STUCK IN A RUT: MISOGYNY AND FEMINISM

My post today is inspired by an article in the Verne section of El país, which offers a summary of the messages that many Spanish women have sent to Twitter in reaction to the hashtag #comomujermehapasado (more or less: ‘as a woman I have gone through that’) (see http://verne.elpais.com/verne/2017/04/13/articulo/1492088562_028524.html). I find that whenever a piece of news that decries misogyny is published in the Spanish press, the readers’ comments offer an appalling stream of anti-feminist abuse. I believe, then, that in this specific case and also generally, the real situation of gender issues in this country is reflected not by the article, or even by the women’s tweets, but by the negative comments written by male readers (either anonymously or using their own name).

This specific piece inspired 446 contributions (apart from the many, perhaps 50, erased by the moderator), which amount to a much, much longer text than the article itself. Actually, the persons contributing to the discussion were few, perhaps around 20 and, of course, it’s difficult to say if any of them were women because of the nicknames (I would say 2 were women). Here, in any case, I highlight a particularly recurring trend: many comments by male readers express complaints about the negative situations that men face; this is done not at all in solidarity with women but arguing that women should not complain because men do not complain.

Let me rephrase this. Many men feel that they face unfair situations yet, instead of exposing these situations–as they should–they reject women’s exposure of their own abuse (by men). I keep silent, you keep silent. This seems to be their motto. I don’t whine, you don’t whine–yet they do whine. The men’s attitude is summarized by the words of one ‘Julito Iglesias’: “hay montones de situaciones injustas que afectan a los hombres y ellas aquí llorando??” The other most common feeling is expressed by ‘horton’: “Adoctrinamiento diario de las femis. Coñazo diario. Nada nuevo” and “Las femis ya no saben qué inventar para sacar mas (sic) tajada y aumentar su ya millonario negociazo”. Incidentally, the word ‘hembrista’ appears quite frequently in the comments. According to this ideology, a reader explains, men who wish, for example, to access public bodies such as the police or the fire fighters need to possess higher physical qualifications than women. That is, life is made more demanding for men than for women because ‘hembrista’ women want it so.

I think that rather than quote verbatim the many comments, and since you may read them for yourself, I’ll just sum up the most often repeated arguments. These are also common to many similar articles I have read in the same newspaper:

*there is also a long list of clichés about men (about which men do not complain)
*women also abuse men verbally all the time (men put up with this with no complaint)
*women may not abuse men physically, but the psychological violence they cause is even more harmful than the physical violence by men; women’s violence, however, is not visible because the media silence it (also the ‘femis’ allied with the Government)
*(contradicting the above), women also use physical violence against men; men do not complain out of prudence, or because they are mocked (by women, also by other men)
*the statistics indicate that at least 29 men were killed in 2013 by their female partners or ex-partners (see https://www.buzzfeed.com/beatrizserranomolina/no-existen-los-30-hombres-asesinados-por-mujeres?utm_term=.feJ5QNgN5#.oiowY6l6w)
*men put up with many daily inconveniences, such as dress codes requiring suit and tie for the office even in summer (when women may wear light dresses)
*men often have to put up with women’s criticism about the following: they don’t know how to handle babies, can’t do two things at the same time, lack a fashion sense, are always thinking about sex, obsess about the size of their penis, are all of them violent…
*when men did the military service, women simply went on with their lives; in other instances in which men are unfairly treated, women keep silent
*men complain that if they report inequalities against them, then they are insulted (called ‘marichulo’) both by women and by men
*men are discriminated against in cases of divorce and hardly ever granted custody of their children, either individually or jointly
*many women who report couple-related violence to the police lie (see http://politica.elpais.com/politica/2016/03/17/actualidad/1458206253_890573.html)
*all persons receive negative comments and those which women receive are not part of generalized sexism, but just individual occurrences
*gender-specific violence does not exist: violence is a fact of life for both men and women
*the pay gap is a myth: women earn less money because a) they choose jobs with lower financial rewards; b) they are not as good as men at negotiating their salaries for top positions
*the tweets in answer to the hashtag #comomujermehapasado are quite trivial and only show that misogyny is decreasing; many men face similar situations but do not complain precisely because they are banal

