Masculinity and Mourning in Javier Cercas's Soldados de Salamina

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ROBERT RICHMOND ELLIS

Memory, Masculinity, and Mourning in Javier Cercas's Soldados de Salamina The project of recuperating a repressed or obliterated historical memory, first undertaken by Spanish writers during the waning years of the Francoist dictatorship and cultivated throughout the early decades of democracy (albeit often in opposition to an official position of desmemoria), continues to characterize much early twenty-first century Spanish writing.' In one of the most highly publicized "memory texts" of the current decade, Javier Cercas's Soldados de Salamina, the narrator attempts to recover the meaning of a pivotal moment in the Spanish Civil War and in so doing establish a genealogy that will heal the great wound of modern Spanish history. Throughout the text he doggedly insists on the existence of a historical truth accessible to memory. But the truth rendered in Soldados de Salamina is ultimately a fiction of his imagination, though one that conveys the intentions of the past while revealing the power of the past to affect the present. The past in question is explicitly political (both the right- and left-wing traditions of the war period are given a new lease on life) and also implicitly gendered, for what the narrator seeks is specifically a father figure. In imagining this figure, he not only reaches out to his own dead progenitor but also creates a means for realizing himself as an artist. In the process he asserts the values of masculinity that inform the political imaginaries of both the right and the left and thereby complicates the ethical position that he struggles to forge. But he also, perhaps more poignantly than any contemporary narrative voice, engages in the work of mourning as an affirmation of those who have died as well as the living. Like many of the memory texts produced in the wake of Spain's transition to democracy, Soldados de Salamina is acutely aware of gaps in the past and, in particular, unremembered persons whose lives seem to haunt the present.^ Hispanist-theorists of memory have found postmodernist conceptualizations of simulacra useful in grappling with these textual representations of a spectral history. Jo Labanyi turns to Jacques Derrida's concept of "'hauntology' as . . . an alternative to Revista de Estudios Hispdnicos 39 (2005)

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ontology . . . appropriate to describe the status of history: that is, the past as that which is not and yet is there—or rather, here" (66). Following Derrida, she defines ghosts as "the traces of those who have not been allowed to leave a trace" and "the victims of history who return to demand reparation" (66).^ As Joan Ramon Resina cannily puts it, " [a] specter is haunting Spain, the specter of difference" (Introduction 11). From the perspective of Michel Foucault, this specter of difference, or "phantasm," does not merely imply alternate truths of history but calls into question the foundation of all historical truth and even the nature of memory. Foucault rejects the Platonic notion of memory as an epistemic act capable of achieving the truth, and heralds "a philosophy of the phantasm that cannot be reduced to a primordial fact through the intermediary of perception or an image, but that arises between surfaces" (169). The phantasm, he argues, is an "extra-being" incommensurable with truth and falsehood and being and non-being (170). Its effect is to undermine memory itself—for Resina "[t]his most brittle, unstable, undemonstrable reality possible"—and, with it, the very integrity of the remembering subject (Introduction 6). Memory texts of the post-Francoist period aim not only to recover the past but also to fashion a particular present. For this reason, as Resina observes, they are typically less interested in remembering per se than in creating a national heritage in opposition to Francoism and consolidating the post-Francoist state (Introduction 13). Whereas the politics of the post-Francoist period...
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