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The Gospels as Fiction: Gabriel Miró's «Figuras» and Biblical Scholarship

Ian R. Macdonald

Ah! si, dans la fraîcheur de sa beauté, avant les souillures du mariage et la désillusion de l'adultère, elle avait pu placer sa vie sur quelque grand coeur solide, alors la vertu, la tendresse, les voluptés et le devoir se confondant, jamais elle ne serait descendue d'une félicité si haute1.

These are words from Madame Bovary quoted in shocked tones by the prosecutor at the trial of Flaubert's novel. Flaubert might, he suggested, have had the decency to write of the disappointments of marriage and the defilements of adultery, rather than the other way round. Flaubert had, we can see, broken the rules of a section of French society, committing, in Dominick LaCapra's phrase, an «ideological crime». But what is especially interesting in this example is that the offence depends on a misunderstanding of Flaubert's technique of free indirect style. What the prosecution treats as the words of the author, authoritative words, are actually a representation of Emma's thought. Dominick LaCapra in his Madame Bovary on Trial comments: «I would offer the speculation that the larger cultural context that induces or facilitates the widespread use of free indirect style at least in the form it takes in Flaubert is one wherein the writer is fairly definite about what he rejects in the larger society (for example, "bourgeois stupidity") but relatively uncertain and clearly undogmatic about viable alternatives»2. Flaubert will remain with us as a reference point, but he also presents a suggestive parallel with Gabriel Miró.

When the editor of the Gijón daily El Noroeste was jailed for publishing a chapter of Miró's Figuras de la Pasión del Señor, the judge singled out the following paragraph:

La mujer judía pronunciaba confiadamente el nombre del denodado nazareno; y la mirada del esposo o del padre conturbó y apagó su fe. El nazareno se vanaglorió de una austeridad que arruinaba a los mercaderes humildes; y en su ímpetu había proferido una blasfemia abominable contra el Templo del Señor3.

The judge took the final sentence to be Miró's view and condemned it as offensive to Christians. In fact it is free indirect style representing the words of the males, fathers and husbands, who control the lives of the women of Jerusalem. The prosecution turned on the same novelistic technique that had given Flaubert trouble. In his defence, however, Miró could not appeal to technique -he (and much less the reading public) did not have the language to do so since Bally had only given the first description of «le style indirect libre» in 19124. Miró could only explain that «todo participa de aquel tiempo» and advise the judge «que no puede situar al autor según su hermenéutica, sino que es el autor el que se sitúa en el tiempo ciñéndose a la lógica y verosimilitud de los hechos».

These clashes between authorities suggest that we should be asking how we are to grasp the project of the Figuras de la Pasión del Señor. Miró in his reply to the judge claimed: «No creo que haya nadie capaz de saber mejor que yo lo que yo me propuse decir y dije». Of course not, but in the face of so defiant a claim for the authority of intention we need to interrogate the text.

What we have is a rewriting of the Gospel texts, texts that Miró knew perfectly well were highly unreliable as historical documents. (Both his personal library and his work for the Enciclopedia Sagrada Católica in 1914-15 are evidence for this). These rewritten Gospel texts are then in turn expanded by rewriting the texts of the Biblical scholarship of the later nineteenth century, scholarship that aimed, positivistically, to establish «what the real facts were». The Figuras thus propose themselves to the reader, rather like a realist novel, as «what really happened», without openly raising the issue of the radical textuality of the whole enterprise.

First of all, then, the Figuras are plainly a liberal project. Why else the horror at Gijón where the judge referred to Miró as «conocidamente herético»? Miró's patron, Antonio Maura, puts it very clearly in one of his letters to the author: «Temo mucho que con este segundo volumen se agudice la sensación ya causada por el primero. [...] Ahora la figura del Redentor [...] tropezará con la extrañeza, por no decir la inversión, de quedar ausente el aspecto sobrenatural y divino»5. Yet a liberal defence of Jesus is a puzzling project in the context of Spanish anti-clericalism (so recently and so violently expressed in the Semana trágica), the bitterness of the rift between «germanófilos» and «aliadófilos» (Miró belonged to the latter), and the defeat, only a few years before, of Catholic Modernism.

