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Violence and bodies under siege in the works of Diamela Eltit, Lina Meruane and Fatima Sime.


Myriad texts, images and events come to mind when thinking about violence: Homer's Illiad, the old Testament, las Casas's Brevisima destruccion, Lord of the Flies, A Clockwork Orange, 2666's "La parte de los crimenes"; Picasso's "Guernica," "La haine," Tarantino's films, "Breaking Bad"; slavery (both past and present), the Armenian Genocide, the two world wars, the Holocaust, the death and disappearance of thousands of political prisoners under many dictatorships the world over, the Rwanda Genocide, drug trafficking, Guantanamo, CIA torture of terror suspects, sexual assault on college campuses, ISIS, the recent killings of unarmed black men by white policemen in the United States, the assassination and disappearance of forty three students in the town of Iguala, Mexico, among many, many others acts. "No one engaged in thought about history and politics can remain unaware of the enormous role violence has always played in human affairs" (8), wrote Hannah Arendt some forty years ago. (1) Now, if violence is defined as "the exertion of physical force so as to injure or abuse" ("Violence"), one would probably have to include the violence exerted upon millions and millions of chickens, pigs, cows and other animals for the purpose of human consumption. But, of course, violence is not simply, and not always, "the exertion" of physical force. Sometimes it is the threat of exertion of physical force. From this perspective, the entire colonizing enterprise of countries such as Portugal, Spain, England, France and others could well be conceived of as having imposed a perennial state of violence upon subjugated peoples. Similarly, wasn't modernity a kind of violence, as some have claimed? (2) Did it not, in its very being, conceal a potential violent thrust, as Adorno and Horkheimer warned? (Horkheimer and Adorno). Isn't capitalism, after all, also a kind of violence? Finally, the aforementioned "exertion" is not always "physical," sometimes it is psychological (as, for example, in the case of micro aggressions). In this light, some might even go as far as to argue that the disciplining of one's children or even education in general are inherently violent acts. Thus, surprisingly, though really not surprisingly, a relatively new development in some universities in the United States consists of informing students ahead of time that a controversial subject to be treated in the classroom could potentially exert violence upon their beliefs and sensibilities.

The latter, needless to say, appears extreme, political correctness oftentimes becoming a violent practice unto itself, a kind of violent act committed against oneself, if you will. However, no matter how one construes violence, most would concur that there is a significant chasm between the possible violence exerted upon students' values in the classroom and lynching in the United States, or, say, between micro aggression and blacks under Apartheid in South Africa. In fact, some might even argue that focusing on micro aggression while neglecting political and economic violence is a luxury that only few can afford. Furthermore, there seems to be a certain truthfulness, whether we like it or not, in Darwin's and Nietzsche's controversial contention that, of necessity, to exist demands exercising some degree of violence. This does not mean, naturally, that either form of violence must be accepted, or, especially, that there is an inevitability to the "exertion of physical force." Of the two types of violence, nonetheless, the psychological and the physical, the latter definitely gets more attention, even though, as most would agree, these two types of violence usually coexist. In the end, and paraphrasing the title of Joseph Campbell's classic study on mythology--but with a twist--, we could maintain that violence is an anti-hero with a thousand faces, an anti-hero who in the novels of Diamela Eltit, Lina Meruane and Fatima Sime shows his ugliest of faces. But before analyzing these novels, I would like to describe very briefly the cerebrations on the topic of violence by two critics, Walter Benjamin and Slavoj Zizek, respectively, as their views are better suited for our purpose than other reflections on the subject. (3)

Benjamin examines violence in the context of law and justice. An action, according to him, becomes violent only when it has moral implications. The relationship between means and ends, therefore, becomes cardinal in any legal system. More than being interested in whether, as a principle, violence itself can ever be a moral means to a just end, his interest resides, rather, in determining whether in a given situation violence is a means to either a just or an unjust end. Violence, then, has to do with the means more than the end. And, specifically, for Benjamin the central issue is "the justification of certain means that constitute violence" (279). In his discussion he establishes a clear distinction between natural law and what he calls "positive law" (278), stating, "Natural law attempts, by the justness of the ends, to 'justify' the means, positive law to 'guarantee' the justness of the ends through the justification of the means" (278). Although he is conscious of some of the potential dangers posed by positive law, he is even more concerned that a blind embrace of natural law might justify even "predatory violence" in the pursuit of supposedly legally sanctioned ends (282). But, ultimately, asserts the German critic, "All violence as a means is either lawmaking or law-preserving" (287), adding toward the end of his essay, "Lawmaking is power making, and, to that extent, an immediate manifestation of violence" (295).

