Volume 2 "Memory" (2012)

Editorial Board "Memory"

Academic Editor

Orla Murphy


Niamh Nic Chonmara (Niamh Mc Namara)


Marie-Luise Theuerkauf

Editorial Board

Katie Ahern

James Behan

Emer Clifford

Mark Cullinane

Niamh Daly

Colin Duggan

Siobhan Fox

Ronan Kaczynski

Emilie Peneau

Nicole Volmering

UCC affiliates

Graham Allen

Gwendolyn Boyle

John Carey

Anne-Marie Devlin

Alan Gibbs

Sara Goek

Kate Kirwan

Colm McAuliffe

Christopher Morris

Dáithí Ó Mathghamhna (David O’Mahony)

Seana Ryan

Kenneth Sheehy

International affiliates

Penelopi Alexandrou, Kingston University, London, United Kingdom

Céire Broderick, National University of Ireland, Galway

Owen Harrington Fernandez, National University of Ireland, Galway

Ellen McCracken, University of California, Santa Barbara, United States

Anne Walsh, Department of Spanish and Latin American Studies, University of Sydney, Australia

Editorial - Niamh Nic Chonmara & Marie-Luise Theuerkauf

The second issue of Aigne brings together an edition that is at once international and universal in scope. From Spain’s civil war, to the ruins embedded in Irish landscape and identity, to the American South, each article grapples with aspects of remembrance and recuperation that inform personal and collective identities.

Kajsa Larson’s work investigates the novel “Martina, la rosa número trece: the family experience as national tragedy”. The narrative is named after the Thirteen Roses, a group of thirteen women, seven of whom were minors, killed just after the conclusion of the Spanish civil war. The novel is intertextual in scope, constructed around the interviews and archival work conducted by Paloma, a descendant of one of the Thirteen Roses, Martina. Larson situates the novel within the rubric of silence and memory, drawing from Derrida’s hauntology and theories of meta-history she skillfully connects Paloma’s personal desire to uncover the truth about Martina’s past but who is forced to search outside the family for information about her relative due to the silence she faces from within, and the national silence that continues in post civil war Spain in relation to the atrocities that occurred during the Franco era, even among family members.

Kieran McCarthy’s compelling article on ruins, memorialization and identity in the Irish landscape discusses Gougane Barra in County Cork. His article insists on the importance of place in the construction of collective and personal memory and details the affects of shifting political, social and artistic trends on portrayals of the ruins through time. He outlines the influences of pictorial references, from the scenic pictures from the Victorian era ‘tour’ to present day tourism and photography, and the resulting connection between image and memory, and experience of place. Ruins, he argues, as part of the landscape then also become an active engagement with collective memory.

Linda McKeown’s article acknowledges the inherent problems faced when investigating autobiographies, and the difficulties of distinguishing truth within a narrative constructed by memories – are they real? Are they the memories of the author or stories they heard and have made their own? Is their present situation colouring their recollection? McKeown deals decisively with these issues in her discussion of three memoirs by a minority group from the American South. Harry Crews, Tim McLaurin and Rick Bragg, as poor white men from the South, provide a significant contribution to literature in their unique descriptions of the geographical, cultural and social aspects of the South, depictions which had previously been the privilege of middle class authors from outside the area. Although questions are raised as to the validity of all the assertions made in their respective memoirs, as McKeown elucidates, the analysis of their work as products of a minority group provides a far richer discourse.

Although distinct in their content and context, there are references throughout all articles to the fragmentary nature of memory and recollection. The desire to situate oneself in the present through the recovery of an individual or collective past is echoed throughout this edition. Memory Studies has become recognized as interdisciplinary in scope, and the present edition of Aigne reflects this idea: drawing on history, geography, archaeology and autobiography in the analyses presented.

Kajsa C. Larson

Martina, la rosa número trece: The Family Experience as National Tragedy



Scholars have used Derrida’s term hauntology to characterize the Spanish Civil War’s lingering effects in Spain, namely the presence of its ghostly traces in late twentieth and early twenty-first century cultural production. At the turn of the twenty-first century, there has been an explosion of memory texts about the lesser-known experiences of the war’s victims. This essay examines Ángeles López’s Martina, la rosa número trece (Martina, the Thirteenth Rose, 2006), a novel about the 1939 execution of Martina Barroso García and twelve other women, collectively nicknamed the ‘Trece Rosas.’ López’s novel is the first to interpret the execution from the perspective of a family member, Martina’s great niece.
Through an analysis of López’s novel, it is possible to see the inner workings of Derrida’s concept of hauntology, as well as a renewed effort by younger generations to research, confront, accept, and heal from the traumatic events that they did not personally experience. Martina’s memory is not only a metonymic trope for what happened to many other people during the war but also for the impact that her death had on loved ones. As an example of historiographic metafiction, the self-reflective qualities of the narrative encourage readers to consider how some of their own ghost stories have shaped their individual and collective identities, as well as how the past has been recorded and transmitted. In an interview López states: “Todos tienen una Martina en casa” (Everyone has a Martina at home). Martina’s story is emblematic of the larger process of recuperation of historical memory that is currently taking place in twenty-first century Spain.



Scholars, including José Colmeiro (2008) and Jo Labanyi (2002), have used a term that Jacques Derrida calls hauntology to characterize the lingering effects of the Spanish Civil War, namely the presence of its ghostly traces in late twentieth and early twenty-first century cultural production in Spain.1 For Labanyi (2002, p. 2), “ghosts are the traces of those who were not allowed to leave a trace; that is, the victims of history and in particular subaltern groups, whose stories—those of the losers—are excluded from the dominant narratives of the victors”. Labanyi (2002) observes that the marginalization of these ghost stories has resulted in their popularity, as shown by an explosion of memory texts and literature by war survivors and young authors alike. Historiographic novels such as Manuel Riva’s O lapis do carpinterio (1998), Javier Cercas’s Soldados de Salamina (2001), and Dulce Chacón’s La voz dormida (2002) incorporate metafiction into their narratives to explain how the ghostly tales of the civil war have been recorded and passed on to younger generations. This essay examines a similar novel, Martina, la rosa número trece [Martina, the Thirteenth Rose, 2006] by Ángeles López, and how her account both documents and shows the investigative process behind the tragic fate of one of López’s relatives, a victim of Franco’s postwar repression.2

Much like the works by Rivas, Cercas, and Chacón, the novel by López weaves fact with fiction to break the silence about the suffering that took place during the civil war, and to exemplify how troubling memories from this event have remained unresolved even in the twenty-first century. Martina provides a detailed description of the inner workings of hauntology, a concept that speculates on how recollections from the past can linger in the present (Derrida, 1994, p. 10), as well as observations by Freud (1917) about mourning and melancholia.3 Her narrative shares the emotional journey of a young woman, Paloma Masa Barroso, as she discovers and comes to terms with her family’s dark secret: the execution of her great aunt, Martina Barroso García, on August 5, 1939. The novel represents a joint effort between López, who wrote the account, and Paloma, who conducted interviews and archival research that serves as the historical basis for the novel. Paloma discovered that Martina was executed along with twelve other women who came to be known as the Trece Rosas [the Thirteen Roses].4 As the novel’s main narrator, Paloma reflects upon the significance of Martina’s death and in so doing, sheds light on a phenomenon that Marianne Hirsch (1997, p.22) calls postmemory: how younger generations remember and react to a past that they did not witness. Martina’s intimate point of view, and the way in which the novel was a collaborative project between López and Paloma, sets it apart from other fictional accounts about the civil war. The novel encourages readers to consider how some of their own ghost stories may have shaped their individual and collective identities. In an interview, López (2007) states: “Todos tienen una Martina en casa…Un ser anónimo que estuvo en el sitio inadecuado en un momento inoportuno” [interview] (Personal communication, 3 August 2007).5 Martina’s memory may be interpreted as a metonymic trope for what happened to many other people during the war and for the impact that their death had on loved ones. Paloma’s examination of her family’s dark past represents a renewed effort by younger generations to research, confront, accept, and heal from traumatic past events. The recuperation of Martina’s memory is emblematic of the larger process of recuperation of historical memory that is currently taking place in Spain.

López’s narrative oscillates between the present, 2004, and 1939, the year that Martina was executed. The parts of the novel set in 2004 are narrated by Paloma and retrace how she discovered Martina’s story over forty years after the execution. The historical parts of the novel piece together and interpret the information that Paloma acquired from family members and through her independent research. López (2006) relies upon the data collected by Paloma as the main sources for the text, and includes scanned images of some of the documents in her account. Yet, at the same time, she also fictionalizes these details and integrates them with other inventive structures such as Martina’s ghostly apparition. Through this creative process, López and Paloma create a new interpretation of Martina’s legacy and assist the family in finding closure while commemorating their deceased loved one.

The narrative strategies for telling Martina’s story share traits with historiographic metafiction, a term coined by Linda Hutcheon in her seminal work, A Poetics of Postmodernism (1988), to describe a variant of the historical novel. Historiographic metafiction employs a self-reflexive narrative style that aims to depict the past in a new way. Drawing upon earlier theorists including Hayden White, Paul Ricoeur and Michel Foucault, Hutcheon (1988, p.5) states that historiographic metaficion demonstrates how “a theoretical self-awareness of history and fiction as human constructs (historiographie métafiction) has made the grounds for its rethinking and reworking of the forms and contents of the past”.6 Patricia Waugh (1984, p.2) adds that these works “explore a theory of writing fiction through the practice of writing fiction”. López (2006, p.19) reflects upon the process of writing Martina’s story in the novel’s preface, describing herself as Paloma’s messenger for writing the account: “Yo sólo he sido una escribiente. Simplemente sus manos; sus teclas, sólo. Porque esta historia anidaba en su cabeza desde hacía mucho, mucho tiempo”.? By transcribing Paloma’s thoughts and discoveries onto paper, López acknowledges the act of creating an original interpretation.

The novel mirrors the observations by Hutcheon (1988, p.118) that historiographic metafiction demonstrates a postmodern desire “to close the gap between past and present of the reader and a desire to rewrite the past in a new context”. In the preface, López writes about the importance of timing, along with her deliberate willingness to listen, in the re-discovery of Martina’s story:

¿Por qué la vida se reduce al momento justo y al lugar exacto? Lo comprendo pero no lo entiendo. La manera más sencilla de decirlo es que nunca antes había prestado oídos. Cuántas veces escuché la historia, vi que todo estaba en orden y que no precisaba reparación alguna. Descifré mal las señales o, sencillamente, decliné interpretarlas. Hasta aquel preciso instante. (López, 2006, p.23)8
As the primary story teller, Paloma narrates Martina’s death from the point of view of someone who did not suffer the same trauma as those who lived through the event. She, like other grandchildren and great grandchildren of war survivors, can investigate and talk about the civil war with more critical distance. Most other Barroso family members did not have the same ease of expression as Paloma with regard to sharing the details of Martina’s death, nor did they openly discuss it for fear of political or social repercussions. In contrast, the event quietly haunted many of them.9 In postwar Spain and onward, citizens, especially those who opposed Franco, could not openly speak about their war experiences or their suffering. Even after Franco’s censorship was abolished upon his death in 1975, there was much underlying fear and tension on both individual and collective levels.

The way in which family members suppressed Martina’s memory is revealing of how the nation, on a larger scale, held on to the horrific memories of the Spanish Civil War for many decades. Throughout the early years of Spain’s democracy, beginning in 1975, Spain’s democratic government tacitly encouraged adopting a “pact of forgetting”, the pacto del olvido, which discouraged citizens from simultaneously examining the civil war and dictatorship years, and instead encouraged them to focus their attention on current and future goals for the new democracy. Politicians desperately wanted to establish a political “middle ground” that was void of any extremist tendencies and could provide a sense of peace, stability, and security (Aguilar Fernández, 2002, p.236). Adolfo Suárez, who served as Spain’s president after 1976, was a strong advocate of moderation and tolerance, two defining concepts of the transition. In Disremembering the dictatorship (2000, p.1), Joan Ramón Resina draws upon Roland Barthes’ Camera lucida (1981) to suggest that, like Barthes’ assessment of photographs that depict the past, civil war memories after Spain’s democratic transition only emerged in public as “visible yet immaterial traces”. Resina (2000, p.9) also states that “a stimulating approach to the literature of the Transition would be to study it in reference to what it leaves out, what it subtracts from what we know from experience or what can be learned from less popular and more inaccessible sources”. The silence during and after the transition meant that there were significant holes in public knowledge about the event, especially related to the ghostly recollections of the vanquished from the civil war.

