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

Collin S. Diver


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.

Full Text:



Works Cited

Amago, Samuel, 2011, “On the Archaeological Impulse in Contemporary Spanish Narrative Fiction”, Bulletin of Spanish Studies 88:7–8, 327–43.

American Psychiatric Association, 2013, “Somatic Symptom and Related Disorders”, in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5®). American Psychiatric Pub.

Armengou, Montse; Belis, Ricard, 2013, Avi, et trauré d’aquí!, Barcelona, Televisió de Catalunya.

Bieder, Maryellen, 2000, “Cultural Capital: The Play of Language, Gender, and Nationality in Carme Riera”, Catalan Review, 14:1–2, 53–74.

Bieder, Maryellen, 2008, “Carme Riera and the Paradox of Recovering Historical Memory in La meitat de l’ànima”, in Visions and Revisions: Women’s Narrative in Twentieth-Century Spain, Kathleen M. Glenn and Kathleen McNerney ed., Amsterdam, Rodopi, 170–89.

Butler, Judith, 2009, Frames of War, New York, 2009.

Carbonell, Neus, 1994, “In the Name of the Mother and the Daughter: the Discourse of Love and Sorrow in Mercè Rodoreda’s La plaça del Diamant”, in The Garden Across the Border: Mercè Rodoreda’s Fiction, Kathleen McNerney and Nancy Vosburg ed., London, Susquehanna UP, 17–30.

Casanova, Julián, 2006, “Sin archivos, no hay historia”, El País, 14 September,

Casquiero, Javier, 2019a, “El prior del Valle de los Caídos niega al Gobierno el acceso para exhumar a Franco”, El País, 03 January,

Casquiero, Javier, 2019b, “Patrimonio asfixia económicamente a la Fundación del Valle de los Caídos por su oscurantismo”, El País, 20 January,

Cercas, Javier, 2002, Soldados de Salamina, Barcelona, Tusquets Editores.

Colmeiro, José, 2011, “Nation of Ghosts?: Haunting, Historical Memory and Forgetting in Post-Franco Spain”, 452°F Electronic journal of theory of literature and comparative literature, 4, 17–34.

Derrida, Jacques, 2001 [1978], Writing and Difference, Chicago, Routledge.

Derrida, Jacques, 1994, Specters of Marx, New York, Routledge.

Derrida, Jacques; Prenowitz, Eric, 1995, “Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression”, Diacritics, 25:2, 9–63.

Everly, Kathryn, 2017, “Family Documents, Analogy, and Reconciliation in the Works of Carme Riera”, in Spanish Women Writers and Spain’s Civil War, Maryellen Bieder and Roberta Johnson ed., New York, Routledge, 206–20.

Ferrán, Ofelia, 2007, Working through Memory: Writing and Remembrance in Contemporary Spanish Narrative, Lewisburg, Bucknell UP.

Ferrándiz, Francisco, 2013, “Exhuming the Defeated: Civil War mass graves in 21st-century Spain”, American Ethnologist, 40:1, 38–54.

Freud, Sigmund, 1995 [1896], “The Aetiology of Hysteria” in The Freud Reader, Peter Gay ed., New York, W.W. Norton, 96–110.

Freud, Sigmund, 1995 [1905], “Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (‘Dora’)”, in The Freud Reader, Peter Gay ed., New York, W.W. Norton, 172–238.

Freud, Sigmund, 1997 [1925], “A Note upon the ‘Mystic Writing-Pad’”, in General Psychological Theory, New York, Touchstone, 207–12.

Freud, Sigmund, 1995 [1930]. “Civilization and its Discontents”, in The Freud Reader, Peter Gay ed., New York, W.W. Norton, 722–71.

García Márquez, Gabriel, 1983, “¿Sabe usted quién era Mercè Rodoreda?”, El País, 18 May,

Glenn, Kathleen M., 2007, “Ghostly Presences and Blank Pages: Mirall trencat, País intim, and La meitat de l’ànima”, Catalan Review, 23, 37–52.

Kristeva, Julia, 1981, “Women’s Time”, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 7:1, 13–35.

Labanyi, Jo, 2007, “Memory and modernity in democratic Spain: The difficulty of coming to terms with the Spanish Civil War”, Poetics Today, 28:1, 89–116.

LaCapra, Dominick, 2001, Writing History, Writing Trauma, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins UP.

Laforet, Carmen, 2005 [1945], Nada, New York, The Modern Library.

Leggott, Sarah, 2015, “Reconstructing the Maternal Story: The Quest for Historical ‘Truth’ and Self-Understanding in La mitad del alma (2005)”, in Memory, War, and Dictatorship in Recent Spanish Fiction by Women, Lanham, Bucknell UP, 95–110.

Martí-Olivella, Jaume, 1987, “The Witches’ Touch: Towards a Poetics of Double Articulation in Rodoreda”, Catalan Review, 2:2, 159–69.

Prado, Benjamin, 2006, Mala gente que camina, Madrid, Alfaguara.

Riera, Carme, 2003, La meitat de l’ànima, Barcelona, Edicions Proa.

Riera, Carme, 2004, La mitad del alma, Madrid, Alfaguara.

Rodoreda, Mercè, 1982 [1962], La plaça del Diamant, Barcelona, Club Editor.

Rodoreda, Mercè, 1966, El carrer de les Camèlies, Barcelona, Club Editor.

Santana, Mario, 2011, “De El cuarto de atrás de Carmen Martín Gaite a La meitat de l’ànima de Carme Riera: Notas sobre la memoria histórica en la novela contemporánea”, Tejuelo, 10, 97–109.

Schumm, Sandra J., 2008, “Reparation to the Ghostly Mother in Carme Riera’s La mitad del alma”, Symposium: A Quarterly Journal in Modern Literatures, 62:3, 139–58.

Stewart, Melissa, 2006, “Shifts in Textual Author(ity): Grappling with Unstable Identities in Carme Riera’s La meitat de l’ànima”, Letras Peninsulares, 19:3, 235–42.

Torras, Meri, 2011, “El salconduit de la identitat: Destinari, escriptura, i complicitat a La meitat de l’ànima” in Els subjectes de l’alteritat: estudis sobre la narrativa de Carme Riera, Pilar Arnau i Segarra and Luisa Cotoner Cerdó ed., Palma de Mallorca, Publicacions de l’Abadia de Montserrat, 95–104.

Uribe, Kirmen, 2009, Bilbao—New York—Bilbao, Barcelona, Seix Barral.

Vox Noticias (@voxnoticias_es), 2018, “La reconquista comenzará en tierras andaluzas, @Santi_ABASCAL #AndalucíaPorEspaña”, Twitter, 08:45 12 November,


  • There are currently no refbacks.