The Southern Cone Novel and Human Rights Crises: Form and Narrative Responsibility (1973-2000)



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The Southern Cone Novel and Human Rights Crises: Form and Narrative Responsibility (1973-2000) 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.





Pearce, Alexis (2015). The Southern Cone Novel and Human Rights Crises: Form and Narrative Responsibility (1973-2000). Honors thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from

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