"I'm hopeful, but wary… because I've seen defeat," Dorfman said of the Occupy protest movement.
Dorfman, the renowned novelist, playwright, poet and journalist, read from his latest book, Feeding on Dreams: Confessions of An Unrepentant Exile, Tuesday night at the Regulator Bookshop in Durham. Dorfman, also a professor at Duke University and a prominent human rights activist, shared his thoughts on Chile, the challenges of creating true political change and the Occupy movement.
Dorfman was a staunch and public supporter of Salvador Allende, who became the first democratically-elected president of Chile in 1970. After the election, Dorfman served as a cultural adviser to Allende's chief-of-staff. Although he was recounting events four decades past, his presentation carried whiffs of the present.
"There is nothing quite like it, the thrill of being present at the birth of a new social order when the tired conventions of the past are swept away," Dorfman read from his book.
But in 1973 the democratic movement in Chile was brought to an abrupt and violent end. The Chilean military staged a coup to depose Allende, and the country was ruled by Gen. Augusto Pinochet until 1990. Dorfman went into exile, and devoted much of his subsequent career to advocating for human rights causes and the return of democracy to Chile.
Feeding on Dreams details Dorfman's life in exile—his evasion from death squads, his life in America, his yearning for Chile, and what happened when he and his family moved back after the country's return to democracy in 1990. Chile's transition to democracy, Dorfman found, was fraught with challenges and fear—the consequences of being ruled by a dictatorship for 17 years.
There is no such thing as pure change, Dorfman explained to the crowd of about 30 people who gathered to listen to him speak last night. He was referring, not to the Chilean revolution, but to the Occupy movement—"a movement of exiles in their own country."
Dorfman described purity as the Occupy movement's greatest asset, but as its greatest potential problem as well. Change must happen through the institutions, he explained, which inevitably leads to negotiations, and betrayal.
But "it's very encouraging," he said. The Occupy movement, like other protest movements before it, has demonstrated that you can evict a person from land, he said, but not an idea from the mind.