"NI NOVELA NI NIVOLA": THE PURPOSE OF METAFICTION IN UNAMUNO'S NIEBLA AND MERINO'S LOS INVISIBLES.
Jose Maria Merino, Los invisibles, 274
" Que es el mundo real sino el sueno que sonamos todos, el sueno comun?"
Augusto Perez, Chapter XXXII, Niebla, 145
In what must be one of the most memorable openings in fiction, Benito Perez Galdos begins El amigo Manso (1882) with these words: "Yo no existo ..." and ends the opening paragraph with "no soy, ni he sido, ni sere nunca nadie" (7). Dramatized author Galdos, already an author of 30 novels, approaches this non-entity Manso to help him write another novel. Manso agrees and Galdos creates him by plunging the idea of him into ink, putting it on paper, setting the paper aflame, and placing it all in a flask, from which Manso emerges out of a red flame "convertido en carne mortal" (9). Galdos creates this "mortal flesh" from an idea that he writes into being. Miguel de Unamuno similarly wanted his reader to be able to perceive the life force within his characters (his "agonists"), which came from the characters' desire for life. No amount of attention to the process of writing could enliven his characters; thus, while Unamuno employed the metafictional mode--most famously in Niebla (1914) -, he did so only to serve his idealist and existentialist interrogation of the nature of reality and to explore art as a way to (re-)create and enhance reality. Nearly a century later, Jose Maria Merino would write Los invisibles (2000), with its second part entitled "Ni novela ni nivola," which focuses on the generation of the story that we have read in the first part. Like Unamuno, Merino will emphasize the co-dependence of creator and created, author and reader, reader and protagonist in the creation of reality; how ever, Merino's reality includes the noumenal as well as the phenomenal, such as the ideas created through or re-created from fiction. Niebla and Los invisibles dramatize their creators within the text, but the creators of these works include the flesh-and-blood authors and readers, as well, who are re-created through their mutual interpenetration in the lives of the protagonists, or "agonists." Such inter-penetration can assuage the loneliness of existence, metaphorically rendered in Merino through the image of los invisibles. The metafictional mode makes visible a craft usually hidden to the reader; thus, aside from making characters visible who would otherwise be invisible, Merino makes the process of fiction visible, as well.
I have confined this essay to the meaning and purpose of metafiction in Niebla and Los invisibles. Given that Merino titles the second part of his novel "Ni novela ni nivola," I have sought to differentiate Merino's use of the self-reflexive mode from Unamuno's, which I ground in their unique approaches to the relationship between art and life. While I cite from several works of non-fiction authored by Unamuno or Merino, it has not been my intent to provide a rationale for their use of metafiction in Niebla and Los invisibles based on their critical essays but rather through textual analysis of the novels themselves. After describing these novels and identifying their metafictional elements, I will examine the way that art "invades" life in each novel and the relationship that this establishes between art and life--what it means to exist, whether in fiction or in reality, and the freedom and necessity inherent in both. The process of creation, rather than the creation (or story) itself, leads to self-knowledge, interpenetration, and, ultimately, an understanding of reality.
Proof of the metafictional nature of these two novels lies in any attempt to render their plot summaries. Indubitably, one can provide a list of "events" for each story, but both novels relate so much more than the story of their ostensible protagonists. If I were to confine myself to telling you that one day Augusto Perez leaves his house and whimsically decides to pursue a beautiful woman whom he does not know but with whom he convinces himself he has become enamored, that he allows himself to be manipulated and deceived by her and the object of her affection, and that he dies a mysterious death after visiting the renowned author Unamuno, I would not only be omitting several important details of the story, but I would be overlooking all the metafictional elements employed to force the reader to confront the nature and interconnectedness of art and reality--a far more weighty story than that of the cavillations of a love-sick fool. While he was critical of the self-reflexive mode in Como se hace una novela (1927), (1) Unamuno is able to employ it to make Augusto "palpitate with life," for nowhere is Augusto more of an agonist than when he confronts his creator and declares, " - Don Miguel, por Dios, quiero vivir, quiero ser yo!" (260). Augusto suffers, as Unamuno, himself, did, from the tragic sentiment of not knowing if he is real and if he will live beyond his story, a story which forms only a part of the novel. Indeed, the novel begins with two prologues, which should be considered part of the novel and not the traditional front matter with extradiegetic information about the creation of the text. The creation of the text is the story that Unamuno wishes to tell with Niebla, and he wishes to do so by toppling the authoritarian Realist narrator of the nineteenth century. Thus, he creates the neologism nivola, the apocryphal Victor Goti to introduce his work, the intercalated stories, the confrontation between "real" author Unamuno and character Augusto, and an epilogue in the voice of the agonist's dog--all of which highlight the process of story-telling and the creation of fiction. We would be Hellenic (2) as critics if we were to try to separate the fiction from the reality, life from art, in this novel, for as Victor Goti relates in his prologue, Unamuno's purpose is to confound (confundir)-all is fiction, but all is, nevertheless, real. (3)
Summarizing Adrian's story does a similar injustice to Merino's novel, whose metafictional elements do not manifest themselves until the second and third parts. The first part of Los invisibles, "La historia que conto Adrian," is the most focused on story and the most extensive of the novel. Although it begins with the intriguing prolepsis--"Adrian no podia imaginar que aquella misma noche se iba a volver invisible," the reader might interpret this as a metaphorical invisibility, which is how it initially presents itself. Adrian remains aloof from the other family members who gather, as they do every June, to celebrate his grandfather's birthday, la noche de San Juan, a magical night of bonfires and superstitious practices to welcome summer and summon good fortune. He feels invisible and embarks on a walk through the forest, to avoid hearing his aunts and uncles discuss the finances of his grandfather. While on this walk, he comes upon a blue, fragrant flower, which he touches and which makes him invisible to all but other invisibles, whom he will meet later in this first part. He falls in love with the first invisible whom he meets, Rosa, and travels with her to a warmer climate, where they happen upon a community of invisibles that they briefly join before being lured to the estate where the Cazador is hunting the invisibles. After escaping and returning to Rosa's native town, they separate while Rosa visits her sister. During this time Adrian becomes visible again by standing close to a monument made of the same mysterious stone as a talisman that Adrian and Rosa discover, and that they throw into the sea because it has been and could be used again to deceive the invisibles. The second part of Los invisibles, entitled "Ni novela ni nivola" relates how Adrian approaches the dramatized author Merino to write his story--what we have just read in Part I--and their collaboration in crafting it. The final section, "El mensaje" runs only a few pages because the author admits that the message was stolen from him and offers the fact that this story has no message as evidence of the veracity of what has been narrated.
