Transcendence as Hyperbole in "La Fuerza De la Sangre"

By Byrne, Susan | Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America, Spring 2018 | Go to article overview

Transcendence as Hyperbole in "La Fuerza De la Sangre"


Byrne, Susan, Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America


In his prologue to the Novelas ejemplares, Miguel de Cervantes says of the short stories in this collection first published in 1613: 'Heles dado nombre de ejemplares, y si bien lo miras, no hay ninguna de quien no se pueda sacar algun ejemplo provechoso" (1: 52). Following that explicit statement, and given the difficulties in finding clear ethical or moral principles relatable to today's readers in many of the storylines, the word 'exemplary' is here perhaps best read as it was defined by Cervantes's contemporary Sebastian de Covarrubias: "el original," that is, the first, as Cervantes himself states with pride of the collected novelas: "son mias propias, no imitadas ni hurtadas; mi ingenio las engendro, y las pario mi pluma [...] yo soy el primero que he novelado en lengua castellana" (1: 52). (1) In what follows, I do not seek to redeem the plot messaging of "La fuerza de la sangre" on contemporary ethical or moral terms. The list of those who have done so is long and impressive, (2) but those readings have taken seriously the story's plot, imagery and symbolism, with little to no regard paid to the underground, tongue-in-cheek humor of the novela, one that can be said to take the form of a deliberate structural irony. Cervantes's use of excessive imagery and symbolism leads his reader to a state of obsessive stupor over the oddities of a plot that just does not satisfy absent a deeper meaning. Like his character Leocadia, the reader feels tweaked and faint in the face of such abundance but unlike her, that reader does not awaken suddenly aware of truths beyond his or her years. To the contrary, s/he tends to remain obsessed over the symbols and images. I propose that the awaited light of understanding might just be found in the two most enigmatic details of the plot: Leocadias bursts of wisdom, and her inexplicable, repentine smittenness with Rodolfo. Both of those aspects of the story can be linked to philosophical imagery regarding Neoplatonic transcendence and in what follows, I will study how Cervantes creatively adapts and terrestrially re-purposes that imagery. My goal is to highlight the structural irony in his narrative exemplarity, still reading that last term to mean innovation or originality. In 1597, Francis Bacon used 'transcendence' to mean poetic exaggeration or hyperbole (17). Cervantes, I believe, dramatized that philosophicalto-literary trope exchange in this story published just a little over a decade later.

Transcendence of the sort practiced by Plotinus and early Christianera Hermetists was revived and given new impetus by fifteenth-century philosopher Marsilio Ficino with his Latin translations of and commentaries on those authors. In Spanish letters, the impact of Ficino's writings would be pervasive and long-lasting (Byrne, Ficino in Spain). Known more for his realism than for any type of mystical escapism, Miguel de Cervantes was nonetheless part of that same artistic environment and his works show its influence in myriad ways. (3) In "La fuerza de la sangre" the resonance is subtle but noteworthy, and the story can be linked to some of the most enigmatic ideas of Ficino himself those regarding spiritus, a decidedly multivalent term in the Italian philosopher's writings. For example, the spiritus-mundi links world soul to world body, a microcosmic version of that spiritus is the knot and bond of human soul to human body, and there are three types of spiritus, vehicles of soul: the fiery, the airy, and the compound. Other spiritus are daemones or heroes and, as D.P. Walker noted, there is a strong connection between spiritus and music in Ficino (8:136-43). (4) Finally, incorporating to a certain extent some of the traits of those other Ficinian spiritus, there is yet another that is a vapor of the blood. This particular spiritus is generated by the heat of the heart to animate both body and intellect, it emanates from the eyes to enamor or to bewitch, and it enables soul in a variety of ways, most importantly allowing it to process sensory information from the outside world. …

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