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The Blind Spot: An Essay on the Novel

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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

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About the author

Javier Cercas

54 books812 followers
Javier Cercas Mena (Ibahernando, provincia de Caceres, 1962) es un escritor y traductor español.

Hijo de un veterinario rural, cuando contaba cuatro años, en 1966 su familia se trasladó a Tarragona, y allí estudió con los jesuitas. Es primo carnal del político Alejandro Cercas. A los quince años la lectura de Jorge Luis Borges le inclinó para siempre a la escritura. En 1985 se licenció en Filología Hispánica en la Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona y más tarde se doctoró. Trabajó durante dos años en la Universidad de Illinois en Urbana; mientras estaba allí se publicó su primera novela, El móvil, y compuso su segunda novela; desde 1989 es profesor de literatura española en la Universidad de Girona. Está casado y tiene un hijo. Se transformó en un autor de masas con su tercera novela, Soldados de Salamina (2001), que fue descubierta por Mario Vargas Llosa en un famoso artículo y mereció los elogios de John Maxwell Coetzee y Susan Sontag. Es colaborador habitual de la edición catalana y del suplemento dominical del diario El País.

Su obra ha sido traducida a más de veinte lenguas. Por su parte él mismo ha traducido a autores catalanes contemporáneos y a H. G. Wells.

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Profile Image for W.D. Clarke.
Author 3 books272 followers
June 9, 2018
While it is a truism that every artist constructs the aesthetic by which he or she wishes to be judged, I never tire of reading books like Cercas's The Blind Spot, as these kinds of apologia pro [scribo] vitae sua (don't ask me if I conjugated that correctly!) give what I would like to think of (however erroneously) as real insight into what practicing writers think of the phrase (one either abhorrent to or simply ignored by most scholars) literary value. For in books like this thoroughly amicable one we may not get quite at the truth about what drives a particular artist to create in the ways that he or she does, but we do get the artist's public, conscious version of what drives him or her.

For Cercas (as for Milan Kundera, to whom the first part of this book is heavily indebted), the novelist is an explorer of the human condition, and the sole moral absolute that all would-be serious authors must adhere to is to go exploring in new directions. Like Kundera, Cercas locates the Ur-novel in 17C Spain, with Don Quixote, which ushered in a century-and-a-half of transgressive, digressive, genre-blending, formal literary freedom (in northern Europe at least, if, paradoxically, not in Spain), before this freedom was curtailed in the 19C by Realism's quest for "constructive rigour" in the interest of bringing the novel its [allegedly] longed-for "purity, status and nobility"(27).

Cercas as a young writer wanted to tap back into what Kundera calls this largely "unacknowledged legacy of Cervantes" (Art of the Novel), and what I found most interesting in the first third of this volume was how Cercas details just what it was in Cervantes (and, later, in Borges) that made him want to write in the way that he supposedly does (I must admit that this not only is this the first book of his that I have read, but also that I often like to read an author's essays before diving into their fiction) (also: that I am writing this here in somewhat of an imitation of Cercas's love of the parenthetical aside, a love that I cannot help but share).

Cercas's quest is to blend the absolute authorial freedom granted by Cervantes and Borges (specifically, the Borges of "The Approach to Al'Mutásim" and "Pierre Menard: The Author of Don Quixote"), both of whom perpetuate a kind of ingeniously generative deception:
…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)

What is compelling here is that to be a literary explorer means to be always in search of a "new form", a form which will inevitably not be recognized as such by those to whom "the literary" is a matter of working within already extant forms, and varying only the "content" that fills those forms. Literary innovation, in other words, is neither recognized by nor welcomed by the reigning literary orthodoxy. Cercas's own novels (again, which I have not read, but now aim to!) , such as The Soldiers of Salamis and The Anatomy of A Moment themselves bring novelistic techniques to bear upon the a terrain previously controlled by academic historians, and the result was, Cercas maintains, that they were initially not recognized as novels because they were, regardless of how they were written, manifestly not fiction.

But if novels aren't necessarily fictional, what is their sine qua non—of what, exactly, are they made? Cercas maintains (again, following, I feel, Kundera) that what makes a novel a novel is its radical ambiguity. Kundera calls it "polyphony", for Cercas it is "the blind spot", the paradoxical, unsolvable riddle, the defining aporia that is at the heart of the truly literary novel. If conventional (often conventionally realist) novels like to keep things understandably tidy, coherent, loose ends all tied up and questions answered, Cercas maintains that the only thing that "blind spot novels" (novels that cannot quite see what they are most in search of, novels that [loosely quoting him quoting Faulkner] light a match in the darkness so that "we can see the darkness"(83), that heretofore still undiscovered country of our souls) do is ask us still more questions (or perhaps even only a single, overwhelming question, rolling the human universe into a ball that is then tossed at us readers, who must do something with this "enigma with no [apparent] solution"), but always in the most complex way possible.

The kind of novels that do just that should come as no surprise to many of you who are in the small, but still significantly-sized club that values the literary innovators of modernism-and-after: those by Melville, Musil, Kafka, et al. For these are writers who not only seek to "make time live, to make it more intense and less trivial"(51), for any good realist novel should aspire to do at least just that, but also to:
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.

To my surprise, however, Cercas then spends a sizeable chunk of this slim volume extolling the virtues of a writer who would not normally be counted among the great literary innovators of the past: Mario Vargas Llosa, whose The Time of the Hero (orig. The City and the Dogs in Spanish)— yet another book among the much-much-more-than-1002 essential reads that I have not yet read, by the way—is at first and even second glance a thoroughly realist novel.

I love reading these kinds of essays: extended reflections on novels that I haven't read and which, though they hardly displace the actual reading of them, nevertheless allow me to vicariously participate in their reading. Nay: in their writing. For Cercas reads The Time of the Hero as if writing it, or with the attention to detail, to shifts in tone and to elegant variations of structure of an expert art conservationist, lovingly and painstakingly examining every inch of the threatened masterpiece's canvas. I won't get into the details, but this part of Cercas's book was the most riveting for me, probably exploring that which I have not yet myself personally explored, the topology of this great Peruvian novelist.

But what surprises most in this reading of Vargas Llosa is how, almost as if against that author's own intentions, his realist novel is shown to be a blind spot novel, one riven by ambiguity, by questions in search of answers that are never quite within reach—because the answers are themselves no more than questions, questions which take the form of none other than the novel itself.

Finally, Cercas closes the book with an extended appreciation of Sartre the novelist, which is another surprise, not least because Cercas himself confesses to having had, in his youth, the most profound antipathy toward that Parisian eminence. This is because of Sartre's steadfast commitment to art that commits itself socially and politically, to artists who are engagé. The younger version of Cercas thought that that French word meant having to create art that was tendentious, that gave answers instead of asked questions, that subordinated aesthetics to ethics or politics. But the mature Cercas is determined that we should look at Sartre (and, by analogy, at the nuances of any artist whom we have perhaps, in our callowness, unfairly pigeon-holed or overlooked) afresh:
Sartre's premises are
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)

By so disturbing our moral and political complacency, the committed novelist can be seen as being like Socrates' gadfly, biting both the individual and the state, challenging its received wisdom—even though the contents of his or her novels may not be overtly political. And irony is the novelist's chief weapon in this war against cliché, for the univocal mask that polyvalent truth wears must always be torn asunder, to reveal the "equivocal and multiple" truths that we often find so inconvenient to consider. Thus "irony is not the opposite of seriousness, but perhaps its maximum expression".

