“1714 and All That” is the second essay in a sequence that explores the current Catalan independence process. This essay characterises hope.
As if to confirm his opinion, newspaper columnist Gregorio Morán was fired for decrying the sponsorship of the Catalan media by the independentist cause: In the Brave New Catalunya, state sponsored freedom would seem to have no place for freedom from state. While Morán’s fate was extreme, the loss of plurality that stems from the Act of Referèndum is undermining the very trust and stability normally promoted by the human biases of Catalunya’s social structure: Where the employment is substantially based on who you know (and high structural unemployment makes meaningful roles in society especially scarce for the minority), and sometimes being seen to do can count for more than actually doing (which gives rise to institutionalised virtue signalling), people need the space and respect to disagree. Without that plurality, tensions build between the individual and their tribe. Human decorum engenders a culture of agreement – real and imagined – or defaults to unhealthy silence. The resulting state is ambiguous. No place in Catalunya for the lively doorstep debates common in pre-referendum Edinburgh, nor for the inclusive plurality of “Scot”: Catalan is increasingly analogous to Independentista, a dangerous rift within Catalunya herself.
Such ambiguity is not universal. At the core of the independentist movement lay a heartfelt belief, an intensely directed hope, as genuine as any. Even a life-affirming sense of purpose, a contribution to community of the sort that individualism undervalues. But Vilanova does not a country make. Independència was not born of Barcelona, yet the city’s size, stature, and seat of government make it crucial to the success of an independent Catalunya. The reality of Barcelona is rather more ambiguous than the stage-managed revolution conveys. Altogether less discursive than the passive student protests, those characterised by their sitting. The rise of such ambiguity in Catalan society runs counter to the moderating influences of both modern Spanish “democracy” (challenged in this essay), whose suffrage is individual, and traditional Spanish “absolutism” (challenged in the fourth essay, Absolute Devolution), for which ambiguity is its indeterminant opposite. The Referèndum may indeed have crippled Catalan plurality by mooting the idea of leaving Spain from within Spain, but the Referèndum is also the only force keeping the “lid on the pot” of its culinary creation, preventing the social ambiguity that is more commonly called chaos from spilling out. While there is still hope for el procés, the Referèndum exerts direction (both in time and active control). Without that hope, both cause (lack of plurality) and effect (ambiguity) dissipate – as if to wake from a dream. Such a romantic description of what immature societies resolve in barbarism rests upon the inherent strength of the collective “il·lusió”: The “ilusión” of the idea of Spain as both the perpetual internal rebalancing that sustains it, and the collective management of hope. Time as oscillation and time as direction. These concepts will become clearer over the course of this essay.
A historic review diagnoses the Catalan independentist with either interminable optimism or acute amnesia: Throughout the five centuries of Spain, Catalunya’s epicentre, Barcelona, has hosted innumerable attempts to cede from, or otherwise destabilise, Spain. That none has succeeded in independència, even when directly comparable revolts in less intrinsically Spanish territories (such as the Netherlands) have, should bare consideration. That it does not, hints at the deeply internalised nature of this struggle, in which the attempt to separate gives unity to that which is being separated. This inherent tension between Spain and its constituent provinces is impenetrable because it is wrapped up in the idea of Spain. Impenetrability that substantially defined empire, from the Genoese bankrolling of Habsburg Spain on the seemingly endless riches of the Americas, to the prevailing model of colonial allegiance, which presented the Spanish monarch as an external god – something that endured until the Napoleonic era crisis heralded the coming fall. Since the empire was born of the same 1490s Golden Age that formed Spain, it seems reasonable to conclude the same principles were integral to the very idea of Spain, although the post-hoc nature of creation history clouds such analysis.
Castellano’s “ilusión” shares the same Latin root as English “illusion”, but their emphasis differs significantly: English illusions are empirically false, occasionally with an intonation of failed optimism. Castellan ilusión describe the positive hope for the good, both imaginary and realised. As does Català’s “il·lusió”. Language expresses culture. That hope, change over time, is deeply embodied in the way we sense the world. Sense, another word that is too readily mis-translated. A timely reminder of the difficulty of describing one culture through the prism of another.
