Teoría de la Literatura

"Araby", the third short story in Dubliners

Araby tells the story of a young boy in his way to aldulthood, who lives with his uncle and aunt in a house previously occupied by a priest. He is in love with the sister of one of his friends, Mangan. He never dare to speak to her, until one day she asks him if he is going to Araby, a bazaar. She cannot go because she has to attend to a retreat (a devotional meditation) at her school. The narrator promise to buy her something if he goes.
The following day he cannot think about anything else than going to Araby and buy Mangan’s sister some nice staff to impress her. But his uncle forgets about the bazaar and the day he planned to go he arrives late, possibly because he had been drinking. By the time the boy arrives to the bazaar, it is almost closed and he cannot find anything to show Mangan’s sister his love for her, feeling miserable.

The main character is also the narrator, an unnamed boy who has been believed to be the same in the first three tales. He seems to be telling the story as a recollection, because he recognizes behaviours and feelings, and uses a vocabulary in a way that teenager could not do. In fact, when he realizes something at the age he had on the tale, he remarks this, for example when his uncle returns late and drunk, and he says “I could interpret these signs”. The boy is sensitive, a good student as we can deduce from the changes in his teacher’s face when he notices the narrator being idle in class (in the third page of the story “I answered few questions in class. I watched my master’s face pass from amiablity to sterness; he hoped I was not beginning to idle.”)

He never told us his lover’s name. He talks about her as Mangan’s sister, but keeps her name as a secret. He says that her name “was like a summons to all my foolish blood”, “sprang to my lips at moments in strange prayers”, but never writes it down. In fact she is not a definite character. Her description is done by her figure, her shadow, not directly. For example, in page three, the narrator says “The light from the lamp opposite our door caught the white curve of her neck, lit up her hair that rested there and, falling, lit up the hand upon the railing”. She is an idealized figure, the important are the boy’s feelings about her, as a symbol of love as the first step to adulthood, not herself as character.

Another characters are:

-his uncle and aunt: we do not know so much about them. His aunt is a mere background figure, and just play an important part supporting his nephew when his uncle returns from, probably, a pub. His uncle seems a good person, in spite of his drinking problems. They are very permissive with the boy, letting him go out at night alone (when “People are in bed and after their first sleep now”, as his uncle says).

-his friends: that illustrate the differences between them and the narrator. Although they are his friends, in fact they are more playmates than friends. He never told any of them that he is in love. An atmosphere of loneliness surrounds him, and this intensifies his devotion to Mangan’s sister (When he has to wait for his uncle in order to go to Araby, he does not play with his friends to amuse himself while waiting, but he spends the whole evening watching her house and imagining her figure).

-the dead priest: he is not an acting character, but has a strong influence on the narrator. He seeks for solitude in the back drawing room where the priest had died, or wandering inside the empty rooms of the house. In that drawing room he has some kind of mystical experience, when in page two he cannot see her house because of the mist, and he “pressed the palms of my hands together until they trembled, murmuring “O love! O love!” many times”, like a pray.

-the people in the bazaar: they appear very little at the end of the story. They talk with English accent, about nonsense, and the reader soon will make out their superficial personalities. They makes a great contrast with the boy’s frustration and awareness of his own failure.

We could notice how characters’roles obstruct the boy’s desire. We could also identify them not as simple characters, but as symbols of real forces determining events, like economy or social structure. Everything in the story lead to the final failure of the protagonist’s quest. Its structure is very similar to a quest: the boy is the knight who has to go to an exotic place, Araby (it reminds us of Arabia) and win the prize for his beloved maiden, Mangan’s sister. In page two he had advanced this idea, when he is doing the shopping on Saturdays evenings, surrounded by drunked men and bargaining women, and he imagine himself boring “my chalice safely through a throng of foes”. In addition, his idealized love for Mangan’s sister gives the tale a romantic character.

This romantic point of view collides with reality. The boy dreams about going to Araby and impress Mangan’s sister, but there are greater forces than his desire. Firstly, his duties as student: he can not spend all the time he would thinking about her. The waiting is almost insufferable. Secondly, his uncle, who forgets about it and came home late, drunk, and did not give him enough money to buy something nice. Luck is not at his side. And when he finally gets to Araby, what he founds is heartbreaking.

