Leftist intellectual Ernesto Freire writes an academic paper on the Spanish “lost generation” of the 2008 crisis. He uses the case of his friend Martín Valera as an example. Freire contends that for Valera, as for most people in Spain, the crisis never ended—instead, its dire consequences were gradually accepted as a “new normal.” Freire also considers the cycle of protests and “assault on institutions” that started in 2011 as a lost opportunity, blaming the apathy of the Spanish public (and Valera's) for it. Meanwhile, Valera writes his own anxieties in a journal: his father is in the hospital, and he struggles raising a fragile child, while his wife gets involved in feminist activism. Valera finds increasing relief in writing, encouraged by the words of a former high school teacher: “If we don't tell our stories, they will be told by those who speak in the name of the people.”
Precisely because of the harshness I see in existence, I scare off maliciousness and the best way I've found to do so is by celebrating abundance. I find abundance in the richness language gives to life as it molds it. We forget, but language is a human behavior, a life being lived.—Eva Fernández, “Conclusiones a partir de mí misma, como editora, al fin”
Let's imagine two longtime friends. We can call them Ernesto Freire and Martín Valera. Yes, those sound like good names. Let's imagine that Ernesto, an academic, wrote a paper titled “What of the Crisis Generation? Economic, Political, and Existential Coordinates of the So-Called Lost Generation, One Decade Later.” For the paper, Ernesto used his friend Martín Valera as a representative example of a member of the “lost generation.” When Martín found out about this, he also decided to write something—a few notes in a journal.
Now, let's keep the imagination going by taking a look at excerpts from both of these texts.
“What of the Crisis Generation? Economic, Political, and Existential Coordinates of the So-Called Lost Generation, One Decade Later”
by Ernesto Freire
(Article published in the journal Al fondo a la izquierda)
In this brief article I aim to provide some provisional insights to better understand the evolution of the so-called crisis generation or lost generation in Spain, beginning from the initial moments of the great global recession of 2008 up to the present day. Specifically, I would like to offer some thoughts on a few elements to help map this generation's current situation, whose defining mark is having suffered a hard blow to what they might expect from life. These expectations, to jump ahead for a moment, are far from being recovered. My intention, in any case, is to outline a more wide-ranging and inclusive understanding of said generation, starting from the basic idea that the majority of the Spanish population suffered the negative impacts of the crisis. With this is mind, if we accept that the so-called lost generation, in a limited sense, is made up of those who were between eighteen and thirty-five years old during the toughest moments of the crisis—those who were looking to enter the job market or consolidate their employment between 2008 and 2015—it would be nonsensical to think that those both older and younger than them had gone untouched by the recession. In this regard, taking this argument to its extreme, to reflect on the “crisis generation” is to necessarily consider a much broader reality, which we might simply call “Spain of the crisis.” A reality that, regardless of what macroeconomic indicators may say, continues even today.
On the other hand—and it would be absurd not to admit it—the Spain of the crisis has changed in recent years. As is well known, especially after 2015–16, some of the most extreme effects of economic downfall (among others, prominently, the difficulty in finding salaried employment) have been gradually lessening. Nevertheless, I believe it fundamental to understand that relative and modest improvement of the economic situation in conjunction with a collective psychological process that, without a doubt, is difficult to measure, but even still, is no less relevant: I refer to the gradual process of “normalization” of living conditions that before 2008 would have been considered unacceptable or, at the very least, out of the ordinary. Put simply, there has been a general “lowering of expectations” that has given rise to a sort of “new normalcy” in a very short period of time.
As a sort of collective defense mechanism, one which continues to be indirectly supported by the economic elite whom it benefits, the population affected by the growing employment instability, the stagnating wages, and the rise of living expenses, the constant difficulty of obtaining decent housing, and the persistent budget cutbacks for public services (health, education, dependents, retirement, etc.), in other words, the vast majority of the Spanish population, has embraced—largely unknowingly—a mix of resignation, forgetfulness, adaptation, fear, distraction, and hoping to just get by that has made this “new normalcy” possible.
To try and shed light on the aspects that make up this “new normalcy,” especially for the members of the so-called lost generation, and of course without pretending to claim a comprehensive account, I will use an atypical method in this article: I will take the example of a real person, along with their family and social surroundings. This will allow me to escape the rigidity of the macroeconomic or macrosocial perspective that, as already hinted at, is not adequate to understand the specificity of changes in the collective perception and the most important parts of daily life that have occurred in recent years in Spain.
The real person who will guide us through the ambiguous paths of the “permanent and normalized crisis” in Spain is, in fact, a friend of mine, someone I know very well. His name is Martín Valera, he is forty-one years old, married, a licensed social worker, has a five-year-old son, and lives in the outskirts of a large city. In 2008, when the unemployment rate rose dizzyingly fast from 8.5 percent to an alarming 17.24 percent (it would reach its highest point, a disastrous 27 percent, in 2013), Martín lost what had been his job of the last three years, a relatively comfortable position as a commercial administrator in a tire factory, a job that paid something around a thousand euros a month. He was one of the group of eleven million salaried employees (58 percent of the population) for whom the term mileuristas was coined, a term which at that time had a negative connotation, although it would soon become a coveted and utopian condition for many people, including Martín.1 His boss, with whom he had a close relationship, explained to him that, starting immediately, he had to begin helping his oldest daughter with the mortgage on her apartment (which she could no longer pay), and, additionally, that given the drastic decline in the business's clients, he had to let him go. Martín and his wife, Elia, had to give up the apartment they were renting downtown and moved to a cheaper neighborhood in the outskirts. They also decided that they had to postpone their plans of having a child. At the time, they were thirty and thirty-two years old, respectively. Elia, with a degree in business, worked part-time in a cafeteria and tutored schoolkids, and her income was now approximately five hundred euros a month.