Since unfettered ilusión is a plague, a cancer, prone to killing its host, ilusión must be maintained in an independent, but independently unchallengeable, ideal. The first is easily externalised: France, for example. As in the Bourbon dynastic desire to build Spain in the image of France. The philosophically difficult counter is to ensure this local ideal of France cannot be challenged by a Frenchman. Perhaps it is because ilusión are inherently temporal (aspiration of change in the not-now), that the vector called time is not also able to relate (and hence resolve) the actual basis for the ideal to the ideal of the ilusión, as we have come to expect in more mundane matters of entropy. I will call this contention the Quintradian perspective (named because it implies some abstract fifth notion of relation, beyond singular space-time): The simultaneously different perception of precisely the same thing by different groups, whose mutual perception bounds and binds the group. The Frenchman (to continue the example) who actually knows France can never be in the group that holds France in ilusión, because then they would not actually know France – at best they would hold two presumably somewhat contradictory understandings in their head, loose semblance of true belonging to either group, and thusly know nothing about “France” with certainty. Critically, at no point can they definitely challenge ilusión. Therein is the bedrock of a nation – and the bane of the supra-nationalism implied by globalism, there being no other globe on which to base human ilusión.
Much like the English, the Catalans reference the foundation of their contemporary autonomy to a year in which they were crushed by “the French”. English schoolchildren are traditionally indoctrinated with the idea that England starts at the Norman conquests of 1066 – even though another 150 years pass before the Battle of Lincoln demonstrates as much cohesive autonomy as Æthelstan had enjoyed in the century before the Normans. This method of teaching was parodied in “1066 and All That“, a book neatly summarised by its own subtitle: “A Memorable History of England, comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates.” The myth that modern England started as a Dutch coup in 1688 is somehow less appealing to the English, yet would reflect much the same succession crisis (and corresponding adjustment of power) that Catalans celebrate in the 1714 fall of Barcelona, which ended the War of the Spanish Succession. A loss still cited as illegitimating Spain’s rule over Catalunya. Not for the last time in history, Catalunya found herself on the losing side of an internal Spanish conflict.
Hope is especially important to both, as both are managing the failure of hope that is the inevitable fall from the over-achievement of global empire. In this regard Spain, of which Catalunya is part, is the most advanced nation in the modern world: A century ahead of Britain, the Británicos’ interest in Spain should not be limited to the beach, or whatever the Olympic-tinted Barcelona guidebook instructs about Gaudí-land.
Superficially, the Catalan hope of the Referèndum is familiar to Brexit Britain: Catalans blame Madrid (meaning Spain), much as Brexiteers blame Brussels (meaning the similarly ambiguous “Europe”). Those that enjoyed the good times before the crisis of 2008 quite reasonably expect more of the same. Since the need to feel hopeful necessarily obscures self-analysis of past excesses, righteous indignation at the loss of the good times can all too readily be channelled into cannon fodder, killing “two birds with one stone” by the redirection of domestic tumult onto geopolitical opponents. The Catalan Bourgeoisie, at least for the moment, are simply better at controlling this game than the British Establishment. Similarly the risks of transitional instability are downplayed: Catalunya’s gentle October waltz into internationally-recognised statehood can look, to the neutral observer, just as implausible as Britain’s just-add-water “Empire 2.0” post-European economy. Cynically, such transitions serve only to create new low-points from which things can only get better. Again.
