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New Art, New Woman, Old Constructs: Gmez de la Serna, Pedro Salinas, and Vanguard Fiction

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  • The Johns Hopkins University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to MLN.

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    New Art, New Woman, Old Constructs: Gmez de la Serna, Pedro Salinas, and Vanguard Fiction Author(s): Robert C. Spires Source: MLN, Vol. 115, No. 2, Hispanic Issue (Mar., 2000), pp. 205-223Published by: The Johns Hopkins University PressStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3251372Accessed: 01-05-2015 17:56 UTC

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  • New Art, New Woman, Old Constructs:

    G6mez de la Serna, Pedro Salinas, and Vanguard Fiction

    Robert C. Spires

    As a manifestation of the modernist movement of the first half of the twentieth century a subcategory known as vanguard or avant-garde literature emerged in the Hispanic world and most of western Europe.' Often referred to as the "new art" when it began to assert itself in Spain and Latin America in the 1920s and into the mid-1930s, it also boasted of representing a "new woman," a claim that I propose to examine here. When some critics of the time (male of course) objected that the anti-conventional mode of this artejoven and its attempt to change the historical representation of women were expressions of deficient virility, of effeminacy (see for example Perez Firmat 37), they drew attention to a gender issue central to vanguard art. These same detractors at times went so far as to charge that the new mode was guilty of emasculating the male image.' Yet today many would answer the charge of masculine emasculation by counter-charging that the

    For representative studies of the Hispanic expression see Buckley and Crispin, Harris, Hernando, Ilie, Nagel, Perez Firmat, Pino, Soria Olmedo, Unruh, Urrutia, and Videla. For more general European surveys of the movement see Benjamin, Burger, and Poggioli.

    2The nineteenth-century realistic novel tends to stand as the benchmark of masculine narrative, against which effeminate vanguard fiction is compared. Susan Rubin Suleiman's remarks, although directed to the more contemporary works of Robbe-Grillet and Roche, also apply to Spanish vanguard works: "the realist novel was

    MLN 115 (2000): 205-223 ? 2000 by TheJohns Hopkins University Press

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  • ROBERT C. SPIRES

    vanguardists in fact were guilty of perpetuating feminine violations. By examining some representative examples from El novelista of Ram6n G6mez de la Serna and from Vispera delgozo of Pedro Salinas,3 I propose to demonstrate how these male-authored vanguard texts project fe- male representations that can be considered both seditiously threaten- ing and stereotypically comforting to a virile discursive tradition.

    Conventional gender constructs serve as the comfort zone for the male protagonists and narrators of the works to be discussed. When faced with the threat of a new and disquieting female image, they turn to historical and canonized models for reassurance. Each male character seems to find in these stable and familiar constructs the support to counteract the vicissitudes of his own existence; he apparently needs the reassurance of woman's materiality to counter- act his anxiety over his own ethereality. In addition, for each of these protagonists woman seems to represent what Peter Brooks defines as "an inextricable link between erotic desire and the desire to know" (22). Yet in the Spanish examples the search for knowledge may be labeled more accurately a quest for reassurance; the textual strategies involve either killing off the unfamiliar female or, even more signifi- cantly, relying on comparisons to familiar older models as a means to explain, and thereby negate the threat of, a new breed.

    The first work I propose to analyze, G6mez de la Sernas's El novelista, fits the conventional definition of novel in title only. It consists of a series of disconnected and often absurd vignettes of widely varying length and content, each of which features a distinct internal focalizer. These narrative fragments represent a series of novels written by Andres Castilla, who serves as both dramatized

    codified as male: unitary, phallic, teleologically moving toward a single meaning, a single story. The feminine text [the avant-garde], by contrast, was synonymous with the plural, the erotic, the experimental, the new" (40). 3 The two authors of the works I propose to analyze are prototypical examples of the Spanish avant-garde movement of the 1920s and 1930s. Ram6n G6mez de la Serna is often cited as the initial Spanish practitioner of the vanguard movement and he is one of the more unorthodox writers in Spanish literature. In an interesting essay Ignacio Soldevila-Durante discusses G6mez de la Serna's art in reference to the French school of surrealism. Pedro Salinas is known primarily as a poet, but his collection of stories, Vispera del gozo, was the first publication of the "Nova novorum" series dedicated to the "new art" sponsored by Ortega y Gasset's Revista de Occidente. Jose Ortega y Gasset was the high priest of the vanguard movement, and his journal served as the unofficial forum for examples of and ideas on the new art. Both G6mez de la Serna and Salinas were active contributors to the journal (indeed one of the stories I will examine in detail, "Aurora de verdad" by Salinas, appeared in the April 1926 issue). For more on the role of Ortega y Gasset's journal see L6pez Campillo and Soria Olmedo.

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  • M LN

    author and unifying thread for the disjointed collage.4 Andres in turn is subject to the narrative presentation of an analytic non-character narrator.5 Yet final textual authority resides in the posited author or the implicit creator of the strategies outlined.6 In the following analysis I propose to demonstrate how the posited author manipu- lates this contrived fictional edifice to underscore, consciously or otherwise, an equivocal attitude toward gender issues, an attitude that in effect echoes certain discursive practices of the 1920s.7

    The chapters dedicated to "Pueblo de adobes" (20-26) offer a good example of how the text creator blends gender and genre issues in El novelista. The dramatized narrator is Andr6s Castilla and the novel he is writing, the intertext, appears in italics. In short, process (the narration about Andr6s) and product (his supposed novel) are seemingly juxtaposed, although the true process, that concerning the posited author who is creating Andr6s and the non-character or anonymous narrator, remains hidden.

    A significant portion of Andr6s's "novel" involves three characters: Clemente, an orphaned bachelor, Dona Prepedigna, an aging spin- ster intent on marrying Clemente, and the young and sensuous

    4Rugg, Tasende, and Valis (1989) provide insightful analyses of the distinction between the dramatized fictional author Andres Castilla and the real author Ram6n G6mez de la Serna. Richmond also addresses this aspect and provides a useful summar) of most of the stories of the novel.

    I am trying to incorporate the terminology of the famous Brooks and Warren paradigm, "Focus of Narration" (588-94). As we know, Genette (Narrative Discourse) refined their model and labeled what they call a non-character analytic narrator as extra-heterodiagetic (see chapter 5, "Voice," 212-62). Without trying to detract from the value of Genette's contribution, I think the Brooks and Warren categories sound lessjargonistic.

    ' For convenience sake the posited author can be called G6mez de la Serna. But when I speak of Gomez de la Serna or Salinas, I will not be referring to the biographical person but to the image of the author created by his own text-hence the term posited or implied author (Bakhtin and Booth, respectively). For example, Ramon Gomez de la Serna had a friendship and love affair with Carmen de Burgos, both of which ended when he allegedly seduced her daughter (Ugarte makes passing reference to this apparent betrayal, 86). This episode in his life could be cited as evidence of his negative attitude toward women, yet to leap to that conclusion strikes me as dangerous without knowing all the details and motives involved in the alleged seduction (an impossibility of course). In fact countering the misogynist implications of that scandal are the words of praise Don Ramon directs to Carmen de Burgos in his autobiography.

    7In her book Highfill discusses the "woman question" that was a favorite theme for many of the tertulias hosted by Ortega y Gasset and frequented by G6mez de la Serna, as well as the subject of several essays appearing in Revista de Occidente during the 1920s. As Highfill documents in her chapter onJarnes, in spite of an attempt at a more liberal attitude toward women, in the final analysis the discussions and the essays published in the journal tend to reaffirm male superiority.

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  • ROBERT C. SPIRES

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