FEATURE: "Dreams of Literature"

Deinventor 3 by Lina Theodorou
By Víctor Martínez-Gil (Summary based on the Introduction to Els altres mons de la literatura catalana. Antologia de narrativa fantàstica i especulativa)1, Galàxia Gutenberg/Cercle de Lectors Barcelona, 2004 ISBN 84-672-0920-8

Cercle de Lectors www.cercle.cat

Galàxia Gutenberg www.galaxiagutenberg.com

The Catalans and Imaginative Literature

Unlike other general-consumption literary genres that, at particular times, have had a certain presence in Catalan literature (newspaper serials, romantic fiction, cops-and-robbers, and erotic – once called pit i cuixa (tit and bum) – novels), imaginative literature in Catalan has not yet managed to create, despite recent attempts in this direction, a corpus that might be clearly recognisable as autonomous. In his essay Supernatural Horror in Literature, Lovecraft warned that the French genius is much better suited to dark realism than to suggestion of the unseen, which requires the mysticism of the Northern mentality in order to be really felt. Can the same be said of Catalan tastes?

Catalan literature, it is true, has set its own limits to the dark world of the fantastic, but these limits have been surpassed in the periods of Romanticism, Modernism and at some other points.

Perhaps it is this interplay between the imagination and set limits that explains the singularity of our fantastic and speculative fiction. Yet these limits are not only ours but they depend to on each historic moment and its relationship with the irrational at the European level.

Some scholars have wished to lay claim to the existence of a Catalan non-realist literature as a specific genre. As has often been noted, Joan Fuster in an article that appeared in Serra d’Or in March 1969 with the title “Ciència-ficció” (Science Fiction) was the first to postulate the existence of some precedents for Catalan science fiction in the novels Homes artificials (Artificial Men, 1912) by Frederic Pujulà i Vallès, L’illa del gran experiment. Reportatges de l’any 2000 (The Island of the Great Experiment: Reports from the Year 2000, 1927) by Onofre Parés, and Retorn al sol (Return to the Sun, 1936) by Josep Maria Francès.2 Following in these footsteps, responding to Fuster’s call to research the matter and spurred on, too, by the interest awakened by the genre in the 1970s and 1980s with works by Manuel de Pedrolo, Antoni Munné-Jordà embarked on his task as the historian of Catalan science fiction which, besides several articles, culminated in the book Narracions de ciència-ficció. Antologia (Science Fiction Stories: Anthology, 1985). This was subsequently expanded into a work titled Futurs imperfectes. Antologia de contes de ciència-ficció (Imperfect Futures: Anthology of Science Fiction Stories, 1997).3 Again, Emili Olcina produced his Antologia de narrativa fantàstica catalana (Anthology of Catalan Fantastic Fiction) with the aims of “highlighting a very little studied facet of the history of Catalan literature” and offering an example of “a whole dimension of literary creation in Catalan”.4

From Folktales to Haunted Castles

The first great sub-genre of contemporary fantastic literature was the Gothic novel. In 1764 Horace Walpole inaugurated, with The Castle of Otranto, a tradition that would last, although progressively waning, until the beginning of the nineteenth century. The Gothic novel came to merge with historic fiction and Walter Scott frequently availed himself of these mysterious, medievalised settings. In France, Victor Hugo also made good use of them, although clearly tending more to tenebrous elements than to the supernatural.

In Catalan, influenced by Scott and Hugo as well as Alessandro Manzoni, Antoni de Bofarull published L’orfeneta de Manargues o Catalunya agonisant (The Little Orphan of Menargues or Catalonia Moribund, 1862) in which he blended the historical background with melodramatic elements of star-crossed love and small orphans in danger, but this was a long way from the feeling of terror wrought by the authors of the Gothic novel. In 1877, Josep Martí i Folguera, with his book Lo caragirat (The Turncoat) came close to the historic genre, seasoning it with dark elements of witches and evil spells.

The path of vindicating folklore and legend – which was partly present in the aforementioned works – was much more productive in introducing the fantastic element in the literature of the Renaixença.5 Antoni de Bofarull and, in particular Víctor Balaguer, who wrote Amor a la patria (Love of the Homeland, 1858) and Cuentos de mi tierra (Stories from My Land, 1864), paved the way for legend and the figures that would later come to have considerable repercussion, for example Comte Arnau (Count Arnau), the only character of the imaginary of Catalan legend that has truly made his literary fortune. However, folklorists such as Francesc Pelagi Briz, author of La panolla (The Corncob, 1873) and La roja (The Red, 1876), or Francesc Maspons i Labrós and his sister Maria del Pilar (who used the pseudonym Maria de Bell-lloc) were the writers who most systematically compiled Catalan stories and legends of the marvellous and fantastic variety.

