“Let the English keep Cervantes; they will treat him better”

Writers deplore lack of initiatives on 400th anniversary of ‘Don Quixote’ creator’s death

Jesús Ruiz Mantilla
Actor Fernando Rey playing the role of Don Quixote in the same-name television series.
Actor Fernando Rey playing the role of Don Quixote in the same-name television series.

Spanish writers are reacting with indignation at the lack of cultural initiatives to observe the 400th anniversary of the death of Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote.

“All the recent Spanish governments have been contemptuous of culture, but the current one is downright aggressive towards it” - Arturo Pérez Reverte

One month into 2016, a committee that was created specifically to draft proposals for the Year of Cervantes has yet to announce any initiatives.

The delays and lack of ambition in the drafting of a yearlong program of activities have drawn criticism from leading contemporary authors and members of the Spanish Royal Academy.

Arturo Pérez Reverte, writer and RAE member

“All the recent Spanish governments have been contemptuous of culture, but the current one is downright aggressive toward it.”

Javier Marías, writer and RAE member

Javier Marías.
Javier Marías.Gorka Lejarcegi

“A few weeks ago I wrote an article called Reino de los muertos (Kingdom of the dead). In it, I deplored the oblivion and ungratefulness with which Spain has treated its top figures, most particularly those who are dead. It doesn’t surprise me. In recent times, none of the political parties that ran in elections ever talked about culture. The way Cervantes is being ignored may have to do with the fact that there have been several commemorations already, although they went by mostly unnoticed. In the 1980s and 1990s, it looked like we were going to pay more attention to these issues, but I see now that we are back to a disdainful, oblivious and injurious attitude, and most particularly in the last four years, to a hostility towards the world of culture that is only comparable to the one experienced under Franco. I can’t fully figure out why that is.”

Andrés Trapiello, writer

Andrés Trapiello.
Andrés Trapiello.Efe

“Besides the indecency of our leaders, it is quite a symptom in a country that seems more keen on self-destruction than on self-construction. But it also reflects a Center for Sociology Research survey from 2015 that revealed that only two out of every 10 Spaniards admit to having read Don Quixote. The last major celebrations of his work were held 100 years ago, when it was part of national life. In Britain, Shakespeare is present at schools, in theaters, and presented in a modern language, whereas in Spain [Cervantes] is a far-off figure to our contemporaries. Instead of digging out his bones, we should be paying more attention to his work, which is what is really alive.”

Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón, filmmaker, writer and RAE member

Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón.
Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón.Gorka Lejarcegi

“I learned through EL PAÍS that the Cervantes commemoration project is still in its infancy. The truth is, at this point I trust more in the initiatives of teachers than in anything else. That is how we all began reading Don Quixote, slowly and affectionately: thanks to our teachers. In recent times there seems to be a persecution of the humanities and of in-depth teaching. What do you want me to say? This sort of homage should be held every day, not just during a short-lived celebration. Probably it would be best to enlist the help of the public broadcaster. Does it still exist?

Soledad Puértolas, writer and RAE member

“It is a sign of our inability to have cultural and economic vision. Firstly, we are a country that has been unable to guide education and culture through the right channels. But we have also been unable to draw any financial benefit from this celebration. There is a lot of short-sightedness on these issues. Creatively, compared to Shakespeare, he represents the end of an era for the English language, whereas with Spanish, it marks the beginning of a whole new narrative era on a universal scale.”

Javier Cercas, writer

Javier Cercas
Javier CercasConsuelo Bautista

“Like any other person with any sense, I don’t think that, in Spain, these things serve the purpose that they are meant to serve. If they had to help in any way, the delay seems normal to me: it is just an example of the contempt that the elites of the era felt for Cervantes, and more particularly for Don Quixote. This has cleared up something for me. I often wondered whether we Spaniards really deserve Cervantes. Now I know that we don’t. What’s more: let the English keep him, I say; they will treat him better. I would prefer that. It was them who placed value on Don Quixote in the first place, and used it as a reference for what they consider to be the first modern novel.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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