Author’s Response to Speculum Review

A response to: Cantavella, Rosanna. Review of Text, Translation and Critical Interpretation of Joan Roís de Corella’s Tragèdia de Caldesa, by Peter Cocozzella.  Speculum 88.4 [2013]: 1074-6.

Author’s Response (Peter Cocozzella, Professor Emeritus, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, Binghamton University)

I have read Rosanna Cantavella’s review of my recent book on Joan Roís de Corella’s Tragèdia de Caldesa with great interest and respectful consideration.  I thank Dra. Cantavella for her time and effort.  I cannot help, however, expressing my disappointment at the reviewer’s neglect of my stated intention, which, from the very start, I ask my readers to bear in mind.

Unfortunately, present circumstances do not allow me to take up, systematically, the various issues raised in the course of Cantavella’s severe criticism.  I should like to address one proposition that Cantavella would consider, to use her own words, a “bizarre” “result” of Cocozzella’s “text deconstruction.”  Crucial in my interpretation is Corella’s theatrical strategy that consists in localizing the stage-worthy action in terms of the rather limited range of vision afforded by the small window in the room in which the lover is confined.  I concede that there is no explicit, prima facie evidence in the protagonist’s monologue to attest to Caldesa’s act of transgression.  My contention is that the narcissistic mind-set and the self-absorbed obsession, eminently reflected in the monologue, make that type of evidence impossible.  And, to quote the bard, “there is the rub!”  Therein lies the sore spot that Corella exposes in the tragic condition, arguably for the first time, in the history of European theater.  Caldesa’s transgression may be envisaged as an original sin of sorts.

The fact that the text provides no direct explanation for Caldesa’s transgression raises a red flag—understandably so.  Cantavella asks: Why would Caldesa do what Cocozzella says she does?  The answer resides, I submit, in the very nature of the paradox that Corella posits at the heart of the tragic juncture.  Caldesa cannot—that is, is not permitted—to speak out, speak up, or simply speak but surely can take action—astute, stealthy action.  And act she does with a vengeance!  She plots the dark chamber à la Viuda Reposada (Tirant lo Blanc), à la Melibea (Celestina), à la Adela (La casa de Bernarda Alba).  To put it bluntly, she commits a primal act of self-fashioning through rebellion and exacts punishment for the abuse she suffers by making sure the abuser sees her in her torrid embrace with the rival, the formidable “other.”  One detail of paramount significance in Caldesa’s ingenious plot stems from not-so-obvious but, all the same, factual evidence provided by Corella.  Caldesa engineers the central erotic episode with precise calculations to take place at a predetermined time within the range of vision of the aforementioned window.

Cantavella duly foregrounds what she calls “Romance philology’s methodological patterns.”   In my critical editions and many other publications I adhere strictly to the norms inherent in the methodology Cantavella subscribes to.  Throughout my long academic life I have devoted my labor of love in homage to the collective endeavors of my esteemed Catalanist colleagues.  I do not deserve to be ostracized among the spectral figures Cantavella conjures up for the occasion: those insidious purveyors of “unsupported opinions instead of proven facts.”

I find particularly disturbing Cantavella’s assemblage of philological methods and patterns, laudable in themselves, into a veritable Procrustean bed.  Cantavella’s review of my book is chilling testimony of the type of “deconstruction” that is bound to be practiced on that bed.

Reviewer’s Response (Prof. Rosanna Cantavella, Departament de Filologia Catalana Universitat de València):

My objections to Professor Cocozzella’s hypothesis were mainly derived from the fact that he fails to prove it in the course of his book. Professor Cocozzella replies that the narrator’s psychological conditions “make that type of evidence impossible.” QED. Just because some other, later works include the type of scheming female (whatever her motivations) which Cocozzella says Caldesa is, it does not mean Corella’s character has to retrospectively conform to them. The Tragèdia’s narrative theme (judging by the overwhelming amounts of space Corella devotes from beginning to end to this introspection) is, instead, the betrayed narrator and his inner fight on how to respond to Caldesa’s love treason –not she or her untold motivations. By stating the obvious, I do anything but deconstruct this text.

Author’s Response: Peter Cocozzella: The Evidence at Issue

In my book on Joan Roís de Corella’s Tragèdia de Caldesa I delve into the crucial issue of the evidence the author provides concerning the tense, problematic relationship between the auctorial persona in the guise of the male protagonist and Caldesa, the female counterpart.  In my extensive discussion of that issue the following points stand out:

1)      The male protagonist projects the rhetoric of his relentless obsession into a biased, unsympathetic, and self-serving portrait of Caldesa, to whom he ascribes the unflattering attributes of a scheming woman and worse.

2)     The auctorial persona’s narcissistic mind-set, self-absorbed monologue, ultra-egocentric perspective leave no room for a direct explanation, let alone justification, of Caldesa’s conduct.  The lack of prima facie evidence does not exclude, however, some rather significant clues that, within the context of the obsessive monologue, turn out to show considerable bearing on an account of Caldesa’s transgressive intention.  By the tried-and-true method of intertextual analysis—focusing, for instance, on affinities Caldesa’s conduct exhibits with that of coetaneous female personages in Castilian and Catalan literary masterpieces—I have been able to identify those clues and, in so doing, shed considerable light on Caldesa’s motivation.

3)     The evidence validated by intertextual hermeneutics becomes the key to a holistic perception of Caldesa’s characterization, which may be envisaged in its full dramatic qualities and tragic dimension in the light of the principles of Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalysis and Sephen Greenblatt’s theory of Renaissance self-fashioning.

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