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opinion
Text in which the author defends ideas and reaches conclusions based on his / her interpretation of facts and data

Alert, safe and sound

In the field of the arts and journalism this is turning out to be a bad year, particularly in Spain

Javier Marías

Superstition suggests that it is because of the number 13, but lots of good people died before this year 2013 began. The stoic will say it is just a "bad run of luck" or, even more stoically, "shit happens."

True, we all take particular notice of the casualties in our own walk of life. I open the obituary section, and when I see there is no one there I know (they are all businessmen or physicists I have never heard of) I turn in relief to the sports pages, or whatever. But the reader whose life has been in business or physics will feel it as a loss, though he may not have personally known the departed.

In the field of the arts and journalism this is turning out to be a bad year, particularly in Spain. Of course there are people whose obituary perplexes us, because we imagined they were dead long ago, or half-dead. This is the case of the teenage actress Deanna Durbin, famous in the days of my parents, or of Esther Williams, the synchronized swimmer who starred in some movies of my childhood and hadn't been heard from in centuries. Others pass away "logically," at advanced ages, such as Stéphane Hessel and José Luis Sampedro. Even so, these two happened to die now, when they might have darkened other years with their passing. Others were also old, but not all that old: Sarah Montiel, Georges Moustaki, Elías Querejeta, Fernando Guillén, María Asquerino and many others - a surprising number. And some were even younger: Esther Tusquets, Bigas Luna, the admirable James Gandolfini, Concha García Campoy. And Jérôme Savary, and Ray Manzarek of the Doors. In the world of letters and showbusiness it has been an ongoing catastrophe.

I am not inclined to superstition, or to stoic chaos theories about bad runs of luck

At the personal level, matters are no better. All you can hope for is that they won't be too close to you. But who doesn't keep receiving news of this or that acquaintance who has disappeared from the face of the earth, sometimes most unexpectedly, or has had a stroke or a heart attack, and was, or remains, at death's door?

I am not inclined to superstition, or to stoic chaos theories about bad runs of luck. And the Italian proverb "piove, porco governo" (it's raining - damned government) is only an amusing hyperbole. But it's tempting to believe that the bad economic and political situation in which we have been immersed for too many years now - which our governments, far from alleviating, are aggravating on purpose - has something to do with it, some influence. Disillusionment diminishes vitality, lowers our defenses. Without our even noticing, it detracts from our will to fight and live. It exhausts us, consumes our strength. Worries and fears make us weaker - no doubt about this - and the absence of hope dampens our fires.

It is odd that so many people have died in Spain from the world of cinema and theater, just when the Rajoy government throttled off the industry's funds. In Margarethe von Trotta's recent film Hannah Arendt, the philosopher explains to her students the worst perversion of the Nazis: to make people - Jews particularly, but not necessarily - believe they were superfluous, that their work served for nothing, though they had to go on doing it. Nothing undermines your energies like this: to feel useless, unproductive, unnecessary, superfluous, dispensable, a hindrance. To feel that your own disappearance would be unimportant, even beneficial.

That must be the feeling of the millions of long-term unemployed in Spain, the young people who leave the country, the elderly "dependents" who no longer receive support, the pensioners who notice the politicians' desire for them to hurry up and disappear from the scene. Also people whose profession is treated as a luxury or vanity (including scientists and researchers). As for literature and the arts, those who illegally download books, films, songs - with the connivance of this cowardly government - contribute to the depression of those of us who produce these things. What a bummer. I write all this not to depress you, but to keep you alert, and safe and sound, to come back from vacation with body and soul.

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