|Art and History next to testimony as entertainment (1)
In Hölderin, an extraordinary play by the German author Peter Weiss about the great romantic poet and revolutionary Friedrich Hölderin, there is a scene that really helps define the objectives – evidently modest – of my intervention. Specifically, it is about one significant period when the young Karl Marx (who was the editor of the Renana Gazette in those days), an enthusiastic admirer of Hölderin’s poetry, pays homage to this poet that he so admires, who is already old and who for years has been isolated from the world, enclosed in a kind of tower. This was something that helped Karl Marx, standing next to the talent of this poet he so admired, to intelligently admit to himself his own lack of ability as a future poet. One the one hand it prevented him from continuing with his poetic and literary ambitions, while on the other it obliged him to direct his intellectual life towards the study of society, the economy and history. Nevertheless, as a start, it is worth remarking that some authors, like Marshal Berman for example, have observed fragments of enormous poetic potential in Marx’s prose in the Communist Manifesto, that belong to a sensitivity expressed in modernist art. Looking at Peter Weiss’s drama, it is precisely with the evocation of this intended redirection that Karl Marx conceded so much to the study of history as the practice of art; a hypothetical potential of a transforming change. The words by which he expressed this desire paint a clear portrait of the personality of the future philosopher. Addressing himself to his interlocutor (according to the version in Castilian translated by the publisher, Hiru) he demonstrates:
“By two paths one can arrive
at the preparation
for fundamental changes.
of the concrete historical situation.
The other is
the visionary formulation
of the deepest personal experience
before you both pathsas equally valid […]”
It is important to say that Hölderin, as a result of experiencing physical weakness and mental problems that affected him, and also because of the maturity that comes with the passing of years, shows a certain scepticism when facing so much vehemence. Nevertheless, it was as much a product of the failure of his personal artistic projects as of the collapse of collective dreams of which he was in favour in his youth (one has to remember that Hölderin was a contemporary of the French Revolution). With this I would like to point to the fact that it is a type of scepticism that has nothing to do with renunciation. As is known, it is very different to what has occurred lately in what is called the developed western world. Effectively, since almost two and a half decades ago, the renunciation of whatever idea that has caused transformation has been the order of the day. Until recently, a cynicism of the new rich had set, in general, the agenda that rules our lives. As would be obvious in similar situations, little space was left for vision towards preparing for “fundamental changes”. It doesn’t mean that during these years nothing has been accomplished, as much in artistic circles as in the social and human sciences, by noteworthy companies directed towards the supply of materials that allow the corporisation of a critical look at our past and, on the rebound, our present context.
With frequency – and specifically in the area of art – the critical compromise of the artist or of the investigator, used to be understood as a reissue demodee of the intellectual compromise of the inter-war period, and in no way, did it want to be seen that a major critical compromise can’t have been a necessary obstacle to knowledge, nor an annihilating element of the aesthetic competences of a work of art. On the contrary, on occasions it can show itself to be of essential added value. It can widen our social knowledge and the knowledge of our aesthetic sensitivity. In the end it can make us better from the point of view of morality. I still remember, for example, the surprise that watching a video of the artist Marcelo Exposito could cause in the mid-1990’s. Specifically, the work “The Earth of the Mother” was full of references to the Spanish Civil War and it also used oral testimonies. Frankly, at least in the artistic context in which I moved, he was somewhat unrecognised. This doesn’t mean that I’m affirming that he was the only artist working along these lines. What I’m doing is mentioning a personal experience. Evidently, there were other cases of artists who, since the 1980’s were working along very critical political lines like Pedro G. Romero, Federico Guzmán, or Rogelio López Cuenca. And we don’t speak any more of artists of a previous generation who in the 80’s and 90’s continued with works of great poetic and political intensity, like Antoni Muntades, Francesc Torres and, naturally, Francesc Abad himself, who put together works in which references to testimonies were essential. In the particular case of this latter artist, the evocations that show themselves to be from Primo Levi, Walter Benjamin, Ossip Mandeslttam, Anna Akmàtova or René Char, for example, are palpable proof of the presence of the voice and action of the testimony. With works in which we see ourselves facing (H)istory in capital letters, and, via the memory of the mini histories of these illustrious testimonies, we can connect the relatively recent and traumatic past with a compressed and uncertain future.