Few commentators have discussed the problem. Those who defend Miró's orthodoxy simply dwell on the beauty of the work. Edmund King has exposed the facile nature of such views, while John Kirk's listing and examination of the sources is an indispensable starting-point, but only James Airozo has gone into the theological ideas embedded in the Figuras, arguing convincingly for the importance of the liberal Protestant Harnack, and seeing the Figuras as a kind of theological radicalism. He concludes: «It should be clear from this analysis that the traditional assertions of Miró's Catholic orthodoxy can no longer be sustained. It should also be apparent that Miró, the aesthete, was not only a man of heterodox religious ideas but also one of Spain's most profoundly religious writers»6. Nevertheless such an unequivocal reading of the Figuras as radical heterodoxy will not do entirely either.

But how, first and in more detail, might we read the Figuras as radical? The later nineteenth century had seen an avalanche of Lives of Jesus, part of the movement later summed up under the label of the Quest for the Historical Jesus7. Since Catholic writers remained committed by the authority of the Church to the infallibility of the evangelists, any life that did more than harmonise the gospels in a traditional way would have to be the work of Protestant or non-Christian scholars. Miró turned to these as well as to the traditional accounts, but his text, as we shall see, does not directly and openly attack the great issues about the nature of Jesus debated in the Lives. Instead he proceeds by expansion into some aspects of modernity -the philological and geographical apparatus take their descent from the comparative and imperial triumphs of Western Europe- and by undebated omission or reduction of the supernatural.

There were three areas where any new life of Jesus was tested by the orthodox: miracles, the Resurrection, and the divinity of Jesus. The Figuras systematically omit mention of all but healing miracles. Airozo points out that «Harnack dismisses all the other miraculous accounts of the Gospel save those "stories of surprising cures effected by Jesus' spiritual force"» (p. 364). Even with these the accounts of the cures in the Figuras are commonly placed in the mouth of a character. Simon Peter's mother-in-law explains: «Se acercó a mí estando yo postrada de calentura, y me levanté a servirle»8. In all three synoptic Gospels this is recounted in the third person: in the Figuras novelistic technique protects the narrator from commitment9. Elsewhere a cure is softened linguistically. The centurion's servant's cure is reduced to this: «Y dirigióse al romano, otorgándole la gracia: -¡Ve, amigo, y como creíste, así te sea dado!» (OC, p. 1239). To the woman of Tyre «Jesús le dio su amparo» (OC, p. 1246). As for Peter's denial, Jesus' foretelling of the event is omitted and the crowing of the cock is naturalised as part of the dawn (OC, p. 1279). At Jesus' death there are none of the supernatural events that the Bible records. The Resurrection receives similar treatment: only spoken of by a character, it is a desperately brief reference immediately modified by the Ascension (OC, p. 1400). Every variety of reading, Christian or unbelieving, is allowed for by the technique, while redemption is not even mentioned.

What of Jesus' divinity? We have already seen Maura worried about this, and with cause. The brutal descriptions of Jesus' sufferings make even the most realistic of Spanish Holy Week sculpture look stylised by comparison. Almost all we are spared of his humanity is Christ shitting himself: that is displaced to his companion Genas (OC, p. 1377).

Miró's modern fictional technique also allows us the occasional inside view of Jesus, notably at moments of arrogance during the Last Supper: «Y probó en sí mismo los sabores de la grandeza del escogido» (OC, p. 1253), and of lonely failure before Pilate: «El Rábbi contempló desoladamente los montones de humanidad seca, enemiga: [...] mujeres, lisiados, viejos y hasta criaturas chiquitas, los niños que él descansaba con lástima en su pecho y se le incorporaba la palpitación de su vida. ¡No tenía a nadie!» (OC, p. 1349). A very human Jesus, with all evidence of traditional divinity stripped away. Like any human he develops and changes, slowly building a sense of his own messiahship and inventing the Eucharist on the spur of the moment in response to his disciples (OC, p. 1255).

He is also a moral Jesus, teacher of a sublime new morality. The concept of God as father and the idea of the neighbour, the commandment to love above all, these are the core of the importance of the Jesus of the Figuras. The same key notions appear in discursive style in «La conciencia mesiánica de Jesús» and in Miró's 1925 lecture in Gijón10. Clearly this moral Jesus owes much to Harnack's 1900 Das Wesen des Christentums which Miró used in a 1907 French translation; it is plausible to assume that he first came across the work through one of the writings of Unamuno who was deeply influenced by Harnack a few years before11.

