Choices

It is always fascinating to find out why your colleagues chose your shared field of specialization:

Of course, our initial interest in the country, for many of us, derives from its distinctiveness, the way it is not a typical European country. The basic ideology of Hispanism is that Spain is interesting because of the ways it does not conform to European patterns.

This sounds like a very intelligent, sophisticated reason. Mine is very embarrassing in comparison. I wanted to work with the Spanish-language literature because I wanted to start from absolute scratch and prove to myself that I could do it. I first considered Latin American Studies, but soon the pathetic, brow-beaten women and piggish men that populate every single work of Latin American literature made that field lose all attraction for me. So I turned to what was left, namely, Spain.

If I wanted to choose on the basis of exceptionality within the European context, I would have gone for Russia instead. Now, that is a really weird country. Spain is very humdrum and typically European in comparison.

Spain likes to see itself as very exceptional in the European context but, to my Eastern European eyes, this is just a pose. Germany and Italy had to collect themselves out of small pieces well into the XIXth century. In the case of Germany, its painful entrance into modernity caused not simply a civil war, like it did in Spain, but two world wars.

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17 comments on “Choices

  1. “Mine is very embarrassing in comparison. I wanted to work with the Spanish-language literature because I wanted to start from absolute scratch and prove to myself that I could do it.”

    Your justification is just fine. Don’t be embarrassed by it.

  2. The standard comparison to Western Europe is:
    – the strong Semitic element (cf. A. Castro)
    – empire much earlier
    – Counterreformation & Inquisition
    – “recalcitrance” about entering modernity
    – the other side of WWII won in Spain, and WWII ended there as it began elsewhere
    … and all these Spanish essayists kept saying it was “different” (“Vuelva Usted Mañana…)

      • No — these essayists are talking largely about England and France when they say “Europe,” and it was a Frenchman who came up with the idea that “Africa begins at the Pyrenees.” The literatos who made the contrast to “Europe” in the 20th century were not talking about the USSR or really about the Eastern bloc at all. This is why, when Marshall Berman’s book on modernity came out and talked about Russia, the book was popular in the Spanish speaking world although it did not cover it; it was relevant because it talked about a version of modernity that had complexities not the same as the Spanish, but still different from what you get in the powerhouse countries where democracy, industrialization, and centrality/world cultural influence all seem to go hand in hand.

    • In Ukraine we have:

      – Europe’s first functioning democracy;
      – a non-hereditary system of rule as early as 1500s;
      – sexual revolution starting in 1905-1910;
      – a very unusual religious situation;
      – quotas into the Parliament aimed at promoting a higher Jewish representation in 1918;
      – such a strong Semitic element that Spain can go take a rest;
      – one of the most tragic genocides of the history of humanity;
      – and we won WWII.

      I’m sorry, but as much as I love Spain, we got it beat in terms of unusualness. :-) :-)

      It’s all about who promotes the discourse of difference better and in Ukraine we suck at any form of self-promotion. The most popular character of our folk tales is a guy who sits under the cherry tree with his mouth open hoping that vareniky will jump into his mouth of their own volition. Enough said.

      • Ukraine is more interesting and weird but Spain isn’t doing this out of self promotion as much as they are trying to figure out why they are so venidos a menos — . Then I think in US Spanish professors capitalized on this, “it is a mysterious country”, etc., trading in exoticism…

      • “Then I think in US Spanish professors capitalized on this, “it is a mysterious country”, etc., trading in exoticism…”

        – Yes, exactly! Bit I don’t blame them. We have to do whatever we can to persuade the world we have a right to exist.

  3. My reasons for doing it, though, were:
    – it was an expanding field and there would be work
    – as an expanding field it was interesting
    – I like Spain and Latin America is a fascinating place with great scenery and lots of interesting Indians speaking ancient languages
    – the Semitic element, you can futz around profitably with Arabic and Ladino
    – Spain has a great literature and people do not know about this

    Reasons for not going into Peninsular:
    – boring professors who furthermore were not into theory
    – no hope of jobs-tenure for women, from what I could see then
    – I am from New Spain and I relate

    Reasons Russian would have been a bad idea at the time:
    – boring professors who furthermore were not into theory
    – said professors could and did sabotage women’s job prospects

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