Without doubt, as a result of this mix of factors, there was a predominance, almost until the second half of the 90’s, of approaches towards the world and life that took into account little of the material reality and where a post-historic vision predominated of life in the present and the past. However, where do we find ourselves at the moment with regard to this issue? Could we affirm with calmness that the wave of memories at the end of the century and at the start of the present century has broken with the post-historic vices, or that it is precisely about their maximum expression? Surely, it is neither one thing nor the other. In other words, it is certain that it has provoked a renewed interest for the recent past as has been obvious in the ensemble of the Spanish state (especially for the Civil War and the Franco years). At the same time it demonstrates symptoms of a certain trivialisation of the predominant approaches towards these former times. It is evident that in the centre of this trend to use memories, with all its contradictions, the testimony has a role that stands out. In the history of current times, the testimony of he or she who has lived out the events directly, is something that one has to bear in mind. However, we ought to ask if it is sufficiently trustworthy to help us construct the right analysis of a concrete historical situation, or whether from an ethical and aesthetic point of view, it is able to transmit a depth of morality of a personal experience. To sum up, we are not demanding that work with testimonies forms the basis for “fundamental changes” as the previously mentioned Karl Marx would say. But certainly we should ask ourselves if the simple appeal of those voices of the past that are still alive can at least constitute a sufficient enough factor with which to construct a critical vision in the present, as much from a socio-political point of view, as from a moral and aesthetic one.
In part, one has to go through the unjust destitution of the testimony in the name of the impossibility of the rationalisation of barbarism, or of its expression via art as a result of things people could not say as, most certainly, George Steiner would declare, in reference to the Nazi genocide of the Jewish population, to a type of excessive indulgence that usually has, as a result, the fall of grand eloquence or the cultivation of kitsch. As François Rastier argues in his essay on Primo Levi (Ulysses in Auschwitz) it is essential to restore the testimony. I would add that it must be done in a measured way, with respect for the suffering of the victims, and most of all, trying to arrive at key explanations and with the will to extract a moral lesson beyond the shrillness of morbidity. In consequence, it is necessary to work contrasting and contextualising all the information that we get. The recovery of the democratic memory, as the young historian Xavier Domènech states, does not mean bringing together thousands of voices, but explaining and deciding who has to be the narrator and how they have to narrate. The understanding of the past often has little to do with the raw testimony. Furthermore, it is known that for modern man’s life to have a minimum of meaning for him, and for him to have an identity, he needs, as the philosopher Charles Taylor states, to be orientated towards the good. This means, as one can suppose, a choice; in concrete, a choice and the creation of a narrative with which one feels comfortable. This orientation towards the good is a double-edged knife because beneath the persecution of virtue one can hide a multitude of manipulations and distortions of the records which were unconsciously selected. Turning to the testimony definitely involves risks from which one has to protect oneself, even more so with a backdrop where the vices of a supposed conjuncture of post-history predominates. But what exactly is this post-history?
For the German historian, Lutz Niethammer, the intended post-historic stage is an amalgam shaped by the perplexity that is experienced in the field of historians, when faced with what appears to be the disappearance of the object of its own discipline and by the simultaneous and paradoxical announcement of the insinuation of the rejuvenation of the same discipline. It is a strange combination of the increase in interest for history, associated with a considerable amount of resonance of mediation. One lives the process of re-examining history that is like a simulation of an agreement with the interests of an industrial culture. Truly, quite often we get the impression that we are immersed in a situation with these characteristics where the testimony (the oral informant or the written confession) develops the role of the main actor and frequently, it also becomes an instrument to the detriment of what we have come to call the critical analysis of concrete historical situations and the transference of the most profound personal experience. In a more concrete way we’ll now look at how these adulterations of the legacy of the recent past are reflected in the case of the Spanish state.
