, and scarlet salvia” (53) frame his reenactment of the battle between a young Almagro and the viceroy Vaca de Castro in 1542. Markham writes: “The battle was long doubtful; but at length Castro was victorious, and out of 850 Spaniards that Almagro brought into the field, 700 were killed. The victors lost about 350 men . . .” (61–62). No more is said about the soaking blood that must have run over the Hatun Pampa that day. No mention is made of the thousands of Indian men and women soldiers who made up the armies against whom the Spanish fought. Cuzco functions in Markham as an omnipotent object of desire that dictates the inclusion and exclusion of subject matter. Asia, Cangallo, and Ayacucho are just stops on the way to Cuzco. After Ayacucho, the narrative focuses on the particularities of the deep rivers that must be


Sara Castro-Klarén

crossed to approach Cuzco, the difficulty of the terrain, and the marvel of the hanging bridges. The reader is reminded of the landscapes drawn by José María Arguedas in Agua (1935) and Los ríos profundos (1958). Reversing Markham’s route, Arguedas’s young men walk the same ascending and descending paths, arrive at similar abras (passes), and view deep rivers as they move away from Cuzco and Ayacucho in pursuit of their destiny in coastal cities like Nazca and Lima. On March 18, 1853, Markham crosses the Apurimac River, intensely aware of the fact that the river’s name means “Apu that speaks,” and that in crossing this river he has emulated Manco Capac, his cultural hero. The English traveler is overcome with emotion. To know that he is standing on the same ground on which Manco Capac stood as he came upon the Cuzco region is simply overwhelming. The traveler has anticipated this moment for many years, and the desire inspired by the reading of histories overwhelms the real, lived moment. Historical (i.e., textual) memory overtakes lived experience, which can only be rendered in terms previously set forth in writing by his inspirational tutor, Garcilaso de la Vega. He is not yet in Cuzco, but he imagines Manco Capac (via Garcilaso) thinking about securing the site and deciding to construct four fortresses: Ollantay-tambo to the north, Paccari-tambo to the south, Paucar-tambo to the east, and Lima-tambo to the south. Soon thereafter, the historian-traveler snaps out of his textual indulgence and returns to the present time of his travel account to provide the reader with a splendidly vivid scene of the dangers and travails of reaching the bridge before finally crossing over it to see Cuzco. The march to the city continues. Two great pampas still remain to be traversed before Markham can see Cuzco from the summit of the last pass. At the end of the day, when he finally arrives, Markham boisterously exclaims and invokes the city no fewer than four times: “Cuzco! City of the Incas! City, where, in by-gone times, a patriarchal form of government was combined with a high state of civilization. . . . Cuzco! The hallowed spot where Mancos’s golden wand sank. . . . Cuzco! Once the scene of so much glory and magnificence, how art thou fallen!” (95). It is in this last elocution that the text undeniably signals Markham’s intertextual location as well as the incessant construction of the Garcilasian palimpsest on which his book relies. As we can see, the four invocations of Cuzco focus on the city’s historical nature and aura. We read in Markham the Cuzco that Garcilaso textualized rather than the Cuzco that the traveler’s own eyewitness gaze configures. The object of his desire is in plain sight, but it comes across in his book as shrouded by the memory of images that first arose from reading Garcilaso’s prose—images which themselves came from remote, youthful memories of the Inca who surveyed the city and its lost splendor. Viewing Cuzco as a living ruin, then, entails a constant interplay among images that appear in the here-and-now of the traveler’s gaze and images previously stored in the mind’s eye.

The Ruins of the Present: Cuzco Evoked


The Cuzco that continues to unfold before Markham’s eyes is a site of knowledge, ceremony, and glory. As the traveler continues to evoke Cuzco, we find not a description of Inca architectural ruins, but rather an evocation of splendid rituals and ceremonies that filled plazas and streets with theatrical dances, joyous offerings to the sun and the moon, and, as in imperial Rome, the march of armies back to Cuzco after the conquest of the great Chimor or Pachacamac. Cuzco’s imperial character fascinates the English traveler, and while comparisons to the grandeur of imperial China and India are not missing, also implicit is an allusion to imperial England and its world colonies. Perhaps wanting to outshine Tschudi’s recent achievements as an expert in Quechua (172), Markham seems to be thinking about a subsequent journey to Urubamba from his earliest days in Cuzco, where he hears that Don Pablo Justiniano, the priest of Laris and a descendant of the Incas, has in his possession the only known copy of the originally transcribed play Ollantay. Markham also hears that Don Pablo has some full-length portraits of the Inca. In the nineteenth-century race for knowledge and imperial acquisitions, these “ruins” and treasures would be any traveler’s crowning jewels. Either before departing for Peru or after his return to England, Markham read the Ollantay carefully. The account of his journey to Urubamba and his contemplation of the ruins at Ollantaytambo are interlaced with the play’s love story. Ollantaytambo’s ruins become a multilayered and dynamic palimpsest infused with the play’s drama. Markham preserves the human dimension of the place at the forefront of his text such that the reader is never just looking at ruins, but is rather always aware of the Incas’ history as actors in space and time. Like Cuzco before, Ollantaytambo now comes alive with Markham’s own narrative rendition of lovers’ adventures, army battles, and an enamored rebel who risks it all for the forbidden Ñusta’s love. Markham closes his journey into the past, his passage among the ruins, with generous translations from the Ollantay and heartfelt praise for the richness and sweetness of the Inca language. In so doing, he does not quote Garcilaso, his master text and guide, but he does stress the notion that knowledge of the language of the (living) culture in ruins is indispensable to seeing and that seeing is wrapped in language. Cuzco, as it is evoked in Markham’s intertextual world, a world in which place and memory interact incessantly, appears less as a ruin and much more as a powerful, living, speaking scene of history—an indelible memory, an Apu-rimac with a poetics all its own.

Notes 1. Readers of Garcilaso de la Vega, Inca, Guamán Poma de Ayala, and José María Arguedas, or of modern interpreters of Andean culture such as Tom Zuidema, Manuel Burga, and Alberto Flores Galindo know that memory and a sense of


Sara Castro-Klarén

community are tied not only to ritual, dance and theater, and to a rich oral culture, but also and especially to an Andean cosmo-vision in which the land is a sacred space that memorializes mythical, historical, and present events. The myths of Huarochiri (1609) alone show how each stone and stream represents and tells each ayllu’s (communal group’s) story of origin. For more on the question of memory and alternative modes of inscription to print culture, see my article “The Nation in Ruins.” 2. Despite Rostoworoski’s disparaging remarks regarding the value of the Inca Garcilaso’s work as a source on Andean civilizations, recent work on archeology, architecture, and khipu has tended to validate the Inca as a source. See, for instance, Miles.

Select Bibliography Castro-Klarén, Sara. “The Nation in Ruins: Archeology and the Rise of the Nation.” In Imagined Communities: Reading and Writing the Nation in NineteenthCentury Latin America, edited by Sara Castro-Klarén and John Charles Chasteen, 161–84. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005. Hodder, Ian, and Michael Shanks eds. Interpreting Archaeology: Finding Meaning in the Past. London: Routledge, 1995. Markham, Clement R. Cuzco: A Journey to the Ancient Capital of Peru with an Account of the History, Language, Literature, and Antiquities of the Incas; Lima: A Visit to the Capital and Provinces of Modern Peru, 1856. Reprint. London: Chapman and Hall, 1973. Page references are to the 1973 edition. Miles, Susan A. The Shape of Inca History: Narrative and Architecture in an Andean Empire. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2002. Rostoworoski, María. Historia del Tahuantinsuyo. Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 1988.

Chapter 7 Ruins in the Desert: Field Notes by a Filmmaker Andrés Di Tella

The Desert As a documentary filmmaker, I deal constantly with ruins. As I write, I am in the middle of shooting a documentary on La Conquista del Desierto (The Conquest of the Desert), the official name given to a late 1870s military campaign that aimed to take over vast regions of Argentina’s national territory, the Pampas and Patagonia, areas that were then still dominated by the aboriginal “Indians.” After decades of frontier skirmishes, isolated attacks, and counterattacks, the campaign led by General Julio Roca was completed with unexpected swiftness, in a matter of months, between 1878 and 1879. This effectiveness was undoubtedly bolstered by the military’s use of the same Remington rifles that “won the West” in the United States, pitted against the Indians’ spears. Even more decisive was the national government’s decision to abandon its existing policy of negotiating with the Pampas tribes, forsaking its previous record of establishing “peace treaties” with the Indian caciques, as if the negotiations were between two sovereign “nations.” General Roca and his supporters ridiculed these prior attempts at dealing diplomatically with “the Indian problem” and proceeded to, in his words, “limpiar la Pampa de indios” (cleanse the Pampas of Indians). Of the estimated 30,000 people that made up the Indian communities in the Pampas and Patagonia at the time, almost 3,000 died during the military campaign. The numbers of dead and captured Indians were meticulously registered by Roca’s troops, in suit with the positivist ideals of the time. However, no one counted the thousands who died of illness and starvation in the months and years that followed. Hundreds were confined to concentration camps; many were reduced to a state of semi-slavery; and the rest were deliberately dispersed to far-flung areas of the country. In that fateful year of 1879—and it must have been


Andrés Di Tella

overwhelming for those involved—the Indian world literally almost disappeared overnight. While researching the film, I visited the site of the once thriving community of Salinas Grandes, ruled by the legendary “Sovereign of the Pampas,” cacique Callfucurá, and was surprised to verify what was described in the old books I had read: there is still no one, and nothing, there. The Conquest of the Desert had disingenuously designated its object of pillage as “the desert,” making only certain areas of the Pampas plains emblematic of the entire region. The Indians were disappeared symbolically before they were physically removed from the stage. The plan was to people the land with colonos: European immigrants, who with their naturally superior work ethic would make the country thrive. “The aim is to populate the desert, not destroy the Indians,” went a well-known slogan of the time. This is not the place to discuss how that plan did not come to fruition. Nevertheless, the fact remains that most of the land ended up in the hands of very few landowners and, even to this day, substantial portions of the Pampas and Patagonia are, for all intents and purposes, a kind of desert. The question for me was to find a way to make a documentary about how that world disappeared. The answer of course was: ruins. But there are no ruins on the Pampas, at least not easily observable ruins. The relics found by anthropologists, archeologists, and amateur collectors are from earlier periods: arrowheads, stone boleadoras (Argentine lassos), pottery. But there is very little to be found of the Indians who were defeated in 1879. I decided to trace the steps of a previous traveler, the journalist Estanislao Zeballos, who trekked across the territory only months after Roca’s troops had done the dirty work, and who published a classic on the subject, Viaje al país de los Araucanos. Oddly enough, in the first fortín (small fort) he visits, Zeballos anticipates the only visible ruins to be found today. The fort was manned by a tiny garrison of five soldiers. He prefigures the fort as a “primitive monument” that will recall the epic encounter, not of two civilizations, but rather of la civilización faced with la barbarie. The area referred to in those days as La Frontera—the frontier between Christian civilization and the Indians’ barbarism—is currently littered by vestiges of that war. Almost every town throughout the former frontier, situated about 400 kilometers from the city of Buenos Aires, seems to have its little fortín as a remnant of those epic days. Yet, on closer inspection, it turns out that they are all reconstructions. In reality, all of these edifications were built rather precariously and did not survive the test of time (nor were they intended to, of course). Among the most interesting of the reconstructions that I came across was that of La Zanja de Alsina, or Alsina’s Ditch, which recovered a couple of hundred meters of a neverfinished, 700 kilometer ditch dug from the Atlantic coast to the Andes in the 1870s, as a sort of inverted Great Wall of China designed to prevent Indian attacks.

Ruins in the Desert


Many of these reconstructions were created as a tribute to La Conquista del Desierto during military governments anxious to recall and honor the last war the National Army fought ( . . . and won) before the Malvinas/Falklands conflict of 1982, more than 100 years later. Much ado was made about the centennial of La Conquista del Desierto in 1979, at the height of General Videla’s reign of terror. But in the last couple of decades, with the advent of democracy in Argentina, there is no longer such guiltless conviction about the worthiness of the cause. Abandon has crept in, and these once shiny mnemotechnic artifacts are already crumbling and overgrown with weeds, effectively taking on for the camera the aspect of veritable ruins. But what they are ruins of is not of the history of the Conquista del Desierto, but rather of one way of constructing history. Mementos rather than relics, they are at least something for the camera to rest its eyes on, allowing us to meditate about their significance, letting us see the extent to which history is as much a construct as these reconstructions.

Skulls But there are other types of remnants of the war against the Indians. One such remnant is rather more real, yet still fraught with a heavy symbolic load. Zeballos himself was a devoted collector of Indian skulls, which were acquired under the guise of anthropological interest in the Indians and their culture (about which he did write several important protoanthropological works). Discerning distinctive features in the skulls of Indians was, naturally, also a way of establishing essential differences between the races, even of claiming that the Indians represented an earlier stage of human development. Zeballos would hire Indian guides to locate Indian tombs, which he would proceed to plunder in order to take home the skulls, as scientific war trophies, to add to the collection housed in his private “museum.” Given that the Indians had been only very recently defeated, it is surprising how much Zeballos emphasizes that the Indians are a thing of the past, a past that may be studied with great dedication and respect, so long as it remains in the past. The skulls of Indian caciques such as Callfucurá were—not surprisingly—the ones he sought the most, providing disturbingly detailed narratives of such discoveries and disinterments. At one point, one of the soldiers accompanying him challenges Zeballos regarding the propriety of their gory task. Considering that the Indians had already been brutally decimated and plundered, the soldier wonders, shouldn’t their remains be left in peace? Zeballos snaps back: “My Dear Lieutenant, if Civilization demanded that you, the soldiers, earn your honors by persecuting their race and conquering their land, Science [now] demands that I serve it by bringing their skulls back to our museums and laboratories.” Zeballos ends with the following prophetic words, worth quoting


Andrés Di Tella

in Spanish: “La Barbarie está maldita y no quedarán en el desierto ni los despojos de sus muertos” (Barbarism has been condemned, and the very remains of its dead will not be left behind in the desert). What has happened very recently, however—over the last couple of years, in fact—is that there has been a renaissance of interest in the Indian component of Argentina’s national identity. The “human rights” policies promoted by the Néstor Kirchner administration regarding crimes perpetrated by the last military government (1976–1983), taken together with the use of the word “genocide” as a way of referring to the murder of dissidents during that regime, may have set off repressed memories of the earlier massacre of the Indians, a situation for which the term “genocide” is perhaps more strictly applicable. It was David Viñas who said that the Indians were the first desaparecidos of Argentine history. And although the figures might seem to indicate a larger scale crime in the case of the desaparecidos of the 1970s, it could be argued that the worst crime of La Conquista del Desierto was not the actual massacre of Indians in combat, but what some call “ethnocide”: the suppression or destruction of a people’s culture, as opposed to the destruction of the people themselves. The long-term effect of suppressing the transmission of culture to future generations, coupled with displacement, forced labor, degrading indoctrination over years, et cetera, has led to very few Argentines admitting to be of Indian descent, despite a recent study that determined that more than 50 per cent of 15,000 people tested had at least some indigenous component in their genetic map. The idea imposed in the aftermath of La Conquista del Desierto is that Argentina is a European nation, or in any case an American nation peopled by Europeans. “Mexicans descend from the Aztecs; Peruvians descend from the Incas; Argentines descend from boats,” as the story goes. Despite this, some Argentines are discovering their Indian roots. One such group, which claims descent from the Indios Ranqueles of the Pampas, has recently set for itself the highly symbolic task of “repatriating” the skull of their cacique Mariano Rosas, which was part of Zeballos’s collection of 150 Indian skulls, donated by his heirs to the Museum of Natural History of La Plata. These skulls have been exhibited in the La Plata museum for years, on par with the fossils and bones of Patagonian dinosaurs and rock samples from the Andes. The Ranquel community, advised by anthropologists and lawyers, managed to retrieve Mariano Rosas’s skull. In a solemn ceremony, it was placed in a small mausoleum erected in Leuvucó, former home of the Ranqueles on the open range of the Pampas. Judging by historical accounts, what used to be a kind of oasis, with a large lake, has now, oddly enough, turned into the very image of the desert. The lake has vanished, probably because of changes in water courses due to intense land irrigation. A recent fire has left burned out husks where caldenes once stood, the sole native tree of the region (which was there before

Ruins in the Desert


the colonists planted other kinds of trees that can be seen in the Pampas today). We were allowed to film a Ranquel ceremony there. Much of this ceremony was, by their own admission, also a kind of reconstruction, ironically derived partly from “enemy accounts” such as those provided by Zeballos and others, given the paucity of information the present-day Ranqueles were able to glean from their undermined oral tradition. We were allowed to film the skull of Mariano Rosas, now a symbol of identity for the community. Paradoxically, the Museum of Natural Science has now removed the entire Zeballos collection of skulls from exhibition and refused permission to film them, embroiled as they are in a debate over what to do with this uncomfortable legacy. Zeballos’s collection is of course a ruin, not just because of the state of abandon it was in by the time the Ranqueles came for their cacique’s remains. The skulls themselves are ruins and, as such, a suitable tool for meditation, as Hamlet knew so well.

Photographs The other ruins that we have found to serve as a powerful visual tool for meditation are, naturally, photographs. There were assumed to be few determined sources of photographs relating to La Conquista del Desierto, the main one being the albums put together by the official photographers who accompanied General Roca’s campaign. These images are primarily of military personnel, fortines, and landscapes. There are a few group shots of “reduced” Indians (indios reducidos). And there is a curious shot of an Indian interment, with bones visible on the surface. One of these photographers, Enrique Pozzo, also took studio pictures of some of the captured caciques. There is one famous photograph of the elderly cacique Namuncurá, bedecked in an Argentine military uniform as a kind of reconciliatory gesture. Another famous studio picture by the same photographer is of cacique Pincén, who refused to don the uniform but finally agreed to pose for the photographer in “native costume” and with a genuine spear in his hand that was provided for the occasion by Francisco Moreno, director of La Plata’s Natural History Museum. These are the photographs that have typically represented the historical image of the Indians defeated in La Conquista del Desierto. Again, there is a lot to be discerned from these photographs if one takes them as ruins, in the sense that the historical project that informed the taking of these pictures has crumbled, revealing dimensions that were heretofore hidden from the viewer for as long as that historical project stood firm. Following the trail of my interest in Zeballos, I chanced upon a less well-known stash of photographs, lost amid the ruins of the Zeballos archive, precariously housed in a small provincial museum affected by flooding some years ago. It is a series of prints made by the photographer


Andrés Di Tella

that Zeballos took along on his expedition. Much is made in Viaje al país de los Araucanos about the photographic equipment, described in great detail, as a symbol of progress and technological prowess. The book itself, however, contains no actual photographs, but rather illustrations based on the photographs, with interesting differences. In the portrait of Zeballos published as frontispiece to the book, he is seen posing under a giant caldén tree, the symbolic tree of the Indians, with some of his technical equipment (Zeballos also did a topographical study of the region and put together one of its earliest accurate maps in which he colorfully names the former land of Callfucurá’s tribe Antiguo País del Diablo, “Former Land of the Devil”!). In the illustration, a skull, which is not to be seen in the original photograph, has been significantly added at the foot of the caldén tree. There is also a rare group picture of a “friendly” Indian tribe. Zeballos narrates how he was forced to stand with the group in order to allay the Indians’ “superstitious suspicions” regarding the nature of the photographic equipment. But he later had himself “erased” (in avant-la-lettre, Stalinist style) from the illustration published in the book, curiously enough, to preserve the “documentary value” of the image. (As a matter of fact, this is not so different from the routine practice of erasing any trace of the filmmaker’s presence in current documentary.) Aside from these interesting details, in truth, the photographs in the Zeballos archive do not differ enormously in their underlying project from the official pictures taken during the Conquista del Desierto, even if they are not part of the classic iconography on the subject. But there was yet another unexpected source of images that I stumbled upon, put together laboriously over the last 20 years by a littleknown amateur anthropologist from La Pampa, José Carlos Depetris, who claims to trace in his lineage not an Indian but a cautiva (captive). The cautivas were the legendary white women abducted by the Indians in their attacks on Christian settlements, evoked by Jorge Luis Borges, for instance, in his story “Historia del guerrero y de la cautiva.” The women often had mixed-blood offspring and, for that reason, were considered a source of shame for their white families. Depetris’s greatgrandmother was released from captivity by the Indians after a military excursion, but back home she was not allowed to show herself in public. There are different family romances in the Pampas that relate in different ways to local history. For Depetris, today, having a cautiva in his past it is a source of pride and connection to his subject. But in his quest for photographs of those he calls “the survivors of the Conquest,” referring to those Indians of the Pampas born before the Conquest of 1879, Depetris was faced with much resistance and shame. When going from door to door in towns and little villages in the Pampas in search of family photographs, bringing up the question of whether there may have been an “Indian grandparent” in the family often meant an abrupt end to the conversation or a door shut in his face. Regardless,

Ruins in the Desert


with perseverance, he has rescued and rephotographed a miraculous series of portraits and family pictures of Indians from the Pampas. His achievement is especially significant in that Depetris has also managed to match names to each picture and even reconstruct elaborate genealogies from family trees that had been, so to speak, torn asunder. What is special about the collection is that all these pictures meant something personal and had specific biographical relevance for the people and families who owned them. Looking at them, I find myself wondering about these individual lives, caught up in the pathos of these unique imagined destinies. At the same time, the reason we are looking at them—the reason they were collected by Depetris in the first place—is that they belong to a community that has all but disappeared. Looking

Figure 7.1 Luis Baigorrita, a survivor of Argentina’s 1879 “Conquest of the Desert.” Photograph courtesy of José Carlos Depetris.


Andrés Di Tella

through these pictures, even though they are of “survivors” (as Depetris is keen to emphasize), I could not help feeling as if I stood before ruins— not only in Roland Barthes’s sense that photography is essentially about something that has been. Looking at each photograph, I got the same ambivalent feeling Barthes wrote about when gazing at the picture of a prisoner condemned to death: “[H]e is going to die; he is already dead.” If ruins provoke meditation, it is because they are evidence of something that is no longer there. It is often when things disappear that we begin to think about them. The photographs, like so many ruins, are haunted by something larger: the death of a community.

Paper There was one last set of telling ruins that I came across in my search for visible evidence that would allow me to tell the story of La Conquista del Desierto in cinematic terms. Among the clutter of files, boxes, and folders stored in the one modest little room devoted to the Zeballos archive at Luján’s historical museum, I found the ruins that provided me the most unexpected source of emotion. One day in 1989, while hunting for Indian skulls to add to his collection, Zeballos walked around the Salinas Grandes in the Pampas, surveying the recently abandoned headquarters of the tribe of cacique Namuncurá (the son of Callfucurá). Instead of skulls, he stumbled upon a leather box that had been hastily buried in the ground by fugitive Indians who hoped to retrieve it later. Zeballos was stunned. The box, it turned out, was a kind of “government archive” of the tribe. It consisted mainly of correspondence between the caciques and representatives of the national government, and also included newspaper clippings and photographs (most of the latter has been subsequently lost). But the most remarkable piece in the archive, which has survived the passage of time and the usual abandon of Argentine archives, is a peace treaty signed by the president of Argentina and the triumvirate of caciques led by Namuncurá, only a couple of years before the “final solution” of La Conquista del Desierto, when the Christians still considered it worthwhile to negotiate with the Indians. Holding the stained yellow paper, admiring the fabulous blemishes inflicted first by the elements and then by years of neglect, I had no doubt that these were the most eloquent and poignant of ruins I had found. The unfulfilled promise of the treaty’s rhetorical and almost hollow prose, contrasted with the very concrete and physical ruin of the material support on which it was engraved, almost moved me to tears. These ruins spoke not only of what was lost, but also of what could have been.

Chapter 8 The Twentieth Century as Ruin: Tango and Historical Memory María Rosa Olivera-Williams

Tango, the popular Río de la Plata phenomenon that encompasses music, dance, and lyrics, is synonymous with nostalgia. In fact, tango originated with nostalgic poets and European immigrants who, longing for home, arrived in Argentina, Uruguay, and southern Brazil to escape war and misery during Latin America’s turn-of-the-twentieth-century modernization process. To use Walter Benjamin’s well-known phrase, at the dawn of the twentieth century the birth of tango “flashed up” an image of a rural past, just as modernization was driving throngs of country people toward the outskirts of Buenos Aires and Montevideo. In the city harbors, where nearby slaughterhouses and leather factories were in need of hands skillful with the knife, former gauchos in the process of becoming criollos buscavidas (criollo go-getters) found a bridge not only to their rural past, but also to the multilingual present of European immigration. Every study of tango underscores its orillero, or working-class quality, as well as its double marginalization: tango belonged geographically to the Río de la Plata’s banks, but also existed at a remove from any clear-cut circle of origins. On the outskirts of the region’s urban areas, both rural migrants and European immigrants, especially Genovese Italians, gave expression to their desire for foundational roots in a hybrid present—a present that had also produced a hybrid individual, the guapo or compadrito, whose wealth lay in his blind courage to confront the vulnerable space between his marginal, telluric, rural reality and an urban intellectual worldview. According to Daniel Vidart, within the context of the Cartesian doubt of the Río de la Plata hinterland, being a guapo meant simply to be (177). The popular language of Montevideo, Buenos Aires, and Rosario, as Vidart also notes, “synthesized and


María Rosa Olivera-Williams

synchronized” in the alchemy of the harbor cities, “the linguistic elements of the American hinterland, the European patois, and the argots of the Creole and international underworld” (63).1 Hybrid individuals with their popular, hybrid language materialized their existential dream of belonging—their Cartesian crisis of being—in the music, dance, and lyrics of the earliest tangos, known as milongas. Milongas captured the sheer joy and urgency of survival. Nevertheless, these early tangos, which Jorge Luis Borges considered the true spirit of Argentina and Uruguay and which inspired much of his poetry and prose, do not give voice to what Svetlana Boym calls “the conflicting and disharmonious imprints of history,” and therefore do not produce in their listener the brand of “reflective nostalgia” that characterizes most tangos (78). 2 Argentine and Uruguayan rural migrants and European immigrants did not share a common history, even though both groups were touched by history’s radical force through modernization. Their skills were different. Hoodlums and the native go-getters had no specialized skills except their artistry with the knife and the horse; European immigrants were mainly skilled workers, hired by incipient modern industries, especially the dairy industry. The earliest tangos did not reflect the marks of conflict and disharmony that characterized these groups’ fragile existence. For that reason, Borges enjoyed the first tangos because he saw them as a medium through which to name the homeland, through which to speak of brave countrymen from a not-too-distant past. The simple, upbeat lyrics and fast-moving rhythm of milongas emphasize the survival instincts of a people who sensed the fragility of their not succumbing to modernization’s maelstrom. The Río de la Plata countries’ entrance into the world market’s dynamics did not appear to negate, at least on the margins of modernity where tango was born, the possible coexistence of the present with another time full of the scents of mate, yuyu weeds, and wild flowers. This chapter reads tango as a nostalgic invention that is always fragmentary and inconclusive, as an art form that pretends to evoke a past home, a space in which the seeds of a modern nation of immigrants could be found, even while singing of home’s impossibility. Tango wants to name home, whether that home be the parental house (la casita de los viejos), the lover’s house or neighborhood (bulín, tu casa, Sur), or the land itself (pampa mía). It conveys home as loss, as an exile’s home that has already collapsed with the singer’s departure from the homeland. Home, in the tango, is an irretrievable image of the past.3 But I also want to read the tango as a ruin—not an architectural ruin, but a textual body that, like archeological ruins, reveals the fragmentary layers that constitute it. Andreas Huyssen studies the contemporary “obsession” with ruins (and a concurrent nostalgia for modernity) as products of a historical period that not only produced ruins, but could itself also be considered a ruin. Capitalism’s mechanisms, central

Tango and Historical Memory


to modernity and modernization, have proved massively ruinous and have left rubble, debris, and residues. The long process of ruination, which has been well documented, was especially intense in twentiethcentury Latin America.4 Focusing on architectural ruins as generators of nostalgia, Huyssen writes, “In the body of the ruin the past is both present in its residues and yet no longer accessible, making the ruin an especially powerful trigger for nostalgia” (7). If the ruin, as Huyssen argues, evokes the past only as an incomplete, residual space, the tango makes present far away places and times. These include the sounds of Africa, Cuba, and Europe, as well as the rural sounds of the pampa, thus melding physical spaces not far from the city with images of distant times. Epochs and cultures mix in a musical form that does not harmonize or efface their unique characteristics. Tango music is layered with diverse traditions: the premodern cultures of the kingdoms of Kongo and Angola, as well as West Africa (Yoruba, Fon, Nupe, Hausa); the rural sounds of the vast, treeless plains of Argentina, Uruguay, and southern Brazil, the pampas, where one hears guitars and the taconeo (stomping) of the gauchos’ malambo dance; and the sounds of modern European music, channeled through the accordion-like bandoneón, bass, violin, flute, harmonica, and piano.5 The music of tango is a great medium for nostalgia. Contrary to the axiom that music is worldly silence and thus ineffable, music, as Lawrence Kramer notes, does not deny the possibility of contextual understanding and historical knowledge.6 In the present of its performance, music as a medium for nostalgia alludes to a temporal and spatial past, gives sound to historical remains. Put another way, the nostalgic feelings evoked by tango echo the nostalgic effects of modernity’s ruins that Huyssen illuminates. Tango captures a paradoxical longing for ruins and urges us to listen critically and reflectively to the multiple fragments of sound that evoke time’s decay, while capturing us in its ghostly aura. I use “reflectively” in the sense of Boym’s “reflective nostalgia,” that is, “concerned with historical and individual time, with the irrevocability of the past and human finitude”; ironically and humorously, reflective nostalgia “cherishes shattered fragments of memory and temporalizes space” (49). In contrast to “restorative nostalgia,” as Boym argues, reflective nostalgia signals a tendency toward longing that does not pretend to rebuild a “mythical” past, but makes it possible for the “the past [to open] up a multitude of potentialities, nonteleological possibilities of historical development” (50). Ruins remind us not only of the past, but also “of the future, when our present becomes history” (78–79). As music, tango allows us to hear the historical ruins of the Río de la Plata region’s modern cities. Tellingly, African sounds resonate even in the absence of African instruments, because of the way that creolized, European instruments like the bandoneón and guitar are handled and played. Robert Farris Thompson indicates that “[p]ercussive


María Rosa Olivera-Williams

conceits—drum rolls in melody called arrastres—and strong offbeat phrasings called síncopas keep a black pulse” (169). The same could be said of the absent “stomping” of the gauchos’ dancing duels, also reproduced in the arrastres. Tango composer Horacio Salgán emphasizes that arrastres are tango’s essential element, providing its “rhythm, in blurred sound” (87). Tango makes present what is no longer part of our time and place, but the present-past in tango is a fleeting image that, to reiterate Benjamin’s phrase, “flashes up” and apprehends the force of the past. The arrastres’ intermittent stomping sounds evoke fragments of past history and challenge listeners to recognize their call, to seize a transitory image. As one of the most powerful ruins of the twentieth century, tango tells the history of Latin American modernity. It gives an account not of linear progress, but rather of fragmentary and contradictory developments.

Between Eternity and Modernity: Borges on the Tango If we examine the lyrics to some well-known tangos such as “La morocha,” “El choclo,” and “Loca,” we will see that in the first two, especially in “La morocha,” the rural past lives on in the modernized present of Buenos Aires’s outskirts. Borges loved these early tangos because they enabled him to imagine a criollo past for tango.7 Nevertheless, even in the 1905 tango “La morocha,” the image of a stable, rural past is vulnerable in a fleeting urban present that threatens to erase it. In “Loca,” recent history is presented fragmentarily while the singer relates the painful past of a girl lost in the city, thus opening a crack in the muddiness of oblivion. “La morocha” (The Argentine Brunette), with music by Enrique Saborido and lyrics by Ángel Villoldo, stresses countryside values and customs and the fresh beauty of a couple forced to move to Buenos Aires’s outskirts. The woman who sings—the morocha, the female chronicler of the idealized, everyday life of a young couple in love—has no sorrows and makes herself happy by singing. She is happy, too, because of her affection for the noble Argentine gaucho, the land’s true representative. This tango insists on maintaining a lifestyle that has already changed because of the couple’s move from the province to the city. Tellingly, though, the ardent brunette asserts her happiness by means of negation: “she is the one who does not feel sorrows” (Saborido and Villoldo; my emphasis). The vulnerability of a transformed subject who struggles to keep the recent past alive is underscored by the switch from the first person—“I am the Argentine brunette”—to the third: “the one who does not feel sorrows / and happily spends her life / with songs.” This change is common in everyday speech, but in this tango the first person “I’s” identity as an Argentine woman depends on the third person

Tango and Historical Memory


“she’s” ability to keep alive her love for an Argentine man, who serves as a synecdoche for the nation.8 I am the graceful companion of the noble porteño gaucho, the one who keeps her love for her owner. (Saborido and Villoldo)

In 1903, Villoldo wrote the lyrics for his first tango success, “El choclo” (The Ear of Corn), which premiered on November 3, 1905, played by the pianist José Luis Roncallo in the exclusive Buenos Aires Restaurante Americano. “El choclo,” too, transmits positive rhythms and forges a genealogy between the rural and urban cultures of the Río de la Plata. The old tango is “dear” and powerful; its cadence enables one to “remember that period, / so wonderful that it’s gone” (Villoldo). In this old milonga, idyllic, bygone time does not generate an image of history. (Borges was right: the milonga exists not inside time or history, but rather in “eternity”) (133). This song’s significance, like that of all milongas, lies in its music that “chains” (“chaining me with your notes sweetly” [Villoldo]) and “overpowers” (“overpowers me / with the cadence / of its felt music” [Villoldo]). Interestingly, verses that long for eternity or seek to create a myth of origin for a young nation feeling overpowered by modernization— immigration, new industries, technology, changes in the concept of time and space—are found not in milongas, but in Borges’s poetry. In his poem “El tango,” for example, the urgency of milonga music yields courage, innocence, and festivity that recreate the past. The past takes on the proper names of people and places: Juan Muraña (a legendary guapo from Palermo), the fearful Ibaña brothers and “el Ñato,” tango composers Eduardo Arolas (1892–1934) and Vicente Greco (1888–1924), and places like Corrales and Balvanera. If old tangos evoke eternity with their rhythm’s mythical quality, Borges’s poetic quest is to tell the tale of the birth of the modern Argentine nation, but even more concretely and personally, to recover the past of Palermo, the neighborhood in which he grew up. Without the tango, Borges’s quest would not have been possible. Bodies entwined in a tight embrace write mysterious counterclockwise figures with their footwork on public streets.9 In Borges’s view, the enigma of those figures is what poetry must solve: Where could they be? Elegy asks Of those who no longer exist, as if there existed A region in which Yesterday could Be Today, Still and Yet-to-come. (888–89)


María Rosa Olivera-Williams

The mythological, early form of tango that treasures “old things,” such as “a dagger and a guitar,” in a remote South, replies to this elegy. This early tango, outside of historical time, “creates a turbid / Unreal past that nonetheless is true” (889). Borges substituted “La morocha,” one of his favorite tangos, with the tango “Loca” (The Mad Woman), and proposed the latter as Argentina’s national anthem. In 1925, Borges acknowledged that the idyllic nationalism of Saborido’s 1905 tango, which he found attractive as a continuation of regionalism in tango, did not symbolize the modern nation. By proposing “Loca” as the Argentine hymn, Borges was scandalously ironic, a heretic. This 1922 tango, with music by Manuel Jovés and lyrics by Antonio Martínez Viergol, points to a modern reality that breaks with a linear concept of history that understands modernization as “progress”; instead, it unites the rural traditions that marked nineteenth-century national identity with the urban culture of an incipiently “modern” Argentina. In “Loca,” a woman who sells her love in order to survive in the city—a woman who has gone “mad” because of her suffering—underscores the rupture between her rural childhood and the urban world in which she suffers adulthood. The female voice sings: There, very, very far away, where the sun sets every day, I had a peaceful home and, in that home, my folks. Their life and delight was a young girl who escaped, without telling where she went . . . and I am that girl. (Martínez Viergol and Jovés)

Unlike “La morocha,” “Loca” sings the impossibility of keeping rural traditions alive in modern Buenos Aires. The modern world is fragmentary, and the voraciousness of the modern lifestyle only permits traces of the past to surface as laments. In the case of “Loca,” those laments for a familiar but remote past are entangled with the effects of alcohol, such that the here-and-now of the present imposes itself. The woman cries: “I must drown in wine / the sorrow that devours me . . .” (Martínez Viergol and Jovés). Borges was doubly ironic when he proposed “Loca” as the national anthem, since its composer and lyricist were both Spaniards; Jovés was born in Barcelona and Martínez Viergol in Madrid. Thus, the young girl who escapes to the city blinded by modernity’s lights and dreams cannot be a rural Argentine, but is rather a European girl kidnapped and taken to the Buenos Aires harbor. In this reading, the “very, very far away” paternal home could well refer to the remote place where the young woman spent her childhood. Beginning in the last decades of the

Tango and Historical Memory


nineteenth century, as Dora Barrancos notes, a large number of brothels appeared throughout Argentina in which a great percentage of the female sex workers were from European countries. Barrancos notes that in Buenos Aires and other large cities there was a competition between sophisticated and modest brothels. The expensive, sophisticated brothels peddled their “pupils”—a euphemism for the young women living “inside of the house,” as if in a boarding school—who were treated as “merchandise” (579). Sarcastically, Borges offered the painful story of a lost, foreign woman in the muddy whirlpool of modernization as a national hymn. For Borges, contemporary history was infamous. Published in the magazine Nosotros, Borges’s proposal stressed the fragmentary reality of his time and tried to rescue gaucho and criollista traditions of the recent past to illuminate contemporary cultural hybridity: I feel that I am more from Buenos Aires than from Argentina and more from the neighborhood of Palermo than from any of the other neighborhoods. And even that small homeland—which was also Evaristo Carriego’s—is becoming part of the city center and I must look for it in Villa Alvear! I am a man incapable of patriotic exaltations and Lugones-like patriotism: visual comparisons bore me and I would rather listen to the tango “Loca” than to the national anthem! (Cited in Garramuño, 118)10

Borges’s declaration of his ineptness for exuberant patriotism points not only to a personal and intellectual preference, but also to his acknowledgment of the changes that la patria had undergone. If in Evaristo Carriego (1930) he sought a criollista genealogy that incorporated gaucho poetry, Carriego’s work, and tango, five years earlier, in the Nosotros piece, he had already recognized modernization’s invasive, transforming force. His intimate homeland was no longer the city of Buenos Aires or his Palermo neighborhood. European immigration, urban changes, and technological advances had altered both places. With the disappearance of the river Maldonado, on whose margins his and Carriego’s Palermo was founded, he felt compelled to keep alive the memory of knives and guitars, of a life poised between life and death, for which the primitive tango dance was a synecdoche. In the 1925 article, Borges recognized himself as an orillero, as marginalized as the characters of tango and Carriego’s poems. He was progressively losing his small homeland. He did not recognize modern Palermo as home. The only thing left was to redeem the past. “Loca” enabled him to see the fleeting past from the perspective of his present, a past that he redeemed as eternal in his book on Carriego.

The Young Twentieth Century as Ruin: “Cambalache” Enrique Santos Discépolo (1901–1951) was one of the greatest tango lyricists and composers. He was also one of the most gifted poets to


María Rosa Olivera-Williams

unveil the strength of tango as ruin. Thompson refers to Discépolo as “the darling of the intellectuals” (36). The profound skepticism and moral gaze running through his varied, humorous, and bitter tangos made Discépolo, according to Thompson, the unintentional subject of almost all of the twentieth century’s ideological and aesthetic movements: “The literary elite of Buenos Aires practice their existentialism, their Marxism, their postmodernism, their whatever, over his searing language” (36). These words warn anybody approaching Discépolo’s work to avoid closed readings that obscure the perfect marriage between poetry and music in his tangos. His compositions “flash up” the fleeting image of a past that makes itself present via the ghosts of vanished utopias, like the one conceived in the 1926 tango “Qué vachaché” (That’s Life): “True love got drowned in the soup / the belly is queen and money God” (Discépolo, 1926). But these ghosts in ruins demand to be remembered, to inform the present and make the future possible. Discépolo’s poetry, accompanied by the precisely synchronized music that he also composed, chronicles the leading ideas from the first half of the twentieth century: from Croce’s idealism and Pirandellian estrangement, to the grotesque in its dramatic renditions. The strength of Discépolo’s compositions lies in the mastery with which his most important tangos create a realm where the present cracks open, allowing the grasp of a past moment that enables us to see a present in ruins. Along with the aforementioned “Qué vachaché,” these tangos include “Esta noche me emborracho bien” (Tonight I Get Wasted; 1928), “Yira . . . yira . . .” (Go round . . . and . . . round; 1930), “¿Qué pasa señor?” (What’s Up, Sir?; 1931), and “Cambalache” (The Second-Hand Shop; 1934). “Cambalache” turns the entire twentieth century into a ruin that demands to be seen and heard. At the time of its composition in 1934, the century was only three decades old and tango had gained national and international renown. Argentina, like the rest of the world, suffered economic and political crises. In the midst of social instability, literature, live theater, radio, and cinema flourished. Tango singers and movie stars such as Tita Merello and Libertad Lamarque set continental style trends, and with civil war imminent in Spain, Buenos Aires became the center of Spanish language culture. Although on the surface Buenos Aires was a glittering city with wide avenues, its powerful new Obelisk could not eclipse its marginalized and unemployed people (Horowitz, 239–82). Argentina fell on hard economic times in the 1930s.11 The 1900s were merely entering their fourth decade, but for Discépolo, this short time span seemed able to summarize an entire century. When Discépolo composed and wrote the lyrics to “Cambalache,” he was not alone in his pessimistic analysis of contemporary reality. Nevertheless, his great success lies in the representation of the twentieth century not only as ruin, but also as a site in which listeners can find the ruinous residues of recent modernization. The twentieth century

Tango and Historical Memory


is portrayed in the tango as a cambalache, a secondhand shop full of unsavory characters and moral relativity. Surely Benjamin’s “ragpickers” would have been perplexed by the detritus that had accumulated in only 30 years (Benjamin 1999, 2:310). In the secondhand shop, not only material objects but also ethics and moral values have become outmoded: Mixed with Stavisky, you have Don Bosco and “La Mignon,” Don Chicho and Napoleón, Carnera and San Martín . . . Like in the disrespectful window of a second-hand shop, life is mixed up, and wounded by a sword without rivets you can see the Bible weeping next to a water heater. . . . (Discépolo, 1934)

The extended simile between cambalache and the past century compares the outmoded sword, Bible, and water heater to a series of odd and irreverent relationships: the notorious Russian swindler Alexandre Stavisky is juxtaposed to other figures of the time such as don Bosco, the Catholic priest who founded the Salesian order; the expensive callgirl known as “La Mignon”; the cruel Buenos Aires mafia leader, don Chicho; Napoleon; the Italian boxer Primo Carnera; and the great Argentine General San Martín, whose role in nineteenth-century revolutionary movements was fundamental for Latin American independence. In the tango’s last stanza, the simile becomes a metaphor for the twentieth century as a secondhand shop in which material objects and ethical values are feverishly mixed up. Ben Highmore argues that, for Benjamin, urban “ragpickers,” outmoded by modernization, struggle to get by, finding value in what has been devalued, in “the detritus of modernity” (63). Thus, “debris allows for a radical refusal of progress; it allows for a vision of history that is nothing if not attentive to its unreason” (65). Discépolo seems to anticipate Highmore’s reading of Benjamin in “Cambalache.” Like Benjamin, Discépolo refuses progress since “the world was and will be a joke / . . . / in the year 506 / and in the year 2000, too” (Discépolo, 1934). History’s unreason shows forth especially for Discépolo in the “display / of insolent malice” that is the twentieth century. As a poeta popular (a poet of the people), he makes us see modernity’s debris and reminds us that if we have not yet been outmoded by the cyclone of history, we will soon be marginalized by it. Michael Löwy’s reading of Benjamin’s Angel of History illuminates Discépolo’s tango. Löwy contrasts the different gazes of Benjamin’s Angel, whose eyes are wide-open to see “the victims crushed beneath the


María Rosa Olivera-Williams

pile of ruins,” and the “perfectly Olympian gaze of History as described by Schiller in one of the canonical texts of Aufklärung” (Löwy, 64). Löwy underscores that ruins, for Benjamin, are not an object of aesthetic contemplation, but “a poignant image of the catastrophes, massacres, and other bloody works of history” (64). Löwy emphasizes Benjamin’s opposition to Hegel’s philosophy of history, which justified every historical infamy and ruin “as a necessary stage in the triumphal march of Reason” (64). Benjamin, as Löwy indicates, demystifies progress “with a profound moral revulsion [for] the ruins it produces” (65). The philosophical-composer Discépolo, like Benjamin, sees in the repetition of “malice,” replicated throughout the twentieth century under the guise of pseudo-progress, the infernal site of ruins. The hellishness of modern life, with its mechanical repetition and destruction, resounds in the following lines: “We live mixed up in a mess / and in the same mud / all spat-upon . . .” (Discépolo, 1934). So is there a future? For Discépolo—the Benjamin of tango—the future lay in social revolution, specifically the political program of Juan Domingo Perón. Coincidentally, for Benjamin, according to Löwy’s reading, the future depended on a Messianic revolution, which would remember all victims without exception, making possible “the future classless society” (Löwy, 67). In “Cambalache,” without going so far, Discépolo captures that fleeting moment in which history allows us to see its ruins. Forced to look to the past, to the remote year 506, forced to gaze upon images of history’s victims flung, as the detritus of progress, into the chaotic window of a secondhand shop, we are able to see the present and the future, when our present will also be a ruin of the past. In tango, nostalgia and melancholy do not veil our historical gaze. To the contrary, they ignite our senses and force us to confront both modernity’s ruins and the refuse of modernization.

Notes 1. All translations from Spanish are mine. 2. Borges’s writings inspired by tango include, among others, Evaristo Carriego (1930), for which he wrote a chapter on tango for the 1955 edition; his shortstory “Hombre de la esquina rosada” (1935); and the poem “El tango,” first published in a 1958 magazine and later in El otro, el mismo (1964). All are in the 1974 Obras completas 1923–1972. 3. In spite of the tango’s miserable origins, the nostalgia for the lost home that it reiterates explains why already in the 1920s and 1930s the art form had become Argentina and Uruguay’s national musical genre. 4. If we frame the twentieth century by the processes of modernization at its beginning and globalization at its end, modernity’s ruinous trajectory becomes clear. As Nelly Richard states about the Chilean case, the ruin of post-dictatorial neoliberalism, accelerated by “the fleeting rhythm of merchandise,” calls for a valuation of historicity in an epoch of historical erasure (15).

Tango and Historical Memory


5. For Borges, the German bandonéon, invented around 1865, contributed to the “degeneration of tangos”; its melancholic sounds marked a loss of the bravado found in primitive tangos (164–65). For Vidart, the bandoneón that initiated the period of singing-tango constituted the culmination of “a foreseeable organic process that instead of denaturalizing the dancing-tango confirmed it in a definitive and effective way” (61). 6. Kramer states that music “is a source of historical knowledge and should therefore be a primary resource of critical inquiry.” He opposes those musicologists and music theorists who believe that “music itself is silent on matters of history and criticism” (61). 7. On Borges’s use of the early tango to imagine a criollo past, see Berti, Garramuño, and Vidart. 8. In this tango, nature, country, and love are one and the same: “I sing to the pampan wind/ to my beloved homeland/ and to my loyal Love” (Saborido and Villoldo). 9. In the 1920s, Borges was fascinated by the enigma of tango dancing figures. See his drawing of a couple dancing the tango found at rarebooks/collections/rarebooks/hispanic/southern_cone/borges/tango.shtml. 10. Borges’s piece appeared in Nosotros 49, no. 191 (1925): 27. 11. For a dramatic portrayal of the period, see Roberto Arlt’s Aguafuertes porteñas, cited in Saítta (390–91).

Select Bibliography Barrancos, Dora. “La vida cotidiana.” In El progreso, la modernización, y sus límites (1990–1916), directed by Mirta Zaida Lobato, vol. 5 of Nueva Historia Argentina, 10 vols., edited by Juan Suriano, 553–601. Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 2000. Benjamin, Walter. “Excavation and Memory.” In Selected Writings, vol. 2, edited by Michael W. Jennings, Howard Eiland, and Gary Smith and translated by Rodney Livingstone et al., 576. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1999. ———. “Theses on the Philosophy of History.” In Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, edited by Hannah Arendt and translated by Harry Zohn, 253–64. New York: Schocken Books, 1969. Berti, Eduardo. “Borges y el tango” (“Eloge tempéré du tango”), translated by JeanMarie Saint-Lu. Magazine Littérarie (May 1999): 54–56. http://sololiteratura. com/berti/bertiborgesy.htm. Bhabha, Homi. “Introduction.” Dance! Global Transformations of Latin American Culture. Special issues of ReVista: Harvard Review of Latin America 7, no.1 (Fall 2007): 3. Borges, Jorge Luis. Obras Completas 1923–1972. Buenos Aires: Emecé Editores, 1974. Boym, Svetlana. The Future of Nostalgia. New York: Basic Books, 2001. Discépolo, Enrique Santos. “Cambalache.” 1934. Warner/Chappell Music. http:// ———. “Esta noche me emborracho bien.” 1928. English/biblioteca/letras/letra.asp?idletra=159. ———. “¿Qué pasa señor?” 1931. letras/letra.asp?idletra=365. ———. “Qué vachaché.” 1926. letras/letra.asp?idletra=163.


María Rosa Olivera-Williams

Discépolo, Enrique Santos. “Yira . . . yira . . .” 1930. English/biblioteca/letras/letra.asp?idletra=167. Garramuño, Florencia. Modernidades primitivas: tango, samba, y nación. Buenos Aires and Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2007. Highmore, Ben. Everyday Life and Cultural Theory: An Introduction. London and New York: Routledge, 2002. Horowitz, Joel. “El movimiento obrero.” In Crisis económica, avance del estado e incertidumbre política (1930–1943), directed by Alejandro Cattaruzza, vol. 7 of Nueva Historia Argentina, 10 vols., edited by Juan Suriano, 239–82. Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 1998. Huyssen, Andreas. “Nostalgia for Ruins.” Grey Room 23 (2006): 6–21. Kramer, Lawrence. “Music, Historical Knowledge, and Critical Inquiry: Three Variations on The Ruins of Athens.” Critical Inquiry 32 (Autumn 2005): 61–76. Löwy, Michael. Fire Alarm. Reading Walter Benjamin’s “On the Concept of History.” Translated by Chris Turner. London and New York: Verso, 2005. Martínez Viergol, Antonio and Manuel Jovés. “Loca.” 1922. http://www.mundo Pujol, Sergio. Discépolo: una biografía argentina. Buenos Aires: Emecé Editores, 1997. Richard, Nelly. Residuos y metáforas. (Ensayos de crítica cultural sobre el Chile de la transición). Santiago: Editorial Cuarto Propio, 1998. Saborido, Enrique, and Angel Villoldo. “La morocha.” 1906. Odeón. http://www. Saítta, Sylvia. “Entre la cultura y la política: los escritores de izquierda.” In Crisis económica, avance del estado e incertidumbre política (1930–1943), directed by Alejandro Cattaruzza, vol. 7 of Nueva Historia Argentina, 10 vols., edited by Juan Suriano, 239–82. Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 1998. Salas, Horacio. Borges: una biografía. Buenos Aires: Planeta, 1994. Thompson, Robert Farris. Tango: The Art History of Love. New York: Pantheon Books, 2005. Vidart, Daniel. El tango y su mundo. Montevideo: Tauro Ediciones, 1967. Villoldo, Angel. “El choclo.” 1903.

