<center>*Your children’s children have stayed with me*</center>
<center>By Julia Vanda Pretsfelder</center>
<p class="alignleft">To my Grandparents / A mis abuelos:
Inge Philippstahl Pretsfelder
Ernest Lehman Pretsfelder
Carlos Autet Vaamonde
Liliana Giovanelli Spinelli</p>
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These things he told me; neither then nor at any time later did they seem doubtful. In those days neither the cinema nor the phonograph yet existed; nevertheless, it seems strange, almost incredible that no one should have experimented on Funes. The truth is that we all live by leaving behind; no doubt we all profoundly know that we are immortal and that sooner or later every man will do all things and know everything. The voice of Funes, out of the darkness, continued,” Jorge Luis Borges, “Funes, el memorioso,” *Ficciones*
Something about my style is so dripping in nostalgia that it recommended something newer and present as the digital is ingrained in the way I see the world. My eighty-eight year old grandmother in New York Skypes her brother in Stockholm, Sweden. For lived reasons, they are closer than my grandfather and his brother were though they lived in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx respectively. The ubiquitous digital maintenance in my life—taking pictures, sharing them instantly, re-reading text conversations instead of struggling to grasp what you actually uttered the day before—may also impact how we remember and how we re-convey memory. Technology messes with the at times welcome mystery of memory but also makes room for playfulness.
Yet, does the interactivity in digital stories, streamlined for the viewer to hold their attention, deny the tactile details you can find in a book? How can a writer hyperstimulated by image, text, and newsfeeds craft a sense of intimacy in digital space? Characterizing a medium according to digital and analog is a stricter genre than I would like to establish, but I like looking into the generational gaps of automation from film to digital, SLR to iPhone camera Portrait mode. Art historian Annie Gérin observes that a digital memorial allows for memorial viewers to become users who can transgress the “jingoistic closure” of traditional memory institutions. In seeking to preserve my family’s stories and in attempting to grasp the closeness I feel reading from a printed page, I look forward anxiously. Digitizing my stories not only makes room for a more polyphonic, multimedia story, but lets me as a writer feel like I am a participant in making something more digitally handmade.
I tried to ground this intertextual, tactile sensibility through playing with background and formatting in my stories in a way that references the source document. “OLD SLIDES” and “Archive” come from slide film—best seen projected onto a white wall in a dark room. A scrapbook on white pages that I made after my first trip to Argentina when I was nine influenced the form of “La pastorcita perdida,” while shuffling through my father’s genealogical records influenced “Genesis: A Ghost Story.” I wrote in epistolary (if email counts) style for “(no subject)”, so a white page made sense. I explore how literal and narrative hyperlinking can embody memory-oriented associations with family and cultural history by pointing the reader towards Argentine folk music my abuelos listen to or through citing Ingrid Bergman to portray my Grandma’s alter ego.
[[Displacement-]]<strong>Title and Language</strong>
“The woman I am in the photo was working on a series of vignettes, little by little...It was just a jar of buttons, like the mismatched embroidered pillowcases and monogrammed napkins I tugged from the bins at the Goodwill. I wrote these things and thought of them as “little stories,” though I sensed they were connected to each other,” Sandra Cisneros, “Introduction,” *The House on Mango Street*
I took the title for this collection of short stories, essays, and collage from a poem my abuela allegedly wrote in one morning. “Encuentro”—a meeting or a finding in my translation— coincidentally or not coincidentally captures a great deal of what I am trying to explore across these pieces. The buzz around her poem is small, shared between my Mom, my abuelo, and me. Yet, reviving small yet significant works and moments and lives can drive my writing. When I first read “Encuentro,” I understood the first line as, “Spain, I want you” or “Spain, I love you.” I sensed that my abuela’s vivid yearning for this land was a fetishization or glorification of the place where some of her in-laws came from, the place whose colonial descent her people (Argentines) often like to claim before they would recognize their latinidad.
As I kept reading, I found that I was quite wrong. Yes, she wanted to connect with Spain as she read her writing before a conference of Spanish nephrologists at a site where Columbus set out to “discover” las Américas, but her call was not for a bridge alone but also for a forward looking or present acknowledgement. In the poem’s landscapes, Latin America has the body of a young, fecund woman, a common colonialist literary image, but she speaks for herself instead of staying seductively ripe for conquest in the eye of the conquistador beholder. She—the land/the narrator—demands recognition from Spain because of her beauty and because she has something that is “very much yours and very much mine.” The children of the children from Spain have stayed with her.
That’s where I step in. Can you stay with your children’s children? What of you stays with your children’s children? How does this intergenerational transference occur? Where do they stay? Where do place and voice meet? I like to think of this series as polyphonous, and I try to acknowledge but also emulate the tonal differences influencing my voices. In terms of where, home is not necessarily a central character or center stage in each of these stories, but I hope that inside you might find the architecture of a house, the spatiality of a motherland, or the blueprints of an urban landscape. I am from New York City, and I think the romanticized relationship with immigration there may have primed me to reflect on ancestry through rose-colored glasses.
