In an array of twentieth-and twenty-first-century Catalan cultural production and commentary, the body, its health, and its abilities have served as emblems of Catalunya’s contested condition as a nation. Enric Prat de la Riba’s 1906 manifesto on La nacionalitat catalana compares the status of Catalan governing bodies to “membres freds, paralitzats, morts” (“cold, paralyzed, lifeless limbs” [Arkinstall 181]) (15).[1] Physical disability, here likened to death, symbolizes the effects of decades of Spanish subjugation. In stark contrast, in 1983 a character named “La Norma” emerges as the protagonist of the Generalitat de Catalunya’s first post-Franco campaign to promote the use of Catalan in public life. Her youth and ability, illustrated in a cartoon and series of live-action videos, figuratively embodies the future promise and vitality of the language. The deployment of an able-bodied young woman to convey such a message recalls the use of the early twentieth century figure, La ben plantada, as the model of the well-formed woman capable of rearing the next generation of autonomy-minded Catalans. Both figures possess typical—if not idealized—bodies that serve as the material representation of their message. La ben plantada becomes “the noucentista symbol of Catalan nationalism” in an explicit connection between ableism and the rebirth of national sentiment (Arkinstall 22). Decades later, La Norma functions to endorse linguistic recuperation in the wake of Francoist censorship. From Prat de la Riba’s treatise onward, the body’s normality, or lack thereof, becomes a privileged symbol of the state of Catalan political, cultural, and linguistic projects. The body’s forms and functions feature prominently in a 1907 literary prologue, Transition-era essays on Catalan literary production, and a recent newspaper editorial, to mention of a few of the works to be examined in this essay. These texts engage the materiality of metaphor, which is to say that they bring metaphorical ideas to bear on material bodies in order to make the abstract concrete (Mitchell and Snyder, Narrative Prosthesis 63). The representation of national ideals as bodily “normality” and analogous shortcomings as disabled or ill bodies risks contributing to the construction of a national imaginary that accepts and perpetuates an able-bodied ideal, a prototypical ablenationalism (Mitchell and Snyder, Biopolitics 12–13).

National imaginaries have long relied on the assumed superiority of the normal to project the image of a healthy populace capable of development. Lennard J. Davis demonstrates that, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the advent of statistics and the concept of “the norm” helped propel quests to improve Western nations, often through eugenicist ideologies (6). The modern usage of normal, denoting conformance with “the common type,” enters the English language—and consciousness, as Davis argues—around 1840 (3). In the Catalan case, the usage of these terms evolves on a near-identical timeline. The 1839 Diccionari de la llengua catalana ab la correspondència castellana y llatina defines normal as “Lo que es ó está ajustat y conforme á regla. Normal, regular” (“That which follows and is in agreement with the rule. Normal, regular”) (“Normal”). The changing meaning of normal matters because it coincides with the establishment of industrialized nations, the ascendancy of the bourgeoisie as well as ideas of modernity and progress (Davis 15). The institution of capitalist modernity in Western Europe and the values that bolster it—such as efficiency, predictability, and productivity—rely on establishing a norm/the normal to achieve its ends. Deviations from this standard would work to the detriment of the nation by allowing for unfit individuals to comprise part of the body politic and, in so doing, debilitate it (Davis 9).

In Catalan, the “normal” comes to assume additional significance in relation to linguistic normalization, a concept that connects language, nation, and identity. In the 1995 Diccionari de la llengua catalana—one of the first post-Franco-era Catalan dictionaries—normalització lingüística (“linguistic normalization”) forms part of the second definition of normalització (“Normalització”, def. 2). It refers to the “Procés sociocultural pel qual una comunitat lingüística articula un pla d’actuacions encaminades a evitar que la seva llengua, en contacte amb una altra, es vegi sotmesa a una restricció funcional i a una reducció formal progressives i, eventualment, a la seva substitució per aquesta segona” (“Sociocultural process by which a linguistic community articulates a plan of actions aimed at avoiding that their language, in contact with another, become subject to functional restriction and progressive formal reduction and, eventually, substitution by the latter”) (“Normalització”, def. 2). Here, linguistic normalization is a defensive process that works to counteract “functional restriction,” or any inhibitions related to its use. When taken into account alongside historical assertions from influential Catalan thinkers, which link language to the poble and the nation, the groundwork for using contrasting metaphors of “normal” and disabled bodies to characterize Catalan language use and national character is laid.[2]

