Wordtrade LogoWordtrade.com


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Iberian Literatures

A Comparative History of Literatures in the Iberian Peninsula: Volume I edited by Cabo Aseguinolaza (Comparative History of Literatures in European Languages: John Benjamins) is the second comparative history of a new subseries with a regional focus, published by the Coordinating Committee of the International Comparative Literature Association. As its predecessor for East-Central Europe, this two-volume history distances itself from traditional histories built around periods and movements, and explores, from a comparative viewpoint, a space considered to be a powerful symbol of inter-literary relations. Both the geographical pertinence and its symbolic condition are obviously discussed, when not even contested.

In June of 2004 the Coordinating Committee for a Comparative History of Literatures in European Languages (International Comparative Literature Association) definitively approved the design for a Comparative History of the Literatures in the Iberian Peninsula, the first volume of which now comes to light. This proposal, first put forward through the efforts of Dario Villanueva, was later backed by the concession, and development, of various research projects led by Fernando Cabo Aseguinolaza at the Area of Literary Theory and Comparative Literature at the University of Santiago de Compostela.

Since the very outset, the editors clearly understood the necessity of setting in motion a comparative history that would break with the old nineteenth-century historiographic models as much in methodology as in the selection and delimitation of an object of study. Thus, the project was conceived with the collaboration of a wide range of comparatists and literary scholars who were aware of the fundamental principles underlying such an effort. The point of departure was an explicit renunciation of those chronologically organic and narratively omniscient histories which attempt to cover all fields and periods. In the degree in which it was possible, the distinctive sections would have to possess a character particular to Peninsular comparatism. Additionally, the authors of each chapter endeavored to consider the different Peninsular literary traditions when it came time to approach each of the questions to be treated. Ideally, this starting point would produce a novel and attractive approximation, one that paid special attention to the geo-literary dimension of the phenomena making up the object of study. It was of course advisable to shy away from an approach that considered each chapter to be an all-encompassing panorama. The objective was not so much to trace an exhaustive itinerary through the different literatures, from their origins up to the present, but rather to present a particular situation in order to reveal a fundamental factor in the understanding of the Iberian Peninsula as a complex and dynamic framework of interliterary relations. At times, the most operative strategy was to focus on one or more particularly enlightening cases, always procuring that the reader possessed, in two volumes, enough information to navigate comfortably through the network of interconnections which make up a literary history - that of the Iberian Peninsula -which, if not exactly shared, are nonetheless beholden to the convergence/divergence dialectic.

The result is in the reader's hands today. A comprehension of its scope will be more profound if, as it has been said, it is placed within the great historiographical shift towards a spatial or geographic paradigm, which takes shape in a process of regionalization of the object of study - a tendency already present, in a way, in the series of volumes published by the AILC/ICLA. This tendency is evident in the two volumes that Albert Gerard dedicated to sub-Saharan literatures in European languages (1986), in those dedicated to the literatures of the Caribbean area by James Arnold (1997-2001) and above all in the project that Marcel Cornis-Pope and John Neubauer (2006-2009), respectively, coordinated on East-Central Europe. Though not pertaining strictly to the publications of the ICLA, the volumes directed by Mario Valdes and Djelal Kadir (2004) must also be cited. It must be mentioned that this shift towards spatialization has been orientating itself towards peripheral areas with respect to the Eurocentric and canonical nucleus of the most traditional comparatism. This has been accompanied by a postnational impulse linked to questioning the idea of "nation" as an adequate framework for explaining and justifying literature insofar as a cultural phenomenon, needing to distance itself from "monological" concepts of culture, emphasizing those of interference or transmission/convergence. The canonical idea of literature has also been under inquiry, since, practically from its inception, it has almost always tacitly reaffirmed the epistemology of literary historiography. If we approach it from this regional perspective, the boldness of carrying out a Comparative history of literatures in the Iberian Peninsula makes even more sense as a vision of the renovating aspirations which seek to grant center stage to the phenomena and questions condemned to obscurity or marginality by nationally-based historiographies. It cannot be overlooked that these historiographies, as it will be seen in the first two sections, therefore become more visible (both in their strength and weakness) and go on to form part of the proposed object of study. Likewise, the eloquent spatial (cartographic) and temporal tensions in the interrelation of the different Peninsular literatures will not be absent, as they necessitate an understanding of comparatism as a critical theory: a vision that sets about establishing its own constitutive elements at the same time, beyond the simple gathering of observations and facts about the literary past in an inter- or supernational framework.