It is certain that among us and in the whole of Western Europe there exists, or at least tries to exist, a handling which tries to get close to these transformed pasts that did not happen. Despite the difficulties and polemics, in the Spanish state – and in particular in Catalonia – efforts have been dedicated to the legislation of relative protocols, for example in the excavation and the exhumation of common graves where numerous victims were buried during the repression under Franco. Also, there is a trend towards turning open air places where significant events took place during the war and after the war into museum pieces. They are frequently linked to the establishment of touristic and cultural walks. This impulse to convert the past into a kind of amusement park – with all the different hues that one wants –where visitors can believe that they are reliving the experiences of their predecessors, generates, without a doubt, an interest in the past. However, this practice of reporting the past should make us think about what types of visions end up being the prevalent ones in society and in what way they end up being organised and how knowledge of the past is transferred into a more general context, outside of the context of university academic circles. As one can suppose, the bid to transfer the succession of events that took place in the relatively recent past – which also have a relevant role in the elaboration, once again, of an imaginary group that is never finished – to the terrain of tourism implies taking a step back, or, on the other hand, it would be very difficult to get something out of the investment in terms of winning over audiences. Some investments are even of a direct and immediate economic character. The news (that the artist Pedro G. Romero told me during the debate) about the promotion of a hotel project called Libertaria in Casas Viejas is a good example of this; exactly in the place where in the year 1933 an anarchist revolt, that was put to an end to with violent repression, took place. Truly, capitalist business has got no morals nor temporal. Broadly, this desire for profit leads to a reduction in the complexity of narratives about the past, to the research and fabrication of sensationalist means with the intention of being more attractive and, most of all, it leads to the disappearance of a critical look and, paradoxically, to the loss of a historical sense with respect to our existence in current times.
Without a doubt, altogether it can imply, together with the treatment that the history of the Civil War and the Franco years frequently receives by the mass media – as much in documentaries that are shown as in fiction series that are set in these previously mentioned times - running the grave risk of becoming banal. In other words, the consolidation and the impulse of the predominance of the visions in which local facts and the everyday anecdote, which are shown from a picturesque perspective or from one with costumes, are imposed, and also thanks to their use as an instrument of the media, the personal testimony with a strong dose of emotion and sentimentality verges on being affected. Normally, this dedication to a nostalgic focus on past times implies, as for example David Harvey has pointed out in his essay on the postmodern condition, the presentation of a past which is in part illusory from which, generally, the characteristics of oppressive social relations have been removed. To all these missing things one has to add the intellectual disconcert and the generalised insecurity that causes the perception of the absence of a collective project of an alternative future.
However, although during the course of the decade of the 1980’s and in good measure during the 1990’s of the past century, as I have previously mentioned, these cultural patterns had a hegemonic profile, one has to register that, in parallel, in the Spanish scene at the end of the century and at the start of the current one, there has been an authentic explosion in the demand for memory. A demand that is linked, one the one hand, to a certain political feeling of reparation, which is its main purpose, with the aim of bringing about its public condemnation, the revelation of atrocities committed by the Nationalists during the war and later on by the fascist dictatorship (without a doubt, the politics of the past, with their neo-Franco characteristics, of the last government led by Aznar in the last five-year period, involved numerous initiatives to recover the memory of a fight for democracy, sometimes called the historical memory without taking into account the numerous contradictions that this noun group has. On the other hand, this demand cannot be disassociated from that which we have been describing until now as a kind of enthronement of the past as if it were a fascinatingly strange place, the fruit of a social conscience that is essentially one of our present time that negates any alternative value and hopes that the future is not the same continued reproduction of the time that it is living. Consequently, if one held that the present period is like an end point, one would need to extract few lessons from the past to have a future which in theory we already know. The result cannot be any other than a conceptualisation of the past as something static; to leave something that would contain material susceptible to being prepared by its commercialisation and consumption in this context that is qualification of what is post-historic, without any or little potential to give us, through its understanding - a discernment more adjusted to our reality and one that means we even take a few more risks -, any lessons to face the challenges of a socially unjust global capitalist system.
Between, on the one hand, the past understood as a pastiche of unrelated postcards as the result of the nostalgia created by the existential vacuum that one feels when confronted by an uncertain future, and, on the other hand, the public and political demands to reconstruct the democratic memory and that of the pain of the victims of the violence under Franco, there is, without a doubt, a tension that is currently a placid and non-conflictive fixation with our recent historical past. Although, in parallel, we also run the risk of succumbing to disappointment facing a possible pathological excess of memory that could end up inundating everyday life. Obviously, what is necessary is a work of memory that gives moral compensation and even economic compensation to the victims of the franquist terror, and, as would be normal, to avoid once and for all, via legal means, the justification - that is only feasible by the falsification and the distortion of past events – from a political regime comparable, in doses of notoriety, to the very same Nazi Germany.
