On Spanish Literature

Here come a few book recommendations from the great, unknown literature of Spain. One Spanish professor says, by e-mail, that Spanish literature is unknown because of “the strange decision the Spaniards made in the late 15th cenutry not join the rest of the known world as it moved reluctantly toward modernity.” He goes on to point out that by the 19th century, “even Russia, strange and different though it was, came to be better understood than Spain.” And it is true that we Latin Americanists got all excited when Marshall Berman published All That is Solid Melts into Air in the 1980s. This book, on the experience of modernity and some literary depictions of this, did not (of course) offer any Spanish examples, but it did discuss Russia and mention Brazil. We read about modernity in Moscow and St. Petersburg, noted the parallels with Brasília’s out-of-place ‘modernity’, and said it sounded like our world.

Berman notes that some of the most modern literature is created in ‘unevenly’ modern places. I say this applies to the Iberian Peninsula as well as to points west and south. And Chris Soufas doesn’t think it is too late to bring some intelligent attention to Spain. His new book, The Subject in Question (forthcoming 2007), will help explain how 20th century Spanish literary criticism and historiography helped to keep Spain isolated, and Spanish literature unknown. The critical models coming out of Fascism have a lot to do with this, of course, but there is more. I will have to get this book.

Spanish literature, and literature in Spanish and Portuguese generally, may become famous, or it may continue to exist in secret. I must say, though, that when I look at other Western literatures, I feel sorry for people who cannot read Spanish and Portuguese. So, in case anyone who reads this post would like to start reading Spanish literature – some of which has even been translated into English –, I will now list the top five modern Spanish authors in the opinion of my current undergraduates: Mariano José de Larra, Benito Pérez Galdós, Ramón María del Valle-Inclán, Federico García Lorca, and Paloma Pedrero. Students also like G. A. Bécquer, whom I cannot abide, and J. R. Jiménez, whom I find marginally acceptable. They can’t stand Unamuno or Cela, but then again, neither can I. They would rather read Concha Méndez, and so, perhaps, might you.


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