(Word document written by Martín Valera on his personal computer)
When Ernesto told me the other day that he was going to write an article based on me, it made me think about what I would say if I had to write something about myself. Fuck, am I that normal? I started thinking. And now, I´ve started writing. I feel a bit ridiculous. But I had a journal before, I wrote in that blue-covered journal for years, with a Bic pen, in handwriting that even I can barely read. Complaints and frustrations of youth. A few short stories as well. I wanted to be a writer. Now, with a keyboard, I write much faster than with the pen, and I can write without thinking so much. In fact, I´m flying as a write. I´ve gotten fast from entering client data into the system and making delivery notes.
At home tonight, I keep typing. Here we are, both of us kind of like zombies, each one on our computer and falling asleep, the kid finally down for the night. Elia responding to her emails, and me to mine. And now writing this.
Elia, in any case, also writes. Or at least I think she does. When her mother died, she told me that she felt an urgent need to write, and she began a sort of never-ending letter to Félix, which is probably still ongoing, because she said that this way when the boy was older, he could know what we were thinking about, the things we were involved in during the first years of his life. Who his parents were. Because she (Elia) could no longer hear the voice of her mother. Literally, we don't have any recordings of her voice. There were a few messages on the answering machine that we used back then. One day it came unplugged and they were all erased, and she cried inconsolably. It's only now that I finally understand. Yes, only now that I'm afraid of losing the voice of my father forever.
Around 2008, Martín and Elia found themselves, like many others of the “crisis generation,” experiencing a profound upheaval of their current lives and a drastic change in expectations for their future. Struggling month to month to cover the essentials with the five hundred euros a month that Elia earned, once Martín's unemployment checks stopped, they had to ask their parents for financial help on more than one occasion. Elia's father, now a widower, a postal employee, and her mother, a housekeeper, had their own financial problems; they had decided to buy the apartment they had been renting their whole lives and now struggled to barely pay the mortgage with an ever-increasing interest rate. But Martín's parents, owners of a small grocery store, sold a modest storage space they had in order to help their son. As is well known, these kinds of situations have been all too frequent during the crisis: the many forms of family support (from sharing grandma's pension to helping take care of the kids when you can't afford day care, or even family reunification under the same roof, leaving out numberless other examples) have been crucial in alleviating the difficult situations created by the sudden drop in the earning power of the majority of the population, especially that of the youth and the middle-aged.
It is from this moment that a decade of deep uncertainty begins for Martín and the rest of his generation. The first few years are, without a doubt, the worst of them. Many young, and not so young, people who, like Martín, had suddenly lost their jobs found it incredibly difficult to get another. It was even difficult to find work at jobs that were extraordinarily precarious, provisional, low paying, without any kind of job security. Even the kinds of jobs that the majority of people would see as a “last resort” were scarce. The giant real estate bubble crashed and with it an enormous amount of wages associated, directly or indirectly, with construction and its sister sector, tourism. As has already been sufficiently analyzed, the collapse of the dangerous operations of real estate speculation that Wall Street had been carrying out for years has particularly affected the Spanish State, which was strongly dependent on it, since the times of Francoist “modernization,” on three principle economic sources: construction, tourism, and, precisely, real estate speculation.2
But let's not kid ourselves: the difficulty of the economic crisis in Spain is not due to any sort of national anomaly or particularity, rather, it is part of the structural workings of capitalism (which is now in its neoliberal stage). As has been explained from the point of view of eco-feminist authors such as Silvia Federici (2010), Amaia Pérez Orozco (2014), and Yayo Herrero et al. (2016), capitalism (as an essential piece of the socioeconomic system in which we live, also characterized as being heteropatriarchal, [neo]colonialist, racist, and anthropocentric) constantly tries to increase its profits, and that is incompatible with the processes necessary to sustain life. Capital invests (in production of merchandise, in distribution, and, since the 1970s, most of all, in financial speculation) in expectation of greater profits. To obtain them, it not only enters in conflict with salaried employment, of which it takes advantage, as argued in classical Marxism, but also with life itself, while life continues to require a constant sustaining process (care for the body, our emotions, and the planet) that is not profitable for capital. Some facets of the upkeep of a few concrete lives can be profitable, but never every facet nor every life. Capitalism functions structurally to separate lives that are worth sustaining because they will produce more capital, at the expense of others that are discarded, condemned to poverty and, ultimately, to death.
In the case of Spain, the plan of the neoliberal elite in the most recent decades was to confirm the peripheral and fragile function of the Iberian economy on the international map (which Francoism had already instituted). Spain should assume its position in the designated space for tourism along with real estate and financial speculation. As Isidro López and Emmanuel Rodríguez (2010; 2011) have explained, from the sociological and political economic point of view, in great detail, the 2008 crisis was an overwhelming and violent manner of ratifying that marginal position and taking it a few steps further, by a general endangering of the middle class (socialization of capital losses through “bail outs” to financial entities, public indebtedness, “austerity,” etc.). But, I insist, let's not kid ourselves: the violence of the neoliberal attack on the Spanish population has nothing to do with any specifically national dynamics. Obviously, these things have occurred and are still occurring in many different places. They simply form part of the structural violence of capitalism, which functions by constantly creating centers and peripheries (in other words, inequality) everywhere. Profitable lives and disposable lives.