The underlying supposition is this: the institutions favour ‘hembrismo’, facilitating the imposition of a radically androphobic feminist culture and legislation. Feminists are part of a powerful circle that benefits greatly from the Government budget, both collectively and personally. Any complaint by men is either silenced with abuse, or treated as politically incorrect–which is why men do not express their own suffering, as they see no point. Women have all the power, since “Tiran más dos tetas que una carreta, y eso la mujer lo aprende desde joven. Lo demás es tonteria. Ellas mandan” (this is a verbatim quotation in the same article, appeared, remember in El país).

If this lengthy exchange happened, this is because there were at least two dissident men. One, a teacher, intervened again and again, telling at one point one of the contributors: “¿No te da pena? ¿Hay un montón de situaciones injustas que afectan las mujeres y tú solo te miras tu ombligo? Además de machista egocéntrico (perdón, que va incluido)”. Another one writes: “Tengo dos hijas y quiero mucho a mi mujer, a los hombres que se ríen aquí ¿de verdad pensáis que, aún, no existe desigualdad y prepotencia de nosotros a ellas? No creo que lo vuestro sea sólo machismo, es egoísmo”. I need not add anything to these men’s words. Let me insist, however, that they are the only dissenting voices in a string of misogynistic comments published by the leading liberal newspaper in Spain. If readers of El país are so recalcitrant, I really wonder what the rest are like. (See my previous post “Of men and grassroots reality”, http://blogs.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/2016/03/28/of-men-masculinities-studies-and-the-grassroots-reality/).

Clearly, misogynistic men cannot be addressed with rational arguments, as to begin with they are already convinced of their positions. Of course, they will reply that so are we, the feminazis. There is, then, very little hope that we can understand each other. It seems to me, then, that we, feminist women, need to support above all the men who are willing to speak for us, like the two I have quoted above. Not instead of us, mind you, but for us–as true gentlemen, the kind of men we need in the anti-patriarchal fight. And I really mean it.

Beyond the issue of the responsibility that liberal pro-feminist media like El país bear in granting a space for misogynistic trolling to these readers, which is not really a minor issue, we need to wonder why recalcitrant men are locked in this no-win situation. If, as men, you are suffering and need to express your grievances, by all means go ahead. If a woman is ill-treating you, the way to make this situation visible publicly is not by declaring “I’m also a victim of abuse but I don’t complain”. The way to go is to say “I’m also a victim of abuse; if we join forces, then we can hopefully liberate all personal relationships from violence”. If, however, a man begins by denying that gender-related violence exists, how can he expect to be heeded as a victim? If you deny someone else’s suffering, you’re complicit with the perpetrator.

I agree 100% that all situations of abuse are caused by a power imbalance. Since power is mainly in men’s hands (not all men’s hands, I know), they appear to be the main perpetrators of violence. The women who abuse their power within the couple, their family, their work environment, etc., also commit unpardonable offences. What is totally unfair is to disregard reality and claim that the amount of abuse committed by men and women is the same. Supposing the gender gap does not exist, and this is a lot to suppose, the reality is that women are abused collectively by Governments that deny their citizens’ rights and individually by patriarchal men who think that female bodies are objects for their pleasure–just because they are women.

The point I’m raising is that we are not moving forward because for us, women, to sympathise with men’s patriarchal grievances, ours have to be acknowledged first. The “I don’t whine, you don’t whine discourse” leads nowhere. Well, it leads to the pages of El país… Deep sigh.

Misogynistic and androphobic bitterness often has personal reasons. I don’t mean by this that it’s purely an individual matter. However, feminism taught us long ago that the personal is political and there is no doubt that radical feminism and misogyny also reflect personal experience. The man who declares that he loves his wife and daughters (and if he does that, this is because he is loved back) is not misogynistic. One of the most recalcitrant male readers ends up commenting on his difficult separation from his wife. Many opinions are based on personal experience at work, as well.

