Thursday, September 27, 2012

Gordimer’s aftermath: from South Africa to Central America

‘No time like the present’ is a remarkable novel. The book offers a sobering but balanced account of post-apartheid South Africa as seen through the eyes of a group of former ANC militants. Though the book also offers the recurrent motive of the broken dreams, Gordimer moves beyond the trope of disillusionment to consider how militants’ lives were shaped by the experiences of the revolutionary process they participated in. She ponders the reminiscences, debates and contradictions that former ANC militants grapple with as they try to build up a ‘normal’ life in the new South Africa, a country which continues to hold enormous socio-economical differences and now witnesses an unprecedented crime wave. Gordimer describes how scores of Zimbabwean refugees that flood the country live in abominable circumstances and are treated as second-rate citizens, in what some of the former militants interpret as a new form of apartheid. As a protagonist states in the books: ‘we are all pissed off with what is becoming of the country’.

The unfolding postwar political events within ‘their’ ANC party lead to further confusion and bewilderment, and sometimes drive deep wedges between the former militants. For example, the book elaborates extensively on the corruption scandals that involve ANC leadership figures. Individual militants respond very differently to corruption allegations directed against their former comrades. According to some it is a good sign: the country is finally preoccupied with the ‘normal’ problems of an African country. Though for some former militants the ANC internal problems are an additional motivation to seek migration opportunities outside of South Africa, someone else admonishes: ‘don’t allow bad politics to drive you out of the country of your heart’. Gordimer, who besides writing many award-winning novels was also an anti-apartheid activist, describes the South African aftermath without embellishments, but also bereft of excessive moral censorship. In its accomplished human measure, the book transcends into an account that balances the residual passions of past struggles with the everyday moral dilemmas of urban middle-class life in Africa. No doubt South Africa will continue to reinvent itself. And ‘normalcy’ will not be an option.

If you click the present link you will find a much more accomplished review of Gordimer’s book. What struck me in particular were the many parallels between Gordimer’s fictionalized account and the aftermath of the revolutions in Central America. The disenchantments and re-accommodations that Gordimer describes are remarkably similar to what occurred amongst former militants of revolutionary movements in Central America. Great collective accomplishment like the revolutionary take-over in Nicaragua and the negotiated settlements in El Salvador and Guatemala were followed by a period of confusion in which leadership, militancy and constituencies became uncertain of its common goals and its new postwar roles. Nonetheless, as Gordimer portrays for South Africa’s ANC, some kind of ‘silblinghood of comrades’ did remain, a sort of revolutionary kinship as ‘a meaning of life that could not be erased’. Also in Central America’s troubled post-insurgency, for many militants involved ‘the most definite self comes from the struggle'. What is unclear and indeed heavily contested is what exactly this might mean today. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Tiniest Place at LAFF

‘The tiniest place” (El lugar más pequeño) is an extraordinary documentary on the aftermath of war in the tiny village of Cinquera, El Salvador. Tatiana Sánchez Huezo, the director of the film, grew up in Mexico, but her family has roots in this isolated town destroyed during El Salvador’s civil war. Sánchez Huezo cinematographic return to Cinquera evokes Juan Rulfo’s famous novel ‘Pedro Páramo'. In Rulfo’s novel, the main character returns to his hometown of Comala to find it in inhabited by ghosts. Sánchez Huezo does encounter people of flesh and blood in Cinquera. However, in the course of the film she shows us the extent to which rebuilders of Cinquera actually live with the past and especially with their loved-ones that were killed during the war. The paused and timeless photography of daily life in Cinquera contrasts, at once painfully and soothingly, with the inner life of its inhabitants. They endeavor to find life in the aftermath of war, making sense of what they gained in the course of their struggle, and, above all, trying to find a place for what was lost.


‘The Tiniest Place” shows at the Latin American Film Festival (LAFF) in Utrecht on Thursday April 19 (17:30) and Saturday April 21 (15:00).

