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Lecture Series

25, 27 March, and 1, 3, 8, 10, 15, 17 April 2008
Image of the Lecture

The participants summarise their talks

  • Miguel de Cervantes
    Pedro M. Cátedra

    The difference between an ancient author and a classical author; who can forge, represent and even become the support of a language and culture, in the widest sense; lies in the fact that the first one is an architectural element more in the building of language, literature, history, or thought, while the second one is -or will come to be- the foundation, the master column or beam of that building. In principle, it is the work of time and the dedication of entire generations of historians and readers who build this building, but a basic structure can only be stable if the best materials are used. And just because of these prime materials, thanks to their porosity and elasticity,  it is possible to have a long time preservation and to follow a normal adaptation even to the most harsh conditions, so the building remains standing, and thus, hosting or inspiring any view either in favor or against it.

    With the construction of thought and literary creation, the materials also need to be good from the beginning and unfading through time and through cultural and historical periods. The original quality is what, among other reasons, allows works like Don Quixote to be, if not classical, at least canonical within their field since the day of their publication. This quality depends to a great extent on the capacity of the author to make himself lasting. Some classics of compelling personality -Virgil, Augustine of Hippo, Petrarch, Joyce- used as a tool for endurance their autobiographies and their explicit personal experiences. Others, like Cervantes, apparently minimized their juggernaut presence in the works and introduced all kind of alternative voices and seeds that would evolve into cultural myths like Don Quixote, along with other numerous elements that germinate in the readers, regardless of the century in which they live. As a reputed journalistic critic pointed out, the reason why Cervantes' most important work is canonical and enduring is due to the strength of the situations and heroes that foster in any reader unannounced aspects of their own autobiography and soul.

    This is an apparent minimization. In this conference, and considering our starting point, we will go deeper into the unfading work of Cervantes from the most immediate perspective, in the very core of Cervantes' conversion to a universal and enduring eminence. The most immediate readers of Cervantes' work could recognize the reach and opportunity of a lived experience, which in the brilliant work of Cervantes can be perceived from the significant complexity and polyphony of Don Quixotee, a significant complexity to which Cervantes refers in several occasions. This Erlebniss is the result of a common historical experience, and the detail or description of this experience with the appropriate historiographic tools will allow us to put in place, not only the meaning of the original myths such as the character Don Quixote, but also the literary use as a personal means of expression -going from confession to social or political criticism, and dissidence-, and as pure literary tool for entertainment or for a creative innovation, which among other things allows for one of Cervantes' most important contributions, the modern novel.

  • Benito Arias Montano: a silent Spaniard in history
    Luis Gómez Canseco
    In a century of effervescence, like the case of the 14th century, Benito Arias Montano aspired to pass by in silence. The study and wisdom would take him close to power, but he was never willing to make use of this circumstance. On the contrary, in his letters the desire to retire with his books is constantly present. Nevertheless, only this privileged position and his many knowledges allowed him to face a huge and risky task as the Polyglot Bible of Antwerp, which was printed by his good friend Cristóbal Plantino. This great effort of understanding the biblical texts, poems, letter and engravings, together with friendships and teachings made him a key figure to understand the reign of Felipe II and the symbolic invention of El Escorial surrounding a library. He died together with his king in 1598, and although the glory of his memory remained alive along the first years of the 17th century, it was Gregorio Mayans y Síscar, another one of our eminent Spaniards, who made a considerable effort to recover his memory. Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, it is correct to look back into this man who from his corner believed in a Spain united to Europe through the rigor of the intelligence, religious tolerance, and mutual understanding.
  • Francisco de Quevedo
    Pablo Jauralde

    I will try to answer first the reasons for which Francisco Quevedo holds such a solid place in the altarpiece of our celebrities, this is, what is it that remains as a matter of admiration. In the same way, I will address his attitude within the case called the "national conscience"; particularly by pointing out how one the designers of this space was, something that gets mixed with history of Spain during a vital period (1580-1645); as well as other major topics (black legend, Hispanic monarchy, nationalities, etc.)

