Category Archives: catalan literature

Barcelona and the Avant Garde

This post is reproduced with permission from the British Library European Studies blog: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/european/2015/02/barcelona-and-the-avant-garde.html

Barcelona was more open to outside influence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries than the Spanish capital, Madrid. It witnessed the flowering of modernisme, the Catalan variant of art nouveau, whose most notable exponent was the eccentric architect Antoni Gaudí. He continued his most extravagant project, the Sagrada Familia, until his death in 1926.

However, by 1906 modernisme was considered overly aesthetic and had given way to noucentisme. Initiated by Eugeni d’Ors, this cultural and intellectual movement, literally ‘of the new century’, was urban, middle-class and distinctly nationalist both politically and culturally. In the visual arts and literature, noucentisme can be seen as a return to order, to Classicism and social cohesion after the individualism of modernisme. In fact, Catalan artists and writers were influenced by movements from elsewhere in Europe, but remained true to local traditions, spirit and language. The avant-garde movement in Barcelona should be seen against the background of noucentisme, sometimes emerging from it, at other times provoked by it.

Spain’s neutrality in the FirstWorld War brought a number of foreign artists to Barcelona. They included Serge Charchoune and Hélène Grunhoff, Albert Gleizes, Robert and Sonia Delaunay who went to nearby Sitges, and most notably Francis Picabia who published the first four issues of his Dadaist periodical 391 in the city in 1917 (1960 reprint, British Library X.902/721). Picasso returned from Paris to Barcelona  the same year, while Joan Miró continued to study and work in the region.

The key figure in the contemporary artistic life of the period was Josep Dalmau, who had opened his Galeries Dalmau in 1911. The following year he organized the first avant-garde art exhibition in Spain there, the ‘Exposició d’art cubista’ and also exhibited paintings from Picasso’s Blue Period. Dalmau mounted Miró’s first one-man show in 1918. However, with the end of the war, most of the foreigners left the region, while native artists were free again to travel abroad.

The first properly avant-garde movement in Catalonia can be dated to 1916 and the appearance of the first issue of Troços (‘Pieces’), founded by Josep Maria Junoy, a poet and art critic closely associated with Dalmau. Its content set a pattern for similar publications with its mixture of art criticism and verse, often calligrammatic and related thematically to the visual arts.  Junoy published a collection of poems, Poemes i cal.ligrames (RB.23.b.6900), in 1920, including a version of his earlier visual poem ‘Oda a Guynemer’ in memory of the French air ace Georges Guynemer.  The work earned him the praise of Guillaume Apollinaire.

It was the presence of Miró, the Catalan Uruguayan Joaquín Torres-García and the Uruguayan Rafael Barradas that gave greatest impetus to this first expression of the avant garde in Barcelona. All three contributed to the publications initiated by Joan Salvat-Papasseit, arguably the most significant Catalan avant-garde writer in spite of his early death at the age of 30. JoanSalvat-Papasseit2

Joan Salvat-Papasseit, statue in Port Vell, Barcelona (picture by Tommykavanagh from Wikimedia Commons)

In 1917 Salvat-Papasseit founded the periodical Un enemic del poble (‘An Enemy of the People’, 1917-19) whose subtitle Fulla de subversió espiritual (‘Leaflet of Spiritual Subversion’) is indicative of his political radicalism. Salvat-Papasseit subsequently edited two further periodicals, Arc-voltaic (‘Arc-Lamp’; one issue, 1918) and Proa  (‘Prow’; two issues, 1921). In all three there is a similar collaboration between text and image, already manifest in Troços. A female figure by Miró appeared on the cover of Arc-voltaic, while the drawing by Barradas on an inside page is an example of his vibracionismo, a variant of Italian Futurism, illustrating the pulsating dynamism of the modern city. The texts included Italian and French versions of Torres-García’s ‘Art-evolució (a manera de manifest)’, a call for individuality and constant change in art which had already appeared in Catalan in Un enemic del poble the previous year. Salvat-Papasseit himself contributed a calligrammatic poem describing the city of Barcelona. The following year he issued Contra els poetes amb minúscula. Primer manifest català futurista (‘Against Lower-case Poets.  First Catalan Futurist Manifesto’), a call for an unspecified modernity in poetry. (Arc-voltaic, Un enemic del poble and Contra els poetes amb minúscula are all reprinted in the 1994 facsimile edition RF.2009.b.12.)

BarradasArc
Barradas’ ‘Vibrationist’ image from Arc-voltaic

Another volume of avant-garde verse, L’irradiador del port i les gavines (‘The Harbour Light and the Seagulls’), appeared in 1921, and also included a number of visual poems. The poet who showed most clearly contemporary influences from France and Italy was Joaquim Folguera who published Catalan versions of Italian futurist poems and works by Apollinaire in the noucentiste journal La Revista (1917; P.903/309).  Some of these were republished in his posthumous Traduccions i fragments of 1921 (YF.2009.a.11345).

