To The Finish Line: Testimony as a Subversion of Literature and History

With every end there is an obligation to reflect on what has passed, on how I’ve changed during my brief yet wild quest for knowledge. But as I write this post hidden away in the confines of a cozy dorm, the same one in which I recorded my first tentative notes about Historic Memory, I find that I’ve very much come full circle. An academic purgatory of sorts between the exhilarating rush of the new semester and the rewarding trials of summer. In these past six weeks, I’ve worked on transcribing testimonies from small towns in southern Spain, from second-hand victims of Franco’s regime and the Spanish Civil War, in addition to subtitling a portion of the documentary La Sauceda, de la utopía al horror, which I’ve posted below for convenience. Yet in my attempts to answer my initial questions about the morality of memory, the stagnant and self-mutilating nature of trauma, and the problematic linear model of history, I’ve become just as confused now as I was from the start, perhaps the only difference being details and personal investment. For every truth uncovered, another is yet to be seen, and I’m still only at the beginning. Or more accurately, I’ve returned to the beginning, the very basis of this entire project: the testimony.

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Culinary Warfare or How to Make a Spanish Omelette without Eggs

Those who know me in any capacity have had to endure, at one point or another, my evangelical devotion to food, not only as a source of nutrients –please, I am not that practical– but also as a means of constructing communal and personal identity. In particular, I tend to gravitate towards the familial values passed between the generations of matriarchs and the rituals of home cooking. It was David M. Kaplan who once said, “Food has social meaning and significance beyond its nutritive function; it is also expressive […] Food preparation and consumption are bound to beliefs, practices, laws of nations and cultures. Food and culture define one another,” and I’ve taken his words to heart. What entices us, what sustains us is the symbolic way food connects us to what’s important. After all, do we not mark the milestones of our lives with food? The birthday cake. The highly allegorical Passover feast. Even the proverbial chicken soup that accompanies every illness and heartbreak. Infinite in its nostalgia, food is nothing without its context, and, for me, the context is life itself.

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The Perfect Enemy: Summer Blockbusters and Civilized Evil

As I reach the halfway point of this project, I would like to record the few tenets of transcription that I’ve managed to pick up: 1. there will be things that I will not and cannot catch; 2. with every repetition, words lose their meaning until they are reduced to senseless sounds; and 3. on a good day, 10 minutes of audio will take on average 2 hours of work. The last one is a bit shocking to me because I imagined a realistic schedule as double the audio time, accounting for typing and backtracking. So a 20 minute testimony could, in theory, be completed within the hour. I suppose that’s why I felt so frantic working. I felt some sort of invisible sense of urgency pushing me to move faster. Not to mention, I spent the beginning of this week and the last trying to transcribe and translate subtitles for a documentary, which poses its own set of challenges. The repetitious and organic nature of speech doesn’t necessarily translate well into the written.

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Storytellers of War: The Power of Narratives in Constructing Identity

I am many things: an avid doodler, a fairly average student, and an almost offensively green transcriber, as I’ve quickly learned from working on this project. But in the growing days of sitting -with surprising discipline- in front of a computer, trying to decipher the elusive sounds of Andalusian Spanish only to melt into a pool of confusion and consolation chocolate, it is my passion as a storyteller that grounds me in the reality of the work. The voices of victims and survivors who speak with almost casual conviction. The intimate nature of their testimonies like confessions liberated from decades of silence, some of which are inherited through parents and grandparents. These are stories that demand their pain to be recognized and, above all else, felt.

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Post-Franco Spain: Testimony and Mourning as Acts of Resistance

My name is Michael Le, and I am a rising senior majoring in Hispanic Studies with a minor in Japanese, though it is my affinity for cultural studies and frank curiosity that drives my ultimate goals of becoming a translator. Having said this, I never imagined having the opportunity to work with Professor Francie Cate-Arries on her project investigating the role of testimony in Post-Franco Spain, particularly the effects of the oppressive regime on the new, emerging Spanish culture seeped in a tradition of repressed grievance and wide spread amnesia. Now, in the wake of the 2007 Ley de la memoria histórica, a government incentive to address the atrocities and injustices of Franco’s dictatorship, one cannot ignore the role of testimony and memory as invaluable sources of information both in terms of constructing identity and establishing alternative histories. I’ve taken three courses with Professor Cate-Arries and am familiar with her project having helped translate and subtitle her documentary La memoria se abre paso posted below. As such, my work this summer in transcribing and subtitling testimonies will offer insight into both the shatteringly human voice in the face of the Franco regime and the reclamation of memory as an act of self-agency.

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