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Reviewed by:
  • Spain’s Long Shadow: The Black Legend, Off-Whiteness, and Anglo-American Empire
  • Kirsten Silva Gruesz
María DeGuzmán, Spain’s Long Shadow: The Black Legend, Off-Whiteness, and Anglo-American Empire. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2005. xxxiii + 372 pp.

Spain's Long Shadow is a bold and at times brilliant study, although not all of its arguments are developed with equal persuasiveness. Ambitious both in its two-century chronological range and its effort to read visual forms of representation such as painting, political cartoons, photography, and film, the book contends that from the very inception of the U.S., "Anglo-American identity has been dependent on Spain. Figures of Spain have been central to the dominant fictions of revolution, manifest destiny, birth/rebirth, and 'American' exceptionalism in general" (289). Although its primary audience would thus seem to be located among U.S. Americanists, there is much here to engage Hispanists, and Latina/o Studies scholars in particular. Professor DeGuzmán calls it, in fact, "a kind of Latina/o criticism, where 'Latina/o' functions as a perspective, a subjectivity, rather than a sociological object of study" (xxx). Indeed, some of the book's most provocative claims arise from its concluding survey of the way that Latina/o writers have self-consciously distanced themselves from "Spanishness."

Much postcolonial theory seeks to bring psychoanalytic and Marxist frameworks together, but investigations into the process of collective identity formation tend to lean more heavily on one tradition than the other. Freud clearly dominates here. Professor DeGuzmán describes the development of U.S. attitudes toward Spain and Spaniards as a process that oscillates between extremes of disavowal and identification: what gets symbolically repudiated through the familiar tropes of the Black Legend will later be reformulated as an object of Orientalist desire, as in exotic morisco fantasies. During the era when Spanish power still posed an apparent threat to the new republic, she writes, "Anglo-Americans created a fantasy of racial purity through the representation of Spaniards as figures of morally blackened alien whiteness or off-whiteness and doomed hybridity" (xxiv). Spain functioned as an older rival power, an "alter ego/imago" in Lacanian terms. Thus, during the nineteenth century, "figures of Spain and Spaniards operate[d] as a third term or bridge between historically constructed subject/object positions" such as white/black, Old/New World (xxv). When, at the turn of the century, that empire retreated from the Caribbean and the Pacific in the face of U.S. expansionism, [End Page 438] the representational burden on "Spain" was only intensified, for "the life of the symbol depends on the death of the thing" (xvii). Modernist and postmodernist writers, she argues with reference to Freud's model of totem and taboo, assigned Spain the work of restoring to enervated expatriates their primitive essences, their authentic selves.

Such broad claims about the cultural landscape are by nature highly speculative ones that hinge not only on the power of textual readings, but the logic of their selection—on the strength of the case that can be made for their representativeness. Chapter 1, "The Shadow of the Black Legend," focuses on Charles Brockden Brown's early-national romance Wieland (1798), three of Poe's short stories, and Melville's "Benito Cereno" (1855): all classic meditations on identity written in the Gothic mode, whose characteristic doubles and shadows are suggestively read as emblems of Spain. Melville's novella obviously constitutes a deep engagement with Spanish identity, language, and politics, and her reading of it correctively restores the imperial contest to the forefront of this text, which has recently become a touchstone for discussions of the transnational dimensions of U.S. slavery. Wieland's link to Spain seems at first more circumstantial, but Professor DeGuzmán pulls off a bravura reading of the shadowy character of Carwin, who claims Spain as his "adopted" country. The discussion of Poe is somewhat less convincing when it unspools a reading of "William Wilson" (1839) on the basis of a single thread: the fact that the doppelganger wears a "Spanish cloak" to a masquerade. The effort to identify him as a Spaniard, as Wilson's (Anglo-America's) imperial...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6598
Print ISSN
0026-7910
Pages
pp. 438-443
Launched on MUSE
2007-04-16
Open Access
No
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