Just over two weeks ago now (12-14 September), the 10th Conference of the International Association of Galician Studies was held at Cardiff University. As regular readers will know, my dissertation about Galician travel literature was due in to Cardiff University on 14 September, so this couldn't have been a more perfect coincidence, especially as the conference only takes place once every three years and can be anywhere in the world. What better occasion for my first conference paper?
I was also extremely lucky to be placed in such a welcoming and fascinating panel with Paula Portas Pérez (Cardiff University), Helena Miguélez Carballeira (Bagnor University) and María Liñeira (Oxford University), plus Olga Castro (Aston University) as moderator. Our papers were very varied, but complimentary, considering what various different groups mean by Galician national identity.
Paula, who I had had the pleasure of hearing speak before at Cardiff, back in December, presented research on the discourse of feminism by political nationalists, from 1975 onwards. Through analysis of conference proceedings, propaganda and other documents released by Galician nationalist groups - primarily what is now the BNG (Bloque Nacionalista Galego) - she has observed that while feminism as an abstract concept is touted as one the defining characteristics of the modern, liberal Galician nationalism, in practice women are ignored or marginalised. Most nationalist rhetoric refers to workers, farmers and fishermen - all imagined as male - not mentioning women at all, while some publications actually stated that the place of women was in the home, and that their policies would make working conditions better for men to enable them to provide for their women so that women do not have to work. Paula suggested that the espoused feminism of the Galician nationalists is therefore more of an electoral ploy than a genuine desire to achieve equality for women in Galician society.
Continuing with gender issues, Helena (who recently received an AHRC grant which will allow her to publish two books this year - yay!) spoke about cultural normalisation in Galicia and the problems with it. In particular, she discussed a collection of erotic short stories - Contos eróticos / elas (Erotic Fiction/Hers) published by Edicións Xerais de Galicia in 1991 alongside Contos eróticos / eles (Erotic Fiction/His). The aim of these collections was supposedly to normalise erotic literature, thus diversifying Galician literature and creating another space for female writers. However, of the seven writers in Elas one was actually man, while another was, according to Helena, almost certainly a man using a female pseudonym. Moreover, many of the stories contain horrific acts of sexual violence and rape, which completely goes against the idea of empowering women and celebrating female sexuality that the collection espoused. Helena also briefly alluded to the María Reimóndez affair. After María joined us for lunch, I asked some of the other conference participants who she was (I admit I'm still very ignorant when it comes to Galician culture). It turns out that she had written a gendered translation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time: where the English said only 'the', in Galician it was necessary to chose male or female, so María wrote the male nurse, the female windsurfer etc. The publishers weren't happy and fired her, as this article explains further. EDIT: María Reimóndez gives her version of the incident in this article.
María's talk about 'the linguistic criterion' was of particular interest to me as I'm fascinated by the idea of what makes a national literature and the formation of national canons. Her argument is that we need to look beyond language to define 'Galician' literature, as this is too restrictive. Writers such as Pimentel and Valle Inclán were born and raised in Galicia, and their writing often manifested a particular Galician mindset, a preoccupation with specifically Galician themes, but they are not accepted into the Galician canon because they wrote in Castilian. The counter-argument is that the linguistic criterion stops literature being dominated by 'bio-politics' (i.e. you can only be Galician by blood), but these are surely not the only two options available. María added that this linguistic criterion has meant that many young writers, raised in monolingual Castilian-speaking environments, write in Galician in order to achieve success and status, but Galician has no meaning to them - it is as if they were writing in Esperanto. It was clear from María's presentation that a significant rethink of the definition of 'Galician literature' is necessary.
We must challenge the maxim "One nation, one language, one literature".
Finally there was my presentation about the link between travel writing and the creation of Galician national identity by the Xeración Nós (early nationalists of the 1920s and 30s). I somehow cut the 20,000 words of my dissertation into 20 minutes, discussing: why further study of Galician travel writing is necessary; the personal effects of travel on the authors Ramón Otero Pedrayo, Vincente Risco and Alfonso Castelao; how their conservative attitudes carried with them from Galicia coloured their interpretation of the cities they visited; lessons for Galician nationalism acquired from experience abroad; and finally what 'Europe' meant to the three authors. A lot to fit in to such a short space of time, but thankfully everyone was very receptive. The next job is to get it published!
I then sadly missed the rest of the day as I had many other tasks to carry out while in Cardiff (including handing in my dissertation :D), but caught two very interesting, primarily literature-based, panels on the Friday morning.
Alexia Dotras Bravo (Universidade de Coimbra) shared her experience of working with vast collection of letters to Carolina Michaelis de Vasconcelos (Portugal's foremost lady of letters at the turn of the Twentieth Century), which had been donated to the University where Vasconcelos had been the first female professor. The letters she received give a fascinating insight into the literary and musical tastes of the times and will surely be a source of much research for years to come.
Antonio Iglesias Mira (Centro de Investigacao em Artes e Comunicacao), spoke about how the attempt by a group of drama students at Coimbra University, the Circulo de Iniciacao Teatral de Coimbra, to put on a play entitled Castelao e a sua epoca in 1969 ended in severe State repression, as part of a wider Academic Crisis. He explained how the play was written by Ricard Salvat, who had gained a reputation for presenting political theatre (especially Brecht) as academic lectures so that it could be censored. A very interesting window into the repressive atmosphere of 1960s Portugal...
Marga Romero Lorenzo (Universidade de Coruña) presented Lois Tobío, another travelling early Galician nationalist and a prolific translator. He translated both to enrich the Galician language and to express himself creatively. Like Risco, he believed that Portuguese was the saviour of the Galician language, giving it the status it deserves. He also believed in the power of music for learning languages (something I share with him!) and knew how to sing - but not speak - in Bulgarian.
Learning another language is entering a new world - Lois Tobio
Danny M. Barreto (Vasser College) talked about modern Galician identity in Suso de Toro's Sete palabras, arguing that instead of trying to limit Galicia to one language and place, we must accept that there are multiple Galicia's (returning to María Liñeira's point): 'Castilianized Galicia' and 'emigrant Galicia' are just a few examples. Danny argued for a 'spurious Galicia', a Galician identity aware of its own contradictions and inconsistencies, explaining how Sete Palabras portrays a confrontation with myths of origin and hybrid, multiple identities.
David Miranda Barreiro (Bangor University) presented Claudio Rodríguez Fer's 1993 short story A Muller Loba, about a female werewolf in New York. On the one hand, the story continues the long tradition of werewolf stories in Galician culture (Risco wrote about the importance of werewolves in Galician oral tradition in 1925 for example), while on the other hand a feminist reading of the text explores the female werewolf as a manifestation of strong femininity which will not be tamed by a man. Picking up on Danny's different Galicia's, David also showed how the use of traditional Galician mythology in New York links the 'interior Galicia' with the 'exterior Galicia'.
Catherine Barbour (University of St Andrews) talked about how Queen Christina of Switzerland has become an inspirational figure for Galician women in Teresa Moure's Herba moura. While a champion of education and extremely intelligent herself, Christina is mostly remembered as Descartes' 'groupie', which Catherine suggests is symbolic of the marginalisation of women within Galician literature.
As you can see, I learnt an awful lot about a huge variety of subjects, but I'm still sad I missed out on so many more. Thankfully, all of the presentations were filmed and will hopefully be put up on the website once they've had time to process them. You can also follow @estudosgalegos on Twitter or find them on Facebook for all the latest Galicia news.