REWRITING THE CANON: THE PICARESQUE TRADITION IN JESUS CARRASCO'S INTEMPERIE.
The marginality of experience central to the picaresque immediately comes to the fore in Carrasco's novel. Readers meet the boy in the opening paragraph of Intemperie as he hides from a local search party. He has dug a hole to conceal himself after fleeing from his village where he has been raped repeatedly by the sinister sheriff with the knowledge of his father who customarily left his son at the pedophile's frightening mansion "a merced de sus deseos" (Intemperie 192). The rest of the novel follows this youngster who accompanies a spry and astute goatherder who teaches him the way of the inclement "llano" (65), a harrowing journey through a demonic world that indelibly marks him and prematurely thrusts him into the realm of adulthood. (5) As the boy notes, "Aquel hombre parecia saberlo todo" (87). (6) Both characters are pursued relentlessly by the sheriff as they flee across the barren countryside. When the goatherd hides the boy from the sheriff and later denies any knowledge of his whereabouts, he consequently receives a brutal beating that leads to death by infection. Following this mistreatment, the boy becomes his Lazarillo: he assists him in searching for food and water, aids him in curing his wounds, and guides him through the desert. In addition, when scavenging for food in what seems a ghost town, the boy is deceived by a treacherous innkeeper, a stock figure in picaresque fiction. In the final pages of the novel, Good triumphs over Evil when the goatherd shoots and kills the sheriff. Intemperie concludes with the youngster spent and alone in the inhospitable desert where he will spend the rest of his days. Like all rogues, he must rely on his wits and cunning to survive.
The picaresque novel chooses a unipersonal narrative voice, and this is clearly the case of the narrator of Intemperie. It should be noted that, unlike most picaresque texts from the Golden Age, contemporary versions of the genre are not always autobiographical. (7) Garrido Ardila comments that the picaresque is an adaptable literary model, and adds that professional writers "who were accustomed to expressing themselves in the third person would continue to do so when they tried their hand at the picaresque genre" (15). As in many contemporary versions of the picaresque, the narrational consciousness of Intemperie latches on and remains with the boy from beginning to end even though events are presented in the third person. This narrator both invites and compels readers to see and feel through the youngster's eyes, thus identifying with him in the process. Readers are not permitted access to the ruminations of characters except for those of the boy whose narrative voice channels events. As the narrative is filtered through his consciousness, readers accompany him on his journey through the hellish no-man's land portrayed in the novel. We witness the boy's day-to-day routine to ensure survival, and in this sense, Carrasco's work follows a linear and open structure common to picaresque narratives. Intemperie remains completely open at the conclusion as the young boy is alone in the desert to fend for himself. Clearly, a difficult path awaits him, and readers must ask themselves whether or not the boy will survive his ordeal. Yet we are told he fills the herder's shoes and that his life will consist of "transito" (55), that is, further wanderings and episodes await him. As such, the third person omniscient narrator follows this character beginning with his desertion of family and concluding with him on the periphery occupying the unfamiliar terrain of nomads, a space of non belonging and alienation as symbolized by the inhospitable desert surroundings.
Other fundamental affinities exist between the picaresque tradition and Carrasco's novel. Alameda observes that "Las novelas picarescas pintan una imagen desintegradora de la institucion familiar" (174). Family, with the protection it traditionally provides, is conspicuously absent in Intemperie and as such remains a peripheral concern for the runaway. In fact, he rarely, if ever, recalls family members with nostalgia. The notion of orphanhood commonly associated with classical Spanish rogues--Guzman de Alfarache, Don Pablos--often appears figuratively in neopicaresque literature. In Carrasco's novel, the boy's ties to his impoverished family are, at best, tenuous: his mother is described as a wrinkled old potato and never mentioned again, and he lives in fear of his abusive father who regularly administers beatings with his belt. While he is not technically an orphan, for all purposes he is entirely alone, situated precariously on the fringes of social order. His father betrays him and is responsible for his son's loss of innocence since he often leaves him alone with the perverse sheriff. In short, any semblance of familial harmony, nurturing and love is nonexistent, and, motivated by self-preservation, the boy flees from this intolerable and dangerous situation. As such, his departure may be understood as the first of many acts of survival in Intemperie.
