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Home arrow Philosophy arrow Playful Memories: The Autofictional Turn in Post-Dictatorship Argentina
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Introduction

In 2010 a writer (Ivan Moiseeff), a visual artist (Lola Garcia Garrido) and a musician (Xoel Lopez), all born between 1975 and 1982, collaborated on the creation of a promotional poster and soundtrack for a non-existent, big-budget film. Borrowing elements from anime and science fiction, the plot summary for Mazinger Z contra la dictadura militar (Mazinger Z against the Military Dictatorship), printed on the reverse of the poster, outlines how a group of young guerrilleros resist the 1976-1983 Argentine military dictatorship with the assistance of the famous Japanese super robot. On the front of the poster an image shows the dictator Jorge Rafael Videla, driving a green Falcon car adorned with a sticker of the 1978 World Cup and carrying a licence plate with the devil’s number (666). He is escaping from a big fire that is destroying three of the most iconic constructions of Buenos Aires: the Casa Rosada (Government House), the Piramide de Mayo (an obelisk in the central square of Buenos Aires) and the Escuela de Mecanica de la Armada (ESMA, the navy training school that became the most emblematic clandestine centre of torture and disappearance during the dictatorship). But Videla cannot go far. The disproportionately large figure of Mazinger Z, reflected in the front of the car, with his legs wide open as if he were a cowboy, suggests that in this alternative and humorous version of Argentine history the dictator finally gets what he deserves.

Mazinger Z contra la dictadura militar forms part of an ever-growing corpus that reflects a new trend in post-dictatorship Argentine art and literature, one that takes a playful, irreverent, non-solemn and anti-monumental © The Author(s) 2016

J. Blejmar, Playful Memories, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-40964-1_1

approach to the traumatic past. Similar traits, for example, can be seen in the miniature installation Juguetes (Toys) (2012) by Jorgelina Paula Molina Planas, one of the first granddaughters found by Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo in 1984. In this work, part of the series Geografias interiores (Interior Geographies), the artist reconstructs the abduction of her mother in 1977 using a doll’s house and scary toys (an angry Ninja turtle, GI Joe and a bear) in the role of the military perpetrators, and Barbie and other dolls in the role of members of her broken family (the artist, who was three-and-a-half years old, was in the house when the kidnapping took place). And in the book Las teonas salvajes (Wild Theories) (2008) by Pola Oloixarac, the protagonists create a videogame, Dirty War 1975 (in English in the original), in which the players select the characters that they want to be (e.g. Che I, “with black beret, uniform Sierra Maestra, without cigar,” or Che II, “cigar, bandana with red star and beard”) and win points by carrying out certain militant tasks.1 Moreover, in a blog post entitled “Actividad paranormal en la ESMA” (“Paranormal Activity in the ESMA”) (2008), Oloixarac refers to a series of paranormal phenomena that she experienced in the former ESMA (now converted into the memory site Espacio Cultural Nuestros Hijos) while attending a series of lectures: “four chairs suddenly broke without explanation,” “I had been told that somewhere in the property there is a tree that bleeds” and that “there is constant poltergeist activity.” Visiting the ESMA, she concludes, was like being in the “[fantasy park] Italpark’s ghost train but with content for adults”2 (Fig. 1.1).

Deploying what I call in this book a “playful memory,” young contemporary artists and writers, many children of disappeared and persecuted parents, often use humor, popular genres, children’s games and visual techniques commonly taught at school to provocatively represent the dictatorship and toy with trauma. Paraphrasing Ernst van Alphen’s comments on post-Shoah practitioners, we can say that with the arrival of the postdictatorship generation, playing with the Argentine traumatic past is no longer unthinkable.3

This volume addresses precisely that controversial tension between trauma, play and humor, and it accords an unprecedented centrality to contemporary films, photography, literature, plays and blogs that have changed the whole panorama of mourning, remembering and representing trauma over the past decade or so by offering playful accounts of the past and of the self. The majority of the works date from between 2003 (the year when former president Nestor Kirchner, who in 2004 asked for forgiveness on behalf of the Argentine state, won the general elections, when the amnesty laws of

Lola Garcia Garrido, Xoel Lopez and Ivan Moiseeff, Mazinger Z contra la dictadura militar (poster), 2010

Fig. 1.1 Lola Garcia Garrido, Xoel Lopez and Ivan Moiseeff, Mazinger Z contra la dictadura militar (poster), 2010

Obediencia Debida and Punto Final were overturned, and when Albertina Carri’s groundbreaking film Los rubios was released) and 2015 (the final year of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s administration).

