The Unwelcome Legacy
One of the most interesting features of Seman’s multimemory narrative is precisely the inclusion of an underexplored figure in post-dictatorship Argentina—namely, the child of the perpetrator and particularly the one who, as an adult, condemns the crimes of his father and rejects the blood legacy. Towards the end of Soy un bravo piloto de la nueva China, Seman introduces Fausto, Capitan’s son, who after finding out about the crimes of his father kills him because of his responsibility for the atrocities of the dictatorship. The novel does not state explicitly that Fausto murdered his father but implies that that is the case in a newspaper article reproduced in the epilogue. Thus, the worst fate for a man, the novel insinuates, is not death or even disappearance but rather the contempt of one’s own children. Luis seems to have this view when, conversing with Rudolf, he says that
what haunts Capitan is not my condemnation, but his own consciousness, and also knowing how we all see him. If you don’t believe me ask him how he got here. That is the most important question, which we haven’t talked about yet.33
Rudolf is referring to the reasons that led Capitan to the island, a sort of hell where the living and dead meet up, and where the torturer arrives after allegedly being killed by Fausto.
Although Fausto is a secondary character in the novel, his presence raises important questions about the intergenerational transmission of trauma in Argentina that is not exclusively centred on the family circles of the disappeared: Are the children of perpetrators silent witnesses to the horror and the “other” victims of the dictatorship? Do they have any responsibility for the crimes of their parents? Do they embody the hope that someday the secrets of their parent will finally be revealed? Could those who, like Fausto, turn their back on their parents symbolize the revenge that the relatives of the victims never took into their own hands?
There are some cases of children of perpetrators who have publically spoken up against their parents in Argentina. Ana Rita Vagliati was the first daughter of a military officer (Valentin Milton Pretti) to change her surname in 2005. In conversation with the newspaper Pdgina/12, she stated that she learnt about Marxism in the books that her father stole from his victims after disappearing them. Her mother used to refer to her father as a demon. Vagliati decided to change her name because she did not want to be associated with him. “Her surname was her trauma,” says her therapist, also present at the interview. When her teachers knew about her family they all agreed that she was an independent person and that she had nothing to do with what her father did. “My request is both juridical and political,” Vagliati explains. “I do not want to be associated with my father. I want to choose who I am. My responsibility is to get rid of anything that still ties me to his world, including my surname.”34 A similar case caught the attention of the press in Argentina. Luis Alberto Quijano was forced to work with his torturer father in the clandestine detention and torture centre La Perla in the northern province of Cordoba when he was fifteen years old. He listened to torture sessions, destroyed documents, accompanied his father in the car on missions to kidnap people, and saw how the victims dug the holes in which they were then buried. Now fifty four years old and following the death of his father, he expressed his desire to collaborate in the trials.35 Finally, a few years ago in a group called El Puente (The Bridge), relatives of the victims of the dictatorship met relatives of the perpetrators with the objective of gathering together information and putting those responsible on trial.
In an article entitled “30,000 quilombos” (30,000 disturbances), Felix Bruzzone and political scientist Maximo Badaro tell several stories about the children of perpetrators and the long months they had to wait until those children decided to talk to them.36 The piece wonders whether it is legitimate to refer to these children as “victims” and reflects on how they receive the inheritance of their parents.37 For the authors of the article, these cases of children of perpetrators who disapprove of their parents’ involvement in the dictatorship demonstrate that kinship and biological relations with the victims should not be the only condition for the collective claim to justice and truth. They believe that biological affiliation is not “destiny, truth or condemnation; it can also be an opportunity to open up new spaces of solidarity and new alliances for the future.” By choosing a son of a perpetrator who disagrees with his father’s actions and does something (extreme) about it, Soy un bravo piloto de la nueva China takes a similar position.
