El Gran Arco: de Utopía, de Thomas More a The Dispossessed, de Ursula K. Le Guin

El neologismo y el consiguiente concepto de “utopía”, creado en 1516 por Thomas More, es un verdadero hito en el pensamiento universal. Reúne afluentes del pensamiento clásico y del cristianismo y discurre por los siglos posteriores asumiendo los limos propios de cada tiempo, las aspiraciones y desilusiones de cada época, hasta llegar al presente. Ya desde su nacimiento se abre su delta con múltiples variantes, entre las que destacan, la eutopía, la distopía, la anti-utopía, la alotopía, la eucronía, la heterotopía, la ecotopía y la hiperutopía. En medio de todas estas derivaciones, algunos hay que opinan que la utopía, la raíz, muere como género, aquejada de fatiga, ingenuidad e idealismo o mera rigidez. Sin embargo, esto no es así. En la década de los 70, la escritora estadounidense Ursula K. Le Guin recoge el legado utópico y le da la vuelta de tuerca necesaria para, conservando en gran medida su pureza intrínseca, darle un nuevo soplo de vida.

En este ensayo pretendo trazar los vínculos que unen a Le Guin con la tradición clásica, a través del modelo de More, y analizar en qué medida las alteraciones hechas a este modelo, en vez de distorsionarlo y convertirlo en el reverso de la moneda –las oscuras e inquietantes distopías que parecen dominar todo el siglo XX- logra consolidarlo y darle un nuevo impulso cualitativo que lo eleva a la “alta literatura”. Previamente al salto hasta Le Guin, sin embargo, voy a establecer los vínculos de la obra de More con sus precedentes clásicos, entre otras razones porque Le Guin siempre tendrá en cuenta estos precedentes, tanto para apoyarse en ellos como para subvertirlos.

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Ursula K. Le Guin

La primera vez que supe de la existencia de Ursula K. Le Guin fue durante el último año de la Licenciatura en Filología Inglesa. Su cuento “She Unnames Them” era una de las lecturas obligatorias, y me llamó tan poderosamente la atención que me hice con el libro de cuentos en el que aparece recopilado -uno de los varios en que aparece, ahora sé-, “Buffalo Gals and other Animal Presences”.

El verano siguiente tenía hambre de fantasía y, después de releer todo el Tolkien que tengo en casa y dar un par de palos de ciego siguiendo recomendaciones fallidas, di con el ciclo de “Earthsea”. Al margen de la historia que cuenta, el mundo en que se desarrolla y los personajes que lo habitan, diré que principalmente dos cosas me fascinaron y me han convertido en una rendida admiradora de esta Gran Dama de la literatura: el tono de su voz narrativa, una sutil e inesperada mezcla de alegría y tristeza, que hace de la lectura de cualquiera de sus obras una experiencia íntima, sorprendentemente honesta y siempre enriquecedora; y su amor por las palabras, cuyo valor profundo conoce y revela, dando una enorme profundidad y trascendencia a sus textos.

Durante este último año he ido leyendo -y todavía estoy en ello- obras de sus ciclos del Ekumen -Hainish Cycle-, tanto novelas como cuentos, y de Orsinia, los Anales de la Costa Occidental y obras sueltas, así como ensayos y obra crítica. Por otra parte, suelo leer los textos que va publicando en su página oficial, que hablan tanto de literatura como de su gato Pard o de la vida en general.

En las referencias que se pueden leer sobre ella en libros especializados, en revistas o en la Red, se la suele categorizar como una escritora de Ciencia Ficción y de Fantasía, dos géneros literarios que, por desgracia, portan consigo un estigma negativo: se supone que no son High Literature, o Literatura con mayúsculas, se encuentran fuera del Canon, y son alimento de los que consumen Cultura Popular, un saco en el que cabe de todo menos la respetabilidad. Algo de veras lamentable.

Siempre he creído que la ausencia de dragones en la literatura de un país hace estragos. Sí, dragones. Me ha alegrado mucho saber -lo descubrí ayer mismo, cuando llegó al correo el último libro de Le Guin que he adquirido, “The Language of the Night”- que ella opina parecido. Dice: “Those who refuse to listen to dragons are probably doomed to spend their lives acting out the nightmares of politicians. We like to think we live in daylight, but half the world is always dark; and fantasy, like poetry, speaks the language of the night”. (Es más, cuando acabe mi Master sobre Cultura Clásica -esa sí que es respetable- y haga el Doctorado, pensaba centrarlo en el importantísimo papel que juegan los dragones en la literatura.)

Verdaderamente no comprendo por qué tiene que ser más realista la literatura ambientada en nuestro planeta que la que lo está en cualquier otro. Por otra parte, el futuro me resulta tan probable/improbable como el pasado, por no mencionar el presente. Y gracias a Dios no tengo más prejuicios contra una nave espacial que contra una cuadriga romana o un Volkswagen.

Dicho esto, regreso a los principios. She Unnames Them. Porque ahí estaba ya todo, aquel afortunado día en que lo leí.

leguin200-5178e8b9ba7890b6581ca6836353ee5984be0c75-s6-c30

Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar as a game of mirrors

During the year 1599 Shakespeare was to bring forth two high comedies, Much Ado About Nothing and As You Like It, the last of his plays dedicated to English sovereigns, Henry V, and a roman play, Julius Caesar, while probably preparing Hamlet. Though the shortest of them all and considered simple and straightforward enough so as to be chosen a typical high school reading, Julius Caesar gives rise to a series of questions that cannot easily be answered. These range from trying to decide who the true hero of the play is, Brutus or Julius Caesar, to whether the hero is a tragic one in the classic sense or not, in what way Shakespeare followed suit or fruitfully betrayed his sources, how to make a historically contextualized reading of the play in order to draw the supposedly many parallels between Rome and Elizabethan England, or the making of a comparative reading between Julius Caesar and Hamlet, as both portray the story of a victim and its killer. Furthermore, as H. Bloom points out, Brutus is difficult to characterize. In fact, his ambiguity is such that some critics have considered it to be the real theme of the play, while others have said that it is “a play about a problem: the difficulty – perhaps the impossibility – of knowing the truth of men and of history”[1]

The aim of this paper is to offer possible answers from the starting point of Shakespeare’s sources. The process is as follows: by analyzing what Shakespeare probably took to be the true facts of the real characters depicted in the play, according to his sources, and then considering how and why he adapted this “truth” to his own interests, we might reach the core of the play. At the same time I will draw parallel lines with what I consider to be a key issue to the understanding of the play: the fact that the characters of Brutus and Hamlet were very closely linked in Shakespeare’s mind and intentions.

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Catábasis y anábasis en la trilogía de Auschwitz de Primo Levi

El viaje de ida y vuelta que Primo Levi realizó a ese cronotopo equivalente a la materialización del Infierno sobre la Tierra que fue Auschwitz, lo describió y analizó en tres obras, Si esto es un hombre, La tregua y Los hundidos y los salvados, escritas en 1947, 1963 y 1986 respectivamente.

Moreno Feliu en su obra En el corazón de la zona gris describe el proceso mediante el cual el prisionero se incorpora al campo de concentración como un ritual de iniciación similar a los rituales de sacralización, que requieren tanto de una ida como de un regreso del individuo al mundo de lo profano o a la vida social tras su liberación y curación. Sin embargo, este ritual, aplicado a Auschwitz, tiene un sentido unidireccional, pues el mundo nuevo al que amanece el prisionero es el del mismo campo, una vez realizado el proceso de la completa integración en él, o lo que es lo mismo, habiéndose completado su deshumanización. Por lo tanto, el esquema del ritual de paso (llegada al campo – prisionero –  liberación) se convierte en un ciclo imposible para la mayoría de los prisioneros, que habrán de perecer en ellos. Por otra parte, parece ser que a muchos de los escasos prisioneros que sí logran sobrevivir les es imposible curarse, recuperar la vida anterior o derivar de la experiencia Auschwitz algún conocimiento que no sea intrínsecamente destructivo. A pesar de todo ello, Levi indica que “viviendo y luego escribiendo y meditando acerca de aquellos hechos, he aprendido muchas cosas sobre los hombres y el mundo.”[1], algo que describe como “claramente positivo”.

Siendo Auschwitz un cronotopo infernal, en este escrito pretendo equiparar ese ritual de iniciación con las convenciones clásicas de la catábasis, el descenso a los infiernos, pero también con la anábasis, la posterior resurrección. La Anábasis como salida del campo tiene en Levi algunos elementos que la convierten en un proceso inverso al de la catábasis. Es la repetición de acciones y sucesos ya conocidos en el mundo del ingreso y estancia en el Lager que ahora aparecen dotados de un significado nuevo. Paralelamente se produce la rehumanización del prisionero, la recuperación de su identidad, su deshielo interior. Y aunque esto no pueda ni deba llamarse una “curación”, no deja de ser un aprendizaje ciertamente valioso.

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Women in Rooms in the literature of the 1960s

Women have always had a conflictive relation with physical space. This is mainly due to the fact that conflict arises more from that which we lack than from that which we possess. And usually possession gives rise to conflict and anxiety because of the fact that it is possible to stop possessing, that is, we might lose what we possess, or we might be mistaken and not really possess at all. Space, and hence locations, are, as Lennard J. Davis put it, “intertwined with ideological explanations for the possession of property.” And he adds, “Novelistic space … is involved in a series of more or less hidden, ideological presuppositions about the nature of property and lands, foreign and domestic.” Margaret R. Higonnet has furthered, “Space is a challenging topic for feminist analysis. Feminist thinkers have called attention to physical images such as “the angel in the house” that imply the domestic confinement of women. They have asked why women have not been able to hold property, to travel freely, to define the shape of a nation, or to enter certain social arenas outside the home. In response to Woolf –“In fact, as a woman, I have no country. As a woman I want no country”- one may ask how many women have historically had full citizenship in any country at all? “A place on the map,” as Adrienne Rich has written, “is also a place in history” where writers, women and men, stand in the fullness of their identities and create texts”.

My aim with this paper is to analyse how the female protagonists of a series of highly significant literary texts have been made to live out the importance of a space in their lives, what the meaning if this space was, how some women have reacted to the eventual acquisition of these spaces, how others have had these spaces imposed upon them, how some have succumbed quietly, how others have fired in rage within its borders, how some have skilfully survived there while others have made the most of it to their own advantage.

Directly linked to the problem of space and its property are the problem of owning oneself and the issue of identity, topics that feminism has dealt with since its beginnings.

Edward Hopper, Hotel Room, 1931

The texts I pretend to scan in this particular light, that of the weight of the issue of space and identity in them, were curiously all written in the 1960s, the time of second wave feminism, that centred not only on official legal inequalities but on unofficial ones, as well as addressing many other secondary but no less significant issues such as literature and artistic creation:

Lady Lazarus, 1962, by Sylvia Plath.

To Room Nineteen, 1963, by Doris Lessing.

Wide Sargasso Sea, 1966, by Jean Rhys.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman, 1969, by John Fowles.

Other texts I will also consider are outside this decade, and are:.

Wherever I hang, 1989, by Grace Nichols.

The Hours, 1999, by Michael Cunningham, and the film adaptation of this text, directed by Stephen Daldry in 2002, whose script was written by David Hare..

These as to the texts directly related to this course, English Literature III..

Others which are just indirectly related, but are previous readings of English Literature, are:.

The Wife’s Lament, 10th c, anonymous.

As You Like It, 1599, by William Shakespeare.

Pride and prejudice, 1813, by Jane Austen.

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë.

A Room of One’s Own, 1934, by Virginia Woolf.

And one which has nothing to do with the course but, again, belongs to the 1960s, is:.

The Wall, 1962, by Marlen Haushofer.

All of them have to do with the issue of women in rooms, women in space, and their identity; all of them stand as if on each others shoulders, conquering further than the text before, reaching far up, far in (as Lessing said in the Epigraph to Briefing for a Descent into Hell : “For there is never anywhere to go but in”) for ultimate freedom, trying to escape even from the last resort. And this is a process that has been going on since the beginning of literature, since even before, up to the present day.

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Zora Neale Hurston: The Gilded Six-Bits

This story starts with a very straightforward statement on the blackness of the community where it is set. As seen from the outside, which is from the 1930s, dominating white point of view, we are faced with an all-negro ghetto of implicit inferiority in the economical, cultural, social, and human sense. However, the word “but” comes quickly to the rescue. Despite the white opinion, happiness and well-being are possible, and reach even to white standards: a whitewashed fence and house, scrubbed-white porch and steps. Eatonville, the name of the town, was a real place well known by Hurston, as it was her hometown until she was nine. In a time of oppression and segregation, Eatonville was a “race colony”, one of the voluntarily segregated communities meant to empower its black citizens and prove the surrounding white world that blacks were capable of self-government, independence, integrity and indigenous forms of expression.
Thus, from the very beginning, we are shown the negative –from the white point of view- side of a community, entirely based on the repetition of the adjective “black”, deemed enough for this purpose, just to be immediately flouted: “But there was something happy about the place”. What it can be is undefined, but it suggests a wealth of love put there to cover up the shabbiness. Sigue leyendo

William Golding

When Ralph’s life is saved thanks to the timely arrival of the British officer, he weeps –the narrator says- “for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy”.

In this final fragment of the novel Golding words the main issues he was interested in when writing this his first novel and which were to become recurrent themes along his production, namely in later novels such as The Inheritors, Pincher Martin, and Free Fall. Though not taking a specific Catholic viewpoint, Golding hovers round the great absolutes of good and evil, and the nature of man. Paraphrasing the title of one of his novels, the experience on the island of the wrecked group of children is a kind of “rite of passage” from childhood into adulthood, from light into darkness, from an apparent initial innocence to the discovery of inner fear, brutality, and evil: the cycle of man’s attempt to rise to power or righteousness, followed by his eventual fall from grace.
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Philip Larkin

The three poems I have chosen to analyse here represent three gigantic steps in Philip Larkin’s writing life, as there is a great distance in years separating them:

“Church Going” is from 1954 and was published in The Less Deceived, 1955.

“Sad Steps” is from 1968 and belongs to High Windows, 1974.

“Aubade” is from 1877 and was printed separately in Larkin’s lifetime, though published posthumously as part of Anthony Thwaite’s edition Collected Poems, 1988.

However, Larkin’s most characteristic theme, death, is present in all of them.

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De verdad, vivir

Leí por primera vez a Clara Janés este pasado verano.
Fue en medio de un Encuentro sobre Mística Española que se celebraba en la Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo. Me había apuntado por no sé qué extraña idea mía de que en un curso sobre este tema iba a hablarse de la poesía de Santa Teresa y San Juan de la Cruz, que siempre me han gustado, y no sobre lo que se habló: política, historia -y esto ni tan mal-, economía, y de postre un arrebatado alegato en contra de unas supuestas místicas contemporáneas cuyas piedras angulares son Juan Salvador Gaviota y la música de Enya. Curiosamente, ingenua de mí, nunca habían levantado mis sospechas. Nunca está uno suficientemente alerta.
El caso es que en medio de la concurrida asistencia, pues el curso tuvo una inusitada aceptación, compuesta de personas inquietantemente parecidas entre sí, todas muy bien arregladas, aureoladas, castificadas o castradas, gloriosas casi, y rodeada de otros ponentes de aire tan claustral como vampiros intelectuales, apareció ella, sonriente, tranquila, hermosa y perfectamente terrenal. Habló de Santa Teresa y dijo lo que yo había venido a buscar.
En la librería de La Magdalena compré un par de libros suyos. De “Los secretos del bosque” escojo este pequeño poema. Me parece que a los organizadores del curso se les ha debido pasar, pues dudo que una pasión semejante no turbe sus frágiles principios.

