September 30, 2011

Two Spains, Many Spains: "Las dos Españas"

"Here lies half of Spain. It died of the other half."
—  Mariano José de Larra, 19th-century Spanish satirist

Stereotypes and simplifications are sometimes a good starting point, but never a good end point. One of the more enduring narratives about Spain is that of "las dos Españas." The phrase comes from an Antonio Machado poem:

Ya hay un español que quiere             There is a Spaniard today, who wants

vivir y a vivir empieza,                         to live and is starting to live,

entre una España que muere               between one Spain dying

y otra España que bosteza.                 and another Spain yawning.

Españolito que vienes                         Little Spaniard just now coming

al mundo, te guarde Dios.                   into the world, may God keep you.

Una de las dos Españas                      One of those two Spains

ha de helarte el corazón.                     will freeze your heart.

— Machado, untitled poem, "LIII," in Proverbios y Cantares, ca. 1910s

For Machado and his left-leaning intellectual peers, dubbed the Generation of '98, one Spain was heavily Catholic, reactionary, and centrist, the other a secular (anti-clerical), progressive, modern and in this sense more post-Enlightenment European Spain.

A 1998 stamp showing the "Generación del 98," a group of novelists,
poets, essayists, and philosophers, among them Antonio Machado

Keep in mind that they were called the Generation of '98 because in 1898 they witnessed Spain's defeat in the Spanish-American War over Cuba. This loss quickly became the symbolic turning point in what would be the end of the Spanish Empire. As Spain entered the 20th century, the deep intellectual question was how it could recapture its political and cultural importance in a modern, industrialized Europe, having previously built its Empire around pre-modern institutions of religious conquest and New World gold.

This was the Spain Hemingway arrived to in the 1920s, a country that hadn't, as he saw it, completely fallen prey to industrialization and modernization. It still had that vitality and pre-modern spirit that Hemingway believed had been suffocated by industrialization and suburbanization in his home country. Machado, on the other hand, believed one Spain was holding the other new Spain back. One can quickly see how all kinds of cultural tensions can get folded into this modernization and anti-modernization story: centrist, imperial Spain (Madrid) versus capitalist, regional Spain (Bilbao, Barcelona); nationalist Spain versus European Spain; Catholic Spain versus secular, Enlightenment Spain… and so on.

Goya's Duelo a garrotazos (Fight with cudgels), painted sometime 1820-23 and likely a
critique of the volatile politics of the court of Fernando VII. The image is evoked by
some today to illustrate the long historical divisions of the Two Spains

My personal philosophy is that, rather than get caught up in local debates about whether one or the other Spain is the "real" Spain, it's useful to see this dualism as a core dynamism in Spanish culture, for better and for worse. Though as I will discuss in a periodic series of blog entries which I'll call, "Two Spains, Many Spains," even the notion of two Spains doesn't adequately capture the rich pluralism of Spain's many cultures and peoples today.


Peggy Boltes said...

Thank you for your blog! I am an American married to a Spanish American. We are traveling to Spain soon and I am trying to educate myself prior to my travel.
I also have a blog.
I would love to hear your comments.

An Expat in Spain said...

Hi Peggy, thank you for reading! I hope you are finding helpful information for your visit. You might also peruse some of the (many) blogs by other expats I've listed on the left side of the blog. I've glanced at your blog, and it's great. It is fun to see you walk through the preparation for the journey here. Have a wonderful visit!

Anders Hansen said...


Nice post.

I would like to use some of it for an academic assignment.

What is the sources you have been using for the last two paragraphs?

All the best.
Anders Hansen.

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