Healing and Memory, Part 2: Argentina


As my time in Argentina comes to a close, I have been organizing my thoughts as well as my luggage. I find myself reflecting on the wealth of experiences and information I have collected throughout the semester. Although I feel that I have delved into the relationships between communities, their physical space, and their collective memory processes, these relationships have only become more complex. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, the actors, motives, and methods behind acts of memory in Argentina are diverse and even in conflict, at times. In this post, I will address one of the paradoxes that has most caught my eye: the contradiction between visibility/invisibility and active/inactive memory.

These pairings became cemented in my mind as I worked to document and catalogue the markings of memory in the Faculties of the National University of La Plata. I was not surprised to see that the markings had seeped into the everyday landscape, to the point that students and passersby hardly seemed to notice their existence. After all, they are so ubiquitous that, for a local, they do not call much attention. I was taken aback, however, by the extent to which some seemed neglected. Many monuments had fallen into disrepair; others were obscured by trash cans or (perhaps ironically) by banners touting contemporary causes. The markings of memory, it seemed, had been forgotten.

These observations were in complete opposition to what I had previously seen. I had observed active, vivacious, dynamic practices of memory. I had noticed an intense commitment to remembering the crimes of the military dictatorship and to cultivating a political, humanitarian awareness that would prevent them from ever recurring. How, then, could these two opposites be reconciled?

First, I do believe there is a distinction between these two extremes within practices of place. I believe that the more dynamic and interactive the memory process is, the more resilient it is to the passing of time. A monument, while tangible and concrete, becomes lost in the urban landscape. It lacks life of its own. A “happening” (as performance art is called here), on the other hand, is an active practice of memory. It recreates and reinforces communal memories. Participants and audience members alike become part of the dynamic processing of memory, which make take the form of commemorating losses, seeking justice, or finding closure. In these active forms of memory, the reclaiming of space is more visible and more durable than in less active forms.

On the other hand, the coexistence between active/inactive and visible/invisible is not completely inharmonious. For instance, the eventual invisibility of markings of memory is a direct result of their visibility. Argentinians have become so accustomed to them that their visibility is normalized. Their “invisibility,” in that case, is actually their absorption into the collective consciousness. I see this in many ways as a testament to the healing power of time.

I also think it important to point out the continuity of these practices of place. The banners of contemporary social justice organizations covering older murals may not imply disrespect, but rather a dialogue with the past. These contemporary causes identify roots in their historical predecessors and present themselves as the legacy of past militantes. The real and imagined continuity between past and present human rights movements suggests that this overlapping use of space is actually a tribute to and a revitalization of the past.

This apparent paradox — which I have yet to reconcile completely — is only one of the many complexities of place practices in modern-day Argentina. The rest I will have to leave for another day and another post.

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