In a more recent and much broader reflection on violence--Violence--, Zizek makes some interesting points. He refers, for example, to the "complex interaction" (11) that exists among what early on in his study (1-2) he calls "subjective," "objective" and "symbolic" violence. Even though, in my judgment, he is not always clear about the distinction he establishes among these three categories, for the purpose of our analysis, and especially with respect to Fruta podrida, it is worth heeding his warning about subjective violence. (4) Such violence is "enacted by social agents, evil individuals, disciplined repressive apparatuses" (11) and "fanatical crowds" (11) and often conceals or engenders other types of violence. As regards capitalism, whose violent nature we adumbrated above, the Slovenian critic places it in the realm of objective, or "systemic, anonymous" (13) violence, since, "the fundamental systemic violence of capitalism ... is no longer attributable to concrete individuals and their 'evil' intentions" (13). Here, of course, one would want to stop and reflect on who was then responsible for what eventually led to the bursting of the housing bubble and the ensuing subprime mortgage crisis the same year Zizek published his book (2008), and whether capitalists in general, but especially those of the rapacious variety, would be willing to apply Thomas Piketty's not very complex recipe to lessen the world's increasing economic inequality presented in his by now famous Le capital au XXIe siecle. (5) As we shall see a bit later, contrary to what Zizek may think, oftentimes capitalism's systemic violence is indeed "attributable to concrete individuals." Further on, in the context of "the imponderable Other" (55), he asks, recalling what I stated earlier, "how can one wholly repudiate violence when struggle and aggression are part of life?" (63), proceeding to answer that a difference ought to be established between a sort of violence that ends up being a "'life-force' and the 'violence' that is a 'death force'" (63). Finally, summarizing the effects of violence in language, he writes something that resonates especially in the dialogue between the two protagonists of Carne de perra: "verbal violence is not a secondary distortion, but the ultimate resort of every specifically human violence" (66). (6)

Fruta, published in 2007 by Meruane, Sime's first novel Carne, published in 2009, and Fuerzas especiales, published in 2013 by Eltit, could be said to represent, availing myself of Elaine Scarry's book title (The Body in Pain), three different manifestations of the body in pain. Violence, in these three texts, is never justified as a means, and ends appear diffuse and ambiguous, especially in Fruta. Of the three novels, only in Carne does violence appear to reflect the character of "lawmaking" (but not "law-preserving") that Benjamin attributes to it. Furthermore, if subjective violence plays a role in each of these works, it is also in Carne where it reaches its maximum expression. Regarding objective violence, it is latent in the three texts, but always incarnated in very tangible individuals. In none of the three novels does violence represent a "'life force'" in Zizek's terms; on the contrary, violence appears as a "'death force'" in each instance, particularly in Carne and, to some extent, in Fuerzas.

Enabling the work of memory to carry out its task appropriately, and almost at the antipodes of what came to be known at the beginning of the nineties as La Nueva Narrativa Chilena--which included writers such as Alberto Fuguet, Gonzalo Contreras, Carlos Franz and Ana Maria del Rio, among others--, Meruane, Sime and Eltit focus their attention on the other side of the presumably economically successful Chile that was created during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. (7) In Fruta, Carne and Fuerzas, it is both the individual as well as the social body that are victimized. In each instance, similarly and not surprisingly, there is a strong connection between violence against the body and neoliberalism. (8) These novels, and especially Fruta and Fuerzas, seek to show that there is a more inimical, a more destructive, and a more inhumane side to the Chilean economic miracle that has made so many Chileans proud in recent years. (9) Or, to put it more anecdotally, the fact that now Chileans do not need a visa to enter the United States, or that Chile has signed free trade agreements with the United States, the European Union, Japan, China and Australia and has, very recently, created the "Alianza del Pacifico" with Peru, Colombia and Mexico, stands in direct contrast with the fact that, after Mexico (and possibly Brazil), it is the most economically unequal country in Latin America. (10) In addition, it has one of the most expensive educational systems in the world, (11) among other social problems. In Chile, one percent of the richest families owns approximately thirty five percent of the country's wealth. But what is most interesting is that, since democracy was restored in 1990, the governments of Aylwin, Frei, Lagos, Pinera and, to some extent, Bachelet, have left practically intact the economic and political apparatus instituted forcibly by Pinochet in 1973. Regarding the first Concertacion governments, Peter Winn writes, "More than a decade of democracy and center-left governments has not altered neoliberalism's fundamentally negative impact on Chilean workers. In fact, viewed in historical perspective as part of the Pinochet era, the neoliberal democracy of the Concertacion consolidated the neoliberal 'revolution' that Pinochet began" (10-11). (12) Furthermore, there is presently much resistance, now that Bachelet has come back to power, to convene a constitutional assembly that may craft a new constitution. (13) The so-called "democracia consensuada," or "democracia vigilada" to which Tomas Moulian alluded in his brilliant Chile actual. Anatomia de un mito back in 1997, still seems to be the law of the land. The code of silence among members of the armed forces who assassinated and 'disappeared' hundreds of political opponents during the dictatorship has not really been broken, even if some have been tried and are currently serving jail terms; and those who have benefited most from the privatization of what used to be public services before Pinochet's seventeen-year old regime have resisted change ferociously. (14)

