Representations of Terrorism and Violence by Basque Female Authors
Table Of Contents
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- 1. Artistic Representations of Violence from a Gender Perspective: The Affective Turn
- 2. The Identity Question: A Journey Back and Forth
- 3. Gender and Political Violence: The First Literary Representations: Nerea eta biok (Nerea and I) and Koaderno Gorria (The Red Notebook)
- 4. Ander eta Yul (Ander and Yul) and Yoyes: Death and Affective Disruptions in a Fractured Community
- 5. El Ángulo ciego (The Blind Spot) and El Comensal (The Dinner Guest): Affective Ramifications in Literary Representations of Political Violence
- 6. Mejor la ausencia (Better the Absence): Violence and Affective Ruptures
- 7. Back to the Past: Explorations of Domestic, Social, and Political Conflicts: Los turistas desganados (Listless Tourists), La línea del frente (The Front Line), and Los niños de Lemóniz (The Children of Lemóniz)
- 8. Some Final Thoughts
Artistic Representations of Violence from a Gender Perspective: The Affective Turn
1. Introduction: Gender and the Artistic Representations of Violence←1 | 2→
The Basque Country is currently experiencing a period of post-violence after the terrorist group ETA announced a permanent cease-fire in 2011 and finally dissolved on May 3, 2018. This climate of peace has inaugurated a time for reflecting upon a past in which extortion, bombings, kidnappings, murders, and many other instances of violence became commonplace for Basque citizens as well as for the rest of Spain. In the ongoing debate about how political violence must be remembered, literature, cinema, and art in general have become fundamental sites of interrogation and soul searching. Furthermore, the large number of literary works and films that elaborate on the events of this violent past have made fictional representations an essential space in which multiple memories of the violence can be archived and recalled. As such, fictional works create the possibility for a continued social discussion about this period of history. The critical acclaim, public reception and market success of recently published novels on this topic such as Twist by Harkaitz Cano (2011, 2013 in Spanish), El ángulo ciego (The Blind Spot) by Luisa Etxenike (2008), Atertu arte itxaron (Listless Tourists, 2015; in Spanish Los turistas desganados, 2017) by Katixa Agirre, Patria (Fatherland) by Fernando Aramburu (2016) or Mejor la ausencia (Better the Absence) by Edurne Portela (2018), to name but a few, allow us to argue that some literary works are effectively hindering efforts to “turn the page” or look the other way in matters of political violence in the Basque Country. These works engage with the prevalence of the violence experienced and keep its complex set of political memories alive, successfully preserving memory from the ravages of silence and oblivion.←2 | 3→
The goal of this book is to explore the manner in which specific artistic works approach the experience of violence in the Basque Country from a gendered perspective. In endeavoring to account for the past, historical rigor is paramount, but even more so is the will to preserve the experiences of those who suffered and became victims of the violence. For that reason, any debate on this matter must first include some important considerations. For instance, the manner in which literary works of fiction and films become privileged forms of expression as they are capable of recreating the most personal aspects of pain and trauma in their depiction of the violent historical events. Halfway between historiography and fiction, such fictional narrations construct an image of historical moments not limited to their social or political aspects, but also include the effects that these experiences and their emotional impact have on the individual. This provides an affective approach to the political landscape of the time and encourages the audience to perform emotional assessments that prevent terror from becoming a mere political abstraction. At the same time, by situating a text within a particular social and political context, the emotions the text is capable of eliciting help illustrate the particulars of how those events were lived. This is especially relevant in scenarios of contention and social divisiveness, since works of art can provide alternative perspectives on the reality of politics not chronicled by other accounts, such as the media or historiographers. Given this potential of literature, Basque storytellers and filmmakers have often been decried for ignoring the context of violence in their works until relatively recently. This absence has been described as especially remarkable during the worst years of ETA’s activity, the so-called “years of lead” (años de plomo) of the 1980s in which the terrorist organization murdered 412 people.1 Nevertheless, and as several critics have pointed out (Zaldua, 2012; Estornés, 2013; Olaziregi, 2017), such recriminations gloss over the works of several Basque storytellers who have indeed tackled this sensitive issue in their fictional productions either in Basque or in Spanish. As the aforementioned