Volume 7, Number 2

July 2009

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Joycean Aesthetics in Spanish Literature(1)

By Marisol Morales Ladrón(2)



James Joyce is undoubtedly one of the most influential writers of contemporary literature. Although his production has been studied in relation to that of other canonical authors such as William Faulkner, Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, John Dos Passos, or Thomas Mann, to name only a few, the comparison of his work with that of other Spanish writers has only recently began to receive some critical attention. Spanish letters were, however, surprisingly early in their acknowledgement of Joyce's achievements, which began even before Ulysses had been published in book form in Paris in 1922. Interest in the innovations propounded by Joyce emerged in Spain earlier than in other European countries and continued for several decades till writers in the line of Luis Martín-Santos —with his masterpiece Tiempo de silencio (1962) [Time of Silence]— followed in Joyce's footsteps, experimenting with language and style in a manner akin to Joyce. The purpose of my discussion, therefore, is firstly to offer an account of the process of transmission of James Joyce's work in Spain from the early twenties to the sixties, and secondly, to analyse the nature of the innovations of writers from the sixties onwards, when the renewal of Spanish prose narrative involved the incorporation of Joycean literary devices and aesthetics.

That James Joyce was one of the most influential writers of twentieth-century literature need not be debated. Although his literary production has been studied in relation to such canonical authors as William Faulkner, Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka, Virginia Woolf, John Dos Passos, Alfred Döblin and Thomas Mann, to name only a few, the comparison of his work with that of Spanish writers has only recently begun to receive the critical attention it deserves.(3) Spanish letters were surprisingly early in their recognition of Joyce’s achievements, which began even before Ulysses had been published in Paris in 1922. Likewise, interest in the innovations propounded by Joyce emerged in Spain prior to in other European countries and continued for several decades until authors of the likes of Luis Martín-Santos – with his masterpiece Tiempo de silencio (Time of Silence) (1962) – followed in Joyce’s footsteps, experimenting with language and style in a manner akin to those of the Irish author. The purpose of this article, therefore, is first to offer an account of the creative reception of James Joyce in Spanish literature from the early 1920s to the 1960s, and, second, to analyse the nature of the innovations undertaken by writers from the 1960s onwards, when the renewal of Spanish narrative involved the incorporation of Joycean literary devices and techniques.

Although I will focus on the influence of Joyce’s literary production on the Spanish literary panorama throughout my article, I will briefly comment on the impact of Joyce’s work on the overall Hispanic world, which turned out to be a phenomenon of amazingly wide proportions. In Latin America, writers like Jorge Luis Borges (4), Julio Cortázar, Miguel Ángel Asturias, Alejo Carpentier, Juan Rulfo, José Lezama Lima, Agustín Yáñez, Leopoldo Marechal, Mario Vargas Llosa, Juan Carlos Onetti and Carlos Fuentes, among many others, incorporated Joycean aesthetics in their writings. Robin Fiddian suggests that Joyce played a consequential role in the evolution of the Latin American fiction of the thirties, sixties and seventies, and, especially, in the development of the ‘new novel’ since ‘the Joycean novel became both generally writable and unavoidable’ (1989, 23). Accordingly, Carlos Fuentes argued that the process of ‘joyceisation’ or ‘joycismo’ in Latin American literature attained a continental magnitude (1976, p. 108) (5). In Spain, a survey of attempts to assimilate Joyce’s narrative innovations also became a fruitful endeavour. Already in the early twenties, news about the ongoing process of Joyce’s writings and their impact on the future of the Spanish novel had arisen as an issue widely discussed in influential journals such as La Pluma (The Pen), El Imparcial (The Impartial), La Gaceta Literaria (The Literary Gazette) and Revista de Occidente (Review of the West), among others. It should not surprise us, then, that the following generations of writers displayed in their writings a mode of narrative experimentation that could easily be compared to that of Joyce.