By focusing on a select number of representative works of this new mem- oryscape in Argentina, I approach these productions not as second-hand or adoptive (post-)memories but rather as memories in their own right, related to but also separate from those of the adult survivors. Furthermore, while I recognize the diversity of experiences of the dictatorship and the subsequent ways of addressing them in art and literature, I also suggest that the work of the pioneering practitioners that form my corpus share similar aesthetic choices.

In particular, I focus on two traits that I believe distinguish these narratives from previous accounts of the authoritarian past—namely, the uses of “autofiction” and of “playful aesthetics” in creative accounts of this period. Indeed, the photographic montages, semiautobiographical novels, subjective documentaries, testimonial artworks, blogs and biodramas by the post-dictatorship generation are characterized both by the use of humor and by an original interplay between imaginative investments of the past, the fictionalization of the self, visual collages and artistic modifications of documentary archives. Though instances of this interplay are evident in cultural productions from previous decades, it is my contention that the widespread development of this approach pays testament to a new cultural formation of memory in Argentina.

In this book I thus trace and conceptualize the common preoccupations, motives and strategies of these artists. I show how they look towards one another’s work across boundaries of genre and register, creating an unprecedented “community of post-orphaned artists.”4 These artists, as sociologist Gabriel Gatti puts it, recognize that they are, and always will be, orphans (in the case of those who are children of disappeared parents) but who also want to do something creative and life-affirming with that condition. Even the artists and writers who are not descendants of the victims of the dictatorship studied here share with them a certain generational gaze characterized by a similar (playful) aesthetics and ethics of remembering. As a result, the phrase “arte y literatura de los hijos” (“art and literature of the children”) should be understood here in a broad sense.5

Strictly speaking, although all of the artists I mention here are of a similar age, not all of the artists of the post-dictatorship generations use playful and autofictional devices to address trauma. Nicolas Prividera, son of a disappeared mother and director of the film M (2007), has proposed a way of categorizing the “children of,” which, while controversial, might be useful to understand the novelty of the artists I study here. Using the imaginary of science-fiction films, he has said that children of disappeared parents are, on the one hand, like “replicants,” subjects who merely repeat the discourses and words of their absent parents, and, on the other, what he calls “Frankensteinian” children, who want to escape and deny their paternal legacy altogether. In between there are authors and artists such as Felix Bruzzone, Albertina Carri and Mariana Eva Perez whom he calls “mutant” children, subjects who do not refuse paternal inheritance but who resist being confined in a safe place and instead always reappear in unexpected forms, brought together not so much (or at least not only) by a shared history of trauma but by the necessity to do something constructive with their history. “The ‘mutant’ condition of these artists,” said Prividera on the occasion of the book launch for Bruzzone’s Los topos (The Moles) (2008), “helps them (and us) to escape the labyrinth by going over it instead of through it, and to look for answers in the present (or even in the future) rather than in the past.”6

Ultimately, the use of autofiction, parody and humor, I suggest, allows these artists, especially those who were also young victims of the dictatorship, to present themselves, in the words of Alain Badiou, as “creator bodies” rather than as merely “suffering figures,” replacing the spectacle of victimhood for a more productive and affective memory.7 In June 2004, Badiou presented a series of conferences at the Universidad Nacional de Rosario, Argentina. There he suggested that the transformation of suffering into entertainment (in the mass media or in trials) is one of the most revealing traits of our time. He argued that such entertainment reduces the figure of the victim to a slave-like “suffering body,” making it imperative to recover the body made by ideas: the “creator body.” Rather than regarding them as passive sufferers of the distressing mechanisms of state terror, Badiou’s notion of creator bodies forces us to reconsider children of the disappeared in terms of subjectivity and agency, as artists, filmmakers and writers. In other words, the victim should become, as Badiou put it, “the testimony of something more than itself.”8 A victim should not be defined only by the spectacle of suffering or by the body reduced to its animality. Only then will we be able to found an idea of justice beyond this spectacle and beyond the mere pity and commiseration towards the victims. For this new understanding of justice, concludes Badiou, we need bodies of thought, creativity and ideas, the type of victims that I address in this book.