Science and Ghost Stories

Authors such as Antoni Careta i Vidal, Martí Genís i Aguilar, Narcís Oller and Víctor Català would write hybrid stories, somewhere between mystery and science.6 In the final quarter of the nineteenth century, the fame of Jules Verne would give rise in Catalonia to a small theatrical tradition along humorous lines with works such as De la terra al sol (From Earth to Sun) by Narcís Campmany and Joan Molas, L’any 13.000 (The Year 13,000) by Manuel Figuerola i Aldrofeu, and Quinze dies a la lluna (Two Weeks on the Moon) by C. Gumà (Juli-Francesc Guibernau).7 Modernists like Apel les Mestres continued with the “white” line of the fantastic tale, while some writers including Joaquim Ruyra, Diego Ruíz and Víctor Català were caught up in the revival of the romantic story, of dark, mysterious origins, a current that other writers such as Santiago Rusiñol joined in its orphic aspects. More politically vocal writers like Pompeu Gener began to work with approximations to speculative literature that linked up with H. G. Wells and other writers who updated the utopian theme although, in fact, frequently following the nineteenth-century humorous genres, just as Nil Maria Fabra had done in Spanish.

Between Archetypes and Scepticism

The philosophical and literary convulsions that covered the First World War years were also to have their effects on fantastic literature.

Noucentist8 writers like Josep Carner and heirs of the movement such as Àngel Ferran, Francesc Trabal and Pere Calders, were interested in fantastic literature and immediately adopted magic realism (Bontempelli would be translated into Catalan). Again, writers like Joan Santamaria (author of Narracions extraordinàries (Extraordinary Tales), 1915 – 1921) Ernest Martínez Ferrando, Domènec Guansé, Elvira-Augusta Lewi and Salvador Espriu imbibed at the fount of expressionism, highlighting the disturbing and erotic elements of the ghost story, although it was only in the post-war years, with Joan Perucho, that the impact of Lovecraft’s world would be felt. Finally, Catalan literature, in the person of Joaquim Nadal, tested the field of scientific speculation in story and even novel form: Homes artificials (Artificial men, 1912) by Pujalà i Vallès was to be joined by the two novels cited by Joan Fuster. In 1927, inspired by the utopias of Bellamy and others, Onofre Parés published L’illa del gran experiment, a tour around the marvels of science, while Josep M. Francès, one of the popular writers of the 1920s and 1930s, brought out Retorn al sol (1936), a story of dystopia or negative utopia inspired above all by Wells. As the critics have noted, if the first of these two novels reflects the modernist-individualist ideology, the second is a response to the socialist or Marxist ideology, while the third can be situated in republican ideology with anarchising tics.9

Reconstruction after the Bomb

After the Second World War, science-fiction literature and cinema under the predominant influence of American creators enjoyed a period of great popular impact, largely due to the fear of science begotten by the atomic bomb attacks on Japan.

In Catalonia, although the Catalan language was proscribed by the Franco regime, one still finds some writers who adopted as their own this popular approach to the genre and who aimed to build up a literature in Catalan that would deal with scientific and speculative themes of interest and connect with the wider readership. Notable here is the work of Antoni Ribera. A ufologist and publisher of clandestine magazines, Antoni Ribera would publish Llibre dels set somnis (Book of Seven Dreams, 1953) and Llibre dels retorns (Book of Returns, 1957). In these and subsequent works, Ribera was to adapt the “Golden Age” literature of American science fiction, which came to be known in the Spanish milieu through the Argentine magazine Más Allá in the 1950s, as would be attested to in 1968 with a collection of writings in New Dimension, which was published in Barcelona until the 1980s. According to Munné-Jordà, Antoni Ribera, along with Sebastià Estrade and Màrius Lleget, represent the “nucleus of the first generation of Catalan science fiction writers since all three have in common the fact of having written creative works and more popular books for the wider public with the aim of gaining a readership for the genre.”10 Fèlix Cucurull, who in 1952 published Els altres mons (The Other Worlds), a book of poems on possible encounters with extraterrestrial beings, might be added to this core group. This tradition of fictional debates on scientific and humanist matters explains why publications like Tele/estel, from 1966 to 1970, and Ciència, in the 1980s, published works of the speculative genre. In addition, such writers as Ferran Canyameres with El misteri de Clara (1962), on artificial insemination, and Rosa Fabregat with Embrió humà untracongelat núm. F-77 (Ultra-frozen Human Embryo Nº. F-77, 1984) and Pel camí de l’arbre de la vida (On the Path of the Tree of Life, 1985), which were subsequently brought together in the book titled La dama del glaç (The Ice Lady, 1997), have addressed the field of biogenetics.

