sobre las Madres

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¿Cómo podemos, al escribir de las dictaduras y sus tecnologías de opresión en América Latina, al escribir contra la tortura y del terror, perturbar su poder no solo de imponer el tema, sino además de ejercer una fascinación sobre el texto? Para descomponer esa lógica debemos arriesgar la desilusión de también perturbar la ilusión de totalidad en el texto, cuyo poder de transmission es como la autoridad del dictador: una autoridad fundada en el poder de reproducit entre su público esa ilusión de orden por encima de la condición del terror… en otras palabras, un silencio…
Al igural que ese silencio, así también los desaparecidos, los ausentes y las fosas communes autorizan al Estado como la Fuente de la verdad.
Contra esto se levanta un arte que busca una cultura de la resistencia.”
~ Charles Merewether (quoted p.236, Butinx)

Gustavo Butinx once drew a series of quotes and writings together to convey some understanding of the politics and identity of the Madres. I still find some of these ideas thought-provoking… here is his opening, explanatory, statement (followed by quotes from within the essay):

madres-plaza-de-mayo“No es fácil escribir sobre las Madres. Lo que aquí se ofrece no es un texto orgánico y autorizado sino el inicio de una aproximación, construída a modo de collage y pensada para una discusión que no se agote en lo académico.” (Butinx, p.236)

“Pero la de las Madres es también una estrategia simbólica que arrebata al poder el poder de sus imágenes, ocupando y recuperando los vacíos de su retorica, parasitando sus contradicciones. Maternidad, femineidad, familia, religion. El pañal que flameó por primera vez sobre sus cabezas en una peregrinación official a Luján. Los nombres y reclamos “femeninamente” bordados sobre tan piadosos pañuelos. Los clavos de Cristo en la solapa. Los ayunos y retiros. Los encuentros en la iglesia, desde cuyas puertas serían ellas mismas secuestradas. Y esa notable capacidad para revertir el discurso del enemigo: “Las Malvinas son argentinas, los desaparecidos también”.
Pero eran las Madres. Al buscar a sus hijos usaban ingenuamente el sagrado derecho democrático de querer saber” (Osvaldo Bayer). La agudeza así lograda puede ser también interpretada como un doble filo. Ya en 1982 algunas feministas argentinas le comentaban a Jean Elshtain que, por las características de su accionar, las Madres “profundizaron y legitimaron la imagen de la madre de luto como típica e ideal identidad femenina. María del Carmen Feijóo cuestiona una estrategia “basada en los roles reproductores de la mujer que refuerza la convencional division del trabajo.” Pero Martha Ackelsberg y Mary L. Shanley enfrentan estas expresiones con la comprobación propia de cómo las Madres disolvieron las fronteras de lo público y lo privado en sup unto más sensible y al mismo tiempo más resguardado: la construcción de género. “Para proteger y cuidar a sus hijos tuvieron que salir de sus casas y hablar como seres politicos y como ciudadanos”.
Por ser madres ejemplares, dejaron de serlo (Alejandro Diago).” (Butinx, p.238)

“Espacio que se disuelve en tiempo: casi una definición etimológica de la utopia. Tanto más ponderosa pore star articulada a un rito. La Victoria es efímera pero año tras año reiterada. Más que una actuación, cada Marcha de la Resistencia, cada ronda de los jueves, es una actualización. La toma de la Plaza tiene ciertamente una dimension política y estética, pero sobre todo ritual, en el sentido más cargado y antropológico del téermino. No se trata tan solo de generar conciencia sobre el genocidio, sino de revertirlo: recuperar para una vida nueva a los seres queridos atrapados en las fronteras fantasmagóricas de la muerte.” (p.240)

