Who I Am and Why I Write

Martí Domínguez

The fact is that everything — or just about everything — is part of my literary activity. My interest in biology and history of art, my vocation as a journalist, my work as a novelist, all of it somehow links up and, from the different connections, I keep getting a written return. There is no lived "material" that doesn't somehow "materialise": the writer has a bit of the cast-iron worker in him and keeps forging a collage, here and there, of his experiences.

Right now, I'm finishing the third novel of a trilogy devoted to the Enlightenment (preceded by novels on Buffon and Goethe), which describes the last years of one of the most important writers of the Age of Enlightenment. I'm especially interested in the wavering and contradictory man but also the banished writer, hounded even after his death; in the implacable persecution suffered by freethinkers (which we Valencians understand so well) in a world marked by obscurity and superstition. It is a novel that seeks to inquire more deeply into the exile of an intellectual, the ferocious daily struggle of the outsider, of the idealist. Now I'm also working on my next novel, which is of a different nature and set in the city of Valencia, in my own time.

In the field of the essay, I'm particularly attracted to nature and its relationship with man. My articles in the weekly El Temps (now collected into two books, Peiximinuti [Small Fry] and Bestiari [Bestiary]) attempt to look into these relations in a sort of glossary of nature studded with literary perceptions, scientific discoveries and artistic nuance. Here, I'm chiefly interested in the relationship that is established between art and science, especially in the age of the Renaissance. I've been working in this domain with a series of articles I'd like to expand and turn into a book at some future date. However, in the background, more than the investigative inducement, is pure narrative aspiration. What I love is the act, the phenomenon of writing, and communicating a way of understanding life. It is this impulse – this compulsion – that incites me to write, and to live too.

It's been said...

Martí Domínguez's novels have marked out a new space in Catalan literature. In this regard, it might be interesting to compare Les confidències del comte de Buffon [The Confidences of Count Buffon] with Antoni Marí's El camí de Vincennes [The Way to Vincennes], or with Alfred Bosch's L'atles furtiu [The Furtive Atlas], which was constructed around the figure of Abraham Cresques, author of The Catalan Atlas. In Les confidències del comte de Buffon, Martí Domínguez expands on the tensions between different personalities and scientific schools, although the nucleus of the story is not so much ideas as personalities. He writes in an expository style and presents the different theories literally, nuancing them with the views of the narrator who is looking back over his life. As in a historical novel of scientific bent, he pulls together a great deal of information and news of the times, composing scenes that make one relive the moment and drawing the reader's attention towards everyday life. Rarely has this been achieved with more naturalness and rigour. Historical facts, presented with total modesty, are more appealing than great discourses and flights of the imagination. From this standpoint, Martí Domínguez's work can be read as a sort of countercurrent literary manifesto. The main character of Joan Perucho's Les histories naturals [Natural History] is a scientist who seeks security in the rational order of the world and, who through contact with the supernatural, discovers poetry. Buffon, Tischbein and Goethe are vital, passionate characters who find in observation and study a way to establish a niche in the world and fulfil themselves as men. Buffon, who discovers his humanity in disciplined, patient labour, is the best-rounded character, a new kind of hero who bases his grandeur in measurement. Tischbein introduces an element of imbalance, fear of the future and doubts as to his own ability, while Goethe appears as a creation of the painter trapped by his own contingency. Will the third part of the trilogy delve further into this imbalance to tip us wholly into modern times?

I imagine Martí Domínguez as one of the explorers he describes in his novels, like that Malpertuis who returned from his journey to the North Pole dressed as a Lapp, or like La Condamine who, after his travels around the Mediterranean, turned up in Paris disguised as a Turk. Les confidències del comte de Buffon and Els secrets de Goethe are stories of transformation, fruit of a journey through history in search of full possession of the theme that Buffon in his Discours sur le style [Discourse on Style] considered to be one of the essential requisites of "good writing". Then again, there is pleasure, and a liking for facetiousness, which are the raison d'être of fiction.

Martí Domínguez's article writing (in particular the pieces brought together in the book) almost always starts out from nature, bringing to bear his command of zoology and botany. With this sustained preordained standpoint, one might fear he could fall into the trap of the monotony of flat reportage. Not in the least. Domínguez does not restrict himself to being an expert who writes good prose but he is also a singularly gifted landscape artist and a precise auscultator of the emotions that might be roused in the human spirit by contemplation of alien life, en plein air. Here, he might rival the best masters of description in Catalan literature, putting together, with a few masterly strokes, small verbal gems of dazzling plasticity. He knows this and is reinvigorated, with a touch of festive coquetry, in such perfect articles as "El vol dels ocells" [Flight of the Birds], which both renders homage and is an example of this art of capturing in words the ephemeral and moving beauty of life. It is a joy to recognise in his pages the fragrance of flowers, the thousand nuances of the flight and song of birds, the fidgety darting of fish, the rustling of the breeze through reeds and the dance of poppies, which are his enamoured and jovial testimony, a great act of celebration of the beauty and glorious variety of the world around us.

I believe that, taken as a whole, Martí Domínguez's essays are a constant celebration of the beauty of the natural world and the works of the human spirit, and also a reminder that they can work together harmoniously, in the pleasure of art and in scientific research. Again, he does not shun confrontation – although his approach is generally rather oblique – with present-day issues, whether it is violence wreaked on the land or the destruction of our heritage. What consistently leaps out of these articles is Domínguez's love for the Valencia region, which he has covered from one end to the other and knows in minute detail. Many texts are steeped in sadness over the destruction of beautiful settings, of so many places that were once full of life, which we've had to endure as impotent observers in recent years. This desolation gives succinct, captivating intensity to the text titled "Vora el barranc dels Algadins" [By the Algadins Ravine].

His innuendos are frequently of a depth that irony does not totally disable. Among all of Martí Domínguez's articles, one of my favourites, and unquestionably the one that touches me most, is called "La candela del rei" [King's Candle] which speaks of the gorgeous exuberance of the white mullein growing around Johann Sebastian Bach's house in Eisenach, in which Domínguez wanted to see a homage rendered by humanised, sublime and joyous nature to the most exalted of all composers, the king of musicians. In this page imbued with judiciously contained lyricism, the deep harmony between nature and art for which his prose tirelessly quests is transformed into an emblem.

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