The fact that texts such as Carne, Fruta and Fuerzas should surface from time to time, therefore, is really not surprising, even if, in the end, they never become bestsellers. Books in Chile continue to be a luxury item for most households. (15) Likewise, Chileans in general do not like to think about the past. (16) In this context of willful amnesia, each of these novels performs its own specific function. Sime revisits the past in order to prevent it from falling into oblivion, while both Meruane and Eltit focus on troublesome aspects of the present that have roots in that unresolved past. I argue, ultimately, that Carne provides the background for the situations that Fruta and Fuerzas problematize. Understandably, therefore, I start with an analysis of this novel and continue with a critique of Fruta and Fuerzas, respectively.


Carne is narrated by an undramatized or heterodiegetic narrator. An undramatized narrator, according to Wayne Booth, is a narrator who does not participate in the action (in contrast to a dramatized narrator [147-48]). Similarly, a heterodiegetic narrator is a narrator who is absent from the story she tells (Genette 243-52). In Carne, the narration takes place at the extradiegetic level in Gerard Genette's narratological parlance (227-31), that is, the narrator narrates from outside the fictional world that she is sharing with the reader. But she also narrates simultaneously, in other words, she narrates as the events are taking place. (17) And what are these events in the novel?: the multiple acts of torture Maria Rosa, a nurse, undergoes at the hands of "El Principe," a member of a secret military organization, probably the DINA. (18) Then, this undramatized narrator recounts the process through which Maria Rosa gradually becomes a collaborator of this organization during the dictatorship, first by assisting in the torture sessions of political prisoners, and then by helping putting to death a renowned member of the opposition. (19) In the thirty fragments that comprise the text, nineteen are dedicated to Maria Rosa while she is in captivity, whereas the remaining eleven, narrated both simultaneously and subsequently by Maria Rosa herself, deal with the time when she returns from Sweden after eighteen years of exile and unexpectedly finds "El Principe" on his deathbed in the clinic where she works. (20) Since my goal is both to establish a connection between neoliberalism and violence as well as to reflect on the nature and consequences of violence upon the body, I only wish to make reference to a couple of aspects of the novel: certain acts of torture, and El Principe's reasons to do what he does.

In the course of the story, Maria Rosa is subjected to a series of despicable acts. But, ironically, her process of debasement starts really after she has been tortured by the military and once she has been "saved," so to speak, by "El Principe," who starts calling her his "reina" (19, 54, 71) or his "muneca" (5, 31, 45, 74, 98, etc.). Although, eventually, a problematic love relationship between them ensues, violence is never far away. Let me allude to a couple of instances where the painful, the pathological and the pleasurable meet. In the first case, realizing that Maria Rosa's face is covered with scabs left from cigarette burns, "El Principe" decides to help her heal:
   Se ha sentado a horcajadas sobre ella, la aplasta, comprime sus
   caderas ... Saca del bolsillo ... una navaja pequena. Clava la
   punta en una herida, levanta entera la costra y se la muestra. Si
   queremos bonita la cara, sin cicatrices, hay que descostrar donde
   hay infeccion pues, muneca ... El emprende la tarea con esmero, se
   toma su tiempo para no dejar residuos ... Ahora hay que
   desinfectar, dice, y para eso nada mejor que la saliva, como los
   perros ... El grune en su oreja, gimotea como un cachorro. Empieza
   a lamerle el cuello. Luego recorre con parsimonia el rostro de
   ella. Son lenguetazos fibrosos que hacen arder las llagas. Sin
   embargo, al rato, esos movimientos ritmicos, calientes, la atontan,
   la adormecen. (10)

The second instance has to do with the introduction, throughout Maria Rosa's captivity, of a series of food items inside her vagina so that he may reach an orgasm more easily, as he is impotent and has never been able to ejaculate inside a woman's vagina. These include figs, pastries, champagne, oysters: " Por que se queda inmovil mientras el hombre le revienta higos en los pechos? Al contacto de su lengua se le erizan los pezones. De placer? ... [El Principe] succiona como si quisiera arrancar el clitoris. El hombre continua chupando, alimentandose hasta el orgasmo, hasta explotar, ahi, con la cara entre sus piernas" (32-33).

