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Monday, February 4, 2013

The Inquisition as Master Narrative

A guy who worked closely with the late poet José Ángel Valente told me that Valente, late in life, wanted to see if he was of Jewish origin. He researched his genealogy and found out he wasn't. He was disappointed because he held to the belief that the intellectual caste of Spain was composed of the descendants of the "new Christians." Spanish cultural history is the conflict between old Christians and the conversos, Jews who had converted to Christianity but were still persecuted because of the suspcicion that they continued to practice Judaism in secret. These were the mystics (Santa Teresa, Fray Luis, San Juan de la Cruz), intellectuals, heterodox people generally. In the "strong" version of this claim, this division continues to structure Spanish cultural life even in the late 20th century and beyond. Both Valente and Goytisolo held beliefs shaped by Américo Castro's theory. Valente emphasized Judaism, Goytisolo, Islam.

The original sin is the reconquest and the expulsion / forced conversion of the Jews, which ended the possibility of "convivencia." The inquisition kept the new Christians in check, while also preventing protestantism from gaining a foothold. No protestantism, hence no modernity.

I don't disbelieve this narrative, per se. Neither do I subscribe to it in a whole-hearted way. I am not interested in its objective truth so much as in its power to organize people's perceptions of reality so strongly. By questioning it a bit I don't want to give credence to the contrary narrative about how great the reconquest and inquisition were.

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