Despite everything, there is something worrying in this current situation with reference to all that is related to the construction of a critical history forged with rigour and honesty. Simply, it gives the sensation that all the means at our disposition, the results of serious and complex investigation don’t gain sufficient relevance in the dominant discourse that runs between two tendencies. The first of these – I have already commented upon some of its fundamental aspects – would be the turning towards a touristic commercialisation provoked by the increase in cultural tourism and the need for entertainment by the media. The second would be related to the fulfilment of the just demands of the victims of the franquist investigations, but, as is logical, conditioned by the spirit of vindication and passion; something that often leaves little margin for the projection of complex historical stories. The historian, Ismael Saz, addressing this issue, warns that one has to be careful given that it is easy to fall into the fraudulent use of the past to do the opposite, and into the trap of transmitting of simplified discourses of this recent past, no matter how much one is in the right. Having said that, it should remain clear that I am not trying to say that the heirs of the anti-Franco movement have necessarily had to be inclined to give a vision that is mythical and without criticism of its proceedings during its four decades of resistance. As neither do I believe that historians (and also artists), that work and investigate adopting a position that is close to one of a transforming left and with fervour, we’ll say as an example, anti-fascist, deserve less “scientific” faith than those who place themselves in the “mainstream” of a theoretical liberal-democrat leaning. Michael Parenti, a radical north American historian, has made it clear that a great part of written history consists of an ideologically secure product in accordance to the interests of the opulent ruling classes and that it represents the dominant perspective and influences and presides over the main institutions in society. In consequence, what could happen is that the perpetration of the most effective practise of revision with the intention to distort is accomplished in a subtle way by the “mainstream”, which is then upheld as an example of objectivity and impartiality.
It is evident that in the middle of this crossroads, where the conversion into a tourist attraction and the commercialisation of the recent past alongside the explosion in demand for memory, with the goal of redeeming the moral debt owed to the victims by the dictatorship (a demand that, on the other hand, runs parallel to this intellectual climate that is characterised by the attempt to process a definitively liberal narrative), the memory of the direct testimony, has acquired a fundamental role. With a stage set in the past comparable to that of Germany with regard to its weight and to its controversies of the political, moral and educational type, that emanate right up to the present, it is a challenge of the highest order to transform all this memory that flows from the testimonies (and also in an ethical act and here, art can play a very important part) into critical history and to ensure that it doesn’t fall into the trap of turning something personal into entertainment. As the French historian, Antoine Prost states, it is about the transformation of the demand for memory into history, but it must be added, as the other French historian, Robert Frank, sustains, that memory is a source of imperfection and it is just this very imperfection that becomes an object of interest and relevance to the historian. Through this work the avalanche of recollections and the desire for history may rise above the context of the souvenir memorial in simultaneously consisting of a more complete understanding of the past in a defensive form when facing the oppression of a present that seems to be held up. Furthermore, it is even feasible that through critical knowledge of the past, as Andreas Huyssen sustains, to find anchorage with utopian energies that could be developed in the future.
In July 2001 I published a study that talked about the analysis of public political attitudes in a rural area during the first twenty years of Franco’s regime. This self citation is related to the commentaries that I received and that I considered very symptomatic of the times in which we live and to the form of how the role of the testimony-informant is understood. To a certain degree, investigation is fundamental to the exploration of the different aspects of the informants’ biographies; bearing in mind, most of all, the reflex of social conduct and its political repercussions. As it wasn’t about giving an exhaustive life history of every one of the testimonies, I chose to transcribe the interviews in a format that qualified them, to use Philippe Lejeune’s terminology, as narrative reports. In other words, giving lead to the analysis and to the investigator’s comments before an apparently literal presentation of the results of informants’ answers. Thus, the comments received from some of the first readers, basically laid emphasis on the fact that the testimonies spoke very little for themselves. I sincerely think that these readers professed to having an excessively blind faith in the raw testimony. It is only necessary to remember the unfortunate case of Enric Marco when in spring 2005 it was discovered that his testimony of deportation was completely false and that, at the same time, he had created a made-to-measure autobiography of epic proportions and with heroism included. And not to mention the scandalous case of Binjamin Wilkomirski who in his memoirs Fragments published in 1996 – with editorial success, even right up until the fraud was discovered – presented himself as a child interred in a Nazi concentration camp and, afterwards, he confirmed that everything had been pure invention and that it was fed by the archetypes that characterised the holocaust.
