Sunday, November 16, 2008

...y un cuerpo para recordar

The title of this book is an interesting choice; it got me thinking about the body, and its role in the stories. Why would Rodriguez title her book as such without some significance? Remembering with the body implies some comparison with mental memory. So far, in the stories, memory has played an important role. The first story, "Black Hole", explores extensively the concept of memory. Estela's memory of places in Santiago becomes intertwined, confused with images of Vancouver. Her daughters' memory of Spanish is becoming lost. These are mental memories, but there are also cases of bodily memories; the confusion between the smell of Chilean asados and Burger King, the physical memory of and yearning for being in her mother's arms. So it is not only the mind that remembers...the body remembers as well, and body memories are much, much stronger. In "The Mirror", the "perfume" and "image" of the fugitive linger, inside the perfume and image of the narrator herself. The memory of the woman she cared for takes root in her own sense of sight and smell, and this way her body remembers. In "I Sing, Therefore I Am" the woman's memory of her torture is a sort of out-of-body experience...she sees herself, legless, being raped, an external vision. The extreme pain her body is suffering disables her body's memory and her memory becomes purely mental. The birth of her son, however, is in her body's memory; she recalls pushing with her "skin, teeth, fingernails".
I find this distinction between body and mind interesting and profound, because it is not a separation. The violence of Pinochet's regime caused not only physical suffering, but also psychological pain from the pervading fear. Imprisonment and torture are not purely physical experiences either; they are mentally destructive (e.g. trying to make a woman betray her friends and her political and moral standing). And so surviving these violations is also not only physical, but also mental. When the prisoner is released on her crutches, without a leg, she is not only recovering her body, but also her family and therefore her heart.
Rodriguez seems to be emphasizing that memories are not only mental and emotional but also physical, and that military dictatorship is destructive not only of lives, but of people's hearts and therefore society as a whole.

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