Within the family sphere of supposed protection the boy also suffers a major formative event common to every picaro's experience. (8) In his case, he is repeatedly sodomized by the sheriff with his father's knowledge. All sense of trust vanishes, and these traumatic encounters both indelibly mark him and inform his dealings with adults. A case in point is when he inadvertently sees the goatherder's genitals while urinating, which triggers a traumatic reaction. Just as Lazaro de Tormes vows to abandon the abusive blind man, so does the boy promise to free himself of his first "master," the vicious sheriff. In fact, he recognizes that after years of rambling he will return to town and "sus punos serian de roca. Habria vagado casi eternamente y, aunque no hubiera encontrado a nadie, habria aprendido de si y de la Tierra lo suficiente como para que el alguacil no pudiera someterle mas" (22). Like many rogues, he experiences the unspeakable, roams the world, and when possible, evens the score with his tormentor.
It has been noted that hunger is the fundamental theme in picaresque fiction, and, unlike Golden Age works, the modern writer of the genre does not treat this matter humorously (Sobejano 220). Both the boy and the goatherder continually roam the desert in search of sustenance. Their first encounter occurs when the famished boy unsuccessfully attempts to steal food from the sleeping cabrero's knapsack: "Nunca le habia robado a un adulto y, si ahora lo hacia era porque no tenia mas remedio" (Intemperie 27). This scene remotely brings to mind Lazaro's scheme to access the blind man's travel sack. (9) In Intemperie both characters follow a regime of subsistence, foraging the barren countryside for edible plants, preparing beef jerky and eating anything they can kill: a rat, goats and a jack rabbit. The search for potable water is constant and, more often than not, precarious, as when the boy's consumption of contaminated well water gives him dysentery. The theme of hunger is further underscored by the desolate countryside with its "campos de cereal agostados" (77) due to a prolonged drought that causes communities to emigrate. The boy learns to fear all towns as sites of danger and corruption. Not surprisingly, a village innkeeper lures the exhausted boy into his house with the promise of nourishment (140). After gorging himself on a heavy meal and dozing off, the boy awakens shackled to a column. Hunger therefore serves as a driving force that impels him to risk his life. Instinct often overcomes caution which highlights how the rogue lives continuously on the edge of society and engages in a struggle that may either assure life or hasten death. When the sheriff and his men kill most of the herder's animals, destroy his scant provisions and poison the only nearby well, he and the boy struggle to survive. Hunger accompanies them throughout their desert slog, and the narrator focuses on the increasingly debilitated state of the two due to their lack of nourishment. Hunger and thirst therefore impact the boy's actions. Everything he does upon running away responds to the primal need to fill his stomach and quench his thirst.
In addition to hunger, the overwhelming presence of serious conflicts such as violence and death characterize the neopicaresque (Alameda 155). It must be noted that the grave representation of such events in contemporary picaresque works is markedly different from the humorous portrayal of violence typically present in traditional models. (10) Not surprisingly, the hyper-realistic portrayal of violence comes to the fore throughout Intemperie. Numerous episodes involve extreme aggression ranging from child rape and torture to cold-blooded murder, and these nightmarish events have a mind-numbing effect on the boy. Two examples are especially relevant to the present discussion: the savage beating of the goatherder and the death of the sheriff in the final pages of the novel. Such brutality brings to mind Spanish tremendismo of the 1940's, most notably Camilo Jose Cela's La familia de Pascual Duarte. More specifically, however, Carrasco comments that the violence portrayed throughout Intemperie has more in common with American versions of aggression found in works by Raymond Carver, Cormac McCarthy and John Updike. (11) The most graphic description of violence occurs when the herder shoots the sheriff at point-blank range while the captured boy stands unwillingly next to this official:
Un ruido pedregoso y absoluto llegado desde el final de un largo tubo. Un zumbido dentro del craneo y una sordera que tardaria dias en desparecer por completo ... El nino sintio desplomarse el cadaver a su lado porque su carne desplazo el aire y lo comprimio contra el. La arcilla prensada del suelo recibio los restos del hombre y la vibracion de las losas se propago hasta el. En su aturdimiento, discrimino el ultimo sonido que produjo el alguacil, el de su craneo golpeando el suelo. El ruido de un calabacin muy maduro. (Intemperie 195-96)
The concussive blast generated by the shotgun leaves the boy temporarily deaf and bleeding from the ears, and the goatherder must persuade him to refrain from looking at the sheriff's partially blown-off head. Such extreme violence has traumatic results for the boy who cannot assimilate what he has witnessed. For example, when the boy discovers the goatherder unconscious from the brutal beating administered by the sheriff's men, one reads: "Incapaz de asimilar lo sucedido, sintio la necesidad de romper a llorar, de gritar o autolesionarse" (108). Such descriptions present a nightmarish version of reality bringing to the fore the profound suffering and alienation of this contemporary picaro. Emphasis on trauma and tremendismo--be it either the Spanish or the American variant--precludes any possibility for the comic portrayal of violence thus bringing to the fore how the picaresque emerges reshaped in a contemporary text.
