The End Again
Degeneration and Visual Culture in Modern Spain
Oscar E. Vázquez
The End Again
Degeneration and Visual Culture in Modern Spain
Oscar E. VázquezWinner of the 2018 Eleanor Tufts Award from the American Society for Hispanic Art Historical Studies
“The End Again presents a rich body of new material on Spanish art and visual culture. By placing this work in conversation with the fields of medicine, psychiatry, anthropology, sociology, and criminology, Oscar Vázquez broadens our understanding of how the concept of degeneration functioned in Spain and, by extension, Europe more broadly at the turn of the twentieth century. I love this book!”
- Table of Contents
- Sample Chapters
Oscar E. Vázquez examines how painting, sculpture, drawing, and popular illustrated materials approached “endings” and “beginnings” during the Bourbon monarchy’s restoration. Throughout this period, people inside and outside the art world came to associate degeneration with certain types of artistic productions, spaces, and human bodies, imbuing them with backwardness, violence, criminality, and disease. Pictorial representations contributed to this understanding that specific things, actions, attitudes, and ways of being were degenerative and backward or, alternatively, regenerative and modern. Vázquez explores the significance of these disparate perceptions and how their visual representations reflected Spanish national identity and modernism.
An in-depth study of the ideas of degeneration and regeneration in modernist Spain, The End Again is an insightful look at how art can affect the social and cultural debates at the heart of a nation.
“The End Again presents a rich body of new material on Spanish art and visual culture. By placing this work in conversation with the fields of medicine, psychiatry, anthropology, sociology, and criminology, Oscar Vázquez broadens our understanding of how the concept of degeneration functioned in Spain and, by extension, Europe more broadly at the turn of the twentieth century. I love this book!”
Oscar E. Vázquez is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the author of Inventing the Art Collection: Patrons, Markets, and the State in Nineteenth-Century Spain, also published by Penn State.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
Chapter 1 Fragmentation: Fortuny’s Frame and the Melancholy of the New
Chapter 2 Suture: Academies, Regionalism and Artistic Decline
Chapter 3 Exhaustion: Degeneration in Fin de Siglo Spanish Arts
Chapter 4 Parody: Exhibitions Spaces and Modernism
Chapter 5 Containment: Reconquests, Colonialism and the Specter of Collapse
Chapter 6 (Dis)Inheritance: Rachitic Bodies and Medical Discourses
Chapter 7 Decay: Or, the Aristocracy’s Degeneration
Chapter 8 Displacements: Regoyos, Verhaeren and La España Negra
Epilogue The End Again
“Will degeneration, which is reality’s response to the anxieties of regeneration, also extend itself to painting? Is that what remains for us? I should say, what sadness!” This was the question posed by critic Antonio Cánovas y Vallejo while scrutinizing the submissions to the Exhibition at Madrid’s Círculo de Bellas Artes of 1903 (the year of the publication of the Spanish translation of Max Nordau’s Degeneración).
Cánovas y Vallejo’s statement puts degeneration and regeneration in an odd relation to each other. He sees regeneration not as a strategic reaction to some regression or decline. Rather, degeneration is seen as a byproduct of regeneration (or regeneration stagnated and gone wrong). His remarks solicited an immediate, disdainful response from the famed writer Emilia Pardo Bazán. The strength of the attack and its response manifests the power carried by those words “degeneration” and “regeneration,” and the extent of their appropriation within the discourses of modern art criticism in turn-of-the-century Spain.
What might have Cánovas meant by questioning the “sadness” that remains? There will always be some new meaning to be constructed. Yet, the critic mourns remnants of what has been left behind; these are remembrances perhaps, but fragments that signal a loss, or a salvage. The “sadness” and loss lamented by Cánovas y Vallejo, was a continued qualitative decline in the arts, understood as degeneration. Why the last term should have been so readily employed within the critical reactions among artists and intellectuals in fin de siglo Spain, and the objects that they mourned, are the subject of this book.
The End Again argues that definitions of Spanish modernisms were dependent upon the concepts of degeneration and regeneration, and that the relation of these two concepts is most productively analyzed through criticism and representations of pathologized bodies, spaces and pictorial practices practices in the arts of Spain between the years of 1874 and 1923. It explores the leading intellectual and artistic currents of fin de siglo Spain and how these must be understood in relation to the fears of degeneration - the “dark side of progress,” as Gilman and Chamberlain aptly described the relation – or the desires of regeneration.