Chapter 9 Modernist Ruins: The Case Study of Tlatelolco Rubén Gallo

What to Do with Ruins? Some years ago Rem Koolhaas, the enfant terrible of architecture, proposed a hair-raising project: to take an entire district of Paris, the industrial area behind the Grand Arche de la Défense that had become an eyesore and a postmodern ruin of sorts, and demolish every building that was more than 25 years old. The process was to be repeated every five years, until the entire site had been—in Koolhaas’s words— “laundered,” “liberated,” and made available to an urban planner willing to conceive of new uses for the thousands of meters of empty space (1090–1096). Koolhaas’s project never got off the ground, but it did send shivers up the spine of more than one preservationist. His was an act of provocation, an architectural crime against what the French have codified into law as the patrimoine, a cultural heritage to be preserved, maintained, restored, and defended against the vandal impulses of mischievous architects. It is significant that Koolhaas chose Paris, the city with the most auratic architecture in the world, as the site for his proposal. But Koolhaas’s “tabula rasa,” a project that seems so scandalous and even sacrilegious in Paris, simply describes the history of urbanism in Mexico City, where entire areas of the city are periodically “laundered” and “liberated” to make room for a new generation of urban planners armed with grand ambitions and an extreme distaste for the past. Much to the horror of conservative historians and preservationists, Mexico City has been a city of ruins and radical architectural projects since at least the sixteenth century. The Spanish conquistadors razed the Aztec city of Tenochtitlán to build a new European capital. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, many of Mexico City’s central buildings were razed, since they were considered too modest and insignificant for


Rubén Gallo

the capital of New Spain, the Spanish Empire’s crown jewel. In their place, architects erected grandiose palaces and churches in the baroque style that had become all the rage in Europe. When the nineteenth century came along, architects considered baroque buildings outmoded and clumsy, and a great number of them were given a neoclassical face lift. In the 1940s and 1950s, entire areas of the city were laundered to make room for modernist buildings, which in turn were demolished in the 1980s and 1990s to clear the way for new architectural projects. But what Koolhaas celebrated as “liberation” and “laundering,” Mexican critics usually decry as an outrage against national culture. Take, for instance, the critic Guillermo Tovar de Teresa: We Mexicans suffer from an illness, a rage, a desire for self-destruction, to cancel and erase ourselves, to leave no trace of our past, or of the way of life in which we believed and to which we devoted ourselves. . . . We Mexicans still believe that it is necessary to destroy the past to make way for the present. More than just a bad habit, this is a serious problem of national identity. (13–14)

Megalomania Modernism generated many tabulae rasae: ironically, many modernist projects have not aged well and have now become architectural ruins themselves. One of the most interesting examples of this tendency is the housing complex of Nonoalco-Tlatelolco—Tlatelolco, for short— completed in 1966 and designed by the architect Mario Pani. Pani was trained in Paris, where he discovered the ideas of Le Corbusier in the 1920s. La ville radieuse made such an impression on him that it became his lifelong obsession to create a version of the radiant city in Mexico (Garay, 17–18). Some years after his return from Paris, in 1934 Pani won a government commission to build a massive housing project in Mexico City. City officials wanted to build several hundred small houses for workers, but Pani was convinced that such an idea was out of sync with modern urbanism. He argued that the city should build housing complexes modeled on Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation. And thus Pani got to build the first such housing complex in Mexico City, the Multi-familial Miguel Alemán, completed in 1950. This massive project contained more than 1,000 apartments distributed in 12 buildings. A year after the Multi-familial Miguel Alemán was completed, Pani embarked on a second, even more ambitious government commission. This was a second housing complex, to be called Multi-familial Presidente Juárez, which he completed in 1952. By 1964 he was already at work on a third housing complex, this time more massive, more ambitious, and more monumental than either of the two projects he had already done. Pani set out to build a complex with more than 15,000 apartments

Modernist Ruins: Tlatelolco


distributed over dozens of buildings in an area of several thousand square kilometers in Tlatelolco, a decaying industrial neighborhood in the north of Mexico City. The area was poor and bleak, and Pani proposed treating it as a tabula rasa on which to build a complex of modernist apartment towers. This is the exact same proposal that Koolhaas presented for Paris, and in his proposal, Pani made the same argument as Koolhaas: that the neighborhood was in ruins, lacking any historical buildings that merited preservation, and that the best strategy to regenerate such an urban area was to raze it. Indeed Pani calculated the expected flux of thousands of families that had been living in premodern housing and drew a series of graphs showing their projected orderly flow into Tlatelolco. The Tlatelolco site measured almost two kilometers from east to west and 500 meters from north to south. It was a vast area of one million square meters, which Pani divided into three “superblocks,” which were to be filled with apartment towers, ranging in height from four to twenty-two stories. In an interview, Pani described his vision for Tlatelolco as follows: We still need to regenerate over half of Mexico City, which is full of awful neighborhoods. The one advantage is that most of these neighborhoods are so awful that they are just waiting to be regenerated, to be torn down and rebuilt properly. The advantage of poor areas is that all one has to do is tear them down and rebuild them well. (Cited in Gary, 83)

In “Tabula Rasa,” Koolhaas refers to Le Corbusier’s megalomania, but when compared to Mario Pani, Le Corbusier, who only got to build one relatively modest unité d’habitation in Marseille, appears to be a humble builder. In a 1990 interview, shortly before his death, Pani lamented that he only got to construct one Tlatelolco. He told an interviewer: We wanted to continue with more projects, to expel all those who were living in poor neighborhoods, we wanted to build more and more housing complexes. I was planning on building five or six Tlatelolcos, with an extension of over 3 million square meters, 2 million square meters of gardens, and a capacity for 66,000 families. (Cited in Gary, 87–88)

Had Pani gotten his way, he would have unleashed a thousand Tlatelolcos on Mexico City, like Shakespeare’s Caliban, who dreamed of propagating himself onto the world in the form of “a thousand Calibans.” Pani was a Corbusierian Caliban on steroids.

The Return of the Repressed As Pani was preparing to launch his most ambitious housing project to date, an unexpected discovery threatened to derail it. Tlatelolco was the


Rubén Gallo

site of an ancient pre-Columbian city, and archeologists had opposed the project on the grounds that the construction would destroy the historical artifacts that might lie buried below ground. Then, one day, as workers were preparing the foundations, they hit an unexpected obstacle: a wall of stones that turned out to be the base of a pre-Columbian pyramid which had been razed by the Spaniards in the sixteenth century as part of their project to turn the Aztec city into a tabula rasa on which they could build churches and monasteries from scratch. Pani was mortified. An Aztec ruin did not fit into his vision of a ville radieuse, and even the lax Mexican authorities would not allow such an important monument to be razed—not for a second time—in the name of architectural modernism. What had been repressed by the Spaniards, the Aztec city with its pyramidal structures, suddenly reemerged with a vengeance and threatened to derail Pani’s ambitious plans to modernize Mexico’s urban fabric. In many ways, the pyramid is the structural opposite of the housing blocks that Pani hoped to build on Tlatelolco. The block represented modernity, the pyramid the country’s ancient past. The block was linked to Corbusierian urbanism, the pyramid to old-fashioned archeology. Pani’s blocks were to rise upward, lifting their inhabitants’ hopes toward the sky. The pyramid, in contrast, was located in a sunken pit and its remains pointed toward the earth’s entrails, an apt metaphor for the sinking feeling Pani must have experienced when he learned of the archeological discovery. Housing blocks represented the triumph of order and rational principles over living spaces; the pyramid, in contrast, was an alarming reminder that the irrational forces associated with the Aztecs—ritual murder and human sacrifice—persisted in twentiethcentury Mexico. Pani dreamed of erecting buildings on the exact same site in which archeologists wanted to dig down into the ground to uncover the ancient city of Tlatelolco.

Mixed-blood Modernism Pani was a master of public relations and he found a way to turn the bothersome pyramid to his advantage. He was not allowed to raze the pyramid, but he was allowed to build around it, and thus dozens of housing blocks rose around the shell of a pyramid. Pani even found a way to modernize the pyramid, or rather, to create a modernist reinterpretation of the cumbersome Aztec structure. The tallest building he designed for Tlatelolco was a pyramid, but one that was planned according to the principles of modernism and that rose in all its geometric splendor over the Aztec pile of stones. But the Aztec pyramid was not the only element from the past that would return to haunt Pani’s modernist vision. There was also the sixteenth-century church of Santiago Tlatelolco and its attached convent,

Modernist Ruins: Tlatelolco


built by the Spaniards next to the pyramid. The architect incorporated both the church and the pyramid into his planned city, placing them in the midst of a large plaza surrounded by modernist towers. In a public relations coup, Pani promoted this strange amalgam of Aztec pyramid, Spanish convent, and modernist planned city as the “Plaza of the Three Cultures,” a name inspired by the theory that modern Mexico was a new culture born out of the encounter of two previous civilizations: the Aztecs and the Spaniards. Pani’s mythological reworking of the plaza deserves some comment. On one hand, the Plaza of the Three Cultures refers to three historical periods: there was the Aztec empire, followed by the Spanish viceroyalty, which eventually gave way to an independent Mexico. The pyramid is a remnant of Aztec architecture, the church a vestige of Spanish construction, and the modernist complex an example of modern Mexican planning. But there was another, more unusual layer to the mythology behind the plaza: the three cultures refer not only to historical periods and architectural styles but also to the history of race relations in Mexico. After the completion of Tlatelolco, Pani composed the following text and inscribed it on a plaque on one of the structures: “On August 13, 1521, after being heroically defended by Cuauhtémoc, Tlatelolco fell to Hernán Cortés. It was neither victory nor defeat, but the painful birth of the mixed-blood country that is Mexico today.” The history of Mexico, so official mythology proclaims, is the history of three races: the country was first inhabited by the Aztecs; after the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, the two races combined to create a third race, the modern Mexicans, a mixed-blood people born, painfully as the sign reminds us, of the clash between the two earlier groups. The Plaza of the Three Cultures, then, is also the Plaza of the three races, and each of the disparate buildings emerges as a racial trope: the pyramid represents the Aztec race, the church represents the Spaniards, and—this is truly surprising—Pani’s housing blocks symbolize modern mestizo identity. In Pani’s project, modernism no longer represents the purity of forms but rather the impurity and intermingling of blood. This is surely the first time in history that Le Corbusier became an apostle of racial mixing. Pani’s Plaza of the Three Cultures juxtaposes a pyramid, a church, and a modernist housing complex. In his plans for the ville radieuse, Le Corbusier sought to separate living, work, and leisure areas. Pani’s Mexican version of the ville radieuse, took the plan further: it featured separate areas for Catholic mass, human sacrifice, and obtaining a passport.

The Revenge of the Aztecs In 1968, two years after the last structure in Pani’s complex had been completed, Tlatelolco became the stage of the bloodiest event in


Rubén Gallo

twentieth-century Mexican history. On October 2, several thousand students assembled in the Plaza of the Three Cultures for a rally protesting the city government’s repressive policies. For several months clashes occurred throughout the city between the police and student demonstrators: the army briefly occupied the main campus of the National University of Mexico and dozens of students were arrested and imprisoned. The students staged several peaceful marches and protests against what they saw as the government’s undemocratic methods. The president, Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, ordered the police and the army to fight back. He feared a local replay of the massive strikes and demonstrations that paralyzed Paris during May of that same year. He was terrified that the students and their protests would jeopardize the Olympic Games, which were scheduled to open on October 12. The students launched the Tlatelolco rally on October 2, 10 days before the scheduled inauguration of the Olympics. Hundreds of protesters and sympathizers assembled peacefully in the Plaza of the Three Cultures, where student leaders gave speeches and read statements. Suddenly, the army surrounded Tlatelolco, and tanks and helicopters moved in on the square and opened fire on the students. All entrances to the housing complex were shut, and the students were trapped inside Tlatelolco, “as in a mousetrap,” as one of them later recalled (Cited in Poniatowska, 258). Approximately 300 students were killed and more than 1,000 were arrested. The Tlatelolco massacre became the most traumatic event in twentieth-century Mexican history, one that shattered the vision of the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional/ Institutional Revolutionary Party), the ruling party, as a benevolent institution that had helped Mexico avert the destiny of other Latin American countries such as Argentina and Brazil, which were ruled by totalitarian regimes. In one of the most eloquent texts on the Tlatelolco events, Octavio Paz argued that the massacre illustrated the return of the repressed. In his view, what had been repressed and now returned was the Aztec practice of human sacrifice, a ritual that had been staged atop the pyramids. The pyramid, argued Paz, represented a powerful archetype with a visible continuity from Aztec times to the twentieth century. And the pyramid not only represented the stage for human sacrifice: it was also a metaphor for the almost unlimited power exercised by Mexican rulers, from Aztec emperors to twentieth-century presidents. Power is concentrated at the pyramid’s top and exerted over the vast population at the base. Here is Paz’s theory of the pyramid: Mexico’s geography has a pyramidal shape, as if there were a secret but perceptible connection between natural space and symbolic geometry, between the latter and what I have called our invisible history. Archaic archetype of the universe, geometric metaphor of the cosmos, the preColumbian pyramid culminates in a magnetic space: the platform for

Modernist Ruins: Tlatelolco


sacrifices. . . . The pyramid, petrified time, locus of divine sacrifice, is also the image of the Aztec nation and its mission: to guarantee the continuity of the sun cult, the source of life, through the sacrifice of war prisoners. . . . The pyramid is the world and the world is Mexico-Tenochtitlan: a deification of the Aztec nation through its identification with the atavistic image of the cosmos: the pyramid. For the heirs of Aztec power [modern Mexicans], the connection between religious ritual and acts of political domination has disappeared, but the unconscious model of power remains the same: the pyramid and human sacrifice. (395)

There is another reason why Paz might have been so interested in the dialectic between Tlatelolco and the pyramid. He lived in a building designed by Mario Pani that had been the country’s first condominium—an extremely elegant modernist structure on the corner of Río Guadalquivir and Paseo de la Reforma, Mexico City’s main thoroughfare. Perhaps Paz feared that, like Tlatelolco, his own modernist home was sitting on the ruins of an Aztec temple. Perhaps he feared that the modernist block he called home would also be upturned by the emergence of an atavistic pyramid.

Modernist Reverse Panopticons Paz associated the massacre with the pyramid, but I would like to argue that it was Pani’s modernist buildings and his Mexican version of the ville radieuse that made the massacre possible. As critics from Foucault to the Situationists have argued, architecture is a means of exercising control, and nowhere is this more evident than in modernist housing developments, especially the type of megalomaniac projects favored by Mario Pani. The Tlatelolco complex was designed to control the living environment, leisure activities, and even the movements of its inhabitants. The complex featured only a few access points, with gates that could be closed in a few seconds, preventing anyone from entering or exiting. There was only one area in which the crowds could congregate. And the wide avenues that allowed access to the complex doubled as retaining walls, preventing anyone from escaping the complex. Once the crowds arrived at the Plaza of the Three Cultures, the site became a reverse panopticon. In the standard panopticon, the guard occupies the center and surveys the entire prison population from a single vantage point. In the reverse panopticon, it is the imprisoned crowds, the students, who are at the center and can be observed from every point in the architectural complex. Assembled in the plaza, the students became easy targets because they could be seen, observed, and targeted from every building. Army snipers climbed atop the modernist blocks and had an unobstructed view of the students, who were trapped in the plaza as if in a mousetrap.


Rubén Gallo

In La noche de Tlatelolco, Elena Poniatowska records the voices of several civilians who were trapped inside Tlatelolco: I told everyone that the Plaza of the 3 cultures was a trap, I told them so. ¡There’s no way out! It’s so obvious. I told them there would be no way to escape, that we would all be boxed in, penned in like animals. I told them so many times. ... The Plaza of the 3 cultures became an inferno. Every few seconds you could hear shots and the outbursts of machine guns. I could hear High power rifles shooting from all directions. (Cited in Poniatowska, 185, 197)

The modernist block not only represented the mixed-blood character of twentieth-century Mexico; it also doubled as a modern sacrificial altar and a totalitarian reverse panopticon. Asked about the 1968 massacre in an interview, Pani blamed the students. In words that are eerily reminiscent of President Díaz Ordaz’s justification for the massacre, he attributed the tragedy to: A worldwide upsurge of leftist tendencies conspiring against governments [. . .]. In Mexico, since it was a few days before the Olympic Games, the students picked the time and place in order to create the biggest possible scandal. And that it was: a great scandal. And it has given Tlatelolco the reputation of a place where people are killed. (Cited in Garay, 88)

The Collapse of Modernism Tlatelolco began as a utopian project, but after 1968 it became the darkest symbol of Mexico’s dystopian failures. For almost 20 years, the housing complex was associated not with urban reform, with Corbusierian plans, or even with Mario Pani, but with the tragic massacre of October 2, 1968. That would change, although not for the better, in 1985. On September 19, just before 8:00 a.m., Mexico City was shaken by the most powerful earthquake in recent memory, measured at eight point one on the Richter scale. It lasted under 120 seconds, but in that short time, dozens of office buildings and apartment complexes collapsed, and the official death toll was put at 4,000, though many believe it may have been as high as 30,000. The earthquake leveled many of Pani’s buildings: several blocks of the Multifamiliar Juárez collapsed, as did one of the tallest apartment towers in Tlatelolco, the edificio Nuevo León. In Tlatelolco, the high occupational density of the housing blocks translated into a terrifying number of casualties. Investigations launched after the earthquake revealed that the buildings in Tlatelolco had collapsed, in part, due to faulty building techniques. The construction company, it seems, had increased its profits by skimping on materials destined for the construction of the

Modernist Ruins: Tlatelolco


housing blocks. The foundations were not as solid as they needed to be, and in some cases fewer columns than were required were used to support the buildings. The use of pilotis, which Le Corbusier had promoted, proved to be a poor choice for an earthquake-prone, urban area like Mexico City. Investigators exposed a web of corruption that reached from city officials to contractors and perhaps even to Pani himself. Asked about his responsibility in the collapse of the Tlatelolco towers, Pani offered the following response: I remember when one of the towers fell in the 1985 earthquake. It was discovered that the structural reinforcements were made of aggregate and of metal structures that were not even bound correctly to the main concrete structure. There had been an oversight, and I suppose some of it is my fault, since I should have overseen the workers and made sure they reinforced the building properly. (Cited in Garay, 80–81)

Building foundations, it seems, were not one of Pani’s strengths. The collapse of Pani’s buildings is symptomatic of modernism’s fate in Mexico City. Le Corbusier’s plan for the ville radieuse was imported to great fanfare, touted as the solution to many of the country’s ills and as a harbinger of social progress. But in the end the country’s endemic problems—from corruption to mismanagement—left Mexico’s grand ambitions in ruins, like the housing blocks after the earthquake, reduced to a fantasmatic recreation of the tabula rasa.

Lobotomy Tlatelolco is a perfect example of what Pierre Nora has called lieux de mémoire, places in which a country’s cultural memory has been inscribed. Tlatelolco registers the marks of the most traumatic events of twentiethcentury Mexican history: the razing of entire neighborhoods in the name of a modernist tabula rasa; the 1968 student massacre and the transformation of the housing blocks into a totalitarian reverse panopticon, and the 1985 earthquake and the collapse of both buildings and the nation’s dream of urbanist modernity. In the end, the pyramid proved to be more resistant to earthquakes and other catastrophes than the modernist housing block. The ruined pyramid is still there, and Pani’s modernist pyramid, though damaged in the earthquake, and abandoned ever since, still stands. At one point, the city government proposed relocating the police headquarters to the pyramid, but Tlatelolco’s residents vehemently opposed the project. Perhaps after reading Paz’s theory of the pyramid archetype, they were disinclined to place the Mexico City police force at the apex of a structure that had been read as an archetype of domination, oppression, and totalitarianism.


Rubén Gallo

In 1998, the artist Pedro Reyes proposed an artistic project to reclaim the abandoned modernist ruin: the empty shell of the pyramid would be converted into a “vertical garden.” The facade of the current building would be removed to expose the open floors, which would then be planted and turned into green gardens. A verdant skyscraper! Reyes’s project turned on its head one of Pani’s main justifications for building blocks: that by erecting towers one can maximize the green areas around them. In Tlatelolco, for instance, Pani reserved more than 50 percent of the land for gardens. That percentage increased even more after the collapse of the Nuevo León building in 1985. There were once towers in the garden, and Reyes inverted that relationship by proposing to place gardens in the tower. His design is a powerful metaphor of the relation between collapsed buildings and gardens in Tlatelolco. The gardens in Tlatelolco are not very inviting: they are fantasmatic spaces, haunted by the specter of buildings that once stood there but have since collapsed. If we consider Reyes’s project in light of Paz’s theory of the archetype, the result is encouraging: the top of the pyramid is no longer occupied by a despotic ruler or by practitioners of human sacrifice, but by empty space: nothing occupies the top levels. The pyramid has been decapitated, or as Koolhaas might say, “lobotomized.”

Figure 9.1 “Parque Vertical,” Tlatelolco (Mexico City). Photograph courtesy of Pedro Reyes.

Modernist Ruins: Tlatelolco


To Be or Not to Be If Tlatelolco is, as I have been arguing, the paradigmatic modernist project in Mexico, then, to conclude, I would like to ask the following questions: Where did the tabula rasa lead us? Or, giving the question a light twist, what was modernism’s fate in Mexico? It is a big question—almost as big as Pani’s megalomaniac, urban projects—so let me offer a small answer, gleaned from To Be or Not to Be, the 1942 Hollywood camp classic directed by Ernst Lubitsch. The film takes place during the World War II German occupation of Poland. After a terrible performance of Hamlet by Polish actors, one of the Nazi officers in the film offers the following assessment of the production: “They do to Shakespeare what we did to Warsaw.” The same could be said of Mexico City: “It did to modernism what they did to Warsaw.” Or is it the other way around? “Modernism did to Mexico what they did to Warsaw.” Who did what to whom? But what did they do to Warsaw? The short answer is: they turned it into a ruin . . . and a tabula rasa.

Chopping The history of modernism in Mexico is marked by trauma. It is a history of disasters, natural catastrophes, political corruption, urban decay, and utopian dreams collapsing into dystopian nightmares. To conclude, I would like to return to the project with which I began this chapter: Koolhaas’s proposal for liberating Grand Arche de la Défense by razing its old buildings. In his “Tabula Rasa Revisited,” Koolhaas acknowledges that his plan borrows much from Le Corbusier’s “Plan Voisin.” Aside from the proposal to regenerate an urban space by a surgical extirpation of buildings, there is another striking parallel between Koolhaas and Le Corbusier. Corbusier believed in the primacy of the building block as the central element in urban development. In Delirious New York, Koolhaas shows that there were other, more dynamic alternatives to Corbusier’s monotone blocks, for example, the chaotic skyscrapers of various shapes and sizes found on the streets of New York. But the Corbusierian block returns to haunt Koolhaas, and it emerges where we least expect it: in the design of his S, M, L, XL, the collection of his texts that includes the “Tabula Rasa” essay. The book is a massive block, not unlike the structure so favored by Le Corbusier. As anyone who has tried to fit this odd volume onto a bookshelf knows, Koolhaas’s book is a literary skyscraper, one that towers over the other volumes placed beside it. S, M, L, XL actually has the same shape as some of the housing blocks found in Tlatelolco.


Rubén Gallo

I can think of some uncanny parallels between S, M, L, XL, the book, and Tlatelolco. The voluminous work could be used as a weapon during times of student unrest—it could certainly kill somebody with its weight and mass. And who knows how it would fare during an earthquake. Its excessive mass might cause it to fall from the shelf and hit the ground like the housing blocks in Tlatelolco. Perhaps these morphological similarities between S, M, L, XL and modernist housing blocks explain the ill treatment Koolhaas’s book has suffered in Mexico. In 2002, the artist José Dávila presented a project that treated Koolhaas’s book like a building block, like a material that could be sliced, disassembled, and reassembled. He then used the pieces to build a series of sculptures, some of which read like a maquette for a housing project not unlike Tlatelolco. Dávila did to Koolhaas what they did to Warsaw: he turned the architect’s magnum opus into a ruin. Perhaps Dávila’s project is yet another avatar of what Paz called the archetype of the pyramid and the archaic drives toward murder and sacrifice. Luckily this time we have not witnessed a human sacrifice, but simply a literary-architectural one.

Select Bibliography Garay, Graciela de. Mario Pani: vida y obra. Mexico City: UNAM, 2000. Koolhaas, Rem. “Tabula Rasa Revisited.” In S, M, L, XL, edited by Rem Koolhaas, Bruce Mau, Jennifer Sigler, and Hans Werlemann 1091–1135. New York: Monacelli Press, 1995. Nora, Pierre, ed. Les lieux de mémoire, 3 vols. Paris: Gallimard, 1984–1986. Paz, Octavio. El laberinto de la soledad. Madrid: Cátedra, 1993. Poniatowska, Elena. La noche de Tlatelolco. Mexico City: Era, 1971. To Be or Not to Be. Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Hollywood, 1942. Tovar de Teresa, Guillermo. La ciudad de los palacios: crónica de un patrimonio perdido. Mexico City: Vuelta, 1992.

Part Three

The Ruins of Fragile Ceasefires: Scenes of Loss and Memory

This page intentionally left blank

Chapter 10 Pinochet’s Cadaver as Ruin and Palimpsest Michael J. Lazzara

Dead bodies are ruins that can be hypercharged with meaning, sites of inscription onto which individual social actors, groups, and entire nations project their political fantasies, mythologies, and desires. Performances around ruinous cadavers point to intense struggles over memory and serve as vehicles for showcasing a society’s allegiances, resistances, and deepest anxieties (Roach, 39). Just like the rubble of ruinous physical locales, human remains can be glorified, forgotten, or desecrated, depending on personal and political motivations. But dead bodies, particularly those of controversial leaders, are rarely disposed of quietly or unceremoniously. As Lyman Johnson notes, “disputes over bodies are disputes about power, power over the past and power in the present,” and these disputes have played out time and again in Latin American history since colonial times (23–24). Politicized cadavers such as those of Túpac Amaru, Evita Perón, Che Guevara, Emiliano Zapata, Álavro Obregón, or Salvador Allende prove that bodies are passionately contested palimpsests onto which national dramas are condensed and versions of history staged. Bodies and the polemics they cause have been particularly central to Chile’s national drama since 1973. Allende, the desaparecidos, Patio 29, the exhumation and destruction of cadavers, the identification and archiving of bones at the Servicio Médico Legal, the human remains that surfaced at Lonquén in December 1978: all of these cases speak to how the powerful have tried to keep bodies at bay, fragment them, silence them, or disappear them to avoid scandal or disrupt hegemony.1 Curiously, Augusto Pinochet’s death on December 10, 2006 proved that a political will to disappear contentious cadavers was something that existed not only in dictatorial times, but also in democracy. Because of his abhorrent record of human rights abuses and financial crimes, by 2006 Pinochet had become a hot potato for just about everyone,


Michael J. Lazzara

particularly for the government and rightist politicians who wanted (and needed) to separate themselves from his legacy. The ex-dictator’s physical body drew its final breath amid cries of heroism and treason, celebration and mourning; but as it did, his cadaver caused an “irruption of memory” (Wilde 1999) that revealed the profound anxieties of a polity that wanted to believe it had moved beyond its past, yet, despite desire, could not free itself from Pinochet’s ghost. Joseph Roach speaks of the “ambivalent emotions human beings harbor for the dead,” noting that this ambivalence finds particular expression in the English and French traditions in the doctrine of the “king’s two bodies” (38). To guarantee the political and legal continuity of a leader’s legacy, the sovereign’s sick or dying body natural was often separated from his body politic, such that the latter would remain “adult and immortal” despite the infirmity or degradation that had befallen him (38). For the Chilean political right, this paradoxical separation of Pinochet’s body natural from his body politic constituted a political strategy for saving face with the electorate without appearing coldhearted or unethical. By severing the dictator’s corpse, the right could immortalize his neoliberal project while chastising his body natural for its earthly peccadilloes (human rights violations and financial crimes). Leftist actors, in contrast, dissected the fallen “king’s” body with the intention of desecrating both his body natural and his body politic. Though the biological Pinochet has now turned to ash, December 2006 proved that the ex-dictator’s political body, on some level, still pervades and shapes Chilean hearts and minds. His death did not bring into relief that Chile had “turned the page”—as many commentators claimed or wished—but rather that Chile’s recent past is still a narrative in progress.

The Autumn of the Patriarch There is general consensus that Pinochet’s 1998 London detention spelled the beginning of the end for the former dictator, though the erosion of his public image began long before Scotland Yard detained him (Angell, 140). If the London affair served as a major nail in Pinochet’s political coffin, his financial crimes sealed his fate even in the eyes of supporters who, until then, looked beyond the image of Pinochet-theassassin, but who, in light of recent developments, could not tolerate that their “heroic” liberator was a swindler and thief. By the time of his death, Pinochet had become an inconvenient political body for just about everyone, but particularly for major politicians of the right (e.g., Joaquín Lavín and Sebastián Piñera) who were trying to gain electoral support against the all-powerful, center-left Concertación coalition, which had held power since 1990. If the stunning revelations of the 2004 Valech Report confirmed that torture was a massively implemented state policy under Pinochet, such that the right could no longer flippantly disregard

Pinochet’s Cadaver as Ruin and Palimpsest


that human rights violations occurred, the Riggs scandal resulted in Pinochet’s total abandonment by a good deal of his support base, with the exception of an inner circle of cronies who remained loyal to the end (Farfán, Giner, and Minay). Even much of the elite business class that benefited from the dictatorship’s neoliberal reforms opportunistically shuttled their support to Ricardo Lagos’s free-market friendly, “renovated” brand of socialism by the early 2000s. To avoid going to trial in the more than 400 legal cases opened against him, Pinochet’s final years became a performance of illness. It was in the dictator’s best interest that his body natural be seen as demented and sick, precisely because his juridical fate hinged on the gravity of his infirmity. The media dramatized his infirmed condition: he was always being poked and prodded to check his insulin levels and his food (supposedly) had to be pureed so that he could swallow it without gagging. Such images, meant to evoke pity for Pinochet-the-grandfatherly-figure in civilian clothing, were seemingly disconnected from an earlier iconography of the slick and cunning dictator, bedecked in military garb, sunglasses, or a Prussian uniform.2 However, Pinochet’s ailing persona was inconsistent with his occasional strolls through Santiago’s shopping malls or with the lucid and judicially damning interview he gave to the Miami-based news show María Elvira Confronta. When Pinochet defended his economic obra (i.e., his political body) on TV, he vainly and stupidly rationalized his actions instead of clinging to the role he had learned to play so well: that of a dead-man-walking. In that fleeting moment, the ex-dictator’s senility seemed a ruse—or minimally a gross exaggeration—while his real stripes (the phantasm of the slick Pinochet in sunglasses) flashed up in a moment of truth. The interview was crucial because it allowed the public to see that Pinochet’s political and natural bodies were one and the same. Parsing Pinochet’s two bodies, however, was vitally necessary for political actors with historical links to pinochetismo. Only through such a tactic could they address an unresolvable dilemma: how to reject Pinochet-the-human-rights-violator without rejecting his neoliberal endgame? These actors, of course, did not acknowledge the ethically disturbing contradictions within their own logic. How could one Pinochet exist without the other? To wish that Pinochet the torturer would simply fade away while legitimizing his “economic miracle” amounted to a morally reprehensible shirking of responsibility.

Media Autopsies Pinochet’s death resulted in a media autopsy that staged on the dictator’s corpse a revival of old animosities and competing narratives whose primary interest was to garner ratings. Although polls indicated that most Chileans no longer supported Pinochet, the media’s staging of


Michael J. Lazzara

two Chiles—the Chile of a “nation of enemies” (a move that evoked the memory of previous, divisive historical junctures such as the 1988 plebiscite)—made for good TV and juicy print fodder. Televisión Nacional’s news broadcast 24 Horas took to the air proclaiming that Pinochet’s funeral was a “historic” event, and gave a sense that people were acutely aware that a battle over history would be waged live on the air. Everyone seemed to have a prescripted sound-byte ready for the camera. One of the most extreme pinochetista politicians, Iván Moreira, from the ultra-right-wing UDI (Unión Democrática Independiente) told a TVN reporter: “Our task from now on is to keep moving forward, but we must also attempt for history to record the truth about the military government” (24 Horas broadcast, December 11, 2006). In the media, that “truth” was represented as a polarized confrontation between those who poured champagne and celebrated the dictator’s death in Plaza Italia, and those who kept vigil outside the Military Academy where Pinochet’s body lay in state. Each side grittily chanted its fervent beliefs. “¡Mientras Chile exista, habrá pinochetistas!” (As long as Chile exists, there will be Pinochet supporters!) stood in stark contrast to cries of “¡Asesino, asesino!” (Murderer, murderer!). The street became a battleground whose imagery (water cannons, tear gas) at times evoked the dictatorship’s darkest days. The iconography of Pinochet’s death circulated rapidly via new media such as the Internet and YouTube. Images abounded and all zipped through cyberspace at warp speed: Pinochet’s bloated face under glass being revered by 60,000 visitors; a chilling photograph of three young people giving their hero a neo-Nazi salute; a clown named “Tony” draped in the American flag leaning over the coffin; photos of street protests and acts of vandalism. The media allowed spectators to follow Pinochet’s convalescence, death, wake, funeral, cremation, and burial step by step and in such minute detail that the Pinochet “reality show” generated the illusion of being there. Newspapers diagramed his heart and bodily organs to document exactly how and when they ceased to function. The funeral procession’s path and the program for his requiem mass were meticulously detailed and their logic explained. In the streets, people performed symbolically on the dictator’s body. In Valaparaíso’s Plaza de la Victoria, for example, Pinochet was burned in effigy by his detractors as his supporters held mass nearby. In Santiago, a burning coffin was thrown into the Mapocho River in a vengeful evocation of the dictatorship’s brutality. Francisco Cuadrado Prats’s transgressive act of spitting on the dictator’s coffin, perhaps the most radical performance around the cadaver, received ample media attention as well. 3 The battle for ratings raged. Several media outlets ran stories that ranked which sources people were watching and reading most. Stark contrasts in coverage were blatant. While the international press almost universally condemned Pinochet for his crimes against humanity and his financial dishonesty, Chile’s press, still largely conservative, proved more

Pinochet’s Cadaver as Ruin and Palimpsest


Figure 10.1 Neo-Nazi salute to General Pinochet in The Clinic, December 14, 2006. Photograph courtesy of The Clinic.

amenable to the dictatorship’s neoliberal project and ran many stories that either portrayed Pinochet in a positive light or feigned to offer a “fair and balanced” view that took into account the “pros” and “cons” of his legacy. For example, conservative La Tercera, Chile’s most widely circulated paper, ran two front section editorials that illustrated the paper’s overarching ideological tenor. One article, “Una agenda que mire al futuro,” announced prophetically that Pinochet’s death would open a new era that would allow Chileans to set aside animosities and shift focus toward the challenges of fomenting economic “progress.” The article reproduced the well-worn, future-oriented discourse that had characterized the Concertación’s public rhetoric of reconciliation and consensusbuilding throughout the transition. Another article, a Spanish translation of a piece by Jonah Goldberg, editor of National Review, admonished readers that “Irak necesita un Pinochet”: “An Iraqui Pinochet would impose order and steer the country toward liberalism, democracy, and the rule of law.” Such an article, chosen from among hundreds written abroad, confirmed the rightist media’s ideological slant insofar as it defended Pinochet as “a successful former dictator.”4


Michael J. Lazzara

Some of the most authentically critical perspectives on Pinochet surfaced in the weekly satirical newspaper The Clinic, which ran two special issues featuring articles by many prominent leftist intellectuals. The publication poked fun at the dictator’s made-up, pudgy-faced cadaver, comparing it to Frankenstein, Liz Taylor, and Jabba the Hut. The right-wing voices sprinkled throughout The Clinic threw into relief the paradoxes of pinochetista discourse and were clearly undermined by the paper’s overall ideological censure of the dictator. To that end,

Figure 10.2 Pinochet’s cadaver in The Clinic, December 14, 2006. Photograph courtesy of The Clinic.

Pinochet’s Cadaver as Ruin and Palimpsest


interviews with pro-Pinochet figures like journalist Hermógenes Pérez de Arce or Providencia mayor and former DINA agent Cristián Labbé were subverted by their semantic positioning among caricatures and verbal portraits portraying Pinochet as the devil incarnate. The Clinic’s coverage contrasted with other publications like the magazine Ercilla, whose retrospective issue “Augusto Pinochet: 1915–2006” recounted the General’s life and works in sterile, “factual” terms and played down human rights violations. Ercilla’s cover showed images of Pinochet as a sweet young boy, a young Pinochet in his military uniform, the grandfatherly Pinochet in civilian clothing, and a family portrait of the Pinochet clan. Ultra-conservative El Mercurio, for its part, ran articles that stressed Pinochet’s economic “modernization” project and interviews with people like General Odlanier Mena (Carvallo), former director of the CNI, or Pablo Rodríguez, Pinochet’s attorney, who held that his client “never committed any crime and that he [had] no legal responsibility” (Molina). Another El Mercurio article chastised the popular classes for delinquency and looting in the poblaciones (shanty towns), stressing that carabineros (the police) had been wounded while using “necessary” force against the celebrators (Lezaeta, Ávalos, and Águila). The article called for “orderliness” (a concept clearly linked to pinochetismo) and implicitly connected the anti-Pinochet factions to civil unrest and the violence of the bad old days (Lezaeta, Ávalos, and Águila). Such schizophrenic media coverage seemed to suggest that Chile had become repolarized. But was this true? Alfredo Joignant offers the opinion that the media’s polarizing coverage did not represent the great bulk of Chileans for whom “Pinochet ceased to belong to the present years ago” (158). Joignant argues that the 60,000 people who stood in line to pay their respects and the thousands who celebrated in the streets were relatively inconsequential numbers in a country of 16 million. But Joignant’s argument must be tempered by the observation that Pinochet’s death unleashed passions that are difficult to quantify statistically. Despite his steep decline in popularity, the very mention of Pinochet’s name continues to trigger emotions and memories, while his legacy still shapes much of Chile’s current political and economic reality. In sum, the media’s ratings-driven capitalization on sporadic pockets of polarization cited a-critically (and in watered-down fashion) the extreme (and very real) political passions of previous eras. In most instances, the media failed to analyze the very juxtaposition of pro- and anti-Pinochet images and discourses it proffered. Subsumed within neoliberal logic, large sectors of Chile’s media sought to seduce spectators with an unreflexive collage of forms that insulted the victims by placing their voices on an even playing field with pro-pinochetista factions. Each side was given equal air time in what amounted to little more than a violent offense to memory.


Michael J. Lazzara

Political Wakes If the neoliberal-minded news media capitalized on the Manichean performances around Pinochet’s cadaver to garner ratings while relativizing antagonistic memory narratives to sell a debatable dramatization of a repolarized Chile, the pillars of society—the government, the military, the political parties, the Catholic Church—also seized on Pinochet’s death to deploy his ruinous cadaver in a different way. Rather than autopsy the body to exploit its tensions, in an ironic citation of the dictatorship’s own practice of disappearing politically contentious corpses, the pillars of society were more inclined to wake the body—to say a few well-placed, parting words—so that it could be more expeditiously buried and, they hoped, forgotten. For politicians, the battle over Pinochet’s cadaver began long before his death. During the dictatorship, when Pinochet feared possible attempts on his life, a funeral plan was devised, full of pomp and circumstance, in case of assassination. Concerned with erecting a final resting place befitting a hero and liberator, Pinochet charged his cousin and Minister of Justice, Mónica Madariaga, with the task of constructing a family mausoleum in the General Cemetery (Villagrán and Mendoza, 13–18). After the dictatorship’s defeat, the Concertación governments devised their own secret plans for the dictator’s funeral, keeping them under lock and key in what came to be known as the “black folder.” When Ricardo Lagos passed the presidential sash to Michelle Bachelet in March 2005, he offered her the folder containing the protocols. Its contents have never been made public. Aware of Pinochet’s political demise and the divisiveness of his legacy—while taking into account her own personal history as an ex-detainee of Villa Grimaldi and the daughter of a general executed by the regime—Bachelet made the bold decision in December 2006 to deny Pinochet an official state funeral. Following a series of meetings and negotiations with army commander in chief Óscar Izurieta, Bachelet extended the government’s condolences to the army, while simultaneously informing Izurieta that Pinochet would not be buried as an “ex-president,” nor would she participate personally in any ceremonies. 5 Naming Pinochet’s cadaver was crucial for Bachelet. The government claimed that because Pinochet had not been elected by the people, he would not be entitled to the honors customary for a statesman; instead, he would be buried as an “ex-commander in chief,” strictly within military protocols. The Pinochet family accepted this plan, having debated whether to keep the funeral a private family affair or to give Pinochet a public farewell. Although they opted to go the public route, they ultimately respected Pinochet’s own decision, made during his final years, to be cremated so as to avoid grave looting and the desecration of his remains. Even in death, Pinochet and his family knew his cadaver would stir passions. According to their logic, the best thing for everyone would be for the ex-dictator to turn into un desaparecido más (one more disappeared person).

Pinochet’s Cadaver as Ruin and Palimpsest


The only government official to attend Pinochet’s funeral was Defense Minister Vivianne Blanot, who was greeted by jeers and hissing upon her arrival at the Military Academy. Though most members of Pinochet’s family rejected Blanot’s attendance, her presence was advertised as a symbol of Chile’s “healthy” civilian-military relations. Blanot made clear, however, that she thought Pinochet to be an “aberrant dictator” and kept her distance from the family, sitting next to Commander in Chief Izurieta (Trajtemberg). Only Jaqueline Pinochet, the dictator’s daughter, extended her the sign of peace. Following the funeral, Blanot was forced to respond to two controversial speeches offered by military representatives during mass. The first was an unauthorized speech by Pinochet’s grandson, Augusto Pinochet Molina, in which the 33-year-old officer broke protocol and lauded his grandfather as “a man who in the thick of the Cold War defeated the Marxist model.” He also accused the judges who had prosecuted Pinochet of seeking personal fame and advancement rather than justice. After these polemical remarks that, according to TVN’s reporters, “se salieron de libreta” (deviated from the script), Blanot pressured the army to discharge Augusto III immediately. It behooved the army to stress that such bold remarks would not be tolerated among its rank and file, and discharging Pinochet’s grandson was a way to prove that point. Yet, a second controversial speech given by Óscar Izurieta affirmed that the army was uncomfortably caught between its loyalty to Pinochet and its fervent desire for modernization. After discursively passing the buck to future historians who, free from political passions, would better be able to examine Pinochet’s legacy “objectively,” Izurieta benignly recapped Pinochet’s military biography, portraying him as a great public servant who did his duty for his country. Measuring his words, Izurieta avoided taking a direct political stand on the dictatorship, but committed a fatal blunder late in the speech when he reminded mourners that the coup must always be contextualized within the “dialectics of the cold war.” He added that “the situation of human rights constituted the most controversial aspect of [Pinochet’s] rule,” thus reducing, by his use of the word aspect, thousands of abhorrent human rights abuses to a worthwhile utilitarian price for achieving Chile’s present. He closed by noting that the army’s position on human rights “is well known” and had been “well-established by his two predecessors.” Consciously, Izurieta avoided a direct restatement of the institution’s position. Soon thereafter Blanot rushed to his defense, claiming that “we have to be careful not to analyze every comma of a speech” and instead attend to its overall spirit (Trajtemberg). But a careful reading of Izurieta’s words demonstrates that the army, too, remains caught in a volatile juggling act around the Pinochet issue. His intervention constituted an implicit validation of the coup. Commentators speculated that Izurieta’s speech and missteps in planning the funeral represented a serious step backward for the military’s own “transition” and its much desired des-pinochetización.


Michael J. Lazzara

Political organizations, too, issued official statements that spun rhetorical webs around the dictator’s cadaver and revealed present political desires. While the Pinochet Foundation reiterated its tired defense of the ex-dictator as a hero who “rescued Chile from the ruins and transformed it into the country in which all Chileans today take pride,” the Communist Party capitalized on the tone of fiesta popular elicited by Pinochet’s demise, calling for full truth and justice and refusing to accept his death as a punto final for human rights cases. The Socialist Party’s “Public Declaration” wrote Pinochet into history as a “traitor,” “a usurper of power,” and a “dishonorable man,” while supporting President Bachelet’s decision not to grant Pinochet a state funeral. The right-wing Alianza parties (Renovación Nacional and UDI, respectively) issued the longest, most nuanced statements. While UDI, like the military, discursively passed the buck, leaving “historical judgment” about Pinochet to new generations that would ponder more dispassionately the metaphorical “luces y sombras” (lights and shadows) of his legacy, UDI politicians agreed wholeheartedly with their more moderate RN counterparts that Pinochet did deserve a state funeral. RN’s declaration spouted a page of bitter invective against the government for its handling of the event. RN carefully avoided direct condemnation of the dictatorship’s human rights violations, holding that although the violations cannot be justified, they also cannot be attributed solely to Pinochet or his regime; without stating it overtly, they reminded the country that the leftist revolutionary movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s were also instigators of violence. Of all the political parties, though, perhaps the centrist Christian Democrats made the most meaningful statements around the cadaver. Known to have shifted their support away from Popular Unity in 1973 and to have ratified the military coup, the DC politicians, via their leader and spokesperson Soledad Alvear, used Pinochet’s cadaver to inscribe an official mea culpa for the party’s abandonment of Allende. The Chilean Catholic Church is well known for its valiant defense of human rights during the dictatorship. Cardinal Raúl Silva Henríquez, a revered figure for many, championed the struggles of victims and their families from the earliest days of military rule. For that reason, when Santiago’s Archbishop Francisco Javier Errázuriz lent legitimacy to Pinochet’s legacy at the funeral, many Chileans accused the Church of betraying Silva Henríquez’s memory and the work of many others who helped defeat the dictatorship. Not only did Errázuriz visit Pinochet in the hospital, he also agreed to say the dictator’s funeral mass (Azócar). Such details are all the more pertinent if we recall that Pinochet’s funeral was supposed to be a private army affair, theoretically disconnected from the state; consequently, Errázuriz was under no obligation to acknowledge Pinochet or his funeral, much less participate in it directly. To make matters worse, during his homily, the archbishop thanked God for the outstanding qualities he bestowed on Pinochet and gave thanks for “all

Pinochet’s Cadaver as Ruin and Palimpsest


the good [Pinochet] did for our fatherland.” “We know,” the cardinal said, “that the higher the authority, the more his virtues and his errors shine forth” (Errázuriz in López). In 1998, when Pinochet was detained in London, Errázuriz lobbied the Vatican to pressure Great Britain for his return to Chile. Eight years later, now archbishop, he euphemistically insinuated (with similar logic to RN and UDI) that Pinochet’s errors (i.e., human rights violations) must be balanced against his virtues (i.e., neoliberal reforms). Although Errázuriz affirmed that God would be Pinochet’s judge, he took comfort in the fact that the dictator was now “looking at God’s face.” Indeed, Pinochet was a contentious phantasm for the Catholic Church in 2006. If it is true that the Church played a prominent role in the human rights struggles of the 1980s, the transition to democracy saw a fractioning and, in some cases, an avoidance of memory within the institution; while its most conservative factions tended to silence the past in the interest of “national reconciliation” and depoliticizing the institution, its so-called liberationist current was more apt to condemn the dictatorship publicly and laud the Church’s role in the anti-Pinochet fight (Cruz, 145–57). Errázuriz belongs to the “reconciliatory” faction for whom Pinochet’s ghost is an anvil-like weight at odds with the Church’s profound desire to “modernize” for the new millennium. By playing his discourse both ways—that is, by speaking of Pinochet’s “errors” and “virtues”—Errázuriz was trying to appeal to the broadest possible public and curb the political charge of his words. His words, nonetheless, were eminently political. We must not forget that Errázuriz’s desire to leave the judgment of Pinochet to “history”—echoed by so many other political actors and commentators—is, in and of itself, a historical (and political) judgment.

Postmortem When Pinochet died, his body was whisked from the Military Hospital to the Military Academy at one o’clock in the morning to avoid creating a scene. TVN reported that the route was rehearsed and secured so that the dictator’s remains would arrive at their destination expeditiously and unharmed. Until the helicopter landed at the Parque del Mar cemetery near Viña del Mar, neither the military nor the family revealed where the body would be cremated or the ashes buried. A comical interview published in The Clinic, entitled “I Cremated Pinochet,” claimed that “Leandro,” a pseudonym for the cemetery employee who incinerated the body, was the only eyewitness to see Pinochet disintegrate at 750 degrees Celsius. His affirmation assured the nation that the dictator was really gone. Leandro astutely observed that after death a body becomes nothing more than an “object, inorganic material” (Hernández, 9). But Pinochet’s cadaver, as we have seen, was anything but inert matter.


Michael J. Lazzara

Discussions of building a mausoleum, constructing monuments, placing a bust in La Moneda, or naming Santiago streets after him (Hite and Loveluck) remain pending issues for a nation still uneasy over how to write the dictator’s ruins. The drama over Pinochet’s cadaver continues even beyond his death. On July 3, 2008, visual artist Gonzalo Díaz cried censorship when his art installation, “Poetry and Judgment,” was canceled by its sponsor, the Gasco Foundation, one of Chile’s major companies and, one might argue, a symbol of the reigning neoliberal economic order. When Díaz decided to include an image of Pinochet’s cadaver, his illustrious sponsor no longer considered his material appropriate for the prestigious Sala Gasco de Arte Contemporáneo. Gasco explained as follows: “We avoid welcoming art shows that involve figures—dead or alive, public or private—who may be controversial” (Cited in Gastine). How curious that a full year-and-a-half after Pinochet’s death Gasco decided that his cadaver was “too controversial” for Chileans to see. The anecdote is a chilling reflection of Chile’s post-Pinochet reality. For Díaz (and many others), Pinochet’s cadaver is what Chile needs to acknowledge, address, debate, and rectify; for Gasco (and others entrenched in neoliberal logic), it must stay forgotten, an unvisited ruin, so as not to disrupt a fragile present. The stark truth of Chile today is that even if most Chileans have turned their backs on Pinochet the man, fewer (including some “leftists”) have rejected the systemic reforms for which he stood. Some of today’s most hotly contested political debates are inextricably tied to the dictator’s economic obra. A binomial electoral system that excludes underrepresented groups, a nondemocratic constitution that has only been partially reformed, sporadic repression against students and indigenous people, an educational system that benefits the rich and discriminates against the poor, enormous economic disparities, insufficient justice and truth: these are the ruins—or, better put, the ruin—of Pinochet that a single disappeared corpse cannot assuage. Chile will only leave its past behind when these issues are seriously addressed and solutions reached.

Notes 1. Allende’s burial on a remote family plot in Viña del Mar is a salient case of how the Pinochet regime enacted a body politics that sought to inter the martyred president’s memory (Del Campo, 99–159; Navia, 157; Wilde 2008, 134–136). It was only with the return to democracy that the socialist president’s remains were reincorporated into the body politic with a symbolic and ceremonious burial. 2. For an excellent analysis of the changing iconography of Pinochet’s persona, see Oquendo-Villar. For other reflections on Pinochet’s death, see also OquendoVillar 2007 and Joignant 2007. 3. Francisco Cuadrado Prats, an artist, is the grandson of “constitutionalist” general Carlos Prats, who was killed in a car bombing carried out by DINA agents in Buenos Aires on September 30, 1974.

