Impure Memory, Imperfect Justice: A Comparison of Post-Repression Fiction Across the South Atlantic
Kaminsky, Norma G.
MetadataShow full item record
This dissertation examines literary representations of—and interventions in—the conflicts between memory, justice, and national reconciliation after authoritarian regimes. I compare fiction written during the democratic transitions following apartheid in South Africa and the military dictatorships in Chile and Argentina in the late 20th century. In my analysis, I consider not only how post-dictatorship fiction approaches historically traumatic events, but also what these novels contribute, both to collective memory and to our understanding of the individual and social dimensions of settling accounts with traumatic recent pasts. The novels studied in depth are: Tony Eprile's The Persistence of Memory (South Africa, 2004), Gillian Slovo's Red Dust (South Africa, 2000), María Teresa Andruetto's Lengua madre (Argentina, 2010), Patricio Pron's El espíritu de mis padres sigue subiendo en la lluvia (Argentina, 2011), and Carlos Franz's El desierto (Chile, 2005). My analysis is developed within two complementary theoretical frameworks: collective memory (especially by Maurice Halbwachs and Pierre Nora), and human rights and their intersections with literature (by Andreas Huyssen, Joseph Slaughter, and Sophia McClennen, among others). Thus, my study investigates the relationships between history, memory, and literature from an ethical perspective provided by human rights studies. The questions I contemplate include how narratives address the tensions between history, memory, and truth; the political and aesthetic uses of memory and forgetting in post-authoritarian societies; truth commissions and their representations in literature; the response of younger generations to a traumatic past not personally experienced, but that nevertheless affects them; and how fictional literature contests the politics of amnesia and amnesty embedded in the discourses and acts of national reconciliation in South America and South Africa. I argue that literature of post-authoritarian societies has assumed responsibility for remembering history in order to prevent the repetition of atrocities, and that fiction writers take the liberty and the responsibility to question the discourses pronounced by official entities and reproduced by the media. This probing attitude gives voice to those who are silent (or have been silenced) in society and in government, and nudges the memory and the conscience of others. They also are eloquent examples of the interweaving of fictional text and historical context. The analysis of these research questions shows that, while the South African and Southern Cone post-authoritarian societies are all (still) concerned with issues of memory, truth, justice, and reconciliation, they place different emphasis on each of these issues. These differences, manifest in both the content and form of their fiction, correspond to each country's distinct historical and cultural context. Taking into consideration the similarities and peculiarities of these geographical histories, this comparison of novels corroborates and adds nuance to my hypothesis that fiction offers a possibility of reclaiming memory and challenging the official discourse that champions reconciliation at the expense of memory and justice.