Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Remembering Childhood: Critical Memory through Text and Image in Miguel Gutierrez's la Destruccion del Reino

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Remembering Childhood: Critical Memory through Text and Image in Miguel Gutierrez's la Destruccion del Reino

Article excerpt

For Peruvian writer Miguel Gutierrez, it was the stories he heard as a child that originally caused him to reflect critically on Peru as problem, as he puts it, on Peru as "una patria que distaba de ser la morada que todo hombre anhela como patria [a nation that was far from its dwelling place that all men desired for a nation]" (Celebration 98). Many of Peru's most prominent fiction writers, perhaps in an attempt to answer some variation of Mario Vargas Llosa's question of when things in the country had gone so horribly wrong (1) have turned to representations of child and adolescent protagonists as a way to represent and comprehend the origins or genealogy of the "problem." (2) The Peruvian context in the twentieth century indeed represents a complex problematic of social injustice, ethnic divisions, and a nearly twenty-year civil conflict that ultimately claimed 69,000 lives. Moreover, Peruvian national identity itself is a contested issue, the source of energetic debate and contradictory statements among intellectuals, politicians, and average citizens alike. Undoubtedly, coming of age tales can effectively portray the individual's difficulties and trauma of coming to terms with any social context, particularly a conflicted one. But in addition to providing the opportunity for exploring individual social development, childhood can be the literary place where the origins of the various crises facing the nation can be glimpsed, imagined, or critiqued. Representing childhood can thus ultimately be a method of representing and shaping a collective cultural memory, attempting to convey by aesthetic means aspects of the national past. Furthermore, representations of childhood, with their capacity to project symbolically towards the future, can also point to what Peruvian historian Jorge Basadre affirmed: "el Peru no es solo un Problema, sino tambien [...] una Posibilidad [Peru is not only a problem, but also (...) a possibility]" (qtd. in Majluf and Villacorta 11). Narratives of childhood are uniquely equipped to provide a critique of the past while also portraying the nation as in process, ripe for progress, in spite of, or even because of, its traumatic history. In this way, childhood can signal not only loss, but also an always deferred utopian project still rich with promise.

Representations of childhood in narratives created by adult authors inevitably bring to the fore issues of memory. Childhood is a realm we know both intimately and remotely since we have all been children, and yet, we have lost direct access to that realm except through memory. While individual memories undoubtedly provide source material for the author of narratives of childhood, such memories are necessarily reconstructed through socially mediated narratives. In this way, literary constructions represent not only individual memories but also the more collective, cultural memory as theorized first by Maurice Halbwachs, and subsequently by others also focused on memory work such as Andreas Huyssen, Mieke Bal, and Cathy Caruth. As Mieke Bal suggests with regard to Jonathan Crewe's work on South Africa, "cultural memory can be located in literary texts because the latter are continuous with the communal fictionalizing, idealizing, monumentalizing impulses thriving in a conflicted culture" (xiii). Literature thus provides a prime site where both individual and collective memory can be inscribed and explored.

Many Peruvian narratives of childhood and adolescence can be read as attempts to re-create and re-examine collective memory. Given recent Peruvian history, collective memory inevitably bears evidence of the trauma inflicted by civil violence and war. As Peruvian sociologist Gonzalo Portocarrero explains, the recognition of such collective memory is crucial for the country to move forward, to look beyond the last decades of violence and civil strife. According to Portocarrero, in the wake of political and ethnic violence, what Peru needs most is to create an "historia justa" (just history) so that the wounds (and what he calls the "memoria herida" [wounded memory]) of the injustices and trauma can give way to the "memoria feliz" (happy memory) necessary to promote a sense of national identity. …

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