Am I saying that we should put up with misogyny and androphobia for the sake of inter-gender peace? Not at all. What I am saying is that each of us is both an individual and a representative of our gender (sorry to use basic binarism here). If you crack a joke at women’s expense, expect women to retaliate–and the other way round. Etc., etc. Some men will be misogynistic no matter what women do, and some women think that men are collectively despicable no matter what they actually do. But let’s aim at the rest, who happen to be the majority.

The silent majority that leaves no opinions in El país, because, as one reader concludes, “the better I know people, the more I prefer the company of fish”. Me too.

I publish a new post every Tuesday. Comments are very welcome! (Thanks!) Just be warned that I check them for spam; it might take a few days for yours to be online. Follow the blog updates on Twitter: @SaraMartinUAB and download the yearly volumes from http://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. See also: http://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/.

WHEN OFFICIAL CENSORSHIP EXISTED IN SPAIN: RECALLING THE CASE OF MANUEL DE PEDROLO

There has been much talk recently about the case of Cassandra Vera, condemned to one year of prison and banned for seven from holding a public position or office, because of a series of tweets joking about the E.T.A. terrorist attack that killed Admiral Carrero Blanco back in 1973. The law used against Ms. Vera is supposed to defend the victims of terrorism from humiliation and although this is a respectable endeavour, there has been much debate about whether it applies to the case judged. Even a granddaughter of Carrero Blanco’s has publicly declared that Ms. Vera’s tweets were not offensive, whereas many have complained that gallows humour had been applied to his death for decades, long before Twitter existed. There are doubts, logically, also about how long must mediate between a tragic event and the emergence of black humour about it, for it seems that one thing is joking about a recently deceased person and quite another poking fun at historical figures (like Carrero Blanco). Underlying all these debates is the pressing issue of whether Spanish legislation is actually implementing some form of official censorship.

The word censorship has, understandably, a very bad press in all democratic states as it attacks one of the foundations of civic life: the right to free speech and self-expression. As we all know, however, the social networks and, generally speaking, any internet site to which you can contribute an opinion, have generated a fabulous amount of trolling. The trial of Ms. Vera seems, under this light, quite unfair for, although she posted jokes in very bad taste disrespecting the memory of a dead person, at least she did so using her own identity. In contrast, many persons are terrorized on a daily basis by anonymous abusers that seem immune to any just application of the law. So, whereas official censorship is, generally speaking, a truly regrettable practice, it seems quite clear that some form of censorship should be applied to online comments that may offend others, beginning with the strongest possible self-censorship. It would also be preferable to rule out anonymity in all the social media, for persons are inclined to be much nastier under its cover than using openly their names (as blind peer reviewing shows in academic life…).

My topic, in any case, is not Twitter censorship but the official censorship of books and periodical publications that existed under Francisco Franco’s regime (1939-1975). Actually, beyond it, since official censorship was abolished as late as 1977, in allegedly democratic times. I have chosen this issue today because I recently attended a presentation on Catalan writer Manuel de Pedrolo, jointly given by his daughter, Adelais, and Anna Maria Moreno Bedmar, a specialist in this highly accomplished author. I attended it with a young master’s dissertation tutoree, and if I was surprised by what I heard–despite being already familiar with the idea of Franco’s repressive regime (I was 9 when he died)–just imagine my student’s surprise.

Censorship, by the way, extended to peculiar corners in Spain beyond the artistic. There was, for instance, legislation against naming your own child in a language that was not Castilian Spanish and against using a name that did not correspond to a saint. Incongruously, then, since Sara is a biblical name, my mother was christened María Sara to smooth out the ‘problem’. Manuel de Pedrolo’s daughter had to carry for 36 years, as she explained, a saint’s name in Spanish, which she never identified with, until she was finally allowed to officially call herself Adelais (an Occitan Cathar name, incidentally). When in Pedrolo’s Mecanoscrit del segon origen (1974), then, Dídac chooses to call his baby boy by the androgynous name of Mar he is carrying out a whole revolution.