In Haunting Legacies: Violent Histories and Transgenerational Trauma, a book referred to in Chapter 4, Gabriele Schwab, born in Germany after the Second World War, confesses that “I am one of the ‘children of the enemy’ .”38
She writes that one of the reasons she decided to tell what it was like to grow up in post-war Germany was to get her memories into a form that she would be able to pass down to her son. In her book she talks about the guilt she felt when she realized that her hometown helped the Nazis. She also writes that she only learnt later how she played with the children of the landlords of a Jewish family sent to the concentration camps who stayed in their house. The events of the war took place before she was born and yet they still haunt her.
In the cases of children of perpetrators of the Argentine dictatorship, the guilt of being a bystander is combined with that of being the son or the daughter of someone who was an active participant in the crimes. Such is the case, for example, in one of the most disturbing aspects of the 2008 biodrama Mi vida despues, in which playwright Lola Arias puts on stage, for the first time, a daughter of a perpetrator—Vanina Falco—who testifies against her father both in a trial (something that is only permitted in Argentina when the child is understood to be a victim of an act carried out by a parent) and in the play.
This play shows how autofiction has not only allowed children of disappeared parents such as Seman to introduce the world of the perpetrator into the landscape of memory of the post-dictatorship generation. Mi vida despues demonstrates how the blending of fiction and autobiography can also be a productive way to bear witness for the children of perpetrators whose memories are made up of the fictions and lies that their parents told them during their childhood and of their own recollections that reveal the falsity of those invented stories.
In Mi vida despues, six actors born in the 1970s and 1980s reconstruct their parents’ youth through pictures, letters, records, toys, old clothes and blurred memories (Fig. 8.2).39 Carla Crespo recreates the versions of her father’s death as a militant of the Ejercito Revolucionario del Pueblo; Vanina Falco explores the double identity of her father, a loving person at home but also the man who snatched her brother, Juan Cabandie, while working secretly in the armed forces; Blas Arrese Igor and Pablo Lugones want to know more about their fathers’ work during the dictatorship as a priest and a bank employee, respectively; Mariano Speratti shares with his son, Moreno, memories of his journalist father, a member of the Peronist Youth; and Liza Casullo reimagines the years prior to the exile of her well- known intellectual parents, Ana Amado and Nicolas Casullo.
On stage the actors mix childhood recollections with fantastic narratives, taking on different roles in the stories of the other actors’ lives
Fig. 8.2 Lola Arias, Mi vida despues, 2008 (Photo: Lorena Fernandez) and playing different instruments. The performance portrays the actors as spies, detectives and excavators, all agents of suspicion that point to a specific and contemporary form of reappropriation of the past, a form in which the latter is not only evoked but mainly addressed in the light of the present questions. Alongside such figures the attitude of the actors in this adventurous journey into the past echoes that of the spectator of science-fiction movies, an image also exploited by Seman in his novel. In one scene, Liza Casullo plays the electric guitar and sings: “Like in a science fiction film, / I get in a motocycle towards the past / in a city that no longer exists I find my parents, who are as young as I am now.” She then presents her story as “my movie.” Likewise for Falco, “my whole life was a fiction,” and Crespo confesses that “if the life of my father were a film I would like to be his stuntwoman [doble de riesgo].”
Rather than referring to science fiction to describe the way the actors rewrite their lives on stage via autofiction, however, it would perhaps be more accurate to turn to the concept of the “remake,” one also put forward by the performance. This term points to the idea of identity that underlies the play. Identity is for the actors and the director not a series of essentialist characteristics, such as religion, colour and gender, but rather a process that is “never unified and, in late modern times, increasingly fragmented and fractured.”40 In the same vein, Zygmunt Bauman has pointed out that “one becomes aware that ‘belonging’ and ‘identity’ are not cut in rock, that they are not secured by a lifelong guarantee, that they are eminently negotiable and revocable.”41 More importantly, Mi vida despues suggests that identity is determined not only by what we inherit from our family but mainly by what we do with that history in the present, thus the inclusion of a daughter of an appropriator who publically condemns her father in the play.