However, as I have already suggested at the start of this intervention in citing Charles Taylor, it isn’t necessary that the testimonies lie or invent their past so that we don’t trust them. As Eric J. Hobsbawn argues, from the moment in which one is aware of oneself, there exists a record of the world and of history in its times, but it is a record that always, from the very beginning, must be doubted. Furthermore, it could even be the worst and the most distorted of sources as long as - I would add – one wants to make literal use of it. In addition we should continue being aware of the fact that it is a personal anecdotal memory and that we have sufficient resources to achieve comparisons with other sources, whether they be archive documents, the press, diverse biographies of the time in question or the comparison with other testimonies. Nevertheless, surely, neither would we, after the verification of the truth of the information given by the informant, find ourselves in a suitable situation to capture the memory that persists in the post-war years. This is only possible to capture with the inclusion of individual testimonials and impressions of experiences within a narrative discourse with a descriptive, analytical and interpretative vocation.
Turning to the criticism of the reverential attitude that is usually reserved for direct testimonies of past times and particularly so of particularly convulsive periods which were marked with political violence and the war, we have to bear in mind the influence in this field of the role – very negative to my understanding - that the mass media develops in this area, especially that of television. In this sense, one cannot ignore the structuring impact that the media has had upon life and politics over the last few years. We live, as the critic Gabriel Villota quite rightly points out, under the influence of an authentic audio-visualisation of our everyday lives. Furthermore, as the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman also states, there is currently a colonisation of that which is public by private themes, which then are no longer private for the very reason that they appear in public, such as in the open and public sector of television channels. One of the motives behind this paradox is that human life shows itself as an agglomeration of individual problems that look for an individual solution which at the same time is only possible with the use of individual resources. Furthermore, as I have already stated, we have to add the invasion of the public space by feelings and emotions to this raising of individualism to higher levels; something indispensable to survive in a way of life obsessed with the fear of boredom and the need to have fun at whatever price. Moreover, as Pierre Bourdieu would say, the predominance in what is social about a historicised, dehistorising, atomised and atomising vision of the world has a close relationship with the images and discourses that are shown on television.
The prestigious historian Raul Hilberg asked himself how it was possible that the work called Fragments that I have already mentioned before, had been accepted as a book of memories by numerous editorials without any discussion. We could also ask ourselves about the continued presence that Enric Marco had, for quite a long time, in the Catalan and Spanish media without raising any suspicion. We’ll most probably find the answer in this current fascination with the celebrity of the direct testimony of atrocities, and most of all in its privacy. The television format has a lot to do with this; not just with regard to whether or not it is broadcast on television, but also with regard to the fact that it has been installed and internalised as a part of our perception of reality. To my understanding , one possible alternative to the audio-visualisation of testimonies and their memories has to include the construction of a critical history of the memory or, similarly, the conversion of the fragmented and pluralistic memory that overflows all around us into history. On the other hand, the post-historic souvenir memorial, with its glowing attraction that is based on the propagation of sweetened and simplified messages, full of stereotypes, will end up replacing history as a method of understanding past times. In this fight, artistic practice can also have a relevant role if one avoids the superficial ethnographic way of looking at that which is so much a la page in our times.
Therefore, when one works with testimonies one has to be cautious and not cede to forms of American television entertainment which present themselves as the real life incarnation of the word for everyday people. One paradigmatic case is the audio-visual archive of holocaust survivors created by Steven Spielberg in the year 1994. In these testimonial stories everything is calculated, from the times and the themes which the testimonies talk about, to the form the end of the interview adopts; normally an epilogue with a “happy end” like in Hollywood films. As we know (or we should know) as historians, the mere juxtaposition of individual stories has no guarantee that they become a historical recit . In contrast, we often find ourselves faced with projects that, through the systematic compilation of experiences of the testimonies, aspire to substitute (H)istory, arguing that the testimony of informants be the true history. Without a doubt as Annette Wieviorka points out, every individual has the right to their memory, but one has to keep in mind that this right could come into conflict with the imperative that lies behind the historian’s role, which is to lay the foundations for the search for truth. This tortuous road towards the truth, when one plays around in the field of memory, would require a channelling of investigating forces towards an analysis of the individual memories that focuses on their connection with almost global social processes. It would be worth it if this predominance in the social aspects of a vision of “life histories”, that is characterised by an emphasis on individuality, and its conversion into an act of commemoration – a kind of memorial to the past – were the object of a change that considered these “life histories” as an appropriate historical source so that they could be critically analysed.
