Josep Pla’s account of Empúries through Simmel’s

“The Philosophy of Landscape”

by Pau Guinart


What makes a landscape? In this paper such question will be answered through the superposition of two authors and two different approaches that complement each other in very productive ways. Georg Simmel will provide the theory of landscape, and this will be the lens through which Josep Pla will be presented. That however, doesn’t mean that such theory will be successively corroborated by the literary practice, but rather challenged and revised. The idea of Stimmung that glues a landscape together will be questioned by the description of the Greco-Roman ruins of Empúries as a fragmented landscape in constant reconstruction. Josep Pla not only focuses on the question of landscape itself, but also how it generates an idea of self and a historical unity that, in the case of Empúries, is utmost puzzling. 

An idea of landscape

“The philosopher is supposed to be the one who says what everyone knows –

but sometimes he is the one who knows what everyone only says”[1].

In his 1912 essay about landscape, Georg Simmel draws from different sources (Phenomenology, Romanticism, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche) in order to produce an analysis of the human capacity for isolating and aestheticizing segments of nature. From a Phenomenological perspective, to begin with, he declares that: “Nature, which in its deep being and meaning knows nothing of individuality is transfigured into an individuated ‘landscape’ by the human gaze that divides things up and forms the separated parts into specific unities”[2]. Landscape therefore doesn’t exist by itself, but it is the human eye that projects it onto nature. Nature, in its turn, is always one and the same; it has no pieces.

Following that premise Simmel enters the aesthetic debate motivated by the reception of Nietzsche’s work at the turn of the century. The principia individuationis that triggered the philosophical interpretation of the opposing principles in The Birth of Tragedy (chaos/order, unity/multiplicity, ambiguity/form, irrationality/logic, Dionysus/Apollo) seems to remain ambivalent when it comes to landscape:

“That one part of a whole should become a self-contained whole itself, emerging out of it and claiming from it a right to its existence, this in itself may be the fundamental tragedy of spirit (…) The individual entity strives towards wholeness, while its place within the larger whole only accords it the role of a part”[3].

Here the tragedy of spirit is understood as the tragedy of individuation, but it can also be turned into an aesthetic asset if the individualized part keeps a connection to the whole. According to Simmel, it is the interconnectedness that qualifies the part. And in order for such interconnectedness to exist there is a need for certain ‘glue’ that sticks the landscape together as a kind of attunement, a mood that hoovers over it. That is what Simmel calls Stimmung[4]:

“We say that a landscape arises when a range of natural phenomena spread over the surface of the earth is comprehended by a particular kind of unity, one that is distinct from the way this same visual field is encompassed by the causally thinking scholar, the religious sentiments of a worshipper of nature, the teleologically oriented tiller of the soil, or a strategist of war. The most important carrier of this unity may well be the ‘mood’, as we call it, of a landscape”[5].

This mood (Stimmung) could be homologated to the family resemblances of the second Wittgenstein, since it “permeates all its separate components, frequently without it being attributable to any one of them”[6]. In a parallel manner, in the Philosophical Investigations (published decades later), what unifies the meaning of a word is not one single characteristic of the objects denoted by it, but rather a shared group of characteristics among them, none of which is determinant for the signification of such word. Stimmung would then be that common ground, those shared characteristics that make a certain attunement emerge out of a landscape.

Its mood is what makes a landscape be perceived in a certain way. But it is the unifying gaze of the perceiver what ultimately projects the mood on the landscape so that it actually isn’t intrinsically part of it. As in Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, by the mere fact of perceiving something we are already modifying it. Once a landscape has emerged, it is impossible to go back to a pure and objective perception of it. Simmel exemplifies that through love:

“When we love someone, then it seems that we, at the outset, possess some kind of fixed image of him towards which our feelings are then directed. In reality, however, that person, as initially perceived in an objective way, is a quite different one from the person we love. Our image specifically of him only arises together with our love for him”[7].

Such would be a qualified (not mere) subjectivism, a subjectivism that recognizes the importance of the Kantian transcendental intuitions from an aesthetic perspective. According to Simmel, landscape is created by its objectification through the formative acts of contemplative perception and feeling. It exists due to the “unifying powers of the Soul, as the intertwining of something given with our creative capacities. It is something that cannot be expressed through mechanical analogies. Mood thus attains its whole objectivity as landscape from within the scope of our formative acts”[8]. The human Soul is then a “landscape unifier”, a kind of Spinozian Natura naturans that creates a piece of natura naturata by extracting a mood out of it. Simmel’s objectivity is neither in the things themselves nor in the subject that perceives them, but rather somewhere in between. Prefiguring the phenomenological tradition developed by Husserl and Heidegger, Simmel advocates for the capacity of things to manifest themselves in raw, so that the poetic souls would be able to interpret them without reifying them.

