History, Memory & Fiction in Spanish America

SPN 379: History, Memory, and Fiction


Instructor:           Dr. Brian L. Price

Email:                    pricebl@wfu.edu

Horas de oficina:                 MW 2:15-3:45 pm


Course Description

This course looks at Spanish American historical and memory fiction. As we read these fictions, it is imperative to remember that this course is not a history class. While we will deal with national histories in order to understand the context to which authors refer or recreate, this course is about literature, and specifically literature’s function in the creation of collective and individual memory and the effect those memories have on contemporary discussions of national identity and culture.  We begin with Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, whose ficciones problematize Western society’s conception of lineal time by drawing our attention to cycles and repetitions in the historical record. Afterwards we will tackle Andrés Neuman’s Una vez Argentina, a novel that offers two separate but somehow interdependent national stories: one, a personal and familial tale, and the other, a political story of presidential transitions, disappearances, and social changes in Buenos Aires. When we finish the novel, we will then have an opportunity to engage Neuman personally about his writing when he pays us a visit here in Salamanca. Then, in keeping with the recent release of Benicio del Toro’s portrayal of Che Guevara, we will look at two earlier incarnations of the Argentine guerilla: Julio Cortázar’s short story “Reunión” and Gael García Bernal’s rendition in Diarios de motocicleta. Closing the chapter on Argentina—a country whose 20th century history was marred by the loss of tens of thousands of political prisoners—we will turn to a story about a disappearance of another kind. López Nieve’s “Seva”, offers insight into the disappearance of a fictional town in Puerto Rico at the turn of the century. One of the most fascinating elements of this fiction is the stir that it caused among separatists groups on the island, who took the story as proof of American perfidy and oppression following the Spanish American War. From Seva, we will fly south to a small town in the Peruvian Andes haunted by the specter of the Sendero Luminoso. Santiago Roncagliolo’s novel Abril rojo offers us an opportunity to discuss national memory and trauma and their weight in contemporary political discourse. And, as with Neuman, we will have the opportunity to discuss the novel directly with the author, who will share with us the genesis of the novel and its roots in journalism. Then, we will begin tracing steps backwards in Mexican history, starting with Mexican Revolution and ending with War of Independence. Cristina Rivera Garza’s novel Nadie me verá llorar occurs between 1900 and 1920 and yet, unlike most Mexican texts dealing with that time period, really has little to do with the revolution. It does, however, emphasize histories that are typically subsumed by the war, namely histories about individual states, the mining industry, the production of vanilla, prostitution, medical and social positivism, and Mexico’s mental health system. And finally, Jorge Ibargüengoitia’s raucous parody of the Mexico’s failed bid for independence will invite us to question how we tell our national stories, who we pick for our great heroes, and how honest we should really be when passing this information along to future generations.


Borges, Jorge Luis. “La otra muerte”, “La muralla y los libros”, “Guayaquil”.

Cortázar, Julio. “Reunión”.

López Nieves, Luis. “”Seva: Historia de la primera invasión norteamericana de la isla de Puerto Rico ocurrida en mayo de 1898″.

Roncagliolo, Santiago. Abril rojo.

Neuman, Andrés. Una vez Argentina.

Ibargüengoitia, Jorge. Los pasos de López.

Rivera Garza, Cristina. Nadie me verá llorar.

Note: Throughout the semester we will complement our primary readings with a series of secondary texts that will provide cultural, historical, and critical context. Some of these readings will include excerpts from Gyorg Lukács’ The Historical Novel, Seymour Menton’s Latin America’s New Historical Novel, and Linda Hutcheon’s A Poetics of the Postmodern, as well as some historical overviews of Argentina’s military dictatorships, the Peruvian government’s struggle against domestic terrorism, and Mexico’s 19th-century bid for independence.

Reading Schedule

Week 1 


Lunes2 de febrero


IntroductionReading: Borges. “La muralla y los libros”, “La otra muerte”.

