Manuel de Pedrolo

Xavier García

Manuel de Pedrolo (l'Aranyó, 1918-Barcelona, 1990) was a clandestine member of a sequestered society. One of a long line of nobles, he was born within the walls of a castle belonging to his father's family in the harsh lands of Segarra. He was a solitary adolescent full of expectations, in a small provincial capital, during the period of the Republic and then a young soldier who went to war on the side of the vanquished. He was a writer of incorruptible principles throughout the Franco dictatorship and an isolated intellectual in a mean-spirited democracy that, for this writer, clearly glossed over collective freedoms. The critics' silence about his work meant that, in the last years of his life, Pedrolo nursed the idea that he was a failure. His wife, daughter and a good friend who arrived late were the only people present at his burial.

Nonetheless, he has been one of the most widely-read Catalan writers since the end of the Civil War and he has also left a considerable poetic legacy, several hundred newspaper articles that won him quite a number of enthusiasts, several first-rate plays, the most substantial body of novels in our literature with the corresponding number of readers and, besides all this, a radical view of creativity and the image of an author who committed his whole being to every line he wrote. From the start, he took on his failure: freed from everything in a writing-universe of internal rebel coherence this is not only a star chapter in contemporary Catalan literature but a resounding contribution to the history of our culture.

A Creative Totality

The only limits between Pedrolo and his work were imposed by his own imagination. Not even the strictest political or moral censorship intervened in his literary project, as is shown in the chronological discrepancy, thanks to the dictatorship, between the writing and publication dates of many of his works. For example, Un amor fora ciutat (Love Outside the City), a novel dealing with homosexuality from the perspective of psychoanalysis, was written in 1959 but could not be published until 1970 and, even then, he was taken to court for inciting public scandal. But Pedrolo is the author of an oeuvre more than of works. It is a significant totality that goes beyond schools or aesthetic movements, producing realist novels (Estrictament personal (Strictly Personal, 1954)), humorous works (Cops de bec a Pasadena, (Beak Blows in Pasadena, 1956)), symbolist works (Totes les bèsties de càrrega (All the Beasts of Burden, 1965)), textualist writing (Text/càncer (Text/Cancer, 1973)), science-fiction (Mecanoscrit del segon origen, 1973)), detective novels (Mossegar-se la cua (Biting Your Tail, 1967)), etc., while he also wrote theatre of the absurd (Homes i No (Men and No, 1957)), symbolist-tending poetry, visual poetry (Sobres (Leftovers, 1994)), etc. His works, some of them more successful than others, come together in an autonomous literary universe as part of a trajectory that has been unwavering in its ethical exigency.

Pedrolo has worked with all genres. In fact, he began like others, including William Faulkner whom he admired so much, writing and publishing poetry (Ésser en el món (Being in the World, 1949)), but it didn't take him long to realise that the abyss of art for art's sake lay between his poetry and his project. It was a conception that the poet believed to be the most valid in aesthetic terms but it was too far removed from his hierarchy of intellectual values. He stopped writing in this genre and began writing short stories and narrative, which he also abandoned after 1956, precisely the year that he won the Víctor Català Prize for his collection entitled Crèdits humans (Human Credits)). One of these stories, "Diàlegs d'un fugitiu" (Dialogues of a Fugitive), which was also published as Domicili provisional (Provisional Domicile, 1953), is the key for understanding his theatre because the work is totally in dialogue. If one wishes to insert the necessary stage-direction notes, then it is a play. In fact, shortly afterwards he wrote his first published play Els hereus de la cadira (Heirs of the Chair, 1954)).

In the dramatic part of his creative totality, Pedrolo was quite successful. He was translated into several languages and his works were widely staged, even at the Sorbonne in Paris, cradle of theatre of the absurd, which is how his work has been described. He was the only Iberian -to avail myself of a euphemism- author to have been studied by the prestigious critic Martin Esslin in his The Theatre of the Absurd and one that produced quality plays like Homes i No (1957). At bottom, Pedrolo never regarded himself as a playwright. It happens, however, that in adverse circumstances for his community he did write plays and it is no coincidence that when Teixidor and Benet i Jornet appeared his work for the theatre should have dwindled to the point of oblivion: a solution of continuity for an exhausted tradition was needed and Pedrolo had been capable of finding it.