The twin concepts of degeneration and regeneration were based on the metanarrative of progress and regression as they appeared within a positivist linear history, and they were tied – at least since the late eighteenth century – to moral causes that were manipulated according to changing political interests. This book explains the ways that "the end," and consequently “beginnings,” were repeatedly constructed, but not in the sense of apocalyptic, fictional literary endings as Kermode described decades ago. Rather, the “end” here refers both to purposeful agendas that confidently reflected ideals of progress, and also discourses colored by a melancholic sense of decline and regression. Degeneration implies a transformation (typically slow) across generations, and is different from abrupt, if unexpected, ending as an apocalypse. The title of this book, therefore, points to the fears of what lay ahead, a reappearance of what had been left safely behind, which, at its worst, was imagined as a step towards some finality, as in the extinction of a race. The fear of regression and endings was attached to liminal dates and spaces. Particular events in fin de siglo Spain were envisioned variously as harbingers of hope or signs of millennial doom, but in either case as critical points or a stage of transformation integral to modernism. The books title also alludes to the very critiques of modernism as an “unfinished” project (Habermas), related to concepts of eternal returns (Nietzsche), and of notions of progress based on a intellectual foundation of the Enlightenment, that have been analyzed by many (Vattimo among these) and in ways that are beyond the scope of this book.
The notion of progress was predicated on a metaphoric and a very real physically association with notions of forward movement. Likewise, degeneration suggested a backward motion, a regression to an earlier, more primitive state of being, or, at the very least, a stagnation which amounted to about the same since stasis meant being left behind in an inferior, outdated past, in the face of modernity’s triumphal march. Simultaneously, the term degeneration was increasingly employed within an artistic domain, thereby imbuing certain types of artistic productions and spaces with its pejorative connotations of backwardness, violence, or of criminality and disease.
Degeneration discourses traversed multiple fields; the medical, social, criminal anthropological, clinical psychiatric, as well as visual. Each of these produced individual textual and visual responses to the concept. The scientific, artistic and criminal illustrations and essays seem to have been translated into popular discourses which facilitated their movement from one arena to another; in this way, the artistic, the anthropological, and the sociological merged in sites such as arts theory, salon reviews and criticism, helping to mediate what may have been understood as “degeneration” by non-specialized audiences.
Pictures in magazines and salons helped explain the pathologies of the body and society to general audiences. An example how discourses of degeneration and the arts crossed paths can bee seen in the juxtaposition on the same page of one paper, the review of the National Exposition in Madrid of 1892 in one column, and the discussion of degeneration at the third Congress of Criminal Anthropology of that same year in another. Thus, the reader’s eye could roam from one sphere of commentary to the other. Other examples are the discussions of current psychiatric and medical theories of degeneration in the arts magazines Bellas Artes and La aIlustración Artística in the years 1898 and 1899. As subsequent chapters will demonstrate, the discourses did not remain contained within neat disciplinary boundaries, but bled into and affected one another. The concept of degeneration spilled over, blurring the edges of meaning, or, to borrow from the criticism of paintings of the period, crisp colors gave way to ill-defined, muddled gray areas. I am in agreement with Alfredo Sosa-Velasco who, examining medical physicians in the turn-of-the century Spain who also were writers of fiction, that the strict divisions between science and literature, should be questioned. I use the word divide here cautiously and not in terms of practice, but in terms of the discourses produced by both and the way (often overlapping) audiences would have received and responded to notions of degeneration through visual media in arenas as different as a National Art exhibitions, on the one hand, or medica in contemporary periodicals on the other. No doubt, there are extremely formal and contextual differences between these types of productions and, as Tanya Sheehan has argued for the case of ther elation between medicine and photography in nineteenth-century United States, much was a stake at keeping a healthy distinction between the types of visualizing practices of artists and physicians. Nonetheless, we will see that the question of the decline of painting and architecture, often contextualized in formal terms of surface application and choice of themes, were rarely raised for the newer medium of photography, and, as far as I’ve been able to detect, never raised in the context of the engravings of the illustrated journals. Yet, part of the work of this book is not to homogenize the significant differences among media, but rather examine how and where those grey areas appeared, forcing medical, psychological, criminal anthropological, or artistic terms to blur and affect one another.
Concerns over degeneration have long been evident in studies of Spain, which has a lengthy history of returning to the related question of decadence. Partaking in the general late nineteenth-century discussions of the presumed inferiority of the Latin Mediterranean nations in the face of Anglo-Saxon imperialism, Spain was especially sensitive to the notions of decline and renewal. This was particularly the case after the1898 Spanish-American War and Spain’s loss of its largest remaining colonies in the Caribbean and Philippines.
