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Eva Peron: Will We Ever Know The Truth About Her Legacy?

Updated on June 20, 2014

The movie version, starring Madonna

Evita: History And Myth

Eva Peron lived a legendary life. Or, perhaps her life became, over time, portrayed in a certain light, because such a portrayal might benefit the groups of hegemony in power. At first glance, one might presume that Evita served the country of Argentina as one of the most profound spiritual leaders of the 20th century, advocating always for the power, inspiring the ambience of the campesinos with a mystical air. Yet we are hearing now, about these events, years later, over the course of fierce political battles, corrupt government operations, and secrets, so many secrets. It is clear the effect of Evita's influence was powerful and inspirationally to many, yet this inspiration may be strongly enginneered to server different purposes than the actual principles Evita came to be known for. The novel, Santa Evita, questions many facets of Eva's previous 'histories', and yet results in even more indefinites, unknown realities yet to be disclosed, the author and reader alike waiting in the wings. The biography, Eva Peron, mentions traces a similar story, yet testimonios differ in parts. It is interesting to note that while one is considered officially 'fiction' and the other 'non-fiction,' that the discrepancies and questions in both leave us calling into nature the feasibility of knowing true history in any way whatsoever. Roland Barthes, in Myth Today, addresses these very ontological questions, studying the process of myth. Myth, here, is intended to describe a semiological process in which the actual truth of historical events (which are always confined to space and time within specific 'contingencies'), is lost in the transition of communication. Outlining a semiological paradigm of signifier and signified, Barthes describes a dualistic where, over time many representations leave all of us further and further removed from the original reality. In regards to Evita, this means simply that her actual history, her actual person, the truth of her, has been irrevocably distorted. More importantly, Barthes notes that this process occurs in degrees, and this mythologizing is at its most extreme when people in power have motives to convey realities in certain ways. As seen in other readings, like Borges' 'El Simulacro,' Bustos Domneq 'Esa Mujer,' jon smith's 'la fiesta del monstruo,' and 'la razon de mi vida,' by Evita herself, this same theme is exhibited, again and again. As seen in the following readings and through the lens of Barthes' theories, that the actual, pure truth of Evita's history has become lost in the process of myth to serve the motives of those in power.

One of the most potents expression of what Victor Bravo called the "modern crisis of representation" (23) is a piece written in 1960 by Jorge Borges. In it, Borges recalles vaguely a more distant date when he writes about an enactment of Evita's death. It's referred to as "uno de los dias de julio de 1952," recalling the time of mourning when Evita died. However, here, eight years later, another type of mourning is going on. A muneca is used to represent Evita and an actor supposedly taking on the role of the grieving Peron. These symbols though, are just symbols of other symbols. Yes! In Evita's life, day after day, according to the Borges' musings, her reality was constantly dispersed onto the common people as something one or several steps removed from her actual person. Borges concludes with the powerful statement to make his point, and it is a tragic note,

El enlutado no era Peron, y la muneca rubia no era la mujer Eva Duarte, pero tampoco Peron era Peron ni Eva era Eva sino desconocidos o anonimos (cuyo nombre secreto y cuyo rostro verdadero ignoramos) que figuraron, para el credulo amor de los arrabales, una crasa mitologia. (167)

Barthes speaks of the object at hand being stripped of History completely. "In it, history evaporates," he writes, "It is a kind of ideal servant: it prepares all things , brings them, lays them out..." (20). In this, el simulacro is out to earn money, he is a sham, looking for his own personal benefits and using this grand myth as advertising, and yet also, on a deeper level, he could be working for the people, too, in order to intimidate the military, an enemy of Eva's legacy and keepers (maybe) of her corpse. Yet it is not so simple, the people were not always so innocent and independent from power systems themselves.

The masses have been in Argentina, on the one hand a symbol of the common man, on another, prime material to be bought out and used for the purposes of the wealthy with interests. A person like Evita, with powerful influence amongst the decamiasidos could well have been the best political weapon possible, that is, the 'myth' of Evita's persona. In La Fiesta del Monstruo, Bustos Deomcq, describes a scene where workers were led on a charge to the Playa del Mayo, to petition with thunderous enthusiasm to release Peron, then held captive by the military. Many described the event as having a mystical air, October 17, 2011. And yet workers were in many ways destructive of property, disrespectful, ridiculous. They were far from the noble and sentimental portrayal of pious devotees of a saint. The narrator in the testimonio is with his peers under orders "cumplimos con cada viva entusiasta." Otherwise, the crowd would destroy it all, and moreover, requests to the Police Department for help were delayed, but only "con pretexto de una demora de Departamento de Policia en la remesa de las armas" (2). The supposed history, told here, lends one to think that the future mythologizing of this account might involve more forces of power than just a movement of passionate workers. At the least, it shows a discrepancy in the Evita's image as hero of the disenchanted innocent victims; at the most, it points towards multi-layered corruption. When people in high places play games of misrepresentation, and morevor, when they involve people from the outside with their currencies and influence, this is seen by Barthes as 'myth on the right." If people within hegemony are those on the 'right,' then the ones without are the Other. Barthes rightly points to the inabilitity of the bourgeois to "...imagine the Other. If he comes face to face with him, he blinds himself....or else transforms him into himself" (20). The event here arguably does the latter; power systems using the oppressed to indeed represent their very interests! The Other does not exist relative to the Other's subjectivity, but to the subjectivity of hegemony.

