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ArribaAbajoPrecious Exchanges: The Poetics of Desire, Power, and Reciprocity in Cervantes' La gitanilla

Charles D. Presberg

University of Missouri-Columbia

A la luz de teorías sociales tanto antiguas como contemporáneas -la Ética Nicómaco de Aristóteles, la llamada «teoría del intercambio» («exchange theory») que proviene de la sociología norteamericana, y la «economía general» que examina el «ateo religioso» Georges Bataille en su Parte Maldita- el presente estudio indaga sobre el «sistema de intercambio» (Sieber) que estructura la acción social en La gitanilla. Tras una breve introducción teórica, el análisis se concentra en Preciosa como agente de cambio ético y estético, capaz de elevar los actos sociales basados en «la utilidad» y «el placer» a su propia poética narrativa y social, que radica en el principio de la amistad caritativa y la entrega mutua, semejante a lo que Bataille llama «dépense», o el desperdicio. El resultado es una ganancia máxima en los ámbitos personales y colectivos del poder y el deseo. Se concluye que, a través de Preciosa, protagonista emblemática y única a la vez, el cuento representa su propio acto poético y la poesía en general como una valiosa transacción comunitaria, efectuada en moneda verbal, que pertenece a la economía artística del ocio. Dicha economía funciona como mediadora entre lo que Cervantes identifica en su Prólogo como la economía utilitaria del «negocio» y la economía divina de «los templos».

In his fine edition of Cervantes's Novelas ejemplares, Harry Sieber observes that «un sistema de intercambio» («a system of exchange») is fundamental to the structure of La gitanillaIntroducción» 19). Other insightful studies by critics like Peter Dunn, Alban Forcione, William Clamurro, Joan Resina and Robert ter Horst likewise discuss that tale's imagery of money, commerce and wealth. One conclusion which emerges from such studies is that the comprehensiveness of Cervantes's fictional system in the novella, created before the advent of either «economics» or homo economicus, is likely to baffle readers who understand human exchange chiefly in monetary terms, or even in terms of profit and loss.

I. Theories and Orders of Exchange

Over the past thirty years, a group of predominantly American sociologists has followed the lead of George Homans and Peter Blau to create a body of scholarship known as «exchange theory». Here the purpose is to move beyond an economic model and to focus broadly on laws and structures which govern social interaction,   —54→   found to be rooted in the continuing «exchange» of positive and negative «sanctions», of either a material or psychological stripe. More recently, however, practitioners of exchange theory have tried to address what they perceive as a weakness in previous studies: namely, the tendency to assume a rational calculus of cost and reward in social interaction, «even when touching on the role of desire» (Reid 22, n. 3).

For our purposes here, it is also important to bear in mind that such an emphasis on exchange in social theory is at once contemporary and old. Indeed, by investigating social relations as a process of exchange, recent theorists are pursuing a line of inquiry that guides the eighth book of the Nichomachean Ethics, where Aristotle discusses friendship as a social benefit (1155a; 207), together with three species of «friendly relations», or «loves», which are based, respectively, on principles, and aims, of utility, pleasure and virtue (1156a-1157b; 211-16). Only the last type of «friendship», between what Aristotle calls «persons of virtue», is deserving of that name. The first two are certainly legitimate, but inferior and, by nature, unenduring. By contrast, true friendships are not only enduring, but also few. Though Aristotle argues that a sound ethic compels us to treat all human beings with justice, our relations with most persons will be confined either to exchanging goods, services and money or to exchanging various types of pleasant companionship.

Working within a very different tradition of social theory, which consciously incorporates both the archaic and the primitive, Georges Bataille's Accursed Share recasts Marcel Mauss's famous essay on gift exchange in order to formulate a comprehensive theory of the «general economy» (Richman 2; Richardson 67-96). As in Bataille and other social theories, «economy» is understood hereafter in its broadest sense as a system which orders the exchange of resources toward a desired end. But that end need not represent a «profit», or an advantage. Contrary to the utilitarian ethos of capitalist culture, Bataille argues that the main drive behind all activity, and the use of all resources, in a strictly material cosmos is toward «dépense» or expenditure; that is, toward sacrifice, immolation, loss or, paraphrasing Nick Land, a quasi-mystical «thirst for annihilation». Though he nowhere acknowledges such a debt, it seems probable that Bataille -as an ex-seminarian and a profoundly «religious atheist» (Richardson 19; Land)- owes something to theological formulations which have prevailed since Christian antiquity regarding the «divine economy», synonymous with God's plan for the redemption and ransom of humanity. More specifically, such formulations explain how,   —55→   rooted in an act of perfect love, which seeks nether profit nor advantage, the incarnation, death and resurrection of the divine Word purchase the possibility of interaction between God and a fallen humanity: a process of exchange involving what we may call the production, distribution and consumption of divine «grace», earned through the merits of Christ, in the order of «nature» (Ott 177).

Drawing at once on old and contemporary variations of the foregoing theories, the rest of this study is concerned to examine Cervantes's fictional system of exchange in La gitanilla at the level of both narration and discourse. What such a study brings to the fore is not only how a thematic of ethical and social exchange pervades Cervantes's work, but especially how his tale exemplifies the poetic exchange we know as «narrative fiction».