But we must also place the Figuras overall more broadly within the dynamic, the history, of the Lives of Christ. Renan's Vie de Jésus of 1863 occupies a special place here. Having lost his faith, Renan determined that «one occupation above all seemed to me to be worthy of filling my life; and that was to pursue my critical research into Christianity using those far ampler means offered me by lay science»12. He attempted therefore a biography of Jesus that on principle stripped out the supernatural and ended with Jesus' death. There are many points of similarity with the Figuras, but the works differ in that the latter rigorously exclude the debate and, often, polemics that were part not only of Renan's work, but standard in all the nineteenth-century lives, whatever their view of Jesus. Here, for instance, is F. W. Farrar, whose enormously successful 1874 Life of Christ was used by Miró:

It was [...] probably one of the secluded hollows [...] which witnessed that scene of awful and pathetic mystery. [...] although the exact spot cannot be defined with certainty, the general position of Gethsemane is clear, and then as now the chequering moonlight, the grey leaves, the dark brown trunks, the soft greensward, the ravine with Olivet towering over it to the eastward and Jerusalem to the west, must have been the main features of a place which must be regarded with undying interest while Time shall be, as the place where the Saviour of mankind entered alone into the Valley of the Shadow13.

This differs from Renan in its Christian commitment, but shares the mode of «critical biography», reviewing the evidence as it goes. This tradition Miró rejects and instead he writes the novel of the Passion. The only remnant of the old mode is at the end of the chapter «El padre de familias»: «Y penetró en su sangre y en sus huesos el filo de una emoción desconocida [...]; emoción del primer hombre pisando las piedras del primer templo cristiano...» (OC, p. 1258).

Thus the Figuras seem to present a liberal life in purely narrative form. They inherit the consequences of modern rationality and science, but use a structure that avoids thrusting polemic at the reader. This is a new conjuncture. The moment of Renan's triumphalist positivism has passed, the new knowledge of archaeology and geography are the common possession of all shades of opinion, while Harnack's emphasis on the teaching as opposed to the life of Jesus has lessened the obsession with trying to recover Jesus' life intact and in chronological order. Miró's ingenious narrative structure, keeping the strict order of events while inserting a complex series of interlocking flashbacks helps by-pass argument about the historicity of the gospels by rearranging material in accordance with contemporary novelistic practice rather than as history. Miró, it can be argued, offers a radical reading of Christ covertly and without debate -the only strategy that had any hope of success with Spanish Catholic readers. Yet at the same time the limitations of this radicalism must be pointed out. By the time the Figuras appeared, almost all the assumptions on which they were based had already been successfully challenged. Yet there is in the Figuras, for instance, no inkling of Schweitzer's demolition in 1906 of the whole Quest for the Historical Jesus, and especially of the liberal Lives, their ethical ideals and anti-supernaturalist principles. What historical criticism would show, claimed Schweitzer, was that:

He will not be a Jesus Christ to whom the religion of the present can ascribe, according to its long-cherished custom, its own thoughts and ideas, as it did with the Jesus of its own making. Nor will he be a figure which can be made by a popular historical treatment so sympathetic and universally intelligible to the multitude. The historical Jesus will be to our time a stranger and an enigma14.

Miró had evaded the problems raised by the scholarship that had progressively destroyed the Gospels as history by treating them as narrative to be rewritten as modern narrative, but now his whole late nineteenth-century image of Jesus was replaced in Schweitzer's work by the eschatalogical Jesus with a mere interim ethic. Nor was there any trace of the «democratic» Jesus of Strauss' Leben Jesu in which the Jesus of the church is the creation of the people. Miró's Jesus remains an elite Romantic genius15.