That loss became known as the “National Disaster” which in turn was part of a discourse of “los males de la patria,” (ills of the nation) as one earlier title put it, or El Problema Nacional as the lawyer-philosopher Ricardo Macías Picavea dubbed the situation in his often-cited book published a year after the war. The national, or what was often also called the "Spanish problem," were the names given to Spain's perceived political and cultural decadence, the mythologized origins of which were placed as early as the sixteenth century with the conquest of the Americas, the "Black Legend," and the writings of some of the earliest colonist, such as Bartolomé de las Casas. (Trotsky continued to see the sixteenth century as the initiations, and placed the official beginnings of Spain’s decline with the loss of the Spanish Armada in 1588). This history of a Spain cursed by the Black Legend because of that nation’s abuse of the indigenous populations and mismanagement of New World resources, was employed in international politics during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Nineteenth-century Spain's concerns were but another chapter in that narrative. For example, in Adolfo de Castro’s “philosophical examination” of the causes of Spain’s decadence (1852), he pointed to the nation’s politics of violence and intolerance, arguing that the expulsion of its “roots of greatness” (namely, the Jews and the Moors) that had begun with the era of the fifteenth-century Catholic Kings and continued through the reign of Philip II in the sixteenth century, was a principal reason for Spain’s demise. As late as 1915, Francisco de Antón del Olmet (marqués de Dosfuentes) in a book examining the vices of the national character, insisted upon religious intolerance and monarchical despotism as among the major reasons for Spain’s decadence. He turned the Black Legend on its head, stating that it was often resorted to by Spaniards in order to justify Spain’s backwardness and to defend the most brutal acts “crystallized” in the very symbol of Philip II and his reign. These few examples show that those searching desperately to explain the origins of Spain’s decline settled on dates that were anywhere between the twelfth and the eighteenth centuries. The present book is not specifically about Spain’s national decline; readers searching for historical materials on the mythologies of Spain’s political and economic decadence can turn to the significant studies by John H. Elliott (1989), Richard Kagan (1996), and Henry Kamen (2009), the later calling those myths of decline as “the most fundamental of all the myths in Spain’s history” (172). Rather, I am seeking to understand how those notions of national decline were incorporated into and conflated with various discourses of degeneration, and especially to point out how those concepts may have differed and functioned within the pictorial arts.
Spain’s notions of degeneration differed from other European countries at the century’s end in two main ways. First, the nation’s history had already been built upon a formidable and lengthy bibliography regarding the Black Legend and the country’s purported slow decline over the course of previous centuries. Second, while many European and American writers were obsessed with the psychiatric and health issues of degeneration — following the seminal works of Max Nordau (pen name of Simon Maximilian Südfeld), Cesare Lombroso, and Bénédict-Augustin Morel, to name the most famous — Spanish writers quickly incorporated the narrative of loss in the Spanish-American War of 1898 into the lengthy tradition of Spain’s decadence. In this way, the literature of the “National Disaster” and the “Spanish Problem” was folded into and became a resource for the conditions of the Spanish nation’s contentious “decadence” debate, both of which contributed to a volatile discourse of degeneration at the national level.
The term degeneration became a catch-all phrase that covered dozens of physical and social infirmities and ills. The morphologies and stigmata of abnormal bodies were bound by the terms inheritance and morbidity (incurability), which signaled the degenerate mental or physical inheritance. Critics, when discussing any of the concepts of degeneration, decadence or decline of Spain, all borrowed terms from medicine and criminal anthropology to argue they points. Philosopher Ortega y Gasset pronounced, “One is always struck by the clear fact that in our past the abnormal has been normal. We arrive, then at the conclusion that the entire history of Spain has been a history of decline…. But if Span has never been healthy one cannot say that it has declined.” Yet, the concept of degeneration’s particular usefulness for Spain was not just that it served as a convergence for multiple discourses, and that it easily absorbed extant discussions of national decline, but also that it pointed to fears of regression and atavism that could be placed as easily on the individual, or groups of peoples, as it could on the body of the nation itself.
Unlike the 1870 Franco-Prussian War and ensuing Commune, which both Nordau and Pardo Bazán saw as the origins of an ensuing backward, degenerative trend in France, the 1898 National Disaster merely underscored already extant fears and rekindled age-old anxieties of decadence that were intensified within what others have called a “crisis” of the fin de siglo. Yet, what they had in common was national/ imperial shock, or rather, loss of territory and empire. While fears of degeneration were driven by extrapolation of ideas from Darwinian and other evolutionary theorists, it is clear that those national disasters and subsequent concerns over military preparedness fanned the flames. While pointing to the effects of Darwinism, I am less interested in reexamining the application of evolutionary theories in past histories of art, as did Thomas Munro in his substantive 1953 study, as to their relevance within degeneration theories inflections upon the use and reception within the arts.
The “crisis” was part of what in fin de siglo Spain became known as miserabilismo, that is, the representation of the “miserableness” of life or, its related la mala vida, literally, the bad (social conditions) of life. One reviewer of the 1895 National Exhibition in Madrid combined representations and social reality in his disparaging critique of the state of the arts, when describing the prevalent themes on the exhibition walls: “We see from afar a group of lepers, and at the left [wall], a dead child left in the street, and further on, an officer mortally wounded in the arms of his assistant, … A bad weed has certainly irritated th[is generation of] painters. Scenes of mourning and grief, shipwrecks, insanity, suicides, dead workers and broken families; one can see these [themes], here, there and everywhere....” The reviewer found the depressing themes overwhelmingly inappropriate, especially in relation to the size of their canvases. However, his list also points to a growing public awareness of the arts expressing a concern over the qualitative state that would be discussed under the manifold of decline and degeneration; namely the “backward” retrogressive condition of the arts. In the searching question of the leading intellectual Miguel de Unamuno: “What is it that lays there in all its backwardness?”
