Goytisolo, Juan (Vol. 5)

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Goytisolo, Juan 1931–

Goytisolo, a prolific and talented Spanish novelist, was born in Catalonia and has lived in exile in France since 1957.

Although he has lived in exile for most of the past two decades, Juan Goytisolo, at the age of 43, is generally considered to be the foremost novelist of contemporary Spain. Within his own country all of Goytisolo's work—six novels, two books of essays—is on the swollen blacklist of "outlawed writers," mainly, of course, because the author is an intransigently outspoken enemy of the France regime. (p. 15)

[Like] that Irish exile James Joyce, with whom he is often, perhaps extravagantly, compared by European critics, Goytisolo has become more and more passionately obsessed with his despised and beloved country the longer he lives beyond its suffocating reach. His new novel, Count Julian …, is a violent, irresolvable quarrel between the severed halves of a Spanish exile's nature, one part exultantly free of a world that "compels us, against our wills, to be spokesmen for something," the other inescapably bewitched by a man's unbreakable ties to his homeland.

The word "novel," it should be pointed out, is simply a label of convenience for Count Julian. The book is really an anti-epic, a brutally untraditional meditation—now apoplectically enraged, now cruelly and deceptively playful—on the barren wastes of Spanish history and the putrescent stench of 20th-century Spanish "progress." That Goytisolo faces the defiling realities with totally agonized despair, disbelieving in the possibility of change, he makes appallingly clear by casting the entire work in the form of a single sentence, which uses many types of punctuation but never the period. Count Julian is literally a drama of vicious continuity that has no end. (pp. 15-16)

The standard device of modernism is the wrenching of conventional forms out of their placid, familiar alignments, in order to explode the desiccated habits of inherited response; to offend and mock and jeer as a majestically subversive means of eliciting new ways of seeing, hearing, thinking, feeling. But because Goytisolo limits the scope of his assault so narrowly to abuses of the word, he finally defeats himself. When his own language becomes a vehicle of incomprehensibility, Goytisolo seems as much the victim of the word as he is the enemy of its abuse. (p. 16)

Pearl K. Bell, "Exile's Revenge," in The New Leader (© 1974 by the American Labor Conference on International Affairs, Inc.), June 10, 1974, pp. 15-16.

Juan Goytisolo,… an exile from Franco Spain since 1957, has written a tortured, labyrinthine novel [Count Julian] that leaves a ragged scar across the land from Port Bou to Algeciras, from La Corunna to Almeria. He rapes the language and castrates the culture. In a sado-masochistic rage he seeks to purge and purify—to shake Spanish stoicism to its very foundations with a massive dose of corruption.

To this end Goytisolo has constructed an elaborate psychosexual metaphor in which Count Julian urges that the Moorish conquest be repeated.

Nothing escapes the fury of Count Julian. History, tradition, ritual and that which goes by the name of progress are all lacerated. Seneca, the great Stoical philosopher who opened his veins in the most futile of all gestures, symbolizes what Goytisolo obviously regards as the absurdity of Spanish nobility, the poverty of Spanish philosophy.

But the very end of the book provides an insight into the true relationship between Count Julian and Spain across the straits. "tomorrow," he says, "will be another day, the invasion will begin all over again"

There is no period at the end of that sentence—the last in the book. What could possibly be more stoical than that? …

Count Julian is an effort to revise the Spanish language and bring the Spanish novel into the 20th century. It is the spiritual heir of Ulysses, most of Beckett, Naked Lunch and Last Exit to Brooklyn. It has minor flaws such as the obviousness of much of its symbolism and the obscurity of some of its historical allusions, but its overall success in mapping the hell of Julian's mind is an impressive literary achievement.

Stephen Klaidman, "Heart of Darkness," in Book World—The Washington Post (© The Washington Post), June 16, 1974, p. 2.

[Count Julian is] a very literary achievement, an elegant and accomplished novel about impotent rage rather than a cry of rage and impotence itself, and a little too civilized for all the violence it keeps threatening to conjure up….

