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Table of Contents • From Page, to Stage, to Stage Again: The Role of Genre and Context in Shaping Representations of Themes and Characters of Henry Murger’s Scénes de la Vie de Boheme. By Adrianna Chmielewska......................................................... 1 • Speaking At Cross Purposes: Perpendicular Dialogues of Childhood in Four Narratives of Dictatorship in Spain and Argentina in the Twentieth Century By Lily Parmar........................................................................... 19 • Georges Perec’s Flat Ontology: An OOO Reading of Things: A Story of the Sixties By Angelo Zinna......................................................................... 36 • Finances of the Divine: Usury and the Infinite in Dante By Ben Connor............................................................................44
Author Biographies Adrianna Chmielewska Adrianna Chmielewska is studying for an MA in Comparative Literature at King’s College London. She graduated in 2020 with a BA from University College London, also in Comparative Literature. Her research focuses on drawing connections between literature and opera, particularly in the process of adaptation. Having studied Giacomo Puccini’s La bohème for her final undergraduate dissertation, Adrianna now continues her work on Puccini’s oeuvre by looking at the complex literary background of Turandot. After completing her MA, Adrianna looks forward to beginning a career in secondary school teaching and intends to return to research by completing a PhD in the future.
Lily Parmar Lily is in her fourth year of a BA in French and Spanish at the University of Oxford, and is interested in representations of time and of genre in literature. She read Matute’s Primera memoria on a plane to Buenos Aires, where by chance she was sitting next to a professor at the UBA, who noticed that she was alone and mentioned a friend, a professor of literature, whose seminar Lily might be able to attend upon arrival. This was Dr. María José Punte, and it is from this golpe de fortuna that the present essay began to take form. Lily is inspired by the monstruous writing of Silvina Ocampo, the detective writing of Roberto Bolaño, and is accompanied everywhere by the complete works of Federico García Lorca. Next year after graduation she will begin an MPhil at Cambridge, and hopes to keep working on (and with!) Lorca.
Angelo Zinna Angelo Zinna graduated in Literary Studies at the University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, in 2021. He is interested in themes related to space, environment, architecture, and the city. In Italy, where he is from, he is the author of the travelogue “Un altro bicchiere di arak” (VME, 2016). Ho writing has appeared on Lonely Planet, Matador Network, GUP and some more.
Ben Connor Ben Connor is a senior at Brown University, where he concentrates in Comparative Literature and French/Francophone Studies. Ben’s area of interest is literary translation, and he has translated a variety of theatrical texts from French into English, including the French rock opera Starmania and the new French musical comedy Around the World in 80 Days. Ben is an Undergraduate Leader for the Brown Department of Comparative Literature, and he teaches both English and French to language learners. Ben is a published playwright, and his work has been produced in nine states, both in English and in Spanish.
Abstract This paper will evaluate the complex process of adaptation between Henry Murger’s novel Scènes de la vie de bohème (1859), the play Murger wrote on the same subject together with Théodore Barrière (1849) and Giacomo Puccini’s opera La bohème (1896). I will compare how the three texts shape their representations of corresponding themes, scenes and characters, following an understanding of adaptation as a process that entails a change of genre and means of expression, as well as one that is anchored within social, personal and aesthetic contexts. Rather than imposing a hierarchy on the texts and pointing that the source or the adaptation is better, I hope to present how the texts can be studied complimentarily, as each provides a slightly varying vision of the life in the Parisian Bohemia. Being a comparative study that unearths lesser-known connections between Puccini’s famous operaand its sources, this paper reinstates the significance of Murger’s Bohemian works and highlights that studying literature alongside performing and musical arts can be a fruitful exercise that opens up various pathways of approaching a text. Introduction The episodes of Henry Murger’s feuilleton La vie de Bohème were first published, rather irregularly, in a satirical journal Le Corsaire between 1845 and 1849 (Robb in Murger 1988, 438-440). In 1849, Murger was approached by Theodore Barrière, a dramatist who also worked in the war department, to adapt his feuilleton into a play (Baldick 1961:122- 126). After immediate success of the first performance, Murger sold the copyright to his feuilleton to publisher Michel Lévy, and arranged the episodes, adding a preface, an introductory chapter and two concluding chapters, into a novel which was published in January 1851 as Scènes de la vie de bohème. Murger revised the novel two more times, in March 1851 and in 1859. About 40 years later, composer Giacomo Puccini, with his librettists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Gi1
acosa, adapted the novel and the play to create the famous opera La bohème. Interestingly, just as it took a long time for Murger to finally publish his episodes as a novel, Puccini, Illica and Giacosa spent around three (rather tumultuous) years on developing the opera before its first performance in Turin in 1896 (Ashbrook 1985, 48-53; cf. Groos and Parker 1986, 31-54). This article will look at this complex journey from Murger’s feuilleton to Puccini’s opera through the perspective of adaptation, thinking of it as a process that entails a change of genre and means of expression, as well as one that is influenced by specific social and personal context. I will compare how the three texts shape their representations of corresponding themes, scenes and characters in the three Boheme texts, dividing the paper into three sections: the atmosphere dominating the life of the Bohemian artists, the female characters (Mimi and Musette) and the functions of Mimi’s death scenes. In the first section, I will discuss the effect of adaptation from writing to musical performance on the sense of humour emanating from the scene and on characterisation of Rodolphe/Rodolfo, and later analyse how the three texts present the enamoured artists, thinking especially about the transformation of Marcel(lo) in the context of Murger’s self-adaptation and significant changes to characterisation in Puccini’s opera made possible by music. Then, turning to the female protagonists, I will evaluate views on Puccini’s Mimi and Musetta that present them as contrasting female love interests by comparing them with the characters from Murger’s works that inspired Puccini and his librettists. This will be done by analysing the transposition of character description into an opera aria, in the light of Puccini’s vision of women and the requirement for a melodramatic ending in Murger’s play. Finally, the paper will aim to show in what ways Mimi’s death scenes can be an emotional peak of their respective works on the one hand, and a commentary on social class conflict on the other. I will firstly focus on how the generic transfer between the play, the novel and finally the opera affects the texts’ scope for emotional appeal, and later evaluate the significance of personal and aesthetic context in adapting the representation of poverty and social class differ-
ences. Rather than imposing a hierarchy on the texts and pointing that the source or the adaptation is better, I hope to present how the texts can be studied complimentarily, as each of them provides a slightly varying vision of the life in the Parisian Bohemia. I will conclude with a discussion of the above definitions, and accentuate the significance of adaptation of literature into opera. Defining Adaptation Since the main theoretical challenge of Adaptation Studies is the determination of “the confusing forest of terminology” (Cutchins in Krebs 2014, 42; cf. Cardwell in Cutchins et al. 2017, 1-17), I would like to outline what I understand as adaptation, pointing to two definitions that suit my discussion of the influences of genre and context. The first definition, proposed by Julie Sanders (Adaptation and Appropriation), states that adaptation can be perceived as a “transpositional practice, casting a specific genre into another generic mode, an act of re-vision in itself”, though also is “an amplificatory procedure engaged in addition, expansion and interpolation” (2006, 18-19). In other words, adaptation is a practice which transposes the source into a different genre, modifies it, yet at the same time enriches it. Adaptation as a transpositional practice relates also to intersemiotic translation, defined by Jakobson as “an interpretation of verbal signs by means of signs of nonverbal sign systems” (2012 , 128). Adaptation Studies has made use of this notion in explaining the connections between adaptation and translation in general as well as noting exchanges between texts within the process of adaptation (Hutcheon 2006, 16; cf. Elliott in Leitch 2017, 679-697). References to intersemiotic translation will at times support the discussion of the exchange between language and music in adaptation to opera, and between writing and performance in adaptation to drama. In terms of the relationship between adaptation and context, Linda Hutcheon (A Theory of Adaptation) writes that the decisions of the adapter are made “in creative as well as an interpretive context that is ideological, social, historical, cultural, per2
sonal and aesthetic” (2006, 108). The depiction of corresponding plot elements, themes and characters can vary between the source and the adaptation(s), depending on an array of conditions that affect the process of adaptation.
The Bohemian Artists and Their Work The Manuscript Burning Episode, or Bohemian Inventivness The manuscript burning episode, part of Chapter 6 (Les Violettes du pôle) of Scènes de la vie de bohème, is a humorous presentation of Rodolphe burning parts of his play to keep himself warm whilst working on a commissioned poem to earn money he desperately needs to please his cousin Angela. Murger and Barrière did not include this scene in the play, though it was used by Puccini, Illica and Giacosa to create a light-hearted, engaging introduction to their male protagonists in Act I of La bohème as Rodolfo, Marcello and Colline burn the drama together. The transposition of genre from novel to opera allows Puccini and his librettists to enhance the sense of humour that permeates the scene in Murger’s novel. On a textual level, Murger’s puns, which represent the burning manuscript as if it were a real performance of Rodolphe’s drama are also present in the libretto to La bohème. While Murger writes that “le premier acte du Vengeur était joué” [the first act of ‘The Avenger’ was over], and later that “le deuxième acte du Vengeur brûlait avec le plus grand succés” [the second act of ‘The Avenger’ went off with a greater success] (Murger 159)1 , mirroring the kind of register one can find in theatre reviews, in Puccini’s opera these are turned into comments the Bohemians make as they observe the manuscript burn, such as Rodolfo’s “zitto, si da il mio dramma” [hush, my drama is being given], or Marcello’s “giusto color” [proper colour] 1 References to the novel come from Henry Murger, Scènes de la vie de Bohème. Éditions Gallimard, 1988. I will henceforth refer to the novel as Scènes. English translations come from the Project Gutenberg English edition of the novel, http://www. gutenberg.org/files/18445/18445-h/18445-h.htm 3
(Puccini 76).2 Though while the novel can only project the wordplay through prose, several particularities of the operatic genre amplify the Bohemians’ remarks. Most evidently, by shifting from third-person narrative reporting past events to direct speech of the Bohemians, Illica and Giacosa render the scene more dynamic. The librettists also use the verse form of opera libretti to connect the comments through a series of rhymes (fiamma-dramma, color-amor), which, when sung, contributes to the light-hearted mood of the scene and underscores the artists’ creativity as they can all freely join in a poetic wordplay that constructs a make-believe staging of Rodolfo’s play. Moreover, following intersemiotic translation, the comments are translated into music that imitates the burning fire, contributing to the dynamic exchange. With Colline’s remark “lo trovo scintillante” [I find it sparkling], we can hear flutes and piccolos that reflect the shimmering flame, and at “che fragile dramma” [what a weak drama] (77) the instruments gradually grow silent, bringing to mind the dwindling fire. Finally, as the move from the novel to performance results in the adaptation of narrative into arioso dialogue between the Bohemians, the sense of humour must also be retained in La bohème through acting which is not always outlined in the libretto text. The singers as well as stage directors need to make specific decisions on how to keep the manuscript burning scene as a vibrant introduction to the male protagonists. Some productions of La bohème clearly underline the idea of a fiery drama: for example, in the 1996 Teatro Regio production, Marcello (Lucio Gallo) and Colline (Nicolai Ghiaurov), as spectators, place the chairs one behind the other, and sit in front of the fireplace as if in a theatre, providing an instantaneous visual representation of the idea behind the puns. All this illustrates how, in the process of adaptation from literature into opera, the immediacy of a performance motivates the simultaneous work of more than one medium to achieve an effect similar to that in the source text, where it is realised through writing. We would understand a verbal pun in a novel more quickly than in opera, where our concentration steers towards music, 2 References to the libretto and English translations come from Giacomo Puccini, La Bohème (The Metropolitan Opera Classics Library dual language edition. Little, Brown and Company, 1983.
Vengeur “auquel il avait travaillé deux ans, avait été fait, défait, refait tant de fois, que les copies réunies formaient un poids de sept kilogrammes” [on which he had spent two years, had been made, unmade and remade so many times] (Murger 158), an explanation which underlines the nature and scope of his poetic work, but which is absent in the opera. In addition, while Rodolfo declares “tre acti or voglio – d’un colpo udir” [Now I want to hear – three acts at once] (Puccini 77), Rodolphe, perhaps less impulsively than his Italian counterpart, having the “sept kilogrammes” of his drama, saves some “pour une seconde représentation” [for a second performance] (Murger 160). This illustrates how opera usually departs from “passages of discursive complexity” and instead The multiplication of the means of expression that concentrates on action (Schmidgall 1977, 15), for occurs in the move from telling to showing also re- Rodolfo is not inclined to explain (in detail) what sults in considerable changes to plot elements of his drama is about or how he wrote it, and instead the adapted text. In the adaptation from literature proceeds to burning immediately. The change reto opera, the length of a literary work usually poses sults in a portrayal of the poet as impressionable a challenge: the librettist must convert a long work enough to care less about his work, since he burns into a two- or three-hour performance, simultane- it all, unconcerned about keeping himself warm in ously aiming to fulfil all exigencies of the operatic the coming days. Such an interpretation is shared genre as well current artistic fashions (Hutcheon by the 2012 Salzburg Festival production of La and Hutcheon in Leitch 2017, 309-310). Given the bohème, in which Rodolfo (Piotr Beczala) throws complicated structure of Murger’s Bohème works the manuscript around after a mere brief readoutlined in the introduction, the task of Illica and through, further emphasising that his poetic acuGiacosa to reduce them into La bohème was un- men is now nothing but kindling. Therefore, the deniably complex, “requiring the exclusion of vast greater impulse of Rodolfo, in the libretto text as swathes of material on the one hand and a flesh- well as in performance, reveals how the elasticity ing out of certain episodes on the other” (Wilson of Puccini and his librettists’ adaptation of the plot 2020; cf. Girardi 2000, 106). Put differently, the of Murger’s work is governed by the immediacy of librettists strove to a certain elasticity when work- operatic performance, resulting in subtle changes ing with Murger’s novel, cutting and expanding to characterisation of the bohemian poet. at the same time. The manuscript burning episode is one of the key moments of the opera in The Artists In Love demonstrating this elasticity, as while it expands the episode by adding Marcello and Colline to the The final act of Murger and Barrière’s play opens scene, maintaining the light-hearted atmosphere with Marcel and Rodolphe trying to cope with the through Schaunard’s flamboyant entrance once loss of their beloved Musette and Mimi and reflectthe fire burns out, it follows the ending of Murg- ing what led to the breaking up of their relationer’s chapter, thereby cutting on the background of ships. Although initially they are adamant in their Rodolphe’s manuscript as well as the witty imag- indifference towards the two women, eventually ery of the winds shocked to see smoke coming out they succumb to the memories they have of them, of his chimney (Murger 159). This again allows for turning the scene into one of humorous contradica more instantaneous representation of the Bo- tion. This moment, which precedes the dramatic hemian camaraderie, though also reinforces Ro- return and death of Mimi, was adapted by Murger dolphe’s happy-go-lucky attitude to his work. In into Épilogue des amours de Rodolphe et de MaScènes, the narrator recalls that Rodolphe’s Le demoiselle Mimi, one of the chapters added in the staging and voice; therefore, these elements must help paint the humorous mood of the situation. Such a transposition can be expressed in terms of the transition from the “telling” to the “showing” mode proposed by Linda Hutcheon whereby, “adaptation must dramatize: description, narration and represented thoughts must be transcoded into speech, actions, sounds and visual images” (2006, 40). To retain a similar form of witticism, Puccini’s opera, being of the showing mode, dramatizes the puns from Murger’s novel through the means of expression, or conventions, proper to the operatic genre (directly uttered lyrics, music, acting), which results not only in retaining the humorous message, but also in an amplified fiery drama.
process of compiling the Corsaire feuilleton into Scènes. Murger’s self-adaptation thus created two representations of the artists in love, inspiring the sentimental opening of Act IV of Puccini’s opera.
