Blog post

History Was In a Hurry: Autumn 1956 in Paris

In this excerpt from his memoir, Juan Goytisolo reflects on the early months of his exile from Franco's Spain in France and his encounters with French intellectuals and PCF militants in his effort to launch a Spanish-language political and cultural journal. 

Juan Goytisolo28 July 2017

Juan Goytisolo and Monique Lange, 1964.

In June, the renowned Spanish novelist, essayist, journalist, and poet Juan Goytisolo died in Marrakech, where he had lived since 1997.

Published by Verso in 2003, Forbidden Territory and Realms of Strife brings together the English translations of Goytisolo's two volumes of memoir, published in Spain in 1985 and 86. "What reasons can lead an already mature author to extend his work as a novelist into the arena of autobiography?," Goytisolo asks in the prologue to the Verso edition.

I suppose these must differ according to the ethical concerns and preoccupations of the individual writer. I myself had but two. After I had finished the novel Landscapes after the Battle, I read a handful of memoirs by older or contemporary Spanish writers, then put aside a narrative project that was already fermenting and began to write Forbidden Territory.

What is marketed in Spain as memoirs has nothing in common with what I understand to be autobiographical writing. Spanish memoirists are frequently forgetful: though prolix in elaborating incidents and anecdotes concerning their peers, they maintain a cautious silence in respect of the most intimate aspects of their own lives and, above all, avoid like the plague any examination of their consciences and recognition of mistakes which might call them to account. While some collect reminiscences and detail of little or no interest — I’m thinking of Franco’s poet laureate José Marıa Pemán’s My Lunches with Important People which doesn’t even relate the menus — others direct poison darts at their enemies whether real or imagined, while simultaneously they fashion a portentous, if not pontifical, image of themselves. Anything which might harm or betray such an image is carefully swept under the carpet. Perhaps Catholic tradition, and its exonerating sacrament of confession, explains that reluctance to reveal the secrets and errors of one’s ways, and that of the Reformed Churches, where such a thing does not operate — with the corollary that it favours personal reflection — accounts for the outstanding succession of autobiographies in the English language, from Samuel Pepys to Frank Harris and Oscar Wilde

...The other reason was more personal: the need to explain the wherefore of a literary vocation, shared with my two brothers, and the change this underwent after Count Julian. I think the trauma of civil war and family unhappiness were decisive in respect of the first: the protective cupola collapsed and left the three of us orphans without maternal warmth and with an aged, sick father who lacked authority and was unable to offer any guidance.

In the excerpt below, which opens Realms of Strife, Goytisolo reflects on the early months of his exile from Franco's Spain in France and his encounters with French intellectuals and PCF militants in his effort to launch a Spanish-language political and cultural journal. 

When I moved temporarily into Monique’s flat on the rue Poissonniére, I was again toying with the idea turned over so often with Castellet and Elena de la Souchére of creating a forum for both the opposition in exile and within Spain to discuss political and literary trends in European culture. My first thought on that 15 September 1956, which would be the start of decades away from Barcelona and Spain, was to suggest to Mascolo the setting up of a committee of French anti-Fascist intellectuals supportive of such an enterprise. Shortly after my arrival, Monique and I were invited to dinner on the rue Saint-Benoıt with a group of writers Mascolo had informed of the plan: not only his companion Marguerite Duras and members of the clan but also authors like Edgar Morin and Roland Barthes, whose Mythologies I had read avidly in Garrucha weeks before in regular installments in Les Lettres Nouvelles. However, to my great consternation, the conversation over dinner centered on the possible success of an assassination attempt on Franco’s life. Apparently such a liquidation was feasible in a bullring: one of the guests had been to a bullfight presided over by the dictator and was emphatic he would be an easy target. The police did not suspect tourists: a foreign-looking crack marksman could sit in a nearby box without alarming anyone, shoot and then melt into the crowd, taking advantage of the first moments of confusion. The then secretary to Sartre, Jean Cau, warmed equally to the idea: weeks later, in the course of a political discussion on the rue Poissonniére, he confidently, almost arrogantly, declared that he was capable of organizing single-handedly within a few months the outbreak of revolution in Spain. My idea of a committee did not prosper, despite that first rush of enthusiasm in our after-supper discussions on the rue Saint-Benoît nourished by a generous intake of alcohol. History was in a hurry, the world was entering an eventful era, and the political compass of Mascolo and his friends would immediately swing toward new poles of attraction. The internal crisis of the Soviet system in Poland and Hungary, Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez Canal, and the NLF offensive in Algeria hogged the newspaper headlines, and the modest, minor cause of Spain was suddenly of no interest. Mascolo went to Warsaw and returned in a state of great political and emotional excitement, in love with a young Polish lady who lived with him for a while a few months later. Monique and I accompanied them on a long weekend trip to Chartres and Chinon. When we visited him on his return, Wyborowa vodka had replaced dry sherry, and instead of the background flamenco music that followed his holidays in Spain, we now listened to a mournful, almost whining chorus of Slav or Baltic melodies across the staircase landing.

