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The Princess of Asturias Foundation

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Francisco Umbral

Prince of Asturias Award for Literature 1996

Your Majesty,

Your Highness,

Most Honourable Authorities,

Most Honourable Sirs,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


In the truly cultured bonfire of a theatre, before the odd-numbered senate of the province, under the grand testimony of this Prince, and a Queen of light and consent, I wish to state that only culture, that knowledge of man regarding man, can save the world, and even save us from the barbarism of technology or war, from belligerent technology, like in a cyber-fairy tale, gathering the miraculous beam of the lacking beneath an archaic Principality.

Thus the old master Julian Marias, in his “Introduction to Philosophy”, when I young, sick and lyrical, I found in this book the white light of Greece, Socratic geometry and ideas. Thus this Mr Kohl, the Mandarin of unitary and monetary Europe, with his good right-wing socialism and superstition of the coin that will save us all “new rite-wise” against the flock of fundamentalisms that congregate religions and tom-toms around Europe, which is a pane of glass.

Thus my Adolfo Suarez, myo Adolfo, who brought to Spain dimensions, freedoms of man, futures, the shining violence of his idea and the tranquil truth of his Spain. A print now wiped clean of time, already history of Spain, law and playing card, Adolfo was the friend, the grand master who traversed Avila’s city walls to finally broaden democracy and who said words of earth and male so that Spain might be newly born.

Ah my Indro Montanelli of the Piazza Navona, from whose journalism I learned so many things, I write in Europe thanks to Montanelli, and I place his newspaper, in the form of a three-cornered hat, on my head when I find no topic [of which to write]. Sociology, John Elliott, the science of masses, here was a first book, Ortegan and diverse, explaining collective man to Europe. Here comes Joaquin Rodrigo, plural Aranjueces, between Madrid’s light and resonant shade, or Valentin Fuster, the tree of knowledge, the fruitful sin that broke with the gods, and here comes even Carl Lewis, silken record-breaking skin, ah his emerging race, a very black Greece, on the flipside of Phidias, high relief and Africa, so slow Africanness, swift like the landscape.

Ramon de Campoamor, poet and theatre, governor, sentimental and old, welcomes us with a gesture of dolora[1] and gives us such a sardonic lesson: “Everything is in the eye...” etc. The eye of the Principality in the rain, the monarchy that sounds like democracy, and culture, only culture, divided into a thousand sciences and knowledges, will save us from the ominous number. This award is a miracle, this name is a miracle, it is a miracle that Asturias, daughter of a bitter sea, once again saves Spain with its annual prescription, once again saves History wagering on the good guys. When democracy today brims over with knives, like one of Borges’ short story or a period romance, Asturias, with a village’s delays, annually chooses and discriminates, distinguishes and certifies; it does not vindicate rocks, miracles or money, but rather opens up pathways, determines their names and its grand house is the House of Man.

I wish to make a statement regarding what is happening, the death of books and the wound in ideas, philosophers mocked with weak thinking and subtle science, bower of being, in the burdensome service of so many generals.

That is already happening, we are heading towards barbarism, the Spanish Minister claims in Humanities, but the simple child, pimp of Two Thousand, does not frequent Science or patient History, but kills Martians and murders another child. That is why it is appropriate, and not just a floral contest, that a noble Foundation, with its plural gaze, distinguishes among the maps the good, tall man, and the symbolic woman, and enthrones the eternal, dun grammar and the nylon epic of some statesman.

We are surrounded, I’m not afraid to say so; robots, missiles and the old gods have armed their war against the old Europe. The United States, ever predators, invent for themselves every day a black enemy who has breakfasted poorly. Asturias is Europe, this theatre is Europe, douar of intellectuals, pashanate of wise men, emirate of elders who still notice books. We are surrounded, I’m not afraid to say so; and we have to create a militia, militiamen of Persia, let us be the men/book of seasoned Bradbury, let us recite by heart the vengeance of Orestes, let us cite Ortega, the watchman of the West, let us learn grammar like Greek toddlers and let us die slowly conjugating the rose.


[1] Short anti-romantic poem

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