Thursday, March 18, 2010

Day 4: Myth and the Nation


Dr. Kristian Naglo gave the lecture, ‘The Concept of Myth and the Transcendency of the Nation, Revisiting Critical Theory’. He discussed how Horkheimer and Adorno, the most prominent representatives of the Frankfurt School, were forced abroad during the 1940s due to the political situation in Germany. They ended up in Los Angeles, and their ‘The Dialectic of Enlightenment’ was written in Hollywood, as a reflection of what the authors saw in Hollywood, as opposed to Germany.

Dr. Naglo further discussed the need for the representatives of the dialectic school to summon their experiences from places shabbier and uglier than Los Angeles, in order to be able to write in a modernistic style. L.A. was far too idyllic, during this period, a veritable ‘garden city’ and the cityscape of gray, grim, urban environments such as Berlin or New York had to be recreated; this is how dialectic thinking functions. In order to function as modernist creators, modern America had to be rejected fully by the authors; they had to view it as outsiders. Dr. Naglo also discussed modernism as a response to the overwhelming changes on cultural perception, emphasizing cinema, radio and social factors as important aspects of the rise of mass culture. City culture, with its dynamism and alienation was also mentioned, as well as the reintroduction of the passport, and the sense of strangeness this implied. People began to perceive themselves more as successes or failures; numbers and statistics, rather than individuals. Mass production was a further salient aspect; it impressed upon the individual a certain fixedness in terms of perception.


Prof. Dr. Christian Lahusen gave the lecture ‘Cultural Revival & Regions (& Nations) in Spain’, concerning the revival of regional popular music since the 1960s, in regions like Catalonia, the Basque Country, Andalusia and Galicia. The main questions explored were whether there are commonalities between the types of revivals in these regions, what causes may lie behind the revival, which effects the revival had had, particularly on regionalist and nationalist movements in Spain.

Attempts were made to define the specificities of the regions in question and to give antagonistic responses to dominant cultural regimes. Prof. Dr. Lahusen particularly emphasized how Franco suppressed all national movements, which then had to be reinvented in the 1950s and 1960s; this was clearly a period of revival.

In the paísos catalans, for example, there was a strong emphasis on the traditional Catalan community, including Cataluña, Valencia, parts of southern France, and the Islas Baleares; clearly, regional borders were surpassed in order to achieve this. In the Basque region, the situation was similar; Navarra and parts of southern France were also included, and the cultural area was allowed to transcend artificial borders and administrative political areas. The Celtic heritage in Galicia should also be mentioned. The Celtic heritage in this area is still prevalent, and there are several examples of attempts to identify specificities to emphasize how different the region is to the surrounding areas. As for the Arab heritage in Andalusia, the caliphate’s 800 years in Spain certainly left a strong heritage, maybe particularly obvious in the Andalusian dialect of today. The interest in this heritage was selective, in that the aspects that were most emphasized, were those that stressed the difference to the Castilians.

The singer-songwriter genre was important in terms of raising social interest, with a main focus on simplicity and authenticity, social commitment and cultural emancipation; autochthonous languages and musical traditions were particularly important. The genre was influenced by international, in particular French role models (Georges Brassens and Jacques Brel, among others). The genre was popularized during the late 1950s, when movements and groups were formed. One such movement was Catalan La nova cancó, who emphasized their strong ties to Catalan language and culture and voiced their discontent with the current social and political situation. Political anthems, such as ‘L’estaca’ by Lluis Llach were typical songs created within the framework of the Nova cancó movement. Folk music is a genre built on rural and local traditions, but was also strongly influenced by urban, international folk music, such as American and Irish artists and groups. The instruments chosen were generally typical for the region in question, but the evolution of folk music certainly saw a clear division between the purists, who wanted to remain true to the roots of folk music, and the evolutionists, who advocated a more dynamic and experimental development, in order to remain true to the (ever-changing) voice and character of the people. The Celtic heritage in Galicia was also subjected to this conflict; among the evolutionists groups like Milladoiro, Doa and Na Lua can be noted.

Among the causes behind the cultural revival as cited by Prof. Dr. Lahusen were the new challenges of modern Spanish society and the lack of response to these challenges on part of the regime, that was considered repressive and non-responsive. The modernization of society was also considered lacking; there was demographic transition, urbanization, economic restructuring, educational improvements and increased consumption, but these steps forward were not matched by cultural and political liberalization. The Franco movement suppressed all social, political and cultural movements, and everyday life was strongly politicized. Furthermore, there were several international influences, such as social movements and cultural developments both in the Western and non-Western world, and discontent was voiced in different ways. These societal changes led to the establishment of new groups with specific needs and demands, such as new constellations of individuals with social, cultural and political aspirations, and the new urban middle class demanding change.

Prof. Dr. Lahusen also discussed the effects of the cultural revival, highlighting the reenactment and reinvention of historic nationalism and regionalism in the new cultural and societal environment that had begun to take shape. Myths and symbols of national and regional character were particularly favoured. The developments also led to the establishment of a new mobilization resource, supplying a new worldview and perception of group identity, and a new manner to voice protest. It was also stressed, however, that the relationship between musical culture and political mobilization must be perceived as fragile, as the musical field is strongly commercialized/popularized and therefore subject to cultural trends in a manner that is not always compatible with the character of political culture.


Finally, our own Prof. Dr. Raphaela Averkorn gave the lecture ‘Heroic Myth and Nation Building – Processes of Construction and Deconstruction in Spain from Medieval to Contemporary Times’, focusing on the mythologization of El Cid. The creation of the myth was discussed, with a particular emphasis on sources and definitions, as well as the dissemination and commercialization of the warrior myth; Corneille’s play and Massenet’s opera, both named ‘Le Cid’ are among the many notable examples of this practice. Prof. Dr. Averkorn also discussed how the myth of El Cid could be deconstructed, stressing the potential lack of correlation between the life of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, or the ‘real’ El Cid, and the modern perception of the life of a hero.

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