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Toward a New Vanguard: Ideology and Novelistic Form in José Díaz Fernández's El blocao

Marshall J. Schneider

Baruch College City University of New York

     Abstract: José Diaz Fernández's first work of fiction, El blocao, both dramatizes and prefigures the author's aesthetic tenets espoused in his seminal book of essays El nuevo romanticismo, especially those principles that relate to the delicate balance between form and content. As a result, El blocao marks a watershed in the development of the novel in the late 1920s, serving as a subtle transition from literatura de vanguardia to literatura de avanzada; that is, El blocao signals an important shift from dehumanized literature to literature of rehumanization and socio-political commitment. It is the objective of this essay to demonstrate how Díaz Fernández achieves his aesthetic goals and fulfills his moral impulses toward engagement in El blocao by fashioning its novelistic design into a marker for ideological struggle against colonialism and its domestic manifestation, fascism. Readers are thus obliged to receive structural fragmentation connotatively.

     Key Words: Spanish narrative, 20th century, Díaz Fernández (José), blocao (El), new romanticism, novelistic form, connotation, fascism, colonialism.

     José Díaz Fernández's El blocao (1928), a work once widely read and praised, is now unfortunately relegated to critical neglect. In spite of the attentive discussions about Díaz Fernández in the historiographical writings of Víctor Fuentes, José Carlos Mainer, José Esteban, Gonzalo Santonja, María Francisca Vilches de Frutos and Christopher H. Cobb, El blocao has not received much textual analysis nor has it occasioned any recent in-depth studies in the journals. (46) Although Cobb terms it a libro generacional (36), and José Manuel López de Abiada designates the novel as the work that unquestionably marks the beginning of el cambio de rumbo de la novela de vanguardia (37), El blocao, nevertheless, remains a novel that is essentially unknown and far removed from the canon. Even the 1976 reprint of the novel, which includes the praise of some forty-six of the most important and discerning critics of the twenties and thirties -Joaquín Arderíus, Juan Chabás, Benjamín Jarnés, E. Gómez de Baquero, and Rufino Blanco-Fombona, to name just a few- has had little success in restoring the popularity once enjoyed by Díaz Fernández's novel. Eugenio de Nora's rather lavish encomiums of Díaz Fernández's prose in the early sixties also did not stir a great deal of literary or public interest in the work. He provides a convincing argument for the rehabilitation of El blocao in his clear assertion that,

           por lo que respecta a Díaz Fernández, es de justicia afirmar (sobre todo con referencia a El blocao) que se trata de un gran prosista, dueño de un idioma vivo, concentrado, de fina y honda raíz popular, natural y depurado... asombrosamente expresivo, garboso, sugerente y enérgico al mismo tiempo. (25; italics mine)           

     Nora's enthusiastic appreciations of the work, however, are only a starting point for undertaking a reconsideration of El blocao, there are additional reasons for doing so.

     El blocao is an important link between the twenties and thirties, two decades of unprecedented change and artistic productivity that have always been considered antipodal, but whose differing positions toward art Díaz Fernández so adroitly tries to reconcile. El blocao interrogates a literary matter of perennial interest: does fiction best function when it privileges content (as in the social novel) or when it privileges form and self-referentiality (as in the vanguard novel)? As a result, El blocao provides an excellent vantage point from which to view the aesthetic and social polemics [407] that ushered in the decade of the thirties. Furthermore, the social literature of pre-Republican Spain, according to Vilches de Frutos, would help the present generation of critics to understand better the more recent Spanish social novel of the fifties and sixties, which was influenced by the writers of the Other Generation of 27 (55). (47) It is, therefore, difficult to explain adequately why El blocao has been ignored by critics, especially after its republication. Writing about the paucity of critical material on Díaz Fernández entire generation, Vilches de Frutos offers some plausible reasons for the marginalization of these writers. She argues that since the works of the New Romantics were leftist, full of proletarian zeal, they were banned from memory by the Franco government. In addition, she notes that many of these activist writers who survived the Civil War left Spain in 1936, and thus lost their audience (31-32).

