- The Lazarillo Phenomenon: Essays on the Adventures of a Classic Text
picaresque, Lazarillo de Tormes, Early Modern Spain, Spanish Inquisition, index of prohibited books, cultural studies, food studies, feminist criticism, mythology
Lazarillo de Tormes is alive and well, appearing in classrooms galore and populating research databases with entries that offer wide-ranging approaches to the "standard-bearer" "picaresque" "novel." I quote these words deliberately, as the focus of The Lazarillo Phenomenon is to agitate the "stagnant" (9, 15) state in which Lazarillo studies apparently find themselves. This volume of an introduction and eight essays seeks to reorient traditional approaches to question the very use of "picaresque," the novel's position "as a fundamental part of the cultural production of the so-called Spanish Golden Age" (11), and perennial authorship studies. It does so, albeit with mixed success. Though I learned much from each essay, the editors protest a bit much about "stagnation" given the 2008 Approaches to Teaching volume, an occasional dissertation (especially Carlos Fernando Tapia's on Lazarillo and filmic adaptations), and cultural-studies orientations. Granted, the authorship question recently has engaged print and listserv readers in more than one polemic, so it is a relief to find a volume whose focus is elsewhere.
The introduction by the editors ("Our Knowledge of the Past: Reframing Lazarillo Studies") seeks a new historiography for Spain's Early Modern period as they question the "Golden Age" moniker. While it is smart to extend the dialogue on this issue—just as Margaret Greer and Alison Weber have done recently in the PMLA—it is mildly frustrating to have the argument presented as if it were new. Similarly, the editors argue that most criticism of the picaresque is predetermined by the very questions asked; they hold it better to lay aside questions of genre in favor of "more fruitful avenues" (13), such as the canon, and a prolongation of the "canon wars" of a previous generation. They state that "none of the various direct continuations of the novel . . . has come to form part of the tightly guarded canon of the so-called Spanish Golden Age literature" (13). I grant the political value of the continuations but at the risk of throwing my lot in with the "stagnators," a text can be a superb literary exemplum while it also engages a wider socio-politico-cultural arena.
In the first essay, "La vida de Lazarillo de Tormes: Publicity and Fictionality," Óscar Pereira Zazo sets the theoretical tone by addressing issues of "publicity" and perception. "Publicity" refers to the act of making public Lazarillo's life both as pregonero and as writer/narrator of el caso, that is, of what it means by "signifying in the public realm" (23). I find Pereira's elaborations refreshing as he brings to bear the distinctness of "public," "private," and "particular" and their respective roles in Spanish culture of the wider period. His exploration of distance and immediacy, and the development of informational and cultural [End Page 219] capital leads to a consideration of "homines noui or new men" (27), those not of noble birth whose knowledge permitted entry to the court as well as adherence to codes of conduct based on outward appearances, thus serving the state and creating literary texts that serve as a "tool of the political sphere" (29). Two problems arise: first, does this not coincide with a more traditional view of the absolutist monarchy in how it controlled its "messaging" (as Maravall held)? And second, once public, does not the literary text take on a distinct life as distance between court and the public sector grows? There will always be literature ideologically in tune with the ruling class, just as good writers will also slip under the radar of censorship. For Pereira, Lazarillo becomes a realist novel that warns about the dangerous task of public dissension in an absolutist government. The word "picaresque" makes no appearance.
Sean McDaniel's "Galateo español, destierro de ignorancia, and Lazarillo castigado: The Importance of Post-Publication History," admits to...