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Introduction: Remembering War and Dictatorship

From: Hispanófila
Volume 170, Enero 2014
pp. 3-7 | 10.1353/hsf.2014.0001

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In the articles that comprise this volume of Hispanófila dedicated to the topic “Post-guerra espanola y dictaduras” we sense the urgency of dealing with traumatic historical memory, “the afterlife of the past in the present” (Labanyi 193), through literature. Art and culture of the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), the Franco dictatorship (1939–1975), and the transition to democracy are commonplace at the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty first centuries. This opening of the popular imagination to the past in Spain has not gone unmediated, as representations of the war and its consequences tend to filter through the old dichotomy of a Spain in social schism (las dos Espanas), along with the dialectic of victim and victor. As a point of comparison, and to emphasize the fact that more scholarship is warranted on the topic of post-war dictatorships in the Hispanic world, an article on the Southern Cone is included. The rise and promise of Mercosur and the EU as a result of political stability and economic prosperity encompassing two continents cannot erase the painful memories of decades of dictatorship. Recent worldwide recession has brought back many of the same questions about democratic values seemingly answered after the turbulent twentieth century. The articles assembled here attest to this crisis and uncertainty, as well as healthy questioning, reflection, and the affirmation of life.

Andrea Colvin’s contribution to this number, “Representing Trauma Through Fiction,” discusses the traumatic autobiographical experiences of Mauricio Rosencof’s novel El Bataraz (1991). The novelist was a political prisoner of the Uruguayan dictatorship through the seventies and eighties in which the whole Southern Cone was consumed by authoritarian regimes. While Spain was experiencing a tumultuous transition to democracy in the same period, South America was preyed on by the Cold War policies of Plan Cóndor. Colvin’s examination of Rosencof’s El Bataraz reawakens us to this time in history in which memories live on and need expression. Colvin explores the novelistic difficulty faced by the author in relating traumatic experience through traditional modes of representation. Rosencof’s twelve year imprisonment and his El Bataraz challenge the limits of mimesis as he opts for an interplay of author, narrator, reader, all the while making impossible any objective reading of the complex voices present in the work. The result is a textuality that approaches speech as the needs of dreaming, escaping, imagining, and surviving surface in the protagonist. Cathexis is met with catharsis and the therapy of remembering overcomes the horrors and tortures of a prison cell. Defeat and defiance characterize the difficulty of accounting for and coping with these memories, much like the Argentine Manuel Puig’s 1976 novel El beso de la mujer arana.

The novel has been a privileged genre when recounting the horrors of dictatorship in the Spanish language. This recent body of literature seeks to meet the demands of a populace still seeking answers about the criminally repressive regimes all too prevalent in the twentieth century. The junta and the caudillo are, however, unique cultural and political forms of government that are in need of further comparative analysis. As Samuel Amago states regarding the novel, “as a symbolic act of remembering and telling, [the novel] produces meaning for the subject by drawing him or her into contact with others, living and dead” (261). Perhaps it was Rodoreda and the international success of The Time of the Doves (La plaça del diamant 1962) that galvanized this international movement in Spanish literature to speak out and write about what was in Spain repressed and censored. Aina Marti’s “The Illness of the Environment” on the same novel examines how Rodoreda intertwined and told the difficult story of a Catalonian woman enduring war. The inhumane environment produces illness and suffering in this sick society ideologically at odds and in arms. Experience is embodied and narrated through a woman trapped in a violent patriarchy, while the testament of her endurance makes a case for feminism and environmentalism in the face of pandemic war.

Women writers have been at the fore of this Spanish literature that has undertaken the task of remembering war and dictatorship in the hopes of...



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