THE OBSERVER

Letters, please!

Today we wish to acknowledge those who helped us discover artists (among whom we can include scientists) and remind ourselves that we can all open that mysterious gateway that appears when a book manages to electrify us with its magic

Whoever taught us to read opened our eyes to the world and we all have someone to thank for having done so. I don’t just mean learning to string letters together and sounding out syllables —though this, too— but also learning to choose books that will accompany us throughout our whole life. It is through books that we first discover the feeling that it is they who read us and know how to express us better than we do ourselves.

Eventually, however, we realise that it’s not about reading but reading well. The speed of time is a help. I still remember, almost thirty years ago, my reaction to spotting on a bookshelf in a murky apartment, the forty or fifty volumes of the Collected Works of Lenin. A feeling of despair came over me. How many pages must be really important? Could someone dedicate themselves to systematically reading all those pages without committing the sin of time-wasting? Without running the risk of becoming narrow-minded? As luck would have it, there was another shelf on which I found the wonder of wonders: an aristocratic Encyclopaedia Britannica flanked by Hume and Montaigne.

Those who teach us to read, who open our minds and doors to worlds and lives that we shall not live, have a privileged space in our memory. The first ones are the teachers who correctly chose the first book that really got us hooked. Today our dossier includes some of these stories about teachers who ‘infected’ us with an addiction to reading. This is the case of Jaume Cabré, who opened up the worlds of Jules Verne, Emilio Salgari and Karl May for someone who has gone on to help teenagers discover other new worlds. You can also read Perfecto Cuadrado’s story and how he introduced Portuguese literature to Ponç Pons, his student. And the experiences of our readers, such as Ivan Cid and his teacher, Miss Esmeralda; or Carmen Alsina and the risky business of reading Agatha Christie in a school run by nuns. A big thank you to everyone.

Nowadays, we ask our teachers to create readers in a society that does not read. However, the habit of reading is not acquired amid the noise or without effort. Everyone ought to take their responsibility seriously and face up to the challenge of infecting someone with the pleasure of reading, just as someone did to us. In fact, if we wish to infect someone with the adventure of knowing, the only endless adventure, we adults must start first. To learn through literature, essays and music.

Sheet music

Alfred Brendel, a pianist extraordinaire, wrote a collection of essays, Sobre la música [On Music] (published by Acantilado), where he discusses the influence of artists on us mortals, whether writers of novels or sheet music. Brendel states: "in his Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce had Stephen Dedalus say the following: ‘The artist, like the God of creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.’ While Beethoven, unattainable to the rest of us, paired his fingernails, I thank him for having given us works that move us within or behind or beyond or above us. Spending a lifetime with them is truly worthwhile".

Today we wish to acknowledge those who helped us discover artists (among whom we can include scientists) and remind ourselves that we can all open that mysterious gateway that appears when a book manages to electrify us with its magic.

And numbers, too

This week we were given a prize. ARA was awarded a Sant Jordi prize by the Institute of Catalan Studies. The Ferran Sunyer i Balaguer Foundation has given us the Mathematics and Society Award for a mathematics dossier which we ran on a Sunday in July 2016. All the credit goes to those who purchased the newspaper, challenging the ranks of the pessimists who, accompanied by loud chest-beating, foretell the disappearance of the press and of paper.

Let’s not talk about ourselves, but rather Ferran Sunyer i Balaguer (1912-1967) and what he can teach us. He was a remarkable mathematician and an extraordinary man. He made important contributions to the theory of functions and his work regularly appeared in international journals. While the intellectual value of his work is indisputable, we ought to consider what sort of a man he truly was. Ferran Sunyer was born with a defective central nervous system that prevented him from going to school and confined him to a wheelchair. He was entirely dependent on his mother, Àngela Balaguer, a widow since he was two years old, and later two of his female cousins. The women who looked after him wrote his papers and when he attended international conferences he dictated his theories and formulas from memory, while his students and colleagues wrote them on the blackboard. An extraordinary story of overcoming adversity, of love and a thirst for knowledge.

EDICIÓ PAPER 21/09/2019

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