Singular and parochial

Whether you like it or not, the best Catalan writers write in Spanish and, with few exceptions, have done so for the last 500 years. Excluding them from the Frankfurt Book Fair’s celebration of Catalan culture (unless they pay their tickets and shut up) is like leaving Kafka out of a celebration of Czech writing, or calling Dylan Thomas un-Welsh. I know Catalan-language writers are jealous of the success of guys like Carlos Ruiz Zafón and Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, but I find it hard to understand why the regional government, responsible for this charade, is so keen to kick its (principally Spanish-language) publishing sector in the bollocks and thus diminish its tax revenues.

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  1. Franz Kafka was a German-speaking Prague Jew writing in German, he certainly understood Czech but was far from fluent. His girlfriend Helena Jesenská translated some of his works into Czech. If anything, he regarded himself as part of Austro-German literature. Given the deep divide between the two language communities in Prague at the time, he’d hardly conceived of himself as being in any way attached to Czech culture, although he wasn’t a Czech-hater by any stretch of the imagination.

  2. Sorry, it’s ‘Milena’, of course. I’ve been getting kind of sloppy since I got the cushy job over at Stormont last week, hungover most of the time.
    BTW, you should come back to Ulster, Trevor. Now it’s the time. With your expertise in dealing with Catalans you can be sure of a high-ranking appointment.

  3. (Has Paisley taken his hands out of his pockets yet? I know he’s homophobic, but surely a short soft latino handshake with McGuinness won’t destroy him.)

  4. Advertising Czech culture with Kafka is tantamount to luring Yank backpackers to Cracow by faking a stedtl of sorts in Karzymierz..

  5. That’s one con I have never practised. You’ll have to explain it to me the next time I’m over in Dublin doing the odd bit of killing and burning.

  6. ‘slash & burn’? That ended a couple of centuries ago…mind you, there are still some places over in Donegal you would’t believe..well beyond the Pale and screaming to be kick-started into civilisation by a stern Sassenach hand. Anyway it’s the Poles that do the hard work in Dublin these days, those who aren’t donning fake peyes and serenading young Germans with a guilty conscience on a weekend trip to Cracow and -especially- surroundings.

    Tell you what, last time I was in Innismore I came accross a Gaelic-speaking cab-driver who was black…ever met him?

  7. Kalebul,

    the Frankfurt fair is about Catalan language and literature and obviously only authors who write in Catalan are invited. What’s the problem?

    Get your facts right before posting such nonsense.

  8. FYI “Catalan culture” was invited. On your criteria if I lived on a Pacific island and had my not particularly interesting thoughts on palm trees translated into Catalan before publishing them then I’d qualify, but Eduardo Mendoza would not. That’s freaking ridiculous.

    The saddest thing about the continuing saga of massive government subsidies for Catalan-language literature is that it has led to the publication of huge quantities of lousy books, so that it tends to be assumed that if something is published in Catalan it is because it is second-rate. In this particular case I think it’s fair to say that the authors being sent to Frankfurt are unknown because they lack talent, not promotional opportunities. Hey, but they’re your taxes.

  9. You are wrong again. Translated authors do not qualify. Get your facts right please.

    Let me make this clear to you: the Frankfurt fair is a literature event. Catalan is the language invited this year and, quite obviously, only authors who publish their original works in Catalan are, and should be, invited. The rest is mince.

    Following your logic, Catalan-language authors living in Scotland would have to be invited if Scottish literature is the next guest at the Frankfurt fair.

    If residency is the only requisite, then English-language (or Russian, Polish, Arabic, Chinese, etc). authors living in Barcelona would also be invited. Utter tosh, don’t you think?

    This line of reasoning is so irrational it would be laughable in any other country. However a serious matter it is, for those who support the view that residency status qualifies an author as a Catalan literature author, are pursuing a political agenda against the survival of the Catalan language. Notice how it never works in reverse with writers based in Madrid who publish in languages other than Spanish. I wonder if they would be invited to an international fair of Spanish literature. As a Scot would say, “aye right”.

  10. Ah, but what if I didn’t tell anyone I’d had them translated? Then nutters like you would say, Hey, that stuff written by some foreigner about palm trees in the Pacific is REAL Catalan writing, not like that rubbish about Barcelona written by some guy called Ruiz Zafón who was only like born here. Moron.

  11. Hey man, you’d better change the Scottish literature entry on Wikipedia: ‘Scottish literature is literature written in Scotland or by Scottish writers. It includes literature written in English, Scottish Gaelic, Scots, Brythonic, French, Latin and any other language in which a piece of literature was ever written within the boundaries of modern Scotland.’

  12. It all depends whether you prefer the liberals and nations full of individuals with equal rights or the nationalists who say your rights depend on your blood or language or the shape of your nose.

