Spanish Historical Memory as Archive in Carme Riera’s La meitat de l’ànima

Collin S. Diver

Abstract


This article takes up previous interpretations of the Spanish historical memory movement and applies the analogy of archive as well as archival work in order to differently recover events of a culturally traumatic past. While recognizing the importance of “archaeology” as a means of understanding this past, the term “archive” is complicated herein and applied as a methodology for conceiving inaccessible past events. Indeed, a lack of access to official state archives has inspired many to explore alternate means of understanding the past, which serve then as alternative archives. The reading of these archives may include the gathering of testimonies from relatives and contemporaries of a deceased loved one, or even perusing keepsakes. Carme Riera’s La meitat de l’ànima (2003) illustrates this process and works as a microcosm of accessing historical memory: in the text, the narrator-protagonist, C, confronts the troubles of archival work and is forced to make assumptions and leaps of faiths in order to understand the lost past of her deceased mother, Cecília Balaguer, whose presence haunts C and the text. C’s obsessive search for the traces of her mother’s life cause her to experience an identity crisis, and she works through the trauma of having no definitive explanation as to who her mother was. Applying Jacques Derrida’s understanding of archive and mal d’archive (or, archive fever) helps to illustrate C’s reconstruction of her mother’s life as well as that of her own, as C reads archives and becomes an archivist herself during her search. Reading the novel as indicative of the Spanish historical memory movement writ large paradoxically suggests that one constant of contemporary Spanish identity is its acceptance of infinite contingencies that could explain a past event. This article briefly examines implications of these alternative, communal archives and how historical memory works to articulate different political projects and claims to power.

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