Orbis Litterarum Modes of Remembering in Contemporary Spanish Novel

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Orbis Litterarum

Modes of Remembering in Contemporary Spanish Novel

From the late 1990s until around 2010, one of the most important topics of discussion and driving forces of cultural production within the public sphere of the Spanish state was the question of the so-called “recovery” of the historical memory of the Civil War and its subsequent repression under the Francoist dictatorship. While the key words for the political elites on both side of the political spectrum were “consensus” and “reconciliation”, the generation of the grandchildren of the oppressed Republican part of the population has since the turn of the millennium, set out to reclaim knowledge of the destiny of their ancestors, and strong popular movements have developed alongside the activities dedicated to the exhumation of mass graves and the identification of their human remains (Ferrándiz 2014, Molinero, Peinado Cano, Renshaw, Sumalla).

Although some cultural products can be identified as related to public debate on the Francoist political repression as early as the 1980s and 1990s, the material exhumation of bodies and objects from the mass graves has “marked a clear step change in the scale and tone of the public debate on the Republican memory, moving it from the commitment of a few individual authors and commentators in the 1990s to a concerted memory campaign with grassroots participation” (Renshaw 26). In this process the public sphere divided in two: one part argued that closed graves meant open wounds; the other, politically inspired by the conservative Partido Popular, claimed that the opening of the graves would not only reopen scars that has now healed, but also recreate a confrontation between the “two Spains” (Ferrándiz 2008, 178-79).

This polarization of the public sphere in the historical memory debate had the effect of turning the very activities of producing or consuming these cultural products into what Sebastiaan Faber with a concept borrowed from Edward Said has labeled performative acts of “affiliation” (2014, 103; 2010, 142). According to Faber, memory activists need not be related genetically to the victims of the past in a “filiative relation” (Hirsch, 2014) in order to share the indignation over the way in which the sufferings of these victims has been treated. Quite to the contrary, producers and consumers of cultural products related to the topic of the Civil War and postwar repression necessarily engage with these products with a pronounced ethico-political intention. And the cultural products themselves often seek to tell the “forgotten” stories of the victims and their suffering, and to provide their individual stories with an exemplary status, i.e. in a manner that invites to establish a relation to the past, not merely as past, but as a guide to action in the present (Todorov, 31). The increased interest in the cultural memory of the Civil War and the postwar repression has propelled a boom in narrative fiction and docu-fiction, primarily novels and films, and which adequately has been named “the Spanish affiliative memory novel” (Hansen 2013a, 98).

Seen from the perspective of contemporary literary history, the topic is a compelling challenge: we have seen an authentic wave of novels dedicated to one specific topic within a very narrow time span, framed by a context of massive enrolment in popular movements, national as well as local, which are dedicated to the same topic. This focused and high-voltage literary engagement with troubled memories raises anew the question of form and function of the literary discourse, and invites further investigation of the relationship between the novels understood as a form of aesthetic–artistic discourse and their social commitment. The important challenge is therefore to ask whether it is possible to formally describe the intensive production of memory novels as belonging to a coherent sub-genre marking a new type of texts.

After a short presentation of the hypothesis, research questions and methodological reflections, this article will engage in the analysis of how narrative form is related to ethico-political stance in what I propose to name different modes of remembering. Taking into account that the intensified globalization processes increasingly penetrate national memory in the form of the influence of transnational memory discourses (Assmann & Conrad), I shall finally propose how the described modes of remembering might be comprehended within a framework of a globalizing memory culture.

Dialogues on Past and Present

According to the American social anthropologist James Wertsch collective memory consist of processes of communication or, as he calls it, “mediated action”: texts are produced, circulated, consumed and discussed in continuously ongoing social processes. Consequently, cultural memory is disputed or negotiated through dialogue in the public sphere (Wertsch 2002, 13 ff.; 2009, 119).

Theoretically, Wertsch takes his point of departure in Michael Bachtin’s concept of dialogism (1996) in the sense that the different social discourses, partake in the cultural remembering of the Civil War and the postwar repression. This means that the novels participate as individual voices in a dialogue with other social discourses such as political discourse, newspaper journalism or academic historiography about the specific character of the memory in question. And as stated by Sara Santamaría Colmenero, the contemporary memory novel in Spanish not only participates in a dialogue with the direct adversaries of the recuperation project, but also, and perhaps primarily, in an internal dialogue within the intellectual Left on the various cultural and political perspectives of this remembering (Santamaría Colmenero, 18).

The topics of this dialogue are many, but one of the fundamental issues is concerned with the question of reconciliation. Is it possible to argue, at one and the same time, both in favor of the opening of the repressed memory of the losing Republican side and in favor of social and political reconciliation? The answer to this question depends to a large extent on the way in which the Spanish transition-to-democracy process is interpreted, and on whether and to what extent the existing political regime can be considered as legitimate and democratic. The contemporary Spanish novel is involved in this discussion, and some of the important collateral questions to ask will be which relation the texts establish between past and present, how they imagine the future, how they evaluate the transition process, and whether and in which sense they argue in favor of reconciliation between the polarized parties of the conflict (Molinero; Canales Ciudad; Yeste).

State of art and the concept of mode

The contributions to the study of the Spanish memory novel published within the last 20–25 years are many (Luengo; Moreno-Nuño; Schouten; Corredera González; Colmeiro), but none of them has made a profound description of the changes occurring in the formal development of the narrative register since the turn of the millennium. This, on the other hand, has been provided by the Memoria Novelada project, according to which the affiliative post-2000 memory novel typically is a means of postmemory or intergenerational memory, in the sense that it is the grandchildren of the victims who write and read these novels (Hansen and Cruz Suárez, 30). The texts are characterized by a strong hybridization of genres in an artistically elaborated discourse which blurs the distinctions between essay, biography and/or autobiography, historiographical discourse, journalism, and novelistic fiction, and in which docu-fiction, auto-fiction and meta-fictional comments are combined (Hansen 2012). While the pre-2000 memory novels dedicated to the theme of the Civil War were typically written as a mimesis of the processes of individual remembering, many of the novels of the new millennium engage in a description of the social processes that contribute to the construction of the cultural memory (Hansen 2013a). The plotline is often divided into two temporal parts, the world of the past and the world of the present from which the world of the past is told (Hansen 2013b); and an important number of novels engage in the deconstruction of the narrative template of the Two Spains (Hansen 2014) through the application of multi-perspectivist enunciation and focalization of the represented story (Hansen 2011).

These characteristics, however, are not sufficiently stable to claim the existence of a genuine and clear-cut sub-genre; rather, they seem to alternate and combine in different and ever-changing patterns. The question I would like to pursue in this article is therefore whether it is possible to establish a paradigm of analytical criteria related both to the text’s form and to its ethico-political position: a paradigm that would allow us to distinguish between different sub-sub-genres and to make a system out of the apparent variations in the use of the listed characteristics. The criteria of analysis that I would like to propose are composed of two different modal paradigms:

  1. Narrative modes. It is my hypothesis that the narrative modes originally proposed by Astrid Erll (158 ff.) and subsequently modified to fit to a Spanish context by Elina Liikanen (43-53) might serve as the first set of analytical tools.

  2. Ethico-political modes. It is my hypothesis that the way in which the novels approach the question of the relation between the past (the Civil War and the Francoist regime), the present democracy (resulting from the transition process) and the future (as an imagined and possibly utopian scenario) reveals the novel’s ethico-political position, in which questions of guilt and redemption, heroic action and betrayal, revenge and reconciliation, etc., are negotiated.

A more simplistic combination of the two paradigms, making a particular narrative mode the equivalent of a particular ethico-political stance, has previously been suggested (Hansen 2013a, 99-102). It seems more adequate, though, to represent the two modes as separate parameters in a sort of matrix system in which each of the combinations of a narrative and an ethico-political mode will be considered a second order mode of remembering. In what follows I will examine the two paradigms more closely and provide examples of novels characteristic of each of the described modes.i

The narrative modes

Elina Liikanen suggests a distinction between three different narrative modes in the contemporary Spanish memory novel: the experiential, the reconstructive, and the challenging modesii (Liikanen). The experiential mode takes its point of departure in the mode of the same name in Erll’s theory, but whereas Erll’s experiential concept refers to a mode of narrating located within in the communicative memory (i.e. representing the past as a lived-through testimony of the victim or the witness in the voice of a first person), Liikanen’s concept makes reference to a story that represents the world of the past in mimetic form, inviting the reader to share the characters’ subjective experiences of past events (45), and as an example she mentions Dientes de leche (Martínez de Pisón). In most cases the narrator is an omniscient and impersonal third person narrator although an epistolary novel like Cartas desde la ausencia (Riverola) could be mentioned as an exception.

I find Liikanen’s description of the narrative mode precise and relevant in view of the large number of novels that conform to it, but I find the difference in interpretation of the concept between Erll and Liikanen unfortunate. For my part, I have therefore chosen to name this mode the “mimetic” mode. The novels of this mode limit themselves to making a mimetic or realistic representation of a possible world of the past told by a first person or a third-person narrator, while the narrator’s act of telling mainly is left out of the description. Understood in this way, novels like Inés y la alegría (Grandes), La noche de los tiempos de (Muñoz Molina) and La caída de Madrid (Chirbes) might be considered representatives of this mode of telling.

Elina Liikanen’s second narrative mode, “the reconstructive mode,” refers to novels that include reflections regarding the very process of telling the past in the present. Therefore the plot is divided into two temporal parts – the past as told, and the present of telling – and in this sense the narrative structure of the mode resembles the temporal division in the historiographical meta-fiction, as described by Linda Hutcheon (Hutcheon). The novels are narrated or focalized by a protagonist or protagonist–narrator who typically stumbles upon something mysterious, some kind of riddle from the past, and engages in a quest to find out what really happened. The protagonist’s quest drives the plot structure of events in the present through suspense, like a detective story, and the reflections upon the various obstacles that surface during the process of investigation take the form of meta-fictional comments on the story of the past (Martínez Rubio, 79). According to Liikanen, the majority of the novels consider these problems to be of a practical character and, hence, the novels do not contain profound or critical reflections on the adequate aesthetic form in relation to the representation of the ethical and/or political problems raised by the plot. The texts present the past as a social construct, and invite the reader to engage with the dynamics of personal and collective memory by adopting this construct as an element of his or her cultural memory (Liikanen, 49). Liikanen’s examples of this mode are Mala gente que camina (Prado), Soldados de Salamina (Cercas), Los rojos de ultramar (Soler) and El corazón helado (Grandes).

Liikanen’s reconstructive mode is also highly relevant, if only because of the very large number of novels that follow this narrative scheme, but it also poses serious problems. For one thing, the concept of “reconstruction” carries certain primordial connotations of a historical truth that it is the narrator’s task to rescue or reconstrue, which is opposed to the constructivist notion of history alluded to by Liikanen herself. I have therefore proposed to label it the “representative” mode, because this mode, contrary to the mimetic mode, does include reflections upon the processes concerned with the act of representing: i.e., producing, narrating and communicating stories –real as well as fictional – about the past. Secondly, Liikanen has probably been inspired by Erll’s description of the reflexive mode; but whereas Erll’s reflexive mode implies a more genuine second-order reflection on the processes of representation, Liikanen seems to underscore the superficial and practical aspects of the meta-narrative comments in her description and makes this difference one of the decisive distinctions between this and her third mode. I am not convinced of the appropriateness of the criteria of greater or lesser depth of meta-fictional reflections as a parameter of distinction between one and another mode of narration, and would rather suggest that the mere division of the plot into two intertwined chronotopes, and the specific character of the relation between them, should be considered the decisive feature of the mode. The specific relationship between the two partial chronotopes is dialectic or - following Bachtin’s terminology - dialogical, because if the chronotope of the present is concerned with the construction of the past chronotope, the past chronotope to some extent is determining the narrator-protagonist’s understanding of his own world and his interpretation of his position within it. To Liikanen’s list of examples I would add Tiempo de memoria by Carlos Fonseca (Fonseca).

Last but not least, Elina Liikanen describes the third narrative mode as “the challenging mode.” As distinguishing characteristics of this mode she mentions that these novels are auto-reflexive to an extent that shatters the mimetic illusion, that they problematize both form and content of the stories of the past, and that they do not offer a complete or coherent story of the past (49). The influence of Erll’s reflexive mode makes itself felt here again, but, according to Liikanen, in this case the meta-fictional reflections are more comprehensive in that they engage themselves with the ethical implications related to the choice of aesthetic form in the narration. This is true of the few novels mentioned by Liikanen; but, as the distinguishing principle in relation to the mimetic mode, I would rather point to considering the shattering of the mimetic illusion in the depiction of the past, as well as the absence of the dialogic relation between past and present that I identified above as a decisive characteristic of the representative mode. By contrast, the novels of the challenging mode are primarily concerned with the present and with the processes related to the (re)presentation and narration of the past. Their plotline is fragmented, and their discourse is saturated with changes in the narrative voice and point of view, as well as the use of irony, auto-irony, and sometimes even parody. Liikanen’s examples are El vano ayer and Otra maldita novela (Rosa) and Llegada para mí la hora del olvido (Val).To these I would add Ayer no más (Trapiello) as a different, but equally legitimate example.