     Vilches de Frutos's argument, however, ignores the textual problems that critics may experience with socialist realist texts. Contemporary critics are apt to shy away from works such as El blocao because they fear that these texts are slavishly referential and are weakened by a parsimonious plurality of meaning. El blocao, therefore, has ironically been victimized by its position as a transitional work that ushers into Spain la novela social. Critics have largely focused on the content and literalness of the work, overlooking the fact that narrative structure and novelistic design can also signify and be semantic. Thus, the small body of criticism on El blocao is more descriptive than analytical; more contextual than textual. Such criticism ignores the rich and informing play of textuality in the work precisely because the content and socio-political referencing of El blocao appear so innovative and so much more compelling than its formal aspects, privileged by the vanguard novels of the twenties. The present essay adopts a more balanced approach toward this potentially important canonical novel, one that considers materiality and narrative strategies as well as content and reference. Or to put it another way, in order to serve the exegetical demands of El blocao, it is productive to consider the tense, often paradoxical and complex relationship that exists between form and content; the work's self-referential program and its obligation to pragmatized communication.

     As the novel glosses and subtly dramatizes the leftist debate of the period over the relationship between form and content, its fragmented, episodic structure lies at the very center of the work's ideology. Although the episodic novel enjoys a long and rich history in Peninsular letters -some precedents being the picaresque novel and El Quijote, as well as the novela por entregas of the second half of the nineteenth century- episodic structure may not have the same connotation in one novel as it does in another. Novelistic techniques in themselves do not necessarily create predetermined meanings; rather they are secondary and arbitrary signifiers to be understood within the context of the particular socio-political and cultural milieu in which they were created before one can rightfully assign any connotative meaning. In El blocao, fragmentation and the emphasis on episode affect reader reception, fashioning a new vanguard, which has at its core the nascent interest in littérature engagée.

     Publication of the novel in July of 1928 was an important literary event, marking a watershed in the course of Spanish letters. Díaz Fernández subtitled his first (and penultimate) book of fiction novela de la guerra marroquí, enigmatically including the provocative designation of novela for his slender collection of seven apparently unrelated short stories. That he chose to call these discrete tales a novel was perhaps the only cause for discomfort felt by reviewers upon the publication of El blocao. (48) Otherwise, the book was enthusiastically received and duly celebrated by both critics and public. In fact, El blocao was so well received by the growing and changing readership in Spain that a second edition followed the first a mere three months later. It is as if El blocao had not only anticipated, but also miraculously fulfilled, its audience's needs and expectations. The [408] new masses of readers delighted at the change in direction for fiction that Díaz Fernández's novel promised: dehumanization would finally give way to rehumanization; technique and formal aspects to intersubjective emotion and moral content. The hope that art would soon be turned over to its lawful subjects -the people- thereby legitimizing culture as a collective and dynamic force in Spain, perhaps for the very first time, was now a real possibility. In other words, the hegemony of the elitist vanguard -those groups of writers who supported art for art's sake- would end, making way for a literatura de avanzada, a term often used by Díaz Fernández and other committed writers, possibly in order to disparage, in an obviously facetious manner, the widely circulated coinage of literatura de vanguardia.

     The alluring simplicity of El blocao denuded prose, its sincere testimonial voice and refreshing attitude toward emplotment, as well as its overarching desire to be humanizing, all contributed to the seduction of critic and reader alike. Although bent on exposing the futility and horrors of war, the univocal voice of Díaz Fernández's narrators is, oddly enough, gentle and unassuming. Díaz Fernández is careful to forgo all graphic portrayals of the messiness that war almost always brings. He is also mindful (in Primo de Rivera's censorious Spain) (49) to subdue his bitterness and rage toward his imperialistic, colonizing fatherland by skillfully embedding ideology within the novelistic design, a strategy which may have contributed to the seduction of the reader.

     Both the critical and commercial success of El blocao took the literary world by surprise. Here was a slender volume of seven discrete short tales -a first novel- written with lyrical poignancy by a politically active, hard-boiled journalist. Although Díaz Fernández's name may not be well-remembered today, in pre-Republican Spain he was, nevertheless, a major figure in the leftist literary and political milieu, contributing to many of the little magazines and newspapers that flourished during the Dictatorship and the Republic. In addition to his political interventions against Primo de Rivera (for which he was briefly exiled to Lisbon in 1926), and his duties as editor of the liberal daily El Sol, Díaz Fernández was instrumental in the founding of several reviews -Post Guerra (1927-1928) and España Nueva (1930-1931)- which laid out his generation's collectivist, antivanguard positions. He was also one of the founding fathers of Ediciones Oriente, a publishing house dedicated primarily to European leftist writings and tracts supportive of the working class (López de Abiada 34-36). His book of essays on culture and aesthetics, El nuevo romanticismo, has been considered as fundamental a work as Ortega's La deshumanización del arte (Fuentes, En torno a José Díaz Fernández 255-56). Díaz Fernández ended his career as a novelist with La venus mecánica (1929), a work of social and political struggle.

