Los pichiciegos or Malvinas requiem: Visions of an underground war in the English translation is the 1983 novel by an outstanding Argentinean sociologist Rodolfo Enrique Fogwill depicting the events of the Falklands war through collecting the testimonies of the twenty-four Argentinean deserters.
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Criticizing the war and the Latin American dictatorship in general, Fogwill makes near prophetic predictions in his work by using the animal metaphors and imagery for not only affecting the readers’ perception of the text, but also improving the inner working of the novel Los pichiciegos.
The historical and political background
The plot of the novel depicts the events of the Falklands War through the eyes of 24 Argentine deserters. The Falklands War, as the result of the dispute concerning the sovereignty of Falkland Islands also known as Amlninas and South Georgia between Argentina and the United Kingdom lasted for 74 days, but received a broad resonance in literature and culture of Argentina.
The plot of the novel should be viewed in the historical and political context of the 1980s. On the one hand, historians recognize the Falkland war as a fiasco for Argentina which threatened its military rule and predetermined the transition to democracy in the country.
On the other hand, the Argentina government attempted to hide the real consequences and events of the conflict providing public with falsified reports. The truth of the conflict was cleared out only after the first soldiers returned from the battlefront.
In that regard, Fogwill’s approach to the presentation of the plot of the novel in the form of the collection of the testimonials of the real participants of the events is meaningful. The author claimed for unveiling the hidden truth in his work by providing the first-hand evidence to his readers.
Apart from expressing the views contradicting the generally accepted doctrine, Fogwill’s choice of the deserters’ perspective for narrating his story emphasizes the author’s anti-war views, which were put into the basis of the novel.
Most citizens perceived the situation through the lens of political lies and did not know the truth before the first wounded soldiers returned to the mainland. It explains the enormous popularity of Fogwill’s novel, which was written in the middle of the war.
Certainly, due to its harsh criticism and the unveiled truth, the work could not be published during the period of military dictatorship. However, its manuscript circulated in Brazil soon after the novel was completed.1 However, it was not until the year 1984 that the text was officially published.
The allegorical meaning of the title
The discussion of the role of metaphors and imagery in the novel should start from the analysis of its titles conveying the author’s intention to compare his characters and narrators to animals regarding their living conditions and behaviors.
Los pichiciegos, the Spanish title for the novel under consideration bears the name of the local type of moles, which are recognized as an endangered species. Thus, this title can be regarded as metaphoric and rather meaningful because it symbolizes several features of the depicted characters.
Traditionally, moles are animals living underground and going onto the surface only at night. Another feature is mole’s diet because it is well-known that an average mole can eat up to 70 % of its weight a day.
It is also significant for the interpretation of the symbolic meaning of the Spanish title to note that this species is recognized as an endangered one.
Moreover, the choice of the word from the local dialect for entitling the work may represent the author’s intention to reproduce the local coloring of Argentina as the setting of the depicted events of the Falklands War.
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Actually, the word pichis used for treating the described deserters was significant not only for creating important symbols and paralleles between the human and animal worlds, but also emphasizing the importance of taking into account the cultural peculiarities and the specific historical contexts for preventing the possible misinterpretation in foreign readers.
Malvinas requiem: Visions of an underground war, the English translation for the title of the book clearly demonstrates that Caistor as the translator did not manage to find the suitable equivalent to the word pichiciegos in the English language which would contain the variety of metaphorical meanings conveyed in the Spanish version of the title.
Regardless of the fact that the word by word translation for the title of the novel was regarded as inappropriate by the translator, the large amount of the animal metaphors and imagery have been preserved in the English text.
The deserters from the underground world are called dillos, whereas this word also has a certain dialectical coloring and initially is misunderstood by some of the characters.
However, this approach allows not only emphasizing the peculiar local context, but also discussing the way of life and habits of these animals for the readers could unintentionally draw the parallels with the life of the main characters. “Dillo goes for it – burrows, suffers and survives.
The same as with people”.2 Actually, the idea of comparing the inhabitants of the underground world to animals was clearly communicated by the author.