Recent research has problematized the privileged position of normality in the configuration of a modern Catalan national identity. Josep-Anton Fernàndez calls attention to the consequences of the project of linguistic normalization, which works to institutionalize, de-marginalize, and ultimately naturalize the Catalan language and culture (Fernàndez 25). For a language and culture subject to decades of state-sponsored repression, the project, which begins in the 1980s, is groundbreaking for its assertion of a radically ordinary Catalanness. Nonetheless, Fernàndez asserts that it becomes all but impossible to find the satisfaction, stability, and sense of “normalcy” that it is meant to realize because no one knows exactly what normalization is (82). (The same could be said of a normal body, an equally ill-defined concept.) The institutional drive for normalization leads instead to a widespread sense of malestar—malaise or unease—because of its failure to yield “els fruits que se n’esperaven” (17) (“the expected fruits”). That representations of malestar serve as the response to normalization parallels the way that literary representations of disabled bodies have often functioned as “metaphor and fleshly example of the body’s unruly resistance to the cultural desire to ‘enforce normalcy’” (Mitchell and Snyder, Narrative Prosthesis 48). Malestar and disability overlap in significance as implicitly undesirable and unstable states of being that exist in contrast to an imagined ideal. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that mentions of malestar come to permeate Catalan literary and political discourse as an attitudinal leitmotif as the prominence of normalització grows (Fernàndez 15). Fernàndez goes so far as to say that malestar becomes the defining characteristic of contemporary (read: post-Franco) Catalan culture, though it can be traced even further back, as will be shown (17).

Insisting on normality has not only failed to realize a “normal” state for Catalunya, but instead has caused unexpected and undesired secondary effects. Rather than lead to cultural homeostasis, the drive for normalization has provoked an unsteady oscillation between poles. Fernàndez exploits the metaphorical potency of mental and physical conditions to describe his view of these poles. At one end the spectrum, he identifies the “lògica paranoide” (“paranoid logic”) of an independent Catalunya that imposes Catalan language and culture with an iron fist (29). At the other end, he describes the “lògica entre esquizoide i perversa” (“logic [that is] between schizoid and perverse”) of a prosperous Catalan region that exemplifies progressive ideals (Fernàndez 29). Negatively charged psychiatric conditions serve as shorthand for problematic political ideals, which evidences the stickiness of metaphors of mind and body. Even in texts that problematize the concept of normality, it proves challenging to describe ideas in alternate terms. Nonetheless, relying on a narrowly established concept of normalcy to more readily illustrate abstract concepts reinforces ableist perspectives and limits the positive valorization of multiple ways of thinking and being.

Margalida Pons also describes Catalan cultural production in mental health terms. She diagnoses its bipolarity, a term that links—also unsteadily—discourses of illness and disability (239). Pons demonstrates this bipolarity by affirming that material representations of Catalan culture (particularly conference and book titles) put forth one of two perspectives on the status quo: one, catastrophizing, and two, triumphalist. Cultural texts in the first category magnify Catalan culture’s frailties and frame them in terms of illness. Catalunya’s convalescent state or, worse, its imminent death becomes a primary concern (Pons 239). In counterpart to this “imaginari patològic” (“pathological imaginary”), there exists another method of framing Catalan culture that extols the culture’s exceptionality (Pons 239). Pons draws attention to the use of book titles that underscore the authors’, and consequently Catalan culture’s, successes (239). Instead of announcing or lamenting Catalunya’s fragility, these texts assert an idealized vigor and good health (Pons 239). Though Pons does not label them as such, Pons identifies ableist tendencies in the assessments of unhealthy or healthy cultural production that she compiles. The polarizing tendency to view Catalan culture as either languishing or flourishing displaces a more complex understanding of its achievements and outstanding challenges.

Aside from drawing attention to the ways that metaphors of illness and disability characterize perceptions of the success, prestige, and potential for survival of Catalan culture, Fernàndez and Pons also situate these metaphors in historical context. Both scholars see them as a consequence of a culture rebuilding itself in the aftermath of Francoism. Fernàndez, in his 2008 monograph, dates malestar culture to the advent of the normalization project that began in the early 1980s (17). Pons’s article echoes this timeline and argues that experimental literature first employed illness to designate literary crisis beginning 35 years ago, or around 1977, per the article’s 2012 publication date (239). Pons argues that at present, “hem passat, doncs, a entendre que la cultura pateix una malaltia crònica” (“we have come, then, to understand that [Catalan] culture suffers from a chronic illness”) (239). In their understanding, the use of illness metaphors to describe Catalan culture reaches critical mass in the post-Franco Spanish state, leading to a generalized and sustained sense of unwellness. Shunning the logic of the Catalan proverb “Morta la cuca, mort el verí” (figuratively, “dead dogs don’t bite”), these metaphors draw attention to the lasting aftershocks of Francoism and the ongoing challenges of rebuilding after decades of oppression.

