Nazarin and Okupas

Jesus was born in a squat

“Jesus was born in a squatted house.”

Photo from Voz Obrera, n.11, February 2007.

I argue that the literary antecedent of the okupa in contemporary Catalan, socialist thought and liberal popular culture is Galdós’s Nazarín (1895). Like the okupas, Nazarín rejects private property (“Property! For me it’s just an empty word invented by egoists. Nothing belongs to anyone. Everything exists for the benefit of the first person who needs it” [13]) and prioritizes social relations over labor relations (“I don’t care about making money” [15]). As a result, Nazarín, much like the okupas, is criticized by turn-of-the-twentieth-century society as “a fanatical, compulsive parasite” (22) who “has found a way of getting out of any kind of work” (23). However, unlike the okupas, Nazarín does not counter social injustice with political action. As he explains, his doctrine is one of non-resistance and passivity:

What’s the remedy for the injustice that sours the world, despite the political advances we’re so proud of? Why, passive acceptance, surrender to evil, just as Christ surrendered to his enemies without a fight. Such non-resistance to evil can lead only to good, just as strength is born of meekness and the espousal of poverty will by definition provide consolation for all and an equal share of Nature’s resources. (102)

It is precisely Nazarín’s combination of hypothetically, attractive, radical ideals with an extreme passivity that attracts the socialists. My contribution to Ferran Sáez Mateu’s thesis in Els bons salvatges (2008) [The Good Savages]—that the okupas, like modern “good savages,” are subjects mystified by the contemporary Catalan Left to distract the electorate from demanding real solutions to difficult social problems—is that the contemporary Catalan Left’s relationship with and public representation of the okupas resembles Galdós’s treatment of Nazarín. Labanyi explains in the introduction to her English translation of the novel:

By making Nazarín read a political message into Christ’s teachings, only to deny the political implications of that message, Galdós is able to tackle the urgent contemporary issue of social injustice while avoiding conclusions that justify revolutionary violence against his own class. (Introduction xii)

Although the contemporary Catalan Left does not directly reference the literary figure of Nazarín (that is my advancement), by framing the okupas in a similar fashion, it is able to recognize social problems like housing without having to offer political solutions. According to the PSC’s argument, socially, the okupas have certain admirable qualities and, politically, they are harmless.

Labanyi, Jo. Introduction. Nazarín. By Benito Peréz Galdós. Oxford England: Oxford UP, 1993.vii-xx. Print.

Pérez, Galdós B, and Jo Labanyi. Nazarín. Oxford England: Oxford University Press, 1993. Print.

Sáez Mateu, Ferran. Els bons salvatges: El fracàs inevitable de les utopies polítiques modernes. Barcelona: L’arquer, 2008. Print.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.