Though there might be a qualitative difference between these two cases of violence against the body, they are both meant to subjugate and humiliate. Scarry goes as far as to claim that the pain inflicted upon a tortured victim is "world-destroying ... World, self, and voice are lost, or nearly lost" (29, 35). In the course of the story, through a combination of rewards and punishments, "El Principe" appropriates Maria Rosa for his own purposes. Violence's function here is to domesticate the victim, to ultimately annihilate her as subject; but it can only be successful as long as it is accompanied by rewards, as just stated. Not surprisingly, in the only article written on the novel so far, Cristian Montes Capo refers to "los rasgos psicopaticos del torturador" (71), but also underlines the "relacion patologica de dependencia mutua" (69) between "El Principe" and Maria Rosa. Needless to say, this type of violence leaves severe psychological scars. To a large extent, the sections where Maria Rosa narrates her past constitute a sort of archeology of trauma. Though eighteen years have gone by, she is still unable to heal; this becomes particularly evident when she runs into "El Principe" at the clinic. Recounts Maria Rosa: " Todo habia vuelto! Tenia que escapar. Iba con la vista al frente, sin saber adonde, casi corriendo" (36).

The questions that, of necessity, one must ask, are: was such violence necessary? And, foremost, what's the connection to neoliberalism? In the Chilean context, of course, these are inextricably linked. As we shall see later in Fruta and Fuerzas, and particularly in the latter, today's Chile was founded on violence. In fact, only by force could Milton Friedman's and the Chicago Boys' economic recipe be applied in the seventies, when there was absolutely no political opposition to Pinochet's regime. No one explains this process better than Luis E. Carcamo-Huechante in his Tramas del mercado. (21) In essence, he analyzes how, what were originally economic measures, ended up having an impact on every sphere of Chilean society, turning what was intended to be an "ajuste estructural" into an "ajuste cultural" (71-110). What's most ironic, according to the author, is that a free-market model was imposed upon a politically unfree population. To accomplish the goal of transforming the traditional "estado benefactor," or "estado providencial," into a "estado neoliberal," Friedman, who was invited by Pinochet in 1975 to give a lecture in the Diego Portales building--which, during Allende's government was the emblematic building of Chile's major labor union and later the headquarters of the military junta--presented himself as an economist turned medical doctor and Chile as a severely sick patient in urgent need of a cure. The cure to be applied, of course, was economic shock therapy and immediate trade liberalization. (22) This, in turn, led to the large-scale privatization of formerly public-owned assets, making Chile what Piketty calls, in a similar context, a true "champ d'experimentation" if there ever was one (790). (23)

In Sime's novel there are two allusions to the beginning of the process by means of which the country eventually became, in the words of Carcamo-Huechante, a "nacion-mercado" ("Hacia" 99). In the first, "El Principe," holding a color television set in his hands, enters the room where he keeps Maria Rosa, and expresses proudly, "Este es el Chile que estamos construyendo ... Te voy a mostrar a todo color! la obra en la que estas participando. Lo que hemos logrado. A todo color!" (64-65). In the second allusion, "El Principe" emphasizes that if he and his acolytes are "hombres y mujeres que hemos reflexionado sobre el devenir de la humanidad, que tenemos la claridad absoluta acerca del tipo de sociedad que deseamos" (92), there is, at the same time, an "enemigo de esos ideales (92) ... Gente capaz de destruir el nuevo pais que se esta construyendo. No son muchos, pero son peligrosos" (97).


Even though this crucially long-lasting rift at the heart of Chilean society to which "El Principe" refers in Carne is not as apparent today as it became evident, for example, when Pinochet was arrested in London in 1998, there continues to be a fundamental gulf in Chile between these two worldviews. Fruta offers a picture of this gulf but, unlike Sime's text, the story takes place some three decades after the imposition of neoliberalism. Structurally, it is more complex than Carne. Divided into four sections ("Plan fruta," "Moscas de la fruta," "Fruta de exportacion" and "Pies en la tierra"), including a poem that appears intermittently throughout the novel taken from a text called "cuaderno deScomposicion," the story is narrated by four different voices corresponding to each of the sections: an undramatic narrator, and three different female dramatic narrators at the intradiegetic level: Maria, Zoila, and an unnamed nurse in the last section whose words appear in italics in the text. Essentially, Fruta tells the story of Maria, a chemist who works for a company that exports fruit to the United States and Europe, and Zoila, her half-sister, who suffers from an incurable disease but refuses to be cured. At the same time, Maria, whose dream is to build a house to share with her sister, becomes pregnant in order to sell her babies to a hospital that specializes in illegal organ trafficking and whose major headquarters are in a city in the north of the United States, possibly New York. At the end of the novel, Zoila travels there and disconnects the machines that keep alive hundreds of children's bodies whose organs are ready to be sold.

In broad terms, this text could be conceived of as a metaphor for Chile as a very sick nation. (24) But it could also be construed as a severe critique against a health system intent on keeping people alive no matter what. Meruane combines two economic sectors here: the fruit industry, and the health sector. As is well known, beside the export of copper and a myriad of other metals, Chile exports several fruits around the world. Its health system was one of the first public institutions to be privatized by the military. Now, what shape does violence against the body take in Fruta? And, what is the connection to neoliberal ideology? More pointedly perhaps than in Carne, violence here exerts its power on a body in pain that has multiple faces: there is violence against nature in an effort to export perfect-looking fruit; violence against female workers who are exposed to highly toxic pesticides; the violence that Maria inflicts upon her own body; and, finally, the violence that Maria, "El Enfermero," "El ingeniero" and "El Medico General" exert upon Zoila as they do all that is necessary to cure her. "Dejarla morir, ni muerto" (62), exclaims "El Medico general" concerning another woman who wanted to die of natural causes and was prevented from doing so.