The second section, in which the actors represent the youth of their parents, is called precisely “remakes.” The term does not refer here to simply recreating or rediscovering the past but rather making it differently. Linked to this concept, the idea of the “stuntman” mentioned in the synopsis, and also by Crespo, alludes both to the cinematographic lexicon and to the risky circumstances in which these children grew up. In a play dominated by fathers, the mention of Speratti’s mother, who quit the Peronist Youth when she became pregnant, highlights the tensions between the armed struggle and having children. The phrase doble de riesgo also suggests that the children are “doubles” of their parents, Arias taking advantage of the fact that the actors are now at a similar age to that of their parents in the 1970s. As a result of their physical similarities, she only needs a change of clothes or appropriate illumination to superimpose the images of one generation onto the other and to create a very similar effect to Lucila Quieto’s photographs discussed in Chapter 6. Thus the face of Pablo’s father is projected onto his shirt, revealing the likeness between father and son. In another scene, Casullo superimposes her voice and body onto that of her mother, Ana Amado, whose image is projected on the big screen reading the news in a television programme from the 1970s (Fig. 8.3). The voice of Casullo reading the news over her mother’s voice is comically overdramatic and exaggerated. When she covers her face with a bunch of blank papers, the face of Amado is projected onto them, as if she had borrowed the body of the daughter.
Another reference to doubles can be found with Pablo and Jose, who are twins. Jose was going to be part of the cast but decided to abandon
Fig. 8.3 Lola Arias, Mi vida despues, 2008 (Photo: Lorena Fernandez) the project to work on a cruise liner. In the journal that Arias wrote during rehearsals, she expresses her disappointment about his decision: “I get sad because the twins brought something different to the play. They were identical twins born in democracy, the double that was going to play the double of their parents.”42 The lives of some of the parents in these stories are also doubles. Falco mentions the “thousand faces of my father”:
Luis 1, the man who used to sell medicine and looked after me when I was sick. Luis 2, the policeman who worked in the intelligence services of the army. Luis 3, the sportsman who used to call me “dolphin” and who liked swimming with me until we no longer saw the bank.
Left-wing militants also led double lives in both the public sphere and clandestinely. Crespo remembers the double life of her father and his nom de guerre, Sargento Beto. Casullo tells the audience that “when I was young, my mother had two faces. On the one hand, she was a Montonero militant, and on the other she was the pretty face of the television news.” Finally, as actors, the “children” echo the double lives of their parents, existing in both private and public.
However, if it is true that the performers expose their private lives in public, they only do so by highlighting the artificial nature of this exposition. When they introduce the family legacies (the letter of Crespo’s father, Nicolas Casullo’s books, Pablo’s homemade film and the tape of Speratti’s father saying his son’s name), they do so “talking without emphasis, lacking all emotional overtones.”43 This distance from the documents is a way both to avoid the sentimental memory of the past and to break the autobiographical pact with the viewers.
Arias conceives semi-autobiographical performances as dynamic entities that change as the biographies of the actors develop. In the play the past is revisited anachronistically from the present but from a present that is different in each performance of the work, a point made clear, for example, in the reference to the trial of the father of Vanina Falco, which points both to the absence of justice in the 1990s and to memory politics in the Kirchner era. During performances, Falco would read the judicial report against her father and comment on different aspects of it, updating the information for each performance as the case progressed from trial to sentencing.
Another example of this contemporaneity occurs when Liza Casullo refers to the death of her father, Nicolas Casullo, which took place after the performances had begun, in October 2008. The play also changes as a result of the inclusion of animals and children, who “act” in unexpected ways during each performance. In one scene, Blas introduces the audience to a turtle inherited from his father and which apparently has prophetic powers; Crespo asks the animal whether there will be a revolution in Argentina and the turtle walks to an answer (Blas has written YES and NO on the floor of the stage), choosing a different option each time. Finally, following Arias’ inclusion of children in her previous works El amor es un francotirador (2007) and Familienbande (2009), the presence of Moreno, Speratti’s four-year-old son, also opens the play up to unpredictable elements. The writing of history but also memory, this play suggests, is not a closed narrative. The present coordinates from which we aim to understand the past as well as the changes in the lives of the remembering subjects produces new meanings and evaluations of the events in question.