With regard to the Franco regime, which is what affects us directly, this critical and attentive vision is precisely what the work with testimonies needs, given that it must not be forgotten that during its existence it showed, like the majority of dictatorial regimes, a big preoccupation with the shaping of the memory of citizens with the intention of transforming them into subjects. In effect, with the end of the Civil War, the task of creating a new public memory started. It was erected upon a mountain of falsities, as much in reference to a political use of the supposed mythical foundations of a Spanishness with an imperial vocation, as to the elimination of any positive records from the period of the Second Republic. If this colonisation of the minds of citizens by the Franco dictatorship is not kept in mind, we will understand very little about the form of the memory which comes from the biographies of the testimonies. And this form constitutes an element to have present, given that, as I have insisted, what is of interest in the contents transmitted by the informants is relative. That is why the historian who proposes the transformation of the memory of the testimonies knows that he or she won’t find precise clarifications of the events, nor will the places and figures mentioned – which are always in error – be exact, but, in contrast, as Annette Wieviorka remarks, one will find oneself with a human voice that has crossed history, and one will be able to especially accede to a more subtle truth than one which is housed in an individual experience connected to a collective.
Before closing this intervention, it is necessary to look again to the other way that Karl Marx formulated, that is “the visionary formulation of the deepest personal experience,” or, in other words, how contemporary artistic practice might reflect this complex relationship between testimony and history and I’m not referring to the fact that it does it in a manner that is complementary to and illustrative of other discourses that come from other areas, but with the same validity that a certain historical investigation (the argument I have been defending throughout this talk, for example) could have, when it has to contribute to the generation of the construction of a critical perception of the recent past, which has a political and moral incidence in the present also of a critical order with respect to the present state of things. Really, there isn’t any magic formula, but faced with the hegemonic intellectual climate, it is almost obligatory that the artistic practices, that investigations - into the diverse inheritances of the events and facts of the past, as well as into the memory of it them that has persisted - propose to elaborate, have a will to oppose and avoid all the post-historic stereotypes of which we have spoken, and that they also protest with an anti-conformist attitude with the characteristics that what is called the audio-visualisation of everyday life under the impact of the media, has taken on. Just like another person, called Hodan, has pointed out, in another major work by Peter Weiss, L’estetica de la resistencia (The aesthetic of resistance) set in the difficult context of Germany during the early 1930’s of the past century: “Art has to look for the equilibrium for that which politics washes its hands of.” And these days it is notorious that the politics (of professional politicians) washes its hands of issues that should be very important to citizens. With the handling of an empty rhetoric which reflects the spirit of the liberal democrat “mainstream”, one usually ends up concealing, justifying, or softening situations that contain numerous aspects that can be condemned, such as exclusion, inequalities, or the alienating character of a voracious consumerism that, as we have seen, affects the very same perception of the past. In this last question lies the origin – together, of course, with the interests that a Spanish ultra right wing defends – of numerous errors that exist in the social fabric with respect to the knowledge and understanding of the civil war and Franco’s dictatorship, for example. Like the discipline of history, art can contribute to consolidate themes that are not difficult, or rather, it can act from a position of interference to reveal the distorted narratives of the past that rule the imaginary collectives. This is about a task which is quite relevant, and which even, I would dare to say, can create the basis for the preparation of fundamental changes in our future.