Indeed, Merino's insistence on the truth of his fiction differentiates Los invisibles from Niebla, for Unamuno never disputes the fictionality of Augusto; whereas, Merino insists on the truth of Adrian's story and on the noumenal existence of Adrian. Although it may seem that Adrian goes from fictional entity to "real person" in the second part of Los invisibles, he is still a fictional entity who meets a fictionalized author Merino. Such an encounter never really takes place in "the real world," only in the fictional construct of the novel. The practice of mise en abyme, of stories nested within other stories, creates different levels of diegesis; however, no such parallel ordering of reality exists. There are flesh-and-blood readers and authors, and there are fictional constructs, some of whom may bear the same name as flesh-and-blood people, yet the fact remains that they become fictional entities when co-created by readers and authors through the words on the page of a text. Benedicte Vauthier makes this point in refuting Geoffrey Ribbans' identification of the meeting between Augusto and Unamuno in Niebla as the "momento culminante" when "los planos de ente de ficcion y de autor--y lector--ahora se funden por completo" (Ribbans 237). "Pues no," Vauthier writes, "no hay fusion entre dos planos aqui, sino, como acabamos de ver, encuentro entre dos personajes ficticios" (30). The same is true of this meeting between Adrian and dramatized author Merino: it is the meeting of two fictional constructs despite the reader's knowledge that a flesh-and-blood author who corresponds to the construct Merino in the text also exists. Adrian's desire to be seen and, thus, form a part of reality approximates Augusto's ardent desire to exist that he expresses to his creator. But Adrian does not have to convince Merino that he is real. Merino accepts this and collaborates with him to write his story, whose message is for the other invisibles.
In both Niebla and Los invisibles we have characters who confront or meet with the authors of their story, thereby "invading" the "real" world, characters who become narrators themselves to tell either their own or someone else's story, characters who are writing a "chronicle" or nivola, and dramatized authors who directly address their readers. The term "metafiction" was not coined until 1970, (4) and yet the mode pre-dates the modern novel. Insofar as the metafictional novel takes the writing process and the language of which it is constituted as its subject--that is, language as both form and content, the work escapes a certain referential fallacy that discourse about the material, empirical world cannot escape. While critics and theorists of the metafictional mode abound, Robert Alter's Partial Magic (1975), Linda Hutcheon's Narcissistic Narrative (1980), and Patricia Waugh's Metafiction (1984) serve as foundational works. Among the criticism in Spanish, Dotras' La novela espanola de metaficcion (1994) stands out for its clarity, concision, and analysis of the seminal Spanish works of metafiction: el Quijote, Galdos' El amigo Manso, Niebla, and Torrente's Fragmentos and La isla de los jacintos cortados. Merino also expounds on the nature of metafiction, not only in the course of his novels, but also in critical essays, such as "Los limites de la ficcion" (2005). Hutcheon's definition is the simplest--"fiction about fiction--that is, fiction that includes within itself a commentary on its own narrative and/or linguistic identity" (1). Merino's concept of metaliteratura involves the invasion of the world of the flesh-and-blood author and/or reader--the 'mundo real'--by 'el mundo ficticio': "Esa invasion," writes Merino, "determina que ese libro pueda ser considerado una metaficcion" ("Limites" 83). Merino cites Cortazar's "Continuidad de los parques" as an example of "una invasion" when he discusses the "ficcion en la ficcion" (mise en abyme) type of metaliteratura. Unlike fictional works with only one level of reality, which ask readers to suspend their disbelief and co-create a pseudo-reality through the words on the page, metaliteratura contains at least a second level of narration that makes one level seem real when it is not or fictive when it is "real"--the case of Cortazar's story. In "Continuidad de los parques," the protagonist resumes his reading of a story of a lover's tryst, one whose purpose is to plot the murder of the woman's partner. The very short story concludes with the lover's entry into the room where the protagonist reads the story with his back to the door the "fiction" invades the "reality." Merino actually envisions reality as a type of "ficcion primaria silvestre, sin elaboracion alguna" ("El narrador" 27). When he inserts "lo ficticio en lo ficticio," he aims to create "una apariencia que tiene mucho que ver con el viejo mito tan arraigado en lo espanol, en que vida y sueno acaban confundiendose" ("El narrador" 27). Naturally, Calderon de la Barca's La vida es sueno comes to mind with this citation, but so, too, does el Quijote, with which Cervantes achieves his "extraordinaria ambicion, no de poner el libro en la realidad de la vida, sino de meter la realidad de la vida dentro del libro" ("Ecos" 40)--precisely what Unamuno and Merino mimic in including themselves in these novels.
