A Spanish mosaic

Tesserae
April 14, 1995

No manifesto comes with this new review, but the title will make do as one. Tesserae are the building blocks of a mosaic, in this case bits and pieces of the languages and literatures that make up the rich texture of the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America.

Tesserae's contributors look at texts in the broad sense acquired since deconstruction and historicism, using political and social context, sociology, film studies, social analysis of language, as well as allowing one or two value judgements to creep in about the excellence of the work under discussion. Of the seven articles (all of uniform quality), two are written in Portuguese, one in Catalan, and the rest in English. Especially welcome are the concise well-balanced book reviews that tell readers what they need to know while minimising the reviewers' prejudices or pedantry. In fact, while full of learning, this is a relatively unpedantic journal.

Sebastian Balfour, in a study of the terms "intellectual" and "masses" as commonly employed in journals and novels at the turn of the century, notes the uneasy alliance between the two groups, the elite tending to well-meaning idealism, the latter finally favouring direct action after the Barcelona general strike of 1910. Their failure to communicate, to a certain extent occasioned, as Ortega frankly admitted, by the refusal of the intellectuals to descend from their peaks and mingle in the sweaty valleys, hovers over the background of the Spanish Civil War.

Writing in Portuguese, Luis de Sousa Rebelo juxtaposes the viewpoint of Pessoa's heteronym Caeiro on Portugalidade, expressed at the beginning of this century, with books by contemporary Portuguese writers at this coming turn of the century when Portugal's position in the world has retreated to what it was in 1415.

Rikki Morgan points out how Victor Erice's latest film (El sol del membrillo, 1992) represents an effort to fix reality in the cinema by filming a painter painting a quince tree, following diligently the painterly routine and the tree's own existence throughout the seasons.

In 1923 the Guatemalan Nobel Prize winner Miguel Angel Asturias wrote a thesis entitled El problema social del indio, in which, under the influence of Gustave Le Bon, he lamented the decadence of the indigenous population of Guatemala and called for a planned mestizaje as the only way to cure his country's ills. It is a racist stage in Asturias's development which makes his later reverence for Maya culture in the celebrated Hombres de maiz (1949) all the more remarkable, so says Stephen Henigham.

Writing in Catalan, Jodri Larios analyzes the newspaper articles by Llorenc Villalonga, the Majorcan novelist and playwright. Written between 1924 and 1931 in response to the famous debate between Ortega and Baroja on the nature of the novel, they throw light on Villalonga's most famous work Mort de Dama (1931), a caricature of Majorcan life.

William E. Rowe offers a brilliant analysis of how Nicanor Parra's Poemas y antipoemas, a key book in the history of Latin American poetry in the 20th century, eludes any framing, mixes several levels of discourse, and allows his poems to become an intersection of discourse in the social analysis of language.

Finally, Carlos Ceia, writing in Portuguese, looks at the anti-clericalism in Antero de Quental and Eca de Queiros through their letters and works, as an effort to return to pure Christianity.

Howard Young is professor of romance languages, Pomona College, Claremont, California.

Tesserae: Journal of Iberian and Latin-American Studies, Volume One, Issue One

Editor - Catrin Redknap
ISBN - ISSN 13500 7494
Publisher - School of European Studies, University of Wales
Price - £20.00 (individuals); £60.00 (institutions)
Pages - -

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