     Five of the seven chapters of El blocao are narrated anonymously; in two chapters -4 and 6- the narrator is Sergeant Carlos Arnedo, an educated soldier who before being drafted to fight in the Rif Wars, was a Marxist-Leninist thinker. It is possible that Arnedo, the fictionalized alter ego of the author, may very well be the narrator of all seven chapters; textual corroboration is lacking, however. The novel details a series of seemingly insignificant, small events that touch the fives of Spanish soldiers caught in the monotony of a futile colonial war. Yet, there are no battles, no epic sentiments and almost no bloodshed. In fact, there is only one scene of murder that the reader is permitted to witness, and it is the accidental killing of a civilian woman, occurring in the last lines of the novel. The first tale, the title chapter El blocao, sets the tone of the entire work in that it accurately describes the tedious existence of a squadron of soldiers assigned to an isolated encampment. Amid the sporadic sounds of gunfire the recruits pass their days playing cards. Each morning the soldiers are visited by Aixa, a young Arab girl of fifteen who sells vegetables, and to whom the narrator is attracted. Aixa betrays the soldiers of the blockhouse by unexpectedly visiting them [409] one night thereby allowing rebel soldiers to launch a surprise attack. Nevertheless, she is allowed to go free by the narrator, who is in command, although four soldiers have been killed because of her treachery. Chapter 2, El reloj, which will be studied later, is a small jewel that portrays with humor and irony the protagonist's loss of his prized pocket watch. In Chapter 3, Cita en la huerta, the narrator has his dream come true only to see it vanish forever at the end of the tale. The narrator and his Moorish friend Haddú exchange favors in order to sate their burning desires: the Spaniard arranges for Haddú to meet the Spanish entertainer Gloria Cancio whom the Moroccan had been pursing with the proviso that he arrange a date for the narrator with a Moorish woman. Haddú chooses his nubile sister, also named Aixa, for the rendezvous that occurs soon after. Although quite taken with her, the Spaniard never sees the exotic, taciturn Moorish girl again until some time after, and then only from a distance, at a public procession celebrating her marriage. His heart is broken.

     Magdalena roja, the fourth and longest chapter, is the only narrative in the novel that has part of its action in Spain before it shifts to Morocco. Magdalena roja is the intriguing tale of Angustias and Carlos Arnedo, the former a radical activist and terrorist, the latter her young, naive disciple. After helping her in an act of sabotage, which fails, Arnedo is drafted into the army and finds himself stationed in Morocco, where months later he meets Angustias. She is playing the role of a rich, bourgeois woman and is currently the mistress of an important general in order to sabotage the Spanish war effort and to spy for the rebel forces. When asked by Angustias to assist her once again, Arnedo refuses and ends up being her jailer when she is apprehended at the end of the chapter.

     In Chapter 5, África a sus pies, the eponymous mistress of Riaño, a cocky, rich officer, is the envy and object of desire of all his friends. Riaño brags constantly how he keeps Árica at his feet, completely subservient until one day he tires of their liaison and throws her away. Riaño is then found dead, brutally murdered by África. Chapters 6 and 7, which will be studied later, respectively chronicle the capricious slaying of a pet dog that is the mascot of a platoon, and the accidental death of a flirtatious wife of an officer.

     The unadorned, lyrical tales of simple elegance and understated dramatism in El blocao participate in the polemic current during the twenties regarding the writer's relationship toward the needs of society and the current political reality. Díaz Fernández portrays this on-going debate regarding the function of literature by fashioning a new reading pact with his audience. He thus cracks the hegemony of dehumanized fiction, whose lessons, however, he doesn't not ignore completely. El blocao is, therefore, always nourished by paradox and tension because although it breaks with the past to ensure a better future -a tenet central to Díaz Fernández's aesthetic and political theories-the author never hesitates to avail himself of antecedent literary practices when appropriate. For Díaz Fernández the practices of the avant-garde refer to the writer's obsession with form, while the interests of the new revolutionary novel signal the return to content. In this sense, form and content can be considered the analogues of past and future.

