After hearing the testimony of a female victim of the armed conflict in Colombia, lawyer Alejandro Valencia Villa collected the main ideas presented by the experts and the audience. While wishing to stay faithful to the impressions of each participant and respect the chronology of interventions, this remains an interpretation of the experience.
Photo: © Santiago Sepúlveda
Rationalizing this experience after listening to this testimony is an act of survival. The testimony denies the humanity and the condition of the woman. It is a silencing on multiple levels that allows the perception of the different layers imposed by the perpetrator. It is the annihilation of a being by means of a word. This woman’s humanity is denied even through the different warnings of silence: "The king here is me", "The one who will believe is me." We are all an echo of the victim. The testimony is recorded and not face-to-face, which reiterates once again the silencing. The words of the victim are recovered by crying and not by the story. The rage, demonstrated by the death of the perpetrator, is an act of angry retribution. By throwing dirt in the mouth of the perpetrator's corpse, the experience is denied.
I have always believed that I am deaf and that I carry a lot of noise inside. I do not like to sanctify or idolize the victim’s testimony thus relativizing the testimony of the memory. So brutal and painful is the testimony –by its narrative, its cries, and its imprecations– that it reaches my deaf ears. I am grateful for my role as an involuntary witness, listening without wanting to hear. It brings me back to the immediacy of life. It recovers the enormous value of listening to the victim’s testimonies. It gives meaning to the work of my own life.
It is a testimony that has neither name nor face. I wish you were here to apologize. A testimony can help us convey other experiences. I need to name the woman of the testimony; I'm going to call her "Maria." When bodies are defiled, there is a possibility that they will be heard. It is the humanization and the animalization of others. The anonymity of the testimony worries me, since anonymity is paternalism and I do not know how to face it. The need to bear witness should be maintained, without shame and without fear. Re-victimization is a vicious circle and we must ask ourselves what place we occupy in it. I call for testimony to have a name and a face.
There was a moment when I couldn’t bear listening to this testimony anymore. It demonstrates the impossibility that people have a minimum right. It allows an understanding of the extreme in simple words. I wonder how these women can ever become mothers again, or even smile. I would go back to the beginning of the testimony, which is something nice, which refers to solidarity networks. Undoubtedly, affection is a great political force. How these desecrated bodies become a reservoirs, vessels, that can break the silence, as the women in Argentina do. I have one concern: This should not be taken as I observe it, or made into an experiment. The testimony brings back a whole humanity to us. We can not leave the testimony out in the open.
When I listen to this testimony, my breathing stops and it makes me sad that she is a woman, just like me, because she questions my courage. She fights for her children and submission to her husband leads her into yet another deep hole. This woman has the courage to shout profanities at the perpetrator, to pick up that club and kill him, bury him and take her children and flee. Her story gives me courage. I feel without arms, without any means to find a solution to the horror. I felt a sense of relief when “María" defends herself. I cannot say anything more. I just feel helpless. Repeating the fact that the truth of judges is useless.
“Walking is what I do.
Who knows if an evil brings more evil
Abandonment brings fatality
And abandonment like this: he says he wanted another experience:
What about me?
The noble man from the mountain and myself and three more, what?
Walking is what I do.
I must be reaching the edge of the world, the cliff of darkness
Believe me: I have no more. All I am is what I relate. The rest was erased - no rest
And I make way to tell my story.
In the squares, in the courtyards, they call me Crazy Dolores. But I tell my story and it does not matter if they believe me because I know that one day it will happen to all of us.
I am not wise but sometimes I have a presentiment, and I walk away.
There is only pain and it does not go away
I also know no-one will hear that son of a bitch
That is why I filled his mouth with stones."
It was difficult to listen to the recording. I let myself be carried away by the affection contained in that crying, of the timbre of the voice, a stamp of an experience of violence, sexist violence and political violence, inseparable. I imagined scenes of violence, one after another, without any escape. As that woman falls down in that story, she escapes once but falls down again.
I am struck by the trauma of class and race. It is the worst kind of trauma, and its presence is felt more strongly in Latin America. It is there from the moment you are born and until you die. There are many political traumas but crying is a trauma of race. It is not easy to elaborate where the traumas of despair are the most difficult. There is no particular moment where you feel destiny. Ever present is this silent violence. It is horror. It is a voice of absolute and permanent despair. There is not much to say. That violence of class and race is abominable. Each of us who emerges from the zombie condition, produces pollution around us, proliferation, with an idea of evolution other than paradise, that little, by little creates a power field, resistances, that have power. The absolute shit we are go through on this planet, the displacements of the Left, make it clear that the struggle for care and safety, for love of life, is a permanent struggle, with no end in sight. There are moments when these forces are above and moments when they are below. We must expand the sea of active forces so that it has more power than the reactive powers.
