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Casas habitadas : la representación del espacio narrativo en la novela chilena postdictatorial

Bieke Willem (UGent)
(2014)
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Abstract
The dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) was enforced by a number of repressive practices which seriously affected the social tissue. The boundaries between the public and private sphere blurred, as did the meanings that are traditionally related to this dichotomy. Arbitrary arrests and even executions in the streets were no exception. Raids, betrayal by neighbours and the conversion of family homes into clandestine detention centres were an integral part of the Pinochet regime. Both the home and the street turned into areas of risk. This work examines the way in which Chilean authors in the period after the dictatorship deal with the change in meaning of space. The research questions that guide the analysis are the following: What meanings do the authors assign to the home and the streets? Through which techniques do they represent theses spaces? Do they reveal or invert the basic structure, or do they fill in the spaces with loads of realistic details? How do the represented spaces function as a vehicle for dictatorial and postdictatorial subjects? I have searched an answer to these questions in Los vigilantes (1994) by Diamela Eltit, El palacio de la risa (1995) by Germán Marín, Nocturno de Chile (2000) by Roberto Bolaño, Av. 10 de julio Huamachuco (2007) by Nona Fernández, Bonsái (2006), La vida privada de los árboles (2007) and Formas de volver a casa (2011) by Alejandro Zambra, and Camanchaca (2009) by Diego Zúñiga. In all these novels, the house and/or the return home occupy a central position. The spatial focus fits in with an intent to offer an alternative for the “paradigm of memory”, the conceptual framework that dominates the on-going investigation on postdictatorial literature in the Southern Cone. Alegorías de la derrota: la ficción postdictatorial y el trabajo del duelo (2000) by Idelber Avelar is the reference par excellence. Following Avelars definition, a genuine postdictatorial fiction should be allegorical, non-mimetic, fragmented, experimental. It consists in recycling what has been lost in a logic of constant replacement, namely memory. In this way, this literature is presented as a reaction against the neoliberal context of the Southern Cone. Although the novels included in the corpus still carry out their mnemonic task, most of them differ from the model which was designed by Avelar. Especially in the most recent novels (by Zambra and Zúñiga), this model fails when confronted with a change in perspectives (from the collective to the intimate), in the conception of time (the recent novels revisit the past departing from the present), and of space. The aim of the study is to capture and define a change in the poetics of the most recent narrative, that of the so-called “generation of the children”, through an analysis of the representation of space. To that end, the novels of the corpus have been separated into two categories: melancholy and nostalgia. Besides two different ways to deal with the past, these categories also shed a light on the different reactions against a generalized sense of homelessness. The novels written by Eltit, Bolaño and Marín that are analysed in the first part of the thesis, can be considered as ‘melancholic’. According to the description of Avelar, these novels emphasize the loss of revolutionary ideas and the impossibility to represent that loss in literature. This is also visible in the spaces of the novels, in which homelessness prevails. The distinction between the interior and the exterior spaces disappears in the three novels. As a consequence, the myths of the home and the streets as places of protection and freedom respectively are unreachable. In Los vigilantes, a mother and her child cannot escape from the surveillance of neighbours, a mother-in-law and an invisible but omnipresent father, even inside their own house. The notions of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ turn into purely mental projections. They only function as a mirror of the melancholic soul of the protagonists. The dichotomy between inside and outside is also problematized in the novels by Marín and Bolaño, which represent a family home turned into a torture house during the dictatorship. These places are governed by the logic of the state of exception: they include what is supposed to be exceptional in society. Because of this paradoxical inclusion, they turn into miniature versions of the society that excludes. In this way, the sinister image of the house that does not offer protection functions as a metaphor for the nation in crisis. The authors of the novels included in the second