Pinochet’s Cadaver as Ruin and Palimpsest


4. I borrow the term from Jon Lee Anderson (1998): “Augusto Pinochet, all quibbling about definitions aside, is the rarest of creatures, a successful former dictator.” I thank Carmen Oquendo-Villar for calling my attention to this quote. 5. Bachelet’s own position on Pinochet’s death sounded like a typical, forwardlooking concertacionista memory script. In response to the violence, celebration, and mourning in the streets, Bachelet commented that “we are seeing expressions of division that at times recall the sad episodes that Chile overcame” (Cited in Miranda). Bachelet’s use of the past tense—“overcame”—indicated her political wish to make those divisions a thing of the past. She cautiously added, however, that she did not feel that Pinochet’s death signaled the beginning of a “new era” (“Bachelet: Muerte de Pinochet . . .”).

Select Bibliography Anderson, Jon Lee. “The Dictator.” New Yorker, October 19, 1998. Angell, Alan. Democracy after Pinochet: Politics, Parties, and Elections in Chile. London: Institute for the Study of the Americas, 2007. Aylwin, Patricio. La transición chilena: discursos escogidos, marzo 1990–1992. Santiago: Editorial Andrés Bello, 1992. Azócar, Pablo. “La ética del arzobispo.” El Mostrador, December 15, 2006. asp?id_noticia=205385. Carvallo, Mauricio. “General (r) Odlanier Mena: ‘No es verdad que él mandara la DINA.’ ” El Mercurio, December 11, 2006. Constable, Pamela, and Arturo Valenzuela. A Nation of Enemies: Chile under Pinochet. New York: W. W. Norton, 1991. Cruz, María Angélica. Iglesia, represión y memoria. El caso chileno. Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI Editores, 2004. Del Campo, Alicia. Teatralidades de la memoria: rituales de reconciliación en el Chile de la transición. Santiago: Mosquito Comunicaciones, 2004. Ercilla. “Augusto Pinochet: 1915–2006.” Special issue. December 15, 2006. Farfán, Claudia, Claudia Giner, and Sebastián Minay. “El Pinochet íntimo en su ocaso.” Qué pasa online, December 9, 2006.,0,38039290_101111578_241425161,00.html. Gastine, Alice. “Award-Winning Chilean Artist Claims Censorship.” Santiago Times online, July 3, 2008. php?option=com_content&do_pdf=1&id=14099. Goldberg, Jonah. “Irak necesita un Pinochet.” La Tercera, December 17, 2006. Hernández, Daniela. “Quemador N.N. del cementerio Parque del Mar: ‘Yo cremé a Pinochet.’ ” The Clinic, December 21, 2006. Hite, Katherine, and Eliana Loveluck. “No Memorials for Pinochet.” Foreign Policy in Focus online. Huneeus, Carlos. Chile, un país dividido: la actualidad del pasado. Santiago: Catalonia, 2003. Izurieta Ferrer, Óscar. Discurso del CJE, GDE Óscar Izurieta Ferrer, en el funeral del ex CJE, CGL Augusto Pinochet Ugarte. Public discourse. December 12, 2006. Johnson, Lyman L., ed. Body Politics: Death, Dismemberment, and Memory in Latin America. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2004. Joignant, Alfredo. Un día distinto: memorias festivas y batallas conmemorativas en torno al 11 de septiembre en Chile, 1974–2006. Santiago: Editorial Universitaria, 2007.


Michael J. Lazzara

La Tercera. “68% rechaza las celebraciones por la muerte de Augusto Pinochet.” December 17, 2006. ———. “Una agenda que mire al futuro.” Editorial. December 17, 2006. La Tercera online. “Bachelet: Muerte de Pinochet ‘simboliza la partida de un clima de divisiones, odio y violencia.’ ” December 13, 2006. medio/articulo/imprimir/0,0,3255_5664_242347183,00.html. Le Breton, David. La sociología del cuerpo. Buenos Aires: Ediciones Nueva Visión, 2002. Lezaeta P., H. Ávalos, and F. Águila. “22 carabineros heridos y graves destrozos al sur de Plaza Baquedano.” El Mercurio, December 11, 2006. López. Macarena. “Cardenal Errázuriz pide en Escuela Militar que a Pinochet se le perdone.” El Mostrador, December 11, 2006. http://vulcano.wordpress. com/2006/12/12/cardenal-errazurriz-pide-en-escuela-militar-que-a-pinochet-sele-perdone/. Miranda, Carolina. “Bachelet explica decisión sobre Pinochet y lo define como ‘referente de división.’ ” La Nación online, December 14, 2006. http://www. Molina A., Pilar. “Pablo Rodríguez: ‘Lo condenaron anticipadamente por razones políticas.’ ” El Mercurio, December 11, 2006. Navia, Patricio. “Santiago entre Hombre muerto caminando y Yo pisaré las calles nuevamente.” In Las ciudades latinoamericanas en el nuevo [des]orden mundial, edited by Patricio Navia and Marc Zimmerman, 149–64. Mexico City: Siglo XXI Editores, 2004. Oquendo-Villar, Carmen. Dress to Impress: Packaging Pinochet. Unpublished book chapter. ———. “Pinochet: General Earthquake.” ReVista: Harvard Review of Latin America (Winter 2007): 52–55. Pinochet Molina, Augusto. Discourse delivered at Augusto Pinochet’s funeral. December 12, 2006. Radio cooperativa online. “Cuadrado Prats: A Pinochet, lo escupí como un acto de desprecio.” December 13, 2006. artic/20061213/pags/20061213152506.html. Roach, Joseph. Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996. Stern, Steve J. Battling for Hearts and Minds: Memory Struggles in Pinochet’s Chile, 1973–1988. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008. Trajtemberg D., Karen. “Las confesiones de la ministra Blanot tras el funeral de Pinochet: ‘Me conmovió ver a Lucía Hiriart triste, frágil.’ ” La Segunda, December 15, 2006. Villagrán, Fernando, and Marcelo Mendoza. La muerte de Pinochet: crónica de un delirio. Santiago: Planeta, 2003. Wilde, Alexander. “Avenues of Memory: Santiago’s General Cemetery and Chile’s Recent Political History.” A Contracorriente: A Journal on Social History and Literature in Latin America 5, no. 3 (Spring 2008): 134–69. http://www.ncsu. edu/project/acontracorriente/spring_08/Wilde.pdf. ———. “Irruptions of Memory: Expressive Politics in Chile’s Transition to Democracy.” Journal of Latin American Studies 31 (1999): 473–500.

Chapter 11 Spatial Truth and Reconciliation: Peru, 2003–2004 Jill Lane

In present-day Peru, remembering is no simple act. From 1990 to 2000, the country suffered a period of brutal civil violence that claimed more than 69,000 lives. Known to many as “manchay tiempo”—a Quechua/ Spanish hybrid phrase meaning “the time of fear”—this period was shaped by conflict between the Marxist-Maoist group Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), led by Abimael Guzmán, and the military, ultimately led by the president-turned-dictator, Alberto Fujimori. In the aftermath of such violence, creating civic and social spaces in which to engage memories of national horror has been the ongoing objective of artists, intellectuals, and community leaders. These efforts have emerged alongside the work of Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), whose Final Report was released in August 2003. One of the report’s primary findings was that Peruvians had not only failed to remember fully this experience of atrocity, but that for a privileged majority, “not even the memory of what occurred exists” (Informe; my emphasis). Previous estimates of the loss of life, the TRC found, were less than half the real figure. Salomón Lerner, President of the Commission, asked, “What does it say about our political community now that we know that 35,000 more of our brothers are gone, without anyone missing them?” (Lerner; my emphasis).1 Remembering, then, takes on a particular meaning in this context: it is about allowing the traumatic memory of the victims into the present so that others can create memories of what they did not know in the first place. Lerner concluded: “In a country such as ours, combating forgetting is a powerful form of practicing justice” (Informe, 4). Here I will examine two important projects that use material remains of the nation’s past to create new strategies against forgetting and to foster memory as a practice of renewed citizenship and social justice. The


Jill Lane

first project is the photo exhibit Yuyanapaq: para recordar (the Quechua and Spanish terms for “for remembering,” respectively), created as part of the TRC in 2003 and in which photographs of the conflict were staged in the space of a half-ruined home. The second is a theater production by Grupo Cultural Yuyachkani, entitled Sin título: técnica mixta (2004), which used material fragments of the past to create an environment of memory that responded to the TRC Report and its reception. Using these two works, I explore the production of social memory as explicitly embodied and spatial practices, ones in which embodied performance negotiates and potentially alters the ways in which power, identity, and difference are spatially distributed. Both productions, as we will see, rely on environmental staging for moving audiences through the visual and textual remains of Peru’s internal violence to create a viable memory of and political agency toward the atrocities suffered by the nation, particularly Peru’s indigenous populations. Exploring performance in relation to truth commissions and other human rights practices, I join others in asking how embodied culture— theater or performance—might create the agency through which human rights and other political claims would be advanced. 2 These questions lead us to the complex terrain of embodied rights, a term I borrow from gender and human rights theorist Jacqueline Bhabha. Focusing on refugee asylum cases that directly involve sexuality or gender persecution, Bhabha explores ways in which gender-based claims are often at odds with the doctrine of universal human rights. “The common dignity supposedly inherent in all human beings is, it emerges, differentially coded” through the systems of adjudication that arbitrate asylum cases (Bhabha, 18). Contexts of explicitly gendered persecution—restrictions on sexuality or reproduction—illuminate those differentials and belie the universality of human rights, revealing its underlying gendered dimension. Embodied rights suggest a human rights practice that acknowledges the conflicted diversity of bodies and their public claims. I link this perspective to the well-known critique within contemporary anthropology and cognate fields of the material production of space. In their influential 1992 essay, “Beyond ‘Culture,’ ” Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson argue that space has been a presumed neutral grid on which “cultural difference, historical memory, and societal organization” are inscribed (7). Thus, space is a central organizing principle of the social sciences—but also of studies of literature, theater, and performance— even as it disappears from analytical view. Like the idea of universal rights, applied only in theory uniformly across diverse bodies, space is similarly imagined as empty, homogenous, and free of power differentials. What happens in space, in turn, is understood primarily through an imaginary of difference and rupture. Gupta and Ferguson write, Representations of space . . . are remarkably dependent on images of break, rupture, and disjunction. The distinctiveness of societies, nations, and

Spatial Truth and Reconciliation: Peru


cultures is based upon a seemingly unproblematic division of space, on the fact that they occupy “naturally” discontinuous spaces. The premise of discontinuity forms the starting point from which to theorize contact, conflict, and contradiction between cultures and societies. (6)

Gupta and Ferguson suggest, then, that this idea of space is an ideological position that allows, in their terms, “the power of topography to conceal the topography of power” (8). In Peru, national space has long been imagined as a geographical container for contiguous but separate regional ethnic identities, shaded on a map as the indigenous Andes of Quechua and Aymara speakers, the indigenous Amazon (primarily Ashaninka), and the coastal, urban region of white, European-descended Lima, in a process “whereby ethnicity is naturalized as geography” (Cánepa Koch, 19). Many have drawn on such maps to illustrate and explain the deep ethnic and social divisions that have riven Peru and that mark a failure of integration on the geographic, social, and national levels. These divisions were, indeed, the axis on which the internal war turned to such fatal effect. The social, ethnic, and political divisions by which Peru has so long lived meant—in this spatial imaginary—that the relatively wealthier, European-derived, and largely white populace of the country’s coastal capital, Lima, lived through those horrible years set apart from the violence of the Andes, and thus without appreciation for their deep and disproportionate effect on indigenous communities. Lima did not take serious notice of what was happening in the Andes until violence crossed into their space, literally crossing the spatial line that divided them. Only then—and far too late— did limeños begin to recognize and address the severity of the crisis. One way to state the TRC’s goals—and those of the exhibit and play to which I now turn—is that they are all engaged in a project of national integration: their goal is, and remains, to bridge the differences that divide Peru’s peoples, finding ways to better cross, suture, and heal divides whose consequences were so painfully revealed through this traumatic history. But to put it this way is again to represent social space as a landscape of “natural” fragmentation and division. Instead, I want to look at how these productions, which rely so much on their public’s embodied participation, can illuminate and engage the underlying spatial connections among people: the lines that separate Lima and Ayacucho were produced by a long history of unequal power between white Lima and the indigenous Andes; they are not geographic, but ideological, and they produced this spatial mapping, rather than being a product of it. The fact that limeños could not “see” Ayacucho is not an unfortunate fact of geography, but the privilege of a system of spatialized power that their own political elite created and has long maintained. This vantage allows for an ideological critique not only of the different perpetrators of the violence, but also a critical assessment of the project of national integration proposed as its cure.


Jill Lane

Yuyanapaq: para recordar As part of its two year process of investigation, the TRC gathered a vast photographic archive to “document the sad legacy of the era of fear,” culled from public and private collections of newspapers, the army, police, churches, human rights organizations, photographers, and affected families. From this 1,700-image bank, curators Mayu Mohanna and Nancy Chappell were asked to create an exhibit to accompany the Commission’s work. The result was Yuyanapaq, which featured 200 photographs organized around a series of key events or focus areas studied by the Commission. A smaller version of the exhibit traveled throughout the country before and after the presentation of the Final Report and was inaugurated (like the Final Report) in Ayacucho as a gesture that acknowledged and aimed to redress symbolically the oblivion and neglect to which that region had been relegated throughout the war. The larger exhibit was installed in a semirestored colonial estate home in Lima where it remained through March 2005. In Lima, unlike Ayacucho, the exhibit was organized and staged explicitly to enable visitors to remember events for which the memory— as Lerner said—did not yet exist. How was this possible? The photographic itinerary mapped a relation to time by marking key events from 1980 to 2000 and a relation to space by featuring key geographic sites, including the southern Andes, the Amazon, and Lima. This mapping repeatedly interpolated the viewer as a member of the national body politic: these are the unevenly remembered memories of the nation, now lived through the bodies and experience of the viewers. The iconic image used on the exhibit’s publicity and as the cover of its companion catalog enacts the presentational logic of the exhibit as a whole. In Vera Lenz’s 1984 photograph entitled “Denuncia,” we see the sorely weathered, dark hands of a woman cupped around a tiny black and white identity card photograph of her disappeared husband. The hands seem to offer up the photograph, and all the loss and searching pain it carries, to us, the viewers on the other side of the camera. The gesture is at once a testimony of lives lived and lost, a memorial to those whose deaths were never honored, and a tenuous offering toward a future reconciliation. As a photograph of a photograph, it captures the complicated role that photography is here called upon to perform. As is the case with other uses of identity card photos in other political struggles on behalf of the “disappeared,” the ID photo was, presumably, created at the state’s behest for reasons of bureaucratic control; that same photo, now probably the only remaining evidence of the missing man’s existence, is presented back to the state as a demand for justice when the state either perpetrates or ignores his disappearance. Lentz’s image amplifies the woman’s denuncia by amplifying her tiny photo, even as it amplifies her loss and its lack of redress. The photo did not help her find her missing man in 1984. Will this new photograph help her now?

Spatial Truth and Reconciliation: Peru


The TRC expressed no doubts about photography’s persuasive power. At the exhibit’s opening, Salomón Lerner championed this “visual legacy,” saying: “Images do not change, but the eyes that see them do” (“Legado Visual”). Within the discourse of truth and reconciliation, the photographs are enlisted to anchor the truth in the realm of the visual, offering scenes to which all viewers—past, present, and future—can become witnesses. Questioning any assumption of the transparent access to truth of these or any photographs, I prefer to analyze how they were staged, how they were called upon to make meaning within the exhibit. That staging was an exquisite (if not unproblematic) dramaturgy that called on the public to be moved in a precise way: literally to move on a journey through time and space, and metaphorically to move firmly into a position of national subjectivity. If the eyes that view these photographs are changed, it is less because of any inherent or lasting truth within the photos than because of an embodied relation to the itinerary they chart within this specific space. Housed in a dilapidated estate home that was only partially restored to accommodate the exhibit, Yuyanapaq stages the photographs in what is, literally, a ruin from Peru’s past: photographs adorn walls without ceilings; they hang above partially tiled, sand-covered floors; or sometimes they take the place of missing walls or windows. One of the first images the public encounters, for example, is enlarged to cover the entire wall of a room otherwise missing a floor and complete ceiling: it pictures a man carefully rolling up a rescued portrait of then-elected-President Fernando Belaúnde in the ruins of the Town Hall of Vilcashuman, Ayacucho, in August 1982 after an attack by Shining Path. The image captures the symbolic end of civil society: the man rolls up the president’s image as the social infrastructure that elected him comes under siege. The man seems to mourn the “fallen” president as he folds away his image, but at the same time, his action—carefully retrieving the image from the rubble—belies a continued commitment to safeguard civil society in the face of brutal, arbitrary violence. Placed at the beginning of the exhibit, the ruins of the 1982 Ayacucho Town Hall are extended visually and architecturally into the present, as the crumbling walls of the image blend into the museum’s crumbled wall, as the debris under the man’s feet meets the dirt floor, and as the natural light falling through the missing ceiling echoes the same kind of light falling onto the bent man cast from a different shelled ceiling over 20 years earlier. Spectators are challenged by such dramaturgy to position themselves in relation to the images and the history they document: like the man in the image before them, they too stand in a ruined building, filled with related debris—the photographs—created by acts of violence; they too will have to choose whether and what to salvage from the ruins. The curators provided a map of the house’s 27 rooms that plots an ideal itinerary through it, one that moves chronologically through time and marks most of the “paradigmatic” cases studied by the


Jill Lane

Figure 11.1 Lane.

Yuyanapaq: para recordar (Lima, Peru, 2004). Photograph courtesy of Jill

Commission—events or issues deemed consequential to the unfolding of the violence. Rooms are devoted, for example, to the “Uchuraccay Case” from 1983, the highly publicized assassination of eight journalists at the hands of Uchuraccay residents; or the later “Killing in Barrios Altos,” in which the massacre of 15 civilians in Lima was attributed to a state-sanctioned death squad, “La Colina.” These events are framed by intervening rooms devoted to the steady rise of the conflict: “The Tragedy in Ayacucho,” “The Unfolding of the Violence,” and “Extreme Crisis.” Other rooms focus on key players—perpetrators or victims— including the “widows,” “orphans,” and “rondas,” or civilian defense squads, along with the key sites in which the violence developed, such as prisons that quickly became senderista strongholds. The plot mounts an unrelenting case against Sendero Luminoso and (in the exhibit’s language) the “excesses” of the military and paramilitary response. In the process, history is spatialized and given visual iconicity. Yet the presentation itself is limpid, minimalist, and remarkably intimate. Sketched in a palette of grays, black, and white, and relying primarily on an archive of previously unpublished documentary-style black and white photos, the images have formal consistency even as they depict once mutually exclusive realities: black-clad, veiled widows flung across their military husbands’ shining black coffins echo the same stark

Spatial Truth and Reconciliation: Peru


contrast of color found in images of indigenous women mourning their own dead. In the midst of these chiaroscuro portraits of pain, images of white-gray gauze reappear throughout as an index between death and cure. On one hand we see, for example, an unidentified corpse wrapped in gauze stretched out before a woman who is scouring the morgue looking for her husband. On the other, we see an image in which a gauze bandage covers half the face of a man who has survived a gruesome machete attack. Where the first bandage seals the victim’s fate, consigning him to the anonymity of those found in mass graves, the second offers a promise of healing. The curators used thin white linen as curtains or dividers throughout the house, repeating this formal image to echo the gesture of both pain and healing. The space of the half-ruined home becomes a correlative for the nation—no longer an imaginary neatly divided into three regions (the urban coast, the Amazon jungle, and the mountain Andes), as we might imagine a museum of Peruvian natural or ethnic history to be. No. Here harrowing photographs are hung on the deteriorating walls of a building caught in stasis between dilapidation and renewal. From reviews and published comments, we see that this ruinous house was understood by many as an allegory for the nation: Peru, like this home, needs reconstruction, needs to become “whole” again. Those reviews, which may reflect the experience of many viewers, accept the basic premise that an encounter with these images is a step toward that reconstruction (Chappell). This view assumes that the missing roof or tiles represent the damage done to the house/nation; these are gaps that may be filled by sharing the truth, the memory, of the nation’s past. Yet I find it productive to read those “gaps” as sites of connection, rather than rupture, in the production of national space: the inconsistently missing floors, walls, and windows cast Peru as an inconsistently practiced place where the differential space that connects the different Perus might be made visible. Moving through the space of the ruined home is, yes, a movement toward creating a visceral and cumulative memory archive. At the same time, it enables recognition and mourning for the memories that were not there: each missing wall or floor seems to frame the absent memories of so many limeños. Such a rehearsal may prompt Lima spectators to be transformed from historically and spatially distant bystanders—with all the complicity in the violence such distance implies—into a present public: subjects do not so much learn what “really” happened, as recognize and assume their not-knowing. Perhaps the crumbling house is an allegory less of an enduring nation whose damage must be repaired than of a broken national project. A question written in the guestbook by a visitor, Anita, was echoed by many other visitors as well: “After all this, I ask myself: where was I living all this time?” Apparently Peru is not the place she thought it was; the experience has shaken her confidence in the usual criteria and coordinates we use to know where and who “we” are. While, yes, the journey through


Jill Lane

the broken house may invite hopeful wishes for reconstruction, it also enacts, perhaps despite itself, the ruin of Peru as a particular national idea, project, and place.

Sin título: técnica mixta The well-known Peruvian theatre company Grupo Cultural Yuyachkani has spent its more than 30-year history exploring performance as a site for imagining national integration and national memory. Its name, Yuyachkani, shares with Yuyanapaq the Quechua verb yuya, meaning “remember”: both use the Quechua term to envision a national frame that includes indigenous ways of being and knowing. In 2004, they created Sin título: técnica mixta, a performance intended to reflect on the crisis of social memory revealed by the TRC’s Final Report. Like most of Yuyachkani’s work, the piece was created collectively under the direction of Miguel Rubio, without a preexisting script or score. They began, recounts Rubio, with an empty room. It was literally the empty room of their performance space, which was emptied of everything, including the seating risers that normally occupy half of it. Even the customary relation between audience and stage was up for revision. Metaphorically, it became a kind of repository: the actors were asked to bring objects, images, and textual artifacts from Peru’s history into the room, anything that seemed compelling to them for thinking about national memory. The objects were many and varied: clothes, historical documents, little boxes, a glass case with old books, photographs, mannequins, uniforms, school textbooks, posters, flags, and so on. The imaginative space of Sin título, then, is the museum-before-themuseum, a space in which pieces and shards of memory exist before they become memorialized or interpolated into national space or national narrative. These are the fragments of memory that—like that snapshot tenderly cupped in the woman’s hands—beg to be seen and held for future safekeeping. Working with these objects, at first Yuyachkani tried to construct a story, but the director confesses that the process was more difficult than expected: “All our [usual] efforts to create a ‘story’ were useless; neither the ones we imagined nor those we tried worked.” Apparently, they were challenged by the same condition they aimed to analyze: the seeming difficulty faced by the Peruvian body politic in creating and sustaining a coherent national memory in the first place. “All that was left,” says Rubio, “was to confront the chaos that we did not want to see, but that lay before us, this vortex caused by the proliferation of different materials” (165; my translation). They rejected a narrative line, and began to function instead like museum curators, trying to figure out how their materials might be meaningfully arranged for public consumption. By what criteria should they be classified? One signature of the company is

Spatial Truth and Reconciliation: Peru


its detailed work with objects and masks; in this case, its improvisations with different materials pushed Yuyachkani to find new kinds of connections among the objects, connections that could defy the ideological meanings with which they were otherwise imbued and that could be expressed through other registers of meaning, particularly through the corporeal, material, and visual. In its final form, the performance was called an “InstalAcción,” a cross between installation and theater that dramatized the relation between objects and movement and favored “folios” of performance action over dramatic narrative. These folios, which focus on key historical moments (the War of the Pacific) or places (Ayacucho), do not tell a chronological or causal tale, nor are they presented sequentially. Instead, each folio focuses on a recurrent issue that seems both constitutive and constant in the struggle for national cohesion. These are interwoven over the course of the performance. The effect is a dizzying encounter with the past in the present, a recognition that the present in many ways repeats patterns and practices of the past. Citations, images, and objects are presented in ways that challenge narratives we might find in official textbook histories. They are recollected using an alternative temporal and spatial logic. For the spectator, the experience of entering the space of Sin título is that of entering a disorganized museum: hundreds of images, objects, puppets, and live bodies are arranged, seemingly at random, around the space. The museum frame is reinforced by the lack of seating one finds at theater events; but here, unlike in Yuyanapaq, there is no clear itinerary or map for moving from one installation to the next, nor are there explanatory notations on the wall as in a museum. Instead, fragments of 120 years of history are evoked throughout the space, animated, and juxtaposed through the ensuing action. Large platforms on wheels move the different episodes across the space, also causing the audience to move throughout the performance. In the relation among movement, objects, and the histories they evoke, the audience finds scattered meanings, critique, and openings for alternative renderings and endings to the history that is told. Sin título is certainly not the first production to use environmental theater to allow audiences to engage more fully with the subject or story portrayed. But the underlying proposition is striking: the group suggests that by moving in this particular “empty” space, the spectators’ memories will be stimulated. Memory is treated like an atrophied muscle that needs a particular exercise to be strengthened. Rubio comments, “[We created] something like a memorial with all the people and objects that arrived, [ . . . ] as a kind of evidence, as testimony, as necessary information, ultimately as an image that activates memory at the same time that it invites spectators to move and choose a point of view, to decide what to look at, what to hear, or where to stop” (162–63). Like the long journey through the ruined home of Yuyanapaq, the performance of Sin título becomes


Jill Lane

Figure 11.2 A scene from “Sin título,” by Grupo Cultural Yuyachkani (Peru). Photograph courtesy of Elsa Estremadoyo.

a space of national memory: not a place to keep memories or even house them, but a place for embodied engagement with the spatial character of memory itself. Will you choose a point of view that allows you to see and remember? Will you move past and look beyond the boundaries— geographic, racial, linguistic—that kept you from knowing the reality of political atrocity? As with Yuyanapaq, the frame through which memory will emerge— along with any claims for justice and change staked on that memory—is insistently national. In the final, breathtaking image, we watch as what seemed to be a heap of rags is pulled into the air to reveal an enormous, 20-foot-high Peruvian flag, made entirely of knotted cloth fragments. Like the ruined home of Yuyanapaq, the image is ambivalent. The elevating rise of the accompanying music suggests that this is intended as a hopeful symbol of the nation, rising from its devastation upward, even with its evident scars and pain. Yet, perhaps in spite of itself, that flag also seems to represent what the nation now may be: rags, a ruin, an idea held together by a few loose knots. Even as Sin título invites audiences to find and situate themselves as Peruvians (for, indeed, they are the ones who will recognize and reorder this assemblage of objects, peoples, and meanings), the walk through this museum-before-the-museum seems to call into question the viability of that very interpolation. Both Yuyanapaq: para recordar and Sin título ask spectators to become aware of their lived positions in relation to the histories embodied in a material

Spatial Truth and Reconciliation: Peru


archive of photographs, texts, or objects; both ask limeños in particular—those who never imagined or never cared to imagine the horror that had been unleashed on their brothers and sisters in the Andes—to explore new positions, new ways of placing themselves, literally and metaphorically, that would allow them to accept the violence and their own failure to act as memories of their own.

Notes 1. All translations are mine. 2. See Bharucha, Foster, Taylor, and Sommer.

Select Bibliography Bhabha, Jacqueline. “Embodied Rights: Gender Persecution, State Sovereignty, and Refugees.” Public Culture: Bulletin of the Project for Transnational Cultural Studies 9, no. 1 (1996): 3–32. Bharucha, Rustom. The Politics of Cultural Practice: Thinking through Theatre in an Age of Globalization. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 2000. Cánepa Koch, Gisela. “Geopolitics and Geopoetics of Identity: Migration, Ethnicity, and Place in the Peruvian Imaginary.” Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 2003. Chappell, Nancy, and Mayu Mohanna. “Yuyanapaq: In Order to Remember.” Aperture 183 (Summer 2006): 54–63. Foster, Susan. “Choreographies of Protest.” Theatre Journal 55, no. 3 (2003): 395–412. Gupta, Akhil, and James Ferguson. “Beyond ‘Culture’: Space, Identity, and the Politics of Difference.” Cultural Anthropology 7, no. 1 (1992): 6–23. Informe Final. Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación. pe/ifinal/index.php. “El legado visual.” Lerner Febres, Salomón. “Discurso de presentación del Informe Final de la Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación.” en_ceremonias05.php. Rubio, Miguel. El cuerpo ausente (performance política). Lima: Didi de Arteta, 2006. Sommer, Doris. Cultural Agency in the Americas. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006. Taylor, Diana. “Performance and/as History.” TDR: The Drama Review 50, no. 1 (Spring 2006): 67–86. Yuyanapaq=Para recordar: relato visual del conflicto armado interno en el Perú, 1980–2000. Lima: Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, 2003.

This page intentionally left blank

Chapter 12 “Words of the Dead”: Ruins, Resistance, and Reconstruction in Ayacucho Leslie Bayers

The landscape of Ayacucho, Peru is scattered with reminders of violent encounters, including the ruins of pre-Hispanic cultures, monuments to the decisive independence era Battle of Ayacucho, and vestiges of the recent civil war between the Shining Path and government forces. The very designation Ayacucho, which descends from Quechua and means “corner of the dead,” seems emblematic of a haunted terrain (García, 39). Marcial Molina Richter’s La palabra de los muertos o Ayacucho hora nona (1991), a visuo-verbal poetic text that evokes both vanguard formal experimentation and Andean alternatives to Western writing, vividly depicts the devastation wrought by war.1 At the same time, this work resists a discourse of ruin, countering dehumanizing projections of a shattered, terror-beset Ayacucho with empowering portrayals of vibrant and resilient communities. Molina’s semantic and typographic innovations simultaneously create and subvert images of ruin, figuratively reconstructing not only an alternative representation of Ayacucho, but also the voices of ghosts rendered silent by physical and rhetorical violence. The 41-page tripartite work, in which two sections of poetry frame a central poetic-prose segment, starts out resembling conventional verse. The orderly form of the first stanza accentuates the poetic speaker’s insistence that all is well in Ayacucho: Aquí nada ha pasado nadie ha venido ninguno se ha ido menos nadie ha muerto. 2 (Here nothing has happened / nobody has come / no one has gone / nor has anyone died.) (7)3


Leslie Bayers

At the time of the book’s publication, however, Ayacucho was the epicenter of what the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recognized in 2003 as “the most intense, extensive, and prolonged episode of violence in the entire history of the Republic” (TRC, 2003). Still, the second stanza paints a picture of colonial serenity: Nuestras casas solariegas exhalan el mismo aroma colonial nuestros campanarios dormitan en sus torres nuestras 33 iglesias tienen el mismo icono y nuestras calles permanecen adoquinadas con las seculares piedras de Huamanga. (Our ancestral homes / exhale the same colonial aroma / our belfries sleep in their towers / our 33 churches have the same icon / and our streets remain paved / with the secular stones of Huamanga.) (7)

Though the poetic voice suggests collective ownership (repeating “our”) of an unchanged, tranquil region, insinuations of tension in these lines, not to mention the historical record, belie this facade. The modern-day department of Ayacucho has been the sight of several historic military encounters, from pre-Hispanic Wari and Inca occupations to subsequent Spanish, independence, guerilla, and government campaigns. The supplanting of names for what is now the department’s capital city— christened “San Juan de la Frontera de Huamanga” by conquistadores but officially renamed “Ayacucho” by Simón Bolívar after the nearby defeat of the colonial regime—bespeaks recurring shifts in political power (González Carré, Gutiérrez, and Ceruti, 1995, 13–14).4 To this day, however, locals call the city “Huamanga,” an aboriginal designation whose usage in these lines hints at popular resistance to official dictates (González Carré and Carrasco Cavero, 13). The description of the city’s streets, paved with “the secular stones of Huamanga,” also suggests both hegemony and resistance in Ayacucho. The phrase evokes indigenous masonry and the colonial structures that subsumed it, yet the specific modifier “secular” suggests underlying opposition to the “33 churches”—symbolic of Catholic authority— mentioned by the speaker (7). 5 The phrase also alludes to statuettes sculpted in local alabaster known as piedra de Huamanga (stone of Huamanga), both an established regional art form and contemporary souvenir product. Though in colonial times piedra de Huamanga was exploited primarily to reproduce Catholic imagery, the sculptures progressively took on secular motifs as well (Majluf and Wuffarden, 17). While religious, secular, commercial, and artistic ends varyingly inspire piedra de Huamanga production today, Molina’s emphasis on “secular” stones suggests a certain decolonizing of local artistry. Yet hints of resistance remain subdued as orderly stanzas boast of Ayacucho’s immaculate streets, abundant marketplaces, enchanting

Ruins, Resistance, and Reconstruction in Ayacucho


music, and robust children. By the book’s second page, however, this picturesque scene begins to crumble; though the poetic voice continues to protest that “nothing has happened” and “no one has died,” the stanzas break down into disjointed phrases. Furthermore, the negations of violence become excruciatingly detailed and thus increasingly suspect. One fragment, for example, insists that the mothers of Huamanga are “crazy with happiness” since their children are safe and sound, but indirectly reveals the dismemberment of innocent bodies: Y no saben cómo dejar de ser felices porque sus hijos siempre están con ellas Nunca se desaparecen ni nadie los tortura menos los descuartizan, primero los dedos, las manos después los brazos luego seguidamente las piernas la lengua las orejas y finalmente la cabeza, ni sus cuerpos se comen las alimañas de Purakuti (And they don’t know how to stop being happy / because their children are always with them / they never disappear / nor does anyone torture them / or tear them apart / first the fingers / then the hands / later the arms / next the legs / the tongue / the ears / and finally the head / nor are their bodies eaten by the vermin of Purakuti.) (9)

These severed phrases and the knife-like edges created by their arrangement visually signify corporeal fragmentation, contradicting the semantic denials of violence. While the poetic speaker only tacitly discloses this horror, the author’s appendix, which glosses the boldfaced terms of the poem, offers a chillingly direct note: Purakuti is a ravine on the outskirts of Ayacucho into which the bodies of massacred victims were thrown during the dirty war (48). As the poem continues, historical contextualization becomes essential to decoding its verbal simulacra. Ayacucho enjoyed an intellectual renaissance in the 1960s when the Universidad Nacional de San Cristóbal de Huamanga—established in 1677 but closed down in the 1800s—was reopened and generously subsidized by the government to promote development in the historically marginalized region (Klarén, 367).6 This revitalization, however, also helped spawn Sendero Luminoso, the Maoist insurrection founded by then-professor of philosophy Abimael Guzmán. While drawing followers from a range of backgrounds, Guzmán’s magnetic persona and radical doctrine initially held particular appeal for students and teachers from the surrounding


Leslie Bayers

countryside (Klarén, 366–71; García, 40). Despite its alleged campaign on behalf of the peasantry, however, Sendero was a ruthless, top-down movement that in fact “demonstrated tremendous hostility toward indigenous practices and traditions,” as María Elena García observes (39).7 By the early 1980s, Sendero had gained control of the department of Ayacucho and was expanding elsewhere. The government placed Ayacucho under military control in 1982, unleashing more than a decade of civil war (Klarén, 380–81). An estimated 69,280 victims, more than 40 percent from the department of Ayacucho and the majority Quechua-speaking peasants, were killed or disappeared, while approximately 600,000 others were forced to flee their homelands, leaving behind ghost towns and disjointed communities (TRC, 2003; Theidon, 437; Kirk, 370–83).8 Given this violent backdrop, the repeated negations of harm in La palabra de los muertos o Ayacucho hora nona seem incongruous. Manuel Baquerizo insightfully compares this verbal masquerade to qenqo, a Quechua mode of indirect speech that circles around the truth when candor is risky (12). During the war, amid the constant threat of listening senderista or military informants, speaking openly could be deadly and discursive ambiguity was often key to survival (Theidon, 24–27). I see the poem’s typographic performance of unspeakable violence as analogous to such fear-induced evasions of direct speech. Joanna Drucker observes that visual poetry “has the qualities of an enactment, of a staged and realized event in which the material means are an integral feature of the work” (131–32). In a comparable manner, concrete segments of Molina’s poem enact nonverbal expression upon the page, creating a textured visuo-verbal expression whose expressive ability goes beyond, and at times subverts, that produced by linguistic signs alone.9 While clearly evocative of vanguard experimentation, in the particular context of this poem, visual elements further allude to Andean alternatives to alphabetic writing—including quipus, textiles, pottery, and others—suppressed by the establishment of a lettered tradition in the Americas. While Molina’s work embraces Western writing, his merger of alphabetic and visual languages at the same time implicitly condemns the correlation between the pen and the sword in the subjugation of indigenous communities. Drawing on Bakhtin’s treatment of the carnivalesque, Baquerizo further associates Molina’s doublespeak with the parodies, inversions, and other discursive subversions of authority that ensue during carnival, one of the most deep-seated popular traditions of Ayacucho (12–13). Indeed, the poem’s celebration of Ayacucho’s colonial splendor and ardent negations of harm seem to mock official discourses, particularly those that aim to conceal violence. Yet I see the trope of denial in this poem as polyvalent: it also hints at the genuinely distorted sensibilities created by terror and functions as a defensive counterpoint to detached media projections of Ayacucho that rhetorically dehumanized the violence of the

Ruins, Resistance, and Reconstruction in Ayacucho


war, diminished its cultural legacy, and devastated hope. Such humiliating reports are depicted here as even more damaging to Ayacuchans than armed conflict itself: porque ningún bombazo, menos dinamitazos sobresaltan el feliz sueño de sus habitantes. Pero unos folicularios pasquineros, lenguas de trapo sucio, dijeron que nuestro cielo no tenía estrellas por tantas ráfagas de tartamudas disparadas de morteros lanzallamas, bombas, misiles, cohetes trabucazos, granadas de fósforo y otros mil disparates. (because no bomb explosion, / or dynamite explosions / startle the happy dreams of its residents. / But some pamphleteer journalists / with tongues of dirty rags / said that our sky did not have stars / because of so many bursts of stuttering fire / of mortars / flamethrowers / bombs / missiles / rockets / jumbled catapults / match grenades / and thousands of other stupidities.) (10–11)

The visually plunging inventory of rhetorical weapons intensifies the ruinous impact of media attacks on Ayacucho. Later, the poetic speaker emphasizes the root problem of decontextualized hearsay: Eso dijeron, es decir, dice que dijeron, —porque aquí— han llegado sus voceros de todas partes y jamás se entrevistaron con uno de los nuestros, ni conversaron o conocieron a nuestros escritores (That’s what they said, that is to say, it says that they said, / —because here— / their spokespeople have arrived from all around / and they never interviewed one of ours, / nor conversed / or met / our writers.) (22)

The repeated variants of “to say” in the first line signify a distorted chain of reporting, aptly preceding this comment on the lack of firsthand testimonials in stories about Ayacucho. Though the poetic speaker criticizes dehumanizing representations of Ayacucho in general, these lines allude to a particularly controversial report prepared by novelist Mario Vargas Llosa and a commission of


Leslie Bayers

investigators to explain a tragic 1983 incident: eight journalists, on their way to investigate the alleged murders of senderistas at the hands of residents in another Ayacuchan community, were brutally killed by villagers in Uchuraccay (Mayer, 466).10 While the debate surrounding the Vargas Llosa commission’s inquiry is too complex to rehash here, one point of contention evoked in Molina’s poem is the dearth of first-person testimony included in the report; as Enrique Mayer observes, “People in Uchuraccay come through to us in the third person plural and in indirect speech” (490). Nonetheless, the report, and subsequent writings on the matter by Vargas Llosa, portrayed the incident as symptomatic of the great divide between “westernized” and “archaic” Peru (Vargas Llosa, 187–99), which led the residents of Uchuraccay—framed as premodern, ignorant, and endemically violent—to mistake the journalists for senderistas (Mayer, 467–68; Theidon, 22–24; García, 43). This essentialist characterization, which aggravated centuries of racist discourse on indigenous populations, resonates ironically in Molina’s poem: Así dijeron algunas ratas uñudas sin respetar que la ley es un agujero sin fondo sobre todo en los inhóspitos parajes de Uchuraqay donde esos descendientes de los pterodáctilos no conocen ni máquinas radios maestros armas ni taparrabos de montar. (That’s what some clawed rats said / without respecting that the law is an endless hole / especially in the inhospitable places of Uchuraccay / where those descendents of the pterodactyls / know of / neither machines / radios/ teachers / arms / nor loincloths.) (23–24)

These echoes of Vargas Llosa’s degrading rhetoric suggest the complicity of the “lettered city” in ongoing discrimination against indigenous communities. The poetic speaker intermittently offsets such rhetorical attacks with representations of Ayacucho’s rich legacy, describing “hundreds of years of popular memory” that have shaped dynamic agricultural, artistic, musical, and other cultural traditions (14). The speaker also contrasts detached and organic intellectual production; local poets, for example, are likened to factory workers who “construct beautiful book buildings” for the community’s benefit (20). Empowering typographic images sustain these affirmative portrayals; the following cresting lines, for example, envision the voices of Ayacuchan poets traversing the three realms of the Andean world, Hanan Pacha (the celestial world), Ukhu

Ruins, Resistance, and Reconstruction in Ayacucho


or Hurin Pacha (inner earth), and Cay Pacha (the human, or surface, world) (Steele and Allen, 19, 23): Sus voces c o r r a e b h n i a d r c e r i a a a b a j o por la vena del universo y traspasa el tímpano de los cielos del orbe y se posa melancólica en el corazón de la tierra, desde donde irradia calor por dentro como el sol calienta por fuera. (Their voices run up and down / through the vein of the universe / and / traverse the eardrum of the skies of the world / and alight upon the heart of the land, / from where heat is radiated from within / as the sun heats from without.) (21)

This imagery also alludes to several sacred manifestations in traditional Andean cosmology, including deified mountains, the Milky Way (a celestial river linked to the earth’s waterways), and lightning (revered for its intense radiation of the sun’s energy) (Steele and Allen, 26; Allen, 37). Unlike fragmented images that suggest ruin elsewhere in the poem, alternative signs like the above accentuate tradition and resistance. The central portion of Molina’s book, four pages of dense poeticprose, seems to be the cornerstone around which this alternative view of Ayacucho is constructed. The segment articulates a creation story that intertwines the legacies of the Wari and their predecessors, the Incas, the Spanish, and additional contemporary cultures in Ayacucho. These strata are depicted as simultaneous presences in a circular history, evoking the Andean concept of pachakuti, which views the world in continuously overlapping cycles of apocalyptic destruction and recreation (Allen, 275, 46–47). The speaker, in fact, directly refers to the related myth of Inkarrí, which predicts a cataclysmic end to Spanish domination and a return to Inca rule (Urton, 73). The term’s fusion of the words Inca and rey (king) embodies the imbricated traditions created through


Leslie Bayers

pachakuti and evoked in Molina’s own layering of temporal and literary legacies (Urton, 73). The poetic-prose segment closes by envisioning a palimpsest-like poem engraved in stone, which a “linguist in the year 2000” will stumble upon and translate (31). This poem, described as a “new Stone of Huamanga,” can be understood as Molina’s text itself, and the “linguist,” the reader before it (31). The third segment of the work returns to a concrete poetic style. Here, this “new Stone of Huamanga” becomes a complex sign bearing meaning in more than one language. The speaker thus interrogates the relationship between language and cultural identity, and the particular tension between—and at times fusion of—Spanish and Quechua in the Andes. In Molina’s poem, the first three letters of “Ayacucho” become a metaphor for this linguistic interplay: pero esa palabra mágica empezaba con tres letras en protolengua Quechua AYA que auscultándola con los aportes del Mono Gramático era una Rueda de la Historia. A Y






(but that magic word began with three letters / in the protolanguage Quechua AYA that hearing it with / the contributions of the Mono Grammar / was a Wheel of History. / AYAYAYAY.) (33)

The circular arrangement of “AYA” precedes a contemplation of the interconnectedness of all language. To emphasize this point, the speaker lists several concepts (in Spanish) that may be signified in Quechua or Spanish through varying combinations of “a” and “y,” beginning with: “muerte” (“death,” related to aya, or cadaver, in Quechua); “dolor” (“pain,” associated with yaya, or wound, and the interjection ay in Spanish); “afirmación” (“affirmation,” signified by ya in Spanish); and “sacerdote” (“priest,” signified by yaya, or father, in Quechua) (Molina Richter, 34; Lara, 54, 284). The speaker lists 21 significations in total, but suggests the infinite potential of these letters in multiple languages. Collectively, the concepts listed hint at an overlapping not only of universal signifying systems, but also of life and death, as expressed in subsequent lines: Esa era la palabra misteriosa que se nos gravó la vez del viaje a Wari en el siglo V de esta era. Nacimiento y muerte muerte y nacimiento hasta por los siglos

Ruins, Resistance, and Reconstruction in Ayacucho


unidos, pero ya no antagónicamente, ésa era LA PALABRA DE LOS MUERTOS. (That was the mysterious word that burdened us / that time of the voyage to Wari in the fifth century of this era. / Birth and death / death and birth / until through the centuries / united, but no longer antagonistically, that was / THE WORD OF THE DEAD.) (36)

Here, another explanation for the emphatic and reiterated declaration that “nobody has died” becomes clear: despite multiple waves of violence, the “dead” are still alive. This perspective is consistent with traditional Andean perceptions of the deceased, who cohabitate with and counsel the living while journeying on a cycle of death and regeneration (Steele and Allen, 84, 151–54, 201–203). On a more symbolic level, while political and rhetorical subjugation has rendered even living indigenous communities a ghostly presence, Molina’s text creatively reasserts their agency, thus pronouncing the “words of the dead.” Closer to the end of the work, the poetic voice returns to a contemplation of the role the “lettered city” has played in silencing those voices. One segment alludes to how eighteenth- and nineteenth-century paternalistic authors like Alonso Carrió de la Vandera, Ricardo Palma, and José Joaquín Olmedo symbolically distorted, diminished, or erased autochthonous agency (37). However, the poetic speaker also tells of a subsequent “rain of letters” that fell from the sky, suggesting the fragmentation of authoritarian pens. The verse correspondingly plunges: U n a l l

u v i a d e

l e t r a s

c a y ó d

e l c i e l o

Habían volado una fabulosa imprenta (A rain of letters fell from the sky / they had exploded a fabulous print.) (38)

This imagery evokes a vanguard dismantling of tradition, recalling in particular a line from Vicente Huidobro’s “Arte poética”: “Una hoja cae; algo pasa volando” (A page falls; something flies by) (29). Vicky Unruh sees Latin American vanguard linguistic experimentation as at times motivated by “the search . . . for a ‘ground zero’ of verbal expression that becomes entangled with vernacular concerns” (210). Molina’s project is reminiscent of the avant-garde in this sense; his explosion of conventional form creates a textual “ground zero” that on the one hand conveys the physical annihilation and reconstruction amid the war in


Leslie Bayers

Ayacucho and on the other hand embodies a space of literary destruction and reinvention from the ruins of tradition. The symbol of the “fabulous print” above also hints at the aesthetic of the marvelous and the post-vanguard “boom” of Latin American writing, phenomena more directly referenced in a subsequent fragment. Here, the poet employs veiled allusions to works by Alejo Carpentier, Miguel Angel Asturias, Juan Rulfo, Gabriel García Márquez, Pablo Neruda, and possibly other canonical writers, to depict the fallout of the war in Ayacucho: Desde entonces po coa pocoempezóareinareldesordenl anochesehizomásintensaynoscogióunsueñogeneralmientrasunaam nesiakolektibanoshazíaolbidarlaskozasdeelreinodeestemundo parecíamosdesgranarnos komoloshombresdemaízenunllanoenllamas yentramosenotrossiglosdesoledad. (Since then li ttleby littledisorderbegantoreignt / henightbecamemore Intense andageneraldreamovertookuswhileac / ollectiveamnesiamade Usforgetthethingsofthekingdomofthisworld / weseemedtobleedtodeath / likethemenofmaizeinaburningplain / andweenteredothercenturiesof solitude.) (39)

The allusions to these groundbreaking works suggest an appreciation for the innovative and often critical representations of Latin America that they disseminated to a wide public. At the same time, the distortions of their titles and their representational integration of war’s devastation hint at how their totalizing narratives also symbolically fractured autochthonous voices by either omitting them or speaking for them. A visuo-verbal beam of light and renewed structural clarity that directly follows, however, suggest the illumination of truth alongside the literary—and, by extension, political—self-expression of marginalized voices: Descubrimos entonces que la verdad era indivisible que resplandecía con su propia l u z (We discovered then that truth / was indivisible / that it shone with its / own light.) (39)

Ruins, Resistance, and Reconstruction in Ayacucho


A subsequent segment, capped by a concrete rendering of the moon and a beam radiating from it, projects the conception of a reconstructed literary tradition: y como teníamos todo el tiempo para pensar y pensar descubrimos árboles con hojas de papel de donde colgaban libros mágicos sonoros y brillantemente coloreados El tronco estaba c sostenido por o gigantescas fom rmas líticas dono de la escritura Nuevos cuaera entendible dernos de Nuesólo para los vas quejas y que sabían Nuevos Conamar a los homtentamientos bres de buenas conciencias de todas las raíces y todos los tiempos de todas las épocas del Universo. (since / we had all the time / to think and think / we discovered trees with leaves / of paper from which hung books / that were magic sonorous and brilliantly colored / like / New note- / books of n- / ew complaints and / new con- / tentments / The trunk was / supported by / giant li- / thic forms wh- / ere the writing / was understandable / only for those / who knew / how to love peo- / ple of good con- / science of all races and all / the times of all the epochs of the Universe.) (42)

The “new books,” fertilized by the bloodshed of the past and cultivated from multiple written, oral, and visual stories, blossom on a symbolic tree. This image brings to mind the Quechua term mallqui, which can signify not only “ancestor” but also “young sapling,” since the ancestors are believed to channel energy from the inner world to the roots of trees in a cycle of death and regeneration (Steele and Allen, 202). The “new books” thus also elucidate one of the poem’s leitmotivs: the “dead” are animate. Toward the end of the poem, the speaker questions the silence of the “dead” and declares that they are, in fact, collectively voicing the “new book” before the reader: “¿Pero LOS MUERTOS somos L o s M u e r t o s!” (But THE DEAD? we are T h e D e a d!) (44). The poem soon visualizes a defensive march of this collective body. As Baquerizo notes,


Leslie Bayers

the arrangement of these lines accentuates the accumulation of strength in the resistance (15): y en esa especie de Gran Marcha se sumaban unos y otros y así íbamos creciendo armándonos de valor hermanos. (and / in / this / sort / of / Great / March / more and more / piled up / and we continued growing / arming ourselves with courage brothers.) (46)

In addition to evoking a growing indigenous rights movement in general, this portrayal brings to mind the rondas campesinas, or armed peasant patrols (supported by the government), that eventually became key to defeating Sendero Luminoso (García, 44–45). As María Elena García points out, beyond the mere outcome of community defense, “the rise of the rondas had a clear effect in relocating indigenous people within the national imaginary,” countering racist images of “ ‘subversive antinationals’ or simply ‘ignorant peasants’ belonging to an archaic Peru” (45). This confident tone, however, is subdued at the end of the poem, where what was once a brilliant fusion of life and death becomes a destabilizing confusion of dreams and reality, conveying once again the altered sensibilities provoked by terror. Though the last stanza offers a final reiteration of the now-familiar refrain that initiates and runs through the poem—“nothing has happened . . . “—the uncertain words that precede it, along with a visual rearrangement of its lines, fractures a poetic circle nearly created by the duplication: y nosotros aquí no sabemos si seguir diciendo: Aquí nada ha pasado nadie ha venido ninguno se ha ido menos nadie ha muerto. (And we / here / do not know / whether to continue / saying: / Here / nothing has happened / no one has come / nobody has gone / nor has anyone died.) (48)

Ruins, Resistance, and Reconstruction in Ayacucho


By ending with a gap in the poem’s conceptual loop, Molina keeps the figurative book on Ayacucho open and avoids the sort of totalizing voice his poem strives to dismantle. The book remains open as Peru continues to work through the legacy of war. While Guzmán was captured in 1992 and the war was officially declared over in 1995, President Alberto Fujimori’s authoritarian rule during the same period maintained a culture of fear and compromised national recovery (García, 37). Following Fujimori’s notorious 2000 departure and democratic transition, Peru continues to pick up the pieces. While the TRC’s comprehensive investigation and 2003 report represented an important step toward healing, it also exposed an inconceivable level of violence and acknowledged the persistence of social inequities that initially fed the war. Furthermore, critics have accused the government of being slow to incorporate institutional changes and reparations recommended by the TRC (Escobar; Pez). Yet the end of the war did bring renewed optimism, increased social activism, and the rebuilding of communities in Ayacucho. Marcial Molina Richter’s La palabra de los muertos o Ayacucho hora nona seems to envision this regeneration amid ruins, rewriting Ayacucho’s “ninth hour” as a time of hope, resistance, and reconstruction.