By 2014, the rate of suicides had already increased to 20 percent in Spain.3
The boy slept horribly tonight, he's woken up so many times, with a fever and super congested, he couldn't breathe well, we have hardly slept at all. So I've spent all day kind of groggy at work and eventually I was so beat that during our lunch break I quickly escaped in my car to head to the hospital, and I took a nap in the armchair they have in my father's room, which, once you recline and put up the footrest, isn't bad at all. I had set an alarm on my watch, but I was sleeping so deeply that I didn't hear it, I woke up really out of it and I was late to work. My boss gave me a hard time but I was so dazed that I hardly noticed.
A really weird dream. I didn't know who or where I was. I felt completely lost. The only thing I knew was that I had something I had to take care of immediately, something important, that I couldn't remember. I had to figure out what it was. And get it done. I paced about some halls of a claustrophobic building, I got lost amongst seemingly identical doors, tunnels, false exits. But that wasn't the worst part. The worst was when I woke up, for a few minutes, everything was the same: I couldn't remember who I was or where I was. All damn day I walk around with that sense of being out of place.
In March 2015, the European Central Bank began printing a massive amount of euros and using them to mitigate the debt that the European countries had with the bank. This financial technique, known as “Quantitative Expansion,” is now coming to its last phases, but it has served the purpose that the ECB had hoped for, to “buy time.” It injected money into the economy and has caused, as has already been mentioned, some of the most catastrophic aspects of the crisis to diminish. However, it still begs the question: buy time for what, exactly? It doesn't seem too much to say that, among other factors, the ECB has tried to appease a mobilized citizenship force, both in the streets as well as within the institutions, which began tapping a significant amount of power (in Greece with Syriza and in Spain via the 2015 municipal elections, precisely the same year in which the ECB began with these measures).4
In fact, the “new normalcy” in which we find ourselves today can't be understood without taking into account both processes: on one hand, the mobilized citizenry after 2011, and, on the other hand, the measures taken by the political and financial elite to patch over the causes of indignation, without any real desire to transform them. My hypothesis regarding the former process, in this respect, is that the intense mobilization cycle (starting with the 15M movement, moving through the surges in defense of the public services and movements for housing rights, to name a few of the most pertinent examples of a wider social politicization) has produced, without a doubt, on one side, the effect of getting people's hopes up but also, in the long run, of wearing them out. Despite the small victories gained along the way, indignation and hope have slowly been eroding as the difficulty of changing the structural aspects of the hegemonic socioeconomic system has become more apparent. These aspects (for example, the rise in the cost of housing, which we're seeing repeat itself, the constant employment instability, or the ongoing fragility of public services) are now no longer perceived as part of the “great fraud,” “financial coup d’état,” or “system error,” which all served as names that public indignation gave the 2008 crisis; rather, they are precisely the realities that have survived, essentially unchanged, over the course of the cycles of mobilization (including, as I will soon point out, the “institutional assault” that came out of these mobilizations) and that, somehow, have thus earned, with the passing of time and the naturalization of a certain powerlessness, a status of irrefutable “normalcy.”
Normalcy which is, without a doubt, unjust and hard to bear but normalcy nonetheless, and no longer scandal.
What a shitty day yesterday! First, I had slept horribly. Weird dreams again. I dreamt I didn´t know who I was, I spoke but no one heard me when I spoke, no one saw me though I was standing right in front of them. Paranoia. Anyway, I went to work poorly rested. And then halfway through the morning they called me from my boy's school to tell me to come get Félix, I couldn't really understand what they were telling me on the phone, just that he had a bloody nose. So I ran over to the school, not knowing really what had happened. I get there and I find the poor thing a mess, his shirt covered in blood, crying nonstop, even harder once he saw me. They had him in the office with the custodian, because the nurse had been out for months and she has not been replaced, who knows how long the poor kid had been there, and on top of it all, the custodian was complaining to me about how the boy had thrown off the whole office. I could tell that they had called Elia repeatedly, but she had her phone on silent and didn't notice (like always). Then, it seems like they couldn't find my number anywhere and must have taken a while to get a hold of it. Félix was really shaken up. And me, instead of trying to calm him down, shit, now that I think about it, I almost took it out on him. The frustration and anger I had with the custodian, I mean. I get that he's bitter because they pay him shit and on top of all that he's one-armed and he has to take care of everything in the office, photocopies, the telephone, nursing, and keeping the garden, even taking care of heating repairs. Still, it's not my fault.
In the end, Félix was fine. Just shook up. But I had to take him to work, there was no way to calm him down, and on top of that I yelled at him because he stained the car with the bloodstained tissue. And of course, my boss and his nephew were there, just chatting with two clients, the kind that hang around just passing time, and they couldn't find anything better to talk about. Things like, this kid, what a cry baby. And, I'd like to know where this kid's mom is. And, the problem is that today parents are so soft with their kids, if I were to take him to work with me you would see how he'd straighten up in two minutes . . .
At least they didn't know that he only plays with girls at school and with dolls at home, if so they would have had a field day with it. Damnit, come on.