  13. “Moron”
    Is that the weight of your argument? Personal insults?

    Catalan literature is literature written in Catalan language, anything else is political nonsense.

    I repeat my question: does the same principle apply in Madrid?

  14. It’s not my argument. It’s an accurate parting epithet which may be withdrawn when you return having convinced Wikipedia that Scottish literature is literature written in Scots.

  15. So what do we do with Alberto Manguel? Raised speaking English and German in Buenos Aires and Israel, he writes in the former and identifies himself as a Canadian yet is referred to as an ‘escritor argentino’ in the website of the Argentine education ministry – – this despite the fact that he does not translate his own works to castillian. The foregoing makes it clear that Manguel would be admitted to fairs promoting English-language, Canadian and Argentine (despite the translation) writers. Any problem there? Not being too parochial, am I?

  16. What a shining example! Argentina has always been marvellously inclusive, in different ways at different times. I seem to remember this generosity of spirit leading to a little problem with some little islands.

  17. You refuse to answer the question: does the same principle apply to Russian-language authors based in Madrid?

    I will try to explain it again, since you seem to have trouble understanding this:
    the Frankfurt Book Fair Guest of honour this year is Catalan culture and literature and the agency selected is the Institut Ramon Llull, a Catalan culture organisation.

    This will be probably the only time in a generation that Catalan literature will be selected as a Guest of Honour in the Frankfurt Book Fair, yet people with ulterior political motives (due to pure maliciousness) or wilfully ignorant want to change the nature of the event and the invitation.

    Catalan culture and literature means Catalan culture and literature and it does not mean writers and authors that reside in Catalonia but choose to publish their original works in another language.

    I repeat: will this question arise in any other country in the world? Cleary no.
    Whenever Portuguese literature is invited, I am positive that the Portuguese government will not invite Portugal-based authors who write in other languages.
    If Italian literature had been invited, would the Italian government have invited Dame Muriel Spark, who was living in Italy before her passing away. No.

    That’s the bottom line my friends.

    But in Catalonia we are being fucked right, left and centre by people whose only desire in life seems to be to see our language disappear even faster.

    For goodness sake, please let our language enjoy this wonderful opportunity in peace. Don’t worry, it will be our last anyway, and in a few years Catalan language will be consigned to the history books but let us die with a wee bit of dignity. If that’s not too much to ask.

  18. I don’t expect you to take any interest, but there is a rather significant difference between Russian in Madrid and Spanish in Catalonia: Russian-speakers form a miniscule proportion of the population of the Community of Madrid and there is no significant public literary activity in Russian; in Catalonia, roughly half of the population has Spanish as its mother tongue, and Spanish-language publications are significantly better and more widely-read than Catalan-language ones, not because of some ghoulish conspiracy but because that seems to suit those who live and work in Catalonia and on that basis may be defined as Catalans. Catalan literature minus its Spanish-language component is pathetic.

    London culture is generally perceived and promoted as multilingual, and I think the same applies to most sophisticated urban areas, including Madrid (where good work is being done in the public library system). However, if you think Portugal or Sicily are preferable models, then good luck to you.

    (Psst, I notice you haven’t yet changed the definition of Scottish literature on Wikipedia. Loser!)

  19. Let’s face it, Catalan literature isn’t particularly exciting nowadays, in either language. Marsé, Vázquez and Zafón may sell well as bestsellers go, but they’re all nonetheless second-rate writers.
    I supose you could say the same about other parts of Spain by and large: obsessively self-referential, cumbersome, unimaginative. Many Spaniards thought the end of dictatorship would bring about a tidal wave of creativity and the opposite was the case: inanity and episodical Almodovaresque clownmanship, the outcome of 40 years of state-run systematic emptiness. Go east, young men!

  20. Catalan independence would throw a screw in the works, wouldn’t it? Would Spanish-speaking citizens of Cataluña be considered Catalan (or writers be invited to book fairs)? Hmmm. DNA tests anyone?

  21. DNA tests? No, I wouldn’t believe so. With a few exceptions like the infamous Dr Robert – one among a loony legion of pseudo-scientists obsessing over race across Europe at the turn of last century – Catalan Nationalism was never so much about ‘race’ (remember, CAT isn’t Iceland by any stretch of the imagination)as it was about language and ‘culture’, whatever the latter may stand for…pretty much like other ‘smaller’ nationalisms – ‘smaller’ as opposed to ‘banal’ status-quo nationalism – as in the cases of Québec, Norway, Finland, Flanders, the Czech lands or Slovenia.

    Interestingly, some people have put forward the idea that political independence for CAT would lead to the language issue being put on the back burner and Spanish ultimately getting the upper hand, cf Eire.

