Saúl Sosnowski: ‘And when they got back….: Literature and the Return from Exile in Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay’

Tessa Morrison, MPhil/PhD candidate at the Institute of Modern Languages Research, School of Advanced Studies, University of London, writes on Prof. Saúl Sosnowski‘s (University of Maryland) talk for CLACS earlier this year.

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On 16th February 2016, CLACS welcomed Saúl Sosnowski, a leading scholar on Latin American Literature, to speak about elements of his current team-based research project entitled “Exile, Transnational Migration and the Transformation of Public Culture.” Professor Sosnowski, who has published extensively on exile literature, turned his sights on this occasion to los retornados – those citizens of Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay who returned from exile after the military dictatorships in each country.

At the beginning of the talk, the seemingly simple question was posed: what happened when they got back? Sosnowski and his team had interviewed over one hundred returnees to try and assess how well they had integrated back into their home country’s society, how the re-integration process had been affected by each country’s policies towards returnees (or lack thereof) and how returnees, in turn, had affected public policy, focussing particularly on scientific and technological research. In each case, there were variables that affected the outcome: the duration of the dictatorships; the intensity of their policies; and public attitude toward exiles. National reactions between the four countries thus varied from a rejection of those became to be seen as foreigners to full acceptance of the returnees. Of the four countries, Paraguay, Sosnowski stated, “is always the most dramatic” – at a time when the country afforded little priority or funding to research, lacked academic diversity and had a lower literacy rate (62%), not only were the returnees not welcomed back but there also lingered an oft openly-voiced longing for Stroessner and his rule. By comparison, Uruguay, the country that had imprisoned the most and killed the least, designed the best policies for returnees and paved the smoothest path to reintegration. Where progress was made, it was found to be more efficient where exiles and insilios (the term coined for those who stayed) cooperated. However, many interviewees spoke of a communal and communicative breakdown between those who left and those who stayed. Several times during the talk, Sosnowski echoed the sentiment that had been voiced: “we didn’t ask them and they didn’t ask us”. The return was not easy and often did not produce the immediate relief the returnees had envisaged but despite having lived for many years overseas, many still considered the country they had left home and retained an allegiance to their nation-state.

Despite commending the actions Uruguay took to welcome the returnees back, even before the end of the dictatorship, Sosnowski conceded that most interviewees recognised their familial situation and home life as their main motivation to return, rather than government initiatives. He explained that the returns were not massive but rather occurred in “faltering waves” as exiles returned after having experienced another life. One such case was Argentine writer Mario Goloboff, who had lived in exile for over 30 years. Goloboff was asked by a journalist why he wanted to go home. He answered “well, one wants to die in his own land”. His contemporary, Tununa Mercado by comparison was quoted by Sosnowski as saying: “I have to return to Argentina because it is my own country. It is what defines me, what I am. I don’t know why anyone would want to die upon returning to their homeland. It is a sort of shortening of the time phenomenon; it’s something that places you at the zero point.” As Sosnowski explained, Mercardo was voicing the disorientation felt by many returnees and asking “where do I go from here?”. As someone whose own research interests lies in exile literature, upon hearing this question, I instinctively reframed that question to ask “where does the writer go from here?”.

Nostalgia is a theme that many writers have to negotiate whilst in exile and manifests itself in their work. Of those returning, Sosnowski explained that they returned expecting to fit back into the life they left when they were twenty years old – nostalgia then, appears to be not only suffered whilst still in exile but it is carried across the ocean and back onto home turf. One thing became certain amongst the interviewees: upon return, neither the person they were nor the country they had left behind would be the same. Sosnowski talked about those who tried to return more than once, found all was not as they had remembered (or imagined) and ended up caught in a constant back and forth. His description of them being “happiest on the aeroplane” led me to recall Perri Rossi’s depiction of the airport and the safe haven offered by this in-between space. And yet, did this misguided nostalgia prove a limitation for the returning writers? From the testimony Sosnowski offered, it would appear not. He took the example of the Uruguayan writer Fernando Butazzoni, who said he never again felt quite at home. As pointed out though, Butazzoni had lived in many countries, the idea of home had become portable to him and yet he still chose to go home. Despite his claim that he didn’t feel at home, he went on to immerse himself in Uruguay society as a prominent cultural figure and engage himself in the reestablishment of the country. Luisa Valenzuela, one of Argentina’s most prominent women writers, asserted that “one carries roots within ourselves”, they are not something firmly planted in one place but something to be carried. She suggested that for writers in particular, their roots are carried to their true home: the edge, the margins. This was a fitting idea for Sosnowski to conclude his talk with as, as he pointed out, it is the lines, borders, edges and margins that underscore the estranged from the one who is at home.

Thank you to Professor Saul Sosnowski for an enriching talk, to those who attended for the lively discussion that followed and to CLACS for hosting the event. I look forward to reading the full study upon publication.


