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DEATH AS POSTMODERN TOPOS IN JOSÉ RAMÓN FERNÁNDEZ’S PARA QUEMAR LA MEMORIA by John P . Gabriele The College of Wooster THE Spanish playwright José Ramón Fernández (1962) is affiliated with a group of versatile authors who began their careers in the 1990s. They are democratic Spain’s first generation of playwrights. Their works offer a penetrating and universally appealing reflection of today’s society and an affront to traditionally -held notions about theatre. Other representative members of the group include Lluïsa Cunillé (1961), Margarita Sánchez (1962), Antonio Onetti (1962), Sergi Belbel (1963), Beth Escudé (1963), Antonio Álamo (1964), Raúl Hernández Garrido (1964), Laila Ripoll (1964), Luis Miguel González Cruz (1965), Yolanda Pallín (1965), Juan Mayorga (1965), Borja Ortiz de Gondra (1965) and Itziar Pascual (1967), among others. Fernández, like the others, was formally trained in the courses and workshops of some of the more experimental avant-garde playwrights of the previous generations, namely José Sanchis Sinisterra (1940), José Luis Alonso de Santos (1942), Fermín Cabal (1948), Luis Araújo (1956), Paloma Pedrero (1957), and Ernesto Caballero (1958). Fernández is well aware of the most recent theories about theatre , which frequently inform his works, whether intentionally or not. Eduardo Pérez-Rasilla has suggested that there is a definite postmodern contexture to the form and content of Fernández’s theatre. Among the many themes the playwright treats, Pérez-Rasilla underscores “el tiempo,” “la memoria,” “el desarraigo,” and “la búsqueda de la identidad.” The critic also speaks of the “formas especulares” and “abismales” of Fernández’s plays and his “juego con la duplicidad o con la multiplicidad poliédrica de los personajes ” (36-37). Death, while not a postmodern theme per se, is also among “los temas y motivos en los que abunda su [Fernández’s] obra dramática” (36). 13 The postmodern signifies the end of conventional artistic expression on a variety of levels and in a variety of contexts. It constitutes a rebellion against the laws of cause and effect, unity, spatial determinacy, temporal linearity, the fixed subject, and structural coherence, marking the end of traditional expectations regarding form, content, characterization, and narrative. Renouncing his or her traditionally privileged position of authority, the postmodern author becomes secondary, if not tertiary, to his or her text. As the author seemingly disappears, the text becomes autonomous. This has led numerous critics, Ulrich Broich among them, to claim that the Foucauldian notion of the “death of the author” is among the “strategies which have been regarded as typically postmodernist” (251). Postmodernity also marks the end of the passive reader who, sufficiently dislodged, now feels obliged to decode the text with which he or she is confronted (Spanos 135). Summarily speaking, we might say the postmodern is tantamount to death, a correlation that Brian McHale expressed succinctly more than twenty years ago in one of his many authoritative studies : “[P]ostmodernist fiction is about death in a way that other writing, of other periods, is not. Indeed, insofar as postmodernist fiction foregrounds ontological themes and ontological structure, we might say that it is always about death” (Postmodern Fiction 231). Given the intrinsic connection between death and the postmodern, it comes as no surprise that death figures prominently in José Ramón Fernández ’s theatrical repertoire: Para quemar la memoria (1992), El cometa (1993), 1998 (1995), Las mujeres fragantes (1997), La tierra (1998), Si amanece nos vamos (2001), Nina, El que fue mi hermano (Yakolev), and Monólogo de la perra roja (all written in 2004). Of these plays, nowhere does the Spanish playwright’s conceptual use of death inform his postmodern discourse more textually and contextually than in Para quemar la memoria, a play for which he was awarded the prestigious Calderón de la Barca Prize in 1993. Para quemar la memoria is at once alluring and alienating. Its fragmentary composition and the non-sequential manner in which the action evolves are intriguing. Consequently, it draws the viewer into the production of its meaning but also has a decisively disorienting effect. The action is so multilayered in its presentation and sufficiently confusing to...


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