This quotation by Vikram Chandra is central to my interest in the power of story. My scholarship centers on the ways in which the stories we have been told about the world and its people can have a profound effect on our opinion and treatment of those people. And about how absences and disappearances, especially of people we love, can gain presence and have a similarly profound effect on our lives.
Repressive regimes that have desired to gain the complicity of the populace in othering, persecuting, and finally disappearing people whom they consider undesirable have often created myths of origin and purity to justify their actions. Writers of historical fiction who seek to recuperate the unbearable absences of disappeared individuals may use myths within their novels, plays, and films in order to reinscribe these missing people into the story of the world. I am interested in the denotative and connotative aspects of myth–how the former demands to be taken as fact and thus seeks to control while the latter admits of its own mythical nature as it seeks to heal. I am especially interested in how these myths, both political and literary, and these tragic absences may develop agency, becoming what Bruno Latour would term actants, as they take on lives of their own, so to speak, and begin to impact the world around them. I approach this subject in my doctoral dissertation particularly as it relates to twentieth-century Spain’s Franco regime and to contemporary historical fiction that deals with the Spanish Civil War and Franco’s subsequent dictatorship.
My research draws from theories of myth, political myth, genre fusion, narrative, thingification, and absence; from 20th century European (particularly Spanish) history; and from historical fiction authored by contemporary novelists, playwrights, and filmmakers. I work in the intersections between myth and truth, between memory and absence, between story and history. These in-between spaces have proven to be very rich and interesting places to explore.
Header image: Orpheus before Pluto and Persephone by François Perrier, 1645