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Miguel Delibes and Gonzalo Torrente Ballester

Prince of Asturias Award for Literature 1982

Speech by Gonzalo Torrente Ballester:

On the one hand, the occasion that brings us together, and in which I have a role far above my worth, highlights the strength and vitality of Asturias, illustrious for so many concepts, but which in these matters of humanistic culture is linked to imperishable names, and I wish to cite, besides my countryman Feijoo, together with Campomanes and Jovellanos, the more modern names of Clarín and Pérez de Ayala; while, on the other, owing to its nature this occasion takes on a highly political significance, since the mere public recognition of intellectual and artistic merits suffices to bring about the attendance and presidency of he and those who symbolize Spain and guarantee the hope of its future. I wish, therefore, for my first words to be those of appreciation to Their Majesties the King and Queen and to His Highness the Prince of Asturias for their presence, and secondly to the Foundation that grants these awards for its wise decision to constitute a body that fosters culture, with which light is shone on many obscurities to come. And also words of congratulations to the Laureates, all great names, for the prominence and splendour with which their merits in the order of creation and research are being celebrated. First of all, to my colleague from the Royal Spanish Academy, Miguel Delibes, our great Castilian novelist. Then to my peers and colleagues Pablo Serrano and Antonio Domínguez Ortiz, the former for the way he has scrutinized matter and has extracted unexpected and heart-rending shapes from it; the latter, for having delved into the archives and having drawn from their silence past events that promote new ways for us Spaniards to understand and know one another. Next, to Mario Augusto Bunge, who represents among us the unalterable light of humanism, to which, disillusioned with less authentic, less free ways of conceiving culture, we men have to return; to Manuel Ballester Boix, who also scrutinizes, though in the deepest, most delicate reality of that which at one time we called matter and which we no longer know what to call; and, finally, to Enrique Iglesias Valentín García, whose efforts help keep alive the channel of friendship and understanding that reconnects us to the Americas. Especial moving for me, however, is the presence of Antonio Domínguez Ortiz, and not just because of the aforementioned fact that we form part of the same generation, but for having shared with me for over forty years the same task of teaching with the efficiency his disciples proclaim; and I shall take his name and also his work to elucidate some of the points that these few words of mine aim to highlight. I refer, first of all, to knowledge of History, which my colleague, friend and admired companion Antonio Domínguez Ortiz nowadays practices so eminently in Spain: he knows —all of us who have shuddered before the reality of our country know— the importance, the urgency of the objective and thorough research that allows us Spaniards to really know what we were, to truly understand what we are and to extract from this knowledge the principles that should truly govern our behaviour as citizens: one of the deepest causes of our historical errors, of our conduct as a people, is without doubt the false idea we have and maintain about ourselves and our past. And I said idea when I should have said ideas, because there are at least two contradictory and irreconcilable ideas we battle with, both incomplete and often erroneous, one and the other postulating the true and perhaps disenchanted historical knowledge that we Spaniards need to confront courageously, that allows us to rectify our world view, and to add to it that of an elucidated Spain. It is knowledge that must penetrate all levels, underpin all attitudes, constitute the immovable foundations of each unique personality, as it cannot pass through our time without a clear idea of the community to which it belongs and its corresponding place in reality, perhaps in its uncertainty. Antonio Domínguez Ortiz has contributed in a highly remarkable degree to the clarification of serious aspects of our past. It gives me great pleasure to point this out.

