- A Singular CaseLove and Trauma in Carmen Laforet's La isla y los demonios (1952)
For as the botanist plucks one single flower from the endless abundance of the plant world and then analyses it so as to demonstrate to us the nature of the plant in general, so the poet selects a single scene, indeed sometimes no more than a single mood or sensation, from the endless confusion of ceaselessly active human life, in order to show us what the life and nature of man is.—Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms, 159
Pathology has always done us the service of making discernible by isolation and exaggeration conditions which would remain concealed in a normal state.—Sigmund Freud, "Femininity," 222
Both Schopenhauer's and Freud's observations arise from their knowledge and experience of the phenomenon of singularity: the poet's capacity to pursue a general truth through the particularity of language, and the therapist's recognition of how the individual traits of a human psyche perpetually illuminate our understanding of human existence. Schopenhauer noted art's capacity to make "one single case stand[s] for thousands" in which the "careful and particular delineation of the individual is the revelation of the Idea of the genus to which it belongs."1 Thus Schopenhauer and Freud suggest that to speak of singularity always already entails a connection to a wider system or set of experiences. Through literature, most notably the novel, writers forge their creative [End Page 59] endeavors from an isolated event to give expression to "what the life and nature of man is" and thus from singularity, a deeper connection to a wider genus of experience is unveiled. We may conceive of literature then as an ongoing metonymic process with one singular case, often an extraordinary one, disclosing a more widespread phenomenon or set of experiences that had yet to be articulated. Therein lies the value of literature in supporting our understanding of the human psyche as it unfolds through emotional experiences, culture, and history.
This article addresses the phenomenon of singularity with reference to Carmen Laforet's second novel, La isla y los demonios (1952).2 Published seven years after her famous first novel Nada (1945), critical interpretations of La isla have failed to grasp its wider significance, primarily due to its resistance to sociohistoric interpretations.3 Although the Spanish civil war serves as a distant backdrop to the events of the novel, Laforet's central preoccupation is to examine the impact of love upon the young female protagonist Marta Camino, whose surname means road or journey. In this regard, La isla may be designated as an important feminist novel, even though Laforet refuted her connections with any feminist ideological positions. Marta's experience of falling in love with Pablo, an artist several years her senior, constitutes the "demonios" or human passions of the title that function to transform her behavior and to diminish temporarily her concept of self-agency. Set on the island of Gran Canaria, Marta also projects her sublimated sexual desire onto one of the mythical Guanche gods Alcorah, who serves as both a symbolic substitute father figure and idealized interlocutor. La isla interrogates the traditional Catholic concept of abnegation, prevalent in Franco's Spain, and reveals another side to female sexuality. Although Marta and Pablo's relationship is devoid of sexual intimacy, Marta also experiences a strong physical attraction to a young soldier, Sixto, although their relationship also remains unconsummated. Despite the stringency of the censorship laws in Spain at the time, La isla provides a less than subtle critique of existing expectations of women's behavior and highlights the struggles that women faced in repressing their natural libidinal desires within a repressive culture. Yet the singularity of La isla can be found not simply in its critique of Francoist society and its ideological stance toward women's sexual behavior; the novel provides a deeper critique of the state of being [End Page 60] in love and posits this condition as a form of emotional trauma in itself, rather than one of fulfilment and pleasure. On one level, La isla provides a sustained critique of the benefits of love that...