The search for the causes of this fin de siglo malaise, stagnation and backwardness was taken up with the politics of regeneration that characterize much of the period of the Bourbon monarchy Restoration in Spain after 1874. Gonzalo Pasamar Alzuria has shown how, in realm of history proper, the historiography of the concept of Spain’s “decadence,” move from a period of consolidation in the third quarter of the century, with works that focused on the Habsburgs as culprits, to a more liberal view during the Restoration that focused increasingly on the “psychology of the people” and on explanations of despotic rule crushing any hopes for advancements. We will see that degeneration theories will also move increasingly by the twentieth century, but in an opposite direction. Nonetheless by the first years of the twentieth century, there were dozens upon dozens of articles, books, and conference proceedings arguing over the strategies for addressing the problem of Spain’s decadencia and degeneration. Pedro Sáinz y Rodriguez’s Evolución de las ideas sobre la decadencia española (1924) was a formidable attempt to come to terms with the various writings of the previous thirty years and contextualize them in a historical, diachronic narrative that stretched beyond previous writings. Those earlier investigations had mostly stopped at the seventeenth century, which many felt to be the origins of the problem, but Sáinz y Rodriguez recognized that decadence also was a problem with contemporary causes and saw it as distinct from degeneration.
The term “decadence” was understood from the early modern period onward, to be largely equivalent to “decline.” By the early nineteenth century, the word “degeneration” was synonymous with decadence and it wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century that either of those terms began to acquire their specific literary association, in the case of decadence, or atavistic associations, in the case of degeneration. Still, Decadence as a literary and artistic movement was often conflated with degeneration. Indeed, the artistic and literary products emerging from decadentism – and from the analogous current of aestheticism, were principal signs of degeneration for many writers, not the least of whom was Nordau.
There are, of course, significant differences between theories of degeneration and those of decadence as an artistic and literary current. This study will not concern itself in detail with the literary currents of decadence, except when it specifically enters into the arts criticism. However, I shall distinguish between the two concepts in this work by using decadence to refer to those literary and artistic trends that developed out of and parallel symbolism, while using degeneration to refer to the larger abstract notions and concerns over physical, cultural and social regression to or reappearance of a less-developed state, concerns that pervaded much of the discourses of the late nineteenth century. Degeneration is based on a linear notion of regression to an earlier, more primitive condition, while decadence is based on perceptions of social or cultural movement away from a superior state, not necessarily invoking atavism, but rather possibly refining it through nuances. The difference between decadence and degeneration, through the notion of moving away from particular ideal states, and as will be shown throughout this work, is as much geographic and spatial as it is temporal.
In the writers of a later generation of the late-nineteenth century there are strains of the emancipatory and redemptive power of an art understood critically as decadent and even degenerate. As such, the thematic and formal interests that came to be labeled as decadent, although criticized as degenerate by the likes of Max Nordau and others, offered to many artists and writers the potential for a break with contemporary forms, a new reading with the power for regeneration. For example, a contemporary of Nordau wrote: “…[M]uch of the genius denounced by Max Nordau as degeneration was a sane and healthy expression of a vitality which, as it is not difficult to show, would have been better named regeneration.” Further, the symbolist editor-poet Arthur Symons described the emerging literature of his day “as a new and beautiful and interesting disease.” In his important November 1893 article, he defined the literary trend of decadentism as the mode of cultivating "a spiritual and moral perversity,” and added that many detractors exaggerate this aspect “and only see in the new sensibility a complacency of the pernicious.” Because of their reinterpretation of physical and moral decline, many decadents (and related Aesthetes) were roundly accused of being degenerates. Later chapters will show that, while many may have agreed upon the signs and symptoms of degeneration, they did not all necessarily understand these trends in negative terms. Even Enrico Ferri, in the 1899 Revista Nueva, would argue that “…degeneration is a two-headed monster; repugnant, dehumanized and dehumanizing the one, arrogant, rebellious and fertile the other.”
My own works contributes elaborates upon some of the early important studies on European degeneration, namely Edward Chamberlin and Sander Gilman (1985), Daniel Pick (1989), and William Greenslade (1994), in which occasional attention was paid to visual materials. But it continues the types of interdisciplinary work found in publications that examine the “medicalization” of types of discourses and artistic productions (works that Richard Cleminson and Francisco Vázquez García, 2007).