Spanish citizens learned to live with the “ghosts” of the civil war and to discuss their memories of the vanquished in private or, in the case of the Barroso family, hardly at all. Nonetheless, the comings and goings of these ghostly thoughts point to something amiss in the present: the lack of open dialogue about the Spanish Civil War. Derrida (1994) examines how the past lingers in the present and evaluates the corresponding effects of this phenomenon. In Specters of Marx, Derrida (1994, p.10) coins the terms hauntology and spectropoetics to explain how Marx and Marxism continue to “haunt” the living at the end of the twentieth century. For Derrida (1994, p.10), communism no longer exists in Europe but its memory and legacy continue in the present. As Labanyi (2002) and Colmeiro (2008) have noted, some of Derrida’s ideas can be applied to the Spanish context and the memory of the civil war’s vanquished. For Derrida (1994, p.18), the appearance of a specter underscores the gap between the past and present, and creates a situation that he describes as “time [that] is out of joint”. He also warns of the negative consequences: “To be “out of joint”, whether it be present Being or present time, can do harm and do evil, it is no doubt the very possibility of evil” (Derrida, 1994, p.29).

Martina’s death triggered the creation of a situation much like what Derrida describes, where time is “out of joint”. Each Barroso family member was devastated by her traumatic death. Yet, they hardly spoke about what happened, nor did they forget or heal from this memory. Their reactions demonstrate how unresolved and disturbing memories can be damaging. With the passing of time, however, Spanish citizens, particularly those, such as Paloma, who did not live through the war, became increasingly aware that, albeit difficult, the marginalized perspectives of the civil war’s vanquished should not remain publicly unnoticed.

At the turn of the twenty-first century, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of civil war survivors searched for more information on those who had died or disappeared during the war or postwar years. Individual citizens began to, literally and figuratively, “dig up” memories of the civil war’s vanquished, beginning with the creation of the Association for the Recuperation of Historical Memory (ARMH) in 2000.10 The publicity surrounding mass grave exhumations by the ARMH, along with other public manifestations, pressured the Spanish government to confront some of the atrocities from Franco’s dictatorship. In 2004, Spain’s Prime Minister Zapatero ordered the removal of statues in Madrid that celebrated Franco and his regime. In 2007, the Ley de Memoria Histórica [Law of Historical Memory] (52/2007) was approved, which sought compensation for those who suffered past hardships from the war and dictatorship.11

Martina (López, 2006, p.24) reinforces the sentiments of the larger recuperation of historical memory movement by characterizing Martina’s story as an unresolved tale, “un cuento mil veces contado. [Pero] Nunca escuchado”, and the novel provides an artistic platform to bring recognition to her life.12 As Derrida (1994, p.xix) argues, a specter or recurring memory of a deceased loved one reminds people in the present of the need to acknowledge the marginalized past:

It is necessary to speak of the ghost, indeed to the ghost and with it, from the moment that no ethics, no politics, whether revolutionary or not, seems possible and thinkable and just that does not recognize in its principle the respect for those others who are no longer or for those others who are not yet there, presently living, whether they are already dead or not yet born.
In order to heal, the family must speak of and to Martina, both of which are accomplished throughout López’s novel.

One chapter (López, 2006) gives a flashback to February 8, 1939 to describe Martina’s daily routine, as well as life with her family in Madrid. Martina was a seamstress by trade and used her sewing skills to support the fight against Franco. In 1937, she joined a communist youth organization, the Juventudes Socialistas Unificadas (JSU). According to López (2006, p.63-64), she hid her political activism from her family: “Hubo un tiempo en que repartía propaganda…O intentaba captar a nuevas jóvenes para la causa de convertir España en lo que ella imaginaba podría ser un lugar más justo. Incluso confeccionaba uniformes para los milicianos desde las sedes del Socorro Rojo. Todo lo hacía con miedo”.13 Martina’s involvement in the JSU led to her detention. The historian Fernando Hernández Holgado (2003, p.233) interprets the women’s judicial brief, which states that on August 3, 1939, the women were convicted of reorganizing the JSU and the communist party in order to commit “actos delictivos contra el orden social y jurídico de la nueva España”.14 They were executed two days later. Martina was twenty-four years old.

Some Spaniards, including López and Paloma, yearn to share these little-known tales in a public forum. López (2006) suggests that Martina’s story was destined to be told, which plays out in a scene when Paloma, at fifteen years old, discovers a pair of baby slippers. The slippers were stored in her mother’s closet.15 Martina had knit them in prison only a few days before her execution; they were a gift for Paloma’s mother, Lola, who was an infant at the time. The slippers in the narrative are not only a family heirloom but also function as an “object of memory”, or what Pierre Nora (1989, p.8) calls milieux de mémoire: the spaces, gestures, images, objects, rituals, actions, or words that cultures have used as forms of memory transmission.16 When Paloma opens the closet door, the slippers fall from the top shelf, catching her eye and also confusing her: “Sabía lo que estaba viendo, aunque no supiera qué era” (López, 2006, p.48).17 This life-changing discovery marks a new beginning for Paloma and the Barroso women’s legacy: “Y entonces, todo acabó empezando. Todo empezó a comenzar” (López, 2006, p.45).18

Through an inner dialogue directed toward Martina, Paloma describes herself as the receptor of Martina’s story: “¿Por qué soy la depositaria de esta herencia familiar?” (López, 2006, p.187).19 In Specters of Marx (1994), Derrida addresses the role of younger generations in confronting ghostly traces of the past by making a parallel with Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet. In his interpretation of Hamlet, Derrida (1994, p.21) notes that Hamlet recognizes that time is “out of joint” and he is called to “put time on the right path, to do right, to render justice, and to redress history, the wrong of history”. Despite the fact that Hamlet has a tragic ending, the play touches on the notion of an inherited desire to correct history, much like Paloma’s attraction to Martina’s story. In López’s novel, Paloma is put in charge of laying Martina’s ghostly memory to rest.

After discovering the slippers, Paloma describes her desire to ask her mother about them as a biological need: “Mi objetivo no era llamar la atención sino obtener respuestas a una evidencia muda que ya anidaba en mi interior” (López, 2006, p.49).20 Paloma’s longing to know more about her family history and the slippers is not uncommon, but rather, aligns with the research by Marianne Hirsch (1997) on how Holocaust survivors and their children learn about and understand the past. In Family Frames (1997, p.22), Hirsch coins the term postmemory to highlight the difference between survivors’ memories and those of their children: “Postmemory is a powerful and very particular form of memory precisely because its connection to its object or source is mediated not through recollection but through an imaginative investment and creation”.

Paloma’s optimistic intrigue about the slippers differs from her mother’s reaction to them, perhaps because she has little understanding of the traumatic history behind the slippers. Lola, in contrast, is familiar with the atrocities associated with them. She, along with other family members, does not know how to speak about the slippers, thus pointing to how Martina’s memory continues to haunt her relatives and remains an unhealed wound from the family’s past:

Me miró extraviada como primera estación para terminar hincando sus ojos en el suelo. Como si estuviera haciendo un examen de conciencia. Tras unos segundos su única elección pasó por relatar con voz monocorde, igual que una beata secunda avemarías en misa, la verdad compartida y silenciada, a través de las mujeres de la familia Barroso. (López 2006, p.49).21
Lola may have learned this behavioral response from the other women in the family who had close contact with Martina, especially Martina’s sister, Oliva, and her sister-in-law, Manola (Lola’s mother and Paloma’s grandmother). Lola had little, if any, recollection of Martina because she was a baby when Martina died; however, she was surrounded by family members who were traumatized by Martina’s death. This greatly affected her perception of the tragedy. In his study about the transmission of family stories, Daniel Thompson (1993, p.36) explains the power of these tales and how they can influence recipients: “[Family stories] may haunt, or inspire, or be taken as commonplace. But the way in which they are told, the stories and images which are chosen and put together, and the matters on which silence is kept provides part of the mental map of family members”. López’s novel uses fiction to imagine, interpret, and represent the family members’ different reactions to Martina’s incarceration and execution. The narrative retrospectively examines the trauma from various perspectives to show that history consists of multiple truths, a characteristic linked to historiographic metafiction (Hutcheon, 1988, p.109).

To assess the Barroso family’s trauma, López’s account describes the raw emotions that each person must have felt when Martina was taken away, especially those felt by Martina’s sister, Oliva. The narrative focuses on the white shirt that Martina was wearing when she was taken to prison in order to demonstrate how each family member tried to maintain the illusion that Martina’s circumstances were not so horrific. When the shirt comes back with bloodstains on it, Manola and Oliva take charge of cleaning it to keep the rest of the family from knowing about her gruesome experiences in prison. Manola orders Oliva to keep Martina’s physical abuse a secret, thus perpetuating the cycle of denial: “Tu madre verá la ropa blanca tendida de la cuerda, porque no ha ocurrido nada. No hemos visto nada” (López, 2006, p.161-162).22 This situation would occur day after day, but the resulting stress was evident:

Las dos lo vieron: el lamparón, macula, mancha, borrón. Un mapamundi de vino tinto. Rojo tanino. Granate pimentón líquido. Sangre. Hecho a la medida del dolor encallado con imaginación ulcerada. Oliva necesitó irse de paseo por la vida; por el mundo. Por las estrellas. Lejos de aquellas manchas y el olor de Martina en el epicentro de ellas. (López, 2006, p.161-162)23
Manola’s cleaning symbolizes a desire to clear away her family’s trauma, or keep it from being openly discussed. After Martina’s execution, the family became accustomed to keeping a vow of silence: “Lo horrible, lo llevamos dentro. Los hombres y las mujeres somos así” (López, 2006, p.83).24 Each family member independently dealt with his or her personal grief, and the Barroso women are described in the narrative as the keepers of her memory: “Ellas han preservado a través de la oralidad, como en las antiguas tradiciones orientales, esta historia de dolor, furia y memoria” (López, 2006, p.19).25 Paloma learns through her mother that it is taboo to utter Martina’s name in front of Martina’s parents.

In the narrative, Paloma struggles to understand this unspoken rule, and internalizes this information in a private monologue directed toward Martina: “[E]n casa de los abuelos, tus padres, querida Martina, hablaban de ti sin nombrarte (‘Lolita tiene las mismas pecas que ‘la otra’, se parece a la ‘otra…’). Como si pronunciar tu nombre invocara desastres, cataclismos y demás inclemencias impensables” (López, 2006, p.188).26 In On Collective Memory (1992, p.71), Maurice Halbwachs writes about family memories and the assigned meaning of a name: “[By] pronouncing their names we experience a sense of familiarity as in the presence of an individual whose place in the wider context is well known, as is his relative position in regard to proximate individuals and objects”. After her death, Martina’s first name reminded family members of her tragic death, a highly emotional topic. They sought to separate themselves from the memory of the close relationship that they had had with her.

The family’s suppression of Martina’s first name and, more broadly, the suppression of her memory, aligns with the assessment by Sigmund Freud (1968, p.244) of the mourning process. In Memory and Melancholia (1917), Freud claims that the goal of mourning is to detach from the emotional bond with the person who died and move on: “Reality-testing has shown that the loved object no longer exists, and it proceeds to demand that all libido shall be withdrawn from its attachments to that object”. The family passed through a state of mourning by choosing to detach from Martina’s memory. However, they never reached the end of this mourning process when, using the description from Freud (1917, p.245), “the ego becomes free and uninhibited again”. Instead, Martina’s ghostly traces have haunted the family over several generations.