In his personal journal Simmel writes that: “Man is not a microcosm, but a macrocosm –a megistocosm– for at least in idea and possibility, everything in him is complete, ripe, and conscious that in the rest of nature is necessarily incomplete, fragmentary, merely begun and unsolved”[9]. Such macrocosm is what finds an attunement (Stimmung) that attracts all the fragments of nature’s multiple microcosms together into a new landscape. Nature has no pieces, indeed; but by the same token that the human Soul has the power to fragment it, it can also unify these fragments in the form of a landscape.

According to Simmel, the moment we are able to see a unified landscape out of a scattered group of natural elements we have a work of art in statu nascendi.Such state of artistic immanence relies on the human capacity for generating self-contained wholes, and, in particular, arbitrary beginnings. In Aristotle “a whole is that which has a beginning, a middle and an end. A beginning is that which itself does not follow necessarily from anything else, but some second thing naturally exists or occurs after it”[10]. In the same way that the tragic plot is a certain organization of events, the landscape is a certain organization of the elements of nature, with a beginning, middle, and an end. Poets have a natural talent for selecting and organizing the parts of reality that communicate a certain aesthetic truth, a certain rhythm, a mood, a Stimmung.

The whole and the part are intertwined, and thus inseparable. Schopenhauer’s aesthetic theory is applicable here inasmuch as it is only through aesthetic contemplation that the human being can forget about its painful individuality, that is: become one with the world, and stop suffering. As if commenting on Caspar David Friedrich’s romantic painting The Wanderer above a sea of fog Simmel states that:“in front of a landscape, the wholeness of the being of nature strives to draw us into itself. Especially in instances such as these, it is evident that being torn into a perceiving and a feeling self is doubly erroneous. We relate to a landscape, whether in nature or in art, as whole beings”[11]. Here, again, we find a tension between the whole and the part, the individual and nature. We project ourselves on the wholeness of nature and try to control it, either through techné or through aesthetics. The man contemplating the sea of fog is clearly separated from nature, his black silhouette is the vanishing point that gives unity and understands what is taking place in front of him[12]. Regardless of the magnitude of the landscape, a man will always be necessary for it to exist.

The ‘I’ that generates landscapes is not a hermetic system, but an open one that is enriched by complexity and is always receptive to it[13]. In fact, that is exactly where the notion of genius lays, since it is the perceiver who generates the landscape, and only those who are uniquely predisposed to it can be called artists:

“An artist is someone who carries out the formative act of contemplative perception and feeling in such a pure form and with such vigor, that the given material gets completely absorbed and then, seemingly out of its own, comes to be created anew. While the rest of us remain more tied to this material, and still tend to note only this or that separate part, only the artist really sees and creates ‘landscape’”[14].

The artist is a macrocosmos who is able to hold a cosmovison by creating connections that for others would be out of reach. In the Jackobsonian jargon, the artist doesn’t create landscape by metonymy, but by metaphor. It could be said that such process is more vertical, than it is horizontal, meaning that the gaze of the artist falls on the landscape all at once and it can’t isolate the elements of a landscape once it has been established. In the Poetics, Aristotle points out that the conception of metaphor is the artist’s unique prerogative, it being the most critical capacity: “the most important thing is to be good at using metaphor. This is the one thing that cannot be learnt from someone else, and is a sign of natural talent; for the successful use of metaphor is a matter of perceiving similarities”[15]. Could these similarities perhaps be those family resemblances that generate the Stimmung of a landscape?

In the quote that opens the first section of this essay Georg Simmel reminds us of the function of philosophy: to say what everyone knows. But more in depth: to know what everyone only says. That profound knowledge of reality is what the artist achieves when he or she sees a landscape where there is only raw nature. She or he sees through what everyone sees, being affected by a mood that arises from reality in the moment of being aesthetically perceived.

In the next section of this essay we will look at the figure of the Catalan writer Josep Pla through the lens of Simmel’s theory. His take on the Empordà modulated over the years, and the different iterations of his work show Pla as a conflicted author whose lucidity often brought him to contradict his own feelings, thus generating a very particular kind of Stimmung in his texts.

