Carlos Bousoño

The young poet-criticBousoño in 1989
Images from Carlos Bousoño, Oda en la Ceniza and Las Monedas Contra la Losa. Ed. Irma Emiliozzi. Madrid: Clásicas Castalia, 1991.

Principal Criticism:

Seis calas en la expresión literaria española [in colaboration with Dámaso Alonso] (Madrid: Gredos, 1951).

Teoría de la expresión poética (Madrid: Gredos, 1952), 2 vols.

La poesía de Vicente Aleixandre (Madrid: Gredos, 1956).

El irracionalismo poético: el símbolo (Madrid: Gredos, 1977)

Superrealismo poético y simbolización (Madrid: Gredos, 1979)

Épocas literarias y evolución (Madrid: Gredos, 1981) 2 Vols.

Poesía poscontemporánea: cuatro estudios y una introducción (Madrid: Júcar, 1985).

"La poesía poscontemporánea y el gran público." Índice de artes y letras 8.59 (1953): 17-34.

"Materia como historia: el nuevo Aleixandre." Ínsula 18.94(1963): 1-13.

"Arte y moral" Revista de occidente 26.77(1969): 159-75.

"El impresionismo político de Juan Ramón Jiménez (una estructura cosmovisionaria)." Cuadernos hispanoamericanos 94(1973): 508-40.

"La estética de Ortega: notas de controversia." Cuadernos hispanoamericanos 108(1977): 53-77.

Other Literary Forms:

Subida al amor (salmos sombríos, salmos puros) (Madrid: Adonais, 1945).

Primavera de la muerte (Madrid: Adonais, 1946).

Noche del sentido (Madrid: Ínsula, 1957).

Invasión de la realidad (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1962).

Oda en la ceniza (Madrid: Ciencia Nueva, 1968).

Las monedas contra la losa (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1975).

Metáfora del desafuero (Madrid: Visor, 1988).

Influence: Bousoño's work as a critic has exerted a two-fold influence on the sphere of Spanish letters which cannot be separated from his own concerns as a poet and as a university professor. On the one hand, from a strictly theoretical perspective, a good part of Bousoño's criticism is aimed at finding a stable definition for the term "poetry," assigning to it proper boundaries that set it apart from other literary manifestations. His Teoría de la expresión poética (1952)--awarded the Fastenrath Prize by the Real Academia Española--constitutes a monumental effort to come to terms with the poetic phenomenon and has become through the years a canonical reading for students of poetry in Spanish universities. Although not mentioned in encyclopaedias of literary theory, Bousoño's use of such concepts as "defamiliarization" and "literariness" can be considered as western scholarship's first attempt to adopt the protostructuralist views of Russian formalism (some ten years before they were adopted by French structuralists).

On the other hand, Bousoño's approach to literature has a strong pedagogical bias which is closely linked to his professional activity as a university professor both in Spain and abroad (Mexico and the U.S.--from 1947-49 he replaced the poet and critic Jorge Guillén as professor of Spanish literature at Wellesley College). Bousoño's pedagogical concerns have to do with the periodization of literature and are clearly expressed in Épocas literarias y evolución (1981), where he provides an outline of the whole history of western literature from the Middle Ages to the present. His views on the history and evolution of western literature are based on Ortega y Gasset's rational-vitalist ontology: "I am I and my circumstance." The history of western literature ca be thus analyzed, according to Bousoño, as a series of "zeitgeists" characterized by the dialectical relationship between the I and its social, cultural and political environment.

Biography: Carlos Bousoño was born May 9, 1923 in a small village (Boas) in the north of Spain (Asturias) where he spent his childhood and adolescence. After the early death of his mother and his father's inmediate departure to Mexico, he was raised by his aunt and in 1943 he moved to Madrid, where he obtained his degree in romanic philology from the Universidad Central (now Complutense). During his stay in Madrid he met the critic Dámaso Alonso and the poet Vicente Aleixandre. Both of them exerted a powerful influence on his career as critic and poet. In 1945-46 he published his first two books of poetry, Subida al amor and Primavera de la muerte, and from 1947 to 1949 he taught Spanish literature at Wellesley College. In 1949 he returned to Spain and got his Ph.D with a thesis on the poetry of Vicente Aleixandre. The following year he became a full-time professor of Spanish literature and theory of aesthetics at the Universidad Central and started his career as a literary critic (see bibliographical note above). In 1968 and 1974 he received the Premio de la Crítica for his poetry in Oda en la ceniza and Las monedas contra la losa respectively. In 1978 he was awarded with the Premio Nacional de Literatura for his criticism in El irracionalismo poético: el símbolo, and in 1979 he became a member of the Real Academia Española de la Lengua. Retired from his duties as a university professor in 1988, he received the in 1995.

Theory and Criticism: Bousoño's carrer as a theoretician began in 1949 with his Ph.d thesis on the poetry of Vicente Aleixandre, later published under the title La poesía de Vicente Aleixandre (1956). Faced with the dazzling aesthetic innovations of the 1927 generation of Spanish poets, Bousoño realized that no one had yet provided an analytical explanation of the linguistic and poetic achievements of a generation of poets who had changed the face of Spanish lyric poetry. La poesía de Vicente Aleixandre foreshadows the main concerns of Bousoño's criticism: the progressive detachment of poetic language from tangible reality and its loss of referentiality. This divorce between poetic language and reality constitutes the theoretical core of Bousoño's opus magna, Teoría de la expresión poética (1952), in which he opposes the rhetorical devices of classical poetics to the the devices of contemporary poetry to illustrate the split between language and reality that has been taking place in western poetry since the emergence of French symbolisme. Unlike the traditional devices of classical poetics, the main poetic strategies used by contemporary poetry (visionary imagery, disemic symbol, attributive displacement and semantic overlapping) are based on inmaterial, purely psychological and even irrational connections which point at the irreversible disintegration of objective reality and enclose poetic language within the walls of linguistic solipsism. This is why, according to Bousoño, the critic is now forced to operate within the realm of pure literariness, in which defamiliarization or strangement of "real" language is the new poetic currency.

Bousoño devoted two more books to proving the pervasive presence of this process of defamiliarization or "ruptura del sistema de la lengua" in contemporary poetry: El irracionalismo poético: el símbolo (1977) and Superrealismo poético y simbolización (1979). Both of them insist again upon poetry's self-sufficiency and detachment from objective language by examining the role of irrational symbols and visionary imagery in a number of contemporary Spanish poets--foremost among which is Vicente Aleixandre. One of the most interesting theoretical points of these two books is Bousoño's comparative study of poetry and jokes. In Bousoño's view, both poetry and jokes operate on the same linguistic principle: they aim at replacing objective language. However, poetry creates a psychic bond between the poet's mind and the reader's mind (the poet's psychological processes are engraved in the mind of the reader through the mediation of the poem) which is lacking in jokes. This lack of empathy is what creates the necessary distance for the listener to laugh at the situations presented in jokes.

Bousoño's protostructuralist views on poetic language are supported by his work on the periodization of literature in Épocas literarias y evolución (1981). According to Bousoño, western literature is characterized by an ineluctable centripetal movement toward individualism which progressively fixates the subject upon its own lived personal experience, removing it from the anonimity of a communal culture. The influence of Ortega's rational vitalism , which posits the "lived" as radical reality, on Bousoño's theory of periodization is evident. However, Bousoño transforms Ortega's vitalism into a sort of genetic structuralism that yields a series of "cosmovisiones" or "zeitgeists" by adding a social and political phenotype to a nuclear genotype occupied by the idea of individuality. The process of individuation outlined by Bousoño culminates in the radical celebration of the individual characteristic of contemporary culture. In his last book, Poesía poscontemporánea: cuatro estudios y una introducción (1985), Bousoño attempts to bring together his protostructuralist views on poetic language and his genetic theory of periodization by mapping out the "cosmovisión" of the Spanish poetry produced between 1940 and 1960 (including his own).


Alperi, Víctor, and Juan Molla. Carlos Bousoño en la poesía de nuestro tiempo. Oviedo: Alsa, 1987.

Bonelli, G. "L'estetica crociana e la poetica di Carlos Bousoño." Rivista di studi croceani 11.4(1974): 1-24.

Bousoño, Carlos. "Ensayo de autocrítica." Poesía poscontemporánea: cuatro estudios y una introducción. Madrid: Júcar, 1985.

"Carlos Bousoño: teoría de la cultura y de la expresión poética." Spec. issue of Anthropos 73(1987): 2-107.

Delgado, F.G. "Carlos Bousoño, teórico del símbolo." Ínsula 23.384(1978): 1-16.

Duque Amusco, Alejandro. "Carlos Bousoño: hacia una ciencia del espíritu." Ínsula 36.420(1981): 1-13.

Olivio Jiménez, José. "Carlos Bousoño y sus reflexiones sobre el símbolo poético y la simbolización." Ínsula 33.384(1978): 1-14.

Villena, Luis Antonio de. "Poesía y autorreflexión en Carlos Bousoño." Ínsula 33.373(1977): 1-10.

Javier Lorenzo