So, if you like these kinds of books, this is a pretty good one to add to your queue. I would just recommend reading Kundera's The Art of the Novel, The Curtain and Testaments Betrayed first (not to mention Sartre's What is Literature?), as Cercas's book is in dialogue with them, both consciously and unconsciously.
Profile Image for Katia N.
585 reviews701 followers
September 10, 2018
It is certainly not that comprehensive as it promises in the title. I should have understood it as it is just over 100 pages long. Still I expected more. There is interesting comparative analysis of Don Quixote. There is a "blind spot" theory that a novel should have a "blind spot"- main question which the novel seeking to answer just for the reader to realise at the end that there is no definitive answer. It is certainly very valuable, but not new. The rest of the book is more about the role of a writer both in writing and as a public intellectual. I was not particularly interested in this. So for me the book ended before i tuned the last page.

A few quotes:

“It not true that a novels sole obligation is to tell a good story and bring it to life for the reader; the novel sole obligation (or at least the most important) consists of broadening our knowledge of the human and that’s why Herman broch claims that a novel that does not discover any hitherto unknown segment of existence is immoral. “

“To reflect on literariness is to keep before us, as resources for analysing these discourses, reading practices elicited by literature: the suspension of the demand for immediate intelligibility, reflection on the implications of meaning of expression, and attention to how meaning is made and pleasure produced. “
Profile Image for sigurd.
205 reviews37 followers
June 23, 2019
ho iniziato a leggere questo saggio attirato dall'argomento, quel punto cieco delle grandi storie, quel buco nero, inspiegabile, ambiguo, attorno al quale ruota la galassia di personaggi e situazioni che ogni buon romanziere mette in campo; però devo dire che, dopo un inizio promettente, mi sono ritrovato a sbadigliare non poco (confesso di aver sorvolato un po' l'analisi pedante del libro di Vargas Llosa, la città e i cani) e ho trovato lo sviluppo dell'argomentazione davvero poco convincente. mi sono detto, che peccato! quest'argomento in mano a uno scrittore intelligente come ad esempio Alan Pauls non sarebbe stato sprecato, lui avrebbe trovato degli spunti singolari, mi avrebbe avvinto. e invece Cercas, che conoscevo per aver letto il pur buono "soldati di salamina", è talmente piatto da rasentare la pochezza intellettuale. Il culmine per me arriva quando fa le pulci a Tomasi di Lampedusa, e in particolare quando sul finale, - Tancredi è ormai defunto-, un senatore, vecchio amico di Tancredi, svela alla cugina Concetta e ad Angelica che in realtà Tancredi ha sempre amato Concetta, ma l'ha respinto la sua alterigia e la sua durezza. Quando Concetta va via, e Angelica rimane sola con il senatore, lui le chiede se ha detto qualcosa di sconveniente visto il turbamento di Concetta, ma Angelica risponde che Concetta era follemente innamorata di Tancredi, ma che lui in vita non l'aveva mai notata. E il narratore aggiunge: e così che una nuova palata di terra venne a cadere sul tumulo della verità. Javier Cercas si rammarica per quella aggiunta, e rimprovera a Tomasi di Lampedusa o al suo editore la mancanza di un buon correttore di bozze. Ma mi chiedo, è possibile che uno scrittore come Cercas, che ha avuto una certa risonanza in Spagna e che è addirittura stato tradotto in tantissime lingue, compreso la nostra, pensi che il punto cieco del Gattopardo possa essere questo sentimento sopito? questo amore non dichiarato? è evidente a tutti i lettori del Gattopardo che non è così, e non lo sarebbe stato nemmeno se Tomasi di Lampedusa non avesse commesso quell'imprudenza di suggerirci quale è la verità anziché lasciarci con il dubbio.
Questo perché per Cercas, che è uno scrittore tutto sommato ingenuo, i rapporti tra le cose, tra le situazioni, tra i caratteri seguono logiche che obbediscono a una fisica newtoniana: i punti ciechi rimangono spazi vuoti inspiegabili e incomprensibili e generano meraviglia per la loro imperscrutabilità; e invece non sono masse ripiegate su loro stesse che hanno creato vortici famelici in cui ogni cosa che si avvicina vi finisce dentro, vuoti capaci di deviare la traiettoria della luce, di creare, come i grandi veri romanzi fanno, un altro universo con un altro tempo e un altro spazio in cui vivere o morire.
Profile Image for Roberto.
627 reviews1 follower
August 7, 2017

Un romanzo non deve rispondere alla domanda che fa, ma formularla con la maggior complessità possibile

Durante la recente lettura di alcuni libri mi ero imbattuto in un paio di citazioni che mi avevano fatto pensare

Hemingway: “Io cerco sempre di scrivere secondo il principio dell’iceberg: I sette ottavi di ogni parte visibile sono sempre sommersi. Tutto quel che conosco è materiale che posso eliminare, lasciare sott’acqua, così il mio iceberg sarà sempre più solido. L’importante è quel che non si vede. Ma se uno scrittore omette qualcosa perché ne è all’oscuro, allora le lacune si noteranno”.

Danto: "Sono le caratteristiche non visibili che consentono ad un oggetto di diventare un'opera d’arte."

Mi ha stupito non poco riprendere gli stessi concetti in questo interessante saggio di Javier Cercas.

Secondo Cercas, nei romanzi più importanti, quelli migliori, quelli più ricordati, quelli che hanno fatto la storia della letteratura, l’autore lascia sempre un punto “cieco”, una crepa, una falla, una parte mancante. Ma è proprio attraverso quel punto cieco che il romanzo prende quota.

In quella mancanza è raccolto normalmente tutto il romanzo. Quella mancanza lascia domande aperte, senza risposte. Domande equivoche a cui si possono dare solo risposte ambigue. Secondo Cercas è il lettore che deve cercare accuratamente nel testo la domanda e darsi la risposta. Sta al lettore “riempire” i vuoti lasciati (appositamente) dallo scrittore, mediante la sua abilità, sensibilità e le conoscenze a sua disposizione.

"Non è mai l’autore a fare un capolavoro. Il capolavoro si deve ai lettori, alla qualità del lettore. Lettore rigoroso, pieno di sottigliezza, di lentezza, di tempo e ingenuità armata. Soltanto lui può fare un capolavoro."

Il romanzo in pratica non deve proporre nulla, non dare soluzioni, non contenere suggerimenti. Deve trasmettere dubbi.