The ethico-political modes

If we look at the way in which the texts tend to organize the relation between past, present and future in an ethico-political perspective, it is my hypothesis that it will be possible, also within this parameter, to distinguish between three different modes. I will suggest naming the first of these modes the antagonistic mode, taking my point of departure in the term coined by Astrid Erll. According to Erll, the antagonistic mode helps to promote one version of the past and reject another, and it is characteristic of politically engaged literature and literature related to specific identity groups (Erll 2011, 159). In regard to the Spanish affiliative memory novel, this mode applies the moral categories of good and evil to the particular stakeholders of the historical conflict, whereby the novels in many cases reproduce the schematic template of Las dos Españas. As the novels seek to represent the Second Republic (1931–1936) as the primordial and authentic home of Spanish modernity and democracy, they tend – overtly or covertly – to depict contemporary Spanish democracy, the result of the transition process initiated by the regime itself after Franco’s death, as false, as a cover-up for the continued exercise of the same power by the same social agents as before the transition. And although hope for the future is only implicit, the antagonistic mode tends to seek the utopian vision of a better future in the principles and values of the past – in this case, in the democratic experience of the Second Republic. Examples to be mentioned might be Inés y la alegría (Grandes) and Tiempo de memoria (Fonseca).

I will propose the concept of the cosmopolitan mode for the second ethico-political mode. If the novels of the antagonistic mode tend to reproduce the myth of the two Spains, the novels of the second mode are engaged in the deconstruction of this very template, in many cases by application of an international point of view from “outside”, or by the point of view of the “third Spain,” i.e. the point of view of the non-combatant middle classes inside Spain. The neutralization of the antagonistic perspective is often achieved by applying the same moral categories of the good and the evil that the antagonistic mode used to describe the particular stakeholders of the conflict, but now applied to abstract categories such as “authoritarian ideologies”, i.e. enemies of constitutional democracy. One possible effect of this deconstruction of the traditional myth of the divided country is to create an illusion of or hope for future reconciliation of the country, based on a mutual dialogue between cultivated citizens. But in the same act of deconstruction of one myth, these novels may contribute overtly or covertly to the constitution of another: the story of the transition process as a foundational myth for contemporary Spanish democracy.

The foundational myth of the transition establishes an intimate relation between the process of modernization in Spain during the 1960s (i.e. the later years of Francoist dictatorship), the development of a majority of politically moderate citizens, and the process of democratization (Canales Ciudad). It promotes the constitution of 1978 as the achievement of reform-oriented politicians from within the regime, as well as a result of the Spanish people’s political maturity and consensus (516-17). In this way, the description of the process from the death of Franco in 1975 to the approval of the constitution in 1978 is often submitted to a teleological way of comprehending the development of historical events, in which the “democratization” referred to in 1975 by reform-oriented politicians equals the democracy described by the constitution, while the importance of social movements and political opposition to the regime is played down or simply considered as an obstacle to the process (519). Likewise, the period of the Second Republic is first and foremost characterized as a period of social and political violence and chaos (518). Although these novels disclose the memory of the victims of the past, they also adopt an uncritically reconciliatory position with regard to the transition process. Examples to be mentioned could include La noche de los tiempos (Muñoz Molina), Soldados de Salamina (Cercas), and Ayer no más (Trapiello).

The conceptual idea behind the third ethico-political mode, the “agonistic” remembrance mode, has been developed on the basis of the Belgian critic Chantal Mouffe’s social philosophy (Bull and Hansen, Forthcoming). According to Mouffe, the deconstruction of “us”–“them” relations by cosmopolitan discourse is untenable because of the relational character of cultural identity. Human beings need an “other” in order to create community and identity, but the threat of an antagonistic social divide can be kept in check if the antagonistic relation is transformed into what Mouffe calls “agonism” (2005, 20; 2012; Legget). In an agonistic relation, political adversaries respect one another as adversaries, share the same symbolic space, and respect the democratic rules established as conditions for the struggle for hegemony. As a consequence, in novelistic discourse the agonistic mode must implicitly recognize the social and political questions that gave rise to the historical conflict in the first place, and must also ensure that acts of perpetration are explained in this context. In many cases this is done through the use of multi-perspectivist enunciation, or focalization, which includes the perspectives of both victims and perpetrators (Hansen, 2011, 151-60; 2013a, 105-9). In agonistic novels the antagonists will not necessarily be able to reconcile themselves through mutual dialogue, but they will be able to recognize their social and political differences as legitimate (Mouffe 2012, 20 ff.). The novels engage with the deconstruction of both previously mentioned myths – that of the transhistorical reproduction of the two Spains, and that of the transition as the foundational myth of Spanish democracy. In this sense they maintain a politically engaged relationship with the ontological “real” world (past as well as present), while at the same time keeping a distance both from the historical material and from their own act of telling, sometimes with an ironical twist. Examples could include La caída de Madrid (Chirbes), Mala gente que camina (Prado), and El vano ayer (Rosa).

