sábado, 9 de enero de 2010


by María Rosa Menocal
Source: David T. Gies (ed).  The Cambridge History of Spanish Literature.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004, 58-74.

Having been inspired by both Emily's and E.L. Fay's various essay reviewing projects last year and not having been inspired by bloggers who post about YA fiction originally intended for 12-year olds, I've decided to share some of my own essay-reading experiences here from time to time this year even though I suspect that this will prob. turn out to be the blog equivalent of BOX OFFICE POISON!  Be that as it may, it's quite a pleasure for me to spend a few moments talking about Yale professor María Rosa Menocal (above, shown leading a class), whose 2002 The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain is a beautifully written and extremely engaging cultural history highlight from my pre-book blogging days.  "Beginnings," one of five chapters on "The Medieval Period" in The Cambridge History of Spanish Literature*, is a similarly provocative but much more intensely focused piece of work given its reduced scope, laying out some of the thorny questions (headings: What is Spanish, before there is Spanish?  What is medieval? What is lost?) to be confronted when trying to apply a post-1492 mindset to the study of the origins of a "national literature" when such a mindset had no such meaning for the residents of the multilingual, multi-religious Spanish society for most of the pre-1492 period in question.  While I wouldn't dream of trying to summarize Menocal's complex response to this series of equally complex questions, suffice it to say that her study is a wonderful starting point for anyone interested in seeing how Castilian interacted with Arabic, Hebrew, Latin, and other peninsular Romance languages (Catalan, Galician) in the medieval period before becoming the national and international language/literature giant that it is today.  More on Menocal, in the form of her new book The Arts of Intimacy: Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the Making of Castilian Culture (co-authored with Jerilynn D. Dodds and Abigail Krasner Balbale) and of her older title The Cambridge History of Arabic Literature: The Literature of al-Andalus (co-edited with Raymond P. Scheindlin and Michael Sells), can be expected "soon," but in the meantime "Beginnings" is exactly the sort of thing that makes me think that our top academics are the unsung heroes and heroines of the book world.  Cool.  *The five chapters in sequential order: John Dagenais' "Medieval Spanish literature in the twenty-first century"; Menocal's "Beginnings"; Andrew M. Beresford's "The Poetry of medieval Spain"; James Burke's "Medieval Spanish prose"; Charlotte D. Stern's "The medieval theatre: between scriptura and theatrica." (http://www.cambridge.org/)

7 comentarios:

  1. This sounds very interesting to me. It was my impression that harmony was seriously and deleteriously disrupted by the arrival of the Almohades from Africa in 1148. (And before that, the 1066 Grenada massacre seems to represent a serious flaw in the argument of tolerance.) But I have not read Menocal's books. Do you recommend the 2002 Ornament book or The Cambridge History book as a "beginning" so to speak? (not that I have faith I could get ahold of either, but one never knows!)

  2. Thanks for the question, Jill! I actually recommend both works but for completely different purposes. "Beginnings" is a great short piece on the origins of "Spanish" literature in its medieval Iberian cultural context. Menocal covers a lot of ground in terms of her themes, but it's a very concentrated piece of writing embedded within a larger literary history of peninsular Spanish. The Ornament of the World, as a book, is more expansive, sort of a cultural history of the three religions in Spain that goes far beyond the primarily Castilian focus of the "Beginnings" essay. I don't want to go too much into the tolerance question here since Professor Menocal spends a lot of time developing the theme and even summarizing it would require another post of its own, but Menocal does criticize the Almohads for helping introduce "a climate of true Muslim-Christian enmity...that had been, until then, quite secondary to other forms of hostility and competition" (p. 198). P.S. The Menocal book should be fairly easy to find in the history section of good bookstores, but you might have to go to an academic library for most Cambridge History... titles (they are superb resources for literary criticism, though).

  3. Hola, Richard!
    Después de tiempo vuelvo a tus páramos!!!
    Y la verdad es que siguen muy, muy encantadores. Este año, por supuesto, andaré tras tus lecturas. Últimamente hay libros autores raros, desconocidos aquí. Eso está bien, je.

  4. Thanks for the link!

    YA isn't my thing either but I wouldn't knock it too much. I've heard that the quality of YA has dramatically increased in recent years (Twilight excepted).

  5. It's so infrequent that one reads anything positive about academics, Richard - this post was a breath of fresh air! :-) It sounds like Menocal does a great job with a very complicated moment in history. I've been contemplating similar issues of nationhood and cohesiveness as I re-read Machiavelli's The Prince.

  6. *¡Hola Ever! ¿Mis páramos? ¡Me gusta el sonido de eso! Gracias por la visita y siempre me alegra tenerte por acá. ¡Saludos! PD: Estoy visitando a Baires en marzo. ¡Anticipo poder comprar muchísimos libros en tus librerías tan excelentes!

    *Hi E.L. Fay! I don't have a beef with YA stuff at all other than I'm tired of seeing it reviewed on every other U.S. blog I visit! As a matter of personal tastes, I just prefer to read blogs that concentrate on history and literature for adults. If I were 12-15 years old again, was looking for reading material recommendations for kids that age, or just wanted to pad my page counts or books read stats with YA fiction, I'd probably be all for it! Cheers!

    *Hi Emily! What you say about the lack of good pub for academics is really interesting. I hadn't really thought about that all that clearly before outside of the usual culture wars context, but now that you mention it, I guess I have seen a lot of "anti-intellectual" type sentiments here and there in the book blog world even. Weird! Looking forward to your thoughts on Machiavelli, natch.

  7. LOL, you're right. It does seem like YA is the big thing now, doesn't it?