Highlights of my activities

Welcome to Cruzando-el-charco, which offers several snapshots of my scholarly and professional activities and initiatives.

As a Luddite in the un-making, I have undertaken a massive digital project, the Archivo Hildegart. The archive isn’t entirely open, while I am ironing out some complex international intellectual property issues, but I hope to make it open access eventually.

Studying abroad can be a transformative experience in the life of a student. Stepping out of one’s comfort zone, and experiencing one’s identity from a new perspective works to both question and edify one’s sense of self as well as cultivate empathy for others. To that end, I have worked hard to strengthen the international educational experiences in Spain available to Davidson students.

FLES is a partnership between volunteer students at Davidson College and the local public elementary school. Thanks to the dedication of our volunteers, we bring weekly Spanish lessons to Davidson Elementary children in kindergarten through third grade.

My own teaching at Davidson, which in immensely important to me, is barely represented in this digital portfolio. But, I’m working on it! In the meantime, please visit me in my office or send me an email and I’ll be happy to talk.

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THATCamp Piedmont at Davidson College, May 5, 2012

THATCamp Piedmont

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MLA Convention, Seattle, 5-8 Jan 2012

Come see our electronic round-table on Digital Humanities and Hispanism at the MLA in Seattle. We will showcase digital projects from medievalists, colonialists, contemporary Peninsularists, contemporary Latin Americanists and U.S. Latino scholars. The panelists will be:
Francie Cate-Arries, William & Mary
Kyra A. Kietrys, Davidson College
Kathy Korchek, Central College
William Anthony Nericcio, San Diego State University
Amaranta Saguar García, Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford
Rocío Quispe-Agnoli, Michigan State University
David Wacks, University of Oregon

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CFP: Digital Humanities and Hispanism – An Electronic Roundtable (Abstracts: 15 March 2011; Convention: 5-8 January 2012, MLA, Seattle).

This electronic round-table will showcase different ways digital media and tools inform teaching, scholarship, publication, and collaboration within Hispanism. Each of 8 panelists will offer a five-minute demonstration of their digital project emphasizing how the medium has changed the way they approach their work. During the remaining 30 minutes, the audience will circulate around the panelists’ stations to ask individual questions and get a closer look at the projects. Representation from Peninsularists, Latinamericanists, and specialists in US Latino is anticipated. Must be member of MLA by April 1, 2011.

Please send 250 word abstract including link to digital work, if available by 15 March 2011 to Kyra A. Kietrys

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11-M, la novela gráfica.

[Below is my presentation for the panel, “Remembering Madrid's March 11th: Terrorism, Immigration, and Identity in Contemporary Spain” at the 2011 MLA Annual Convention in Los Angeles. I am developing this project further, and I welcome your feedback and comments. Special thanks to the Spanish Majors, Class of 2010, with whom I first taught this text.]

11-M, la novela gráfica (2009). Cover.

11-M is a graphic novelized account of the terrorist train bombings that occurred in Madrid on March 11th 2004, when ten bombs exploded on four commuter trains during the morning rush hour, killing 191 people and injuring 1,857. The next day, in a march against terrorism organized by the government, 11.4 million people—nearly 25% of Spain’s population—flocked to the streets around the country. While blame first fell upon the Basque separatist group ETA, the bombings were quickly discovered to be the work of Jihad extremists who were convicted in 2007, four of whom were absolved in 2008. There is still great controversy regarding who was truly responsible for the attacks, and the government has been widely criticized for the way it handled the investigations and its representation. But these are issues for another talk.

Today I will discuss 11-M, published in 2009, five years after the attacks. This graphic novel offers a documentary style narrative of the events leading up to the bombings, as well as the ensuing trials. While the novel uses the official version of the events described in the rulings of Spain’s high courts, the Audiencia Nacional and the Tribunal Supremo, it also introduces fictional characters (including a journalist, a policeman, and a victim’s aunt) that bring a personal and emotional perspective to the narrative. 11-M ran the risk of being accused of being frivolous. A comic book about a national tragedy? But in fact, when the authors approached Pilar Manjón, the president of La Asociación 11-M Afectados del Terrorismo (the March 11th Association of Those Affected by Terrorism), whose 20 year-old son was killed in the explosions, she accepted their request to write the prologue to this account because it demonstrated solidarity and reminded her of her own son’s love of comics. For the parents of the children (no matter the age) who were killed in the attacks, 11-M symbolically became the comic book of their children (Castro).

