« The Question of Taste: Bill Berkson | Main | Love Generation: Virginia Admiral Remembers Robert Duncan »

Notes on Chilean Literature (Or Those Queer Birds Disturbing the Necrophilic Silence of the Barrio Alto)

By David Golding

Perhaps then it would be easier to go, to leave behind a small puddle of tears, a tiny well of watery sadness that no secret police agent would ever be able to identify. Because a fairy’s tears have no color, no identification, no taste; they have never watered any garden of illusion. The tears of a poor, abandoned fairy like her would never see the light of day, would never be the humid worlds that absorbent handkerchiefs would blot off the pages of literature. The tears of a faggot always seem fake: utilitarian tears, clown tears, kinky tears, a cosmetic enhancement to eccentric emotions. –Pedro Lemebel (“cross-dresser, militant, third-world champion, anarchist, Mapuche indian by adoption...possessor of a painfully long memory...the best poet of my generation, though he doesn’t write poetry” –Roberto Bolaño)

Pinochet’s success in transforming the Chilean economy (I recall interviewing his youthful “Chicago Boys” and being struck by the intensity of their drive to privatize and modernize) provided the basis for export growth, free trade, an independent central bank and a limited state sector—achievements a democratic Chile has been able to build on to become the most prosperous country in the region. Nothing can excuse what Pinochet did.—Roger Cohen (columnist for The New York Times, amateur author of victor’s history, occasional interviewer of torture victims, possibly a nightmarish embryo in the brain of Walter Benjamin who will be born in a graveyard in a distant century: more degenerate than Ross Douthat, less well-read than David Brooks, decidedly less read than Thomas Friedman).

1. The Last Rites of a Chilean Poet

I thought I’d been to every bookstore in Santiago (and visited every book-peddler and attended every literary festival, not just the state-sponsored festivals but the anarchist festivals and the Palestina libre festivals and even one festival devoted entirely to the Austrian School, which was a macabre affair, presided over by zombies or melancholy cannibals). As it turned out, I let four months pass before I stumbled into the best bookstore in Santiago, which is called Metales Pesados (heavy metals) and which happens to be just down the street from my apartment. Metales Pesados is owned by the Chilean poet, or former Chilean poet, Sergio Parra. I say former Chilean poet because, according to Parra, on his fortieth birthday he stopped writing. Supposedly, he looked out the window of his bookshop that morning and realized that everything around him had changed, everything bored him now, let others write, he only wanted to sell books and devote himself to his bachelorhood. Gone forever, according to Parra, were the halcyon days of the military dictatorship when any poor kid could show up to the capital and become a poet or a painter or start a band, provided that he know how to drink, provided that he was an obsessive, provided that he knew who the cuicos (the bastards, the pigs, the cops, etc.) were, provided that he was filled with contempt and a love for life on the margins, provided that he was gay or if he wasn’t gay that fucking was his singular passion (next to drinking, behind art), provided that he knew how to work, provided that the streets were his true homeland, provided that he had inherited nothing.

For thirty years, Parra has worn the same outfit every day: immaculately ironed white shirts, black suit jacket and pants, and black patent leather shoes. From eight to ten every evening, even back when he was drinking, he ironed his shirts without fail, and everyone knew not to disturb him during these hours, which were sacred hours for his thinking, for his loneliness, hours without which he never could have been a poet. An interviewer once asked Parra if he was gay. Parra responded that, although many people think he’s gay, he’s not, because if he were gay he would be the first to found an ultra-sectarian group of gay extremists, just as when he decided to become a poet he became an extremist poet, and when he decided to become an alcoholic he became an extremist alcoholic. Through discipline, through obsession, he arrived at the very end of his life, at the very end of his poetry, at the very end of his drinking. Now he no longer drinks or writes poetry, but he considers himself a retired poet and a retired alcoholic, because one never stops being either, alcoholism and poetry are two chronic illnesses one lives with and lives through to the very end.