The Budapest rebellion crushed by Soviet tanks shook meanwhile the firmness of our convictions. Monique was still a member of the French CP and I still saw in Paris some of Luis’s comrades, members of the Barcelona university group. The spectacle of thousands of demonstrators storming the local office of L’Humanité shocked and upset both of us. The police cordoned off the area, and when I went down to the street to see what was happening, one of Reventós and Pallach’s comrades-in-arms, the trade unionist Ramón Porqueras, was shouting anti-Soviet slogans. His vehement tone filled me with dismay: the Hungarian events confused me. If, on the one hand, Mascolo, Marguerite Duras, and generally the French writers I knew denounced Russian imperialism and spoke of a second Kronstadt, on the other, my Spanish friends maintained unperturbed that it was a bourgeois uprising and fruit of intricate counterrevolutionary plotting. Octavio Pellissa or one of his comrades went to the press conference given by one of the first refugees from Budapest. He was an obese, decadent individual, laden with rings, complete with French accent learned in childhood from governesses or nurses, the total opposite of those heroic militiamen in the dramatic photographs of the pages of Paris Match: a reactionary bastard, they said, whose wealth had been expropriated by the new society and who, not content with saving his ugly skin, dared to criticize from Paris the magnificent conquests of the people. Monique was more exposed than I to the indignation that abounded in intellectual circles, and her faith in the Party evaporated [Her friends Claude Roy, Roger Vailland, and J-F Rolland deserted the ranks of the CP at that time.]: I remember accompanying her, as her partner, to a district branch meeting in the side road leading to the Bonne Nouvelle church, next to the steps later filmed by Louis Malle in Zazie dans le métro. The agreed agenda items avoided all mention of events in Hungary and, rather than an assembly of revolutionaries, I had the impression I was attending a meeting of the parish council or of Catholic Action devoted to planning or completing routine duties. My reference to Khrushchev’s report, published by the bourgeois but not the Communist press, led to an embarrassing silence: although a number of those present were certainly familiar with the report, it had not received the blessing of the leadership and did not officially exist. Monique yielded to the friendly pressure of branch companions and renewed her Party card, but she ceased to participate in activities and gradually distanced herself from the organization.

In the first hectic weeks of my stay in Paris I also met up with Spanish exiles and visitors from the Peninsula who were mostly within the orbit of the Spanish CP: Tuñón de Lara, Antonio Soriano, owner of the Spanish bookshop on the rue de Seine, Eduardo Haro Tecglen, Ricardo Muñoz Suay, Alfonso Sastre and Eva Forest, and Juan Antonio Bardem. A few days after my arrival, Mascolo took me to the office of Maurice Nadeau, editor of Les Lettres Nouvelles, so I could tell him about my idea for a Spanish magazine aimed at breaking the tight grip of the censor. This was the first of a series of related initiatives that usually ended, after interminable futile discussions, vetoes, expulsions, and confrontations, with the project being shelved and forgotten, but only after provoking in those involved feelings of anger and hurt pride that were difficult to heal. Although Nadeau generously approved the plan, he did not have the means to finance it and advised us to negotiate with Albert Beguin and Paul Flamand. After my visit to the former, we accompanied Mascolo and Muñoz Suay to the latter’s office. Flamand, at the time the editor of le Seuil, gave us a courteous welcome. As I was setting out in general terms the political and literary range of the project, I realized that my argument, or rather the scheme’s viability, was not convincing the man opposite me. The enterprise as presented to him was political philanthropy pure and simple and of no interest to a responsible publisher. After a pointless wait of some weeks, I put the fantastic concept to one side and decided to wait for that hypothetical moment to resurrect it when favorable developments within the Peninsula would naturally put the spotlight on Spain.

