"Students discover that in order to understand today’s Spanish society, one has to look back at political and social events taking place at the beginning of the 20th century. The same is true to understand U.S. history, as many U.S. citizens fought in defense of democracy during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s."

Sometimes the fantastic is the best illuminator of reality. As a scholar of contemporary Spanish literature, culture and film, Isabel Cuñado focuses her research on authors of the last three decades, whose writing begins after the huge transformation of the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s and the fascist regime of Francisco Franco that followed. After Franco's death in 1975, Spain transitioned to democracy.

The authors Cuñado studies write about an irresoluble conflict in modern Spain. "Their literature talks about present Spain — a prosperous, postmodern and fully European society that, however, still has to confront the ghosts of its recent past," Cuñado says. "These authors are dealing with the memory of the civil war that had been silenced and deferred for decades."

This ability of fantastic literature to use literal ghosts to represent the figurative specters of the past intrigues Cuñado. Her book, El espectro de la herencia: la narrativa de Javier Marías, explores the works of internationally acclaimed Spanish author Javier Marías, most famous for his novel Corazón tan blanco (A Heart So White).

"My book considers the ghost as a figure of memory and as a call for ethical responsibility," Cuñado says. "(Marías' novels) deal in a unique manner with the ways in which a traumatic past comes back in strange and ghostly ways to haunt a society. In this sense, the fantastic talks very much about reality."

Cuñado also teaches a seminar on the memory of the Spanish Civil War as represented in contemporary literature and film. "One can't analyze contemporary artistic expressions without looking at film, especially as it plays a key role when studying the effects of the civil war," Cuñado says. "Students discover that in order to understand today's Spanish society, one has to look back at political and social events taking place at the beginning of the 20th century. The same is true to understand U.S. history, as many U.S. citizens fought in defense of democracy during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s."

The growing number of Spanish speakers in the United States and the increasing interest in Hispanic studies in academia makes this an exciting time for Cuñado to be teaching Spanish.

"We are in the middle of an unprecedented social revolution in the United States," she says. "We are educating a whole new generation of Americans for whom Spanish will be the second functional language. They will be able to use Spanish to communicate at home or abroad, to travel, and to develop their research and work. This new generation of students is very aware that they form part of a multicultural and multilingual society, as well as of a world that is increasingly interconnected." 

Posted Sept. 20, 2010

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