June 24, 2004

Seny and Rauxa

Early on in Robert Hughes book, "Barcelona" he writes about the character of the Catalans in vivid terms. "By tradition, when Catalans reflect on themselves they get absorbed by the differences that set them off, individually and as a "nation", from the rest of Spain."

He then looks at Miro's painting "The Farm", he writes very humorously, observing the components of Catalan character, ticking off an impressive list: continuitat, mesura and ironia... He then comes to Seny.

Seny signifies, approximately, "common sense"; it means what Samuel Johnson meant by "bottom," an instinctive and reliable sense of order, a refusal to go whoring after novelties. In traditional Catalan terms it comes close to "natural wisdom" and is treated almost as a theological virture... Catalans suppose that seny is their main national trait. It is to them what duende (literally "goblin" and by extention a sense of fatalilty or tragic unpredictability) is to more southern Spanairds. Iy is a country viture, rising from the settled routines and inflexible obligations of rural life. In The Forms of Catalan life (1944) Josep Ferrater Mora gave a lengthy disquisition on seny. "The man with seny is, primordially, the well-tempered man; that is to say, the man who contemplates things and human actions with a serene vision." It was the mirror reverse of Castillian quixotism. It was opposed to intellectual overrefinement. Its inherent danger was being lowbrow. The pragmatic nature of seny, he thought, gave Catalans a markedly anti-spiritual stamp and set their collective temperment somewhere between the Puritian and the Faustian. "Faustian man or Romantic man are those to whom salvation and morality matter little; Puritan man is only concerned with salvation and morals. The man of seny renounces neither salvation nor experience, and is always trying to set up a fruitful integratioin between both opposed, warring extremes...


Hughes goes on:

The relief from seny is rauxa. Rauxa means "uncontrollable emotion, "outburst." It applies to any kind of irrational or Dionysaic or (sometimes) just plain dumb activity- getting drunk, screwing around, burning churches, and disrupting the social concensus. The purpose of feast days is to give rauxa a sanctioned outlet: on Saint John's night, in June, for instance, the whole of Catalunya is lighted by bonfires as its towns erupt in the continuous thunder of petards, "fireworks", which go on until five or six in the morning. Not even in New York on the Fourth of July is the bombardment so intense. Rauxa and seny coexist like heads and tails on a coin; you cannot separate them...

(If you get s copy of Hughes book check here where I've left off -p26-and read on to the next paragraph, it's pretty funny... for reasons I'll illlustrate later.)


And Hughes got it right. Last night was like a war zone! The explosions on the street were deafening because of the sound chambered effect. And Juno was freaking out. Even the tranquilizers we gave her had only a moderate effect. We went out onto the beach and the place was crowded. People everywhere were lighting firecrackers, explosions were going off all around us like Normandy, cardboard shrapnal was raining down on us and the sky was choked with the sulphuric smell of gunpowder. It was great!


Posted by Dennis at June 24, 2004 7:07 PM

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