Tessa Morrison
Email: tessa.morrison [at]
T: @tessamorri

PG Symposium: Research Trends in Latin American Studies


On 26 April, CLACS organised a symposium for PhD students working in Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the Universities of Manchester and Liverpool. The event was funded by the North West Doctoral Training Centre. The event built on previous symposia organised in Manchester and provided PhD students with the opportunity to present papers on their research in a friendly and constructive environment, and to get feedback from peers and staff.

Linda Avendano (HCRI) kicked off the symposium with a presentation on child soldiers and miners in Colombia. Linda discussed the current academic interpretation of ‘child soldiering’ and its implications in terms of human rights violations and policy interventions. She argued for a wider comprehension of the multiple roles performed by children in current conflicts and outlined a theoretical framework that can help address gaps in theorising and practice.

Carole Myers (SALC) discussed elective cosmetic rhinoplasty in contemporary Brazilian women, focusing on the appropriation of cultural influences and their significance in contemporary Brazilian society.

Luis Eduardo Pérez Murcia (SEED) shared the results of his ethnographic work among displaced people in Colombia. He explained the multiple ways in which they construct narratives of home that are crucially shaped by the experiences of conflict and Displacement.

Nicola Astudillo-Jones (SALC) gave the first of two presentations dealing with cinema. She showed how British spectators of Latin American films at Manchester’s Viva Festival perceive Latin America-ness in terms of imagined cosmopolitan communities.

Nicola Runciman (SALC) continued with the topic of cinema, but moved from reception to film analysis, examining the narrative, aesthetic and socio-political functions of the Chilean landscape as it emerges in two recent films: El año del tigre (Sebastián Lelio, 2011) and Matar a un hombre (Alejandro Fernández Almendras, 2014). Nicola demonstrated how these films engage with nationally specific concerns about the social order while also articulating a troubling dimension of the body’s relationship to the external world, a dimension which connects the particular and the universal.

After lunch, Dr. Jon Beasley-Murray (University of British Columbia) gave a keynote talk on Latin American literature and infrapolitics as part of the day, entitled “What’s the Use of Literature?  Machinery and Mechanism in the Latin American Canon”.


The afternoon session was devoted to literature. María Montt Strabucchi (SALC) explored Colombian author Santiago Gamboa’s novel Los Impostores (2002) in dialogue with the work of Sara Ahmed, Homi Bhabha and Jean-Luc Nancy, in order to draw out the challenge of essentialist views as well as the understandings of community that the novel suggests.

Ailsa Peate (Liverpool) analysed Rogelio Guedea’s Detective Trilogy and demonstrated how the Mexican author presents an original interpretation of the genre, achieved in part by creating a distressing plot based on historical events, which draws our attention to the corruption currently at the heart of the Mexican political elite.

Finally, Rafael Argenton Freire (SALC) looked at Brazilian Romantic poet Gonçalves Dias (1823-1864). Rafael explored how Gonçalves Dias self-fashioned himself as a poet in relation to European models and as a poet writing within and against the ideology of a Romantic, post-independence Brazil. Moreover, he look at how and to what extent his role within the literary relations of production contributed to his literary success and public recognition as a poet.

Prof. Peter Wade closed the symposium with a talk on how to get published in Latin American Studies, which provided very useful tips.

In sum, it was a long but fulfilling day in which we all engaged in exciting and stimulating discussions and that demonstrated the excellent research being carried out by our PhD students.

Jo Evans (UCL): ‘Childhood and Adolescence on Screen: Do We Need to Talk About Buñuel?’


Here you can listen to the audio of the talk given by Dr Jo Evans (UCL) on childhood and adolescence in Luis Buñuel’s films as part of our Seminar Series.

Abstract: Childhood and adolescence have become an important focus of attention for film and film studies in recent years. Films like We Need to Talk About Kevin (Ramsey 2011), Gone Baby Gone (Affleck 2007), even Boyhood (Linklater, 2014), address the ethical complexity of our parental and/or social responsibility for children, and film scholars now pay serious attention to our relationship with the child on screen.
Major academic studies have emerged. Emma Wilson’s Cinema’s Missing Children(2003) and Sarah Wright’s The Child in Spanish Cinema (2013) provide the theoretical foundations for any serious analysis of the representation of children on screen, while Carolina Rocha’s special issue of Studies in Hispanic Cinemas(2011) on ‘Children in Hispanic Cinema’ testifies the importance of this topic for scholars Spanish-language film. Yet to date, with the exception of studies of Los olvidados, scholars have paid little attention to the representation of childhood in the work of the director who is arguably still the best-known Spanish-language auteur. With a view to addressing this perceived gap, this paper will examine the Spanish-Mexican director Luis Buñuel’s complex, provocative, ambivalent, blackly comic and, at times, frankly disturbing representation of the child on screen.