the memories of his love which distract his art: “au lieu de chercher franchement l’oubli, nous faisons des choses les plus futiles des prétextes pour rappeler le souvenir” [instead of frankly seeking oblivion, we find most futile pretexts for rememMurger’s self-adaptation from the play into the fi- brance] (Murger 374). In the adaptation, sentinal chapter of the novel changes Marcel’s attitude mentality dissipates, replaced by willingness to towards his separation from Musette, which can break with any distractions. However, the brief be best seen through a close comparison of the event that follows, and which does not appear in language employed in Marcel’s speeches. In Act the play, disrupts Marcel’s intent: he hides “un peV Scene 2 of La vie de Bohème, Marcel expresses tit bouquet fané” [a little withered bouquet] from his disappointment with having to wait days for burning as his infatuation proves stronger than Musette to return and, with resignation, claims: his will, obliterating the artistic resolutions he has “je ne pouvais me battre en duel avec tous les just professed (Murger 377) and turning them into cachemires qui lui faisaient la cour” [I could not humorous contradictions. In consideration with compete with all these cashmeres that woo her] what follows his speech, then, the representation (Murger and Barrière 89).3 In the same situation, of Marcel’s attitude towards Musette is more coma broken heart leads Marcel of the novel to make ically complicated than that of his predecessor. an extensive speech about the living conditions of the artists, emitting a clear message to Rodolphe There are three factors which help to explain that “nous n’avons pas été créés et mis au monde Murger’s changes to the painter’s attitude from uniquement pour sacrifier notre existence à ces outrightly dispirited to contradictory. Firstly, on Manons vulgaires” [we were not created and put the level of genre, adaptation from the play to the into the world solely to sacrifice our existence to novel allows Murger to expand the scene, adding these crude Manons] (Murger 376). Both passag- the comments about Marcel and Rodolphe’s role es underline Marcel’s disillusionment towards as artists and the hiding of the bouquet. Secondly, his relationship with Musette as well as his belief Marcel’s contradiction could be a result of an enthat she values nothing more than material plea- deavour to match the light-hearted representation sures, suggested by the “cachemires” of the play of the Bohemians in the other chapters of Scènes, and the novel’s reference to Abbé Prévost’s char- which observe the satiric tone of journals like Le acter Manon Lescaut, who shares a similar taste Corsaire (Berthelot 2013, 281-282). In contrast, for luxury (1731). Yet while the negated verb the tone of Marcel in the play complies more with pouvoir in the play evokes the disillusionment the melodramatic content of the drama, as despite with a sense of melancholic resignation (also em- Musette’s materialist desires, he still, albeit implicphasised by the despaired comparison of Musette itly, longs for her. Finally, the words from Marcel’s to Mimi’s love for Rodolphe soon after), Marcel of speech in the play could have provoked Murger the novel, through the adjective “vulgaires” and to write a more expanded reflection on his (Marrefusing to “sacrifier” his life, shows more intent cel’s as well as the author’s) artistic ambition. He in his rejection of Musette, or any other women. adapts it into something of a manifesto for placing Moreover, both texts present Marcel burning the artistic work above all else, and striving to leave keepsakes from Musette, though while in the play the meagre living conditions of a Bohemian arthe claims that “tous ces souvenirs-là, ça n’est bon ist by becoming a bourgeois: “il ne suffit point de qu’à faire des regrets” [all these memories, good mettre un paletot d’été dans le mois de décembre only to cause regrets] (Murger and Barrière 89), pour avoir du talent; on peut être un poète ou un clearly presenting his dejection, his novel coun- artiste véritable en se tenant les pieds chauds et en terpart rebukes himself for being too invested in faisant ses trois repas” [It is not enough to wear a summer coat in December to have talent; one can 3 References to the play from Murger and Barbe a real poet or artist whilst going about well shod rière, La Vie de Bohème, pièce en 5 actes, mêlée de and eating three meals a day.] (Murger 375). If we chants. Michel Levy Frères, 1860. English translations follow the argument that Murger’s narrative was are my own. 5
largely based on his and his friends’ experience of Bohemian life (Chotard in Murger 11-16), then the adapted speech reflects how Murger himself, after the success of his play, rejected the lifestyle of the Bohemians who, in his opinion, “mistook fantasy for a vocation”, and could not abandon their miserable state as erring poets (Seigel 1986, 46). The addition of the final chapter to Scènes becomes for Murger an opportunity (even if later comically overturned by Marcel’s contradiction) to express a change in his own attitude after reaching literary success. Murger’s self-adaptation is thus a clear example of how our understanding of the process of adaptation relies upon considering the personal context of the adapter, who makes changes on the basis of his life experience as well as cultural frameworks, and who uses generic transposition as means to revise the representation of a character adequately to those factors. While the play presents a melancholic Marcel, and the novel makes him err between artistic motivation and love, the final act of La bohème includes elements from both texts, providing a third depiction of the painter, identical to that of his poet friend. Like Rodolphe and Marcel of the novel, Rodolfo and Marcello contradict themselves when they are reminded of their lost women. And like Rodolphe and Marcel of the play, regret and longing for Mimi and Musette fills their response. However, while in Murger’s texts Marcel’s response differs from that of the daydreaming Rodolphe, Puccini’s opera unites them in their heartache, both by lyrics and musical accompaniment of their duet. Abbate claims that “musical gestures are conceived as signs of human actions or psychological states” (1991, 22) and in the case of the duet, musical themes work as mementoes of Mimì and Musetta, an alternative to the letters and flowers of the play and the novel. Before Rodolfo begins the duet, the violins play a theme from ‘O soave fanciulla’, a musical gesture reflecting his cherished memory of declaring his love for Mimì. Equally, Marcello’s part resembles Musetta’s ‘Quando me’n vo’, the aria which beguiled him to their reunion. The two artists’ final lines in the duet – Marcello’s “la chiama e aspette il vil mio cuor” [my heart calls her and waits] and Rodolfo’s “ah vien sul mio cuor; poiche e morto amor” [Ah, come upon my heart, since love is dead] (Puccini 130) – unite the artists’
sentiments through the reference to their longing hearts as well as the final rhyming words that are central to their mood. Finally, more palpably than Murger’s texts, Puccini and his librettists present Marcello and Rodolfo’s role as artists as conditional to love, as the duet follows their futile struggle to paint and write poetry. If they do not have their muses beside them, they cannot create. Although Marcel’s speech in Scènes underlines that the artists’ relationships with women prevent them from fulfilling their potential, the association of love and art in La bohème, through musical and lyrical amplification and modifications of the plot, provides a more ardent illustration of the artists’ emotions. A comparison of the same moment in the three Bohème texts thus reveals that adaptation from the play to the novel and the opera entails modifications which, whether clearly visible like Puccini’s duet, or more subtle, like Murger’s changes to Marcel’s register, results in multiple re-visions of the same characters. After discussing the corresponding scenes, it is clear that in adaptation involving three genres and an array of personal influences on the adapter’s shaping of these scenes, each text amplifies a specific trait of a Bohemian artist. In La bohème, the libretto attempts to retain the mood of specific parts of Murger’s work, whilst music and staging deepens that mood on a non-textual level: just as the manuscript burning scene becomes more humorous through cheerful sounds, the artists are united in their melancholic heartbreak. Both the play and the opera show that in the move from telling to showing, plot differences suited to the immediacy of staged performances have an influence on characterisation of Rodolphe and Marcel. While the former is more impressionable in the opera, the latter cannot overcome his longing for Musette. Moreover, the difference in the characterisation of Marcel in Murger’s works manifests the presence of personal and cultural contexts in the process of self-adaptation that results in multiple representations of the same character. This is similar in the case of female characters of the three Bohème texts, to whom I shall now turn. 6
The Four Mimis and Three Musettes of the Bohème Texts
a lot for what happened] (279). This situation clearly makes her uncomfortable, for she worries that talking to Jacques would tarnish her reputation, while her apologies suggest that she simply Abel argues that opera “turns female characters does not want to bother him. When Puccini and into icons”, stereotypes rather than women with his librettists adapt this scene of the first meeting individual qualities (1997, 144). Such stereotyping between Francine and Jacques into a parallel enis evident in Alexandra Wilson’s commentary on counter of Mimì and Rodolfo, the representation La bohème, where she argues that “the women (…) of Mimì becomes almost identical to that of the anfunction primarily in terms of their relationships gelic Francine. Indeed, just as Francine apologiswith the men, as contrasting types of love interest: es profusely to Jacques, the first word that Mimì sweet Mimì – literally the girl next door – and the utters in the opera is “scusi” [excuse me] (Puccini sexier, more liberated Musetta” (ENO 2018, 24). 88), and when the light goes out again, she repeats While, as I have shown earlier, they are present “importuna è la vicina” [your neighbour is a nuiin the opera as the muses of Rodolfo and Marcelsance] (91), reflecting the same wish to avoid belo, Puccini’s Mimi and Musetta appear less as the ing a burden. This is very often amplified by the contrasting female types when they are compared body language of the singers in the role of Mimì: with their predecessors in Murger’s works. for instance, in the 2018 Royal Opera House production, Nicole Car, wearing a modest grey dress, Mimi: An Angelic Ideal or “une tempête”? does not enter the garret as soon as the door opens, and when she revives after fainting, she rises imPuccini’s Mimì is a complex blend of three charmediately, gasping and avoiding eye contact with acters from Murger’s texts. The first Mimi, one of Rodolfo. Just as in the manuscript burning scene Rodolphe’s many loves who develops a passion for the third-person narrative of Murger is transposed luxury and eventually leaves him, appeared for the into a stage enaction in the opera, here the angelic first time in Le Corsaire feuilleton in 1847, and figvirtue of Francine is adapted into the libretto text, ures prominently in the second half of Scènes. The and finally interpreted in a staged production. feuilleton and the novel also tell the story of Francine, a seamstress who falls in love with an artist One aspect of the “angelic aura” that Mimì shares and who became a model for Murger and Barwith Mimi of the play is her devotion to work. rière’s Mimi in La Vie de Bohème. Mimì evidently While in the novel Murger only mentions that shares the sweet traits of Francine and Mimi of the Francine is “une petite couturière” (Murger 277), play, but these are at times subverted by parallels the play expands on that role, depicting Mimi as with the first Mimi. working on stage two times: after her first appearance in Act II, when she puts off looking around Chapter 17 of Murger’s novel, Le Manchon de her new lodgings to finish “une garniture de fleurs” Francine, provides a model for the timidity of Puc[a decoration made of flowers] (Murger and Barcini’s Mimì which contributes to her sweetness. rière 35), and in Act III, juxtaposed with Musette, Although he underlines the poverty of the Parisian who is reading and smoking. In the latter examBohemia in Scènes, Murger did have a tendency to ple, Musette tells Mimi that she has not seen her idealise this world, especially some of his female “reposer un jour” [rest for a day], which the seamcharacters, bestowing them with an “angelic aura” stress dismisses, replying that she has to work as (Seigel 1986, 48-49). In his portrayal of Francine, “Rodolphe n’est pas riche” [Rodolphe isn’t rich] that “angelic aura” is created through her reserve (44). Here, Mimi sees her sewing work as means and virtue: as her candle goes out, Francine thinks of survival since she knows that she cannot rely on of asking Jacques to relight it for her, but first she Rodolphe’s meagre income of a poet. Mimi’s preneeds to reassure herself that doing so is “rien de occupation with work became the subject matter compromettant” [nothing compromising] (Murgof Mimì’s aria ‘Mi chiamano Mimì’, which is her er 278), and once she enters his room, “elle s’excuintroduction to Rodolfo and describes her simple sa beaucoup de ce qui était arrivé” [she apologised life of a seamstress. Yet rather than a financial7
ly-motivated necessity, Mimì’s work is emotionally significant to her. This is possible as Puccini makes use of the “multichannelled and polysensual communication” afforded by the opera genre, which translates emotions into vocal and instrumental music, making them more direct than other forms of performance (Gorlée 1997). An aria is the best example of such a translation as it breaks the progression of the plot to allow a character to reflect on their state of mind, usually in response to something that has just happened in an opera (Wilson 2010; Weisstein 1961). In her aria, Mimì reflects on her innocent, lonely life in “una bianca cameretta” [a little white room] (Puccini 93), echoing the confinement of Murger’s Mimi, but unlike her French counterpart, this leads her to a poetic outburst in which she underlines the pleasure her work gives to her:
bal definition of Puccini’s seamstress, Mimì’s timidity and delight in simple living seems to wane in Act II of La bohème, where she appears to share some of the characteristics of Murger’s first Mimi of the novel and the feuilleton. In Mademoiselle Mimi (1847, Chapter 14 of Scènes), Mimi’s tempestuous personality steers far from the “angelic aura” of the women discussed above, for instead of virtue and reserve, she shows “un profond égoïsme” [profound egoism] or “une insensibilité” [a callousness] whenever she is bored, and is treated by Rodolphe’s friends as a “camarade” who does not mind their smoking and literary conversations (Murger 216-217). Moreover, motivated by her “amies”, she develops “un forêt d’ambition” [a forest of ambition], a taste for luxury, and leaves Rodolphe in pursuit of wealthy men (Murger 217220). Here, she is nowhere near the devoted Mimi of the play, who herself follows Rodolphe to win “Mi piaccon quelle cose him back in Act IV. In Act II of La bohème, Mimì che han sì dolce malìa, shows a similar fondness for luxuries, for once she che parlano d’amor, di primavere, and Rodolfo enter the Latin Quarter, she urges che parlano di sogni e di chimere” (ibid.) him “andiam per la cuffietta?” [are we going for the bonnet?] Puccini 98, and after obtaining the [I like those things/That have such sweet mag- bonnet, she craves for more, admiring a “bel vezzo ic,/That speak of love, of spring,/That speak of di corallo” in a shop display [Beautiful coral neckdreams and of chimeras] lace!] Puccini 100. And like Mimi, she leaves Rodolfo for a viscount in search for better living conTo a character whose first word in the opera was ditions: in Act IV, Marcello reports seeing her in a an apology, these lyrics mark a significant break carriage, “vestita come una regina” (Puccini 129). from timidity, reinforced by the shift in voice, from This shows that Mimì is not oblivious to the pleasinging con semplicità to con grande espansione sures of the material world, even though she cele[with simplicity…with grand expansion] (Puccini brated work and nature a moment ago; she cannot n.d.). This in turn underlines the meaningfulness survive solely on “il primo baccio dell’aprile” [the of Mimì’s work since the delight she takes in it rids first kiss of April] (Puccini 93). Such an interpreher of the fear of bothering her neighbour, leading tation of Puccini’s Mimì contests not only the opher instead to share her innermost joys. There- position proposed by Wilson, but also Mosco Carfore, while Murger and Barrière’s representation ner’s rather strong formulation of the composer’s of Mimi provides a more concrete outlook on the vision of women. He claims that in comparison conditions of a seamstress’s life, Puccini and his with literary texts adapted into Puccini’s operas, librettists, through transposing acting and speech “we are struck by the extent to which the composer into an aria form, turn the financially-motivated sought to transmogrify his fair sinners into shincommitment to sewing into a poignant vision of a ing little angels; he attempts to whitewash them girl to whom material gain is not a priority. This, almost beyond recognition” (Carner 1959, 258; in turn, reinforces her characterisation as a “girl cf. 317). Although Puccini makes Mimì return to next door”, since at this point of the opera, she is her saintliness in Act IV, destitute and wanting to content with anything that happens in her life, de- spend her final hours with Rodolfo, in the adapspite her meagre lifestyle. tation from Murger’s works into the opera, she is not “whitewashed” as we can still recognise cerYet while the aria is a prominent musical and ver- tain similarities with the unruly Mimi of the novel, 8
even if these may not be as prominent as her “angelic aura.” A similar attempt to “transmogrify” Mimi is reflected in Murger’s adaptation from the play to the novel: attempting to replicate the melodramatic representation of Mimi of the play in the added chapter, he presents destitute Mimi returning to Rodolphe, yet given her characterisation in the rest of Scènes, it is difficult to sympathise with her. While the deterioration of hard-working Mimi who displays unremitting devotion to Rodolphe throughout the play evokes pity, one would struggle to feel the same way towards the woman who leaves the poet to satisfy her want for luxuries, and who returns only when she has nowhere to go. It seems thus that unlike the Mimis of the play and the opera, Mimi of the novel deserves her fate. This all means that as her representation is examined alongside that of her literary predecessors, Puccini’s Mimi cannot easily fit the archetypal role she may be assigned in commentaries on the opera. Briefly, next to her Murgerian predecessors, Puccini’s Mimì is neither fully a “fair sinner” nor a “girl next door.”
pas, il faut le dire tout de suite, je vais prendre mes pantoufles et mon bonnet de nuit” [if you don’t like it, you should say it straightaway, so I can take my slippers and my nightcap] (Murger 310). As if knowing that she will never cease to have admirers who will support her, she does not always follow her materialistic urges, focusing instead on her desire for Marcel, which in fact oscillates throughout the novel. In a similar light-hearted manner, Musette in La Vie de Bohème despises boredom: she abandons a viscount because “il m’ennuie, il tourne au saule pleureur…” [he bores me, he turns into a weeping willow] (Murger and Barrière 21), and claims she cannot remain with Marcel for long as “l’ennui me tue, je ne peux pas le supporter” [boredom kills me, I can’t stand it] (Murger and Barrière 46). On a textual level, Puccini’s Musetta accumulates the two Musettes’ emphasis on freedom and enjoyment in Act II where, as soon as she enters, she makes it clear that she is the one who dominates her relationship with an ageing admirer, Alcindoro. Similarly to Musette’s confident bluntness in Scènes, she ignores Alcindoro’s protests, ordering him, “vien, Lulù!” and “siedi, Lulù!” [come, Lulù!... sit, Lulù!] (Puccini 106), Musette/a: Simply a Sexualized Woman? and just as the play’s Musette complains about a While Mimì derives from a more complex adapta- “saule pleureur”, Musetta cannot stand that she is tion process between the three Bohème texts, the stuck with “questo pelican” [this pelican] (Puccini characterisation of Musette/a does not seem to 107), unable to fuel Marcello’s jealousy. Furthervary. She represents the stereotype of a liberated more, like both, she openly declares her free will and sexualised woman, loved and dreaded by the to Alcindoro: “voglio fare il mio piacere…Vo’ far painter Marcel(lo) as they continuously split and quel che mi pare!” [I want to do as I like] (Puccireunite, and who has a particular taste for luxu- ni 108) The Salzburg Festival performance (2012) ries. However, when comparing the portrayal of amplifies Musetta’s independence at this point: Musetta during the melodramatic final scene of La there, played by Nino Machaidze, she enters the bohème with Musette in a corresponding moment stage dressed in extravagant clothes, ahead of Alof Murger and Barrière’s play, some angelic quali- cindoro, who struggles with multiple bags from ties – namely, sympathy and generosity – perme- luxury shops. Later on, she resorts to violence, approaches Alcindoro in a threatening manner and ate her earlier frivolity. hits him with her clutch bag, making him jump Musetta’s prominent free will and ferocity is a re- with fear. Machaidze’s acting thus reinforces Musult of adaptation of the same qualities found in setta’s ability to control her admirer, though also Murger’s Musettes, who are not hindered from offers a comical interpretation of Musetta’s strugvoicing and acting upon their wishes (Oya 1978). gles to catch Marcello’s attention, on par with not In the feuilleton/novel, Murger underlines that only the jocund atmosphere of the entire Act II Musette cannot be confined to a single lover: he and, indirectly, the light-hearted tone of Musette’s frequently mentions her constantly changeable words in Murger’s texts. “caprices” (see Murger 121; 309-312), and when one of her lovers questions her visiting Marcel, Musetta’s main source of control of her admirers she responds to him bluntly, “si ça ne vous plait – her sex-appeal – is evident in her aria, ‘Quando 9
me’n vo’, which amplifies the portrayal of Musette of the novel as one of the most popular courtesans of the Parisian Latin Quarter. In Scènes, Murger, rather humorously, writes that Musette “ne tarda pas à devenir une des lionnes de l’aristocratie du plaisir” [quickly became one of the lionesses of the aristocracy of pleasure], eventually becoming somewhat of a local celebrity (Murger 120). Here the noun “lionne” underlines that when it comes to attracting the attention of rich men, Musette reigns indisputably. This is thanks to her physical sophistication, which Murger describes as natural to her, as she “possédait instinctivement le génie de l’élégance” [had an instinctive genius of elegance] (Murger 311). Murger thus paints her as a woman who is fully aware of her reputation in Paris, and who knows how to use it to fulfil her fancies. In Puccini’s opera, the third-person depiction is turned into an aria that translates Musette’s state of mind into music, lyrics and voice. The slow waltz of the aria is at once graceful, amplifying the “génie de l’élégance” of Musette, and alluring, reminiscent of a woman singing to entertain a group of men in a cabaret, which reproduces Musette’s position as the “lionne” of Parisian courtesans. The voice plays a key role in defining what desire means for Musetta: the words such as “bellezza” [beauty] and the lines “così l’effluvio del desìo/tutta m’aggira” [And so the flow of desire/ surrounds me whole] (Puccini 110) are significantly elongated, placing emphasis on how Musetta knows what triggers people’s desire towards her, delights in all the attention she receives, and thereby reminds Marcello of her irresistible charms. If the characterisation of Musetta is considered as an adaptation of Murger’s Musette of the novel, then, following Corse, her pride in sexual attractiveness makes her a “temptress” who is “difficult for men to deal with” (1983). Act II of the opera makes a clear statement that Musetta is primarily the sexualised woman Marcello both adores and despises . On the other hand, Corse admits that in Act IV of La bohème, Musetta becomes “more like the ‘ideal’ Mimì” (ibid.). This is a result of the adaptation of Musette’s behaviour in Act V of Murger and Barrière’s play, where she becomes somewhat of a good Samaritan for the dying Mimi. Recalling the elasticity of the approach of Puccini, Illica and Giacosa towards Murger’s novel analysed in the pre-
vious chapter, Musetta’s actions are the effect of the same process of reducing and expanding of the material from the play. Becoming a “golddigger with a heart of gold” (Bourne 2008), both Musette and Musetta renounce their luxuries to decelerate Mimi’s death: they sell their jewellery to buy some medicine for Mimi, and provide for the muff, her last wish. In the play, when she faces Durandin’s dismissal of Mimi’s illness, Musette defends her friend, emphasising her good qualities (“Mimi, si bonne, si dévouée, si douce!” [Mimi, so good, so devoted, so soft!], Murger and Barrière 102). As there is no Durandin character in the opera, the defence is replaced with Musetta’s moving prayer for the survival of Mimì: “Madonna santa, io sono indegna di perdono mentre invece Mimì è un angelo del cielo.” (Puccini 141) [Holy Mother, I am/unworthy of forgiveness/ while Mimi, on the other hand, is an angel of heaven.] Similarly to the play, Musetta stresses Mimì’s goodness, implying that she does not deserve her tragic fate, though at the same time, the prayer transforms Musetta from an attention-seeking temptress to a pious woman filled with remorse evoked by the approaching death of her friend. While Musette is motivated by her good will, Puccini and his librettists add a religious aspect to Musetta’s depiction. Such an addition may have been a response to the Catholic revival in Italy of the second half of the 19th century; it would be easy for the Italian audiences to sympathise with Musetta, since a character celebrating the Marian cult despite her sinful life would not be unfamiliar to them, having witnessed the struggle of the papacy to retain Catholic traditions in the wake of industrialisation around the time of the opera’s first performance (Pollard 2008, 33). Ultimately, however, the shift in Musetta’s characterisation comes from the need of a melodramatic conclusion to the opera which follows the ending of Murger’s play. Put differently, it would not make sense to reintroduce the sexualised Musette/a in the most tragic moment of the opera and the play, which I will analyse further in the following section. Even 10
though she displays overwhelming sex-appeal and free will at the start of the opera, by adapting the final act of Murger and Barrière’s play, Puccini, Illica and Giacosa underline that Musetta is not simply a sexualised female figure. In contrast to Musette in the novel, who is absent at the time of Mimi’s death, the play and the opera break the continuity in her representation, depicting her as Mimi’s guardian angel.
Murger when compiling his feuilleton into Scènes. The scene also provides a resolution to Puccini’s opera, in which the music sustains the poignant mood generated by Murger and Barrière’s play. The death scene appears thus to have two closely related functions, being a representation of the intense sorrow caused by the unfortunate circumstances of the Bohemians.
