Niebla, by Miguel de Unamuno

Niebla is a novel by the sometime rector of the U of Salamanca and glorious anti-rationalist, Miguel de Unamuno. It had been translated into at least 16 languages by the time he got around to writing his final introduction. In English it is entitled Mist.

I’m not sure I completely understand Unamuno. I have no sphere of reference within Spanish letters and Unamuno is too literate a chap to write without drawing heavily on all he can within a maximum allowable sphere of reference. So it creates a bit of a fog for me.

But one thing is certain: I know he’s ironical. I also know that the circumstances in which he wrote were circumstances in which the publishers seemed to have locked down their idea of what a novel should have and were inclined to exclude anything not fitting their rather rigid definition. Now, from what I can tell, Unamuno wasn’t the sort of chap to settle for that (clue: he died alone and dejected, which means he spent a life laughing at and resisting human folly. I say that because that’s how these things usually end), and it explains a lot about Niebla . . . in a way.

What happens when you break the rules? A fog results. So Unamuno does that in this novel. But doesn’t that, an ingenuous reader might ask, result in a pointless ambiguity that devours any intelligent outcome? No. He’s breaking the publisher’s rules—I surmise—and doing it with great hilarity (the epilogue consists in the meditations of a dog: highly unorthodox, and not in the banally transgressive way of our times) but with the purpose of showing how silly it is to lock down the novel with a few hardcore, non-negotiable rules for publication success. Unamuno writes out of a fog, writes in a fog, called his genre Nivola (aint that Italian for fog?), which is a play on the Spanish “Novela,” (and the Spanish for fog—I know the word nivola doesn’t exist in Italian, dear ingenuous reader) and pulls it off.

It was probably with some glee that he wrote that last introduction in which he seems to be puzzled about and dismayed that no other of this published works has reached translation into 16 languages.

Yes, I like the guy. I’ve owned his magnum opus for a year and I’m circling it: one day I’ll pounce.

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