critical theory

critical theory
   Critical theory in Spain can be divided into two interrelated areas: academic criticism as developed in the universities, and criticism disseminated by the mass media. Academic criticism has moved from structuralist models, which concentrate on analysing the distinctive properties of literary language and the literary text, towards a conception of the text as a communicative act, with consequent emphasis on reception theory and pragmatics, that is, the total context in which communication occurs. The effects of this shift can be seen both in the teaching of language and literature from the early years of schooling and in the consumer behaviour of readers of the literary supplements of the major newspapers, which have a considerable influence on publishers" sales figures.
   The history of modern critical theory in Spain begins with Ortega y Gasset's The Dehumanization of Art (La deshumanización del arte) (1925), which has had a profound influence both on criticism and on creative writing. This essay, which emphasized the distance between avant-garde works and the general public, was interpreted by the "Generation of 1927" (Lorca, Cernuda, Aleixandre, Guillén and Dámaso Alonso) as providing the theoretical base for a highly formalist type of literature, elitist and inaccessible, akin to surrealism and indebted to the "pure poetry" of Juan Ramón Jiménez. In the halfcentury to 1970, successive generations of critics, often themselves creative writers, made a huge contribution to elucidating this literature and contemporary literature in general. Highly-trained in stylistic and historical methods, they strove, often successfully, to break down the dichotomy between the formal and historical aspects, and between the stylistic and semantic dimensions of the literary work. Dámaso Alonso, like so many of his generation a poet as well as a critic, and trained in the tradition of Saussure and Bally, provides the reader, by means of a descriptive analysis of the stylistic resources of a given text, with a convincing interpretation of the work being studied, whether difficult classics like the seventeenth-century poet Góngora, or those included in his Poetas españoles contemporáneos (Contemporary Spanish Poets) (1958). Carlos Bousoño, also a poet, though of a younger generation, is the author of a fundamental critical study which became an essential text for students of literature. His Teoría de la expresión poética (Theory of Poetic Expression) analyses, from a phenomenological perspective, the most apparently obscure Spanish poetry, from St John of the Cross to the twentieth century, in an attempt to discover its interpretative codes. These critics enjoyed the advantage of wide erudition, which enabled some of them, from the 1940s on, to evolve towards structuralist, semiotic or readerreception approaches, notably Alarcos Llorach, Lázaro Carreter and Senabre.
   In the latter part of the twentieth century, critical theory has considerably broadened its scope. Academic critics, traditionally contemptuous of literary journalism, have gradually begun to write for the supplements of newspapers like ABC, El País and La Vanguardia. These publications have acquired increasing importance, and have tended to blur the division between academic criticism and what Northrop Frye called "public criticism". This type of journalistic criticism, however, often serves the interests of publishing houses, and in many instances critic and publisher are one and the same person, which is not conducive to impartial judgement.
   Spain has a dearth of weeklies similar to those in France, Britain and America, which keep the general reader informed about literature. It is true that there are Spanish literary reviews, but their commercial life is precarious, and they often depend for their survival on institutional subsidy. There is no Spanish equivalent of The Times Literary Supplement or The London Review of Books, though the Barcelona-based Lateral, or Libros, in Madrid, try to fill the gap, even adopting the layout of their British counterparts. Cultural programmes on television are largely relegated to minority viewing time. The novelist Javier Marías has lamented the fact that Spain has no critic who can fulfil the role of national arbiter of taste, such as George Steiner in Britain. One possible explanation is that, both in critical theory and in creative writing, Spain has progressed too rapidly from being pre-modern to being postmodern.
   With some differences of detail, critical theory is in a similar situation in Catalonia. After a long period when the language was suppressed, quality publications, especially Serra d'Or, began to appear in the late 1950s, with extensive sections devoted to Catalan culture, as well as discussion of the latest international trends in literary theory. Gabriel Ferrater, an academic and poet, contributed articles to this journal in which he provided a sound, modern critical framework for new writing in Catalan, refreshingly free from self-indulgent historicism. Departments of Catalan Literature continued to expand, some outside the Catalan-speaking regions. Side by side with academic publications, new literary reviews appeared, such as Lletra de canvi. Within Catalonia, and, on a more modest scale, in Valencia and the Balearic Islands, the press published weekly literary supplements containing reviews and analyses of the latest literary and artistic production, as well as redis-coveries of the literature of the past, which helped to normalize the discussion of Catalan literature. Catalan television also has programmes on literature and the arts.
   Writing in Basque and Galician is on a more limited scale. In the late 1960s, a Galician magazine, Grial, became a focus for the revival of Galician culture. Critical writing, however, tends to be generally impressionistic.
   Further reading
   - Casado, M. et al. (1995) Ínsula, pp. 587–8(the whole double issue is an interesting monograph on recent development in the field of Spanish literary criticism).
   - Labany, J. (1995) "Literary Experiment and Cultural Cannibalization", in H.Graham and J. Labanyi (eds) Spanish Cultural Studies: an Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press (provides a good resume of literary experimentation since the late 1950s, linked to Critical Theory).
   - Schneider, M.J. and Stern, I. (eds) (1988). Modern Spanish and Portuguese Literatures, New York: Continuum (summary of criticism on Castilian, Catalan, Galician and Basque writers; the introduction provides a useful panorama of twentieth-century Spanish criticism).

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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