López’s novel provides both a literal and figurative interpretation of this haunting, beginning with the appearance of Martina’s specter. Martina recreates the night when Paloma’s mother, Lola, as a young girl, sees a strange woman in her living room; the unknown woman is the ghost of Martina. When Lola describes the woman to her mother, Manola realizes that Martina’s ghost has come to greet her: “La chica del quicio, con su brazo y abrazo invisible, su enagua antigua y prestada, sus pecas diseminadas por todo el cuerpo…volvía del ayer. Del siempre. Para darle el último aviso-mensaje-recuerdo-despedida. Manola lo sabía” (López, 2006, p.31).27 In the narrative, the apparition is a symbol that works against the family’s desire to forget, which López (2006, p.28-29) conveys by contrasting darkness with light: “Su sola presencia era como un depredador que mordiera oscuridad para generar luz”.28 The appearance of her ghostly figure is emblematic of the family’s hidden secret and points to how Martina’s memory could not be completely erased from the Barroso family’s history, nor could Paloma forget it after she came across the slippers. Martina’s memory resurfaced in a conversation between Paloma and her boyfriend four years after she made her discovery. As a history student, he takes interest in the “leyenda en las zapatillas,” (López, 2006, p.51)29 and helps Paloma satisfy some of her curiosity by finding a newspaper article about Martina and the twelve other women who were executed.

For Paloma, the magazine article marks another important moment in her journey of self-discovery: “El primer paso que activaría definitivamente el metrónomo interno que se había puesto en tímido funcionamiento cuatro años atrás” (López, 2006, p.52).30 By researching Martina’s story, Paloma realizes the traumatic effects that the horrific event had on her relatives, as well as many other people. She also begins to understand how Martina’s death shapes her own personal identity. Published in Historia 16 in 1985, Jacobo García Blanco-Cicerón’s “Asesinato legal (5 de agosto de 1939): Las ‘Trece Rosas’” (1985) was the first piece of journalistic writing about the Thirteen Roses that was not written by a friend or family member. The article weaves together oral testimony, the limited archival research that was available at the time, and family photographs to tell the story of the women’s lives and deaths. While the report contains some minor inaccuracies, the narrative describes it as “tan reveladora como urgente” (López, 2006, p. 52).31 It made a significant impact in bringing the story of the Thirteen Roses to a larger audience, including to Paloma, as she explains it was: “[E]l artículo-llave que abriría un sinfín de puertas que, en aquel momento, todavía ignoraba” (López, 2006, p.53).32 In its contents, the article features a portrait of Martina. López’s novel includes this same photograph, emphasizing in the caption that it is the only adult portrait of her.

Martina’s photograph serves two functions in López’s text. First, it proves Martina’s existence, much like what Roland Barthes (1981) explains about photography in his seminal work, Camera lucida. For Barthes (1981, p.88), the photograph is not simply a copy of reality, but rather “an emanation of past reality.” Barthes (1981, p.82) also notes that photography attests to “what…has indeed existed,” even though Susan Sontag (1978, p.9), a theorist on photography, states that photographs only show fragments of the past: “Those ghostly traces, photographs, supply the token presence of the dispersed relatives”.

Second, the photograph, along with the information in García-Cicerón’s article, intensifies Paloma’s determination to piece together Martina’s story: “Después del artículo de aquella revista, Historia 16, no podía ni quería ni debía ni sabía detener la búsqueda que me guiaba hacia monstruos heptacefálicos, queridos fantasmas, deconocidos ancestros que eran, habían sido antaño de piel y hueso, uñas, cuellos y estómago con varias entrañas” (López, 2006, p.68).33 The youthful image in the photograph makes Paloma aware that Martina no longer exists, and that she died at a young age. Barthes (1981, p.92) comments on similar reactions in his analysis of the historical relation between photography and death, and how “photographers capture death”.

Although she does not mourn for Martina by looking at the photograph, Paloma is acutely aware of both her absence and her presence, both tendencies that can be associated with what Hirsch (1997, p.20) has published about postmemory in the children of Holocaust survivors: “The Holocaust photograph is uniquely able to bring out this particular capacity of photographs to hover between life and death, to capture only that which no longer exists, to suggest both the desire and the necessity and, at the same time, the difficulty, the impossibility, of mourning”. The image also helps her maintain a connection with Martina, yet Paloma also grapples with unsettling thoughts about life and death.

Paloma compares Martina to herself and questions what Martina would be like, if she had lived, in the twenty-first century: “¿Cómo te veo yo, tía abuela? ¿la Martina del 39? ¿la del 2004, que me acompaña en mi búsqueda? La que nunca tuvo la edad que hoy yo tengo” (López, 2006, p.187).34 When examining an image from the past, Barthes (1981, pp.100-102) discusses the comparisons that a viewer makes to the subject of the photograph:

In a certain photograph I believe I perceive the lineaments of truth. This is what happens when I judge a certain photograph “a likeness.” Yet on thinking it over, I must ask myself: Who is like what? Resemblance is a conformity, but to what? to (sic) an identity. Now this identity is imprecise, even imaginary, to the point where I can continue to speak of “likeness” without ever having seen the model.
Hirsch (1997, p.267) also elaborates on the conflicting emotions associated with viewing a picture of a deceased person and discovering common traits: “We mourn the people in photographs because we recognize them, but this identification remains at a distance marked by incomprehension, anger, and rage…They are clearly in another world from ours, and yet they are uncannily familiar”. Paloma is simultaneously drawn to and disturbed by the photo and finds it difficult to think about her future: “Me observas de nuevo desde la foto. Y se me empaña el futuro… ¿Qué haré, ahora que estás dentro de mi vida sin remedio? Llueve…Siento que mi vida se ha convertido en un país de lluvia…Que me impide olvidarte” (López, 2006, p.237).35 Similar to the other women in her family, Paloma is bothered by Martina’s story.

Paloma’s inability to forget can be compared to the symptoms that Derrida (1984, p. xix) associates with hauntology. Instead of suppressing her concerns, however, Paloma is proactive in learning more about Martina. Her intentions align with the comment by Derrida (1984, p. 28) about the importance of “resting on the good conscience of having done one’s duty” in finding closure to, and in some case justice for, unresolved past events. Paloma’s actions also serve a cathartic purpose: “No sé si sirve para algo el recuerdo, como tampoco sé si la justicia del no olvido redime una vida de la tragedia. Sólo confieso que hago lo que hago porque necesito hacerlo. No por ti, sino por mí” (López, 2006, p.191).36 Martina’s memory provides Paloma with a chance to understand the profound significance of her family’s loss. As Labanyi (2000, pp.65-66) suggests, the acknowledgement of how the remnants of the past have an influence on the present allows an individual or collective group to live with the ghostly traces. In the process of coming to terms with Martina’s life and death, Paloma is determined not to allow the trauma of the past affect her as much as it did her older relatives: “No deseaba, a pesar de tanto frío predador como acumulaba mi búsqueda, que el pasado me atormentara también a mí tanto como a ellos” (López, 2006, p.79).37 Instead, she wants to put this past injustice to rest so it does not continue to linger in the future.

Paloma’s investigation represents the process of recuperating the memory of civil war victims from the third-generation perspective: those individuals who must unravel a past that they never knew. In his writing on postmemory, Ernst Van Alphen (2006, p.485) notes that second and third generation individuals must utilize a completely different approach, one that is much more mediated, in order to learn about the past:

For while the adult world asks first ‘what happened,’ and from there follows its uncertain and sometimes resistant route towards the inward meaning of the facts, those who are born after calamity sense its most inward meanings first and have to work their way outwards toward the facts and the worldly shape of events.
Paloma first learns about the traumatic feelings associated with Martina’s death, and then must retrace the details to familiarize herself with the events. She sifts through much archival material and tries to make sense of the data in order to decipher the truth. Hutcheon (1988, p.114) observes this tendency in other narrators of historiographic metafictions: “As readers, we see both the collecting and the attempts to make narrative order”. Paloma describes her search as one big puzzle with many pieces missing: “Porque hay demasiados silencios que rompen todos los puentes y sólo me queda recomponer partes de este doloroso puzzle al que le faltan demasiadas piezas” (López, 2006, p.186).38 The only remnants that she has to work with are written words: “[L]eo y releo los restos mortales de una vida resumida en puntos” (López, 2006, pp.118-119).39 Yet, she wants to fill in the gaps of the puzzle where she has no memory or information about this time. For Paloma, the archive is an eye-opening experience: “El Diario Oficial de Guerra me disconcierta tanto como la luz rubia y fría pueda atenazar a un murciélago acostumbrado a la oscuridad: miles de nombres…” (López, 2006, p.72).40 Paloma concludes her search with the realization that Martina is a metonymic figure for the many victims of Franco’s repression. Paloma comes to understand the dire effects of the war and the time that was lost, calling them “años irrecuperables” (López, 2006, p.158).41

While Martina’s relatives, including Paloma, cannot compensate for past tragedies, Martina offers a chance to rewrite the past while also providing a subjective interpretation of events that nonfiction accounts cannot. In historiographic metafiction, creative subjectivity is especially vital for demonstrating how this type of writing is, according to Waugh (1984, p.7), “both a response and a contribution to an even more thoroughgoing sense that reality or history are provisional: no longer a world of external verities but a series of constructions, artifices, impermanent structures”. In some instances, fiction writers have the creative ability to transform difficult truths and depict them in an optimistic way.

Fictional elaboration, particularly related to Martina’s detention and the police interrogation scenes in the novel, allows López to characterize Martina as a strong and admirable woman and communicate to readers the value of remembering and passing on stories about the vanquished from the civil war. When the police torture Martina, she is rebellious and resilient, just like her curly hair: “Silencio por parte de Martina. Un periódico convenientemente enrollado puede ser un arma brutal sobre el rostro de una chica con hambre y miedo. Fue en la cabeza, sobre su todavía rebelde mechón rizado; altivo” (López, 2006, p.170).42 In the narrative, memory is depicted as a vital coping mechanism for Martina, much as how the act of commemorating Martina serves a cathartic purpose for Paloma. While being tortured, Martina vows to remember the important people in her life, especially her brother Luis:

Y su oficio sería sólo el de recordar. Recordar para no olvidar. Recordar para mantenerse viva. Recordar para sentir como propio un cuerpo que había dejado de pertenecerle. Recordar. Incluso a Luis. Porque cada punzada de dolor le devolvía una porción de realidad. Recordar…Para cerciorarse que no estaba del todo equivocada. (López, 2006, p.140)43
The text suggests that the slippers also help Martina to cope: “Aunque la puerta del sufrimiento no se cierra nunca, Martina encontró el modo de escapar al dolor. Fue que comenzó a tejer sin descanso, a afanarse sin tregua con el cuello saurio hincado sobre unas miniaturas de esparto, a las que daría forma definitiva con el paso de los días y las huidas” (López, 2006, p.206).44 The slippers function as a trope to demonstrate the importance of remembering Martina’s legacy, and to show how it has been passed on from one generation to the next. The text fictionalizes the moment when Martina first passes on the slippers, with an embroidered butterfly on them, to Encarna: “Procure que Lolita pise el umbral de todos los lugares con estas zapatillas. Mi sobrina tendrá una hija que llevará un precioso nombre que tendrá alas…Como las mariposas que he intentado dejar escritas para las mujeres de esta familia” (López, 2006, p.42).45 The butterfly serves as a symbol for regeneration and rebirth, in much the same way as historiographic metafiction allows for the renewed opportunity to reexamine history in a new light, with imaginative interpretation and from multiple viewpoints.46

Martina, la rosa número trece brings into public view the complex implications of suppressing unresolved traumatic memories and demonstrates the negative effects of the trauma on both older and younger generations. The novel also adds to this perspective by depicting the determination of children and grandchildren to combat past trauma. Paloma’s search reveals a deep desire, a sentiment that perhaps may be felt by many Spaniards, to know what happened during this bloody internal conflict and how it has made a mark not only on her family history, but also on the nation’s historical trajectory.47 As its main message, Martina emphasizes the necessity to remember, and in some instances, re-member, the ghosts of the civil war. The text serves a cathartic purpose by piecing together Martina’s ghostly traces and putting them to rest. It also provides the creative space to subvert difficult memories and turn them into positive ones. While Paloma ends her investigation without knowing all the intricacies of her great aunt’s life and death, she proudly comes to accept her findings as part of her own life and personal story: “Es sólo una historia. Una de muchas, Una de tantas. Pero es la mía” (López, 2006, p.233).48 López’s narrative offers inspiration for others to initiate their own journey toward discovery and self-discovery by researching the civil war. Instead of burying the past, individuals can take ownership of their family’s ghost stories. By simultaneously discussing, celebrating, and mourning the vanquished from the civil war, Spanish citizens, and the nation as a whole, can heal and move beyond past suffering.