"L'autentica letteratura non tranquillizza, inquieta, non semplifica la realtà, ma la complica e le sue verità sono ambigue, contraddittorie, ironiche e l'ironia non è il contrario di serietà, ma la sua massima espressione e senza di essa non c'è narrativa degna di tale nome, è uno strumento indispensabile alla conoscenza".

Il ragionamento di Cercas, in pieno accordo con quello di Hemingway e di Danto, ha il suo senso. E più o meno alla sua conclusione c’ero arrivato anche da solo, visto che ho smesso da tempo di cercare messaggi nelle mie letture (che fatica, il lupo perde il pelo ma non il vizio. E un po’ il vizio mi è rimasto...).

Qualche dubbio però ce l’ho. Se il capolavoro lo fa il lettore, cosa succede se il lettore è una ciofeca di lettore? E’ sufficiente farsi tante domande per diventare buoni lettori? Cosa facciamo dei libri che non hanno domande nascoste? A Cercas non piacciono; e noi? Li buttiamo alle ortiche?
Profile Image for Paul Fulcher.
Author 2 books1,301 followers
September 27, 2018
This demonstrates, if we needed more proof, that the novel is still conquering new territory, and that the famous discussion of its end is only an unequivocal symptom of the end of those who promote that discussion.

The Blind Spot: an Essay on the Novel, translated from Javier Cercas's 2016 original El punto ciego by Anne McLean, actually comprises four distinct essays on the topic of the novel, albeit with common threads.

Deliberately or otherwise the copyright page contains the standard "This book is a work of fiction" disclaimer, which it isn't, but it is perhaps a fitting error, given this is a book about what comprises a novel, including whether a novel necessarily needs to be fictional.

The resulting collection is a worthy modern successor to Kundera's essays The Art of the Novel and Treatments Betrayed. The former, which I read some 20 years ago, had a major effect on my own personal reading, particularly my appreciation of the non-English language European novel, and clearly Cercas himself was influenced in his thinking here, citing Kundera extensively in his first essay.

Javier Cercas has had 7 novels translated into English: Soldiers of Salamis, The Tenant and The Motive (actually two separate novellas), The Speed of Light, Outlaws (the only one I have not read), The Anatomy of a Moment and The Impostor. The last two of these could be seen as not novels at all, being based in fact not fiction, but to Cercas they are still novels. In The Impostor, he described The Anatomy of a Moment as a curious book, a strange novel-without-fiction, a rigorously true story, devoid of the slightest trace of invention or imagination

And the first essay here focuses on what constitutes a novel. He starts his history of the modern novel with Don Quixote, saying Cervantes "the author of Don Quixote is neither a perspectivist nor a relativist, but an ironist". His description of this masterpiece neatly sums up its abiding influence:

The modern novel is a unique genre because it might be said that, at least potentially, all its possibilities seem contained in a single book: Cervantes founded the genre with Don Quixote and at the same time exhausted it – albeit by making it inexhaustible – or, in other words: in Don Quixote Cervantes defines the rules of the modern novel by marking out the boundaries of the territory in which we novelists have all operated ever since, and which we may not yet have finished colonising.

He argues that the novel is or at least originally was a literary form that is, or was, sub-genre as it absorbs all other genres, hence why it needn't even be fictional:

Epic, history, poetry, essay, journalism: these are some of the literary genres that the novel has absorbed over the course of its history

He traces three phases of the novel (pace Kundera):

The first, which would stretch from Cervantes to the end of the eighteenth century, is characterised mostly by compositional liberty, by alternating narration and digression (or, if you prefer, narration and reflection) and by the blending of genres; the second, which would begin with the blooming of the realist novel at the beginning of the nineteenth century, is defined by opposition to its antecedent: although it benefits from the absolute liberty with which Cervantes endowed the genre, it rejects it in the interests of constructive rigour, just as it rejects digression in the interests of narration; although it benefits from the plebeian, hybrid or mestizo nature with which Cervantes endowed the novel, it rejects it in the interests of the purity, status and nobility the genre has longed for.

This second phase for many writers and readers still defines the novel now at the start of the 21st Century. But he, again following Kundera, argues for a third phase, postmodern narratives, combining the best of the 1st and 2nd phases:

A synthesis that does not pretend, to use again the words of the Czech writer, simply to rehabilitate the principles of the first-movement novel nor to reject the second-movement novel, but to redefine and broaden the very notion of the novel, to resist the reduction carried out by the nineteenth-century’s aesthetic of the novel and thus give the resulting novel its entire historical experience as a foundation.
Kundera’s own best novels – with their delicate balance between maximum liberty and maximum compositional rigour, with their organic blend of narration and digression or narration and essay – are a good example of this third period of the novel; so are the best works of Perec or Calvino.

He argues that the origin of this third phase lies, indisputably, with Borges, beginning with “The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim”:

In Borges, the short story and the essay mingle and fertilise each other (as in other ways they also do, around the same time, in the work of Broch or Musil); just as they fertilise and mingle in certain contemporary authors: I’ve already mentioned Perec, Calvino and Kundera; I would add W. G. Sebald, the Julian Barnes of Flaubert’s Parrot and, perhaps most of all, J. M. Coetzee, who in the last few years has probed the horizons of the territory mapped out by Don Quixote with great audacity.

The second chapter is the one from which the collection takes its title. Here Cercas traces the history of a particular type of novel, which he dubs the blind-spot novel, a type that he (unsurprisingly) traces back to Cervantes, and into which he places his own work, indeed a type of novel that very much satisfies his definition of what a novel should do, one which makes the reader as, arguably more, important to the interpretation of the novel as the author:

The novel is not the genre of answers, but that of questions: writing a novel consists of posing a complex question in order to formulate it in the most complex way possible, not to answer it, or not to answer it in a clear and unequivocal way; it consists of immersing oneself in an enigma to render it insoluble, not to decipher it (unless rendering it insoluble is, precisely, the only way to decipher it). That enigma is the blind spot, and the best things these novels have to say they say by way of it: by way of that silence bursting with meaning, that visionary blindness, that radiant darkness, that ambiguity without solution. That blind spot is what we are.

In other words: in the end there is no clear, unequivocal, emphatic answer; only an ambiguous, equivocal, contradictory, essentially ironic answer, which doesn’t even resemble an answer and that only the reader can give.

He draws on examples including Kafka, Melville (and of course Cervantes), and from his own work Outlaws as well as Anatomy of a Moment, arguing that the latter's focus on one very specific and somewhat obtuse question which it then fails to unambiguously answer is what makes the book a novel rather than history.

But he argues that certain otherwise great novels, particularly in the realist tradition, such as Lampadusa's The Leopard, fail in that they (in his view unnecessarily) resolve their own ambiguity:

The reason might be that this tradition of the novel, as it took shape in the nineteenth century, encourages before all else the impossible ambition to create a novel similar to a hermetically sealed world, a replica or a duplicate of the real one, while, in a novel, the blind spot is a crack, a vanishing point of meaning that is at the same time the principal source of meaning. This would maybe explain why, in the few realist novels with a blind spot that occur to me, the blind spot is there as if against the author’s will, without the author seeming to have sought it, or without being entirely aware of it; sometimes even as if the author had fought against it.
If I had been with Lampedusa when he wrote the sentence where he clarifies without leaving room for doubt that Concetta was Tancredi’s true love (“And so a new spadeful of soil fell on the tumulus of truth”),I would have shouted: “No, please, don’t make that clear! Keep quiet about that! You don’t know whether the one Tancredi truly loved was Concetta!” And, if Lampedusa hadn’t died before seeing his novel published and I had been Giorgio Bassani, his editor at Feltrinelli, and had worked with him on the manuscript, I would have done everything possible and impossible to convince him to delete that comment. Because it’s a mistake.

