There is nothing necessarily spontaneous or unconscious about the disruption of habit, and dehabituation can be taken on as a conscious strategy. Indeed, it is the avant garde gesture par excellence. During the Pinochet dictatorship, the Colectivo Acciones de Arte (Art Action Collective or CADA), comprising several prominent Chilean artists and writers such as novelist Diamela Eltit, poet Raúl Zurita, and visual artist Lotty Rosenfeld, staged a series of performances designed to intervene in and interrupt the establishment of everyday habits of neoliberal consumerism.

As Robert Neustadt’s CADA DÍA (literally, “Every Day”) documents, these actions included the October 1979 “Inversion of Scene” that aimed to “underline the transparency of everyday repression” by cloaking Santiago’s Museum of Fine Arts with a white sheet on the one hand and renting ten milk trucks on the other while taking out an advert in a daily newspaper that consisted in nothing more than a blank page (31). CADA’s purpose was literally to screen off the museum while touching upon familiar objects and practices (the newspaper, drinking milk) so as, in Nelly Richard’s words, “to modify both the customary perceptions of the city [. . .] and the social norms which regulate the behaviour of the citizen” (Margins and Institutions 55). Other CADA actions included showering the city with 400,000 fliers dropped from the air, in the name of “a fusion of ‘art’ with ‘life’” (Neustadt 35), and Lotty Rosenfeld’s conversion of the broken white line in the middle of streets and highways into a series of crosses. These are classic shock tactics of artistic defamiliarization, undertaken on a massive scale. Especially in their willful disarticulation of the signs of normality that the dictatorship wanted to convey for both national and external consumption they set out to force “the gaze to unlearn what the press habitually teaches it” (Margins and Institutions 56).

Lotty Rosenfeld
At the same time, and beyond the fact that the artistic avant-garde is all too easily recuperated into a familiar tradition of provocation that can never quite escape the aestheticizing gaze, surely any artistic shock tactic could be no more than pale reflection of the effects of the coup itself. If art is defamiliarization, then like it or not Pinochet was its greatest Chilean practitioner.


PinochetThe turn to neoliberalism that Pinochet’s regime inaugurated has been termed a “silent revolution,” as in the book titles both of the apologia written by Joaquín Lavín and the leftist critique written by Duncan Green. But Luis Salinas’s The London Clinic shows the benefits of simply listening to the general speak: Salinas aims to explain Pinochet and the Pinochet effect primarily by collecting and presenting the general’s own words.

The over-riding impression provided by this collection mostly comprised of quotations (from Pinochet, but also from his collaborators and defenders, plus some press commentary) is of the general’s astonishing confidence, his refusal to apologize, but also a certain candor. The most famous example of this attitude is his remark that “burying two corpses in the same grave makes for great economies” (28). He later confirms the bon mot, declaring “That is what I meant. [. . .] I never regret what I say” (107). For Manuel Contreras, former chief of Pinochet’s secret service, the DINA, the only regret is “not having been harder on the Marxists” (104).

What becomes clear is that if Pinochet and co. have nothing to regret, they also have nothing to hide. This is why Pinochet’s words are so damning: he feels no need for justification and no compunction to persuade us of his methods or his goals. Everything is on the surface. Perhaps there are some details that are not worth exploring, some areas best left unexamined; but these are all rather inconsequential. Thus in a 1984 interview, when asked of the disappeared “Have you ever had any interest in finding out where all those people ended up?” Pinochet responds with condescension: “Señorita, no one knows. Look, if there are right now thirteen million Chileans, let’s say twelve million, out of twelve million, two thousand are nothing (he makes a hand gesture to indicate a very small number). [. . .] In this country, señorita, things need to be forgotten” (112-113).

Pinochet produces effects rather than arguments. His ideological deficit reveals itself continually through the quotations collected in The London Clinic. The general has no clothes, but he is happy to parade naked. There is no real pretence that he is anything but guilty. As the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia comments regarding the judicial process in the British courts, aimed at his extradition to Spain, “No-one speaks of Pinochet as if he were innocent” (95). His defense rested instead upon technicalities.

So a transparent neoliberalism employs technocrats rather than ideologues, concerning itself with the economics of burial and the management of populations rather than with the singular victims whom the families of the disappeared hope to uncover.