II. The Abuela, Juan, Gypsies and Nobles: The Economy of Utility and Pleasure

Throughout La gitanilla, Cervantes both thematizes and dramatizes a social economy that displays three species of relations, based on principles of what we may call utility, pleasure and amity. For their ethical legitimacy, utility and pleasure depend on amity. Yet, it is important to stress that, in his fictional embodiment of social relations, Cervantes is not simply borrowing but extrapolating from the Aristotelian tradition, adding a critical blend of Erasmian humanism, Tridentine theology and his own poetics of literature and culture (Forcione 93-223). What is more, each of the three principles marks an important phase of the narrative, and is linked to one of the tale's three main characters.

At the heart of the novella's interplay between social relations of utility, pleasure and amity, we find the female protagonist, who bears, until the end of the tale, the truly polyvalent name, «Preciosa», which means both beautiful and precious, and derives from the Latin pretium («price»). The narrative's first phase extends from the start of the tale to the first encounter between Preciosa and the young noble, whose name, we learn later, is Juan Cárcamo. Informed chiefly by a principle of utility, this phase of the tale is associated with the elderly gypsy woman called «la abuela». Fittingly, too, the setting for this phase is Madrid, see of the royal court (Forcione 208-15; Márquez Villanueva 741-68). Here we observe both Preciosa and her mentor engage in a series of commercial transactions involving the fair or, in the house of the lieutenant, unfair exchange of money for either services or merchandise. The start of the tale   —56→   stresses the utilitarianism of the abuela, who at first seems to view Preciosa herself as a salable commodity, able to fetch a good price: «la abuela conoció el tesoro que en la nieta tenía» (La gitanilla 62, emphasis added). And this use of «tesoro» is hardly metaphorical. For if the protagonist is «rica de villancicos, de coplas, seguidillas y zarabandas», the abuela perceives her «granddaughter's» talents as «felicísimos atractivos e incentivos para acrentar su caudal [de la abuela]» (62, emphasis added). Further, the narrator's choice of diction may strike us as less informative than suggestive, when he describes why the «adoptive» grandmother decides to take Preciosa to the capital city:

Crióse Preciosa en diversas partes de Castilla, y a los quince años de su edad, su abuela putativa la volvió a la Corte y a su antiguo rancho, [...] pensando en la Corte vender su mercadería, donde todo se compra y todo se vende».

(63, emphasis added)                

A brief, second phase of the tale foregrounds the quest for pleasure in social exchange. It starts with the speech in which Juan claims to be «rendido a la discreción y belleza de Preciosa» (83), and closes when the protagonist and her adoptive abuela visit the suitor's home in order to verify his claim of both wealth and nobility. His request for «two words» with the protagonist and the abuela discloses what he seeks, and what he assumes his listeners will seek, from the exchange he proposes: «Por vida vuestra, amiga, que hagáis placer que vos y Preciosa me oyáis aquí aparte dos palabras, que serán de vuestro provecho» (83, emphasis added). In particular, he makes what he thinks a generous offer to «levantar a mi grandeza la humildad de Preciosa, haciéndola mi igual y mi esposa» (84). Such «grandeza» clearly refers to the material and social goods of his money, estate and noble rank. In seeking the pleasure of the protagonist's beauty and, secondarily, her companionship and «discreción», Juan assumes that only a utilitarian interest in his person -or, more exactly, his social persona- would move her to accept his proposal. Hence his closing remarks: «Cien escudos traigo aquí en oro para daros en arra y señal de lo que pienso daros; porque no ha de negar la hacienda el que da el alma» (84).

As shown in Juan's discourse, an ethos of pleasure often works in tandem with an ethos of utility in matters of social interaction and exchange. Indeed, his offer of marriage, as well as his status and money, number him among the «noblest» members of an urban audience that is shown willing to part with exorbitant amounts of cash   —57→   in exchange for the pleasure of beholding one of the gypsy girl's performances. Juan, like his father, is generous in his treatment of the gypsies. Yet it is also clear, especially from his proneness to jealousy, that he aims to purchase Preciosa as though she were property. Further, the shortcomings of his status as a «rendido» find textual reinforcement in his surname, Cárcamo, which suggests «cara de camote», with the latter term denoting infatuation. The «camo» of Cárcamo may likewise allude to the utilitarian, pleasure-centered quality of his marriage proposal, since it recalls the word «camón», which denotes a pricey, oversize bed.

Nonetheless, an important dimension of Cervantes's portrait of social intercourse in La gitanilla lies in his showing how the habitual interaction among individual characters occurs, in large measure, as a function of social structures, or social fictions. Put another way, the tendency of, say, the abuela and Juan to base their social behavior on an ethos of either pleasure or utility may be a product of individual psychology; but such behavior is at least to a comparable degree a product of their cultural environment. If the novella represents the urban society of Madrid in thrall to the principle of utility -«donde todo se compra y todo se vende»- it also represents the gypsy rancho as a society in which pleasure is the ultimate principle and a debased, male pleasure is the ultimate law.

