Intellectual distraction

It is not fair to say that Spain’s intelligentsia has been asleep on the watch as boom turned to bust

Some weeks ago, in the magazine Qué leer, I read an interview with Antonio Muñoz Molina, where he said about the crisis: "Though it was clear enough what was coming, almost nobody, except [EL PAÍS cartoonist] El Roto, warned us of it," and "When I speak of the loss of the critical spirit, I refer to my distracted colleagues." I did not want to jump to any negative conclusions on the strength of a single article, but some days later he was back at it in another interview: "The only really committed intellectual in Spain in 2007 was El Roto." He added that, researching his recent book, he had delved extensively in newspaper archives before arriving at this judgment.

Muñoz Molina, needless to say, includes himself among these distracted intellectuals, and this may be. I have the feeling he has spent years writing mainly about art shows in New York, photographers and jazz players. This is all very well, and I would never think of holding it against him, particularly as he spends half his time in New York. It is odd, however, that he allows himself the liberty of offending all of his "colleagues" with remarks that at worst are false and unfair, and at best an exaggeration.

Muñoz Molina is a sworn foe of the groundless cliché, and in these interviews explodes a couple of them: the Two Spains, and the inevitability of the Civil War. Yet he now parrots one of the most notoriously false ones thick in the air of late, heard from voices of both left and right, about the "silence of the intellectuals" in modern Spain. We all admire El Roto's talent and capacity for synthesis; but his genre is the cartoon — a short verbal-visual capsule of thought, unfailingly on target, but lacking in argumentation.

And argumentation is the province of many contributors to this newspaper, from Josep Ramoneda to Elvira Lindo - among whom this author hopes to be ranked. We may like them more or less, and some of them we may find detestable or demagogic, but what cannot be said is that they lack "commitment." That is, that they failed to warn of the building rackets of developers and local and regional politicians, the property speculation, the degradation of the land, the megalomania of regional governments, the irresponsible waste, the corruption and the deterioration of the tone of politics from debate to knife-fight. As for my own articles, among many others between 1995 and 2009, the first that comes to mind is one titled The villains of the nation, in which I applied this term to builders, mayors and regional politicians. Has there, then, been only one lone ranger, "El Roto, an island of lucidity who showed us, day after day, abusive sprawl development, corruption and injustice," in Muñoz Molina's words?

In opinion polls on the confidence inspired by different groups or institutions, the "intellectuals" (whenever such questionnaires deign to mention them) score fairly highly. Most intellectuals, I think, have not remained silent. The style may be weak, but the spirit is willing. And under the present government, critics stand ever more exposed to petty reprisals and revilement in the rightwing press. The actress Maribel Verdú came in for a storm of verbal abuse, even on front pages, for speaking out at the Goyas award ceremony against the injustice of foreclosure evictions — an opinion shared by some 90 percent of the population. Of course, the chance to adorn your front page with her photogenic face must be counted among the average editor's motivations, whatever you say about her. When some months ago I declined a prize from the Culture Ministry — taking care to point out that I would do the same if the Socialists were governing - a rightwing paper regaled me with no less than three articles loaded with abuse that was worthy of a suit for slander. Muñoz Molina, too, has come in for his share of the same. He should go back to the archives and see whether his "colleagues" have, all these years, been entirely devoid of "critical spirit."