Thank you for believing in my work and helping with the edition. Introduction This thesis explores post-civil-war Central American fiction specifically from El Salvador and Guatemala in the context of the testimonio tradition. Arturo Arias, in Taking their Word, argues the need to recognize Central America—and its literature—as different from the rest of Latin America. Yet we should study Central American literature not only in terms of its impact on the United States, but also to understand the dynamics of post-civil-war Central American countries themselves.
It is also important to study how Central 1 There are of course differences between the various Central American countries. There are also distinctions between the forms of conflict they have experienced. Beverley and Zimmerman However, many critics such as Alexandra Ortiz Wallner and Arturo Arias in El arte de fictionar and Taking Their Word, respectively note that effectively the peace process in the region began in the late eighties, and accelerated after the electoral defeat of the Sandinista Government in the A focus on Central American literature is needed to hear the diverse voices from the region, all the more so now that the civil wars are at an end.
Is it possible that the region has settled accounts with the traumatic memory inflicted by the war? What is the role of memory today? How do Central Americans deal with the past and the present? It is through Central American literature among other cultural expressions that we are able to understand the state of the region today. They attempt not only to create a dialogue with Central America from outside the isthmus but also to emphasize the struggles of immigrants and how they negotiate their identity in a foreign land. This thesis is particularly concerned with demarcating the continued impact of testimonio on contemporary literature.
It examines first the canonization of testimonio as a genre during the 3 s, at the time of guerrilla insurrection and state terror, as critics thought that literary texts such as novels were no longer able to capture the diversity of voices from the region. Testimonio was understood in terms of revolution, the left, and subaltern resistance to oppressive dictatorial regimes. Testimonio became the new topic of discussion from the South in North American academia; this discussion welcomed the style and prioritized it over traditional literary genres.
In fact, there was sustained comparison between literature and testimonio and an attempt to show not only the differences between the two but also to question the former and champion the latter. Testimonio was as much as anything an outgrowth of the flourishing of identity politics, such as second-wave feminism or the civil rights movement, that began in the s in the United States, as many testimonial texts had female narrators recounting their stories of resistance and their contributions to the struggle against oppression in Central America.
Some people refer to it more simply as in-depth interviewing. In Georg M. This assessment is borne out by an analysis of the MLA database, which shows a significant drop in the number of book and journal articles containing the word testimonio in their title published between the years and , as compared to the period to there were 15 book articles and 19 academic journal articles of this kind produced between in the earlier decade, 5 compared to 3 and 11, respectively, in the latter.
Thus, by the late s, if North American academia were to be believed, the genre appeared to be dying out. Moreover, today we see critics rejecting the concept of testimonio and focusing once again on literature. She adds that it is in novels where one can find historical, testimonial, and fictional elements. Thus, there is now a shift in focus towards fiction among critics of Central American cultural production. Both Mackenbach and Ortiz Wallner state that the novel is the form that best incorporates diverse perspectives testimonial, autobiographical, historical, and fictional and challenges the notion of truth and authenticity; thus, rejecting testimonio and privileging literature once again.
Those who insist on the existence of some notionally pure indigenous literature do so, he argues, for ideological purposes. He concludes therefore that there are no binaries between literature and testimonio and that every work is a work of fiction. This interchange of position between literature and testimonio, however, shows various ways of not only approaching testimonio but also fiction. And such, indeed, is the argument of this thesis. Most Central American writers themselves might beg to differ with the assessment that the moment of testimonio is conclusively at an end.
For this thesis also shows that testimonio is far from forgotten among those currently engaged in the task of narrating post-civil-war Central America. They may be writing fiction, but they have hardly left testimonio behind. If we refuse to see the connections between literature and testimonio, insisting on the distance between the two, whichever we privilege the effect is inevitably to restrict both from achieving their true potential. We need to revise our definitions of testimonio so that we can take proper account of the issues facing Central American societies as they are expressed in contemporary narrative.
UBC Theses and Dissertations
Rather, I attempt to see 9 whether the Central American texts that I analyze in my dissertation can be read differently by different readers. I choose fiction, which bypasses the binaries of truth and lies, fiction or real stories as argued by the critics, to see if it has testimonial elements in it.
I attend therefore to other aspects, present in testimonio but often overlooked by its readers: transnationalism, suspense, thrill, humor, and the treatment of life before trauma hits. None of this is to suggest that reading contemporary fictions as testimonio is the only way to approach these texts. Testimonio is one of many possible models or approaches. Thus La Haije approaches this ambiguity of narrative voice, between reference and invention, in contemporary Central American fiction as autofiction, whereas I look at it from the perspective of testimonio.
In turn, critics have also discussed the ways in which testimonio itself overlaps with other literary genre such as autobiography or oral history. There are no clear boundaries between these reading strategies. The advantage, however, of stressing the continuity of specifically testimonio, from the twentieth century to the present, is that it enables us to draw on political impulses and critical debates that are otherwise imperiled.
This research, then, sets out first to broaden our understanding of testimonio, refusing to confine our definition of the genre to overdetermined factors such as solidarity, struggle, or verisimilitude; and, second, to show that testimonio as a form of reading still can and should exist in parallel to fiction.