The utilitarian ethos of urban society is nowhere more evident than in the moment after Juan kills an insolent soldier, who affronts Juan's honor by slapping the young gypsy-noble in the face. The soldier, it turns out, is a nephew of the local mayor, who agrees to drop all action against the youth in exchange for a promissory note of «mil ducados» (133). As a product of urban society, Juan is shown to be cut from the same cloth as other members of his class, and in particular from that of his father, don Francisco, who successfully negotiates a position as corregidor by the end of the tale. This character seems unable to understand his son's decision to wed the protagonist, whose former name and persona are exchanged for those of Constanza de Azevedo, except in terms of utility and, to a lesser degree, pleasure:

[S]upo don Francisco de Cárcamo ser su hijo el gitano y ser la Preciosa la gitanilla que él había visto, cuya hermosura disculpó con él la liviandad de su hijo...; y más porque vio cuán bien estaba el casarse con hija de tan gran caballero y tan rico como era don Fernando de Azevedo.

(134, emphasis added)


Whether we enlist the categories of exchange theorists or those of Aristotle, both social theories are predicated upon the pursuit of what the Greeks called «eudaimonia», sometimes rendered as «happiness», in Spanish as «felicidad», but which may also be rendered as «blessedness». In any event, a lesser form of «eudaimonia» is the pleasure of contentment and diversion (in Spanish, «alegría»); likewise, a lesser form of friendship is a «friendly relation» based on the pleasure of camaraderie or companionship (Aristotle 1156a-b; 211-12). Both these lesser forms of «friendly relations» mark the social intercourse that occurs within the gypsy rancho. For instance, one need only recall what seem to be the daily contests «de pelota, de esgrima, de correr, de saltar, de tirar la barra y de otros ejercicios de fuerza, maña y ligereza» (117) to realize that Cervantes's gypsies are willing to throw a party at the slightest provocation. What is more, diversion is shown to be their primary mode of social behavior. As to the nature and less-than-virtuous basis of their «friendly relations», Juan states that he prefers to remain alone when he steals («hurtar por sí solo»); and yet, in response: «Procuraron los gitanos disuadirle deste propósito, diciéndole que le podrían suceder ocasiones donde fuese necesaria la compañía, así para acometer como para defenderse» (107, emphasis added).

A demonic, rather than eudemonic feature of the gypsies' social structure consists of their relegating women, by law, to the status of sexual chattle. In the words of the gypsy elder: «Pocas cosas tenemos que no sean comunes a todos, excepto la mujer o la amiga» (101, emphasis added). And further: «nosotros somos los jueces y los verdugos de nuestras esposas y amigas; con la misma facilidad las matamos y las enterramos por las montañas y desiertos como si fueran animales nocivos» (101). The women are useful, as «amigas», to the extent that they provide men with «friendly relations» based on animal pleasure. Moreover, an example of dramatic irony, the elder's final statement about the rancho's juridical structure reveals that it leads to something other than «blessedness» or «felicidad»: «Con estas y con otras leyes y estatutos nos conservamos y vivimos alegres» (101, emphasis added).

At first, it seems puzzling that the social behavior of the abuela, a gypsy, should be governed largely by the urban-like principle of utility, in much the same way as the behavior of a caballero, Juan, should be governed by the gypsy-like principle of pleasure. Yet, besides their underscoring how an ethos of pleasure goes hand in hand with an ethos of utility, these characters reflect the interaction between their respective societies. At times, those societies seem to be   —59→   at peace. Their exchanges then involve positive sanctions: the pleasure of gypsy entertainment for the utility of urban cash. The structure of «positive» relations obtaining between the two societies leads Juan to offer Preciosa an increase of status and wealth in exchange for marriage, even as it leads the abuela to offer the atractivos of her «granddaughter» to the predominantly male audience of Madrid in exchange for money.

Most often, however, the city and the rancho are in a state of tension, analogous to war. When Preciosa demands that Juan live as a gypsy for two years before he can marry her, she informs him that this will entail «entrar a ser soldado de nuestra milicia» (86, emphasis added). As a norm, exchanges between the two societies involve both the psychological threat and physical reality of negative sanctions: the city's infliction of corporal and capital punishment and the gypsies' infliction of theft. In his portrait of the ambivalent relations between city and rancho, Cervantes lets the reader infer the roots of corruption in both societies, as well as the corrupting influence of each society on the other. Even so, it would prove difficult to hold that Cervantes's two societies are corrupt in either the same manner or to the same degree.

To be sure, when they are arrested for stealing, the gypsies' only means of avoiding punishment is to bribe an official with the goods they steal. As she explains to both Preciosa and Juan, the abuela is an expert in the practice of exchange who has learned to combine the fine art of bribery with an eye for value and knowledge of the money market:

Tres veces por tres delitos diferentes me he visto casi puesta en el asno para ser azotada, y de la una me libró un jarro de plata, y de la otra una sarta de perlas, y de la otra cuarenta reales de a ocho que había trocado por cuartos, dando veinte reales más por el cambio.