Anyway, I was pretty nervous the whole day, because I couldn't get anything done with Félix there, since he didn't want to go play in the warehouse, he just had to be right next to me the whole time. When we finally left, I was already really tired and the plans to take him to get pizza for dinner with his little friend from the neighborhood did not appeal to me at all. I had told Elia not to worry about any of that stuff this week, seeing that they have a lot to do to prepare for the 8M protest, I told her I would take care of Félix and not to worry about it. I wanted to make the most of it and have fun plans with the kid, spend more time with him. And also, honestly, I want Elia to see that I can take care of Félix just fine on my own, that she doesn't always have to worry about if he's eating and things like that.
Anyway, because I was so tired and all the shit from yesterday we had a rough start to the week: reheating leftovers from the freezer for dinner and watching TV. (Félix had a little bit of a fever.) Among the leftovers was some fried tomato sauce that was probably past the expiration date and that today has kept us both at home, staying real close to the toilet, unable to go to school or work.
Martín Valera also got excited about the mobilization of 2011. He made up part of the 80 percent of the population that believed in the 15M movement and also part of the 3 million people that directly participated in the Iberian version of the “movement of the squares” that was spreading all over the world, from Tahrir to Wall Street, and from Sao Paulo to Taksim. Like many of the 15M movement participants, Martín had barely been involved in any sort of politics prior. Together with his wife, friends, and some family, he regularly went to the encampment in the city plaza and participated in assemblies and committees. He even helped stop an eviction, in a direct action called by the PAH (Plataforma de los Afectados por la Hipoteca). Nevertheless, by around 2014, he had gradually begun attending activist group protests and meetings less often, although he still felt emotionally connected to some of those friends that he had met in the plaza. It is important to note, to be fair, that in 2013, Martín and Elia decided to renew their old plans to have a child, for which they now, Elia being thirty-seven years old, had to use assisted reproduction methods (which Martín's parents paid for with the last of what they had left from selling their small warehouse). Their little boy, Félix, was born in December of that same year. Raising him was a big factor in limiting their activist participation.
On the other hand, by then, Martín had now started doing something he'd never done before: he began to follow Spanish politics very closely on TV news outlets. He wanted to see what would come of Podemos. Soon that would become one of the favorite topics of the never-ending conversations between the employees and some clients that happened to come into the hardware store, where, through his old boss, Martín had gotten a job as a salesman in 2015. That same boss, in fact, offered him work in the tire factory again as well, although this time it was part-time work (Martín took advantage of weekends and the odd night here and there) and not under contract. Between the two jobs he now made 640 euros a month.
Another dream: they call me from the school again, the grouchy one-armed custodian. Once again I drive around in the car, lost among unknown streets (and what's more, I´m driving from the backseat, as I usually do in my dreams), trying to park but there are no spaces, and the streets turn into dirt roads, and the roads take me further and further away from the school. The same feeling as always that there is something I have to take care of immediately that I can't forget to do, but at least this time I know what it is: pick up Félix of course. If there is something I have to do in this life, that's it. Don't leave the kid all by himself. So I finally find some place to park in an empty field, really far way, I start running as fast as I can, but when I arrive the place is packed with kids, floods of kids in the halls, and I can't find Félix anywhere, but I have to crouch down low because I can't see the faces clearly, but none of them are him. It goes on like that for a while, till a teacher finally shows up, and she tells me very kindly: “Sir, your son isn't here with the boys, you need to look for him over there.” And she directs me to a room full of little girls, in which, just like she told me, Félix is, smiling from ear to ear. And Félix is also a girl.
But when I see him (or see her), I'm not surprised at all nor do I feel relieved, rather, impatient, because I realize that the thing that I had to take care of right away and that I couldn't remember wasn't actually picking him up. Then I wake up, distressed.
In the afternoon I went to see Pepe to invite him to have a drink and to ask him if he could watch Félix Friday night. His partner, Andrea, also has her hands full with the 8M protest, and he's caught up in the same things I am these days, up to his neck with his two girls. Make sure they do their chores, that they eat, that they wear enough clothing, that they change their wet socks if it rains, that they don't watch too much TV, make sure they make it to school on time every day, get together with other parents for a birthday party, pay attention to the phone just in case the school calls, pick the girls up, read them bedtime stories, make sure they take a bath, brush their teeth, that they sleep enough and that they pee before they go to bed. When Félix is sleeping, fill the humidifier with salt water so he can breathe ok. And if you notice he is having trouble breathing give him the vapor mask with Albuterol. While doing all that, answer all the questions he asks me, because I made a promise to myself before he was born that I would answer all his questions. Even when I don't know the answer. Dad, when I die what will I turn into? Dad, there won't ever be a war here, right? Dad, how many curse words exist?
Exhausted, at 11:30 at night I can finally sit down, after having cleaned up the kitchen, put away the clothes, and gotten the backpack ready for tomorrow. As I go to open the computer I hear the front door open. Elia comes in with her biggest smile. Her bright cheeks are the same ones we both used to have in 2011, when we were both active in the plazas. She starts talking to me, we open a bottle of wine, her happiness is contagious, she can't stop talking about her new friends from the feminist group. She talks about how easy things are when there are no men, how easy it is to talk, for her, who always had such a difficult time speaking in public. She's radiant. She also tells me that she's gone by the hospital to see my dad and that he looks a lot better.
Around 2013, two simultaneous phenomena take place in relation to the 15M movement: on one hand, there is more and more talk of trying to translate the demands of the movement into some sort of electoral campaign or a political institutional tool (not just talk of specific parties but also a potential “constituent process” that could start a constitutional reform). On the other hand, the physical spaces of the movement begin to lose some of their energy and the daily presence of many participants, mostly those with less experience in the world of political activism.
