Relentless self-criticism about the Alfanhuí

[Para Félix de Azúa]

Madrid, 13-VI-97

Since you have taken the precaution of announcing to me by letter that you were coming with all the evil intention of asking me about my case and literary failure, just for once, and without serving as a precedent and thanks to the consideration that I particularly deserve , I am going to clear up and settle this glassy matter once and for all so that I will never dig into it again.

Reflecting on one’s own is, in effect, digging, gossiping with oneself, whether against or in favor, and I pay myself that the grace of God has deigned to give me the virtue of being very little gossip, both with respect to others and of my self; for example, I have never been interested in intimate diaries; not even with that of a writer as incomparable as Kafka I have been able to do anything other than zapping. (A very different thing are the “memories”, especially those of politicians). I have only been interested in the newspaper of San Ignacio de Loyola, for its scandalous anomaly of being, for the most part, an accounting book, where one day we can read, for example: “Before her and in her without them; after her, with many “, where” she “means the mass and” they “and” many “mean tears, and so on in all or almost all the variants to which such a combination lends itself.

Forced, therefore, to dig into what has happened to me with the letters, I very soon found a scheme that, not because it was clear and simple, ceases to seem reliable. First I fell into what I will call “beautiful prose”, then I wanted to have fun with speaking, and finally, after many years of grammar, I found the language. The “beautiful prose” was that of “Alfanhuí”, where I did what I later hated the most: something that was between Azorín and [Gabriel] I look. My father [Rafael Sánchez Mazas], who said that the worst thing that can happen to a writer is to become an author of “beautiful pages”, he could well have warned me, but since inventions were sometimes ingenious and funny, he was distracted and laughed by my readings, and not he realized the despicable mistake. For other authors it was very sensitive, but with “the son[ba] the defects of his father ”

love blinded him. I can give an example of his sensitivity to the Kitch of “beautiful prose”, although he is burdened by the special antipathy he had for Ortega y Gasset: one day – I would be about 19 or 20 years old – he bursts into my room and without more preambles he blurts out to me: “Rafael, do you think you can write ‘iridescent gemmle’? ‘iridescent gemmle’!”. It was from Ortega. Many years later, reading Ortega’s description of Mommsen beginning his “History of Rome”, in the phrase “the succulent pen descends on the paper …” I have also remembered how my father used to say of the authors of “beautiful pages” that “they suck the feather of pleasure that it gives them”.

Well, in that detestable practice of the “beautiful page”, that is, of the “prose”, I incurred the “Alfanhuí”. I do not speak of straw smoke; I am going to give a devastating example; is the beginning of chapter XV of the first part:

“In the field of Guadalajara the hawthorn turns yellow. The hawthorn flower alternates with the scarlet of the thyme trees. A tender green fades between the black earth and the rough bushes. In the field of Guadalajara some dark and small larks dawn, which have the chest pinto and the weak beak … “, and so on until exactly completing a whole” beautiful page “of the most common box and type. The most orthodox school of watercolor art attributes, as I understand it, the greatest “merit” to watercolor that manages to leave the largest area of ​​”white”, that is, untouched by the brush; this one has to stain the minimum enough to capture, as by suggestion, what is represented. It is possible that this minimal, slight character of a brush that barely flies over paper like a butterfly or a hummingbird does not always fall among watercolorists in a pure virtuosity like the one that threatens to be rigorously attached to the principle of “the whiter without to touch with the brush, more merit “, but this same complacency in floating, in levitation over things, barely brushing them with the feather on the tip of the wings, transferred to descriptive prose, is detestable not only because of the refitting gratuity that is allowed , by stopping only on the flowers that he likes, but for a fundamental error: as the sadly forgotten Gestalt psychologists discovered, in visual perception there is a construction based on the “background-figure” relationship, which, in my opinion, understand, it is completely lacking in the word, or, if we endeavor to maintain such a relationship with respect to this, the only possible “background” for some words that act as “figure” can never be the target of the paper, that is, silence, but has to be made up of other words. [vale] Let us now compare the levitating transcribed description of “Alfanhuí” with a true description, of very few words but complete, dense, intense, saturated, like this one by Juan Ramón Jiménez in the poem “Río Tinto”, if I remember correctly: “Lejos, Through Fog, which cannot be seen, the smoke from the train over the eucalyptus trees still in the mist of La Ruiza, the wall of lime, copper ocher, of Venta de Piquete little by little, sordid, it is dazzled by a difficult sun, twisted , sour “. I have omitted the partition into verses because I do not remember it, but it must be noted that it is a poem, to dispense with the grammatical license of putting one after another a nominal sentence, the one that ends in “La Ruiza”, and a verbal sentence , the one that begins with “the lime wall”. It is such an intensely visual description that it immediately appears to me as a painting by Ricardo Baroja, perhaps because of that central “figure”: “copper ocher”, which recalls its most characteristic colors. Juan Ramón Jiménez superimposes his data, loading, intensifying on the same point, until they reach, synergistically, that maximum degree of concentration; the “beautiful page” of the “Alfanhuí” does the opposite; again and again it shuns the center as if it were afraid of it, it goes from one thing to another in a capricious flutter and, therefore, totally gratuitous; the “brushstrokes”, linked only by a very deliberate swinging rhythm and “in the ear”, do not even add up, they follow one another along that falsetto link, which rather releases them in an ethereal medium afflicted with a kind of horror of saturation. The data cannot really belong to the thing and when they do belong, they flee from it immediately afterwards, for example, towards the middle of the “beautiful page” the “old ladies from Guadalajara” appear; there is a fact that, strange as it may seem, collects a vision: “they play ring in the green meadows”; from the window of one of those slow trains of the 40s I saw, in effect, a group of 7 or 8 women dressed in black in a meadow, not gathered together but separated from each other in a space of 10 or 12 meters in diameter; I don’t know if all or some of them were really old, nor can I say what they did in such an unusual arrangement; They did not “play circle” because they were too far apart to hold hands. The sensation of lightness that those very thin old women from the country of the 40s gave, and more dressed in black up to the ankles as they used to, gives reason to say that “they have wire bones” and that when they drown in the river “they it carries the current, floating like black rags “; okay. In the previous sentence a piece of information is given that belongs to things; The longevity of rural Spanish women, especially Basque women, is well known, with a very marked gradient with respect to men: almost all of them bury their brothers, cousins ​​and husbands and not a few their male children. Well, the leakage of the data, its dissolution in the most capricious gratuity, is shown at the end of this sentence: “Old ladies have wire bones [vale] and die after men [se secan o son talados]and after the poplars. “It is not a matter of realism; it is not that the poplars do not properly admit a verb such as” die “or” birthday “like people

; Nor does anything forbid that its duration be used by figure to increase the longevity of old women; it is that they have been put into the phrase purely as a wild card to dissolve the other data and take weight off it, to escape from it with the same rocker spring that governs the rhythm of the entire “beautiful page”, which seeks its ” beauty “precisely in a kind of unconcern, lack of pregnancies. There is nothing necessary in it; nothing that could be missed or anything that seems to be too much; This is what I call “gratuity.” Everything is, so to speak, “surplus”, which is as much as saying that everything is in excess, like an ornament with nothing to decorate. I am not going to talk about the fallacies, such as the “black earth” and the “dark” field. For that, why choose Guadalajara, whose land cannot be whiter or whose field is clearer and clearer? [G.] I do want to stop at the second sentence of the beginning transcribed: “Alternate the hawthorn flower with the thyme scarlet”. First: this alternation has been determined from the abstraction of colors: yellow and violet (“grana”) are, in effect, complementary; a combination that is likely to be repeated elsewhere in the book. But, above all, that phrase is not Castilian, unless we take as possible a question as far-fetched and implausible as “What alternates in the field of Guadalajara?”, Since that prefix of the verb “alternates” would only be grammatical as an answer ( explicit or supposed) to such a question. Such freedom of the order of the sentence is clearly related to the prose “stylist” of Azorín or of

I look. Another disastrous thing, very helpful for the “seesaw rhythmic system”, is the nominal repetition of the subject, with the alternation at will of the repetition of the name or the anaphoric “subject race”, which my friend Sven admired so much in Spanish Skisgaard, a Danish grammarian, whom I knew many years after having written the “Alfanhuí” and who died quite young. He was, precisely, the one who gave that remarkable disposition of Castilian the steely name of “subject race”, which consists of the norm by which when a sentence has the same subject as the previous sentence it is not necessary to repeat it even for the name not even with a pronoun; it is, as it were, an “anaphora with vicar.”

This anti-Castilian vice of repeating the name has a living representative and even more detestable than Azorín or Miró: Cela, that man who would find nothing to write if the ass, constipation, hemorrhoids, anal fistula and other things did not exist of the parts of the digestive system, from the duodenum down, but we will talk about it later.

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