The present essay, however, demonstrates that the use of these metaphors predates the project of linguistic normalization, the democratic Transition, and even Franco’s dictatorship. It traces the use of bodily metaphors backward and forward in time in order to show how their deployment coincides with three historical moments: noucentista-era Catalunya at the turn of the twentieth century, the Transition period in the late 1970s into the 1980s, and the renewed push for Catalan independence post-2000. Calls for increased autonomy alongside the resolute reassertion of a distinctive Catalan identity connect these disparate time periods. In each epoch, there emerge cultural and political texts that illustrate Catalunya’s plight through the use of ableist metaphors of physical or mental illness and disability. In times when Catalan institutions work to promote renewed national consciousness, this figurative language allow the nation to conceive of itself as both autonomous (its own distinct body) while still mentally or physically afflicted by unjust Spanish authority (illnesses or disabilities). In many cases, the texts that employ these metaphors conflate physical ailments (i.e. malestar), mental illness (i.e. bipolarity), and disability (i.e. paralysis) to signal an undesirable state/State. While the lasting consequences of the repressive and homogenizing policies forwarded by the Spanish government should not be underestimated, this essay ultimately concludes that the reliance on bodily difference to depict negative outcomes in Catalunya has significant implications for the construction of an inclusive national imaginary.

An understanding of the ways that disability, madness, and illness converge and diverge as textual signifiers underpins this essay’s argument. These human conditions intersect and connote a problematic otherness in many of the texts analyzed here. This fragment of an epigraph and the explanatory text that follows it, which come from Fernàndez’s 2008 monograph, serve as one example.

Ens mirem al mirall, i no hi som; o hi som deformes, monstruosos. Caminem amb dificultat, mig coixos i mig cecs. Pel carrer, el nostre estigma és l’únic que atreu les mirades cap a nosaltres. Som motiu d’escàndol quan vindiquem la nostra lletjor deforme; som motiu d’escàndol quan intentem passar desapercebuts

Si alguna cosa caracteritza la cultura catalana contemporània és el malestar dels seus actors. Es tracta d’un malestar relacionat amb una doble experiència de subordinació […]

(Fernàndez 15)

(We look in the mirror, and we’re not there; or we’re deformed, monstrous. We walk with difficulty, half-crippled and half-blind. On the street, the only thing that draws gazes towards us is our stigma. We cause scandal when we defend our deformed ugliness…

If anything characterizes contemporary Catalan culture, it’s the plaintiffs’ malaise. It is a malaise related to a double experience of subordination […])

The epigraph’s use of first person plural (ens mirem, el nostre) creates a collective identity that binds the reader to the speaker’s fate. Diminished physical capacities serve to reinforce the social stigma that the authorial “we” experiences. This epigraph richly illustrates the way that disability signifies cultural invisibility and subjugation. In no uncertain terms, disability encompasses ugliness, monstrosity, and scandal. Instead of working to provide critical distance, though, the text following the epigraph (“Si alguna cosa […]”) elides its analysis.[3] This choice acts to endorse the epigraph’s concerning representation of physical impairment. The epigraph comes to serve as a thematic introduction to the topic of malestar (the subject of the subsequent paragraph), as if disability and malaise were obvious equivalents. In keeping with popular associations linked with impairment, disability acts as a substitute for feeling poorly, perhaps even physically or mentally unwell, even though those that cannot see or that walk with a limp may not feel unwell at all.[4] In this textual excerpt, illness and disability come to overlap in significance and assume a purely symbolic meaning.

The blending of terms in symbolic contexts—including the cultural and political texts studied here—works to erase recognition of different lived experiences as well as perpetuate the stigma that people living with illness or disability encounter. Conditions become divorced from lived experience, exploited instead for their ability to evoke an undesirable reality. Within disability studies and mad studies, however, disability, madness, and illness all take on different meanings in relation to the medical structures that they engage and the social privileges that they grant or deny. When disability is read as illness, it becomes an abnormality that “medicine can and should treat, cure, or at least prevent” rather than an acceptable human condition (qtd. in Wendell 17). Along these lines, both disability studies and mad studies understand physical and mental differences as “a defining feature of humanity” and reject the medicalization of their differences (Brewer 15). Those who see themselves as psychiatric survivors may also eschew identifying as disabled or impaired to turn away from interpretations of their experience as pathological (Brewer 15).[5] Claiming a condition or experience as illness, disability, or madness carries with it a unique set of commitments and refusals. There remains, however, a common alliance between these fields and their critical approaches, which centers on a defense of these ways of being as integral to the human experience. It calls for an explicit rejection of interpreting conditions including disability, illness, and madness as “the ultimate negative signifier” (Brewer 15). Instead, representations of disability, illness, and madness could gesture towards alternative ways of existing and thriving in states that have worked to mandate a dominant, homogenizing model of normality. Nonetheless, stigmatized forms of embodiment have long served to signal undesirable realities, including the limitations surrounding Catalunya’s perceived capacity for sovereignty.

