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Thursday, June 30, 2016


I was a little puzzled by this statement from the infamous Herlihy-Mera article: "Overloading the faculty, canons, and curricula toward Spain has occurred for 500 years..." Is it possible to be that stupid?

There was no such thing as a Spanish department 500 years ago--not even in Spain. The canon of Spanish literature as it exists now had not yet been written. There were works of medieval literature written in various peninsular languages, but the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon had only recently been united.

There was no such thing as the United States, and English-speaking people had not yet begun to colonize North America. So there could not have been a US university with a Spanish department unfairly balanced in favor of Spain. There wasn't even, yet, a "Latin America" as we know it today.

Another deeply puzzling passage:
These outdated practices tend to rely on several myths: The colonizer is the “root” of the cultural system (a hierarchy that continues after political independence); the language, art, literature, and aesthetics of the subaltern have been profoundly influenced by imperial directives; and the existence of European languages and cultures in the Americas is generally positive.
Isn't it actually true that literature in Spanish has been profoundly influenced by other literature in the same language? I don't even know what to do with the notion that "the existence of European languages and cultures in the Americas is generally positive." We are talking about departments of Spanish, so the very premise of such a department is the use of the Spanish language. Whether positive or negative, the existence of Spanish, Portuguese, English, and French in the New World is a fact that makes possible the very existence of American, Canadian, Mexican, Chilean, Brazilian literatures.

It is also quite factual that the colonizer does establish the cultural hierarchy. We might not like that, but it is true. The criollo then continues in that role for quite a while, still establishing hierarchies... There is a confusion here between reality itself and what we'd like reality to be. The study of Latin American literature includes the study of these colonial and criollo elites.


Anonymous said...

When H Griswold Morley decided he should learn Spanish (to read Quixote) he could not find a teacher. There weren't freakin' Spanish programs. This is essentially why the program in Spanish at UCB got created. Also Sigma Delta Pi was created to support and foment study of Spanish. Because it was needed. All of this was in the early 20th century.

Leslie said...

"Nuestra Grecia es preferible a la Grecia que no es nuestra. Nos es más necesaria. Los políticos nacionales han de reemplazar a los políticos exóticos." --Martí

Martí and Bello wanted a Latin American and not a European education but by that they did not mean ignore Spain. They meant realize that one can here trace oneself to first nations just as well as to Greece or better and more sensibly than to Greece, and they meant that the ancient American civilizations were civilizations comparable to Greece even if we know less about them and if we mépriser them rather than adulate them. They did not say stop studying Spain.

Bello was for creating and legitimizing a Latin American Spanish but he did not say stop studying Spain. These guys wanted people to identify as Latin American, yes. Others in the 19th century really, really admired France and considered Spain comparatively backward, wanted a new model, someone else to emulate, BUT at the same time if you leaf through a francophile like Darío ("mi esposa es de mi tierra, pero mi querida, de París!) you will find constant references to Spanish literature and appreciation of Spanish authors -- also Spanish culture itself. This despite how poorly Valle-Inclan I think it was spoke of him for having Native American features, etc.

More centrally, are Spanish literature and culture valuable en sí? I almost think that apart from the Quixote they have *less* visibility than Lat Am on the world stage; they are an important European tradition. And well Czech probably also has great unknown authors beyond Milosz, and the only Polish author I know is Mickiewicz and I am sure there are many more, but Spanish is the 3d language of the world and it comes from Spain, and European culture is heavily promoted and considered a thing to study, so we come to that question again, is Spain to be cut out of that?

The more I hear myself talk about this the more I realize I don't care whether Latin Americanists care about Spain *nearly* as much as I care whether we all think Spain is part of Europe.

Anonymous said...

In addition: remember how I used to go on about wanting to leave the profession and so on? This kind of boludez rampante is one of the reasons. I did not think it was rational to accept incarceration in a profession where fatuous people made the kinds of pronouncements this article does and were endowed with tyrranical power over me. Which is in fact the case unless you get to live somewhere very enlightened.

el curioso impertinente said...

The number of dissenting comments to the original blog is depressingly low.

Leslie said...

I know, but I am trying to make up for it. I am speaking in two voices, too, which is an unethical way of making it appear that I am not just one commenter.

Jonathan said...

A lot of people just don't know any better. If you weren't in the field you might take these pronouncements at face value.

Leslie said...

That is why the rebuttal needs to be published.

Jonathan said...

I hope you write a rebuttal too, curioso impertinente. I don't know your real life identity, I realize, but I can tell you know what you're talking about and are probably a prominent scholar whose name I would recognize.

My rebuttal has been submitted.

Leslie said...

Here is another piece from the same source, for y'all to study.