I read fiction in testimonial terms, and testimonio with a literary sensibility, so that we can keep the complexity of these texts alive. As soon as we categorize them as either fiction or testimonio, we simplify the stories they tell and the issues they address. My approach in this thesis is comparative. I examine two sets of texts—classic testimonio and post-war Central American fiction—that are not often read together, with the idea that each sheds new light on the other. In other words, I read contemporary fiction through a lens provided by testimonio, and I read testimonio through the lens of fiction.
This comparative methodology allows us to see, on the one hand, testimonial aspects in fiction, such as a concern with historical events and social trauma, or formal devices such as the use of dialogic structures mediating subaltern voices. On the other hand, a comparative approach also brings to light elements in classic testimonio that we more commonly associate with fiction, even genre fiction such as detective stories or mysteries. In other words, while testimonio and fiction have often been 11 understood to be diametrically opposed—and indeed, the very definition of testimonio as a genre sought to distinguish it from literary fiction—a comparative methodology shows the benefits of seeing generic difference instead in terms of reading strategies.
This, however, is to ignore the overlaps and continuities between these sets of texts. I focus on neoliberalism and its tendency to appropriate the subversive forms and survival strategies employed by the subaltern, the need to find other ways to communicate ongoing social inequalities and injustices. We see that parody not just connects the classic testimonios with the contemporary texts read as testimonio but also critique the same past which is set as the background of these present-day narratives. Yet transnationalism in testimonial readings is not new but can be found in classic testimonios too.
Thus, there is a continuity of aspects that were overlooked in the earlier readings, but as we will see that there are differences also, particularly as these present-day texts are set after the civil wars. But the role of memory differs in every creative form. Films such as Voces inocentes and documentaries such as La isla are examples of the varied role of memory. I also look at texts such as El material humano by Rodrigo Rey Rosa, where memory again has a distinct role to play. This chapter explores memory not simply to narrate traumatic experiences but also to demonstrate a life before the violence.
Besides, we explore other elements of memory that were seldom discussed in earlier readings of testimonio—such as suspense and thrill. My conclusion returns to my initial hypothesis and research questions. I address the question of whether testimonio fulfils its role as a mode to approach literary texts in Central America in the twenty-first century, i.
In fact, testimonio has always been a way of reading texts and that is how it was canonized as a genre in the eighties. We shall see throughout the dissertation that it was the canonization of testimonio as a genre that later created controversy around testimonial texts. But if we consider testimonio as a reading strategy—an approach we can choose to take up across a range of different narratives—we may bypass the binaries between truth and lies and fiction and testimonio.
Franco and the Axis Stigma
We will see testimonial aspects in fiction and fictional aspects in testimonios. This is a choice then that this study hopes to open up: the option to read contemporary Central American literary texts as 13 testimonio and classic testimonios from the perspective of literature. I end then with the hope that this option for testimonio might find a place not only in Central America or in Latin America, but also elsewhere.
Because of its flexibility, and so long as we refuse to restrict it to a particular time or place, testimonio can adapt to a multitude of distinct social situations now and in the future, and can create a bond or connection, a protest against injustice and a voice for liberation, across the postcolonial world. What is its relationship to the literary canon? What is its history, and why might it be important to revive the genre today? This chapter tries to answer these questions. It analyses the emergence of testimonio during the s and s, exploring and questioning the reasons behind the interest in the genre in North American academia at the time.
What did testimonial books offer their readers that novels and poetry did not? Why did narratives from the margin attract attention? Further, I discuss the various ways in which testimonio was defined and the reasons why critical readings of testimonio approached it from diverse perspectives. We will also see how the testimonial genre provoked debate and controversy and lastly, how with the end of the Southern Cone dictatorships and Central American civil wars, it seemed as though the genre abruptly came to a halt.
But beyond addressing the general legacy of colonial injustice, testimonio came to the fore specifically at a time of civil wars and dictatorships in Latin America. Indeed, societies in both Latin and North America found themselves increasingly polarized, divided between left and right ideologies. In Latin America, on the one hand there was state oppression, on the other there was the rise of guerrilla movements often inspired by the example of the Cuban revolution that fought and raised voices against injustice.
Latin American revolutionary movements saw the 15 involvement of both elite and the masses. These narratives stood out as they are not represented by the upper-class authors; they express the subaltern struggle and their role in the fight against oppression. They challenge not only the literary strategies of the elite for instance, the novel form , which was the predominant form of storytelling at that time, but also its culture.
Therefore, this chapter also investigates the debates around testimonio that prompted controversy, at the same time as it sets the stage for a new approach to both classic testimonial texts and, by extension, also more recent narratives that are 16 more usually categorized as fiction. Though academic discussion and debates about testimonio may have waned, my ultimate argument is that contemporary Central American fiction often invite a testimonial, and the chapters that follow this one will develop this argument in detail.
In what social and political circumstances did it evolve? What were its primary characteristics? And what role did it serve in the literary world? For some, testimonio can be traced back to the colonial period. The earliest texts that would later be counted as testimonio appeared in the sixteenth century in the form of chronicles or non-fictional first-person narrative accounts that tell the experience of the soldiers or clergymen who came to the New World with the conquistadores.
But testimonial readings also drew on other disciplines, notably anthropology and ethnography, which gave renewed impetus to the search for texts through which readers might gain access to a subaltern voice, a voice from the margin and by the marginalized, especially the urban poor and indigenous peasants. But it was in the late s and early s that texts named as testimonios truly flourished. In South America, above all the Southern Cone, this was a time of dirty wars and state violence.