Disability metaphors illustrate how outside factors have frustrated the realization of the Catalan national project, generally conceived of as an achievement of greater political and cultural autonomy. In discourses from the political to the literary, references to disability designate degrees of Catalunya’s perceived marginalization and agency. An early example comes from the aforementioned work La nacionalitat catalana, the most extensive thesis of its time on both the systemic repression of Catalunya at the hands of the Spanish Monarchy and Catalunya’s consequent need to reassert its own national identity. Prat de la Riba’s treatise emerges at the cusp of noucentisme, a political and aesthetic movement in Catalunya that aspired to institutionalize and elevate Catalan culture, standardize the Catalan language, and promote political autonomy (Arkinstall 20; Resina 537). In the opening pages, Prat de la Riba uses metaphors of ability to decry the nation’s diminished capacity for political resistance:

A la primeria del segle XVIII ja havia començat l’hivern per a la terra catalana. S’aguantaven dretes encara, esperant l’hora pròxima en que els destralers de Felip V en farien llenya, les institucions polítiques de Catalunya. Però anorreada la força social del nostre poble que era la deu potent que havia de nodrir-les, ja en comptes d’organismes vius havien esdevenint membres freds, paralitzats, morts que només per inèrcia se sostenien (15).

(At the beginning of the eighteenth century, winter had already set in throughout Catalunya. Yet its political institutions still remained standing, awaiting the moment, soon to arrive, when Philip V’s ax-men would fell them and chop them into firewood. Once that divine, life-sustaining social fabric of our poble had been destroyed, those institutions were no longer living organisms. They had gradually become cold, paralyzed, lifeless limbs, sustained only by inertia. [Arkinstall 181])

In a series of associations, the text describes Catalan political institutions that, historically, “stood upright” and enjoyed the potential to endure as vital organisms. Nonetheless, Bourbon Spain’s centralizing and homogenizing impulses, performed by destralers (a term that evokes both the weapons they wielded and their dexterity) thwarts their able-bodied existence. Prat de la Riba’s text argues that decades of misguided Spanish interference have left Catalan political institutions “paralyzed,” or stripped of meaningful agency.

In subsequent chapters, La nacionalitat catalana provides an ideological genealogy of the use of the body and disability as a metaphor. Prat de la Riba’s accounting makes the case for Catalan rights and characterizes risks to them. According to his analysis, the association between a living being (“un ser orgànich”) and a society traces back to early nineteenth century Krausist and positivist philosophies (28). The author establishes that every society—small (i.e. the family) or large (i.e. the nation)—is a person, its organs signaling its constituent parts (29). (Because of this corporeal relationship, government authorities come to be called òrgans / órganos in Catalan and Spanish, respectively.) Prat de la Riba deduces that since that every body has rights, so must Catalunya, a body of its own (29). Prat de la Riba’s text engages the “materiality of metaphor” in that the body serves as a multivalent metaphor that works to bring abstract concepts into the material realm (Mitchell and Snyder, Narrative Prosthesis 63). This personification of the Catalan government reflects the aforementioned association between the body and the body politic and works to naturalize the nation’s right to rights.

Short of offering a comprehensive apology of Catalan autonomy, though, the use of bodily metaphors conveys risk. As Prat de la Riba recognizes, the organs remain subject to the body as a whole (29). Not one to let the metaphor’s interpretation elude his reader, Prat de la Riba explains, “Invocant el suprem interès d’Espanya (organisme total), podia exigir-se’l sacrifici de lo privatiu o especial de Catalunya: riquesa, llengua, costums, institucions… y el sacrifici podia arribar fins a la amputació.” (29) (“Invoking Spain’s [the whole organism’s] supreme interest, one could demand the sacrifice of what is exclusive to or special about Catalunya: its wealth, customs, institutions…and this sacrifice could amount to amputation”). Drawing out the injustices implicit in this hierarchy of power, Prat de la Riba asserts that Catalunya’s obedience to the Spanish state could require that it relinquish—or amputate—some defining feature. That figurative disability could result from being subject to Spain comes to be a foundational concept in an array of texts on Catalan identity. It is potent and protean, emerging in contexts from the political to the cultural, with disability replaceable by any manner of illness.

