452ºF #11
Comparative Iberian Literatures

The monographic section of 452ºF eleventh issue revolves around an especially controversial and complex theme: the literary and cultural relationships inside the Iberian Peninsula, a thread of intellectual networks in constant dialogue and tension. A revisioning of the different Iberian cultures from a comparative paradigm emerges as a historical imperative as they cannot be fully understood in isolation. The methodological dimension of such comparative perspective calls into question institutionalized perspectives that have long cultivated the mutual ignorance of these cultural traditions. The growing critical interest in Iberian Studies thus responds to an incomplete task, an urgent one given the current political and social challenges. The field of Iberian Studies still has a long path ahead in its literary aspect: we find scarce examples of a comparative approach towards Iberian literatures in the academic world. Such neglect derives not only from a lack of academic tradition, but is also symptomatic of academic participation in institutional qualms about approaching notions such as the Spanish State, the Iberian Peninsula, or Europe from a pluralistic standpoint about, rather than from certain positions of power which, in turn, are not unrelated to the different Iberian languages’ development of literature. This monographic issue is motivated by the conviction that Comparative Literature cannot be undertaken in abstract terms, without acknowledging particular contexts of the production, readership and circulation of texts. The large catalogue of complex relationships among Iberian literatures therefore constitutes fertile ground for Comparative Literature, especially studied alongside Intellectual History and the Sociology of Literature, areas from which a renovation of traditional Literary Studies, characterized by historiographical positivist approaches, is emerging—and deservedly so. Still, the proliferation of substitutes for Comparative Literature poses a risk, in reducing the disciplinary scope to a mere juxtaposition of linear literary histories. Even when notions such as “system” or “literary field” are invoked, they are identified with national literature, thus reproduce precisely those obsolete models which Comparative Literature and Literary Theory mean to problematize.

In this regard, the two invited articles that open the monographic section, written by recognized specialist in the field, Arturo Casas (Universidade de Santiago de Compostela) and Antoni Martí Monterde (Universitat de Barcelona), are particularly relevant. Complementary and in dialogue, Casas’s text provides a methodological proposal, while Martí Monterde’s text contributes a case study in which the contact among Iberian literary and cultural systems sets the stage for a questioning of their hierarchies. 

The multiple problems that arise from the context of Iberian literatures demand a complex repertoire of conceptual tools. Arturo Casas has generously allowed the publication of his influential article “Constituiçom de umha História literária de base sistémica: o sistema cultural como objecto de análise histórica no programa de investigaçom de Itamar Even-Zohar,” published in Galician and translated for the first time by 452ºF into the four languages of the journal. The markedly theoretical text tackles a deep reassessment of literary history, as demanded by complex objects of study that cannot be reduced to linear narratives, as in the case of Comparative Iberian Literatures. Even-Zohar’s polysystems theory can be particularly useful, in this sense, as it offers a cultural-historical methodology that can be applied to the historiographical treatment of systems in close relationship, or those in a situation of dependence or minoritization. Casas offers a brief history of the challenges that literary theory has posed to literary historiography in the 20th century. Firstly, he revives the reflection, stemming both from literary history and historiography, regarding the relationship between narrative and the institutional function of historical disciplines. Secondly, Casas reassesses literary history from semiotic premises, systemic theories, and Bordieu’s sociology of literature. With it, he reveals the existence of four challenges for a comparativist literary history: 1) the demarcation of the different systems or fields, and 2) the interactions within systems as well as among systems of different hierarchies and degrees; 3) the concretion of the different positions that make up a system; and, most importantly, 4) the way in which the synchronic study of the system incorporates diachronic dynamics as well.

Antoni Martí Monterde’s article “¿Dónde está el Meridiano? Guillermo de Torre y Agustí Calvet ‘Gaziel’: un diálogo frustrado”, revisits a well-known polemic about “Meridiano intelectual” that erupted in 1927 after the publication of an editorial in La Gaceta Literaria titled “Madrid, meridiano intelectual de Hispanoamérica.” Martí Monterde adds a novel point of view by reading this polemic from a peninsular perspective, touching upon the different Iberian literary systems, their relationships, and debates about the hierarchization of determinant points in these frameworks. Martí Monterde recovers a framework in which this failed dialogue constitutes a moment in its intellectual history. Gaziel’s intervention in the debate—from the point of view of a Catalan writer in favor of Iberianism—questioned the symbolic hegemony of Madrid in the literary polysystem of literature in Spanish, not only in the scope of Latin America but also in the Peninsula. Instead, Gaziel proposed a network of cultural centers―Lisbon, Santiago de Compostela, Bilbao and most of all, Barcelona―which could stand as “intellectual meridians.” Gaziel’s intervention was neither acknowledged nor answered by any of the main protagonists in the polemic, Guillermo de Torre and Giménez Caballero. Against this backdrop, Martí Monterde underscores the contradiction between the uniform definition of Spanish literature honed in La Gaceta Literaria, to and the project announced in the journal’s subtitle: “Iberian, American and International”.

Most researchers working on Iberianism have tended to privilege its historical and political character. In his article, Santiago Pérez Isasi (Universidade de Lisboa) argues for its literary dimension. In “Literatura, iberismo(s), nacionalismo(s): Apuntes para una historia del iberismo literario (1868-1936),” Pérez Isasi argues for the development of Iberian Studies that brings back the figure of the writer as an intellectual active in the debates on the relationships among the Peninsular cultures from the standpoint of literary interventions. He defends the existence of a cultural Iberianism configured by some of the most important names of Iberian literatures, sums up their most relevant statements and sketches a panorama of the implications of a cultural Iberianism centered on the Portugal-Spain axis.

In “Traveling through Time and Space: Saramago, Cervantes and the Chivalric Tradition,” Christina I. McCoy (University of Texas at Austin) examines José Saramago’s novel A Jangada de Pedra (1986), a case of literary writing that refers to a shared Iberian tradition. For McCoy, Saramago emphasizes the impossibility of articulating a unilateral Iberian identity, thus problematizing the relationships between Portugal, Spain and Europe.

The politics of translations, an unavoidable topic for Comparative Literature, necessarily show up in any study of Iberian literatures. Translation is one of the practices with the strongest power to shape the history of culture, and the corpus of translations constitutes one of the systemic factors configuring any polysystem. Diana Cullell (University of Liverpool) studies the bilingual works of Catalan poet Joan Margarit, who began writing in Spanish and later turned to Catalan in the 1980s. In “Crossing Borders: Identity and Culture in Translation in Joan Margarit’s Bilingual Poetry,” Cullell examines bilingual editions of Margarit’s works, which according to the author were created simultaneously in both languages rather than as a self-translation. Cullell also analyzes Margarit’s successful reception in both literary systems, as well as the authorial position projected by Margarit in each. Whereas bilingual publishing—prompted by changes in the Catalan editorial landscape—follows a logic of identity in the scope of Catalan literature, the success of these editions in the Spanish field is indebted to their connection with dominant poetic groups, united by the notion of “poetry of experience.”

The configuration of literary systems responds to heterogeneous interests, including political and economic powers, such that institutions and the market act as intermediaries between social forces and the cultural repertoire. This is manifest in María Ayllón Barasoain’s (Universidad de Salamanca) “La cultura como mercancía. Una aproximación a los novísimos desde la perspectiva adorniana de la industria cultural”, in which she underscores the political and economic dynamics that determine the elaboration of the canon. The anthology Nueve novísimos poetas españoles (1970), revisited from the perspective of a “cultural industry,” emerges as an example of power relations profoundly affected by the market. The appearance of the group is thus consistent with the general dynamics of the process of democratization, which required icons of reconciliation and myths of cultural regeneration, such as literary awards, a celebrated return of exiles and the boom of the Latin American novel, in order to produce an official literature which was modern, cosmopolitan and conciliatory. The fact that a large part of the authors in the anthology were Catalan was very important, as it helped promote an image of European openness, symbolized by Barcelona, in opposition to a Castilian model, associated with regional realism. 

This issue is rounded out by five articles featured in a miscellaneous section. In “Representar el ‘problema de lo haitiano’ o el problema de representar lo haitiano: una lectura de textos literarios dominicanos del 2000,” Fernanda Bustamante E. (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona) explores the key tension between hispanophilia and negrophobia in national Dominican identity through a review of a recent literary corpus. In “Aesthetics of Opposition: the Politics of Metamorphosis in Gerald Vizenor’s Bearheart”, by Seyed Mohammad Marandi (University of Tehran) and Mohsen Hanif (Kharazmi University), the authors focus on writer Gerald Vizenor and his notions of “survivance” and “terminal creeds” in the novel Bearheart, in which the magic realism of native traditions serves as a reassessment of identity. Mónica Molanes Rial’s article (Universidade de Vigo), “Walter Benjamin en la poética dramática de Juan Mayorga,” discovers the dialogue between the theoretical assumptions of Mayorga’s poetics and the philosophical thinking of Walter Benjamin. Carlos Andrés Quintero Tobón (Universidad Eafit de Colombia) proposes in “Fantasía y realidad: relaciones entre palabras e imágenes en Elogio de la madrastra de Mario Vargas Llosa” to analyze the rhetorical use of ekphrasis and the symbolic role of images in the novel of the Peruvian author. Jennie Rothwell (Trinity College Dublin), “From Performance to Print: Exporting Lorca through Paperback Translations of La casa de Bernarda Alba (1998-2012)” studies the reception of García Lorca’s play in the English speaking area through its translations.

Finally, the review section devotes ample attention to the analysis of Routledge’s recent publication of three volumes on World Literature, its problems and its debates, while a fourth review focuses on a recent work on Rosalía de Castro’s narrative from new perspectives in Literary Studies.

With this issue, 452ºF continues and expands its aim to become a leading reference journal in Literary Theory and Comparative Literature. While the miscellaneous section illustrates the interdisciplinary dimension of Literary Theory, the monographic on Comparative Iberian Literatures emphasizes the contributions of Comparative Literature to a renovation of literary studies. In this sense, we can announce an important step, the new adscription of the journal to the Universitat de Barcelona, by which 452ºF hopes to consolidate its platform and promote the diffusion of its contents.

Bernat Padró Nieto

FaLang translation system by Faboba


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