Comparison is actually far more difficult because of differences in temporality: Contemporary England (and to a lesser degree Britain) can be accused of living in a collective memory of past imperial glories. Britain’s causal analytical model affords protection from the external world by the prediction (increasingly to the point of insanity) of that which it thinks it can understand. A predictive process that references both past and future, which when faced with a particularly uncertain future, is prone to emphasise the certainty of the past. Quirky, Britain shares enough Hegelian temporality with its Northern European neighbours to lull it into the false assumption that the whole world thinks the same way. Catalans within Spain do not revel in quite the same temporal distortion: Catalunya could happily emphasise its successful expansionist medieval history. Alphons centred the Crown of Aragon on Barcelona in 1164, and over the next three hundred years Aragon grew to dominate the Western Mediterranean, before the union with Castille that lead to the formation of Spain, which became the world’s first super-power. An impressive ancestry. That instead Catalunya chooses to emphasise its subsequent struggle with Spain, is not just indicative of the inherently internalised struggle for and against Spain, but that hope has to be actively lived, not just remembered. Wrapped in the idea of Spain, (internal) ilusión is passively protected from the external factors of which there is little or no native understanding.
What liberates hope internally is also the bane of hope externally. The idea of Spain necessarily presents the external as a god in nature (a form of deus sive natura), so the Catalan independentist journey to the promised land is no mere metaphor (although, as in all matters of religious belief, such exposition risks insulting believers). The corollary, the internal liberation of hope – the bouncy castle called Spain – creates a vastly more robust play space than expected by the purely predictive. The people of Spain widely acknowledge the impending “choque de trenes”, the socio-political train crash, but there is no rush to prevent it because the consequences are understood to be internal – entirely a part of the fluidity that is Spain. Tears before bedtime there will be – but should a nursery be devoid of toys, just because they get broken from time to time?
And so it was that certain Catalans took to the streets with all the enthusiasm of a societally enforced Catholic mass, to make their punt before their external ilusión, that their hope be acknowledged. Their symbology imbuing all the conviction of a search for extraterrestrial life. Undeterred that his manifestation – be it Europe’s Venice Commission, the United Nations, or in extremis, the anglophone press – be reluctant to acknowledge that their hope be so different from the hope of every other group in his creation. Chanting his mantra, “democràcia”, while liberally throwing chunks of it under the bus in the name of securing it in a referendum. Such paradoxical slide into totalitarianism a necessary sacrifice for reaching the promised land. Blissfully unaware that if modern democracy implies anything, it is not the will of the majority, but the art of balancing the wills of all the people. Why can’t we just all live in Val d’Aran, the valley of valley, the prototypical autonomic community that nestles in the midst of the Pyrenees? Val d’Aran which, if history is any guide, will be first in line to secure its independence from the independence of Catalunya.
Gregorio Morán’s parting quip, “Patria y Patrimonio” – that there is a difference, can seem at odds with how society operates in Catalunya. Patria, one’s native country, still retains an echo of its Greco-Latin root, “patris”, which expresses country as if family. Patrimonio, heritage, similarly retains the allusions to family common in English “patrimony”. The commentary with which he frames “Patria y Patrimonio”, that hope breeds hell – the path is to extremity, in both sides of duality, towards the perfection of Oneness – reveals a certain depth of understanding: Historically Spain has been characterised by wild oscillations, as if the ilusión of the initial status must first be broken before political rebalancing is possible, by which stage the rebalancing will always be dramatic. The implication of this discourse is that these ilusión are now integral to both patria and patrimonio, and that the undoing of the entity (place, state) is as much the undoing of the person (family, society). As such, ilusión prevents the functioning of more balanced politics: With a difference (between patria and patrimonio) a balance could be expressed between entity and person, which is broadly how mature democratic political structures frame the balance of power. And thus Morán’s quip can be read as a hope for a more democratic politics, the irony of his circular reference left for the reader to dissect.