    Although we will exemplify everything through verses, the most adequate approach due to its summarizing nature, will also detail at the same time the variety of works, tones and styes with which Quevedo replies to his creative impulses and illustrates his contemporaries, another thing that adds up to the reasons behind making Quevedo a historical eminence.

  • Treasure of one Europe or the other: Mayans and the fantasy of books
    Mª Luisa López-Vidriero
    In 1733 Mayans y Siscar proposed to imagine printing a great Dictionary of light and diligent wings. When he commented this with the librarian Antonio Bordázar, he added "hopefully it will not be as aerial as Dn. Blas Nasarre's project in order to establish a printing press in the royal library". Representative of the renewed humanism, erudite, driving the change in studies, illustrated reformist, we recognize in him an intellectual who cannot conceive an independent cultural transformation of the book and of the printing press, nor renouncing to have the institutions as promoters. "Treasure of one and other Europe: Mayans and the dreaminess of the books (1699-1781)" recreates the importance that this true believer of the printing press as a vehicle of progress had for the Spanish Enlightenment.
  • Francisco Giner de los Ríos, an expert in the shadow
    Octavio Ruiz-Manjón

    Since 1876, the figure of Francisco Giner de los Ríos (Ronda, 1839-Madrid, 1915) is one of the most influential of the Spanish intellectual life. The battle he faced at that time in favour of the academic freedom would lead him to the creation of the Institución Libre de Enseñanza, inspired by the moral philosophy of Krausism. As time passed, the institution would resign from the initial proposal of creating a free university, independent from the official teachings, and would become a social observatory and pedagogical cabinet from where some measures aimed at transforming the Spanish society would be launched. Initiatives such as the Museo Pedagógico, Junta para Ampliación de Estudios, the Residencias de Estudiantes, or the Instituto-Escuela that stem from this reformist impulse.

    Francisco Giner de los Ríos inspired them from the small building in the Martínez Campos street -at that time named Paseo del Obelisco- that still exists. From there he would make a full proposal of social moral that would deeply mark Spanish life.

  • Benito Pérez Galdós
    José-Carlos Mainer

    Benito Pérez Galdós (1843-1920) was the "national writer" par excellence in a similar way as Charles Dickens was so for United Kingdom or Victor Hugo for France. Such thing became explicit in the selection of the title Episodios Nacionales (national episodes), which defined his narrative project between 1873 and 1912, conceived as the story of the birth and development of the Spanish liberal nationalism. But his "contemporary novels" where not any less "national" and included a chronicle of the clash of ideas, the domestic interiors of the bourgeoisie, and the role of money in the Spanish life of the second half of the 19th century. And maybe his late theater was even more "national", including premiers like Electra, Casandra, Alma y vida and Sor Simona, which leveled relevant episodes of the moral life in our country at the beginning of the 20th century.

    The conference will deal on this dimension of community service that can be observed in the work of Galdós, but will also address in what way that task also stained his own biography and image: the decoration of his houses, the planning of his works, his journalistic and political declarations, and even the dimension of his posthumous fame, will illustrate us on the reach, significance and controversies of this "national writer". 

