A (Cyber) Damsel in Distress
“No one should imagine tears or cheap shots,” writes the Montonera Princess after telling us how Nassera, her French friend with Algerian parents and whose son is disappeared, confessed that she has stopped living and that she thinks night and day about him. This warning could also be addressed to the readers of Diario de una princesa montonera—110 % Verdad, Mariana Eva Perez’s blog, published in book form in 2012, which draws on the adventures of the Princess in the “Disneyland of the Droits de l’Homme,” meaning Argentina under Nestor Kirchner and Cristina Fernandez between 2009 and 2012. Just as with Nassera, the princess goes to bed and wakes up thinking of the disappeared (Perez commented in an interview that she never dreamt so much of her disappeared parents as when she was writing the blog). Yet her chronicles provoke more laughter than they do tears, despite the fact that she suggests in one of her entries that the tissue company Carilina should sponsor her blog.
The Montonera Princess is, like Perez, a daughter of disappeared parents.22 And like her, she is also other things too: “premature dumb- militant,” “the youngest expert in ESMAology,” “a precocious girl of human rights,” “an orphan expelled from the ghetto of human right activists,” “an idiotic Cosmopolitan girl,” “a former superstar orphan” and “an old-girl raised by grandparents.” In her blogosphere there are other hijis, a term that playfully refers to children of disappeared parents in similar fashion to Gatti’s term “post-orphan.” There are, for example, the group of nerd hijis; the MP hiji; the hijis from show business such as Camilo Garcia (whom the princess begs never to change because “hijis militontos” there are in abundance whereas there are very few “hijis chimenteros”); the “top model hiji” and “the Girls” (“hijis chicks”). Other important characters of this royal universe are the Nene, with whom the princess used to work at *** answering enquiries about the possible whereabouts of children of disappeared parents, the “bloggers” Lalie and Marie, Jota, the “Aunties of the ESMA” and the “Neighbours with Good Memory of Almagro,” the committee in charge of organizing the flagstone-homages for the disappeared in that part of the city.23
The adventures of the princess posted on the blog—from the chronicles of her visits to the ESMA trials while crocheting, to the anecdote of how Jota touched her for the first time in the former ESMA, specifically between the torture rooms known as Capucha and Capuchita, a most unexpected place for a first date—reveal to what extent it is difficult, if not impossible, to make a distinction between the private, the public and the intimate in post-dictatorship Argentina. Perez’s decision to write a blog (a platform of ambiguous nature, located between the private and the public) is a highly relevant one that points to the blurring of the boundaries between these spheres following the coup.
But the most radical gesture of this blog/book is perhaps to have consciously ignored a series of disciplinary, linguistic, political and even generational limits that until recently determined what and how to talk about the dictatorship and its effects in the present. One of the most significant merits of this blog was, indeed, to remind us that the borders of the say- able—particularly when it comes to the temita (minor issue; an ironic term that refers to the sensitivity often attached to the subject of the disappeared)—are not imposed only by the hegemonic politics of memory during certain periods of history, or by the ineffable nature of the events in question, but also by the rules of the genres and discourses that we use to speak about them.
“What new words can I use? How can I escape the institutional prose that I employ when writing the propaganda that Nene asked me to write but that I could not sign as my own? Would the Montonera Princess ever be able to change her fate as a militonta to finally become a Writer?,” 24 the heroine wonders without realizing that her blog is already clear evidence of having inverted “the sign of the mark,” as she calls the impact that the abduction of her parents had on her. Indeed, hers is not the blog of a daughter of disappeared parents who wants to become a writer but rather the blog of a writer who is also a daughter of disappeared parents. In this vein the choice of three literary genres—the fairy tale, the online diary and autofiction—to narrate the post-dictatorship era allows Perez to testify to her experiences as a daughter of disappeared parents without falling into a therapeutic memory, an epic narrative or a cold analysis of those years, but instead expand our view of the past to take it to truly unexpected places.
The presence of motifs and characters of children’s fables are clear references to a lost childhood. The princess of “illustrious lineage of human rights” tells us about her conflictive relationship with a man called Nene (Boy); she chooses to call her father’s bazaar a “toy shop”; and she has tantrums and is spoiled like a birthday girl. In her chronicles there are several fairy tale-like heroes. There is, for example, M (who works at the Forensic Anthropologist Centre and who has enchanted all the female hijis with his charm), and there is, of course, Jota (her Prince Charming), whom the princess marries at the end to live happily ever after. But if these figures are, as in most fairy tales, not ambivalent (not good and bad at the same time), a third heroic figure in the princess’ tales is a more complex character.