The stress on the senses is key to the picaresque character's portrayal. Sherrill argues that a sensate life rules the rogue: "The visuals, tactile, olfactories command attention: the picaro's life by wit necessitates his commitment to the press of immediate sensation upon him" (23). He is consumed by the here and now and knee-jerk responses to the sensory underscore how he is caught in its terms and dynamics. The senses clearly inform the boy's understanding as well as his reaction to the surrounding world. Taste, smell, touch, and hearing reflect the immediacy of experience. Unpleasant odors engulf him throughout Intemperie--dead animals, the charnel stench of an ossuary, clothing soaked with urine--thus placing him on edge. In addition, sound is linked to trauma throughout the novel. A case in point is the boy's traumatic response to the sheriff's voice which elicits fear and distress. Intemperie opens with him listening from his hiding place to the village search party. At the same time, he strains for traces of the sheriff's presence: "Aguzo el oido en busca de la voz que le habia obligado a huir" (9). This passage brings to mind Rodaway's observation in Sensuous Geographies that the experience of sound is not simply physical; it is highly emotional: "Because we cannot close our ears as we can our eyes, we are more vulnerable to sound" (95). Despite his unsuccessful efforts to distinguish the pedophile's voice, its mere absence frightens and overwhelms him. On another occasion, when the sheriff approaches the goatherd as the boy remains hidden in the nearby castle ruins, one reads: "La voz del alguacil sono cortante entre las piedras" (96). In the mind of the boy, the official's voice--even its memory--constitutes an unwelcome physical presence that invades the desert and pierces stone. It therefore underscores the fact that trauma remains immediately below the surface and emerges at the slightest sensory stimulus. (12) The rogue's perception of the external world is defined by sound as it relates to the body and the unwelcome intermingling of peripersonal and extrapersonal spaces. That is, the invasion of the peripersonal (what is within one's reach) by the extrapersonal represented by the official's voice, becomes a metaphor for the violation of the boy. The auditory geography of the novel highlights his traumatic experience, and, as such, constitutes a reminder for this picaro who, similar to other rogues, endures an unwelcome formative event that leaves an indelible mark on his psyche.
Carrasco's rewriting of the picaresque somewhat mitigates the episodic depth that typically characterizes classical texts from the Golden Age. Nevertheless, the narration follows the ambulatory boy throughout his journey where he has several transformative experiences. (13) He runs away from home to avoid the domestic and sexual abuse that victimizes him. He encounters and then serves the goatherder learning how to survive in the barren desert. He is also imprisoned by the treacherous innkeeper. Characters are continually on the move as indicated by the abundance of verbs of action--caminaba, se aproximo, cruzo, se detuvo, corrio, etc. Intemperie is a novel of continuous movement from one location to another in an attempt to survive. Its serial quality puts the itinerant boy and the old man into contact with miscreants who terrorize others through multifarious types of aggression.
It has been noted that, unlike the classical rogue who learns to deceive others, the neo-rogue never masters the art of deception but instead remains a victim of society (Alameda 118). Such is the case of the boy who remains alone at the conclusion of Intemperie, allegorically on the fringes of society as indicated by the barren natural world he now inhabits. He rarely resolves the problems that arise; he simply exposes the poverty, dysfunctional family relations, sexual deviance, and marginalization that overwhelm him. The boy is a victim of a society incapable of providing the traditional mechanisms and institutions that protect the vulnerable. His father is violent and the sheriff abuses his power. Church teachings have no relevance in the boy's opinion, and other adult figures, except for the herder, are deceptive and cruel. (14) His only response to the violence is aggression as in the case of his brutal beating of the innkeeper. In this sense, the boy has learned his lesson well and now resembles his aggressors. He therefore perpetuates the violence inherent to his society. While he helps eliminate the sheriff, he also demonstrates the potential for violence learned from others. Yet the young boy never becomes a rogue as portrayed in classical renditions of the picaresque. While he clearly loses his innocence early on, deceit does not inform his approach to life; he fails miserably at his attempt to steal from the herder, and neither eludes the sheriff nor fools the innkeeper. That is, he has not acquired the skills needed to survive alone in a hostile environment. As such, his abandonment and loneliness highlight his helplessness. It must be stressed that the serious nature of conflict related to the portrayal of violence, hunger and death common to the neopicaresque leaves little, if any, room for the comedic tone present in many classical picaresque novels; contemporary writers infuse this genre with a degree of gravity that is absent in Golden Age portrayals of the rogue's experience.