Outside of the political realm, Víctor Català (pseudonym of Caterina Albert) describes the cultural consequences of Catalunya’s subjectivity. In the prologue to her short story collection Caires vius (1907), Català describes the Catalan public’s inadequate intellectual preparation for literary-critical work in terms of its diminished physical and mental capacities. She asserts:

Aquesta terra, que en l’antigor tingué la importància gloriosa d’una gran civilització, per vicissituds de la història es veié reduïda a destins inferiors a sa capacitat, […] [I] en aquest estat precari, tombada sobre si mateixa, en forçada immobilitat, restà per dotzenes i dotzenes d’anyades. Segrestat son pensament, ofegada en sang sa veu, privada de verificar les més altes funcions de vida i condemnada a una existència purament vegetativa, anà perdent de mica en mica ses facultats, sa energia, ses iniciatives, sa fesomia veritable, i deixant de figurar en el concert dels pobles i de pesar en els esdeveniments mundials, de vençuda que havia sigut parà en amortallada. (600)

(This nation, which in antiquity had the glorious import of a great civilization, has found itself reduced to destinies inferior to its capacity because of historical accident, […] [And] in this precarious state, doubled over itself, its voice choking in blood, deprived from realizing its highest life functions and condemned to a purely vegetative existence, it has lost, little by little, its faculties, its energy, its initiative, its true face. No longer figuring in the concert of peoples and having weight in world events, from its defeated position, it came to be shrouded.)

Similar to Prat de la Riba, Català frames her argument by using metaphoric representations of the nation, its physical state, and its capacity for self-determination. Just as an irregularly proportioned body marks disability in Molas’s text, here the decay of the nation’s fesomia, or physical appearance, is linked to a loss of agency and initiative. Together with the assertion of forced immobility, a series of past participles (segrestat, ofegada, privada, condemnada) serve to indict an unnamed (but easily discernable) outside force responsible for debilitating the nation. The final shrouding signifies the nation’s fate: death.

Both Prat de la Riba and Català establish narratives of Spanish state-provoked disability, which has implications for Catalunya’s future capacity for self-determination. They reaffirm Catalunya’s inherent abilities and even its innate exceptionality, which Català calls the “importància gloriosa d’una gran civilització”, in order to create a national consciousness of capacity. To explain Catalunya’s current deficiencies, they point to the Spanish state’s repressive policies. This telling of history helps justify pro-autonomy Catalan political projects, such as the Lliga Regionalista and later the Mancomunitat, by externally attributing the causes of Catalunya’s current “disabled” condition. Prat de la Riba and Català’s early twentieth-century texts serve as an ideological foundation for later works, which will reiterate that Catalunya exists in a suboptimal state due to harmful political and cultural policies to which it has been subjected. These texts are significant for the ways that they demonstrate that the perception of Catalunya as disabled and/or unwell is ingrained in the Catalan psyche—or at least its political and cultural manifestos—well before the post-Franco era. Instead, it emerges alongside turn-of-the-century projects to [re]build a shared Catalan identity and a greater degree of governmental and cultural autonomy.

In the early 1980s, new articulations of these noucentista-era sentiments appear and crescendo as Catalunya, once again, works to influence its own political future after nearly five decades of Francoist dictatorship. While the repression wrought by Bourbon Spain and what Dominic Keown calls “the jackboot of fascism” (14) differed, both worked to hollow Catalan culture in service of a dominant and homogenous Spanish identity. In response to these historical circumstances, similar affirmations of Catalunya’s intrinsic, if still crimped, capacities emerge in Catalan texts. In the early years of the new Spanish democracy, representations of illness and disability again come to function as symbolic diagnoses of Catalunya’s perceived stability and growth potential. In 1983, Joaquim Molas describes Catalan culture as “un gran cap sense cos. O, almenys, un gran cap amb un cos miserable i raquític” (154) (“a big head without a body. Or, at least, a big head with a miserable and enfeebled body”), highlighting its deformity and poor health. The absence of a body—or at least a functional one—attached to the head illustrates Catalunya’s imbalanced production of literary and visual media. While the region / nation had established an appreciable high, literary culture, it had yet to create products that reach the masses—“el cos social” (Molas 154–55) (“the social body”). Molas employs metaphors of disability and illness interchangeably to indicate imbalanced cultural output. The specific malady remains irrelevant in this metaphorical use of disability. As in La nacionalitat catalana, the text engages the materiality of metaphor to elicit the audience’s adverse association with the condition of the physical / social body. Prat de la Riba’s and Molas’s texts disregard the embodied experience of illness or disability. Instead, they rely on an assumed undesirability of certain ways of being in order to signal a cause of Catalan afflictions (in Prat de la Riba’s case) or to characterize the shortcomings of a culture emerging from decades of Francoist censure (in Molas’s case).

