This dissertation examines how a set of postmodern contemporary novels by women, queer, and writers of color in North and South America reframe the parameters of narrative empathy in order to revise what constitutes as an ethical human rights novel. This project is part of a growing scholarly discourse connecting the evolution of the novel in the Americas with changing conceptions of human rights as connected to racial, ethnic, and gender identity in the Americas. The writers discussed reconfigure the relationship between reader and victim within the human rights narrative genre. This reconfiguration is founded on a critical reconstruction of the problematic use of sentimental empathy in the nineteenth-century rights novel. This chapter exposes the dangers of narrative voyeurism masking itself as empathy and instead points to an empathy devoid of identification through bodily suffering.

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Permissions : This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3. Please contact mpub-help umich. For more information, read Michigan Publishing's access and usage policy. A literal scream, after all, is both audible and legible to those who indeed respond. Yet, within the testimonio debates of postwar Guatemala, the first-person immediacy of tengo que gritarlo takes on layered, figurative meanings which are not as easily—as literally—legible as one might assume from their generic context: that of historical witnessing, or testimonio.

Since then, the genre has come to be associated with human rights politics and their epistemological frameworks, the objective of which is to secure the legal recognition of past atrocities committed by abusive governments across Latin America, including genocide in Guatemala. Like legal testimony, testimonio is not a genre that accepts the intrusion of figurative language readily—before the law, a scream must be a literal scream, a horror of historical fact.

John Beverley, the first U. Regarding the literary quality of this genre, he remains undecided. Toward where might readers and witnesses start moving? This practice does not rely upon the epistemological and temporal closure that Beverley proposes, wishing to discard testimonio as now impertinent.

While these politics are critical to indicting perpetrators and securing legal justice, their practice of witnessing is limited by a call for closure that complies with neoliberal logic.

Many postwar governments eager to implement neoliberal economic policies including unregulated enterprise and privatized social services, for example, justify amnesty and impunity upon the same premise that epistemological and temporal closure is necessary to political development.

For neoliberalism, such closure facilitates historical oblivion, not memory. For them, literature understood strictly as a historical institution does not account for the multimedia forms of witnessing that testimonio now includes. While these scholars do take seriously the additional forms that testimonio has taken, redefining its literariness to include multimedia art, none of them consider the radical implications of these redefinitions.

I maintain that accounting for literature as a multimedia logic inherent to all language, including the verbal and the visual, reveals interruptive understandings of truth and temporality, as well as history and politics.

Literature, according to Jacques Derrida, does not belong to an exclusionary institution but to logics of figuration and iteration that continually open meaning, as well as historical and political relevance. Such power inheres not just in fiction but in all language as a system of figures, or what Derrida also calls traces and marks, that are never literal insofar as they never settle on a single definition or absolute context.

A mark must be a repeatable mark in order to be legible at all, continually moving onto new contexts of reading and writing and, in doing so, also undergoing interpretive change. Nobody writes, reads, or witnesses in exactly the same way, which makes every mark so dynamic as to overflow its own meaning, become a metaphor of itself. Rather than partake of progressive movement within the context of historical witnessing, this logic renders all truth necessarily open to repeating itself and, in doing so, also differing from itself.

Accordingly, truth is never simply provable, and the past is never entirely past. Interrupting human rights politics and neoliberalism with representations of violence that cannot be remembered or forgotten absolutely, this literary iteration of testimonio instead demands to be read and re-read, witnessed and re-witnessed.

Screaming, as trope, throws into question the boundaries of testimonio, demanding that we re-open firm generic and institutional definitions in order to consider testimonio , again. He is overwhelmed from the very beginning, but not simply from the workload. Though this editor was not a firsthand victim of violence, he often identifies with witnesses so closely that he even relives their memories with them. Noting it to be grammatically incorrect, and thus illegible in a literal sense, he understands such illegibility as itself testimonial.

Though the Guatemalan state signed peace accords ending civil war in , he recognizes racial and political violence as still ongoing and, as such, still worthy of witnessing by screaming horror.

The richness of this testimonial language inheres in its literary qualities, not literal meanings. The more the editor reads and re-reads the testimonies, the more layered and varied their meanings become. Within Insensatez , such senselessness takes on manifold significance.

The sound of screaming, at least as recounted by Teresa and re-imagined by the editor, is the sound of life before and after death. Originally emitted by the torture victim upon his castration, such screaming marks the final moments of his life, as well as that which survives him: his memory. This figure, now literary, overflows with layered and varied meanings. Eventually, the editor even emits his own scream, or howl, which Castellanos Moya likewise figures beyond the limits of verbal language and literal sense.

Fearful that his involvement with ODHA has put his own life in danger amid ongoing violence within postwar Guatemala, the editor flees the city for a rural retreat center, where he hopes to ease the anxiety that has heightened while reading the testimonies. Humans must live to tell, but such telling is always incomplete because one can only bear witness to death if one does not, in fact, experience it.