part of the thesis do not develop this metaphor. Av. 10 de Julio Huamachuco, the three novels by Roberto Bolaño, and Camanchaca are built up around the motif of the return home. Since the word ‘nostalgia’ is composed of the Greek nóstos, return home, and algos, grief or longing, these novels can be considered as nostalgic. The return home implies a search for authenticity, for reclaiming space. The characters of the novels by Fernández, Zambra and Zúñiga try to achieve this by the everyday practices of living (in the sense of dwelling) and writing. The nostalgia manifests itself in the fascination for the own childhood, the importance of the ‘souvenir’, and in the critical attitude towards the Chilean neoliberal present. Nevertheless, this is an atypical nostalgia, because it also implies a critical attitude towards the past. There is a second mechanism that operates on the initial nostalgia, that of “postmemory”, the so-called memory of the second generation of children during the dictatorship. Moreover, the choice for the return to a peripheral place –a demolition area in Av. 10 de Julio Huamachuco, the suburb of Maipú in Formas de volver a casa, and the “Far North” in Camanchaca– contributes to the reinvention of nostalgia. The two aspects of this atypical nostalgia, first, the search for authenticity, and second, the critical perspective, converge in the elliptic realism by which space is represented in the novels by Fernández, Zambra and Zúñiga. On the one hand, these novels are characterized by the search for a ‘natural’ language, closely linked with everyday speech. On the other hand, Fernandez, Zambra and Zúñiga deviate from a classical realism which represents space primarily by means of detailed descriptions, reiterations and connotative elements. In contrast with the novels analysed in the first part of the thesis, however, these authors do not stress the breach between experience and representation. As a consequence, their representation of space is far more realistic (this means: recognizable, stable and apparently objective), which fits into the nostalgic mechanism of fixing, not only time, but also space. The ‘nóstos’ to which one wants to return is, in essence, a stable place in one’s memory which can be idealized. Melancholy, in contrast, deforms reality. Since space is one of the primary elements in the novel to establish a link with reality, in melancholic novels it is less stable, and even disturbing. The proximity of the familiar (family homes) and the strange (torture) makes the uncanny a key concept to understand the representation of space in the novels by Eltit, Marín and Bolaño. In Los vigilantes, melancholy transforms the interior and exterior spaces in a surreal landscape where the reader loses grip. This is also the case of the exterior spaces in Nocturno de Chile, but the interior spaces are represented in an abstract, almost cubistic way, on the basis of some architectural principles like superposition and enfilade. Marín’s novel seems to form an exception in the corpus of the first part of the thesis, because the narrator first intends to offer a realistic description of the torture house annex family home. At the end of the novel, however, this verbal restoration collapses, due to the overload of contradictory information and details. Like in Eltit’s and Bolaño’s novels, what remains is a great void, a ruin where the traces of the recent past are very difficult to find. Whereas the characters of the ‘melancholic’ novels limit themselves to contemplate perplexed this empty space, those of the ‘nostalgic’ novels try their best to make it inhabitable again. Nevertheless, emptiness still forms an essential part of the most recent literature, either as a physical phenomenon (empty neighbourhoods, empty streets, the desert) or in language itself (where it takes the form of the ellipsis.
Keywords
melancolía, nostalgia, espacio narrativo, literatura chilena, postdictadura

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Citation

Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:

MLA
Willem, Bieke. Casas Habitadas : La Representación Del Espacio Narrativo En La Novela Chilena Postdictatorial. Ghent University. Faculty of Arts and Philosophy, 2014.
APA
Willem, B. (2014). Casas habitadas : la representación del espacio narrativo en la novela chilena postdictatorial. Ghent University. Faculty of Arts and Philosophy, Ghent, Belgium.
Chicago author-date
Willem, Bieke. 2014. “Casas Habitadas : La Representación Del Espacio Narrativo En La Novela Chilena Postdictatorial.” Ghent, Belgium: Ghent University. Faculty of Arts and Philosophy.
Chicago author-date (all authors)
Willem, Bieke. 2014. “Casas Habitadas : La Representación Del Espacio Narrativo En La Novela Chilena Postdictatorial.” Ghent, Belgium: Ghent University. Faculty of Arts and Philosophy.