Parra likes writers who write from their own biography, who have gone without bread, who don’t bitch or use rhetoric, who started with nothing: the autodidacts, the nymphos for the written word, the cocksuckers for the spoken word. If he were told that he had six months to live, he would spend his final two hours cleaning the grave of Céline (he doesn’t say what he would do for the other six months minus two hours, but those things are hard to determine). The grave of Céline: that’s a fanatical religion, a fanatical last rite. And I like Céline. Sometimes Parra strikes me as the kind of guy who would prefer Trifles for a Massacre, the craziest book Céline ever wrote, the book where Céline succumbed to his Jew-madness, where he called Cézanne a Jew and Racine a Jew, the book that made the Nazi censors blush, that even Brasillach said was a buffoonish (but spiritually great) book, to Journey to the End of the Night or Death on the Installment Plan. And after he cleans Céline’s grave? Then he’ll install himself in a chair, lean back, and die. And if whoever is responsible for burying him doesn’t dress him to the nines, he’ll come back from the dead and drag the guy down to hell with him.

2. Cases of Mistaken Identity

But luckily, Chilean poetry soldiers on. The last time I was in Parra’s bookstore, I decided to buy a collection of essays by Pedro Lemebel. Isn’t Lemebel dead?, my girlfriend asked. Seated about ten feet away from us were Parra and a man who appeared to be very ill and spoke with an electrolarynx. They talked about the situation in Venezuela and about each other’s health. They seemed like they had been friends for a long time. I paid for the book and left.

I have the Spanish literary critic Ignacio Echevarria to thank for my epiphany, which in some ways resembled nausea. In the very first paragraph of Echevarria’s introduction, he talks (obviously but effectively) about Lemebel’s laryngeal cancer, about the cruel irony of a disease that has robbed Lemebel of his voice, Lemebel who wages a guerilla campaign on the field of the written word, but who is a partisan of the choked and throttled and dispossessed voice, for whom the written word is a graveyard (a graveyard for the murderers and a graveyard for the victims, but in different ways) on the edge of the illiterate abyss of sounds.

Echevarria was a good friend of Roberto Bolaño, and is now Bolaño’s literary executor. In the Chilean media, he is famous for contributing to the ongoing soap opera about Bolaño’s conjugal life, or Bolaño’s sex life. In doing so, he comes off as somewhat of a jerk-off (but only somewhat, because he can be witty, too) with his chauvinistic chatter about the vampiric-bourgeois woman who wants to exploit genius for her own ends (that would be Carolina Lopez, Bolaño’s widow). My advice is that they continue this tawdry plotline by either fucking or killing one another, which either way will put an end to the sordid affair and allow us to read Bolaño in peace.

Incidentally, according to a Chilean friend of mine who has never read Bolaño, when Bolaño died many people in Chile confused him with the Mexican television actor Roberto Bolaños and were in fact quite distressed by this piece of news (even though Bolaños, as opposed to Bolaño when he died, is an old man). Their distress was compounded by confusion. Why does everyone keep saying he’s Chilean? Why is everyone acting as if a national treasure has died? When they were informed of who Bolaño was, and why many people were grieving, they were still confused. Okay, so he was a good writer, but you said he lived in Spain and grew up in Mexico. What makes him Chilean? (This is both a genuine aporia and a faintly xenophobic dog-whistle, because the question of Chilean expatriates is a painful and socio-politically complicated one: expats are still seen as faggots and communists, or traitors which is to say the same thing, by the Right, and often as privileged opportunists by the poor and middle class: of course, there was hardly a better dissector and mocker of the Chilean expat community than Bolaño himself: Bolaño always refused to believe in the sanctity of exile: after all exile is better than winding up dead, and as for artists, the Irish petty bourgeoisie at the time probably couldn’t have cared less whether James Joyce became a priest or killed himself). Still, now that she knows who Bolaño is and was, my friend likes to ask me to say his nationality as if it were a tongue-twister, a matryoshka doll, or a binomial equation. The Tijuana poet-blogger Heriberto Yepez says, “Bolaño is a Chilean-Mexican-Spanish (atrocious ménage) adaptation of intellectual table talk and paper arrogance.” And Yepez likes Bolaño.

