Tuesday, October 22, 2013

feliz locura and "life as the bullring writ large"

From Silent Music:  The Life, Work, and Thought of St. John of the Cross by R. A. Herrera
" No life can be understood in a vacuum. Individuals are known only in relation to their backgrounds. A life must be viewed within a framework that exhibits a multiplicity of factors: the historical, the religious, the sociological. The life of St. John of the Cross presents special difficulties as its backdrop is (to contemporary readers) both captivating and strangely alien. In words that were uttered during the Spanish Civil War, García Morente observed that the Spanish conception of life is grounded on the superiority of the concrete over the abstract, the individual over the species, and the private over the public. This was no less true for the sixteenth century than it is for today.

Spanish mysticism tilts to action rather than speculation, experience rather than abstraction. One recalls Hilaire Belloc's astonishment at hearing the Salve Regina sung in a small Spanish village: harsh, full of battle and agony, strikingly different from anything he previously experienced. The same attitude is reflected in Miguel de Unamuno's preference for the "Spanish Christ," livid, squalid, bruised, bloody, and ferocious:

Yes, there is a triumphant, glorious, celestial Christ: the Christ of the transfiguration, the ascension, the Christ who sits at the right hand of the Father ... this is when we have triumphed.... But here ... in this life which is nothing but a tragic spectacle, here the other Christ, the livid, the bruised, the bloody. 

This notion of life as a tragic spectacle, life as the bullring writ large, is etched indelibly on the Spanish psyche. This taste for high drama, exaggeration, extremism in all its forms, is found in a heightened form in the monarchs, warriors, poets, and mystics of Spain's Edad de Oro (Golden Age). Its mysticism is ardent and militant, an affirmation of the power of a will that surrenders only to a higher, transcendent will. This irascible Christianity displaced knighthood from the military battlefield to the higher battlefield of the spirit prodded by that "divina extravagancia" and "feliz locura" which persuaded humankind to forget the world and live completely for God. 

This enthusiasm for divine chivalry inspired works such as La Caballería Celeste and La Caballería Cristiana. Combined with the strong attraction exercised by both the New World and the "Indies of the Spirit," this fervor blunted the impact on Spain of the hermetic aspect of the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation. The cultural explosion of the Golden Age marched to the beat of a different drummer. Though perhaps rightly accused of being the only region in Europe choosing the past over the present, Spain kept the colorful brilliance of the Catholic festival and did not succumb to the lure either of the classical past or of the cold and denuded churches of the north.  full chapter

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