Essays

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Selected scholarly essays:

“Intertextuality and Autonomous Fictional Worlds in Disney: The Case of Moana (2016)”. Theatralia 22.2 supplementum (2019): 72-82.

This paper studies Disney Studio’s film Moana (2016) in terms of rupture with the cinematic conventions upheld by Disney since the release of its full-length animated feature, Snow White, in 1937. I am referring in particular to the scene in which the young heroine Moana, daughter of the chief of a Polynesian island, faces the giant crab Tamatoa in the undersea environment of Lalotai. At the request of Moana, who tries to get him distracted by feeding his ego, Tamatoa agrees to introduce himself “in song form” (his is, of course, a self-referential statement that lays bare the conventions of musical films) and then proceeds to perform the song “Shiny,” the main object of my analysis here. The “Shiny” scene contains very explicit intertextual references to the figure of David Bowie, an aspect that makes this scene exceptional if contrast to the common practice of Disney Studios consisting in creating fictional worlds that appear to us as self-sufficient entities somehow insulated from external references. While intertextuality with popular culture is central to the films of Dreamworks and Universal Studios, it has never been an integral part of Disney animated films.

“After Symbolism: Theoretical Aspects of Meyerhold’s Early Theatrical Reform.” Anagnórisis 19 (June 2019): 6-19.

This essay examines Vsevolod Meyerhold’s theory of the stage in the first decade of the twentieth century. This article analyzes Meyerhold’s symbolist staging of Maurice Maeterlinck’s Sister Beatrice, in 1906, and compares it to his production of Alexander Blok’s The Fairground Booth later that year, which constituted a break with symbolist aesthetics. Meyerhold’s essay “The Fairground Booth”, published in 1912, is considered the main theoretical text to understand his project of theatrical reform, one that revolved around the ideas of exposing the conventionality of theatrical art and bridging the gap between stage and audience.  

“(Mis)Reading Joyce in the Context of the ‘Arte Nuevo’ Narrative.” The Challenge of Modernity: Avant-Garde Cultural Practices in Spain (1914-1936). Eds. Eduardo Gregori and Juan Herrero-Senés. Amsterdam: Brill-Rodopi, 2016. 35-46.

In this essay I situate the work of James Joyce in a cluster of discussions in Spain heavily influenced by the notion of the ‘Arte Nuevo’ that José Ortega y Gasset developed in La deshumanización del arte and Ideas de la novela (1925). My aim is to conciliate Joyce’s enormous influence on European letters after the publication of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and especially Ulysses (1922), on the one hand, and his minimal presence in the critical panorama of mid-1920s Spain dominated by Ortega and the group of authors around Revista de Occidente (most notably, Benjamín Jarnés and Antonio Espina), on the other. I also discuss how, playing outside the lines of the discourse of Revista de Occidente, two journals, Nós and La Gaceta Literaria, enlisted Joyce in such causes as the normativization of Galician language and the questioning of bourgeois taboos, respectively. Their investment in the Irish author was to such a great extent that in 1927 the two journals rivaled each other for the honor of having published the first translated excerpts of Ulysses in Spain.

“A Personal History of the ‘American hour’ of Comparative Literature: Claudio Guillén in Conversation with Harry Levin.” 1616: Anuario de Literatura Comparada 4 (2014): 295-312.

In this essay I examine the unpublished correspondence between Harry Levin and Claudio Guillén from 1956 to 1992. I also review Guillén’s proposal for the Ph. D. Degree in Comparative Literature at UC San Diego, a 21-page document he submitted in 1968, three years after the first ACLA report, also known as the Levin report. In the first section of this essay I argue that their letters evidence the existence of diverging views, as early as the mid-1960s, on the nature of a discipline that had been recently institutionalized in the United States. I then look at how Guillén’s relationship to Levin changed significantly after Guillén abandoned Harvard to work in the Spanish public university system in the mid-1980s. In the third and final section I examine Guillén’s prologue to the second edition of Entre lo uno y lo diverso (2005), in which he described his Spanish experience as a failed attempt to spread comp lit in his country. This prologue was published only two years before Guillén passed away in 2007.   