Central American countries also faced military repression and civil war, as this period saw the rise of guerrilla movements and other forms of resistance against oppression. Texts regarded as testimonios in this period were a reflection on the social situation in these countries and the struggles against oppression by ordinary people. Texts identified as testimonio during this time generally narrated stories in the first person to an editor or compiler and dealt with a specific community, its people, and their resistance to military oppression. Testimonio became a voice for the subaltern resisting atrocities committed by the state.
Testimonio projected the masses against the dictators and their oppression; it was a ray of hope for a just society. In academia too, the nascent genre offered an alternative to the habit of making authors the centre of attention and seemed to offer new paths for our understanding of how texts might work. It challenged the structure of novels, still tied to the notion of a creative genius, as it was a narrative created in collaboration between two people and thus, perhaps, more accessible to a larger audience.
Testimonio was thus perceived as a form of narration that might challenge, critique, and overthrow social and literary hierarchies alike. Testimonial narrative came to be regarded as a more democratic alternative to the Boom, a solution to an otherwise widespread disillusion with literature. Critics tried hard to distinguish testimonio from literature and to understand it in other terms. But increasingly testimonio was defined not simply as a complement to literature, or as a way to make literature more inclusive, but as actively opposed to it: testimonio was not only different from fiction; it was also more grounded, more real and true.
It is not as though, however, the Boom had been apolitical. Initially it had been very much associated with the Cuban revolution: the ideology of revolution, the hope of an equal society and relating oneself with the leftist government became a norm of the Boom writers. However, gradually he began to look at the revolution more sceptically as Castro instructed intellectuals to write towards the success of the revolution.
Thus, the Padilla affair also contributed to the decline of the Boom and the search for other forms of engaged narrative commitment. But there were conjunctural, political reasons why this continuity should be downplayed, and why testimonio should be cast as sometimes, radically distinct from the novel by those who wished to underline the politics and the kinds of narratives that circulated in Latin as well as in North America.
Testimonio, thus, emerged not only at the height of a widespread struggle against state violence and terror in Latin America, but also at a specific place and time at which there was a need in the society to express oneself or a need to hear and read stories cast as authentic and politically engaged. Therefore, testimonio gained momentum as a form of narrative distinct from fiction and ratified as supposedly more politically efficacious than the novels of the Boom.
Many characteristics were presented as making testimonio distinct from Boom, but above all it was the fact that it put to the forefront narratives of women and indigenous people struggling against oppression. Testimonio told different stories, which challenged official narratives and focused more on subaltern lives and their struggle, unlike the narratives of the Boom which tended to be male-oriented and influenced by modernist, mostly European, writers.
Testimonio was not only seen as challenging the literary practices of Latin America by turning attention towards popular and subaltern narratives, but it was also understood as a challenge to elite culture as a whole; in other words, it shook the Centre. Though testimonio was a phenomenon that touched much of Latin America Cuba, the Southern Cone, and Mexico, for instance , it emerged in particular ways in Central America.
For it did not come into existence in the same way all over the region at the same time. Testimonio in Central America was an especially important platform to voice popular stories since literature there was mostly a matter of the elites and the upper class—even more though than in say Argentina or Mexico, where literacy and education rates were much higher.
Franco and the Axis Stigma | SpringerLink
Testimonio was therefore perceived as especially 23 distinct from existing Central American narratives, and it was felt to be particularly pressing as it was a voice from margins that had barely had access to representation. So Central American testimonio had a dual foundation.
To some extent it arrived, fully armed with a definition and purported political role, from Cuba. Again then, something like testimonio did not simply emerge suddenly in Latin and Central American literature: attempts to document social reality, to channel subaltern voices, and to show solidarity with struggles against oppression in narrative form can be traced back a long way.
But testimonio came into focus and became a particular way of reading at the moment of a crisis of representation, as the then-dominant narrative structure could not it was felt adequately represent the political and social conditions of the region. Testimonio became a source of hope in Central and Latin American literature, a genre that purportedly could pose questions to the existing social norms, a genre that people put their faith and belief in as a narrative tool that could unearth the unheard stories of the Latin and Central American revolutions, and a genre that provided a platform for the subaltern to speak, if only it were read right.
Almost every scholar who studied testimonio attempted to define the genre according to their perspective. It soon emerged that there was no universal definition of testimonio. So, although both Barnet and Beverley have in common some connection between testimonio and novel, the nature of that connection and its implications already diverge. In the meantime, both emphasized that testimonio should be an authentic story narrated by a suitable real protagonist.
They addressed questions such as what is testimonio? What kind of narratives may be read as testimonio? And how is it different from a novel or fiction? Is there really a difference between a fiction and a testimonio? Elsewhere, Sklodowska also surveys the opinions of other critics in order to demonstrate the diverse understandings that clustered around the concept of testimonio. In this sense, testimonio might almost be envisaged as the discursive wing of the armed struggle. The Canadian critic Mary Louise Pratt also defines testimonio: 27 as a form during the period of intellectual and artistic experimentation following the Cuban revolution, when means were sought to integrate all sectors of the new society into print culture medium that had formerly been virtually monopolized by the educated elite.
Testimonio emerges in the context of an imperative to renegotiate relations between intellectuals and grassroots constituencies in the domain of print culture. Many might have agreed to understand testimonio in terms of its relationship to subalternity, as a set stories collectively told about a class and their struggle against authority. Testimonio was not perceived homogenously by North and Latin American critics and intellectuals and its role or impact was defined in different ways, or as acting in different areas.
