Spain and the Spanish language

[:es]Creo que la tibieza es uno de los mayores problemas de la derecha española, y que nuestras diversas fuerzas políticas estarían más equilibradas, y se enfrentarían en mejor igualdad de condiciones, si el españolismo y la derecha tomaran nota de algunas virtudes importantes que ahora son monopolio de la izquierda y del separatismo, como el sentido de legitimidad moral e histórica y la falta de conformismo.
Tengo la impresión de que la derecha está demasiado aburguesada, de que es demasiado acomodaticia, y además siente aversión por la calle, no sé si porque sienten que la protesta callejera es poco digna o -y esto sería peor aún- porque, en el fondo, se avergüenzan de su propia ideología. Como quiera que sea, me parece que las derechas en España adolecen de cierta debilidad de carácter y fragilidad ideológica que les hace claudicar con excesiva facilidad ante las astutas consignas del victimismo izquierdoso e independentista. Esos defectos, junto al miedo -al parecer insuperable- a ser tachados de intolerantes, me sugieren un preocupante complejo autoritario; pero en ese caso no deberían extrañarse ni dolerse cuando los llaman nazis o fachas, pues a lo mejor ellos mismos se sienten desligitimados en su posicionamiento político. Serio problema, sobre todo teniendo en cuenta que, en España, si no te llaman facha o intolerante una vez por semana, algo estás haciendo mal.

Bandera antinómica
Bandera antinómica

Pero si no es un complejo, no me explico que la derecha haya renunciado con tanta presteza a la palabra España y sus derivados. Cuando nuestra democracia aún era muy joven, ya las derechas negaron -como Pedro negó a Jesús- eso de España para abrazar y consagrar lo de “este país”; y no mucho después, al impulso de las fuerzas antiespañolistas nacido del rencor y amparado en la nefasta redacción del art. 3 de nuestra Constitución, a su vez respaldado por una politizada y patética Real Academia de la Lengua, la derecha traicionó al idioma español para entronizar a la lengua castellana, esa anacrónica imprecisión semántica cuya única razón de seguir existiendo es que satisface el revanchismo de la media España descendiente de quienes fueron derrotados en la guerra civil.
Y es así como, bajo la mayoría absoluta del PP, resulta que la propia “Ley Wert” -supuesta reconquista de lo ibérico- en lugar de recuperar la lengua española de toda la vida, confirma la inocua lengua castellana, negadora de todo concepto de patria. Penosos complejos de la derecha. Porque de nuestras izquierdas, sucesoras de los republicanos, es comprensible que, con sus imbatibles tácticas propagandísticas y su virtuoso dominio de la manipulación, se alineen del lado de los independentismos y abominen de términos que, convenientemente sesgados, sean susceptibles de identificarse con el franquismo, como España o lengua española. Pero si nuestras derechas claudican ante esas maniobras, ¿qué fuerza tienen luego para querer hacer patria y defender la unidad de una España cuyo nombre llevan cuarenta años sin atreverse a pronunciar?
NOTA SEMÁNTICA: El gallego, aunque fuese una lengua española (que no lo es, pues también se habla en zonas de Portugal), no es la lengua española. Lo mismo puede decirse del vascuence y el catalán, e incluso del castellano (suponiendo que alguien sepa exactamente lo que el castellano sea, dónde empieza y dónde acaba). De manera que sólo el español es la lengua española por antonomasia. Este debate, tan trillado, se reduce en el fondo a una simple cuestión de distinguir entre adjetivos y sustantivos, artículos determinados e indeterminados, y a la teoría algebraica de conjuntos. Todo lo demás es querer marear la perdiz, palabrería e instrumental político.[:en]Spanish right wing is lukewarm, which is one of its bigger problems; and I believe that our several political forces would be rather more balanced and coexist in more equal conditions would the not-secessionist right learn a couple important virtues now monopolized by the lefties and separatists; that is: the sense of moral and historical legitimacy, and the nonconformity (in the sense of moving away from gentry).
The rights in Spain are too burgeaois, too passive, besides having a strong distaste for the street, maybe because they believe that to protest or demostrate don’t suit the dignity that–they feel–corresponds to their category; or maybe because–and this is even worse–in the bottom of themselves they feel ashamed of their own ideology.
Certainly, Spanish right parties suffer from some weakness of temperament and even some ideological fragility, which makes them yield way too easily to the cunning slogans put forward by the left wing and the secessionists’ self-victimization. Such chronic ailments, along with their apparently unsurmountable fear of being called close-minded, denote a worrisome authoritarianism complex. But if they’re afraid of this, I wonder: how can they sadden to be branded as nazis or fascists? And I reply: doesn’t it mean that they feel discredited themselves in their political views? This is a severe and distressing problem, mostly taking into account that, in Spain, if you have never been called fascist or intolerant, then you’ve never had an idea of your own.
Bandera antinómica
Antinomy flag