Death of Mimi as an Emotional Peak of the Genre transposition from third-person narrative Three Bohème Texts and a play into a multichannelled opera allows for the continuity of the stereotype of Mimì and Mu- By adapting the final act of his play into the novsetta: the voice and the acting of the singers in- el, Murger creates two versions of Mimi’s death terpret the libretto, which takes its content from scene which, despite certain plot similarities, vary the traits of Murger’s characters, amplifying the in their emotional appeal. In Act V Scene 5 of La girl next door and sexualised female types. Yet the Vie de Bohème, Mimi returns to the artists’ garfact that Puccini and his librettists worked with ret after splitting up from Rodolphe, destitute and both Murgerian texts in their portrayal of Muset- suffering from tuberculosis. Once sitting down, ta and Mimì complicates these stereotypes: while she begins her moving speech recalling how she Musetta mirrors the progression of Musette from attempted to commit suicide by jumping off a a pleasure seeker to a good Samaritan of Mimi in bridge. Heightening the tragedy of the scene, the the play, Mimì’s similarities with the novel’s Mimi help given Mimi is ill-timed: although the Bohedeviate from the stereotype of a “girl next door” mians call for the doctor and Mme de Rouvres usually assigned to her in critical writing on the offers financial aid, these arrive too late as Mimi opera, yet return to it, like in Murger and Bar- passes away at the end of the act. The narrative of rière’s play, in the final act. The case of the three Mimi’s return in the novel echoes the events of the Mimis and the three Musettes thus highlights how play: Mimi is clearly suffering from an illness as the complexity of the source texts and the adapt- she takes an hour to climb the stairs (Murger 385), ers’ aesthetic choices render the characterisation and while the play’s stage directions underline that of Mimi and Musetta more ambivalent than the Mimi is “pale, abattue” [pale, downcast] (Murger stereotypes they represent to scholars dealing and Barrière 93), Murger also stresses her physiwith La bohème. cal deterioration in Scènes, writing that “ce n’était plus Mimi, c’était son spectre” [it wasn’t Mimi Bohème “herisée de dangers”: anymore, it was her shadow] (Murger 379), an unExaming the Functions of the deniable contrast to the vibrant characterisation Deaths of Mimi proposed earlier. Furthermore, having nowhere to go to after leaving the viscount and attempting The quote in this chapter’s title, taken from Murg- to find employment, Mimi of the novel also recalls er’s preface to Scènes where he presents his own her suicide attempt (“j’ai voulu m’empoisonner definition of the Parisian Bohemia, underlines avec l’eau de javel” [I wanted to poison myself with that beyond the merry nonchalance such as that bleach] [ibid.]). But even though both the source of the manuscript burning scene discussed in text and its adaptation share some heart-wringing the first chapter, misery penetrates the world of details about Mimi’s fate and return, the transpoRodolphe, Mimi and their artist friends. Such a sition of genre from the play to the novel points to conception of the Bohème is most evident in the a variation in the way Murger conveys these demoving scene of Mimi’s death, which first con- tails. This comes with the understanding of adapcluded Murger and Barrière’s play, and was then tation as a process that, because of different genre adapted into Épilogue des amours de Rodolphe conventions, results in a re-vision of the content et de Mademoiselle Mimi, the chapter added by of the source text (Sanders 2006, 18-19). While 11
the play reaches its dismal ending through speech and acting, the novel does so through third-person narrative. Consequently, by seeing and hearing Mimi’s deterioration as it happens on stage, we are immediately bound to share her misery, which is less possible when reading about it reported by Murger’s third-person narrative as it distances us from the character (Hutcheon 2006, 63,130). This sense of the receiver’s emotional distance is reinforced by the expansion of the death scene in the novel: while in the play Mimi dies within half of an act, the deterioration of Mimi of Scènes lasts several days, flattening somehow the striking effect of her death provided by the play. The Bohemians have enough time to send Mimi to hospital, where she spends about a week before Rodolphe goes to visit her again. Murger also adds a plot twist: the doctor sends Rodolphe a message that Mimi has died, yet eight days later he realises that she has only been transferred to a different bed. But when in hospital, they realise that she has really died this time (Murger 389-390). As he is able to expand on the scene, Murger thus prolongs the reader’s anticipation for Mimi’s death, resulting in a less impressive moment when she actually passes away. It would be right, then, to say that by adapting the tragic plot elements of the play, Murger attempts to recreate the play’s emotional appeal, but the distance that surfaces through third-person narrative and expansion of events into several days, characteristics typical of the novel genre, dilute this appeal.
ably, Mimì is helped inside by the worried Rodolfo, and she spends most of the act lying down, shivering. Yet in contrast to the play, in the opera, these events are accompanied by the music, a means of expression characterised by simplicity and directness in representing emotional states (Kerman 1989, 9; cf. Donnington 1990, 10). Not only can it reflect the emotional states of the characters, but also entice the spectator to share these states at the most poignant moments. In the death scene of La bohème, there are two instances which exemplify this quality of music. Firstly, as the ailing Mimì enters the stage, she is accompanied by a violin crescendo which underscores the tragedy of her sudden and miserable return and simultaneously shocks the listener through the contrast with the cheerful tunes from a moment ago. Secondly, as Mimì and Rodolfo are alone on stage, we can hear a theme from ‘O soave fanciulla’, a duet that marked their first declaration of mutual love, providing a momentary return to the exaltation at the beginning of their relationship, and a sense of hope that they will enjoy their reunion for longer. However, the mood changes drastically with Mimì’s gloomy ‘Sono andati’, the theme of which foreshadows her death: it is repeated just as Rodolpho learns that Mimì has passed away, dramatically concluding the opera. Through these abrupt shifts in mood, then, the music conveys the bittersweet nature of Mimì’s death scene, as although the spectator may rejoice together with Mimì and Rodolfo as they reunite once more, they are moved to tears as the jocund atmosphere that has so far accompanied Unlike Murger’s self-adaptation, Puccini concen- the Bohemians dissipates in this tragic moment. trates not on extending the plot, but on extracting The adaptation of Mimi’s death scene thus shows the emotional appeal of the play’s tragic elements how the conventions of the play, the novel and the and expanding them into music, according to his opera provide three versions of the same moment own endeavour to provoke an intense emotional that vary in their ability to convey the emotions of reaction in the listening audience (Atlas 1996). On the characters and also in how effective they are in the level of plot, the death scene of the opera is a directly moving its recipients. While on the level compressed version of that in the play, with cer- of plot the difference is not as considerable, one is tain modifications: in the garret, the Bohemians more likely to immediately sympathise with charjoyfully mock upper-class dances, when sudden- acters in a performance, especially if the events ly Musetta arrives, bringing with her dying Mimì. are enhanced by music. Everyone tries all they can to help her, yet after a poignant scene of reunion with Rodolfo, Mimì Death of Mimi as a Social Commentary passes away, just as the Bohemians have managed to find some provisions for her. And like in Although the tragic return and death of Mimi in the the play, the opera presents these tragic events on three Bohème texts is, to certain degrees, a moving stage through the singers’ acting – almost invari- scene, it simultaneously helps to explain what ren12
ders the Parisian Bohemia “herisée de dangers”, the limitations the Bohemians face because of their inferior social standing. The social disadvantages of a bohemian life are best seen on the level of plot of the three texts: as Mimi ends her relationship with the viscount, she has nowhere to go to, and eventually returns to the garret in a terrible state, though the Bohemians have no money to provide medicine or even a warm fireplace for her, and so they must sell their belongings to get some help. However, when certain elements within the death scene exclusive to the play or the novel, as well as the context of their production, are set against the opera, Murger’s works comment upon the social problems that the Bohemians face in more depth than Puccini does in La bohème. In La Vie de Bohème, Murger and Barrière emphasise the Bohemians’ pitfalls by including two upper-class characters: Durandin, Rodolphe’s uncle, and Mme de Rouvres, a wealthy widow to whom Durandin attempts to marry his nephew. After hearing about Mimi’s state from Durandin, the sympathetic Mme de Rouvres arrives at the garret and gives Rodolphe money to help Mimi, a situation that points to the prominent opposition of material conditions of different social classes. The Bohemians must sell their possessions to gather meagre provisions in an attempt to save Mimi, while it is easy for someone prosperous like Mme de Rouvres to offer financial support. At the same time, Durandin is less compassionate, and his presence in the final act fuels class opposition as his cynical bourgeois assumptions about the Bohemians impede Mimi’s recovery. His disdain towards bohemian artists, which he has already professed in Act I Scene 3 (“Et tu feras, toi, des odes à la lune, n’est-ce pas?” [And you’re making your odes to the moon, aren’t you?] [Murger and Barrière 4]), leads him to dismiss Mimi’s illness as “une comédie” [a comedy] (102), an attempt to extort money from him, and to persuade Mme de Rouvres to share his view. This meets with strong opposition from the Bohemians, especially Musette and Schaunard, whose comments highlight the insensitivity of the bourgeois to human tragedy (“Une comédie!...Eh bien, Monsieur! La pièce est fini” [A comedy! Well, sir, the show’s finished.] ). The final act, through the juxtaposition of the misery of the Bohemians and wealthy bour13
geois who at times adhere relentlessly to their preconceptions of those below them, is thus not only a touching conclusion to the play, but also a commentary on the social injustices characteristic of a bohemian life. In this light, the play reflects the conventions of melodrama of the late 19th century French theatre, a form marked by both the theatrical impulse of projecting emotions on stage, and by socialist and populist tendencies that illuminate the effects of upper-class domination in urban settings (Brooks 1995, xv;88). Going further, Murger and Barrière underline that the main effect of such domination is somewhat paradoxical: although the Bohemians oppose the bourgeois, they rely on the financial help that is only available from the latter. Such a hopeless vision of the attempt to save Mimi was carried through by Murger to the added chapter of his novel. By expanding on Mimi’s deterioration, Murger may be limiting its emotional appeal, yet this also gives him an opportunity to comment on the quality of life of a penniless young woman. Mimi does not want to spend her last days surrounded by the artists in the garret, but prefers to go to the hospital since there she will not only receive medical help, but also satisfy the basic human needs, as “on donne du poulet, à l’hôpital, et on fait du feu” [they give some chicken, at the hospital, and they make some fire] (Murger 387). Having left the viscount, she can only depend on the charity of a public organisation to keep her alive. Moreover, after her death in solitude, her body is not collected to be buried in dignity, but rather put into “la voiture dans laquelle on transporte dans la fosse commune les cadavres qui n’ont pas été réclamés” [the car in which they transport unclaimed bodies to the communal grave] (392393), which reduces her to a corpse, an object belonging to no-one. By presenting Mimi’s demise in this way, Murger comments upon the reliance of young working-class women on relationships with upper-class men, since leaving the viscount means to Mimi a deprivation of necessities and exacerbation of her illness that concludes in a miserable death. Such a depiction of Mimi’s fate, as well as the class conflict in the play, suggest that Murger’s primary aim was to sketch out the social conditions of Parisian Bohemia which he had experienced himself before rising to fame after the play’s premiere (Baldick 1961, 122-126). The influence of personal life on his work thus allows Murger to
supply a detailed portrait of the dangers of bohemian living. In contrast, Puccini’s representation of these dangers does not provide a social commentary as much as Murger’s texts do. Most importantly, neither the upper-class characters from the play nor the anonymous burial of Mimi feature or are mentioned in the opera. Commenting on the position of La bohème within the operatic tradition of verismo, a problematic term largely associated with literary realism, Abbate and Parker argue that while “poverty, disease, hunger and cold are constant companions” of the main characters of Puccini’s opera, these are “seen through a sentimental lens” (2012, 419). We cannot deny that Puccini and his librettists aim, at times, to present the adversities of a bohemian life in the death scene, especially in the presentation of Colline, who sells his treasured coat to help Mimì. But the scene’s musical accompaniment, characterised by a directness of feeling, prevents it from emitting a socialist message akin to that of Murger’s novel and play because the spectator is more inclined to share the bittersweet sentiments of Rodolfo and Mimì rather than contemplate social injustices as Mimì dies. Another, and perhaps more compelling, reason for the sentimentality of poverty in La bohème arises from context. According to Groos and Parker, unlike his librettists, Puccini was not interested in making a “bleak portrayal of bohemian existence” in a way that would present the callousness of the upper-classes as he was “actively hob-nobbing with the upper crust” (1986, 57). This implies that Puccini’s attempt to provide a vivid, multi-sensory appeal to his audiences was not only motivated by his artistic aim to “let the tears flow”, but also by his social connections and perhaps the wish not to antagonise them. The case of adaptation of Mimi’s death scene into the conclusion of La bohème thus proves that the adaptation process is anchored within the social standing of the adapter, and can distance the product from the original message of its source text(s). The intensity of emotional response evoked by Mimi’s death scene depends on genre and the means of expression that come with it: while we could be immediately compelled to sympathise with the Bohemians when observing the scene on stage, and even more so when these events are en-
hanced by music that reflects the characters’ feelings, the narrative voice of the novel and the ability to expand on certain events distract us from sharing the tragedy of the scene. Yet it is evident that depicting a tragic event is not the only function of the scene since beyond that, Murger’s texts illuminate the social dangers of living in Parisian Bohemia. In this interpretation, personal and aesthetic contexts are essential to explaining the presences and absences across the three Bohème texts. Puccini, through his upper-class connections, is not as determined to present the social conflict prominent in Murger’s work, which the writer based on his own bohemian experiences.
Conclusion To reinforce the role of genre and context in shaping representations of the key themes and characters of Murger’s novel that arise in the process of adaptation, it is important to return to the specificities of the two definitions I have used. Following Sanders’ understanding of adaptation, the multiple versions of the same characters in the adaptation between the play, the novel and the opera underscore adaptation as an “act of re-vision.” While Musette/a can be seen as a stock character of a Parisian demi-mondaine, as someone ferocious and extremely aware of her influence over men, or even as a generous woman full of remorse, Mimi is not entirely an angelic ideal, given her vibrant representation in the novel the glimmers of which we can notice in the opera. Likewise, the opposition of Rodolphe/Rodolfo and Marcel(lo) as that of a poetic sentimentalist and a hurt rationalist narrows in the play and even further in the opera. The humour that Murger associates with the erring ambitions of his bohemian artists and the endeavour to preserve it in the opera illustrates the relationship between adaptation as a generic transposition and intersemiotic translation. In the manuscript burning scene, Puccini and his librettists translate Murger’s witticisms into music and words to achieve the same effect in the context of performance, while successive performances of La bohème carry it further to acting. Adaptation as transposition thus entails the change in means of expression (stagecraft, music, writing, voice) across the three Bohème texts, but that does not imply a hierarchical relationship based on how 14
many of these means a text can simultaneously employ to provide a desired effect; rather, the texts complement one another through amplifying different aspects of the same theme. The novel, the play, and the opera all depict bohemian life, which has been presented as one characterised by poverty, sociability and expression of the self (Brissette and Glinoer 2010). But while the opera, through the aria form and music that imitates emotion, amplifies the expression of the self, the expansions Murger makes in the novel underscore the effects of bohemian poverty, and the play emphasises the sociability of the Bohème by the representation of events on stage, particularly in the final scene.
the play. Consequently, this process created two texts that provided a challenge to Puccini and his librettists when condensing them to La bohème. Nevertheless, Puccini’s aesthetic choices, especially those regarding the representation of women and social class, paint yet another vision of the Bohème: sentimental and pure.
Finally, looking at the complex way in which adaptation figures between the three Bohème texts, why is it important to study adaptation from literature into opera? Generally, this reflects yet another form of interpretation, one that illustrates how we can represent major or minor literary works not only in a simple transition from the page to Hutcheon’s conception of adaptation as a pro- the stage, but also from the page to the stage and cess that ought to be studied in relation to an ar- to music and voice. More specifically, adaptation ray of contexts has helped in understanding how from literature to opera demonstrates the chalthe progression through four types of the Bohème lenging task of condensing the plot of sometimes story (feuilleton, play, novel, opera) demonstrates lengthy literary texts, searching and expanding the impact of social and aesthetic standing of the on the elements that provide “explosive dramatadapters. Murger’s self-adaptation from the play to ic potentials” (Rosmarin 1999, 9) through music the novel, especially in the case of the added final and voice. Finally, as I hope I have shown in this chapter, reflects the complicated venture to match article, adaptation of literature into opera points both the humorous tone of the other episodes in to the fact that opera libretti can be regarded as Scènes and reflect the melodramatic ending of the pieces of literature. Although we usually watch or play that resulted in certain inconsistencies, such listen to an opera, we can still recognise the poas that in Mimi’s characterisation. These incon- etic and dramatic acumen of the librettists, even sistencies point to Murger’s changing attitude to- though certain parts of an opera may seem to us wards the Bohème as he himself rose to fame after exaggerated.
Bibliography Primary Sources Barrière, Théodore and Murger, Henry. 1860. La Vie de Bohème, pièce en 5 actes, mêlée de chants (Paris: Michel Levy Frères). https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k86308420/f1.image.texteImage. Murger, Henry. 1988. Scènes de la vie de bohème (Paris: Éditions Gallimard). Puccini, Giacomo. 1983. La bohème, A dual-language edition of the libretto, English translation by William Weaver, in The Metropolitan Opera Classics Library Guide to La bohème (Boston: Little, Brown and Company) Performances, recordings and scores for La bohème Puccini, Giacomo, La bohème, conducted by Antonio Pappano, directed by Richard Jones, performed by Nicole Car, Michael Fabiano, Simona Mihai, Mariusz Kwiecien, Luca Tittoto and Florian Sempey, Royal Opera House, 2018. https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/prog/10532000?bcast=125788230. 15
Puccini, Giacomo, La bohème, conducted by Daniele Gatti, directed by Damiano Michieletto, performed by Anna Netrebko, Nino Machaidze, Piotr Beczala, Massimo Cavaletti, Alessio Arduni and Carlo Colombara. Salzburg Opera Festival, 2012. [on DVD] Puccini, Giacomo, La bohème, conducted by Daniel Oren, performed by Luciano Pavarotti, Mirella Freni, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Annarita Taliento and Lucio Gallo. Teatro Regio di Torino, 1996. https:// www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_1OtRt0_ho. Puccini, Giacomo. [n.d] La bohème: an opera in four acts (Kalmus Miniature Orchestra Scores, no.289) (Boca Raton, FL: Edwin F. Kalmus) Secondary Sources Abbate, Carolyn. 1991. “Music’s Voices” in Unsung Voices: Opera and Musical Narrative in the Nineteenth Century, 3-29. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Abbate, Carolyn, and Parker, Roger. 2012. “Realism and Clamour” in A History of Opera: The Last 400 Years, 397-424. London: Penguin, 2012. Abel, Sam. 2019. Opera In the Flesh: Sexuality in Operatic Performance. London: Routledge. Ashbrook, William. 1985. The Operas of Puccini. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Atlas, Allan W. 1996. “Mimì’s Death: Mourning in Puccini and Leoncavallo.” The Journal of Musicology 14: 52-79. https://www.jstor.org/stable/763957 Baldick, Robert. 1961. The First Bohemian: The Life of Henry Murger. London: Hamish Hamilton. Berthelot, Sandrine. 2013. “Le rire sous (petite) presse: le cas du Corsaire-Satan (1844-1847).” In Le rire moderne, edited by Alain Vaillant and Roselyne de Villeneuve. Nanterre: Presses universitaires de Paris Nanterre. https://books.openedition.org/pupo/3655. Bourne, Joyce. 2018. “Musetta” in A Dictionary of Opera Characters, 2nd Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780199548194.001.0001/ acref-9780199548194-e-1316. Brissette, Pascal, and Glinoer, Anthony. 2010. “Introduction. « La bohème, ça voulait dire… »” in Bohème sans frontière. Rennes : Presses universitaires de Rennes. https://books.openedition.org/ pur/40203. Brooks, Peter. 1995. The Melodramatic Imagination: Balzac, Henry James, Melodrama, and the Mode of Excess. New Haven: Yale University Press. Cardwell, Sarah. 2018. “Pause, Rewind, Replay: Adaptation, intertextuality and (re)defining adaptation studies.” In The Routledge Companion to Adaptation, edited by Dennis Cutchins, Katja Krebs and Eckart Voigts, 1-17. Abingdon: Routledge. Carner, Mosco. 1958. Puccini: A Critical Biography. London: Duckworth. Corse, Sandra. 1983. ““Mi chiamano Mimì”: The Role of Women in Puccini’s Operas.” The Opera 16
Quarterly, 1: 93-106. https://doi-org.libproxy.ucl.ac.uk/10.1093/oq/1.1.93. Cutchins, Dennis. 2014. “Bakhtin, Translation and Adaptation.” In Translation and Adaptation in Theatre and Film, edited by Katja Krebs, 36-62. Abingdon: Routledge. Donnington, Robert. 1990. “Words, Music, Staging.” In Opera and its Symbols: The Unity of Words, Music and Staging, 9-13. New Haven: Yale University Press. Girardi, Michele. 2000 Puccini: His International Art, translated by Laura Basini. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Gorlée, Dinda L. 1997. “Intercode Translation : Word and Music in Opera.” Target. International Journal of Translation Studies, 9: 235-270. https://doi.org/10.1075/target.9.2.03gor Groos, Arthur and Parker, Roger. 1986. Giacomo Puccini: La bohème. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Hutcheon, Linda. 2006. A Theory of Adaptation. London: Routledge. Hutcheon, Linda, and Hutcheon, Michael, “Adaptation and Opera.” In Oxford Handbook of Adaptation Studies, edited by Thomas Leitch. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://www-oxfordhandbooks-com.libproxy.ucl.ac.uk/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199331000.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199331000-e-17. Jakobson, Roman. 2012 . “On Linguistic Aspects of Translation.” Translation Studies Reader, edited by Lawrence Venuti, 126-131. London: Routledge, 2012. Kerman, Joseph. 1989. Opera as Drama. London: Faber and Faber. Oya, Takayasu. 1978. “Henry Murger, peintre des grisettes et realiste sans le savoir.” French Literature Studies, 32 : 25-35. Pollard, John. 2008. Catholicism in Modern Italy: Religion, Society and Politics since 1861. Abingdon: Routledge. Prévost, Abbé. 1999  Manon Lescaut, edited by Patrick Byrne. London: Bristol Classical Press. Pritchett, V.S. 2017. “Murger’s La Vie de Bohème.” In On Bohemia : The Code of the Self-Exiled, edited by Cesar Grana, 54-58. Abingdon: Routledge. Rosmarin, Léonard A. 1999. When Literature Becomes Opera. Amsterdam: Rodopi. Sanders, Julie. 2006. Adaptation and Appropriation. Abingdon: Routledge Schmidgall, Gary. 1977. Opera as Literature. New York: Oxford University Press. Seigel, Jerrold. 1986. Bohemian Paris: Culture, Politics and the Boundaries of Bourgeois Life, 18301930. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Weisstein, Ulrich. 1961. ‘The Libretto as Literature’, Books Abroad 35: 16-22 https://www.jstor.org/ 17
stable/40115290. Wilson, Alexandra. “A Timeless Appeal’ in the Royal Opera House Programme to La bohème” (2020): 18-22 Wilson, Alexandra, “La bohème’s Gender Politics” in the English National Opera Programme to La bohème, Season 2018/19, pp.21-27 Wilson, Alexandra. 2010. Opera: A Beginner’s Guide, London: Oneworld Publications. Google ebook.