It’s not as grave an error as if at the end of Don Quixote Cervantes had revealed that in reality Don Quixote was never mad, or if at the end of Moby Dick Melville had clarified that in reality Moby Dick represented God and good, or if at the end of The Trial Kafka had shown that in reality Josef K. had committed murder and that’s why they had wanted to try him, but it’s still an error.

The 3rd essay focuses on Mario Vargas Llosa and in particular his debut novel La ciudad y los perros (literally The City and the Dogs, although entitled The Time of the Hero in the English translation), a novel Cercas sees as key in the reclaiming of the novel by Spanish language writers. He sees Vargas Llosa, alongside García Márquez, Cortázar, Rulfo, Carpentier, Bioy Casares, Cabrera Infante, Fuentes, Onetti and Sábato as writers that finally reclaimed the legacy of Cervantes for the Spanish language (if not for Spain itself):

A group of Latin American novelists reclaimed the lost legacy of Cervantes, turned literature in Spanish on its head and, possessed by crazed ambition – they wanted to be Faulkner and Flaubert, Joyce and Balzac all at once – placed the novel in Spanish back at the axis of the western novel of its time, returning it to the privileged place that up until then only Cervantes had occupied; these novelists occupy, in my novelistic tradition, a huge space: they are the great modern prose writers that Spanish modernity did not have and, at the same time – at least some of them – the first writers of postmodernity.

No novelist represents better than Vargas Llosa the best of these novelists, and few novels can aspire to symbolise better than The Time of the Hero the beginning of that literary earthquake

Cercas makes a compelling case for the greatness of The Time of the Hero, and fits in within the context of the first two chapters, although this particular chapter is hard to appreciate fully without a detailed knowledge of Vargas Llosa's work.

It is memorable though for one excellent anecdote that relates back to his blind spot

Vargas Llosa has often told that when the French translation of La ciudad y los perros was published, Roger Caillois asked him who, in his opinion, had killed the Slave; this, naturally, is the crucial question of the book, and Vargas Llosa answered saying that he thought he’d been killed by one of his classmates, the one nicknamed the Jaguar. Then Caillois, as if he were the editor of The Leopard demanding that Lampedusa should not clarify who Tancredi had loved, said to Vargas Llosa: “No, please, don’t say that! You don’t know who killed the Slave!”

Of course, Caillois was right: in the first place because, no matter what the author might say, with the novel in hand there are just as many reasons to back up the theory that the Jaguar killed the Slave as there are to refute it; and, in the second place, and most of all, because Caillois understood that, if Vargas Llosa had cleared up the ambiguity by making it clear that the Jaguar had really killed the Slave, the novel would be a good novel, but without clearing up the ambiguity it’s much better.

The fourth essay tackles the issue of whether a writer should be 'engaged' (or 'political' or 'commited'.) Cercas grew up at the time when intellectual authors such as Sartre were more known for their political views than literary output and started his career firmly rejecting that model, noting with approval that:

On July 22, 1966, right after finishing One Hundred Years of Solitude, García Márquez wrote in a letter to his friend Plinio Mendoza: “Thinking of politics, the revolutionary duty of a writer is to write well [. . .] positive literature, engaged art, the novel as a rifle to overthrow governments, is a sort of steamroller that keeps one’s pen from rising a centimetre above the ground. And worst of all, what a waste of time, it doesn’t overthrow any governments!"

But later Cercas found himself pulled up short when his literary hero Vargas Llosa praised Soldiers of Salamis, to Cercas's delight, but for a reason that surprised and even dismayed him:

"Those who believe that committed literature has died should read Soldiers of Salamis to find out how alive it is, how original and enriching it is in the hands of a novelist like Javier Cercas”.

I’d never met Vargas Llosa in person, but he was one of the literary heroes of my youth and – especially after that article that contributed in a decisive way to turning a book destined to have a handful of readers into a bestseller, and turned me into a professional writer – I was more prepared than ever to overlook his loyalty to Sartre and to engaged literature, and even his conspicuous position as an intellectual. But, dear God, I thought as I read that horrendous sentence that rounded off his article, now I too am a committed writer? How could I have fallen to such depths? Is this the price of success?

When he eventually met Vargas Llosa, as happened on the 9th September 2011, and queried the designation, Vargas Llosa told him:

Committed was, for him, literature that’s not merely a game or a facile pastime, but serious literature that avoids simplicity and dares to face up to, with the greatest ambition, weighty moral and political matters.

I asked Vargas Llosa to give me an example of a current committed writer; he gave me two, who were then just names to me: the South African writer J. M. Coetzee and the Japanese writer Kenzaburō Ōe.

This essay explores that thought as well as the two authors mentioned, Cercas concluding that:

I’ve often thought that a good writer is the opposite of a good politician: a good politician is someone who confronts a complex problem, reduces it to its bare essentials and solves it in the quickest way; a good writer, on the other hand, is someone who confronts a complex problem and, instead of solving it, makes it even more complex (and a brilliant writer is one who creates a problem where none existed).
Cervantes complicates our life for ever by posing in Don Quixote, in the most complex way possible, the insoluble problem of the insoluble contradiction between madness and sanity, as Melville posed in Moby Dick the insoluble problem of the insoluble contradiction between good and evil and Kafka posed in The Trial the insoluble problem of the insoluble contradiction between guilt and innocence.

He also argues, partly against David Foster Wallace, for a type of post modern literature that can be ironic (a term that appears often in the essays and which again echoes Kundera) yet still serious and engaged:

Literature, and in particular the novel, should not propose anything, should not transmit certainties or give answers or propose solutions; quite the contrary: what it should do is pose questions, transmit doubts and present problems and, the more complex the questions, the more anguished the doubts and more arduous and unsolvable the problems, the better. Authentic literature does not reassure: it worries; it does not simplify reality: it complicates it. The truths of literature in general, and of the novel in particular, are not clear, indisputable and unequivocal, but ambiguous, contradictory, multifaceted and essentially ironic.

It’s quite likely that destructive irony, the one that gets confused with sarcasm and even with cynicism, conducts us to a pitiless and sterile nihilism; but irony as Cervantes conceived it, which shows that reality is always equivocal and multiple and that contradictory truths exist, is an indispensable tool of knowledge. That irony is not the opposite of seriousness, but perhaps its maximum expression: without it there is barely any narrative, or at least novels, worthy of the name.

Cercas then adds an epilogue, written, in 2016, commenting on his essays.