Anna Maria Moreno explained to the audience that Manuel de Pedrolo was the local writer in any language most often censored in Spain. I’m summarizing here what she explained, basically for the benefit of any young reader who might ignore not only Pedrolo’s case–most people even in Catalonia ignore it–but the existence itself of official Francoist censorship.

All authors in Spain had to face a complicated circuit before publication by which, basically, anonymous readers were put in charge of detecting any offences against morality, religion, sex and the regime in power. These readers would famously mark in red pencil the offending passages: sometimes just one word, sometimes the whole book. Spain had already gone through a very dark phase with the implementation of the Inquisition’s index of forbidden books, which went through a long series of revisions between 1551 and 1790, with supplements in 1805 and 1848. I don’t know enough about Spanish history to claim for sure that the Catholic Church’s censorship was quickly replaced by state censorship; I assume that was the case. There was, as far as I know, official film and theatre censorship during the Second Republic (1931-6). This suggests that, although Franco’s regime was particularly ferocious, there was never a time in Spain when writers were completely free to publish as they wished until the late 1970s. More or less…

Back to Pedrolo, then. Pedrolo was active as a writer for 41 years: between 1949, when he published the first of his 128 volumes (a book of poems), and 1990. He was, then, under the scrutiny of the censors for 28 years and able to express himself freely only for the last 13 years of his literary career. I am not sure how censorship in Catalan operated, and whether the censors had to be necessarily Catalan speakers themselves. In any case, Adelais de Pedrolo explained to me that when her father was accused of public scandal for publishing a novel about homosexuality (Un amor fora ciutat, 1970), the text had to be translated hastily into Spanish for the benefit of the judge. This novel is exceptional in Pedrolo’s career because of the harsh accusation launched against him (which he managed to dodge by selling underhandedly most copies with his publisher’s complicity); yet, it is also typical, since, having been written in 1959 the novel had to wait for 12 years to be published.

As Adelais de Pedrolo explained, her father saw himself as a humble worker at the service of the Catalan language, Literature, culture and nation. He very much wanted to get readers used to Catalan in all genres, which is why he ended up being a one man’s national Literature. Using a persecuted minority language was risky enough for any Catalan writer (Catalan could not be used in any kind of teaching, the media or the administration under Franco). Pedrolo wrote, besides, from a personal position that accepted no limits. This is why, as Anna Maria Moreno explained, he used a singularly resilient method, consisting of writing all he wanted but keeping some of his production in the drawer, waiting for better times. If a book was, anyway, banned, Pedrolo would wait for a few years to resubmit it, often using a different title to fool the censors. The result of all this repression (and authorial scheming) is that practically none of his books were published close to the year when they were written, with the time lag stretching from 1 to, in the worst case, 36 years.

No system of censorship can be truly objective as, certainly, what is offensive to one censor may be irrelevant to another. Spanish Francoist censorship, however, seems to have distinguished itself by a systematic lack of a clear method, paradoxical as this may sound. Pedrolo became extremely adept at using diversionary tactics in his prose, phrasing his texts in ways aimed at befuddling censors; yet, as happened to many other authors in Spain, censors managed to see offence where none was intended. I cannot repeat any specific examples that Moreno gave, but most were simply ridiculous. Since Pedrolo often used abstraction (particularly in his plays) and allegory, it was often hard for the censors to zero in and use the read pencil rationally. A report that Moreno showed evidenced the difficulties censors faced when trying to explain how exactly a novel was offensive, particularly when this novel did not have a recognizable realist setting. Amazingly, although it defends incest as a tool to regenerate mankind, Mecanoscrit del segon origen was not censored at all, presumably because it is science-fiction and censors possibly believed that it was just harmless entertainment…

The worst part of all this sad tale is that not only in Pedrolo’s case but in many others the original texts have not survived. This means that in many instances, the books we read are the censor’s, not the author’s. Anna Maria Moreno started a dissertation on Pedrolo and censorship, which she did not finish because she found a new job at another Department, and this meant a change of topic (her thesis on the reception of Pedrolo’s science-fiction among young readers is available at http://www.tdx.cat/handle/10803/392659). When I suggested to her that she should go on and explain how the censors tormented Pedrolo, she kindly explained that this is expensive, time-consuming research (at the censorship archive in Alcalá de Henares, mainly). Even supposing she had funding, time and a team, few of Pedrolo’s originals could be restored. There was even the suspicion that in some cases his editor at the corresponding publishing house had modified the original text before sending them to the censor for a licence. This, Anna Maria clarified, was not unusual, with or without the writer’s consent. In other cases, the writers themselves applied a rigid system of self-censorship, for they very much wanted to publish.