Esa Mujer recounts the coronel koenig getting drunk with soldiers, talking about the whereabouts of Evita's corpse. As one soldier drinks with the coronel, the coronel belies an obsession with Evita, with control of her. The narrator is more and more desperate to know, and as the story climaxes, exclaims,' Ahora! Me exaspero. No le preocupa la historia? Yo escribo la historia, y usted queda bioen, bein para siempre coronel!' (5). And yet the narrator, too, here shows an obsession with the whereabouts. Viewed on first glance as the coronel's possesiveness, it appears that the narrator too may have been competing for control of Evita's body. The story synthesizes in conclusion with the revelatory voice of the coronel, 'Esa mujer es mia' (5). According to Barthes, he could be possesing the body for political reasons. But the political motives of power also seem to be interwoven with the mythic representation by the other systems of power (Peronistas) as Evita as a siant, Santa Evita. The coronel may be representing two different taproots of the same myth, woven together over time, and cemented into his mind as eternal. As Barthes mentions, at this point, "history evaporates" (20). The new myth has replaced it, and rather than based on the contingency that history mandates, this myth is conveyed as eternal and unchanging. "Or even better: it can only come from eternity: since the beginning of time, it has been made for bourgeois man...." The myth of power is so forcefully emanated from that is a "language-robbery" where hegemony takes on symbols that become rooted in the collective consciousness as permanent truths. Thus, the myth takes hold, deeper and deeper, until it is woven irrevocably throughout every thread of an entire cultural paradigm. And it takes a fortitude of critical thinking to tear down the false fabric from the "trace" still left of the truth.

Likewise, the book Santa Evita conveys the public and indisputable confusion of Evita's actual history, as the narrator indicates himself as a reflection of the public's obsession, romanticization, and agitated frustration for the truth. The 'fictional' book focuses on mainly on the corpse, and it proves to be about a journalist's search for the truth, of a person, of the spirit of a time and place, and of a nation. This quest, is confusing, but the author does not believe he has ever lost sight of a strong and real sense of the historical Evita, the person verdadera. Barthes' semiological system, as mentioned, carries with it always a trace of the original. The pure, indiluted original remains impossible, but the trace that hits the narrator remains potent: " "I go on...advancing along the razor-thin edge between what is mythical and what is true...I lose myself in these folds, and she always finds me," he writes (Martinez). This is indeed the question that opens chapter eight, the part of the novel that the narrator later reveals to be creation, not record, an ironic statement for a book posed as fiction to begin with. "Cuales son los elementes que construyeron el mito de Evita?" The author shows his obsession with her saintly qualities, or at least his own memory of them, when telling of the death of Evita. She was, in the novel, "the spiritual leader of Argentina," whereas in the biography, the voice over the public radio announcing her death simply called her, "Evita Peron."

In turn, regardless of the actual historical Evita, her influence, her rise to power, her human trace left in the today's world is at the least confused in tremendous construction, political intention, and fabrication, unarguably and strategically enactic by the systems of hegemony. Yet her real human memory is there, too, and beyond any and all mythology, she was at the least a real-life human being who overcame tremendous odds with courage and intelligence to inspire a nation. Barthes has defined the semiological paradigms whereby this 'crisis of representation' can be discussed, as Borges, too, sets up a clear account of the derivative leaps from the original involved in demasiado symbology. The other readings mentioned, as well as the two full length books, provide enough general commentary and events that Barthes can used to talk about Evita's historical meaning and collective memory in a legitimate way. Evita's influence, magnetic personality, and political involvement created a connected reality where history evaporates, as those in power sought to maintain the power by maintaining the power of Evita's corpse, memory, and history. Through Barthes' paradigms, all these readings point to this, as they also demonstrate a good degree of overlaps, and a plethora of clues as to how history became lost and how the powerful controlled this process of myth.


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