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My family fosters my associative, sentimental tendency to pore through the past. My mother’s storytelling style is grand and competitively proud. She’ll repeat a story about her tío Puli or her abuelo Luigi with inflated, inaccurate chronology and tells me to write scripts of uplifting yet politically inclined movies she’s dreamed up. My father, in turn, is more direct and factual, but he is quite a good writer and a strict editor. My abuelo, like me, loves to talk and recounts each detail. My grandma loves telling glamorous stories about being a debutante but doesn’t talk about being a refugee. My uncle Peter is dry and blunt as hell. Some kinds of their bougie New York Jewish, atheist Argentinean vernacular have stayed with me. So, as a writer, I wonder—why would a stranger passing through web spaces stop to look at a granddaughter writing about her family’s very specific cultures of memory? My cousin, Andrés, who writes wonderfully and also writes about the family, maybe described what I’m trying to do here best:
<p style="text-align:center;"> <img src="http://raw.githubusercontent.com/juliaprets/Foreword/master/Andrés.jpg"width="200"height"500"> </p>
[[Questions and Stories]]<strong>Questions and Stories</strong>
“In the middle of the string and feathers, surrounded by candles and soaked matches, prawns, pawns, and silk tassels that curtsied like jellyfish, was a baby girl, still mucus-glazed, still pink as the inside of a plum,” Jonathan Safran Foer, *Everything is Illuminated*
I had many questions floating around in my head while I was writing and working with photographs and documents from my family’s archives, but I wanted thematic refrains to arise through my work instead of entering the project with a fixed plot. Even so, I do see some persistent questions that arose when I began conducting research on memory, storytelling, psychoanalytic theory, and diaspora during a Digital Humanities fellowship I did last summer. My initial goal for my thesis—to be a memoir about my German-Jewish grandmother—was subject to change after realizing I did not want to center my work around the relationship between migration and the digital.
Scholars such as Sara Ahmed point to a trend in scholarship that reduces distinct, often violent experiences of immigration to a fluid, transgressive, and nomadic theoretical approach that transcends borders. Ahmed writes, “the experiences of migration…become exoticized and idealized as the basis of an ethics of transgression, an ethics which assumes that it is possible to be liberated from identity as such, at the same time as it ‘belongs’ to an authentically migrant subject.” To obstruct this violent gesture, she points to the rich particularity in contextualizing a family’s “mythic past.” With this direction, I avoided writing with the vision that transnational, intergenerational stories can transcend static and oppressive borders in a tranquil digital space. I worry that contemporary interconnectivity and plucking different concepts beneath a dismissively broad umbrella of “migration” may exacerbate this voyeurism. Instead, I became more interested in the ripple effects of memory and displacement across generations in the act of remembering and re-remembering.
The ways I relate to my grandparents’ migration narratives are mediated through printed photographs and oral history I have privileged access to. I became more interested in the forms this mediation took. I kept asking, how can you attempt to represent and reconcile geographic displacement from distinct places and periods as documentation shifts from analog to digital? I want to see how digital projects can still capture the localized network of the family when geographic continuity has been disrupted. How do blurred lines between individuals and collectives on interactive platforms reconfigure a single story within cultural memory?
[[Image and Text]]<strong>Image and Text</strong>
“They were like pictures out of the earliest pages of our family album—that familiar—but not stiff and formal. People had been caught going about their daily lives...Because of their old-style Chinese clothes, which they were wearing while playing and not just for special occasions like school assemblies, it struck me that all those children had grown up and died, but they had been playing and didn’t think about that…I felt connected to them, as if their faces gave me my face, as if I understood very clearly where my face came from. I felt enlarged,” Maxine Hong Kingston, “San Francisco’s Chinatown: A View From the Other Side of Arnold Genthe’s Camera” in *American Heritage*, 1978
In thinking about layering inheritance, heritage, and recollection, I ended up incorporating photography—a practice I have developed alongside writing for almost ten years. The images you will find in these stories fit and jar with the text in a style that links, disrupts, and repeats. Processing scanned slide film my mother’s family took from 1961-1984, vacation photos my parents took on disposable cameras while I was growing up, watercolor paintings my abuela made in her late-stage Parkinson’s, pages of receipts, invitations, and flyers my Grandma has held onto, and digital photos I took in Buenos Aires during fall 2016 was extremely helpful. I had to re-read imperfect images and text again and again, and I often specifically chose to try and restore damaged or forgettable materials using Photoshop.