     The relationship between form and content is of prime concern to Díaz Fernández, and one with which he -as well as most other revolutionary writers and theorists of the period- struggles at length. El blocao prefigures Lukács's ideas on the play between form and content since like Lukács, whom he most probably had never read but many of whose aesthetic positions he shared, Díaz Fernández believes that the essential unity of form and content in the work of art is ruined by two modern kinds of subjectivization: either by an inflation of the content at the expense of form, or a hypertrophy of form to the detriment of the content (Rieser 239). As a result, Díaz Fernández constructs his novel with caution lest it fall victim to those kinds of subjectivization.[410]

     In fact, Díaz Fernández often addresses the form-content polemic both in the Nota to the second edition of El blocao and in his aforementioned collection of essays, El nuevo romanticismo (1930), which the novel thematizes and for which, according to Fuentes, it serves as a model (Prólogo 10). Like Lukács, Díaz Fernández also understands that, on the one hand, an inflation of content leads to old-fashioned naturalism with its stultifying descriptions and attention to details. (50) On the other hand, an overly exuberant celebration of form leads to the fatuous and useless concept of art for art's sake. Guided by the commonplace notion that content is nothing but its turning into form, and form is nothing but its turning into content (Rieser 240), Díaz Fernández seeks a constructive outlet in El blocao for the proper definition of the interplay between form and content and their deeper unity, stating in his Nota that, Rechazo por eso la novela tradicional, que transporta pesadamente descripciones e intrigas, e intento un cuerpo diferente para el contenido eterno (26-27). In this regard, David Herzberger appropriately views Díaz Fernández's attempts to reconcile the referential and self-referential functions of literary discourse as a matter of one intention (of content) laid beside another intention (of form) (88; italics mine). Although Díaz Fernández never offers a direct answer to this problem, Herzberger finds that the solution lies implicit in the core of his thinking (89). (51)

     It is quite possible that the key to understanding the core of his thinking may lie precisely in Díaz Fernández's connotative use of form, or what Frederic Jameson calls the connotation-effect, that is, a kind of ninety-degree rotation in which form is momentarily transformed into a new type of content in its own right (212). The connotation-effect is a perfect paradigm for appreciating Díaz Fernández's unending interest in the relationship between form and content since connotation permits, even encourages, form or novelistic design to be an ideological arm of expression. Form need not necessarily be considered a scientific, dehumanized maneuvering but rather a political function of structure, an implicit content.

     Connotation, a second-degree construction of signification lies beyond denotation, and is supplemental to it, occurring when a complete previous sign... is pressed into service in the edification of a new and more complex sign of which it becomes itself the signifier (Jameson 211). Thus by definition, connotation is value-driven as when the sentences of a Flaubert or a Joyce proclaim, above and beyond their own denotative content, 'I am Literature' (211). Although Jameson theorizes at the structural level of words and sentences when he offers the preceding example of connotation, there is no reason sentence structure could not be raised to the level of novelistic design. This is the case with Díaz Fernández's El blocao, which beyond the obvious denotation of its structure -truncation and episodic form- insists on its own experimentation and antifascist position.

     In both the Nota to El blocao and in El nuevo romaticismo Díaz Fernández often proleptically glosses the uses of the connotation-effect by scrupulously considering the new and innovative form of his novel; in his book of essays he repeatedly discusses the delicate but extremely important interrelationship between ideas and forms. Díaz Fernández concludes his discussion on the form and novelistic structure of his novel by alluding to the vexing designation of novela in his work's problematic subtitle. He explains the matter as follows:

           En esto [the designation, novela,] no se han puesto de acuerdo los críticos. Mientras unos han hablado de un libro de novelas cortas, otros le han llamado colección de cuentos y muchos narraciones o relatos. Yo quise hacer una novela sin otra unidad que la atmósfera que sostiene a los episodios. El argumento clásico está sustituido por la dramática trayectoria de la guerra, así como el personaje, por su misma impersonalidad. (Nota 27)           

     Thus, the willful dismemberment of novelistic structure into autonomous parts, or episodes is part of a grand design to break with both the novel of the past century, which offers fictional worlds that are as seamless [411] as they are totalizing, and with the vanguard novel of the 20s, which seeks to sponsor aestheticism and auto-referentiality for its own sake. In his attempts to create a new vanguard, a vanguard that is truly modern, one that reconciles the transitive and intransitive functions of literary discourse (Herzberger 83), Díaz Fernández needs to take solace in the connotative uses of fragmentation and detotalization. In order to do so, however, he must define for himself exactly how form and content inform each other within fictional worlds, and in what manner they are related to the events in the real world.