Figure 1.


1. For a more detailed discussion of hauntology, see José Colmeiro’s “Re-Collecting women’s voices from prison: the hybridization of memories in Dulce Chacón’s La voz dormida,” In: K.M. Glenn & K. McNerney, eds. 2008. Visions and revisions. women’s Narrative in Twentieth-Century Spain. New York: Editions Rodopi, pp. 191-210.

2. All of the translations from the novel are my own.

3. In Mourning and Melancholia (1917), Freud examines two reactions to loss: mourning, the normal response, and melancholia, the pathological reaction. While a mourner eventually overcomes the loss and moves beyond it, the melancholic individual cannot. Instead, he or she displays self destructive behavior, marked by a lack of interest in the outside world, an inability to love, and low self regard.

4. Other literary and cultural accounts about the Roses include novels by Dulce Chacón (La voz dormida, 2002), Jesús Ferrero (Las trece rosas, 2003), theater productions by Júlia Bel (Las trece rosas, 2006) and Maxi de Diego (Abuela Sol y las Trece Rosas, 2008), Carlos Fonseca’s book-length historical study (Las trece rosas rojas, 2004), and Emilio Martínez-Lázaro’s film inspired by Fonseca’s account, Las 13 rosas (2007).

5. Everyone has a Martina at home…An anonymous person who was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

6. Historians have heavily debated the narrative mode of representation of historical accounts, including whether events can be truthfully represented using techniques more commonly associated with fiction. In The content of the form: narrative discourse and historical representation (1987, p.27), Hayden White addresses the function of narrative structure in historical writing, concluding that “what distinguishes ‘historical’ from ‘fictional’ stories is first and foremost their content, rather than form”. Hutcheon (1988) elaborates on this discussion by calling attention to how historians, and authors, semiotically transmit knowledge of historical facts. Hutcheon (1988, pp.105-106) states that historiographic metafiction, through its postmodern and self-reflective structure, problematizes the possibility of historical knowledge and also “asks us to recall that history and fiction are themselves historical terms that their definitions and interrelations are historically determined and vary with time”.

7. I was only the scribe. Simply her hands, her keyboard, only. Because this story has been dwelling in her head for a long, long time.

8. Why does life come down to the exact moment and time? I comprehend it but I do not understand. The simplest way to state it is that never before had I cared to listen. How many times did I hear the story, see that everything was in order and nothing was in need of repair. I decoded the signals wrong or, simply, I neglected to interpret them. Until that precise moment.

9. For a discussion of trauma theory and the process of working through trauma, see Cathy Caruth’s Trauma: explorations in memory (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1995).

10. For more information on the ARMH, see Emilio Silva Barrera’s Las fosas de Franco: Crónica de un desagravio.

11. Echoing the sentiments by López that “now is the time” to recognize Martina’s story, which she wrote in the novel’s preface, the Ley de Memoria Histórica [Law of Historical Memory] (52/2007) officially declares the need to recognize past atrocities related to the war’s vanquished: “Es la hora, así, de que la democracia española y las generaciones vivas que hoy disfrutan de ella honren y recuperen para siempre a todos los que directamente padecieron las injusticias y agravios producidos, por unos u otros motivos políticos o ideológicos o de creencias religiosas, en aquellos dolorosos períodos de nuestra historia” [It is the hour, therefore, that Spanish democracy and the living generations that today enjoy it honor and recuperate forever those who directly suffered injustices and offenses produced because of political, ideological or religious beliefs, during those painful periods of our history]. The legislation (52/2007) covers a wide range of topics, including the need for public recognition of victims of the civil war and Franco’s oppression, monetary compensation, and social and medical assistance to help those who were directly and permanently disabled by the war. The law (52/2007) also designates financial support to archival centers that conserve, and allow public access to, documents from the war and dictatorship.

12. A story a thousand-times told. But never heard.

13. There was a time when she handed out propaganda…Or tried to capture the interest of female youth for the cause of converting Spain to what she imagined could be a more just place. Including making uniforms for troops from the headquarters of the Red Cross. Everything she did in fear.

14. “criminal acts against the social and judicial order of the new Spain.”

15. See the attached photograph of Martina’s slippers by Jiménez Vadillo, J.C. [photograph] (Barroso family’s private collection).

16. In “Between memory and history: les lieux de mémoire” (1989), Nora writes about the tendency in modern society to archive the past, as well as the need to create places and objects where collective identity and cultural traditions can be formed and crystallized. He notes the importance of real environments of memory, or milieux de mémoire, as well as sites of memory, which he calls lieux de mémoire, to unite the past with the present.

17. I knew what I was seeing, but I didn’t understand what it was.

18. And then everything ended by starting. Everything began to begin.

19. Why am I the depositary of this family legacy?

20. My objective was not to get attention but rather to get answers to mute evidence that dwelt inside me.

21. She looked at me at first with a faraway glance then finishing with her gaze on the floor. As if she were examining her conscience. After a few seconds, her only option was to recount in a monotone voice, just like a devout woman reciting avemarías during mass, the shared and silenced truth, of the women of the Barroso family.

22. Your mother will see the white clothing hung on the line, because nothing has happened. We have not seen anything.

23. The two women saw it: the stain, spot, blot, smudge. The world map of red wine. Tannin red. Deep red, liquid cayenne pepper. Blood. Made by measuring the pain with ulcerated imagination. Oliva needed to go and take a walk for her life, for the world. For the stars. Far away from those stains and the smell of Martina at the epicenter of them.

24. The horrible, we carry it inside us. Men and women, we are like that.

25. The women have preserved through orality, like the ancient oriental traditions, this story of pain, fury, and memory.

26. In the grandparents’ house, your parents, dear Martina, they talk of you without naming you (‘Lolita has the same freckles as ‘the other girl’, she looks like the ‘other girl’…). As if pronouncing your name would invoke disasters, cataclysms, and other unthinkable inclemency.

27. The girl near the doorjamb, with her arm and her invisible hug, her antique, borrowed petticoat, her freckles scattered all over her body…returned from yesterday. From eternity. To give her the last warning-message-reminder-goodbye. Manola knew it.

28. Her very presence was like a predator that bites the darkness to generate light.

29. “legend in the slippers”

30. The first step that would definitively activate the internal metronome that had been put into lukewarm operation four years ago.

31. As relevant as urgent. For a brief analysis of Blanco-Cicerón’s account and a revised assessment of the Roses’ execution, see Mirta Núñez Díaz-Balart and Antonio Rojas Friend’s article “Las Trece Rosas. Nuevas revelaciones sobre su ejecución” in Historia 16. 18 (1993): 21-25.

32. The article-key that would open an endless number of doors of which, at that moment, I was still unaware.

33. After the article in this magazine, Historia 16, I couldn’t, didn’t want to, shouldn’t have nor did I know how to stop the search that was guiding me toward heptacephalic monsters, beloved ghosts, unknown ancestors who were, had been, in the past, skin and bone, nails, necks, and stomach and guts.

34. How do I see you, great aunt? The Martina of ’39? The Martina of 2004, that accompanies me in my search? She who never reached the same age as I am today?

35. You observe me again from the photo. And my future is tarnished…What will I do, now that you are inside my life without remedy? It rains…I feel that my life has turned into a country of rain…that prevents me from forgetting you.

36 I do not know if remembering serves any purpose, just as I do not know either if the justice of not forgetting redeems a life of tragedy. I only confess that I do what I do because I need to do it. Not for you, but for me.

37. I did not desire, despite so much predatory cold that my search piled up, the past to torment me as it did them.

38. Because there are too many silences that break the bridges and all I can do is to put together parts of this painful puzzle that is missing too many pieces.

39. I read and re-read the mortal remains of a life summarized in points.

40. The archive disconcerts me as much as the blond and cold light can grip with fear a bat that is accustomed to darkness: thousands of names…

41. irrecoverable years

42. Silence from Martina. A conveniently rolled up newspaper can be a brutal weapon on the face of a hungry and fearful girl. It was on the head, on her still rebellious tuft of hair; proud.

43. And her job would only be to remember so as not to forget. To remember so as to stay alive. To remember so as to feel as her own a body that had stopped belonging to her. To remember. Even Luis. Because every stab of pain returned to her a portion of reality. To remember…to make certain that she was not totally wrong.

44. Although the door to suffering never closes, Martina found a way to escape the pain. She began to weave tirelessly, to toil without respite, her neck craned over some hemp miniatures, to which she would give definitive form with the passing of the days and the [momentary] escapes.

45. Try and get Lolita to step through the door to all places with those slippers. My niece will have a daughter who will bear a precious name that will have wings [a reference to Paloma, whose name means dove]…like the butterflies that I have tried to leave written for the women of this family.

46. The themes of regeneration and rebirth have been noted in several earlier literary interpretations of the Thirteen Roses’ death. At least three poems [Flor Cernuda’s “Fusilaron ‘Trece rosas’ de la libertad”, Ángeles García-Madrid’s “A Trece flores caídas”, and Rafaela González’s “Como mueren las estrellas.”] were written during Franco’s dictatorship and utilize nature imagery, especially stars and flowers, to pay homage to the Roses, celebrate their beauty, and express the idea that their young lives were cut short. González’s poem was written only days after the Roses’ death and circulated within Ventas prison, where they were being held, through oral story-telling. López calls attention to the butterfly to communicate similar ideals: the beauty and delicacy of life, and to show how, like nature, Martina’s story has the possibility to be renewed each time it is told. For a more detailed analysis of the Thirteen Roses’ poetry, see Linhard, T.A., (2002). “The death story of the ‘Trece Rosas.’” In: Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies, 3(2), pp. 187-202.

47. For another example that shows a young woman’s search into her family’s civil war past, see C.M. Hardt’s documentary, Muerte en El Valle (1996).

48. It is only a story. One of many, One of so many. But it is mine.


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Kieran McCarthy

Broken Memories or Shards of the Past?
Ruins and Identity in an Irish Pilgrimage Site



Memories can be made visible on the landscape resulting from people’s commemorative decisions. Remembering is a thoroughly social and political process, a realm of contestation and controversy. The past tends to be constantly selected, filtered and restructured in terms set by the questions and necessities of the present. Hence each landscape can raise questions about the political aesthetics and organisational forms utilised in their construction, and about the inclusions and exclusions of social groups and modes of memory, which each permits.
The connection of the nature of ruins to the collective memory debate provides further opportunities to analyse the processes of landscape formation. Duncan and Duncan (2010, p.231) asserts that the landscape serves as a vast repository of symbolism, iconography and ideology, as symbols of order and social relationships, such as ruins, can be interpreted by those who know the language of built forms. Edensor (2005b, p.4) writes that ruins comprise human-made parts and parts that nature is taking back through overgrowth. Ruins have their own time, place, space and life. Diverse rates of decay mean that some spaces and objects are erased whilst others remain. These processes create a particularly dense and disorganised 'temporal collage' of memory. Hence according to scholars such as Edensor (2005b, p.4) memory is narrated and conceived of as an unfolding succession of stories the produce a plenitude of fragmented stories, omitted memories, fantasies and inexplicable objects.

