Death, Truth, and Sinfulness: Of Various Characters and Scenes in Ramón del Valle-Inclán’s Comedias bárbaras

  • Jorge García-Gómez
Part of the Analecta Husserliana book series (ANHU, volume 85)


Bitter Truth Great Sorrow Giant Tree Genuine Forgiveness 
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  1. 2.
    Cf. Aron Gurwitsch, The Field of Consciousness (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1964), p. 139: In a Gestalt-contexture, which I venture to say is verified repeatedly in the case of the Comedias bárbaras, “[t]here is no unifying principle or agency over and above the parts or constituents which co-exist in the relationship of [parts] mutually demanding and supporting each other. T he Gestalt... is the balanced and equilibrated belonging and functioning of the parts, the functional tissue... in which they exist in their interdependence and indetermination.” This “unity of the theme” has of course to be shown, and I will attempt to do so in the course of this investigation about Valle-Inclán’s trilogy of plays, and yet I do not wish to deny the paradoxical nature of the endeavor, inasmuch as these plays were composed at different times, and to the extent that the themes in question exhibit diachronic features and are subject to a “historical” development. Cf. infra, n. 48.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Ramón del Valle-Inclán, águila de blasón, 4th. ed. (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1976). Henceforth I will refer to this work in the body of the essay by means of the abbreviation AB, followed, when relevant, by the page number. It should be noted that, throughout this study, all the translations from the Spanish are its author’s.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Ramón del Valle-Inclán, Romance de lobos in Obras escogidas, 5th. ed. (Madrid: Aguilar, 1974), I. Henceforth I will refer to this work in the body of the essay by means of the abbreviation RL, followed, when relevant, by the page number.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    R. del Valle-Inclán, Cara de plata, 4th. ed. (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1976). Henceforth I will refer to this work in the body of the essay by means of the abbreviation CP, followed, when relevant, by the page number.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Cf. infra, n. 48.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Alonso Zamora Vicente, La realidad esperpéntica (Aproximaciones a “Luces de bohemia”), 2nd. enl. ed. (Madrid: Gredos, 1974), p. 180.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    Pedro Salinas, “Significación del esperpento o Valle-Inclán, hijo pródigo del 98” in Literatura española. Siglo XX, 2nd. ed. (Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1972), p. 91.Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    Ibid., p. 97.Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    Cf. Significación del esperpento o Valle-Inclán, hijo pródigo del 98” in Literatura española. Siglo XX, 2nd. ed. (Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1972) ibid., pp. 89 and 90.Google Scholar
  10. 12.
    Ibid., p. 97.Google Scholar
  11. 13.
    Cf. Julián Marías, “Pensamiento y literatura en el 98” en La generación del 98 (Madrid: Ciclo Cultural “Politeia”, March 2, 1977).Google Scholar
  12. 14.
    Ibid., p. 6.Google Scholar
  13. 15.
  14. 16.
  15. 17.
    Max Scheler, Ressentiment trans. W. W. Holdheim (New York: The Free Press of Glencoe, 1961). Vide also Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “Christianity and Ressentiment”, in Merieau-Ponty, ed. by H. J. Silverman et al., trans. M. B. Smith et al. (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1992), pp. 85ff.Google Scholar
  16. 18.
    Cf. J. Marías, Pensamiento y literatura en el 98” en La generación del 98 (Madrid: Ciclo Cultural “Politeia”, March 2, 1977) loc. cit., p. 7.Google Scholar
  17. 19.
  18. 20.
    Cf. P. Salinas, Significación del esperpento o Valle-Inclán, hijo pródigo del 98” in Literatura española. Siglo XX, 2nd. ed. (Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1972) op. cit., p. 99.Google Scholar
  19. 21.
    A. Zamora Vicente, Las Sonatas de Valle-Inclán, 2nd. ed. (Madrid: Gredos, 1969), p. 69.Google Scholar
  20. 22.
    R. del Valle-Inclán, Sonata de estío in Opera omnia (Madrid: Rivadeneyra), VI, p. 20.Google Scholar
  21. 23.
    A. Zamora Vicente, Las Sonatas de Valle-Inclán, pp. 137–138.Google Scholar
  22. 24.
