Sat. Feb 22nd, 2020

Jaime Salinas, the writer who invented Carmen Balcells

In 2003, the memoirs of Jaime Salinas were published under the title of “Travesías” (Algeria, 1925-Iceland, 2011). Son of Pedro Salinas, one of the most prominent poets of the Generation of 27, was a reference for the modern edition in Spain, renewing, from the 50s, not only the commercial side of the book, but its transcendent literary dimension and cultural That volume included the remembrance of his first thirty years of life, showing us the familiar sphere of his youth, linked to paternal exile, as well as his enlistment in the American Field Service, the American sanitary body during World War II, not forgetting the awakening of his homosexual orientation, his early contact with prominent poets, as a dour Juan Ramón Jiménez or the withdrawn Luis Cernuda, and the discovery of literature as an essential way of life.

The volume ended when, when he returned to Spain, in 1955 he would start working at the Seix Barral Barcelona publishing house – “There I learned the joy of the profession,” he will say; I could not suspect that this would be the beginning of a new professional and personal stage, decisive in the field of the Spanish edition of the immediate future. For some years it was speculated with a possible continuation of those memories; they did not take place, but today we have an unparalleled substitute in «When editing was a fiction», which has just been published in exemplary – and titanic, due to its rigor and extension – edition Enric Bou, literary critic and professor of Spanish and Catalan literature in the Venetian University Ca’Foscari. Combined in these pages, in detailed chronological succession, various materials – a work of “patchwork,” says the editor himself – fragments of Carlos Barral’s memoirs and Jaime Gil de Biedma’s diaries, testimonies of friends and acquaintances, references of critical bibliography, some interviews with Salinas himself and, above all, the extensive correspondence he addressed to Icelandic writer Gudbergur Bergsson, his life-long companion. Epistolography is already recognized as one of the main sources of literary analysis because it frequently offers the author’s intimate voice, the uninhibited expression of his ethical and aesthetic identity.

This is what happens here with Jaime Salinas, who, in addition to giving us first-hand information about very different episodes of Spanish cultural life over more than fifty years, offers his intellectual profile, that of the enlightened bourgeoisie before the Civil War and, in its most concrete case, the stately and refined bearing, of exquisite education and will of esthete, fascinated by the beauty of thought and the sensitivity of emotions. It shows here several of its most entrenched professional criteria: the editor must be an intermediary between the writer and the reader; the book is not a simple commercial object, but a fundamental instrument of human knowledge; and the editorial catalog must obey a personal project and must open to a cosmopolitan vision of high literature. At the bottom of these claims encouraged the old – and renewed – regenerationist momentum, seeking the emancipation of a reading public that began to leave behind the darkness of the late post-war.

The british style

Under a regular weekly schedule, Salinas portrays the cultural transformation of a society that evolved from economic developmentalism to the emergence of democracy and European integration. And all this under the sharp critical gaze of the intellectual – he would perhaps reject that condition with delicate modesty – formed in the French culture and the “British” style, in harmonious worldliness of reason. We attend here the ins and outs of, among other things, the gestation of the “pocket book” project; his excited task at the head of the General Directorate of Books and Libraries (1983-85); the professional relationship with his friend, also editor Einaudi; his moderating role in the at times stormy literary conversations of Formentor (1959 and later), with a thunderous Cela and a prudent Delibes; the graphic design revolution, with the modern inspiration of Enric Satué; the maintained friendship with the literary agent Carmen Balcells – “I invented her”, he emphasizes; its decisive role in pregnancy, through Gabriel García Márquez, of the Latin American “boom”; and the close collaboration with a renewed Student Residence, and, in a more personal area, the fraternity with the Madrid group of the fifties generation, with Juan García Hortelano and Juan Benet, especially.

Part of a life, which we needed to know first hand, is counted on the intimate drive of who knows how to combine the personal with the professional. Its passage through the aforementioned Seix Barral, Alianza Editorial, the first Alfaguara and Aguilar marks a trajectory that would revolutionize the Spanish edition, modernizing its commercial and cultural schemes. We have here the testimony of a personal letters that inform, document, excite and move in their revealed and exquisite intimacy.


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