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Introduction

From: Romance Notes
Volume 54, Number 1, 2014
pp. 3-8 | 10.1353/rmc.2014.0002

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Writing on the importance of space and urbanity in the crafting of a critical lens, Saskia Sassens observes that “the city has long been a strategic site for the exploration of many major subjects confronting society” (100). In a sense, Sassen’s observation to a scholar of the Hispanic world comes as nothing new. Peninsular scholars have for years studied the cultural production from, about, and taking place in centers such as Toledo, Cádiz, Madrid, and Barcelona. Their peers across the Atlantic have similarly kept city spaces in the fore and background of their intellectual pursuits, whether it is in an examination of the colonial era, or in more recent studies focusing on the uncontrolled and unplanned growth of centers such as Mexico City. This critical point of entry stresses another point brought up by Sassen, that the city is a heuristic space, “capable of producing knowledge about some of the major transformations of an epoch” (100). This second observation allows us to polish my previous statement on the role of urbanity in Hispanism. If we can safely assert that artistic/literary/musical production has congregated in historical and modern urban centers, we can deduce that it is partly as a result of the inevitable geographies of cultural cephalization. The accompanying body of critical work, though acutely aware of the place of production (namely urban centers that facilitated the distribution of cultural artifacts), has not always focused on the importance of space within said production, or as Michel Foucault plainly states, “space was treated as the dead, the fixed, the undialectical, the immobile. Time, on the contrary was richness, fecundity, life, dialectic” (70). It suffices to say, however, that we have moved beyond this statement, as space has increasingly become a point of reflection for the critical eye, just as scholars have moved past simple historicisms in working through the cultural production of the Hispanic world.

Recent deliberations on both sides of the Atlantic have esteemed the urban as both a site and dialogic agent of contention. In the former sense, the topographies and topologies of Madrid during and after the years of transition in democratic Spain have played an integral part in the evaluation of the filmic production of La movida classics by Pedro Almodóvar, and in later texts by writers such as José Ángel Mañas in Historias del Kronen (1994). In the latter sense, space and the relationship of subjects to their spatiality has established the city as an agent that dialogues with both broader and intimate processes. Contemporary fictions of Mexico City, for example, take the urban not simply as a diegetic referent for the development of the plot, but as an active character that shares its own story arc in relation and parallel to the other characters of the narrative. From José Emilio Pacheco’s classic Las batallas en el desierto (1981) and Armando Ramírez’s Pu (1977), to more recent novels by writers such as Enrique Serna, Xavier Velasco, and Ana Clavel to name a few, criticism has engaged the city and spatiality as salient hermeneutic positions. In an illustrative sense, Debra Castillo’s analysis of Margarita Mansilla’s Karenina Express (1995) can be viewed as an example, as she affirms, that the city becomes a blur that is lost in a moment of motion, “like the fragmented meta-self, it is everywhere, and everywhere dispersed” (94). Such lines of thought have generated much critical work, including several anthologies and monographs dealing with specific urban sites. Rubén Gallo’s The Mexico City Reader (2004), Joan Ramon Resina’s Barcelona’s Vocation of Modernity: Rise and Decline of an Urban Image (2008), and David William Foster’s São Paolo: Perspectives on the City and Cultural Production (2011) are but a few examples of this trend. Implicated throughout these studies is the understanding that spatiality is formed by the activity of those subjects that are located and in dialogue with it. Readers familiar with this line of thinking will undoubtedly see its roots in Henri Lefebvre’s theoretical work on the production of social space.1

These timely critical interventions into the space and role of urbanity in cultural production...



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