Describing these two paradigms of modal differentiation allows us in Table 1 to establish a matrix in which the above-mentioned novels can be placed, one in each of nine boxes. With this table I do not adhere to any determinate position within the philosophy of aesthetics, nor do I claim the existence of any mechanical relation between aesthetical form, ethical stance and political attitude. Furthermore I recognize that the inclusion of stylistic and rhetorical issues such as the use of humor, irony, parody, etc., might complicate the picture infinitely.


The mimetic mode

The representative mode

The challenging mode

The antagonistic mode

Almudena Grandes
Inés y la alegría

Carlos Fonseca
Tiempo de memoria

The cosmopolitan mode

Antonio Muñoz Molina
La noche de los tiempos

Javier Cercas
Soldados de Salamina

Andrés Trapiello
Ayer no más

The agonistic mode

Rafael Chirbes
La caída de Madrid

Benjamín Prado
Mala gente que camina

Isaac Rosa
El vano ayer

Nevertheless, it is possible to recognize some evident relations between narrative mode and ethico-political stance. As will be noticed in the table, the challenging mode is not represented in combination with the antagonistic mode. This is probably due to the fact that the challenge to the reader represented by the fragmented mimetic description of the past would be at odds with the antagonistic attitude toward the same past. And if we now look for significant patterns in the combination of narrative and ethico-political modes, I think a clear majority of novels written in the cosmopolitan mode are also characterized by a narrative representative mode, and, further, that this probably is due to the peculiar relation between the two chronotopes at work in those cases as described above. However, this specific combination of narrative mode and ethico-political stance does not seem to be an exclusively Spanish phenomenon. A more openly global perspective might add to our understanding of this trend and, eventually, point to other patterns not yet clearly visible from the point of view of national literature.

Transnational remembrance modes

Until now we have defined our object of study as the contemporary memory novel in Spain after 2000, a novelistic form which has developed in dialogue with the social movement dedicated to the recuperation of historical memory in Spain. This definition limits its criteria to the function of the literary discourse within a strictly national frame. But according to Aleida Assmann and Sebastian Conrad, it is impossible today to comprehend the development of the memory discourses outside a global frame of reference (2).

Seen in a global perspective the Spanish affiliative memory novel is characterized by what Hal Foster has called the “return of the real” (Foster), a tendency shared by the so called post-ironical American literature (Andersen 2011, 142). Against the weak or erased postmodernist subject, the post-ironical literature feature the return of the author as a figure in the text (essay or auto-fiction), and against postmodenism’s ontological questioning (McHale), these texts insist on the reality of the past and the authenticity of its representation, be it in form of realist description, docufiction and/or the inclusion of index signs like photos, facsímiles of letters and documents etc. But in many cases these novels also maintain a postmodernist questioning of how to obtain knowledge about this past, and about the criteria of historical truth.

This being said, it is evident that not all the novels on the civil war written after 2000 are “post” or opposed to traditionally engaged realism. Novels like Inés y la alegría, which combine the antagonistic and the mimetic modes, continue the realist tradition that characterized some of the most renowned international representations of the Spanish Civil War like André Malraux’ L’espoir or Ernest Hemmingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. They also apply Manichaean moral distinctions of good and evil to the particular stakeholders of the social conflict, and in this sense one might say that they contribute to an essentialization of social and political conflicts within a narrative scheme that recreates the past as a conflict between two different cultural entities, progressives and traditionals. My suggestion is to name this mode of representation the essentializing mode of remembering. This mode of remembering also predominates in all kinds of nationalistic discourse and in the vast majority of products of popular culture.

Among the post-postmodernist tendencies proper, I think it is possible to single out two international influences in the Spanish memory novel. The German hispanist Ulrich Winter characterizes the post-2000 Spanish memory novel as belonging to a global, cosmopolitan memory discourse (13), and Raquel Macciuci and María Teresa Pochat in their 2010 anthology stress the transnational influence of Holocaust memory in the contemporary Spanish memory novel (45ff). Although there are few novels intending explicitly to establish multidirectional relations (Rothberg) between the Spanish Civil War and, e.g., the Second World War and the Holocaust or mass-scale repression in other parts of the world, it is, however, possible to find evidence for this view. Firstly, the presence of what Peter Novick has called “the attitude toward victimhood” in American culture (8): the disappearance of the hero in a traditional sense from the narrative, and the point of departure in the experience of the individual victim and/or his or her descendants in the grand majority of novels. As pointed out by Jo Labanyi, such a victimization discourse runs the risk of constructing history as something done to people, negating individual agency (120). Secondly, many novels, especially those that combine a representative and a cosmopolitan mode, are dominated by a preoccupation with the fate of the individual subject, so that questions of a social or political character – i.e., questions concerning the negotiation of collective subjects and identities – are converted into moral and ethical challenges on an individual level. They engage in a discussion of human rights in relation to the past through which totalitarian ideologies like Nazism, Fascism Stalinism and Francoism qualify to the moral standard of “evil” in what Levy and Sznaider has called the “abstract sense”, set by th Holocaust discourse (2002, 102). Understood as performative acts, they are to be considered as arguments in favor of civil coexistence within the conditions given by contemporary democracy. This means that a high proportion of these novels perform what could be called a deconstruction of the political oppositions of contemporary society, with the intention of obtaining social reconciliation.

According to Chantal Mouffe, the cosmopolitan answer to the challenges of globalization must be understood as a symptom of the political Left’s submission to the individualist ideology of the hegemonic neoliberalism of the last 20 years (Mouffe 2012, 91-92). Mouffe delivers a critique of the post-political society at both national and transnational level. She accuses cosmopolitanism of ignoring the political substance of social conflict, thereby delegitimizing political institutions and in some cases even promoting radical nationalism and religious fundamentalism. According to Mouffe, the very relational character of cultural identity – i.e. the necessity of subjects and communities positioning themselves in relation to the “other” – implies the potential for antagonistic confrontation. Globalization seems only to enhance this potential danger, because social, political and cultural differences are deterritorialized and coincide in time and space. According to Mouffe, this danger is not taken seriously by the cosmopolitan discourse, which, in arguing for solutions built upon transnational institutions and universal rights, ignores real and legitimate differences of social and political interests. In so doing, the cosmopolitan discourse leaves vital political questions unanswered for populist nationalists, racists, and fundamentalists to seize upon.

The novels of what we have described as the representative and cosmopolitan modes could be considered as novels of a reconciliatory mode of remembering, in the sense that these novels are characterized by the individual’s gaze upon the effects of the past in the present and that they in many cases feature protagonists who are highly cultivated, internationally oriented citizens (Hansen 2015, 144). The effects of the past are often evaluated within the context of the formation of individual identity, of finding one’s roots, and in this sense the novels represent an individualization of social conflicts, historical as well as contemporary. International parallels to be mentioned could be Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated (2002) on intergenerational memory of the Holocaust and Extremely Loud &Incredibly Close on the memory of 9/11.

Since the end of the Cold War the traditional political discourses based on class distinction, a Left–Right opposition and a critique of capitalism as an economic system have, according to Cazdyn and Szeman, been replaced with a series of discourses based on the concept of globalization. The traditional Marxist critique of capitalism provided an analysis of the way the system worked and implied – at least in principle – the possibility of change. However, globalization as a paradigm of understanding of global capitalism seems to offer no real alternative. In parallel with the way in which globalization discourses gained hegemony from the mid-1990s, cosmopolitanism developed as a kind of left-wing, democratic perspective on globalization, taking its point of departure in the global Holocaust memory (Levy and Sznaider) and in discourses on human rights as universal cultural values (Huyssen 2011). Instead of seeing cosmopolitanism as an alternative overall vision, one might characterize it as an alternative perspective on globalization as a hegemonic concept. According to Cazdyn and Szeman, however, this optimistic view collapsed with the financial crisis of 2008, preventing cosmopolitanism from being considered as the only valid parameter for the imagination of a future social development (27). Under these circumstances the reconciliatory mode of remembering might not be able to gain hegemony in the face of rising antagonistic practices across Europe, which is why it is important to look for alternative forms of memory discourses.

