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Reaching childhood, unlearning the transition: the narrative space of memory in Alejandro Zambra’s novel, Formas de volver a casa (Chile, 2011).

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Philippa Page


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This chapter works with a notion of childhood derived from the Surrealist/Cubist inspiration of Pablo Picasso, who conceived of childhood as a superior creative state, to be reached rather than as a point of return. The chapter sets out to examine the politics located in the narrative space of childhood in Chilean writer Alejandro Zambra’s third novel, Formas de volver a casa (2011). It focuses specifically on the way in which the novel’s particular configuration of childhood serves not only to draw attention to the structural and ideological continuities underpinning Chile’s transition to democracy from 1990 onwards, but is posited as a transformative space of unlearning. I will argue here that Zambra invests political meaning in the narrative space of childhood in terms of the possibility of learning by ‘grow[ing] young’ (Deleuze), a process of liberation from inherited models that is intimately and affectively bound up with the writerly process of literature. Analysis of Zambra’s work can contribute to mapping out what seems to be, for the ‘1.5’ or ‘postmemory’ generation of Chilean artists, the increasingly pressing task of crafting their own version of the transition. In this case, this is not a transition that belongs exclusively to those affiliated with lineages of collaboration or victimhood. Portraying what he calls history’s ‘personajes secundarios’, those who (rather to the narrator’s relief) do not have a surname that might associate them with any dynasty or heritage in particular, Zambra locates the transition within what Cecilia Sosa (2012) describes as a broader collective logic of filiation with the dictatorial past. This is a collective memory that traverses the ‘bloodlines’ of kinship that tend to bind the families of the disappeared and those who played an active role in the dictatorship’s repression in a dichotomous, biologically-determined relationship to the dictatorship. Idelber Avelar (2000) previously argued, in relation to Benjamin’s notion of allegory as a transitional mode of thinking, that it was ‘the epochal primacy of allegory postdictatorship tout court’. Although Zambra’s novel is highly allegorical on one level, this piece approaches the question of this broader memory through the optic of Affect Theory.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Page P

Editor(s): Page, P; Selimovic, I; Sutherland, C

Publication type: Book Chapter

Publication status: Published

Book Title: The Feeling Child: Politics, Childhood and Affect in Contemporary Latin American Literature and Film.

Year: 2018

Print publication date: 26/11/2018

Acceptance date: 01/09/2017

Publisher: Lexington Books

Place Published: Maryland

Library holdings: Search Newcastle University Library for this item

ISBN: 9781498574402