Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Memory as Disruption: Entanglements of Memory and Crisis in Contemporary Spain

Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Memory as Disruption: Entanglements of Memory and Crisis in Contemporary Spain

Article excerpt

Memory, dissensus and disruption

Memory belongs to the present, not because it seems to be an essential component of our contemporary Zeitgeist, but because memory is concerned as much with the present and the future as it is with the past. Spanish memory studies have yet to fully embrace this principle, with the majority of studies remaining backward-looking (Ferrán 2007; Ryan 2014). Even so, contemporary entanglements of memory and protest in post-crisis Spain offer an excellent illustration of the ways in which an opening up of discussions of historical memory has brought with it an opening up of discussions about the nature of Spanish democracy and the future of the society it serves. That memory cannot be consigned to history, in the sense of being left to deal only with historical matters, is a disruptive notion. It upsets common-sense views of chronology, installing variable temporalities within the bounds of the present moment. Memory is, then, inherently disruptive. It creates dissensus and disagreement, but it also creates new perspectives via a rethreading of the entangled fibres of the past into the warp and weave of the future. This is what makes it invaluable and potentially enriching at moments of upheaval.

Since 2008, Spain has endured its severest economic contraction since the 1930s. This followed several years of civic debates about the legacies of the Civil War and Franco dictatorship, the recognition of previously ignored victims of Spain's violent history, and calls for redress for historical injustices that were to some extent recognized in the 2007 Ley de Memoria Histórica. This 'memory boom' (Ryan 2014: 8-10) would seem on the face of it to have gone bust along with Lehman Brothers, pushed off the stage by the economic crisis. A country that can barely pay its nurses and teachers, and that has an excessively high rate of unemployment, should surely have no time or money for the luxury of memory (Muñoz Molina 2013: 14). Or should it? I propose here that memory has not been elided from Spanish civic debate, nor is it irrelevant to economic concerns. Rather, its disruptive effects have become entwined with a more thoroughgoing dissatisfaction within Spanish society, feeding into an apparent melting pot of issues that underline the presentist and futurist nature of memory discussions and point towards a new configuration that we might term 'disruptive memory'.

Rothberg recently proposed that memory is 'multidirectional', that is, that different memories interact via a productive intercultural dynamic that cannot be pinned down or reified, as they are 'subject to ongoing negotiation, crossreferencing and borrowing' (2009: 3). This is what is occurring with memory in Spain, the driving factor being a productive dissensus or Rancerean upsetting of the consensus of the transition to democracy symbolized by the 1978 Constitution. This new radicalism spiralled into massive youth protests and mortgage escmches, dislodging two decades of bipartisan politics with the rise of new groupings and challenging the very composition of the nation itself. This relationship between dissent and memory might seem to recall earlier protest paradigms. The 1968 protesters, for instance, were

a future-oriented generation whose members yearned to replace what they saw as the hopelessly conservative political and economic order with a radical, left-leaning program of social and political change. Yet while this generation largely pursued its radical goals via concrete action in the present - through campus sit-ins, street demonstrations, and eventually revolutionary violence in the fateful year of 1968 - it also mobilized the buried past to challenge the hated status quo. (Rosenfeld 2009:130) Nevertheless, the aftermath of 1968 in Spain, with the Franco regime still in place, played out rather differently than in the US or northern Europe. Spain experienced years of acute socio-economic difficulty during the early 1970s oil crisis, a 'pacted' transition after the death of Franco in 1975, economic stability agreements in 1977, and a period of political consensus and seeming cultural hedonism until roughly the mid 1990s. …

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