FCG International Literature Award 2004: Francisco Ayala

 

“For the creativity of his literary work, the lucidity of his essays and the innovative nature of his sociological work, as well as his coherency to a long and exemplary civil life". 

According to the jury that met in Valladolid on July 8, 2004, chaired by, Dr. César Hernández Alonso, university professor of the Spanish Language of the University of Valladolid; and made up by the following members:Mr. César Alonso de los Ríos, journalist and writer; Ms. Rosa Pereda de Castro, writer and journalist; Ms. Paz Ramos Pérez, director of the program "the Critical Eye" of RTVE and Mr. Ángel Sánchez – Harguindey,, associate to the direction of "El País".

 


Francisco Ayala - Biography

RIP, Dean of Spanishwriters. Deceased in 2009.


 Francisco Ayala (Granada, Spain, 1906) was destined to be born and to live during a critical period in universal history with singular consequences in the history of his native land. Like every great modern creative artist, he began by emulating the classics, into whose ranks he has since been incorporated, thereby offering, in the most exalted humanistic tradition, his own vision of the new realities that in his lifetime have opened up towards the future.

 Seldom does one find in contemporary literature such an intense equilibrium between the pursuit of the eternal on the one hand and, on the other, fidelity to the specific historic moment from which such a pursuit is realized.s These characteristics are already evident in his first two novels, Tragicomedia de un hombre sin espíritu (Tragicomedy of a Man without Spirit, 1925) and Historia de un amanecer (Story of a Sunrise, 1926). Soon thereafter, the author's literary voice would erupt with exceptional vitality and originality in the dazzling poetic narrations contained in his books El boxeador y un ángel (The Boxer and an Angel, 1929) and Cazador en el alba (Hunter at Dawn, 1930), composed at the moment in the experience of modern times in which the historic vanguard movements played a leading role. These texts constitute an outstanding aesthetic contribution to European literature: beneath the superficial appearance of youthful verve and in a playful tone, the author's sensitivity reveals, prophetically, a tragic dimension of human existence soon to be confirmed by the series of events leading up to the Spanish Civil War and to the universal catastrophe of the Second World War.

 After having discharged, in support of the Second Spanish Republic, important diplomatic and political assignments in favor of a just peace that unfortunately would prove impossible to attain, Francisco Ayala went into exile in the Americas, where he proceeded to elaborate his social thought in important volumes of essays while simultaneously revealing a new phase in his creative originality in works of fiction such as "El Hechizado" ("The Bewitched"), described by Jorge Luis Borges as "one of the most memorable stories in Hispanic literatures." In Los usurpadores (Usurpers, 1949), the compilation of tales to which this text belongs, the idea that "power exercised by man against his fellow man is always a usurpation" is embodied by different historically inspired illustrations that having been transformed into fiction thus acquire a universal ethical dimension transcending their factual origins. Ayala's narratives have the power to make us feel close to real situations whose imaginary dimensions inevitably lead one towards the most profound human reality. This would also be the case in the five exemplary novels that make up La cabeza del cordero (The Lamb's Head, 1949), all of which, while having to do with the Spanish Civil War, are essentially concerned with the situation of the individual who is debased on account of confrontations of an intransigent nature. For this reason the content of this volume is greatly enhanced when read together with that of Los usurpadores. In these books, as well as in many other of his works, Ayala continually advocates critical reflection as to the circumstances leading to the use of violence and tyrannical rule while defending a society in which consensus between free human beings serves as the standard for social conduct.

 During the period between 1950 and 1966, years dedicated to teaching in different North American universities, Ayala enlarged the configuration of his fictional universe, which became increasingly coherent, complex, and complete. From these years date Historia de macacos (A Monkey Tale, 1955), a collection of short stories set in Africa or South America in which irony serves as a tool for a brilliant portrayal of reality, and the well-known pair of complementary novels, both considered twentieth-century classics, entitled Muertes de perro (Death as a Way of Life, 1958) and El fondo del vaso (The Bottom of the Glass, 1962), set in an imaginary Central American country, which re-create the good and bad sides of political institutions, whether despotic or democratic, in a similar atmosphere. Also dating from this period are the collections El as de bastos (The Ace of Clubs, 1963) and De raptos, violaciones y otras inconveniencias (On Abductions, Rapes, and Other Inconveniences, 1966), whose tone tends more towards sarcasm than irony, a clear reflection of the disillusioned view of the world that was troubling their author at that time

 To the surprise of many, Ayala presented his readers, almost half a century after those youthful contributions of his to the historic vanguard movements, innovations of another sort that would once again position him in the forefront of twentieth-century narrative fiction: now, in El jardín de las delicias (The Garden of Delights, 1971, 1978, 1990, 1999), he conceived a new way of relating fragmentary pieces to the whole. In this unusually vivacious work, characterized by a vibrant authorial voice imbued with poetic inspiration, the boundaries between concrete reality and imagination almost vanish-or even entirely disappear-at the same time as the importance of the traditional confines of genre is diminished. This new way of writing thus combines the seriousness of the essay, narrative sequence, autobiographical materials, graphic illustration, and free and spontaneous intellectual digression so as to actively involve the reader with the author, thereby transforming the latter into the true protagonist of its total composition.