C. Alex Longhurst notes in "The Survival of Genre: Cervantine Paradigms in Unamuno, Valle-Inclan, and Perez de Ayala," that "[t]he dominant concern in the novel becomes not simply the adventures of Quixote and Sancho but storytelling itself. Cervantes does not stop at narrating a story: he makes his characters tell stories" (248). Both Unamuno and Merino employ the technique of mise en abyme (stories within stories, reflections within mirrors) and the invasion of fiction into the real world but to different ends. Unamuno uses the nested stories of Eloino; Victor; and the viuda patrona and Don Avito Carrascal, whose son Apolodoro commited suicide, to thematicize love, marriage, infidelity, suicide, and the process of storytelling. In Merino's novel, as Adrian listens to Poldo tell him and Rosa about the Cazador, Adrian interjects his objections to its seeming illogicalities--just as dramatized author Merino (an audience, or listener, for Adrian) will object to writing parts of Adrian's story that do not seem realistic. Thus, in Unamuno, the sublevels of narration develop themes; in Merino, the sublevels call attention to process and medium. In both novels, the fictional world invades the real world (as it does in the Cortazar story) as the characters of Augusto and Adrian seek meetings with well-known authors in the real world--Unamuno and Merino, respectively. In Niebla dramatized author Unamuno will insist on the fictionality of Augusto's world; whereas, his homologue Merino accepts the reality of Adrian even as he doubts elements of Adrian's story. Author and character, thus, in Los invisibles inhabit the same space, or 'hiperespacio ficcional' ("Limites" 84). In Niebla, Unamuno purportedly inhabits the "realidad material" while Augusto inhabits 'el mundo ficticio,' yet readers would erroneously assume that the reality of Augusto suffers for his being an ente de ficcion. For Unamuno, the protagonists of fiction have greater life than their creators since the idea of them palpitates with life in the minds of the reader while the author of the text remains amorphous and unknown.
The order with which the characters in Niebla and Los invisibles are introduced dictates whether the fiction invades the real--as it does in these two novels--or whether the real invades the fiction, as it does in the second part of the Quijote, where the characters comment on their portrayal in the unauthorized Part II. Thus, Unamuno begins with the apocryphal Victor Goti and uses the space of the prologue, which would normally provide true details regarding the writing of a work--its historical context or its inspiration, for example--to create the first assault on reality. So insidious and complete was the invasion that Victor Goti acquired flesh-and-blood status as the actual prologuer of Niebla. As Vauthier notes, "Si el canonazo tenia brillantes antecedentes en la obra de Cervantes, hay que realzar que en Niebla Unamuno consiguio enganar a sus lectores de tal modo que algunos de ellos dieron vida real ... a un personaje que no podia, por definicion, gozar de tal suerte" (59). It is not until Augusto goes to Salamanca that readers fully appreciate the invasion--in this case, of the fictional by the real. Similarly, Merino must begin with Adrian's story, which chronologically occurs after Part II, in order for fiction to invade reality. Adrian "authors" the story of the first part of Los invisibles in the sense that the story originates with him while the already-established, dramatized author Merino transcribes it (with poetic license). Merino insists in Parts II and III of the novel ("Ni novela ni nivola" and "El mensaje") that both Adrian and his story are true; Unamuno, on the other hand, in Chapter XXXI of Niebla, unequivocally and vehemently denies that his creation Augusto has any life of his own. All of these authorial intrusions, however, serve to diminish rather than demonstrate the power of the author. Vauthier aptly identifies these authorial intrusions, whether implicit or explicit, as a means to "de-throne" the intrusive, authoritarian author of nineteenth-century Realist fiction: "Creo que las intrusiones del narrautor, tanto implicito como explicito, en el texto no se deben, en definitiva, interpretar como una intromision autoritaria de Unamuno, quien rige los mandos del texto, sino mas bien como una muy humoristica y radical desentronizacion del autor realista" (97). "Narrautor" Unamuno has come to occupy the same hyperspace as his characters; thus, he cannot be ontologically distinct from or superior to them.
