“At one time, I had a role in a cultural advisory council of the Barcelona City Council and I heard that it was always said: ‘We must defend culture’. But no one wanted to explain what that meant because there was never time to explain what culture was. If accessory arguments were used, it was said that it was an engine of economic growth, a reason for social cohesion… Well, that’s all true but it’s not enough, It doesn’t explain what culture is.”
Antonio Monegal, professor at Pompeu i Fabra University, explains the idea of the nation like this Like the air we breathe: the meaning of culture (published by the Acantilado label in 2022), the book that yesterday was chosen for the National Essay Prize awarded by the Ministry of Culture and Sports and which is endowed with 30,000 euros. The jury, chaired by María José Gálvez Salvador, general director of Books, Comics and Reading of the Ministry of Culture and Sports, highlighted Monegal’s work “for the excellence of style and creativity.” Also for putting the focus of attention “on the broad concept and the integrative nature of culturewhich allows us to understand and define what we are and do: a phenomenon that gives meaning to our society”.
“This is an activist book,” adds Monegal. In his investigation into the meaning of the word culture, the Barcelona philosopher places his emphasis on its value as a common good. “It is very easy to justify that culture is important for the individual, we all experience in our lives that there is something, music or comics or art that marks us. The difficult thing is to justify culture as a collective benefit, just like we do with education or healthcare. Public health, for example, cures the individual, but we all understand that the sum of these individual cures is a form of common good. “This translation has not been made with culture, when culture is a fundamental pillar of the Welfare State.”
Monegal also explains that his book avoids the word beauty as much as possible “just as I rarely use the word spirit, because they are too connoted words. Beauty is an emotion that is closely related to culture, of course, but so is the horror. Culture is a tool we have to approach horror and understand it… All important conflicts in our time have a root and a cultural transmission, even when Israel and Hamas go to war. I don’t know if life has meaning but I do know that human beings need to give it that meaning.
“Culture is like a toolbox that allows us to try to build that meaning,” Monegal concludes. The jury highlighted that her work, “in the face of those who criticize the elitist character of culture, he argues, with a clear, fresh and direct narrative, in favor of it as a vital resource, as a basic necessity in which we have to invest because we cannot afford to live without it.