What we heard here was an anonymous voice not a living presence. The limits that law imposes on the right to life. If the story that we heard only spoke of a rape, we would be faced with an innocent victim, and perhaps that's why it is not here, because of the shame, the violated privacy. The desire not to appear impudent, as obscene as it may sound. However, as the perpetrator is killed, we meet a victim chained to the role of the perpetrator. This is a female victim/assassin. This puts jurisdiction in a difficult position, and there is a risk that the cause for the woman’s action, the justification, is obscured. There is a risk that she will appear and perhaps that is why her face remains unknown to us.
We must beware of a justice who is always on the lookout. The law has its limitations, since it operates in binary categories such as victim and perpetrator. It leaves no room for other collapses in life. We must resort to other disciplines that create other spaces. The grey zone figures demonstrate the reality of the Colombian armed conflict. Scenarios such as the future Truth Commission should be created. It is paramount in an armed conflict that such spaces exist for innocent victims and perpetrators to congregate, so the people from the grey areas, the true bearers of humanity, may come forward, become visible.
Art often deals more with the abominable because it is extremely difficult to depict reality. García Márquez, referring to the Colombian literature of the 1950es, pointed out that it reproduced the horror of reality and wondered where the living in that literature were. You can not hear a testimony without mediation. Art recognizes an interlocutor a sense of equality, which is not achieved in a courtroom.
Art is an invention, a mechanism of thought production. We are reduced to a mode of perception of forms of representation already indicated. Art allows us to talk among ourselves and expresses the effects of the forces that cross us in a different way. I heard the testimony from a place of affection.
We have to learn from the socio-cultural. We are thrown into a destabilization where the summoning force is desire. The policies of subjectivation reduce the subject and are dissociated from our condition, we are segregated from ourselves. Desire produces a balance of status quo, is a process of creation, production of thought, stability where we eliminate the abominable and the bad.
Art is the only human activity in which we think from affection. It is a process of creation but, at the same time, it is also a process of pollution. The bearer of the abominable displaces it and therefore, a displacement towards that grey zone must exist.
There is an inability of the law within the grey areas. The perpetrator as a hero is outlawed and the victims must be pure blood; if they are soiled, they are exposed to a judicial. The law operates within a very simple narrative: a perpetrator is exclusively a perpetrator and a victim is exclusively a victim. The grey areas are fundamental for a more complex society where these scenarios swarm.
The law contains limits that must be complemented by other narratives. I would like to quote Adorno who said that writing poetry after Auschwitz is impossible. I acknowledge that art produces aesthetic pleasure, that can be a possible sense of art. In addition, as a canon of treatment of horror, stands the figure of the witness. The only legitimate way to treat it is by witnessing. The victim is the canon of horror. But sanctifying the victim can be disastrous for art. However, the aesthetic has nothing to do with pleasure. Art is activation. Art has been fetishized by the same monumentalisation of memory. Breton has developed the idea that beauty is compulsive.
Can the word "procedure" be applied for memory? How to represent horror? I must admit that there are very powerful artistic actions.
Adorno's quotation is false. He was referring to the impossibility of writing poetry in the same way as before. It is a slogan to disqualify the poets. Art seems to be a futile attempt to cure cancer with spoonfuls of cough syrup / throw white sheets over the ugly and nasty sides of reality; the shadows and shapes still visible behind them. It is dangerous for art to fall into mere pornography or pulp fiction. I am an agent against oblivion. According to the emotion, some things change while others do not, and my memory controls my emotion. For me, it has been important to understand through art which tools justice uses to ask myself wherein my own tools consist. Art is a poetic reaction to horror. This exercise is the wisdom in the search for the tecné. I cannot deal with that testimony. I was touched by vulnerability. It is a gift for those strange areas that we all have. An urgency rises in me to offer up my body.
The truth is not hegemonic and has many prisms. We must reconstruct the fabric that was damaged in the war. Women are marginal, with bodies prone to violation, even in everyday violence. The testimony heard here is a narrative, manifesting a pain that has not healed. It shows how women are fighters and survivors. Victimization becomes a secondary gain.
The testimony reveals the vulnerability and complexity of the different directions in the story. It is problematic. What do we artists do with all this? Whatever we do never ceases to be a game, a maximum of freedom. Listening is difficult, it requires openness and disposition, it awakens memories and oblivion. We artists are subjects of responsibility. Translation exercises are a game.