Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Richards and Testimonio

               In the first chapter of La insubordinación de los signos : cambio político, transformaciones culturales y poéticas de la crisis, Nelly Richards includes a short discussion on the genre of testimonio in the context of Latin American culture and politics.  She describes testimonio as “un formato privilegiado” that serves to textualize the life stories and biographical information of the marginalized through the institutionalization and subjectivization of their narratives (27).  She goes on to describe in what ways this “formato privilegiado” functions within the Chilean period of memory and identity reconstruction after dictatorship, and mentions how the “exponentes” of testimoio “acapararon la atencion de la sociología chilena” (28).  Richards questions the privileged space in which testimonio is situated.  Any textual position of privilege, especially in such a transitory environment, is ripe for suspicion, and it seems that Richards is skeptical as to the function that these testimonios serve within the reconstruction period.  It is clear that they monopolize intellectual conversation, but in what ways are these testimonios shaping memory and identity?  What is being lost or pushed aside during this period of testimonio fascination?  Why is this compulsion towards testimonio so forceful?  Richards describes how testimonio factors into the “paradigma comunitario de la denuncia” during this period, but at the same time emphasizes the fact that this communal viewpoint is “resquebrajado” or cracked / split / fractured (28).  Overall, the larger genre of testimonio that she describes becomes a polemical machinery within Chilean culture, manipulated for political and nationalistic purposes, while simultaneously interjecting national consciousness with a chorus of new voices.  Richards goes on to position other texts, which are at the fringes of testimonio, in opposition to this “paradigma comunitario de la denuncia” and describes Diamela Eltit’s El padre mío and Claudia Donoso and Paz Errázuriz’s La manzana de Adán as subversive to political and nationalistic purposes (28).  According to Richards, the lack of property and identity of the subjects of these texts—who are “extremadamente variables y móviles” with their constantly changing names, clothing and sex—destabilize identity and the function of testimonio. 


  1. I'm intrigued by what you call "the fringes of testimonio." This idea that bringing certain testimonios to the spotlight is marginalizing other texts that are deemed political subversive.

  2. The issue of "privilege" as it relates to the subaltern is something I've been wrestling with as I've been working through these texts. Who gets to be the subaltern? Who can't? Who speaks for them? Who gets to speak as the subaltern and if they speak does that privilege automatically make them not the subaltern? There is something unique about testimonio and how it's used within a privileged space. I wonder if it's fragmented nature in Richard's text complicates that privilege.