The chapter «Barabbas» clarifies the limits of the text's radicalism. Miró makes Barabbas a vineyard labourer and builds into his story two different parables. One is of the vineyard owner who hires men at different times of the day but pays them all the same; the other is of the vineyard workers who kill the owner's servants and finally his son16. Both parables are morally puzzling; they clearly belong to the eschatalogical parables that speak of the imminent end of the world. Yet both are used as material for the writing of a new story, a «novela ejemplar», in which Barabbas is spiritually reborn through the power of Jesus' personality, and makes amends for his past sins by a self-sacrifice that parallels that of Jesus and that reverses the parable of the workers killing the owner's envoys. Barabbas the worker offers himself up to be killed by the son of an envoy he has himself killed. It is the morality of the suffering servant that is endorsed, not the need for preparing for the world's end.

But we can also grasp the possible radicalism of the Figuras in a broader context. Miró was deeply concerned about their acceptability to the Catholic authorities. He wrote to Unamuno: «La ausencia del Nihil obstat me perjudica grandemente»17. More than his reputation he is thinking of his sales. He goes on: «Perdóneme estas lamentaciones un poco comineras. Es que se me perjudica, y soy pobre; y, además, tengo la conciencia de haber escrito sin salirme de los términos de una costosa sobriedad». «Sobriedad» is not the first noun to leap to mind on reading the Figuras; it must indicate a conscious effort to avoid giving offence. He repeatedly protests, disingenuously as we have seen, that he is only concerned with art: «El arte se desentiende de tesis y debates cristológicos», he said in his lecture at Gijón, a lecture designed to deflect attention from any possible heterodoxy18.

What can be grasped positively, therefore, as pushing radicalism to the limits of what the situation allowed, can also be grasped negatively as attempting to withdraw within the boundaries set by Catholic opinion. In the interplay between these readings there is much sober ambiguity. The word «prodigio», for instance, is always preferred to «milagro» (eg OC, p. 1257). Where Jesus' sisters are mentioned they are at once qualified as «hijas de Josef» (OC, p. 1293). Or this, where one can find either a hint that Jesus is God or a very Mironian vision of a sign creating reality: «Allí, cuando el Rábbi tiende su mano y señala el agua, la mies, un fruto, un hombre, hay en su diestra un gesto de voluntad tan firme y augusta que parece entonces crearlo» (OC, p. 1276).

One contemporary narrative technique is especially important here: free indirect style. Like any device it only acquires meaning in its context, but we can already say that it is part and parcel of the realist and post-realist novel, a marker of its ambiguities and contradictions. Miró makes use of it as contemporary technique and to help solve his problem of «sobriedad», but it is also in its destabilising of the narrative subject an indicator of the whole problematics of belief.

The opening of the Figuras offers an excellent example: «Doce aves vio María Salomé. Y las contaba con nombres: [...] ¡La de la punta, el Rábbi! ¡Sus hijos, sus hijos volaban al lado de la grulla cabecera!» (OC, p. 1235). The exclamation marks and imperfect serve as clear indicators of free indirect style: these are María Salomé's words. But five lines later we find this: «El Señor les enviaba su mensaje con las aves del cielo, porque todas las criaturas le pertenecían». Only that Flaubertian imperfect suggests that this is María Salomé's interpretation of a flight of cranes. The splitting of the belief-system of the narrator from that of María can easily be overlooked, a disguise of the ultimately unavoidable fact that Miró's narrator can never recapture the world-view of the Biblical narrative voice.

If we now compare this opening episode with the section that aroused the wrath of the judge we find a reversed situation. In «Mujeres de Jerusalén» the innocent reading leads to heterodoxy, the knowing reading to safely detaching the narrator and author from blasphemy. The objectives of modern technique and doctrinal caution diverge and are punished by imprisonment. But the contradictory effects in different situations of the use of free indirect style should not conceal the overall instability it produces and the crisis of faith of which it is a symptom.

Often free indirect style is used in much more complex patterns. One last example will serve to show how difficult it is to read the distance between narrator and story. What here is Jesus' thought, what narrative comment? Are we to read this as orthodoxy, positivist realism, or an unstable interplay:

Jesús estaba solo. El Padre lo ha desamparado. Jesús ha de pasar las soledades humanas de la muerte. En la tierra no puede ni el amor vencer la agonía del amado. El que muere está solo. De Dios a criatura era un tránsito de resignaciones, de sencillez, de piedad. De hombre a Dios, había de subir la jornada yerma, cegada, sin tierra y sin cielo; Jesús, solo.

