Juan Goytisolo Goytisolo, Juan (Vol. 23) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Juan Goytisolo 1931–

Spanish novelist.

Goytisolo lives in exile in France, having been a vociferous critic of the Franco regime in Spain. A leading member of the new wave in Spanish writing, he is considered the best Spanish novelist of his generation.

Goytisolo's theme is moral decay and in a powerfully violent prose he conveys his belief that literature should be committed to social progress. Kessel Schwartz describes him: "A disoriented victim of his own idealism …, he denounces with nightmarish intensity the system which falls so much short of the impossible paradise he once visualized…."

(See also CLC, Vols. 5, 10 and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 85-88.)

Ronald Schwartz

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Señas de identidad [Marks of Identity] is a thrilling, ironic, trenchantly pessimistic, brilliant novel…. (p. 193)

[It] is a work of total desperation, a pessimistic vision, a novelatestimonio, presenting a startlingly new kind of Realism, but above all, a work of art faithful to the contemporary narrative and its new conception…. Goytisolo feels every Spanish novelist has a distinct social mission—his is not to let anyone forget what happened in Spain….

Señas de identidad has been praised internationally. (p. 195)

On the other side of the coin, Señas has been accused of having flaws, essentially because of the great imbalance between its themes and real experience, its tendency towards idealizations based on fictions rather than true knowledge based upon fact (especially with reference to Spanish political questions), and Goytisolo's imprecise use of language, replete with errors. Goytisolo has acknowledged there was an excessive concern (or preoccupation) with portrayal of "vital experiences" rather than directing his energies towards conceiving a singularly harmonious and truly artistic work of fiction. (pp. 195-96)

The salient stylistic characteristics of Señas are the author's narrative skill, his creative imagination, the vividness of his language, the successful use of cinematographic images, a well-constructed, authentically Spanish plot, and a personal, intimate style alternating with interior monologue, realistic dialogue, lyrical passages with erotic scenes...

(The entire section is 654 words.)

Kessel Schwartz

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Goytisolo represents much that is typical of the new writers in his interpretation of a Spain haunted by its Civil War memories and subjected to a political and religious censorship. (p. 22)

His novels, in their effort to define the contemporary Spaniard, extract incidents from his own experience. Even though he claims that a complete realism is impossible, that absolute truths are difficult to accept and that a real novelist must accept various possibilities, in his novels he traces the development of his generation from youth to maturity as he describes the adolescent misery, part self-aggrandizement and partially self-disparagement, and the weakness and strengths, such as they are, which are part of the fabric of Spanish society. Constantly, in his novels, the theme is one of contrast between the world of reality and the fairy tale world of make-believe, of innocence and fable. His characters seek escape from their tragic world, through travel to Italy, romantic escape to America, living behind a series of masks, creating unreal worlds of the imagination in which to live, and refusal to grow up. The persistent theme accounts for overused symbols and stylistic monotony…. (p. 23)

Goytisolo's preoccupation with truth caused him to examine the opposing forces engendered by the war, which helped him view clearly the tragedy of humble, unglamorous lives, and the capacity for suffering shared by all human beings. He writes of anguished times, defections from human dignity, nightmare experiences of a disintegrating society, crudities and violence, and a repudiation of traditional values. The unbelievable poverty to be seen outside the large cities, the temporary hovels erected by homeless people, and the tomb-like government housing are as grotesque as the fantasy creations of the characters in some of his novels, and some of the situations he creates.

Critics, for this reason, have questioned the reality of his protagonists. Yet what may seem false characterization may also be explained as the reality of an unusual situation brought about by a Civil War and life under a dictatorship. Also, although he breaks with the customs of the past, as a member of a new generation, he has obviously read Spanish picaresque literature and the works of Pío Baroja and Valle-Inclán. His heroes resemble traditional pícaros who also lived in a Spain of hunger and violence, although Goytisolo's protagonists present a greater self-analysis, emptiness, anguish, and lack of hope in the spiritual crisis through which they pass…. It is true enough that his novels present real geography, real history, real roads and place names, and real current events, but he sees them often as through a deforming mirror. (p. 24)

Goytisolo also uses American words and sentences to flavor his novels and to reflect the growing importance of the United States in current Spanish literary realism. Many of his characters speak a language liberally laced with Americana, names such as Betty, Gerald, Ellen, Vicky, and George; products such as Chesterfield, Lucky Strike, jeep, Coca cola; American performers and institutions such as Grar (sic) Gable, Walt Disney, New York Times, and Middlebury College in Reading (sic)…. (p. 25)

The American himself for Goytisolo is an ugly, drunken, destructive, sexually aroused buffoon. His characters view him as the one to blame for everything (the Americans may even have an atom bomb hidden on their ships). American women are easy to take to bed. Rich Americans are easily duped. Americans pay well (rich Americans are liked by some Spaniards). Americans spend most of their time visiting bars. Americans discriminate against Negroes. America is full of gangsters. Americans exterminate Indians. Even when Goytisolo does not present them as downright deceitful and drunk, Americans are unappealing, with "rosy and inexpressive faces" or "doll-like eyes." In short, the moral decay which Goytisolo describes in Spain is intensified because many of the younger generation are changing their ways and imitating the wrong things, especially Americans, who will not help the unhappy heirs of a land destroyed by hate and violence where true communication and understanding are almost impossible. Thus, while rejecting Americans, American social, political, and economic policies, he accepts American literary tradition, seeing it as the synthesis of an older European one with American revolt.

Goytisolo was impressed by the French writers Proust, Malraux, Laclos, Flaubert, and especially Gide. Pavese and Vittorini of Italy complete the major influences on him.