To finish I’ll give two examples of how the work with testimonies in the area of art or aesthetic creation in general can generate totally contradictory effects, some of which are even counterproductive as is the case with the first example I’m going to mention. It’s about two elements which are very different to each other with regard to their formal register, but it also interests me to consider their public repercussions. Firstly, I shall talk about the novel, Soldados de Salamina by Javier Cercas. Although it is true that Soldados de Salamina’s intention is not to forget, it would also seem that it has opened up a great interest in that past, it is also certain that it has done so while at the same time contributed to a distortion of historical understanding in giving priority to the mitigation to the harshness of those convulsive years above the clarification of the darkest points of the areas of conflict. This focus is extremely evident from the moment that one confronts the anti-fascist memory incarnated in Antonio Miralles. This character, of Javier Cercas’s creation, has been converted into a paradigm of the memory of those defeated. Nevertheless, as Josep Maria Lluró pointed out a long time ago the attempted vindication of the memory of this person, implies a liquidation or, to be more explicit, an invitation to a paralysing nostalgia that has got no other direction other than disillusionment. We are facing a petrified and idealised memory. The resistant anti-fascist places himself in a landscape that remits us to a glorious past with a conclusive character totally disconnected to the present. It shows the past as a mythical terrain. The literary efficiency that Javier Cercas achieves, with his doubtless talent, through an excessively emotional sketch, implies, in contrast, a dismantling of the history of anti-fascism and a greatly eloquent justification of a ensemble of values, while on the other hand a lot of characteristics of post-history and the end of history, like liberty and democracy are in absolute terms. I think that Soldados de Salamina, with all its artistic merits, constitutes a lost opportunity to promote a more exact understanding of the recent past, given that the narration, which is put forward as non-fiction, becomes, paradoxically, an attack on History. This happens because the mix of the imaginary world with factual events does not achieve a real intensification, but a sprouting up of artificiality everywhere, and the historical sense is lost along the road that leads us to the character of Antonio Miralles, which has been excessively romanticised.
Another example is the work, El Camp de la Bota, by Francesc Abad. It is another artistic bid where the testimony has an important role, but which has the courage to confront the challenge of rescuing a silent and controversial past with a present no less controversial as is the case with the relations that have been established between culture and the economical world. Here, I allow myself to literally refer to a piece of text that I wrote the first time that I exhibited the project:
“In summary, it's important to point out that Francesc Abad puts forward a critical lecture on the political and economic role of culture in the postmodern context of western capitalism, and simultaneously helps to recuperate and keep alive the neglected memory of the victims of the facist repession. Without doubt, this last question constitutes the real test of the fractures that the hypothetically utopian discourse shows, which is embedded in the current modernisation without checks and the absolute dismantling of history. In harmony with what has been commented upon, Francesc Abad’s creative act reminds one a lot of that which Andreas Huyssen points out as significant of some of the most suggestive aesthetic productions of the last two decades and that it is nothing other than a turn towards history. In other words, veering towards the past, one has to be discerning, looking into a new, solid anchorage in order to garner critical adornments to face the offensive of pre-eminent presenteeism, linked to the hiding of conflict and the promotion of marketing. All these positive aspects truly sprout up in the "El Camp de la Bota" project. Alltogether, that which comes across as being the most relevant in this reconquest of the democratic memory circumscribes to a mediocre lyrical recreation, which is not much less than a representation of kitsch sensitivity with the aspiration to literally relive the past. Neither does it lead to monumental conceptions with the intention of reclosing this memory in some kind of mausoleum. On the other hand, it has some elements so that this incursion into the past becomes serious historical knowledge in which a just look into the past and an alive connection with the present prevails. In the end it's a non-negotiable civil right that very often comes in second place to the questionable operations of the urban and technical market that blackens itself via the trivial use of culture.”
It is precisely these connections that, via the work with memory of the testimonies Francesc Abad establishes between the past, the present and the future, constitute, in my opinion, a clear sign of the critical potential of current art. Without a doubt, it concerns itself with the demonstration of a desire to oppose when facing a conquest, often silent and subtle, that the ideology and practices of neo-liberalism in force exercise over the imaginative context. And as Peter Weiss expresses it, through the words of one of his characters in the work L’estetica de la resistencia
(and in this way I finish more or less as I started) “[…] I said that culture was conflict and rebellion
[…] That while there is the desire to oppose, there will also be culture. That in the silence, in the comfort of being resigned, culture will disappear, nothing will be left other than the ceremonial, the ritual
[…]. Consequently it is in our hands to allow or avoid, as much through historical investigation as through art, that the testimony is the simple protagonist of a ceremony turned entertainment.