There were also questions about the specific literary form of testimonio and its relationship with other, more established, genres, as many critics noted that testimonial texts shared common characteristics with oral narratives, oral histories, life stories and autobiographies. Yet in different ways they strived to differentiate it from these older forms, in line with the notion that testimonio was somehow inherently new and distinct. Yet critical approaches to testimonio varied significantly regarding its literary or anti-literary qualities such as genre, style, and narrative strategy.
Thus, for Beverley testimonio was more real, factual, and true than any literary fiction. This attempt to pit testimonio against literature created controversy and debate, and at the same time restricted its potential. For testimonio belongs to that unsettling position between fiction literary elements and factual elements, which is both what makes it an awkward fit just like picaresque novels, autobiographies and chronicles and also the reason it received such critical attention.
Binding its position to one place in this case to facts and truth made it concrete and controlled, and though this led to the controversies and debates that made for a while one of the most vital discussions about the relationship between text politics, it also led to its apparent subsequent demise. But none of this was inherent in the genre if indeed we can still speak of it as a genre ; it was a matter of interpretative choices, of reading strategies.
The strategic nature of the option for testimonio was perhaps most evident in the context of debates about teaching and discussing these texts inside the classrooms in universities and high schools of the United States. Questions were raised, such as Why is including testimonios 29 in the curriculum important? How will reading testimonio in the classroom contribute to the growth and development of students? What kind of perception will they develop about society and the world after reading testimonios?
There were many who saw testimonio in these terms, as an important source of information that would contribute to the younger generation a different set of perceptions not only about North American society but also about the relation that the United States maintains with its neighbors. On the other hand, there were those who thought that incorporating testimonio in the curriculum was a degradation or an insult to the knowledge that the education system promises to impart to the young people of the country. And if they spend their precious college years reading this stuff and thereby waste the opportunity to have a genuine liberal arts education?
Students—the future of the nation—should be aware of the role that the US government plays not only in their own country but beyond its borders. By adapting testimonial narratives inside North American classrooms, academics such as Pratt and others challenged the canon and hegemonic position of received knowledge in North American society. According to Pratt, it is important to read testimonio in US classrooms because students of a powerful nation like the United States should gain political awareness about countries other than their own, and experiences radically different from theirs.
From the above discussion, we understand that testimonio was celebrated as a new form of narrative that challenged the existing situation not only in literature or the narratives to be told to the world, but also challenged academia and its rules on the books and stories that should be discussed in the classrooms. It forced many scholars to rethink the concept of knowledge that universities often promise to impart to its students. It also challenged conceptions of history, culture and politics.
There were scholars who celebrated and welcomed these new ideas with open arms, but there were others who were sceptical about the new form of narrative and its canonization as a genre. They welcomed testimonio but questioned the categorization of the genre. They expressed doubt as to whether academia and critics were appropriating the form and using it to serve the North American needs.
We notice that these disagreements were not just between liberals and conservatives, but also among liberals themselves or the sympathisers of testimonio. In other words, there were differences of opinion regarding the role of political narrative in society. Testimonio, as we have observed, differed vastly in the way it was perceived by critics. And here we further notice that the manner in which it has been defined consists of complex issues that are difficult to simplify. Thus, they develop an idea of these nations not through their own eyes but through the eyes of powerful people in the government.
How does it force you to think and know things you would not otherwise think or know? She was an active member of the Committee for Peasants Unity CUC in Mexico and worked to attract international attention to the violence taking place in Guatemala, because of which she travelled to different countries. Both forces exploited the villagers and took advantage of their situation and helplessness. Hence the peasants suffered at the hands of both the army and the guerillas.
That includes autobiographical accounts where partisanship is only to be expected. The importance of hearing subaltern stories, their struggle and the injustices that were the basis of testimonio, was lost amid of the controversy. It cannot help human rights activists to be reminded that their witnesses are apt to deceive them. Is it, then, a political, or an ethical, requirement?
He is described therefore as: watching this spectacle unfold with a mixture of anxiety and pride. The anxiety, he says, comes from the way his work is being used as a political football by opposing camps. Throughout the text he challenges the veracity of the story and emphasizes that other stories are being sidelined, other kinds of indigenous voices are suppressed.
Instead of opening up a 40 platform for such narratives, this one testimonio seemed to be dominating other marginal voices. There are more important issues. First, it is not an accurate account of the problems that her family and village faced before the violence, nor of how the violence reached Uspantan. Second, I wanted to challenge preconceived and romantic ideas about indigenous peoples and guerrilla warfare.
In the third place, when a book becomes almost sacred, it is a sign that it hides contradictions that ought to see the light of day. So, it was not just Stoll who was challenging the definition of testimonio based on factors like truth and authenticity though we have also noticed that testimonio did not have one single definition , but other critics as well were trying to emphasize on aspects less-discussed that the genre claims to carry.
All this, however, was overshadowed by the debate. Testimonio, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, Thus, a narrative form which had challenged dominant literary, academic, and political frameworks, which was a hope for a change in society and which was looked upon, perhaps, as a platform for subaltern voices, suddenly with the controversy and debate around one single testimonio, was declared dead by its eminent critics.
