This essay explores the possibilities of interpreting the forced disappearance of the 43 students from the Escuela Normal in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, through the literary lens of Los recuerdos del porvenir by Elena Garro. The social fragmentation of the fictional town proves crucial to understanding how structural, cultural, and direct violence determine notions of memory, silence, insurrection, and impunity in the novel. Given that many of the underlying conflicts depicted through the fictional writing are still present in everyday life in Guerrero today, they can illuminate key aspects of both the crimes depicted in the novel and those perpetrated in Iguala in , thereby shedding light on how literary texts provide insights into the edifice and machinations of violence. Ayotzinapa, Elena Garro, Los recuerdos del porvenir , memory, social fragmentation, violence. Despite Elena Garro's marginalized status in terms of the all-male literary grouping of writers and novels known as Latin America's "Boom,'' her rendering of history and memory in Los recuerdos del porvenir , paired with its controversial female protagonists, experimental narrative style, and use of the notion of time as both trope and topic has earned the novel a place in many syllabi and arguably also in the canon of twentieth-century Spanish American literature.
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This essay explores the possibilities of interpreting the forced disappearance of the 43 students from the Escuela Normal in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, through the literary lens of Los recuerdos del porvenir by Elena Garro.
The social fragmentation of the fictional town proves crucial to understanding how structural, cultural, and direct violence determine notions of memory, silence, insurrection, and impunity in the novel. Given that many of the underlying conflicts depicted through the fictional writing are still present in everyday life in Guerrero today, they can illuminate key aspects of both the crimes depicted in the novel and those perpetrated in Iguala in , thereby shedding light on how literary texts provide insights into the edifice and machinations of violence.
Ayotzinapa, Elena Garro, Los recuerdos del porvenir , memory, social fragmentation, violence. Despite Elena Garro's marginalized status in terms of the all-male literary grouping of writers and novels known as Latin America's "Boom,'' her rendering of history and memory in Los recuerdos del porvenir , paired with its controversial female protagonists, experimental narrative style, and use of the notion of time as both trope and topic has earned the novel a place in many syllabi and arguably also in the canon of twentieth-century Spanish American literature.
Over the course of the last three decades, scholars have produced a wealth of scholarship on Los recuerdos that offers insights into thematic, stylistic, and theoretical approaches to the novel.
Some of these take extra-literary stances, such as: the challenges faced by Latin American women writers to have their work published, read and valued on their own terms; the examination of the historical and historiographical issues related to the representation of the Cristero war — or the shortcomings of the Mexican Revolution, particularly with regard to the failure of proposed land tenure reform; and social conflicts stemming from prejudices in terms of gender, race and class, and the unmitigated use of violence to enforce the social order.
My reading of Los recuerdos del porvenir builds on existing scholarship in order to suggest the relevance and rich possibilities of interpreting Garro's novel as engaged in a dialogue with contemporary Mexico, particularly in the context of the shockingly violent forced disappearance of 43 students, in the town of Iguala, on September 26, , from the Escuela Normal Rural Isidro Burgos in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero.
Today, Garro's historical novel, written over a half century ago, sounds eerily familiar. Ixtepec is at once a town that might exemplify any rural community in Mexico's southeastern states and a fictional recreation of Iguala, both geographically and socially.
Critics agree that Garro culled some of her characters and the social dynamics of the town under military rule from her own childhood memories of [End Page 65] growing up in Iguala between and Its hanged Indigenous peasants—collective characters who are innocent victims and sometimes dissidents who lobby for reform—periodically yet unwaveringly appear near the town's gate on the road to Cocula. The "trancas de Cocula,'' where the peasants' bodies are left hanging for all to see as a warning and symbol of the military occupation of Ixtepec, in cahoots with its most powerful landowner, refers to the same Cocula, Guerrero, where the bodies of the 43 disappeared students were supposedly incinerated in a landfill.
Plagued with fear and silence, insurgency, impunity and hypocrisy, as well as the crimes of murder and torture, the repressive and exclusionary fictional world of Ixtepec in Los recuerdos serves as a reminder of how critical conflicts such as the violence of gender and racial inequality, the silencing of dissident voices through political repression, as well as the generalized oppression of the poor and disenfranchised remain unresolved in Mexico, especially in states like Guerrero.
