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Obra Completa (english)

by Jesús Revelles
To approach the vast output of Josep Pla (Palafrugell, 1897 - Llofriu, 1981) not only arouses a sense of respect but also stimulates a desire to read: his precise descriptions and love of detail are sufficient reason to tackle the 45 volumes that form the Obra completa and that make Pla the most prolific and popular prose writer in contemporary Catalan literature

Pla's Obra completa - published by Destino - is not simply the definitive collection of almost everything he wrote but also the definitive version, reworked and corrected several times by the author himself. As early as 1956, Editorial Selecta had started publishing his writings, but the death of his editor, Josep M. Cruzet, in 1962 put an end to this task at volume XXIX. Ten years later, Destino began the project again from scratch.

The paradox of Pla meant that El quadern gris (written in his old age) comes at the beginning of the Destino edition of the Obra Completa, as a diary written as a youth, whereas we know today that El quadern gris of 1996 is not only the text that Pla wrote in 1918-1919, for the book was written at different times. It is not just a diary but a perfect literary resource in which the author draws on all his experiences; a diary that is enhanced and extended - in other words, fictionalised.

Josep Pla's work is largely (and excessively) autobiographical because the author is always present as the observer. The very arrangement and rewriting of the Obra Completa makes Pla a paradoxical author: ingenuous and old-fashioned because he tries to materialise his desire for reality, but radical and consequently contemporary in the way he does it. Many of his narratives cross the traditional frontiers between literary genres: there is a plot (therefore it is narrative), he evokes emotions (it is therefore lyrical) and finally he brings in persons, the “person” of Josep Pla (so there is an epic component too). He moves between the unity of a definitive Complete Works and this disunity of genres.

Pla's literature is the “reflection of a specific society at a specific time”. He always maintained the essence of a committed witness of his own reality who provides a testimony to the world around him. This is what led him to write on such a variety of subjects: food (El que hem menjat), travel (En mar), politics (Cròniques parlamentàries (1933-1934)) and people (Homenots).

Attaching importance to the briefest of anecdotes and making use of memories, Pla observed everything: great historic moments (more closed related to his time as a journalist) along with the small details of daily life (with leanings towards a lyricism that never came too close to romanticism or facile rhetoric). Pla always shunned the metaphysical and the transcendental. This “countryman's materialism” meant taking life day by day, a healthy dose of scepticism, and a close relationship with a landscape that he never idealised but always humanised. Walking was a way of getting to know a countryside that was accessible and within reach: “I love panoramic views, but like all illuminated romantic shows they leave a great void inside me. I prefer more confined, specific things and details. Panoramic views require one to be young and sensitive to a free, childish, easy rhetoric.” (Un petit món del Pirineu).

Scepticism meant that he was disillusioned by the idea of advancement of the human species. He was an anthropo-pessimist and against any kind of sudden change; a literary successor to the French moralists Montaigne, Chateaubriand and Pascal. Others who influenced him were many and varied: Baroja, Unamuno, Nietzsche, Taine, Stendhal, Chesterton, Machiavelli, Baudelaire, Shakespeare, Spinoza, Rousseau, Pirandello and Hugo.

With a great sense of humour - Pla continually comes up with the unexpected - and acting the role of the countryman, he manages to set himself at a distance from the world: “Politics and journalism, grammar and rhetoric, manuals and academe - are they not the empty stuff of life? I would never change the life of the people of this village with no church and no clock for that of our poor optimistic poets who are so stuffed full of misery. The meaning of life? Here you have the meaning of life.” (El quadern gris). Whether travelling or not, Pla concentrates on the local and the detailed. To approach him today is to approach a controversial, fascinating, contradictory figure. His literature reveals a strong commitment to objectivity: “A writer's first obligation is to observe, describe and show the period in which he is living. This is infinitely more important than the useless, sterile attempts to achieve a raw originality.” (La vida amarga).

Rewriting nearly always means explaining in one way or another and with a different intention. In Pla's case, what is important is the reflection on the limits and the capacity of language to capture the world, the passing of time and the on-going changes in life. His descriptions and his human portraits are notable examples of this. Josep Pla's writing is an act of knowledge that is credible rather than veritable, linking the writer with the contemporaneous world and releasing it from narrow interpretations.

Translated by Joanna Martinez
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