It is fitting to note some other characteristics of this endeavor. It was first necessary to painstakingly review the institutionalization process of literary historiographic discourse within the framework of comparatism. Furthermore, assessing the balance between hetero- and auto-characterization with regards to the literatures in the Iberian area was understood as necessary, and lent itself to an implicit interlacing of perspectives in the selection of a group of collaborators coming from distinctive backgrounds, both intra- and extra-Peninsular. The project seeks to question the foundations of national literatures by consciously challenging them with complex case studies: the literatures connected to nation states (Spanish and Portuguese) are taken as given, but a comparative study has been insisted upon, stressing national literatures without state boundaries, such as regional literatures, as well as what might be called a-national literatures, such as those written in Hebrew or Arabic, or those that point towards an extra-Peninsular dimension: Hispano-American or African Lusophone literatures. The reader must permit one final clarification of particular relevance: though conscious of the controversial character of the chosen geographic framework, this project stems from a historical recognition of the Iberian Peninsula as a supranational whole perceived as a possible community, not only from its interior but rather from an external and distanced position which defines it in relation to the concepts of European or World Literature.

As shall be seen, this first volume is divided into five sections of a very diverse nature. These sections produce a decentralized and "multipolar" approximation to the question being elaborated, resulting in the configuration of a literary map with defined contours by the end of the six chapters. Each of the subcoordinators responsible for the different sections took it upon themselves to enter into contact with those he or she considered specialists in each subject and to provide unity and form to the whole. Only the first section does not correspond to these characteristics, as it was undertaken by two of the general editors, Fernando Cabo Aseguinolaza and Cesar Dominguez. The section coordinated by Sharon G. Feldman, "The Iberian Peninsula as a literary space", explores some fundamental theoretical and comparative aspects for the objectives of this project: from which spatial parameters (Europe, the Mediterranean, the Atlantic...) can we understand the literary reality in the interior of our geopolitical scheme? How can the tension between similarity and difference within the distinctive literary settings be articulated? In what way can concepts such as global, national, regional, and local be understood, and how are these dimensions of the literary to be managed? The answers are complex, as are some of the phenomena studied in this section (concepts such as insularity or extra-Peninsularity), and place the problem of literary identity at the center of the discussion, while introducing the idea of literary nation as the object of a necessary and clarifying problematization.

In the introduction to "Multilingualism and literature in the Iberian Peninsula", Angel Lopez Garcia focuses on the interlinguistic and intercultural dimension of the Peninsula, which takes shape through successive studies in the analysis of certain examples in which the image of each language in the different Peninsular literatures is perceived, and around others in which bilingual and diglossic situations flower, from the Middle Ages up until our present, with special attention to texts in Arabic, Hebrew, and Basque.

The section dedicated to orality, "Dimensions of orality", coordinated by Paloma Diaz-Mas, closes in on the problematic status of oral literature, considered traditionally as non-canonical or, simply non-literary, and thereby excluded by Peninsular philologists. On the contrary, in her introduction, Diaz-Mas insists on the value of this oral facet for comparatism in general, and the following chapters confirm the borderline character of such phenomena by examining them from a genological and Peninsular viewpoint.

Fernando Gomez Redondo oversees the creation of the section titled "Temporal frames and literary (inter)systems", which is composed of eight chapters dedicated to eight different literary systems as seen from a geo-temporal viewpoint and considered representative of a relative interliterary effervescence, which in each chapter is explained contextually and pragmatically.

The second volume, currently in preparation, will elaborate upon other, complementary, aspects dealing with the images, forms and genres, intermediation, and lastly, the interrelation between popular and mass culture and the literary repertoire. In effect, the first section of this second and final volume will center on the analysis of a series of images and stereotypes associated with the literary culture they have defined and continue to define, as much from the auto- as from hetero-characterization: the different Peninsular literatures in their mutual relations, of course, but also regarding their presence beyond the Peninsular realm. Following it will be a section on genres and literary repertoires, coordinated by Maria Fernanda Abreu. Twelve chapters are included dealing with twelve literary forms and traditions that have shown themselves to be historically active from a transliterary point of view in the Iberian Peninsula, as well as from outside its limits. Questions dealing with troubadour poetry, pastoral stories, adultery novels, and writings of the "I", to name a few, act in this sense like touchstones to judge the differences and affinities of the distinctive literary repertoires. Thirdly, a section has been reserved for a fully institutional perspective. Under the supervision of Maria Jose Vega, it corresponds to what we describe as "forms of mediation". It includes analyses of four fundamental questions: the role of school curriculum, the function and scope of translations, the characteristics and consequences of censorship, and the institutional dimension of different forms of textual compilation and selection — especially the way these have acted as factors in canon consolidation and in interliterary mediation. Finally, the section coordinated by Anxo Abuin, "Popular culture and literary repertoires", approaches, from an interdisciplinary perspective, the discourse coming out of the most peripheral areas of the Peninsular cultural system, examining film and television, popular music, the comic, or literature of the masses.


Headline 3

insert content here