Being a Novelist

Since he was very young, Pedrolo had wanted to be a novelist. This is the most significant part of his work, in terms of both quality and quantity, the latter representing some 20,000 pages. Again, he was a multifaceted novelist and his aim was to embrace any sub-genre although always with a realist streak, understanding fiction as other-reality.

It should be emphasised that Pedrolo distanced himself from realism as a tradition through, inter alia but above all, the psychological novel, which he also viewed as other-reality, and he was probably influenced by his readings of Freud. Yet he tends to the ideological facet as well, which is demonstrated in his Zola-like efficacy in describing social matters. One must also mention the naturalist strands in his work as an opposite pole to this realism in an attempt to present us with extreme situations. In short, he is a heterodox writer who introduces fictional elements into the realm of realism in an attempt to subvert reality so as to embrace the maximum of verisimilitude, which is to say narrative reality.

The Paradigmatic Case of "Temps obert"

Pedrolo, who was really more a true novelist than a stylist, brought together some of his books in the form of novel-series: the trilogy "Anònims" (Anonymous, 1970-1971) and the quartets "La terra prohibida" (The Prohibited Land, 1957) and "Apòcrifs" (Apocryphals, 1978-1983). Among these fictional cycles, the most considerable and the one that most clearly reflects the literary concept that I wish to reconstruct, is without a doubt "Temps obert" (1963-1969), a series that embraces eleven volumes but was never completed because of its own raison d'être . This is a set of books that describe simultaneous but mutually exclusive situations with a single protagonist, Daniel Bastida. The first nine novels in the cycle, comprising the first book, deal with different consequences arising from the same situation that is born of conflict: the bombing of the Barcelona neighbourhood of Gràcia during the Civil War in 1936. This bombing attack affects the Bastida family either because the father dies, or the mother dies, or they move to another area, etc. Hence there are up to nine different possibilities, each of which is depicted in one volume, which in turn generates another situation of conflict that can also lead to different simultaneous and mutually exclusive situations that are nonetheless in keeping with the past of the main character, who appears in the opening novel.

This is an unparalleled fictional structure in world literature and it had already appeared in 1953 in the story "El millor novel·lista del món" (The Best Novelist in the World) after which it was rehearsed in a number of works (Viure a la intempèrie (Without a Roof, 1962) until it took its final form. Moreover, the structure was treated differently in each novel of the cycle (epistolary novel, inner monologue, chronological disorder, kaleidoscopic vision, etc.). This is a formal concern that, apart from its recurrence to the great themes that are typical of novels, is probably the other essential characteristic of Pedrolo's narratology: the quest for a language/novel.

Geometries of Poetry: the Language/Novel

Pedrolo tried to incorporate the structures and techniques of novels from other parts of the world into his own tradition. Until Pedrolo appeared on the scene, there were few such incorporations (some works of Puig i Ferreter, and Fanny de Soldevila?). Mention has been made of the influence of the lost generation with regard to this contribution, but the French Noveau Roman should be included here. These incorporations and fictional explorations add nuances to the primary novel thereby making it an original one. I shall indicate two of the most typical resources in Pedrolo's work: rejection of omniscience (S'han deixat les claus sota l'estora (The Keys are Under the Doormat, 1978); Sòlids en suspensió (Solids in Suspension, 1974)), and temporal perspectivism (Cendra per Martina (Ash for Martina, 1952); Les finestres s'obren de nit (The Windows Are Opened at Night, 1955)), both being options that have a clear parentage of their own. This quest is not in the least gratuitous when the author does not write to amuse himself or to amuse us but, on the contrary, he does it to capture the human condition.

The most profound goals in this inquiry may be found in the work Espais de fecunditat irregular/s (Spaces of Irregular/s Fecundity, 1973), a novel that begins, though never ends, with a sentence that must be finished, one that in its unfolding requires a syntactic, grammatical, etc. order. And, in this creating of itself, it generates errors that the text itself, and now text/character (Blanca), corrects while accumulating data on knowledge of the reality in which the novel unfolds. This is a reality created from syntax, hence converted into universe-writing that writes and is written. This is why the heroine is all the heroines and the text becomes all the novels. It is an autograph conception of the novel that -oh paradox!- opens up all the unlimited possibilities within a finitude.

The work of a man who was illimitable and who wrote like a madman: Pedrolo dixit.

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