From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America
19.1 (1999): 154-57.
Copyright © 1999, The Cervantes Society of America
Cascardi, Anthony J. Ideologies of History in the Spanish Golden
Age. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1977.
viii + 327 pp.
This challenging collection of essays,
most of which have been published in earlier versions, can be divided into
two parts. The first six chapters present a variety of strategies employed
by Golden Age writers to resolve the conflict between traditional values
and those of an emerging modernity. Cascardi shows how the crisis brought
about by the passage from a caste society to one based on the more mobile
category of class produced a series of configurations, some of which, such
as the comedia, remained committed to the old order, while others,
especially Calderón's defense of absolutism and Gracián's notion
of taste, though acknowledging the loss of a natural order,
nonetheless worked to contain the crisis and reassert some form of cultural
authority. The last four chapters, concerning Cervantes and Garcilaso, offer
something rather different. With respect to the dilemmas posed by modernity,
Don Quijote appears as a critical exploration which provides no
resolution. In another historical context, Garcilaso's poetry is viewed as
placing in question the power of the poetic voice, rather than using it for
specific political ends. Even the posthumous Persiles, often considered
a reactionary retraction of the critical stance taken in Don
Quijote, is here vindicated as a progressive text.
Cascardi's approach is shaped by the historiography of culture which emerges here and in his previous book, The Subject of Modernity (1992). His doubts concerning the intrinsic value of autonomous subjectivity lead him to reject measurements of Spain's progress in terms of that goal. If Golden Age writers like Gracián theorize a self that had not yet come to conceive of itself as detachable from its social effects (128), this is not a symptom of pre-modern status, since the thesis of a fully autonomous subject-self . . . wholly free from control and empowered by an autonomous will, must itself be recognized as an ideological construct (121). Cascardi also denies the early Foucault's thesis concerning the radical discontinuity of historical epochs, insisting that there is no predetermined outcome to the conflicts between residual and emergent structures, nor is it ever possible to find an absolute beginning. His model of historical change recalls Schiller's metaphor of the state as a living clockwork which cannot be stopped in order to repair it, but whose wheels must be replaced while in motion. Such a model allows for numerous combinations of new elements with old ones, adapted to fit the new situation; continuity with the previous configuration is maintained.
This flexibility lets Cascardi draw on both sides in the famous disagreement between Castro and Maravall concerning Spain's historical specificity. Maravall's focus on Baroque mechanisms of control is supplemented by an interest in the formation of subjects who would in principle be unable to resist control (124). In this process of subject formation, the axiology of caste studied by Castro served an ideological function . . . long after its original efficacy was past (26). Thus Cascardi acknowledges with Maravall that modernity posed the same challenges in Spain as elsewhere in the West, but recognizes with Castro
the distinctiveness of the resources used to face them and the compromise
formations produced as a result.
The rich variety of ratios between ideology and history which Cascardi finds in the Golden Age attests to the complexity of cultural transformation in Spain. Lope's reassertion of caste in the face of the challenges of class in Fuenteovejuna; Guillén de Castro's hybridization of the honor-driven epic past and the newer organization of the self and its drives through passion in Las mocedades del Cid; Calderón's generation of a desire for the external imposition of authority out of the very erosion of belief in the natural order in La vida es sueño; and Tirso's similar production of a longing to return to the patriarchal order as a limit to the uncontrollable, mobile desire of incipient capitalism in El burlador de Sevilla: all of these are examples of strategies by means of which the public and necessarily politicized discourse of the theater sought to work out a compromise between the preceding social structure and the forces which had begun to disrupt it. Of particular importance for the way Cascardi situates Spain with respect to European modernity is his rejection of Gadamer's claim that the concept of taste in Gracián is independent of class. Rather, Cascardi suggests, taste replaced lineage as a principle of distinction in a social structure passing from caste to class. Though its role in maintaining the social hierarchy was masked in the subsequent development of aesthetic theory, the fact that the discourse on taste can be traced back to the problematic shift from caste to class in a society often considered belated with respect to the modernization process once again gives the lie to the claims of the modern self to a radical autonomy with respect to the past.
Cervantes and Garcilaso emerge here as modern writers in a different sense. Don Quijote shares with La vida es sueño or El oráculo manual the awareness that the cultural past can no longer be taken for granted as the guide for social behavior, but rather than seek a substitute for this loss of authority, it opens the breach even wider by simultaneously enacting a proliferation of models and a questioning of the possibility of authorial self-assertion. Cascardi sees this doubting of the redemptive power of literature as a rediscovery by Cervantes of a layer of meaning already present in Garcilaso's poetry. To demonstrate this, a brilliant reading of the images of the dissolution of the self and the collapse of pastoral harmony in Garcilaso's sonnets and eclogues is inserted between the chapters on Don Quijote and the one on Persiles. It is this skepticism concerning the ultimate efficacy of the speech act which had to be forgotten for the subjective depth found in Garcilaso's poetry to be used by Gracián as part of a strategy for internalizing the mechanisms of social control. The modernity of a Cervantes or a Garcilaso, then, is seen in opposition to that of a Calderón, a Gracián, or a Descartes; for while these latter agree in principle that the authority of nature and the cultural tradition have been lost, they quickly find something absolutism, taste, reason with which to replace them, thus closing once more the aporia of a subject unable to ground itself which underlies all truly modern self-consciousness.