    Amado Alonso, “Estructura de las Sonatas de Valle-Inclán” in Materia y forma en la poesía, 3rd. ed. (Madrid: Gredos, 1969), p. 226.Google Scholar
  23. 25.
    A. Zamora Vicente, Las Sonatas de Valle-Inclán, p. 46. In what follows, I shall often refer to Don Juan Manuel as the Knight, Valle-Inclán’s own appellation for him.Google Scholar
  24. 26.
    I should not fail to mention the obvious homosexual component of this situation. Now, this is nothing novel in Valle-Inclán’s work, for Bradomín had already referred to such a dimension as the divine sin and temptation of poets (cf. Sonata de invierno in Sonata de otoño. Sonata de invierno, 7th. ed. [Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1975], p. 150). (The Marqués de Bradomín is, of course, the main character of the Sonatas.) In this connection, one should not overlook the various and repeated references to Cara de plata’s handsomeness, even if they are given expression by women (cf. CP, p. 18), as well as Don Juan Manuel’s “indulgent and crude affection” for his son (ibid., p. 23). One must nonetheless insist on the unconscious character of the role played by such motifs, a fact which is, of course, in keeping with the tumultuous, unreflective, and extroverted nature of the Knight. The obfuscation of such motifs goes so far as to bring about their externalization by projection, their objectification, and even, so to speak, their mythologization (cf. RL, p. 669).Google Scholar
  25. 27.
    Cf. supra, pp. 233 and 237.Google Scholar
  26. 29.
    Cf. J. Marías, Pensamiento y literatura en el 98” en La generación del 98 (Madrid: Ciclo Cultural “Politeia”, March 2, 1977) loc. cit., pp. 5–6 for a consideration of the essential role played by Valle-Inclán’s stage directions and the problems arising therefrom concerning the reading and possible representation of his plays.Google Scholar
  27. 30.
    The locus classicus for this opposition between nomos (even if only by convention or doxa) and phúsis (understood as “wild nature”) is, of course, Odysseus’ assessment of Polyphemos. Cf. The Odyssey of Homer, trans. By R. Lattimore (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), ix,ll. 214–215, p. 142: “I would encounter a man who was endowed with great strength, / and wild, with no true knowledge of laws or any good customs”. Vide also ix, ll. 175–176 (ibid., p. 141), ll. 189–191 (ibid., p. 142), ll. 256–257 (ibid., p. 144), ll. 267–268 (ibid.), and ll. 275–279 (ibid.).Google Scholar
  28. 31.
    I will attempt to justify this judgment later. Cf. infra, pp. 245f.Google Scholar
  29. 32.
    Cf. supra, p. 244.Google Scholar
  30. 34.
    Cf. ls. 14, 12 in Biblia sacra iuxta Vulgatam Clementinam, nova editio, 4th. ed., ed. A. Colunga et al. (Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1965), p. 690, right col.: “Quomodo cecidisti de caelo, / Lucifer, qui mane oriebaris?”, where the word “Lucifer”, a non-biblical name for Satan literally meaning “light bearer”, signifies the “morning star” and is, in this sense, employed to speak of Christ. (Vide Luke 10, 18, Ap. 22, 16, and 2 Pt. 1, 19; see also A. Zamora Vicente, Las Sonatas de Valle-Inclán, pp. 46–50 and 65). It is thus not inconceivable to have the duality of Satan and Lucifer represent the nexus of evil or ugliness (as the cause of repulsiveness) and goodness or beauty (as the cause of attractiveness). In this connection, see the related concepts of tremendum and fascinans in Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy, trans. J. W. Harvey (London: Oxford University Press, 1925), chapters iv–vi.Google Scholar
  31. 35.
    Cf. AB, p. 130: “With a lordly motion, he strokes the lady’s silver hair and leaves.”Google Scholar
  32. 36.
    Cf. supra, p. 247.Google Scholar
  33. 37.
    Cf. supra, pp. 235–236.Google Scholar
  34. 39.
    Cf. supra, pp. 248–249.Google Scholar
  35. 40.
    Cf. supra, p. 234 and RL, p. 663: “Only the saintly woman of whom we were the executioners calls you Isabel!”Google Scholar
  36. 42.
