Ramón Sender Essay - Critical Essays

Sender, Ramón (Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Sender, Ramón 1902–

Sender is a prolific but uneven Spanish novelist whose literary reputation is still being appraised. He has progressed through many literary styles and trends, from social realism to more experimental forms of writing. He became enmeshed early in his career with the political and social problems of pre-civil war Spain. After fighting on the side of the republicans, Sender moved to the United States, where he took up citizenship. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

The mysterious "presence" that lurks behind commonplace existence has had a special attraction for Ramón J. Sender, who, though transplanted to American soil, remains one of the leading contemporary Spanish novelists. Years before Existentialism had become a recognized movement in France Sender was experimenting in the novel with the notion that the heart of human reality is concealed in a nonrational and phantomlike quality (Orden público [1931] and Siete domingos rojos [1932], for example) which, despite its elusiveness, is a force immediately at hand. Bolder—and less organized—than the French in his expression of ideas, and less dedicated to novelistic technique as a goal in itself, he evinces a lusty primitivism whose existentialist affinity is an aspect rather than a systematic trend of thought. His writings therefore should not be viewed with the strict interpretation of Existentialism, which is possible in Sartre's case. (p. 234)

Sender … often leaves us with the impression that he is trying to fathom the mysterium tremendum of an inscrutable Deity. Unquestionably he considers it his literary responsibility to demonstrate the "primordial vision," as Jung puts it, that leads the poet to pry into the mystery and chaos, the land of demons and gods that lies beyond the ordered world of reason. Moreover, he appears willing to fulfill his poetic mission instinctively, but his reflective self compels him at the same time to rebel at the thought of losing his "freedom" in a vicious circle that leads inevitably to the realm of death, which a person supposedly realizes himself in his own ruination. Hence the subject of mortality is one of his major preoccupations. (p. 237)

Sherman H. Eoff, in his The Modern Spanish Novel (reprinted by permission of New York University Press; copyright © 1961 by New York University), New York University Press, 1961.

Sender is a novelist with philosophical inclinations. As such he is interested in seeking explanations behind reality—not only the reality of Spain of his day, but of human existence, as well. (pp. 168-69)

An examination of Sender's first novel reveals, under literary symbols, that he discovered in the worst of situations and people a small light shining in the midst of the surrounding darkness of chaos and cruelty. This note is his saving grace; it pervades and becomes the touchstone of all his major works; it is also the starting point for the philosophical system which he develops and continually reelaborates in succeeding editions of La Esfera (1947). (p. 169)

Sender, revolutionary in temperament from youth, quite naturally assimilated the anticlerical spirit of the leftist groups which he joined. There also can be no doubt that his great personal tragedies [the loss of both his brother and wife to Fascist firing squads]—in the shadow of official Catholic alliance with the insurgents—intensified his anticlericalism. (pp. 170-71)

Sender's works tend to fall into two general classifications: works before and during the [Spanish] Civil War, and works after. The earlier group evokes the fights, illusions and hardships of his fellow Spaniards before and during the Republic. Contraataque reflects the agonizing pain of that war. His later works reveal a continual philosophic evolution and search for values in the twentieth century world of turmoil. As would be expected, anticlericalism is found, particularly in his earlier period, although it is not entirely absent—at least by indirection—in his later work. (p. 172)

[Sender] criticizes the clergy in … historical and political contexts…. Yet, the author is clear-minded enough to distinguish between clericalism and religion. "We had the Church to face," he writes. "But that does not mean that people of religious spirit were our enemies." But Sender goes farther than Barea, who gives the impression, despite his bitterness, that the clergy's greatest fault was their failure to understand and adapt to changing times. In other passages in Contraataque Sender makes a closer cause-and-effect relationship between the intrinsic nature of the Church in Spanish history and the present social woe. He speaks of "the contribution of religious education to class cynicism, which is the major bulwark of fascism." He mentions the "necessity to guarantee political liberties and unwind the tentacles of the Church from the popular organs of power." (pp. 172-73)

In El Rey y la Reina (The King and the Queen), published in 1947, a conversation between Rómulo and the Duchess highlights the employer class in their relationships with the workers…. In El Epitalamio del Prieto Trinidad (Dark Wedding) published in 1942 there are various passages which, if taken at face value, cast the clergy in an unfavorable light. In general, however, there is not as much strict treatment of anticlericalism as can be found, for example, in Pérez Galdós, Blasco Ibáñez, or Pio Baroja. Sender, rather, accepts the anticlerical standpoint of the older authors and devotes more time to his psychological evaluation of himself or his characters and his philosophic preoccupations with the world of experience.

