Pio Baroja

Where’s this guy been all my life? The name sounds familiar, but I didn’t really know anything about him. Another Generation of ’98 writer who barely made it through the Spanish Civil War.

Federico Garcia Lorca, the doomed gay poet, one of the finest poets of the 20th Century, of course was assassinated in this war, but he was from the next generation of Spanish writers, the Generation of ’27. They were much more avant garde than the ’98’ers.

The Generation of ’98 were a whole new crop of Spanish writers who popped up at the turn of the century in Spain. Spain was still a monarchy back then and these were times of fervent. The monarchy was trying to balance between the desire of the people to modernize the humanize their country and the desires of the Church conservatives to keep things as static as they were.

At the same time, in 1898, Spain was reeling from its defeat in several wars around the globe. Thousands of Spaniards were dead, and Spain lost all of its colonies. This was a time of great upheaval in Spain. The ’98’ers attacked traditional culture and the monarchy which they say as conformist and undemocratic. In this sense, they were like the liberal protest movements that arose in Germany after World War 1 who attacked German culture and ways of thinking in the light of their painful defeat in the war.

These liberal movements were met with a conservative backlash or mostly demobbed soldiers who formed gangs called the Brownshirts who fought socialists and communists in the streets of Germany. These conservatives felt that the liberals had “stabbed the country in the back” and been traitorous during the war, leading to the nation’s defeat. One of these demobbed soldiers was an angry, wounded soldier named Adolf Hitler and it was from this Right vs Left firestorm in the streets that the Nazi God of Destruction arose a decade later. The Phoenix rising from the ashes, the regeneration of the illustrious nation of blood and soul, which is fascism in a nutshell. Fascism can best be seen as palingetic revolution of the Right. The word palingetic brings to mind the Phoenix rises to glory from the ashes of defeat.

Baroja was a liberal like most of that generation. He grew up in the Basque Country. He wrote a number of trilogies, including The Sea, The Cities, The Struggle for Life, The Basque Country and a few others. The Struggle for Life is a gritty, harsh trilogy about life in the slums of Madrid. John Dos Passos was very fond of this series. Probably his most famous book is The Tree of Knowledge. Baroja was a pessimist and a nihilist who soured on life at a young age.

I do not mind reading downbeat authors though, even if I am an optimist. Really the optimistic and pessimistic views of life are both true and equally valid.

Baroja was influenced by Nietzsche, but below almost looks like Heidegger. I like the elaborate, ornate, very descriptive prose of the 19th Century. I love the long, fancy sentences where the tail of the sentence almost seems to be the head. I don’t mind getting to the end of a Henry James sentence, commas and all, and then wondering what the start of the sentence was about. It’s fun to decipher fancy writing. People don’t write like this much anymore as it is considered to be too elaborate and difficult for its own sake. I believe some of the finest writing in English was done in the 19th Century though. I can’t get enough of those $64,000 sentences. They’re so good you could almost take them to the bank.

Most of Baroja has not yet been translated into English, though he has been famous in Spain for a century.  Hemingway was heavily influenced by Baroja, although this fact is little known.

Isn’t that some fine writing?

The individual is the only real thing in nature and in life. Neither the species, the genus, nor the race, actually exists; they are abstractions, terminologies, scientific devices, useful as syntheses but not entirely exact. By means of these devices we can discuss and compare; they constitute a measure for our minds to use, but have no external reality. Only the individual exists through himself and for himself. I am, I live, is the sole thing a man can affirm.

The categories and divisions arranged for classification are like the series of squares an artist places over a drawing to copy it by. The lines of the squares may cut the lines of the sketch; but they will cut them, not in reality but only in the artist’s eye. In humanity, as in all of nature, the individual is the one thing. Only individuality exists in the realm of life and in the realm of spirit.

Pio Baroja, Caesar or Nothing, 1903

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Filed under Art, Catholicism, Christianity, Conservatism, Culture, Europe, European, Fascism, Germany, History, Liberalism, Literature, National Socialism, Nazism, Novel, Philosophy, Poetry, Political Science, Regional, Religion, Spain, War, World War 1

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