The Labor of Literature: Democracy and Literary Culture in Modern Chile.

AuthorMcSherry, J. Patrice
PositionLATIN AMERICA - Book review

Griffin, Jane D. The Labor of Literature: Democracy and Literary Culture in Modern Chile. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2016.

In this absorbing book, Jane D. Griffin examines the impact of the Pinochet dictatorship on culture in Chile and the ways artists and writers resisted and protested by semi-clandestinely creating new forms of literature. The regime, which took power in a 1973 coup, imposed militarism, Catholicism, patriarchy, and free market capitalism in Chile. It radically altered society, using violence and terror to erase the cultural and political transformations that had taken place in the 1960s and early 1970s under the presidencies of Frei and especially Allende. Soldiers burned books in the street and the dictatorship abruptly halted the mass distribution of literature that had flourished under Allende. The book was considered a threat to national security. The "military state and the global market assumed the authority to decide what kinds of texts would circulate within the public sphere" (3). But Chileans created a rebellious literary culture that defied state censorship by forming underground collectives that persisted into modern-day Chile, long after the transition to civilian government in 1990.

Griffin analyzes several of these collectives in depth, including Ergo Sum, a women's feminist group; the Cartonera cardboard book publishers; Libros de Mentira (Fake Books) and its webpage; and Santiago en 100 Palabras (Santiago in 100 Words), a public writing contest. The latter three were founded after the transition from military rule. All sought to democratize (or rather redemocratize) Chilean culture by empowering those involved in the collective and by making their creative work widely available, bypassing the capitalist market. Ergo Sum, for example, produced handmade book-objects that appeared to satisfy conventional expectations of women's roles but in fact subverted them. Griffin refers to these as book-objects in "drag" (32). These objects appeared to be small shopping bags or sewing boxes but contained stories and drawings, all produced by women, many of whom had never been writers or artists before. Cartonera publishers also made their books by hand, from everyday discarded materials but in traditional book format. They...

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