In the works of the Republican era, Sender's treatment of priests is very harsh. The young boy, Pepe, in Crónica del Alba (Chronicle of Early Youth, 1942), who largely represents Sender himself, shys away in horror from the repulsive priest who sought to proselytize him. The priest taken prisoner in Contraataque is a gibbering idiot. Another priest taken prisoner and released to fight with the Loyalists is commended as he begins to shed the deportment of his calling and seek secular freedom and the company of women. (pp. 173-74)

The author's distinction between anti-religion and anticlericalism has been noted. Nevertheless, anti-religious passages of an ultimate blasphemous nature can be found in certain of his works, particularly in the important novel Siete Domingos Rojos (Seven Red Sundays), which was published in 1932. The book is the extreme expression of anticlericalism in its most virulent form. It is also difficult to conceive of anything more blasphemous. In creating this novel Sender draws heavily upon the Spanish revolutionary milieu, which he knew so well. (p. 174)

In the tumultuous pages of the novel Sender's characters run the gamut of revolutionary types: communists, socialists, syndicalists, anarchists, and their various subdivisions. Their common denominator is their anarchical drive and it is here that the author probes most deeply. Within this drive also is found the anticlericalism—if such is still the word. Here can be seen also the historical truth of the words of Leo XIII and other modern Popes who admitted that the social outcasts and certain segments of the working class had been completely, hopelessly lost to religion (and its civilizing influences). In Siete Domingos Rojos the Church, in the mind of the Revolutionaries, is identified completely with the worst and most ruthless elements of reaction. The book is peppered with anti-religious refrains on the folkloric level in the age-old ballad line. The priesthood and everything religious are treated with a cavalier picaresque vulgarity. But the climax is reached in a frenzied "anti-litany" of blasphemy. (pp. 175-76)

[Although] Sender's personal anticlericalism differs considerably from that of his revolutionary characters, I believe there has been some deep connection between the origin of the anti-religious spirit and Sender's own religio-philosophic searching. In the minds of the anarchists, religion and the forces of oppression, repression, and reaction are completely identified. In Sender's mind religion and the Church are continually probed and tested as vehicles of truth and answers to the deeper needs of humanity. Sender's most frequent answer is at most further doubt.

This probing can be seen, for example, in The King and the Queen where both Rómulo and the Duchess speak to some extent for Sender. At the beginning of the tale both accept the Church. The Duchess is hardly an ascetic; she does not object to occasional dalliance and confesses regularly. Later, however, chaos has broken loose and the supposedly Church-centered civilization is shaken to its foundation. The function of religion becomes a source of meditation to her in her long hours of seclusion. The confusion in her mind is a microcosmic reflection of the larger contemporary picture—man wandering in desperate search of values in a landscape shattered by violent clashes: "Who could make me take anything that we're seeing and hearing seriously? God? God who made the world what it is, God who tolerates all the horror we know about, and then after tolerating it exacts not only admiration for what he's made but adoration, too? How can you yield to a divinity like that?" (pp. 177-78)

Sender's religio-philosophic questionings have continued in many recent novels. Successive revisions of La Esfera show a pantheistic monism of a self-sufficient universe. Personal immortality is replaced by the immortality of mankind of which the individual is but a part. The woman symbolizing the light shining in the midst of darkness is Sender's conviction of humanity's ability, within this framework, to realize its own potentialities. Frankly eclectic, this philosophy offers nothing new beyond the author's enthusiastic experience of its evolution within him. (p. 179)