In the late nineties and in the twenty-first century, critics once again argue the need to focus on the genre and look beyond its basic characteristics and the authenticity debate. Alberto Moreiras also argues the need to read testimonio as a form in a different manner: The contemporary attraction of testimonio for literary or postliterary reflection does not depend solely on the fact that testimonio introduces suppressed and subaltern voices into disciplinary discourse; it does not solely depend on the welcome possibility of articulating, through disciplinary discourse, a political praxis of solidarity and coalition; and it does not depend on the intriguing promise of expansion of disciplinary discourse to cultural practices that seem to threaten as much as they revitalize discussions about what exactly constitutes literature.
Thus, over the course of this dissertation I will argue that testimonio as a perception will help the reader to understand the connection between literature and testimonio, the dichotomy 44 between fact and fiction and the veracity of a text. Considering testimonio as a perception will also help us read the text in other ways, beyond the restrictions of a limited definition of the testimonial text.
In fact, we have seen that Beverley and other scholars argued for the prior existence of testimonial texts even before the name emerged and the genre was defined. Here he is clearly proposing a reading of these texts through a lens provided by later testimonios. Again we note that it is the way in which we approach a text, and the expectations that we bring to it, that makes it testimonial, more than anything inherent in the text itself.
How do we then distinguish testimonio from auto biography, chronicle, or diary? The emergence of the testimonial form as a genre was a response to ideological shifts in both Latin and North America. Its rules were set to give voice to grassroots movements and to reflect the manner in which texts written at the time time—detailing subaltern resistance to violent oppression—were read by scholars. It was the way in which the critics read such stories, highlighting political struggle, that led to the various definitions of testimonio. We have seen that there was no one definition of testimonio; rather, most scholars read and perceived testimonio in their own way.
Therefore, we should not forget the core factor in defining or understanding testimonio—the mode of reading—which has been consistent not only during the emergence of the genre or the retrospective categorization of prior narratives as testimonio, but in the post-war period, too.
If there has always been testimonio, this is to say that there has always been the option to read a text as testimonio, but equally also the option to read it in ways that point out its similarities with other literary or non-literary genres. In any case, testimonio was always more than just a witness account. It was a way to approach narrative about injustice. Fixing these multivalent characteristics into a single definition can blunt its anti-hegemonic teeth.
For testimonio was—and, I argue, still is—a voice not only against specific injustices, but also more broadly against all hierarchies. Testimonio has the potential to destabilize the hegemonic systems of our society, as well as posing a challenge to literary interpretation, if read with due attention to its complexity and heterogeneity. We need to acknowledge similarities with these literary genres or non-literary genres to make the testimonial reading diverse. Creating definitions to distinguish it from other narrative strategies like autobiographies, picaresque novels, or oral history may again lead us to an abrupt halt to this interpretive practice.
Looking for similarities elsewhere will not only help us to understand testimonio beyond fact and fiction if we read other literary texts as testimonio but will also broaden the scope of testimonial reading. The testimonio debate came to a halt, perhaps, because readers took 8 By contemporary fiction, I mean fiction in the wake of the peace processes in El Salvador and Guatemala which led to final agreements in and respectively. Understanding texts as testimonio can connect truth and lies and fact and fiction.
It helps us question fixed notions like these and reflect on concepts that we practice. It is because of this challenging nature that testimonio provoked controversy and debate, as it resisted being limited to only one category. She mentions she married Don Federico even when she was not in love with him; on the other hand, she used his powerful position to establish herself.
This proves that testimonio is not only about resistance against the oppressors, but also how the powerless manipulate the powerful to survive. This type of narrative is commonly noted in picaresque literature. Elements of thrill are particularly evident in sections where the narrator describes the dangers and uncertainty inherent in guerrilla life in the forest.
Also, the personification of the mountain and the relation that it has with the guerrillas is more literary than testimonial. Thus, considering testimonio as a mode of approaching a literary text keeps that text open to multiple interpretation, and can also open a dialogue between fiction and testimonio instead of creating a wall between them. Critics have defined and approached testimonio from varied perspectives. I therefore propose in this dissertation that testimonio has always been an approach to reading a narrative.
This reading style will bridge the gap between fact and fiction, and can also allow a literary text to be read differently. This does not mean that any text can be read as testimonio, but there should be a shift from the characteristics that were important earlier and might have emerged under a specific socio-political situation in Central American literature. Thus, as the times change, we have to alter our focus too. The characteristics that tended to guide us to read texts as testimonio earlier, should change today.
Holding to factors such as solidarity, authenticity, resistance, or urgency as the key characteristics to define testimonio will not help us to understand and read literature today—it will rather hinder a testimonial approach to texts. It becomes an obstacle to our understanding of these narratives now the wars have ended. Does this indicate that Central America has become a just and peaceful society? As readers of testimonio we should think of such questions and look for testimonial aspects in contemporary texts. Perhaps now they are not neither purely testimonios nor purely fiction, but can offer readers different points of access depending upon our expectations or desires.
Testimonio plays on the complex notion of literature and how we perceive it. Questions such as, what truth is and whose truth are we listening to? What is authentic or factual narrative? Who decides whether a text is factual, truthful or authentic? It challenges boundaries and forces us to think differently. It engages with narratives that address injustices in society carried out not just by state authorities, but by other institution as well. For instance, injustices faced by immigrants in North America, or in the institution of marriage between a husband and a wife, in school, universities or in a family.
