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Life cannot be repressed, he whispered in everyone's ears. It was a message for which he may have died, but that lives on in his verse. During the darkest years of the Pinochet regime, over 3, individuals were "disappeared" or executed and over 30, were imprisoned and tortured. When democracy was restored in , the Pinochet regime stood beyond the reach of the law because of a general amnesty it had granted itself in For Desmond Tutu, head of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Chilean blanket amnesty amounted to "national amnesia" and ensured that the past would return The past has been particularly present in Chile in the post-Pinochet era.
In the wake of excessive political abuse and limited political accountability, a culture of testimonial has taken root. An extensive reparations program was established in to help the victims of the families included in the Rettig Report. The Chilean case is part of a larger international movement to confront state-sanctioned violence through restorative justice processes.
Since the creation of the Commission of Inquiry into the Disappearance of People in Uganda in , truth commissions have been established in over 21 countries, including Argentina, El Salvador, Sri Lanka, South Africa, and Guatemala. While truth may come at the expense of justice, as in the case of South Africa, where the full disclosure of politically motivated crimes could lead to amnesty, truth commissions may also compliment or contribute to criminal justice proceedings.
On a local level, another form of truth telling sprung up in Chile in the form of testimonies. As John Beverly writes, testimonio is "a novel or novella-length narrative in book or pamphlet The word testimonio translates literally as testimony, as in the act of testifying or bearing witness in a legal or religious sense" In the literature on trauma, witnessing is understood to be essential to the ability of survivors to come to terms with the past and to the eventual recovery of divided nations.
That so many individuals in Chile managed to "speak the unspeakable" is, in itself, a testimony to the will of the survivors and the deep need to bring the past to account. In his essay on the testimonial genre in Chile, "Political Code and Literary Code," Ariel Dorfman is critical of the tendency of the genre to produce heroic narratives that may appear like "exercises in propaganda" and appeal to the converted Initially hailed as a radical new body of work that gave voice to the dispossessed and provided an essential political counter-narrative, the genre fell out of favor when the truth-value of various accounts was contested.
Along with testimonio, an important genre of politically engaged fiction has emerged in Chile. Called variously the "literature of social protest," the "literature of atrocity," or "post-authoritarian literature," this body of work engages directly or indirectly with the Pinochet regime.
As critics have begun to note, many of the politically committed fictional works that engage with state-sponsored terror constitute a form of testimony, a kind of witnessing in their own right. Such a witnessing is paradoxical in that the problem of truth telling is no longer relevant; the veracity of the account is no longer at stake.
What is at stake is a different kind of truth, what Paul Gready has called in relation to post-apartheid South African fiction "novel truths. For Michael J. Lazzara, fiction, as well as other artistic modes, is particularly suited to the Chilean case because of its capacity to represent "limit experiences" and to confront historical absence and gaps: "[A]rt is crucial to the construction of post-dictatorial memory insofar as its unique ability to incorporate silence and the 'unsayable' permits a fuller, more direct engagement with absence than other representational modes" In his autobiographical account, Heading South, Looking North, Dorfman, like many survivors, is haunted by the fact that he was spared the fate of many of his Chilean comrades.
Seeking a meaning to his survival, he wonders if he was meant to serve a larger purpose, to serve as the "storyteller," the witness Haunted by the certainty that I have been keeping a promise to the dead" This article contributes to the growing body of literature addressing the role of art in the transitional period in Chile.
Politically committed fictional works, I believe, play an integral part in restorative justice processes for a number of reasons: 1 In their capacity to represent personal and collective trauma in a complex and unsparing mode, they may have a restitutive or healing effect for those who have lived through the events represented in the works; 2 They help to increase national and international awareness of massive human rights violations because of their capacity to reach a large audience, an awareness that may put pressure on transitional governments and international tribunes to prosecute perpetrators; and 3 they provide access to truths that stand outside the realm of testimonies, truth commissions and criminal tribunals.
In Una casa vacia, the central metaphor of the "house" is a multivalent literary figure that refers both to the Chilean nation and to individual survivors and exiles.
In Elaine Scarry's The Body in Pain, the house stands at the center of the familiar, humane and made world. As Scarry points out, the room is the most basic unit of shelter, and the rooms within a home such as the kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom are designed to attend to the needs of the body.
