- Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Nation in Fin-de-siècle Spanish Literature and Culture eds. by Jennifer Smith y Lisa Nalbone
Jennifer Smith and Lisa Nalbone's edited volume is a timely and necessary addition to the current scholarship in peninsular studies. The nine essays included in the collection explore the intersection of race, class, gender, and nation as the point where many of the processes of identity formation in fin-de-siglo Spain converged. As the editors make clear, the unstable nature of Spanish identity was the result of complex dynamics of social exclusion that affected cultural production at all levels. This intricacy prompts a vast array of subjects of analysis that makes the overarching goals of the compilation at once ambitious and enlightening. To facilitate the dialogue among contributions, Smith and Nalbone grouped the essays around three thematic axes: transatlantic interactions, race, and national identities, an organization that also serves the purpose of highlighting the most urgent preoccupations that surfaced in the country after its demoralizing decline as imperial power at the turn of the twentieth century. Given the richness of topics and problems studied, the editors recognize that "there is no single conclusion to be drawn from the texts" (16); instead, Intersections constitutes a sort of reference volume in which Hispanists will find a collection of innovative and fresh approaches to the study of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Spanish cultural production.
All the essays in the compilation acknowledge and draw from the most recent scholarship on race, gender, social class, and national identity in Spain. Authors such as Jesús Cruz, Joshua Goode, Susan Martin-Márquez, Lisa Surwillo, or Akiko Tsuchiya are widely discussed throughout the different contributions. From those analytical perspectives, the studies explore the multiple symbolic mechanisms with which writers, intellectuals, and artists in fin-de-siglo Spain incorporated the racial and social other into their assessments of the country. The inclusion of Hommi Bhabha, Sander Gilman, Judith Butler or Edward Said's ideas in the theoretical framework proposed by the editors thus provides the conceptual guidelines to follow the essays' innovative take on social heterogeneity. These thinkers theorize our problematic fascination with the other from psychoanalytical and postcolonial perspectives, proposing that stereotyping and rejection are some of the social devices we develop to cope with the anxieties of confronting difference. One context where these mechanisms become particularly visible is the sometimes-overlooked relationship between Spain and its late colonies. The first section of the text focuses precisely on these exchanges, offering a gendered vision of colonialism that reframes the issue of purity and ultimately questions Eurocentrism.
In chapter one, "Challenging Pasts, Exploring Futures: 'Race,' Gender, and Class in the Fin-de-siècle Essays of Rosario de Acuña, Concepción Gimeno de Flaquer, and Belén Sárraga," Christine Arkinstall contends that for these three authors belonging to the Spanish nation depended on an artificial social scaffold built upon racial and gender categories. To explain and justify this discriminatory structure, in their essays the writers focus on liminal subjects that underline the contrasts between the metropolis and its colonies, between the [End Page 115] working classes and the bourgeoisie, and between rural and urban spaces, divergences that in the end speak for the regulation of feminine desire as an organizational device (25). For Arkinstall, one of the most valuable aspects of these perspectives on colonialism is the fact that the writers were "themselves colonized within their patriarchal context" (39) and, at the same time, they were colonizers from the point of view of their social status and racial origin. This dual condition, however, boosted their deconstruction of colonial subjectivities and refined their assessment of the fears and hopes of a declining society.
Arkinstall's essay works well as a critical framework to understand how the cultural production of the time contributed to the construction of transatlantic imaginaries. While Acuña, Gimeno de Flaquer, and Sárraga's non-fiction works present different perspectives on the colonial...