Inspiration is the key!
A long-standing tradition lasting more than 8 centuries, Catalan literature mirrors the political status of Catalonia and its relationship with Spain: according to how history treated this land, Catalan literature either blossomed or suffered badly. For instance, the golden age of Catalan literature was brought to an end in the moment Spain sought after a unified power: the Catalan revolt of 1640 was suppressed, rights were limited in 1714 at the hands of King Philip V and ultimately the Catalan language was banned from schools in the 1760s. This attitude was challenged in the following century, with the birth of a movement which came to be known as “Renaixença catalana” (Catalan Renaissance) in 1877, led by Jacint Verdaguer, Àngel Guimerà and Jocs Florals. By then, political calls for a recognition of Catalan rights had surfaced, and studies on the language had begun and were slowly advancing. It is then, in the late 1910s, that Josep Pla writes his masterpiece.
What he created at the age of 21, his “El quadern gris” (“Grey Notebook” in English) has now become one, if not one of the most, beautiful pages of literature Catalonia has ever seen. Written in 1918 and extending to 1919, this sort of diary recollects impressions, accurate descriptions and critical analysis of whatever happened to be around this young talented lad. From landscapes to people, from the bourgeoise society of the time to townspeople of all kinds. It includes songs, poems or short verses which aren’t usually translated into other languages according to what one can find in a few translated editions. What strikes the most is the ability of such a young writer to depict feelings and sentiments as well as concrete and real-life elements. He carefully tells of the decadent vibe surrounding Barcelona in the 1910s, the last echoes of an anti-revolutionary monarchism and the first wails of Spanish nationalism.
In the following years he travels to other European countries, writes essays and articles for journals describing the fast changes of the time and is ultimately silenced in his Catalan expression by the Spanish nationalist censorship that follows the Civil War of 1936-1939.
“El quadern gris” was published only in 1966: the result of years of censorships but also a clear evidence of the scarce attention the literary circles of Spain had granted local literature. But what is our perspective on this today? As important as it is to find a unified national current for European and world literatures, it is equally important to give credit to local contexts, both politically and in literary perspectives. Creativity cannot be trivialized by criteria that tend to favour one language over another, because each language, and therefore any literature that spurs from it, is worthy of respect and deserves to be studied, told, disclosed and known as such. It is a form of civil battle: one that we can fight by expressing interests in minor languages, dialects and local speeches and the literary works that come from them.