The Catalan independentist process has been pushed along by the unholy parliamentary alliance of the often quite conservative “Junts pel Sí” (Together for the Yes) coalition, and the minority “Candidatura d’Unitat Popular“, whose decentralised neo-socialism evolves traditional Anarcho-Syndicalism. The spirit of the CUP is exemplified by their main Referèndum campaign rally, which was held in Badalona (the politically radical bedfellow of Barcelona), next to a children’s playground (the embodiment of political experimentation). The CUP are the joker in the independentist pack, a fascinating study in themselves, as likely to be crushed by their own revolution as to make independence genuinely revolutionary. Independentista all, unified, until the deed is done, by their extremity from the mid-point of prior political dualities.
Extremists are correct, obviously, because they are committed to the perfect good, to One knowing – be that heaven and hell, absolute truth and utter indeterminism – to lessening the complexity of knowing to nothing in order to have the capacity to manage everything. Their perspective Quintradian, because that’s the only pragmatic way to deal with everyone else in the meantime. The flaw surely lay in the prevailing intellectual model, that admonishes the Quintradian with objective logic (that there can only be one France), which neither has the abstraction to understand, nor the simplicity to believe – yet expects to make sense of all this? No, and that’s another common fallacy: Hope, which is a defining characteristic of life, be it kairos or chronos (directed or oscillatory), ultimately postulates either an abstraction from humanity, or a simplicity in humanity – much the same conditions that objective logic lacks. That we cannot objectively, logically, rationalise hope is surely no coincidence: Just as the pursuit of freedom exposes the paradox, “freedom from what?”, the need is to feel hopeful, not to ever obtain what is hoped for. An intellectual model that protects intellectuals from what they cannot realise they did not want to know. Ilusión is a Spanish variant of this logical protection: The hope that cannot be achieved because it can never be comprehended as it actually is. De facto protection in its independent, but independently unchallengeable, ideal.
For Catalans to hope for freedom is to conflate two distinct perspectives: Internalised hope with externalised freedom. Plausible, because both match the same pattern, the need to feel, but not achieve. Yet challenging, because each is rooted in its own philosophy:
This externalised freedom is formally rooted in the English Enlightenment philosophy of Hobbes, Locke, and later Mill, that liberty is constrained, by collective or individual. Freedom has a history of pragmatism, constantly reinvented as the host society matures – abolitionism, suffrage, emancipation. Spain’s native contribution is commonly overlooked because the pioneering work of the Cortes Generales of Cádiz in 1812 was so quickly repealed in favour of absolutist monarchy. Regardless, the native pragmatism of Cádiz is not the externalised freedom that troubles the Catalans. Externalised freedom should be considered primarily in the context of American imperialism, especially in the later, post-isolationist, phase of the Franco era, but also more broadly in the reconstruction of post-war Europe. Europe (as Economic Community, then Union) became the dominant external influence on Spain in the decades after Francoism.
Now that everyone is expected to sing the praises of a generic “freedom”, we forget that the differences between Britain and America became so fundamental as to form the philosophical basis of the America’s own war of independence: The 13 Colonies’ (of the United States’) defense of the individual rights granted by the monarch, against the more collective ideals of the British parliament. The contention is that both deployed the new Enlightenment model to understand the (recently enlarged) external world – embryonic causal analytic prediction – but the American defense of prior early medieval (Magna Carta) structures was indicative of additional scope for hope: Both greater reliance on past certainties (in comparison to England), and lesser external understanding (due to greater reliance on pre-Enlightenment concepts). These patterns remain: American English is fundamentally more optimistic than British English – American culture is embodied in words like “awesome”, that British reserves for the truly amazing, not the mundanity of being. Likewise, Americans struggle more than most to understand the external world, reflected in a 20th century foreign policy that sought to manage this dilemma by making the external world more like America. The example demonstrates that hope is closely aligned to the model of knowing, and thus sense. That there is a trade-off between hope and understanding. That hope is firmly rooted in how a people sense the world. That, at least in part, hope is cultural, and cannot so readily be imported or exported.
