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  • The Proximate Matter of Comedia Texts
  • David J. Hildner

In recent decades, there has been an increasing drive to "materialize" or "concretize" the study of Spanish classical dramatic texts. Perhaps its most immediate manifestation can be seen in the full realization that these texts were written for performance and in the laudable move toward studies of performances (both seventeenth-century and later), especially in the new journal Comedia Performance. It remains the case, however, that scholars do not have access to performance records of every play nor can they always implement performance in their classrooms and conference presentations. Given the huge number of texts in the Spanish classical corpus, we will be obliged to study or, in some cases, may prefer to study these dramatic artifacts as texts. In studies of this last type there has also been a drive toward "materiality," principally from four sources:

  1. 1. from work on the history of text transmission and the history of the book, as exemplified by the January 2006 issue of PMLA, titled "The History of the Book and the Idea of Literature";

  2. 2. from studies based on various forms of cultural materialism, which seek out the elements of the texts pointing to the material conditions under which they were produced or under which their original spectators lived and died;

  3. 3. from the growing field of "embodied cognition," either in its more psychological and philosophical forms or in the more "hard"-science-related fields of evolutionary biology and neurobiology. According to Robert Storey, literary scholars, weary (with some justification) of the indeterminacy and speculativeness of much post-structuralist theory, can find relief in the greater certainty of cognitive science, which links knowledge inextricably to the body and, more particularly, to the brain. In Storey's case, he is so confident that these disciplines within natural science can provide "keys" to the study of literature that he ends his book by proclaiming, "Close your Deleuze, open your Darwin" (207)!

  4. 4. from studies that point to the presence of the body, body parts and functions, material objects, and definable spaces in dramatic plots and speeches. Recent [End Page 396] critics have unearthed fascinating representations of the body or parts thereof in plays such as Lope de Vega's El guante de doña Blanca (female hands), Tirso de Molina's La celosa de sí misma (glimpsed eyes and hands), and in Calderón's El médico de su honra (especially in reference to the body of Doña Mencía, both in its living and dead [murdered] forms). One could even point to the highlighting of economic exchange and transferral of goods in plays such as in Calderón's auto sacramental, El gran mercado del mundo.

Yet in the desire to "anchor" one's perception of these texts lies a danger of abstraction that could defeat the very urge toward "materialization." The major problem lies in the different senses of "matter" and "materiality" that Western thought has inherited. At bottom, the "matter" out of which comedia texts are most directly made consists of chains of discourse, both those found in the characters' speeches and in the didascalia. For this purpose, I propose to resurrect a term from the Hispano-Muslim philosopher Ibn Rushd (known to the Latin West as Averroes). In his Kitābu cilmi mā bacda-ţabīcah or "Compendium of Metaphysics," he distinguishes between al-hayūlā-l-qarīb ("near" or "proximate" matter) and al-hayūlā-l-bacīd ("far" or "remote" matter) (52). This last term refers to that which undergirds the proximate, even if it is not directly discernible in the object under study. For example, bricks and mortar can be said to be the proximate matter of a wall, but the clay, sand, and other compounds used to prepare bricks and mortar are non-proximate. Likewise, it is certainly not false to affirm that the human body is made up, in a non-proximate way, of molecules and atoms, but this information is of little use to biologists unless it is shown how those molecules are organized proximately into cells and organic tissues.

By analogy, the workings of a dramatic...


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pp. 396-402
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