Despite the impression readers may have that the fictional world has invaded the real or vice versa, the real and fictional worlds in Niebla and Los invisibles occupy the same plane: "ambas estarian inscritas, con igual verdad y categoria, en un "hiperespacio ficcional>>" ("Limites" 83). As Cheng Chan Lee notes, "[P]ara dar la apariencia de <<suceso verdadero" a la novela, Merino utiliza un recurso narrativo especifico: la confusion entre Merino--el novelista empirico--y el escritor/transcriptor de las peripecias de Adrian--. Si se identifican los dos, situandose en el mismo mundo real efectivo, entonces, Adrian es tambien una persona real y fisica" (75). Augusto and Adrian, entes de ficcion, and Unamuno and Merino, "flesh-and-blood" authors inhabit the same "hyperspace" of the fiction of these novels: "Unamuno es cosa de libros," Augusto says to Domingo shortly before his death (Niebla 268). Unamuno has been fictionalized; thus, while dramatized-author Unamuno thinks himself superior to Augusto since Augusto does not exist outside of the author's imagination, readers reconstructing the text know this to be false, for Augusto now exists in our imagination, much more clearly than dramatized or even flesh-and-blood author Unamuno does.
What does it mean to exist for Unamuno? What is the connection between art and life? Does art reflect life? Does it give meaning to life? Does it create life? As with the metafictional Don Quixote and El amigo Manso, Niebla takes the ideal vs. the real as its central theme. Perceptions cannot be trusted in Niebla, not because the characters of Eugenia or Augusto change over time, but because the idea Augusto has of Eugenia never matches her reality just as the images Don Quixote has (of giants, of his beloved, and of himself) do not match the external reality. In the end, the only reality anyone can know is his own: "El sueno de uno solo es la ilusion, la apariencia; el sueno de dos es ya la verdad, la realidad. Que es el mundo real sino el sueno que sonamos todos, el sueno comun?" (Niebla 145). If this is true, then how can we say that literary characters--or any idea for that matter--do not exist when we have mental images of them? As Unamuno was wont to note, Don Quijote seemed much more real to him than Cervantes (Niebla 256, Tres novelas 13). Garrido Ardila demonstrates the "relatividad de lo real" evident in both Unamuno and Cervantes through the example of the story that Victor tells of the Portuguese operator of fireworks whose beautiful wife is disfigured during one of the shows (Chapter XX Niebla): "Ante una unica realidad--que la esposa no es hermosa--, Unamuno hace, con tecnica cervantina, confluir tres puntos de vista: 1) el del marido, que no ve la realidad; 2) el de sus vecinos, que la ven y mienten, y 3) el de Victor, narrador de la historia, que conoce la realidad y la expone" (365-66). According to Garrido Ardila, these three points of view are all "validas y justificables" (366). Thus, if we apply Garrido Ardila's method of analysis to the story of Augusto, Augusto is like the husband who cannot see reality; Eugenia and Mauricio are like the neighbors who know the truth (at least about Eugenia's willingness to marry Augusto) but lie, and once again the storyteller--implicit author Unamuno, one level removed from apocryphal prologuista Victor--knows the truth (about Augusto's existence or lack thereof) and exposes it.
As a metafictional work, Niebla foregrounds the interplay between art and life, particularly the freedom and necessity inherent in both. On the one hand, Victor Goti and Augusto Perez must do as their creator directs them. As the apocryphal author Goti ironically admits in his prologue, "los deseos del senor Unamuno son para mi mandatos en la mas genuina acepcion de este vocablo" (73). Goti never comes to doubt his existence as Augusto does, and yet he cannot shake the feeling that he lacks "eso que los psicologos llaman libre albedrio" (73). The fictional world of Niebla--a world that begins with Goti's prologue--mirrors the material reality of Unamuno's, where author and reader alike are characters in the "sueno de Dios" (Niebla 177). Thus, Victor takes consolation from the fact that even though he cannot exercise free will, "tampoco goza don Miguel de el" (73). Only a Prime Mover would be outside the rules of the game, and so, Augusto challenges the distinctions that dramatized author Unamuno makes when the former visits him in his office in Salamanca: "Os lo digo yo, Augusto Perez, ente ficticio como vosotros, nivolesco, lo mismo que vosotros. Porque usted, mi creador, mi don Miguel, no es usted mas que otro ente nivolesco, y entes nivolescos sus lectores, lo mismo que yo, que Augusto Perez" (261). Augusto's use of the second personal plural pronoun "os" includes not only Don Miguel, but "sus lectores," as well. As a being who did not create himself, Don Miguel is contingent, and as such, he must die: "El que crea se crea y el que se crea se muere" [That which creates is created and that which is created dies] (261). In Augusto's words, " Dios dejara de sonarle!" (261). Author, reader, and character alike, are but fictions of God. (5)
An author's power is further limited by the cooperation and imagination of his readers. As Victor points out to his friend Augusto when Augusto speaks to him from the depths of his depression after learning that Eugenia has left him for Mauricio, "Nosotros no tenemos dentro. [...] El alma de un personaje de drama, de novela o de nivola no tiene mas interior que el que le da ... [...] el lector" (Niebla 250-51). Augusto recognizes the truth of this, for when he argues with Unamuno in the subsequent chapter, he heatedly declares, "Hasta los llamados entes de ficcion tienen su logica interna" (257). And in the dream Unamuno has of Augusto in the final chapter, Augusto explains to his creator that the latter cannot resuscitate him since "un ente de ficcion novelesca no puede hacer, en buena ley de arte, lo que ningun lector esperaria que hiciese" (272). There are "laws" of art as there are laws of nature that oblige authors to conform to reader expectations, which are, themselves, based on logic and authenticity. Naturally, absurd and abstract forms of art exist--they serve to protest the code; however, they do little to alter reader expectations, particularly readers of realist fiction. The metafictional mode highlights this play between freedom and necessity, control and impotence, reality and fiction.