I say this because the book occasionally behaves as if it were a genuine political act all on its own—it is no more political than any good novel is, and it is less political than some. What it is, is a Spanish work of fiction which has learned the language of phantasmagoria and feigned free association from Latin American writers of the Sixties (Count Julian was first published in Mexico in 1970)…. I don't mean that Goytisolo is imitating or plagiarizing Cortázar, or Lezama Lima, or García Márquez, I mean that the occupied language of Spain is here set free by the emancipated example of other novelists writing in Spanish; once free, having once found what he calls in another context the absolute kingdom of the improbable, Goytisolo creates his own remarkably fluent and funny and intelligent idiom….

Nothing is sacred, nothing is spared. Everything Spanish, from Fray Luis de León to Federico García Lorca by way of Unamuno and Menéndez Pelayo, comes under the hatchet of this exile's scorn. The attack is too undiscriminating in the end to be anything other than an implicit portrait of the attacker, and this is the force of the allusion in the book's title. (p. 40)

Michael Wood, in The New York Review of Books (reprinted with permission from The New York Review of Books; copyright © 1974 NYREV, Inc.), August 8, 1974.

"Count Julian" is the vengeful and surrealistic daydream of a kif-smoking Tangiers dweller who is obsessed by dreams of revenge-through-decadence over the Spain which has exiled him. It combines the flavor of de Sade with the contemporary continental traditions of novelists like Robbe-Grillet and Cortázar: there is also, like a footnote, a young boy guide in the Gide tradition.

The narrator is launching a revolution which he says will consist of sex and intelligence, with support in passing from the international pop culture. At first the attack is limited to squashing flies and spiders between the pages of various Spanish classics, but the author also clashes with a doomed and corrupted Seneca and the fantasy culminates, finally, in the invasion of the mainland by Count Julian, a famous and ferociously perverse Spanish traitor.

It is an extremely sensitively written narrative and comes across with surprising gentleness considering that it amounts to a poison pen letter to Spanish society, comparable perhaps to Picasso's very personal hate-filled comic strip showing the defeat of a pestilent France. Yet even such a vivid scene as the death of an American tourist lady who is fatally bitten by a snake she has been enticed into holding for photographers remains, in the quietly seething flow of phrases, hallucinatory, with not much more weight than conjecture. At such moments, Goytisolo seems to satisfy himself by playing with shock.

The movement of his narrative, a flow of phrases half severed and half connected by colons (a protest against colonialism?), has the effect of a gently delirious reverie; I felt like I was living through an illness with beneficial side effects. I admired "Count Julian" but must say that generally the vagueness of delineated idea combined with the high quality of its style made it come across as a fine patina without the statue. (pp. 25-6)

Martin Washburn, in The Village Voice (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice; copyright © The Village Voice, Inc., 1974), August 15, 1974.

Goytisolo is a most ingenious traveller and writer, and far from monotonous. He has … been an exile since 1957. He was born in Catalonia and educated at the Universities of Barcelona and Madrid; his name is Basque. The only point in mentioning this is that Basque and Catalan cultures are by tradition violently hostile to the classic role of Castile in Spanish history and literature. The Catalans see themselves as dramatic personal volcanoes, as "modern" eruptions in a country vowed to the cults of death and custom. It is natural that Goytisolo should immediately bring Joyce, Malcolm Lowry, Beckett, and even Nabokov to mind, for he looks beyond his country. Exile unites such writers in one important aspect. The exile loses his country, and his only luggage is his language—a smuggled capital or hoard. He locks himself up in it and it becomes a speculative magic, and he himself becomes—as Joyce and Nabokov became—a grammarian of his hatreds and defeated love. (p. 173)

