Five years after Spain’s 15-M: Narratives of the Economic and Political Crisis
There is no question that the economic and financial crisis of 2008 resulted in a far more significant socio-political crisis, particularly in Southern Europe, which in turn led to shifts in the parliamentary distribution of many of them. It is also clear that a new cycle of mobilization developed as a result of the popular protests of 2011 (Arab Springs, 15-M, Syntagma Square, Occupy Wall Street, etc.), giving rise to new political subjects in the form of assemblies, solidarity networks, collectives, citizens' mareas (tides), etc. Although each has its own particularities, these movements ignore national borders, as with the recent French movement “Nuit Debout” and its global resonance that manifested as the “Global Debout.” The symbolic consequences of the crisis have been equally important. Many authors have started referring to this as a changing point in the cultural paradigm, involving the collapse of an excessively individualist and hierarchical model that is incapable of responding to the emerging demands for horizontality, political participation and democratization in which we find echoes of various traditions of resistance.
The present issue 15 of 452ºF, coming five years after Spain's 15-M movement, aims to contribute to current thinking, from the perspective of literary and cultural theory, on some of the transformations stemming from our current unstable times, during which thought and creativity will necessarily play a key role in drawing meaning from the period. Now more than ever it has become evident that we need conceptual tools to critically examine the limits and failings of certain elements that frame our experience. How do we address issues such as the viability of capitalism in its advanced global, speculative stage, or the drifting of current democratic systems into hyper-security and oligopoly. How do we react to the blind spots dead angles of the liberal project that has backed modernity or the alarming rise of the phenomena of exclusion, exploitation and inequality in our societies, among which we must mention the shameless European management of the mislabelled “refugee crisis”.
In the present scenario, in which neoliberalism has become the dominant ideology and displays unmistakable disciplinary leanings, fiction, ideas prose and artistic creation in its wider sense, despite the difficulties and contradictions they often face, appear as privileged spaces of resistance, as innovative tales that allow alternative worlds and subjectivities on our intellectual horizons, and ultimately, as necessary instruments of political imagination. These narratives often run against the grain, and present us with alternative prisms that shed new light on this life we share. To this end, our task is to attend critically to the potentialities cracked open by the different forms these narratives take and also to try to measure their limitations. Each of the articles included in this monograph responds to this very task.
The monograph opens with a contribution from Pablo Valdivia, professor at the University of Groningen and, alongside Jorge Catalá-Carrasco and Patricia Oliart, coordinator of the international research project “Cultural Narratives of Crisis and Renewal”. His paper, “Narrando la crisis financiera de 2008 y sus repercusiones”, offers a good cross-section of the main theoretical-critical proposals on the subject, as well as one of the first attempts at a typology, built around thematic nuclei, of what Spanish cultural criticism has termed the “novel of the crisis”, a far from homogeneous catalogue, as might be expected. Valdivia rightly inquiries about the absence of dystopian novels written in response to the Spanish crisis – something that happened in countries such as Argentina – and analyses one of the few examples of that genre in Spain, the novel Cenital (2012) by Emilio Bueso.
Next, two articles of a decidedly theoretical-philosophical nature set out to conceptualize and contextualize the crisis as well as some of the spaces of resistance emerging from it. In “Víctimas de (la) excepción: intervenciones del entorno 15M en las dinámicas de poder de la crisis española (2008-2015)”, Azahara Palomeque Recio uses the concepts of governmentality (Foucault) and bare life (Agamben) to detect biopolitical strategies of control in Spanish society. She also identifies the paradigm of vulnerability and victimology (Butler, among others) as a tool of empowerment and agency, as utilised by collectives such as the Platform for People Affected by Mortgages (PAH in its Spanish acronym), to open up a space for political struggle to the most disenfranchised social groups. For its part, “15-M, la lluvia que no cesa. Una relectura del acontecimiento contemporáneo,” by Ignasi Gozalo i Salellas, analyzes the 15M movement through the lens of different philosophies of the event in order to define it, with Deleuze, as an “assemblage of pure events”, thus diverging from the politics of event at use in the 21st century that focused on the relation between terrorism and State. The author also sets out to understand some recent documentary films – and in general what he terms “the art of unfolding” – as an “indicator of contemporary malaise and at the same time an excellent transformative factor.”
