Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Play and the Picaresque. Lazarillo De Tormes, Libro De Manuel and Match Ball

Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Play and the Picaresque. Lazarillo De Tormes, Libro De Manuel and Match Ball

Article excerpt

Play and the Picaresque. Lazarillo de Tonnes, Libro de Manuel and Match Ball. By Gordana Yovanovich. Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1999. x+152 pages.

Yovanovich writes with a confident assertiveness that makes one stop and reconsider one's own opinions, which is a big plus. But having been enjoyably startled, I find on reflection that I am not fully persuaded by her approach, though this may well be due to a combination of age and ignorance. She takes an updated, post-Parker view of the picaresque, with elements drawn from Rico, Guillen and Alter, and combines it with Huitzinger and Meeker on play, comedy and survival. The resulting theory is applied first to the Lazarillo and then to Cortazar's Libro de Manuel along with Skarmeta's Match Ball, neither of which last I should previously have thought of as picaresque texts. She brings to bear on all three novels assumptions which, at least to me, are unfamiliar and challenging. Ultimately, as she explains in the introduction, she is interpreting picaresque narratives in terms of "anarchic forms of Bakhtinian carnivalesque play" which, however, have the serious function of contributing to "individual or human survival" (6). One's appreciation of the entire book depends on how far one is willing to go along with such an interpretation.

We begin, then, with a re-reading of the Lazarillo "from the point of view of play and playing" (10), one which Yovanovich asserts has not hitherto been taken adequately into account. Along the way she introduces the notion that spontaneous play (as distinct from structured games) is related to survival through the concept of "empowerment." The thrust of her approach in chapter 3, on the Lazarillo, is thus "to examine the novel in Bakhtinian terms of recreative play and carnivalesque, festive laughter." The bitter, disturbing, rancourous or satirical elements, she contends, are "clearly integrated with the optimistic outlook and playful attitude in the novel" (53). This is a possible reading and Yovanovich buttresses it with some analysis of incidents in the text. But what one chiefly finds are statements, not arguments, and the sometimes ambiguous use of words and expressions like .power play," "competition," "tricks" and "cunning" which are related to spontaneous play, but often quite different from it. …

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