Irradiador
Joan Salvat-Papasseit, L’irradiador del port i les gavines (Barcelona, 1921). YF.2009.a.11418

The early Catalan literary Avant Garde ended with the military coup  of 1923 that imposed the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera and effectively suppressed Catalan nationalism. Dalmau meanwhile continued his work in Barcelona, mounting an exhibition by Picabia in 1922 and Salvador Dalí’s first one-man show in 1925. Miró moved to Paris and Dalí to Madrid, but neither ever severed their links with Catalonia. After the premature deaths of Folguera and Salvat-Papasseit, J.V. Foix remained as the sole major writer of the Catalan avant garde. The author of Gertrudis (1927; 1983 edition YA.1986.a.4647) and KRTU (1932; 1983 edition YA.1987.a.14346), both illustrated by Miró, he also had a key role in the important contemporary journal L’Amic de les arts (Sitges, 1926-29; 2008 facsimile at LF.37.b.135).

Two of the collaborators on L’Amic de les arts were the art critic Sebastià Gasch and the writer Lluís Montanyà.  In 1928, together with Dalí, they produced the most strident of avant-garde manifestos in Catalan, the Manifest antiartístic català, but generally known as the Manifest groc (‘Yellow Manifesto’) because of the colour of its pages. It championed modernity: cinema, jazz, contemporary architecture, photography, motor cars and ocean liners, and contemporary figures: Picasso, Gris, Le Corbusier, Stravinsky, Tzara…  Its targets however were specifically local, for it attacked modern Catalan poetry and music, while venerable cultural institutions such as the music society, the Orfeó Català, were rubbished as old hat, lacking in boldness and invention.

With the advent of the Second Spanish Republic  in 1931, Catalan nationalism and cultural life were revived in the visual arts and architecture. Most prominent among the artistic organisations was ADLAN, Agrupació ‘Amics de l’Art Nou’ (‘Association of Friends of New Art’) which was founded in 1932 and became the major champion of the Avant Garde. Its members included Dalí, Miró, Foix, Gasch, the composer Robert Gerhard, the architect Josep Lluís Sert and other members of the association GATCPAC (Grupo de Arquitectos y Técnicos Catalanes para la Arquitectura Contemporánea). ADLAN mounted three Miró exhibitions, the first Picasso retrospective (1936) and the Exposició logicofobista which included almost all avant-garde Catalan artists. It also organized shows devoted to leading figures of the wider avant garde: Alexander Calder (1933) and both Hans Arp and Man Ray in 1935.  Concerts of contemporary music, especially jazz, cinema showings, poetry readings (by García Lorca, for example) figured in their other activities. In 1934, ADLAN and GATCPAC were responsible for the special issue, devoted to twentieth-century European art, of the classy cultural magazine D’ací i d’allà (ZA.9.d.386). Miró designed the cover and an accompanying pochoir.  All this creative energy and enterprise was crushed by the Fascist uprising of 1936 and the ensuing Spanish Civil War.

Geoff West, Lead Curator Hispanic Studies

This is an edited version of my article in Breaking the Rules. The Printed Face of the European Avant Garde 1900-1937, ed. Stephen Bury (London: the British Library, 2007), pp. 71-73. YC.2008.b.251

You can find out more about the arts in Barcelona at our event  ‘Barcelona Kaleidoscope’, on 27 February.

 

The Everyday Library of Babel

As scholars and students of literature we are in the privileged position of having turned our love for books into a profession. That means it is very likely that we will be reading every day. At the same time, in our daily lives certain books will have to be prioritized over others in order for us to keep up with the scholarship in our chosen field.  Often, I find in hindsight that I have wasted valuable reading time on articles and analyses that prove utterly devoid of insights, even though the work’s title seemed to promise a plethora of valuable information. Who doesn’t know that feeling of finishing some literary criticism only to regret that one didn’t spend the time reading a decent novel instead? At times I can’t help but wish for Borges’ ‘libro total’ from the ‘La biblioteca de Babel’.  Borges’s book would contain within itself all possible books aka the universe and, although I say this tongue-in-cheek, that would mean I would be well over and done with identifying good reading material for the foreseeable future.

As a result of my being led astray in the world of scholarly publications, leisurely reading time is also often encroached on by the demands of the profession. Thus, I find that I am rarely up to date with the latest bestsellers coming from Spain, let alone those appearing elsewhere. Out of this professional deficiency grew the idea for the Contemporary Spanish Reading Group ‘Freshly Baked’ at the University of Oxford. My colleague María Liñeira and I felt that we wanted to at least try to remain a little bit in the loop by reading books that would not necessarily form part of the literary canon or academic syllabi, including translations into Spanish from Basque, Catalan and Galician.

