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Lopez-Valero Colbert, Olga. The Gaze on the Past: Popular Culture and History in Antonio Munoz Molina's Novels.

Lopez-Valero Colbert, Olga. The Gaze on the Past: Popular Culture and History in Antonio Munoz Molina's Novels. Lewisburg [Pa.]: Bucknell UP, 2007. 221 pp.

The Gaze on the Past explores the relationship between popular culture and history in four major novels and other writings by Munoz Molina. Employing Raymond Williams' paradigmatic concept of "structure of feeling" -- a set of social and cultural experiences shared by a particular generation at an specific historical time and place -- the author examines how Munoz Molina's narrative becomes a series of "textual representations" (13) that outline the structure of feeling of two distinct but overlapping periods of Spain's most controversial history: Francoism and the Transition. Lopez-Valero first examines the way Munoz Molina turns to popular culture to describe the common experiences and values of a nation grounded on Franco's monolithic and re pressive politics of silence, immobility and exclusion. Furthermore, the author delineates certain parallels between Francoism's structure of feeling and that of the Transition to exemplify Munoz Molina's textual discourses surrounding the erasure of a collective memory and the disenchantment of a generation disillusioned by unfulfilled expectations after the dictator's death in 1975. By concentrating on these two particular historical periods, Lopez-Valero successfully shows how Munoz Molina's narrative critically underlines the nature of Spain's spectral and traumatic past.

In chapter one the author focuses on the indexical capability of visual imagery (photography) to construct public and private narrative devices related to individual and collective memory. Drawing on Roland Barthes' Camera Lucida, Lopez-Valero addresses how in Beatus ille photography functions as an iconic process to facilitate a personal appropriation of past experiences, but it also conveys a message of silence, repression and immobility, that is, a "temporal arrest" (44), paradigmatic of Francoism's structure of feeling. The author also explores the role of the Catholic Church within this structure of feeling and the consequences of the Civil War and Francoism by using Spain as a biblical analogy of the lost paradise. A second part of the chapter focuses on the role of photography in preserving collective memory and the relationship of this visual media to ghostliness and necrophilia on Munoz Molina's novel El jinete polaco.

In the second chapter, Lopez-Valero discusses the oppressive power of fear in Beltenebros and El invierno en Lisboa by outlining how Munoz Molina makes use of the aesthetics and narrative strategies of the thriller and its filmic equivalent, film noir, to recreate, through the anxiety experienced by the characters, an ambience of claustrophobia, paranoia, and inner exile, as common markers of Franco's repressive dictatorship. The author further explores the way female characters overcome anxiety and male authority by subverting the general conventions of the Gothic and the novela rosa found within Beltenebros. The second part of the analysis is devoted to discussing how in El invierno en Lisboa fear becomes a byproduct of classic Hollywood cinema. Central to the analysis of this novel is the theme of female subjectivity and its successful struggle to escape submission under a repressive patriarchal order.

In chapter three, Lopez-Valero begins her analysis by exploring the role of music composition, particularly jazz, and its connection to fictional writing in Munoz Molina's narrative. Looking at El invierno en Lisboa, the author examines how music, as photography, becomes a powerful device to restore memory and preserve ghostly traces of the past. The author further discusses the constant consumption of popular culture, especially American music, to exemplify Spanish society's longing for cosmopolitanism. This consumption of foreign music in El invierno en Lisboa functions, according to the author, as a mechanism of temporal amnesia and alienation to critically expose the structure of feeling during the Transition period, which is best described by its lack of political interest and its overall disillusionment. The subject of exile is further explored in El jinete polaco by contrasting the imposed territorial exile of those who opposed Franco's ideology and those of a later generation who chose self-imposed exile as a way to reject Spanish society and its traumatic past.

Lopez-Valero starts the fourth chapter by analyzing the relationship between memory and voice media technology in El jinete polaco. Relying on the critical frameworks of theorists Pierre Nora and Maurice Halbwachs, the author delves into the intersection of memory and history to examine how Francoism's and the Transition's structures of feeling were constructed to repress "the mechanisms of remembering" (144). The author further explores how certain devices like the radio, the answering machine or the jukebox are used in the novel as vessels for retaining subversive, but at the same time spectral, voices of the past. Issues of simulacra and spectrality are further explored in the second half of the chapter by discussing the weak materiality of female characters in both El jinete and Beltenebros. Despite the "phantomlike status" (165) of women, reinforced historically by patriarchal repression, in both novels, Lopez-Valero investigates how female characters manage to deflect the scopophilic gaze of male characters to conclude that despite his attempts Munoz Molina still misses the mark in trying to vindicate "a voiceless collective (women)" (171).

In The Gaze on the Past Olga Lopez-Valero successfully manages to outline the way popular culture and history become key to Munoz Molina's writings. This is an insightful literary study that inquires into two critical historical periods, Francoism and the Transition, that remain current in the social and political arena of contemporary Spain. This study deserves close attention within the field of Spanish cultural studies and those students and scholars particularly interested in the narrative of Munoz Molina will greatly benefit from it.


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Author:Martin, Juan Carlos
Date:Jan 1, 2011
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