Outside of Catalunya’s cultural and geographic confines, ableist social metaphor also operates in the Spanish state and functions to characterize the widespread negative effects of Francoism. As one example, the 2012 film Insensibles directed by Juan Carlos Medina forms part of a legacy of Spanish filmmaking that employs physical paralysis as representative of the “paralysed polity” that the dictatorship produces (Prout, “Tangents” 138). In interviews, the filmmaker describes Spain under Franco’s dictatorship as an amputee charged with growing back its own limbs, language that recalls the lifeless extremities described by Prat de la Riba. Medina explains, " ‘Imagina a una persona, como España, con la riqueza intelectual de la Segunda República, le cortan brazos y piernas y luego se le pide que regenere’" (qtd in Prout, “Tangents” 131). This example of ableist metaphor confuses physical and intellectual ability (the loss of arms or legs remains unrelated to cognitive capacity) in order to signify the deleterious effects of the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath. Through its reference to a impossibly self-regenerating body, it further hearkens to neoliberal conceptions of the “able-disabled” who would be able to compensate for their disabilities without requiring accommodation from inaccessible social and built environments (Mitchell and Snyder, Biopolitics 59). As another example, Ryan Prout argues that the Francoist regime itself perpetuated the notion that the human body could be interpreted “as a curriculum vitae on which non-conformist aberrance would manifest itself in the shape of constitutional oddity or departure from prescriptive physical and psychological norms” (Prout, “Cryptic” 166). It is evident, then, that Catalan cultural production is not unique in its deployment of ableist metaphors to illustrate national shortcomings. What helps distinguish the Catalan case, however, is its deep-rooted interest in language in relation to nationalist sentiment. Nonetheless, the likenesses between the Spanish and Catalan examples situate Catalunya within the context of contemporary Western[ized] nations in which able-bodiedness serves as a common denominator of “fully capacitated citizenship” (Mitchell and Snyder, Biopolitics 45).

In other descriptions of Catalunya’s post-Franco condition, ableist metaphors of disability continue to operate to exclusionary effect. In a 1983 text, Josep Maria Castellet asserts that Catalunya’s lack of autonomy alongside “la anormalitat encara vigent” (117) (“the still-prevailing abnormality”) has caused widespread malaise. Castellet argues that Catalunya has not yet realized the autonomy of which it is fully capable, a defect that he blames on an interrupted growth process, or:

la discontinuïtat del que hauria hagut de ser un procés de construcció, d’elaboració i des desenvolupament normals a qualsevol societat occidental amb una vida econòmica i social que ha seguit—capdavantera a la península Ibèrica—les etapes del creixement industrial i les seves conseqüències sociològiques. (118)

(the discontinuity of what should have been a normal process of construction, production and development in a Western society, [particularly one] that has led the Iberian Peninsula [and enjoys] the social and economic conditions [that come from] following the steps of industrial growth and their sociological corollaries.)

Castellet’s argument—that an outside force has hampered Catalunya’s flourishing—resembles that found in Català’s text, published 76 years prior. This striking similarity demonstrates that these philosophies are a deeply rooted response to Catalunya’s ongoing subordination to a centralizing and homogenizing Spanish state. Although Castellet’s language is less explicitly indicative of bodily capacities than that of Català (or Molas and Prat de la Riba), it perpetuates an association between abnormality and undesired realities.[6]

In contrast, post-Franco-era texts continue to configure national ideals terms of well-being, normality, and even exceptionality. Castellet’s text underscores Catalunya’s exceptional (“capdavantera”) potential, which echoes the utopic nation-building discourses that emerge after the first post-Franco president of Catalunya, Jordi Pujol, takes office. This discourse coalesces in an ideology called Pujolisme, which shares with noucentisme its nation-building impulses and similarly evokes the possibility of a “societat harmònica mitificada” (Lladonosa 91) (“mythically harmonious society”). Pujolisme shares the noucentista drive to demarcate the national and cultural contours of Catalunya in order to enable the flourishing that accompanies greater autonomy. Critical analyses of noucentisme and Pujolisme reveal their conservative, bourgeois, and masculinist tendencies (Fernàndez 29; Arkinstall 23, 54–56). In other words, these ideologies reify discriminatory class- and gender-based hierarchies. What becomes apparent through close reading of texts including Molas’s and Castellet’s is that the exclusionary paradigms upon which noucentisme and Pujolisme are built extend beyond class and gender. They also exploit atypical bodies and their growth or lack thereof to communicate the nation’s shortfalls.[7] In the process, texts and ideologies such as these reinforce ablenationalism in the Catalan context by relying on an implicitly shared belief in “disability as a materially devalued existence” (Mitchell and Snyder, Biopolitics 13). Nonetheless, instead of moving the nation towards “wholeness” by signaling the deficiencies that it must remedy, the historical use of disability metaphors reinforces alterity. It disregards the variety of ways that people with physical and mental differences or illnesses lead full lives. The negatively charged employment of disability metaphors in decades of nation-building discourses shortchanges the potential for imagining a different type of flourishing for a nation that has developed in atypical ways.