In January 2014, the political party Podemos is founded, which participated with considerable success in the European elections in May. One month later, in June, Guanyem Barcelona is announced, under the leadership of the then spokeswoman for PAH, Ada Colau. The platform, already under the name of Barcelona in Comú, would win the mayoral election of the capital city one year later, in May of 2015. This is not the place to try to give a general assessment of the complex and still open process which came to be called “institutional assault” that began then. The only thing I would like to point out is that, to me, this process has not been capable of reversing, in general terms, the collective psychological process of “normalization” of the living conditions of the crisis to which I refer in this essay. The relative feeling of powerlessness (combined, admittedly, with many isolated moments of empowerment and collective intelligence), which has extended throughout the extensive spectrum of citizens encouraged by the 15M movement, seems to have been a tonic during these last years in which the hopes for political change have been redirected in large measure from popular mobilization to an institutional strategy.
I'm starting to like this writing thing.
The other day, Ernesto invited me to a book presentation he was a part of. I didn't really want to go but he insisted so much, telling me that he wanted to talk to me about the article he was writing, and that he needed to ask me a few things. And, on the other hand, Pepe had told me that I could leave Félix with him whenever I needed, so I ended up going, also thinking that a night off would be good for me. It was downtown, in that bookstore where I had attended some meeting before. Honestly, from the moment I walked through the door I regretted having gone. There were a few people I knew, those acquaintances that you never know if you should say hi to or not, if they remembered who I was or not. One guy came up to say hi to me, a real nice guy I remembered from the plaza. We started talking about mutual friends. He still saw a few here and there, but was upset with several others, he told me that those who had joined the municipal government had no time to see him because they were always busy and that he simply lost track of many others. One or another had gone to live in the countryside, others emigrated. “Aside from a few ugly happenings that it's better I don't tell you, you know, the kind of things that screw up friendships.” He told me that really, he wasn't there for the event that night but just happens to pass by the bookstore on Thursdays after work. Then, all of a sudden, he stopped talking, he seemed to have realized something and he got serious: “Oh, you're the guy who is good friends with the Ernesto who is presenting here today, right?” He started moving away little by little as if I had the plague or something, fuck. So we just said goodbye. I sat in the back row and just looked at my phone. I didn't have any new messages.
The book was about a recent rise of the Far Right. Ernesto introduced the author and then he spoke and after that there were “questions” from the public. It seemed as if everyone there knew each other, but no one dared say anything, there was a kind of tension, like in a chess match when the next move takes forever. Finally, a couple of people spoke up, they said that the situation was very alarming, however, the truth is that no one seemed very alarmed, but rather looked like they had seen it all. I zoned out. For a moment there was a murmuring, some restlessness, and laughter. An older gentleman who was sitting next to me looked over smiling and whispered: “A little smack to the face! don't you think?” I hadn't paid attention to what had happened, it looks like someone had asked a question and Ernesto just put him down. They were talking for a while like all the TV commentators (“listen, let me speak, I've listened to you, let me finish, I haven't disrespected you,” and things like that), since both of them wanted to prove they were right. Ernesto was saying that the Far Right was channeling the public discontent with the crisis and the other guy contested that the new Left was at fault for having gotten soft and saying that they were neither Left or Right.
When the event finally ended, listless applause, and immediately after, the guy from the audience went up to Ernesto smiling and they gave each other a pat on the back. It was like they had just finished a piece of theater, and now they could talk and behave normally. The audience, which had moments before been as quiet as a tomb, now couldn't stop talking, and it got even louder as they began serving wine at a little table where you could buy copies of the book. I took cover there and quickly drank two glasses of red wine, almost in one gulp, thinking that since I had come, I at least had to wait a minute to say hi to Ernesto before I left.
So then, he comes over, along with the author and the guy from the audience, all three of them smiling, and Ernesto gives me a couple pats on the back while he keeps talking, acting as if I was already involved in the conversation. I find myself now a part of their group, and Ernesto was telling the author: “This is your moment, man, you're killing it, and you deserve it, fuck, you've had better reviews than anyone and you've written first the book that everyone has to read.” And the author: “I guess you're right, man, honestly everyone likes to have their 5 minutes of fame, right?” (laughter) “and it's a really interesting topic, you know?, because you can really learn from those fascist bastards, right? I mean for example, with the communication strategies they have, they are really good communicators, they know how to hook the people right away, man, all you've got to see is how quickly they're already filling rallies, and they just got started.” Then the guy from the audience added, “Exactly, man, like I was saying, what people like is hard-core stuff, you all are too intellectual and you like post-porn, but what the people want are those simple things and thick chocolate. You´ve got to make things simpler for the common people, fuck, be a bit more strategic. Have you not seen what that American girl, Ocasio-Cortez, has done? A real simple story on paper, you know: I was a waitress and I'm Hispanic and I don't owe anyone anything, and that's why the people love her, because she's like them. Unlike here, so much political science and then as soon as possible we go and buy a chalet . . . ”
After that, Ernesto and the author began to subtly ignore the guy, until he eventually left, not even saying goodbye, and I wanted to do the same, but Ernesto grabbed me by the arm as if to tell me to wait, and he kept on, “fuck, everything's crazy, what we have in our favor is precisely the fact that we've studied more and that we know more than them, why should we have to hide that? What we need to do is show our level, man, show everyone that we have the brightest minds in this country with us, that we'll be the ones who know the most about any topic, about economics, urbanism, and, whatever else, public services, for example, and that we'll put together “the government of the best,” man, I proposed that slogan for the regional elections, you know? It's none other than Plato's idea,” the author says as he signs, “a Left that knows how to communicate, a European Left, fuck, like Varoufakis, something of quality, with think tanks, with powerful leftist media like The Guardian, with real reach, because if not we don't really exist, we end up being nothing but hippies, fuck, we're back to being nothing but squatters and that's ok for the small group of friends, but we're not going to change the world that way or stop the Trumps and the Bolsonaros . . . ” Suddenly the two of them turn to their right: “Hold on, hold on, just a minute, that guy over there is someone, right?” “Yea, man, you know who that is? That is the editor of Grupo Contenidos who has come to your presentation, you're in luck!” “Fuck yea, well I'm going to talk to him right now, you know? If I can get him to write a review my readership will multiply to over a thousand immediately, man.” “Yea, of course, go and talk with him, man, you've got to promote your book, no one else will if you don't, and if you're not in Contenidos you don't exist, that's for sure.”
