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The generosity of philology

The generosity of philology

Francisco Rico is one of the fundamental philologists that this country has produced in the last century. We owe him some extraordinary books, which have illuminated without turning back our knowledge of classical Spanish literature, or literature simply. Furthermore, he conceived and directed enormous undertakings, with which generations of philologists have been educated: the History and critic of Spanish literature and various collections of classics edited with manic care. In fact, for Rico a philologist is, above all, a text editor; That is, the person in charge of preserving the literary tradition and delivering it to the reader in the best possible conditions, so that he or she can fully enjoy it. In this sense, Rico has thoroughly renewed, and from various points of view, the approaches of traditional philology (which means that he has renewed our way of reading the classics); A few years ago I tried to summarize one of them, which still seems basic to me.

For Rico, a philologist is, above all, a text editor; that is, the person in charge of preserving the literary tradition and delivering it to the reader.”

The old-fashioned philologist excluded any interpretation of the texts that did not strictly adhere to the contextual data; He did it out of conviction, of course – out of the certainty that the only valid interpretation of a text is that dictated by its context – but there is also the suspicion that more than one person did it out of the desire to make a profit, through the monopoly of interpretation, the arduous historical journey required by the reconstruction of the placenta of a text. Out of generosity, but above all out of conviction, Rico disdains the stinginess of this way of operating: to my knowledge, nowhere has he explained it better than in an essay titled The two interpretations of Don Quixoteincluded in Brief library of Spanish authors. There he writes: “Any explanation of a text that is not completely adjusted to the conscious intentions of the author or to the conventions of his time cannot be called anachronistic and false.” This is not, of course, equivalent to denying the need for the ordinary reader to undertake a historical journey in order to understand a classic, which, thanks to the philologist, places it in its context. An example: if a reader aspires to enjoy the best novel in the news as he deserves, when he opens its first page and begins to read (“In a place in La Mancha, whose name I do not want to remember, it has not been long since There lived a nobleman of those with a lance in a shipyard, an old buckler, a skinny nag and a racing greyhound”), you must let yourself be guided by the philologist and accept that – let’s say – in that phrase a “place” is not a “place”, but a town small, larger than a village and smaller than a town, and that – let’s say – “a shipyard” is not a naval construction factory, but a lancera (that is, the shelf where the lances were kept). Now, Rico continues, once the literal meaning of the text has been unraveled, the reader, after thanking the philologist for the services provided, must emancipate himself from the philologist, because only he himself is concerned with the ultimate interpretation of the text. In Rico’s words: while in a literary work “the ‘meaning’ belongs strictly to the page (…), ‘the meaning’ and ‘value’ inevitably depend on the readers.” That is why it is equally legitimate to read the Quixote as a “mocking” book and its protagonist as a comic character—that is, as Cervantes’s contemporaries read it—than to read it as a “real” book, thus turning Don Quixote into a heroic character, the “king.” of the hidalgos, lord of the sad” that Rubén Darío sang — that is: as so many readers have read since Romanticism. For Rico, in short, the meaning of a text depends exclusively on the dialogue—non-transferable, also unpredictable—that is established between the reader and the text, and the generosity of the philologist consists of promoting the daily miracle of there being so many Don Quixotes as readers of Quixote. It does not seem imprecise to me to affirm that, just by starting from this idea – and having put it into practice with extreme competence – Rico’s work is already exemplary.

I treated Francisco Rico regularly during the last forty years, but I always called him “Professor Rico”, I never addressed him by name; He would never have done it: for some reason, the “you” fostered an intimacy with him that the “you” would never have tolerated. Between 1983 and 1987 I was his student at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, ​​where I had very good teachers; none, however, as brilliant as him: this man was capable of spending an entire hour talking about a couple of verses from the Good Love Book, converted into a dizzying aleph where all universal culture converged, from Horacio and Dante to Baudelaire and Jorge Guillén (without forgetting Miguel Gila). I also worked alongside him: I have never met anyone so perfectionist, so obsessive, so meticulous, so demanding of everyone around him (but, above all, of himself). He was an eccentric, and could be terribly impertinent, but he never lost his sense of humor: like almost all people who take his work seriously, he never took himself seriously; in fact, his motto could have been this aphorism from La Rochefocauld (which Sterne evokes in Tristram Shandy): “Seriousness is the mask that the body puts on to hide the putrefaction of the spirit.” He was a dangerous night owl, and you could call his office at four in the morning with the assurance that you could talk to him until dawn: we called those telephone conversations On the consolation of philology. Recently, when the illness attacked him, he stopped going to his office, he stopped answering the phone, we stopped talking. The last time we did it we couldn’t quite agree on whether the best poem in Spanish literature is the Couplets of Manrique or the Moral epistle to Fabio, which ends with a verse that he really liked to repeat: “Before time dies in our arms.” Well, Professor Rico, time has already died in yours; As for the others, we are left with the last verses of Manrique’s poem: “And although life lost / it left us plenty of consolation / the memory of him.” The rest is silence.

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