This is a telegram from the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State about a meeting with representatives of Las Abuelas. Consider how the knowledge relayed by this piece of documentation is different from the experiential knowledge captured by a testimonio. To read more government documents relating to this period, visit the U.S. Document Collection.
The knowledge relayed by this testimonio is experiential. Its goal is not the recitation of dates and statistics, but rather to capture the emotional, intellectual and social struggle faced by someone subjected to extreme physical and psychological torture.
This provides a considerable challenge to the testimonialista, who is seeking to relay events of extreme trauma that fall outside of the normal human frames of reference (Strejilevich "Testimony: Beyond the Language of Truth" 3). Relaying experiential knowledge therefore cannot be accomplished simply by writing down what occurred, but requires methods of documentation that simultaneously explain the emotional, mental and social impact of such an experience.
Strejilevich accomplishes this in a variety of ways, including through the use of poetry. The junta not only attempted to silence Los Desaparecidos, it wanted do literally eliminate them from social discourse and physical reality. The book opens with a poem about this deprivation of identity. The second stanza of which reads:
My numbered nakedness walked
In line without eyes without I’s
With them alone
My alphabet bled dry
By guttural chains
By moans citizens of a country
Without initials (Strejilevich A Single Numberless Death 3)
The poem allows Strejilevich to simultaneously share the literal experience of being Disappeared with the emotional toll of being deprived of identity. "Numbered nakedness" shares the same NN, or non nomitus used to mark the anonymous graves of Los Desaparecidos killed in CCDs. The second line references the blindfolded Desaparecidos, deprived of identity and sight. The fourth line expresses the feeling of total loss that results from this deprivation of social identity.
As the inclusion of this poem illustrates, testimonio documents experiential knowledge in a format that is appropriate to its content, instead of contorting the content to fit the prescribed format.
The use of testimonio as a source of experiential knowledge is not the advocation of the exclusion of traditional historical narratives, but rather the admission that these narratives cannot offer a complete, comprehensive view of historical experiences of Los Desaparecidos. Consequently, the literary based format of testimonio serves to complement and expand existing knowledge, offering new insights about the devastating effects of human torture.