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DOUBLE WORLD: Labyrinths and Golems by Gustavo Adolfo Becquer

DOUBLE WORLD: Labyrinths and Golems by Gustavo Adolfo Becquer
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Valeriano Dominguez Becquer. Gustavo Adolfo Becquer. 1862

Gustavo Adolfo Becquer (1836-1870) – this name, unfortunately, is not as familiar to the Ukrainian reader as it deserves. Becquer, however, is considered the most published Spanish-speaking author after Miguel Cervantes. This fact speaks volumes, considering that Don Quixote is the hallmark of the entire Spanish culture.




Modern people practically equate “to be” and “to seem”. The reality of social networks, computer games, media technologies and images is no longer an alternative or parallel reality, but the routine in which we live. It is not only created by our imagination, but also incomprehensible without the use of imagination as an instrument of cognition.

But it was not always so. The virtualization of culture took place gradually, moving in the direction “from the Gutenberg universe” to the “Zuckerberg universe”. And it was the romantics who, at a certain stage of cultural development, largely contributed to the legalization of the double world. They rehabilitated and equalized in rights the internal and the external, the sacred and the profane, the imaginary and the real. We can find all this in the last Spanish romantic – Gustavo Adolfo Becquer.

The period of the greatest flourishing of romanticism is considered the first quarter of the 19th century. By the second half of it, the pendulum of European culture has reproduced yet another “classic” cycle – the main creative method is harsh “critical realism”. It was in this era of triumphant materiality and rationality that Becquer continued to create. However, his view of man and the world contrasts sharply with the general mentality of the era.

Inside a person, he discovers a parallel world – huge, complex and inexhaustible. Man is doomed to a double world, his being belongs to two worlds at the same time. “I want to devote myself a little to the world around me, so that, freeing myself to the end, I can take my eyes off that other world that overfills,” says Becquer. Following Novalis, Hoffmann and Heine, on whom he was guided and whom he saw like-minded people, Becquer seeks to show that the imaginary, the imagined, is no less, and sometimes even more significant, than the reality.




Interestingly, these intuitions did not disappear from the European cultural discourse along with the latest romantics, but continued to live in the poststructuralist concepts of the Imaginaire (Imaginary) by Jacques Lacan and Gilles Deleuze.

At the same time, Becquer’s imagination appears as a source of demiurgic energies, and he himself as a demiurge, creating a new world and new “wonderful creatures” with the power of imagination. The “Polyphonic introduction” contains many references to the biblical myth of creation, the Tree of Knowledge, the fall and disobedience of God’s creations: “the rebellious brainchildr of my imagination”, “they are an unknown reason for knowledge”, “go and live the only life that I can bestow upon you”.

Becquer is a creator, who is capable of summoning these strange creatures from non-existence and condemning them to non-existence again. He can pronounce fiat lux (let there be light!) and separate light from darkness. Since the days of Plato’s “feasts”, creativity in European culture has been interpreted quite broadly: it is “everything that causes the transition from nothingness to being … therefore, the creation of any works of art and craft can be called creativity, and all creators – creators”.

Becquer’s ideas about the demiurgic nature of artistic creation also throw a bridge to the Symbolists who are about to break into European culture at the turn of the century. They have life-creating intentions, ideas about the poet-demiurge will become not only the subject of poetic reflection, but also the basis of behavioral strategies.

And here, too, inevitably there is a “roll call” between Becquer’s romanticism and expressionism, which in turn redefined the relationship between art and reality.




In the cult expressionist novel Golem (1914) by Gustav Meyrink, the ambivalence of the demiurgic principle, shown by him in a pair of rabbi and golem, is significantly complicated. In future, the development of ideas about the double world and “fragmentation” of the personality in the culture of the twentieth century will lead not only to romantic longing for the lost integrity. It will bring to life an increased interest in exotic spiritual practices, the creation of new sign systems and art forms that destroy the usual ways of denoting reality.

Today we understand that the “life in the backyard of consciousness” described by Becquer can be a source of not only amazing discoveries, but also new threats. Cloning and artificial intelligence are resurrecting interest in the “golems” that we conjure up with the power of imagination and impart flesh with words.

In Psalm 139: 16 and the Talmudic tradition, the word “golem” has negative connotations, it is, in fact, a miscarriage, an incomplete preparation for a future person, a kind of embryonic substance. This is very reminiscent of the formless “something” that is born in Becquer in the “mysterious sanctuary of the head”.

In the darkest corners of his brain doze naked, huddled together, the bizarre creations of his fantasy. They yearn for only one thing – to break free, put on flesh and appear to the world. But what can revive the lifeless golem dormant in the imagination of the romantic Demiurge? According to medieval legends, a paper with a mysterious word written on it was placed in the golem’s mouth and – it came to life! If the note was taken out, it returned to its original, lifeless state.

Let us not forget that in the Gospel, “the word was made flesh” and “the source of life”. The following idea seems to be very important and, perhaps, key to Becquer: “Between the world of thought and the world of form, there is an abyss, which only a word can bridge”. That is, what is created by the artist’s imagination is clothed in the word just like Adam and Eve in the flesh.




But Becquer’s word is not just “overcoming non-being” and an indispensable condition for being, it is being itself. From here it is already a stone’s throw to the postmodern view of the world as a text, conceptually framed in the twentieth century by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida.

Humanity entered the 21st century under the sign of the “totality of the text”. It is no coincidence that Jacques Lacan likened the structure of the unconscious to a linguistic structure, and Michel Foucault transferred linguistic techniques and concepts to the field of history. And it is no coincidence that, following the Talmudic sages, avant-garde writer Jorge Luis Borges believed that if the Universe is a Book or a History told by someone, then reading is the only way of cognition, which is adequate to the world.

Life and literature are structured and plotted in the same way, as are the fates of real people and mythical-literary characters such as Odysseus, Jason, Aeneas or Odin. A journey in a life or a book labyrinth is always the path on which the acquisition of personal destiny and true self is taking place. Vladimir Toporov has shown it well in his wonderful book Aeneas – a Man of Destiny. The metaphysical meaning of adventures in the mytho-poetic “labyrinth of fate” is that an incomplete, unfinished person goes on an adventure, and a completed Personality returns. And on this path, the formative, creative role of the Book and the Word is decisive.

The fate of Gustavo Adolfo Becquer himself is an excellent confirmation of it. During his lifetime, the writer did not gain much fame. He became famous posthumously – thanks to his books. The stories, brought to life by his imagination, have influenced not only the Spanish writers of the 1898 generation and the 1927 generation. His word continues to influence all of humanity in the XXI century.

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