     The connotative use of novelistic fragmentation is a sign of scorn toward the hegemony of master narratives, and takes its nourishment from the desire to expose the fascistic and colonialist bent of Spanish institutions. Fragmentation is often demonstrated thematically throughout El blocao, where decent European men and women along with their precious objects of art are often either smashed, destroyed or outsmarted by the colonized primitives of Morocco. The process of novelistic form turning into content becomes perfectly clear as early as the short second chapter, El reloj (41-45), where the central event is the literal fragmentation of a cherished heirloom.

     Díaz Fernández plays on the fascist penchant for representing and privileging solely Western (Aryan) icons and figures. El reloj details the destruction by enemy bullets of an heirloom pocket watch adored by its owner, the pitiable recruit Villabona, who because of his irretrievable loss, becomes a young man of broken spirit: Sollozaba entre los escombros de su reloj, como si su vida no tuviera importancia al lado de aquel mecanismo que acababa de desintegrarse para siempre. De morir también (45). That the watch absorbed the impact of the bullet, thus saving his life, matters not at all to Villabona, who just like the reader, begins to understand that the fragmented heirloom might have other implications that make this event less trivial than it might first appear.

     The description of Villabona's watch, replete with imperialist tradition, has an ideological agenda that speaks against not only European hegemony but also against fascism and colonialism:

                             Villabona, el de Arroes, poseía un reloj que era el asombro de la Compañía; uno de esos cronómetros ingentes que hace años fabricaban los alemanes para demostrar que la Alemania del Káiser era grande en todo. Ojo de cíclope, rueda de tren, cebolla de acero. (41)                           

     Thus, Díaz Fernández begins a systematic reversal of fascist aesthetics by denying well-being and wholeness to Europeans and their cherished objects. If fascist art has tended to exclude and disdain the primitive or non-European, then leftist aesthetics has reactively undermined the hegemony of Western icons, and has withheld from reader and subject alike their integrity. It is in this sense that El reloj signals the fragmentation of novelistic form.

     El reloj is, however, only the first step in fleshing out Díaz Fernández's ideological position, which posits that there is an inextricable linkage of colonialism to fascism. By writing a cautionary tale about domesticated colonialism, Díaz Fernández supports the idea that, The brutality of the colonial administrations [Spain's adventures in Morocco] served as a proving ground for the inhumanity of the totalitarian regimes -fascism as colonialism come home (Berman 61).

     The leftist critique and satire of colonialist representation offered in Chapter 2 are domesticated, and then intensified through progressive violence and cumulative tragedy in Chapters 6 and 7, Reo de muerte and Convoy de amor. Because the violence is contained among the colonizing Spanish troops and their loved ones, the reader can instinctively appreciate in these last chapters how fascism is a kind of domestic colonialism. Díaz Fernández need not name or spell out with precision what political program(s) he is attacking. Since the author is suspicious of both burdensome emplotment and overwrought descriptions, we must look to other strategies for a subtle [412] cogency to his arguments and a sustaining unity in his seven short tales of the Moroccan War.

     Díaz Fernández suggests in the Nota that the reader look to la atmósfera (27), a sort of attenuated objective correlative that produces what he labels fórmulas: Sostengo que hay una fórmula eterna de arte: la emoción. Y otra fórmula actual: la síntesis (26). On the one hand, the narrative structure of the seven independent chapters, or tales of war furnishes an episodic work, which is highly fragmented and without much continuity. Yet on the other hand, Díaz Fernández promises unity and synthesis, the latter being an essential element of his aesthetic position. The paradox of a fragmented synthesis, or detotalized totality -to use Sartre's term- is further evidence of this writer's dialectic or critical method nourished by Marxist and socialist theoreticians. The synthesis and linkage between Chapter 2 and Chapter 6, between the novel's anticolonialist attitude and its antifascistic impulse, are best seen in a rather startling image to describe Villabona's shattered watch, a symbol of the repudiation of European values: El soldado espectador lo [the watch] miraba con la misma prevención que se mira a un mamífero domesticado (42; italics mine). The mamífero domesticado of Chapter 2 becomes the loyal dog left behind by the Moroccan rebels in a skirmish. The dog -although of foreign origins- cared for by Ojeda, a soldier from Extremadura, is soon fully domesticated and valued as a brave member of the company: A la hora del rancho el perro se puso también en la fila, como un soldado más... El perro era el voluntario de todos los días (96). In spite of its faithful service to the soldiers and complete integration into the company, the animal meets a violent end at the hands of the fascistic and capricious lieutenant who has the pet killed by an assistant in some isolated spot, away from the encampment.