Dramatized author Unamuno appears once again in the final chapter of Niebla to give us his reaction to the news of Augusto's death, his contrition over having killed him, and his resolution to revive him. In this final playful move, Unamuno conveys both the control and the impotence of the creative act, for though he can create Augusto out of the niebla, (6) he cannot resuscitate him. Augusto appears to Unamuno in a dream to tell him that this is impossible in life and in fiction: "Si, a un ente de ficcion, como a uno de carne y hueso ,... puede uno engendrarlo y lo puede matar; pero una vez que lo mato no puede, no!, no puede resucitarlo" (272). In fiction as in life, "es cosa facil, muy facil, demasiado facil por desgracia" to give and take life, but to resurrect it? "Imposible" (272). "Cree usted posible resucitar a Don Quijote?" Augusto asks Unamuno. "Imposible," he responds (272-3). Neither can he resuscitate Augusto. Augusto leaves Unamuno with the suggestion that the latter only exists as a pretext for giving the former life: "para que mi historia, y otras historias como la mia corran por el mundo" (272). In doing so, Augusto echoes the closing of the Quijote where Cervantes writes (through his translated narrator Cide Hamete Benegeli), "Para mi sola nacio don Quijote, y yo para el; el supo obrar y yo escribir" (2.74). In the epilogue, rather than give us the reaction of the other characters to Augusto's death or a synopsis of what becomes of them, Unamuno offers us the internal monologue of Orfeo, Augusto's adopted dog, a creature long believed to have no "inside," like a literary character without a reader, and the very creatures in which Cervantes places his criticism of society in "El coloquio de los perros" in his Novelas ejemplares. (7)
Unamuno insists on the fictionality of Augusto and confounds his readers with his blending of "el sueno con la vela, la ficcion con la realidad, lo verdadero con lo falso" until we are lost "en una sola niebla" (Niebla 248). Merino, on the other hand, never falters in asserting Adrian's existence. Thus, Dotras' assertion that the "novela de metaficcion" does not pretend to be real, (8) for the most part, aptly describes the works she studies, one of which is Niebla, but it is not true of Merino's works, which substantiate a reality that has been "desacreditado" by "los medios de comunicacion y la mala politica"--a reality that includes the fantastic, the imaginary, and the writing process itself ("Limites" 98). The irony of Merino's novels, of which Los invisibles proves exemplary, lies in the implicit author's insistence that his "ente de ficcion" is real, as is the fantastical story that he purportedly transcribes with limited modifications.
Merino wrote Los invisibles at a time when the metafictional mode was becoming more and more self-critical, combining elements of both the novel and literary theory and criticism; thus, dramatized author Merino can explain the difference between Niebla and Los invisibles (something he labels "una cronica" to assert its truthfulness) in the second part of his novel, where he reflects on the process of creation. Merino writes that Augusto is always known to be a fictional construct whose author
en un momento preciso propicia su encuentro con la criatura inventada por el para imponerle una muerte que no es la que el personaje desea. Pero en este caso, el joven que decia llamarse Adrian era verdadero, y yo, de aceptar la escritura del libro, no seria sino su autor vicario, una especie de escribano, que pondria la habilidad y el talento que pueda poseer al servicio de una experiencia o de una invencion totalmente ajenas a las mias. (270)
Merino claims that his purpose is not to make "literatura dentro de la literatura" nor involve himself in his work of fiction "como una especie de primera caja china" but he is obliged to do so "por el imperio de las circunstancias" (250). What ensues is how Adrian's story came to be written and why it lacks the message that motivated Adrian's narration.
Merino's use of the word "escribano" to describe his role closely approximates that of the "scriptor" (scripteur) coined by Roland Barthes in his 1967 essay to replace the concept of the author, a word too closely associated with authority. Despite his calling himself a "scribe," Merino's self-conscious second part to Los invisibles resurrects the author, who regains his authority by becoming his own critic and a critic of fiction, in general. It is neither novela nor nivola then since the nivola is really a type of novela and both refer to fictions. Merino eschews both labels since he purports to be writing non-fiction in the second part. Moreover, Merino's refusal to include a message in the novel follows Barthes' exhortation that writing should refuse to give "a 'secret,' an ultimate meaning, to the text (and to the world as text)," for in so doing, it will liberate the text from having to conform to "reason, science, [and] law"--an activity that Barthes characterizes as "anti-theological" (117). The lack of a message in a communicative act breaks the "buena ley de arte" referenced by dramatized author Unamuno in Niebla, though it does maintain a sense of mystery. Nevertheless, what Merino seeks to control as carefully as Unamuno in becoming his own critic also escapes his control, for readers will find a message to his novel, such as the importance of the people, ideas, and processes--i.e., of the creation of fiction to which readers are rarely privy--of existence, of ordering our world, and of creating an identity through art.
