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Every person is the artificer of his own destiny I


“Every person is the artificer of his own destiny” (Two essays about Joan Castejón)

Fernando Castro Flórez

“Impenetrable appearance, weak light twinkling in a night without conceivable limits, which surrounds us on all sides. in my strange impotence, I remain in equilibrium. I do not know if I like the night, perhaps I do, since fragile human beauty only moves me to make me ill, on knowing that the night it comes from and where it is going to, is unfathomable. But I do like the distant figure that men have drawn and do not cease to leave part of themselves in this murkiness. It gives me pleasure and I like it and at times it hurts me to love it so much: even in its miseries, its nonsense and its crimes, the human race, sordid or pleasant and always lost, seems to me to be an intoxicating challenge.1”

Anatomy of a master of shrewdness.

Some creators are capable of remaining on the dangerous line that separates (and connects) the marvellous and the banal. It is precisely thence and not from empty transcendentalism that the singular should emerge, entering straight into an etymologically idiotic reality to achieve other intensities, works that I dare call magnificent, where the splendour of pleasure and the vibration of the concept do not have to be antagonistic. When fossilising strategy has imposed what Baudrillard calls transaesthetic of banality and works are literally superstitious objects2 and creative processes are like a swift choice of souvenir, it is worth reconsidering the meaning of art, like a journey in search of oneself, something that ends up being a line of resistance against the diffuse aestheticisation of hegemonic spectacularisation. Art is guided by illegible emotions that make the fragility of the world, its shadow, transparent. Jung thought the archetypes that more often and more intensely influence the ego are the shadow, the anima and the animus. “The figure most accessible to experience is the shadow, whose nature can to a large extent be inferred from the contents of the personal unconscious.3” If, on the one hand, it is an expression of the negative, in those obsessions that the shadow contains there is also a power, it acquires the form of an emotion that is not an activity but an event that happens to one. The shadow is, in this key, an emotional projection that seems to be located without a doubt in the other. the result of the projection is an isolation of the subject from its surroundings, insofar as a not real but illusionary relationship is established with it. By means of the shadow precisely a reality is embodied, an unknown face, whose essence remains unattainable. The subject manifests itself on the wall by means of the shadows it has managed to recall (the story of love, distance and melancholy that Pliny spoke of in his Natural History as the mythical origin of painting), art begins as the feeling of absent desire4. Drawing encloses man or, rather, in a work by Castejón, the subject draws with determination a spiral at whose centre there is a naked body (A Ausìas March, 1997). María Zambrano wrote that drawing belongs to the rarest species of things, “the species that has barely any presence: if it is sound, it borders on silence; if it is words, on muteness; a presence so pure that it is almost absence; a genre of being on the verge of the non-being”.5 The artist is something of a cryptophore, he has incorporated the most sombre sadness and luxury or flashes of joy, the memory of a hidden treasure, the place that overflows from the erosion of nihilism6.

In Joan Castejón’s work there is a constant presence of the figurative7, establishing a profound meditation about man’s corporality and space in times of irreality. “Castejón’s work is desperately realistic, irremediably realistic, even when the ornamental dissection of the figures seems to abolish every reference to reality.8” For Gombrich, illusion is a process that operates not only in visual representation but in all sensitive perception as a really crucial process for any organism’s possibilities of survival. The object of the vision is constructed by a deliberate attention to a selective set of clues that can be gathered in meaningful perceptions. In short, the similitude of the images (the objects represented) with the real objects, which is the core of every theory of pictorial realism, is transferred from the representation to the spectator’s judgement, a circular argument that requires, as Joel Snyder said, (culturally defined) “patterns of truth”, which would involve accepting a pictorial theory of vision, as Alberti did in his classical treatise On painting. The idea of truth is inherent in what Gadamer calls the prejudicial structure of understanding, a set of interpretations in which “forms of life” are constructed. We must take into account that the description, understood as the contemporary situation, involves copying what is already copied, a cross between a simulacrum and the vertiginous expansion of a photographic cartography, the impulse to “capture the moment”. “All literary description,” says Barthes, “ is a view. You would think that before starting to write the author stands at the window, not so much to see as to base what he sees within its frame: the opening conditions the spectacle. Describing is therefore placing the empty frame that the realistic author always carries around with him (even more important than his easel) in front of a collection or an arrangement of objects that, without this maniacal operation (which could cause laughter like a gag), would be inaccessible to words; so as to be able to speak about it it is necessary for the writer, by means of an initial rite, to transform first the “real” object into a (framed) painted object [peint], after which he can take down that object, take it out of his painting; in a word, depict it [dépeindre] (describing is unfurling the tapestry of codes, it is transferring from one code to another and not from a language to a referent). Thus realism (rightly or wrongly named and in any case often misinterpreted) does not consist in copying what is real but copying a (painted) copy of what is real: that famous reality, as though it were under the effect of a fear that prohibits touching it directly, that which has been sent further away, deferred, or at least apprehended by means of a pictorial bargain with which it is covered before submitting it to the word: code upon code, says realism.9”