There were, of course, many times over the course of this project when I feared that photographs, song, and guiding the reader towards hyperlinked, very specific national and transnational histories, were substitutes when my writing was lacking. My advisor, Professor Lisa Brooks, encouraged me to disregard the stifling voices that told me these qualities of electronic literature were not serious. I’d like to think of the photographs as a material pause or a materiality sourcing.
My photomontage work is often busy, and I can’t help thinking that the onslaught of media I consume influences this memory processing and embellishing of personally local truths. I tried to emulate the glitch in grafting when re-incorporating a subject back into a former environment—patching individual familial pasts into a notion of collective memory. For my grandparents, regionally tinged memories fit and do not fit in relation to generational, diasporic removal or the near avoidance of cultural trauma in the case of leaving Argentina just before the military coups during the late 70s or escaping Europe during the Holocaust. I hope that my collages convey the comically anachronistic nature of putting an old person in a digital story, but I think the at times hackneyed placement suggests something a bit sinister. My writing voices and their different faces are grave and flippant at once. Even in the photographs that aren’t directly collage, their figures are often patched together. In pieces like “Convulsions/Okay,” you may see a photograph of siblings, but they may be from another generation or branch of the family than those described in the writing. Maru jr. from "La pastorcita perdida" and David from "Genesis: A Ghost Story" could be the parents of Anna from "Eva Braun: Shiksa Nigun." Sophie from "(no subject)" could be Anna’s cousin, but the stories are not in chronological order. I want them to stand on their own where family members and documentation mix together.
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“…and then he heard Grandfather humming his tune in the silence like an electric pole, only this time the story sounded clear and he told it nicely with biblical expression, and Momik held his breath and listened to the story from start to finish, and swore he would never-ever-black-and-blue forget a single word of the story, but he instantly forgot because it was the kind of story you always forget and have to keep going back to the beginning to remember…” David Grossman, “Momik,” *See Under Love*
I will never forget the day Germany and Argentina played each other in the final of the 2014 World Cup. My family is vociferously proud to be Argentine and resigned to resentment about being German. I wore the Boca t-shirt, from the historically working class soccer team that my abuelo rooted for growing up, that passed from my cousin with the early growth spurt to my brother to me. I wore the Argentina Fútbol hat, now discolored from sweat, that my Dad bought on our first and only family trip to the country when I was nine-years-old, which I still wear. My cousins and I invited any of our fúbtol fan friends to to watch the game in their den with the fancy soft suede couches you’re not supposed to eat on and the huge television. We screamed when the Argentine goal was called offsides, cursed and pulled the Nazi card when the young German with the face of a mean baby scored, and crumbled after we lost, echoing the faces of defeated little Argentine boys crying as the camera panned across the crowd.
What does it mean to be a third-generation American with a grandparent-based connection to diaspora? Where and how does diaspora culture crop up? Making formal choices regarding language captures one of my project’s implied goals to tap into empathy in former languages that are and are not ours. In “La pastorcita perdida,” characters such as Maru jr. and Gonzalo Martín jr. may take up less narrative space than their parents, but through English narration and (optionally translated) Spanish dialogue, I wanted to represent my mother’s perspective growing up in a household where parents spoke in Spanish, and children replied in English.
I extend my analysis of generational static in “OLD SLIDES,” where bilingualism is glitchy even between older and younger siblings. Spanish as a language, as a means of expression, as a character in my mother’s family and other Latinx families grappling with (in)authenticity feels real to me. German is fractured, distant, and intriguing but ugly given my family’s circumstances fleeing the country, while the Yiddish-adjacent vocabulary I took for granted in New York is fantastic. As my spirituality hiccups, I access my Ashkenazi heritage through humor.
How should I tread along the intersections of two ethnically tricky to define diaspora people—Jews and Latinxs? How should white writers more thoughtfully adress race? I’ve only ever thought of myself as a questionably legitimate Latina, but I don’t need to ask myself if I am a proper Jew. Almost all my New York friends are Jewish, our city is quite Jewish, our neighborhood quite Jewish, and we’ve all had Bat Mitzvahs. I’ve heard,“No offense, but you don’t look Hispanic,” my entire life, which is not nearly a struggle in the way that Black and brown Latinxs experience racial profiling but still makes space for questioning. Yet, within my family, my father’s Orthodox cousins refused to attend his wedding with a non-Jewish woman because we wouldn't count as real Jews. But when I studied in Buenos Aires, my tíos, friends, and host family joked about how much I fit in there. I try to contextualize and be as honest as possible on this insider-outside tightrope walk in chapters like “OLD SLIDES” and “Convulsions/Okay.” In pieces such as “Eva Braun: Shiksa Nigun” and “Genesis,” I want to satirically prod at my subterranean, ambiguous, model minority complexes through complicating figures such as the scorned woman along with the ancestor with unfinished business.
[[Misremembering and Silence]]
“Memory is such a funny thing, long-term memory. I can remember that Louie Armstrong song and taking dance lessons with G. Olger, and I can’t remember what I ate for dinner last night,” Grandma said.
