Amnesia and Memorialization in A Manuscript of Ashes: A Postmodernist Critique of Postdictorial Memory Politics in Franquist Spain
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Amnesia and Memorialization in A Manuscript of Ashes: A Postmodernist Critique of Postdictorial Memory Politics in Franquist Spain

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Antonio Muñoz-Molina’s A Manuscript of Ashes engages the reader with a postmodernist ...

Antonio Muñoz-Molina’s A Manuscript of Ashes engages the reader with a postmodernist
barrage of troubling questions about the nature of time, memory, and memorialization. Set in the
chaotic period of Primo de Rivera (1923-1930), the Spanish Republic (1930-1936), the Civil
War (1936-1939), and the Franquist regime (1939-1975), Muñoz-Molina presents a society
caught in a painful vortex of remembering and forgetting. This paper seeks to examine Muñoz-
Molina’s discussion of time, memory, and memorialization in the context of Andreas Huyssen’s
“Present Pasts: Media, Politics, Amnesia.” While Huyssen primarily theorizes about memory
discourses in the context of the Holocaust and the Latin American desaparecidos, this paper
argues that the Spanish Civil War and the Franquist dictatorship served for many Spaniards as an
analogous traumatic history due to the “fear of oblivion and disappearance” created by Franco’s
use of summary imprisonment, execution, and the dictatorial politics of forgetting (28). In this
light, A Manuscript of Ashes must be understood as an example of a “postmodern historical
novel with its uneasy negotiation between fact and fiction,” (Huyssen, 25) which, like the
desaparecidos, deals with “fledgling attempts… to create public spheres of “real” memory that
will counter the politics of forgetting pursued by post-dictatorship regimes either through
“reconciliation” and official amnesties or through repressive silencing” (Huyssen, 26).

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Amnesia and Memorialization in A Manuscript of Ashes: A Postmodernist Critique of Postdictorial Memory Politics in Franquist Spain Amnesia and Memorialization in A Manuscript of Ashes: A Postmodernist Critique of Postdictorial Memory Politics in Franquist Spain Document Transcript

  • GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY AMNESIA AND MEMORIALIZATION IN A MANUSCRIPT OF ASHES: A POSTMODERNIST CRITIQUE OF POSTDICTORIAL MEMORY POLITICS IN FRANQUIST SPAIN GERM 510: THEORIZING CULTURE DR. KATRIN SIEG BY SEAN P. MCBRIDE WASHINGTON, DC 3 MAY 2010 AD MAIOREM DEI GLORIAM
  • McBride, 1 Antonio Muñoz-Molina’s A Manuscript of Ashes engages the reader with a postmodernist barrage of troubling questions about the nature of time, memory, and memorialization. Set in the chaotic period of Primo de Rivera (1923-1930), the Spanish Republic (1930-1936), the Civil War (1936-1939), and the Franquist regime (1939-1975), Muñoz-Molina presents a society caught in a painful vortex of remembering and forgetting. This paper seeks to examine Muñoz- Molina’s discussion of time, memory, and memorialization in the context of Andreas Huyssen’s “Present Pasts: Media, Politics, Amnesia.” While Huyssen primarily theorizes about memory discourses in the context of the Holocaust and the Latin American desaparecidos, this paper argues that the Spanish Civil War and the Franquist dictatorship served for many Spaniards as an analogous traumatic history due to the “fear of oblivion and disappearance” created by Franco’s use of summary imprisonment, execution, and the dictatorial politics of forgetting (28). In this light, A Manuscript of Ashes must be understood as an example of a “postmodern historical novel with its uneasy negotiation between fact and fiction,” (Huyssen, 25) which, like the desaparecidos, deals with “fledgling attempts… to create public spheres of “real” memory that will counter the politics of forgetting pursued by post-dictatorship regimes either through “reconciliation” and official amnesties or through repressive silencing” (Huyssen, 26). While this postmodernist work deals extensively with memory and memorialization in its’ characters search for the “real,” A Manuscript of Ashes ultimately disagrees with Huyssen’s assertion that Nietzsche’s “second untimely meditation on the use and abuse of history… may be as untimely as ever,” at least with regard to post-Franquist Spain circa 1986 (Huyssen, 37). Written during the political chaos of the first decade following the death of Franco and the democratization of Spain, Muñoz-Molina uses A Manuscript of Ashes to argue that productive forgetting à la Nietzsche is precisely the best way to protect the young Spanish democracy in the
