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How did Catalanism come about after Catalonia was decisive in ideologically building Spain in the 19th century? Joan-Lluís Marfany answers that question

Jose-Carlos Mainer
3 JUL 2017 – 11:33 CEST

Joan-Lluís Marfany finished his book “La cultura del catalanisme. El nacionalisme català en els seus inicis” (1995) with two very incisive questions: how did Catalanism come to be after Catalonia was a fundamental part of the ideological construction of 19th century Spain? Why around 1898 – the crisis of the State – did the two nationalisms confront and define as opposites? Now, in full saturation of pro-sovereignty, when many historians embrace the return to the ethnicist assumptions without shame (the case of Josep Fontana is the most striking, but not the only one), Marfany has dedicated many years of meticulous work to answering the first 1995 question: how did Catalonia create its identity throughout much of the 19th century, between 1789 (fight against the French Revolution) and 1859 (restoration of the Floral Games … and the start of a promising colonial war in the Rif), making it a ratification of the liberal Spanish nation and making Castilian its “vehicle of written communication and solemn speech”?

Perhaps writing from Liverpool, like Marfany, is an advantage for the purpose … But it is even more so having the very clear idea that national identities are objects of variable geometry and that they do not come from the depths of faith, but from strategies in the service of social hegemonies. It is a strong thing, but very true, to ask oneself: “Renaixença, of what?” when clearly “the century of Castilianization was not the 18th, but the 19th”. And to declare that the conscience of the State is what bases the nation, and not the other way around. And to think that the Marxist Pierre Vilar (“La Catalogne dans l’Espagne moderne”) is still absolutely right when he spoke of the fertile accommodation of the Catalan country to the Bourbon monarchy, as well as the wise and cautious Jaume Vicens Vives when he established as a reference for everything the creation of a bourgeoisie more mercantile than industrial and which did not stop being agrarian. But Marfany also proposes here partial amendments to other books that he appreciates: he argues against Ernest Lluch (“La Catalunya vençuda”) that the presumed Catalan fidelity to Austracism, after 1714, is irrelevant; he reminds José Álvarez Junco (Mater Dolorosa) that the War of Independence is not a belated review of the events of 1808-1814, but the true melting pot of modern nationality; and to Josep Maria Fradera (“National culture in a divided society”) he adds that the Catalan “double patriotism” of the first half of the 19th century was somewhat more utilitarian and less generous. And to Max Cahner (“Literature of the Revolution and of the Counterrevolution”) he says more than once that the texts are not there to agree with the historian, but to reveal what they say for themselves.

This is what Marfany significantly calls “exegesis”, perhaps because he is a philologist by training. The more than nine hundred pages of his book relentlessly organize a legion of textual quotations that, like the terracotta warriors of Sichuan, seem to be the same, but never are quite the same: they are hundreds of evidences of the process that goes from the initial “Spanish nationalism” to the final “regionalism”, passing through “provincialism” (the intermediate stage in which, as Coll i Vehí wrote, “the province sends us to the Court so that in the Court we can give life to the spirit of the province”). Along this path, which includes numerous branches, the use and meaning of some words is clarified (nation, State, province, and even country and landscape, which were curious synonyms), the ennoblement of some place name is valued (call Barcino or Faventia to Barcelona) and the preference of a demonym (Iberians or Spaniards); There is talk of romantic novels, of heraldic lions or of variable lists of vindicated heroes, of historical and landscape painting, of the Memories and beauties of Spain (by Piferrer and Parcerisa), and the suspicion of any hint of federation, independence or fueros is denied. Marfany accumulates dramatic texts on the memory of the conquest of Barcelona by the troops of Felipe V and, despite everything, he very sensibly concludes that for the Barcelonians of the 19th century this was not the siege of Leningrad dreamed of by the iconographic fantasy of the excellent marketing technicians from the current Catalan Government…

It is not easy to refute this book, written with such good humor, such rigorous internal order and implacable argumentation, and where even the notes that accredit the citations are followed by other “additional notes” discussing the bibliography. Everything points to the fact that it is necessary to continue describing “the construction of a bourgeoisie”, from which the group of intellectuals that drew up the identity geometry of Catalonia emerged, “at the service of a class and the interests of its domination”. The careful microscopy used makes us look forward to the second part that is announced. History is not an act of will, but of intelligent patience.



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