Notes 1. Molina is an Ayacuchan poet and intellectual. This text was first published in 1988 and entitled Ayacucho hora nona. An augmented second edition, upon which I base my study, was published in 1991 and entitled La palabra de los muertos o Ayacucho hora nona. A third edition, with no major changes to the main text, was published in 1997. John J. Winters translates hora nona as “ground zero,” a term that effectively frames Ayacucho as both an epicenter of war and a promising space of reconstruction (67). I employ the more direct translation “ninth hour,” which, particularly through biblical evocations of the crucifixion and apocalypse, also suggests a simultaneously ruinous and regenerative “final hour.” 2. Page numbers following poetry citations correspond to the 1991 edition of Molina Richter. 3. All translations are my own and claim no literary value. I thank José Ballesteros for his keen input. 4. The city’s original name also bespeaks hegemony, prefixing Spanish Catholic and military markers to a Quechua spiritual term (González Carré and Carrasco Cavero, 13). 5. Ayacucho is known for its 33 colonial churches, though there are even more than that emblematic number (González Carré, Gutiérrez, and Ceruti, 169). 6. Molina attended the Universidad Nacional San Cristóbal de Huamanga, was a professor there when La palabra de los muertos o Ayacucho hora nona was published, and is currently the director of the university’s cultural center. 7. The original name of the group, “Partido Comunista del Perú en el Sendero Luminoso de Martiátegui,” misleadingly incorporated the name of the pro-indigenous founder of Peru’s first Socialist party (García, 38–39; Klarén, 369). 8. The TRC attributed 54 percent of the deaths to Shining Path (TRC).


Leslie Bayers

9. Joanne Rappaport, referring to performance, uses the term “texture” to describe the “non-discursive experience which is less likely to be interpreted coherently, but which is infinitely more powerful than narrative” (61). In a similar vein, Rosaleen Howard-Malverde observes that both “text” and “textile” descend from the Latin textere (to weave), expanding the notion of “texts” to include woven and other nonwritten modes of expression (3). 10. Though the incident was justifiably upsetting, Enrique Mayer noted in 1990 that “many Peruvians have shuddered that the murder of eight journalists generated such outrage . . . while thousands of humble peasants have simply disappeared without a trace, and those responsible cannot be ferreted out through any kind of legal actions” (494).

Select Bibliography Allen, Catherine. The Hold Life Has: Coca and Cultural Identity in an Andean Community. 2d ed. Washington: Smithsonian Books, 2002. Baquerizo, Manuel J. Prologue to La palabra de los muertos o Ayacucho hora nona, by Marcial Molina Richter, 3d ed. Lima: Lluvia Editores, 1997. Drucker, Joanna. “Visual Performance of the Poetic Text.” In Close Listening: Poetry and the Performed Word, edited by Charles Bernstein, 131–61. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Escobar, Ramiro. “Peru-Rights: Backward Justice Follows Commission Report,” IPS—Inter Press Service/Global Information Network, August 26, 2005. LexisNexis Academic. García, María Elena. Making Indigenous Citizens: Identity, Development, and Multicultural Activism in Peru. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005. González Carré, Enrique, and Teresa Carrasco Cavero. Huamanga: fiestas y ceremonias. Lima: Lluvia Editores, 2004. González Carré, Enrique, Yuri Gutiérrez Gutiérrez, and Jaime Urrutia Ceruti. La ciudad de Huamanga: espacio, historia y cultura. Huamanga: Universidad Nacional de San Cristóbal de Huamanga, Concejo Provincial de Huamanga, Centro Peruano de Estudios Sociales, 1995. Howard-Malverde, Rosaleen. “Introduction: Between Text and Context in the Evocation of Culture.” In Creating Context in Andean Cultures, edited by Rosaleen Howard-Malverde, 3–18. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Huidobro, Vicente. “Arte poética.” In Antología poética, edited by Andrés Morales, 29. Buenos Aires: Ediciones Corregidor, 1993. Kirk, Robin. “Chaqwa.” In The Peru Reader: History, Culture, Politics, edited by Orin Starn, Carlos Iván Degregori, and Robin Kirk, 370–83. 2d ed. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005. Klarén, Peter Flindell. Peru: Society and Nationhood in the Andes. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Lara, Jesús. Diccionario Queshwa-Castellano, Castellano-Queshwa. 3d ed. La Paz: Editorial “Los Amigos del Libro,” 1991. Majluf, Natalia, and Luis Eduardo Wuffarden. La piedra de Huamanga: lo sagrado y lo profano. Lima: Museo de Arte de Lima, 1998. Mayer, Enrique. “Peru in Deep Trouble: Mario Vargas Llosa’s ‘Inquest in the Andes’ Reexamined.” Cultural Anthropology 6, no. 4 (November 1991): 466–504. Molina Richter, Marcial. La palabra de los muertos o Ayacucho hora nona. 2d ed. Lima: Lluvia Editores, 1991. Pez, Angel. “Peru: Reparations Elusive for Relatives of the ‘Disappeared.’ ” IPS— Inter Press Service/Global Information Network, November 24, 2006. LexisNexis Academic.

Ruins, Resistance, and Reconstruction in Ayacucho


Rappaport, Joanne. “The Art of Ethnic Militancy: Theatre and Indigenous Consciousness in Colombia.” In Creating Context in Andean Cultures, edited by Rosaleen Howard-Malverde, 55–69. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Steele, Paul R., and Catherine J. Allen. Handbook of Inca Mythology. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2004. ———. “Justice in Transition: The Micropolitics of Reconciliation in Postwar Peru.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 50 (2006): 433–57. Theidon, Kimberly. “Terror’s Talk: Fieldwork and War.” Dialectical Anthropology 26 (2001): 19–35. Truth and Reconciliation Commission. “General Conclusions.” Final Report. Lima: TRC, 2003. Unruh, Vicky. Latin American Vanguards: The Art of Contentious Encounters. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994. Urton, Gary. Inca Myths. Austin: British Museum Press, University of Texas Press, 1999. Vargas Llosa, Mario. “The Story of a Massacre.” In Mario Vargas Llosa: Making Waves, edited and translated by John King, 171–99. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1997. Winters, John J., trans. “Fifteen High Points of Twentieth-Century Peruvian Poetry,” by Ricardo González Vigil. World Literature Today 77, no. 1 (April–June 2003): 62–67.

This page intentionally left blank

Chapter 13 Tlatelolco: From Ruins to Poetry Sandra Messinger Cypess

Just as one of the myths surrounding Quetzalcoatl refers to his departure and subsequent reappearance, so too did the place in Mexico now called the Plaza of Three Cultures—or simply Tlatelolco, its former Aztec name—witness destruction and death only to reemerge as a site of reconstruction and modernization. At least three times, this geographic location has endured catastrophic ruin. Somehow, the Mexican people have returned to rebuild and revive the memory of its grand meaning in their cultural history. Like all signs, “Tlatelolco” is not a stable, objective image, but a symbol constructed from a web of political and cultural ideas generated by many sources from the conquest period onward. At the turn of the twenty-first century, Tlatelolco is identified less with the physical remains of the Aztec pyramid than with the political and spiritual ruin that resulted from the massacre of students and workers on that site on October 2, 1968. Of the many literary texts associated with Tlatelolco, here I focus on two poems whose particular forms reflect the physical nature of the Plaza of Three Cultures: Marcela del Río’s “Tlatelolco, Canon en tres voces” (Mexico, 1968-Prague, 1975) and José Emilio Pacheco’s “Lectura de los ‘Cantares Mexicanos’: manuscrito de Tlatelolco” (Mexico, 1968).1 As complex intertextual collages, both poems not only demonstrate the fragmented, physical traces of the past, but also incorporate artifacts of the three major civilizations that comprise Mexican cultural identity: Aztec, Spanish, and Mestizo. The themes of these poems also reflect the paradoxes inherent in a site that is at once a ruin and an integral, functional part of Mexico City’s urban landscape. As described and analyzed by scores of writers and critics, the tragedy of Tlatelolco in 1968—the violence and the betrayal of the students by their government—has overpowered other memories associated with the site and generated major shifts in Mexican political life and Mexican


Sandra Messinger Cypess

literature. “In literature, we can now speak of authors writing before or after Tlatelolco,” writes Luis Leal (4). He concludes: The most important consequence of Tlatelolco, in literature, is the deep impression it left in the minds of the intellectuals and creative writers. All of them agree that the year 1968 marks a break with the past, a break with the period characterized by changes brought about by the Revolution of 1910–1971. . . . The literature of Tlatelolco revealed that the ideals of the Revolution so strongly defended by the party in power had become empty.” (13)

Some writers, in their disillusionment and also as part of their worldview, saw the events of 1968 as a sign of Mexican history’s repetitive nature. One thinks immediately of Paz and Fuentes, whose works connect with the idea of the cyclical nature of Mexican life. The question for many was whether Mexico could rise from the ruins of 1968 and regenerate once again. Ironically, the message of revitalization was the very idea put forth by President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz’s government in offering Mexico as a site for the Olympics that year. The image was to be a Mexico ready to enter the “First World” of democracy and stability. Instead, provoked by the students, who in turn had been ignited by discrepancies they saw between official rhetoric and their country’s realities, Tlatelolco became a site of governmental aggression against its own people when military forces opened fire on protesters assembled peacefully in the Plaza. After the initial volleys, all attempts at a peaceful settlement or, indeed, any objective reckoning of what took place were destroyed, and, as of this writing, no complete record of what happened exists.2 While the names of many who lost their lives in 1968 appear on one of the monuments erected at the site, no one knows how many were actually killed and how many stories of torture and false imprisonment were suppressed. Moreover, in 1985, the high-rise housing units bordering the Plaza as signs of renewal were destroyed by the powerful earthquake that hit Mexico City. Once again the space was equated with ruins, this time from a combination of natural forces and—considering the poor construction practices marking the buildings—human treachery. On the other hand, a review of the historical record reminds us that the Plaza de Tlatelolco had also once been a vibrant place, a major market area for the Aztecs and later, during the colonial period, the site of the first European school of higher learning in the Americas, the Colegio de Santa Cruz. In 1967, representatives of Latin American and Caribbean nations met in the Tlatelolco district to formulate the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean, known as the Treaty of Tlatelolco, associating the site with positive efforts in international peacekeeping. Thus, from a broad perspective, Tlatelolco also evokes a different set of past associations: a marketplace of encounter and negotiation, an assembly site of communal

Tlatelolco: From Ruins to Poetry


interactions. Similar to the way Tlatelolco functioned over time as a market, a library, a place of dialogue and knowledge exchange—as well as a site of tragedy—so, too, I suggest, do the poems I address here— Marcela del Río’s “Tlatelolco, Canon en tres voces,” and José Emilio Pacheco’s “Lectura de los ‘Cantares Mexicanos’ ”—serve as storehouses of knowledge and memory by incorporating physical fragments of texts representing the conquest and colonial periods as well as the testimony of the poets themselves in reaction to the tragedy of 1968. Unlike Teotihuacán outside of Mexico City and other pre-Columbian ruins throughout Latin America, the Plaza of Three Cultures can be considered exceptional in its negation of the conventional concept of ruins. Ruins may provide us lessons for today but are typically abandoned fragments, self-contained and detached from their surroundings. Compare the nineteenth-century poems “En el Teocalli de Cholula,” by José María Heredia (1803–1839) or Shelley’s “Ozymandias”: these poems use the ruins motif to mock previous generations and their pretensions to grandeur and immortality. The Plaza of Three Cultures, in contrast, encompasses the remnants of the past that are contiguous with contemporary buildings and homes, suggesting not their isolation but their integration with the moment. In contrast to the Pyramid at Cholula (“silent and deserted / now you see yourself, pyramid”) as envisioned by Heredia, or the remnants of Ozymandias (“colossal wreck, boundless and bare”) that lay among the desert sands for Shelley, Tlatelolco, as a site, is far more than an isolated ruin that stands for “irresistible decay.”3 It is an evolving presence, not only a marker for memories but also a vital meeting ground for contemporary Mexicans, and a reminder of future possibilities. In that way, both the Plaza and the texts I examine here work at breaking down barriers among memory, history, and fiction by deliberately blurring temporal, spatial, and textual boundaries. The writers fit the form of their poems to the matter at hand, that is, events continuing to transpire at the Plaza of Three Cultures. Marcela del Río (b. 1932) is known for her historical novels and plays as well as essays and criticism on Mexico’s past.4 She set out to write a poem about the Aztec downfall of 1521, which as she began writing was the only massacre that had taken place on the site. It is important to note that, on October 2, 1968, as she composed her poem, she was in the Chihuahua building that overlooks the Plaza. Without warning, at the very moment when del Río looked out the window, what should have been an empty square of ruins and reconstruction was soon populated with live bodies of students and workers gathered peacefully to protest the government’s policies. As if her creative efforts in describing the 1521 massacre had magically found embodiment in the Plaza, she witnessed the arrival of government forces that began to fire on the protestors. The panorama before her eyes paralleled—in real time—the scene she was describing on paper in that two sets of warriors were being attacked in a brutal assault. Her poem, “Tlatelolco, Canon en tres voces,” inspired


Sandra Messinger Cypess

while writing a tribute to the victims of the original war in 1521, fit the circumstances of this second battle; as the lines of her poem make clear, she is shocked to see the massacre played out in “live time.” She repeats, “it can’t be true,” even though her physical senses tell her a battle is in progress as she attempts to write of the past combat. Just as history suddenly seems to have morphed into the present time before her eyes, the poem’s structure also reflects a loss of chronological distinction. Although she begins her long, multistanza poem with three brief lines in the present tense that describe the poet’s situation as she writes, subsequent stanzas alternate freely between the conquest events and the present massacre; in some cases, past and present events are described in the same stanza. To help the reader, the three different narrative voices are marked by different fonts: a first person, who describes what the “I” is doing, appears in boldface; another voice, in italics, describes from the outside what the “I” is seeing and doing; a third narrative, in small typeset, comes from the Florentine Codex and recounts the fall of Tlatelolco as perceived in the sixteenth century. 5 (I maintain del Río’s typographical distinctions for passages cited here.) By incorporating quotations from the Florentine Codex, del Río’s poem includes the material remains—the ruins—of the past civilization, reflecting the geography of the Plaza itself. As Astrid Erll and Ann Rigney remind us, “ ‘remembering the past’ is a matter not just of recollecting events and persons, but also often of recollecting earlier texts and rewriting earlier stories” (112). Furthermore, recollecting texts is integral to cultural remembrance. When del Río decided to re-cite the Florentine Codex within her text, she in effect offered what Erll and Rigney call a “pious commemoration” (113). By inserting text from the Florentine Codex, del Río selects one particular source of cultural memory from among many possibilities. She privileges the indigenous perspective over the (formerly) canonical accounts offered by the conquerors. Moreover, nowhere in the poem does del Río use the terms “Aztec” or “Mexican” to refer to the victims of the carnage; rather she calls the victims of 1521 her ancestors, whose blood courses through her body. This identification with Amerindians is strong in the poem and places del Río in opposition to those who denigrate Mexico’s indigenous heritage.6 To highlight the identification, she describes the students with images echoing her descriptions of her valiant ancestors, whom she memorializes poetically with details of their suffering. In her litany of weapons and gore, del Río’s text makes remembrance “observable,” to use Erll and Rigney’s term (112), creating in her act of remembering a new memory of what is transpiring—what she as a witness is being stimulated to record. The reader also witnesses how she remembers what went on in the past and how she responds to the present. She engages in a dialogue with the past and the present so that the earlier narrative’s meanings are actualized and intermingle with the present political disturbance. A good example is the placement in del

Tlatelolco: From Ruins to Poetry


Río’s poem of the following fragment from the Florentine Codex, which describes at once the Spanish conquistadors’ massacre of the Aztecs as well as the invasion of the Plaza by the soldiers or granaderos: While the fiesta is being enjoyed and the songs are like the crash of waves in that precise moment, the soldiers make the determination to kill the people. (Del Río, 268; boldface in original)

Here del Río makes it clear that what happened in 1521 was reoccurring in 1968, not as an accident of destiny, but as a conscious government decision: the soldiers were determined to kill the students in the Plaza, just as the Spanish had been determined to kill the Aztecs.7 Ignoring Paz’s designation of Aztec culture as the root of Mexican violence (Postdata), del Río represents the Amerindians as victims rather than promoters of bloodshed. She creates her own continuity of community by identifying the poem’s narrative “I” with the ancestors who had been killed and the young people she sees before her in the Plaza as she writes. Echoing Nahuatl imagery, she uses the word fiesta throughout the poem to describe the activities taking place.8 The phrase “fiesta of furious youth” creates a succinct image of the young students who had assembled at the Plaza in 1968. Those who gathered did so in good faith, and with a sense of community, for as she notes, the students arrived in growing numbers, but never “singly” (3). The poem describes del Río’s impotence to stop the tragedy at the same time that she is assaulted by smells, sounds, and sights of the massacre. On the one hand, she suggests in the following lines that intellectuals like her would have preferred to be surrounded by their books to avoid witnessing the massacre: The woman hidden, fortified behind the laminated wall, Barricaded with books, does not dare to look out at the plaza. . . . (270; italics in original)

She, on the other hand, is unable to escape into her books. She has genuinely been transformed from a remote narrator into a witness to a contemporary battle, an aspect reflected by her inclusion of bellicose language (“fortified,” “barricaded”); nevertheless, she is powerless to challenge the government’s violation of the site. Ironically, the students cannot escape either, for as her poetic lines bring out, the soldiers ignominiously closed off all exits so the students would be trapped in the Plaza. Del Río recreates for the reader the immediacy of her own experiences and the multiple ironies she perceives in her description of the soldiers: They come in green, too, like the light, Robbing the trees of the color of their leaves


Sandra Messinger Cypess But through them sap does not run Nor does life course through them. (270; boldface in original)

The soldiers, dressed in green, belie the traditional symbolism of green as a color of life, of nature. The idea of the green leaves being “robbed” of their color and of being “denatured” strongly conveys that the governmental forces are acting against nature, against the natural order. How do they dare bring death to the innocent youth who, as “white birds” in their sincerity, had gathered at the sacred plaza to “sing” (280)? Del Río decides that through her text she will be more than a witness to the assault; she will pass judgment as well: “I shall be an accuser” (280). Her horror as a witness to the second massacre is exacerbated by the perpetrators’ identity: “But those who have broken your wings / Were not strangers / It was your own race, your friends, your fathers” (280). Mexico’s treasures—its youth—have been turned into masses of cadavers whose blood soaks the site. One detail sums up the carnage: “Look at the plaza that before was colorful, with song / and with flowers; all that remains are shoes / without a foot to fill them” (282).9 In the final stanza, del Río describes an anticlimactic scene in which a soldier, as young as the students who have been killed, stands on guard, but to pass the time, reads a comic book in the “first light of dawn” (284). At dawn, there is no question that the blood, fire, smoke, and ashes of battle still remain in the Plaza. Yet the soldier’s posture is an indication of the government’s official stance: complete disregard for the massacre. The newspapers and official history books would not acknowledge the original Aztec massacre until 1993. By writing about both tragedies and including her emotions, del Río not only invalidated her government’s denial of wrongdoing, she also brought to life the indigenous civilization that historically had been equated with the ruins. In a sense, her poem is based on a definition of Mexican national identity that seeks to incorporate the Indian within the paradigm. Her position as narrator is not a contemplative one about ruins but involves an active, performative state in which she is both witness and bard. José Emilio Pacheco (b.1939), like del Río, brings into focus the continuity of the cycles of violence marking Mexico’s history and the tragedy of the Mexican people who have lived under such political practices. Pacheco was also a witness to the events of 1968 and several poems in his bilingual collection Don’t Ask Me How the Time Goes By: Poems 1964–68 reflect his personal reactions to the Tlatelolco massacres. Three are titled “1968,” followed by the numerals I, II, and III; brief verses, they express great disillusionment with life, yet with a sense of possibility for change: “there is no hope / there is life and everything is ours” (1978, 27). A reader knowledgeable of the 1968 historical context could well relate to the poet’s angst in response to Tlatelolco. However, the poem that precedes these verses offers another approach to the topic.

Tlatelolco: From Ruins to Poetry


“Lectura de los ‘Cantares Mexicanos’: manuscrito de Tlatelolco,” includes a note from Pacheco to inform his reader that verses of his text are based on passages that Father Ángel María Garibay translated from Nahuatl.10 When these poems reappear in 2000, in the collection Tarde o temprano, Pacheco had changed the poetic text and added yet another poem to be subsumed under one title: “Manuscrito de Tlatelolco.” The new poem is subtitled “Las voces de Tlatelolco: 2 octubre 1978; diez años después.” Just as he had integrated elements of the Aztec manuscripts translated by Father Garibay, he now incorporates some of the same voices that Elena Poniatowska had reproduced in her landmark testimonial, Massacre in Mexico. In the 1968 poem, were it not for the addition of the date in the subtitle—“2 October 1968”—the reader might regard it as a mere paraphrase of the Nahuatl texts, since there are no specific references to the Tlatelolco of 1968. Not only does Pacheco play off of two historical contexts, but also, as Ronald Friis observes, “[m]eaning is somehow suspended between two dates and two languages, even though there are three apparent versions here: the Nahuatl original, Padre Ángel María Garibay’s translation, and Pacheco’s reworking of the Spanish version” (95–96). The three versions incorporated into this poem lead me to consider this series as another reflection of the Plaza of Three Cultures itself, a way of incorporating the remains of the past so they are not forgotten. In this way, Pacheco also values the indigenous contributions to Mexican national identity. Another aspect of Pacheco’s technique relevant to the theme of the cyclical nature of events is his constant rewriting of his own work. He not only rewrites/re-cites texts of others, for example, Garibay’s translation of Nahuatl manuscripts, but also revises his own work as if there were no set piece possible. As he notes: “I do not accept the idea of a definitive text. While I live, I shall continue to correct myself” (Cited in Díaz, 78–79). Just as the concept of intertextuality in literary studies suggests the “multitude of ways a text has of not being self-contained, or being traversed by otherness” (Johnson, 264), so do Pacheco’s poems avoid selfcontainment and ask instead to be read in relation to other texts, either his previous versions of the poem or other pieces such as Garibay’s translations or Poniatowska’s testimonial. In her study of Pacheco’s poetics of reciprocity, as she calls it, Mary Docter suggests that “Pacheco’s dialogue of multiple voices does not involve violating, destroying, or eliminating one’s predecessors, but rather becomes a collaborative process in which both works are energized, transformed, and given new life” (376). In this Tlatelolco series, which recalls del Río’s work in that it originates with texts from the conquest period and incorporates materials from 1968, Pacheco participates in an “endless chain of borrowings” (Docter, 378) that affirms his membership in a community, not only of writers but also of his Mexican compatriots, some of whose voices he includes in the poem or who are addressed as narratees. He has created a palimpsest which,


Sandra Messinger Cypess

like the construction practices of indigenous peoples and Spaniards after them, builds layer upon layer of texts and images. The 1968 version of the poem that offers Pacheco’s reading of the “Cantares” is comprised of ten stanzas, while the 2000 version has been pared down to three brief stanzas. In both versions, the cadences of Nahuatl echo, although there are noticeably few references to proper names or ethnic identities. In the 1968 version, a first-person reference does not occur until stanza five, and in stanza seven, the voice identifies itself as “Mexican”—a suffering, grieving Mexican who laments the fighting (“I see the doom hover above the temple / when all the shields erupt in flames”) (1978, 25). Notice that the poetic voice uses the contemporary designation of his identity—Mexican, not Aztec or Mexica— thereby uniting the suffering of the conquest with the current scene. I agree with Leal’s reading of these lines that points to the importance of community: “the contemporary inhabitants of Mexico feel a strong kinship with their ancestors and at the same time [the similarity of tragic events] awakens in them a sense of a common faith” (8). In the terser 2000 version, the image concluding the first stanza is a graphic synesthesia that technically reflects the poet’s coupling of temporal periods: “The smell of blood stained the air” (2000, 67). This line follows a previous description of the auditory aspect of the killings— “The uproar of death was heard” (67)—so a reader must employ sight, sound, smell—only touch and taste are not called upon—to concretize the tragic experience of long ago. The second stanza’s first line can also be read as a reference to 1521: “Shame and fear covered everything” (2000, 68). The unexpected presence of the first-person plural in the next line helps project the narrative voice into 1968: “Our luck was bitter and lamentable” (2000, 69). This inclusion of the speaker in the action is repeated in the poem’s final lines, which could be referring to both 1521 and 1968: We banged against the walls of adobe All our inheritance is a web of holes. (2000, 68)

The poet’s references to “our luck” and “our inheritance” are a simple and elegant way to align his contemporary persona with the Aztec warriors of the past. He writes of the past and the present simultaneously, dissolving temporal categories; he suggests that there is no evolutionary development, but rather an enduring need for accounts of victimization and the call for remembrance. Perhaps the poem that is even more representative of the multiple facets of the Plaza of Three Cultures is “Las voces de Tlatelolco,” also published in various versions. With numerous short stanzas, many of which consist of merely one or two lines of dialogue, it is obvious that the poem deals with 1968 even without the clarifying subtitle: “2 octubre 1978;

Tlatelolco: From Ruins to Poetry


diez años después” (2000, 68). In this second poem, first published in Proceso in 1978, Pacheco is more concrete in his incorporation of details and dialogue from the real tragedy, including those found in the testimonials: helicopters, tanks, the green flares, the Chihuahua Building, the Olympic Battalion, and the panic ensuing as the peaceful demonstrators began running for cover to avoid gunfire. By using “Voices” as his title, he indicates that he is attempting to recreate poetically the plurality of voices that Poniatowska included so famously in La noche de Tlatelolco. Although the narrator speaks out in the first-person singular in the first stanza (“I was afraid”), other general comments are included that highlight the confusion, terror, and pain of the tragedy. The single plaint, “Who, who ordered all this?” (also found in Poniatowska, 193), becomes a refrain along with “Here, here, Battalion Olimpia” (2000, 69). It becomes clear that the government has perpetrated this carnage in the interest of protecting Mexico’s national image on the eve of the Olympic Games. How ironic that the Olympics, which seek to foster community among athletes, should have provoked the government to attack its own citizens. Part of the propaganda regarding the Olympics, found on the first page of the International Olympic Games Web site, says that “[t]he Games have always brought people together in peace to respect universal moral principles.” Díaz Ordaz’s government made a mockery of acting “olympically,” for it violated its citizens’ human rights and acted in a high-handed, arrogant, and authoritarian manner. Pacheco’s poem depicts the Mexican authorities’ utter disregard for their people: The women lacerated by the bullets, Children with their skulls shattered, Passersby bullet-riddled. Young women and men everywhere. Shoes filled with blood. Shoes filled with no one filled with blood. And all of Tlatelolco breathes blood. (2000, 70)

Notably, the poem repeats certain details and expressions found in Poniatowska’s testimonial and in del Río’s poem—the shoes without bodies, the multiple images related to the blood that covered the site (Pacheco writes of “our blood” [2000, 71])—since all three writers share an identification with the victims and suffer the same horror at the loss of so many lives. Also, both del Río and Pacheco note with irony how the paramilitary, dressed in “white gloves,” were firing at the students. The use of white gloves, ordinarily a sign of civility, is just another perversion perpetrated by the government forces, another sign that they would try to cover up their horrific actions. For readers of Pacheco’s and del Río’s poems, the depiction of the devastation becomes a cry for recognition of the heroism of the fallen


Sandra Messinger Cypess

(“eagles” and “treasures,” as del Río calls them, selecting words that relate them to the past Aztec civilization). Both del Río’s and Pacheco’s poems enter into dialogue with the past to create a continuity connecting their readers with that past and to one another. The distance between past and present, experience and recollection is diminished as both poets stress their solidarity with the wounded and the dead whose stories populate the poems. If Tlatelolco had become once again the place of sacrifice and bloodshed, it also had become a site of blending “three cultures,” in that—as the very structure of these poems attests—it confirms a sense of community and dialogue among Mexico’s diverse peoples. Pacheco asks at the end of his poem, “What will happen now?” (2000, 71). One response, the official government response, is anticipated in the soldier’s indifference in del Río’s poem, in the purposeful erasure of references to the massacre. Yet, the poems of del Río and Pacheco suggest another reaction: they provide dignity and a memorial to those who were not granted it in their time, as part of their community’s long memory of events on that site. If “ruins stand for an ethical acknowledgment of that which has been” (Merewether, 34), these poems, in their ethical acknowledgment, pay proper respect to the ruins and tragedies of Tlatelolco. It is pertinent to recall that soon after the conquest, the university founded on that site by Sahagún and other Franciscans was engaged in gathering and preserving Nahuatl documents in written form, so that much of what we know today of Aztec civilization—and all that del Río and Pacheco draw on in their poems—is a result of the Franciscans’ efforts. The Colegio’s work “represents the most significant attempt ever made to link the two civilizations” (González, 32). That model of dialogue between the two civilizations that contributed to the formation of mestizo Mexico, as much as the tragic nature of ruins, is recalled in the structure of the Plaza of Three Cultures and echoed in the Tlatelolco poems of Marcela del Río and José Emilio Pacheco.

Notes 1. Translations from del Río and Pacheco (2000) are my own. 2. For documents on the Tlatelolco massacre, see NSAEBB/NSAEBB99/. 3. I draw the phrase “irresistible decay” from Roth with Lyons and Merewether who draw on Benjamin. 4. Del Río’s historical texts include the novel Proceso a Faubritten (1976) and the plays Tlacaél (1988) and El sueño de la Malinche (2005). 5. Del Río’s fragments from the Florentine Codex also refer to the Plaza of Three Cultures, as Father Sahagún’s trilingual (Nahuatl, Spanish, Latin) students compiled the Codex in the Colegio de Santa Cruz. 6. On Mexican identity politics, see Schmidt and Cohn. 7. Like del Río, Poniatowska uses the metaphor of festive celebration and innocent children being slaughtered. See Sorensen, 312–13. 8. On Aztec feasts, see Carrasco.

Tlatelolco: From Ruins to Poetry


9. Del Río’s reference to empty shoes, repeated by Pacheco, calls to mind Luisa Valenzuela’s story “Los mejor calzados.” 10. Garibay’s Historia de la literatura náhuatl presents translated extracts from Cantares Mexicanos, sixteenth-century Aztec poems and songs.

Select Bibliography Carrasco, David with Scott Sessions. The Daily Life of the Aztecs: People of the Sun and Earth. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998. Cohn, Deborah. “The Mexican Intelligentsia, 1950–1968: Cosmopolitanism, National Identity, and the State.” Mexican Studies/Estudios mexicanos 21, no. 1 (2005): 141–82. Del Río, Marcela. “Tlatelolco, Canon en tres voces.” In Temps en paroles (1960– 1983): poè mes, translated by Marcel Hennart, 268–85. Paris: Caractères, 1985. Díaz, Mónica. “El remoto pasado y el concreto presente de México en la poesía de José Emilio Pacheco.” Lucero 8 (Spring 1997): 76–82. Docter, Mary. “José Emilio Pacheco: A Poetics of Reciprocity.” Hispanic Review 70, no. 3 (Summer 2002): 373–92. Erll, Astrid, and Ann Rigney. “Literature and the Production of Cultural Memory: Introduction.” European Journal of English Studies 10, no. 2 (August 2006): 111–15. Friis, Ronald J. José Emilio Pacheco and the Poets of the Shadows. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2001. González, Eduardo G. “Octavio Paz and the Critique of the Pyramid.” Diacritics: A Review of Contemporary Criticism 2, no. 3 (Autumn 1972): 30–34. International Olympic Committee Official Web site. games/index_uk.asp. Johnson, Barbara. “Les fleurs du mal armé: Some Reflections on Intertextuality.” In Lyric Poetry: Beyond New Criticism, edited by Chaviva Hosek and Patricia Parker, 264–80. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985. Leal, Luis. “Tlatelolco, Tlatelolco.” Denver Quarterly 14, no. 1 (1979): 3–13. Merewether, Charles. “Traces of Loss.” In Irresistible Decay: Ruins Reclaimed, edited by Michael S. Roth with Claire L. Lyons and Charles Merewether, 25–40. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities, 1997. Pacheco, José Emilio. Don’t Ask Me How the Time Goes By: Poems, 1964–68. Translated by Alastair Reid. New York: Columbia University Press, 1978. ———. Tarde o temprano. Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2000. Poniatowska, Elena. Massacre in Mexico. Translated by Helen R. Lane. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1992. ———. La noche de Tlatelolco. Mexico City: Era, 1983. Roth, Michael S. with Claire L. Lyons and Charles Merewether. Irresistible Decay: Ruins Reclaimed. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities, 1997. Schmidt, Henry. The Roots of Lo Mexicano: Self and Society in Mexican Thought, 1900–1934. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1978. Sorensen, Diana. “Tlatelolco 1968: Paz and Poniatowska on Law and Violence.” Mexican Studies/Estudios mexicanos 18, no. 2 (Summer 2002): 297–321. Valenzuela, Luisa. Aquí pasan cosas raras. Buenos Aires: Ediciones de la Flor, 1975.

This page intentionally left blank

Chapter 14 Sites of Memory, Emptying Remembrance* Nelly Richard

The experience of wandering through the city past the facades of sites that the military dictatorship once used as detention and torture centers seems to tell us that, in the present, almost no eloquent sign forcefully denounces that condemnable past. What has transpired between the cruel and tormenting past being cited by these dramatic sites and the forgetful everyday malaise of neighborhoods trusting that anonymity will dissipate guilt? The impassibility of walls—apparently free of any stigma—announces that the traumatic remembrance of human rights violations has been gradually losing intensity, to the point where it has become fused with the sedimentary indifference of passive forgetting by a quotidian city in which the past’s monstrosity cannot manage to turn criminal evidence into social shame. It seems necessary to reintroduce the transposing force of remembrance into these tranquil facades, to lacerate this urban quietude with the warning sign of a memory for which the act of remembering continues to signify danger, emergency, and catastrophe. But how to agitate the temporalities of this empty memory in order to break with the citizenry’s apathy and distractedness? How to depacify the remembrance of history so that the explosions of memory, its resplendence and discontinuities, can rattle the complacent everydayness of a society of tranquil habits? The dictatorship erased the signs of its criminality, making it so that the act of disappearance would leave no trace of the regime’s wellperfected terrorist tactics of suppressing bodies and names. Under such circumstances, where horror and terror have been eclipsed, any gesture that forces the accusatory remains of homicidal violence to inscribe themselves in some medium (monument, document, or testimony), challenges the strategy of memory obliteration through which the military dictatorship sought to whitewash its chapter of annihilation. Yet memory is not a repository of definitively completed historical meanings that


Nelly Richard

remembrance recovers simply by looking backward. The formulation of memory undergoes an incessant dispute among different conceptualizations of what and how to remember. The social will to inscribe the memory of the past in a circuit of public referentiality, then, assumes a critical debate about the links between event and representation, links that memory is called upon to unmake and remake every time one intends to move the past beyond the simple revelation of facts to a complex process of critical understanding. The relationships among public art, social memory, and urban context undergo diverse commemorative strategies (rhetorical expression and symbolic montages) through which memory politics elect to give form to historical trauma. I propose here to invoke some of these strategies as they manifest themselves in three specific memory sites that, in Santiago, Chile, seek to remember a dictatorial past marked by torture and disappearance.

Villa Grimaldi The “Group of Survivor-Witnesses of Villa Grimaldi, Londres 38, José Domingo Cañas, la Discothéque, la Venda Sexy and Other Torture Centers” saved Villa Grimaldi from a premeditated disappearance—a double erasure: to disappear the place where disappearances were carried out—that, under the modernizing guise of constructing an urban condominium complex, planned to liquidate the memory-balance of offenses whose ethical drama had become incompatible with neoliberalism’s trivial market of consumerist gratification. Stopping the property at Villa Grimaldi from being swept away by the tide of capitalist investment and urban planning saved it from a functional conversion whose goal was to cast out of the city any vestige of a past morally recalcitrant to the cynical advances of rational progress (the same cynical rationality that resulted in the conversion of Santiago’s public prison into a government ministry and of northern Chile’s Pisagua detention center into a tourist hotel). Villa Grimaldi, at least, demarcated a self-signaling zone of memory (as both remainder and subtraction) that would function as a site marked by the language of loss amid a landscape entirely oriented toward the gains promised by an extravagant profit-mongering economy. Yet what map of memory do the shards of stone and the gardens at Villa Grimaldi actually draw? The visitor wanders through a “Park for Peace” that stages memory at ground level, on a flat open surface teeming with horizons when compared to the degree of confinement in the tenebrous memory it seeks to evoke. How can a space so free and unobstructed recreate the asphyxia of enclosure (the confinement of a cell, the blindfold over the eyes), the relegation into darkness, and the imprisonment of the senses that the

Sites of Memory, Emptying Remembrance


detainees experienced? What relationship is generated between the cavities of a mind perforated by the fear experienced while incarcerated and the flatness of a system of lines and regular proportions that provides today’s strolling visitor with the tranquil neatness of a spatial order that prisoners, disoriented by the darkness of isolation, clearly lacked? Villa Grimaldi’s flat geometry trusts in the predominance of the gaze to read, from above, the memory-laden remains of violence mapped on the ground. But the eye and the gaze are distancing mechanisms that physically displace the object, turning it into an abstraction, due to the supervisory control of the one who looks. The spatial homogeneity and geometry of Villa Grimaldi make an ordered field of vision out of what was once a lacerated texture of experience, disembodying the lived matter of remembrance, whose deep subjective fractures are unrecognizable in this flat, serene, uninterrupted map. And what can be said about the recycled mosaics that, in Pompeii-like fashion, adorn Villa Grimaldi’s plaques and fountains, hoping to recall the tile floors of bathrooms in which torture occurred, but which do so in such an inoffensive way that the lacerating memory of torture winds up couched in a decorative landscape that turns the remembrance of the sinister into something completely anodyne? Many victims’ testimonies refer to Villa Grimaldi’s hellishness. They are testimonies that, from the depths of torture (whose apparatus aimed to pulverize the link between body and word), have attempted to narrate

Figure 14.1 Villa Grimaldi, “Park for Peace”: “El Patio Deseado” (Santiago, Chile). Photograph courtesy of Michael J. Lazzara.


Nelly Richard

what is unnarratable in the limit experience: to overcome screams and muteness and cross the threshold of destruction to find words capable of articulating fissured speech and subjective disturbances. The startled voices that bore witness to torture, threatened by the loss of reason and sense, powerfully staged their protests through a process of renaming, such that horror would become signify-able and, consequently, condemnable. Without the overwhelming echo of these assaulted, tortured voices, born at the limit between corporeal disintegration and the rearticulation of voice (voices that today are inaudible in Villa Grimaldi’s mute landscape), the place names inscribed on the park’s ceramic plaques— “Torture chambers, metal beds with electricity, the grill”; “The Tower: place of loneliness, torture, and extermination”—seem to harbor an ingenuous didacticism whose literal nature, in the park’s calm silence, betrays the psychic and bodily decomposition that characterized Villa Grimaldi’s depraved past. The composed and arranged writing of these names (“loneliness, torture, and extermination”), which now blend so harmoniously with the mosaic tiles that mark the inferno’s physical locales, ignores the dissolution of the victims’ referential and semantic universe, perversely reduced to inarticulateness, babbling, and trembling through methodical procedures whose aim was the eradication of consciousness.

Santiago’s General Cemetery: Memorial to the Detenidos-Desaparecidos Cemeteries are places designated for burying the dead, but also for circumscribing death: for demarcating and separating the scene of death’s ritual from the rest of life that continues to take place on the outside. In the case of the Detained-and-Disappeared, to relegate their errant ghostlike bodies to a cemetery (as a permanent residence) is to assuage the pain and uncertainty of those condemned by disappearance to wander eternally as specters, without a final resting place. The cemetery, as a designated site, compels an unverifiable death—the nonplace of disappearance—finally to take refuge in a conventional domicile that rescues the disappeared ghost’s errant traces. In the General Cemetery, on both sides of the Memorial to the Detained-and-Disappeared, there are empty niches waiting to be filled with the remains of the still-unidentified bodies of the disappeared. The predetermined number of these niches is noteworthy insofar as it does not match the number of people that the monument announces still to be “disappeared.” The nonequivalence between the fixed number of slots reserved for the still-to-be-identified bodies and the accounting of names listed on the memorial calls to mind a need to stipulate arbitrarily the tally’s finality such that a simulacrum of certainty might compensate for the unsettled feeling evoked by the unending, suspended death that is

Sites of Memory, Emptying Remembrance


Figure 14.2 Empty graves awaiting the remains of the disappeared, General Cemetery (Santiago, Chile). Photograph courtesy of Michael J. Lazzara.

disappearance. This numerical arbitrariness also symbolizes the ethical aberration of the lack of all measure. The magnitude of this lack (the painful, unbearable interval between the knowledge of disappearance and the body that never returns or that returns unrecognizable) is immeasurable. Nor is the damage quantifiable within any economy; there will never be an acceptable proportionality among the loss of a loved one, the remains of the disappeared that only permit a memory in part(s), and the quotas of justice that seek to repair the damage partially. In front of the Memorial to the Disappeared and Politically Executed, four faces sculpted out of stone (looking toward heaven with their eyes closed as a sign of retreat and piety) seek to symbolize the human, the essential humanity that was trampled by the dictatorship’s sinister machinery of disappearance and death. Stone—and its rhetoric of the public monument—affixes and eternalizes. The four stone-sculpted faces in front of the memory wall seek to universalize suffering but, in so doing, petrify the self as an archetype. The archetype of the human face, monumentalized in stone, undermines the uniqueness of physiognomies that, to the contrary, vibrated in the photos of the Detained-andDisappeared. The metaphysics of pain that gives the stone sculptures their transcendent quality, undoes the nontransferable particularity of facial features that were apparent in the family album and ID-photos of the disappeared. In opposition to the machinery of suppression and disfiguration that the dictatorship deployed, the photographic portraits of the disappeared combated the serialization of nonidentity, restoring


Nelly Richard

the details of the victims’ facial features and personal characteristics. By abstracting and essentializing, the stone of the public monument remains indifferent to the biographical singularity with which photographs restored to the disappeared individual trajectories that were stolen from them not only by disappearance but also by being labeled generically as “Detained-and-Disappeared.” Moreover, the eternalness of rock, as a substance that transcends the contingency of the human, kills the latency of the what has been and the yet to come that vibrated implicitly in photography’s tensions among presence and absence, the real and the unreal, the tangible and the intangible.

Puente Bulnes Puente Bulnes (Bulnes Bridge) is crossed by multiple signs of the military’s violence and its remembrance. Various plaques at the site commemorate the death of Father Juan Alsina (a working-class priest executed in 1973) as well as the murders of seven functionaries from the San Juan de Dios Hospital, and of five priests and 14 pobladores (shantytown dwellers) from Puente Alto. All of these deaths occurred at Puente Bulnes at different times, under different circumstances. In addition to the commemorative plaques, on the opposite side of the bridge stands a mural by the Camilo Torres Muralists (1999) inscribed with the legendary phrase “Kill me head on so that I may see you and forgive you,” in memory of the Spanish priest Juan Alsina. The photographers, Claudio Pérez and Rodrigo Gómez, chose this site to erect a “Wall of Memory” (Muro de la memoria) comprised of photographs of 936 Detained-and-Disappeared, fired onto ceramic tiles. Located at this already memory-charged site, the photographic “Wall of Memory” is superimposed on and interferes with the other monumentalizing forms that mark Puente Bulnes (the sculpture and the mural) and that seek to honor the protagonists of the past. By territorializing its marks of memory in a place where various figurative strategies compete with one another, Pérez and Gómez’s photographic wall implicitly invites the public gaze to become part of a critical reflection on the strategies for making memory visible and legible, on the media and operations that materialize the will to remember, on the figures, forms, and techniques that express memory narratives symbolically. In choosing this site, the authors of the “Wall of Memory” deploy a gesture that stands in opposition to the one used in the General Cemetery to pay homage to the disappeared and grant them a fixed resting place. Instead of commemorating death in a demarcated place set apart from the everyday life of the living, the “Wall of Memory” chooses a bridge as a point of convergence for multiple urban trajectories whose day-today meanderings will be interrupted by these signs of memory. Instead of concentrating memory in a cult-like place (the cemetery) that invites

Sites of Memory, Emptying Remembrance


both inwardness and exclusion from the city’s dynamism, the wall at Puente Bulnes wants to deprivatize the act of remembering and force the memory of the disappeared to intersect with the routines of a living community whose members, in turn, can disseminate their memory unpredictably in their daily comings-and-goings. Instead of being reduced to an agreed-upon ritual site, remembrance moves throughout the city, mixing with the flow of passers-by, opening the possibility that the conformity of their conduct (their social conscience turned away from a focus on memory) might be modified, virtually, by their head-on encounter with the photographic images of the victims. The drama of disappearance has been emblematized by the black-andwhite photographs of the disappeared, which serve as reminders of a violent past worn on the family members’ chests. The photograph, as a technical medium, speaks of an absence through a presence-effect, within the temporally fractured register of the “living-dead.” The album-like photos that dominate the “Wall of Memory” at Puente Bulnes are identifying-signs that add to the will to remember the disappeared a specificity of biographical detail that both the machinery of torture and disappearance—the suppression of persons and the denial of their human condition—and the dry language of the Human Rights Commissions—that buried data in the numerical mass of archives and documents—erased. Many of the portraits of the disappeared fired onto the mural’s tiles show them in everyday, photo-album poses—poses in which they appear tranquilly confident in a normalcy of life that, soon thereafter, will suddenly be torn asunder by a homicidal violence that, in such a defenseless state, cannot be foretold. The victims’ photos capture the innocence of a before that ignores evil and an after that becomes charged with auratic vibrations because it retains that moment of life-past in which the disappeared person still believed himself to be safe. The abyss between, on the one hand, the carefree faces of the disappeared in the past time of a photographic-take that does not yet know the imminence of the dramas they will suffer and, on the other hand, the present time from which today we tragically gaze upon the visages of those who would later become victims of history, constitutes the desperate punctum that emotionally charges and moves these photos of the disappeared. These dramatically charged photographic portraits were fired onto ceramic tiles. How can we not read in the decision to use ceramic material a symbolic tension between memory and its lack? By its very nature, through the relationship between adherence and permeability, the ceramic medium speaks to us about the transience of what is imprinted, of markings and erasures. The tiles bear witness to a tension between that which seeks to inscribe itself (memory) and the smooth materiality that sentences its residues to be swept away by the aseptic character of an inalterable surface. To oblige the tiles to register the mnesic marks of photographic memory is to interrupt a path toward forgetfulness that seeks to dissolve the opacity of the remains of a residual time: a time that


Nelly Richard

Figure 14.3 Muro de la memoria, by Claudio Pérez and Rodrigo Gómez, Puente Bulnes (Santiago, Chile). Photograph courtesy of Michael J. Lazzara.

historical memory considers to be threateningly turbulent and contaminated by a dirty history (marked by conflicts and antagonisms) that is, for that reason, an infectious agent. In order to evoke 256 photographic portraits that the artists could not find, the “Wall of Memory” at Puente Bulnes is missing various tiles. The lack of these portraits bears witness publicly to the unfinished memory of disappearance. Unlike certain monuments whose rhetoric of weight and solidity seeks to stabilize and affix historical memory definitively, the photographic mural at Puente Bulnes wagers that memory should begin with the precariousness and inconclusiveness of a process of remembrance that remains open to suspense, interruption, fragmentation, correction, and lapse. That which is lacking—the nonexistent portraits of the missing bodies—points to the interminable wait as a condition for reflection and for the deciphering of an unsatisfied memory. The “Wall of Memory,” by Claudio Pérez and Rodrigo Gómez, is a counter-monument that, by calling attention to what is unfinished, pending, and in suspense, opens the fissures of remembrance toward the always unresolved debate between memory and its narrative inscription.

Note * Translated by Michael J. Lazzara.