  • McBride, 2 near term. Building off Nietzsche’s cynical assertion that “history… uproot[s] the strongest instincts of youth” (Nietzsche, On the Uses and Abuses of History, chapter 9), 1 Muñoz-Molina suggests that attempts to construct Huyssen’s “public spheres of ‘real’ memory” could dangerously threaten to polarize the youth along the violent fault lines of the past. The lesson of A Manuscript of Ashes is thus for Spaniards to distance themselves from the battles of the past by recognizing “the value of silence or blank pages” (Muñoz-Molina, 2) and instead concern themselves with the future construction of a tolerant and democratic society by answering Nietzsche’s call to “recall[] in himself his own real needs” (Nietzsche, chapter 10). Despite its complex and disjointed postmodernist structure, the foundation narrative of A Manuscript of Ashes, once reconstructed along chronological time and stripped of its superstructural theoretical discourse on memory and time, is ultimately a coming-of-age story about a young Spaniard confronting his troubling family history. Following a brief prison sentence, this young Spaniard, Minaya, leaves Madrid for his childhood home of Mágina to visit his estranged mortally-ill uncle Manuel on the pretext of researching a doctoral dissertation on Jacinto Solana, a poet who fought with Manuel against the Franquist forces in the Civil War and was later executed. Over the course of his research, Minaya secretly discovers, with the help of Inés, Manuel’s maid turned Minaya’s lover, the unpublished manuscript of Jacinto Solana, which had long been thought destroyed. After reading the manuscript, which largely is an autobiographical account of Solana’s love triangle with Manuel’s new bride Marianna and the circumstances leading to Marianna’s mysterious death, Minaya and Inés become immersed in searching for the “real” Jacinto Solana by solving the murder of Marianna. During the course of this investigation, Minaya and Inés begin to reenact moments from the manuscript, which leads them to dangerously decide to reenact the wedding night of Manuel and Marianna by having 1 Available at http://records.viu.ca/~johnstoi/Nietzsche/history.htm
  • McBride, 3 sexual intercourse on the preserved nuptial bed. Disaster strikes when Manuel walks in on the couple and subsequently dies of shock. In the aftermath of this event, Manuel solves the murder and forces the confession of the murderer. Later at the funeral, Manuel spots a mysterious old man, who turns out to be the supposedly dead Jacinto Solana. After confronting Solana, Manuel learns that he was manipulated throughout the story, as the manuscript was fake and Inés is actually the longtime caretaker and lover of Solana. The entire affair was thus a set-up to lead Minaya to solve the murder. With the mystery solved, Solana overdoses on sleeping pills, telling Minaya to take Inés away from Mágina and recognize “the value of silence or black pages” (Muñoz-Molina, 2). Muñoz-Molina’s work combines a temporally-disjointed narrative structure with a topical discussion of the nature of temporality. The narrative chaotically weaves together events from 1923 to 1969, purposely depriving the reader of a sense of causality throughout the story. By writing in this style, Muñoz-Molina’s narrative mirrors the problematic relationship between memory and temporality under a dictatorship, summarized in the assertion that “the precise time of calendars doesn't concur with that of his memory, that two months in 30 years and several lifetimes have gone by without his being able to assign them connections of succession or cause” (Muñoz-Molina, 43). Ultimately, this discrepancy between temporality, memory, and calendar time relates to the complex interplay between perception and desires under a dictatorship. Just as Minaya “still imagines that time is made to the measure of his desire” (Muñoz-Molina, 254), temporality in A Manuscript of Ashes revolves around the fulfillment of desires. For example, Minaya perceives time as a single coherent unit between the formation of his desire for Inés to arrive at the train station and her actual arrival. The chronological passing of time is thus irrelevant to Minaya’s “real” temporality, as “there is nothing but sterile time between two
