Trauma and trauma discourse: Peruvian fiction after the CVR.
Since the rail of the Fujimori government, and particularly since 2003 when the Comision de la Verdad y Reconciliacion (CVR) issued its final report, journalists, human rights workers, and academics have amply documented atrocities committed by the Peruvian military during the so-called internal war against the Sendero Luminoso guerrilla group. Fiction writers and other artists have also taken up the theme in a big way. By contrast, during the quarter century preceding the CVR, a marginal (or perhaps marginalized) trickle of stories and novels on the topic appeared, many of them linked to neoindigenismo and to the literary left. (1) While some did feature main characters who suffer torture and assassination at the hands of the "fuerzas del orden," as a whole this literature did not bring a sustained indictment against the government for human rights abuses. Mainstream novels that treated the war, such as Mario Vargas Llosa' s 1993 Lituma en los Andes, tended to focus attention (as did much of the press coverage of the period) on the monstrous nature of Sendero Luminoso, largely giving the military a pass. (2) In recent years, however, the trend has been reversed. Several popular, critically acclaimed novels have taken up the theme of government crimes, as well as those committed by Sendero, in a way that explicitly adopts the paradigm of traumatization on which the CVR partially depended. These include Alonso Cueto's La hora azul (2005), winner of the Premio Herralde de Novela; Santiago Roncagliolo's Abril rojo (2006), winner of the Premio Alfaguara de Novela, and his novelized chronicle of Abimael Guzman and the Sendero Luminoso, La cuarta espada (2007); the English-language Lost City, Radio (2007) by Daniel Alarcon, published in Spanish by Alfaguara in 2008 (as well as the titular story of Alarcon's 2005 debut collection War by Candlelight); and Un lugar llamado oreja de perro (2008) by Ivan Thays. The 2008 graphic novel Rupay and its 2010 continuation Barbarie present a visual history of the war's first years based on photojournalistic images. Like the other works mentioned, these assume a traumatized Peruvian society, though unlike them, they depend much more explicitly on the discourse of memory already well-developed in other Latin American contexts. All of these works belong to the strand of Peruvian fiction known as the novela criolla (as against the novela andina), whose space of enunciation is urban, (post)modern and Hispanic.
As a group, these works chronicle the emergence of trauma into linguistic representation, and indeed into history itself, after a period of latency in which it might best be conceived as a series of inassimilable private wounds. Contrasting with earlier works, these stories "hablan de la necesidad de darle historia, con nombres y apellidos, datos y fechas, a un momento violento en la historia peruana que aun no se resuelve" (Estrada 142). While earlier works of fiction "wrote violence," describing the events and their immediate consequences, these new works "write trauma" by describing the return of traumatic experience, thus contributing to a literary "working through" of the violent past from the position of a post-traumatic present. As one would expect, trauma-related themes figure prominently in them, including linguistic aporia, flashbacks, witness testimony and its hearing, trauma's "contagion" and intergenerational transmission, and finally images of ghostly haunting by the dead and disappeared. The plots of several of these works are structured, furthermore, on different kinds of return of reemergence mirroring the "literal" return of traumatic experience that theoretical formulations of trauma such as that of Cathy Caruth emphasize. It therefore makes sense to consider them as performative attempts at "acting out, working over, and to some extent working through in analyzing and 'giving voice' to the past," as Dominic LaCapra might say, or more directly, as attempts to "write trauma" (186). Santiago Roncagliolo characterizes such attempts as a "proceso de terapia al que puede contribuir la literatura" (Vaccaro 2).
Though many of these recent Peruvian works share a common lexicon of concepts related to trauma, and though they can be broadly described as aligning ideologically with the project of healing that drove the CVR, important differences separate them. In this paper I look at the distinct ways in which two authors, Roncagliolo and Cueto, handle the theme, treating them as exemplary cases of two disparate approaches, one satirical, one non-satirical. I assume in looking at the work of both authors that any novel aspiring to participate in processes of national reconciliation necessarily avails itself of pre-existing and to some extent reified, even petrified, ideas about how trauma functions. Though the CVR was fundamentally juridical in nature, and though it used witness testimony with the primary purpose of establishing authoritative accounts of crimes and fixing legal responsibility, the Commission worked on the assumption that such testimony could also be profoundly meaningful to the witnesses and to the nation as a whole. An explicit rhetoric of trauma and traumatization runs through the text of the Final Report:
Es imposible valorar adecuadamente lo que las personas declaran sin comprender los complejos mecanismos con que funciona la memoria individual y como esta procesa graves experiencias traumaticas. En miles de testimonios recogidos por los entrevistadores de la CVR se aprecian narrativas desgarradas, permanentes retornos a la instancia del trauma, sublimaciones y justificaciones que nos hacen comprender que rendir testimonio no es solamente contribuir al esclarecimiento de un hecho, sino tambien una forma de procesar un duelo largamente postergado, un indispensable instrumento terapeutico. (22-23)
The affective value of testimony, not merely its juridical weight, thus acquires a quasi-legal status in the CVR's stated goals. The passage goes on to cite the example of a citizen who, giving testimony at one of the Commission's public audiences, related the story of her husband's kidnapping by unidentified assailants. While the text recognizes the legal futility of her testimony in the absence of particulars, it goes on to say that in her statement she also related a series of dreams in which her husband gave an account of what had happened to him, bringing her much comfort. The CVR language at this point turns almost sardonic:
