on literature, cinema and performing arts

A theater of the present / Un teatro del presente (2017)

 Essay on The words of the others / Palabras Ajenas, by León Ferrari

The Vietnam War (1955–75) is not so far away. From Buenos Aires, León Ferrari could hear the bombs and be affected by the torture. The pain has not disappeared—it remains active in millions of bodies, victims of other wars and more sophisticated modes of colonization. Palabras ajenas (The words of others, 1967) is not a historical drama; it is a drama of the present. And that present is ours.

There are places that are at the same time realities and myths—that is to say, sensible concretions of a tale: Guernica, Auschwitz, Kigali, Sarajevo, or Gaza. In the 1960s Vietnam was a reality and a metaphor in which imperialism became painfully visible. When he wrote his work, Ferrari could not imagine that the United States would be defeated or that the nice anticommunist dictatorship presided over by Juan Carlos Onganía would be relieved a few years later by the much bloodier military junta. Anticommunist imperialism had learned its lesson in Vietnam and acted much more effectively in Argentina and throughout Latin America, with the help of the local military.

& 21/11/66     C. Lodge: We are learning. (195

I was already there when Ferrari wrote Palabras ajenas: my body existed, my heart beat, my lungs expanded, and my facial muscles articulated words, cries, and smiles. I could have been one of those children burned by napalm. But then I was far away indeed: I did not hear the bombs. Nor did I listen to the laments of the political prisoners of the Franco regime (1939–75), nor was I aware of the broken mourning of tens of thousands of Spaniards for their disappeared relatives, buried in mass graves, or the terror of those retaliated against and executed in the name of anticommunism and for the greater glory of the Catholic God—that God who is a father to his own and an executioner to all the others. I was one of his own, so it had been decided. And being one of his own meant keeping my eyes shut, my mouth quiet, and my hands still.

H 134     Hitler: None of us is, undoubtedly, completely normal. (182)

At home, they spoke very badly of Paul VI; at some point he was called a communist. I understood much later that my relatives merely repeated the messages dictated by the propaganda of the regime. Rome, which had unabashedly supported the coup d’état and had forgiven all the crimes committed by the fascist regime, changed its politics and moderated its doctrine with the arrival of John XXIII in 1958. Paul VI, who ascended to the papacy in 1963, was also critical of the regime but not to the point of giving up the economic privileges of the Church in Spain. With Vatican patience, the pontiff waited for the death of the dictator. Spain was liberated from fascism but not from Catholicism, nor from the powerful families that continue to dominate the structures of our weak democracy, heir, like most of today’s democracies, to those formal democracies that were invented precisely as a result of the lessons of the defeat in Vietnam, in the years when militarist imperialism became neoliberalism.

M 25/11/65      Reuters:  Pope Paul VI has warned the 400 Latin American prelates attending the Vatican against the “dangerous forces” of atheism in South America. (44)

 Palabras ajenas is a theater of the present because it confronts the power of the present. Power belongs to those who control force (President Lyndon B. Johnson), information (the media, although today this includes television and networks), and consciences (the pope and his cardinals, although today we would speak of subjectivities and we would have to include numerous aspects of the advertising and entertainment industries but also the design of work structures and relations). Finally there are figures who function as mythical referents, justifying the maintenance of this patriarchal power, both in Hitler’s historical version and in the transcendent version of God. On the other side are the victims, subjugated, abused, silenced, attacked, reduced to a name or to data, sometimes images of bodies without identity. Faced with that power, Ferrari organized a theater to talk to God.

BB 854  Ez. 21/9     God: A sword, a sword sharpened and also polished! / Sharpened to make a slaughter, polished to flash like lightning! (109)


[Fragment] +  See / buy the book on the publisher's website: JRP-RINGIER

+ Information on the exhibition and performance on REDCAT's website.