The projected landscape of l’Empordà

De l’Empordanet a Andorra was published in 1959 in the expanded volume of Viatge a Catalunya, which had originally appeared in 1946. The book is conformed by journalistic articles that Josep Pla had put together in the shape of a journey. Many parts of the original text might have been conceived, or even written, much earlier than the publication date. As he often does with his autobiography, Pla also wrote autofictional travel literature[16], matching feelings, experiences and sensations from different time periods in a narrative continuum. Regarding the Guia de la Costa Brava he actually admits that he had conceived that entire guide in his early youth, and that all he did was travel to the past through the geography. At the beginning of its prologue he declares:

“Aquest llibre va sortir per la força de les circumstàncies en llengua castellana el 1941. Pur atzar, car hauria pogut perfectament editar-se vint anys abans i ser potser el meu primer escrit. Tot el que aquí es diu, ho he portat a dins des de la meva adolescència i primera joventut. Perquè jo sóc, no solament fill d’aquest tros de país, sinó que, al revés del que sol passar tan sovint, en sóc un apassionat. Aquí vaig néixer i aquí seré enterrat un dia, gairebé veient el mar”[17].

And he closes that prologue saying that the Guia de la Costa Brava is mainly a spiritual mood that he had preserved in his memory:

“Respon a un estat d’esperit de joventut aplicat, segurament amb molts defectes, sobre un país que jo he conegut i he estimat profundament. La resta és pura anècdota. Vull dir, sense caure en cap ingènua comparació, que tot escrivint pensava més en el viatge a Itàlia de Goethe o en les vides, aparentment anacròniques, de Vasari que en la felicitat matemàtica del turista. Hauria volgut arribar amb l’exemple d’aquells grans mestres a la rel profunda que expliqués d’una manera coherent i molt personal un paisatge fascinant i els homes que hi habiten”[18].

Pla ceases updating the guide in 1965, when the text is finally fixed. In all its versions however, Pla has considered l’Empordà as basically a landscape. In short, Josep Pla considered landscape itself his motherland, and thus he would only be able to feel a sort of ‘aesthetic patriotism’:

“Jo no he estat mai xovinista ni estic adscrit a cap mena de sentiment localista. Però hi ha una cosa indiscutible: l’Empordà és un país molt bell. Tota la resta es pot discutir, i jo sóc partidari de la discussió permanent. Però la bellesa d’aquest país és de pedra picada –com diuen a Barcelona-, i això ningú no ho belluga”[19].

Pla considered himself unable of feeling the local patriotism that, according to him, contributed so much to human happiness. Therefore he wanted to fundament the aesthetic identity of the Empordà, and of Catalunya, on the beauty and appeal of its landscape. That was a way for him to avoid falling into the irritating localism that he so bluntly despised for the sake of a more cosmopolitan aesthetic universalism.

However, a line like “un país que jo he conegut i he estimat profundament” or the fact that he considers the Empordà indisputably beautiful, may remind us of Simmel’s earlier example brought up in relation to the lover who can only see his beloved along with an irrepressible feeling that ultimately modifies perception. Pla is in love with the Empordà and he can’t perceive its landscape without feeling attached to it, which often makes it hard for him to stick to the “principi de realitat” he so highly values. As if he was holding back his real self, Pla’s usual tensions and contradictions between what he really feels and what he wants to think arise.

Heir of the Homeric tradition, Pla actually creates reality as he names it. Like the Catalogue of Ships in Book II of the Iliad, the existence of the world is acknowledged by the naming of its elements. In the Aristotelian sense exposed above, Pla is a poet because he sees metaphor where nobody else can see it. His landscape descriptions are full of synesthetic imagery, such as the cooking of a suquet in the middle of a description, and vertical connections between reality and the senses, such as the matching of a boat and the horizon. In section 45 of A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge George Berkeley considers the possibility that “The objects of sense exist only when they are perceived; the trees therefore are in the garden […] no longer than while there is somebody by to perceive them”[20]. From that point of view (and Simmel’s) landscape could only exist when someone describes it in a poetic manner, that is: when Stimmung is generated.In the following fragment Josep Pla ponders on the nature of beauty and he introduces the possibility of both history and personal memories to have an effect on aesthetics:

“Sigui com sigui, aquest litoral és d’una suprema bellesa. Hom surt de les aigües d’Empúries i emprèn el viatge del golf emportant-se, en la imaginació, els reflexos vius d’un món ert. L’emplaçament de les velles pedres es produeix enfront d’un dels paisatges més bells del Mediterrani; és una cosa que sobta pel seu encant. Els records aflueixen. Quin factor accentua la bellesa d’un paisatge? Algun element de novetat geogràfica? La seva grandiositat panoràmica? Els rastres d’algun cataclisme? La seva tendència a convertir-se per la mà de l’home en un jardí? Empúries és un lleuger turó situat sobre la platja del golf de Roses, davant el perfil blavenc dels Pirineus orientals, flanquejat per la gran plana empordanesa. Tot això és específicament bell, però no explica Empúries. S’ha de pujar lentament el turó i notar la subtilesa de l’aire, el punt aeri de la llum, l’amorós gest de l’abraçada que sembla fer-li el fúlgid arc del cel i la projecció del somriure innombrable de la mar sobre els seus declivis suaus. On hem sentit aquestes coses tan summament fines? En algun lloc de Grècia? A l’Acròpolis atenesa? En aquest turó sagrat alguna cosa miraculosa es deu produir, fins al punt que a mi em sembla que, si els grecs que van viure aquí no haguessin estat tan ganduls i ens haguessin deixat un temple a Niké com el que hi ha a Atenes, aquest paisatge no hauria fet cap paper ridícul…

Tot això és, però, molt pobre i no crec que pugui aspirar a fer que vostès tinguin una idea clara d’Empúries. Jo freqüento el turó des de fa molts anys i he passat llargues temporades vivint prop de les seves pedres. Com més es dilata aquesta freqüència, més trobo en el vell establiment, en els seus voltants, en el seu cel, en el mar del seu golf, encants inèdits, noves raons d’abstracció”[21]

In this excerpt Pla asks the rhetorical question: “Quin factor accentua la bellesa d’un paisatge?” and he himself gives the answer before even formulating it: “Els records aflueixen”. He is actually talking about an old love revived, so that he can’t see it with the objective simplicity he is always striving for. Further in the fragment it seems like, as he talks about it, Pla progressively convinces himself more and more of the beauty of Empúries’ landscape. But at the same time he has trouble giving an account of why the landscape of Empúries is so exceptional. There is something indescribable about the ruins, a nod between landscape and history that Josep Pla seems to struggle formulating. Not only l’Empordà is the heart of Catalunya, but also Empúries is at its turn the epitome of the whole country, and he feels the urge of describing its geography and also its history from the Greeks to the medieval counts. In sum, for Pla there is only one kind of patriotism: landscape. And that being said, Empúries happens to be an exceptional case. 

The historical landscape of Empúries

“La memòria és aleshores pàtria, com el paisatge”[22]

Josep Pla finds three layers superposed in Empúries: its landscape, its history, and his personal memories; and none of them can be taken apart from the others. The memories of youth are the only real homeland, and the superimposed layers hide a lost paradise that has to do both with Catalan history and Pla’s own youth. Empúries is the first landscape perceived by our culture, the first one to produce a cultural Stimmung[23], and therefore it is worth taking into consideration:

“I és que Empúries és un lloc sagrat, una de les arrels més profundes del país – un paisatge que físicament és com un altre paisatge, però que no és com un altre paisatge. És el paisatge del nostre passat més reculat, d’un moment de la nostra història que incita la nostra imaginació i, per tant, el nostre instint de llibertat d’una manera vivíssima. Potser Empúries és la nostra obscura estratificació ancestral, és el nostre paradís perdut – un paradís naturalment modest, com correspon a la nostra manera d’entendre la vida, vagament entrevist, però dintre la vaguetat, poblat d’alguna forma esvelta i amable”[24].

However, Pla had a very personal perception of the ruins that could easily be related to the phenomenological tradition that Simmel is inscribed in. He recommends the visitor to sit on a stone, feel the air, and think about history from clear, wide and long-term perspective. Far from the noucentist idealization of the classical past of Catalunya, Pla feels the benjaminian Angelus Novus approaching to remind us that the history of civilization is the history of barbarism and irreparable stupidity:

“La seva situació enfront del golf de Roses produeix en la sensibilitat del turista una impressió inesborrable. La lluminositat de l’aire, l’obertura de l’arc de cel sobre el golf, el somriure inenarrable del mar, semblen excitar les forces més íntimes del pensament, en la seva forma més serena, equilibrada i lúcida. Això és el que té de més grec, probablement, Empúries: la invitació que el seu emplaçament provoca a contemplar el món exterior amb una mirada clara, llarga i ampla. Recomano de passar algunes hores en el que comunament s’ha vingut a anomenar el recinte sagrat de la Neàpolis, pujar a la part superior i asseure’s en una pedra. Immediatament a primer pla queden algunes dotzenes de metres quadrats de terra en les quals hom sent, físicament, sense sofisticació de cap mena, el món antic. La malenconia de les pedres solitàries, la tristesa terrible que produeix la història i el transcurs del temps, la irreparable estupidesa de l’instint de destrucció humà no són, tanmateix, prou intenses per a evitar que la imaginació pobli aquest espai de formes fugaces i belles, d’ombres plenes i exquisides, de delicioses fantasies”[25]