Vancouver
1.
Willem B. Casas habitadas : la representación del espacio narrativo en la novela chilena postdictatorial. [Ghent, Belgium]: Ghent University. Faculty of Arts and Philosophy; 2014.
IEEE
[1]
B. Willem, “Casas habitadas : la representación del espacio narrativo en la novela chilena postdictatorial,” Ghent University. Faculty of Arts and Philosophy, Ghent, Belgium, 2014.
@phdthesis{4417506,
  abstract     = {The dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) was enforced by a number of repressive practices which seriously affected the social tissue. The boundaries between the public and private sphere blurred, as did the meanings that are traditionally related to this dichotomy. Arbitrary arrests and even executions in the streets were no exception. Raids, betrayal by neighbours and the conversion of family homes into clandestine detention centres were an integral part of the Pinochet regime. Both the home and the street turned into areas  of risk. 
This work examines the way in which Chilean authors in the period after the dictatorship deal with the change in meaning of space. The research questions that guide the analysis are the following: What meanings do the authors assign to the home and the streets? Through which techniques do they represent theses spaces? Do they reveal or invert the basic structure, or do they fill in the spaces with loads of realistic details? How do the represented spaces function as a vehicle for dictatorial and postdictatorial subjects? I have searched an answer to these questions in Los vigilantes (1994) by Diamela Eltit, El palacio de la risa (1995) by Germán Marín, Nocturno de Chile (2000) by Roberto Bolaño, Av. 10 de julio Huamachuco (2007) by Nona Fernández, Bonsái (2006), La vida privada de los árboles (2007) and Formas de volver a casa (2011) by Alejandro Zambra, and Camanchaca (2009) by Diego Zúñiga. In all these novels, the house and/or the return home occupy a central position.
The spatial focus fits in with an intent to offer an alternative for the “paradigm of memory”, the conceptual framework that dominates the on-going investigation on postdictatorial literature in the Southern Cone. Alegorías de la derrota: la ficción postdictatorial y el trabajo del duelo (2000) by Idelber Avelar is the reference par excellence. Following Avelars definition, a genuine postdictatorial fiction should be allegorical, non-mimetic, fragmented, experimental. It consists in recycling what has been lost in a logic of constant replacement, namely memory. In this way, this literature is presented as a reaction against the neoliberal context of the Southern Cone. 
Although the novels included in the corpus still carry out their mnemonic task, most of them differ from the model which was designed by Avelar. Especially in the most recent novels (by Zambra and Zúñiga), this model fails when confronted with a change in perspectives (from the collective to the intimate), in the conception of time (the recent novels revisit the past departing from the present), and of space. The aim of the study is to capture and define a change in the poetics of the most recent narrative, that of the so-called “generation of the children”, through an analysis of the representation of space. To that end, the novels of the corpus have been separated into two categories: melancholy and nostalgia. Besides two different ways to deal with the past, these categories also shed a light on the different reactions against a generalized sense of homelessness.  
The novels written by Eltit, Bolaño and Marín that are analysed in the first part of the thesis, can be considered as ‘melancholic’. According to the description of Avelar, these novels emphasize the loss of revolutionary ideas and the impossibility to represent that loss in literature. This is also visible in the spaces of the novels, in which homelessness prevails. The distinction between the interior and the exterior spaces disappears in the three novels. As a consequence, the myths of the home and the streets as places of protection and freedom respectively are unreachable. In Los vigilantes, a mother and her child cannot escape from the surveillance of neighbours, a mother-in-law and an invisible but omnipresent father, even inside their own house. The notions of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ turn into purely mental projections. They only function as a mirror of the melancholic soul of the protagonists. The dichotomy between inside and outside is also problematized in the novels by Marín and Bolaño, which represent a family home turned into a torture house during the dictatorship. These places are governed by the logic of the state of exception: they include what is supposed to be exceptional in society. Because of this paradoxical inclusion, they turn into miniature versions of the society that excludes. In this way, the sinister image of the house that does not offer protection functions as a metaphor for the nation in crisis.  