This paper investigates the question of the role of ruins in the production of memory in the landscape. In particular, it uses the pilgrimage site of Gougane Barra at the source of the river Lee, County Cork, Ireland to investigate meanings and the human experience associated with that meaning in ruins as part of the landscape.

“People can’t help making things, nature decays and rebuilds in the blink of an eye…and the surface of the planet’s so busy. These days it’s difficult to remember where I’ve come from. I might close my eyes and shards of past lie next to bits of half-memories and it’s impossible to tell whether I’ve featured in my life and what needs saving from it and what needs saving now…people cling to themselves and onto their machines and soon space is littered with centuries of debris”

— Walsh, 2010, p.45



Connecting the nature of ruins to the collective memory debate provides further opportunities to analyse the processes of landscape formation. In W.G. Hoskins' The Making of the English landscape (1955, p.14) he represents the countryside as an ancient place, filled with messages about the past. Cosgrove (1998, p.1) asserts that fundamental to the ‘message’ approach is the notion of landscape as a way of seeing, that the everyday landscape is typically a combination of art, artefact and nature, and the relationships between those categories are complex, multiple and layered. In a similar vein, Duncan and Duncan (2010, p.231) asserts that the landscape serves as a vast repository of symbolism, iconography and ideology, as symbols of order and social relationships, such as ruins, can be interpreted by those who know the language of built forms.

There are a myriad of symbolic meanings attached to ruins, which reveal the complexity of meanings of memory in the landscape. In his famous essay on the ruin, Georg Simmel (1965, p.259) wrote that "decay appears as nature's revenge for the spirit's having violated it by making a form in its own image". In a ruin, the edifice, the human-made part, and nature are one and inseparable; an edifice separated from its natural setting is no longer part of a ruin since it has lost its time, space and place. Ruins seem to be tangible memories ultimately made visible on the landscape resulting from people’s commemorative decisions. This article uses an intertextual approach as well as a set of ruins in Gougane Barra, a Christian pilgrimage site in west Cork, Ireland to investigate the meanings and human experience associated with ruins. Intertextuality provides a methodology to explore deeper into several of the meanings of memories that cross space and time.

Ogborn (1996, p.224) and Rose-Redwood et al (2008, p.162) argue that remembering as a thoroughly social and political process, a realm of contestation and controversy. The past tends to be constantly selected, filtered and restructured in terms set by the questions and necessities of the present. Edensor (2005b, p.15) writes that a ruin in a landscape raises questions about the political aesthetics and organisational forms utilised in its original construction, and about the inclusions and exclusions of social groups and modes of memory, which each permits.

Without historical information Crang & Travlou (2001, p.162), Hetzler (1988, p.51) and Lahusen (2006, p.736) contend that ruins still bear traces of the different people, processes and products bound up with memory. The stories amidst the ruins in places such as Gougane Barra produce many fragmented stories, omitted memories, fantasies and inexplicable objects. The stories are also infused with a host of intersecting temporalities, which collide and merge. Ruin time is significant in a ruin and according to Hetzler (1988, p.52) this time includes the time when it was first built, that is, the time when it was not a ruin, the time of its development as a ruin, the time of the fauna that may live in or on the ruin, the cosmological time of the land that supports it and is part of it and will take back to itself the man-made part eventually. As a result, narratives of a landscape feature, which present a history according to Hetzler (1988, p.52), can begin and end anywhere. History can be ‘up for grabs’, as it were, since the continuity between past, present, and future has been lost.

Scholars such as Edensor (2005b, p.4), Jackson (1980, p.91), Kansteiner (2002, p.179), Lahusen (2006, p.736), Rose-Redwood et al. (2008, p.161) and Simmel (1965, p.259) all make common assertions about the nature of ruins. They argue that ruins blur the boundaries of space and time, in a spatial sense as crumbling structures colonising their immediate surroundings and in a temporal sense articulating the overlayering of temporalities. All assert that ruins are sites in which the creation of new forms, orderings and aesthetics can materialize and that new forms release energy and creativity. Hence according to their perspectives new meanings can unfold within a modern ruin; a ruin can become for example a space of habitation, sociability, performance, exhibition, play, adventure, or ecological experiment. Ruins can provide ways of thinking about past cultures’ creativity, emotion, conflict, belief systems and community ideologies. With the ideas of the scholars at the start of this paragraph in mind, I wish to briefly address three aspects that deepen the understanding of ruins–mythic ideologies, the politics associated with ruins, and finally ruins and representation in Gougane Barra.

Ruins and mythic ideologies

Fara (2000, p.407) argues that ruins on landscapes are re-interpreted by each generation of viewers; they can convey new meanings and new associations far from what the original users had in mind. It is largely through landscape and the artefacts that are part of the landscape that mythic images are experienced. Myths can anchor ruins as important to keep in the landscape. Similarly, the invention of myth becomes a method for using collective memory selectively by influencing certain bits of the national past, suppressing others, and elevating still others in an entirely functional way. Collective memory is not an inert and passive thing, but a field of activity in which past events are selected, reconstructed, maintained, modified and endowed with political meaning.

Gougane Barra, an Irish pilgrimage site in rural West Cork, links itself to Irish hagiography, the promotion and use of saints’ histories. In the only produced guidebook to the site entitled Life of St. Finbarr and published c.1901, Fr C.M. O’Brien tells of the legend of St Finbarr, the patron saint of the site and the Cork region. The saint is an important element of Gougane Barra’s grand narrative, but again its strength is based on the human upholding of the island site’s mythic past. O’Brien (c.1901, p.9) tells of St Finbarr being sent to the source of the Lee to exile a large serpent that dwelt in the lake. He subsequently drove the creature out and spent a time residing in the district. In time the early Christian ruins of the island site, the nature of which are unknown, became bound up with the life of St Finbarr and parts of his life and times were selected, reconstructed, maintained, modified, and endowed with new meaning to build a framework of new memories at Gougane Barra. It is unknown when the narrative was created or when the narrative began to be passed down. The site anchors itself in the oral traditions of St Finbarr. Through time, from the early Christian period to the seventeenth century, the passing down of mythology seemed to forge the ruins and environs of Gougane Barra as a site of Christian tradition (O’Brien, c.1901).

Figure 1. Map of River Lee from Shehy Mountains to Cork City, Ireland; Gougane Barra lies in the middle of glaciated carved out lake in the centre of the mountain range (source: Cork City Library)
The advent of Catholic priest Fr Denis O’Mahony in the late seventeenth century added to that narrative when he introduced a memorial, a series of cells and gardens on the pilgrimage island. He chose to affirm the legend of St Finbarr and to physically enhance the symbolism of the island site. It could be argued that Fr O’Mahony built his monastery as part of a religious strategy to uphold, use and pass on its values to contemporary society. Fr O’Mahony brought his own mindset and education as priest and re-invented the folklore of St Finbarr in a tangible way by building a new living hermitage, and in turn created a living and working ruin to the saint.

However, all that remains in Gougane Barra are the cells and their enclosure wall—the gardens by Fr O’Mahony are gone and have fallen to the ravages of time. The extant ruins in Gougane Barra have become an unquestioned part of the social environment of the way of life in a region. They are embedded in the landscape and convey powerful cultural and ideological messages. They are the collective representations, which organise and structure people’s perceptions of time and space.

Mythic Gougane Barra seems to be a shifting construct: sometimes located in space, and at other times only in the mind. Each generation has made its own contribution to the myth of St. Finbarre. Authenticity is tied to an aged and weather-beaten look—signs of wear and tear remind one of the endangered states of the past and of notions of progress from a difficult past. In Gougane Barra, the enclosure wall has been revamped through time. Even new buildings have been added within the island pilgrimage site such as the early twentieth century oratory, which re-enforces the myth attached to the ruins.

The politics of memory

Depictions of Gougane Barra are bound up with the politics of memory–that its memories were harnessed for political reasons. Landscape descriptions in Ireland in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the time of Fr O’Mahony, are associated with forces of colonisation. There was a continuous rise in a new Protestant Ascendancy. The pattern of land holding was derived from Williamite campaigns of the late seventeenth century (McBride, 2001; McCormack, 1999 & O’Kane, 2004). The increase in Irish country house building, notable in the second quarter of the century, meant that patrons needed pictures, including landscapes, for their interiors. They wanted a record of their new houses and estates. Schematic mapping of features of terrain and their proximity to the Great House were carried out. The assessments of landscape were dependent on what the patron wanted. Charles Smith’s History of Cork in 1750 mentions hundreds of Great Houses and landlords (McBride, 2001; McCormack, 1999 & O’Kane, 2004).

The late eighteenth century was also a period when the interest in natural landscape phenomena heightened (Chaney, 1998; Trease, 1991). It arose from The Grand Tour, which was the traditional tour of Europe undertaken by mainly upper-class European young men of means. The custom flourished from about 1660 until the advent of large-scale rail transit in the 1840s, and had a standard itinerary associated with it. The primary value of the Grand Tour, it was believed, lay in the exposure both to the cultural legacy of classical antiquity and the Renaissance, and to the aristocratic and fashionable society of the European continent. In addition, it provided the only opportunity to view specific works of art, and possibly the only chance to hear certain music. A grand tour could last from several months to several years. It was commonly undertaken in the company of a knowledgeable guide or tutor. Once finished, recounting one's observations was considered an obligation to society at large to improve its outlook for the future; the Grand Tour flourished in this mindset (Chaney, 1998; Trease, 1991).

Descriptions of Gougane Barra first appear in Charles Smith’s History of Cork, which was published in 1750. He describes the natural features of county Cork as well as the topographical features of towns, villages, churches, key industries and demesnes across County Cork. In essence, he created memories of the landscape in published form, many of which were bought by Cork gentlemen who wished to be part of the project for status reasons. He also contributed to the power of this elite by providing information on them. Smith (1750) weaves Fr Denis O’Mahony’s story into the descriptive account of the Gougane Barra landscape. In his 1750 History of Cork (pp.192-194), Smith notes of Gougane Barra:

This retreat is esteemed one of the greatest curiosities in these parts; it lies in the remotest solitude imaginable, and is, in reality, a most elegant and romantic spot; its very aspect and situation betraying a place seemingly designed by nature for a recluse…This lake is environed by a stupendous amphitheatre of lofty hills, composed of perpendicular bleached rocks, in some places boldly hanging over the basin. In some crevices of the rocks, grow yews and ever-greens. This place since the time of St. Finbar, has been frequented by many devotees, as a place of pilgrimage; and to get to it; is little less than to perform one. In the island, are the ruins of a chapel with some small cells, a sacristy, chamber, kitchen and other conveniences erected by a late recluse [Father Denis O'Mahony] who lived a hermit, in this dreary spot, 28 years…Round part of the lake, is a pleasant green bank with a narrow causeway from it to the island. That part of the island unbuilt upon, Father O’Mahony converted into a garden, planted several fruit trees in it, with his own hand and made it a luxurious spot for a hermit. Opposite to this island, on the continent is his tomb, placed in a lofty little house. He was not buried in it till the year 1728.
Charles Smith writes about Fr O’Mahony creating a quasi private memorial space. One can view Fr O’Mahony not just as a priest but also an architect, landscape theorist, practical gardener and artist. O’Kane (2004, p.2) in her work on the elements that influenced demesne styles in the eighteenth century asserts that the human marks impressed on the landscape such as demesnes to small garden spots are a highly personalised view of the world as the creator viewed it and reveals personal attitudes towards philosophies and ideas of landscape. Thus, Fr O’Mahony created a composite work of art or as O’Kane (2004, p.1) alludes to, a landscape where “layered images, frames and views all add to augment the intellectual and sensual experience of place” in Gougane Barra.