The pain in ["Count Julian"] is not only the pain of exile. The recurrent symbols of the snake, poison, infection, the fighting weapons of insects introduce elements of excess and cruelty that go back to some personal horror which threads the moral indignation of the book. The cripples and beggars are like mutilated insects; on a higher plane, the Spaniards (or, as he would say, the Hispanos) are ridiculed for a sexual puritanism induced by their fierce religion or by the cults of virginity, the mother, and the traditional feeling for racial or ideological purity; the narrator is haunted by a dreadful fantasy of homosexual assault in childhood and of obsessive guilt. This is one of the recurring themes in the elaborate mosaic into which his outcry falls. It, of course, enlarges the sense of rebellion against disgrace and complicity in it. As a diatribe, "Count Julian" is black comedy. It suffers from journalistic punning and a touch or two of the kind of café fantasy more likely to erupt in Barcelona (the home of the fantastic cathedral of the Sagrada Familia) than in the cliché-ridden tertulias of Madrid. The interesting thing is that the love-hate, like Joyce's in "Ulysses," should take the form of a revolt against language forms and syntax; in this century, literature and the arts have been prompt to record the seismic tremors that have dislodged our certainties. Yet "black" though it is, "Count Julian" has a note of jubilation and a devastating, satirical wit. (p. 175)

V. S. Pritchett, "Man Without a Country," in The New Yorker (copyright 1974 by V. S. Pritchett; reprinted by permission of Harold Matson Co., Inc.), October 7, 1974, pp. 173-75.

Properly speaking, Count Julian should be read as part of a trilogy. The first volume is Marks of Identity, the second is Count Julian and the third, the about to be published Juan Without a Country. (p. 250)

Marks of Identity is a departure from the previous Goytisolo novels which were done in the super-realistic mode which had a grip on Spanish literature, and stemmed directly from the political miseries of the calamitous Spain of the late 1940s and 1950s. In Marks of Identity, Goytisolo begins to do a variety of things. Obvious political statement, he feels, is not enough for a novel; he starts to break with form—using a variety of first, second and third persons, he is looking and listening to the breaks in language and, at the same time, he begins to break with form—in the attempt to describe what he is really seeing and feeling, his work becomes less abstract. The autobiography, in broken form, or new form, is begun. Like Joyce, Goytisolo's exiled hero starts at a long voyage, and finally begins with himself, his own childhood, his own town—Barcelona. We see, filtered through the photos and dialogues inside the hero's head—that hero who, walled in by bitter loneliness and rage, is "installed in Paris"—the world of Alvaro. [Alvaro, who dreams up Count Julian, is Goytisolo's Stephen Dedalus.] …

When one reads Count Julian in proper sequence, with its bold, raging, poetic, incantatory rhythms, marvelously translated by Helen R. Lane, it is a book far more accessible to the reader. (p. 251)

Count Julian has been reviewed in this country as the masterpiece of Spain's greatest living writer. Albeit true, the statement is of little use to the reader unless the novel is put into its proper context. Carlos Fuentes, in his New York Times review, did a magnificent job of explaining the relation of Spanish history to the use of the legendary Count Julian. Michael Wood, however, in The New York Review of Books confused matters by assuming that Goytisolo learned his techniques from the modern Latin American novelists. The life force in Goytisolo's work is Spain—and has nothing to do with Latin American genius. Goya, Buñuel, Madrid, Barcelona, outrageous wit—all these play in the formation of Goytisolo's style and his very Spanish way of being obsessed by Spain. Like many Spanish geniuses before him, including Picasso, Goytisolo appears to have benefited by subjecting Spanish passion to French thought. Clearly, in addition to Joyce, he has been influenced by Céline, Jean Genet and the techniques of the nouveau roman. While some of those techniques have produced novels that appear to be somewhat listless—the French novelists in the last decade often seem to lack a subject on which to hang their techniques—in the hands of this Spanish novelist, raging against Spain, the results are explosive. (pp. 251-52)

Barbara Probst Solomon, in The Nation (copyright 1975 by the Nation Associates, Inc.), March 1, 1975.


Goytisolo, Juan (Vol. 23)