I will first concentrate on the creative reception of the Irish writer in the early years. From the twenties onwards, interest in Joyce’s accomplishment was significant and many a writer experimented with techniques and devices that would later be associated with Joycean aesthetics. This is the case of Ramón del Valle-Inclán, Juan Ramón Jiménez and some of the members of the Generation of 1927, authors to whom I will return later. In the same decade, particularly significant was the reception of Joyce by a group of Galician writers who supported the Irish Literary Renaissance (6) because of its peripheral location, its nationalism and their shared Celtic origins. Ironically enough, Joyce had rejected the Irish nationalist movement and had maintained that his self-imposed exile enabled him to preserve his artistic integrity, in contrast with the narrow provincialism of contemporaries like W. B. Yeats, Lady Gregory or J. M. Synge. Vicente Risco, the editor of the Galician journal Nós (Ourselves) – who had devoted several issues to Ireland and to its relations with Galicia between 1921 and 1926 – published in 1929 a rhetorical exercise based on the recreation of Joyce’s major protagonist, Stephen Dedalus. In his ‘Dedalus en Compostela’ ('Dedalus in Compostela'), Stephen goes through his final adventure in Galicia. The main purpose of his visit to this town, as the last pilgrim who is preparing to die on the Celtic fields, is to abide by the pact that he had made with the devil. Curiously enough, Risco had referred to Joyce in similar terms: ‘one might think – if one can describe him in that way – that he has made a pact with the Devil’ (7). Apart from this story, Risco also wrote a short narrative, O porco de pe (A standing pig) (1928), which also shows a clear Joycean influence (De Toro 1994, 34). It is highly ironic that three decades later Risco admitted that Ulysses was not only an inaccessible novel, but that he was never able to read all of it and even doubted whether anyone could actually do it and that the endless hours of reading one had to go through in order to understand it were not worth the effort (1954, p. 6).

The work of another Galician writer, Ramón del Valle-Inclán, also shows remarkable similarities with that of Joyce, although there are no explicit references to Valle’s knowledge or interest in the Irish writer. Anthony Zahareas, for instance, argues that Valle’s experimentation with language is similar to Joyce’s (1968, p. 78) and William R. Risley maintains that Valle’s aesthetic philosophy cannot be fully understood without taking A Portrait of the Artist into consideration (1979, 78). Darío Villanueva has pointed out that Valle’s Luces de Bohemia (1924) (Lights of Bohemia) recalls Ulysses, and he has also put forward more than fifteen possible parallelisms between the two writers (1991, 62-69). Furthermore, the Galician author Manuel Rivas has also considered the need for a new approach to study the remarkable correspondences between these two ‘Celtic druids’ (8). Valle’s knowledge of other languages and literatures kept him well informed about foreign literary trends. Like Joyce, he felt a strong love-hate relationship with his homeland, Galicia, and used this as the leitmotiv of his oeuvre, attacking what he regarded as its oppressive institutions: the church, the military and the narrow-mindedness of a theatrical tradition that lacked imagination. However, the most significant point of contact between the two writers concerns Valle’s theory of literary representation, grounded on three different ways of perceiving reality: kneeling down, standing up and lifting in the air. The last position, according to Valle, echoes that of the demiurge, who does not consider himself to be made of the same substance as his characters (Zahareas 1968, 86-87), an idea he developed in his work La lámpara maravillosa (The Lamp of Marvels) (1916). With this equation of aesthetics and optics it is not difficult to relate Valle to Stephen who, in A Portrait, reveals that the artist becomes a demiurge ideologically and emotionally detached from his creation when he states that the god of creation has to be ‘invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails’ (p. 215). In addition, La lámpara maravillosa incorporates a method of sudden spiritual manifestation that heightens the correspondences with Joyce’s use of the epiphany (see Morales 1994).

