Forum to explore how Colombian novel enhances understanding of history

Presidente durmiendo
"Presidente durmiendo" from the Colombiano artist, Fernando Botero
Dr. Chris Schulenburg
Dr. Chris Schulenburg
Dr. David Krugler
Dr. David Krugler

On Thursday, March 5, the University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s College of Liberal Arts and Education will host a faculty forum, “Talking Bones: The Writing of Assassination in Colombia,” in Room 136 Doudna Hall from 5-6:30 p.m.                                                            

At the forum, Dr. Chris Schulenburg, associate professor of Spanish at UW-Platteville, will discuss the Colombian novel “The Form of the Ruins” by Juan Gabriel Vásquez, which dramatizes the 1948 assassination of presidential candidate Jorge Elicier Gaitán and the ensuing civil war in Colombia called “La Violencia.” He will argue that fiction provides a promising way to understand these historical events.

“While forensic investigations of Gaitán’s killing and its causes certainly provide cutting edge possibilities to resolve the mysteries surrounding this case, Vásquez’s novel suggests that the latter’s fictionalization remains a crucial means of navigating fantastic circumstances defying any scientific effort to comprehend them,” said Schulenburg.

Schulenburg envisions audience members recognizing the value of hyperbole, exaggeration and storytelling in the process of making sense of Latin America’s traumatic past.

“Colombia’s ‘Violencia’ expresses itself best by fiction due to the fact that these decades of civil war simply defy the capacity of dates and timelines to express the nation’s collective suffering,” he said. “People in attendance will appreciate that, while the grisly conservation of Gaitán’s bones in the novel indicates a morbid fascination with the candidate’s untimely death, ultimately it is the fictional writing of this event that allows Colombia to come to terms with the assassination’s continued impact on the country today.”

Following Schulenburg’s presentation, Dr. David Krugler, professor of history at UW-Platteville, will examine, as a historian and novelist, Vasquez’s fictionalization of the aforementioned historical events. He will discuss the advantages, challenges and limits of using fiction to depict history, and briefly mention some other notable examples of novelists (including Isabel Allende, “Of Love and Shadows”) using fiction to make sense of the past in ways nonfiction narrative cannot.

“We tend to think that history, done properly, tells us exactly what happened in the past,” said Krugler. “But the writing and telling of history are creations of a version of the past. We hope our audience will leave with a greater appreciation of how novelists and historians have similar approaches to telling stories about past events.”

The forum is free and open to university students, faculty, staff and community members. Refreshments will be provided.

The LAE Faculty Forum Series, a program instituted in the fall of 2004, is sponsored by UW-Platteville’s College of LAE. The purpose of the forum is to allow faculty to present information in their research areas. Presenters tailor their presentations to a general audience.