The message for the community of "invisibles," which will warn them of the Cazador and alert them to the existence of the stone that can make them visible again, has been Adrian's sole motivation in relating his story to the dramatized author Merino, yet it is stolen from Merino's car in his garage before he can include it in the novel. This third section, just five pages in length, entitled "El mensaje" serves as further proof of the novel's veracity, for "si este libro fuese una verdadera ficcion, no podria terminar de la forma en que lo hace" (327). In the end, the message that there is no message is for Adrian alone, a character who has become invisible to his creator. As Marta Simo describes it, "Adrian es a la vez el impulsor y el destino ultimo de la obra, y al completar este ciclo se dibuja el circulo reflexivo que conecta a un autor con su obra, o a un lector consigo mismo a traves de la lectura" (365-66). For Merino's flesh-and-blood readers, the metafictional message regards the genre of the novel itself: the novel must accept the "deformidades y emergencias que la vida presenta" if it is to serve to inform our conception of an external reality and the question of identity (Los invisibles 323).
Merino has argued that literature is the way in which we can organize and interpret reality. Without it, "real life" is chaos: "En cualquier caso, no creo descabellado pensar que la ficcion vino a ser la primera herramienta, el recurso inicial de la mente de los seres de nuestra especie para intentar entender y dar una forma, cierto orden inteligible al mundo adverso...y a su propia existencia" ("Ficcion" 16). Naturally, Part II of Los invisibles, with its focus on the way in which the story becomes narrated, exposes the "brecha" that exists "entre la experiencia vital y los codigos culturales que explican la escritura" (Trabado Cabado 307). We cannot know things-in-themselves, and language may not fully and faithfully capture a referent reality, yet Merino claims that "solo las palabras transmiten con justeza la amplitud, las diferencias y los matices de los sentimientos y los comportamientos" ("Lenguaje y literatura" 101). Images of the media or the visible world fail to capture the nuances of feelings and behaviors, which are better captured in language; in Merino's fiction, language that conveys myth, fantasy, and mystery allows readers to recuperate realities overlooked in their overexposed yet invisible, postmodern cosmos devoid of wonder and awe. "[E]sse is percipi," (9) Bishop Berkeley wrote, and Merino seeks to amplify our reality by increasing our perceptions.
In a prologue to a collection of his essays that Merino entitles "Una respuesta lectora," (10) our flesh-and-blood author recognizes the role of the reader in completing the communication act and of the critics in giving the author perhaps the only significant response he will ever receive on his work: "Su respuesta [that of the critic] ... es la unica de verdad estructurada, racionalizada, objetivizada, que el escritor puede recibir, incluso aunque no coincide para nada con sus propias expectativas" (7). It is in becoming his own critic that dramatized author Merino can recover, at least in part, the authority that the author loses after writing his work. In addition to Adrian and Rosa and the other invisibles, the novel reminds readers of invisible phenomena with which we live continually: music, language, love, and the collective imagination, "el imaginario que forma el reino pacifico, glorioso, impalpable, invisible, redentor, de la literatura" ("El narrador" 27). And then there are the figurative "invisibles" like the homeless--"aquellos mendigos malolientos y gentes sucias [que] pertenecian a un espacio de invisibilidad paradojico" (122), the victims of the civil war of Portuguese Guinea (1998-2000), the starving people in Africa, and the person Rosa knew in school who suffered from dwarfism. This last was "otra especie de invisible, que tiene que asumir con un esfuerzo continuo un mundo que se ha negado a mirarlo y a pertenecerle, y luchar dia tras dia contra el" (173). Adrian initially doubts the existence of love because he imagines only a romantic expression of the word. He tells Rosa when she asks him about love that the best moments in his life as an invisible were spent in bed with Paquita, a woman whom he did not love and who did not love him either. But Rosa is not referring to eros but rather to charity or agape. She counters Adrian's allusion to his sexual relationship with Paquita and his loveless connection to his ex-girlfriend Maria Elena with the example of refugees who escape political strife with their children on their backs and continue to carry them even when the children have died and of people "que esta intentando llegar hasta ellos para llevarles un paquete de leche en polvo. Tu crees que eso pertenece al genero romantico?" (175). Adrian has no response, and the chapter ends. Rosa has demonstrated to Adrian yet another reality that escapes perception, in this case because it is eclipsed by "more visible" (though less precise) referents for the word "love." For Merino, fiction allows us to organize the chaos of the empirical world of the senses and to provide a more complete image of a relative reality than that provided by images of mass communication.
