- Spain Beyond Spain. Modernity, Literary History and National Identity
The editors of this volume present the work of sixteen specialists in modern Spanish literary and cultural studies from Spain, the United States and Great Britain around the topic of literary history. More specifically, as the editors themselves put it, “the fate of literary history in the wake of theory and such [End Page 421] attendant programs of inquiry as cultural studies, postcolonial studies, new historicism, women’s studies, ideology critique, and trans-Atlantic studies” (20). However, more than potential scenarios, the essays in this collection provide a fascinating look into the origins and evolution of the academic field known as peninsular Hispanic studies, including its many challenges and the structural conditions that have perpetuated its practice both in Spain and abroad, especially in the U.S. In doing so, this “self-reflective return to Spanish literary history” (19) becomes a fertile ground to explore not so much the relationship between theory and literary history, but the problematic concept of the latter, a model that favors a monolingual, homogenous, and teleological organization of knowledge that is suspect for its commonalities with nation and/or myth-making discursive practices. In the case of Spain, this suspect practice unfolds in discussions about national identity and the collective erasure of a diverse history and the cultures that have populated and have survived in the Iberian Peninsula. It is not surprising then that some of the essays in the volume address new (and historical) conceptualizations of the peninsula, in different configurations that not only address linguistic issues, but also those related to political, economic, and cultural organizations.
Sharing as their point of origin a conference organized at Harvard University in 2001 titled “España fuera de España: Los espacios de la historia literaria,” the essays collected by the editors offer various takes on the concept of literary history, some tolerant of its practices and others resistant or even defiant towards its tendency to reinforce notions of national identities. Here the difference is not only methodological but one that reveals a diverse understanding of Spain and what cultural productions can be accounted as Spanish. Interestingly, the answer to this question ranges from the more traditional perspective to positions that clearly challenge existing models. It also opens a debate about the state (and standing) of the discipline of Hispanic studies (including the areas of both Latin America and Spain) and the structure of academia (especially U.S. institutions). This discussion illustrates the politics behind the organization and perpetuation of certain bodies of knowledge. From this perspective, the topic of the book is not only about Hispanism—as a field of study—but its positioning in the larger field of the Humanities and its increasing “multicultural setting” (24). Furthermore, it questions its relationship with other disciplines that have been perceived consistently throughout history as more “worthy” in American and British academia. It also looks into the ties that exist between the literature(s) and culture(s) of both Spain and Latin America, and the increasing popularity of the latter.
Spain Beyond Spain starts with an introduction offering a lengthy discussion about the problematic and paradoxical concept of literary history, questioning its very possibility despite its many manifestations. Divided in five parts, the sixteen essays are grouped in sections that challenge the practice and history of Hispanism (J. Fernández, J.R. Resina, M. Santana), explore the beginnings of the relationship between nationhood and literary history in the nineteenth [End Page 422] century (W. Ríos-Font, W. Martí-López, J. Labanyi), tackle the plurality of the Spanish Peninsula while envisioning new frames for the study of its literatures (L. Romero Tobar, T.S. Harrington, A. Monegal), consider theories such as Feminism, New Historicism and Post-Colonialism (G.C. Nichols, L. Beltrán Almería, E. Subirats), and finally, gather personal accounts regarding the practice of Hispanism (M. Mayoral, J. Juaristi, T. Lewis, R. Pope).
As noted earlier, there is a noticeable divergence in the perspective of the contributors...