Not only is the play modified by the changes in the lives of the actors and by their spontaneity but also their biographies are altered by the play, giving credence to Paul de Man’s words that
we assume that life produces the autobiography as an act produces its consequences, but can we not suggest, with equal justice, that the autobiographical project may itself produce and determine the life and that whatever the writer does is in fact governed by the technical demands of self-portraiture and thus determined in all its aspects, by the resources of his medium?44
Crespo and Speratti met in the play, got married and have a child. And the judges acting in the case against Falco allowed Vanina to offer her testimony in the trial against him only because they considered that she had already acted as a witness against her father in the play, creating a precedent that justified her presence in court.
In sum, Mi vida despues is a good of example of the return of the (auto) fictionalized real and the way post-dictatorship artists in Argentina expose themselves in public not as mere exhibitionism or spectacles of pain, testimonies or confessions, nor as narcissistic shows, but as a way to playfully point to the narrative nature of life. “Writing,” says Arias in this vein, “is like living another life where I decide on the rules.”45
Mi vida despues also presents us with a daughter of a torturer who has rejected her blood inheritance and who has created her own family of peers. In a BBC Mundo interview, Falco tells the journalist how her body shivers every time she hears her family name and that she was, like other children of perpetrators, also filled with guilt, not only because of what her father did but also because she did not love him.46
The presence of Falco on stage and this particular type of guilt/shame felt by the children of perpetrators is a reminder of the limits of most theories of trauma that discuss so-called survivor’s guilt but which only focus on the experiences of the descendants of the victims. By contrast, Mi vida despues succeeds in addressing the pain and traumas of these “other” children but without making their experiences equivalent to those of the children of the disappeared.
As Cecilia Sosa has argued, “at the time that Falco resists the idea of biology determining the only line of kinship, she also acknowledges that there is something irreducible about bloodline ties,”47 as proved by a scar that reminds her of her father. Yet Falco still remains an active maker of her own destiny. Indeed, the understanding of generational transmission that underlines Falco’s position towards her past, Seman’s novel and also the examples mentioned above of children of perpetrators who have condemned the crimes of their parents, echo the views of both Jacques Hassoun and Jacques Derrida on the notion of heritage.
In Les contrebandiers de la memoire (1994), psychoanalyst Hassoun has argued that transmission is neither a repetition of the past (even when it involves a fecund repetition that assures us that we are not always starting from scratch), nor simply the recognition that we are inscribed in a genealogy (even when that feeling of belonging is ultimately its objective). It is rather a “treasure” that we fabricate from the elements inherited from our parents and our surroundings, reshaped by the passing of time and by our own interpretations, and whose main function is to act as the foundation of the subject. Thus an effective transmission, writes Hassoun, offers the person “who recieves it a space of freedom and a base that allows him/ her to abandon the past to find it better.”48 For Hassoun, individualizing heritage always implies a displacement—even a type of forgetting—that allows the heirs to recognize it as their own. Finally, if repetition implies a narrative without fiction, transmission, he affirms, reintroduces fiction to make variations in the original narratives of the past and to construct a new version of the events that speaks from and to the present.
In the same vein, Derrida argues that the heir must always respond to a double injunction, a contradictory assignation: it is necessary first of all to know how to reaffirm what comes “before us.” This reaffirmation, however, does not imply simply accepting this heritage but relaunching it otherwise, placing “signature against signature” and leaving our mark in what has been passed down to us: “Not choosing it (since what characterizes a heritage is first of all that one does not choose it; it is what violently elects us), but choosing to keep it alive.”49 For Derrida, we must do everything possible to appropriate the past even when we know that it remains beyond appropriation.
