Goytisolo, Juan

Goytisolo, Juan
b. 1931, Barcelona
   In the first volume of his autobiography, Forbidden Territory (Coto vedado, 1985), Goytisolo refers to his long experience of exile, emphasizing the sense of "unrootedness" from all social, racial or ideological ties which he feels in every cultural environment, especially that of western Europe. Goytisolo's conviction of always being an outsider stems in part from his rejection of his family background, partly from his detestation of the Franco regime, and partly from his acceptance, when he was in his early thirties, of his homosexuality. The theme of family tradition is an important one in Marks of Identity (Señas de identidad, 1966), and the attack on Franco's Spain emerges most clearly in Count Julian (Reivindicación del conde don Julián, 1970). In the long run, however, his alienation proved positive, for it gave him a sense of total liberation from national, cultural and moral ties, and facilitated the evolution of a literary style of great originality and satirical power. This detachment from his roots is compounded by the fact that he has not lived permanently in Spain since 1956, when he chose voluntary exile in Paris. Since 1964, he has usually spent half the year in Paris and half in Morocco. Goytisolo came from a family of Basque extraction resident in Catalonia for four generations, and grew up with Castilian, rather than Catalan, as his mother tongue. His first forays into fiction-writing date from the early to mid-1950s, with The Young Assassins (Juegos de manos, 1954), Children of Chaos (Duelo en el Paraíso, 1955), his first major novel, and Fiestas. Goytisolo submitted Juegos de manos for the Nadal Prize in 1954, but it was rejected by the jury on the grounds of its leftward-leaning sympathies. Duelo en el Paraíso touches on the sensitive subject of the Civil War, and although passed by the censors, the novel contains, in the figure of Dona Estanislaa, a powerful evocation of the selfishness and irresponsibility of the right-wing Francoist bourgeoisie, which, Goytisolo makes clear, is largely to blame for the conflict. In later works, such as the novels Señas de identidad and Reivindicación del conde don Julián, and the collection of essays Furgón de cola (The Brakevan) (1967), the anti-Franco stance is much more explicit, but the novels are not mere works of polemic, for their political and psychological themes are closely associated. Although Duelo en el Paraíso is set in a small village near the French border in Upper Catalonia during the last days of the Civil War, there is very little explicit detail about location, chronology, comparative military strength, or even the issues being fought over. For the most part, the war is heard merely as a distant rumble, largely because Goytisolo is concerned with more fundamental issues. Chief among these is the whole question of personal identity and the authenticity of the self. Abandoned by their elders, the boys in Duelo en el Paraíso revert to a semi-savage state and paint their faces, in a way comparable to the situation portrayed in William Golding's Lord of the Flies. The adoption of masks is, in fact, a common practice among Goytisolo's characters, and indicates a deeprooted desire to protect the kernel of one's genuine being from scrutiny or possession by others. Goytisolo's preoccupation with questions of personal identity leads him logically towards the uncompromising pursuit of personal freedom: the family tie, and the related ideas of tradition and authority, are all resolutely rejected. Furthermore, the deadening influence of authoritarianism is seen as exercised simultaneously, and to their mutual benefit, by the family and the militaristic regime. The rejection of Nationalist culture thus comes to be centred on the figure of the dictator himself, who is portrayed in Coto vedado in quasi-Freudian terms as the castrating Father.
   This pursuit of personal authenticity and freedom is reflected at the level of language. Goytiso-lo's belated discovery, in 1957, after taking up residence in Paris, of the Spanish classics neglected during his formal education resolved his linguistic and cultural hesitations (between Catalan and Castilian) in favour of Castilian. What he later described in Coto vedado as his fierce struggle with the Castilian language gave him access to a satirical weapon of apparently inexhaustible inventiveness with which he could pursue, in ever more original ways, his attack on the values of the regime, and ultimately, in John the Landless (Juan sin tierra, 1975), Makbara and Landscapes after the Battle (Paisajes después de la batalla), on the whole of western bourgeois society. Furthermore, his cosmopolitan situation, and the widening of cultural and linguistic horizons which this entailed, not only gave him a specially acute awareness of what was unique about the Spanish linguistic and literary heritage, but also gave him a redoubled sense of freedom from facile categorizations.
   Another event which proved to be liberating and formative for Goytisolo's career as a writer was his discovery, late in 1957 or early in 1958, of the austere, "African" beauty of the arid southeastern part of the peninsula, especially Almería, which was to prove a bridge to North Africa, and in turn to the whole of the Arabic and Islamic world. In Morocco, as in Almería, Goytisolo found the same elemental qualities of natural dignity, earthiness and spontaneous friendship which, in his somewhat romantic view, underlie the essential Spanish character, increasingly threatened by commercialization and international tourism.
   The beginnings of Goytisolo's turbulent loveaffair with the Spanish language were, then, followed within less than two years by a spontaneous upsurge of affection for a majestic and impoverished landscape, which modified his alienation from Spain, and offered a glimpse of a possible alternative sense of cultural identity. The combined effects of these experiences, however, would not be fully assimilated until Goytisolo had come to terms with another major area of inner conflict, his sexual ambiguity. His long-standing liaison with Monique Lange, whom he eventually married in 1978, was both passionate and fulfilling, but he also had various affairs with Arab men, and by about 1964 the latent conflict could no longer be concealed. In the second volume of his autobiography, Realms of Strife (En los reinos de Taifa, 1986), he gives a moving account of how he staked his whole relationship with Monique on an open declaration, and of how they reconstructed their future together. It was the resolution of this crisis which enabled Goytisolo to integrate in his writing all the diverse political and cultural elements summarized above. He himself described this integration as the entry of the Maghreb (the North African desert) into his life. Goytisolo's Maghreb is simultaneously a real place and an imagined society, natural, spontaneous and tolerant of everything that lies extramuros (outside the walls) of the sanitized middleclass culture of western Europe.
