- Reviewed by
This evocatively titled book represents an ambitious and welcome project: the rereading of major canonical texts from the first quarter of the century. Robert Spires rightly challenges the tendency to read this fiction in the context of debates over literary generations, philosophical sources, and author biographies. He shifts the focus to the texts themselves and lets his readings of eleven novels that span the period from the rupture with realism-naturalism to the launching of vanguard manifestoes forge their own history of the Spanish novel. From the four novels that in 1902 broke dramatically with "the canons of realism"—Camino de perfección, La voluntad, Amor y pedagogía, and Sonata de otoño —to Pedro Salinas' 1926 novel, Vísperas del gozo, Spires identifies the strategies of rebellion that redefine Spanish fiction.
Spires sets out to write an alternative to the corseted literary histories rigidly bound by successive generations. Retaining the formalistic approach that characterizes his earlier studies (La novela española de posguerra and Beyond the Metafictional Mode), he incorporates Bakhtin's definition of "dialogism" as the conceptual model that leads him to explore "double-voicing." Other critical models would also have served to identify the dual layers of meaning communicated by a speech act addressed to an individual receptor within the text but understood by the reader to convey a different message. Spires utilizes Bakhtin, on the one hand, to affirm double-voicing in the works selected; only Doña Inés, where parody replaces double-voicing, escapes this conceptual framework. On a broader plane, dialogism structures Spires's reading of a literary text as a dialogic response to its precursors and its anticipated progeny.
The agenda of Transparent Simulacra is a crowded one. The search for strategies designed to renovate Spanish fiction gives coherence to the study. Although Spires affirms the "representative" nature of his sample, he admittedly selects novels characterized by innovative textual strategies. He is candidly straightfoward about his criteria for inclusion. Within his sharply defined time frame, he identifies frequently-taught novels, currently available in paper and not previously analyzed by him (hence "Nada menos que todo un hombre" in place of Niebla), thus endowing his study with an eminently utilitarian character.
In addition, Spires conceives his book in dialogic relationship to Gustavo Pérez-Firmat's rereading of vanguard fiction in Idle Fictions: The Hispanic Vanguard Novel, 1926-1934. His analyses contest Pérez-Firmat's contention that vanguard fiction springs full-blown and ex nihilo from the barren soil of Spain in 1926. In direct challenge to this launch date, Spires includes two pre-1926 novels by members of the vanguard movement, El novelista (1923) by Gomez de la Serna and El convidado de papel (1924) by Benjamin James. He also treats two major works by members of the Generation of '98, Dona Inés (1925) and Tirano Banderas (1926), that embody the aesthetic of art for art's sake while still addressing "universal human concerns." It might be argued, nevertheless, that Spires follows a practice similar to the one he contests in Idle Fictions: the denial of a gradual emergence of features that come to constitute a recognized new form of writing. Although his rejection of Pérez-Firmat's thesis marks his terminus ad quem, his terminus a quo [End Page 842] relies on the construction of his own "straw man," in this case the realist-naturalist novel.
Transparent Simulacra offers valuable readings of major canonical texts reinforced by a common theoretical frame and the overarching presence of experimental techniques. The readings themselves are first-rate and often illuminating, as Hispanists have learned to expect from Spires. By his own admission, Spires's project is open-ended, because he does not grant special status to his own reading. For Spires, "the reader" is a discrete, identifiable entity, himself, and not an abstract or theoretical construct. This is both the strength and the weakness of his approach to reading. What if he had selected different texts, different authors, or a different span of years? The...