Topics: Overview of historical fiction in Latin America, overarching themes (failure, repetition, relevance to contemporary context), J. L. Borges’ notions of cyclical history


Miércoles4 de febrero


Reading: Borges. “Guayaquil”.Topics: Repetitive history, caudillismo


Week 2 


Lunes9 de febrero


Reading: Neuman. Una vez argentina, p. 15-102Topics: Autobiography and history
Miércoles11 de febrero


Reading: Neuman. Una vez argentina, p. 102-136Topics: Military dictatorships in Argentina


Week 3 


Lunes16 de febrero


Reading: Neuman. Una vez argentina, p. 137-221Topics: Youth and history

Expert Reading Pair #1

Miércoles18 de febrero


Reading: Neuman. Una vez argentina, p. 222-255Topics: Exile and memory
Jueves19 de febrero


Visita de Andrés Neuman


Week 4 


Lunes23 de febrero


Reading: Cortázar. “Reunión”.Topics: Demonumentalizing the hero
Martes24 de febrero Movie: “Diarios en motocicleta”. Reading: Handouts

Topics: Monumentalizing function of historical imagination


Miércoles25 de febrero


Reading: Cortázar. “Reunión”.Topics: Comparing different versions of history


Week 5 


Lunes2 de marzo


Reading: López Nieves. “Seva: Historia de la primera invasión norteamericana de la isla de Puerto Rico ocurrida en mayo de 1898″.Topics: Spanish American War, Puerto Rican nationalism, empire and archiving or erasing history


Miércoles4 de marzo


Midterm Exam


Week 6 


Lunes9 de marzo


Reading: Carpentier. “Viaje a la semilla”. 
Miércoles11 de marzo


Reading: Roncagliolo. Abril rojo, p. 9-80

Topics: Sendero Luminoso, Abimael Guzmán


Week 7  


Lunes16 de marzo


Reading: Roncagliolo. Abril rojo, p. 81-188Topics: Terrorism and memory

Expert Reading Pair #2


Miércoles18 de marzo


Reading: Roncagliolo. Abril rojo, p. 189-252Topics: Historical trauma



Week 8  



Lunes23 de marzo


Reading: Roncagliolo. Abril rojo, p. 253-328
Miércoles25 de marzo


Pictoral Memory: Murals of the Mexican RevolutionReading: Handouts.

Topics: State-sponsored history, codification of national myth, and mass education



Week 9 


Lunes30 de marzo


Reading: Rivera Garza. Nadie me verá llorar. Caps. 1 & 2Topics: El Porfiriato and late-19th century positivism in Mexico
Martes31 de marzo


Visita de Santiago Roncagliolo

Miércoles1 de abril


Reading: Rivera Garza. Nadie me verá llorar. Caps. 3 & 4Topics: Marginalized histories

Expert Reading Pair #3

Annotated Bibliography and Preliminary Thesis Statement Due



Week 10 



Lunes6 de abril


Viaje a Andalucía – No hay clase


8 de abril


Viaje a Andalucía – No hay clase


Week 11 


Lunes13 de abril


Reading: Rivera Garza. Nadie me verá llorar. Caps. 5, 6 & 7 
Miércoles15 de abril


Reading: Rivera Garza. Nadie me verá llorar. Cap. 8

Revised Thesis with Paper Outline and/or Introductory Paragraph Due


Week 12 
Lunes20 de abril


Readings: Novo. “La historia”; Ibargüengoitia. Los pasos de López, p. 7-51; Mexican Schoolbook Text (1957).Topics: Myth & history, Critical irony


Miércoles22 de abril


Ibargüengoitia. Los pasos de López, p. 52-93Topics: Parody, Theatricality, and National history

Expert Reading Pair #4



Week 13 
Lunes27 de abril


Ibargüengoitia. Los pasos de López, p. 94-134Topics: Testimony and setting the record straight
Miércoles29 de abril


Ibargüengoitia. Los pasos de López, p. 135-171Closing comments on national histories and fiction


Week 14 
Lunes4 de mayo


Examen final

Miércoles6 de mayo


Final Research Paper due by midnight


Class Policies and Grading

Readings and Participation: 5%. Historical fiction writers are not known for their brevity. Indeed, it would appear that thick books resemble a badge of courage, a rite of passage, or an imposition of the genre. Because this is the norm, we must deal with some long texts. When possible, we will read fragments (as in the case of Neuman’s Una vez Argentina).  Some novels, like Roncagliolo’s Abril rojo, have large print, blank pages, and relatively straightforward, easy-to-read language. In this case we will cover a lot of ground for each class. There are the blessed few texts, such as Ibargüengoitia’s Los pasos de López, that are both seductively easy reads and short. But don’t be fooled: his humor is incisive and his brevity belies years of thoughts, research, and polishing. Likewise, Again, do not give into the temptation to interpret brevity for lack of serious thought in Borges, whose stories kick this course off. Borges, Cortázar, Novo, and López Nieves require multiple reads each. That said, you can expect reading assignments of varying length. I will arrange reading schedules so that heavier loads are expected on Mondays and lighter loads on Wednesdays. You should read every day. To aid you in reading, I will provide reading questions and guides. You are expected to cover all the materials assigned at least once before class. Allow yourself enough time to read and reflect. Last-minute cramming will not suffice.