It is very late and the bazaar is almost closed, in darkness. Only few stalls are still open, and he approaches one of them. But instead of exotic or magical staff, as the name Araby suggests, he finds flowered tea-cups and people talking nonsense in English accents. He could not have found anything less exotic. Then, lights went out and he find himself really in darkness, at the same time his hopes went out. In the two final lines “Gazing up into darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burn with anguish and anger” he is realizing his real self, not the romantic idea he had about himself. He discovers himself not as a hero carrying a chalice of love in a depraved world, beacuse he is part of the same that he despises. Romantic ideas, dreams, hopes and love, have no place in Dublin. He realizes it, and he is helpless, really miserable, really angry, beacuse there is nothing he could do to avoid it.

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Narrative Structure and Techniques in Wuthering Heights.

Narrative Structure and Techniques in Wuthering Heights.

Wuthering Heights has a very complicated narrative structure. There are two clear narrators, but the novel is almost a drama, that is to say, dialogue plays a great part.

Different levels of narration construct the story, not by the usual way of telling the same events from different perspectives, but the participation of characters helps in understanding what happens. It could be said that, instead of a multi-perspective story, this is a multi-layered story. We need to connect every part to obtain a global comprehension. But, at the end, some points remained unexplained (for example, where Heathcliff was born, how he got his money, if Catherine was really a ghost or not...) and even the narrators are not so reliable as they may seem to be –because they are also characters involved in the plot, not omniscient narrators.

In the novel we find two times of reference:

-a “present narrative”, that is a kind of “present time”, when Lockwood rents Thrushcross Grange, meets his landlord, Heathcliff, and asks Nelly Dean to tell him the story of his landlord.

-a “past narrative”, that is a kind of “past time”, where the events told by Nelly Dean took place.

Both are interrelated and got mixed during the novel, since the action extends to the present narrative, and the book opens when it is about to finish. The time reference go backwards and forwards very easily.

The reason why I have said before that this is a multi-layered novel, is that, apart from the two obvious narrators, we have incidents explained by characters who had taken part in them, as Catherine in her diary at the beginning or Isabella’s letter to Nelly. By means of dialogue we learn a lot of things about the characters and the story too. In addition, the narrators are eyewitnesses, characters involved in the story, and they neither have an absolute knowledge about the events, nor about the inner life of the other characters.

We can say that Lockwood represents a “narrative external frame”. He put the story in context, and like the readers, listens to Nelly’s storytelling -although he gets in touch with the main characters in his “real time”. In fact, the whole novel is supposed to be extracted from his personal diary, where he took down Nelly’s words.

She is, therefore, a “narrative inner frame”, since she has taken part in the happenings.

Lockwood as narrator, as character.

He is the new tenant (inquilino) of Thrushcross Grange, a gentleman who came from the city to the Yorkshire country. He is a stranger in Yorkshire, and the behaviour of the people of Wuthering Heights is difficult for him to understand. So, he asks his housekeeper, Nelly Dean, to explain their history to him, in order to understand the situation. With his questions about Heathcliff he arise the reader interest, and by the chapter 4th we are eager to hear the story.

As narrator, Lockwood is very perceptive to details and changes in the characters (as we can see, by comparison, in the opposite descriptions of Cathy or Hareton at the beginning or at the end of the story). We know the action through his personal diary, where he comments on what he has seen, and since he is an outsider it is easy for us, the readers, to identify with him. In addition, his personal style, full of descriptions, his constant misunderstandings, make him a very likeable character. He makes a point of humour in the story, for example, when he mistakes Cathy as Heathcliff’s wife.

Lockwood’s narrative style is remarkably different from Nelly’s style, and his language too. He writes in an educated literary language, with complex sentences, longer phrases, words of Latin or Greek origin. Along the book, his style becomes more and more sophisticated.

At the beginning of Chapter 15th, Lockwood says that he will continue the story in Nelly’s words, without interruptions, as he thinks that he could not improve her style, and describes her as a “very fair narrator”.

Nelly as narrator, as character.

Nelly is the housekeeper of Thrushcross Grange, as she has been before in Wuthering Heights, and also the nursemaid of the Earnshaws, Heathcliff and Cathy Linton.