  22. Fuc!
    A lot of shining stars here! Avui I cannot see the moon: light pollution and over-illumination.

    Please, anybody can post any link to other “invitation” example (past years)?
    I would like to see if they really invite “languages and literatures”, “people”, “cultures” or “countries”. This is totally out of “Culture”… it seems to Politics.

    On the other hand I think Catalan Literature (as discipline) must study both languages spanish+catalan.
    May be English Literature does it with North Americans and Scottish writers.
    Spanish Literature does it (plus Basque, Galician, and Spanish American Languages based… and I say Languages).

    But everithing is geographically identified. You can make demagoguery, but we can point the coherence: The Frankfurt Book Fair what usually invites?

    · If they’re broken the coherence with other years invitating “cultures” instead “countries”… you know.

    If they’ve invited the “Catalan culture” (the link points that), all the writers must be invited: the Catalan Culture includes both languages. “Cultura bilingüe”, isn’t it???.

    I’m out: Trevor, thanks a lot for your full-of-contents blog: please, keeeeeeeeep on!!!! :D

    One saludo and salut!

  23. Apprentice boy,

    I didn’t mean it seriously. Just said it to highlight that the language policy of some stateless nations is unworkable, or unacceptably authoritarian, in any situation of political independence. That is to say that Cataluña and Québec both are dependent on their respective countries for their language and cultural norms to function. This is a point not lost on most political operators and professionals of jurisprudence in at least the latter.

    Curiously, the language issue did not follow the same path in New Brunswick. There it remained a provincial matter that was resolved more or less satisfactorily in the urns via demography, as well as in the courts, this despite the far more compelling beef against the English that binds Acadians.

  24. You mean ‘Loi 101’? Not that it’s done much good, though. English remains very much the dominant language in downtown Montreal. So much for stateless nations trying to enforce domestic language legislation, it’s bound to fail anyway if you’re not running your own state. And I’m not so sure it’d work out even in the opposite was true, as borne out by the case of Eire. It’s also questionable to what extent Russian minorities in the newfangled Baltic States will assimilate in language terms in the long run.
    Still, I honestly can’t see the benefit humanity as a whole would derive from having French wiped out altogether from North America, or Catalan – Latvian, Estonian, Lithuanian, etc.- from Europe. I think it was Hans-Georg Gadamer who pointed out that every language conveys its own kind of Weltanschauung -to put it in a nutshell- and thereby informs and enriches both its own speakers and those of other languages at the same time. The upshoot is that we need as many different angles as we can get.

  25. I still think the most cost-effective means of saving Catalan is to pay say 5 million Chinese €3K pa (I think that’s roughly twice average wages) on condition they hit certain linguistic and then literary targets. That’s way more bang for your buck than you’re getting in Catalonia itself and an extension of what is happening already, with Catalan mums adopting Chinese infants en masse.

    I don’t buy Sapir-Whorf and actually couldn’t care in the least if English, Spanish or Catalan were to disappear from the world tomorrow (although it would be good if they didn’t all disappear at once). No one apart from Martí de Riquer can speak medieval Catalan any more and we seem to be getting by.

  26. Trevor, I’m afraid the above reaches well beyond the scope of linguistics, “the limits of my language indicate the limits of my world”, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico Philosophicus.

    Besides, you’ve forgotten to factor in the horrendous cost of turning 5 m Chinese into native speakers of another language. You’d have to break them up into manageable groups, resettle them – perhaps around Barcelona, relocating the Spanish speakers all the way back to the Gansu corridor to fill the sudden vacancies? – Then you’d need about 5 m trained native-speaker coaches, who’d still have to be properly payed and guaranteed old-age pensions, never mind the housing issue…good for you if that´s the professional future you’re aiming at – provided you’re fluent enough in Catalan, that is – but hardly feasible in conventional social-engineering terms, you will admit.

  27. Enforcement of language laws becomes impossible under independence, unless you want your state to be called Albania. I stopped spending time in Montreal when some uniformed shithead at Mirabel Airport refused to attend to me in English. That would be thirty years ago. But even by then law 101 had converted the city from national showcase to large provincial centre, shifting the cosmopolitan centre of the country 600 km southwest down highway 401 to a place where, ten years earlier, the King Billy parade was still front page fare. It suddenly wasn’t worth the trip.

  28. Peut-être tout simplement comprenait-il mal notre belle langue anglaise, ce fâcheux monsieur de l’Aéroport de Mirabel?

  29. Mais non, mon cher compatriote anglophone: ‘fâcheux’ is French for ‘annoying’, ‘real pain in ze neck’, tu te souviens?

    T’as peut-être got mixed up with ‘facho’, qui bien sûr est tout à fait autre chose…

  30. Which of both? intrinsic added-value ie potential know-how in language variety or Mao-style social engineering?

  31. i might be a pschyco,but you are a liar!which is even worse….
    facts?you gave none…..
    bad memory?300 years of oppression keeps me fit!

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