As stated by Richard Crownshaw there has been a turn towards the figure of the perpetrator in recent historical fiction in Western literature during the last 10 to 15 years (Cronwshaw, 75), and although La noche del diablo (Dalmau) is the only contemporary Spanish example of a consequent perpetrator perspective, it is possible to find voices of perspetrators speaking in their own right in novels like El vano ayer (Rosa), as well as in Los girasoles ciegos (Méndez) or El día de mañana (Martínez de Pison). Through their particular multiperspectivist enunciation or focalization, these novels represent a dialogic alternative both to the essentializing depiction of the heroes and to the victims-oriented discourse of the reconciliatory mode.

In a metafictional comment in El vano ayer Rosa explicitly mentions the danger of operating with moral categories attached to the figures of heroes and villains: “Beware of the heroes, the exemplary fighters,…, specially if they are young. Likewise, we have to beware of the villains, who, just like the heroes, mock the author and materialize in characters without edges [sin aristas], like puppets on a string of good and evil” (Rosa 2004, 38, My omission and translation).

Later, towards the end of the novel Rosa dedicates a chapter of 25 pages to give voice to an older police officer who himself participated in the interrogation of the regime’s enemies in the 1960s. The officer comments on the text just read by the reader, but from his own political and ethical stance. He is directing himself to the author, and starts out like this:

To write an angry novel is easy, I believe that: and what you are committing is, without doubt, an angry novel, a J’accuse of no value and actually pretty harmless, a vain exercise of pointing, in which the pointing finger itself takes all the attention due to a forced ingenious style (Rosa 2004, 265, My translation).

Isaac Rosa offers a severe critique of the social and political conditions of contemporary post-political society, and he insists upon the existence of a profound social division of contemporary society, but through this multiperspectivist approach his texts also recognize the different social and political positions as real and legitimate, without essentializing moral categories or reproducing myths of individual self-realization in a globalized modern world. Rosa’s novels have the capacity to combine a fragmented, dialogized and autoreferential discourse with a critical discourse that maintains a fundamental political orientation without excluding ironical, sarcastic or even auto-ironical discourse, i.e. they are capable of integrating an agonic stance in the challenging narrative mode.

As explained by Genara Pulido Tirado, most of the novels written in the challenging mode belong to the younger generation, the so-called generación nocilla, among whose authors the topic of the Civil War has become somewhat obsolete (Pulido Tirado). Isaac Rosa is probably among the very few novelists who have actually tried to apply this mode to the emotionally and politically laden theme of the Civil War, and it is significant that one of his two contributions is a text called Just another damned novel on the Civil War in which he makes a critical reading of his own first novel, La malamemoria, a novel which, according to our scheme above, contains traits from both the antagonistic and reconciliatory modes.

During the last decade we have witnessed a series of discussions in an international setting about the possible emergence of new post-postmodernist trends in art and literature, whether in terms of “post-millennialism” as described by Eric Gans, “altermodernism” as described by Nicolas Bourriaud, or “meta-modernism” as described by Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin Van den Akker. While Gans explicitly relates postmodernism to the victimization discourse promoted by Holocaust memory, and while Bourriaud adheres to the inevitable inclusion of the transnational “other” through the new globalized media, the term “meta-modernism” makes reference to certain tendencies in international art and literature at odds with both the traditional modernist engagement and postmodernist ludic aesthetics – a new, socially engaged tendency characterized by a turning away from a dogmatic, ideologically high profiled stance in order the promote an ever-ongoing oscillation between differing and even opposed ideas (Vermeulen and van den Akker). In a recent introduction to an art exhibition, the term was interpreted in this way:

Postmodernism is over. As global warming, the credit crunch and political instabilities are rapidly taking us beyond that so prematurely proclaimed “End of History,” the postmodern culture of relativism, irony and pastiche, too, is superseded by another sensibility. One that evokes the will to look forward, that invokes the will to hope again (“Homepage”).

Meta-modernism in literature generally refers to art and poetry, but one novelist repeatedly mentioned in this context is the founding father of the postironical tendency, David Foster Wallace. I do not think it would make sense to be too strict with these labels, but the poetics of the younger generation of Spanish authors certainly do insist on the kind of social and political engagement expressed by Nadine Fessler as a characterization of meta-modern literature, in which forms of postmodern narrative are combined with modernist traits such as the search for authenticity and a return of the “real”: “[C]ontemporary literature does not dismiss postmodern ideas, but rather incorporates those ideas, though utilizing them for completely different outcomes, for example for installing authenticity or sincerity. One dominant strategy that is being pursued is to seek for ways to engage the reader again” (Fessler).

