Eric Stener Carlson’s I remember Julia: Voices of the Disappeared (1996) [188pp] is a collection of vignettes that attempt to re-member one disappeared woman. The author formed part of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team and worked on a mass gravesite under excavation in Buenos Aires called Avellaneda. The 334 bodies found at Avellaneda were those of “disappeared” people, victims of Argentina’s Process of National Reorganization under the most recent military dictatorship from 1976-1982.
The team was able to conclusively identify skeleton #17 as the body of one woman to whom they gave the pseudonym, Julia. For Carlson, the excavation work that still needed to be done in order to remember Julia was getting at the idea in people’s minds of who she was. It was critical not only to unearth the remains of her body, but also to unearth how she was imagined. Carlson’s work includes the voices of people who knew Julia including her family and friends, classmates, colleagues, an ex-lover, and fellow prisoners. Carlson also includes voices of people slightly removed from Julia such as a priest, a military general and a human rights activist who provide social and political context.
In this text, the theme of imagination emerges. I have seen this most recently in the work of Marianne Hirsch who describes the investment in imagination that is required of the post-generation. Carlson writes, “that day in July, I tried to imagine the bones that I was cataloguing with a black felt-tip pen-the grid number where they had been found and the date-as having been part of a person that walked and lived and breathed, and I found it very difficult” (xiii).