At an Irish bar of all places (owned by the biggest bigot expat in Santiago, in the seventies DINA would have had to rein him in, maybe he would have ended up in the fascist cellar of Patria y Libertad), I almost got in a fight with a couple of Chilean poets because I told them I preferred Bolaño’s novels to his poetry. Now I regret that things turned hostile, because the owner has all but banned Chileans from coming to his bar, and I’ll probably never see them again.

The owner of the Irish bar has a saying about police brutality in Chile (which amounts to an epidemic). One roto in the cemetery is one less roto on the street, he says. (A roto is a national nickname for a Chilean man. He’s a sad and stoic drunk with a heart of gold).

3. The Unfathomable Idiocies of Roger Cohen

On September 7th 1986, when “Gen. Augusto Pinochet ruled Chile with an iron fist” (it’s like the beginning of a fairy tale, a fucked up fairy tale without a moral, or with a strange and inscrutable moral, a fairy tale in which the evil Prince of right-wing dictatorship is replaced by the true Prince of the Neoliberal State), Roger Cohen was in Valparaiso having “a fish lunch washed down with Sauvignon Blanc” (note that he wasn’t having Allende’s red wine and empanadas). For no reason at all, except that the sun is shining (which makes the story seem falsified), they joke that Pinochet would choose that day to get assassinated. Of course, that was the day that the Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front (no need to mention the name of the group, or inform the reader of who Manuel Rodríguez was, probably just another one of those Che Guevara wannabes) chose to launch a bold attack on the presidential motorcade that came just short of killing Pinochet, who, as one of Lemebel’s characters in the novel My Tender Matador speculates, must have been in league with the devil to survive (the others object: we already knew he was in league with the devil). Roger Cohen still seems, in the year 2014, a little peeved that he had to interrupt his “boozy afternoon” and rush back to Santiago (but one should never underestimate the preternatural and synesthesic memory of a glutton). Some bad things happened at the hands of the State (what do you expect? Our Third World mercenaries are so temperamental!). Now, in the present (the eternal and homogenous and benevolent present), Roger Cohen returns to Chile to discover a truly astonishing cornucopia of shit: “”the global wrap, the global muffin, the global high-rise, the global Irish Pub, global sushi, global malls, global brands, global coffee shops and global ATM” [emphasis added]. He goes on to reflect on the passage of time, which heals all wounds, and to compose a truly bafflingly and disgustingly inane sentence, even by his standards: “The tides of social change are unimaginably slow beneath the rat-tat-tat of connectivity.” A few thoughts on Russian neo-Tsardom and the Ukraine follow. Lastly, he commends the possible merits of Field Marshal Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi (possible, only if he emulates the model of Pinochet), who is the only hope for the Middle East. But “judgment will have to wait until about 2040,” says the daring prognosticator Roger Cohen, who will thankfully (hopefully) be dead in the year 2040. Though I should say, cheaply perhaps, that he will get to live a lot longer than most of his collaterally damaged human beings, whom Lemebel calls the pile of dreams and bones at the bottom of the neoliberal pyramid.

(I’m not a pugilist or an economist, nor do I want to stoop to their level, but everyone knows the so-called Chilean Miracle was a sham).

4. The Irrepressible Birds of Pedro Lemebel

Lemebel’s Tengo miedo torero [My Tender Matador] takes place in the weeks leading up to, on the same day of, and during the aftermath of, Cohen’s chronicle. And yet the difference between them is the difference between Ulysses and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (at least on a literary, if not an ethical, level). And Lemebel does for The Queen of the Corner what Joyce does for Leopold Bloom: redeems her in the realms of language, silence, and desire (which for Lemebel is a negotiation between the first two terms, or is the true language of both language and silence). The three principal characters are, in the fairy tale tradition, the Queen, her young revolutionary Prince (who loves but cannot love her), and the evil Dictator, who emerges as far more human with his uxorious whines, his memories of an unhappy and sadistic boyhood, his utterly and inversely queered perspective on birds, literature, warfare, politics, and the Chilean countryside, than he does in Cohen’s account, in which Pinochet is nothing but a syphilitic sore on the virtuous, teleological cock of the Chicago boys.