And if it’s not a complex, then I can’t understand why the Spanish righties gave up so readily and so soon to the word Spain and its derivatives. Our democracy was quite young when the right wing “disowned” (as Saint Peter did with Jesus) that word Spain and, instead, adopted and enshrined the locution this country. Not much later, following the anti-Spanish half of Spain driven by resentment, backed by the utterly regrettable wording of our Constitution article nr. three and supported by an unauthorized and pathetic Royal Academy of Language, the rights betrayed the Spanish language and enthroned the Castilian, an anachronism and vagueness whose only reasong for being is that it satisfies the revanchism of that half of Spain descendents of those who were defeated in our civil war.
And this is why today, despite ruling a right wing party with absolute majority, yet the new Law for Education, presumedly recapturing patriotic ideas of unity, in spite of recovering the good old Spanish language, sanctions the innocuous Castilian language, negating any patriotic notion. Pityful right complexes! It’s quite understandable that our lefties, successors of the republicans and masters of manipulation and propaganda, line up along with secessionists (Basque country, Catalonia) and abjure of words liable to be identified, if properly biased, with Franco’s dictatorship. But if our rights give in to such ploys, which power have they to “build nation” and defend the unity of a Spain whose name don’t utter for forty years?
SEMANTIC NOTE: Galician, Catalonian and Basque are not solely Spanish languages, because they’re also spoken in neighbouring countries, like France or Portugal. But even if they were, they’re not the Spanish language. Same goes for Castilian, supposing someone knows exactly what that be. Only Spanish is the language of Spain. This debate, so often brought up, turns out to be a simple question of being able to tell between adjectives and nouns, definite and undefinite articles, and to know the algebra of sets. Anything else is tomfoolery, hot air and politics.[:]

Is literature dead?

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When I come to think of it, I realize that I can hardly set hands on any remarkable contemporary novel, not to talk about poetry. Sure, there are some good ones, but methinks that the era of talents in literature is gone; writers of stature like Shakespeare, Twain, Dickens, Tolstoy, Cervantes, Nabokov, García Márquez or Conrad, just to name a few, are no more. We’re already beyond the end of a particular moment in human history, scarcely four centuries, where the conditions were optimal for such geniuses to spring. But nowadays, with capitalism and consumption suffocating us, most literature is rubbish; not because there aren’t good writers, but because almost everything that happens is about money. The very term best seller says it all: when it comes to literature, the most worldwide known indicator of what’s going on is not called best writer, best poet or best philosopher, but best SELLER! Even over the Nobel prize. So, what can we expect? Today you can publish anything under condition people would buy it, and people will buy anything if it’s properly advertised. Thus we come to… money! At the same time, talented writers won’t get published because they have no time for advertisement: they’re too busy writing good literature that will never see light. On the other hand, public powers are so obsessed with economical growth that they neglect their citizens’ education for a good taste. Besides, we’re in the audiovisual era: don’t expect our lazy natures to read if we can just watch and listen. Perhaps this is a good time for the seventh art! After all, not everything is lost for beauty.

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Cuando me paro a pensarlo, me doy cuenta de que muy pocas veces encuentro buena literatura contemporánea, y no digamos ya en el género poético. Desde luego hay algunos buenos libros ahí fuera, pero me parece a mí que la era de los talentos ha quedado atrás; escritores de la talla de Shakespeare, Twain, Dickens, Tolstoy, Cervantes, Nabokov, García Márquez o Conrad, por nombrar sólo unos pocos, no se encuentran ya. Hemos traspasado la frontera de un momento muy particular (escasamente cuatro siglos) de la historia humana en que se dieron las condiciones idóneas para que surgieran esos genios de las letras. Pero hoy en día, con el capitalismo y el consumismo sofocándonos, la mayor parte de la literatura es mediocre, cuando no deplorable; no porque no haya buenos escritores, sino porque casi todo lo que sucede ha de estar relacionado con el dinero. El propio término best seller lo dice todo, aunque los hispanohablantes raras veces nos paramos a pensar en su significado literal: “mejor ventas”. Así, el indicador universal más conocido de lo que está sucediendo en literatura no se llama mejor escritor, mejor poeta o mejor ensayista, sino mejor VENTAS. Incluso por encima del premio Nobel. Entonces, ¿qué podemos esperar? Hoy puedes publicar cualquier cosa a condición de que la gente lo compre, y la gente comprará cualquier cosa que se anuncie lo bastane bien. Es decir… ¡dinero! Al mismo tiempo, los escritores de talento no serán recibidos por las editoriales porque no tienen tiempo para publicitarse: están demasiado ocupados escribiendo buena literatura que nunca verá la luz. Por otra parte, los poderes públicos están tan obsesionados con el monotema del crecimiento económico que descuidan la educación de sus ciudadanos hacia el buen gusto. Además, estamos en la era audiovisual: no se espere de nuestra perezosa naturaleza que leamos si podemos simplemente mirar y escuchar. Quizá sea este un buen momento para el séptimo arte. Después de todo, aún queda esperanza para la belleza.

