Originally by Guillem Martínez
Translated by Hannah Frankel and Hannah Sherman with the collaboration of Jennifer Brady and and Palmar Alvarez-Blanco
*Translator’s note: “The Transition” refers to the rapid transition to democracy following the end of Francisco Franco’s dictatorial regime in Spain in the 1970sA key moment in the Transition is the ratification of the Spanish Constitution in 1978.
As a literary critic for newspapers, I developed a suspicion that post-1978 Spanish culture was shaping literature–its poetics, its themes–in striking ways. The novels that were being published during those times were dictated by Spanish culture, which resulted in novels that mirrored culture and that ran into similar obstacles.. It did not stop here, however. The way authors spoke to the public, to journalists, and even amongst themselves also followed a similar pattern. The way they wrote for the press and the themes they discussed did too., All of this fundamentally changed newspapers and the information they published, from their journalistic tone to the topics they covered. I saw all of this more clearly whenI left my work in literary criticism and I began working for different sections of newspapers. Finally, I landed in the newspapers’ politics section. It was then that I discovered that social change went deeper than I had imagined. It affected the way journalists, publishers, and editors spoke about and perceived the world. Politicians, too, were affected, from local council members to Congressional representatives. Although it was supposedly invisible, everyone saw it. Any opposition to it was penalized or discredited. Those who claimed not to see it —in a publishing house, in a political party, in an institution, etc.—had likely ignored it for personal reasons.
At first, I thought it was paranoia, but, just as Manual Vázquez Montalbán said, the bad part about fearing persecution is when you’re persecuted. Later, I came to think that all of this was a consequence of a generational ceiling; a single generation –that was around thirty years old in 1978– had taken over all facets of Spanish culture and politics for decades. This explanation was satisfactory, but reality disproved what was happening. Indeed, that generation, its work, its space, its time, and its power were all noticeable. It existed, but so did its displacement; when someone in that generation disappeared –in a newspaper, publishing house, political party, institution, etc.– someone from my generation, or a younger generation, replaced them. However, nothing changed: the perspective remained the same as did the language used to describe it; the punishment of views considered to be counternormative remained the same. This caused a sense that the breaking point, a real barrier, was nonexistent. What is even worse is that the breaking point was completely visible, but nobody was trying to break through it. Without a doubt, these dynamics are not due to something biological, rather cultural. It was something that I must have formulated with a certain urgency because it was consuming my life: I began to sense that my own journalism, more free and more self-managed, had something that prevented it from being seen as real journalism by my colleagues, employers, and the public. I, in my loneliness, did not know if I, through my work, was building a bridge or digging myself into a hole, and that did not bode well.
I did what I could: write a blog for a year and gear the lectures towards that direction, but I was not satisfied with the results. I could begin to sense traces withindemocratic culture and in books by Vázquez Montálban or Gregorio Morán. There were hints in memorialistic fragments, in old magazine articles, in fragments from marginalized people in Spain from the 1970s that were later redacted in the 1980s. Then, there were two types of the underground: the underground of everyone and the political underground, which consisted of people that had participated in militancy and teaching until it had disappeared in the 1980s. And there were clues from the blog readers who were as confused as I was and had introduced me to interesting things that I previously did not know about: lectures about culture and cultural studies, American cognitive linguistics, books and authors I had not previously read. With those things, there was an overall sense that none of us, like we had originally feared, was alone. The “thing” was beginning to gain meaning and take a collective form –another option was impossible, I was afraid–. The result was collective, and it was named CT, or Culture of the Transition. It was not much, but it was a good title. CT was a tool that allowed the opportunity to share in the development and the application of itin order to uncover keys to Spanish democratic culture, and this made it simpler and more functional to analyze it day-to-day. Talking about the works of CT — including novels, prologues, articles, speeches, policies, attitudes, movies, protocols, television series, songs, etc.– was something that united us all. It defined us as a self-sufficient body, resistant and violent towards any nuance or criticism. CT was something that brought together cultural products, journalists, and politicians for a period. It permitted them to be deciphered and explained from a new and fundamental dimension.
Spanish national culture was quickly reformulated in the 1970s, and concluded in the early 1980s.Those handful of years were an earthquake, a rapid and determinant evolution. Without a doubt, what emerged was a strange and robust national culture, vertically created and of service to the State. This, in turn, made Spain the most culturally powerful state within the European context: Spain had a different culture than other European countries with many different functions. It had a genesis in the Transition, a movement that birthed a belligerent culture. The national culture sought to mitigate risks and to give a sense of cohesion to Spain’s new democracy, thus making it a true Culture of Transition (CT). Yes, all national cultures are cohesive, but in democracy, they are normally not as extensive and intense as the culture that we saw grow out of Spain’s Transition. The first explanation for this is that social cohesion, which in most democracies consists of legal, economic, political, and social treaties that exist in continuous tension, in Spain was substituted for a culture that was in contact with and at the service of the Spanish state. The result was a culture that, in none of its points of access, created problems rather than solving them by eluding the problems and stopping the circulation of any product that clashed with this idea of cohesion. This type of culture solved issues by weeding out certain subjects, and avoiding tensionin political, legal, economic, and social themes. The Culture of the Transition, this thing that happened in all media channels and TV series, was the substitution of the possibility of a belligerent, open, and free culture for such an exceptionally limited culture that served and was modified by the government that expelled any belligerence from not only Spanish culture, but the Spanish democratic identity. After all, as they tell us, everything takes place in our heads. The Culture of the Transition did not permit belligerent thinking, but rather, it demanded political cohesion over societal cohesion.
Once created, CT was not able to be molded by anyone except those who had participated in its creation. I remember the first time that I spoke about this at a university in the early 2000s. As I was speaking, the audience of professors, students, and journalists were leaving the room, an expression of stupor and indignation. What they heard me saying was not cohesive. That being said, I was talking about a different type of cohesion, one that could not be reconciled as culture. Everything quickly changed with the 15M movement, a true cultural revolution that ushered in an absolute change in the cultural paradigm. This happened spontaneously and with little planning, as had previous revolutions. Afterwards, a group of people, including myself, decided to collectively write a book: CT or Culture of the Transition, a Criticism of 35 Years of Spanish Culture. The idea was that people of my generation and the subsequent generation would use the book as a tool in whichever ways they wanted. This was something that the previous generational expectations had never allowed for: collaborative work transgenerationally and without tutelage or limits. That is the beauty of our book. We sought to normalize other visions of Spanish culture and liberate the notion of culture from its cohesive, palatable, and uncritical interaction with Spanish politics. We wanted to return belligerence to its rightful place in Spanish culture and society. All of the authors carried this out in their own way and in accordance with their own criteria, something unheard of in Spain until 2011. This gave me a certain sense of pride, the best and deepest of all levels of pride: the collective pride.
I think the concept of the Culture of the Transition outlines an era. CT facilitates the understanding of a decades-long normality and its specific origins, an era that concludes with the 15M movement. After the 15M, social cohesion is no longer cultural cohesion; the concept of cohesion has changed. Cohesionno longer passes through voluntary submission to a pathological culture that was not perceived as such.ather, the State, deprived of cultural leadership or the vertical capacity to spread any sense of culture, seems to opt for the only thing that it already has: speedy and more violent mechanisms. For example, the role of novels from the 1980s and 1990s, as well as those from today, promote an ideology of common sense, like the Gag Law, which will have to be explained as well.