(OC, p. 1394)                

We must turn now from Christology to another area of the Figuras, that of the background detail so lovingly and laboriously assembled. Edward Said writes in his Orientalism: «From one end of the nineteenth century to the other [...] the Orient was a place of pilgrimage, and every major work belonging to a genuine if not always to an academic Orientalism took its form, style, and intention from the idea of pilgrimage there. In this idea [...] the Romantic idea of restorative reconstruction (natural supernaturalism) is the principal source»19. Miró was familiar with the classic literary travellers, Chateaubriand, Lamartine, Flaubert, while the geographical and archaeological scholarship he used depended on travel. He knew that it was de rigueur for any writer of a life of Jesus in the later nineteenth century to visit the Holy Land -a publishers' advance was the norm. But not in his case. He wrote to Andrés González Blanco: «Ansié siempre viajar», but immediately explained he would never visit Athens because it would be as a tourist20. In fact Miró never left Spain.

Britain and France, the imperial powers of the area, supplied the travellers. Said notes that by contrast with British travellers «the French pilgrim was imbued with a sense of acute loss in the Orient. He came there to a place in which France, unlike Britain, had no sovereign presence. [...] Consequently French pilgrims [...] planned and projected for, imagined, ruminated about places that were principally in their minds. [...] Theirs was the Orient of memories, suggestive ruins, forgotten secrets, hidden correspondences, and an almost virtuosic style of being, an Orient whose highest literary forms would be found in Nerval and Flaubert, both of whose work was solidly fixed in an imaginative, unrealizable (except aesthetically) dimension» (pp. 169-70).

How much more so for Spain, new so far from being an imperial power that she was herself the object of travellers. Miró's approach to the Orient was to be entirely in the mind. Yet there are new ambiguities here. Miró was both a marginal European, hanging on to the coat-tails of imperial scholarship, and marginally part of that Other that was the Orient for Europe. This is surely the real meaning of the often-remarked fact that the Levant of the Figuras is the Levante of Miró. Not that his landscape provided him with the brute facts of the Palestinian landscape, but that it tells us of Miró's position as a Spaniard, to whom the Orient is at once strange, other, theatrical, fragmented, and familiar, sharing as he does with the Orient not only nearness (every Alicantino knew people in Oran) but the status of object of imperial gazes. The two Levants separated and joined by the Mediterranean are related in precisely this way.

«Every interpretation, every structure created for the Orient, then, is a reinterpretation, a rebuilding of it», writes Said (p. 158) and this is reflected in Miró's Gijón lecture where he speaks of the Levant/Levante relationship: «Entonces, puede decirse que todos nos representamos y comprendemos hasta lo que hemos visto de veras a través de algo que ya estaba en nosotros, anterior o consustancial en nosotros, a través de algo de nuestra predilección»21. The Figuras thus fall into line with the mainstream of Orientalism: the Orient is an idea not a place, a text rather than reality. In the Figuras this is simply taken to an extreme: a text rewritten from a text, a landscape described without being seen, a pilgrimage made without travel.

One small example of the complex forces acting on this text as text. In the chapter «Herodes Antipas» the death of John the Baptist is narrated thus:

La única voz contra ellos, la voz del nuevo Elías. Mackeronte temblaba escuchándola. Calló en la noche del 10 de Ab. Tembló el hacha al segarla. No pudo rebanar a cercén la garganta del Bautista; necesitó muchos intentos, porque nunca daba el filo en el mismo corte.

(OC, p. 1309)                

This is of course incomprehensible without knowing the Bible story, but it is rewritten in this extreme form -violent compression (no dance, no dish, no motivation), and brutal expansion of detail of the execution- also with Flaubert's Hérodias and Wilde's Salome in mind. The text swerves past the stereotype of the oriental dance to plunge into oriental brutality. In the presence of such powerful intertextual pressures, to stay at home was perhaps the honest course.

Thus far we have seen a radical, modernising impulse, limited by its own historicity and revealing those limitations in its ambiguities, but more importantly revealing, in its effort to conceal it, the sheer textuality not only of the Gospels, but also of all the orientalist apparatus erected to investigate and, if possible, demonstrate their historical substance. In a way the scholarly textual demolition of the Gospels that we saw Miró evade is accomplished after all and in spite of «sobriedad».