However, one of the earliest indications of Joyce’s impact on Spanish literature is constituted by the work of Juan Ramón Jiménez. (9) Between the forties and fifties, from his self-imposed exile, Juan Ramón wrote a critical essay dedicated to Joyce and two long poems in prose, entitled Espacio (Space) and Tiempo (Time), which bear some remarkably Joycean traits, notably in their use of the interior monologue and their overall approach to time and space (see Morales 1996). Juan Ramón considered himself a symbolist and a modernist. His personal search for innovation led him to adopt impressionist devices, an essentially symbolist language and a collage technique, which generate similarly Joycean effects. An example of this can be perceived in his Diario de un poeta recién casado (Diary of a newly-wed poet) (1916), which contains a series of announcements and journalistic titles that suggested the existence of a fragmented and even grotesque world, as a reflection of contemporary reality (Albornoz 1988, 297-98). The effect of this technique does not differ much from that of the ‘Aeolus’ chapter of Ulysses. Juan Ramón’s modernist symbolism can also be perceived in his poetry collection El caleidoscopio prohibido (The forbidden kaleidoscope), in which he uses the image of a kaleidoscope in order to highlight the multiplicity of perspectives one can adopt to depict reality. According to Pilar Gómez Bedate, Juan Ramón’s desire to capture the multiple and variable perceptions of reality is a characteristic common among the heirs of symbolism, including, among others, Marcel Proust and James Joyce (1981, 27). Explicit references to Joyce’s oeuvre appear in four of his critical essays, ‘James Joyce’, ‘T. S. Eliot’, ‘Marjen a St. John Pearse’ ('Marjen to St. John Pearse') and ‘En casas de Poe’ ('In Poe’s houses'), collected in Prosas críticas (Critical prose) (1981). In these texts he comments on several features of the aesthetics of Joyce, such as his highly personal use of language, the relationship between the concepts of modernism and romanticism, his genius, the difficulty of his work, the musical quality of his language and his universality. It is interesting to note that in the essay devoted to Joyce, Juan Ramón overtly confesses his difficulty in reading what one presumes to be Ulysses, a work he does not explicitly refer to by title:

When I attempt to read Joyce’s work (and I say attempt because I don’t have the pedantry to believe that I can wholly understand his so very personal and particular creations, even less so if I have to receive assistance in my reading of the original text), I always see myself in his writing as the so-called eyes of my Andalusian Guadiana, that part where the river, by being Andalusian, flows out of the earth and progressively hides its flow in her.... This is, I believe, the secret of James Joyce. Joyce, in the flowing of his work, opens his eyes in his writing, a continuous internal and superficial current, so that he can see, not so that he can be seen. (10)

Another literary group that strengthened the influence of Joyce’s work in Spain was the Generation of 1927, formed by figures like Dámaso Alonso (who, under the pseudonym of Alfonso Donado, published the Spanish translation of A Portrait in 1926), Jorge Guillén, José Bergamín, Rafael Alberti, Federico García Lorca, Gerardo Diego, Vicente Aleixandre, Pedro Salinas and Luis Cernuda (11). These poets shared similar concerns such as the search for balance between the intellectual and the sentimental, a perfectionist approach to writing, the aspiration towards the achievement of aesthetic purity and the mixture of the elitist and the popular, of tradition and renovation. They acknowledged the influence of avant-garde movements like Ultraism, Creationism and Surrealism and manifested an interest in the work of Joyce, especially in his adaptation of myth to the modern world and in his use of the subconscious, which added a new poetic background to their writings. In 1933 Luis Cernuda published his article ‘Unidad y diversidad’ ('Unity and diversity'), in which he referred to Juan Ramón’s writings to establish a link with the work of Joyce. Carlos G. Santa Cecilia points out that, initially, the poets of the Generation of 1927 adopted Joyce’s writings and T. S. Eliot’s poetry, and that both Jorge Guillén and Vicente Aleixandre had read Joyce in 1926 and 1928, respectively. For them, ‘the new methods proposed by Joyce and developed by Eliot were not at odds with their own literary resources, on the contrary, they provided them with new poetic possibilities’. (12)

By the end of the twenties, Joyce was well known in different literary circles in Spain, although more for A Portrait than for Ulysses. Between the 1930s and 1950s, however, the reception of Joyce’s work was less intense, with two important gaps in its course, following the outbreaks of the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War. The Civil War brought about the closure of the Spanish borders to Europe, interrupting the early and fertile reception with the consequently decreasing interest in the evolution of the novel as a literary genre. In addition, the period of the Second World War was represented by more important social and political events, which were at the forefront of public concern, when debates about the extreme formality and snobbism of Joyce’s writing were substituted by more urgent needs. In spite of the frequent allusions to and news about Joyce’s production in journals and the press ‘no writer could actually assimilate and develop Joycean techniques in their writings…. In the reception of Joyce there is, in this precise moment, proof of a lost link’. (13)