He notes that The Impostor had a less confused reception than Anatomy of a Moment,

Just five years after the publication of that novel, everyone has accepted without many objections that my 2014 novel, The Impostor, is a novel, in spite of the fact, that like Anatomy, it lacks any fiction, and in spite of its multiplicity of genres being, if possible, even more intense and more visible than that of Anatomy. It might be thought that this is so because readers have now resigned themselves to my peculiarities in the same way that sane people go along with crazy ones; but it’s not true: the truth is, I think, that over recent years readers in many places are getting acclimatised to a freer, more plural, more open and more flexible model of novel.

He then cites Knausgaard as an example and gives the rallying cry that opens my review.

He acknowledges that his history of the novel to an extent could be accused of justifying his own works, but argues that is no bad thing:

I could be reproached, in effect, for proposing a reading of the modern narrative tradition, or of certain novels and stories key to modern narrative, which is a little teleological, self-justifying: given that my novels mix genres, I construct or identify a tradition of novels that mix genres; given that my novels revolve around a blind spot, I construct or identify a tradition of blind-spot novels.

This argument also strikes me as correct, except that I can’t see anything to reproach in it; quite the contrary.

Overall a fascinating overview, an excellent insight into Cercas's own work, and one to generate a reading list of both historic and contemporary writers (although, hopefully more a comment on my wider range of reading than the book, one that introduced me to notably fewer new names than Kundera's work 20 years earlier) as well as a manifesto that inspires hope that the novel will continue to evolve and prosper.

Recommended (as are Cercas's novels, particularly the ones least like conventional novels).
Profile Image for Bert Hirsch.
142 reviews11 followers
April 6, 2022
Javier Cercas, the contemporary Spanish novelist is invited to give a series of lectures in 2015 on the art of the novel. Cercas is a personal favorite, his Soldiers of Salamis, The Speed of Light and the Anatomy of a Moment, all excellent examples of his creativity.

In the lectures he follows the history of the novel from Cervantes to Melville to some of his more modern favorites: Kafka, Borges, Llaso, Kundera, Sebald and others. The following excerpts speak for themselves:

"A good writer is someone who confronts a complex problem and, instead of solving it, makes it even more complex (and a brilliant writer is one who creates a problem where none existed)...bad writers simplify life and good ones complicate it (and by complicating our lives enrich them)."

"the reader needs the author to allow him some space: that space is ambiguity; and, in order for the reader to be able to penetrate that space and deploy there the rigour, the subtlety...the author should open a gap, a subtle entry point to the hermeticism of his fictitious world: this gap is the blind spot."

"its what great literature does: complicate our lives by posing complex questions in the most complex way possible, raising irreducible paradoxes, forging enigmas with no solutions or at least with no apparent solution, devising epistemological aporia; ultimately, as Faulkner said, lighting a match in the middle of the absolute darkness that surrounds us; we might say that the match doesn't let us see anything; but that's not true; it lets us see the darkness...the blind spot pitches the reader through the darkness, into the depths of the unknown to find something new; the blind spot seeks meaning where there doesn't seem to be any, in places at first glance invulnerable to meaning, or at least to a clear meaning - contradictions, ironies and irreducible paradoxes - chasing some hitherto unheard-of knowledge or even revelation or the imminence of a revelation, knowing it'll perhaps never occur, even that it cannot occur."

"the more ambiguous a work, the better it is, because it's more polysemic: because it leads to or admits more interpretations, and the more meaning it is able to embrace."

A master novelist and deep thinker who imparts his writing with meaning and blind spots.
Profile Image for Teresa.
177 reviews
February 28, 2018
Questo libro è nato dalle conferenze che Javier Cercas ha tenuto alla cattedra di Weidenfeld Visiting Professor in Comparative Literature ad Oxford.
La lettura di Cercas mi sembra sempre gradevole, basti pensare che nel prologo di questo lavoro scrive che, quando ricevette l’invito per queste conferenze, credeva si trattasse di un errore o di uno scherzo.
Ho trovato interessante la teoria proposta dall’autore, quella del punto cieco, secondo la quale (sintetizzando molto) un romanzo non deve fornire risposte, ma proporci domande. Alcuni esempi mi sono sembrati un po’ forzati, ma ciò non toglie nulla all’ipotesi.
La parte che più ho apprezzato, però, è stata quella in cui l’autore fa un esame della letteratura moderna e postmoderna, delle loro origini ed in particolare del genere romanzo.
Profile Image for Grazia.
401 reviews161 followers
August 1, 2017
"Se il libro che leggiamo non ci sveglia come un pugno sul cranio, perché leggerlo?"

"La letteratura, e in particolare il romanzo, non deve proporre nulla, non deve trasmettere certezze né fornire risposte né prescrivere soluzioni; al contrario: ciò che deve fare è formulare domande, trasmettere dubbi e presentare problemi. Quanto più complesse saranno le domande, più angosciosi i dubbi e più ardui e irresolubili i problemi, tanto meglio. L’autentica letteratura non tranquillizza: inquieta; non semplifica la realtà: la complica. Le verità della letteratura in generale, e del romanzo in particolare, non sono chiare, tassative e inequivocabili, bensì ambigue, contraddittorie, poliedriche, essenzialmente ironiche."

-Che cosa è il romanzo?
- La forma è sostanza?
-Quale lo scopo della Letteratura?
-Quale il compito dell'intellettuale?
-Perché essere intellettuale ed essere scrittore può essere incompatibile?
-Chi fa un capolavoro? Lo scrittore o il lettore? O stiamo parlando di un'alleanza?

"Il capolavoro si deve ai lettori, alla qualità del lettore. Lettore rigoroso, pieno di sottigliezza, di lentezza, di tempo e ingenuità armata. Soltanto lui può fare un capolavoro."

Cercas oltre a dare la sua risposta ai quesiti sopra elencati, definisce un genere. Il romanzo con punto cieco. I romanzi che ne sono dotati sono caratterizzati dall'avere al centro una domanda, fondamentalmente ironica, la cui risposta non solo non è univoca, ma può essere addirittura antitetica. In quanto, come osservò Thomas Mann, "l’ironia non consiste nel dire «né questo né quello», ma «questo e quello» allo stesso tempo."

Il romanzo con punto cieco lascia una fessura, una ambiguità in cui il lettore si può infilare, in maniera distintiva e, attraverso questa via di fuga giungere a questioni cui in indipendenza non sarebbe giunto e attraverso i molteplici significati portare senso, dove il senso non consiste nel dare una risposta a una domanda, ma sta nella ricerca stessa di una risposta, nella domanda stessa, nel libro stesso.

"Così come il cervello riempie il punto cieco dell'occhio, permettendogli di vedere dove di fatto non vede, il lettore riempie il punto cieco del romanzo, permettendogli di conoscere ciò che di fatto non conosce, di giungere là dove, da solo non giungerebbe mai"..."Quel punto cieco è ciò che siamo"

Cercas illustra il punto cieco portando diversi esempi: "Il processo" di Kafka, "Moby Dick" , "Bartleby" di Melville e parla in gran dettaglio de "La città e i cani" di Vargas Llosa, mostrando per ciascuno di essi la fessura, la domanda con cui il lettore si deve confrontare.

