||The Southern Cone Novel and Human Rights Crises: Form and Narrative Responsibility
Abstract: Argentina and Chile experienced violent oppression throughout the 1970s
and 1980s when the quest to exterminate communism and the desire for neoliberal economics
culminated into military regimes that acted with impunity. Most common among the
techniques were the kidnapping, torturing, and, especially in Argentina, the “disappearing”
of victims. The thousands of human rights transgressions that occurred during this
time period opened up deep wounds and chasms across Argentine and Chilean society.
The strength, however, of human rights organizations and their political pressure
led to popular social mobilizations, most notably the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo,
which urged the transitional governments of both countries to begin judicial processes
against the juntas. The truth commissions, el Informe Sábato (Argentina, 1984) and
el Informe Rettig (Chile, 1991), delineated the transgressions undertaken by the Armed
Forces and attempted to calculate the number of disappeared and/or tortured.
Interestingly, el Informe Sábato, as suggested by its informal name, was directed
by Ernesto Sábato, who, despite his limited publications, was a profound literary
and moral figure in Argentina. That such a literary voice presided over the National
Commission for Disappeared Persons speaks to the overlapping of literature, human
rights, and justice that occurred during and right after the military dictatorships.
This study seeks to explore these intersections further by examining various approaches
to Argentine and Chilean literary production and human rights discourse across a timespan
of twenty-five years. Libro de Manuel by Julio Cortázar (Manual for Manuel, 1973),
Abaddón el exterminador by Ernesto Sábato (Abaddón the Exterminator, 1974), and Nocturno
de Chile by Roberto Bolaño (By Night in Chile, 2000) serve as the primary literary
texts analyzed in this study. While both Cortázar in Libro de Manuel and Sábato in
Abaddón el exterminador employ distancing techniques in order to challenge their reader
critically, Bolaño employs his masterful storytelling to draw in the reader while
still presenting problematics related to Chile’s recent past and politics of amnesia.
Mainly focusing on literary analysis and exploration of themes of human rights, justice,
and the articulation of both in the texts themselves, the theoretical framework of
this study relies on The Decline and Fall of the Lettered City (2002) and Cruel Modernity
(2014) by Jean Franco, as well as Human Rights, Inc. (Joseph Slaughter, 2014) and
ideas posited by Andreas Huyssen that relate to memory and utopia.
It is within this latter heuristic model that the study ends by questioning the transition
from the future-oriented texts of Cortázar and Sábato to fiction anchored in turbulent
historical moments, as represented by Bolaño’s fiction. As time, dominant historical
narratives, and amnesia continue to distance us from the thousands of human rights
transgressions whose justice still has not been exhausted, it is of the utmost importance
to reproblematize the past and its representations. In this way, we are able to serve
our duty to the past and there relocate a utopia in which justice is given to those
whose basic rights were ignored in the conquest of progress.