- Dissensual Subjects: Memory, Human Rights, and Postdictatorship in Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay by Andrew C. Rajca
Just after the economic and political crisis in Argentina in 2001–2002, a network of neighborhood groups emerged that took on governing themselves in the absence of a trusted and effective municipal or national government. Through horizontal political organizing, these groups addressed everything from food shortages, access to housing, healthcare, and childcare to parks management [End Page 519] and afterschool tutoring. Many of these asambleas incorporated postdictatorial memory work into their priorities, advocating for restoring murals dedicated to the disappeared or recuperating a local space that had been involved in the campaign of state terror during the 1976–1983 dictatorship.
This confluence of experiments in direct democracy with local citizens’ rights, occupation of urban space, and postdictatorship memory demonstrated what Andrew Rajca underscores in his book, Dissensual Subjects. Memory, Human Rights, and Postdictatorship in Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. Too often, according to Rajca, memory spaces privilege memorializing idealized heroic militant victims of the dictatorial regime over a broader embrace of repression’s effects on the poor, on marginalized communities such as indigenous groups, on common prisoners, and on the populace at large through the period’s neoliberal economic policies. Rajca relies on Jacques Rancière’s concept of “dissensual subjects” to draw attention to the limitations (“exclusions”) promoted by the nunca más/nunca mais umbrella of human rights memorializing that centers on a liberal humanitarian definition. His extensive field work and careful contextualization of three major memory sites seeks to show how rarely the permanent visual displays allow for a more dissensual conversation of human rights that would include anonymous and contested subjects and groups, consideration that goes beyond high profile martyrs and the disappeared. However, his research also shows how these sites’ temporary exhibits disrupt the persistent rhetoric of “never again” to make room for alternative and more expansive subjectivities.
This ambitious study compares the most highly visible public postdictatorial memorial spaces in three countries: Brazil’s Memorial da Resistência (MDR), Uruguay’s Centro Cultural y Museo de la Memoria (MUME), and Argentina’s Espacio para la Memoria y la Promoción y Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (EMPDDHH). All three of these memory spaces occupy former sites of detention and torture under military regimes. Brazil’s MDR is located in the Estação Pinacoteca, a former railway office later converted into state police headquarters, now the Museum of Contemporary Art. Uruguay’s MUME is housed in the former mansion of nineteenth-century dictator Máximo Santos in a residential neighborhood in Montevideo. The EMPDDHH occupies the infamous Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada campus in Buenos Aires. Rajca’s spatial contextualization of these sites in their respective cities contributes to his argument about the exclusion of nonheroic subjects from many of the memorials’ exhibits.
After an eloquent introduction where Rajca situates his work in the ethical turn in aesthetics and politics that “moves beyond the trauma of dictatorship” (20), the first chapter addresses the nunca más/nunca mais documents from each country. He pays particular attention to their introductions, where he establishes how postdictatorial memory has become rooted in a liberal humanitarianism that excludes less overtly politicized subjects (non-militants, the poor, etc.). He leans extensively on Rancière’s notion of aesthetic and ethical logics and the politics of representation, taking as points of departure work [End Page 520] by Alberto Moreiras, Bruno Bosteels, Nelly Richard, Fernando Rosenberg, and Giorgio Agamben. This chapter persistently interrogates the articulation of “never again” in postdictatorship studies, laying the groundwork for the analysis of the memory sites and their collections and exhibits.
The next three chapters present Rajca’s field and archival work in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina at the above-mentioned sites. He approaches these memorial spaces and their messages regarding consensual and dissensual subjects through visual analysis of their permanent and temporary exhibits along with consideration of the publicity generated by the organizations, their mission statements, social media presence, and archival holdings. He invites the reader into...