Photo: Lorena Fernández
Photo: Lorena Fernández

Mi vida después: Non-Kin Affects in Post-Dictatorial Argentina

Written and directed by Lola Arias. Teatro Sarmiento and Teatro Carpintería. 24 April 2009 and 25 September 2010.

Premiered in Buenos Aires at the Teatro Sarmiento, Lola Arias’ Mi vida después (My Life After, 2009) challenges the monopoly of power, pain, and memory that framed the aftermath of Argentina’s dictatorship (1976-1983). As Elizabeth Jelin attests, the unwritten rule in the wake of violence stipulates that only those related by blood to the “disappeared” have the authority to claim justice (1994, 53). Nonetheless, this cutting edge director with no disappeared relatives introduces an intergenerational apparatus for the transmission of trauma that suggests new forms of being together after loss. Decoupled from traditional human rights’ discourses, Arias presents on stage the real stories of six professional actors who were born during the dictatorship, but have different backgrounds. Alongside descendants of guerrilla activists, exiled intellectuals, and a police officer who appropriated a newborn baby from a detention camp, the piece includes the testimonies of those who are not usually considered victims. By playfully engaging with dreams, live music, screens, family photos, and even a prophetic turtle, Arias’ theatrical artifact helps to grasp the extent to which the resonances of trauma can be processed collectively.

Photo: Lorena Fernández
Mi vida después, 2009.

Photo:Lorena Fernández

Mi vida después opens with a shower of clothes falling from the roof. A woman in her early twenties falls into the pile of fabric. She picks out a pair of jeans, tries them on and says to the audience: “When I was seven, I used to dress in my mum’s clothes […]. Twenty years later I find a pair of my mum’s jeans from the ’70s, and they fit me just right. I put on the jeans and start to walk towards the past.”[1]The premise is as simple as it is childish: to put on the clothes of a parent is to enact past lives; it is the process of entering a time machine. As if it were a sci-fi film, the actors perform a remake of episodes from their parents’ lives: alternately, they dress as motor racers, priests, guerrilla rebels, and bank employees to become the stunt people of their ancestors. A strange dislocation of time takes place on stage: the actors do not embody their parents’ lives—how could they do this?—but their ambivalent versions of them. Like fleeting Benjaminian occurrences, the re-enactment of those scenes flashes back to “interrogate the present in a moment of danger” (Benjamin 1968, 247).

Foto: Lorena Fernández
Liza Casullo, Pablo Lugones, Carla Crespo, Blas Arrese Igor, Mariano Speratti, and Vanina Falco in Mi vida después, 2009.

Photo:Lorena Fernández

Through her notion of post-memory, Marianne Hirsh argues that second generation survivors do not engage with traumatic events by recall but “by imaginative investment, projection and creation” (2008, 107). However, she also warns that this structure of transmission may suggest a victimizing narrative that bonds the new generations to their antecessors. In contrast, Mi vida después shows how a generation can deal with its overwhelming memories beyond bloodline settings. “I’ve heard so many versions of how my dad died that it’s as if he died several times, or as if he never died,” says Carla Crespo, the descendant of a sergeant of a leftist guerrilla group. In a hallucinatory series full of physical power, the troupe of actors performs the different versions of her father’s death. There is not just a daughter on stage but a whole collective collaborating to build her story, and being affected by its vibrations and resonances. This generational platform stages an affective experience of body-to-body transmission that goes beyond the individual subject. The whole piece works as an affective machine that makes room for new, creative stories to emerge.

Photo: Lorena Fernández
Mi vida después, 2009.

Photo:Lorena Fernández

The closing scene shows a row of empty chairs gently covered by fabric. Although they seem to evoke the bodies of the absent, they have been animated by new life. Judith Butler suggests that “mourning emerges as the lining of the dress, where the dress is, as it were laughing” (2003: 470). Arias` piece highlights the sensuousness of an encounter between the artifact and the flesh, between laughter and loss, through an old pair of jeans that comes as a gift from the past. It is an encounter that has been produced collectively and beyond melancholia, an encounter that stages the uncanny pleasures of being plural in grief. Mi vida después proposes not only a vehicle for addressing trauma but also a way to transform it: it recalls a public forum that bears witness to a non-kin series of affects emerging from grief. This structure of transmission also involves the bodies of the audience: it circulates on and off the stage, proposing a new sense of being-together in the aftermath of violence.


Cecilia Sosa is an Argentine sociologist and cultural journalist awarded a Chevening Scholarship to undertake an MA at Goldsmiths that she completed with distinction in 2008. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Drama at Queen Mary, University of London, working on the new filiations and affects which emerged in the aftermath of Argentina’s dictatorship. She has published “A Counter-narrative of Argentine Mourning” (2009) in Theory, Culture & Society, and has two forthcoming articles in Cultural Studies and Memory Studies. She authored a chapter in Memory of State Terrorism in the Southern Cone to be published by Palgrave Macmillan in early 2011.


Notes

     [1] See Mi vida después (My Life After), by Lola Arias. Translation: Daniel Tunnard (unpublished). Thanks to the director for permission to quote from the text.


Works Cited

Arias, Lola. 2009. Mi vida después (My Life After). Translated by Daniel Tunnard, (unpublished).

Butler, Judith. 2003. Afterword: After loss, what then? In Loss, edited by David L. Eng and David Kazanjian, 467-73. Berkeley: California University Press.

Hirsch, Marianne. 2008. The Generation of Postmemory. Poetics Today 29 (1): 103-128.

Jelin, Elizabeth. 1994. The Politics of Memory: The Human Rights Movements and the Construction of Democracy in Argentina. Latin American Perspectives 21 (2), Social Movements and Political Change in Latin America.

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