(88, emphasis added)

That officials should accept bribes at all -and the abuela indicates that they do so often- is surely a sign of the city's corruption. But it seems even more sinister for an official to accept goods that he knows to be stolen from his fellow citizens. For such a practice amounts to his stealing those goods himself, but without having to suffer either danger or risk. Furthermore, that practice can only encourage the gypsies to continue stealing, which in turn encourages officials to continue taking bribes. More important, and more explicit, urban society's treatment of the gypsies reveals a lack of charity and an abundance of bigotry. The abuela observes both the charity   —60→   and the personal and legal «values» underlying the behavior of urban officials, whom she prefers to call «ministros de la muerte»:

Más precian pelarnos y desollarnos a nosotras [las gitanas] que a un salteador de caminos; jamás, por más rotas y desastradas que nos vean, nos tienen por pobres; que dicen que somos como los jubones de los gabachos de Belmonte: rotos y grasientos, y llenos de doblones.

(89, emphasis added)

In confirmation of the abuela's remarks, the officials of Murcia decide to arrest all the gypsies after Juana Carducha falsely accuses Juan, alias Andrés the gypsy, of stealing her valuables. Clearly, the impulse behind this action is the bigoted view, shared by the story's narrator, that all gypsies are alike; that all gypsies steal; and that the only good gypsy is a gypsy in jail or on the gallows.

Nonetheless, as put forth in the novella, there is little reason to believe that removing corrupt officials and the threat of punishment would remove the counterthreat of gypsy theft. According to the gypsy elder, members of the rancho pride themselves on living off the land; on being at one with nature and free from the material and psychological encumbrances of civilization. Stealing, for them, is less a means of survival than a form of diversion and a source of mildly sadistic pleasure. What is more, in the gypsy society, charity is not only suppressed, but virtually forbidden by law and custom, or what the narrator calls, in seeming paraphrase of the gypsies, «sus estatutos y ordenanzas, que prohibían la entrada a la caridad en sus pechos» (107). To varying degrees, Cervantes's societies seem to partake of what emerges as a Satanic economy, in accord with Christianity's understanding of the devil's plan for humanity's perdition -a plan that apes the divine economy, and in which discord supplants grace. Implicit in the negative portrayal of social interaction that seeks utility and pleasure at the expense of amity and charity is the famed tolerance of Cervantes's discourse, which consistently represents the radical equality, or the infinite «value», of all human beings: male or female, gypsy or non-gypsy. Yet it also represents a discourse which consistently refuses either to preach or to assert the moral equivalence of all discursive and ethical systems, all human action, and all social structures. In the words of Peter Dunn: «No hay que preferir la Naturaleza caída al mundo civilizado por el arte» (95). Hence, in La gitanilla, the city's social relations are shown to be fraught with hypocrisy, the tribute that a vitiated society pays to amity, charity and virtue. Lacking hypocrisy, the gypsy society is shown to be guilty, not only of vice, but also of withholding payment.


Yet, in a reversal of expectations, it is the gypsies themselves who, despite the officially demonic laws of their rancho, show greater charity in practice than the inhabitants of urban society36. Fittingly enough, Juan himself recognizes this fact, in the teeth of conventional expectations and «appearances», when, acting as a spokesman for his gypsy «fellows», he assures Clemente that they will provide him with lodging and nurse him back to health: «aunque somos gitanos, no lo parecemos en la caridad» (108, emphasis added)37. In short, the gypsies are often morally above, just as the members of urban society are below, what their laws officially preach.

III. Gypsy Nobles, Noble Gypsies and Preciosa: The Economy and Poetics of Amity

Preciosa represents the main, though largely hidden, agent of the narrative's last phase, which begins when Juan arrives at the rancho to fulfill the condiciones that the protagonist set for their courtship, and when he foresakes his former name and status in exchange for those of Andrés Caballero, the gypsy. What the aristocratic youth has yet to understand, at this point in our tale, is that his becoming, with the possibility of remaining, a gypsy also signals the «condition» for his attaining nobility of what Aristotle would call a «virtuous» sort. This nobility, which his beloved already possesses, both complements and demotes his «noble» blood, and his legal rank in society. Thus, his process of spiritual change, conditioned by his change of rank and costume, parallels the attainment of purely juridical nobility by the protagonist, who appears in what conventional wisdom perceives as the lowly guise of a «little gypsy girl».

Though it remains private, off-stage, and out-of-frame, the transformative courtship of our «gypsy» lovers allows us to observe how an ethos of amity comes to purify rather than replace exchanges of utility and pleasure -a case of how personal, artistic and divine grace are able to change, by perfecting, nature (Forcione 157-84; Dunn 95). But such purification represents a gain, rather than a loss, for the other two types of social intercourse. The protagonist, whom the narrator finds desenvuelta -or more than a tad suggestive,   —62→   perhaps even seductive, in the way she performs her dances and songs, especially in the house of the lieutenant- looks upon her own virginity as a valuable article (prenda) which she longs to invest, within the context of a nuptial economy, in order to yield nothing less than a bonanza of erotic pleasure and, likewise, profit in the form of offspring: «emplearla en ferias que felices ganancias prometen» (86, emphasis added). In other words, she shares none of the narrator's prudery, and therefore none of what may be the prurience which his prudery strives to conceal. Her refusal to indulge the inhabitants of the lieutenant's household with another performance without proper payment, or to return to his home, likewise indicates that Preciosa has no aversion to money. From the enlightened vantage of the reader, the esterilidad which the narrator attributes to the lieutenant and his wife is, of course, no less monetary than biological and spiritual (79). The unfolding purification of the love and «friendly relations» between Preciosa and Juan, splendidly analyzed in Alban Forcione's study of the novella, is surely no allegory, as that critic points out. Rather, it puts forth a unique analogy of a continuing process of social interaction, open to both perversion and improvement; a process that is driven by desire and that engages relations of power.

