Azorín (Pseudonym of José Martínez Ruiz) Leon Livingstone - Essay

Leon Livingstone

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Azorín's overall note of serenity masks a deep-seated disquietude. (pp. 6-7)

Despite their ideological association in the cultural revolution of the "Generation of 1898", Unamuno and Azorín have been generally considered virtually diametric opposites, separated, as one critic has recently reiterated, by a deep distance between their spiritual and literary styles. So firmly entrenched is this view that to seek to equate in any way the creator of the "delights of the commonplace"—as Ortega y Gasset characterized the art of Azorín in a now-celebrated, and somewhat oversimplified, phrase—with the existential anguish of the tormented philosopher of Salamanca can at first blush seem only an extravagant pretension, if not a veritable contrasense. For how can one bridge the gap between the tortured expression of the conflict of existence of the Basque and the affectionate cultivation of minute details of the Alicantine impressionist; between the poetics of dynamic self-creation and the static "esthetic of repose"; between the conversion of the novel into a vehicle of heroic self-pursuit and its unpretentious reduction to "algunas notas vivaces e inconexas—como lo es la realidad", as Azorín proposed in one of his early novels? The unheroic cultivation of the casual in Azorín is too obvious to ignore and in fact seems clearly confirmed by the author himself.

Azorín's first effort to counteract the constant erosion of temporal flux is to attribute to the past a solidity of permanence by "actualizing" it as he relives his former life. In this revitalization of the past, its resuscitation and restoration to a living present which salvages from oblivion that part of himself which antedates his current existence, the author seeks a firm foundation of self-consciousness on which to build his present identity. However, while the nostalgic tone of these personal reminiscences is in one sense an emotional cementing of the two time zones of being, in another it aggravates the cleavage between them as it establishes a sentimental gulf between the now and the then. And what is even more startling a revelation, between the now and the now! Indeed, an apt and adequate description of the fundamental tone of Azorín's expression would be "a nostalgia for the present"…. [The] relentless retrogression … forces on us the realization that life, both of man and his environment, is a continuous process of dying. In Azorín the bitter acceptance of this truth produces a deep and tragic melancholy … which is hauntingly expressed in the first novels. If the lyrical response provides a type of spiritual release it is clear that it is also a continuous reminder of the insufficiency of the proposed solution.

The real issue that Azorín faces in seeking to retrieve present reality from the engulfing current of time is clearly the need to impart to the fugitive moment a quality of eternity. By thus seeking to restore to the ever-receding past a status of presence through the revivifying effect of memory Azorín attempts to make reality impervious to the onslaught of change, to immortalize it in an aspect of timelessness that will place it beyond the reach of all-corrupting temporality. (pp. 9-10)

As a satisfactory solution to the problem of time continues to elude the author, the attendant failure to provide the necessary clue to an undivided identity in turn produces a psychological insecurity that is reflected in the characters who, like their creator, are caught in a helpless contemplation of their own schismatic personalities. (p. 14)

[It is in The Voluntad,] in the confrontation of the "I" and the "me" in a destructive stalemate, that the movement of time acquires a sudden terrifying reality. Time had been there all along but the abrupt realization that life is constantly slipping by has the force of a conversion no less epochal for Azorín than was Unamuno's traumatic realization of the reality of death. Henceforth, the problem of identity will be indissolubly linked in Azorín's consciousness to that of time. (p. 15)

In the balanced attraction of consciousness and unconsciousness lies the path to identity. In other words, identity is the net result of the interplay between the development of personality and an intentional depersonalization, between the cult of self and of selflessness, of time and timelessness.

These conflicting directions in Azorín are the result of a synchronic dual movement of extroversion and introversion, towards and away from external reality, a veritable cult of the world of objects in all their pristine solidity that is counteracted by a quasi-mystic revulsion against the physical in an unceasing aspiration to free the spirit from the constraints of the material world. (p. 18)

Certainly a dual track of precise realism and antirealistic abstraction is starkly characteristic of the art of Azorín himself. (p. 19)

In Azorín's art the realization of the fundamentally enigmatic nature of self, which fosters in us, and is actually reinforced by, the desirability of the loss of self as an antidote to the pain of self-consciousness, is productive of a peculiar narrative technique of concealment in which the nature of the action, the exact identification of the character, are intentionally withheld from the reader. Azorín is one of the first of the Spanish novelists of the twentieth century (if not the very first) to use this procedure of delayed disclosure, from which the later "neo-realists" will derive the maximum usage. (pp. 19-20)

[The role of plot is consequently relegated by Azorín] to a level of...

(The entire section is 2329 words.)