“But you don’t think about memory in terms of memory, you think about it in terms of how someone acts or a sports event or something,” Dad said.
“That is a memory. We remember what we want to remember,” Eric said.
“Yeah, I mean it’s crazy,” Dad said, “When you think about lawsuits and stuff and how people disagree.”
“Well, memory is subjective or mediated,” Julia said.
“No, it’s a point of view,” Eric said.
“But some things just happen,” Dad said.
“I met Ingrid Bergman at a party in Italy. She was with Rossellini at the time, and he was mad at her,” Grandma said, “She asked me, ‘I sent him 3 white doves. Do you think that will do the trick?’”
[[Title and Language]]<strong>Misremembering and Silence</strong>
“I do not know how to say pain directly, I never have, and I often tell myself it really doesn’t matter, because, either way, any way, the brain shivers and craves, cracked open,” Lauren Slater, *Lying*
When trying to make sense of the world around us and trying to articulate this sense, what forces silence us, make us misspeak or misremember? While I entered this project wanting to disrupt and lean in to cultural determinist arguments about how we narrate, I found an unexpected thread across my writing that relates to illness. Outside my internal crisis surrounding how to relate to my family’s past, patterns of sickness more tangibly raise our anxiety and color our individual perspective in hereditary manifestations that are divergent but connected. Just as we may pathologize in relation to a heritage, “We’re like this because we’re Jewish,” we point to conditions from epilepsy to Parkinson’s to explain ourselves to ourselves. Maybe my brother zones out so much because his epilepsy has affected his brain, or maybe he’s just very calm like his uncle Carlos. My abuelo’s Alzheimer’s causes him to forget English, but it is his second language to begin with. His misremembering is still a form of intergenerational transference as he keeps telling his stories today, just in a more fragmented style.
Beyond or beneath language, how do you write about something secret or hidden that you struggle to ask about? My mother definitely tells more stories about her family than my father does. There are many possible reasons for this—personality, gender, cultural styles of sharing, the cruelly best outcome of colonialism that is Latin American brain drain rather than racist expulsion of German Jews. Yet, my family, like many families, may openly bicker constantly but still manages to cover up or eschew the bad past. Genocide, trauma, addiction, and infidelity—all knotted together—have marked and quieted my father’s family more starkly than my mother’s.
When I was young, I underwent the Hebrew School induced rite of passage of becoming very curious about the Holocaust. Once, in a restaurant with dim lighting, I remember asking my Grandma about that time in history, which was a real time in her life. She said, “We can talk about it if you want Jules but not at night.” This year, the notion of interviewing someone I knew so well, who knew me so well, for the sake of a story or the sake of preserving a story felt too formal and direct. Maybe I was also being timid. While I don’t want to ask my father too much about his extended family’s rejection of my non-Jewish mother, she doesn’t mind bringing secrets up.
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So, in keeping with speaking candidly about whose memory is whose, I will let you know about the truthfulness story clusters: “Convulsions/Okay,” “OLD SLIDES,” and “Archive” are non-fiction pieces, “La pastorcita perdida”, “(no subject),” and “Genesis: A Ghost Story” are fictional but touch upon similar identities and tensions as the memoir stories, and “Eva Braun: Shiksa Nigun” is fictionalized autobiography. I put these stories in a layout that I think flows according to different voices and threads carried out one to the next. Yet, as someone with a short attention span and a need for different tempos, I want my reader to follow what calls them once they sit down to read. This project is digital, and it should be because of the ways I’m trying to work with memory and linking, but I’d like you to read it as if it were a short story anthology. Judge the chapter by its cover, by its title, by its length. Please read in a space that fits.
Through writing these stories, I add to my family’s archive, and make my own memorial site. Through selectively digitizing and selectively fictionalizing the Pretsfelder-Vaamonde archive, I am conserving and lying at once. Even here, where I screenshot what my family has said to me to help out across this process (though I’m afraid of showing them the pieces that would offend them), I want to give an interpretation of interactivity that is lyrical, an active participation in the process of memory that tries to transcend yet demarcate past and present and ongoing. I also want to cite my sources so to speak and meta-textually wrestle with inheritance and unoriginality through citing the authors I’ve sort of stolen from. I also maybe did too many research projects on Borges growing up because I wanted to feel more authentically Argentinean, and I loved how much he played with text, plagiarism, and meta-text.
Thinking about this site as a memorial space for anxious love and an attempt to keep some family stories or family-inspired stories alive makes a great deal of sense to me as a human who fears their own death, the death of their loved ones, and, perhaps most of all—the death of their stories. Ultimately, I am left with the powers of deep memory, narrative resilience, and many questions that only future memory could answer. If my great-great-grandkids are around and see this somehow, stay with me.
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