Speaking At Cross Purposes: Perpendicular Dialogues in Four Narratives of Spain and Argentina in Century
of Childhood Dictatorship in the Twentieth
By Lily Parmar Abstract This essay establishes a contextual framework for comparison of presentations of childhood and the figure of the child in literary responses to the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 and the Argentine dictatorship of 1976-83. I first establish two key, “perpendicular”constructions of the family in relation to the two contexts: the cultural motif of the fratricidal conflict in the Spanish Civil War as “horizontal” conflict, and the dominance of parentage and bloodline in the Argentine pursuit of justice following the dictatorship as “vertical” resolution. Considering throughout the role of dialogue and intertextuality in constructing historical narratives as well as burying implicit meaning within a text, I draw a parallel between the “directions” of dialogues of childhood in four primary texts—directions conditioned by differences in censorship and in the changing cultural positions of childhood over the twentieth century—and the “perpendicular” structures of family in the wider contexts of the Spanish Civil War and the Argentine return to 19
Introduction In 1900 the philosopher and sociologist Ellen Key predicted: ‘the twentieth century will be the century of the child’ (Key 183).1 As increasing legal and political rights ascribed a greater social value to children, their interest and their attention became important to lawmakers and political parties in a way that required an appreciation of, and intervention in, their experience during childhood. Not for nothing did youth wings of political parties begin increasingly to covet—implying value in—the child’s recreational attention. The child’s growing social value was mirrored in a growing cultural value, particularly in literature, and authors commenced a more sustained and tactical engagement with new and emerging uses of the figure of the child. It is a tactical engagement—in the sense that authors employing the child as a literary figure and speaking through its voice were drawing from the same developing sociocultural value as were politicians. The child could now be used by writers and propagandists alike to hide coded intentions for the future, or could be taught in a specific 1 Key 1909, 183.
way so as to bring about a certain kind of adult, and in both cases the child’s voice and perspective became heavily symbolic of what may be hidden from adults, and of what can be transferred between generations. The growing potential value to an author of inhabiting the child’s voice and perspective was thus informed by theexponential social and legal interest in the child itself. As Key predicted, over the twentieth century, societies inspected childhood and began to make use of what they found there.2 Differences between adults and children, and images of the dynamic in which they interact, would also shape how children’s voices were visited by authors and by politicians. These intergenerational structures hold particular and contrasting symbolic values in the historical and cultural narratives of the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 and the Argentine military dictatorship of 1976-83. This contrast, over the course of this essay, will be expressed in terms of perpendicularity. Part I will construct and examine a theory of the role of childhood and the figure and voice of children in postwar and postdictatorial literature building from this context of the growing cultural value of the child over the twentieth century. A broad understanding of dialogue and intertextuality proves fundamental in the question of why, and how, the author might choose to assume a child’s voice or to speak through its figure. This approach then serves to consider crucial differences in the political environment and intergenerational structures in Spain and Argentina during the conflicts in question to show how distinct cultural constructions of the family were mirrored by distinct uses of the figure and voice of the child by Spanish writers responding to the Civil War and by Argentine writers writing after the fall of the last military dictatorship. Part II will consist of a case study of two texts from each country: Ana María Matute’s Primera memoria (Spain, 1959), Miguel Delibes’ El príncipe destronado (Spain, 1973), Paula Bombara’s El mar y la serpiente (Argentina, 2002), and Laura Alcoba’s La casa de los conejos (2008). The differences between the two case studies draw attention not only to an evolution in the literary value of the child over the twentieth century, but 2 Key 1909, 183: ‘Adults will first come to an understanding of the child’s character and then the simplicity of thechild’s character will be kept by adults.’
to the crucial function relationship between dialogue and the social value of the child as it is used by all four authors in their depictions of the echoes of violence in childhood.
The Place of the Child and its Dialogue In Postwar and Postdictatorial Literature Childhood as a lens offers postwar and postdictatorial writing a space of heightened affective sensitivity and a foundational assumption of incomprehension, which allows for obscurity, for irony, or demands explanation. Etymologically, infancia originally denotes the period of life that precedes learning to speak;3 voices of childhood are then received as fledgling languages that begin to name and connect perceptions, often fail to grasp entirely the speech of adults, and require clear explanations from figures of authority. The child’s perspective allows authors to create an impression of impartiality: ‘niñas y niños parecen ser fuente privilegiada de testimonio, precisamente por el negado acceso a la voz pública que el mundo adulto les ha dado’.4 The child is uninitiated in matters of rhetorical manipulation, so ‘[l]a falta del lenguaje conlleva una evidente negación de su presencia en la vida política’,5 facilitating the image of an unadulterated witness to the narrative through which the author’s voice (adult, which moves behind the child’s) may nonetheless offer a politicised perspective. Childhood is also characterised by its impermanence: each depicted childhood therefore bears specifically the cultural markers of the moment in which it is lived. The representation of a childhood in postwar and postdictatorial literature thus becomes a (subtly) politicised, and certainly affective, artefact of the period depicted. The child’s lack of experience translates culturally as innocence; thus ‘la infancia ha sido utilizada como objeto de representación del lado humano de los adultos, de la sensibilidad’.6 Children’s development is a space where each phenomenon or process must be presented, justified, or explained 3 4 5 6
Punte 2014, 1 Castillo 2015, 20 Punte 2014, 1 Castillo 2015, 15 20
as it is learnt. Thus, if adult discussion of war and dictatorship becomes normalised—when, enclosed in the established lexicon and connotative network of the language of violence and enforced narratives, shocking revelations are relegated to the unsurprising and lose their semantic abnormality—the linguistic and contextual innocence of each child demands that the essential questions of each phenomenon be reconsidered. Conflicts are then laid bare, through the eyes of a child witnessing them for the first time, to readers accessing the text from another time or place. The child himself immersed in conflict nonetheless may come to perceive as normal the violence from which he knows no different. His innocence also carries an implication of truthfulness that the author may wish, for rhetoric or affect, to inhabit: Castillo reminds us of ‘la relación entre infancia y verdad […]. La sabiduría popular dice que sí, los niños y los borrachos dicen siempre la verdad’.7
Or, as was possible sooner in Argentina following the return to democracy in 1983, limitations to the child’s understanding may call for a clear explanation from an adult figure, or a retrospective revisiting from the adult self. Such texts can become explicitly didactic through the depiction of this learning process, and function as does Socratic dialogue: the reader’s learning is facilitated and enriched by witnessing the intergenerational dialogue in the texts.
Three kinds of dialogue are employed by the authors in question to speak through childhood about conflict. These are: voices as dialogue, dialogue between texts, and the concealment of the authorial voice through polyphonic and dialogic writing. The literary adoption of children’s speech in Delibes’ and Bombara’s texts, and the vocabulary and experiences of childhood in Matute’s and Alcoba’s, demand an active recreation by the reader of situations that are only partially expressed or Children’s ignorance, too, can be utilised as a lit- comprehended in the child’s voice and perspective. erary tool. Children’s learning involves a move This is because we have an established pattern of through partial information to understanding, as interpretation of what children say, know not to does the reader’s knowledge of situations depict- take them at their word but to look closely at what ed. The writer finds in childhood an opportunity to is being told, and are constantly evaluating whethreplicate the process of observation and inference er the child’s experience, communicated through between the explicit information of the text and their speech, has been adequate or appropriate in the implied meaning at which the reader and the relation to the social norms around childhood in child will eventually arrive. Sensitive or distress- our context as reader. ing realities, images of violence and brutality, are also often withheld from children by adults. These Intertextuality, dialogue between texts, locates may still reach the reader through signalling: when each text within the existing literary fabric and exposed to partial information, the child’s interest more widely in the culture in which a given lanmay be piqued and generate anxiety or fear about guage is used. Through allusion and analogy to what is obscured. The child may thus be obsessed other writing, authors are able to “weave” some of with, informed about, or unaware of certain truths, the meaning of these texts into their own, allowand the reader may still understand that a wider ing for ‘indefinite embeddings’8 that may gesture reality is gestured to that eludes the child’s under- towards some interpretation that authors cannot standing. Paradoxically, the reader’s attention is explicitly ask the reader to make. In the case of the drawn to what the child’s ignorance threatens to Spanish texts we will see that authors may create overlook. The child’s perspective can therefore op- text A that explicitly has one meaning (meaning erate as a lens for obscuring or partially revealing that can pass undetected through censorship) but information, given children’s own partial under- which gestures to the meaning of another text B, standing and awareness. Authors constrained—as inviting the reader to incorporate B’s meaning into was the case in Spain following the Civil War—by A. Such transference of meaning through intertext censors or social stigma from explicitly depicting provides a means of making a potentially dana certain reality may thus refract such a depic- gerous point. Intertextuality also conditions the tion across the screen of the child’s perspective. meaning of intratextuality: the intentions of char-
Castillo 2015, 19
Kristeva 1986, 28
acters in an autofictional text that write (produce an intratext) can draw our attention to what the author perceives their own authorial act as meaning.
tal dialogue as one that does not achieve explicit explanation—we might imagine the babbling of children who are processing information that they have witnessed, but who do not have access to a clear and instructional version of the information. Dialogic text is writing that ‘expresses simultane- We will take as “horizontal” dialogue the writing ously two different intentions: the direct intention of an author that is not able to explicitly penetrate of the character who is speaking, and the refract- the truth of a message but must rather gesture ed intention of the author’.9 This again accommo- “sideways” at other texts or hidden meaning in dates messages that cannot be expressed explicit- order to circumvent a censor or to avoid unwantly, and which draw upon the suggested meaning ed social consequence. Contrastingly, “vertical” of depicted situations to create implications out- dialogue, between the figures of the child and the side of the explicit area of discussion. Polyphon- adult, allows for a more pedagogical approach to a ic text, such as Delibes’, is one that contains ‘[a] question. We may thus also view it as a “vertical” plurality of independent and unmerged voices and dialogue between author and reader when the auconsciousnesses’10, which encourages a critical re- thor is able to explicitly profess meaning and to sponse by presenting a multiplicity of positions in, pass knowledge or understanding onto the reader. or responses to, a single contextual event. The examination of dialogue, then, allows us to examine The Spanish Civil War has been extensively culthe ways in which the texts have hidden or com- turally inscribed with the image of fratricidal plex meanings that invite a political reading of the conflict: the titles alone of works such as Emilio childhoods depicted. Prados’ poem ‘Sangre de Abel’ and Matute’s novel Los Abel attest to the interest in Cain and Abel in “Perpendicular” Axes of Conflict works addressing the Civil War. While much of an entire generation of adults was directly involved and of Dialogue in the conflict, Graham notes that many adults attempted to hide violent realities of the war from The reasons for, and consequences of, this multi- children.12 Consequently in Primera memoria plicity of meaning in the Spanish and Argentine and El príncipe destronado children’s dialogue contexts illuminate conceptions of the family and becomes a place in which to conceal discussion of the child in each country following the conflicts of the war and its consequences, taking for a base in question, and demonstrate the evolution of the assumption that children were not directly comliterary value of the child over the twentieth cen- municating with adults about the conflict, so that tury. Kristeva, working on intertextuality, estab- the child’s perspective serves as a screen that conlishes a horizontal dimension and a vertical one, ceals and encodes the author’s own implicit voice. where each text represents an interaction between It is significant that following the Civil War ‘the ‘horizontal axis (subject-addressee) and vertical most important developments for literary culture axis (text-context)’.11 A similar model can be used revolved around the censorship laws’13, and social to represent the sociocultural differences between stigma hindered discussion of the war and dictathe Spanish and Argentine contexts. In this case, torship, which meant that the author would do however, we will imagine “horizontal” dialogue best to explore questions of cruelty and conflict as being that between members of the same gen- through obfuscation. The “sideways” dialogues of eration and “vertical” dialogue as that between childhood, which never wholly penetrate an aumembers of different generations, specifically, thoritative truth, are effective here, allowing writbetween adults and children. Spatially, these are ers to lead the reader to draw analogous concluthe same directions that one finds on a traditional sions from the information revealed in children’s family tree. We will also conceive of the horizon- partial viewpoints and through the suggestions afforded through intertextuality. 9 Allen 2011, 29 10 11
Bakhtin 1984, 6 Kristeva 1986, 36-7
Graham 2005, 137 Ugarte 2005, 611
In Argentina, responses to the military dictatorship of 1976-83 were largely shaped by intergenerational bonds, and the child represented a crucial player in the formation of cultural memory following the return to democracy. During the emblematic protests organised by the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, which began in 1977, victims were remembered and represented by family members, who were defined by their biological relation to the victims. The Madres centralised the symbolic value of maternal devotion to draw attention to the atrocities committed against their children, whose status as victims was in turn conditioned by their position as children of the campaigners. Alongside the Madres’ protests for adult— although themselves often very young—victims criminalised by the dictatorship were the Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo, advocating for the safe return of stolen children. As a result, Cecilia Sosa notes that the ‘particular entanglement between kinship ties and groups of victims has characterised the human rights field in Argentina’, to the extent that ‘normative discourses of memory have been mainly processed as a family issue’. 14Both Alcoba’s and Bombara’s texts were published in this environment where questions of parentage had been established as central to understanding one’s identity, relating oneself to the conflict and its implications, and qualifying to participate in the discussion.15 Compared to the censorship in Spain, both authors were legally more able to communicate the relevance of the fragments of child’s dialogue to the reader’s understanding. The direction of dialogue in both texts is therefore “vertical”: the child’s perspective and psyche had a newfound value in the examination of conflict, 16 and dialogues between parents and children rep14 Sosa 2014, 13 15 Sosa 2014, 13 16 Gabriela Nouzeilles and Graciela Montaldo explain that, in Argentina from the 1960s-70s, the child’s voice had gained significant cultural and intellectual importance: ‘Childhood was no longer considered merely a preparatory stage for adult life […]. As is the case with the little people that made the comic strip Mafalda famous, kids would be credited with a previously unacknowledged wisdom and a talent for seeing through social conventions. Deepening interest in the personal and the new meaning of childhood led 23
resented means of preserving memory and finding answers through questioning. The positioning of intertext similarly allows the authors more clearly to demonstrate the importance of other texts within their own responses to violence. While the Spanish Civil War was characterised by a narrative of fratricidal (“horizontal”, or intragenerational) violence, therefore, responses to the Argentine dictatorship were defined by intergenerational (“vertical”) devotion and remembrance: a ‘broken lineage of mothers, grandmothers, children, relatives […] of the disappeared has been the guardian of mourning’ in Argentina.17 State violence in both cases extended to the expropriation of children. In both contexts, ‘apropiarse de los niños de los vencidos y alterar su filiación fue parte del proceso de borramiento del otro’18. In Spain, however, the kidnapping of “hijos de rojos” mainly served to hide them from view and society,19 to the extent that the majority of such crimes went largely unperceived in the wider narrative of the Civil War.20 In Argentina, children stolen from victims of the dictatorship had a higher cultural and therefore capital value, and many were sold or given to families affiliated with the regime, ‘para educated Argentines to embrace psychoanalysis as the dominant paradigm for explaining all sorts of conflicts.’ (Nouzeilles/Montaldo 2002, 341) 17 Sosa 2014, 1 18 Souto 2015, 248 19 Graham 2005, 131 20 Souto 2015, 249-51. This is changing in recent years, although Souto emphasises ‘la novedad del tema’: ‘estamos asistiendo al proceso de conformación del robo de menores dentro de la memoria colectiva española’. Montse Armengou and Ricard Belis’ 2002 documentary Els nens perduts del franquisme was the first of a number of televised inquiries into crimes against children and the expropriation of minors during and following the Spanish Civil War. More recently, in 2018, Robert Bahar’s and Almudena Carracedo’s documentary El silencio de otros aired on Netflix in a number of countries. El silencio de otros addressed the kidnapping of children of Republican prisoners, and the role of Argentine lawyers in re-opening the cases of many such Franco-era crimes, drawing from their experience in the Argentine postdictatorial hearings
‘salvarlos’ y ‘reeducarlos’’.21 Parallels between the differences in the physical appropriation of children in both regimes and the literary appropriation of childhood by authors demonstrate changing cultural conceptions of childhood: in Spain during the Civil War and the following decades, the child seemingly easily erased in the societal sense became an effective tool for encoding literary messages. In Argentina, the child was a crucial figure in depictions of tragedy and outrage, a symbol of bloodlines interrupted, and its inclusion in dialogue was seen as important in restoring biological and social justice. The cultural narratives of the two conflicts are, then, “perpendicular”. In the analysis that follows, the dialogues of childhood in the Spanish and Argentine texts exhibit a corresponding perpendicularity.
themselves dynamics of society and responsibility that are denied to them by the absences and intergenerational detachments—the lack of open, sincere dialogue between adults and children—that characterise their family structure.
21 22 23 24
27 28 29 30
Matia’s ‘loco deseo’25 to avoid learning the ‘sucias cosas de los hombres y de las mujeres’26 is reflected in, and likely informed by, her grandmother’s concern for conserving a forced image of normality, including a suppression of discussion of the Civil War. Matia’s refusal to behold or acknowledge matters of sexuality and adulthood is contained within her indignant voice that seeks to preserve its childhood: ‘No, no me descubras más cosas, […] porque no quiero saber nada del mundo que no entiendo. Déjame, déjame, que aún no lo entiendo’.27 Here, conceivably, the space of Saints and Speech Inflections: childhood offers a protective ignorance and shelter from frightening realities, in the same way that Reflection in the Sideways the child’s perspective feigns to reject discussion Reaching Child in Spain of the war. Matia’s suppression of reality, however, engenders a morbid ideation about death and The structure of Matia and Borja’s family in Pri- decay. The entire island bears the compulsive immera memoria is conditioned by a lack of com- ages: ‘me decía que vivíamos encima de los muermunication between generations and haunted by tos, y que la pedregosa isla […] estaba amasada de the physical absence of their fathers. Their fathers, muertos y muertos sobrepuestos’.28 The repressed fighting on opposing sides in the Civil War, recall thoughts, then, find a way to make themselves the image of fratricidal conflict. Matia’s mother is known. Likewise, the abuela’s refusal to allow the dead, Borja’s is largely mentally absent, and both reality of war to ‘interrumpir más nuestra normalfathers are defined by their absence. Matia ob- idad […] Debemos vivir, en lo posible, ignorándoserves the effects of this absence in herself: ‘Tenía la’29, fails, instead directing the reader’s attention que inventarme un padre, como un arma’,22 and to what is explicitly avoided. The war constantly in conversation: ‘La palabra padre estaba allí, en- beats at the door of the narrative and threatens to cerrada’ in a ‘bola de cristal blanco’.23 Yet their im- intrude upon the children’s peace: it is ‘muy altos portance in the rigid familial structure endures, so […] aviones enemigos’,30 glimpses of violent imagthe absent patriarchs—those of the same political es in the newspaper, the very reason for their stay leanings as Práxedes, that is, Borja’s father and on the island and the absence of their fathers. That the children’s grandfather—hold such a symbolic Matia’s refusal to grow up should be so clearly fuimportance over the household that ‘estaban en la tile allows the author to signal by analogy that the sala casi físicamente’.24 The children thus do not grandmother’s performative denial of the war is have access to functional parenting, but are bur- similarly senseless, drawing attention through pardened by the symbolic norms of the familial struc- tial disclosure to the violence and disruption in the ture. Their grandmother is a distant and author- text’s background. The reality of war is positioned itative figure, whose lack of communication with 25 PM, 143 the children further drives them to enact between 26 PM, 162 Souto 2015, 247 PM, 57 PM, 116 PM, 64
PM, 143-4 PM, 106 PM, 152 PM, 27
as a challenge to the imposed reality: ‘Sin embargo, algo había, como un gran mal’; ‘No obstante, al parecer, sucedían cosas atroces’.31 Images of violence and the stubborn refusal on the part of the characters and narrator to fully acknowledge these force the reader to reconcile the two realities and to notice what Matute’s characters refuse to see: ‘disparos en las afueras, carretera adelante, al borde del acantilado, más allá de Son Major. Un grito, acaso, temerosamente oído una tarde, escondido entre los olivos del declive. Borja nos enseñó a jugar a las cartas’.32 Here the full stop marks the site of tension between the author’s voice and the narrator’s will to ignore its concerns. Matute’s novel reveals itself as dialogic in the sense that the author’s voice may be inferred as in opposition to that of her characters: the juxtaposition of glimpses of the Civil War alongside the characters’ efforts to ignore it urges the reader to intuit the sinister reality that is, purposefully imperfectly, suppressed. In the absence of dependable adult figures and guidance the children turn “sideways”, to one another, and to existing stories, in their desire to make sense of their world. Three principal intertextual analogies populate Matute’s narrative. The most complex of these is Biblical. Matute’s characters seem to echo figures from the Bible: Manuel is ‘a Christ-like figure, wrongly accused and sacrificed’.33 Jorge de Son Major is aligned repeatedly with Saint George, which reinforces his heroic figure in the children’s eyes, and the children’s tutor Lauro evokes the myth of Cain and Abel in the context of the Civil War, lamenting the bloodshed of ‘tantos y tantos hermanos nuestros’.34 Strikingly, when Matia and Borja discover the corpse of José Taronjí on the beach, and Borja puts his finger into the bullet holes on the boat, Matia contemplates the Biblical resonance of the image: ‘me acordé de lo que decían de Santo Tomás, que metió los dedos en las heridas de Jesús’.35 Here, clearly, the intertextual import of tradition provides a flimsy contemplative escape from the frightening reality of violence. The Biblical text is also a culturally and 31 32 33 34 35 25
PM, 27, 180; emphasis mine. PM, 36; emphasis mine. Díaz 1971, 134. PM, 40 PM, 48
socially entrenched authority, and so Biblical archetypes provide a set of essential models against which Matia and the reader evaluate Matute’s as good or wicked, saintly or untrustworthy, pathetic or heroic. The existing connotations of Biblical figures thus allow Matute to layer her own text with implications about mimetic human behaviour, and to emphasise the lack of parental guidance: the children instead turn “sideways” to other texts for examples of how to judge, and how to behave. The historical record of past persecution of Jews on the island offers the children a means for understanding the ambient violence and social persecution in their own surroundings. Significantly, Manuel and his family are chuetas—converted Jews. The children’s adoption of the historical model allows Matute to signal towards the early stages of human fascination with violence, and to the echoes of violence on the island. Matute allows the historical text to “speak” directly in Primera memoria, granting her reader access to the text at the same time as Borja and Matia: ‘Era de ver cómo prendían en el juego sus carnes, cómo las llamas lamían sus entrañas; cómo se rasgaba su vientre en dos, de arriba abajo, con un brillo demoníaco, y…’ decía el libro que Borja encontró en la habitación del abuelo. Explicaba cómo ardían vivos los judíos. Aquella era la misma plaza donde ocurrieron, siglos atrás, aquellas escenas.36 The book crucially is found by Borja, and becomes a makeshift education in violence. The model is dangerous: the children, unimpeded, take to the square and perform a violent armed struggle that exemplifies the combination of play and solemnity with which the children attempt to process violence through enactment. Thus, ‘Primera memoria [itself] becomes a history lesson37’ that draws together two points of violence in the local history and reaches “sideways” towards other texts for meaning about behaviour during the Civil War, in the impossibility of explicit discussion, in the same way that Matute’s children resort to “sideways” models in the absence of their parents. A third intertextual analogy, Barrie’s Peter Pan, 36 37
PM, 160 Bermúdez 2016, 145
serves as a symbol for childhood and for Matia’s increasing awareness that her own must eventually end. The fairy-like figures from Barrie’s text accompany Matia’s contemplations of the companions and the setting of her childhood. Nowhere is this more poignant than following Borja’s betrayal of Manuel that shocks Matia into knowledge, where her break with childhood is reflected in her break with Peter Pan: ‘yo con los ojos abiertos […] (No existió la isla de Nunca Jamás […]). Eran horribles los cuentos’.38 Matia’s realisation of the import of other texts on the events of her own life is an arresting moment for the reader, and consolidates the importance of the Biblical and historical precedents on the children’s behaviour, and Matute’s meaning. Matute’s and Matia’s parallel recursions to intertextual analogy to draw meaning from what is otherwise unclear reveal themselves as direct results of Matia’s austere family structure and Matute’s inability to openly discuss the war. Through dissonance and intertext Matute thus inhabits the space of childhood, constructing there ‘a study of war and the causes of war, those produced by the social order and those inherent in human nature—a study of social and personal corruption’.39 Matute’s text of personal corruption and the private struggles of childhood therefore signals “horizontally” towards the unspeakable, hidden, text of social corruption and the wider violence of the Civil War.