5. Homophobia and the Left

The Left, naturally, has exploited, abused, and persecuted homosexuals. Lemebel became famous for a speech he called Manifesto (I’m speaking about my difference), which he delivered at a political gathering of Chilean leftists in 1986. The poem/manifesto begins, I am not Pasolini asking for explanations/I am not Ginsberg expelled from Cuba and goes on as a cri de coeur against leftist hypocrisy (He’s a faggot but he writes well/He’s a faggot but he’s a good friend), totalitarianism (Does there still exist a Siberian train of reactionary propaganda/That train that passes by your pupils/When my voice becomes too sweet), puritanism (Although later you hate me/For corrupting your revolutionary morality), and lovelessness and paranoia (I’m not talking about fucking and being fucked/And being fucked and fucking/I’m talking about tenderness, comrade). But Lemebel, who is after all a “man of the Left,” who calls himself more radical than all of you, refuses to let his accusation become one of identity politics grievance-mongering and entrenchment (as does Jaime Parada, a Chilean politician and writer who authored a book with the Cartesian title, Yo gay). Haven’t homosexuals been exploiters, as well?, he asks. Not just in the obvious sense, in the sense of the right-wing queen who talks about how much she loves the military dictatorship, not only for its fascistically macho qualities but for its immiseration of poor men: With all this fear and terror, the poor men are all the hornier. But in a more cryptic way, in the way the Queen of the Corner allows herself to be exploited, in the way that all love is exploitation. If anything, for Lemebel, those who can’t be forgiven, those whom it is impossible to forgive, are those who forego the erotics of exploitation: the empty-headed and empty-hearted bourgeoisie. Like Genet, but more humanely, Lemebel draws an absolute and annihilating metaphysical line: the ones who love and are capable of being loved, and those who don’t and aren’t.

Like every metaphysics, the metaphysics of love and hate (which are the same thing for Lemebel) has its limitations. Because a writing like Lemebel’s, a writing so steeped in conviction, can get carried away on the current of its own emotion and forget that there are people (the majority, perhaps) that don’t give a shit whether they’re loved or hated or not.

6. Metaphysics

Better a leftist metaphysics of love (and hate) than a leftist metaphysics of apology for crimes that haven’t been committed (we’re not like the Chavistas) or crimes that never could have been committed (the chimerical concentration camps that Allende would have set up had he been given the chance: here, as always when the subject of Allende comes up, Bolaño gets carried away: he imagines himself and a young MIRista in a concentration camp, him for being a counterrevolutionary, her for suffering from infantile leftist disorder). Better a leftist metaphysics that doesn’t forgive (Lemebel to Bolaño on the telephone: They can’t forgive me for having a voice…They can’t forgive me for remembering all the things they did…But you want to know what they really can’t forgive…? They can’t forgive me for not forgiving them) than a leftist metaphysics that bows and scrapes and begs forgiveness.

There’s an official hagiography of Allende in Chile, but his grave at the Cementerio General is deserted, while the wall commemorating the young people who died in September 1973 is overwhelmed with flowers, and even the mausoleum of a former head coach of Colo-Colo attracts more attention. Which isn’t to say exactly that Allende should have shut down the bourgeois insurrectionist parliament and armed his supporters, but isn’t to say the opposite, either.