The concept of degeneration has been understood to function in multiple ways. Already in 1898 the noted Spanish lawyer and criminologist Constancio Bernaldo de Quiros had outlined contemporary social theories of degeneration. While not arguing the case of degeneration as ideology, he did include on his list a Marxist’s explanation of degeneration as a socio-physical disease manifested by criminals and vagrants that was caused by economic inequalities in society. Numerous studies have bee published in the last few decades in regards to the functions of degeneration as a way of patrolling the borders of sexuality and construction of gender, through an examination of Gothic horror, or Decadence literature (Salli Kline, 1992 Stephen Arata, 1996). More recently, Arthur Herman sought to relate the concept into wider, perennial trends of the notion of “declinism,” though such a concept is ultimately a formal, thematic one. Dana Seitler’s 2008 publication examines the discursive practices in turn-of-the-century United States that produced atavism and that enabled a “reimagining of historical time.” She argues that “Modernity is an atavism;” that “brings the ancestral past into conjunction with the modern present” and, as such, “can be said to open up liberal notions of the privatized subject to the genealogical record.” While her work concentrates on the construction of the atavistic body in American literary culture, my work investigates the conditions of degeneration and atavism in pictorial representations of bodies and spaces, and their discourses in Spain. Michael Wenley Stannard, in his study of Galdos and medical theories of degeneration, has adopted a Foucauldian model of regimes of truth to argue that degeneration as a concept functioned as a form of social control and, as such, one related to ideology in the construction of normative standards. In this regard, Foucault’s own understanding of degeneration also resonates in this book because Foucault’s degeneration was a means of “isolating, covering, and cutting out a zone of social danger.” The pathologizing, criminalizing and labeling of acts and people as abnormal, is extended here to include not just physical bodies but also places.
In the construction and isolationism of a more perfect sphere and the decadence of any supplement introduced to it, Derrida’s analysis of Rousseau’s essay on the origins and degeneration of language, affords avenues for my own work. He writes:
This then is the story. For the history that follows the origin and is added to it is nothing but the story of the separation between song and speech. If we consider the difference which fractured the origin, it must be said that this history, which is decadence and degeneracy through and through, had no prehistory. Degeneration as separation, severing of voice and song, has always already begun. We shall see that Rousseau’s entire text describes origin as the beginning of the end, as the inaugural decadence. Yet, in spite of that description his text twists about in a sort of oblique effort to act as if degeneration were not prescribed in the genesis and as if evil supervened upon a good origin. As if song and speech, which have the same act and the same birth pangs, had not always already begun to separate themselves.
There seems to be little difference for Derrida between degeneration and decadence. Nonetheless, and inasmuch as they both refer to types of contemporary separations from, returns to, or reappearances of an inferior state in relation to a historical past, I argue that they offer different possible scenarios for the future.
The concept of degeneration, as will be explained in greater detail in the first chapters, was understood as “a movement away” from a fixed ideal type, from a relatively more perfect state; the notion contains therefore the idea of isolating a type, either as a source of origins without a prehistory (hence the fall from grace that Morel, one of the originating theorists, spoke of) or a separating out all that comes after as a contaminate (the bad seed), a poorer, degenerate copy that “adds nothing.” Unlike mimesis, which is merely supplemental (according to Derrida’s reading of Rousseau), degeneration is an endless process of negativity, an elimination of originating and valued character, but a process that never empties the space, object or person of its defining, and necessary state of degeneracy. Something always remains, as in the “sadness” that the critic Cánovas y Vallejo lamented at the beginning of this chapter: mutant, deformed or sterile, nonetheless, a presence that defines either that past form as ideal or as abject and horrific. It is the distance and movement between the forms, both spatially and temporally that designates not simply history, but the process of degeneration. If “backwardness” — brutishness and primitiveness – were cognates for atavistic forms of the social and artistic, then implied in these was a loss of stabile consistent social meaning. This process of approximation, of constant movement away from a fixed ideal or stable type, was the very functionality, and general utility of the concept of degeneration in Western European discourses of the turn of the century. For these reasons, the adoption of spatial metaphors to express movement in time and space (falling away from, moving backwards, or conversely, stasis) was not simply a solution to the writing of history as much as a material expression of the very definitions of degeneration.
This book on degeneration and the arts of fin de siglo Spain rests on the interstices of two subjects that repeatedly surface in the contemporary discourses: the first is that of the human body as site of degeneration, and a second is the construction of space (and stasis or movement in and through it) as a sign of degeneration. In regards to the first of these issues, the human body by the mid-nineteenth century had come to be reappraised through a variety of the most significant of which was the use of photography in the nascent fields of criminology, anthropology, and of course medicine. In relation to these, the various pictures in salons often overlapped in the discourses of the disabled, contaminated or feeble body. It is these overlaps that will be given attention to in the following chapters. If, as Michel de Certeau has argued, “there is no law that is not inscribed on bodies” and that, further, for laws to be written on bodies, “an apparatus is required,” then we can see how increasingly similar visual constructions in a variety of discursive arenas – be they medical or artistic — of pathologized bodies as “degenerate” are such an apparatus.
The second issue is that of construction of space that the “degenerate” body inhabited. The spaces examined in The End Again are the physical spaces of the urban centers, the imagined and symbolic spaces of the nation, the discursive spaces of art criticism and debate, as well as the represented spaces of art and display. These fin de siglo spaces, in turn, are deeply connected to Spain’s geographic borders.
