Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Between Agency and Determinism: A Critical Review of Clarín Studies

Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Between Agency and Determinism: A Critical Review of Clarín Studies

Article excerpt

American Hispanism today is witnessing a perspectival shift that has the potential to alter fundamentally both the object and mode of study that our students will undertake in the very near future. Spanish departments that have focused, until recently, entirely on literature are expanding offerings to include courses on art, cultural anthropology, cinema, and other forms of mass media. Canonical areas of study, such as the Spanish Golden Age or fiction of the Latin-American Boom, are losing pride of place to these increasingly interdisciplinary subjects popular among younger faculty members and students. This article reviews studies of the work of Leopoldo Alas (Clarín), by examining some of the ideological determinants that have influenced criticism from the publication of La Regenta in 1884 up to this moment of great change, and also to suggest what the future of Clarín studies should be within Hispanic studies. My own view of Clarín studies is inspired by the critical realist approach of Roy Bhaskar and especially of social theorist Margaret Archer, who critique the reductionist and essentialist interpretations of subjectivity and the operations of cultural systems. I employ a simplified version of Archer's model to help describe the fluctuations in approaches to human agency and determinism.

In developing an alternative framework for describing distinctive human properties and powers, Archer outlines the shortcomings of two basic and overlapping approaches to the way we often account for human agency. "Modernity's man," Archer's term for the Enlightenment model that focuses on the autonomy of the individual, assumes that "Rational man" is at the center of the human universe and the source of all that makes society what it is. Beyond dispute is "Modernity man's" ability to choose, even if choices are weakened by emotions and passions. "Society's being," on the contrary, is Archer's term for the social constructivist's view of human autonomy as a mere cultural artifact, the product of the modernist and now postmodernist onslaught on humanity that asserts the primacy of linguistic structure over human agency, ultimately dissolving the possibility of true agency (Being Human 25). In this model, human beings are reduced to mere subjects through which messages pass, and, as a result, "the self becomes dissolved into discursive structures" (3). Since the eighteenth century, Western thought has fluctuated between these two models of human agency, sometimes described as voluntarism or determinism, and predictably these entrenched models inform both literary works and the ever-changing business of literary analysis.1

Both rational choice theorists and those who see the individual as "Society's man" typically defend their positions initially through a strategy of silence that insures nonreciprocity. Similarly, following the publication of La Regenta, we can distinguish two nonreciprocal camps: the Catholic/feudal/Carlista group and the liberal/bo urgeo is/Republican-leaning group of critics, who reacted to the novel in radically different ways that seem on the surface irreconcilable. Though relatively few in number, examples of these two contradictory readings appeared in Spanish newspapers during the 18905 when the literary battles of the day were hard fought and reflected ideologically charged programs stretching far beyond the aesthetic properties of the work of art. The public awaited the appearance of La Regenta with morbid curiosity since Clarín's acerbic wit had spared so few of his fellow writers and because he had already cemented his reputation as an anticlerical writer. Shortly before publishing the first volume of the novel, Clarín told his friend Galdos that only Galdós, Pereda, and perhaps Valera and Alarcón, were "real" novelists (qtd. in Vilanova, "Introducción" 11), and Clarín knew that to aspire to this tiny group of "real" authors, which he himself had ensured would be as select as possible, would be no small feat. …

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