Saturday, December 4

Anti-bullfighting articles by Eugenio Noel to look at ourselves in the mirror of what we were and still are

“It takes courage to write in Spain”, he says in one of his articles Eugenio Noel. In your case, you have to weigh that value twice. On the one hand, his persistence and his vocation managed to overcome the wall imposed on him by his very humble social origin, a barrier for anyone who wanted to dedicate himself to letters in Spain a century ago. On the other hand, his clearly anti-bullfighting position earned him many enmities and a frontal attack on his work from the hand of essayists and critics who defended the misnamed “national holiday”, such as Rosario Cambria. They reduced Noel’s posture towards the bulls, his lucid criticism, to the supposed envy he felt towards bullfighters, then inescapable figures of the tambourine Spain that Machado criticized. Something similar, by the way, to what happened to Unamuno himself, in whom Noel found intellectual support. Both criticized the ‘bread and bulls’ of society at the time. While the town kept busy with the feats Belmonte in the ring, there was no talk of war, misery or the ancestral backwardness of the Spain that yawns.

A century has passed since Noel wrote these articles and some things have changed and have not changed in our country regarding bulls. It is true that many squares are still open, that a certain hobby survives, that newspapers and televisions (except for honorable exceptions) continue to report the bloody and unequal slaughter of bulls, that bullfighters and their romances occupy spaces in gossip programs and on trash TV. But the truth is that many of those squares would not survive without public aid, as in the case of Cáceres, and most of them are in ruins. The world of bullfighting endures and maintains its privileges because it is overrepresented and supported by some elites. If we did a survey on the street, I don’t think many people would be able to give the name of a renowned bullfighter. Luckily, bulls are no longer part of our daily lives and the disconnection with the youth and the new generations is absolute. Its function of numbing the masses, the ‘bread and bulls’ of which Unamuno and Noel spoke, corresponds today to other shows. Today, Spanish citizens are much more sensitive and critical about bullfighting and I believe, or want to believe, that in a hypothetical referendum those who support its prohibition would win. And if the yes to the prohibition did not come out, it is because there are also many critics of the bulls who prefer that Party die for lack of assistance. In any case, in the popular imagination bulls have ceased to be a festival and less national, except for a Francoist stronghold, which, although small, maintains great economic and political power thanks to similar parties.

What has not changed so much is the support of some intellectuals for bullfighting, such as Fernando Savater or Mario Vargas Llosa, nor their determination to raise Party to the art category. His defense is usually accompanied by furious criticism towards those of us who see in the bulls an imitation of the Roman circus, a glimpse of a backward and atavistic Spain that clings to a violent and bloody tradition. In this sense, nothing has changed compared to the time that Noel lived.

The anti-bullfighting tradition is as old as the bulls themselves, as he has shown in his lucid essay Bread and bulls the historian Juan Ignacio Codina. From Jovellanos or Larra, through Carolina Coronado, Goya, Pardo Bazán, Noel, Baroja or Unamuno to Jesús Mosterín or Chantal Maillard, to name a few, there are many who consider bulls not as something of the tradition that deserves to be preserved but as a rest of our barbarism.

Noel’s articles are acidic and lucid, also emotional, they are written with claw and the author does not skimp on satire to expose a decomposing world that the elites use to perpetuate their power and an inequality that goes beyond the arena . To read them today, a century later, is to look at ourselves in the mirror of what we were and still continue to be, although luckily less and less.

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