By focusing on the conflicts that underlie and provoke violence instead of the acts per se, this article seeks, on the one hand, to reaffirm the literary and cultural relevance of studying and teaching Los recuerdos in the twenty-first century and, on the other, to shed light on how literary texts provide insights into the edifice and machinations of cultural and structural violence that lie beneath and ultimately detonate expressions of direct violence. The terms I use are those of Johan Galtung: Firstly, "direct'' violence refers to recognizable, visibly violent acts.
Secondly, "cultural'' violence implies normalized forms of violence that are usually not identified as such and are transmitted through the symbolic sphere of our existence that can be used to legitimize direct or structural violence. The systematic discrimination of Indigenous people and of women in general in Mexico would fall into this category. Thirdly, "structural'' violence reflects a social structure of inequality based on exploitation.
In studying the nature of some of these conflicts that are then articulated through language in the novel, I suggest a means to bridge [End Page 66] fictional and real worlds as well as historical moments that are separated by close to ninety years.
Despite having been written in the s and published in the s, and being set during the Cristero conflict of the post revolutionary s, the underlying conflicts of Los recuerdos are arguably similar to those conflicts still unresolved today, that continue to provoke rampant acts of atrocious violence.
As Garro surely would have suspected, while the public outcry following the terrible events in Iguala in was massive, for members of the normalistas' communities it was but one more episode in a lifetime marred by violence.
The immediate parallels that can be drawn between the novel and the events of Ayotzinapa are brought to light more fully by looking at the acts of violence as manifestations of structural and culture violence that bolster and institutionalize inequality, which are exacerbated by impunity, and lead to stasis.
In his reflections on Chiapas, Galtung has noted that the people "focus on military and political events like the outbreaks of violence and ceasefire [. Most static is the underlying social formation with the indigenous women, poor and rural at the bottom, abused, exploited, suppressed; in a formation mainly run by mestizo men, rich and urban.
In recreating its past, the collective narrative voice of the town in Garro's novel reveals deep running fractures in the social fabric. Here, "las violencias cotidianas, [. Indeed, said divisions—existing as gender, racial, class, and religious distinctions—are so ingrained culturally and institutionally that they permeate many aspects of life. In the worst case scenario these are paired with the impunity of the perpetrators and a generalized collective sense of impotence, and have led to manifestations of horrendous violence, such as the forced disappearance of the 43 young men who were studying to be teachers in Ayotzinapa.
I also argue that the sense of stasis and the cancellation of the future in Garro's novel can be tied to a reading of the history of impunity in the state of Guerrero. Although the perpetrators have changed over the years, the victims continue to be the poor and the disenfranchised and, often, those individuals who raise their voices against injustice. Exacerbating the horrendous crimes carried out in Iguala is the fact that the murder of students in a state whose government operates on illegality, impunity and fear is a direct means of negating the future and of cancelling out the possibility of change.
At a time in which her fellow intellectuals were concerned with mexicanidad , insofar as it implied an ushering in of modernity for the nation, Garro understood that what was needed was effective democracy in order to break out of the historical patterns of inequality and injustice. Tracing these connections expressly can foster critical discussion about Garro's novel, while at the same time offering a position on the cultural and historical complexities of injustice in Mexico. In this discussion, I concentrate on aspects of the novel that play key roles in the engendering or manifestation of the conflicts that resonate in the particularities of the Ayotzinapa disappearances—at least those that have come to light since there is still much to be ascertained—.
These include: the generalized state of social fragmentation in the town; the relationship between language and silence, memory and forgetting, dissidence or insurgency; and, repression, accompanied by impunity and hypocrisy. I review Garro's use of binary opposites that reveal both the individual characters as well as the social fabric of Ixtepec to be disintegrated. As becomes clear, both the narrator's and the characters' particular relationship with [End Page 69] remembering and forgetting prove that notions of past and present, language and silence, as well as the rift in Ixtepec itself, are symptomatic not only of their individual conditions, but also of a divided and unequal postrevolutionary Mexico.
I also consider Garro's preoccupations—both literary and social—with dissident yet just voices, examining the relationship between insurgency and silence on the one hand, and repression and impunity on the other. There are, in fact, attempts in the novel to challenge the stasis provoked by violent repression. Significantly, all the failed attempts at breaking out of the impasse that is Ixtepec keep the town divided and hence easier to preserve in a state of constant dread, distrust and paralysis.