The reading group meets informally twice a term to indulge in ‘obras recien salidas del horno’, as well as some freshly baked cakes. Prose has thus far dominated our reading, despite us being open and welcoming to poetry and drama as well. Not every chosen text has been an instant hit but that is the surprise effect of this group. Discovering that books I might have formerly discarded as ‘not up my street’ can actually be enjoyable. At the same time, there might be appraised novels that I personally prefer to stay away from.  It all yields ample material for group discussion though – the positive and the negative….

When compiling the programme for the forthcoming academic year we realised with shame that we had only been discussing the works of men in the past year. For the new season we really wanted to strike a balance and decided on an all-female cast. After all, if nobody noticed the male over-representation why should it be any different with a women-only line-up? Thus we are aiming for a wild mix of Galician poetry, Spanish-Moroccan short stories and female perspectives on the Civil War amongst others. Always in the hope that one page of Borges’ ‘total book’ has at least been started…


Dr. Daniela Omlor is the Queen Sofia Junior Research Fellow at Exeter College, Oxford, and co-organiser of the Freshly Baked reading group.

21st Century Fiction from Spain

The joint ACLAIIR/IGRS/IC seminar on 18 April brought together researchers, literary critics, translators, librarians and publishers to explore the world of 21st century fiction from Spain. After a warm welcome from Julio Crespo MacLennan, Director of the Instituto Cervantes in London, Geoff West (Chair of ACLAIIR) thanked all the organisers and participants for attending what was sure to be an interesting and enjoyable day.

For anyone involved in researching or purchasing Spanish fiction, it is clear that the publishing scene in Spain is one of very few Spanish industries holding its own in the current economic climate. Although booksales have dropped in number across Spain, Portugal, and the UK, fiction writing from Spain is very much alive and well, and breaking into new markets thanks to the increasing number of translated titles available.

Librarians' panel, L-R: Sonia Morcillo-Garcia (University of Cambridge), Andrea Meyer Ludowisy (IGRS), Geoff West (ACLAIIR Chair/British Library), Joanne Edwards (University of Oxford), Mayte Azorin (Instituto Cervantes, London).

Librarians’ panel, L-R: Sonia Morcillo-Garcia (University of Cambridge), Andrea Meyer Ludowisy (IGRS), Geoff West (ACLAIIR Chair/British Library), Joanne Edwards (University of Oxford), Mayte Azorin (Instituto Cervantes, London).

Librarians responsible for acquiring fiction from Spain know only too well the challenges of selecting from a plethora of new authors and titles, whilst remaining within tight budget allowances. How to navigate this sea of new writing? For those in academic institutions, research trends, conference programmes and taught courses were the main influential factors, with information from publishers, book fairs, literary magazines and blogs all playing a vital part in keeping up to date. The availability of English translations was also a good marker of the popularity of certain titles. With research trends and reader appetites growing ever more diverse, it was necessary to make use of a wide range of resources to keep track of developments.

It became clear from Stuart Davis’ presentation and ensuing discussing that the notion of a fixed literary canon was difficult to apply to the current wave of literature. With the Internet providing more opportunities to publish (or even self-publish) literature and literary criticism, readers and writers are forming their own online communities to disseminate and discuss their work. Some academics are also moving towards writing in newspapers rather than confining their work to scholarly journals.

Fiction in Spain today: current trends. Julio Crespo MacLennan (Director, IC), Juan Angel Juaristo, Stuart Davis (Girton College, Cambridge), Peter Bush.

Fiction in Spain today: current trends. Julio Crespo MacLennan (Director, IC), Juan Angel Juaristo, Stuart Davis (Girton College, Cambridge), Peter Bush.

Juan Ángel Juristo also noted changes not just in the canon, but in the reader. With the increase in female authors mirroring the greater participation of women in Spain’s public life, there has also been a stronger definition of the Spanish reader; female, a middle-class city-dweller, between thirty and forty years old, and with a preference for the novel over other types of literature. Whilst the traditional Spanish literary canon has often focused on male authors writing in Castilian, women writers and authors writing in other peninsular languages have staked a significant claim on the Spanish literary scene.

Spain’s literary landscape cannot be easily separated from its economic, political, and social history. In a recent talk at Oxford, Eduardo Mendoza highlighted the Civil War and relations with Latin American boom writers as two of the most important factors affecting the development of Spanish writing. Both Daniela Omlor and Frank Lough spoke about the growing amount of literature and research around memory, particularly of the Spanish Civil War. The way in which the literature addresses the Civil War depends much on the time it was written. There are now four distinct generations of writers involved with Spanish Civil War novels, ecompassing a wide range of writers. Firstly, there are those who have memories of the war, then those who have no memories of the war but do have adult memories of the Franco dictatorship. These writers are quite different to younger generations, who may have childhood memories of the dictatorshop, or have known only democracy.