Che dire? Con ingenuità armata proseguo il viaggio sperando di trovare sulla mia strada tanti punti ciechi portatori di senso!
Profile Image for Vilis.
608 reviews94 followers
October 7, 2018
Patīk man esejas par literatūru, ko tur padarīsi, jo sevišķi tad, ja lasot tiešām ir sajūta, ka uzmanība tiek pievērsta kaut kam tādam, kam jau iepriekš esi ik pa laikam domās neskaidri pieskāries.
Profile Image for Eteocles.
349 reviews18 followers
May 31, 2016
No soy objetivo porque Cercas siempre me ha parecido, junto a Andrés Trapiello, el mejor escritor que tenemos ahora en España. Pero es que resulta que no solo es buen novelista, sino que como teórico de la literatura se ha sacado de la manga una teoría apasionante que explica con gusto y amor por los libros. No solo te dan ganas de releer algunas de las grandes obras de la literatura universal, sino sobre todo, de haber escuchado a Cercas pronunciar estas conferencias o tenerle como profesor para acribillarle a preguntas. Menudo regalazo de libro.
Profile Image for Eduardo Jaspe Lescure.
84 reviews1 follower
October 23, 2016
No se trata de si Javier Cercas tiene razón o no en este ensayo de teoría literaria, sino de que expone de una manera clara, sencilla y fácilmente asimilable una serie de conceptos muy interesantes sobre la novela, el novelista y otros temas que son de gran ayuda, a mi modo de ver, para todo el que esté interesado en el oficio de escritor y en el goce de leer. Es absolutamente recomendable su lectura.
Profile Image for Professor Weasel.
803 reviews9 followers
July 7, 2021
Wow, I loved this. I bought this because I wanted to read his thoughts on Don Quixote (and it was worth it). Overall I think this would be a great book to assign in a creative writing class. I actually found it incredibly helpful and encouraging in terms of thinking about writing. More and more, Javier Cercas is becoming one of my favourite writers - everything I've read of his so far has just been SO spot on. I also really want to read The Time of the Hero after this, and more Vargas Llosa in general.

"This has always or almost always been the way: 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." (He says this following a discussion of Lazarillo de Tormes, which I read in high school and really should read again)

"The novel is not entertainment (or it’s not only entertainment); it is, most of all, a tool of existential investigation." - REALLY validating to read this in the fact of fucking BookTok!!!!

"I’ve often thought that a good writer is the opposite of a good politician: a good politician is someone who confronts a complex problem, reduces it to its bare essentials and solves it in the quickest way; a good writer, on the other hand, is someone who confronts a complex problem and, instead of solving it, makes it even more complex (and a brilliant writer is one who creates a problem where none existed)."
Profile Image for Pat.
417 reviews105 followers
April 20, 2016

In fondo alla retina c’è una zona priva di recettori per la luce. È il “punto cieco” che impedisce all’occhio di vedere. Non ce ne rendiamo conto perché il cervello integra ciò che alla vista è nascosto. Anche i romanzi di cui parla Javier Cercas hanno questa peculiarità: il “punto cieco”. Ci spiega, Javier, che questo dà forza al romanzo. Sono i romanzi composti attorno a un’assenza, a un enigma che cerchiamo di risolvere senza riuscirvi che ci spingono a esplorare, a percorrere questo labirinto letterario cercando ostinatamente una soluzione fino alla fine, senza sosta. In quella zona d’ombra si posa il punto interrogativo. Lì rimane mentre continuiamo a porci la domanda e cercare la risposta. Navighiamo in alto mare, senza possibilità d’approdo a una conclusione inconfutabile, unica. E facciamo ciò che il “punto cieco” impone: assumerci la responsabilità di vedere oltre l’autore “ciò di cui questi – forse – non era nemmeno cosciente.” Penso a Don Chisciotte, al quale Cercas dedica ampio spazio. Don Chisciotte è davvero pazzo? Don Chisciotte è indubbiamente pazzo ma è altrettanto certo che Don Chisciotte è assolutamente sano di mente. Oppure è entrambe le cose. Non lo sappiamo. Ecco il “punto cieco” tramite il quale Cervantes svela ciò che di più importante ha da dire. L’ambiguità della realtà. E così, il “punto cieco” ci fa vedere.
Profile Image for David Hebblethwaite.
344 reviews233 followers
October 28, 2022
In this book, Javier Cercas explores his approach to his own work, and identifies a tradition of novels with similar characteristics, before going on to consider issues such as the writer’s role in public life.

The novels that most interest Cercas have what he calls a “blind spot” at their centre: a point of ambiguity or contradiction which animates the whole work:

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)

Cercas’ key example of a “blind-spot novel” is Don Quixote which, he says, asks whether Quixote is mad, then demonstrates that he is both mad and sane – and, in Cercas’ view, Don Quixote ultimately shows all truth to be as ambiguous. Another example given by Cercas is Moby-Dick or, the Whale, in which the white whale is (irreconcilably) the embodiment of both good and evil.

I found this a fascinating idea to think about, and felt I could apply it to many of the novels that have stood out to me over the last ten-or-so years. For example, The Rehearsal asks unresolvable questions about what happened in a student-teacher scandal, and more widely about the nature of reality and performance. Human Acts asks whether and how the reality of an event such as the Gwangju Uprising can be processed. Nocilla Dream asks what kind of structure there can be in a de-centred, globalised world. In all three cases, the novel itself embodies an answer in the way that Cercas describes.

On the downside, I can’t help being disappointed that all of the novels discussed in The Blind Spot are by male writers, which feels like closing off whole realms of discussion. Still, as a book to think with, Cercas’ essay is nothing short of invigorating. I’ll leave you with a couple of quotations that I (mentally) underlined:

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.