Thus, testimonio can be a medium to question the fixed notions of viewing injustice in the world. In the chapters that follow I also argue that testimonio should not be limited to written texts, but welcome narratives from different mediums of expression. For example, documentary, feature films, theatre or painting which reveal a story about intolerance and cruelty can also be considered testimonio. Reading literary fiction and viewing art from the perspective of testimonio will bypass much of the unproductive debate that surrounds the genre: the dichotomy between truth and lies, fact and fiction, authenticity and inauthenticity.
Further, it enables a link between testimonio and Latin American fiction, establishing a connection between the past and the present post-war situation. For example, parody, which I will discuss in the next chapter, is 50 one of the elements of testimonial reading. Parody does not only have the characteristics of comedy and ridicule, but also seriousness. It is a story about a reporter in El Salvador who was exiled due to his political writings. He is offered a job in Guatemala, compiling and editing testimonios by indigenous people for a project conducted by the Catholic Church.
The act of compilation in a fictional context is itself a parody. Also, we see that the protagonist maintains a diary where he notes down sentences from the texts that he is reading. This act of noting down can be compared to the characteristics of testimonial as a genre wherein the intellectual or ethnographer records the oral account that is then presented in the written form. The fact that he chooses to note down some phrases in preference to others is an interesting aspect that strikes at similarity while establishing difference.
Another novel by Castellanos Moya, El asco, highlights the relation between the narrator and the compiler. Again, the reading of this text as testimonio challenges our understanding of the genre. El hombre de Montserrat by Dante Liano, is about 51 how a member of the military is marginalized and victimized by the state for which he works. It also describes the vulnerability of a soldier when faced with guerrillas. In this way, this text inverts the role of the oppressor and the oppressed. The fact that reading testimonio as a strategy can be applied to a post-war context to describe the social and political scenario shows a persistent engagement with testimonio as a reading technique.
Contemporary texts such as Insensatez, El material humano, and El hombre de Montserrat consist of a plurality of narrative voices. Texts of the eighties and nineties that were read as testimonios narrated incidents from memory and invoked a past condition in oppressive dictatorial regimes, whereas contemporary ones begin at the point where the classic testimonio ends. They narrate the condition of the people during an oppressive dictatorial regime and are taken further ahead by depicting the situation of these countries after the war where, though notionally democracy has arrived, killing and kidnappings are as prevalent as ever, perhaps even more so.
It is productive to set modern texts that can be read as testimonios alongside the testimonial genre to see whether there is a bridge between past and present modes of reading, whether recent 9 However, these contemporary texts are also diverse. For example, El hombre de Montserrat, which was published in , in the midst of the negotiations leading towards final peace accords, shows the tail-end of the war and combat between the army and guerrillas. By contrast,in El material humano, published in , it is violent crime that comes to the fore.
We can see then a general transition from State oppression to new forms of everyday violence under neoliberalism. We see testimonio as a mode of reading that is continuously updating itself, so the phase of testimonio as a process of interpretation and understanding literature is not over. The issues that testimonio addressed in the s and s have changed in the era of neoliberalism, market hegemony, and globalization.
As we will see in detail in the following chapters, one of the repercussions of the long civil war is migration. Francine Masiello in The Art of Transition discusses how the market in the era of neoliberal economics is appropriating subversion. The act of being subversive is to make oneself heard, but the same act is appropriated by the market for commercial purposes. Therefore, authors continually try to develop new narrative strategies to resist the homogenizing demands of the market. Perhaps the use of different narrative strategies in fiction and films are a way to avoid market appropriation, describe the contemporary issues of society and connect them with the past.
This connection between the present and the past demonstrates a continuity in society and is itself a subversive. For instance, we will see how cultural critic and theorist Nelly Richard critiques the Chilean government for homogenizing the memories of the past, which results in difficulty of understanding the present condition.
When we bring back similar kinds of memory in the present, we make the past stagnant and distant from the contemporary times.
We need to bring back a variety of memories from the past to keep it fresh in the minds and to maintain a relation with the present. Such heterogeneity can challenge the appropriation of market and maintain its subversive quality. We understood the retrospective projection of the concept of testimonio into the colonial period, as it started to gain 53 importance during the dictatorships in South America and the civil wars in Central America, particularly as many writers and critics grew dissatisfied with Boom novels for their exclusion of a truly subaltern voice.
The subaltern was absent from representation even as, in the struggle against authoritarian regimes and the rise of so-called new social movements, figures such as women and peasants were increasingly prominent and were playing a significant role in challenging authority. It was felt that they had a story to tell, a narrative through which to articulate their new-found protagonism.
Testimonio therefore became a form that helped to provide a medium for those narratives. We also saw the categorization of testimonio as a genre and an urge to canonize it. It was soon largely contrained by terms like authenticity, truth and fact, which became keys to understanding the newly-formed genre. I, however, would emphasize here that while such terms were gaining importance in academia, other arguments by critics such as Sommer and Sklodowska demonstrated the literariness of testimonial writing, challenging the defining factors of testimonio.
Many scholars were also skeptical of such celebration and were afraid that it might lead to the appropriation of its strategy by the market against which perhaps it was struggling to exist. It fell into the trap of its definitions and classification. The genre abruptly came to an end without answering all the questions it had raised.
It left critics and scholars stranded, and so they quickly moved on once they were no longer so sure how to approach the genre. Why not still read texts as testimonio? And how can we if we want revive the 54 genre? Thus, I propose to revive testimonio. I argue that testimonio is not over and that it should be looked at and read differently today—in the form of fiction, autobiographies, chronicles or diary entries—and focus on how these narratives then not just address injustices but also maintain its subversive nature. Thus, it is also time to rethink the concepts that defined the genre.
