Journal of Catalan Studies/Revista Internacional de Catalanisme

[Ressenyes / Reviews]

Ressonncies orientals (budisme, taoisme i literatura)

BALAGUER, Enric, Ressonncies orientals (budisme, taoisme i literatura), Srie "La Unitat"", 174, Edicions Tres i Quatre, Valncia, 1999, pp.225. ISBN: 84-7502-590-0.
Dr Montserrat
Roser i Puig
University of Kent
at Canterbury

Catalan literature offers many examples of the adoption of Oriental poetic forms and imagery. It can be said that amongst the readers of literature there is a general ability to identify the Oriental elements in some Catalan works. Often, this awareness has been the product of tracing this interest within literature itself, that is, to the revival of interest in Oriental poetry of the Imagist movement, which developed in Europe and North America at the beginning of the XXth Century. However, apart from its recognition, not much had been done so far in terms of providing a systematic evaluation of the presence of specific Buddhist and/or Taoist philosophical principles in any given work. This is the task Enric Balaguer undertakes in this study.

In a series of finely-articulated chapters, Balaguer looks at both literary works that are very close in their conception to Oriental principles and works in which the Oriental baggage was not intended by the writer to become a main feature. Apart from their identification and description, what makes Balaguer's work useful is its evaluation of whether these elements have been used exactly as they were in their original setting or whether, in their adoption, Catalan writers have given them a profound, superficial or purely decorative treatment.

Starting with an approximation to the basic principles of Buddhism and Taoism, Balaguer proceeds to what I consider to be the most illuminating chapter in the book: an analysis of the haiku and the tankka in the work of Joan Salvat-Papasseit, Josep Maria Junoy, Josep Palau i Fabra, Carles Riba and Mrius Torres. The next two chapters are much more theoretical and look at the acknowledged affinities between Mari Manent and Chinese poetry and Joan Brossa and Japanese culture. In the former, what is new is the establishment of direct links between Manent's versions of Chinese poetry and Taoism as well as the mark left by this philosophy in his diaries. In the case of Brossa, the confluence under scrutiny is that between the poet's work and Zen philosophy. Chapter four is devoted to the study of Oriental knowledge as expressed by Antoni Tpies in his critical writings. This presents us with a long awaited addition to Llus Permayer's study of the subject in 1983. Balaguer then looks at Pere Gimferrer's L'espai desert and studies this poet's Western equivalent to the Buddhist conception of both the viability of 'the void' and the inviability of 'the duality system'; features which become especially obvious in his treatment of the sexual experience. Finally, instead of a conclusion, Ressonncies orientals offers a closing evaluation of the postmodern dialectics between Oriental and Occidental thought.

This book is an accomplished attempt not only at making Oriental philosophy more accessible to the reader of Catalan literature but also at showing the connection between Eastern thought and several aspects of modern Catalan culture. Balaguer's final view is that sometimes XXth Century Western civilisation came very close to ancient Eastern principles, hence the harmonious coexistence of the two in our literature.