Antonio García Berrio

Antonio García Berrio (1940 - ), Professor of Literary Theory at the Complutense University in Madrid. He has published numerous books related with comparative literature, such as España e Italia ante el conceptismo, Formación de la teoría literaria moderna or Introducción a la poética clasicista. His work Teoría de la literatura: la construcción del significado poético (1989) (Literary Theory: The Construction of Poetic Meaning) is still a major reference on the field nowadays. Later he published La construcción del imaginario en Cántico de Jorge Guillén (1985) and Forma interior: la creación poética de Claudio Rodríguez (1998) (Inner Form: The Poetic Creation of Claudio Rodríguez). Through the latter, he approaches the poet’s writing from an anthropological, stylistic, and mythical basis that point at a spiritual condensation never deeply studied before.

García Berrio starts from the evidence already stated by Humboldt: The preexistence of the inner form of language in the constructive structure of the human spirit, conducive to a universal system of symbolic-expressive structures. It is a first human attempt to symbolize, prior to the statement, what determines inner currents of syntactic, phonetic, and semantic analogies in poetic texts.

From this viewpoint, García Berrio analyzes the poetic oeuvre of Claudio Rodríguez as an expressive process that develops an “inner form”. This inner form becomes, in Gift of Inebriation, “a passionate dialogue between the illumined poet’s inebriation and its foundation”. The effect can be especially detected in the four central poems of the book, “the mythical central nucleus”, conclusion of the “absolute chimeric idyll of adolescent desire”.

From Conjurings on, what the author refers to as “the symbolic stages of the return myth” are on the rise. There is a tendency towards the return, marked by allegorical metamorphoses held in references full of concreteness and simplicity (a beam of an inn, the folklore of pilgrimages and popular feasts, the specific topography…) which nevertheless head for an “objectified, rising clarity” based on symbols of a consistency that Berrio defines as “tormented”.

In Alliance and Condemnation, the starting point for the poet is failure. Neither the joyful company of the people, nor the return home, the “father’s house”, are enough. Leopardi and Hölderlin, García Berrio concludes, were attempts now lost in the path towards the “mythical narration” of Alliance and Condemnation; a path full of obstacles for the poet, such as the shells that hinder access to the germinating core in so many previous poems. Yet these now force the poet to necessary and fertile wanderings around the mystery of knowledge (a case in point would be “Witches at Noon”, according to García Berrio). Knowledge is only possible if we can behold the “endearing” plurality of the world and men’s things, their fully warped relationship, necessarily apprehended by the gaze and turned into experience by means of a rhetoric fragmentation that warns us about the impossibility of reenacting that unity in Gift of Inebriation. Moreover, this paves the way for the following books, The Flight of Celebration and Almost a Legend.

The signals of destruction as a topic abound in The Flight of Celebration (1976). Therefore, García Berrio focuses specifically on the ever-present image of the wound, rendered by plenty of metaphors that bring hope close to pain, germination to decay (the almond in the coffin, in Claudio’s words). However, there is an ascending sublimation as the book advances in favor of the celebration of life, be it through the intimacy of erotism or in the epiphonetic statement that closes “Salvation from Danger”: Miserable the moment if it is not song.

Almost a Legend is the result of a meditative crisis in which, apart from personal circumstances, the awareness of the fragmentation of experience in the adventure of living plays a substantial role. That is the reason why the poet defined this last book as a mosaic in which topics are simultaneously summoned and destroyed, a statement on which García Berrio bases his analysis. Memory, García Berrio reminds us, is now an expert factor that lends “the painful depth of an irreparable abyss to this telluric, universal lament, of a heart and an instinct worn out in life, with no other registered echoes than memory inertias” (p. 707). This is a touching, thorough definition of the final sense of Almost a Legend. To the antithetical, diachronic balance between past and present we can add the powerful “final suite about death”. The first poem of this series, “The Almond Trees of Marialba”, represents –according to García Berrio– the transparent gaze of living beings throughout their existence, since these trees are “The antidote of resurrection against the grim shadow”. All of this turns these into farewell poems from all possible angles.