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Allegorical Specters and the Rhetorics of Mourning in Diamela Eltit's Jamás el fuego nunca

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Allegorical Specters and the Rhetorics of Mourning in Diamela Eltit's Jamás el fuego nunca
  This article was downloaded by: [Carolina Diaz]On: 04 August 2014, At: 11:47Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK Journal of Latin American CulturalStudies: Travesia Publication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information: Allegorical Specters and the Rhetoricsof Mourning in Diamela Eltit's Jamás elfuego nunca Carolina DíazPublished online: 30 Jul 2014. To cite this article:  Carolina Díaz (2014) Allegorical Specters and the Rhetorics of Mourning inDiamela Eltit's Jamás el fuego nunca, Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies: Travesia, 23:3,251-266, DOI: 10.1080/13569325.2014.922938 To link to this article: PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLETaylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (the “Content”) contained in the publications on our platform. However, Taylor & Francis,our agents, and our licensors make no representations or warranties whatsoever as tothe accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of the Content. Any opinionsand views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors,and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor & Francis. The accuracy of the Contentshould not be relied upon and should be independently verified with primary sourcesof information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable for any losses, actions, claims,proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoeveror howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to orarising out of the use of the Content.This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Anysubstantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing,systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at  Carolina Dı´az ALLEGORICAL SPECTERS AND THERHETORICS OF MOURNING IN DIAMELAELTIT’S  JAMA´ S EL FUEGO NUNCA It has been four decades since the military coup d’e´tat in Chile; however, legal and criminal questions regarding the disappeared bodies of Pinochet’s regime are still unanswered, notonly because the perpetrators remain unpunished, hence, the question of the viability of  justice and the proper closure of national trauma are still in suspense, but also because theconditions of death and disappearance are not clear. The search for the disappeared body has turned towards forensic anthropology in order to assist with the identification of remains and the causes of death. In this article, I study Diamela Eltit’s novel Jama´s el fuegonunca (2008) and argue that her work questions the place of unidentifiable and unlocalizable remains have within the rhetorics of mourning in a post-dictatorial context.I argue, furthermore, that by recurring to the figure of the specter as an allegory of the  forcefully disappeared, Eltit is creating a spectral ontology of the remains in order tointerpellate the world of the living with regard to the repressed past. It is necessary to speak  of the  ghost, indeed  to the  ghost and  with it , from themoment that no ethics, no politics, whether revolutionary or not, seems possibleand thinkable and  just  that does not recognize in its principle the respect for thoseothers who are no longer or for those others who are not yet  there , presently living,whether they are already dead or not yet born. Jacques Derrida ( Specters of Marx) Diamela Eltit, perhaps the most important Chilean female artist and writer of thepast half century, began her career in the late 70s amidst the violent climate of Pinochet’s dictatorial regime as part of the collective CADA ( Colectivo Acciones de Arte ).Eltit’s language, permeated by the visual and propelled by the necessity of making senseof the lost under the national imperative to silence, is dense and fractured. Althoughlinguistic innovation is proper to the artists of ‘the avanzada scene,’ Eltit’s difficulty isnot merely rhetorical but essential to her political impetus. Through the fissures of language, Eltit elaborates the socio-symbolic place of the marginalized other withinChilean politics. 1 Although the search for the place of this otherness in regard to q 2014 Taylor & Francis  Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies , 2014Vol. 23, No. 3, 251–266,    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   C  a  r  o   l   i  n  a   D   i  a  z   ]  a   t   1   1  :   4   7   0   4   A  u  g  u  s   t   2   0   1   4  institutional practices and loci takes different forms across Eltit’s work, from  Lumpe´rica (1983) to  Fuerzas especiales  (2013), it is always operated upon the body, whether in itsrelation to the public (e.g.  Lumpe´rica  and  El padre mı´o ) or with the private spherewherein the body, marked by the dynamics of institutional power, is disfigured andrefigured (e.g.  Vaca sagrada ,  El cuarto mundo ,  Los vigilantes ,  El infarto del alma , etc.).In  Jama´s el fuego nunca  (2007;  JFN  ), Eltit’s allegorical imagination pushes otherness’sboundaries beyond the body, insofar as corporeality, and towards the spectral, insofaras the mnemonic remnant of the bodily.The title of Eltit’s  JFN   is a quote from the verses of Ce´sar Vallejo’s poem whichalso serves as the book’s epigraph: ‘never did the fire ever/ play better its role of deadcold.’ The verses belong to Vallejo’s posthumously published ‘The Nine Monsters,’ apoem about the multiplying pain of the human condition. However,  JFN   is not a glosson the verses; they imply an actualization of that pain into what Roberto Ampuero andLuis Martı´n-Estudillo call ‘post-authoritarian orders’ (2008, xii). For Jose´ AntonioRivera Soto, ‘the fire, of course, represents the individual and collective politicalenergy  . . .  when this foundational fire is extinguished, it starts to play its role of “deadcold” with thousands of deaths as a result’ (2009, 125). It is not certain that the fire isthis lost political energy, which supports the idea of the death of a utopian timeindicated in his title and the vision of the novel as leftist defeat and nostalgia. There areno clear-cut meanings in Eltit’s narration: her narrative style, the disorienting narrativetemporality, the doubling of the story, and the allegorical characters prevent us fromreaching that conclusion. ‘Neither utopic nor disenchanted,’ says Adria´n Ferrero in hisreview but what he calls ‘sober balance’ in Eltit’s narrative perspective is far from beingthat. Once again, the very language of the novel does not allow for any impassibleperspective (2008, 127). Given the post-authoritarian context of the novel as well as itssubject, the fire is as much a quest for memory as it is a counter memory. It is as much alove story, as Rubı´ Carren˜o proposes, as it is a criticism of historical knowledge andsexual hierarchies (2008, 191).The oxymoronic epigraph already suggests two realities that can only be equivalentby virtue of poetic license, but not even through oxymoron are these realities neatlyconfigured. The ‘dead cold’ takes us to a whole imaginary of opposite forces. Does thecold become fire after its death? ‘The dead become ghosts,’ utters Walter Benjamin inhis  Trauerspiel   (2002, 57). The fire, now only a memory of itself and its srcinalfunction, is playing a role, that of being other than itself, that of being its dead opposite.The fire is now a specter of itself. This fact alone gives us a first reading clue: that thenovel and its characters are also playing a role wherein the narration is the staging of the story in which the world of the living (fire) is inhabited by or is being played by theworld of the dead (dead cold). Reading  JFN   JFN   is a claustrophobic novel—perhaps because the narration is restricted to only onecharacter, a woman; perhaps because the whole narration takes place, with minorexceptions, in a bed, where two anonymous characters, the narrator and a man, an oldcouple of leftist ex-militants, presumably of a communist faction, lovingly andviolently wrestle for their space. These few elements constitute the massive allegorical LATIN AMERICAN CULTURAL STUDIES 252    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   C  a  r  o   l   i  n  a   D   i  a  z   ]  a   t   1   1  :   4   7   0   4   A  u  g  u  s   t   2   0   1   4  foundation with which Eltit elaborates our debt to the nameless remains of the deadand disappeared ones during Pinochet’s dictatorship.With the discretion proper to a clandestine militant, the female narrator gives us asmuch as she feels is safe to reveal for giving away their names endangers the politicalposition they once had and to which they still respond with secrecy and fear. Althoughit has been long since their active participation in what the woman calls ‘the cell,’ theystill live underground, grounded in fear by a knowledge of the past that appears to bedangerous to the present; they, insofar as bearers of a counterhistorical knowledge,must remain silent: ‘silence, our silence, is part of the secrets which resolve history’(83). But silence is what is being contested throughout the novel as is the imperative toforget—hence, the allegorical character of the woman and the man battling in thisbed/tomb. Eltit’s allegories are complex and unstable: they interrelate, they exchangepositions, and they reject and mirror each other. For this reason, the main characterexplains, ‘we continue to live clandestinely; we situate ourselves  . . . . We do not havecivil names. We are still attached to our last code name’ (32). However, we do noteven know their code names ( chapas ) either. Both characters are indeed attached totheir dangerous past and are still besieged by it. What we know, what she lets us know,is what she remembers in a series of temporal to-and-fros and what she painstakinglytries to organize through the work of memory in opposition to the lethargy of the malecharacter and his insistence upon forgetting.Both anonymous figures seem to cohabitate in the closed space of a room in a poorneighborhood, and more accurately, in a small, old bed. It is in this bed where femaleand male, as bodies, flesh, bones, disease, and hunger encounter and fight each other:‘I fight with you to establish the competence regarding the minute territory we possess.In this litigation we arrange our feet which are always determined not to overlap’ (65).The small bed is, in  JFN  , the allegory of sexual, social, and political dynamics andhierarchies in which although some positions are faithfully re-enacted (e.g. she preparesthe meals and takes care of the male character’s health), others are contested (the mandoes not leave the private space and it is the woman who works and takes care of thefinances). But the bed, as we shall see, is also a sort of limbo, a tomb where the spectersof memory wander and thus a place in which the negotiations between forgetfulnessand the unforgettable take place.According to the main characters’ coexistence in