I finally ended up alone with Ernesto. But then he starts talking to me really fast, “oh, Martín, how are you? Yes, I wanted to ask you a few things for the article, but anyway maybe we leave it for another day, I'll call you, ok? How is your boy? He must be so big now, right? And Elia?” When I told him that Elia was really involved with the strike and the feminist protest 8M he told me: “Wow, that's great, those women work hard, they're awesome! Hey, tell Elia to see if she could send me someone for a panel I'm organizing about current protests, feminism has to be part of it! We've got to capitalize on this moment, since these things never last. Well, I'll see you later, Martín!”
And he ran off to make his way in amongst the group that had formed around the guy from Contenidos.
I had already lost track of how much wine I'd had, and I arrived at Pepe's house quietly and a bit hesitant, expecting to find everyone asleep. Come on. They had the music blasting, the girls and Félix and even Pepe were all playing dress-up and doing the funniest choreographed dances on the sofa. I started dancing with them, we died of laughter. My son loved putting on skirts with his little girl friends and dancing like a spinning top. Pop songs, techno, loud heavy metal. Afterwards we started to calm things down, little by little, so everyone could get to bed, I decided to stay there for the night. Instead of reading a story, we started to make one up together. I think the wine helped me and I ended up being the most inspired: I made up a very long story in which Félix and the girls had the power to transform themselves into whatever they see: a tree, a house, a bridge, a rock, some lentils. . . We fell asleep at some point, extremely late.
I slept better, but even still, I woke up with the feeling that there was something important for me to do and that I was forgetting what it was.
The “crisis generation” today is definitely still in a precarious employment situation, with notable difficulty finding or even maintaining a decent living space, and generally has very low expectations for the possibility of economic prosperity. In other words, the crisis generation is today in a situation that, in reality, is not so different from that of 2008. But what, without a doubt, has changed is the perception this generation has of its own situation. In this generation, like in most others, the “lost generation” is just like the rest of society. What before was deemed unacceptable is now the daily norm. The general lowering of expectations has been, as one would expect, even greater with the younger generations, who don't even have an alternative experience against which to compare.
At the same time, what is different about this general perception, which the Spanish population had about themselves in the first years of the crisis, and particularly from 2011 on, is that the hopes for a profound change in the socioeconomic and political order have weakened significantly. Of course, such an overarching affirmation must admit some nuance: it is true that very important political manifestations continue to arise; notably, in the realm of feminism, in defense of retirement funds, or supporting Catalan independence, if only to name the most numerous of the last five years. Also, the presence of the so-called “councils for change” in some important cities along with the emergence of a new party, such as Podemos, focused on structural transformation, keeps generating important political changes and hopes to achieve even greater ones. What is certain is that if one attempts, as in this article, to think about what has become of the generation of this past decade's crisis, one inevitably recognizes that, alongside enduring the sustained adverse economic conditions that were not extreme but at the same time had become “normalized,” perhaps the other most important thing that has happened to this generation has been that its expectations of radical political, social, and economic change have diminished significantly.
Consequently, I will venture two possible causes (both related to each other) for this recent shift toward a general hopelessness of the crisis generation. On one hand, there were deficiencies and errors in the leadership of the political and intellectual Left in the effort of turning the social energy of the 15M movement into a real political transformation. Perhaps the leadership simply didn't know how to create institutions and sufficiently strong communication strategies.
However, on the other hand, it must be said that the citizens have also shown a certain apathy toward the proposals that the leadership repeatedly offered. This is possibly due to a lack of a tradition of political reflection in our society. In that sense, as has been mentioned many times, maybe the people showed that in the end passionate impulses—such as indignation—are more powerful than analyses aimed to give rise to long-term transformations, like those which the intellectual leftist leadership proposed, despite its possible shortcomings (and I insist that we must be self-critical), throughout these years. In support of this hypothesis, we could include the suggestion that perhaps a part of the outrage of 2011 is now being channeled toward completely different theoretical positions, but in similarly passionate ways. I refer here, of course, to the alarming appearance of the extreme Right in these last years (as a passing note, this is a hot topic that doesn't seem to me to have been analyzed in any real detail, and about which I myself will soon prepare a publication, though I lack the space to do so here).
In order to conclude these reflections with an anecdote, and without any desire to overstate something that is in the end merely a detail, and one that comes through my own personal experience, I will point out that, unfortunately, it wouldn't surprise me at all if, as great examples of the apathy and hopelessness that I have had to relate in these pages, neither Martín Valera, whom I have made the object of several reflections here, nor any of the people in his personal and family surroundings ever takes a sufficient interest in this essay to read it from beginning to end.