7. Tertulia of Torturers

What does Bolaño have against me? –Mariana Callejas (Chilean short-story writer, ex-DINA agent, husband of the ineffable Michael Townley, arch-villain in Lemebel’s short story, Las orchídeas negras de Mariana Callejas, and Bolaño’s novel, Nocturno de Chile, which she read for the first and last time (only the passages concerning her person) while serving a prison sentence for the assassination of Carlos Prats, Allende’s commander-in-chief, in Buenos Aires)

8. The Infinite Cleanliness of Reformism

The new (and former) center-left president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, has promised, in her fifty reforms in one hundred days pledge, to give free dental care to working class women with bad teeth. Which sums up the kind of cheap populism and cosmetic reformism the so-called Chilean Left trades in.

Of course, in Chile it is shameful to be a poor woman and a virtual crime to be a poor woman with bad teeth.

9. The Specter Haunting Macho Countries

Camila was born in La Florida, a commune in the southeast of Santiago, in 1987, just before the fall of Pinochet and the Berlin Wall. But history, as Walter Benjamin tells us, is a single catastrophe, and Camila's life was like a continuous vertigo, a nightmare blown through the millennium by a gentle, paradisiacal breeze (perhaps, she thought sometimes in moments of extreme nostalgia or extreme unhappiness, it would have been better if actually existing socialism and actually existing military dictatorship had formed a pact against time, had agreed to remain like two mirrors or two Mayan stellae grimacing at one another and contemplating one another in an absolutely false eternity). Camila's parents were communists who had made their way, through silence and amnesia, into the ranks of the middle class, or what passed for the middle class in a poor country at the end of the Earth. When Camila was four, her younger brother choked to death while she was alone in a room with him, and if this wasn't her first memory, it was her most radioactive memory, the event that stood for memory itself. One night, when she was eight, she was raped by a man who was a guest at her grandfather's house. Two years later, she and her younger sister became gravely ill on the same day. They spent a week in bed wasting away with a high fever and excruciating nausea. The doctors who examined them were stumped, but they all agreed that the two little girls didn't have long to live. Camila's grandmother, who lived in Chiloé and whom Camila's family, in spite of their communism, always believed to be a witch with miraculous powers, came to Santiago to heal them. According to Camila, she sat by their bed for two days and two nights, administering vile and unfathomable potions, herbs, lustrations of water and blood and animal viscera, and most of all prayer, a wild lunatic prayer that left Camila's sister in stitches but struck Camila herself as diabolical. When these measures failed and the girls continued to get sicker, the old woman decided to perform an exorcism. Camila always swore that she saw demons departing her body (through her mouth, her eye sockets, her chest, her vagina) in gusts of noxious black smoke, and that one of the demons had the face of her rapist, another that of Pinochet, a third, mysteriously, that of her dead brother. Her sister claimed to have seen nothing at all. Whenever Camila would bring it up, she would laugh and say, You're as crazy as that old witch, Camila. When they were grown up, she stopped laughing about it and told her sister never to mention the subject of the exorcism ever again. Still, the fact remains that the girls got better, and that Camila saw what she saw.

When she was twelve, Camila's grandfather died (not the husband of the witch, but her father's father). At his funeral, Camila saw the man who had raped her four years earlier. He was very old and very weak, and the one time he looked at her he didn't seem to know who she was.

At the age of fourteen, Camila tried but failed to sleep with her boyfriend. The idea of it disgusted her. A month later she told her friends and her family that she was gay. Her father gave her mother an ultimatum: Either the marica goes, or I go. When Camila's mother chose her over her father, her father left the family. When the administrators at her Catholic school found out, they tried to expel her. Camila's mother spent days on the phone with the administration, threatening an implacable vengeance if they dared to kick her daughter out of school. The school dropped the matter, but Camila's classmates tormented her. Through all of this, Camila remained like Benjamin's angel, or like Klee's angel: sweet, mournful, open-eyed.

