Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Freedom and writing, those two thrilling gifts - reading and the death of Franco

Another enthusiastic reading list:

I read Proust, and I read about Proust; I read Faulkner, I read Mario Vargas Llosa, Borges, Onetti; I read Raymond Chandler, Julio Cortázar, Flaubert, Stendhal.  Long after midnight, I turned off the light, so excited by my reading that sleep would not come. (34)

Antonio Muñoz Molina, in his essay “A Double Education,” is writing about his life as a student in Granada in 1975.  He is supposed to be, so he believes, doing what he can to fight Franco, dying but somehow never quite dead, smash the state, attend illegal demonstrations, and further revolutionary consciousness.  He is also supposed to go to his classes.  All he wants to do, though, and pretty much all he does, is read fiction, and just the good stuff.  A fellow revolutionary catches Muñoz Molina reading Swann’s Way and calls him a “revisionist,” which is a wounding insult in Marxist fantasy land.

Freedom and writing, those two thrilling gifts, had something in common:  both had to be learned, and they had to be learned the hard way by us Spaniards, because there were no teachers on hand. (37)

The first legal public rally Molina attends is a commemoration of the fortieth anniversary of the murder of Federico García Lorca in the little town where he was born, surrounded by police, just sixty minutes long, all images and slogans “other than Lorca’s portrait and name” forbidden.  This is how Molina learns to be free, and perhaps also part of how he learns to write.

That time, he realizes, made him the writer he is now.  The books, of course, purchased with his scholarship money, and the political activity, but also “two decades of banned international films” that suddenly appeared in the Granada theaters, and recreational drugs, and pornography, and contraceptives, and gay rights’ parades, all of which seemed to simply appear in his world within a year or two of Franco’s death:

You had to learn, and you had to learn fast.  Your hands were full, and your mind had to work at a maddening speed.  But what an opportunity to learn for an aspiring writer: what a need to make some sense of what keeps rushing around you and at the same time to take stock of the long suppressed past and to try to peek into the fast approaching future.  (39)

What a luxury to live in a place and time when no writer’s name is likely to bear as much extra-literary power as Lorca’s.  Muñoz Molina, at the end of the essay, is clear enough that he prefers to recall 1975 rather than to live through it.

Who, by the by, is Antonio Muñoz Molina?  Let’s see.  I have to find the right part of the magazine. He

is the author of over a dozen novels, most recently La noche de los tiempos.  He twice received the Premio Nacional de Literatura in Spain.  He lives in Madrid and New York.

Now you know as much as I do, or perhaps more, since Molina has several novels in English, which you might have read.  Where did I read this memoir?  In the new issue of The Hudson Review, Spring 2011, a special treasure trove titled “The Spanish Issue.”  The rest of the week, more of The Hudson Review, more of “The Spanish Issue.”


  1. Peer review time: is your last paragraph really meant to suggest that we adventurous Wuthering Expectations readers would only know this author in translation? Tsk, tsk. All kidding/carping aside, I really enjoyed this post both for its overall focus and for that great little reading list supplied by MM. Muñoz Molina's 1987 El invierno en Lisboa (or Winter in Lisbon in its English incarnation) is great fun: sort of like a bookly equivalent of one of those French noir films from the nouvelle vague era in its combination of seediness and sophistication. It may appeal to your jazzbo sympathies as well. Other stuff by him comes highly recommended too, but that's the only title of his I've read to date myself.

  2. Hmm. Suggests? Too kind. That is exactly what it says. I believe I will have to leave that narrow thinking intact as a cautionary example, and use your comment as a correction.

    Richard's bilingual review of El invierno en Lisboa may be perused here.

    Muñoz Molina's books do sound pretty good. Here's what he says about those New Wave films, and their Italian and American etc. contemporaries: They "shattered my whole self down to my very roots." He had "to imagine a way of living up to the expectations awakened by these films, feverishly searching for a style of writing that would match the power of their images."

    That must have been pretty wild, seeing all of those movies packed into a couple of years, long after much of the rest of the literary world had absorbed them. Although, now that I think of it, that it not so different from how I saw them on video.