Daily Postings
Essay : Literature

Silence and Silencing

by Alejandro Zambra

Poet and novelist Alejandro Zambra reflects on artist Cristóbal Lehyt's use of a Chilean song lyric and its powerful associations.

Gracias a la vida / que me ha dado tanto. (Thanks to life / for giving me so much.)

A history of Chile could be written on the basis of this verse by Violeta Parra, which is now decontextualized, “rescued,” and above all profaned by Cristóbal Lehyt: exposed to New Yorkers’ comings and goings, like just yet another advertising message, a mere detail, a call; a provocation that does not fear to pass unnoticed, that perhaps, in a sense, must pass unnoticed. Sincerely, I don’t know what my reaction would have been if I had unexpectedly encountered this message on 68th Street: astonishment, of course, and perhaps indignation or perplexity, most likely a feeling similar to the one I experienced four years ago, in the departure lounge for a flight to—precisely—New York, when I entered the duty-free store and heard another song of Violeta Parra’s, “Run Run se fue pa’l norte” (Run Run he headed North), the one I like the most. I was looking for a stuffed penguin for a friend’s child, but when I heard the song I stood stock-still, paralyzed in front of the wine display case, attempting to figure out what I was feeling.

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