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Literature as a moral vice

Mercè Ibarz

- Shall we talk about journalism? Do you believe you're a good journalist and an excellent literary critic?

- Oh dear, I think that in order to be a good critic I need to do a lot more reading and be much more cultured.

- Modesty apart, the fact is that you have been a journalist, especially in Mexico, writing in Spanish, in the publications of your son Roger Bartra. I recall a long article that Josep Ramoneda had reprinted here in La Vanguardia. It was about the Fifth Centenary, starting out from a discussion of a book by Carlos Fuentes.

- In recent years, in the summer, I must have reviewed between twenty and thirty books, for Jornada Semanal, the review of which Roger is editor. My favourite authors are all the good ones I can read. I spent years being a Thomas Mann fanatic. Now I'm keen to devour all the new rising stars being discovered around the world and in Catalonia.

Literary or artistic criticism is journalism too. There's good, dense journalism with a light style but deep when it comes to thought, and superficial, pedestrian journalism, like the greater part of Pla's work.

- You were already a journalist before you went into exile...

- Here, during the war, I was also doing short, fast literary criticism. I remember only two of those pieces, even though I've never set eyes them again. In one I was writing about or eulogising the translations, or one translation, of Andreu Nin, just after he died. No one dared to speak about it publicly because that system sowed even more terror than FAI, which had just been crushed, ever did. I took the risk of talking about it, indirectly through literary criticism, without making any explicit reference to Nin's disappearance. I also wrote about Agustí Bartra's Cant Corporal (Corporal Canto), and this was before I met him.

- You did more than write about books: you were doing interviews, publishing brief political articles and you were even editor of a newspaper...

- Yes, of course I got to be editor of a newspaper, as you say, and that was because all the men on the editorial staff were at the front!

- What would you save of your journalism in exile?

- The literary criticism I did in 1956, in Gaseta de Lletres. We were tired of seeing unworthy stuff being published just because the perpetrators were the ones who could pay for publication and, to cap it all, we were fed up with reading praise of it. I said I'd had enough of people saying that everything written in Catalan was good, that we had to tell the truth, do real criticism and that I would do it myself. And I did. And I stirred up furious ill-feeling.

- You've seen a lot of things happen since 1904 [...]. Socially speaking, what events have marked you most positively?

- When I was ten or eleven, I was interested in what was happening in the First World War and read the articles Gaziel was writing from Paris. We talked about it at school. The boys and girls wanted to be like the grown-ups and to be able to declare ourselves Francophiles or Germanophiles. But it didn't upset me; at that age you can't understand the horror of war. I didn't understand the Russian Revolution either. It didn't start to mark me until years later. I described, in an article I published in Mexico in March 1990, titled "Quien pierde el mundo" (Those Who Lose the World), how it left its mark on my entire life and wrote about how the members of my generation have spent their whole existence coexisting with communism –in favour, against, or neutral, but experiencing it together– and the sensation, when faced with present-day events, that what was our world, which was often cruel and sanguinary, but still ours, is sinking.
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Literary news about Anna Murià in LletrA, Catalan literature online (Open University of Catalonia).



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