Chapter 15 History, Neurosis, and Subjectivity: Gustavo Ferreyra’s Rewriting of Neoliberal Ruins Idelber Avelar Of all visible countries, the present is the most extensive. —Sergio Chejfec

While during the first wave of postdictatorial literature, from the 1980s to the early 1990s, Argentine fiction was marked by the question of how literature was to understand history, a few contemporary Argentine novels have revisited the dictatorship in ways that avoid allegorical, historical, or memorializing narratives (Sarlo, 471). In fact, one could devise a typology of the first generation of postdictatorial novels by establishing each author’s position on the dialectic of history and memory. That first wave was marked by struggles about the codification of the past and by clashes between the old Left and new Left, arrepentidos and nonarrepentidos, los que se fueron and los que se quedaron, avant-gardists and populists.1 At that moment, the role of literature—or better yet, the question of a role for literature—was still the object of heated argument, and novels played an important part in propelling that debate. Juan José Saer’s work was the pinnacle of an Argentine tradition characterized by delving into the workings of memory. His characters’ occasional intersecting with the collective—particularly in Nadie nada nunca (1980), El entenado (1983), Glosa (1986), and La grande (2005)—constitutes some of the most enduring reflection on subjective memory’s engagement with history. Furthermore, from Ricardo Piglia’s restitutive cyberpunk allegories in La ciudad ausente (1992) to Tununa Mercado’s psychoanalytic grappling with writing as a medium for mourning work in En estado de memoria (1990), the best Argentine fiction sided with those


Idelber Avelar

who sought aesthetic experiences able to counter the peril of postapocalyptic forgetting. In 2009, it is apparent that all that has changed. As Beatriz Sarlo maintains, today knowledge of postdictatorial memory “circulates even in the most banal forms, in memory texts and audiovisual fiction-journalism” (472). Consequently, writers who return to the topic of dictatorship today do so in an atmosphere of media saturation on the theme of memory. It is no surprise, then, that they would address their country’s violent past with strategies other than those consecrated in the literature of 20 years ago. This chapter contributes to mapping these new strategies for engaging the memory of dictatorship. I argue that some key contemporary Argentine texts develop a particular kind of subject who embodies the idea of subjectivity as ruin. A tension between memory and forgetfulness was always at stake in the first wave of postdictatorial literature. In bringing literature to restore, restitute, or retell something that had been broken in experience, those novels cast characters representing certain profiles of subjectivity under or after authoritarianism. Those subjects operated in a space marked by a dichotomous split between two basic positions vis-à-vis memory and the past, which was not surprising considering the abyssal fissure that permeated Argentine society since the mid-1970s. Limiting my examples to La ciudad ausente and En estado de memoria (of course, the reader could also find parallels in works by Daniel Moyano, Andrés Rivera, Ana María Shúa, Osvaldo Soriano, Héctor Tizón, and others), particular images of subjectivity come to mind: counterhegemonic subjects reconstituting the past, such as Junior, in Piglia’s novel, or Mercado’s protagonist; complicit, oblivious figures, such as Julia Gandini, the lobotomized arrepentida in La ciudad ausente, or the self-help, new age therapist in En estado de memoria; the political administrators of forgetting, such as paranoid state lobotomists in Piglia, or the wall and watch-all gaze in Mercado’s memoirs. Yet over time the metaphors of recovery, recuperation, and restoration have lost relevance. Without attempting to postulate any clear-cut breaks, I have recently turned my attention to several newer writers—for example, Alan Pauls, Sergio Chejfec, Juan José Becerra, Martín Kohan, and Gustavo Ferreyra—who return to Argentina’s dictatorial past in quite different terms from those made canonical in the historical, allegorical, and memorializing narratives of the 1980s. Here I take a closer look at Gustavo Ferreyra, who has lately published novels that recast the vexed question of representing Argentina’s dictatorial past. Ferreyra’s El director (2005) situates its protagonist in a relation with the dictatorship that is neither that of a victim nor that of an accomplice. This is of the utmost importance insofar as Ferreyra creates a subject living under dictatorship who is neither for nor against the regime, someone who neither suffers direct oppression nor engages in overt complicity. His is a protagonist who is sheer amorality and egotism, someone who neither seeks liberation through memory nor falls prey to

Rewriting Neoliberal Ruins


forgetting, as postdictatorial protagonists tended to do. Ferreyra’s character is, instead, a slave to memory, entrenched in a theater of mnemonic asphyxia. El director is severely critical of memory as a necessarily liberating or oppositional act. Ferreyra presents us with a past that weighs like a nightmare and to which his protagonist cannot relate in ways beyond the limitations of his purview. Ferreyra’s character points to a conception of subjectivity understood as the perennially failed reworking of past ruins. El director, in effect, is a poignant depiction of a subject defined through his relation with the ruins of previous experience. Sociologist Gustavo Ferreyra (b. 1963) is the author of a shortstory collection, El perdón (1997), and five novels, El amparo (1994), El desamparo (1999), Gineceo (2001), Vértice (2004), and El director (2005). The imaginary universe of his gray middle-class characters is crafted with such hallucinatory paranoia that, upon the publication of El amparo, his wife is said to have asked: “What am I doing married to this monster?” (Cited in Casas). In a review of El director, Patricio Lennard noted that “Ferreyra writes as if all neuroses could be his own, as a minute entomologist of minds in jeopardy. The proof of this is a narrative work populated with tormented, obsessive, paranoid, and non-conformist characters” (5). Ferreyra’s characters relentlessly interpret their own fantasies, the reality around them, and the trajectories of others, especially women, whose actions acquire the status of symbolic riddles hiding some fundamental yet-to-be-unveiled secret. The world of Ferreyra’s novel is a nightmare of endless interpretation. His characters attempt to “counter the fate of a world ruled by irrational and secret laws” (Coelho). One could, in fact, nuance Lennard’s remark to claim that although Ferreyra’s characters are certainly tormented and paranoid, they cannot be properly called obsessive because they drift through so many semi-hallucinatory states that they never achieve an obsession that could be deemed “stable.” Rather, they live in a state of relentless imaginative activity, in contrast to which a fully constituted obsessive neurosis would be a respite, if only they could achieve it. In El director, each of the protagonist’s acts potentially triggers a catastrophe, a total collapse of the subject. Teeming with memory and drifting from one paranoid interpretation of his existence to another, he invariably reinvents himself, taking as a starting point a previous collapse. Ferreyra thus weaves a unique subject, who is best understood as the repeated recodification of his own ruins. My use here of gender-specific pronouns is deliberate, as the subject that Ferreyra’s novels submit to a ferocious autopsy is undoubtedly male. Women figure prominently in his texts, most emphatically in El director, but are so distorted by the male protagonists’ lenses that their existence says more about the protagonists’ breakdowns than about the women themselves. Ferreyra’s prose combines referential, nineteenth-centurylike, Flaubertian sentences with narrative structures that borrow much from the modernist patchwork. This is an interesting combination, as


Idelber Avelar

fragmented narrative structures do not usually coincide with realist, Flaubertian prosody. They do, however, in Ferreyra’s work. Reading Ferreyra, one gets the distinct feeling that his writing is not heavily indebted to recent Argentine tradition. There are no visible debts to Saer, Piglia, or Aira. His novels are also quite original in that they depict hardcore insanity not through a third-person narrator, but by giving voice to that insanity. Nevertheless, with Ferreyra, we are in a rigorously realist universe, far from any “fantastic” effect. Particularly unique is the fact that the author’s monstrously ill protagonists narrate their stories as if we had never left the terrain of banal normalcy. The reader slowly gains access to a universe of masculine pathology that comes across as if it were the world’s true state of normality. While these formal and thematic elements might be individually found in other novelists, I have never seen them combined quite this way in any writer. Pathological characters are granted narrative voice and produce rigorously believable, realist narrative sequences from their own delirium. El director is a first person narrative that recounts 40 years in the life of a Buenos Aires elementary school principal (1966–2006). 2 The novel abruptly juxtaposes a section written in 1972 with another from 2002, only to go back to 1966 and pick up again in 1992, and so on for 420 tightly woven pages. These temporally juxtaposed sections are also interrupted by a novel the protagonist is writing, a story of blissful incest beyond all morality. Ferreyra’s school principal goes through a vertiginous set of drifts. He finds himself skeptical of politics in 1972, vigorously desires the arrival of socialism in 1975 and, in spite of the fear caused by the disappearance of a schoolmate, ultimately welcomes the military in 1977. He goes from being a voice in a 1982 rally to support the Malvinas War to participating a few weeks later in a march for Raúl Alfonsín’s presidential campaign. Ferreyra’s accomplishment is that his character’s reasoning is invariably amoral and egotistical, though always rigorously sincere. “Cynicism” would be an appropriate word, were it not so charged with value judgment inherited from a morality that is alien to Ferreyra’s novels. The protagonist’s constant shifts mirror a historical experience shared by millions of Argentines of being neither a direct victim nor a direct accomplice, but someone trying to make sense of those years while, above all, surviving. The split between accomplices and victims gives way to far less definable characters that are somewhat gray or neutral and remain politically amorphous or go through several political metamorphoses. We are now far from allegorical characters that emblematize forgetting and complicity or the subversive recuperation of memory per se. Ferreyra, instead, plunges into the minds of those figures of gray neutrality who offer quite a different picture of the urban middle class that came of age in the 1970s. “If the guerrillas could just make up their minds . . . that would be best. Socialism, like in Cuba. A couple of messy months and then everything settles into a new order. It’s preferable that socialism come once

Rewriting Neoliberal Ruins


and for all, rather than this life of chaos and constant fighting. With socialism, things just find their course and one lives more peacefully,” writes the school principal in 1975, as clashes between left- and rightwing Peronists climax in the wake of Perón’s death, opening the way for the 1976 military coup (289).3 Note that what the principal likes about socialism is the opportunity to live in oblivion and not worry about what to do or what choice to make. In 1977, a year after the coup, knowing that a colleague has disappeared and that, in spite of his own negligible political participation, his name might be found in the disappeared man’s address book, he mutters, hopefully: It’s starting to become evident that the military will win the war and this breeds hope. Four or five years ago I hated the military and marched against it myself, but I see that the military’s victory leads us somewhere: to a state of rebirth. Those of us who survived have the right to live again. And the military will win. It’s a fact. How can you fight the facts? When a power appears seamless and triumphant, there is no way to hate it. (173)

Because such examples of political mutation appear throughout the novel, it would be simple to write this character off as a cynic. But Ferreyra’s narrative universe does not offer any vantage point from which to judge him. The character is thoroughly amoral, and his distorted lens is the reader’s only means of accessing experience. The first-person narration is, thus, essential to the novel’s effect. He delimits the totality of the diegetic horizon. We are fully immersed in the immanence of his drifting through life, and we can certainly distance ourselves from him, but the novel provides no alternative morality against which to judge his quintessential amorality. In the 1982 sequence opening the text, when it becomes clear that Argentina will lose the Malvinas War, the protagonist again wavers ideologically. While in April most people had been enthusiastic about the war and were now “awaiting democracy with a peasant’s patience,” he notes that, in contrast to such feelings, losing the war fills him with inexplicable effervescence (7). He then takes a bus to a demonstration whose nature he ignores. Are the demonstrators marching in protest or defense of something? If he were to get too close, could he be misconstrued as one of them if repression ensued? Conversely, if he were not to approach them enough, could they perhaps judge him as hostile? Ferreyra’s character is not what the Left might once have called un alienado. He is well-informed politically and his narration advances with sharp, though paranoid, intelligence. However, the plots and conspiracies toward which he gravitates change throughout the novel without ever coalescing into an obsession. Indeed, in 1982 Argentina could be particularly confusing, as massive support for the military adventure gave way to disillusionment, in turn succeeded by euphoria in the opposite direction when Alfonsín won the first democratic elections.


Idelber Avelar

The protagonist reacts to that whirlwind of political emotions in the most mundane, believable way for what one might call “the ordinary Argentine.” His ideological morphing is a novel occurrence within the trajectory of Argentine postdictatorial fiction, since on the whole, until the publication of Ferreyra’s novel, Argentine writers had not dealt convincingly with the theme of political drifting. All the major events of recent Argentine history leave their imprint on the protagonist’s 40-year life trajectory: the chaos of 1974, the military coup of 1976, the Malvinas War, Alfonsín’s election, the World Cup of 1986, all the way to the pot-banging protests of 2001. Yet they are present obliquely, as he does not relate to them as if they were endowed with preordained meaning. In 2001, following the fall of four Argentine presidents in a little over a week, the school principal, now in his sixties and compelled to look for his retirement savings, stumbles across the novel he had been writing and for years thought to be lost. (If we look closely at the nature of the protagonist’s novel, we note that on the metafictional level, too, history overtakes characters abruptly, naturally and inevitably, providing them small windows through which to articulate perverse individual fantasies.) The emergence of the piqueteros in 2001 brings the narrator full circle, as he changes position again, identifying with them as seen on TV, and imaginarily breaking with the middle class he has come to despise, only to start fantasizing about a selfishly heroic death that might lead the female teachers at school not to perceive him as a loser. Heavily influenced by the media—he thinks all of this while watching the protests on TV with his mother—he concludes that he is a “fan rooting for the losers” (323). This image becomes emblematic of the character’s relation to the very ruins that constitute him. Ferreyra’s entire narrative structure is set in motion by the protagonist’s pathological mind, not by Argentina’s political history. There is no diegetic space that escapes his twisted, but all-too-human neuroses. After breaking up for no clear reason with Antonia, his wife of a decade and a half, the school principal wishes he had approached her immediately to dismiss the breakup as a joke. Ensnared in self-reflection, however, he never does this. Stunned, he learns that Antonia does not miss him and has elegantly remade her life as if he never existed. After the divorce, he is haunted by self-deprecating fantasies in which, humiliated, he is forced to line up behind other men and pay for sex with his ex-wife. He fantasizes about seducing a substitute teacher, solely to show contempt toward a senior colleague. When he is dumped by one of his post-divorce girlfriends, his first thought is that she has found and burned his unpublished novel. When his montonero school colleague Juan Carlos disappears, he firmly believes that the other teachers (all female) secretly reproach him for not having disappeared too. When he is diagnosed with cancer, he fantasizes either about committing public, political suicide (with the selfish, sole purpose of salvaging a heroic legacy for himself) or about the meaninglessness of his death for the

Rewriting Neoliberal Ruins


school kids: “My death would cause them certain happiness. . . . They would even get a day off for mourning. They would go home and watch cartoons, blissful from unexpected enjoyment” (30). Facing such a miserable legacy, he turns to fantasies of public self-immolation that might earn him martyr status (preferably taking some deserving bastard with him). These impulses dialogue with a long Western literary tradition, harkening back to Homer’s Iliad, in which characters fantasize about their own deaths and the ensuing mourning of others. The only meaning to be found in the death of Ferreyra’s protagonist is the appeasement of his personal narcissism. At the core of his fantasies, we find an empty scene of mourning. Though the object to be mourned is visible, readers are taken on detours into elaborately plotted, narcissistic fantasies that foreshadow spectacular failures to come. Defeat is anticipated in fantasy itself. Ferreyra’s school principal is also the author of a novel about a father’s incest with his teenage daughter. He is terrified to tell anyone about the text, as he fears they will conflate him (the author) with his protagonist. The incest described in the novel is unique insofar as neither the reader nor Alice, the mother, can be sure that Jorge (the father) and Victoria (the daughter) ever had sex. In fact, it is almost as if the confirmation of intercourse were superfluous, as Jorge and Vicky repeatedly laugh together. Incest, here, consists of nothing more than Jorge’s engulfment by Vicky’s “nervous laugh,” which begins to consume him. As they share the complicity proper to true lovers, Alice stares in disbelief from afar, unable to hate them because they look so blissful. This story unfolds in short installments ranging from the couple’s search for a cure for Vicky’s nervous laughter (or Alice’s search, while Jorge indifferently joins, after losing his job), to the confirmation of an amorous relationship between father and daughter (which never implies sex, as if sex had somehow been abolished, or transcended into a higher plane), to Alice’s eventual departure. This incest is unique because it is never disturbed by any hint that morality might have something to say about it. Ferreyra’s school principal, impotent and unable to establish lasting relationships with women, imagines an incest that lives in a sort of prelapsarian temporality of sheer enjoyment. The protagonist writes this novel for more than a decade, finishing it in 1987. In 1995, after being certain for years that the only original of the text was safe in a closet, he fails to retrieve it and goes through almost complete collapse, as he is forced to admit he has lost the only thing he ever wrote. His hypotheses at that moment are two: (1) that his mother has seen and destroyed it, which he attempts to confirm by subjecting her to countless persecutory interrogations, a process of psychological torture contributing to her eventual death; (2) that Virginia, his married lover at the time, had been horrified by his confession of the novel’s content and, fearing that he would become incestuous with the children they might eventually have, had stolen and burned the text. Elaborate pages


Idelber Avelar

present the protagonist’s musings that Virginia—a married woman who ended her marriage to be with him but left him two months later—was, in fact, obsessively hanging around just to steal the manuscript. It turns out, of course, that the protagonist had not placed it where he thought. After the economic collapse of late 2001, as he searches for receipts that would guarantee his retirement in 2002, he finds the novel buried underneath them, a full seven years after presuming it lost. He goes through the horror of not knowing if he wants to reread it after not seeing it for 18 years. He publishes it in 2006, only to find out that the scandal he feared never materialized. (Of course, in the meantime he weaves a fantasy about journalists calling his house, lawsuits, and miraculous escapes.) After some lukewarm reviews, the novel fades into oblivion and cannot be found in bookstores, an all-too-coherent conclusion for a trajectory marked by the excess of catastrophic fantasy vis-à-vis reality’s predictable banality. Although the subjective world is certainly in ruins in Ferreyra’s novels, significantly, the author does not give in to the temptation of allegorizing the character’s trajectory in a postcatastrophe urban scenario. Absent are the customary visual markers suggesting that the urban space somehow reflects the subjects’ histories. Ferreyra’s texts are unmistakably set in Buenos Aires, but his characters’ itineraries never include the places consecrated in Argentine fiction, film, TV, or music. There is no such postapocalyptic local color in Ferreyra’s prose; his is a visible refusal of the Romantic equating of subjective fall and objective ruins. The sensation that everything is in collapse is entirely predicated, then, on the subject. Since his characters are primarily defined by the functioning of their particularly perverse imaginary, readers receive access to the outer world only via a distorted, monstrous lens. This annihilates any possible objective correlative in the city. In a first-person narrative such as El director, the aesthetic effect of all that is considerable. Ferreyra’s subjects become victims of their own choices, assuming that it makes sense to speak of “choice” for characters so thoroughly framed by their imaginary. These are, then, subjects who repeatedly constitute themselves as ruins of their previous actions (or inactions), which might not, in fact, be a bad definition of what a “subject” is, tout court. In writing novels about the constitution of subjects as the phantasmal elaboration of their own past understood as ruin, Ferreyra amplifies to an overwhelming degree what is, in a way, the fundamental process of self-constitution of the incomplete, barred, post-Freudian subject. The absurd effect produced by Ferreyra’s prose stems from the fact that his protagonist is so thoroughly complex in his pathology, yet so completely ignorant of it, that many readers will burst out laughing while following the labyrinthine path of his paranoid fantasies. He is a complete compendium of the neuroses mapped by Freud, yet he narrates his pathologies with the innocence of a nineteenth-century realist narrator. Particularly in a country such as Argentina so thoroughly saturated with

Rewriting Neoliberal Ruins


the discourse of psychoanalysis, the humorous effect produced by such a strategy is considerable. Beatriz Sarlo has proposed the concept of “ethnographic fiction” to designate a contemporary trend in Argentine literature: a gradual shift from novels primarily concerned with interpreting the past toward novels more commonly focused on the present (473). This is not to say that historical novels do not continue to be published, but rather that the present has seemed to impose itself as the primary riddle for a number of writers, even while their texts take place in the past. If, until the early 1990s, deciphering the past seemed almost a sine qua non for prose fiction in Argentina, now the task of grasping a fleeting and at times incomprehensible present imposes itself.4 I believe to have demonstrated that Gustavo Ferreyra’s fiction is at the forefront of this revision. Sarlo’s dichotomy between “ethnographic fiction” and “historiographic fiction,” like all dichotomies, classifies some texts better than others. Ferreyra’s novel occupies a curious position within that binary, as the author explodes upon the fabric of a paranoid character’s life a host of events from the last 40 years of national history. Those events, however, happen in a Buenos Aires deprived of mnemonic, historical markers. To be accurate, Argentine history does erupt in El director from time to time, but the novel refrains from any local associations with the character’s environment or any mutual allegorizing between self and world. Over the course of the narrator’s labyrinthine and paranoid account, this placelessness reinforces the text’s effect of universality. Historical events appear not to be there for interpretation by anyone. Ferreyra’s subject reacts to history in a desolate way, always outside the polarity between victim and accomplice and alien to the dichotomy between memory and forgetting. It would make no sense to approach Ferreyra’s character in 2006, in his old age, with questions regarding the “recuperation” of memory after the 40-year trajectory narrated in the book. His subjectivity, constructed out of the ruins of his previous trajectory, cannot pose to itself any tasks that go much beyond mere survival. The metaphors of recovery, recuperation, and restoration have, then, visibly lost relevance in some current Argentine fiction. Ferreyra’s work demonstrates that, even as the historiographic narrative of the first postdictatorship wave gives way to various kinds of ethnographic fiction, not all forms of engaging the memory of dictatorship are exhausted. El director offers a subject who has also been shaped by the savagely selfish logic of neoliberalism, imposed in Argentina by the Menem government in the 1990s and directly responsible for the 2001 economic collapse. Ferreyra’s characters are clearly indebted to the individualistic, commodified ethos of neoliberal Argentina, but they have been deprived of the triumphalism of those years. The reworking of ruins, then, is an apt metaphor to describe not only the subject’s relation to his past, as argued earlier, but also the polis in which he operates. The commodification of


Idelber Avelar

every corner of social life, followed by the economic and political collapse that it produced, has left Ferreyra’s protagonists wrestling with what we might call the neoliberal ruin. Ferreyra’s uniqueness consists in crafting a representation thereof that is both hallucinatory and realist, offering what is perhaps the best aesthetic response to the ruins left by the destructive utopia of privatization.

Notes 1. In the Argentine context, arrepentido alludes to those on the Left who later regretted the option for armed struggle in the 1960s and 1970s. The range of revisions to which that option was subjected is wide. Los que se fueron and los que se quedaron became the most illustrious designations for those who went into exile and those who remained. For an important document of the latter tension, see Sosnowski. On the literature of that period, see Reati and Avelar. For a useful overview of exile narrative see Diego, and for its periodization and analysis, see Dalmaroni. 2. El director continues one of three plotlines structuring Ferreyra’s previous novel, Vértice. In it we gain insight into the protagonist’s troubled relation to his father’s death, his fantasies about female students, his cancer, his life with his mother, and his incestuous novel. These elements are fully developed in El director. Vértice is also a remarkable reflection on sexuality and on postcrisis Argentina. I hope to devote a future study to it. 3. All translations from Ferreyra are mine. 4. Many examples of this decline in the past’s symbolic relevance come to mind. Daniel Link’s recent statement of his aesthetic preferences is indicative of a broader perception: “For me it is well and good to read Proust, who is historic, but if someone wants to write like Proust today, I’m not sure I can handle it; I prefer something that intervenes in relation to the present; I mean, of course, critically, ironically, with some kind of distance” (Quoted in Klinger, 154; my emphasis).

Select Bibliography Avelar, Idelber. The Untimely Present: Postdicatorial Latin American Fiction and the Task of Mourning. London and Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999. Casas, Fabián. “Gustavo Ferreyra: Recursos de amparo.” http://elremiseroabsoluto. Chejfec, Sergio. Los planetas. Buenos Aires: Alfaguara, 1999. Coelho, Oliverio. “Fracturas de lo real.” articulos/coelho_ferreyra.htm. Dalmaroni, Miguel. La palabra justa: literatura, crítica y memoria en la Argentina, 1960/2002. Mar del Plata and Santiago: RIL and Melusina, 2004. Diego, José Luis de. “Relatos atravesados por los exilios.” In La narración gana la partida. Vol. 11 of Historia crítica de la literatura argentina, edited by Elsa Drucaroff and Noé Jitrik, 439–58. Buenos Aires: Emecé, 2000. Ferreyra, Gustavo. El amparo. Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 1994. ———. El desamparo. Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 1999. ———. El director. Buenos Aires: Losada, 2005. ———. Gineceo. Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 2001.

Rewriting Neoliberal Ruins


———. El perdón. Buenos Aires: Simurg, 1997. ———. Vértice. Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 2004. Kohan, Martín. Dos veces junio. Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 2002. ———. Museo de la revolución. Buenos Aires: Mondadori, 2006. Lennard, Patricio. “Conciencias en peligro.” Página 12. February 26, 2006. http:// Link, Daniel. “Entrevista a Daniel Link.” By Diana Klinger. Grumo 3 (July 2004): 150–55. Reati, Fernando. Nombrar lo innombrable: violencia política y novela argentina, 1975–1985. Buenos Aires: Legasa, 1992. Sarlo, Beatriz. Escritos sobre literatura argentina. Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI, 2007. Sosnowski, Saúl, ed. Represión y reconstrucción de una cultura: el caso argentino. Buenos Aires: Eudeba, 1988.

This page intentionally left blank

Part Four

Ordinary People: Inhabited Ruins, Precarious Survival

This page intentionally left blank

Chapter 16 All in a Day’s Work: Ruins Dwellers in Havana Vicky Unruh

Some ruins are inhabited, not only by specters of a conflictive past but also by the laboring bodies of a quotidian present. During the post-Soviet era, the dilapidated buildings of turn-of-the-millennium Havana—propped up on the precarious divide between repair and demolition—served as homes to numerous city inhabitants. But with the economic disaster of the “special period in times of peace,” paralleling the Soviets’ departure in 1991,1 Cuban ruins ascended to the international status of artistic cliché. In the contest between crumbling Havana buildings and their restoration through negotiations between a socialist state and international investors, the ruins trope is anchored in everyday projects of a city that was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1982 and that undertook selective restoration of Old Havana under the guidance of city historian Eusebio Leal.2 Yet, as envisioned from afar during the 1990s, Havana’s dilapidated buildings also exuded nostalgic yearnings for a Cuba of ideologically variegated lost dreams. As exemplified in Wim Wenders’s Buena Vista Social Club (1999) and numerous photography books, ruins are as common in the epoch’s fiction and film as resourceful recipes for transforming cardboard into steak. Thus the apprenticeship in Cuban culture in Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s 1993 film Fresa y chocolate experienced by the communist youth, David, under the tutelage of the gay intellectual, Diego, includes a tour of Old Havana’s disintegrating buildings. But when enveloped in nostalgia, the ruins motif is troubling. Emma Álvarez Tabío proposes that the international gaze on Havana displays a morbid fascination with decaying buildings, a “trivialization of nostalgia” in the mass media’s iconic images that juxtapose the city’s “ruinous splendor” with shots of fleeing balseros (raft people) (99). Inside Cuba, she argues, the focus on ruins mythologizes memory and elides critique: “The active gaze on what might have been and was not is transformed into an uncritical


Vicky Unruh

gaze on what was” (99; italics in original).3 José Quiroga argues that through the foreign voyeur’s morbid fascination with a city’s demise “the commercial traffic in objects” becomes traffic in symbolic referents (97). Thus tourists find this description of Havana on the Lonely Planet Web site: “Crumbling, withered, exotic, and alive” (“Havana: Overview”).4 A trenchant, counternostalgic critique of the obsession with Havana’s ruins emerges in the essays and fiction of Antonio José Ponte (b. 1964). As a self-styled “ruinologist” who searches Havana’s collapsing buildings for a “newly opened rich vein” that might provide aesthetic stimulus, Ponte questions whether such finds may obscure the suffering of others and wonders “how much immorality exists in writing about an accident . . . instead of offering assistance to the victims” (2003, 15–16). Having deployed the ruins motif in poetry, fiction, and essays, Ponte makes the compelling argument—in writing and in the 2006 documentary Habana—Arte nuevo de hacer ruinas by German director and writer Florian Borchmeyer (b. 1974) and producer Matthias Hentscher (b. 1972)—that the buildings abandoned to ruination feed the ideological justifications of a state invested for more than four decades in portraying itself as a nation at war with the United States.5 Implicit in Ponte’s argument is that ruins are pressed into service for cultural or political agendas of the present. Based on an analogous conception of the ruin’s theoretical power, I want to shift the focus here to argue that, in their literary and cinematic representations, Havana’s post-Soviet urban ruins bear witness to an intense cultural conversation about the ideology of work as one of the founding tenets of revolutionary discourse and one acutely challenged by the economic crisis. In making this argument, with examples from films by Fernando Pérez (b. 1944), Borchmeyer and Hentscher’s documentary, and fiction by Abilio Estévez (b. 1954), I adhere to a conception of the ruin as process, or as Ponte himself would say, drawing on Jean Cocteau’s portrayal of the ruin as an “accident in slow motion,” as a “negotiation” (2007, 168, 196). The ruin in my analysis is a structure undergoing decomposition, signaling movement rather than stasis.6 This conception draws on comparisons between performance and archeology theorized by Mike Pearson and Michael Shanks, who argue that by resisting the impulse to fully restore a site “in ruin,” archeological investigation—like theatrical performance—can yield a “deep map” of cultural narratives in contest (92, 158–59; my italics). A concept of ruination as process showcases the unfolding of history, as in Walter Benjamin’s widely cited metaphor of the angel of history, propelled toward the future by the debris of the past (257–58). For Cuba, this conception of ruins undercuts stereotypes of a society supposedly frozen in time. Ponte, too, questions this image when he notes its profound “disadvantage of denying a life history to millions of individuals” (2003, 15). In foregrounding ruins as the stage for revealing those life histories, the artistic works examined here refashion cultural debates about work

Ruins Dwellers in Havana


that, although dating back to nineteenth-century independence struggles, intensified in the socialist era, and resurged with the post-Soviet crisis. By considering the ruin as a historical process, I do not reject Quiroga’s conception of contemporary Cuban reality as a palimpsest of time frames in uneasy coexistence. To the contrary, the contending conceptions of work exemplified in post-Soviet artistic expression demonstrate that the discourse of dedication to work on which thousands of Cubans were weaned did not vanish with the socialist nation’s economic crisis and transition to an uncertain future. Rather, the revolutionary work ethic coexists dynamically with its own rejection, critical reiteration, or creative refashioning within new economic times. Moreover, the architectural ruin, requiring constant upkeep to fend off collapse, offers a rich scenario for a critical and creative recycling of a reverence toward work that, while perhaps under threat of being forgotten, is certainly not gone.

Home Improvements: Recycled Bodies at Work In a powerful moment of Fresa y chocolate, the intellectual Diego, having lost his job as a journalist for supporting unorthodox artists, asks his communist friend, David, how he can survive in Cuba with only manual labor as an option: “What am I to do with a brick in my hand?” Here the film takes aim at a party line privileging physical over cultural labor. The debates spawned by the Revolution about the relative value of physical and intellectual work are well-known and are embodied in Fidel Castro’s 1961 lecture, “Words to the Intellectuals,” which allowed intellectual activity as long as it served revolutionary goals, or in Gutiérrez Alea’s film Memorias del subdesarrollo (1967), which portrayed the radical isolation of a bourgeois intellectual remaining in Cuba with no clear tasks to perform. In the 1970s, as Desiderio Navarro details, Cuban mass culture depicted intellectuals as out of touch with hard work (198). This debate about work, as I have detailed elsewhere, was ongoing throughout Cuba’s twentieth century and anchored in its first modern intellectual, José Martí. Martí’s literary metaphors elided boundaries between physical and intellectual labor, legitimating the latter by equating it with the former, as when he likened thinking to “open[ing] furrows” or “lay[ing] foundations” (2: 473).7 Post-Soviet Cuban visions of work staged in Havana’s ruins flip this equation, validating physical work through its power to stimulate imagination. The poster art of the Cuban Revolution provides a visual rendition of official work discourse through metonymies between workers’ powerful bodies and those of athletes or revolutionary soldiers. For example, Heriberto Echeverría’s “Harvest Quota Achieved (sugar)” (1972) depicts a harvester’s arm holding up cane stalks whose smoke-like emanations resemble fumes from discharged rifles (Reproduced in Cushing, 46). Work


Vicky Unruh

imagery was also often collective and projected toward the future. René Mederos’s “To Camagüey—With the Faith and Valor of the Attackers of the Moncada” (1971?) overlays a colorful sky of stacked rifles on a scene of faceless farmers marching behind a (tank-like) tractor (Reproduced in Cushing, 45; question mark in original). Post-Soviet representations of work, by contrast, draw metonymies between individual bodies in disrepair and buildings in ruins, both requiring constant upkeep for survival. Ranging from flat out rejection to sardonic humor and pathos, these portrayals give testimony to the enduring power of the directive to work. Zoe Valdés, for example, categorically rejects this directive by depicting characters in jobs with nothing to do, people enacting what Estévez has called “the productivity of idleness” (December 2002).8 But artistic deployments of ruins offer more ambiguous interpretations of bodies at work. For example, the protagonist of Ena Lucía Portela’s novel Cien botellas en una pared (2002), a victim of domestic abuse, inhabits a space under perpetual renovation: “the Corner of the Joyful Hammer” (15). More searing is the 1994 debut of the solo composition Fast Food by Marianela Boán. As Magaly Muguercia describes it, Boán, carrying an empty plate and “prison-like utensils,” met spectators at the theater entrance: “Suddenly, the dancer came through the doorway and displayed her thin body, which seemed . . . to be charged with a strange excess of energy. . . . Her body, that of a virtuoso dancer, broke up and recomposed itself fleetingly in a minimalist combat that posed strength and assertion against tiny microscopic movements. And this incandescent body executed at the end the horrendous, impeccable act of eating its own fingers” (Muguercia, 181). The substitution of fingers for sustenance in this endgame restoration hyperbolizes the creative recycling designed to keep both working bodies and declining buildings standing, acts that can either accelerate their decline or keep them afloat. Thus, in Ponte’s story “Un arte de hacer ruinas,”9 an apprentice city-planner, writing a thesis on Havana’s inward expansion through the creation of internal lofts within overcrowded buildings, learns from his advisors about the pulls between the “miraculous statics” (2000, 31) that sustain bulging structures and their occupation by relocated inhabitants, whose internal expansion that resembles the dancer’s consumption of her fingers, hastens the buildings’ fall. Such refurbishing scenarios deploy both bodies and buildings for innovative ends, substitutions key to survival, fending off collapse, or even generating hope. Two films also portray, from different ideological optics, workers engaged in jobs other than those they were trained for against a backdrop of crumbling buildings: Borchmeyer and Hentscher’s aforementioned documentary, Habana—Arte nuevo de hacer ruinas and Pérez’s Suite Habana (2003). Through a metonymic recycling of bodies and buildings, both films blur the tensions in revolutionary discourse between physical labor and the work of the imagination, rendering them compatible and

Ruins Dwellers in Havana


intimating that the former generates the latter. With Ponte’s observations weaving through it and a title that echoes his story, Arte nuevo counters romantic images of ruins used for aesthetic and philosophical inspiration with the labors and reflections of seven inhabitants of Havana’s collapsing buildings, Ponte among them. These buildings serving as “home” are recycled from other incarnations: the plumber Totico lives in the old Arbos building turned tenement; the aspiring writer Misleydis occupies a dilapidated garret in the former Hotel Reina; the custodian Reinaldo lives in the abandoned Campoamor theater; the aging, disaffected revolutionary Nicanor ekes out subsistence farming on a nearby one-time country estate. Whatever their past or imagined occupations, these characters are now all maintenance workers, engaged not in Old Havana world heritage restoration, but rather in what Esther Whitfield aptly designates in another context as “a sequence of modest labors” (154). Focusing on the minutiae of upkeep, this film foregrounds weary but committed bodies working to sustain themselves (cooking, eating, laundering, weeding) and their sheltering edifices (cleaning up rain and sewage, patching, repairing). The film casts its characters as the buildings’ loving caretakers who, appreciative of their beauty and history, refuse to move, an implicit condemnation, articulated more openly by Ponte, of the abandonment of buildings and occupants attributed to the state. Less condemnatory, Pérez’s Suite Habana, which he describes as a hybrid of documentary and film (2004, 193; 2007, 73), follows a day in the life of 12 actual Havana citizens, ages 10–97, from sunrise till bedtime. With no dialogue except stray phrases in a background mix of street sounds and music, the film interweaves fragment scenes alternating among individual protagonists moving through their day. Subtitles identify them by name and age, and in conclusion, still shots with subtitles sum up characters’ dreams for the future. The journey from day to night is framed by shots of two city landmarks: the searchlight of Havana’s harbor lighthouse and the shift changes of citizens guarding the revered bronze sculpture of John Lennon seated on a park bench in the Vedado neighborhood. In addition to extensive national and international recognition, as Elliott Young details, Suite Habana generated strong responses in Cuban audiences, including public weeping and standing ovations (36).10 The film’s ruined buildings provide a more mundane background than their center staging in Arte nuevo, but the peeling paint and decaying walls flash in and out of focus. More dramatic is the closing scene of Havana’s renowned malecón (breakwater), whose fragile buildings, battered by waves, exude a ghostly aura as the new day dawns to the crescendo of Omara Portuondo singing the timeworn bolero “Quiéreme mucho.” Against this dilapidated backdrop, the film magnifies the painstaking physicality of the characters’ daily work with sustained close-ups of simple acts—ironing a shirt, picking through grains of uncooked rice,


Vicky Unruh

jack-hammering a street—whereby laboring bodies and the objects with which they work conjoin in a single image. As Ana Serra points out, on one level Suite Habana reinforces longstanding revolutionary values of education, resistance, and perseverance (2006, 98). At the same time, however, the film critically recasts those values, particularly the values of work. Not all are caretakers of ruined habitats as in Arte nuevo, but several Suite Habana characters hold day jobs in repair or recycling: Heriberto (37) repairs railroad tracks; Julio (67) rebuilds shoes; Iván (30) launders hospital sheets; Francisco (55) patches and reconstructs walls; and Ernesto (20), who lives in his mother’s collapsing house, is Francisco’s apprentice. As in Arte nuevo, these characters recycle themselves into new jobs required by changing economic realities. Thus Norma (70), a former art teacher, now cares for her Downs syndrome grandson, Francisquito (10; Francisco’s son); Waldo (71), Francisquito’s grandfather and a retired Marxism professor, engages in overseas shortwave radio exchanges; Amalia (79), a retired textile worker, sells peanuts on Havana streets; and Francisco, a former carpenter with a state job, is now a freelance construction worker, referencing changes in permissible work in transitional Cuba. Although the film has moments of pathos (Amalia, we learn in her closing shot, is the only one who “no longer has any dreams”), it envelops these characters who shore up a dilapidated material world and a work ideology under siege in an aura of subdued, reflective hopefulness and imagined change. In both films, the recycling anchored in ruins is potentially transformative, promoting critical thought in physical laborers who are also would-be creators. A common feature generated by the intense focus on bodily minutiae is the projection of labor as the most intimate of individual acts and one that encourages reflection. This optic generates a sense that characters are engaged in deep thought and provokes spectators’ curiosity about its content. Arte nuevo satisfies this curiosity through character narrations that intertwine their life histories with those of the buildings they labor to maintain. The tone, in contrast to Suite Habana, is often elegiac: Misleydis laments that the beautiful building that houses her garret is dying, and Totico compares the crumbling Arbos building he maintains to an “old lady with lots of rouge on her cheeks.” But the characters plumb their buildings’ cultural history that, for Misleydis, the aspiring writer, and for Nicanor, the custodian turned opera aficionado living in the old theater, provides an education for imagining alternative futures. For Suite Habana’s characters, the reflection stimulated by their daytime material labors unfolds into their almost universal transformation by night into creative artists. Thus, Iván the launderer wears the platform shoes repaired by Julio to perform as a female impersonator; Ernesto, the construction worker’s apprentice, dances ballet; Juan Carlos, the doctor working for a food service performs as a clown; Heriberto, the train-track repairman, plays the saxophone with a band; Norma, her grandson’s caretaker, paints; and Francisco climbs onto the roof of his

Ruins Dwellers in Havana


decaying building and teaches Francisquito about the stars. Pérez’s pursuit of an aesthetic of the fragment, whose metaphoric musical “suite” and visual patchwork of characters’ labors constitute his own creative refurbishment of the decaying city, establishes a metonymy between his work and theirs and creates a new kind of filmmaking from his lengthy experience as a documentary director for the Revolution’s national film institute, ICAIC, combined with his later work on feature films.

Each One Teach One: (Cultural) Literacy Campaigns in the Ruins In these two films, recycling a splintered cityscape’s bodies and buildings yields a new image of cultural work. Literary and filmic ruins also provide a scenario for reconfiguring the Revolution’s most lauded cultural worker: the teacher. Widely recognized as one of the state’s early successes, the volunteer literacy campaigns of 1960–1961 sought to span the divide between educated workers and peasants. Quoting from Che Guevara’s Socialismo y el hombre en Cuba (1965), Serra describes the goal to transform Cuba into a gigantic school (2007, 31) and describes this bridging dynamic between cultural and physical labor. “The literacy workers,” she explains, were to emulate and somehow “incarnate” the peasants’ “revolutionary spirit”; they, in turn, would “become teachers and transmit their knowledge to others” (2007, 29). In her analysis of Daura Olema García’s 1962 novel Maestra voluntaria (Volunteer Teacher), Serra demonstrates the novel’s acknowledgment of the campaign’s “failed identifications between teachers and students” (2007, 28–52). Critiques of the Revolution’s utopian pedagogy abound in post-Soviet literature and film. Returning to Fresa y chocolate, for example, Diego explains to David that he, too, tried to join the literacy campaigns but instead was reassigned for sexual-orientation reprogramming in the labor camps of the mid-1960s. Not surprisingly, then, Diego’s friendship with the loyal revolutionary, David, whose cultural education, the film implies, has been stunted by state pedagogy, unfolds as a private, illicit tutorial in the riches of Cuba’s artistic and literary past, including the city’s architectural ruins. Diego’s dilapidated garret, secluded within a populous Havana tenement, overflows with remains from this past combined with the contraband culture of the present: photographs, banned books, scratchy records, and yellowing magazines. This image of the Havana ruin as a cultural archive harboring renewable hidden treasures is reiterated in multiple scenarios that, to evoke Diana Taylor’s archive and repertoire dynamic, generate new performative scenarios, recycling the Revolution’s literacy campaigns into new conceptions of teaching and learning. Madagascar (1994), the first of Pérez’s trio on late-twentieth-century Havana, portrays timeworn revolutionary pedagogy as a discourse


Vicky Unruh

emptied of content. The film, whose technical imperfections reflect the material scarcity of the special period’s worst months, enacts the generational conflict between a dedicated revolutionary, Laura, a physics professor in a state institution, and her adolescent daughter, Laurita, who rejects her mother’s world, drops out of school, and threatens to move to Madagascar, her utopian designation for not-Cuba. Laurita’s grandmother appears to side with the teenager and plays Monopoly with the girl’s boyfriend, evoking an earlier time and a postsocialist future. Opening and closing scenes of countless habaneros walking their bicycles through the Havana tunnel conjure up unending cycles of monotonous work. The dilapidated dwellings occupied by Laura and Laurita in a succession of economically necessary moves provide a ruinous setting, and close-ups of people laboring through the sustaining acts of chewing and breathing (with enhanced sound effects) forge the link between a crumbling city and its beleaguered bodies. In this setting, the film enacts a contentious, generational debate between traditional revolutionary pedagogy and contemporary life experience, a dynamic framed by Laura’s voice-over conversation with a doctor, to whom she affirms more than once “I like my work.” But we see her at work only in a decaying institutional library overflowing with disintegrating newspapers and journals, a place where exhausted colleagues clean their foggy spectacles and execute repetitive note-taking and erasures. At an awards ceremony ostensibly honoring them, Laura and her colleagues stand in an empty urban lot where a loudspeaker announcement reiterates a disembodied party line: “We are proud of you all.” Laura’s conversations with colleagues after the ceremony further undermine the pedagogic enterprise when she learns that one of her weakest students is achieving success in Paris and a longtime colleague is quitting teaching to raise goats in the countryside. Scrutinizing old photos of her student years during the Revolution, Laura despairs at not finding her own face, a recognized disconnection from the utopian pedagogy that motivated her own career and for which the school library constitutes a crumbling archive. For her part, Laurita balks at her mother’s help with schoolwork and seeks a different education through alternative repertoires of real-world experience, an autodidactic cultural literacy campaign of rock music, evangelical church singing, meditation, classical art, opera, and—most important—a spontaneous tutorial for hungry, Afro-Cuban street children whom she gathers in her home. The fact that Laura, who evicts this improvised class, fails to see the connections between Laurita’s pedagogic outreach and the revolutionary roots of her own career underscores an educational discourse in ruins, but one out of which Laurita’s new experiential literacy emerges. Pérez’s La vida es silbar (1998) teases out these notions of new pedagogy and refurbished cultural repertoire. This film presents three characters—the nursing home attendant, Julia, the prima ballerina Mariana, and the fisherman, hustler, and would-be musician, Elpidio—who

Ruins Dwellers in Havana


eventually liberate themselves from the repressive guilt generated by a utopian society’s unreasonable expectations and learn that they need not choose between useful lives and creative pleasures. Bebé narrates the story and intervenes in the characters’ lives to encourage this perspective shift that will, she hopes, make them happy. Mariana, Elpidio, and Bebé are connected because they all grew up in the same orphanage-school; Bebé is Julia’s out-of-wedlock daughter, delivered to the orphanage in infancy. As Serra astutely details, Elpidio, in particular, embodies the failed Guevara-model “New Man” of revolutionary pedagogy (2006, 94–95), a failure manifested in his acute sense of abandonment by Cuba Valdés, the Afro-Cuban mother-teacher who directed the orphanageschool. This school provides the film’s opening ruinous site. It also constitutes an archive of contradictory teaching models, one evoking the orthodoxy of literacy campaigns and the other offering the improvisational, culturally rich alternative of whistling. An unnamed teacher performs the first model by calling on students to parrot words like “i-gual-dad” in syllabified form. This teacher disciplines her students’ literacy through punishment, as when Bebé refuses to speak or, worse yet, whistles, and is isolated in the basement. By contrast, Cuba Valdés’s classes include dancing and singing, an education on the work of Cuban musicians Benny Moré and Bola de Nieve, whose facial expression in the adult Elpidio’s fantasies register a mentor’s alternating disappointment and approval. In contrast to the reading teacher, Cuba allows whistling in her dance classes. This improvisational activity, performable by a body’s most basic resources, provides a through-line when Elpidio, Mariana, and Julia, at Bebé’s instigation, meet again at the Plaza de la Revolución and, in an act of recognition, Elpidio sets them all to whistling, an activity also taken up by countless Havana citizens as the film ends. Moreover, a renewed performative literacy in an enlarged repertoire of Cuban life—developed through tutorials with other characters—has led each character to this encounter. Elpidio, who stakes out his habitat in a malecón tenement, acquires a new perspective on Havana through a romantic liaison with a tourist who takes him on an air balloon ride, and reconnects with Afro-Cuban rituals and the music of his childhood. Julia, whose repression makes her faint every time she hears the word “sex,” relearns how to dance and enjoy life through a dialogue with her therapist. Mariana, whose punitive ballet teacher has ordered her to forego passion in order to earn the lead in Giselle, learns through her male dance partner and a paradoxical reconnection with Catholic ritual that she need not choose between artistic discipline and pleasure. For all three characters, relearning to whistle embodies renewed ties to the improvisational creativity ascribed by the film to the Cuban cultural forms to which they were exposed in the orphanage. Estévez’s novel Los palacios distantes (2002) enacts a more explicit cultural literacy campaign in new repertoires generated by the archive


Vicky Unruh

of a Havana theater in ruins. As the novel opens, the central character, Victorio, quits his day job, an act accompanying his contemplation of the fragile architectural supports of his dwelling in a palace once owned by a slaveholder and now transformed into a tenement: “these boards aim to prevent a collapse that in any case seems imminent,” he observes (3).11 This imminence permeates the novel’s conception of ruins as the site for creative work in progress. When the state demolition brigade condemns the building for renovation, Victorio leaves a bureaucratic position at an aqueduct and takes up wandering the ruined city fulltime. Ruins provide the sites of Victorio’s engagement with the present and his providential encounters with two other characters, Salma and Don Fuco. Nourished by dreams of Hollywood stardom, Salma supports herself through prostitution for tourists and flees physical abuse by her pimp. Don Fuco, a virtuoso clown whose mercurial persona synthesizes adolescence and decrepit old age in one fragile body, gives refuge to Victorio and Salma in the ruined theater he inhabits, aptly named the Pequeño Liceo de la Habana, that is, a small lyceum or arts school. Kindred to Diego’s garret in Fresa y chocolate, this performative site of cultural memory harbors the dynamic ghosts of a rich Cuban and Western artistic past, including multiple international luminaries who once performed in Havana. In this ruined theater turned school, Don Fuco trains Victoria and Salma to join him in a performing trio. This apprenticeship regenerates a repertoire ranging from the Commedia dell’arte and Shakespeare through Stanislavski, Grotowsky, and Peter Brook. Juxtaposing high art with popular culture, the pedagogic enterprise also includes stories, characters, and artistic phantoms and dreams harbored in the theater’s dressing rooms, archives of past and future performances. Victorio and Salma’s apprenticeship in Havana’s prerevolutionary cultural history constitutes the kind of “reinscription” of a “repressed aesthetic” that James Buckwalter-Arias lucidly identifies with the special period (364–67). Yet the trio’s artistic refuge in the ruined theater shares porous boundaries with everyday Havana, and in counternostalgic moves that display the city’s enduring twentieth-century inequalities, the three also demythologize that tradition, stripping it of regressive nostalgia.12 Taking their show on the road in the surrounding city, moreover, subverts the epoch’s tourist Havana and enacts a new pedagogy that critically relocates the Revolution’s literacy campaigns in a celebration of creative, cultural work. In contrast to the performing troupes that parade daily through old Havana’s tourist sector, Don Fuco and his protégées perform in hospitals, asylums, funeral homes, cemeteries, and neighborhoods tourists do not see. These shows privilege the performing teachers as those with keys to the cultural archive housed in the ruinous theater, a renewable repertoire they profess to deliver to ordinary Cubans. The collective quality of this trio’s pedagogic ventures counterbalances the representation of physical labor in post-Soviet Cuba as a sometimes

Ruins Dwellers in Havana


isolating solo act that I have described in Arte nuevo and Suite Habana. In fact, while focusing on individual life histories of contemporary Havana ruins dwellers, the works I have explored here also link the creative reflection generated by ruins to community, though different in kind from revolutionary norms for solidarity. Totico’s ex-wife in Arte nuevo, for example, leaves the ruined Arbos building to live in eastern Havana’s Alamar, a massive modern housing project built by state microbrigades in the early 1970s.13 Yet she misses a sense of history and community in the ruined tenement and often returns. In Suite Habana, community emerges in the night life that transforms the daytime workers into creative artists in vast group scenes that critically evoke and replace the mass political rallies that the film’s oldest characters watch on state television. La vida es silbar reunites its characters through creative ventures, and the film’s closing scene assembles countless Havana citizens through improvisational whistling as they roller blade along the malecón. If the closing scene of the 1967 Memorias del subdesarrollo contrasted the isolated intellectual Sergio to the armed workers’ brigades protecting the city during the Cuban missile crisis, post-Soviet literary and filmic representations of individual work-in-progress challenge the divide between everyday work and art and, from within the ruins of a splintered utopia, rehearse an emergent, if precarious, new kinship of Cuban citizenry.

Notes 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13.

Castro decreed the special period in January 1990. See Gott (286–98). See Scarpaci, Segre, Coyula (310–45), and Estrada (55–58). Unless otherwise noted, translations are mine. Dopico also comments on tourists’ voyeuristic scrutiny of ruins (451). For an excellent analysis of Ponte’s war argument in his writing, see Whitfield’s Chapter 5. Fernandes also analyzes portrayals of special period Havana as “postwar reconstructions” (135–42). See Unruh, 2007. See Unruh, 2005. Fernandes details the revolutionary work ethic’s historical origins (26). See Valdés’s La nada cotidiana (1995), whose portrayal of work I address in Unruh, 2005 (26–28). “A Knack for Making Ruins” titles the English translation. On Suite Habana’s awards, see Elliott (37). The citation is from Frye’s translation. Here I depart from Casamayor, who sees the theater as disconnected from Havana. See Scarpaci, Segre, and Coyula on Alamar (218–20).

Select Bibliography Álavarez-Tabío Albo, Emma. “La ciudad en el aire.” In Cuba y el día después: doce ensayistas nacidos con la revolución imaginan el futuro, edited by Iván de la Nuez, 83–105. Barcelona: Mondadori, 2001.