In situations of torture, the civilized world, which, for Scarry, is a room writ large, is condensed and contracted to the space of a room or rooms. The torture chamber serves as a place to destroy rather than shelter the body, and household items, such as "bathtubs," "showers," and "ovens," are used to injure rather than care for the body Because the products of civilization are used to unmake civilization, to destroy both its grounds the ethical, rational grounds upon which civil societies are based and its function to enable human growth and flourishing , torture is, for Scarry, "world destroying.
Torture provides the most perfect example of the ways in which oppressive regimes terrorize individuals and gain control of populations. While the experience of torture itself it unique, many of the features Scarry attributes to it, such as the inversion of legal and political morality and the infliction of orders of pain that are difficult to assimilate and difficult to convey, are common to oppressive regimes.
Whether national laws are modified to deprive certain groups of their rights as in the case of the Nuremberg laws in Nazi Germany or disregarded at will as in the case of the summary executions and disappearances that characterized the "dirty wars" in Latin America , legal and political processes are no longer familiar or transparent. In this regard, the metaphor of the house is a potent one. Because the house is the most fundamental place of shelter, it symbolizes that which is safe, secure, familiar and potentially sacred.
It is, for Gaston Bachelard, the space of "original warmth," a "material paradise," "the environment in which the protective beings live" 7. This loss of one's bearings tends to affect entire families and communities and to cross generational lines, resulting in what Dominick LaCapra has called "transgenerational processes of 'possession' or haunting" On an immediate level, the physical violation of individuals translates into psychological torture for their loved ones.
In the case of Chile, testimonies of survivors and family members of victims of human rights abuses attest to the ongoing sense of alienation, bewilderment, disorientation and despair caused by the political and moral violations of the Pinochet regime. The direct testimony included in one of the final sections of the Rettig Report, "Impact of the most serious human rights violations on families and social relations," illustrates the extent to which family members are haunted by the horror of the events and unable to find a place to rest.
Their awareness of the senseless suffering endured by their loved ones or their lack of awareness of the fate of the disappeared or the whereabouts of the bodies of the deceased makes closure impossible. In a section on "Unresolved mourning," a family member testifies, "Luis' disappearance has meant the destruction of our home, of our common plans. It is hard to describe the torment and psychological torture involved in not knowing what happened" vol. In a section on "Torture," one individual recounts, "They told me he smoked his last cigarette in handcuffs; he was trembling and couldn't inhale.
That's the image that keeps me from dying in peace" vol. Another attests, "If they had just killed him outright it wouldn't be so hard. But since you know they tortured him and don't know what they did to him, your imagination torments you more than death itself" vol.
Public recognition of human rights violations is an essential starting point for the restoration of the grounds of reality to individuals whose worlds have been turned upside down. Restorative justice seeks to "right the world" by implementing measures designed to restore a sense of dignity and worth to individuals and communities and to reconcile divided nations.
Such measures include 1 recognizing the grave violations of the past by providing a platform for individuals to speak and give testimony, creating a public record of human rights violations, and developing a culture of collective commemoration in the form of artworks, monuments and memorials, 2 righting wrongs in the present by providing reparations to survivors and family members of victims and contributing evidence where possible to criminal courts and international tribunals, and 3 ensuring a different and stable future by seeking the reconciliation of opposing parties and enabling the development of new political and judiciary structures.
While most critics of restorative justice are concerned with the "truth versus justice" quandary and the critical issue of legal and political accountability, Carlos Cerda's work addresses some of the weaknesses inherent in restorative justice itself. Drawing on the central metaphor of the house, Cerda depicts the nation of Chile as a haunted one, a "possessed" nation whose ghostly voices must be heard and whose pain must be shared.
On a metatextual level, the work suggests that literature, that is, story telling in oral and written form, is crucial to the reconstruction of individual lives and communities as a whole. Cerda's Una casa vacia, the second work in a trilogy of novels on the Pinochet period, is a kind of roman a clef in that it is based on real events and individuals and, more importantly, seeks to uncover or unlock certain truths about the recent past.
