I just finished rereading José Antonio Gabriel y Galán’s Muchos años después. I still think it is an extraordinary novel. Pierre (Klossowski), Gilles (Deleuze) and Felix (Guattari) show up in less than very dignified garments at some point–staging an enigmatic body-without-organs performance. But essentially the novel is a very tough take on the Spanish democratic transition in the 1970s. Too many years ago, so this doesn´t strictly matter anymore except in a now allegorical sense. Those of us who came of age at that time, it is true, were under the illusion that a promise had been made to us in terms of a liberation of desire–political, libidinal, existential. But the promise did not pay off. The three main characters in the novel: Silverio the communist, who spends his days writing and rewriting what ends up being a monstrous volume on the fate of communism–revolution or reform?, leftism or pragmatism?, and so forth. He tries repeatedly to bring his work to the attention of the Central Committee, but the Central Committee could not care less even if poor Silverio was always ahead of the times and anticipated everything. At the end, his monumental oeuvre ends us in ashes in three shoeboxes forgotten on a bench in the park, eventually thrown into the sea. Julián published a very successful novel on inner exile, in French no less, but as it turns out it was the only novel he was ever able to write, and he ends as a ludopath, gambling his life away, and naturally losing it, in the new Madrid Casino. And Odile, a great dancer, also goes through her own spiral of destruction in drug addiction. The political illusion, drug addiction, and ludopathy stand in, therefore, for the promised liberation of desire, with tragic consequences. Perhaps these few lines towards the end of the text address the role of the writer or the thinker reflecting on that existential predicament: “la verborrea podía considerarse una terapéutica eficaz, si bien desde el punto de vista de la dignidad no dejaba de ser un truco más o menos barato, dependiendo del estilo de la facundia.” As a reader, muchos años después de Muchos años después, I need to wonder whether my own path was so divergent from the paths that Odile, Silverio and Julián took, which are also the paths of some of my brothers and sisters. I expatriated myself partly as a consequence of what I saw as clear dead ends available to me, but then I am not sure my expatriation was not another dead end. It was marked by work, and by an attempt to gain dignity in it or through it, perhaps too desperately, perhaps too enthusiastically. Now I despise all of it, in certain precise ways, as nothing more than a “truco más o menos barato.” And what remains is both a sense of relief that things were not worse than they actually have been and a sense of wonder that I could have been so stupid.
I imagine there is some comfort in waking up to the fact, even if belatedly, that, yes, we are always ahead of ourselves, and we are thrown into circumstances not of our own making. And there is no return. The only lesson to be learned is that newer generations may not be free of the illusions and delusions mine had to undergo. Things are not better now than they were so many years ago. If the promise of a liberation of desire was empty, the actual predicament, as I glimpse it from my students, is more like a promise of continued incarceration within tedious parameters they themselves seem unable to recognize as such. Let us see how they deal with it.