- The Post-Dictatorship Generation in Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay: Collective Memory and Cultural Production. by Ana Ros
This volume represents a contribution to a growing genre that introduces an explicit generational dimension to memory studies at the same time as it invites political scientists, in particular, to take memory seriously and locate it at the intersection of cultural production and transitional justice dynamics. Together, these works introduce the obvious but intriguing possibility that generational replacement will give way to ‘moving on,’ not through forgetting but through changes in how remembering happens and in the range and register of what is remembered. [End Page 176]
This book chronicles a fascinating range of production, particularly by young Argentine authors and filmmakers, exploring variously what it means to be the descendants of bystanders, supporters, and perpetrators of atrocity. These accounts add to and extend the more familiar ones of what it means to be the child or grandchild of a direct victim or survivor, and introduce the possibility that what was previously characterized as newer generations’ indifference to tales of past atrocities needs further interrogation. It may sometimes include what is essentially a self-protective and self-expressive desire for change, and for challenging received wisdom and the sacralized versions of the past.
Ros’s example, in the introduction, recounts her own experience of being made to watch the iconic Argentine film La noche de los l ápices, not as an homage or an act of civic virtue but as a salutary warning against political engagement. Thus the point is rightly made that next-generation authors, directors, and young creative artists need not see themselves as ‘memory entrepreneurs’, in the sense introduced by Elizabeth Jelin, in order to engage with or deploy tropes about political repression in the recent dictatorial past. They may be, or may become, as likely to make reference to past violence as to any other aspect of their cultural or political heritage, and may well do so without respect for the taboos that previously downplayed or silenced uncomfortable subjects such as civilian collaboration with dictatorial regimes or the human cost of left-wing revolutionary violence.
While the book makes an eloquent plea for cultural and memory studies to speak to and engage with political scholars and vice versa, it also provides some demonstrations of why this undertaking can be so difficult. The book seems to espouse a straightforward version of path dependency theory, lacking in nuance. Ros points to the conditions at transition to explain why Argentina is seen to be ‘ahead’ of both Chile and Uruguay in next-generation memory production, seeming to assume that where memory artifacts are concerned, more is better. A certain tendency to lionize the Kirchners, with insufficient critical examination of recent political appropriation and manipulation of memory discourse in Argentina, is also problematic. The effort to link cultural production with parallel political events is valiant and in itself represents a contribution, but some key political events are incorrectly narrated and the attempts to draw causal relationships between those events and contemporaneous cultural production rarely rise above undocumented assertions of mutual impact. There are methodological challenges here that may require more sustained interdisciplinary attention.
There is nonetheless much food for thought in the volume for cultural studies and memory scholars and political scientists alike, and the descriptions and analyses of the films and other cultural works make for informative and fascinating reading. While the case of Argentina dominates—it is given five chapters, to Chile’s and Uruguay’s one each—there is much to be gained from treating the three cases together, and the book could be read to great effect alongside other recent works. These include a study of memory battles in the same three countries, produced by historians Steve Stern, [End Page 177] Federico Lorenz, Aldo Marchesi, and Peter Winn: No hay mañana sin ayer. Batallas por la memoria histórica en el Cono Sur (2014).