So, Nelly is an eyewitness-first person participant-main narrator of Wuthering Heights. Her narrative style is very different from Lockwood’s; plain and colloquial language, shorter phrases; less sophisticated, but not at all worse. It is very detailed, magnetic and soon engage the readers’ attention. As she dramatizes most of her narrative, it has an incredible energy and immediacy. She seems to be relating something that happened two hours ago. Through dialogue the action seems to develop freely, not re-created by the narrator; and the characters seem more vivid, more real. We feel closer to the characters, and you easily forget the complicated narrative frames to concentrate in the fascinating plot.

As I have said before, she also played a part in the story. She recalls from her memory events that had happened more than 20 years ago, but she remembers everything perfectly clearly. It could be explained by different reasons: her whole life she had lived between the Earnshaws and the Lintons, or, as Lockwood says, because “she was a regular gossip”. Whatever it may be, she might be reliable, but not neutral.

She talks from her point of view, not only about the happenings, but about the characters’ personalities too; she has prejudices against some characters (she doesn’t like Catherine Earnshaw), and her role might be “coloured”. Her attitude towards the characters seems to depend on her mood, because she is a little inconstant. In the love triangles she plays an important part, but she never has clearly stated her preferences; as soon as she helps Edgar Linton, she arranges a meeting between Heathcliff and Catherine. Since she is limited by her values and beliefs, we are likely to believe that we have a better understanding of the events and the characters than her.

In fact, neither of the narrators are reliable 100%. Lockwood is always making mistakes, confusing intentions and words, he shows us how things are not, in contrast with the usual narrator function. Nelly is determined by her down-to-earth way of thinking, and she does not seem to understand what is really happening among the characters. She could not apprehend the nature of the events she has witnessed. Both fall under their prejudices and moral judgments, but ironically, we the readers realize that it is wrong, and our opinion of the characters are not the same than Lockwood or Nelly, at least when we reach the end of the novel. This might be the way to avoid the readers falling in the same mistakes and misunderstandings. By means of the narrators perspectives, Emily Brontë is telling us what we shouldn’t do: judge her characters as we would judge any real person, and close our minds to what seems sensible and correct. They are not only fictional characters, but they are also something greater –or worse- than we could be in real life.

Why did Emily Brontë imagine such an intricate structure?

The narrative technique is not easy to analyse. But, while reading the novel, I could hardly think of a better way to involve the readers inside the story. If the action has been explained by the comments of the author, or of an omniscient narrator, it would not have been so fascinating. The shifts in the time reference, events, narrators, and the great role of dialogue catch –and keep- our attention immediately. Dialogue allows the characters to express themselves, appear as real and dynamic personalities, with a deep inner life, and we, the readers, just fall under their spell.

This may signify a little limitation, because the story has to speak for itself and give the required information to the reader without help; there is no narrator to explain the feelings of the characters, so we have to imagine them from their words. The language must be very emotive and powerful. But once overcome this difficulties, it reveals to be the best way to impact the readers.

The complicated frame of narrative voices is almost forgotten during the reading of the novel –absorbed in the plot-, but it gives an essential background, because it makes the story believable in spite of the undoubtly supranatural (supra-real) happenings

The Fall of the House of Usher. Setting and plot study.

The Fall of the House of Usher. Setting and plot study.

This is the summary of a presentation I have done about The Fall of the House of Usher.

The unity of effect is a unity of tone

Looking for information I found out that Poe believed that the best way to obtain a certain effect on the reader was to keep a unity of tone through the whole text. I think that this principle is perfectly illustrated in this tale.
Each detail is strategically designed to introduce us inside the story, just as the narrator is introduced in the House of Usher.

Gothic setting: irrational fear. Its reflection on the narrator.

This is a Gothic setting, and provokes an irrational fear that attacks common sense, as we can see in the mental condition of the narrator (expressed in page 1 “I know not how it was-but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit”). He is the representative of the civilized society, who goes into a mysterious place –because we do not know where the Ushers live, but it is suggested that the house is placed far away from any city (page 1, “passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of the country”).

Description of the House of Usher –skull-like. Reflect of Roderick.

