I struggled with this project more than I thought I would, not because of struggles to empathize with a person from the past, but because of my own creative writings practices and studies in literature. I held myself to a very high standard and often felt like I was just writing bad historical fiction. Writing in Spanish helped with this a bit because I felt like I could really let Carlota’s voice come through. But, having her husband disappear ended up being an emotional event that I could simply not write well. I wrote it badly – I could relate emotionally, but only to a certain extent, and found my response to be silence more so than something I could put into words that felt right. Perhaps because I was able to recognize that I didn’t really know what it would be like to have a loved one disappeared I was unable to actually write it in a way that felt like it was doing it justice. I felt like I failed Carlota’s emotions over and over, it felt forced and awkward. It made it seem like I didn’t care.
Not only was the emotional scope difficult for me and resulted in the production of bad fiction, but also the historical scope proved to present similar limitations. I don’t think I had a firm grip on what was going on historically, and therefore felt unqualified to talk about the Montoneros or Alfonsín or las Malvinas. Too many details were unknown to me, and this lack of sureness mixed with my feelings of inadequacy on the emotional front made each blog post feel like a huge, daunting task wherein which I would never produce something I could feel proud of, unless I spent far more time on it than one should, or that one could.
Because of these two factors, I do not feel like the blog project taught me much more about the historical facts, but instead about the difficulty to write history (because historians do precisely this – they make the historical narratives) and to represent the emotional suffering in a way that could do it justice and not soil its memory. My blog is like a literary memorial – and seems to have many of the same failings as memorials do. Somehow my blog (as many memorials do as well) could not quite capture how it felt to be in Argentina before and during the dictatorship. But because its attempt was to contextualize and represent the emotional trajectory of a human during these times as opposed to painting a general narrative of the events, it also fails to capture a global historical perspective of this time period. One person’s story cannot explain the dictatorship or give a sense of its scope. It is like one blurry piece of grass in a 1,000 piece puzzle that depicts La Casa Rosada. For this reason, one person’s story cannot hope to represent a period in a holistic way.
To me it seems like these two failures were a bit inevitable, and provided me with the most lasting lessons about empathy and historical narrative. In my most vulnerable moments of the semester, when I put myself way too much in the shoes’ of the victims of the dictatorships, not only did a sadness overcome me, but also a silence. I had no words. Putting Carlota into 1978 Argentina was incredibly difficult, just as putting myself into 2014 U.S. is difficult. A person and their historical time period are both alienated from each other and inextricably linked. A person both lives and breathes every bit of their historical context just as they somehow escape it in the way any individual can. We are both products of our time periods as we are producers of that time period. How to write this in a way that does it justice? If one person’s story cannot explain a historical period, how can a general narrative do it, considering that there was no Single Event, no General History, but instead a complicated, interrelated, contradictory panoply of millions of individual stories? This blog project made me come into close contact with this tension every time I sat down to write Carlota.