Katia Chornik: ‘Music and Human Rights Liaisons in Chile’

Here you can listen to the audio of the talk given by Dr Katia Chornik (Manchester) entitled ‘Music and Human Rights Liaisons: Interviewing Álvaro Corbalán, a Singer-Songwriter and Top Agent of Pinochet’s Secret Police’.

Here is an abstract of her talk:

In February 2010, Álvaro Corbalán was awarded a gaviota de plata (silver seagull) by the International Song Contest of Viña del Mar (Chile), the most important popular music competition in the Spanish-speaking world. This accolade was not, however, granted for his musical talents but “for having defeated Marxism terrorism in Chile”, as the inscription reads. Corbalán was in fact a top agent of the CNI, one of the secret services operating during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship (1973-1990), and as such ran a clandestine torture centre known for its heavy manipulations of prisoners’ acoustic environment. Convicted of innumerable crimes, Corbalán serves a life sentence. Using my interview material and drawing on research in popular music and memory studies, I explore Corbalán’s elusive recollections of Pinochet’s prisons, and the ways in which he makes sense of his own detention through his musical compositions.

The talk was given on Wednesday 3 February as part of the Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies Seminar Series.

Postgraduate workshop: Researching Latin American Cities


Here you can find some audios from our Postgraduate workshop: Researching Latin American Cities, organised by CLACS, in conjunction with Global Urban Research Centre  and with the support of cities@manchester. The event took place on 5 November 2015.

The workshop explored the challenges for Latin American cities, addressing the somewhat fragmented nature of existing literature by discussing and deploying different disciplinary approaches. The workshop was aimed at Masters and PhD students who are currently working on or who have concrete plans to work on Latin American cities.

More information about the event can be found here.


Lights Out in Bogotá


James Scorer (james.scorer [at]

On a recent trip to Bogotá I was fortunate enough to get a ticket for the Concierto Binacional Colombia-Venezuela, a joint concert performed by members of the Orquesta Filarmónica de Bogotá and of La Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar, the Venezuelan youth orchestra. Conducted by the famous Gustavo Dudamel, the performance was designed to deploy culture in a gesture of bi-national partisanship. In recent years relations between the two countries, often pragmatic at best, have been strained by disputes over the border activities of paramilitary and guerrilla groups, and over smuggling (Idler, 2015).

Holding such an event in the Colombian capital, former temporary home to the transnational liberator Simón Bolívar, now the figurehead of Venezuela and himself celebrated in musical form by Dudamel, seemed like an appropriate choice. Nevertheless, the Teatro Mayor Julio Mario Santo Domingo, a cultural centre built in the far north of the city, was a far cry from the downtown Quinta de Bolívar, let alone the impoverished neighbourhoods of the south-western stretches of the city. Built as a joint venture between the state and the vastly wealthy Santo Domingo family, the Teatro Mayor cannot help but serve as a reminder of the vast wealth divide evident in the city.

Before the concert began we were regaled with a welcoming speech given by the director of the Orquesta Filarmónica de Bogotá, a long, wandering introduction that eventually resulted in a cry from the gods that echoed around the hall’s excellent acoustics: ‘¡música!’ The call split the audience between those who tut-tutted with a frown and those who stifled chortles or began to applaud the forthright expression of their own inner thoughts.

The orchestra opened and ended with Beethoven, the choice of the Choral Fantasy as the concluding piece, itself a musical fusion of different orchestral elements and a piece that sings of harmonious unification, a symbolic inclusion for a concert of cooperation. Dudamel’s own piece, however, the soundtrack he was commissioned to write for the film Libertador, a biopic of Bolívar, captured the spirit of the concert most eloquently with its romantic lyricism and sabre-rattling.

And yet the most dramatic moment of the night was when, mid-performance, the lights went out. Plunged into darkness, one couldn’t help but wonder whether this was a failure in state infrastructure, the beginnings of an incursion, or a blown fuse. Some suggested that it had been the spirit of Bolívar’s former general-turned-foe, Francisco de Paula Santander, returning from the grave to cast a shadow over the music that saluted his nemesis.

Others, however, speculated that it had been a reminder to one of concert’s sponsors, Gustavo Petro, the Mayor of Bogotá, of his immense unpopularity. Petro, former leader of the left-wing guerrilla movement M-19, has rankled some of the wealthier residents of Bogotá, not just because of his revolutionary past, but also because of his approach to reducing urban inequality, including, for example, his project to build social housing in some of the most affluent parts of Chapinero (Raskin, 2015).

Two nations united, then, but a city divided. The orchestra played on valiantly in the gloom.


Idler, Annette. (2015) ‘A Humanitarian and Diplomatic Crisis is Unfolding on the Colombia-Venezuela Border’ Online: [15 September 2015]

Raskin, Julia. (2015) ‘The Way Out is Through: Class Conflict in Bogota’. PopFront. Online: [accessed 31 August 2015].