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Arrested History: War and the Social Pact in Contemporary Latin American Culture

  • Author(s): Lopez Malagamba, Flor Ivett
  • Advisor(s): Brizuela, Natalia
  • et al.
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This dissertation examines visual and literary representations of war in Latin American culture. It analyzes aesthetic practices that bring war into visibility by emphasizing an absence of violence. More than illustrating the actual conflict, I argue that Paz Encina’s film Hamaca paraguaya, Juan Travnik’s photographic exhibition and essay Malvinas: retratos y paisajes de guerra, Evelio Rosero’s novel Los ejércitos, William Vega’s film La sirga, and Juan Manuel Echavarría’s documentary Requiem NN underscore t what remains after. In these cultural objects, a disjointed, non-linear, or interrupted time makes visible the echoes of war as a presence that haunts the quotidian experience. Emphasizing the invisibility of war and its aftermath, literature, film, and photography allows an exploration of the experience of the subject who suffers the war. Insisting on the impact of war in the day-to-day uneventful experience, I propose that these works expose the act of war’s temporal interruption; they direct our view to the interruption of life, manifested as death and suffering, and History manifested in the arrest in linear time.

Chapter 1 introduces the critical framework through which I bring these works together. This dissertation contributes first and foremost to the study of war and cultural production within the Latin American context. The chapter addresses the challenges of representation when confronted with the subject of war. Regarding this subject, representability is no longer confined to telling the who, when, and why of war. Rather, these visual and literary representations show the exclusion and marginalization of specific subjects from the social and political contract that war, as an instrument of politics, establishes and guarantees. Analyzing these contemporary returns to war is less about the history of the conflict and more about the urgency of indirect representation, as non-spectacularizing aesthetics, to expose the senselessness inherent in armed conflict.

Chapter 2 focuses on Paz Encina’s Hamaca paraguaya (2006) a film dealing with the Chaco War (1932-1935) between Paraguay and Bolivia. Composed mainly of long-duration shots, filmed in real time from a motionless camera, and asynchronous sound, Encina’s experimental film points to a historical layering that challenges the teleology associated with monumentalized depictions of war. Trapped in a time of waiting, the protagonists inhabit a war that remains out of the frame. An asynchronous aural and visual montage creates an ambiguity critical for the film’s social and political commentary, where the story of two parents becomes a representation of a national History that repeats itself over and over.

Chapter 3 analyzes Juan Travnik’s Malvinas: paisajes y retratos de guerra (2008), a photographical essay featuring ex-combatants of the Malvinas War (April 2-June 14, 1982) and the landscapes of the Malvinas Islands. Travnik’s photographs contain no direct references to the conflict. The portraits focus on ex-combatants as civilians in their postwar lives. The chapter explores the contradictions of la causa justa, the narrative justifying the war and argues that Travnik’s austere photographs undo the invisibility that ex-combatants experienced in the postwar era. The photographs extract them from the infantilized stereotype to which they were confined. The landscapes complement this critique. Rather than the history of the nation—Malvinas as an Argentine territory—, Travnik’s islands convey the ruins of a truncated national project.

Chapter 4 looks at film and literary representations of el conflicto armado interno in Colombia. The conflict started as a struggle between liberal and conservative factions and, over the last decades, evolved into a war where not only political ideologies were contested, but also at stake was the control of a lucrative illegal drug economy. Juan Manuel Echavarría’s Requiem NN (2013), William Vega’s La sirga (2012), and Evelio Rosero’s Los ejércitos (2006) represent the war as a struggle between official and unofficial armies. All three feature protagonists directly affected by a war that permeates the quotidian experience. The chapter complicates the idea of representability in the context of Colombia. Echavarría, Vega, and Rosero, I argue, opt for an aesthetics that brings into crisis notions of visibility, ultimately underscoring the perpetuity of war in everyday life.

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This item is under embargo until November 7, 2021.