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Making Historical Memory Matter: Resignifying 9/11 Through Allende and Dorfman

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Abstract:

Many commentators describe the uncanny coincidence of Chile’s military coup on September 11, 1973 and the terrorist attack in New York exactly twenty-eight years later on September 11, 2001. Two Chilean commentators, bestselling novelist Isabel Allende and literary scholar and playwright Ariel Dorfman, repeatedly made the controversial point in public arenas that this coincidence was a form of historical karma. What these public intellectuals have in common, besides their country of origin, is their effort to wrestle US national consciousness from the throes of historical amnesia about its role in Chile’s military takeover and the subsequent large-scale violence. Moreover, both discuss how US nationalism works to exclude the immigrant experience, not only through contemporary immigration policy at the structural level, but also through the lack of accountability in Central and South American dictatorships, which continues to haunt the lives of hundreds and thousands of Latin Americans. I contend that Allende and Dorfman are interested in democratizing historical memory within the U.S. public, with different strategies and to different effect, and sometimes falling prey to conservative discourses about immigration. In this paper, I show how Isabel Allende (especially through My Invented Country (2003)) and Ariel Dorfman (especially through newspaper commentaries) attempt to rupture the historical amnesia of US policy in Chile redefining the terms of political democracy in the nation by looking at history. My Invented Country (2003) communicates Allende’s memories and perspectives on Chile’s national experience of social protest, mass movement, and later, the tragic military coup and subsequent human rights abuses. She also points adamantly to the US role in the military coup and its subsequent public erasure. An ethnographic focus on Allende’s public appearances, persona, and high profile circulation within such venues as Border Books will add depth to my arguments and analysis. I ask: How does Allende render the Chilean traumatic past? What are the politics and agenda that guide her notion of Chile, and, more generally Latin America? How is she configured within the U.S. mainstream? Is she ultimately able to use the project of recuperating historical amnesia to produce intersubjective identification with other Latin@ populations and movements? Similarly, for several decades Ariel Dorfman has produced books and articles that have continued to make the issue of U.S. involvement in the Chilean dictatorship central to his intellectual work. I will analyze some the public intellectual work that has appeared in mainstream US newspapers. How do these efforts to remember and represent Chile’s history in the US provide opportunities for ‘democracy’ in the US public arena? What are the limits to using this experience as a connecting point for Latin@ communities?

QUALIFICATIONS: Assistant Professor, American Studies and Ethnicity, Sociology, University of Southern California.

PUBLICATIONS:
Gómez-Barris, Macarena. 2008. Where Memory Dwells: Democracy, Representation, and the Afterlife of State Violence in Chile (forthcoming, University of California Press)

Peer-Reviewed Articles
Gómez-Barris, Macarena and Herman Gray. 2006. “Michael Jackson and Post-Op Disasters: Straddling Race, Sexuality and the Nuclear Family,” Television and New Media, February, 7:1, pp. 40-51.

Gómez-Barris, Macarena. 2005. “Two 9/11s in a Lifetime: Chilean Displacement, Art
and Terror,” Latino Studies, March, 3, pp. 97-112.
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MLA Citation:

Gomez-Barris, Macarena. "Making Historical Memory Matter: Resignifying 9/11 Through Allende and Dorfman" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The American Studies Association, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia, PA, Oct 11, 2007 <Not Available>. 2013-12-15 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p186168_index.html>

APA Citation:

Gomez-Barris, M. , 2007-10-11 "Making Historical Memory Matter: Resignifying 9/11 Through Allende and Dorfman" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The American Studies Association, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia, PA <Not Available>. 2013-12-15 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p186168_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Abstract: Many commentators describe the uncanny coincidence of Chile’s military coup on September 11, 1973 and the terrorist attack in New York exactly twenty-eight years later on September 11, 2001. Two Chilean commentators, bestselling novelist Isabel Allende and literary scholar and playwright Ariel Dorfman, repeatedly made the controversial point in public arenas that this coincidence was a form of historical karma. What these public intellectuals have in common, besides their country of origin, is their effort to wrestle US national consciousness from the throes of historical amnesia about its role in Chile’s military takeover and the subsequent large-scale violence. Moreover, both discuss how US nationalism works to exclude the immigrant experience, not only through contemporary immigration policy at the structural level, but also through the lack of accountability in Central and South American dictatorships, which continues to haunt the lives of hundreds and thousands of Latin Americans. I contend that Allende and Dorfman are interested in democratizing historical memory within the U.S. public, with different strategies and to different effect, and sometimes falling prey to conservative discourses about immigration. In this paper, I show how Isabel Allende (especially through My Invented Country (2003)) and Ariel Dorfman (especially through newspaper commentaries) attempt to rupture the historical amnesia of US policy in Chile redefining the terms of political democracy in the nation by looking at history. My Invented Country (2003) communicates Allende’s memories and perspectives on Chile’s national experience of social protest, mass movement, and later, the tragic military coup and subsequent human rights abuses. She also points adamantly to the US role in the military coup and its subsequent public erasure. An ethnographic focus on Allende’s public appearances, persona, and high profile circulation within such venues as Border Books will add depth to my arguments and analysis. I ask: How does Allende render the Chilean traumatic past? What are the politics and agenda that guide her notion of Chile, and, more generally Latin America? How is she configured within the U.S. mainstream? Is she ultimately able to use the project of recuperating historical amnesia to produce intersubjective identification with other Latin@ populations and movements? Similarly, for several decades Ariel Dorfman has produced books and articles that have continued to make the issue of U.S. involvement in the Chilean dictatorship central to his intellectual work. I will analyze some the public intellectual work that has appeared in mainstream US newspapers. How do these efforts to remember and represent Chile’s history in the US provide opportunities for ‘democracy’ in the US public arena? What are the limits to using this experience as a connecting point for Latin@ communities?

QUALIFICATIONS: Assistant Professor, American Studies and Ethnicity, Sociology, University of Southern California.

PUBLICATIONS:
Gómez-Barris, Macarena. 2008. Where Memory Dwells: Democracy, Representation, and the Afterlife of State Violence in Chile (forthcoming, University of California Press)

Peer-Reviewed Articles
Gómez-Barris, Macarena and Herman Gray. 2006. “Michael Jackson and Post-Op Disasters: Straddling Race, Sexuality and the Nuclear Family,” Television and New Media, February, 7:1, pp. 40-51.

Gómez-Barris, Macarena. 2005. “Two 9/11s in a Lifetime: Chilean Displacement, Art
and Terror,” Latino Studies, March, 3, pp. 97-112.

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