“Conceptualizing the Hollywood Biopic.” Theatralia 17.2 (2014): 50-59.

The biopic has been traditionally regarded as a minor, audience-limiting genre. As consequence of this, producers, directors and actors have tended to avoid this term when referring to their work. This paper discusses how, despite the allegedly minor status of this genre, in recent years a fair amount of Academy awards (“Oscars”) has been awarded to actors and actresses engaged in biopic performances that are celebrated as the highest exercise of acting virtuosity according. Since 1998, at least one of the Oscars has been awarded to a biopic performance. At this respect, the film critic Guy Lodge notes that the Academy awards have gone to performances “calculated as bait, ostentatiously advertising their ‘degree of difficulty’”. Today, the American academy understands the idea of transformation in literal terms, since the highest aesthetic value is allocated in the reproduction of physical and vocal mannerisms of the persons they impersonate. I approach the contemporary biopic fever from two different but complementary theoretical perspectives, the Prague School research on acting (Zich, Veltruský) and the theory of fictional worlds (Doležel). Finally, because of the cultural and ideological implications of the apparently transparent biopic industry, I engage in a brief philosophical reflection and argue that Hollywood privileges the copy over the simulacrum in a very Platonic fashion.

“La ficción difícil: la escritura memorialista de Antonio Muñoz Molina”. Romance Notes 54.2 (2014): 253-261. [Also: JSTOR, Project MUSE]

En el presente ensayo estudio una vertiente en la obra de Antonio Muñoz Molina que denomino como narrativa memorialista y que se caracteriza por constituir una  escritura alejada de la ficción. Esta vía memorialista constituye una segunda línea evolutiva en la obra del autor español, una vía que se aparta, aunque no de manera absoluta, de la intriga novelística que caracteriza sus primeras novelas. Se trata, por lo tanto, de una distinción de grados más que de una radical separación entre dos estéticas. El modelo memorialista emerge en Ardor guerrero (1995) y es dominante en Sefarad (2001) y Ventanas de Manhattan (2004).

“Manufacturing Authenticity: Anonymous Acting Celebrities in Atalaya’s Production of Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba (2009)”. Theatralia 2 (2012): 100-111.

In this essay I first review the concepts of “stage figure” and “acting celebrity” as developed by Otakar Zich (and later, Jiři Veltruský) and Michael Quinn, respectively. I then propose the new term “anonymous acting celebrity.” The concept of herecká postava (literally “figure of the actor,” but frequently translated to English as “stage figure”) was formulated by Zich coined the concept of “stage figure” in his Aesthetics of Dramatic Art (1931), and Veltruský first approached this idea in 1940 in his essay “Man and Object in the Theatre.” In the 1970s, Veltruský also authored a rich corpus of essays that contained multiple references to the concept of stage figure. In his 1989 essay “Celebrity and the Semiotics of Acting,” Michael Quinn adopted Veltruský’s terminology in order to show to what extent the presence of charismatic actors may considerably affect the reception of a play – no matter the artistic plans of authors and/or directors. To illustrate my idea of the anonymous acting celebrity, I discuss a recent production of Federico García Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba by the Seville-based theatre group Atalaya. For this project, the director Pepa Gamboa recruited a group of local gypsy women who had no previous acting training. To explain the ‘authenticity’ effect of Atalaya’s The House of Bernarda Alba, I develop the notion of “anonymous acting celebrity” as a way to uncover the numerous pragmatic implications that surrounded the collective reception of this production. 

“The Concept of Metatheatre: A Functional Approach.” TRANS- Revue de Littérature Générale et Comparée11 (2011): 1-9.

