Galeano’s anecdote might reassure one with the thought that even a clever fi ve-year-old is capable of artistic resistance. All it takes to circumvent political repression is a bit of wiliness and artistic imagination, the story seems to say. But is that really all it takes? Just exactly how does one build the capacity to resist? During and after Uruguay’s dictatorship, the playwright Carlos Manuel Varela explores a potentially powerful weapon for the subversion of authority: memory. In half a dozen plays written between 1980 and 1986, Varela improvises on the theme of memory, creating a series of theatrical visions that upstage dictatorship by countering the authoritarian regime’s off-stage performances, designed to instill terror and amnesia, with on-stage performances intended to inspire courage and remembrance. Considered in relationship to the political circumstances that shaped them and which they shaped, these plays reveal a strategy for the use of memory that constitutes both an aesthetic and a political achievement. On the one hand, Varela manipulates traditional dramatic forms, such as parody, tragedy, and epic, to sculpt the overwhelming and often contradictory emotions commonly experienced by victims of dictatorship. Within these forms, a theatrical imagery rich in symbol, allusion, metaphor, and allegory poetically compresses a wide range of emotions, including grief, nostalgia,

terror, rage, yearning for safety, desire for escape. On the other hand, the same poetic tropes sometimes also code his language and disguise a dangerous political struggle to create an alternative worldview. Besides fi ghting the totalitarian tendency toward collective amnesia, Varela’s theater implicitly invites spectators to join in that fi ght, and reminds them that such an effort is an ethical imperative, what Paul Ricoeur calls “the duty to remember.”1 Varela’s aesthetic choices, I argue, encourage an ethical use of memory, ethical in that it avoids the pitfalls of distortion and nostalgia, building instead a dialectical relationship between individual and collective consciousness in order to create a stronger sense of community among dissident spectators.2