While not as unified as the name pair suggests, Anglo-American philosophy basically shares the same model of time and agency, and thus in all but bias, hope: Consider Hazlitt‘s observation that our present self views our future self the same way as it views other people. Contrast that to an internalised hope in collectivity, in commonality – the hope for equality, which is the hope to be we – implying an altogether less individual self. As if to echo the Zapatista notion that our equality grants the right to be different. To (internally) hope for (externalised) freedom is thus to risk making the who ambiguous – an I-us. Such adds complexity to the already fraught question, freedom of, or indeed from, who?
Herein the tension between Catalunya and Spain, inherent in the whole of modern Spain: The idea of Spain provides an internal liberation of hope (the bouncy castle), with a robust defense against the external (the Quintradian). Democracy, this idea of freedom, presumes a quite different model of internal and external, not least in the management of the external by prediction. Catalan confusion is rooted in the use of (Spanish) ilusión to hope for (Anglo-American) freedom, even though the Spanish and Anglo-American are built on different philosophical structures. Perhaps the expression of this tension is currently solely Catalan because the Catalans are more inclined to predict (evident in the way the Act of Referèndum challenged the Constitution). Perhaps the Catalans just hope for more than others in Spain, so are the first community to rebel (history suggests so – and further evidence can be gleaned from Catalunya’s commercial culture and Català language). Regardless, this is a tension in modern democratic Spain that, theoretically, is not as uniquely Catalan as Catalan independence may suggest.
To this way of thinking, Spanish democracy is an oxymoron, the conflation of two contradictory viewpoints, only manageable by dint of common pattern. Is Spanish democracy a mirage, or a remarkable societal achievement? A state of confusion, or an advanced structure of knowing? The pattern echoes more widely through Catalan (and presumably to a degree, Spanish) society: The conflation of two not necessarily complimentary viewpoints imposes a generalised societal overhead. As if twice as much effort can go into the doing, because the doing subconsciously needs to be considered from two angles. And maybe not everyone can, those who must be guided through a haze of ambiguity like sheep. (This provides some insight into Spain’s sluggish industrial performance – its inherent struggle to match Smith’s ideal of specialisation, even with high levels of specialisation in the workplace.)
That this is a fluid balance, not a binary choice, is reinforced by the particular difficulty achieving the extremes: European Union economic policy is often rather Anglo-Germanic, rational, even mechanical, premised on a particular system of temporal offsetting named investment. An inversió(n), in Cata-Castellano. This invariably jars with a more communal approach. For example, the selectivity of Mariano Rajoy’s post-Crisis labour reforms have increased inequality within the working population, as some sectors and roles retain historically generous, well protected terms and conditions, while others are exposed to the contractual insecurity and minimal wages of unfettered competition. Rajoy’s selectivity does not obviously reflect differences in function – for example, seaport cargo handlers maintain vastly better wages and conditions than some of those performing broadly similar activity at airports. Rather, his selectivity seems to reflect the position of different workforces in the societal matrix of power, which is the manifestation of the communal. So the problem is not specifically that either system, protected or free market, is better or worse than the other. Nor that the communal demands absolute equality – as Orwell presumably also discovered on a trip to Catalunya, communism does not mean equality, it means reflecting a social order. Rather that there is such disparity between systems, that the two viewpoints would ideally be better balanced. Contemporary Spanish labour disputes can stress both equality with the wider population (“more dinero”), and equality with fellow workers in the same workplace.
Europe, second only to “democracy”, is politically untouchable. Europe, in both Rights and Union, was the coming of age of modern Spain in the world, the fruits of democracy, a time of genuine betterment. Even after the Crisis hardships of the last decade, Pew found the Spanish population among the most loyal to the European Union of any member state – a survey that also revealed widespread support for a referendum to, ostensibly, reaffirm that loyalty (which Britain’s tabloid press enthusiastically confused with sympathy for Brexit). European policy is frequently implemented by the Spanish government without causal link, and thus without direct political feedback: The tensions inherent in, for example, European economic policy are not commonly portrayed as a tension with Europe. The British cynic might suggest the European Union rules Spain like Spain used to rule its empire – by remote, unchallengeable, god. Yet it is just as easy to comprehend Europe using the model of the idea of Spain – an inherently transactional polis, bound by shared perception.
