- Biography and Autobiography Between Tradition and InnovationThe Year in Spain
A survey of life writing in Spain over the past year reveals what appears at first sight to be rather a mixed bag. Spanish writers and scholars remain dubious of Jill K. Conway's dictum on the value of biographical and autobiographical writing: "the magical opportunity of entering another life is what really sets us thinking about our own" (18). For instance, it is no easy task to locate the Spanish equivalent of the "professional biographer" found in other traditions. Spanish biographical authors tend to be scholars of history and literary criticism who, at some point in their careers, decide to write a biography, or else journalists or writers of fiction whose attention is drawn by some important personality. At the same time, Spanish readers are resistant to the "biographical turn" experienced by other literary traditions. We do not know which counts for more, the writers' reluctance or the readers' lack of enthusiasm, but the fact is that there is not usually much space for the biography section on the shelves of Spanish bookshops.
However, there is reason to hope. Three main areas in particular can be highlighted: biographies arising from the context of the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939); biographical work on intellectuals, writers, and politicians of the convulsed Spain of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; and biographies around objects, marking new literary and historiographic trends. I am going to focus my discussion on these three areas, then finish off by pointing to some diverse examples that belong to other biographical and autobiographical thematic areas, but which are worth highlighting for their special significance. Finally, I will attempt to delineate the features that seem most characteristic of auto/biographical production in Spain over the past year. [End Page 664]
One of the most typical strands of biographical production concerning the Civil War is the participation of foreigners in the conflict. The North American brigadists or other European fighters were attracted to the terrible Spanish battle fields by a peculiar mixture of juvenile idealism, a strong ideological charge, and a certain naivety that collided with the highly complex political and military situation they encountered on setting foot in the peninsula. Such is the perplexity that emerges from the compendium Biografías del 36, in which brief biographies of some of the foreign fighters in the civil war, such as Philippe Bourrinet, Andreas Bülow, and Paolo Casciola are collected. The subtitle of the work, "revolucionarios, extranjeros, judíos, anarquistas, trotskistas, bordiguistas, olvidados, internacionalistas, disidentes, exiliados, apátridas y otros malditos de la Guerra de España," graphically expresses the extraordinary diversity of motivation and the plural origins of those who gave their lives to the noble cause of combating fascism. Nevertheless, the value of this work and others like it lies in demonstrating that good intentions were not always accompanied by an adequate strategy. The radicalization typical of all wars (so extreme in the case of the Spanish Civil War in distilling secular grievances of a political, ideological, nationalistic, and even family nature) led to an impoverishing polarization on the two sides. This polarization raised the level of violence and hatred to such a pitch that even the most lucid minds were swept along by intellectual distortion and strategic disorientation. This drama is well reflected in the biographies contained in this volume, which offers an eloquent reading of this bleak panorama and helps to extract some valuable lessons on what must never happen again in Spain, of course, but also in so many other parts of the world besieged by the spiral of violence.
Rebeca Quintáns has published a biography of Emeritus King Juan Carlos I, one of the best-known figures on the Spanish political scene in the second half of the twentieth century, and whose appointment as king in 1975 can be considered the last direct political consequence of the Spanish Civil War: Juan Carlos I: La Biografía sin silencios. The hybrid nature of the author, as both a historian and a journalist, makes itself felt in the work. Quintáns's combination of historical erudition and journalistic reach is the clearest...