Vicky Unruh

Benjamin, Walter. “Theses on the Philosophy of History.” In Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, by Benjamin, edited by Hannah Arendt and translated by Harry Zohn, 253–64. New York: Schocken Books, 1969. Borchmeyer, Florian, director, and Matthias Hentscher, producer. Habana—Arte nuevo de hacer ruinas. Raros Media (Berlin), 2006. Buckwalter-Arias, James. “Reinscribing the Aesthetic: Cuban Narrative and PostSoviet Cultural Politics. PMLA 120, no. 2 (March 2005): 362–74. Casamayor Cisneros, Odette. “¿Cómo vivir las ruinas habaneras de los años noventa?: respuestas disímiles desde la isla en las obras de Abilio Estévez, Pedro Juan Gutiérrez y Ena Lucía Portela.” Caribbean Studies 32, no. 2 (July– December 2004): 63–103. Castro, Fidel. “Words to the Intellectuals.” In Radical Perspectives in the Arts, edited by Lee Baxandall, 267–98. Hammondsworth, England: Penguin, 1972. Cushing, Lincoln. ¡Revolución: Cuban Poster Art! San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2003. Dopico, Ana María. “Picturing Havana: History, Vision, and the Scramble for Cuba.” Nepantla: Views from the South 3, no. 3 (2002): 451–93. Estévez, Abilio. Distant Palaces. Translated by David Frye. New York: Arcade, 2002. ———. “No hay modo de ignorar la vida: de una conversación con Abilio Estévez.” By Arturo Arango. (December 2002). ———. Los palacios distantes. Barcelona: Tusquets, 2002. Estrada, Alfredo José. Havana: Autobiography of a City. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Fernandes, Sujatha. Cuba Represent! Cuban Arts, State Power, and the Making of New Revolutionary Cultures. Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press, 2006. Gott, Richard. Cuba: A New History. New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 2004. “Havana: Overview.” Havana Travel Guide and Information—Lonely Planet. Martí, José. Obras escogidas en tres tomos, 3 vols. Havana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1992. Muguercia, Magaly. “The Body and Its Politics in Cuba of the Nineties.” Boundary 2 29, no. 3 (2002): 175–85. Navarro, Desiderio. “In Medias Res Publicas: On Intellectuals and Social Criticism in the Cuban Public Sphere.” Translated by Alessandro Fornazzari and Desiderio Navarro. Boundary 2 29, no. 3 (Fall 2002): 187–203. Pearson, Mike, and Michael Shanks. Theatre/Archaeology. London: Routledge, 2003. Pérez, Fernando. “Filmar es silbar: entrevista con el director Fernando Pérez.” By Edna M. Rodríguez-Mangual. Confluencia: revista hispánica de cultura y literatura 20, no. 1 (Fall 2004): 188–96. ———. “Imagining the Future in Revolutionary Cuba: An Interview with Fernando Pérez.” By Ann Marie Stock. Film Quarterly 60, no. 3 (2007): 68–75. Pérez, Fernando, director. Madagascar. ICAIC, 1994. ———, director. Suite Habana. ICAIC, 2003. ———, director. La vida es silbar. ICAIC, 1998. Ponte, Antonio José. “Un arte de hacer ruinas.” In Un arte de hacer ruinas y otros cuentos, by Ponte, edited by Esther Whitfield, 56–73. Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2005. ———. La fiesta vigilada. Barcelona: Editorial Anagrama, 2007.

Ruins Dwellers in Havana


———. “A Knack for Making Ruins.” In Tales from the Cuban Empire, by Ponte, translated by Cola Franzen, 21–44. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2000. ———. “What Am I Doing Here?” In Cuba on the Verge: An Island in Transition, edited by Terry McCoy, 14–16. Boston, New York, and London: Bulfinch Press, 2003. Portela, Ena Lucía. Cien botellas en una pared. Barcelona: Random House Mondadori, 2002. Quiroga, José. Cuban Palimpsests. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2005. Scarpaci, Joseph L., Robert Segre, and Mario Coyula. Havana: Two Faces of the Antillean Metropolis, revised edition. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 2002. Serra, Ana. “La Habana cotidiana: espacio urbano en el cine de Fernando Pérez.” Chasqui 35, no. 1 (May 2006): 88–105. ———. The “New Man” in Cuba: Culture and Identity in the Revolution. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2007. Taylor, Diana. The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas. Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press, 2003. Unruh, Vicky. “Gender, the Culture of Work, and the Work of Culture: Exemplary Tales from Cuba.” Brújula 4, no. 1 (December 2005): 9–32. ———. “ ‘It’s a Sin to Bring Down an Art Deco’: Sabina Berman’s Theater among the Ruins.” PMLA 122, no. 1 (January 2007): 135–50. Whitfield, Esther. Cuban Currency: The Dollar and “Special Period” Fiction. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2008. Young, Elliott. “Between the Market and a Hard Place: Fernando Pérez’s Suite Habana in a Post-utopian Cuba.” Cuban Studies 38 (2007): 26–49.

This page intentionally left blank

Chapter 17 Witness to the Ruins: An Artist’s Testimony* Rolf Abderhalden Cortés

I am only the spokesperson for the project I am going to discuss here, one of its many authors, one of its many actors.1 This project, which forms part of the work that Heidi Abderhalden and I have produced over the past 20 years in Mapa Teatro, has brought together a diverse group of people—artists and nonartists—from different fields and disciplines. It has also linked us to a significant area of Bogotá, the Santa Inés-El Cartucho barrio. Between 2001 and 2005, in this place—a place that has since disappeared from the city map—Mapa Teatro carried out a transdisciplinary artistic project: the Proyecto C’ùndua. This project demonstrates the intimate relationship that can be forged between art and the city. Its unique resonance was due to its particular qualities and implications, which were not only aesthetic but also ethnographic, anthropological, sociological, and above all, human and relational. In fact, the Proyecto C’ùndua can be characterized as belonging to the sphere of what some theorists now call relational art. 2 In 1998 the local administration undertook an ambitious urban renewal plan in Bogotá, whereby it made radical decisions that had important consequences for the city’s social makeup. Because of geographic proximity, the community of the Academia Superior de Artes de Bogotá experienced at close range the impact of the transformation suffered by the Centro zone in particular. At that time, the Santa Inés barrio, commonly known as El Cartucho, was a stigmatized area, burdened not only by its own long, rich urban history, but also by a plethora of mythologies that we all carried with us to varying degrees, depending on our proximity or distance from that physical and symbolic location. For me, as a child growing up in a distant neighborhood to the north where I had little contact with the Santa Inés barrio, it was the object of fears and fantasies. It was a specific site of fear—the city’s center of fear.


Rolf Abderhalden Cortés

The Santa Inés barrio, now an empty space in the collective memory of our urbis, has a long history: it is one of the foundational neighborhoods of Bogotá. The decision made in 1998 to demolish it completely—to turn it into a tabula rasa and replace it with a park, an empty space covered in greenery—put an end to part of our history, a part of our social, urban history that constitutes, in short, a history of ways of doing, of unprecedented social practices, histories of irreplaceable lives, unparalleled stories of survival. It is the end of the history of a local singularity that, upon disappearing, becomes a homogeneous and global nonplace. El Cartucho, that floating street that lent its name to an entire neighborhood, was a site for the creation of what Giorgio Agamben calls a “virtual field.” For Agamben, a virtual field is the physical space in which the establishment legitimizes a state of exception, whereby a portion of territory remains outside the established juridical order. In this virtual field of the city, a modus vivendi sui generis, with its own laws and rules, organized itself under the state’s blind eye. For decades, an extraordinarily heterogeneous human community lived there: recyclers, shopkeepers, small business owners, prostitutes, single men, and families. Because of the affordability of the multiple forms of lodging and housing in the area, it was also home to immigrants displaced by hunger or violence from other regions of Colombia. Due to the particular state of exception that characterized it, the area became a strategic point in the city for all sorts of business and transactions, legal and illegal, as well as for the most ingenious activities of the economía de rebusque (informal economy). From 2001 to 2005, Mapa Teatro-Laboratorio de Artistas developed an artistic project, with the initial support of a new local administration led by Antanas Mockus (2000–2003), and later independently until the project’s end in 2005. Despite the financing awarded by the Bogotá mayor’s office for developing its first phase, the C’ùndua project always maintained a critical distance and complete freedom of action in relation to the local administration. In 2001, when we arrived in Santa Inés-El Cartucho, the Mapa Teatro team was confronted by a partially devastated urban landscape. The construction of the first phase of the Parque Tercer Milenio was advancing in tandem with negotiations for and the purchase of the remaining buildings. The terrifying image of the demolition of vacated houses immediately made us want to stop time, to keep the tangible traces of history from being erased. The city’s architectural patrimony was collapsing before our eyes and those of its inhabitants. Throughout this experience, which was devastating in every sense of the word, we became conscious of the fact that each and every demolition of a building erased the perspective of a fundamental—and foundational— memory of the city. This was not only an architectural memory and a social and cultural memory, but also an intangible patrimony, constituted by a kind of narrativity that relies on nothing but orality as the ground of its existence.

Witness to the Ruins


Our project began with an initial artistic action whose starting point was the myth of Prometheus: Prometheus: First Act. Why did we resort to myth? Myth is the consummate story. Its generative nature makes it a catalyst for stories that repeat themselves like dreams, continually configuring and reconfiguring themselves in a mobile structure that always reanimates itself. The community’s stories were a substantive part of the architecture of the neighborhood’s memory: a form of resistance in the face of oblivion, a potential footprint among the ruins. Along with the eagle, Prometheus is the fundamental figure of this myth. Prometheus steals fire from the gods and gives it to men, and, in so doing, transgresses a law, a pact he has made with the gods. When the gods discover that Prometheus has transgressed the law, he is condemned to exile in the Caucasus. There, he is chained to a rock where an eagle feeds every day on his liver. In turn, Prometheus nourishes himself with the eagle’s excrement, maintaining a cycle that makes survival possible for both the eagle and himself. Three thousand years later, the gods decide that his punishment has lasted long enough, and they send Heracles to free him. Once he is in the Caucasus, Heracles must surmount the wall of filth that surrounds Prometheus in order to liberate him. For us, this image and the description of this place corresponded to Santa Inés-El Cartucho’s devastated landscape. This myth, translated and reinterpreted by authors in every era, among them Kafka and Gide, was also taken up by one of the most important playwrights of our time, the German Heiner Müller. This “postdramatic” author revises the myth, updating it, but unlike his predecessors, places it in a new perspective: a kind of paradoxical tension, a contradiction that makes it impossible for his fable to conclude in a definitive, univocal way. We chose Müller’s version of the myth because here Prometheus, once he is face to face with Heracles, isn’t so certain that he desires his freedom. Heracles doesn’t understand how Prometheus cannot want to be free after so many years and so much struggling. Prometheus hesitates and indicates that he has grown accustomed to the eagle; he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to live without it. At precisely this turning point of the fable, the story’s “center of fear” emerges: Prometheus is more afraid of freedom than he is of the bird.3 Abandoning El Cartucho represented many things for its inhabitants, including the possibility of liberation and, at the same time, exile. That is how we arrived there: with the intention of proposing possible readings of this myth to a group of neighborhood residents. At this point, I think it is important to underline that, at the outset, the artist and the ethnographer maintain different viewpoints and positions in relation to the same object or, in this case, the same subjects. In general, a social scientist arrives with hypotheses that will be the object of verification. The artist has, above all, intuitions that will allow him or not to make visible objects, practices, images, stories. Although this opposition might seem a bit reductive today due to the transversal optic


Rolf Abderhalden Cortés

that both artists and social researchers now apply in their work, it is interesting to observe that the end point or destination of a project like ours would not have been the same from the perspective of a “pure” social researcher. So, without knowing quite how we were going to do it or, even less, how it was going to end, we approached a small, heterogeneous group of the great community of El Cartucho, represented by women and men of different ages, socioeconomic strata, and origins. With this experimental community, over the course of a year we carried out a creative laboratory that took Müller’s text as its point of departure. Müller’s text functioned as a readymade, as a found object taken out of its context to be interpreted and resignified by a multiplicity of readings, gazes, and gestures. As the text was being read, each person reinvented his or her own story, updating the original text and rewriting his or her own myth. This laboratory took the form of a “laboratory of the social imaginary,” as Müller calls it. At its conclusion, one night in December 2002 in a half-destroyed neighborhood, we staged Prometheus: First Act, a performative act, an install-action, in which a group of residents participated. In this public presentation, attended by many neighborhood people but also by people from other parts of the city, we staged the stories and the visual, aural, and gestural narratives born from the laboratory experience. A year later, on a December night in 2003, we presented Prometheus: Second Act. Among the neighborhood’s ruins, thousands of candles once again marked out streets and the walls of some houses of former inhabitants. In the absence of any trace, we had proposed that each participant choose the most meaningful place in the house: some chose the bedroom or the living room, others the bathroom or the kitchen, depending on the relationship they may have had with those spaces. In that temporarily reconstructed fragment of the neighborhood, we installed their furniture and chosen objects and, right there, each one of the participants reinstalled himself or herself for the space of one night. Small actions— individual and collective—alternated with video projections on huge screens, chronicling what had happened over the past year in the former inhabitants’ lives and in the neighborhood. At the conclusion, the group of participants, along with approximately a hundred former residents of Santa Inés-El Cartucho, danced on the neighborhood’s ruins to the music of a bolero. As when the god Shiva dances on destruction, something in life is reborn and regenerated. The project’s third artistic action took place in the Mapa Teatro headquarters: a republican era house, with architecture very similar to that of some Santa Inés houses. Physically, the house functioned as an installation, while it served symbolically as a metaphor for the neighborhood: through different interactive devices, each space activated a particular dimension of the living memory of Santa Inés-El Cartucho. We installed a device at the threshold that activated the neighborhood bell-ringer’s

Witness to the Ruins


call whenever a visitor entered. Remnants of the last house to be demolished—rubble, doors, windows—were placed in the central courtyard beneath two facing video projections, in which that same house was being simultaneously demolished and endlessly reconstructed by the image shown in reverse. Recycling, a principal activity of the area’s informal economy, materialized in another bedroom in the form of traditional recycling carts; television monitors took the place of recycled objects and showed images of diverse routes taken by recylers through the city. A scale allowed the spectators to weigh themselves and, at the same time, view their equivalent in recycled material on a projected image. The sound, smell, touch, and image of thousands of bottles suspended from another room’s ceiling generated a sensorial and semantic experience that was at once simple and complex. The projected image of the facade of the last house to be demolished appeared in an empty room whenever someone crossed the threshold. When the spectator went through that door (a hole in the wall) into the adjoining room, he or she entered—literally—the interior of a room in Santa Inés-Cartucho: there one could see, projected onto a wall, the image of a former neighborhood resident’s room as he or she described it, enumerating each one of its objects. In another “empty” room, the visitor could perceive cracks and holes in the walls. Drawing closer to the cracks, one could hear the voices of former inhabitants telling stories about their scars; nearing the holes, visitors could see those scars projected onto the adjoining room’s wall. Upon leaving the room, the visitors would find themselves in a hallway closed off by wooden crates blocking the path. A television monitor placed in between these crates allowed one to see identical wooden crates being recycled and the recycler’s route through different locations in the city. Finally, the visitor entered one last room with old illuminated radios, each one broadcasting a particular narrative about the neighborhood’s life. The fourth action, The Cleaning of the Stables of Augeas, began in 2004 with the construction of the Parque Tercer Milenio and took place in two locations: on the lot of the former neighborhood of Santa Inés, where the park was being built, and in the Museo de Arte Moderno de Bogotá. This work’s title once again referenced a mythic narrative: “The tasks of Heracles,” one of which is “the cleaning of the stables of Augeas.” This piece, a sound video-installation, linked the two locations in realtime by transporting into the museum space two images of the lot under construction: the image of the fence that enclosed it and the lot’s interior. On one side of the fence, we installed 12 television monitors that transmitted looping footage of the demolition of the last house in El Cartucho, on the so-called Callejón de la muerte, or Alley of Death. Across from these 12 “windows into the past” we built three columns, each containing a camera. Whatever the cameras recorded was transmitted via Internet into the museum room, where the lifesize image was projected onto a huge wall. Another camera installed


Rolf Abderhalden Cortés

on the roof of the only building that was not demolished (Medicina Legal) recorded, also in real time, the park’s construction in progress. This process was otherwise invisible to the city’s public. Thus, in the setting of the Salon of National Artists, there was a back-and-forth movement between the project’s original site, Santa Inés-El Cartucho, and a public space like the museum. However, in neither of these spaces was it possible to grasp the entire project. Those who wanted to see the transmission had to go to the museum, while those who wanted to see the actual object and the installation had to go to the park. This back-and-forth between two physical sites in the city also involved a displacement in time: a continual movement between images of the past and images of the present. This was not a mechanical exercise of recall but a dynamic experience of memory, understood in Walter Benjamin’s sense as a “constellation” of heterogeneous times. Likewise, the project spurred a movement of people between city locations; workers and former residents of Santa Inés-El Cartucho visited the Museo de Arte Moderno for the first time and the typical museum visitors went to the former Barrio Santa Inés, also for the first time. Contrary to what many expected, the 12 television monitors installed on top of the fence were left untouched until the exposition ended: for the area’s residents, the images were worth more than the objects. Symbolic necessity took precedence over economic necessity. The city’s renovation plan was a project under continuous construction, which, like our work, culminated with Parque Tercer Milenio’s inauguration in August 2005. Using all the material we had gathered since the beginning of the demolitions in 1998 until the park had been completed, we created one final artistic project: Witness to the Ruins. This piece, which combines audiovisual materials and performance, condenses our experience as witnesses to one of the city’s most ambitious urban projects on the threshold of the third millennium. It synthesizes our choice as artists confronted with the great paradoxes of the real: our testimonial role. Presented in theatrical and museum settings, as well as in nonconventional spaces, Witness to the Ruins brings together, on an apparatus of four moving screens, the images, testimonials, and stories of the area’s former inhabitants before, during, and after the disappearance of the Barrio Santa Inés and the appearance of a nonplace, the Parque Tercer Milenio. Through the gaze of El Cartucho’s last inhabitant, who performs the same action that she performed every day during her final years in the neighborhood— preparing arepas and chocolate—we witness the farewell ceremony of an important episode in our city’s history. Yet this act of leavetaking constitutes an act of resistance in the face of oblivion and the disappearance of the trace. This woman’s vitality—her final burst of laughter amid the park’s solitude—is a resounding testimony to the vital force of human beings in the face of the disaster produced by the vagaries of power.

Witness to the Ruins


Figure 17.1 Juana Ramírez in Mapa Teatro’s Testigo de las ruinas (Colombia). Hemipsheric Institute Encuentro, Centro Cultural Recoleta, Buenos Aires, Argentina (2007). Photograph courtesy of Marlène Ramírez-Cancio.

In 2006, the Parque Tercer Milenio was awarded the prize for best public works project at Colombia’s Bienal de Arquitectura. In truth, it was a prize awarded to a cemetery.

Notes * Translated by Sarah Townsend. 1. This text is part of a talk given in December 2006 at the Academia Superior de Artes de Bogotá. 2. See, for example, Nicolas Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics (Dijon: Les Presses du réel, 2002). 3. A text’s “center of fear” is comparable to the “punctum” that Barthes identified in the photographic image: it is the return of the dead.

This page intentionally left blank

Chapter 18 Coming Home to Praia de Flamengo: The Once and Future National Student Union Headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Victoria Langland

For much of the past 25 years, the curious parking lot at Praia de Flamengo 132 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil attracted attention only for its seeming incongruence with the surrounding location. Bordered by elegant high-rise apartment buildings, it faces the city’s largest and most picturesque park, and beyond this, Flamengo Beach and the Bay of Guanabara. One could ride the many city buses that traverse the busy boulevard or walk through the park out front and barely perceive the scruffy parking area. If one noted the space at all, it might only be for the fact that the modest lot of dirt floors and makeshift stalls seemed an odd use of such prime real estate. That the site held a rich and contested history from 1942 to 1964 as the location for the headquarters for the National Students’ Union (UNE, União Nacional dos Estudantes), a once elegant three-story building now long ago demolished, would not be obvious to anyone who did not already know so. As memory scholars such as James Young have noted, “without a deliberate act of remembrance, buildings, streets, or ruins remain little more than inert pieces of the cityscape” (62).1 In fact, for long periods in recent history, Praia de Flamengo 132 lay in abeyance. Nonetheless, during brief but recurring flashes of activism, students have periodically shattered this inertia by mobilizing to reclaim the area. In 1980, the last year of the building’s existence, UNE members vehemently protested the government’s decision to tear down the structure by holding increasingly large demonstrations to save it. For weeks, enormous banners, graffitied walls, and even the painted trunks of streetside palm trees marked the area, announcing students’ claims to the site with statements such as “We want our building” and “The memory of


Victoria Langland

the people will not be destroyed.”2 Seven years later, in 1987, with the building long gone and the parking lot erected in its place, UNE commemorated its fiftieth anniversary with a concert there. Another seven years after that, following extensive lobbying, students in 1994 won legal rights to the terrain from then-President Itamar Franco, an accomplishment they celebrated with both solemnity and lighthearted beers, first in a formal ceremony at the Hotel Gloria, and then in a neighborhood bar known for its historic ties to UNE, Café Lamas (Gusmão). Legal disputes with the parking lot owner subsequently interfered, however, and the union was unable to establish its possession of the site. Although UNE’s lawyers worked to enforce their ownership, until recently these struggles were confined to the courtroom, and Praia de Flamengo 132 remained an anonymous parking lot, unmarked and unremarkable. On the February 1, 2007, however, the site of the former UNE building came alive once again. On that day some 5,000 students ended a weeklong cultural festival with a march down Praia de Flamengo. Carrying banners and balloons, and accompanied by both musicians and former student leaders, the festive yet purposeful demonstrators sang and cheered their way to the parking lot. Once there, they broke down the flimsy gates, entered the site, and, amid choruses of the Brazilian and UNE anthems, declared themselves home to stay. “We’re going in because this is our house,” said current UNE President Gustavo Petta through a loudspeaker; “this is the history of the student movement” (EstudanteNet, “O dia dos bons filhos”). And move in they did. Replacing the parked cars with tents, to be supplemented later by portable bathrooms and showers, office space, storage lockers and a small theater, rotating teams of students pledged to stay permanently at the site to protect their recent “reconquest,” as some soon came to call it. Within days, they replaced the billboards and advertisements out front with colorful murals depicting UNE and UBES (União Brasileira de Estudantes Secundários), the union of secondary school students, and began hosting a steady stream of visitors to the site, ranging from former student activists to current political and artistic figures. Naming their campaign “UNE Goes Back Home,” they also kept a running report of their events on the UNE Web site, replete with digital photographs, links to media coverage, and even YouTube videos of the occupation. Using this blend of Movimento Sem Terra (Landless Workers’ Movement), political strategy, and sophisticated media savvy, this twenty-first-century student action has brought new attention to the old lot at Praia de Flamengo. In stimulating this new attention to the site, students have claimed for themselves a double role of making history and resurrecting memory. In making history, their occupation of Praia de Flamengo 132 has been an important political step for the organization. Perhaps most obviously, by staking physical claim to this site, students powerfully advanced their material goal of obtaining a prestigious new headquarters building in Rio de Janeiro, one that would have an illustrious location and

Coming Home to Praia de Flamengo


an equally significant architecture, as Oscar Niemeyer has consented to design the new building. The spectacle also elicited a good deal of positive media exposure, welcomed by a student movement that had seen its share of criticism, at the same time helping UNE draw attention to the union’s then-impending seventieth anniversary in August 2007. No less significant is the fact that mounting such a prolonged event required and encouraged a significant degree of commitment and organization, which became a galvanizing force for the unions. As one participant told reporters: “This is a historic moment and we all want to participate in it,” suggesting the appeal of being part of history that helped entice students to join in (EstudanteNet, “O dia dos bons filhos”). Another student expressed a similar sentiment, stating: “Fifty years from now maybe we’ll pass by here, see our building, and remember this day, remember that we were a part of it” (EstudanteNet, “Acampamento da UNE”). 3 And as testament to the potential significance of students’ efforts to regain the site, Artur Poerner, author of the most cherished history of the Brazilian student movement, Poder Jovem (Youth Power), in its fifth edition as of this writing, not only participated in the occupation, but also declared he would have to add a new chapter to his celebrated tome in order to recount this latest struggle (EstudanteNet, “O dia dos bons filhos”). In resurrecting memory, what gave weight and meaning to the students’ efforts was the mnemonic potential of the site itself. While the terrain no longer held any material traces of the UNE building, these having been long ago carted off by demolition crews, the physical space was seen as both harboring and fostering lasting connections to earlier times. Hence, students invited those with memories of the building, from former student activists to local residents, to visit the occupation and share any stories of their past experiences there that the visit helped evoke. They also made the construction of a small theater one of their first tasks, and soon began hosting public film screenings of documentaries about student movement history. Moreover, as numerous former student leaders and contemporary political and artistic figures began dropping in, student occupants transformed these visits into small public discussions, posting photographs and summaries of these events on their Web site daily. Indeed, even a quick overview of this site reveals the extensive amount of activity in which students engaged, as they truly labored over memory, rapidly transforming the former parking lot into a thriving mélange of commemorative acts and spaces. Like the “memory entrepreneurs” conceptualized by Elizabeth Jelin to describe those who advocate for particular memories of the past, the students mobilized around the site of the former building as both a reservoir of stories about the student movement of the past and a stage from which to project these narratives into the present and future (33–34). On the site of the now absent building, making history and preserving memory were intimately intertwined.


Victoria Langland

An examination of the stories elicited and projected from this site reveals a seeming irony, however, for during the period of UNE history to which students most often refer—the late 1960s era of strident student opposition to the government, a government led by the military between 1964 and 1985—the union in fact had no central, physical location, and hence the building played a very small role. The headquarters had been stripped from UNE on the same day as the coup d’état that overthrew then-President João Goulart and ushered in 21 years of military rule. Nevertheless, in students’ appeals to the mnemonic significance of this terrain, the mobilizations of the late 1960s consistently figure as a fundamental part of the memory they seek to recover and assert. Examining the students’ narration of the recent military past as part of their reoccupation of the former UNE headquarters reveals that Praia de Flamengo 132, despite the fact that it was not an important player in the past drama, has nevertheless come to stand in for that past in important ways. In fact, I would argue, the very lack of material ruins at the site, rather than rendering the site less meaningful, serves to emphasize the loss students continue to commemorate. What is immediately apparent when looking at the students’ contemporary claims to the former building is that its legacy is intimately tied up with that of the military regime of 1964–1985. On the day of the February 1, 2007 occupation, for example, UNE Vice President Maurício Piccin declared: “This space is ours in homage to the victims of the military regime” (EstudanteNet, “Moradores visitam acampamento”), while the Niemeyer-designed plans for the new building prominently include a monument to former UNE President Honestino Guimarães, imprisoned and disappeared by the military in the early 1970s. One of the volunteers who camped out at the site even proclaimed their current occupation an extension of this period of military rule, saying: “[I]t’s our way of continuing the struggle of those who fell in the standoff with the dictatorship. . . . Here we will finally bury the military regime” (EstudanteNet, “Praia de Flamengo”). More than 20 years after the return to civilian rule in 1985, students still saw the UNE grounds as hallowed space, a potential memorial to the disappeared and graveyard for the repressive past. In many ways these references to the military period appropriately correspond to an important aspect of UNE’s history, as the student movement was a critical force of opposition to the regime and garnered intense national recognition in this role. While UNE’s founding dated back to 1937, and through much of the 1940s and 1950s the union’s leaders became recognized political figures, it was the organization’s massive antidictatorship demonstrations—particularly during the year 1968—that catapulted it to a newfound position of national importance. On the one hand, students’ relatively privileged social positions as the sons and daughters of the Brazilian elite, coupled with military officials’ belief that the leftist political stance of the UNE leadership did

Coming Home to Praia de Flamengo


not represent the majority of students, initially granted them a certain degree of protection from military repression. Hence, while the labor unions and peasant leagues met with extensive and prolonged persecution immediately following the 1964 coup d’état, university students, after an initial purge of UNE leadership and the withdrawal of official recognition for and funding of UNE, were generally less severely harassed. This meant that, following a brief period of paralysis, UNE members were able to reshuffle the union, and by 1968 they came to spearhead the largest and most important opposition movement to the regime to that date. On the other hand, even this traditionally privileged group soon came to feel the sting of police aggression, as students and police faced off in increasingly violent street demonstrations, and newspaper photographs of bloodied, beaten, and in some cases, assassinated student protestors made up some of the most iconic images of that year. Moreover, by the end of 1968, the regime took a much more hardened stance toward student dissent, outlawing all forms of student political organizing, expelling and often imprisoning those who continued to engage in it, and resorting to the systematic torture and disappearance of political opponents. Following this turn, UNE continued to function clandestinely for a few years, but eventually collapsed after the October 1973 imprisonment of its last president, Honestino Guimarães. Students were only able to reorganize the union in 1979, after the military’s announcement of its intention to step down and to promote the gradual restoration of some civil liberties. And although the reorganized UNE never amassed the kind of enormous following it had earlier entertained, it was still officially banned by the regime and continued to enter into conflict with it. UNE’s 1980 attempt to reclaim its building and the regime’s response in destroying it constitute one example of UNE’s continued opposition to the dictatorship. Despite the wide variation in these different moments of student movement activity spanning from 1964 to 1985, in general the student movement played a prominent oppositional role in the military period; hence, the attention of later generations of students to this historical legacy is well founded. In addition, the symbolism of the UNE building as a player in this historic drama resonates well with a contemporary narrative of student opposition to military rule. For, as students in 2007 and other times have often noted, the UNE building itself was attacked and burned on the same day as the military coup, no doubt targeted in part because of the large banners reading “Students mobilized against the coup” that UNE members had draped from the front balcony several days earlier. On April 1, 1964, as word of the military’s successful overthrow of President João Goulart spread, a rowdy group of coup supporters gathered outside the UNE building on Praia de Flamengo to deride this symbol of leftist organizing. In the steadily falling rain they jeered and taunted the UNE “Communists” still inside,4 set fire to barricades students had erected to protect the site, and eventually raided and ignited the building.5


Victoria Langland

UNE was never again able to operate in the building, and the archives it housed there were either confiscated or destroyed (Martins Filho). In subsequent years, this temporal coincidence between the end of UNE’s physical home and the beginning of military rule was oft-repeated in histories of the UNE building, such as in the remarks of an artist affiliated with UNE who later recalled fleeing the burning building. In 1980 he wrote: “A little bit of the Brazilian intelligentsia died there, sacrificed in those flames and ashes of UNE, marking the date of the long night of darkness into which Brazil plunged from April 1, 1964 on” (Varneiro). It was thus fitting that one of the first visitors to the Praia de Flamengo site following the UNE occupation in 2007 was a local resident who recalled seeing the original building in flames (EstudanteNet, “O dia dos bons filhos”). And a few days later Carlos Lyra, a musician who composed the UNE hymn and who had also been at the building that night in 1964, came by to express support and share his story of seeing people invade and destroy the theater inside. “Those guys didn’t even spare the theater so they could do right-wing plays there,” he joked (EstudanteNet, “Do CPC ao CUCA”). Notwithstanding the humorous tone of his comments, the fire on the day of the coup wrapped the story of UNE’s history and of the military regime in a single temporal narrative of destruction. These stories confirmed the building’s connection to the coup and ensuing dictatorship, as well as UNE’s national and historic importance. In keeping with the apparent irony noted earlier, however, during the years in which UNE was most active in antidictatorship mobilizing, the building played almost no role. Not only had students been driven from the site by the fire of April 1964, and then kept away by the new government’s rescission of UNE’s official status, but the nature of student mobilizing in these postcoup years was also incompatible with the maintenance of a stationary location. Not for nothing did 1968 become known for the students’ tactic of “lightning demonstrations,” in which protesters assembled to deliver brief speeches and unfurl small banners, dispersing quickly as police arrived, only to reassemble a few minutes later at prearranged locations elsewhere around the city. Moreover, the police had gradually begun utilizing more drastic means to quiet dissenting students, and by 1968 they were employing mounted cavalry, tear and nausea gas, electrically charged nightsticks, water cannons, and gunfire, while state intelligence services scrambled to uncover and prevent future protests by infiltrating universities and student gatherings. UNE leaders were sometimes so rigorously sought after by the police that they took to assembling their own squadrons of student bodyguards to protect them, and the annual UNE congresses at which such leaders were elected became elaborate clandestine affairs held in the basements of monasteries or at remote farms. In the cat-and-mouse conflicts between students and the police in these years, students’ use of the UNE building, had that even been an option, would have rendered them perilously easy marks. Given this situation and in light of the other pressing

Coming Home to Praia de Flamengo


political matters students engaged in during these years, from organizing against the military’s usurpation of government to confronting the regime’s proscriptions against UNE itself, students entertained no plans to recuperate the building until 1979, and they made almost no references to the site in speeches or publications. The antidictatorship struggle for which students became famous took place on the streets, not in the UNE building. Even at the two moments in 1968 when students did return to Praia de Flamengo, the UNE building was not the principal focus of their efforts. In both cases, they turned to the site to reassure themselves and others that UNE itself continued to exist. In the first instance, on March 29, following the death the evening before of Edson Luís de Lima Souto, the first student slain by the police that year, the massive funeral procession that wound its way through Rio de Janeiro en route to the cemetery, stopping repeatedly for brief speeches of protest, suddenly found itself on Praia de Flamengo near the now vacant building. According to Vladimir Palmeira, then-leader of the Rio de Janeiro-based student union (União Metropolitana de Estudantes, UME), their arrival there was purely coincidental. “Look here, we didn’t go to the building; we went to Edson’s burial . . . and we passed the building on the way,” he later explained (Palmeira). Yet once they noticed where they were, Palmeira and another student leader immediately found their way inside the building, climbed to the second floor, and addressed the crowd from the balcony, criticizing the dictatorship’s recent brutality and leading students in chanting several UNE slogans. But as Palmeira explains, the cheers for UNE were mostly wishful thinking: “In truth, at that point in [March] 1968 UNE was still very disorganized and so we made it a point to say that UNE still existed, that UNE was still ours. We climbed up to the window, made a speech. We said that UNE was resisting; it was directing our movement. It wasn’t always exactly the truth . . .” (Palmeira). If stopping at the site during the funeral procession was spontaneous, it was also judicious, for the building’s presence gave material weight to their claims that UNE persevered. Six months later, on October 15, students engaged in a similar occupation following the early morning police raid of the annual UNE congress. With most of the UNE leadership now under arrest, along with some 700 members, those who remained at large sought a way of demonstrating that UNE would nonetheless continue to function. “With the little bit of strength we still had in Rio,” wrote leftist activist Fernando Gabeira in his memoirs, “we went on the counterattack, like a team that’s looking for an honor goal in the last minute of the game. We planned a demonstration in UNE’s own building at Praia de Flamengo 132” (81). In this case, around 1,000 students entered the building and occupied it for 15 to 30 minutes, chanting UNE slogans and painting UNE graffiti on passing buses (Villarinho).6 During both of these historical moments, the building’s materiality served as an important backdrop to students’ claims on UNE’s continued presence,


Victoria Langland

but the structure itself did not become a focus of their efforts. In March 1968, just as UNE began to mobilize mass numbers of participants, and then again in October 1968, as the arrest of huge numbers of members marked the union’s imminent decline, Praia de Flamengo represented a stage from which to proclaim UNE’s perseverance, but it did not itself become a staging ground for student opposition. If at the time of these two brief occupations neither one represented students’ lasting interest in the building itself, by the time of the 2007 occupation, the first of these moments—March 29, 1968—was reverentially and repeatedly evoked. While describing the festive march down Praia de Flamengo toward the UNE site on the day students reclaimed the building, for example, a reporter for the Jornal do Brasil compared the participants’ cheerful mood with the sobriety that had marked this earlier period. “Many remembered a different emotion they experienced along that same trajectory, when they carried the coffin of the student Edson Luís,” she wrote (Angel). Indeed, the death, funeral, and Seventh Day Mass of Lima Souto became some of the defining moments of 1968, and in retrospect can be seen as the beginning of UNE’s ability to inspire massive participation and considerable popular support. Moreover, Edson’s death gave rise to some of the most stunning and frequently reproduced photographs of that year; once he was killed, students laid out the boy’s body overnight in the State Legislature’s chambers, to which both journalists and floral displays arrived in tremendous numbers. So if during the funeral march itself the stop at Praia de Flamengo was but one of many, and the event as a whole was expected to lead to less repression and more political change, in later years the passage by Praia de Flamengo became one of the critical signifiers of 1968, a somber marker of the destruction wrought by that period. When seen in this light, contemporary students’ references to the UNE building as part of the story of 1968 student protest become not so much ironic as merely representing new meanings. For if in 1968 Praia de Flamengo 132, when referenced at all, primarily signified the union’s hopeful perseverance in the face of great odds, by 2007 students used the site to commemorate the union’s eventual destruction. Hence their proposed monument to Honestino Guimarães, the disappeared UNE former-president who undoubtedly never set foot in the former UNE headquarters (as his involvement in national student politics began too late), would nevertheless fit appropriately in this disappeared building. Meanwhile, students’ recurrent activity at the UNE site—including President Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva’s August 2008 visit there to announce proposed funding for the new building—suggests a future UNE headquarters that will continue to stage such stories about the military past. Andreas Huyssen has written of monuments for which, “[a]t stake . . . is the power of a commemorative site to keep the story alive as opposed to entombing it in the realm of the unspoken, of a past that is made to disappear once again” (101). As students continue to find creative new

Coming Home to Praia de Flamengo


ways of projecting their collective memories, we can imagine that Praia de Flamengo 132 will not soon revert to silence.

Notes 1. This is Young’s explanation of Pierre Nora’s concept of lieux de memoire. 2. See the photographs of the 1980 student demonstrations in the Arquivo Estadual do Rio de Janeiro, DOPS, Setor Estudantil, Pasta 69-A, Folha 34, and in the photo archives of the Jornal do Brasil, especially those of Cynthia Brito and Delfim Vieira. Unless otherwise noted, the translations of these slogans from Portuguese, and of all other citations, are my own. 3. Indeed, sometime following the occupation, students mounted a large metal plaque on the wall at Praia de Flamengo commemorating the participants in 2007. The sign reads, in part, “In homage to all those who, on February 1, 2007, walked from the Lapa Arches to the well-known address of the student movement—Praia de Flamengo, 132.” 4. In fact, there were no university students still inside the UNE building when the coup supporters gathered outside to taunt them. Instead, a group of artists and actors had stayed behind to defend the theater, recently constructed as part of the Popular Cultural Center tied to UNE and also housed at the building. Several of them have left written accounts of that night. See, for example, Vianna. 5. For an analysis of how people remember this pro-coup crowd as actually being military officials themselves, see Langland. Current UNE leaders and members quoted on the UNE Web site about the 2007 reoccupation also repeatedly refer to the April 1, 1964 fire as having been perpetrated by “the dictatorship.” 6. Villarinho’s report includes newspaper clippings from the October 15, 1968 occupation.

Select Bibliography Angel, Hildegard. “Antigos militantes da UNE retomam seu prédio histórico.” UNE de volta pra casa. html. EstudanteNet—Site Oficial Une e Ubes. “Acampamento da UNE na Praia do Flamengo já tem mais de 150 barracas.” UNE de volta pra casa. http://www. ——— “O dia dos bons filhos.” UNE de volta pra casa. home3/acampamento/m_7417.html. ——— “Do CPIC ao CUCA: Uma semana de pé, acampamento recebe visita do músico Carlos Lyra.” UNE de volta pra casa. acampamento/m_7439.html. ——— “Moradores visitam acampamento e declaram apoio aos estudantes.” UNE de volta pra casa. ——— “Praia de Flamengo, 132—Sai decisão da justiça: o terreno é nosso!” UNE da volta pra casa. Gabeira, Fernando. O que é isso companheiro? Rio de Janiero: CODECRI, 1979. Gusmão, Fernando. Interview by Victoria Langland. October 20, 1999. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Huyssen, Andreas. Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003.


Victoria Langland

Jelin, Elizabeth. State Repression and the Labors of Memory. Translated by Marcial Godoy-Anativia and Judy Rein. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003. Langland, Victoria. “La casa de la memoria en Praia de Flamengo 132: memorias estudiantiles y nacionales en Brasil, 1964–1980.” In Monumentos, memoriales y marcas territoriales, edited by Elizabeth Jelin and Victoria Langland, 57–96. Madrid: Siglo XXI, 2003. Martins Filho, João Roberto. Movimento Estudantil e Ditadura Militar 1964– 1968. Campinas, Brazil: Papirus, 1987. Palmeira, Vladimir. Interview by Victoria Langland. October 20, 2000. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Poerner, Artur. O Poder Jovem: Historia da participação política dos estudantes brasileiros. 2d ed. Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 1979. Varneiro, Ferdy. “A Última Noite da UNE.” O Pasquim 9, no. 554 (February 1980): 8–14. Vianna, Deocélia. Companheiros de Viagem. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1984. Villarinho, Manoel. Inquérito No. 48/68. March 18, 1969. Archives of the Departamento de Ordem Política e Social, Setor Secreto, Pasta No 42, Arquivo Público do Estado do Rio de Janeiro. Young, James E. At Memory’s Edge: After-Images of the Holocaust in Contemporary Art and Architecture. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000.

Chapter 19 Fernando Vallejo’s Ruinous Heterotopias: The Queer Subject in Latin America’s Urban Spaces Arturo Arias

Following the success of the film version of Fernando Vallejo’s 1994 novel Our Lady of the Assassins, directed by Barbet Schroeder, and of his 2001 novel El desbarrancadero, the Colombian writer attained star status in the Spanish-speaking world. However, Vallejo’s prominence did not temper his hostility toward readers or make his work less resistant to simple readings. On the contrary, the celebration of his best-known novels only highlighted the ironies underlying his narrative technique. Vallejo likes to appeal to readers’ nostalgia, and then reveals that the past they long for is no less ruinous than the present they lament. He seduces readers with the images that Western modernity uses to discipline society—such as that of the noted author or the public intellectual—only to subject them to insult for their complicity in upholding that order, which excludes or marginalizes nonhegemonic subjects. Thus, in Vallejo’s texts, what I call a ruinous heterotopia ultimately undermines nostalgic Westernizing myths of origin, and “home.” My conceptualization of ruinous heterotopia borrows Michel Foucault’s idea of heterotopia, defined most simply as the opposite of a utopia, but nuanced as follows: There are also, probably in every culture, in every civilization, real places— places that do exist and that are formed in the very founding of society— which are something like counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted. . . . I shall call them, by way of contrast to utopias, heterotopias. (3–4)1

Foucault elicits six principles characterizing heterotopias, including “sacred or forbidden places,” and “heterotopias of deviation,” a


Arturo Arias

classification for individuals whose behavior is “deviant” in relation to required norms (4–5). To Foucault’s definition of a heterotopia, understood as a site where queer subjects can enact their dislocation by writing over the site’s original signifiers, I add the qualifier “ruinous”; the spaces drawn as “heterotopias of deviation” in Vallejo’s novels are always represented as being in ruins. I use the term “ruinous” for what remains after the destruction and reconstruction of urban sites, a dynamic that not only evokes Walter Benjamin’s tension between demystification and the mythologizing at play whenever people try to preserve what no longer exists, but also points to “an allegory of modernity’s self-devouring process of constant reinvention and self-destruction” where “spleen and ennui replace awe and nostalgia” (Enjuto-Rangel, 155, 140). Thus, for Vallejo, a ruinous heterotopia is a crumbling, imaginary place based on an originary construction of that same place, which exists in memory yet provides the allegorical grounding for another space that, looking just like it, offers an inverted symbolism. It is a space closed in on itself and given over to infinite referential representations. In all his works, Vallejo narrates using the subjective voice of Fernando, a queer antioqueño from Medellín, easily confused with the author himself. Medellín is ever present, regardless of whether Fernando is in New York, Rome, or Mexico City. This ubiquitous homeland signals Fernando’s “deep though subconscious” attachment to it, which comes “with familiarity and ease, with the assurance of sounds and smells, of communal activities and homely pleasures accumulated over time” (Tuan, 159).2 Yet to such “typical” Medellín attachments, Vallejo adds another layer for Fernando, for whom Medellín constitutes an intimate, expansive, and endless gay network, a decentered site of “deviation” in the Foucauldian sense that becomes an imaginary site at the service of homosexual needs. Vallejo’s work reveals hidden emotional territories, “illuminate[s] fields of human care,” and draws “attention to areas of experience that we may otherwise fail to notice” (Tuan, 162). The revealed spaces are invisible but also invisibilized, the symbolic closets that heteronormative society requires for its definition of order. For straight readers, then, Vallejo’s urban space is simultaneously familiar and foreign, shared and different, normal and perverse. Vallejo’s literary recreations of Medellín interrogate the prevailing nostalgic construction of “home.” Rather than present a timeless urban image or sentimentalized utopia, Vallejo reveals the extent to which home is merely a phantasm of the desire for nurture and support, stability and permanence. His images also exact implied revenge on the injurious site of origin by representing childhood places not as unproblematic locales marked by seamless attachments, but as ruinous heterotopias, always already complicated by ex-centric desires interrupting the narrative of origin. This chapter illuminates these childhood places and their association with sexuality and Colombia’s ruinous present in Vallejo’s

Fernando Vallejo’s Ruinous Heterotopias


novels El desbarrancadero and Our Lady of the Assassins. It also explores these novels’ work with space, not only physical locales, but also symbolic spaces, extensions of urban configurations beyond physical borders and reconfigured by queer desire. I argue that this desire destabilizes the borders of Latin American narrative canonicity, pushing the limits of memory, desire, revolution, and liberation beyond the literary “boom’s” innovations, in a critique of those authors’ patriarchal disregard for questions of gender and sexuality.

Mapping the Urban, Mapping Memory In Our Lady of the Assassins, Fernando, a 50-year-old writer, returns to Medellín from abroad and meets Alexis, a handsome gay boy. The two begin a relationship and move in together. Fernando tells Alexis how beautiful the city was when he left and how it has changed for the worse. Alexis explains to Fernando the ins-and-outs of everyday violence. Fernando soon discovers that Alexis is a professional sicario (gunfor-hire), sought by members of other gangs. After several assassination attempts, Alexis is killed by two boys on a motorcycle. Fernando then wanders aimlessly through Medellín’s streets until he meets Wilmar, a boy with a striking resemblance to Alexis. The two begin an affair, rekindling the kind of relationship Fernando had with Alexis. Wilmar is also a sicario, but Fernando is shocked to learn that Wilmar is also the person who shot Alexis. He vows to kill Wilmar, but then learns it was Alexis who started the cycle by killing Wilmar’s brother in the first place, thus forcing the latter to seek revenge. Disgusted, Fernando convinces Wilmar to leave the country with him. When Wilmar goes to say goodbye to his mother, he is killed as well. The plot of El desbarrancadero is simpler. Fernando returns from Mexico to Medellín to care for his brother Darío, dying of AIDS in the crumbling house where they were raised. Fernando becomes his brother’s nurse and doctor, evoking their good times as wild teens enjoying gay sex in an old Studebaker. The novel idealizes the Medellín of yesteryear and what it offered gay boys, while condemning its present conditions. Fernando also concocts sundry cures for Darío until his inevitable death, whereupon Fernando returns to Mexico. Our Lady of the Assassins begins with a reflection on the past: There was on the outskirts of Medellín a quiet and peaceful village called Sabaneta. I know this for a fact because near there, on one side of the road coming from Envigado . . . on the Santa Anita property of my grandparents . . . was where my childhood took place. (LA, 3)3

This incipit evokes apparent childhood innocence and an earlier configuration of Medellín and its outskirts. In a similar tone, El desbarrancadero


Arturo Arias

begins when Fernando’s brother Darío enters the family house, walks silently to his bedroom, and collapses. The text contrasts a peaceful, idyllic past and a ruinous present marked by illness and impending death: “[Darío] spent what I think were his only peaceful days since his distant childhood”; after New Year’s he got back to reality, to “the dusty mental hospital that was his house, my house, crumbling in ruins” (D, 7; my emphasis). Both texts open with literary figurations that produce childhood socio-territories as unembellished, peaceful spaces contrasting with the calamitous present. This strategy induces disequilibrium between past and present, overcome as the two novels unfold. Still, the present’s ruinous condition, associated in El desbarrancadero with AIDS (the ruin of the body), clearly evolves from a process beginning in childhood that isolates certain kinds of people from their families and communities. Not surprisingly, this “idyllic” childhood is ultimately revealed as an imagined age of tranquility rather than an actual paradise. Nevertheless, this discrepancy between an idealized past and present reality dawns on readers slowly because Vallejo’s signs resist decoding and disguise his intentions. On the surface, his texts appear to be about the melancholic remains of Fernando’s family’s past: ruins, memoirs, clothing, sexual trysts. But conflicting codes impinge obliquely on these elements, transforming them into signs of the affective failure of decorum, social convention, polite conversation, and proper manners. Without mentioning gay rights or a gay agenda overtly, through the tension of the sign, Vallejo signals a normative reality that silences difference and consigns gay subjects to new forms of marginalization. The opening of Our Lady of the Assassins deals ambivalently with childhood and simultaneously points to the subtle ways in which Vallejo’s work reflects on memory’s artifice. Fernando explains the making of globos (hot air balloons), then digresses, wondering whether readers know what a “Sacred Heart of Jesus” is. His reminder that there was one in his family’s house evokes traditional religious values. He then resumes the balloon story, in which the uncertain trajectory of a balloon that once floated toward Sabaneta represents the oscillations of his own memory: “[A]nd [there we were] following it along the road in my dear grandpa’s Hudson. No, it wasn’t in my grandpa’s Hudson, it was in my pa’s old jalopy. Yeah, it was in the Hudson for sure. I don’t remember now, it was so long ago, I don’t remember now” (LA, 4). Vallejo creates the illusion that narrative can scrupulously recreate remnants of personal history or faithfully depict involuntary subjective associations. The use of precise names, such as Fernando or Darío, seeks to convince the reader of his diligence. However, the exactitude of his recollection is questioned when he equivocates: was it the Hudson or not? Thus, beneath the precise geographical detail lies the recognition that memory is flawed. Still, his oscillating rhetoric also entices the reader with the notion of memorial exactitude: it was the Hudson indeed.

Fernando Vallejo’s Ruinous Heterotopias


This example reveals one hidden sense of the sign in Vallejo’s texts: although it is impossible to recreate the past, the creative process can reinvent it. Creative reinvention is not the same as representing reality because the text is an arbitrary, fortuitous arrangement whose signs offer myriad connotations. This is particularly true in Vallejo’s representations of home. He spoon-feeds the reader fantasies of an older, smaller Medellín without comunas (shantytowns) and with Finca Santa Anita standing at the center as an omphalos, a space from which to confront the decay of a present-to-come. Gayatri Gopinath explains that gay diasporic subjects often represent home as a broken space imaginatively recomposed elsewhere. Curiously, in Vallejo’s case, Fernando performs this reconfiguration while remaining within Medellin.4 By omitting references to Fernando’s gay sexuality in his nostalgic recreation of family history, Vallejo shows that the affection defining the heteronormative family is possible only if queer elements are repressed. This enables Vallejo to underscore what happens when a gay subject inhabits “home.” Rather than resign himself to an exilic relationship to his childhood home (though Vallejo himself has chosen exile in Mexico City), Fernando transforms the space with his desire. Hiram Perez asserts that being gay requires travel, actual or imagined, away from the “heteronormative confines of the traditionally defined ‘home’ and ‘family’ ” (177). In Vallejo’s fictional universe, this traveling occurs without geographic displacement, as he insists on a return to Medellín that reconfigures it. Urban spaces lie at the center of this textual process. The opening settings of most Vallejo books are old Medellín neighborhoods: Sabaneta, Envigado, Laureles, Boston, Prado, La Toma, Guayaquil. His stories all begin in an idealized past, accessed “over the ruins of [his] memories” (D, 51). Foundational scenes of “home,” cemented by affection, evoke a time when the ruins of the present were seemingly not yet so. Yet the texts also problematize that paradise by altering, through subtle narrative techniques, depictions of Colombian society and Fernando, thus subliminally situating shame as a presence-in-absence in his identity formation. Indeed, the injurious nature of Fernando’s speech defies the divisive epistemological family framework of “us” and “them,” a reaction to unnamed heteronormative mores and a response to the implicitly injurious speech directed at him. Vallejo writes using a narrative “I” with which he identifies only partially and problematically. He continually experiments with the construction of a false subject configured by false memories. 5 Memory and time embroil this subject within an urban itinerancy that obscures the phobias of institutionalized patriarchy. These are never staged textually (say as hypothetical family confrontations about sexual orientation or accusations of deviance from legal authorities), yet they imply a renegotiation of identity.6 Thus Vallejo (the writing subject), Fernando (the subject constructed through writing), and the space where Fernando operates are all transformed into amorous, sensuous signs, interfaced


Arturo Arias

to create alternative spaces depicted as “ruins.” Vallejo’s rhetoric airbrushes the fault lines and sutures that bisect the issue of Latin American gay identity. Paradoxically, Fernando can be truly himself only in a space conformed by ruins.

