Novelist Cristina García relates memory to identity and language (Andrew Lynch interviews)



hello I'm professor Andrew Lynch from the University of Miami and the Miami Observatory on communication and creative industries I'm glad to be able to present this segment of an interview that I conducted with cuban american novelist christina garcia without a doubt one of the most highly regarded authors of u.s. Latino literature christina garcia first met national critical acclaim in 1992 with the publication of dreaming and cuban that novel along with four others that she's published to date are characterized by a highly poetic style of prose bounded by themes of language and identity nature and belief possibility and place time and memory in this clip I talked to her about the construction of identities across boundaries quite similar to Pilar and dreaming in Cuban chin found in monkey hunting construct Cuba in her mind from a distance a lot of second and third generation Cuban Americans find themselves in this very situation identifying themselves as part Cuban or even Cuban in some cases without ever having been to Cuba or having little memory of Cuba before emigrating as a small child I wonder where Pilar and chin found find themselves in terms of identity in relation to a place what would you say about that I would say that for them Cuba was was the missing piece of themselves the piece that is inhibiting wholeness for them each in their own situations but I don't want to be over prescriptive about it but I mean I think I think there's something to that you know that that neither will be entirely whole for whatever that means or what you know they imagine that to be without that link to Cuba Cuba I think for both of them represents a sense of loss loss of what might have been in terms of Chen Fang of having a father of having an intact family of of avoiding the worst of the privations of what she has to endure during the Cultural Revolution and I think for Pilar she also sees it as both loss and potential paradise loss of her childhood loss of her connection with her grandmother you know a kind of a cut off at the knees culture you know something that you know this culture that she also didn't have access except through the very kind of stringent possibility of accessing it through the mother and father and so I think for them Cuba becomes a place of dreaming of idealization a place of escape a place that that enables them to deal with the difficulties before them in their actual life and and I think in many ways that may be the definition of nostalgia even though neither of them really spent much time in Cuba I mean chan phan never did and then Pilar left when she was very little I think there I think what fuels nostalgia is idealism is a sense of perfection lost in in the terrible and agonizing hope of perfection regained and I think when people merit eyes that way when people merit eyes along nostalgic routes there there is no room for imperfections there is no room for the sort of ugly complexities of of the realities of a real Cuba with real people and real problems but I think for poetic Souls and for like Chen Fong and Pilar it's both nostalgic but also it's also for them ultimately a place of dreaming you clearly like to present time in a fragmented fashion jumping from the present to the past and then back again sort of speaking across generations simultaneously and this brings me to two questions actually the first is how do you go about conceptualizing time and space in your work and secondly how do these relate to the phenomenon of memory I do think memory is in essence construction of identity what you remember is who you are what you choose in an equally important is what you choose to forget is what you choose to remember every day we hone I think a little further our notions of ourselves and I think it's no different with characters what we remember what we choose to remember what we unconsciously or consciously remember becomes part of the the the greater narrative of who we believe ourselves to be and I think I think that obviously time and place contribute to that corroborating or non corroborating evidence and and others in your lives know fuel that remember this essay that Virginia Woolf broke years ago about her pre verbal memories which very few of us have pre verbal memories the way we begin to categorize experience is through language otherwise its received what people tell us happened between H 1 and 3 but other than that we don't have any memory it's almost like we don't have unless we have language we can't remember interestingly enough but I remember reading this essay years ago it's stuck with me and she has a very distinctive memory and she couldn't have been she was under a year old maybe 910 months and I'm hoping I'm not miss remembering this but she had a very distinct memory and sensation of lying under a tree in a pram and watching the play of light above her and the leaves I mean that's an extraordinary memory when you think about it for a nine-month-old and yet we've all had these impressions and she was somehow able to retain that without language she was able to retain that impression without language so again going back to your question about text I can't help but think that for a Virginia Woolf that was maybe her first text and that she was then able to translate bringing up our question about translation she was then able to translate much later into communicable standards I guess it's into English so I guess for me it's a it's a it's it's a copy it's a complicated question where does that begin where does the storytelling begin where where does it begin when you have agency over all your own life and you get to tell it yourself even though you've been alive for two years some people have been telling you those other stories what do you adopt what do you adapt what's organic what you know what is hearsay and in desire and longing and if you have no memory if you you have no self and we build on those memories we edit those memories we should we shape them and stretch them and deny them you know in this in this quest for a sense of who we are you know and I think that that construction of identity becomes is more complex for for exiles who have been cut off from the talismans of their history you know they don't they can't verify it or you know the aunt is back in Cuba and you can't double-check what happened at that you know that particular Christmas celebration or with the flying pork legs whatever happens you know so so there's there ways in which I mean everyone does this to some extent but I think it's particularly virulent in the Cuban exile community you know which is rife with Staal juh that that that that that you know snipping and cutting I wish actually I talked a lot about this in this new novel I'm writing there's I wish I had it I wish I had a copy of it because there's this whole section that's how one of my characters the exiled character ends up deciding it's all a fiction it's all a fiction we're constantly cutting snipping editing you know we refurbish increa Paul stirring all of these things to try and make a coherent whole when there really isn't and I think at the time he was bitching about the revolution and how know and how Castro El comandante ax in the book is also trying to turn the messy you know the messy historical reality of the Cuban Revolution into something coherent and well conceived and and executed a well constructed narrative when it's when it's none of that you know and and in this new book El comandante air for his for his part is obsessed with re-enacting all the glories of the Revolution he wants to reenact the Bay of Pigs he wants to reenact his famous history will absolve me speech you know it during his child for treason all of these things because he wants to get it right you know he wants it for posterity you not narration and history is complicated and and so I don't know if that answers your question but I think I think again I would go back to this notion of continual you know kind of everything is text and everything is in continual translation into language somehow you

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