The other day Peter Harvey, struggling to find something to eat in Liverpool without being assaulted or poisoned, noted that the rise in its cultural reputation seemed to have been accompanied by a remorseless decline in civilised values. Peter will be perfectly well aware of EB Tylor’s oft-quoted definition of culture–“that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capacities or habits acquired by man as a member of society” (Primitive culture, 1871, but not on GB!)–so he doesn’t suggest that this is a zero-sum thing–that more culture requires less civilisation, that using a knife and fork is incompatible with personal expression.
That, however, is the rage driving the Catalanisation-by-decree of Cervantes’ beloved Barcelona, of which the latest episode is the attempt to start excluding non-Catalan-speaking university teachers mounted last week by Josep Huguet, the regional minister for Innovation, Universities and Business (sic): culture is folk-dancing, flags and a Romance dialect, and civilisation in the form biologists and roboticists so devious as to speak Spanish or English have a moral, and will at some stage presumably have a legal, obligation to yield to this contemporary Opium des Volkes. But Huguet is, of course, too well versed in the Catalanist supremacist tradition of death by a thousand cuts to have expected this to succeed on the first intent–the intellectual heirs of 1930s fascism lack the courage to cry “¡Muera la inteligencia!” as they bully the not even vaguely turbulent priests of Catalan Academia.
Catalan nationalism appears content to echo in all eternity holey man (scroll down) Millán Astray’s mythologised rejection of contemplative currents in Spanish philosophy, but in my summer reading I was amused to discover how rapidly many writers initially associated with intolerant, late-1930s Falangism sought–perhaps encouraged by Unamuno’s bravery–to disassociate themselves from such attempts to vanquish confusing, disturbing urban plurality and impose a Hitlerian pastoral fantasy of unity and purity. I may come back to several of these vile whores over the next couple of weeks–including the use of masonic imagery by the high-priest of literary Falangism–but for now I’d like to talk about one of the lesser-known works of my favourite lapsed Falangist, Camilo José Cela.
Cuaderno del Guadarrama, written in 1951, draws heavily on two recent sources, discussed at more length in David Henn’s Old Spain and new Spain: the travel narratives of Camilo José Cela: Cela’s ambulant rethink of Old Castile and Spain on walking trips in the late 40s and early 50s, and the refutation in América Castro’s España en su historia: Cristianos, moros y judíos (Buenos Aires, 1948) of the then Spanish national-racial orthodoxy, of both which the major fruit was Judíos, moros y cristianos (1956).
In what I take to be an exquisite satire on Germanic romantic nationalism and its extensive tail, our Cela-vagabond goes into the hills north of Madrid, more or less in the footsteps of the Archpriest of Hita, and–unlike the urban bohemians who travelled on the first trains out into the Central European countryside to discover wise unlettered peasants–a brutish autochtonous population that only when viewed from afar, preferably at sunset, recalls anything of disorderly, brilliant literary culture of old Spain; and allochthonous tourist buses whose occupants shrink from contact this past, being there merely for the snacks and snaps, and whose presence implies ubiquitous noise and nocturnal illumination in this richly literary landscape. At the end of the book a lady offers charity:
–Tome usted, buen hombre.
–Gracias, gentil señora, que no se hizo el desaire para que lo usaran los bien nacidos, pero no son sandwichs de foie-gras lo que busco, noble señora, sino el perdido rastro de las humanidades, aquella lucecita que alumbra por dentro de las mejores cabezas, ¿usted recuerda?
La señora sonrió con una hermosísima dulzura.
Su voz semejaba al tierno chasquido del agua cayendo y cayendo sobre el duro pedernal de la fuente.
–Pero tampoco debe usted preocuparse por eso, alta señora, que el mundo rueda aun sin humanidades, como si tal cosa, a usted lo sabe.
La sonrisa de la señora cobró unos fragiles y casi alados matices de tristeza.
Coinciding briefly and in appearance only with the folk-nationalists our vagabond is surprised and dismayed to find so much “civilisation” where he had hoped to encounter “culture”. However I think his objection to civilisation is basically the same as that of 1920s and early 1930s libertarians of what subsequently became known as right and left–that it is an ordering influence, whose advance inevitably leads to a loss of personal freedom. Huguet and Astray on the other hand object to both civilisation and agendas based on individual rights because because they are both incompatible with a national project which is not to be subject to elections or constitutional courts. In the words of José Antonio Primo de Rivera on founding Falange Española:
Juan Jacobo Rousseau suponía que el conjunto de los que vivimos en un pueblo tiene un alma superior, de jerarquía diferente a cada una de nuestras almas, y que ese yo superior está dotado de una voluntad infalible, capaz de definir en cada instante lo justo y lo injusto, el bien y el mal. Y como esa voluntad colectiva, esa voluntad soberana, sólo se expresa por medio del sufragio â€“conjetura de los más que triunfa sobre la de los menos en la adivinación de la voluntad superiorâ€“, venía a resultar que el sufragio, esa farsa de las papeletas entradas en una urna de cristal, tenía la virtud de decirnos en cada instante si Dios existía o no existía, si la verdad era la verdad o no era la verdad, si la Patria debía permanecer o si era mejor que, en un momento, se suicidase.
Similarly the culture our vagabond misses is not a Hispanic echo of Fichte’s vision of Jews who will only take their place in Germany when their traitorous Jewish heads are cut off and replaced by decent German ones. Rather I think it envisions a modus vivendi (also thoroughly mythologised) where people are given the freedom work hard at what they’re good at without having to rip out Catalan tongues and replace them with Spanish ones, as proposed by Professor of Literature (sic) Francisco Maldonado that day in Salamanca, or rip out Spanish tongues and insert Catalan ones in today’s madhouse.
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