Around this time — October 1956 — I met Eduardo Haro Tecglen in the Deux Magots café. He was a journalist on the Madrid daily Informaciones and the author, as I would later discover, of an amusing analysis of Spanish censorship and of the most original theories on the subject of the current minister of the department, Rafael Arias Salgado, which had just appeared unsigned in the magazine Esprit. With the knowing, mysterious air of one at the center or in the holy of holies of the organization, Muñoz Suay led me to understand that Haro was ‘‘one of us’’ — the password or magic phrase that in years or months to come Party members would whisper in my ear, suggesting a flattering complicity. One of the first to be endowed with that halo of concealed, almost sibylline prestige was, to my surprise, Enrique Llovet, the Spanish general consul. Before we were introduced, I remember Muñoz Suay and Bardem telling me that ‘‘you could talk freely’’ with him. With their go-ahead, I set before Llovet the idea of the magazine; but his affable caution discouraged me. A few months later, when I had already abandoned the scheme, he invited Monique and me to his home for dinner, on the eve of our planned trip to Almería. His wife, the daughter of Ricardo Baeza, the writer and translator of Oscar Wilde, defended much more liberal positions than his own and, against the old Trojan-horse Leninist practice of infiltrating the enemy, she was in favor of a public break with the Régime to bring his ambiguous diplomatic role to an abrupt, sensational end. A kind of euphoria we all shared lulled us into believing that Franco’s days in power were numbered. In the space of a year, the Party had extended the radius of its clandestine activity into the different branches of the country’s cultural life, gaining positions and influence there never again to be reached; but the phenomenon was limited, as facts would soon prove, to a very narrow segment of the intelligentsia and had not spread, as we then believed, to the historic protagonists of the revolution, the proletariat and the peasantry. The momentary rapprochement of the Party to a handful of civil servants and members of the Spanish ruling class was and would be interpreted not just as individual breaks whose centrifugal strength was cast within the framework of the relentless pressure of an unchanging social order, but as a general indication that the inner disintegration of Francoism had reached the centers of power, now convinced of its imminent demise and the advent of a new society in which the Party would naturally play a leading, rallying role. The later, almost Pauline conversions of some children of ministers of the Régime or aristocrats like the Duchess of Medina Sidonia would for years bolster the hopeful but mistaken image of the country as a ‘‘volcano on the point of erupting.’’ I don’t doubt that this revolutionary subjectivism or voluntarism was necessary to maintain the structure and morale of an organization constantly under attack in its long and often disheartening trek across the desert. Nevertheless, the unwarranted belief in a discourse developed for propaganda or tactical reasons became over time a kind of mirage or self-deception, as I learned to my cost in 1964, during the internal Party crisis that climaxed in the expulsion of my friends Semprún and Claudín. This mystification, of which we were all victims to a greater or lesser extent, was difficult to diagnose in the early stages. Within our small circle the feeling that great changes were in the offing was strengthened daily with new examples and experiences. In one of the consulate offices on the boulevard Malesherbes, Llovet had introduced me to a colleague of his, the vice-consul Rafael Lorente. A generous, impulsive extrovert, endowed at times with that likable, youthful, irresponsible extravagance that is so common in Spain, Rafael displayed great interest in getting to know me. He made several visits that autumn to the rue Poissonniére to tell me his personal anxieties and political worries: unlike my Spanish friends he was sure that Communism would not survive Budapest and was trying to organize people like me into a new party that we would jokingly baptize ‘‘the party of caring snobs.’’ One night he came to ask me a favor: he wanted to be introduced to la Pasionaria, to converse and have a drink with her. Although I said I didn’t know her and was totally unaware whether she secretly resided in France or the Soviet Union, I saw he only half believed me. Then under the influence of the cognac or calvados I was pouring him, he told me of his plan to land in Fernando Poo with a handful of friends and proclaim the Republic: if we could withstand the onslaught of Franco’s navy for a few days, we could bring together there both the politicians and government in exile and win diplomatic recognition from socialist-bloc countries. Although we never spoke of the subject again nor mentioned his meeting alone with la Pasionaria, I continued to see him for several months until, after receiving another posting, he decided to abandon his career and, infected by my enthusiasm for Almería, settle down in the coastal village of Aguas Amargas and devote himself to the cultivation of his land.