In Catalunya’s current sociopolitical landscape, new illustrations of the ways that the Spanish state afflicts the Catalan body emerge. After the independence referendum that took place in Catalunya in 2017, the Spanish government banned Catalan public buildings and media from using the term presos polítics to refer to a number of detained high-ranking government officials (Serra). As a result, other ways to express calls for the officials’ freedom emerged (Serra). One witty alternative, proposed by the translator Xavier Pàmies and publicized in La Vanguardia by professional wordsmith Màrius Serra, pleaded “Llibertat lleptospirosics” (“Free the leptospirosics”) (Serra). The censorship-dodging anagram puts forth a symbolic indictment of a toxic Spanish state. Lleptospirosics suffer from leptospirosis, a rare but curable bacterial disease often transmitted by infected animals, especially rodents. It suggests that Catalan politicians would be healthy—physically and also politically—were it not for the contagions propagated by the real pests, the Spanish government. Serra’s anagram works to denounce the Spanish government’s heavy-handed response to the democratic referendum. Nonetheless, it also takes part in a centennial legacy of imagining repressive Spanish policies through images of illness or disability.

From post-Renaixença Catalunya through the present, disability, mental illness, and physical illness have often been conflated in service of a more graphic portrait of Catalunya’s contested condition as a nation. This tendency, however, has significant implications for the construction of an inclusive national imaginary. For one, references to disabled bodies function to disseminate a simple story about Catalunya’s misfortunes. Samuel Amago, describing the historical novels and films that feature postwar Catalunya, asserts that they tend toward what he calls a “facile moral Manichaeism” (110). The above examples show that tidy designations of the morally virtuous (Catalunya) and their foe (the Spanish State) also emerge during other breaks in a repressive status quo, including during noucentista-era Catalunya and the renewed push for independence post-2000. The exaggerated contrast between Catalunya’s current “crippled” state and its exceptional capacities serves to defend the continuation of a centuries-old quest for greater self-determination, which partly manifests in the promotion of normalització in linguistic, political, and cultural realms.[8] Although, as Amago emphasizes, the lasting repercussions of years of comprehensive Spanish state-led repression (and the value of linguistic and cultural recovery) should not be diminished, the responsibility for the nation’s shortcomings in these works remains external and unidirectional at the expense of a greater examination of forces moving within Catalunya or throughout Spain (110).

Aside from offering an abridged historical accounting, the recurrent use of metaphors of illness and disability conflate bodily ability with ableist notions of national belonging, which includes language use. This outcome is all the more concerning for a nation that describes its contemporary rebirth in terms of normalization. The discourse on normality calls attention to the possibility of Catalunya’s return to an imagined “natural” or “normal” state in which the Catalan language would displace the dominant (Spanish) tongue in order for language and society to become co-identifiable (Badia i Margarit 19). Given that normalization in the context of disability also involves substitution and rehabilitation, it can be said that discourses of normalization in the realms of language and ability cross-pollinate (Stiker 123–24). Together, they proffer a version of Catalunya that enjoys a vibrant living language, political self-determination, and ample autochthonous cultural production, high and low. Yet, this condition is overly exigent. Pons, for instance, underscores the problematic nature of the assumption that “una literatura ha de tenir de tot (excel·lència, cultura mitjana i producció popular) per ser normal i que la salut s’equipara amb la completesa” (238) (“a literature has to have everything [high, middle culture, and popular production] to be normal and that health equates to wholeness”). Pons’s assertion again demonstrates that ableist assumptions about what constitutes a normative physical body spill over into the cultural realm. In his estimation, parameters of “normal” Catalan literary production—and, by extension, “normal” Catalan cultural production—remain too narrowly conceived. In these physical metaphors carried over into the realm of cultural production, conditions of normality and ability are assumed to be good and uncomplicated, which neglects the benefits of recognizing, claiming, or even enjoying “abnormality.” Aspiring to form part of a vibrant and vital Catalunya and one that is “normal” are not equal impulses.

More productive and inclusive models exist. Some of them can even be found within the same texts that exploit disability and illness for their metaphorical potency. Prat de la Riba, the early twentieth-century popularizer of disabled nation imagery, extols varietat as the key to freedom and progress in a republic (34). An evaluation of igualtat and llibertat in distinct European contexts serves as the lynchpin of his argument. He asserts that the French model has privileged equality over freedom and, in so doing, flattened out varietat (34). (In a text written 100 years later, “variety” would almost certainly be termed diversity.) The English model, in Prat de la Riba’s appraisal, outrivals its Gallic cousin because it has allowed for true freedom in the form of self-government. As if to underscore the freshness of this idea in the Catalan context, he does not translate this term to Catalan and instead features it in its original version, “self-government(34). For Prat de la Riba, a Federalist model of self-government such as England’s leads to an “Estat compost que fomenta la varietat, y ab la varietat la lluita, y ab la lluita el progrés, sumant totes les ventatges dels Estas petits ab la força y ventatges dels grans Estats” (35) (“Composite state that fosters variety, and alongside variety, struggle, and alongside struggle, progress, adding together all of the advantages of little States with the strength and advantages of big States”). Through deductive reasoning, Prat de la Riba concludes that variety / diversity serves as a strategic advantage for states with an interest in progress.

