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Crossfire: Philosophy and the Novel in Spain, 1900-1934 (review)

From: Philosophy and Literature
Volume 18, Number 1, April 1994
pp. 186-187 | 10.1353/phl.1994.0097

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

186Philosophy and Literature Crossfire: Philosophy and the Novel in Spain, 1900-1934, by RobertaJohnson; xi & 232 pp. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1993, $26.00. RobertaJohnson has chosen to illuminate a topic that has seemed perennially complex to students and scholars of late nineteenth- and early twentiethcentury Spanish Peninsular literature: the philosophic bases for what is known as "the Silver Age" of Spanish fiction. In the process, while challenging the "notion of fixed generations with innumerable and unchanging characteristics ," she also very ably clarifies the case for and stronglyjustifies the validity of continuing to use the terminology "Generation of '98" and "1914" for a diverse group of writers whose fiction embodies the philosophical controversies and positions of their eras. Her focus on the "crossfire" of such issues between die two generations and, indeed, between the Generation of '98 and the late nineteenth-century generations, makes patendy clear that the term "generation " is exceedingly apt for the ebb and flow of relationships and rebellions occurring between the "grandfathers," "fadiers," and "sons" of this complex era. (Johnson herself acknowledges the dearth of "mothers" in this equation, though her inclusion of at least one "grandmodier," Pardo Bazán, and some "granddaughters," including Rosa Chacel, tempts us with an implied invitation for further study.) Johnson's study is organized into two parts, with the first two-thirds devoted to "setting the background for and analyzing the major philosophical novels of the Generation of '98 written during the period from 1900 to 1914" (p. x). She defines "philosophical novels" as those that "foreground philosophy in a discursive manner." These chapters focus on Unamuno, Baroja, and Martinez Ruiz ("Azorin") and illustrate through analysis of several of their major fictional works the ambiguities of their personal and generational views of the conflicting philosophies of their day. Using current theories and analyses of narration based on the ideas of Bakhtin and Todorov, among others, she often focuses on the inter- and intra-textual philosophical dialogue in which these audiors and dieir characters engage as they try to make sense of die waves and currents of the bewildering number of philosophical theories and debates eddying around them. These writers inherited, as it were, the situation of nineteenth-century Positivism and Darwinism being met and swept along not only by various versions of Marxism and socialism but later by the pervasive idealism of Krausism. This braided and sweeping current in itself is quite enough to explain the diversity of ideas and changes and exchanges of views within and among the above writers, butJohnson also reminds us that "all the new philosophical ideas entering Spain from the 1860s forward were confronted with uniform hostility and vigorous objection from the conservative and Catholic orthodoxy" (p. 21). Thus, though the Generation of '98 is often simplistically labeled "Krausist," Johnson effectively points out diat this was Reviews187 hardly true. Although idealism and positivism competed as a dialogue during their formative years, by the time these authors were actually publishing, they had inherited the tendency for philosophical discussion and controversy much less than any defined or defining view. In the last third ofher study, then,Johnson takes up the Generation of 1914, first focusing on Pérez de Ayala, J. R. Jiménez, and G. Miró and their major works that react to and often parody the themes and practices of the earlier generation. She stresses diat even though stylistically this generation replaced the overt philosophical dialogue and discursiveness of the Generation of '98 with a focus on visual imagery and linguistic virtuosity, the leadership and influence ofJosé Ortega y Gasset and his focus on die issues of perception and phenomenological description meant that the crossfires continued as the apprentices revised and modified the aesthetics of their Masters. Her final chapter concentrates especially on the relationship of Ortega and his ideas to Benjamin James, Pedro Salinas, and Rosa Chacel. She shows that these last three, separated somewhat further in time and aesthetics from the Generation of '98, move to a more humorous and parodie dialogue where the concepts of consciousness and language take precedence over the sometimes agonizingly serious existential concerns of their elders. This last chapter moves quite rapidly and is perhaps too abbreviated; Johnson...