I’m not sure this blog had the intended effect on my learning. In some ways, it served as a distancing mechanism rather than a means of expressing empathy or understanding. Even after reading accounts and seeing images, I wasn’t confident that I had a good understanding of what it actually meant to live, day to day, under a dictatorship. I felt unable to responsibly portray a working class man in Chile under Pinochet. My own uncertainty and reluctance to appropriate an unfamiliar, violent past created a blockage. I felt that I was writing a fiction: I made my character a melodramatic, overemphasized embodiment of concepts discussed in class; unsuccessfully Googled random, obscure information about the city of Iquique in the 1970s; wracked my brain trying to create weekly plot development, an arc in his story, a holistic understanding of his life in its complexity. All of these creative processes, undertaken on my laptop in rural Ohio, contributed to a sense of removal from the actual content that I was writing. The logistical chore of attempting to craft an accurate narrative with always seemingly insufficient information in some ways obstructed my emotional engagement. Maybe this just means that I lack imagination, or maybe it speaks to my unfamiliarity with the form of creative historical writing.
The Avatar did, certainly, help me to process a lot of the material we covered, to review and think it through from a specific lens. I tried to put some of myself and my own conflicting values into Guille, to make him seem more real. His politics were a reflection of what I imagine mine might have been based on questions presented in class, and he struggled with similar questions that confront me. I made him torn between the desire to protect his family and a radical refusal of the dictatorship. But the process of inventing a person and all of his relationships and acquaintances felt acutely uncomfortable, when there are so many real people struggling under the weight of these traumatic memories.
Then again, maybe that discomfort, the realization of this disconnect, is in itself a powerful practice of empathy?