BOOKS - News and Reviews from the Center for Basque Studies

New Book Looks at Basque Parliamentary Development in the Nineteenth Century

The Center for Basque Studies is happy to announce the publication of The Making of the Basque Question: Experiencing Self-Government, 1793–1877, by Joseba Agirreazkuenaga. The book is the result of the author’s research into the development of the Basque General Assemblies and Conferences, the first united attempts between the different Basque provinces of Hegoalde. The author has long been collaborating with the International Commission for the History of Representative and Parliamentary Institutions and its journal, Parliaments, Estates & Representation. The book is now available on our web store and through Amazon.
Writers In Between Languages Reviewed in Revista de Estudios Hispánicos of Washington University

Olaziregi, Mari Jose, ed. Writers In Between Languages: Minority Literatures in the Global Scene. Reno: Center for Basque Studies, University of Nevada, 2009. 313 pp.

This volume consists of two quite different sets of articles: the reflections of published authors and poets on their position as writers in a minority language, and scholarly articles on various topics related to the overall theme. The majority of the contributions deal with Basque literature, although there are also essays on Catalan culture, as well as a couple of more general reflections on the place of minority literatures within the teaching of Hispanic Studies. Unusually, the volume also contains an essay on Spanish-language writers from Equatorial Guinea. The introduction, by the editor Mari Jose Olaziregi, is relatively brief and confines itself to tracing in broad brush-strokes the issues faced by minority literatures: their “in-between-ness;” writing as a political act; bilingualism and the global dominance of English; the role of translation; and the difficulty of finding a place on the world stage. These themes recur frequently in the various contributions, although there has been no attempt to gather the essays together in order to highlight the connections. Instead, articles are arranged alphabetically within the two different sections. While many stand quite happily on their own, perhaps an opportunity has been missed to deepen the theoretical contribution of the collection. The first section contains the personal and professional reflections of six Basque writers: Aurelia Arcocha, Rikardo Arregi Diaz de Heredia, Bernardo Atxaga, Mariasun Landa, Miren Agur Meabe and Iban Zaldua. Some of these pieces have significant autobiographical elements while others concentrate more on practical or political considerations. Bernardo Atxaga, whose contribution is one of the more sophisticated in this section, asks various “philosophical” questions about why Basque—and writing in it—may or may not be important. His main concern is not with individual writers but with literary institutions, which need to be sizeable and dynamic in order to survive. For an individual work, translation into a majority language is often (rightly, in his view) the answer to marginalization within the global literary scene, but Basque literature as an institution clearly must depend on a solid core of work in Basque, which in turn means having a critical mass of readers. Two other essays in this section stand out as particularly interesting. The poet Rikardo Arregi begins his piece with a contemplation of his own complex identity, which has left him with the sensation of being simultaneously anyone and nobody (43). As a writer too, he finds himself engaged in “a permanent exercise in building ‘I’s” (47). Writer and academic Iban Zaldua structures his piece around “Eight Crucial Decisions (A Basque Writer is Obliged to Face),” which include which language to write in, whether or not to take an overtly nationalist stance and/or to write about “the Basque conflict,” and—interestingly—whether to engage with Basque literary tradition, given its poverty up to as late as the 1960s (101). Zaldua agrees with Ramon Saizarbitoria, whom he quotes as saying that before that point Basque literary tradition was “boring and tiresome” (102), and advocates that contemporary Basque literature be defended and validated in its place. Some of the other contributions in this section are less polished and give the impression of not having been worked up very much from an original conference paper, although they still contain interesting autobiographical and cultural insights. The second (longer) section consists of ten essays on the general theme of minority literatures, many of them by well-known and established academics. Both L. Elena Delgado and Joan Ramon Resina discuss issues relating to research and teaching on minority literatures within the academic discipline of Hispanic Studies. Teresa M. Vilarós-Soler provides one of the contributions on Catalan literature, a very interesting piece on Salvador Espriu and how we might read the Jewish/Marrano resonances in his work. Xavier Pla’s essay on Josep Pla, on the other hand, is somewhat short and superficial. It has two parts: an introduction in which he argues (on the basis of observations concerning the vitality and openness of Catalan culture that could have been more critically deployed) that Catalan culture cannot be described as a “satellite” culture as T.S. Eliot defined it in Notes Towards the Definition of Culture; followed by some reflections on Josep Pla’s vision of the relationship between language, literature, localism and universality. Nerea Arruti provides one of the most wide-ranging and well-written of the contributions in this section: “On the Lightness of Being: The Conflict of Belonging in Basque Literature.” In it, she discusses various writers’ responses to the “elephant in the sitting room” of Basque violence (116), as well as making reference to Medem’s documentary La pelota vasca. Her discussion highlights the complexity of the symbolism they use, as well as their propensity to “shift from familiar to treacherous territory,” as a way of performing a “balancing act” between the weighty elephant of reality and the ungrounded lightness and freedom of literary expression (128). Other contributions deal with travel writing in Spain since 1780 (Luis Fernández Cifuentes), globalization and postnationalism in literature (Annabel Martín), an analysis of Bernardo Atxaga’s work using translation theory (Mario Santana) and a comparison of the theme of memory in Atxaga and Carme Riera (Alfredo J. Sosa-Velasco). Michael Ugarte’s chapter on Equatorial Guinea is perhaps the most unusual topic in the collection, and given its unfamiliarity to many readers it might have been a good idea to include some more basic contextual information on the persisting cultural links with Spain (or the lack of them). Nevertheless, the essay provides a fitting end to the volume as it opens up new perspectives on old questions. This book should certainly be of interest to scholars of minority literatures in the Iberian context (although essays on Galician culture are conspicuous by their absence). It is good to see writers’ and academics’ perspectives together in one volume, even though the way the collection is structured maintains a separation between them, and many of the contributions in both sections are stimulating and well written.

—Kathryn Crameri
University of Sydney