Finally. Finally I've fallen asleep and gotten a real good night's rest.
I did something a bit absurd. I flipped out. I was in the hospital, Saturday during the 8M strike, Elia had wanted to take Félix with her to the demonstration, and I had wanted to stay with my father. Despite the women's strike, most of the nurses were working. But they held a symbolic work stoppage at noon. And, well, my dad had the TV on and I was getting pissed because it drives me crazy that he doesn't doing anything but watch TV. The commentators were talking about 8M. “Excuse me, I never said that,” “if you let me finish I´ll explain it to you,” “answer me, yes or no: does the feminist movement accept everyone or discriminate against those that think a certain way?” On the screen behind them, here and there I managed to see images of groups of women with purple hair and painted faces, going around on bikes or running through the streets in picketing shifts. But the footage was cut and looped. I wanted to see what was happening live and the TV wasn't going to show me. My dad absently watched the screen from his bed, his left hand shaking. Then I saw that there, next to him, were his pills, among them the two strong antidepressants they had prescribed him. Without thinking for a second, I swallowed them. Then I went to the nurse and told her that they hadn't given them to him, and she gave me more.
Little by little I started noticing something pleasant. And I got chatty. I started talking to my dad as if he understood me perfectly, I felt like talking to him about his mother, and his family, I started to tell him the stories that he had told me so many times, I talked about all those beings, so real in my infancy, now just shades, those hordes of uncles and aunts from the village that had had to furtively hunt rabbits for food, that had walked to exile in France and then returned, afterwards, humiliated, the ones that my father and mother had visited time and time again until they started to fall apart in public hospitals like this one. I told him how, when he was detained, already in the ’70s, for associating with a few “commie” students that it was assumed had done something, his dad had to hold back from hitting the corporal of the Guardia Civil right in the face when he told him outside the barracks, “Mister Paco, since you've returned from France you've behaved well, but now your son is involved with some bad company and is misbehaving, and we'll see what we have to do.” I felt like talking about grandpa and grandma, about when they worked in the town movie theater, how they knew all the movies by heart, even though they never got to see one from beginning to end, but they could hear them from the ticket booth and from the hall. My dad, then, as if he also wanted to hear better, like his parents, gestured to me to turn down the volume on the TV, and he smiled at me assuredly, as if to say: “go on.” So I kept going and I told him so many things that he had told me which I can't repeat here, things from when he was little, things about him and my mother going to live in the city, about when they put up their store, I told him everything as if I were in his head, as if I was the one who had lived all those hardships and joys, as if I had borrowed his voice. But in addition to all that, I then told him everything I had wanted to say to him, everything that I had swallowed over the years, because something had opened and now it was impossible to stop, a stream, I even told him about when he used to hit me with his belt when I was a teenager, because I came home at god knows what time, “drunk,” really I was high on Ecstasy, but he didn't know that then, and I also told him that I knew it made him so mad that I was so frail, such a girl, and that surely because of that he felt powerless and lashed me with the belt, because he thought I would suffer if I didn't toughen up, and of course I did suffer because since I was sensitive and cried about everything at school they called me a pansy and hit me a lot more than he did with the belt, just as, I told my father, it will likely end up happening to Félix now too, if something doesn't change, fuck. Because something has to change. Once and forever, damn it.
Then he pointed to the TV with his shaking hand, slowly, taking him a minute to really point. The immense sea of women that had begun taking over the streets of the cities and towns all over the country finally appeared on the screen. How long had we been talking? It had been hours, I felt like in a dream.
Then with a smile and with much effort, because he can barely talk and with the tracheotomy he can't do more than whisper, my dad uttered four words to me: “go with your mom.”
He pointed to the door and to the TV screen one more time. “Go with them,” is what I think he said. “Go.”
So I gave him a hug, told him I loved him, and I left the hospital with such joy and at the same time crying in sorrow, a total mess. I have no idea how I managed to drive, because I almost couldn't see through the tears and I could've really hurt myself, and I got lost, wandering around streets I didn't recognize, that took me farther and farther from downtown and then dirt roads, and I couldn't find anywhere to leave the car, until I finally found a parking spot and then started running like crazy, for a long time, to get to the protest before it ended. And, truthfully, like in the dream, exactly like in the dream, I kept getting the feeling again that there was something I had to do, something forgotten but extremely important, and nevertheless, the difference was that this time I was calm, content, because I knew that this time I would finally remember. I had a sort of curled up little animal on my nape that gave me that assurance.
Everything that happened after that is a haze. The protest was huge, I traversed the whole thing as if I were floating. I saw it abstractly, or perhaps extremely concretely: I saw bodies throbbing together, felt waves of electricity and joy that passed through those bodies and also through the words that surrounded me and went through me, I was swimming in a sea of intensity. When the chant “no, no, no, to the patriarchal system” rang out with infinite force, each “no” was a major chord strummed on the strings that now sounded in my rib cage. When the shout “the street and the night are also ours” bellowed, it was because the night, which was getting darker over the rooftops of the city, was made up of those streets upon which one body, made up of many bodies, was those same words and, at the same time, the world.
The next day I would find out that the real dosage they had prescribed my father is a little quarter of one of those pills every five days. Ha.