Camila was a hardworking student and when she was eighteen she started studying economics at a university in Santiago. At the same time, her sister got pregnant and married her boyfriend, who liked drugs, soccer, and fucking around, in that order. Camila also had a much younger brother, who was born just before her father took off. After Camila's sister left, it was just the three of them in the house in La Florida. When Camila graduated, she got a consulting job at a firm that did a lot of work with German companies, so she had to be in the office by 6 AM every morning. Camila's sister's husband refused to work, so she had to set aside some of her income every month for her niece's education. Meanwhile, her younger brother stopped going to school and had run-ins with the police.

A year after she started working at the firm, Camila fell in love with a girl at the office, and the two of them started dating. Camila thought she was the most beautiful girl she had ever met. She was also from a right-wing military family who lived in Las Condes and she refused to be seen with Camila. Eventually she agreed they could go out in public together on the condition that they behaved platonically. Camila learned to accept this omerta, but it always pained her, particularly because she loved to dance and would have given anything to have been able to show her girlfriend off at a nightclub. She became very close with her girlfriend's family, although they always considered her their daughter's close friend. Sometimes her girlfriend would tell her, One day I'm going to leave you and marry a man and start a family. Sometimes her girlfriend would slap her, or pull her hair, or throw hot coffee in her face. Once she shoved her down a flight of stairs. You know why I'm going to leave you?, she said on that occasion. It's not just because you're a dyke, she said. It's because you come from a family of communist dogs. Even if you were a man, I wouldn't marry you. But she could be kind, too, and Camila always ended up forgiving her.

When Camila was twenty-six, and her mother was forty-one, a doctor found a tumor the size of a tennis ball in her mother's stomach. They were sitting together at the breakfast table when her mother told her that she only had six months to live. They cried together and agreed not to tell Camila's brother. Then Camila went to work. Camila told her girlfriend and two days later her girlfriend broke up with her. She told her father on the phone (she hadn't spoken to him in nearly a decade) and her father started to sob, a soft harsh static sound that could have been choking or coughing if she didn't know better, and he begged her forgiveness for leaving them, which of course she gave him. Then she got back with her girlfriend. She thought about what she would do when her mother died and about how she would support her brother. In February she had her two weeks of vacation, which she spent with her mother baking and watching television. Her girlfriend said that they should get a place together, and although this is what she always wanted, she had to stay with her mother through her illness. Maybe you can move in when she dies?, she said. What about your brother?, her girlfriend said. And Camila had to admit that she hadn't been thinking of her brother, that she had allowed herself to get carried away.

Camila's mother had a series of operations but she kept getting worse. After her third operation, she decided she couldn't take a fourth. Around the same time, Camila found out that a friend of hers from high school, the only other gay girl in her class, had been raped, tortured, and murdered by a gang of fascists, or at least that was the word that came to mind, but in reality they weren't fascists, they were just disturbed kids, kids in the grip of pure evil, and Camila cried for them as much as for her dead friend.

10. On the Ambiguity of So-Called Emotions

I was fully prepared to hate Camila’s girlfriend after hearing this (overdone but nonetheless true) story, but that turned out to be impossible. I’m sure if I met her Allendeist father, I’d like him, too.

I even liked the young lawyers who, after drunkenly hymning the praises of the Colo-Colo soccer team (one guy), Pinochet (the second), and the pragmatic development policies of the new Right (the third guy), took me to a strip club. The first two guys went off to have sex with the strippers while the third, who was the son of an ambassador with definitely dirty hands, got teary-eyed about the fate of his country’s poor (naturally he didn’t say proletariat). These poor women, he said, are being exploited by my friends. They could be secretaries, he said. (The spectacle of a masochistically impotent scion of the Chilean oligarchy acting like a cross between Dostoevsky’s Underground Man and Paul Ryan is probably worth seeing once before death).

Anyway, Chilean stories are full of holes and hypocrisy. Worse yet are the stories told about Chileans by gringos.

