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  • Disorientations: Spanish Colonialism in Africa and the Performance of Identity
  • Christopher Schmidt-Nowara
Disorientations: Spanish Colonialism in Africa and the Performance of Identity. By Susan Martin-Márquez. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2008. 456 pp. $65.00 (cloth).

Scholars of early modern Spain have long looked beyond the boundaries of the Iberian Peninsula to explain crucial aspects of Spanish history and culture, but scholarship on modern Spain has been more inward looking. Recently, though, a variety of intellectual, political, and social changes have compelled scholars to reconsider modern Spain through comparative, colonial, and global frameworks. Spanish rule in the Caribbean, Africa, and the Pacific in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, largely neglected in contemporary renderings of peninsular history, has received increased attention since the 1980s.

Susan Martin-Márquez's Disorientations is a major contribution to this reappraisal, focusing mainly on the hopes and anxieties provoked by Spain's fortunes in Morocco (and to a lesser extent in Equatorial Guinea and the Western Sahara). The historians Sebastian Balfour, Geoffrey Jensen, María Rosa de Madariaga, and Eloy Martín Corrales have produced important archive-based studies of this topic in recent years.1 Martin-Márquez has selected as her evidentiary base a large body of novels, travel accounts, journalism, films, and paintings that [End Page 769] responded to and shaped Spain's relation with North Africa. This relation was not a simple Orientalist exaltation of the Western self against the Islamic other. One of the great strengths of Disorientations is that it shows in meticulous detail the attraction and familiarity of Morocco to Spanish advocates of expansion. Indeed, many argued that the historical ties that joined the two countries across the Straits of Gibraltar were the necessary starting point for Spanish rule: colonization would reunify Spaniards and Moroccans as one people whose historical habitat reached from the Pyrenees to the Atlas.

Scholars of modern Spain and of European Orientalisms will benefit from the vivid and careful readings of diverse Africanist writings, paintings, and films organized in six dense chapters. The author convincingly argues that Africa became a scenario upon which to enact Spain's past and its possible futures. In Ángel Ganivet's La conquista del reino de Maya (1897), the imaginary conquistador Pío Cid's rampage through Africa was a clever satire of contemporary Spanish politics. Pedro de Alarcón's Diario de un testigo de la Guerra de África was an account of the author's experience in Spain's short war with the Sultan of Morocco (1859–1860). In this work and others, Alarcón affirmed Spain's essential difference from the Islamic world, in spite of the apparent similarities between cities like Granada and Tetuán. In his judgment, "Tetuán is what it should be: a completely Arab city, a town utterly dissimilar to all those of Europe, a nest of Moors, a resurrection of the ruined Albaicín" (Alarcón quoted, p. 106). While the Moroccans were stuck in the past, "Spaniards [lived] in a constantly renewed history: carrying on their glorious imperial traditions, without, however, rejecting modern progress" (pp. 106–107). Some of his contemporaries, such as the painter Mariano Fortuny and the novelist Benito Pérez Galdos, opined differently, expressing in their work the permanence of the Islamic past in Granada, capital of the last Muslim kingdom, and Valencia, home to a large population of Moriscos (converts from Islam to Christianity) before their expulsion in the seventeenth century.

Alarcón's juxtaposition between an unchanging colony and a dynamic metropole took on new meanings in the twentieth century, when Spain expanded its presence by taking control of a protectorate in the Rif. For right-wing colonialists, "blood brotherhood" joined Spaniards and Moroccans even as policies in the Rif and the imaginings of peninsular writers and filmmakers insisted upon physical and sexual segregation between colonizer and colonized. Spanish apologists believed that their colonizing mission was superior because it protected the colonized from a modernity foreign to them, unlike the French, who defended policies aimed at assimilation into Western civilization. [End Page 770] Martin-Márquez finds, however, that some Spaniards who favored keeping the Rifians at a...


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