Villena, Luis Antonio de

Villena, Luis Antonio de
b. 1951, Madrid
   Writer
   Villena made his reputation as a poet and essayist in the 1970s and—as well as having become a cultural icon, hero and hate-figure—has in the 1980s and 1990s established a second reputation as a short-story writer, novelist and biographer (of renaissance artists and of Byron, winning the 1994 Azorín Prize in the latter case). He has made a sustained attempt to mingle ethics and aesthetics, from his early interest in the figure of the dandy and his convolutedly luxurious poetic style in Sublime solarium (1971) and El viaje a Bizancio (The Journey to Byzantium) (1978) through to his treatment of suffering, folly, loss and nostalgia in stories in El tártaro de las estrellas (The Tartar of the Stars) (1994), the novel Divino (Divine) (1994), and the poems of Marginados (Marginal Figures) (1993). Divino is a harrowing, unforgiving, yet arrestingly beautiful account of a glamorous and intelligent circle of artists and aristocrats drifting through the 1920s into the tragedies of Civil War Madrid, with forgotten songs and lost freedoms left at the end of the novel to signify, in part, Spain of the 1990s, itself torn by disappointments and lost opportunities. Marginados looks back on past pleasures almost with a jaundiced eye and represents sharply a contemporary Madrid where sex, drugs, poverty and death cohabit. The poems in Hymnica (1975) and Huir del invierno (To Flee from Winter) (1981) seem, with their emphasis on pleasure, to have no hint of the graver preoccupations referred to above. They are complex investigations of desire—usually homoerotic-and of the role of art and beauty. But like La muerte únicamente (Death Alone) (1984), they draw on a postmodern blend of tones, styles and subject matter, a mixing of sanctified traditions and radical new conceptualizations of pleasure, desire, pain and death. Death, as a metaphysical construct standing for the possibility of absolute attainment as well as a theme appropriately laden with late romantic and decadent implication, is the focus of the essays of La tentación de Ícaro (The Temptation of Icarus) (1986) which might be viewed as a summary of the aesthetic and moral intent of Villena's first two decades of writing. Much of Villena's writing is transgressive and resistant to normalization in matters of taste or behaviour. In parallel, however, he has developed a considerable talent as an almost neo-realist observer of the contemporary cultural scene—especially the social life and certain sectors of the gay scene in Madrid-and its manners, influences, and pretensions are minutely detailed, and often satirized. One of Villena's major talents, indeed, is to combine an inflation of certain values (male beauty, youth, being different) with the deflation of self and others. Early short stories, the novella Amor Pasión (Amour Passion) (1983), the 1989 sequence of stories Chicos (Boys), and the novel Fuera del mundo (Beyond the World) (1990), as well as being sociologically acute miniatures, are brilliant exercises in unreliable narration, calling into question received ideas about love, identity and selfhood.
   Further reading
   - Perriam, C. (1995) Desire and Dissent: An Introduction to Luis Antonio de Villena, Oxford: Berg (includes a select bibliography).
   CHRIS PERRIAM

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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