Said comments that «such disciplines as philology... were naturalized, modernized, and laicized substitutes for (or versions of) Christian super-naturalism» (p. 122). Through associating the Figuras with «scientific» nineteenth-century Orientalism we can grasp them in a further way as a response to the problematising of belief, or, to use a wider term, value.

We must now turn to yet another area suggested by Orientalism -that of the sensuality of Miró's rewriting of the East. This is a case of overdetermination- the stereotype of Oriental sensuality simply gives additional force to that celebration of the senses that is Miró's special power. Renan had already provided an image of a Jesus drawing his inspiration from the lush natural world of Galilee. This too Miró could build on to create his own Jesus, visibly in line of descent from the Sigüenza of Del vivir and pre-figuring Don Magín. Jesus, as Miró rewrites him, is of a piece with all those Mironian characters to whom the «azul» issues an imperative to goodness. The Figuras open with precisely this imperative at work: «Levantaron las mujeres sus ojos al azul de la tarde, y prorrumpieron en palabras de júbilo y bendiciones al Señor» (OC, p. 1235). The possibly miraculous cranes develop a sacred link: the blue against which they are seen is also sky/heaven, and goodness in Jesus appears to have the potential for overcoming the disillusionment that afflicts Miró's other characters. Such themes run on throughout the Figuras: the text ends with Jesus' return to the «cielo». Water is another example, opening the second chapter with Asaf the water-carrier, and ending the Figuras with the Samaritana at Jacob's Well as she hears of the Ascension «al cielo». Water, like the «azul», suggests potential joy, unless it is the dirty water in which the Pharisees purify themselves (OC, p. 1364) or the rain that effaces the «azul» at Jesus' death, a natural event replacing the supernatural signs of the Bible story (OC, p. 1395).

But these sensual thematics are less important than the sheer effort to present the world to us in its felt materiality. We can grasp this in many ways, among them a bodying-out of the imperative to goodness, a Valera-like insistence on the possible harmony of matter and spirit, rebellion against the Christian ascetic tradition, sheer decadent sensibility, a concealing of textuality that reveals it, the power of the images of Orientalism, the assertion of the feminine. We should also recall how Miró, as suggested by Edmund King, turned the intense spiritual imagining demanded of him at school in the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises to aesthetic account22. We can also surmise that as Flaubert put himself through the pain of Emma's poisoning, so Miró put himself on the cross to write the Figuras. Beyond all this and bringing it together we can also use Fredric Jameson's notion, developed in connection with Conrad, of an aestheticising strategy, one which «seeks to recode or rewrite the world and its own data in terms of perception as a semi-autonomous activity»23. As Jameson writes: «The very activity of sense perception has nowhere to go in a world in which science deals with ideal quantities, and comes to have little enough exchange value in a money economy. [...] This unused surplus capacity of sense perception can only reorganize itself into a new and semi-autonomous activity» (p. 229). The sensuality of Miró's writing, which is closely allied in the Figuras to their textuality, is very much of his moment. The Figuras are a narrative that projects the early twentieth century in Spain rather than the early first century in Palestine.

We can now finally move away from radicalism, which under the impact of ambiguity and textuality has become an inadequate concept -after all, to be radical one has to some extent to be on the inside- and, using a second and closely linked notion from Jameson, read the Figuras as sharing in what he calls the «ideologeme of aesthetic religion». Jameson introduces it thus:

The key moments in its development might be quickly sketched in as those of Chateaubriand, its inventor, in Le Génie du christianisme (1802), Flaubert's archaeological passion for dead religions, his appropriation of that whole ideology of perception, sense-data, and hallucination [...] for the evocation of religious visions, as in La Tentation de Saint Antoine (1874) or Trois Contes (1877) - not to speak of the contemporaneous fascination with belief of the positivists, most notably Renan [...].

(p. 247)                

Miró was familiar with La Tentation de Saint Antoine and Trois Contes and also possessed a copy of Salammbô. The archaeological reconstruction that characterises the latter novel is obviously an important precursor of Miró's text, though its hollow splendour contrasts at first sight with the fervour of Figuras, a contrast that should not divert us from recognising how well Figuras fits into Jameson's category of «aesthetic religion». It is also important to note that Jameson specifically dissociates such a phenomenon from religious revival or neo-catholicism: we should add that it also has in the end little to do with radical attempts to retain the viability of Christianity.