   The effect on his writing was profound. From Reivindicación del conde ción Julián onwards, the surface realism of earlier novels is largely abandoned in favour of a ludic exuberance of language, often richly comic, by contrast with the almost complete absence of humour in previous works. No subject is taboo, no cherished assumption is immune from his gleeful iconoclasm. Reivindicación del conde don Julián takes the form of a drug-induced fantasy in the mind of the narrator, in which he sees himself as the reincarnation of the arch-traitor Julian, execrated for centuries by nationalistic Spaniards as the person who allegedly invited the Moors into Spain in the eighth century. The novel is an imaginative recreation of a new Moorish invasion which, in a glorious orgy of destruction, razes every hallowed institution, even the Castilian language itself. The fragmentary and hermetic nature of these later works, in which fictional and non-fictional texts, invented scenes and historical details are intermingled, makes them impossible to classify, still less to summarize, but two themes predominate. One is the celebration of the body in all its aspects, especially those conventionally regarded as taboo: not only the sexual vitality of the slaves evoked at the beginning of Juan sin tierra but also defecation, natural odours, dirt and disease. By defiantly making explicit what is usually silenced, Goytisolo is metaphorically embracing the world of the pariahs and outcasts, whose capacity to disturb the ordered, asceptic lives of "respectable" people gives them a freedom and dignity which those imprisoned within bourgeois convention conspicuously lack. A recognition of common biological humanity, even in its ugliest and most abject form, has the potential (albeit usually unrealized) to transcend barriers of all kinds between people.
   The second recurrent theme is that of writing itself, closely linked to the theme of the body, since writing is seen as an extension of sexual activity. Goytisolo's acceptance of his homosexuality, and his rejection of all inherited assumptions and values, implied his acceptance of his status extramuros, and the complete isolation which this entailed. Since in this situation personal identity cannot be defined in terms of nationality, class, creed or profession, sex and writing become the only two reference points in the writer's life, and are, indeed, his identity, as Goytisolo repeatedly says. Writing Reivindicación del conde don Julián was almost an erotic physical struggle to wrest new possibilities and pleasures from language. The identification of writing and sex means that just as his sexuality is by definition of the kind that produces no offspring, his writing, at least at the level of professed intention, is selfsufficient and has no purpose beyond itself.
   Nevertheless, though it would be inappropriate to try to pin down any specific political, or indeed other message, it is precisely the playful and irreverent quality of his writing that makes the anti-Francoist satire of Reivindicación del conde don Julián and the attack on western European consumerism in Juan sin tierra, Makbara and Paisajes después de la batalla so effective. Goytisolo could almost be said to court incomprehension and marginalization, but can nevertheless claim rich literary rewards. In distancing himself from officially approved literary coteries, and cultivating a view of writing as a selfsufficient, onanistic and largely unlawful activity, he opens for himself a gateway into limitless creative and expressive freedom. In this way he avoids the narrow ideological consistency which is often the price paid by the practitioners of more conventional approaches to fictional narrative.
   See also: gay culture; gay writing; language and national identity; novel
   Major works
   - Goytisolo, J. (1954) Juegos de manos, Barcelona: Ediciones Destino; trans. J.Rust, The Young Assassins, London: McGibbon & Kee, 1960 (novel).
   —— (1955) Duelo en el Paraíso, Barcelona: Ediciones Destino; trans. C.Brooke-Rose, Children of Chaos, London: McGibbon & Kee, 1958 (novel).
   —— (1966) Señas de identidad, Mexico: Joaquín Mortiz; trans. G.Rabassa, Marks of Identity, London: The Serpent's Tail, 1988 (novel).
   —— (1967) Furgón de cola, Paris: Ruedo Ibérico (collection of essays on various aspects of Spanish culture, politics and literature).
   —— (1970) Reivindicación del conde don Julián, Mexico: Joaquín Mortiz; trans. H.Lane Count Julian, New York: Viking Press, 1975; London: Serpent's Tail, 1989 (novel).
   —— (1975) Juan sin Tierra, Barcelona: Seix Barral; trans. H.Lane, John the Landless, New York: Viking Press, 1975 (novel).
   —— (1985) Coto vedado, Barcelona: Seix Barral; trans P.Bush, Forbidden Territory, San Francisco: North Point Press, 1989 (autobiography).
   —— (1986) En los reinos de Taifa, Barcelona: Seix Barral; trans. P.Bush, Realms of Strife, San Francisco: North Point Press, 1990 (autobiography).
   Further reading
   - Jordan, B. (1990) Writing and Politics in Franco's Spain, London and New York: Routledge (a very readable analysis of the social novel in the 1950s and 1960s).
   - Lee Six, A. (1990) Juan Goytisolo, The Case for Chaos, New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press (an excellent study of Goytisolo's critique of conventional literary and other categories in the later novels; contains a bibliography of all his writings up to 1988).
   - Pérez, G.J. (1979) Formalist Elements in the Novels of Juan Goytisolo, Madrid: José Porrúa (a useful study of structural features in Goytisolo's novels).
   - Ugarte, M. (1982) Trilogy of Treason: An Intertextual Study of Juan Goytisolo, London: University of Missouri Press (a perceptive and highly regarded monograph).

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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