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The underlying religious belief

(or “A brief essay on conscience”.) 
Now, I have to say: ancient civilizations are certainly fascinating. I’m not any expert in those matters (nor in any other, by the way), but whenever I get to learn facts from past eras, they always call my attention. Cultural anthropology is so teaching! And it tells us a lot about our own civilization and present day reality.
Why, for example, there is so much noise about the Mayan calendar finishing in 2012? If we take into account the anthropology and the way people, cultures and civilizations work, we would probably end up here: we’re afraid of uncertainty. And I have an expression for that feeling, that I like to call the underlying religious belief. According to it, in most cases we humans develop, because of the knowledge of our own death, some kind of religious feeling underlying our behaviour, our values, principles and other beliefs. And for that purpose, anything that could give a possible meaning to life and death, to existence itself, can do the service. So, well, among the many possibilities, a foretold “end of the world” would certainly give some sense to humankind, as it would imply a Creator…

Which is very good, by the way. The problem arrives when you cross the border, when you step beyond a — let’s say — line of knowledge depriving you from this belief. Then, what happens? I can only talk for myself. On top of very solid (though also very rigid, I’m afraid) scientifical-tought foundations acquired along University times and professional carry out, there are the irreprochably argumented lectures on evolution and cultural anthropology (my masters have been, for this matter, Jared Diamond and Marvin Harris) and, at the end of this road, one comes to a very difficult, sometimes even distressing, attitude towards God, religion and beliefs: I’m a Catholic “by birth”, as they say; and the strong Catholic background of my childhood, though become much weaker nowadays, has shaped my morals (or let’s rather say “ethics”, which is a better concept) in such a way that they’re now hard-coded into my personality. In Spain, Church is present in much more aspects of our lives than we think (churchs all over the country shaping our rural and urban landscapes; bells tolling; language expressions; marriages; holidays, names, namedays, local feasts, saints, patron saints, law, feuds…) All these elements shape our personality, our ethics, and this ethics work even against the strongest logic.
Let’s go, for instance, to the typical example: “¿would you kill someone?” Well, certainly my conscience would prevent me from gratuitously doing so, even though my logic tells me that there’s nothing so special about a human life… But, is it really a conscience? Science and progress leave small room for religion and, by the way, for morals. If you don’t believe in God nor any other spiritual beings or concepts of that sort; if you’ve gone even beyond this underlying religious belief that I’m talking about, then where does this conscience come from? I don’t know. Maybe it’s only functional: it might just be the self-indulging way of expressing the fear we would feel of being rejected by society. We’re social animals, and, pathological cases aside, we need to be accepted by society; but we won’t be, if we go around killing people…
In any case, one way or other, spiritual or functional, conscience is an essential element in societies.
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Time and memory (to be children again)

