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INVENTING THE SPANISH MIDDLE AGES: RAMÓN MENÉNDEZ PIDAL, SPANISH CULTURAL HISTORY, AND IDEOLOGY IN PHILOLOGY1 E. Michael Gerli University of Virginia My concern here is ideology and how it influences historians and philologists when formulating an interpretation of a discrete cultural entity. This is a problem with which we, as interpreters of language, literature, and culture, must all now grapple, and one from which our predecessors remained blissfully free. The latter were never obliged to reflect upon the models, prejudices, and even emotions which structured their knowledge and understanding of their subjects. We postmoderns, however, are all too painfully aware of the limitations imposed upon historians by interpretive conventions which reflect their own desires rather than the past which constitutes the focus of their work. In the last two decades, critics such as Hayden White, Lionel Gossman, Edward Said, Lee Patterson, David Huit, and others have 1 This essay was originally written in 1985 and given as a talk at Georgetown University as well as several other universities in the United States. It was revised for publication in 1991 and was intended for an homage volume that, alas, was never published . In the ensuing years, numerous colleagues requested copies of it, and it has circulated widely in manuscript. As a result it has been cited as forthcoming in the defunct homage volume in publications by several colleagues. In order to rectify this omission, I have submitted it to La coránica. I am very grateful to the editor for helping the piece finally see the light of day and cease being a bibliographical ghost. The title quite serendipitously coincides with Norman Cantor's Inventing the Middle Ages (New York: William Morrow, 1991), ofwhich I was unaware until after I completed composing the piece. My title was inspired by Edmundo O'Gorman's La invención de América (1958), published in English in 1961 as The Invention ofAmerica. O'Gorman's classic study is crucial for understanding history as an ideological and discursive construct. La CORaNiCA 30.1 (Fall, 2001): 111-26 112E. Michael GerliLa coránica 30.1,2001 forced us to become suspicious of all methods of exegesis, while at the same time leading us to the realization that every interpretive model is implicated in the ideological context in which it arises. They have taught us the simple and disconcerting lesson that all historical interpretation possesses its own history, and that we must question its permanence and objectivity since it too can be shown to contain a subterfuge of identifiable motives. This fact leads to an essential conclusion and a problem latent in our approach to historical and philological writing: the reality of compromised historians and the consequent instability of the truth to be found in their texts. History is a critical and interpretive art, not a science; and authority in the writing of cultural history is a matter of degree rather than of fact. A critical look at literary and linguistic historians of the first half of our closing century provides a distinct and somewhat sobering perspective : From our privileged and now necessarily skeptical position we are able to identify distinct interpretive traditions, and recognize underlying intellectual models which reveal that history is more reflective of the ideas pertaining to the historian's own time than it is of the dominant ones of the past ofwhich he writes. By approaching historical critics critically, we can perceive the inherent and problematical relationship between them and the ideological trends which inform their historical writing. Historiography and ideology are inextricably entangled. Ramón Menéndez Pidal, one ofthe great intellectuals and cultural historians oftwentieth-century Spain, is a crucial example of the problem I have just outlined. Menéndez Pidal's vast work spanned eight decades and encompassed interests as diverse as philology, literary and textual criticism, historiography, folklore, and even diplomacy. No other individual is as responsible as he for formulating and propagating an almost universally accepted vision of Spain and Spanish cultural institutions in the Middle Ages. In universities throughout the world where Hispanism is taught his name evokes instant recognition, veneration, and tones of hushed reverence. His prolific and meticulously documented work still produces sighs...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-4261
Print ISSN
0193-3892
Pages
pp. 111-126
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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