JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory, Volume 24, Number 2, 2004 Page: 307
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tive change of an earlier traumatic situation. There is a transformation in
Jaim6 that occurs around that place of secrets, violence, and death-the
pool. The first time he is there, he is traumatized by his inability to save
Santi because he cannot swim. He masks his shame with violent bullying
of the other boys. Later he finds that Carlos, who can swim, is willing to
jump in to save him, despite Jaime's earlier intimidation and abuse-a
progressive working out of an earlier death trauma in favor of life and
meaningful self-sacrifice. In three other violent scenes at the pool-
Santi's murder by Jacinto with the hidden Jaim6 as onlooker; Jacinto
threatening an inquisitive Carlos, with Jaime and the boys as open
onlookers; and the boys, led by Jaime and Carlos, banded together as a
group, undoing Jacinto's domination-the viewer easily reads the repeti-
tion as the working out of a previous transgression, with the murderer
brought to an "appropriate" justice (eye for an eye) and the previously
victimized finding strength together to defeat a common oppressor. In this
reading, The Devil's Backbone can be said to alter what was (the
republicans' defeat by the fascists) in favor of what might have been,
converting the subjection to cruelty into solidarity, disunity into loyalty,
and failure of will or cowardice into courage, so that the children of the
leftists survive while the fascist bully is destroyed. Such a reading is
troublesome, for it insists that the narrative can be "worked out" or fully
concluded only by relying on the same aggressive energies that led to the
earlier terror: that heady compound of violence and class divisiveness.
"Transformed" history collapses back into history repeating itself.
There are other examples of such repetition (without a difference) in
the film that call into question the meaningfulness and possibility of
human agency in moments of crisis, such as civil war. For example,
"limbo water" holds the deformed fetuses in Dr. Casares's laboratory,
caught between heaven and earth according to Catholic doctrine. The
children reimagine this uncertain state of limbo when they voice their
fears that the war will never end and that the heat keeps the dead, like "the
one who sighs" (Santi), trapped between heaven and earth. The film
echoes this "inbetweenness" of the status of knowledge concerning the
war with the image of the pool holding Santi (and Jacinto) in a symbolic
limbo. There they await a narrative that could make sense of the potent
combination of accident and choice that leads to their fatal embrace.
Instead of some overarching design, such repetitions, in fact, point to
accident and deformation.'8 How are we to make meaning out of the many
accidents that compound this history's traumatic affect: from the acci-
dental mother-father loss that all these boys share, to the accident of
Here’s what’s next.
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Association of Teachers of Advanced Composition (U.S.). JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory, Volume 24, Number 2, 2004, periodical, 2004; (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc28644/m1/53/: accessed July 24, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .