The shakeup of Luis Martín-Santos

A century after the birth in Larache (Morocco) of Luis Martín-Santos (1924-1964) we rush to a celebration, which must have a lot, everything, cultural and literary.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
30 March 2024 Saturday 10:37
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The shakeup of Luis Martín-Santos

A century after the birth in Larache (Morocco) of Luis Martín-Santos (1924-1964) we rush to a celebration, which must have a lot, everything, cultural and literary. For this reason, we welcome the initiative led by Professor Ródenas de Moya to gather his Complete Works, of which the first volume has just been published and whose intention is to publish in them an important part of the work of Dr. Martín-Santos that he has remained inaccessible. The short narrative, which is brought together with rigor, brings us closer to the previous and contemporary scenario in which a sensational novel is forged (the adjective is from its editor, Carlos Barral, in May 1961), Tiempo de Silencio (1962), including The rotten dawn, text written by two friends, Martín-Santos and Juan Benet, between 1948 and 1951. The first stories, the sketches and the apologists are a narrative laboratory, whose central discipline is irony through which the definitive seal is conferred. to this heterogeneous bouquet, where the best highlighted theme is the relationship of the artist with his creations.

Martín-Santos was an eminent, serious and important neuropsychiatrist of the PSOE, who found in existentialism with different aesthetic postulates –Sartre, always Sartre, or Camus reading Kafka– an accommodation for his vision of the world and life. We know of his personality through contemporary testimonies traits that have a common denominator: always first in the class, wise, witty, seductive, “a great guy” – according to Gil de Biedma in his diary entry of December 10, 1962 – and “ unbearably cultured", in the appreciation of Juan Benet in a canonical text, Luis Martín-Santos, un memento (1968), although these and other testimonies underestimate the significance of his wife, Rocío Laffon (died in March 1963), whom Jaime Salinas, who met her in Barcelona in December 1962, after attending the conference that Martín-Santos gave at the Academy of Medical Sciences, Limits and dynamics of literary realism (announced by La Vanguardia on December 6), noted in a letter : “Martín-Santos' wife seemed more pleasant to me, more flexible than him.” Impression that surely comes after a very long nighttime gathering at the Barral house.

The manuscript of Time of Silence arrived in Barral's hands in May 1961. The two had maintained an old friendship since their common stay in Heidelberg in 1950 (Joan Reventos, Hilari Raguer and Manuel Sacristán were also there), which the Barcelona editor detailed in his splendid volume of memoirs, Years of Penance (1975). Until its publication in February 1962 – four thousand copies – it wandered through the caves of censorship. Upon seeing the light, it receives a strange reception, since the critic (from La Vanguardia and ABC) Melchor Fernández Almagro silences it, while Ricardo Doménech (Ínsula, June 1962) considers it “an unrepeatable novel” and, above all, Antonio Vilanova, critic of the weekly Destino since 1950, he dedicated a wise and eloquent review to him (ignored, by the way, by José Lázaro in his excellent biography of the novelist). In it, Vilanova argues, with great knowledge of the contemporary Spanish novel, that Time of Silence is “the most extraordinary revelation of the current year.”

The novel takes place in Madrid in the autumn of '49. The story presents a young doctor and researcher, Pedro, who investigates the germs of cancer. Heeding the advice of his assistant, Amador, he comes into contact with an underworld that will be the cause of his downfall, his defeat, and the loss of his investigator status. At the same time, his view of high society and “great culture” is pregnant with acid irony. The narrative language (Joyce's Ulysses as a backdrop), nourished by parody, sarcasm and black humor, reveals the contradictions of the Madrid society that surrounds Pedro in his hallucinatory wanderings.

The narrative works of Martín-Santos at that pivotal moment in the trajectory of the contemporary Spanish novel and in Time of Destruction (1975, edition renewed in 2022) want to give shape to the purpose that he defended in his correspondence with Ricardo Doménech, at his Barcelona conference. December 1962 and in the Conversations about the novel, held in a room in the basement of the Hotel Sweden in Madrid (October 14 to 20, 1963). Synthetically, Martín-Santos, recognizing the value of Cela, Delibes and also Zunzunegui, believed that realism must dialectically capture the changing reality, whose adequate expression could not be a simple descriptive or commiserative attitude.

We must take advantage of its centenary to read or reread this unique novel, which Vila Matas has prologued with extraordinary lucidity. Time of Silence is a contemporary classic, and its protagonist, the young scientist Pedro, a “man of uncertainty” (Vila Matas, dixit). A man of today.