the bed, there seem to be threepossible readings of the story: one suggests that there are two alive bodies resting in thebed, coexisting as ex-lovers, touching each other, and re-accommodating their fleshand bones during sleepless nights of remembrance. This reading befits Eltit’s work,who has explored familial and sexual dynamics before in  Mano de obra ,  Vaca sagrada , and El cuarto mundo . Chilean literary critic Rubı´ Carren˜o adheres to this reading and thusinterprets the novel as a love story. Within this reading, too, we can locate other criticswho have deemed this novel in rather melancholic terms and have suggested that  JFN  relates the defeat of the Chilean left after the advent of Pinochet’s regime. As I explainlater, this reading appears insufficient to understand the dimensions of Eltit’s oeuvreand her political commitment. A second version suggests there is only one livingcharacter, the man, while the woman is either a ghost inhabiting the time of memory ora hallucination, a product of the male character’s delusional guilt. I take this version tobe the most narratively and ethically compelling as I aim to show. A third possibility isthat both characters are dead. There seem to be some hints of this in the narration, ALLEGORICAL SPECTERS AND THE RHETORICS OF MOURNING  253    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   C  a  r  o   l   i  n  a   D   i  a  z   ]  a   t   1   1  :   4   7   0   4   A  u  g  u  s   t   2   0   1   4  which implies that the dead are haunting the dead for they do not seem to intervene atall in the world of the living. As interesting as this version may be, it detracts from thenovel’s ethical value by confining the dead, and, consequently, our debt to them, tothe realm of the marvelous. However, the dialogical articulation of the first version of the story, as reconstructed memory, seems to allow for the second version, asspectrality, to emerge, as if only by stoking the fires of memory can other repressedand forgotten memories emerge.The first version recounts the couple’s past as ex-militants who now live insecrecy and poverty in a small, decrepit room. The woman works as an aide assistingdying people with their personal hygiene. She then returns home to provide a modestmeal. The time of the narration goes by in this bed; from there the female characterinterrogates the past and questions hers and her lover’s participation in the politicalevents of the past, as well as their love and commitment to each other and to theirpolitical faction. While they were young, they belonged to many active militantgroups and were eventually arrested and imprisoned by the police. At this point,although this was previously implied in the narration, the female character asks aboutthe death of their two-year-old child. It is never clear within the narration if the sonwas from the male character, from other members of the party, or the result of torture and rape while she was imprisoned. So when the man asks who the father isthe woman answers: ‘What a stupid question I want to tell you. He is anyone’s,everyone’s; who cares?’ (165). Since they would not risk the cell by going out andgiving their names to the hospital, they decided to treat their feverish toddler at home;as a result the child died due to a lack of medical treatment. The death of the sonvertiginously introduces an auxiliary, suspicious third character, Ximena, and thesecond version of the story. At this point, it becomes clear that the female characterand her son were violently killed by the man, her lover and comrade. Ximena hadhelped the woman find a place after her imprisonment where she could hide while thebaby was born. The male character comes back from prison and finds the womanpregnant. The pregnancy, of course, represents a danger to their clandestinity as muchas to the man’s ego. Ximena writes a manual of birthing instructions for the man tofollow when the time comes in order to avoid going to the hospital. But all along theyhad conceived of the woman’s and her son’s deaths and so the woman states, ‘I didn’thave a chance to give birth to the coming century. The child, my child, was born deadafter my death; it was a sterile birth’ (162). After she remembers the traumatic andrepressed event of her son’s death, we become aware that she and Ximena are deadand that she is narrating the past as a ghost (163). The woman’s death was covered upand justified by their clandestine position and motivated both by political reasons andby the man’s revenge. Ximena recounts the man’s brutality: ‘He killed you with amassive blow to the head that shattered your skull, after that, he broke your hands.’The woman, surprisingly, seems to understand the man’s actions (162). The pain of unveiling the traumatic event destabilizes the woman’s remembrance and so shebegins to doubt the past: ‘the bed and the ether; the blood and the ether; my legs andthe ether: I don’t know. I cannot be sure of anything. The boy was born dead or hedied when he was two years old. Or he was never born’ (162). This doubt willintroduce, one by one, a whole cohort of dead bodies and will resignify, allegorically,the meaning of the woman, the man, their bodies, the cells, and history. Thisresignification does not imply a negation of the bodily by the spectral or vice versa. LATIN AMERICAN CULTURAL STUDIES 254    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   C  a  r  o   l   i  n  a   D   i  a  z   ]  a   t   1   1  :   4   7   0   4   A  u  g  u  s   t   2   0   1   4
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