The authors of the novels included in the second part of the thesis do not develop this metaphor. Av. 10 de Julio Huamachuco, the three novels by Roberto Bolaño, and Camanchaca are built up around the motif of the return home. Since the word ‘nostalgia’ is composed of the Greek nóstos, return home, and algos, grief or longing, these novels can be considered as nostalgic. The return home implies a search for authenticity, for reclaiming space. The characters of the novels by Fernández, Zambra and Zúñiga try to achieve this by the everyday practices of living (in the sense of dwelling) and writing. The nostalgia manifests itself in the fascination for the own childhood, the importance of the ‘souvenir’, and in the critical attitude towards the Chilean neoliberal present. Nevertheless, this is an atypical nostalgia, because it also implies a critical attitude towards the past. There is a second mechanism that operates on the initial nostalgia, that of “postmemory”, the so-called memory of the second generation of children during the dictatorship. Moreover, the choice for the return to a peripheral place –a demolition area in Av. 10 de Julio Huamachuco, the suburb of Maipú in Formas de volver a casa, and the “Far North” in Camanchaca– contributes to the reinvention of nostalgia. 
The two aspects of this atypical nostalgia, first, the search for authenticity, and second, the critical perspective, converge in the elliptic realism by which space is represented in the novels by Fernández, Zambra and Zúñiga. On the one hand, these novels are characterized by the search for a ‘natural’ language, closely linked with everyday speech. On the other hand, Fernandez, Zambra and Zúñiga deviate from a classical realism which represents space primarily by means of detailed descriptions, reiterations and connotative elements. In contrast with the novels analysed in the first part of the thesis, however, these authors do not stress the breach between experience and representation. As a consequence, their representation of space is far more realistic (this means: recognizable, stable and apparently objective), which fits into the nostalgic mechanism of fixing, not only time, but also space. The ‘nóstos’ to which one wants to return is, in essence, a stable place in one’s memory which can be idealized.   
Melancholy, in contrast, deforms reality. Since space is one of the primary elements in the novel to establish a link with reality, in melancholic novels it is less stable, and even disturbing. The proximity of the familiar (family homes) and the strange (torture) makes the uncanny a key concept to understand the representation of space in the novels by Eltit, Marín and Bolaño. In Los vigilantes, melancholy transforms the interior and exterior spaces in a surreal landscape where the reader loses grip. This is also the case of the exterior spaces in Nocturno de Chile, but the interior spaces are represented in an abstract, almost cubistic way, on the basis of some architectural principles like superposition and enfilade. Marín’s novel seems to form an exception in the corpus of the first part of the thesis, because the narrator first intends to offer a realistic description of the torture house annex family home. At the end of the novel, however, this verbal restoration collapses, due to the overload of contradictory information and details. Like in Eltit’s and Bolaño’s novels, what remains is a great void, a ruin where the traces of the recent past are very difficult to find. Whereas the characters of the ‘melancholic’ novels limit themselves to contemplate perplexed this empty space, those of the ‘nostalgic’ novels try their best to make it inhabitable again. Nevertheless, emptiness still forms an essential part of the most recent literature, either as a physical phenomenon (empty neighbourhoods, empty streets, the desert) or in language itself (where it takes the form of the ellipsis.},
  author       = {Willem, Bieke},
  keywords     = {melancolía,nostalgia,espacio narrativo,literatura chilena,postdictadura},
  language     = {spa},
  pages        = {X, 373},
  publisher    = {Ghent University. Faculty of Arts and Philosophy},
  school       = {Ghent University},
  title        = {Casas habitadas : la representación del espacio narrativo en la novela chilena postdictatorial},
  year         = {2014},
}