Mośen Millán [the priest who is a central character in the novel Mosén Millán] represents the clerical class and/or the classes associated with the old order—any old order, for the author in this work is not overly specific about time and place. Paco [the other central figure in the novel] represents mankind, especially the hardworking poor. Mosén had willingly devoted his long life to hard service in caring for the spiritual needs of people like Paco. Paco, for his part, had helped Mosén Millán and had been on very good terms with him. But in the end Mosén betrays Paco. He does it half unwittingly, but he does it. The betrayal stems from the weakness of the class he represents rather than from his own character. Sender implies that it was inevitable that he would betray Paco. The reason seems to lie in the fact that the priest seeks God in the abstract rather than in the hearts of his flesh and blood brother…. Mosén Millán is a modern morality piece. (pp. 180-81)

[Considering] the author's philosophical history, the [character of the lay] brother [in Hipogrifo Violento] can easily be interpreted as a symbol of the author's pantheistic humanity of which the individual is a passing expression. And Pepe's contact with the brother can be taken as symbolic of the boy's penetration into the core of living human reality. Furthermore, the lego [lay brother] fashions holy images and then prays fervently to them. His faith is indeed convincing. But, once again, given the spectrum of Sender's tendencies, the faith seems to symbolize humanity wandering in the wilderness of the universe and erecting images to a personal god who is needed but does not exist. Or, possibly, Sender simply feels God's absence more than his presence?

It is evident that Sender cannot escape from the claims that Christianity and religion make upon his whole being. They pursue him; they lurk in every corner of his superb imagination. The liturgy of the Church emerges in inverted form as blasphemy when he describes an anarchistic milieu. The attitudes of Christian charity and the interior life flow from his pen with the ease of long familiarity, whatever their intended symbolism. Like so many Spaniards he appears to be a God-seeker. Or again, he could be included among the thinkers whom the German Catholic critic, Karl Pfleger, called "Wrestlers with Christ" (Geister die um Christus Ringen). Violence and polemic in Sender's later work have mellowed into a sort of galdosian humanism. But the last lines of the surpassingly beautiful poem concluding Hipogrifo read ambiguously as follows:

              Oh God, great shadow of name,
              At times propitious or adverse,
              See how your absence illumines
              The cornice of the universe.
                                              (pp. 182-83)

John Devlin, "Ramón Sender," in his Spanish Anticlericalism: A Study in Modern Alienation (copyright © 1966 by Las Americas Publishing Co.), Las Americas, 1966, 168-83.

Iman, whose English translation is "magnet," is important not only as Sender's first novel, but also because in style and human content it accurately foreshadows the prolific Senderian novelistic production of the next four decades. Even today it remains as one of Sender's very finest novels. (p. 45)

The narrative [of Pro Patria (English translation of Iman)] falls into three major divisions: I, the Camp—The Relief; II, Annual—The Catastrophe; and III, Escape—War—Discharge—The Peace of the Dead. Part I … sets the tone and atmosphere for the rest of the novel; from the outset a vivid picture of the filth, rigors, privations, injustices and boredom of life in camp R., an outpost of Annual, is painted. There is an implied protest against the uselessness and senselessness of the campaign. Though the book begins with Antonio (Sender), a sergeant present at R. [the ficticious camp which is the scene of the novel], narrating in the first person, it soon introduces Viance, the Spanish private who then starts telling his own story. Later an omniscient author intervenes; most of the rest of the story is told by him in the third person, although there are occasional brief returns to first-person narrative by both Viance and Antonio. But the novel is always Viance's story. Some critics have criticized this shifting of narrative points of view, calling it confusing. In this respect it seems to have anticipated the trend during the last decade to write novels with changing points of view and perspective. (p. 47)

Viance is both an individual soldier and a symbol of the Spanish underprivileged masses, the pueblo. Though his inner resentment against the injustices and abuses to his dignity as a human being that he had suffered in the army made him assume an outward appearance of indifference, and even stupidity, he was, all things considered, a truly admirable human being, sound in body and mind. There is a parallel between the treatment meted out to Viance by his officers and the treatment of the Spanish lower classes by the upper classes through the centuries. It is in this implied parallel between Viance and the Spanish people that the element of social protest in the book is most clearly seen.