Mi galopada violenta
hacía trizas la oscuridad.
Parecía que mi paso talara los bosques
y que en una sola noche
llegaría a las orillas del mar.

HOLDING THE KEY: T.S.ELIOT´S “THE WASTELAND”

 Section V: What the thunder said.

Lines 411-414

“Dayadhvam: I have heard the key

Turn in the door once and turn once only

We think of the key, each in his prison

Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison.”

 

            Regardless of Eliot’s theory of the objective correlative -according to which it would be enough for me to infer the presence here of some oriental wisdom lecturing on solitude and selfishness- I will start this paper giving the sources to these verses. After all, no man is like another, or knows what knows another, and a much vaster tradition permeated Eliot than it does me, and probably many others.

            These sources are three-fold: mythical, literary, and philosophical.

In the first place, we find a reference to the Hindu fables called Upanishads. Gods, men, and demons, having concluded their study of sacred knowledge, ask their father Prajapati to speak to them. He, embodied as the Thunder, only says “Da”, which each interprets in its own way. “Dayadhvam” is what the demons interpret, a word to be translated as “sympathize”, or “be compassionate”. Together with what the others interpret, namely “give” and “control” or “be restrained”, they represent the three main virtues necessary in life.

Next, we find a reference to Dante’s Inferno, Canto XXXIII, verse 46, which could be translated as “And below I heard the door of the horrible tower being locked up”. Count Ugolino, accused of treachery, is locked up in a tower, and starved to death together with his two children and grandsons.

Finally, Eliot himself, in his notes on the text, said these verses paraphrase some of the ideas of the philosopher F.H.Bradley, whose “Appearance and Reality” he worked on for his doctorate. These ideas grossly amount to the fact that the theoretical distinction between appearance and reality no longer functions, as they are inseparable. A degree of reality is to be found in all appearances, being reality an all-inclusive unity. The reality of the individual ego is, according to both Bradley and Eliot, limited to its particular and subjective point of view, and they search for a greater truth. Bradley finds it in the Absolute, a concept not shared by Eliot.  For Eliot this greater truth is Tradition, the living and integrating whole, a labyrinth of bridges that connect the individual conscience with all other consciences having lived before in all times and places.   

In the context of the whole poem these three references are highly significant as they enlighten us on the true nature of the wasteland man is found inhabiting by the end of the Great War. Not only has the physical world –people, cities…- crumbled down, but the spiritual one –society, civilization- as well. Man stands among the ruins, and he stands alone, though he be crowds walking as if forlorn. Eliot presents the modern mind and the destruction of the values that maintained it alive. Spiritual death, loss of meaning, chaos, fear, decay, denial, emptiness, sterility, is what we have. Not even love can be taken in any more, the desire to be left alone –even more alone- pervades, as we see in the fragment of the typist and her lover in The Fire Sermon (lines 222-256). The progressive rise of the individual, that has been taking place along the 19th century, has not led to man’s integration but to his disintegration in his solitude. In the end, we find man trapped in the tower of his self, condemned to starve in spite of having become a cannibal –Dante represented Ugolino gnawing at a human skull-, while the Thunder pronounces one of the key words to his liberation: be compassionate.

 This commandment could be understood as a clue to the possible relief eventual rain could bring. After all, it is the Thunder who speaks, and we are in our self-made desert yearning for rain. However, we must not forget that though appearance and reality are linked, they are not the same thing: the Thunder said “Da”, not “Dayadhvam”, it is the demons who understood it that way. Accordingly, what the Thunder really said remains unknown. Anyway, this counsel, though it were true, comes too late. Ugolino is paying his due for his treason, he has not sympathized.  As J. Bottum points out, “What the thunder said is that God has departed from both the poet and the city, and that death and decline alone remain… a doomed defence alone remains: ”These fragments I have shored against my ruins”.”

