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ArribaAbajo Nerlich, Michael, and Nicholas Spadaccini, eds. Cervantes's «Exemplary Novels» and the Adventure of Writing

Hispanic Issues, 6. Minneapolis: The Prisma Institute, 1989. 363 pp.

Frederick A. de Armas

Pennsylvania State University

This collection of essays, which studies the Novelas ejemplares as «intense expressions of philosophical and literary-theoretical expression» (38), brings together a number of European critics and noted American scholars, along with several scholars new to the field, in order to «foreground the analytical, satirical, and dis-integrative features of Cervantes's tales» (346). The volume opens with a lucid exposition, written by Michael Nerlich, of the critical reception of the novelas. One of the major contributions of this essay is to remind us of the importance of Walter Pabst's contributions to Cervantine studies. They include his vision of the collection as a maze, the notion that action takes place in a chaotic space and that tranquility is achieved only in a return to the beginning. According to Pabst, the fairytale principle of improbability is destroyed by the last two stories, which form a frame of disillusionment. Nerlich points out that many contemporary critics have ignored or rejected Pabst even though he helped to free critics from neo-Aristotelian generic norms. While Nerlich accuses Forcione of attempting to «domesticate» Pabst's notion of the maze (35), Forcione, in the «Afterword», argues that the collection edited by Nerlich and Spadaccini does not aim at a comprehensive view of the tales in the spirit of Casalduero or El Saffar. Forcione points out that the essays included tend to favor the satirical novelas and those that most clearly subvert the poetics of exemplarity through their religious, political or social criticism. The questions raised by this collection are thus central to the critical future of Cervantes's tales and should be of use to all students of the Spanish Golden Age.

The essay by Anthony Cascardi sets the stage by delving into the nature of exemplarity. This critic starts out by showing how Américo Castro presented a contradictory Cervantes: while the Novelas ejemplares illustrate moral truths that are universally valid, the «subjective irony and existential experimentalism» (50) of Don Quixote, Part I, show the breakdown of such a vision. For Cascardi, the answer is not to be found either in the hypothesis of the «two Cervantes» or in the division between novel and romance. This critic believes that the dualism is found within the constitution of the subject:


«On the one hand the subject attempts to secure for itself the grounds of freedom through the (novelistic) representation of the world as objective, rational, and real, while on the other hand the subject seeks to transcend mere representations in the (romance-like) projection of a reconciled totality» (53). Cascardi perceives a fundamental difference between the comedia and these novelas. While the former idealize archaic laws and depend on the «sacrificial logic of violent revenge» (67), Cervantine romance is a progressive step that requires «the projection of a reconciled community of mankind» (p. 68). Given this fresh and exciting approach to the romances, I find it difficult to accept Forcione's claim that Cascardi dismisses Cervantine romances (346). On the other hand, Forcione's criticism of the totalitarian historical scenarios that are at times set up in literary essays should serve as a cautionary example. Certain critical essays can demonstrate «how dangerous such [totalitarian] scenarios can be and have been when tendentiously applied as totalizing explanatory models for the clarification of Golden Age cultural production» (343).

It would be impossible, due to space constraints, to detail all the key controversies and the many insights included in this volume. Given the selective approach of the collection, I will also indulge in this method, leaving out, of necessity, several important contributions. Nicholas Spadaccini and Jenaro Talens begin their essay with a questioning of Walter Pabst's concept of antinomy. After some important remarks on genre, they tackle the question of exemplarity, using as their models El casamiento engañoso and El coloquio de los perros. For them, exemplarity is tied to the problem of language and has to do with a play of perspectives. The article helps us to perceive the social, economic and political contexts of the novelas. The essay concludes with a discussion of the Coloquio as narrative frame. Pabst's importance is thus evinced once more. In her essay, Caroline Schmauser rejects Pabst's «ideal basis» to which characters must return and sets out to discuss space and movement in Las dos doncellas. She sees the action of the novela as illustrating the dynamism of life, with its two phases of reflection and consolidation. It thus reflects the rhythm of the heart, systole and diastole. Sybil Dumchen also foregrounds the human body in her analysis of El licenciado vidriera. Rejecting the four humors as an explanation for the madness in the novela, she points to Miguel Sabuco's theories of the two «harmonies» situated in the brain and the stomach. The key to El licenciado vidriera, she claims, is the lack of communication between mind and body. Finally, Edward Friedman's piece also has links to the body. Discussing La fuerza de la sangre, he summarizes the tale's thesis «that blood will win out, that the spilling of Luis's blood draws Rodolfo back to Leocadia, whose blood he had spilled earlier» (153). While most critics view this trail of blood in a symbolic manner, such as a move away from despair towards eternal truth (Ruth El Saffar) or as the working out of a miracle (Forcione), Friedman, in this original piece, argues that Cervantes couples closure with a rhetoric that may belie the happy ending. In this manner «Cervantes is reacting against the notion of passive reading» (p. 154). Indeed, this whole   —129→   collection of essays disallows passive reading, foregrounding new interpretations and vital dialogues with critics that have shaped our vision of the Novelas ejemplares. Through the exploration of the adventure of writing, this collection becomes an adventure in reading.