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The bastards that destroy our lives are sometimes just ourselves.

Robyn Hitchcock


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Thursday, September first, 2011

Language kidnapped

Ariel Dorfman's saga of exile in Feeding on Dreams is also a saga of language, language lost and rediscovered. Heinrich Böll puts into words the younger man's predicament when the two authors meet in Paris, a few years after the coup in Chile:

What he shared with me was the problem that German writers had faced after the Third Reich. "Hitler contaminated the language," he said. "We could no longer write the word comrade, the words joy and exultation and brotherhood. It was kidnapped, the language itself, by the Nazis. That was the task we could not avoid, that is what you must worry most about. Not allowing them to control the language with which you will tell the story of your times. This is something that needs to be done now, before you overthrow Pinochet. It cannot wait till tomorrow or it may be too late."

posted evening of September first, 2011: Respond
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Saturday, September third, 2011

Official memory, family memory

One of the most arresting passages in Feeding on Dreams -- and one which incidentally made me think of Saramago's All the Names -- is this distinction between official, archival memory in the First World and in Latin America:

Languages are built on shared silences, assumptions never spelled out in dictionaries, what we omit, fail to explain, because we're often unaware that an explanation might be required to clarify what we mean. One day, Dorothée, a student at the University of Amsterdam who had been translating an article of mine about Chile's Disappeared for a local paper, came with a question. "There," she said, jabbing her finger at a paragraph. "Hay una contradicción."

I could find nothing wrong with the offending phrase, no contradiction. It claimed that dictators want to sweep people from the minds of humanity, store them in an archive in order to forget them. "That's the word that doesn't work," Dorothée insisted, pointing to the Spanish word archivar, meaning to classify a document in an archive. For her, when you officially put something away, you're consigning it to memory, making it retrievable. If the State, el Estado, wanted to obliterate opponents, as in Chile with the Desaparecidos, she said, then it would obviously take them out of the archives. As a Dutch citizen, she expected public servants to preserve an agreed-upon past, which existed as irrefutably as the dams that kept the sea at bay. Whereas for most Latin Americans anything filed in a public archive is secreted by an adversarial and shadowy State that you should never trust, anything filed away is on the incessant verge of oblivion.

Memory is important throughout this book, shading into and conflicting with nostalgia, being lost and refound and disputed and defended; in one of the diary entries from Dorfman's 1990 return to Chile which make up the core of the book, a MAPU comrade of his is telling about a reunion dinner with his Pinochetista parents —

...His mother noticed that he was dragging his left foot slightly as he shuffled towards the living room. "What happened to you, hijo?" she asked. "Did you hurt yourself?"

"You know perfectly well why I'm limping, Mamá. I was tortured, that's why. I'll never walk normally again, you know that."

Tortured? His mother looked at the other members of the family as if to excuse the wayward child and his pranks. Of course the boy hadn't been tortured, hasta cuándo was he going to engage in that sort of political propaganda, let's not dwell on such unpleasant topics...

posted evening of September third, 2011: 1 response
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