Homework questions: 10%. Reading questions should be answered in full sentences and deposited in our digital drop box on Blackboard before class. No credit will be granted for late work.

Expert Reader Pairs: 10%. In addition to your active daily participation, for one day during the semester you are paired with a classmate to direct the class discussion. Your grade – and both students receive the same grade – will be based on evidence of comprehension of the text and your ability to involve your classmates in the conversation about the text. A sign-up sheet will be passed around during the 2nd week of classes.

Midterm Exam: 20%. The midterm is scheduled for Monday, 9 March 2009. It will cover the first half of our readings, from Borges to López Nieves. A word on my expectations for test-taking is in order here. College-level literature exams are unlike tests you take in other disciplines in that rote memorization and reiteration are not what score high grades. In math, you memorize formulas that you then plug numbers into in order to extract the correct sum. In literature, you take your knowledge of a text and apply it to a thesis. This thesis is developed by stating ideas clearly and then supporting them with evidence from the text. You might liken this process unto writing a small term paper. When I sit down to grade your exams, I want to see you engage the text with ideas of your own and not simply regurgitating back answers you memorized from class discussion.

Final Exam: 20%. The final exam is scheduled for Monday, 4 May 2009. It will cover the second half of the semester, including Roncagliolo, Rivera Garza, the Muralists, Novo, and Ibargüengoitia. In this sense, it is not a “comprehensive” exam. It will be comprehensive, however, in that you are required to maintain the concepts and principles discussed earlier in the semester and employ them in discussing later texts.

Final Research Paper: 25%. By midnight on Wednesday, May 6, VIA EMAIL no less than 8 and no more than 10 pages (2720-3400 words). Text and topic must have been approved by Professor Price during the stages of development.


Annotated Bibliography and Preliminary Thesis Statement: 5%. Wednesday, 1 April, is the latest date to turn in VIA EMAIL your proposal and list of at least 5 preliminary secondary sources you have used or plan to use in preparation of your research paper. I will email you feedback ASAP. Secondary sources may include articles, book chapters, historiographic essays, etc. You are only allowed one webpage. Annotated means bibliographic citation PLUS commentaries on content and how you think this secondary source will contribute to your topic or argument. I recommend that you start with the research tutorial for Smith Reynolds Library on this path already set in your computer: Start à WFU library research tools à ZSR library research resources à Research Tutorial. Grades will be assigned in the following manner: 9-10 sobresaliente/excepcional; 6-8 notable/superior; 4-5 aprobado/satisfactorio; 0-3 suspenso.

Revised Thesis with Paper Outline and/or Introductory Paragraph: 5%. Wednesday, 15 April, is the latest date to turn in VIA EMAIL the second version of your thesis statement, outline and/or introduction for grade and further feedback/comments will be emailed back on 17 April. You may alter your topic, theme, primary text, etc., up to this date without previous consultation with me. After 17 April, however, the only things that can change without consultation with me are your thesis statement, secondary sources, argument approach, etc. At this point, if you want to totally change your research paper text/topic, you will need to meet with me personally. Grades will be assigned in the following manner: 9-10 sobresaliente/excepcional; 6-8 notable/superior; 4-5 aprobado/satisfactorio; 0-3 suspenso.

Attendance and Timeliness Policy. My philosophy for attendance and timeliness is fairly straightforward. You demonstrate respect and consideration for your professor and classmates by being in class and being in class on time. As such, the absence policy is simple. You are allowed two absences, no questions asked; after that each absence—regardless of reason—will lower your final grade by 5 percentage points. The tardy policy is similar. You are allowed two “freebies” and after that each tardy (or early departure from class) will lower your final grade by 1 percentage point.

Grading Policy According to the WFU Bulletin:

A’s are reserved only for exceptionally high achievement

A-/B+/B are all superior

B-/C+/C are satisfactory and

C-/D+/D/D- are passing but unsatisfactory

The grading scale:    

93-100=A, 90-92=A-, 88-9=B+, 83-87=B, 80-82=B-, 78-9=C+, 73-77=C, 70-72=C-, 68-9=D+, 60-67=D, 0-60=F.