Having studied political philosophy and sociology in Germany and earned his doctorate in law from the University of Madrid, Francisco Ayala published essays in numerous professional fields, as well as an abundant output of fiction. As a critic for José Ortega y Gasset’s prestigious literary periodical, Revista de Occidente (Western review), his literary and cultural essays reflect that master philosopher’s tutelage. He has written legal, sociological, and philosophical treatises while teaching at the University of Madrid, journalism and works on political science during his Latin American exile, and studies in linguistics, history, literary theory, and culture. In other words, there are few subjects that have not come under Ayala’s scrutiny.
Ayala’s essays and fiction are closely interrelated: writings in both genres explore existential alienation, ethical dilemmas, pedagogy, the abuse of power, philosophical and moral questions concerning the mass media, corruption in government, and terrorism.
The basic, underlying problem he explores in his essays is the tension between individual liberty and social order, between personal dignity and equality and the common good.
Ayala’s essays and fiction often contemplate the power exercised by human beings over others, viewed as usurpation capable of destroying basic humanity and degrading humans to animalism. Degradation through loss of liberty (expressed in Ayala’s fiction by metaphors of bestiality) appears in his essays as an ethical problem of equilibrium between personal freedom and tyranny or dictatorship.
In Derechos de la persona individual para una sociedad de masas (1953; Individual rights in mass society) and El escritor en la sociedad de masas (1956; The writer in mass society) Ayala paints a portrait of a society in crisis. Concern with juvenile gangs, gratuitous violence, and disregard for the rights of others inspires many pages in these collections and numerous fictional works. Without overt moralizing, Ayala depicts the results of pervasive abdication of moral responsibility (an attribute of the “mass man” mentality analyzed by Ortega). Dehumanization resulting from socialized conformity is a frequent motif. Ayala examines demagoguery, propaganda, censorship, and “information management” calculated to mislead public opinion, exposing (as had Ortega) artifices calculated to deprive the masses of the exercise of conscience. In La crisis actual de la enseñanza (1958; The current educational crisis) and Tecnología y libertad (1959; Technology and liberty), he critiques permissive educational policies, juvenile delinquency, antisocial activity, and gratuitous crime, analyzing discrepancies between technological and moral progress, examining material civilization and the “culture lag,” contemporary political institutions’ inability to cope with state invasion of individual privacy.
Razón del mundo (1944; Worldly reason) examines historiography and relationships between history and fiction, arguing that philosophy, history, and fiction all attempt to provide orientation and guidance. Without undue insistence upon history’s being written by the victors, Ayala suggests its frequent fictionality, implicitly including “official versions” of the past with other forms of usurpation. Challenging readers to think autonomously, he exposes the weaknesses of historical and philosophical dogma.
Realidad y ensueño (1963; Reality and daydreams) considers intuition sometimes superior to reason in its epistemological epiphanies. Existentially, Ayala (like Ortega) shows more concern for epistemology than ontology, but balances the psychological and sociological.
Ayala’s work, whether fiction or nonfiction, constitutes a continuing linguistic probing of the human condition as a moral and aesthetic project. Seamlessly interfacing reality and literature, he explores and reexamines the implications of their relationship while elaborating his personal, intellectual perception of historical process. As Ortega’s disciple, Ayala made contributions to the master’s historiographic “method of generations.” Profoundly preoccupied by his observations of moral mutability, Ayala offers reflections upon creativity, freedom, power, and poetry in the context of social flux, paradox, and fragmentation. The wide-ranging, polyfaceted nature of his essays overwhelms the average reader, obscuring his significant contributions to literary theory (narratology, genre theory, perspectivism), theory in the social sciences (sociology, political science, history), and more abstract philosophical theorizing (epistemological speculation, reflections on the role of memory, analysis of the psychology of everyday experience in relation to the established order and traditional culture).
Many critical works treat fields related to Ayala’s teaching of Spanish literature: Cervantes, the Lazarillo, Quevedo, the Golden Age, Galdós, and major Spanish and Latin American writers of the 20th century. Ayala believes criticism’s role is to help reconstruct circumstances at the moment of writing, but he also writes theoretical criticism, documents his readings, identifies antecedents, and traces points of coincidence. Further critical interests include dreams, tragedy and comedy, and relationships between comedy and the grotesque, autobiography and creativity, and an author’s sociohistorical reality and his or her work. Ayala’s essays also facilitate understanding of his own fiction, indirectly indicating intertexts, apocryphal citations, and tricks on the unwary reader.
Writing with irony and humor, inspired by news items and current events, Ayala frequently addresses themes in his essays such as responsibility and guilt in the anonymous “mass society,” existential authenticity, and the ambivalence accompanying recognition of individual responsibility. He treats radical solitude, the difficulties of authentic communication, alienation, and helplessness or desperation in both fiction and essays, believing the writer should investigate the meaning of human life and ultimate mysteries, penetrate profound questions of contemporary existence, and seek answers to questions concerning time, death, and oblivion.