In many cases (for example, in Castejón’s work Elegía trencada, 1980), realism resorts to the trompe-l’oeil so that it will not be mistaken for the real, but in order to produce a simulacrum with total awareness of the trick and the artifice: surpassing the effect of the real in order to arouse doubt10. The trompe-l’oeil affords us both the pleasure of similarity and the awareness that the identical thing has multiple differences, that is to say, the logic of the gaze discovers, in the space of desire, the asymmetrical. “From the outset, in the dialectic of the eye and the gaze we see that there is no coincidence whatsoever, it is something intrinsically unsatisfactory and that always fails because You never look at me from where I see you. And the other way around, what I look at is never what I want to see. And whatever one says, the relationship between the painter and the amateur [...] is a game, a trompe-l’oeil: a trick to deceive something.11” A strategy of deceit or seduction, art keeps its distance from the “real”, it is the glass Ortega spoke about in the dehumanisation of art which permits us to activate unrealisation. In Joan Castejón’s work, I am thinking, for example, of the series 40 anys d’història (1977), there is a wish for dialogue and the assimilation of the classical12, and tributes and dialogues with different artists, from Goya to Picasso, from Machado or Walt Whitman to Juan Carlos Onetti. The aesthetic tone of this artist with his radical creative solitude brings him close to figures whose pursuit of the exact tone does not elude existential abysses, but on the contrary inserts into the aesthetic the experience of an ordinariness that is, essentially, precarious. “It is probable that in Castejón’s innermost soul, in the draughtsman, in the artist, in the painter, resides that gaze of wonderment, dubious and full of mistrust at the evidence that it is, nearly always, the mask of appearance.13” There is something of historical painting in this work, endowed with great seriousness and yet open to the anecdotic, to use a term of Ortega’s, to the “circumstances”. On the other hand, Castejón’s work often has a literary tone14; Vargas Llosa says that today painting “without giving up at all its own purposes or abandoning modernity, can have literature as its starting point”15. He shows great virtuosity at all times, sedimenting on the representative surface that hand that obeys the shrewdness of intelligence with perfect precision. In Éloge de la main, Focillon writes that hands are almost living beings, endowed with a free, vigorous spirit and physiognomy: eyeless and voiceless faces that nonetheless see and speak. It is always the sense of touch that sensitises matter, the bare hand that draws, once again, the space or rather the landscape in which we live, preparing ourselves for the death that is built behind our backs as we can see in the masterly work Paisatge II (1990).

We must understand the drawing, the backbone of all Castejón’s work, as a complex structure with differentiated problems, a form with which to overcome events or the possibility to see once again the image we have of them; let us notice the equivalence that can be established between drawing and thinking, both processes that give body to a conflictive reality. In his book Las lecciones del dibujo, Juan José Gómez Molina pointed out that the act of drawing represents ourselves in the act of representing, clarifies the itineraries of our consciousness, becoming evident in our own eyes: Drawing is fundamentally defining that territory from which we establish references. Representing is, therefore, a controlled and difficult act of evocations and silences established by means of signs that we are able to decipher because they pre-exist in the historic memory. In the forms of contemporary drawing we find stratified situations where relationships are between replicas of replicas, second generation forms in which undetected relationships can be established16. If Jean Arp said sculpture is a net for catching light, then drawing is a mesh that articulates the structure of meaning. It is true that not drawing but drawings exist, numerous imaginary reconstructions where the complexity of the representation becomes accentuated. We know that a drawing without a project is impossible; the draughtsman, as we may notice in many pieces of Castejón’s, sees himself in the mirror, begins to notice the deformation and obviousness of the different culture models. “The leap one has to take to go from one side of the mirror to the other is always an act of definitive freedom. To enter is to accept the free play of a reality that acquires meaning insofar as its rules are accepted. Trying to do so with reserves, keeping one’s distance, is an infeasible solution.17” Drawing is indeed in Castejón work the basis of painterliness18, an element that transmits the flow of interior life19, the tool that permits the sedimentation on the selective bottom of the memory. This artist’s hand generates a tremendously confident line with which he recreates the poetic idea of man20.

We must go back again to the mythical origin of drawing, that gesture attempting to trap a shadow, that testimony of the absence I mentioned above, which is also a desire for return and confidence in passion that can never be lost. The hand has a wisdom of its own, like the gaze that discovers the musculature of the world and, on taking shape in a two-dimensional space, reveals to us the extraordinary experience of the imaginary as existing bodily within the real. In his abundant and excellent work, Joan Castejón has shown extraordinary mastery of drawing and composition, from his anatomic studies to his portraits, from the perfect flesh to the skeleton, from the representation of a walking man to his fascination with horses. Fleeing from the spiritual agoraphobia that at times dominates abstraction, he has succeeded, without excuses, in unfolding a figurative world that is not mimetic but, on the contrary, fictional, of a poetics that is difficult to explain. In his forms there is always a process, a dynamism or, rather, a machination that underscores the reflexive dimension, the desire to have the gaze go beyond what is represented to complete the symbolic. In his visions of man, naked in the metaphysical night, transporting enormous bones, on the verge of disappearing in Joc de foc (1999), I find both a profound melancholy and a singular confidence in the energy and intelligence we possess. Castejón invokes the primordial absence, the absence that can tame our animal impulses, riding, as in El Salt (2002), on the back of a horse reduced to a skeleton; he composes a figuration of dressage and places before us a jocundity that, in a way, speaks of resistance to death. We have to go back to the path, fearlessly, learn to place our own preoccupations upon those featureless faces, introduce ourselves among the beautiful folds of Castejón’s masterful oeuvre and in this way experience the richness of a world in which our traces, whether random or not, can be memorable.

