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  • "No Servir de Nada"Ana María Matute's and Georges Bataille's Literatures of Infantile Violence
  • Stephen D. Gingerich (bio)

For an important part of the readership of Spanish literature and thought, poetic discourse involves an embrace of nonviolence. Following some of the most persistent of the motifs of María Zambrano's work, one might associate Europe, philosophy, and science with violence, while Spain, poetry, and religion, their respective complementary figures, represent a more original condition, a primordial fecundity displaced and debased by humanity over the course of history. In Hacia un saber sobre el alma (Toward a knowing of the soul), Zambrano places two figures in Plato's cave and describes the philosopher's initiative, tearing himself away from experience to begin a process of control and domination, while the poet remains in intimate contact with beings (2005, 16). In La agonía de Europa (The agony of Europe),1 too, she describes Europe's "breaking away from reality" and contrasts it with the "frenetic generosity" of the [End Page 49] Spaniard, the European's "betrayal" of being with the "blind trust (confianza)" of her own spiritual destiny (2000, 29). In La agonía de Europa, Western civilization as a whole remains subjected to "European violence" (the title of the second part of the book): "everything is method, system. Violence of knowledge in philosophy and science" (2000, 59). Since her rise to prominence within the Spanish philosophical scene,2 the predominant interpretation celebrates Zambrano's recognition of this violent character of philosophy, science, and technology and joins her in the call for a reformation of reason, approximating it to the victims of its aggression, poetry, religion, and the supposed immediacy of intuition and living bodily experience. The result would be nothing less than a new era of mankind, an Enlightenment based on poetic reason rather than philosophico-scientific rationality. Thus, for Jesús Moreno Sanz, Zambrano's "nonpolemical reason" replaces philosophy's conceptual violence with a "fruitful and nonviolent" relationship to the world (1997, 149). Goretti Ramírez explains—in a work that takes stock of 30 years of trends in Zambrano scholarship—how poetry would play a role in a "rehumanization" of philosophy (2004, 74). indeed, in Zambrano scholarship, "poetic reason" serves as the most common figure for the rebirth of an activity that would yield theoretical knowledge and guide practice in a nonviolent mode. Reason's "perfect simbiosis" (to use ortega Muñoz's term; 2007, 12) with poetry presumes that it is literature in general that achieves the pacification and humanization of reason, through poetry's nonviolent essence. For Zambrano and her admirers, this thinking would be the Hispanic contribution to a better world, coming from the margins of Europe, from a place, moreover, where thinking has always been literary.3 Rather than critique this problem or prejudice directly, I'd like to sketch out another Spanish take on the relationship between literature and violence. When reinforced by the more direct reflections of Georges Bataille, Ana María Matute's intuitions about the peculiar, childish uselessness of literary writing can provide a striking contrast to utopian ideas of a nonviolent, particularly Spanish mode of thinking. [End Page 50]

Ana María's Childhood and Matute's Literary Vocation

Ana María Matute grew up in the turmoil of the Spanish Second Republic, the Civil War, and the postwar, a wealthy child who observed the lives of the indigent around her in Barcelona, Madrid, and the family's provincial homes. She took note of the victims of political and class tensions and the indignities suffered by servants and itinerant workers, in short, of both implicit and explicit brutality. Her work joins that of other writers of her generation in denouncing the hardships of the postwar period in defiance of the Franco regime's propaganda and censorship. Scholarly works on Matute concur that the major theme of her writing was childhood, to which one distinguished critic, Darío Villanueva, adds the theme of violence (1971-3, 389) and another, Janet Díaz, specifies "as criticism of materialistic values and of violence" (1971, 9). Villanueva, Díaz, and Rosa Rom...


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