Pedrolo died, as I have noted, in 1990, one year after another form of censorship appeared: the fatwa launched in 1989 by Iran’s supreme leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini, against Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses. This was not limited to banning the book in Iran but actually encouraged any Muslim in the world to murder Rushdie as a punishment for having committed anti-Islamic blasphemy in his book. The author had to lived under police protection at least until 1998, when the British Government obtained a formal promise from its Iranian counterpart that it would not support any assassination attempt. The fatwa, however, has never been lifted and Rushdie still receives death threats regularly. Quite absurdly, this intolerable attempt at censoring an author only resulted in giving world-wide publicity to a dense novel that few would have read otherwise… and thus spreading the alleged offence.

Today, the debate rages about whether political correctness is an even more insidious form of censorship than the official red pencil. These are complicated waters to navigate. Official Francoist censorship, everyone agrees, could only delay but not stop the inevitable erosion of the dictatorship; Spanish society simply evolved and the censors always lagged behind. They did much harm to individual artists and certainly stunted the mental and intellectual growth of many readers, which is why the work of official censors should always be deplored. Also, as Pedrolo’s case shows, the censor’s task was often self-serving, plain ludicrous and preposterous. I do not wish, then, to defend any form of official censorship. As for political correctness, if this means a pressure to implement values that help to erase discrimination of any kind, then we cannot call it censorship. If a white author, for example, publishes a racist book, it is only right that the weight of negative public opinion falls on him/her. Now, the kind of censorship applied in Spain under Franco’s regime had nothing to do with this: it was a system intended to control any dissent from a repressive ideology. Of course, the censors believed they were doing the country a service…

What about self-censorship? Again, tricky… One thing is hypocrisy: ‘I’m going to pretend that, as the Francoist authorities want, I believe that sex should only be practised within marriage, only because I want my book published’. And quite another making an effort to avoid offending others: are jokes about midgets (or dead Admirals) truly necessary, and valuable examples of free speech? As for Pedrolo, I must say that, as much as I love Mecanoscrit, sometimes I am offended by his sexism. I don’t want, however, the censors to return from the grave and give me the read pencil. I read Pedrolo’s works as products of his time, though I would not like to see similarly sexist scenes in books written today. Some see this attitude as yet another red pencil–I don’t…

We’ll have to wait, then, a few decades to finally understand which aspects of current fiction will disappear under pressure from political correctness. And fight official censorship wherever it still exists.

I publish a new post every Tuesday. Comments are very welcome! (Thanks!) Just be warned that I check them for spam; it might take a few days for yours to be online. Follow the blog updates on Twitter: @SaraMartinUAB and download the yearly volumes from http://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. See also: http://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/.

GURB, STILL AT LARGE: REVISITING EDUARDO MENDOZA’S QUIRKY BARCELONA TALE

Sin noticias de Gurb (1990, English translation No Word from Gurb [2007]), is a short novel by Eduardo Mendoza (b. 1943, Barcelona; Premio Cervantes 2016), which was originally serialised in El País, back in 1989. It belongs to the science-fiction subgenre of the ‘stranded alien tale’, popularized, above all, by Steven Spielberg’s family film E.T. (1982, written by the late Melissa Mathison). In Mendoza’s novel a pair of extraterrestrials land in Cerdanyola, next door to my own university, on a Christian/anthropological mission to explore Earth. Both are pure intellects capable of metamorphic embodiment, though they don’t particularly enjoy being human. Tired of the monotonous company of his crewmate and boss, the fearless Gurb soon transforms into a woman, is picked up by one of my colleagues at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in his car, and vanishes. The other alien–whose name we never learn–starts then an anxious search for his lost mate. Throughout this chase, the alien narrator tries to make sense of the city of Barcelona, then getting ready for the Olympic Games of 1992. His bizarre nature and the no less bizarre city clash, which is why Sin noticias de Gurb is often read not as science-fiction (which it definitely is) but as a satire of Barcelona’s Olympic aspirations. An extremely funny satire.

