From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America
19.1 (1999): 131-34.
Copyright © 1999, The Cervantes Society of America
Paz Gago, José María. Semiótica del
Quijote: Teoría y práctica de la ficción
narrativa. Amsterdam and Atlanta: Rodopi, 1995. 432 pp.
José María Paz Gago's semiotic
analysis of the Quijote holds special interest since it is by far
the most detailed and systematic application to date of that approach to
Cervantes's masterpiece. This is not to say that it is complete, but it does
represent a heroic effort. In the obligatory modesty topos which
comes only in the last paragraph of the study the author remarks that
el estudio semiótico del Quijote es una empresa ambiciosa
y de muy largo alcance que aquí no ha sido más que iniciada
(384). Despite the disclaimer, it is a very promising beginning indeed.
The literary criticism done in Spain during the last fifty years seems to be dominated by two tendencies: stylistics toward the beginning and semiotics toward the end. Paz Gago's work largely takes its cue from Carmen Bobes Naves, probably the leading advocate of semiotics in Spain, but it looks also to Italy, France, Russia, Great Britain, North America, and beyond for foundational studies. It is a very cosmopolitan and sophisticated marshaling of pertinent theory, one that gives evidence of wide reading, deep understanding, and an impressive ability to synthesize a disparate mass of material into a coherent whole. It gives evidence, in other words, of a first-rate critical mind. Having said all that, 75% of the insights offered come from solid, sober, old-fashioned close reading, while some 25% are traceable to semiotic methodology.
The study is organized into the following sections, most of which are further subdivided, in the manner of semiotic and linguistic studies, into subsections numbered 4.2, 4.2.1, and so forth: Prefacio, 1. Introducción, 2. Umbral, 3. Narración, 4. Dialogía, 5. Ficción, 6. Estructuración, 7. Cronotopía, 8. Metatextos, followed by an epilogue, a bibliography, and an index of authors cited. The dedication is: A Dulcinea, dama fantástica. The study incorporates six articles that have appeared previously (19), but all have been revised and skillfully integrated into a seamless whole.
Paz Gago contends from beginning to end that the Quijote is the first modern novel, and he presents good evidence for that assertion. He also suggests ways in which it foreshadows postmodern versions of the form, a claim to which I am more inclined to subscribe. He endorses Bakhtin's view of the text as a fusion of two generic registers, the fantastical world of romance, which
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possesses the mind of our deranged Knight, and the picaresque world of quotidian,
recalcitrant reality that tries him sorely.
Chapter 8, Metatextos, dealing with the criticism of the Quijote, is one of the most interesting and incisive. This chapter could have been placed at the beginning, with minor revisions, but it is also well situated at the end, since it serves to contextualize Paz Gago's effort in the several chapters preceding. It is a devastating critique of approaches that have sought to turn a work of fiction into an essay on Erasmianism, philosophy, ethnicity, or any one of several other aberrations that would make of Cervantes a revolutionary Marxist, a freethinker, an archconservative, or what-have-you, and whose practitioners indulge in what Paz Gago calls a método delirante (375). Let us hear the author in his own words:
El Quijote no es un tratado filosófico serio sino una obra de ficción, por lo que el pensamiento de Cervantes es inaccesible a través de ella. Hay, por supuesto, una gran riqueza y variedad de ideas dispersas sobre religión, estética, moral . . . , pero son expresadas por seres ficcionales narradores y personajes que no conviene tomar demasiado en serio. No existe una Filosofía del Quijote y, si existe, es diversa, contradictoria, ambigua siempre, engañosa en ocasiones, porque está expresada en un medio ficcional; todos los intentos interpretativos que traten de aprehenderla caerán . . . en ese inevitable enigma metatextual. (376)
Let me turn now to narratology, the vertebral column of the study. Paz Gago takes North American practitioners to task for failing to distinguish between narrators and pseudo-authors. In his view, there can be one and only one extradiegetic-heterodiegetic narrator per text. While he subscribes to my notion of the supernarrator, and proceeds to use the term, he equates that concept with his extradiegetic-heterodiegetic voice (as indeed I do also). Our major difference centers around his assumption that this frame narrator speaks through the first author (100), who is only a transparent ruse, a mask, and that he is firmly in control from the very outset. I find this a high price to pay for consistency within the text and devotion to a theoretical model. Might it not be the case that current semiotic and narratological theory cannot adequately account for Cervantes's creativity? I have often said that if Genette had known the Quijote as well as he seems to know À la recherche du temps perdu, he would likely have based the book we know as Narrative Discourse on it, rather than on Proust, for the Quijote is a richer and more complex text. It is the experimental nature of the 1605 Quijote, in narrative technique in particular, that creates the complexity to which I refer. Cervantes begins the narration with an extradiegetic-heterodiegetic narrator that he chooses to call the author (retrospectively, the first author), presciently confounding subsequent semioticians, whose models cannot accommodate the game being played out before our eyes. That game involves changing horses even before he reaches mid-stream, at the end of chapter 8, when the voice of the real frame narrator surfaces for the first time, but the point is that this is a replacement extradiegetic-heterodiegetic narrator, who indeed seems to have been lurking there somewhere in the insterstices of the text
all along, but I fail to see how he can have been speaking through the first
author prior to this juncture. I do not confuse authors with narrators. They
are one and the same for the first eight chapters. Then Cervantes shifts
gears, giving us a new and more powerful frame narrator who is able to look
both backward, over what has transpired, and forward, in order to reveal
something of what will happen in the next chapter. But there is no evidence
of his presence in the text prior to the last paragraph of chapter 8. His
sudden appearance represents a metalepsis of the first order, and it is precisely
metalepsis that does not receive the attention it deserves in Paz Gago's
account, neither in Part I, where the device is still experimental, nor yet
in Part II, where it is fully integrated into narrative technique, ubiquitous,
and unmistakable. The demotion of the first narrator from extradiegetic to
intradiegetic status at the end of I.8 is also quite remarkable.