Aunque los suenos de la senora Huaman no podrian considerarse como elementos probatorios de una conducta criminal, es evidente que nos dicen mucho sobre los mecanismos con los que las victimas procesan el duelo y arrojan luces sobre como la cultura popular pugna por dar sentidos a la violencia experimentada. (23)
The point is that in an atmosphere in which notions of trauma are in common circulation and trauma language characterizes the most serious national discussions, no novelist, Cueto and Roncagliolo included, can "innocently" reflect processes of traumatization. Enmeshed in these pre-existing discourses, he necessarily mirrors them while also contributing to their evolution. Thus, I would argue, any novelist must teeter between irony and sincerity in his treatment of traumatic themes. That is, he must chose between an essentially ironic, self-conscious appropriation of the pre-existing discourse and a sincere attempt to depict trauma in original ways that would avoid established cliches. Specifically, novelists turning to Peruvian violence and its effects now, after theorizations of trauma based on the Nazi genocide have been widely adopted, after Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in various countries have endowed the notion with quasi-legal status, after its language has been put in circulation in the national vernacular, face a choice between satirical and nonsatirical fictional modes when representing trauma. What separates Cueto and Roncagliolo, defining two perhaps equally viable and interesting options for portraying post-Sendero trauma, is their degree of reflexivity, the degree to which pre-existing discourses figure in their formulation of trauma. Cueto writes in a sincere mode, attempting to reflect as it were "purely" the processes of traumatization his characters experience. Roncagliolo writes in a self-reflexive mode that is essentially satirical, reflecting and reflecting on trauma discourse and the ways a novel contributes to and changes it, thus incorporating processes of discursive reification into the plot itself.
Cueto's La hora azul takes its central anecdote from events related by Ricardo Uceda in his important book of reportage Muerte en el pentagonito (2004): a female prisoner, forced to have sex with a military officer over a period of days of weeks, escapes one night, pregnant by her captor (123-24). (3) Cueto works this anecdote into a pseudo-noir with a prominent love angle. On his mother's death Adrian Ormache, a Lima attorney with a conventional marriage and two teenage daughters, is blackmailed by a person claiming to have proof of atrocities committed during the war by his estranged father, a figure about whom he knows little. Through a tense, detective-like investigation, Adrian learns that his father commanded a detention center in the Andean Department of Ayacucho where sailors under his command committed crimes typical of the dirtv war against Sendero Luminoso, including abduction, torture and assassination, but also (less typically) the systematic imprisonment, gang-rape and murder of teenage girls. The plot hinges on a "love affair" the elder Ormache had with one of his victims, Miriam Anco. a girl whom he "protects" from his men by keeping her locked in his room for a matter of days or weeks in a state of sexual slavery. It is she who escapes, carrying Adrian's unborn half-brother, and it is to her escape during the hours before dawn that the book's title refers. Her cross-country, nocturnal race against the coming daylight becomes a metaphor for the traumatized existence she leads in later life: the blue hour is that inexorable moment at which she will be revealed to her pursuers and the violence and death metaphorically chasing her will catch up. Miriam thus becomes the paradigmatic victim in the novel, and also the object of Adrian's fascination. He is obsessed with finding her and with finding, through her, the illusive truth about his personal and national histories. When he learns that she is still alive and living in Lima he uses all his resources and sacrifices his success, reputation, personal stability and marriage to locate her. When he does find her, he cajoles her into a sexual liaison uncomfortably reminiscent of his father's relationship with her. Though he certainly feels strong emotions toward her, they are confused, and the motivations behind his relationship with her remain always unclear: feelings of white guilt over his own responsibility (and that of his social class) for the violence committed against her merge with an acute personal identity crisis in which the search for his dead father figures prominently. The urge to listen, and the impulsive search for truth also figure prominently, as does the compassionate or charitable urge to ameliorate her pain. During moments of intimacy she confides to him, though reluctantly and in fragmentary form, some details of her ordeal. At those times Adrian becomes the paradigmatic interlocutor or listener drawing her testimony out, allowing it to exist of be formulated as a narrative, to become assimilable, to become history. As a consequence, he suffers a kind of secondary traumatization that prompts him to pass on her tale in the form of his own trauma narrative, the novel he writes, of which he is the first-person narrator. In the end, though, Miriam dies--probably by suicide and probably, we are given to understand, to escape her post-traumatic suffering. Adrian attempts to ameliorate his own guilt and pain by helping her son, his half-brother. Yet despite these efforts it becomes clear that he cannot atone for his father's sins, for his own, or for those of his social class. Contenting himself with a sort of partial and unsatisfying moral reform as he reverts to his former life at the book's end, Adrian lays bare the quandaries of a democratic and well-intentioned Peruvian elite--what Juan Carlos Ubilluz calls "el buen Amo oligarca"--which depends utterly for its existence and preservation on the kind of raw exercise of power exemplified by the elder Ormache--"el mal Amo oligarca" (42).