Sick patients are good business, Meruane's text appears to say. But the problem is that whenever "neo-liberal rationality" invades the health system--or whenever industry and research collude--the human body becomes just another territory for capitalism's maneuvers (Schild 201). Or, as Oliver Decker puts it: "The economization of health thus comes into view as the 'economization of the human body' ... the healthcare system itself has now become a site where value is created. And the commodity that is made an object of value creation appears to be health itself" (xiii, 3). When, later in his study, Decker asks whether the body can ever become "the object of a market event" (5), he replies that it is indeed in organ transplantation that the body reaches full commodification (6), concluding, "medicine and the market merge in the miracle of transplantation" (165). The issue of organ transplantation is indeed at the heart of Fruta, but it is presented as a problem, as organ trafficking, not as "the gift of life" (Mijovic-Das 118), as it has been traditionally conceived. Although presently there is an increasing demand for organ transplant (Territo, "Preface" xvii), there simply are not enough donors. One study claims that, of the 80,000 people who need organ transplants every year, only about 20,000 receive them (Clay and Block 49). "In Europe alone, there are currently 120,000 patients on dialysis treatment and about 40,000 people waiting for a kidney" (Territo and Matteson, "Preface" xviii). In order to resolve this problem, Clay and Block propose the legalization of the sale of human organs, a rather controversial proposal, to say the least. The lack of donors, moreover, leads to the illicit trade in human organs, which in turn presents certain potential dangers. Territo and Matteson write, for example: "One of the serious problems with this illegal trafficking is that it circumvents all screening and testing procedures set up and maintained to ensure recipients will not receive diseased or otherwise contaminated tissue or organs" ("Trafficking" 6). In this illicit trade it is usually the very poor from countries such as India and the Philippines who sell parts of their body for markets in Europe and the United States for rather small amounts of money. According to a couple of studies, those who donate their organs receive between US$1,000 and US$5,000, while the brokers who actually organize a transplant transaction get between US$100,000 and US$200,000 from the recipients (Mijovic-Das 119; Territo and Matteson, "Preface" xvii).

In large measure, this is the issue that Fruta dramatizes, as Zoila's action, narration and poem all constitute an utter repudiation of the commodification of the body. The text also brings to the fore the consequences of an economic model where, to paraphrase Garcia Canclini's Consumidores y ciudadanos, Chileans stopped being citizens and became consumers. To consume or not to consume, that became the essential question. Historian Heidi Tinsman is correct to observe that one of Pinochet's greatest triumphs was "to identify consumption as a neglected site of legitimacy" (15). But in a context in which even the most sacred aspects of life became subject to market forces, including culture and education, there also had to be victims. Upon reading Meruane's novel, some might conclude that, though the reality of organ trafficking cannot be denied, Fruta exaggerates the issue somewhat. There is no doubt a certain hyperbolic tendency in the text; however, one aspect that is surely not exaggerated in the novel is the working conditions of the temporeras, the women working in the fields. Women's wage labor increased significantly after 1973, especially as the fruit industry reoriented agriculture toward exports (Tinsman 27). (25) The intimate relationship between violence and neoliberalism becomes palpably clear here. The temporeras lack employment contracts, earn less than the minimum wage, their babies are born with birth defects and, despite their "laboriosa y extenuante faena" (68), they work under very difficult conditions. (26) The contrasting worldviews that Meruane aims to delineate in Fruta become especially tangible in the last section of the novel. Even though the action takes place possibly in New York, as stated, and although the narrating voice sounds too essayistic at times, the abyss that we saw in Carne is also present here, but now at a more universal level. Let me provide a couple of quotations that prove my point. In a dialogue that a nurse has with Zoila, who becomes a beggar after disconnecting the machines at the hospital at the end of the diegesis, the former defends the health industry this way:
   No es un tema agradable el de los trasplantes, pero es mejor
   acostumbrarse porque ahi reside el futuro de nuestra especie. Antes
   los difuntos se iban ipso facto al cementerio; ahora almacenamos a
   los muertos, los banamos, los afeitamos, les escobillamos los
   dientes y tras empolvarlos los guardamos. Sus cuerpos deben
   quedarse por si el corazon, por si el higado, por si las corneas
   sirven para algo y tambien por el trasplante de medula, por si
   sirviera el colesterol. Incluso por si el oro gastado de las muelas
   pudiera ser aprovechado. Mas temprano que tarde seremos inmortales.

