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  • Rewriting the Canon:The Picaresque Tradition in Jesús Carrasco's Intemperie
  • John B. Margenot III

The present study focuses on Jesús Carrasco's debut novel, Intemperie (2013), as an example of the picaresque tradition in contemporary Spanish fiction. It is generally agreed upon that picaresque literature flourishes in moments of extreme crisis as is the case during the Golden Age with the Lazarillo as well as works by Quevedo and Alemán, two of the most notable writers of the genre.1 More recently, critics have classified as neopicaresque a series of Post-Civil War novels that include works by Cela, Mendoza, and Bonilla, among others.2 My reading of Intemperie as a neopicaresque text suggests that another crisis is upon us, yet it may no longer be limited to a specific country–in this case Spain–with its discrete spatial features and human geography; instead, Carrasco harnesses the neopicaresque to fashion a highly allegorized narrative space that signals a dystopian view of existence. As such, the author's allegorical work transcends national boundaries to portray the alienation of human beings. My study will focus on how the constant wanderings of the nameless runaway and his teacher, the elderly goatherd, present a grim appraisal of a broken and hostile world populated by miscreants who terrorize and degrade others through various types of violence: rape, torture and murder. The hyperrealism that characterizes the novel leaves little room for the humor and biting satire that traditionally inform picaresque narratives from the Golden Age; in typical neopicaresque fashion, [End Page 449] Intemperie eschews the comic–particularly in its portrayal of violence– and delves into the terror and cruelty inflicted on the innocent and helpless by adults in positions of authority sanctioned by society. My understanding of the picaresque differs from that of scholars such as Daniel Eisenberg and Peter Dunn who argue that the term has been overused to the point that it lacks meaning.3 They propose a restrictive definition that limits the canon to works that appeared in Spain during the sixteenth- and seventeenth-centuries. This study follows scholarship that stresses the adaptability of the picaresque due to the ongoing inheritance of literary tradition. That is, my analysis employs theory that underscores the capacity of the picaresque to evolve over time. Claudio Guillén affirms that "The publication of various contemporary novels of more or less roguish character has proved, beyond any doubt, that to think of the picaresque as of an event of the past only (sic) is a pedantic and erroneous view" (71). Accordingly, it will be shown that Intemperie conforms to what Howard Mancing identifies as the central feature of the picaresque tradition: its protean quality.4 In order to highlight such adaptability, I shall use La Vida de Lazarillo de Tormes as a point of departure to illuminate both the similarities and differences with Carrasco's novel. It must be stressed that my reading of Intemperie does not firmly adhere to the tenets and unique sensibility of picaresque literature written in Golden Age Spain; while the work reveals a keen awareness of literary legacy by employing elements common to the picaresque, it also distances itself from this framework primarily through the omission of comical exhibitionism. This spirit of adaptability informs my reading of Intemperie as a contemporary version of the picaresque tradition that, in Carrasco's case, provides a dystopian world view.

The marginality of experience central to the picaresque immediately comes to the fore in Carrasco's novel. Readers meet the boy in the opening paragraph of Intemperie as he hides from a local search party. He has dug a hole to conceal himself after fleeing from his village where he has been raped repeatedly by the sinister sheriff with the knowledge of his father who customarily left his son at the pedophile's frightening mansion "a merced de sus deseos" (Intemperie 192). The rest of the novel follows this youngster who accompanies a spry and astute goatherder who teaches him the way of the inclement "llano" (65), a harrowing journey through a demonic world that indelibly marks him and prematurely thrusts him into the realm of adulthood.5 [End Page 450] As...


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