Around the same time, a new critical wave began to regard Joyce’s writings as too elitist, too mannerist and far too formalist. On the one hand, when the poet Antonio Machado was invited to join the Royal Academy of the Spanish language (14), he remarked in the lecture’s preliminaries that Joyce’s work was incoherent, chaotic, and impossible to comprehend in rational terms. He even considered Ulysses a piece of writing conducted by the devil, a satanic work produced by a madman, in short, ‘a dead end, a cul-de-sac of lyric solipsism’. (15) On the other hand, Ricardo Gullón’s study Novelistas ingleses contemporáneos (Contemporary English Novelists) (1945), a significant contribution to the reception of English literature in Spain, devoted a chapter to James Joyce. Although he acknowledged that the Irish writer had become the most influential author in English literature, and wrote a very favourable criticism, he also asserted that only snobs read his work and that it had not yet reached a popular readership (pp. 119-21). At the end of the fifties, the Spanish writer Ramón Pérez de Ayala also commented that while reading the first fragments of Ulysses he never thought they could be taken seriously, nor that in two or three years the author would become a most distinguished literary genius. Moreover, he affirms that if he had heard someone predicting the book’s success, he would have thought him a fool and, worst of all, he maintains the same opinion to this day (1997, p. 51).

In the thirties in Galicia, nonetheless, Ramón Otero Pedrayo – the first translator of fragments from Ulysses into a peninsular language – published his novel Devalar (Flowing) (1935), which bears some noticeable Joycean echoes. De Toro, who analysed the presence of the Irish writer in Otero Pedrayo, summarises the similarities: the depiction of its protagonist, Martiño Dumbría, who presents significant parallels to Stephen Dedalus; the construction of the narrative spaces of Santiago de Compostela and Dublin, respectively; the original deployment of the interior monologue; and the use of alliterations and other verbal games (1994, 34). Furthermore, for De Toro, Devalar can be interpreted as a ‘Joycean epiphany, represented … by the obsession with capturing the exact moment in time and raising its category, the situating of Santiago (here equivalent to Joyce’s Dublin) as the axis at the centre of a concentration of forces, and the cyclical structure of the novel (in the sequence of autumn – winter – spring – summer)’ (1995b, 88).

During the forties and early fifties, some works emerged that pioneered innovative literary devices. This is the case with José Suárez Carreño, who received the Nadal award in 1949 for Las últimas horas (The Final Hours), which employed the interior monologue and displayed a deeper level of psychological introspection than authorial intervention, all in a limited use of time and space. Two years later, Luis Romero’s La noria (The wheel) (1951) was awarded the same prize. The novel followed the context of the previous one in its setting and it involved the presentation of the inner life of dozens of people during one day in Barcelona through several narrative techniques, among which we find a systematic use of the indirect free style. Finally, La gota de mercurio (The Drop of Mercury) by Alejandro Núñez Alonso, also shortlisted for the same prize in 1953, drew on a constant introspection into the minds of the characters as well as narrative fragmentation, experimenting with the limitations of time and space. Although these novels could be considered attempts to adapt innovative literary devices to the Spanish narrative, on the whole, they did not actually contribute to the renewal of modern prose in the same way as Martín-Santos did in the early sixties. According to Julio M. de la Rosa, Núñez Alonso was the only one among all the writers who belonged to the Generation of 1950, who showed similarities to the work of Joyce. In an interview, the writer himself confirmed that he was familiar with Joyce’s oeuvre, and that ‘the universe of Joyce … brings light to the realist parochialism of the Spanish novel. Nobody has read Joyce here’. (16)