Zoila replies, simply, that "es necesario acabar con la necesidad de la salud; es siempre peor el remedio que la enfermedad" (177), further emphasizing what she calls "la perversion economica de la salud" (177).


In Fuerzas, the last novel to be analyzed here, violence is directed against the collective. At the 2013 KFLC, (27) I entertained the possibility that Eltit, after Impuesto a la carne, (28) her novel from 2010, would probably turn her attention to the school system as a potential site for scrutiny in her next novel, given not only the urgency of student protests in Chile in recent years but also the fact that she had pretty much covered every other space of Chilean society in her previous works. These include the public square (in Lumperica), the uncultivated lot, the one story house and the jail (in Por la patria), the uterus (in El cuarto mundo), the home (in Vaca sagrada and Los trabajadores de la muerte), the supermarket (in Mano de obra), the bed (in Jamas el fuego nunca), the hospital (in Impuesto), etc. I was wrong; the school system did not become a site for scrutiny in her last novel. While still examining a marginal location, in Fuerzas she zeroes in on "el bloque," an apartment complex located in the city outskirts, and the internet cafe within "el bloque." In an interview about the novel, Eltit says that she was inspired by "La Legua," a poor neighborhood in Santiago that has been under siege for several years. (29) Nonetheless, the fact that, save for a few idiomatic expressions, there are no specific references to Chile, supports her contention in the same interview that the presence of Special Forces in very poor neighborhoods--a strategy borrowed from the United States--has become a serious problem in Latin America overall. Think, for example, of the cleansing of the favelas in Brazil by swat teams as the country prepared itself for the 2014 World Cup. In a recent study, Veronica Schild calls attention to two phenomena concerning state violence in Chile that bear almost directly upon Fuerzas: "the systematic deployment of militarized police units in poor social and urban spaces," and "the remarkably high levels of incarceration for males" (207).

As in most of Eltit's other novels, Fuerzas is narrated by a female dramatic narrator at the intradiegetic level. The text is divided in twenty-six titled chapters. In contradistinction to Carne and Fruta, however, there is almost no story line here, no argument. If in Sime's and Meruane's texts it is concrete violent actions against the body that stand out, in Eltit's text violence is ubiquitous, incessant, and omnipotent. In the same way that in Impuesto a series of repeated allusions to particular dates in Chilean history marks the formal and thematic rhythm of the diegesis, in this novel it is instead the frequent reference to armed interventions that do. Indeed, the text begins as follows: "Habia dos mil Webley-Green .455. // Habia mil trescientas Baretta Target 90" (11). And it ends thus: "Habia cuatro mil millones de proyectiles de artilleria teledirigidos de alto rango XM82 Excalibur" (165). These types of sentences appear on almost every page of Fuerzas, unexpectedly, as if to remind the reader linguistically of the drama that the narrating voice, her family, and friends experience on a daily basis.

The body under siege in Eltit's most recent novel is "el bloque," where its inhabitants live in constant fear that the police, detectives, swat teams, and the military could, at any moment, invade their premises and not only destroy their belongings but also arrest them. Much of Fuerzas deals with a female dramatic narrator trying to understand why, more than a year earlier, her sister's two sons were taken away by the police and are still in prison. But at the same time that she refers to "las cuarenta y ocho horas de infamia policial" (20) in relationship to this event, she also makes reference to "los operativos policiales" (38) that continue to take place in the present and which, in her judgment, are directly related to the Special Forces' low salaries. This pecuniary aspect of the text, in turn, is closely linked to the second overriding theme of the novel: the precariousness of employment. The narrator and her friend Omar work at the "ciber," where both offer sexual favors for insignificant amounts of money, whereas el Lucho, another friend who's in charge of the "ciber," charges them for using the "ciber's" computers and space. As paradoxical as it may seem, much of life for these characters, prisoners in and of "el bloque," takes place virtually, on the computer, while as they contemplate objects of desire to which they will never have real access, they receive the daily violence of an economic and political system that keeps them marginalized. In her review of the novel, Andrea Jeftanovic rightly points out regarding Eltit's "mirada frontal e incomoda a las posibilidades de Internet": "La red como un espejismo, como una tierra de nadie, colonizada por el poder de compra, de ofrecimientos, de pulsiones." Eltit underscores this idea by peppering the text with multiferious neologisms made up of the word "bloque": "ninos bloque" (48), "el bloque miedo" (54), "los quiltro bloque" (94), "una turba bloque" (94), "los habitantes bloque" (95), "la realidad bloque" (116), "el bloque ciber" (158), among others.


