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  • Two Abortive Beginnings and the Search for a Literary Father in Juan Goytisolo’s Señas de identidad
  • Samuel O’Donoghue

Juan Goytisolo is envisaged by numerous critics as an iconoclast, a violator of traditions, and an experimentalist at the vanguard of twentieth-century Spanish literature. The titles of a number of critical studies point to Goytisolo’s hostility towards conventions as a defining characteristic of his work: thus Alison Ribeiro de Menezes refers to the author as a “dissident”; Stanley Black intimates that he is “radical”; and Juan Carlos Curutchet, Linda Gould Levine, and Abigail Lee Six all emphasize the destructive nature of Goytisolo’s novelistic enterprise. In this article I suggest that it is productive to consider Goytisolo not only as a desecrator of established conventions, but also as the inheritor of some of these same conventions. Goytisolo’s dissidence and narrative experimentalism are not incompatible with the acute interest he displays in canonical works of literature. The author himself points critics in this direction: he suggests that his literary forefathers, not his disciples, matter the most to him (qtd. in Davis, Writing 92). In the study that follows I offer a reading of Señas de identidad (1966) that foregrounds Goytisolo’s literary influences. I argue that the opening of the novel functions as a symbolic performance of the author’s search for a literary father, as Goytisolo looks for (and finds) a paradigm through which to articulate his protagonist’s quest to rediscover the past and the self.

This study seeks to shed light on the hitherto incomplete “señas” of Goytisolo’s literary parentage by deciphering the imprint of Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu on Goytisolo’s use of involuntary memory as a means of recovering the past in Señas de identidad. The detailed critical discussion of Goytisolo’s literary antecedents has until now focused almost exclusively on the influence of Luis Martín-Santos, Carlos Fuentes, or the [End Page 301] ideas of the Russian formalists and the Prague school.1 Proust’s omission from the catalogue of major influences on Goytisolo’s novel might be attributed to the fact that Señas contains no explicit references to Proust; Goytisolo is content merely to allude to his French precursor by using expressions such as “recuperar el tiempo perdido” (Señas 44). But in Coto vedado Goytisolo admits to his predilection for Proust and other foreign, principally French authors he discovered and in which he reveled during his childhood and adolescence (52, 120, 153). The author claims to have begun his exile long before his actually leaving Spain in 1956, by immersing himself in an exclusively Francophone literary environment, something the author terms a “filtro que me alejó durante años de la poesía y novelas escritas en mi lengua con consecuencias fáciles de calcular” (Coto 198). This study is an attempt precisely to gauge these consequences, to which Goytisolo alludes suggestively, by assessing the repercussions of the author’s reading of Proust on his literary output. Although numerous critics refer fleetingly to the Proustian overtones of Álvaro’s use of objects to resuscitate the past, only two – Ronald Schwartz (198–99) and Herbert Craig (240–43) – have dedicated serious consideration to the parallels between Goytisolo and Proust.2 But neither Schwartz nor Craig presses the argument that Proust is a significant, indeed even essential presence in Goytisolo’s novel. Craig helpfully observes a number of instances in Señas in which Álvaro’s recollection of the past is produced by involuntary memory. Yet this critic offers little analysis to support his position regarding Proust’s deep impression on the Spanish novelist. Craig adds limited commentary to his quotes, leaving them to stand alone as self-explanatory examples of Proustian influence. Schwartz provides a convincing comparison of À la recherche and Señas, but goes on to make the caveat that the affinities between the two works should not be over-emphasized: “The comparison of Goytisolo’s popular novel to Proust’s immortal one should not be prolonged” (199). In the study that follows I shall disregard [End Page 302] Schwartz’s advice. Schwartz’s dichotomy of “popular” and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2165-7599
Print ISSN
0035-7995
Pages
pp. 301-311
Launched on MUSE
2015-08-18
Open Access
No
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