The volume is divided into nine chapters informed by four hypotheses, which provide the main thread of my analysis and which I return to in both the chapters and the conclusion:

  • 1. that autofictional and playful accounts access areas of the dictatorial past previously unexplored by more conventional testimonies;
  • 2. that memory in the expressive and playful practices of the postdictatorship generation represents a diverse and often contradictory texture of singular versions and accounts that are not brought into any form of conclusive synthesis;
  • 3. that by admitting autofiction and playful aesthetics as alternative forms of witnessing, these memories can access the point of view of the other (the perpetrator) in ways that previous, testimony-based accounts could not;
  • 4. that these new memory practices can make us better understand, through their self-reflexivity, the relations between documentary evidence, recall and imaginative investment that are common to all forms of memory.

Chapter 2 discusses what I call the “autofictional turn” in postdictatorship Argentine culture. I address contemporary debates about the concept of “autofiction,” a term coined by French writer Serge Doubrovsky in 1977 (a year after the coup in Argentina) to describe texts characterized by the establishment of a simultaneous pact with the reader in stories that are based on true events (an autobiographical pact) and have characters with “real” names, but which are presented under the label of “roman/novel” (a fictional pact). The 2001 Encyclopedia of Life Writing defines autofiction as “one of the forms taken by autobiographical writing at a time of severely diminished faith in the power of memory and language to access definite truths about the past or the self.”9 Indeed, rather than professing “to tell the truth as sincerely as possible, autofiction acknowledges the fallibility of memory, and the impossibility of truthfully recounting a life story.”10 The emergence of autofiction is closely linked to the difficulties posed to language by trauma and the extreme experiences of the twentieth century, notably the Shoah. Autofiction is thus based on the premise that to bear witness to past events (especially traumatic ones) we need the obliqueness of fiction.

Notions of ambiguity, fragmentation and distrust in the referential capacity of language, the deconstruction of the biographical illusion and the possibility that autofictions have to imagine different versions of the past are all, I argue, key elements of the cultural memories addressed here. In this chapter I also explore to what extent the debates about autofiction have influenced those studying the cultural memory of trauma in Latin America, and particularly in Argentina, and what contributions Argentine autofictions can make to the wider field of memory studies. As Ana Casas states, an unexplored aspect of autofiction is its functionality in art forms other than literature.11 This book tests the effectiveness and limitations of autofiction not only in different disciplines but also in texts that are intrinsically multidisciplinary (plays that incorporate screens in their mise-en-scene, novels that include photographs, films that employ theatrical features, etc.). Finally, I also pay attention to another important feature of contemporary autofictions of trauma—namely, their generational and playful status. Artists and writers who grew up during the dictatorship bear witness to the past not so much by “sticking” to the facts but by establishing a freer, looser relationship with their referent and with so-called reality, thus redefining notions such as “testimony,” “witness” and “truth.”

Chapter 3 analyzes Albertina Carri’s pioneering autofictional film Los rubios (The Blonds) (2003), paying particular attention to the controversial Playmobil stop-motion sequence that reconstructs the abduction of the director’s parents. It suggests that toy and game art not only redirect our gaze away from the experiences of adult survivors and towards those of their heirs, offering a new (child-like) perspective on the period, but also connect state violence to the violence inherent in everyday objects and to practices of childhood during both dictatorship and democracy. Moreover, in their rejection of realism and mere reproductions of the past, toy art and playful memories revitalize the images and cultural transmission of Argentine history at the same time as suggesting, as van Alphen puts it, the ontological impossibility of completely and comprehensively mastering trauma.