“Prince Nestor,” as she calls Nestor Kirchner, the former president of Argentina, known for his implementation of a strong politics of memory and the condemnation of previous neoliberal politics of oblivion, is more difficult to categorize. The Montonera Princess is visibly touched and happy when Nestor becomes President of Argentina, and she proudly attends a meeting with him in the Casa Rosada (Fig. 4.1). However, she is also wary about her expectations: “I hope I don’t regret following you,”
Fig. 4.1 Mariana Eva Perez, Diario de una princesa montonera—110 % Verdad, 2012 (Photo: Damian Neustadt; collage: Natalia “Kit Sch” Perugini) she challenges him when they finally meet. Her “climax of faith in politics” is then followed by disappointment, the “lowest point [these two words are written in English in the original] of my relationship with the Kirchners”: in 2009, on the occasion of a speech about the state programme known as Futbolpara Todos, set up to broadcast all football matches on open-access television stations, Cristina Fernandez, President of Argentina between 2007 and 2015 and Nestor’s wife, made an unfortunate comparison between the need to pay to view football and the abductions that took place during the dictatorship, using the phrase “disappeared goals,” as if they had been kidnapped by commercial television.
The other key moment of her relationship with these symbolic parents is the day Nestor Kirchner died in October 2010. On that occasion, the princess remembered 24 March 2004 when Kirchner asked for forgiveness on behalf of the Argentine state and when he removed the portraits of Videla and Bignone from the walls of the Military College at the ESMA. But then she also remembers “the appallingly written and never revised laws of reparation intended to benefit the relatives of the disappeared,” “the use and abuse of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo” and “the attempt to sell the ESMA to the highest bidder.” Curiously, although she considers those emblematic gestures of Kirchner insufficient and therefore somehow hypocritical, she also ends up crying over his death as if he were a relative of hers and then regrets having lost faith in him. Ultimately, these ups and downs in her relationship with Nestor Kirchner are all attempts to grieve the death of this paternal figure who, unlike her biological father, was able to have a proper burial.
These heroes coexist in the blog with the villains of this story. But unlike what happens in the hegemonic narratives of Argentine collective memory, here the bad guys are more mundane and ordinary than those of fairy tales. Indeed, if the military cap printed on the T-shirts of human rights organizations with the slogan “Justice and Punishment” alluded to a one-and-only enemy easily identifiable as the “other” (the military), the princess warns us—in a similar vein to novels such as Villa (1996) by Luis Gusman, and Dos veces junio (2002) and Ciencias morales (2008) by Martin Kohan—that there are in Argentine history less obviously monstrous characters that are nonetheless “more perverse than Videla.” One example is the “Plaintiff 1” that breastfed the princess’ appropriated brother without asking where his real mother was (“an udder, someone suddenly attaches him to an udder, an udder that does not ask where the baby comes from nor sees that as a scandalous act”). Another example is Dora La
Multiprocesapropiadora (Dora the Multi-processorappropriator),25 who stole the baby and raised him as if he were her own.
Finally, this controversial adaptation of the fairy-tale structure and motifs to the Argentine context has another key prototypical figure of the genre, the “Good Fairy” Munu (Actis), a real camp survivor who is also a sort of mother figure for the princess. This character is fundamental in the princess’ tales because it is a post about her that makes explicit why Perez has chosen autofiction and not testimony to tell her story.
The princess writes at one point that she cannot finish the story of how Munu testified in the ESMA about her experience as a prisoner there, pointing to the limits of testimony and the difficulty of bearing witnessing to trauma:
And this is the end of the Adventures of the Good Fairy Munu in the Kingdom of Testimony, at least in the way I can write about them. I can’t go on because I get cramps in my hands and I risk writing an academic paper or a text for the ghetto of human rights organizations.
This post is crucial because it makes explicit the reflective nature of the blog that, if anything, pays testament to the impossibility of testimony in the same fashion as Los rubios. Indeed, the blending between fantasy and reality, fairy tale and history, fiction and autobiography problematizes the testimonial status of the blog, a status already suggested by the subtitle: 110 % Verdad promises the reader that this will be a more truthful account than the “pure” truth of testimony. Equally, the title might suggest that the blog is a 100 % imagination and 10 % truth.
Diario de una princesa montonera—110 % Verdad cannot be classified as testimony, at least not in the sense that human rights organizations understand the term. The diary is written in the first person (occasionally disguised as the third person), but the narrative voice belongs to an autofictional character. The choice of a pseudonym or nickname is common practice in the blogosphere and it points to an essential characteristic of blogs—namely, that of being simultaneously spaces of self-representation and the mise-en-scene of a self that hides as much as it shows. Thus the first commitment of the blogger to their readers is, in contrast to biographers or witnesses, not to be honest—to say “la Verdat” (the Truth), a deliberately incorrect spelling that is humorous in Spanish—but to be entertaining.