The House of Usher is very old, and dominates the desolate country, similar to a watchtower. With bleak walls, vacant and eye-like windows, Poe is describing a skull. We need to connect this description with Roderick’s appearance (page 3, “a cadaverouness of complexion, an eye large, liquid...” and then “the ghastly pallor of the skin”). Since both family and inheritance share the same name, “House of Usher”, they also share their life and destiny. That’s the reason of their mutual influence: Roderick blames the building atmosphere and disposition for his illness, but his condition also intensifies it, because he recreates his imagination there. I find remarkable that the narrator, at the very beginning, says exactly the same (page 1, at the end of the first paragraph).

An example of this mutal influence is Roderick’s studio. Instead of suggesting a lively existence, the chaos in his room suggests “an air of stern, deep and irredeemable gloom”. The interior of the house reflects the interior of Roderick’s mind.

This explains why the main character, Roderick, appears so late in a short story like this (in page 3). The description of the house is also a description of its owner.

The metaphor of the fissure

When the narrator is describing the house physically, he notices a fissure, that extends “from the roof of the building in front, and made its way down the wall in a zigzag direction”. That fissure shows that the house is in danger of collapsing- but also shows, since its relation with the family, that Roderick’s mental condition and Madeline’s physical condition are in danger too.

Roderick’s prophecy about agitations

Roderick is aware of that situation, as he explains in page 3, that he “shudders at the thought of any (...) incident, which may operate upon this intolerable agitation of soul”. The smallest agitation will crumble down the house and his mind.

Ushered into another world, the world of Usher

Another remarkable fact is that Poe uses the word “ushered into” when the narrator is introduced to the studio of his friend. “Usher” as a verb means ‘to take sb where they should go’ or ‘to make sth new begin”. Poe may use this specific term because entering in the House of Usher is entering into another world, designed by Roderick’s madness.

The fissure again. The tarn as River Styx. Threshold to another world

Returning to the fissure, it is said that “became lost in the sullen waters of the tarn” that lays by the building. It has black and lurid, very calm waters. When he looks down and sees himself and the house reflected on it, his fear becomes almost overwhelming. As it is described, reminds me to the River Styx, which in the greek mythology separates the living from the dead, it was at the entrance of Hell. This intensifies the image of the House of Usher as a threshold to another world.

Terrying world

This world has a very frightening atmosphere, which gets even worst after Madeline’s death. If at the beginnig the narrator realizes it, at the end, he tries to explain it as a natural phenomenon. In the nineteenth century, people believed that tarns gave off vapours that produced mental illnesses (as we can see in page 8, fourth paragraph) Maybe he changes his mind as the last attempt to keep himself away from madness.

The outcome. Storms and climax of Roderick’s madness. Runaway of a premature burial. Linked fates, swallowed by the tarn.

When the spirits of the two friends are more altered, outside the weather is altered too (page 8, same paragraph). Something terrible is going to happen, and it happens parallel to the reading of a romance. Roderick reaches the climax of his madness and Madeline escapes from her premature burial. In a white dress stained with blood, she attacks her brother in a way similar to what he had said on page 3, so he is really a victim of the fears he had anticipated.When the twins collapsed, both physically and mentally, the House collapses too, because of their linked fates. The narrator managed to escape in the last moment, away from death and madness, and sees them swallowed by the tarn.

Gloomy end. Against Death man can do NOTHING.

But, altough the House disappeared, the tarn and the dead trees, and the shadows survived, symbols of the Death against who men can do nothing.

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¿Qué es la Literatura?

“Menuda pregunta. La literatura pues son...los libros que se venden en las librerías. ¿Las recetas de cocina son literatura? Ah pues no. Entonces son los libros que están en la biblioteca. Pero allí también hay libros de recetas de cocina. Hombre, si están bien escritos... ¿Bien escritos, a qué te refieres? A que usen un lenguaje especial, no sé, muy cuidado, no como el que se habla en la calle. ¿No será que eso es literatura? Pues puede ser...pero los escritores escriben como les da la gana. Vamos que he leído libros que de lenguaje cuidado nada, como tú o como yo, por ejemplo algunas obras de teatro. Bueno, en los libros se cuenta algo, ¿no? Algunos no cuentan mucho, creo yo. ¿Las poesías cuentan realmente algo? Relatar no relatan, no...La verdad no tengo ni idea, ¿no puede ser un poco de todo? Es una posibilidad...pero luego está eso de la calidad, si la tiene es literatura y si no, pseudoliteratura... ¿Pseudoliteratura? Eso puede ser demasiado subjetivo, la cosa cambia según el gusto de la época, y las modas. Uf, yo me rindo, no sé qué es literatura. Lo que el profesor me diga.”