The historian Fernand Braudel, and earlier Fustel de Coulanges and Jules Michelet, had proposed a longue durée perspective for the study of history that became very popular in the times Pla was writing the Guia. Longe durée is he gaze that goes back very far behind and tries to look very far ahead. That is exactly what Pla tries achieve, and therefore what he recommends the visitor to do in a visit to Empúries: “contemplar el món exterior amb una mirada clara, llarga i ampla”. Both in history and in geography Pla tried to have a wide panorama, one that would relativize everything regardless of his own personal flaws. In one of his aphorisms Pla recommends to learn to know the landscape, and that way get to know one-self. From a broad definition of landscape such as the one derived form Pla’s description of Empúries, that is, in fact, inevitable.

Pla acknowledges the exceptionality of the landscape in Empúries, but he is frontally opposed to the “essentialisation” that the ruins suffered at the beginning of the XXth century by the project of the Mancomunitat, even if he briefly took part in it as a representative at the Diputació de Girona in 1921. His objective is to be measured in all aspects, so he has to water down a too idyllic description with a warning. Pla takes distance from such ideological project and tries to write “literatura per a tothom” (in that aspect he is a parallel figure of Joan Crexells, who also predicated a generalization of the Classics). His opinion on the ideological use of Empúries is a clear example of that attitude:

“Ara, els intel·lectuals han caigut de l’altra banda. Quin seguit d’insanitats no ens han valgut, als empordanesos, les ruïnes d’Empúries! Els savis ens han aclaparat amb els nostres orígens grecs. La imaginació dels professors ha estat exagerada”[26].

His visceral response to any attempt of classicizing the origin of Catalunya can only be explained as a reaction to something that he belonged to at some point in his life, thus the vehemence dedicated to take distance from it:

“Afirmar que en l’estratificació de l’Empordà hi ha una capa clàssica és perillós i temerari. Si és possible de trobar-hi alguna pedra, és una pedra desparellada. El que hi ha en aquest país és una superposició de capes gòtiques i, a sobre, un engrut de barro, groller i bast”[27].


“Ja podeu anar buscant el grec a l’Empordà… Només hi trobareu, purs, els perfils israelites. Jo no veig cap fet, en la història d’aquest país, que permeti d’afirmar l’existència d’un filó clàssic que ragi.”[28]

Even though Pla assumes and accepts that the landscape he is facing is one of the most beautiful in the Mediterranean, that doesn’t stop him from criticizing those who try to use it with a programmatic intention. The insidious tone he uses make his words sound as if he had been holding back those opinions for a while. As David Viñas points out, after the fading of the Noucentisme questioning the classical origins of Catalunya was considered fair game:

“Són uns altres temps i ara la crítica a la manca d’una identitat catalana autèntica pot fer-se fins i tot des de dins i als de dins, com fa Pla quan qüestiona la idea d’una Catalunya grega que havien posat en circulació autors com Carles Riba, Farran i Mayoral, López-Picó i Josep M. Capdevila. Aquesta expressió –Catalunya grega- s’utilitzava elogiosament per destacar la bellesa del paisatge de l’Empordà i la grandesa artística i filosòfica que hi havia nascut. Però Pla posa les coses al seu lloc en escriure amb tota la ironia del món: “De tota manera, no passeu ànsia. Això de la Catalunya grega no durarà pas gaire. ¿Com voleu que Catalunya sigui grega, si encara no és catalana?” (Escrits Empordanesos)””[29]

But let’s not state a final judgment on Pla’s understanding of Empúries yet. As it happens many times in his multiple accounts of the same, Pla contradicts himself. In the Guia de la Costa Brava, for example, he considers the ruins an incomprehensible maze: “La impressió que produeixen a una persona no experta en arqueologia les ruïnes d’Empúries és, naturalment –ja ho diguérem-, de galimaties”[30], whereas in his journey De l’Empordanet a la Catalunya Vella he considers that:

“Són unes ruïnes que es presenten amb la més gran naturalitat. No demanen cap esforç de concentració, no presenten cap truc ni contenen cap excitant. Són rases sota del cel alt. Estan situades en un lloc que fa que el seu encís quedi aigualit per la presència més enlluernadora que pot tenir la mar.