Critics understood degeneration not only as a regression to or reappearance of a more primitive individual, but also as a decline to a less civilized stage of society or nation, which in Spain generally invoked comparisons to colonies understood as less advanced. Spain at the turn of the century was struggling once more with the centralization of domestic provinces that were making demands for greater autonomy, at the same time that the nation sought to consolidate the remains of its foreign colonies. The political situation at century’s end is a partial reason why scholars understood cultural decline as a particularly “Spanish problem” (or “nuestra decadencia” as an 1899 publication put it). Certainly such a phrase begs the question of who is the “we” in that possessive, “our decadence.” Against constructions of the foil of normalcy was “our decadence” or to be measured? Even so, those debating the modern nation’s geography often felt the ominous presence of large eyes peering out fearfully from a location in the past and threatening to counter any move to modernity, by dragging subjects physically and socially backward. For these reasons, spatial and geographic structures are integral to understanding contemporary discussions of degeneration. To tackle the question of degeneration and regeneration in Spanish fin de siglo visual cultures, therefore, is also to examine the relations among representation of spaces and, just as importantly, the spaces of representation.
The bibliography on space and representation is immense, albeit less so for Spain. And spatial metaphors are hardly new to either cultural studies, or art history. Yet, given the prevalence of spatial theories in publications of the past few decades, it is curious that scholars of Spanish cultural and visual studies, with but a few exceptions, rarely addressed space limited in the construction of Spanish modernism. While fin de siglo critics and artists did not theorize on the symbolic or cultural significance of space, they nonetheless, repeatedly made note of its formal representation. This study takes up the question of the relations between represented spaces of fin de siglo Spain and textual descriptions of them in arts criticism and debates, as degenerative or potentially regenerative.
In the pages of the popular illustrated journals, available to increasingly wider audiences, were reported the latest salons and national exhibitions, and for this reason, this book concentrates on painting, sculpture and drawings, with occasional references to other media and areas (namely, photography, urban planning, and architectural theory). It is also within these journals that the greatest manifestations, anxieties and concerns over degeneration in the arts were most prevalent and can be placed in comparison to the varied discourses of anthropological and medical journals of the period. In other cases, archival materials help to characterize these concerns within institutional debates. Throughout, a principal concern of The End Again is to reveal the way discourses and representations of spaces were related to the spaces of artistic production, marketing, and circulation.
Award-winning, critically celebrated works are discussed. But I also pay close attention to lesser-known works that were emblematic of how art circulated and was valued. Further, readers will find that certain vanguard currents and critical debates, such as the classicizing and internationalizing trend (through a medeterianeanism) of Noucentisme born in Cataluña, or of the rolling wave of foreign currents, are not discussed in depth. The later ran the gambit of vanguard productions that has been absorbed by artists in Barcelona, Bilbao and Sevilla (futurism, cubism, etc.), from fauvism, cubism to constructivism and futurism, to many of which artists such as Pablo Gagallo, Joan Miró, Darío de Regoyos, Pablo Picasso or Joaquín Torres-García helped forge, (Indeed, by the late teens, a variety of “isms’ had been in circulation, with a new increasingly cosmopolitanism; Joaquín Torres-Garcia would write “We wish to be internationals.” ) The rich variety of themes and styles of the arts in Spain of the early years of the twentieth century, as throughout much of Europe is one of the delights of investigating this production of these year. Yet, it also underscores the need Instead, the book has taken up particular works to that take up particular on-going artistic issues within institutions such as the academy, the national exhibitions, or within the journals in Spain.
The scholarship on fin de siglo Spain’s degeneration falls into two prominent categories: There are publications on degeneration as it pertains to the context to late nineteenth-century criminology, and within the histories of medical discourses in Spain, such as the formidable body of research by Ricardo Campos Marín and Rafael Huertas García-Alejo, among others. There are also numerous case studies of decadence as a literary movement in late nineteenth-century Spain. There is also another related group of publications that analyze Spain’s obsessions with its decadence and that, on occasion has broached the subject of degeneration at century’s end. However, it has focused largely on social decline in relation to 1898.
It is curious, therefore, and given the prevalence and strength of the debates on degeneration theories at century’s end, that almost no critical attention has been paid to examining the relation of that concept to the pictorial arts. The extant publications offer a somewhat skewed foundation for critical studies of Spanish modernities, one in which degeneration and pictorial modernism have been examined separately, as if without consequence for the relation between them, or for definitions of modernity or regeneration. (Regeneracionismo was the political and intellectual policies and programs debated and forged to combat Spain’s perceived decadence during the Restoration period).
I’ve been arguing that, for the case of Spain, one cannot begin to understand the discourse of modernities, and its aesthetic counterpart of modernisms, without an investigation of how these related to the concepts of degeneration and regeneration. Spain, repeatedly omitted from the histories of modernism, was seen as an exceptional case, simultaneously always outside of modernity and yet rarely modern enough. Thinkers such as Marx left Spain out of their mainstream models of economic development, while in 1899, Alfred Fouillée, in his many assessments of the national characteristics of European peoples, emphasized the inappropriateness of applying Marx’s theories to Spain because in that nation “we see that character, moral and [religious] beliefs play a principal role.” Still further, during the first years of the new century, Richard Muther in volume three of his general history of art, would begrudgingly allocate only one small chapter to Spain, reasoning that it was “quite impossible to treat of a history of Spanish art” because the nation lacked a cohesive school of painting, and hardly manifested any “modern endeavor in art.” To have been left out of modernity was already to be relegated to a stagnant present and, by implication, condemned as atavistic in the face of modernity’s progress.