The image of children of the disappeared and children of perpetrators who share similar (condemnatory) views about those responsible for crimes carried out in the past in both Mi vida despues and Soy un bravo piloto de la nueva China might have led to a sentimentalized, romantic or idealized vision of the future of Argentine memory politics. Yet both Arias and Seman avoid this risk by concluding their works with images of delirious science-fictional landscapes of a time to come.
Towards the end of Mi vida despues, in a chapter that Arias has called “Fast Forward/Autobiographies,” the actors imagine their own deaths in a near future, offering ridiculously apocalyptic or utopian landscapes of Argentina: for Blas, the country in 2016 will be a Bolivarian republic, independent from the United States; for Pablo, in 2030, “flat land will be devastated thanks to single-crop farming, cows will be born sick and horses will only have one leg. There will only be a couple of drug-addicted gauchos left dancing malambo.”
The end of Soy un bravo piloto de la nueva China seems to be, at least initially, more emotional and even more hackneyed than the futures imagined in Mi vida despues. The entire novel is traversed by the tensions between activism and family life that defined the relationship of father and son even before the birth of Ruben. At one point Luis Abdala discusses the pregnancy of Rosa with the Maoist political party and asks her not to have the baby because to have a child is a bourgeois privilege. When Rosa decides to have Ruben anyway, Luis does not change his position. Although a face-to-face meeting between father and son never occurs (Ruben is the viewer, never a participant, of the scenes in which Luis appears), the novel becomes the space of that impossible encounter between generations.
In this vein, we should interpret the long monologue of Luis or “Abdela el Cristiano,” as Capitan calls him, towards the end of the story, as indirectly dedicated to his children. In this soliloquy, Capitan forgives his torturer and asks for forgiveness from those he has let down. That request for forgiveness has led Seman to read his own novel as a “love story,” as a novel that believes in the possibility of a better future (“my forgiveness is the future,” Luis says at one point).50 A few pages earlier, Ruben had told his brother that he does not see his father as a psychopath any more, and that “our old man was not a saint but compared with the world around him he was a great human being.”51 Later he even admits that “until now I had not thought of the pain of my father, it is that simple, and of how terrible everything that happened must have been for him.”52
But neither reading the novel as a “love story” nor the idea of “reconciliation” poses a sentimental closure to the plot. In the final pages, Seman puts all of his imagination and black humor to work to reaffirm the literary and ludic status of the text. In this final scene, Rudolf, who describes himself as an “entrepreneur” rather than as an intellectual, proposes to Luis Abdala that they become partners in the prolific business of the memory market. He calls it the “Reconciliation Tour,” an idea inspired by the dark tourism in Germany where tourists are invited to visit the offices of the Stasi and to appreciate the famous Trabant cars. In the local version, the tour would include the refurbishment of ten green Ford Falcon cars made in Argentina with the sponsorship of the brand (“todo industria national, na-cio-nal, obvio”53), and the participation of disappeared people and around a dozen repressors (“the important thing is that the guys that we choose must have participated in the repression for real, and of course that they had been absolved in court. We do not want any problems with the law”).54 The tour would start in the Plaza de Mayo, with the emblematic rounds of the Madres and one or two of them telling their story. Then the tourists would be taken to the clandestine torture and detention centres in the green Falcon cars, accompanied by both repressors and disappeared people who would tell the story of a “typical” victim. At the end of the tour, tourists would have the opportunity to visit the shop and buy the trauma merchandise (as happens, say, in the case of Ground Zero).
This final scene takes the playful tone of the novel and the autofiction- alization of a traumatic experience to its extreme, proving that literature (and art) can talk about anything in the way it pleases. But more than that, this scene is a way for the author to claim an alternative space of enunciation to that often reserved for the victims and to construct a type of (autofictional) testimony at odds with the way in which human rights organizations or judicial discourses often portray children of disappeared parents—that is, as merely subjects for compassion. Through these operations of distancing and mediation, “children” such as Seman, the performers of Mi vida despues and the other artists of my corpus “do not laugh to hide their pain but laugh at the cult of pain that these discourses wanted to impose on them.”55