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  • The Spirit of Hispanism: Commerce, Culture, and Identity across the Atlantic, 1875–1936 by Diana Arbaiza
  • Bécquer Seguín
Diana Arbaiza. The Spirit of Hispanism: Commerce, Culture, and Identity across the Atlantic, 1875'1936. U of Notre Dame P, 2020. 302 pp.

Economics and literature is a field that has rarely taken note of scholarship on Latin America or Spain. A couple decades on from the publication of Marc Shell's The Economy of Literature (1978), Martha Woodmansee and Mark Osteen took stock of the field's development in their edited collection, The New Economic Criticism (1999). Shell contributed his own essay to the volume, which appeared alongside others from established scholars from departments of English, philosophy, history, economics, French, and German. Several decades later, scholars decided to take stock of the field again. In 2019, a follow-up volume, edited by Michelle Chihara and Matt Seybold, appeared as Routledge Companion to Literature and Economics. Aiming to correct the blind spots of the 1990s, the new volume is populated by a more diverse set of scholars, intellectually and otherwise. But almost all the contributors hail from English departments, with notable exceptions in Japanese and media studies. Only one of the 37 chapters in the Companion is on a Peninsular or Latin American subject, and that subject—Carlos Fuentes's writing on NAFTA—is studied with Americanist rather than Latin Americanist concerns in mind. Important Latin Americanist and Peninsularist scholars in this field such as Luis Cárcamo-Huechante, Alessandro Fornazzari, and Alejandra Laera rarely, if ever, get a mention in Anglophone scholarship. When such scholars are included, it becomes an intellectual event, as with the 2012 PMLA special Theories and Methodologies section on "Economics, Finance, Capital, and Literature," which featured Ericka Beckman, and Richard Rosa. The situation may be different on the field's medieval and early modern side, where scholars such as Elvira Vilches and Simone Pinet appear to have received some well-deserved recognition beyond Hispanism.

I begin with this observation not to rehash complaints about the lack of Hispanist scholarly representation in Anglophone-dominated interdisciplinary fields. I do so because Diana Arbaiza's recent book, The Spirit of Hispanism, has helped merealize [End Page 129] the extent to which ignoring Iberia and Latin America dramatically limits scholarship on economics and literature. Economics and literature is not—cannot be—a field of pure theory or hermeneutics. Its value comes from its ability to analyze what literature does with circuits of capital that, since the seventeenth century and earlier, have been transnational if not global in scope. Consider the first chapter of Arbaiza's book, "Hispanism as Vindication," which presents an excellent intellectual history of the time-worn trope of "Spanish backwardness." Arbaiza, in the chapter, does with economics what Michael Iarocci, in the opening chapter of his book Properties of Modernity (2006), had done with modernity: to show how major European thinkers reached a philosophical consensus that discredited the Spanish Empire. This consensus had consequences. Through readings of David Hume, Adam Smith, Guillaume-Thomas Raynal, and others, Arbaiza traces how climatological theories about the work-ethic of Spaniards were transformed into commercial claims about Spain's poor economic governance. In response, Spanish elites, she notes, pulled their own rhetorical punches, attempting to turn the vice of colonial economic decadence into a virtue of transcending "mere material interests" and being "civilizing in nature" (50).

This bit of rhetorical alchemy eventually coalesced into what Arbaiza calls "Hispanism," "the movement that sustained the position that Spain and Spanish America should engage in a more intimate association on account of their common bonds" (4). Between the end of the First Republic (1873–74) and the beginning of the Spanish Civil War (1936–39), Hispanism—the intellectual movement, not the academic field—enlisted many of Spain's most important intellectuals to its project of economic and cultural hegemony over Latin America, from the liberal historian Rafael Altamira to the reactionary writer Ramiro de Maeztu. In the eyes of its supporters, Hispanism could shore up Spain's lagging economic fortunes by exploiting the country's cultural bonds with its former overseas colonies. But the project ultimately failed. This failure...