- Why Theory?
Theory is, of course, a medieval word, brought from Greek into Latin from a common root (theastai) that also gives us theater, linked through shared meanings related to speculation, contemplation, and so forth. It is used in the Bible, and its English modern use, according to the Oxford english dictionary, probably comes from a medieval Latin translation of Aristotle. The dictionary does not direct us to any specific translation, but prompts us to compare with Italian and, of course, French usage. In French, however, the word théorie was not used until quite late. In fact, it appeared for the first time in French in a 1584 translation of Antonio de Guevara, the famous Spanish court preacher and man of letters whose oeuvre was translated, imitated, and plagiarized in France, Italy, Germany, and England during the sixteenth century. In Spanish, the word theoria had begun its vernacular life a few years before in the writings of Fernando de Herrera.
Theoria is already documented by Antonio de Nebrija’s Vocabulario español-latino of 1495, listed between “speculation” and “species” and designating the contemplative and the art of speculation, from theory to the perception of its quality. It is appropriate that Spanish would give theory to the West, sharing with it a point of view or, better, a series of perspectives or miradores, as María Rosa Menocal would call them, from which to look back into or beyond cultural and literary practices [“Visions of al-Andalus”]. For Medieval Iberia was, as this collection of essays purports to be, not a space or a history but a shifting and fluid gaze on the conflicting world surrounding the different literary and cultural works dealt with in this issue.
Reluctant at best, and most of the time resentful of theoretical approaches to the study of literature and culture, medievalism found in Hispanism a surprising and most loyal ally. If in most Spanish departments critical theory pushed its way into the study of later periods, to the point that today even the mourning itself (or celebration) of the agony of theory is done from a theoretical standpoint, Hispanomedievalism remained suspicious longer, and sharpened its words on statistics and “scientific” claims to authority. Its close relationship to historical research, however, also made this philology vulnerable to the practices of interpretation. And it is as a will to interpretation that theory has managed to place itself within and outside the criticism of medieval Iberian literature and culture in insightful and renewing ways—including collective projects similar to the present one. Marina Brownlee’s contribution to this volume in this sense offers a most telling guiding thread of this continued approach to the discipline, which she helped revitalize through her participation in the project the new Medievalism. More recently, Josiah Blackmore and Gregory Hutcheson, also contributing to the present volume, sparked a lively debate, as showcased in a forum published by La corónica, with their project Queer iberia: sexualities, cultures, and crossing from the Middle ages to the renaissance. But a host of monographs and single-authored books in recent years have come to inhabit and enliven medieval studies as Hispanism has grown into the most important area of foreign language studies. [End Page 3]
Theories find themselves in the articles for this special issue by way of a development from within. There is no application, no rigid use of conceptual frameworks to revisit texts, but an interior process of thought on and through the texts and cultural practices analyzed that produces theoretical insights. While a variety of methodologies and theoretical positionings can be identified, both explicitly and not, from speech-act theory to deconstruction, from Žižek to Badiou, postcolonialism to politics, these seem to emerge from within, as if the obvious result of the need to think questions posed from slightly different standpoints than they have been up until now. All of the articles reflect on very well-known texts and periods, pondering about a discipline, its methodologies, even the nature of its object of study. These articles do not dismiss previous work, but they do bring it under a new light.