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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Amparo Menacho

In this post, I translate and reflect on key parts of Professor Cate-Arries’ interview with Amparo Menacho in Grazalema, Cádiz. Menacho is the great-niece of one of the sixteen women from that town who were killed by Franco’s troops and supporters at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). A surviving grandmother was able to relate the story of what happened in Grazalema to Menacho, with details provided by another family member who observed the scene from a hidden location. In the process of taking Grazalema, Franco’s supporters humiliated, tortured, and killed men and women. Menacho describes that women were raped, their heads shaved, forced to consume castor oil, and paraded through the town. Menacho’s great aunt was one of the three murdered women who were pregnant when the violence began. According to her, the baby was born amidst the violence and “was thrown away, and pigs ate the child” as his mother died.  Men in Grazelema were also affected by the violence. Her grandfather, described as “not a politician” but one who “liked politics,” was killed as well. Franco supporters, in their attempt to stamp out all resistance, killed many who were not directly involved in governing the Second Republic, many of the victims in Grazalema being prime examples. Another interviewee of Cate-Arries said that the troops justified the killing of “fifteen year old boys” by saying that even those who did not pose an immediate threat would “change, come tomorrow, into sharpened knives.”

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