The story revolves around the childhood home of Andres, a "returnee" who has just returned from twelve years in exile in East Berlin. Following the Pinochet coup, Cerda went into exile in East Berlin, where he received his doctorate in literature at Humboldt University. When he returned to Chile twelve years later, he studied under the Chilean novelist Jose Donoso and staged theatrical productions.
The gothic elements of the novel--the empty house shrouded in mystery and the supernatural forces that emanate from it--disrupt the largely realistic or modernist narrative and lend an air of horror and poetry to the tale. The novel is set in , a turbulent period of national street protest and renewed government repression.
The novel ostensibly centers on the couple Manuel-Cecilia. In order to save their failing marriage, Cecilia's father has offered them a new house in the residential neighborhood of Nunoa. To celebrate their new life, they invite their closest friends to a house warming party.
Like Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, the action takes place primarily at the party, with alternating flashbacks and foreshadowing. Amongst the partygoers is Julia, a lawyer at the Vicaria de la Solidaridad Vicariate of Solidarity whose husband was executed in the desert by the regime.
Julia's job consists of taking testimony from women who have been tortured in order to find evidence of clandestine torture houses. At the party, Julia recognizes the house as one of the "moradas del horror" described by Graciela Munoz Espinoza, a torture survivor known as "Chelita" In a twist at the novel's end, we learn that Cecilia's father is a self-interested opportunist who buys up houses that have been "burned" "quemada" and renovates them for sale. Upon discovering the truth of the house, Cecilia flees with her two little girls in a futile attempt to return to her own childhood home.
The empty house is a haunted house. The couple discovers uncanny traces of torture all over the property: "ugly stains" on the concrete steps and floors; huge, circular burn marks in the middle of the parquet on the second floor; and strange spots on the ceilings. Sounds of suffering--moans, cries, pleas, labored breathing--emanate from the walls and floors. In a recurrent dream, Cecilia hears the sound of a tree branch dragging against a windowpane that recalls a human voice, "algo que se arrastraba con mucho dolor y que parecia a punto de morirse, o desaparecer en el abandono mas completo" While the sounds of suffering are given a rational explanation in the narrative the foliage of a tree scratching the windowpane, a rusty hinge squeaking, the water running in the pipes , a supernatural element remains.
In a kind of ghostly portent of the truth of the house, Cecilia first dreamt of the thrashing foliage before she moved into the house. The dream-like experience repeated itself and realized itself while she was awake her second night in the new house. Like Lady Macbeth's spot, the burn marks cannot be fully removed.
In their eagerness to restore the house and turn back time, the couple has inadvertently wiped out the personal and political history of the house: "El parquet vitrificado, reluciente, sin historia" The reiterated use of the word restoration situates the novel in relation to restorative justice processes.
Part I is entitled "La restauracion," and the lexicon of the restoration of the house "restoration," "restoring," "restored" draws on the vocabulary of restorative justice "la justicia restaurativa" or "la justicia reparadora". While the work is set in , it was written in , the year that Pinochet was arrested in London on charges of crimes against humanity. In the tenuous period of transition, attempts at achieving truth and justice were limited. At the outset of his term in , President PatricioAylwin vowed to meet an equivocal goal: "the whole truth, and justice to the extent possible.
As for those who were in voluntary or involuntary exile, a relatively short-lived National Office of Return Oficina Nacional de Retorno was established in The couple's fate is linked to the fate of the nation.
They were married three days before the coup and returned from their honeymoon to find "una ciudad sometida al silencio y a la muerte" The restoration of the house is at the same time a restoration of their relationship.
In language reminiscent of that of restorative justice, the text refers to "la precaria reconciliacion de la pareja" 47 and "la relacion restaurada" The house, which stands metaphorically for the nation, also stands metonymically for the individuals who suffered within it. This multivalent sign follows the schema proposed by Scarry in The Body in Pain. For Scarry, the room, the most basic form of shelter, is a magnification of the body, a container that shelters or houses the self, and a miniaturization of the civilized world.
In a similar manner, the house in Una casa vacia is a figure both for the suffering, wounded nation and the suffering, wounded individual. Like a person, the house has intrinsic dignity and worth; it is imposing, sober, solemn, spacious, and elegant.
An Empty House
AN ETHICS OF PAIN: CARLOS CERDA'S UNA CASA VACIA
Una Casa Vacia
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