In any case, I don't know how, as I wandered about, with a smile from ear to ear, I miraculously found Elia who was with my mom and Félix along with some other friends, in a bar terrace, drinking something to celebrate the day. They were incandescent. I was able to control myself and I think that I more or less sold my story, I said that I had drunk a few glasses of wine with Pepe before coming and I sat in a corner with Félix, trying to go unnoticed. But soon after, someone I recognized approached me, an older woman, with white hair and glasses, very slightly built, it was Lourdes Simón, that woman who had been my philosophy professor at high school, whom I so greatly admired. The rumors were that she had a drinking problem, had retired early, so many rumors, that she had AIDS, that she'd gone crazy. I was so thrilled to run into her and I know we ended up talking for a long time, while Félix jumped around like a monkey, and my mom sat with us, and she shook my hand as if she were my daughter. But I remember only pieces of our conversation. The memory is, once again, just like the dream. I was still waiting for the little animal in my nape to wake up at any moment to finally hear the revelation of whatever it was I had to do and had forgotten. I don't know if I'm making it up, but I believe that at some point Lourdes told me and my mom that during those last years she had gone to live in a town in the mountains and that there she had organized reading groups as well as writing workshops. She said she was going to do the same in the city, just for women, and with her enthusiasm she convinced my mom to sign up right then and there. She, who has always wanted to write and has never done so.
“Can you imagine what could happen if more and more people dared to write?” said Lourdes. “If we all told our lives instead of believing whatever the TV says about us? On our own, without having to ask permission from the usual people, from ‘those who know’ . . . What would happen if we stopped listening not just to the TV, but also to those that proclaim themselves “the leaders of the Left,” and pretend to speak in the name of “the people” when things are going well, only to quickly blame also “the people” when things go wrong? What would happen if we stopped listening to those “leaders” and “intellectuals” that deeply believe that “people” are stupid, “uneducated,” “uncultured,” as they like to say? I believe that trusting in what we can do, sooner or later we find each other, even if we don't have what they call now . . . visibility! Ha, ha. For example, right here and right now, in this terrace, we have found each other. Here we are.”
She then turned towards me inquisitively:
“You still write, right Martín? Of course you do. I remember how you liked the story of Scheherazade in high school . . . And now that you're older, you must have come to understand that she didn't tell stories just so they wouldn't kill her. We don't tell stories just to fight against death. You already know, against that sort of falling to pieces and that oblivion of everything that is life, and now you're starting to understand, Martín. Scheherazade had to make sure that with her stories she also caused the sultan Shahriar to unlearn all the other stories they had told him before, the ones that made him believe himself to be king and believe he had the right to decide the life and death of others. If we really have the strength to tell stories, then we tell them to undo the webs of deceit of those other stories. Those that are always there first, Martín, already told.”
With those words, the trance was broken and the huddled up little animal jumped up and grabbed the old Bic pen.
When we got home, enjoying our accumulated fatigue, I asked Elia to let me read the letter she had been writing to Félix all those years. That's where I read this:
“I recognize in culture a weapon to be able to exist. To allow ourselves. I'm not interested in any persuasive or expropriative or elitist use of culture. I committed suicide as an author ten years ago and I carry it with me, from that nothingness that I am, I cry. We cross a desert, the majority of people don't believe in this that I affirm. They don't believe in their ability to build a world, not with their words, not with their talent, nor with their truth . . . Neither do they believe that art is a favorable terrain for such experimentation, and if they do, they think it is restricted to a few chosen individuals that they consider isolated geniuses. Not even the most open and daring, once they have enjoyed power, have been able to break the prison of a dead art.
But I know, I've lived it, that not only can art be made by the anyones, but that it can also be made in a collective way, and that it can generate fertile, vital, creative and life-giving work. I also know that while there are no collectives willing to coalesce in that kind of suicide of the author gesture, it is a senseless gesture. I charge myself with the firm purpose of inspiring these collectivities because I know that when they happen, art, creation, has plenty of space to accommodate all of the people and all their unique and inimitable truth. I know that it is only this way, after retelling ourselves, re-creating ourselves, that we are able to fly over our horizon, dancing on its edge. We are able to leap off the map, to tear it apart, to breathe, and only in this way, keep living.”5
I would like to express my gratitude to José Sánchez Algora for his help with this text.
I use “Francoist modernization” in quotations for two reasons: first, because the very concept of “modernization” should always go in quotation marks, so as to not naturalize an expression that was created to legitimize the capitalist and social urbanizing transformation project led by the Western bourgeois class. Raymond Williams made a detailed history of the concept in his classic Keywords (1983), on which Graham and Labanyi (1995) relied to offer an excellent panorama of how it functions in the Spanish context. In addition, I also write “Francoist modernity” in quotation marks because, as has been extensively shown in studies like those of López and Rodríguez (2010) or Cazorla Sánchez (2009), the supposed economic boom produced by Francoist dictatorship's adoption of global capitalism in the ’50s (what is often called “modernization” or “development”) was in fact an extremely expensive and painful process for a large part of the Spanish population, especially for economic migrants, peasants, and the general working class. As has been explained by the historian Pablo Sánchez León (2010), with this turn toward a supposed “modernization,” Francoism produced, in addition to a poisonous legacy of inequality, a model of individualist, consumer, urban, depoliticized, and “middle-class” society that marginalized and even stigmatized three-quarters of the population.
See Raventós 2017.
Manuel Gabarre (2018) so argues.
These last two paragraphs, along with the quote to begin the article, have been taken from the texts of the writer, editor, and founder of CineSinAutor, Eva Fernández (2017; n.d.). In particular, this last quote is from her text “Soy escritora,” which can be found on her blog, https://evalazcanocaballer.wordpres.com/.