Pro Patria is not a pacifist book; its protest is not so much against war in general as it is against the Spanish Moroccan War in particular and its general mismanagement by the Spanish Government. (pp. 48-9)

The book's social protest is implicit from the events and action of the novel itself, and not superimposed artificially by the comments of the author except for an occasional lapse, intentional or otherwise. (p. 49)

[One] sees in Pro Patria the sure hand of Sender the novelist: a direct, sober, verbal style, an impersonal distancing of the author from the work, the same grim—sometimes gruesome—humor present even in his latest novels, the same interweaving of objective and subjective realities to create the novel's own private world, the harshest of realistic detail alongside lyrical and metaphysical fantasy, the flight into delirium and dreams which sometimes cast a surrealistic spell over the action, and the everpresent probing of ultimate reality, mystery. Sender does not write with what one may call elegance…. (pp. 49-50)

The fusion of external reality with Viance's inner, subjective world … is typical of the entire novel, as well as the haunting question of human guilt. (p. 50)

The novel's somber note is occasionally relieved by Sender's wry and grim humor, an ambivalent humor close to tears….

In his later works, notably in The Sphere,… Sender tends to look "downward" to man's instinctive nature as the basis for the truly human rather than "upward" to what might be called a spiritual realm. In a broad sense his view is Pantheistic and he makes a great deal of what might be called the natural unity of all created objects…. [Viance's] musings serve as a counterweight to the demonic brutality of the novel besides impregnating it occasionally with a poetic-philosophical glow which adds interest and perspective. (pp. 51-2)

Pro Patria is not a documentary novel, but it does have documentary value; it also has dignity and true distinction as literature. It is a story of death, death to the Spanish pueblo, physical and moral; the sacrifice of Spain's finest resource, its common people, upon the altar of the false patriotism and the economic interests of its ruling classes. In the end Viance breaks national boundaries, becoming a universal symbol of the common man as victim of injustice and man's inhumanity to man. (p. 52)

Apart from its literary merits [Seven Red Sundays] is of notable importance as a serious probing of the motives of the Spanish revolutionaries, an unveiling of the mind of the Spanish anarchists, syndicalists, communists, and socialists of the early thirties. (p. 53)

Despite … the book's intense probing of the inner motives of the revolutionaries, a balanced probing which reveals both the sublime and the ridiculous, the true and the false, the intelligent and the stupid among the strikers and Sender's disavowal of a moral purpose for it, Seven Red Sundays in its totality constitutes a clear affirmation of revolutionary values. (p. 55)

The atmosphere of crisis of the uprising is to some extent reflected in the very form of the novel. There is a constant shifting of narrative points of view, especially during the first half of the book…. (pp. 55-6)

On balance it appears that though the novel's structure may have weakened the sharp delineation of characters, narrative thrust and other "novelistic elements," it has gained in other ways, in ways which are in consonance with the author's intention to communicate artistically "a human truth of the most generous kind"…. Sender succeeds in capturing the atmosphere and the spirit of the revolution, imbuing it at times with a lyrical dimension. The root or the essence of the revolution seems to be what Samar calls "this longing to live which oppresses us and always will oppress us"…. (p. 57)

Sender uses external or ordinary reality in Seven Red Sundays as a solid base of operations, as a kind of trampoline from which to launch his leaps to "higher" realities. The chapter in which the moon becomes a character is an example of unrestrained imagination which clearly violates the usual norms for a "realistic" work; the talking moon brings to mind the fantasies in Paradox, Rey (Paradox, King) by Pío Baroja. The "realism" of Seven Red Sundays is a strange fusion of ordinary reality with other "realities," imaginative "realities" that sometimes add an intellectual dimension, at others a lyrical or metaphysical overtone. (p. 59)

Mr. Witt, a slightly bald Victorian English gentleman of fifty-three and a consulting engineer in the naval arsenal at Cartagena, and his vivacious Spanish wife, Milagritos, thirty-five, are centainly among Sender's finest literary creations. They are characterized [in Mr. W. H. Among the Rebels] with consummate skill. Their story is intrinsically intermeshed with the broader scene of violent social upheaval. The contrast in character and temperament between Mr. Witt and Milagritos is sustained throughout the novel and becomes an admirable study in human psychology but never an end in itself, never divorced from the story of the revolution. (p. 60)

The narrative point of view is that of an omniscient author. The story is unified around two poles: Mr. Witt and the revolution. Scenes shift from inside the Englishman's cozy home, symbolic of Mr. Witt's isolation, to the great outside world where catastrophic events transpire, events which are at times observed by Mr. Witt from the balcony of his house. The "street" enters his home daily with the return of Milagritos from her activities as a medical aide. With an admirable economy of words Sender achieves a well-rounded impression of the revolution—its leaders, its proletarian flavor, its confusion, its weaknesses, its enthusiasms, its brutality and suffering, its heroism and greatness of spirit. Its realism is almost total. Mr. Witt the Englishman gives to the novel a note of detached objectivity which acts as a counterweight to what might otherwise have emerged as an excessively subjective portrayal of a popular uprising. (p. 62)

In its notes of retroactive social protest [The Word Became Sex (Theresa of Jesus)] is typical of Sender; the social climate and historical reality of the period are well recreated through the story of Theresa and her family. A heavy reliance is made on dialogue, and there are occasional passages of poetic prose of high literary quality.

O.P. (orden público) (O.P. [Public Order]), published in 1931 …, was the first of three Senderian novels which the author, from a post-Civil War perspective, named the Términos del Presagio (Terms of the Presage) trilogy. The other two books of the series are: Viaje a la aldea del crimen (Trip to the Village of Crime) and La noche de las cien cabezas (The Night of One Hundred Heads), both published in 1934.

These novels, according to Sender, are an expression "rather direct and concrete—rather substantial, of a time that was critical for the immediate future of Spain, and form a presage "dull or clever, simple or brilliant" of events which followed their publication. (p. 64)

O.P. (Public Order), inspired by the author's experiences as a political prisoner for three months in 1927 in Madrid's Model Jail, has no plot; it merely relates in a haphazard manner—reminiscent of Baroja—of what the Journalist (Sender) observed and experienced during his imprisonment. The narrative point of view shifts from the Journalist to that of the Wind to that of an omniscient author. (pp. 64-5)

As a novel Public Order is second rate, its literary quality uneven. With the exception of the Journalist, none of the prisoners seems to be a living person. Real narrative drive is lacking. The author's method is more descriptive than narrative, more subjective than objective, and there is little humor. The book does, however, succeed in communicating vividly what has been felt by Sender during his imprisonment. As testimonial literature of a phase of Spanish life it is noteworthy. (p. 65)

Although noteworthy for its lucid and flowing style, Trip to the Village of Crime is valuable primarily as an exposé of feudalistic conditions prevailing in rural Spain in modern times….

The third member of the triad of novels which Sender later baptized as the Terms of the Presage trilogy is La noche de las cien cabezas (The Night of One Hundred Heads), 1934. Its subtitle, Novela del tiempo en delirio (Novel of Time in Delirium), suggests its tendency to fantasy and allegory. (p. 66)

Although The Night of One Hundred Heads presents a brilliant and penetrating vision of Spanish life and contains most of Sender's favorite themes, it falls short as a novel. Except for the first two of its twenty-eight chapters it has little narrative interest. Characterization is almost exclusively fragmentary caricature. (p. 67)

Sender's deep faith in the value of man simply because he is man is nowhere more clearly seen than in A Man's Place…. The novel is a parable of the human condition. Sabino [the novel's central character] is representative man; the upheavals attendant upon both his absence from society and his subsequent return to that society suggest that, despite appearances, man—individual man—is of transcendental importance. To deny him his rightful "place" in life is to tempt the fates…. Though specific evils in the Spanish social structure are revealed in the novel, the work must be taken also as an indictment of man's inhumanity to man in general.