Cueto's novel takes up issues of witness testimony and its reception in an environment in which such testimony was a central feature of public debate during the CVR process. The CVR collected seventeen thousand voluntary testimonies of victims and witnesses in a remarkable series of public acts throughout the country. While isolated testimonies to the violence had been available for decades (for example, those published by Carlos Ivan Degregori and Jose Lopez Ricci in "Los hijos de la guerra: Jovenes andinos y criollos frente a la violencia politica"), for the first time in 2003 a massive number of such accounts became a matter of public record. On my reading, La hora azul enacts the process of hearing such testimony in the person of an elite Peruvian separated from the victims of the violence by class and linguistic divides. The emphasis falls not on Miriam's narrative, but rather on Adrian as a listener and an interlocutor. The novel chronicles the ways in which, as a result of hearing her testimony, he becomes vicariously traumatized, undergoes an ethical awakening, and finds himself under an imperative to tell which finally produces the novel.
Following the humanistic view of trauma put forward by such scholars as Caruth, Fellman and LaCapra, I take trauma as a fundamentally historical and social phenomenon rather than a private and psychological one. (4) It is essentially a process of memory in which particularly violent events resist assimilation into linguistic mediation, narrative, or conscious memory, and are instead taken up by the brain as raw perception or raw sense data. Inassimilable in the sense that it cannot be voiced or even rehearsed in conscious memory, the violent event remains latent in the victim or witness only to return after a period of latency in flashbacks, nightmares or another "literal return against the will of the one it inhabits" (Caruth Trauma 5). A gap or aporia between the event and its mediation in language thus characterizes trauma. Knowledge of the violent event--that is, its formulation as a conscious memory and thus, on the social level, as a history of violence--requires a process of witnessing in which the victim, testifying to a listener or interlocutor, formulates the event in narrative in the intersubjective space between the witness and the listener. An essential element in the trauma process is therefore the imperative to bear witness to the event commonly experienced by victims. Commentators as diverse as Giorgio Agamben (who follows Primo Levi in his discussion of witness in the first chapter of Remnants of Auschwitz) and Dori Laub consider this imperative pivotal. "There is, in each survivor," asserts Laub, "an imperative need to tell and thus to come to know one's story, unimpeded by ghosts from the past against which one has to protect oneself" ("Truth and Testimony" 63). Caruth stresses that the trauma narrative has as its essential goal not the communication of knowledge of the event, but a kind of "contagion" of "awakening" that passes on the trauma to the listener. She thus speaks of an "imperative of a speaking that awakens others" (Caruth Unclaimed Experience 108). It is this awakening, or this passing of trauma in the narrative, that opens the private experience of a violent event to the social dimension of history.
While both La hora azul and Abril rojo aspire to "out'" trauma in this sense, describing its movement from private to public of a state of a-temporal latency to linguistic-mediation and history, I suggest that Cueto specifically investigates the chain of passings of a trauma narrative and its repercussions in the social sphere. Moreover, he does so in a milieu far removed from the violence. since his characters are elite limenos insulated behind class barriers. In this sense he recognizes, with the CVR, the sins of omission of privileged limenos, "una culpa general, la culpa de la omision, que involucra a todos los que dejamos hacer sin preguntar en los anos de la violencia" (Comision de la Verdad y Reconciliacion 2). Adrian Ormache is the prototypical listener who reacts to Miriam's tale with a kind of secondary traumatization that implies the transmission of her trauma to him, and one might surmise, to all those he touches. As we shall see, he undergoes an ethical awakening as a result of hearing her story. Other elements in the book also point to Cueto's attentiveness to "the imperative to tell" and the ways trauma narratives affect listeners. The priest in Miriam's home village, for instance, hears numerous trauma narratives and suffers a clear form of vicarious traumatization asa result. "[Y]a no quieren consuelo," he says, referring to his parishioners,
[p]ero quieren hablar, quieren contarme sus cosas, eso nomas quieren, y por eso yo los oigo pues. Los oigo y ellos hablan y los sigo oyendo y cuando ellos se van yo me quedo solo y lloro todo lo que puedo, senor. Entro a mi cuarto, me echo boca arriba en la cama, y rezo un rato y entonces me pongo a llorar y me pongo de costado, el llanto se me viene solo, yo no hago nada y de repente estoy llorando, es mejor asi, y despues ya me siento mejor .... (176-77)
Sketching the portrait of a wound that cries out, the priest becomes for the traumatized villagers an interlocutor, hearing and thus enabling their speech, a kind of "blank screen on which the event comes to be inscribed" (Laub, "Bearing Witness" 57). As we might expect, the ultimate consequence of his hearing is that he in turn tells his own story to Adrian--that is, he "passes the awakening on to others" (Caruth Unclaimed Experience 107). Adrian, who cannot escape the consequences of this passing, returns to the village the next day, listens to the first-person witness accounts of the villagers and finds himself gripped by an imperative to tell, to pass on his awakening. It is this imperative that produces, finally, his own testimony in the form of the written narrative of the novel: "Esa noche, en el hotel, empece a escribir. Fue alli donde nacio este libro" (191). (5)