critics remind us, terrorism as a literary theme appears early, although sporadically, in publications dating back to the last years of Franco’s dictatorship and the early transition to democracy. Examples from that period include Ehun Metro (A Hundred Meters, 1976; in Spanish Cien Metros, 1979) by Ramón Saizarbitoria or Lectura insólita de “El Capital” (Unusual Reading of “Capital”) by Raúl Guerra Garrido (awarded the Nadal Prize, 1976). Forerunners notwithstanding, until the 1990s the number of works using violence as a central element of their plot was far from significant. In his essay Ese idioma raro y poderoso. Once decisiones cruciales que un escritor vasco está obligado a tomar (This Strange and Powerful Language: Eleven Crucial Decisions a Basque Writer is Obliged to Face, 2012), Iban Zaldua offers a list of storytellers who, in those years, devoted their attention to terrorist violence.2 Despite the subjective nature of any list and Zaldua’s acknowledgment that these are his personal choices, his selection illustrates how Basque authors have not ignored violence in their works. Although the armed conflict received limited attention at first, from the 1990s onwards artistic production focusing on this topic experienced “a massive outburst” (Olaziregi, 2017, p. 12). But not only has there been an increase in the number of works using political violence as an object of representation, there is evidence of a change in the way violence is represented, shifting from an initial focus on the perpetrators to a growing interest in the victims of the armed conflict and their experiences (Ortiz, 2014; Rodríguez, 2015; Olaziregi, 2017).←3 | 4→
This increasing prominence of victims as the center of narratives on political violence demands that readers approach the recent history of the Basque Country with a particular mindset, as they must not only examine the sources of the conflict as represented in the fictional works, but also bear witness to the victims’ suffering. Basque narratives focused on the victims have followed a similar trend to that described by Appelbaum and Paknadel in Terrorism and the Novel, 1970–2001 (2008) regarding English-language novels about this topic in which storytelling has shifted the focus of representation from the perpetrators to the victims. Beyond its value as a literary technique, this turn reveals a new sensitivity towards the political problem itself, involving new narrative challenges, and calls attention to fundamental considerations concerning the ongoing dialog between literature and history. By placing the literary focus on victims, texts reveal themselves to be written testimonies of the pain and suffering caused by political violence. The goal of such texts is to evoke empathy by exposing “whom it hurts, and how it hurts, and even, at the most fundamental level, that it hurts” (Appelbaum & Paknadel, 2008, p. 420). Therefore, by examining the reality of politics from the prism of pain, literature makes visible the intrinsic connection between the personal and the social. Moreover, by providing a fictional retelling of the emotional universe of victims’ literary discourse, unlike historical or political discourse, literature is able to approach historical reality without abandoning the sense of the (personal and collective) tragedy that violence engenders (Ortiz, 2014, p. 107).
The representation of violence in Basque literature has recorded the same shifting attitude towards the conflict operated in Basque society. As mentioned earlier, the literature of early post-Francoism reveals a reluctant depiction of violence and its effects, and for some time it centered primarily on representing the perpetrators. However, recent works are more parallel with the evolution of Basque citizenry and reflect the social rejection of violence and a growing empathy towards its victims. This development of Basque society that literature reflects has been described as a radical shift: “From the support, understanding or resignation towards the murderers we moved to acknowledging the victims, empathizing and caring for them. This was a radical inversion of terms”3 (Molina & Pérez, 2015, p. 365).←4 | 5→
Similarly, when examining the development of Basque cinema during the 20th and 21st centuries, it is easy to see that the way filmmakers have perceived and depicted the complexities of the political situation closely mirrors this evolution of society as a whole as well. For instance, during the Spanish Transition there was a conspicuous complicity in how ETA’s armed struggle was depicted in films dealing with political violence in the Basque Country. This is apparent in Basque films such as Estado de excepción (State of Emergency, 1977), Toque de queda (Curfew, 1978) or El proceso de Burgos (The Burgos Trial, 1979), but also in Spanish films of that period such as Operación ogro (Ogro, 1979), a Spanish, French, and Italian co-venture about ETA’s bombing of Carrero Blanco, directed by Gillo Pontecorvo. Film scholar Santiago de Pablo emphasizes that during the years that followed Franco’s death, films used to focus on the excesses committed by police in the repression of terrorism (2017).
