Koldo Mitxelena. Chicago University of Chicago

Koldo Mitxelena. Chicago University of Chicago

Koldo Mitxelena Chair / University of Chicago / Division of the Humanities

Spring Term 2016


Contemporary Basque Fiction: National Ghosts, Global Audiences


Prof. Mari Jose Olaziregi

(University of the Basque Country/ Etxepare Basque Institute)



The goal of the present 2016 course was  to analyze the function that re-memorizing the past has had in Basque literature during the last four decades. It has, specifically, explored the evolution in Basque literature from stories, which recalled a mythic past in the 1980s to those in which our recent conflictive political past has almost totally assumed center stage.


The course began by examining the cultural heterodoxy which inundated Basque artistic creation in the 1960s, an era in which the essay Quousque tandem! (1963) by the sculptor Jorge Oteiza and the book of poems Harri eta Herri (1964) by Gabriel Aresti established a dialogue between vanguard and oral literature, whether this was traditional or not, such as bertsolaritza (oral improvisation of rhyming verses). Indeed, certain legends transmitted orally would serve to construct, with techniques resembling South American magic realism, the imaginary worlds that inundated stories in the 1980s by authors such as Atxaga, Lertxundi, or Mujika Iraola, imaginary worlds like Obaba, which served to give voice to that peripheral and silenced Other, which until the arrival of the romantics did not exist in the Western literary canon.


The excellent reception that Atxaga’s Obabakoak (1988) had at the international level and its canonization/assimilation into the Iberian interliterary system has also allowed them to reflect on the expectations and the place that international critics conferred on Basque works. They have reflected, at the same time, on the possibilities that a minority literature like Basque literature has had in carving out a niche for itself in the so-called World Republic of Letters. The debate about the tensions that cultural specificity (writers in the Basque language, translations, universalism) generates and has generated in our Basque literary system has functioned as a preamble in order to analyze the current controversy about which themes and styles our literature should export in order to find its place in the global framework.


The dialogue about the social and ethical function that literature has in a politically conflictive environment such as that of the Basque Country has been superimposed by the current debate, encouraged by authors like Iban Zaldua, Harkaitz Cano and Eider Rodriguez, on the opportunity that Basque literature has to export the abundant and original literary creation which re-memorizes and draws on our most recent political past. The boom in novels and films about the Spanish Civil War or ETA terrorism in the last two decades and the survival and updating of sites of memory like Gernika or the so-called gudaris (Basque soldiers) through new versions of old songs have been some of the questions that have served as an introduction in order to comment on the narrative of current Basque authors such as Ramon Saizarbitoria, Arantxa Urretabizkaia, or Kirmen Uribe.