For to see the Figuras in this way is to go beyond any claim to «restorative reconstruction» as a «faith for today». One of the ways in which the Figuras project their time is in their attempt to universalise, that is to give motivations to the characters of first-century Palestine in ways that are immediately comprehensible, especially to the reader of the realist novel, ways that make them seem «just like us». While the project appears to be to render the special qualities of a distant culture, it turns out that they are really all as we are, and that Jesus' ethical teaching is for all time. And that ethical teaching is self-sacrificial love. Frequently the Figuras bring us up against this universalisation of the solution of love in their approaches to a certain social radicalism. Jesus is consistently presented as having his followers among the poor. The rich almost always only have access to him through their servants or other clients, such as beggars. All this faithfully gives us a society modelled on the terribly polarised Spain of Miró's day. The Pharisees are clearly the orthodox middle-class Spaniards. Annás muses thus on the possible horrors that might follow a popular rebellion: «Hollados quedarían los últimos señoríos de Israel, y quizá el Rábbi enemigo quedase libre y trocado en caudillo de multitudes» (OC, p. 1291).

Similarly, with respect to women, the Figuras present a socially radical critique, with Jesus defending women against male oppression, putting the same case that is put again and again in Miró's fiction. Yet this consciousness of the political and social crisis in Miró's Spain produces not a radicalism that drives on to conclusions, but a double bind in which fear of the working class represses history and promotes the individual solution of love.

If we now return to the sensuality of Miró's writing we can see how Jameson's analysis of «aesthetic religion» holds all this together: «The melancholy of disbelief, the nostalgia of the nineteenth-century intellectual for the "wholeness" of a faith that is no longer possible, is itself a kind of ideological fable designed to transform into a matter of individual existence what is in reality a relationship between collective systems and social forms» (p. 252). Thus in a bewildering world a myth of individuality and love serve to conceal loss of value and social threat. And as Jameson says: «Because we can no longer think the figures of the sacred from within, we transform their external forms into aesthetic objects» (p. 252). The sensuality that is in part perception as a semi-autonomous activity shares in this.

And yet... The marvellous pleasures of the text remain. The sensuality of Miró's text can be grasped not only negatively as ideology but positively, joyously, as «the libidinal transformation of an increasingly desiccated and repressive reality»24.

Miró dedicated the Figuras to his mother «que me ha contado muchas veces la Pasión del Señor». I leave aside the psychoanalytic readings this might suggest -a father-figure horrifically murdered- and look only at the obvious element of loss. Lost faith, lost childhood. Miró is of course much too self-aware simply to regret these losses. In his Gijón lecture he claimed «ingenuidad» as the root of his Figuras, but «ingenuidad no es primitivismo como procedimiento y fórmula de arte. No es modelar lo infantil, lo remoto, imitándonos a nosotros mismos con balbuceo idiomático y mental»25. It is an attempt not to recapture lost childhood and faith, but to see them from now. As Edmund King pointed out, the Figuras end with the desperate sense of loss voiced by the Woman of Samaria: «¿Por qué has resucitado para subirte al cielo?...» This is the same sense of a world wrenched apart that powers the ending of El obispo leproso and that is so memorably captured in the image of the «mirador azul». The ending, then, uncovers irremediable splitting, while the form of the Figuras, a narrative that pretends to embody value, reverses itself into textuality. Having deflected the scholars' attacks on the sacred texts, the Figuras, heir to Flaubert and his ideological crime, turn them into a modernist novel. But a novel that in ultimately recognising the loss of revealed truth attempts to turn that recognition into a new value, what Roberta Johnson has seen as Miró's phenomenological approach. If I may quote her quotation of Heidegger, «sólo donde hay lenguaje hay mundo»26. Miró's placing of his mother at the opening of the Figuras reflects precisely that.

Let Miró at Gijón have the last word: «Nuestros pies resonaban en las piedras de nuestras calles, y nos parecía pisar las losas de Jerusalén»27.