I’m thinking of this book today because, to my immense pleasure, it was the centre of this week’s episode of David Guzmán’s Rius de Tinta (http://beteve.cat/programa/rius-de-tinta/). This is a series on Literature and the city of Barcelona, and I have become frankly addicted to it. I believe that we’re extremely lucky to be offered this kind of cultured television in what appears to be a total international dearth. There had already been an episode on Barcelona and science-fiction (with, among others, Antoni Munné-Jordà and Marc Pastor), which is why I never expected Gurb to be the subject of another one. But, then, David Guzmán and his team decided to explore Mendoza’s very popular work as, possibly, the best-known novel about Barcelona. I absolutely admire what Mendoza did in La ciudad de los prodigios (1986) and I personally believe that this is the most relevant work about the city (sorry Juan Marsé). Sin noticias de Gurb captures very well a particular moment in recent times and although I do recommend it, even Mendoza himself is surprised that this particular work has so many fans of so many different types.

Right after watching the interview with Mendoza, I picked up the book and read its 139 pages again, in one sitting. That was possibly my fifth reading and I still laughed hard. I remember carrying the novel to read on the train as a post-grad student, and having to stop because I was in tears, trying to suppress my out-of-control hilarity. What’s so funny about Gurb? Mendoza speculates that readers find the narrator ‘entrañable’, which has no exact equivalent in English (‘cute’, not in the sense of ‘pretty’, seems to be as close as we can get). An academic article by Benjamin Fraser (there seem to be only three… in English, Spanish, and Italian), focuses on the ‘costumbrismo espacial español’ of Mendoza’s novel, connecting it with Alex de la Iglesia’s appallingly bad TV series Pluton BRB Nero, which is an insult.

There is ‘costumbrismo’ in Gurb, and a great deal of the comedy is no doubt generated by the contrast between the common people of Barcelona and its outskirts, and the befuddled alien narrator–equipped, poor thing, with very defective information about what humans are. Yet, this is not enough to explain the success of the novel. What is so funny is how deadpan everyone’s reactions are: no human shows surprise at the alien metamorph, not even when he chooses the most absurd shapes, from pop singer Marta Sánchez to historical figures like Conde Duque de Olivares. As for the satire, I was amused to discover yesterday that though part of it is dated –Up & Down is no longer the reference club for the glitterati, but a gym, and so on–, another part still works very well, particularly as a critique of the specific life of the city of Barcelona. Every reader of Gurb remembers for ever that in our city “it rains as the Town Council acts: very little but brutally”. As for other matters, such as Gurb’s transpecies fondness for being a woman, what can be more up-to-date?

The most interesting part of the interview, and the challenge to any local Barcelona writer, were Mendoza’s comments on another kind of transition, that of the city from boring backwater to touristic world icon. As he explained very well, Barcelona “makes no sense” since it lacks a major river, its harbour is too shallow and it is not at all a communications hub to other places in Europe. Mendoza noted that the accounts of foreign visitors from the remotest past up to 1992 show mostly disappointment. Then he explained that, for reasons he fails to understand, particular buildings that were considered just an ugly, inconvenient feature of the city have been re-read as unmissable attractions. Casa Batlló, he recalled, used to be known as Iberia House, for this is where the airline’s only agency in Barcelona used to sell the tickets. There was a lab for blood analysis in one of the tops floors.