Chapter 4 looks at the use of parody in one of the most provocative autofictions of recent years: Mariana Eva Perez’s blog Diario de unaprinc- esa montonera—110 % Verdad (Journal of a Montonera Princess—110 % Truth) (2009-2012). First, I analyze recent debates about the notion of postmemory coined by Marianne Hirsch in 1997, paying particular attention to Perez’s intervention in this debate and her questioning of the applicability of the term to local experiences of trauma. I suggest that rather than the vicarious or absent nature of their memories, what brings together the artists and writers addressed in this book is a shared aesthetics and ethics of remembering embraced in adulthood, of which parody is one of the most significant. In the second part of the chapter I illustrate these hypotheses with an analysis of Perez’s blog and of the stand- up show of another daughter of disappeared parents, Victoria Grigera Dupuy’s Montonensima (2013), highlighting what I consider to be one of the main achievements of these artists—namely, the creation of a new language and vocabulary of memory that refashions the politics of mourning in the aftermath of trauma.

Chapter 5 examines both the role of autofiction and the recurring use of motifs, structures and imaginaries taken from fairy tales and children’s fables in Laura Alcoba’s literary representation of her clandestine childhood during the 1970s, La casa de los conejos (The Rabbit House) (2008), and in Marfa Giuffra’s Los ninos del proceso (The Children of the Process) (2001-2005), a visual portrait of an orphaned generation. Following a group of scholars of fairy tales who have studied the links between this genre and testimonial accounts of collective trauma, I argue here that post-dictatorship artists and writers use fairy tales and children’s fables to address the tension within their recollections of childhood between historical knowledge of the events and affective responses to their experiences of violence.

Chapter 6 looks at the ludic montages and collages by photographer Lucila Quieto. The daughter of a disappeared father, Quieto modifies the photographic archive of the dictatorship via an artistic work that includes the projection of images of the disappeared onto present bodies and physical places, curating toy installations as well as reframing, cutting and drawing documentary photographs. In her work, Quieto resorts to autofiction to create the “missing” picture in her family album (the photograph with her father that she never had) and to imagine alternative courses of history in which her childhood heroes meet real villains. Ultimately she moves the photographs of the past beyond their role as a document of tragic events to play with history, to appropriate it and to make it more “accessible” to future generations.

Chapter 7 looks at the relationship between fact and fiction, and autobiography and fantasy, in Felix Bruzzone’s implausible and humorous autofictions. I argue that his literature has experienced a radical transformation in recent years, from his 2008 collection of short stories, 76, to the publication of his third novel, Las chanchas (The Female Pigs) (2014). This transformation consists in the progressive abandonment of explicit references to Bruzzone’s life (he is also a son of disappeared parents) in favour of a more ambiguous, original and adventurous type of autofiction. Indeed, in Las chanchas the autobiographical material and allusions to him being a son of disappeared parents subsists but as a mere echo rather than as explicit references to his life. In this sense his novels echo the idea of autofiction in the work of Julio Premat,12 who studied writers such as Jorge Luis Borges, Ricardo Piglia and Cesar Aira, all of whom introduce themselves as characters in their fictions but always in parodies, as fragmented subjectivities and as mere reflections of a potential identity that is never quite materialized.13

Chapter 8 examines the representation of the figure of the perpetrator and of the children of perpetrators in Lola Arias’ biodrama Mi vida despues (My Life After) (2008) and in Ernesto Seman’s novel Soy un bravo piloto de la nueva China (I Am a Brave Pilot of the New China) (2009). I argue here that autofiction offers post-dictatorship artists and writers what testimony, autobiography and historical chronicles cannot—that is, it allows them to imagine not only their own childhood memories but also the memories and experiences of the “other,” of those who carried out the crimes. In these texts the perpetrators are portrayed as two-faced men, a sort of Jekyll and Hyde, half-human and half-monstrous. In the last section of the chapter I link the representation of the “monsters” of Argentine history in art and literature to Manuel Alberca’s definition of autofiction as an androgynous and experimental genre, part fiction and part autobiography—that is to say, a monstrosity.

Finally, the conclusion summarizes the main traits of the playful autofictions of the post-dictatorship period and suggests ways in which other similar works, including self-figurative novels by children of exiled parents and the cultural memories of child bystanders, could bring to light new aspects of the Argentine recent past.