Intemperie eschews the presentation of specific social criticism in terms of a national moral shortcoming which is typically the case for traditional manifestations of the picaresque in Spain. (15) More broadly, Carrasco's novel embodies Guillen's view that the picaresque serves as an "outlet for the expression of human alienation" (105). The nameless boy is a universal rogue that denounces the emptiness and isolation--inherent to contemporary societies--that inform his daily existence. In this sense, the novel is a metaphor for modern man and the dystopia he creates and inhabits. This picaro has been traumatized by sexual abuse and cast away by his family, and in essence, he becomes a de facto orphan. Like all rogues, he must use his wits and cunning to survive in a hostile landscape without the aid of any moral compass by which to navigate. Organized religion serves little purpose and "civilized" space is decrepit, dangerous and unwelcoming. The novel, while set in a discreet geographical setting that recalls "la Espana vacia" that Carrasco knows well, does not constitute a clear critique of a readily identifiable national problem as is the case with works from the Golden Age and the decade following the Spanish Civil War. (16) Instead, this neopicaresque text reflects on the plight of contemporary man who remains in a state of sustained liminality. It is within this context of alienation that one may approach Carrasco's novel: the boy remains alone on the margins of rudimentarily civilized spaces.
The ongoing theoretical debate over what constitutes the picaresque will not be resolved in this analysis of Carrasco's debut novel. Competing definitions range from the restrictively purist--which only admits works from Golden Age Spain--to scholarship that highlights the ongoing influence of tradition. My study has followed the line of thinking that acknowledges resonances of the picaresque in contemporary fiction. Such persistent echoes clearly resound throughout Intemperie, and like all neopicaresque works, the novel falls squarely within the discourse of marginality. Carrasco's nameless runaway abandons his impoverished family and survives by either escaping from or ridding himself of adults in positions of power--his abusive father, the perverted sheriff who pursues him throughout the novel, and the deceptive innkeeper who briefly imprisons him. Without a doubt, his initiation into the unforgiving world populated by cruel adults constitutes a painful education that requires survival techniques using one's wits and cunning. While key markers such as a unipersonal narrative voice, hunger, the loss of innocence, alienation and a peripatetic youngster who assists a master firmly align the text with the picaresque tradition, other elements establish critical distance. Unlike Lazaro de Tormes, the boy acquires no station in life, which is in keeping with the neopicaresque. Like most contemporary picaros, the boy has not improved his lot at the conclusion of the novel; he remains alone with few newly acquired skills. He does, of course, appear somewhat wiser at the end of his experience, but remains on the periphery in the inhospitable desert. In addition, the grim narrative landscape of Intemperie is steeped in the dark realities of blood, suffering and terror. In this space of dislocation and disorder, the unflinching presentation of brutality shapes the young boy as he and the goat herder wander the hellish wasteland in search of sustenance. It must be noted that the humor and comical exhibitionism that characterize classical picaresque texts are absent in Intemperie. Instead, Carrasco's neopicaresque work treats themes such as hunger, abuse and unimaginable violence with seriousness and gravity. As such, the boy as rogue functions allegorically to underscore the alienation common to human beings struggling to survive in a dystopian world.
Alameda, Irene Zoe. Artista y criminal. Voces subversivas en la posguerra. Castalia, 2011.
Aleman, Mateo. Guzman de Alfarache. Edicion de Jose Maria Mico, Catedra, 1983.
Baroja y Nessi, Pio. La busca. Real Academia Espanola, 2013.
Bonilla, Juan. Los principes nubios. Seix Barral, 2003.
Carrasco, Jesus. Intemperie. Seix Barral, 2013.
--. La tierra que pisamos. Seix Barral, 2016.
Caruth, Cathy. Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative and History. Johns Hopkins UP, 1996.
Cela, Camilo jose. La familia de Pascual Duarte. Destino, 1963.
Cervantes, Miguel de. Riconete y Cortadillo. Novelas ejemplares. Septima edicion, Espasa-Calpe, 1975.
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Dunn, Peter N. Spanish Picaresque Fiction. Cornell UP, 1993.
Eisenberg, Daniel. "Does the Picaresque Novel Exist?" Kentucky Romance Quarterly, vol. 26, 1979, pp. 203-19.
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(1) Guillen notes, "The picaresque would return during days of irony and discouragement less favorable than the nineteenth century--as in the Spain of Phillip II and the Germany of the Thirty Years' War, the career of the rogue would once more disclose an awareness of civilization as oppression. This becomes especially clear after World War II" (105).