Jordi Font Agulló
(1) This text is a revised version of the conference proceedings on 29 April in the journal “Art and Memory” that took place as a part of the “El Camp de la Bota” exhibition by Francesc Abad. At the same time, some parts of the text correspond to the adaptation of the article: Jordi FONT AGULLÓ, “Between the souvenir of the memory and the construction of a critical history of the memory. (Annotations on the use of oral history and the dynamics of the memory the Civil War and the Franco system)” published in Mientras Tanto no. 97, 2005.
BAUMAN, Zygmunt, Modernidad líquida, Fondo de Cultura Económica, Buenos Aires, 2002.
BERMAN, Marshall, Aventuras marxistas, Siglo XXI, Madrid, 2002.
BOURDIEU, Pierre, Sobre la televisió, Edicions 62, Barcelona, 1997.
CERCAS, Javier, Soldados de Salamina, Tusquets, Barcelona, 2001.
DOMÈNECH, Xavier, “Espejo roto”, Mientras tanto, núm. 97, Barcelona, 2005.
GUTIÉRREZ MOLINA, José Luis, “Memoria histórica y negocio turístico: El hotel Libertaria de Casas Viejas (Cádiz)”, a Archipiélago, núm. 68, Barcelona 2005.
FINKELSTEIN, Norman, La industria del holocausto, Siglo XXI, Madrid, 2002.
FONT AGULLÓ, Jordi, ¡Arriba el campo!. Primer franquisme i actituds polítiques en l’àmbit rural nord-català, Edicions Diputació de Girona, Girona, 2001.
FONT AGULLÓ, Jordi, “¿Está (de nuevo) la historia en pañales? Consideraciones a propósito de una lectura crítica de la novela Soldados de Salamina” Historia del presente, núm. 3, 2004, pp. 169-184.
FONT AGULLÓ, Jordi, “Les veus baixes del passat enfront la utopia degenerada” dins El Camp de la Bota, Fundació Espais, Girona, 2004.
FRANK, Robert, “La memoria y la historia”, Historia del presente, núm. 3, 2004, pp. 129-136.
HARVEY, David, La condición de la posmodernidad. Investigación sobre los orígenes del cambio cultural, Amorrortu Editores, Buenos Aires, 1998
HARVEY, David, Espacios de esperanza, Ediciones Akal, Madrid, 2003.
HILBERG, Raul, La destrucción de los judíos europeos¸ Ediciones Akal, Madrid, 2005.
HOBSBAWN, Eric, El optimismo de la voluntad. Conversación con Antonio Spire, Ediciones Paidós, Barcelona, 2004.
HUYSSEN, Andreas, En busca del futuro perdido. Cultura y memoria en tiempos de globalización, Fondo de Cultura Económica, México D.F., 2002, pp. 227-278.
LEJEUNE, Philippe, Memoria, diálogo y escritura”, Historial y Fuente Oral, núm. 1, 1989, pp. 35-71.
LLURÓ, Josep M., “Ficció per a la liquidació” L’Avenç, núm. 265, gener de 2002.
NIETHAMMER, Lutz, “Reflexions sobre la posthistòria”, L’Espill, núm. 8-9, tardor-hivern de 2001, pp. 100-120.
PARENTI, Michael, La historia como misterio, Editorial Hiru, Hondarribia, 2003, pp. 11-23.
PROST, Antoine, Doce lecciones sobre la historia, Cátedra-Frónesis, Madrid, 2001.
RASTIER, François, Ulises en Auschwitz, Reverso, Barcelona, 2005.
SAZ, Ismael, Fascismo y franquismo, PUV, Valencia, 2004, pp. 277-291.
TAYLOR, Charles, Fuentes del yo, Editorial Paidós, Barcelona, 2006.
VILLOTA, Gabriel, “Espectáculo y devenir audiovisual en la escena artística contemporánea”, Revista de Occidente, núm. 261, 2003.
WEISS, Peter, Hölderlin, Editorial Hiru, Hondarribia, 1996.
WEISS, Peter, La estética de la resistencia, Hondarribia: Hiru, 1999.
WIEVIORKA, Annette, L’Ère du témoin, Plon, Paris, 1998.