A ver si soy capaz de hacerla. A ver si soy capaz de sugerirlos. No enuncian nada especial, no intentan modificar. No me desarrollo, dice Jakob von Gunten.

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It is fascinating, informative and wonderfully inspiring. The book promotes the adoption of silence as the preferred aesthetic response in a whole range of circumstances; but also encourages positive expression because Only from the negative impulse, from the labyrinth of the No, can the writing of the future appear.

But it also includes a large proportion of writers who indefinitely defer, temporarily abandon, or abort their writing entirely. What soul? So Vila-Matas has an underlying theme of a popular theology, popular not in the sense of simplistic or even simplified but in the sense that it concerns everyone not just God-professionals like theologians, clerics and religious enthusiasts.

What is most exceptional about God, of course, is his hiddenness, his transcendence, his inaccessibility to human thought. He is the Other masked in his own subjectivity.

God is literally no-thing. He is alien, a void, just like another human being into which we pour meaning out of our own subjectivity. The origins of negative theology are Greek. The philosophical incomprehensibility of the Divine was imported into Christianity and, at least in the Eastern Orthodox Church, acted as a sort of brake on the doctrinal ambitions of the ecclesiastical establishment one reason for the relative emphasis on liturgy in the Eastern Church. But the Western Church, with its doctrinal focus and consequent dependence on language, had a real problem squaring the Christian claims of revelatory access to divine secrets with the simultaneous recognition of the ineffability of God.

It was the 13th century Dominican, Thomas Aquinas, who devised a solution. His theory was that revelation of the transcendent was facilitated by analogy, what he called the analogia entis, or analogy of being.

God, Thomas said, was not a being like created things. The analogia entis, however, is obvious theological double-speak. If the being of God is beyond human understanding, human language is fundamentally inadequate as a foundation for the transfer of meaning from one kind of being to another. Language is just as transcendent, just as ineffable, just as incomprehensible in its being as God is in his.

The 20th century theologian, Karl Barth, spent most of his professional life trashing the analogia entis as an invention of the Catholic Church, the purpose of which was to avoid what he believed were the authentic implications of Christian faith. By presuming that language was within human control, the analogia entis avoided confronting the very close analogy between language and God.

Vila-Matas presents an entirely new that is to say ancient version of negative theology in his book, and a very serviceable theory of how it complements revelation or in more modern terms: imagination. Implicitly he bases this theory on what might be called the analogia novae rei, the analogy of new things, or perhaps more simply, the analogy of creativity.

And quite appropriately he presents this theory as literary rather than theological. Writing is expressive, persuasive, and active; it is art. But silence, hiddeness, reticence, inaction are also creative. To put it another way, reading is the negative or apophatic twin of writing. They are equally creative positions in the world. Reading and writing are not, however, complementary activities; they are in fact antithetical ways of considering that which is transcendent and beyond our control and comprehension, namely language.

Reading is not merely not-writing; it is an attack on writing. Whatever meaning or intention went into writing is subverted by the reader through an interpretation over which the writer has no control. The only thing that reading and writing have in common is language. The non-writer is the arbiter of the written word. Writing may be vain but it is not insignificant. It points to an effectively divine ideal that is beyond human capability to achieve.

It is an essential aspect of pataphysics, the process of imagination. Reading, as a sort of counter-imagination, both encourages and frustrates writerly ambition.

There is no final say, no definitive interpretation. The creativity of reading both limits and promotes the creativity of writing. This is the analogy of creativity. Reading and writing are incommensurate with each other except by the analogia novae rei.

Christianity, particularly Western Christianity, has misconceived language, and therefore literature, especially its own literature. It has claimed divine status for itself. By pretending to be superior to language, it divinizes itself and asserts the right to dominate not just writing, which is something perhaps tolerable in a religion of the Book, but also reading, that is, interpretation.

This is, in its own terms, idolatry. God and language are indistinguishable in their transcendent power, their universal presence, and their unlimited potential for knowing. Neither God nor language can be constrained with impunity. By sterilizing negative theology, and persistently censuring the literature of the No what it calls mysticism , Christianity has stopped the search for its own goal; it has become purposeless. So Karl Barth was correct: the analogia entis is a ruse. But his fideistic response to that ruse is also self-defeating because it requires quite literally a deus ex machina that grabs people by the emotional throat and demands irrational intellectual assent and blind belief.

What Vila-Matas provides is an alternative connection between God and man, between the infinitely powerful universe and the struggling individual. The ability to read as well as write is a kind of grace that comes as a gift from elsewhere. Reading demands not blind faith but rather blind hope that there is something to be found by simply absorbing what is there, the content of which is entirely unknown.

The negative theology of reading cannot help but make a positive statement.


Bartleby y compañía

Firstly, the literary criticism that we are given throughout the book is not by Vilas-Matas by which I mean not by Vila-Matas, speaking with the authorial voice but by a fictitious author whose name Marcelo is mentioned only once in the book. Marcelo had written a book twenty-five years ago on the impossibility of love. His father was so upset that he made Marcelo write a strong letter of apology to his first wife. This so upset him that he has not written anything since.


The Modern Novel



Bartleby y compañía, de Enrique Vila-Matas – Fuensanta Molina Niñirola



Bartleby & Co.


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