A shift in thematic focus occurs in films produced in the 1980s, when disenchantment with Basque radical politics begins for filmmakers and the whole of society alike. What was initially conceptualized in films as a heroic fight—that of the Basque soldier or gudari, against Franco’s dictatorship—became gradually transformed until it ended up as representation of a sordid and grim affair. Eventually, without relinquishing their condemnation of State terrorism and police abuse in the Basque Country, most films from that era openly questioned the role of ETA in a democratic society. In Basque cinema, films like La muerte de Mikel (Mikel’s Death, 1983), Golfo de Vizcaya (Bay of Biscay, 1985), El amor de ahora (Present Day Love, 1987) or Ander eta Yul (Ander and Yul, 1988) were harshly critical of ETA and their supporters. Yet, another shift occurred starting in the 1990s. Cinema from that era rebuked terrorism: for instance, films like Días contados (Running out of Time, 1994) or A ciegas (Blinded, 1997) portrayed ETA as a decayed organization associated with social marginalization. Starting in the year 2000 and continuing to the present, victims of terrorism play a central role both in cinematic works of fiction and in documentaries. Films like Asesinato en febrero (A Killing in February, 2001), Trece entre mil (Thirteen out of a Thousand, 2005), Yoyes (2000), La casa de mi padre (Blacklisted, 2009) or Lasa eta Zabala (Lasa and Zabala, 2014) are only a few examples of storytelling that approaches the experiences of the victims, displaying their emotional suffering on the screen. As such, these recent Basque films focus on documenting the senseless spiral of hatred and violence present during the years that ETA was active by representing the painful experience of its victims as a source of insight and reflection.←5 | 6→
On the other hand, documentaries about terrorism made before the year 2000 tend to be ideologically closer to the tenets of Basque nationalism in general and to the abertzale pro-independence radical left in particular. During the 1970s these documentaries provided a depiction of the political repression experienced by Basques, with themes of political persecution, torture, and violence performed against those who fought for the independence of the Basque Country. Among those works are Estado de excepción (State of Emergency, 1977) and Toque de queda (Curfew, 1978) by Iñaki Núñez, El proceso de Burgos (The Burgos Trial, 1979) by Imanol Uribe and several episodes for the TV show Ikuska (1978–1985), supervised by Antxon Eceiza, of which the short half-fiction, half-documentary film Irrintzi (1978), by Mirentxu Loyarte is part. Following the same line of engendering sympathy and support for defending the fight of an independent Basque nation are the documentary Yoyes by Baltasar Magro (1988) and Jo ta ke by Anne de Galzain (1999). Such a tendency was transformed in the twenty-first century. It would be a mistake to consider any documentary without regard for the social context of its production and reception. For a long time, victims of ETA were mostly forgotten and invisible.4 As previously mentioned, the way Basque filmmakers gave testimony to the political violence in their works shifted over time and attention to the victims is initiated mostly after the year 2000.
A significant landmark in the development of Basque Cinema is Asesinato en febrero (A Killing in February, 2001) by Eterio Ortega and Elías Querejeta, as it revolves around the murder of the Socialist Party leader Fernando Buesa and his bodyguard Jorge Díaz in Vitoria on February 22nd, 2000. This documentary consisted mainly of interviews with relatives and friends of both victims, interspersed with images of the city. The word asesinato (murder) in the title openly reveals the position of the filmmakers towards the conflict, as for decades the use of this term to describe ETA’s attacks was consistently avoided by Basque media in their reports whereby euphemisms such as “deaths” or even “actions” (ekintza) were used instead. Other documentaries by the same filmmakers are Perseguidos (Pursued, 2004), about the 2000 people who had to live under constant armed escort, and Al final del túnel. Bakerantza (The Light at the End of the Tunnel in the Basque Country, 2011), in which individuals linked to Basque nationalism discuss the end of violence. Several other filmmakers, such as Iñaki Arteta and Jon Sistiaga have given voice to the victims of terrorism through the use of the documentary genre.←6 | 7→
It is in this general context that this study is particularly concerned with examining works of literature and film created by women who focused their work on representing the terrorist violence in the Basque Country from a gendered perspective. One may ask, what can this approach to this political context bring to the table? For starters, one of the main aspects that can be examined thanks to these stories is how (and if) women have been able to make their political voices heard in the context of the violence that has defined the life in the Basque Country over the last 50 years. In said context women have played different roles: they have been both victims and perpetrators of violence, as well as supporters and detractors of the armed conflict. However, until very recently the specific manner in which female authors have tried to represent the multiplicity of roles played by women or the conditions in which gender has been inscribed in the context of the political violence have not been the subject of scholar inquiry. The lack of this particular perspective could lead one to think that gendered interpretations of violence had never existed in the Basque context. However, the works analyzed here demonstrate that there has been a sustained literary and cinematic preoccupation by female authors with elaborating a gendered understanding of the political conflict in their works. In our approach to this matter, we understand art as a form of social intervention, that is, we consider these artistic endeavors as a form of actively participating and reflecting about the social context and violent conditions.