phatic, yet cumulatively reflects his fear of authority and his incomprehension of imposed, arbitrary punishment systems. These are arbitrary because the adults around him do not establish a clear set of consequences for his actions, responding sharply or cryptically to earnest questions, demonstrating an absence of “vertical” communication. Quico’s cognition is conditioned by fear of punishment rather than logical systems: he is told ‘tú verás, como te repases, te corto el pito’42 and responds to the lack of established consequences by constantly asserting: ‘no me he hecho pis en la cama, ni me he repasado’.43 Quico’s insecurity regarding arbitrary punishment exposes the fear and tension of the Franco-era household: the home offers a microcosm of Spanish society upon which Delibes may comment under the guise of the oblivious, apoliticised child that linguistically he constructs.
38 39 40 41
44 45 46 47
Dialogue in El príncipe destronado is more immediately important than in Primera memoria. Delibes employs dialogue, through speech and implication, to imbue with political and social meaning his text that explicitly looks at nothing more than a day in the life of three-year-old Quico. In Delibes’ replication of the child’s voice, ‘the writer’s orientation […] does not penetrate [his character’s speech] but accepts it as whole [and] subordinates that word to its own task’44. Delibes’ phonetic mimicry of Quico’s voice, from the typically childish omission of d in the first instance of Quico’s The family model constructed by Delibes in El speech ‘¡Ya me he despertaooooo!’,45 distances the príncipe destronado is similarly defined by insuf- character’s voice from the position of the author, ficient interaction between parents and children: generating a dialogue in the Kristevan sense: in “vertical” relationships are strained and distant, terms of ‘the logic of distance and relationship beand “horizontal” interactions between children tween the different units of a […] narrative strucmove in to fill this void. Both parents are a source ture’.46 Throughout the text, ‘[l]a caracterización of anxiety and distress for Delibes’ protagonist del lenguaje infantil está conseguida con el uso de Quico, which generates his pathetic and symbol- anáforas, conversiones, reduplicaciones, polisínic value as neglected witness to their behaviour. deton, onomatopeyas…’.47 Delibes’ imitation of Even visually—for Quico sees his mother as ‘la the child’s voice through Quico is so effective that bata de flores rojas y verdes’,40 or her high-heeled it creates the impression that the voice of the text shoes41—the children’s perspectives are used by itself is one that does not grasp complex or “adult” Delibes as mirrors placed on the floor, reflecting matters. The reader nearly discounts Quico’s charat unforgiving angles the actions and attitudes 42 PD, 98 of their parents. Much of Quico’s speech appears 43 PD, 58 PM, 243 Díaz 1971, 135 PD, 15 PD, 120
Kristeva 1986, 43 PD, 10 Kristeva 1986, 42 Alcalá Arevalo 1991, 198-99
acter and figure as a source of meaning, which allows fragments of consequential information, reflected in his observations, to pass almost imperceptibly under the radar as indirect criticisms of behaviour and situations. Disguised within a heightened Realism, the child’s voice therefore becomes a tool for charging texts with meaning during the years of censorship and its demands of ‘imposed literary innocence’.48 Quico’s parents speak through their child and exploit his innocence in their conflict, which reaches the reader through ironic language charged with double meanings. Quico’s father tells him to tell his mother to ‘freír puñetas’;49 when Quico obeys he is told ‘No digas eso, hijo. Es un pecado’.50 The child is confused and weaponised in a conflict encoded in adult language, which he does not understand. The reader, however, perceives Delibes’ signalling of the tensions in the household: the linguistic innocence of the child’s perspective facilitates a coded depiction of violence. The voice of the author is veiled, while his narrator appears to possess the same level of comprehension as Quico. This too allows Delibes to avoid explicitly condemning the violence that he nonetheless succeeds in depicting. Thus, as Quico ‘va contando una cosa detrás de otra, sin relación lógica’,51 the narrator avoids directly orientating elements of the narrative, demanding instead that the reader draw their own conclusions from the details provided. This is the case, for instance, in the following instance of the conjunction pero: ‘volvió a reír, pero el plato que arrojó Papá por encima de su cabeza planeaba ya hacia el salón y se quebró de pronto […]’.52 Pero here semantically reflects the dissonance between the child’s laughter and the father’s violent reaction, dramatising the ambient and spasmodic violence that ebbs in the house and which gestures towards the suppressed trauma and anger held by adults in the decades following the Civil War and under dictatorship. That el plato should be the subject of the clause and not Papá further demonstrates the author’s refusal to organise details in a demonstrably didactic or emphatic manner, 48 49 50 51 52 27
Perez 2005, 629 PD, 76 PD, 77 Sievering 2001, 323 PD, 70
choosing instead to mimic the piecemeal observations of the child’s perspective, leaving the reader responsible for organising and inferring meaning from the text. The lack of “vertical” communication leads to “horizontal” interactions wherein the children exchange information without fully understanding its consequences. While Delibes’ text is polyphonic in its depiction of multiple, independent, interacting voices, these might be read as convergent within the concealed voice of the author. The children perform a remarkably effective microcosm of society and a study of the origins of violence. The parental neglect gives way to a dangerous situation in which Quico plays with his baby sister using exposed instruments in the bathroom,53 and experiments with exercising upon her the same rules that are imposed upon him by adults, in an attempt to understand them: ‘Si te repasas te pego’.54 The child’s imitation of adult behaviour is disturbing, reveals it as problematic, and demonstrates the human capacity to mindlessly repeat or enforce behaviours without comprehension and uncritically. His siblings imitate, recreating, different voices in society: Juan, for instance, idolises the war. He constantly imitates gunfire—‘Ta-tatá’55—and plays at violence: ‘Yo tengo que matar más de cien malos, como Papá’.56 Since the child’s exposure to the knowledge of war will be subconsciously absorbed from adults, especially his father, Delibes’ play with the child’s voice draws attention to the tragedy of glorification of violence. Ultimately, the contextually weighted meanings of childhood by Delibes rely on a cultural conception of the child as a figure that did not possess sufficient wisdom to comment critically upon society. As such, the literary value of the child for Delibes and Matute in constructing sociopolitical malaise depends on the perceived cultural value of the child at the time, and from the lack of “vertical” communication with adults. The social narratives that hinge on “horizontal” communication facilitate, as Delibes wrote of Carmen Laforet’s Nada (1945), an ‘alegato contra la guerra sin necesidad 53 54 55 56
PD, 118-19 PD, 117 PD, 77 PD, 80
bonds with other children. Because the father of her one friend Malena is in the military, the protagonist’s mother allows her to attend the girl’s birthHomework and Crosswords as day only ‘con una condición, que no hable de papá Testimony: The Child As Wit- ni de ella ni de nada’.60 Further “vertical” relationness, then Author, in Argentina ships involve other relatives and grandparents— necessarily trustworthy adults who are implicated by the shared secret of the mother’s militancy. Bombara’s El mar y la serpiente opens with the Thus when her mother is disappeared too, the image of a family structure that is noticeably dif- protagonist is sent to ‘lo de los abuelos’,61 where ferent from Matute’s and Delibes’ in the intima- the the mother-child relationship proves central cy between parents and child: ‘Mamá y papá me to her understanding of her support structure: ‘La abrazan fuerte. Me hacen doler’.58 A familiarity be- abuela viejita […] [e]s la mamá de la abuela, que tween the two generations is immediately appar- es la mamá de ella, que es mi mamá. Todas son ent,59 as is the voice of a child narrator who reports mamás’.62 The protagonist’s mother positions her her physical experience as a marker of cognitive “vertical” responsibility to her child as central to and social immaturity. Bombara presents a family her involvement with the Montoneros: ‘¡Era nuesstructure defined around “vertical” relationships. tro mejor regalo para nuestros hijos!’. 63The family The closeness of the child protagonist/narrator structure shown by Bombara thus replicates the and her mother is as much a marker of the wid- systems of “vertical” relationships that surrounder changing intergenerational dynamic as it is of ed the experience of clandestine childhood during specificities of the Argentine conflict. The moth- the dictatorship. er’s clandestine involvement with the Montoneros forces them to move around often, and prevents El mar y la serpiente charts a didactic process for the daughter from forming close, “sideways”, both protagonist and reader. In her first section, de guerra’.57
57 Delibes 1980, 5 58 MS, 16 59 It is worth considering, although an extensive comparison lies outside the scope of this essay, Manuel Puig’s La traición de Rita Hayworth (Argentina, 1968). The text precedes El príncipe destronado and is remarkably similar in Puig’s linguistic reconstruction of the child protagonist Toto’s voice. Puig’s text, set in Argentina in the 1920s-30s, provides a family model that in my terms was far more “horizontal”—a remoteness between parents and children comparable to the structure of Quico’s family in Delibes’ text—than is the case in Bombara’s and Alcoba’s texts. An awareness of Puig’s pioneering use of children’s dialogue and the family structure that he depicted is significant in terms of where my axes of comparison lie: it is not so much a national comparison that we are observing, but temporal, and contextual: the specificities of the two periods in question cannot be removed from the colossal changes in culture, economy, politics, and other factors that would incrementally change the world over each decade of the twentieth century. These are the same factors that would shape the sociocultural value of the child that in turn shaped his or her evolving value in literature.
‘La niña’, Bombara establishes a “horizontal” dialogue, narrating the period of dictatorship from a markedly childish perspective. The effect is comparable to that created by Delibes, in that the infant narrator appears not to wholly understand the significance of events that she relays. Bombara’s protagonist’s language acquisition64 serves as a reminder of her innocence and draws our attention to the information that she learns. The child’s perspective is constructed through her efforts in cognitive development in language and in logic, particularly, her over-extension in both. When the protagonist refers to a chapter of her book as a pedazo, for instance, she is corrected: ‘no se dice pedazo, se dice capítulo’.65 Later she uses erroneously the acquired word: ‘Un señor me dio un capítulo 60 MS, 36 61 MS, 42 62 MS, 42 63 MS, 84 64 We recall Punte’s observation that infancia is inextricably related to, indeed, etymologically delineated by, the period before speaking and the passage to speech that follows. 65 MS, 31
de barro para hacer algo […] Mamá me pregunta, ¿por qué decís capítulo? Me dice, se dice pedazo. 66 La otra vez me dijo que no se decía pedazo’. That direct speech is italicised and subsumed in this first section highlights the narrator’s absorption of her mother’s language and her dependency on her mother for information. Through this acquisition of vocabulary in context—a process in which children ‘need to learn what the mappings are from words-to-world and world-to-words in order to assign meaning’67—the focus on the “word” allows Bombara to draw attention to the “world” in which her protagonist lives. The process becomes political when the protagonist’s mother provides a contextual definition for a new word: ‘regimiento’.68 The same over-application of rules is present in the protagonist’s developing logic: she thinks that because her father left by bicycle the day he was disappeared, she will also disappear when she rides one,69 and fears that the mother will never return, ‘como papá’.70 In this first section, the child’s developing voice and worldview serve to emphasise realities that she does not yet fully understand.
elling to the beach,73 now explained as a necessary measure disguised behind ‘la farsa de las vacaciones felices’.74 This “vertical” dialogue in Bombara’s characters’ pursuit of their private history reflects the “vertical” pursuit of truth and justice in the following decades.
66 67 68 69 70 71 72
following year. For an analysis of Brizuela’s translation see Santos/Gasparini, ‘En el embute del francés: sobre Manèges/La casa de los conejos de Laura Alcoba’ (2015) 76 CC, 29 77 CC, 114 78 CC, 104
The family in La casa de los conejos revolves largely around the notion of the home, as is suggested in the title of Brizuela’s translation.75 The titular home, an operative house in La Plata that serves as a printing press for the clandestine publication Evita montonera, is outwardly idyllic, yet harbours a dark secret and a precarious, politicised, “family”. Interventions by extended family members due to limitations placed on Laura’s parents by the dictatorship indicate the degree of disruption that is standard in childhoods lived underground: the girl comments flippantly ‘Hoy mi abuelo y yo tenemos cita con mi madre. ¿Cuánto tiempo hace que no la veo? ¿Dos, tres meses, quizá?’.76 Due to the repeated imprisonment of her Montonero father and the collective activity of the militants that share the house, the child protagoBombara’s second section ‘La historia’ comprises nist is isolated among several adults, including Dia series of dialogues between mother and daugh- ana Teruggi, the companion and maternal figure ter, where it is established that the route to clo- to whom Alcoba’s text is dedicated, and who ensure must pass through “vertical” dialogue and acts ‘el papel de maestra’77 when Laura is forced to memory. Dialogue allows the mother and daugh- leave school. The militant “family” is increasingly ter to participate together in reconstructing the defined by their arrangement in the house as the past and constructing their shared narrative of enclosed space becomes the child’s whole world: events, before the daughter inscribes her experi- often, ‘no quedamos más que Diana, […] mi madre ence in the third section, ‘La decisión’. Interrog- detrás del falso último muro, y yo’.78 ative dialogue allows the protagonist’s mother to address the deficiencies of subjective memory, as Crucially, Laura’s are all “vertical” relationships: the daughter appears to have forgotten the trau- she is unable to form “sideways” relationships matic episode: ‘—¿No te acordás? — No mami, no with other children because she is implicated in me acuerdo de nada’.71 Through conversation the 73 MS, 20 daughter may access the intimate detail of the his- 74 MS, 91 torical event—‘¿Y vos qué hacías mientras estabas 75 La casa de los conejos was originally published secuestrada?’72—and the reality of events that as a in French under the title Manèges: petite histoire child she did not fully understand, such as having argentine (Paris: collection Blanche, 2007). The text to “play” at hiding together in the car while trav- was translated into Spanish by Leopoldo Brizuela the
MS, 36 Clark 2009, 285 MS, 36 MS, 21 MS, 42 MS, 69 MS, 79
her parents’ militancy. She recalls a poignant moment where she saw ‘una nena, más o menos de la misma edad que yo […] le sonreí y ella respondió a mi sonrisa […] su mirada me bastó para comprender que ella vivía también en el miedo’.79 If this is a “sideways” interaction between children, it takes place like a static shock—the reader is reminded of the otherwise relentless isolation of her childhood, its seclusion broken only by “vertical” relationships with her mother’s comrades. This fleeting, abstract moment of companionship is a world apart from the complex “horizontal” networks among children in the Spain of Primera memoria. The only recurrent object of the child’s fantasy is her adult neighbor, ‘una verdadera princesa’80 with whom she is occasionally allowed to play and who offers an escape from the fraught and confusing rules of her house. When Laura unknowingly risks the pact of secrecy that she is expected to uphold with her mother and Diana, by revealing to the neighbour that she does not know her own surname, the childish fantasy attached to the fairy-godmother figure heightens her sense of failure and of disgust at her own childhood: ‘sentí como si hubiera caído en una trampa, en esa casa, con esa magnífica criatura rubia de los mil zapatos divinos’. 81
as an explicitly relevant example that allows Laura’s mother to emphasise ‘hasta qué punto es importante callar’.84 Childhood is thus “valuable” to the Montoneros: because children are viewed as innocent, play may disguise suspicious actions. Yet the silence imposed on Alcoba’s and Bombara’s children demonstrates a new value in their voice: they pose a threat to clandestinity because if they speak, they will be listened to. The child, who now qualifies as witness, is prevented from being innocent or impartial in the context of clandestinity. Alcoba’s protagonist is brought in on her parents’ secret, involved in its keeping, and therefore forced to ‘jugar a la adulta, a la militante’.85 Laura’s childhood, assumed into the needs of the adults around her, represents many things—but never childhood itself.