The hope of the townspeople that an outside force might reprieve them proves illusive, as neither the insurgent Abacuc nor the federal government in Mexico City represented by the train that invariably arrives empty every afternoon at 6 pm intervene on their behalf I also argue that, despite the significant change in some of the perpetrators, the unresolved conflicts that provoke division and stasis in Los recuerdos persist today as seems evident in the circumstances regarding the forced disappearance of the 43 students from the Escuela Normal in Ayotzinapa.
While today the Church and the military have given way to other repressive potencies, such as organized crime and police forces, the victims continue to be young people who envision another future, and who therefore threaten the status quo that invariably privileges only a few. In both instances, the result is the same for the victims: the cancelling out of the future. How can the forced disappearance of young people, indeed of trainee-teacher students, not be considered tantamount to the annihilation of a future?
The notion of division, whether understood as the self being split in two, or the fracture of the social network itself a manifestation of structural and cultural violence , is crucial to understanding Los recuerdos.
Division permeates not only the identity of individual characters and their relation to others, but also other themes of the novel that in turn mirror preoccupations of the postrevolutionary decades and mid-twentieth century, such as land tenure, the division of Church and state, the urban-rural divide and the impetus towards defining Mexico as a modern or traditional nation-state.
During these decades, the state of affairs of the intelligentsia was also divided among insiders and outsiders. As Rebecca Biron has persuasively argued, Garro herself remained on the margins of the intelligentsia and from that place of exile physical or otherwise questioned and challenged the reigning intellectuals' appropriation of the notion of Mexico and mexicanidad. Garro's preoccupation with, and understanding of the visible and dominant side of things, and the accompanying potentially subversive underside may explain her literary penchant for binary opposites.
Indeed, arguably all of Los recuerdos is a play on dichotomies: the novel's structure is divided in two parts; the present competes with the past; and the town is divided among Indigenous and mestizos, between naturals and foreigners, between respectable and morally questionable women, between cristeros and federalists, and so forth.
Significantly, not only do these divisions mimic unequal power relations, they also have at their core issues of structural and cultural violence. In Garro's writing, fragmentation is a symptom of structural and cultural violence, spurred by inequality, and results inevitably in stasis.
This idea can be well illustrated in the internal division of the characters themselves. Similarly, once her brothers leave town, Isabel Moncada seems torn between two selves: a more authentic one linked to her childhood complicity with her brothers, and her current sense of displacement provoked by their departure and her mother's designs to have her married.
Their situations are radically different on one level—Isabel is the daughter of one of the most respectable families of Ixtepec and Julia the querida of the irascible Rosas. But on another level they are both victims of structural gendered violence, as one is obliged by her family to marry and the other is deprived of her freedom as the war [End Page 72] bounty of the young general.
Interestingly, both female characters eventually break away from those who are trying to restrict them, yet their actions are perceived by the townspeople as anomalies that might impact them, or perhaps their families, but are not transcendental in terms of changing the state of affairs for women in Ixtepec. Julia's escape from Rosas is cloaked in the fantastic as "time'' first recedes, transforming Julia into a twelve year old , and then stops altogether to allow her and Felipe Hurtado to escape Ixtepec Given that Julia and Felipe are described as being otherworldly 40, 44, , their escape from the town also belongs to a realm beyond the grasp of its inhabitants and thus not a viable possibility for emancipation that might be emulated.
The narrator's insistence that nothing like this has ever occurred in the long history of the town and thus is unlikely to ever happen again, upholds this reading For her part, Isabel's decision to become Rosas's lover is both a potential means to save her brothers and an affirmation that she is eschewing of marriage.
Yet, like Julia albeit for different reasons , Isabel's break with established social patterns based on gender roles renders her a marked woman, not a model to imitate. At the close of the novel, it is the medicine woman, Gregoria, who finds the stone she believes to be Isabel. Gregoria's inscription on the stone that is formed of Isabel's petrified body determines—through writing, memory and historiography—that Isabel is to be remembered for time eternal as a fallen woman and not as a selfless one whose sacrifice was meant to redeem her brothers Isabel's petrification at the end of the novel can of course be interpreted as the ultimate symbol of stasis as a dynamic human life is transfixed into the permanence of stone.