Esta conversación es totalmente inventada, pero perfectamente posible. Algo así discuten todas las teorías literarias. Ninguna tiene una respuesta precisa, definida y unánimemente aceptada a la pregunta “¿qué es la literatura?” Si las diferentes escuelas literarias hubieran sido alumnos de una escuela y su maestro les hubiera hecho esta pregunta, la cosa habría ido por este camino.

La cuestión principal es que la respuesta que dan puede ser satisfactoria mientras dominen el ámbito de estudio intelectual, pero en cuanto son criticadas y destronadas, es decir, en cuanto pasa el tiempo, deja de serlo. El único que todas toman como referencia, sea cual sea el momento histórico, es Aristóteles. Eso de ser el primero en decir algo sobre literatura –aunque para ser realistas, el concepto de literatura ni siquiera existía en época de Aristóteles – tiene muchas ventajas. Estos son dos puntos que conviene recordar a la hora de estudiar teoría de la literatura: aunque el tiempo y el momento histórico lo cambia todo, Aristóteles se mantiene. No quiero ser muy detallista desde el principio, pero para aquellos que no estén de acuerdo con que Aristóteles es una referencia continua, decir que Horacio también partió de Aristóteles, lo que en el fondo es seguir a Aristóteles mismo.

Primero, aclaremos eso de que el concepto de literatura en época de Aristóteles ni siquiera existía. La verdad es que el término “literatura” es relativamente moderno. Antes la Poética y la Retórica se encargaban de estudiar el campo que hoy adjudicamos a la literatura. Cuando estudiamos una materia de forma diacrónica (a lo largo de su historia), hay que hacerse a la idea de que el hombre de antes no pensaba igual que el actual, ni veía el mundo de la misma manera, ni tenía la misma tradición ni referentes, y que en ese sentido estamos en una posición privilegiada para observar, desde lo alto del siglo XXI, toda la teoría de la literatura. Lo más difícil es recordar que los conceptos cambian, de significado y de significante.

Veamos entonces qué ha sido la literatura, para lo cual voy a guiarme esencialmente en el primer capítulo del libro de Aguiar e Silva, Teoría de la literatura, un indispensable en la bibliografía de esta materia.

El término “literatura” proviene del latín litteratura, que significa ‘instrucción, saber relacionado con el arte de leer y escribir’, y proviene a su vez de littera, que es tanto ‘letra’, como ‘cosas escritas, cartas’. Parece ser que es una palabra calcada de otro griego, γραμματική (para lo que no saben griego, grammatiké). Curioso, ¿verdad? El término paso casi sin modificaciones a las lenguas romances y mantuvo su significado de instrucción relacionada con las letras hasta el siglo XVIII, incluso en un concepto ampliado de ‘ciencia en general’, pero más específicamente ‘cultura del hombre de letras’. ¿Cómo se llamaba entonces a lo que hoy llamamos literatura? Básicamente poesía, pero si queríamos señalar que era a un texto en prosa, elocuencia. Estas dos palabras también proceden del griego y dicen mucho sobre la connotación que tenía entonces: poesía viene de poiesis, que en griego significaba ‘creación’, mientras que elocuencia viene de elocutio, que es una de las partes de la Retórica, la encargada de elegir las palabras que se van a utilizar en el discurso, las metáforas y figuras retóricas utilizadas, es decir, la fase de adorno y cuidado del texto en el proceso de creación.

