Spanish journal, 1916–1934
El Espectador (The spectator) was a one-man journal written and published by the Spanish philosopher and public intellectual José Ortega y Gasset between 1916 and 1934. The magazine, whose name appears to have been derived from the title of Addison’s and Steele’s famous 18th-century publication, was originally conceived as a vehicle which would allow Ortega to share, on a bimonthly basis, his more intimate and transcendent reflections (as opposed to the political ones for which he was already well known) with what he hoped would be a select and discriminating group of paid subscribers. As he said in the initial essay of the magazine’s first issue, his goal was “to raise a fortress against politics for both myself and those that share my affection for pure vision and theory.”
In founding El Espectador in the spring of 1916, Ortega sought, in a sense, to liberate himself from his largely self-created role as one of Spain’s best-known political commentators. Ortega’s rise to this status began with his much publicized polemics in 1908 and 1909 with the well-known politician Gabriel Maura and two celebrated members of the so-called Generation of ‘98, Ramiro de Maeztu and Miguel de Unamuno. As a result of these widely reported conflicts, his tireless journalistic activity, as well as key speeches such as “Los problemas nacionales y la juventud” (1909;
National problems and youth) and “La pedagogía social como programa político” (1910;
Social pedagogy as political program), Ortega came to be recognized in the years immediately preceding World War I as the leading spokesman for a European-inspired reform of Spain’s political culture. In late 1913 he began organizing the Liga de Educación Política (League for political education), which he hoped would enable his generation of young intellectuals to make a clean break with what he saw as the corrupt and antiquated political practices propagated by the “Official Spain” in the years since the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in 1875. After the publication of his influential Meditaciones del Quijote (1914; Meditations on Quixote), in which he ponders the question of Spain’s historical destiny, Ortega, the son and grandson of prominent journalists as well as a veteran of two short-lived publishing ventures, founded España (Spain), a journal aimed at supporting and furthering the goals of the Liga de Educación Política. Within weeks of its appearance in early 1915, España established itself as one of
the country’s leading journals of social and political thought. However, in January 1916 Ortega, sensing that the Liga would never be able to effect social change on the scale he had envisioned, abruptly resigned his position as España’s editor and announced soon thereafter his plans to begin publishing El Espectador.
In the long run, Ortega’s adherence to his original concept for El Espectador would prove to be rather inconsistent. The first installment of the series (May 1916) was, as promised, largely free of political commentary. However, as early as the magazine’s second volume, published in May 1917, Ortega returned, as he would do intermittently throughout the life of the journal, to the discussion of contemporary political culture.
Similarly, Ortega quickly dispensed with his proposed bimonthly schedule of publication.
In 18 years, he managed to write and distribute only eight full issues of the magazine, a number of which are little more than compilations of previously written articles.
While El Espectador ultimately failed to engender a sustained and intimate dialogue between Ortega and what he would come to term, in España invertebrada (1921;
Invertebrate Spain) and La rebelión de las masas (1930; The Revolt of the Masses), the “select minorities” of society, it nonetheless remains an important showcase of his broad interests and expressive talents. Included in its pages are in-depth analyses of the work of the Spanish novelists Pío Baroja (“Ideas sobre Baroja” [1916; Ideas on Baroja]) and José Martínez Ruiz “Azorín” (“Azorín o primores de lo vulgar” [1917; Azorín or the delicacy of the commonplace]), as well as articles which touch upon the key Orteguian concepts of “perspectivism” (“Verdad y perspectiva” [1916; Truth and perspective]) and “biologism” (“El Quijote en la escuela” [1921; Don Quixote in the schools]). These essentially scholarly articles are joined together with the aforementioned sprinkling of political essays -”La democracia morbosa” (1917; Ailing democracy), a review of Scheler’s “El genio de la guerra y la guerra alemana” (1917; The genius of war and the German war), and “Sobre el fascismo” (1927; On fascism)—numerous travel pieces, and erudite musings on subjects ranging from wine to Egyptian culture.
El Espectador can also be seen as a significant point of departure in Ortega’s longitudinal development as a thinker. The year 1923, in which he founded Revista de Occidente (Western review), is sometimes identified as the point at which Ortega moved from being a Spanish writer largely concerned with national issues to being a “European” philosopher more interested in commenting upon universal themes. If this is indeed the case, then El Espectador, especially its first three, more conscientiously crafted volumes (published in 1916, 1917, and 1921) should be seen as a precursor to the author’s later, universalist production, for it was there that he first openly sought to transcend his devotion to political thought which is, in contrast to theoretical speculation, “located in the realm of man’s secondary spiritual activities.”
El Espectador: Colección de ensayos filosóficos y literarios, 8 vols., 1916–34; in 1 vol., 1943; vols. 2–3 of Ortega y Gasset’s Obras completas, 1957; selections edited by Gaspar Gómez de la Serna, 1969, and Paulino Garragorri, 1980
Gaos, José, Sobre Ortega y Gasset y otros trabajos de historia de las ideas en España y la América Española, Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1957
Niedermayer, Franz, José Ortega y Gasset, New York: Ungar, 1973 (original German edition, 1959)
Ouimette, Victor, José Ortega y Gasset, Boston: Twayne, 1982
Romano García, Vicente, José Ortega y Gasset, publicista, Madrid: Akal, 1976
Saiz Barberá, Juan, Ortega y Gasset ante la crítica: El idealismo en “El Espectador”, Madrid: Iberoamericanas, 1950
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