Jo no sé pas si disposo del grau d’ignorància i la poca imaginació suficient per a considerar-me un bon turista mitjà. Puc dir només que a Empúries sempre m’ha costat posar-me de cara a les ruïnes i d’esquena a la mar. Si algun dia ens hi ensopeguem plegats m’hi trobareu “emmarat”. No vull pas dir que de vegades no hagi donat un tomb pels carrers enrunats. No passo mai, però, dels carrers: els museus em donen ànsia i no m’agraden els grecs amb llum zenital.”[31]

It is interesting to point out that what makes Pla forget about the ruins is the landscape surrounding them. The sea is one of his ongoing life obsessions that, as the flight of a bird, he was never able to describe satisfactorily. But further than the contradiction we may find here, and the fact that he gives preference to landscape before ancient ruins, it is worth reading closely the last sentence of the paragraph. In it Pla confesses that he is not too fond of museums, and particularly of Greeks with a zenithal light on them. That is most certainly a reference to the statue of Asclepi found in Empúries in 1909, which along with a head of Venus (or Diana) inspired one of Eugeni d’Ors’ entries of the Glosari[32].

Since the noucentist decomposition, the project of a classical Catalunya was fatally weakened: “Escriu Pla tot recordant la generació dels noucentistes: “Parlen de la Catalunya grega. Valga’m Déu! En què deu consistir la Catalunya grega?” (Notes disperses, p. 574)”[33]. But beside his aversion to the noucentist generation, Pla was also against any established official image of the Empordà. He complains about the fact that only because a few Greeks went ashore at Empúries some people pretend to connect us to the ancient peoples described in history manuals, and displayed in the archaeology museums. In his masterpiece El Quadern Gris Pla reaches a point of total rejection of the official taxonomy promoted by the institutions: “vitrines, no, de cap de les maneres!”[34]. Furthermore, in his book about the Guia de la Costa Brava, David Viñas has also been puzzled by Pla’s relationship to the hypothetical Greek origin of Catalunya, finally coming to an ambivalent conclusion:

“En què quedem? Existeix o no una Catalunya grega? Com tantes vegades passa en el cas de Pla, l’única resposta possible és: depèn. Quan a l’escriptor l’interessa, sí. I quan no l’interessa, no. En preparar la guia de la Costa Brava, suggerir la idea d’un paisatge català tan seductor com el de Grècia li va semblar sens dubte pertinent, però després ja no tant i aleshores va imposar-se una sana dosi de realisme.”[35]

As we have already seen, Josep Pla had no interest in any kind of local patriotism. Notwithstanding, in the Guia de la Costa Brava he aims for a universal version of the Empordà that would emerge from the same elements that conform the localism. In fact Pla usually presented himself as a local peasant with a beret, regardless of the fact that he had travelled widely throughout Europe and America. He had been refined by culture and civilization, and as a demiurge figure, he wanted to apply what he had seen in the outer cosmos to his motherland. In a certain way, Pla saw in the Empordà a microcosm, not only of Catalunya, but also of the world (and perhaps the universe), although he would always be extremely careful from falling into any kind of essentialism. In his own words: “el vivíssim localisme que palpita a l’Empordà, és perfectament compatible amb el cosmopolitisme més acusat”[36].

But the question that remains unanswered after all this elusive patriotism is whether Josep Pla really had an idea of Catalunya in his mind while he was trying to poetize the Empordà. As a final statement for his book on Pla and the Costa Brava, David Viñas points out that the Guia is a mechanism that allows the writer to project memories from the past, and although the past may never come back, it can still be conjured up through literature:

“La guia de la Costa Brava respon a un gest patriòtic. Com ho va ser sens dubte tornar a escriure immediatament en català quan el règim franquista, a partir del 1946 va autoritzar la publicació de llibres en llengua catalana … Memòria i paisatge són els eixos vertebradors de la guia de la Costa Brava i no per casualitat … La motivació ideològica que actua com a rerefons fa que, a la guia, Pla converteixi la Costa Brava en una sinècdoque de Catalunya. És la part del tot. De manera que, en mostrar-hi l’essència de la costa, s’està mostrant al mateix temps l’essència catalana en el seu conjunt”[37]

The kind of Stimmung that Pla is generating is the same he tries to formulate when he describes Italy as his would-be Catalunya: a place where the past is always part of the present, where the ruins are integrated as an organic part of the modern edifications. The great variety of life, its social complexity and the groups of people that live for and from the landscape are some of the aspects he admires in Italy, and tries to reproduce in the depiction of his beloved Empordà.