  • McBride, 4 heartbeats, between a capsule and a sip of water, between two instances stripped of their own substance as the extension of a desert” (Muñoz-Molina, 254). “Real” temporality is however neither universal nor constant, but subjectively and fluidly based around individual desires. Antonio Muñoz-Molina makes this most clear through Solana’s reflection on temporality and time while sitting in the car with Marianna waiting for Orlando, a mutual friend and left-wing painter. Because Solana desired Marianna and treasured his moments alone with her, he characterized the arrival of the train and Orlando as “emissaries of the time that would snatch her away from me” (Muñoz-Molina, 167). Similar to Huyssen’s comment that “the faster we are pushed into a global future that does not inspire confidence, the stronger we feel the desire to slow down” (Huyssen, 35), Solana’s lustful and adulterous desires for Marianna literally slow his conscious perception of “real” temporality until the train becomes an “almost motionless column of smoke” in order to prolong the sensation of time alone with her. In contrast, because Mariana desired the arrival of the train, her desires sped up her “real” temporality. Because of this temporal disconnect, Solana notes that “the smile on her lips now was no longer mine,” leading him to judge “her impatience” to be “an affront very similar to the uneasiness of jealousy” (Muñoz-Molina, 167). However, this lament for lost time did not solely relate to Orlano’s arrival. Because of the close relationship between individual temporality and memory, the phrase “emissaries of the time that would snatch her away from me” (Muñoz- Molina, 167) acts as a double entendre referring to both Orlando’s arrival and Mariana’s murder, driving Solana to slow down his temporality and transform this brief memory into what Huyssen calls a “bulwark… against disappearance” (Huyssen, 23), a memory site that Solana considered the “last respite that had venomously been granted to my imagination” (Muñoz-Molina, 167).
  • McBride, 5 In this postmodernist novel, where perceptions of temporality and the formation of memory orbit around the central axis of human desire, the repressive and totalitarian nature of Spanish society under the Franquist regime severely impacts Muñoz-Molina’s characters at the metaphysical level. Absent the freedom to pursue their desires, the characters of A Manuscript of Ashes lack a sense of “real” temporality based on the formation, perception, and fulfillment of human desires. Franquist temporality is instead “sterile” (Muñoz-Molina, 254), which is why the characters remain unable to assign “connections of succession or cause” (Muñoz-Molina, 43). Without the milestones of fulfilled desires to structure their temporality, the characters characterize themselves powerless against time and the Franquist regime, reflected in the thought that “you and I will never see the Third Republic… we’re condemned to Franco in the same way we’re condemned to grow old and die” (Muñoz-Molina, 84). Antonio Muñoz-Molina portrays life in Franquist Spain as a constant existential crisis for nearly all his characters. The left-wing painter Orlando effectively summarizes the overall sentiment with his comment that “what’s coming now is the Apocalypse… Guernica… phosphorous bombs and scorched earth, fire and brimstone, as in the Cities of the Plain” (Muñoz-Molina, 209), referring to the Luftwaffe’s 1937 terror bombing made famous in an anti- war painting by Pablo Picasso. As leftist intellectuals and former members of the Popular Front, the threat of imprisonment and summary execution constantly remains on the mind of the full cast of characters. In a world where the next minute may bring the imprisonment or execution of oneself or one’s loved ones, time itself seems to move towards oblivion. Jacinto Solana characterizes this sense of futility and helplessness with his comment that “only the person who chooses the manner and hour of his own death acquires in exchange the magnificent right to stop time” (Muñoz-Molina, 254). Suicide thus ironically appears as the sole means of assuming
  • McBride, 6 control of one’s own life, but even this cannot be guaranteed, as Minaya notes after his shoelaces were confiscated in prison (Muñoz-Molina, 12). In addition to the threat of imprisonment and execution, Muñoz-Molina’s leftist characters are the target of Franco’s dictatorial politics of forgetting. An early description of Madrid contrasts the “silent presence… of the emissaries of tyranny” with the “children of forgetting” who “were unaware that the pine groves and red brick buildings they walked past had been a battlefield thirty years earlier” (Muñoz-Molina, 12). Because of the divisive nature of the Spanish Civil War, the construction of what Huyssen calls “collective consensual memory” (Huyssen, 16) remains impossible, invalidating memory discourse as a means to build “social and cultural cohesion” (Huyssen, 17) under the Franquist regime. Instead, the “repressive silencing” (Huyssen, 15) of the Franquist politics of forgetting keep the peace, as demonstrated by the semi-mythical account of Jocinto Solana. To counteract Solana’s unfriendly memorialization, the soldiers of the regime “burned in the garden all of Jacinto Solana's books[,] kicked his typewriter to pieces” (Muñoz-Molina, 21) and frightened the populace into silence as a means to promote the constructive