- Memory and Spatiality in Post-Millennial Spanish Narrative by Lorraine Ryan
Spanish Memory Studies have witnessed a recent “boom” in production in both the creative and academic spheres, as Lorraine Ryan correctly notes in her latest contribution to the field. Ryan offers a study of novels of memory from the perspective of their treatment of space, focusing on, in her words, “the literary representation of the complex processes of the hegemonic of space and its counteraction by the individual subject” (2). Dulce Chacón, Alberto Méndez, Emili Teixidor, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Bernardo Atxaga, and José María Merino are each given close attention in the seven lengthy chapters of Memory and Spatiality in Post-Millennial Spanish Narrative. Ryan’s argument begins from the principle that, following the Republican defeat in 1939, the Franco regime used the material environment to impose its own particular reading of history and hence to construct an all-pervasive postwar memory that excluded Republican perspectives and perpetuated the trauma [End Page 543] of the Civil War. By studying the interaction between “the Republican subject and the dominant space” she aims to elucidate “a crucial part of the cultural reconceptualization of the Republican condition in the post-millennial period” (2).
While the proposition of studying spatial politics in relation to shifting memory horizons in the long aftermath of the Civil War is an entirely appropriate one, there are some difficulties with Ryan’s approach. She explains what might be meant by “Republican memory” only in a footnote, whereas one might have expected an early definition of the notion in the main body of her text. Furthermore, the note acknowledges the potential reductiveness of such a notion as “Republican memory,” both in itself and given the long time frame of the dictatorship, yet the insights suggested in the note are not followed through in the seven analytical chapters. It is not just that “Republican memory” is an “overly facile categorization” (3n3), but that what “Republican memory” might mean in 1939, 1959, 1979, or post-2000 (to pull a series of arbitrary dates out of the hat) is a serious question for a study that claims to chart the post-millennial emergence of a new approach to Republican memory. Indeed, Ryan seems to have a rather binary and static view of memory as consisting of two opposed camps, into which she expects her writers to fit according to family affiliations. Thus she labels Chacón’s position as that of “individual dissenting memory” since the writer “consciously diverged from her [conservative] familial memory” (52). Chacón’s position is in fact not that unusual, and echoes the path taken by Juan Goytisolo and Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio, to name but two other examples. Ryan also inquires into why José María Merino does not “advocate a revindication [sic] of Republican memory” (177), something that she finds discordant with Merino’s father’s past.
There is a lack of clarity around Ryan’s understanding and use of the idea of spatiality—which is flaunted in the book’s title—as well as notions of space (widely used throughout) and place (rarely used, yet at times seeming to this reader to be a more appropriate term). Ryan begins by discussing space (in conjunction with time), and notes that “space and memory are twin constructs, joined by their status as fundamental elements of identity and agents of enculturation” (1). This reference to enculturation would seem to point to the notion of spatiality as an issue of cultural construction and perception, hinting at the work of geographers such as Massey, Harvey, and Thrift, the first two of whom are referenced in the bibliography. Ryan certainly acknowledges that “the spatial concretization of the dominant memory is always contingent upon the individual reaction to it” (27), yet her survey of the Francoist political use of space rarely offers precise examples of this. Rather, her discussion tends to focus on spaces and places of repression—prisons, camps, the Valle de los Caídos—that have been much discussed in recent years and that...