Figure 2. View of Gougane Barra from the east (source: Author, 2008)

Ruins, representation and invention

The scale of the importance of ruins also seems to depend largely on a society’s response to them, in particular the immortalisation of ruins through the passing down of traditions, through various media systems. Schama (1995, p.1?) notes that ruins inspire a variety of responses. Images and representations constitute a key part in what Schama (1995, p.?) calls the ‘strata of memory’. The ruins of Gougane Barra remain active within contemporary meaning because the memory is kept alive indirectly through the medium of books, guide-books, memoirs, paintings, tourism and the changing practices of landscape design within the complex through the ages.

Artists and writers have communicated their thoughts and feelings, and hence have attempted to code, assimilate and depict Gougane Barra to the outside world, thus creating eyes for the viewer and new ways of seeing the West Cork site. Cosgrave (1998, p.2) and Read (1996, p.25) note that individual statements of landscapes turn into symbols for a universalised experience and reveal the search of the metaphorical associations of body and landscape. The spatialities and environmental relations of contemporary modern life are depicted.

The prospect of decaying grandeur is necessarily moving to those for whom the past itself consists of fragments awaiting reconstruction. An argument is presented by Schama (1995, p.396) that the greater the ruin, the greater the wonder of the onlooker. The sight of destruction gives a powerful impulse to preserve and record. It is itself conducive to a nostalgia, which can merge with concerns experienced by history. The very process of casting off the past generates nostalgia for its loss. With nostalgia for re-energized historical activity, the wonder is bound up with the human concern for the vanished or vanishing past.

Edensor (2005a, p. 829) argues that ruins provoke in the mind an urge to question their significance. Ruins challenge the viewer to make sense of them as they provoke a search for their meaning. From surveys and several hours of filmed interviews with visitors to the Gougane Barra pilgrimage island across a series of days in September 2009 and September 2011, many seem to come searching for something, something meaningful, a quest for understanding, quietness and escape and perhaps a journey inwards.

Figure 3. St Finbarr, as depicted in St Finbarr’s Oratory, Gougane Barra (Source: Author, 2008)

The idea of a timeless present is played out in George Petrie’s early nineteenth century painting of Gougane Barra. In the early nineteenth century, Anglo-Irish painters like Petrie developed approaches to landscape paintings deriving his style from a wide European tradition. Thomas Gainsborough looked back to Rubens while J.W. William Turner drew on his knowledge of Dutch marine painting, yet both went on to develop free and personal styles of painting. Irish landscape art tended to look to English models (Hamilton, 1997; Wolf, 2008).

George Petrie (1790-1866) was an important landscape painter of his day of the Irish landscape. He devoted himself to landscape painting in watercolours. In 1818 during a tour in the west of Ireland, he visited Clonmacnoise in the Irish midlands and copied the inscriptions on monuments and made drawings of over three hundred of them. From that point on he applied himself to the study of Irish history and antiquities. He began to explore people’s memories and native Irish cultural traditions as he found them in the historic fabric of old monuments and buildings in the four corners of Ireland (Murray, 2004).

Figure 4. : R Barry’s plan of Gougane Barra pilgrimage island, 1813 (source: Hurley, P., 1892, “Notes on Gougane Barra”, Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, p.193

Petrie’s appreciation of landscape was deeply indebted to William Wordsworth. He also had a constant awareness of the continuity between living folk art and antiquity. Petrie’s work explored the Irish space and landscape as an echo chamber informed by the lingering memories of native cultural traditions and antiquities. He read the Irish social landscape as a record of the country’s ancient Gaelic culture. Petrie proclaimed his cultural view of the Irish landscape as a repository for Irish antiquity (Murray, 2004).

Petrie’s work as a field officer with the Ordnance Survey of Ireland in the early nineteenth century was, according to Murray (2004, pp.39-40), an enormous salvage operation to collect and preserve the remains of Ireland’s native culture. He drew on the evidence of landscape, antiquities, cultural practices and ancient texts to penetrate Ireland’s lost antiquity. Petrie’s painting entitled Gougane Barra with the Hermitage of St FinBarr, painted in 1831 (one of two versions) attempts to put the viewer in the heart of the Shehy Mountains. George Petrie embodied the essence of the principles of the Romantic landscape aesthetic. Pilgrims/tourists seem dwarfed by awe-inspiring landscapes and give an increased interest and picturesque aspect to the scene.

There tends to be a sense of nostalgia to George Petrie’s work, the search for a lost past or memory. Petrie’s Gougane Barra captures a moment depicting a magnificent sky, shifting clouds, a veil of mist and a beam of sunlight breaking through. The light falls perpendicularly as if from heaven lighting up, and highlighting the ruins of the old Christian pilgrimage island, part of Ireland’s cultural identity. Petrie constructs a biography of Gougane Barra as a place where religious themes are significant. In my own observing of the painting, the ruins exist in the middle ground. The edgy architecture of the ruins to the viewer appear to be seen as signs of cultural life. The shafts of light through the clouds root the ruins in the middle ground of the landscape painting. In the background are distant mountains and peaks. High above these stretches a bank of clouds. The scenic excerpt is dominated by the deep space of a vista, prompting us to wonder what lies beyond. The artist compels the individual viewer to assume a very personal standpoint with respect to the implied world view. There is sense of solitude and romantic melancholy about Petrie’s work. There is a diversity of shades in the landscape, a depth given. The shadows make the sense of landscape depicted. The special qualities of weather are shown.

Ruins are open to interpretation. They present the unexpected and multiply the readings of place. Murray (2004, p.147) in his reading of the painting argues that George Petrie links the physical landscape to external phenomena. The meeting of the ruins, sky, the Shehy Mountains, the lonely lake and the shoreline of the lake are seen clearly, all contrasting with the small human figures shown in the foreground. There are stark contrasts of light and dark, which convey a feeling of eeriness, a wilderness and a powerful landscape carved out and protected by nature. There is intense emotion on the painter’s behalf aiming perhaps to disturb the viewer (Murray, 2004, p.147).

Figure 5. George Petrie’s ‘Gougane Barra with the Hermitage of St FinBarr’ (Source: Crawford Municipal Art Gallery Collection), Cork
As depicted by George Petrie, a magical quality is created. As a result, according to Jackson (1980, p.32), a quality such as this connects to history enabling people to connect and even re-connect to one another through a sense of belonging. Ruins can draw on imagination and memories, ruins can provide intertextual resonances and can draw and interweave narratives from various eras of a site’s past through stories, myths, legends, rituals, and a feel of mystery. Ruins seem to create a kind of poetic landscape of monuments with links to some form of celebration of the living past and present. Prown et al. (1992, p.xiv) assert the concentration of multiple interpretative approaches and methodologies enlarges the understanding of other times and places. Those approaches in turn combine to create for a site an apparently strong sense of place, emotional attachment and identity.

Ruins and photography

The paintings of the nineteenth century transform into postcards of Gougane Barra in the early twentieth century. These mnemonic images now present the ruins as a site of a genteel tourist space. A site of relaxation, enjoyment and even exoticism is presented. Hoelscher (1998, p.548 & 2007, p.195) emphasises the heavy visual bias of photographs and their additions to collective remembering. Photographs can be disseminated to a mass audience. Photographs are technologies of remembrance through which people construct the past and give memory as Hoelscher (2007, p.195) notes its ‘texture’. To Hoelscher (1998, p. 548 & 2007, p. 195) and Siggins (1999, p.115), no technology or media is more associated with memory than the camera image, especially the photograph. Visual imagery closes the gap between primary experience and secondary witnessing. It stands in for the larger event or person it is asked to represent. Memory demands an image. Image has texture, which contains both tactile and emotional dimensions. Hence memories are shared, produced and given meaning.

To Hoelscher (1998, p. 548 & 2007, p. 195), photographs can freeze time and appear to hold memory in place as they provide an immediately accessible vehicle for collective remembrance. They are strong memory freeze frames, as memory is forever transient, forever in flux. Photographs can provide the best evidence that something happened, a record of the ‘real’. Images of Gougane Barra represent the photographer’s response to the landscape at the very least and are an interpretation of an event that deserves attention. A set of photographs survive, which capture human interaction with the pilgrimage cell ruins (Baylis, 2007; Hoelscher, 1998 & 2007; Siggins, 1999). In late Victorian times, according to Baylis (2007, p.77) postcards attempted to demonstrate the importance of landscape imagery for the historical-geographical interpretation of social ideologies, of individual meaning, and of the complex web of power relations. There was a critical engagement with photographs not as pictures or documents but as social texts, as a discursive medium.

Hoelscher (1998, pp.548-570) notes three ideas revolving around landscape and photography. Firstly, photographic views were part of a more general Victorian search for order during a period of radical social and economic unrest. They reflected an ideology of human control over nature in their creation of a new, middle-class, post-frontier space. Nature became picturesque scenery and serviceable for mass-produced inspiration. Secondly, nature's scenic transformation was accomplished by photography, a superb vehicle of cultural mythology. The medium of photography is uniquely positioned to naturalize cultural constructions. Complex ideas of progress, development, and regional transformation maybe presented as laws of nature, as in controvertible facts. Thirdly, photography's apparent transcription of reality proved to be an immensely valuable asset for one’s enterprise in particular tourism. Pleasure travel expanded significantly in the late nineteenth century to include the emerging middle classes. Larger audiences also engaged with photography, many of whom were tourists.

Baylis (2007, p.77) asserts that acquiring photographs in Victorian times seemed to give shape to travel as it informed what the viewer should see, how it should be seen, and when it should be seen, all in a matter-of-fact and seemingly ‘unmediated’ way. Travel photographs became one component of a cycle that united itineraries, representations, and the landscape itself. Hence the photographs of Gougane Barra in the early twentieth century are new ways of seeing and experiencing landscape, which are themselves historically and geographically contingent.

Figure 6. Pilgrims at pilgrim cells, Gougane Barra, c.1900 (Source: Photograph by Guy & Co., Cork City Library)

The Gougane Barra photographs are the work of William Laurence and his firm. The photographs embody most of the tensions and contradictions that are ingredients of this critical union of landscape, photography, and tourism. The man who took all the photographs, other than studio portraits, for the firm of William Lawrence from the late 1870s to 1914 was Dublin man Robert French. He took at least 40,000 photographs over approximately 30 years. During that time railways criss-crossed the land. Irish cities in particular were being transformed. Public transport was being introduced. Dublin, Cork and Belfast were expanding rapidly. Whole new suburbs were built. Ireland followed Victorian fashions and trends (Horgan, 2002, p.30).

William Lawrence developed lecture sets covering each city, county and beauty spot, portraits of priests, prelates and politicians, churches, jails and prisons, scenes of Irish life and character, comic sketches of Irish life and character. They came in albums, as magic lantern slides, and stereoscopic views. There were postcards by the thousands. Most of them hand-coloured as were the other views which came in elaborate frames (Baylis, 2007; Breathnach, 2007).

Horgan (2002, p30) notes that view photography for Lawrence became a principal visual medium to naturalize and celebrate spaces such as Gougane Barra. Lawrence’s photographs reflected and promoted a late nineteenth-century tourist aesthetic based on the belief that nature could be exploited not only for its extractive resources but also for its recreational and restorative potential. Most often Lawrence achieved the picturesque by peopling the landscape with well-dressed Victorian men, women and children. It was the artifice of the picture, its staged and ‘picturesque’ quality that, though appearing to be ‘natural’, also suggested ultimate human control over nature. The capturing of the visibility of nature by the use of the camera was equally about asserting a stake in the Irish landscape. The appeal of rural Ireland represented the assurance of uncharted terrain and the recovery of a pre-conquest identity of language, culture and nation. The countryside was to be rendered not only as an unworked but also as a scenic and visually oriented playground for the burgeoning urban middle classes. Tourists were seen as people whose only function in the landscape is to look at and admire its beauty and claim it as their own (Baylis, 2007; Breathnach, 2007; Horgan, 2002). The key image of Lawrence’s pictures of Gougane Barra is of tourists praying in the centre of Fr O’Mahony’s ruins. The position of viewers is both inward looking and purposeful. The ruins are both authentic and primitive. The image pays homage to the act of pilgrimage but is also reminiscent of Bartlett’s nineteenth century paintings of Gougane Barra, especially the views used.