Alongside the more popularising type of interest in fantastic genres, there were some post-war writers who would put them to more metaphysical uses. Pere Calders wrote, with his Cróniques de la veritat oculta (Chronicles of the Hidden Truth, 1955), a continuation of the world of magic realism, while Jordi Sarsanedas, with Mites (Myths, 1954) would link up with the surrealist fantastic line. Notable among the post-war writers is Joan Perucho who, in 1956, wrote the story Amb la tècnica de Lovecraft (With Lovecraft’s Technique), thus ushering into our literature the creator of the Cthulhu myths. Perucho’s work is dense and nuanced, his position being equidistant between interest in the occult and playing with the genre with which he, in fact, continues the irreverent trend of interwar Europe. With Les històries naturals (1960)11 he would offer a masterpiece in the vampire genre.12

One of the branches that would continue to evolve through the 1960s and 1970s (and beyond) is that of dystopian literature or political fiction. Besides a more youth-oriented view of the genre – in 1966 Sebastià Estradé published Més enllà no hi ha fronteres (There are No Borders Out There), Pere Verdaguer El cronomòbil (The Chronomobile) and Joaquim Carbó La casa sota la sorra (The House under the Sand) – the genre also aroused the interest of other writers like Maria-Aurèlia Capmany, Josep Maria Benet i Jornet (with La nau (The Nave), which was premiered in 1970, the latter brought the relationship between the world of theatre and science fiction up to date, a path also trodden by Els Joglars with the trilogy M7 Catalonia, Laetius and Olimpic Man Movement from 1978 to 1981), Avel•lí Artís-Gener (author of uchronic works in which indigenous people from the Americas discover Europe, for instance Paraules d’Opoton el Vell (Words of the Elder Opoton, 1968) and also L’Enquesta del Canal 4 (The Channel 4 Survey, 1973)), Manuel de Pedrolo, Víctor Mora, Montserrat Julió (with Memòries d’un futur bàrbar (Memoirs of a Barbarous Future, 1975)) and Llorenç Villalonga (with Andrea Víctrix, which appeared in 1974).13 With his novels Mecanoscrit del segon origen (Manuscript of the Second Origin, 1974), Aquesta matinada i potser per sempre (Early This Morning and Maybe Forever, 1980) and Successimultani (Simultaneousevent, 1981), and the stories of Trajecte final (Final Trajectory, 1975), Pedrolo moves between the classical “golden age” writers and the new science fiction writers of the 1960s in the Anglo-Saxon domain – among them Philip K. Dick and Ursula K. le Guin – who were collectively known as the “new wave”. Prior to this, with Totes les bèsties de càrrega (All the Beasts of Burden, 1967), Pedrolo had produced an allegorical oeuvre, somewhere between the world of Kafka and that of science fiction, revealing the interest of writers in using these genres for social ends during the Franco dictatorship. Perhaps this might be explained by the belief that it was easier to slip them past the censor because of their non-realist nature.

Between Rebellion and Commitment

Some of the writers I have cited above, for example Benet i Jornet, straddle the so-called “Seventies Generation”. In Catalan literature, these writers represented the generational handover that seemed to have been interrupted by the Civil War. They are writers raised on popular cinema, comics and television and, for them, the fantastic genres and science fiction are key references. In fact, it is mass culture that impregnates their work, in a first irruption of postmodernity. In some cases, as in that of Jaume Fuster, the genre – and the crime novel too – would continue to have a politically assertive sense, although without neglecting the more jocular function, as is evident in his Tolkein-inspired trilogy consisting of L’illa de les Tres Taronges (The Isle of Three Oranges, 1983), L’anell de ferro (The Iron Ring, 1985) and El jardí de les palmeres (The Garden of Palm Trees, 1993). The same thing happens with writers like Josep Albanell. In keeping with the concerns of the writers of the seventies, the group Trencavel sought to create a genre literature in Catalan while the Ofèlia Dracs collective published Lovecraft, Lovecraft! (1981) and Essa Efa (Es Ef, 1985) with the aim of referring readers only to works in the fantastic and science fiction veins. With the example of Manuel de Pedrolo, the authors in the Ofèlia Dracs group came to see works in the genre as a way of introducing Catalan literature into the domain of mass consumption.