For many Catalans, independentist or otherwise, the very idea of a Catalunya outside of Europe is intolerable. So while the European Union theoretically holds a veto over Catalan separatism, the Quintradian denies it: What could be an interesting philosophical argument for independence, that Catalunya is somehow more European than the rest of Spain (perhaps slightly more Northern in its commerce and culture – even if parallels to Denmark or Scotland are far fetched) is rendered unintelligible by the expression of Europe through the prism called Spain. Instead the independentist movement is gripped by a self-blinding hope that once the Spanish glass is broken, Europe will somehow be easier to see. Europe exemplifies much Catalan schizophrenia: The global-local of a smaller country in the same big alliance. That hope is only good. That an Anglo-American-style unpredictable is still safely protected by the idea of Spain. Such an analytical assessment is to miss the point: Hope does not necessarily require an objective model of knowing, anymore than relations must be expressed along a vector called time. Catalan hope would seem to draw more on patterns – knowing by matching similar structures, not necessarily reliant on causal chains of objective logic. Catalunya evidently finds it easier to express hope within patterns that Britain, where the traditional model of managing hope is altogether more objective – and increasingly inadequate.
If God is Willing
The Spanish concept of democracy is common to the West: Free electoral, but functionally on just one traditional duality – the left-right of (broadly) socialist vs conservative. Even the new political movements that arose from the 2008 Crisis morphed into little more than new (younger, untainted) versions of the more traditional political parties of left and right. The electoral stalemate of 2016 revealed considerable reluctance to replace the traditional left-right duality of government and opposition with a grand collation of the old parties against the new. So much so, that in order to install a minority traditional right-wing government, the elite of the traditional left-wing party ousted their own leader to ensure their party’s abstention from the vote to install the new government. Only later to have Pedro Sánchez returned to the leadership by his own party activists. All the evidence suggests that Spanish democracy can deal only with topics that fit neatly into left-right agendas. Such political government is little more than a mechanism for fine-tuning capitalism, allowing subtle shifts along one axis from social equality to free market commerce, creating that all-important sense of personal participation without offering the right to decide anything outwith the approved template. The familiar pattern of the need to feel free or hopeful, without actually achieving these. This form of democracy creates relatively stable governments that can nuance commerce against the needs of society, but that does not mean such democracy offers carte blanche for any and every decision a society may want to make.
In the Anglo-American world this system of government by single duality has all but been destroyed by the modern politics of “pick-your-own duality”, what Pomerantsev called “pop-up people“, the manifestation of any and every juxtaposition, flittering from person to person, from moment to moment. The relentless switching, the only way in which a populace with a resolutely objective tradition can comprehend an indeterminant environment which has none. A sense of certainty created in the midst of chaos. Ideal conditions for the autocratic leader, benevolent or otherwise, as the polis can largely be ignored: A polis safely distracted by whatever is important today but not tomorrow. Disastrous for any leader tempted into holding referenda on the duality of the moment, since their underlying system of democracy is unable to cater for multiplicity, so must be reconfigured for the new duality while disavowing itself of the old. Downright dangerous if the old duality was doing anything socially important that has not been succeeded by the new, like counteracting unfettered capitalism.
