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History of Spanish literature

Avant-Garde Movements  in Spain

The Avant-Garde

In 1908 new artistic movements began to appear in the various disciplines, which were known as “-isms”: Cubism, Dadaism, and Impressionism. These had great influence on the later Surrealism, which was partly due to the scientific basis that it maintained, thanks to the study and evolution of psychoanalytic theories.

One of the characteristics of the 20th century was speed. The changes in this era were extremely rapid and the artistic movements were not willing to remain on the sidelines of these changes. Because of this the “-isms” were considered old-fashioned the moment they were born. They searched for audacity and to break the rules one by one, to liberate the language of reality and create an art that had its own feelings.

Marinetti: Futurist Manifesto. The succession of changes meant that the artists of these movements tried to incorporate movement and time into their work, e.g. un automobile ruggente, che sembra correre sulla mitraglia, è più bello della Vittoria di Samotracia (A roaring car which seems to be powered by a machine gun, is more beautiful than Vittoria di Samotracia)

In Spain the majority of the Avant-garde were simple ephemeral movements that did not take off, but would create new aesthetic ideas that would greatly influence the Generation of ´27.


Ramón Gómez de la Serna stands out among the Avant-garde. With his “Ramonism” he was the greatest representative of the Spanish Avant-garde movement of the early years of the 20th century. He created the “greguería”, which is a short phrase that mixes metaphor and humor, e.g. El elefante es la enorme tetera de la selva (The elephant is the huge teapot in the jungle).

This new vision of the world de-emphasized the “woe is me” attitude created by the generation of ´98. Ramón (as he liked to be known) believed that “space”, as in everything surrounding us was important and occupied the center of the universe. The writer realized that the “exterior” was an endless source of creation. And so he began to form figures full of nerves, plastic, and most of all autonomy.

These are the humoristic greguerías:
- El niño intenta sacarse las ideas por la nariz.
- Las flores que no huelen son flores mudas.
- El que tartamudea habla con máquina de escribir.
- la p es la q que vuelve de paseo.
- La B es el ama de cría del alfabeto.
- La ñ es la n con bigote.
- El poeta miraba tanto al cielo que le salió una nube en un ojo.
- Después de nudista se es huesista.
- Las golondrinas son los pájaros vestidos de etiqueta.


The Ultraist movement was formed as a spanish version of Creationism, created by Vincente Huidobro. Although he was born in Chile he set sail for Spain, where he met Rafael Cansinos-Assens in Madrid who introduced him to the Spanish Avant-garde. He travelled to Paris where he composed drafts of “Altazor, el Viaje en Paracaídas” (Altazor, Journey in a Parachute) which is a poem consisting of a prologue and seven cantos which narrate Altazor´s journey by parachute in a hermetic and occultist manner. The journey takes him back to the origins and to a primitive era. Throughout the poem the poet travels from man´s first rumblings to the purity of language. His cantos are prophetic, influenced by Nietzsche´s “Así Habló Zaratustra” (Thus Spoke Zarathustra). The poet is a prophet that speaks about his journey of initiation. During this journey he envisions Europe burying its casualties from the First World War.

This poem was the beginning of the Ultraist movement. The poets of this movement wanted to break all ties with previous literature, which had been influenced by futurism and Dadaism. They looked for the defragmentation of “I” through a linguistic rupture. Language stopped being a representation of reality and an instrument of communication, as it became an object of art itself.