Panel: Translating Genres acrosss Personal, Familial, and Collective
Copanelists: Carina doCarma and Theresa Kulbaga
Narration, memory, and photography are key issues in Ana María Shua’s 1994 novel El libro de los recuerdos (The Book of Memories, 1998). The stories narrated in the novel have as their source the “Book of Memories,” the supposed family album. As the collective memory of the family, the authority to be consulted and cited, this Book of Memories exemplifies what Marianne Hirsch affirms in Family Frames: Photography, Narrative, and Postmemory: “Family pictures depend on such a narrative act of adoption that transforms rectangular pieces of cardboard into telling details connecting lives and stories across continents and generations” (xii). In Shua’s text, we never see those rectangular pieces of cardboard—indeed, we cannot be sure of their existence—yet the family stories told form that narrative act of adoption that makes us want to believe. The photos on the covers of Spanish and English editions of Shua’s text also become part of our reading of this semiautobiographical family saga.
In discussing Shua’s work, I deliberately conflate the self-portrait, autobiography, and family portrait, as Hirsch does, in order “to explore the continuum on which these genres uneasily define themselves. This continuum between self-portrait/allo-portrait and family picture traces the subject’s constitution in the familial and the family’s visual reflection of the individual subject. It defines the process of subject-formation in the field of vision and it makes the taking and reading of photographs central to its contemporary manifestations” (85). I explore how Shua’s text exists in a contact zone of translation between the genres of novel, autobiography, self-portrait, family photograph album, and national history; how it traces both the subject’s constitution in the family and in the nation as well as the family and the nation’s visual reflection in the individual subject; and how it makes the reading of photographs central to its project.
Laura J. Beard has a BA in English from Carleton College, and an MA and a PhD in Hispanic literature from Johns Hopkins University. She is Associate Professor at Texas Tech University, where her research and teaching interests focus on women writers of the Americas. She has published numerous articles and book chapters on narratives by Latin American women authors, as well as other publications on Indigenous authors of the US and Canada. She has recently completed a book manuscript in Inter-American literature, in which she discusses autobiographical works by contemporary women of the Americas as narratives of resistance. She is currently working on a book about autobiographical narratives of the Indian residential school experience in the US and Canada, and will be spending the fall semester in Canada with a Fulbright Research grant in Native Studies at the University of Alberta. She is editor of the comparative literature journal Intertexts.