Throughout the 1980s, with the vindication of such writers as Pere Calders and Joan Perucho, the constant example of Franz Kafka and of one of the most widely-read authors in Catalonia, Julio Cortázar, the fantastic genres came to form part of mainstream Catalan literature, frequently in an ironic and clearly postmodern sense. Quim Monzó, Sergi Pàmies and younger writers who were to become known in the 1980s and 1990s (Josep M. Fonalleras, Màrius Serra, Julià Guillamon, Jaume Subirana, Òscar Pàmies, Sebastià Roig, Vicenç Pagès Jordà, Pere Guixà and Manel Zabala) would work with fantastic and speculative elements in their writing as part of their world of references. This line has been endorsed by several anthologies, for example, Sis temps (Six Times, 1987), with the collaboration of Manuel de Pedrolo, and 2001: l’odissea continua (2001: The Odyssey Continues, 2001) by the 21x21 collective, in the case of science fiction, and El triangle de les set punxes (The Seven-Pointed Triangle, 1990) in that of horror fiction.

In the 1990s, we saw the attempt to create a type of Catalan literature that was specifically of the fantastic and speculative genre but keeping a distance from what was being written for young readers or with jocular intent. After the 1980s there appeared collections such as “L’Arcà” (published by Laertes), the now-extinct “2001, Pleniluni ciència-ficció” (1984 – 1991) of Pleniluni, and the extant “Ciència-ficció” series of Pagès Editors, which is directed by Munné-Jordà. Along with Jordi Solé i Camardons, Munné-Jordá is the initiator of a new viewpoint in Catalan speculative literature, which plays with theories of language in the tradition of Jack Vance, Robert Silverberg, Ursula K. Le Guin and Orson Scott Card. The former with his Llibre de tot (Book of Everything, 1994) and the latter with Els silences d’Eslet (The Silences of Eslet, 1996), his essay Les paraules del futur (Words of the Future, 1995), the first Catalan contribution to the sociolinguistics of science fiction, and La síndrome dels estranys sons (The Strange Sounds Syndrome, 2003), a novel inspired in allegorical works such as those of José Saramago, have opened up this field that has benefited from the textualist experiments of the 1970s, while also steering clear of cyberpunk, the trend which, playing with the idea of virtual reality and cyberspace, swept all before it in Anglo-Saxon science fiction in the 1980s and part of the 1990s. The Jules Verne Prize for science fiction awarded in Andorra has encouraged this strand, as has the Catalan Society for Science Fiction and Fantasy, which was founded in 1997.14 The Manuel de Pedrolo Prize, awarded in different categories by ages by the Mataró Council is yet another initiative promoting Catalan science fiction literature. The continuity of this line, however, depends to a large extent on the creation and consolidation of collections like that produced by Pagès Editors.15

The success of a work like La pell freda (2002)16 by Albert Sánchez Piñol and novels like La triple mascara. Història d’una recerca fantàstica (The Triple Mask: The Story of a Fantastic Quest, 2003), by Glòria Sales, Vampíria Sound (2004) by Pep Blay, and books by Sebastià Alzamora situate us in the adult production of the fantastic genre. We might say that, in the years of this new century, Catalan literature has found in these genres a new way of giving shape to the obsessions of our times while also recovering the international classics, for example works by Wells, Stoker, Joseph Conrad and Lovecraft himself. The hybridism of postmodernity is cast aside in these cases – although without overlooking matters like recognition of the Other and the decomposition of knowledge – and an attempt has been made to restore the purity of genres that can satisfy certain neo-modern aspects of today’s reality. Sánchez Piñol and Alfred Bosch, coming from anthropology and history, have been able to link up with a certain Catalan tradition of social speculation that Avel•lí Artís-Gener once represented. Again, Hèctor Bofill, with L’últim Evangeli (The Last Gospel, 2003) has joined, in the footsteps of Miquel de Palol and his El jardí dels set crepuscles (The Garden of the Seven Twilights, 1989) and Ígur Neblí (1994), the writers who put the speculative genre to the philosophical and social use.

With these final thoughts now outlined I conclude my account of a panorama of a richness that, I believe, is considerable. The last word, however, belongs to the readers who need to be able to overcome prejudices against a literary form that has, for too long, been seen as minor.

