Journal of Catalan Studies/Revista Internacional de Catalanisme


[Ressenyes / Reviews]

Another Country: Sexuality and National Identity in Catalan Gay Fiction
portada.jpg
Dr David Vilaseca
Royal Holloway
University of London

FERNNDEZ, Josep-Anton, Another Country: Sexuality and National Identity in Catalan Gay Fiction, Leeds: Maney Publishing for the Modern Humanities Research Association, 2000, 240 pp., ISBN: 1-902653-26-2

This is an excellent and groundbreaking book on the complex relation between the representations of homosexual desire and the discourses on national identity in Catalan gay fiction in the late 1960s and 1970s. Josep-Anton Fernndez argues that there is a tension between the nation and the body in Catalan literature: on the one hand, a nation under construction which monopolises political discourse and, on the other hand, a heterogeneous body whose desires pose a permanent threat to any essentialising or naturalising notions of national identity. In this context, the 1960's and 1970's witness the emergence of a sophisticated body of gay fiction in Catalunya whose main challenges can be summarised as follows: a) how to renegotiate the discourses on identity of the Catalan literary institution from the standpoint of a dissident, hitherto excluded homosexual identity; b) how to open up alternatives for canon construction in Catalan literature (and how to construct a discursive position for gay authors within the canon); and c) how to produce a set of alternative narratives of identity beyond those on nation-building and cultural 'normalization' that may lead to a politics of national/sexual liberation and social change. Fernndez's study, which does not aim to be exhaustive, centres on four representative authors whose work was either published during the 1960s and 1970s or thematically centred on this period: Terenci Moix, Llus Fernndez, Biel Mesquida, and Llus Maria Tod. Fernndez's impressive theoretical knowledge spans from psychoanalytic criticism (Freud, Deleuze and Guattari...) to cultural and social theory (Foucault, Anderson, Huyssen, Bourdieu, among others).

No short review could do justice to such an original and searching book. By way of an example, however, I will attempt to summarise Fernndez's argument on Terenci Moix, which to my knowledge constitutes the most convincing reading of this author to date. Moix, the first openly gay Catalan author, occupies a 'no man's land' in the Catalan cultural institution (p.74). On the one hand, by focusing on the excluded role of homosexuality, the novelist rewrites the history of modern Catalunya against both the official version of Francoism and the para-official yet subaltern version of Catalan nationalism. Moreover, on the other hand, Moix performed a cultural strategy that aimed at blurring the boundaries between high-brow and mass culture, actively participating in the process of canon formation and thereby constructing a legitimate position for gay authors in the Catalan literary institution (p.131). The notion of a 'perverse strategy' -which Fernndez coins by giving a Freudian turn to Bourdieu- is here of the essence. Moix's strategy within the precarious Catalan cultural field is 'perverse' inasmuch as he chose to subject himself to the discipline of canon constitution in an attempt to subvert the Catalan institution from within (p.88). Fellow gay authors Llus Fernndez and Biel Mesquida, on the contrary, rejected Moix's politics of 'perverse compromise' in favour of a more radically anti-establishment and transgressive position, but because this was immediately rewarded with marginalisation, they (Fernndez claims) were ultimately less successful than Moix in achieving a positive change in the Catalan literary game (p.184). On this point, Fernndez's take on the cultural field becomes slightly 'prescriptive' to the detriment of the complexity of his own argument, and more consideration might perhaps have been given to the fact that 'strategic success' (in Catalan as in any other cultural field) is as volatile and historically-specific a concept as any other.

The fascinating vision of a social field traversed by antagonism and where the stakes of definitional control (on sexual as well as on national and literary matters) are high is probably where the broader theoretical implications of Fernndez's study have to be sought. The book ends with an appeal to 'queer nationalism' in which the different strategies of the above mentioned authors are recuperated towards a 'postmodern gay politics in Catalonia' (p.9). Far from being a 'limit', Fernndez claims, such a nationalism would be the starting point of a Catalan culture 'ready to articulate itself and make alliances with the minorities within itself'; a nationalism 'where fixed subjects disappear giving rise to a multiplicity of fluid identities', and where (away from the discourse of cultural 'normalisation') Catalunya might become 'a heterogeneous space whose imagined boundaries are open to renegotiation' (p.185). The critical challenges posed by this book to Catalan literary and cultural studies constitute a much welcome contribution towards this crucial end.