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  • Dialectical Geographies in Contemporary Chilean Literature: The Case of Diamela Eltit’s Narrative Production
  • J. Agustín Pastén B.

Without a doubt, spatial representations are as multifarious as life itself. From the seemingly real depictions of space in texts such as Álvar Núñez’s Naufragios and Bernal Díaz’s Historia verdadera,1 to more imaginary representations of space such as Cadalso’s Cartas, Céline’s Voyage and Carpentier’s Los pasos perdidos, or even litero-ethno-sociological portrayals of the likes of Carrió de la Vandera’s Lazarillo or Claude Lévi-Strauss’s ethno-graphic Tristes Tropiques as well as the purely literary journeys of critics such as Guy Davenport’s brilliant The Geography of the Imagination, it would appear as if space’s fate, of necessity, is to be the victim of representation and even theorization (think of Blanchot, Lefebvre or Jameson, for instance). It would appear, moreover, that engravings in general, followed by the first photograph and especially the public introduction of photography in 1839,2 immensely enriched the possibilities of spatial representation, directly or indirectly enabling, in the case of Latin America, the creation of the deliciously intimate geographies of the modernist novel (De sobremesa, Amistad funesta) as well as the wide-open locales of texts bent on inscribing the nation (La vorágine, Doña Bárbara), as Carlos Alonso has noted regarding the so-called “novelas de la tierra.” Now, if in narrative representation in general space perennially oscillates between what could be called an outside and an inside, one might safely argue that Chilean novelist Diamela Eltit privileges enclosed settings.3 At the same time, it could be said that, to a [End Page 31] large extent – and leaving aside the well-known themes of her works –,4 she confects an aesthetics of space. What I wish to analyze here is the way in which, in this aesthetics of space, even in the most claustrophobic of terrains, and as paradoxical as it may seem at first, there is a constant tension between the inside and the outside, the local and the global, the national and the transnational. The tension present in her first novels, nevertheless, starts to dissipate in Mano de obra (2002), being mercilessly overtaken in Impuesto a la carne (2010) – her most recent novel – by a neoliberal Biopower too strong to combat. If in Pedro Lemebel’s urban chronicles there is a relatively clear distinction between the local and the global,5 and if in Alberto Fuguet’s narrative there is a patent confirmation of the cultural transformations brought about by globalization especially among the affluent members of Chile’s capital,6 in Eltit’s novels we witness the trajectory from what might be called a “national-Chile” to a “post-national nation.” My analysis centers its attention foremost on Jamás el fuego nunca (2007) and Impuesto a la carne, even though it also alludes, in passing, to Mano de obra. First, however, a brief overview of some critical assessments concerning spatial representation in Eltit’s previous narrative output is warranted.

Attention has been brought to the presence of “no-exit” type spaces, or “anti-espacios” (Olea, “El cuerpo” 89), in Eltit’s works, as well as to “[e]l problema de los límites” (Kirkpatrick 42) that characterizes her aesthetics of space. One critic underscores the nefarious effects that power and violence have upon interpersonal relationships in general, and between mother and son or mother and daughter in particular, at the very heart of the private sphere of the home (Llanos 110). Regarding “la plaza” in Lumpérica (1983), Eltit’s first novel, some have seen it as an essentially ritualistic and sacred site for the construction of a new type of community, the community of the socially and politically destitute (Tafra 49; Avelar 170), while others, on the contrary, have seen it as “una metáfora de la comunidad ausente” (Ortega 53) and even as a prison (Brito, Campos 122) where public space has been colonized by “el luminoso” (Donoso 255). Concerning Por la patria (1986), Eltit’s second novel, the multiple geographies that populate the text, that is, “el bar,” “el erial...


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