From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 12.1 (1992): 129-32.
Copyright © 1992, The Cervantes Society of America
REVIEW


George Mariscal. Contradictory Subjects: Quevedo, Cervantes, and Seventeenth-Century Spanish Culture. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1991. 227 pp.

     It was only a matter of time until someone took on the task of rewriting la edad conflictiva. As Mariscal's title may indicate, there is little here of convivencia but much of conflict —along with critical historicism and hermeneutics of suspicion. In anticipation of the unstable terrain we are about to traverse, this is an effort to “reproblematize this complex moment of Spanish culture from the multi-ethnic context of California in the 1990s” (xi). Thus, a postmodern subject will speak to us from a decidedly complex circumstance, centering around materialism (x), ethnicity (ix-x), poststructuralism (xi-xii), politics (xii), the 1990s, and California.
     One might easily devote a chapter each to those disparate concepts in an attempt merely to define them. Of course, some would say that California is a state of mind(lessness); others might feel that the 1990s has hardly had time to assume an identity of its own. Ethnicity and politics frequently coalesce into what has been called “identity politics,” leading to an emphasis on alterity and estrangement as opposed to commonality and community. Mariscal's critical posture and discourse are patently the product of the interpretive community (detractors might say “sect”) to which he is committed, and, it seems certain, also of the department with which he is affiliated. If writers are “written” by a “network of boundaries and interests” (30), the

129


130 JAMES A. PARR Cervantes

same axiom can sometimes be extended to encompass academic critics. He will, of course, find what he sets out to find, not unlike the rest of us. It bears mention also that the two principal poles to which these ruminations are tied —Marx (via various intermediaries) and Foucault— are themselves contradictory subjects. Only Foucault is questioned (171).
     This study will, in any case, present one version of what some of the younger Paris thinkers, particularly Luc Ferry and Alain Renaut, call “ '68 Philosophy.” The pharmakon (here, both the blessing and the curse) of Hispanic criticism is surely the fact that dated thinking can be passed as current coin. Moreover, since we are so slow to lay the old aside, it sometimes happens that our old-fashioned notions regain currency before we have had a chance to trade them in. Those who have deferred enlisting under the banner of Textuality may be comforted to know that the turn back toward liberal humanism and away from irrationalism and the disparagement of universals is unmistakable among younger French thinkers like Ferry, Renaut, Pascal Bruckner, Alain Finkielkraut, and the late J. G. Merquior (see Paul Berman, “The Fog of Political Correctness,” Tikkun 7.1 [1992], 54). Does this mean that Mariscal's meditations are already as passées as those of an “old historian” like Otis H. Green seem to him? Very likely. But, if the pattern persists, these already dated newer ideas may nevertheless come up for recycling one day.
     Following a very personalized Preface, the book is divided into four chapters. The first is “The Subject of Hispanism”; the second, “Tracking the Subject in Early Modern Spain”; next, “Francisco de Quevedo: Individualism and Exclusion”; and finally, “Miguel de Cervantes: Deindividuating Don Quixote.” Then come an “Afterword: The Exigencies of Agency,” a bibliography and an index.
     Mariscal will, among other things, “question the idea of a utopian Golden Age in which contemporary literary critics working around the world are still so heavily invested” (xi). A minor problem may be that no such Idea exists, to the best of my knowledge. “Golden Age” is a period concept that we seldom pause to define —like Renaissance and Baroque— but, generally, it refers to a time when some significant texts (to say nothing of plastic art and music) came into being, for whatever reasons. Mariscal will offer his reasons; others have presented theirs. These texts are generally held to be significant both intrinsically and for their resonance through time (e.g., impact on the Generations of 1898 and 1927; the Quijote and the picaresque on the European novel, for example). Beyond that, we know that it was a period of great poverty for many, unsanitary conditions (e.g., the horas menguadas), overemphasis on appearances, nasty quarrels among writers, the Holy Office, and so on. I cannot imagine considering that set of circumstances a utopia. “Utopian Golden Age” is an oxymoron, in any case, since golden ages are properly situated in the past, while utopias, being visionary, belong to the future.
     Unexceptionable in Mariscal's approach is the premise that “literary history and criticism are always unavoidably linked to broader social and


