Una altra ressenya en anglès, en aquest cas del professor David Atkinson, de la Universitat de Limerick a Irlanda. La ressenya ha sortit al Catalan Journal of Communication and Cultural Studies 2: 1 (2010). La revista és una iniciativa del Departament d’Estudis de Comunicació de la Universitat Rovira i Virgili, i la publica l’editorial britànica Intellect Books.
El malestar en la cultura catalana, Josep-Anton Fernàndez (2008)
According to the author, this book ‘belongs to a discipline which does not exist yet’ (p. 22), namely Catalan cultural studies. His objective is to found an approach to cultural studies specifically tailored to revealing the situation of crisis that he believes currently bedevils Catalan culture. In order to pursue this ambitious aim, Fernàndez draws on work from a diverse array of disciplines including sociology, psychoanalysis, queer theory, linguistic anthropology and discourse analysis. This interdisciplinarity achieves coherence through a sustained emphasis on power and identity, from an explicitly engaged sobiranista, leftist, feminist, anti-homophobic perspective. Fernàndez eschews any claim to a putative ‘objective’ perspective on ideology, power and culture, arguing rather, that academic and intellectual rigour are perfectly compatible with his engagement and ‘promiscuous interdisciplinarity’ (p. 24).
The book focuses specifically on Catalonia (not the entire Països Catalans) during the period 1976 (the year of the Congrés de Cultura Catalana) to 1999, when Jordi Pujol’s last term of office began. Fernàndez argues that since the end of the Franco dictatorship an enterprise of ‘cultural normalization’ has been pursued in Catalonia. In principle, cultural normalization parallels the better-known concept of ‘linguistic normalization’, representing the attempts, since the lat 1970, to effect a situation where Catalan is as ‘normal’ in Catalonia as, say, Portuguese in Portugal. Fernàndez thus describes cultural normalization as the attempts to redress both the historical and current effects on culture of the subordination of Catalonia to Spain and perceptions of Catalan culture as exceptional or anomalous.
He is, however, highly critical of cultural normalization, arguing that it is a ‘historical process’ (p. 34) -a current version of the Renaixença and Noucentisme movements, among others- that is an attempt to complete an unfinished project of Catalan modernity and cultural ‘autonomization’ (p. 34). For Fernàndez the concept of cultural normalization is the expression of a triple, quintessentially postmodern crisis, only fully comprehensible as a local manifestation of a universal phenomenon. Catalan culture, he argues, like other cultures grappling with postmodernity, is simultaneously experiencing crises of discourses of legitimization, of production of value and of identification. The first manifests itself mainly in the delegitimizing effect of the end of the Franco dictatorship on resistance discourses (a case of contra Franco vivien millor?), the second in the failed project of ‘canonization’ of Catalan culture, and the third in the exponential dissolution of traditional categories of identity during the same period. In developing his position, Fernàndez divides the book into two (implicit) parts. The first three chapters outline the theoretical framework, define terms, analyse various criticisms of Catalan culture during the relevant period, and expand his main hypothesis -that of the three crises he posits. The remaining three chapters further analyse, in relation to the three crises, cultural normalization as a political project, as a process of cultural transformation and as a discourse of naturalization.
The crux of Fernàndez’s argument is that cultural normalization is a doomed (and anyway undesirable) endeavour because it is the pursuit of a modernity that no longer exists, in Catalonia or elsewhere. Catalan culture, like other cultures, can no longer rely on the discourses that previously legitimized it, any more than it can resist processes of commodification or appeal to categories of identity that have long since ceased to function as an embodiment of its culture. In making this argument, Fernàndez draws on a highly eclectic range of texts. These include a poem by Salvador Espriu, a short story, newspaper articles, a documentary film, an advertising slogan from a shopping bag, a newspaper marketing slogan, language manifestos and a television sitcom. In my view, the complex interactions between this stimulating variety of primary sources and Fernàndez’s rich theoretical framework, realized through his acute, often excoriatingly witty (and sometimes just excoriating) analysis, is one of the book’s great strengths. Among other things, Fernandez analyses brilliantly the ‘invisibilization’ of Catalan culture and the symbolic violence, in the Bourdieu sense, to which it is routinely (invisibly) subjected. The book is both highly polemical and deliberately provocative, and not many will agree with all of its content. Nonetheless, few readers will fail to find the work stimulating, entertaining and thought-provoking.
I did wonder at times as to the intended readership of an academic text of this kind. The blurb tells us that Fernandez benefits from the ‘distance’ afforded by many years spent at a UK university but not who the intended readers are. However, the text contains a considerable number of references to ‘our’ (‘la nostra’) culture, patrimony, subordination, emancipation, etc. It is unclear to me whether this is meant to suggest a target readership limited to Catalans, and, if so, how this sits with the book’s overall perspective.
But, my main criticism is that the book’s trenchant analysis is not complemented by enough detail as regards the postmodern anti-normalization perspective advocated. Fernàndez concludes, ‘with a certain ironic distance’ (p. 362), that, rather than trying to be ‘normal’, Catalan culture should celebrate its ‘monstrousness’ (although think more ‘Munsters’ than ‘Alien’). However, he gives very few concrete examples of the type of ‘resistancism (resistencialisme) of the market’ and ‘universalization’ (as opposed to ‘normalization’) that he proposes (a notable exception being his mention of the .cat Internet domain). Personally, I would have liked to read more about the specifics of the vision that he is propounding, as well as about the deficiencies and contradictions of the perspectives that he so acutely exposes.
Overall, however, I highly recommend this book as a fresh, erudite, original and insightful work that has many implications for Catalonia and many contexts beyond.