A Vision of Ruins as an Inversion of the Family Panopticon The connection between literariness and reality is depicted primarily through the representation of urban ruins but is filtered through the disciplinary structure of family, with which Fernando maintains an ambivalent relationship of resistance and desire. Although to preserve kinship ties he conforms to his family’s prohibitions against naming his desire, the shame and trauma of leaving it unnamed generates anger and resentment. In other instances, however, the family is represented not as a disciplinary force but rather as an ethos that might generate communality.7 In this contradictory logic, ruins, more than “old buildings,” become fragmented signs of Fernando’s “distant childhood” (D, 8) that illuminate contradictory relations with home. These configurations oscillate between heterotopic and dystopic thinking, as memory play not only transforms the past into the narrative ruins of the present but also conflates domestic with national space.8 Thus, as El desbarrancadero opens, Fernando evokes Medellín’s river in this fashion: The days, the years, life, had gone by as furiously as that river in Medellín that they turned into a drainage ditch so that it would drag away in its dirty waters, in its whirlpools of rage, not the gleaming sabaletas of the olden days, but shit, shit, and more shit down to the sea. (8)

This image is emblematic of the collapse of Fernando’s space, his perpetual disappointment with his world, and his turn to compensatory subjectivism. Fernando’s personal space appears as the “the dusty madhouse of his house, of my house, that was falling down in ruins” (D, 8). Whereas El desbarrancadero is allegedly about Darío’s death from AIDS, the novel actually ascribes death to Colombian society because it turns people like Fernando and Darío into outcasts from home. Thus, upon returning Fernando claims he “saw Death standing in the staircase” (D, 10). He associates the image with his mother, also in ruins from his perspective. Fernando immediately adds: “[T]he bathroom didn’t have a light bulb, or more accurately, it did have a light bulb, but it was burned out, and the toilet paper had run out so long ago” (D, 12). “[U]nder the shower,” he continues, there was “a little stream, cold, cold, cold, that fell drop by drop at the angle formed by the other two frozen walls” (D, 12). Such images form a metonymic chain of metaphors of impending

Fernando Vallejo’s Ruinous Heterotopias


death, a descriptive network that enables Fernando to formalize his phantasmal space: At this point I remember that, a year before, I climbed up the building next door with papi . . . and I saw the garden of my house for the first time from above: a little square, green and alive, to which the birds came. [The building was] one of the last ones left in the Laureles barrio, whose houses had been falling one by one at the blows of picks, purchased and razed by the mafia to build mafioso buildings on the land. (D, 13)

From high above, the space of his primary perception is ethereal and homey. Yet it becomes deadly for gay subjects because the internal relations defining the site are structured around tropes of heteronormative oedipality that inevitably fracture functional conceptions of home. Accompanying this bifurcated gaze is what Edward Soja, in theorizing postmodern space, would call the search for an appropriate ontological and epistemological location for spatiality (119). Echoing Soja, Vallejo’s technique reasserts literary space as meaningful and on an equal footing with subjectivity. This attitude signals Vallejo’s unwillingness to stage the particularities of his rupture with family. For Vallejo, space is socially produced, and the subject is produced within space. Thus he spatializes narrative, while undermining the privileged flow of subjective, personal history. The gaze from above is reproduced by the emasculating mother, who, looking down from the second floor, thinks how great Darío and Fernando look together, while, from below, Fernando curses her, remembering the many times she tried, without explanation, to separate them when they were young. Nevertheless, Fernando implies that his mother’s rejection derived from the brothers’ homosexual complicity. Vallejo then adds an image that not only emblematizes his view of the subject and space as being in ruins, but also adds to his metonymic chain the more extreme metaphor of death: After struggling for an hour and a half to open the door (the hard door, the old door, the fucking door), it fell. It went “boom!” and fell apart in a fantastic dust cloud. Still left standing before our stunned eyes, outlining the dust, was the door frame. (D, 107)

Such images condense symbolic references that operate like a Leibnizian monad; that is, they allude to an identity in tension with space and signal a break with the subject’s historical continuity.9 Vallejo’s narratives favor space because showcasing the ruinous consequences of humanity’s destructive nature can make “deviant” sexuality appear tangential to a recognized grand récit of modernity recomposed as a spatial vision of entropy. This not only explains the sequential flow of material and bodily ruins. Vallejo’s lateral mappings always strive to destroy all illusions of modernity while also destabilizing critical


Arturo Arias

interrelations among masculinities within his images of space. Space is simultaneous, but the exercise of language requires a sequential succession, what Soja calls “the impossibility of two objects (or words) occupying the same precise space (as on a page)” (2). Vallejo’s solution is to rewrite the alleged story of his life continuously, telling it differently every time. By keeping the question of the past open (through disparities, hiatuses, ruptures, and lacunae), he prevents readers from apprehending the whole. Ruins stand less as emblems of time’s passage than as reminders that there is no edifice there. The illusion of presence is a resistance to cohesion. The coexistence between present and past effaces all possibilities of continuity between them, thus preventing the narrative coherence of a bildungsroman.

The Nation as Space Unlike erotic works by Julio Cortázar, Salvador Elizondo, or Juan García Ponce, there is nothing mystical about Vallejo’s gay erotics.10 Here there is only a secularist will to be gay and an implied rage because of heteronormative restrictions impeding it. Vallejo’s novels direct this anger at national identity: for Fernando, to have been born Colombian is an “aberration.” But the protagonist insists that his rage comes from love, if by “love” Fernando means not simply the desire for a (male) sexual partner, but an affective connection between self and nation. The reader must infer the subliminal connection between self and sex, the self and “perverted” love. Fernando exists because he is able to love boys and Colombia simultaneously, while denigrating romance and nationalism because both point toward an illusory stable subjectivity. Colombian-ness in Vallejo is thus neither a broad national epic nor an all-encompassing canvass. One finds the homeland not by exploring ideologies, geographies, or public identities, but through a trip into the self. Vallejo finds the concept of home and its intimate contradictions by deciphering phobias, flaunting vices, and insulting everything sacred to convention and decorum, while inverting traditional discursive constructs to signal the perversion of national values and the lack of space for queer subjects. This explains why the personal is not strictly autobiographical in Vallejo’s work. Rather, similar to what José Quiroga observes about other artists, Vallejo “uses autobiography as a way of commenting on issues beyond the strictly personal,” a way to reinvent the personal to include issues traditionally associated with the social (194). This process, common in works about sexual politics, explains Vallejo’s accrual of events and objects to prove a Nietzschean point: that the collapse of language implies the comprehensive collapse of the nation and spiritual collapse of the world. In this context, only the aesthetization of a repetitive language whereby a subject trapped

Fernando Vallejo’s Ruinous Heterotopias


in a metaphorical swamp narrates the very end of time enables him to endure: My barrio died, they tore down the carboneros, the shadows went up in smoke, the breeze got tired of blowing, the rhapsody ended, and this city went to hell, heating up, heating up, heating up, because of this thing, of the other, of the other, because of so many streets, so many cars, so many people, so much rage. (D, 101)

Repetitions of “heating up,” “the other,” and “so many” emphasize the extent of destruction and create a climactic rhythm, a “rhapsody” of ruin that preserves the narrative subject’s creativity, despite Vallejo’s claims that “Our Lady of the Assassins is the inventory of a total failure . . . of a language, of a society” (Quoted in Fonseca, 87; my translation). Vallejo and his narrative alter egos, situated as queer Colombian subjects, reappropriate Colombia symbolically as a flawed homeland, a homophobic paradise that has cast them out, but for which they feel nostalgia and love, coupled with rage at its failings and exclusions.11 Nostalgia is deployed strategically for imagining oneself within spaces from which one is excluded. Vallejo’s rage is therefore a productive literary tool for revealing repressed realities and guaranteeing that nothing remains “in the closet.” His is not a gay rights literature because he is not interested in representing politically correct sexual mores. Instead, he uses discourse in ways that emasculate and erase the male heterosexual subject (and make female subjects invisible altogether), exacting revenge on both the mother and the madre patria (motherland): “That which we call Colombia is not viable; it is not possible as a nation. It cannot exist because it began badly, and it is bad from its rudiments . . . We have no salvation” (Quoted in Fonseca, 100; my translation). Vallejo thus obliterates the homeland for its gaze on a primordial, idealized subject that represents the past, even though he resurrects its hidden grids of affection because he desires its affective space from within the logic of queerness. This conflict between the desire for the homeland and for its destruction is represented in Our Lady of the Assassins when Fernando adopts Alexis, his underage assassin lover. Alexis is willing to kill anybody who annoys Fernando, which reveals the enormous disconnect between the couple and the heteronormative community to which they belong.12 Through this disconnect, an alternative queer logic displaces heteronormativity, and a critique of the hegemonic construction of nation is launched from the vantage point of two “impossible” subjects. But when Alexis is killed by Wilmar, who becomes Fernando’s new lover, this gesture functions as a Deleuzian machine forming its own order of truth, whereby children are reduced to mere bodies awaiting certain annihilation. For Fernando, Alexis and Wilmar live only for the fleeting moment when community, sex, and love are imaginatively conflated. As with Darío’s death in El


Arturo Arias

desbarrancadero, Our Lady of the Assassins stages the death of the subject, in addition to the literal deaths of Alexis and Wilmar. In Vallejo’s work, Colombia is a death machine, but it is also the balloon that flies away at the beginning of Our Lady of the Assassins, emblematic of nostalgia. The balloon is a trope of youth, the fullness of life, and naïve happiness. Ephemeral and constructed of fragile materials, it stays afloat for a mere instant before disintegrating. Yet the balloon enables Vallejo to cast emotions as a faux-literal order, an image with which he attempts to naturalize queerness by transforming pathos—the tangled wilderness of emotional suffering—into an ethos—the constitution of a moral subject—in the Nietzschean sense. Vallejo’s literary rhetoric destabilizes the subject within a ruinous national space. His prose’s rhythmic tone becomes a hermeneutic principle of emotion (Terada), under which allegories are constructed by signs that, while designating particular objects or events, always signify something else, revealing the absence of fixed referents. For Fernando, only the sublime—an excess of signifiers in semiotic terms, a state in which meaning is never overdetermined and that operates as a phantasm of transcendental beauty—can overcome the passage of time: A dense vapor rose from the cobblestones in the garden, the breath of the stones. Then, as the internal mirage echoed the external mirage, I thought I understood something that others before me also thought they understood. . . . Nothing has its own reality; everything is delirium, a chimera: the wind that blows, the rain that falls, the man that thinks. That morning in the wet garden drying under the sun, I felt deceit with the clearest of certainties, in its most vivid truth. As Darío was dying, vapor ascended from the stones, vacuous, fallacious, cheatingly. And in its ascent towards the lying sun it denied itself just like any thought. (D, 158–59)

Here the hieroglyphs of nature are patterns traced by the subject to place nation and individual subjectivity within the same illusory realm.

Conclusion The issues presented here challenge orthodox interpretations of Vallejo’s work in relation to his deployment of space. Often readers process Vallejo’s texts by reacting to his offensive words or trying to decipher a vast autobiographical history entwined with the social production of space. Readers might perceive the displacement of time by space, but its ultimate purpose often remains unclear. Yet when Fernando is drawn out of himself and opens up his personal history to an interpretive space vécu, a socially created spatiality, his intentions become evident.13 Vallejo narrates Fernando’s life not as a chronology of his youth, but in tandem with a present marked by near-death or death-in-life. At the same time, his “deviant sexuality” appears extraneous to a recognized gran récit

Fernando Vallejo’s Ruinous Heterotopias


of modernity. Still, by inscribing gay sexuality within his construction of spatiality and geography, Vallejo recreates that history as essentially queer. Queerness, then, is anything but tangential to Vallejo’s literary project: it is its defining characteristic. Thus he reconfigures from the perspective of queer desire the tropes of genealogy, normative masculinity, and patrilineal inheritance that structured canonical “boom” narratives. In so doing, his ruinous heterotopia also undermines Western myths of origin and “home” linked to those tropes. Vallejo’s polyrhythmic texts denote an endless combat between the ruins of modernity’s heteronormative matrix and the yearning for freedom and transgression that postmodernity inscribes on queer subjects. Inadvertently, the explicitly geographical and historical configuration and projection of Vallejo’s phantasms provide the seeds for a brutally accurate critique not only of patriarchy and empowered masculinity but also of the literature that naturalizes them.

Notes 1. The manuscript for Foucault’s “Des Espace Autres” was released into the public domain shortly before his death. 2. Here I distinguish between “Vallejo,” the author, and “Fernando,” his literary subject. 3. In subsequent citations, D stands for El desbarrancadero, LA for Our Lady of the Assassins in translation. 4. Gopinath’s analysis of V. S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas and the South Asian-British films East is East and Surviving Sabu is uncannily similar to my focus here. 5. Thompson and Madigan note: “[T]here is no generally reliable way of distinguishing between true and false memories” (159). 6. Vallejo mentions antigay violence in Medellín only in El fuego secreto, naturalizing it as part of Colombia’s intrinsic violence. 7. La desazón suprema, a documentary about Vallejo’s life, expresses nostalgia for the family home via descriptions and photos. 8. In contrast to anti-utopias, dystopias were never meant to be utopian. 9. Leibniz argues that monads must be the universe’s fundamental constituents, because they alone have the necessary simplicity. 10. On Cortázar, Elizondo, or García Ponce, see Ubilluz. 11. Vallejo notes that had he been born American or French, or in another time, he would have written a different kind of literature. But, “this was the country and epoch I was dealt, so I did what I could do” (Quoted in Fonseca, 93; my translation). 12. Though impossible to determine in all cases, Alexis’s victims appear to be heterosexual males. 13. L’space vécu is Lefebvre’s concept.

Select Bibliography Benjamin, Walter. The Arcades Project. Translated by Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.


Arturo Arias

Deleuze, Gilles. Proust and Signs. Translated by Richard Howard. New York: G. Braziller, 1972. Enjuto-Rangel, Cecilia. “Broken Presents: The Modern City in Ruins in Baudelaire, Cernuda, and Paz.” Comparative Literature 59, no. 2 (Spring 2007): 140–57. Fonseca, Alberto. “Against the World, Against Life: The Use and Abuse of the Autobiographical Genre in the Works of Fernando Vallejo.” Master’s thesis, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 2004. http://scholar.lib. Foucault, Michel. “Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias.” Translated by Jay Miskowiec. Gopinath, Gayatri. Impossible Desires: Queer Diasporas and South Asian Public Cultures. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005. Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space. Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith. Oxford: Blackwell, 1991. Perez, Hiram. “You Can Have My Brown Body and Eat It, Too!” Social Text 23, no. 84–85 (Fall/ Winter 2005): 171–91. Quiroga, José. Tropics of Desire: Interventions from Queer Latino America. New York: New York University Press, 2000. Soja, Edward W. Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory. London and New York: Verso, 1989. Terada, Rei. Feeling in Theory: Emotion after the “Death of the Subject.” Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001. Thompson, Richard F., and Stephen A. Madigan. Memory: The Key to Consciousness. Washington: Joseph Henry Press, 2005. Tuan, Yi-Fu. Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1977. Ubilluz, Juan Carlos. Sacred Eroticism: Georges Bataille and Pierre Klossowski in the Latin American Erotic Novel. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2006. Vallejo, Fernando. El desbarrancadero. Mexico City: Alfaguara, 2001. ———. Our Lady of the Assassins. Translated by Paul Hammond. London: Serpent’s Tail, 2001. ———. El río del tiempo. Mexico City: Alfaguara, 2002. ———. La virgen de los sicarios. Mexico City: Alfaguara, 1994.

Chapter 20 Charges and Discharges* Diamela Eltit

How can we understand the body in the midst of a crisis that, in every history and throughout the ages, has revealed a political program that proposes the body to be outside of itself, and in which being outside of itself changes the body into a diffuse or confusing dream marked by nostalgia, discontent, or the naïve desire for the body to become present and belong, belong to itself at last? We cannot. Because, ultimately, the body belongs to those discourses that have evicted it from itself in order to capture it as booty or as a social hostage for experimentation. The woman’s body is doubly hostage because it is also trapped in the category of the feminine, that “feminine” which has been the most imperious object of certain discursive constructs that, in every historical epoch, have had the final and definitive word on determining what turns out to be inextricable: the body. But there, too, is the body of poverty: that massive, proliferating agglomeration of humanity that, devoid of stories, is deposited in social spaces today like etched coins that, on one side, operate as cheap cogs in the labor wheel and, on the other, as avid agents subjugated to restricted, yet constant, patterns of consumption. And for that reason, on these two sides of the coin, or perhaps it would be better to say between them, the poor hide themselves, devour themselves, torn between the most precarious jobs and debt’s unfathomable abyss, like Sisyphus condemned to his unending toil with the rock. Today, in social imaginaries, the popular subject maintains his threatening aura of revolt and pillage, yet no longer as a sign of political revolution, but rather as a marker of criminality that aims to undermine private property itself. The panic about the appropriation of the means of production prophesied by Marx has dissipated. Instead, the new terror is of bodies that, in the most nagging of fantasies, rob and attack any and all material wealth. These robberies are circumscribed in their


Diamela Eltit

scope, but devastating; they mirror the current economic system’s logic of rapid and targeted investment. Women who inhabit popular spaces are still tied to old images, to the traditional production of meaning that has linked them to poverty and prostitution. However, the possibility or the phantasm of prostitution does not necessarily play out in what happens to women in reality or practice. The so-called oldest profession in the world functions as a mechanism of control and punishment that corrals women in ways that exceed their social condition. This symbolic construction has been one of the greatest and most powerful instruments for estranging the body from itself and, consequently, for favoring not only subjectivity’s instability but also, especially, the production of suspicious identities located in a discursive realm that hovers over all representations of the feminine. I would like to concentrate here on scenes and scenarios of ruined female bodies marked by poverty to make visible the tragic spaces they inhabit, as well as those spaces from which parody erupts, or in which the macabre propels the body toward nothingness: incomplete scenes and scenarios in which reality and fiction mix without canceling each other out. I mean fiction and reality: both. In the realm of literary fiction, we must remember that, in part, the naturalist novel of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth was based on a determinism whereby poor women ended up going straight into prostitution and, from there, descended into sickness, madness, or crime. In Chile, Juana Lucero (1902), by Augusto D’Halmar, emerged as a foundational text that articulated the descending steps of a social tragedy. The story, written from an emancipating position, denounced the social framing of impoverished women and of those without families. Nevertheless, D’Halmar’s work, which made sexuality its tragic axis, reproduced the stereotypes with which the dominant class maintained its position of power. Juana, the illegitimate daughter of an important conservative politician and a seamstress who succumbs to a dreadful premature death, suffers her drama, her misfortune, and her sensational downfall without solidarity; rather, she is treated scornfully by women who look down on her from superior social positions. Men, on the other hand, instead of protecting Juana, subject her to sexual abuse. In the text, she functions solely as a victim, her virtue progressively profaned by an escalation of excesses that not only deform her but also unhinge her, and that, in a world run by men, push her to become a fragmented body split from itself, a body that becomes servile and beholden to madness and death’s dehumanizing imprint. In this way, prostitution acquires a devastating connotation since it transforms the poor woman into a mere category whose existence can be understood as that of a ruined body devoid of being. I am interested in examining the woman-poverty chain and in seeing how, at the end of the twentieth century and the dawn of the twenty-first,

Charges and Discharges


Chilean versions and visions of the inaugural Juana Lucero continue to be produced. Taking Juana Lucero as a reference point, I want to examine the novel Hasta ya no ir (1996), by Beatriz García Huidobro, and the film B-Happy (2003), by Gonzalo Justiniano. The novels and the film are about poor adolescents, and perhaps the most decisive feature that connects them is that in all three works the mother dies: the maternal figure’s intense role is markedly absent. The mother’s death signals not only the loss of an essential source of affect, but also the destruction of a socially protective shield. This is because the mother is the one who “defends” her daughter from the system’s sexual assaults when the daughter’s only possession is her own body. The mother seems to function, in Lacanian terms, as a transmitter of the law of the father, lacking her own word. Thus, the mother’s absence marks the decline of the law and exposes the daughter to an imbalance that confronts her with the illegality of her sexuality. In the film B-Happy, melodrama operates with its usual impeccable and implacable force, with a level of intensity that recalls the old Italian new-Realism or, perhaps, that opens a door to what could be considered post-Realism. This situation assumes human form in a new, globalized proper name: not Juana, but Kathy, a poor adolescent northerner, immersed in an incessant escalation of catastrophes without limit. The mother supports her two adolescent children, Kathy and her brother, while the father, a thief, serves time in prison. The mother, besides working in a store, must sexually satisfy her boss in what is apparently part of her contractual obligation. When the father is released from prison, he is incapable of reintegration into society. He starts robbing again and abandons his family. Kathy’s mother dies; her gay brother leaves home with his lover; and Kathy, after consciously and deliberately losing her virginity to a schoolmate, leaves school, setting out to find her father, who is in a hospital in Valparaíso. A world of cruel reversals threatens Kathy; prostitution and a vagabond existence seem to be her only possible future. When the father dies in the hospital, Kathy is alone in the world. But—and this is the twist that the film proposes—she is alone in a world that she knows well, and, moreover, that she understands well and therefore navigates well. Kathy is not Juana Lucero, despite the strong similarities between the social conditions in which she lives and those of the 1902 novel. She is not the victimized Juana, but rather the lucid and perspicacious Kathy. From within the tenets of melodrama, the film attempts to undermine stereotypes of the feminine that are founded on sentimentalism and the guilt generated by sexual practice. The film proposes to explore what could be a new impoverished subjectivity, one that transcends mere sexuality and appears in a more integrated light. For Kathy, occasional prostitution is not cataclysmic; it is a circumstantial event that allows her to deepen her—shall we say—knowledge, and from which she can retreat, generating distance and self-awareness. What is most important


Diamela Eltit

is that Kathy sets a utopian course. The idea of the journey and of mythical space characterizes northern bodies. The city of Arica is the site so often dreamed about by Kathy’s father, brother, and former school boyfriend. But the only one who physically makes the journey is Kathy. She journeys to a triple frontier (Arica marks the territorial limit with both Peru and Bolivia) in a displacement that could be considered symbolic and, especially, liberating. The director, Gonzalo Justiniano, immerses himself in a cultural project bordering on parody in order to deconstruct, and perhaps reconstruct, the arbitrary categories in which the feminine is plotted. Although the film is at once an example of kitsch and a festive parody of melodrama, B-Happy opens the possibility of being exactly that— happy—through the indisputable act of being nothing more than—but also nothing less than—a subject. From the space of literature and seeking to recover something through the detailed task of writing subjectivity, the novel Hasta ya no ir, by Chilean novelist Beatriz García Huidobro, revisits the impoverished rural world, an always-marginalized and retrograde space that preserves premodern characteristics not only in the persistence of its rituals, but also, especially, in the psychic constitution of its subjects. Hasta ya no ir rejects melodrama and rescues the figure of the thinking girl who, in the process of navigating through the sexual landscape that emanates from her condition (i.e., from the feminine that corrals and defines her), manages to establish a gaze (like Kathy) on the external world and, in this way, to become part of the trembling and fragile context in which her shortcomings are inscribed. What I want to emphasize is that this narrative contains a procedure rooted in the distribution of violence. There are different types of violence—political, corporeal, and familial—that circulate in different ways throughout the plot, but that, when set in motion in the novel’s successively narrated locations, achieve democratization even amid crises that disturb lives time and again. In this way, the adolescent girl’s body, repeatedly used by the adult (also proprietor of a business), is dramatically de-sanctified and enters into a relationship of morbid dependency between victim and victimizer. Nevertheless, despite this dependency, the girl manages to maintain some distance; she generates her own mental space. She does this because sexuality and its practice do not trigger in her the traumatic symptoms that, in psychoanalysis and psychiatry, locate neurosis (if not psychosis) in female bodies. Hasta ya no ir alludes to a complex sexuality that—by official strictures—might even be considered sordid, but whose sordid nature is compartmentalized within the protagonist’s life. This sexuality neither seizes nor annihilates her whole psychic space, in part because the entire social fabric is riddled by potential life trajectories in which necessity and transgression are constant threats. The novel does not tackle marginality openly, as in the film B-Happy, but rather explores the secrets harbored

Charges and Discharges


by impoverished subjectivities, an aggregate of secrets that ultimately permits the founding of a community. The novel Hasta ya no ir, despite everything, proposes a humanity based on the construction of a subject who is more than just sexuality-in-practice, but is connected to others who permit her to define her belonging, or perhaps to define a collective non-belonging that, paradoxically, allows all of them to belong. The novel does not renounce drama’s classic tenets, basically the loss of the mother. Like in Juana Lucero and B-Happy, after the mother’s death the protagonist suffers a solitary and anguished process of selfformation. With the death of the mother, the protagonist confronts her condition as a sexual object, but (despite the sexual violence to which she is subjected) this objectification of the body is partial and is resisted by the adolescent as being constitutive of her entire identity. In this sense, it is only one among other possible circumstances. Although the loss of the mother opens a dangerous horizon marked by siege and even torture, both the novel and the film B-Happy mold adolescents endowed with thought, and it is this thought that both shapes them and makes sustained resistance possible. In B-Happy and Hasta ya no ir, the protagonists are not destined for the reclusion and exclusion of the brothel. Instead, they abandon spaces of oppression, repression, and sexual violence to construct an undetermined destiny, an uncertain one to be sure, but undoubtedly a singular destiny, a place that is theirs alone. In the context of classic and chronic poverty, literature and film are starting to explore new cultural references regarding the project of gender. The old image of Juana Lucero is now becoming diluted or blurred such that it no longer stands as a univocal sign of mere destruction. Nevertheless, in the reality of daily life, official discourses seem to be the guarantors of these old assumptions. In some cases, the official attitude toward poverty propitiates the most devastating social tragedies. Perhaps one of the most lamentable and spine-chilling events to occur in Chile after the Pinochet dictatorship took place in Alto Hospicio, a name both symptomatic and significant because it cites the fragile elements of a border landscape that was to become the breeding-ground for a profound marginalization. Alto Hospicio has been considered one of Chile’s largest slums. Located in the country’s northern region, in a desert landscape, it grew out of successive land grabs in the moments when the city of Iquique, near the slum, attained its greatest economic prosperity as a free port. In vast sectors of the slum, one could see not only poverty but also overt indigence, not only violence, drugs, and chronic unemployment but also a palpable abandonment of the people by institutions. The poor sanitary conditions, the dramatically wretched quality of housing, made of Alto Hospicio a model space of social exclusion. Nevertheless, on a national level, Alto Hospicio was not very well known. Its legendarily negative reputation was familiar only to those in the north, largely because of the rampant crime that unjustly compromised its population. The slum’s inhabitants were collectively labeled


Diamela Eltit

“undesirables” because of a proliferation of drugs, prostitution, and other diverse crimes that the police made their central focus. During those years, there was a small northward migration of young women who traveled to work as prostitutes in Peruvian border towns. Moreover, because of poor living conditions in Alto Hospicio, some families suffered internal strife that forced their young members to leave home prematurely. When an underage girl was reported missing by her family, the police initially passed judgment on her disappearance, claiming that she had run away or that she had fled to Peru to participate in the sex trade. The authorities’ conclusions stuck to that line and, despite her family’s allegations and the conditions of her disappearance (she did not take with her any personal effects and had no communication whatsoever with family or friends), they searched no further to determine her whereabouts. This situation repeated itself in similar ways: adult women as well as female primary and secondary students disappeared on their way to school. They disappeared silently, leaving no trace, without any communication, without taking any personal belongings. The first disappearance occurred in 1998, and it was followed by another and another. Nevertheless, despite the systematic proliferation of crimes, the region’s police and judicial powers stuck to their original thesis: runaways, drug addicts, juvenile prostitutes. A group of relatives, notwithstanding their meager means, traveled to Peru to test the authorities’ thesis. One father printed fliers bearing his daughter’s face and distributed them in various places. Alarmed at the adolescent girls’ fates and even more alarmed when the clothing of one of them appeared in a garbage dump, the families formed an improvised organization. The case began to circulate by word of mouth, like a myth, until it reached the newspapers, which broached the question of the mysterious disappearances of the young women from Alto Hospicio. For more than a year the police stuck to their version, an immovable thesis whose main axis was the sex trade, without really listening to the families’ arguments. The authorities discounted the families’ claims and instead privileged theories based on norms and generalities. The disappearances took on greater public notoriety when Orlando Garay, the father of one of the missing girls, Viviana Garay, managed to organize the families more effectively to take action in the courts and the media. They were even able to corner then-President Ricardo Lagos during one of his official activities to request a meeting whose goal would be to inform him of the drama and institutional negligence they had experienced. At the same time, they requested that the president appoint a visiting minister to accelerate the investigations. President Lagos did not meet with the families. In the end, it was not the police who solved the puzzle, but rather a 13-year-old girl, Barbara N (an eloquent name). After being raped, pelted with stones, and given up for dead by her attacker, she managed

Charges and Discharges


to survive her wounds and was able to reach the highway where she was rescued by a passing driver. She identified her aggressor, Julio Pérez Silva, who between 1998 and 2000 had killed 14 women, three of them adults and 11 adolescents. In this way, the public learned of the longest string of serial killings in Chilean history. Without discounting the murderer’s responsibility, his annihilating pathology, which is a recurring element in the history of how violence against women is written and inscribed, what has moved me to write and what I wish to show in this text is that the state, in the final assessment, shares responsibility for the deaths because of its snap judgments about the victims. When the Alto Hospicio crimes were brought to light, the upper echelons of the police force were fired. It was impossible to hide a tangible fact: the crimes were the result of a fatal chain of prejudices. The police and the justice system, taken together, had failed to function professionally; they clung to their own premises without really investigating the cases or paying attention to the particularities of the disappearances. Nevertheless, the ease with which the Alto Hospicio crimes were committed cannot be attributed solely to a particular police force or group of judges. Instead, we must read in this case a conglomerate of societal (masculine) voices that prejudged the young victims: the girls were guilty of their own disappearances, just as the poor families were guilty of the destitution that obliged their daughters to disappear. If the authorities had really cared—in the most concrete, professional, and human sense of the word—the majority of the crimes would have been avoided. The maniacally serial nature of the murders was possible only because the authorities neglected their duties, a neglect whose origin lay in an incredible social contempt toward the affected families simply because they lacked the money, connections, knowledge, and power to mobilize material and symbolic resources that would have made possible a greater and better institutional response. From this perspective, the Alto Hospicio crimes have a strong political edge. Even more, one could say that they are, in part, political crimes in the sense that the state, responsible for its citizens’ integrity, devalued the life of 11 adolescents and three adult women. What is most striking about these crimes is that they happened in Chile, where the fate of the prisoners disappeared by Pinochet is still one of the sore spots in the national drama. We must remember that the authorities in times of military rule did not respond to the habeas corpus writs filed to protest the disappearance of thousands of citizens between 1973 and 1988. Given the resonance with the Alto Hospicio disappearances, it seems necessary to reiterate that the dictatorship’s repeated explanation, both to the families and to the general public, was that the disappearances were a fraud and a political farce because the missing persons had left the country of their own volition. Despite pleas, negation of these claims, and proof provided by the families, the military stuck to a single version: the


Diamela Eltit

prisoners had fled, or more accurately put, they had fled clandestinely to abandon their families and shirk their responsibilities. In this sense, the form taken by the case of the murdered young women of Alto Hospicio is inescapably connected to the methodology employed to hide the dictatorship’s crimes. More than as serial murders, I think that the Alto Hospicio crimes can be, and perhaps should be, analyzed as well through the lens of impunity, an impunity steeped in abandonment and total institutional indifference. These were the circumstances that permitted and even fueled the commission of these serial killings. The murderer’s omnipotence was deepened and expanded because the law abandoned its functions. Or, as Giorgio Agamben would say, a state of exception existed in these cases: a void, a vacuum of the state. In the wake of Alto Hospicio, or based on the Alto Hospicio case, new questions need to be raised to examine the extent to which the old Juana Lucero model operates as an immovable paradigm of the ruined female body. In what sense did Augusto D’Halmar’s protagonist capture that angle of the male gaze whose power and control stem from the exaltation of women’s sexuality? While Gonzalo Justiniano or Beatriz García Huidobro try to free female bodies from the charge of the sexual, Alto Hospicio resexualized them to the point of producing genocide. After a century, Juana Lucero, a determinist novel on poverty founded on the negative sanctification of female sexual practices, asserts itself as a primordial text. It seems outrageous, but Juana Lucero still structures psyches, powers, and catastrophes.

Note * Translated by Susan García, Bernardita Llanos, and Leslie Marsh.

Chapter 21 Angels among Ruins* Sandra Lorenzano Para Marisel y María

I Walter Benjamin’s “angel of history” touches a wound in our memory: a wound that we would rather ignore or cloak with a disguise made from the thrown-away trappings of the carnival of “progress.” Wreckage upon wreckage, ruin upon ruin. The frightened face of Klee’s “Angelus Novus” is a link between past and future, a link that encompasses horrific memories upon whose foundation we construct a heartless and exclusionary modernity. Paris, 1940: on the verge of being sent to a refugee camp, Benjamin writes this text for a posterity that, unlike the angel, rarely gazes back toward the victims being trampled in a race to nowhere. The melancholy Jewish thinker knows that “progress” is unmoved by the destruction left in its wake. It seems that rather than bringing us closer to a desired future, progress distances us from a foundational utopian paradise. Bodies of the conquered pile up along the way, and only through an ethics of memory can we reconstruct Ariadne’s lost thread. “Articulating the past historically does not mean recognizing it ‘the way it really was’; it means appropriating a memory as it flashes up in a moment of danger”; it means bringing memory into the present to reread it, reconsider it, resignify it (Benjamin, 391). Memory, then, is the bond that links past and future in the present. The “weak messianic force” that we have inherited commits us to those who have gone before us and to those yet to come; it commits us to account for the ruins, for the marks they bear, for the scars, for the (hi) stories. This is a commitment to the living and the dead (which is also resistance, time yet to come), because even they will “not be safe from the enemy if he is victorious” (Benjamin, 391).


Sandra Lorenzano

II The poet preserves the tribe’s memory. The poet and the angel know that our bodies bear memory’s marks, the often broken and painful traces of our own lives. History’s machine writes upon each of us, but it is no longer a question of just a single word—the sentence that eventually killed Kafka’s character in “In the Penal Colony”—but of a complex, uneven, heterogeneous palimpsest. Someone once said that the defining question for each human being is deciding what to do with that mark, how to live with it. How might these scars not just remain a distant memory, but rather become an impetus to make history present, as in Andreas Huyssen’s idea of “present pasts”? How might they avoid being filed away in neglected archives, so as to remain with us every day, accompanying us without paralyzing us? Only when these questions can be answered can memory be resistance; only then will memory manifest its destructuring potential, its discomfort. An uncomfortable memory (mutable, mobile, fragmented) is the only kind that allows a society to grow in tolerance, solidarity, and brotherhood, opening up spaces for pleasure and escape, leaving no room for absolutes or imposed homogeneities.

III From the heterogeneous territory that is Latin America, a territory marked by inequality, violence, and injustice; a territory where more than 40 percent of the population lives in poverty, 16 percent in indigent poverty; a territory littered with scars left by multiple brands of authoritarianism and composed of multiple chronologies and incongruous desires; a territory of migrants by necessity, of bodies that defy borders no matter how many walls are built, of bodies that disappear into the machinery of horror (Guatemala, Santiago de Chile, Tlatelolco, Acteal, Ciudad Juárez).1 To think about the role of memory from Latin America transcends the limits of theoretical, academic discourse, and moves us into the ethical realm, as Benjamin proposed. Here memory becomes an intersection of tensions, conflicts, and misunderstandings; memory is what makes us who we are. An evocation of the past in the present, a “flash” that illuminates a moment of danger, memory is identity: a changing face, “singular and multiple,” as the poet said. If we are hopelessly immersed in a globalization that is turning us not into world citizens—as the early twentieth-century cosmopolitans wanted and as the mass media would have us believe—but rather into cheap manual labor for industrialized nations, hubs for sexual tourism and drug trafficking; if economic neoliberalism has counteracted any labor or social development in the region; if in recent decades we have lost quality and coverage in public health and education; if social fabrics

Angels among Ruins


have unraveled with profound losses in human and civil rights . . . if all this is so—and we know the list is actually much longer—memory is one of the only remaining spaces of resistance. Of what, if not of resistance, are the bedtime stories that Zapotec mothers tell their children? Of what, if not of resistance, are the moving words that Comandanta Esther speaks before the National Congress? Of what, if not resistance, are the Spanish verses that English-speaking Chicano poets incorporate into their texts, or the more than 50 indigenous languages spoken in Mexico City? Or the Cueca sola that mothers of Chilean desaparecidos dance without partners? Or the burial rituals performed for the bodies found in mass graves in Chichicastenango? Or the poetry passed down through oral tradition? Or lullabies? Some speak of “counterhegemony.” I prefer, like the Indian historian Ranajit Guha, to speak of “the small voices of history,” the ones that slip through the cracks of hegemony. “If history is written by the winners, then that means there is another story,” Juan Carlos Baglietto and Lito Nebbia used to sing in the 1980s. Another story, other histories, and other memories—“the small voices of history”—voices that weave webs of solidarity, recovering such seemingly tired notions as citizenship, rights, autonomy, participation. I realize that I am mixing registers, semantic fields, areas of reflection. I know that this subject is intersected by diverse projects, gazes, disciplines and “anti-disciplines.” But being attentive to these “small voices” is a challenge we can only aspire to meet by looking within the cracks, probing the interstitial spaces that the lightning flash illuminates for the briefest of moments.

IV Latin American and, specifically, Argentine history can be seen as a long chain of violent erasures, of exclusions and suppressions of the Other, of difference: Indians, “barbarians,” the poor, women. The desaparecidos, in this sense, are not a creation of the last military dictatorship (1976– 1983), but rather a foundational figure for the nation. Since its origins, the Argentine state has built its legitimacy upon the disappearance of bodies and Other voices. For example, one might think of the genocide of the Conquest; the late nineteenth-century Campaña al Desierto (Conquest of the Desert) that consolidated the liberal project through the massacre of southern indigenous peoples;2 the 1919 Semana Trágica (Tragic Week) of citizen killings by police in confrontations between striking workers and the Hipólito Yrigoyen government; the 1956 José León Suárez shootings during an anti-Peronist coup; or the various military dictatorships in Argentina’s modern history. Indeed, hegemony has been founded on the violent nullification of difference, either by an essential revocation of citizenship or outright extermination.


Sandra Lorenzano

In recent decades, inequalities have only been exacerbated as Argentina embarks on a new era of wealth accumulation on a global scale. 3 As neoliberal policies were established, alternative projects for the nation were necessarily crushed. Nowadays, the 30,000 “disappearances” perpetrated by the dictatorship have become protracted through exclusionary, impoverishing policies that have dismantled the Welfare State. Yet, notwithstanding its inherent limitations and inequalities, welfare succeeded in producing a degree of social cohesion in Latin America’s unequal and heterogeneous societies. Consequently, its reduction or outright abatement accentuates the region’s structural inequalities and generates new processes of social exclusion. In Argentina, structural reforms were accompanied by a new model of political domination. These transformations, which began in the mid 1970s, culminated during the administrations of Carlos Menem (1989– 1999) and his successors, provoking a ruthless dynamic of social polarization and fragmentation.4 The exclusion and marginalization of vast sectors of the working classes was one of the “most lasting contours of the new nation, of an exclusionary society structured upon the crystallization of economic as well as social and cultural inequalities” (Svampa, 12). Through the cracks in this new structure, one can hear the small voices that have forged minoritarian spaces of resistance and generated strategies for social survival. They are memories of the present. Amid the ruins left in the wake of neoliberal “progress,” these small voices salvage the memory of all the desaparecidos of our history, and with them, construct a new individual and collective dignity.

V The cold Patagonian wind swirls around octogenarian Don Justo, who has just traveled more than 250 miles in search of his dog Malacara, “the only one who really knows me,” he says. The wind swirls around María, who travels a great distance to claim the computer “multiprocessor” that she won on a television game show (tellingly, her opponent asks if she has electricity at home). It swirls, too, around Roberto, a business traveler courting a young widow, taking her a birthday cake for her son. The cold Patagonian wind swirls around the protagonists of the three intersecting stories in Historias mínimas (2002), a film by Carlos Sorín, shot during the peak of Argentina’s economic crisis. It is the third feature film by this meticulous director, who cultivates cinematic interventions with the style of an artisan rather than a commercial filmmaker. 5 Historias mínimas, set in some remote region of the Patagonian province of Santa Cruz, is, as its title suggests, about the small stories of ordinary people. This stark and daring film was made far from the city lights, and starred not professional actors but people who lived on location; it was made quietly, on a shoestring budget and with little arrogance. I

Angels among Ruins


would like to think of Historias mínimas as a metaphor for Argentine society in the early twenty-first century, an Argentine society born out of the ruins upon which the angel of history gazes in fright. It was filmed during one of the nation’s most critical periods, a period characterized by the stripping of state assets; by a political system in crisis; by an economic apparatus dismantled through a perverse agreement between Argentina’s political and financial sectors and international organizations such as the IMF and IDB; by sectors of the police and armed forces nostalgic for the “orderliness” imposed by past dictatorships; by a battered population that had seen the gradual disappearance of prior gains in labor, health, and education; by the impoverishment of its middle sectors and the marginalization of a once combative, organized working class. Any analysis of contemporary Argentina thus begins with a paradox, an ambiguity that keeps us from gaining a single perspective or painting a homogeneous picture. Just as the country weathered one of the worst periods in its history, Argentine society proved more alive than ever. As is evident in Sorín’s film, gestures of solidarity, generosity, and commitment poured forth from diverse sectors, most often not from well-known public figures, but from ordinary people. These gestures alone do not constitute a political alternative to the economic crisis in the traditional sense. Soup kitchens, bartering networks, respect for the cartoneros (cardboard collectors), childcare centers created by piqueteros (unemployed worker activists), among hundreds of other grassroots actions, were not ways to redesign the state, nor did they establish the basis for a new national pact required for imagining a viable future political project. Yet, these gestures were crystal clear signs that being fed up and exhausted can awaken creative social forces.

VI The drawing portrays a grave; the tombstone indicates the birth and death dates: March 24, 1976–December 19–20, 2001. The name of the deceased: none other than “Fear.” This comic by Rep appeared on the back page of the newspaper Página/12 one year after Argentines took to the streets to demand the resignation of President Fernando de la Rúa. This popular mobilization, known as the argentinazo, seemed, as the comic indicates, to have marked an end to the fear imposed by the last military dictatorship (1976–1983), a fear linked to realities like death; impunity; 30,000 desaparecidos; and deep wounds that for so long remained (and still remain) unhealed. Although Rep’s comic may be a bit of an exaggeration, it is symptomatic of the larger political scene. People had long ago lost the fear that impeded them from taking to the streets to demand their rights. The comic reads like a visual allusion to the often-heard slogan that united Argentines in late 2001: ¡Que se vayan todos! (Out with


Sandra Lorenzano

them all!). Out with corrupt politicians, inept officials, crooked businesspeople, and the accomplices of the saqueo (the foreign plunder of national assets under neoliberal privatization)! Out with crooked judges appointed during the Menem administration! Out with the perpetrators of human rights violations! “¡Que se vayan todos!” was the cry that united piqueteros and students, the ever-marginalized and the “new poor,” the destitute and the middle class whose bank accounts had been frozen by Economic Minister Domingo Cavallo. Yes, the people took to the streets and invaded the hypersymbolic Plaza de Mayo. They flooded streets and symbolic spaces in every province throughout the nation. And they did so because outrage trumped fear, because the collective will proved stronger than individual complacency. The numbers that fed popular discontent are well known: 53 percent of the population was living below the poverty line; 24.8 percent were considered indigent and could not afford a minimum food basket; the unemployment rate hovered at 20 percent. The historically poor provinces (primarily those of the northeast and northwest) shared the highest unemployment rates with previous centers of industry such as the city of Rosario. In the province of Tucumán, 18,000 children suffered from various stages of malnutrition. The “fat cats,” as always, saved their own hides: between February 28 and December 10, 2001, 19 billion dollars in withdrawals poured out of the nation’s banks, continuing a hemorrhage that the country’s most powerful sectors had set in motion some time before. Many popular, grassroots initiatives stemming from the 2001 economic crisis have now changed or deviated from their original purpose. Yet, at the time, they allowed the country to imagine new ways to escape the violence imposed by the crisis and to overcome the stupidity and insensitivity of a ruling class that had not learned to listen to what society was saying, that paid no attention to the common people and their minimal stories.

VII “Vamos pibe, aguantá . . .” (Come on, kid, hold on . . .), Héctor “Toba” García said to a young man with dreadlocks whose skull had been pierced by a police bullet in downtown Buenos Aires on December 20, 2001. “Vamos pibe, aguantá . . . ,” said the former 1970s militant who just months earlier had turned his house, in an area with one of the highest unemployment rates in Buenos Aires, into “Pancita llena” (Full Belly), a cafeteria that feeds more than 150 youths daily. Hundreds of cafeterias and soup kitchens now exist throughout the country. Some receive support from human rights organizations or charities, but many are created and sustained by the very people who have almost nothing to eat, who prefer to share what little they have with others, like Toba,

Angels among Ruins


or like the smiling woman who runs the “El cariñito” (Tiny Caress) cafeteria in a shantytown and poses for photographers’ cameras, always surrounded by children. “Vamos pibe . . . ,” Toba said to Martín Galli, the kid with dreadlocks whom he had just met. Toba saved Martín, who, in one of the small plazas along Avenida 9 de Julio had been shot down by police during the December 20 protests at 7:20 in the evening. Toba kept pressure on the wound on the back of Martín’s neck and twice brought him out of cardiac arrest with CPR. If Toba had not helped that young man, who had gone, like so many others, to express his outrage and yell “Que se vayan todos,” or had he been unable to save the young man’s life, the victims of police repression during those two historic days would have increased to 31. Unlike Diego Lamagna or Gastón Riva, who were killed by the police, Martín Galli is alive, thanks to a man he met randomly. Toba has a wound that will never heal: his desaparecidos. His fellow militants, sister, brother-in-law, and niece were all victims during the last military dictatorship. Perhaps for this reason Toba told Miguel Bonasso, the author of one of the best books about the events of December 2001: “When I saw Martín fall, the police were coming, and I said to myself: ‘They are not going to take this one away from me.’ They were going to have to kill me to take him away.”6 Toba’s is just one more minimal story among many.

VIII “Isn’t it true that the opposite of forgetting is not memory but justice?” Yosef Yerushalmi asked himself on a sunny Monday morning in front of the Buenos Aires courthouse, reminded of the question by one of the “witnesses” who had been invited by the Memoria Activa organization to participate in its weekly ceremony (26). For more than 14 years now, every Monday morning at 9:53 the shofar has sounded in this place in homage to the 86 people killed in the attack on the AMIA, the Israeli Argentine Mutual Benefit Association, perpetrated during Carlos Menem’s administration and as yet unpunished, like so many other crimes in the country. The voice of the ancient Jewish instrument sounds at once like sobbing and anger, history and pain. It is an act of memory and a demand for justice, not only for the 86 victims, but also for the countless casualties of the economic and political model that destroyed the country, for children dying of malnutrition in a land once considered the “breadbasket of the world,” for the unemployed, for victims of police repression, for the many lined up outside of embassies to reverse the voyages made by their grandparents, for those perpetually excluded. The members of Memoria Activa, which organizes this weekly ceremony, know that the attack of July 18, 1994 has everything to do with the “attacks” carried out on Argentine society every


Sandra Lorenzano

day. They know full well that the same intolerant people who reject and exclude the Other—Jewish, poor, indigenous, female, black, gay—also plant bombs, open fire, hoard money in foreign bank accounts, seek admittance at the doors of military barracks, applaud those in uniform, abuse deadly force, discredit human rights movements, long for authoritarianism’s firm hand, and attempt to assassinate the president of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo. The shofar sounds not only for the AMIA deaths, but for everyone, those who are here and those who are gone. The shofar sounds for us all.

IX Heads covered by kerchiefs, a hallmark of the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, are visible in the front rows, scattered among members of other human rights organizations. The auditorium of the Public College of Lawyers (Buenos Aires) is packed. It is September 18, 2002 and Memoria Abierta (Open Memory) is about to present its “Oral Archive.” On every face, the joy of celebration mixes with the pain of 30,000 absent compañeros. The memory of the victims and incessant calls for justice intertwine with the conflicts and struggles of the present. Human rights organizations march in the streets alongside demonstrators protesting the economic crisis. They walk with piqueteros, teachers, retired workers, and employees of more than 130 fábricas recuperadas, factories taken over by worker cooperatives. They are here today but know they must also protect the memory of yesterday. For what good is memory if it is stagnant, static? Memory allows us to think about the present, to know who we are and what we seek. Memoria Abierta is a space of reflection created by five human rights organizations to strengthen the country’s democratic culture by preserving the memory of what took place during the era of state terrorism. The organization promotes a brand of social awareness that values active memory. Among its most important commitments is to “prevent every form of authoritarianism” (“Nuestra misión”). The “Oral Archive,” one of its projects, collects interviews with immediate families of victims of state terror, ex-detainees, or political prisoners, those who were militants during the dictatorship, and exiles. As of 2008, they have registered and catalogued several thousand interviews, a priceless resource for researching, documenting, and communicating what happened. Presiding at the presentation of the “Oral Archive” is a Madre de Plaza de Mayo-Línea Fundadora who spoke to the crowd: “The people who contributed stories and memories of their own experiences play an essential role in the construction of collective memory and in relaying those experiences to present and future generations. Many thanks to all who gave their testimonies.”7 This oral archive bears witness to history, to minimal stories emerging from the ruins.

Angels among Ruins


X “The neurological damage of malnutrition causes irreversible mental deficiencies in children under three. One baby dies of malnutrition every 40 minutes, producing 13,000 deaths per year. Two children under five die of preventable causes every 53 minutes, for a total of 17,000 per year. In La Matanza (the most heavily populated district of the province of Buenos Aires, with a population of 1.5 million and the third highest unemployment rate in the country behind the cities of Rosario and Mar del Plata), 6,900 babies were born during the second trimester of 2002; 1,600 of them were malnourished at birth. Seventy percent of children under 14 are poor, and half of those are indigent. The childhood mortality rate is three times higher here than in Singapore, 90 percent higher than in Cuba, and 35 percent higher than in Chile. Twenty-nine percent of maternal deaths are caused by clandestine abortions. For every 100,000 births, 35 mothers die of hemorrhages, hypertension, and other preventable causes.”8 This statistical portrait of Argentina’s ongoing health crisis headed one of the expositions inaugurated on December 19, 2002 at the Centro Cultural Recoleta in the city of Buenos Aires. It was the collective show “Las camitas” (The Little Beds) held by the Asociación de Artistas (Association of Visual Artists of the Argentine Republic). Under the motto “A work of art for you works for the good of those who need it most,” more than 500 artists were invited to create artworks using wire doll beds as a platform. The doll beds resembled those found in public hospitals. The works were sold and the funds raised were used to purchase essential supplies for the Hospital Paroissien de La Matanza: another minimal story of solidarity to help ease the pain.