What role did such definitions play in critiquing the society? Did those definitions serve their purpose? How should we perceive it now? Can we relate it with earlier definitions of testimonio? Lastly, should we reread earlier testimonios? And if so, why? Reading texts as testimonio not only bridges many dichotomies, but also links the past and the present. Testimonio is a way to revisit the past and connect it to the present. Texts that are read as testimonios also have been an alternative voice to the official history. Hence, they are important sources of the past that should not be simply overlooked because the genre is over; rather, they should be further explored.
Testimonial perception allows us to review the past critically and act accordingly in the present. There is a commonality, a continuity with the earlier definitions of testimonio and also with the earlier testimonial texts. For example, one such common element is the injustice that we observe in the past and present alike.
And, as long as these Central American narratives in any medium are able to bring forth the injustices prevalent in a society, and the struggles to overcome them, testimonio will continue to highlight these stories and give a voice to the voiceless. We cannot therefore negate the previous definitions, the context from which testimonio emerged, or leave the earlier testimonios behind, as these will guide us to understand better both the present narratives as testimonio and the contemporary Central American situation.
In Central America, testimonio emerged during the period of civil war and insurgency in the s and s, as a means of reflecting on the injustices suffered by indigenous people, and the struggles of campesinos and the working class to attain their rights. With this struggle for equality, they aimed to achieve a better and more just society. Of course, there are differences between the two periods and their associated texts. Contemporary fiction does not simply imitate the earlier form of reading; it offers a critique even if at the same time it also emphasizes a continuity with the past.
It is on this basis that I read contemporary fiction in terms of parody and suggest that it still calls for a reading in terms of testimonio. The novels I will be examining question the hope to build a just society in the wake of a violent civil war. After all, the social circumstances of these countries have not in fact changed much in the post-war environment. But it is also for this reason that they can still be approached as testimonio: they share the denunciatory and critical impulse of classical testimonio, if not their faith in the potential power of social struggle.
However, it is not just the content of these narratives that demonstrates the persistence of the testimonial impulse in these texts, but also the form.
As I show in detail, there are many formal elements, such as the use of first-person narration that stands in for a larger community, or the device of constructing a dialogue between the narrator and a compiler figure, that are common both to the earlier texts and to much present-day fiction. Thus, reading contemporary fiction as testimonio raises questions about such definitions, on the one hand, and makes us reconsider such narratives and their effectiveness. To what extent did testimonio, as previously conceived, contribute to peace and equality in Central American countries? Did those aspects that seemed to distinguish testimonio in opposition to hitherto hegemonic forms of literature succeed, or did they perhaps close off other possible avenues of political and aesthetic expression?
Let us not make the same mistake again. Reading contemporary fiction as testimonio shows us an alternate way of approaching Central American literature today; limiting our appreciation of them only to 58 their literary qualities would mean restricting their potential much like what happened if in reverse to the testimonial genre. The texts studied in this chapter—El asco, Insensatez, and El hombre de Montserrat—reveal the reality of post-war disillusion.
Yet these texts also have elements that defined classic testimonio—the key factors that not only separated the genre from other literary forms but also provoked controversy and debate—and they move us to reconsider whether testimonio now understood above all as a reading strategy is really over, or whether it still has purchase today. At a time when society is in crisis in all spheres—social, cultural, and political—testimonio as a reading strategy can describe contemporary forms of unrest and can question the dream of a just society that Central America once saw beckoning in a post-war era.
These contemporary texts bring testimonio to life and insist that the testimonial strategy can still be used to address oppression, violence, and injustice. They emphasize the importance of past struggle, its dreams and failures. But they also reflect on ongoing problems and issues that thwarted the desire to create such a society, and therefore they can be seen as a parody of the classic testimonio. The issue that arises here is not simply how testimonio as a reading strategy, thought to be over with the end of the civil war, allows us an insight into these recent texts and the ways in which they address contemporary social issues.
Are these texts not also trying to tell us about the readings of classic testimonio, the issues that such texts raised and the connections that can be drawn between the earlier readings and current ones? Reading Central American fiction as testimonio is not simply a matter of recognizing the testimonial techniques the authors have used to tell these stories, but also gaining a deeper understanding of the palimpsestic complexity of these texts.
Parody is one way of navigating the past. These texts, therefore, show continuity with the past—they acknowledge it—and at the same time examine it, perhaps to make readers aware of how things once were, its consequences and the ways in which that history is repeated in the present. For parody does not only critique the earlier form but also pays homage to it.
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Parody emphasizes the ongoing importance of testimonio in the present and questions its definitions and key aspects. After all, from the start testimonio was a vehicle through which to challenge dominant social logics; it was a narrative approach that questioned the perception of literature as a high-class artistic creation. In The Art of Transition, Francine Masiello discusses the role of market in the era of neoliberal economics and its strategies to appropriate subversion.
Dissident and critical voices seek to make themselves heard, but they can easily come to seem just another option within a crowded marketplace that tolerates diversity if it can lead to commercial profit. Limiting testimonial exploration can lead to the appropriation of the reading strategy by the market for less complex characteristics or even to the death of the genre, whereas liberating it from such restrictive definitions will allow us to explore alternative ways to interpret stories.
