Joan F. Mira, the man and his work
Joan Francesc Mira, author, anthropologist, professor of Greek, committed citizen, cultural agitator and occasional politician was born in the city of Valencia in 1939. He could have been born in the year in which most of us were born, 1940 (as sung by the Valencian singer-songwriter Raimon), however, it would seem that right from his birth he was destined to make his own — not at all conventional — way.
He has excelled in all the creative, professional and public aspects mentioned above. Premi d'Honor de les Lletres Catalanes in 2004, twice winner of the National Critics Award (for his novels Borja papa and Purgatori), the Sant Jordi Award for Narrative (for Purgatori), National Translation Award (for his translation into Catalan of The Divine Comedy), Gold Medal from the City of Florence, twice winner of the Serra d’Or Critics Award (for his essay Crítica de la nació pura and his translation of The Divine Comedy), the Crexells-Ateneu Award in Barcelona, the Sant Jordi Cross, Golden Letter for the best book of the year (Crítica de la nació pura), Joan Fuster Award for essays (for Crítica de la nació pura), Andròmina Narrative Award (for Els cucs de seda), and others. However, despite the number, diversity and entity of the awards listed above, there is a clamorous shortage of what Valencia, his homeland, should have recognised in him.
I would also like to mention here Mira’s history of service to the project of constructing a common cultural and civic space for all the lands that share the same language, Catalan (this includes all the various regional differences of the language, as spoken in Catalonia, Valencia, the Balearic Islands, etc). Mira has offered this service with admirable loyalty and perseverance for getting on for half a century. All this time, he has been carrying out a job that has required a lot of hard work, without ever losing sight of the specific needs and idiosyncrasies of Valencia, his homeland: the only way of ensuring that one day, most of the citizens of Valencia will be able to find themselves in the midst of that common space we all need to build against the threat of a global take over.
Due to a shortage of space, I will first concentrate on some parts of Mira as an author, and then as a civic personality. As far as his writing is concerned, I have been a rather assiduous reader of our author for years; and with regard to his civic work, I have on occasions witnessed it and on other occasions I have been a companion on the adventure. However, I could say very little, first hand, about Mira as an anthropologist or professor of Greek, due to, among other reasons, my enormous lack of qualification in either subject. With regard to the thematic limitation to which I have just confessed, I could say that Mira himself has given me indirect endorsement, as more than once he has written that he sees himself above all as a writer.
As just a writer! Here we have a novelist, someone who writes essays, a columnist, and even a translator, who has excelled in all these literary genres, to which we should add his research and dissemination texts.
Mira’s narrative makes no concession to fashion or sensationalism. As everyday experience shows well enough, sensationalism in literature (and in art in general) can have an initial, but never lasting, attraction that soon transforms itself into a shattering deception for the overall function of the text. When someone, as a reader, has been through one or more of these deceptions they are willing to especially appreciate a literature that proposes, I imagine quite deliberately in the case of Mira, to shake off any insipid or even merely non-essential ornament.
On the other hand, Mira’s facet as a columnist materialises in an impressive series of articles that appear year after year in diverse periodical publications. Here, his humour, his penetrating comment or lucid analyses have starred on thousands of pages enjoyed by thousands of faithful readers throughout the lands in which Catalan is spoken. I would particularly like to mention the pure, efficient style in which these articles are written, a style that gives a false sensation of ease (don’t be misled by it!): as if writing with so much clarity and concision was the most normal thing in the world, within the scope of anyone who tries to say what they think on a blank piece of paper.
But it is not just a question of the way in which all this is written and the irony with which it is served up; it is also, as I have just said, the lucidity and the relevance of the judgements and statements he makes. In his articles, Mira often offers us a kind of product that is born from the trade and at the same time from sensitivity: that art of going back and forth without a very specific purpose, of serenely digressing about this, that or the other, a note of humour here, a penetrating comment there, further on a curious piece of information, and while doing so, inserting a couple of well placed adjectives, while invariably preserving the gift of a cadence that never lasts and with a minimum of unity that guides how the discourse unfolds.
Without yet abandoning the literary field, I will allow myself to add a few words about Mira as a translator, referring specifically to the translations into Catalan he has done of The Divine Comedy and the Gospels. Mira fully achieves his objective of bringing the texts closer to 21st-century readers and allowing us to enjoy his narrative qualities, in such an ambitious job, subject to all the imaginable dangers of going wrong.
To finish off, I will abandon the literary Mira and say a few things about Mira, the committed citizen. I will not describe this man’s long career in the fight for a cleaner and nobler country, the initiatives he has headed, the responsibilities he has taken on, the series of interventions he has made throughout our land, all done with an exemplary personal coherence and a constancy that expands over almost half a century.
Mira does not only make lucid analyses of a general nature about our country, but in his day-to-day life, he is able to place himself in the game of the diverse political formations or civic groups present and of the transactions that need to be done; of advancing relevant, engaging instructions, of proposing suitable public events with the purpose of disseminating collective messages, of designing and even organising these events, and of not forgetting the changing tactics of every day either, or the internal organisation, all without ever losing sight of what his own political objectives are, which he has made public and of which we are all aware.
The world carries on, and so does life, and I am sure that while it carries on, we will not lack either being able to enjoy new literary texts by Mira, or the extent of the wealth of reflections and actions with which, so far, he has known how to enrich us.
Valencia, October 2005
Text taken from the laudatio to Joan F. Mira on the occasion of the homage of the Joan Lluís Vives Institute Network of Universities (Castelló, October 28, 2005)
Translated by Veronica Lambert
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