Friday, 9 June 2017

Juan Goytisolo: his ideas on politics & literature

by Brian Bamford
 Juan Goytisolo

THE Catalan writer Juan Goytisolo died last Sunday in Marrakesh.  Goytisolo, though born into a privileged family in 1931 - his father was imprisoned by the republican government during the Spanish Civil War, he had a difficult relationship with the Franco regime which censored his books, and he went to live in Paris permanently in 1956.

All his works had been banned in Spain until after Franco's death.

In France, mainly through his wife who was a writer and editor, he came to know the anarchist film director Luis Buñuel, as well as Sartre and de Beauvoir, Guy Debord, Camus, Raymond Queneau, Marguerite Duras and – especially – Jean Genet, who became a ‘moral, rather than literary’ mentor. Goytisolo has published over forty books, in various genres; his fiction, certainly since the 70s, is modernist in style and difficult to classify.  He is best known for his journalism, memoirs, and the novels that make up the ‘Alvaro Mendiola’ trilogy published between 1966-75.

He went into exile in France due to his 'total disagreement' with the Franco regime and the censorship it imposed.

He flirted with the communist party during the late 1950s, which brought him a four-month jail term, but he was inspired more by his opposition to the Franco dictatorship than by proletarian conviction.

He began writing at the age of 11, encouraged by his uncle Luis, and his first novels were published after attending law school.
His book Count Julian (1970, 1971, 1974) takes up, in an act of outspoken defiance, the side of Julian, count of Ceuta, a man traditionally castigated as the ultimate traitor in Spanish history.  In Goytisolo's own words, he imagines 'the destruction of Spanish mythology, its Catholicism and nationalism, in a literary attack on traditional Spain.'  He identifies himself 'with the great traitor who opened the door to Arab invasion. The narrator in this novel, an exile in North Africa like Goytisolo at the end of his life, rages against his beloved Spain, forming an obsessive identification with the fabled Count Julian, dreaming that, in a future invasion, the ethos and myths central to Hispanic identity will be totally destroyed.

In November 2014, Juan Goytisolo gave an online interview to the White Review with J.S. Tennant, in which he was asked about his attitude to Franco's Spain and his family background as well as questions on his view on the contempoary literature and the political situation: 
THE WHITE REVIEW—  Your works, and those of your two brothers, have continually recreated episodes from your family history to give a window onto Spain and Barcelona of the 1930s and ’40s. Has this semi-obsession with the period ever surprised you?

—  Well, the Civil War cast a long shadow and the death of our mother was a great shock. Later, I hated the Francoist regime and from the age of about 18 decided that this Spain was not my Spain. I lost my faith, became obsessed with the idea of escape, and read only banned books, which I sought out from among my mother’s shelves or in the back rooms of bookshops. 
—  You’ve written before that there’s no better reading experience than that of a banned book
—  Oh yes, a book by Cabrera Infante has a lot more worth in Cuba than outside the country, for example…Censorship has the Midas touch – everything it infects turns to gold. Everything becomes politicised; censorship exists to get rid of politics, but in fact it achieves the reverse.
—  You taught yourself Catalan when living in Paris, but did your mother speak it?
—  She was bilingual Spanish/Catalan, and mostly read books in French. When she disappeared, Spanish became the only language of the house. I was taught practically nothing in the religious colleges I was sent to – I learnt French and English on my own, after I’d moved away.
—  When the Arab Spring started in Tunisia you were one of the first to publically predict the same would happen in Egypt…
—  It was like all revolutions, which start with a great yearning for freedom. All those young people on the barricades, thinking they were going to create a democratic state within a short period, I said to them, ‘Look at Spain, from the first Constitution in 1812 until 1879 there was an absolutist monarchy, then a liberal monarchy, three civil wars, four dictatorships…’ In France it was the same, it started with the ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man’, then came the Terror, the Directorate, and Napoleon as emperor. Creating democracy is a slow and circuitous process.
—  Do you see any solution to what’s happening in Syria?
—  No, and for a very simple reason (as things tend to be) that it is not in the United States’ interest for either side to win. So they are waiting for each to exhaust itself –sacrificing, in the process, the Syrian people. The mistake was not arming the opposition forces when they could have made a difference, and before their radicalisation.
—  Could popular uprisings happen here in Morocco, or Algeria?
—  Algeria suffered a terrible civil war in the 1990s. People don’t want anything to do with extremism. There were a few reforms here, some of them cosmetic, and free elections were allowed which were won by an Islamist party, but the king still holds most of the power.
—  Do you believe that literature created from the margins is always better than more popular, visible, forms?
—  I’ve always found a perspective from the periphery more interesting than one from the centre.  I learnt this from the Christian converts in Spain, the Jewish conversos, who maintained a critical view of society because they were marginalised.  (But of course there are also those who situate themselves at the centre of things are still great writers.)  In spite of what they say, I’ve never promoted heterodoxy for its own sake, but to widen the traditional Spanish canon by rescuing what Arab culture, that of the Jews, the Enlightenment, the Illuminati, the freemasons and encyclopédistes have bestowed us.  My mission has been to rescue all that’s been excluded for religious or ideological reasons.
He went into exile in France due to his "total disagreement" with the Franco regime and the censorship it imposed.

1 comment:

Carlos Figueroa said...

Dear Brian,a beautiful text,an hommage to a great writer.