79 80 81 82 83
84 85 86 87 88
The immersion of Laura’s childhood into the politics of those around her is manifest in her language. A concrete linguistic marker of the child’s isolation among adults is seen in her development of a specific vocabulary particular to her experience in the operative house. The noun embute, ‘término […] del habla argentina, tan familiar para todos nosotros durante aquel período’, but which ‘carece sin embargo de existencia lingüística reconocida’,86 establishes Alcoba’s childhood linguistically Laura’s clandestine childhood is weaponised by in the context of the Montoneros: faced with this adults and subsumed to the militant operation: ‘se lexeme of specific contextual meaning, the readestá hablando acerca de una infancia arrebatada, er is forced, like a child in process of language de niños que tuvieron que vivir en un contexto que acquisition, to ‘connect the words being spoken les negaba los derechos supuestos por su condi- with the events being spoken of’.87 Alcoba’s emción’.82 If in El mar y la serpiente play served to bute illustrates perfectly Bakhtin’s case for socially conceal danger from the child in the context of evaluable language. Given that ‘[t]he organic conhiding in the car, Alcoba’s protagonist is aware nection between the sign and meaning attained of the dangers, and views her actions as child in in the concrete historical act of the utterance exterms of a politicised duty to adults. The child is ists only for the given utterance and only under used to survey the surroundings: ‘soy yo la que se the given conditions of its realization’,88 Alcoba’s vuelve a mirar hacia atrás. Resulta más natural knowledge of the term as it existed in the specific que un niño pare […] aprendí a disimular estos ac- historical context becomes a linguistic attestation tos de prudencia bajo la apariencia de un juego’.83 for her having been there. The linguistic isolation Conversely, the cautionary tale of ‘un niño muy of the sign serves as a marker for the seclusion of pequeño, que apenas sabía hablar’, who acciden- the community in which it was used. The term, its tally denounces his parents during a raid, is used meaning established within ‘una suerte de jerga CC, 110 CC, 45 CC, 45 Punte 2014, 2-3 CC, 24
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propia de los movimientos revolucionarios argentinos de aquellos años’,89 functions as a signifier among the militant community ‘para referirse a un escondite’.90 Its contextual meaning ‘is itself historical’,91 and bound semantically to the production of clandestine publications. Alcoba’s pursuit of the term—the pursuit of some concrete cultural vestige of her childhood—finds it ‘más bien anticuada ya, y visiblemente desaparecida’.92 Nonetheless its presence in the text, through its incorporation into Laura’s natural language acquisition, allows her childhood to become a marker of the historical, social, and ideological context in which it took place. The child’s acquired vocabulary, then, demonstrates the impact on her cognition of the militant adults around her. The young Laura’s politicised concerns are shown visually to impede on the space of her play when she creates a crossword (Figure 1) that includes the entries Isabel: ‘Imitadora fracasada y odiada’, Videla: ‘Asesino’, and the slogan Patria o muerte: The crossword, like Bombara’s protagonist’s essay 89 90 91 92 31
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on ‘Los desaparecidos’, constitutes an intratext that allows the protagonist to transcribe her experiences, marking a turning point in the healing process. Bombara’s protagonist’s essay poignantly defies the imposed silence of her childhood: she commemorates ‘30.000 personas’ and acknowledges her relationship to the tragedy: ‘Lo tengo a mi papá, que me recuerda siempre a los otros 29.999’.93 Genschow proposes that the error in Laura’s crossword (asar, instead of azar) ‘encarna la emergencia del sujeto cultural nuevo [Laura], diferente de los padres’.94 In both instances, the inscribing of the child’s voice in deliberately pedagogic forms—the school essay and home-school crossword exercise—acknowledges the roles of children and education in cultural remembrance and healing. The cathartic intention is expressed in Alcoba’s dedication to Diana Teruggi: ‘Diana, […] no es tanto por recordar como por ver si consigo, al cabo, de una vez, olvidar un poco’.95 Dialogues with the past, like Alcoba’s with her childhood self and with Teruggi, facilitate the reconciliation with history throughout postdictatorial Argentine literature. Reati explains the tension between remembering and forgetting, in which the reader’s attention plays an active role: ‘recordamos para 93 94 95
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olvidar (sanar), arribando a un “olvido” que no es negación sino integración y aceptación de la experiencia traumática’.96 A “vertical” relationship between author and reader is established, in order for information to be carried from the past into the present. This forward social impetus echoes the formative “vertical” relationships and dialogues in the texts themselves. The same elucidation of the relationship between text and context is present in Alcoba’s use of intertextual dialogue. Alcoba engages her text with the historical record when her adult narrator encounters Chaves and Lewinger’s existing text Los del ‘73. Memoria montonera. Alcoba cites directly the text, which itself cites La Gaceta of the 25th November 1976, providing historical and journalistic versions of the events—the raid on the operative house, the murder of Diana, the kidnapping of her baby Clara Anahí—that followed Laura’s escape from Argentina. If this historical text “speaking” within Alcoba’s narrative is reminiscent of Matute’s citation of the history book in Primera memoria, the crucial difference is that Alcoba’s text refers directly to historical accounts of the same period that it itself concerns, while Matute’s presents the account of an older historical event to gesture at the cyclicality of history and implicitly lend meaning to her situation within the Civil War. Intertextuality in the Argentine context allows the author to directly engage in the discourse about the dictatorship, positioning the implications of the text cited in conversation with the implications of her own autofictional testimony. Such explicit historical intertextual reflexivity was impossible for Matute and Delibes due to the censorship that children’s dialogue served to circumvent. Likewise, Alcoba makes explicit the relevance of the Edgar Allan Poe story, ‘The Purloined Letter’, that she encounters as a child. The stratagem of ‘evidencia excesiva’,97 with which the engineer hides the printing press in plain sight, as Poe’s character hides his letter, provides the adult Laura with an analogy for the engineer’s ability to betray the operative house by recognising it from above. Alcoba outlines the plot of Poe’s story and encourages the reader to comprehend the parallel with her own, in which the engineer ‘supo descifrar las 96 97
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letras enormes’.98 Intertextual analogy thus assists Alcoba in constructing with her reader some literary meaning out of her traumatic childhood. Here is the clear, “vertical”, discourse afforded by the absence of censorship; with the Spanish texts, by contrast, the reader must pursue alone the clues left in the form of “horizontal” intertextuality by authors restrained by censorship. *
The “horizontal” nature of dialogue and intertext in Matute’s and Delibes’ texts relies on the figure of the child as non-participatory in adult society, with limited access to information, to circumvent direct criticism of society and direct discussion of the Civil War. Both writers thus encode sociopolitical readings that are available upon analysis: political horrors reverberate off-screen, ‘al borde del acantilado’,99 where the stylistic and thematic clues lead, and Primera memoria and El príncipe destronado demand participatory readings of the dialogic and polyphonic narratives that they offer. The tendency of the Spanish text and of its children to look “sideways” in the absence of sufficient “vertical” freedoms parallels the depictions of childhood in postwar Spain, with Matute’s and Delibes’ children having little access to clear, didactic information from their parents’ generation, in the same way that the authors do not make explicit the social and political currents that move under the language of their texts. By contrast, the “vertical” thrust of meaning in the Argentine texts is demonstrative of authors’ ability to directly discuss the dictatorship. The texts, through their depiction of intergenerational dialogue and the genesis of written accounts, emphasise the need to revisit the past and record it for future generations. The capacity for direct depiction of state violence emerges as a crucial difference between Francoist Spain and postdictatorial Argentina, but is not the sole divergence between the cases. The wider cultural conception in postdictatorial Argentina of the filial relationship and bloodline as keys to the restoration of truth and justice placed a phenomenally high value on childhood. Our analysis of the “perpendicular” direc98 99
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tions of dialogue in the two case studies suggests, crucially, that this sociocultural value of the child as symbol of truth contributes to the literary value of childhood for authors wishing to create a “vertical” or didactic dialogue about the event. If ‘the evocation of family ties was politically expedient’ 100 in the Argentine pursuit of justice, it was too in the literary pursuit of private narratives, like Alcoba’s and Bombara’s, that could attest to individual experiences of the period. Attention to dialogue illuminates a sociopolitical reading of childhood in both instances: when the author allows other texts or direct speech to inhabit their narrative, they invite the real world to speak in their own texts. Consequently, their text engages in dialogue with that world, defying 100
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any possibility of reading in a vacuum: it is no coincidence that each dialogue of childhood, “horizontal” in the Spanish context or “vertical” in the Argentine, draws our attention to matters of dictatorship and of war. The historical particularities of the two cases also remind us of the time from which we are reading: the circumstantial and historically contingent conditions of our own perception of meaning in the texts. The temporal variability of the case studies must always remind us of this: that we perceive a duty to “decode” what seems obscured in the Spanish narratives, and to “evaluate” the Argentine texts which profess more clearly their didactic nature, is as shaped by the conceptions of childhood and the sociopolitical capacities of dialogue in our time as readers as it is by the postwar Spain and postdictatorial Argentina that, professedly, are our concern.
Bibliography Primary Sources Alcoba, Laura, La casa de los conejos, trans. Leopoldo Brizuela (Buenos Aires: Edhasa, 2008) Bombara, Paula, El mar y la serpiente (Lleida: Milenio, 2016) Delibes, Miguel, El príncipe destronado (Barcelona: Destino, 1974: 4th edition) Matute, Ana María, Primera memoria (Barcelona: Destino, 1964: 3rd edition) Secondary Sources Alcalá Arevalo, Purificación, Sobre recursos estilísticas en la narrativa de Miguel Delibes (Cáceres: University of Extremadura, 1991) Allen, Graham, Intertextuality (London: Routledge, 2011) Armengou, Montse, and Ricard Belis, Els nens perduts del franquisme (Catalonia: TV3, 2002) Bakhtin, Mikhail, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, trans. Caryl Emerson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984) Bakhtin, Mikhail, and Medvedev, Pavel, The formal method in literary scholarship: a critical introduction ot sociological poetics, trans. Albert Wehrle (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1985) Bermúdez, Silvia, ‘Novels as History Lessons in Ana María Matute’s Primera memoria (1960) and Demonios familiares (2014): From Betrayal to Solidarity’ in ed. Bieder, Maryellen and Roberta Johnson, Spanish Women Writers and Spain’s Civil War (London: Routledge, 2016) 33
Carracedo, Almudena, and Robert Bahar, El silencio de otros (Spain: Lucernam Films, 2018) Castillo, Patricia. Infancia en dictadura. Niñas y niños testigos: sus producciones como testimonio (Santiago: Colectivo Infancia y Memoria, 2015) Clark, Eve V, ‘Lexical meaning’ in The Cambridge Handbook of Child Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009) Delibes, Miguel, ‘Una interpretación de Nada’, La Vanguardia, 03/19/1980 Díaz, Janet Winecoff, Ana María Matute (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1971) Fernández-Babineaux, María, ‘La inversión de las imágenes bíblicas en Primera memoria’, Romance Notes, 49.2 (2009), 133-142 Genschow, Karen, ‘Sujetos culturales en disputa en Manèges/La casa de los conejos de Laura Alcoba’, Sociocriticism, 12.2 (2017), 151-188 Graham, Helen, Interrogating Francoism: History and Dictatorship in Twentieth-Century Spain (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016) Graham, Helen, The Spanish Civil War: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005) Key, Ellen, The Century of the child, trans. unnamed (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1909) Kristeva, J. The Kristeva Reader (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986) Matute, Ana María. Los Abel (Barcelona: Destino, 1948) Nouzeilles, Gabriela, and Graciela Montaldo, The Argentina Reader: history, culture, politics (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002) Perez, Janet, ‘Prose in Franco Spain’ in ed. Gies, David T. The Cambridge History of Spanish Literature. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005) Prados, Emilio, ‘Sangre de Abel’ in Poesías completas (Madrid: Visor, 1999), 91 Puig, Manuel, La traición de Rita Hayworth (Barcelona: Biblioteca Universal Formentor, 1982) Punte, María José, ‘Miradas que hablan : infancia y experiencia en la narrativa argentina reciente’, Cuadernos LIRICO, 11 (2014) <https://journals.openedition.org/lirico/1760?lang=es> [accessed 7 October 2020] Reati, Fernando Oscar, ‘Entre el amor y el reclamo: la literatura de los hijos de militantes en la posdictadura argentina’, Alter/nativas: Latin American Cultural Studies Journal, 5 (2015) <https://alternativas.osu.edu/assets/files/Issue5/essays/reati.pdf> [accessed 6 January 2021] Ros, Ana, The Post-Dictatorship Generation in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay: Collective Memory and 34
Cultural Production (New York: Palgrave, 2015) Ruiz Esquivel, Arturo, ‘Cultura popular como elemento de seducción en El beso de la mujer araña, de Manuel Puig’ in ed. Eberenz, Rolf. Diálogo y oralidad en la narrativa hispánica moderna (Madrid: Verbum, 2001) Santos, Debora Duarte dos and Pablo Gasparini, ‘En el embute del francés: sobre Manèges/La casa de los conejos de Laura Alcoba’, Alea: Estudos Neolatinos, 17.2 (2015), 277-290 Sievering, Gisela, ‘Manifestaciones del habla infantil en la narrativa de Miguel Delibes’ in ed. Eberenz, Rolf. Diálogo y oralidad en la narrativa hispánica moderna (Madrid: Verbum, 2001) Sosa, Cecilia Queering Acts of Mourning in the Aftermath of Argentina’s Dictatorship: The Performances of Blood (Suffolk: Tamesis, 2014) Souto, Luz C, ‘La apropiación de niños en España y Argentina. Dos políticas de la memoria’, Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispánicos, 40.1 (2015), 247-273 Ugarte, Michael, ‘The literature of Franco Spain, 1939-1975’, in ed. Gies, David T. The Cambridge History of Spanish Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005)
Georges Perec’s Flat Ontology: An OOO Reading of Things: a Story of the Sixties
By Angelo Zinna
Introduction Published in 1965, Georges Perec’s Things: a Story of the Sixties explores the relationship between two middle-class Parisian residents, Jerôme and Sylvie, and the commodities they surround themselves with. The novel has often been read as a critique of consumerism from a neo-Marxist perspective, where protagonists Jerôme and Sylvie become victims of their own desire. In this essay, I propose a different reading of Things, analyzing objects as “things in themselves” through the frame of the recent object-oriented ontology (OOO) theory proposed by Graham Harman. By putting in conversation Things, with Perec’s later non-fictional work Species of Spaces, I argue that the author could be read as an avant la
lettre object-oriented ontologist because of his attempts to “see more flatly.” The comparison of the fictional narrative with the philosophical ideas developed by Perec at a later stage, allows for the disruption of the hierarchical owner/owned relationship through the application of a “flat ontology” that positions humans and objects on the same plane. The “Perequian approach,” - an approach that I describe as “ethnographic” - promotes a return to valuing objects for their use value, rather than their sign value, and allows the reader to gain awareness about the influence of objects on individual agency. Georges Perec’s first novel, Les Choses. Une histoire des années soixante (1965), tells the story of protagonists Jerôme and Sylvie, 24 and 22, who struggle “with the 36
materialism of contemporary consumer society” (Motte) as a tension between the real and the desired builds up in their search for personal accomplishment. The novel, translated in English under the title of Things: a Story of the Sixties, does not provide the reader with a compelling plot or complex narrative structure. Rather, it builds up from the description of a long collection of ordinary objects, in a manner that will become archetypal in Perec’s later work. Known for speaking “to a wide range of spatial, urban and architectural interests, both substantive and methodological” (Philips 1), Perec developed an interest in the “sociology of the everyday” (Motte) that is first expressed in Things through minute descriptions of the furniture, home decor, clothing, foods that surround the characters in their stillness. The effort to list, classify, and frame a situation as it appears in the present moment, without analyzing the meaning behind such appearances, has been defined by Howard Becker as “an ethnographic description of a culture or way of life, of shared understanding and routine activities undertaken in accord with them” (66), or, in other words, an attempt to convert in writing the detached gaze of a distant observer who attempts to provide a comprehensive picture of reality by abstaining from value judgement.
nal intentions. The author, as Bellos reports, was not interested in writing a political manifesto, but rather in “photographing” the relationship between humans and material wealth, exploring “the way ‘the language of advertising is reflected in us’, whilst describing simply, ‘in barely heightened terms’, the particular social world which happened to be his” (7). According to Bellos, the most common reading of Things was, in fact, a superficial interpretation, applied onto the text as a consequence of “the world of consumerism as it was emerging in the France of de Gaulle” (6). The author’s intentions, which do appear in line with Becker’s view of Things as a work of ethnography rather than a political statement, acquired importance a decade after the release of Things, when Perec began to publish a series of nonfictional works detailing his approach to objects. Species of Spaces, published in 1974, and Thoughts of Sorts, published posthumously in 1985, offer a detailed outlook onto both a “Perequian methodology” and on the author’s approach to spatiality.
Through a reading of Things informed by the concepts contained Species of Spaces and Thoughts of Sorts, in this essay I argue that Perec’s ethnographic approach can be defined as a “flat ontology,” understood in Graham Harman’s sense of the term as an “ontology that initially treats all objects The semi-autobiographical book, writ- [including humans] in the same way, rather ten between 1962 and 1964, was first than assuming in advance that different published in France in 1965. Despite the types of objects require completely different “lack of narrative structure” (Bellos 7), Les ontologies” (54). In Species of Spaces Choses met immediate success, and with- Perec tells the reader “Force yourself to see in months of its release, it was awarded the more flatly” (51), an invitation to approach the Renaudot Prize for literature. In the introduc- material world with neutrality, abandoning tion of the English translation of the novel, the tendency to categorize objects through hiPerec’s biographer David Bellos explains that erarchical structures. Such suggestion is much of the initial acclaim was due to the repeated, in different form, in Thoughts “denunciation of consumer capitalism” (7) of Sorts. Perec’s commitment to detached that the narrative expressed, a feature that observation supports a reading of Things led to the rapid spread of the book in many within the framework of Harman’s objectEastern European countries and school oriented ontology (OOO) in which flat onsyllabi. The sociological interpretation that tology is viewed a “a useful way of ensuring became most commonly associated with the that we do not cave in to our personal prejtext, however, differed from Perec’s origi- udices about what is or is not real” (55). The 37
goal of this analysis is not simply to place the objects and humans represented in Things on the same plane, but to show that a Perequian approach can be valuable in disrupting the owner/owned relationship. I argue that while the events described in Things do show the power of capitalism in creating subjectivities through advertisement, the distant, external narrator points to a philosophical approach to objects that is applicable outside the historical era in which the novel was born and despite socioeconomic circumstances. In short, Perec’s flat ontology suggests that an object can never be truly appropriated through ownership and, thus, a process of identity construction that is based on the acquisition of property will, ultimately, result in a failure.
the habitual and reduce the specificity of objects and events. This analysis of Perec’s choice, however, appears to value the imperfect over the conditional, shaping objects and events as they occur in time rather than space. If one were to shift the attention from the imperfect to the conditional - from temporality to spatiality - a different interpretation would take shape. The sentence “Your eye [...] would glide” suggests that the reader’s eye cannot, in fact, glide over the furniture, unless the impossible condition of direct contact is met. The narration, therefore, opens with a negation of the object as such: what the reader is asked to imagine, what appears on the page, does not belong to the realm of the real as all that can be observed is ink on paper.
Perec appears to be aware of a central principle of OOO - “reality is always Inacessible Objects radically different from our formulation of it, and is never something we encounter Things opens with an emphasis on the im- directly in the flesh, we must approach it inportance of the act of observing that is made directly” (Harman 7) - and the emphasis on evident from the first sentence of the nov- distance between reader and story is the premel - “Your eye, first of all, would glide over the ise on which Things is built. Writing (and grey fitted carpet in the narrow, long and reading) about objects is, according to Perec, high-ceilinged corridor” (5). The narrator not a means to understand the nature of breaks the fourth wall and addresses the things, but an impulse to translate what is reader with a thirty-page list of objects that being observed into language, despite the compose the interior design of a carefully dec- inevitable discrepancy that will exist between orated apartment. Each object appears as the two. The author states that “[t]here are a fragment of a wider whole, a piece of a few events which don&#39;t leave a written puzzle that when completed transforms a trace at least. At one time or another, almost house into a home, a mirror displaying the in- everything passes through a sheet of pahabitants’ personality. The consistency of per, the page of a notebook, or of a diary, or such objects, however, is put in doubt by the some other chance support (a Metro tickuse of an odd choice of tenses. As Becker et, the margin of a newspaper, a cigarette points out, the description of space occurs packet, the back of an envelope etc.)” (Spethrough the use of the imperfect and the cies 12), but at the same time he notes that conditional, an unusual form in French fic- space is as much an inventory as it is an invention tion where the passé composé is typically (Species 13). employed to speak of past events (65). Becker argues that the use of imperfect and the The first chapter of Things presents itconditional “turns most actions and events self as such inventory of invented objects. into things that were ‘usually’ done, things “Invented” not solely because they are methat happened not once but often, [...] that diated by language, but because the made up a routine” (65), viewing the tense aesthetic form of objects do not provide choice as a device employed to represent enough information to allow a person to 38
experience them in their entirety. Knowledge, according to Perec, is an act of interpretation that can never be fully achieved through the senses. In describing an old edition of the encyclopedic dictionary Le Petit Larousse, for example, Perec explains that “space begins with that model map [...] which used to represent something like 65 geographical terms in 60 sq. cm., miraculously brought together, deliberately abstract” (13). Things, in this sense, is nothing more than the model map where the inventory and the invented meet. The real object, in the writings of Perec, remains inaccessible and any attempt of appropriation is destined to be unsuccessful as the experience of a thing is incompatible with the unknowable nature of the thing. The conceptualization of objects as outside a human’s grasp is central to OOO, which follows on the Kantian notion of the “thing in itself,” extending the theory to “the idea that objects never make full contact with each other any more than they do with the human mind” (Harman 12). Perec appears aware of the fact that approaching objects through observation only allows for an aesthetic experience of form, which brings us back to his desire to speak of space “in barely heightened terms,” as described by Bellos. The ethnographic approach to the apartment’s furniture appears fitting with the Socratic theory of recollection, presented by Harman as “a way in which we can know something without knowing it, just as indirect language is able to say something without saying it”. Perec’s enumerations are not mean t to provide exhaustive knowledge about the objects described, but to map a specific human condition in the hope of a better understanding of the world at a second stage. In Thoughts of Sorts the author details such an approach by saying,
gether without which the world (‘life’) would lack any points of reference to us (198). In short, observation is a necessary condition for knowledge, but the act of observing, which precedes thought, does not necessarily lead to knowledge. Describing a scene as it is seen provides a map to navigate the world, without explaining what the world actually is.
