Antonio Gaudi vs. James Joyce

«Gaudí moves within his works with a sensible and admirable freedom that supposes the emancipation of all doctrines within the empire of reason. He has not announced or divulged the new science, he lives full of fundamental knowledge and the laws, instead of disturbing his progress, serve as an instrument and toy of progress ».
(Felix Cardellach1908. ‘Philosophy of Structures: 12’).

The year 2022 has almost come to an end. It ends a century after the one that has inspired the most poems, ‘The Waste Land’ by T. S. Eliotand today in ink strands it is obligatory to pay homage to two characters who belonged to those happy twenties: antonio gaudi Y James Joyce. Both antagonists and yet so close. Perhaps they never met (they were 30 years apart), but I am sure that if they had, they would not have hit it off, perhaps because they were men with a difficult character and strong ideas, although deep down, their lives are somewhat parallel.

james joyce 14 12 22 webIn 1922, when Joyce published ‘Ulises’, Gaudí becomes international. He is commissioned with a project for the Church of the Assumption in Rancagua (in central Chile) that was ultimately rejected. The experience of the church of the Cologne Guell It would have served as a model for him, as he later conditioned his last major structural project: the nave and towers of the Sagrada Família temple. «…a year later, in 1923 Gaudí explained what the stability of the temple would be like in the Anuari of the Col-legi de Arquitectes de Catalunya, in an article signed by his assistant Domènec Sugrañes». (Gaudí. ‘The search for form’)

Prior to this commission, a “mysterious project” was conceived in which the precise description of the sculptor Llorenç Matamala is surprising. [este proyecto inacabado se desconoció hasta 1956, cuando Joan Matamala (escultor y ayudante de Gaudí) hizo públicos los bocetos que Gaudí concibió entre 1908 y 1911]. The Hotel Attraction, according to Juan Bassegoda, curator of the Real Cátedra Gaudí, defines it as follows: «In 1908 two North American industrialists commissioned Gaudí to design a hotel for Manhattan. He made two sketches and some drawings, but the latter were lost in the fire of 1936. The sculptor’s son Juan Matamala he kept the sketches for 30 years, then, with what he remembered, he interpreted what would have been the Hotel Attraction with 360 meters high. We must remember that they were in 1908 and the Empire State, which is 300 meters, was not built until the 1930s. Honestly, I think that the businessmen were frightened by the idea of ​​Gaudí».

And horror must have been what produced the ‘Ulysses’ libretto among the nineteenth-century publishers in Paris, until the Parisian bookstore Sylvia Beach he boasted of his plans to publish a novel that he considered a masterpiece, and that it would be “classified among the classics of English literature.” James Joyce claimed that, with the aim of achieving “immortality”, he had introduced so many enigmas and puzzles into the text, “that it was to keep critics busy for 300 years”. ‘Ulysses’ is a novel considered by much of the critics to be the best English-language novel of the 20th century. The British-American poet, playwright, and literary critic TS Eliot declared in 1923 that ‘Ulysses’ was “the most important expression the present age has found, from which none of us can escape”; but it also generated controversy among members of the literary community.

At first glance, the book may seem chaotic and unstructured, just like the temple of the sacred Family Gaudí’s contemporaries. The story in ‘Ulysses’ is simple and sometimes vulgar, while Gaudí’s work is complex and without any discussion: sublime. So how can they have something in common?

To begin with, James Yoyce, in a letter addressed to Nora Barnaclehis life partner whom he married in 1931 confesses that: «Six years ago I left the Catholic Church hating it with the greatest fervor […] I made war on him when I was a student […] With that, I have become a beggar but I have kept my pride». At that time Gaudí, unlike Joyce, gradually lost his pride to become a beggar. A fan of fasting, he had already had more than one blackout. He had gone from dressing like a dandy and denying religion, in his younger years, to embracing Catholicism and leading an ascetic life devoid of luxuries. Meanwhile, the Irish writer, at the time of ‘Ulysses’, manifested his cold neutrality towards Christianity, albeit with preference for Catholicism, which he considered a “coherent absurdity”, compared to Protestantism, “incoherent absurdity”. ».

antonio gaudi 14 12 22 webIn another order of convictions, in 1922, James Yoyce initially considered himself a utopian socialist and then gradually lost all interest in politics. In the 1918 elections he won the Sinn Fein (“We alone”, in the vernacular) and “England agreed to give Ireland an independence barely bound by the so-called condition of Dominion […] James Joyce not only did not identify with Irish nationalism but attacked it in a sarcastic and sometimes brutal way. (Prologue to ‘Ulysses’ / Editorial Lumen). Antonio Gaudí also sympathized with utopian socialism as a young man, but faith prevailed…, and with increasing emphasis he became a Catalan supporter (not a pro-independence supporter), especially when in 1923, Spain, after a coup d’état, would be led by Miguel Primo de Rivera, who imposed his dictatorship until 1930 with the support of King Alfonso XIII. But he never wanted to commit himself politically, although several politicians like Francesc Cambo either Enric Prat de la Riba they proposed it.

Can we infer from all this that the two geniuses hated politics? Somehow, yes, either due to laziness or indifference, given the great work that lay ahead of them, since 1922. Gaudí’s character, increasingly self-absorbed, progressed towards a monastic and austere life, which ended in complete dedication to the temple of the Sagrada Familia; while Joyce focused on his later controversial novel, ‘Finnegans Wake’ (1939), until his death at age 58 of generalized peritonitis, according to an autopsy performed at the hospital. The Second World War had brought him to Zurich along with his wife and daughter, fleeing Nazi-occupied Paris, and he died there on January 13, 1941. On Wednesday the 15th, Joyce was buried in the Fluntern Cemetery, in a ceremony austere, attended by a handful of people, and no official Irish post (today Ireland cries out for their repatriation).

entierro gaudi 14 12 22 webIt will be death, which equals all men, very different for Gaudí, since he was run over by a tram at the intersection of Calle Gran Vía de las Cortes and Bailén, at six in the afternoon on June 7, 1926. when he was going to his daily mass and confession with his close friend, Mosen Gil Pares. Due to his neglected appearance, several passers-by and drivers mistook him for a beggar, and did not come to his aid. Three days later he died at the Hospital de la Santa Cruz. After his identity was known, all of Barcelona gathered in the streets through which the funeral procession. His coffin, covered by a purple velvet cloth from L’Associació d’Arquitectes de Catalunya, was placed in a carriage drawn by two horses.

Two ways to die… and two ways to live, which made both geniuses an instrument capable of concocting “works with a sensible and admirable freedom that supposes the emancipation of all doctrines within the empire of reason.”

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Antonio Gaudi vs. James Joyce


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