Spain Literature – Cultism and Conceptism

Cultism was the formal aspect of the erudition of every single poet; more or less strident aspect in the whole of his work, according to the innate power of fantastic assimilation or the lazy adaptation to the doctrinal needs of the time. Las flores de poetas ilustres de España(1605), who brought together Pedro de Espinosa, document the cultism already in embryo in Herrerian poets. The aesthetics of Herrera put “todo lo que cae en sentimiento humano” as the foundation of the poem, and the poem wanted it to be “abundantisima y exuberante, y rica en todo, libre de su derecho o iurisdicción, sola, sin sujeción alguna”. Love is therefore the immanent universal that is identified as the personality of the poet develops and deepens, to whom the sensitive universe becomes more and more transparent in its forms or ideas of beauty. The language that adheres to his soul is in continuous progress as it is realized knowledge. The continuers of Herrera stopped at abstract and purely intellectual knowledge. Enrich the Castilian language with a doctrinal content,Of the origen y principle of la lengua castellanauby Bernardo Alderete, 1606); but the ambitious preciousness made them current, which entered society as a form of discretion or refined distinction. Luis de Góngora y Argote (1561-1627) is more than anything else the artist of cultism; because in cultism the aesthetic fragmentarism of a poetic soul lover of colors and sensual tones, vague with musicality and forced to support his own inspiration with ingenious intellectual combinations finds expression. With any aesthetic you want to judge the art of Góngora, not excluding the aesthetics of Parnassian preciousness that rediscovered and valued it, what characterizes it is a precise and bright intellectualism, which takes over where the feeling fails, to the word and reducing it to pure sound. Violent Latinism, which removes the word from the concreteness of common use, is a striking aspect of this aesthetic cerebralism that modern art does not ignore. Skilled in elevating to reasons of grace, mischievous and festive,romances and letrillas, eloquent and singing in the initial impetus of the sonnets, warm and abandoned in the descriptive opulences of the Polyphemus, the Góngora is convoluted, syntactically tense and fundamentally disrupted in the construction of the Soledades. However, none of the numerous poets who imitated him (the Villamediana, Francisco de Trillo y Figueroa) managed to match him. Cultism, even though it was at the time, was theoretically opposed in Góngora as an external art norm by Juan Martínez de Jáuregui (Discurso poético, 1623), the happy translator of Aminta. And his notations are a model of that criticism that he did not know how to realize in the living actuality of art. Cultism was still opposed by the Hellenist Pedro de Valencia educated at the school of the great humanist Benito Arias Montano; but nevertheless it was recognized as a necessity of art, that is of intellectual elaboration, by Diego de Saavedra Fajardo in his Repitblica literaria, a disordered work but full of happy critical motifs. The Saavedra Fajardo is the man of balance, who assumes a temperate attitude and elegant eclecticism in all questions of aesthetics. He can stroll peacefully in his literary city equipped with towers and bulwarks, enter the Dogana dei Libri or witness the rebellions of the poets against the Scaligero. He feels himself out of the struggle and, with a certain skeptical spirit, notices vices and virtues, but at times he arrives at sophistry and childish objection. Art as an intellectual virtue that disregards sentiment is a bit of the mania of the century that has intellectualized scholasticism, just as it has intellectualized the moral concreteness of Christianity. Cultism was naturally exalted by scholars such as José Pellicer; but the lyricists who possessed a personal content of seriousness and morality and who in Horatian ways, such as the satires and epistles of the Argensola brothers, or with the anacreontean grace that shines in the odicines of Manuel de Villegas, expressed a religious sentiment of life or the pain of transient beauty or the painful poetry of ruins. The continuers of the good Renaissance poetry are Rodrigo Caro, Francisco de Rioja, the Prince de Esquilache and the anonymous author ofEpístola moral to Fabio.