To conclude, ruins help the viewer to memorialize, reinforce and even substitute for their experiences of the events that led the structure to enter into a ruinous condition. Hence, as ruins are part of the landscape, they are also part of the active processes of remembering. This paper focuses on the creation of a site biography of ruins and exploring the raison d’être of those who created them and who interacted with them through painting and photographing them. Those elements underline the importance of monuments, as in Gougane Barra in anchoring the collective memory of the community. The Christian ruins at Gougane Barra are presented through oral traditions, literature and media systems as bound up with something ancient, sacred, soulful and purposeful–something motivating and ambitious. It’s as if the ruins provide the landscape with a voice. For the pilgrim, the ruins create a landscape of living encounters, experiences and connections.

Figure 7. Pilgrims at pilgrim cells, Gougane Barra, 2008 (Source: Author, 2008)


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Linda McKeown

Autobiography and the Search for Identity in the Work of Harry Crews, Tim McLaurin and Rick Bragg


This article discusses the role of autobiography in the work of three contemporary writers from the American Deep South. All three grew up in extreme poverty as the sons of southern sharecroppers and represent a class of people who featured regularly in the literature of the region but who were not expected to write it. That their voices are now heard at all is part of a reassessment process referred to by the novelist and critic Doris Betts as reflecting “national trends in a democracy where most “new voices” speak up in turn from population groups heretofore considered artistically mute” (Dunn and Preston, 1991, p. 166). The work of Harry Crews (1978), Tim McLaurin (1991), and Rick Bragg (1997) effectively contribute to a democratisation process that began in southern literature after de-segregation and the election in 1976 of a southern president, Jimmy Carter. Prior to this, the plight of the southern rural poor was articulated mainly by educated, middle-class white writers; a critical and moral dilemma that few appeared to recognise. The memoirs of Crews, Bragg, and McLaurin therefore offer a fresh perspective on the economic and social predicament of their own poor white people, a viewpoint that also encompasses a more personal struggle to come to terms with their own identities. They cite membership of this marginalised and much-maligned minority as the source of their authority to re-write the ‘official’ history of the southern poor white and to validate their memories.



For Crews, Bragg, and McLaurin, autobiography acts as a means both to conserve the past and to define the present in modern southern society. It allows them to shape their very personal responses to changing circumstances, thereby modifying or supplanting the established cultural mythology. The writing down of these memories is also crucial in achieving a sense of selfhood. The desperate poverty of their respective upbringings and the contempt with which their people are generally regarded by the wider American population have contributed to a loss of self-esteem and identity in each man. Each memoir therefore strives to strike a particular balance. Each mourns the loss of a stoical, and often honourable, poor white world while experiential authority also allows for the fierce criticism of the system of class and gender oppression that made their families’ lives so difficult.

All three men grew up on the margins of a society forever disposed to treat them both as second-class and as stereotypes. Crews is the oldest of the three, born in 1935, and his earliest memories are therefore of severe Depression-era poverty. In his 1978 work, A Childhood: Biography of a Place, he provides an account of “a way of life gone forever out of the world” (Crews, 1978, p.6). Despite the austerity of his childhood and his long self-imposed exile from home, he feels compelled to return there in adulthood, seeking to revisit his family history, in particular that of his father, who died before he was born. The latter appears to be of particular importance in determining his own identity. When the adult Crews meets his father’s friends in the local store, the scene is therefore presented as

…a rite of passage in which the narrator inherits not only a sense of geographical and cultural belonging but also a more secure position within a patriarchal order anchored in that geography and culture.

The above quotation from Watkins (2001, p.17) confirms the importance of ‘home’ in southern literature as a means of self-identification. Crews uses the men’s memories of his father to establish his own place within this narrow world. The fact that his memoir is entitled A Childhood: Biography of a Place rather than, say, Harry Crews: An Autobiography is also indicative of the significance he assigns to the iconic notion of the home place in the collective memories of his people.

McLaurin’s Keeper of the Moon (1991) makes the same associations. It begins and ends with a pantheistic paean to the beauty of southern nature, proffering love of the land as one of the more positive facets of the poor white character. McLaurin goes further when he declares that “I am still joined by something sacred to Southern country mornings”, a statement that elevates his emotional bond to the level of religious experience (McLaurin, 1991, p.19). Although the landscapes of Crews’s Georgia and Bragg’s Alabama are wilder and harsher, they nonetheless elicit the same “deep, even if despairing respect” from their inhabitants, who live lives that are “full, rich, original and real, but harsh, hard, mean as a damn snake” (Bragg, 1997, p.4). Each man uses his narrative to describe “the relationship between the essential qualities of the land and the character of the people who live there” (Watkins, 2001, p.22). Such a relationship inevitably produces conflicting emotions, a dilemma that McLaurin summarises as typical of the southern rural life where “a fine line exists between being loved and being beaten to death” (McLaurin, 1991, p.21). Howarth (1990, p.130) therefore refers to southern autobiography as a genre in which “personal and regional fortunes persistently intertwine”, thereby delivering to the writer “a particularly sharp sense of place and of the voice needed to love/hate it”.

A large family is considered the second measure of a man’s identity and self-esteem: “a man who had no family who had no roots and no responsibilities was no man at all” (Bragg, 1997, p.84). Crews also believes that without family or land “nothing else was certain” and “very little will ever be yours, really belong to you in the world” (1978, p.16). In his introduction to Home Ground: Southern Autobiography, Berry (1991, p.7) remarks that:

For southern autobiographers the place held by family is in part an artefact of a society with an aristocratic ideal, where status was based on family and race rather than on merit or money. Family remains central insofar as the South remains rural, with a rural culture’s interplay of generations and (valuing sociability, lacking other amusements) reliance on storytelling.
The strength of this tradition underpins the work of all three men and explains the need to return to their respective homes, to share in the “collective experience” of their families and in “their understanding of who they are” (Crews, 1978, p.6). Academic and literary success in adulthood grants each the voice and the opportunity to “rehabilitate the derogatory stereotypes ascribed to them [their people] by using language to fashion an identity as honest, hard-working folks” (Watkins, 2001, p.17). Portraying their families and neighbours as the [mainly] honourable poor also serves to bolster their own self-belief as they continue to seek the sense of cultural identity vital to a more secure position within the southern patriarchal order. Each man therefore describes both the admirable qualities and the shortcomings of their forbears.

Crews asks his readers to understand the level of desperation that would drive a friend to steal food from the family as they bury Crews’s father (1978, p.47):

He was a friend, and a close one, but he stole the meat anyway. Not many people may be able to understand that or sympathize with it, but I think I do. It was a hard time in that land, and a lot of men did things for which they were ashamed and suffered for the rest of their lives. But they did them because of hunger and sickness and because they could not bear the sorry spectacle of their children dying from lack of a doctor and their wives growing old before they were thirty.
In accordance with the values of the day, Crews refrains from naming the thief, thus preserving his honour, a vital attribute among those with so little else to offer. The desperate suffering experienced in this community as a result of poverty ensures that the thief’s actions are regarded with a certain moral ambivalence, examples of which feature regularly in each man’s memoir. The need to survive is paramount and often overrides what might be considered normal moral considerations. Throughout their memoirs Crews, Bragg, and McLaurin strive to assign legitimacy to a class of people traditionally marginalised by mainstream culture. By portraying them as worthy of understanding, each ‘can then make his readers aware of the core of humanity that is revealed in their failures.’ (Betts cited in Powell, 2000, p.110).

As a child, Crews hones his survival skills through the art of storytelling and his reliance on it in writing this memoir raises some questions about the notion of truth. Describing his feelings about his parents’ separation, for example, he states:

I knew that it was not true, that it was made up, and that also it was a kind of cheating to go about pretending you were what you were not. But there seemed to be no alternative …. The only way to deal with the real world was to challenge it with one of your own making.” [emphasis mine] (Crews, 1978, p.135).
The final sentence of this extract seems to be an important comment on these particular autobiographies. Many of the episodes Crews describes take place when he was too young to remember them and are often difficult to believe, given his age at the time. When he begins the memoir with the words, “my first memory is of a time ten years before I was born, and the memory takes place where I have never been and involves my daddy, whom I never knew”, he instantly raises questions regarding truthfulness (Crews, 1978, p.3). Crews confronts the issue himself when he asks “did what I have set down here as memory actually happen?” He then answers his own question with the words “I do not know, nor do I any longer care”. This is perhaps why Papovich (1986, p.28) refers to A Childhood as consisting of a “mixture of fact, legend and personal memory”. Much of it is reconstructed from the memories of others, through stories told by family and neighbours that are accepted as truth. Crews (1978, p.3) thereby acknowledges the importance of the oral tradition in the culture of the southern poor:

…the rest of it came down to me through the mouths of more people than I could name. And I have lived with the stories for so long that they are as true as anything that actually happened.
As a child, he takes refuge in storytelling to protect himself from the “vicious happenings” that characterised his world, and as an adult he recognises that “making up stories was not only a way for us to understand the way we lived but also a defense against it” (Crews, 1978, p.62). When, out of necessity, fantasy becomes a way of life as a shield against reality, it is perhaps understandable that notions of truth in this work become unstable. Each of these writers is actively engaged in the Herculean task of refuting long-established beliefs about the social class into which they were born. They strive to rehabilitate an often-despised group of people in the national consciousness, while at the same time giving a full, and often angry, account of the dreadful poverty that dominated their respective childhoods. Personal bias must therefore be taken into account.

Of course, the nature of autobiography per se implies a multifaceted and often biased approach to the truth, as writers recall memories from their past, rewriting them to suit a particular purpose. In reviewing Keeper of the Moon for the New York Times (Book Section) in 1992, Rob Dew comments that “I’ve never entirely trusted the truth that a memoir purports to tell.” Laura Marcus (cited in Swindell, 1995, p.14) alludes to the same problem when she remarks that:

the genre of autobiography is… a major source of concern because of its very instability in terms of the postulated opposites between self and world, literature and history, fact and fiction.
In any of the three texts under consideration here, who can say with any certainty what is actual memory and what is fiction? The genre of memoir inevitably provokes a complex discourse regarding perceptions of truth, which cannot be fully discussed in this paper. The achievement of these three particular autobiographies may simply lie in the realisation of a collective or generally accepted truth: one that actively celebrates poor whites while at the same time criticising the conditions they have endured. The constant emphasis on the interplay between brutal poverty and the essential humanity of the people who endure it sustains and elevates their memory. Each man provides countless examples of the tensions that arise when decent people are forced to live often desperate lives. Crews, Bragg, and McLaurin all succeed in commemorating their forbears with dignity, while at the same time acknowledging their very human faults in the context of a hostile social and physical environment.

Tension also exists between writers of autobiographies and their subjects. Powell (2000, p.110) cites Doris Betts, who taught McLaurin at the University of North Carolina, remarking that:

he had this feeling that the story of his people had not been told. [His people] know he’s a writer, but I don’t think they understand it; it puzzles them really. He’s one of them, and yet he’s not one of them.
In the case of Crews, Seelye (1980, p.625) refers to this disjunction as a “cultural schizophrenia”. In many respects, the schizophrenia results from the differences between these writers own life experiences as adults and their continuing loyalty to the communities of their childhoods, between memory and actuality. Shelton (1984, p.135) alludes to the tension between Crews’ two disparate lifestyles:

…one part of him remains deep in the Southern soil of his ‘grit’ childhood and wants to remain there. But given his adult experiences, especially teaching for many years at the University of Florida, another part of him is firmly situated in modern urban America.
Crews confirms the dichotomy himself: “For half my life I have been in the university, but never of it. Never of anywhere, really. Except the place I left, and that of necessity only in memory” (Crews, 1978, p.25). That same sense of rootlessness also pervades the work of Bragg and McLaurin, both of whom share Crews’ need to understand his adult persona in the context of his poor white childhood and to resolve the resultant pressures.