As Rosa concludes her narrative to Adrian about her travels, she says, "El mundo esta hecho una mierda, aunque casi no lo veamos" (170); to which Adrian replies, "Un ciego [...] decia que las cosas sustanciosas del mundo se mantienen invisibles. Pero que iba a decir un ciego" (170). Adrian recognizes that the blind man Gerardo naturally prefers an invisible reality since he cannot perceive the visible world, yet the visible world does disorient and sedate, particularly that which the media covers. Thus, like the blind seers of ancient tragedies, Gerardo can see more in his blindness than can those with vision. What we see on television, for example, "no es ni una ventanita, es un agujero del que se vierten cosas que llegan a nosotros, pero que casi no sirve para mirar afuera" (165). The images of the media fail to inform us about reality, for reality includes all the ineffable experiences we ignore because they are invisible to us. As Adrian tells Rosa, "Creo que nunca hemos podido ver tantas cosas y, comparativamente, nunca hemos visto menos" (190). What the media does
es hinchar unas cuantas imagenes, la de la desventurada princesa, la del presidente rijoso, la de los hijisimos de los famosos, la del castizo escritor. Eso es lo que mas vemos, con los latiguillos del comico grotesco y el desparpajo cinico de tres o cuatro politicos, casi siempre los mismos. [...] No podemos siquiera pensar que pueda existir algo que no haya llegado a ser mostrado por la tele o por las gacetillas de los grandes periodicos. Si no esta ahi, es que no existe. (190)
The media offers no lens through which to view reality, only a reflection of our own preoccupations: "Acaso lo que pasa es que la tele nos deja ver lo que de verdad nos apetece, como una especie de espejito magico de nosotros mismos, contando con nuestra complicidad" (306-307). The horror of the Nazi concentration camps, for example, "era invisible porque la gente no queria verlo" (306). Literature, on the other hand, can help us to recover a sense of mystery and, ultimately, a sense of identity that we lose when we focus solely on the material, "realistic" world. For Merino, the dramatized author in Los invisibles, the fact that Adrian achieves superhuman, magical powers and does nothing more than hide himself in a supermarket and travels no farther than Benidorm, reveals our inability to imagine mystery any longer: "Los seres humanos, por lo menos los occidentales, hemos perdido la capacidad para imaginar el misterio" (Los invisibles 268). Moreover, it adds verisimilitude to the tale Merino spins, for reality is stranger than fiction and need not satisfy the demands of genre or the expectations of readers. Adrian takes on life through the course of the novel. He steps out of the mist; he becomes visible, for Merino, dramatized author, fashions an identity for him out of the words on the page.
Los invisibles (2000) reflects the context of postmodernism with its return to objective realities, popular culture, and mass communication. It is a world beset by images of mass communication, yet so much remains invisible, and it is the invisible that really matters. Although Merino delves deeply into fantasy, mystery, and the imagination, Gullon argues that Merino's works never overflow "los limites del mas aca. Permanecen asentados en un universo secular [...] Por eso, los cuentos de Merino, a pesar de salirse de lo palpable conservan la fuerza de lo autentico, porque esculpen la realidad ficticia a base del material de nuestras sombras" (127). According to Merino, writers who seek new forms of narrative expression do so, not because the old forms are spent or fiction is dead, but because they are trying to restore "esa maltrecha realidad, darle desde la literatura lo que podria ser un aire mas consistente, ordenar ese caos en forma de delirio paranoico con que suele mostrarse" ("Limites" 98). Ultimately, the purpose of fiction for Merino is self-understanding. He writes in his essay "El narrador narrado," "Este narrador que les habla intenta ordenar el mundo en sus ficciones para ordenarse ante todo a si mismo" (22). Thus, Merino employs metafiction, not to expose the game of fiction in order to question the greater game of life, but rather to restore a reality occluded through empiricism, skepticism, and mass communication and construct a reality and an identity out of an otherwise chaotic series of stimuli.
Rose Marie Marcone argues that Unamuno, dramatized author, and Augusto "address a common problem: the problem of the writer as he considers the relationship of art to life" (13). Through the playful metafictional mode, Unamuno unveils the freedom and the contingency of art and life, which is like a game of "ajedrez divino" (Niebla 96). We are not, however, merely pawns in this "divine game of chess" but also players of the game, a game whose rules we must follow, but which allows for various moves and stratagems. " Por que no hemos de mover estas piezas de otro modo que como las movemos?" Augusto asks Victor during one of their games of chess (97). The bishop can only move diagonally and the rook can only move horizontally or vertically, and the king can only move one space in any direction, yet the player of the game (at least at the start) has the freedom to move his 16 pieces, according to the rules of movement, as he likes. Similarly, in Como se hace una novela, Unamuno applauds the game of solitaire because "hay que saber ... aprovechar el azar. Y no es otro el arte de la vida en la historia. [...] Barajar los naipes es algo, en otro plano, como ver romperse las olas de la mar en la arena de la playa. Y ambas cosas nos hablan de la naturaleza en la historia, del azar en la libertad" (223). In the opening of Niebla, as Augusto leaves his house, he says he will wait for a dog to pass by and start in its direction but instead follows an attractive woman, who turns out to be Eugenia. It is fortuitous that Eugenia passes his house at just that moment and that Augusto be struck by her appearance--the cards of the game of solitaire have been dealt, yet Augusto exercises his freedom in the way he plays them and by willing to not be in the end.