Several commentators call attention to the way hearing a trauma narrative can provoke an ethical awakening in listeners or interlocutors, who awaken exactly to the responsibility to survive and tell, perhaps to write. Transmission becomes in some sense purposeful: "the words are passed on as an act that does not precisely awaken the self but, rather, passes the awakening on to others" (Caruth Unclaimed Experience 107). Such an awakening is often described as ethical. (6) Just so, on Miriam's death Adrian realizes that he has undergone a profound transformation. Perhaps this transformation begins earlier, for throughout the first half of the book, as he prepares for his meeting with her, he notes the ways race and class structure the differences between those with power and those without. As he jogs outside the San Isidro/Miraflores enclave in which he lives he finds himself reacting with panicked fear to a stranger he perceives as threatening and describes in vaguely racialized terms (138). When the man walks by paying him no heed he is shaken by his own reaction of fear. Increasingly he questions how he and others of his class might be implicated in maintaining social barriers--as occurs, for instance, in a long meditation on his domestic servant (200). It is only after hearing Miriam's narrative, though--indeed, after her suicide--that Adrian describes his transformation in terms of ethics and the assumption of responsibility:
La llegada de Miriam habia abierto las puertas del palacio de la indiferencia en cuyos salones hasta entonces yo me habia acomodado.... Yo me habia acostumbrado a descartar los pequenos problemas del mundo de afuera con una mueca, me habia preparado para correr las cortinas infinitas del sarcasmo antes de acomodarme en el salon de cojines.... La muerte, la pobreza, la crueldad, habian pasado frente a mi como accidentes de la realidad, episodios pasajeros y ajenos que habia que superar rapidamente. Ahora en cambio me parecian dadivas recien reveladas. (271)
These formulations (the aporia of traumatic experience, its emergence into history through witness testimony, traumatic transmission and the ethical awakening of the interlocutor) lie at the heart of "trauma discourse"--that is, the public narrative of how trauma plays out in post-traumatic histories, a narrative which, embraced by government functionaries and echoed in the press, itself becomes part of the post-traumatic experience. If Cueto is content to mirror the process in middle-or upper-class limenos, with only superficial forays into the indigenous world, this is perhaps because trauma discourse is a creation of Western psychology and medicine. Other modes, mechanisms and explanatory schema would need to be invoked, perhaps, to reflect adequately the ways in which the pain of the Sendero war is experienced by Andean peasants. As Kimberly Theidon has argued, the trauma paradigm can truncate or mutilate the suffering of indigenous victims who "aprenden a 'hacer caber' su sufrimiento dentro de un idioma que lo hace reconocible para los expertos" (91). (7) Indeed, Cueto has been attacked on the grounds that his book flattens out the experience of Andean characters. Thus, the village priest's assertion that his parishioners "quieren hablar, quieren contarme sus cosas, eso nomas quieren ... " leads Jose Antonio Gimenez Mico to ask, incredulously, "?unicamente quieren 'contar sus cosas,' eso nomas quieren? ?En serio'?" (Cueto 176; Gimenez Mico 171). Gimenez Mico and others suggest that Cueto's insistence on the trauma narrative serves to stifle very real demands for investigation, prosecution, and legal reparation for crimes committed by the government against indigenous victims (173). (8)
In a sense what is most controversial about Cueto's novel, and what best explains the fire it has drawn from the Peruvian left, is exactly that Adrian's ethical awakening is short-lived and limited in scope, bringing into focus the mechanisms of accommodation by which he justifies his continued privilege. Performing a series of compromises to achieve this accommodation, Adrian concludes, for instance, that with respect to his troubled marriage he has no choice but to honor his wedding vows and resume his conjugal life. Near the end of the book he quotes a diary entry about this decision in which he seems ironically aware of his double standard. At some level, it suggests, Adrian accepts the abdications on which his class status rests: "Despues de todos los lujos, de los viajes de la imaginacion y del deseo tenemos que regresar a lo que nos rodea. La realidad es la resignacion. Nos vemos obligados a damos cuenta de que nuestra soledad esencial es esa realidad...." (297). On my reading, his resignation flows over from this passage to other facets of his life as he again takes up his routine at the book's end. He loses faith in the awakening he has undergone as a result of his role as interlocutor. Or better, he settles for a dual (not to say duplicitous) consciousness in which he remains attuned to social injustice even as he returns to the comfortable circuits of his privilege. Near the book's end, phrases abound which confirm Adrian's troubling duplicity, his almost bodily dis-ease with this new accommodation: "[p]or ese tiempo, yo sentia que otro hombre habia llegado a ocupar mi cuerpo" or "[m]is pies en la alfombra parecian seres extranos, dos ninos grotescos e indefensos" (293, 279). The profound transformations he announces at the novel's beginning--"mi hija abrazaba a otro hombre que ha desaparecido para siempre"--have substantially failed to materialize or have been reversed: "[e]stoy aun instalado en la comoda rutina de mis exitos, como sucede con cualquier abogado como yo" (16, 300). The facility with which he justifies going back to his former life here reveals an essential cowardice, or better, a degree of complacency. Overwhelmed by the scale of Peru's social fractures, he performs a gesture of defeat, a verbal shrug: "es obvio que yo no voy a hacer nada por remediar esa injusticia ... a lo mejor tampoco me interesa" (274). We are left with assurances that he has undergone a kind of moral transformation that will indeed endure. At the end of the novel, Adrian's wan attempts to help his half-brother Miguel reveal the inadequacy of this exclusively moral response: they rely on a paternalistic model of compassionate or charitable action which, as both Ubilluz and Vich have pointed out, leaves the structures of exclusion and privilege intact and allows no opening for political change (Ubilluz 42; Vich "Violencia" 243).