The sixties opened the doors to a new wave in the reception of Joyce, with the publication of Luis Martín-Santos’ Tiempo de silencio (17), the first Spanish novel that encapsulated Joycean aesthetics in a mature and modern experimental manner. In this decade a possibly less rigid censorship, along with theories on modern linguistics, the organisation of international conferences and a critical practice that was endowed with greater freedom of expression, allowed the country to escape its own insularity, which had dragged Spanish prose into a state of monotonous social realism. It was the very character of the sixties, with its temporal distance from the horrors of the war, that brought a new interest in stylistic experimentation and left behind the depressed and crude reality that previous generations of writers had constantly denounced. The absence of an innovative trend in Spanish fiction comparable to that of Europe, can thus be explained by means of the particular social, political and literary circumstances. The novelty of Martín-Santos’ book allowed it to evade complete censorship, and it is highly ironic that the censored passages were not the most subversive ones. The relationship between Joyce and Martín-Santos was indeed rich and fruitful. Among the main parallelisms between the two writers, the following can be mentioned: the limited use of the units of space and time; the focus on the inner lives of the characters; the systematic use of the interior monologue and the soliloquy; the inclusion of different narrative perspectives; the coincidence in the construction of the main characters and their respective wanderings through the towns of Madrid and Dublin; and the inclusion of the Homeric myth as a pillar to sustain the narrative structure (see also Curutchet 1968, Palley 1971, Rey 1988 and Morales 2005).

The definite integration of Joycean aesthetics in Spain took place at the end of the sixties, when a series of novels that followed the publication of Tiempo de silencio advocated the use of innovative literary and linguistic techniques and displayed a notable assimilation of Joyce’s writings. Truncated syntax, incoherent sentences, deviated norms in the construction of paragraphs, complex and unconventional developments of plots, uncommon protagonists, the use of archetypal myths or the indeterminacy of reading functioned as some of the transgressions that characterised the path followed by this new stage in the evolution of the novel. This is the case with authors such as Antonio Martínez Menchén, Juan Marsé, Francisco Umbral, Juan García Hortelano, José Martía Guelbenzu, Rosa Chacel, Juan Benet and Juan Goytisolo, among many others. According to Robert C. Spires (1976), the emergence of this innovation in the Spanish narrative was the product of an aesthetic change in the evolution of the role of the reader, which inevitably influenced the formal aspects of the novel.

Martínez Menchén’s Cinco variaciones (Five variations) (1963) was classified as a deeply intimate novel, and consists of five stories of solitude, the introspection of which contrasts with the presence of multitudes of people. As the direct inheritor of Martín-Santos, Menchén plays with time and with a variety of voices, and he succeeds in abandoning the restrictions of the monotonous realism of previous generations of writers. In his critical study Del desengaño literario (On Literary Disappointment) he also refers to the ‘reactionary’ work of Joyce in order to comment on the influence exerted on Martín-Santos (1970, 98-99). Innovations of similar quality appeared in several novels published since the mid-sixties, such as Juan Marsé’s Últimas tardes con Teresa (Last Evenings with Teresa) (1966) or Francisco Umbral’s Travesía de Madrid (Crossing Madrid) (1966), which, according to Sobejano, shows Joyce as one of its predecessors (1970, p. 463). The collection of short stories, Gente de Madrid (People from Madrid) (1967), by Juan García Hortelano, also evoked Joyce. José María Guelbenzu’s first novel, El mercurio (The Mercury) (1968), integrates the use of pastiche, the absence of a central plot and the violation of linguistic patterns in such a way that it becomes ‘an experimental enterprise of the renewal of the usual structures of our novel’. (18) Finally, the writer Rosa Chacel has repeatedly manifested herself as a follower of Joyce and has acknowledged him as the father of everything (Santa Cecilia 1997, p. 85; see also Crespo and Rodriguez 1982). Her work makes ample use of introspective devices and epiphanic moments, although, in matters of linguistic experimentation, she has followed traditional patterns. In an interview, she claimed that she saw herself as an innovator in form – but not in language – and that the discovery of Joyce made her first novel become a sort of premonition of the French nouveau roman (Mateo 2001, p. 61) (19).