The second point I aim to address is that of scientific research. Don Manuel Ballester represents here that eminent, seductive attitude before which Spaniards do not seem to be provided with the proper sensitivity. It is a repeated, almost funerary mantra, which bodes no good. And to make it clear why I, inventor of more or less fantastic fictions, leave aside the praise of poetry and insist on crying out for the need for science, I shall allow myself to elucidate a number of personal reasons. To do so, I shall inevitably resort to my memories, but I promise not to impose on you, and I anticipate that these memories may well coincide, in a sense, with those of many Spaniards. I was born in a seafaring, rather than maritime city; a city specialized in shipbuilding, with a well-earned reputation of having achieved excellence in this industry. In a beautiful plaza surrounded by magnolias, the statue of Jorge Juan points, with his finger, to the grey and blue complex of the naval dockyards. Jorge Juan was one of the finest, the most responsible leaders of his century, and the naval dockyards he points to, the most famous. During my childhood, the story was told of how those sword-and-wig-bearing engineers, leaning over the drawing board, had invented the best ships of their time; powerful, fleet, beautiful machines to play with the wind and against it. I insist and I want to make it clear that, before having built them, they had invented them. Theirs were the science and technology, knowledge and practice that placed them at the forefront of their time, daring and clear-sighted, though surrounded by an indolent, craven society that needed to be brought to its senses and safeguarded. We all know that it was unfulfilled task, though not because of those boat builders. Also, when I was a child, ships were launched at those shipyards, but were no longer invented. Jorge Juan’s finger pointed to, still points to, the same factory, which worked and still works with foreign patents. And if Jorge Juan’s finger were to point to all the factories in Spain, it would point to the same thing at most of them: excellent workmanship employed in what was conceived by others. It so happened in the 18th century that a number of illustrious individuals had taken to research and laid the foundations of our modern science. However, it also happened that this tradition was interrupted just after it started, and I have already stated the reason why, since the failure of the naval arts was only one aspect of a general failure. In order to justify itself, Spanish society assumed a supposed moral superiority, and hence arose the painful, the incomprehensible phrase “Let them do the inventing”. He who uttered it, as greatly talented as he was, did not understand that, from that time on, the future belonged to those who invented, and those who did not invent had the doors of hope closed to them. Spanish society has barely emerged from its mistake, as it persists in its old haughtiness, which nowadays masks impotence, selfishness, laziness and the like. Some think, yes, it is necessary to invent, but it is more convenient and, above all, cheaper to buy what others invent, precisely the “them” of the statement. They –we all– should understand that those who do so practise a masked form of indifference to our country, which, deep down, is contempt. They may consider themselves patriots, but they are not. Our country urgently needs, above all, to research. Both as individuals and as a people, we need to embark on the mammoth, boundless adventure of science, to embark on it with the other men of the world; mixed in, yes, with the crowd, but bearing our own flag. We are beginning to know reality, and we have barely raised a corner of the secret that conceals it: to scrutinize it to the end —if it has an end— is the most important task of the men of today and tomorrow, if the madness of a few permits such a future to some time become a shining present. Though, at the same time, it is convenient to invent machines. Knowledge of reality raises us above the quality of oafs, common to “humans”, but invention allows us to live and to live better. And I would point out to all those present here today the curious fact that the peoples of great inventors are at one and the same time the peoples of great novelists, because both the inventor of fictions and the inventor of devices put imagination into play. And this leads me to claim from the powers that be a more imaginative type of education, not one that castrates, but one that sows the seeds of and promotes creative faculties. We must tell children fairy tales so that, when they grow up, they may make the importing of patents unnecessary.  And, besides being more imaginative, education must be more ambitious. I have long-standing experience in this field, having taught for forty-five years, and I can assure you that I have never seen around me anything other than education systems aimed at exalting and implementing that which is mediocre, in the selection of which our institutions have shown themselves to be as skilled as they are stubborn, while hindering or preventing, making it difficult and continuing to hamper the selection of the best, who are forced to emigrate with painful frequency. We have not even learned how to use to our advantage average talents, much as we might have wished to extract from nothing a few generations of second-class, average technicians. How strangely short-sighted! Middle-level technicians only serve to implement what others invent, and as I have already stated, we need to invent. Ambition and imagination, not conformity; to imbue society with this idea that one is only truly free to the extent that dependence is interdependence, when we take as much as we give, not an ounce more. However, before concluding these words which are becoming somewhat drawn put, I would still like to insist on and articulate an idea that I deem complementary. When faced with major tasks, we Spaniards often shake off our responsibilities by proposing that the state assumes them, not realizing that the state gets nothing for free either. Even Don Santiago Ramon y Cajal expected everything from the state, forgetting that the state is an abstract entity represented by individual men, by men who form part of our society. I think that this enormous undertaking to promote science and technology corresponds to society as a whole, in collaboration with the state and sometimes apart from it. The state is responsible, responsible above all, for fostering, promoting and, if necessary, defending. We must respond to those who invoke our poverty with the staggering statistics of useless expense, of the waste of Spanish society in deeds that, at most, result in the promotion of collective stupidity. With half of what Spanish society wastes, we would have a sufficient economic basis for creating a Spanish science and technology to match the times within very few generations. I am not proposing an effort of which we shall be proud: that is, our future as free people with a clearly-defined identity depends on whether we have our own research and technology.

Your Majesties, Your Highness, colleagues and Asturian friends, along with so many fictions invented by my childhood, that of Spain without fear of the truth, bold in its discovery, and capable of transforming reality, is the oldest, most cherished, most dreamed of fiction born in my childhood, when I used to try to decipher the hand of Jorge Juan as a sign, on the old Herrera promenade of that industrial and seafaring city where I was born. I have known times of cultural indifference and times of great hope. Now, in my old age, I have felt —I feel every year— the miracle of the approach of the Supreme Magistracy of the country to those who think, who dream, who believe; and I consider it the most wonderful historical novelty brought by the monarchy. Your Majesty, these men of science, of the arts, of literature, carry the future in their minds. And the future will be Your Highness, the Prince of Asturias In the old Byzantine ceremonial, it was said to the Basileus: For you countless years. I say it to ours. But one day, Your Highness, the torch will rest in your hands. I ardently hope that is true then what right now is just a dream. With this hope I end my words.

© Copyright heirs of Gonzalo Torrente Ballester

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