Liminal literature and social mobilization: Transformations in Chilean cultural production during the military regime

Date of Completion

January 2008


Literature, Latin American




The Chilean military dictatorship (1973-1989) imposed strict control over all aspects of social interactions, altering significantly the habits of relation and functionality between social fields and within them. Starting in 1975, the field of cultural production starts showing the first elements of resistance to this social control and articulation of a new drive toward both aesthetic and political autonomy, visible in the work of some artists and intellectuals like Nicanor Parra, Enrique Lihn, Juan Luis Martinez, Raúl Zurita, and the Colectivo Acciones de Arte (C.A.D.A.). Their works can be approached focusing on their liminal nature, in the sense that Victor Turner and Susan Broadhurst give to the term—they respond to a moment of crisis, and they exist within a limen between the literary and the visual, criticism and creation, theory and praxis, art and life, cultural production and politics. This approach allows the phenomenon of new autonomy to be comprehended in its problematic dimensions, since these texts question the traditional classifications of genre (visual poetry, object-books, comics, happenings, and art actions) and, furthermore, subvert the conceptual limits imposed by the military order. An alternative system is established, not only different from the one imposed under the dictatorship, but also different from those preceding it; even though this liminal system maintains opposition to the regime, it distances itself ideologically from the orthodox Chilean left, which was virtually disarticulated by repression and censorship. The ethical and even methodological aspects of the art studied here are inseparable from the aesthetic aspects, as these texts not only evade repression by establishing codes that are closed off to cultural and political authorities, but they also expose the same oppressive situation in which they were produced. During this period, new modes of trade in symbolic capital are created; a theoretical and ideological base is shaped from the literary, exerting influence directly over the realm of the artistic, and indirectly over the political. In longitudinal terms, with the return to democracy, the transformational practice within the logic of the Chilean field of cultural production became institutionalized, substantially affecting its values, methods of production, and dominant figures. ^