COUNT JULIAN by Juan Goytisolo


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If you think of Spanish writing in pseudo-primitivistic Hemingwayan terms, the Parisian exile Goytisolo comes as a shock. Along with his co-linguist, the European cause celebre Jose Lezama Lima (Paradiso, KR, p. 138), Goytisolo belongs firmly to the continental tradition of decadence. Like Baudelaire railing against the Belgians, he hates the bourgeois spirit; like Mishima slicing at the Japanese upper class, he detests all impure pretensions to love of the past. Goytisolo's hero, Count Julian, descends from an apocryphal Moslem-fighter whose ""rage was boundless. . . his mad. ness precocious."" Julian wanders the streets of Tangier with nothing so crass as a plot to distract from his ravings against his ""Christian gentleman"" compatriots across the Mediterranean. Like Lezama Lima, his prose exudes what Goytisolo calls ""baroque, hyperbolic cruelty."" Goytisolo has a maniacal self-irony and turbulent, over-stitched surrealist streak that make Celine look like Sir Walter Scott. His themes, apart from the decay of the Iberian soul and the lost, vast stillness of Spain, are erotic and sadistic -- Lezama Lima's serpent-penis reappears; the genitalia of women are even more elaborately ""hideous, poisonous, nauseating""; and the rape and torture of children more extensive, by way of a Red Riding Hood fantasy. The style reflects a Lezamaesque obsession with the externals of physical science and the internals of derangement. The same imagery abounds of ""vertebrate,"" ""carapace,"" and ""crustacean,"" along with swollen, excrescent, viperous and flagellant metaphors, and a lot of sardonic reflections on language itself. The parallels with writers like Lezama Lima are important: something is going on with these haut roman Spaniards! It demands clinical attention -- Goytisolo, after all, is tagged as Spain's greatest living novelist.

Pub Date: May 15th, 1974
ISBN: 1564784843
Publisher: Viking