forgetting of the dissenting memorializer. This frightened sense of silence is encountered when Minaya attempts to ask a man about Jacinto Solana’s father, which leads the man’s wife to insist “Be quiet, Manuel” and look “out of the corner of her eye at the stranger who asks questions about forgotten things” (Muñoz-Molina, 61). Because of the Franquist existential threats against life and memory, the characters of A Manuscript of Ashes energetically “turn toward memory” as a means to “anchor [themselves] in a world characterized by an increasing instability of time and the fracturing of lived space” (Huyssen, 28). Central to these various projects of memorialization is Manuel’s mansion in Mágina. Due to the safety afforded by his wealth and his family name, only this mansion offers
  • McBride, 7 the spatial stability and immunity from forgetting necessary to serve as a site for memory discourse. While “out in the world it was February 1969,” the mansion in Mágina remained a “delicate anachronism” timelessly caught in the epoch of the Spanish Republic (Muñoz-Molina, 92). As a site for musealization, Manuel transformed his mansion into a catalogue of “not only all his memories but [of] the photographs of Mariana and of Jacinto Solana as well… distributed… around the house according to a private and very strict order, which allowed him to transform his passage through the rooms into a reiterated commemoration (Muñoz-Molina, 21). This intensity of musealization relates to Huyssen’s hypothesis that “we try to counteract this fear and danger of forgetting with survival strategies of public and private memorialization” (26). With public memorialization impossible in Franquist Spain, Manuel privately memorialized the past in order to prevent Marianna, Solana, and the Spanish Republic from being forgotten. Due to the complex and disjointed nature of time in Franquist Spain, the characters of this book struggle with the inaccuracies and distortions inherent in their memories. Throughout the narrative, characters encounter pieces of their past which run contrary to their memory. For example, Minaya returned to his Uncle’s mansion after many years and discovered that “the ceiling wasn't as high as he remembered, and the books no longer prodigiously covered every wall” (Muñoz-Molina, 18). The lesson of these distortions is that the “strange logic of memory and pain conspires silently to transform the prison of another time into paradise” (Muñoz- Molina, 60). Memory therefore diverges from the objective past, reflecting Huyssen’s assertion that “the real can be mythologized just as the mythic may engender strong reality effects” (26). But what actually is this “real” to which Huyssen refers? What is more “real,” Minaya’s perception of the less-high ceiling in 1969 or his perception of the more-high ceiling as a child?
  • McBride, 8 Muñoz-Molina’s work deeply problematizes the idea of that either of these can be more or less “real” than the other. In discussing a photograph of Marianna, Medina, a longtime friend of Manuel, Marianna, and Solana, problematizes the connection between “reality” and objectivity by paradoxically telling Minaya that Marianna did not actually look like any of her photographs. In his opinion, only Orlando’s rough sketch captured her essence. This idea that “the dead immediately stop resembling their photographs” (Muñoz-Molina, 153) revolves around the objective and subjective qualities of memory. In contrast to a photographic captured moment of objective reality, Orlando’s sketch mixes fact and myth in order to show Marriana’s true nature, that is, a subjective image of how Marianna was perceived by those that loved her. This is precisely why Orlando’s sketch was “not a face, but the pure shape of desire” (Muñoz-Molina, 192). What is more “real,” an objective photograph or a sketch that captures the subjective emotional meaning that Marianna held for Manuel, Jacinto, and Orlando? This novel sides with the latter, affirming that the “real” nature of a human being can only be understood according the subjective perceptions and desires of others. Just as human desire shapes the “reality” of temporality, the human desire of Orlando for Marianna shaped the “reality” of Marianna as expressed in his drawing. Because Medina also desired Marianna, he characterized Orlando’s drawing as her best representation because it spoke to his desire. This postmodernist emphasis on the eye of the beholder directly counters Huyssen’s differentiation between lived and imagined memories, as ultimately all lived memories are subject to distortions, making them “imagined memories” as well (Huyssen, 17). The dead thus stop resembling their photographs because they continue to live and change through the evolving memories of those that remember them.