     This cruelty is further underscored at the end of Chapter 6 by the grotesque reification and degradation of the poor dog's dead body, violently thrown away:

           Un día [Ojeda] apareció en el recinto, entre una nube de moscas, con el cadáver del perro, ya corrompido, en brazos. Pedro Núñez, que estaba de guardia, tuvo que despojarle violentamente de la querida piltrafa y tirar al barranco aquel montón de carne infecta. (100)           

     Thus, it can be seen how domestic tranquility is shattered in Reo de muerte by the irrational hatred of the leader of the company, a petty tyrant whose attitudes do not spare his own people from the wickedness of totalitarian rule and colonialist posturing. The actions of the lieutenant support the contention that domestic, or in the case of El blocao, domesticated colonialism is nothing more or less than fascism, an evil against which the novel's implied author intends to warn.

     Convoy de amor, the final chapter of El blocao, represents the novel's most tragic moment as it alludes to fascism's grim underside where there throbs an eroticism or ecstasy that is darkly connected with death and the will-to-death, even though officially and publicly the rhetoric and techniques of eugenics and future vitality are always exalted (Strauss 68). Here, domestic tranquility is denied because of the accidental death of the wife of a company leader. She is killed by the stray bullet of Corporal Manolo Pelayo when he attempts to fire in the air in order to protect her against the libidinous advances of his men during an expedition through the desert to see her officer-husband: Thanatos triumphs over Eros. Carmen, the murdered officer's wife, is an emblem of fascism's darkest side to the extent that when she first appears as the picture of good health -eager to embark on her trip for a conjugal visit with her husband- her sexual vitality is exalted and celebrated, and then, when we last glimpse her, she has already succumbed to the will-of-death, a victim of mob violence and absurd chance:

           Uno se atrevió a poner la mano en un brazo de Carmen, que se echó a reír, diabólica. Y entonces sucedió algo monstruoso. López, de un brinco, se lanzó sobre Carmen y le aferró los labios con los suyos. Y como si aquélla fuera la señal, todos se abalanzaron sobre la mujer al mismo tiempo, feroces, siniestros, desorbitados, disputándola a mordiscos, a puñetazos. [413]           


Manolo Pelayo se echó el fusil a la cara y disparó dos veces... Carmen, hollada, pisoteada, estaba muerta de un balazo en la frente. (111)

     In this thwarted gang rape, Díaz Fernández renders allegorical a possible outcome of colonialization, which here for the implied author represents the negative action of the collectivity: a Spanish woman -one of the soldiers' own- becomes the object of furious destruction that ends in her absurd death. Thus, in an episodic manner, and through a series of grotesque events and powerful images, Díaz Fernández exercises his antifascistic and anticolonialist impulses. His bleak portrayal of the demoralized Spanish soldiers, who unknowingly have adopted the attitudes of their imperious and imperialistic government, remains a fertile counter-example of the new vitality and collective spirit that could await Spain if the moral message of his art were heeded and employed in the transformation of society.