 At the same time that this outburst of fictional creativity was taking place Ayala was revisiting objective reality from a different angle, this time by dedicating himself to the traditional genre of the memoir, to which he would impart a brilliance transformed by his prose into something unique, as unique as the vision shed therein on the world that he had lived in. Since its initial publication Recuerdos y olvidos (Things Remembered and Things Forgotten, 1982, 1983, 1988) has been considered an insuperable testimony of its period, evoked with the most rigorous objectivity by a voice that vibrates still with the subjectivity of life's experience. In language of an exceptional literary value, anecdote is transcended so as to admit fulminating reflections about some of the fundamental political, cultural, or artistic events and personalities of the twentieth century. In this work, as in the sui generis compilation entitled De mis pasos en la tierra (Of My Steps upon the Earth, 1998) and in his numerous contributions to the media, Ayala does not confine himself to being an articulate witness, critical as well as hopeful, of harsh historical reality; he also involves himself actively in an inexorable assessment of today's world.

 Throughout almost an entire century which his lifetime spans Don Francisco Ayala has journeyed with self-assured serenity through joyous territories and ominous terrains. From the time he was a child in his native Granada; the years spent midst the frenzy of Berlin in the early 1930s; those of Republican Madrid; those of his subsequent exile in Argentina, Puerto Rico, Brazil, and the United States; and finally, since the 1960s, from the time of his return to a highly problematical Spain, he has been able to impassively observe both the bright and the dark sides of life.

 That is precisely the dialectic of El jardín de las delicias, a work in which the "Diabolical World" ("Diablo mundo") is contrasted to the world of "Happy Days" ("Días felices"). A Writer in his Century (the title, by the way, of one of his books), Ayala has reflected both aesthetically and ideologically, with the rigor of the finest intellectuals and the sensitivity of the finest artistic creators, the condition and the destiny of humankind. Never, not even in his most difficult days, has he needed to be encouraged by means of praise that would do justice to his merits, nor has the unrelenting integrity of his course in any way been altered by the wealth of recognitions that he has justly received. Among these, his election as a member of the Spanish Royal Academy (1983); the National Prize for Literature (1983); the National Prize for Spanish Letters (1988); the Prize for Andalusian Letters (1989); honorary doctorates from Northwestern University (1977), the Complutense University of Madrid (1988), the Universities of Seville and of Granada (1994), the University of Toulouse-Le Mirail (1995), the National University for Long-Distance Education (1996), and the Charles III University (2001); Gold Medals from his native city of Granada (1987), the Circle of Fine Arts of Madrid (1991), the International University of Menéndez y Pelayo (2001), and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of Granada (2002); his designation as Honorary Member of the Association of the Press of Madrid (2002); of the Association of the Press of Granada (2003); and, recently, as Honorary Member of Círculo de Lectores (2004).

 As the culmination of all of the above we should mention the Cervantes Prize for Literature, in 1991, which underscored in Ayala's creative writings his Cervantine heritage and his significance, like that of the author of the Quijote himself, as that of an author of recognized universal stature. The many translations of his work to major languages vouch for this fact. In 1998 he was awarded the Prince of Asturias Prize for Letters and in the year 2002 the prestigious Fernando Abril Martorell Prize for his contribution to liberty, democracy, and co-existence among Spaniards. Recently the Spanish Government granted him the Medal for Merit in Work for his exemplary labor throughout an entire lifetime.

 In addition to being one of the major contemporary literary theorists and critics, Francisco Ayala is also a theorist of the art and the technique of translation and a distinguished translator into Spanish from the German, French, English, Italian, and Portuguese. An essayist with a splendid sociological formation, as evidenced by his indispensable Tratado de sociología (Treatise on Sociology, 1947) as well as his Introducción a las ciencias sociales (Introduction to the Social Sciences, 1952), he has demonstrated a constant interest in the technological innovations of our time, from the birth of the so-called Seventh Art--his Indagación del cinema (An Inquiry into the Cinema, 1929), was the first book of cinematographic criticism published in Spain-up to the most recent contributions of modern technology. This is attested to by the titles of some of his most widely disseminated works of non-fiction: Razón del mundo (The World Explained, 1944, 1962); El escritor en la sociedad de masas (The Writer in Mass Society, 1956); Tecnología y libertad (Technology and Freedom, 1959); Contra el poder y otros ensayos (Against Power and Other Essays, 1992); El escritor en su siglo (The Writer in His Century, 1990); El tiempo y yo o El mundo a la espalda (Time and I or Leaving the World Behind, 1992); En qué mundo vivimos (What a World We're Living In, 1992); etc. In these and other writings of his the transparency and quality of Ayala's prose serve as a vehicle of expression of an analytical and prophetic vision of the crisis of modernity in which he offers keys for the construction of a future cemented in liberty.

 For the literary, intellectual, and living trajectory of a man whose activity spans nearly an entire century-at the present moment preparations are underway at the national level in Spain for the celebration of the centennial of this lucid and engaged writer-and whose life and work constitute a reflection of his time, we hereby reiterate once again our request that Francisco Ayala, who has received so many qualified letters of support in years past.

 

www.ayala.es.vg