Before And After Marquez

Thoughts on the journey of Spanish literature from poetry to the novel, and the reflection of that journey in Turkey...

In 1300 an army under the command of Roger de Flor came to the aid of the Byzantine Emperor Andronicus Paleologus II, who was in trouble with the Turks, and Spanish entered the Anatolian lands thanks to the Catalan knights. It took centuries however for Spanish literature to reach Turkey’s shores.

No development occurred to shorten that process despite the fact that Cervantes’ masterpiece, Don Quijote de la Mancha, was printed in London by the engraving process only twelve years after its publication in 1605 and translated into various European languages, primarily French.
Don Quijote de la Mancha was published in Turkish in 1957 (in Reşat Nuri Güntekin’s translation from an abridged French copy, Doğan Kardeş Publications).

Immediately prior to this, there were several examples of translations of Spanish poetry made to promote the Romantic and Parnassian movements in Turkey. Interestingly, Cervantes’ work entitled Novelas Ejemplares (The Exemplary Novels) was published in 1951, in other words before Don Quijote (in a translation from the Spanish by Dr. Fehmi Nuza entitled ‘Örnek Alınacak Hikayeler and published by the Ministry of Education).

DANCE, MUSIC AND FOOTBALL
Just as Portuguese literature was not part of mainstream European literature until recently, in Turkey too Spanish literature remained a remote area of interest until the end of the 1960’s. And the examples that did reach us - apart from Cervantes - were perceived more as western literary ‘documents’. There is an irony at work here in that we are unaware that we do not know Spain, in whose art and culture we have taken an interest from way back, through its literature. It is music, dance and soccer in which we are interested, as well as, albeit to a lesser extent, painting and architecture.

If we consider the situation from the point of view of lovers of literature in Turkey, however, Don Quijote and Sancho Panza are practically local heroes, and Garcia Lorca was regarded for years as a martyr for poetry and democracy in the seventies. They and Miguel de Unamuno’s novel ‘Niebla’ (Mist) and his philosophical essay The Tragic Sense of Life were long considered to be sufficient sources of familiarity with the literature of Spain.

When Latin American literature burst on the scene in the sixties, Spanish literature was again put on the back burner. Even Vicente Aleixandre’s Nobel Prize for Literature in 1979 was not enough to break the spell. At the same time however when the prize was award to  the Colombian Gabriel Garcia Marquez  in 1982, the response in Turkey was overwhelming. Spaniard Camillo Jose Cela’s garnering of the prize in 1989 on the other hand was met with the usual indifference.

A NEED FOR PROMOTION
There is a need in Turkey for a special, indeed a programmed, promotion of Spanish literature, both classical and contemporary. It is therefore significant that Spanish literature has been designated the primary theme of the 29th International Istanbul TÜYAP Book Fair.
If we take this occasion as an opportunity for looking at the history and characteristics of Spanish literature, it is incumbent upon us to look first of all at the process of evolution of the Spanish language, in other words, modern Castilian, on the Iberian peninsula.

When the Carthaginian king Hannibal set out to conquer Sagonte, the Romans, who regarded it as their ally, entered Spain and conquered the entire country. One of the results of Roman rule was a merging of tribes and ethnic groups. A second important result that only occurred with time was linguistic unification as Latin spread to become the official language, spawning Castilian as one of its offshoots.

FIRST WORK IN SPANISH
The first printed work in Spanish was a collection of poems about the Virgin Mary that appeared in Valencia in 1474. Three schools of writing are observed to have evolved after the introduction of writing: mester de juglaria (the style of the wandering minstrels), mester de clerecia (the style of the clerics), and mester de cortesia (courtly style).

Spanish poetry was born of an amalgam of Provençal love poetry, the style of the medieval minstrels and the lyrical poetry of Arab Andalusia. The humanist School of Salamanca and ascetic mystical poets emerged in the sixteenth century simultaneously with the Spanish Renaissance, when Luis de Gongora, a priest in Cordoba, ushered in a new era in Castilian and Spain enjoyed its famous ‘Golden Age’, characterized by writers and poets like Lope de Vega, Cervantes, Tirso de Molina and Francisco Quevedo.

Getting a late start in Spain, the Renaissance, the civil wars that soon erupted, and the foreign wars and power struggles waged for control of the vast territory ruled by the Empire led to crises in the country’s economy. And the picaresque novel was born as the the representation in literature of hunger and poverty.

The second phase of the Golden Age was the seventeenth century Baroque. There is in the Spanish Baroque stoicism, aesthetic obsession, moral questioning, satire and a commingling of all four. Then, in the 19th century, Romanticism comes to the fore. The premature deaths of  Gustavo Adolfo Becker, Jose de Espronceda and Rosalia Castro among the poets, and of prose master Jose de Larra go down in history as examples of life virtually imitating art.

THE JOURNEY FROM POETRY TO PROSE
Until the twentieth century, Spanish literature was almost exclusively a literature of poets. But the movement known as the 98 Generation turned this around in favor of prose. Powerful writers emerged like Azorin, Unamuno and Jacinto Benavente. Juan Ramon Jimenez and Antonia Machado meanwhile are among the poets of the 98 Generation.

A wave of poets would then come along that has been dubbed both the Civil War generation and the 27 generation: Lorca, Alberti, Aleixandre, Miguel Hernandez, Pedro Salinas… Their fate: introspection, rebellion, exile, death. The realism movement was represented in literature from the Civil War to the 68 generation. Then, together with the 68 generation and later writers, literary forms began to be stretched and strained, in the novel especially. Finally, in the period since the death of the dictator Franco, writers have been motivated by a quest for ethnic, sexual and psychological identity.

In Spain today, the novel continues to hold sway in bold initiatives that violate stylistic boundaries as the European art and concept of the novel breaks out of its national cultural straitjacket.