Transformative (Re)Inscriptions: Traumatic Memories and Testimonio in Chile

Doctoral Dissertation


This analysis undertakes an interdisciplinary study grounded in the field of memory studies of the literary genre, testimonio, utilizing Luz Arce’s 1993 testimonial narrative, El infierno, as the primary case study and considers it within four critical lenses: a narratological approach, a juridical approach, a psychoanalytical approach, and an ethical approach. Each of these critical frameworks seeks to illuminate various aspects of this type of literary text in order to appreciate testimonio’s significance within several different fields of study. El infierno disrupts the monolithic narratives that have sprung from the turbulent period of the Pinochet dictatorship. In doing so, Arce’s complex narrative shines light on the problematic hold that good-versus-evil narratives maintain in post-conflict societies and problematizes the abundance of overly simplified readings that have come to narrate this period of Chile’s history.

In considering Arce’s testimonio, which is a palimpsest of her expressions of trauma, this analysis delves into the complexities of the testimonial process, examining the intricate relationships between victim/witness, author/text, author/narrator/protagonist, and text/society. The theoretical analysis of El infierno also contemplates the disjuncture between trauma and language, arguing that corporeal avenues of expression offer a link between linguistic expression and pain, establishing a space for the (re)inscription of agency and a textual space for healing and recovery after mass trauma.

In addition to highlighting the literary and theoretical richness of this genre of literature, this investigation also aims to illustrate the practical applicability of testimonial texts within interdisciplinary studies. In considering the testimonios of traumatic experiences – this study focuses on the detention and torture of women political prisoners during the Pinochet dictatorship of Chile – this analysis recognizes testimonial texts as an important component in the construction and preservation of collective memory, and favors them as a key element in the development of transformative justice frameworks in post-conflict societies.

Furthermore, this study examines the ethical issues involved in the process of testimonio, considering all of the parties involved in its constitution and their interactions with the text itself. In exploring the development of ethical relationships through testimonio, this analysis suggests that this genre can be better integrated into peacebuilding processes as a vital building block in sustainable transformative justice frameworks in order to establish more effective methods of achieving psychosocial justice in post-conflict societies. This analysis also argues that it is through the formation of ethical relationships and the development of a compassionate imagination that healthy democracies are sustained and preserved, a process that can be textually mediated through the literary genre of testimonio and supported through an educational model that foregrounds sustainable peacebuilding practices.


Attribute NameValues
Author Catherine M. Brix
Contributor Eileen Hunt Botting, Committee Member
Contributor María Rosa Olivera-Williams, Research Director
Contributor Michael Lazzara, Committee Member
Contributor Alison Rice, Committee Member
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline Spanish
Degree Name Doctor of Philosophy
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Defense Date
  • 2019-03-01

Submission Date 2019-04-06
Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

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