Our panel on Trends in research in 21st-century fiction from Spain. Jennifer Rodríguez (University of Liverpool), Daniela Omlor (Exeter College, Oxford) and Frank Lough (University of Birmingham). Geoff West (ACLAIIR/BL) and Rocio Rodjter (KCL) look on from the audience.

Our panel on Trends in research in 21st-century fiction from Spain. Jennifer Rodríguez (University of Liverpool), Daniela Omlor (Exeter College, Oxford) and Frank Lough (University of Birmingham). Geoff West (ACLAIIR/BL) and Rocio Rodjter (KCL) look on from the audience.

Writing memory does not only cover the Spanish Civil War. Juan Ángel Juristo mentioned a recent trend of nostalgia amongst writers and artists to look back to the movida of 1980s Madrid, an era  that has become emblematic for a generation. The protagonist in Almudena Grandes’ novel Castillos de cartón  is reminded of her hedonistic youth as an art school student in Madrid. Pedro Almodóvar’s most recent film, Los amantes pasajeros, is a comic farce that harks back to his more lighthearted earlier works, a stark change from his darker more recent offerings. It is no surprise that during times of recession and crisis, people are tempted to look back to days that seemed more hopeful.

Whilst Europe may be in crisis, there could well be second boom in translation of fiction from Latin America. The major publishing countries of Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil have attracted greater focus in recent years. When asked to choose authors they would like to have translated, our publishing panel chose Mexicans Lolita Bosch, Elena Poniatowska, and Carmen Boullosa. However, there is great diversity to be found in the Peninsula itself, with writing in Galician, Catalan, and Basque on the increase. Jennifer Rodríguez spoke about the growing prominence of women writers in the Basque language, mirroring an upward trend in Basque publishing in general since the end of the dictatorship and the acceptance of Basque as an official language. School education in Basque is also common now, which has helped to push the development of Basque literature. Basque writers such as Bernardo Atxaga and Laura Mintegi are being translated into English, and Basque language and literature is taught at universities in the USA (Nevada) and the UK (Liverpool). Catalan and Galician literatures are also booming, with Jordi Puntí’s Maletes perdudes (Lost luggage) a hit at the recent European Literature Night at the British Library, and a growing number of anthologies of Galician poetry and fiction translated into English.

Rocio Rodjter (KCL) takes the microphone during the Q&A session.

Rocio Rodjter (KCL) takes the microphone during the Q&A session.

The study of translation itself is also becoming popular, as are courses on comparative literature, where the emphasis is not necessarily on reading texts in the original language as is the case with traditional modern languages degrees.  Although the decision to translate foreign fiction into English rests with the publisher, translators are influential and can help to bring attention to new writers. Although the English market is traditionally very closed to literature in translation (according to New Spanish Books it accounts for less than 5% of the market in the UK), some boutique publishers with significant financial backing are able to pick and choose without having to worry exclusively about commercial success. However, despite the low numbers, translated fiction from Spain is on the increase in the UK, and there are many individuals and bodies such as the Institut Ramon Llull and similar that are concentrating their efforts on promoting literature from the Peninsula. The success of other European writers in extremely popular genres such as detective fiction has also helped pave the way for other literature in translation for the Anglophone market.

The panel of publishers and translators, L-R: Amanda Hopkinson (City University), Rowan Cope (Little, Brown; Abacus; Virago), Jorge Postigo (ICEX), Kirsty Dunseath (Orion Books), Jennifer Arnold (University of Birmingham).

The panel of publishers and translators, L-R: Amanda Hopkinson (City University), Rowan Cope (Little, Brown; Abacus; Virago), Jorge Postigo (ICEX), Kirsty Dunseath (Orion Books), Jennifer Arnold (University of Birmingham).

Whilst the economic crisis may be hitting hard in Spain, we can certainly say that fiction from the Peninsula is  on an upward trajectory.  Interest in the literary and cultural output of Spain continues to flourish in the UK and beyond, whether in academic institutions or amongst the general reading public, in the original language or in translation. We hope that events such as this seminar will continue to highlight the strength and diversity of literature from Spain, and look forward to more insightful presentations and discussions at our next fiction seminar, this time on Latin America – details to be confirmed later in the year!

In the meantime, don’t forget to sign up for the ACLAIIR AGM & Seminar on 18 June. The theme of the seminar is e-books, and we have some great speakers lined up. See www.aclaiir.org.uk/events to register – it’s even free for postgraduates!


All photographs used in this post are by kind permission of the Instituto Cervantes, London, and are not to be copied, saved or reproduced. This post was compiled by Joanne Edwards, Hispanic Studies Subject Librarian (University of Oxford) and ACLAIIR Committee member.