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La fabrique de l’écrivain

Laurie-Anne Laget



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1How does one become a writer in early xxth century Spain? This book aims at answering that question by examining the case of Ramón Gómez de la Serna, a supposedly unclassifiable author and traditionally regarded as the forerunner of avant-garde in Spain. Above all, Gómez de la Serna’s career was a perfect example of the kind of career every writer-journalist led during the first decades of the last century. From newspaper headquarters to publishing networks, writers had to earn a living before becoming well-known public figures of the literary circles of their time. Only then would they be able to seek modern literary models in order to create their unique style and, finally, find their audience —the last step before claiming a permanent literary success. This book is dedicated to presenting this first chapter in the history of any contemporary Spanish writer.

2Gómez de la Serna began his literary career in the press and publishing networks of the 1910s, to which he was introduced rather late. He followed the path which contemporary young writers has already opened for him and found his place as a professional writer in Madrilenian press. There, inspired by the journalistic genres of the time, he published his first literary chronicles. The style of Ramón, best represented by the greguería, was elaborated in the newsrooms of the major newspapers of the time. In fact, the knowledge of the first greguerías is scarce to date, precisely because of this particular context of elaboration. The greguerías have been studied as a timeless literary genre, without any textual history, and identified with the definition-equation given by the author in the 1940s: “humour + metaphor = greguería”. By analyzing the earliest steps of Ramón as both a journalist and a writer, this book retraces the evolution that led to this result.

3From the very beginning, Ramon continuously expressed his interest in the idea of “lo nuevo” and sought foreign literary models of writing. For this reason, he evolved in the company of translators. Ricardo Baeza, for instance, but also Carmen de Burgos and his brother Julio were his closest collaborators. Fellow writers of Prometeo, the literary journal managed by his family, Rafael Cansinos Assens, Enrique Díez-Canedo and Fernando Fortún, were also regularly sollicited. Ramon’s unpublished correspondence with Baeza in 1909-1912 shows that he was a fake polyglot. Next in the book, a comparative analysis follows which shows that the key models of the first Ramonian texts were Symbolist or Post-symbolist writers (such as Remy de Gourmont, Marcel Schwob and Francis Jammes) whose names, in some cases (as of Max Jacob, Apollinaire and Saint-Pol-Roux), can be associated with the emerging avant-garde literature. Through these readings, Ramon began to explore various new aesthetic forms. He also consolidated his style: this is why, in my view, the greguería only makes sense within the context of European history of short literary forms. Furthermore, Ramón enriched his reflection on poetic expressiveness by focusing on the aesthetics of the image. This probably stood as the turning point in his philosophical and intellectual training. Moreover, it determined his subsequent literary career: indeed, poetic analogies became one of the founding grounds of the first greguerías.

4In Guy Mercadier’s words, the “Ramón effect” consists of the writer’s ability to surprise his readers and, at the same time, win their complicity. Ramón had only needed a few years to create his own original style and, this way, reach the general public. In the 1920s, the greguería became a successful formula, a participant of the literary modernity in a broad sense, perfectly integrated in the market laws of cultural consumption. Ramón then changed into the quirky character widely celebrated in Spanish literary historiography. He passed on to posterity thanks to his ability of playing with poetic images. Nevertheless, critics to date seem to have forgotten the context of the 1910s, essential in his successful professionalization as a writer.

5The purpose of this book is to reassess the literary position of Ramón Gómez de la Serna as a literary apprentice in the 1910s evolving in the professional network of the press. My reading in a historical perspective of his literary apprenticeship —both as a writer and as a journalist— reveals the limits of the main academic approach to this author. It is also an invitation to consider his work as a whole whilst bearing in mind its complexity. Furthermore, using cultural history and literary analysis, this book intends to shed a new light on the 1910s, relegated to historic oblivion until recently. The 1910s were an aesthetic and cultural melting pot mixing the heritage of the previous century with the emerging modern media and a growing number of readers which led to new forms of literature. The distinctive cultural syncretism of the 1910s is crucial to the understanding of Ramón’s first greguerías. Finally, this book explores Ramonian complexity by revising critical views on the writer’s work. It presents a new reading of Ramón’s texts in their context, providing new documentation so as to offer a more subtle analysis of a writer often portrayed in an over-simplified way which overlooked how he differentiated himself within the literary field of the 1910s.

© Casa de Velázquez, 2012

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