11. The Insomnia of Eavesdroppers

Two cartoonishly robust, extravagantly blond gringos walk into a bar. They exchange the obligatory commiserating comments about how hungover they are (Chileans, it’s worth noting, never get hungover). Then one of them starts bitching about an assignment he’s been given. He works for one of the innumerable multinationals that is predatorily buying up land (or outright stealing land) throughout Chile, particularly mining in the north, forestry and agriculture in the south. The gringo wants to buy land from an old Mapuche Indian who’s dying of cancer. His extended family doesn’t want him to sell. Before he can buy the land from the old Mapuche, he has to get around a flimsy bureaucratic injunction against the sale of land on sacred burial grounds. So this gringo was forced into the utterly unnatural and humiliating role of a freelance anthropologist. As far as I can tell, he says, it was just a mass grave from a smallpox epidemic back in the nineteenth century. His friend (who appears to be an expert on this topic): Nah, man, shouldn’t be a problem.

12. Beyond the Margins

Lemebel’s essay, El abismo iletrado de unos sonidos (The Illiterate Abyss of Some Sounds), about his visit to the ruins of Chan Chan, near the city of Trujillo in Peru, reaches more profoundly into the defeated depths of history and issues a more urgently messianic and revolutionary cry than anything written by Walter Benjamin, although of course it couldn’t have been written without Benjamin.

Anyone who has read Lemebel and does not identify immediately with the Emperor Atahualpa, who mistook, or pretended to mistake, the Bible for a seashell and heard nothing but an abyss of silence in it, although perhaps the abyss was a premonition of genocide, which itself became silence, and threw the Bible to the ground in disgust (the subsequent pretext for the Spanish slaughter), should probably read someone or something else.

Borges, perhaps.

Lucia Hiriart (Pinochet’s wife) in My Tender Matador: You see, I wasn’t wrong when I told you not to let that whole gang of Marxist intellectuals come home. So different from Jorge Luis Borges, who is such a gentleman, who was so honored when you awarded him the Cruz de Mérito. And they say he lost the Nobel Prize because he said good things about you. Those Swedes simply turned a blind eye to that blind old man. They say his books are very interesting, but to tell you the truth, Augusto, I didn’t understand a thing when I tried to read The Ole, The Haley, The Aleph, whatever it was called…

13. The Last Hurrah of the Unidad Popular

It is New Year’s Eve 1973 and all the queens in Santiago are happy, happy but nervous (they understand nothing about politics, for the most part, but they know the bourgeois ladies aren’t happy with their impertinences and that the workers are feeling friendlier these days). The Queen la Palma, the true queen, the old and matronly faggot, decides to throw a New Year’s party in Recoleta, which used to be a kind of profane paradise for Chilean homosexuals, and now it still has a lot of homosexuals, but it’s not a paradise. Allende has said that even the poor are going to eat turkey this New Year’s and so la Palma vows to buy twenty turkeys for all the locas, all the queers, of Santiago to stuff themselves on. Every loca is invited.

The problems start when the upper-class queens, led by the Queen Pilola Alessandri (an American might as well translate her name as the Little Bitch Roosevelt), show up. They’re disgusted by the food, the surroundings, the political climate of the country, the act of sticking a Chilean flag on the turkey carcass (don’t you care what those soldiers have sacrificed for us?). La Palma tries to apologize, but the party roars on unabated. Eventually, when the upper-class queens want to leave, they start shrieking about their mink coats. Where are they?, they ask. Pilola Alessandri threatens to call her uncle, who’s a high-level military officer. But the other guests think that’s a ridiculous threat (after all, why would she want to bring shame to her family? And why are you wearing mink coats in the summer?). The upper-class queens leave and the music continues to play. Then the stolen mink coats appear.

Time passes. There is the coup, of course, and the queens don’t exactly go underground, but they never recuperate the joy of New Year’s 1973. A single photograph exists of that night. As Lemebel says, anaphorically, it’s not a good photograph.

One by one, the faces in the photograph disappear. Sarcomas blot them out. They grow thinner. They fade into one another, despite the fact that each has a singular death.