To read the novels of Sime, Meruane and Eltit examined here is to venture into the multiple manners in which violence, mostly physical but also symbolic and psychological, has been consistently inflicted upon Chile's body in the last forty years. The order in which the texts have been analyzed reveals a trajectory that has its genesis in a political cataclysm: Pinochet's forceful takeover in 1973, and its apocalypse in an economic transformation that erected neoliberalism as the only possible way to live and conceive of one's existence. While, indubitably, there have been improvements in Chile since it began its slow (and ongoing) return to democracy in 1990, Sime, Meruane and Eltit--like other Chilean critics such as Tomas Moulian, Andres Solimano and Pedro Lemebel, among others--prefer to focus their attention on the aporias, not on the triumphs of a minority. If Sime publishes Carne, where the brutal infliction of violence serves the purpose of instituting a new law upon the nation, it is because the moral issue of the torture of political prisoners during Pinochet's dictatorship remains largely unresolved. And if Fruta and Fuerzas present the excesses of neoliberal policies, especially the former, it is not only because Chileans in large numbers want a new type of society but also because, as is made clear in Eltit's text, it's not just that the subaltern cannot speak, she/he cannot live. The scenarios depicted in Carne, Fruta and Fuerzas clearly do not square with the glorious views of Chile that many Chileans have. In fact, what the authors of these three texts wish to show is that the country's apparent economic success has come at a high cost and with serious consequences for some. From this perspective, Carne is not an anachronistic account, as some readers might think, since it evinces in no uncertain terms the violent circumstances under which contemporary Chile was founded. Fruta and Fuerzas, for their part, dramatize the nefarious results of a modus operandi that not only subjects everything to the market but also punishes those who are excluded from it.

J. Agustin Pasten B.

North Carolina State University


(1) Very much a product of the times, her very insightful On Violence (1969) focuses much of her attention on the curious paradoxical idea that the improvement of weapons of mass destruction appeared as the best deterrent against war and, especially, on the use of violence on university campuses and students' rejection of the notion that the development of new technologies would improve the world, criticizing in the process not only Sartre's pronouncements on the validity of violence in his preface to Fanon's Les damnes de la terre (1961) but also Fanon himself as well as the New Left and, somewhat surprisingly, in my opinion, the black power movement in general and the Black Panthers in particular.

(2) See Bueno 189-201, Dussel 93-121 and Quijano 17-24.

(3) Understandably, the number of studies dedicated to violence is large indeed. Nevertheless, the ones by Arendt, Sorel, Fanon (the first chapter of his Les damnes) and Dorfman are among some of the best known.

(4) Fruta from now on.

(5) In chapters 14th ("Repenser l'impot progressif") and 15th ("Un impot mondial sur le capital"), respectively.

(6) Carne from here on.

(7) Canovas provides a good overview of La Nueva Narrativa Chilena. Also, consult Cortinez and Espinosa and Coloma.

(8) David Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism (2005) continues to be an excellent point of entry into this otherwise complex subject. For a more recent view of neoliberalism which takes into account the evolution from "regulated capitalism" to neoliberalism, see chapter one of Solimano's Economic Elites.

(9) Although, presently (August 2016), Chile is experimenting quite a deceleration of its economy.

(10) Chile's Gini Coefficient--the most commonly used measurement of the income distribution of a country's residents--was 50.8 in 2011, Mexico's was 48.1 in 2012. A Gini Coefficient of zero expresses perfect equality, while 100 represents perfect inequality. For information on the Gini Coefficient of various countries, see A well-documented article by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs from 2011 examines the perplexing paradox that, while Chile's economy was booming, inequality continued to grow unabatedly. Paul Drake, in reference to neoliberal policies and inequality in Chile during the first post-dictatorship democratic regimes, states, "While Chile's democratic presidents curtailed absolute poverty, they did not reduce inequality, a much harder task without massive government intervention that would violate the limits of the model" (xi). See, also, Solimano (Chile 1-15), who, while recognizing Chile's multiple economic, political and social achievements in the years since the end of Pinochet's dictatorship, says that the country still has a long way to go in these areas. According to international standards, Chile does not rate favorably in the following areas (among others) in Solimano's view: "environmental vulnerability and sustainability, gender equality, unemployment, education and health, crime and violence, and social stratification" (10).

(11) These last years, in fact, educational reform has been the hottest political issue in Chile, even more important than reform to the pension system or to the constitution.

(12) Broadly speaking, "Concertacion governments," "Concertacion coalition," or, simply, the "Concertacion," refers to a coalition of center-left political parties in Chile which has its origins in 1988, when a referendum was held to decide whether Pinochet should continue to be in power. In 2013, in order to support Bachelet's second election to the presidency, the "Concertacion" was replaced by the "Nueva Mayoria."

(13) Almost two years and a few months after she came into office (March 11, 2014), the subject of writing a new constitution continues to be put off, and many Chileans who voted for Bachelet are beginning to withdraw their support for her government. Chile's current constitution, by the way, was crafted by Pinochet's regime in 1980.