It seems plausible to argue that, in Cervantes's work, the reality of power is dramatized in a way that accords with its two Latin equivalents, as both «power to», potentia, and «power over», potestas. These two forms of power are inseparable yet distinct. Though the terms are often interchangeable, depending on context -like almost every term, name and image in Cervantes's tale- the first term, potentia, akin to its contemporary English derivatives «potential» and «potentiality», and the preferred term of Spain's Neo-Scholastics in metaphysical and theological matters, evokes the array of abilities that human beings possess as a result of their nature, their talents, and their acquired knowledge, habits and skills. Potestas, which Cobarruvias likens to «poderío» in his definition of «poder» (875), properly signifies the possibility of action, a variation of potentia, but considered in reference to the place one holds with respect to other members of the same social configuration. It involves the ability, not the necessity, to coerce other persons by means of what exchange theorists call negative sanctions. Hence, the measure of one's freedom, a central theme of Cervantes's novella and the whole of his discourse, consists of the greater or lesser hindrance, by potestas, to the enactment of one's potentia, through the use of one's libre albedrío, or free will.


As the drive behind all social exchange in La gitanilla, desire displays a twofold appeal: first, to self-preservation, autonomy, conservation and gain, akin to what Bataille calls «homogeneity»; next, to surrender, communion, expenditure and loss, akin to what the same author calls «heterogeneity» (Richardson 91-94; Richman 40-60, 61). Rather than an allegory, the friendship and love that progressively unfold between Juan and Preciosa provide a particular instance of how an ethos of amity comes to purify the «lesser» types of «friendly relations», and so to unite a maximum of freedom to a maximum of power, in both senses. Further, an ethos of amity is what permits the joining of the protagonists' private drama to the general and divine economies, and to do so in a paradoxical fashion that reconciles the seemingly contrary impulses of desire toward self-expansion and self-loss (see Clamurro 55-60).

Throughout the novella, Cervantes's imagery and onomastic play links Preciosa to material objects of value, especially to precious jewels, as many critics have observed. But, as Peter Dunn explains in his enlightening study, her gypsy name, actions and circumstance also recall two successive parables in the thirteenth chapter of Matthew's gospel: 1) the treasure hidden the field; and 2) the pearl of great price (96), most commonly expressed in Spanish as «la perla preciosa» or «la margarita preciosa». Hence the auto sacramental by Lope de Vega, La margarita preciosa, in which Christ assumes a jointly eschatological and commercial role as «mercader de la gloria»38. It is pertinent to remember that both parables concern nothing less momentous than «the kingdom of heaven». Such biblical imagery therefore associates Preciosa with infinite longing and with the promise of salvation itself: «the universal redemption of man and history» (Forcione 223). Furthermore, in Cervantes's work, as in Christian mythopeia, the process of salvation occurs within a framework of nuptials, through the mediation of the Word: the marriage between heaven and earth; God and soul; Christ and Church; and the union of self and other, in the Mystical Body. Through such «marriages», the divine economy both joins and continues to sanctify its human counterparts.

It is hardly incidental that, during their courtship, the chief medium of exchange between Preciosa and Juan should be, not   —64→   money, but what the narrator calls razones. Further, in both the mode and medium of their exchange, it soon becomes clear that Juan and Preciosa enjoy an equal share of potentia and potestas. Hence, they contradict the prevailing ethos of their contemporary societies, in which maleness, wealth and noble birth -that is, just the opposite of everything that Preciosa, as a gypsy, embodies- entitle one to dominate the symbols of discourse, which codify and determine all other forms of social behavior and social exchange, including the distribution of persons in marriage.

Yet the narrator relates almost nothing of what Juan and Preciosa tell each other in their intimate conversations. Indeed, his report about the content of their verbal exchanges is reducible to the statement: «They spoke». Not so about the effect of those exchanges. For, more than lexical words, razones are perhaps better understood as enunciations in discourse which unfold, in time, to reveal the state of the sender's mind and heart: potentially, human analogues of the Word, or the Christian deity's perfect act of self-expression. The narrator's use of imperfects and progressives underscores the exchange of razones as a process, whereby an ethos of amity forges an enduring bond, not only of erotic love, but especially of friendship between «persons of virtue»: «Pasaba Andrés con Preciosa honestos, discretos y enamorados coloquios, y ella poco a poco se iba enamorando de la discreción y buen trato de su amante, y él, del mismo modo, si pudiera crecer su amor, fuera creciendo» (107-8, emphasis added). In the case of the two lovers, that process also yields to mutual happiness, which may move beyond an exchange of razones: «Desta manera [...] iba[n] los amantes gozosos con sólo mirarse» (108).