There were other writers, like Juan Benet, who failed to understand the implications of Joycean aesthetics. Benet’s novel Volverás a Región (Return to Región) (1967), in its display of different narrative levels, stylistic distortions and antirealism, has been frequently associated with Faulkner and Joyce (Santa Cecilia 1997, pp. 256-58). Nevertheless, in Benet’s essay that originally prefaced the Spanish version of Stuart Gilbert’s classic James Joyce’s Ulysses (1930), he maintained that Joycean innovation and experimentation had a minor quality, ‘as it corresponds to a minor writer’. (20) In the same vein, in another article published a few years later, suggestively entitled, ‘¿Contra Joyce?’ (Against Joyce?), he also claimed that the interior monologue of Ulysses had become an exhausted and useless form (1978, p. 26). Benet’s interpretations of Joyce’s work are markedly significant inasmuch as his own creation displays a more than perceptible Joycean echo. In fact, not only critics have recognised the presence of Joyce in his writings, he himself has acknowledged it. Like Joyce, Benet’s prose is said to be elitist, obscure, complex, experimental and even pedantic (Benet 1981, p. 63). In the article mentioned above, after a direct critique of Joyce’s work, he ironically ends up manifesting that: ‘Besides this, I have the highest respect for the figure of Joyce, for the determination in the creation of his oeuvre, for having been able to maintain a certain intransigence, for not having made the most minute concession and for not being daunted by the terrible solitude his enormous rectitude brought’ (1978, p. 28) (21).

Juan Goytisolo’s trilogy of the Sacred Spain, Señas de Identidad (Marks of Identity) (1966), Reivindicación del conde don Julián (Vindication of Count Julian) (1970), and Juan sin tierra (Juan the Landless) (1975) evoke Martín-Santos’s as much as Joyce’s narrative innovations. (22) In his three novels, Goytisolo deployed the most varied literary devices and techniques, including counterpoint, the interior monologue, temporal disruptions, different voices, narrative fragmentation and linguistic experimentation. In 1991, on the occasion of the commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of Joyce's death, he published an article in the Spanish newspaper Abc, in which he confirmed his attraction to the line opened up by Joyce:

To remain deaf to Joyce’s literary proposal is to be condemned not to understand either modernity or the literature of the end of this millennium: to repeat formalised and sterile novelistic patterns, to produce, in short, a dead piece…. Joyce – like Cervantes and Sterne – disrupted the rules of the game and showed that novels cannot be written following recipes or previous schemes…. Joyce, like the great poets, turned the language into the true protagonist of his work…. Those whom I admire and who mean something in the novelistic production of this century have been enriched by the example of the daring enterprise of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. (23)

In the seventies, other writers emerged who went even further. This is the case with the Galician author Gonzalo Torrente Ballester, who has published some novels, notably his first Javier Mariño, and La saga/fuga de J.B. (The Saga/Escape of J.B.) (1972), which cannot be analysed without establishing a direct connection with Joyce’s oeuvre (see further Zamora 1968, Grimferrer 1972, Ridruejo 1977 and Becerra 1982). In his own article about Joyce, entitled ‘Mis lecturas sobre Joyce’ ('My Readings on Joyce'), he described his first encounter with A Portrait as more effective than his reading of Proust. He declared that he preferred Joyce precisely because his form of narrative seemed to be new, yet it could be predicted or sensed as recognition and also as a mirror (1978, p. 13). However, when listening to the recording of some fragments of Anna Livia Plurabelle by Joyce, he admitted that the Irish writer had not caused a great impact on him, even though he did see himself as a Joycean (Santa Cecilia 1997, pp. 136-37).

In the eighties and nineties, other writers who could not avoid Joyce’s legacy kept appearing. Among these, Julián Ríos, Luis Goytisolo, Suso de Toro and Manuel Rivas have become well-known literary figures. Julián Ríos’s extremely experimental novel Larva: Babel de una noche de San Juan (Larva: A Midsummer Night’s Babel) (1983) stands out as a deliberate attempt to create a replica of Ulysses in Spanish, because of its radical rupture with anything published before. Larva has thus been defined as a monstrous novel that has provoked equal admiration and rejection, in such a way that the writer Juan Goytisolo has vindicated a place outside the literary tradition of Spanish prose until that date (1992, p. 368).

Luis Goytisolo – brother of the above-mentioned Juan – has also made extensive use of the Irish writer, although the outcome is of a different nature. His parodic rewritings of earlier literary works include Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. In his collection of short narratives Investigaciones y conjeturas de Claudio Mendoza (Research and conjectures by Claudio Mendoza) (1985), he includes an essay, ‘Joyce al fin superado’ ('Joyce surpassed at last'), that functions as an attempt to rewrite Joyce’s last work through the creation of a fictive Gigamesh – itself a rewriting of the epic Gilgamesh – in order to surpass the genius of Joyce’s word games in Finnegans Wake. The result is a humorous text that parodies Joycean aesthetics and deals with questions related to authority and creativity (see Morales 2002).