“No solo el presente, también la presencia, esa primera y esencial forma de protesta asumida por las Madres. “Con su sola presencia empezaban a quebrar un sistema” dice Bayer. Los pañuelos-pañales en las procesiones y en los despachos, en los fastos oficiales, en la Plaza de Mayo. La ausencia del hijo encarnada en la presencia ubicua de la madre, iluminando el “cono de sombras” (Piera Oria) con que se pretendía sepultar a los secuestrados en un limbo sin memoria. La silueta actúa como una metáfora inversa pero de igual sentido: el vacío se vuelve pleno en la acción vital de quienes lo (d)enuncian y en ese mismo acto lo llenan. Aparición con vida. No la mera ilustración artística de una consigna sino su realización viva. Las Madres hicimos las siluetas. Esas siluetas eran la presencia de los desaparecidos en la calle (Hebe). Presencia-por-ausencia. Como la de los desaparecidos.” (p.242)

Más que una categoría política, el desaparecido es nuestra figura cultural por excelencia. No lo eliminado sino lo reprimido, en toda la complejidad de ese término. Lo negado, antes que lo proscripto. Pero el triunfo secreto de las Madres es la dialéctica intuitive que les permite revertir esa lógica perverse en sus propios términos. Hacer del desaparecido no el signo desplazado de la muerte sino el proyectivo de la latencia. El retorno de lo reprimido. El eterno retorno del mito.” (p.243)

“Como testimonio las Madres nos ofrecen sus existencias reconstruídas en la búsqueda de los ausentes. “Nuestros hijos nos parieron a nosotras, nos dejaron embarazadas para siempre” (Hebe).” (p.244)

Te seguimos buscando” es la frace característica. “Buscar, esa era la única manera de continuar siendo madre (Hebe)” (quoted p.246)

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold mine) Gustavo Buntinx (1993) ‘Desapariciones forzadas/ resurreciones míticas (fragmentos)’ pp.236-255, Arte y poder: 5as. Jornadas de Teoria e Historia de las Artes, Facultad de Filosofía y Letras (UBA) del 8 al 11 de septiembre de 1993

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Articulating the unspeakable

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I liked this introduction to a 2003 University of Wisconsin-Madison dissertation, author: Nancy J. Gates Madsen:

She writes:

“What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.” Much of the artistic expression that emerges from the recent dictatorships in the Southern Cone appears to respond to Wittgenstein‘s assertion, incorporating silence and silencing not only as a central theme but also as a mode of expression. In a context where official discourse has attempted to dictate meaning and where fear has informed literary production as well as daily life, many times silences, gaps, half-formed utterances or suppressed expressions of horror speak most authentically to the experience of state terrorism. Just as an abundance of words does not always lead to greater understanding, an absence of speech does not necessarily indicate an absence of meaning, and often what an author or character does not say carries more interpretative weight than what they do. Textual and societal silences resist any authoritarian impulse to fix meaning – they invite the critic to read between the lines and give voice to the silent underpinnings of literature and art produced during and in the wake of crisis. For this reason, any examination of the legacies of authoritarianism through artistic expression must consider not only what is articulated openly but also what is suggested through silence.
The politics of secrecy and silence employed by the military governments in Argentina (1976-1983), Chile (1973-1990) and Uruguay (1972-1985) affected not only society but also artistic expression. Silence therefore proves a critical component of the experience (and aftermath) of state terror, as well as the literary representations that address the period.” (p.1)

“[…] crucial questions […] arise during and in the wake of dictatorship: How does a rhetoric of silence operate as an expression of past horror? In a context of oppression, can silence be an effective tool of resistance? How can one narrate a disappearance? How does silence inform the essential issues of memory and forgetting in post-dictatorial societies? (in other words, is memory to speech as forgetting is to silence?) Finally, what role does silence play in commemorating past horror in monumental form?
The scope of these questions indicates that by its very nature, silence opens itself up to many interpretative possibilities. Any treatment of the subject must therefore consider what is encompassed by this broad and ambiguous term. Nevertheless, exact definitions can prove elusive, precisely because silence is both a theme and a mode of artistic expression. In literature, silence manifests itself at the basic level of language, seen in the spaces between words, or pauses marked by punctuation (dashes, parenthesis, and the suggestive use of ellipses, for example). Unclear, absurd or hermetic language also constitutes a type of silence by introducing obstacles to understanding. Silence can express itself in the form of mute characters, unfinished statements or thoughts, a beginning in media res or an open ending, the silencing of certain action (such as the crime in detective fiction), or the omission of information. Works of literature may also address silence as a theme – often censorship, disappearance, or inexpressibility figure prominently in a particular text. yet the deliberate silences written into the text by the author may point to unintentional silences outside the work, such as the avoidance of certain themes or the presentation of one interpretation at the expense of another.” (p.2)