The style is simple; direct narration (with a minimum of description, secondary characters, and commentary) recreates vividly the scenes and flavor of the Spanish milieu in which the action occurs. (pp. 70-1)

[Chronicle of Dawn] is one of Sender's best novels. Its vision of life, seen through the imagination of [the character] Pepe, achieves a lyrical and very human dimension. Its sense of life is austere, yet balanced with elements of dry humor. The realistic and the romantic find a balance. (p. 75)

Requiem is a superbly written short novel, or novelette. Its tone throughout is sober and subdued. Its unity is almost absolute. Its style is straightforward narrative and lucid. Its portrayal of Spanish village life is memorable and accomplished with surprising economy. Its humor, the rough humor of the country folk it portrays, is noteworthy and contributes balance and spice. Its psychological realism in the characterization of Mosén Millán is the work of a man who deeply knows human nature. The periodic interpolation of fragments from the ballad is like a musical counterpoint to the priest's tortured memories, and together with those memories (in which past and present fuse) creates a third plane of time, an atemporal one, writes Peñuelas. Through the ballad a mythical dimension to the story becomes visible. (p. 80)

Any critical evaluation of The Sphere … runs a double risk: On the one hand it becomes easy to analyze the work too closely as though it were a philosophical treatise, forgetting, in other words, that it is a novel, not an essay, and that the author must be given an artist's license to leave loose ends and unresolved problems; on the other hand, though the author must be allowed freedom as a literary artist, we have a right to expect of him a substantial and intelligible "message," more, in other words, than the mere playing with words and concepts. We demand that he fuse content and form into a coherent artistic unity. From the first Sender obviously felt that the book's content was of vital significance; in the Prologue to its first edition he wrote that he was offering his readers "the secret mechanism of giving myself"; that he had discovered immortality (an immortality that "is neither a product of differentiation nor of individualization"), and that he wished to tell others about his discovery so that his "faith might serve as a reactive leading them to the same notions."… Sender's concepts [in the novel] go beyond moral and metaphysical philosophy to involve a theory of God, of Ultimate or Absolute Reality. The "mystical planes" which the work tries to suggest, as Sender says, are both poetic and religious; to him poetry and religion, in the ultimate analysis, are one and the same. (p. 84)

Sender's philosophical perspective, his persistent effort to see life calmly and to see it whole, is seen in the very title of the book, The Sphere, a metaphor of the author's monistic conception of total reality. (p. 87)

A preoccupation with the reconciliation of apparent opposites such as life and death, love and hate, into higher unities or syntheses here called "spheres," has been a constant in Sender's literary production. (p. 88)

An important facet of Sender's "spherical" theories is his peculiar antithesis, "man" and "person"….

In The Sphere man is viewed as a dichotomy: "man" and "person." "Man and person are antipodal," Sender writes in the passage preceding Chapter V…. Man "is the source of all truth, of each universal and innate truth"…. The "person" is man's mask, the individualization of his personality which begins at birth, or soon thereafter, and grows throughout life; loosely speaking, it is man's self-consciousness. The basic question posed by Sender in The Sphere, according to Sherman Eoff is: "Does one's self-consciousness have meaning as a separate reflective entity, or is it significant only as identified with a vast undying and unthinking 'world spirit'?" (p. 89)

Sender has, in effect, deified what he refers to as el hombre ("man") or hombría ("manhood" or "man-ness"), a mystical essence which gives every man his true worth. (p. 90)

Since man is "an integral part of the infinite intellect of God," any offense to the human species, even to an individual member of that species, becomes essentially an offense to God Himself…. This exaltation of man for the simple fact that he is human is a constant in all of Sender's work…. (p. 91)

[Sender's] humanism is perhaps most distinctive in its radical reaction against the excessive individualization of people in Western European industrialized cultures in this century especially, an individualization that has isolated the individual and led to a growing depersonalization of life. Sender's attitude is seen in [the novel's main character] Saila's rejection of the "person" in favor of that part of him which is one with all other men—at the deep level of the mystically corporate man. A new morality, collectivist or corporate in nature rather than individualistic … can be built upon Sender's theory of "man" and "person." (pp. 92-3)

