Groundbreaking literary essay maps out a fictional Santiago

In The Buried Wall, now reissued and updated for 2011, Carlos Franz uses walls and mythical monsters to trace the identity of Chile’s capital as it has appeared in novels.

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Acclaimed Chilean author Carlos Franz has reissued an updated version of his groundbreaking literary essay that traces the portrayal of Santiago in Chilean novels from the 20th century.

A winner of the 2002 Municipal Essay Prize, The Buried Wall (La Muralla Enterrada) was inspired by a chance discovery made by a 16-year-old Franz in 1975.

During the time when Santiago’s metro system was being constructed, the young author would often go walking along the banks of the Mapocho River. One day Franz stumbled across a historical gem when he found a large wall emerging from the ground, not far from the river. On further investigation, he discovered that the wall was part of the original embankment of the Mapocho River which dated back to the city’s colonial period.

The old wall, buried in the ground, caught Franz’s attention and an imaginary city began to take shape in his mind. Over the years, the author was introduced to a series of Chilean novels and the idea of The Buried Wall continued to form until the essay was finally completed in 2001.

In the essay, Franz maps out a complex picture of Santiago as it appears in over 70 different novels, covering seven neighborhoods, from Estación Central and La Vega to San Diego and the “barrio alto”, or “uptown”.

The essay features novels that span the 20th century, such as Augusto D’Halmar’s Juana Lucero, published in 1902, and Darío Oses’s Beauty and the Beast (La Bella y las Bestias), published in 1998.

Throughout the work, Franz uses two motifs to reflect the city’s identity: the wall and the imbunche – a mythical creature from the island of Chiloé.

Franz told La Tercera that the identity of the city and its inhabitants seems to develop “…between the useless defense of our weaknesses (represented by the wall) and the mutilation of our possibilities (represented by the mythical being from Chiloé)”.

While the author has added some changes to the latest version of the essay, he believes the original motifs are still relevant to Santiago.

“We have transformed the buried walls into walls of mirrors,” he said. “The big buildings with all their reflections, don’t really seem to be there. They are like mirrors and those mirrors reflect our gross materialism. The proud imbunche threatens to frustrate our dreams as a result of our excessive confidence. The development that was promised for 2010 has now been delayed until 2018 and tomorrow it will be pushed back further to 2100.”