Gustavo PÉrez Firmat


Literary criticism is a partial art; it can also, on occasion, become a martial art. Let me proffer one last illustration. In Tiempo de silencio, the bellicose proliferation of diseased cells is labeled a “gigantesco estropicio” (p. 197). In Don Juan Tenorio, the impact of carnival -- and of Don Juan -- on Seville is described as follows:

¡Válgame Dios! ¡Qué bullicio!
¡Cómo se le arremolina
chusma . . . ! ¡Y cómo la acoquina
él solo . . . ! ¡Qué estropicio! (I.I.3)

What’s in a word? A depiction of cancer as a carnival site, of metastasis as a conga line or festival procession? What’s in a word? Estropicio descends from the Latin deturpare, to disfigure, which in turn goes back to turpis, ugly or deformed. But who is the breeder of cancerous mice, the avatar of estropicio, if not Muecas, whose very name is disfigurement?

Are these connections far-fetched? Are they themselves an estropicio or disfigurement of the critic’s task, of his desire for intelligibility? Perhaps. In the end, the issue comes back to urbanity: I would like to think that there is room -- in our literature, yes, but especially in our criticism -- for a discourse that is not urbane. Urbanity implies civility, polish, detachment, understatement, good breeding. I want to make a plea for critical rudeness, for critical crudeness, for overstatement, for relajo, for what I would call sub-urbanity, were it not for the hygienic connotations of the word in contemporary society. When this book was in manuscript, one of its readers commented that it dealt with “some of the most repugnant bodily acts.” But criticism, I would maintain, is a bodily act, and even a repugnant one, in the literal sense of the word. I want to make a plea for repugnant bodily acts: the house of fiction could use an outhouse of criticism (an in-house outhouse, however -- an in-and-out house -- for criticism is a fictional kind). I want to make a plea, finally, for a discourse of limits that is also, liminally, a discourse off-limits.