- Incomparable Empires: Modernism and the Translation of Spanish and American Literature by Gayle Rogers
Gayle Rogers's Incomparable Empires successfully places Spain—as figured in the work of canonical modernist writers from both the United States and Spain—at the very core of the scholarly study of global and comparative modernisms today. Rogers's book, published in Jessica Berman and Paul Saint-Amour's relatively recent and already excellent Modernist Latitudes series at Columbia University Press, constitutes an important intervention in the reshaping of modernist studies in Anglo-American academia today. Incomparable Empires problematizes the monolingual Anglophone paradigm that has traditionally characterized the study of modernist literature by carefully tracing different modernist strategies to literary translation and cross-cultural circulation deployed by key figures in United States and Spanish literature. In his extremely well-researched book, Rogers ultimately shows the importance of a multilingual comparative approach to unveil the transnational and comparative dynamics of modernist poetics in its richness and full complexity.
Throughout his book, Rogers demonstrates the centrality and relevance of Spain—in historical and literary terms—for a global understanding of modernism across disciplinary boundaries. Structured in three different sections ("American Modernism's Hispanists," "Spain's American Translations," and "New Genealogies"), the six chapters that comprise Incomparable Empires explore different case studies that support Rogers's main thesis that "[t]he global movements that have come to be gathered by the sign 'modernism' and its cognates were built substantively on engagements with two evolving fields—Hispanism and American studies" (3). Chapters 1 and 2 explore Ezra Pound's and John Dos Passos's respective engagements with Spain (its culture, politics, and literary history), during the first two decades of the twentieth century, as a foundational source of their own versions of literary modernism. In chapters 3 and 4, Rogers examines the impact of the United States and its literature on the work of two canonical Spanish writers of the same period, namely the modernista poet and Nobel Prize winner Juan Ramón Jiménez and the influential philosopher and novelist Miguel de Unamuno. What appears to be the bilateral, and relatively traditional, comparative logic of these first two sections, becomes stimulatingly complicated in the two chapters of the third and final section. In chapters 5 and 6, Rogers breaks new ground both through his careful and detailed examination of the impact of African-American writing in and about Spain (including sections on Langston Hughes and Richard Wright), and through his nuanced and illuminating analysis of the translational poetics at work in Hemingway's masterpiece For Whom the Bell Tolls. In a fascinating close reading of Hemingway's novel, Rogers demonstrates its radical experimental nature as a text across English and Spanish, gravitating around the unfathomable experience of the untranslatable.
As Rogers successfully argues throughout Incomparable Empires, at the core of the making of both US and Spanish literatures during the modernist period lies the complex literary and cultural interrelatedness of each tradition—a multifarious relation articulated through various uses of translation that is the focus of each of the book's chapters. In this sense, Rogers's use of the terms "American" and "Spanish" is complicated by his use of the related terms "Americanist" and "Hispanist": the reason for my quotation of these terms as used by Rogers in his book is not gratuitous or a misplaced sign of "scare" quotation. As Rogers acknowledges in his excellent chapter on Juan Ramón Jiménez's complex relation to both the poetics of Spanish-American modernismo and to US literature, the actual bilingual terminology used throughout his book (as in modernism/modernismo) in order to comparatively study this period from a global and comparative perspective is tricky but also extremely important. As opposed to the comparatively minor and fragmented institutional space within Anglophone academia for the literatures of Spain invoked in Rogers's use of both "Spanish" and "Hispanist"—which can be housed in a wide range of departments (such as Spanish and Portuguese; Hispanic studies; Iberian and Latin American...