As a commemoration of the victims of a traumatic collective event, the book raises important questions regarding memory and, in particular, collective memory. It preserves the memory of the March 11th victims by tapping into Spain’s complicated relationship (if you’ll allow me to personify a nation) with collective memory of 20th political history. The reader is reminded of the Pacto de olvido (or, Pact to Forget) made by all political parties in the 1970s and 80s, as Spain emerged from its nearly 40-year fascist dictatorship under Francisco Franco, agreeing to forget the painful past so that the country could transition smoothly to democracy. As Spain’s fragile democracy solidified, the pact of silence gave way in the 21st century to a phenomenon known as la Recuperación de la memoria histórica (or “The Recovery of Historical Memory”) that aimed to recognize the victims of the war and Franco years. I will not be discussing these complex phenomena today, but rather I offer them as the context necessary to understand current day Spain’s complicated position on collective memory and political trauma, and so that we can discuss how 11-M uses this memory as a backdrop.

From its very cover, 11-M offers its readers a “Pact to Remember”: “You will always be in our memory”. We also see a commitment to solidarity and community, “We were all on those trains.”

11-M, Cover. Detail.

Significantly, this language echoes the language used in the real-life protest on March 12th as well as in commemorations of subsequent years.

Commemorative Poster, 2008.

Also significantly, just as the real victims of the bombings were erased from our lives, they are conspicuously absent from this image. Yet, the book is ultimately a promise to keep time from erasing them permanently.

A graphic novel, in particular, can be an effective means to tackle memory. As we know, the way we tell and retell stories affects how we remember those stories. We also know that words and pictures are inherently different in the way they communicate memory, especially the experience of time in memory. Because pictures are static, they cannot represent time as easily as language, which occurs in time (Nodelman 132). As a bimodal form, the graphic novel is in a privileged position to represent the dimension of time through its use of both verbal and visual expression.

I will focus today’s analysis on a narrative within the narrative: the fictional reporter’s account of the bombs exploding.  It comprises 16 pages that are positioned at the end of the first half of the novel, literally centralizing their significance. The inner-narrative itself is book-ended with a frame of the journalist, Paco, (who serves as the narrator), and a close-up of one of his eyes.

11-M. Left, p.29. Right, p.44.

Both his black sweater and the black gutters that frame him recall the black ribbons worn in honor of March 11’s victims. The journalist is looking directly at us-the-readers from a position of wisdom and authority, indicated by his peering over his glasses. But it’s also an invitation to join him in the empty chair in front of him. Through these silent frames (that is, frames containing no dialogue) and the close-up of his eye, we are invited into his mind. This silent conversation to which we will be witnesses, juxtaposes four competing narratives: the official story of March 11th and a personal account of March 11th, a visual narrative directly addressing the reader, and a time stamp. The tension among these narratives –especially the discrepancy between the way time is portrayed and the way it is felt– serves as a larger metaphor for the discrepancy between the official story and the personal one.

The official story representing the courts’ rulings are purposefully depicted in black and white typed courier font and borderless captions that give them an official and authoritative quality. In contrast to the official story, the narrator’s thoughts are shown in personalized handwritten font in soft yellow dialogue boxes. The journalist comments on the coldness of the official, bureaucratic language, and the impossibility of reducing such a powerful event to facts and figures.

11-M, p.29. Detail.

In addition to these two competing narrative voices, we have two others that add to the tension: the time stamp and the visual narrative.