This chapter will show that contemporary Central American literature can still be read as testimonio even as it challenges the foundations on which testimonio is built. Reading texts as testimonio was not a concept of the eighties or nineties alone, as it can be practiced today much perhaps as it was practiced even before the canonization of the genre; the moment of testimonio is not yet over.
The reading and the interpretation of narratives as testimonio, however, been modified and updated. Analyzing these texts as testimonio will help us to understand not only the presence of literary elements in classic testimonios but also the presence of testimonial elements in contemporary fiction. It will take into account the critique that aimed to build a better and more just region, a task that remains unaccomplished.
I have divided my analysis of testimonio into three subthemes: the treatment of fact and fiction in literature; the hierarchical relationship between compiler and witness; and the key characteristics of testimonio, such as solidarity, victimization, marginalization, and literary value. This is what differentiates testimonio from literature. After all, this had been read very much as a true, factual story whose truthfulness and representativity could not be questioned, only to be then challenged by anthropologist David Stoll. They took around ten animals from the truck.
And then she invited me to eat with her family. I said no, mainly because I had to go back to the newspaper to write the story. I think he had a good time. Nor did it transmit in the slightest the barbarity, the joy, the death, the smell of blood and shit, the shaken air in the moments after the upset, the knives sinking into hide, the crunch of ribs, the moribund moos of the besieged animals. The action takes place in a slaughterhouse in the south of the city. The flayed bodies of forty-nine cattle were hanging over their hides, and some two hundred people tracked through that muddy floor spattered with the blood that poured from their arteries.
Around each beast stood a group of human figures of various skin colors and races. But I will say that the asado and political violence are linked in Argentina. Very few people who were held at ESMA survived. Many detainees were thrown from planes into the river close by. They were thrown out alive: the military thought that was a more merciful death. Others were murdered in the most diverse ways. In sum: in , some functionaries organized an open-air asado.
The whole thing was a scandal. The representative said that ESMA should be a space of joy and needed to be redefined.
But the truth is that reality offers plots, scenes, and metaphors that refer back to those years all the time, every day. After meat, favorite dishes include pizza, pasta, milanesas fried, breaded meat and empanadas pastry dough filled with meat or chicken or vegetables. We can add baked chicken or chicken and rice. And pastel de papas , a kind of potato casserole. The Argentine palate is strongly influenced by Italian immigration, and it mysteriously excludes the delicacies of Spanish cuisine. I grew up with several tried-and-true bromides; for example, that French food is disgusting. Argentina is a country of immigrants, and its migratory laws are very generous.
Not in its laws, quite the opposite: in attitude. The large Syrian-Lebanese, Japanese, Jewish, and Eastern European communities have never been given the chance to add their cuisines to our National Identity.
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I had no idea what the Japanese ate until recently. Many Japanese I know, for example, hate fish. Decades ago, of course, assimilation forced them to accept the minimal local offering. I first had hummus fifteen years ago, I think. Long after the first shawarma stands started to appear on the street. Most of them, luckily, can be found in Chinatown. The waiters always bring the spicy condiments separately.
I remember one gathering in particular, a small party I attended some years ago, maybe a decade. One of the guests, an upper-middle-class girl, derisively told a story about how a boy had invited her to have dinner at a Peruvian restaurant. Rather, as she saw it, our Latin American neighbors could only own dreary restaurants, and of course could never possess an interesting cuisine worthy of exploring. The Koreans settled thirty years ago in the south of the city, near my house. Koreatown is a somewhat dangerous place that often has problems with crime, but luckily its extraordinary restaurants close very early, before night falls—oh, in Argentina you usually eat around 10 p.
When the neighbor started his car in the morning to go to work, the wheel injured the cat; he ran yowling out of his hiding place with a wounded leg. But other people do. Shame on us that they know a lot of people think they steal pets to eat them. Shame on us. There are many people, in the atom-based world and on social media, who complain about foods they call weird. They complain as if the country were overwhelmed with molecular cooking and Michelin stars, when in fact, the appearance of restaurants with nontraditional cuisines is very, very recent.
Caribbean arepas are in fashion now. Hopefully it will continue, hopefully there is finally a real and accessible alternative to muzarella pizza. There are few areas where this anxiety can be seen more clearly than with food. By arrangement with the author.
All rights reserved. La comida nacional argentina es el asado. Es una costumbre sencilla. Se trata de cocer carne sobre una parrilla o disco o incluso clavada en lanzas de metal si el asado se hace al aire libre. En Argentina se come la vaca entera. Sus intestinos, que llamamos chinchulines. Los soldados ingleses eran todos profesionales y adultos. Nosotros no usamos barbacoa nunca. Usar barbacoa es de gringos. Es que el asado es un asunto de hombres. No conozco a ninguna mujer asadora. El olor era insoportable. De la villa, junto a la ruta, llegaba el olor delicioso de la carne sobre las parrillas, el cielo azul se pintaba de humo, se escuchaban las risas de los chicos.
Pesaban mucho. En los pasillos de la villa todo era una fiesta, una feliz masacre. La carne se cocinaba sobre chapas, sobre parrillas, se guardaba en heladeras, se cortaba alegremente con cuchillos brutales. Todo transcurre en un matadero en el sur de la ciudad. En torno de cada res resaltaba un grupo de figuras humanas de tez y raza distinta. Muy pocos sobrevivieron a su paso por ESMA.
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