However, Rafael Lorente was a pleasant, unusual exception in the group of Spaniards surrounding me, all of us steeped in crude, vulgar Marxism, almost always through Politzer’s dogmatic simplifications, and a linear conception of history based on so-called scientific observations. Alfonso Sastre was obsessed by the idea of compromise and hesitated even at that time about asking to join the Party, but he did not vacillate for long: on his return to Madrid, after his son’s birth, he entered the organization and was soon catapulted onto its central committee. Antonio Soriano and Tuñón de Lara, with their long but discreet records as militants, did not talk about their political connections and remained tolerant and open. The future publicist and popularizer of history had just published a book on Spain written jointly with a Hispanist, Dominique Aubier, whom my French friends carefully avoided. She would later be known in my adoptive province as the ‘‘Dame de Carboneras,’’ wore an Indian sari and rode on the back of a camel deep in a cabbalistic reading of Cervantes. She already displayed an exuberant passion for Spain, translated the chroniclers of the Indies and, as I had the opportunity to discover, welcomed visitors to her flat on the rue de Seine in a bullfighter’s hat — the cool fount of her stylistic inspiration, she would add. Tuñón and Soriano tolerated the torrent of overpowering rhetoric as best they could, but I was less patient than they and resolved at once to avoid her: once apprised of my plan for a magazine, she had wanted to participate, decide on the content, on who should and should not contribute. Her interference alarmed more than one friend and was probably crucial in my loss of heart and subsequent decision to throw in the towel.

My stubborn loyalty to the idea of a magazine bore fruit many years later, by which time I had already abandoned en route many an illusion and flourish. Although my early sociability faded with time and the idea of teamwork no longer appealed, I still associated myself with the Cuadernos de Ruedo Ibérico enterprise and lent my voice from the start to the Libre scheme, knowing that it would never bring me any satisfaction nor really suit my character. As in other areas of my life, I would achieve the objective I had anxiously sought at a moment when it had lost its previous attraction and my interests and taste were heading in a new direction. I would make moves at the wrong time and even against the tide of history, and changes and new developments would catch me without appetite rather than unawares — like the absurd, untimely corpse of Franco, whose death I had ceased to believe in.

