Poetry as testimonio: writing human rights in Alicia Partnoy
Dunn, Katherine Margaret
This thesis studies the poetry of Alicia Partnoy (Argentina, b. 1955) as a form of testimonio. Partnoy is a survivor of disappearance, imprisonment and torture during the 1976-1983 dictatorship in Argentina. She was forced into exile in the United States, where she now works as an academic, writer and human rights activist. Partnoy has testified about her experiences at the United Nations, Amnesty International and CONADEP (Comisión Nacional sobre la Desaparición de Personas). As a writer, she is best known for the testimonial short stories of The Little School (1986) / La Escuelita (2006). My research argues that Partnoy’s literary testimonio also encompasses the poetry collections Venganza de la manzana / Revenge of the Apple (1992), Volando bajito / Little Low Flying (2005) and Fuegos florales / Flowering Fires (2014). Chapter 1 outlines existing scholarship in the field of testimonio studies, including Beverley (1987; 1993), Sklodowska (1992), Strejilevich (2006), Partnoy (2009), Portela (2009) and Forcinito (2012). I explore debates regarding testimonial ‘truth’ and attitudes to testimoniantes, before using the work of Scarry (1985) and Forché (2012) to understand how figurative language functions in the communication of suffering. Chapter 2 establishes the importance of the paratext in testimonio, building on the theories of Genette (1997). I reflect on the role of information provided by the publishers and the translator Gail Wronsky, in addition to analysing paratexts written by Partnoy herself. Dedications, a prose introduction and prefatorial poems all serve a significant testimonial purpose in the collections. Chapters 3, 4 and 5 comprise thematic close readings of Partnoy’s poems. Chapter 3 explores Partnoy’s approach to testimonial poetry, and her development of the poetic ‘I’, as a challenge to the maxim that ‘to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric’ (Adorno 1967). Chapter 4 examines Partnoy’s portrayal of the effect of dictatorship on family, drawing on the intimate relationships with her daughter, brother, and life partner. Chapter 5 considers the creation of a collective testimonial voice. I conclude that in response to state violence in Argentina and beyond, Partnoy creates a poetic testimonio that is a chorus against injustice and a demand to be heard.