- Becoming and Consumption. The Contemporary Spanish Novel
The aim of this publication is to explore different expressions of becoming woman, particularly in relation to the practices of consumption that have taken place in Spain during the last two decades. With this purpose, Candice L. Bosse emphasizes the interconnectedness between consumption and identity, arguing that an analysis of the former will contribute to our understanding of contemporary culture and, more importantly, of the individual and social processes engaged in developing identity, hence its title: Becoming and Consumption. Bosse chooses to analyse becoming, understood as ‘the creation of female subjectivity’ (1), through the representation of the practices of consumption found in the work of four Spanish writers: Lucía Etxebarría, Gabriela Bustelo, Silvia Grijalba, and Susana Plané.
The theoretical framework for this investigation revolves around two key issues: feminist theory and theories of consumption. Bosse’s feminist analysis is largely based on Rosi Braidotti’s work and her concept of the ‘nomadic self’, which involves the rejection of defining female identity within the parameters established by patriarchal society, declaring instead the fluid nature of the identity of what being woman is, the process of becoming. Regarding consumption, this is analysed, theoretically and through the novels she focuses on, as a potentially nourishing or toxic activity. Consumption is primarily presented as a way to shape identity and infuse life with meaning. According to Bosse: ‘through consuming an object, experience, memory, etc., the subject appropriates the good while assigning it meaning; this interaction produces meaning and identity’ (39). In fact, the concept of identity becomes fluid, as the individual chooses to partake of and navigate in numerous cultural groups.
This is illustrated in her analysis of Etxebarría’s Amor, curiosidad, prozac y dudas, which narrates fragments of the lives of the three Gaena sisters, who adopt three essentially different attitudes towards what being and becoming woman can be. As a result, the reader witnesses the different discourses, ideology, and expectations that – due to the distance in their ages and attitudes – each sister has faced and faces, as well as the different coping strategies they develop. Bosse’s point is that ‘as a result of the interconnection of experiences and knowledge gained along the journey, each arises to a consciousness of self and comes to embody the nomadic feminist subject’ (70). This is, in fact, a journey shared by all the female protagonists in the novels discussed. Bustelo’s Veo, veo represents another tale of female empowerment, where Vania, the main character, ‘instead of waging war on feminine sexuality and objectification, [she] strategically uses her body to challenge the fixed, stable notions of gender’ (134). Here, the female body is no longer understood or even shaped by male expectations, instead – through the consumption of music and fashion – the female subject chooses to regain power over her own body, which becomes a source of self-indulgence and subversion. Similarly, in Grijalba’s Alivio rápido, the author explores the effects of the consumption of music, drugs and personality cult through its main character, Alba. Only when Alba detaches herself from her boyfriend, whose celebrity status she used to consume, does she begin to experience independence and empowerment, which is reinforced by and reflected in her lifestyle choices and her new consumption patterns. Despite Bosse’s early acknowledgement of the paradoxes associated with consumption, the analysis of these consumption practices remains relatively unproblematized. She asserts: ‘consumption of fashion is not a moral issue, but rather it stands out as an aesthetic choice that defines the person’ (212). A discussion of the impact the consumer may exercise in markets, trends and the environment, as well as the subsequent concept of responsibility associated to consumption practices, is lacking.
Finally, in Plané’s Los placeres de Anastasia, Anastasia – like Vania – takes charge of her body and her sexuality and purposefully uses the gaze as a means of power. What is perhaps unsettling about Bosse’s analysis of Anastasia’s attitude, however, is that Anastasia’s triumph goes beyond her empowerment...