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  • Remembering Pinochet’s Chile: On the Eve of London 1998
  • Brian Loveman
Steve J. Stern , Remembering Pinochet’s Chile: On the Eve of London 1998. The Memory Box of Pinochet’s Chile, vol. 1. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004. Maps, figures, notes, bibliographical essay, index, 280 pp.; hardcover $29.95.

Remembering Pinochet's Chile, the first volume of a planned trilogy titled The Memory Box of Pinochet's Chile, explores contested memories of the military dictatorship (1973–90). It is at once a methodologically eclectic effort to theorize the construction and sustention of social memory (what the author calls "emblematic memory") and an explicitly self-conscious and personal account by a Jewish child of Holocaust survivors (p. 65) of coming to terms with radical evil. The author tells us that this first tome in the trilogy is conceived as a short introduction that uses "select human stories to present key themes and memory frameworks, historical background, and conceptual tools for analyzing memory as a historical process" (p. xxxi). Volumes 2 and 3, scheduled to appear in the next two years, will "undertake the historical analysis proper of memory struggles as they unfolded over time" (p. xxx).

The book is explicitly introspective; at the same time, it melds social and psychological theory on memory and "remembrance" with an oral history–based account of recent events in Chile (1964–98). Stern begins with an introduction to the trilogy, followed by an introduction to the first volume proper. The general introduction places the Chilean case into a broader framework of "dirty wars" and dictatorships in Latin America in the 1960s and beyond; it also situates the Chilean case in the still-broader context, both historically and spatially, of societies that have turned inward on themselves in violent rage, experiencing what Dipak Gupta (2001) calls "collective madness." The author's purpose therefore is to tell the Chilean story and also to foster theoretical and methodological advances in "the study of contentious memory as a process of competing selective remembrances, ways of giving meaning to and drawing legitimacy from human experience" (p. xxvii).

By combining the tools of the professional historian with those of the ethnographer, Stern seeks to historicize social memory. To encapsulate this ambitious project, he proposes the metaphor of a "memory box" containing competing scripted albums, each works in progress, that seek to shape and give meaning to a crucial turning point in life. According to the author, the trilogy asks how Chileans built and struggled over the "memory box of Pinochet's Chile." The outcome of this struggle, he suggests, is a dynamic impasse, cultural oscillation, as if there existed a moral schizophrenia, a society caught between prudence and convulsion (p. xxix).

To anticipate further reflections on this idea, Stern also notes that this unstable impasse partly unraveled after 1998, and it remained to be [End Page 198] seen whether, in the end, a culture of oblivion (olvido) would eventually prevail over demands from social actors for "truth and justice." Of course, asking the question in this way does not necessarily preclude a different and highly likely long-term outcome: olvido for some, gratitude for the military coup for others, some "truth"––that is, more complete revelation of the crimes of the dictatorship and their authors––and some (imperfect) justice (trials and judgment).

The raw material for this trilogy is a set of 93 interviews of various sorts, many closer to extended conversations than interviews in a formal sense. The author is a skilled interviewer and a gifted writer; for anyone familiar with Chile, the excerpts from these interviews reveal lucidly and microscopically the variegated class, racial, gender, political, and urban-rural divides that characterize the country. Stern does not hesitate to interpret the interviews for readers.

Doña Elena was not only her own person with her own idiosyncrasies; she also matched up well with the dignified and respectable Chilean woman who demanded salvation from scarcity, chaos, and fear of violence. . . . As a mother of disappeared sons, Señora Herminda was a living symbol of the limitless rupture—the mothers and wives who had to bear unprecedented and unending cruelty to life and family that opened wounds throughout...


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pp. 198-201
Launched on MUSE
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Archived 2007
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