The Prologue as a Novel in Unamuno's Nivola


Rafael Dueñas

State University of New York-Stony Brook


For that future world and for that within it
which will have put into question the values
of sign, word, and writing for that which guides
our future anterior, there is as yet not exergue.

Jacques Derrida


Lo mismo pude haber puesto en la portada de este libro
Cuatro novelas ejemplares. ¿Cuatro? ¿Por qué?
Porque este prólogo es también una novela.
Una novela, entendámonos, y no una nivola; una novela.

Miguel de Unamuno

The "future anterior" in literature is a prophetic game that "is" and "not is" (1), simultaneously. It is a discursive form that, with the act of writing, speaks of "that which will have happened" in the future: "the will have been," "this will have been the case" and "that which will have taken place" (Derrida Of Grammatology 3-5). It is the space of nothingness, a process between a present and a future that does not exist. It is a time's tunnel that is inscribed in the text.

What is the text if not that space where -- after the act of writing -- all that is left in it is writing itself; it is the space of the "indecidable" (2): space where the process of the future anterior takes place. It is that space where the threshold serves as "in-between" inside and outside: the text as a hinge that through time verifies the "existence" of an author, who becomes a trace for re-creating our reading.

An author. The word is a discourse about an author. However, what happens when this "author" deceives us with "una de las diabluras" to play -- as in a game that turns on a movement -- with words in the very act of writing? At this point "we" --that collective consciousness that reads the book written-- find ourselves emerged in a literary web that consists of textual tissues that can be understood as paratextuality: title, index, footnotes, epilogue, prologue, interviews, etc. I defined paratextuality as the author's intentionality and responsibility before the text.

Usually, the responsibility of the author to the text is delegated to a second person. This second person --although it could be the author itself-- is or rather becomes the editor of the book. Author and editor make sure that the paratext is, for us, the medium through which a text becomes and forms itself. However, this responsibility could also be shared with a third person, who regardless of the authority from the author's part, has one of the best advantages over the initial interpretation of the book.

The third person whom I am alluding to here is the prologuist (3), but again, the author could be the one who writes the prologue (prólogo) along with what we call the text. What is clear is that the prologue is left on its own: written outside the text. The prologue is the writing that precedes the "body of the text" and, whose intentions are to present the "text" and make it understandable for the readers. In this sense, prólogo incorporates the logos, the discursive word that belongs to the text. Another way of seeing the prologue is as "preface" --I will alternate between both. Nonetheless, the preface points, as if there is a signal, to the thing --praefatio, fatum, etc., and is at the same time, what comes before speech. Therefore, prologue and preface could be inter-changed, for their epistemological meaning allows it. Once again, they are located at the beginning, thus they are preliminaries of a book.

Preliminaries in literature offer a world in itself, they are materials that many times helps the reader understand better a text. The prologue, according to paratextuality, is an independent genre that is taken-in by the text which it prologues and precedes. In spite of this permeability, one can still study the prologue and see that it is interesting per se. In this paper, of the preliminaries, I will analyze the "prólogo" of Niebla, from Miguel de Unamuno.

The prologue, because of its introductive appearance, as Borges says, almost all the time "linda con la oratoria de sobremesa, o con los panegíricos fúnebres y abunda en hipérboles de irreponsables, que la lectura incrédula acepta como las convenciones del género...El prefacio...El de muchas obras que el tiempo que no ha querido olvidar es parte del texto... El prólogo... no es una forma subalterna del brindis; es una especie lateral de la crítica" [Italics are mine] (Borges 8).

Two essential ideas come out of Borges' quotation. First, the prologue, our preface, is "parte del texto;" it belongs to the text. As we will see this idea could be further extended. Second, the prologue is "una especie lateral de la crítica;" criticism that Unamuno used in the very act of writing his philosophical "diabluras."

Unamuno's status as a philosopher is debatable in itself, a debate upon which I will not labor. After all, we could do without the author of the novel, but in this case one cannot without risking a philosophical understanding of his work. Moreover, he is a figure that becomes an important feature of his book. Roland Barthes says on his assay The Death of the Author that "the image of literature to be found in ordinary culture is tyrannically centered on the author," (143) which implies that the text is part of the author. However, he points out that it is society that produces this author; he "is a modern figure" (142) from whom the text liberates itself. Thus, the text has no father nor origin because "the author enters his own death" in writing. This writing, Jacques Derrida says, has no "father (who) is always suspicious and watchful toward writing" (Derrida Dissemination: 76).

The author's absence allows for writing to enter into the scene, that is, it is when "the author enters into Shis own death," as Barthes says, that "writing begins." It is with the abandonment, forgetting, and death of the author that the text becomes autonomous; an entity of its own. With the death of the author, the text is left to wonder in the present, time that always moves to a future, but always being a present (f)or as Barthes says, "every text is eternally written here and now" (Barthes 145).