  • McBride, 9 In order to carve out an afterlife through the memory of others, the characters of A Manuscript of Ashes work to produce what Solana calls an Oeuvre, an artistic body of work. While life may appear pointless and death imminent, artistic brilliance in the form of an Oeuvre appears to offer a justification for existence and a means to achieve immortality through the memory of others, driving Jacinto Solano to decide “to write… one memorable book… and then die afterward, because that was the only thing that mattered to him in his life, to write something that would go on living when he was dead” (Muñoz-Molina, 29). Accomplishing such an act also offered the chance to carve out a sort of literary revenge against the Franquist regime, “planned out when [Solana] read in books about the return of the Count of Monte Cristo” (Muñoz-Molina, 49). However, this Oeuvre was not to be merely a masterful work of literature, but also reflect the past à la Huyssen’s definition of “self-musealization” (14), as “it's about Mágina, and all of us, Mariana and you, Orlando, this house. That's why I needed to see it again” (Muñoz-Molina, 135). Solana’s model for his Oeuvre was Orlando’s watercolors of Mágina, which “had a beauty that wasn't of this world, it wasn't perfection but something beyond that, something that didn't even belong to art, and even less to the man who had painted them.” By emulating Orlando’s watercolors, Solana’s Beatus Ille sought to “justify… all of us” through artistic “brilliance” (Muñoz-Molina, 136). By the end of his life, Solana had abandoned his ambitions to write his Oeuvre, Beatus Ille. Deeply frustrated by this failure, Solana criticized that: “Everybody is looking for and has an Oeuvre, with a capital O, just like Juan Ramón. They go down the street with the O of their Oeuvre around their necks, as if it were the frame of the portrait in which they were already posing for posterity. And I've been writing since long before I had the use of my reason, and at the age of thirty-two I don't have a bad book I can call my Oeuvre, and I'm not even sure I'm a writer” (Muñoz-Molina, 22).
  • McBride, 10 Solana’s doubts about his role as a writer did not relate to any technical or literary deficiencies, but rather reflected his gradual realization of the impossibility of producing an Oeuvre. Due to the centrality of individual desires and perceptions in the formation of “reality,” a perfect Oeuvre can never be expressed outside of the mind of an individual artist. Solana thus describes his masterpiece as “oppressing me entire and intact in my imagination like a treasure next to which I was dying of powerlessness and hunger” (Muñoz-Molina, 297). His “Beatus Ille” thus fluidly existed in his head alongside his perceptions and desires, and any attempt at setting it to paper for the public could only form a disappointing static approximation of the Oeuvre in his mind’s eye. Both Solana and Orlando reached identical conclusions about the impossibility of expressing one’s mental Oeurve through diametrically opposed means, a dichotomy Antonio Muñoz-Molina uses to form a postmodern dialectic on the pursuit of individual desires. Solana’s attempts at writing an Oeuvre became “like a vampire that robbed him of the use of language and of memories as he wrote it” (Muñoz-Molina, 184). He recklessly sacrificed the pursuit of his present private desires in the pursuit of future public posterity. In contrast, Orlando viewed the production of artistic masterpieces as tied to the hedonistic indulgence in pleasures. Only the “systematic cultivation of any excess” could produce “the fruit of audacity” needed for a true masterpiece (Muñoz-Molina, 295). Orlando thus viewed his open confrontation with the hetero- normative Catholic values of Franquist Spain as the fount of his artistic strength, personified in the figure of his young male lover and muse. Though these characters were unable to produce either Beatus Ille or Une partie de plaisir, they retrospectively looked back on the pursuit of their Oeuvres in very different light. Solana retrospectively judged the sacrifice of his individual desires as “the architecture of the last circle of hell” (Muñoz-Molina, 297). Orlando, on the other hand, looked back on his audacious pursuit of individual desire and concluded that, even though
