Ricardo Piglia, one of Argentina’s greatest writers, is dead. In 2013, we published Piglia’s afterword to Rodolfo Walsh’s Operation Massacre. It contains not only a penetrating analysis of Walsh’s book, but also a good deal of critical insight into the nature of writing under totalitarianism. Find an excerpt below. Here, Piglia is elaborating on Valéry’s notion that the forces of fiction, not merely bodily force, are used by all states to implement order. As we in the U.S. read over and over today of the President-to-be’s plans to “drain the swamp,” the relevance of Piglia’s idea is hard to miss.
From the afterword:
What matters in not only the content of these State fictions, not just the material that they manipulate, but also the form that they take. To begin to understand their form, we can look to the methods and devices used to construct them. During the period of the military dictatorship, for example, one of the stories being constructed was what we might call the surgical story, a story that pertained to bodies. The military used a medical metaphor to explain what they were doing. They concealed everything that was happening, but simultaneously did say what was happening, just in the form of a story about dickens and health. They spoke of Argentina as a sick body that had a tumor, a cancer that was spreading—this was the subversive element or revolution—and the role of the military was to operate on it. As doctors, their work was aseptic, beyond good and evil, an appropriate response to the needs of science, which calls for destruction and mutilation for the sake of saving a life. Everything that was secret was actually revealed in this story, just displaced. There were, as in every story, two stories being told: there was the attempt to make people believe that Argentina was a sick society and that the military was coming in from the outside as technicians to fix the problem, and then there was the idea that a painful operation had to be performed without anesthesia. That was the discourse, the fictional version, that the State used: it told the truth about what it was doing, but in a covert and allegorical way.