The Catalan case is considerably more mature, precisely because multiple perspectives are (outwith the referendum) reflected within local political dualities. Where, for example, pre-referendum Scottish nationalism was manifest in one all-conquering political party (set against the traditional left-right dualism of British parties), Catalan politics boasts considerable variety of baseline duality among both independists and non. More importantly, Catalan democracy expresses not just the traditional duality that moderates capitalism, but also a duality that balances that with a more communal perspective. To even attempt such a complex political matrix supposes a high degree of plurality in the society of Catalunya, one that does not readily default to unified solutions – because, theoretically, the more variables added to the matrix, the greater the difficulty in finding an acceptable point of agreement. This evidently had some success while internal to Catalunya. Although the (Catalan) Parliamentary dominance of Clan Pujol (“Convergència i Unió“) may suggest a distinct lack of plurality, their dominance was always in a coalition, often as the leader of a minority government. Indeed, the one topic this coalition evidently could not handle, because it split them, was independence. That the very same political system has come to propose an utterly polarised referendum suggests that system has exceeded itself, its politics suddenly lost in the set paradox that defines Spain. Unable to compute its position, it can only ask if its user wishes to continue: Sí/No? Perhaps better to pose DOS‘s notorious non-question, “Abort, Retry, Fail?“, fail being the only option that can return Catalunya to somewhere close to where she once was.
That Catalan and Spanish notions of democracy differ in scope is a basis for dispute, but neither notion justifies its contemporary misappropriation to imply a right of collective self-determination. For those of an anarchist inclination, not least the CUP, this is all part of the joy of exploration. Even if that exploration would be more equitable with a true multiplicity of self-determination, rather than one that can appear to specifically privilege Catalunya. But for the conservative commercial Catalan bourgeoisie this is a high risk strategy, since in liberalising “democracy” to mean more-or-less whatever one wants, the Catalan bourgeoisie might never get back the traditional duality of left and right that helps them run their capitalist economy. The hope must be that after an undemocratic period of self-determination, a reboot of the political system will seamlessly apply its former modus operandi onto whatever remains of Catalunya.
Catalunya will, eventually, need something else to hope for. In the eyes of many Catalans, the Spanish government of Mariano Rajoy lacks any vision for a better tomorrow. Of course, he’s been rather busy firefighting the post-Crisis Spanish economy, that’s not the point. Rather that the people of Catalunya would seem to require a greater sense of hope than people in other regions of Spain. Independència was a successful home-grown counter to Crisis economics, but presumably a strategy built on the expectation of commercial recovery. While the Barcelona skyline now boasts a double-digit number of construction cranes (that universal bellwether economic indicator), which it did not a year ago, I can only presume the Storks are still nesting on the abandoned cranes of Balaguer: Construction sites frozen for almost a decade, as if work could recommence at any moment, were it not for the rust or the weeds or the crumbling concrete foundations. The environmental degradation of a slowly rotting corpse evidently still preferable to the realisation of the pain of the failure of hope that the corpse represents. Austerity predominates in a society moribund by structural inequalities that will make it harder than ever for future hopes to be rooted in financial gain. Should we all just hope that reality television can somehow go one better than the 7-season epic that has been Independència?
Compactness, the diminutive, conveniently suffixed in Català by -eta, is celebrated in American culture as cuteness. The “furgoneta”, that which is driven at speed through a busy pedestrian boulevard in the name of terror, an unwelcome addition to this lexicon. Upon Miró’s mosaic, the residual vortex – that which expands and repels – the briefest reminder that time flows as much out of, as into, death. This is not a culture that dwells on death – after all, Catalan hope is to be lived. Nor is La Rambla (the definitive tourist promenade) in mid-August (when most locals take their holidays) a place to target Barcelonians. Yet for those of a certain history, the agony inflicted was palpable. La Rambla is the point at which the external world physically manifests in Barcelona. Its attack, as much the desecration of a shrine, as a personal tragedy for those caught in the midst. In a society framed by abstract notions, the physicality of state (in the fullest range of meaning) is important to Catalans (and Spaniards alike). For Barcelona, the 1992 Olympics was the crowning moment of the physical manifestation of the external, a moment that continues to live on in Barcelona as a leading global tourist destination – unlike Sevilla’s Expo of the same year, those legacy is altogether less obvious. Barcelona became the model for Olympic host city development, but the economic formulae required to justify increasingly lavish games in other cities never properly understood the native role of infrastructure and the external in creating hope.