  • Unamuno: ecce homo
    Pedro Cerezo Galán

    Miguel de Unamuno told himself "I preach for myself. Ecce homo". Was this rhetoric bluffing?, selfish arrogance?, an unchaste truth? I tend to think the latter. The sentence itself does not have a strict normative sense, but it is supposed to be descriptive. Unamuno was know for speaking from the heart, in a romantic way, being sincere to scandalous levels, or as he liked to say "stripping his soul" and being exposed to the public eye to provoke and stimulate the other to do the same, in a cult to truth and living in reciprocal confession. "Truth before peace" was his motto, "I would prefer truth in war than lies in peace" (III, 269). And because of the truth, this is, the possibility of discovering truth at the core of existence, he lived in permanent war with himself and others, in the hopes of being enlightened by the conflict, just as a star is born out of chaos. But the truth is that his Ecce homo also holds a normative meaning. His belief was that each man should be a "living idea" (I, 950), the incarnation of an archetype that only he could discover and produce, becoming a "unique species". "Each of us is unique and irreplaceable; in being so you should focus all of your efforts" (idem). Without doubt he himself devoted exclusively and exhaustively his entire life to this, until the archetype was forged with his own soul in the shape of El Quixote. Why this myth? What makes Unamuno characterize himself as Don Quixote to fight his battles? For me one thing is clear: Unamuno does not disguise himself of Don Quixote for notoriety, but due to converting to the lay and civil religion of quixotism in order to meet his vocation of reforming Spain's spirituality, as a sort of anti-Loyola in his quarrels with the Jesuit. This transformation was also meant to be a warm hug to Don Quixote himself. Just like Ortega, Unamuno had to decide one day if he wanted to be a German-like Gelehrte or a town-square intellectual, so decided to "quixotize" in order to save his conscience and his mission in Spain.

    I would like to call your attention upon this metamorphose, because anybody could wonder: how is it possible that an intellectual characterizes as a madman? And here is the surprising part: Unamuno discovers in his spiritual maturity that his vocation, and even more, the internal build of his soul, is not that of an intelectual or "psychic" -analyst, critic and reasoner-, but that of a "spiritual" or "pneumatic", belonging to a breed of feelers, dreamers and meditators. Those, as he says, that "believe there is another world inside of ours, with potentials asleep and silent in the base of our spirit" (I, 1143). Freedom is more than a concept, it is an experience (pneuma), a creative wind that can blow everything away. Only the imaginative, the utopical dreamers, the passionate visionaries, can be witnesses. Intellectuals can provide us with a concept, or maybe a system. The "pneumatic" on the other hand can give us a feeling, an intuition, in summary a conviction with which we may live. According to this model, "quixotized" Unamuno feels not like a political revolutionary, but like something much more profound, a reshaper of existence compromised with destiny of his people; he feels, in summary, like a civil poet being part of the collective feelings and needs of his people, like a prophet shining his ideals over historic paths. This is the practical originality of Unamuno. Wether he knew it or not, he incarnated the romantic hero, lonely and prominent in his mission, and still supportive with his people. Before being a philosophy scholar, he his a civil poet, a political and religious leader prototype of the civic virtue. "I have always sought creating agitation, or at most, suggesting instead of teaching. If I sold bread, I would not sell bread, but the doe and yeast" (III, 263). And for this he can only count on the force of words, the real wind of the spirit that consoles and encourages, moves and transforms, excites and snatches, because words are the wind of freedom. The ethic ideal of vocation joins with the faith in semantics in the creative power of words.   

  • Francisco de Goya
    Manuela Mena
    2008, the 200th anniversary of 1808 and the beginning of the War of Independence, have served as an excuse to do a number of commemorations of historical and artistic nature, among which the figure of Goya has had a key role, and we could even say decisive. It is important to point out that to the historic and literary documentation of that time; which originated with the end of the Old Regime in France and the Revolution, and its Spanish implications; we have to add that Goya left us his images, in the paintings, prints, and drawings series. It is impossible to imagine that time period without his works, which are themselves first line historical documents, including his fundamental testimonies. Nevertheless, he was not only a pure "witness of his time"; like a neutral and realist journalist, an appreciation that is commonly found in texts devoted to his figure; because it is necessary to take into consideration his judgements and critics, this is, his personal vision of the reality in which he lived. The artistic figure of Goya, with its profound and philosopher-like unreachable dimension, was a result of his privileged intelligence, of his profound feelings, of his relationship with the homeland, its governments and its society in general, and of his amazing knowledge of the human nature. 
Fundación Juan March
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