La hora azul tackles the after-effects of the Sendero war in a way that provides one possible model for how the Lima-based literary establishment might deal with trauma and traumatization in the future. It treats the theme sincerely, offering what I read as a penetrating critique of the ways privileged Peruvians have accommodated the hearing of witness testimony. The novel suggests, perhaps, that although limenos of high social standing might be capable of feeling solidarity with the poor victims of violence, "las cosas nunca van a cambiar, porque la estructura que sustenta el tejido social es antigua como el pais, tan duradera como las mismas diferencias" (Esteban 230). A flawed character, Adrian ultimately fails to foster or create the conditions for meaningful redress of social wrongs. Even the text he pens, which might be read as his own testimony, is fatally flawed. Published anonymously--"hay un autor contratado para poner su maldito estilo y su nombre en este libro"--it lacks the essential element of juridical testimony, the seal of the witness (14). Agamben, reminding us that has, often contaminates our moral categories, cautions that "the assumption of moral responsibility has value only if one is ready to assume the relevant legal consequences" (23). Adrian, perhaps as privileged limenos generally, finally refuses to assume the legal, and thus the moral, consequences of the testimony he hears and the testimony he writes.
Trauma Discourse and the Feedback Loop
Containing elements of the novela negra or Hispanic hard-boiled detective novel, Cueto' s book follows a modified genre-fiction formula. Adrian Ormache resembles classic detectives such as Vasquez Montalban's Pepe Carvalho or Taibo's Hector Belascoaran Shayne chiefly in that his investigation exposes the rot and corruption of the official line, as well as the class interests they sustain. In other ways he differs from classic detectives and the book differs from the novela negra. (9) By contrast with Cueto's selective use of genre, Roncagliolo fully embraces a genre formula (the horror novel or thriller) in a spirit of postmodern appropriation appealing to readers of contemporary literary fiction. Of course one might very well argue, as does Victor Vich, that this aspect of the novel--responding to the demands of an international literary market place which seeks always "'otredades' magicas o violentas" (especially in the case of Latin America)--distorts or orientalizes Peruvian reality ("La novela" 253). To some degree, though, it is the very genre-fiction nature of Abril rojo that allows the book to both represent and reflexively comment on the representation of extreme violence. As Roncagliolo has suggested, "la ficcion es un espejo deformante de nuestras partes deformes" (Buzali 76). The book is a bloody cat-and-mouse thriller set in the Andean city of Ayacucho, cradle of the Sendero Luminoso and its main theater of operations through the mid-eighties. Suspense and gore abound but also, beyond the dangers to which the protagonist is exposed, a vague sense of peril permeates the novel with a conspiracy sensibility. Dangers threaten from unknown and potentially devastating forces ranging from the murky conclaves of the security apparatus, to cultish Sendero operatives, to horrors from the protagonist's childhood, to the mysterious forces of Andean religiosity and myth--specifically the millenary myth of the Inkarri which, as Luis Veres points out, augments the reader's foreboding of supernatural otherness. (10) Yet these hallmarks of the thriller are tempered by unmistakably parodic or satirical passages, lightening the book's tone, making its violente palatable, and placing it plainly within the corpus of Peruvian satirical writing. The protagonist is the clear object of humorous satire and his written briefs parody the wordy style of official reports. On my reading, the novel's parodic and satirical aspects introduce a quality of reflexivity that aids or enables its exploration of the discourse of trauma. Roncagliolo in no way calls into question the basic trauma paradigm; quite to the contral),, his characters act in ways that suggest he upholds it. Yet he positions the discourse of trauma, conceived as an ongoing public iteration of trauma language and concepts, at the center of the book in a way that Cueto does not. The killer, a deeply wounded ex-combatant, formulates his experience through trauma discourse and teaches the detective to do the same. Further, he takes advantage of the detective's comparative ignorance, as well as his emotional fragility, to manipulate him by harnessing his reactions to traumatic stimuli and essentially using trauma as a ploy in his game. Reflexive awareness of the concept thus feeds back into both characters' experience. Provisionally, it seems that Roncagliolo, from the postmodern stance afforded him by his parodic use of genre-fiction, calls attention to the pastiche-like quality trauma discourse can acquire in a context in which people formulate their very real wounds in part through it.
The book recounts four linked series of events: the Easter-week celebrations in Ayacucho, military efforts to fraudulently reelect Alberto Fujimori to a third presidential term, a halting and ultimately abusive love story, and a string of ghastly murders. The rigidly legalistic protagonist, Assistant District Attorney Felix Chacaltana Saldivar, is a public servant very much in the mold of Vargas Llosa's Pantaleon Pantoja. When the book opens in April 2000, during the waning days of the Fujimori presidency, he has transferred from Lima to his home town, Ayacucho, and finds himself in charge of his first murder investigation. Absolutely incorruptible himself, he is blind to the collusion and corruption of the police and military authorities surrounding him, and thus acts as an ideal foil for mechanisms of power such as those sustaining Fujimori's presidency (an important secondary theme in the novel). His investigation quickly leads him to suspect Sendero involvement. With slim evidence he concludes that a reinvigorated Sendero organization is plotting to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of its first armed action with renewed violence. The regional military boss Comandante Carrion (reminiscent of "Comandante Carrion," commander of the infamous Los Cabitos detention center) and the police chief Pacheco want nothing to do with Chacaltana or his theories and at first try to scuttle the investigation. A resurgent Sendero would after all be quite inconvenient for them during election season, given the fact that Fujimori's popularity rested on having defeated the guerrillas. Further murders, each linked to Sendero through slogans or other signs left at the crime scenes, gradually produce a change in their thinking, however. Midway through the book Chacaltana finds himself in the unexpected position of having Carrion's confidence, and of reporting directly to him regarding the investigation. Meantime Ayacucho's semana santa pagentry builds toward a crescendo, providing operatic accompaniment to the murders that succeed one another at a quickening pace. Faced with pressure to put a stop to the carnage and with daily reminders of Sendero violence, Chacaltana grows increasingly paranoid, fearing two kinds of return: Sendero's physical resurgence and the insuppressible, sudden return of traumatic memories from his past. He breaks down under the pressure in a violent way, raping the woman he is seeing after accusing her of being a member of a Sendero cell. At the novel's conclusion Carrion tunas out to have been the killer. The final showdown scene between the two explains everything: not only has the commander carried out the murders to cover up and divert attention from military atrocities, but he has also used his knowledge of trauma to manipulate and control Chacaltana. In a twisted formulation of the baroque "desengano" theme the veil falls from the detective's eyes: "[h]abia estado ... persiguiendo fantasmas, persiguiendo a sus propios miedos, a sus propios recuerdos, mas que a una realidad que se reia de el" (305). Carrion is revealed like so many as a casualty of the war: sustained violence committed in the service of the state has turned him into a psychopathic killer, a force far more malevolent than any pale resurgence of Sendero. Chacaltana shoots him and escapes into delusion, whereabouts unknown, organizing rondas campesinas or self-defense committees against exactly such a resurgence somewhere in the Andean puna.
