The multiplicity of layers in Respiración artificial and the intertwining of basically a novel within a novel—historias intertwined with historias—really lends Piglia’s text to an interesting critique of a socio-political event, but also what I would consider to be a critical literary engagement with the cultural phenomenon of hybridity. Piglia writes his novel at an important moment in Latin American history: the Dirty Wars in Argentina.
While Piglia does not mention the Dirty Wars at all in the text, I believe it is an important context that I informs the form and plot of his novel. During this period in Argentina, the country was ruled by a ring-wing military junta that contributed to the disappearance of tens of thousands of Argentine left-wing activists, unionists, students, Marxists, homosexuals, and everyone else caught in the crossfire. It was a time when Argentina endured government-sanctioned physical and sexual violence amidst these systematic violent disappearances. The Argentine subject is caught in these unnamed, in-between places that no one can identify or locate.
We are presented with a story about a man named Renzi who leaves Buenos Aires to search for his long lost uncle, Maggi, in a rural village called Entre Ríos. Even the name of the village suggests a site that is betwixt and between, not really named, but located in some third space. Hoping to uncover the truth about his uncle, who is rumored to be a traitor, Renzi embarks on this journey that really has no real direction. Even with just this very summarized description of the novel, we locate Piglia’s text within the larger context of what is going on in Argentina with the Dirty Wars. Renzi never locates Maggi, so has Maggi become one of the disappeared subjects?
There is so much going with the text and it is almost difficult to follow at times, but I feel like that uncertainty, these spaces of intertwined stories within stories produce a space of where the disappeared reside. Thinking back to Richard’s fragmentation, I read Piglia through the same lens of piecing together what is known and what is told in order to find something between the lines, between the plots, etc. Cultural hybridity emphasizes this piecing together of fragments. The cover image of the book is brilliant with this motif of the fragments. Thus where do we locate the disappeared subjects then? Can they ever be spoken for? I am reminded of the Latin American tradition of ¡Presente!, a litany that has special resonance for the human rights struggle that calls the disappeared to forefront. I wonder if Piglia’s text is one loud cry of, “¡Presente!”