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  • La cámara y el cálamo: Ansiedades cinematográficas en la narrativa hispánica de vanguardia
  • Juli Highfill
Nanclares, Gustavo. La cámara y el cálamo: Ansiedades cinematográficas en la narrativa hispánica de vanguardia. Madrid: Iberoamericana Vervuert, 2010. 209 pp.

Today, in our hyper-mediatized age, it is difficult to imagine the impact of cinema in the early twentieth century, as film-viewing became a universal experience. The sudden visibility of larger-than-life figures in motion on screen altered how people saw themselves and conducted themselves in social life. Film-making revived a rich language of gesture, facial expression, and bodily movement, which since Gutenberg had been overshadowed by print culture. Meanwhile, the other arts—literature, theater, painting, and sculpture—found themselves competing with an exciting, more accessible cultural experience. Gustavo Nanclares likens the irruption of cinema to a seismic event; it forced a far-reaching reexamination of the raison d’etre of literature and transformed literary style as authors sought to make movies with the written word. [End Page 155]

In this well-researched, cogent study, Nanclares focuses on narrative literature, which, along with theater, found itself most threatened by moving pictures. As he shows in his first chapter, cinema served as a source of inspiration for novelists, who avidly sought to incorporate cinematic techniques into their writing. However, once writers made cinema their primary model for literary production, they were seized by an “anxiety of influence” and vacillated between admiration and disdain for the new medium. Writers envied the power of cinema to enchant its audience, and they defended the written word against this powerful mass spectacle. But at the same time, many writers rose to the challenge and worked to renovate literature by translating cinematic language from the screen to the page.

Nanclares examines in chapter two how novelists adapted montaje (editing), découpage (segmentation), and fotogenia (photogenic qualities) to their narratives. Taking their cues from film, they found new ways to structure their novels, to frame and shift scenes, and to focalize the narrative “eye.” Of particular interest here are the theories of spectatorship advanced by Boris Eikhenbaum and Antonio Espina. These theorists sought to understand the psychological processes of the film viewer, who, submerged in darkness and captivated by the images on screen, enjoys an experience at once solitary and collective. Contrary to expectation, film viewers are not passive; rather, they too are actors, or “subprotagonists.” Each viewer, Espina argues, projects a small cognitive screen that interacts dynamically with the big screen. Similarly, Eikhenbaum contends that viewers construct an “interior discourse,” as they interpret and interconnect a sequence of atomized images. Nanclares relates the ideas of these theorists to texts that attempt to reproduce the cinematic experience: Espina’s “Bacante” and Luna de copas, Gilberto Owen’s La llama fría, Gerardo Diego’s “Cuadrante. Noveloide,” and José Martínez Sotomayor’s La rueca del aire.

The third chapter provides a fascinating discussion of how early cinema revived, and depended upon, nineteenth-century theories of physiognomy. Aside from the tradition of portraiture, “life-sized” at best, there exists no historical precedent for the giant close-ups of the human face that became the stock and trade of cinema. Nanclares examines essays by José Ortega y Gasset, Fernando Vela, Alfonso Reyes, and Martín Luis Guzmán in which archaic concepts of physiognomy reemerge. For example, cinema lends new credence to the notion of the “alma corporal”—the soul manifested in the body; it allows the theatrical mask, or persona, to fuse with the person, as the camera captures and magnifies each subtle movement of the eyes and face (90). Nanclares goes on to examine texts that deploy a meticulous language of gesture, as they transfer the cinematic close-up to literature: Rosa Chacel’s Estación. Ida y vuelta; Ernesto Giménez Caballero’s “Datos para una solución”; Francisco Ayala’s “Erika ante el invierno.” What these texts reveal, paradoxically, is that the heightened visibility of the human figure renders it less tangible, less determinate. The face, fully exposed in the close-up shot, is fluid, always in motion, ultimately ineffable. Even a freeze-frame can only...


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pp. 155-158
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