The actions and identities of both the detective and the killer in this book are determined by trauma in ways that leave little doubt about Roncagliolo's commitment to the concept. The reader glimpses Chacaltana's traumatized state in the disturbing way he adores his dead mother (to whom he has built a room-sized shrine), his recurring nightmares about tires, and his rigid habits. (11) However, though we know he is troubled, only at the novel's conclusion are we retrospectively able to understand his history: as a boy, attempting to free himself and his mother from an abusive father, he set fire to the house, killing both parents. While the private trauma of this incident is at the root of his troubles, it has been subsumed by or superimposed on a more generalized memory of the political violence of the time: "[g]olpearon su memoria los cadaveres, los pedazos de sus cuerpos cubiertos de tierra ..." (47).
Carrion likewise suffers the traumatic consequences of violence--crimes he has perpetrated or ordered others to perpetrate. His derangement is most visible in stream-of-consciousness texts peppered throughout the book, misspelled and ungrammatical, in which he addresses his future victims and explains why they must die in accordance with a twisted personal cosmology. Yet if one of Carrion' s "identities" fully exhibits his madness, another seems remarkably cogent and articulates a sophisticated understanding of traumatization and traumatic histories using the language of memory and haunting. For him, the belated after-effects of violence linger as ghosts in the present "reclamando un cambio" of at the very least demanding their due place in Ayacucho's sedemented history (321). Those who have died remain as sharp and distinct for Carrion as those who have survived perhaps because he recognizes that history registers invisible tragedies such as disappearances, torture, and extra-judicial killings in ways that maintain their significance to the present: "cada vida, cada uno de los caidos, se acumula en la historia y se disuelve en ella, como las lagrimas en la lluvia" (168). Thus Ayacucho is a city more of the dead than of the living: "en esta ciudad los muertos no estan muertos, caminan por las calles y les venden caramelos a los ninos. saludan a los mayores, rezan en las iglesias, a veces son tantos que me pregunto si yo tambien estare muerto" (62). He teaches Chacaltana to understand the town's violent history according to a similar scheme:
--?No los ve, Chacaltita?/,Acaso no puede verlos? Estan por todas partes. Estan aqui siempre. Chacaltana los vio entonces. En realidad, llevaba un ano viendolos. Todo el tiempo. Y ahora la venda se le cayo de los ojos. Sus cuerpos mutilados se agolpaban a sus alrededor, sus pechos abiertos en canal apestaban a fosa y muerte. Eran miles y miles de cadaveres, no solo ahi, en la oficina del comandante, sino en toda la ciudad. Comprendio entonces que eran los muertos quienes le vendian los periodicos, quienes conducian el transporte publico, quienes fabricaban las artesanias, quienes le servian de comer. No habia mas habitantes que ellos en Ayacucho, incluso quienes venian de fuera, morian. Solo que eran tantos muertos que ya ninguno era capaz de reconocerse, Supo con un ano de retraso que habia llegado al infierno y que nunca saldria de el. (316-17)
Roncagliolo's novel comes remarkably close to Cueto's at this point. Both suggest a post-conflict Peruvian society disturbed by ghosts from its past in ways that touch entire social groups, cities, perhaps even the nation as a whole. Adrian in La hora azul conceives of survivors as living hosts to what he calls "specters": "La guerra se habia terminado ahora. Y sin embargo los rostros aun los rondaban: los hermanitos que les preguntaban si iban a poder escapar o los padres que los acostaban o las madres que les servian un tazon de leche" (272). Such metaphors of haunting call to mind Dominic LaCapra's powerful formulation of the ways trauma remains present in a society after violent events have ceased:
In more metaphoric terms, one might suggest that the ghosts of the past--symptomatic revenants who have not been laid to rest because of a disturbance in the symbolic order, a deficit in the ritual process, or a death so extreme in its unjustitiability or transgressiveness that in certain ways it exceeds existing modes (perhaps any possible mode) of mourning--roam the post-traumatic world and are not entirely 'owned' as 'one's own' by any individual or group. If they haunt a house (a nation, a group), they come to disturb all who live-perhaps even pass Through--that house. (215)
Yet Roncagliolo's use of the metaphor of haunting differs qualitatively from Cueto's, I would suggest, in that it signals reflection on trauma discourse. Carrion frames his experience overwhelmingly through notions and language from a wider discussion. These are not ideas that occur to him on the spot. but rather well-rehearsed explanatory schemata fully assimilated into his thinking. Given how conversant he is with this language, he can appear wise by contrast with Chacaltana, who clings to closed, even repressive, personal narratives to understand his experience. Thus it is that Carrion acts as an emotional guide, revealing Chacaltana's wounds to him even as he villainously makes use of his traumatic reactions for his own purposes. In retrospect, Chacaltana realizes that the murder tableaus staged by Carrion have pushed him toward traumatic return. "Tengo miedo," he