There have been a number of novels in Spanish and Catalan about post-Olympic Barcelona–Miqui Otero’s Rayos was named in the programme–but not just one that has managed to capture the zeitgeist as Gurb did in 1989/1990. And the question is that we, Barcelona’s disheartened citizens, need to understand (like Mendoza) why we’re losing our city to the swarm of tourists that are so actively pushing us out–to the alien invasion. A friend once told me that Parisians are not nice at all because they are sick of tourists–well, we’re going that way. One Gurb and his mate are welcome indeed; millions are just an impossible burden.

Going back to Sin noticias de Gurb, then, reminds us of how fast the change has been. The only tourists mentioned are the Japanese, harbingers of the later hordes, who, perhaps even more than the Olympics, put us on the world-map by declaring Antoni Gaudí a genius. Surprisingly, there is actually very little about the Games in Gurb, whereas in La ciudad de los prodigios Mendoza shows a unique awareness of how hosting major international events transforms a city. In that novel the protagonist of the unlikely name–Onofre Bouvila–is direct witness and participant in the two events that frame the action: the International Exhibitions of 1888 (which gave us the Ciutadella park and buildings) and 1929 (the excuse for Montjuïch’s regeneration). In interview with Guzmán, Mendoza noted that the 1929 exhibition was actually a failure, as it came at quite a bad moment in world affairs–the start of the Depression–and in national History (the second Republic was established in 1931, the Civil War started in 1936). Though things were not as dramatic, the 2004 Forum de les Cultures also failed to galvanize the city, perhaps because we had already started the decline into our current status as a theme park. There has even been an attempt, better forgotten, to stage the Winter Olympics here, in association with the ski resorts in the Pyrenees. Our imagination is not only stagnant but positively flagging. And without it, any city dies.

Mendoza stressed that he will not write again about Gurb, still at large somewhere on Earth, nor about his nameless lonely mate, still seeking Gurb’s whereabouts. My guess is that whereas Gurb is possibly in Tahiti, his mate is not very far from where he landed; maybe one day he’ll even visit my office… The readers’ insistence that Mendoza writes a sequel of Sin noticias de Gurb, I guess, is not motivated by the need for some humour–though I can tell you that we do need this in our city–but by his key role as interpreter of the changes Barcelona has gone through. We are somehow asking Mendoza whether he can write not quite a sequel of Gurb, but a sequel of La ciudad de los prodigios, with our favourite stranded alien as observer/narrator. Perhaps because only an alien can begin to grasp how we have managed to become alienated from our own city, while believing that we were finally fulfilling the cosmopolitan dream that would show rival Madrid one thing or two. Now in Madrid they are beginning to talk of the negative impact of tourism as ‘Barcelonification’…

I am these days giving the finishing touches to a monographic issue for Science Fiction Studies on Spanish sf. To my chagrin, I realized this morning that I had neglected to include Sin noticias de Gurb in the bibliography/filmography, an error I have quickly repaired. I am certainly dismayed by my own omission, particularly because the list (in special the films) suggest that comedy is a fundamental ingredient of Spanish sf. In the introduction to the issue, I explain that comedy compensates for our low self-esteem as a nation. I have already written here, just one year ago, a post on this issue (12 April 2016, “President Rajoy and the Starship that Failed to Land on Nou Camp”). I did discuss there Gurb as an example of Valle Inclán’s ‘esperpento’ (or the bizarre), though funnily some of the plot details I gave were wrong… Gurb and his mate, however, land here in Barcelona at a moment when self-esteem was at its highest (hey! We got the Olympics!), and yet, still the raucous comedy is needed. Why? Most likely, Mendoza already had an intuition that the Games would change the city for ever but also reveal that behind Gaudí’s gaudy buildings, there is nothing much–even less than there used to be.

Gurb, wherever you are on the planet, go on having fun. The other one: my office doors are open, and I specialise in science-fiction… We could have a very nice conversation (and there will be lots of those ‘churros’ you love so much, promise…).

I publish a new post every Tuesday. Comments are very welcome! (Thanks!) Just be warned that I check them for spam; it might take a few days for yours to be online. Follow the blog updates on Twitter: @SaraMartinUAB and download the yearly volumes from http://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. See also: http://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/.