I have elsewhere treated the question of the creation of the experience of authenticity in many of the Spanish memory novels (Hansen 2013b, 30-34), and I suggest to name the novels that combine the critical and the challenging modes metamodernist memory novels. As second order modes the essentializing, the reconciliatory and the metamodernist modes combine two specific first order modes – one narrative and another ethico-political – in a generic way. I therefore propose to consider them a paradigm of novelistic modes of remembering within the Spanish affiliative memory novel.


The Spanish memory novel on the topic of Civil War and postwar repression has undergone a change, qualitatively as well as quantitatively, since the new millennium. In this article I have investigated whether any stable patterns are to be found in the relation between the novels’ narrative form and ethico-political position, and whether, and to what extent, any kind of sub-genre can be determined within the new historical novel.

I have proposed to analyze the Spanish affiliative novel according to two paradigms of modal representation – one narrative, the other ethico-political. The three narrative modes – the mimetic, the representative and the challenging – refer to the way in which the novels depict the world of the past and the world of the present. The ethico-political modes – the antagonistic, the cosmopolitan and the agonistic – describe how the novels establish relations between these imagined worlds of past, present and future. The result has been a matrix of nine, possible second order or combined representative modes, out of which eight are active in the contemporary Spanish context.

Inspired by Aleida Assmann and Sebastian Conrad’s claim that it is impossible to study contemporary memory discourses outside a global framework, I have examined whether other global or transnational influences can be detected in the modal patterns identified in the Spanish novel. I have proposed considering three of these nine modal combinations as more typical, transnational modes of remembering: the essentializing, the reconciliatory and the metamodern modes.

Many of the novels that combine the mimetic and the antagonistic modes are characterized by a moral application of Manichean distinctions between good and evil to the particular stakeholders of the conflicts that characterized the twentieth Century, between Left and Right, working class and bourgeoisie. I have therefore proposed to label this representative mode “the essentializing mode”, essentializing because these novels tend to depict different stakeholders of the conflicts as moral ones, heroes and villains, whereby this novelistic mode grosso modo confirms the myth of Las dos Españas.

The second mode of remembering has developed as a result of the period of intensified globalization, with its individualization of political conflict and its focus on consensus through dialogue. The global discourse of Holocuast memory with its focus on the suffering of the victims has been an important influence. In these novels the conflict of the past is evaluated within the context of the contemporary formation of individual identity, of finding one’s roots. The novels discuss questions of ethics and individual responsibility with a reconciliatory aim, and, understood as performative acts, they are to be considered arguments in favor of civil coexistence within the conditions given by contemporary democracy. I have proposed to label this mode – the combination of the representative and the cosmopolitan modes – the reconciliatory mode of remembering. If the novels of the essentializing mode of remembering tend to confirm the myth of Las dos Españas, the novels of the reconciliatory mode of remembering, on the other hand, tend to deconstruct this essentializing myth, while they seem to confirm the conception of the transition as the foundational myth of Spanish contemporary democracy.

Finally, the third mode of remembering combines the challenging and the agonistic modes, i.e. they are able to combine political commitment with a multivocal, fragmented, auto-referential discourse that does not exclude neither the voices of the perpetrators, nor ironical, sarcastic or even auto-ironical reflections. I have suggested to name the novels that apply this mode of remembering metamodernist novels. The critical attitude of these novels allows them to render obvious that the stakeholders of the social conflicts of the past have got certain affinity to the political struggles of present society without regression to traditional ideological positions. Where the novels of the essentializing and cosmopolitan modes seem to cling to one or the other of the grand narratives of contemporary Spanish history, the novels of the meta-modernist mode insist on maintaining an ironical position toward the past as well as toward the present, without giving in on political commitment.


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8422 words, bibliography and notes included


 It is not my intention to claim a system of objective classification, but to argue in favor of a series of interpretative concepts that will allow us to better understand and differentiate between the many forms of memory narrative. I have therefore rejected the idea of basing the analysis on a fixed sample of novels in favor of choosing a few significant and emblematic examples. I also recognize that the criteria of analysis could be different, possibly with different results.

ii Liikanen’s Spanish concepts are: el modo vivencial, el modo representativo and el modo contestatario.

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