In his considerations about the lost memory of things, Trías says that in this world, where Nature has chosen to hide from our eyes and our ears, philosophical reflection can only be based, as a primary experience, on the experience of the absence of experience, on the experience of emptiness left by things that have fled or disappeared. “Only at a certain distance away from the real world is it possible to open oneself up to a lucid understanding of it; only by shedding a world that starts in the collapse of the world that things inhabit and opening oneself up to the revelation of emptiness and the awareness of absence that sustains this world we live in. But this distance must be counteracted by a vivid awareness of this world without things, since it is only there that there can be traces and vestiges of things that fled or are perhaps yet to come. Today’s philosophical experience has, then, in the lack of things and in the memory and hope that this painfully suffered lack triggers, its worldly support.21” That “spiritual agoraphobia” that Worringer spoke of in his book Abstraction and Nature22, is corrected in this view of our time as a crisis of memory, as an absence of the concrete that leads to a totalising vision. The memory is a trail that lingers within us as the archive of a past that becomes present again. A repetition transformed into something new like an impersonal reality that proves the reality of the archetype. We live in a time of atrophy of experience and, for that reason, recalling the rage that led to mythical castration increases the degree of untimeliness and, nonetheless, when this process of epidermic rending is marginalised, be it in life or in art, everything is reduced to nothingness. In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud says that consciousness arises in the trace of a memory, that is, from the death impulse and the degradation of experience, something that photography sustains as a duplication of the real but also as a theatre of death, but which is also present in Joan Castejón’s powerful vanitas, in the proliferation of skulls and bones in his work. In the age of ruin of memory (when cathodic vertigo has cast its spell), time is dismembered, and “from this dismemberment,” Trías writes, “the presence of reminiscence is born23”. Art knows the importance of going outside time to seek the correspondences like an encounter (involuntary memory) that stops the swift course of reality. Castejón has rigorously and perseveringly striven “to bring to the surface the selective bottom of his memory, that is to say, to seek a new dialectic validity for that series of enigmas that, for want of a better word, we call reality24”. At times, that outside thought is precariously held or, rather, imposed, by a simulacrum of collage. Let us remember that, according to the avant-gardes, the collage provided a certainty by creating a new sort of space25, which was, for Picasso (whom Castejón recreates “anatomically” in a perspicuous series about Guernica of 1980), a fragment of reality impregnated with humanity. But, to a certain extent, the idea that the object is more real than its representation cannot elude the greatest of ambiguities26. It is on the basis of this criticism of objectual provocation (beyond the flatness of classical representational space) that Castejón develops his visual (non matteric) collage27 by finding a hypnotic tool to trigger critical recollection.

A crucial episode in Castejón’s plastico-dramatic memory is confinement. He was imprisoned in several Spanish jails as an anti-Francoist (Valencia and Teruel from 1967 to 1969 and later in the Canaries, in 1971), and during his time there he made over two thousand drawings, including some four hundred portraits. “Anyone who wants to will find in these papers on which crayons and pencils were combined with anguish, indignation and fear a tragic testimony of the darkest and saddest side of the human being.28” This impressive series is undoubtedly a historical reference but, as I suggested above, it is above all a chronicle of human hope in the midst of despair, the space of testimonial sedimentation of the concrete: lavatories, bunk beds, loneliness, twisted bodies and hands, portraits of people lost in thought. In the midst of the degradation and destruction of men, Castejón finds chinks to narrate both the pain and the desire for freedom. Those awe-inspiring drawings give an account of the dominion of the warlords who “inundate our nightmares and turn our dreams, daydreams, sensations and utopias sour29”, at the same time as they offer images of bodily resistance. Castejón found in that abyss one of the most important keys to his aesthetic: anatomical distortion or, more radical still, human annihilation, the decay of the body that brings us close to animality30. Castejón’s dreadful bestiary seems to echo the horror of Kafka’s metamorphosis, it seems that those “transmuted, slashed, dismembered, dislocated, sewn, deformed...31” bodies cannot be sublimated, the catharsis mechanism in them suffered a short circuit. However, those terrible visions (Mutant, 1980, with the face surrounded by decomposed cloths or canvases underneath which rats impose a sinister note) are admirable. Although the characters walk, run or ride, we are sure that everything is detained, that those cruel images, with all the sluggishness typical of our corporality32, have theatrical features. It is curious that when the body of the dancer Isadora Duncan, a defender of the nobility of the nude33, appears in Castejón’s work, it does so in a very deteriorated condition34. Even at the height of bodily care we are affected by the erosion of time, by existential anguish, by the confinement of a cruel world, so that art, without sublimation, must approach what Ortega y Gasset called dehumanisation35. Castejón uses his overwhelming skill at drawing to print “tortured and mutilated anatomies, an uproar that proves manipulated freedoms and collective alignments, recorded as metonymic operations that have turned into symbols of violence36”. On some occasions, man reveals his animal origin (let us think, for example, of Evolució de l’home, 1970, or Personatge, 1980, a dog posing in full splendour), in other cases it is a naked being who wanders about or runs for no apparent reason.

Throughout Castejón’s artistic career, there has been a radical criticism of identity, as we can see in his decomposition of faces, and, in his most recent works, the inclusion of crowds of faceless characters. We must remember that, in spite of a terror of modernity, there is a hidden group of artists interested in the complexity and at the same time transparency of the face. “Faithful to the face, closely bound together, allied again in representing the human face without attacking it, without murdering it, degrading it or rejecting it, from a Picasso stubbornly determined to state reality and resisting the leap to abstraction to a Beckmann, who, in exile in America, still bore witness to the fate of Germany, from Bonnard to Balthus, from Spencer to Freud, from Hopper to Giacometti, from Music to Arikha, they have all obeyed the order of Martin Buber, heir to an ethical anthropology, who summed up the terror of out time. ‘Only those who know the relationship with Thou and its presence is capable of making a decision. He who makes a decision is free, because he has appeared before the face.’37” Reynolds formulated the idea that a painter of history paints man in general, whereas a portrait painter paints one particular man and therefore one particular model. Castejón, who has made many portraits, all with a singular sentimental projection, also develops a nucleus of masked subjects, devoted to permanent dramatisation, figures in a colossal absurdity. “Castejón offers us the epitome of vanity, pride, duplicity, avarice, desire for power, suspicion, hypocrisy, flattery, lust, envy or bitterness, insofar as an explicit denial –on the basis of zoomorphic symbols– of the ideal axiological table, which, as a purely formal model of human positivity, society itself proposes to us as an ethical desideratum, in a curious –and dramatic– paradox.38”