Goytisolo has also been compared to Alain Robbe-Grillet, and at one time he considered himself an objectivist novelist and disciple of Robbe-Grillet…. He considered (very...

(The entire section is 1985 words.)

Kessel Schwartz

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Goytisolo's women, trapped by life and history, offer us a deformed and grotesque glimpse of what is generally accepted as the feminine essence. Part of this vision relates to the author's rejection of a reality and morality belonging to the middle classes; but in the process of destroying institutions he also destroys relationships involving women. In spite of his male protagonists' cool detachment from "happenings," they react solipsistically, using women as passive entities through which they can project their own modifications and thus attempt to free themselves from some tormenting problem. Whether or not woman adheres to outmoded Spanish codes, she serves as a kind of backdrop against which the action occurs, though she herself may be victim, oppressor, lover, mother, dream image, or whore.

Goytisolo's male protagonists, sadistic and negative, employ pejorative descriptions which reflect the lack of spiritual implications involved in their reaction to women. Though Goytisolo accepts, up to a point, the medieval idea that woman must be either saint or whore …, all of them are sex objects to be entered. His characters reflect unconscious and obscure anxieties, and his scenes involve sexual organs, castration-like decapitations, and anal intercourse. In his cacographic scenes of urinating on the sex of the Daughter of the American Revolution, he goes far beyond what we think of as Spanish machismo. Attempting to degrade...

(The entire section is 484 words.)

Reed Anderson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In La reivindicación del Conde Don Julián (Count Julian)] we are propelled into the world of powerful and militantly aggressive satire. (p. 366)

[Goytisolo was responding to a] sense of futility and impotence … within the specific political and cultural circumstances of Spain in the 1950's and 60's, and … [he] sought to overcome this crisis by revising the entire concept of what was to be attacked through … [his] writing, and by revising as well both the weapons and the strategy for carrying out that attack.

The weapons which Goytisolo marshals for his assault are the traditional arms of the satirist: complex parody and quotation, traditional fables, parables and...

(The entire section is 1109 words.)

Genaro J. PéRez

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


[Campos de Níjar (1960) and La chanca (1962)] are travelogues of an unusual type since the narrator uses the genre to criticize the Spanish government for allowing the social ills he witnesses. As a consequence, he is highly selective in what he is showing to the reader, and the works should be considered as written documentaries of the social conditions of the people and the areas of Spain displayed. An important reason for studying the travelogues is their relationship to later novels; some motifs of these two works will appear in Señas de identidad, Don Julián, and Juan sin tierra, and it may be recalled that the novel in general is related to...

(The entire section is 525 words.)

Genaro J. PéRez

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


Señas de identidad, published in 1966, is the first of Goytisolo's [Mendiola Trilogy], comprised of his most recent three novels that reflect a new perspective in the writing of fiction in Spain and representing what this study calls his period of maturity. Some of the views that helped shape Señas de identidad, Reivindicación del conde don Julián (1970) and Juan sin tierra [Juan the Landless] (1975) began to be expressed in a collection of critical essays, El furgón de cola, published in 1967. In these essays Goytisolo criticizes the Generation of 1898, the commercialization of Spain, and the mediocrity of most of the novels published after...

(The entire section is 2062 words.)

Michael Ugarte

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Throughout Goytisolo's literary production, but especially in the later works (1966 to the present), there is a pronounced desire to re-evaluate and reorder the literary tradition of Spain. Don Julián, typical of this obsession with Spanish literature, can be read as a recreation of literary history, a rereading and reassessment of the works which have come to be known as classics. Goytisolo's reading, his vehemently negative attitude toward some texts and profound admiration of others, is his writing. This intertextual element allows Goytisolo to place himself and his own text within the very tradition which he attempts to destroy. (p. 615)

Of all the facets of Spanish culture and history...

(The entire section is 1681 words.)

Joseph Schraibman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Goytisolo continues in Makbara his earlier explorations into the language and structure of the novel, his attacks on traditional bourgeois twentieth-century consumerism and traditionalism. He also adds a stronger emphasis on languages and cultures of the Third World, more specifically Arabic in Morocco. Goytisolo constructs a seemingly asystematic collage of intertextual references. He is a master of equivocation, of multiple meanings, of supreme verbal pyrotechnics. His parodies include sacred texts such as the Bible or profane ones from classical literature to contemporary moguls. His defiant tone reminds one of Baudelaire, of Cernuda, of Voltaire; his ironies of Cervantes, of the Archpriest of Hita, of...

(The entire section is 357 words.)

Joseph Schraibman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It is indeed curious that Goytisolo begins [La chanca] his first-person account of a visit to Almería by asserting that Spaniards cannot stand an absence from their country very well. Goytisolo had already been living in voluntary exile for some years when the first edition of this novel appeared in Paris in 1962. Of course, especially since Señas de identidad (1966) to Makbara (1980 …) his works have dealt with the ravages of exile on the soul of the exiled. Thus Goytisolo has made common cause through the ages with the likes of Blanco White, Cernuda, Américo Castro and many others, all sharing a deeply felt love-hate relationship toward Mother Spain. They have been forced to leave Spain by...

(The entire section is 349 words.)

Dru Dougherty

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Before his self-exile in 1963, Goytisolo was just one of the young neo-realists who kept alive the issue of social justice following the close of Spain's Civil War. Even then, in novels like The Young Assassins (1954) and The Party's Over (1962), his target was the bourgeoisie, the social and economic infrastructure that supported the Dictatorship and profited from its policies. But with Marks of Identity (1966), Goytisolo launched a project of introspection that in Count Julian (1970) and Juan the Landless (1975) led to a more inclusive view of the bourgeoisie. No longer was the novelist able to maintain the illusion that he was separate from the dominant class. Not only did it...

(The entire section is 804 words.)