Notes

  • 1. Oloixarac’s particular image perhaps has an antecedent in Carlos Gamerro’s inclusion of a videogame that apparently allows (Argentine) players to win the Malvinas/Falklands War in his novel Las islas (The Islands) (1998). In Gamerro’s book, however, Argentina never actually recovers the islands since a virus ends up allowing a British invasion of the Argentine mainland.
  • 2. Oloixarac, “Actividad paranormal en la ESMA.” Unless otherwise stated, all translations from Spanish to English in this book are mine. In a chapter of his book Los gauchos ironicos (2013), literary critic and writer Juan Terranova argues that both Mazinger Z contra la dictadura militar and Oloixarac’s chronicle hybridize traditions and create tensions that work on taboos. “For many reasons,” writes Terranova, “the last dictatorship and its administration of violence always implied, and still do, a hard seriousness. ... The spokespeople who denounced and shaped the history of state terror in Argentina [also] made it impenetrable to humor” (p. 75). Terranova adds that although the first years after the return to democracy witnessed irreverent responses to the dictatorship, there is something different in the works of this generation of artists and writers, the majority of whom went to school in the 1980s. He suggests that this difference relies more on the aesthetics and elements of these representations (e.g. in the use of popular genres or icons of pop culture) than in their content.

Following Martin Kohan and Gabriel Gatti, I would argue, however, that one of the main differences between the playful memories of this generation and those of the previous one is precisely a change in the target/ content of their irreverence: together with profaning and playing with the meanings and images of the dictatorship, the artists addressed here, many of them also young victims of the military regime, parody the discourses and institutions of memory that have shaped their identities.

  • 3. Van Alphen, “Playing the Holocaust,” 69.
  • 4. Gatti, Surviving Forced Disappearance in Argentina and Uruguay, 130.
  • 5. In this book the term “post-dictatorship generation” is also used in a broad sense to refer to artists and writers who were born in the late 1960s and 1970s: Laura Alcoba (1968), Lola Arias (1976), Felix Bruzzone (1976), Albertina Carri (1973), Maria Giuffra (1976), Victoria Grigera Dupuy (1978), Lucila Quieto (1976), Mariana Eva Perez (1977) and Ernesto Seman (1969). These artists were born shortly before or during the dictatorship and therefore have a different experience of the period than the generation of artists and writers born in the late 1950s and early 1960s, such as Carlos Gamerro (1962) and Alan Pauls (1959), who were old enough to be activists or to fight in the Malvinas/Falklands War but who experienced the dictatorship not as direct participants but rather as bystanders or young witnesses of the events. Thus we can call this latter group a “first generation” of post-dictatorship artists and writers (a generation that started writing or filming after the disappeared artists from the “absent generation”) and “second generation” to the former, comprising subjects who spent their childhoods in the military regime. It is worth noting, however, that even the term “second generation” is not problem-free, as I discuss in Chapter 2. Perhaps that is why some scholars, such as Ana Ros, have preferred not to make such a distinction, calling the latter simply the “post-dictatorship” generation (The Post-Dictatorship Generation in Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, 4). Among other things, the term “second generation” implies a false historical distance between the remembering subjects and the events in question, and it collapses the experiences of writers and artists such as Perez, Quieto and Giuffra, who have no or few memories of the dictatorial period, with those of writers and artists such as Alcoba and Seman, who were old enough to understand what was going on around them. For the sake of economy, however, I still use the term “post-dictatorship generation” or “second generation” to refer to the artists of both groups, brought together not (only) by similar, albeit not identical, biological-temporal locations but by shared, often irreverent, ways of addressing the period in art and literature. For further discussion of the concept of “generation” and its uses during the post-dictatorship period, see Drucaroff, Losprisioneros de la torre, 25-47.
  • 6. Prividera, “Plan de evasion.”
  • 7. Badiou, “La idea de justicia,” 21-23.
  • 8. Badiou, “La idea de justicia,” 21.
  • 9. Jolly, Encyclopedia of Life Writing, 86.
  • 10. Jones, Spaces of Belonging, 96.
  • 11. Casas, “La autoficcion en los estudios hispanicos: perspectivas actuales,” 15.
  • 12. Premat, Heroes sin atributos.
  • 13. Casas, “La autoficcion en los estudios hispanicos: perspectivas actuales,” 12.
 
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