Although, in both a physical and cultural sense, our protagonists are obliged to spend what ter Horst calls «une saison en enfer», the real setting for their exchanges of amity, which yield a friendship of virtue and conjugal love, is a locus that oversteps, without leaving, the geographic and legal boundaries of both the urban and gypsy societies. Preciosa is a kidnapped child -legally, in urban society, something like a stolen article- of noble birth who thinks herself a gypsy. Yet, saying more than she knows, our protagonist asserts that her spiritual «condiciones rompen leyes», and that she answers to a higher authority than that of an authoritarian license, or the abuse of potestas in any society, whether gypsy or «civilized»: «no me rijo por la bárbara e insolente licencia que estos mis parientes se han tomado» (104, emphasis added).

In similar fashion, Juan freely relinquishes his present, and potentially his future, status, name and estate -all in exchange for the   —65→   possibility of marrying a gypsy. Thus he agrees, in word alone, to form part of the gypsy militia; yet in practice he refuses to steal, and thus rejects the very basis of the gypsy society's self-definition and perverse camaraderie. More important, Juan knows and repeats almost beyond enduring that no man can «preciarse de caballero» if he willingly tells an untruth. Yet, in order to pursue an ethos of amity, involving a love that blends romantic attraction and virtuous friendship, he must lie to his father -to his domestic representative of a society, and a family, governed by an ethos and discourse of utility. He misspends the verbal capital which secures his familial status and his social rank, thus ceasing to «preciarse de caballero», or to overestimate the value of his juridical nobility. The structures of both societies (in part the products, in part the producers, of discourse) put him in the position of having to abuse razones if he is to use them properly, to tell a lie if he is to live the truth. Later, it is his upbringing as a member of the nobility -or was it his noble blood?- that leads him to commit murder. And because of the ethos which structures his society, Juan's recovery of social status requires, not strict justice, but a warped species of forgiveness, which takes the forms of utilitarian clemency from his father and of purchased clemency, from a city official, by means of a legal note.

The use and misuse of both oral and written discourse is surely pivotal to all the novella's exchanges. In that fictional world, razones often aim at concealing rather than revealing the mind and ethos of the sender. Consider, for instance, Juan Carducha's lie, rooted in lust, and Clemente's poems, enfolding gold coins for Preciosa (intended as pre-payment for what, exactly?). In the work which opens Cervantes's collection of tales -«exemplary» models of how persons both fashion and read their tales and life-tales- we discover a figuration of how discourse involves the deployment of razones in artful attempts to order the unfolding of one's own life, and to influence the lives of others, for better or worse. Whether we focus on the utility principle of the abuela, the pleasure principle of Juan (begging Freud's pardon), the amity principle of Preciosa, or the principles which inform the behavior of supernumerary characters, what we confront in each case is a social ethos that entails a strategy of narrative emplotment, differing in the extent of its controlling, alluring or amicable aims. Similarly, the social structures governing interaction within and between the two societies stand, in the main, as coercive framing devices, on the analogy of generic forms, which arrange potestas in a perverse fashion. Hence, they work to curtail or misdirect the potentia and the twofold desire of their subjects.


As the largely hidden agent of amity, working from her own and Juan's place apart, Preciosa nurtures in both the abuela and her suitor a willingness, not only to give, but to give up the plots which reduced her to the status of a character or inferior player, as well as their possessions and even their persons, in exchange for a salvific life-narrative of superior ethical and aesthetic value. Forsaking a calculus of cost and reward, the abuela freely commits, after much pondering, what is potentially an act of physical annihilation in the service of charity, love and friendship, in order to effect an exchange that transforms her listeners' sadness into joy:

Y al cabo de toda esta suspensión y imaginación, dijo: -Espérenme vuesas mercedes, señores míos, un poco, que yo haré que estos llantos se conviertan en risa, aunque a mí me cueste la vida.

(126, emphasis added)

In a similar link between exchange, annihilation and conversion, Juan expresses his urgent request to marry Preciosa, just when he believes the authorities are going to put him to death: «¿cómo no me desposan primero? Y si me han de desposar, por cierto que es muy malo el tálamo que me espera» (131, emphasis added). So, as against his former mode of plotting the «friendly relations» between his beloved and himself, based on a principle of pleasure, he is eager to wear the «shackles» of matrimony («desposar»), and to exchange a marriage bed («tálamo») for a nuptial altar («tálamo»), upon which he is the victim to be slain. Both Juan and the abuela unknowingly repeat the example of Preciosa, whose Christ-like offer of surrender occurs before that of the other two characters. As she says, referring to Juan: «Él no tiene culpa; pero si la tiene, déseme a mí la pena» (126). Moreover, when events lead her to exchange her gypsy for her aristocratic person, she also hands over authorial control of her life-narrative to the norms, and flaws, of the prevailing culture, represented in the person, and actions, of her father.