XI On a street in La Boca, very close to the stadium, César Aira, Ricardo Piglia, Martín Adán, Haroldo de Campos, Leónidas Lamborghini, and Enrique Lihn are symbolically present. They are among more than 100 authors published by the Eloísa Cartonera house. Every book is a unique creation, handcrafted by the cartoneros themselves. But Eloísa Cartonera is much more than that: it is an artistic, social, and community project, created by writer Washington Cucurto during the worst of the 2001–2002 crisis. In the space of the “No hay cuchillo sin rosas” (There is no thorn without roses) cardboard store where the publishing house is located, cartoneros converse and commingle with artists and writers in search of an original, unprejudiced aesthetic. The book covers are made from cardboard purchased directly from the collectors at a higher than normal price, and they are hand painted by youths from the streets who join the project. Because every publication is unique, the


Sandra Lorenzano

books have attracted the attention of several modern art museums and are displayed next to the most avant-garde Latin American artworks. And the project grows and grows: shows, literary contests, blogs. This, too, is creativity, life emerging from the ruins. Eloísa Cartonera, which now has several “sisters” throughout Latin America (Chile, Bolivia, Perú), was formed in a spirit of solidarity and as a response to the ghostly presence of the hundreds of thousands of cartoneros who took to the streets of Buenos Aires night after night, rummaging through the trash in search of something that could be sold. For many, collecting recyclables was the only available source of income. This was one face of the crisis, a face that forced the “good consciences” of Buenos Aires society to confront what they would rather not see: the excluded, the unemployed, the marginalized, those living in shantytowns, los de abajo. What so many preferred to ignore became visible every night.

XII There they are, watching us from a past that we cannot and do not want to forget, smiling in photographs from the family album or straightfaced in the photos from the rigid state registries. There they are to remind us that the struggle for memory is the struggle for justice. They will be there forever, calling to us from the death notices that appear in the newspaper every day of the year. The 30,000 victims of the last military dictatorship are joined today by those killed by the police during the historic days of December 19 and 20, 2001, by those who have fallen victim to the “gatillo fácil,” by the mafias that protect the privileged (I am thinking of Cabezas, of the Cromañón kids, of Fuentealba, and so many others).9 Despite President Néstor Kirchner’s commitment to human rights, despite the upturn in the national economy, repression continues to appear throughout the country. Opening the newspaper and gazing on those faces is to claim our responsibility to pass down memories and demand justice, to be with the Madres de Plaza de Mayo every Thursday as they repeat their heartbreaking rounds, to cry out for the end of impunity and dishonesty, to become piqueteros, to form a cooperative and take charge of a factory, to cook for a soup kitchen, to listen to the cries of the children of Tucumán, to join Don Justo as he looks for Malacara, to strain to hear, amid the ruins, the murmurs of minimal stories.

Notes * Translated by Laura Kanost. 1. Data from the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

Angels among Ruins


2. The “Conquest of the Desert,” organized during the presidency of Nicolás Remigio Aurelio Avellaneda (1874–1880), sought to annex large expanses of land and subdue the peoples of the pampas. The “indigenous problem” was eliminated by their defeat. 3. See Svampa, Calveiro, and Argentina ante la crisis, a special issue of the journal Pensamiento de los confines 11 (September 2002). 4. The Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner governments have generally sought to break with the preceding model. 5. Carlos Sorín’s other films are La película del rey (1983), El perro (2004), and El camino de San Diego (2006). 6. For Toba’s story, see Bonasso (7–12). 7. I heard this quote personally at the event. 8. This paragraph is a compendium of statistics from placards accompanying the “Camitas” exhibit. 9. José Luis Cabezas, reporter for the magazine Noticias, was killed on January 25, 1997 because of his investigation of businessman Alfredo Yabrán, closely tied to Menem. The discotheque “Cromañón” caught fire by a flare on December 30, 2004, shedding light on irregularities. Nearly 200 young people died. Carlos Fuentealba was shot dead by Nequén police during a teachers’ demonstration in April 2007.

Select Bibliography Anguita, Eduardo. Cartoneros: recuperadores de desechos y causas perdidas. Buenos Aires: Norma, 2003. Benjamin, Walter. “On the Concept of History.” In Selected Writings, Volume 4: 1938–1940, edited by Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings, 389–400. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003. Bonasso, Miguel. El palacio y la calle: crónicas de insurgentes y conspiradores. Buenos Aires: Planeta, 2002. Calveiro, Pilar. “Los usos políticos de la memoria.” In Sujetos sociales y nuevas formas de protesta en la historia reciente de América Latina, edited by Gerardo Caetano, 359–82. Buenos Aires: Consejo Latinoamericano de Ciencias Sociales, 2006. Giarracca, Norma, ed. La protesta social en Argentina: transformaciones económicas y crisis social en el interior del país. Buenos Aires: Alianza, 2001. Huyssen, Andreas. Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003. “Nuestra misión.” Sorín, Carlos, director. Historias mínimas. Wanda Visión, 2002. Svampa, Maristella. La sociedad excluyente: la Argentina bajo el signo del neoliberalismo. Buenos Aires: Taurus, 2005. Yerushalmi, Yosef. “Reflexiones sobre el olvido.” In Usos del olvido: Comunicaciones al Coloquio de Royaumont edited by Yosef Yerushalmi et al., 13–26. Buenos Aires: Ediciones Nueva Visión, 1989.

This page intentionally left blank


Rolf Abderhalden Cortés is a professor at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia and the co-director, with Heidi Abderhalden, of Mapa TeatroLaboratorio de Artistas. He was trained in Paris at the Jacques Lecoq Theater School, the Laboratory of Movement Studies, and Philippe Gaulier and Monika Pagneux’s Theater Training Workshop. Arturo Arias (Ph.D., L’Ecole des Hautes Etudes, Paris) is professor of Latin American studies at the University of Texas at Austin. His most recent scholarly books are Taking Their Word: Cultural Dialogues, Central American Signs (2007) and The Rigoberta Menchú Controversy (2001), an edited volume. He co-wrote the screenplay for the film El Norte (1984) and is the author of six novels. His most recent novel in English is Rattlesnake (2003). He was also the 2001–2003 president of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA). Idelber Avelar (Ph.D., Duke University) is professor of Latin American literatures and intellectual histories, critical theory, and cultural studies at Tulane University. He is the author of The Letter of Violence: Essays on Narrative, Ethics, and Politics (2004) and The Untimely Present: Postdictatorial Latin American Fiction and the Task of Mourning (1999), winner of the Modern Language Association’s (MLA) Katherine Singer Kovacs prize. His monographs in progress include “A genealogy of Latin Americanism: An Essay on the Disciplinary Uses of Identity” and “Timing the Nation: Rhythm, Race, and Nationhood in Brazilian Popular Music.” Daniel Balderston (Ph.D., Princeton University) is Mellon professor of Hispanic languages and literatures at the University of Pittsburgh. His numerous books, chapters, and articles focus on Borges, gender and sexuality studies, translation studies, and literary relations, and his edited volumes include several encyclopedias and reference works. His most recent books are El deseo, enorme cicatriz luminosa: ensayos sobre homosexualidades latinoamericanas (2004); Borges, realidades y simulacros (2000); and, with Francine Masiello, the edited book Approaches to Teaching Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman (2007). He is the current president of the Instituto Internacional de Literatura Iberoamericana.



Leslie Bayers (Ph.D., University of Kansas) is assistant professor of Spanish at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, specializing in twentiethcentury Latin American literature and culture and with a special interest in contemporary Andean poetry and performance. Her current book project focuses on the intersections of poetry and performance in the Andes. Sara Castro-Klarén (Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles) is professor of Latin American literature and culture at Johns Hopkins University. Her numerous books and articles focus on José María Arguedas, Julio Cortázar, Diamela Eltit, Rosario Ferré, women writers, feminism, colonial studies, and postcolonial theory. She has also contributed many essays to such volumes as The Latin American Subaltern Studies Reader (2001). Her coedited volume, with John Chasteen, Beyond Imagined Communities: Reading and Writing the Nation in Nineteenth-Century Latin America appeared in 2003. She is currently finishing a book on historiography and political theory in Guaman Poma and Garcilaso de la Vega, Inca. Sandra Messinger Cypess (Ph.D., University of Illinois) is professor of Latin American literature and culture at the University of Maryland, College Park. Her research focuses on Latin American theater, Mexican literature, women writers, and representations of women in Latin American literature. Her books include La Malinche in Mexican Literature: From History to Myth (1991), supported with an NEH Fellowship, and several edited volumes. She also authored the chapter on Latin American theater for The Cambridge History of Latin American Literature and one on Caribbean Theater for A History of Literature in the Caribbean. Andrés Di Tella (Argentina) is a filmmaker, director, and screenwriter, whose recent films include El país del diablo (2008); Fotografías (2007); La televisión y yo (2003); and Montoneros, una historia (1995). He has published film reviews and essays on documentary and cinematography. In 1999, he founded the Buenos Aires International Independent Film Festival, which he directed in 1999 and 2000, and since 2002, he has directed the Princeton Documentary Film Festival. Diamela Eltit (Chile) is one of Latin America’s most daring experimental writers and is highly regarded for her avant-garde initiatives in the world of letters. Author of nine novels, she entered the literary world during Pinochet’s rule, participating in the neo-vanguard art scene, staging art actions against the dictatorship. She has been honored by such international literary organizations as the MLA in the United States and Casa de las Américas in Havana. She has held posts as writer-inresidence at prestigious universities in the United States, Europe, and Latin America.



Rubén Gallo (Ph.D., Columbia University) is Old Dominion Fellow and associate professor of Spanish American Literature at Princeton University. His books include Mexican Modernity: The Avant-Garde and the Technological Revolution (2005); New Tendencies in Mexican Art: The 1990s (2004); The Mexico City Reader (2004); and, with Ignacio Padilla, Heterodoxos mexicanos: una antología dialogada (2006). His current monograph in progress is “Freud in Mexico: The Neuroses of Modernity.” Regina Harrison (Ph.D., University of Illinois) is professor of Spanish and comparative literature and affiliated professor of anthropology at the University of Maryland. Her books include Signs, Songs, and Memory in the Andes: Translating Quechua Language and Culture (1989), winner of the first MLA Katherine Singer Kovacs Prize, and Entre el tronar épico y el llanto elegíaco (1997). She is also the creator, with indigenous Ecuadorians, of the collaborative video Cashing in on Culture: Indigenous Communities and Tourism (2002). She is currently completing a book on confession manuals and sermons written in Spanish and Quechua, a project supported in its initial stages by a Guggenheim Fellowship. Jill Lane (Ph.D., New York University) is assistant professor of Spanish and Portuguese at New York University. Her publications include Blackface Cuba, 1840–1895 (2005), recipient of the ASTR Erroll Hill Award; The Ends of Performance (1998), coedited with Peggy Phelan; and articles in major theater journals. She is Deputy Director of the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics and editor of its journal E-misférica. Victoria Langland (Ph.D., Yale University) is assistant professor of history at the University of California, Davis. Her research focuses on twentieth-century Latin American social, cultural, political, and gender history; history and memory; and transnational American history. Her publications include the coedited volume Monumentos, memoriales, y marcas territoriales (2003, with Elizabeth Jelin) and numerous articles. She recently completed the book manuscript “Speaking of Flowers: Student Movements and Collective Memory in Authoritarian Brazil” and is preparing edited volumes on 1968 in Latin America and on inequality and development in Latin America. Michael J. Lazzara (Ph.D., Princeton University) is associate professor of Latin American literature and culture at the University of California, Davis. He is the author of Luz Arce: después del infierno (2008); Chile in Transition: The Poetics and Politics of Memory (2006); Diamela Eltit: conversación en Princeton (2002); Los años de silencio: conversaciones con narradores chilenos que escribieron bajo dictadura (2002), and several articles on Latin American literature and culture. He is also translator of Ana María del Río’s allegorical novel Carmen’s Rust (2003).



Sandra Lorenzano (Ph.D., UNAM) is a professor at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM); a member of the Sistema Nacional de Investigadores de México; and vice-chancellor of the Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana, all in Mexico City. Her publications include Escrituras de sobrevivencia: narrativa argentina y dictadura (2001); Políticas de la memoria: tensiones en la palabra y la imagen (2007), coedited with Ralph Buchenhorst; and the novel Saudades (2007). She directs “Primero Sueño,” a Latin American literature collection edited by Editorial Alfaguara and is the editor of the academic review Signos literarios and of Prolija memoria: revista de cultura virreinal. Francine Masiello (Ph.D., University of Michigan) is Sidney and Margaret Ancker Distinguished Professor in the Humanities and a member of the Departments of Comparative Literature and Spanish and Portuguese at the University of California, Berkeley. Her extensive list of publications includes the books Lenguaje e ideología: las escuelas argentinas de vanguardia (1986); Between Civilization and Barbarism: Women, Nation, and Literary Culture in Modern Argentina (1992); La mujer y el espacio público (1994); The Art of Transition: Latin American Culture and Neoliberal Crisis (2001); the critical edition Dreams and Realities: The Writings of Juana Manuela Gorriti (2003); and, with Daniel Balderston, Approaches to Teaching Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman (2007). Sylvia Molloy (Ph.D., Sorbonne, Paris), Albert Schweitzer professor of the humanities at New York University, has been one of the most influential critical voices of Latin American literature and culture in Argentina, France, and the United States. She has written extensively on Spanish American literature, especially on the literary trends of the twentieth century, Jorge Luis Borges’s work, gender issues, and women writers. Her numerous publications include such widely read works as Signs of Borges (1994); At Face Value: Autobiographical Writing in Spanish America (1991); and, with Sara Castro-Klarén and Beatriz Sarlo, Women’s Writing in Latin America (1991). María Rosa Olivera-Williams (Ph.D., Ohio State University) is associate professor of Spanish at the University of Notre Dame. Her research encompasses nineteenth through twenty-first-century Latin American literature, Southern Cone literature, women writers, and feminist criticism. Her publications include El salto de Minerva: intelectuales, género, y estado en América Latina (2005), coedited with Mabel Moraña; La poesía gauchesca de Hidalgo a Hernández (1986); and numerous articles. She is completing a book on “The Art of Creating the Feminine: Power, Sexuality, and Desire in Spanish American Women Writers of the Southern Cone.” Nelly Richard (Chile) is a prominent Latin American cultural theorist and a 1996 recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship. She is the founding



editor of Chile’s Revista de crítica cultural and currently directs the Master’s in Cultural Studies Program at Santiago’s Universidad ARCIS. Among her many books are Feminismo, género, y diferencia(s) (2008); Fracturas de la memoria: arte y pensamiento crítico (2007); Residuos y metáforas (ensayos de crítica cultural sobre el chile de la Transición) (1998); La insubordinación de los signos (cambio político, transformaciones culturales y poéticas de la crisis) (1994); and Márgenes e instituciones: arte en Chile desde 1973 (1986, republished in 2007). Diana Taylor (Ph.D., University of Washington) is professor of performance studies and Spanish and Portuguese at New York University. Her books include Theatre of Crisis: Drama and Politics in Latin America (1991), Disappearing Acts: Spectacles of Gender and Nationalism in Argentina’s “Dirty War” (1997), and The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (2003). She has also edited or coedited seven critical collections or anthologies, among them, with Sarah J. Townsend, Stages of Conflict: A Critical Anthology of Latin American Theater and Performance (2008); and with Roselyn Constantino, Holy Terrors: Latin American Women Perform (2003). Vicky Unruh (Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin) is professor of Latin American literary and cultural studies at the University of Kansas. She is the author of Latin American Vanguards: The Art of Contentious Encounters (1994) and Performing Women and Modern Literary Culture in Latin America (2006), the latter supported by an NEH Fellowship. Her articles and chapters on Latin American narrative, theater, and literary culture have appeared in such journals as PMLA, Latin American Research Review, Hispanic Review, Revista iberoamericana, Revista de crítica literaria latinoamericana, Revista de estudios hispánicos, Romance Quarterly, and Comparative Drama, among many others, and in critical book collections published in the United States and abroad. Her current projects include a cultural study of work in Post-Soviet Cuba and essays on turn-of-the-millennium Latin American theater and performance.

This page intentionally left blank


Abderhalden Cortés, Heidi, 22–23, 211 Abderhalden Cortés, Rolf, 7–8, 22–24 “Abenjacán el Bojarí, muerto en su laberinto” (Borges), 41–42 Acevedo, José María, 53 Adán, Martín, 73 n1, 257 Agamben, Giorgio, 25, 212, 248 Agua (Arguedas), 84 Águila, F., 127 Aira, César, 257 Aizenberg, Edna, 47 n4 Alfonsín, Raúl, 186–88 Allen, Catherine J., 153, 155, 157 Allen, Esther, 54–55 Allende, Salvador, 121, 130, 132 n1 Alliance for Progress, 59 Alsina, Juan, 180 Alsina’s Ditch (La Zanja de Alsina, Argentina), 88 Alto Hospicio crimes, 245–48 Álvarez Tabío, Emma, 197 Alvear, Soledad, 130 Amaru, Túpac, 121 Ameghino, Florentino, 44 Americanness, 54–59 AMIA (Argentine Mutual Benefit Association), 255–56 Andersmann, Jens, 47 n6 Anderson, Jon Lee, 133 n4 Angel of History (Benjamin), 2, 103, 198, 249, 253 Angell, Alan, 122 “Angelus Novus” (Klee), 249 Antigüedades peruanas (Rivero), 77–78 Antiquities of the Incas and Lima: A Visit to the Capital and Provinces of Modern Peru, 78–85

archeological poetics, 66, 77–80, 85 archeology, 5, 40–46, 60, 79, 110, 198 archeo-space, 77–82 architecture, 6, 19, 47 n7, 66–67, 97, 107–13, 199, 203–206, 212–14 “The Argentine Brunette” (“La morocha”), 98–100 Arguedas, José María, 77, 84 Arias, Arturo, 8 arrepentido, 183, 192 n1 “Arte poética” (Huidobro), 155 Arteaga, Melchor, 64 Association of Visual Artists of the Argentine Republic (Asociación de Artistas), 257 Asturias, Miguel Ángel, 3, 35, 156 Augustine, 47, 47 n12 Ávalos, H., 127 Avelar, Idelber, 4, 7, 192 n1 Avellaneda, Nicolás Remigio Aurelio, 259 n2 Ayacucho, Peru, 7, 83–84, 137–40, 143, 147–59, 159 n5 B-Happy (Justiniano), 243–45 Bachelet, Michelle, 128–30, 133 n5 Baglietto, Juan Carlos, 251 Baigorrita, Luis, 93 Bakhtin, Mikhail, 150 Balderston, Daniel, 4–5, 47 nn1–2 Ballesteros, José, 159 n3 Baquerizo, Manuel, 150, 157–58 Barrancos, Dora, 101 Barthes, Roland, 6, 34, 94, 217 n3 Baudelaire, Charles, 56 Bayers, Leslie, 7 Becerra, Juan José, 184 Belaúnde, Fernando, 139



Benjamin, Walter, 2, 4, 8, 26 n4, 29, 34, 56, 63, 95, 98, 103–104, 172 n3, 198, 216, 230, 249–50 Bergson, Henri, 33 Bhabha, Jacqueline, 136 Bharucha, Rustom, 145 n2 Billy Budd (Melville), 34, 36–37 Bingham, Hiram, 2, 5, 45, 63–65, 67–68, 73 Blanot, Vivianne, 129 Boán, Marianela, 200 Bogotá, Colombia, 1, 8, 13, 21–24, 211–26 Bolívar, Simón, 2, 148 Bonasso, Miguel, 255, 259 n6 Borchmeyer, Florian, 198, 200 Borges, Jorge Luis, 3, 5, 39–47, 47 nn9–10, 92, 96, 98–101, 104 n2 Bourriaud, Nicolas, 217 n2 Boym, Svetlana, 2, 4, 63, 96–97 Brackenridge, Henry Marie, 54–55 Brecht, Bertolt, 25 Bremer, Frederika, 61 n15 British Museum, 54 Brito, Cynthia, 227 n2 Brooks, Van Wyck, 59 Buckwalter-Arias, James, 206 Buena Vista Social Club (Wenders), 197 Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1, 27, 36, 95, 98–103, 190–91, 254–58 Bulnes Bridge (Puente Bulnes, Santiago, Chile), 180–82 Burger, Richard L., 73 n5 Bulwer Lytton, 28 Cabezas, José Luis, 258, 259 n9 caciques. See tribal chiefs cadavers, 6, 121–32, 168 Calveiro, Pilar, 259 n2 Camayd-Freixas, Erik, 73 n3 “Cambalache.” See “Second-Hand Shop” Campos, Haroldo de, 257 Cánepa Koch, Gisela, 137 Canto, Estela, 47 n10 Canto General (Neruda), 3 Capac, Huayna, 2 Capac, Manco, 83–84 Carmona, Aurelio, 73 Carpentier, Alejo, 156

Carrasco Cavero, Teresa, 148, 159 n4, 172 n8 Carrió de la Vandera, Alonso, 155 cartucho. See El Cartucho neighborhood (Bogotá, Colombia) Carvallo, Mauricio, 127 Casamayor Cisneros, Odette, 207 n12 Casas, Fabián, 185 Castañeda, Quetzile E., 26 n1 Castro, Fidel, 199 Castro, Vaca de, 83 Castro-Klarén, Sara, 5 Catherwood, Frederick, 51–53, 59, 60 n3, 80 Catholic Church, 128, 130–31, 148, 205 Cementerio General (Santiago, Chile). See General Cemetery center of fear, 211–13, 217 n3 Cervantes, Miguel de, 45 Ceruti, Jaime Urrutia, 148, 159 n5 Chappell, Nancy, 138, 141 Chejfec, Sergio, 184 Cien botellas en una pared (Portela), 200 Cieza de León, Pedro, 83 Clark, Gordon Matta, 30 Clavijero, Francisco Javier, 77 Cocteau, Jean, 198 Coe, Michael, 61 n6 Coelho, Oliverio, 185 Cohn, Deborah, 172 n6 Cole, Thomas, 59 Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, 40, 46 Comentarios reales (Garcilaso de la Vega, el Inca), 78–79 The Condor and the Cows (Isherwood), 67 Confessions (Augustine), 47 Conquest of the Desert (La Conquista del Desierto), 87–94, 251 Copán, Honduras, 51–56, 60 n4, 61 n13 Cortázar, Julio, 236 Cortés, Hernán, 111 Cosío, José Gabriel, 73 n2 Coyula, 207 nn2,13 Crary, Jonathan, 33 Cruger, John Church, 59, 61 n15 Cruz, María Angélica, 131 Cuban Revolution, 1, 7, 199–207 Cucurto, Washington, 257–58 C’ùndua project (Mapa Teatro), 24–25, 26 n6, 211–12

Index Cushing, Lincoln, 199–200 Cuzco, Peru, 5, 66–68, 78–85 Cuzco: A Journey to the Ancient Capital of Peru, With an Account of the History, Language, Literature, and Antiquities of the Incas (Markham), 78–85 Dalmaroni, Miguel, 192 n1 Darwin, Charles, 61 n8 Dávila, José, 118 de Andrade, Mário, 3 de Certeau, Michel, 22, 37 de Diego, José Luis, 192 n1 de la Rúa, Fernando, 253 Del Campo, Alicia, 132 n1 del Río, Marcela, 7, 163, 165–72, 172 nn1, 4–5, 173 n9 Deleuze, Gilles, 30, 35 Depetris, José Carlos, 92–94 desaparecidos. See disappeared people D’Halmar, Augusto, 242, 248 Di Tella, Andrés, 5–6 Díaz, Gonzalo, 132 Díaz, Mónica, 169 Díaz Ordaz, Gustavo, 112, 114, 164, 171 DINA (Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional), 16, 26 n2, 127, 132 n3 disappeared people (desaparecidos), 18, 90, 251–55 Discépolo, Enrique Santos, 101–104 “The Discovery of Machu Picchu” (Bingham), 64 Docter, Mary, 169 Dome of the Rock (Jerusalem), 51 Dopico, Ana María, 207 n4 Drucker, Joanna, 150 Echeverría, Heriberto, 199 El amparo (Ferreyra), 185 El Cartucho neighborhood (Bogotá, Colombia), 1, 8, 13, 21–24, 211–26 El desamparo (Ferreyra), 185 El director (Ferreyra), 184–92, 192 n2 El entenado (Saer), 45, 183 “El hombre en el umbral” (Borges), 46 “El inmortal” (Borges), 43–44 “El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan” (Borges), 41 El libro de las ruinas (Borges), 44


El perdón (Ferreyra), 185 El señor presidente (Asturias), 35 “El sueño de Coleridge” (Borges), 46 “El Sur” (Borges), 46 “El tesoro de los Incas” (Gorriti), 32–33 Eliot, T. S., 44 Elizondo, Salvador, 236 Eloísa Cartonera, 257 Eltit, Diamela, 8, 35 Ely, Albert Welles, 58, 61 n13 embodied rights, 136 En el Teocalli de Cholula (Heredia), 2, 165 En estado de memoria (Mercado), 183–84 Eng, David L., 2 Enjuto-Rangel, Cecilia, 73 n3, 230 Enriquillo (Galván), 2 Erll, Astrid, 166 Errázuriz, Javier, 130–31 Escobar, Ramiro, 159 “Esta noche me emborracho bien.” See “Tonight I Get Wasted” Estévez, Abilio, 198, 200, 205–206 Estrada, Alfredo José, 207 n2 Estremadoyo, Elsa, 144 ethnocide, 90 “Examen de la obra de Herbert Quain” (Borges), 41 Fabian, Johannes, 59 Facundo (Sarmiento), 34–36 Falabella, Soledad, 16, 19 Farfán, Claudia, 123 Fast Food (Boán), 200 Faulkner, William, 34 Felstiner, John, 66 Ferguson, James, 136–37 Fernandes, Sujatha, 207 nn5,7 Ferreyra, Gustavo, 7, 184–92 Florentine Codex, 166–67, 172 n5 Flores Ochoa, Jorge A., 73 n5 Florián, Mario, 73 n2 Fonseca, Alberto, 237, 239 n11 Foster, Susan, 145 n2 Foucault, Michel, 79, 113, 229–30, 239 n1 Franco, Itamar, 220 Franco, Jean, 3, 4 Frank, Waldo, 59 Fresa y chocolate (Gutiérrez Alea), 197, 199



Freud, Sigmund, 2, 34, 46, 60, 190 Friis, Ronald J., 169 Frye, David, 207 n11 Fuentealba, Carlos, 258, 259 n9 Fuentes, Carlos, 164 Fujimori, Alberto, 135, 159 Futoransky, Luisa, 27 Gabeira, Fernando, 225 Galindo, Juan, 60 n3 Galli, Martín, 255 Gallo, Rubén, 6 Galván, Manuel de Jesús, 2 Garay, Graciela de, 108–109, 114, 115 Garay, Orlando, 246 Garay, Viviana, 246 García, Daura Olema, 203 García, Héctor “Toba”, 254–55 García, José Uriel, 66 García, María Elena, 147, 150, 152, 158–59, 160 n7 García, Susan, 248 García Antezana, Jorge, 73 n3 García Márquez, Gabriel, 156 García Ponce, Juan, 236 Garibay, Ángel María, 169, 173 n10 Gasco Foundation (Chile), 132 Gastine, Alice, 132 General Cemetery (Santiago, Chile), 128, 178–80 genocide, 90, 248, 251 Gineceo (Ferreyra), 185 Giner, Claudia, 123 Ginsberg, Robert, 4, 47 n11, 73 n1 Glosa (Saer), 183 “Go round . . . and . . . round” (“Yira . . . yira . . .”), 102 Godoy, Marcial, 26 n5 Goldberg, Jonah, 125 Gómez, Rodrigo, 180, 182 González, Eduardo G., 172 González Carré, Enrique, 148, 159 nn4–5 Good Neighbor Policy, 59 Gopinath, Gayatri, 233, 239 n4 Gorriti, Juana Manuela, 30–37 Gott, Richard, 207 n1 Goulart, João, 222–23 Gradiva (Jensen), 46 Granado, Alberto, 67–68 Great Wall of China, 39–40, 46, 88

Gruman, Alejandro, 16 Grupo Cultural Yuyachkani, 6–7, 136, 142–44 “Gubi Amaya” (Gorriti), 33–34 Guevara, Ernesto (Che), 67–68, 121, 203, 205 Guha, Ranajit, 251 Guimarães, Honestino, 222–23, 226 Gupta, Akhil, 136–37 Gutiérrez, Yuri, 148, 159 n5 Gutiérrez Alea, Tomás, 197, 199 Guzmán, Abimael, 135, 149, 159 Habana—Arte nuevo de hacer ruinas (documentary), 198, 200–202, 207 Harrison, Regina, 5, 66 Hasta ya no ir (Huidobro), 243–45 Havana, Cuba, 1, 7, 197–207 “Heights of Machu Picchu” (Neruda), 28 Hentscher, Matthias, 198, 200 Heredia, José María, 2, 165 Hernández, Daniela, 131 heteronormative society, 8, 230–39 Highmore, Ben, 2, 103 Historias mínimas (Sorín), 8, 252–53 History of the Conquest of Mexico (Prescott), 79 History of the Conquest of Peru (Prescott), 79 History of the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella the Catholic (Prescott), 80 Hite, Katherine, 132 Hodder, Ian, 79 Homer, 44, 189 Howard-Malverde, Rosaleen, 160 n9 Huidobro, Beatriz García, 243–44, 248 Huidobro, Vicente, 155 human rights, 20, 90, 121–31, 136, 171, 175, 181, 254–58 Humboldt, Alexander von, 77, 81 Huyssen, Andreas, 4, 28, 73 n1, 96–97, 226, 250 Iliad (Homer), 61 n13, 189 Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatán (Stephens), 51, 60 n5, 80 Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petraea, and the Holy Land (Stephens), 51

Index Incidents of Travel in Greece, Turkey, Russia, and Poland (Stephens), 51 Incidents of Travel in Yucatán (Stephens), 51, 80 indigenous resistance, 61 n9, 92, 136–37, 141–42, 150–59 install-actions, 8, 24, 214 Isherwood, Christopher, 67 Izurieta, Óscar, 128–29 Jeanneret, Charles-Edouard (Le Corbusier), 108–11, 114–15, 117 Jelin, Elizabeth, 221 Jensen, Wilhelm, 46 Johnson, Barbara, 169 Johnson, Lyman, 121 Johnston, Don, 73 n4 Joignant, Alfredo, 127, 132 n2 Jovés, Manuel, 100 Joyce, James, 34 Juana Lucero (D’Halmar), 242–48 Justiniano, Gonzalo, 243, 248 Kabah, Mexico, 58–59 Kafka, Franz, 34, 213, 250 Kanost, Laura, 258 Karp-Toledo, Eliane, 73, 73 n5 Kasner, Edward, 42 Kazanjian, David, 2 Kiefer, Anselm, 30 King, David, 47 n9 Kirchner, Cristina Fernández de, 259 n4 Kirchner, Néstor, 90, 258, 259 n4 Kirk, Robin, 150 Klarén, Peter Flindell, 149–50, 160 n7 Klasky, Helaine, 73, 73 n5 Klee, Paul, 249 Klinger, Diana, 192 n4 Kohan, Martín, 184 Koolhaas, Rem, 107–109, 116–18 Kramer, Lawrence, 97 Krebs, Edgardo, 73 “Kublai Khan” (Coleridge), 46 “La biblioteca de Babel” (Borges), 46 “La casa de Asterión” (Borges), 41 La ciudad ausente (Piglia), 183–84 La Conquista del Desierto. See Conquest of the Desert “La creación y P. H. Gosse” (Borges), 44


“La escritura del dios” (Borges), 44, 47 n5 “La flor de Coleridge” (Borges), 40 La grande (Saer), 183 “La morocha.” See “Argentine Brunette” “La muerte y la brújula” (Borges), 41 “La muralla y los libros” (Borges), 39 La palabra de los muertos o Ayacucho hora nona (Molina), 147–59, 159 nn1,6 “La quena” (Gorriti), 33 “La secta del Fénix” (Borges), 46 La victoria de Junín: canto a Bolívar (Olmedo), 2 La vida es silbar (Pérez), 204–205 La virgen de los sicarios (Vallejo). See Our Lady of the Assassins La Zanja de Alsina (Argentina). See Alsina’s Ditch Labbé, Cristián, 127 Lagos, Ricardo, 123, 128, 246 Lamagna, Diego, 255 Lamarque, Libertad, 102 Lamborghini, Leónidas, 257 Lane, Jill, 6, 140 Langland, Victoria, 8 Lara, Jesús, 154 “Las ruinas circulares” (Borges), 42–44 The Last Days of Pompeii (Bulwer Lytton), 28 Laub, Dori, 25 Lavín, Joaquín, 122 Lawrence, D. H., 77 Lazzara, Michael, 6, 26 n3, 47 n13, 177, 179, 182 Le Corbusier (Charles-Edouard Jeanneret), 108–11, 114–15, 117 Leal, Eusebio, 197 Leal, Luis, 164, 170 “Lectura de los ‘Cantares Mexicanos’: manuscrito de Tlatelolco” (Pacheco), 163, 169–72 Leibniz, Gottfried, 239 n9 Lennard, Patricio, 185 Lentz, Vera, 138 Lerner, Salomón, 135, 138–39 Levinas, Emmanuel, 28 Leyendas de Guatemala (Asturias), 3 Lezaeta, P., 127 lieux de memoire, 115, 227 n1 Lihn, Enrique, 257



Lima, Peru, 1, 70, 78, 84, 137–41 Lima Souto, Edson Luís de, 225–26 Link, Daniel, 192 n4 Lizarraga, Augustín, 64–65 Llanos, Bernardita, 248 Lo íntimo (Gorriti), 33–34 “Loca.” See “Mad Woman” Lorenzano, Sandra, 8 Los palacios distantes (Estévez), 205–206 Los ríos profundos (Arguedas), 84 Los vigilantes (Eltit), 35 Lost City of the Incas (Bingham), 65, 67 Loveluck, Eliana, 132 Löwy, Michael, 103–104 Lubitsch, Ernst, 117 Lubow, Arthur, 73, 73 n5 Lula da Silva, Luis Ignacio, 226 Lyons, Claire, 4, 73 n1, 172 n3 Lyra, Carlos, 224 Machu Picchu, Peru, 1, 5, 45, 63–73 Macunaíma (de Andrade), 3 “The Mad Woman” (Loca), 98, 100–101 Madagascar (Pérez), 204–205 Madariaga, Mónica, 128 Madigan, Stephen A., 239 n5 Madres de la Plaza de Mayo. See Mothers of Plaza de Mayo Maestra voluntaria (García), 203 Majluf, Natalie, 148 Malvinas War, 89, 186–88 manchay tiempo. See time of fear Manifest Destiny, 58 Mapa Teatro Laboratory of Artists, 8, 13, 21–25, 211–12, 214, 217 Markham, Clement R., 2, 5, 78–85 Marsh, Leslie, 248 Martí, José, 199 Martínez, Luciano, 47 n13 Martínez Viergol, Antonio, 100 Martins Filho, João Roberto, 224 Marx, Karl, 129, 241 Masiello, Francine, 4–5 Matta, Pedro Alejandro, 16–20, 23, 25 Maxwell, Keely Beth, 69, 73 n5 Mayer, Enrique, 152, 160 n10 McIntosh, Molly L., 73 n5 media, 72, 123–29, 150–51, 184–88, 197, 220–23, 250 melancholy, 2, 4, 8, 63, 104, 249

Melville, Herman, 30–31, 34, 36–37 Memoria Abierta. See Open Memory Memorial to the Detained-andDisappeared (Santiago, Chile), 178–80 Memorias del subdesarrollo (Gutiérrez Alea), 199, 207 memory: absence of, 135–38 acts of, 24, 255 the body and, 13–26, 31, 121–34, 175–82, 211–18, 229–40, 241–48 cadavers and, 121–31 cultural, 5, 56, 78, 115, 166, 206, 212 ethics of, 249–58 in Gorriti, 31–33 historical, 95–104, 136, 182 mapping, 231–34 in Markham, 78, 83–85 national, 51–62, 87–94, 95–106, 121–34, 135–46, 147–62, 163–74, 219–28, 249–59 nostalgia and, 97 resurrecting, 220–21 sites of, 13–26, 27–29, 69–73, 77–86, 87–94, 107–18, 135–42, 163–74, 175–82, 203, 205–207, 211–18, 219–28 social, 6–7, 136, 142, 176 traumatic, 19–25, 29–34, 117, 135, 176–77 voluntary, 2 Memory Room (Sala de la memoria, Villa Grimaldi), 19 Mena, Odlanier, 127 Menem, Carlos, 191, 252, 254–55 Mercado, Tununa, 183–84 Merello, Tita, 102 Merewether, Charles, 2, 4, 73 n1, 172, 172 n3 Messinger Cypess, Sandra, 7 Mexican-American War, 57 Mexico City, Mexico, 1, 6, 13, 15, 107–18, 163–65, 230, 233, 251 Mexico City earthquake of 1985, 6, 114–15, 164 Miles, Susan A., 86 n2 milongas, 96, 99 Minay, Sebastián, 123 Moby Dick (Melville), 36–37

Index Mockus, Antanas, 212 modernism, 6, 34, 108–17 Mohanna, Mayu, 138 Molina, Pilar, 127, 129 Molina Richter, Marcial, 7, 147–59, 159 nn1,6 Molloy, Sylvia, 5 Monroe, James, 54 Monroe doctrine, 59 Moreira, Iván, 124 Moreno, Francisco, 91 Morgenstern, Oscar, 42 Mothers of Plaza de Mayo (Madres de la Plaza de Mayo), 19, 256, 258 The Motorcycle Diaries (Salles), 67–68 Moyano, Daniel, 184 Muguercia, Magaly, 200 Müller, Heiner, 213–14 Multi-familial Miguel Alemán, 108 Multi-familial Presidente Juárez, 108, 114 Muro de la Memoria (Santiago, Chile). See Wall of Memory Museum of Natural History (La Plata), 90–91 Nadie nada nunca (Saer), 183 Nahuatl texts, 167, 169–70, 172 Naipaul, V. S., 239 n4 National Students’ Union (UNE), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1, 8, 219–27 Navarro, Desiderio, 199 Navia, Patricio, 132 n1 Nebbia, Lito, 251 neoliberalism, 6–7, 104 n4, 122–28, 131–32, 176, 191–92, 250–54 Neruda, Pablo, 3, 28, 66–67, 156 Newman, James Roy, 42 Niemeyer, Oscar, 221–22 Nonoalco-Tlatelolco. See Tlatelolco Nora, Pierre, 28, 115, 227 n1 Obregón, Álvaro, 121 Old Patagonian Express (Theroux), 69 Olivera-Williams, María Rosa, 6 Ollantay (play), 79, 85 Olmedo, José Joaquín, 2, 155 Olympic Games, 112, 114, 164, 171 Open Memory (Memoria Abierta), 256 Oquendo-Villar, Carmen, 132 n2, 133 n4


Otras inquisiciones (Borges), 44 Our Lady of the Assassins (Vallejo), 229–39 Pacheco, José Emilio, 7, 163, 165, 168–72, 172 n1, 173 n9 Palenque, Mexico, 54, 55 Palma, Ricardo, 155 Palmeira, Vladimir, 225 pampas, Argentina, 87–94, 97 Pani, Mario, 6, 108–18 Park for Peace (Villa Grimaldi, Chile), 4, 16–21, 176–78 Parque Tercer Milenio. See Third Millennium Park Parque por la Paz (Villa Grimaldi, Chile). See Park for Peace “Parque Vertical,” 116 Parthenon, 35, 54, 67 Patagonia, Argentina, 44, 87–90, 252 Pauls, Alan, 184 Paz, Octavio, 112–13, 115–16, 118, 164, 167 Peabody Museum (Yale University), 73 Pearson, Mike, 198 Pedro Páramo (Rulfo), 35 Peñalosa, Enrique, 22 Pérez, Claudio, 180, 182 Pérez, Fernando, 198, 200–204 Perez, Hiram, 233 Pérez de Arce, Hermógenes, 127 Pérez Silva, Julio, 247 Perón, Evita (Eva Duarte de Perón), 121 Perón, Juan Domingo, 104, 187, 251 Petta, Gustavo, 220 Piccin, Maurício, 222 piedra de Huamanga. See stone of Huamanga Piglia, Ricardo, 183–84, 186, 257 Piñera, Sebastián, 122 Pinochet, Augusto, 1, 4, 6, 16–18, 20, 121–32, 245, 247 Pinochet, Jaqueline, 129 Pinochet Molina, Augusto, 129 pinochetismo, 123–24, 126–27 piqueteros, 188, 253–54, 256, 258 Plaza de Mayo, 19, 254, 256, 258 Plaza of the Three Cultures (Tlatelolco, Mexico), 6–7, 108–18, 163–72 Poerner, Artur, 221



poetics: archeological, 78–79, 85 of evocation, 78 of the fragment, 45 of reciprocity, 169 Poniatowska, Elena, 112, 114, 169, 171, 172 n7 Ponte, Antonio José, 4, 47 n13, 198, 200–201 Pope, Alexander, 61 n13 Portela, Ena Lucía, 200 Portuondo, Omara, 201 Pozzo, Enrique, 91 Praia de Flamengo, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 219–27 Prats, Carlos, 132 n3 Prats, Francisco Cuadrado, 124, 132 n4 Pratt, Mary Louise, 43 Predmore, Richard, 58 Prescott, William, H., 79–80, 82 Proust, Marcel, 31, 192 n4 Proyecto C’ùndua (Mapa Teatro), 24–25, 26 n6, 211–12 Puente Bulnes (Santiago, Chile). See Bulnes Bridge “¿Qué pasa señor?” See “What’s Up, Sir?” “Qué vachaché.” See “That’s Life” Quechua language, 65, 72, 78–80, 85, 88–91, 135–37, 142, 147–57, 159 n4 Quilmes Indians, 27 Quiroga, José, 198–99, 236 Raiders of the Lost Ark (Spielberg), 65 Ramírez, Juana María, 21, 25, 217 Ramírez-Cancio, Marlène, 217 Ranqueles community, 90–91 Rappaport, Joanne, 160 n9 Reati, Fernando, 192 n1 Reisner, Steven, 26 n7 relational art, 211 Reyes, Pedro, 116 Ricci, Franco Maria, 44 Richard, Nelly, 3, 4, 7, 104 n4 Richarte, Melquíades, 64 Rigney, Ann, 166 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1, 8, 219–27 Riva, Gastón, 255 Rivera, Andrés, 184 Rivero, Mariano, 77, 79–81

Roach, Joseph, 4, 7, 121–22 Roberts, Jennifer L., 56, 61 n11 Roca, Julio, 87–88, 91 Rodríguez, Pablo, 127 Roncallo, José Luis, 99 Rosas, Juan Manuel de, 30–36 Rosas, Mariano, 90–91 Rose, Phyllis, 71 Rostoworoski, María, 86 n2 Roth, Michael, 4, 73 n1, 172 n3 Rowe, John, 67 Rubio, Miguel, 142–43 ruin/ruins: aesthetics of, 29, 45 archeological excavations of, 2, 15, 40, 68, 73 bodies and, 241–48 Borges on, 5, 45 in Borges’s works, 39–47 cadavers as, 121–32 civil war and, 1, 6, 31–32, 147–59 commemorative strategies and, 176 counter-monument and, 182 dark, 4, 13, 18, 20–21, 25 desert, 87–94 dualism and, 35 durational performance and, 14, 19 ethics of, 4–8, 28–33, 102–104, 123, 175–82, 186–89, 249–50 European cultural history and, 77 evocation of, 5, 8, 52, 78–85, 96–99, 143, 231–34, 250 experience of visiting, 14–15 globalization and, 104 n4, 250 glorious, 4, 13, 18, 20–21, 25 heterotopias and, 8, 229–30, 239 as historical process, 198–99 as in-betweenness, 30 “in ruins” vs., 52–53 memory and. See memory mixed-blood modernism and, 6, 110–11 modernist, 107–18 as monument, 15 neoliberalism and, 132, 183–92, 250–52 nostalgia and, 96–97 ownership of, 5, 51–60, 63–73, 77–85, 87–94, 107–18, 220 paper as, 94 performing, 13–25

Index photographs as, 91–94 poetry as, 28, 147–59, 163–72 as postmodern site, 28 preservation of, 4, 39–47, 73, 107–109, 172, 230 queer subject and, 230–33, 236–39 reconstruction and, 3, 5, 30, 45, 91, 141–42, 155–59, 163, 165, 214–15 recycling and, 1–5, 7, 53, 63–75, 199–203, 212, 215, 219–27, 258 renovation, 13, 25 Romanticism and, 2, 28–34, 190 simulating, 59 as sites of ethical possibility, 4, 28 skulls as, 89–92, 94 social memory and, 6–7, 135–45, 176 study of, 1–4 subjectivity and, 183–92, 230–33, 236–39 tango as, 6, 95–104 tourism ads for, 69–71 translating, 51–60 types of, 2, 13–25 use of the term, 13–16, 52 witnessing and, 16–25, 211–17 work and, 198–207 Rulfo, Juan, 35 Russell, Bertrand, 42 Saborido, Enrique, 98–100 Saer, Juan José, 45, 183, 186 Sahagún, Bernadino de, 172 Said, Edward, 35 Salazar, Lucy C., 73 n5 Salgán, Horacio, 98 Salles, Walter, 67 Santa Inés barrio. See El Cartucho neighborhood (Bogotá, Colombia) Santí, Enrico Mario, 73 n3 Santiago, Chile, 4, 13, 16–22, 25, 123–32, 176–82, 250 Sarlo, Beatriz, 183–84, 191 Sarmiento, Domingo Faustino, 31, 33–37 Scarpaci, Joseph L., 207 nn2,13 Schiller, Friedrich von, 104 Schmidt, Henry, 172 n6 Schroeder, Barbet, 229 Sebald, W. G., 47 n8 “The Second-Hand Shop” (“Cambalache”), 102–104 Segre, Robert, 207 nn2,13


Sendero Luminoso. See Shining Path Serra, Ana, 202–203, 205 Shakespeare, William, 91, 109, 117, 206 Shanks, Michael, 79, 198 Shaw, Donald Leslie, 73 n3 Shelley, Percy B., 165 Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), 63, 70, 135, 139–40, 147, 149–50, 158, 160 n8 Shúa, Ana María, 184 Silva Henríquez, Raúl, 130 Silverman, Helaine, 73 n1 Sin título: técnica mixta (theater production), 136, 142–45 Sitwell, Sacheverel, 68–69 Soja, Edward, 235–36 Sommer, Doris, 61 n9, 145 n2 Sorensen, Diana, 172 n7 Soriano, Osvaldo, 184 Sorín, Carlos, 8, 252–53, 259 n5 Sosnowski, Saúl, 192 n1 The Sound and the Fury (Faulkner), 34 Steele, Paul R., 153, 155, 157 Stephens, John Lloyd, 2, 5, 45, 51–60, 60 nn2–5, 61 nn7, 10–15, 80 stone of Huamanga (piedra de Huamanga), 148, 154 Suite Habana (Pérez), 200–203, 207 Svampa, Maristella, 252, 259 n3 tango, 6, 95–104 Taylor, Diana, 4, 15, 16, 18, 145 n2, 203 Tello, Julio C., 77 Templo Mayor (Mexico City), 13, 15, 18 Testigo de las ruinas. See Witness to the Ruins “That’s Life” (“Qué vachaché”), 102 Theidon, Kimberly, 150, 152 Theroux, Paul, 69 Third Millennium Park (Parque Tercer Milenio), 1, 13, 22, 212, 215–17 Thompson, Richard F., 239 n5 Thompson, Robert Farris, 97, 102 The Time Machine (Wells), 40–41 time of fear (manchay tiempo), 135 Tizón, Héctor, 184 “Tlatelolco, Canon en tres voces” (del Río), 163, 165–69 Tlatelolco, Mexico, 6–7, 108–18, 163–72 “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” (Borges), 40–41, 44–47



Todras-Whitehill, Ethan, 72 Toledo, Alejandro, 72–73 “Tonight I Get Wasted” (“Esta noche me emborracho bien”), 102 torture, 4, 6, 17–21, 122–23, 164, 175–78, 181, 189, 223, 245 Tovar de Teresa, Guillermo, 108 Townsend, Sarah, 217 Trajtemberg, Karen, 129 trauma, 4, 14, 19–20, 24–25, 29, 34, 117, 135, 137, 176, 234 travel industry texts, 69–71 tribal chiefs (caciques), 87–91, 94 Trilce (Vallejo), 35 Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), 135–39, 142, 148, 159 Tschudi, Johann Jacob von, 78–81, 85 Tuan, Yi-Fu, 230 Turpo, Nazario, 73 Ubilluz, Juan Carlos, 239 n10 Ulysses (Joyce), 34 “Un arte de hacer ruinas” (Ponte), 200 União Nacional dos Estudantes (UNE), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. See National Students’ Union Unruh, Vicky, 3, 7, 47 n13, 73 n1, 155, 207 nn6–8 Urton, Gary, 153–54 “Utopía de un hombre que está cansado” (Borges), 44 Uxmal, Mexico, 55, 58–59 Valcárcel, Luis, 73 n2 Valdés, Zoe, 200, 207 n8 Valenzuela, Luisa, 173 n9 Vallejo, César, 35 Vallejo, Fernando, 8, 229–39 Van Buren, Martin, 51, 60, 60 n2 Vargas Llosa, Mario, 151–52 Varneiro, Ferdy, 224 Vega, Garcilaso de la (el Inca), 78–85 Vértice (Ferreyra), 185, 192 n2 Vidart, Daniel, 95–96 Videla, Jorge Rafael, 27, 89 Vieria, Delfim, 227 n2 Villa Grimaldi, 4, 13, 16–22, 25, 128, 176–78, 250 Villarinho, Manoel, 225

ville radieuse, 108, 110–11, 113, 115 Villoldo, Ángel, 98–99 Viñas, David, 90 virtual field, 212 Volney, Constantin-Francois, 28, 31 von Hagen, Victor Wolfgang, 60 n1, 61 nn14–15 von Neumann, John, 42 Wall of Memory (Pérez and Gómez, Santiago, Chile), 180–82 The Waste Land (Eliot), 44 Wells, H. G., 40–41 Wenders, Wim, 197 Western Wall (Jerusalem, Israel), 47 n11 “What’s Up, Sir?” (“¿Qué pasa señor?”), 102 Whitfield, Esther, 201, 207 n5 Wiesel, Elie, 25 Wilde, Alexander, 122, 132 n1 Williams, Mac, 47 n3 Winters, John J., 159 n1 Witness to the Ruins (Testigo de las ruinas), 13, 21–24, 211–17 witnessing: act of, 7, 16–25, 139, 166–68, 216 cultural memory and, 5, 78–80 Woodward, Christopher, 4, 46–47, 47 nn7–8 Wuffarden, Luis Eduardo, 148 Yabrán, Alfredo, 259 n9 Yale University, 64–65, 73 Yalouri, Eleana, 73 n1 Yerushalmi, Yosef, 255 “Yira . . . yira . . .” See “Go round . . . and . . . round” Young, Elliott, 4, 201 Young, James, 219, 227 n1 Yrigoyen, Hipólito, 251 Yucatán, Mexico, 5, 45, 51, 54–55, 57–59 Yuyanapaq: para recordar (photo exhibit), 136, 138–44 Zaehner, R. C., 42 Zalcman, Lawrence, 47 n1 Zapata, Emiliano, 121 Zeballos, Estanislao, 88–94 Zoroastrianism, 42–43

Previous Publications

Michael J. Lazzara Luz Arce: después del infierno (2008) Prismas de la memoria: narración y trauma en la transición chilena (2007) Chile in Transition: The Poetics and Politics of Memory (2006) Los años de silencio: conversaciones con narradores que escribieron bajo dictadura (2002)

Vicky Unruh Performing Women and Modern Literary Culture in Latin America (2006) Latin American Vanguards: The Art of Contentious Encounters (1994)