From the "Rexurdimento" to the "Xeración Nós". Language, Literature, Identity (1863-1936)

The approval of the first Galician Statute of Autonomy implied the official recognition of Galician language. Commemorative poster by Seoane.

The role of literature has a huge relevance just like most initiatives to promote a culture and a language. Galician literature of the 19th century found its greatest examples in the “Rexurdimento”, where figures such as Rosalía de Castro managed to give our letters a universal dimension. The “costumista” (a literary trend that concentrated on regional traditions and customs) and folkloric tendencies of this movement evolved during the end of the century towards a need to convert Galician into the language of all artistic and cultural expression. The “Xeración Nós” (Nós Generation), whose aim was the modernization of the language, would rise up as the nucleus for the defense of Galician in the first years of the 20th century.
Summary
  1. Literature and the Rebirth of Galician
  2. The First Distinguished Galicians
  3. Towards a “Modern” Literature
  4. The “Xeración Nós”

1. Literature and the Rebirth of Galician

The promoters of Galician, as is the case with the forerunners of most of the movements of national affirmation in the 19th century, cited literature as the key to the “resurgence” of the language and identity of Galicia. This is easy to explain. From a linguistic point of view, literary creations offer cultured idiomatic and textual models, together with examples of perfected, complex and innovative expressions. These creations represent vital rapprochement for the necessary adaptation of a language to the Zeitgeist, or mentality of each historical age. With regards to reaching language awareness, literature contributes to the prestige of a language as it is held in high cultural esteem. When mentioning the role of the “fine arts” in the production of a collective identity, one must remember that literary works that attain fame and wide dissemination contribute to the creation of a shared imaginary group and stimulate sentimental solidarity amongst readers. The writers make up a Parnassus that provokes the admiration (and sometimes even the devotion) of cultured people, and as such they make up a noticeable bulk of the Pantheon of national celebrities, a fundamental element in stimulating the feeling of belonging to a group. For instance, can we think of an average educated British citizen who is not proud of the works of Shakespeare?

2. The First Distinguished Galicians

Galician literature of the “Rexurdimento” created long-lasting texts and icons of enormous popularity. Books such as Cantares Gallegos, Aires da mina terra and O catecismo do labrego became very popular and their contents were learnt by heart by many Galicians of all social classes. Figures such as Rosalía de Castro, Manuel Curros Enríquez and Valentín Lamas Carvajal entered the pantheon of distinguished Galicians before such a thing even existed in physical form and before it was defined as an imaginary space.

3. Towards a “Modern” Literature

From the middle of the 19th century, above all from the wonderful decade of 1880-90, Galician exercised its poetic cultivation and began incursions into other dramatic and narrative genres, although it was always limited to themes related to history or customs. By 1915, it was widely felt that such a limited cultivation of the language would not be enough to pull it out of its inferiority and push it into the modernity, which although precarious, was starting to take a strong hold on Galicia. Galician had to come into the cities, it had to be heard in the public circle of the ever-growing middle-class and urban society, it had to become a modern language, that is to say, a national language. The need to use it in conferences, solemn civic and scholarly acts, as well as in political meetings was pressing. This was also the case with newspapers, magazines and pamphlets. Literature was still essential but poetry was not as important as testing the language in the expression of the conflicts and the labyrinths of contemporary thought, through the narrative and the essay. Humanistic knowledge (history, philology, ethnography) now became “national” knowledge, they became instruments in the construction of Galicia as a nation.

4. The “Xeración Nós”

The “Xeración Nós” left figures, texts and images that have lasted in the collective memory: Castelao, Ramón Otero Pedrayo, Vicente Risco, Cousas, Retrincos, Sempre en Galiza, Os camiños da vida, Arredor de si, Ensaio histórico sobre a cultura galega, Teoría do nacionalismo galego, O porco de pé... The themes of pre-war Galician essay writing are related to the concept of Galicia as a nation, based on the pillars of the “Xeración Nós”: history, landscape, language, the Galician character (sentimentality, humor, loneliness). These would be the topics that were re-established, when historic circumstances permitted (the first years of the 1950s), by the bridge-generation that set the Galaxia project in motion, a venture that would ensure that the fragile continuous line of a self-centered culture, expressed in the language of the culture, would not be broken. It was here that the survivors of the defeat in 1936, a few Galician youngsters and other inexperienced writers met with new intellectual and literary figures that were beginning to flourish in the decade of the 1950s and 60s.