The Venetian passion of Julián and Javier Marías

In the eighties of the last century, a few months before the appearance of his sixth novel –Todas las almas, for many of his readers, his first great novel, the vault key of the narrative universe that would come later– Javier Marías ended up in Venice, one of his passions. Perhaps it would come from inheritance, one of those labyrinths of the family unconscious in which we pick up the thread where our parents left off. Indeed, Javier Marías published in five installments –in August 1988, in his reference newspaper for so many decades, El País, later collected in his book Past Passions– his Venetian impressions. He emulated, perhaps, the same trip that his father, Don Julián Marías, made to the city of canals a few years before, and that the philosopher left reflected in his book Venice (1971).

The approach to the city of one and the other could not be otherwise, it appears to us, in a first superficial reading, very different. The father, who always claimed, as a good student of Ortega y Gasset, clarity as the courtesy of the philosopher, never gave up going down this square, precisely its place of origin –the Greek agora– and approaching the great themes of philosophy with the most humble tools, the closest thing to each one of us, life itself. And yet, the philosopher never renounces the truth. The novelist's approach to Venice –“the only place in the world that, if it has not been seen, can tarnish the worthy final image of any person who has fulfilled their aesthetic obligations”– may seem, at first, very different. , but we must be alert and not let ourselves be carried away by hasty conclusions.

“Sometimes true knowledge is indifferent, and then it can be invented”, we read in the first pages of All Souls; behind the novelist, after each paragraph –those eternal, sinuous and full of meandering paragraphs of his novels– lurked a philosopher, without a system, yes, but it was not necessary: ​​his gaze, his capacity for amazement was enough, which, as we know since Aristotle It is the root of all knowledge. Both, philosopher and novelist, plunge into a truly unique city, in which time seems to stand still, an unreal, unlikely place, almost “nonsense”. The first thing that draws Don Julián's attention is Silence – thus, with a capital letter – “which is for the men of the 20th century the most valid image of the lost paradise”, he assures. Javier, who has inherited from his father those privileged skills of observation and that exceptional ability to describe reality –the real and the invented, which both exist–, is also greatly struck by, as soon as he gets lost in the Venetian campi and sestiere , something that is not seen either, “the only thing that does not let itself be admired, what is unlikely to exist and to the traveler, in fact, seems impossible that it could exist: People who live in Venice!”.

Powerful both approaches, which reveal the insightful writer that each one is. For the former, the city leads him to wonder about the essence of happiness, that which is so personal and non-transferable, which "depends on our project, on the degree of authenticity of our life, on the response of our circumstances, on what we say 'Yes". The second immediately captures the spirit of this city, for whose inhabitants it is “the city par excellence” and the rest of the world is mere “countryside”. One and the other, the tourists bother them, but both detect what happens both with those who live there and with those who stop by for a few hours or a few days to visit: all of them barely "end up having the desire or strength to leave the city" .

Those of us who have ever visited the islands of the Laguna, can feel recognized in that feeling of enchantment, of enchantment that this kind of Brigadoom produces, of which, once it is known, one does not want to return to its place of origin... because he is happy. The young Marías, he recognizes in his impressions, did not stop walking, looking, walking again and looking again, day and night. Indeed, while during the day the water from the canals gives us back and enhances the light of the city, at night that same element "barely returns anything", on the contrary, it seems to swallow everything. Javier emphasized that Venice produces two simultaneous and apparently contradictory sensations: the harmony of each of its corners, perfectly recognizable and unrepeatable, which never leaves us indifferent, on the one hand; and, on the other hand, the feeling of isolation that each one of its sestiere provokes in the passer-by, of being “in a world far removed from any other”. Finally, for Javier, “Venice is an interior”: once we are in it, nothing apart from it offers us any interest, “outside of it nothing is needed”.

For this reason, Venice is the hypercity, which offers us “the infinity of what is limited”, the endlessness of the fragment, the passion for the moment. Venice "is always more", more than one has imagined, dreamed of meeting. Once this city is "experienced", we begin to treat it as if it were a person, says Don Julián: we put it to the test, and in each new unexpected encounter "that grateful surprise of what seems to grow within us" is renewed. us”, which is nothing other than the illusion, which for the philosopher, is “condition of human happiness”. In Venice, the philosopher found the key to happiness, and a reflection of what happens to us with some "few people, through whom you can live in perpetual dilation of the soul." Which is precisely what so many thousands of readers have found in the novels of Javier Marías: the illusion of encounter and the surprise of the unexpected in each new installment of a narrative world that is an interior in which, once we are in, nothing apart from it it offers us no interest. It was our Brigadoom.

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