“The idea that silence can actually be an effective form of expression has gained favor in the past half century. After all, more than thirty years ago, Susan Sontag proclaimed, “as the prestige of language falls, that of silence rises” (The Aesthetics of Silence” 195). Although not every artist or critic who has questioned the capacity of language to represent reality advocates a turn to silence, in recent years (especially since World Wars I and II) silence has attracted more critical attention. In the introduction to Semantics of Silences in Linguistics and Literature, Gudrun M. Grabher and Ulrike Jessner explain that in the Western tradition silence “conjures up a premonition of the ultimate silence, which is death” (xi); for this reason it has usually been [-p.8] perceived as complete nothingness or pure absence. In a similar fashion, the editors of the Revista Monografica’s issue dedicated to “Silence in Hispanic Literature” explain that: “[t]raditional associations connect silence with night, death, solitude, sorrow, and endings; it is also traditionally linked to tranquility, meditation, secrecy, reverence, grief and solitary landscapes, to mention only a few conventional examples. Because silence seems to be more often exploited in literature and the entertainment media by linkage with negative concepts (the Gothic tale, the mystery or thriller), unqualified silence more frequently suggests the menacing than the peaceful”.” (pp.7-8)

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold mine) Nancy J. Gates Madsen. Articulating the unspeakable: expressions of silence in post-authoritarian literature and culture of the Southern Cone. A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Spanish) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2003.

The removal of sexuality from children’s fairy tales

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“The removal of sexuality from children’s fairy tales paralleled the evolution of housing in Europe. By the seventeenth century, living arrangements had evolved to provide segregation between quarters for working, food preparation, and sleeping. Usually there was a main room used for dining, entertaining, and receiving visitors, but servants and children began to have their own smaller, adjacent rooms. During this same century fairy tales began to transform into works intended primarily for children. The transformation of living spaces parallels the changes that greatly impacted children, including attitudes regarding teaching proper behaviour and attitudes towards dying and death.” (P.546)
I wish I had a proper reference for this, but all I know is that it was a section titled ‘Literature for Children’ (pp.543-549) in some sort of reference book!

aggression, well-being and reality TV

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Some years ago, William M Bukowski and Maurissa Abecassis wrote an interesting essay on aggressiveness and its relationship with adaptation. In it, they comment on the appeal of reality TV. The points still stand, I think. They wrote:

“The complexity of the association between aggression and well-being can be seen in places other than the research studies of social scientists. One of these is the ubiquitous domain of pop culture. …Consider for example, the adolescent fondness for competitive reality television programs. In the past 5 years, teenage (and adult) audiences swarmed like locusts to shows where contestants stepped on each other, sometimes literally, to see who could survive, avoid being fired, or get the brass ring that holds the keys to the executive office. One could charitably imagine that the attraction of these shows derived from their postmodernist application of an ironic stance intended to expose the fundamental and inherent flaws of the dog-eat-dog sensibility of the capitalist system. Certainly the use of satire as a form of social commentary has always drawn attention. Nevertheless, the magnetic power of these shows appears to be due to their depiction, albeit exaggerated, of the subtle and not-so-subtle competitive processes that underlie the dynamics of social groups and interpersonal relationships. Perhaps the adolescents (of all ages!) who make up the audiences of these shows see the competitive and multidimensionally aggressive acts of the contestants/participants as very real manifestations of the Darwinian nature of social experience in the peer group. These shows offer viewers an “insider perspective” about how contestants truly feel about one [-p.200] another, their negative feelings and views, and their plans for developing alliances, and fostering doubt and rumor about rivals and the development of planned aggressions toward housemates or challengers. Viewers see how contestants reason, manage, and manipulate feelings and relationships with others to insure their continued survival. To win at these games, one must show competence, social skill, aggression, manipulation, and assertiveness when needed, while still being liked or respected by competitors. The link between adaptation and aggression is clearly evident in these shows.” (pp.199-200)

