Embodied Memory and Human Rights: The New Idioms of Spain’s Memory Debates

  • Alison Ribeiro de Menezes


Words can be unexpectedly, dangerously, at times advantageously slippery. As Martin Jay writes in Cultural Semantics, they “do their work not merely by melting into one another, but by positioning themselves in shifting force fields with other words, creating unexpected constellations of counterconcepts and antonyms, as well as a spectrum of more or less proximate synonyms.”1 Inevitably, this matters more for some words than others. In discussing the meanings of certain contentious or emotive words, we need to pay particular heed to these shifting constellations and the added semantic charge that they bring. “Holocaust” is one such term: much debated in academic discourse, yet readily recognizable in popular usage, it aptly illustrates Jay’s point. It is impossible, then, to view the appearance of a series of terms that might more usually be applied to mid-twentieth-century German, and to a lesser degree Russian, history in recent Spanish historiography of war and postwar repression without inquiring into the semantic ricochets that such usage sets off. In her 2009 essay, “The Memory of Murder,” Helen Graham notes the prevalence among Spanish historians of the term “universo penitenciario,” which clearly echoes David Rousset’s foundational book on concentration camps, L’Univers concentrationnaire, to refer to Francoism’s postwar mechanisms for political and social discipline and control.2


Mass Grave Artistic Representation Cultural Semantic Franco Regime Nazi Holocaust 
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