The referent in all Joan Castejón’s works is man, “although he is not concerned with atemporal and ahistorical man, but obsessed with the dehumanised situation in which, due to material progress, concrete man finds himself involved through the actions or omissions of real power39”. His subject-matter is immense, which is why the artist’s task is titanic: “to manifest,” as he himself has stated, “man’s truth by means of his work”. His drastic scenes of nakedness express, therefore, anxiety about the radical disagreement that is human nature. “His drawings are a restrained human concretion. A heaped-up, complex exaltation of the organic. A new artifice-free figuration. A magic and personal memory of the being, but also the generous emanation of a struggle to reach a goal that Art and Society have irremediably set out for them.40” Foucault said in The Order of Things that thought is never present, available, for itself, the wish for a “representation in a picture” that does not succeed in making man appear. For man’s experience there is a body that is a fragment of an ambiguous space, whose own irreducible spatiality is articulated, nevertheless, on the space of things: awareness of finitude, the end of metaphysics as an infinite unfurling of causal concatenations. It can be sustained that man and the unthought of are, at an archaeological level, contemporary. The unthought of is not lodged within man like a twisted nature or a story stratified there; it is, in relation with man, Otherness: fraternal, kindred otherness, born not of him or in him but beside him and at the same time as him, in an identical novelty, in an unappealable duality. Foucault himself put out the idea that man is an invention whose recent date easily demonstrates the archaeology of our thought. If the convolution of language leads to the fact that “at the present time we can contemplate only the void left by missing man41”, it is also evident that there arises the possibility of rethinking the subject’s production conditions, the microphysical network where knowledge, desire and reality are entwined. “Perhaps the main problem is that life as we knew it no longer exists but, even so, nobody is capable of assimilating what has survived instead.42” Before our eyes, there remains empty man, the naked being that Castejón draws, perhaps overcome by anxiety, attempting to respond to the challenges of the outside: the image condenses an obsessive sense of loss.

Joan Castejón’s version of Velázquez’s Las Meninas is meaningful, as he has turned it into a very particular selfportrait (¿Olvidó algo D. José? [Autoretrat], 1975) with the outline of a shadow on the canvas broken by the pull of a nauseating, carnal putrefied body, perhaps part of the room in the background, where the parody of the “original” chamberlain stands. We know that Velázquez’s drawing leaves the draughtsman on view, at the same time as the painting reveals its artificiality. “The canvas, that opacity, is now the theme of the drawing.43” A canvas that no longer turns its back to us but, rotated towards the obsessive space of the gaze, shows the dark outline of the author but also his unsublimated materiality: from the “empty” canvas hangs a shirt, as though only the testimony of weariness will remain. The space of the painting has no longer so much to do with linguistic convolution or the irruption of the aberrant within the real (heterotopia), now we have a disturbing, almost abject scene: the image included in a disgusting architectonic circumstance, the carnal rending of the territory in which before power could adjust the pose. In Castejón, the tragic sense of the human figure appears repeatedly44, the testimonies of misfortune, the representation of the conflict. Román de la Calle has described the tragic modulations of humanity in Castejón’s work:

“a) At times by means of the destruction of the anatomy, the sutures and grafts, the corporeal fragmentation as a result of physical violence. <

p> “b) In other cases by means of a metonymic device that emphasises the disintegration and progressive deterioration of human reality, exemplified in the in vivo corruption of its corporality or the announcement of a virtual genetic mutation.

“c) There are also some references to the decomposition and emptying of the myth of humanism, reduced to a mere formal principle –artifice with no content– that is corroded little by little in the collective memory.

“d) There are many comparisons, based on plastic concatenations, between human reality as a process of man’s biological involution or metamorphosis –through degeneration– towards animality. An animality much more ferocious and revulsive in itself because it is qualitatively new and ‘posthistorical’.

“e) Existence itself presents the traces left by man, who returns only leftovers in his planned progress: bones as a significant resource.45” The truth is that these traces are not abstract but constantly mixed, in Joan Castejón’s work, with biographical facts46, without any narcissistic pleasure, but on the contrary, the extreme awareness of subjective loneliness leads him to concern himself radically with the suffering of others47.

