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Methodical suspicion

Latest NewsMethodical suspicion

“They gave birth to me cocky, and I’m cocky, I can’t help myself.” This is how Joan Fuster defined himself in front of Montserrat Roig in a TV interview. And he was not wrong. He could not help himself, and probably did not want to, because this fatality of his is one of those that emerge most quickly in his texts, as fresh, impudent and rebellious today as when he wrote them, to the delight of your readers.

Joan Fuster (Swedish, Valencia, 1922-1992) was born 100 years ago and died 30 years ago. The ephemeris is sacred and this year the official commemoration of her birth is celebrated in the Valencian Community, Catalonia (where she published most of her work) and the Balearic Islands to make public his figure and evaluate its authenticity. It is not easy to summarize the journey of a man who has published 60 books and over 3,500 (an enviable number) articles in the press. Severe critics—and even literary rivals such as Joan Ferrate—considered him the best prose writer of ideas that Catalan literature has ever known, the clearest, most versatile, insightful, and most entertaining. These qualities also shine in his many articles in Spanish to be dug up. Columnists in the press may be the most representative literary genre of the 20th century (according to González Ruano), but their interchangeable nature, which makes them so suggestive in everyday life, limits their longevity. That Fuster’s writings remain alive and relevant even today says a lot about his legal skills, but knowing his circumstances also helps to enjoy them.

While he was alive, his influence was very significant, even in politics. His book Nosaltres els valencians (1962) redefined the timid political Valencianism that emerged in the last years of the Franco regime. Along with the other, El País Valenciano of the same year provoked a furious controversy that continues to this day, which united against itself the supporters of understandable regionalism and the supporters of eternal Spain. From smear campaigns in the regime’s press to two bombings, there was everything. Joan Fuster defended and documented the core – linguistic and cultural – Catalan identity of the Valencians and argued for the convenience of the common “Catalan Countries” project for this linguistic community. These were ideas that had very little political resonance in the long run, but they had a profound effect on intellectual debate in the three Catalan-speaking territories of the state. Otherwise, Fuster was not a politician, not even an ideologue, let alone an organic intellectual, but an independent critic, free verse, attentive, insightful and suspicious, who was increasingly irritated by the improvised and maneuverable politics of a concerted and prim democracy, which, in his opinion, opinion, humiliated the hope for real change. In this realm, he was often cruel. During the Transition, when it was already possible to write relatively freely, he was a very uncomfortable character.

His vision of nationalism was ambivalent. He cursed state nationalism, covert or not, but understood—and felt necessary—defensive nationalism as a shield for minor minorities. Not surprisingly, when he died, two collections of his texts appeared on the subject of a variety of signs: “Against Nationalism” and “Against Spanish Nationalism.” Both names together speak for themselves. Briefly passing through the drumsticks of the Falange in his early youth (“I grew up intellectually in complete ignorance and the doctrinal intoxication of dictatorship”), Fuster fought on the side of the distrustful left, professed a superficial and dubious Marxism – more influenced by Gramsci than Marx – and he was and believed himself a liberal with some anarchist leanings (“power changes hands, but rarely wavers.” “If there is anything inherently evil in this world, it is undoubtedly the state”).

In fact, Joan Fuster wanted to be, and always has been, an essayist in Montaigne’s direct line. The essays were his poems—lyrical, angry, or poignant—his wonderful aphorisms—as scathing as Cioran’s but less theatrical—his historical studies, his books on literary and artistic criticism, his travel guides, and even his apparently erudite works. In his best years – the fifties and sixties of the last century – his texts, in newspapers or in books, were a collection of learned and smiling irony, inciting disbelief, reflection and dispute about everything human and divine, without mediation and prejudice, as far as possible. (because censorship, always vigilant, could be circumvented, but not avoided).

For Fuster, an essay is “the literature of ideas or not.” Ideas exist to shock them, to see how far they go and why, and skepticism is a method based on ecumenical distrust, not intending to abolish the principle of truth, but purifying it. “It is necessary to have convictions, but not enough.” On the other hand, the conventional ideas of a distrustful thinker “do not work miracles, but they do not cause hecatombs either.” The purpose of the debate – preferably civilized – is to “preserve a positive balance of relaxation and progress.” In an environment as prone to circumflex dogmatism as that in which Fuster had to live, his essays were a good disinfectant. Very arrogant – as far as he is allowed – but effective.

If an essay is a literature of ideas, then these ideas are the aim of the exercise, which is always an ironically suspicious study, but its basis is literary. Fuster is a great writer, and that’s what makes him compelling. His style is ebullient, his rambling adjectives are memorable, and his catchy jazz-inspired phrasing is unique: lively, restless, exuberant, playful, extraordinarily caustic and very interesting. He likes metaphors, especially unexpected and humiliating ones, lapidary phrases and sharp attacks. As a wrangler, he is fast and deadly. It can be dazzling and it’s always fun. He never forgets that the first duty of a writer is to be read, and his texts, whether short or very long, always accomplish this task. It’s magnetizing.

His topics cover the whole world because he wants to understand it. His style tells us about him, which also wants to understand himself. If, as Montaigne hints, the ultimate will of every writer is to understand and express himself, Fuster achieved this on the basis of the hundreds of thousands of pages that are his self-portrait. The one who, besides loving his country and its people to the point of obsession, tried to understand himself and his world, taking nothing on faith and unceremoniously. Like the old humanists, whom he mocked because they weren’t suspicious enough, and whom he admired because they tried to be, he defended that beleaguered territory of the rational and the human, “in the fullness of his rights and freedoms.” “with weapons and teeth.

“There are lawyers, or teachers, or politicians, or bishops, or poets, or farmers. My profession, on the other hand, is to be Joan Fuster.” The list is significant. I think Fuster wouldn’t be too reluctant to be one of those things (and he really was one of them), but we’re unique and he had to come to terms with who he was, not without humor. This is what he wrote, and this is his originality. This is a real show.

Enric Soria he is a writer.

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