    I have repeatedly employed terms like “one’s own truth”, “sense of one’s life”, “destiny”, and the like. In the present context, I have used them not only together, but as constituting an essential unity as well. Perhaps I should avail myself of this opportunity briefly to clarify their meaning by means of the following observation. By “one’s own truth” I understand “self-coincidence”, in a sense proximate to that assigned by Ortega to the same felicitous and insightful formula. (Cf. José Ortega y Gasset, En torno a Galileo, Lecture vii in Obras Completas [Madrid: Alianza Editorial/Revista de Occidente, 1983], V. pp. 81ff.) The “self” in that expression is not to be taken as if it meant something given, or even pre-given, but rather as something being constituted by the person in question by way of projection (and its translation into action) and eventual acceptance (or rejection). This notwithstanding, the term is not to be construed as if it signified just any matter for subjective activity, since what the person is risking is his or her own abiding happiness. The “state” that the word “selfcoincidence” seems to point to could then be defined as the would-be harmonious coming together of one’s own inclinations and one’s socio-historical makeup, as mediated by one’s projections and consequent actions. Accordingly, the “self” in question is being proposed as “one’s life sense”, in the twofold acceptation of “meaning of one’s life” and “télos of one’s vectorially structured effort of living’. No doubt, the “self” thus understood is the meaning of one’s life, and yet it is not lived as if it were something lying ready-made somewhere, but rather as that which must be discovered and constituted in the work of self-projection, which, of necessity, goes hand in hand with one’s attempt at self-actualization through action. Moreover, such a “self” is functionally identical with one’s own destiny under two aspects: on the one hand, as that which one is called to be and, on the other, as the meaning of one’s life with which one is to coincide under the prevailing set of socio-historically interpreted circumstances. (Cf. Antonio Rodríguez Huéscar, José Ortega y Gasset’s Metaphysical Innovation. A Critique and Overcoming of Idealism, trans. J. García-Gómez [Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1995], Part II, §§ 9–10.) But, if this is so, then, whatever one’s destiny materially turns out to be, it would be marked by necessity. However, this does not mean that one’s destiny would be “something” that would come to pass no matter what, regardless of our understandings thereof and our efforts of self-projection. Rather, it would be “something” which, though as yet uncovered, is nonetheless operative in one; it would be that in the absence of which one would fail to be oneself and thus to achieve happiness. Accordingly, the “self” so understood is obviously a paradoxical “entity”, inasmuch as it is in one sense, and it is not in another. It would hence come as no surprise that I avail myself of the phrase “actual destiny” or a variant thereof, in which the qualification “actual” is meant to signify one’s real coincidence with the necessary sense of one’s life which, however accomplished or explicated it may become, is nonetheless always in the works (and an outcome mediated by one’s efforts of self-understanding and self-actualization) and thus never altogether determinate. Consequently, happiness is, at best, partially ideal and, unendingly, a materia actuosa that is continually pulling one ahead in the midst of one’s life. “One’s own truth” as the “sense of one”s life” qua destiny unceasingly keeps one in via and therefore “guarantees” one’s condition as a restless but directed being. (Cf. J. Ortega y Gasset, “[Prólogo] A ‘Historia de la Filosofía’ de Émile Bréhier” in Obras Completas, VI, pp. 409ff. and Aristotle, De anima, ii, 5, 417 b 5–7.)Google Scholar
  37. 43.
    The lamentations heard on the occasion of Doña Maríás death appear to be sincere (cf. RL, p. 634). Another related thing worth taking into consideration is the way in which some of them are constructed after the litanies to the Virgin.Google Scholar
  38. 44.
    This could easily be shown to be the case by conducting an examination of the motives which have led her to keeping her distance from her husband’s life and, above all, through an analysis of the attitude of pious resignation with which she did so. It can also be confirmed by taking a look at her submission to her sons. In my opinion, however, the briefest and most vivid way of presenting Doña María’s condition is simply to quote the Child Jesus’ judgment of her when he said “[h]ow fearful you are, Doña María’ (AB, p. 107). The accusations Don Juan Manuel levels at himself throughout Romance de lobos (and which we have already seen, cf. supra, p. 244) serve to verify and confirm the point. The opinion of others can also be a means to corroborate it (cf. RL, p. 614).Google Scholar
  39. 45.