In Galicia, Suso de Toro Santos has acknowledged the influence of Joyce in some of his novels, especially in Polaroid (1986) and Tic-Tac (1993), and to a lesser extent in some of his subsequent work. The impression that the Irish writer has made on many Galician writers is indeed profound, as Suso de Toro has tried to explain, alluding to the historical parallelism between the two Celtic lands:

We share with him his origin from lands of an injured language; we share with him his awareness of the fact that speaking a language is not a “natural” act since there is a choice between languages, one is the prize (yours in which I am writing now), the other is the punishment (mine which awaits me), and whether we choose one or the other we would have already lost linguistic innocence. (24)

De Toro’s words could easily be applied to another Galician writer and professional journalist, Manuel Rivas, whose work has also been exposed to the influence of Joyce, mainly in Un millón de vacas (A Million Cows) (1989), Os comedores de patatas (The Potato Eaters) (1991) and En salvaxe compaña (In Savage Company) (1994).

Throughout this discussion I have focused on the reception of Joyce’s writing in Spain in an early period, when Joyce’s production underwent a process of assimilation preceding the translation of some of his major works, and from the 1960s onwards when his influence became more visible. My purpose has been to demonstrate that Joyce played an influential role in the renewal of Spanish modern narrative. From the early 1920s many writers have incorporated innovative techniques in their writings that can easily be identified with Joycean aesthetics although, at the same time, they cannot be reduced to the simplicity of this statement. Lack of space has prompted me to leave out other writers who will have to be analysed on another occasion. What this article ultimately attempts to demonstrate is that Joyce’s creation has unquestionably flared up in an outstanding number of contemporary works not only within but also outside Europe.


1 This article was originally published in the book The Reception of James Joyce in Europe. Volume II: France, Ireland and Mediterranean Europe (eds. Geert Lernout and Wim Van Merlo, London and New York: Continuum, 2004), pp.434-44. I would like to acknowledge my gratitude to the publishers for granting me with permission to publish it again.

2 CV de Morales Ladrón

3 See, for instance, García Tortosa and de Toro Santos 1994 and 1997, Santa Cecilia 1997 and Morales Ladrón 2005.

4 In 1925 Borges published a short note in the Argentinean journal Proa (Prow) with the intention of introducing Ulysses to Latin American readers. Expressing his pride for being the first Hispanic writer to have made such a discovery, he discusses the positive consequences of Joyce’s influence on Latin American literature. Although he includes his own translation of some passages of Molly’s monologue, he confesses that he has not read the novel in its entirety (1925, 3).

5 On the other hand, Pedro Manuel González remarks that Joyce’s influence has led to negative results by encouraging petty imitations that have turned Joyce’s genius into grotesque and extravagant pastiches of eccentric syntax, punctuation and language (1967, 49).

6 Along with Galicia, another peripheral part of Spain, Catalonia, was early to acknowledge the new narrative techniques with which Joyce was experimenting..

7 ‘uno puede pensar –si es tal y como nos lo describen– que tiene un pacto con el Demonio’ (Risco 1926, 2).

8 ‘druidas celtas’ (Rivas 1992, 16-17).

9 Jiménez signed the letter against Samuel Roth’s piracy of Ulysses, together with other writers and intellectuals like Miguel de Unamuno, Antonio Marichalar, Jacinto Benavente, Azorín, Ramón Gómez de la Serna, Gabriel Miró and José Ortega y Gasset. Villanueva (1991, 56-57) and Díaz Plaja (1965, 255) have also added Valle-Inclán to the list, although his biographer, Robert Lima, has questioned this (1988, 266 n94).

10 ‘Cuando intento leer la obra de Joyce (y digo intento porque no tengo la pedantería de creer, y menos si tengo que leer ayudado en la lectura del testo orijinal, que puedo comprender del todo creaciones del tipo tan personal y tan particular de la suya) me represento siempre en su escritura como los llamados ojos de mi Guadiana andaluz, ese trayecto donde el río, por andaluz, sale de la tierra y se esconde sucesivamente de su cauce en ella.... Éste es, creo yo, el secreto de James Joyce. Joyce, en la raudal de su obra, abre los ojos en su escritura, corriente interna y superficial sucesiva, para ver él, no para que lo vean’ (1981, 327).