Unamuno insists on the fictionality of all that his passive, credulous readers unquestioningly accept as real--their material existence, their free will, and the stories in which they lose themselves. All is fiction for Don Miguel, but nevertheless real. Authors only think that they are engaged in a game of pretense when they create fictions, but the characters actually do take on a life of their own, both in the writing of the work and in the reconstruction of it in the imagination of the readers. In Niebla, reality seems to be inescapably lost in the mist. Augusto Perez ruminates on whether thought comes before existence or existence before essence: "<<Pienso, luego soy ... Soy, luego pienso>>" (263). "Solo lo escrito es," writes Merino in "Las palabras del mundo" and in La orilla oscura, "Escribo, luego existo" (231). Not only does the creative act of writing a novel make a novelist, it also makes the reader. Unamuno writes in Como se hace una novela that the purpose in writing is "Para hacerse el novelista. Y para que se hace el novelista? Para hacer al lector, para hacerse uno con el lector. Y solo haciendose uno el novelador y el lector de la novela se salvan ambos de su soledad radical. En cuanto se hacen uno se actualizan y actualizandose se eternizan" (Como 224). Reader and writer can assuage their solitude through the creation and recreation of art by sharing the ideas of the author. Since ideas are the only reality for Unamuno, this is akin to sharing the reality of another and since it is possible (at least for the written word or the physical work of art) to be recreated time and again, age after age, the written words confer immortality, an "idea" with which Merino concurs: "Aunque nuestro vivir es efimero, cuando la imaginacion de ese vivir queda escrita en las novelas, en los cuentos, permanence ahi como tiempo al fin conquistador" ("El narrador narrado" 22). Like time itself, the imagination becomes immortalized in works of fiction.
Merino insists with Los invisibles that language, myth, suffering, and love are all real and that fiction conveys its own truth--in this case, through a metafictional mode that ironically perpetuates the suspension of disbelief rather than deconstructs it by calling attention to the work as work of art. For Merino, "la ficcion ha sido y sigue siendo la forma instintiva de la sabiduria humana ... El homo se hace sapiens cuando inventa eso que ahora llamamos ficcion" ("Limites" 96). While Unamuno employed metafiction for existentialist ends, Merino has employed it for both existential and epistemological ones: humans come to know themselves and their world through fiction and "la buena ficcion siempre resulta una revelacion, mediante lo simbolico, de lo que la realidad esconde" ("Ficcion" 19). Fiction is not mimesis; it is not a poor reflection of reality. As Gerardo tells Adrian in the first part of Los invisibles, "Pero las palabras, que crean ellas solas cosas, [...] eso es demasiado verdadero para ser solo un truco" (136). For Merino, "la palabra" is "sosten, mas que reflejo, del mundo," and an author can construct with these words "un simulacro que puede acabar inscribiendose con fuerza en la propia realidad no literaria: pues no estamos hechos de Amadises y Quijotes, de Odiseos y Leopoldos Bloom, de Melibeas y senoras Bovary y hasta de Draculas, Tarzanes y Coyotes?" (107). To Merino's list we can add Augustos Perez and the many invisibles that Merino forces us to see in a fictional novel with both real referents and mythical allusions. The fictional world has invaded the real world, giving it life and giving its authors immortality.
(1) Unamuno critiques Azorin's celebration of the metafictional mode--a technique Azorin likens to the act of removing the back of a watch to see the inner workings of the mechanism--for a novel, like life itself, must be organic, not mechanical, and even if it were mechanical, showing the inner working of a character's creation would not make that character live: "Una novela, para ser viva, para ser vida, tiene que ser como la vida misma, organismo y no mecanismo. Y no sirve levantar la tapa del relo. Ante todo, porque una verdadera novela, una novela viva, no tiene tapa; y luego, porque no es maquinaria lo que hay que mostrar, sino entranas palpitantes de vida, calientes de sangre. Y eso se ve afuera" (Como 220).
(2) Niebla 77.
(3) Goti writes in his prologue that "lo helenico es distinguir, definir, separar" (Niebla 77).
(4) William H. Gass coined the term in his essay "Philosophy and the Form of Fiction" (1970).
(5) An idea first suggested by the British idealist Bishop George Berkeley (1685-1753).
(6) Longhurst asserts that the title "refers to the unconscious formlessness through which the artist has to struggle in order to give conscious form to his artistic impulse" (261).
(7) It should be noted that this final novela ejemplar is nested within the previous--El casamiento enganoso, which deals with a deceitful wife who only marries her husband in order to rob him of his wealth. Eugenia leaves Augusto before their wedding day; nevertheless, the theme of the jilted lover followed by the monologue of Augusto's dog, in addition to the allusion to Cervantes' Novelas ejemplares in the post-prologue indicate an intentional reference to Cervantes texts within Niebla. Such intertextuality calls attention to the text as text and, thus, amounts to the use of the metafictional mode.
(8) "Su peculiar objetividad reside, por lo tanto, en no disimular su condicion de ficcion, en la aceptacion de que la novela es la narracion de una historia ficticia" (Dotras 98).
(9) "To be is to be perceived" (Principles 3, my translation).
(10) Merino's prologue to Encinar and Glenn's collection of essays entitled Aproximaciones al mundo narrativo de Jose Maria Merino.
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Maria R. Rippon
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|Title Annotation:||Miguel de Unamuno, Jose Maria Merino|
|Author:||Rippon, Maria R.|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2018|
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