Although fictional, the films and stories we concern ourselves with in this study play a fundamental role in rendering visible formulations and reflections on political violence from the perspective of gender. Through the use of fiction, the works we examine in this study raise specific questions about the gendered dimension of political violence lived in the Basque Country. Any debate on how accounts of violence are portrayed should include the voices of women and their perspectives. With that in mind, we subscribe to the words of Carmen Magallón Portolés when she said that paying attention to the experience of women in contexts of violence cannot be “an added value, or a side note” (2013, p. 83). On the contrary, collecting and portraying their experiences is paramount to “eradicating violence in all its forms: direct, structural, and cultural” (2013, p. 84), and we will argue further that it also allows for a more comprehensive account of events.←7 | 8→
We must keep in mind that when intervening politically women (but also men) have always been conditioned by expectations to conform to whatever social roles of femininity and masculinity are assigned to them. Accordingly, women have traditionally made their voices heard in the public arena intervening as mothers or wives, and in many instances any attempt at expressing themselves or their political agency has been mediated by the symbolic/ social role ascribed to their gender. By this logic, the political agency that women have is paradoxical: it is acceptable for them to appear as sufferers and passive victims of injustice, yet that same political intervention reinforces a “familial and maternalistic” ideology (Jelin, 2011, p. 568), in which stereotypes and preconceptions about a particular “female nature” are charged with sexism and used to omit other dimensions of their involvement in a given conflict, such as their role as combatants. This gender determination has not been any different in the case of the Basque Country (Hamilton, 2007, p. 2) and to this day, it remains a point of contention for several groups who claim a more active involvement of women in politics.5 It is therefore important to show how women, like men, have played central, multifaceted, and complex roles in this history of violence, both as active agents of violence or accomplices, in some cases, and as direct or indirect victims in others. For that reason, an analysis of these works will shed light on how political conflict has reinforced stereotypical or gender-regulated behaviors, and to what extent it has strengthened existing models by normalizing gender-determined enunciations about violence.
2. The Affective Turn: A New Perspective on Affection and Emotions←8 | 9→
Post-structuralism, feminism, and, more recently, affect theories have challenged the clear demarcation of opposite and stable binaries such as female/ male, reason/ emotion, etc., and have opened the door to new, non-binary configurations of subjectivity. These theoretical frameworks do not negate the usefulness of such dichotomies but point out that they must be conceived as mere conceptualizations derived from specific patterns of thinking, and therefore contingent and subject to rethinking and modification. Furthermore, recent theoretical debates on affect have highlighted the cultural and socially constructed nature of affective experiences. These critical theories can be aptly applied to contexts such as the Basque Country, where a notion of identity based on binary pairs (native/ foreign) has encouraged political hostility and antagonistic stances. Terrorism and violence strongly warped social relations in the Basque Country, where a significant part of the population experienced inhibition and fear to the point that they were severely limited in their freedom of expression.6
One way to deactivate dichotomies is to explore the conceptual apparatus that supports them and to refuse to provide it with textual legitimacy through the use of narrative strategies that travel to the realm of affect to question the rigidity of opposite pairs. In order to do so, the works of art and literature we examine will become an exercise in destabilization, blurring the lines of the antagonistic categories that have determined the construction of identities.
Questioning dualistic thinking and binary systems of thought is the tool for critical interpretation proposed by affect studies. Not to be confused with the study of affection or emotions, “affect” pertains to a node or point of contact in which reason and emotion are blurred in the creation of knowledge in order to induce a transformative action. In the words of Sarah Ahmed: “Emotions are social” (2004, p. 8); that is, from the theoretical optics of affect studies differences between opposite pairs such as reason/ emotion, public/ private, body/ mind, and others are transcended. The result is a configuration of subjectivities that are at once more complex, more permeating, and less determined by dualistic thought. The attention to affect could be summarized as “a commitment to a new way of interpreting life in a society” (Lara & Enciso Domínguez, 2013, p. 101). As mentioned earlier, this approach entails revising dilemmas which created dualistic thinking which historically has split knowledge into opposite categories (or categories constructed to be opposite), only to then value one of the elements of the pair over the other, as in reason over emotion, mind over body, male over female, etc. In that regard, by the mere action of considering affect we are questioning said splits, particularly concerning the division of the intimate and private and the public and social as two separate spheres.←9 | 10→
Feminist thought has often targeted this dualistic process of symbolic construction and the antinomic binary relation between genders, in addition to their social normativization (Butler, 1990, p. 336). By that construct, femininity has been associated with fragile individuals, foreign to the practice of violence. On the other hand, some attributes of masculinity are strength and aggression. In this antagonistic distribution, the male gender is not only exclusively associated with the exercise of violence, but also devoid of other features like affection, care, or most nonviolent activities. Such models, in their persistence and longevity, have entailed a completely separate attribution of distinctive features and expectations regarding the behavior by which men and women are defined. As a consequence of constructing such disconnected symbolic orders, women are denied even the possibility of acting with violence and aggression, although this is not the only effect. As philosopher Daniel Innerarity (2009) expounds:
- XII, 190
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- 2021 (April)
- New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2021. XII, 190 pp.