MANUEL VÁZQUEZ MONTALBÁN, WHO COULD HAVE BEEN RAYMOND WILLIAMS

An unexpected blessing of commuting by train to the UAB is that I get one hour a day for reading what I please. As I always carry a heavy bag and I still don’t have an e-book reader, I’m becoming an expert at choosing the slimmest, juiciest possible books (mostly from my local library, the wonderful Jaume Fuster on Plaça Lesseps). This week I was truly fortunate to pick up Manuel Vázquez Montalbán’s Crónica sentimental de España, a volume published in 1971 but based on a series of articles originally issued by the weekly magazine Triunfo. I wish it were 400 pages long, instead of just 200…

Reading Montalbán’s recollection of popular culture in Spain between the 1940s and 1960s and his clever insights into the split between that and what was fashionable in elite circles I wonder why his book didn’t initiate a corresponding Cultural Studies tradition in Spain already in the 70s. Of course, I’m not so naive that I can’t myself answer: journalism is not the same as academic writing, the university under Franco was extremely backward, the theorisation of Cultural Studies per se was just beginning in the UK. You name it. There was no way a Raymond Williams could emerge here, though I’m sure he would have greatly appreciated Montalbán’s efforts to make sense of the popular in Spain.

The other feeling this marvellously written book produces is one of dismay at, precisely, the nature of culture in general and of the popular in particular in Franco’s Spain. As Montalbán was writing in 1969, already from the perspective of the generation born during the Civil War, the reader can see how his thinking is poised on the brink of the Transición, and, thus, sounds far less mouldy than anything an earlier generation could have produced. It’s also great to read what was going on at the time first hand, rather than from the (academic) perspective of, say, my own generation (born in the 1960s). Yet, it’s hard to admit that our roots are so narrow-minded, provincial, and unsophisticated. No wonder that so many of us interested in popular culture became ‘Filólogos Ingleses’ rather than Hispanists (anyway, they don’t study Spanish popular culture).

In a way we took a shortcut to access the foreign, English-speaking cultures that fascinated that older Spain through cinema since the 1940s (dubbed, yes) and through the popular novel, TV, pop and rock and fashions later on, particularly since Spain entered UN in the 1950s and the Americans started using us as a military outpost. We could safely ignore the Lolas Flores, and the Pacos Martínez Soria and contribute to the 1980s project of finally updating Spain. The problem is that we have no other past and, although I don’t identify at all with the culture(s) Montalbán describes, the funny thing is that I’m beginning to feel nostalgic.

Not of Franco’s time, for God’s sake!, but of the past we didn’t have because of his evil ways. What a pity.

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