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Miguel Angel Elkoroberezibar Larraņaga > Extracts

Essay (literary and non-literary)

2004 | Gipuzkoako Foru Aldundia / Koldo Mitxelena Kulturunea


Once one has reached normality, one should throw away the ladder after climbing up it. That is the advice of the philosopher Wittgenstein is, yet not long ago J. Azurmendi warned us about the danger in doing so. Each rung of the ladder has its own particular history and so that the ladder can once again be a useful tool for those who come afterwards, it is advisable that we should retrieve its memory by reconstructing the tracks of the steps taken. For years I have been taking a careful look at many literary magazine-ladders that have been the platform for literary activity and the testing ground and means of expression for up-and-coming (but not necessarily young) writers; on occasions I have seen ladders standing up without any assistance, other times propped up against a wall; some lying on the ground, dumped and forgotten, and always passed on by hand. In the course of time they have acquired different shapes and forms, depending on the participants, and have fallen into many different hands. In the following lines I shall be taking a special look at the most significant Basque literary magazines that arose during the transition [following Franco's demise in 1975] from Panpina Ustela onwards. Up until the start of what had been called the "boom" in literary magazines, this magazine broke with what had hitherto existed, after having thrown the social ladder that lay in the attic out of the window and turning its back on the shadow of our father's house. I shall be giving special attention to three of them, because they symbolised the dissidence of those decades and the first letter in the avant-garde alphabet of Basque literature: so "A", just as K. Izagirre specified in his first book of poems in 1976, "is the ladder to empty out the forgotten sea". The magazines Ustela, Pott and Oh! Euzkadi<7i> could constitute "the supports of that triangle" of modern Basque literature's "snowy summit devoid of its flag".

(...)

Early in 1974 there was a kind of debate in the magazine Anaitasuna on the scarcity at the time of magazines by "Basque literary people" and what such publications should be like in the future. Perugorria spoke thus: "This is what I am proposing: the creation of a publication that is literary (in the strictest sense of the word), and one which would publish works of literary creation on the one hand, and critical commentary and research work, on the other. In my view, a Basque writers' association should produce this literary magazine internally itself. (Why not under the auspices of the Euskaltzaindia-Academy of the Basque Language?) It should be a publication with a wide-ranging, progressive leaning, a means of expression for today's Basque movement and one which could one day turn into the magazine of the avant-garde. That way we would be able to take a colossal step: we young literature enthusiasts would have something to read and somewhere to write." (The EIE-Basque Writers' Association was not officially set up until 1982 and its magazine Hegats was not published until 1989). In this connection, according to R. Saizarbitoria, a leading light in the literature of the time, "the clogs had to be removed" from Basque culture "so that it could be shod in deep-red moccasins". An elite was to emerge in the world of culture and literature and its aim was to create an avant-garde within the Basque language. However, "people did not read. Very few people read at that time and our work was of symbolic value more than anything else. Our works were not written in the hope that they would be read. The aim was to fill a gap. (...) Our aim was: let us establish that symbolic value and let us create avant-garde literature. (ā) It was a question of demonstrating that Basque culture was modern or that it could be at least. To provide the Basque language with modernity and prestige."

Until the end of the year J. Altzibar and P. Kortabarria continued to discuss an appropriate model for Basque magazines. J. Azurmendi took up the cause early in 1975 in the Zeruko Argia magazine by showing a very different trend. "Magazines needed to be easy and entertaining" so that people would read them; "but the atmosphere may have been mostly one that opposed easy literature. In other words, those responsible for literary production -the writers themselves, publishers as well as publications- had to work in a confusing atmosphere that was against easy literature. (ā) We will not enjoy a flourishing literary era until we have flourishing networks of influence. In other words, without a large quantity of modest, sufficiently distinct literature that can be effective, it is not possible to be a good literary person when each one needs to invent even the smallest thing. On the other hand, the creator needs a material that he or she does not need to create: an established language. The fact is any creation constitutes nothing more than change". In a similar editorial published at the same time the Zeruko Argia people also agreed: "It is up to magazines more than anything else to raise the country's level of culture. A book tends to be for more cultivated readers. (...) We have to produce readable magazines." The following week J. Azurmendi was digging in his heels: "In the name of highbrow literature we are suffocating the entertainment side. Indeed, in this atmosphere who will dare to be normal? An ordinary man, an author who writes an ordinary book, an ordinary critic? Here there is an obligation to be perfect."

It was no coincidence that these opinion articles should appear in February of 1975, because only a few weeks before that a "Magazine of Literature (in the strictest sense of the word) and of the Avant-garde" was published adopting a new model, nine months after Perugorria's article appeared. For this purpose, the two legs of the magazine ladder were to unite around Donostia (San Sebastian) in 1974, but not "in some brothel, for example, as a customer of a new Vicky Ainhoa or Raimonde; (ā) it was prison and not a brothel that brought Atxaga and Izagirre together"; prison was, quite by chance, the meeting place for so many people at that time. One of the two was in Martutene prison and the other one's brother was there, too. And they began to plan the revolution.


(...)

In January 1975 21-year-old K. Izagirre and 23-year-old B. Atxaga published a "marginal, suggestive, transforming magazine", which, in the words of I. Sarasola, was to mark the beginnings of underground literature in the Basque Country, and which would bring avant-gardism and transgression; "I met Atxaga and, anyway, he's nuts. He said we had to produce a magazine, he said he had the cash, and, to hell with it, let's get going, and that's how we published Panpina Ustela. And he gave us a joint. I got the insults to the church bit, irreverence or whatever. And the other guys got the institutions of the Spanish State, anyway the police raided it, we appeared in court and then got an amnesty." "I think Izagirre was the first Basque-speaking literature devotee I had ever met; a literature devotee, in the modern sense of the word. (ā) In those early days at least I found a partner in Izagirre. He was a young guy, but I was amazed at how well he mastered the language as a tool and how brilliant he was at poetry. That is how the Ustela magazine was born."

The pessimism of those dark days was reflected not only in the magazine's front cover, but also in the articles and illustrations inside ("The night is lying face down and the stars are no longer the traffic lights of dreams, but freckles on the face of darkness." (K. Izagirre). The front cover, on the one hand, had the touch of Lou Reed's 1972 record Transformer, heralding punk aesthetics and the fanzine forms, which were to follow later; on the other hand, the image of the character in it could express unease, impotence, the stifled scream; exactly one year later, in January 1976, the same front cover image appeared next to a letter that appeared in the clandestine magazine Hitz of Baiona (Bayonne) and which had been written by a prisoner to denounce the dire situation at the prison of Puerto de Santa Maria [Cadiz, Spain]. One can pick out the "No future" flag: B. Atxaga ends his Antzerti minimum bat with the words "We are nothing, we are no one". This reminds us to a certain extent of the "Manifestu Atzeratua" published for the first time by J. Azurmendi in Olerti magazine, which was also censored in the 1971 collection of poems, Hitz Berdeak.
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