NEMLA Convention edition:37 location:Philadelphia (USA) date:2-5 maart 2006
This paper focuses on the relation between exile, trauma, history and narrative fiction in the work of Gregorio Marañón, a Spanish scientist, medical doctor and essayist, exiled in Paris between 1937 and 1942.
As Michael Seidel points out, exile is not only a literary theme, but can have a constitutive role in the process of narrative imagination. This statement can be related to triple shift in Marañón's writing during the period of civil war and expatriation: (1) an increasing interest in (national) history; (2) a subjectivization of the essayistic discourse (introduction of autobiographical elements); (3) a tendency towards narrativization and fictionalization (mainly in the form of allegorical tales).
All three tendencies converge in “Rhapsody of the emeralds”, a 1940 text which is explicitly set in the context of Marañón's exile. It embeds a alternative version of Spanish history in an autofictional setting: the narrator-protagonist of the frame story, an exiled Spanish doctor, is told the story of a pair of cursed emeralds whose sinister trajectory runs parallel to considerable parts of Spanish history. National history is thus rewritten from the unusual perspective of two gemstones.
Marañón's account of Spanish history is fragmentary, arbitrary, deglorifying and irrational. It is a history of trauma, which “can be grasped only in the very inaccessibility of its occurrence” (Caruth). Both exile and fiction play an ambiguous role in narrating the trauma of Spain’s recent history. On the one hand, they are distantiating factors which facilitate the narration. Yet exile is also a traumatic experience in itself. The trauma of Marañón’s “displacement” is reflected on a textual level in the “displaced” or “ex-centric” character of national history (starting in Omeyan Baghdad and coming to a provisional end in Paris, the story is most definitely not centered in Castile) and in the setting of the story in the context of the civil war exile. This setting diminishes as well the distantiating effect of fictionalization, turning fiction into autofiction and thus illustrating that exile in the end fails to protect the expatriate from the demons of the collective past.