The Spanish title of the novel representing the author’s focus on the animal metaphors along with the translator’s inability or unwillingness as dictated by the language sense to find the word-by-word equivalent for the title demonstrate the importance of the local coloring of the plot which should be considered in the context of the socio-cultural and political situation in Argentina of 1980s.
The numerous repetitions of the word dillos in the English text emphasize the importance of the animal metaphors which was recognized by the translator.
The main themes of the novel
Regardless of the fact that the plot of the novel under consideration is rather simple and straightforward, it develops several broad themes, including the criticism of the war and dictatorship in Argentina and living conditions which can make people live like animals.
The development of the events focuses on the trading colony created in underground by a group of Argentinean deserters during the Malvinas war. Recognizing their survival as the only life value, they trade with the British soldiers and even agree to spy against Argentina.
It also should be noted that the created underground economy can be regarded as an application of a free market model, which was unthinkable for Argentina of 1980s when the work was completed. However, it was not the only Fogwill’s successful forecast expressed in the novel which undoubtedly anticipated its time.
The author’s visions on the truth about the war and the future of post-dictatorial Argentina can be recognized as nearly-prophetic and even increase the value of the text under consideration.3 Closer examination allows discovering that Forgwill’s text foreshadows the future events in Argebtina of late 1980s.4
While the depicted war was only a momentous event for the Argentinean history, it can be regarded as a turning point for the decay of the military dictatorship in the country and the following transition to democracy and free-market relations.
In that regard, Fogwill’s novel is not only a valuable approximation of the events on Malvinas Islands at the time when there was no reliable evidence concerning the real state of affairs on the front but also predicts the establishment of the free market relations following the Latin American dictatorship.
Thus, not understating the fact that the depiction of the underground economics of pichis and the discussion of the military events have a strong historical basis and represent the real-life events, it should be noted that the text of the novel requires allegorical interpretation.
Taking into account the animal imagery and decoding all the animal metaphors which can be found in the text of the novel is essential for understanding not only the depicted events, but also interpreting the underlying processes in the community which would allow rating the text of Fogwill’s work at its true value.
The peculiarities of the narration patterns
The chosen genre of the collection of testimonials which is recognized as Fogwill’s valuable contribution to aesthetics of Argentinean literature was effective for not only enhancing the persuasiveness of the author’s assumptions, but also depicting the events, including the formation of the underground economics and the gradual moral degradation of deserters in their dynamics.
Combining the elements of the testimonials of different narrators, Fogwill not only allows the readers to get involved into the process of investigation, but also demonstrates the changes in his narrators’ perception of the military events and their impact upon the lives of the community members.
Though the novel starts from the third-person narration in the past, this pattern is later changed. The author’s voice is mostly hidden in the novel and the text can rather be regarded as the collective memoirs of the group of deserters. Moreover, it is not until the end of the novel, that it is cleared out that there is only one deserter who is left alive.
If their testimonials were recorded and included into the novels, it implies that they were alive at the beginning of the investigation.
This discovery at the end of the novel exaggerates the dynamics of the plot, whereas the composition of the novel resembles the report on the ongoing events which produces the effect of the continuous discovery shared by the author and his readers. It may seem that at the beginning of the novel, the author himself did not know what will happen at the end.
Focusing on the fact that there is only one of the narrators left alive by the end of the novel, it is possible to draw the parallels between the development of the depicted events and the author’s choice of the original title for his work as well as the repetition of the word pitchis in the novel.
Like the local endangered species of moles, deserters do everything possible to survive, but due to the hostile environment and the historical conditions, their attempts were not crowned with success.
The impact of the animal imagery upon the readers’ perception
Comparing the lives of dillos to their own existence, the narrators recognize their own moral decay with the food and fuel as the only remaining values in their lives.
The parallels and unavoidable associations between the human existence in the underground world and the life of moles not only express the author’s criticism of war as the major precondition for their enormous degradation, but also affects the readers’ perception of the text of the novel.
It is significant that the deserters themselves compare their underground world to the burrows of moles. They are aware of their degradation but can do nothing about it because it is preconditioned by the internal factors of military time.
It emphasizes the impression that the wartime left only a few human features in these characters who consider the bodies of the dead soldiers as only the opportunities to get certain precious things.