  • McBride, 11 his hedonistic lifestyle led him to become “very fat,” “tired,” and “sick,” he was happy (Muñoz- Molina, 295). Solana’s proposed title (as well as the original Spanish title of Muñoz-Molina’s A Manuscript of Ashes) was “Beatus Ille,” a Latin phrase that refers to Horace’s second epode, which begins: " Happy is he who avoids the rat race, like the ancient race of mortals, cultivates his ancestral lands with cows, free from debt, who’s neither a soldier, roused by the cruel trumpet, nor dreading the wrathful sea, nor living at the Forum and the haughty thresholds of more powerful men..." By failing to write his Beatus Ille, Solana thus realized the lesson of Horace’s Beatus Ille: the only happy man is the one who spurns “the Forum” of the public sphere and “cultivates his ancestral lands” by tending to the fulfillment of his personal desires first and foremost. As a man who has sacrificed the fulfillment of his desires and suffered the repressive countermeasures of the Franquist regime in the name of the impossible task of penning a perfect Oeuvre, Solana has learned “the value of silence or blank pages” (Muñoz-Molina, 2). This is precisely why Solana orders Minaya to “leave now and take Inés with you” (Muñoz-Molina, 302) at the end of the book. Arguing along the lines of Huyssen’s assertion that “the real can be mythologized just as the mythic may engender strong reality effects” (26), Solana tells Minaya that “it’s in your imagination where we were born again, much better than we actually were, more loyal, better looking, free of cowardice and truth” (Muñoz-Molina, 302). Any further search for the “real” in history could only lead to disappointment, leading Solana to push Minaya to adopt the stance of Nietzsche and abandon history to live out “the strongest instincts of youth – fire, defiance, forgetting of the self, and love” (Nietzsche, chapter 9) by accepting Inés as his Oeuvre and beatus ille, his path to happiness, and the consummation of his personal desire.
  • McBride, 12 Huyssen asked his readers “what comfort [comes] from memories of the 20th Century?” (Huyssen, 25). According to Antonio Muñoz-Molina, the memorialization of the traumatic history of the Spanish Civil War and Franquist Spain offers at most a brief yet poisonous respite. As far as Huyssen’s follow-up question about alternatives to memorialization, Muñoz-Molina offers productive forgetting à la Nietzsche. While this argument may appear as a shocking retort to democracy and cosmopolitan values, it must be contextualized within the rocky early history of post-Franquist Spain, which included a failed coup d'état in 1981, the first electoral victory of a left-wing party in Spain since the 1936 Popular Front in 1982, and a subsequent “dirty war” between Basque separatists and mercenary death squads illegally established by the lift-wing Socialist Workers’ Party from 1983 until 1987. Because the political chaos of this period appeared to be the result of a sudden release of historical hatreds long repressed by Franco’s dictatorial politics of forgetting, Muñoz-Molina’s A Manuscript of Ashes seems to characterize the primary threat to the young Spanish democracy as what Nietzsche described “the danger of destruction from being swamped by what is foreign and past, from ‘history’” (chapter 10). Because the recent history of Spain contains only tensions that risk the undoing of the fragile Spanish democracy, Muñoz-Molina argues that social recovery in post-Franquist Spain is only possible by recognizing “the value of silence or black pages” (2) and fulfilling one’s desires along the lines of Nietzsche’s call that to “organize the chaos in himself by recalling in himself his own real needs” (chapter 10). While this does not suggest the impossibility of post- dictatorial Spain eventually examining the past to construct what Huyssen calls “collective consensual memory” (17), Muñoz-Molina suggests that such an undertaking would be counterproductive anytime in the near future.
  • McBride, 13 Works Cited Horace. “Epode 2.” Trans. Bill Parsons. 2 May 2010. < http://billblogx.blogspot.com/2007/06/horace-epode-2.html> Huyssen, Andreas. “Present Pasts: Media, Politics, Amnesia.” Public Culture, 2002, 12(1). Muñoz-Molina, Antonio. A Manuscript of Ashes. Trans. Edith Grossman. Orlando: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2008. Nietzsche, Friedrich. “On the Use and Abuse of History for Life.” Trans. Ian Johnston. 2 May 2010. < http://records.viu.ca/~johnstoi/Nietzsche/history.htm>