Blood in the Water: Rivers and Resistance in Central American Literature and Film66th Annual Convention of the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association (2012)
AbstractIn the 1970s and 80s the dominant forms of literary production in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua were testimonial literature and literature of resistance. During this time period all three of these Central American countries were embroiled in bloody civil wars, and the written word was employed on the cultural front as a means of denouncing and resisting various forms of oppression. For both historical and artistic reasons, rivers frequently play an important role in cultural production from and about this era. This paper thus presents a hermeneutical analysis of the imagery of rivers in Central American poetry, film, and fiction from and about this period with the aim of better understanding the implications of such imagery in light of literary theories of resistance, testimony, and trauma. In Mercedes Durand’s poem “Réquiem para el Sumpul,” the central image is of the river that became the site of the 1980 massacre of hundreds of villagers in the Department of Chalatenango, El Salvador. The Sumpul, she writes, is a “río testigo,” a witness to unspeakable crimes against humanity. In this poem, the conventional trope of a river as a source of life and a symbol of rebirth has been replaced by an association with violent death and loss of national innocence. In this essay, I assert that this is precisely the function that rivers take on in several Central American works that treat of the historical events of the dictatorships and civil wars in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Specifically, I will draw on passages from Arturo Arias’s 1979 novel Después de las bombas, Luis Mandoki’s 2004 film Voces inocentes, Ernesto Cardenal’s 1979 poem “Ecología,” and Elsie Rivas Gómez’s 2005 poetry collection Swimming in El Río Sumpul. The theoretical framework of my analysis is Barbara Harlow’s notion of resistance literature, John Beverley’s and George Yúdice’s concepts of testimonio, Max Horkheimer’s theory of the revolt of nature, and Cathy Caruth’s, Soshana Feldman’s and Dori Laub’s work on trauma narrative. By supporting my readings with these theories, I argue that through a variety of uses, including metaphor, mythology, personification, and symbolism, rivers play a central role in creating an aesthetic of resistance in contemporary Central American cultural production.
Publication DateOctober 11, 2012
Citation InformationAdrian Kane. "Blood in the Water: Rivers and Resistance in Central American Literature and Film" 66th Annual Convention of the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association (2012)
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/adrian_kane/8/