No doubt, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century definitions of modernity in many European countries already manifested gendered and class-bound anxieties of transience, fragmentation, disorder, and pathologies (as in Baudelaire, through Nordau, Freud, and Simmel). Writing in 1880, English zoologist E. Ray Lankester in a small booklet examining the implications of Darwinian theories for the human race, asked if “all the inventions and figments of human superstition and folly, the self-inflicted torturing of mind, the reiterated substitution of wrong for right, and of falsehood for truth, which disfigure our modern civilisation [sic] are ….evidences of progress? In such respects we have at least reason to fear that we may be degenerate.” Spain, at least in respect to these fears of a failed civilization, was no different and had specific reasons for concern because of its long history of the Black Legend, and of the recent “National Disaster.”
This book argues that Spain’s modernity was understood by artists and critics to be “located” not only in particular bodies, but also in the real and imagined spaces of pictures, art galleries, public salons, art journals, and academic institutions, and that each of these sites was characterized as either degenerative or regenerative. Modernity was not solely a construction of subjects in relation to time and space; rather, it was visibly identifiable and was often precisely located (even if it was not completely definable or accepted). That is, critics, artists, and city administrators attempted to anchor the “fugitive” and fragmentary elements of modernity to specific sites or individual types in order to make claims about the conditions of painting, the arts, and by extension, the national character of Spain, a nation of several languages derived from a historical multiplicity of kingdoms vying for degrees of autonomy.
The question is how and why specific spaces came to be understood as degenerative, and in turn, how these degenerative / regenerative spaces came to demarcate the ends (in terms of desires and limitations) of meanings of art. My argument is not that the human body or spaces of the city are simply metaphors for discourses concerning the decline of civilization; nor am I arguing that the forms of capital in the city or its rural opposite (in Spain’s case, the poeticized pueblos of Castilla-La Mancha, or the fishing villages of Bilbao and Valencia) were indecipherable. Nor does the book take up anew the question of “singular,” “comparative,” or “alternative” modernities. Rather, it begins with the premise that there were competing definitions of what was modern or backward in Spain, and they were argued in different languages in across multiple regional centers. In as much as most scholarly and artistic criticism, and the writing of history, is a form of containment, realignment, or rupture, what desires and fears were addressed by aligning the concept of decline or degeneration to individual spaces? The End Again explores and explains the specific conditions and tensions that caused degeneration or regeneration to be represented as specific sites; in short, for the end to be (re)negotiated there and then, again.
Often part of the solution to defining and understanding the experience of modernity,
as Frisby (1986), Jameson (2002) and others have argued, was to articulate and subsume it under an aesthetic modernism, or to speak of it in terms of social or technological modernization. While I agree that the experience and conditions of “modernity” should be distinguished from the forms that it took (modernism), too neat a categorization would lead us to another unproductive round of “chicken-and-egg” analysis regarding the causal relations between base and superstructure. The production of varied, new forms of modernism surely helped to define the experience of modernity as much as they were the results of transformations that had already taken place. In other words, it could be said that the pictorial forms of modernism were the result of processes called modernity, as much as modernism was an instrumental cause for the experience of modernity.
When historiographers of the “modern” have ventured to peek over the Pyrenees, they have usually done so in relation to the term modernismo, a term signaling an artistic debate that has its official beginnings with the publication of Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío’s Azul in 1888, and the same year as the Barcelona Universal Exposition. The distance between the geographic appearances of the currents that would be lumped under the terms modernismo / modernisme point to some of the important regional, political and linguistic differences among Latin American and Iberian modernisms (Remembering that aspects of twentieth century Brazilian vanguards were also referred to as modernism). The manifestation and another equally significant aspect of the question of modernismo in Spain, has been the historical conflation of that term with the English term “modernism.” Although modernismo and modernism are cognates, they are not translations, and therefore refer to distinct though related concepts and stylistic currents. Acknowledging, as Bradd Epps has argued in his discussion of the terms, that there is “no neat translinguistic identity… by which difference is securely articulated,” this work allows for differing understandings and translations of these terms across the different languages in Spain as strategies in struggles of power. Yet, modernismo (and its cognate in Catalan modernisme with its differing political connotations), most often defines the stylistic and intellectual currents in music, literature and the pictorials arts, was heavily influenced by symbolist themes and most prominently developed in Barcelona. While they did include the notion of that which is new, modernismo and modernisme was distinct from understandings of “lo moderno” which is closer to the English modernity. For Joan Luís Marfany, who saw three central meanings associated with modernisme, it is largely a product that is driven by the ideology of Regenerationism. The later was the political manifestations arising from intellectual currents that occupied most of the period of the Restoration, but especially after 1898, that sought to analyze and explain through scientific, positivists practices the perceived economic and social decline of Spain. Marfany’s linking of modernisme to Regenerationism helps to partially explain what he sees as the contradictory nature of both the rejection of bourgeois ideals (s through aestheticism, Decadentism, and simultaneously modernisme’s integration into bourgeois currents via (and as pat of the Renaixença, the cultural reawakening of the region’s history), its incorporation and conflation with catalanisme, the political movement that sought great autonomy and rights.