Writing is a present through which we know the text, here Unamuno's text, a novel. However, how is this book --a nivola as he called it -- a novel? How does the "prólogo," "post-prólogo," XXXIII chapters and "oración fúnebre por modo de epílogo" become a novel?

Part of the answer has to do with the fact that the 33 chapters are the novel. For epilogue, in its most conventional definition, is a concluding section of a novel. Thus, serving to complete the plan of the work. One can easily see that the epilogue is already part of the novel; it is its conclusion. There is nothing strange in this construction. Nevertheless, where does the prologue and the post-prologue belong (or are) in the novel? To answer this question one must first understand what the novel is about.

In Niebla --Spanish for fog-- Unamuno (empirical author) writes a biographical novel where the mysterious death of Augusto Pérez is narrated. This character is a person known by Unamuno (character of the novel) and a good friend of the prologuist, Víctor Goti. Furthermore, the story complicates because Víctor is writing a novel that is exactly the same work (Oeuvre) that he is prologuing in the text. In this sense, Niebla is writing itself, it is a text that talks about writing, a theory that Miguel de Cervantes developed a long time ago. Unamuno's text is Víctor's text, and vice versa. Because of the connection between Unamuno (empirical author) and Goti, the novel is no more than a mimesis of reality. For Unamuno life does nothing more than imitate a book, it is with this that the empirical author and the fictional prologuist are situated at the same existential point: the text. Ironically, it is there that Goti becomes autonomous and independent from its creator.

Unamuno's construction suggests that "todo es para nosotros libro, lectura; podemos hablar del Libro de la Historia, del Libro de la Naturaleza, del Libro del Universo. Somos bíblicos. Y podemos decir que en el principio fue el libro" (4) (Navajas 56). Thus, we are immersed in the "letter" (letra); in a way, we are literalized. With this the author has brought together the old binary opposition between reality and fiction, and what is in-between that binary space is writing. Through history humanity has always put a greater weight on reality, so by inverting the favored term Unamuno showed that fiction is more stable than that which we believed is a concrete world, for even those creatures that are created try to revolt against its masters.

Paratextuality is a matter of power. The discourse of power in Niebla is obvious from the beginning of the book. Unamuno demands Víctor to write a prologue to which he says he replies, "los deseos del señor Unamuno son para mí mandatos en la más genuina concepción de este vocablo" (Unamuno Niebla 97). Those commands are the ones that bring Víctor's discourse directly into the novel --the 33 chapters. However, let's not forget that Víctor is just another character in the novel, yet ironically he states that Unamuno --just as him-- neither has "eso que los psicólogos llaman libre albedrío." This last point is important to understand because both writer (Unamuno) and prologuist (Goti) engage into an argument dealing with the veracity of Unamuno's account about the death of Augusto Pérez. Nonetheless, the author accepts what the prologuist says in his prologue, just commenting upon the responsibility that Víctor has in the construction of the truth of Unamuno's account.

The battle in which Víctor engages with Unamuno is an act of questioning the author-ity of the author. For that reason, Unamuno responds with a "post-prólogo," where he accuses Víctor of "indiscreción" for "publicar juicios" that he never had the intention for the public to know. How can one understand this "playing" in the novel? I understand it as a game of textualization of the subject (the I) and the world --an inside the text and an outside defined as reality. Unamuno insisted many times that "los que parecemos de carne y hueso no somos sino entes de ficción, sombras, fantasmas, y ésos que andan por los cuadros y los libros, y los que andamos por los escenarios del teatro de la historia somos los de verdad, los duraderos" (Unamuno Sombras de Sueño)

All the fighting mentioned above, therefore, takes place between two different spaces: the prologue and post-prologue, between Unamuno and Víctor. As we know, the preface (or prologue) announces the future, yet it is written after the work is written. So, the fight between author and character intensifies in such a way that the future --this which you are going to read --discovery of the truth about Augusto's death becomes a present. The prologue becomes a sort of a summary to what is to be expected in the story. Thus, the future is a present because we see Augusto's death when Unamuno threatens Víctor, for this is bothering him. He tells him that if he doesn't stop bothering him he will do to him the same thing he did to his friend: to kill him with the tip of the pen; just what Cervantes did to his creation, Don Quijote. (5)

At this moment we can see that the prologue, post-prologue, and text are not divorced from one another. In this sense, Derrida's ironical statement could be applied, for one cannot "well dispense with reading the rest" in this novel, otherwise, "the pre of the preface (that) makes the future present, represents it, draws it closer, breathes it in, and in going ahead of it puts ahead. (And) the pre (that) reduces the future to the form of manifest present," (Derrida Dissemination 7) gets effaced, leaving no trace that reminds us of the marks left behind.