Though Prat de la Riba’s argument implies a respect for cultural diversity, it is also true that a respect for diversity and difference in all its forms is foundational to modern democratic societies. Rather than rather enforce homogenizing equality (or even normalcy), there must be sufficient freedom to ensure that variety flourish.[9] Just over a century later, Fernàndez also explores the implications of de-privileging normality. From an insider’s perspective, Fernàndez asserts, “Però creure en nosaltres mateixos no es pot fonamentar en una fantasia de normalitat que amaga el trauma i oculta el conflicte, sinó en el reconeixement d’aquest conflicte i en el projecte i la possibilitat d’una emancipació joiosa” (370) (“But believing in ourselves cannot be based on a fantasy of normalcy that obscures trauma and hides conflict, but rather in the recognition of this conflict and in the project and the possibility of joyous emancipation.”) In other words, abnormality, trauma, conflict, and liminal sentiments, such as ambivalence and ambiguity, must form part of Catalunya’s national narrative so that Catalan culture makers are not imprisoned by their ongoing avoidance of them.

Perpetuating a negative association with difference as typified by disability, madness, and illness has ramifications for the Catalan national project because this project ultimately relies on the recognition and valorization of difference.[10] The stigmatization of these conditions in Catalan literary and political texts shortchanges the transformative capacity of diverse human embodiments to serve as a model or metaphor for the valorization of diversity in the Peninsular context. As Mitchell and Snyder inquire, how could non-normative bodies be more productively conceived in terms other than inferiority or misfortune? (Mitchell and Snyder, “Ablenationalism” 124). Could disability metaphors instead be reimagined in a way that shifts understanding of how bodies function within figurative language and the world? (Vidali 49) Perhaps the next century of cultural and political texts will render more ways to appreciate the full variety of human conditions in order to better pave the way for the recognition of the full variety of national ones.

  1. All translations from Catalan to English are my own, except when noted.

  2. Bishop Torras i Bages writes in 1892 that " ‘Language is the people […]’" (qtd. in Conversi 54). Enric Prat de la Riba states in 1906 that “El poble que no ha sapigut construir una llengua propia, és un poble esguerrat, perque la llengua és la manifestació més perfecta del esperit nacional i l’instrument més poderós de la nacionlisació” (“The nation that does not know how to establish its own language is a mutilated one because language is the most perfect manifestation of national spirit and the most powerful instrument of nationalization”) (91).

  3. The text also fails to note the epigraph’s source. An anonymous blog published by “L’Home Invisible” August 23, 2007 features the same text as this epigraph. Though the author of El malestar en la cultura catalana and the blog may be one and the same, the epigraph bears citation.

  4. Susan Wendell’s article, “Unhealthy Disabled,” inspires this observation.

  5. Psychiatric survivors are activists “united in their sense that psychiatry has been a traumatic force in their lives” (Lewis 63).

  6. Josep-Anton Fernàndez highlights further examples of Catalan cultural discourse that underscore the centrality of mancança—or lacking—and employ metaphors of physical deformity (39).

  7. See also Arkinstall (23, 56) and Lladonosa (72–83).

  8. In yet another link between the disabled body and normalization, Josep-Anton Fernàndez avers that returning the “cos deforme de la cultura catalana” (“Catalan culture’s deformed body”) to a “normal” body’s proportions exists as a primary goal of “el procés normalitzador” (“the normalizing process”) (40).

  9. The connotations of equality and liberty in Prat de la Riba's 1906 text remain circumscribed, different from what they may be for a twenty-first-century reader. Equality implies a linguistic and cultural system that is shared and imposed. Liberty, on the other hand, refers to autonomy and self-determination, particularly in linguistic and cultural realms. Other ways that a twenty-first century reader may interpret equality (e.g. along lines of class, race, or gender) remain outside Prat de la Riba’s argument.

  10. The Catalan national project is not a single definable project. Instead, it can be understood as a series of beliefs, actions, and legislation that strives for recognition and valorization of Catalan language, history, culture (and even economic conditions). It often calls for various degrees of autonomy in order to achieve, sustain, and promote such valorization.