I have a list of themes waiting to be addressed, as the series of protests culminating in today’s general strike demand more attention than what might seem today just trivial Literature matters. How I long to get back to normality, if this can ever happen in this abnormal, subnormal, paranormal culture of ours. Let me just repeat what I’ve been saying: the situation is simply appalling but a strike will not change it, as 21st century Governments have learned not to be impressed by 19th century protest methods. Also, on principle, I will not take part in any form of compulsory protest which is imposed on me with threats, insults and coercion (you should have read the email sent by UGT to all UAB workers). I’d much rather unions used their time and our public resources in thinking of alternatives to the crisis and in organising truly effective forms of protest, one of which should always be educating people in their real rights. And duties –like the duty to work hard for the present and future of our country.
Having made my point, let me record here my contribution to our university strike, which is teaching to my first year students how John Osborne’s Look back in Anger (UK, 1956) connects with our current worries. It’s easy, a standard reading of the play: Jimmy Porter is working-class, remember?, and he gets a university education funded by the post-WWII Labour party in one of the new white-tile universities. Although we all agree he is one of the most obnoxious characters ever, Hamlet included, anyone with his same credentials (working-class family, public university education… a majority at UAB) can sympathise with his plea: his education brings just an upsetting sense of declassing but no better job prospects. He clings onto the hemline of the middle classes by the skin of his teeth, yet his wife Alison’s makes sure the intruder stays there, as bitter as gall.
Granted that Jimmy’s is an extreme case in that he chooses to run a sweet stall rather than do something else with his education (like writing a play…), we need to examine why he’s ‘looking back in anger’ and not ‘looking forward in hope’, as would correspond to a 25-year-old. Well, I guess that many Spanish 25-year-olds packing today their suitcases to migrate to more civilised countries are indeed looking back in anger onto the apparently golden age that was the longish decade 1995-2007. I was there and didn’t notice it much, having actually spent my post-doc years between 1996-2002 waiting for the supposedly affluent state to materialise tenure for me. So, you see?, it was never good. However, as happens to Jimmy when he rants and raves against the Edwardian brigade embodied by his military father-in-law, I’m sure many young people today rant and rave against the useless 40, 50 and 60-years-olds in command of this sad country and pushing them hard out of it. Yes, the ‘los-de-siempre’ brigade that the 1980s Socialists replaced briefly for a while, dashing all our hopes when they decide to try to become middle-class each and one of them, instead of helping the whole country progress. I was there, as one of the Jimmy-Porter-style students allowed entrance to the university by state grants. (Sorry about using myself as an example (of anything)).
I hope one of our students, as they are the right age, writes the play (film, novel, comic…) we need so badly today to capture our sorry times. Please, don’t use the words ‘back’ or ‘anger’, as you can see from Jimmy’s case they only lead to emotional paralysis and social inaction. Express your disappointment with your elders in creative ways –use comedy, perhaps farce and be witty, intelligent and, above all, forward-looking. Work hard and show those bastards how much you deserve being made the centre of our efforts, for our future depends on you –literally. Don’t stay, like Jimmy, pent up in your garret, playing bears and squirrels with an equally desperate partner. But, although the world is big and too many places waiting for you to give them for free your mind, body and soul, demand as loudly as possible your right to stay on, here, with us. And just educate yourself as thoroughly and profoundly as you can, and all the rest around you. It seems to be the only solution… and the best form of protest.