Pla was opposed to the reification of any part of the landscape that he had so carefully poetized. Neither the landscape (tourism) nor the ruins (Noucentisme) should be turned into an instrument with a teleological function. In terms of Simmel, Pla wanted to develop an unmediated Stimmung through raw landscape. Pla is nostalgic of the untouched, almost virginal sensitivity he once had. The Empordà of his youth is what he is longing for. That first times he was able to see things unmediated and somehow reach their ur-phenomena as he described them, reaffirming Goethe’s aphorism: “The highest is to understand that all fact is really theory. The blue of the sky reveals to us the basic law of color. Search nothing beyond the phenomena, they themselves are the theory”[38]. Goethe criticized Newton for trusting math over what his eyes perceived. He wanted to stay true to perception, as Pla wanted to stay true to the “principi de realitat”. That is: no theory, no “vitrines” of any kind.

The capacity for discovering the essential pattern that arises from pure observation and the elemental archetypes (ur-phenomena), may be the reason why Pla is nostalgic for a youth when the landscape was untouched and could be understood from scratch. He only wanted to play with his own puzzle of the Empordà, from which he would add and subtract pieces of geography, history and personal memories his own personal way. In a similar manner, the ruins of Empúries were presented to him as another quiz without final solution, which would be better left undone and ever charged with all the potentiality.



– Aristotle. Poetics. Penguin Classics. London. 1996

– Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Beacon Press. Boston. 1994

– Deroche-Gurcel, Lilyane. Simmel et la Modernité. Presses Universitaires de France. Paris. 1997

– Gumbrecht, Hans Ulrich. Atmosphere, Mood, Stimmung: On a Hidden Potential of Literature. Stanford University Press. Stanford. 2012.

– Matthei, R. Goethe’s Color Theory. Van Nostrand Reinhold. New York. 1971.

– Pla, Josep. La Costa Brava. Destino. Vitoria. 1978.

– Pla, Josep. El meu país. Obra Completa. Volum 7. Destino. Barcelona. 1997.

– Pla, Josep. El quadern gris. Obra Completa. Volum I. Destino. Barcelona. 2004.

– Pla, Josep. Per acabar. Obra Completa. Volum 45. Destino. Barcelona. 2004.

– Pla, Josep. Viatge a la Catalunya vella. De l’Empordanet a Andorra. Obra completa. Volum IX. Edicions Destino. Barcelona. 2003.

– Pla, Xavier. Josep Pla, ficció autobiográfica i veritat literaria. Quaderns Crema. Barcelona. 1997

– Puig, Valentí. L’home de l’abric. Destino. Barcelona. 1998

– Simmel, George. “The Philosophy of Landscape”. Theory Culture & Society. 2007

– Simmel, George. “The View of Life. Four Metaphisical Essays with Journal Aphorisms”. The University of Chicago Press. Chicago. 2010

– Turri, Eugenio. Antropologia del paesaggio. Marsilio Editori. Venezia. 2008

– Viñas Piquer, David. Josep Pla i l’invent “Costa Brava”. (Fragments d’una fascinació). Acontravent. Barcelona. 2013.


[1]Simmel, George. “The View of Life. Four Metaphisical Essays with Journal Aphorisms”. The University of Chicago Press. Chicago. 2010. p. 161

[2]Simmel, George. “The Philosophy of Landscape”. Theory Culture & Society. 2007. p. 22

[3] Simmel, 2007. p. 22

[4] For a more precise and contemporary idea of the concept of Stimmung, particularly applied to literature, see: Gumbrecht, Hans Ulrich. Atmosphere, Mood, Stimmung: On a Hidden Potential of Literature. Stanford University Press. Stanford. 2012. In this book Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht recently revisits the concept of Stimmung proposing a third-way approach to culture that goes beyond the “cultural studies” and the postmodern deconstructive perspective by applying Simmel’s concept to cultural manifestations, also inscribed in the phenomenological tradition.