Profile Image for Márcio.
538 reviews1 follower
March 21, 2022
(...) Antes dije que la naturaleza esencial del Quijote, su evidencia más profunda y revolucionaria, su absoluta genialidad, consiste en haber creado un mundo radicalmente irónico en el que no existen verdades monolíticas e inamovibles, sino en el que todo son verdades bífidas, ambiguas, precarias, poliédricas, tornasoladas y contradictorias. Ese mundo equívoco y escurridizo, sin seguridades inapelables, repugna al dogmatismo del pensamiento totalitario, resulta incompatible con él, y por eso constituye tal vez el instrumento más eficaz para socavarlo. Ese mundo es el mundo de las modernas democracias, el mundo en el que vivimos en Occidente tras el fracaso de los totalitarismos políticos del siglo XX, un mundo acosado por terribles problemas, carencias, injusticias, perplejidades y desafíos y en el que los dogmas falsarios pero tranquilizadores del monismo absolutista siguen teniendo un enorme poder, pero en el que hay cada vez más personas conscientes de que no existen soluciones globales, perfectas e inatacables, definitivas, o de que la única solución definitiva para todos los problemas consiste en asumir que no existe una solución definitiva o que la única solución definitiva es la búsqueda inacabable de soluciones. Ese mundo es el mundo de Cervantes, el mundo del Quijote, porque ha sido en gran parte configurado por él; ese mundo es el de las novelas del punto ciego.
Profile Image for Piero.
287 reviews31 followers
September 1, 2022
Ensayo no solamente entretenido por su contenido sino al mismo tiempo revelador de un modo de ver la literatura muy interesante. Una visión que hereda el legado de El Quijote pasando por grandes escritores como Kafka, Borges, Kundera o Vargas Llosa.
Profile Image for John de Vos.
42 reviews2 followers
November 14, 2020
Only criticism is that I felt remarkably non-well-read after finishing these remarkable essays.
Profile Image for Tasia.
12 reviews
May 28, 2022
No he podido terminarlo. Un señor hablando de su libro, mencionando a otros señores disfrazandolo todo de teoría literia. Me cansa.
Profile Image for Jay.
219 reviews51 followers
April 10, 2019
The Blind Spot is an engaging collection of four essays first written by Javier Cercas between 2011 and 2015. The first essay—"The Third Truth”—explores a typology for the novel as a genre, using Milan Kundera’s divisions as a starting point. Cercas defends his classifying Anatomy of a Moment as a novel rather than as narrative history.

The second essay—"The Blind Spot”—develops Cercas’ theory of the Blind Spot Novel. Cercas explores the roots of the Blind Spot Novel, discussing among others, Cervantes, Melville and Kafka. He also explores the role of the reader in the creative process.

The third essay—"Vargas Llosa’s Question”—was first written in 2012, appearing as a preface to the 50th anniversary edition of La ciudad y los perros published by the Real Academia. It is a critical analysis of that novel. Cercas identifies the central question--the Blind Spot, el Punto Ciego-- that weaves through all of Vargas’ fiction: “the unresolvable question of the unresolvable contradiction…between idealism and fanaticism”.

The fourth and final essay—"The Man Who Says No”—reflects on the function of the writer in the public arena. Cercas also discusses the role of the intellectual across time, speculating on a new intellectual moving forward.

Javier Cercas is one of the more creative novelists writing in Spanish today. His discussions in this series of essays should provoke thoughtful discussions about the past, present and future of the genre.
Profile Image for João Ricardo.
61 reviews4 followers
September 4, 2022

Este libro ha sido esencial para mí, una vez que me ha enseñado muchísimas cosas sobre la naturaleza de la literatura. Muchas dudas que yo había tenido al longo de varios meses han sido disipadas gracias a la análisis y escrita sucinta genial de Javier Cercas. Para mí, este libro, aunque de pequeño tamaño, es efectivamente de una gran dimensión y dispone de un gran tenor de conocimiento que me impresionó.

La teoría del punto ciego es, sobre todo, una teoría que puede definir algunas (o casi todas) las obras maestras literarias de la humanidad – empezando por el Quijote de Cervantes, que sirve de hecho como una base para todo el desarrollo del ensayo, y pasando por otros escritores y sus respectivas obras como Moby Dick de Melville o El Proceso de Kafka.

La idea central que la búsqueda de una respuesta para una cuestión, una cuestión que el escritor desarrolla deliberadamente cada vez más compleja, es, de hecho, la su propria respuesta no taxativa o definitiva, me ha libertado y retirado una enorme carga de mis hombros, dado que la idea de providenciar una respuesta definitiva, una verdad absoluta, como yo creía que los grandes autores hacían, me parecía extremadamente difícil. Todavía, ahora soy capaz de entender que esa misma respuesta es dada o obtenida por el proprio lector tras su lectura de la obra (aunque sea necesario un lector atento y dedicado, un lector comprometido) y, además, lo más importante en la mía visión, que esa respuesta dada o obtenida singularmente por el proprio lector es aquello que el mismo es de verdad, o sea, aquello que resulta de su lectura es exactamente lo que el es y la verdad para la suya visión del mundo o de realidad. En esta capacidad de mezclar la ambigüedad y la pluralidad del mundo es que reside la magia y el poder vero de la literatura, puesto que, como había dicho Roland Barthes, “Una obra es eterna no porque impone un sentido único a hombres diferentes, sino porque sugiere diferentes sentidos a un hombre único.”. Aquí es posible entender la complejidad de la realidad del mundo y de la vida, como hay tantas verdades y que esas mismas no necesitan de ser congruentes con las demás, o sea, una verdad no se convierte en una mentira solamente porque puede a venir refutar o renegar, parcial o totalmente, otra verdad.

Como dijo Cercas, un buen escritor es el opuesto de un bon político, pues un bon político tiene que simplificar y proporcionar respuestas definitivas a problemas o preguntas, pero un buen novelista debe hacer precisamente el contrario, tornarlas más complejas posible y no providenciar respuestas, sino crear más preguntas.

Algunas citaciones que me han gustado muchísimo son las siguientes:

“Un libro tiene que ser una hacha que rompa el mar de huelo que llevamos dentro” – Kafka.

“Eso es la literatura comprometida – concluyó Oé -, Una literatura que te compromete por entero, una literatura en la cual uno se involucra de tal modo que no sólo quiere leerla, pero también vivirla.”

“Según Viktor Shklovski, la misión del arte consiste en desautomatizar la realidad, en convertir en extraño y singular lo que, a fuerza de tanto verlo, ha acabado pareciéndonos normal y corriente.”

“La costumbre borra el perfil de las cosas, volviéndolas imprecisas y anodinas.” - Montaigne

“Las buenas ideas no son las que provocan el asentimiento sino la contradicción; es decir, las que generan nuevas ideas.” – Marcel Proust
Profile Image for Maria Azpiroz.
158 reviews6 followers
April 7, 2023
Me ha gustado mucho. Es un libro que surge dela invitación que recibió en 2014 para ocupar el puesto de profesor visitante de la cátedra Weidenfeld de Literatura Europea Comparada de la Universidad de Oxford. El libro tiene capítulos mejores que otros y las ideas aunque muy buenas, resultan un poco reiterativas, pero en su conjunto es muy disfrutable y anima a reflexionar. La introducción me hizo acordar a "la verdad de las mentiras " de Vargas Llosa (uno de los autores favoritos de Cercas) al mencionar la diferencia entre la verdad de la historia (factual, concreta, particular) contra la verdad de la literatura , que es moral, abstracta y universal. La segunda parte introduce el concepto de punto ciego que da nombre al libro de Cercas. Utiliza muy buenos ejemplos de la literatura clásica para demostrar cómo las grandes obras dejan una pregunta sin resolver pero lo importante es la pregunta: Don Quijote está loco? ¿Quién es Moby Dick? ¿Es el mal o el bien? ¿por qué Ahab está obsesionado con la ballena? ¿De qué se lo acusa a Josef K? ¿Es inocente o culpable? , la niñera de Otra vuelta de tuerca ¿está loca o realmente vio fantasmas? ¿Quién mató al Esclavo en La ciudad y los perros? . Justamente la no respuesta o que la respuesta quede en manos del lector, es una de las características de la gran literatura y por eso estas obras perduran siglos. Es un punto interesantísimo y está bien planteado. Luego dedica un capítulo a la obra de Vargas Llosa, , nos da ejemplos de la propia literatura de Cercas y termina con un buen capítulo sobre la misión del arte y el concepto de literatura comprometida. Un libro breve pero sugerente.
Profile Image for OSCAR.
358 reviews7 followers
February 18, 2020
Cabe mencionar de antemano que este libro está conformado por diversas ponencias que presentó durante un ciclo de conferencias celebrado en Reino Unido. Eso explicará por un lado el tratamiento superficial pero bastante coherente y conciso de las ideas del autor.