Another way of thinking about Conchita, however, is to question why sensible voices such as hers remain silenced in Ixtepec and in so doing enable the perverse status quo of the repressive military occupation and the town's culturally violent traditions of chauvinism, classicism and racism to keep on unchallenged.
The lesson here appears to be that, regardless of whether a woman is rebellious like Julia and Isabel or is obedient as in the case of Conchita , woman's lot in Ixtepec is conceived of as unchanging and unwavering.
My analysis shows that virtually every character is depicted as waging a battle between two distinct selves. Significantly, as in the case of Isabel and Julia, different forms of repression, violence, or loss always provoke the disjunction.
Their division, moreover, is expressed in terms of how they conceive of the past, present and future or fail to do so and time's relationship with memory. In each case there is a decided penchant for nostalgia, due perhaps to the unreliability of memory. Nostalgia permeates the novel, rendering the notion of time more than a rift between chronometric and diametric orders. In Los recuerdos nostalgia can be understood as the negation of the future, as indicated by the title of Garro's novel, while nevertheless retaining the multivalent possibilities offered when considered in a utopian or revolutionary sense.
The conjunction of nostalgia and utopia entails believing that the idealized past can be restored in the present or the future. The revolutionary possibilities, meanwhile, are best suggested in Jameson's reading of Walter Benjamin: "But if [End Page 74] nostalgia as political motivation is most frequently associated with Fascism, there is no reason why a nostalgia conscious of itself, a lucid and remorseless dissatisfaction with the present on the grounds of some remembered plenitude, cannot furnish as adequate a revolutionary stimulus as any other.
Nostalgia is a constant yet vague presence that pervades the novel, yet what the characters long for remains unspoken and even unintelligible to some. My interpretation is that the characters wish for the state of things to be different, perhaps as they were once, —before Rosas, before the occupation of the town, and before the enchantment of Julia. While there seems to be little evidence that life in Ixtepec had been better in the past, the innocence of childhood at least promised an alternative to entrapment, division, repressions and stasis.
Utopian and revolutionary nostalgia conjoin in the form of Abacuc and other revolutionary Zapatistas. Abacuc is a former revolutionary who fought alongside Zapata until the latter's murder. In the second part of the novel, we learn that Abacuc, now a Cristero, is organizing a resistance movement against the federal government in the mountains of Guerrero. Rosas sees him as a potential threat and it follows that the narrator suggests that Ixtepec awaits his arrival as they might a savior — And yet there is no sign of his ever arriving in the town; his presence looms but never materializes.
Similarly, the narrator speaks of the much-anticipated return of the Zapatistas in redemptory terms: "Por [. Nadie se acordaba de nosotros'' Clearly, nostalgia and waiting are linked together. Both seem to break with chronometric time and it remains uncertain whether what can end the impasse of interminable waiting lies in the revival of the revolutionary past or in the impossible future represented by the empty train literally, a indication of the lack of interest in the town and, figuratively, a symbol of a failed and barren, yet supposedly modern, Mexico.
If violence, repression, and a sense of loss cause the characters to feel divided, notions of memory and forgetting, and their connection to nostalgia are the keys to understanding their respective division and can also lay out the groundwork to deciphering the larger collective fragmentation of Ixtepec itself. In fact, remembering and forgetting, closely tied with speech and silence, inform the underlying questions in Garro's novel: What or whom is to be remembered about Ixtepec and by whom?
Who speaks and who remains silent? The ambiguity and vagueness of the oft-quoted beginning of the novel encourage precisely these questions: "Estoy y estuve en muchos ojos. In tracing its origins, the town-narrator suggests that its history is one of interminable violence, thus disavowing the possibility that things were once better, or that they may one day be otherwise. Indeed it is violence that unites distinct historical moments and makes time seem an endless present:. The narrator of the novel relies on observing Ixtepec and recording in its "unreliable memory'' what the town perceives as the most significant or transcendental events.
While these distinctive characteristics of the narrator signal a different way of telling history, 27 tracing history through cataclysmic violent events of a particular place is also one way in which historical narratives operate.
Garro seems to be suggesting that the way of recording and storing events operates differently in Ixtepec and yet its history is always marked by a foundational story of violent conquest. The characters that find their selves split in two voice their division through memories of the past or the future and seem to have difficulty reconciling the present with the past.
Recuerdos Porvenir by Elena Garro
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Los recuerdos del porvenir
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