confesses to a priest at one point. "No duermo bien. Esto ... todo esto es como si ya lo hubiera visto. Hay algo de todo esto que ya ocurrio, hay algo que habla de mi" (239). Carrion has led him by degrees to the final revelation---another moment of desengano when the memory of his father and the abuse he suffered, so long repressed, rush into his memory: "Ahora las imagenes se sucedian en la mente del fiscal. Como si se rebelase despues de decadas de olvido, su padre aparecia ante el. Su sonrisa retorcida, su aliento a alcohol, los golpes, los golpes, el cinturon, el puno, los golpes" (320). When I characterize the ways in which trauma discourse folds back on itself in Abril rojo as a feedback loop, I point to the self-reinforcing nature of this discourse in post-conflict Peru, and the ways it informs memory and experience. I suggest that satirical, parodic and postmodern modes in which Roncagliolo writes foster the reflexivity of self-consciousness propitious to such treatments, and perhaps provide a necessary corrective to authors like Cueto.
It seems to me that these two books present two distinct attempts at or models for "working through" Peruvian trauma on the grounds of the novela criolla. Though both approach it by means of popularizing genre-fiction, Cueto represents an approach that I have characterized as "sincere". By this I mean that he has non-reflexively described the workings of trauma in representative individuals in ways that purport to explore its workings in society at large. He ultimately condemns the truncated or inefficacious "awakenings" experienced by privileged Peruvians on the hearing of trauma testimony. His novel thus points to a brave kind of social critique carried out on the fraught terrain of trauma. Roncagliolo, on the other hand, takes a more reflexive approach not only by using an extreme genre form, but crucially by pointing the way to self-conscious treatments in which the discourse of trauma feeds back into the experience of traumatization, shaping the forms it can take and the ways individuals experience it. His is a more skeptical approach, one which while continuing to recognize the validity and salience of the trauma concept, nevertheless complicates it with reified verbal figures of affectivities common in the public discourse. He presents a more self-aware, but also more humorous and less heartfelt way of addressing the after-effects of the conflict in novelistic form. I suggest that we might do well to bear these two paradigms in mind when reading future works on the topic. If one thing does seem clear it is that neither Roncagliolo nor Cueto has exhausted the literary wellspring of post-conflict experience. Some sort of collective mourning will probably continue to be necessary in the public space of culture for decades to come, confirming, perhaps, Miguel Gutierrez's intuition that "la gran novela sobre esta terrible guerra, sobre este tiempo del dolor, tardara algunos anos y aun decadas para concebirse" (Gutierrez 19).
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California State Polytechnic University-Pomona
(1) Several useful histories and anthologies of this fiction have been published by Gustavo Faveron Petriau, Mark R. Cox, Miguel Gutierrez and even Santiago Roncagliolo (see "Cocaina") in the past decade.
(2) Carlos Ivan Degregori describes the collusion between the press and the various presidential regimes--all of which, despite their great differences, cultivated strategic zones of forgetting around government abuses: "Sin mayor esfuerzo, los medios [...] construyeron [Sendero Luminoso] como el Otro monstruoso y la opinion publica atemorizada compartio esa imagen y contribuyo activamente a dibujarla. El regimen logro asi un margen de maniobra suficiente como para seleccionar ciertos olvidos estrategicos y tratar de implantarlos en la memoria nacional.... Esa voluntad de olvido de los <<excesos>> represivos del Estado fue compartida, al menos por un tiempo, por importantes sectores de la ciudadania" (20).
(3) Uceda actually recounted the incident to Cueto before Muerte was finished, and Cueto uses excerpts from the published account as an epigraph to his novel. For an account of how Cueto heard the story from Uceda and how he went about elaborating a novel from it, see Diego Salazar's "Entrevista con Alonso Cueto".
(4) I am indebted to several scholars for my understanding of trauma. Cathy Caruth, with her 1995 edited volume Trauma: Explorations in Memory, which includes an important article by Shoshana Fellman, followed up by her 1996 book Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative and History, has done most to establish a rigorous humanistic theory of trauma. Though her work has been widely influential--or perhaps because it has--her paradigm has aroused serious challenges from writers such as Ruth E. Leys--in Trauma: A Geneology--and Susannah Radstone. Other scholars, like Dominio LaCapra and E. Ann Kaplan, have accepted many of Caruth's insights, but probe her weak points and suggest modifications to her view of trauma. LaCapra's 2001 Writing History, Writing Trauma and Kaplan's 2005 Trauma Culture: The Polities of Terror and Loss in Media and Literature have influenced my own formulations. As regards Peru specifically, I am indebted to Kimberly Theidon for her sustained critique of the use of PTSD as a clinical diagnosis in the post-Sendero context in Entre projimos: El conflicto armado interno y la politica de la reconciliacion en el Peru.