Thus Cervantes's novel reduces the past to a bewildering wreckage at the same time as it forecloses on the transforming power of poetry, demonstrating that the modern writer, faced by an array of models, cannot produce anything
other than figures, personae, tropes, and of course texts, all of which likewise
threaten to disorient and overwhelm the reader (241). His double refusal,
either to attempt to recuperate a totalizing vision of the past or to proclaim
a new order by fiat, defines Cervantes's stance as a modern writer
and allows him to create a new form by questioning the motives of all
those who would inherit the past (245). This new form, however, should
not be identified with the realist novel, as if Cervantes's unmasking of
the loss of cultural authority could simply be covered over by evoking him
as the authority from which one could now comfortably proceed. In chapter
7, Cascardi has added a key reference to Martinez-Bonati's Don Quixote
and the Poetics of the Novel, the study which, to date, has most persuasively
argued against idée reçue of Cervantes as the originator
of the modern novel. For once we clearly perceive his opposition to the
ideological closure of Lope, Calderón, Tirso, and Gracián,
it is easy to feel that the road has been opened for assimilating Cervantes
to the project of modernity of which we are the product. Precisely here,
however, Persiles stands in the way, for it is a manifestly anti-modern
work if what we expect from modernity is rationality, skepticism concerning
the possibility of knowledge of the extra-mundane, and a fully autonomous,
This otherness of Persiles has generally been explained away by viewing Cervantes's posthumous romance as a retreat into orthodoxy, and its resistance to this reading is one of the chief virtues of Cascardi's book. For it is to Persiles that the argument of Ideologies of History leads, clarifying the gulf which separates Cervantes's vision of the moral order from the collapse back into authoritarianism characteristic of the theater of the Golden Age. Although Persiles attempts to re-enchant the disenchanted world of Don Quijote, it presupposes the reader's awareness of historical contingency as asserted in the earlier work, and maintains the separation between the is in which author and reader live and the ought of the reconciled community of mankind it projects. The basis for this community is not to be any institutional authority of Church or State, but a quasi-miraculous recognition in purely human terms. In Persiles, scenes of mutual recognition outside of established social structures, such as the one between Ricla and Antonio de Villaseñor in the isolation of a cave on a distant island, produce a wonder not dependent for its meaning or force on religious doctrines or political or economic power. Thus it could be argued, extending Cascardi's parallels between Persiles and Kant's moral philosophy, that the characters in Cervantes's last works of fiction discover within themselves within one another a capacity for moral action which cannot be reduced to any pre-existing social code, and can therefore only be seen in its effects, but not given in representation. Kant's label for these effects is, of course, the Sublime.
Undoubtedly the historical scope and theoretical sweep of a book like Ideologies of History leave it open to criticism. From the standpoint of traditional scholarship, the readings can seem to lack detail and to be overburdened by theorizing. But such criticisms would be inappropriate. Cascardi provides Golden Age studies with a possible blueprint for its next phase; it is up to a new generation of scholars to complete it. Nonetheless, important questions remain unanswered, chief among them the place within this framework of two elusive
figures: Góngora and Quevedo. For surely no one is startled to find Lope and Calderón here depicted as a conformist and an apologist, respectively, nor to see Cervantes set apart from the closed Spain of the Counter-Reformation. It is another matter, though, to characterize the ideological position of the author of Soledades, and perhaps even more difficult to decide that of the dilatada y compleja literatura which includes both La política de Dios and Los sueños. The composition of Cascardi's book as a series of separate essays also tends to obscure the broad lines of the argument. What is needed at this point is a book-length essay covering the same ground in a less fragmentary way, at the same time making explicit the alternative version of European modernity at times implicit here. Such a work might focus on the other side of the Baroque, the one which aimed not so much at the formation of subjects desiring subjugation as at the invention of a discursive practice capable of mirroring for the subject the processes of its own formation. It could include readings of Cervantes's mature work, especially Persiles and certain Novelas ejemplares, Góngora's Soledades and Polifemo, certain of Quevedo's satirical writings, and perhaps even some of Gracián (for example, the Agudeza). Such an essay on how the Baroque subject came to recognize its own discursivity would form the ideal complement to Ideologies of History.
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