12.1 (1992) Review 131

political issues, that the theoretical languages we adopt bring with them ideological baggage that is not easily gotten rid of, that any poststructuralism inattentive to historical problems will ultimately transform earlier cultures into false images of our own” (xii). It troubles me, nevertheless, that this newer historical perspective seems again to stake out that time and place as being unique, separate, different, with precious little about its mentalité(s) to appeal to our own. We are told, for example, that the concept of family then was “relatively alien” (67) to ours; that “racial and class affiliations, rather than gender, usually provided the sites of subject formation for preindustrial women” (61) [are there industrial and postindustrial women?]; that “[human] nature . . . bore a scant resemblance to our own twentieth-century versions” (26); but “a space was being cleared for what in a different context . . . would become the bourgeois subject” (52). According to what grand design? The last quote suggests premature teleology, or, to add to the illustrious list of intentional, biographical, affective, and referential fallacies —all of which are on display in the present study— a teleological fallacy. The continuing emphasis on “an emergent form of subjectivity” (129) makes this particular form of alterity sound more paleolithic than early modern.
     Probably we must now re-inscribe the uniqueness/universality debate of Arnold Reichenberger and Eric Bentley in post-Foucauldian, new-historical phrasing. The new episteme (new dispensation?) notwithstanding, a question remains of whether differences or commonalities are to be emphasized. One assumes that, at the very least, these early modern, emerging subjects walked upright and felt pain, grief, absence and other negativities, as well as joy, surprise, pleasure in food and sex, and so on, much like their post-modern counterparts.
     A major part of Mariscal's project is to show that, rather than focusing on the antithetical aspects that set Quevedo and Cervantes apart from each other, one can with greater profit concentrate on internal contradictions within the work of each writer that serve to make them both inherently contradictory subjects (8-9). This is a relatively novel and highly promising perspective.
     In the case of Cervantes, and more specifically Don Quixote, he is probably on solid ground in suggesting that “the positioning of the subject within religious practice . . . was considered far more important than the more private sphere of the family” (74), and thus the character's return home is more a reintegration into the religious community than into “the nucleus composed of his housekeeper and his niece” (73). It is unfortunate that so little space is devoted to religion in this study, for it surely permeated socio-political reality, the conception of the subject and his or her place in the Great Chain of Being, and even everyday discourse, fully as much as blood and class.
     Elsewhere, the rivalry between Cervantes and Avellaneda is elevated to high-stakes drama: “[Avellaneda's] text mounts a ruling-class reaction to the emergence of an autonomous subject premised on singularity. The


132 JAMES A. PARR Cervantes

battlefield was writing; the stakes were nothing less than identity and the structure of society” (155). Indeed, a parallel with Quevedo's response to Petrarch suggests itself: “Avellaneda may be the most important of the early readers of Don Quixote precisely because his text inserts the emergent subject figured by Cervantes's 1605 novel into a textual environment no less hostile than was Quevedo's aristocratic culture to the ‘free individual’ of the Petrarchan love sonnet” (157). Each time Avellaneda punishes his protagonist, he is “repudiating the forms of subjectivity represented in the 1605 text” (160). The “radical subjectivism on which the 1605 text is founded” (173), itself, represents a subjective and debatable reading, of course, to say nothing of the conjectured intention behind Avellaneda's continuation. There is no mention of Martín de Riquer's important work in this area.
     Mariscal's reading around and his refusal to privilege any sources, including the presumably literary ones, places him squarely within the incipient tradition of textuality. Whether textuality will achieve the status of tradition remains to be seen. Whether we move eventually to rename literature departments “departments of textuality” may depend upon whether we continue to privilege the Quijote over the comics. Dead White European Males (and Females) may indeed be different, as Mariscal maintains, but some are nevertheless able to communicate with us, even if, like Don Quixote's story, their intimations of individuality and the cultural and socio-political reality by which they are “written” require a commentary to make them intelligible.

JAMES A. PARR
University of California, Riverside


Fred Jehle jehle@ipfw.edu Publications of the CSA HCervantes
URL: http://www.h-net.org/~cervantes/csa/artics92/parr.htm