Woman as Witness: Essays on Testimonial Literature by Latin American Women

By Linda S. Maier; Isabel Dulfano | Go to book overview

Hay que sonre'r and Cola
de lagartija by Luisa Valenzuela

Narrative as Testimonial Breakthrough

ALYCE COOK

What is the correlation between literature and testimony? Furthermore, what is the relationship between testifying and simply writing or reading? The present article will strive to shed light upon the relationship between witnessing and literature, especially as it pertains to Argentine history between the years 1966 and 1983. This violent seventeen-year period includes the 1966—73 round of dictatorships, the Peronist interlude of 1973—76, and the eight years of the proceso itself (1976—83). By means of an analysis of Luisa Valenzuela's novels Hay que sonreír (Clara, 1966) and Cola de lagartija (The Lizard's Tail, 1983), this study endeavors to demonstrate the manner by which allegorical fiction served as a means of witnessing the oppression carried out in Argentina as the events were occurring between 1966 and 1983, when other modes of knowledge had been precluded.

Presently there are two basic approaches to testimonial writing in Spanish America. On the one hand is documentary testimonio, generally a product of atrocities perpetrated by right-wing regimes and of diminished literary quality. According to John Beverley, this form of testimonio represents a new form of literature—an antinovel—that radically questions the canon. On the other hand, Elzbieta Sklodowska has suggested that all testimonial writing is by its very nature “invented” after the fact and dependent on pre-existing narrative techniques. My study of Valenzuela's work takes after the latter approach. However, I prefer an even broader characterization of testimonio to include allegorical works that attempt to expose oppression as the events occur. While testimony in the form of narrative social documentary has reemerged in Argentina with the return to insti

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