- Reconquest Colonialism and Andalusī Narrative Practice in the Conde Lucanor
In the tenth century, when Cordova was the richest and most populous city in Europe, and the Umayyad Caliphate was setting the standard for cultural florescence in the Islamic world, a group of Christian nobles in the rocky precincts of northernmost Spain sought to expand their territorial holdings southward, into al-Andalus. Their aim was to unseat Islamic political power on the Iberian Peninsula, and they sought to authorize this project by discrediting Muslim leaders as the usurpers of lands to which the Christians were rightful heirs. In their view, Christian conquests of al-Andalus were the recuperation of lands that, in the eyes of God himself, belonged to them.
Spanish culture as we know it today is the product of this medieval frontier society, in which Christians and Muslims—during a span of some 700 years—continuously negotiated a political border that was culturally quite porous. By the middle of the thirteenth century, Christian rulers had gained control of the large majority of the Iberian Peninsula, including the populous and important cities of Cordova and Seville in the south. The Christians who populated these newly conquered lands found themselves in close contact with a sizeable population of Andalusī Muslims (and Jews and Christians) who had remained. The conquering Christians were great consumers of Andalusī culture in general, especially arts and sciences, and even literature. At the same time, they viewed Islam, the dominant religion of al-Andalus, as a purely illegitimate basis for political power and social organization. If the official narrative of Reconquest argues for tidy cultural purity and conformity, the reality on the ground is, in contrast, a messy and emergent pluralism, one that resonates with early modern and modern colonial experiences.1
While medievalists have been slower to embrace postcolonial theoretical approaches than their colleagues working on modern and contemporary texts, they have begun to adapt the ideas of thinkers such as Fanon, Memmi, Bhabha, Spivak, and others to medieval European perceptions of and experience in the East.2 However, it is curious [End Page 87] that Hispanists (with what may be the sole exception of David Hanlon) have completely avoided reading the Christian conquest of al-Andalus as a colonial project. Despite the substantial differences between medieval and modern colonialisms as regards political reality, public discourse, and the construction of subjectivity, one may safely argue that the Christian conquests of al-Andalus were a colonial endeavor, one of several studied by historians of medieval Europe.3 The case of medieval Christian Iberian colonialism was distinct from other medieval colonialisms (such as French and English crusading in the Middle East) in that it contributed fundamentally to the formation of a Spanish national identity, and served as a domestic proving ground for the conquest of Spanish territories in the Americas.
Don Juan Manuel, author of the Conde Lucanor (1340) [CL],4 was the most powerful nobleman of his time. He held extensive lands in Murcia, which retained a far higher proportion of its preconquest Muslim population than did neighboring Castile and Leon [O’Callaghan, History 459]. While his military and political career depended on eradicating Islam from the Iberian Peninsula, he earned his literary renown—in part—by imitating and incorporating Andalusī narrative tradition and history into his own writings. In Juan Manuel’s adaptation of the frametale genre, the CL, this dissonance between the religious and political agendas of the Reconquest manifests in narrative. If the CL shows us the ideology of the Reconquest, it also offers the reader a reflection of the more complicated and nuanced reality of daily life and human behavior characteristic of Reconquest-era Castile-Leon [Linehan, “At the Spanish Frontier” 53]. In it, Juan Manuel distills the political realities, religious discourse, and cultural interaction of the time into the first original frametale in any European vernacular.5
Juan Manuel’s religious agenda and frontier political philosophy come across quite clearly in the 50 exemplos of the CL. The idea of the Christian nobleman’s duty to wage war against Islam permeates the work, most starkly in these words of the Count’s advisor Patronio: “. . . Dios vos poblo...