In Memoriam: Professor Mario J. Valdés

In Memoriam: Professor Mario J. Valdés

It is with great sadness that the Centre for Comparative Literature shares the news that Professor Emeritus Mario J. Valdés, a founding member and former director of the Centre, died on April 26, 2020.

Born on January 28, 1934, Mario Valdés obtained his PhD at the University of Illinois, Chicago, prior to taking a position as Professor of Spanish Literature at the University of Toronto in 1963. When the Programme in Comparative Literature was founded by Northrop Frye in 1969, he became one of the initial faculty cohort of the Programme. Mario left to take a position as head of the Department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese at the University of Illinois, Chicago. When he was asked to return to be Director of the Programme in Toronto, he made establishment of the Centre a condition of his return, and when he came back to the University of Toronto in 1978, he assumed the position of first Director of the Centre for Comparative Literature.

Mario’s early academic interests included the Spanish educator, philosopher and author Miguel de Unamuno, whose papers he clandestinely photocopied with his wife María Elena before smuggling them out of Franco’s Spain for safe keeping in Canada. In addition to books about Unamuno, Mario published articles and books on phenomenology and hermeneutics in literary studies. In the mid-1990s, he launched a monumental series of multi-authored volumes of comparative literary history sponsored by the International Comparative Literature Association and supported by one of the largest SSHRC grants for the humanities awarded to that point. The project resulted in the three-volume Literary Cultures of Latin America: A Comparative History (co-edited by Mario J. Valdés and Djelal Kadir, Oxford University Press, 2004), and the four volumes of the History of the Literary Cultures of East-Central Europe (edited by Marcel Cornis-Pope and John Neubauer, 2004). Linda Hutcheon, who worked closely with him on this project, described it as “a typical Mario-project: innovative, ambitious, grand in scale, comparative to its core.” (link)

Mario did a tremendous amount to support comparative literary studies and raise the profile of Canadian scholars in this area. He served as President of the Modern Language Association (MLA), being one of three Canadians, along with Northrop Frye and Linda Hutcheon, to have led this important scholarly organization. He helped establish and build the Centre for Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto into an internationally renowned hub for some of the most innovative literary and theoretical thinkers of the time: Mario brought Paul Ricoeur, Hans-Robert Jauss, Wolfgang Iser, Frederic Jameson, Tzvetan Todorov, Gérard Genette, and many others to lecture and teach as visitors at the Centre. Mario retired from the University in 1999, but he continued to be a powerful presence in person and through his scholarship for colleagues, students and friends at the Centre, at the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, and far beyond the University’s walls. Mario J. Valdés is survived by his wife Maria Elena Diaz Barriga de Valdés and his sons Tim Valdés and Jordi Valdés.

Photo caption: Mario J. Valdés, President of the MLA, at an association meeting in 1991 Houston Baker, Vice-President of the MLA, is to his left.

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