The goal of survival is above all for them, whereas the ideas of nationalism and certain remnants of patriotism can be regarded as only remote memories from the past which do not prevent them from trading with the British soldiers and even spying against their native country.
Money is of no value in their underground economics, and food is rated much higher. For this reason, the underground free market created by Fogwill’s characters is defined by some literary critics as savage capitalism.5
This unconventional word combination reveals not only the initial stage of the development of the underground economics, but also the absence of moral rules and the external regulations which could be applied to it but for the conditions of the military time.
Similar to the endangered species of pichis, the deserters can are induced to hide from their compatriots because they can be killed. They know it for sure that their own compatriots can shoot them as deserters though the only their fault was their recognition of the absurdity and futility of the war.
Through the analysis of the text of the novel, it can be discovered that the author does not blame the characters for their desertion, but rather explains the underlying causes of their choices and foreshadows the government which was really responsible for the existing situation.
The role of animal metaphors in expressing the anti-war criticism
Whereas the whole novel under consideration is recognized as the depiction of the misery and absurdity of war6, the animal metaphors played an essential role in expressing the author’s criticism of not only particular military events, but also the war tactics and the Argentinean military order in general.
Comparing the existence of the twenty-four deserters to the life of pitchis, Fogwill explains the major rules of military time. The testimonies of the actual participants demonstrate that there are no other values but for the strongest desire to survive, which can drive the individual’s behavior during the military rime.
Though the narrators are not blamed for it, they lack any moral values which are traditionally recognized as the characteristics of the human kind. However, lacking morale, the narrators are not deprived of the common sense and their reasoning concerning the futility and absurdity of the war are rather reasonable.
On the other hand, the animal metaphors were an approach which allowed Fogwill to demonstrate the variety of the war-driven processes in the community in their integrity.
The near beast living conditions and the continuous struggle for survival harden people, whereas any ethical considerations and moral values are naturally put aside when the human life and survival are at stake.
However, when applied to the human community, the rules of the animal life paradoxically result in the development of the free market relations. Moreover, it is possible that comparison of the political situation to the laws of the nature world made Fogwill’s vision near-prophetical.
The use of the animal metaphors had a significant impact upon not only the effect produced by the novel, but also on the inner working of the text itself, whereas aligning the plot lines with the particular laws of the wild world allowed the Argentinean sociologist to make feasible forecasts concerning the future of the country.
In general, it can be concluded that the use of the animal metaphors and imagery had a significant impact upon not only the readers’ impression from the depicted events but also on the inner working of the text itself.
The use of the name of the endangered species of moles in the original title of the novel Los pichiciegos demonstrates the author’s recognition of the importance of the technique of animal metaphors for expressing his criticism of the moral decay of the deserters through comparing their underground existence and struggle for survival to the life of moles in their burrows.
Thus, the parallels between the life of the Argentinean community and the animal world not only affected the readers’ perception of the text, but also possibly allowed Fogwill to make near prophetic forecasts concerning the future of Argentina.
Castro-Klaren, S., A companion to Latin American literature and culture, Blackwell Publishing, malden, 2008.
Fogwill, R. S., Malvinas requiem: Visions of an underground war, trans. N. Caistor, Serpent’s Tail, London, 2007.
Freedman, L., The offensive art: Political satire and its censorship around the world from Beerbohm to Borat, Greenwood Publishing Group, Westport, 2009.
Zimmer, Z., “The passage of savage capitalism: Time, non-place and subjectivity in Fogwill’s narration”. Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies, vol. 15, no. 2: 143- 158.
1 Zimmer, Z., “The passage of savage capitalism: Time, non-place and subjectivity in Fogwill’s narration”. Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies, vol. 15, no. 2, 145.
2 Fogwill, R. S., Malvinas requiem: Visions of an underground war, trans. N. Caistor, Serpent’s Tail, London, 2007.
3 Zimmer, Z., “The passage of savage capitalism”, 147.
4 Castro-Klaren, S., A companion to Latin American literature and culture, Blackwell Publishing, malden, 2008, 622.
5 Zimmer, Z., “The passage of savage capitalism”, 150.
6 Freedman, L., The offensive art: Political satire and its censorship around the world from Beerbohm to Borat, Greenwood Publishing Group, Westport, 2009, 243.