[:es]Sólo en la infancia las horas son inacabables y eternas, lo mismo en su duración como, sobre todo, en su número; cuando no se sabe aún lo que valen, o quizá precisamente por eso. Sólo en la infancia es posible, por ejemplo, dejar pasar la tarde tras los cristales, sin sentir cómo el tiempo se nos escapa.
Pero, ¿cuál es el secreto del tiempo? ¿Cómo sustraernos a su esclavitud? Tal vez sólo sea posible gozar plenamente de la vida cuando nos olvidamos de él, pero entonces será también cuando más rápido se nos escape. No se puede disfrutar del tiempo y, a la vez, aprehenderlo, pues la sola consciencia y observación de su transcurso inhibirá el disfrute; salvo quizá en la infancia, esa dorada, gloriosa época en que aún no sabemos el valor de las horas. Después, en cualquier momento posterior de la vida, para extraer en medida apreciable los tesoros que el tiempo contiene sería necesario, ante todo, tener la conciencia tranquila, aunque vigilante; adormecida la esperanza, que no yerta; y aligerada, pero no vacía, la cabeza de proyectos. Haría falta, pues, ser niño otra vez; poder ignorar u olvidar lo que sabemos. La impaciencia, el miedo a perder ese tiempo -tan valioso y despreciable a la vez- nos impide sacarle el mayor partido posible; y puede que la vanidad sea también un obstáculo.
Ha de registrar sus recuerdos quien no quiera perderlos, borrados poco a poco de su memoria personal por el tiempo, y definitivamente de la memoria colectiva por la muerte. Y si ésta nos sorprende antes de que podamos paladear el grato manjar de la evocación, ¿qué huella quedará entonces de nosotros? ¡Ah, qué vida inacabada -como una contabilidad sin cerrar- habremos tenido! Sentimos a veces la urgencia de escribir nuestras memorias, pero si cedemos a este deseo de conservar el pasado, dejaremos de vivir mientras escribimos, de tener otras experiencias enriquecedoras; ¿y vale la pena perder una parte de la vida recordando? Alto precio pagaríamos por ese placer. Sin embrgo, vivir sin recordar podría significar, tal vez, perder la vida entera.[:en]Only during our childhood the hours are endless, same in length and in number; only when we still ignore their worth — or perhaps precisely because of that. Only in our childhood we’re able to maybe let an evening go by behind the window panes without feeling that our time is slipping by.
But, what’s the secret of time? How to escape its servitude? Perhaps we can only enjoy our life fully when we manage to forget about time, but then — that’s when time passes up the fastest! Methinks that it’s not possible to enjoy our time and, all at once, to seize it, since the sole conscience of its course, our very observing it, will impede our enjoyment of it; except maybe in our childhood: that golden and glorious age when we still don’t know the real value of every single hour. Afterwards, in any other period of our lives, for properly and significantly seizing the treasures that time holds we’d need to, first, have a clear conscience — yet watchful; then a numbed hope — yet alive; finally a mind unobstructed by projects — yet not devoid of them. We’d need to, in short, be children again; be able to ignore or forget what we’ve learnt. Impatience and our fear of losing that very time, so valuable and negligible all at once, are what prevent us from taking the best advantage of it — and perhaps vanity is also an obstacle.
He who wants to preserve his memories must record them, lest he forgets them, or lest they get totally lost when we pass away; because, if death seizes us ere we can savour the tasteful ambrosia of evocations, what shall remain of us? Ah, what an unfinished live we would’ve had! Like a misbalanced accounting. That’s why sometimes we feel the urge of writing down our memories. But if we yield to this desire of preserving the past, aren’t we neglecting the valuable present moment? While we write, aren’t we giving up new enriching experiences? Is it worth to lose (supposing it’s a loss) a part of our life remembering? Might be. However, to live without recollecting our past might mean to lose our whole life![:]

Translations

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Any of my frequent readers will already know that I find the idea fascinating of how closely connected to one another are language on the one hand, and ideas, concepts and cultures on the other. It’s patent that we can only say (or write) what we have previously thought of, thus making -apparently- the language a tool for expressing the ideas. However, it doesn’t seem so obvious, despite being equally true, that the language is also, at the same time, the vehicle for the ideas to take form; that it is a bidirectional process: we can only express what we think, but we can only think what we know how to express.
Effectively, language and thought are so akin that one can’t go without the other: we need the former to form the latter; without the language, we wouldn’t be able to have complex thoughts.
Therefore, how can we expect to properly translate anything? Of course, it’s always possible to put the main idea of a message into a new language; and the simpler the former, the more precise the translation; but we’ll always miss something in this process, because putting things in a different language (and being able to understand the result) would require us to be who we’re not: we can’t detach our personality -therefore our thoughts- from our mother tongue. People make the language, and language makes the people.
I’m sure I’ve already written things similar to this in some other post of this blog; and, for many years, my ideas upon the subject have remained the same: that when we switch to a foreign language, we assume a slightly different personality, or rather a modified version of the same. But this explanation didn’t fully satisfy me, because on one hand I couldn’t quite accept the idea of a changing personality, and on the other hand I had to face the case of bilingual people: do they have a double identity? That would be maddening, and doesn’t sound plausible. As a matter of fact, most of the bilingual people I’ve met seem to me to be quite clever, broadminded, and not suffering from any ambiguous nature.
So, recently I’ve modified my beliefs in this matter and now I’d rather say that learning a foreign language simply has the effect of broadening our mind, enriching us and making us somehow more complex. Thus, it would work basically (though in an amplified way) like getting to improve our own mother tongue: the better we learn another language, the more we get -added to our own selves- the treats of the folk who speak it since their cradles.
And a fine consequence, or reverse, of this theory would be a new idea: that, in turn, the broader our mind, and the richer or more flexible our personality, the easier should be for us to learn a new language.
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Of course all this are but my own thoughts. I’m sure there are well founded studies regarding the matter and thrusting trustworthy light upon it. If any of the readers here knows of some documentation about the subject, I’d love to hear of it.
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