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Josep Carner, a Century of Catalan Culture

Jaume Subirana (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya)

Barcelona 1884 - Brussels 1970. Poet, journalist, playwriter and translator

Josep Carner was born in Barcelona in 1884. He wrote his first poem at the age of twelve, and received his first poetry prize at fourteen. As a supporter of the Spanish Republic, he went into exile in Mexico, where he taught from 1939 to 1945. On his return to Europe, he became a member of the Catalan government in exile and taught at the Free University in Brussels, where he spent his last twenty-five years. The work of Carner is that of a genius of a language. Even though Carner mainly wrote poetry (he was dubbed 'The Prince of Poets'), his prose was also of outstanding quality, especially in short stories and plays, as well as in numerous translations. Of his translation of Dickens' The pickwick Papers, it has even been said that it 'improves on' the original. Carner supplies a hitherto-unknown flexibility to the Catalan language, and enriches it by incorporating into it colloquial and cultivated linguistic registers.

The life of Josep Carner i Puig-Oriol embraces a passionate period of literature and, in more general terms, of the culture and history of Catalonia. Carner was born in the heyday of Modernism but was still able to experience the maturity of many men (and also the impetus) of the Catalan cultural Renaissance while growing up with the urban-based cultural movement of noucentisme, which he came to represent. He was involved with the work of the Mancomunitat [created in 1914 to bring together the four Catalan regional administrations - translator], opted for a diplomatic career as a consul in a peculiar kind of distancing that made him a lucid observer of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship and the dynamics that, in the 1930s, led the country into civil war, chose exile in Mexico, returned to a Europe that was being reconstructed after the nightmare of the Second World War and eventually settled in Brussels, the city that became the core of Europeanism in the 1950s.

From Dandy to Poet of Noucentism

Carner made a dazzling debut. At the age of twelve he was already beginning to write for a range of literary publications, by eighteen he had a Law degree and, at twenty, an Arts degree, at twenty-two he triumphed with his third collection of poems, at twenty-six he was awarded the title of Master in the Art of Poetry (mestre en gai saber) and, at twenty-seven, joined the Philological Centre of the Institut d'Estudis Catalans ... This precocity, his extraverted character, the dashing style of dress of his youth, a proverbial gift of the gab and a certain predilection for practical jokes made him a turn-of-the-century Barcelona "personality", a well-known and conspicuous, but not always celebrated, character (suffice to recall an episode like that of his expulsion from the Ateneu [Atheneum] of Barcelona).

Little by little, the progressive abandonment of the explosive aesthetics of his early years permitted some of Carner's essential facets to become increasingly clear: his extraordinary linguistic abilities, his great capacity for work and his ability to generate and organise cultural projects. Hence, Carner wrote and published a book of poems that would come to be regarded as emblematic of noucentisme, Els fruits saborosos (Delicious Fruits, 1906), while also progressively cultivating Catholic Catalan nationalist circles through his friendships (with Jaume Bofill i Mates and Emili Vallès), and was director of some of the most influential reviews of the time, (Catalunya and Empori) in which he installed his friends. He discovered Mallorca and became the bridgehead of the authors of the so-called Mallorcan School in Barcelona, created around himself the Cal·ligueneia group, went to Madrid to obtain his doctorate and dazzled the regulars at the Atheneum there... Besides, his acquaintance with the President of both the Barcelona County Council and the Mancomunitat, Enric Prat de la Riba (for whom he always professed admiration) gave him access, in 1902, to La Veu de Catalunya, the newspaper of moderate Catalan nationalism. Some years later, it would situate him in the newly-created Institute of Catalan Studies (1911) and at the head of the publishing house Editorial Catalana, founded in 1917 under the sponsorship of the Catalan nationalist party Lliga Regionalista as an ambitious cultural project that included a number of collections (Biblioteca Literària, Biblioteca Catalana), reviews (D'Ací i d'Allà) and the Enciclopèdia Catalana (of which the director was Josep Pugés, while Carner was the literary director until he left for Genoa in 1921). Continue reading...

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