Purdue Studies in Romance Literatures School of Languages and Cultures

(A)wry Views: Anamorphosis, Cervantes, and the Early Picaresque

David R. Castillo

The term anamorphosis, from the Greek ana ("again") and morphe ("shape"), designates a variety of perspective experiments that can be traced back to the artistic developments of the 1500s and early 1600s. Anamorphic devices challenge viewers to experience different forms of perceptual oscillation and uncertainty. Images shift in front of the eyes of the puzzled spectators as they move from the center of the representation to the margins, or from one side to the other. This study demonstrates that much of the literature of the Spanish Golden Age (roughly 1550-1650) is similarly susceptible to a mode of interpretation that permits, and indeed requires, "oblique readings."

Thus, the perspectivistic tendencies that are characteristic of the work of Miguel de Cervantes and many of the picaresque narratives of the period--including the anonymous Lazarillo de Tormes, Mateo Alemán's Guzmán de Alfarache, and López de Úbeda's La pícara Justina--invite the reader to actively participate in a game of displacements and sudden revelations. As with the optical illusions of anamorphosis, this reading game may very well result in a questioning of the fit between reality and perception, perhaps even in a suspension of commonly held beliefs about the world and our place in it.

"(A)wry Views makes a sophisticated, original, interdisciplinary contribution to early modern scholarship and to our understanding of Spanish literature and cultural production in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. By theorizing the latter as a field of texts susceptible to a contemporary mode of interpretation that permits 'oblique' readings (i.e., anamorphosis), the author successfully demonstrates that there was more than one way to look at works like Lazarillo, Guzmán, and La pícara Justina and [those of] Cervantes." E. Michael Gerli, author of Refiguring Authority: Reading, Writing, and Rewriting in Cervantes

"(A)wry Views is a clearly written, lively, and refreshingly accessible study [...] Castillo's book not only offers challenging readings of its own, but will also stimulate new and provocative discussion of both the canonical works and its own interpretations." William Clamurro, Cervantes

"Scholars who are interested in a fascinating, innovative approach that combines modern theories and solid scholarship on literature, painting and culture, one that stimulates readers to reconsider classical texts, will delight in this exceptional book." Robert Fiore, Hispania

"[Castillo] enriquece nuestro entendimiento de la literatura y cultura del Siglo de Oro al introducir en nuestro vocabulario crítico el término anamorfosis." Daniel Eisenberg, Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

"It should be noted that Castillo's critical stance has its roots in the methodologies of art history. What is important to recognize is that anamorphic studies were already well-known in the sixteenth century, both in Spain and abroad. Ergo Castillo is not guilty of applying a current critical fad to writings innocent of what was at risk.... Castillo's study of anamorphosis has introduced us to a Pythonesque universe with deep roots in the Spanish Siglo de Oro." Edward Dudley, Calíope

For the complete reviews from which the above quotations are taken, see
Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 22.1 (Spring 2002): 184-88.
Hispania 86 (Dec. 2003): 804-05.
Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 80.4 (Oct. 2003): 588-89.
Calíope 8.2 (2002):104-08.

For other reviews, see
Renaissance Quarterly 56.2 (Summer 2003): 487-89. (by Barbara E. Kurtz)
Reference & Research Book News 1 Feb. 2002.

David R. Castillo, University of Oregon, sits on the editorial board of the book series Hispanic Issues and has published articles on the work of Miguel de Cervantes, Baltasar Gracián, the picaresque tradition, baroque Spanish theater, the literature of the early colonial period, questions of nation-building, identity formation, and cultural theory.

1-55753-227-3
2001. Vol. 23. xiv, 182 pp. Cloth $51.95


Information last updated June 24, 2015.

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