     The fragmented structure of El blocao intensifies the work's interest in and commitment to real-world events by fashioning it into a novel that vacillates between what Peter Bürger, an astute theoretician of vanguard literature, would call organic literature and nonorganic literature. Organic literature is best described by the hermeneutic circle whose parts can only be understood through the whole, the whole through the parts. In nonorganic literature, on the other hand, The parts 'emancipate' themselves from the whole (79-80). That is, no one part or tale of the novel is absolutely necessary for hermeneutic satisfaction since Díaz Fernández has liberated each chapter from the hegemonic whole and a sense of strict sequentiality. Yet, if one chapter were removed or skipped over, the affective or emotional thrust of the work would suffer. In other words, the fragmentary and episodic structure of El blocao renders reception problematic, making the audience realize that at the very same time it is reading a work that is new in its rehumanized content, it is also reading a work that is demanding and perhaps even disappointing in its apparent lack of a traditional unity and plot construction. Nevertheless, the work is accessible, moving and unified in mood and spirit, mediated through the agency of an implied author, both constant and reliable, although often at variance with the Eurocentric narrators who themselves have been beaten and made cynical by the futile war. By co-opting the necessity of the parts the author defers or displaces resolute meaning and most expectations of some kind of hermeneutical resolution. This deferral of meaning, coupled with the possible withdrawal of all determinate meaning, reroutes the reader's attention to the fact that the conduct of one's life is questionable and that it is necessary to change it (Bürger 80), a hope that is totally consonant with the aesthetic credo of Díaz Fernández and the group of New Romantics, who underscore the importance of transformation.

     Despite the freedom of form so pervasive in El blocao -a freedom practiced by all adherents of New Romanticism; despite the irresolution in the narrative caused by such structure, the univocal sign of the work is never erased. Rather, its essence, or cultural genetic code, is strengthened through its episodic form, and the teleological force of the author is thus made more plain. The surface disunity offered by the seven quotidian accounts of El blocao makes way for a unity of another kind. The author's socio-political message and his strong obligation to political commitment are foregrounded while the reader is offered valuative liberty: a sort of respite from hermeneutical activity. Readers are not only on their way to turning form into content, they are already turned toward content, comprehending the deep social commitment and the authorial sympathy for the proletariat, as well as cognizant of the antifascist and anticolonialist sentiments of the work. All this is clearly borne out by both the critical comments made at the time of publication and included at the end of El blocao, and by the more recent studies which approach the work thematically, ignoring the semiosis of form and [414] the work's problematic textuality. By subordinating the unified whole to the autonomy of its individual parts, engagement itself becomes the unifying principle throughout the work, since it too can stand as a separate element of the text.

     It would be amiss, if not outrightly misleading, to conclude without acknowledging that, in spite of what has been advanced here about fragmentation and the autonomy of the parts constituting El blocao, it is, nevertheless, quite possible to find some kind of governing thematic and structural design in the work. Boetsch argues this point cogently when he asserts that the fourth episode -Magdalena roja, the longest and most thoroughly developed tale- forms the central core of the work around which the other six tales revolve. He goes on to explain that the other tales are interrelated in the following fashion:

           ... existe una estructura simétrica entre los siete episodios que componen la novela. En los primeros tres capítulos, El blocao, El reloj y Cita en la huerta, se plantean los temas principales del libro y se establece la actitud crítica del autor. El cuarto episodio, Magdalena roja, es el centro... Con el quinto capítulo... empezamos a notar la intensificación de los temas establecidos en los tres primeros. Hay una paralela relación temática entre El reloj y Reo de muerte, entre Cita en la huertay África a sus pies... y finalmente entre El blocao y Convoy de amor. (62)            

     It is interesting, however, to note that the symmetrical unity, to which Boetsch refers, is crafted principally by a conscious intensification of the work's thematic material. Such intensification is no more or less a function of subjective reception and affective response which, in the final analysis, is the rendering of form into content.

     Critical attention is needed to explore the textuality of other fictional works that, like El blocao, pertain to New Romanticism, a literary sensibility highly reflective of pre-Republican and Republican Spain. Only then can the shifting view of aesthetics and art works of the twenties and thirties regarding the restructuring of the production apparatus (Bürger 90), and the uneasy relationship of artist to society be properly situated. In fiction constituted by autonomous or legitimately individual elements, no organizing principle can be capable of dominating reception and signification. This has great impact on the political and ideological content of the work in question, a fact often lost or misunderstood by the prevailing critical establishment, which for the most part, has passed over the literary production of La otra generación del 27. This group of writers offered hybrid works that fused, perhaps unexpectedly and enigmatically, modernist artistic discourse and design with activist, revolutionary ideology. El blocao is just one example of this mode of expression, and an important one, since it is the opinion of many literary historiographers that Díaz Fernández first novel began to create what would be a new vanguard in which the pen could be transformed into a metaphorical arma de combate. [415]


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