If it is true that he welcomes his child in a spirit of love and benevolence, it is also true that this author-character abuses his power as corregidor, by lying to Juan about his own daughter. He does so, not only for the purpose of testing the youth, but also for the pleasure of watching him quake out of fear for his life. Further, he also discloses a utility -and pleasure- based inclination to view his daughter as property. After his wife encourages him to «give her» to Juan in marriage, «dársela por esposa», he balks: «Gocémosla algún tiempo; que en casándola, no será nuestra, sino de su marido» (129, 130; emphasis added). Yet, when he does consent to the marriage,   —67→   the father, too, must relinquish authorial control, in submitting, by means of the wedding banns, to the nuptial and salvific narrative of «Mother Church». Hence, as dramatized in the protagonists, the abuela and the main character's father, the fictional world of La gitanilla makes power, in its fullest sense, the result of submission, surrender and service to others and, even more drastically, the absolute Other, in an act of total self-expenditure.

In her hidden accomplishments as an agent of amity and charity in fallen societies -or as a treasure in the field- Preciosa therefore does her part to reflect Christianity's nuptial emplotment of salvation, in which, as mother and bride of Christ, the Church spiritually bears and nurtures her children for beatitude. She thus induces Juan to frame his life-narrative after the model of the divine bridegroom, whose spousal duties entail the surrender of his life, or the death of one's «aristocratic» (royal) self in exchange for the life and elevation of others to «noble» status. Besides the portrait of Juan in prison, where he is pilloried and in shackles, other images of crucifixion link him to Christ's passion. Like other caballeros in the tale, Juan is proud to point the cross-shaped insignia of knighthood, symbolic of commitments both religious and secular, which he wears over his heart (Forcione 195-6). The imagery involving cruces also occurs in the novella's frequent reference to the tail-side of coins («cruces») and to payment, or exchange, in money, service or merchandise («hacer la cruz»). The second half of Juan's gypsy pseudonym, Andrés Caballero, recalls the chivalric imagery, and is complemented by its first half, since pious legend holds that St. Andrew was the only apostle to be crucified in the manner of Jesus. Andrew's brother, Peter, was crucified face down. In yet another expenditure, and exchange, of onomastic capital, Juan's surname as a caballero is reminiscent of «carcaj», which is a baldric used to hold a crucifix in religious processions.

In miniature, the authorial agency of Preciosa, a product of the authorial agency of Cervantes, reflects the role of the feminine principle in both narrative and nuptial economies which are wider in scope. In her two performances before a large, urban public, the protagonist celebrates in poetry, dance and song the glories of the queen, Margarita de Austria, «en el valor y en el nombre rica y admirable joya», and of St. Anne, «árbol preciosísimo» (67; 64, emphasis added; Forcione 208-9). The first woman is, of course, the national emblem: both a «Margarita» and «preciosa». The second woman is the mother of Mary, the new Eve, who is in turn the mother of a new, grace-filled humanity because mother of the Christian Messiah. In a   —68→   startling chain of images, Preciosa describes St. Anne as «casa de moneda, do se forjó el cuño que dio a Dios la forma que como hombre tuvo» (65). From the poem, and from a commonplace, economy-oriented line of biblical and theological discourse concerning humankind's redemption from sin, it follows that, as St. Anne is the mint and Mary the stamp, so Christ is the coin which overpays the price of humanity's debt to the deity, through an extravagant, non-rational expenditure of what Christian discourse calls his precious body and precious blood. The performance of these poems provokes the most clamorous applause of any in the novella, and also elicits a child-like request to «do it again». And so she does, responding to the underlying cause of such pleas. For both performances quicken, please and frustrate the «heterogeneous», erotic yearning of her audience to form part of a collective «I», a cosmic dance (Dunn 97), a divine body, spent in willing sacrifice, and a divine utterance, with Preciosa in the role as mediator.

The imagery and onomastics of the novella also establish a crucial link between Preciosa and Poetry (Forcione 215-22), which Clemente describes as «una joya preciosísima» and «una bellísima doncella, casta, honesta, discreta» (91, emphasis added). As demonstrated by the poets in the fictional world who continually offer the gift of telling and re-telling the «extraño caso» about «la gitanilla» -a clear allusion, though in a different genre, to the tale-as-gift we have before us- both poetry and this narrative poem belong to an intermediate locus which recalls that of our protagonists during their courtship. More specifically, Preciosa «embodies» poetry in general, the poems she performs, the poems which others recite about her, the narrator's «historical» account of both her courtship and social transformation, and the fictional tale, La gitanilla, by the empirical author, Miguel de Cervantes. As a form of ocio or leisurely exchange of razones in discourse, both poetry and this tale about poetry -of which Preciosa is at once protagonist and emblem- seek to animate desire from within a system of artistic exchange, which operates between what Cervantes's Prologue puts forth as a sacred economy proper to «los templos» and a utilitarian economy of «negocio» («Prólogo» 52). As represented in both the protagonist and her tale, poetry and its exchanges thus provide the aesthetic distance and the social connection required to renew or re-order our loyalties and longings. Both within and through Cervantes's novella, the production, distribution and consumption of verbal artworks operate, after the manner of «grace», as an exchange of gifts, within a system of social exchange that is animated by personal and collective   —69→   desire -a «general economy» in which self-transformation is wedded to surrender; autonomy and freedom, to communion; and redemption and reward, to expenditure and loss.

