Manuel Arias Maldonado

Secondhand Mythologies

"Although there are those who would like to see a new mythic horizon in populism, maybe only political ecologism offers a social imaginary with enough originality in it"

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Secondhand Mythologies
Foto: zipi| EFE
Manuel Arias Maldonado

Manuel Arias Maldonado

Profesor de Ciencia Política en la Universidad de Málaga y colaborador habitual en prensa y medios culturales.

There has been a lot of talk about the peculiar terms in which the Community of Madrid’s electoral battle is being posed: while Isabel Ayuso’s people resort to the imaginary of the Cold War to pose a dichotomy between “communism or freedom”, Pablo Iglesias has considered it his duty — patriotic, ideological, partyline?—to leave the vice-presidency of the Government in order to fight fascism at street level. You might well think that we were in 1920, 1943 or 1956: dates in which those mottoes might still have made sense. That one should resort so ardently to obsolete mythologies shows very clearly that the political imagination is in a state of paralysis that condemns us to the eternal repetition of the same.

That is not the only sign of stagnation. The political event par excellence of the last five years in Spain, the separatist procés [Catalan independence process], is an authentic uchronia: a nineteenth-century fixation transplanted with forceps into our times. From the red shirts to the yellow ribbon! Feminism itself, at least the official kind, often turns to the prohibitions and achievements of the past when addressing women of today. In another order of things, the journalistic writing Albert Camus  did for Combat in the heat of World War II has attracted the attention of cultural supplements and savvy readers, while Javier Marías’s new novel takes us inside the world of secret services and terrorist organizations typical of the last century. In a positive review of the latter, done for El Cultural, Nadal Suau wonders in the last paragraph what place there is in the contemporary novel for new social reality. The electoral use of Francoism also shows the sterile vitality of the past.

Not too long ago a Uruguayan journalist told me that in his country Holy Week was now called Tourism Week: by now, considering the uneven process of western secularization, maybe that is the most realistic name for it. This pragmatism, however, is less than inspiring and can only epitomize the problem ailing western societies: they have used and worn out the political myths of the 20th Century without finding a replacement for them. Antonio García Maldonado has turned to the concept of “adventure” to identify this loss; when all has been done and everything has been tried, who can begin to dream again? Although there are those who would like to see a new mythic horizon in populism, maybe only political ecologism offers a social imaginary with enough originality in it. The urgent move to reabsorb environmental discourse into the old categories of left and right, often with the aim of making it the electoral contest, suggests, notwithstanding, that we are junkies of the epic phase of ideology.

In any case, what this structural blockage harbors beneath it is the loss of the future as a place for collective achievement and personal salvation. If modern ideologies bring the promise of salvation found in monotheistic religions down to earth, thus becoming political religions that offer utopias of plenty instead of a vale of tears, the terrible disillusionment of the last century has done away with the credibility of ideological priests: to believe in progress after the ovens of cremation and the Gulag is a complicated affair. To make matters worse, the planet’s maladjustments suggest that the future ought to be feared more than loved. It remains to be seen whether the new generations will be capable of producing their own vocabulary and if this will be of any interest. For the moment, you guessed it: communism or fascism.  The struggle goes on!

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