The title Crossfire: Philosophy and the Novel in Spain, 1900-1934 refers to the "intergenerational hostilities" between the generations of 1898 and 1914. According to Johnson, the leaders of the '98 coterie—among them Unamuno, Baroja and Azorin—wrote their novels in response to the philosophical ideas that had been influencing most intellectual thought in Europe during the previous two centuries. Johnson contends that the younger generation of novelists—Jimenez, Salinas, Ayala, James, etc.—dismissed their elders' dialogic constructs in favor of a more aesthetic/poetic form.
Johnson explains that the writers of the '98 generation had abandoned the essay for fiction in order to present philosophical notions without offending their own mentors and the literary critics of the day. It was also generally agreed that the novel permitted more latitude offering the author a chance to speak in different voices which expressed a multitude of visions—anonymously. The fear of controversy was so great, says Johnson, that when Martinez Ruiz transformed himself from rhetorician to novelist he went so far as to change his name to Azorin. This persistent passive-aggressive relationship between the Generation of '98 writers and their reviewers resulted in what Johnson calls a "philosophic schizophrenia" in that while their articles may have professed admiration for certain positions their novels seemed to satirize those same theories (and in the case of Baroja became quite cynical).
Johnson is especially knowledgeable in her first few chapters when she offers insight into the educational backgrounds, interests and personal libraries of each of the particular authors—and some of the critics—unfolding their journeys of intellectual evolution. She further selects work by each of these authors to demonstrate those different voices echoed in the fiction and, indeed, presents some thoughtful analysis.
The argument breaks down, however, when Johnson, in an offhand acknowledgement of current critical thought, briefly mentions that Einstein's Theory of Relativity was influential in the creation of the contemporary art of the Generation of '14. She misses a golden opportunity to bridge the movement of metaphysical theory from the nineteenth century, which had already been digested and rejected by the Generation of '98, to that of modernity. Instead, she makes the common mistake in believing that because the works of the second generation are "lighter" and more poetic, the Generation of '14 rejects Science in favor of aesthetics in order to explore the "theme of the dichotomy between life and art." She rightfully states that it was Ortega y Gasset's brilliant essays that served as a challenge to the Generation of '14 but totally ignores his two essays "La Doctrina del Punto de Vista" and "Del Sentido Historico de la Teoria de Einstein." Johnson informs us that the authors themselves admitted their debt to the Theory of Relativity but she does not examine the profound metamorphosis of the Spanish novel as a result of this. Even the writing in Unamuno's Niebla, completed in 1913, is constructed in a manner compatible [End Page 416] with the refractional perspective that Einstein's notion engendered. The Spanish modern novelists in no way abandoned metaphysical concerns as Johnson states; the authors simply had new ammunition to add to the crossfire of ideas which Johnson chooses to glide over.
Johnson looks at the novels of Jarnes, Salinas and Chacel in her last chapter. These three "vanguardistas" created work rich in intertextual reference to the Generation of '98. Johnson believes that these younger writers "reveal lingering echoes of the Generation of '98" and she charts these masterfully. She suggests that the difference between the two generations is that the younger writers prefer "fragmentation over totality."
Her own bread crumbs lead her down the proper path but she never follows the clues to the most complete conclusion that because the twentieth century notion of relativity, the greatest metaphysical issue of the day, gave the ageless philosophical debates a forceful, new approach, modern artists attained access to a more expansive palette. Crossfire, as an intertextual, intergenerational study is a success; however, it does not fulfill its promise as...