Human Objects When discussing the relationship between objectivization and ownership in his book Neomaterialism, Joshua Simon uses Thorstein Veblen’s 1898 book The Beginnings of Ownership to show the link between property and subjectivity. Veblen presents the concept of “the savage’s individuality” which includes elements such as “his shadow, his reflection, his name, his peculiar tattoo marks, his glance and breath, the print of his hand and foot, his voice.” Simon explains that “it is only with looting that women were brought into his community not as beings that were extensions of the man’s individuality, but as things to be owned by him” (86). The fact that a slave possesses a consciousness is not enough to avoid the process of objectivization, which, according to Simon, is a process of thinking the other as subservient. When viewed in this light, the notion of a flat ontology becomes problematic: as humans become equal to any other object they risk not losing their consciousness, but their agency. All objects listed in the first chapter of Things are approached “flatly” - they are all given the same degree of importance, ornamental language is lacking, and adjectives are reduced to the essential. The act of flattening is visible when the first human enters the scene:
A cleaning lady would come every morning. Every fortnight, wine, oil and sugar would be delivered. In every enumeration there are two con- There would be a huge, bright kitchen with blue tradictory temptations. The first is to list tiles decorated with heraldic emblems, three chieverything, the second is to forget some- na plates decorated with yellow arabesques in mething. [...] Thus, between the exhaustive tallic paint, cupboards everywhere, a handsome and the incomplete, enumeration seems whitewood table in the middle with stools and to me to be, before all thought, the very bench-seats. (15) proof of that need to name and to bring to- Matless explains that Perec’s command to “see 39
more flatly” in Species of Spaces is in fact “a motto for constant notice, respectful looking, the spotting of unlikely material significance in things that are ‘most obvious, most common, most colourless’” (171), however by placing the cleaning lady next to property, furniture, and food supplies, the narrator problematizes the use of flat ontology, as the woman becomes nothing else than an object among many. The cleaning lady appears recurrently like wine, oil, and sugar - she is portrayed as a commodity that completes the picture of the protagonists’ class achievement. The commodification of labour, the positioning of the woman among objects of desire and the juxtaposition to characters that are explicitly scared of the prospect of work (18) does offer potential for a critique of consumer culture. The nameless cleaning lady is presented as a middle-class commodity fetishism which, as Simon explains, “holds a truth about our relations of domination. It is the subjugation of men by other men that is materialized in the commodity” (85). Veblen’s work frames the birth of the concept of ownership as the result of a habit, claiming that “as ‘mine’ has become an accepted and integral part of man’s habits of thought, it became a relatively easy matter to extend this newly achieved concept of ownership to the products of the labor performed by the persons so held in ownership” (Simon 86). Jerôme’s and Sylvie’s apartment appears as a modern-day version of the condition described by Veblen’s, where the tendency toward accumulation extends to human labor. It is worth noting, however, that two separate layers of narration coexist in Things: on the one hand, we find the story, and on the other, we see the external narrator addressing the reader from a detached position that describes but avoids judging. It is from the latter’s perspective - the outsider’s perspective - that a flat ontology is performed. By interpreting the presence of the cleaning woman among the apartment’s furniture as a downgrading act of objectification, the reader is applying a hierarchical structure onto the text, which, as Perec himself describes in the essay Think/Classify is a product of culture that does not necessarily have an application onto the real: We have undergarments, garments, and overgarments but without thinking of them as forming a
hierarchy. But if we have managers and undermanagers, underlings and subordinates, we practically never have overmanagers or supermanagers. [...] My problem with classifications is that they don’t last; hardly have I finished putting things into an order that that order is obsolete. [...] The sheer number of the things needing to be arranged and the near impossibility of distributing them according to any satisfactory criteria mean that I never finally manage it, that the arrangements I end up with are temporary and vague, and hardly any more effective than the original anarchy. (195 196) After creating a parallel between human and non-human objects, Perec describes classification as an epistemological tool. Classifying becomes a way to understand and navigate the world, however, an object can never be fully categorized as its inner, changing, nature is outside the author’s grasp. Classification, therefore, is an oxymoron the attempt to regulate anarchy. The protagonists of Things are described as trying to control the things that surround them, living “amongst these objects so perfectly domesticated that they would have ended up believing these bright, soft, simple and beautiful things had only ever been made for their sole use” (15), however, they quickly become overwhelmed by the incompatibility of their interpretative tool with the surrounding environment - “Their hearts weren’t in it: they thought only in terms of all or nothing” (18). The narrator, on the other hand, maintains a flat outlook on space, abstaining from hierarchical classifications, even when running the risk of objectifying humans. Simon explains that in cinema equality between objects and people already exists, as “the camera perceives in ontological equality: the camera does not prefer one over the other” (93). The narrator’s voice speaking “in barely heightened terms” from a distance functions in a similar manner. Class subordination, therefore, is presented at the story-level, but the distant narrator offers the opportunity to address the role of the cleaning lady from the opposite perspective as well. If objects are understood in the OOO sense of the term - “things in themselves” that can never be fully appropriated 40
by knowledge - as I have attempted to show in the previous section of this essay, then the parallel between human and object reinforces that idea that an object can never be truly owned. Simon’s example from The Beginnings of Ownership, where a slave is considered property despite the lack of access to their subjectivity, shows that “the thing owned has a consciousness of its own” (86) that remains outside the owner/owned relationship. The cleaning lady in Perec’s novel could function as a device to extend this notion of an inaccessible core to objects, as illustrated by Timothy Morton: When you say “object,” think of a mirror. When you look in the mirror, you see the worst possible thing that could happen to a person—they become objectified. That says a lot about our idea about what objects are. We think they’re mute. We think they have no agency. We think they’re static. We think they’re solid. We think they’re isolated. This is actually not what OOO is saying at all. What OOO is actually saying is that an object is more like a liquid. It’s like you can’t put your hands in it. You can’t completely hold on to it. It’s always slipping out of your grasp. To follow on Morton’s description of the object Perec’s “flatness” favors the thing over the human, not to objectify the subject but to anthropomorphize the object by attributing singularity to them, rendering them not ownable.
Objects of Desire So far I have attempted to define a Perequian methodology for the analysis of things, calling for two specific features - the flat ontology and the inaccessibility of objects - that are presented in the author’s non-fictional works Species of Spaces and Thought of Sorts and represented in the novel Things. The two protagonists of the novel, Jerôme and Sylvie, do not appear in the first chapter of the novel, remaining outside of the scene described by the external narrator. In the static environment, they remain absent and nameless, on the margins of the plot. The idyllic image presented in the first chapter ends with a touch of irony - “they wouldn’t feel enslaved by them [the objects]: on some days, they would go off on a chance adventure. No plan seemed impossible to them” (15) - hinting at the 41
subsequent collapse of the protagonists under the pressure of their own desires. The novel is split in two sections, with the first describing the life of Jerôme and Sylvie in Paris and the second part shifting to their residence in a small town in Tunisia, where they move after receiving a job offer as teachers. Jerôme and Sylvie do not present memorable personality traits. Both members of the couple are, initially, working as freelancers in the field of market research, dreaming of a luxurious lifestyle while pursuing a lifestyle that is beyond their means. Alienated by a city of “perpetual temptation,” Jerôme and Sylvie roam the streets of Paris where “the fallacious but nonetheless glowing offerings of antique-dealers, delicatessens and stationers” (16), hoping that in the future they will be able to afford what they observe. Observation, once again, is portrayed as an inadequate means to grasp the nature of objects and the narrator, from the very beginning of the second chapter, makes clear that the protagonists’ vision is no more than a utopia. The chapter opens with the line “They would have liked to be rich” but the impossibility of such a prospect is made evident to the reader a page later: “the horizon of their desires was mercilessly blocked; their great impossible dreams belonged only to Utopia” (16). Jerôme and Sylvie are deceived by the culture of consumption, becoming alienated subjects by submitting to a constant stream of advertising. Their life is reduced to “the degradation of being into having, and having into merely appearing” (Debord) and the characters dissolve over the course of the novel appearing as interchangeable figures with few distinct characteristics. In The Society of the Spectacle, Debord explains that the decline of subjectivity is a consequence of the replacement of the real with representations. Debord says that in a consumption-based society “all “having” must now derive its immediate prestige and its ultimate purpose from appearances. At the same time all individual reality has become social, in the sense that it is shaped by social forces and is directly dependent on them” (11), however, it is not clear what those “social forces” entail. Perec’s examination of the protagonists’ inability to find happiness in Paris is not simply an assessment of the effects of consumer culture in the late 1960s but, as Boscagli
explains, “a sincere speculation on the new meaning of objects for the individual” to address “what living in and negotiating one’s identity in a commodity- saturated spatial order means for a life” (165). In Perec’s own words, modern happiness “is more like an almost technical relationship to your environment, to the world” (qtd in Boscagli 164) and Things is meant to show the functioning of such a mechanism through the lives of Jerôme and Sylvie. To explain how social reality is shaped by objects, Simon employs Zizek’s work on ideology, saying that “the social relations between individuals are disguised under the social relations between things” (85). Objects functioning as intermediaries between humans are frequent appearances in Things. Here is one example: Their love of well-being, of higher living standards, came out most often as an idiotic kind of sermonising, when they would hold forth, they and their friends, on the sheer genius of a pipe or a low table; they would turn them into objets d’art, into museum pieces. (19) Jerôme and Sylvie relate to their friends through objects and their shared view of objects. Their process of degradation - “They were beginning to lose their way” (21) - appears to be born in the non acceptance of ordinariness. Just like Jerôme and Sylvie try to be perceived as something they are not by becoming themselves empty representations, ordinary objects become metaphors for high culture (“the sheer genius of a pipe”). A symbiosis of representations between what is seen and what is shown occurs through direct contact between humans and objects but, while the “thing in itself” remains unaffected, the human proceeds in the self-destructive attempt to dominate something that is not visible - the real. Simon explains that “the intimacy we have with commodities renders them self-portraits by way of our projection of subjectivity onto them; but these commodities also convey a portrait of us” (87). Such a condition, from an OOO perspective can be read through the concept of “entanglement,” which Harman presents as “human–thing relationships in which humans become socially and economically entangled with often unnecessary ‘stuff’ – such as plastic trinkets – that renders our long-term survival as a species more difficult” (113).
Jerôme and Sylvie create a bond with the objects that surround them, without ever being able to fully appropriate their essence. While a credible analytical tool, Debordian philosophy, in this sense, appears limiting, as the decline of the protagonists seems to be related more to the ideal of ownership presented by Simon through Veblen’s 1898 book, than to the boom of consumer culture in the 1960s. When the protagonists realize that they are “a tiny blot of poverty on the great sea of plenty” (66) they decide to escape Paris and move to the town of Sfax in Tunisia, following the “the promise of a different life, of a real departure, of a different kind of work” (69). While, ultimately, Things will conclude with an ambiguous ending, the second part does offer a glimpse of what happiness for Jerôme and Sylvie means: Their week was made of good days — Mondays, because they had the morning off and because the cinemas changed their films; Wednesdays, because they had a free afternoon; and Fridays, because they had the whole day off and, once again, the films changed - and bad days: all the rest. (75) Or: In such a vacuum, precisely because of this vacuum, because of the absence of all things, because of such a fundamental vacuity, such a blank zone, a tabula rasa, they felt as if they were being cleansed, returning to a greater simplicity, to true modesty. (79) Jerôme’s and Sylvie’s six years in Sfax, the town where they are forced to move for work, end as the couple decides to return to France in an attempt to start a new life less removed from society. As the narrator explains in the epilogue, “they will return, and it will be even worse” (85). The passages above, however, show how the protagonists’ process of learning how to deal with their desires brought some results only when their relationships with objects was not one of domination. Moving to a location distant from the oppressive decadence of Paris, far from the social relationships constructed through perception and appearance, allowed the protagonists to avoid “the subjugation of men by other men that is materialized in the commodity” 42
and led to a “return to a greater simplicity” where the need to appropriate objects beyond their use disappears.
social scene can be productive in order to determine “what words like happiness and freedom can mean in the modern world” (Bellos 6). The narrator’s tone of voice and choice of tense suggests a distance from the event occurring in the novel, but Conclusion also an indication to the reader to avoid applying In an interview following the publication of the meaning to objects that are only visible in their exnovel, Perec said that he wrote Things “first as an terior form. The Perequian approach is based on exercise on Barthes’ Mythologies, on advertising a “flat ontology,” which allows to remove objects language as it is reflected within us; then a barely and humans from the hierarchical structure that is heightened description of a particular social set, traditionally associated with property and shift the that happens to be my own” (qtd in Boscagli 165). attention to the use value of things, rather than on In this essay, I have attempted to revisit the nov- their sign value, disrupting the owner/owned relael through the author’s latter intention, analysing tionship that appears as the obstacle to Jerôme’s how the “ethnographic” approach to a specific and Sylvie’s happiness.
Works Cited Becker, Howard. “Georges Perec’s Experiments in Social Description.” Ethnography 2.1 (2001): 63– 76. Bellos, David. “Introduction” Things: A Story of the Sixties with a Man Asleep. Vintage Classics, 2011. Boscagli, Maurizia. Stuff Theory: Everyday Objects, Radical Materialism. New York: Bloomsbury Academic & Professional, 2014. Debord, Guy. Society of the Spectacle . Rev. Detroit: Black & Red, 1983. Print. Harman, Graham. Object-Oriented Ontology a New Theory of Everything. Pelican, an Imprint of Penguin Books, 2018. Matless, David. “Seeing More Flatly: The Regional Book.” Georges Perec’s Geographies. UCL Press, 2019. 170–. Web. Morton, Timothy. “Singularity of Things.” STREAM, www.pca-stream.com/en/articles/timothy-morton-singularity-of-things-90. Motte, Warren. “Reading Georges Perec.” Dalkey Archive Press, www.dalkeyarchive.com/reading-georges-perec/. Perec, Georges. Species of Spaces and Other Pieces. Penguin, 1997. Perec, Georges. Things: A Story of the Sixties with a Man Asleep. Vintage Classics, 2011. Perec, Georges. Thoughts of Sorts. Notting Hill, 2011. Phillips, Richard et al. “Introduction.” George Perec’s Geographies : Material, Performative and Textual Spaces . London: UCL Press, 2019. Print. Simon, Joshua. Neomaterialism. Sternberg, 2013. 43
Finances of the Divine: Usury and the Infinite in Dante
By Ben Connor Abstract
Purgatory (avarice, prodigality, simony, barratry, thievery, counterfeiting, etc.), the very structure In the 13th and 14th centuries, the long-held eco- of divine punishment is economically inflected, nomic maxim of mutatio non multiplicatio, ex- by the “just price” of contrapasso in Hell and the change without profit, gave way to new systems of figure of Christ as bonus negotiator, the good lending, debit, and credit that allowed Florentine merchant who ransoms souls out of Purgatory. merchants to build capital in hitherto unparalleled Dante reserves some of his most rigid economic ways. It was amid this jarring economic expansion strictures for the sin of usury, which perverts the that Dante Alighieri, the son of a moneylender, rules of the natural market and the law of mutabegan writing his Divine Comedy. A commedia tio non multiplicatio in its creation of something dealing with the human condition and morality in out of nullity. Yet the Divine Comedy complicates 14th century northern Italy could hardly have ig- the dim view of infinite commercial multiplication nored the heavy economic overtones of the time, as the root of all evil, undergirding its very strucespecially given that a large portion of Dante’s ture with a web of conjurings of the infinite that contemporary audience worked in the econom- places Dante in conversation with thinkers across ic sphere. As a result, all three cantica are rife language and era, including Roman law, Aristotewith figures of trade, commerce, profit, and loss. lian philosophy, and the works of Thomas AquiBesides the myriad transgressions borne out of nas, St. Augustine, and Karl Marx. Critical works capital exchange that are corrected in Hell and in Dante studies, including material by Ferrante, Armour, and Longfellow, are drawn together here to explore Dante’s relationship with mercantile culture and the moral implications of profit.
Finances of the Divine: Usury and the Infinite in Dante The Inferno and the Purgatorio, both works of normative and ethereal moral philosophy, are also grounded in a very concrete economic calculus that speaks to Dante’s origins in the burgeoning mercantile city-state of Florence. Born into a family of money lenders, Dante bore witness to the mid-13th century economic boom that elevated a new bourgeois class— financial and artisan guilds, along with seafaring merchants — to a level of wealth hitherto reserved for feudal nobility.1 The Florentines minted their own coinage and began 1 Richard J. Quinones, Dante Alighieri (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1979), 19-20. 44
building up gold reserves unparalleled in much of the rest of Europe.2 Much to Dante’s chagrin, the medieval Church was also interested in the accumulation of wealth and temporal power, and began drifting away from the spirit of virtuous poverty espoused by the tradition of mendicant friars. 3 A commedia that dealt with the human condition and morality in 14th century northern Italy could hardly have ignored the heavy economic overtones of the time, and Dante’s work is rife with vocabulary and metaphors of trade, commerce, profit, and loss. A significant portion of the Divine Comedy’s original audience would have worked in the commercial sphere, and Dante couches some of his difficult moral theology in the lingua franca of the time, economics.4 In Inferno, the damned pay dearly for their earthly transgressions by rule of the contrapasso, a “just price” that acts as a counterweight to their sins. In Purgatorio, a credit/debit system is instated by which the sinful essentially work to pay back what they owe to the Lord, aided by the enormous credit of forgiveness that Christ’s death provides. As the Pilgrim journeys up the terraces of Mount Purgatory, he learns “how God ordaineth that the debt be paid.”5 But even as Dante works within monetary metaphors, he displays a blatant distrust for the motivations behind the accumulation of wealth, echoing the Gospel of Matthew’s observation that “You cannot serve both God and money.”6 A bevy of economic sins (avarice, prodigality, simony, barratry, thievery, counterfeiting, etc.) are punished in Hell and Purgatory. Some of Dante’s harshest rhetoric is reserved for the particularly deviant sin of usury, the lending of money at interest. Even before the Pilgrim encounters the usurers in the Seventh Circle of Hell, usury is excoriated as a practice that 2 William R. Day, “Economy.” Chapter in Dante in Context, edited by Zygmunt G. Barański and Lino Pertile, 30–46. Literature in Context. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 30-46. 3 Giaocomo Todeschini, Franciscan Wealth : From Voluntary Poverty to Market Society. (St. Bonaventure: Franciscan Institute Publications, 2009), 51. 4 Joan M. Ferrante, The Political Vision of the Divine Comedy. (Princeton: Princeton University, 2014), 311. 5 Purgatorio X.108 6 NIV Matthew 6:24 45
“offends / Goodness divine” and “disdains” Nature herself.7 Usury is worse than simple greed (and accordingly placed well below the Circle of Avarice in Inferno); it is an unnatural practice that contravenes the will of God. What offends the Christian sensibility about usury is not only its avaricious motivation but its defiance of the simple arithmetic of the marketplace, in which money is a means of exchange. Dante is quick to condemn this self-perpetuating multiplication of wealth on Earth, and offers elsewhere in the Divine Comedy a different kind of “infinite and ineffable” wealth accumulation: that of the love of God.8 In this way the inchoate capitalist theory that Dante was surrounded by during his time in Florence had a profound effect on the theological structure of his work, particularly with regard to the sourceless multiplication of wealth, both sinful and heavenly. Medieval thinkers were mostly in agreement on the theological acceptability of doing business; the acts of selling and buying had been tacitly sanctioned since the days of Aristotle.9 What was very much up for debate throughout all of antiquity was the notion of profit and the abstract profit-making mechanisms made possible by a more complex economic system. In his Politics, Aristotle had written that “the art of getting wealth out of fruits and animals is always natural,” while the art of gaining profit from other men is “unnatural.”10 For the 13th century thinker John of Paris, the purpose of money was restricted to “mutatio non multiplicatio,” exchange without profit.11 On the other hand, Roman law long allowed for the making of profit in risky ventures,12 and Thomas Aquinas granted the necessity of a moderate profit (moderatum lucrum) as compensation for labor. 13Dante, for his part, was particularly chagrined that the Church had begun to operate in the world of wealth accu7 Inferno XI.95-96, 111 8 Purgatorio XV.67 9 Ferrante, 318. 10 Aristotle, Politics. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. (Digireads, 2017), Book I, Part 10.5. 11 Peter Armour, “Gold, Silver, and True Treasure: Economic Imagery in Dante.” Journal of the Institute of Romance Studies, (Vol. 23, pp.7-30, 1994), 12. 12 Norman Jones, “Usury”. Economic History Association, edited by Robert Whaples, 2008. 13 Ferrante, 319.
mulation and profit, amassing temporal power for itself in the process. He places one Pope on the Terrace of Avarice in Purgatorio, and another in the bolgia of simony in Inferno, condemning religious men who pursue material gain by reminding the profiteering Pope Nicholas III that “Nor Peter nor the rest asked of Matthias / Silver or gold, when he by lot was chosen.”14 Dante found Biblical support for his views in the Book of Numbers, where the tribe of Levi is appointed to the priesthood and forbidden to own land. The Church flouts the fact that “the sons of Levi / Have been excluded from the heritage,” and the result is that the corrupt Church “falls into the mire and soils itself.” 15 The profit-making power of the papacy was a hotly contested topic, and one of the points of contention in decades of internecine strife between Guelphs and Ghibellines in Florence and beyond. Even within the gray area of profit, though, earning back interest on a loan had long been considered a despicable practice. Aristotle called it “the most hated sort” of profit-making16, and the Biblical Book of Deuteronomy very clearly forbade the Hebrews to “charge a fellow Israelite interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interest.”17 This is the intellectual heritage that Dante follows in condemning usurers to Hell, and it is a tradition that continued after his death. As late as the end of the 16th century, the depiction of usury as a warped evil was entwined with anti-Semitic tropes in William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice to create the character of Shylock, who lends money at interest in a city where Christian populations are forbidden from doing so.18 The reason that lending at interest is so vitriolically condemned may be slightly obscure to the modern reader, since today money is private property that accumulates and (in the form of bonds, investments and the like) turns a profit by itself. But money in antiquity was conceived of as an answer to an age-old problem of conversion, the fact that, as Aristotle put it, “all things that are ex14 Inferno XIX.94-5 15 Purgatorio XVI.129-32 16 Aristotle, “Politics.” Book I, Part 10.5. 17 NIV Deuteronomy 23:19-20. 18 Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein. “Were the Jews Moneylenders Out of Necessity?” Reform Judaism, (Spring Issue, 2013), 1.
