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An essential collection of literary criticism by one of Spain's most acclaimed authors
Javier Cercas is one of the most enjoyable and innovative novelists at work today. Well known among English-language readers as the author of Soldiers of Salamis (winner of the Independent Foreign Fictio Prize), The Anatomy of a Moment and The Impostor, Cercas is also Professor of Spanish Literature at the University of Girona. In 2015, following in the footsteps of George Steiner, Mario Vargas Llosa and Umberto Eco, as Weidenfeld Visiting Professor in Comparative European Literature at St Anne's College, Oxford, Cercas gave a series of five lectures on the novel today, which have since been revised and are now published in English for the first time as The Blind Spot.
Starting with Don Quixote and his own experience as a writer, Cercas launches out into a consideration of the most challenging fiction of the last hundred years, from Kafka, Borges, Perec, Calvino and Kundera, to Sebald, Coetzee, Barnes, Foster Wallace and Knausgård. First, he defines and celebrates certain aspects of the novel in the twenty-first century which are also features of Cervantes' masterpiece: its essential irony and ambiguity, its total commitment to innovation, its natural, joyful and omnivorous desire to cram the whole world within its pages, and its intricate concern with fiction and reality. Then he moves on to consider the actual meaning of the novel, the uncertain and discredited role of the writer as intellectual, and the role of the reader in the creation of a form whose aim is to tell the truth by telling lies.
The result is a dazzling short book which provides a new interpretation of novel from Cervantes and Melville to the present, and which will be as stimulating for readers and writers of literature in the twenty-first century as E. M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel or Milan Kundera's The Art of the Novel were in the last.
Translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean
176 pages, Kindle Edition
First published January 1, 2016
…four centuries apart, modern narrative [cf. Cervantes] and postmodern narrative [cf. Borges] are born out of two frauds…Two paradoxical frauds besides. They weren't trying to pass off unliterary writing as literature, but to pass off literature as unliterary writing. Which confronts us with a fundamental fact: by breaking with the literary rules of its era, all authentic literature presents itself as, or is considered to be, not literature, and its new form an absence of form. (35)
change the reader's way of perceiving the world; that is: they serve to change the world. The novel needs to be new in order to say new things; it needs to change to change us: to make us what we've never been.
Not at all distant from the ideas of the Russian formalists, in particular Victor Shklovsky: according to him, the mission of art consists of de-automatising reality, of making normal and familiar things that we see all the time appear strange and singular…[to] allow us to look at reality—physical reality, but also moral and political reality—as if seeing it for the first time, with all its edges, full of all its marvels and all its horror, tearing off the automatised mask of habit. "To name is to unmask", is how Simone de Beauvoir summed up the thinking of her eternal companion Sartre, "and to unmask is to change".(138-39)
at the beginning of [novels with such a blind spot], or at their heart, there is a question, and the whole novel consists of the search for an answer to this central question; when the search is finished, however, the answer is that there is no answer, that is, the answer is in the search itself, the question itself, the book itself.
(translation by Anne McLean)
The best literature is not what sounds literary, but what doesn’t sound like literature; that is: what sounds true. All genuine literature is anti-literature.
The novel needs to be new in order to say new things; it needs to change to change us: to make us what we’ve never been.