This logic of survival situates truth beyond epistemological and temporal closure. Pointing out how survivors only can testify to events that they did not fully experience and, as a result, might indeed recount erroneously, he states,. The possibility of literary fiction haunts so-called truthful, responsible, serious, real testimony as its proper possibility. The testimony testifies to nothing less than the instant of an interruption of time and history, a second of interruption in which fiction and testimony find their common resource.

It testifies, in other words, to an interruption that simultaneously founds and incompletes time, history, and the possibility of witnessing. This madness is the constitutive possibility of literary fiction, which legal trials and associated human rights politics nevertheless put to the impossible test of provability. By the time we get to the scene in which the editor himself howls like a sick animal, however, most readers of Insensatez have given up on him as a reliable narrator and witness, instead considering him to be a paranoid drunk.

Because Teresa and the editor do not situate memories of violence as indeed past, for example, their iterative screaming continually interrupts human rights politics, exposing the impossibility of epistemological or temporal closure. In addition to recognizing testimonio as a genre structured by survival, and thus the impossibility of literal legibility, he understands screaming as an interruptive figure demanding more literary interpretations.

In this instance, screaming stands in for language while also signifying beyond it. Because this truth exceeds epistemological frameworks for truth, however, the sergeant fails to witness it as such. Throughout Insensatez , the editor critiques military leaders, leftist leaders, and human rights activists alike for failing to witness violence in an interruptive and politically relevant way.

In this sense, he exhibits an unwavering belief in provable truth and linear history that his own work ends up undermining or, more specifically, that his own photos of screaming angels end up interrupting.

Additionally, his angel-witnesses show seemingly non-literary modes of testimonio , such as photography, to be likewise iterative, overflowing with varied meanings. On the contrary, he saw it as proof of the Guatemalan genocide that would prove the past in related legal trials, thereby enabling historical progress. Indeed, it would replace amnesia with mourning, and impunity with justice.

I made it because ODHA, with its reporting about the [human rights] violations was going to break the silence] Palabra. Instead, they resignify such screaming as silently shocking, iterative, and interruptive. Yet, instead of simply shutting up, these Guatemalan protestors were publicly refusing to cover their eyes, ears, and mouths.

Yet what, exactly, might the screaming make known this time: Yes, there was a murder? Yes, there is still impunity for genocide and other human rights violations? Never again, again? Indeed, he had to follow, as well as create, another series of screams. Todo queda impune. They peel away like pages in a book.

Everything remains unpunished. I must scream it] So that 1. Some sites immediately recognized and removed the denunciatory angel.

It was better to leave it a little ambiguous so that it would be more mysterious and interrogative for people] Palabra. In doing so, he also foregrounds the literariness of such photography, inadvertently suggesting it to be testimonio that resists epistemological and temporal closure.

For Benjamin, such cessation of happening is both messianic and revolutionary because it includes the past, present, and future all at once: compressed into a monad that challenges the very advancement of time, as well as the political movements either ruthlessly enforcing or more benevolently advocating it.

Indeed, they had to wait and contemplate these images just enough to experience a defamiliarizing retake, for they were once again being faced by the very angel that originally meant to end violence in Guatemala.

Rejecting history that is written in the name of progress, Benjamin instead proposes one that is experienced as shock. Such a ruling would have been the first domestic conviction of a former Latin American dictator but, in a regressive change of events, Guatemala thereafter began debating whether genocide happened at all.

This politic, as I have been arguing throughout my reconsideration of testimonio , acknowledges truth as literary and, as such, subject to figuration and iteration. It is Again. Never, Again. While human rights politics continue appealing to the very institutions that refuse to verify their truths, screaming as witnessing foregrounds a testimonio that instead appeals to not deciding: not deciding on truth as provable, time as progressive, nor the testimonio genre as obsolete.

This trial marked the first time that members of the Guatemalan military were tried in a civilian court. Skip to main content Skip to quick search Skip to global navigation. Quick search:. Editors Submissions. Home About Search Browse. Volume 10 , Creative Commons 3. Pointing out how survivors only can testify to events that they did not fully experience and, as a result, might indeed recount erroneously, he states, The possibility of literary fiction haunts so-called truthful, responsible, serious, real testimony as its proper possibility.

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Permissions : This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3. Please contact mpub-help umich. For more information, read Michigan Publishing's access and usage policy. A literal scream, after all, is both audible and legible to those who indeed respond.


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Senselessness is the English translation of the novel Insensatez , originally written in Spanish by Salvadoran writer Horacio Castellanos Moya. A sex-obsessed lush of a writer is employed by the Catholic Church to edit and tidy up a 1, page report on the army's massacre and torture of the indigenous villagers a decade earlier. The writer becomes mesmerized by the poetic phrases written by the indigenous people and becomes increasingly paranoid and frightened, not only by the spellbinding words he must read, but also by the murders and generals that run his country. The country, never named, is identifiable as Guatemala through the mention of two presidents, Vinicio Cerezo Arevalo and Efrain Rios Montt. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Categories : novels Spanish-language novels Salvadoran literature Novels set in Guatemala. Hidden categories: All articles with dead external links Articles with dead external links from May Articles with permanently dead external links.

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