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  • Cultural Capital, Language and National Identity in Imperial Spain by Lucia Binotti
  • Ryan Prendergast
Binotti, Lucia. Cultural Capital, Language and National Identity in Imperial Spain. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Tamesis, 2012. 207 pp.

Lucia Binotti’s study approaches the question of national identity by way of language, and, more specifically, how language and theories about language shaped the cultural underpinnings of sixteenth-century Spain and became the principal mechanism for constructing cultural identity in the Spanish Renaissance. Beginning with the understanding that there was a competition with the main tenets of the Italian Renaissance, Cultural Capital, Language and National Identity in Imperial Spain offers readers the opportunity to better understand how Spain’s intellectuals and elite both imitated and departed from the linguistic and cultural models [End Page 572] that were the basis for the Italian Renaissance. Finally, the book examines how authors used texts to construct and project the image of Spain as an imperial power. Within these parameters, Binotti reflects on the inextricably linked issues of courtly society, book production, patronage, literacy, translation, and canon formation, and she clearly articulates the complex coordinates that framed and amplified the field of cultural inquiry in the Renaissances of both Spain and Italy.

Cultural Capital is divided into two parts and has five chapters. Part one, “Patronage, Audiences and Cultural Markets,” encompasses the first three chapters. In chapter one, Binotti focuses on how the Italian tradition appropriated Spanish sentimental fiction, in particular Diego de San Pedro’s Cárcel de amor and La historia de Grisel and Mirabella by Juan de Flores. The editorial choices for the Italian translations of these two texts speak to the changing balance of power between “courtly society and the new reality brought about by the Spanish domination of Italy” (18). This, in turn, constructed new social meaning for the texts and the genre. Binotti convincingly demonstrates how there are echoes of Carcel de amor in Baldassare Castiglione’s Il cortegiano and how Spanish sentimental fiction influenced Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando furioso. She goes on to argue that these appropriations by Italians serve as an example of how “the commercialization of the book became a powerful factor in the drastic changes in the habits of consumption … that occurred in Europe at the middle of the [sixteenth] century” made the book “an agent of class distinction” and redefined what constituted cultural capital (50).

The second chapter takes up the issue of literature and canon formation, using as a point of departure the idea that by the mid-sixteenth century the printing press had turned into a much more full-fledged enterprise that expanded the reading public. As a result, printed texts had the immense power to influence and define the ideology of the era. Binotti carefully studies the editorial project of Alfonso de Ulloa, who translated to Italian from Spanish and vice versa. She asserts quite convincingly that Ulloa, like most sellers of literature at the time, was involved in the process of defining and creating a “national literary profile” by “shaping cultural authority and cultural capital” (53). To illustrate these ideas, Binotti examines Ulloa’s 1553 translation of Orlando furioso into Spanish, noting how it was packaged as a classic. She suggests that it was meant for Italians who wanted to enjoy the poem while learning Spanish, but it also acted as a conduit for “idealized social and linguistic norms” to Spain (59).

Chapter three examines Luis de Góngora’s Fábula de Polifemo y Galatea, in which Binotti analyzes erotic and vulgar imagery within an ekphrastic framework. She points out how the poem casts the reader in the role of a viewer by “transposing complicated tropes into visual images” that ultimately elicit both aesthetic and erotic responses (101). Through some adroit and suggestive close reading, Binotti also elucidates how Góngora, taking his cue from the conventions of painting, is able to weave together poetry and painting to achieve his erotic end, though often veiled in innuendos, puns, and double entendres. She maintains that the Polifemo is an aesthetic manifesto while also being sophisticated pornography, asserting that the “titillation of desire” is linked to the text’s “masked linguistic titillation” (101). By [End Page...


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pp. 572-574
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