Benet Goitia, Juan

Benet Goitia, Juan
b. 1927, Madrid; d. 1993, Madrid
   Juan Benet falls chronologically into the group of novelists known as the "Generation of the 1950s". The realistic and engagé approach to literature espoused by these writers (including Jesus Fernández Santos, Ignacio Aldecoa, Carmen Martín Gaite and Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio) represents the dominant trend in Spain for nearly two decades following the Civil War. Despite Benet's chronological affiliation with the writers of this period, however, he represents a direct antithesis to their literary focus. Rather than record the observable in his narrative, Benet seeks instead to probe beneath the surface of reality and explore what he terms the "zone of shadows". The abstruse and often inaccessible fiction that results places Benet radically apart from social realism and from the mainstream of the post-war novel in general. Benet sets nearly all of his novels in Region, a mythical region created in the fashion of Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County or García Márquez's Macondo. This private narrative world stands as the most explicit symbol of the ruin and despair that form the central motif of Benet's fiction. Region is developed most fully in the author's early novels, Return to Region (Volverás a Región) (1967), Una meditation (A Meditation) (1969) and Un viaje de invierno (A Winter's Journey) (1972). To a large extent, Region is the aggregate of characters, events and social themes which for Benet constitute twentieth century Spanish society. His focus on the Civil War is particularly acute in these early novels, as well as in his later works such as Saúl ante Samuel (Saúl Before Samuel) (1980) and his three-volume Herrumbrosas lanzas (Rusty Lances) (1983). In each of these novels Benet subverts the connection between political allegiance and ideological belief as a defining trait of the Civil War, but most importantly he reveals the violence and barren futility of the conflict and portrays post-war Spanish society as a diseased and moribund body. Beyond the social and political background of Region lies the enigmatic reality of the region itself, portrayed by Benet on varying levels of complexity. On the one hand, he depicts Region and the surrounding area with scientific precision; on the other, he calls into question its correspondence with the everyday world of lived reality. For the most part he achieves this not explicitly through use of the supernatural, but more subtly by means of conflicting descriptions and recurrent suggestions of the unreal. The oxymoronic moves to the fore in his fiction and creates an amorphous world of contradiction. He portrays Region in a full state of decadence, surrounded by hostile landscapes and immersed in a threatening temperate zone, with time as the recurrent framing device of tragedy in each of his novels.
   Benet's style of writing is perhaps best described as labyrinthine. His sentences are frequently the length of a full page or more, and include embedded parentheses and subordinate clauses which unite to form a syntactical web. Benet's style is a persistent maze of obstacles replete with complex obtrusions, delays, ambiguous interpola-tions and confusions. His narrators eschew words and linguistic structures that portray a world like our own; thus everything associated with what they say becomes part of a rarefied atmosphere aimed at precluding complete and rational understanding. Much of Benet's style and technique is part of a deliberate plan to withhold meaning from the reader. As a result, the world of Region remains ambiguous and mysterious amid the language that creates and sustains its very existence.
   Benet's other fiction has generally been viewed as less accomplished than his Region works. For example, in En la penumbra (In the Penumbra) (1989), Benet moves outside Region to represent the meditations of two women on their lives as they await their mysterious destiny. In El caballero de Sajonia (The Gentleman from Saxony) (1991), his last novel published before his death, Benet evokes the sixteenth-century world of Martin Luther. Rather than write a traditional historical novel, however, Benet explores the painful shades of Luther's moral doubts and draws forth the complex nuances of political ambivalence that reside deeply in the theologian's soul.
   In his essays Benet's interests range from music to linguistics, history and architecture, but his most perceptive writings are on literary theory. For example, in La inspiration y el estilo (Inspiration and Style) (1966) and El angel del Señor abandona a Tobías (The Angel of the Lord abandons Tobit) (1976), Benet underscores the importance of style and enigma in the creation of fiction. In nearly all of his essays on literature Benet refuses to embrace either the traditional confidence of realism in the representational accuracy of language or the postmodern gloom over the fissure between language and reality. Instead, he understands how language gains meaning both within its discursive context and in the world itself. Most importantly, he shows how words both reveal and create the world.
   See also: novel
   Major works
   Benet Goitia, J.
   —— (1966) La inspiration y el estilo, Madrid: Revista de Occidente (essays on style, writing and meaning).
   —— (1967) Volverás a Región, Madrid: Destino; trans. Rabassa, Return to Region, New York: Columbia University Press, 1985 (novel).
   —— (1969) Una meditación, Barcelona: Seix Barral; trans. Rabassa, A Meditation, New York: Persea, 1982 (novel).
   —— (1972) Un viaje de invierno, Barcelona: La Gaya Ciencia (novel).
   —— (1976) El angel del Señor abandona a Tobías, Barcelona: La Gaya Ciencia (essays on literary and linguistic theory).
   —— (1980) Saúl ante Samuel, Barcelona: La Gaya Ciencia (novel).
   —— (1983–6) Herrumbrosas lanzas, Madrid: Alfaguara, 3 vols (novel).
   —— (1989) En la penumbra, Madrid: Alfaguara (novel).
   —— (1991) El caballero de Sajonia, Barcelona: Planeta (novel).
   Further reading
   - Cabrera, V. (1983) Juan Benet, Boston, MA: Twayne (an overview of Benet's life and writing up to 1978).
   - Herzberger, D. (1976) The Novelistic World of Juan Benet, Clear Creek, IN: The American Hispanist (a study of Benet's essays and novels up to 1975).
   - Manteiga, R. et al. (eds) (1984) Critical Approaches to the Writings of Juan Benet, Hanover: University Press of New England (essays on the novels, short stories and essays of Benet).

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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