Furthermore, the posts of the Montonera Princess are also not testimony when this term is understood as a denouncement. While denouncements always refer to real events that took place in the past, many of the entries of the blog are about dreams of guerrilla adventures, or imaginary meetings with her disappeared parents or with Nestor Kirchner—all accounts, in sum, with little or no relevance in a judicial sphere. It is thus not surprising that even when in one of the first entries the princess claims playfully that “the testimonial duty is calling me. Primo Levi, here I come!” she also rejects the idea that her blog has any testimonial value. In later posts she says, for example, that “if this blog were a testimony there would be cockroaches, but it’s fiction” and, more categorically, “I’m the one who can’t bear another testimony.”
If Diario de una princesa montonera—110 % Verdad is not a testimony, it is also not a personal diary but one published online. The tone and register of the online diary—short, episodic, direct and colloquial—allows her to distance her writing both from the institutional prose of certain human rights organizations and from the prose of academia (Perez was finishing her PhD at the University of Konstanz on post-dictatorship theatre when she was writing the blog).
The apparently banal comments of her characters are in fact effective ways of disarming the commonplaces of the “liturgy of memory,” as she calls it. Such is the case, for example, when the princess claims that the T-shirts of Trial and Punishment are demode (Fig. 4.2). “We urgently need a fashion emergency on the left, please,” she writes after begging for tailored models. Or when she explains that in social networks, and not only in the Plaza de Mayo, it is possible to militonear (a wordplay between militar [militate] and tonto [dumb]). It is thus not surprising that the princess becomes excited when one 24 March everyone uses Facebook to discuss whether they should change their profile picture for the silhouettes of the disappeared, the legend “never again” or the picture of “your favourite disappeared.”26
The potentialities of the virtual platform for a construction of a ludic and unsolemn memory of the past are reinforced in the blog by the use of diminutive words (e.g. temita) or grammatical wordplay (e.g. hijis, Verdat and Identidat) that attempt to remove the weight of symbolic terms heavily charged with history. The princess has also used other strategies to dissipate the gravity of memory, as when she writes that “I always need a beer or a joint to deal with the temita because I can’t do it when I’m sober,” or when she uses expressions such as “in the middle of my sorrow—I say it like that, gently, so I don’t freak you out.” This playful and parodic memory is far from being superficial or a mere irreverent gesture, because the
Fig. 4.2 Mariana Eva Perez, Diario de una princesa montonera—110 % Verdad, 2012 (Photo: Esteban Tula Santamaria)
princess well knows that “one thing is to defy the ghetto’s common sense and another to go too far and end up being a snob.” This ludic memory is rather one of the diverse strategies that the relatives of the disappeared use to say what cannot be said straightforwardly. Moreover, the playful transformation of the vocabulary attached to her traumatic history is also a way to alter the past “so I can appropriate what I have inherited.” With these words the princess is referring to the dress that her grandmother Site gave her for her wedding with Jota and that the tailor adjusted to fit her body. The phrase, however, could also be read in reference to another less tangible but equally real legacy.
Finally, unlike the confessional spirit of diaries (and despite being published in a collection entitled Confesiones), the blog is a long way from being a confessionary, offering the princess a very different space for those who speak about themselves from that provided by testimony or autobiography. The princess not only talks about her life. Showing a similar curious spirit to that of the child protagonists of children’s fables, she also wants to know more about her followers: who they are, what they do. “I Google everything,” she writes at one point when investigating one of her readers. And then she says even more explicitly, “I told you that I suffer from detectivism.” The princess is a detective and a voyeur, just as we, her readers, are (“Are you good detectives, readers?” she asks), as other hijis are (“they are also good detectives”), or the way M is, “the most handsome detective of the ghetto.” Yet it is also true that acting (and even dressing up) as detectives is a key feature of the world of children of disappeared parents and the way they look for clues about the past in present locations, as can be seen, for example, in the film M (Prividera 2007), the characters of Patricio Pron or Felix Bruzzone, the play Mi vida desprns and the collection of poetry Los detectives salvajes, edited by Juan Aiub and Julian Axat, both descendants of disappeared parents.
One main difference between blogs and journals is that if the former usually have a theme, the latter have no other topic than the life of the writer. Moreover, the blog is ephemeral: it often disappears when the blogger decides to close it. The diary, on the other hand, survives its author; it is founded on the principle of posterity and the idea of the secret.27 Thus the writer of journals is usually unconcerned about their style. Blogs, on the other hand, are written to be shared (they are carefully edited) and to communicate, as well as being interactive.
In this respect, Perez has tried to keep the dialogical tone of the blog in her book, as evident, for example, from the comments of her followers added to the volume (“Jony questions my last phrase”). Yet she also knows that the immediate and interactive nature of blogs can never be completely reproduced in a book. The blog is, in sum, a text written in the first person but which exists in a communitarian space, as observed by the princess: “I write it in the blog so I don’t forget it; it is as if I were asking a group of strangers to remind me of it.”