We could understand many of Castejón’s works with representations of the subject that take on the arrangement of still lifes, from the fascinating pictures portraying objects with an air of musical instruments submitted to hybridisation with science fiction weapons (Objecte II, 1990) to the humble piece of bread depicted as a trompe-l’oeil (Joc del pá, 1982). Still life paintings involved a shift of interest in action, as nothing is happening in these paintings, to compositional issues, although at an allegorical substratum there lies a desire to represent what really eludes all possible expression: death. If the immobile is an instant (the time the painting represents), the exemplary case of this paradox would be the still life, which takes the future to the zero zone, managing to present the inexorable sense of time and the vanity of worldly pleasures; this constitutes a new paradox. “To represent the passage of time (the time represented) it is necessary to block the representation time.48” An empty space is valid above all because of the absence of a possible content, while a still life is defined by the presence and composition of objects that enclose themselves or become transformed into their own receptacle. “The still life is time, for everything that changes is in time, but time itself does not change, nor can it change into anything except another time, ad infinitum.49” Time is certainly the visual reserve of what happens with exactitude, or, in other terms, the horizon of events, a succession of moments that, in the still life, have come to a standstill. We must emphasise the link between the still life genre and moments of artistic awareness50. “Still lifes have been deliberately set out before starting to paint them: they have been arranged as compositions on a table or a shelf. And they are usually made up of objects that fascinate or move the painter. The still life is a sedentary art, connected with the activity of housekeeping.51” It seems that the elements that Castejón composes and contemplates with the greatest passion are bones and skulls, typical elements of the vanitas. Historically, the vanitas conveys the moral message of the futility of human endeavour52, the awareness of decrepitude and the premonition of death. Every still life has the vanitas motif incorporated to a certain extent; the allegorical presentation of the brevity of life took root with ease in 17th century Spanish religious thought53. Melancholy sees things from the viewpoint of loss; contempt of the world leads to the awareness of the affirmation of the vanity of all things. That obsession with transience and disappointment that overpowers one at the very moment when one has achieved the object of one’s desires “is manifested precisely in the aspiration to the most perfect solitude and paradoxically appears in the most idyllically serene landscape54”. There is a drawing by Castejón titled A Onetti (1976) that represents a naked woman carrying on her back the skeleton of a being that is a mixture of a child and a horrible bird, an allegory, perhaps, of the dismal presentiment that each step takes us closer to death without redemption, even though we carry the “filthy” remains of what used to be a burden of tenderness. Levinas speaks of death as the impossibility to have a project, but also as the certainty that we are related to something that is absolutely other, an event by means of which loneliness is broken. In fact the Otherness spoken of here is not something that can be possessed, nor can its form be compressed into the sphere of the subject, but its power over existence is the power of mystery: not unknown but unknowable, refractory to light. Precisely in his latest monumental drawings, Castejón enters into a dialogue with light; he presents classicist characters in dialogue and finally fighting each other or some naked beings outlined before a discourse that has the air of a beam, a symbolic stroke that we cannot yet hear.

In his superb work Joc del foc, the characters start by pointing to a hole caused by fire and then engage in a tremendous fight while the fire takes the whole thing over until it eventually erases the traces of a figure. As Schlegel suspected, the man who wandered through deserts for thousands of years still shudders at the sight of fire: naked, supporting the inclemency of the weather. The temperature of the eyes, terrifying in its exteriority. As Valéry sustained, all detours are fatal. “The piece is ruined. If fire dies out or becomes transformed, its whim is disaster.” The desperate pursuit of the centre has no end; its memorable poetic quality is in its enormity. A melancholic contemplates the sign of decrepitude, although he can also get to the sentence written in the gardens of Bomarzo: “All thought flies”. Not only suffering but also happiness can be the way to purity. (In fact, the memory of Laocoon still lives on.) Beside suffering and pain, there has always been a profound dimension of ethical commitment in Castejón55. His visions of man allude, without any literalism, to the historical dimension, the naked figure is located in the complexity of social matters56. Poetry is always in exile, attempting to return to Ithaca, after the clever trick of the Trojan horse, something to which Tiris (2002) may well refer; it is an impressive drawing where the horse’s skeleton is transparent, mixing reality with artifice, a toy with a war machine. The body never ceases to show its splendour, either in circus acrobatics or in Icarus having his fragile wings attached. “The body may be eclipsed in its own representations; it can disappear, god-like, in the abundance of attributes; but it is outwards, from its invisible musculature, and not inwards, from its avid gaze, that the images flow.57” They are the ciphers of a (corporal) intimacy that exhibits and watches over the mystery of beauty. “I think one looks at paintings in the hope of discovering a secret. Not a secret about art, but about life. And if one discovers it, it will still be a secret because, after all, it cannot be put in words. With words the only thing you can do is draw by hand a rough map to get to the secret.58” Let us approach the edge of the inexplicable. “All great works,” says John Berger, “the words that enslave us forever, are very close to what inspired them. Titian’s dogs, a drawing by Hokusai of a couple fucking, one of the great brightly coloured works of the late Rothko all get as close as one possibly can.59” The most beautiful experience can be to spy on the beloved one’s sleep or watch in ecstasy while our baby breathes in its cot. It is difficult to speak about the pleasures and recondite harmonies of those experiences that are related to closeness. We must be prepared to hear the unheard.

“The world where Castejón carries out his work is a world of contrasts where perhaps only love is an alternative to the masks of simulation that man –as a “mask-person”– uses both to play his role and to defend himself reinforce his own image.60” Love can certainly surpass communication, although it is also close to death, that dismal horizon towards which the naked body walked. “It is the woman accomplice,” writes J. J. Armas Marcelo, “or the audacity of an imagination that invents its adventure in the drawing of Eros always reencountered amidst the shadows, in a corner of the wardrobe, in the gesture of the woman we have wished to see and have never seen except in appearance. Eros and Death in the times of the apocalypse, the anger of God that comes down from heaven and settles in the artist until it possesses him to reinvent and rebuild the world from its ruins.61” These skulls and bones that I have interpreted as sketches of vanitas refer to the cruelty of death but also to amorous passion62. At the end of the day, love is the union of opposites: an enigma. In a brief passage in his Poetics, dedicated to the forms of artistic diction, Aristotle defines the enigma in the following manner: “The form of the enigma consists, then, in connecting impossible terms by saying existing things.” In the enigmatic there is a particular density of metaphors, but also an impossible combination or connection, a mixture of literal and figurative meanings63. The pathos of the occult is connected with the Surrealist conception of imagery like a plane (dissection table) where the radically heterogeneous is found. The symbols that Castejón creates have a great deal to do with that enigma that, formulating that nothing is without measure, indicated, “without ornament or ointment” in Heraclitus’ words, the path to the deepest wisdom. The surreal tonality appears in this artist’s work, for example, in those drawings for A Hundred Years of Solitude, where he developed a complex reality in which “the most ordinary object caresses and is mixed up with the most impossible one, harmless ants and nightmarish creatures64”. Castejón, who, as Caballero Bonald said, is one of the realists most expert in irrationalism that exist, sediments in his work Baroque and gloomy features also: the visceral, the chiaroscuro, the body spilling over and the obscenity that ends up located in the wound.