11 This generation has sometimes been referred to as ‘Generación de la amistad’ ('Generation of Friendship'), although it was more of a group than an actual generation. It lasted until the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.

12 ‘los nuevos métodos planteados por Joyce y desarrollados por Eliot no están reñidos con su bagaje literario, sino que muy al contrario les ofrecen nuevas posibilidades poéticas’ (Santa Cecilia 1997, p. 95 and p. 97).

13 ‘no había ningún autor capaz de asimilar y elaborar las técnicas joyceanas en su obra.... En la recepción de Joyce hay en este preciso instante constancia de un eslabón perdido’ (Santa Cecilia 1997, 156).

14 Antonio Machado was elected in 1927 but could not occupy his place due to the outbreak of the war.

15 ‘una vía muerta, un callejón sin salida del solipsismo lírico’ (Machado 1997, 40).

16 ‘el universo de Joyce ... pone al descubierto el aldeanismo realista de la novela española. A Joyce aquí no lo ha leído nadie’ (Alonso 1994, 16).

17 The critical response to the novel was quick to acknowledge Joyce’s presence. In an interview Martín-Santos mentioned Joyce as one of his major influences and in Tiempo de silencio there is an explicit reference to Ulysses, when the narrator comments that this novel cannot be ignored since everything stems from it (1987, 81).

18 ‘una empresa experimental de renovación de las estructuras usuales de nuestra novelística’ (Grimferrer 1968, 38). See also Bozal 1968, who adds Guelbenzu’s use of avant-garde narrative techniques taken directly from Joyce.

19 This interview was originally published in 1993, as part of Mateo’s critical study Retrato de Rosa Chacel (Portrait of Rosa Chacel). I am quoting from the extract published recently in the Spanish newspaper El Mundo.

20 ‘como corresponde a un escritor menor’ (Benet 1971, 4). In another article, published a decade later, Benet announced that his major discovery was Faulkner, since ‘from that day in 1947 I devoured all the Faulkner, Kafka, Proust, Sartre, Malraux, Mann and Green I could get hold of.... I always like to remember the independence I reached with those readings’ (1981, 60).

21 ‘Aparte de esto, yo guardo el mayor respeto por la figura de Joyce, por el empecinamiento con que hizo su obra, por haber sabido mantener cierta intransigencia, por no haber hecho nunca la menor concesión y por no arredrarse ante la terrible soledad que le deparó su gran rectitud’.

22 For a comparison between Joyce’s Ulysses and Goytisolo’s Reivindicación del conde don Julián, see Lázaro (1996).

23 ‘Permanecer sordos a la propuesta literaria de Joyce es condenarse a no entender la modernidad ni la literatura de este final de milenio: repetir esquemas novelescos formalizados y estériles, producir en suma una obra muerta.... Joyce –como Cervantes y Sterne– trastornó las reglas del juego y mostró que no se puede escribir novelas a partir de recetas y esquemas previos.... Joyce, como los grandes poetas, convirtió el lenguaje en el verdadero protagonista de su obra .... Cuantos admiro y significan algo en la novela de este siglo se han enriquecido con el ejemplo de la audaz empresa de Ulises y Finnegans Wake’ (Goytisolo 1991, xi).

24 ‘Con él compartimos su procedencia de territorios de lengua herida, con él compartimos su conciencia de que hablar una lengua no es un acto “natural”, porque hay que escoger entre lenguas, una es el premio (esa vuestra en la que escribo ahora), otra el castigo (esa miña que me agarda logo), y escojamos la que escojamos ya habremos perdido la inocencia lingüística’ (De Toro 1994, 11). The phrase “esa miña que me agarda logo” is Galician.


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Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2009

Published: 02 July 2009
Edited: 20 November 2009

Morales Ladrón, Marisol 'Joycean Aesthetics in Spanish Literature' and the Irish-Argentine Dimension' in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" 7:2 (July 2009), pp. 165-176. Available online  (www.irlandeses.org/imsla0907.htm), accessed .

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