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Mesures, alarmes i prodigis.

Mesures, alarmes i prodigis contains a sampling of press articles written by Pere Calders for AVUI, the Catalan daily published in Barcelona. Calders's death in July 1994 has dramatically enhanced die importance of this volume, which acquires now the sense of a posthumous homage to Catalonia's most distinguished short-story writer and one of its most beloved journalists. The quality and significance of Calders's journalistic work had not passed unrecognized, since he was awarded the Premi Nacional de Periodisme (National Prize for Journalism) by the Generalitat de Catalunya (Catalan Autonomous Government) in 1993.

Mesures, alarmes i prodigis (Measures, Alarms, and Prodigies) has been edited by professor Xavier Luna, who is responsible for the selection of articles and for the extremely sensitive and intelligent introduction that opens the volume. Luna describes Calders's approach by comparing it to that of Josep Carner, the illustrious poet and journalist who was one of the leadihg figures helping to organize the historical exile of Catalan artists and intellectuals after the Spanish Civil War. Carner's moral and literary lesson may be summarized in a civic sense, based on achieving the right "measure" both in political behavior and in literary style. Besides Carner's civic sense, as Luna suggests, Calders's lifelong commitment to journalism and literature is based on a particular brand of humor, a Bergsonian humor which takes into account that humans are the only creatures that laugh and that we mostly laugh at or about human things. Thus, Calder's sense of humor springs from his constant capacity to humanize the objects and/or objective facts surrounding us.

As I have pointed out in my previous reviews of Calder's work (see e.g. WLT 65:4, p. 692, and 67:4, p. 803), his most common strategy is his extraordinary ability to incorporate elaborate upon idiolectal expressions which, under his wise and "innocent" witticisms, become extremely ironic and humorous. In this way, his journalistic approach coincides fully with his peculiar style as a fiction writer. In Mesures, alarmes i prodigis Calders's familiar strategy is present in the very titles of many of the articles and in the constant use of these displaced metaphorical expressions. As an example of the first, I could mention "Que l'aigua no ens arribi al coll" (Let's Try to Stay Afloat), "A veure si trobem la jeia" (Let's Try to Find Our Niche), or those in which the humorous distortion is implicit in the title, such as "Com dues -- o mes -- gotes d'aigua" (Like Two -- or More -- Drops of Water) or "Olla per a tots els grills," where the original meaning of "olla de grills" as a dissonant but recognizable human group becomes a metaphor for a completely chaotic melting-pot.

The range of the selection is very wide, and the categories established by Luna are thematically organized in order to underline Calders's leading preoccupations. Central to the volume, and to Calders's concerns, though, are the articles dealing with the present state of and the dangers confronting the Catalan language, always assaulted by political campaigns that try to destabilize the precarious normalization achieved in recent years. An interesting illustration both of this concern and of Calders's peculiar strategy may be "Numeros canten" (Numbers Sing), where Calders, who has often praised in his articles the fact that most Catalan towns have changed the names of their streets to the Catalan language, makes fun of the town of Camarles and of its mayor, Primitivo Forastero, for his American, idea of numbering the streets instead of giving them names. What for New York is an example of practical sense, given the size of the city, Calders claims to be a "foreign" and rather "primitive" way for a town with no more than fifty-five streets. Perhaps, as Calders ironizes on Mayor Forastero's ambitions, what happens is that "totes les carreres que comporten rellevancia social exigeixen fer molts numeros" (all careers that entail social prestige require a lot of numbers). As usual, Calders manages to establish his point by means of a remarkable sense of humor and a subtle capacity to displace rather trivial facts into significant events. Mesures, alarmes i prodigis is a truly "prodigious" compendium of such transformations.
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Author:Marti-Olivella, Jaume
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1995
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