The next five papers approach five respective fields of creation to examine their relationships with economic crises both in Spain and in Argentina. With them, the monograph acquires a clear interdisciplinary approach by analysing examples of literature, comic, animation film, theater and urban art, and opens channels between the political, social and cultural realities of the two countries and their respective economic crises. This trajectory, which runs from textuality to performativity via the image, opens with “Capital Ruptures: Economies of Crisis and Urban Space in Javier Moreno’s 2020,” by N. Michelle Murray. This contribution underscores continuities and ruptures between “spaces”, “places” and “non-places” that allow us to understand Javier Moreno's futuristic novel as a critique of the spatial geo-policies of neoliberalism, denounced by authors such as Henri Lefebvre and David Harvey, and ultimately as a literary space for the commons. This is followed by "'Ese fantasma es el capitalismo': poéticas e imaginarios de la crisis en Fagocitosis y Lo que (me) está pasando” by Xavier Dapena. He studies the way in which, particularly since the financial crisis, comic books have been permeated by social and political themes, which the genre has traditionally shunned. Dapena focuses on two works, by Prior y Danide and by Miguel Brieva, to observe how they interconnect with the issues stemming from movements such as 15-M and their critique of the ideology and the neoliberal imaginary, echoing proposals like those made by Rancière, Laval and Dardot or Judith Butler. According to Vicente Fenoll, something similar occurs with animation film, which appears more willing to include these kinds of themes in its recreation of the socio-political landscapes of post-crisis Argentina. In “Crisis y renovación en el cine de animación argentino. El caso de El empleo”, Fenoll uses Santiago Grasso's 2008 short feature to reflect on the alienating and dehumanising role played by productivity relations under capitalism, among other topics.
The monograph closes with texts by Silvina Díaz and Diego Luna. In “Teatro y crisis en Argentina: El lenguaje como resistencia”, Díaz presents us with the somewhat opposed poetics of two playwrights, both of whose works are contextualized in the economic crisis of late 2001 in Argentina: Griselda Gambaro and Daniel Veronese. The analysis of their rhetorical strategies implies an incisive reflection on the need to make social conflicts visible and on the debate surrounding identity and memory in contemporary art. In “Arte y repolitización urbana: Autores, proyectos y estrategias desde el Mayo Francés hasta el 15-M”, Luna draws an interesting genealogy and typology of urban art through an examination of different authors, ranging from situationism to present day, such as Alfredo Jaar, Antoni Muntadas and Thomas Hirschhorn. The author posits that in these works, the city is presented respectively as stage, an object of reflection and raw material.
The miscellany section opens with “Proeminência e dessacralização da personagem histórica por meio do anacronismo em Los perros del paraíso de Abel Posse e As Naus de Lobo Antunes”, in which Mauro Cavaliere analyses these two novels in order to detect the various analogies in their treatment of the colonial past through characters, topics and actant structures. Cavaliere also categorises the novels as examples of what can be termed as the “new historical novel” or “postmodern historical novel”. This is followed by Daniela Gisela Fumis’s article, “Aproximaciones al problema de la infancia en la narrativa. Cruces, preguntas y desbordes”, in which she delves into the issue of infancy in literature as regards its specificity and figurative potentialities, and underscores its political and epistemological effectiveness as a device that might “collapse any totalitarianism of meaning”. The section is closed by “Acheronta movebo. Resiliencia y revolución en ‘The Mexican’ (1911) de Jack London”, an innovative article by Eduardo González de la Fuente offering a political reading of a short story on boxing by the American writer, in which the ring is presented as a microcosm of the political-identity tensions of revolutionary Mexico by means of the bodies and discourses that traverse it.
