- Auto/Biography and ConflictThe Year in Spain
Recent Spanish History and Politics
It is little wonder that the majority of auto/biographical narratives in Spain published from mid-2017 to mid-2018 deal with "the Catalan question." A political conflict that has been latent for decades—some might say centuries—in Spain, it is part of our collective memory and national consciousness. Catalonia has become an unavoidable but thorny issue lately, with increasingly polarized views that may turn rather violent, of which there is already sad proof on both sides.
One of the most striking examples of this subgenre is Peláez Viñas's El procés explicat als idiotes, roughly translated into English as "the procés for dummies," a graphic memoir of the four months that the movement for independence in Catalonia was at its height (September to December 2017). The Catalan word procés refers to the unilateral Declaration of the Initiation of the Process of Independence of Catalonia from Spain issued by the Generalitat on November 9, 2015. The word is usually left untranslated in Spanish mainstream news to refer to the pro-independence movement intent on establishing a republic in Catalonia. The procés is of particular resonance now, when the main leaders of the movement are being tried for rebellion, sedition, and misuse of power at the Spanish Supreme Court. Full of irony and a penchant for excess (drugs, alcohol, etc.), Peláez Viñas writes and draws himself into the conflict, criticizing politicians and intellectuals alike, and defying the Spanish justice system that has issued severe fines and/or jail time to several individuals found guilty of taking too much liberty with their freedom of expression.
A similarly humorous work is Javier Marías's Cuando los tontos mandan, roughly translated as "when dumb people are in charge." Marías, a prolific writer whose novels fill Spanish libraries and bookshops, compiles here some of his critical essays published in the widely read weekly magazine El Semanal. Significantly, the collection was a No. 1 Amazon bestseller soon after its publication in March 2018. [End Page 147] Among the myriad topics he satirizes, the Catalan procés features prominently alongside global political icons such as Donald Trump.
A slightly different tone is adopted by Santi Vila in his memoir De héroes y traidores: El dilema de Cataluña o los diez errores del procés. Vila, a former member of Puigdemont's cabinet before its collapse, blends the styles of confessional and political writing. Instead of highlighting his role in driving the region toward independence, he admits to his errors in judgement and his participation in the illegal referendum in Catalonia in October 2017.
Finally, an interesting attempt at relating the current turmoil to its historical roots is ¿Seré yo español? [Am I a Spaniard?]. A posthumous edited collection of essays by Gaziel, a Catalan journalist who tried to explain Catalonia to the Spanish ruling elite under the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera (1925–1930), these reflections prove to be highly relevant and illuminating to address the Catalan conflict today. Strong assertions like the need to distinguish between what Gaziel calls catalanismo and catalanidad deserve some careful examination. This is an author who inhabited "tierra de nadie" [no-man's land] (11), as the prologue warns readers. He wanted to offer his personal version of Catalonia as an intrinsic part of a Spanish consciousness, and he did that by writing in Spanish and expressing his own doubts, as the title emphasizes. An appropriate summary, in Gaziel's words, is that one cannot see what happens in Catalonia without the "varita mágica" [magic wand] of "comprensión" [understanding] (138). Moreover, Gaziel expands, "Catalanidad es una voz hermana de castellanidad" [catalanidad and castellanidad are cognate words] (139). This peaceful message of brotherhood among inhabitants of an "España plural" [plural Spain] (502) is a constant throughout this must-read.
Political memoirs, a recurring presence in Spanish bookshops every year, are worth mentioning. Jaume Aurell rightly argued in his essay for the International Year in Review last year that this is one of the main...