As a complement to a poetics of reciprocal desire, and mutual surrender, the novella sets forth a poetics of reciprocal power at its most self-conscious level of both narration and discourse. Si eber is surely right to point out that readers of La gitanilla are likely to be curious and confused by a love story that begins as a tale about thieves («Introducción», 18). But this false start is, at bottom, the mistake of a narrator who, like his mistake, is the product of artistic design.

Sharing the prejudices and utilitarian principles of his social environment, Cervantes's narrator assumes that to write about gypsies is to write about thieves. He even uses terminology of Scholastic metaphysics to liken stealing, in gypsies, to an essential attribute: «la gana del hurtar y el hurtar son en ellos como ac[c]identes inseparables» (61, emphasis added; Flynn 29-31). Since the data of his story fail to bear this out, his first word is a disclaimer for his entire narrative: «Parece». Thus, too, the last paragraph of his narrative, unable to frame its own story, begins: «Olvidábaseme de decir...». He asumes, further, that the chastity of Preciosa and Juan's aversion to stealing must have their source in the nobility of their blood, even as he is forced to describe the corruption of aristocratic society. And, finally, he both assumes and repeats, time and again, the popular acclaims of the gypsy girl's «hermosura». As Camamis notes, in a reading that interprets La gitanilla as an exercise in neo-pagan secularism, and sidesteps Cervantes's tendency both to Christianize and de-mythologize classical imagery, Preciosa's green eyes and the dimple in the middle of her chin, as well as other, non-physical traits, are reminiscent of Boticelli's portrait of Venus, the archetype of both humanity and feminine beauty (203-4). But we also learn, from the little that the narrator seems to know about her physical features, that the protagonist has a white birthmark under her left breast «ya grande, que con el tiempo se había dilatado» (128), and a fleshy membrane that joins two toes on her right foot. At the close of our tale, it is these traits which identify her, not as an archetype, but as an individual, and as a uniquely Cervantine refashioning of Venus. In short, a simulated child of his time and society, the narrator writes within a conceptual framework that can encompass only the most typical, or exemplary, «facts» of his narrative.

Hence, through his narrator, Cervantes provides something like a wavering voice for the cultural fiction which grants superior value to the «stamp», or the «inseparable accidents», of nobility and   —70→   maleness. It is a fiction which seeks to reduce the value of, say, gypsies and women to that of utility and pleasure, lessens or precludes the potential for amity in our «friendly relations», and frames both the emplotment and reading of human behavior to yield a coercive, if incoherent, narrative of social life. But Cervantes also supplies, through the inadequacies of his narrator, a self-conscious circumstance of poetic exchange between author and reader, in which both enjoy a type of potestas that is equal in degree, yet different in kind.

Owing to their power over the tale, readers are both free and, in a sense, obliged to invest the protagonist, and all she represents, with their own understanding of ethical and aesthetic value. Not that such an enterprise is lacking in risk. The text is fraught with come-hither ploys to dichotomous thinking, like the ethos which guides the «work» of the narrator -inducements to frame and evaluate this tale, a complex hybrid of both romance and picaresque, as either one or the other. For example, we may sense an urge to decide, once and for all, whether the protagonists move from a site of arcadian frolic and innocence, among the gypsies, to a site of hypocrisy, graft and urban corruption. Or we may sense a pull to interpret the moral of our «exemplary» story as one of deliverance from the demonic to the salvific; from base to noble blood; from poverty to wealth; from chaos to order; from «putative» to legitimate parents; from gypsy inferno -rife with incest, murder and torture- to civilized utopia and familial hearth. In either of these extreme interpretations, we shall have «forgotten» something, in a futile effort to halt the dialectic of poetic and critical exchange, of which our novella is, indeed, a prime example. For Cervantes's tale nowhere indicates that the couple lived happily ever after, but only that they lived, in a fallen yet redeemable world of males and females, gypsies, commoners, clerics and nobles, and that people continued to tell and re-tell the story of their «strange» courtship. The exemplarity of our non-coercive tale aims less at producing a definitive reading than at proposing its own act of fiction and, so, poetry and narrative in general, as a chance to re-negotiate our standards of evaluation, whether ethical or aesthetic.

In Preciosa's many spectators, and in the narrator of her tale, we observe how methods of both producing and consuming discourse will vary according to the purity, or prurience, of their source. What is more, the novella suggests that the offerings of poetry, narrative and reading, are apt to expose defects in their contributors on the analogy of swelling birth-marks and webbed feet. But the novella also suggests, through its tale's simulations of poetic performance,   —71→   that the place of poetry in the order of social exchange grants us both the means and opportunity to pay our debts of solidarity and communion -to retain the privilege, yet ease the poverty, of our noble-humble rank as individuals. In the gift of its tale and its readings, the novella exemplifies how our most valuable exchanges are powerful deeds of amity and surrender that, moved by a yearning for the gain of self-loss, we transact in verbal coin.

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