Francisco de Paula Ayala y García-Duarte. Born 16 March 1906 in Granada. Studied at the University of Madrid, law degree, 1929, Ph.D., 1931; studied in Germany, 1929–30. Married Etelvina Silva, 1931: one daughter. Professor of law, University of Madrid, 1932–35. Diplomat for the Spanish Republic, 1937; exiled in Buenos Aires, where he taught sociology and founded Realidad (Reality) magazine, 1939–50, Puerto Rico, where he founded La Torre (The tower), 1950–58, New York, 1958–66, and Chicago, 1966–73.
Professor at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania, University of Chicago, and New York University. United States representative to UNESCO. Began visiting Spain, from 1960, and returned to live there, mid1980s. Elected to the Royal Spanish Academy, 1983.
Awards: National Critics’ Prize, 1972; National Literature Prize, 1983; National Prize of Spanish Letters, 1988; Cervantes Prize, 1991.
Essays and Related Prose
Indagación del cinema, 1929
El derecho social en la constitución de la República española (treatise), 1932
El pensamiento vivo de Saavedra Fajardo, 1941
El problema del liberalismo, 1941
Historia de la libertad, 1942
Razón del mundo (La preocupación de España), 1944
Histrionismo y representación, 1944
Los políticos, 1944
Una doble experiencia política: España e Italia, 1944
Ensayo sobre la libertad, 1945
Tratado de sociología (treatise), 3 vols., 1947
La inυención del “Quijote”, 1950
Ensayos de sociología política, 1952
Introducción a las ciencias sociales, 1952
Derechos de la persona individual para una sociedad de masas, 1953
El escritor en la sociedad de masas, 1956
Breve teoría de la traducción, 1956; as Problemas de la traducción, 1965
La integración social en America, 1958
La crisis actual de la enseñanza, 1958
Tecnología y libertad, 1959
Experiencia e invención, 1960
Realidad y ensueño, 1963
La evasion de los intelectuales, with H.A.Murena, 1963
De este mundo y el otro, 1963
España, a la fecha, 1965; enlarged edition, 1977
El cine: Arte y espectáculo, 1966
España y la cultura germánica, 1968
Reflexiones sobre la estructura narrativa, 1970
El “Lazarillo”: Nuevo examen de algunos aspectos, 1971
Los ensayos: Teoría y crítica literaria, 1972
La novela: Galdós y Unamuno, 1974
Cervantes y Quevedo, 1974
El escritor y su imagen: Ortega y Gasset, Azorín, Valle-Inclán, Machado, 1975
El escritor y el cine, 1975
Galdós en su tiempo, 1978
España, 1975–1980: Conflictos y logros de la democracia, 1982.
Palabras y letras, 1983
La estructura narrativa, y otras experiencias literarias, 1984
La retórica del periodismo y otras retóricas, 1985
La imagen de España: Continuidad y cambio en la sociedad española, 1986
Obra periodística, 1986
Las plumas del fénix: Estudios de literatura española, 1989
Contra el poder y otros ensayos, 1992,
El tiempo y yo, o, El mundo a la espalda, 1992
Other writings: many works of fiction (including La cabeza del cordero [The Lamb’s Head], 1949; Los usurpadores [Usurpers], 1949; Muertes de perro [Death as a Way of Life], 1958; El fondo del vaso, 1961), autobiography, and books on philosophy, sociology, history, and criticism.
Alvarez Calleja, José, Bibliografía de Francisco Ayala, Madrid: Serie Bibliografias, 1983
Amorós, Andrés, Bibliografía de Francisco Ayala, New York: Syracuse University, 1973
Anthropos issue on Ayala, 139 (December 1992)
Hiriart, Rosario, Conversaciones con Francisco Ayala, Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1982
Irizarry, Estelle, Francisco Ayala, Boston: Twayne, 1977
Kollatz, Elisabeth, Krieg, Macht, Politik im essayistischen und narrativen Werk
Francisco Ayalas, Frankfurt-on-Main: Lang, 1995
Lindstrom, Naomi, “Creation in Criticism, Criticism in Creation: Four Ibero Exemplars,” Discurso Literario 6, no. 2 (Spring 1989): 423–44
Martínez, Antonio, “The Powers That Usurped Peace: Testimony and Denunciation of Francisco Ayala,” in German and International Perspectives on the Spanish Civil War: The Aesthetics of Partisanship, edited by Luis Costa and others, Columbia, South Carolina: Camden House, 1992:376–85
Mermall, Thomas, Alegorías del poder en Francisco Ayala, Madrid: Espiral, 1983
Vásquez Medel, Manuel Angel, editor, El universo plural de Francisco Ayala, Seville: Alfar, 1995
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