This paper discusses the mega-causa (trial) of those repressors involved in the capture, torture and murder of thousands at ESMA, Argentina’s most notorious detention centre, in terms of the law’s processes of displacement (not only from the scene of the crimes to the court) and obliged recall of survivors (who become witnesses obliged to remember – and never to read – the past). Taking scenes from the trial as its starting point, the paper considers how the different sites and processes by which the horrors of the last dictatorship are ‘returned’ to the present understand the temporalities and constitutive effects of memory differently. Criminal trials are now widely understood as a key element of reconciliation packages, and Argentina’s experience is watched carefully as it has opened the way for trials after the years of amnesties that followed the dramatic 1985 trial of the generals. But justice not reconciliation is the professed aim of the legal trial, the latter only a potential, felicitous side effect. At the site of these crimes, at ESMA, by contrast, the various turnings to the past have more often explicitly sought forms of reconciliation through pedagogic, artistic and activist participation. Now, after much campaigning, an Espacio para la Memoria, the turnings to the past that take place within ESMA involve different forms of public intimacy from the criminal trial, ones that variously yet collectively read the past with an eye on the future, as it were, an impossibility for law.
Oxford Brookes University, 4pm, 28/02/2012. The Music Room, Headington Hill Hall.