One of the potentially far-reaching results of Paz Gago's rigorous separation of authors and narrators is that it now becomes increasingly problematical to consider the second author, who has his brief moment on the page in chapter 9, to be a narrator (although I would argue that he does narrate his fortuitous find in Toledo that, and no more). It must follow logically that this entity cannot be the editorial voice / supernarrator / extradiegetic-heterodiegetic narrator / frame narrator, call it what you will. This is perhaps a more significant demotion, since many readers confuse this voice with that of the frame narrator (my supernarrator).
On the general subject of narratology, which is Paz Gago's forte, as many readers will know, I am surprised to find no mention of Letizia Bianchi's early application (in 1980) of Genette to an analysis of the interpolated stories, nor my application of Gerald Prince's disnarrated, the other side of the narrative coin, presented in 1992 in Paz Gago's presence. Frequent mention is made of ellipsis, or the non-narrated, and of its role in the scheme of things, but that is only one facet of the disnarrated. Finally, in this area, there is very fine and sensitive commentary on the narrative pacts established between the several metadiegetic (or character) narrators and their respective narratees, but too little attention is paid to the extradiegetic narrator's narratee. As one of my students once asked, does the concept of a supernarrator imply a supernarratee? No attention whatsoever is paid the intended recipients of the several pseudo-authors' pseudo-scribbling. How would we go about constructing Cide Hamete's intended reader, for instance? For whom does Cide Hamete write? What could possibly be his motivation for writing? Since the pseudo-authors are dispossessed in Paz Gago's model, that is, since they no longer participate in the narrative scheme of things, they receive short shrift. But they are there, integrated into the text, and an adequate semiotic model should account for them. Of course, Cide Hamete is not a narrator; no serious student of narratology today could mistake him for one. But what is he? What is his role? To dismiss him, along with the first and second authors, as being merely pseudo-authors strikes me as facile and simplistic. It simply does not come to grips with the dynamics of the work.
There is so much really substantial commentary in Paz Gago's study that I would not want to mislead the reader by the reservations just expressed. I found
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the book to be riveting and tried to avoid interruptions while reading it.
Particularly absorbing are the sections on time and space, plot structure,
narrative vs. real time, plurality of voices and discourses, and fictional
universes. Some of these might have been buttressed by pertinent studies
of L. A. Murillo (The Golden Dial; also A Critical Introduction)
and Steven Hutchinson (Cervantine Journeys). Martínez Bonati
is very much a presence throughout, as are Casalduero, Mancing, Egido,
Avalle-Arce, Segre, Riley, El Saffar, Haley, Canavaggio, and other eminent
Cervantistas, but I would have to say that the dominant presence informing
the text is Gérard Genette, even more than Carmen Bobes. The edition
of the Quijote referred to is that of L. A. Murillo.
In his epilogue, Por un nuevo Cervantismo, Paz Gago situates himself vis-à-vis Cervantine studies in what might be described as a Janus-like captatio benevolentiae:
Este libro ha sido escrito con respeto y admiración hacia el Cervantismo, que cuenta con una larguísima tradición en el seno de los estudios de la historia literaria española, pero ello no impide poner de relieve sus limitaciones metodológicas y sus excesos, una cierta falta de rigor y un anquilosamiento teórico-crítico que sólo en los últimos años ha comenzado a subsanarse. Es ésta la mejor justificación del fundamento metodológico que hemos utilizado. (383)
Despite the reservations stated, and a plethora of typos including innumerable incorrect and inconsistent uses of the graphic accent I recommend this book enthusiastically. This fine study deserved better editing, or proof-reading. The use of jargon is not intrusive, and with a little time and patience, the concepts become crystal clear, since they reappear frequently. It is only during the last three decades that we have had an adequate technical lexicon for discussing narrative technique. Within another decade, this terminology will be as common as any we now use for poetry or drama. Those who have not yet acquired the requisite vocabulary should do so if they wish to participate meaningfully in discussions of narrative. Paz Gago´s book offers an excellent introduction. It has much to say to both experts and amateurs, particularly those who may wish to stay abreast of the times.
|James A. Parr|
|University of California, Riverside|
|Fred Jehle email@example.com||Publications of the CSA||HCervantes|