Saturday after the film, there will be a panel organized by La Chispa, featuring Carlos Morales, a Salvadoran who lived with the people of Cinquera during the war, and Michelle Melara, a Salvadoran sociologist.

Friday, March 2, 2012

HISTORIA, SOCIEDAD Y MEMORIAS: el conflicto armado en el 20 aniversario de los Acuerdos de Paz

El seminario, que significó además el lanzamiento público de la Unidad de Investigación sobre la Guerra Civil Salvadoreña (UIGCS), se ha constituido como el evento académico de mayor envergadura realizado sobre la historia del conflicto armado salvadoreño (1980-1992) y sus secuelas. Durante tres días expusieron académicos de universidades de España, México, Costa Rica, Alemania, Holanda, Francia, Estados Unidos y un nutrido contingente de académicos salvadoreños sobre diversos temas relacionados con el conflicto. Hubo además una significativa participación de instituciones gubernamentales y privados y del público en general. Para 2012, la UIGCS proyecta realizar varias publicaciones en torno a los resultados del seminario.

Algunas reseñas del evento:
Por Fernando de Dios en Contrapunto
Por Michael Allison en Al Jazeera

Friday, February 10, 2012

Nuevos horizontes en el estudio de conflicto salvadoreño....

Del 15 al 17 de febrero de 2012 se celebra en San Salvador el Seminario internacional: “Historia, sociedad  y memorias: el conflicto armado salvadoreño en el 20 aniversario de los Acuerdos de Paz”. El evento, que cuenta con una amplia participación de académicos nacionales e internacionales, busca retomar preguntas tales como ¿Cuál es el estado del conocimiento sobre el conflicto armado en el presente? ¿Cuáles son los principales enfoques teóricos y metodológicos con los que se han abordado las investigaciones? Con base a lo anterior ¿Es posible definir una agenda de investigación para el futuro inmediato?

La sede del evento es el Museo Nacional de Antropología (MUNA). 

Pulse para el programa completo del evento.

Friday, September 2, 2011

El Salvador's Post-Insurgent Lives

On August 31, I gave a research progress presentation at the IS Academy "Human Security in Fragile States", which had organized a research seminar to discuss progress on different associated research projects. My presentation focussed on understanding the long-term reintegration processes that former FMLN combatants dealt with in the postwar years.

IS Academy presentation 31-08-2011

Monday, May 30, 2011

La reinserción posguerra y el movimiento de veteranos del FMLN

En el marco del Foro 'Movimientos Sociales en El Salvador', celebrado en la Universidad de El Salvador (UES) del 25 al 28 de mayo del 2011, moderé un panel con representantes de distintos grupos del movimiento de veteranos del FMLN. También presenté un avance de mis resultados de investigación sobre la reinserción en El Salvador.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Compelling new book on Chalatenango's insurgent communities

Everyday Revolutionaries provides a longitudinal and rigorous analysis of the legacies of war in a community racked by political violence. By exploring political processes in one of El Salvador’s former war zones—a region known for its peasant revolutionary participation—Irina Carlota Silber offers a searing portrait of the entangled aftermaths of confrontation and displacement, aftermaths that have produced continued deception and marginalization.

Silber provides one of the first rubrics for understanding and contextualizing postwar disillusionment, drawing on her ethnographi
c fieldwork and research on immigration to the United States by former insurgents. With an eye for gendered experiences,  she unmasks how community members are asked, contradictorily and in different contexts, to relinquish their identities as “revolutionaries” and to develop a new sense of themselves as productive yet marginal postwar citizens via the same “participation” that fueled their revolutionary action. Beautifully written and offering rich stories of hope and despair, Everyday Revolutionaries contributes to important debates in public anthropology and the ethics of engaged research practices. 

For more info, click here

About the Author:IRINA CARLOTA (LOTTI) SILBER is an associate professor of anthropology in the department of interdisciplinary arts and sciences at City College of New York.