This issue introduces a new section of the journal 452ºF. “Notas críticas” is a space in which well established thinkers and researchers will present on-going reflections without having to adapt their writing to either the paper format or the requirements of academic publications, which too often standardize thought and place it in a straitjacket. With it, 452ºF hopes to offer a playground for ideas that decenters academic enunciation so as to catalyze new narratives, dialogues or suggestions. The section is opened by two professors at the Universitat de Barcelona, Rodrigo Andrés and Nora Catelli. In “El afecto, las emociones y la enseñanza de literatura”, which was read in the presentation of the last monograph of 452ºF – “Thinking about Affect in Culture and Art”, coordinated by Katarzyna Paszkiewicz – Rodrigo Andrés offers an experiential narrative on how to incorporate “affect studies” into university courses, both as syllabus and as teaching and relational practice. Next, in “A propósito de Kader Konuk: Auerbach, Benjamin, Estambul y las fronteras del comparatismo”, Nora Catelli analyses the recent book by the Turkish comparatist – his novel interpretation of Auerbach – and highlights his contribution to the study of world literature.
To close the issue, four of the six reviews aim to outline the critical panorama on the narratives of crisis proposed by the monograph. Each of these four reviews addresses three or more new books relevant to the field of literary and cultural theory. In this sense then, these reviews deviate from conventional reviews and try to account for and dialogue with some of the trends in thinking and cultural criticism from the last number of years that are related in some way to their socio-political scenario. In the first, “Las razones del neoliberalismo”, Joaquín Pascual Ivars addresses the analytical proposals of Laval and Dardot, Verónica Gago, Maurizio Lazzarato and Chris Hedges, in order to clarify their contributions to the debate over how to understand neoliberalism and its relation to the liberal tradition that has supported the politico-cultural world view of Western modernity. As a constructive counterpoint, this is followed by Ángela Martínez Fernández’s review. titled “¿Es lo común una alternativa a la lógica del capitalismo?”, in which she analyzes the various proposals of theory and practice of the commons offered by Laval and Dardot, Ugo Mattei and the different authors – or collective author – of the book Somos Coca-cola en lucha. Una autobiografía colectiva.
And if these two reviews introduce noticeably international themes, the following two address issues particular to Spain, though with clear links to the realities of other countries. Violeta Ros Ferrer proposes a necessary “Relecturas de la Transición española para un presente en suspensión”, for which she addresses recently published works by Ignacio Sánchez-Cuenca, Giulia Quaggio and the authors of the volume Fuera de la ley. Asedios al fenómeno quinqui en la transición española. Thesebooks reflect the need to and urgency of re-evaluating the democratic past beyond both celebratory and excessively negative visions. The author of these lines – and proud coordinator of this monograph – presents a review of two collective books on the precariousness of the contemporary world, one edited, by Sonia Arribas and Antonio Gómez Villar, the other by Palmar Álvarez-Blanco and Antonio Gómez López-Quiñones, in addition to the proposals of Luis Moreno-Caballud and Jonathan Snyder about the relationship between the atmosphere of protests during the 15-M movement and their cultural manifestations, to offer a brief panorama of recent “Culturas desde la precariedad y la resistencia”. Finally, two reviews complete this issue. One by Bernat Padró Nieto, who brings us his reading of Drama, literatura, filosofía. Itinerarios del realismo y el modernismo europeo by Andrés Pérez-Simón, a theoretical revision of genre divisions in theatre. The other by Alba Agraz Ortiz, who presents the study of religious mythemes in modern Spanish poetry by Rocío Ortuño Casanova in Mitos cristianos en la poesía del 27.
I finish this editorial by expressing the wish that the curious reader would, to some degree, find in these digital pages the pleasure of conversation, the spark of a new idea or the power of disagreement – that which, ultimately, drives us to think in common. That, and a sincere thanks to the people who have collaborated in this issue, of whom there are more than eighty, including writers, editors, peer reviewers, translators, proofreaders, illustrators and designers. Their work supports each and every pixel.
Albert Jornet Somoza
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