I learned Spanish in order to read the poetry of Pablo Neruda, Vicente Aleixandre, and Federico García Lorca. It was the late 1970s, and news of the Nobel prizes for Neruda and Aleixandre was still fresh. Every literary magazine seemed to contain translations from the Spanish. I was surprised, then, when I began to read criticism in the field as a graduate student, by books like Philip Silver’s La casa de Anteo. The implicit (or explicit) narrative of much criticism of modern Spanish literature and culture seemed to be a negative one. In Silver’s case, the central hypothesis was that poets like Aleixandre represented the maximum degree of “lo anteico,” or a lack of theoretical self-consciousness.
What gave this assertion its power and authority was the sophistication and prestige of the theoretical ideas behind it, taken from accounts of romanticism by Abrams and de Man. At the same time, this perspective did not resonate either with my own sense of the Spanish tradition or with my understanding of literary theory and history. Many years after beginning my study of the Spanish language, I continue to work through this cognitive dissonance. I now see in such narratives one of the distinctive meta-récits of Hispanism: the idea of the deficient modernity of the Spanish tradition. Of course, it is almost tautological to affirm that the narrative of this field concerns the problematical cultural identity of Spain herself, since the very idea of studying a “national literature” arises in conjunction with nineteenth-century nationalism. As the Peruvian essayist Mariátegui puts it, “El ‘nacionalismo’ en la historiografía literaria, es [...] un fenómeno de la más pura raigambre política, extraño a la concepción estética del arte. Tiene su más vigorosa definición en Alemania, desde la obra de los Schlegel, que renueva profundamente la crítica y la historiografía literarias.”