Trauma and Trauma Discourse: Peruvian Fiction after the CVR

By Dickson, Kent | Chasqui, May 2013 | Go to article overview

Trauma and Trauma Discourse: Peruvian Fiction after the CVR


Dickson, Kent, Chasqui


Violence and the Novel

Since the rail of the Fujimori government, and particularly since 2003 when the Comision de la Verdad y Reconciliacion (CVR) issued its final report, journalists, human rights workers, and academics have amply documented atrocities committed by the Peruvian military during the so-called internal war against the Sendero Luminoso guerrilla group. Fiction writers and other artists have also taken up the theme in a big way. By contrast, during the quarter century preceding the CVR, a marginal (or perhaps marginalized) trickle of stories and novels on the topic appeared, many of them linked to neoindigenismo and to the literary left. (1) While some did feature main characters who suffer torture and assassination at the hands of the "fuerzas del orden," as a whole this literature did not bring a sustained indictment against the government for human rights abuses. Mainstream novels that treated the war, such as Mario Vargas Llosa' s 1993 Lituma en los Andes, tended to focus attention (as did much of the press coverage of the period) on the monstrous nature of Sendero Luminoso, largely giving the military a pass. (2) In recent years, however, the trend has been reversed. Several popular, critically acclaimed novels have taken up the theme of government crimes, as well as those committed by Sendero, in a way that explicitly adopts the paradigm of traumatization on which the CVR partially depended. These include Alonso Cueto's La hora azul (2005), winner of the Premio Herralde de Novela; Santiago Roncagliolo's Abril rojo (2006), winner of the Premio Alfaguara de Novela, and his novelized chronicle of Abimael Guzman and the Sendero Luminoso, La cuarta espada (2007); the English-language Lost City, Radio (2007) by Daniel Alarcon, published in Spanish by Alfaguara in 2008 (as well as the titular story of Alarcon's 2005 debut collection War by Candlelight); and Un lugar llamado oreja de perro (2008) by Ivan Thays. The 2008 graphic novel Rupay and its 2010 continuation Barbarie present a visual history of the war's first years based on photojournalistic images. Like the other works mentioned, these assume a traumatized Peruvian society, though unlike them, they depend much more explicitly on the discourse of memory already well-developed in other Latin American contexts. All of these works belong to the strand of Peruvian fiction known as the novela criolla (as against the novela andina), whose space of enunciation is urban, (post)modern and Hispanic.

As a group, these works chronicle the emergence of trauma into linguistic representation, and indeed into history itself, after a period of latency in which it might best be conceived as a series of inassimilable private wounds. Contrasting with earlier works, these stories "hablan de la necesidad de darle historia, con nombres y apellidos, datos y fechas, a un momento violento en la historia peruana que aun no se resuelve" (Estrada 142). While earlier works of fiction "wrote violence," describing the events and their immediate consequences, these new works "write trauma" by describing the return of traumatic experience, thus contributing to a literary "working through" of the violent past from the position of a post-traumatic present. As one would expect, trauma-related themes figure prominently in them, including linguistic aporia, flashbacks, witness testimony and its hearing, trauma's "contagion" and intergenerational transmission, and finally images of ghostly haunting by the dead and disappeared. The plots of several of these works are structured, furthermore, on different kinds of return of reemergence mirroring the "literal" return of traumatic experience that theoretical formulations of trauma such as that of Cathy Caruth emphasize. It therefore makes sense to consider them as performative attempts at "acting out, working over, and to some extent working through in analyzing and 'giving voice' to the past," as Dominic LaCapra might say, or more directly, as attempts to "write trauma" (186). …

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