Archipelagoes: Insular Fictions from Chivalric Romance to the Novel

By Dangler, Jean | Hispanic Review, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Archipelagoes: Insular Fictions from Chivalric Romance to the Novel


Dangler, Jean, Hispanic Review


PINET, SIMONE. Archipelagoes: Insular Fictions from Chivalric Romance to the Novel. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2011. xxxv + 238 pp.

Archipelagoes is a fascinating, ambitious, and challenging analysis of fiction and space in chivalric literature, mainly from the Amadis to the Quixote. Simone Pinet's expert blending of traditional manuscript study and contemporary theories on narrative and space is one of her book's most important accomplishments, along with its significant contributions to nonmodern literary history and poetics. Pinet builds on the ideas of a number of theorists and literary critics, such as Michel de Certeau, Henri Lefebvre, and Paul Zumthor to demonstrate that the gradual predominance of writing over performance and orality in the late Middle Ages eventually produced a narrative structure based on chance, hazard, and ambiguity, which arose in the idea of the marvelous in Spanish chivalric fiction (xxvi). She argues that the island became the space of adventure in Spanish books of chivalry roughly simultaneously with the emergence of the cartographic genre on islands called the isolarlo. Pinet's arguments hinge on the connections between literature (that is, narrative figured as a space) and cartography, and especially on multiple understandings of insularity, including as islands surrounded by water and as a block of buildings (xxvii). Her last main argument entails the dual shift that occurred from the popularity of cartography and chivalric romances during the sixteenth century to their ensuing substitution by the atlas and the novel.

In chapter one, "From Forest to Island: Sites of Adventure from Arthur to Amadis," Pinet argues that in contrast to the pivotal role of the forest in French romance, the island and the archipelago were crucial to Spanish chivalric fiction, which she attributes to changes in Iberia's late medieval imaginary. The "insular turn" in Spanish literature reflected broader shifts in community organization, whereby urban centers replaced rural communities and isolation was connected to property ownership (22). Pinet shows that the public's interest in reading about marvels in travel accounts was connected to a chivalric ideology that dignified knightly virtues through individual deeds, which she illustrates especially in the Libro del caballero Çifar.

Chapter two, "Islands and Maps: A Very Short History," explores the importance of cartography in the development of the romance. Pinet claims that what became attractive and beneficial about geography in the production of literature was the malleability of islands, the ease with which they could be arranged in different ways, and their "ambiguity and openness to relocation" (40). Fiction and maps paralleled one another as narrative producers of spaces within texts and outside them, each serving as "mirrors of the world" (30). Among the many examples that support parallels between the development of insularity and fiction in the late Middle Ages is the way that islands evoked nar ratability in the Arabic geographical imagination (45). Chapter two largely treats relevant features in the history of cartography, as well as the emergence of the cartographic genre of the isolano in the fifteenth century. Although the latter was eventually eclipsed by the atlas, isolarli also enjoyed a second wave of popularity with the atlas's rise in the seventeenth century, thus spanning approximately two hundred years. Pinet identifies a series of what she calls paradigms or abstractions that structured people's understanding of islands until the rise of chivalric literature, such as otherness, monstrosity, lost islands, sacredness, and exile. Similarly, she pinpoints another series of principles that demonstrate the utility of the insular motif for narrative space, induding the invocation of the marvelous and the hyperconsciousness of a limit. These paradigms and principles constituted possibilities for authors to explore in the isolani and in novels of chivalry. …

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