Ángel Ganivet’s suicide at the age of 32 brought to an abrupt close the development of an innovative writer and thinker. Although necessarily limited in number, his publications had a significant impact on his contemporaries and on the development of the essay in Spain. His writings challenge the established generic borders in keeping with turn-of-the-century experimentation with limits and traditional definitions. He combines the essay and the epistolary form in Cartas finlandesas (1898; Letters from Finland) and in the posthumous El porvenir de España (1912; The future of Spain), and takes the hybrid form of travel essay and social commentary in a second posthumous work, Hombres del norte (1905; Men from the north). Ganivet writes from the stance of an outsider, analyzing Spain from his diplomatic residences in Finland and Belgium and critiquing European culture from his vantage point as a Spaniard with ties to Africa and Latin America. In his bestknown essay, Idearium español (1897; Spain: An Interpretation), Ganivet breaks with the prevailing rationalist, scientific perspective to analyze the history and future of Spain by means of a new multivoiced, contradictory, and subjective discourse.
Spain: An Interpretation and Ganivet’s other essays incorporate a multitude of competing voices and discourses that represent the tensions marking Spain and the rest of the world in the transition from traditional to modern society. His texts introduce terms and arguments drawn from 19th-century debates over Catholicism, positivism, imperialism, and rationalism and interweave them in a complex discursive play that undermines and redefines tradition while suggesting new forms of thinking and writing.
The text speaker in Spain: An Interpretation appropriates a positivist, determinist characterization of nations according to their geographic identification as island, peninsula, or continent, but then deconstructs the stability of these classifications by pointing out that Spain, a peninsula, has erroneously adopted behaviors appropriate to an island nation. In a similar vein, the speaker continuously invokes history and the 19thcentury notion of historical determinism, only to subvert it by suggesting that Spain’s past was an error, a deviation from its true nature. The present does not mirror the past or develop naturally from it, but rather confronts it as an alien other.
Ganivet’s texts display a disjunctive vision of history, as a process marked by violent shifts and discontinuity. This view coincides with a repudiation of rationalism and the adoption of a style that eschews a logical development of ideas and a clear exposition of thought. Ganivet’s essays privilege a nonlinear exposition, with no clear declaration of purpose and constant changes in topic without prior explanation. The various sections of Idearium español have no titles and no clear section or subsection divisions. The narrator repeatedly verbalizes a lack of concern with consistency and logic and expresses a preference for “ideas redondas” (round ideas) over “ideas picudas” (sharp, pointed ideas). The latter are defined as categorical, with no contradictions and no shading, and consequently lead to conflict and disagreement, while round ideas allow for the fusion of opposites and welcome paradoxical overlappings and irregularities, creating possibilities for love and union. The acceptance and even cultivation of contradiction produces texts that defy definition and force the reader to suspend judgment and adopt an open and flexible position.
Attempts to define a clearly delineated ideological posture in Ganivet’s essays fail in the face of a purposeful irrationalism and consistent shifts in position. For some readers, the repudiation of positivism, capitalism, and Kantian pure reason reflects the failure of the Enlightenment to take root in Spain and leads to an antirational stance bordering on fascism. However, Ganivet’s redefinitions of history and his insistent rejection of a logic that justifies injustice and of a capitalism that promotes war can also be read as an answer to the crisis of modernity that continues to find voice in contemporary thought.
Furthermore, his unrelenting attack on imperialism and respect for different cultures and values anticipate late 20th-century views. During the height of the Cuban struggle to win independence from Spain and during the years when European imperialist dominance over Africa and Asia were viewed as proof of Western superiority over the rest of the world, Ganivet’s writings proposed new, nonimperialist forms of leadership. Idearium español argues that the greatness of a nation does not depend on territorial extension, and calls on Spain to initiate a new postcolonial order that is without precedent in world history. The text speaker makes use of nationalistic discourse in order to combat it, calling on national pride but toward a new end.
The essays of Ángel Ganivet offer new modalities of thinking and writing. His texts evade clear categorization in keeping with his rejection of 19th-century rationalist and scientific discourse and thought. The organization of ideas follows a circular pattern, with the reintroduction of previously mentioned ideas, but with significant (albeit subtle) variations. Through a complex interweaving of inherited discourse and modern variations, Ganivet’s essays seek to rewrite the past and create new forms of cultural coexistence.
MARY LEE BRETZ
Born 13 December 1865 in Granada. Studied at the Institute of Granada, 1880–85; University of Granada, degrees in the arts, 1888, and law, 1890; University of Madrid, Ph.D. in philosophy, 1890. Liaison with Amelia Roldán Llanos, from 1892: one daughter (died in infancy) and one son. Vice consul in Antwerp, 1891–96; consul in Helsinki, 1896–98, and Riga, Latvia, 1898. Died (suicide by drowning) near Riga, 29 November
Essays and Related Prose
Granada la bella, 1896; edited by Antonio Gallego y Burín, 1954
Idearium español, 1897; edited by E.Inman Fox, 1990; as Spain: An Interpretation, translated by J.R.Carey, 1946
Cartas finlandesas, edited by Nicolás M.López, 1898
Libro de Granada (includes poetry), 1899
Hombres del norte, 1905
El porvenir de España (open newspaper letters), with Miguel de Unamuno, 1912
Other writings: two novels, a verse play, and correspondence.
Collected works editions: Obras completas, 10 vols., 1923–30; edited by Melchor Fernández Almagro, 2 vols., 1943.
Gallego Morell, Antonio, Estudios y textos ganivetianos, Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 1971:183–214
Baquero Goyanes, Mariano, Temas, formas y tonos literarios, Madrid: Prensa Española, 1972
Fernández Almagro, Melchor, Vida y obra de Ángel Ganivet, Valencia: Sempere, 1925
Gallego Morell, Antonio, Ángel Ganivet, el excéntrico del 98, Granada: Albaicín, 1965
Ginsberg, Judith, Ángel Ganivet, London: Tamesis, 1985
Herrero, Javier, Ángel Ganivet, un ilutninado, Madrid: Gredos, 1966
Olmedo Moreno, Miguel, El pensamiento de Ganivet., Madrid: Revista de Occidente, 1965
Ramsden, Herbert, Ángel Ganivet’s “Idearium español”: A Critical Study, Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 1967
Ramsden, Herbert, The 1898 Movement in Spain: Towards a Reinterpretation, with Special Reference to “En torno al casticismo” and “Idearium español”, Manchester: University of Manchester Press, and Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman and Littlefield, 1974
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