On the other hand, in these verses we also find elements that represent what was to be Eliot’s spiritual “grand tour”. According to David Naugle, “Before arriving at his Anglo-catholic destination, he had travelled by way of Indian thought and the philosophy of the English metaphysician F.H.Bradley”.  These are the three stages of Eliot’s intellectual and religious development, and the three of them are reflected in this fragment, with the single aim of reconstructing the world. Dante and the Upanishads were both made explicit by Eliot himself in the notes to the poem, notes whose mere existence also deserves a commentary. For as Viorica Patea says: “Las notas son selectivas en el reconocimiento de alusiones y referencias literarias: revelan algunas fuentes, pero ocultan otras. El problema fundamental no consiste en aceptarlas o rechazarlas, sino en saber cómo interpretar su doble juego de menciones y silencios.”

In my opinion, the allusion to Christianism is clear in the mention of a “key”. For though it is not referred to in the sources, the occidental mind will sooner than anything else think of Saint Peter, the holder of the keys that open –or close- the door to the Christian Heaven. Eliot needed not mention this fact explicitly, as the reader would recognize it immediately. This is what Eliot called “symbolism incidental”, as well as an example of the objective correlative working at its best.

Locked in ourselves –for Bradley conceives man as incapable of communicating his own experience, trapped in the limitation of his personal point of view-, thinking of the key –a key that locks, confirming a prison, a consequence that must be undone, unmade, so as to make the key open- surrounded by ruins, destruction and sterility, Eliot seeks for salvation. He has shored all the fragments, heard all the voices, put together in this poem all he has turned to so far -myth, philosophy, religion-, and must, with this baggage, come to some conclusion.

According to many critics, this conclusion implies the acceptance of the commandments of the Thunder, the dictates of a remote religion based on humble contemplation leading to ultimate truth: “Shantih  Shantih  Shantih “ . Viorica Patea says: “El poema de Eliot traza el viaje del alma a través del desierto de la ignorancia, del sufrimiento y de la sed de aspiraciones terrenales. Concluye con la revelación de una realidad que libera su condición fragmentada. En el misterio de la contemplación el ser intuye la plenitud de este estado de conciencia no dual y no objetivable.” Silvia Levirato says: “The myth and the use of fragments represent the cipher-key for the comprehension of The Waste Land: they have no power to unify and revivify culture; but as part of the great traditions of our common history, they have the power to help us turn our wasteland into a garden.” A.N.Dwivedi says: “…the prevailing sterility in The waste land…can hardly be turned into an oasis unless the virtues exhorted by Prajapati are earnestly practised by mankind.” David Naugle says: “Eliot’s concern in The Waste Land was universal and he expresses his concern for a world peace as the remedy to the inferno of modern life in Hindu terms to convey his global outlook.”

But J.Bottum observes: “The last words of the poem are not the last line’s ‘Shantih Shantih Shantih’ but the last note’s dry explanation that” ‘The Peace which passeth understanding’ is our equivalent to this word.” Eliot reduces even “Shantih” to an ironic fragment.”

In fact, Eliot has told us that rain has indeed come. This extraordinary event takes place in lines 394-395 and, though being such a transcendental matter, he has mentioned it quite superficially, as if it were something of no importance whatsoever. Rain happens midway through section V of the poem, randomly, and the Thunder myth follows, as well as the Grail myth and the Fisher King myth. Nevertheless, to me, after the strange relief of this random rain, the myths seem empty. Nature brought relief, but not to man, to the Earth, a “thing” man is quite alienated from. Thirst continues as we inhabit an inner wasteland that can find no relief. Thus, the outcome of the poem is not positive. Eliot remains a sceptic. The key we hold will never open anything. Humankind is lost. Whatever rebirth we might invent will ever be a partial one.

In 1927, five years after publishing The Waste Land, we find Eliot has embraced Anglo-catholicism, the High Church, which is the most traditional and conservative branch of the Church of England. For him, this, his most famous and ineffable poem, has become “a thing of the past”. He has walked back on his steps, retraced the path that only leads to despair, a despair deeply envisaged by him. Who knows if he, such as so many, needed to believe there is some key, somewhere, that can be held in one’s hand and open something.