- Confronting Our Canons: Spanish and Latin American Studies in the 21st Century
Joan L. Brown, Stephen Hart, Hispanic Literary Canon
This is an intriguing book. Chapter 1 provides some broad brushstrokes on the formation of the notion of a canon in the West, with some references to classical [End Page 113] times and to biblical canons, and a section on the culture wars which began in the universities in the 1980s when “previously excluded subgroups” such as “women, gays, non-Westerners, people of color, people of non-English descent, and people from lower socioecononomic strata” (38) vied for more representativity in the canon. Chapter 2 reviews a number of modern versions of the canon—including, for example, the Oprah canon (50) and the anthology canons (54–57)—before turning its attention to what is essentially the meat of the book, the Graduate Reading List in Spanish in US universities.
The Spanish departments at 56 universities, from Arizona State University to Yale University (they are all listed on pages 198–99) were asked to participate in the survey by sending in their reading lists, and every single one did so (63). The required reading lists “included 10 PhD reading lists, 16 merged MA–PhD lists, and 30 MA lists” (63). These lists were then analyzed, and a number of interesting facts emerged. The reading lists were male-dominated, having 676 male authors compared to 102 females (65). Just two authors were on every single reading list: Miguel de Cervantes and Benito Pérez Galdós (65). The core canon in Hispanic studies was defined as consisting of those works which appeared on 90% or above of all reading lists, and, apart from Don Quixote, there were 11 works which fitted the bill, and these ranged from Lazarillo de Tormes to (a surprise for me) Larra’s Artículos de costumbres (65–66;see also 195). Only one work from Hispanic America was discovered to be on that list, and it was Gabriel García Márquez’s Cien años de soledad (66). The canonical authors, as distilled from the reading lists and listed in Table 6 with their appropriate percentages, were as follows: Cervantes (100), Galdós (100), Calderón (98), Cela (98), Darío (98), Neruda (98), Fernando de Rojas (98), Lope de Vega (98), García Márquez (96), Tirso de Molina (96), Borges (95), Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (95), Lorca (95), Juan Ruiz (95), Unamuno (95), César Vallejo (95), Bécquer (93), Clarín (93), Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (93), Góngora (93), Larra (93), Fray Luis de León (93), Antonio Machado (93), Berceo (91), Espronceda (91), San Juan de la Cruz (91), Jorge Manrique (91), Juan Manuel (91), Quevedo (91), and Garcilaso de la Vega (91) (196). These writers are discussed in chapter 3 (70–81), and this is followed by a discussion of those writers who fell into the 76–89% group, described as the “nearly core hispanic [sic] canon” (82– 89), and last of all are the members of the “marginal hispanic [sic] canon” who appear in 50–75% of reading lists (89–101).
What struck me most of all about these facts and figures is that it reveals in black and white just how different the Hispanic canon is as taught in the United States compared to that taught, for example, here in the United Kingdom. If a similar survey were to be taken of reading lists used in Spanish departments in UK universities, I predict that a very different picture would emerge. As suggested by Table 6 referenced above, the Hispanic literary canon as taught in the United States [End Page 114] is still dominated by Spanish medieval, Golden Age and nineteenth-century writers. This was, indeed, what the literary landscape in Spanish departments in the UK looked like when I left the UK in 1991 in order to take up a post at the University of Kentucky, but when I returned to the UK after seven years...