Sender's whole novelistic production has been written "against a background of eternity": death has been a constant preoccupation, almost an obsession, with [him]. He has dealt with the subject of death more extensively, more profoundly, and more artistically than have any of his Spanish contemporaries. (p. 93)

The fundamental thesis of The Sphere, that death does not exist, is based directly on the "man-person" dichotomy…. Death is the person, that growing individualization of the human being which differentiates and isolates him from all other men, which takes him farther and farther away from his eternal substance, the subterranean man. (pp. 93-4)

The dramatic tension of The Sphere, as it is in all of Sender's fiction, is … between two worlds: the one of relative appearances, of the conscious, conventional, rationalistic, unauthentic person imprisoned by the physical world and a positivist turn of mind versus the world of divine disorder, the unconscious and absolute world of dreams, of the passionate and natural (or authentic) man. Sender seeks ever to write in the twilight zone where these two "worlds" or "hemispheres" merge…. (pp. 97-8)

On almost every page of the novel one finds what might be termed a "reversal of values." The unconscious is preferred over the conscious; intuition over reason; the ganglia over the brain; abstract "man" over the concrete, individual person; death over life; potential knowledge over actual knowledge; dream over apparent reality; eternity over temporality; mystery over clarity; a state of anarchy over a state of law and order, etc. The relative devaluation of the apparent, everyday world of order and logic in which we usually live is a necessary corollary of the book's passionate exaltation of the unconscious or underlying world of disorder, dreams, and irrational forces. Indeed, the true adventure of The Sphere can only be understood as Saila's exploration of the underworld, his plunge to the bottom of the unknown, the unconscious, the abyss, the ganglionic world, in order to decipher the mysteries of life….

A constant in Sender's total work, and a key to his Weltanschauung, is his belief in the almost all-powerful role of the unconscious, both individual and collective, in determining man's fate. (p. 100)

The frontier between the individual and the universal totality in Sender's novel becomes, of necessity, shrouded in impenetrable mystery. To seek to "clarify" the mechanics of the relation of the individual and the universal in this dark area would be to do so only in a verbal, rather than actual, sense. The purpose of the novel—I quote … from Sender's foreword to the definitive edition—"is more illuminative than constructive, and attempts to suggest mystical planes on which the reader may build his own structures". (pp. 102-03)

A secondary theme of The Sphere is Saila's rejection of traditional morality. On the one hand he spurns all moral absolutes as conceived by the Judeo-Christian background of Western European culture and civilization (a prescriptive morality), and on the other hand he rejects a morality which is merely the consensus of what is for the common good at different times and places, an ethics, in other words, determined by a headcount (a descriptive morality). (p. 103)

The principal philosophical objection to Saila's brand of "morality" is that it is a personal, subjective view of "right" and "wrong"; it is, therefore, entirely relative and like a mystical experience or a drug "trip," essentially incapable of being adequately communicated to others. A major difficulty lies in how we are to determine what the real interests of the species are in practical, concrete situations. (p. 104)

After all his rationalizations are finished, Saila still doubts. This, of course, is typical of Sender; he always evinces a questioning, ambivalent view toward reality, never dogmatizing (despite his appearance of doing so). Throughout the novel there is the dialectic of reason versus intuition: "Reason told him no, and his ganglia yes"…. The synthesis at which Sender arrives is always a tentative "perhaps."….

The Sphere is an ambitious attempt to fuse into an artistic unity the realistic, the lyrical-metaphysical, the fantastic, and the symbolic. Has Sender succeeded? Only to a limited extent. The narrative framework is inadequate to carry the excessively heavy charge of poetic, philosophical, and symbolic meaning. The narrative element can move only sluggishly in its labyrinth of levels, dimensions, and meanings. (p. 105)

Charles L. King, in his Ramón J. Sender (copyright © 1974 by Twayne Publishers, Inc.; reprinted with the permission of Twayne Publishers, A Division of G. K. Hall & Co., Boston), Twayne, 1974.