In the prologue, the reader is told how Augusto died, yet Unamuno cannot kill Víctor for he needs him to conclude his mission: to make the prologue part of the novel. Unamuno's reaction to Víctor's disobedience is a "rational" one, for as an author, in the end, he needs to dictate the future of his creations, especially, those who rebelled against its creator: the punishment, again, of Prometheus.

Unamuno, having textualized the "I," relativiza (makes relative) the origin of the prologuist, so he says that Víctor is "un perfecto desconocido en las repúblicas de las letras españolas."

Thus, he breaks away from the traditional idea that it is the prologuist who is famous and not the author of the text. In Niebla, it is the author of the text who is known, and not the prologuist. Sarcastically, Unamuno is/was known in Spain as one of the greatest thinkers of his time. But, who is this prologuist?; better yet, what is this prologuist? Víctor is a no-one. He is no one. He is, therefore, nothing more than the author's creation, not only because Unamuno is the one who is putting Víctor in the famous position --he is the creator of Víctor's fame-- if not because Unamuno himself writes the prologue.

The previous point is a criticism that Unamuno makes to the lack of a critical reading in Spanish readers. However, let's not forget that what we are confronting is the cardinal function of any prologue: the intention or interpretation of the text, and Unamuno's intention here is "indefinir y confundir" the reader, for the novel is an "arranque imaginativo para otras consideraciones." But, if the novel is the starting point for any creative play, what plays (consideraciones) are these?

One of the things that Unamuno is making a parody of in the novel is the literary tradition that tries to maintain the conventional writing methods: to remain in the canon, to write in the canon, and see the prologue as if it were something finished. "It is customary," says Derrida, "to preface a work (Schrift) with an explanation of the author's aim, why he wrote the book, and the relationship in which he believes it to stand to other earlier or contemporary treatises on the same subject" (Dissemination 9). Thus, Unamuno's novel is outside of the institutionalized canon. And in this sense, the prologue is a discourse about the past in the present. It goes from the prologue to the post-prologue, reason for which Unamuno informs the reader that "no quiero prolongar más este post-prólogo que es lo bastante para darle alternativa" (Niebla 108). Alternative to become an independent entity (Víctor and the novel) that exists outside of the canon, where the author's daring friend does not have a place.

We know that the writing/text has not father to watch over it. Therefore, any reader "deforms" the text by the act of reading. However, Unamuno --because of the way he constructs the novel-- challenges the reader to be part of the game not only because he inverts the traditional model (formula) of writing a text, where the prologuist is the famous person (but in this case unknown and fictitious) and the author is unknown (in this case is famous), but because he leaves us with doubts as to the way Augusto died: "no murió como cuento yo," says Unamuno. Therefore, one cannot with this be a passive reader, for one cannot trust either the prologuist (who is absent) because is an imaginary version of Unamuno, or the text, for the writer inscribed his "yo" in the text. He is directing our reading, transforming the text in a recreation of our being: a Descartes' subject who doubts.

For Unamuno, control and power over the text serve two purposes. The first, as it was pointed out before, to "frame" authority. Second, to present the author's existential desires over the text: to have complete power over it, thus transcending time. In this sense, truth and preface as a space come together, or as Derrida says, "the time is the time of the preface; space --whose time will have been the Truth --is the space of the preface. The preface would thus occupy the entire location and duration of the book" (Dissemination 13). The preface is (part of) the text.

Thus Unamuno has created an "outside" the text that is inside. For him reality is a text. However, neither he wants the characters that he has created to question his authority before the text, nor the reader in "reality" to threaten his power. What is in-between this opposition is time, truth, and power, for the prologue is inside and outside the text. Unamuno talks about his authority deliberately thinking that we will not read the preface, he wishes to say what Derrida says, "you might just dispense with reading the rest." That rest of the preface that is the whole novel or nivola --the author wishes to expatriate his book from the canon calling it a name that is not literary-- that omits itself. According to Derrida, "prefaces, along with forewords, introductions, preludes, preliminaries, preambles, prologues, and prolegomena, have always been written, it seems, in view of their own self-effacement. Upon reaching the pre... the route which has been covered must cancel itself out" (Dissemination 9).

We can see, clearly, that the dialogue between Unamuno and Víctor is also a discourse about power. According to Gonzalo Navajas, "el texto de modo directo actualiza las relaciones de poder" (Navajas 77). The text actualizes power because it always functions in the present. The "pre-" of the future is a threat that the work (Oeuvre) is going to provoke "una alienación personal," for which Unamuno's realization in the text would get lost because with that he will not have control over its interpretation. Or Navajas claims, "(él) sabe que... la extensión, el doble de su yo --queda más allá de él e incluso podrá el futuro oponérsele cuestionando su autoridad" (77-78).