(2) Cela's La familia de Pascual Duarte, Mendoza's La ciudad de los prodigios and Bonilla's Los principes nubios are clear examples of the neopicaresque. The bibliography on this topic is voluminous. Dunn realizes an overview of the genre, and Alameda, Correa, Garrido Ardila and Sobejano provide helpful assessments of the picaresque in contemporary Spanish fiction.
(3) "The epithet 'picaresque' has been applied so indiscriminately in the last few decades by reviewers to any somewhat unscrupulous adventurers that it has little definition" (Dunn 3).
(4) From a somewhat similar perspective, Ulrich Wicks argues that the picaresque canon reveals a "traceable continuity up to the present" (15).
(5) See Margenot for a recent study on the demonic archetypes in the novel.
(6) These words bring to mind Lazaro's admiration for the blind man's knowledge: "Pues, tomando al bueno de mi ciego y contando sus cosas, Vuestra Merced sepa que, desde que Dios crio el mundo, ninguno formo mas astuto ni sagaz" (La vida de Lazarillo de Tormes 97).
(7) Sobejano observes: "No es la forma autobiografica lo decisivo en la novela picaresca sino el despliegue de la vida en muestras que se van sucediendo como sumandos sin otro corolario que esa mostracion acumulativa" (215). Cervantes' Riconete y Cortadillo and Salas Barbadillo's La hija de Celestina as well as neopicaresque novels such as Pio Baroja's La busca and John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, are narrated in the third person.
(8) A well-known case that immediately comes to mind is the blind beggar's unexpected bashing of Lazaro's head against the stone bull that stands adjacent to the Roman Bridge spanning the Tormes River in Salamanca. Lazaro loses his innocence, and from that moment onward vows vengeance: "Pareciome que en aquel instante desperte de la simpleza en que, como nino, dormido estaba" (La vida de Lazarillo de Tormes 96). Similarly, the boy in Carrasco's novel suffers from a severe event that indelibly marks him and commits him to seek revenge.
(9) Lazaro comments: "El traia el pan y todas las otras cosas en un fardel de lienzo que por la boca se cerraba con una argolla de hierro y su candado y su llave" (La vida de Lazarillo de Tormes 98).
(10) Pascual Duarte's brutality throughout Cela's debut novel precludes any possibility for the comic. In addition, Carrasco's portrayal of neopicaresque violence differs markedly from what Dunn identifies as the comical narrative purpose of aggression commonly portrayed in Golden Age picaresque fiction (311).
(11) Carrasco recognizes in an interview that Intemperie is "tremendista", but downplays a connection to Cela's debut novel: "Pero la influencia viene mas del tremendismo norteamericano. He leido mucha mas literatura norteamericana que espanola. Los relatos de Carver son durisimos, no se salva nadie, todo es atroz, y para que veas un hilito de esperanza ... Al mismo tiempo son relatos poderosos, bien tramados, que te enganchan, y que a mi me transmiten muchas cosas. Cuando hablo de Carver, hablo de Richard Ford, de John Updike, de John Cheever o de Cormac McCarthy: si acaso, viene de ahi esta vision un poco lugubre de la realidad" (Lopez Iturdiaga, n.p.). See Guillemin for an analysis of the picaresque in McCarthy's fiction.
(12) For a seminal study on trauma, see Caruth.
(13) Carrasco's interest in nameless wanderers and nomads is a constant in his fiction as is the case of the itinerant soldier in his latest novel, La tierra que pisamos.
(14) This does not mean that God is absent in the novel; multiple religious references underscore the conflict between Good and Evil represented by the herder and the sheriff, respectively. For example, the narrator likens the mortally wounded herder to Jesus Christ: "A continuacion, le vino a la memoria el gesto del pastor abriendo sus harapos para mostrarle el torso amoratado, las heridas en los ijares y una cicatriz purulenta entre las costillas parecida a la que debio de tener Cristo en el Calvario" (176). Another passage refers to him as an "eccehomo" (172).
(15) Both Golden Age Spain and the years following the Spanish Civil War may be characterized as periods of acute crisis which manifest themselves in picaresque fiction.
(16) Ortega Dolz narrates her excursion with Carrasco to the rural spaces that inspired his novel. For a recent study on the effects of Francoist policies that led to the massive abandonment of towns during the 1950's and 1960's, see Sergio del Molino's La Espana vacia.
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|Author:||Margenot, John B., III|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2018|
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