Her community, however, is not only comprised of unknown people. In Perez’s blog there are links to other websites of hijispiolas (cool hijis), such as El caballo Enrique or Amontonados: Temporalidades de la infancia, the blog of the exhibition that brought together the work of Marfa Giuffra, Lucila Quieto and Ana Adjiman. In turn, each of these blogs includes links not only to Perez’s blog but also to the blogs of other children of disappeared parents. El caballo Enrique has an entry, “Blogs that I follow,” with links to Diario de una princesa montonera—110 % Verdad, but also to the blog of the Cdh. Similarly, the blog of Angela Urondo, Pedacitos de Angelita, in which she shares reflections and images of her life history, also includes links to Perez’s blog, the Cdh blog and another Infancia y Dictadura, where Urondo gathers together accounts of dreams and childhood memories of former children of the dictatorship. Finally, the blog of
Marfa Giuffra has an entry (“Nos-otros” [“We”/“We-others”]) where she publishes the work of artists and authors of her generation, many of them children of disappeared parents, such as Perez, Julia Coria, Julian Axat and Lucila Quieto.
These rhizomatic connections between the blogs construct a map of aesthetics and common concerns linked to a generational memory that circulate outside more established fields and disciplines such as cinema or literature. These manifestations of a public and cultural memory need to be taken into account because they constitute a truly original way, both in content and form, of discussing the legacy of the traumatic past in Argentina.
In Diario de una princesa montonera—110 % Verdad, affinities with the memories of other artists of Perez’s generation are also evident in some posts (“I saw Avila’s film Infancia clandestina and Arias’ play Mi vida despues. I had hoped that I wouldn’t like or be moved by Infancia clandes- tina but I wasn’t in luck”), in the choice of certain images (as when Perez publishes a photographic montage with the image of her father following the visual logic of Lucila Quieto’s work Arqueologia de la ausencia) and interviews in which she pays tribute to other artists, such as Bruzzone, Quieto, Laura Alcoba and Lola Arias.
All of these artists have a similar approach to the past, using humor, parody, the fusion of public and private memory, and critical analyses of the armed struggles. In addition, they avoid a moral gaze on the 1970s and make references to contemporary figures of appropriation of the past, such as the archaeologist, the transvestite or the detective. Above all, these artists share a preference for autofiction when giving testimony of their life stories.
Indeed, Diario de una princesa montonera—110 % Verdad is neither an autobiography nor a testimony but an autofiction. Autofiction distrusts the referential capacity of language and the fidelity of memory, it deconstructs the autobiographical I, and is on the other side of documentary literature because it does not believe that an experience that has taken place outside the text can be fully transmitted with words. As we saw in Chapter 2, one of the main attributes of autofiction is the establishment of an ambiguous or simultaneous pact between the author and the reader according to which the latter trusts in the shared nominal identity between the narrator, the author and the character of a narrative (autobiographical pact). At the same time they will read that narrative as if it were a fable or an invention (fictional pact).
The Montonera Princess frequently refers to this double pact: “You know that my diary is mostly a fiction but the bit about the cheese is True,” “Is it True or Hyperbole? I leave it to you, reader.” She also disseminates pieces of information that we could easily link to Perez, including her initial (“M* is my name”) or her activities: “I dedicated a play to my grandmother,” “I studied Political Science” and “I started a seminar with Marfa Moreno.” The princess even includes photographs of Perez (artistically modified by blogger Natalia Perugini, alias “Kit Sch”) in correspondence with events that supposedly happened to the princess. Despite all these analogies, however, the narrator makes it clear that it would be narrowminded to read her blog as simply another autobiography. “I came back and I am fictions,” she writes, parodying Eva Peron’s famous phrase (“I will come back and I will be millions”). This phrase has the aim of removing all doubt about the self-referential status of her writing. As well as establishing this ambiguous pact and avoiding the straightforward identification between the author and the reader, autofictions have another advantage over more conventional testimonies: they give her greater freedom for “writing beautifully” and creatively without sacrificing rigour and commitment.
Perhaps, Perez’s blog suggests, the key to dealing with the ghosts of the past relies on a playful memory of the dictatorship, which brings to light the lacunae of language to name the unspeakable but which also reserves a place for laughter, pleasure and beauty, as happens with this blog. She states:
I start writing a list of words that we, the hijis, cannot use with the same innocence as normal people: centre, grill, transfer, machine, blindfold ... About a year ago I wrote a similar list. I wanted to write about the temita and I started a list of words that I self-censured, words from ***, words from the ghetto, words from Site. It was the only thing I could write at the time. There were no alternative words. Now we are inventing them.