Víctor's "prólogo" and Unamuno's "post-prólogo" as it can be seen are a discourse, just like the novel is, about the authority of the text. Furthermore, prologue(s) are a personal version of a text, or as Navajas says,

el prólogo está provocado por el impulso personal de un texto que, habiendo sido propio, se ha hecho extraño, una mercancía en un mercado autónomo, a merced de las lecturas objetivizadoras de los demás. El prólogo es, por consiguiente, una reposesión y, con ella, un intento de detener el movimiento de ficcionalización, objetivizándolo con seguridad para la comunidad intepretativa. El prólogo es además él mismo un texto, sometido, por tanto, a nuevas formas de textualización. (Navajas 93)

In this sense, the prologue is a re-appropriation of the text through fiction.

According to Derrida, "the preface is a fiction... (but) a fiction in the service of meaning, truth is (the truth of) fiction... (that) affirms itself as a simulacrum" (Dissemination 36). A two-fold discourse comes in here. First, the prologue becomes a reappropriation of time (the future in writing). Second, points (with authority and using a finger) to the "word," to the "speech": the logos. Therefore, the characters are (or become) speech, they exist because of the dialogues, and make themselves through speech: "la palabra (y la escritura como forma especial de la palabra) es o se hace realidad, porque la palabra es la conciencia de la persona y, en definitiva, somos personas por la conciencia reflexiva... es también porque fuera de ella no hay nada. La conciencia es habla... sin la palabra, que es conciencia, el hombre no existe" (6) (Unamuno Tres Novelas 32-33).

It is from words that reality gets created, and these words are the ones that constitute the text. And as one can see, Unamuno's Niebla is composed of dialogues that go from "prólogo" to "post-prólogo" and then to the "texto." However, the first two do not belong to the text for, as Derrida says, "its only business has been to make some external and subjective remarks about the standpoint of the book it introduces" (Dissemination 30). So, prologue and post-prologue do not belong to the text, but are in the text. What is "novelesco" is how the prologue is inside and outside of the work (Oeuvre): Niebla is constituted by its prologues. Here one can see that the prologue is a discourse of another discourse (from the prologue to the post-prologue), and both of these are a prologue to the text. The text permits the reader to enter the labyrinth of Niebla (that fog that do not allow us to see through) that is simultaneously life and death. It is life because the characters are created by speaking, and death because Víctor is imprisoned in the language of silence, dominated by Unamuno.

Let's not forget that Unamuno's game is imbedded within a bigger discursive system. A system that talks about itself: Literature. So, Niebla is a prologue to another text: the novel that Víctor is writing. These last two are a prologue to Literature --that which has no end --for it is a novel that never will be written for it is in the future; it will never become a completed present. Or as Derrida says, "no doubt literature, too, seems to aim toward the filling of a lack (a hole) in a whole that should not itself in its essence be missing (to) itself. But literature is also the exception to everything: at once the exception in the whole, the want-of-wholeness in the whole, and the exception to everything, that which exists by itself, alone, with nothing else, in exception to all" (Dissemination 56).



1- For an explanation as to the reason for writing the binary in this manner, please see Miguel de Unamuno's book Del Sentimiento Trágico de la Vida.

2- The "indecidable" is a deconstruction term that implies betweenness. It cannot be "undecidable" because that implies that it has already been decided that it cannot be decided.

3- The person writing the prologue of the book.

4- Quoted from Gonzalo Navaja's book who quotes Unamuno's "Cómo se hace".

5- Unamuno thought that the characters are greater than their creator: the first ones move the writer's pen so he writes about them. The characters, therefore for Unamuno, are the ones who make a writer. He proposed that Don Quijote is the creator of the Cervantenian text, and that Cervantes' figure is merely that of a transmitter.

6- It is important to look at the construction of the title in this book, where "prólogo" is written last rather than at the beginning as is customary.


Works Cited

Barthes, Roland. Image / Music / Text. N.Y: Hill, 1977.

Borges, Jorge Luis. Prólogos con un Prólogo de Prólogos. Buenos Aires: Torres Aguero,


Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Maryland: John Hopkins University Press, 1998.

_________. Dissemination. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.

Navajas, Gonzalo. Unamuno desde la Posmodernidad, Antinomia y Síntesis Ontológica.

Barcelona: PPU, 1992.

Unamuno, Miguel de. Niebla. Ed. Mario Valdés. España: Ediciones Cátedra, 1994.

_________. Amor y Pedagogía. España: Colección Austral, 1968.

_________. Tres Novelas Ejemplares y un Prólogo. España: Colección Austral, 1994.

_________. Del Sentimiento Trágico de la Vida. España: Colección Austral, 1976.