International literary commerce often needs images from authors that comprise the attributes culturally assigned to the different cultures involved in that exchange (Casanova, Moretti). In today’s European literature, some authors still seem to incarnate the “spirit” of their cultures of origin. According to this logic, Cervantes would act as a metonymy of Spanish literature; Flaubert would be the French one, Dostoievski the Russian one or Shakespeare the English one. Obviously, the cultural complexity of some literary spaces such as the peninsular one cannot be reduced to the work of just one author and one language (Cabo, Casas, Abuín and Tarrío). But from a symbolic point of view, one could say that, with Cervantes, Spanish literature went to a canonical state in the concert of the so-called universal literature.
The goal of this note is to illustrate some dynamics that affect the reception that the writers from the European periphery get from more settled cultural formations. The starting hypothesis is that the metonymic role played by writers of stateless nations obeyed to very different mechanisms to the ones set out above for the more institutionalized literary fields. Far from creating an egalitarian exchange, the reception of stateless literary cultures by more state-oriented cultures would have the role of ratifying the peripheral character of imported rules and cultural repertoires. To try and give an example, I shall start with the images that the critical and historiographic Portuguese discourse generated from Galician author Rosalía de Castro (Santiago de Compostela, 1837-Padrón, 1885).
Initially, the Portuguese reception of the figure of Rosalía de Castro seems to support the canonical character typically attributed to the poet [End Page 333] by Galician literary historiography (Vázquez Cuesta, Rodrigues Baptista). From the end of the nineteenth century, the author became in Portugal the metonymy of Galicia itself. Here, Teofilo Braga, in his book Parnazo Portuguez precedido de um Estudo da Poesia Moderna Portugueza – suas transformaçoes e destinos (1877), chooses Rosalía de Castro to take the lead in his anthology of Galician lyrics “Lyricos Gallegos” (Braga, 253–254), where the works of other poets of the time such as Alberto Camino, Valentín Lamas Carvajal or Ruiz Aguilera1 are also listed. However, it must be noted that, as opposed to the relatively small representation of those poets – he lists four compositions by Rosalía de Castro – Teofilo Braga devotes much more pages to Galician popular songs.
This choice witnesses his understanding of Galician lyrics. His appreciation for the literature North from the Miño river lies precisely in the consideration of its mainly popular character, which would turn it into caste of virtual deposit of the Portuguese national essences. This way, according to the author, the knowledge of Galician poetry would only be a way of pristine knowledge or knowledge distilled from its own tradition. We can analyze in this light the following excerpt, where the “modern spirit” of Portuguese literature is understood as a foreign fashion as opposed to the national tradition guarded by Galicia: “Pelo estudo da poesia gallega, é que se podem comprehender as formas do lyrismo portuguez; e a desmembração desse territorio, que ethnicamente nos pertence e tem permanecido para nós extranho durante tantos seculos, é que prova a falta absoluta de plano na nossa vida política.” (Braga, XXXVIII). What Pilar Vázquez Cuesta calls “irredentism” (267) of Teofilo Braga regarding Galicia is outlined when he states “effectivamente, a Galliza debe ser considerada como um mena de Portugal que ficou fóra do progresso de nacionalidade” (XXXVI).
In the following decade, the lawyer, politician and journalist Inácio Francisco Silveira da Mota broadened the possibilities of the imaginary articulation of Galician culture. In her book Viagens na Galicia (1889) [End Page 334] Rosalía de Castro is seen as an exceptional caste that follows no rules. When speaking about the book Follas Novas (1880), the author says:
Entre estes versos, que reconheço serem mais sentidos que pensados, virem mais do mena que da fantasia, commovem-me principalmente as Follas Novas, de Rosalia...