This essay reviews the highly popular concept of metatheatre or metadrama, whose first formulation appeared in Lionel Abel’s collection of essays Metatheatre in 1963. Abel’s contribution in the field of theatre studies took place in the wake of Roman Jakobson’s model of six linguistic functions, which Jakobson had introduced in a conference held in Indiana five years before the publication of Metatheatre. In my review of Jakobson’s model, I argue that neither the metalinguistic nor the poetic function can fully explain the existence of multiple self-referential, anti-illusionist devices in twentieth-century dramaturgies (a few examples from the modernist years are discussed in my essay). In order to shed new light into Jakobson’s model, I propose a return to the four-function model developed by Jan Mukařovský, the most important critic of the Prague School, in the late 1930s. Mukařovský expanded upon Karl Bühler’s Sprachtheorie (with the functions Darstellung, presentation; Ausdruck, expression; and Appell, appeal), by conceptualizing a fourth function, the aesthetic, one that brings to the fore the structural components of the artistic work.

“Devices of Estrangement in Stoppard’s Travesties.” The Grove: Working Papers in English Literature 15 (2008): 111-123.

This paper proposes an analysis of Tom Stoppard’s play Travesties in light of the concept of estrangement, developed by the Russian literary scholar Viktor Shklovsky. The first section of the essay will describe the three dominant elements in Travesties: foreign/estranged language, intertextuality, and theatricality. The second section will consider the juxtaposition of historical and fictional events as a key factor for estrangement, and it will also examine the presence of a character-narrator on stage, and the relation this character bears to the estranging factors already mentioned.

“El recuerdo fracturado de la Guerra Civil española: trauma individual y colectivo en La prima Angélica”. Mester 36 (2007): 160-178.

Este ensayo analiza la película La prima Angélica (1973), del director español Carlos Saura, haciendo especial énfasis en la relación entre la fallida memoria del personaje de Luis y el trauma colectivo de la Guerra Civil española. En La prima Angélica, filme galardonado con el Premio del Jurado en el festival de Cannes, Saura cuestiona la historia oficial legitimada por el régimen de Franco sin necesidad de acudir a una retórica abiertamente política. De un modo similar a la magdalena proustiana, pasado y presente chocan abruptamente en la mente de Luis (José Luis López Vázquez), un hombre de edad madura que es asaltado por recuerdos de opresión sexual y adoctrinamiento religioso durante una breve visita a Segovia, ciudad en la que vivió los años de la Guerra Civil (1936-1939) junto a la familia de su tía materna. En 1973, casi cuarenta años después de la contienda, Luis vuelve a Segovia para trasladar los restos de su difunta madre al panteón familiar. Saura lleva a cabo desplazamientos temporales desde 1973 a 1936 pero, en contra de la convención realista, hace que sea el mismo actor el que represente los papeles de niño en 1936 y adulto en 1973, sin recurrir a ningún tipo de maquillaje o cambio de ropa. Como consecuencia de esto, las transiciones temporales no se corresponden con una gama distinta de significantes en el cuerpo del personaje, excepto los signos faciales y el tono de voz que maneja López Vázquez.

“Cervantes y Borges: las fallas de la ficción”. LL Journal 1.2 (2006): 74-89.

A partir de la teoría de los mundos posibles, desarrollada por Lubomír Dolezel, analizo el modo en el que Cervantes y Borges plantean sus composiciones en tanto que simulacros de realidad. Exploro el significado ambiguo del término “historia” en el Quijote, y también la forma en la que Cervantes facilita – y, a la vez, cancela – una explicación verosímil para el estatuto ficticio de El coloquio de los perros. Finalmente, propongo una comparación entre la narrativa cervantina con dos relatos de Borges: Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius y El acercamiento a Almotásim.

“Borges’ Writings on Joyce: from a Mythical Translation to a Polemic Defence of Censorship.” Papers on Joyce 7-8 (2001-02) [2006]: 121-137.

The first part of this essay will analyse Borges’ opinions on Ulysses, spread in a considerable amount of essays, prologues and press articles. In the 1920s, Borges was very interested in the novel and, in fact, he translated the final fragment of the chapter “Penelope.” Nevertheless, he rejected Ulysses after a change of opinion partially motivated by the influence of Finnegans Wake, a book that was a total disappointment for the Argentine author. Precisely, the study of his articles on Joyce’s last work will close this first part of the essay. The second section will deal with a very polemic text on Ulysses and censorship that Borges published in 1960. Although many of his writings on Joyce have been already examined, I do not know of any evaluation on this particular article.

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