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Everything Left to Chance: Contingency Against Ethics in Javier Marías's Los enamoramientos

From: MLN
Volume 128, Number 2, March 2013 (Hispanic Issue)
pp. 384-405 | 10.1353/mln.2013.0023

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The philosopher Richard Rorty characterizes post-Enlightenment liberal society as a culture that sees "one's language, one's conscience, one's morality, and one's highest hopes as contingent products, as literalizations of what once were accidentally produced metaphors" (61). Rorty's theory undercuts the soundness of universal philosophical propositions, such as Kant's categorical imperative, because no transcendental truth is immune from the contingent, tortuous development of history. Under Rorty's interpretation of liberal society, that which humankind considers valid—moral goods, the psychological reality of consciousness, society's founding myths, and so on—conforms arbitrarily to the circumstances of the present moment. In this vein, philosophical and historical truth only exist as such temporarily, until a future 'present' arrives and erects its own systems of belief. For Rorty, the future's alternative truths begin as unpredictably-produced metaphors that transform into literal terms. But because history advances haphazardly, contingency always obscures the evolving shape of society's unassailable beliefs, ethical codes, and literalized metaphors.

In the following pages, I argue that Javier Marías's Los enamoramientos (2011) replicates Rorty's dialectical relationship between contingency and truth, especially regarding morality and ethics. Each of the work's four parts endows the plot's central event—an apparently senseless and random murder—with a distinct ideational content. Each level of truth attached to the murder unfolds due to a contingent, fortuitous twist, which is only validated retrospectively by narration. I define contingency as a temporal progression that advances without necessity or logic, and which pinpoints chance, rather than fate, as the motor of history. In the novel, chance alone glues together the plot's central love story, a notion that Marías repeats in an interview with El País in which he likens the process of enamoramiento to playing the lottery: "Hay gente que piensa que estábamos destinados a encontrarnos. Y una de las reflexiones que aparecen en el libro es que todo eso no es más que el producto de una especie de sorteo o de rifa" ("La ausencia y el azar"). As I will explore, el azar determines both the development of psycho-affective bonds in the novel and also the contents of truth statements for Marías on a more general basis.

On an ideological level, contingency also informs Los enamoramiento's conception of morality and law. Rorty, in the above citation, asserts that liberal society's uniqueness lies in its knowledge of the contingent development of its history, with each epoch passing into the next without predictable logic. In Los enamoramientos, this sort of knowledge carries with it ethical consequences; the protagonists' awareness of the adventitious, indiscriminate nature of everyday life allows for moral escapism and a nullification of the guilt normally associated with breaking ethical tenets. Marías's characters, in other words, are in full possession of Rorty's liberal consciousness. In contrast with the picture of ethics put forth by classical philosophical thought and novels rooted in earlier historical moments, Los enamoramientos thematizes the role that persuasion, autosuggestion, and the complicity brought about by amorous charisma play in the articulation of good and evil. My analysis will focus principally on Los enamoramientos, but I will refer in passing to other topical texts from Marías's repertoire.

The novel's narrator, María Dolz—Marías's first female interlocutor—frequents a café where her visits coincide daily with that of a couple, Miguel Desvern and Luisa Alday. In a seemingly random act of aggression, a transient knifes Desvern to death in a parking structure, mistaking him to be a pimp in charge of his two runaway daughters. Later, after a prolonged absence, Alday unexpectedly returns to the café, and Dolz works up the courage to approach the widow and express her sympathies. The encounter results in a visit to the Desvern household. While there, Dolz meets Javier Díaz-Varela, Desvern's closest friend and a habitual visitor of the widow. After the visit, Dolz again encounters Díaz-Varela, "en un lugar improbable para encontrarse a nadie, muy cerca de donde había muerto Desvern, en el edificio rojizo del Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales" (131...



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