This artist, who started his artistic career modelling little clay figures by hand, has left a heroic testimony of a (fragmentary) new humanism65. His powerfully allusive images, to use Aguilera Cerni’s term, take us simultaneously towards the decomposition and the splendour of the body. In all Castejón’s work there is an important sense of trace; the gaze marks things, with cruelty or subtlety. The origin of every experience of this type and the one that determines the space of interpretation is shifted as a trace. “The being is not. The being is spoken, interpreted in the manner of the human hand, which cleaves, cuts, embraces and caresses, rejects and attracts: it makes the world. It is the hand ascended to the skin where an opacity that withdraws arises: the human skin of the word.66” In the artwork a topography of the body is created, the lines are the result of passing the hand over it, the rarest touch, the fingerprint; desire conveys its wisdom: the deepest thing is the skin. Levinas has said that the caress is the subject’s way of being where contact leads further on, its pursuit is a “not knowing”, an experience in which as essential disorder arises. “It is like a game with something that gets away, a game without absolutely any plan or project, not with what can become ours or become ourselves, but with something different, always other, inaccessible, always in the future.67” Painting, drawing or rather the brushstroke and the line is also expectation of that pure future without content, a process by means of which one seeks another emotional temperature. The exercise of art can be frightening, we cannot avoid the worst, we must approach life but passing first through destruction. Between the present and death an abyss opens up, where otherness and mystery converge. “The relationship with others is the absence of the other.68” Castejón, who said, “I have the impression I am always painting the same picture”, knows he has spent his lifetime revolving around man, that is to say, drawing shadows, trying to capture what eludes him, life with no name.

Joan Castejón is fascinated by literature69, be it the world of A Hundred Years of Solitude, Walt Whitman’s poetry or, above all, Don Quixote, to which he has returned on several occasions, but with special intensity this commemorative year of 2005. From the portrait of Cervantes70, reinterpreted by Castejón, to the episode of the enchanted head or the sad return to knight errantry, there is an enormous faithfulness to the text, an attempt to demonstrate the efficacy of realism71, at the same time as lights or elements that are connected with the mysterious or even with what I shall call magic are introduced. We must remember that Cervantes’ great work starts off in a very vague way, both regarding the protagonist’s name and his homeland72. Castejón knows how to correspond to that double impulse of detailed description that is, nonetheless, wrapped in a haze of uncertainties, that is, of bewitchment. What this artist is interested in is the essence of the art of the novel which provides nourishment that is, in the words of Fielding, human nature. Instead of Alonso Quijano’s being a “legendary personage” that rises so high above us as to be untouchable, Cervantes located his character at ground level, “in the world of prose. Prose: this word does not only mean a language that is not in verse; it also means the concrete, quotidian, corporal character of life”73. Joan Castejón shares his love of prosaic beauty, a figurative materiality as far removed from hermetic abstraction as from the surrounding transbanality. If, as I have just pointed out, the beginning of Don Quixote’s adventures is marked by a (perhaps deliberate) lapse of memory, the physical appearance of the protagonist is quite clear. “Sturdy of build, scant of flesh, gaunt of face [...] tall of body, with lengthy, weather-beaten limbs, grey hair, an aquiline, rather beaked nose and large, black drooping whiskers”. As Vladimir Nabokov rightly said, Don Quixote’s physical appearance is an amalgam of vigour, weariness, resistance and incurable pains, with the appearance of a character from a medieval farce. “He has very long, thin, hairy legs, not at all clean; however, his dry, wasted skin does not seem to attract the parasites that torment his fleshy companion. Let us now go on to dress our patient. Here we have a jerkin, a tight chamois jacket, with a few odd buttons, all soiled and grimy with sweat and the rain that leaks in through the holes in his armour. A soft collar, like the ones worn by the students in Salamanca,, but without the lace; narrow, dark-coloured breeches, faded in places; green silk stockings with countless ladders, and date-coloured shoes. On top of all this we see a fantastic assortment of weapons. [...] Don Quixote’s armour is old, blackened and mildewed. In the first chapters he ties his makeshift helmet with green ribbons, whose knots would take several chapters to undo. At another moment, his helmet is a barber’s shaving basin, a burnished copper bowl with a circular hole cut out of the edge to fit the customer’s chin. With the shield on his skinny arm and the branch of a tree as a spear, he rides his Rocinante, just as lean and long-necked and essentially kind-hearted as himself, with the same thoughtful eye, the same phlegmatic bearing and the same bony dignity that his owner boasts when he is not about to attack; because when Don Quixote launches out, fury wrinkles his brow and inflates his cheeks, he looks fierce and stamps on the ground with his right foot, playing too, so to speak, the role of a war horse while Rocinante, at his side, bows its head. When Don Quixote lifts the cardboard visor, he reveals a worn, dusty face, with a rather beaklike aquiline nose and sunken eyes, gaps between his front teeth and a sad, drooping moustache that is still black, in contrast with the scant grey hair still left on his head. It is a very serious, long, gaunt face, with yellowish skin at first, but that under the torrid sun of the Castilian tableland will go brown like a farm worker’s. So thin is the face, so sunken the cheeks, so scarce the teeth he has left, that, as his creator says, it looks as though his cheeks are kissing each other inside his mouth.74” There is no doubt that Don Quixote of La Mancha is an image75, a man with a hot, dry temperament76 that leads the reader though different emotional states: from the absurd to sublime love, from cruelty to meditation anchored in traditional wisdom, from fantasy to a brutal encounter with reality.

