30 may. 2012

Summary of Chapters

Chapter 1, “ Spanish Exceptionalism, Poetics, and Intellectual History,” examines the problematic legacy of Spanish “exceptionalism,” a tendency in intellectual, cultural, and literary history that emphasizes those elements that make Spain distinctively different from other European nations. Historically, Spanish modernism—from Miguel Unamuno and José Ortega y Gasset to Federico García Lorca and María Zambrano—is strongly tinged with exceptionalism. The legacy of this exceptionalism is strongly present not only the late modernism of Valente and Gamoneda, but also in the critical discourses surrounding this movement. Exceptionalism, in particular the problem of Spain’s recalcitrant or uneven modernity, is also one of the central themes of the discipline of Hispanism itself. This introductory chapter, then, situates modernist poetics in relation to this wider debat.

The next four chapters, “Genealogies,” trace the legacy of historical modernism in the postmodern period. Chapter 2 addresses the work of Jorge Guillén and Luis Cernuda, poets associated with Lorca’s famous “generation of 1927” who were at one time considered to be paragons of two distinct strands of modernist poetry. Guillén has traditionally embodied the self-confident assertion of modernist plenitude, while Cernuda has represented a missing connection with the Romantic and Victorian traditions of German and British literature. The decline in the reputations of these two poets provides an indication of how late modernism has shifted away from both these models. As early as the 1950s, Guillén’s modernism began to seem outmoded, but at the same time his effort to transcend modernism was unconvincing to younger poets like Valente and Jaime Gil de Biedma. Cernuda was ascendant in this same decade, but from the vantage-point of the early twenty-first century his understanding of British and German national traditions looks much less profound than it once did.

Federico García Lorca’s “Juego y teoría del duende,” the subject of Chapter 3, is both a key text of modernist poetics and an overlooked antecedent of the late modernism of late twentieth and early twenty-first-century Spain. Like Roland Barthes in “The Grain of the Voice,” Lorca expounds a theory of cultural nationalism that emphasizes the performative dimension. This text has been relentlessly simplified by readers who view Lorca’s duende as the anti-intellectual manifesto of a poeta tonto. I view it, instead, as a constantly shifting network of references with no fixed center. Lorca’s lecture also prefigures the mysticism that is central to Spanish poetry of the late modern school. Chapter 4, “Postmodern Lorca: Motherwell, Strayhorn, García Montero,” serves as a postscript to my 2009 book Apocryphal Lorca: Translation, Parody, Kitsch. Here, I view the persisent kitschiness in Lorca’s cultural afterlife as a sign of the transition between modernist and postmodernist ideas of art, examining the repetition of Lorquian motifs in the paintings of Robert Motherwell, in the music of Billy Strayhorn, and in the poetry of Luis García Montero.

It is the philosopher María Zambrano, more than any other single figure, who provided the intellectual ground for late modernism in Spain. Zambrano’s prominence during this period is ironical, given that she would not have been seen as a major modernist writer at all during the period of historical modernism itself. Chapter 5, then, traces the intellectual genealogy late modernism by following the thread of cultural exceptionalism that runs through the work of Miguel de Unamuno, Lorca, Zambrano, and José Ángel Valente.

The second section of the book, “Continuities,” is devoted to three major poets of the second half of the twentieth Century. Chapter 6, “Fragments of a Late Modernity: Samuel Beckett and José Ángel Valente,” is an exercise in comparative literature that attempts to tease out the implications of the paradoxical belatedness of Spanish modernism at the end of the twentieth century by examining Valente’s mostly unacknowledged debt to Beckett, a major figure of late modernism. Antonio Gamoneda, for many decades a relatively obscure poet, has become an increasingly dominating figure in contemporary Spanish poetry in the past few decades. His work fulfills certain expectations associated with the lingering prestige of high modernism, while also confronting the question of historical memory. Unlike Valente, whom he admires very much, Gamoneda is not primarily an ideologue or a theorist. It is interesting, then, that he identifies so closely with Valente’s poetics, benefitting directly from the institutional structures identified with Valente’s high modernism.

Claudio Rodríguez, the subject of Chapter 7, “What Claudio Knew: From Pragmaticism to Mysticism,” is a Lorquian poet ... [to be continued]