Marcus’s proposal, that autobiography can operate as “a magical instrument of reconciliation” (cited in Swindell, 1995, p.14), may be somewhat overstated in the case of the three writers considered here, but there is a sense that Crews and McLaurin have resolved some of their identity issues through the process. Indeed, Crews has remarked in interview on his early failures to make a living as a writer of fiction because he had been ashamed of his upbringing. Only when he confronted and accepted his heritage as a poor white sharecropper was he able to achieve success. Shelton (1984, p.102) believes that A Childhood therefore represents “his testament of acceptance and affection for his rural background and for rural people”. By implication, it also represents self-acceptance and a means of making peace with his own identity. Crews has always denied that his memoir sings “a sad song for the bad good old days”, but rather insists that it is an essential portrayal of “a hard time in the shaping of the South, a necessary experience that made us the unique people we are” (cited in Cobb, 1996, p.14).

Simultaneously, he also taps into the culture of contemporary consumerism, re-creating a world he knows will appeal to those modern tourists who seek the South of popular imagination. References to the grocery store, “with Pepsi-Cola and root beer and Redman Chewing Tobacco and snuff signs nailed all over it” (Crews, 1978, p.19), recall Walker Evans’s photographs of small town stores throughout the South during the Depression (Agee and Evans, 1988). Bragg (1997, p.67) is critical of the way in which such imagery is now being recycled for popular consumption and resents the fashionable appropriation of his memories. He believes it is only a matter of time before the old, ruined store of his childhood will attract the attention of “some Yankee photographer” who “will drive past, see it as quaint and put a picture of it in a coffee-table book. That is where a big part of the Old South is, on coffee tables in Greenwich Village.” Such cultural misrepresentation re-constructs the issues of economic marginality represented by the original photographs and by the memoirs considered in this paper in a manner that contrives to deny the human suffering that prompted their original commission.

In this respect, Bragg is perhaps the most bitter of the three writers and his adult persona continues to be greatly influenced by childhood memories of poverty and shame. As a young reporter he is angered by the presence of Ivy League-educated “pointy heads who came South for the invaluable experience they would glean from writing about people that some of them held largely in contempt” (Bragg, 1997, p.139). For these visitors, the South and its people represent a “tour of duty in the heart of darkness”, the Conrad reference implying gothic horror and savagery (Bragg, 1997, p.141). He reacts by fleeing the South and, like Crews and McLaurin, he travels a great distance from the home place, both geographically and socially. However, his emotional and cultural identities remain inextricably linked to his childhood world. Writing his mother’s history allows him to confront the legacy of his poor white heritage but he seems unwilling or unable to make peace with that past. As a result, he is the only one of the three who still appears to retain a chip on his shoulder “about the size of a concrete block” (Bragg, 1997, p.141). McLaurin does not document the same level of shame at his family’s poverty and his reminiscing is gentler in tone. By the end of A Childhood, Crews also appears to achieve a measure of stability, simply accepting that “it would be forever impossible to leave them [his people] completely. Wherever I go in the world, they would go with me.” (Crews, 1978, p.182).

In conclusion, the autobiographies examined here illustrate the importance of memory, both on a personal and a wider cultural level. Firstly, they represent empowerment, a means to give voice and value to a particular section of the underclass. They celebrate hard-working but disenfranchised plain folk, effectively preserving the character for future generations. Despite the questions raised about truthfulness, the very act of writing memoirs serves to validate the historical experiences of an entire class of poor white southerners and in so doing the three writers ask important questions regarding the morality and ethics of a nation that has tolerated and, in general, condoned such poverty. On a secondary level, the memoirs act as a means to ease, if not fully resolve, the personal tensions that exist between past and present. In order to understand his own status as a white southerner in the twenty-first century, each man must first locate himself retrospectively in the context of his poor white upbringing. Each therefore uses the genre to bridge the gap between the agrarian South of his childhood and the post-modern South of adulthood. Memory is often employed as a tool in the search for identity but for Crews, Bragg, and McLaurin, the two concepts are intimately linked: the achievement of any real sense of selfhood is therefore completely dependent upon confronting the memories and accepting the realities of the past.


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Bragg, Rick (1997) All Over but the Shoutin’, New York: Vintage.
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Crews, Harry (1995) A CHILDHOOD: The Biography of a Place, Athens: University of Georgia Press.
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Huber, P. (1995) “A Short History of Redneck: The Fashioning of a Southern White Masculine Identity,” Southern Cultures 1, pp. 145-166.
Marcus, L. “The face of autobiography”, in The Uses of Autobiography, ed. by Julia Swindell, (1995) London: Taylor and Francis, pp.12-20.
McLaurin, Tim (1991) Keeper of the Moon, Asheboro, N.C: Down Home Press.
Papovich, J.F. (1986) “Place and Imagination in Harry Crews's ‘A Childhood: The Biography of a Place"', Southern Literary Journal 19, pp.26-35.
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Shelton, F.W. (1984) “The Non-Fiction of Harry Crews: A Review,” Southern Literary Journal, 16:2, pp. 132-5.
Watkins, J. H. “The Use of I, Lovely and Terrifying Word: ‘Autobiographical Authority and the Representation of "Redneck" Masculinity in A Childhood” in Perspectives on Harry Crews, ed. by Erik Bledsoe (2001), Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, pp. 15-29.

Review - Donna Maria Alexander

Review — A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness: Writings, 2000-2010 by Cherríe L. Moraga, Durham: Duke University Press, 2011, ISBN No. 9780822349624 0822349620 9780822349778 0822349779, Price: $22.95

Cherríe Moraga’s A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness signals a paradigm-shift that is underway in American studies. The book is an advancement of her earlier works such as Loving in the War Years: Lo Que Nunca Pasó Por Sus Labios (1983/2003), a text which records Moraga’s coming-of-age as a Chicana and a lesbian in the political climate of the 1970s and 80s. Her latest contribution to the Chicana/o and feminist canon emerges from a turbulent decade that saw the collapse of the twin towers, the so-called “war on terror”, the election of the first black American president, a wave of gay marriage campaigns, and tighter immigration laws. Thus, the collection, an almagamation of critical essays, poems, diaristic writings and art, is highly relevant to current debates in the U.S. on identity and politics. Moraga’s personal experience of the decade has included her mother’s decline into Alzheimer’s, and her son’s progression towards adulthood. The loss of principal Chicana critics, writers and theorists, Pat Parker, Marsha Gómez, Audre Lorde and Gloria Anzaldúa is registered on a public and political level in the collection. As a whole, this important collection is a major contribution to Chicana/o scholarship, providing an indigenous feminist critique of crucial issues that have shaped the first decade of the twenty first century in the Americas.

Like the Mesoamerican calendar’s circular motion, this collection is curvi-linear, structurally and thematically, and so “to advance forward is to return again and again to the site of origin” (Moraga 2011, p.xvii). Moraga’s overall thesis revolves around this calendric form. She draws upon indigenous roots—visually represented by no less than nine drawings by the artist, Celia Herrera Rodriguez—to express the contemporary desire to return to one’s roots or “home cultures” (2011, p.126) in the psychic and physical sense. According to Moraga, this return is hindered by the current political and academic climate of tokenism and appropriation of indigenous literature, language and culture. Hence, the Mesoamerican calendric structure of the book is appropriate in mediating the challenges that twenty first century America presents for indigenous writers, artists and communities.

The first section, titled “Existo Yo,” contains three essays that focus on a range of related issues, including Moraga’s “changing lesbian Xicana consciousness” (2011, p.7), Chicano masculinity, 9/11 and the stagnation of U.S morals under the thrall of capitalism, and globalization. Moreover, Moraga provides a feminist critique of the body and conquest, the indigenous artist’s relationship with memory and the journey of the Chicana teatrista (dramatist). Moraga puts the theories and calendric formation explored in A Chicana Codex of Changing Consciousness into practise in her latest play, New Fire-To Put Things Right Again which merges indigenous history and culture with a contemporary journey of rupture and homecoming (Kickstarter, 2011). Thus, the issues engaged with here are part of a wider practice of indigenous feminism that spans across Moraga’s significant theoretical and theatrical oeuvre.

The second section, titled “The Warring Inside”, consists of three poems, three essays and a cuento (story). The combination of poetry, essays and story allows her to explore a range of personal and political topics. The poem “California Dreaming” weaves notions of death, indigenous ceremony and memory into a contemporary critique of “the ways in which the authors and transmitters of the Euro-American imagination deny us the authority to imagine outside of their cultural constraints” (2011, p.82).

Section three, labelled “Salt of the Earth,” contains commemorations of Chicanas who have passed on in the first decade of the twenty first century. These essays honour the women for their artistic and academic contributions, as well as their bravery in their difficult personal circumstances, such as Gómez’s life-long battle to survive alongside her mentally ill son, eventually resulting in her murder at his hands. Stories of indigenous mothers’ struggle against the violent stamp of colonialism that is imprinted in Chicano men are linked with the contemporary politics of machismo and Chicana women’s resistance against patriarchy and cultural silence.

This elegiac section also includes a long-awaited essay on Moraga’s personal and working relationship with Gloria Anzaldúa. Moraga discusses points of conflicts and overlap in the collaborative work as well as their individual theoretical writings. Moreover, she provides an essential critique of the “appropriation and misinterpretation” (2011, p.124) of Anzaldúa’s theories by white scholars following her death in 2004. Moraga’s elegiac essay offers a frank discussion of the legacy of Anzaldúa’s work, particularly her theories of neplanta and new tribalism, in the hope that “her work will continue in new forms, through new bodies” for those “who still walk the earth’s surface in need of such uncensored guidance” (2011, p.128). Therefore this valuable essay is beneficial for Anzaldúa scholars as it opens up a new dialogue on Anzaldúa’s theoretical work as well as shedding light on the process of her collaborative work with Moraga. Part of this essay details the working relationship between Anzaldúa and Moraga as they compiled and edited This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (1983). Their shared politics as well as their differences, and the obstacles the two faced in creating what is now a seminal text in the Chicana/o canon, is articulated with an honesty and directness that is both poignant and academically informative in its execution.

The final section is “The Price of Beans,” featuring five essays, two poems, an epilogue and an Appendix to Herrera Rodríguez’s art. This section focuses on contemporary issues in the U.S. such as a critique of the election of President Barack Obama and its impact on communities of colour, particularly the Chicano community. Furthermore, the essay, “Still Loving in the (Still) War Years: On Keeping Queer Queer”, engages with the current same-sex marriage debate and transgender sexuality. Moraga investigates the meaning of womanhood for the female-to-male transgender community, theoretically linking the notion and practice of transgender with the “Native concept of ‘two-spirit,’ not as it has been appropriated, but as something once known and accepted by many aboriginal peoples of this continent” (2011, p.187). This foregrounds Moraga’s central preoccupation of this notable collection: the indigenous journey home. In the closing section of the book, the writer skilfully brings indigenous and contemporary notions of queer, gender and race full circle, in keeping with the Mesoamerican calendar, lighting the way for Chicanas and indigenous women to find their Native selves in their culture, history, mythology, politics and expression.


Kickstarter, 2011. Kickstarter. [online] Available at: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/419411661/new-fire-to-put-things-right-again [Accessed: 21 September 2011].
Moraga, C. L., 2011. A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness: Writings, 2000-2011. Durham: Duke UP.


Graduate School of the College of Arts, Celtic Studies and Social Sciences, O'Rahilly Building, University College Cork