Ref: William M Bukowski and Maurissa Abecassis (2007) self, other, and aggression: the never-ending search for the roots of adaptation. Pp.185-205 in Aggression and Adaptation. The bright side to bad behaviour. Harley, P, Little T, Rodkin P. LEA Publishers London

Vigilante justice and the legal culture of arrest on suspicion

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I’m interested in the concept of vigilante justice. It seems to me that vigilante justice of a sort is reasonably common in young adult fiction and urban fantasy. Anyway, I read an interesting opinion piece on the topic; Meena Radhakrishna considered several incidents in India represented as vigilante justice by the press, even though in each case those treated to this form of ‘justice’ all proved innocent of the supposed crime.

Radhakrishna writes: “Recent incidents of lynching in different parts of the country have to be viewed in the context of the law itself allowing the arrest of innocent people on mere suspicion, especially denotified and nomadic people.” (p.16)

“, various sociological explanations have been given for occurrence and recurrence of such incidents. The Bihar lynchings in September 2007, especially, aroused a lot of comment. Horrified national and international reactions largely included denouncement of the inefficient and callous law and order machinery in the concerned state (mainly the police), and the failure of the criminal justice system. This analysis reasoned that a public fed up with delays in dispensation of justice decided to take the law into its own hands and “settle scores with the miscreants”. The solutions to this state of affairs were then seen to be, predictably, gearing up of the police, speedier trials and more self-restraint on the part of the public, however provoked.” (p.16)

However, Radhakrishna explains: “There are some commonalities which will bear pointing out emphatically. Firstly, in all the five cases, the communities suspected of theft (in the case of pardhis, of rape and murder), were nomadic/denotified communities. Secondly, in all the cases it is mere suspicion of crime, not the proof of crime which seemed to justify the public killings or other forms of punishment like rape or burning down of a whole village. Thirdly, in all the cases, the mob was not made up of unknown, nameless ‘citizens’ or a faceless ‘crowd’ as implied in the press, but was constituted of identifiable people. …Fourthly, the law and order keepers in all the …cases [described in this article] were actually present or were informed of the incident well in advance and they did nothing to stop the beatings in time to save the lives of those who were caught by the mobs. …” (pp.16-17)

There are no issues of justice to be settled here since we are talking of crimes here which the accused did not commit. In other words, innocent people have been caught and handled recklessly and in a most barbaric manner. How has any “justice”, mob, or instant, or vigilante, been dispensed?
A point to be emphasised here is that the Indian law itself allows apprehending of innocent people under mere suspicion, and denotified and nomadic people are regularly rounded up by the police under the mob was not made up of unknown, nameless “citizens” or a faceless “crowd” caste members of the concerned region. certain preventive sections of the Indian Penal Code (ipc). This gross injustice is something the rest of the civil society is witness to without questioning, encouraging a state of affairs where suspicion will continue to substitute for hard evidence for vulnerable groups. However, this daily injustice on these communities by the police machinery is not the reason for such group violence. It merely helps in justifying it for its perpetrators in the likes of cases cited above.” (p.17)

Thought-provoking stuff!!! This same culture of suspicion standing in for hard evidence is something children face, too, at least in New Zealand and other English-speaking countries I’ve been to. How wide-spread is such a culture?

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine) Meena Radhakrishna (2008) Crime of Vigilante Justice Economic and Political Weekly 43 (2) Jan. 12-18, pp.16-18