Cervantes’ novel is structured in scenes77, a fact that Castejón shrewdly makes use of, paying attention to the crucial moments. In the work of the Valencian artist, the gesture and especially the gesture of the hands78 that “speak”, emphasise, point, oblige us to enter the labyrinthine route of meaning. Castejón folds and refolds gesturality in concordance with the Baroque fracture79 in which Cervantes’ writing is located. This terribly honest artist spontaneously confessed to me that what he wanted to achieve with his works on Don Quixote was a flattering compliment, that is, to show his absolute admiration for it. With a certain satisfaction he remarked that at least his views were not like those created by the painter Orbaneja. Let us go back for a moment to the seventy-first chapter of the second part of Don Quixote. “I bet,” said Sancho, “that before long there will be no still life, inn, hostel or barber’s shop where the story of our deeds does not appear; but I would like them to be painted by the hands of a better painter than the one who made these.” “You are right, Sancho,” Don Quixote said, “because this painter is like Orbaneja, a painter who was in Úbeda, and who, when asked what he was painting, replied, ‘Whatever comes out’. And if by chance he painted a cock, he would write underneath ‘This is a cock’ so that people would not think it was a fox. So it seems to me, Sancho, that it must be the painter or writer, because it is all the same, that brought out this new Don Quixote that has been published: who painted or wrote whatever came out; or it may have been like a poet called Mauleón, who frequented the court years ago, and who promptly replied whenever he was asked a question, and when someone asked him what was the meaning of ‘Deum de Deo’, he answered ‘Wherever it may be’. But leaving this to one side, Sancho, tell me if you intend to have another go tonight and whether you want it to be under a roof or out in the open air.80” A magnificent phrase, to paint whatever comes out, letting oneself be carried away by chance, like Cervantes’ own text that sometimes seems to be written at random81.

The bookish ideal and the principle of world-reading identification is deconstructed in the “grotesque” incident in the second part of Don Quixote that involves an extraordinary incursion into the territory of things read, the hero meets people who are familiar with his “adventures” and he finally bumps into a character from the wicked “continuation” written by Avellaneda82. But the fact is that, from the outset, Don Quixote is a text with “pretend” authorship, supposedly by Cide Hamete Benegelí. “If there is an objection to be made about the truth of this [story], it can only be that its author is an Arab, and it is very common knowledge that the people of that nation are liars; although, as they are our enemies, we can understand that truth is scarce rather than abundant. And so it seems to me, for when he could or should use the pen in praise of such a good knight, it seems he keeps silence; this is a bad deed and a bad idea, because it should be real and passionate historians, whom neither interest nor fear, rancour or favouritism lure away from the path of the truth, whose mother is history, an emulator of time, a deposit of actions, a witness of the past, an example and a piece of advice for the present, a warning for the future. In this I know that everything peaceful that can be desired will be found; and if something good should be missing, I believe the author’s greyhound was to blame rather than the subject.” A fragment from this passage is precisely one of those rewritten by the Pierre Menard of Borges, who founded “deliberate anachronism”, the system of literary appropriation that has had such a great importance in hegemonic post-Modernism. Cervantes is, without a doubt, the master of narrative ambiguity83, converting his parody of chivalrous romances84 into a sublime allegory of reading. One of the chief characteristics of Don Quixote is the humour that appears in spite of the shadow of sadness, loneliness and disappointment85. The laughter of a medieval farce spread through the whole novel86; around Don Quixote everything is funny, there is a mixture of grotesque and admirable aspects. “Don Quixote, mad, absurd, grotesque, is in one piece only in his courage and his faith. He is a collision of planes. He is foolishly wise, wisely foolish; he is absurdly angelical, angelically absurd; grotesquely sublime, sublimely grotesque.87” But what is Cervantes mocking? It is not merely books of chivalry, but what Ortega y Gasset called the equivocal in Spanish culture88. Don Quixote is a figure who faces up to the ridiculous, puts up with a journey that is at times absolutely cruel89.