changed must be somehow comparable.”19 Money facilitated interspecies exchanges by functioning as a conversion factor which could value all manner of goods and services by the same unit of measurement. As such, currency had neither inborn value nor the natural potential to generate wealth, and was not meant to be accumulated. This is the reason that usurers are not simply included along with the avaricious in the Fourth Circle of Hell, and are sent to the Seventh with the blasphemers and sodomites. To produce money from money by charging interest on a loan is to create something out of nothing (for money is nothing but a symbol), which is unnatural.20 “Usury” itself means “offspring,” and the fact that barren metal is made to reproduce is a violation of the natural law that says we must create by means of work. Dante has Virgil establish the sacred nature of honest work by alluding to Genesis, where it is written “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.”21 To spurn man’s charge to work and to create something out of nothing is to transgress against the natural order. Just as blasphemy is a crime against God and sodomy is a crime against God’s offspring Nature, usury is a crime against Art, the craft of production (which Dante dubs “God’s grandchild”).22 Though he condemns sins of finance in Hell, Dante has a place for profit, loss, and commerce in God’s kingdom. As mentioned above, the punitive structures of both Hell and Purgatory are economic in nature. The contrapasso of Hell, which weights punishment equally to crime on a perfectly balanced scale, may owe something to the Biblical concept of lex talionis, an eye for an eye.23 The very existence of Purgatory, whose debtbased system of punishment has no direct Biblical source and which only entered Christian orthodoxy in the Middle Ages, reflects a newfound attachment of numerical value to human salvation. 24 Omberto Aldobrandeschi makes the economy 19 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by W.D. Ross. (Digireads, 2017), Book V, Part.5. 20 John S. Carroll, Exiles of Eternity. (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1904), 11.97-111. 21 NIV Genesis 3.17-19. 22 Inferno XI.105 23 NIV Exodus 23-7 24 Ian P. Wei, Intellectual Culture in Medieval Paris: Theologians and the University, c.1100–1330. 46
of Purgatory explicit when he welcomes Dante to the terrace where “pride is paid the forfeiture.”25 At an allegorical level, this economic reading of salvation is supported by the Ransom Theory of Atonement, which posits that Adam sold humanity to the Devil by way of Original Sin, and that Christ ransomed himself to pay off that debt. To hear St. Augustine tell it: “Men were held captive under the devil and served the demons, but they were redeemed from captivity. For the Redeemer came, and gave the price; He poured forth his blood and bought the whole world.”26 Dante even has a place in the heavenly schema for the act of multiplying something out of nothing, a concept that his contemporary audience would have associated in economic terms with the derelict practice of usury. Dante’s miraculous, self-perpetuating multiplication is far more sacrosanct, though. In Canto XIV of Purgatorio, Guido del Duca apostrophizes the human race, crying “Why dost thou set thy heart / Where interdict of partnership must be?”27 When in the next Canto the Pilgrim asks his guide for an explanation of this strange diktat against sharing, Virgil responds with a lengthy theological monologue that takes for its subject the one commodity that exists in infinite shareability: “the love of the supernal spheres.”28 Since earthly matters are a zero-sum game “where by companionship each share is lessened,” Virgil deplores the desire for wealth on Earth, which is liable to engender greed and fear. What is worthy of pursuit instead is the love of the Lord, which multiplies abundantly so that there is enough for everyone. The Pilgrim questions the arithmetic of infinite love, asking “How can it be, that boon distributed / The more possessors can more wealthy make?” and Virgil chastises him for applying earthly logic to heavenly matters, saying that “goodness infinite and ineffable” exists in abundance “as far as charity extends” which is to say, without limit.29 The impossible infinity of God’s love is a frequent (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012),186. 25 Purgatorio XI.88 26 Augustine, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 8. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1888), 95. 27 Purgatorio XIV.86-7 28 Purgatorio XV.52 29 Purgatorio XV.50-72 47
Biblical subject, including in Matthew’s treatment of Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fish, which multiply against arithmetic odds to satisfy the crowd. Dante in his own right includes examples of a generosity that moves beyond the zero-sum game of worldly economics, aspiring to a celestial infinity of commodities. In almost the same breath that Guido del Duca laments the evils of Tuscany, he lauds the town of Bretinoro, where the inhabitants were famed for their hospitality. According to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, no man in Bretinoro was allowed to keep an inn for money. Instead a system of rings hung from a large stone column at the center of town was used to decide which nobleman would have the privilege of giving travellers room and board for the night. “This column and its rings,” writes Longfellow, “were invented to remove all cause of quarrel among the noblemen, who used to run to get possession of a stranger.” 30 Beyond mere generosity, the Bretinorites’ system that Dante applauds rejects the need for exchange or finiteness vis-à-vis a commodity (hospitality) that can exist in abundance. This would have been especially impressive to Dante, the peripatetic exile, who actually may have made use of Bretinoro’s hospitality. The notion that love ought to be impossibly multiplied and not simply divided up in accordance with a principle of fairness is repeated again in Paradiso, when Dante praises the “wealth unknown!” (that is, uncountable) that a life of poverty in the tradition of St. Francis of Assisi engenders.31 Franciscan biographer Giacomo Todeschini calls this belief in a divine Infinity “the exchange of divine with human, of God’s infinite richness with humankind’s finite and mortal misery.”32 This infinite and ineffable goodness is more complex than a simple handout to mankind, though. If the charity of God’s love were automatically extended to all, Hell would be rather empty. Virgil qualifies his discussion of God’s infinite love by comparing it to a mirror that reflects more love “the more people thitherward aspire”and noting that God’s grace “gives itself as it finds ardor,”33 which is to 30 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Notes and Introduction to The Inferno. Trans. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. (Cambridge: University Press, 1867), 287. 31 Paradiso XI.82 32 Todeschini, 59. 33 Purgatorio XV.69-73
say it is distributed according to the measure of love He finds in each person. Dante had developed this concept in his Convivio, where he writes: Each thing indeed receives of this flowing forth according to the measure of its virtue and of its being, and we find visible evidence of this in the Sun. For certain bodies, because of the high degree of transparent clearness instilled within them, become so luminous as soon as the sun sees them that by multiplying the light within themselves and in their aspect they cast forth a great splendor upon other bodies.34
displays a disgust for his native city (“which to no great honor risest”)37 and his response to rampant capitalism is to advocate for what is essentially increased state control over finance: a monarchy. In both Inferno and Purgatorio, Dante repeatedly and wishfully predicts the coming of a unifying imperial figure who will rein in the abundant greed of the day. The first of these predictions, in Canto I of the Inferno, imagines a Greyhound who does not “feed on either earth or pelf” driving away the she-wolf who symbolizes avarice, suggesting that the reining in of the Florentine profit motive (with especial emphasis on the greed of the church) was closely tied to Dante’s wish for a powerful sovereign.38 The fact that Dante reacts with such negativity to what is essentially the birth of unrestricted, free market capitalism has led some in wildly speculative directions. Entire books have been written that hang on the claim that Karl Marx’s Das Kapital is modeled after Dante’s Inferno. One of the most recent, Marx’s Inferno, posits Marx as a neo-Virgil who “recapitulates Dante’s descent through the moral wrongs of incontinence, force, fraud and treachery, showing at each step that it is capital, as a system of all-around domination, that is responsible for these sins, not the individuals dominated by capital.”39 While positioning Dante as a proto-socialist may be a bridge too far, especially because as a poet he depended on wealthy benefactors, there is no denying his distaste for the corollaries of capitalism: greed, profit motive, and the accumulation of wealth. The boundless love that multiplies as more and more people accept it shares the same arithmetic impossibility as usury, a creation of something seemingly out of nothing that defies the age-old dictate that nothing can truly be created or destroyed. But celestial love, like Earth’s monied economy, has multiplied far beyond what it once was. The medieval Christian conception of love is akin to a theological usury, in that a bond of trust produces something more than the initial invest-
Earthly souls get more out of God’s grace the more they put in, and a faithful down payment can lead to an eternal return on investment. The limitless bounty of love that Virgil lays forth to the Pilgrim can be and has been reflected back through an earthly politico-economic lens since the Middle Ages, with varied results. Virgil’s speech can be read as a full-throated defense of laissez-faire capitalism, a refutation of the idea that letting mercantile corporations expand will leave only a small piece of the pie for the lower class. After all, the wealth of the world is constantly growing and the pie is only expanding in size, meaning everyone benefits when the rich have unrestricted access to opening up new corridors of wealth. (A heavenly defense of capitalism gives new meaning to trickle-down economics.) But the more felicitous interpretation lies at the other end of the economic spectrum: it was Karl Marx himself who observed that “capitalist production developed earliest” in medieval Italy.35 As noted above, Dante lived in an era of whirlwind financial expansion in which state interests bent to the will of Florentine guilds. By lending, banks made enormous profits; per Francis R. Hittinger IV, the great Florentine banks had “capital assets that rival today’s multinational industrial corporations and investment banking complexes (Haliburtons, Citibanks, GEs, Goldman Sachs, Koch Industries, etc.)”36 Dante dieval Political Economy in Convivio and Monarchia.” 34 Dante Alighieri, Il Convivio: (The Banquet). (New York: Columbia, 2016), 24. Trans. Richard Lansing. (New York: Garland, 1990) 37 Inferno XXVI.6 35 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Capital; a Cri- 38 Inferno I.103 tique of Political Economy. (New York: International 39 William Clare Roberts, Marx’s Inferno: The PoPublishers, 1967), 876. litical Theory of Capital (Princeton: Princeton Univer36 Francis R. Hittinger IV, “Dante as Critic of Me- sity Press, 2018), 257.
ment. What places the two concepts in diametric opposition, one as a grievous sin and another as the emblem of God’s grace, is the purely good motivation of the latter. When Thomas Aquinas discusses the “increase of spiritual goods which God exacts from us,” that is, the dedication to faith that results in an explosion of godly love, he reminds the reader that the Lord does this “for our own profit, not for His.”40 Love is not stockpiled like the ill-gotten gains of usury; it is generously distributed to all who need it. The willingness to share, rather than accumulate, was a key principle of virtue in the medieval world, one that cordoned off usurers into their own corner of Hell.41 The structural similarity between the impossibly reproductive love of God and the impossibly reproductive trade of usury is itself another reason that usury as a sin goes beyond simple greed: it is an act that attempts to replicate a miraculous process reserved for the Lord. In Inferno, usurers are placed in the same fire-soaked field as blasphemers like the Greek warrior Capaneus, “not extinguished [in] arrogance,” who essentially attempted to elevate himself to the level of a god by declaring that not even Jove himself could stop him from scaling the walls of Thebes.42 Dante had treated on the human impulse to become God before, in his De vulgari eloquentia, where he wrote of the blaspheming men who tried and failed to reach heaven by dint of the Tower of Babel: “Incorrigible humanity… presumed in its heart to outdo in skill not only nature but the source of its own nature, who is God. [They intended] in their foolishness not to equal but to excel their creator.”43 Given that Dante describes the usurer in much the same way, as he who “scorns Nature in herself,”44 he seems to position usurers as financial blasphemers. (Simon Magus, the “forlorn disciple” who tried to purchase the power of the Holy Spirit from the Apostle Peter, is another of Dante’s examples of blasphemy
by monetary means.) 45Blasphemers and usurers both attempt to level the playing field between man and God, one by tearing down the divine and the other by attempting to elevate oneself to divine status through the creation of something from nothing, the impossible multiplication of things. Money being in Dante’s view an “empty treasure”46 a meaningless earthly token, the usurers can never succeed, but their attempt is enough to send them to Dante’s Hell, where they are “sitting all drawn up together” with money-pouches around their necks, as idle and work-averse in death as they were in life. 47 Dante’s fierce condemnation of usury does not transfer to a condemnation of the idea of commercial economy or of currency itself. As Joan Ferrante puts it, for Dante “the world of commerce [was] essentially positive, for all its abuses.”48 Currency is a translational tool in a just society and international trade is a cross-cultural uniting force, after all. If Dante’s longed-for “saviour” were to arrive and reinstate Roman law over low Italy, a unified commercial market would be one way to promote homogeneity and hegemony.49 Hence why Dante deplores counterfeiting and condemns the counterfeiter Master Adam to the deepest pouch of Malebolge, where he is afflicted with “the heavy dropsy”50: counterfeiters artificially inflate and destabilize the currency they replicate, shaking the very economic foundations of the state. Florentines took the sanctity of coinage quite seriously, and Master Adam was burned alive for his crime (or crimes, plural, since each coin counterfeited could be viewed as a new transgression).51 Dante underscores the relationship between healthy economics and a healthy state by placing Master Adam in the same pit as Sinon, whose lies secured the entry of the Trojan Horse into Troy, bringing ruin to the city. In placing Master Adam next
40 Thomas Aquinas, Treatise on Human Nature: The Complete Text (Summa Theologiae I, Questions 75-102) Trans. Alfred J. Freddoso. (South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 2010), 78. 41 Todeschini, 25 42 Inferno XIV.63-4 43 Dante Alighieri, De vulgari eloquentia Trans. Steven Botterill. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 1.7.4. 44 Inferno XI.110
45 Inferno XIX.1 46 Inferno VII.79 47 Inferno XIV.24 48 Ferrante, 335. 49 Inferno I.106 50 Inferno XXX.52 51 Peter Bondanella and Julia Conaway Bondanella, Notes and Introduction to The Inferno. Trans. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 2003), 270.
to the man who brought down an entire city, he seems to say that Master Adam’s counterfeiting destabilized Florence itself, acting as a Trojan Horse against the worth of the city’s coin. It also positions the exchange of currency as a sanctified promise, one that— when broken— is akin to telling a lie. Sinon equates counterfeiting with deceit when he reminds Master Adam “if I spake false, thou falsifiedst the coin.”52 Dante’s attitude towards commerce was clearly more complicated than a simple equation of money with evil. In fact, theological narratives of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries explicitly prized one economic figure as virtuous: the honest merchant. At the end of the twelfth century, Pope Innocent III canonized a merchant named Homobonus of Cremona, just a few years before the rise in prominence of merchant-turned-saint Francis of Assisi.53 Dante would have been aware of the sanctified dimension that the figure of the merchant had acquired: in Paradiso, he has St. Thomas describe St. Dominic as a capable captain of the Church’s ship, saying “Whoever / Doth follow him as he commands can see / That he is laden with good merchandise.” 54Pope Innocent took the comparison to its extreme, positioning Satan as the first usurer and Christ as the bonus negotiator (good merchant) who redeemed the pawn of Man with his blood, a metaphor that dovetails well with the Ransom Theory of Atonement.55 Christ as Merchant, fully human and fully divine, is the go-between between two worlds, and the commodity he exchanges (though it is a one-way exchange) is knowledge: knowledge of the path to righteousness, knowledge of what lies beyond death. The economic connection to Christian knowledge is made by St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians, where he writes of the “knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”56 Knowledge of faith, inextricably bound up with the love that the Lord offers in abundance, is equally infinite and self-multiplying, another commodity that defies arithmetic in its boundlessness. 52 Inferno XXX.115 53 Todeschini, 25. 54 Paradiso XI.121-3 55 Innocent III, De quadruplici acceptione (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1855), 645 56 NIV Colossians 2:2-3
Dante was very familiar with the notion of knowledge as immense economic wealth. His mentor, Brunetto Latini, who in Inferno he calls a “dear and good paternal image” and credits with teaching him “how a man becomes eternal” quite literally wrote the book on this subject, knowledge as wealth.57 Latini’s Li Livres dou Tresor is structured around an extended metaphor that compares various kinds of knowledge (abstract philosophy, practical knowledge, civic affairs) to ascending ranks of treasure (loose change, jewels, gold).58 “Just as gold is valued higher than all other metal,” wrote Latini, “so is the knowledge of good discourse and government the most noble art on Earth.”59 Dante emphasizes the infinite accessibility of this knowledge in the Convivio, comparing knowledge to a banquet at which all mankind has the right to feast.60 In the Divine Comedy, Dante the Pilgrim is treated to a veritable smorgasbord of heretofore unknown knowledge as he travels through the levels of the afterlife. At several points along the way, Dante the Poet situates his apprehension of the righteous path in economic terms, attaching value to the “straightforward pathway” he is guided through by Virgil and Beatrice, who both act as merchants by delivering to him the commodity of divine knowledge. From the get-go, Dante compares himself to “he who willingly acquires / And the time comes that causes him to lose” in his frustration at having his path (to knowledge of the good) blocked by the she-wolf.61 Beatrice, a Canto later, will say “there have never been persons so swift / To seek their advantage” than she was in traveling to Limbo to provide the impetus for Dante’s acquisition of spiritual wealth.62 As the Pilgrim is guided by Virgil deeper into the abyss, he hopes to find “some compensation” for the time spent climbing down the rocky bank by asking his guide for information about the structure of Hell.63 Again in Purgatorio, Dante hopes “some profit to acquire from words of” Virgil’s during the time they 57 Inferno XV.83-5 58 Armour, 8. 59 Brunetto Latini, Li Livres dou Trésor (Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2003), I.i.1-4, iii. 60 Armour, 8. 61 Inferno I.55-6 62 Inferno II.109-10 63 Inferno XI.14 50
spend climbing, and proceeds to ask him about the infinite shareability of love.64 All of this striving for compensation and profit culminates in Paradise, where Dante is accepted by Saint Peter after demonstrating his possession of true knowledge of faith, the “precious jewel / Upon which is every virtue founded.”65 Much like the love of the Lord, knowledge of the afterlife and path of righteousness takes work to attain, but is offered limitlessly.
Medieval Christianity is economically inflected at almost every turn. In its first pages, the Gospel of Luke commands the faithful to “lend, expecting nothing in return.”71 It is an intuitive principle of kindness phrased in economic terms, in much the same way that Dante frames his Divine Comedy in the familiar commercial context of 14th century Italy. The chief transgressors of the commandment to lend without making a profit are the usurers, Laden up with the wealth of knowledge he now who create money out of thin air in a pale shadpossesses, Dante is charged by Beatrice to pass ow of the miraculous proliferation of love reserved it on. “Take note;” she commands, “and even as for the Lord himself. Dante, disgusted by the profI speak these words / do you transmit them” to it-driven focus on earthly treasures evinced in his those still living.66 In doing so, Dante becomes hometown, casts the usurers to a field of fire near a merchant himself, the next link in a chain of the bottom of Hell and valorizes the impossibly inknowledge multiplied and passed on. Within a finite creation of things only when its goal is worseafaring metaphor that Florentine merchants thy: to bring a larger and larger community to salwould have recognized, Dante compares himself vation by teaching them how to “love well.” 72The to a shipwreck escapee in Canto 1 of the Inferno, boundless generosity of God’s love is economiand by the time he reaches Purgatory he says “the cally inflected again with regard to knowledge of little vessel of my genius now / leaves behind itself the right path, which is conveyed to mankind by a sea so cruel.”67 Dante the Merchant gathers what enlightened merchants: Christ, Beatrice, Virgil, Guido Guinnicelli calls the “cargo of experience,” and Dante himself, in a chain of holy commerce 68 all while avoiding false knowledge, the tempta- that ends in salvation. Dante’s manifold economic tion to stray from the path that is personified in the metaphors are an apt choice for the booming econnautical figure of the Siren, “who mariners amid omy of 14th century Italy, an era in which usury the main unman.”69 The knowledge that Dante ran rampant among Florentine guilds and the Rohas gained by the time he has voyaged through man Catholic Church had entered the sphere of all three tiers of the afterlife is set down in poetic temporal (and financial) power. But comparisons form, and the Divine Comedy itself is positioned with medieval financial mechanisms, with usuin terms of commodity when Dante is economi- ry, mercantilism, and debt, are inherently fitting cal with his verse, saying he cannot “waste / My for a religion that revolves around the paying of a rhymes; for other spendings press me so / That I in price. St. Augustine shrewdly notes the financial this cannot be prodigal.”70 Dante assumes a fairly aspects of his faith, both the economy of Christ’s exalted status in presenting himself as a merchant death and the impossible defiance of arithmetic of celestial knowledge, since the other entities who entailed by God’s love, when he writes: “The blood transmit heavenly wares from one sphere to an- of Christ is the price. How much is it worth? What other are saints, the Church, and Christ himself. but the whole world? What but all nations?”73 64 65 66 67 68 69 70
Purgatorio XV.42 Paradiso XXIV.89-90 Purgatorio XXXIII.52-3 Purgatorio I.2-3 Purgatorio XXVI.73 Purgatorio XIX.20 Purgatorio XXIX.97-9
71 72 73
NIV Luke 6:35. Purgatorio XV.73 Augustine, 95
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