[5] Simmel, 2007. p. 26

[6] Ibid. p. 26

[7] Simmel, 2007. p. 27

[8] Simmel, 2007. p. 28

[9] Simmel, 2010. p. 166

[10]Asitotle. Poetics. Penguin Classics. London. 1996.p. 13

[11] Simmel, 2007. p. 29

[12] C. D. Friedrick’s painting has been subject to a myriad of interpretations, oftentimes problematic and even contradictory. For an interesting take on the crisis of subjectivity in Modernity and a metaphor of the insufficiency of reason through this painting, see: Subirats, Eduardo. Figuras de la conciencia desdichada. Taurus Ediciones. Madrid. 1979.

[13] Also in the Phenomenological tradition, in The Poetics of Space Gaston Bachelard defends the openness of the architectonical constructions. Nature is always open to be turned into landscapes, and the same should be applicable to human spaces “for a house that was final, one that stood in symmetrical relation to the house we were born in, would lead to thoughts—serious, sad thoughts—and not to dreams. It is better to live in a state of impermanence than in one of finality”. Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Beacon Press. Boston. 1994. p. 61

[14] Simmel, 2007. p. 29

[15] Aristotle. p. 37

[16] As Xavier Pla has shown, Josep Pla never ceased playing with his identity and the veracity of the experiences he narrated. Pla, Xavier. Josep Pla, ficció autobiográfica i veritat literaria. Quaderns Crema. Barcelona. 1997

[17]Pla, Josep. La Costa Brava. Destino. Vitoria. 1978. p. 5

[18]Pla, Josep. La Costa Brava. Destino. Vitoria. 1978. p. 5

[19] Pla, Josep. Per acabar. Obra Completa. Volum 45. Destino. Barcelona. 2004. p. 187

[20] Berkeley, George. Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge. Pneguin Classics. London. 2004

[21]Pla, Josep. La Costa Brava. Destino. Vitoria. 1978. p. 268

[22]Puig, Valentí. L’home de l’abric. Destino. Barcelona. 1998.p. 37

[23]In this rather general sense Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht’s conception of Stimmung would be relevant for analysis.

[24]Pla, Josep. “Viatge a la Catalunya vella. De l’Empordanet a Andorra” Obra completa. Volum IX. Edicions Destino. Barcelona. 2003. p. 223. Originalment l’obra completa fou publicada el 1968

[25]Pla, Josep. La Costa Brava. Destino. Vitoria. 1978. p. 246

[26]Pla, Josep. “Viatge a la Catalunya vella. De l’Empordanet a Andorra” Obra completa. Volum IX. Edicions Destino. Barcelona. 2003. p. 233

[27]Pla, Josep. “Viatge a la Catalunya vella. De l’Empordanet a Andorra” Obra completa. Volum IX. Edicions Destino. Barcelona. 2003. p. 233

[28]Pla, Josep. “Viatge a la Catalunya vella. De l’Empordanet a Andorra”. p. 234

[29] Viñas Piquer, David. Josep Pla i l’invent “Costa Brava”. (Fragments d’una fascinació). Acontravent. Barcelona. 2013. p. 232

[30]Pla, Josep. La Costa Brava. Destino. Vitoria. 1978. p. 245

[31]Pla, Josep. “Viatge a la Catalunya vella. De l’Empordanet a Andorra”. p. 235

[32]“Petita Oració” in the Glosari of December 11th of 1909 in occasion of the sculpture found in Empúries and that was used for illustrating the cover of the Almanach dels Noucentistes: “Petita testa de Venus, que potser ets una petita testa de Diana, trobada a Empúries, i ara albergada dins els nostres Museus civils: vulgues, per record i amor de la vella Catalunya grega, donar un sentit clàssic a la moderna Catalunya confosa”. The confusion in this case was due to the events that took place during the Setmana Tràgica: a protest against the sending of troops to Morocco that derived into an anarchist anti-clerical revolt, which was violently suffocated.

[33] Viñas Piquer, David. Josep Pla i l’invent “Costa Brava”. (Fragments d’una fascinació). Acontravent. Barcelona. 2013. p. 232

[34]Pla, Josep. El quadern gris. Obra Completa. Volum I. Destino. Barcelona. 2004.p. 789-796”

[35] Viñas Piquer, David. Josep Pla i l’invent “Costa Brava”. (Fragments d’una fascinació). Acontravent. Barcelona. 2013. p. 234

[36] Pla, Josep. El meu país. Obra Completa. Volum 7. Destino. Barcelona. 1997.p. 465

[37] Viñas Piquer, David. Josep Pla i l’invent “Costa Brava”. (Fragments d’una fascinació). Acontravent. Barcelona. 2013. p. 247

[38] Matthei, R. Goethe’s Color Theory. Van Nostrand Reinhold. New York. 1971. p. 76

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