Don Quixote’s appearance is, in every sense, an archaism90. Castejón does not want to conceal that “untimeliness” in any way, or touch up the images of his knight and squire. His faithfulness, realistic and visionary at the same time, to the text turns his work into an exercise that surpasses virtuosity and enters the dimension of a tribute or to quote his own term, a flattering compliment. Castejón gives free rein to his heroic ideal of art, knowing that now, with his urgencies, he does not necessarily have to agree with it. “Perhaps the quixotic could be precisely defined as a literary style of absolute reality, not so much as an impossible dream but an awareness of one’s own mortality.91” The episode of Don Quixote’s agony and death is told in an undisguised everyday tone. “The niece ate, the housekeeper drank a toast and Sancho Panza rejoiced, because inheriting something erases or mitigates in the heir the memory of the suffering caused by the death of the person.” Sancho Panza, a great rascal, ingenious, but a dreamer also, could not fail to be at the bedside of the dying dreamer; as Salvador de Madariaga said, Sancho is a sort of “transposition of Don Quixote in a different key”. The tone of emotion, the mixture of unmitigated humour and sadness, is kept up until the last moment. Let us recall the impressive words he used in the dedication he wrote to the Count de Lemos in the novel The Travels of Persiles and Sigismunda. “Yesterday I received extreme unction and today I am writing this; time is short, anxiety increases, hopes decrease and, in any case, I live out my life with my desire to live.92” With the shadow of death over everything, the desire to write sends out its last beautiful rays. Castejón fills his prodigious drawings of Don Quixote with luminous strokes, epiphanies, suggestions that there is something different, or covers some faces, such as Cervantes’ own or Dulcinea’s, with a veil. Kundera characterises Don Quixote as a journey, a rare pilgrimage that tears the veil or rather allows the curtain to be raised another way. “A magic curtain, woven out of legends, hung before the world. Cervantes sent Don Quixote off on a journey and tore the curtain. The world opened up before the knight errant in all the comic nakedness of his prose.93” What Cervantes tore is the curtain of preinterpretation and that is the art of the novel. Mario Vargas Llosa points out that the great theme in Don Quixote is fiction, “its raison d’être and the way it moderates and transforms life upon seeping into it”94. In this foundation novel resides, on the one hand, the charm of the unexpected and, in another sense, an ideal that is impossible to achieve. “From the first pages of Don Quixote, the crazy knight, in his chivalrous chimera, clashes with the reality around him; a vulgar reality, made up of humble circumstances, almost natural in their elementariness, traditional in any case: the house, the village, the housekeeper and niece, the priest and the barber.95” In this text, lovingly examined by Castejón, lies the desire to create a myth96.

Don Quixote has been admirably described by Milan Kundera as “the one who is not” but he is also the hero who wants to be himself97. We must read the end of the second part: “All I wanted was to make people hate the absurd, make-believe stories in books of chivalry, which must clash with those experienced by my true Don Quixote and, without a doubt, lose all their credit.” It is all witchcraft: from the flying wooden horse to the enchanted head98. In the second part of Don Quixote, the play of reality and appearance turns into a sort of magic atmosphere99 and Cervantes shows that he is a veritable literary juggler100. The book of hackneyed heroism, where passion (in the absolute distance) for Dulcinea acts as the moving force of all the actions, ends up recording doubts about what love actually is. “A poor village knight, Alonso Quijano, has inaugurated for us the history of the art of the novel by means of three questions about life: what is an individual’s identity? What is truth? What is love?101” I insist that sorcerers have managed to prevail in a polluted world. Don Quixote even tells Sancho Panza that if he wants him to believe his visions of the sky while riding on Clavileño, Sancho must believe everything that happened to Don Quixote in the cave of Montesinos. The “bewitched” Dulcinea ends up being the key to “self-bewitchment”, the deceit is visible and remains veiled at the same time102. We return to Maese Pedro’s puppet show, another place the rascal Avellaneda lies concealed, and we feel the deceit justifies the knight’s fury. Even the monkey fled in terror at Don Quixote’s irate attack on Maese Pedro’s puppets. “Whence, long live knight errantry above all other things on earth today!103” Perhaps we have forgotten the courage that we need the most: courage to face up to ridicule. “Ridicule is the weapon wielded by all the miserable scholars, barbers, priests, canons and dukes who guard the hidden sepulchre of the Knight of Madness. A knight who made everyone laugh, but never told a joke. His soul was too large to make jokes. He made us laugh with his seriousness.104” We need more jokes and anecdotes, an interweaving of the sense of reality and extravagant imagination. Although the cruelty of the text can take us anywhere, somewhere along the way the rare pleasure of reading, writing personified, may appear, like when Don Quixote discovers he is a character turned into text.

Don Quixote knows how to explain his love for Dulcinea in beautiful words. “For you must know, Sancho, if you do not already, that only two things inspire love like no others, and they are great beauty and a good reputation, and these two things exist to an extraordinary degree in Dulcinea, because there is none her equal in beauty and few can compete with her reputation. And to conclude the matter, I imagine that everything I say is like this, with nothing superfluous or missing, and I paint her in my imagination as I desire her to be, in beauty and in supremacy, and neither Helen nor Lucretia nor any other famous woman of the past, Greek, Latin or barbarian can touch her.” Desire paints. Don Quixote is, in every sense of the word, a lover on hearsay, someone who is head over heels in love with a lady famous for her beauty and discretion. His love, at a Baroque time of disenchantment, still impresses us today, because Don Quixote is chaste, “in love with a veiled dream, pursued by sorcerers; and on top of all this, he is a gallant knight, a man of infinite courage, a hero in the most genuine sense of the word”105. He is a madman with moments of lucidity who knows illusion, in every sense106. This knight was, according to Cervantes’ wonderful text, the first one who “in our day and age and these so calamitous times applied himself to the task of errantry and righting wrongs, succouring widows [and] aiding maidens”. He seeks beauty in the midst of darkness, suffering and stupidity, the sublimity that Castejón pursues107. The figures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, after their trip to Barcelona, are mere shadows against the flat horizon, literally crestfallen; the knight is riding along weary and discontented, bearing no arms and dressed in travelling clothes, and Sancho is walking beside him with his donkey carrying the arms. “What I can say,” Don Quixote says to Sancho, “is that there is no luck in the world and the things that happen in it, be they good or bad, do not occur by chance, but by the providence of the heavens, and thence the saying: each one forges his own fate.” Perhaps, as Nietzsche thought, the crucial thing is to love our destiny, rely on our obsessions, become, like Castejón, the prodigious draughtsman of horses, horsemen of our own fate.

THE ESSAY CONTINUES IN THE SECTION "Every person is the artificer of his own destiny II"