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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Why I am not a Latin Americanist

I loved Neruda and Lorca equally. Since I studied in Spain as an undergraduate, I knew that tradition a little better, but I went to grad school not having any strong preference. The Latin Americanists at the University I had chosen thought that peninsular should not be done at all, and that the prime directive for a Spanish department was to promote the Sandinistas.

When a Golden Age search came up, they organized the Marxist cabal of graduate students to prefer a candidate who had been a prominent Golden Age guy, but had switched to Latin America. They ended up hiring a superb Cervantista from Princeton, and then made his life miserable until he went back to Princeton (of course).

The senior Latin Americanists were a Chilean writer who could not be bothered to show up for his own classes, having flunkies substitute for him, and a British woman who could not speak Spanish, and had to switch to English after a few embarrassing slips the first day. She gave me my paper back with "nice job, A-." For a 10 week course we only read three novels. She left shortly after that for an ivy league. I didn't respect many of my fellow graduate students in the program. There was a brilliant Peruvian guy who had studied at Berkeley and knew philosophy, later ended up at Harvard for a while and UCLA. The other best students did peninsular.

So when I needed a dissertation topic, I reverted back to what I knew best, writing about a poet that I had studied with in Spain. I could have been a Latin Americanist, but not in that environment. I was more comfortable being the persecuted minority, doing a field that seemed inherently conservative, than trying to fit in with people I didn't respect.

5 comments:

profacero said...

Loving Neruda, do you still?

I grew up on complaints about JF. In real life she turned out not to be nearly as incompetent as rumored and quite nice -- I was really surprised since she was supposed to be the Devil incarnate. I know it was fashionable to complain about her Spanish but heck, there were SO many US Spanish professors who didn't speak Spanish too perfectly back then. JF and Gwen Kirkpatrick were the ones who were disparaged for it, though. I do wonder whether it could have been about gender and blond hair.

EK, yes, interesting case.

***

OT and speaking of poets and students under 30 I am having a logistical problem involving César Moro and a student, and I am threatening to email you for input. I do not want to put any more work into this project unless I am listed as a coauthor, yet if I come in as a coauthor I see that I will have to put in much more work than I already am. I must figure out a strategy.

profacero said...

...and let's see: how I became a Latin Americanist.

There are three elements to it. In chronological order

- I had been interested since sixth grade, and the die was probably cast then
- the Peninsularists in my program were dusty
- Latin America had Cortázar, whereas Spain stuck you with Juan Marsé
- Latin Americanists and Latin Americans seemed more interested in Comparative Literature
- I thought Latin America would be more exciting for fieldwork
- I thought there would be more jobs for Latin Americanists

But I have always liked & been interested in Spain, and I do think it needs major representation. It doesn't have to be taught in a conservative way and there are Portugal, the broader Mediterranean and Africa to think about as well as the whole freakin' early modern world. Also I am not sure the accusation of Eurocentrism is really accurate, *if* we are talking about so-called Western culture then we should do it, right?

Finally: about coverage of Native American languages by Latin Americanists, etc.: what is the program? If it is "Spanish" then it is in part Eurocentric by definition. *More* Eurocentric is, I go and study Quechua for 6 months and then publish a book on it (someone at MIT did that; you could not publish a book on French after studying it for 6 months, and I say that was a colonialist use of Quechua).

Clarissa said...

I wanted to be a Latin Americanist - maybe specializing in Vargas Llosa because I'm obsessed - but I couldn't make myself. I couldn't deal with the insane sexism of professors, colleagues and authors. Plus, I was getting exhausted by the fixation on civilization / barbarity and mestizaje. I know Leslie is trying to do something different, and that's fantastic. When I was a student, though, nobody seemed to be doing anything else.

Jonathan said...

I still love parts of Neruda. Even when see through his glibness, you know he could write.

I don't know about the César Moro. You can email me but logistics is not my strong suit. Your student began the translation course and couldn't finish it. I guess he got too busy.

profacero said...

Student made a series of poor choices last semester, got a 2.5 and this was only because I literally stood over him to finish a paper so he could eek a B out of me.

I think I have got him somewhat in line now but the mantra has got to be take it easy. Just because I now insist on being listed as second author in any more publications, does not mean I have to take action as though I were first author, is what I am telling myself.