From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 18.1 (1998): 147-8.
Copyright © 1998, The Cervantes Society of America
REVIEW

Gerli, E. Michael. Refiguring Authority. Reading, Writing, and Rewriting in Cervantes. Studies in Romance Languages, 39. Lexington: The U Press of Kentucky, 1995. xi + 137 pp.


     Five of the six essays included in this volume were published as articles between 1979 and 1995, and thus appear here revised and refigured, and with substantial added authority, thanks to the benefit of extensive rewriting and some further readings. Indeed, since the premises and even the approach under which the articles were conceived at different points have become common critical ground, one could say that the main attraction of their reunion and refashioning resides in the way in which Gerli has, with considerable eloquence and success, managed to give them new life and currency through the well-learned lesson of Cervantes's example about reading, writing, and rewriting.
     The essays deal in limited but in-depth manner with some of Cervantes's works, i.e., Don Quijote I, La gitanilla, El licenciado Vidriera, El gallardo español, and El retablo de las maravillas. The overall thesis, as described in the title, is concerned with Cervantes's preoccupation with models and genres, theories and norms, and his constant effort to subvert, deconstruct, and reject them so consistently and insistently that it becomes “central to the process of invention and textual composition” (1).
     In all cases, textual incongruities, “deliberate disjuntiviness” (4), ironic inversions, and internal contradictions become solid leads to uncover the hidden meaning of the texts, often symbolic and metaphoric, as well as undisputed evidence of Cervantes's progressive values, “liberal ideology” (6), and “artistic dissent and non-conformity” (112). As a result, Gerli's critical attitude and tone are at once dismissive of previous contributions, seen always as partial and excessively literal, and overly confident, given his insistence, in the case of Cervantes, on the key role regarding the phenomenology of language when trying to discover the “truth.”
     Things are never what they appear regarding Cervantes's models, targets, and intentions, his “literary and ideological objectives” (11). In “The Dialectics of Writing: El licenciado Vidriera and the Picaresque,” perhaps the least ambitious of the essays, Cervantes rejects autobiography and rewrites the genre in the process of showing that the essence of the picaresque resides “in a stance, an attitude towards life” (18). The study of La gitanilla, a romance “only on the surface” (24), focuses also in another type of rewriting in which all the conventions of that genre are subverted by a cynical and prosaic vision of the world,


148 REVIEW Cervantes

associated “with the indeterminate universe of the novel.” Norms and experience are shown to be in conflict and as a result the work conveys a “deep sense of moral ambiguity” (39).
     “Rewriting Myth and History: Discourse of Race, Marginality, and Resistance in the Captive's Tale (Don Quijote I, 37-42)” studies the boundaries between the sacred and the secular, the historical and the mystical, and through a symbolic pattern of fall and redemption reveals its hidden spiritual and social dimensions. Gerli, exploring the analogy between Zoraida and the Virgin Mary, insists somewhat adventurously in the deconstruction of the legend of La Cava Romía, and reads and rereads the captive's tale as an “appeal for cultural and religious tolerance” (42) by a Cervantes that “ironically disavows the Christianity of the reigning discourse of Spain's history” (60).
     The fourth essay, “Unde Veritas: Readings, Writings, Voices, and Revisions in Text (Don Quijote I, 8-9),” centers on the question of perspectivism and the “multiplicity of senses in all things” (62) against, perhaps, the certainty of his previous arguments concerning the true hidden meaning of Cervantes's texts. Reaffirming the polyphonic nature of Cervantes's narrative and his use of ironic distancing through of multiple narrators, Gerli analyzes the four variations of the episode of the vizcaíno and concludes somewhat ironically, given the task at hand, that “Any verbal representation of reality is ultimately destined to be discriminating and reductive, and therefore, subjective” (80).
     The final two pieces are dedicated to Cervantes's theater. In “Aristotle in Africa: Interrogating Verisimilitude and Rewriting in El gallardo español,” the nature of fiction and its ability to depict truth are explored. The play is read “as a bold rewriting of Neo-Aristotelian poetics” (83). Although Cervantes indeed wrote much to demonstrate “the ability of language to fabricate illusions” (94), I disagree, and I believe that Cervantes —even the progressive ideologist portrayed by Gerli— would reject also the notion that the merging of burlas and veras calls “into question the capacity of texts to represent empirical truths” (94). More satisfying and convincing, perhaps because they have a more solid historical and textual base, are the observations made in “Rewriting Lope de Vega: El retablo de las maravillas, Cervantes's Arte nuevo de deshacer comedias,” although, again, the emphasis on the critical and theoretical aspects of the entremés driven by the overall thesis tends to distort the significance of more “literal” meanings regarding social satire and dramatic experimentation.
     In sum, the articles collected in this book constitute a consistent and intelligent reading and writing concerning the fundamental question of the act of reading and the process of writing and rewriting, and they benefit considerably by Gerli's own brand of reading and rewriting. They will appeal particularly to those readers bent on exploring hidden symbolic and metaphorical meanings in Cervantes's texts. In one way or another, they are marked by uncommon elegance, clarity, and eloquence, and even though their arguments may not always convince, they are sure to provoke and reward the not so idle reader.


Eduardo Urbina
Texas A&M University


Fred Jehle jehle@ipfw.edu Publications of the CSA HCervantes
URL: http://www.h-net.org/~cervantes/csa/artics98/urbina.htm