El siglo XVIII fue un siglo de cambio absoluto en la mentalidad humana. La mayoría de las transformaciones que dieron lugar a la mentalidad actual provienen del siglo XVIII: culturales, sociales, filosóficas…Y las palabras también cambiaron: literatura pasó a significar, por extensión, la producción de la actividad que realizaba el erudito de las letras. ‘Ya no designa a una cualidad de un sujeto, sino que se refiere a un objeto o conjunto de objetos que se pueden estudiar’ [Aguiar e Silva 1993, p.12]. La evolución continúa y pasa a designar ya un conjunto de obras literarias, hasta que hacia 1775, denota el conjunto de obras literarias de un país (aparece casi siempre asociada al adjetivo nacional de turno: inglesa, española, alemana…). A final de siglo ya designa al fenómeno literario en general, también como creación estética y una específica categoría intelectual, ya que el término “ciencia” se especializa en las ciencias experimentales. En los siglos XIX y XX sigue cambiando, y llega a significar también ‘el conjunto de obras literarias de una época’, ‘un conjunto de obras que tienen rasgos en común, como el tema, la intención, etc’, ‘la bibliografía sobre un tema’, ‘retórica, expresión artificial, es un término peyorativo’, ‘conocimiento organizado del fenómeno literario’, por elipsis y metonimia, ‘historia de la literatura’ y ‘manual de historia de la literatura’, y como bien señala Miguel Ángel Garrido en su manual titulado Nueva Introducción a la Teoría de la Literatura, ‘asignatura de los planes de estudio que versa sobre las obras literarias y el arte de la palabra’, e ‘institución social que comprende una carrera profesional, una titulación universitaria, una industria establecida y unos contenidos de estudio’.

Y si los significados de la palabra “literatura” han cambiado mucho y cada vez son más, lo mismo de puede decir de las respuestas a esa pregunta con la que titulaba este capítulo: ¿Qué es literatura? ¿Dónde se esconde ese rasgo o conjunto de rasgos que hacen que llamemos a un texto (o a los nuevos soportes como el hipertexto o el cd) literario y a otro no, es decir, la esencia de la literatura? Cada respuesta varía según el enfoque de la escuela que haya respondido, y como dije al principio de manera un poco burlona, se ha encontrado la literariedad en un lenguaje especial en contraste al habitual, en el lenguaje cuidado y embellecido por recursos estilísticos, en que narra algo ficticio en contraste a un hecho histórico documentado, en la función social que desempeña la literatura, etc etc. Lo más recomendable sería no contentarse con una sola respuesta, sino tomar todas en consideración, porque todos esos factores participan en el fenómeno literario y conviene no olvidarlos. Cuanta más ayuda, mejor.

Otra perspectiva para enfocar esta cuestión es pensar que, ya que la concepción de literatura cambia diacrónicamente, sería la sociedad la que señala lo que es literatura y lo que no. Es decir, la literatura es un consenso social, un acuerdo tácito que se mantiene por tradición y por las instituciones de enseñanza, que tenemos interiorizada y sabemos, como si fuera intuitivo, qué es literatura y qué no lo es sin saber definirlo: la sociedad emite señales de lo que considera literatura y lo que no (en anuncios, premios, librerías, en la escuela,…), y nosotros las recibimos y absorbemos.


Esta iniciativa nació tras ver los dolores de cabeza que esta asignatura provocaba en prácticamente todos mis compañeros. A mi tampoco me dio pocos, pero fueron tan dulces que consiguieron que me enamorara de esta asignatura. Así que decidí que, para suavizar las noches de insomnio y poder comprender mejor una asignatura con tantos giros laberínticos como esta, colocar mis apuntes de clase y resúmenes de libros de teoría e historia literaria, recomendaciones para estudiar y algún truco. Mi intención es ayudar a aprender Teoría de la Literatura, en un nivel básico, de primer ciclo de carrera, y si de paso, consigo enganchar a alguien a esta fascinante materia, habré superado todas mis expectativas.

Espero que no sea muy ambiciosa.

Estará estructurado en 7 temas, además de uno introductorio, aunque no descarte hacer nuevas divisiones para facilitar la búsqueda. Desgraciadamente, la parte práctica es más cosa de justamente eso, practicar, analizar e interpretar muchos textos, y se hacen mejor con la ayuda directa de un profesor, y me temo que no puedo decir mucho sobre al respecto. La teoría en cambio, es otra cosa. Por supuesto, lo que aquí transcribo no son mis ideas, sino las que he sacado de clase y de los libros que por interés propio me he leído. Así pues, haré a ellos referencias continuas, y si los leéis mejor, aunque entonces esta página no valdría de mucho. Pero si os resultaran lecturas demasiado densas (y algunas lo son), o tenéis poco tiempo, o –si es que eso es posible- preferís mi forma de explicarlo, aquí tenéis las ideas fundamentales que trataré de explicar lo mejor que pueda.

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