Thus, in this book, modernisme refers to the specific stylistic currents and aesthetics associated within turn-of-the-century Spain, and which most fully flowered most fully in Barcelona and Valencia. I use modernism in a much wider sense to refer to the European formal expressions that were part of the experiences of modernity, which refers to the time period and technological advances of late capital that helped spur and, in turn were articulated by the artistic trends of modernism and later vanguards.
The End Again focuses on problems and questions that arise during the years of 1874-1923, the period of the Bourbon monarchy restoration in Spain. These dates are marked by two deaths and events. The year 1874 saw the declaration by generals of the military’s support of the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy under Alfonso XIII, but it was also the year of the unexpected and dramatic death of Mariano Fortuny (barely a month earlier than the proclamation of the new King). Fortuny, Spain’s leading painter, was inventing for himself a new revolutionary painting style. Critics saw his demise as not only the loss of a major artist, but also as the lost chance for Spain to regain international artistic prominence and to rejuvenate a lackluster “national” school of painting. 1874, therefore was a watershed year. True, the artist Martín Rico, a follower of Fortuny’s style, placed significance on 1865 as the break towards modernity because he felt – perhaps upon hearing news of the 1863 French Salon de Refusés – that it was when “the first symptoms of this modernist fever began to appear.” But others such as statesman and writer Francico Pi y Margall declared in 1874 that “the art of today is in decadence” and, Fortuny’s death would have made the future of Spanish painting even more bleak. Thus, that year produced just as many political and artistic reverberations not only in Spain, but across Europe, such as the First Impressionists’ salon of that year
The terminal date of 1923 at the other end of the study witnessed the death of the internationally renowned Valenican painter Joaquín Sorolla (and the end of a debate that pitted his paintings against those of the Basque painter Ignacio Zuloaga, a debate that had obsessed much of the Spanish arts community for almost two decades). By poetic coincidence, 1923 also saw the passing of Max Nordau, the name most often associated with degeneration theories. 1923 also represents the end of the Restoration government with Primo de Rivera’s proclamation of dictatorship.
The End Again examines case examples and debates in key Spanish cities – namely Barcelona, Bilbao, Madrid, Seville, and Valencia — while focusing much of the analysis of criticism on Madrid, where the San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts, and the National Biennial Exhibitions were located. The later represented the political official center of power, even if being challenged by those other centers, especially Barcelona and Bilbao, which were becoming both economic and cultural powerhouses even while the central government responded often with militaristic repressive measures. On occasion, this book looks further afield to the Ultramar territories and nations that were putting increasing pressures on Spanish economies and markets, and of which Spanish artists repeatedly availed themselves for further exposure and income.
The chapters of the book are organized not so much chronologically, although they do begin with the earliest works of the 1870s and end with works produced in the teens of the new century. Rather, the chapters concentrate on works largely from the decades of the 1890s and first years of the century, and which address situations, questions, as well as critical and pictorial responses to degeneration and the decline of Spanish arts. Throughout, the book also offers an introduction to the historiographic analysis of the concepts of degeneration — alongside of decadence with which it was conflated in an earlier age — within the most significant writings on the arts of Spain, chiefly from the eighteenth through the early twentieth century. As some of the chapters outline below already point to, critics gave many reasons for Spain’s poor contemporary situation and these included lack of faith on the part of artists; undiscerning and unintelligent audiences; a lack of moneyed class and failed government support. However, four were especially recurrent and designated as the principal historical causes of Spain’s artistic decadence: 1) a corrupt aristocracy and their lack of interest in the arts; 2) lack of proper artistic training or failed academies; 3) and related previous point was a complaint that tied the concepts of degeneration and primitivism to modernity, and that was of artists not representing their time or time or place, but being misled by foreign influences or poor historical models; 4) Spain’s inability to produce a national school because of it regional and ethnic diversity; 5) and finally, t the nation reaping what it had sown through the expulsion of the Moors, Jews and, its subsequent history of intolerance.
Throughout all these sections and the works examined therein, it will be shown that degeneration served a need to isolate a historical moment from the present, or that moment’s reappearance understood by critics through formal or thematic properties of a work. In doing so critics and theoreticians constructed the relation between the present and the past in terms of a qualitative distance understood to be either pejorative (falling away, declining from a desired ideal), or as offering the possibility of regeneration. To move forward was to progress; to stand still was to let time pass and be left behind; becoming primitive, brutish and degenerate. Some of the spaces inhabited and constructed by individual bodies, and critics’ use of terms such as these are what we turn to now.
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