I just saw Nostalgia for the Light, a brilliant documentary on Chile by Patricio Guzmán. It’s a beautifully told story of this South American country’s tumultuous history — the genocide and exploitation of Chile’s indigenous peoples in its mining industry, the violent coup by military dictator Augusto Pinochet and the subsequent “disappearances” of dissidents and innocents in the 1970s — and a present that is based on a kind of willed amnesia of this “forgotten” past.
Guzmán skillfully interweaves this heavy history with Chile’s present role as one of the best places on earth to observe the heavens, thanks to the dryness of the Atacama Desert. The ultra-dry air means the skies are transparent there — but also, that the bodies of the “disappeared” and of dead, enslaved miners are also perfectly preserved, offering a window into Chile’s history, as much as the Chilean skies are a view into the eternal history of the universe’s evolution.
Now, not so surprisingly, there are plans to exhume Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s bones to settle the debate whether he died of natural causes, or if he was murdered for political reasons:
Neruda died suddenly, just 12 days after the 1973 military coup that ousted socialist president Salvador Allende. Neruda was a close friend of Allende, who was also killed when his government was overthrown.
Since 2011, officials have been looking in to new evidence that suggests the left-leaning Neruda was poisoned. (via Maclean’s)
I was captivated by this film. Its themes are not necessarily unique to Chile, as many countries all over the world have their own dark corners of the national psyche to confront and reckon with — besides the shadows of the collective human psyche…! But there’s a wisdom in placing of all this human-caused tragedy in a dispassionate context of cosmological evolution. Perhaps, digging up a poet’s bones are part of a urgent, renewed willingness to confront hidden — if difficult — collective truths. May it prevail the world over.