(5) Victor Vich offers a useful contrast to my relatively more sympathetic reading of Adrian's need to tell (or to write) what he hears by pointing out that in appropriating literary language he arrogates to himself the hegemonic power to make truth by esthetic means. By extension, his need to know the truth and the lawyerly tools of investigation with which he extracts Miriam's account from her are, for Vich, analagous to the elder Ormache's exercise of undisguised power in the torture chambers ("Violencia" 239-40).
(6) Kaplan makes use of the notion of witnessing as an ethical response, arguing that the victim, no matter her degree of distance from the event, can embrace a conscious ethics of witnessing, described as a way of "assuming a responsibility toward historical injustice" (120). Such witnessing may take place through works of art (enter Cueto and Roncagliolo), although Kaplan carefully distinguishes her understanding of the role of literature, film and other cultural production from a Caruth-derived view, often attacked on the grounds that it estheticizes trauma (see examples in Agamben 36, and LaCapra 183). Witnessing, for Kaplan, must arouse more than "empty empathy"; more, even, than the motivation to help: it must attempt to understand structures of injustice and make them understood. From knowledge, an attitude of engagement can follow in which "one may feel obligated to take responsibility for specific injustices," or even "for injustice in general" (23, 122). Works of art that remain open, refusing the safe closure of the Hollywood ending and its futile attempt to heal traumatic wounds, have the capacity to move the viewer/reader empathically and thus ethically, awakening a perspective on injustice. The two novels we are considering here perhaps suggest that Kaplan's notion of the "safe closure of the Hollywood ending" requires adjustment in light of the fact that both make use of generic formulae that require neat denouements.
(7) Theidon, through her detailed discussion of traditional medicinal practices and beliefs, presents one option for discussion of trauma in an Andean context; ethnomusicologist Jonathan Ritter, who has analyzed the development of the cancion social in Ayacucho during the conflict, presents another.
(8) La hora azul provoked heated ideological disputes from the moment of its publication. Critics on the left such as Vich, Ubilluz, and Gimenez Mico argue that once again the indigenous victims have been left out of the national conversation, that Cueto rushes too hastily toward a forced "reconciliation" favorable to Lima's political and economic elites. Other critics counter that Cueto brings a degree of novelistic skill and subtlety to the depiction of the after-effects of Peruvian violence which promotes a truly nuanced discussion, a more lasting "truth" and deeper reconciliation: "[s]olo asi se extrae una verdad que supera el nivel de la simple representacion, para acceder a una region mas trasparente, mas profunda, mas colectiva, que supera el estrato de la story y se instala en el de la History con mayusculas" (Esteban 227). Santiago Roncagliolo, for his part, has obliquely acknowledged the comparatively more conservative shadings of Cueto's treatment, ascribing the difference to one of generation: whereas Cueto is of a generation which had to choose sides in the conflict, Roncagliolo, twenty years younger, was not marked in the same way by the war years: "Cueto tiene cincuenta y tantos anos, es de la capital, es blanco y clasemediero. La clase media urbana que vivio la guerra es muy conservadora. Se sentian amenazados por el lado izquierdo" (Vervaeke and De Maeseneer). We might note, though, that those truly on the right of the Peruvian political spectrum, who continue to defend Fujimori' s defeat of terrorista by any means necessary, altogether reject the postulates of the CVR that Cueto's book exemplifies.
(9) Cueto recognizes his debt to the detective genre, characterizing Adrian's search as a "pesquisa detectivesca tras esta mujer" (Salazar). In addition to performing a kind of social critique through the detective and ,h, is investigation, La hora azul also frankly depicts violence, marginal urban environments and radical urban insecurity--hallmarks of the genero negro according to Glen S. Close and Mempo Giardinelli (Close 154, Giardinelli 26). Unlike the classic genero negro detectives, however, Adrian is not an outsider looking cynically in at an establishment, but rather a member of the power elite. He also lacks confidence in his own moral/ethical/political rectitude and unassailability in a way that such classic detectives do not. In fact, he obsessively questions his ethical grounds, and moreover, his complicity in the injustices he investigates.
(10) A belief in the return of the last Inca through the reunification of body parts (arms, legs, and head) dispersed at his death, the Inkarri myth promises bloody payback for the conquest in the form of a resurgent Inca empire. The killer in Roncagliolo's novel structures his crimes around the myth: from each of his victims he takes a body part to reconstruct a "collective Peruvian body" meant to "transcend the nation and install an overarching justice that would settle accounts from the Conquest" (Hind 68). For Veres, the Inkarri myth serves several purposes: to instill a sense of mystery tied to religious practices; to augment the atmosphere of nightmarish violence surrounding the murders; and to highlight the still-living indigenous past and the enormous gulf that continues to separate indigenous from Hispanic culture. For Vich, by contrast, the use of this myth is a further example of the strain of anthropological essentializing of the indigenous world that runs through Roncagliolo's novel ("La novela" 254).
(11) In light of Roncagliolo's professed admiration for horror movies, Emily Hind has drawn a parallel between Chacaltana's desperate adoration of his dead mother, with whom he converses daily and whom he conjures through the physical space of her bedroom, and Hitchcock's Psycho (70).
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