– Summer 2009

Undocumented Rumours and Disappearing Acts from Chile

María Berríos

The list could read: 1) a Batman comic strip made into a political melodrama; 2) a lastminute materialisation of monumental socialist utopian modernism; 3) a dinner party in the countryside honouring the Tarzan actor Johnny Weissmüller; 4) an experimental documentary turned into a Western; and, last but not least, 5) a piglet strolling in the city centre, dressed in military attire. I admit the connections may seem vague, but somehow these erratic, apparently harmless and mostly forgotten actions that took place in Chile in the 1970s and 80s compose a discontinuous lineage of corrosively ironic engagement with political aesthetics. This slightly bizarre collection of 'provisional failures' constitutes a showcase of Chile's peculiar history of fragmented art tales, full of neo-Dadaist humour and unorthodox leftist critique.1

The Pop We Almost Left Behind

In 1973, a few months before Pinochet's military coup, Enrique Lihn's Batman en Chile was published in Buenos Aires.2 The book, a comic strip in the form of a novel, tells of the superhero's attempt to work on a top-secret assignment in Salvador Allende's Chile. The mission, devised by the CIA and the local right-wing elite, aimed to stop the advance of the 'red army' in South America, by using Batman as a key weapon. The novel opens with the superhero's arrival in Pudahuel airport and his immediate transport, in a private helicopter, to an exclusive welcome party in a Batcave-like mansion in the heart of the Andes. All the local guests, big and small, greet their hero dressed in unflattering Batmen outfits for security reasons. The look-alike crowd is a disturbing scene for the genuine Batman, who politely tries

  1. Enrique Lihn described his Tarzan happening, discussed later in this essay, as a 'provisional failure' in 'Adiós a Tarzán', Cauce, no.7, 1984, p.32. Recently republished in Enrique Lihn, Textos sobre arte, Santiago: Ediciones Diego Portales, 2008, pp.387-90.

  2. Enrique Lihn, Batman en Chile, o El ocaso de un héroe, o Sólo contra el desierto rojo, Buenos Aires: Ediciones de la Flor, 1973. Recently republished, with the same title, by Ediciones Bordura, Santiago,2008.

  3. Bruno Díaz is the official Spanish translation for Bruce Wayne, Batman's secret identity.

  4. Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart, Para leer al Pato Donald, Ediciones Universitarias de Valparaíso, 1973 (first edition 1971), p.159. Translation the author's.

  5. According to Lihn, the novel 'appeared two years after being written, like a literally failed act. At that point not even I was amused with its arrival.' Quoted in Edgar Ohara 'La palabra es el espectáculo', in Enrique Lihn, Derechos de autor, Santiago: Yo Editores/Arte Plano, 1981, n.p.

  6. The Cuban poet Herberto Padilla was imprisoned on the island in 1971, accused of anti-revolutionary activity. In his public criticism of Cuban cultural policy, Lihn was first a solitary voice, although he was soon joined by other leftist Latin American writers and intellectuals, among them Julio Cortázar.

  7. In 1986 the show was purchased by Univision, the largest Spanish-speaking television network in the US. The Miami-based version of the programme changed its name to Sábados Gigantes, and is still hosted by Don Francisco.

  8. Guajardo went on to become a painter, and now lives with his family in Viña del Mar. A few years ago rumours spread of offers to act as the body-double of the real Charles Bronson, but these are slightly suspicious, as at that point the almost forgotten Chilean star was already in his mid-seventies.

  9. Italo Passalacqua, 'El Charles Bronson Chileno es una película para admirar', La Segunda, 30 November 1984. Emphasis the author's.

  10. E. Lihn, Derechos de autor, op. cit., 1984.

  11. This last motto mimicked the opposition slogan 'Avanzar sin transar' ('Advance without transition') meaning the intention of overthrowing the dictatorship. The slogan was originally used in public demonstrations during the Unidad Popular, expressing the people's resistance to right-wing pressure and a call to boycott the government.