La Palma dies after returning from Brazil, inviolably and without regrets (they listen to samba on her deathbed). Pilola Alessandri, glamorous as ever, was on the vanguard of the AIDS virus (“the latest gay fashion in death”) and caught or “bought” it in New York. She died looking like a New York model (later, Lemebel says, at the turn of the millennium, every gay man in Chile looks like a white body-builder from New York, as if they were just in Chile as tourists but couldn’t leave because of their thirst for Chilean blood). La Chumilou, the most beautiful of all the Queens, who could attract any man she wanted, dies out of the logic of her own invulnerability. She pays for her mother’s dental surgery (before Bachelet’s reforms). She gets bundles of American dollars. She always makes her men wear a condom, except one day she forgets to put one in her purse, and her gringo love begs her, Just this one time…She dies on the day democracy returns to Chile, after Pinochet’s defeat in the 1988 plebiscite.

It’s important to distinguish between the way Lemebel looks at that photograph, with the determinism of the disgraced and despised victim (of course it was inevitable that those faces disappear in the plague, of course the smiles are homages to life, to utopia, but also sorrowful valedictory gestures, the theatrical leave-taking wave of a handkerchief) and the way Roger Cohen looks at his own mental photographs, with the determinism of the victor. Metaphysically, they have nothing in common. The victor suffers from prosopagnosia and his determinism takes the form of narrative. The victim’s determinism has been bludgeoned into his head and seared onto his flesh and still she doesn’t believe it happened, or can’t fully believe it happened, or, knowing that it will happen again, screams out against it and condemns it. Although it’s doubtful if the necessary people are listening.

And if they’re listening (I mean those who are resistant to the prose of Pedro Lemebel), they’re probably seething with contempt or convulsing with the worst kind of laughter.

From May, 2014

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Notes on Chilean Literature (Or Those Queer Birds Disturbing the Necrophilic Silence of the Barrio Alto):

» how to attract women with body language from how to attract women with body language
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on June 11, 2014 06:57 AM

» Players Blueprint from Players Blueprint
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on June 11, 2014 07:00 AM

» gucci outlet from gucci outlet
Chad The way My partner and i read the story they have a ten megabit connection. NTL perhaps? [Read More]

Tracked on June 24, 2014 06:06 AM

» web Design Software for beginners mac from web Design Software for beginners mac
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on July 8, 2014 12:01 AM

» Dawson Landscaping Group LLC. from Dawson Landscaping Group LLC.
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on July 9, 2014 12:51 AM

» ファッション雑貨 小物 特別デザイン ファッション雑貨 小物その他 from ファッション雑貨 小物 特別デザイン ファッション雑貨 小物その他
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on July 10, 2014 01:20 AM

» http://gvancifriv.com/ from http://gvancifriv.com/
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on August 20, 2014 01:48 AM

» nanoo from nanoo
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on November 8, 2014 02:13 PM

» adidas アディダス campusス from adidas アディダス campusス
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on November 11, 2014 09:07 AM

» SEO Experts Raleigh from SEO Experts Raleigh
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on November 25, 2014 04:35 AM

» SEO Experts Raleigh from SEO Experts Raleigh
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on November 25, 2014 04:35 AM

» 2014新商品:シューズ from 2014新商品:シューズ
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on November 26, 2014 02:53 AM

» 2 francos 40 pesetas cuando se estrena from 2 francos 40 pesetas cuando se estrena
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on December 14, 2014 08:58 PM

» SANCU Sandal Lucu from SANCU Sandal Lucu
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on December 24, 2014 12:58 AM

» jordan 6 from jordan 6
jordan 11
air jordan 11
louis vuitton outlet
[Read More]

Tracked on March 8, 2015 10:18 AM

» organic from organic
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on August 8, 2015 04:42 AM

» buy prom dresses online from buy prom dresses online
Jennifer Aniston recently and unmarried Alex Justin Theroux secretly married, however the wedding is too mysterious, and even cell phones have already been confiscated guests, thus we missed seeing Aniston's wedding, no wedding outflow, so that fans an... [Read More]

Tracked on August 29, 2015 03:06 PM