25 years on from the Olympics, Barcelona is a victim of its own success: Unable to deny the manifestation of the hoped-for external, yet acutely aware the external is now flooding the internal with its small wheeled suitcases en route to its Airbnb rentals, which gradually exclude residents from their own city. While the independentists fight for their hope in the country, Barcelona’s mayor, Ada Colau, is fighting for quite a different source of hope in the city. This, more than migratory demographics, explains why the Referèndum is such an irrelevant distraction for many people in Barcelona, and why the independentist’s preoccupation with exerting their particular model of hope over the whole of Catalunya is the cause of so much tension. It is, however, unclear that Barcelona can do better. Not withstanding the Catalan proficiency to see only one face – specifically not to see the side of a building that pends the non-construction of its neighbour, while covered in ghastly corrugated steel or luminous orange foam – multiplicity apparently conflicts with the requirement for both external and internal to be physical – in the same 3-dimensional place.
Catalunya may be on the cusp of a shift in hope, from the external manifest in Olympic Barcelona, to the internal of the local. An inversion of socio-political direction, emphasising people one actually knows, not those of external ilusión. Intimacy is inevitably much better paced and generally more manageable than abstracted over-optimism, but the reference point for better, the nature of the comparison by which hope seems to be being fulfilled, is difficult to sustain in relative isolation. The uniquely Catalunyian solution, in the spirit of the multiplicitious politics, the dual-perspective solution that could yet result from the Act of Referèndum, is of course both: Two perspectives, two hopes. Here be metaphysical dragons – but only because time is considered such an immutable constant, a consideration challenged by Catalunya. If time is considered a manifestation of hope, not as hope upon time, time should not be privileged as the mode of relation. And if time is but a relational adage to the three dimensional vectors, is hope not the basis also of perspective – of sense?
It is no secret that our “state of mind” affects how we conceive what enlightenment empiricism assures us is a unified objective truth. Nor a surprise that Spain’s most successful entrepreneurial business, the Galician Inditex, combines just such a sense of hopefulness, in the irrational economics of fashion shopping, with as much de-temporality as possible, in the rapid production and logistics cycle of “fast fashion”. The Galician on the staircase is, if stereotypes are to be believed, even more inclined to de-temporalise than others in Spain: There is no straight answer (“respuestas gallegas”) because the mode of action is in the moment. To resolve whether they ascend or descend is to presume a certain model of causal agency. For Catalunya, the very Act of Referèndum betrays a more mixed understanding, that in balance is the infinite regress of resolution in unresolution – the fluidity of life. The consequent intrigue of contemporary Catalunya is its palpable conflation of what, to the analytic world, are two distinct models of hope – a visceral mix of temporality and non: Wish my dream would never go away.
“1714 and All That” is the second essay in a sequence that explores the current Catalan independence process. The first essay introduces The Act of Referèndum. This essay characterises hope. The third essay in this sequence is Patria and Patrimonio. It characterises state.
I’m hearing only bad news from Quintradius Africa. They say it differently here, Quintradius.
If there was a reason I came to this colony, it was to forget reason. The great escape? Yet I still walk in the hills above, the perspective reminds me of something they miss. The rest, the matriarch, even the ideal. The rest all signed up, of course. Parading down the aisle in their bright red tunics and shiny metal helms. Their enemy is external, but with a Quintradian perspective, how can they know? As likely to war the world as to be a mindless pawn in the world’s war. At least the matriarch knows the moral corruption, that she’ll be hearing only bad news.
I don’t have the paperwork. Not for here or there or anywhere. Belonging expires, apparently. So down the pipeline I go. Immersed in the viscous black oil, assaulted by disembodied eyes, their white light screaming of impending collision miraculously avoided. Until I awake here with you. We’re going to a suburb of a suburb, a utopia of post-war isolation, to bathe in the glory of a memory of a moment we never had. You shutter the window. The gloom of the trainshed imparts too much. But you can’t shutter the buffet, the emanation of Quintradius, where Mercury’s show must go on.