(14) The business sector, for example, reacted strongly against Bachelet's government recent restructuring of Chile's "reforma tributaria," even if, in the end, this restructuring had to be weakened significantly in order to be approved by members of the opposition. Many in the opposition, moreover, and especially those in the economic sector, blame Bachelet for Chile's current economic deceleration. As regards the code of silence among members of the Chilean armed forces, its chief, Humberto Oviedo, recently denied its existence: "No podria ni por etica decir ni poder confirmar que nosotros albergamos pactos o amparamos pactos de silencio al Interior del Ejercito," he stated (see Cadiz).

(15) The battle to eliminate the so-called 20% IVA ("impuesto al valor agregado") from books, imposed during Pinochet's regime, has been, almost literally, a Sisyphean enterprise. While it is true, to be sure, that, like elsewhere, if people don't read books as they used to they do read material from the internet, in Chile books are especially expensive. If, as of the year of 2015, 75% of households in Chile are earning less than 450,000 pesos per month--about US$ 700 when 642 pesos equal one dollar--, buying books becomes an impossibility for many families.

(16) Avoiding talk about the past was particularly true during the first years of the democratic transition, at the beginning of the nineties. But, overall, the subject of historical memory, especially the subject concerning Pinochet's regime (1973-1990), has been tangibly elusive among the general public.

(17) As regards the relationship between a narrator and the events that he/she recounts, Genette distinguishes four types of narrating. "Simultaneous" narration is a type of narration that is contemporaneous with the action and, naturally, employs the present tense. "Subsequent" narration is a narration that uses the verbal past and is the most common. "Prior" narration makes use of the future tense and is thus predictive. "Interpolated" narration--which usually occurs in the epistolary novel--is arguably the most complex, since the relationship between the narrating instance and the time of the story varies significantly. For Genette's concept of "time of the narrating," see pages 215-27 of his study.

(18) The DINA was the "Direccion de Inteligencia Nacional," a secret police agency created in 1974 whose goal was the extermination of key sectors of the left. Though, prior to the coup, each branch of the armed forces had its own specialized intelligence department, the need arose to centralize, as well as to reduce the brutality of the military repression that took place the first months after Allende's overthrow. Just as it happens in Carne, the DINA's basic modus operandi was, first the torture of political prisoners detained in multiple secret locations throughout the city, and then, though not the case of Maria Rosa, the disappearance of their bodies. Its agents wore civilian clothing and drove in unmarked cars. It was central in the consolidation of Pinochet's power. In 1977 it was replaced by the CNI ("Central Nacional de Inteligencia"), an institution that resembled the DINA but was also very different from it. For an excellent analysis of the secret operations of the DINA, the CNI and repression in general during Pinochet's dictatorship, consult Policzer's analysis.

(19) It is likely that the author may have been inspired by the death of former president Eduardo Frei Montalva (1964-1970), who died under suspicious circumstances in a military hospital in Santiago in 1982. Although it has never been proven, it's been alleged that while receiving intensive care at this hospital he was poisoned by the DINA, the first intelligence service of Pinochet's regime. Initially very critical of Allende's government and a strong supporter of the coup d'etat that overthrew him, he later became a tenacious opponent of Pinochet's dictatorship.

(20) of the thousands of exiles who left Chile when the military junta took over, many went to Sweden. Several others took refuge in Mexico, Venezuela and France, among other countries.

(21) In particular, in the first two chapters of his book.

(22) In chapter one of her study on Chile's food industry, Heidi Tinsman disputes, however, the idea that Chile's neoliberal makeover had its origins in the shock therapy treatment preached by Chicago Boys such as Friedman; at least with respect to food and especially grapes, she claims, it might be better to speak about "the California Boys" (19). She writes, "The economic miracle for which Chile's military regime would become famous in the 1980s was a product long in the making" (27).

(23) As is well known, both Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan went on to apply similar shock therapy treatments to the economies of their own countries. For an excellent overview of the specific consequences of neoliberal policies upon women's working conditions and family life worldwide, see Tithi's study.

(24) The metaphor of the nation as a sick country, of course, is not new. It was predominant, for instance, in the narrative and essayistic discourse of the members of the Generacion del 98 in Spain. In Latin America, one thinks of Alcides Arguedas's Pueblo enfermo (1909) and, more recently, of Eltit's own narrative as well as of the urban chronicles of Pedro Lemebel.

(25) If among the estimated 150,000 workers in the fruit industry in 1978 half were women, of the approximately 250,000 working in fruit-packing plants in 1988 70% were women (Tinsman 27).

(26) Although Tinsman's study paints an overall more positive picture of women's working conditions in fruit-packing plants. From a personal and economic point of view it gave women a certain degree of independence which they lacked during the agrarian reform period and earlier, and their cash wages "became crucial to rural survival and of similar financial importance to those of men" (56).

(27) The Languages, Literatures, and Cultures Conference. University of Kentucky, Lexington.

(28) Impuesto from here on.

(29) An interview conducted by Maria Teresa Cardenas (in Eltit).


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Author:Pasten B., J. Agustin
Article Type:Critical essay
Date:Dec 1, 2016
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