1. The Other Worlds of Catalan Literature: Anthology of Fantastic and Speculative Fiction.
2. Joan Fuster, “Ciencia-ficció”, Serra d’Or, Nº. 115 (15 March 1969), p. 37.
3. Both works were published in Barcelona by Edicions 62. Munné-Jordà began to write the history of Catalan science fiction with the articles he published in Ciència, Vol. II, Nº. 16 (May 1982), pp. 349 – 350, and “La ciència-ficció en la literatura catalana” in Espill, Nº. 22 (October 1985) pp. 25 – 48.
4. Emili Olcina, Antologia de narrativa fantàstica catalana, Barcelona, Alertes, 1998, pp. 9 and 269 (author’s italics).
5. An early nineteenth-century romantic revivalist movement in Catalan language and culture [translator].
6. It would also be possible to link Jacint Verdaguer’s L’Atlàntida (Atlantis) with the scientific currents of his time, as A. Munné-Jordà has stressed. It is also worth consulting Vayreda i Vila et al., La ciència a la Renaixença catalana (Science in the Catalan Renaixença), Figueres, Editora Empordanesa, 1981, and Santiago Riera i Tuèbols, Història de la ciència a la Catalunya moderna (History of Science in Modern Catalonia), Lleida, Pagès Editors /Eumo Editorial, 2003.
7. Also to be borne in mind is the fantastic cinema directed, after 1903 and partly in Barcelona, by Segundo de Chomón, who followed in the footsteps of Georges Méliès’ Film Fantasy.
8. Noucentisme was an early twentieth-century, urban-based Catalan politico-cultural movement allied with bourgeois reformism and largely in reaction to the art and ideology of Modernism. The term was coined by the essayist, journalist, philosopher and art critic Eugeni d’Ors, playing on the double meaning of nou which means “nine” (referring to the just-past century) or “new”, suggesting renovation [translator].
9. See Jordi Solé i Camardons, “Introducció” in Joseph M. Francès, Retorn al sol, Lleida, Universitat de Lleida, 1998. The other two novels have appeared in recent editions. Homes artificials appeared in 1986 (Alella, Pleniluni), with an illuminating Prologue by Joaquim Martí and, in 1999, L’illa del gran experiment was published (Matriu / Matràs, Tiana), with a presentation by Pau Riba and Antoni Munné-Jordà.
10. A. Munné-Jordà, “Hi ha ciencia-ficció catalana?” (Does Catalan Science Fiction Exist?), in I Encontre de ciencia-ficció en llengua catalana (First Catalan-language Science Fiction Meeting), Barcelona, AELC, 1999, p. 26.
11. Published in English in the translation of David H. Rosenthal as Natural History (Knopf Doubleday Publishing, 1988) [translator].
12. See the indispensable essay by Julià Guillamon, Joan Perucho i la literatura fantàstica (Joan Perucho and Fantastic Literature), Barcelona, Edicions 62, 1989 and the Introduction, also by Guillamon, to Joan Perucho’s Algú a la nit, respira (Someone in the Night Breathes), Valencia, Tres i Quatre, 1990.
13. With regard to Villalonga’s novel see Monika Zgustová, “Novel•la utòpica catalana i russa: Villalonga i Zamiàtin” (The Catalan and Russian Utopian Novel: Villalonga and Zamyatin), Anuario de Filología, 6 (1980), pp. 507-510.
14. See the website http://www.sccff.cat. Authors such as Jordi Font-Agustí and Carme Torras are to be found in the milieu of this society.
15. Separate mention should be made of the so-called “scientific novel”, which developed to some extent in the early 1990s with the “Toc de Ficció” collection of La Campana and the Catalan Research Foundation’s Prize for the Scientific Novel, and eventually moved into non-fiction. This line, with such authors as Joan Rabasseda, Josep Tomàs Cabot, Marià Alemany, Daniel Closa and Josep Pla i Carrera, along with others like Carles M. Cuadras with Report. Una narració científica (Report: A Scientific Story, 2003) and Xavier Moret and his Dr. Pearson (2004), is related with what Carl Djerassi has called “science-in-fiction” and, in its realist or historic aspects, moves away from the speculative and science fiction genres. Without a doubt, the success of this branch in Catalan is linked with the country’s tradition of popularising science, which has recently been represented by writers like Xavier Duran, essayist and fiction writer, and Jordi José and Manuel Moreno, authors of Física i ciència ficció (Physics and Science Fiction), Barcelona, Edicions UPC, 1994.
16. Published in English in the translation of Cheryl Leah Morgan as Cold Skin, Canongate US, 2007 [translator].

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