What most impresses me as I review, pen in hand, and with the hindsight of thirty years, my first months in France are the different political positions or, more precisely, the varying degrees of political maturity and experience of the Parisian or Spanish friends who appear in these pages: while the latter as Party members or sympathizers lapped up their daily copy of L’Humanité and accepted its theses and explanations of the radiant society of the future, the former had already passed through this phase, spoke scornfully or with distaste of the USSR and pursued a complex, sophisticated political line which, although in my view unrealistic and even ridiculous, was nevertheless much more lucid and honest than the color-blindness and moral deafness at which my compatriots and I excelled or would excel. Apart from a few isolated exceptions like Soriano and Muñoz Suay, everybody judged harshly my friendship with those ‘‘renegades’’ and expelled members. My close relationship with the contingent on the rue Saint-Benoît, Roger Stéphane — whom I would soon meet through Monique — and Elena de la Souchére, aroused the reservations and criticisms of my comrades until the need to resort to the bourgeois media, like France-Observateur or L’Express, to spread or support their new policy of ‘‘national reconciliation’’ or the campaign for amnesty for Franco’s political prisoners led them to revise their position and use my connections and influences to further their own interests and aims. But in the period covered by my narrative — including the reverberations from Khrushchev’s report and the invasion of Hungary — the ‘‘irresponsibility,’’ ‘‘contradictions,’’ ‘‘double game,’’ and ‘‘anarchist spirit’’ of left-wing French writers had attracted like a magnet the criticisms and withering observations of my fellow countrymen. What was behind that morbid preoccupation with human rights in Poland and Hungary? Didn’t they notice perchance that the tiny, inevitable imperfections within the new societies of the popular democracies were small potatoes in relation to the social injustices and inequalities in the so-called bourgeois democracies and their lack of broadly based freedoms? By criticizing the USSR, were they not falling into a clumsy, diversionary maneuver directly or indirectly manipulated by the agents of imperialism? The genuine fickleness of the intelligentsia of the Paris Left Bank, their inclination, rightly satirized by Genet, to change causes, if not political allegiance, as they swayed to the breeze of France-Soir headlines, often opened the way, it is true, to such attacks and sarcasm: months later, one of the writers I entered into contact with as a result of the committee for solidarity with Spain abandoned that project entirely, and, to my great surprise, led a futile, esoteric call to support the Dalai Lama and Buddhist monks in Tibet following the Chinese invasion. However, together with these unconscious comic tics and traits of the animaux malades de la pétition, as one of their friends affectionately dubbed them, Mascolo and his colleagues’ generosity and desire for justice — opposed both to the Right and the Party, to the moralizing of Camus and to Sartre’s fellow traveling — were soon evident in a concrete, risky, and practical form — in sharp and healthy contrast to the Party’s ambiguity and caution — if not in relation to Spain, at least in respect to the Algerian war. Among the devotees of Marguerite Duras’s flat on the rue Saint-Benoît — Robert Antelme, Louis- René des Forêts, Blanchot, Edgar Morin, etc. — appeared Madeleine Alleins, the wife of a famous doctor and passionate defender of third-world causes: a founding member of one of the clandestine support groups for the NLF like the renowned Jeanson network, the future novelist hid money, propaganda, weapons, and even members of the Algerian resistance in the homes of her trusted friends. A few weeks after my arrival, she came to our place at the suggestion of Mascolo and asked if we would look after the organization’s funds for a short period. Monique accepted unhesitatingly and, a few days later, Madeleine reappeared with a big suitcase, which we placed on the top shelf of a pantry next to the front door. For almost a year, our contact dropped in from time to time to collect the amounts of money she needed, the totals of which she spelled out in coded telephone calls to Monique at Gallimard. At such times, I would open the suitcase stuffed with five-thousand-franc notes of the period, put the right quantity in an envelope, and give it to our friend when the doorbell rang punctually. Living as I was on very little money — my only source of income came from the reader’s notes I began to write for publishers — I would often lament with Monique, also dazzled by the spectacle of that prodigious Ali Baba’s cave, the fact that the treasure belonged to the NLF fighters and had not been mistakenly entrusted to us by an agent of Franco, Trujillo, or Somoza, so we could cheerily spread it around traveling the world in the footsteps of Phileas Fogg.

My first contact with North Africa, through the process of decolonization, was intensified throughout the Algerian war and its hateful repercussions in the metropolis: racial discrimination, persecution of North African immigrants, curfew, murders, and ratonnades. Just over three years later, Monique would be one of the first to sign the ‘‘manifesto of 121,’’ which encouraged recruits to the expeditionary force to desert and which led to a conviction for her and a dozen writer-friends for ‘‘attacking the morale of the army’’ and ‘‘inciting soldiers to disobey the orders of their officers’’: ‘‘Anyone would think I’d been streetwalking in front of a barracks!’’ she exclaimed in amusement when she received notification from the court. While recalling later the vicissitudes of this period and my subsequent Arab affinities, she would laugh and comment that, although she in no way regretted her signature nor the subsequent complications — summonses, telephone threats, trials — if she could relive that time, she would fight for ‘‘my’’ Algerians with slightly less zeal and enthusiasm.

[book-strip index="1" style="display"]


Forbidden Territory and Realms of Strife
For forty-five years, the expatriate Juan Goytisolo has been widely acknowledged as both Spain’s greatest living writer and its most scabrous critic. In some thirty books of fiction, autobiography,...
In Hiding
In Hiding is the spellbinding story of a man who spent thirty years holed up in his own home to escape execution. Manuel Cortés was a Socialist Party member, an activist in the Republic’s land refo...
“He turned his back on the old man to mourn in silence this unnecessary death and his part in it; but the sight of the coffin brought anger instead ...”In 1957, a burned-out British journalist l...

Filed under: france, literature, spain, weekend-read