    Cf. supra, pp. 253ff.Google Scholar
  40. 46.
    For the questions of omens in general, vide Adrián García-Hernández Montoro’s excellent book, El león y el azor (Madrid: Los de hoy, 1972), pp. 17, 33, 63, 64, 70, 73-75 and 78–80, and for the question of omens involving birds, see the section entitled “Anejo [al capítulo II]. Los presagios en la gesta de los Infantes”, ibid., pp. 106–110 (and notes, p. 122).Google Scholar
  41. 47.
    I must insist on the dramatic importance that this scene has for the denouement of the play, for it contains the elements required for Isabel’s repentance and forgiveness to be reached. It is here, perhaps, wherein lies the positive root of the proposed universal human brotherhood in sinfulness, namely, self-coincidence (or its failure) as the exemplar that serves as the condition for the possibility of the other’s self-coincidence (or its failure). What is involved here is the necessary call to be oneself and the call to be what is necessary, without however carrying the force of law, depending as it is on the fact that what one is called to be must be freely constituted by oneself. In other words, it points to something that one must come to hear and heed in freedom, for otherwise one would — on the strictly human level, as opposed to the sphere of nature–remain a mere outline, empty and inactual. Indeed, the possibility of losing oneself always hangs over oneself. (Cf. J. Ortega y Gasset, En torno a Galileo, Lecture vii in Obras Completas [Madrid: Alianza Editorial/Revista de Occidente, 1983], V op. cit., Lecture vii; Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. J. Macquarrie et al. [New York: Harper & Row, 1962], §§ 9, 12, 40, 41, and 64; and supra, n. 42.)Google Scholar
  42. 49.
    Cf. AB, p. 109 for the theme of Don Galán’s malice.Google Scholar
  43. 52.
    I should not fail to mention the fact that Don Juan Manuel’s way of dealing with Don Galán includes kicks and insults, especially the words “fool” and “imbecile” among the latter. (Cf. AB, pp. 71 and 127; CP, p. 132. On this subject, cf. A. Zamora Vicente, La realidad esperpéntica, p. 142.) Zamora Vicente also refers to the employment of words like “admirable” and “imbecile” in the practice of criticism by members of the early twentieth-century literary Spanish literary movement called “modernism”. Vide Juan Ramón Jiménez, “Ramón del Valle-Inclán. Castillo de Quema”, El Sol (Madrid), published on the occasion of Valle-Inclán’s death and reproduced in Zamora Vicente, op. cit., pp. 141–142; for Rubén Dar?ó’s use of “admirable”, see R. Valle-Inclán, Luces de bohemia, Scene XIV.Google Scholar
  44. 54.
    Cf. supra, pp. 256–257.Google Scholar
  45. 56.
    A “lozenge” is a heraldic device in the shape of a rhomb which is “placed with its longer axis vertical”, say, in coats of arms. Cf. W. Little et al., The Oxford Universal Dictionary, ed. C. T. Onions, 3rd. rev. ed. with addenda (Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1955), p. 1173, right col.Google Scholar
  46. 57.
    P. Salinas, Significación del esperpento o Valle-Inclán, hijo pródigo del 98” in Literatura española. Siglo XX, 2nd. ed. (Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1972) loc. cit., p. 96.Google Scholar
  47. 58.
    Cf. supra, pp. 239–240.Google Scholar
  48. 59.
    Cf. supra, p. 241. As may have become apparent to the reader, there is more than a faint echo of King Lear in the Knight Don Juan Manuel. Interesting though that may be, this is not the place to demonstrate or even illustrate this claim. At the risk of sounding superficial, let me just point out that both Knight and King are originally afflicted with a profound lack of self-knowledge, King Lear and the Comedias being the media to work out and overcome it; moreover, both characters are “assisted” toward self-understanding and “fulfillment” (i.e., in death) through their conflicts with their “side-kicks” (although, in the case of the King, this role is played mainly by one character, while in that of the Knight, it is split in two, to wit: Don Galán, the buffoon, and Fuso negro, the madman).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jorge García-Gómez
    • 1
  1. 1.Long Island UniversityLong Island

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