Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Staging Cultural Violence: Griselda Gambaro and Argentina's "Dirty War."

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Staging Cultural Violence: Griselda Gambaro and Argentina's "Dirty War."

Article excerpt

Concern with connections between art and politics has been most productive in analyses that center on the issue of how a society's violence is represented in its cultural forms. While some theorists focus on the danger of perpetuating social violence by simulating it on stage or in film, others insist that attention should be given to the gendered position the viewer is made to occupy in such simulations of violence. Still others interrogate, not the representation itself, but the operations of power that underlie it - i.e., not only the representation of violence, but the violence of representation. For example, critics like Nancy Armstrong and Leonard Tennenhouse contend that operations of power are constitutive of all representation; critics of film and gender such as Teresa de Lauretis, Stephen Heath, Laura Mulvey, Mary Ann Doane, Kaja Silverman, Louise Kaplan, and E.A. Kaplan argue that violence is endemic to a pattern of dominance and role assignations naturalized in westernized industrial societies; cultural critics such as Roger Chartier and Stuart Hall focus less on authorial representation than on the unconscious determinations in the text itself and therefore on the trajectory between its production and its reception.

Examination of the link between politics and art also led the late anthropologist Victor Turner to his conviction that theater is the site where the relationship becomes especially relevant. As he saw it, a playwright's conscious art exposes both the overt mechanisms at work in a society and the unconscious and culturally-produced ideologies at work in its psyche. For Turner, group activities functioned as "social dramas" that embodied a community's tensions, and "cultural drama" or theater served as the means of directing those tensions. Unconscious "social dramas," once translated into "cultural dramas," he argued, became conscious, providing a liminal space in which unforeseen things might happen. According to Richard Schechner, with whom Turner worked in the Environmental Theatre, Turner conceived of experimental theater as existing "in the creases of contemporary society... between areas of instability, disturbances, and potentially radical changes in the social topography" (164). Or in Turner's own words, theater provided a liminal moment "in which meaning emerges through 'reliving' the original experience" (Ritual 18).

My purpose in this essay is to show how a particular play produced in Argentina in the 1970s succeeds in addressing precisely such issues. The play is the profoundly disturbing Information for Foreigners by Griselda Gambaro which foregrounds both the culturally-produced ideologies in a particular authoritarian society's psyche (Argentina) and the effectiveness of that society's discursive representations in inhibiting citizen action. Born in Argentina in 1928, and largely self-educated, Gambaro wrote this strangely prophetic play about her country in the early 1970s although, fearing reprisals against family members, she refused to allow its production until after she had fled Argentina and sought exile in Europe (Feitlowitz 5-6). As a framework for the discussion of the play, I will first briefly outline Turner's theory of how a society's conflicts become translated into its cultural artifacts and sketch the political climate of Argentina in the 1970s. Subsequently, I will analyze in detail Gambaro's Information for Foreigners in order to show how she addresses the xenophobic and misogynistic discourses in Argentina's cultural imaginary displayed, but not produced, by the Dirty War (1976-83), and how she foregrounds the effectiveness of these discourses in serving the repression.

In From Ritual to Theatre, Turner described conflict in social drama as being played out in four stages or "processual forms." The first stage, that of breach, is one in which one or more social norms which have been taken for granted in a community, and which have sustained key relationships between persons, are suddenly broken or disregarded. …

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