11-M, p.29

Both contribute to the discrepancy between the deceptively simple portrayal of time and the way the viewer actually perceives it. In Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud tells us that the space within and between panels can affect how the reader experiences time (99) – the longer the panel, the slower time seems to pass. The time stamps can be read as a series of three vertical panels, and we feel time slowing down as the distance between these panels increases, despite the stamp indicating that time is passing at equal intervals of one minute. In the same manner, the shape of these horizontal panels affects the way the viewer perceives time. The first two panels are smaller and minute 7:34 seems to pass quickly. Minutes 7:35 and 7:36 are the same size panel, and seem to pass more slowly than the preceding minute, yet not at the same rate at each other because of the already mentioned vertical distance. The contradiction between time as we know it to pass and time as we perceive it to pass is subliminally very unsettling. As time slows down, suspense is building.

On the next page, the bombs explode.

11-M, pp. 30-31.

The narrower frames cause us to perceive time as passing faster, even though the time stamp still indicates time passing minute by minute. The captions representing the official version are centralized and encapsulated in a border printed in black on white and in reverse, occupying a space of protagonism, while the personalized account is relegated to the margins—symbolizing the people’s reaction to the government’s handling of the attacks. We see in the official version a lack of color, detail, and depth as if a flash were going off in our eyes. In this way, the author makes an allusion to the flashbulb memories that we create after tragic events. The layout of the page offers an ironic symmetry in this moment of chaos. The text on this page offers objective facts and figures regarding time, place and number of explosions. The facing page is equally detached and is presented in the negative. But here, even the outline of the people has been erased and the victims are reduced to the empty, blank, white space on the page and they are now reduced to a number in the text. This is where the official story ends for now.

An interesting thing happens at this point in the graphic novel: we become witness to the simple, mundane routine of the journalist waking up.

11-M, p.32

We step back in time to a moment before the explosions. The imposing time stamp has given way to the part-of-every-day-life-alarm clock. Yet, despite the apparent normality of these scenes, the layout of the frames repeats the layout of the explosion frames, and subconsciously we are reminded of the explosions. In the last frame, the journalist’s cell phone rings, he learns of the attacks and time suddenly freezes with the apple in mid-air. All the momentum established through the urgent sense of time culminates here, as if someone pushed the pause button. The graphic novel’s previous obsession with time gives way to a series of pages that exist outside of time, and the journalist’s personal version of the attacks supersede the official version.

In this timeless moment, we step back in time twice: first, as we re-experience the black and white flash—this time represented in the form of a shouting black mask on a white background with the narrator superimposed in the foreground. (The narrator is there, but he is not.)

11-M, p.33

The second return to the past is in the image itself. This is the Máscara of Montserrat gritando, or the Mask of Montserrat Shouting –a well-known 1936 sculpture by Julio González made for Paris’s 1937 World Fair to denounce the Spanish Civil War. It is a symbol of suffering people (Preckler 574) and it seems as if it were about to swallow the journalist in its all-engulfing pain, but, paradoxically, it is a static image of a completed sculpture.

11-M continues by presenting us with three more works of art that also evoke fear and destruction. Characters from the graphic novel are all absent from these images, but the captions remind the reader of the larger context. Between a doubled reproduction of a neorealist 1975 painting by Juan Genovés titled Gente corriendo (People Running), the narrator emphasizes that he didn’t witness the March 11th explosions.

11-M, p.34

In place of the actual victims, the narrator imagines a scene that presents what art historian María Carmen Flores Sánchez calls a “una visión dramática, pero a la vez distanciada, que muestra un juego entre las ideas de soledad, multitud, represión y miedo” (“dramatic yet distanced vision showing the play between solitude, multitude, repression and fear”).

The following page features Rene Magritte’s The Key of the Fields (La clef des champs), whose shattering glass reminds us of the shattered windows on the trains, and whose landscape reflected in the broken pieces points to the senselessness of destruction. This painting emphasizes the unknown source of the destruction. In the caption, the narrator again emphasizes his absence from the scene.

11-M, p.35

The final work of art in this sequence is Pablo Picasso’s 1937 Guernika, the par excellence denouncement of the Spanish Civil War, but also more generally, a protest of violence against civilians. Just as this painting figures prominently in the collective memory of Spaniards, it takes up two full pages here.

