In a foreign land | Opinion | The USA Print

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In a certain novel by Georges Simenon, Commissioner Maigret knows how to recognize the man he is looking for even though he has never seen him before in his life and now he only has his back turned and he is lost in a crowd.

Maigret notices in his way of walking and looking to the sides, “the prudence of a man who is not in his country, who cannot make himself understood.”

This is just one, among hundreds of images of all kinds, foamed from poetry, novels, essays, memoirs, the press of his time and even from his personal correspondence used by Josep Solanes i Villaprenyó (Tarragona, 1909 – Valencia del Rey, Venezuela, 1991) to understand in exile an imperishable paradigm of everything human.

It took Solanes fifty years to compose this unique book, dazzling and enchanting, which he never saw published in his lifetime. However, he knew how to grow as a totalizing work what, originally, only sought to become a brief phenomenological essay on the behaviors of exile that he examined at the Sainte Anne hospital in Paris. Many of his patients were former combatants from the Spanish Civil War.

He undertook this work early in the immediate aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, being a young psychiatrist who was a disciple of Mira and López, as well as a great reader of Ovid, Mallarmé and Saint-John Perse, already imbued with everything he learned as a collaborator of Eugène Minkowski, father of the so-called phenomenological psychiatry.

“A look at the zoological world—he begins his elegant dissertation—allows us to observe animals that, made to live in solitude, maintain such loose relations with each other that, almost ignoring each other, we could not speak of rejection or reciprocal repudiation for their purpose. There are others who make up tight formations and live bound by such demanding solidarity and such interdependence that it would make no sense to speak of loneliness in their regard: they do not know it and death becomes the only alternative to their shared way of life. The human animal could not be included in any of these groups.

the book cover
The cover of the book “En Tierra Ajena”, by Josep Solanes.Editorial Cliff

Indeed, it is notorious that humans resort to many forms of segregation. Other species separate from the group only the most contrasting specimens, morphologically speaking. They sacrifice them or, without further ado, devour them.

Solanes posits that although humans have not completely dispensed with cannibalism, there is a form of rejection, exile, which—always according to Solanes—“is the paradigm of man. Exiles are considered to be men par excellence and there are many peoples who trace their lineage back to some real or fabulous exile.”

Solanes, owner of a colossal humanistic culture, does not neglect any perspective, be it psychiatric, historical and, more frequently, philological and poetic. Originally, he titled his treatise The names of exile and the space of emigration: anthropological study and with him he obtained, in 1984, at the age of 75, his doctorate in Philosophy from the University of Toulouse.

It was published posthumously in Caracas (Monteávila, 1991.) Acantilado published it in Spain, in 2016, under the title In a foreign land: exile and literature from the «Odyssey» to «Molloy».

“Shouldn’t all anthropology begin with a study of exile?” asks Solanes, just after a powerfully persuasive introit.

Solanes’ procedure, so methodically etymological that it would be said to be Heideggerian, highlights the recourse to poetry, to the fortunate, lancinating twists of the usual meaning of words that enliven the language of the great poets, exiled or not: Ovid, Mallarmé, Dante , John Donne, Shakespeare… Solanes’s prose makes us think of other humanists, such as George Steiner and, of our kind, Alfonso Reyes.

The main subject of his research is the pair of space and time that tends to disappear from the psyche of the emigrants and the metaphysical wedge of perplexity, restlessness, irrepressible nostalgia and tenacious unspecific anxiety that exile nails in all banished consciousness.

Solanes’ reluctance to discuss his own exile in his book is striking and disturbing: he graduated as a doctor from the University of Barcelona in 1932, and won his internship at the Pere Mata hospital in Reus, where he trained as a psychiatrist. When the civil war broke out, he enlisted as a doctor on the Aragon front and became a captain in the Psychiatric Services of the Republican Army.

By that time he had already been a member of the BOC (Workers and Peasants Bloc) and the POUM (Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification). His first publications dealt with post-traumatic syndromes in wartime. Ten years lasted his profitable exile in France.

In 1949 he was required as a psychiatrist by the Venezuelan Ministry of Health. In 1952 he was appointed to found, as general director, a model psychiatric colony, in Bárbula, Carabobo state. For the next 25 years he made it a legendary center of excellence, now lost forever.

And it was there, in his panopticon office in the middle of a humid tropical forest, where he wrote not only this book of books on the space-time of exiles, but dozens of scientific communications.

I found a moving epigraph in his book. It is a verse by Emilio Prados, a Malaga poet from the generation of ’27, who died in exile in Mexico: “There are the fields and the year I came.”

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