El autor parte de la afirmación de que toda novela de valía cuenta con un punto ciego o una interrogación que está abierta a las respuestas de los lectores, quienes serán los que den sentido a esa ambigüedad que el escritor ha dejado entre líneas.

El libro es un esfuerzo por mostrar que la relevancia de algunas novelas se ha debido a que lejos de cerrarse a la mirada del público, permiten aquéllas que la gente las siga interrogando porque dejan una ventana abierta para eso. Al final Cercas revela que la novela es el género por antonomasia de la modernidad, ya que no clausura los sentidos o las interpretaciones, sino que permite un diálogo donde los dogmatismos son combatidos; incluso asevera que la novela es el género democrático por excelencia. Con esta tesis en mente, Cercas cierra este libro, después de hacer un estudio sobre el papel del intelectual en nuestra época y sobre la literatura comprometida, sin antes analizar la vida y obra del gran novelista Mario Vargas Llosa.

Sinceramente yo nunca hubiera leído este libro por gusto; fue la lectura de un seminario y sólo así es que termine leyéndolo. El texto es bueno, pero es de esos tomos que te llegan y nunca son elegidos libremente.

Por su prosa sencilla, este libro puede leerse en un fin de semana.
Profile Image for Rio Miras.
54 reviews
May 13, 2023
"En el centro mismo de la novela hay, por lo tanto, una pregunta sin respuesta, un enigma irresuelto, un punto ciego, un minúsculo lugar a través del cual, en teoría el lector no ve nada; lo cierto es que, en la práctica, el significado profundo de toda novela radica precisamente allí"

Aunque traductora, siempre me he considerado de alguna manera filóloga, es por eso que he comenzado a tomas asignaturas de la carrera de Filología Hispánica, el punto ciego de Javier Cercas era una de esas lecturas obligatorias. Siempre he odiado los finales abiertos, los enigmas sin resolver que planteaban los libros, las preguntas sin respuesta, los puntos ciegos, pero ahora... aunque siga odiando no conocer la absoluta verdad de todo, creo que son los que dan a la novela significado, ofrecen más interpretaciones, más posibles lecturas, como no nos saca de nuestra duda, finalmente tenemos tantas posibilidades como queramos.

¿De verdad está loco don Quijote? La respuesta es que, sin duda, está completamente loco y, a la vez, está completamente cuerdo, ¿Quién es Moby Dick? ¿Es el mal o el bien? Se nos presenta como una encarnación del mal y también como un arcángel todo en la novela está en el filo de la constante contradicción ¿De qué se acusa a Josef K.? ¿Es culpable o inocente? Nunca lo sabremos, y tal vez sea lo mejor.
202 reviews
March 25, 2021
An engaging series of lectures on the topic of what makes a great novel. Cercas is, refreshingly, not an academic, but a successful writer with breadth and depth of literary culture. Not surprisingly, Moby Dick and Don Quijote are his paradigms for the Great Novel. His touchstone is unresolvable moral ambiguity. I'd say he is fascinated by the enigma of ordinary heroism. Surprisingly, he is lukewarm toward Galdos and Clarín and considers Vargas Llosa's La ciudad y los perros one of the few great Spanish novels. An interesting claim is that his own Anatomía de un instante, a historically accurate description of an attempted coup in Spain in 1982 when armed military officers stormed the Spanish parliament, is a novel. Although he admits that he carefully researched the events, he was never able to determine why key individuals stood up to the golpistas.
Profile Image for Johana Abarca Baca.
112 reviews17 followers
May 27, 2020
Este libro tiene historia, lo compre porque Javier Cercas venía a mi ciudad como parte del Hay Festival y queria si o si un libro firmado, y solo había este título en la librería, quería acabarlo antes de la presentación, pero falle olímpicamente, lo encontré denso y más, pero en esta cuarentena el libro me pareció una joya, no lo leí rapidísimo como lo deseaba (por que aunque nadie lo crea se hacen muchas cosas en casa y más si tienes un bebe de 4 meses), pero si lo disfrute mucho, este libro me recuerda a esos libros que despues de leerlo sabes que fueron mas y me dejo unas ganas locas de leer más de Javier Cercas y sobre todo de aventurarme con el clásico de nuestro idioma " El Famosísimo Quijote".
Profile Image for Boris Abi.
98 reviews18 followers
February 14, 2023
"La literatura, y en particular la novela, no debe proponer nada, no debe transmitir certezas ni dar respuestas ni prescribir soluciones; al revés: lo que debe hacer es formular preguntas, transmitir dudas y presentar problemas y, cuanto más complejas sean las preguntas, más angustiosas las dudas y más arduos e irresolubles los problemas, mucho mejor. La auténtica literatura no tranquiliza: inquieta; no simplifica la realidad: la complica. Las verdades de la literatura, pero sobre todo las de la novela, no son nunca claras, taxativas e inequívocas, sino ambiguas, contradictorias, poliédricas, esencialmente irónicas."
Mira, yo no lo pude haber dicho mejor.
Profile Image for Rommel Manosalvas.
Author 3 books62 followers
October 10, 2020
Ese mundo equívoco y escurridizo, sin seguridades inapelables, repugna al dogmatismo del pensamiento totalitario, resulta incompatible con él, y por eso constituye tal vez el instrumento más eficaz para socavarlo.

Ese mundo es el mundo de Cervantes, el mundo del Quijote, porque ha sido en gran parte configurado por él; ese mundo es el de las novelas del punto ciego. Un mundo en el que, como en las novelas del punto ciego, la última palabra la tenemos nosotros. Usted y yo.

Necesito leer esto de nuevo de principio a fin.
Profile Image for Accumulatrice di libri.
253 reviews12 followers
November 14, 2020
Un libro non esiste in sé stesso, ma soltanto nella misura in cui qualcuno lo legge; un libro senza lettori non è altro che un mucchio di lettere morte, ed è quando noi lettori lo apriamo e iniziamo a leggerlo che si verifica una magia quotidiana e le lettere resuscitano, dotate di una nuova vita.
Profile Image for Giancarlo.
Author 3 books2 followers
December 19, 2017
Un libro lleno de lucidez sobre la idea de novela, la literatura “comprometida” y el placer de la lectura. Me quedo con su defensa de El Quijote como texto fundacional pero también disruptivo.
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