11-M, pp.36-37

While at the same time conjuring up the tragedy of the Civil War, it reminds us that this is not the Civil War from 70 years ago, but a much more contemporary tragedy. It has been obviously digitally manipulated: zoomed in upon, fragmented, and pixilated. The original triangular symmetry has been lost, and re-placed with an external symmetry leaving no coherence to the original painting. The feeling of shattered humanity, however, remains, with an emphasis on the broken human body and spirit. These two pages capture a sense of the bombing with captions of fictional witnesses telling of what they saw, heard, and smelled in the moments immediately following the explosions.

The narrator finally takes us one step deeper into the events of that morning.

11-M, pp.38-39

Once again, in the last moment before cell phones ring, a fragment of Guernika appears as a direct transitional image, a match on design from the square window here, is repeated here in the train window. Then, there is an urgent and insistent sound of ringing phones. Through sound, we are returned from the timelessness that absorbed us in the works of art to the moment of the explosions. The cell phones tell us that we are indisputably in the present. Although we are not there, we overhear the imagined phone conversations between fictional victims and their families. We feel the anxiety of not knowing, “Julia, have you called Andres’s cell phone? Yes, but he’s not answering” (38) We feel the relief of hearing a voice, “Antonio, where are you? –I’m off today, I’m at home, what’s the matter?” Note how the light fades on the shattered train windows, like a TV screen fading out. Before the last phone rings, we “hear” a man call his wife telling her there is blood everywhere and asking her to take care of the kids (39). We can only assume he is dying. The screen goes black, and on the next page:

11-M, pp.40-41

we have the closing credits to this contemporary tragedy: the names of the 191 who lost their lives that day. In this way, the graphic novel foregrounds these unfortunate protagonists and respects them as individuals.

The text on the following page repeats the official story summarizing the casualty toll, previously depicted counter the explosions on page 31.

11-M, pp.42-43

While still in black and white typeset, the reader now engages differently with this data. The journalist’s multiple circles signal a personal relationship, not simple stark facts. The broken pencil and point on the facing page represent frustration, and powerlessness.

This rich intertextual narrative sequence comes to an end when the camera zooms back out from the journalist’s eye to the shoulder shot.

11-M, p.44

The narrator hasn’t moved. The only difference is that now his mouth is slightly open, and now we observe a moment of silence amidst the rain that soaked Spain during the March 12th demonstrations. Even though the narrator wasn’t there the morning of March 11th; even though we weren’t there, the journalist takes us there. Not to see, but to feel. It is an emotional journey through the wreckage, it is, as Pilar Manjón states in the prologue, a moment of solidarity that includes us, the readers, in which we are not shown, so that we might see. And remember.

Bibliography

  • Castro, Julio. “La novela gráfica del 11-M, otra pieza clave de nuestra más terrible historia.” La república cultural, 1 Feb 2010. Web. 20 Dec 2011. <http://www.larepublicacultural.es/articulo.php3?id_article=2403>
  • Flores Sánchez, Mª Carmen. Obra del mes, enero 2009. Gente corriendo. Web. 20 Dec 2010. <http://www.museoreinasofia.es/programas-publicos/educacion/2009/obra-enero09.html>
  • Gálvez, Pepe, Antoni Guiral, Joan Mundet, and Pilar Manjón. 11-M: la novela gráfica. Barcelona: Panini Comics, 2009. Print.
  • Instituto Nacional de Estadística. Censos de población y vivienda, 2001. Web. 4 Jan 2011. < http://www.ine.es/censo/es/consulta.jsp>
  • McCloud, Scott. Understanding comics: The invisible art. Harper Collins, 2009.
  • Nodelman, Perry. The Pleasures of Children’s Literature. 2nd ed. White Plains, N.Y: Longman, 1996. Print.
  • Preckler, Ana María. Historia del arte universal de los siglos XIX y XX. Editorial Complutense, 2003. Print.

Image credits

  • Commemorative poster. Abracito fuerte. 2008. Web. 20 Dec 2010. <www.fotolog.com/abracitofuerte/41909405>
  • All other images are from 11-M, la novela gráfica.
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