The man who gives the measure of his century, in the turbid, agitated and formalistic life of the court, is Francisco de Quevedo y Villegas (1580-1645). Sometimes a conceptualist, despising conceptism, sometimes a cultist, denying dusty erudition, easy to pass from the graceful to the sententious, from the ideal to the real, with a wealth of contrasts and a cynically pessimistic fantasy, Quevedo is always equal to himself in the destructive force of satire, in the use of irony, parody and sarcasm. Its culture is vast more in extent than in depth, ranging from classical to Semitic and modern languages. “Magnum decus Hispanorum” is called by Giusto Lipsio, with whom he is in correspondence. His temperate stoicism,; El Bruto), intertwines with epicurean motifs and allows him to study and observe the contemporary world and the politics of his time with acute and bitter criticism (La política de Dios, gobierno de Cristo y tiranía de Satanás). Quevedo indulges in paradoxical forms that break the ideas made and the systematic positions, in which the groggy cynicism of his time was strengthened; hence, in his scattered and unrelated production, the observation of the particular and the momentary reflection of single facts, highlighted within the limits of a conceptual maxim. He is not fundamentally a skeptic; it does not continue the tradition of Quod nihil scitur(1581) by Francisco Sánchez. Quevedo is a dynamic spirit who does not give up on action and knows how to withstand adversity with dignity. He is critical of the Lucianesque line of the first Spanish Erasmusists, Juan de Valdés and Cristóbal de Villalón; but with greater vivacity and destructive harshness. In a time in which the acuteness of ingenuity is the norm of art and true writers are rare, he possesses exceptional stylistic virtues, nervous security of engraving, robustness of construction, rapidity of glimpses, within the glare of a whimsical and overwhelming fantasy. In the satirical fiction of the Sueñosthe moral intent is more negative than constructive: joyful mockery of all the empty social forms of life and customs, of courtly traits and cultural affectation, with that biting malice that has its most complete expression in the Buscón. Quevedo does not like scandal and wants the repression of vice; but rather than concretely representing types and figures and pouring out the impetus of a thunderous laugh on their moral meanness, he prefers to stick to the forms of irony that stings and torments and does not kill.

He shows the readiness and ductility of human intelligence which unconsciously adheres to all irrational tendencies and justifies them all (El sueño de las calaveras ; El mundo por de interno); but he himself justifies them as a necessity of nature on which he sees contemporary society founded (La hora de todos y la Fortuna con seso). Basically he is a skeptical observer. Under the pen of Quevedo the picaresque novel is transformed. Quevedo does not retreat from the most repugnant realities. He vividly represents the most grotesque types, especially those who, beyond all morality, assume the law of instinct as the norm of life and ignore all human modesty. In the Buscónart has the technical precision of verbal realism; it is stringent in detail; engraves in black patches of etching; but it has no autonomous construction and is reduced to paintings within the narrative scheme of the picaresque novel. In his poems Quevedo, who was a fruitful composer, does not exceed, despite the variety of tones and meters, the particular tendencies of his spirit. He reaches eloquence, indignation and sarcasm, but he leans on lyrical schemes of classical, Italian or French imitation or on the popular schemes of romances. Conceptual preciousness is only an aspect of intellectualism which has entered the philosophy, or the dominant morals and aesthetics of Juan Díaz Rengifo (1592), Luis Alfonso de Carvallo (1602), the Aristotelian Francisco Cascales (1617), Antonio González de Salas (1633). It’s all a formal arrangement work. It is limited to the superficial and empirical study of literary facts, which are governed according to external norms, with an abstract preceptism characterized by the total absence of a serious philosophical thought. The theorist of conceptism was Baltasar Gracián (1601-1658). In his famous Oráculo manual y arte de prudencia we have the man who confesses himself in the confessions of the time, and who finds the maxims under the control of his experience and the world around him.El heroe (1637) is the ideal of the prince, but also of the superior man: an ingenious, an intellectual and strong-willed, conscious and active nature; he is the wise man (El discreto, 1646) who guides himself according to clearly established rules.

According to, they generalize every empirical experience, emptying it of its sentimental content. In its maxims the Gracián is sharp and incisive; it eliminates all that is artist’s imagination and aura of sentiment; criticizes everything that has forms and appearances of irrationality; he contrasts instinct with cognitive reason, but to deny instinct (El criticón); fixes types and laws with a subtle examination of concepts (Agudeza y arte de ingenio, 1648). Here we really find the code of poetic intellectualism; since conceptual acuity is for Gracián the only source of aesthetic enjoyment, since it resolves all in itself. perfections and the beauties of style. What it really is, he cannot define it except as a corruption of the intelligence that glimpses, as in a flash, oppositions and correspondences of ideas, similarities and dissimilarities, paradoxes and exaggerations, all the subtleties of a thought that is hidden and it reveals ready, quick, dazzling. This preceptist formalism was exhausted, in pulpit religious literature, in “conceptos predicables” and led to the degeneration of an art outside of poetry, that is, outside the sentiment that sustains it. Narrative poetry, due to its epic assumption linked to facts, or because of its religious content close to things, it was not touched by it; but he kept himself in the golden mediocrity, withLas lagrimas de San Pedre by Rodríguez Fernández de Ribera, with La Cristiada by Diego de Hojeda, with La Creación by Alonso de Acevedo, with La Restauración de España by Luis de Ulloa. Nor do José de Villaviciosa’s La Mosquea and Bernardo de Valbuena’s long-winded Ariosto poem, El Bernardo, stand out.

Spain Literature - Cultism and Conceptism